Cano Cristales in La Macarena


Cano Cristales

Cano Cristales

Just got back from a four-day trip to Cano Cristales – and it was fantastic.  I went with a Colombian travel company – which I think made the trip all the better.  (I am getting ready to go on another adventure trip with a foreign company – so when I get back – I will compare the two.)

The company offers a couple different trip options – but I thought the trip on a chartered plane directly from Medellin sounded the most interesting, so that’s what I chose.  There were 19 of us on the trip out from the airport in central Medellin (Enrique Olaya Herrera airport) – all Paisas (Medellin residents) except myself.  Immediately, all our my fellow travelers embraced me – as they were entrusted by the travel agent to ‘take care of the gringa’.  It was very endearing, actually.

getting on the plane

getting on the plane

There were several nurses on the trip – so we bonded right away..

With my travel companions

With my travel companions

The Airport at La Macarena in Meta, Colombia

The Airport at La Macarena in Meta, Colombia

So it was at little sad – when arrived and they mixed and subdivided our group with another smaller group – except that they all turned all be awesome too!

So I ended up as part of a group of six – (including our guide, Sergio).. For someone who wanted to learn more about Colombia, I couldn’t have created a better group.  In our little band, there was a biologist, a microbiologist, an anthropologist and a meteorologist – and it was all random.  Everyone was from Medellin and they had all come to enjoy the park.

with a group of Colombian experts

with a group of Colombian experts

On the River

After arriving, we headed down to the Guayabero river for a boat trip to the first part of the hike.

From our daily jaunts down the river – we then proceeded to have all kinds of fun – from 4 X4ing to the next trail, to long hikes from the plains into the jungle..  Stopped at multiple points of the river, to enjoy the sights and to swim in the cool waters.  (It’s high 90’s with 95% humidity – so the water felt great!)

As I mentioned in a previous post – I left my trusty Nikon (and polarized lenses) back at home so these photos don’t even begin to capture how beautiful it really is.

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Swimming in the river – 

One of the best times was swimming near a waterfall in the middle of a torrential downpour.. Unfortunately, my camera had already taken a bit of a swim downriver so I don’t have any photos.. (But I did manage to salvage the photos and the camera – with help from a bag of rice).

Cowboys!

on the way back to the river from the trail we got to see the traditional Colombian way of life here on the plains as the cowboys were rounding up their herd.

Just as we were walking to the boats – we saw a group of people staring at something on the ground. As we got closer, I saw that it was some kind of furred animal.  Was it a goat – I couldn’t tell.  I was initially reluctant to get closer – it looked half dead laying on the ground in the blazing sun, eyes dull and glassy.  But as I got closer, it started to move – and it wasn’t a goat or barnyard animal at all.

What the heck was it? I didn't know but it looked sick to me..

What the heck was it? I didn’t know but it looked sick to me..

It was a perezoso (or Sloth in English), which had wandered out of the nearby forest and was now lost.

The biologist in our group immediately organized the group to entice the animal on to a tree branch, to carry across the field, out of the heat and the sun into the forest.  (It felt about 20 degrees cooler when we got there.)  The animal perked up and quickly climbed up into a tree.  Because it’s coat matched the branches, it blended in perfectly.

Within just a few minutes, it was greeted by another sloth high in the tree.

Heavy Military Presence in the area

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Readers will quickly notice from the photos that there is a heavily military presence in the area.  Despite a history of mixed relations with the Colombian military  – including the discovery of a mass grave in 2010 with over 2,000 unknown corpses (and a history of some atrocities towards Colombian citizens), I am happy to see them.  I know I am ignorant and naive, but their presence in La Macarena makes me feel safer.  This area, in a lot of ways is kind of like Colombia’s own Vietnam conflict (in their own territory).  I feel bad talking to these soldiers who are far from their homes; I’ve met soldiers here from Cali, Boyaca, Bogota and all other points outside of Meta.  This is nothing like Bogota (obviously!) and it makes me sad for them.

soldiers

Do I feel better knowing they are around??

Most people from outside Colombia worry about the FARC, but right now – with the FARC in peace negotiations, paramilitaries like ELN and AUC are the bigger problem.  These violent groups clash with everyone who gets in their way; townspeople, the army, and even the FARC.  So anyone (like the Army) that keeps them at bay – is well, awesome!

You bet ya!

You bet ya!

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While both the governmental tour agency and the military officers I spoke with report that there has been minimal paramilitary activity in the La Macarena area for the last several years (8 to 10 years is what I was told), the Colombian state of Meta has an active area for paramilitary activities for the duration of the 50+ year conflict.  I found only one fairly recent report (August 2014) of paramilitary activity in other parts of Meta.  The majority of reports date back to 2006 – 2010, so it’s been fairly quiet lately.  Even so, it’s good to know that there are 2500 active duty soldiers in the area surrounding La Macarena.

Miguel (forefront) from the Colombian military patrols La Macarena

Miguel (forefront) from the Colombian military patrols La Macarena

It’s quiet enough that some of the soldiers spend time performing community activities, like helping paint the town, which is one of the local projects to enhance the image of La Macarena for tourists.

a soldier helps a young girl with the community painting project

a soldier helps a young girl with the community painting project

La Macarena: the town

Aside from the large military population, La Macarena is a small little village – with just a few paved streets at the center of town.  Most of the buildings are squat and square with a few second story and one tall four-story hotel tower..

We spent the evenings watching local entertainment – singers and dancers or enjoying a cervecita while playing tejo and enjoying the cool evening breeze.

Taking it easy in Medellin


at UPB open air auditorium

at Universidad Nacional – Medellin  open air auditorium (The medellin campus is famed for the lush greenery)

So I am back in Medellin, Colombia for several weeks – but this trip is different from all of my previous visits.  It’s the first time I have come here without a specific purpose.  I’m not here to interview surgeons, attend surgical conferences or even ColombiaModa.

No Colombia Moda this year for me. :-(

No Colombia Moda this year for me. 😦

Medellin has become so familiar to me, that when I needed a nice tranquil space to work on a non-Colombia related project – I headed here to get away from the thousands of distractions of my stateside life.  While I am here, I am also determined to enjoy and explore more of Colombia since I have just seen the bare minimum of life and locales.  So next week, I heading off to one of Colombia’s best known natural wonders, Cano Cristales.

I’m going as part of a group (which is something I’ve never done before).  It’s sounds like it will be a great trip – flying to Meta, Colombia in a small plane – to a community with limited electricity and no cellphone or internet service.  That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but as I writer, I have gotten used to almost always having computer access – almost anywhere in the world.  So this will be a nice break from the ordinary for me.

I don’t have my trusty Nikon this time around, which is a shame since Cano Cristales is famed for its beauty but I will attempt to take some pictures with a tiny camera (that packs well).  It’s weird because I tend to lose my confidence when I don’t have my big, heavy camera.

Naked without my Nikon? Not a great visual, is it?

Naked without my Nikon? Not a great visual, is it?

La Tierra del Olvido (2015 version)

In the meantime, I will continue to work on my current projects, relax a bit and enjoy Colombia.  Carlos Vives, one of my favorite Colombian singers, along with Medellin natives Maluma and J. Balvin, have re-made one of Carlos Vives most popular songs as part of a Colombia tourism promotion. It’s lovely, lively and catching – and features several other well-known Colombian entertainers and Colombian landscapes – so I hope you enjoy.. (Thankfully, no Sofia Vergara!)

