Text: Anastasia Shcherbakova
In October 2014, I went to travel in Latin America for a year.… The region attracted me with its unknown and remoteness. I started saving for the biggest adventure of my life long before leaving. At first I saved from my salary, working in trade marketing for a large company, and then I participated in various summer city festivals with my waffle project The Bakersville. I planned to travel from Mexico to Argentina, but on the way I realized that there was no point in chasing the quantity - it is much more interesting to travel at your own pace, stopping to live in the places I liked.
I worked in a hostel in the cozy colonial town of San Cristobal in southern Mexico, learned to paint ceramics in a small factory in Guatemala, built a house from natural materials on a farm in Nicaragua, cooked food for tourists and picked coconuts in the morning on San Blas Island in Panama. … As a result, in eight months I drove through Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and moved to Colombia by boat. For the next three months, I traveled around Colombia and was absolutely delighted with the people, the beauty of nature, the diverse landscape and the rich culture.
I fell in love with Cartagena at first sight: colorful houses with balconies, blue water of the Caribbean Sea, magnificent sunsets, live music in the squares and incredibly friendly people
Cartagena became my base in Colombia, from where I traveled to other cities. I fell in love with her at first sight: colorful houses with balconies braided with creepers, crystal blue water of the Caribbean Sea and islands an hour away, magnificent sunsets, live music in the squares, constant festivals - modern dance, cinema, orchestras - and incredibly friendly people … It was difficult to leave the country, all the time there were reasons to stay: either a four-day trekking to a lost settlement, which, well, cannot be missed, or friends invite you to a house on a hill with a gorgeous view of coffee plantations, or a freediving course that I wanted to take for so long.
On a freediving course, I met Sylvia, a freckled girl with curly hair and beautiful tattoos. After two days of diving on Cholon Island, we went with her to celebrate receiving certificates for a rooftop hostel party. There Sylvia introduced me to her friend Jose, a tall, tanned handsome man with broad shoulders and a snow-white smile. After some time, when I continued to travel inland, gradually approaching Ecuador, I accidentally met him again. We moved with him from one romantic city to another by bus, and we had an interesting conversation: Jose suggested that I stay to live in Cartagena and open a branch of my Moscow waffle bar, and at the same time get to know him better. I thought, "Why not?" It seemed to me much more interesting to try to do business in a city that I liked so much than to visit another country. On the same bus, I made a decision: that's it, I'm going to live in Cartagena.
Back in town, I immediately started building a food card. I remember getting off the bus with my friend Miguel and skipping to a stainless steel workshop. He stopped me: “Where are you running like that? Get used to moving slowly, otherwise you will sweat a lot and get tired quickly. " I soon realized what he meant. The heat in Cartagena is unbearable all year round, so everything is done very slowly. At lunchtime, from twelve to two, when the temperature reaches its maximum, the city freezes altogether: no one is on the roads, all businesses are closed, no one answers their phones - a siesta. The second siesta is football broadcast time, the holy of holies for the Colombians.More than half of the population wears the uniform of the national team on match day, takes time off or simply runs away from work to watch the competition. The third good reason not to work is rain. Because of all of the above, the construction was delayed for two months instead of the one I had planned. Almost every day I had to come to the workshops to supervise the work.
The effort was worth the effort: my waffle stand turned out to be insanely beautiful. As it turned out, the biggest difficulty was still ahead of me. In Cartagena, there is someone selling something at every corner: coconut water, hot dogs, burgers, soft drinks, fruits, arepas (cornmeal cakes), cigarettes, traditional fried fritos or skewers on small skewers. At the same time, as I found out already in the process, street trading in Colombia is illegal. If you constantly move, everything is in order, but parking in one place for several hours (as, by the way, most people do anyway) is prohibited. Since the waffle iron needs electricity, I can't move all the time, so I fall into the illegal category. The Ministry of the Environment, Housing and Territorial Development of Colombia is keeping order. Men in black suits can appear on the square at any time and confiscate your stand. This somehow happened to me when I left my employee to sell waffles and went freediving to the islands of San Andres and Providencia.
Naturally, I requested a trade permit from the city authorities, but for nine months I never received it. However, the refusal did not come to me either. I realized that many issues are solved differently here. On the one hand, I found out that a local businessman unofficially has power, about whom there are many rumors: some say that he is a mafiosi who deals with drug trafficking and kills people, others that he is simply very rich and talented, so many envy him and spread scary gossip about him. In any case, I decided to get to know him and ask for his support. He opened a restaurant on the square where I worked, and periodically came to check the progress of the construction. On one of these days, I made waffles, went to introduce myself and told him with burning eyes how I had built the food card of my dreams, and now I am not allowed to work. Without asking for anything in return, he promised to help.
