Friday, January 29, 2010

Bogotá for Beginners: Ciclovía Sundays

Recently, askmen.com posted its list of the top cyclist friendly cities in the world. Guess what? It wasn't Portland (it took 6th place). Ahead of the only US city to make the list was our very own -- Santa Fé de Bogotá (#3). One of the reasons for this, as cited in the article, is the Ciclovía Sunday.

Read more here:


What is Ciclovía Sunday, you ask?


Well, on Sundays many of the big thoroughfares of Colombia are closed to traffic so that Bogotá’s citizens can walk, bike and enjoy the city free of traffic pressures. The streets are manned by Bogotá City Police who keep pedestrians and cyclers safe from traffic. I think this is a wonderful public service. Feel free to check out the video below to learn more!


Lessons from bogotá Video - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Bogotá for Beginners: Carreras and Calles –Getting around

One of the nice things about Bogota is that for the most part it’s arranged on a grid. The streets that run north to South are called Carreras and they are numbered east to West starting from the Mountains. The streets that run east to West are called Calles. So if you look at the address plaque above it will tell you that the business is located at Calle 14 with Carrera 32. Usually the plaque would have another number after the 32 that would indicate the street number. Ex. Calle 14 Carrera 32-8. The 8 would be the building's number.

There a few disclaimers though:

Although Bogota uses a Cartesian numbering situation not all the streets are a straight grid. For example in some areas Carrera 13 is right next to Carrera 8 because it wiggles around. Also many of the streets have alternate names that are more commonly used i.e. Carrera 14 is always called "La Caracas" (see sign above)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bogota for Beginners: Cell Phones

Cell phones in Colombia are omni-present. Everywhere! Most people have pay as you go phones and if you were going to be in Colombia for more than a few weeks I would definitely recommend buying one. You can get one for about $25. If you will be there just a week or less you can probably make due buying “minutes” from cell phone call vendors who hang out on the street. Usually they stand around on the street wearing a vest that says minutes and with a few cell phones chained to their persons. There are also differences in cost when you call between cell phone companies. For example it is my understanding that it costs more to call between Comcel and Movistar than it does to call from a Comcel phone to another Comcel phone. Phones can be charged with minutes at groceries stores like Ley or Exito or at cellphone stores, which are pretty common.

Something else to know about Colombia is that because the person who calls is the one that pays people ALWAYS answer their phones. In the U.S. it is considered somewhat rude to interrupt a conversation by answering your phone but in Colombia people understand that if you were to let a call go to voicemail you would have to pay so it’s not seen as bad manners to excuse yourself to answer your phone.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bogota for Beginners: Taxis and Transmilenio

There are two ways to get around Bogota that are easiest for those who are new to the city: Taxis and Transmilenio. There is also a really extensive bus system but since there are not maps available I wouldn’t suggest it for foreigners.



Transmilenio –This is a hybrid between a subway/bus system. The busses run on fixed routes that are completely separate lanes from other traffic. These routes have platform stations where you buy a ticket and wait as if waiting for a subway. Transmilenio is safe, clean and fast. According to my husband, it has dramatically changed the traffic situation in Bogota.

Taxis –The easiest way to get around. Compared to taxis in the U.S., Bogota taxis are dirt-cheap. To understand how the billing works look at the taximeter at the front of the taxi. The number will correspond to a price that is listed on a laminated sheet attached to the back of the seat. This sheet should also have a picture and information about your taxi-drivers registration. Please note that rates are more expensive at night than during the day. Another fun fact? If you are in a taxi at 6:00 pm you will hear the Colombian national anthem. It plays on every radio station everyday at 6:00 pm. “Oh gloria inacessible…”

One other note on taxis for foreigners -- it is best to call a taxi company and have them send you a specific taxi. You will get a number code to use with the taxi driver. This way you know that the taxi you are getting into is really a taxi with a registered driver. It is the best way to be safe.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Bogota for Beginners: Crossing The Street

One of the wonderful things about Bogota is that it is a very walkable city. There are sidewalks almost everywhere and in many places there are even separate bike paths. It’s important to remember though that Colombian drivers are fast and loose with the rules of the road. It’s very common for people to run red lights and drive the wrong way down a one-way street. So always look everyway before you cross. There is absolutely no right-of-way for pedestrians.