Street of Dreams – Calle 49


el centro map with shopping districts outlined

el centro map with shopping districts outlined -high resolution

During Colombia Moda, I met several American business people looking for more information about fabric and textiles than the small booths could provide.  Many of them wanted to go out and see the fabrics, some of the shops and the factories but no one thought to take them to see any of these things.  All of the people I met were first-time visitors to Medellin (and some may never be back).  I can’t help with factory tours (I’d like to see those myself) but I do live nearby, so I thought maybe I could help provide some information for future visitors to this fair city. Since I thought wandering around El Centro as a first-time visitor without a guide might be a little daunting, this post might help people feel more comfortable. So I spent all day Saturday wandering around the district  – to take pictures and be able to provide more information to people interested in finding fabrics and materials while in Medellin.

A note about Fabric shopping in Medellin: If you are looking for super cheap – crazy bargains, you probably won’t find them here.  But you will find a huge array of all kinds of fabric – most of it made right here in the city.  For someone like myself who is sometimes (okay, frequently) frustrated by the lack of floor space given to apparel fabrics in the United States – (where it seems like 90% of fabric is for quilting and such), it’s still a bonanza.

Also, while it isn’t made in the USA (which is increasingly rare, I know) – I still feel a bit of loyalty towards buying locally sourced items – even if Medellin is that source. Still interested?  Good.

How to get here – the real Medellin

The best fabric and general shopping in  Medellin isn’t in the fancy malls of El Poblado and Enviagado.  It’s in the busy, teeming streets of El Centro.  El Centro is also where many of the most famous tourist attractions are, so if you are interested in seeing some of the famous architecture, the Botero collection (at the Museo de Antioquia) – you can do that too.  El Poblado and Enviagado are the rich, sanitized versions of Medellin – so if you have friends that aren’t interested in shopping but would like to see more of Medellin – this is a trip to take them on…

1.  Taxi – if you want to take a taxi, ask him to take you to the Plaza Botero.  It’s a few streets away from your destination, but it’s a nice central space – especially good if you are meeting friends or other visitors.

2.  Metro Train –  the metro train is cheap, clean and quite reliable.  It’s also a good way to see a bit of the city.  Take the (blue line) train to either Parque Berrio station or the San Antonio station.  San Antonio is closer to shopping, but Parque Berrio puts you right at the Plaza.  (For more information about the Metro, see this helpful article at Medellin Living).

Get a map –  Now, I know this is a digital age, but sometimes a paper map is just easier.. Safer too because it makes you less of a target for thieves who prey on upscale tourists for all of our fancy electronic devices.

tourist kiosk with maps

tourist kiosk with maps

There are several of these kiosks located in/ around Plaza Botero and around the Parque Berrio station.  Just ask for a map “Mapa, por favor” and they will be happy to provide you with a free map of Medellin.  I used this same map for reference for the shopping areas, to make it easy for visitors to recognize where to go.

Navigating the city Places like Medellin and Bogotá are particularly easy to navigate because streets use numbers, not names for the most part.  (Once you get used to the system – our system of street naming in the USA seems needlessly confusing.) Everything is basically on a grid – Calles run in one direction and are abbreviated as Cll.  Carreras run in a perpendicular direction and are often abbreviated as Cr. It makes locating a business very easy.  For example, my favorite fabric store in Medellin is Textiles El Faison – and their address is Calle 49 #53 – 101.  This means that they are located on Calle 49, about 101 meters from the cross-street, Carerra 53.

Now that you are here – with your map Walk south towards Calle 49.  (To orient yourself – remember that Medellin is set in the foothills.  If you start walking uphill, you are heading East (the wrong direction) – towards the financial center of Medellin (near where I usually stay). On Calle 49 – turn West (or downwards on a very slight grade)  The next several streets will be crammed with shops filled with all kinds of sewing related items – thread stores, fabric stores, sewing machine repair etc.

Sewing machine repair and sales

Sewing machine repair and sales

Many of the shops look tiny compared to JoAnn’s or the big craft stores you may be used to.  Sometimes they are tiny – but sometimes, it’s just the entrance to a larger indoor mall.

Entrance to one of the small fabric markets

Entrance to one of the small fabric markets

Fabric

Now, the fabric stores line Calle 49 and many of the cross-streets.. But sometimes notions can be a bit trickier to track down.  A lot of tiny shops sell just one product – like elastic or ribbon trims, buttons and the like.

small shop in an indoor fabric mini-mall selling thread

small shop in an indoor fabric mini-mall (Shanghai) off calle 49 selling thread

elastics and trims

elastics and trims

As I mentioned before, my favorite fabric store from my wandering on Saturday – is Textiles El Faison.  It’s a big store, and not quite as claustrophobic feeling as some of the smaller shops.  (When the shops are crowded, and the fabric piled to the ceilings, I get a bit closed in feeling in some of the smaller shops..) Not that this would prevent me – if I saw ‘the fabric’ there.

many shops are small but piled high with fabric

many shops are small but piled high with fabric

Lots of great stuff- but limited luggage space, so I move on to the next ones.

as you can see - the width of the store is pretty narrow, maybe 12 feet in total. Now add ten customers and I get a bit 'crowded' feeling

as you can see – the width of the store is pretty narrow, maybe 12 feet in total. Now add ten customers and I get a bit ‘crowded’ feeling

But for general browsing, or to see fabric in a shop more like what most of us are used to – Textiles El Faison is a well-lit two story shop.   Jaime Sosa is the manager there – and he is very nice and helpful.  My photos are a bit blurry because I was relying on my small phone (an older model) because I don’t like lugging my fancy Nikon down to El Centro).

Jaiime Sosa

Jaiime Sosa

Here’s the address for people who want to skip the adventures and go straight to his shop:

Textiles El Faison Calle 49 No 53 – 101 Medellin

displays piled high with fabric

displays piled high with fabric

But that’s not the only great place.. I really liked Portofino Textil too.. It’s located on the ground floor of a little textile mall.  (It’s a very interesting mall – about half the shops sell custom printed fabrics).

One of the malls for custom printed fabric

One of the malls for custom printed fabric

I was trying to cover a lot of ground, so I didn’t stop in and get all the details on custom printing – even though I saw little storefronts printing the fabric during my wandering.  (Maybe I will get a chance to go back and ask some questions.)  Custom may be the wrong word since most of it seems to be more like “Small lot pop prints” but at one shop, I did see a customer hand over a jump drive filled with images for printing).  But some of the other shops / kiosks didn’t look to have computers just their own style of pop prints (justin beiber, popular artists, other cool designs).

small storefront.. the lady in the blue tank is printing custom fabric

small storefront.. the lady in the blue tank is printing custom fabric

Portofino IMG_1881 Portofino has more of a warehouse feel  –  and a two meter minimum.  Fabric is priced by the kilogram.  I couldn’t resist one of the fabrics there – and my two meters of this lightweight lycra was 0.7kg in total.  For an example on prices – the tag on the bolt said 45,000 per kilogram but advertised a discount.. After the discount, my fabric total 27,156.  tax added a bit – for a total of 28,350 for my two meters of a 60 inch (or there about width).   According to today’s exchange rate – that’s about $15.35 (or around 7.50 a yard since a meter is a couple of inches more.)  So, like I said – not a crazy, amazing deal – except that I love the fabric, it was made right here, and it’s certainly not something I’d find at Hancocks or Joanns (if we even had one in my town). It’s actually located under another fabric store but I found it to have better selection, and salespeople that were very helpful and friendly. (Fabien was particularly nice – and patient with my limited Spanish).

I just couldn't resist..

I just couldn’t resist..

