Thursday, June 30, 2011

Baby Abandoned

Report from yesterday's newspaper "El Tiempo":

"A hermaphrodite child was abandoned at a hospital in Chinchiná, Caldas. According to personnel from the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare (ICBF) at the Risaralda regional office, the child was born a month and a half ago and suffers from multiple complications.

She has already been operated on in order to define her gender, however, she is still receiving oxygen and is using a feeding tube.

The ICBF psychologist in charge of the case stated that the child was registered with the name María José. Her mother was a sex worker in the area and has already manifested her desire to place the baby for adoption because she cannot take responsibility for the child.

As a measure for the reestablishment of the child's rights, she in now under the care of a foster mother who has been receiving training as to how to care for the child when she leaves the hospital."

Clearly, if María José eventually receives a declaration of adoptability in the next few months, she will be added to the list of over 8,000 children that are available for adoption, but have some sort of special need. Is there a reader of this blog that would consider adopting a child like María José?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wednesdays Wonders: Helado de Paila

Here is an interesting little piece of trivia. The Pasto Indians have been enjoying ice cream (well more like sherbet) for centuries. The natives used ice from the Cerro Cumbal (see Monday's Myth) and mixed it with salt. Then they would place a paila (a container) made of copper in the ice. The paila was filled with small portions of the recipe below. Then, it would be constantly stirred until it hardened.

Ingredients without milk:

1 quart of fruit pulp any kind you like -- mango, passion fruit, blackberry, etc.
1 cup sugar
2 egg whites

Ingredients with milk:

1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
3 cups cream
1 1/4 cups fruit pulp

If you don't have ice from a mountain or a copper pot, you can try an ice cream maker. Then, check out this video.

Monday, June 27, 2011


When speaking the words Salsa music, Fania, and Puerto Rico, the name of Hector Lavoe immediately comes to mind. We are about to move on from the Fania era of Salsa, but before we do, we have to dedicate one entry to "El Cantante", The Singer.

He was born in 1946 and his actual name was Hector Juan Perez Martinez. Why Lavoe, then? Well, I'm pretty sure the origin of Lavoe is this: Hector had a great voice, unique in the world of Salsa. His friends would call him Hector La Voz, Hector The Voice. Now, if you are from the Caribbean, there's no need to pronounce the "s" sound at the end of any word, (so La Voz turned into La Vo), and if you have a catchy nickname like that and you move to New York, you have to Anglicize it, hence, LaVoe, Lavoe.

Soon after he moved to New York in 1967, Hector met Willie Colón and Fania. Over the next ten years, the three on them produced the albums that would solidify Salsa music as a genre. But Willie had a hard time keeping up with Hector's fast lane life style. At the same time, while Colón and Lavoe continued to collaborate, Fania began pushing them to become solo artists.

Eventually, Hector's career stalled and his life took a tragic turn. His mother-in-law and his son died. He fractured his legs when he jumped out the window of his burning apartment. He became even more entangled with drugs. Before a concert in 1988, he jumped out the window of his Hotel. The 10 story fall did not kill him, but rendered him unable to sing again. He died of AIDS in New York in 1993.

At some point, in an attempt to help Hector Lavoe jumpstart his career, Rubén Blades gave him a song he had written: El Cantante. Ironically, this would become Hector's best known song. It is a story about a lonely famous star who battles his loneliness off stage. "I am the singer, very popular everywhere, but when the show ends, I am just another human being . . . Today I am here to give you the best of my songs. . . . And no one ever wonders if inside I suffer or cry . .."

Myths for Monday -- The Pasto Version of Creation

One of the indigenous peoples of today's department, Nariño, will offer us their version of creation today. The indigenous group is the Pastos.

Cumbe -- the First Father

The stories that relate the creation of man tell how man came from the marriage of elements with opposite qualities -- up and down, inside and out, and the symmetrical and asymmetrical. This confluence of qualities occurred with the marriage of a hill called Cumbal and a lake called Bolsa. In the area that unites the hill and the lake called the Piedra de los Guacamullos, a container made of clay was found. In that container was found the first man and woman. The man was the Cacique Cumbe and his wife. It was from them that all men descended.

When Cumbe died, he was returned to the Cumbal. It is from that hill that he continues to watch over his people. It is from that hill that he has promised to return.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Compensation for Victims

Recently, the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, signed a law that will provide compensation to those who have lost land in the Civil War.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wednesdays Wonders: Hallacas the Tamales of the Llano

Hallacas are the Tamales of the Llano. It is served during important holidays throughout the region. These are popular in Venezuela also, but every recipe that I have read has been very different from this one and from each other. If you do not like this version, just google another :)

2 pounds of chicken
2 pounds of beef (preferably a pot roast)
2 pounds of pork5 eggs (boiled and sliced)
1 1/4 pounds of arepa flour

The following are all finely chopped and some are doubled -- once for the marinade, and once again for the Sauce (Guiso). Some recipes include tomato, others do not. The woman that gave me this recipe did not use tomato.

