Our Airbnb rental was eight days, much shorter than usual. Our experience shows the ups and downs of Airbnb. Our host texted us GPS coordinates, and Jonathan recognized the house from the Airbnb listing. As I mentioned, the place was gorgeous, but when we arrived, the host was not there, left no message, no booklet of carefully worded instructions. There was a caretaker whose job was to open the gate across the driveway as we went in and out, water the garden and clean the pool. There was no wifi and the local phone signal was minimal. We never book a place without wifi and had no idea what happened. The house was completely empty of food, too. There was no welcome basket of fruit, bottle of wine, loaf of bread, butter or bottle of milk in the fridge as we sometimes find. There was not even salt, and it was 5 pm on Friday evening. We asked about a grocery store and found the nearest was 20 km back the way we came. With no alternative we set off again.
We rented a car at the Barranquilla airport, and though the checkout took a long time, we had no trouble with the car. We were warned that visiting Santa Marta and Cartagena required checking to make sure that the car wasn’t banned from the city that day (It depends on the last digit of the license plate). We were also warned about speed cameras and police stops, though as far as we can tell we did not run afoul of any of the cameras and we were not stopped by the police.
Like every country, Spanish is spoken in its own way in Colombia, and we had little trouble being understood with our Peruvian vocabulary. It was sometimes difficult to understand the directions we were given. Many people speak some English, though our waitress at La Perla seemed relieved that she could bring us Spanish language menus. Outside of cities we didn’t run into a lot of English speakers.
There are lots of handicrafts available in Colombia, including woven bags, hats, leather goods that seem to be mostly handbags, and lots of souvenirs. The border with Panama seems to be influential as there are lots of molas for sale and things made from molas, like bags, hairbands, clothing, and even shoes (I bought a pair). There are lots of beaded necklaces and earrings hung on boards in the street, especially calle 7 in Bogota.
We saw two spectacular “spirit boat” carvings made by Amazonian people, one in the gift shop of the Museo de Oro and another in a shop in Cartagena. Both were too large and too fragile to get home easily.
Most restaurants and service businesses in Colombia add a 10% “propina voluntaria,” or voluntary tip. We paid the tip every time and when I tried to ask a waitress whether the tip could be removed from the bill if a customer was dissatisfied, she said yes, but in a way that suggestedl it would be awkward to decline this “voluntary” donation. We did decline to tip the guy who stood in the exit of a parking lot that we had already paid to enter.