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In the Streets of Barranquilla

My week hasn’t been wildly exciting but I figured you might enjoy some commentary on life in the streets here because that can be quite exciting…

Triple birthday celebration at a neighborhood bar!

Ok, so we can start with traffic rules here. Sure they are almost the same as the US, but ‘suggestions’ might be a better term than rules in some cases. There are a few stoplights and many roundabouts but the rest of the intersections tend to follow something more along the lines of rolling stops and hit your horn if you can’t see. On the upside, traffic moves a lot slower here and the cars are much smaller so it actually feels safer than the states a lot of the time. Also there's the whole concept of lanes as well, but we don't really need to worry about those. So you want to cross the street do you? Just make sure there is no one about to hit you and go for it. Or if you really feel like it, just walk out in front of the cars and they will probably stop. Ok there are actual crosswalks, but few seem to bother with them. Almost all the streets are one way though so it’s quite easy to just stroll across the street. It’s actually integrated right into the street signs with the direction of traffic indicated by an arrow right next to the name. On-street parking is very tricky to get out of given there is a fair bit of traffic but unlike home where you are just left to fend for yourself, here there is often a guy with a flag ready to walk into the street and direct traffic out of your way so you can reverse out.

University bus stop

Luckily, I haven’t had any need to drive here (not that I’d be allowed to anyway) because the public transit system is quite functional. America, I'm looking at you with that comment. Besides the abundance of taxis and Ubers, the roads are filled with buses. It actually gets a bit ridiculous at times. There is one official government bus which has a few routes but then there are 5+ private companies who all run their own, somewhat overlapping routes. They vary wildly in appearance but are generally quite colorful and have very heavy ridership. Bus stops do not exist and neither does a particularly accurate or comprehensive route map. When you see a bus coming that you want to get on you simply hold out your arm and the bus will stop wherever it sees fit (mid street, mid traffic, side of the highway) then you quick hop on and pay the driver while he starts moving again (yeah, I have yet to see a female bus driver). Once you pay in cash, if you're lucky you can find a rather small seat for your ride. During which if you have long legs like me, you usually find it more comfortable to stick your knees into the aisle. If you’re riding anytime vaguely near rush hour you will more likely than not end up standing though. If you really hit the timing wrong you’ll end up standing two across in the aisle, packed in amongst backpacks and people from all walks of life. This is all well and good (assuming you don’t mind bumping into people) until someone needs to get off.

My view on my ride how a few days ago

The buses mostly have sensors at the doors - I assume it's to keep track of ridership - but this means you must get on at the front and get off at the back. Remember that aisle full of people I was mentioning though? Well, if you happen to be the unlucky person at the front of the bus who needs to get off you better give yourself a good few minutes to wiggle your way through the aisle with people doing their best to get out of your way but not really having room to. This leads to a lot of rubbing shoulders, hips and elbows together and occasionally getting full on hugged. Everyone is good-natured about it though and there are plenty of smiles and the occasional awkward laugh as you squirm down the aisle. Once you survive your harrowing journey all it takes is a push of a button and the bus doors will open wherever you happen to be and let you hop off onto the curb.

The buses are this full though because they are actually incredibly useful for getting around and a large chunk of the city uses them. There may not be posted times so you never know when the bus is coming but most routes run every 5 minutes so it doesn’t matter. Also since the bus system focuses more on landmarks than routes or maps, once you start to learn where the main landmarks are it becomes rather easy to get around which is incredibly nice. Especially since my favorite mode of transportation - biking - is not a great option.

Central market, this continues for blocks

If we move on from transportation though, the streets here are also brimming with vendors selling everything from knickknacks, to fruit, to fresh squeezed juice to fried deliciousness, to coffee. Oh, and once the city wakes up at 6:30am it is a bustling place.

Hard to beat the fruit here

Well, that’s all for this week. I might not get around to writing an update next week as I’ve got a friend coming to visit and then we have Barranquilla’s Carnival which should be a wonderful time but I might have to sleep for a few days before I get back around to writing. Until then, I hope your February is filled with joy and hopefully some sunshine.

Love and hugs, Jasey


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