December 30, 2010

Christmas Thoughts

I learned some hard lessons this Christmas break - or rather I re-learned lessons I already knew yet cannot seem to commit to memory. Life is funny that way. This Christmas I remembered that everything and everyone changes eventually. As people we evolve and adapt to the circumstances of our lives. I found myself thinking back to younger days - not exactly wishing I was still 13, but wishing life was still as simple as it was at 13...or 18...or 21 for that matter.

But then I went cross-country skiing with some old friends and Allison said something that really made me think. We were discussing the people we used to be and how we have changed over time. She said something along the lines of, isn't it cool that we can change and grow and have all these new, fun adventures that we never could have imagined for ourselves five, ten or fifteen years ago?

Yeah, it is pretty cool. In fact, I kind of love it.

Last night I went to dinner with my kindergarten-best-friends-turned-sisters. We talked about the next time we will all be in the same place...which is potentially not until 2013 since my friend Ilse leaves for the Peace Corps in four weeks. Normally discussing things like this makes me reminisce about when we used to all live within four blocks of each other. But not this time. Instead we talked about where our lives will be in three years. Usually a terrifying thought, but this time I felt excited - I could see a life for myself beyond just the next six months. (And p.s. - it might involve Chicago but we'll see...)

This life still might not include all of my friends and family on the same block, but you know what? I think it's going to be fabulous just the same. And those people will never be more than a plane ride away.

Here are some pictures of my very Minnesota christmas - which involved snow angels, cross country skiing, so many coffee dates, brunch, Santa, presents, shopping, my adorable brown winter boots which I wore everyday I was home, delicious beers, my huge-ridiculous-hilarious-oh-so-lovable family and friends who make me feel like a very lucky girl.

A million thanks to everyone in Minnesota who made this a wonderful Christmas. Love you all more and more everyday :)

December 29, 2010

So You're Coming to Colombia? [Colombia Travel Tips]

As a follow-up to my international travel tips, here are some specific Colombia travel tips. Most of these are just things that make Colombia a unique country and an awareness of them will help you have a more enjoyable trip!

{Photo: Kelsi with the Colombian flag at Parque Nacional del Chicamocha outside of Bucaramanga, Colombia}

Kristin's Colombian Travel Essentials
  1. Learn some Spanish! As the national language, everyone in Colombia speaks Spanish and outside of Bogota, few speak proficient English so the more you know, the better! Even a few short phrases will improve your trip dramatically.
  2. Colombia is spelled with exactly zero u's. If you travel the country and continue to spell the name the same way you do the U.S. company, Columbia, you will be embarrassing yourself.
  3. Yes, Colombia is safe for tourist travel. However, as with many Latin American countries, there is still a strong military presence in public places like bus stations, public transportation stations, malls, and airports. It is 100% normal to see a young man (most of them appear about 16-18 years old) in full camouflage gear carrying a gun. While this may appear strange at first, it really is normal and actually is helping to keep you safe.
  4. "Rules of the road" is a loose term in Colombia that basically means your taxi driver does whatever he feels like. This means speeding down roads, swerving around potholes, whipping around corners and coming to a screeching halt just after your destination. The most important thing to remember is your taxi driver is someone's son, father, husband, grandfather, etc. so he wants to get there just as safely as you do. Whether it appears obvious or not, he is just abiding by a very different set of road rules than those we are accustomed to in the United States. As a side note, there are no seat belts in the back seats of most taxis in Colombia.
  5. The kiss thing. When greeting Colombians they will do the kiss thing. This means you lean in, put your head to the left of their head and put your right cheeks together. They don't actually kiss but instead make a quick kissing noise, sort of like if you gave someone a peck on the cheek. This in done all the time except between men, who typically just shake hands or do the guy hug thing. The only time the person might actually kiss your cheek is if they know you quite well. When a Colombian enters a gathering, he or she will literally greet every person this way before sitting down or chatting with anyone in particular.
  6. Colombians are some of the nicest, friendliest people I have ever met. Except on public transportation. The public transit system in Cali is called the Mio. When the bus approaches for the Mio, every single person waiting for ANY bus will stand directly in front of the door, whether they actually want THAT bus or not. This basically means they are in the way of everyone trying to get on or off the bus. Additionally once on the bus, if someone from the inside seat gets off, the person on the outside will NOT move over for you. They fully expect you to climb over them on the moving bus if you want the inside seat. They don't really mean to be rude, but this is literally the way of life for everyone. In fact, if you are on the outside and move over for someone they will be grateful, but very confused at your gesture.
  7. Want to small talk? Suppose you have improved your Spanish or you meet a fellow English speaker. As a general rule, Colombians do not really discuss politics and religion openly. While they are very aware of the image their country has in the world, they do not necessarily want to discuss it all the time. And they definitely do not want to discuss the country's somewhat tense relationship with neighboring Venezuela. However, if you are looking to score points start talking soccer (futbol). Colombians love soccer and the more you know about last summer's World Cup, Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, the better.
  8. Tax and tip are included. In most places where tax and tip are expected they have already been included in your final bill. The tax (impuesto) and tip (propina) do not need to be calculated separately so long as you pay the final amount listed on your bill.
  9. Money conversion in foreign countries can be a little complicated. Just remember that $2,000 Colombian Pesos, COP, is about $1 US.
  10. The equatorial sun is not playing around. Assuming you are not from a tropical place bring sunscreen and a hat. There is nothing worse than getting burnt the first day of vacation...I learned that the hard way!
  11. Yes, you can drink the water. The water in all major cities is just fine to drink out of the tap in Colombia. This being said, the water will contain different things than the water in the US...tap water just varies from place to place. So if you are just coming for a short time, it may not be a bad idea to just stick with bottled water to avoid the possibility of getting sick. To save money buy a large 5 liter bag or jug of water and just keep it at your hostel/hotel to refill your water bottle as needed.
  12. The beer is terrible. The four and ONLY four varieties of national beer (Aguila, Club Colombia, Poker and Costena) all taste equally like flavored water so if you are a beer drinker order yours "Michelada" which means with lime juice and salt. Otherwise stick with reasonably priced glass of wine imported regularly from Argentina and Chile.
This is a brief list that I assembled based on my experience, however I am sure other travelers of Colombian have more to add so please use the comments for your thoughts! Colombia really and truly is a gorgeously unique country of landscapes, people and experiences so come visit me :)