Portfino Textil #162  Carrera 53 No. 49 – 68 Medellin There were quite a few other shops – so you will just have to make you way down Calle 49 and find your own favorites. Patterns Pattern magazines can be especially hard to find – but when you do find them – they are a great deal.. Most pattern books contain anywhere from 20 to 200 patterns.  It depends on the magazine.  My favorites are Bianca, Quili and the more simply named Patrones.  Bianca has a lot of the patterns that are hard to find in the United States – like an extended variety of swimwear, lingerie and exercise apparel.  They also have a great assortment of patterns made for the new stretchy fabrics; lycra blends and modal.

Magazines containing 10 - 40 different patterns

Magazines containing 10 – 40 different patterns

Patrones is a grand brand because it has copies of a lot of the designs by major labels.  Want to wear your own Dolce & Gabbana? Then patrones is the magazine for you.  Sometimes you can find the magazines at larger newsstands or bookstores like Panoamericano.  Some of the patterns in Patrones are pretty intricate and instructions are limited (and in Spanish) but at 4,000 to 10,000 pesos (2.25 to about 6 dollars) a book – if you are an experienced sewer it is still quite the find.) patterns2 Now – for patterns on Calle 49 – the best place to go is – this little shop..

the place to buy patterns

the place to buy patterns Calle 49 #53 – 14

The place is tiny, so you have to ask to see the pattern books (or point, if necessary.)  They don’t have long aisles to browse like some of the bigger bookstores.  But the owner is very sweet – and they have a large array of titles available.

some of the patterns available at this small shop

some of the patterns available at this small shop

Yarns

Now, Medellin has that ‘perpetual spring’ climate we have been talking about, so I didn’t find as many places offering the bulky and superbulky yarns that I love.  Quite a few thread stores offered the smaller crochet threads and yarns similar to Lily’s Sugar N’ Cream but since I am on a superbulky yarn kick – I will keep looking..   I did see a couple, but shame on me because I didn’t write down exact addresses or take pictures (but since one of them is on a street close to home, I may venture out later this week – when I’ve exhausted my current supply and get some pics.)

yarns

yarns

Now before you head out for your shopping adventure  – review a few things to make your shopping more enjoyable and safe.  

In Medellin – alone or not quite ready to venture into El Centro by yourself?

I am always up and willing to lend a hand – if I am in the city.  (It’s a good guess if I am blogging about Medellin, then you can find me here.)  You can always call me/ text me at 301-706-3929 (If I am not in Colombia, I won’t answer) or email me at k.eckland@gmail.com I’d be happy to arrange to get together for a day tour of the shopping areas.  We can check out museums, eat some tasty street food, buy local produce, window shop – or hunt down that one special piece of fabric you’ve been waiting for..

If you don’t catch me on this trip – I’ll be back.. I’ll definitely be back for Colombia Moda 2015, so if you come a few days early (in July) we can have some fun.

Under Une Canal


Now that it’s over, I can say it’s been another wonderful week at Colombia Moda:  I met Miss Colombia (she seems sweet) and took a picture of the President of the Republic..

santos

 

Didn’t get to meet President Santos, but maybe someday.  (I promise not to talk politics.)

Miss Colombia, Paula Vega of Atlantico region (Barranquilla)

Miss Colombia, Paula Vega of Atlantico region (Barranquilla)

Luis Martin

I even say hello to one of the models (since we were heading down the hallway) and we had a nice conversation.  It’s funny – I guess I always get intimidated by people taller than me, etc.. and I guess sometimes the expectation is just that models aren’t that nice.. But nothing could be farther from the truth.  Luis Martin – a local model from a neighborhood here in Medellin was very nice, sweet and pleasant.  It must be weird for him – I mean, his face is really familiar to me – after two years of seeing it thru my lens..

 

Luis Martin, model and a nice kid

Luis Martin, model and a nice kid

I wish we hadn’t be racing down a hallway – I would have liked to get a photo because he looks better in his own clothes..(Better sense of style).  Anyway, I thought it was nice of him to make conversation with a random gringa.. (We talked about Virginia of all things).  So – I wish him the best luck, and hope he makes the cover of Vogue one of these days.

Last day of Moda

Yesterday was the last day at Colombia Moda, and I don’t have enough nice things to say about all of the photographers and videographers there.  They are the reason I came back this year.  Instead of treating me as an outsider, they have always been welcoming and kind.

the orange backpack shows where I sit during the runways

the orange backpack shows where I sit during the runways

This year it was great to be back and see old friends like Stiven and Fredrico.  I didn’t see some of the wonderful people from last year, like Estaban who kept me in laughter and good humor even when every bone in my body ached from long hours in contorted positions.

Always great to see Stiven

Always great to see Stiven

This year, I have to give special thanks and words of gratitude to the videographers of Une Canal (Channel One) of Medellin.  Une Canal is the public television station for the city and during fashion week, they record live from the runway so it can be seen on big screens outside (so people without access to the runway itself can see it as it happens.)  That means they are at every single catwalk – always smiling, joking and being friendly even while setting up cameras, untangling cables etc…

The Videographers of Une Canal

That’s the handsome Juan Carlos, the charming Danilo Gallego and the ever kind Hernan.  For the entire fashion week, they allowed (and encouraged) me to take one of the plum floor positions beneath their cameras – in the dead center position of the runway.

Danilo Gallego of Une Canal

Danilo Gallego of Une Canal

People with better equipment than my starter Nikon can take sitting positions and even rise up on the press bleachers, but without this prime spot on the floor – I’d have been toast.  I never would have been able to capture 1/10th of the images that I’ve used in my recent articles.

I’d love to do a real (in-depth) articles on the videographers and photographers here at Moda, but it looks like I’ve already been scooped which I think it really cool.  Yesterday, the reporter from Une canal turned the tables of the videographers and interviewed them before one of the runways.

Danilo is interviewed for a segment on Une Canal

Danilo is interviewed for a segment on Une Canal

I am hoping to see Juan Carlos, Danilo and Stiven at some future events here in Medellin before I leave in August..  If not – I’ll see you next year!

Colombia Moda and Examiner.com


leonisa26

Colombia Moda is over, and I am exhausted..  Sorting through several thousands of photos while writing articles about fashion collections has to be done in as timely a manner as possible, which doesn’t leave much time for sleep!

The good thing about writing for the Examiner.com is that they don’t give me any deadlines or article requirements.  I write about what I want – and submit it as fast as I can.  But there is no editor to nag me for specific lines so I feel free to focus on writing about the fashion that I like, or that I think is important.

I don’t write about Gef France because I think it’s boring.  I do cover Studio F if only because it is so immensely popular here – though I prefer the more daring and creative (and often smaller) lines.

But while I continue to gulp coffee and sort photos (even though my eyes are so tired I’m not sure if the photo is blurry or it’s just me, I wanted to give my readers links to my most recent articles (and photos) at Examiner.com

Lenonisa Runway

Agua Bandita and Onda de Mar – the Agua bandita photos are disappointing – the lighting was terrible.  (I thought that was me too – but then several photographers grumbled about substandard lighting and showed me their photos..)  They even called out during the runway to get better light..

Ipanema by Paradizia

Nonstop Runway: Faride Ramos

Nonstop Runway designer trio

Beverly Hills by Carmen Belissa

Studio F

I also talked to some Americans I met at the expo.  They seemed a little overwhelmed and lost – as they looked for textile manufacturers to produce fabric samples for use in their designs.  I bet they would have liked my textile/ fabric city tour idea.

I have a couple of articles I am still working on – and then it will be back to normal here at Latin American Surgery.  The ALAT conference (thoracic surgeons from all over Latin America) will be here in Medellin next week, so we will be back to some surgical topics soon.

Colombia Moda, Fashion and wearable art


It may not look like it, but photographers like Steven have a philosophical side

It may not look like it, but photographers like Steven have a philosophical side

Because at the heart of it – isn’t that what fashion is really supposed to be?  Wearable art that allows us to express ourselves through the vision of talented designers?

