Friday, July 28, 2006

Ajiaco Photo

If you read my earlier post on ajiaco and want to see what it looks like, check out this link:

Colombia Fried

Wow, there was a lot of great fried starch to be had in Colombia. There was a whole snack shop near the Palm Tree Hostal featuring Chilean empanadas. I don't know why Chilean empanadas in particular were a big deal, but they were yummy. I'll pretty much eat anything that involved fried dough. You could have your fried dough with ground beef inside, with chicken and cheese (that was especially tasty--ate a lot of those), or as a long bread stick with a length of cheese inside. I even had those for breakfast at home in Envigado when the food situation improved!

Maybe the best thing ever were the bunuelos. They are basically fried cheese balls and came in various sizes, from tiny to grand. I of course ate the super-sized ones. Forget Wisconsin cheese curds, people!

The really amazing thing was I ate all this heavy food and didn't gain weight. I may even have lost a couple of pounds. Not sure how that worked, whether it was a lot of walking or two bouts of diarrhea or both, but I wasn't arguing.

I found a recipe for Colombian bunuelos. They're different from Mexican ones. Check this out:

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Block Party Post Mortem

Back to local news, at least for this post. Last Saturday night was the block party. Though I was in Raleigh, last night I got plenty of gossip about it from three or four different houses.

Mr. Worrisome's sister and her friends in the house down the block told me they have had it with our block captain. (I think I told you all way back when that I didn't get a good vibe from her.) She drove by us last night and called out that she wanted to talk to me. I told her to come by the house when she was free. I thought she would stop by last night, but the doorbell rang twice and both times it was Dee, the hooker who took Priscilla's place on the corner back last winter. (For once I didn't give her some cash--I was on the phone and told her to come back another day.)

The only thing that holds true in everybody's story is that the police were called Saturday night. The detailed version from Sister W and Co. was that Block Capt. wanted to open the fire hydrant, but Co. objected, saying the water would flood her basement. So they didn't open that hydrant but words were exchanged, and Co's niece and lots of her friends showed up to back up her auntie. This made Block Capt. nervous and she called the 5-0, who took them to the station for mob action. Seems highly unnecessary to me that it got to that point.

By the way, apparently it was Co's kids who came over and got some cake and got in the water fight at my birthday party. I didn't know who she was, but apparently she moved on the block about the same time I did.

Anyway, now Sister W and friends want a new block captain, maybe me, but I wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole right now. Apparently our current block captain is buds with the alderman, and until 2010 and the remap comes around, I have no intention of crossing wires with the alderman. They want to know where all the money Block Capt. collected for the party went, since she charged like 10 or 15 bucks a household and told people if they didn't pay they couldn't eat. They say she said the DJ cost $250, but they asked the DJ and he said he only got paid $60. I don't know if what they said is true, but it's certainly pretty funny to hear from a lady who refused to come to my housewarming party because it was potluck. "You ain't spending nothin!" she chided me.

I'm willing to see if they'll go to the alderman's monthly meeting in force to complain, however. I'll be very curious to see if they still have juice about this two weeks from now.

I still have plenty to say about Colombia, but it will be interesting to see whether I find time to post it here.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Back in the US...

But still not back in Chicago. Am in Raleigh,North Carolina for a cousin's wedding.

During the trip, one of my fellow delegation members said she would be having her partner do the grocery shopping for the first week after she got home because she couldn't bear the sight of a US grocery store after hanging out with very poor people for two weeks straight. Although I know what she means, I don't personally have the same feeling about a grocery store, not least because I went to the big superstores in Cartagena and Medellin, Vivero and the French chain, Carrefour, so it's not like they don't exist there.

What I think about after any international trip is water. Even coming back from Europe. Even after Medellin, which has astoundingly great water supplies by Latin American, and really, everywhere but US and maybe Japanese standards--I had great showers in Medellin. And I never got sick from Medellin tap water, unlike tap water in rural Ireland. (There was a water alert upstream from my great aunt's house and we didn't get word on the radio until it was too late for me. I had a raging case of turista on the bus to Dublin as a result. I bet you didn't expect to hear that about a trip to Ireland, did you?)

However, even the nice suburbs of Medellin run out of hot water pretty fast, which the shower at my godfather's house in an upscale suburb of North Carolina doesn't do.

The other thing I noticed this weekend was electricity. The power went out twice in less than three days in Sincelejo, and went out almost all night once in Cartagena when a transformer blew out, which is unusual. I went around turning off lights in empty rooms at my cousins' house with particular fervor this weekend.

And I thought a lot about the oddity of driving an air-conditioned rental car with fake-leather seats and power everything two days after watching the occasional horse-drawn cart along side the Renaults and diesel trucks filling Medellin's autopistas.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Goin' to the zoo, zoo, zoo

Leidi and I went to the zoo today. I figured even if it was a cheesy zoo, it would probably have animals not common in U.S. zoos, and really just a spot of green and some local wildlife seemed like a nice change of pace from city and museums. Leidi was really fired up to go--she told me she loves the zoo but not many Spanish students want to go, so she doesn't get there very often.

