Friday, April 30, 2010

Plant Biodiversity

Colombia, which ranks second in the world for plant diversity, is home to about 45,000 different plant species. Only Brazil, a country which is 6 1/2 times larger than Colombia, has more distinct plant species (about 55,000). This means that approximately 15% of plant species world wide are found in Colombia.

Colombia is the second largest exporter of flowers to the world. (There is nothing like a Colombian rose on Mother's Day -- May 9th -- Hint! Hint!)

One interesting statistic about Colombian biodiversity. Colombia makes up 1% of the planet surface, but it contains 10% of the world's entire biodiversity.

Some of the more interesting plants of Colombia include:

La Victoria (Victoria regia) which grows large enough for a child to sit on it and float.

And the Frailejón (Espeletia schultzii) which grow in the páramo regions of Colombia.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Support House Bill 1224

The 21 of May marks the official day of Afrocolombian celebration in Colombia -- more about the actual holiday on 5/21. However, I became aware of a House Resolution currently circulating in Washington D.C. that deserves our attention.

As menitoned in previous posts, Colombia has the highest rate of Internally Displaced People (refugees) in the world -- even higher than Iraq. I wrote a post about this issue a while back.

In 2004, the Constitutional Court of Colombia ruled that the government was violating the rights of the displaced persons and ordered them to fi the situtation. Unfortunately, the government has does little to comply with the court rulings.

Now, "Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia and twenty-two other Representatives are sponsoring Resolution 1224 to mobilize U.S. government support for the work of the Colombian Constitutional Court and to urge the Colombian government to comply with these rulings"

Our representatives could use your support. I urge my USA readers to click on the following link and support a House resolution in favor or Indigenous and Afrocolombian displaced people.

Click on the link below:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bomba Estereo

Might I introduce you to a Colombian group called: Bomba Estereo. They formed in 2001 and released their first album in 2006. Last year, the release of their 3rd album -- Blow Up! -- rocketed them onto the international Latin Music scene.

They call their musical style "Electro-Vacilon". But, to me it sounds like Electro-Cumbia. Anyway, they just played at the South by SouthWest Festival. I thought you might enjoy hearing their #1 hit -- I give you Fuego! In the song they mention some Colombian cultural icons -- Agua de Panela and the Pollera Colora.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Shakira's World Cup Theme Song

A few days ago at work my husband had an interesting exchange with a colleague from the UK. They were, of course, talking about the World Cup, and my huband was giving his opinion about who should win in each group. His friend teasingly asked -- "How many Colombians will be playing the the World Cup?" My husband, knowing that his friend knew darn well that Colombia hadn't qualified asked, "And how many Brits will be singing at the opening ceremony?" The man looked at him as if to say WHAT? To which my husband responded, "Well, 2 Colombians will be there!"

So, in honor of that Colombian vindication, I recently found out that the composition written by Shakira has been chosen as the official theme song for the World Cup. Her song includes the Afrocolombian soca, and is accompanied by the South African group -- Freshly Ground.

In Spanish:

Read more:

Monday, April 26, 2010

Colombian Vocabulary and Accents

When I first met my husband, I had just spent 8 months living in rural Mexico. I had a fabulous campesino Mexican accent. When we were married (4 months later), we went to Colombia to spend several months with his family. The first thing I noticed was that my in-laws sounded nothing like my friends in Mexico. While the grammar was the same, they used all kinds of new vocabulary and pronunciation.

For example, my sandia (watermelon) became patilla in Colombia. My mantequilla de cachuate (peanut butter) became mantequilla de maní. And my cachucha (baseball hat) became a gorra. Just to name a few of the differences.

Not only did various vocabulary words change, but the pronunciation of the same vocabulary word on occasion also changed. Like take the word for beans, Mexicans say fri JO les (stress on the JO). My in-laws in Boyacá say FRI jo les (stress on the FRI).

Another big difference that I noticed was that there was a huge variation in accents -- depending on the region of Colombia where you grew up. We did a lot of touring on that first trip -- from Boyacá and Bogotá by car to Manizales, Pereira, Cali. Then by plane to Ipiales in the South. It was pretty amazing to hear the variety (kind of like Mississippi vs New York vs Boston vs California -- you get the idea).

I found this video that helps you hear the different accents. In the video, every person reads the same card, but you can definitely hear the difference between someone from Valle vs Caribe vs Bogota. Check it out:

Friday, April 23, 2010

Seeking a Dream

Playing professional soccer (futbol) is the dream of thousands of Colombian boys. For 50 boys who are currently in the ICBF system, this dream has taken one step closer to reality.