That’s part of the discussion I had today with several of Colombia’s best photographers while waiting for the runways to begin here on the second day of Colombia Moda.  As we looked around at the many devotees to fashion – we saw a range of expression.  Some ridiculously shiny and spangled in the bright light of the sunny afternoon, others ill-fitting or overly tight.  Even the standard t-shirt and jeans of the working photographers were art.  Many of the photographers wore t-shirts expressing their political, philosophical or personal sentiments.

Juan Moore, another photographer explained it best when we were talking about the fashion collections, and why we loved the fantastical student lines versus the somewhat tepid, often mundane but super popular lines like Gef and Studio F.  It may be outlandish, impractical and extreme in nature, but..

As he explained, fashion is more than clothing – it’s an expression of the hopes and dreams of the artist, a view into the mind of the creator, and a vision for the future.  That may seem like a heavy burden for a t-shirt or dress but that’s what makes fashion such a challenging field.

the work of young designers offers us a glimpse inside

the work of young designers offers us a glimpse inside

So while I am writing (and publishing! articles and photos on the big houses like Leonisa, Studio F and Agua Bandita – it’s important to look at, and appreciate the work of the next generation of designers.  It’s their work that inspires me, and keeps me typing long after I’d like to go to bed.  It’s been a long day – cramped on the floor with strangers (and new friends) but they are the reason I do it – Los Jovenes Creatadores, Universidad Pontifica Boliviana and the rest of the young designers.

It may take me a few days – Colombia Moda ends tomorrow – to finish my writing commitments and sort through the thousands of pictures – but then let’s get back to the art of the next generation.

*For more photos and looks at the collections at Colombia Moda, I am in the process of publishing several articles over at Examiner.com – you can see the first articles here.

Crochet, crafts and traditional arts in Colombia


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One of my latest crochet projects – American flag scarf

Since learning some basic crochet (very basic) from my (very patient) roommate, Iris in Cartagena, I have continued to crochet.  I find it’s an excellent activity for all the waiting that goes along with travel.  I crochet in the car when we drive from assignment to assignment.

Hat and scarf

Hat and scarf

I need to learn some new stitches but I am getting a lot of practice with my basic stitch.   I have switched to a very large crochet hook (15mm or an “S” hook) and cuddly soft bulky yarns (types 5 and 6).  It makes it easier to see when I make errors and it works up quickly.  Plus, the yarn is so plush and soft feeling.

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I made a couple things for my friend’s new baby in Bogota.

My tiny model wearing the first hat I made

My tiny model wearing the first hat I made

 

So when I went to see her – I spent an afternoon in Chapinero checking out the yarn situation.  I was in a large bookstore in Chapinero when I met Ligia Morena Vega.  I was looking at some new sewing pattern magazines (since I am a sewer who crochets) and she was buying crochet magazines.

So I asked her if she knew where I could find some yarns in the neighborhood.. Not only did she know – she took me with her to meet the proprietors and learn more about the crafting classes offered.

That’s one of the things I’ve noticed in Colombia – pull out a crochet hook or start asking about crochet, and instantly you make friends.  I was on the bus to the airport in Rionegro when this happened the first time.  (It’s a long bus ride to Medellin, so I pulled out my crochet..)  Very quickly I made friends with several women  on the bus as we talked crochet.

 

with Ligia, shopping for yarn in Bogota

with Ligia, shopping for yarn in Bogota

Ligia crochets professionally.  She was buying magazines to use as catalogs for customers who want custom-made clothing, including formal style and elegant ankle length dresses.    Ligia’s husband runs a coffee and chocolate shop nearby on Calle 57 and Carrera 16 – so I will have to stop in and visit on my next trip to Bogotá (and get some pictures of her latest crochet creations too!)

We walked a few blocks to a short street, Calle 56 (with Carrera 13) where there are several stores selling a variety of yarns.  While there was a lot of Red Heart and Lion Brand (especially the Homespun USA – my favorite, at home), I was able to find some beautiful yarns that are made right in Bogotá.

I fell in love with some of the yarns from Lanas Arvi.

Lanas Arvi

One of the yarns is a beautiful tan and turquoise mix..

some of my new Colombian yarn.. with my gigantic crochet hook.

some of my new Colombian yarn.. with my gigantic crochet hook.

It’s destined to be a scarf.. This time I might even keep it.  So far, I have gifted away everything I’ve made with the exception of a camera lens bag..

Several of the shops offer crochet and knitting classes.  Todos Lanas and Almacen Mutifibras even print the class schedules on the back of their receipts.

The prices are about the same as Wal-mart (since JoAnn’s and some of the craft stores mark up the yarns quite a bit.)  I also bought two small skeins of a lovely dark purple to make a gift for a friend – and two small skeins of a variegated yarn with the bright yellow, blue and red of the Colombian flag..   All of the other yellow/ blue / red yarns were sold out just about everywhere we looked.  Several owners told us that between Colombian Independence Day (today) and the World Cup – they haven’t been able to keep any of the patriotic colors in stock for the last month.

Embajada de la Coca

During my visit to Bogotá – we sampled some delicious Andean style cuisine at the Embajada de la Coca.  (To read my article on the experience, click here.)

welcome to Embajada de la Coca

welcome to Embajada de la Coca

Meet the artist: Isabella Klein

The next day, I spent the afternoon visiting the Klein family.  If the name sounds familiar – it’s because one the sons, Albert Klein, PharmD is a close friend and my co-writer on several of the Hidden Gem titles.  (The Kleins are a talented family; the younger son, Alex plays piano with the Bogotá Philharmonic Orchestra and the daughter, A. J. is an occasional model.)

(For more about the Bogotá Philharmonic – read this post by a blogger from the University of Texas at Austin.)

His mother, Isabella works as a professional translator as well as teaching English.  But that’s just her job – art is her life.  She works in multiple platforms – mixed media, paintings, photography and artisan crafts.

On today’s visit – we talked about some of her craft work as well as the large craft fairs here in Colombia.  We discussed my ideas for ‘artisan craft style tours‘ where visitors could learn more about the crafting process and Indigenous cultures of Colombia.

She showed me some of her more recent projects – making decorative wooden boxes.  Instead of using the traditional Colombian patterns, she designs her own.

Some of the wooden boxes designed by Isabella Klein

Some of the wooden boxes designed by Isabella Klein

Her mixed media paints are arresting to look at.  Unfortunately, I was too busy admiring them to take any pictures..

But I do have a couple more pictures of the boxes.

IMG_1816

I think the next box is just fantastic.. It’s a design that just catches the eye.  I like the combination of blues.

IMG_1814

For a portfolio of some of Isabella Klein’s work – click here.

After too few days – it was time to say goodbye to my Bogota friends (new and old) and head back to Medellin to prepare for Colombia Moda..

with dear friends, Camila and Flavita.

with dear friends, Camila and Flavita.

Of course – it wasn’t all bad – these lovely ladies were at the airport in Rionegro to greet me..  The Aguardiente Girls!!

Welcome to Medellin!

Welcome to Medellin!

 

Calling all fashionistas!


map Medellin

While many of you know that Medellin isn’t my favorite city in Colombia – it does have its own attractions.  I am not talking about the spectacularly breath-taking ride up to Parque Arvi on the metro cable or the Botero museum.

