Colombia – Safety, Plastic Surgery and the Cost of Living

Riding the Teleferico above Medellin

I’m going to hammer this out before I leave the apartment to go to work this morning.  Whenever James and I find a place we really like and settle in for two weeks to a month, I get into a comfortable zone where I cuddle up with a Sue Grafton novel every morning and before going to bed every night. I also put in 3-5 hours of work (not including the time I spend cooking every other day) and I exercise and meditate for 20-30 minutes almost daily. This becomes a daily routine and before I know it, two weeks has gone by and I haven’t blogged about how life is in the current country that we’re in. I don’t think this worries any of you. I’ve been in Colombia for over two weeks now but I do my due diligence to keep in touch with family even when it could be tough sometimes. Example: Calling my mother who does not respect what I’m doing with my life because I’m not having babies, I don’t have a job with a stable income and I don’t plan on buying a home in the next 10 years (a huge stake in the ground).

What bothers me most about this kind of criticizing is that it comes from a place that makes her happy. Just because purchasing a home is the “American dream”, doesn’t make it my dream. I also don’t want to have kids. I’ve known this since I was oh, 18-years old and became more convinced about it after college. I have many reasons for not wanting to ever procreate and while I won’t go through all of them—at the risk of getting chided—I’ll point out the obvious: I can’t see how I could travel with a kid. I’ve met a few couples and a single mom who does it and I don’t ask how they do it because I don’t care. I do know that I would have to make more income to feed that extra mouth and then dedicate a chunk of my life so that they turn out well and that is enough for me to say, “I’ll pass”. Does that make me selfish?

Let me ask you this: Does having a kid to pass down your genes rather than adopting a kid or an orphan make you selfish?

No and no.

This is not a debate. Next time someone tells you that they don’t want to have kids, stuff it.

And for the record, my mom and I are on good terms now. I have a feeling that my pops had something to do with it. Either way, los quiero mucho!

My work space at Saludpan

Right now, I am living the dream. I am working and traveling at the same time. I am gaining new skills that will fill in the gaps for my resume whenever I return to the US (if I ever return). In deference to Maslow’s pyramid, I feel like I’m near the top. Heck, I always feel like I’m near the top when I travel to some obscure place. This trip is different. Since the cost of living is so cheap, and the amount I earn per hour is a few times more than the average wage here (whether it’s in Nicaragua, Panama or Colombia), I don’t have to work as much and that leaves me time for… whatever I want including, experimenting with curry powder and making my nails look like someone ran them through a typewriter.

The news at my tips :-P DIY ideas compliments of Pinterest.

The news at my tips 😛

Anyways, Colombia!

We have been in Medellin for three weeks and we could see why people call it the place of eternal spring. The weather here is as good as San Diego—perhaps even better—and I suspect that it has something to do with the mountains. The city is surrounded by mountains giving you a 360-degree view of green peaks acting as backdrops for all the buildings. The great weather here has placed Medellin in the Forbes list of Top 10 Best Places To Retire.JaneMedellin

We’re staying in an upper middle class Laureles where the locals seem to have equal buying power to purchase whatever they want at the malls or on the street. This is something that we did not see anywhere in Central America. We usually saw locals working the counters while tourists shopped. As far as all the places we’ve been to in Medellin, tourism isn’t as developed here and the country doesn’t seem to depend on it either.

Medellin easily makes my Top 10 of favorite cities and I’ll speak for James as well since every time we go out, he stops and becomes awe-struck from time to time and says, “I love this city!”

Looking above from the Teleferico

Looking above from the Teleferico

Colombians seem to have an infatuation with rotund figures.

Colombians seem to have an infatuation with rotund figures.

However, you might wonder: Wait, Colombia. Isn’t it dangerous there?

When I told my dad about how much I am loving the city he said, “Ah, yes, Medellin. It’s a beautiful town. I’ve been there twice but it’s dangerous! I got robbed twice there so be careful.”

“How long ago was that, pa?”
“15 years.”
“Yeah pa, that was a long time ago. Things have changed.”

As I’m typing this, I realize that my dad was way off in his ballpark figure. 15 years? When did he ever fly to Colombia when I was alive? Come to think of it, the last time he ever traveled anywhere was to Argentina and that was to visit me during my 6-month study abroad sabbatical. It was also his way of celebrating his 25-year anniversary with my mom. My poor mom, I could still picture her reaction:

“Jary, we’ve been married for 25 years, let’s celebrate by taking a trip to Buenos Aires with our daughter.”
“Jane invited me. She did not invite you,” said dad.
“Its been 25 years, I think I deserve a vacation.”

