Posted by: sucasacolombia | 20/07/2010

Happy 200th Birthday, Colombia!

You don’t look a day over 199!  We celebrated the bicentennial by watching the spectacular fireworks show over the Medellín River, along with 100,000 of our fellow Colombianos.  Vive Colombia!

Enjoy this video of the finale:

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After six months of living in this wonderful country we’ve been able to acclimate ourselves to this culture pretty well despite our inherent physical and linguistic differences (Marcela gets many looks for her blonde hair and I tower over 80% of the population). Some of the things that have taken the most getting used to are the small Colombian quirks that we’ve discovered only after peeling back the layers and taking a closer look at the details. Over the course of many blog posts I’ll be bringing you different examples of the comical differences between our native US culture and the Colombian culture we are immersed in.

Idiosyncrasy #1: La Ley Seca (The Dry Law)

Cheers!

Marcela and I recently celebrated our first wedding anniversary on June 20th, the same day as the Colombian presidential elections. First of all you should know that all Colombian elections, both local and national, are held on Sundays because it reduces the odds that people will have work conflicts and ensures a higher percentage of voter turnout (are you taking notes, America?) The second thing is that in 1915 the Colombian government enacted a law that makes it illegal to buy, sell, or drink alcohol from 6:00 pm Friday until 6:00am Monday on election weekends. Thanks to these Colombian customs we were unable to publicly toast our anniversary with champagne, not to mention none of the restaurants bothered to open on a day they couldn’t sell alcohol. Apparently, this law was implemented nearly one hundred years ago to prevent people from voting under the influence (VUI), or from forgetting to vote altogether in their drunken Sunday stupor.

Colombia's drink of choice: Aguardiente

What strikes us as comical is that this law stands in stark contrast to Colombia’s otherwise lax attitude towards alcohol as evidenced by public alcohol consumption that persists on a daily basis. We’ve seen men in cafés at 9:30 am on a Tuesday, beers in hand  and empty ones in front of them. We’ve witnessed teenagers, many of which were well below the legal drinking age of 18, lounging on the very public steps of a Metro station drinking and daring the American moral police to stop them. As a passenger in a car, you’re more than welcome to sip an alcoholic beverage  as you’re chauffeured around town. One of my favorite examples–and one that I’ve personally enjoyed–is the ability to roam the aisles of grocery stores while sipping a drink. When the hustle and bustle of shopping is making you thirsty, don’t even think twice about grabbing a beer from the fridge to enjoy as you peruse the produce–just save the bottle so you can pay for it at the checkout. It’s hard to find an example, apart from the election weekends, where alcohol consumption is banned, shunned, or even looked-down upon.

Now before you rush to judge this “alcoholic culture” I’ve described, make sure you understand that Colombians don’t drunkenly roam the streets nor do they encourage their children to drink beginning at age 5 like France. It appears that their more open and less-stigmatized relationship with alcohol has created a more jovial, inclusive, and safer drinking populace. In fact, if they didn’t have a responsible relationship with alcohol, a law banning alcohol during every election weekend could never exist. I just wish they’d put a clause in there for 1st wedding anniversaries.

Posted by: sucasacolombia | 06/07/2010

Brag Worthy: Waterfall Rappelling

When I look back on some of the coolest brag worthy moments in my life, my list has to include skydiving, touching Prince’s leg at a concert, visiting the set of Arrested Development, and winning the National Spelling Bee in ’97 (I’m a very enthusiastic speller)  But recently, I added another one to my list: rappelling down a waterfall.

All smiles for me and Ashley!

Colombia has endless entertainment possibilities (especially when it comes to the outdoors) such as biking, hiking, dancing, diving, caving, zip lining, paragliding, cow milking, etc., but I had never even considered that rappelling down a waterfall was an activity that existed.  That was until my adventurous friend Ashley demanded that we do it when she visited us this past spring. Conveniently, the waterfall rappelling goes down (pun!) in Támesis, a small town near my family’s finca, so repeat trips can easily be made.

Our rappelling adventure was made possible by our guide, Rodrigo, a modern-day Tarzan who knows the surrounding jungle like the back of his hand and shimmies up rock walls like he’s climbing a ladder.  He was the first to attempt rappelling the waterfalls around Támesis back in the day, therefore the whole town used to think he was crazy.  But thanks to his pioneering ways he is creating new job opportunities for the town’s youth as Támesis becomes known as the adventure sports hub in Colombia.

