A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series – Air Travel in Colombia – by Laura Blasena. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
Colombia isn’t a big country. About 1.15 km2. For comparison (because that number means very little by itself), the United States is about 9.85 km2.
Therefore, traveling using the country’s extensive private bus companies is easy, right? Wrong. The issues is that three giant ridges of the Andes mountains run right through Colombia, meaning that, historically, ground travel in the country was an issue (which lead to the huge regional differences that we see today) and remains an issue today.
(The different regions of Colombia presented on a clay map made by one of my elementary students. Learning the geography of the country seems to be a very integral part of the school system here.)
To get from Bogota, which is fairly centrally located in the center of the country, to Cartagena, a city on the Caribbean Coast, would take approximately 17 hours if you are physically capable of driving non-stop, never having to stop for gas, and never encountering traffic. (Hint: Avoiding traffic is impossible here. It’s hit or miss. A friend of mine that lives in a city slightly south of Bogota says that it takes him anywhere from two to five hours to get home on a bus.)
A lot of Colombians elect to use air travel when possible, and the economy has responded by creating an economy airline. For those of you that have ever traveled in Europe, it’s a lot like RyanAir. It’s cheap.
The first time I flew using this airline, I was a panicking mess. Did I need my passport? What were the liquid restrictions flying domestically in Colombia? Would my carry-on be too big? Did I have to print my boarding pass ahead of time?
(There are three main Colombian airlines. Avianca is when you want to fly in style–hence why I am so happy in this picture. They always give you free cookies.)
Absolutely none of these were an issue. As a native of the United States who has done the majority of my air travel post-9/11, flying domestically in Colombia was a huge culture shock. (I use the word culture shock here because, as I travel more and more outside of the United States, I’ve come to associate high airport security as something uniquely USA. It’s almost like it’s a part of our culture.)
To begin with, nobody actually looks at your documents. There is no scanner. There is no official stamp. There is no security guard who actually bothers to direct their eyeballs to your chosen form of ID when you hand it to them. When flying the economy airline, they don’t even scan your boarding pass. (This later lead to an issue when I flew back from Medellin, where there were two similarly-timed flights going back to Bogota and everybody chose to get on whichever plane they chose. The flight attendants had no way to tell if somebody was supposed to be on the flight or not. Solution: kick everybody off and re-board.)
Second, security scans are very optional and very much biased. That being said, security is definitely racially biased in the United States, but it is so incredibly obvious in Colombia that I was shocked. When my friend and I (two very white and very blonde individuals) went through security and I put my arms up for the metal detector, the security guard laughed, winked, asked if I “español”, and then waved me through without ever actually scanning me.
The third biggest difference I experienced was in the form of our obsession with liquids on planes.
I knew the drill. One Ziploc bag. Four ounce bottles. I took it all out and put it in the little plastic bin, and I did it all for no reason because I have never once been asked about liquids going through security in airports in Colombia. In fact, on one of my flights, I glanced behind me and saw a man taking EXCLUSIVELY liquids onto a flight–and it wasn’t water, or shampoo, or contact solution, or anything that you typically see people struggling to bring in carry-on luggage. It was a giant gallon container of industrial cleaning solution.
(Parque de los Deseos, or Park of Desires/Wishes in Medellin, Colombia)
About our special correspondent Laura Blasena: Ever since I was a little Kindergartner I’ve always wanted to be a teacher.
I graduated from St. Scholastica in the summer of 2015 with a double major in Elementary Education and Spanish Education after student teaching as a 5th grade teacher and also as a Spanish teacher at NorthStar in Duluth, Minnesota.
While my future plans before graduation were initially to become a classroom teacher, I decided to wait a year to begin teaching in the United States and have chosen to work as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Bogota, Colombia. In Colombia, I will be working with a university as an assistant in the language department, attending classes, running conversation clubs, and offering the perspective of a native speaker.
I’ve always loved to travel. In college, I participated in several study abroad trips, visiting England, Guatemala, and Mexico. (I loved visiting Mexico so much that I even went back a second time!). I’m looking forward to the travel opportunities that I will have while working and living in Colombia.
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