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The inocentes, collecting their things

5 Jun

We arrived with two bags apiece. Our friend Jota picked us up at the airport, took a look at our backpacks and handbags and asked us where the rest of our bags were hiding.

“That’s all you brought for a year?”


And, really, we didn’t need to bring much. With the perfect weather, I could have left a few more items at home and made it through the year with a few shirts, pants a dress and scarf or two.

But now? We’ve got a lot of stuff. Most of the things that we’re trying to pack are Greg’s are cumbersome: art work, books and souvenirs of varying shapes and sizes. Our original bags are now stuffed to the brim, ready to head back home, so for the overflow we headed down to the hueco, where you can find anything.

And boy, did we find something. This is our suitcase/my new office.


What will the inocentes miss the most?

5 Jun

I’ve made some attempts to make lists of things I will be looking forward to when I return state-side (mostly food) and Colombian things that will keep me pining for Medellín (mostly food). But now that we’re really leaving (really, really leaving) I think it’s time to put a little more thought into this.

  • Weather. Getting dressed here is a no-brainer. Despite growing up in Southern California, I’ve been dazzled by just how perfect the weather can be. During the 8 months of the year when it’s not the rainy season, every day is the same: perfect, bright sunshine with big fluffy white clouds. And, of course, even during the rainy season the weather never dips below 70. The sweatshirt I brought was a complete waste of space.
  • Thunder & lightning (weather 2.0). Again, didn’t grow up in an area where there is a lot of rain or lightning. But during the rainy season (October-November, April-May) the storms are epic. Thunder, lightning, swaths of the city blocked out by clouds. It’s awesome, if a little humbling.
  • Clouds (weather 3.0). Rainy days with 100% cloud cover are the same, everywhere: gloomy and dark. But sunny days with partially cloudy skies are fantastic for cloud-gazing. All types of clouds–from the high and wispy to the bright and fluffy–mixed together against cerulean sky; dramatic contrasts that are best viewed from the hammock on our balcony as they float on by. Even those walls of rain that move across the valley and periodically block out parts of the city are pretty sublime, momentarily erasing mountains and buildings.
  • Our barrio, Carlos E. Whenever we decide to head downstairs and grab a michelada it’s a given that we’ll run into at least 5 people we know. Sometimes a quick beer turns into a big group event, with friends stopping by to catch up.
  • The Sunday Singer. Our neighbor, with whom we are not acquainted, seems like a pretty normal, button-downed guy. We typically only interact when waiting for the elevator, but he’s always very polite. In general, he’s very quiet…except every once in awhile, on Sundays. On those days, he blasts vallenato and sings. his. heart out. It would be one thing if he was a great singer, but he sounds more in the line of Sloth, of Goonies fame. It always makes for a pretty entertaining Sunday.
  • OK, so any singers (and dancers!). There is this really amazing thing that happens in Colombia when music plays: people sing and dance. Also, they sometimes do it without the music playing, singing when the mood strikes them. Saturday afternoon at the bar with your friends? There’s going to be some singing. The cab driver? There will be some singing. Random person walking down the street? Probably about to break into song. At first it was a little awkward to lock eyes with someone singing on his or her own in the absence of music, but they always smile or wink and keep on their merry way. And the dancing? The best way to describe Colombia is this: at any moment things are on the verge of breaking into a full-scale musical.
  • The scenery from all vantage points. From our apartment, the mountains surrounding the valley look like paintings, the homes that dot the mountainside like perfect little miniature models. While many cities seem divorced from nature, Medellín is one of those rare places where nature and urban development coexist throughout every barrio. On the many bus rides we’ve taken to different parts of the country, there have been some wildly stunning vistas: drives along riversides, through the jungle, up misty mountains and overlooking verdant valleys, below. Lakes, ponds, trees, birds and flowers like you would not believe.
  • Our apartment on the 18th floor, the nicest apartment in which we’ve lived. Windows all around, light from all sides and just as airy as you please. Space for friends, space for privacy and space for living. And the views. THE VIEWS! *sigh*, the views…
  • Being guides to our friends and family who have visited us, and having a chance to share this special place with them in-person and with people who couldn’t make the trip down to see us through our blogs. There’s very little “good” that the media conveys about Colombia in the US; only the most sensational stories typically make the headlines. While Colombia is not without its problems, things are changing; things have changed. It’s been our pleasure to try to convey the good that comes out of Colombia, to add some small insight into our personal experiences and show what it looks like to two very foreign gringos.
  • The magic of Colombia. You guys, this place is magic. Really, truly magical. And believe me, I would love to distance myself from any hints at “magical realism” that dogs Latin American literature (and by extension, its culture) in both good and bad ways…but, there’s…something here. There’s something to it. The people, the land, the shared heritage; it’s remarkable. It’s Macondo. It’s special.