Getting there was a bit of a challenge. Originally we were going right after lunch, but then the teenage man of the house had something for Leidi to do, so she couldn´t leave until 4 p.m. So we had to find the zoo in the phone book to see how late it would stay open. Dear Leidi is not too strong on spelling, although she likes to read, so she was looking for the zoo under the letter S. Oops. And then it took me a few tries to get her in the Zs because I forgot the word in Spanish for Z is zeta and kept saying zed. LOL. We were a hell of a great pair, I'll tell ya.

Well, Leidi got through to the zoo and it appeared to stay open late enough to make it worth going. I suggested a taxi but she said no, we can take the bus. I said, OK, I'm afraid of taking the bus by myself because I don't know my way around but if you're coming we can take the bus. So we took the bus and we got lost. I think we ended up in San Antonio but I'm still not too sure. Someplace downtownish with lots of stores and concrete and loud music playing that I almost mistook for a live concert or something.

I said, 'Leidi, how bout a taxi?'

She started freaking out. 'It's more expensive from here and I don't have the money.'

'I have money,' I said. 'Come on!'

So we got a taxi--that one had a very friendly driver who tried out his miniscule English for fun--but I'll tell you going through Medellín afternoon rush hour in something lower to the ground than a bus was the second-worst driving experience here, or maybe the third. (I forgot to mention our drunk taxi driver on Friday night, but he didn't actually worry me as much as the guy tonight did, probably because even drunk off his ass he still got us there with a minimum of fuss.)

The owner asked me to get off the Internet, so that's it for now. Zoo part two.

¡Felíz Cumpleanos!

The live vallenato band is thumping and grinding (organ-grinding, that is) at a cheerful and volumious level two flights down here in the backpacker hostel I'm crashing in for two nights. I couldn't take it in the suburbs any more, so I booked a room at the Palm Tree Hostel in Medellín proper. Here it is:

Somebody´s niece is having her 18th birthday tonight, so there´s a band and an incredible amount of grilled meat piled up. Hostal guests are invited to join the party for 10,000 pesos, but I'm not hungry right now and not entirely sure I'm ready to party in español with total strangers. I did meet one of the other guests earlier when I was checking out the festivities--she's from Seattle and working on her master's in public health. For those who are curious, we spoke quite a bit in Spanish, and then one of the aunts of the birthday girl joined us for a little bailar (dancing) up here on the top floor by the computer.

Getting here verged on my worst nightmare about traveling solo in Colombia, but gracias a Dios, everything turned out fine. Taxis are muy interesante here, to say the least. First of all it's worth your life to drive in the traffic, and the back seats of taxis mostly don't have seatbelts. I would say my Spanish is good enough to chat up taxi drivers a bit, but not good enough to get out of trouble if they don't know where they're going. Let's just say that has put a bit of a damper on my ability to take in Medellín nightlife.

So tonight I took my very first solo taxi ride at night. Leidi, the maid out in Envigado, called the taxi. I tried to give the driver the Palm Tree's street address but he didn´t pay attention to the A in Calle 52A and just made like he knew where he was going. He didn't. I spent 10,000 pesos and my blood pressure went through the roof during our tour of some shady-looking neighborhoods, during which I was beginning to wonder if he was lost, running up the meter, or planning to mug me or worse, especially when we appeared to be hitting a dead end in one of the shady backstreets. In the end, I think he was just lost, but it was enough to make me quite nervous. Finally we passed a Metro station and I said '¡dejame por favor!' which I hoped meant Let me out! Whatever it meant, it worked. The guy told me the station was Estadio but when I got inside I discovered it was Poblado, which isn´t even on the same line. I was just grateful to be out of the cab, even if it meant hauling my now rather heavy suitcase a few blocks.

So then I got here and walked into a fiesta muy grande. And I have a room on the first floor right in the middle of the action. And I'm supposed to be back at that same Poblado station at 7:45 a.m. to go to a colegio (school). Whee!

Saturday, July 15, 2006


To see a bit of Medellín, check out this link:

I´m writing this from the Internet café at the Hotel Nutibara in downtown Medellín. Once the fanciest hotel in town, I'm told, its elegance may be a little faded, but it is a great spot to take a load off after lots of walking and window-shopping downtown. Here it is:

I keep getting lost here in downtown. Somehow I'm not following the Lonely Planet map's orientation. I keep having to ask directions which is always an adventure since I'm never too clear how well I understood whatever was said. A very nice older gentleman walked me here to the hotel when it was all of about two and a half blocks away. I'm sure he could tell I was pretty disoriented and that just telling me directions wasn't going to penetrate my language barrier.

Things I´m loving about Medellín: climate (perfect!), scenery (spectacular!), potable water (in plenty, and even a hot shower in my suburban apartment), the Metro (newer, nicer and cleaner than any US public transit system I've ever been on), the vast majority of people I've encountered (friendly and helpful), the play I went to last night, which starred one of my Spanish teachers.