Something else you might notice is that in some places there are stars painted in the middle of the street. These stars were part of a social marketing campaign designed to encourage people to use pedestrian bridges and crosswalks. Each star marks a place where someone was killed crossing the street. Bigger stars might mean that more than one person was killed. Small stars symbolize children. I believe that this campaign was running in 2005 so many of the stars are no longer freshly painted. When you see stars on the street please be extra careful and consider taking the long way to use the crosswalk or pedestrian overpass.

Friday, January 22, 2010

National Holidays for 2010


Many an adoptive parent has been set back a few days by the observance of one of the many Colombian holidays. Here is a list of the official national holidays. This list was established by Law #53 in December of 1983. On these days, courts close, ICBF offices are closed, and many tourist attractions also close. So, if you will be in Colombia on these days, be forewarned. To this list, you might add department or city holidays such as the closures in Barranquilla during Carnaval or in Manizales during the Feria.


1st January New Year's Day -- Año Nuevo

6th January* Epiphany -- Epifanía or Reyes Magos

19th March* St. Joseph's Day -- San José

1st May Labour Day -- Día del Trabajo

29th June* St. Peter & St. Paul -- San Pedro y San Pablo

20th July National Independence Day -- Grito de la Independencia

7th August Battle of Boyacá -- Batalla de Boyacá

15th August* Assumption Day -- Asunción de la Virgen

12th October* Columbus Day -- Día de la Raza

1st November* All Saints Day -- Todos los Santos

11th November* Independence of Cartagena City

8th December Immaculate Conception -- Inmaculada Concepción

25th December Christmas Day -- Navidad

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday -- Jueves y Viernes Santo

May or June* Corpus Christi

June* (third Friday) Sacred Heart of Jesus --Sagrado Corazón de Jesus

Ascension Day* 40 days after Easter


*When these holidays do not fall on a Monday, they will be observed the following Monday. This is called a PUENTE or bridge.
Clip art:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What is a Trova?

The Feria de Manizales features a Trova contest (the 2nd most important Trova competition in Colombia) -- but what exactly is a Trova?
A trova is a simple rhyming song that is used to express personal experiences that are often considered a subtle form of political or cultural commentary.
Where did the Trova come from?
Originally, the trovas were songs sung by jugglers in the Middle Ages. The concept arrived in Spain from France and then in Latin America via Spain. And while Trovas are sung in other parts of Latin America -- Cuba, Mexico, Peru. Colombia, and in particular the Paisas of Antioquia and the Coffee growing region, have made it a cultural competition.
What is a Trova competition?
In order to take this art form to the "next level," Pasias have made the trova an improvisational competition. The participants -- trovadores -- must seamlessly link one singer's idea to the next singer's idea while rhyming (typically a, b, b, a or a, b, a, b) and often playing the guitar (tiple). Just seconds prior to the competition, a topic is assigned by a panel of judges, then the two battle it out and are judged on the lyrics that they invent on the fly and how well they link to their competition.

Here is a video of a competition:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPRC7OqFIbI&feature=related

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Reinado del Cafe



What Colombian Feria would be complete without a beauty contest??? NONE!!! So, the Feria of Manizales hosts the International Coffee Queen Competition.

The pageant began in 1957 and hosts beauties from many different coffee growing countries. Winners have come from Colombia (of course), as well as Brasil, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Honduras, Costa Rica, amongst others. There are also special invitations for non coffee growing countries, this year Poland and Canada sent contestants. In the past, Germany has sent a contestant and she even won the competition.

Here is a link to this year's competition info and winner pictures:
http://www.feriademanizales.gov.co/pages/reinadoaldia.aspx

Also a link to a News report of the event (in Spanish):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_c7e20E1i0g
Clip art:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Feria de Manizales -- Manizales Fair

Okay, so this is yet another late post, but think of all you have to look forward to next January! You could actually make plans to go to Manizales and experience first hand the Feria.