The day began with Rodrigo fitting us for equipment and eating a healthy breakfast of fruit and coffee (I skipped the coffee…the sound of a waterfall plus a full bladder equals bad times for my pants.)  The first half of the trail to the waterfall was on a cobbled road of rocks made by natives a thousand years ago—talk about durability!  We made a pit stop at a gazebo mid way up the mountain where Rodrigo taught us some of the rappelling basics which we tested out on the side of the gazebo.

The second half of the trail led us into a cloud forest and was much more difficult thanks to steep and muddy conditions.  Rodrigo instructed us to have a hand on a steady branch, root, or rock at all times.  I was glad I heeded his advice when my foot slipped off the edge of the trail and the root in my hand was the only thing saving me from some serious breaks and bruises.

This part of the waterfall is for second-timers

After nearly 2 hours of hiking we arrived at a small, flat landing next to the waterfall where we would begin our 230 foot decent down the cascade.  But we weren’t any where near the top of the waterfall; 330 feet of rushing water towered above us.  Rodrigo told us that second-timers could start from the very top, something to look forward to some day!

Fed and rested, it was time for the main event.  Ashley was giddy and nervous because this was her first time rappelling, let alone waterfall rappelling.  Thankfully we were going at the same time so I could give her tips and help her out if she was having trouble.  I went over the edge first, and it took me being suspended over the rushing water for the reality of what we were doing to finally hit me.  Hello adrenaline!

One good thing about having me around is that if there is a way to get hurt I will unintentionally find it so others can avoid it, which is what I did almost immediately when my foot slipped on a rock and my entire left leg disappeared into a hole.  I tried not to think about what kinds of creepy crawly creatures were living in the hole and I managed to get out with a couple of souvenir scrapes.  Ashley was able to avoid my mistake and we made our way down smoothly, taking time to zig zag across the fall and feel the weight of the water crashing down on our legs.  The strength of the pounding water was invigorating and intimidating; truly a unique experience!

Ashley was kind enough to provide me with some laughs when she attempted to go over a ledge in the most awkward way possible and got stuck doing the splits.  It’s hard to explain so here’s Ashley re-enacting it at the end of our climb:

Like all good things, it was over too soon and we were sad when we reached the bottom of the waterfall.  Needless to say we would have repeated the experience in a heartbeat and I fully intend to rappel again, but this time from the top!

Now I know a picture is worth a thousand words, but how many words is a video worth?  Why don’t you tell me after you watch my first attempt at making a video with iMovie.  I spent a lot of hours on this, so even if you don’t watch it, tell me you did!

For more pictures from our rappelling adventure check out our Picasa album.  To see what other adventure sports are offered in Támesis check out Rodrigo’s website.

Leave comments below about your best brag worthy moment!

Posted by: sucasacolombia | 16/06/2010

World Cup Rejects Remember the South American Games

With the World Cup in full swing and countries all over the world cheering on their teams, we can’t help but feel a little left out here in Colombia.  For the third World Cup in a row, Colombia has failed to qualify; it’s a bit of a head scratcher in a country where fútbol is so popular.  But we must look for the silver lining, and that’s why I’m taking this opportunity to reminisce about a time when Colombia’s athletes were excelling and the international spotlight was on our fine city of Medellín: The South American Games.

The flags of the participating countries in the South American Games

I’m sure you didn’t know that such an event existed (and why would you, North American?) so let me fill you in.  The South American Games (let’s call them SAGs) are South America’s version of the Olympics, and like the Olympics, they take place every four years in a different city.  Participants include every country on the continent (but not French Guiana which I’ve learned is not a country; officially it’s a French state, kind of like Alaska) as well as some of the Caribbean island nations and Panama.

The sporting events are similar to the Summer Olympics thanks to the lack of snow in this part of the world, but with some super sweet exceptions.  Unlike the Summer Olympics, the SAGs include some less prestigious (but still entertaining) sports such as table tennis, bowling, handball, squash, speed roller skating and my personal favorite, artistic roller skating.

