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!

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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.)

sincelejo 002

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).

sincelejo 003

 

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.

sincelejo 005

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.)

Cartagena 013

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.

Cartagena 026

 

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

Cartagena 027

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.

cartagena 014

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.