Last week, ICBF signed an agreement with the professional soccer team, Independiente Santafe, located in Bogota. In this agreement, the team will provide training in their farm leagues for 50 boys, ages 8-18, who are currently under the protective care of ICBF.

The boys that will participate were selected by 5 trainers from the professional team. The participants demonstrated not only outstanding soccer skills, but an ability to cooperate and work well as a team.

You can read more here:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Arroz con Leche

This is a very common song, often sung through out the Spanish speaking world. You can play a "Duck Duck Goose" type game while singing this song.

There are a few variations -- typically who the singer wants to marry -- be it a widow from the capital (viudita de la capital) or a young woman from the capital (señorita de la capital) or even an old woman from the capital (viejita de la capital). The song that you can listen to below uses the young woman. There are also variations as to the things the woman knows how to do. The fact that she knows how to sew and embroider is pretty universal, however, the last thing listed has multiple versions. Here are the lyrics for the song that you can click on below:

Arroz con leche Rice pudding

Me quiero casar I want to get married

Con una señorita To a young single woman

de la capital From the capital

Que sepa coser That knows how to sew

Que sepa bordar That knows how to embroider

Que sepa abrir la puerta That knows how to open the door

para ir a jugar. In order to go out and play.

Con esta . With this one yes

Con esta no. With this one no

Con esta señorita me caso yo. With this young woman I will get married.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tourism Video

Nice Video -- they should have spent more on their English editing -- Its not It's. And perhaps the narrator could have better pronounciation. But, nice nonetheless.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

La Madremonte

The myth of the Madremonte (Mother Mountain), and I do say myth though many campesinos in Colombia believe in her today, has it's roots in the indigenous cultures of Colombia and is known throughout much of Colombia including Antioquia, Caldas, Arauca, Caqueta, Amazonas, Guainia, and perhaps more departments.

The Madremonte looks like a large woman. She has large, bony hands, large teeth and Betty Davis Eyes -- which on closer examination glow. Her body is covered in leaves and moss. Her hair is a tangled mess of plants and moss which often covers her face.

She lives in the mountains and jungles, (in Antioquia and Caldas she lives in swamps where streams are born. People who claim to have seen her, usually report to have done so near thickets and bushes in jungle like areas. Others report having heard her bloodcurdling screams and groans on stormy nights.

She rules the winds, the rains, and all the vegetation, and her role is to protect nature. She punishes those who invade her territory, by making them get lost. Suddenly paths disappear and become overgrown with vegetation, mountains change their shape, and the person becomes dizzy and will often sleep for several hours. When they awaken, they are lost. She treats unfaithful and wicked men with the same punishment, while children that invade her territory are spirited away and hidden behind waterfalls -- never to be seen again.

Another malady attributed to the Madremonte are water born diseases. When people become sick form the water in the river, it is because the Madremonte has washed her hair in the head waters of the river.

If you are to run across the Madremonte while hiking in the forest, there are some weapons you can use against her power. First, you must not show fear, you should hurl insults at her, and try to whip her. If you would prefer not to run into her at all, campesinos say that tobacco smoke or a blessed medallion will protect you from ever seeing her.

Still a better way of seeing the Madremonte, might be to visit the Jardin Botanico in Medellin. There you will find the above statue in her honor. You can also find statues of her in Espinal, Tolioma; El Parque National del Cafe; and in various parades and festivals throughout Colombia, like this one in Tame, Arauca.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Orchid Biodiversity

Colombia ranks #1 in world biodiversity in kinds of Orchids. Colombia boast about 3,500 species of orchids, which is about 15% of the entire world species.

Amazingly enough, new species are continuing to join the ranks. In fact, just a few short months ago (October 2009) the latest unique species of orchid was announced. The find was made near the city of Yotoco in the department of Valle del Cauca. The new species has been given the name Lepanthes foreroi. Unfortunately, this new species is already threatened by local farmers wanting to expand their farms.

You can read more and see a picture here:


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Calling All Artists -- Colombian Competition

If your Colombianitos are 10-17 years old, there is an art competition that may interest you.

Race car driver, Juan Pablo Montoya, together with Formula Sonrisas, and Colombia es Pasion announced an art competition to design his helmet that will be used in the Daytona on July 3, 2010.

The competition is open until May 20, 2010, and the winner will be announced in June. Your child's artistic design should revolve around the following theme.