Okay, it’s getting sad listing these things. There’s a lot we’re going to miss, and the friends we’ve made are really woven throughout the list above, as they’ve been an integral part to our assimilation here, and have introduced us to many new things (drinks, places, food, dances, etc). We’re really excited to come home, but I think you can tell that what we’re giving up is something pretty special.

*SIGH*, OK USA, see ya tomorrow!

The inocentes, con español

4 Jun

We’ve come such a long way from our first weeks here. We could barely keep up in conversations, and I would often find my mind drifting from my friends at the table, thinking “what the hell am I doing?”, convinced I would never learn Spanish.

Little by little (with help from friends and a few tutorials) we worked it out. It helped that once Tam & Jota left we really couldn’t rely on anyone to translate things for us. We would have to learn, there could be no two ways about it.

We found that the easiest words were the most lovely or descriptive. From those words, we built upwards, adding grammar and verb tenses, welcoming our friends’ gentle corrections.

But, OK, the point of this is to list a bunch of Spanish words that I (we?) love.

  • Murciélago. More grandeur than “bat”.
  • Madrugada (or madrugar, etc)  really, this word is perfect. Telling someone that you woke up “at 4 in the madrugada” (and elongating the vowels to let it sink in) is a pretty descriptive way to tell others to back off and respect your early-rising grouchiness. As a verb, it encompasses everything. “No me molestes! Hoy yo madrugué y ahora estoy super cansada” or “Yo no puedo beber mas. Tengo que madrugar mañana y no quiero un guayabo!” . There’s something kind of magical in the word and something kind of dark.
  • Capucha
  • Macondo. It has no formal Spanish dictionary translation, but it basically means “something straight out of Gabriel García Márquez”. It’s based on the name of the fictional town Macondo in 100 Years of Solitude.
  • The phrase “sí o qué?” and all of its iterations. This is one that I will miss, and one that Greg is happy to see go. When asking someone how they are, you might ask “Estás bien? Sí o qué?” (“Are you well? Yes or what?”) or the much simpler “Bien o qué?” I like it for its simplicity and for its implication of intimacy (you would only use it with someone you know or someone you’re immediately comfortable with, on the same level).
  • Pues, a filler word similar to “like” or “well”. Paisas use it all the time: “Como estás, pues?” or “Ciao, pues”, “Pues, porque?”, etc etc etc. PUES
  • Parce/parcero which is a very regional and colloquial word for “friend”, more akin to “buddy”, “pal” &tc. If you want to be mistaken for a paisa or even someone from Medellín, you can always greet people “Qué más, pues, parcero?”

There are many words that we love here, but I think these have been inocente favorites every time. In fact, I’ve gone out of my way to say “capucha“, just for the joy of it. Capucha. So great.

The inocentes and many despedidas

3 Jun

We are saying farewell to something different every day. We probably enjoyed our last jugos at our favorite spot in the midday heat of Saturday. Today will be our last movie in the fancy “Premier” movie theater at the Tesoro. It looks like tomorrow, June 4th, will be our last full moon over Medellín.

Friday we had our last asado at Carlos’ lovely home in Envigado. Camilo made some amazing tri-tip (seriously, that man is a master of every grill he comes across) and by the end of the evening we were stuffed with chorizo, meat, arepas and cheese. The cheese is the weirdest part: it’s a firm block of quesito that they douse with barbecue sauce and then throw right on the grill. It’s amazing.

