Friday, September 26, 2008

Street Venders

I have wanted to do this post for a long time. I have lots of pictures but I don't know if pictures can ever give you the true flavor of what the street vender situation is like here. There are both good and bad aspects to this whole enterprise from my perspective and there are political issues that I am not a part of, nor do I appreciate all of the complexities nor do I understand the whole situation. The Venders are both an asset and a liability, they fill a need but can create problems. There are several different types of venders. Let's start with the upscale food cart venders.

There are two on this corner just down from us. There are well over 1000 (could be as many as 2000) people who work in the offices of our little 4 block stretch. Each morning these two help to feed them. The closest one is a juice vender and makes the juice right on the spot (fresh juice is one of the wonderful things about this city. There is an abundance of fruit of all kinds and many restaurants, and families as well as street venders make fresh juice. The guy behind him specializes in fresh cut fruit. You can buy plastic glasses full of a large variety of fruit. Mango is particularly difficult for Darwin and I to keep in our apartment because it has a strong smell when just sitting around even if it is fresh, not rotten and ripening. So although we love mango we don't buy it from a store and peel and prepare it ourselves. We buy it already cut and ready to eat from a vender when we want some. The first picture below is of two plastic cups of mango. It cost us a little less than .50 a cup. A little less then $1.00 for the 2 cups.
The picture above is of a snack food vender. For every one regular food, fruit or coconut, or hot food vender there are 5 or 6 snack food venders. They sell chips and cookies and candy and sometimes pop. Also nearly all venders of whatever kind sell cell phone minutes. There are even some venders that have cell phones on chains and sell time on them to make calls right on the street at the vender booth. The cart behind this vender is a supply wagon. It is on a bicycle and you can see these guys resupplying some of the snack food venders through out the day.

The above two are two of our favorite venders. They have a cart under a tree right on the corner of 100 and 11th just in front of the Chevrolet dealership. There are several other venders on that corner but this pair sells arepas filled with beef and mushrooms and cheese kept hot by a charcoal grill and they do a very good business. The arepas cost 3 mil (3,000 pasos) each. That is about $1.50 each. Darwin and I usually stop and get aprepas and take them to our apartment to eat about once every other week.

These guys now know us and greet us like we are regular customers along with all the rest crowding in to buy. They have a great repeat business. One of them does the cooking and the other one handles the money. The cook always has gloves on and the operation is very clean. When they see us coming all we have to do now is nod and they know exactly what we want and how we want it.

The spots where venders put their carts are an interesting story. There is kind of a code among the venders. You have to have your cart where it is supposed to be by a certain time but if you do, no one else is going to try to take your spot. Spots are actually bought and sold (and that is one of the problems that the government is trying to control- keep reading to find out more about that little situation)

What follows are several photographs of the more upscale food type carts. Hot food, cold food and everything in between can be found on the street. I have not yet seen live chickens or cuts of beef or pork, but we have seen live snails. (see below)

In addition to food, all kinds of hand crafts and convenience items are sold on the streets. It is like a cross between a farmers market and the stuff at the checkout stands at walmart or home depot. These venders sometimes use carts but more often display their wares on pieces of plastic or a blanket on the ground or on card board display racks that are leaned against a wall. This type of vender is found mostly in high traffic areas. They make walking on the street interesting because you are constantly avoiding the venders wares.

In addition to venders who really are trying to sell a product there are the assorted beggars and street people. Most people here are extremely clean and wonderfully open and friendly whether they are well off or poor. However, there is a group of beggars and street people who are not clean and can be very persistent when begging to the point of invoking a curse upon you if you don´t give them something. Others on the street are less aggressive and just seem lost and confused much like the street people in the US some of whom are mentally ill. The same situation exits here. There is one man on our way home who begs and struggles with voices at the same time and one woman who has made kind of a cave out of construction debris. I keep wondering what will happen to her when the construction project finishes and they move the stuff that she has used to make a house.

Below are some pictures of venders that actually vend in the street between the cars. When ever a taxi or car or bus stops for a light, or for whatever reason, there are venders in the street trying to sell you things through the car, bus or taxi windows.

The round blue things that the guy in both of these pictures is carrying are world globes. They vend anything and everything on the street and in the street.

The government can see that a thriving business is going on in the street and they have no way to regulate it or collect taxes on the items sold. The food you buy on the street is cheaper than what you can get in a restaurant because the venders don´t pay taxes and charge less. For that reason and many others (including that the venders can be a nuisance and danger on the street) and other reasons that I am sure I don´t understand, the government is trying to bring the venders under control. They have installed Kiosks on all the main streets and many back streets. (picture of Kiosks below). Each Kiosk will have place for at most 4 venders and will be locked up at night so they have a place for their stuff. However, there are many more venders on the street than the kiosks will accommodate and we are not sure how the space in the kiosks is being allocated. It could be that the venders currently on the street will be moved out and not have a chance for a kiosk spot. However it is done, they are saying that they want it accomplished before the end of Oct. because, in places, the venders double or triple during the Christmas season and they want it accomplished before this happens again. We are somewhat ¨preocupado¨ ie worried about what is going to happen and how it is going to happen and how it will affect us. (Will it be dangerous to walk or ride the buses, will our favorite venders get the boot, will the streets be the same without all the smells and tastes and interesting things, will the price of things rise?) We are not overly worried or cowering in our apartment, in fact we are out and about waiting and watching with the rest of the city. We will keep you informed.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Some things about security here

The sign below was on one of the bus stops just down from our apartment building. It says "My city is divine." It has now changed (they change quite frequently) but it says alot about how I feel about Bogota. I love it here. The shots in this post are about some of the ways security is handled here.