DIVERSITY OF COLOMBIA, including Biodiversity (my blog's entries for the last few months should be helpful here You may also include the riches of Colombia, her peoples, her culture, and her music.

To compete, your child must be Colombian. He/She must be between the ages of 10 and 17. He/She must have a valid US visa -- if not a dual US/Colombian citizen -- make sure to outline that your child is a Colombian living abroad.

You must also use this link to download the design format.

Then, your child's finished creation must be scanned and sent to:


Good luck! I think it is a great opportunity to bring a little Colombia to your home and help Colombians in Colombia remember that there are many Colombians living abroad that love their country too.

For additional info:

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Latest Wait List Published

The most recent Wait List was published by ICBF on April 9, 2010. Joyfully, there has been a lot of movement again this time.

Once again, the ICBF Wait List applies to adoptions through ICBF only -- not through CASAS PRIVADAS. It also ONLY APPLIES TO NON COLOMBIAN FAMILIES. It DOES NOT reflect special needs children. The definition of special needs are children with disabilities, children over 8 years of age, and sibling groups of 3 or more.

All dates that have advanced I am putting in BOLD and RED.

Also, this list only reflects that there are no more dossiers at the national office prior to the date shown. Dossiers from before May 2006 in the 0-23 months category, for example, may still need a referral, but they have already been sent to a region and are no longer at the national office.

Age of Child ------- Date of Application Approval by ICBF
Child 0-12 months ------ Jul - 2006
Child 13 - 23 months ---- Jul -2006
Child 2 years ----------- Oct - 2005
Child 3 years ----------- Feb - 2006
Child 2 - 3 years -------- Apr - 2006
Child 3 - 4 years -------- Feb - 2006
Child 4 years ----------- Nov - 2005
Child 5 years ----------- June - 2007
Child 4 -5 years -------- May - 2006
Child 5 - 6 years ------- Aug - 2007
Child 6 years ----------- Dec - 2009
Child 7 years ----------- Aug- 2009

2 Siblings 0 - 4 years --- Jun-2007
2 Siblings 0 - 5 years --- Mar-2007
2 Siblings 0 - 6 years --- Jul-2008
2 Siblings 0 - 7 years --- Feb-2009
2 Siblings 0 - 8 years --- Aug - 2009

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bogotá for Beginners: Taxis

Taxis are another great way to get around Bogotá. There are multiple services. It is best to call ahead and have a cab sent to where you are to pick you up. When you call they give you a "SECRET CODE" which you can use when the taxi shows up so you can be sure it is a taxi from a reputable company -- this keeps you safe :)

A really helpful site when looking at public transportation in Bogotá -- buses and taxis -- is found in both English and Spanish at:

This site gives you the latest rates, you can hire a taxi for 1 hour at the rate of $14,000 pesos -- about $7.50 US. There is also an added fee for a trip from the airport -- $3,200 (less than $2 US). This also means a ride from the airport shouldn't cost you more than $10. So, don't get ripped off by your agency. You can always send them a link to this site. I heard of one agency charging $30 for a trip from the airport to the hotel. NOT COOL!! That extra $20 can be very useful to an adoptive family.

As you leave the El Dorado Airport, there are signs that say, "TAXI". You go to the little window and give them the address of where you want to go. They will give you a little piece of paper with the price printed on it. (So far, you do not need to pay any money -- so don't). You take the paper to the line of taxis and hand it to the driver. He will take you to your hotel and then charge you the fee printed on the paper. It is important to remember to pay the driver only the price printed on the paper.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bogotá for Beginners: Pico y Placa

In a city where there are over one million vehicles, and the streets aren't exactly wide and well planned thoroughfares, there was a need to create a plan to reduce traffic congestion. The transportation solution included the TransMilenio bus system, the new subway, and an interesting system (borrowed from Mexico City) which has come to be know as Pico y Placa.

Pico y Placa means that you cannot drive your car on certain days of the week -- based on the last number on your car's license plate. It applies to all vehicles, public and private.

For example, cars whose plates end in a 3, 4, 5, or 6 cannot circulate from 6 am until 8 pm on Mondays for the year from July 2009 until June 2010. A violation of this law will cost you over $100 US and you may have your car impounded.

This rule often puts a damper on some adoptive families that rely on certain drivers. Inevitably, a driver will be unable to circulate 2 days of the week. This is why getting a handle on public transport is a must. So, check out tomorrow's post.

Friday, April 09, 2010

La India Catalina -- The Colombian Malinche?