1/2 head of garlic x 2
2 pounds of onion x 2
1/2 teaspoon oregano x 2
1/2 Tablespoon cumin x 2
1/2 teaspoon annatto (achiote) x 2
1/3 cup chopped cilantro x 2
Salt to taste
1/2 pound green peppers

BANANA LEAVES -- these can be found frozen in many Latino Grocery stores.

Makes 20 Tamales


1. Marinate the meat in all of the condiments over night.
2. Place the meat and marinade in a large pot and add enough water to cover and cook until the meats are soft. (Another option is to place the meats in a crock pot with water and put them to cook for 8-10 hours). You may need to take the chicken out early as it will get soft sooner than the other meats.
3. Once the meats are soft cut them into small pieces and set aside. DO NOT THROW AWAY WATER.
4. Separately, make a sauce of the onion, garlic, cilantro, peppers, sal, achiote, and oregano.
5. Place the water from the cooked meat into a large pot and bring to a low boil, gradually add the arepa harina stirring constantly so that you don't get lumps. Turn off the heat as the dough begins to thicken.
6. Once dough has cooled a little, smooth about 3/4 cup onto the center of the banana leaf.
7. On top of the dough place a healthy dose of meats and 2 slices of egg.
8. Fold the banana leaf around the dough and tie with string.
9. Steam in a large pot for 2 hours.
10. Serve.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Building a Salsa collection yet? Well, here's a must have:

El Menú by El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico

As you might have noticed, one of El Gran Combo's defining characteristics is their ability to make fun Salsa songs. This one is naturally about food, but with a twist at the end of the song punctuated by a double play on the word Salsa. "I like my lamb with wine, and my fish with lemon juice; my pork with pepper and oregano, and my rice with ham and bacon . . ." he goes on to list a few more food items such as well sautéed green beans, avocados as big as melons, and bananas. But "at the end" or top of all that "que le pongan Salsa!," pour on some sauce, or salsa, or Salsa! Get it? Either add some great salsa to the food or just play some Salsa while we eat, or better yet, do both!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Myths for Monday -- La Bola De Fuego a Warning to Any Juan

Today's myth comes to us from the Llanos of Colombia (Arauca, Casanare, and today's department, Meta). It is called La Bola de Fuego or The Fireball. In a strange turn of events, I have 2 nephews, 1 niece, 1 grand niece and 1 grand nephew who live in the Llano. One of my nephews insists that he has seen the Bola de Fuego. You be the judge.

La Bola De Fuego

Some say that the Bola de Fuego is a fiery ball about 2 meters in diameter. This ball rolls about the countryside moving very quickly from one place to the other, going over hills and crossing crevices with ease. When the ball stops, sparks fly and it emits a sound similar to a gas lantern. Up until this point, one might think that this Fireball actually sounds like Ball Lightning, a strange atmospheric phenomenon. However, this is where things turn ugly.

The story is told that this "ghost" of the plains came from a ranch on the plains whose owners were a young a couple. The wife was quick tempered, malevolent, and extremely jealous. One day her husband asked her to prepare lunch for 60 VAQUEROS (Cowboys) who were planning to spend the night at the ranch, so that early in the morning they could leave in search of lost cattle. The wife reacted with great anger to this news, so the husband left her alone without having cut the wood she would need in order to make the lunch.

The next day, shortly before lunchtime, she remembered that she needed to prepare the meal. When she went outside in order to find the wood that she needed, she became enraged when there was nothing there. She grabbed the axe and left to cut wood. As she walked through the hills, she heard her son, Juan, crying. This made her even more angry. Upon finding her son, she lost control and killed him. When she realized what she had done, she went mad.

At that moment, the "Spirits of the Hills" cursed her and she exploded into a ball of fire which is forced to roam the Llano in search of her son Juan.

Some say that when they see the Bola de Fuego, they can see the image of an ugly woman with the headless body of an infant in one of her arms and an axe in the other.

If while visiting the Llano, you have the misfortune of seeing the Bola de Fuego. DO NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT PANIC -- unless your name is JUAN. Apparently, she only hurts people by the name of Juan.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

La Lleva -- You're It

Colombian kids love to play "Tag" or "Touched You Last," just like kids here in the U.S. do. While we say, "Tag" or "You're It", Colombian kids will say, "La Lleva" (pronounced: Lah YEAH vah). It literally means YOU TAKE IT.

While Colombianitos may not recognize the various versions of the game I have played (freeze, nerd, elbow, sticky, etc.). Many like to play the "Touched You Last" version.

