Updated: May 25
8/5/2011 Bienvenido A hearty welcome to Buenaventura, Colombia! This journey starts in Cali and ends up in my second home, Buenaventura.
I visit Buenaventura monthly. I began visiting Colombia in 2008 to see my significant other, Victor Renteria Caicedo. My first year in South America was spent in Bogota, the capitol of Colombia. Since my first visit to Buenaventura, not much has changed. If you want to imagine Buenaventura, picture any third world country. The town is poor and is in need of significant contributions and supporters. Other than the port, there is no other viable industry there; therefore there are no viable jobs according to the Chamber of Commerce. The infrastructure is in desperate need of improvement.
Buenaventura does not have a large airport, I have to fly into Cali, Colombia. I arrived in Cali via Avianca Airlines. Avianca is one of the largest airlines in South American. I choose Avianca for many reasons but the main reason is the crew is magnificent and it is a great airline. Even though I work for Delta Airlines, I jump seated on Avianca. On board the aircraft and at the airport, I feel like I am a part of this family.
Cali is the capital of the State of Valle. It is the third largest city in Colombia. From the airport we take a bus to the bus station. At the bus station we have dinner at Restaurant Las Delicias De Aquivoca. The cook prepares a stellar dish for us: robalo fish, sweet plantain; Cameron rice with french-fries, salad and a sugar paste juice. We stay overnight in Cali at a nearby hotel.
Buenaventura is two and a half hours away from Cali. There are three ways to get there by land: car, taxi, or bus. The most popular is the bus. Generally, we travel on the Metro Express. It departs around the clock until 10 o’clock p.m. transporting passengers back and forth without veering off to pick up passengers in rural areas. The Transmar is a big green and white bus that takes you into small towns picking up and dropping off people that come from the countryside and the city to do different types of activities. Some are carrying their products home and some are going to sell their products. They have chicken, cow parts, raccoons, armadillos’, all kinds of birds, grain for the cows and horses, shovels, machetes, clothing, etc. you name it. I stay away from this bus when traveling because it is basically carrying workers back and forth. It is the cheapest mode of transportation if you are traveling by bus.
Traveling from Cali to Buenaventura is very calm and relaxing. The mountains and landscape are magnificent. As an avid traveller and lover of photography, I have a serious interest in photographing the people and the landscape.
There are hundreds of vendors along the way. Everyone is pretty much selling the same products. As the bus approaches its stop, the workers race out to the bus to make their sales. The products include peanuts, bee honey, fresh pineapples, plantain chips, mangoes, arepa bread, mazamorra (made from corn, brown sugar, cinnamon, milk and water), chicken, pork, borojo juice, coconuts, etc.
Victor Holding Bee Honey
Borojo fruit was opened and placed inside this plastic bag. Victor's mother Mary Leonisa blends the fruit and serve it with lunch.
Currently the highway is undergoing major construction. Several tunnels are being built and the roads are being enlarged to accommodate new development, due in part to the Free Trade agreement (FTA) that is being considered between the US and Colombia. This agreement will link the United States with Colombia.
Recently President Obama and President Santos had a meeting to negotiate on a free trade agreement. “At their April meeting, presidents Obama and Santos announced that Colombia was committed to implementing a Labor Action Plan as a part of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The plan would strengthen the prosecution of perpetrators of violence against trade unions, improve protections for threatened trade unionists, address abuses related to the associative cooperatives, and criminalize anti-union behavior. It would also reestablish the Colombian Ministry of Labor, which was dismantled under the previous Colombian president, Álvaro Uribe”.
President Obama said, “I am very pleased to announce that we have developed an action plan for labor rights in Colombia, consistent with our values and interests, but more importantly, consistent with President Santos’s vision of a just and equitable society inside of Colombia, and we believe that this serves as a basis for us moving forward on a U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement.”Sure it will!
This is incredible news and hopefully a one way ticket out of poverty for the people of Buenaventura. It will create jobs and allow for fair treatment amongst the workers, open the doors for major industries and bring Buenaventura into this borderless new world of technology and such.
The relationship between business and government will make a huge difference here in Buenaventura!
