A crazy day of Colombian cliches

Yesterday was one of those days where there are so many observations to make about Colombia and Colombians. Even if my phone had enough memory for a Twitter app, I wouldn’t have tweeted this, but let’s just say that if I had live-tweeted yesterday, it would have looked something like this:


12:55pm – Gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalllllllllllllllllll #Colombia

1pm – A little loco comes running into the bedroom screaming and yelling. He flies on the bed and appears to be having some kind of fit.

1:02pm – The little loco starts jumping on the bed brandishing pillows and repeating “Gano! Gano!” (They won, they won)

2:05pm – Time to get ready to go to a family birthday party at the opposite end of Bogota #familycommitments

2:10pm – I want to wear a dress, but everyone else will be in jeans so I guess I’ll acquiesce

2:25pm – On our way to the #Transmilieno station

2:29pm – We need to buy a present, chocolates from Carrulla

2:31pm – Uh oh, looks like some kind of riot ahead.

2:32pm – It’s a sea of yellow shirts throwing cornflour and spraying silly string everywhere. How do we avoid this?

2:33pm – They are blockading the road, there are traffic jams, beeping horns, mess and people cheering

2:33pm – What?!? They are even spraying foam into rolled down car windows #chaos

2:35pm – I’m told a gaggle of people on the median strip are surrounding a woman hit by a car #sickinthestomach

2:37pm – The pricing on supermarket shelves rarely matches up with the product. Where are theĀ  $18,000 chocs?

2:40pm – Oh great, #cardrejected. x2

2:41pm – Now we only have about 15,000 pesos and we’re going to the boondocks. I need emergency taxi ride money.

2:43pm – Taking the side route to avoid the #crazyColombians and to exit unscathed

2:43pm – Feel sad for the woman being stretchered into the ambulance #sickinthestomach #nosyonlookers

2:46pm – These Colombians are #outofcontrol. It’s mayhem in the streets

2:46pm – Police are out n about but so many people yelling, cheering and blowing those horrible horns

2:48pm – I don’t feel very safe. What’s it going to be like at the other end of #Bogota?

2:49pm – Made mi novio call his aunt for an update on the situation in Bosa

2:51pm – Made him call again to ask how far we have to walk from the last bus stop

2:51pm – Okay, it’s just a block. I guess that should be okay #stillfeelinguneasy

2:54pm – Phew, card worked at #Bancolombia. Now we have emergency taxi cash.

3pm – Hand over $50,000 and my card at the Transmilieno stop. Teller shakes her head. Can’t hear over the noise

3:01pm – Apparently this station doesn’t recharge cards. #cranky #whydidtheymakemebuyonethen

3:03pm – Which bus to Las Americas? #Transmilienoconfusion

3:04pm – Darn, the F14 just passed.

3:04pm – The F14 doesn’t stop here. Just get on the next one.

3:10pm – Change here or at Jimenez? Yes, no, yes, no …. get off!!

3:10pm – F14 right behind. Woohoo! Seats for all three of us #Transmilienomilagro

3:20pm – We’re practically the only people on the bus not wearing yell0w jerseys

3:25pm – Street watching on the way south. Mostly quiet, most shops closed. #ChaosOnlyInNorth

3:45pm – The centre is also full of #crazyColombians

4pm – Passing Pradera outlets. I want to go shopping!

4pm – Haha “Pradera Outlet Factory” jajaa #Englishclasses

4:15pm – Finally we are arriving at Portal Las Americas. Long way from home.

4:16pm – I love that the feeder buses are called ‘alimentadores’. Obvious translation, but still sounds cool.

4:16pm – I didn’t think Colombians knew how to line up neatly and patiently for a bus #Transmilieno

4:20pm – Here’s our bus. We’re not going to fit.

4:21pm – We made it on, no seat. #squishy

4:24pm – This road is worse than the 4wd track to Ciudad Perdida. #hugepotholes #ridiculous

4:30pm – Feeling #claustrophobic. I don’t know how so many people do this every day. #Transmilieno

4:32pm – D just called it Transmi Lleno (full) #jajaja

4:40pm – Esta vaina es leeeeeejos

4:43pm – I wish we had left earlier. #readytogohomealready

4:51pm – Patience has just about to run out. Let me off this bus!

4:53pm – I think this is our stop. Get off. Push, shove.

4:55pm – Where is the building? #neverbeenherebefore #endoftheearth

4:55pm – I think we got off a stop too early. #walking

5pm – Me: what’s the birthday lady’s name? Novio: I don’t remember. What? She’s his step-grandmother.

5:01pm – This is it. Entering the conjunto and chasing down the rellies ahead.

5:01pm – Who’s that in the green #dress?

5:03pm – Sister-in-law looks fab in a dress. Never seen her in one before. #wishIhadwornadresstoo

5:05pm – The reception room is set theatre style #weird #antisocial

5:06pm – Greetings and kisses all round.