Last night we had our last evening of going out drinking & dancing. We started at our apartment and welcomed friends throughout the night, whether they could come out and dance or not. There were many toasts and lots of laughter. Later on, we went to Parque Lleras in the Poblado to do what we call a recorrido/ruta de shots. There are a lot of small, semi-outdoor bars that specialize in shots, so you can enjoy the evening in the opening air while still partying. You can take a shot somewhere and decide to go dancing somewhere else; it’s perfect (when you do it correctly) and it was a perfect evening to spend with our friends.

We danced a little at Buena Vista, which is a fabulous club for salsa. The walls are papered with newspaper and the chairs are these charming, plush quasi-wicker-porch-furniture things.

The night ended at one of my favorite places, Caneca. It’s decorated with furniture made of recycled materials, lamps made of plastic bottles or mason jars and tables pieced together from whatever material serves the purpose. The music is great, and the crowd (customers and employees, alike) have a great time singing, dancing and laughing all night.

And, of course, in-between there were shots of…whatever. Vodka, whiskey, a beer here and there, some kind of ginger liquor; you name it, we “cheers!'”d to every one of ’em.

Every time we say goodbye to our friends at the end of the night, we hug them a little tighter than normal, not knowing what craziness the next few days might hold. A “despedida” is essentially a “going-away” or “farewell”, and in these past few days (and the ones that are coming) the despedidas are many–to people, things, food, places; you name it, we’ll despedir it. And pretty soon, we’ll be on the other side of that despedir in California, easing back into “normal” life…whatever that “normal” might be 😉

The inocentes’ last days in Colombia

1 Jun

The weather is warm, the rain has stopped and we find ourselves right back at the beginning: Medellín in June. Every day we’re reminded that our time here is coming to a close and it is bittersweet.

Our friends ask us when we’ll return and we always counter with a “muy pronto, ojala“, which doesn’t really answer the question but is the best that we can come up with. “When you come back,” they return, “you always have a home with me.” So the running count is that we have about fifteen different places where we can stay here in Medellín. Always, we tell our friends that they have a home in the US, too, but sadly–with visa complications and the dollar vs. the Colombian peso–we know that them visiting us is unlikely. And that is probably the saddest part about leaving: knowing that we can always visit our friends in Medellín, but that they will likely never be able to visit us.

But even with that knowledge, it’s impossible not to enjoy these hot and breezy June days. We’ve spent nights in Carlos E. with our friends, knocking back Pilsens and micheladas, talking and laughing and enjoying life. Our next few days will be filled with partying and packing (though hopefully the former doesn’t interfere with the latter), and before we know it we’ll be state-side, able to fully comprehend verbal exchanges and understand all of the idioms and jokes that are thrown around.

And it will be AMAZING! But it will also be sad. And there will also be a lot of other confusing emotions that we’ll have to deal with. But there will also be delicious food. And family. But no arepas. See?! Difficult.

But even though we are very sad to be leaving, the paisa positivity continues to be infectious. I am given an “Ayyyy no!” for my sadness and reminded that “Hermana, life is full of changes. This experience has been amazing, and you have your Colombian family that you can always visit. Isn’t life great? Salud!” I am almost resentful that the people I know have this unimpeachable aura of optimism, but more than anything I’m thankful.

Lost cities, fancy photos

25 May

Greg has a fancy camera. It takes great pictures and he’s got an eye for framing things, and his snapshots are always a joy to look at.

Unfortunately, fancy cameras are often big and can be cumbersome to tote around in the hopes that something worth photographing might come along. They can also make you a target for just the kind of attention you want to avoid while traveling, so more often than not there is some justification to leaving the thing safely at home unless you’re certain the photo ops will be striking and plentiful.

The majority of the photos in this blog have been taken with my trusty digital cam, an Olympus Stylus something something. It’s perfect! I take it with us almost everywhere we go; just throw it in the purse and head out the door. If I’m dubious about safety and don’t want my beat-up purse drawing negative attention, I’ll ditch the satchel at home and tuck the camera into the breast pocket of my jacket: easy to access when necessary, a little too bold for most pick-pockets to hazard a try.