It’s the shopping – Medellin is the New York of Colombia and much of Latin America.  As home to Colombia Moda and the Colombian textile industry, the array of shopping opportunities are mind-boggling.  Most tourist guides will direct you to the upscale, brand name only shopping malls in the wealthier enclaves like El Poblado.  While these malls are worth seeing, I advise visitors to go in the guise of a museum-seeking tourist.

indoor flower garden at upscale mall in Medellin

indoor flower garden at upscale mall in Medellin (El Poblado district)

That is to say – go to look (at the sculptured gardens, majestic views and boutique brands) and maybe for a light lunch at one of the elegant eateries but save your cash for the real shopping mecca, in El Centro.  Wear comfortable shoes – and plan to finish shopping before 6 pm..

To get here:  Take the Metro (train) to Station San Antonio.  That will put you in the center of the shopping district.

Biggest Open Air Shopping District in Latin America

Don't worry, honey.. I stayed safely outside of this shop dedicated to crochet

Don’t worry, honey.. I stayed safely outside of this shop dedicated to crochet

At least, according to the banner hanging over one of the cobbled pedestrian streets.  But it seems pretty accurate as I wander street after street of an amazing array of goods.. If it isn’t here – than you won’t find it in Colombia.

photo (1)

Since it’s not Buenos Aires (Argentina), yes – they have sizes larger than SIX.

 

There are streets filled with row after row of sidewalk vendors selling a multitude of items.  A whole street devoted to shoes.. Sidewalk vendors selling ornamental sandals with adjacent stores sell every kind of shoe ever made..

sandals

Just one of the many, many displays of sandals in the shopping district of El Centro

Street after street with store after store of Shoes.. Appliances.. Clothing.. Cosmetics.. Electronics.. DVDs.. Porn…  Lingerie.. Hats.  Costume Jewelry.  Fabric. Ribbons.  Yarn..  Several stores filled to the brim with beads.  Pastry and cake shops.  Any kind of soccer (futbol) jersey you could ever want (and not because it’s the world cup – these stores are always here.)

Whole malls (centro commercials) for bridal wear.. Others filled with row after row of beauty salons.

Dollar stores for all the items you forgot to pack.. Luggage stores for extra space to bring back your fabulous finds..

About the only thing I didn’t see was a street devoted to mascotas (pets) but that’s probably just because I didn’t wander far enough.

You can find almost anything here!

You can find almost anything here!

 

Calling all Colombian travel agencies!   Fashion and textile guided tours

Add this to my wish list for Colombian tourism businesses –  or other ways to make Colombia accessible to tourists on a whole new level.  For people who are familiar with Colombia, the tours would just be a nice, relaxing way to have someone else take care of the details…  Not everyone lives in El Centro and has the ability to walk a few streets right into the commercial heart of the city.

But for first-time visitors; wives of travelling businessmen or people unfamiliar with this part of the city – a guided tour to the heart of Medellin’s fashion district would be absolutely essential, particularly as the area gets kind of sketchy after 6 pm.  Tours for fashion sewers, crafters and knitters along with general shopping and factory tours just sounds like a fun way to spend a day.  Throw in a typical Colombian lunch (not the enormous banda paisa but something featuring all of the great local fruits and vegetables) and a mixed group of tourists (Colombians, and foreigners from several nations) as well as a knowledgeable, bilingual guide  – and I think there would be a line of people ready to sign up..

I think it would go along with my dream trip to Bucaramanga for a weekend guided factory tour and shoe-shopping adventure.

Alas!  I am not a marketing genius – just a lover of fashion, sewing and crochet.  But just for fun – I am going to add a survey here where readers can let me know what they think of this idea..  If I get enough interested responses – I’ll pass it along to someone in the tourism industry.

Proexport advertises Shopping Tours but they are short on details..

If you are interested in a personal beauty consultant – and shopping.. a bit pricey but here’s the link.  (link is a bit short on details too..)

Fashion Tourism Survey

 Tips for Shopping in El Centro:

– Wear comfortable shoes

– Don’t bring extras: jewelry, cameras, smart phones.  (This is a high crime area).

– Bring mainly small bills: 2ooo, 5000 and 10,000 peso bills.  It’s problematic to pay for a 3,000 peso purchase with a 50 mil bill for shopkeepers and may be impossible for outside vendors.

– keep your belongings secure – I recommend a zippered purse.  Backpacks should be worn on the front.  Messenger bags work for me – so I can keep the strap across my chest, and the bag close to my body.

– Try not to be too loud and (gringo-ey) in El Centro.. While most Colombians like Americans, in this instance, you don’t want to attract too much attention.

– Be prepared to leave by 6 pm – and don’t stay in El Centro after dark unless you are with a native paisa (person from Medellin).  It is easy to get lost – and dangerous at night.

In general, use commonsense – have fun and good luck on your shopping adventures!

The Eckland Effect


It’s been a while since I’ve written – but sometimes between maintaining two blogs, a series on health for Examiner.com, answering emails from potential medical tourists, traveling and working long hours on assignment – I sometimes feel a bit like a candle burning at both ends.

But I am happy to report – that I recently completed my latest assignment and am back home in my native Virginia (for a few days) before heading back to Colombia.

I’ll spend the next couple days getting ready; contacting potential interviewees, researching articles,

Colombia flag

The downside of frequent extended travel is the piling up of all the inevitable errands and hassles.  Sometimes its just stuff like sorting through a couple of months of mail, but other times it’s paying property taxes (in person because I live in a small town) or renewing my driver’s license (now good until 2022!)

But now that we’re all caught up – we can get back to work (and writing!)

The Profiteer Model

Several interesting articles and posts have been written about medical tourism lately. We will talk about some of the other issues in future posts but today, I wanted to share this article by Stacy Hsu from the Tampai Times.  This article takes issue with the “Profiteer’ model of many so-called “Medical Tourism” hospitals and clinics.

VIP Medicine

As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, the idea of exclusive hospitals designed solely for the wealthy foreigner is both a noxious and popular one.  To many people, the idea of a resort-like or decadent atmosphere that caters to the every whim of the monied tourist or “Club Medicine” is a charmed one. VIP/ Executive health programs thrive around the world – from the hallowed halls of academic medicine like  John Hopkins, the Cleveland Clinic to the Planet Hospital branded facilities around the world.

Much of the medical tourism industry has been based on this context.  Programs are advertised on the basis of desirable location, gourmet cuisine menus, luxurious accommodations and nightly turn down service; not surgical skill or publishable clinical outcomes.  No one hypes a short-length of stay or low re-admission rate when catered meals, high-speed internet and cable television are part of the selling points.

money pills

VIP versus Concierge: Not entirely the same

Don’t want to travel?  But want your health care needs catered to?  There are whole branches of primary care practices (ie. the “Royal Pains” practices) that are now based on this principle.  On the surface, it doesn’t sound like much – patients pay extra money to have their doctor actually give them the time and attention they deserve* (during visits, phone calls and emails) but in reality, it can very quickly turn into something else as this ‘bonus’ pay approach changes the patient – provider relationship.

But “concierge medicine” as it is called in primary care medicine is a far cry from the VIP and Executive programs offered as part of medical tourism programs.  In concierge medicine, patients still have a long-term and established relationship with their physician – and it is this relationship that can actually improve health care outcomes along with patient satisfaction.  That’s because having more time with your family doctor means that s/he will spend more time answering questions and explaining care to patients. In turn, the patient is more likely to fill their prescriptions, take their medications and otherwise follow this doctor’s instructions.

*Instead of delegating more personalized care to people like me; the nurse practitioner (NP) or physician assistant (PA) which is more commonly done in standard medical offices.

But is ego-tickling medicine good for your health? 

According to the scant amount of existing research, the answer is often no, when we are talking about short-term patient-provider relationships like the one-day executive physical or the spa style surgery service.  In fact, patients often receive unnecessary and even potentially harmful, expensive tests and procedures (like the famed “Full body CT”).