"Its amazing to me that this place [Colombia] exists, and not everybody wants to live here."
Anthony Bourdain

December 28, 2010

International Travel Tips

My dad hasn't ever travelled internationally. My brother has been to Colorado, Florida and a variety of Midwestern states - always with some sort of sports team or our family. On January 5 they will travel to meet me in Cartagena, Colombia before we head back to Cali, Colombia on January 9.

Needless to say I am somewhat concerned for them to arrive in Cartagena and intact together so I have assembled the following list of travel tips for international travel. I will follow up tomorrow with a list of tips specific to Colombia!

Kristin's International Travel Essentials
  1. Make two copies of your passport. Leave one at home with someone staying behind and bring the other one with you - packed separately from your original passport!
  2. Empty your wallet of everything you will not need while abroad. This includes credit cards you don't need (i.e. you don't really need to bring 5 abroad), charge cards to specific places, business cards, photos, etc. Once you have your wallet limited to the bare essentials, empty the contents and photocopy the front and back of every card. Pack this photocopy separately from your wallet when you travel.
  3. Utilize online check-in to select your seats ahead of time whenever possible.
  4. All customs forms to immigrate to another country will ask for your forwarding address - so know where you are going!
  5. Be friendly to all customs agents! (And security people too!) They probably hate their jobs so the nicer you are to them the better chance you have of getting out alive. :)
  6. Travel carry-on unless you absolutely need to check something for security reasons. Checking bags for just a short trip is a hassle, you run the risk of your bag getting lost, and there really isn't anything you need for 7 days that cannot go in a carry-on bag. Just remember that all liquids (this includes "weird" liquids like toothpaste, peanut butter, etc.) need to be 3 fluid ounces or less.
For detailed instructions on how not to be an obnoxious airport traveller, please reference my previous post.
Safe travels!

December 24, 2010


"You take a snapshot of your life

the last time you leave someplace, and,

I don't know, it's dumb,

but you think it's never gonna change."

[Party of Five] 

For the past two months in Colombia I felt ecstatic at the idea of coming home for the holidays. I couldn't wait to board that plane back to Minnesota and spend "the happiest season of all" with my friends and family. I was excited for good friends, good conversation and that warm, fuzzy feeling that reminds you that distance doesn't mean anything when compared to life-long friendships.