For those of you adopting preschoolers to older children, perhaps you might enjoy a good game of LA LLEVA. If you play, let me know how it goes.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wednesday's Wonders: Dulce de Coco

I really enjoy having a daily theme. It helps me focus :). So, I going to try Recipes on Wednesdays for a while, under the title Wednesday's Wonders. I am planning on posting a recipe from the same department that the Myth for Monday comes from. That means that today's recipes comes from the Department of Magdalena (though it is probably eaten in other parts of the Caribbean Coast as well.)

Dulce de coco (Coconut Sweets) -- From Magdalena


1 cup sugar
1/4 cup raisins
2-3 cups shredded coconut
1 cinnamon stick
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon lime juice


1. Put the sugar, coconut, raisins, cinnamon, and water in a pan on low to medium heat, stirring constantly.
2. When at a low boil, add lime juice.
3. Cook until it until it starts to thicken. Then, let cool and eat.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

TUNES FOR TUESDAY -- El Jíbaro Listo

Let's hear another song by El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico:

El Jíbaro Listo

A Jíbaro is a rustic person, a country man. The Jíbaro in the song is also a smart (listo) person. Although the story transpires in Puerto Rico, this is a song about the American Dream. Having left the fields for the city, the Jíbaro arrives in San Juan de Puerto Rico on a Fourth of July (what a coincidence), finds work as a carpenter, and becomes successful.

In the process he discovers that he has lost any desire to return to his lar nativo -- the native lair. As he puts it, the dark color of his skin turned out to be just stains from the banana plants which went away when he started using soap. He makes new friends and learns to write his name-- and last name--on a piece of paper.

Voy a un sitio distinguido, llamado el Hotel La Concha, pues ya se me calló la roncha que del campo habia traído. "Now I go to a distinguished place called the La Concha Hotel, " and he is accepted there because, "I have lost the skin rashes that I had brought with me from the fields."

The Hotel La Concha happens to be the place where El Gran Combo made its first public appearance in the early sixties, what a beautiful way to remember it.

He continues, "Here where you see me, I now wear shoes, my feet deserved to be pampered. In fact, I just ordered some shoes from Ponce, I found out that now that I have lost all the calluses, my shoe size is actually eleven."

"Y ahora duermo con aire acondicionado." -- Now I sleep with air conditioning. And so many of us so relate! The American Dream, indeed.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Myths for Monday -- La Casa del Diablo

In the city of Cienaga, in the department of Magdalena (today's department), there is a fairly modern legend -- dating back to 1908 -- surrounding a man by the name of Manuel Varela. And now,

La Casa del Diablo -- The House of the Devil

Manuel Varela was a thin, brown, indigenous looking man, who arrived in Cienaga, Magdalena, around the middle of 1908. At the time, the town was an economic center on the Coast. This was because it was the headquarters for the multinational firm, the United Fruit Company.

After his arrival, Varela quickly accumulated a great deal of wealth. This was inexplicable by the inhabitants of city, who wondered how the mysterious stranger had managed to accumulate so much wealth in such a short time. Soon, Varela's properties were so extensive that he built his own railway line to transport his bananas, something very surprising in those days.

When he managed to build a mansion practically overnight, send his children to study Europe, and purchase his own street car, a myth that he had done so with the help of a pact with the devil was born.

Varela welcomed men from all over the region, into his home. His visitors included famous acordeoneros like Sebastián Guerra and reportedly "Francisco el Hombre" (though one must wonder what a devil fighter and a devil pact maker would be doing together).

In 1916, the corpse of a 13 year old girl was found on one of his properties. The discovery lead to the growing rumor that he sacrificed souls to the devil in order to maintain his wealth. Some people began to claim that they had seen the ghosts of agonized souls wandering about Varela's properties.

The rumors were further fueled every time their was an unexplained death. In one instance, a lady who went to his house stated that through a window she had seen a black boy smoking tobacco while riding a tricycle. When the boy turned toward her and opened his mouth, she saw that he had a mouth full of gold teeth. Terrified, the woman, carrying her baby, left the house running. Unfortunately, the baby died a few days later.

Other people claimed to have seen sorceresses, ghosts, and even the devil on the property. In addition, every time someone went missing, the general public thought that Manuel Varela was the culprit.

Whether or not there was any truth to the story, Varela continued to prosper. Years later, he sold part of his lands in order to build the San Juan National Institute in Cordova, the most important school in the region. According to a historian, that while Varela lived a student there died nearly every year.

While Varela died in the middle of the 1950's, thirty years later, his legend resurfaced. In 1984, while on a school excursion to the beach five students drown.

The history of Varela has been recreated in the play the Escarpín de Señore, by Guillermo Henríquez, released in Spain. Also, it has been the source of numerous documentaries made for television like one by the BBC of London, called My Macondo (1990) and Macondo, by the ZDF in Germany (1980).