I liken it to “The emperor’s new clothes” syndrome, where the patient is seen more as a consumer / purchaser of goods than a person seeking health services.  In this scenario, the healthcare provider is more concerned with keeping the customer satisfied than explaining why many of these tests and procedures are not necessary or may even be harmful.

Remember: First do no harm!

The customer is always right!

These contradictory objectives may become a conflict when the needed health advice isn’t what the patient wants to hear*.

Not even the humble fools dare tell the emperor the truth.

Not even the humble fools dare tell the emperor the truth.

The ‘Eckland Effect’

But it looks like this may be changing.  Several new research projects as well as recent articles are showing a move towards data collection and measurement of objective outcomes in regards to medical tourism.  Instead of patient satisfaction surveys, researchers are asking about the incidence of complications.

Other organizations are talking about implementing more accountability, transparency and formal accreditation for medical tourism programs and facilities.  Of course, accreditation is only as valuable as the organization offering it.

*Certainly this dynamic was at play in the care and death of pop star Michael Jackson under the care of Dr. Conrad Murray.

Additional articles for interested readers:

Al-Lamki, L. (2011).  Medical Tourism: Beneficence or maleficence? SQU Med J Nov 2011, 11(4): 444-447.  This is an excellent editorial that offers a concise overview of many of the ethical issues we have discussed here at Latin American Surgery including brain drain, transplant tourism, quality assurance, continuity-of-care and the overall impact of medical tourism on local communities.

In a related article, ” A European perspective on medical tourism: the need for a knowledge base” Carrera & Lunt (2010) argued for the urgent need for record-keeping  and statistical data collection in the medical tourism industry.  While this article is not available for free on-line, a related presentation by the authors is available here.

For readers interested in learning more about the correlation between patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes, I encourage you to read the works of JJ Fenton.

Fenton JJ, Jerant AF, Bertakis KD, Franks P. (2012).  The cost of satisfaction: a national study of patient satisfaction, health care utilization, expenditures, and mortality.  Arch Intern Med. 2012 Mar 12;172(5):405-11. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2011.1662. Epub 2012 Feb 13.  This study in particular is a must read:  in this study, Fenton et al. followed a group of more than 36,000 patients and found that high patient satisfaction was correlated with increased health costs, greater rates of inpatient admissions to the hospital and a higher overall mortality.  Fenton et al have also conducted several additional studies examining the relationship between patient satisfaction and quality of care.  The findings of these study question the utility of new programs linking patient satisfaction with provider compensation (ie. pay-for-performance) and question the commonly held beliefs that patient satisfaction = high quality care.  It may be that the best care comes at a price:  unhappy patients.  But then again, isn’t not a popularity contest – or at least, it shouldn’t be.

Medscape subscribers can also view a series of articles on this topic including an inteview with Dr. Fenton on his body of work.  Medscape has a series of articles examining both sides of the argument linking patient satisfaction with provider compensation.

Patient satisfaction is overrated – an excellent editorial about the cost to patients (in health and money) related to demands for ‘patient satisfaction”.

Days of Summer


cautionary tale for my on-line friends in another botched surgery case in Florida.

Let the buyer beware:

In the most recent case, four individuals have been arrested for impersonating surgeons and operating an unlicensed surgery clinic. According to the media reports, only one of the four people charged is a licensed physician, nurse or other trained healthcare provider – but that didn’t stop them from performing major operations such as liposuction and abdominoplasty procedures on their unknowing patients.  While Dr. William Marrocco* was the doctor on record for the clinic – patients report that he wasn’t the one operating!

scalpel

Unlike many of the ‘chop shops” we’ve written about that take place in garages, motels and private ‘parties’, in this scenario, unwary consumers were duped by a savvy group of criminals who had owned and operated the “Health and Beauty Cosmetic Surgery” clinic in downtown West Palm Beach.

*The good doctor Marrocco remains a legally licensed doctor in the state of Florida – though interestingly enough – he does not have prescriptive privileges.  One the Florida Department of Health website, Dr. Marrocco (whose secondary address corresponds with the clinic address) reports active licenses in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana and Nebraska.

But let’s check it out… so I did my own preliminary online search –

Virginia: No records found.  No active or past licensees (expired in the last five years) found.  So he may have had one – but not recently.

Pennsylvania: William Charles Marrocco held a license in Pennsylvania for a brief two-year period between 1998 to 2000. This includes his period of medical residency training at Temple University Hospital.

Michigan: Three expired licenses – one for student status (resident) and one as a pharmacist.

Indiana: Dr. Marrocco was a licensed plastic surgeon in the state of Indiana from 2000 to 2011 and has a notation “reinstatement pending‘.  Maybe Dr. Marracco is planning on heading back to Indiana – where his license remains unblemished – despite the scandal surrounding the 2003  death of his wife after he performed liposuction on her).  License # 01052282A

Nebraska:  Expired, license #2909, educational license permit (training) affiliated with Indiana University

Jorge Nayib Alarcon Zambrano – (one of the individuals charged) is listed as a member of the Colombian Society of Plastic Surgeons – from Cali, Colombia.  So he may be a trained surgeon, just not a very good one (and not licensed in the United States).

Licensing isn’t everything..

Kind of goes to show some of the pitfalls of relying on licensing boards for consumer protection.  Dr. William Marrocco was a licensed plastic surgeon, but that’s little consolation for many patients at that West Palm Beach clinic.

In fairness to Dr. William Marrocco, Jorge Alarcon and the other individuals in the case – they have been charged with multiple counts, but have not been convicted of any crime.  Until that time, they remain innocent until proven guilty.

Apologies to my loyal readers for the long lapse in posts but my plate has been pretty full.  But I will be finishing my latest assignment in a few weeks and starting a couple of new projects for the summer months.

airplane3

I applied for and received a new assignment from Examiner.com to expand my focus to include more than just health topics.  Now I will be able to write more articles focusing on life and culture in Latin America.

Colombia Moda 2014

To kick-start my new assignment, I have applied to attend Colombia Moda 2014.

(official image from Colombia Moda / Inexmoda)

As many of you already know, I was able to attend last year – and got a fascinating glimpse into the fashion industry and the future of both fashion and consumerism.

Last year’s speakers were promoting the concept of “re-shoring” and changing from the traditional ‘seasonal’ lines and collections to an ongoing, evolving fashion line with new designs and items being designed, developed and sold to the public in shorter mini cycles.

dsigners

This year – I’ll be able to cover all of this – along with interviews with individual designers, fashion lines and the Colombian fashion and textile industry.  (Last year, my articles were focused on the role between fashion and plastic surgery).

Fashion is so intrinsic to Colombian life, and many parts of Latin America, so I am really excited about it.  It plays such an important role in the economic, social and an even personal lives of many Colombians.

sew

I won’t have an assistant this year – but I am getting a new lens for the event (I will be journalist/ photographer for the event).

After Colombia Moda, I will be flipping back and forth between writing about culture and my ‘usual’ medicine and health storylines.

I will be staying in Colombia for several weeks as well as covering the Latin American Association of Thoracics (ALAT) conference at the end of July.   It’s one of the biggest international conferences in thoracic medicine/ surgery with many of the legends of thoracic surgery planning to be in attendance.

Sponsors del Congreso ALAT 2014

In August, I’ll be heading across the globe to interview the head of an innovative surgical program.

I’ll be checking in along the way – and posting photos, interviews and articles as I go.

 

So what don’t you like about Colombia?


This question comes from a recent email by one of our loyal readers.. (It may have been sarcastic, but I’ll answer it honestly and candidly.)

So,  what don’t you like about Colombia?