In 1951, after the 400th anniversary of the founding of the city, a parade of antique handcarts and several bullfights were organized. It became a popular annual event. Then in 1954, after having seen the Feria in Seville, Spain, Osacar Hoyos Botero decided to try to create something similar in his hometown of Manizales. So, in 1955, the Feria de Manizales as a city sponsored activity was organized. It main feature was and is the the traditional Bullfights. Maestro Bullfighters come from all over America and Spain to participate.


There is also a large horse parade (Cabalgata), a traditional Manola, folkloric dancing, fireworks, musical presentations, a trova competition, and of course, a beauty contest.


The Feria de Manizales in the 2nd largest celebration in Colombia -- behind the Carnaval de Baranquilla.


In 1957, the official anthem -- a Pasodoble entitled "Feria de Manizales" -- was introduced. You can purchase this song for 99 cents at Amazon.com.


http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000QLDVUO/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_2?pf_rd_p=486539851&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=B002XNK5GG&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=002JR4HXY6SWA92HKB34






Photo by -->>©hEnggY's LiGHT<<

Monday, January 18, 2010

Balseadas de Santos


Okay, so I really meant to post this the first week of January, as the event is held from January 1-6 every year, but the move really threw me for a loop. So, now that this event is over, I'll give you a run down so you can look forward to it for next year.


On the Pacific coast of Colombia, there is a unique tradition popular among Afrocolombians. It is called the Balseadas de Santos. The Balseada is actually a procession of canoes, accompanied by a chorus of drums. In the procession, the canoes carry the statues of Catholic saints down the river to where a village or city is located. Then, the canoes come to shore and the statue is carried to the home of a family that has been chosen to sponsor the "partying" all year long. The party then begins. There is marimba music and the woman at the head of the household will begin singing and dancing. The festivities last for several days.


These balseadas are held on the Sanquianga river in the cities of Bocas de Satinga, Mulatos, and el Baíto. Other balseadas are held on the San Juan river in the cities of Tadó and Istmina, on the Baudó river in San Martín de Porres, and on the Timbiquí river in Guapi.


Photo by anthrotect:

Friday, January 15, 2010

One Family's Journey: Bring a Book

I read every adoption book I could get from our public library before we got our referral. Some were helpful, some were scary and some were just dumb, but there is one book that I read that I really think shines above the rest. It's called "Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child" by Patty Cogen. This book is not small but I brought it to Bogota anyways and I'm so glad I did because a lot of the advice was right on. It was helpful to read the book before referral but it is a COMPLETELY different experience to re-read and see Elian exhibiting the same characteristics described in the book. Lots of well meaning people will tell you "All a Child needs is love" but in my opinion that is not true. Any adopted child suffers a severe trauma when they are transferred to their new parents; this book taught me how to help him through the transition. We loved Elian long before we ever saw his face but that doesn't make us his parents in his eyes and I think this was one of the main messages of the book. It takes you step by step through how a child will understand the transition and how to teach your child what it means to be part of your family. I really can't recommend it enough. I'm sure there are other good books out there though? If you read one, please share it in the comments!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

One Family's Journey: Packing List Update

Remember back when I talked about what we we're going to pack? Seems like so long ago now! Well now that we're here I thought I'd do an update on what was great and what I wished we had or hadn't brought... here goes!

Stuff that has been wonderful:

