People in Santa Marta seem to be willing to work for any amount of money. The hustle and bustle on the crowded streets of Santa Marta is amazing. No matter which way you turn there are people trying to make a buck. The city is colorful and noisy.
Drivers here love their horns. They honk at anything not moving. But, nobody pays any attention to the honking drivers. They don’t even bother to turn and look. Cindy and I were a little slow to get into a cab and got honked at, repeatedly. We like to make sure the taxi driver understands where we’d like to go and how much it is going to cost before we get in. The taxis have meters but they seldom turn them on. The fares are really low and can be negotiated lower. We can hop into a cab and ride across to the other side of the city for about 7,000 pesos (about US$2.22 or €2). We have been seriously over tipping and paying 10,000 pesos because it is easier to hand over the one bill and not mess with the change. The taxis are air conditioned and are a real luxury compared to the bus system.
The bus system is something we haven’t yet figured out. This is normally our main means of transportation when arriving in a new place. To be perfectly honest, because the taxis are plentiful and cheap, we haven’t really been very motivated to take the bus. Unlike the taxis, the buses have no air-conditioning. There are designated bus stops but these seem mostly ignored as Colombians hop on and off pretty much wherever they desire. Street vendors approach the buses when they are stopped and hock water or food to the passengers through the open windows. They never miss a chance at a sale.
The street vendors are everywhere. They sell everything from watches and purses to Nike shoes. It is amazing to see such competition. The streets are jammed with them. Some have elaborate booths with flashing lights others might have a simple blanket on the ground to show their wares. Wherever there is shade, a vendor will be set up. When walking down a street or ally, it actually takes some skill not to step on someone’s store. They can be a little aggressive at times but usually a “no gracias” or a firm “vete” (go away) will suffice.
I think the most creative thing I have seen in a very long time are purses made from money. Not just any money, worthless Venezuelan money. Because of the economic situation in neighboring Venezuela, the paper money has become just about worthless. Due to the runaway inflation and currency devaluation, it now takes a wheelbarrow of money to buy a loaf of bread. No, I am not exaggerating. Take a look at the article. Think about the ingenuity of this. They take about the same amount of Venezuelan money than it takes to buy a loaf of bread and make a purse out of it. The Venezuelan guys are selling the purses on the street for about US$10-15. This means, with their proceeds, they can go and buy ten loaves of bread. It’s illegal to import money into Colombia so the Venezuelan guys can be quick to relocate should an officer stroll their way.
Of course, we really stick out here. We are the gringos. Some of the more entrepreneurial street vendors have learned a few words of English. “You need this” is a common phrase as they present their goods. Being a former salesperson myself, I tend to feel bad I can’t appreciate their spiel. This is a part of being in sales that never stops. I appreciate a good pitch and admire a person who can really hype their wares. The vendor might go on in Spanish for a while and I sympathetically look on with the “I don’t understand a word you are saying” face. I have recently learned to say, “¿Es gratis? No tengo dinero”(is it free? I have no money). This seems to stun them into silence.
When walking about town, we tend to not notice the horns or the traffic noise. This is because every single store or street booth has music blasting at full volume. Each neighboring store is trying out blast each other. The independent stores tend to be open front and few have air conditioning. The larger department stores are similar to the stores in Europe or the USA. However, they all depend on loud music to attract passersby.
If we walk near or glance inside the restaurant, we can count on being accosted with a menu and a motion to come inside. Most restaurants in the downtown area have hawkers. A good portion of the restaurants are open on the front and have no air conditioning. Many have sidewalk seating. Believe it or not, the shade can be tolerable during the day. This is even more so when the wind is blowing a little bit. The sun is brutal. Have I told you lately how hot it is here? Shaded sidewalk seating in the breeze is nice because we can watch the world go by while having lunch. But being in the shade means we are sharing the space with street vendors and entertainers. If there is shade then there are vendors. Some restaurants have live music, not by choice. Musicians roam in and out and will entertain for a few pesos. The food prices are stunningly low. There are no lunch specials or cheaper lunch portions. The menu is the menu for all day. We have found we can eat a nice meal, and I mean nice meal for a total of US$25. This includes tax and tip. Wine is a little expensive but mixed drinks are cheap. It is hard to pay more than $2 for a beer.
The bright colors of Santa Marta are awesome. No matter where we go in town we are bombarded with color. As a person who likes to take photographs, this place is a little slice of heaven. A simple walk down the street in Santa Marta really gets the all senses going. There is heat on the skin and the relief of the cool breeze under the shade of a tree. The eyes are overloaded with activity and color. The ears are pounded with music and city noise. Street food takes care of the nose. Touch? I keep one hand on my wallet.