December 24, 2016 I was going to focus this month's post on the craziness that is called Delta Airlines, but I decided to write about something that is a little more pertinent to the moment...I got sick! It started as just a basic, run-of-the-mill cold, but then segued into a feverish, not getting out of bed for anything flu. For the first two days, I was miserable. Even after the first onslaught, I was so weak that I could only get out of bed for a few minutes at a time. I am not one to go to the doctor for slight malaises, but so many people encouraged me to go that I figured I would do it, not just for the sake of my health, but also for the hordes of dedicated readers of my blog. After all, I'm sure that one of your primary questions is "What are the hospitals like in Colombia?"
To the Colombian Consulate!
November 12, 2016 Well, it's been a roller coaster ride, but we're finally in Colombia to live! But there were a lot of things that happened along the way and I haven't had time to document all off them, so I'm going to cover things a little at a time. For today, I will focus on the experiences we had at the Colombian Consulate in San Francisco. We had been told several horror stories about consulates in Miami and Los Angeles, including when they seemingly wanted bribes or just seemed to ask for endless minutiae for the fun of it. After hearing about these issues, it was with trepidation that we approached getting our Pension Visas to live in Colombia. Added to that was the fear that we wouldn't have enough income to qualify. You see, to get a Pension Visa, one must have a guaranteed check coming in every month of three times the Colombian minimum wage. At current exchange rates, their minimum wage is around $225 per month (yes, that's for working around 48 hours per week!) That would mean that the pension would need to been around $700. We had a bit of an issue, however. At first, our understanding was that, if one spouse had that income, the other could just be added as a beneficiary and included in the first's pension amount. Great! Frank retired and had that and a little more! Then, after he retired, someone revealed that the guaranteed income was PER PERSON! Uh oh! So, I called the Colombian Consulate a couple of times to get clarification. They were very kind, but basically said that they needed to see us (and we needed to bring in the fee for them to start the process, natch!) So, we gathered all the paperwork necessary, feeling sure that much of it needed to be translated and apostles (like notarized, but good between countries). We arrived and we're directed to the Consulate employee who spoke English well. To our surprise, Zooly was extremely proficient and helpful. She said that we could put Frank's documents through to the Bogota office first and, when that was approved, just try to add me in as an afterthought. And, nothing had to be translated and only one document had to be apostles! So, we did all of the necessary steps and paid the fees and went home to wait. In about two weeks, Zooly called and said that Frank was approved and we needed to come back to San Francisco and pay the visa fee and pick it up. I thought that there would need to be at least two more trips to San Francisco to complete all the necessary steps. But, we had a surprise waiting when we got there. She printed out Frank's visa and then we paid the investigation fee for my visa, whereupon she told us that my visa should be ready in thirty minutes, and that we should return with my visa fee! What! An efficient government office?! But, sure enough, we were able to pick up both visas the same day and then get to the process of getting rid of our household goods and packing up! Thank you Zooly!
May 28, 2016 Well, I've been having problems getting things up on my blog. In fact, one entire entry with pictures has unaccountably disappeared. But, I will try to reconstruct some of it! Frank had a very nice experience on the Metro. There were two teenage girls standing because there weren't enough seats while he was sitting and when two people on either side of him got up to leave, he moved over so that they could continue their conversation. They thanked him profusely several times, which is something that you would not see much in the United States. And, just to prove that the more things change the more they stay the same, there is a Walmart clone in Colombia called Exito! In the U.S., I'm not a fan of Walmart at all, but, when one is in a foreign country, it is comforting to find familiarity in your surroundings! There was also a delicious burger restaurant with several types of gourmet burgers! A little more pricey than the $3 almuerzos, but cheaper than restaurant meals in the U.S.- maybe around $7-8 per person. We also had some very nice experiences talking to fellow foreigners at the malls, in the parks, and even on the streets. We would hear them talking and realize that they were speaking English or French or German and just go up and start a conversation! Some were on vacation and others lived there, but it was always nice to share experiences and reasons for being there. (Even if their native language was not English, most spoke English perfectly!) We asked one man who looked Colombian to take our picture in the park, and he answered in English...it turned out that he was from San Bernadino! Now, finally, to the big news: We are moving to Colombia! We have our airline tickets for November, Frank is preparing to take early retirement from his job, and we are just trying to figure out what to do with all of the 20+ years of accumulated stuff that we have! We will NOT be transporting most of it, as it would be prohibitively expensive and cheaper just to buy things there. However, there are a couple of things that I would be very pleased if we could take. Among them is our Sleep Number bed, sewing machine, and Kitchenaid mixer. Also, finding good cookware is difficult, so maybe a couple of pots and pans. I'm trying to figure out the cheapest way to bring extra things and, so far, it looks like the winner may be paying for extra luggage on the plane. But, I will keep searching! I have also been researching apartments, but I had to put that project on hold, because I kept finding "perfect" places in the right price range. That is a problem when we won't be there for another five months!