In fact, I was so [naively] insistent upon this fact that I finished my family's 2010 Christmas letter with these words:

"Looking around I realized that these people sure don’t look like the ones from Christmas card photos past, but we remain forever connected in a way that truly only we will ever understand. So in 2010 that’s what I learned about time and distance – that your mom might not make your lunch everyday and you might not wake up the sound of your dad’s coffee maker but it doesn’t mean they are any less a part of you than they always were. Your family is your family and you are inevitably tied together by the memories you have from then, and from now."

I wrote that at the beginning of December when I could not wait to be back in Minnesota. Exactly halfway through my twelve day vacation here I frequently wonder what I was thinking. Why do we romanticize the past? Why do I think I have all these great relationships to come home to? Why do I keep trying to pretend that we all still matter to each other more than jobs, more than money, more than significant others or potential significant others, more than selfish pride? I mean, yes, some relationships are as good as they have always been and I love them and appreciate them more than I can ever express in writing. However, a distinct several are nothing like they once were.

Turns out time does change everything. So does distance. And you can't pretend you're 13 again and none of it matters. Cause it does. It matters a hell of a lot.

So in summary....Merry Christmas. This year I learned that Thomas Wolfe may have known a thing or two about life when he said you can't go home again.

Hurray for life lessons, growing up and adulthood.

December 19, 2010

Go to the other plane.

“From the time I have children I am not traveling until they can carry their own baggage.” [him]

“Pack AND carry their own baggage. Then if they forget their swimsuits it can be their fault, not mine” [me]

Lines snaked back and forth behind the check-in counters at the Cali airport. The first day of Christmas vacation and here we are, awake at the ridiculous hour of 6:00 AM and already standing in line no less. My fellow Minnesotan teacher friend Stetson and I wait in the line at American Airlines to begin the long journey home.

After a ten-minute observation of some of our fellow passengers I felt that indignant feeling inside me. It always begins with an observation of something small, like the person who stops in the middle of the aisle to look up flight information with no regard for people walking behind him or her. The feeling grows when I witness the family of fifteen, (sometimes I exaggerate in stories when I get frustrated), check in together with approximately 11 pieces of luggage apiece. After some initial observations I remarked to Stetson that infrequent or incapable travelers should have their own lines at airports at all times.

We had no idea how useful the idea would be throughout the day. After fourteen hours of travel, we’re kind of like experts on the topic so without further ado, we present:

Kristin & Stetson’s Criteria for Landing Yourself Immediately In The “Other” Line/Section At the Airport

  • You arrive at the check-in point to go through security. Where is your passport or identification? In the bottom of your purse or jacket? At the check-in counter? Still in your wallet? Go to the other line.
  • You made the metal detector beep. Weird, except you’re still wearing your belt, shoes, watch and you have coins in your pocket. Go to the other line.
  • Standing in the long line at Starbucks? Figure out what you want before you get to the front of the line. It’s airport, everyone has a place to be so get moving. Bonus points if you get your wallet out in advance too.
  • Your laptop computer has always had to go in a separate bin to go through security. No, you cannot throw your jacket on top of it. It must go alone. If you think this rule has changed since the last time you were here go to the other line.
  • Yes, please ask 20 bajillion (exaggeration, told you.) questions to the security guards about what you need to do when going through security. If you refuse to read the handy sings posted pretty much everywhere, go to the other line.
  • Can’t find your gate? Look for one of the helpful TV screens to direct you. Wait – are you standing in the middle of the aisle? Are other travelers scurrying to get around you and then turning back with the evil eye? Go to the other line/section of the airport.
  • You arrived at the airport an hour after everyone else on your flight. Hurrying to get on the plane since you did not allow enough time, you abruptly cut in line in front of other, more-prepared passengers. Go to the other line.
  • You are under the age of 18 and/or may make any noise on the plane above the level of a normal human voice. This including screaming children, loud-speaking women and men who yell to be heard. Go to the other plane.
  • The plane is at the gate. Everyone is excited you have reached the destination. Are you standing in the aisle organizing your things? Quick, check the front of the plane. Is it empty? You are holding up literally everyone (no exaggeration) behind you. Please go to the other plane.

In summary, if at any point you find yourself doing any of these things or thinking about doing any of these things please find another line, plane, airport or means of travel. And definitely don’t travel with Stetson and me.