The ruins of Varela's house were declared National Monument in 1998.


Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Colombia -- A Grim #1 Ranking

The International Trade Union Confederation is a global organization that represents the "interests of working people worldwide." It was formed in 2006 by combining the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the World Confederation of Labour (WCL) as well as other trade union organizations. Every year this organization publishes a Worldwide Survey that looks at Labor Union repression around the globe. This year, Colombia placed an unflattering 1st (out of 143 nations) on the list of most dangerous places to belong to or lead a labor union. In 2010 alone, 49 union activists were murdered in Colombia. This represents 55% of all union murders worldwide. There were an additional 20 attempted murders. The report states, "The legal system continues to be ineffective in solving these murders and bringing those responsible to justice. While the new government claims to take workers’ rights seriously, anti-union attitudes among employers remain strong. Numerous violations of collective agreements were reported."

Colombians that support Worker Rights have spoken out in strong opposition to the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Do you have an opinion? Watch the following 2 videos and leave a comment.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

TUNES FOR TUESDAY -- El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico

Up to this point, and quite purposefully, I have avoided talking about Puerto Rico and its contributions to Salsa music. I simply wanted to dedicate some special entries to the Boricua artists who helped develop this genre. So here we go . . .

We have to start with El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico or The Great Band from Puerto Rico, unassuming, I know. When Fania All Stars played their famous Yankee Stadium concert in 1973, El Gran Combo opened for them. They had been around since 1962 when Rafael Ithier organized the band. In 1963, El Gran Combo released its first album, Acángana (my Puerto Rican friends might have to correct me, but this is Puerto Rican onomatopoeia for the sound produced when hitting or running into something.)

Acángana happened to be released two days before John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Texas. As a sign of mourning, the distribution of this party album in Puerto Rico was postponed. Instead, the album was distributed in other Latin American countries including Colombia, and in New York, giving the band great exposure and well deserved attention. When the album returned to Puerto Rico, it was already a success.

In Colombia, El Gran Combo was dubbed La Universidad de la Salsa (The University of Salsa) not only because many famous artists, including Andy Montañez, spun off from the band, but also because of the Band's ability to back up singers such as Celia Cruz and Hector Lavoe. The Research and Innovation Department at El Gran Combo University has graced us with many well known hits. I will spotlight a few in the coming weeks, but I wanted to start with this one:

Se me Fué by El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico

Released in 1982, this is the (fun) sad tale of a man whose girl has left Puerto Rico for--where else?-- New York City. And he sings, "she left me, but I know that when she gets there, and she hears in English, 'What the Heck' and 'What's the matter', she's gonna pack her bags and come back. . . ." In the end she stays, and not "alone and cold" as the boy imagines her to be. I wonder how many Puerto Ricans can relate to both sides of the story. After all, there are millions of Newyorricans in NYC, and most Puerto Ricans have a relative in the Big Apple.

Well, as the songs ends: "Deja a ese diablo por allá, mejor que nunca regrese." (Let that devil be, it's better if she never returns).

Liked it? Here's an updated version of the song:

Monday, June 06, 2011

Myths for Monday -- El Poira or El Mohán

Today's Myth for Monday comes from the department of Huila, but it is also a popular myth in Tolima. If you are in these areas and happen to see a parade, you will likely see someone dressed as El Poira (also knwon as El Mohán). And now, El Poira.

The Poira is a short man with golden skin and long, blonde hair -- hair which can totally cover him. He often is seen wearing a hat with a broad rim. He has large hands and feet, both with long, sharp, claw-like nails.

He lives in a large cave with an underwater entrance that is hidden by stagnant water. Inside his cave, he has a large stockpile of gold and treasure. He seduces young women and girls promising them the treasure (though some say he seduces them with his beautiful singing voice), either way, those who have gone with him, never return.

Fisherman say he is responsible for messing up their nets and stealing the fish out of them. He also is accused of stealing the bait and scaring off the fish. (Looks like someone needed a good excuse for not catching anything).

The Poira, however, is not without his positive attributes. He is also responsible for reclaiming the bodies of those who have drown in the river (the Magdalena). If a person drowns and the body is later found, it is believed that the Poira made it possible.

For a picture, go here:

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Floods don't stop School

News about Impact of recent floods in one area.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Wayúu Culture Festival

Every year, on one weekend in the month of either May or June, the native Wayúu people in the department of La Guajira hold a celebration of their culture. This year the event will be held this upcoming weekend -- June 3, 4, 5. It is held mainly in Uribia -- the place that is home to the largest gathering of Wayúu in Colombia.

The festival began in 1985, and in 2006 it was declared Cultural Heritage of Colombia. The event includes Wayúu: artesanías (handicrafts), food, plays, dances and competitions -- including a story telling competition.