Observations of the First Few Days
May 6,2016 So, we have been here almost one week and are slowly starting to get the hang of things. We mostly walk everywhere, averaging around five miles per day. The terrain here is quite hilly, so we get a pretty good workout just going out in service and doing our errands. A taxi ride seems to be around $3 per journey, and an Über about $1 more. But, with an Über, I can specifically request an English speaker, if I so desire, and we have been told that the Über drivers are much more conservative in their speeds and risk taking, as their jobs depend upon good reviews from their riders. Prices for some things seem to be a little better here than in Ecuador, especially for things like imported electronics and cars, because Colombia doesn't seem to charge the 100% import tax that Ecaudor does. I was told that you can even have used clothing shipped to you in Colombia, whereas I have heard that, in Ecuador, customs officials may dispose of them as there are no attached price tags to be able to tax them. The research I had done before coming indicated that it was much harder to get a residency visa in Colombia than in Ecuador. Indeed, many of the people we have met are on a constant quest of finding ways to stay in the country. Some of them take classes at the local university (mostly Spanish classes, so a good idea in any case!) so as to get a student visa, but they have to be renewed regularly. Some have dual citizenship due to having been born here or having Colombian parents (nice, but not so practical a solution for us). Then there is the Pension Visa. If one can prove a regular income of 3 times the national minimum wage, the road to a residency visa is much smoother. And, since the minimum wage is only approximately $240 per month (at the current exchange rates), that means an income of under $750 per month. That seems like it might actually be conceivable. However, even if Frank was able to get that in retiring from his work, I was worried about my status. Not having access to my own pension income (darn being self-employed and too young to collect!), would I have to take constant university courses to maintain a student visa? Evidently, from talking to several people in the same situation, the answer is no! I would get to piggyback onto my husband's Pension Visa! Yay! The English congregation is small and does not have nearly as many native English speakers as we saw in Cuenca. In fact, there are far fewer Colmbians who speak English in general, probably because Medellin has not yet become quite the U.S. retirement haven that Ecuador has. It has started in that direction; the main obstacles being the misconceptions that most Americans have about the crime and drug rates here as well as having to figure out the exchange rates (Ecuador only uses the U.S. dollar as their currency). The weather here is perhaps a little warmer than is absolutely comfortable for me. The high gets to around 84-85°F. But, there is a breeze usually and the clouds come and cool it down a little. Also, the Über cars and our apartment have air conditioning, so we always have a welcome respite.
This slideshow is of our trip to the Medellin Aquarium. Can you pick out the piranha?
April 30, 2016 Okay, so did anyone else in the world know that, if you have more than a six hour layover at am airport, not only will the airline not hold your luggage until the next flight, but after collecting your luggage, you have to go back through all the check in and TSA lunacy? Oh, and then as a cherry on top, you can't recheck in until five hours before your flight? Insanity, you say? Nope, that's reality.... at least in Atlanta! So, we had a twelve hours layover after an all night flight. We thought :"We'll just pay for a day's pass at Delta's Sky Club, where they have showers, food , drinks, a quiet room where we could catch a nap... Nice! " We arrived in Atlanta, exhausted (since neither one of us can sleep on a plane) and a little ill (Frank is still recovering from pneumonia), and were told that we had to retrieve our bags. On the way, we realized that we are leaving the secured area and would have to check back in. Then, the check in personnel told us that there was absolutely no way to check in for our flight that early. So, we went and had a big breakfast and regrouped, trying to replan our day. By that time, I was so exhausted that I was about ready to cry. So, I suggested that we ride the airport shuttle to the International terminal and make a last ditch effort there. There, we initially got the same story, but my look of desperation and my (very truthful) statement that I was about ready to toss my cookies must have gotten the rep's attention as he then said words that were music to my ears : "Let me see what I can do." THANK YOU GARRICK! I will remember you always! So we got into the Sky Club for a nominal fee and lived to fight another day! Even with that respite, it was a long and difficult journey. By the time we reached Medellin, I had eaten things I really should not have and probably slept 2 hours out of the last 40. Fortunately, the service that was to meet us at the airport actually showed up, and we were on our way. However, I didn't realize that it would be a journey of 45 minutes on twisty, bumpy roads. When we finally made it to the apartment, I barely made it inside and to the bathroom before my earlier promise to Garrick came to fruition. I will draw a curtain over the rest of the evening...
Running the Gauntlet
April 27, 2016 Just when I thought we could not be any less prepared....Frank was diagnosed with pneumonia on Sunday and we have been on pins and needles for several days, trying to decide whether we would have to postpone the trip. The final verdict: we are going. But, we're both so tired (I've had a cough as well), that this decision just seems rather anticlimactic. We will probably be leaving our home a bit of a shambles, trying to throw every necessary thing into suitcases and then deciding that half of that wasn't really necessary at all. Right now, I don't have the energy to look more than a few hours ahead. And, as for my Spanish lessons, least said, soonest mended!
Preview of our 2016 trip to Colombia
April 19, 2016 So, it'coming soon....but we are completely unprepared! Our Spanish lessons have taken a back seat to overwhelming life events. We haven't even started to think of packing. But, we do have a letter from the Colombia branch stating that, at least as of nine months ago, there is a need in the English field. So, with hope in our hearts, airline tickets at the ready, and what is hopefully a very nice studio apartment reserved in Medellin, we will be there in a little over a week! We hope to immerse ourselves in the Medellin congregation, with perhaps a side trip to Pereira. We will be looking at the need, the weather, and the cost of living. Also, we will need to determine the level of difficulty in getting a cedula (needed for long term residency). I talked to a new friend today who just returned from Medellin and hopes to go back at her earliest opportunity. She said that a spacious three bedroom apartment rents for $400 or less, the weather is a little warmer than advertised (probably due to that wonderful thing called climate change), and that the congregation is extremely warm and friendly. A great start to my information gathering! But, when we get feet on the ground, it will be time to get the real scoop!