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I’ve let it be known many times before how Colombia can be bad for one’s health and well-being — or my own, at least.
Then there’s cheap barrio-tienda beer. Its affordability often encourages those of a certain disposition to imbibe more than is advisable. (In mitigation, it does promote socialising. If one is going to drink, isn’t it better to do so in a public house rather than at home? There’s surely a mental health benefit to be had.)
We’ve also got apartment complexes and their complexes i.e. their many ridiculous rules. The mentally and physically damaging playing of loud music often goes unpunished yet prepare yourself for the firing squad if you dare to air clothes at the only window you have that the sun reaches. Well, if not quite the firing squad certainly a fine will be forthcoming.
And let’s not forget the largely non-existent customer service, although this isn’t exclusive to Colombia.
‘You don’t have to go out of your way to eat healthily here.’
I was going to include the difficult damas, the complicated chicas, but thanks to my frigidity these days, such stresses are a thing of the past.
However, in recent months the antics of some frenemies have taken their place. My ability, nay willingness, to trust people has taken a hit in these lands. I do, though, still tend to take folk at their word until proven otherwise.
Now, in light of the previous, one might think that I actively seek out negatives, that I’m a fan of self-flagellation so to put it. Not at all. It’s not that I’m a sucker for punishment that I’ve stayed in Colombia this long. Honestly, it’s not.
The following, in no particular order, are some of the main reasons why I’ve been captured, in a good sense, by Colombia. (Yes, I could have used captivated instead of captured but captivated is a bit too quixotic for me!) These seven benefits have played their part in my reluctance to let Colombia go.
Fresh fare sourced locally
When it comes to the bare necessities, Colombia has an abundance of relatively cheap fruit and vegetables available all year round, most of which are grown in the country. So you don’t have to go out of your way to eat healthily here. And the grub doesn’t have to travel too far to get to you either.
One significant snag, though, is that we can’t be sure about the safety of any pesticides these natural goodies may be dosed in during cultivation. Unless we grow our own from scratch — impracticable for many — we just have to hope that the chemical balance is tipped in our favour health-wise.
Now, there’s no point in having access to a range of fresh produce if you rarely have the time to cook. For the average working-class, city-dwelling Colombian, this can be a challenge.
However, some foreigners from higher-income nations who come to settle here are often engaged in work that comes with generous me-time, more so than they would most likely enjoy in their birth country anyway.
The likes of native English speakers who teach the language can usually expect to earn a decent hourly rate. So they can do fairly well without having to work the long hours forced upon many locals.
It’s even better for those who are paid in one of the world’s stronger currencies whilst based in Colombia.
Alas, having grown tired of English teaching and not having a foreign-currency income to rely on, I haven’t exactly been rolling in it of late.
Nonetheless, with my rather minimalist lifestyle — it comes naturally — I have been able to maintain my independent living to a greater or lesser extent, replete with regular, refreshing bouts of travel around Colombia.
Those fallow periods just mentioned, of which there have been many of late, have been offset somewhat by, whisper it, a rather generous savings scheme.
Banco Caja Social’s Rentafácil, literally easy income, has been at inflation-busting interest rates for some time, offering much better returns than the CDTs I wrote about in 2020. My cautious, doubting nature is waiting for the catch but so far, so good, it seems.
Shrewder investors will most likely find fault with the Rentafácil or view it as an amateur investment. All I can say is that if the interest it’s accruing is all mine to enjoy then I’ll be quite content (it is, by the way, an instant-access scheme but I haven’t withdrawn any funds yet).
Active at altitude
Whatever about the future of the returns on my Rentafácil, they’re unlikely to take me to the high life socially speaking. Colombia’s topography, on the other hand, offers plenty of natural highs.
‘In Bogotá, only the very sensitive to cold might want home heating at night.’
And while it’s far from certain that living at lofty altitudes is better for one’s overall health than life around sea level, I at least think that the high-ish life has been good for me. And if I think it hard enough, I can make it the truth, can’t I?!
In fact, at times I feel that Bogotá, at 2,600 metres above sea level, isn’t high enough. So I’m considering setting up a new base camp in Colombia — if, that is, I can make it financially sustainable and the country continues to be my home.
One option, um, high on the list is Güicán, a town I recently visited and enjoyed, perched about 400 metres closer to the stars than the capital.
Fun in the sun
Speaking of being closer to the stars, Colombia’s location in the tropics ensures that the sun’s strength provides sufficient vitamin D throughout the year.
Even during Bogotá’s rainiest days the sun usually shines sufficiently for the average person to soak up enough of this immune system booster.
This can’t be said of my native Ireland and other similar places.
Mentioning Ireland, for large parts of the year a heat source is usually needed to keep people warm inside.
In Bogotá, only the very sensitive to cold might want home heating at night. Those aside, if one feels cold, an extra item of clothing and/or some physical movement should warm one up sufficiently. The same goes for most Andean locations at an altitude of roughly 1,500 to 3,000 metres above sea level: a Goldilocks temperature all year round.
For places at the lower end of that range, finding ways to cool down is the main issue. Well above 3,000 metres, one can expect to prepare for occasional night frosts. And because many of Colombia’s buildings are poorly insulated, it can often be colder inside than outside.
As for inside and outside, in my beloved working-class barrios and pueblos, I usually feel like an inside outsider.
That is, with the local people who know me, I’m not just another random foreigner. I’m viewed more as a part of the community. Yet, I can still maintain my distance and play the foreigner card (not the gringo one!) when needs be.
Now, this is the least one might expect after almost 12 years based in a country. However, settled immigrants don’t always become accepted, be they in Colombia — in certain places more so than others — or around the world. This can be due to an immigrant’s own behaviour, the locals’ attitude or a mixture of both.
During my time in Colombia, I feel I’ve found the right inside/outside balance.
Some, though, argue that I’ve become too cosy with working-class Colombia to the detriment of my career and financial development. There’s merit to that.
Yet, taking all the above into account, Colombia has been a more positive experience than a negative one. Maybe other places offer all these benefits but have fewer negatives. If so, do let us know about them!
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