1) The stroller: So wonderful I wrote a whole post touting it's wonders earlier this week. We have a Maclaren and I'm really impressed by how well it handles Colombia's crazy streets.
2) Ergo Carrier: Just SO great! In small towns people will give you weird looks. In Lebrija people kept stopping my husband to ask if the baby was okay. "Can he breathe?" It is worth it though to be able to walk around in places where the crossing the street is problematic i.e. large parts of Colombia
3) Blocks: A friend gave us a case of foam blocks for Elian for Christmas. They are so wonderful for many reasons, including. 1) They are suitable for the bath. 2) They are light and don't add too much weight to the suitcase. 3) Nothing bad happens if he throws or falls on them. Here's a link to the blocks she got him. As my friend said they are also useful for the plane "Foam blocks=more fun for Elian and less lawsuits for you" Thanks Dahlia!
4) Board books=Endless fun and easy distraction for restaurants so parents can eat in peace. Also reading=good. Not that he reads them.. yet!
5) Portable Changer: This thing is just so much awesome that I can't even get over it. I want to buy stock in this product alone, it is so helpful! We will probably get a second one to keep in our car when we get home. Ours is from Target. You can check out a similar one here.
6) Friends and family helped us make videos of both our house and my niece and nephew demonstrating how to use a carseat. Elian likes to watch both of them.
7) Adoption-related books: There is nothing like re-reading the books while watching your child in action. We have the "Temper-tantrums" page bookmarked!

Stuff I wish we'd brought:
1) Those bibs that are like little painters smocks. Elian is so dirty all the time and the bib selection here is not great.
2) Baby spoons & utensils: Same reason as above. I also would've brought more than one sippy cup.
3) More than one book to read: After Elian goes to bed at night we can't really leave the house. I can only watch so much SonyCanal and I already finished the one fun book I brought.

Side Note: Just to be clear all of these items were presents or purchased by us. We did not receive any of these items from the companies linked to above.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

One Family's Journey: Submitting Paperwork for Sentencia

Yesterday the Colombian courts finally re-opened after winter recess which means we can now formally submit paperwork to request that our adoption be finalized. We met with our lawyer today (Oscar Abril-comes with great recommendations and was very nice) to finish up our paperwork and get everything started. Here's what we did today:

1) Authenticate documents: Today we headed over to the notary to authenticate the following documents. 1) A request to finalize the adoption 2) Power of Attorney for our Lawyer 3) A letter saying that we legally allow that Elian be taken out of the country by either myself or my husband. (This is only in the case that my husband leaves before me). To authenticate the documents you need 1) The Documents (your lawyer gives these to you) 2) ID's (passports or cedulas) 3) About 14,000 pesos Colombianos

2) Because my husband is Colombian he also gave the lawyer his "pasado judicial" which is the Colombian criminal record clearance. In some cases this document also needs to be authenticated.

Our lawyer said that he will submit the paperwork today and should have something to tell us by next week. There are 22 family courts in Bogota and we will be waiting to find out to which we are assigned. Some are faster than other so it's our hope that we get a fast court. Cross your fingers!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

One Family's Journey: What we've learned so far

Arnold and I are first time parents so lucky Elian doesn’t just get new parents but he gets some that are learning all the basics. Like, uh, sometimes bottles have a cap on the inside to prevent spills. We’ve been very lucky to have a family friend who used to be a foster mother for ICBF helping us with the technical details and her help was a lifesaver the first few days. In addition, our child obviously lived with a top notch Foster Mother who took very, very, very good care of him so he’s a very-well behaved little boy, you know, for a toddler.

Here’s what we learned so far:

FoFood: Colombian kids eat most stuff liquefied. Elian has an aversion to anything that isn’t liquefied. Things he likes to eat are “liquefied soup” Granadilla, papilla, which is children’s cream of wheat type cereal, crackers that he can hold himself, yogurt and avena which is an oatmeal type drink.

2) Reality Check: It’s nice to establish good habits in your kids from early on but sometimes you just have to get them to do what you need however you can. Especially when they are upset and confused because of the separation with their primary caretakers. I’m not a big “kids should watch TV” person but we couldn’t get him to eat until he was distracted by the Discovery Kids channel. I am now close personal friends with the Backyardigans.

3) Keep things calm: Elian is a very sweet little boy. He is giggly, fun, well-behaved, affectionate and really everything you could ask for in a child but we discovered that he has a problem that many kids exhibit during the transition to new parents: an inability to control his emotions. We’ve noticed than even when something starts as a fun game if he gets over excited it ends up making him hysterical. A good example would be any kind of game. It starts as giggling, than laughing, then shrieking with joy. The second we hear a shriek we know it’s time to stop and start talking in quiet whispers to help him calm because if we continue the next stop is a hysterical breakdown. The joyful screaming is always a precursor to the other kind of screaming. Now that we realize what his limits are we take measures to keep him at an even keel and when we see other people playing with him we intervene before the fun game becomes a breakdown.