We were very lucky because not only was Medellín the host city, but the majority of the events took place five-minutes away from our house.  Even better, our new friends/guests Marlo and Laura (or MarLaura as I will refer to them) were staying with us for the first week of the two-week event and accompanying us to the games.  And as if we couldn’t be luckier and things couldn’t get better, tickets to each sporting event were free-99 (psst. that means free.)

Enjoying the Brazil vs Chile volleyball game

We watched Men’s Volleyball and wagered beers on the outcome (MarLaura won, thanks for nothing, Brazil!)  We were spell-bound during Men’s Pole Vaulting (Brazil got their act together for this one and took the silver and gold.)  We cheered on Colombia as it won every track event, including the Men’s 10,000m (25x around the track) in which Colombia nearly lapped the 2nd and 3rd place finishers.  We also suffered through the rain to watch Men’s Diving (Colombia once again victorious) and Women’s Synchronized Diving.

The SAGs were a great success for Medellín, giving the city a chance to show off for the South American community.  Colombia came out on top with the most gold medals (144 to Brazil’s 133) and the most medals overall (372 to Brazil’s 355.)  But the most important thing is that we all win, thanks to this video of the gold medal winner of Men’s Artistic Roller Skating:

To see the full performance or see more pictures of the South American Games, visit our Picasa page.  To read about MarLaura’s travels through South America visit Laura and Marlo’s blogs.

Posted by: sucasacolombia | 07/04/2010

You want to go to here: Parque Tayrona

These Eco Habs are only steps from the beach

Not far from the beach town of Santa Marta is the most beautifulnational park you don’t know about:  Parque Tayrona.  Hogging 30 km of some of Colombia’s most breath taking beaches and 150 square km of virgin jungle and rivers, it’s definitely a place to spend a day or two or nine.  Unfortunately we were only able to spend half a day in Tayrona and barely scratched the surface of what the national park has to offer.

We started lunch at a restaurant overlooking Cañaveral Beach.  The restaurant was an open air grass roofed structure which made for views that were more impressive than the food.  Not that the food was anything to get mad about (I very much enjoyed my lobster and prawn salad) but for the prices it was clear we were paying for the location, location, location.

One-hour rule be damned, we took a 5 minute stroll to the nearby piscinita (beach for swimming) and took a dip in one of the most gorgeous, picturesque beaches I’ve ever seen.  Only Phra Nang Beach in Thailand compares to the “whoa factor” of this beach.  Complimented by lush trees with the most beautiful shade of green you could never dream of and waves crashing on gorgeous rock formations, we felt like we were in an untainted, never-been-touched paradise (if we chose to overlook the beach chairs, tables, umbrellas, and bar.)

Click to view a video of the beach at Parque Tayrona

If you look closely at the beginning of the video, you can see a grass hut or “Ecohab” perched on a hill with a postcard view of the piscinita and the ocean; I have made it my personal goal to stay in one of these Ecohabs.  Goal part b: spend a day chilling out on this outdoor bed swing contraption.  How cool is this?

For more of Noah’s awesome pictures of Tayrona, click here.

For more pictures of Parque Tayrona, the Ecohabs, and the nearby area click here.

Posted by: sucasacolombia | 29/03/2010

Night Bus (waaa-aaaah!)

[Title of the blog post sung to the tune of Night Man]

Santa Marta Sunset

Currently it is Semana Santa in Colombia, similar to our version of Spring Break, so we have migrated north to the beaches of the Atlantic Coast with the family.  While our aunt and uncle took an hour flight from Medellin to Santa Marta, we opted for the more economical route and took a night bus for $40 and 15 hours of transit.  15 hours to cover the same distance that a plane can in an hour.  There has got to be something wrong with that.

All in all, the ride wasn’t that bad; the seats were comfortable and the bus was (surprisingly) VERY well air-conditioned…bring two sweatshirts and a blanket style.  Things didn’t get uncomfortable until the co-captain put on one of the most random movies you could ever think of.  Go ahead, think of the most random movie you can, you’ll never guess.  If you guessed Center Stage, the late 90’s chick flick about the drama of a NYC ballet school, you are a wizard genius.  About 5 minutes into the movie the picture on the TV went out so we were forced to listen to the audio version (all in dubbed-over Spanish.)

