I landed in Pereira with a smile on my face. Finally in South America, and finally in Colombia! Right away I got a sample of the Colombian friendliness they are so well known for. I exchanged some US dollars for pesos at a car rental agency in the airport and then caught a taxi to my hostel. While the taxi driver and I were talking, I started examining the bills I got to learn the currency.
But wait a minute. I only got 40,000 pesos for $50 US when it should be closer to 100,000! I told the taxi driver and I asked him if we could go back. He said yeah of course, but let me look at the bills you got. I showed it to him and he said no, that’s right. All the thousand-peso notes have several zeroes after the number, except for the 50, which just says 50 mil. Turns out I did get the right amount. Then the driver told me he is going to teach me about the rest of the notes and he proceeded to hand back other increments of bills so I could look at them. Muy amable!
Pereira is cool because there aren’t really other tourists here. I decided to do the South American part of my trip without a guidebook because I’m just tired of using them and I wanted to travel more freely. This city barely has a mention in the guidebooks, even though there’s half a million people here, the nightlife is good, there’s good public transport, and the setting is beautiful with green mountains all around.
My first day here, I walked to one of the parks in the center, Parque El Lago. A girl wearing a pound of makeup sat down next to me and we were chatting a little bit. I couldn’t understand her Spanish very well, but I tried. I asked her if she was studying here and she said no, she works in a business “para niñas.” She asked me if knew what that was and I thought she was talking about a daycare. She laughed at me and changed the subject. While we were sitting there, lots of guys were walking by her staring at her in the perviest way. When I went back to the hostel, the hostel owner confirmed that I had, in fact, met a Colombian prostitute.
Thursday night I went out with another traveler from the hostel who’s been wandering around Colombia for almost a year, and knows this city quite well. There are a couple of cool spots in town, like one strip that’s mostly dive bars with students and revolutionary art on the walls. My favorite, though, was a reggae bar we went to. A few students, a few rastas, and great Spanish reggae. Feliz! :)