On many occasions, while travelling to Buenaventura, the road has been blocked off and backed up for thirty minutes to an hour or so because of construction. In this area there are high mountains that go on and on. To collapse these mountains the workers use dynamite. This causes the debris/ dirt to slide into the road, therefore the traffic is held up to allow the workers to clear the road with bulldozers and dump trucks. The road from Cali to Buenaventura is only one lane and needs to be widened before the FTA bill is passed, logged, documented and filed so there will be an immediately free flow of traffic to and from the cities and the port. There is already a large flow of buses transferring people back and forth and ’mucho’18 wheeler tractor trailers bringing in construction materials and/or taking out raw materials (iron, copper, and platinum, gold) produced from the mountains or transporting different products to and from the cities.
While we are waiting for the construction crew to put up the ‘Verde’ sign giving us permission to pass on through, I get out and begin taking photos of the scenery. Between these mountains there is a river that flows quite a ways and drops right into the ocean of Buenaventura. There is an old railroad track on the other side of the mountain that was built in the late1800 and used in the 1900 but is no longer used as a means of transportation. It is rarely used anymore. There’s fruit trees that bear fruit I had never seen before, and trees with beehives as large as the tree itself.
Between Cali and Buenaventura is a little town called Cisneros, the people here live mostly off the cultivation of crops, such as coffee, cacao (chocolate) mangoes, plantain, corn, sugar cane, and on lumber and gold mining.
Once in Buenaventura:
People: 90% of the people in Buenaventura are Afro- Colombian. The other 10% are European – Indian mix. The people are very humble.
Indigenas of the Pacific Coast of Colombia from the Mayan branch of the Indian tribe.
People: 90% of the people in Buenaventura are Afro- Colombian. The other 10% are European – Indian mix. The people are very humble.
Language: Everyone here speaks Spanish. A common misconception is that because the majority of the people here are black that they speak a different language. No, they speak Spanish. A few of them that worked near the port or spent a period of time in the U.S. speaks a little English.
Weather: There are really two seasons in Buenaventura, it is either hot or raining. Generally, the weather is usually around 85 degrees. In the summer it is from 85 -87 degrees, it is not very hot but it is hot. It doesn’t rain everyday in the summer but it is sunny. In the winter months it pours down raining practically every day. There are winters that last two months, three month and six months. It goes in cycles. Three months are summer; three months are winter, three months summer and the last three months winter. Or, six months summer and six months winter. In the winter the moment the rain stops the temperature drops down from 84 degrees to as low as 72 degrees. In some instances the sun will be out when it is pouring down raining. There are also times when it is raining on one block and not a drop of rain falling on the next block. There are different shapes of weather. For example: when it rains for three or four days in a row, the fifth day is like a cool grey day and the temperature is approximately 72 to 74 degrees. The following day the sun comes out fully and it goes back up to 85 degrees. At night it really gets hot and air conditioners are not common here. Very few people have fans.
Time: Buenaventura time is two hours ahead of CST. There is no daylight savings time observed.
Telephone and Internet: When dialing from abroad, use 011 and the country code (57) + area code + phone number. There are no public telephone booths that I have seen. Some homes have telephones but the majority does not. There are quite a few people with cellular phones but the mass majority does not have a plan so they use cellular vendors. Cellular vendors are located on every street and in every neighborhood and on every corner and are the most popular way to make telephone calls. You pay by minutes. As an alternative, you can go to one of the many computer centers or internet café which provide computer and telephone service. The rates for calling international are very competitive and the use of the computers are reasonable. If you are familiar with Skype, Fringe or Gmail you can make these calls free or at a pretty decent rate. If the parties you are calling have access to Skype this will be a free phone call for them.
Drug: Drugs are not legal. The law forbids selling and buying drugs. Period!
Security: About 2,000 soldiers and police officers, who also wear combat uniforms and carry semi automatic weapons, patrol Buenaventura. Our neighborhood is located near a bridge; therefore they patrol this area all the time. It was common to set bombs to bridges.
Tipping: Although it is not required, it is good Carmen to tip. Any amount will do and they will certainly appreciate it and say, “God bless you”.