We were able to sleep through the majority of the movie, but the fun didn’t stop there.  After the movie was over they continued to blare Mariachi music throughout the bus, in the words of Lionel Richie:  All. Night. Long. It made for interesting dreams, I’ll tell you what.  The good news is we get to enjoy the beach for another week before we get on another bus, and this time we’ll bring earplugs!

Posted by: sucasacolombia | 25/03/2010

Cockfights and Giant Rocks

The island-filled Guatape reservoir

On the weekends we’ve been exploring different regions of the country and we’re still waiting to see a part of Colombia that doesn’t look like paradise.  Our first week here we went to our family’s ranch (or finca in Spanish) 2 hours outside the city.  It is the ultimate place to relax.  We spent our time in hammocks, playing board games, watching two iguanas fight it out for the alpha male title, and star gazing while drinking wine.  Our busiest day was the Cabalgata, a huge community organized horseback ride through the mountains.  This is one of my favorite things to do in Colombia.  After hours of riding on horseback everyone met up at the two local bars; live music at one, cockfighting at the other.  You don’t get a more authentic experience than this!

We spent another weekend with our family at a finca in a part of of Colombia I’d never been to.  Along the way we stopped at one of Colombia’s most iconic spots: El Peñol.  It’s this giiiiiigaaaaantic rock in the middle of all of these lakes and islands.  The view was spectacular and we were amazed at how varied the landscapes in Colombia are.  We drove through a charming city called Guatapé which reminded us of Lake Arrowhead village, except every house had so much character with brightly painted patterns, we’d never seen anything like it.

Fresh water stream running right next to the finca

This finca was at the base of these enormous mountains and we could constantly hear the sound of the rushing water from the bordering creek with water clear and clean enough to drink.  Our crew of 13 people took a hike up the mountain and then cooled off by swimming in one of the many creeks.  We spent hours playing a really fun game called sapo (frog) where you try to throw rings into one of 15 holes, including a frog’s mouth.  Shockingly, this was a game I could beat Noah in, making it my new favorite game.

Posted by: sucasacolombia | 24/03/2010

Cabs, the Metro, and Healthcare

The Medellin Metro

Medellín is a gorgeous city and we are very happy here; other than family, friends, and a variety of cheeses there are very few things we miss from the States. Unlike Los Angeles, Medellín has a great metro system that takes us almost everywhere we need to go, and if it doesn’t there are thousands of cabs willing to do that for very cheap. We took our most expensive cab ride yesterday; it cost us a little more than $2.00. We’ve also been blown away by the health care system here. We want to invite President Obama and the whole gang on Capitol Hill down here to see how it’s done. We each pay about $70 a month for insurance and we don’t need to depend on employers to have that low rate. Noah had a minor eye infection and we saw a dr. two hours after we called to make an appointment. The appt. cost $10 and we paid $27 for 2 medications. It was a surprising and refreshing experience.

Not two weeks after our first encounter with the Colombian healthcare system did we find out that like in the US, Colombian’s have their health care woes too!  On our way to the fair we witnessed a couple hundred protesters marching for reform, but the difference is their methods of protest are cooler than ours.   Here, they come up with catchy songs accompanied by sweet, sweet dance moves.  Protesting and a dance party in the streets?  They’re onto something here.

Posted by: sucasacolombia | 24/03/2010

The first things you should know about Colombia

The Colombian flag

First things first, I must clarify one thing: Columbia is a University.  Columbia makes sportswear.  Columbia is a record company.  Columbia is a city in South Carolina.  But ColOmbia is the northernmost country in South America, and for the past month it’s what my husband and I have called home.  It doesn’t matter what their level of education or how many times I tell them “O not U,” my friends just can’t get it right.  So consider yourself ahead of the game, you know now the first thing about Colombia.

The only real danger is the universal one: toddlers.

The second thing you need to know is you can forget everything you thought you knew about Colombia (except for the spelling, of course.)  Colombia has come a long way from the reputation it once had of guerrilla violence and drug trafficking.  Thanks in large part to the current president, Colombia has been experiencing a period of prosperity and security for the majority of the past decade.  Due to this change Colombia now has the opportunity to show a different side to the world: a diverse land whose beauty is rivaled only by that of its people.

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