The Fancypants Colombia Apartment

I came to Colombia knowing I wanted to get an apartment for a while in either Cali, Bogotá, or Medellín. Cali was too hot. Bogotá was too cold and rainy. Medellín was just right, so I began the hunt for an apartment. The problem was that after being domesticated in Buenos Aires, I’d lost my natural ability to survive in hostels.

When I arrived in Medellín, I’d already been living in hostel dorms for almost 2 weeks. Five days into my apartment hunt, I was going nuts. I was tired of looking for an apartment, tired of going into my third week of living in a cramped room with 5 other people, tired of not getting anything done. I considered getting a hotel or private dorm room, but that’d cost me $30-60/night, so I realized if I was going to do that, I might as well just take the money I’d be spending on a hotel and add it to the amount I’m willing to spend on an apartment rental.

That afternoon I met with a realtor who had been recommended to me by a friend of a friend. She showed me an apartment and I immediately knew I’d rent it. Let’s get the painful part out of the way first: it’s $1,000 for a 30 day stay. Now for the good part. It’s on the 18th floor of a new building in El Poblado, the nicest neighborhood in the city. It’s 3 blocks from a gym and across the street from an amazing supermarket that has everything I want. They even have all the ingredients to my favorite breakfast: American-style oatmeal, cinnamon, chocolate chips, and fresh blueberries (unlike some countries that are right next door to a major blueberry producer, yet never seem to have blueberries. Yeah, I’m looking at you, Argentina). My building is also across the street (we’re talking like a 20-yard walk) from a giant mall with a multiplex, where seeing a movie costs 4,000 COP (~$2.20).

Now I’ll show you the apartment itself. Here’s the view as you walk in the door:


As you can see, it’s way bigger and has way more space than I need, but the extra space is cool to have. Here’s the command center where I do most of my studying, programming, and screwing around online:


You’ll notice that my Columbia Nalgene bottle has been replaced by a crazy large jug of water. I forgot my Nalgene on an overnight bus to Cordoba, a mere 4 days before flying to Colombia, where I can only imagine a bottle with “Columbia” on the side would have intrigued and delighted the locals. Here’s the kitchen:


The one thing I was reluctant about with this apartment was that there’s no oven and the only way I know how to cook steak (a staple in my South American diet) involves the oven. Luckily, I’ve learned that not using the oven also results in delicious steak, so crisis averted.

Here’s the bed area (again, I’d make the bed to make things look fancier, but I feel I’d be lying to you about the way I really run things in my apartment):


This is the view out my window:


Here’s the bathroom:


Unlike the bathroom I had in Buenos Aires, in this one, you can’t flush toilet paper (which is true of almost every bathroom I’ve been to in South America), so the little red bin with the biohazard symbol on the top is for used toilet paper, which I have to bag up and toss when it gets full. Let’s all say, “Eeeeew!” The fun part of the bathroom is that the light switch is motion activated, so it turns on automatically when you walk in. I like to walk in and pretend I just walked into a surprise party.

If I haven’t made clear yet all the luxury this apartment offers that I don’t really need, I give you the final shining example, my walk-in closet:


It’s a pretty desolate walk-in closet because I’ve only got about 8 items of clothing excluding socks and underwear.

The apartment’s nice and way fancier than I need. I probably will move into something cheaper once my 30 days are up, but for now I’m enjoying the cool place and spending as much time in my walk-in closet as I can, pretending to make difficult choices about which of my 5 t-shirts to put on.

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Colombia Has Weird Stuff

I’ve arrived in Colombia, after a swift overnight flight from Cordoba to Cali. I spent a few nights in Cali, few nights in Bogota, and now I’m in Medellin looking for an apartment. Along the way I’ve noticed some strange things in Colombia.

Point-Based Taxis

I was excited when I first saw that taxis in Colombia have meters. I figured it makes the whole taxi-riding process more straightforward because you don’t have to figure out the correct fare and haggle over it. But it’s actually not straightforward at all. The taxi meters don’t count in money; they count in “points.” Then when you get to your destination, the driver converts the points to a value amount and you pay that. There’s supposed to be a little chart on the seatbacks (supposed to be), but even the times where it actually is, the conversion is still confusing because there all these little surcharges like “it’s nighttime,” “we crossed some arbitrary border,” or (I’m assuming) “haha! you’re white!”

