August 4, 2015
Using My Mobile Phone in Medellin
This was the first time in a long time that I didn’t get a chip for my phone when I was in a foreign country. That’s because I have a new iPhone that is not unlocked. Fortunately, T-Mobile provided free WiFi calling and free texting. Texting and regular phone calls use the cellular network. If I made a regular phone call, it cost me 20 cents per minute.
If I used WiFi calling, it was free, but I had to be connected to the Internet via a WiFi router. I could only use data (e.g. maps for navigation, email, translation) when I was connected to a router. This was pretty limiting. Toward the end of my stay, I started asking more often for the WiFi code at restaurants so I could connect to their routers.
I highly recommend getting the WhatsApp application for your smartphone if you expect to be communicating with any of the locals in Medellin. It’s similar to Skype or FaceTime, but it’s the app they use in Colombia. It will send the message over the internet if you have a WiFi connection. It allows you to send text messages or make audio calls.
The messaging is different from sending regular text messages because regular text messages are only sent over the cellular connection. It seems to be the preferred app to use in many Latin American countries because their cell phone plans are different than in the U.S.
Every text message or phone call over the cellular network costs them money whereas it costs them nothing to send messages over the Internet. I was just in Mexico and they use WhatsApp there, too.
I learned the phrase for an automatic teller machine early in my stay. It really comes in handy to be able to ask where one is. In Colombia, they’re called Cajero Automatico’s and the short notation is ATH. That stands for “A Todo Hora” which means something like that it’s available anytime.
I decided that using my debit card at teller machines was the best way to get Colombian peso’s. I got the current exchange rate on the day I withdrew the cash. My bank only charges me a 2% foreign transaction fee, whereas my credit card charges 3%. I was also charged a fee by the bank providing the ATM. I estimate that, for each withdrawal, I was charged about $2 by the local bank and about $2.30 for the foreign transaction fee.
My bank said that I could withdraw up to $500/day. However, the teller machines seemed to limit me to 300,000 COP. I only found one machine that let me take out more than that. That machine was in the Jumbo grocery store in the Santa Fe Mall.
Also, many machines complained that my debit card did not have a chip in it. It took several attempts at one machine to get it to proceed with my transaction. It was the closest machine to my hotel. After using it for about 6 days in a row, it completely refused to process my transactions on any subsequent days.
If you have the option, you may want to consider upgrading your debit card to one with a chip in it before you visit Medellin.
Unusual Things I Noticed
Something I noticed when I was staying at a hotel in Guatape was that they seem to like to have steps up and steps down, or changes in levels, where it’s not necessary. There were many times when I stumbled because I wasn’t watching where I was walking and didn’t expect a step up or down.
There were parking attendants instead of parking meters for roadside parking. The nice thing about it was they would help you park. Meters can’t do that! A Colombian friend told me it’s relatively new. You used to be able to park along the street for free. He also said it’s expensive to park on the street now.
If you live in an apartment that opens directly to the outside and does not have an interior hallway, it’s very likely that there won’t be a doorknob on the door. The only way to open the door is to have a key.
During the week that I stayed in the apartment in La Floresta, I got locked out. I didn’t have the keys on me because I was sitting right outside the open door and was wearing a skirt with no pockets. I didn’t count on the wind blowing the door shut! I can tell you, that incident forced me out my comfort zone in order to regain entry to my apartment.
Another day, I could not get the key out of the outer door so I had to take the key off the keychain and leave it in the door all day. Of course, there was an inner door that I could lock so there was no danger of anyone gaining entry.
My first shower in the La Floresta apartment started out as a nice, warm, shower, but ended up as a cold shower. I forgot how on-demand hot water heaters work. There has to be sufficient water flow through the unit to keep the system running.
For future showers, I started turning on the hot water in the bathroom sink before I got into the shower to ensure that the flow was sufficient. This technique never failed me.
Is It Really That Hard to Design a Functional Shower Stall?
In North America, I’m used to a shower curtain or a shower door that slides or opens so that you can step directly into the shower stream without water leaving the confines of the shower stall. The door or curtain doesn’t interfere with the stream of water.
Not so in Colombia. At the luxury hotel, the door to the shower actually opened into the shower stall. It passed through the stream of water when you opened and closed it. Kinda weird…
In the apartment in La Floresta, there were two sliding doors that met at the corner. When I opened the doors to get into the shower, water splattered out. There was no way around it. Not even an adjustment to the direction of the shower head would alleviate the problem.