On the other hand, I realized that whether the community of the barrio district accepts you also plays a big role in the success of your business. I decided to make my own contribution: I repaired the fallen tiles in the square with my own money, gave a free origami master class followed by eating waffles for the kids in the area, and took part in several subbotniks. I don't know what exactly worked (probably a combination of all the actions taken), but the police and the ministry didn't bother me anymore.
There are many business opportunities in Colombia and it is quite easy to obtain a visa and work permit. True, you have to learn Spanish - you can't go anywhere without it. I did it somehow by itself. I never took language lessons. At first, I played with the Busuu application on my phone, checked the conjugation of verbs on the Internet, tried to communicate all the time - and that's how I learned to speak. I wrote down the words by ear, and the iPhone automatically corrected all my mistakes - this is how I learned to write.
Arriving here with American currency, you feel like royalty, but when you start earning in pesos, everything no longer seems so cheap
What I absolutely love about Colombia is the Caribbean culture with its music and dance, whether it's mini orchestras with perky drums and brass instruments, thrilling salsa or aggressively sexy champeta. Champeta is both a musical genre and a dance, brought to Colombia by African slaves. Because people's legs were shackled, champeta is often danced with ankles drawn together.In general, champeta is the name of a short machete knife used by fruit sellers - in fact, a symbol of the poor. Over time, the dance became popular outside of the poorer areas. It is now a powerful part of the culture of the Atlantic coast of Colombia, and the funniest parties are where champeta is played and danced.
Another reason to fall in love with Colombia once and for all, especially Cartagena, is the extraordinarily welcoming and friendly people. Almost every morning the guard in my house asks how I slept, how I and Jose are doing, asks what is new with us. The cashier in the district supermarket knows me by name and writes down my every visit using a new Russian word. On the street you constantly meet acquaintances, it is customary to stop and chat with everyone - this is probably why rarely anyone comes to a meeting on time.
Once a cashier in a large supermarket responded to my annoyed remark: “Isn't it possible to punch through the groceries as quickly as possible? Look at the queue, "she answered me:" My princess, where are you in a hurry? Look where we are: the land ends here, then only the sea, there is nowhere to run. " What can I say? There is something beautiful about it. By the way, at first I was very surprised by this manner of address: "mi reina" - "my princess", "nena" - "baby", "mi vida" - "my life", "linda" - "beauty", but over time I used to. Also, the phrases "negrito" - "black", "flaco" - "thin", "gordo" - "fat", "loco" - "crazy", "viejo" - "old" ceased to amaze me. In my opinion, beauty lies in this diversity.
The sea outside the window, tropical fruits all year round, the magical old town with its colorful houses, on weekends - salsa in the bar with a huge collection of old music and small balconies or champeta in the open air, friendly people - a perfect picture is drawn. In fact, not everything is so good. Cartagena is the main tourist city of Colombia, which makes it the most expensive, and during the holidays the center is not crowded. In addition, they mainly come here for the sake of not the most intellectual tourism: to come off, try drugs - it's sad to watch this.
Historically, this city was a transit point: pirate ships moored to it, sailors went ashore in search of women, slaves were brought here from Africa, here the Inquisition burned thousands of innocent women on huge bonfires. All this heavy energy is in the air of the city. Another disadvantage is very small salaries: cleaning ladies, cashiers, waiters earn $ 150-250 a month, and office managers - $ 300-800. Arriving here with American currency, you feel like royalty, but when you start earning in pesos, everything no longer seems so cheap. If you suddenly want to go on a trip to Europe or home to Russia to visit family and friends, you will have to sweat.
As for my plans for the future, I am not going to stay in Colombia for life. I would like to live somewhere else - for example, in Buenos Aires, Los Angeles or Bali. In August, it was a year since I have lived in Colombia, and two years since I left Russia, and during this time I have learned a lot. Moving to another country no longer seems to me to be something scary and impracticable. I think there are many more obstacles in our head: now I understand that people live very differently, and everyone defines success in their own way. Now I understand that the countries of Latin America are not at all what they are often described in the media, and there are so many interesting things in the world that it is simply a sin not to go on another adventure.
Photos: galina_savina - stock.adobe.com, galina_savina - stock.adobe.com