This was my dad’s anniversary gift to himself: To get as far away as possible from his wife. So far that he fled the country. So far that he left the continent! My dad flew to Buenos Aires and we traveled together for the next three weeks. That was five years ago and they’re still married.

Soooo, lets discuss this. Is Colombia really as dangerous as people assume it to be?

Not today.

We haven’t encountered anything sketchy and we have common sense to thank (pause as I half roll my eyes). C’mon people, danger lurks everywhere in your town, too and it’s easy to avoid. Yes, Colombia was one of the most dangerous places to travel and that was TWENTY YEARS AGO. In fact, Pablo Escobar built the city with drug money and I have no doubt that it was as bad as Josh Hutcherson made it out to be in that terrible movie and if it was, again, that was TWENTY YEARS AGO. Also, it looks like nobody here in Medellin is proud of it. Source: Two Airbnb hosts.

Pablo Escobar died decades ago and the city has been cleaning itself ever since. As a result, I think, tourism has been slow to develop so it’s no wonder why I haven’t seen a backpacker scene anywhere else except for Poblado aka, the La Jolla of Medellin where you could expect to pay almost $2 for a beer and $3 for a cocktail. Yikes!

Today, Colombia is known for giving the world famous rock stars like Shakira, Juanes and Carlos Vives—to name a few—and also being the birthplace of author of 100 Years of Solitude, Gabrielle Garcia Marquez. Also popular is Colombia’s reputation for its gorgeous women and its penchant for plastic surgery.

Did you say plastic surgery? Yup! Colombia is one of the countries in Latin America with a reputation for this (Argentina and Brazil are two others). As a result, women in their 50s who sport shirts with plunging necklines exposing smooooth cleavage come off as a bit suspicious.

James also has noticed more nose jobs here than anywhere else. He didn’t say that they’re bad nose jobs. Just that after traveling for a while, you could tell the difference between a European nose and a Latin nose. For example, me: I have a very Latin, native nose that probably belonged to the most primitive Incan princess in Peru. We’re talking BC, AD time. If you need a base, take a picture of my nose and go from there (but please don’t).

Chemical peels, electrolysis and Botox are also done on the cheap from good, qualified doctors. Curious to get a couple of pesky moles removed from my face, I did some research and made an appointment with a dermatologist who was referred to me through a couple of blogs. In person I inquired about the dermatologist’s prices for many of her services and was blown away when she wrote it down on a note pad.

I said, “Dollars?”
She said, “No, this is in pesos. Yeah, it’s very cheap here and the dollar keeps rising!”

(I got my moles removed a few days ago and I’ll let you know of the outcome in another blog but it looks good so far!)

To wrap up, I want to assure you that all is well in Colombia and that the cost of living is incredible. For a place that appears to have this large of a middle class (keyword: appears), I am still puzzled by how it works. Before I leave you with a price list of our most purchased essentials, I need to give a shout out to the Colombian people and to the food: The food here has not been this good since Mexico and the Colombians we’ve met have been genuine, humble, moreover, just very friendly people. Latinos are generally amicable but this is coming from a different place. I stayed at two Airbnbs and got to live with a Colombian family. And when we go out to eat or whenever we need directions, we’re always met by people who are practically anxious to help us out. I love this city!

Devaluation of the peso against the dollar

Devaluation of the peso against the dollar

Cost Of Living in Medellin
When we got here three week ago, this was the exchange rate:
$1 US = 2,650 Colombian pesos

Today, it’s this:
$1 US = 3,000 Colombian pesos

      As a result…
  • Good bottle of beer = 2,500 (less than a buck!)
  • Cheap beer = 1,500 (doesn’t even matter anymore)
  • A 6-pack of good beer = 8,000 ($2.66)
  • A giant arepa stuffed with cheese, mushrooms corn, drenched in avocado sauce bought on the street = 6,000 pesos ($2 bucks)
  • 5 oz cup of coffee w/ milk = 500 pesos (20 cents, feels like Cuba again)
  • Soccer game = 22,000 ($7.33)
  • A bowl of raw coconut curry soup or a mock chicken sandwich w/ hearty whole grain bread at my favorite vegetarian restaurant = 6,000 pesos ($2!)

Lunch in El Poblado. This fish plate cost 8,000 pesos or, $2.66

Now if you’ve read this far, for all of you who have sent me compliments for this blog, I would like you to please help me decide what to post next. We leave to Cartagena in a week so I won’t write about that for a while. Here are some topics for you to choose from (which I’ve already started) or you could come up with one on your own. Hasta luego!