Public Transportation: Buenaventura can be best travelled by public transportation. Public transportation is organized and you can either take a Metro bus or taxi. It is inexpensive and it can get you everywhere. You do not have to purchase a ticket, just climb on board and pay the driver. Some drivers even speak a little English. There are no trams or trains. The Metro bus runs until midnight in some areas.
Motorcycles: The fastest way to travel is by motorcycles and scooters. There are several throughout the city. This is one of the cheapest and most dangerous ways to get around. The motorcycles like some of the other vehicles are not adhering to signs. They squeeze between cars left and right trying to get ahead of the traffic and they travel at a high rate of speed. It seems as if they are not concerned about others safety as well as their own. You will see a lot of business women on their way to work on scooters and motorcycles. They usually come in twos.
Cars: There aren’t many people driving cars in Buenaventura. Motorcycles, scooters, metro buses and taxis outnumber the cars.
Taxi: Taxi is considered one of the safest ways to travel besides your own personal vehicle. You can hail a taxi from any part of the city. The taxi runs all night and they are plentiful. To take a taxi from downtown to the end of the city will cost you roughly10,000 pesos. At the hotel you can ask them to arrange for you a taxi. Oh, and a lot of them speak English since they transport tourists.
Shopping: El Exito is the major shopping center here. Inside they also have a movie theater, bars, restaurants and game shops.
There are many small stores in the downtown area of Buenaventura as well as in the many neighborhoods’. I find that the stores are very pricey and the quality of the clothes is cheap looking. Equally, there are a lot of vendors set up alongside the street. They sell fruit, bakeries, juices, coconut, sunglasses, cellular minutes, belts, ice cream, etc. There is a mixture of all kinds. Here you can see and feel the history of Buenaventura. I enjoy shopping with the vendors on the street, especially the food vendors because the fruits, vegetables, fish, and bread are fresh and the people are super nice.
Shopping at the grocery store is very costly. Depending on what you want to buy, you can always find it cheaper at the corner stores, market or neighborhood stores. Right on the street you can get pretty much everything you need for a meal.
Fashion: It is always 85 degrees here so neither a sweater nor a jacket is needed. The majority of the people wear blue jeans and a lightweight top. Boots are universal so you will see them from time to time. For walking, I suggest tennis shoes. The streets in Buenaventura are in much needed repair. The streets have a lot of potholes and the sidewalks are cracked up. So it is best to wear comfortable shoes and you should be okay. In the daytime, I suggest wearing something for a warm climate. Now for the night life, the people are hip and fashion conscious. High heel shoes, tight pants or jeans and low cut tank tops or blouses with cleavage showing for the women. This is what I call making a "fashion statement”. Designer clothes are not necessary, just nice, cute and form fitting. The men will have on a pair of jeans and a nice shirt. Uniforms are worn in all of the schools regardless of the ages.
Dinner/Lunch: Is served between 1 and 2 o’clock. The food is delicious and colorful. A typical lunch or dinner in Colombia consists of meat; beef, chicken or seafood (fish, octopus, calamari, oysters, crabs, and tender shark) served alongside frijoles (kidney beans) or lentils, fried plantain either sweet or regular, rice, soup and a small salad. Can goods are not used. The juice that is served with the meal is full of nutrients. Usually it is a fruit picked from the tree that day or brought from one of the vendors on the street. It is blended with water and a little sugar is added….you talking about a royal treat. Each day you have a taste of a different fruit. My favorite is the mango juice. Sometimes the drinks are made from ginger or sugar paste.Breakfast: Bread and coffee is served in the morning. The bread is fresh and the coffee is smooth. I have yet to find a better tasting coffee. Colombia have many types of exotic coffees.
Culture: Colombia is a place with rich natural resources and cheap skilled labor. It suffers from unemployment, corruption and bureaucracy. The people are largely Catholic. The racial makeup of Buenaventura is Afro Colombian and a European – Indian mix. It is a Spanish speaking community. Family takes priority.
This is all for now. I will continue writing about Buenaventura so please check back from time to time.
If you have any questions or concerns send me a comment via my blog and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog!
Hope you enjoy your stay!
Mary Roach Armstrong
Please note: If you would like to purchase any of the Colombian brands of coffee, just drop me and email or send a post in my comment section of my blog and I will ship it to you whether domestic or International. Jan1mra@gmail.com