Pereira, the second city of Colombia is much larger than I imagined. Daft really, because I could see the size in Google Maps. Somwhere between Girona and Barcelona but closer to the size of Barcelona. It is surrounded by hills rather like Celrà where I live but the actual city is very undulating because the land on which it is built is also very hilly. The view changes rapidly, it is divertido. There are areas with poverty of course but much of the city has signs of investment of money. Lots of new buildings. So it is a very positive, optimistic feel that I get as I travelled around.
Oh, a little about the apartment. I booked it in Booking.com back in August at the same time as buying my air ticket. I suppose I could have booked into a hotel for a few days and then looked for somewhere more permanent but in the end, it worked out really well. It is like a large open-plan studio, bedroom, lounge, bathroom with a kitchen area. The price is 2.500 mils, 2.5 milones, or 2500000 pesos. I think I have the right number of zeros. Everything is in "mils", meaning thousands of pesos because a peso is very small. One euro equals 3 mils. Taxis are very cheap, a typical 20 minute ride is about 10 mils. That is paid in paper notes and then there are coins of 100 or 200 pesos typically. Rather in the same way as I paid for taxis in Ukraine, I would get a huge wad of notes out of my wallet and count out the money, rather like some drug dealer on a street corner.
Milena comes in every day to clean the flat so it is rather like having a housekeeper.
Nini and I stopped off at Arborlera Shopping Mall to buy a SIM for my phone and personal wifi hotspot but communication has been a disaster, ending up with a broken phone. Maybe I will write a separate post about that. My lifeline is that the apartment has wifi and it is local to the apartment so I can consider it is a private network.
At first I was alarmed that the safe in the apartment doesn't work - the agency office (which is on the ground floor, I am on the 7th) doesn't have the physical key to open it so that I can't enter my own password. But there is a security guy at the entrance and only Milena has a key to my flat and I trust her totally. I now leave my passport in the apartment and carry around my authorised copy with the stamp of a Notario. But it is not universally accepted as an ID.
I am writing this a week after I arrived and I have yet to see a mosquito. Just as well, I guess because they carry more exotic diseases than in Spain. But I checked before I left and there is no effective protection apart from avoiding getting bitten. Nini confirmed later that there is no malaria in Pereira because I asked her if there was a risk when we went out in the country to the finca.
We had a coffee in a local coffee shop and then took a taxi back to the area close to my apartment Next to the bus station is a shopping mall called la 14. Named after the street, Calle 14. We went around the supermarket and bought some basic food for the flat. The kitchen was very basic so I was starting from scratch!
Nini had to go and pick up her daughter Sofia from the kindergarten and I went back to the apartment to take a break. It is strange, many years ago when I travelled regularly to Dubai, I suffered for several days with jet-lag. Even worse was travelling to New York, desperately trying not to go to bed at 6pm after the flight because doing so would have meant waking up bright and early at 4am!! And yet, here, I switched almost immediately and within a day, I was in Colombian time. That is very odd. Something has changed over the years since those previous journeys.
And it was just as well because next day, Nini came to pick me up bright and early to take me to her sister's home which is way out in the country, a finca. Luisa and her husband manage a large plantation and a dairy herd of 30 cattle. Maybe I didn't mention, Nini is 23 and has a daughter of 3 years, Sofia. Luisa has two children. Nini is separated from Sofia's father.
The journey was partly in a bus - there are millions of buses here - to Cuba which is a suburb of Pereira. Then the rest of the journey was in a jeep, packed full with people. Nini stood on a platform at the back and I had Sofia wedged between my knees. Some of the journey was by road but much of it was a track with pot-holes! And it lasted seemingly for ever. Everyone was in good spirits and I chatted to one or two of the passengers. I was something of a novelty as you can imagine!
This is a view of the street where they live!