Colombian Girls are the Most Confusing Girls to Date

Before I came to Colombia, I’d never been stood up for a date. Girls had canceled on me, sometimes at the last minute, but I’d never actually gone to meet up with a girl and stood around waiting, only to have her ultimately never show up. In my first three weeks in Medellin, I was stood up for first dates by four different girls. No cancelation, no apology, usually no contact ever again.


It wasn’t a big blow to my ego or anything, but it was really inconvenient. I don’t have a lot of “structure” in my day, so having a date scheduled means that’s the one fixed block of time I have to organize my day around. There’s the time cost of going to the meetup spot, waiting fifteen minutes, and returning, but the biggest hassle was having whatever else I was doing be interrupted for no reason.

I asked around and the general consensus was that Colombians like saying yes to things even if they have no intention of actually doing it. Plans weren’t really plans until you called again to confirm. “Even if the date is just the next day?” I asked. Yes, even then.

Okay, more confirmation. That sounds simple enough. If I was constantly doing this in America, I think it’d come off as really needy and insecure. “I’ll see you tomorrow at 9. Oh, but I’m going to call you a couple hours before to make sure you still like me and still want to see me, okay? Cool! Later!” But in Colombia, this is actually what works. I set the date for sometime in the following two days, then tell the girl I’m going to call her a few hours before to confirm. If I can’t get through, I know the date’s off and I don’t bother going to the meetup spot.

I haven’t been stood up at all since I got this figured out, but it’s still not completely smooth. One girl invited me out for the following night, but then I couldn’t get ahold of her to confirm that day so it just never happened. Another time, I had loose plans to meet up with a girl for drinks, but we didn’t get things finalized until 9:15 PM. The plan was to meet at a bar 45 minutes later. I thought surely in a case like this, I didn’t have to confirm plans.

I got to the bar at 10 and she wasn’t there. This wasn’t particularly surprising because I’ve only met one Colombiana who’s ever shown up less than 5 minutes late for everything. After a few minutes, I get this text: “Are you there already? Ill call the cab now.” I found out later it’s kind of common to do an “okay, I’m leaving the house” confirmation to make sure the other person’s coming.

I’m kind of impressed that they’re able to cram all these confirmations into the date arranging protocol. I don’t know what I’d ever do if a girl dropped by my apartment unexpectedly to invite me out. I imagine S.O.P. is something like I immediately close the door, shout a confirmation request through the door, then open it again if she agrees.

I was really excited once I figured out how to do the confirmation trick. Much more efficient than getting stood up! But I realized overall it’s still a pretty inefficient system. The girls are still really flaky, so if she agrees to a first date, there’s only like a 30% chance of it actually happening. The problem is that I don’t get a final decision until a few hours before and at that point, my night’s dead because if I call other girls, they won’t agree to plans on such short notice. I sometimes double book to hedge my bets, but only with girls that have flaked before. Otherwise it could mean that I’m the flaky one in the relationship, which, given the standard here, would be really embarrassing.

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Okay, I’m Re-Afraid of Colombia

I’ve been in Colombia about two months now and I’ve felt pretty comfortable as far as personal safety. I definitely was a bit skittish when I first arrived, given Colombia’s reputation for violence, but after a couple weeks, everything seemed fairly safe and I relaxed a bit. Then I had a class with my Spanish tutor that scared the crap out of me.

I mentioned that sometimes in bars, I’ll make jokes to the people I’m with that we should start a rumble á la West Side Story. People in America generally don’t think it’s that funny, but I continue to do it, mainly because I think it’s funny and I’m basically my own target audience. When I make jokes about starting fights in Colombia, people get really alarmed and generally don’t recognize that I’m joking.

My tutor told me that Colombians don’t have a lot of bar fights because there’s too high a risk that the other person has a gun and will just shoot you. The upside is that people are generally scared into good behavior. You find fewer people being overly aggressive at bars or clubs. The downside is that the fear also extends to reporting crimes when they happen.

She told me a story about how a few years ago, she heard gunshots on the street (the same street where we were having this conversation). She went outside to see what was going on, as did all of her neighbors, and they saw two men jump out of a car with tinted windows and run into a house a few doors down. “Everyone saw, but nobody called the police,” she said. Apparently everyone is too distrustful of police and too afraid of reprisal from the criminals to report crimes.

She also said she finds it strange when she hears news reports from America about bystanders intervening to rescue the victim of a crime. “If I saw a person being robbed on the street, I’d… cross to the other side of the street,” she said. Then, to drive the point home, she added, “If men with guns came in here now and said, ‘Leave so we can shoot Michael,’ I’d say ‘Okay,’ and leave.”

Admittedly, this isn’t super different from America. If I was getting robbed at gunpoint in the US, I wouldn’t count on a stranger walking by to intervene, since it’s more the exception than the rule. I also wouldn’t expect an American tutor to try and fend off a gang of gunmen on my behalf. But I feel like the explanation wouldn’t be, “Yeah, I’d just leave,” it’d be like, “I’d go call the cops.”

I was also freaked out by how quickly she came up with these scenarios. And then even more freaked out when she explained they were based on situations she’d heard about firsthand that she was happy to give examples of. Too many examples. Especially when it came to examples of people being murdered for some minor mistake, like dancing with a girl at a party and not realizing she had a boyfriend. Or of people being shot in broad daylight with witnesses around because robbers / murderers don’t worry about people talking to police.

After class, I have a half-mile walk back to my apartment. I’ve never really thought twice about it because it’s during the day on a fairly well-trafficked road, but after this class I was completely on edge. I saw a lone guy approaching me on the sidewalk and my first thought was, “Oh, no! He’s going to shoot me for no reason because he can!” As he got closer, I realized it was a 14 year old boy, but I still wasn’t that relieved because of my tutor’s story about her cousin getting stabbed in the chest by an 11 year old boy. This 14 year old boy ended up not murdering me.

Luckily, other Colombians I’ve talked to have assuaged my fears slightly. I asked some other people and they said they definitely would report a robbery or shooting if they saw one. They admitted that a lot of Colombians won’t, but they attributed this more to indifference than to fear, which I find comforting for some reason. Indifference to crimes is something I at least understand. We have plenty of that in America, so it makes me feel slightly at home. I’ve relaxed since my class, but I’m not as calm as I was last week. I’m probably hovering somewhere in the range of threat level: yellow.


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The 6 Month Mark

Today marks 6 months of travel in South America! I thought I’d do another high-level check-in of where I’m at in my trip.


I’ve been thinking about money a lot lately, since it’s coming down to the wire of how long I can last before I’m forced to get a job due to depleted savings. Here’s the continued trend of my savings as of today. I’ve done my best to appease my many vocal y-axis critics.


I had a mini-panic looking over the numbers to put this post together. To explain, I should mention that 0% isn’t the point where I’m out on the streets eating out of garbage cans. The zero-point on the graph is when I have enough money for a plane ticket home and enough to cover living expenses for up to 3 months as I look for a job. As you can see from the graph, I’m at 35% remaining, which should put me under-budget when I return home in ~2 months.

The mini-panic came from my confusion after my recent change of return plans. Initially, I planned to live at home until I found a job, so I budgeted my “looking for a job” money that way. When I decided to come home earlier, I thought, “Well, I’ll be living in NYC, which costs more than living at home, but I’ll be coming home earlier and will have travel money left over.” I did a bunch of ballpark mental additions and subtractions and divisions by cost per month and somehow came away thinking my money would cover me for roughly 15 years in the city before I’d have to find a job. It turns out that this is not the case. After more rigorous calculations, it looks like I’ll probably have to find a job much sooner, like within 3-4 months of returning, which means starting to look for a job within about 1 month of my return. Shudder.

The Apartment Era

The big change since my last checkpoint is that I’ve been mostly in short-term furnished apartments rather than hostels. There are definitely tradeoffs to either choice. The main advantage to apartments for me is that I can get a lot of work done. I have long, uninterrupted stretches where I can focus in a way that I couldn’t in hostels. This is also a drawback because it becomes very easy to not go out and explore. For things like food, it’s certainly faster and cheaper to cook my own than to go find a restaurant, so I almost never eat out. On the other hand, it was fun going around and trying a bunch of different restaurants and ordering randomly off menus to see what food would arrive.

The other benefit to hostels is that socializing happens more or less automatically. On a weekend night in a hostel, I’d either go out with people I’d met in the hostel or go out to meet people on my own because I don’t want to be the lame-o in the dorm room who’s going to bed at 11pm on a Friday night. In apartments, it’s really easy to fall into a mode of just hanging out at home and studying or programming because it’s the comfortable thing to do. I have to actually be disciplined about forcing myself to go out and meet new people.

Speaking Spanish

One of my goals of this trip was to learn to speak Spanish proficiently (though probably not fluently). It’s tough to accurately gauge my progress but I think at this point I’m at proficient or near proficient. I can comfortably have conversations in Spanish, but there’s definitely still a conscious effort of translating my thoughts into Spanish and I make a lot of grammatical mistakes.

Lately, I’ve realized one thing I really miss about the US is being able to speak English with native speakers. While I can say almost everything I want and understand what is said to me, it still feels like my conversational wings are clipped. Obviously, the language barrier is a large part of this, though I feel like it’s not all of it. Even when I talk to South Americans who are fluent in English, it’s like we can’t quite connect all the way, except in cases where they’ve spent a lot of time with Westerners.

I have a hard time explaining why, but the best example I can think of is with regard to making jokes. I’ll sometimes make a joke that the person I’m talking to doesn’t understand and I’ll realize that it assumes a specific knowledge of American culture, like a saying or a celebrity that a South American wouldn’t know. But I also realized that I’ll often make jokes that don’t reference anything at all and they still won’t make sense to the other person. It’s like we just don’t have the same system of reference to each think certain jokes are funny. If I’m making a joke by turning a normal idea on its head, it’s only funny if we both share an idea of what “normal” is.

I realize that’s not a very clear explanation, but it’s tough to explain since I don’t understand it completely myself. Given how incoherent that last paragraph was, it’ll be funny if I return home and find out that my communication skills have actually drifted to the mean between my Spanish proficiency and my pre-trip English proficiency and I’m trapped in language limbo where I can’t understand anyone completely.

The Home Stretch

I’m returning to NY on August 7th, which gives me about 50 more days in Colombia. My focus until then is going to be on publishing a beta version of a program I’ve been working on, improving my Spanish, and continuing to meet new Colombians.

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I'm a' Comin' Home!

I’ve booked my tickets back to the US! I’ll be flying from Medellin, Colombia to New York, America on August 7th, exactly two months from today.


I was planning to stay in Colombia a little bit longer, but one of my friends just got into a program at Columbia (the school). He’ll be moving into an apartment in Manhattan before the Fall term starts and asked if I and another friend wanted to look for a three bedroom together. It was a living situation that was too good to pass up, so I decided August would be when my South America trip officially comes to a close.

It’s a very different feeling having a concrete end. At first, I was sad to have a set departure date. For the first few days, I kept thinking, “Okay, now I only have two months, one week, and five days left!” I was worried that my Spanish wasn’t at the level I’d wanted it to be. I hadn’t completed projects I wanted to complete. I felt like I was cutting things short.

Then I realized that two months is a long time. I have plenty of time to improve my Spanish. I have plenty of time for my pet projects. I also realized that since I’m coming home earlier than I planned, I can put off getting a job for a while. Putting off getting a job is a big plus, because, as should be obvious by now, I’m reaaaaaally unemployment spoiled.

Once I thought about all that, having a final date became something I liked. I’m still thoroughly enjoying being in Colombia, but I’m also very excited about coming home. I’m excited to see my family, my friends, to own permanent possessions, to eat American foods, and basically everything else on my America fantasy checklist.

So, America, see you in two months!

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The Five People You Meet in Hostels


In the last 6 months, I’ve stayed in many hostels and met many people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. I’ve realized that they’re actually pretty much the same five people over and over again. They break down as follows:

The guy who uses “party” as a verb way too much


This guy had the craziest night last night. You wouldn’t believe how crazy this guy’s night was. You want to know how crazy? The time he came home was a time much later than people usually come home! And you know what he was doing the whole night? Partying!

Of all the travelers you meet, he will be the most driven. He has a singular, clear purpose and that purpose is to party. Ask him what he thought of the last city he was in and the answer is sure to be in terms of how hard they partied. If you happen to encounter him after visiting a city where they didn’t party, he’ll be quick to assure you that while the city itself didn’t party, he and his travel buddies brought the party anyway. If you ask him if “partying” is just another way of simply saying “drinking” he won’t like you.

Signature Quotes

“Which city were you in before this one? Did they party out there?”

“I think I might stay in and rest a bit tonight, since I partied pretty hard these last few nights. Oh, what the hell. I gotta go out and party!”

“We were partying with these Bolivian guys who wanted to party downtown, so they took us to this party in this sick party area for a party to end all parties!”

“I think I might start partying my hair on the left.”

The old person


The hostel environment is, for the most part, a collection of people college-aged or in their mid-twenties. For many, it’s a rare chance to be completely independent in a place far from their usual environment and conventions, so they take the opportunity to let loose. This is why the International Regulatory Commission for Youth Hostels (IRCYH) issued a mandate in 1832 requiring all hostels to have at least one (1) old person on site at all times. The old person serves as a necessary check against the debauchery and depravity in a hostel that would otherwise escalate out of control.

Out of all the shared rooms in the hostel, the old person is usually in yours, which is good news as it keeps you better protected. Say there’s a tall, comely Swedish girl sharing your dorm who walks around in the mornings in her underwear as she’s getting ready. The old person counterbalances this by walking around the same field of vision in only his underwear and sock garters as he gets ready for the day. Say you and some other guys in your dorm are thinking of pre-gaming with cheap liquor before you head out for the night. Does it still sound fun when the old person sitting on her top bunk five feet away from you is knitting a mitten for her grandson and glaring at you? Exactly. You can thank the IRCYH and the tireless old person volunteers for keeping things under control in youth hostels across the globe.

Signature Quotes

“A lot of you young folk stay up late and don’t wake up till 11, but then you miss half the day!”

“Berta and I went on a guided walking tour of the historic candle district this afternoon. It was really quite remarkable.”

The guy who has a much deeper appreciation for the local culture than you do


He doesn’t just “like” the culture here. He gets it. In a way that you don’t. Sure, he’s reading the same Lonely Planet: South America guide that every backpacker carries. But he’s reading it better, ignoring all of the “mainstream” and “gringo” destinations everyone else in this hostel is drawn to.

In a way, he’s like one of the locals. You can tell because he’s wearing a poncho with a llama on it. You can’t just go out and buy that at every single souvenir shop in the city. That is, unless you’re really in with the people here. While he doesn’t speak the language per se and doesn’t really know anyone from the area, what he observed during the hostel pub crawl last night and learned during his conversation with the guy downtown who sold him some weed gave him a deep insight into the rich, vibrant local culture in a way that you probably will never begin to understand.

Signature Quotes

“The culture here is just so real. I really like how it’s not so superficial and consumerist like it is in America.”

“You see these people and they don’t have money, but they have a strong sense of community that we’ve lost with our consumer culture and our superhighways.” (seriously a direct quote)

The guy who’s here for the TV and Internet


There are some days where you’re exhausted from moving around constantly; you don’t give a shit about seeing another beautiful church, fascinating museum, or breathtaking mountain. You just want to sit in the lounge, check facebook, and watch old episodes of Friends that are played eight times daily here. For this guy, that day is all days. Generally, he’s here for some reason other than primarily travel, like he got sent here for work and decided to arrange an extension of a few days to explore the local culture. And what better way to understand the culture than by understanding their pop culture? For example, did you know that in South America, the show House is called Doctor House? This guy does.

Signature Quotes

“Did the Internet go down for you, too? This is ridiculous!”

“The hostel dinners are usually shit, but if you ask at the staff desk, they’ll order KFC for delivery.”

The hot girl that is inexplicably never in places where you can talk to her


If you spend your downtime in the communal areas of the hostel like the TV lounge or the bar, it doesn’t take long before you’ve met and talked to everyone else who’s staying at the hostel. Unless that person is a really hot girl you’d love to talk to. In which case, she’s never around. You believe she exists because you catch fleeting glances of her as she goes between her room and the bathroom in a towel. Or when she comes home from a day of sightseeing and goes directly into her room (which, unlike the case with the old person, is never your room).

If you study her movements carefully, you can intercept her for brief conversations when she leaves her room for necessary tasks like eating or using the bathroom. This is not advisable as it’s even more heartbreaking. She’s invariably even more beautiful up close. She’s friendly, kind of flirty, and laughs at your jokes with a little “something might happen here” twinkle in her eye. But she is perennially just on her way out to something, and when she gets back, she’s calling it an early night.

Signature Quotes

“Excuse me. You’re kind of blocking the door to the bathroom.”

“Yeah, I know it’s only 10 o’clock, but I’m just so exhausted from all the museums today! I think I’m just gonna crash.”

“Nah, I’m taking it easy tonight. I need some rest since I was so drunk, uninhibited, and free the nights just before you got here.”

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