4) Diapers: Elian screamed bloody murder the first times we changed him. And I mean SCREAMED! Arnold had to hold him down while I changed him, not fun. Then we figured out something really obvious. Give your child something to play with and they won’t scream. I give him a maraca and now he coos sweetly at us while complying gamely with our fumbly diaper changing technique.

5) Letting Go: We’ve made so many mistakes and I’m sure there are so many more to come in parenting, you know for the rest of our lives. When it’s getting bad and I want to tear out my hair I remember the advice/joke our friend Andres told us after we discovered we’d been trying to feed Elian for ½ hour with a sealed bottle. Don’t worry about it, take some advice from a famous philosopher “Lo que paso, paso” –Daddy Yankee

Monday, January 11, 2010

One Family's Journey: The Great Stroller Debate


Hi everybody, I'm back from Santander and we're back in Bogota waiting to get a court date for Sentencia. This week I'll be posting updates about what we've learned over the past three weeks and the process of submitting our paperwork to court. When we were packing for Colombia we heard conflicting advice about whether to take a stroller. The short answer to whether we think a stroller is a good idea is a resounding YES! To hear a more detailed why, you can click over to my personal blog at notoriousmle.com. And if you have any questions or particular details you would like to know about, just post them in the comments and I'll do my best to address them!

Friday, January 08, 2010

Carnaval de Río Sucio -- Caldas


The festival is also known as the Carnaval del Diablo (the Devil's Carnival). It takes place in what today is known as Rio Sucio (Caldas).


Originally the area that is now known as Río Sucio was divided into 2 communities -- La Montaña & Quiebralomo. The two communities were strong rivals. They each had their own park, church and priests.


The priests were tired of the constant fighting between the two groups and formulated a plan to get the people to be more united. They announced that the Devil would punish anyone who did not join together in unity. Then, they had a large party on Three Kings Day (Reyes Magos). The people did join together and the party proved to be a great success.


In time (by 1915), the city adopted the symbol of the Devil as the focus of the festival. The Devil is used to remind the people of the threats made by the priests if community union is broken.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Cartagena Hay Festival

In Wales, there is an annual event which Bill Clinton called the, "Woodstock of the mind." The event is called the Hay Festival of Arts and Letters, established in 1988.

Five years ago, Colombia decided to copy the idea and now sponsor the Mapfre Hay Festival in Cartagena.

This year the event will be held from January 28-31. Authors from Spain, Colombia and other Spanish speaking countries will present workshop and lectures on all sorts of topics. There are even many workshops for children 8-15 years of age.

If you will be in Bogota, you can catch the British author Ian McEwan, in Bogota on Wednesday, January 27th. For tickets, go here:

http://www.reservasgematours.com/eventos.php?id=5&categoria=4

http://www.hayfestival.com/cartagena/en-index.aspx?skinid=5

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Reyes Magos

January 6th is a National Holiday in Colombia, and it officially marks the end of the holiday season. This particular holiday is known as the Día de los Reyes Magos -- Three Kings Day or the Epiphany. There is a great explanation of the evolution of the celebration of the Epiphany at the following site.



However, the key here is that in Hispanic countries, January 6th has become known as Three Kings Day. It is a commemoration of the day when the 3 Wise Men who had followed the Star of Bethlehem, arrived bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.


This holiday is widely celebrated, however, while it is a big deal in Mexico, Spain and other countries, it is less of a big deal in Colombia. There is a tradition that the Reyes Magos give gifts (like Santa), but in Colombia this tradition is usually only observed by the few people that have money left from their Christmas Eve gifting.