Fair enough, but let me preface the discussion by saying that EVERY SINGLE THING that I mention below also exists in the United States.  So I won’t pretend that my country is some kind of gender utopia.  It’s not – In fact, the “war on women” has been waged between political parties and in headlines of newspapers all over the United States.  My home state of Virginia, along with Texas has been some of the worst offenders on this front..

Still… Due to the overwhelming machismo here – the things that bother me the most in Colombia  somehow manage to be extremely pervasive, sometimes subtle yet face-slappingly* shocking at the same time.

1. You are never more than your looks.  Sure, everyone knows that unfortunately, attractiveness, particularly female attractiveness is the unspoken prerequisite for career success in the United States.  But it tends to remain unspoken, highly illegal and in the background for most of us.

It is one of the biggest ways that males here (Colombia) are able to maintain authority and superiority and subjugate women.  Too many people buy** into it – so even women who hate it are forced to conform to survive (professionally, financially).

It’s different here – and it’s probably the main reason I haven’t chosen to call Colombia my long term home.  It’s never in the background here, and it never fades away.  It doesn’t matter whether you’ve known someone here for five minutes or five years – you are still being judged by your looks.  It doesn’t matter what your background is, your skillset or your intelligence.

Men (who are the majority rule here) won’t even hear what comes out of your mouth if you don’t meet the “minimal attractiveness” levels.  It’s almost like a physical disability – as if they literally can’t hear you.

a PhD in physics?  Sorry, sweetie - I can't hear you.. Maybe after you get some breast implants..

a PhD in physics? Sorry, sweetie – I can’t hear you.. Maybe after you get some breast implants..

Not only that – but in general, Men here judge harshly.  If you aren’t a supermodel, with large (or enhanced) curves – then you are lacking.  Not only that – but they will be certain to inform you that you are lacking (using during your initial introduction, and probably every single subsequent meeting thereafter.)

(Obviously – this doesn’t apply to ever single male in Colombia, but it’s still quite prevalent even among the better educated upper classes).

Even if you are beautiful – your time for professional and career success is limited.  Maybe you have some cellulite, or your breasts aren’t perky enough – or you’ve had the gall to age.

So as you can image, as a chubby, woman over 30, who has never, ever been “mistaken” for a model even on my very best days as a young ingénue, this constant spoken criticism is extremely disheartening.  Not only that – but it makes it extremely hard to get any work done.

2. Don’t ever attempt to discuss any of this with male Colombians.   While women here talk about these issues often and express their feelings towards these attitudes of male machismo, don’t bother trying to address these issues with male Colombians.  (Sure, there is always the odd exception – usually a more cosmopolitan man who has lived outside South America at some point, but it’s not common.)  As I said before, ‘selective deafness’ comes into play.  Not only that – even when having a so-called polite conversation (on American customs, polite behaviors etc.) attempting to explain (to people planning to visit the USA) that these behaviors may be perceived negatively in the United States, will be dismissed.  Very often this will also result in comments such as “you are just jealous of the beauty of Colombian women.”  This comment was made in response to a discussion about the fact that calling an American woman ‘gordita’ (chubby/ fat) or ‘vieja’ (old) may impede abilities to make friends and have serious repercussions, particularly if it occurs in the workplace.

It will also get you labeled as a lesbian.

an aging lesbian speaks out

an aging ‘lesbian’ speaks out

3. Aggressive homophobia, particularly in the coastal areas of Colombia.  Despite the fact that an estimated 8% of the population identifies as gay, homosexuality remains a big taboo in many parts of Colombia.

While Bogotanos and residents of more cosmopolitan cities like Medellin and Cali tend to express more tolerant / accepting attitudes regarding an individual’s sexuality – this is not the case in places like Cartagena.  (Costenos have a reputation for being less than sophisticated.  There is even a Colombian version of the “Beverly Hill-Billies” which features several Costenos living in Bogota). Homophobic slurs are extremely common in every day speech.

Like their American ‘redneck’ stereotype counterparts – many Costenos are bigoted, biased and intolerant of others.  This includes the darker-skinned Costeno residents, and gay people.  While I try to keep my mouth shut for the most part, (even though it pains me) when I hear the blatant racism / homophobia – on the one occasion when I objected to hearing the repeated use of an extremely ugly Spanish pejorative for gay people  (akin to the American slur of “faggot”), I was literally shouted down for my audacity in attempting to censor his “bible given” right to spew hate.

Even the sly suggestion that a particular apartment is in a “gay neighborhood” is enough to prompt something akin to panic, and further discussions on moving/ selling said apartment.

Of course, this sort of bigotry happens in the USA – and everyone knows that.  But I would like to think that a lot has changed in the last ten years in that the majority of Americans are not only tolerant of gay individuals but support their right to equality under the law, the right to pursue personal happiness and to get married and have families. Even the majority of Southerners***.

So now you have a unattractive, middle-age lesbian in Colombia.  Try and imagine how this impedes daily interactions.  Oh, did I mention that I am also considered a slut.

4. Rampant Slut shaming.

So if you have committed any of the faux paxs listed above, don’t be surprised at what comes next, namely Slut Shaming.  Especially if this “puta gringa” has also committed the unforgivable sin of also learning the names of the Building porter or the person who sells you gum (daily) or other members of Cartagena’s “lower class.”  It’s not something as simple as good manners – it’s because you are a slut and are sleeping with all of them.

In a country where married men openly brag about their numerous sexual conquests, ‘amigitas’ and secret families are common, women are still placed within the narrow confines of the “Madonna/ slut” paradigm.  As a married foreigner who often travels solo due to financial concerns, the lack of my husband’s physical presence makes me even more of a target for this labelling.

Women here are supposed to dedicate long hours, and thousands of dollars in pursuit of ‘sexy’; wearing tight, short revealing clothes, tilting around on high heels while attempting to balance outsized breasts with generously rounded bottoms – yet maintain an ‘inner purity’ that prohibits open and frank conversations about gender issues.  The end result of this – is that men are able to strictly control the financial and economic mobility of women in a society that castigates outliers.

So I am fairly certain that my candid response to this question won’t go unpunished.  I probably should have stuck to easy answers.

ie. What don’t you like about Colombia?  Answer: FARC/ paramilitaries.

But then, I don’t have run-ins with paramilitaries on a daily basis..

So what does this mean?

Does it mean that this slutty, unattractive, lesbian gringa should give up any hopes of doing business in Colombia?  AKA “Gringa GO HOME” (as has been suggested on multiple occasions).  Or should I fire up my time machine, emerge as a fresh 20 something, head directly to the nearest plastic surgeon and keep my damned mouth shut?  Should I wear tighter clothes, stilt like heels and hope to blend in?

Maybe it is time for me to go home – and return when I can remember and enjoy the thousands of things I LOVE about Colombia; the cool air of Bogota, the richness of a country with an in the amazing array of natural wonders and geographic splendor, the overwhelming variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, the joy of learning to Salsa, the cultural depth of a country with over 500 years of history, the incredible variety of friendly, and interesting people I meet on any given day (machismo not withstanding).

But don’t worry – nothing can get me down for long – and I will return to the beautiful, wonderful, culturally rich Colombia very soon.

Notes:

* Yes, I made that word up, but that’s how I often feel as I confront these issues every single day here.

** Literally.  It’s one of the reasons plastic surgery is such big business here.

*** Before readers get upset that I am “propagating the American redneck stereotype”, consider this – I say this as a self-proclaimed ‘redneck southerner’ who happens to express a ‘Live and Let live” philosophy towards others. That being said – my experiences in Colombia – are mine, and I don’t attempt to speak for, or represent anyone else’s experiences here.  If anything – I hope your experiences (as a female) in Colombia have been different.