Cuba: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
James and I spent 20 days traveling the island and it was wonderful and frustrating, too. Although the embargo has been lifted, I describe how I got there before it was legal.

Women Traveling Solo
I’ve had a couple of close calls and they were all my fault. But I have a few pointers on what has kept me safe for the most part.

Working and Traveling
How we started, what we’re doing and how you could use our services.

Enjoy the rest of the photos!


Jane, or Juana

This teleferico is part of the metro system and it went on and on and on. The ride cost less than $2.

This teleferico is part of the metro system and it went on and on and on. The ride cost less than $2.

Vegetarian restaurant in Laureles, Medellin, Saludpan.

Vegetarian restaurant: Saludpan in Laureles. I love this place! And apparently, so does Jesus.

This is a must for anyone who wants to experience a good dose of Colombian culture.

This is a must for anyone who wants to experience a good dose of Colombian culture.

Soccer Fans

Soccer fans hang out at their own risk

Goofing off in Medellin

We dyed each others hair and threw on some facial masks.

Girls night in! We dyed each others hair and threw on some facial masks.

7 thoughts on “Colombia – Safety, Plastic Surgery and the Cost of Living

  1. Enjoyed reading, and now Medellin is on my places to visit, though for now my traveling is done from my office desk. From your 3 topics, hearing more about Cuba would be great.

    As far as the language, do you need to be fluent in Spanish to get around, or is English spoken much?


    • Hey Mark!! Shout out to the Voyagers in San Dieego! FYI, I tried looking for a TM club here and in Nicaragua but, no existe!

      Yes! Always makes me happy when someone can say, “Ok, that’s on my to do list now.” To answer your question, you will do fine speaking English in Medellin in the touristy part of El Poblado. English is not spoken much, or at all where I’m currently at: Laureles which, in my humble opinion is nicer and more interesting than El Poblado especially at night. However, that won’t stop you from seeing all of the city since getting around the metro is easy and taxis are ridiculously cheap (I often just show the driver the address from my phone and we’re off). The receptionist at your hotel or hostel could easily direct you to so so. Some basic Spanish like: comida, parque, banco and of course, cerveza will be helpful of course. And if you don’t know what an arepa is, guaro or aguardiente is before you arrive, then you will once you smell it on the street.


  2. Hi Jane,

    I really enjoyed hearing from you…..cute pictures of you and James, too. What I’d like to hear about is what the people you talk to want to know about….you, America, political stuff, life, etc? Do you think you might like to stay somewhere and put down temporary roots? You don’t really miss anything, right? I know Tom and I were happy just “being” when we travelled in Latin America for those 9 months.

    We leave for 10 weeks in Spain and Portugal on 8/26. We fly to Madrid, spend a few days there, then Tom takes the train to a starting point on The Camino……a little more than 100 miles from where he starts, walking to Santiago de Compestela, where the body of St. James is supposed to be. I’ll meet him along the way at a pretty spot, and walk for a while, then Yoli and Humberto and I will meet him at the Cathedral. We drive across the north of Spain, ending in Barcelona. Yoli and Humberto go on to Istanbul and Turkey and we see the south of Spain and Portugal. We fly home from Lisbon on 11/5. I think I’ve told you this before, but just in case…..So we are getting all the last minute things done……eating through the frig and freezer, arranging mail, gardener, etc. A few friends will use our house while we are away. Tom is driving my car up to Kate, in Oakland, and I’ll probably eventually get a new one with lots of safety features (an old lady car)

    I have not been back to the Mingei since I “went inactive” and don’t miss it a bit… many things to do in life, so much is interesting. We’ll see what we’ll do after Spain…..I already have a lot of ideas. We’re still vegan, but know that will change in Spain. We have had no problems….I don’t know what the big deal is…..we don’t miss meat at all.

    I LOVE my garden…..that is where I’ve been putting my energy and ideas. I’m really excited about some of the old gardens we’ll see in Portugal…….also, the paradors we’ll stay in……historic buildings that have been turned into hotels. They usually specialize in the regional food so that will be cool too.

    I’m so glad you are having a good time…I miss your sweet faces, and hope you’ll stay with us when you return. love to you both, Susan and Tom

    Liked by 1 person

    • We will be your ambassadors when you get here. We’re going to go paragliding this weekend. Maybe you’ll try it out sometime!


  3. Pingback: Eating Alone in New York and Other Foods That Have Melted My Heart | Wandering Juana

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