Juan de Castellanos was a 16th century poet and priest. He was born in Spain, but spent much of his life in Cartagena and Tunja. He is most remembered for his epic poem "Elegías de Varones ilustres de Indias", which tells the story of the Spanish conquest of what is today Colombia. There we read about the India Catalina:

Una india llamada Catalina
An Indian named Catalina

Desde Santo Domingo se traía
From Santo Domingo was brought

Y era de Zamba, pueblo que confina
And she was Zamba, a people that are found

Con los que viven esta bahía
Amongst those that live in this bay (today Galerazamba North of Cartagena)

En lengua castellana muy ladina
In the Castilllian language a very smooth talker

Y que la destas gentes entendía
And in the (language) that these people understood

La cual de esta costa presa
Who from this coast was taken prisoner

Siendo muchacha, Diego Nicuesa
As a young girl, by Diego Nicuesa

Castellanos helped to immortalize the sad, but true story of a young girl who had been kidnapped by Diego de Nicuesa and taken to Santo Domingo, There, as a slave, she learned to speak Spanish, as well as dress, act, and worship like her captors. Later, she was taken by Pedro de Heredia to assist in his conquest of the tribes surrounding Cartagena by acting as an interpreter.

With Catalina's translation help, Heredia was able to conquer many of the Indian groups surrounding Cartagena with the Calamari Indians being completely annihilated.

Later, Catalina would marry Pedro de Heredias' nephew, Alonso Montañés. She returned with her husband to Sevilla, Spain and was lost to any further historical mention.

Today, a statue in her honor can be found in Cartagena,

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Pedro de Heredia and Cartagena

Cartagena, many know that name of the city is actually Cartagena de Indias, but did you know that the original name was San Sebastian de Calamar? Here is the story:

Pedro de Heredia was born in Madrid, Spain. As a young man he was involved in a brawl that left three men dead, and he was therefore forced to leave Spain as a penance. He moved to the island of Hispañola -- Santo Domingo. There, he made friends with the right people and in 1526he was named the lieutenant governor of Santa Marta (in today Colombia), under Perdo Badillo. While in Santa Marta, he became a wealthy man by trading trinkets (bells, mirrors and hats) with the natives and receiving gold in return.

He returned to Spain, and requested that he be granted permission to explore from the mouth of the Magdalena River to the Atrato River. On, June 5, 1532, he was granted his request by the sovereign of Spain.

He landed in what is today the Bay of Cartagena in January 1533, and proceeded to subdue and annihilate (mostly in the battle of Turbaco) the natives living in the area -- the Calamari. On January 21, 1533, he named the area San Sebastian de Calamar, but it was changed later that year (June 1, 1533) to Cartagena de Indias when the establishment of the first city was celebrated.


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Feliz Cumpleaños -- Happy Birthday

One thing I have noticed while following adoptive family blogs is that many adopted children have birthdays while the family is in process in Colombia, or within a few months of returning home. A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a family anticipating the adoption of their child who will likely celebrate her birthday while the family is in Colombia. The question, "Are there any Colombian birthday traditions we should be aware of?"

This question brought about an interesting conversation between my husband and me. Later, I spoke with other family members and even sent out a request to my online Colombian friends. Unfortunately, there was painfully little that anyone could come up with. So, here are the things that I did learn.

Besides the Quinceañera, the only other birthday that seems to be special is the 1st birthday. Many families, but by no means all families, will spring for a big shindig on their child's first birthday. They will invite loads of people and feed them all. There seemed to be some consensus that a Piñata should also be involved.

Unlike in some other Latin American countries, no one seemed to mention the tradition of shaving the child's head (which I have to say I think is positive, especially if you have a girl).

One other thing that was mentioned is that there is a tradition of having cake. However, for those of you busy studying your Spanish books in anticipation of your eventual encuentro in Colombia. You will find that the word for birthday cake is not what appears in your dictionary or tetbook. Nope! You will want to learn the word:

PONQUÉ -- pronounced / pohn KAY/.

You might also want to know that while in México it is common to hear "Las Mañanitas" as the bithday song, in Colombia you hear our traditional "Happy Birthday" song in its Spanish language form.

Cumpleaños Feliz

Te deseamos a tí

Feliz Cumpleaños a _(Name)_

Feliz Cumpleaños a tí.

There is, however, typical second verse -- with its various versions. This is the one they sing in my husband's family.

Que los cumpla feliz

Que los vuelva a cumplir

Que los siga cumpliendo

Hasta el año tres mil.


Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Matrimonios -- Colombian Wedding Traditions

After having polled numerous Colombian family and friends, and found painfully little that was very different between American customs and Colombian customs. Like here the wedding reception is paid for by the bride's family. The groom buys a ring. The bride and her family find the dress and make most of the wedding preparations, etc. etc. etc.

There were a few differences that I found that might be of interest.

#1 -- No Bridesmaid or Best Man

Most of the people I spoke with said that though some people may have adopted this tradition today, typically most ceremonies and receptions will not include them.

#2 -- A Dance

Most families will host a dance as part of the celebration. Couples will dance to Salsa, Merengue, Cumbia, Vallenato, just about anything. But, they will dance. And so will most of the guests. Here a dance may be rather hit or miss depending on your family. There, EVERYONE, no matter the age, dances to the same music and so it is quite a party.

#3 -- The Coins

Many Colombian couples will follow the tradition of Las Arras. The Arras are little coins that are exchanged during the wedding ceremony. These coins are given by the groom to the bride as a symbol that what is mine (monetarily speaking) is now yours. Some people mentioned that there are actually 13 coins given, others didn't mention a specific number, just that the bride received the coins. Still one other person mentioned that at her wedding both the bride and the groom exchanged coins. So, apparently the way and number of coins is not as important as the actual exchange of the coins.


Monday, April 05, 2010

Quinceañera Parties in Colombia

The word Quince in Spanish means 15. The Quinceañera is a girl who is turning 15 years of age. In Colombia (as well as many other Latin American countries), depending on the family's economic means, this birthday is celebrated with a special party -- a sort of coming of age party. This party, called the Fiesta de Quince, ushers the young woman from the world of childhood into the world of womanhood.

However, the kind of party you get will depend on your economic station in life. The more wealthy your family is, the fancier the party, the poorer your family is, the more simple. However, no matter your station, there are certain elements that are part of nearly every Quinceañera celebration.

#1 The Hair, Make-up and Nails.

Every girl will have a special hairdo for the occasion. Most families will splurge and send the girl to the beauty salon where she will get he royal treatment -- hair, nails, make-up, etc. She needs to look her very best.

#2 The Dress.

Most 15 year old Colombianitas will look forward to receiving a special dress for her 15th birthday celebration. Unlike Mexican or Chicano Quinceañeras, the Colombian dress is not typically a mock wedding or even fancy prom dress. It is usually a more practical dress -- ranging from cocktail type to church type. Again, the more economically limited the family is, the more likely the dress will be more of a practical nature.

#3 The Present.
Most Quinceañeras will receive a special present that can be kept for a lifetime in order to remember her special day. Jewelry is usually a top choice -- a necklace or ring. The quality and price are also based on the family's ability to spend their resources on a gift. Some families will go into debt for this event and they go all out.
In addition to the special memorial gift, some families will give an extravagant gift -- mopeds, sound systems, computers, or even trips to San Andrés or Miami as gifts to the Quinceañera.

#4 The Cake.
The party will always include a cake. Often the cake will have several tiers and will appear like a wedding cake. It is often adorned with a girl in high heeled shoes -- which leads to the next point...

#5 The Shoes.
Most girls will begin the party in flats. At some point during the party she is given high heeled shoes -- which are often placed on her feet by her father or closet male relatives in the case of single mothers.

#6 The Food.

Some girls sponsor a large dinner -- often with Lechona. Poorer families might just have appetizers. But, whatever the menu, there will be food for the crowd.

#7 The Dance.

No Fiesta de Quince is complete without a dance. But, the Dance always begins in a very special way. The first dance of the night is a Waltz (Vals). The nearly universal song used for this waltz is the Blue Danube Waltz and it is the first song that the girl will dance to in her high heels.

When the song begins, she will be accompanied by her father -- or closest male relative in the case of a single mother. Throughout the song, she will take a twirl with an additional 14 other gentlemen -- typically boys that she has invited though uncles, cousins, and other relatives will often be enlisted to help reach the magical number of 15.

This dance officially ushers the girl into society of young women. In some families each of the fifteen official dancers will also give the girl one long stemmed rose at the end of the entire waltz and he thanks her for the dance.

Optional Quinceañera Traditions:

#8 The Toast.
There is typically a toast where the girl sips champagne for the first time. Though in many families no real alcohol is served and it is more symbolic.

#9 The Serenata.
The parents often pay for a serenade. It arrives the night before the party at midnight.

Clip Art: