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Patrick: The Cali Adventurer

In our InterNations Recommended Blog section we let you take the spotlight! Expat life in general is, of course, a perfect breeding ground for great, user-generated reads, and life in Colombia makes no exception. Take your time and browse the great blogs showcased in this article!

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Colombia, etc.

My name is Patrick and I come from Denmark. In 2010–11, I took a year off from university in order to pursue a dream of traveling long-distance on a motorcycle. The original plan was to ride from Denmark to South Africa. But after a friend bailed on me and my mom freaked about the idea of me riding alone through Africa, I decided to travel North and South America instead. I met a girl in Cali on my last night. A kiss, a few salsa moves, an empanada. Next day I was back on the road heading towards Ecuador. I got an email from this Caleña asking when we should meet again. I told her that I had already left, but that she could visit me in Lima. And she did. She spent 10 days in Peru, traveling with me to Cusco. 5 months later we met in Brazil where she joined me for 3 weeks on my bike as well.

Some 6 months later, after selling my motorcycle and going back to Europe, we met in Sicily, where we rented a car and drove up to Rome. My Caleña friend got pregnant on this trip and we had to make an important decision. I’ve been in Cali ever since. That was in August, 2013.

When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?

I just started blogging recently, in April 2015. Cali receives very little attention compared to Bogotá, Medellin and Cartagena. I felt it was undeserved. At the same time the amount of information available in English about life in Cali is very limited. I decided to change that. Also, all of the beauty aside, the Colombian system does have a lot of pitfalls and after we got scammed and lost 100,000 USD, I wanted to make sure others did not end up in the same situation. Sharing is caring, right!?

Besides life-hacking advice and recommendations on what restaurants and bars to visit, I also try to share the investment opportunities that I see in Colombia. So many goods and services have yet to make it here, which presents a lot of potential to the aspiring entrepreneur.

Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?

The one that I put the most time and energy into was my guide on how to buy property in Colombia. It also seems to be the one that gets the most clicks on the blog. I was angry and frustrated when I wrote it. Writing the article helped me deal with the pain. Today, I can honestly say that my loss doesn’t bother me anymore. What bothers me is all of the pitfalls in the system and that there is no serious help to get from any of the public authorities when things go wrong. Hopefully, by making the process more transparent, the article will serve somebody else well.

Tell us about the ways your new life in Colombia differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?

I went from managing a business with 26 employees in Denmark to being a full-time daddy in a city where I didn’t have any friends, spoke the language or knew how to navigate. Calling it a turnaround would be an understatement. I’ve always traveled a lot, so I would not call it a shock, but my life was turned upside down.

The biggest hurdle for me was being “locked” in apartment with a tiny little baby, who was going to dictate how my day was going to be. Sleep, eat, poop and repeat.

In many ways I love the culture here, but a thing that I continue to struggle with is the pace of things in Cali. Time seems to be of no importance; it drives me nuts. Besides of that, as well as corruption and how hard it is to make people take responsibility for their actions. Corruption is fun the first time you bribe a cop after being pulled over for speeding. It gives you a rush and a good story for your buddies. But when you start to notice how corruption has its tentacles reaching into every single public entity it gets alarming. Sometimes I’m surprised that Colombia has made it as far as it has. The people here are survivors and every day I’m amazed to see how they continue to progress… although very slowly.

Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Colombia? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?

I’m not sure there is anything I could have changed in my decisions or preparations prior to arriving, but you have to be prepared to see and experience firsthand the massive gap between rich and poor here. You will see the poorest of people, junkie kids, victims of landmines and worse, struggling just to survive another hour, maybe another day, while being passed by rich people in their bulletproof Toyota Landcruisers who spend more money on a meal than many of these people will see in a month. The inequality and lack of support from the public is breaking my heart.

Not being able to walk around freely, anywhere at any given time, has also been a challenge for me. I love walking, but in Colombia you have to be very careful about where you walk — especially at night. This is something I never had to worry about before.

Trust is very low in Colombia and for that reason the importance of being introduced when establishing a business or casual relationship is not to be underestimated.

As a final note, I thought life as an entrepreneur would be a lot easier, but once you start earning pesos you realize how hard it is to make ends meet here… especially if you want to do things right, pay people well, file your taxes correctly, etc. 

Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?

You want the one about the diarrhea wedding? I think I should keep it to myself. Not pretty, haha!

The party culture here is definitely different, which I’ve learned the hard way. I’ve been to anything from birthdays to weddings and graduation parties. Let’s say I was invited for 7:00 pm. Many times no one was there when I arrived — not even the host. I’d arrive hungry, ready to eat, only to find out that the food is the last thing they serve. It’s cheaper to get people drunk on an empty stomach. Once the food has been served at 2:00 am everybody gets ready to go home. Always eat before going anywhere! And like my father says about his time in Mexico — it does not matter what time you show up, as long as you don’t leave early. Same thing goes for Colombia.

Which tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Colombia?

  • If you want to stay sane, arm yourself with a loooot of patience. I bring a book every time I need to go to any public office, doctor’s appointment, the dentist, etc.
  • ANYTHING here can be negotiated.
  • Stop reading (most of) the local news when you live here. I’m not saying to be ignorant and close your eyes, but in many ways it’s depressing to read about all the murders, robberies, kidnappings and violence that unfortunately still take place here every day.
  • Earn dollars / euros if possible. Especially right now with the USD/COP at 3,200. I just wrote an article about how to 
    earn dollars in Colombia
  • Spend a little time or money helping a local organization. Every year for Christmas I go to the institute for blind and deaf kids in Cali and give the kids presents. They come from the poorest neighborhoods in town. Seeing the kids happy has been one of my best experiences in Colombia.
  • Make sure to travel the country. It has such an amazing diversity in nature and culture from La Guajira in the north to the Amazon in the south and anywhere in between. Local busses and flights are cheap and plentiful.
  • Birds of a feather flock together. As brutally honest as it may sound, it can be very hard to become real friends with Colombians who are in a less fortunate financial position than you are. I know how bad this sounds, but you will often find yourself in a situation where people take advantage of you. Also, please understand the meaning of the word “Invitación”. If you invite people to do anything here, it means you’re picking up the bill. Very different from the word “invitation” in my country which often just means that people are welcome to join you.

How is the expat community in Colombia? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?

Cali does not have as big an expat community as Medellin, Bogotá or Cartagena. I have not been to networking events or anything of that sort. Instead, I just strike up conversations with foreigners on the street, in the bar, at the restaurant or wherever I bump into them. It has worked out well and many of the people run into, have become great friends.

How would you summarize your expat life in Colombia in a single, catchy sentence?

“Sin anestesia”. It’s been a bumpy ride, but also lots of fun.

Pablo Garcia Ramirez

"I was so lucky that a friend told me about InterNations before I came to Bogota. I had the chance to contact many expats there from home."

Michelle Guillemont

"I was a little bit afraid before moving to Colombia - a new language, security issues, no friends. InterNations helped me settle in, though. "

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