But when Greg totes the fancy cam, I’m always delighted to see what materializes. He took lots of snapshots of Machu Picchu (and–more importantly–lots of pictures of me. Thanks Greg!) that I wanted to share. I also came across a few other photos of our hike to Ciudad Perdida way back in the day and thought I’d include those, as well.

So, here you are: photos from two Pre-Columbian lost cities for the price of one blog post! All photo credits go to Greg. Model credit goes to me, Pre-Columbian lost cities, a few innocent bystanders and llamas. Always with the llamas.

Coastal inocentes part 2 (this time, with less fun!)

25 May

Another flight, another early morning. We were on the first plane out of Cusco on our way to Peru’s capita, Lima. The hour-long flight took us over mountains and mountains…and more mountains…all the way to the coast.

We’ve flown through Lima on three separate occasions, and this was our first time de-boarding and traveling into the city. As with all our other landings in Lima, we had to cut through a thick soup of clouds. The airport was only visible a few moments before we landed, the low-lying clouds obscuring everything until the last possible moment. The cloud cover, it seems, is pretty typical for Lima, which seems a shame for a coastal city. I’m sure they get their fair share of sun, but, like our cab driver said, “London is grey and so is Lima”.

After a very healthy nap, we set out for the center of Lima, the Plaza de Armas. Its lovely old structures and colorful buildings were surrounded by flocks of tourists taking photos. There was a small parade dedicated to diversity in Peru, which was bright and colorful but really, really small. Diversity parades should be…big and diverse, right? Maybe it depends on your commitment.

For lunch I made sure our first stop was complete with some delicious fish, shrimp and octopus ceviche. I also tried chicha morada, a typical Peruvian drink made of a type of red corn found in Peru. Once they make the juice from boiling the kernels, they typically mix it with a bit of sugar and lime juice to create a delicious dark purple drink.

We spent the evening in Parque Kennedy (of JFK fame) in our barrio of Miraflores. I say “our barrio” and that makes it sound quaint and close to our hotel, but Miraflores is very big, and it was a 15 minute bus ride from our hotel to the park. Regardless of its size, the parts that we came to know were lovely, especially around Parque Kenendy which was surrounded by different restaurants and coffee shops.

Parque Kennedy was also distinctive because of its cats. Cats and cats and cats, cats everywhere! In the trees! In the flower beds! Curled up under fences! The locals apparently leave food and water around for them so they don’t waste away.

Unfortunately, I was battling a cold for our entire time in Lima, probably a combination of many things (traveling in enclosed spaces, wacky sleep schedule, changing altitudes and climate, etc). The front desk staff told us that the humidity and clouds often made people sick, so I guess I can buy that, too. I’m sure there was much more to see that we missed, but it felt much better to spend the afternoons lounging around in our hotel room, watching TV or reading. It doesn’t sound that exciting (and it really wasn’t) but I think it was necessary to take a break from our vacation.

I think the real drawback of feeling less-than-100% in Lima was not being able to enjoy all of the culinary delights that the city has to offer. Sure, I had ceviche and chicha, and for dinner one night I had a sopa criolla (traditional soup with egg, noodles, tomatoes and beef) and a cob of corn with kernels the size of my eyeballs, deliciously tender and engorged (in the good way!).  All were delicious and unique, like nothing I’ve had anywhere else. But if my health had been in tip-top shape, I would have taken the city in my preferred method: by eating my way through it.

On our way back to Medellín we stopped in Quito for what was supposed to be a brief, 45 minute layover; we weren’t even supposed to de-board. But after refueling and maintenance, the airline and pilots decided “meh” and the trip was cancelled. Thus, we were able to spend another night in lovely Quito, confused, weary and with zero clean clothes. The good news, though, was that by the time we walked into our hotel, the heaviness in my chest and throat that had plagued me in Lima was almost entirely gone. Humidity, indeed.

And just like that, we have two weeks left in Colombia.