5:07pm – The birthday granny remembered my name. Still don’t remember hers. #Awkward #justuseSenora

5:11pm – 2 month old baby thrust upon me by the mother. #justrollwithit

5:13pm – Am told that #babies like me. Waiting to hear the usual question…

5:14pm – When are you going to have a baby? #unavoidablequestion #notodavia

5:20pm – Staring at the fields & mountain out the window #Bogotacitylimits #woopwoop

5:24pm – Food or drink haven’t been served yet. #onColombiantime #neveranynibbles #setplan

5:35pm – Found out that we will be having #lechona. Yum. Spit pig stuffed with rice & meat. #crackle

6pm – Mariachi band! #morepopularthaninMexico #thereisamariachiwoman

6:03pm – Mariachi guitarist’s white pants are very, very tight.

6:30pm – Still no drinks. Novio’s gone to the shop.

6:38pm – OMG I think a #priest is here to give #communion

6:38pm – He just put a robe on over his party outfit

6:40pm – Have never heard of #communion at a birthday party. Wonder if he’s taking confessions too

6:49pm – It appears he’s the nephew of the birthday granny

6:49pm – And he’s giving a #mass not just communion! #catholicism

6:52pm – Is it rude not to stand and kneel when everyone else is? #notcatholic #canIpretendIdontunderstand

6:55pm – Talking about the great mystery of God being 1 but 3 different things & and the message is we can be different but unified

7:04pm – Birthday #mass is over. Now the babies are being blessed.

7:20pm – #Lechona is being served.

7:45pm – We got served last despite being closest to the kitchen šŸ˜¦ #lovelechona

8:05pm – Meeting more extended, removed and estranged family members. Colombian families are confusing.

8:20pm – Hometime. Getting a lift with the bro-in-law. #awesome #lucky #nonightrideTransmilieno

8:30pm – Birthday granny was a nun for 20 years! #thatexplainsthemass

8:31pm – Happy 80th birthday Dona Elia!

9pm – Family commitments met for a little while. #happyColombianfamily #phew




The Photo Vault: The Birthday Tradition


The interactive and informative museum on the equator
The interactive and informative museum on the equator

Quito, Ecuador, May 2004

As my 25th birthday approached, I started coming up with ideas of where I would be to spend my quarter of a century. As I was travelling, the options were pretty much endless. IĀ“m not sure where the idea came from, but I decided that visiting the equator and jumping backwards and forwards from Southern Hemisphere to Northern Hemisphere and doing a tip-toe balancing act on the equator would be an awesome way to celebrate my day.

I was travelling on my own and hadnĀ“t met anyone else at that stage who wanted to tag along to the various equator attractions in Ecuador, so I went on my own. I visited the small, interactive site which is on the actual equator and did all the cool things like balance an egg on a nail head and watch water swirl down the plugholes clockwise, anti-clockwise, and straight down (over the equator). I tried my hand at shooting a blowdart into a cactus leaf and generally had a great time.

I then went to the official equatorial monument, a large and bland site, that is just slightly off calculation and therefore not on the actual equator.

Back at the hostel I went out to dinner with some others and when they found out it was my birthday they ordered me a cake and a sparkler. It was a great day.

Ever since this birthday, IĀ“ve always done something interesting, different, or just gotten away from it all so that I could spend my birthday doing something that would make me happy because in my early twenties, I realised that my birthday is only special to me, so rather than rely on others to make it a great day for me, I had to take it into my own hands. Since then IĀ“ve hiked in national parks, gone parasailing and kitesurfing, rafted through the Grand Canyon, visited Angkor Wat, biked around Rottnest Island, climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge and hit the beach in Mexico.

This year, IĀ“m back in South America for my birthday, just over the mountains a bit from Ecuador where the birthday tradition started. So today, for my first birthday in Colombia I went tubing in the rapids of the river in Minca, not far from Santa Marta. I never really expected to start such a tradition as I stood on the equator, but I love it and IĀ“m keen to see what exciting things I do and interesting places I go for the birthdays to come.

* If you are interested in more information about the museum at the equator, The Souls of My Shoes blogged about her recent visit and more fun activities that can be found at the equator.

The Photo Vault is where I will be sharing my favourite photos (and their stories) that deserve better than being lost in the depths of my iPhoto never to be shared.

A fiesta!

Singing happy birthday
All the kids gathered around to sing happy birthday to D

When asked what he would like for his ninth birthday, a present or a party, D chose a party.

Preparations began by choosing a theme, Ben10, and trying to find all the Ben10 party paraphernalia as cheaply as possible. I’m sure the invitations, plastic cups, cake plates, lolly bags, plastic tablecloth and cardboard neckties on elastic came from some rip-off company and so were cheaper because we weren’t paying for an officially licensed product. But then again, what do a bunch of nine year olds care about royalties.

I brought to the party planning table an Australian mentality: There will be games, there will be prizes, there will be fingerfood and there will be a cake worthy of inclusion in the Australian Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake recipe book. However without having been to a kiddie birthday in Colombia before, I didn’t really have anything to benchmark against. I mean, I could throw a great party by Australian standards, but how would this hold up in Colombia?

The day before the party I was busy making jelly cups. Unfortunately they don’t have Freddo Frogs here, so they weren’t to be frogs in ponds, but just plain old ‘gelatina’ in strawberry, grape and cherry flavours. I said to mi novio “I think 25 jelly cups is enough. I mean not all of the invited kids are going to come to the party.” Mi novio replied with:

“Things are different here, the kids bring along their brothers, sisters, cousins, neighbours, whoever. All they want to do is dance and eat cake/sweets/lollies.”

Sudden panic overcame me as I did the sums. 24 invited kids x 1 sibling + 1 parent + 1 more extra just to be safe = not enough food and drink.

The dinosaur cake
The dinosaur cake, a winner with young and old!

We had the birthday cake (an elaborate test of my cake decorating skills dinosaur based on this plan), 25 jelly cups, little deep fried pastries with cheese inside, 7 litres of neapolitan ice-cream, 28 cupcakes and some wafer biscuits. After some dithering as to what I could make in an oven with no visible temperature markers, I decided we also needed honey joys. I hoped to goodness this would feed the hordes, I couldn’t have all these people think I was a bad hostess.

I spent the morning of the party icing the dinosaur. I have to admit I’m pretty pleased at the outcome given working in a small kitchen with no real baking tools, 30 plus degree humidity and with no proven cake sculpting skills under my belt. It also helps when practically all Colombians buy their birthday cakes from a cake shop, so the dinosaur created multiple wow factors. Wow! It’s a dinosaur! Wow! You baked it yourself! Wow! It tastes great!

Mi novio spent the afternoon blowing up balloons with the help of D, his cousin and his friends in the street and la suegra spent the afternoon putting away her precious ornaments.

At four o’clock the hour of the party arrived. Yet no guests arrived. Half an hour later and the sole guest was one of D’s best buddies from two doors down. As five o’clock started to come around, the house started to fill with kids and relatives. Mi novio and I were busy in the kitchen pouring cups of soft drink and sending out platters of cakes and jelly cups. No sooner had I arrived back in the kitchen would a child come up and hand me their finished cup/plate/spoon, only to be followed by all the other party goers. Whilst their tidiness was to be admired on one hand, the other (busy hand) was wishing they would just leave it under their chair to be collected later so they could stop interrupting us!

In an attempt to get the party revved up, mi novio wanted to commence with the games. So we played musical chairs, and then while he dashed off to the supermarket for serviettes and apples, he told me to start dancing to liven up the party and get the kids dancing. I succeeded in getting the 3 year old nephew to dance, but all the other kids looked at me awkwardly. So I retreated to the kitchen to make my honey joys.

The tiny kitchen was overflowing with used cups and spoons, trays, ingredients for honey joys and 600ml blocks of ice. The music was throbbing at the typical Colombian ‘nobody needs to hear anyone talk’ level and my feet hurt. Was it time to cut the cake yet?

But no, we still had to play the other games. Despite never having played, or even seen it played in real life, I had decided an apple bob would be fun. Because it was raining outside we had the tub of water on a chair inside and each kid had a turn at pulling an apple out with their teeth. I had underestimated how popular this would be with the kids, even with 12 year old girls. They relished the challenge and it was insanely hilarious to see their heads bobbing about and their faces come out dripping wet! Note to self, this is a game we can play again.

Playing pass the parcel
The kids playing pass-the-parcel, they’d never played it before.

After pass-the-parcel where D started to sulk because the parcel never stopped for him to open a layer, we moved on to the cake and happy birthday. I should have remembered from last year that I would need to brush up my birthday singing in Spanish, however I overlooked this detail. The Spanish version of Happy Birthday they sing here seems different to that which I learned in Spanish classes. So I just smiled and murmured and took photos.

With the birthday cake dished out, the party started to grind to a halt, and mi novio and I could breathe a sigh of relief, pour ourselves a soft drink and eat a left over jelly cup. I had been petrified that a zillion kids would come, but there were only about 13. Most of D’s friends from school didn’t show up. I think if they did, it would have been chaos!

D went to bed happy, full of sugar and with lots of new clothes given to him by his guests.

And I went to bed thinking that at the next Colombian party we throw, we need to have ample drink and ice and just make sure we feed our guests as soon as they arrive. That, I think, is the key to a successful Colombian fiesta.

Birthday mail & celebrations already

Birthday cards
Early well wishing birthday cards

I was so excited to find birthday mail even though it’s still a week away.

Given that not many people back home actually have my address, it was so lovely to receive a card from my aunt. That at least balanced out the two birthday postcards I have received from companies I’m a customer of being New Look Skin Center and Farmers Insurance Group. At least the New Look Skin Center included a $10 discount voucher.

I was also extremely surprised when J and I went around to Ricardo, Astra and Jolena’s place for dinner and all of a sudden Jolena turned all the lights out and then Astra came out of the kitchen with a cake and candles. The fact that the fan blew the candles out before it made it to the table and there was a short break in the proceedings as the fan was turned off and they were relit didn’t take anything away from that magical moment.

I can’t remember the last time I sat in a darkened room with just the candles on the cake in front of me for light and having soft lit shining faces sing happy birthday to me. That was really special and I was so touched by the gesture from these lovely new friends of mine in LA. That and the chocolate caked baked especially for me by Jolena was the perfect birthday gift to a person who continually escapes her birthday celebrations.