Things I´m not loving about the experience, none of which are Medellín's fault, most of which have to do with my lodgings, which were arranged by the Nueva Lengua language school. NB: I have two teachers at the school, both of whom are female--my first female Spanish teachers, gracias a Dios--both of whom are good, and both of whom are interesting people who extend themselves beyond the classroom. For that, I'm very grateful to Nueva Lengua.

But I wouldn't recommend the school unless you're someone who wants to stay in the suburbs. They put their students up in Envigado, which is a middle to upper-middle class suburb of the city. It is close to the Zona Rosa, aka party central, and to lots of great shopping, but our lodging is not that close to the Metro and taxis don't know where it is. So if you came with the idea of exploring the city, it's not so fun. And the so-called homestay is very unhomey. There is no dad, the mom is on vacation, the son is 20-something and working (selling cookies, he tells me), and we get to hang out with the maid. No disrespect intended to her, she's great and I like her a lot, but if I wanted a family homestay I could have stayed home and hung out at Dawn's house and saved a pile of cash!

It's also been more than a little weird to go from visiting country folk without mucho dinero to probably the most bustling commercial center in Colombia, and hanging out in some of its posher areas. My homestay here only confirms my observation that worldwide, it's generally the poorest people who are the most generous with their hospitality. And frankly that was so heartbreaking to be the object of for ten days straight, followed by the coldness and stinginess present in my current homestay--my fellow classmate says before I got there they weren´t feeding her enough!--it was all enough to make me cry in front of one of my teachers during class yesterday.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Viva Italia!

Saludos desde Cartagena--Greetings from Cartagena! I just finished watching the World Cup final in a little bar not far from Plaza San Pedro Claver, where I was the only female in the joint. The two guys on either side of me were Italy fans--I was quietly rooting for France until some French guy slammed an Italian. (They were playing really dirty today, IMHO, so I changed allegiance pretty fast. But the hyperactive French coach in his fancy suit was cracking me up. The Italian coach seemed much more relaxed in both dress and manner.)

This bar was great--they had a nice big but not overwhelming TV, and they turned off the sound, so we just listened to salsa while they ran up and down the field. Everybody could argue and talk and cheer. I didnt understand everything and frankly it took most of the last period for me to figure out which was France and which was Italy, but by overtime I knew what was going on. As the overtime penalty shootout was coming to a close, three other women walked in to catch the last of the action. One lady Italy fan squeezed my hand on the way out. The lone French fan got a lot of ribbing.

I had been looking forward to going to Mass at the Jesuit church today, but it didnt quite live up to my expectations. I had been told by some locals to come check out the noon Mass, where they include Afro-Caribbean drumming. Yes, they had the drum, and they had a guitar and some singers, but it was a lot less intense than I expected. And it was a lot more tourists than parishioners, was my general sense. But Padre Pacho, whom I met earlier this week, was presiding, and he recognized me when I went up for Communion. The biggest pleasant surprise was that not everyone knelt during the Eucharistic prayer. I dont mind kneeling but I used to stand up all the time and I havent for years. And I certainly didnt expect to find anyone standing up in a Latin American church. That was the biggest indicator to me that these guys are pretty darn progressive. Anyway, I heard the drum, I stood up, and Padre Pacho remembered my name. So not too bad for a city Id never seen a week ago.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

ajiaco (chicken soup)

Bogota is famous for its chicken soup, served with a variety of starches in the broth plus rice and avocado on the side. At church yesterday Hernando served it with capers and sour cream. Today´s lunch in the dusty Cauzca neighborhood left off those frills, but the soup was hot and may have been even tastier on its merits than Hernando´s. But don´t tell him I said that. I told him yesterday I had tried that kind of soup last Sunday in Chicago for the first time, and of course he wanted to know afterwards which was better, Chicago or here.

"Here, of course!" I told him. I think it was even true. But I´d have to tell him he only managed to tie with the ladies from Cauzca, even though they lacked the capers. (I skipped the cream yesterday, so I can´t tell you what difference it might make.)

One of my travel companions, Myra, was teasing me about my appreciation for all the starches:
three kinds of potatoes, yucca and plantain. Plus rice on the side, which I was cleaning up at a rapid clip. "You´re gonna crash this afternoon," she warned me, thinking I´d be sleeping off my starchfest by now. But no, instead I´m telling you about it.

mucho polvo en Colombia

...or, lots of dust in Colombia. So a little boy told me today as we were walking along a dusty unpaved road in his neighborhood outside Bogota. It´s a neighborhood way up in the hills, where water arrives through rubber tubes and you have to pay off someone to get access to it twice a week, if you´re lucky. (Other neighborhoods even worse off may only get water for an hour a week.)

Yet business appears to be booming. There certainly are plenty of houses and lots for sale. Only trouble is, it´s virtually impossible to get real title to the land, so you can pay someone for it, receive a piece of paper for your trouble, and then be told a week later by someone else, probably armed, that it´s their house, not yours, so adios.

I´ve drunk a bottle of water and still can´t get the dust out of my throat.

Windy Citizen Share