Showing posts from January, 2010

Bogotá for Beginners: Ciclovía Sundays

Recently, 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.

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)

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 phon

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 registrat

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 st

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 --

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 th

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: Also a link to a News report of the event (in Spanish): Clip art:

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 Baranquil

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, Mulato

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 th

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 suitc

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 cas

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

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 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!

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.

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:

Reyes Magos

January 6 th 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 6 th 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

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
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! :(

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 i