Love Actually Is All Around

Countless Christmas movies tell the stories of people headed home for the holidays. In planes, trains and automobiles, people all over the world travel to be with loved ones during the Christmas season.

This is the first year I have joined the masses in the commute to home. Growing up we always lived within an hour of both sets of grandparents, so we never traveled far for Christmas. Even in college, the two and a half hour drive home from La Crosse, Wisconsin never seemed long. This Saturday I spent 16 hours, from start to finish, headed home for the holidays.

You know what I discovered? Traveling for Christmas is magical. Actually magical; it makes you believe that anything can happen. People are happier. They set up entire Christmas display scenes in airports. There are a million holiday drinks at Starbucks (cause they have those in the United States – love!) and guess what? I am pretty confident they are all delicious. People remember to say thank you. Boarding gates are decorated with bows and garland. Basically it’s a time to remember that love actually is all around.

Despite my seven-hour layover in the no-free-wireless Miami airport, the whole airport experience felt more pleasant than dreadful. Who knows if my return to Cali in twelve short days will be just as pleasant, but in the meantime…if you need some joy in your life I highly recommend your local airport.

Traveling through the Miami airport with fellow teachers:
Angie, Nira, Caleb and Stetson (and one elf)!

Safe travels,

December 17, 2010

School's Out - Time to Play!

As I type this my students are waiting for the buses to leave. They are headed home, not to return to school until Wednesday, January 12. The long awaited Christmas break in finally here and it could not have come soon enough! Being a teacher around Christmas time is awesome in that you receive lots of gifts from students, but terrible in that students are so excited about the upcoming vacation and holiday that they act terribly about 95% of the time. Not really an excellent trade-off and for some reason this week has been particularly brutal. Despite having three half days of school for students to take finals, I honestly feel like I have been in school for a month straight. Staying up until midnight to grade finals probably hasn't helped that at all...

With all the grading and finishing the semester I have not had much time to blog so here are some quick notes on what I have been up to lately.
  • Grading finals.
  • Watching all of season 1 of Modern Family while pretending to grade.
  • Christmas shopping - both in Colombia and online.
  • Making plans for while I am home in Minnesota for Christmas.
  • Planning last-minute details of my dad and brother's trip to Colombia in January!
When the teacher's bus leaves school today I am headed home to finish packing and get some sleep before my flight to Minnesota tomorrow! Assuming no more giant snow storms strike the Twin Cities in the next 24 hours I will be in Minnesota by 10 PM tomorrow!!!!!!!!!!!! Since I didn't go home for Christmas last year I am super excited to celebrate Christmas Minnesota style!!! A few things I am looking forward to especially:
  • My mom's Christmas cookies.
  • Hanging out with my brothers.
  • The Holidazzle parade in downtown Minneapolis.
  • Seeing my friend Liz's new apartment in Uptown!
  • Possible cross-country skiing play date around Lake Como
  • Three (yes, THREE!) Christmas celebrations.
  • Friends dinner at my house :)
  • Having my friend Ilse make me coffee when I visit her at Dunn Bros.
  • Shouthouse with my brother Joe.
  • A lazy Christmas morning & Christmas day with just my immediate family.
  • Catching up with so many friends and family!!
  • Celebrating my Dad's birthday (one day late since his birthday is actually today - HI DAD!)
AHH cannot wait!!! Happy Christmas vacation everyone! :)

December 12, 2010

Holiday Preparations

There may not be snow on the ground, but the holidays have arrived, even to Colombia. Christmas in Colombia means people and things literally appear by the dozen in stores, malls, on public transportation, etc. Everywhere I go in Cali these days just feels busy!!! Such a hustle and bustle to get everything finished before the holidays!

I am super excited to be headed back home to snowy (14 inches this weekend!!) Minnesota in just six short days, but in the meantime we have been celebrating the holidays here with Christmas music, cookies and holidays parties!

As always NSync Home for Christmas is getting a ton of play on my ipod, cause it reminds me of Christmases growing up :)

Don't knock it until you try it. ;)

We attended Catie & Scott's annual Tree Trimming party where we decorated Colombian themed ornaments for the Christmas tree!

Kelsi models our Colombian themed ornament - El Fuente salsa bar, sangria and our favorite Reggaeton artist, Pitbull.

Demonstrating our love for all things Colombian :)

Then this weekend we helped Rita & Sam decorate their tree by painting Christmas ball ornaments!!

Christmas ornament painting party!