While this day should mark the end of the partying season, Colombians have a hard time letting go of anything that allows them to party. After all, Colombia was found to be the 6thhappiest place on earth -- having lost a few spaces from last year's 2nd place showing. So, in reality, it is the beginning of a second wave of partying that includes things like the Carnaval in Barranquilla and any number of Férias, Festivales, and Beauty Contests -- some of which I'll be discussing in the upcoming days and weeks.




Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Recipe -- Arepa de Huevo

In the department of Atlántico and Sucre and common breakfast will include this tasty treat -- Arepa de Huevo.

Ingredients:

1 cup Arepa Harina
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 - 1 1/4 cup Very Hot Water
Eggs

Step #1

Prepare the Arepa dough (masa). Mix the Arepa Harina with the salt and water. Mix it until it forms a dough ball. Cover and let cool.

Step #2

Make small balls of dough and then put between plastic wrap and flatten them evenly into circles about 1/4 inch thick.

Step #3

Place circles into hot oil until they are half cooked -- just starting to turn golden. Remove and let drain.

Step #4

Cut a small hole in the side of the arepa. Drop in an egg. Close with more masa if necessary.

Step #5

Drop back into the oil at let it cook until the arepa is golden brown and the egg is thoroughly cooked.

There is actually a Festival of Arepa de Huevo in Luruaco, Atlántico every year during the last week of June. Here is a news report about the festival you can also see a woman prepare the Arepa de Huevo so you can get an idea (in Spanish):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjGtWCEU0F8&feature=related

Sunday, January 03, 2010

I am in the process of moving and only have blackberry access right now. I hope to be online again with a post tomorrow. Sorry!

:(

Friday, January 01, 2010

One Family's Journey: Colombian New Year

When we found out that we would be in Colombia over New Year's we originally planned to travel to Lebrija, Santander to spend time with Arnold's family. However after our 2nd day with Elian it became kind of clear to us that it wasn't a good idea. Adoption is a hard transition for a toddler and we didn't want to change his schedules and surroundings so quickly. Also it is INSANELY loud and raucous in sleepy little Lebrija during New Year. At a Christmas Novena Elian covered his ears and sobbed because people were singing too loud which kind of sealed the change in plans.

However... celebrating New Years in small town Colombia is superfun. If you ever have a chance, please GO FOR IT! This is what my family does:

First I like to sleep as much as I can all day because it's gonna be a long night. Even though it's not New Years yet there will be all sort of festive pre-partying with random fireworks and very loud music. That night you'll get dressed up in you best party clothes and have dinner with your family. We always have tamales. Then we go to the midnight mass at the church in the central plaza. The mass is long and I never know what the priest is talking about because there is too much echo in the church but I think it's a nice way to ring in the New Year despite the technical difficulties. The mass will end at exactly 12 and as you exit the church you will be assaulted by the most ridiculously dangerous, beautiful and fun fireworks show you've ever seen. The ash and sticks from the fireworks will literally be falling on your head and into the crowd. If you are like me you will be torn between trying to watch the show that is directly above your head and clinging to your mother-in-law in fear. At the same time that the fireworks show is starting the church bells will ring and the traditional New Years song "Quince pa'las doce" will play. It is the Auld Lang Syne of Colombia and is very nostalgic. I've seen Colombians in the US weep hearing the song on New Years eve. At some point the big fireworks show will be over but fireworks in general will continue ALL NIGHT LONG. At 7 am in the morning when the sun has already risen you will idly wonder why people are still shooting off fireworks but you will be too tired to really care.

Anyways after the fireworks show you will go back to hang out with your family a bit. And then it's time to go hit the street. In Lebrija there is a street party that's hosted by a local business. They set up speakers that are six feet tall and there is a dance party that stretches two city blocks. It's really, really fun.

I am very lightweight so I always end up giving up around 2 am. My mother-in-law keeps the party going until the sun rises. She is coming home around the time I am wondering why people would shoot off fireworks at 7 am. Also, people like to wear yellow underwear for New Years eve. I believe this is supposed to be lucky.

So that's what New Years is like in Lebrija, Santander. Unfortunately we will be missing out on the fun yet again but I won't be missing out on dealing with a toddler whose partied out from New Years fireworks!