My first week in Colombia was a pretty typical South American adventure. I started the week with a stomach bug, and ended it with my cell phone being stolen right out of my purse while I was wearing it. These were minor trials, and I share them not to complain, but because in the process of tying up some loose ends in their wake, I gained an interesting cultural insight. This morning, I stopped by Claro, a major Colombian telecommunications company, to pick up a new SIM card to use in the phone my friend Jenna is loaning me until I get a new one when I head to the US for a quick visit in a couple of days.
The process to get a SIM card was cumbersome. I spoke with four different Claro employees, interacted with three different computer terminals and generated at least 10 different sheets of papers in the course of nearly an hour. Here’s a timeline of my visit to Claro:
Compare that to my experience purchasing antibiotics to replace the ones I consumed to combat my earlier infection. Directly next door to Claro was Farmatodo, a major Colombian neighborhood drugstore chain. I was in and out in seven minutes with Ciprofloxacin (aka: Cipro, the most common antibiotic used to treat traveler’s diarrhea) in hand, no need for a doctor’s visit to procure a prescription.
The good news is that each experience ended with me getting the necessity that I needed, and even a little bacterial infection and thievery can’t keep me from enjoying Colombia so far. Proof is in this photo from Saturday’s hike in Chingaza National Park: