Tuesday, August 31, 2010

One Family's Return Trip: Plaza Bolívar North Side

A quote from Colombian Founding Father, Fransico de Paula Santander, is what greets you at the front of the PALACIO DE JUSTICIA (PALACE OF JUSTICE). It reads:

"Colombianos las armas os han dado la independencia, las leyes os darán la libertad"
(Colombians arms have given you independence, laws will give you freedom!)
However, the site of Colombian Justice has a relatively short and tragic history. In it's short history, there has actually been three different buildings that have occupied the spot. The first was built in the 1920's. It stood until the Bogotazo of 1948.

The story of the Bogotazo should really be a blog of it's own, and it will have to be. But, here is the condensed version. On April 9, 1948, a political candidate -- Jorge Eliecer Gaitán -- was assassinated. This led to protests, violence, repression, disorder, and the start of a period known as La Violencia in Colombia.

In Bogotá, one of the acts of defiance on April 9 was the burning of the Palacio of Justicia. The building was completely destroyed and the lot remained in ruins often serving as a parking lot until the 1960's, when a new building was errected.

That building was destroyed in November 1985. In an event known as the Toma del Palacio de Justicia (The Taking of the Palace of Justice). Again, this topic deserves its own post, but here is a brief summary.

On November 6 of 1985, a guerilla group known as the M-19 (Movimiento 19 de Abril) sent comandos to take over the Palacio de Justica. They took 350 hostages. They wanted to judge the President Belisario Betancur for curruption and the army's Human Rights abuses. The President refused to negotiate and his communications officer, Noemí Sanín, fearing destabilization, ordered a soccer game be broadcast instead of coverage of the event.

The government moved the army into place and went in guns blazing. Numerous people were killed, including the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and 11 Chief Justices. In total, there were 55 deaths and 11 "disappearances".

In 2005, Colombia established a truth commission to determine what had really happened and who was responsible for the deaths. It was determined that the Colombian Army had had a "disproportionate reaction to events" which resulted in more deaths than were necessary. It was also determined that it was the Army itself that was responsible for the fire that destroyed the building. They were also found responsible for the violation of the Human Rights of those that "disappeared."

The ruins of the building were left untouched for four years until construction of the building that now stands on the site was begun.


Monday, August 30, 2010

One Family's Return Trip: Plaza Bolívar East Side

The Plaza de Bolívar is the center of the original city, and like the Washington Mall, connects the centers of government. This year it celebrated 472 years as the city center, though its current form was built in 1959-60, when it was decided that it was best not to have the city center be a parking lot.


The Plaza is surrounded by beautiful historic buildings. On the East is the Catedral Primada, originally built out of mud with a straw roof in 1538. The Cathedral has actually been rebuilt or remodeled several times. The most recent remodel was in 1823 following an earthquake. The Cathedral houses the remains of the Spanish Conquistador, Gonzálo Jiménez de Quesada, as well as those of Antonio Nariño. (Read about him here: http://raisingcolombiankids.blogspot.com/2009/07/antonio-narino-y-alvarez.html) It also houses a large collection books and records that date back to 1612.

Next to the Catedral Primada is the Capilla del Sagrario. Begun in 1660 and finished in 1700. It houses the religious art of Greogorio Vásquez de Arce y Ceballos (May 9, 1638 – August 6, 1711).

Gregorio Vásquez , as he is commonly known, was one of the leading artists of the Latin American Baroque movement. The common themes of his work come from the New Testament and the Saints.

And since in Colombia all reality is stranger than fiction, here is the strange story of how Vásquez lost his money and his mind.

In about 1699, a judge (who also apparently had a proclivity to gambling and sold his judgements to pay his debts) by the name of Bernardino Ángel de Isunza fell in love with a beautiful young woman by the name of María Teresa de Orgáz. The two of them began a scandalous affair that they refused to hide. He even moved in with her and her mother without the benefit of marriage where it was reported that the two loved to bathe together and the mother would rinse and perfume them. This caused an uproar in the community and in the church.

Archbishop Fray Ignacio de Urbina was determined to put an end to such lascivious behavior, and decided to put María Teresa in the Convent of Santa Clara. The young woman was forcibly removed from her home, placed in a habit, and jailed in a seclusion cell at the convent. Nuns spent countless hours trying to "reconquer her soul." All was to no avail.

Outside the walls of the convent, the judge went about planning the escape of his lover. He enlisted the help of his friend, the painter Gregorio Vásquez. The two were able to plan and execute the escape of María Teresa. Unfortunately, Vásquez was captured and was later condemned and sent to prision for his role in the affair. Meanwhile, María Teresa and Bernardino lived together for a while until he left her for Cartagena and eventually Spain.

While in prison, Vásquez was forced to paint 42 paintings for the Archbishop that were then housed in the newly completed Capilla del Sagrario.

Upon leaving the prison, we was left a pauper. He was never paid for his paintings as they were part of his 'penance'. He went insane and never painted again. In 1863 the Colombian government placed a commemorative plaque on the house where Vasquez was born and died (Calle 11 No. 3-99).

“Los desposorios místicos de Santa Catalina” (Mystic weddings of St Catalina)

by Gregorio Vasquez, painted around 1700. Capilla del Sagrario


Friday, August 27, 2010

One Family's Return Trip: Afrocolombian Hero

Colombian Law #70 passed on August 27, 1993. Law #70 is also called the “Law of the Black Communities”. It is considered one of the greatest achievements of the Afro-Colombian civil rights movement. Read more here:


Since today is the anniversary of the passing of this law, I thought I'd share what we learned yesterday at the Museo Nacional about the role of Afrocolombians in Colombian Independence.

Here is a translation: In Venezuela and the Colombian Caribbean region, the majority of the patriot army was of African descent. During the wars, the militias, the guerrillas, and the armies (both royalist and patriot) became vehicles for social climbing and the temporary suspension of hierarchies that separated the people by their race, occupations, affluence and social differences. The participation of the people, and particularly the free blacks and mulattoes (mixed race) peoples in Cartagena and Mompox, was initially seen by historians as a negative. They were described as agents of disorder without political objectives. This is a picture of the Afrocolombian soldier José María Espinoza. He participated in the Battle of Boyacá.

But, perhaps the greatest discovery I made, and I have to say even my Colombian husband didn't know this, was that the hero of the Battle of Pantano de Vargas, Juan José Rondón, was the son of African slaves! Here is his story:

One of the great heroes of Colombian Independence wasn't actually born in Colombia. He was, in reality, born in Venezuela in 1790. In 1812, he joined the Spanish Royal army there. However, when he saw the unnecessary cruelty of the Spanish, he became disillusioned. He joined a force of about 50 rebels, and with this act became an outlaw of the state.

In time, his group (men on horseback experienced with the use of lances) became part of the liberating army.

At the Battle of Pantano de Vargas, Bolivar's troops were losing. From his vantage point on a hill, Bolivar lamented that after 7 hours of battle, his troops were tired and unable to gain ground. Suddenly, the Spanish General Barreiro, sent the last of his troops and his cavalry to attack the liberating army. Bolivar proclaimed, "They have sent the cavalry, all is lost!" Rondón responded, "Why do you say that, my General, if Rondón and his Llaneros haven't even fought yet?" Bolívar turned to the man and responded, "Coronel Rondón, salve usted la patriá! (you go save the country!)" Yelling, Rondón cried, "Let the courageous follow me!" Fourteen llaneros with their lances followed him. Rondón and his small band turned the tide of the battle.

This is one of the most famous stories of Colombian Independence. There probably isn't a Colombian that hasn't heard that line, "Salve ud. la patria!", dozens of times. It is a sentinel moment in Colombian history.

I wanted to point out, that portraits of Rondón have him pictured from white to brownish to black. The most commonly seen picture of Rondón is not the one where he is actually black, like the son of slaves would have been. Here is a link to google pictures for Rondón. You can see the different versions for yourself. http://www.google.com/images?q=juan+jose+rondon&rls=com.microsoft:en-us&oe=UTF-8&startIndex=&startPage=1&rlz=1I7ADSA_en&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=univ&ei=MKdyTMz0BYigsQO4pKzLCg&sa=X&oi=image_result_group&ct=title&resnum=4&ved=0CDoQsAQwAw

Thursday, August 26, 2010

One Family's Return Trip: Museo Nacional

In February, I wrote a post about the Museo Nacional. Read more here:

However, because of the Bicentennial, most of the museum's regular exhibits are closed. Instead, there is a special exhibition on the Bicentennial. I loved the theme, "NO COLOMBIAN HAS AN EXCUSE TO NOT KNOW HIS/HER HISTORY". I felt proud to have tried so hard to teach my little Colombianitos their history. They recognized the Battle of Boyacá pictures as well as the portrait of Pedro Pascasio Martínez and Simón Bolívar. Mommy beaming with pride. :) If you are going to be in Bogotá from now until the 10th of October, I would not miss this once in a lifetime opportunity to live the Independence of Colombia.

Here are some examples of what you can see at the Museum. You can see more at the virtual exhibit: http://www.museonacional.gov.co/sites/bicentenario/
Battle of Boyacá
Simon Bolivar's Sword

Simón Bolívar's Crown -- not exactly George Washington.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

One Family's Return Trip: Step By Step Transmilenio

One of the most practical ways to get around Bogotá is on the TRANSMILENIO. Here is a HOW TO GUIDE for getting on the Transmilenio.

Step #1 Go to the ticket booth at a Transmilenio Bus station. [There are 3 kinds of stations: PORTALES (Main -- located at the beginning and end of the line); INTERMEDIAS (Intermediate -- found at major intersections); and SENCILLAS (Simple -- found along the route approximately every 1/4 mile). Maps of the routes can be found here:

Step #2 Purchase your Bus tickets at the Taquilla. Currently the price is $1600 (in 2010) pesos per person, and includes transfers to other buses (ALIMENTADORES) that are located in the station where you get off. If this seems confusing get someone at the hotel where you are staying to tell you where to get on and where to get off or shange buses to get where you are going. We relied heavily on our friends, whom we affectionately call the Tomato and his wife, to explain to us how to get from point A to point B.

Step #3 You will receive a card, 1 per family with all of the money that you put on it for the trip. I the video below you will see how to use it. You can put as much money on it as you want. We put just enough for the ride there and back. That way if it gets lost, you aren't losing a fortune.

Step #4 Watch this video of how to use the card to get onto the plateform. Also remember, that if you still have moeny on the card, it will pop out. If you do not, the machine will eat your card.

While taking the Transmilenio is very safe, here are a few tips to help make sure that your trip is as safe as it can be:

#1 -- Carry your backpack on your front and not your back.

#2 -- Do not put your wallet in you back pocket.

#3 -- Don't flash around a big camera or anything expensive (no jewelry, watches, etc.)

#4 -- Be aware of your surroundings.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

One Family's Return Trip: Tourist Info

One of the first places you should visit upon arriving in Bogotá is the main plaza, LA PLAZA DE BOLIVAR. (More on that in as different post). However, when you get to the park, you will want to go to the side opposite the church. There, on the corner, you will see the following sign.

The "i" stands for INFORMACIÓN (information). This is where you can speak to tourist information workers. Today there were 3 girls working: one spoke English, one spoke French, and one spoke German. They can offer you a guide book and map in a dozen different languages. The book has a list of dozens of places that you can visit while in Bogotá. We are only going to be here for 5 days, so what I can cover in the blog is limited. There are lists of places that I have never visited, but we hope to eventually make it to all of them. I picked up the Tourist Map in English and the guide book in Spanish. This is what they look like.

Monday, August 23, 2010

One Family's Return Trip: Goodbye and Hello

The hardest part of the trip is saying 'goodbye.' Months of planning just come to an abrupt end. My husband's family, however, knows how to send you off in style. Not with some whippy BBQ, no. This party comes complete with entertainment.

They call it Noche de Hogar "Home Evening". This one started with a discussion about the importance of being a family, being there for each other, and working to stay united forever. It was awesome to be included, we aren't just the gringo relatives, we are part of the family -- albeit a part they don't see too often, but a part of the family nonetheless. Promises of e-mail, pictures, and Facebook messages were made.

Following the lesson, out came the food -- Abuelita Carmen's Famous Empanadas. Recipe here:

This was followed by a talent show -- who knew the sobrinos (nieces and nephews) were such great musicians. My 10 year old niece presented a song she had written, accompanied on the guitar by my 8 year old nephew and 20 something year old nephew. It all ended in a major sing along. I even sang "Yesterday" by the Beatles.



The following morning it was off to Bogota for a week visiting museums and other attractions. Stay tuned!! Goodbye Sogamoso!! Hello Bogota!!

Friday, August 20, 2010

One Family's Return Trip: Carne a la Llanera

The Llanos Orientales (the departments of Casanare, Arauca, Meta) are large, flat grasslands famous for their cattle and cowboys. Another tradition is the Llanero style BBQ. These Llanero style BBQ restaurants can be found all over Colombia, and the meat is spectacular. Most places allow you to order a BANDEJA with beef and pork. It comes with fried potatoes and yucca.

Give it a whirl! Definitely finger-licking good!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

One Family's Return Trip: The Corner Store

In Colombia, on nearly every street there is a corner store -- TIENDA. They are filled with candy, gum, chips, sodas, beer, bread, matches, and all sorts of odds and ends. These are like magnets for Colombian children. That is a problem for parents wanting their kids to eat healthy while visiting cousins that are used to eating tons of GALGUERÍAS (junk food). After many, many NOs, the boys finally wore us down -- Cokes, Patacones (plantain chips) and Chicken flavored potato chips.
This is an important cultural note. There are some "Can't really say you've been to Colombia, unless you've tried them." Galguerías. Below, is our list. Feel free to add your favorite.

#1 Chocolatina Jet: Inside the wrapper you will find a sticker. You can purchase a book for about $3 where all of the stickers go. The book then serves as a kind of picture encyclopedia.
#2 Papas Fritas Margaritas: It is well worth trying the POLLO (chicken) and LIMON (lime) flavored varieties of Papas Fritas Margaritas (Margarita's Potato Chips).
#3 Supercoco: These are coconut flavored chewy candy.

#4 Chocoramo: Chocolate covered pound cake.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

One Family's Return Trip: Buying Bread

My husband jokes that being Colombian means that you could never do the Atkins diet because rather than an all protein diet, you are pretty much on the all carbohydrate diet. Not a lunch is served without rice, not a breakfast without arepa and/or bread. But, not the milquetoast sliced bread we buy here -- NOOOOOO! It has to be the fresh, baked within the last hour kind. In fact, though sliced bread is available at stores like Carrefour or Carrulla. DO NOT BUY IT! It is dry and gross. Only good for toast, and not many people have toasters.
Back to the bread. In smaller cities, there are PANADERÍAS everywhere. In Bogotá they are harder to find. But, they smell delicious!!! Your nose can literally lead you to them. You can know that you have found a good one if there are lots of people buying bread there. In some cases, the bread is behind glass containers and you tell the workers which kind you want. In others, like the one pictured here, you grab a basket or tray, a pair of tongs, and choose what you want. Then take it to the cash register and pay for it -- there's no sampling.
Here are some key words:
Integral -- means whole wheat
Relleno -- means stuffed, usually with something sweet like guava paste
Bocadillo -- the guava paste
Queso -- Cheese
Hawaiano -- which means it has pineapple. In fact, anything with added pineapple is called Hawaiano: pizza, hot dogs, arepas, hamburgers, sandwiches, etc.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

One Family's Return Trip: Buying Meat

Living where meat comes in neat little styrofoam containers covered with plastic wrap can never offer you the thrill of a CARNECERÍA. Here large chunks of meat and long sausage links hang in the open air where you can smell them and see the flies enjoying lunch. I am sure that they leave the meat out longer than the USDA would advise, but I have never gotten sick. And while I know this would make my mother's stomach churn, I have to say that I have never tasted better meat than what we buy here at the EL RODEO meat market. But definitely a cultural trip.

Monday, August 16, 2010

One Family's Return Trip: Iza and El Batán

The area between Paipa and Iza is famous for it's many hot pools. Just outside of Iza, there is a great hotel and pool called El Batán. For $40 per night per couple you can stay and enjoy the "therapautic" waters. Or, for $5, you can jut go for a swim in the pools. (I know they look green, but we were told that this is because of the minerals in the volcanic waters. )

Everyone had fun and no one got sick, in fact my son's eczema cleared up -- maybe there is something to those healing waters after all.

After swimming we picked up coconut ice cream in the snack shop -- soooooo delicious! Definitely a must try!!
If you are interested in visiting El Batan the phone number for reservations is:578 779-0000.

Friday, August 13, 2010

One Family's Return Trip: Participating in the Informal Economy

A few weeks ago, I posted about the informal economy of Colombia. You can read more here:

Little did I know that I would get a chance to participate in it when I wrote the post. I have a niece that recently lost her job and is struggling to support her 2 children. So, she decided to sell Arepas del Horno on the street. This kind of job is called the "rebusque". It roughly means doing anything to earn money.