The first group I want to talk about are the security police that we call the boy scouts. For us that is not a derogatory term at all. They are so young. They look to be about explorer age but they are stationed on all major streets, on the corners and in the middle of the block. On our street Calle 100 there are 4 blocks between Carrea 15 and Carrea 11 where the streets don't come through. It is a 4 block strech with a couple of alley ways that allow walking traffic to get to the streets behind the main street. These young men are stationed all along the street on both sides. (There are 4-6 lanes of traffic and a bulivard strip of grass and trees between the two sides). On one corner there is a round about with 5 spokes and on the other corner there is a one way turn that goes south into the heart of the finanacial district. This is an extremely busy area and these young men serve as watchmen. This is not the only place they serve. They are all over the city and at various events. They direct traffic when traffic gets really snarled on the round about by us or in other parts of the city. They are always there if you get lost or need to find a store or something else. The middle shot that is blurry shows a whole group of them gathering before they go out to their various posts.

The next group I have pictured is private security. Private security is everywhere. Every apartment building, hotel, office building, most businesses, medical clinics and single family deweling blocks have private security guards. Our rent is one price and then we pay an administration fee for having the guards on duty 24 hours a day. You can not get into or out of our building without being let in or out by one of the guards. People can not come into our apartment building unless we vouch for them and either go down and get them at the door or call security and let them know they are coming and when they are going to arrive and what they look like. These guys are really helpful. The first picture is of a private guard from an apartment building for older residents helping one of the tenants get a taxi. Taxi security is whole issue in itself. See Below.

This is the back side of the massive office building that is right next to our apartment building. You can not see our apartment in this picture because it is beyond this building.
These guards and dogs are at the parking entrance of that big blue building. There are two more stationed in back.
This is our apartment building. It is only 5 stories tall so it is dwarfed by that big blue building next to it. The just finished painting it so in these are the window washers cleaning things up.
These next two are security for our building. They are right there if we need them. When they see us walking up they get the door open for us. If we are coming back from a trip they are right out side to help with the luggage. This is a very friendly place to live. We have met a lot of the people in the building as we go or come. The mail boxes are right here at the front and people sometimes come down just to check their mail.
This is the building we work in. The guy in blue not on the ladder is one of many security people for our building. This building is 14 stories, with many offices and companies. To get in you have to have a magnetic key that activates a turn style. You are issued one if you work in the building. You have to use it to get in and out. All doors in and out have security systems. If you are just visiting one of the offices in the building you are finger printed and there is a finger print reader at the turn styles. The second shot is of the open air breeze way leading to the desk in front of the turn styles. Below that with Darwin are two of the guards at the front entrance. These two love to tease Darwin and I. All in fun but it can be distracting at times. If they see us coming they literally shout VEEEKEEE and ELDER and then smile. There can be 30 people trying to get through the turn styles and everything comes to a halt. We try to sneak by them quietly in the crowd. That sometimes works. The next picture is of one of the guard towers at one of the Malls. All malls have security and you have to go through a gate to get into the parking lot.

The two pictures below are of the regular police. They are a step up from the young men stationed on the street. They often patrol on motorcycles or cars and if there is an altercation they are the ones who come in to help the young guys.

The next shots are of the regular army troops. It is hard to get shots of these guys because they come out at night usually and take the place of the younger guys on the streets. They are also posted all along the streets and are within sight of each other. I don’t even notice them anymore. I have never seen a gun raised (except for the brinks truck guards). That is always a sight. The Brinks truck pulls up and there can be a hundred people on the street and out comes a guy with a silver sawed off shotgun pointed straight up but ready to be lowered. He moves quickly to the door of the building they are going to (the pedestrian traffic just kind of moves over for him and keeps going) and when he is in position a second guard gets out of the truck with a hand gun and accompanies a third guard carrying a bag to the where the first guard is. They leave another guard in the truck (also with a gun). Then they do the whole thing in reverse to get back to the truck. Someone has said that that is the way Brinks operates world wide. I just don’t ever remember seeing it before.

Below is a taxi. About every 3 or 4th car in the city is a taxi. Each taxi has its license plate number painted all over the car, on the back and both sides and on the top. The best way to get a taxi is to call one by phone. They were having so much trouble with taxi drivers hijacking people here about 10 years ago that they set up a security system. Now when you call a taxi you are given the taxi number and a security code. The dispatch knows who is going to what address and you don’t take a taxi that has a different number on it. When the taxi gets there you have to give the driver the security code so he can all it in so that dispatch knows that you are in the car. This system protects both driver and passenger. We have been told not to hail taxis on the street without using the phone system. However, there are times when we have to do that so there are some security measures for that also. It is kind of interesting getting used to all of this.
Almost all buildings have underground parking areas under them. They also have security guards. There is no on-street parking on major streets like our block. But there is plenty of parking under each building for the cars that people have for that building. Many people don’t use private cars. They take a taxi or bus to work. The following 3 shots are of the entrances to some of the buildings parking areas.

The last shots below are of a Peaceful demonstration that took place in the street by our office. The shots are taken from our office window. The government is trying to make cuts in the budget and one of the areas they wanted to cut was public school teachers health and benefits package. This protest was over that issue. There was lots of talking on the blow horn but no violence. It lasted about 4 hours. When we got ready to go to lunch we went out the back way.