Children and toilet paper were recurring themes during our trip to Colombia.
Everyone wanted to know why I didn’t have a child. I wanted to know where everyone hid the toilet paper.
Part of the fun of travel is discovering what makes a destination unique. In Bogota, like anywhere else, there were sites, foods and conversation topics I hadn’t encountered before. Fortunately I had two locals, Alejandra Avendaño, PR representative for the Bogota Beer Company, and Diana Holguin, creator of BogotaEatsAndDrinks.com, to help me understand their hometown.
Read on to learn what to do with the cheese next to your hot chocolate, and why you should make up a family before your visit to Colombia.
Colombia curiosity #1: People are obsessed with kids
Within an hour of landing in Colombia you will be asked at least three times if you have kids. And if you say no, you better have an explanation why not.
Because to many Colombians family is very, very important. And some will be openly concerned about your childless state.
One of our guides encouraged Greg to eat a slimy mix of cottage cheese and caramel, saying it would give him “energy” for procreation.
“Family is very important in Colombia and in Latin America in general,” Alejandra said when I asked her about this recurring experience.
Most women get married in their early 20s, she said, and don’t have access to all the family planning methods available in the states.
Diana said there’s also a mindset among poorer Colombians that the more kids you have, the more workers you have to support the family and your eventual retirement.
“It seems crazy to some people that I am 34 and single with no kids,” she said.
In the States, strangers don’t generally ask why you don’t have children. In Bogota, strangers demand an explanation.
Just roll with it. Or make up an imaginary family.
Colombia curiosity #2: The country’s minute stands
Throughout the city are signs for “minutos“. Here, you give a vendor the equivalent of less than 1 USD to use his or her pre-1999 Nokia to make a call. I haven’t seen these stands anywhere else in my travels. Even the locals agreed they are unique.
“I was in Peru a few weeks ago and didn’t see anything like it,” Diana said. “Seems to be a very Colombian thing.”
Diana and Alejandra said most Colombians’ cell phones are prepaid. They don’t have monthly plans like we do in the States. When their prepaid minutes run out, Colombians hit the streets. Well, the streets’ phone vendors.
Colombia curiosity #3: Someone hid the toilet paper
You sit. You go. You realize there’s no toilet paper in the stall. In fact, there isn’t even a spot for toilet paper in the stall.
The toilet paper is outside. On the wall next to the sink.
Makes perfect sense.
I found myself hovering over the loo at the Botero Museum (many Colombian toilets don’t have seats either) with no TP in sight. I asked in lousy Spanish if one of the nice ladies waiting in line could pass some over the stall. Someone scolded me before pushing four squares under the door.
Neither of my Colombian friends had a clue why the toilet paper is kept outside the stall. They guessed it might prevent paper theft.
Moral of the story: Keep spare TP in your bag. Just in case.
Colombia curiosity #4: Hot chocolate is served with cheese
A chocolate completo is a cup of hot chocolate served with buttered bread and a triangle of mild white cheese. The cheese is meant to be shredded into your hot chocolate.
Cheese and chocolate. Two of my favorite things. It kinda works.
“Some people think it’s weird, bordering on gross,” Diana said. “But having grown up with it, I think it’s totally normal and delicious!”
“It’s a tradition,” Alejandra said. “But only in Bogota!”