The arepas she sells are traditional in Tolima where she grew up, but have never been seen in Sogamoso, Boyaca. The arepa dough is cooked in a clay oven in little metal tins called a "paila". The cooked arepa is then removed, cut in half and a slice of cheese is added which melts from the heat of the recently cooked arepa. They are truly delicious!!

Since we were in Ferias y Fiestas, there were a lot of people looking for food on the street, so she needed help taking the grains off of the cob of 100 pounds of corn. We all got involved. The process is as follows:

1. Shuck the corn.

2. Take each grain off the cob by hand.
Whoa Nellie!, before your gringo(a) nature gets the better of you -- I suggested that cutting them off would be faster and less painful on the thumbs, but according to EVERYONE in the family, this leaves too much of the corn on the cob itself and is wasteful of the raw material needed to make the arepa.

Everyone got involved, even my rarely seen in the kitchen Father-in-Law brought in two huge bowlfuls of corn grains.

3. Mill the corn in a hand mill.

4. Make the arepa dough -- no pictures available as the recipe is a closely guarded secret.

5. Move everything to the street.

6. Help cook and sell the arepas.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

OneFamily's Return Trip: Munidal de Arepa

My husband's family loves any reason to get together and eat. This time, we hosted an arepa making contest, dubbed the Mundial de Arepas (Arepa World Cup). Every family had to bring their best arepa to be judged by 2 non-family members. There were arepas made from arepa harina, some made from hand milled corn, some from Bienestaria, arepjuelas from flour, and arepas made from Peto. In all 8 different arepas were entered in the competition. The winner got only bragging rights, but everyone enjoyed a laugh and a taste of all eight entries. Oh, and my gringa bread entry -- took honorable mention :)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

One Family's Return Trip: Tejo

We spent the afternoon of Independence Day eating and playing Colombia's official national sport -- Tejo.

Tejo has its roots in the native Muisca culture. Originally called Turmequé, the sport has been played on the Altiplano Cundiboyacense for over 500 years. It was the sport of the Indian aristocracy, who used a gold disc and simply threw it into a circle placed in clay.

Today, the game is played on a field called a cancha, about the size of one really wide bowling lane (2.5 meters wide x 19.5 meters long). On each end, you'll find an angled container filled with clay. In the center is the round metal target, called a bocin. There are also triangular pouches of gun powder (called mechas) in the clay.

The object of the game is to throw a tejo (a small metal disc weighing about 1/2 - 1 pound) into the bocin and blow up a mecha -- if you do this you get 9 points. If you throw the tejo and hit the bocin, but there is no gunpowder explosion, then you get 6 points. There are a few other scoring rules, but you get the idea.
Now, tejo has become synonymous with beer. Most games are played in a bar type atmosphere and often the loser buys the beer for the other team. (Not exactly a family friendly environment, so we played without alcoholic lubricant on a cancha all to ourselves.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

OneFamily's Return Trip: Cabalgata

Most Colombian community festivities (Fería de Cali, Feria de Manizales, and yes Ferias y Fiestas in Sogamoso) will include something called the CABALGATA. The English word is the Cavalcade. A cavalcade is a parade that usually includes horses rather than floats.
The cabalgata in Sogamoso included hundreds of horses, most ridden my people from the Llanos (Yopal, Agua Azul). Most of the riders tried to show off their horses' ability with the Colombian Paso Fino gait. Check out this video to see what the Colombian Paso Fino gait looks like.

Friday, August 06, 2010

One Family´s Return Trip: Tía Isabel

Most Colombians probably wouldn´t claim their relatives that live on remote mountain sides, but we love to visit Tía Isabel and Tío Castro. It is like going back in time 100 years. This time the boys learned to milk cows.
And cut grass with machetes.
In Colombia, having Indian ancestry isn´t exactly something to brag about. But, after tracing my husband´s roots back 8 generations (and sometimes up to 10 generations), we have made the discovery that he has Indian ancestry. He is, in fact, part Chibcha. Even if we hadn´t have found proof, we might have suspected it based on this father´s family tradition of pot making, that somewhere back there someone was an Indian who practiced the traditional art of pot making.

Read more about Tía Isabel and her world famous pots here:

Thursday, August 05, 2010

One Family´s Return Trip: Independence Day Parade

Here are some pictures of the Independence Day Parade. It lasted almost 3 hours ....crazy....and fun!!!

Los Lanceros