Human Phone Booths

Walking around Bogota, I was seeing a lot of people standing around with signs advertising “minutos” and a price. They were also holding these big sticks with 2-3 cell phones attached by metal chains. I assumed the extra phones were decorative and the salesman would just use one of the phones to transfer credit to your phone if you buy credit from him. This is how I generally see people sell pre-paid phone credit in South America. It turns out that’s not what this is. These guys buy unlimited minutes plans from cell phone companies and then let people make calls from their phones for a few cents a minute. I guess this is if someone doesn’t want to pay the minimum ~$5 to re-up their pre-paid phones or they don’t have a phone at all.

Guinea Pig Roulette

In downtown Bogota, I saw a teenage kid with four live guinea pigs standing next to each other on the sidewalk. The guinea pigs were positioned so close together and moving so little I initially thought they were stuffed animals, but they were real and just somehow trained to hang out on the sidewalk not moving much. I came back fifteen minutes later and a large crowd had formed and there were all these large bowls flipped upside down with numbers painted on them and holes cut in the side big enough for a guinea pig to crawl through. People would put money on top of the bowls and then after everyone put their money down, the kid picked up one of the guinea pigs out of the four, put it a few feet in front of the rest, and said “Vete!” [Go!]. The guinea pig scurried into one of the little flipped bowls. There was no money on top, but presumably if there was, the bettor would have won some money. I don’t know why Vegas hasn’t adopted this as I would definitely play this over traditional roulette.

The Egg Store

I found a retail store that just sells eggs. It’s the size of a medium-sized bodega, but instead of selling normal bodega things, every shelf is stacked entirely with cartons upon cartons of eggs. There was so much protein in that store, it could sustain Al for almost a week.

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My Favorite Juan Quotes

In Cordoba, I was visiting my friend Juan, whom I’d met a few months ealier in Máncora. Over the course of my three days there, he said a lot that I really enjoyed. I’ve included my favorite quotes below. Keep in mind that he’s learning English and I’m still learning Spanish, so he talks to me in English and I talk to him in Spanish.


On teaching Americans not to objectify women:
(there’s a big group of guys applauding every so often at the outdoor bar we’re drinking at)

Me: ¿Que hacen? [What are they doing?]
Juan: Oh, sometimes men here when they see very beautiful girls walk by, they applaud. But… do not do that. Especially if you are alone. It would look very strange if you are by yourself applauding girls that are walking.

On apartment prices in Cordoba:

“Around here for 1000 you can get an apartment with one bedroom, one bathroom, a chicken, and a living room.”

On strip clubs:
(context: In Argentina, the strip clubs are actually brothels. I told him that in the US, there is, in theory, no sex in strip clubs):

“That sounds terrible! Why would you do that? You get very hot… but then you cannot do anything?”


On my misguided approach to meeting Argentinian girls in clubs:

Juan: (explaining to his friend) He walks to them and says (putting his hand on his friend’s shoulder to demonstrate what I do) ‘Hi, how are you? My name is Mike.’ It’s crazy!
Me: ¿No puedo tocar sus hombros? [I can’t touch their shoulders?]
Juan: No! You have to talk to them for 15 minutes first. (back to his friend) And he touches their hair!
Me: ¿No puedo tocar su pelo? [I can’t touch their hair?]
Juan: No! You NEVER touch an Argentine girl’s hair.

On the contrast between dating in the US and dating in Argentina:

“It is not like in the US where you meet a girl and have sex right away. In Argentina, you have to first talk to her about movies and the weather. And then you can have sex.”

Thanks again to Juan for a fantastic weekend in Cordoba! I hope he comes for a visit when I’m back in the US.

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Cordoba in Pictures

Cordoba’s a beautiful city with a rich history and vibrant culture… I assume. Most of these pictures have nothing to do with that and are just of stupid things I found funny in the moment.


This is perfect if you want to buy your child a game, but your child is stupid. Careful not to let the hunk fall! (Sidenote: I don’t know what this says about me, but I don’t see any way you could interact with this game without “the hunk” ultimately falling.)


Alta Gracia, a small town 40 minutes outside Cordoba, has a museum at the childhood home of famed t-shirt designer, Che Guevara.


The museum could stand to work a little bit on their family tree-ing skills. It took me a few minutes to figure out that Che Guevara’s grandparents didn’t reproduce asexually to produce his parents. But check out the lineage on his dad’s side. His dad’s name is Ernesto Guevara Lynch! Who knew? Revolutionary from another mother.


A postcard Che sent his aunt when he was a little kid, thanking her for the toy airplane she sent him. Already a rebel, he boldly overthrows normal conventions of capitalization.


I saw this book at a newsstand by a bus stop in Alta Gracia. It was part of a collection of books that each taught a letter of the alphabet. There were a few things I found funny about this. I guess there actually aren’t any kids’ words in Spanish that start with ‘w’ so they couldn’t do their standard “W is for W_____” thing. Then there are so few words that even include a ‘w’ that they had to choose kiwi, a bird that’s only found in New Zealand. And then I have to assume the author was just so frustrated with how little sense this all made at that point that he was like, “This book that teaches Spanish has a bird from a country that doesn’t speak any Spanish. Why not have him wearing a t-shirt in English that refers to a director from America?”


I thought this was kind of a weird name for a shoe store. Handicap Sports? Then in Alta Gracia, I saw this storefront:


Another business called “handicap?” This one I think was a plumbing / heating company. I asked Juan why everything was named “handicap” and he told me that the word handicap in Argentina is only associated with golf, so it’s interpreted like “skill level.”


We were headed home from the club on Friday night when we ran into this girl, who started pretending that she was interviewing me on the street for a TV show, using the rose as a microphone. Midway through, her friend walked up to me and we had this exchange:

Friend: I am from France!
Me: Okay…
Friend: …
Me: Good?
Interviewer Girl: You don’t care at all that he’s from France, do you!?!


Yeah. U jelly?


This is an official government sign at passport control in the airport as you’re leaving Cordoba. It made me realize that there is an unfortunate lack of sexy-woman-crotch pictures at passport control in the US.

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Let’s Talk Movies

I like to talk about movies. Most movies in South America are American imports, so you’d think it’d be pretty easy to talk to people about movies. The trick is that American imports rarely have the same name in Spanish as they do in English, so I can’t just say, “Have you seen Die Hard?” Instead I end up in a little guessing game where I feel like I’m talking to my parents. “Remember? It’s with Bruce Willis? And terrorists are trying to kill him? And there’s a part where he has to walk barefoot on broken glass?” And they say “Oh! You mean Duro de Matar [Hard to Kill]!” (“they” in this case being South Americans, not my parents, in case that was unclear)

When I was in Lima, one of my first conversations with my friend Ingrid was a discussion of our favorite movies. She said her favorite movie was an American movie called Amor Ciego [Blind Love]. I couldn’t figure out what this would be so I asked her who was in it. She didn’t know the actors’ names, so she started describing the plot. “There’s a man who really likes pretty women and he gets trapped in an elevator-”

“Wait!” I interrupted her.


“Your favorite movie ever is Shallow Hal?” She was really confused why I was laughing so much. I told her that it’s a decent enough movie, but I’ve never heard anyone say it’s even close to their favorite. (Sidenote: To make up for teasing my parents earlier, I’ll point out that when I told my mom this story, she said the title of the movie as soon as I got to the the word “women.”)

I’ve noticed the titles in Spanish tend to be much more literal than the titles in English. For example, the third movie in the beloved Big Momma’s House series came out in the US, Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, but in Spanish it’s called Mi Abuela es un Peligro 3 [Mi Grandmother is a Danger 3]. The new Adam Sandler movie, Just Go With It in South America is called Una Esposa de Mentira [A Wife of a Lie].

JustGoWithIt UnaEsposaDeMentira

One of my favorites movie title translations is the Ashton Kutcher-Natalie Portman movie, No Strings Attached. In Spanish, it’s called Amigos con Derechos which is how South Americans say “friends with benefits.” Literally, it means “friends with rights,” which I think is hilarious because whenever I hear the expression I imagine someone taking his hookup buddy to court if she violates his “right” to make out with her.

I got even more excited when I saw that there’s a Justin Timberlake movie coming out in the summer called Friends with Benefits. As soon as I saw that, I thought, “Uh oh, South America! What are you going to do now? You already used up your very on-the-nose title for this movie.” It turns out that this movie will be called Amigos con Derechos a Roce, which means “Friends with Rights to Touch.” At least I think this is the translation. My pocket dictionary doesn’t have “a roce” and when I look it up on GoogleTranslate, it says “to friction.” I’ve asked people in Buenos Aires and they always respond by vigorously rubbing my arm, so I’m assuming it’s “to touch” or “to rub.” Pro tip: If you like having your arm rubbed, ask someone in Argentina what the translation of “a roce” is.

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