Additional articles on related topics

This study compares eating disordered behavior and plastic surgery rates in the USA and Colombia.

Gender, eating habits and body practices in Medellin, Colombia – article by Ana Maria Ochoa.

Narco-aesthetics: How Colombia’s drug trade constructed female ‘beauty’ – article by Mimi Yagoub

Life in Plastic – it’s fantastic! about the culture of plastic surgery in Latin America (specifically Cali, Colombia) and the link to narco-trafficking.

LA Times article: A Scathing Attack on Culture of Machismo.

Acid attacks show the face of machismo in Colombia

Earning a living is the biggest obstacle for Colombian women.

Colombia: Human Rights Situation of the LGBT Population: Shadow Report Submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (2010).  While laws were passed to protect the human rights of the LGBT community in 2011, the situation remains precarious for the LGBT community particularly in rural areas.

U.S. groups file briefs in Colombia marriage case. (4/14/2014).

Bogota mayor invites residents to come out of the closet.

Women on Waves resources: promoting women’s rights internationally. Provides practical, not philosophical information for women in a multi-lingual site on women’s health & gender issues.

Women on Web: women’s health information – multi-lingal site.

Featured Image courtesy of Sodahead.com

San Jacinto and taking the long way home


San Jacinto

As we left Sincelejo to return to Cartagena, I noticed that we made an unexpected turn away from our usual route.  This was confirmed as we passed the fitness center on the other side of town and headed towards Corozal.

The department of Sucre as outlined in RED

The department of Sucre as outlined in RED

“Ah, this will be my adventure today,” I said to myself.  Sure enough – I kept quiet and enjoyed the change of scenery as we drove away from Sincelejo into a mountainous area that reminded me of my high school years in Angels Camp – Murphy’s area of  California (Sierra Nevada foothills).

The terrain was dotted with trees interspersed with dry straw-colored grasses.  Cattle grazed in pastures on either side of the small, winding two-lane highway.

As we drove through Corozal, I ventured to voice my suspicions.  The good doctor laughed and confirmed that it was, indeed an ‘adventure’ designed for me – since he and Iris knew of my love of Colombian countryside.

avocados 002

the apple is just there for scale

First stop on our tour was for the famed avocados.   (Indeed – these famous avocados have been the source of much amusement among the cardiac surgery team due to a previous episode involving a “bait and switch” by another team member (who ‘stole’ a bag of these avocados from the good doctor, and left behind a small bag of more ordinary avocados in their place.)

woven fabric made on traditional looms

woven fabric made on traditional looms

We then passed into Bolivar –

Our next stop was San Jacinto, which is a town that is locally known for their artisanal crafts.  (The Sucre – Bolivar regions are noted for many of their textile crafts.  Some of the techniques date to the pre-Colombian era).

Having Iris as my tour guide was wonderful.  As a certified artisanal artist of traditional Colombian crafts, Iris was able to give me a detailed explanation of each of the different types of craft making – including information about regional differences in weaving designs, colors used, and other traditional items.

(For more information about the processes used in this craft work, click here.)

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Since I am in the midst of  (very slowly) learning how to crochet one of the traditional Colombian bags  – I can certainly appreciate the amount of time and skill that goes into crafting each of these individual items.  There is no assembly line, factory floor or Made in China” labels here.  (Yes, I looked).

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As the road wound its way back to the fork where we usually take the other branch) we stop at our usual coffee shop.  There we were greeted by a Palenque resident selling baked goods.

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We bought a sweet, round ball of a popcorn(ish) treat called Alegra which contains corn with coconut and panela.  She then came and sat with us and attempted to teach us to speak a few words of Palenque.

After our brief respite, we continued to the main highway to Cartagena and proceeded home.  It took a little longer, but to me – it was well-worth it.  Thank you, Iris and Dr. Barbosa for my unexpected surprise!

Sundays in Cartagena


El Centro

El Centro

Sundays in Cartagena are a bit different from Bogotá or Medellin. As a major tourist destination, Cartagena never really slows down the way other cities do in Colombia.  In Bogotá, my neighborhood (Chico) was essentially deserted on Sundays.  The only signs of life were on the streets closed for  pedestrian walking.  La Candeleria and Usaquen were the destinations of choice for Bogotanos who chose to stay in the city.

Instead the activities change – instead of business, the weekends are for boat trips to the Islands of Santa Rosario, long leisurely lunches, wandering around El Centro and looking at arts and native crafts, and walking along the beach.   Tourists stroll along Bocagrande window shopping at designer storefronts, eating ice cream.  The hotels host popular events in Castillogrande, and restaurants and bars feature the sports of the day, to standing room only crowds.

So today, after sleeping in a bit, Iris and I headed to El Centro for another leisurely stroll around El Centro.  Sunday mornings are a nice time for this – the streets are still pretty quiet and not yet packed with tourists.  (That comes later in the day.)

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As we wandered down the tree-lined streets, I can’t help put take photos, even if I’ve photographed these same areas many times before.  Somehow, every time I encounter the colorful buildings with the beautiful blossoms on the curving cobblestone streets, I am enchanted all over again.

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After walking around the neighborhood and making our way up the wall, we headed to the nearest Juan Valdez..

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After our leisurely coffee, we walked back home to escape the heat of the day.  Now I am heading back out – to the beach.

 

Cuidad Delirio and the spirit of Colombia


This is Colombia!

kids in Cartagena

One the reasons I have so many posts on local culture (in addition to medical tourism) is due to the fact that I struggle to impart the sentiments, the spirit, and the very essence of the destinations.  

Viva Colombia!

The first time I came to Colombia, as we landed the JetBlue airline crew broadcast the song, Viva Colombia! and all the other passengers burst into cheers..  I guess it was that initial experience that has always stayed with me.

No, this isn't the Spirit of Colombia.

No, this isn’t the Spirit of Colombia.

Most of my writing is technically based so it is a huge challenge to attempt to draft essays that actually speak to the character of the people, the richness of the cultures.

there is more to Colombia than this..

there is more to Colombia than this..

But without these things, I think readers have a hard time separating the reputations of many of these places (for crime, or violence for example) from the people.  The news media are so filled with negativity, and one limited perception or view of everything:  Colombia is drugs and war, Mexico is violence and gangs, the United States is consumerism and spending, that it’s impossible for people to see, or read anything without this pervasive opinion poisoning our perceptions.

this is Colombia..

this is Colombia.. futbol

Now and then comes the occasional piece that takes a closer look – and I try to share those here.

and this..

and this..

I also try to include the often whimsical, charming or sweet details that give a better picture of what it is to be here.  What it’s like as a foreigner wandering the streets – seeing everyday life.. Not just sickness and health in the corridors of hospitals and clinics.  But the everyday lives and special occasions of the people I meet.

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For example, one of the things that really, for me kind of captures the spirit and the pride of the people of Colombia is the twice daily broadcasts of the National Anthem of Colombia..

Cuidad Delirio

Another was the delightful film, “Cuidad Delirio” that  I saw last night at the film festival in Cartagena.  The film, which was made in Cali and directed by Chus Gutierrez is pure eye candy.

My response to the film was almost visceral.. I don’t usually like this type of film – the silly romantic stories.. But the film just captured the essence of Cali (and Colombia) so beautifully.  The colors, the music, the liveliness..  In short, the film did in about 90 minutes what I have spent years trying to do – share the “feel” and some of the daily joy of life here*.

* I know skeptics are rolling their eyes – despite the many problems cause by socio-economic disparities and chronic warfare, many people here have a “Joie de vivre” that is unmistakable.  It is this sentiment that brings me to Colombia, over and over.