Beautiful drying ornaments.

Finally this weekend was full of getting gifts for people at school (secretaries, the copy guy, my principal, etc.) and making Christmas sugar cookies! Delicious! Hope everyone had a fun-filled weekend of holiday preparations!

December 8, 2010

How I Spent My Day Off

Thanks to the Colombian devotion to Catholicism and all its holidays, I spent a lovely day today in my pajamas and not leaving the apartment. Absolutely fabulous, I highly recommend you give it a try!

I did however get something accomplished on this free day from work! After seeing a photo book from Shutterfly at my friend Stetson's house last week I knew I wanted to make my own! The website made it super easy to upload photos, edit, and create pages of a book. The printed version will be shipped to me in two weeks but for now take a look at the digital version!

I cannot wait to see how it turns out!!

Happy Wednesday!!

December 5, 2010

Thanksgiving on the Coast

Tara, Kelsi and I never could figure out how to get to the island of Providencia for less than $700 in plane tickets, but after our marvelous Thanksgiving 2009 on the beaches of San Andres we also were not ready to give up the idea of Thanksgiving on a beach.

After some research and discussion with colleagues we settled on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia, between the historic city of Cartagena and the Panamanian border. Sandwiched between these two landmarks is a coastal line that is relatively untouched in a tourist sense. Many Colombians go here on long weekends or holidays, but the towns themselves are not really popular destinations for foreigners.

Thursday we flew to Monteria, Colombia in the northwestern part of the country before continuing on a three hour car ride to the small town of Rincon del Mar. Our hotel, Aracuara, was situated right on the beach of this town where the streets were literally made of sand. In fact, the car couldn't even go all the way to the hotel, so we had to get out and cross a bridge then walk through more sandy streets in order to get there! After an adventurous beginning to the trip we were ready to relax.

The rest of the vacation included reading, relaxing, and not much else. I loved having time to swim, play with the kids on the beach, take naps on the beach (the best types of naps!), read without feeling like I should be working on lesson plans, walk along the shore, and just chat with Tara and Kelsi.

Some photos from our trip:

The perfect view.

Beachside naps. HI KELSI!

Huge shells we found walking along the shore.

The perfect locale for our beachside reading.

Nothing to do. Nowhere to be. A simple little kind of free.*

Making new friends with the kids in town :)

Every Thanksgiving should include Coco Locos (rum-filled coconuts).

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone had a fun and restful Thanksgiving weekend! This week we were back to school with all the craziness that comes with finishing up the semester! Only one week of classes left, then a week of finals and then.............MINNESOTA!!! That's right in 13 days I will be writing to you from the frozen tundra that is the midwest....where there will most definitely not be beaches and coco locos but instead snowmen and peppermint mochas. :)

Happy Sunday!
*Name those lyrics.

November 25, 2010

Happy Slapsgiving!*

***Scheduled Post***

One of the things I love about a blog is being able to quickly look back and reference past moments through the beauty of the internet. In looking back at last year's Thanksgiving, I had a lot to be thankful for - everything from friends and family to Joe Mauer's MVP status with the Minnesota Twins.

Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful - a time to remind one another that amidst the craziness of our day-to-day lives we really are doing okay. Everything is going to work out - we are going to figure out what it all means and in the mean time, we are enjoying each others company.

This year I am thankful for my endlessly supportive parents.

I am thankful that no matter how fast my brothers' lives are changing, we will always have a place that we can go back to and remember what it was like to grow up together.

I am thankful for the opportunities to travel that I have experienced in the last year. From Ecuador to Colombia and Los Angeles to Cuchara, Colorado, the last year has meant new places with new experiences.

I am thankful for the freedom to make my own choices about what happens next in my life.

I am thankful for friends-like-family here in Colombia who make it a little less sad to be away from home over so many birthdays, get-togethers, and holidays.

I am thankful for the people who knew me when I was young - the people who know that the woman I am today is a (hopefully improved) version of the girl I used to be.

I am thankful for music and the role it plays in my life. The older I get the more I appreciate the lyrical geniuses out there with the ability to write songs that so many people can identify with. I am thankful that sometimes those lyrics express my current thoughts better than I ever could.

I am thankful for hope. For the blessed idea that we can wake up everyday and hope against all odds that anything can happen, anything can be.
I am thankful for this crazy, beautiful, unpredictable life we live.

All my love,

*Title inspired by one of the best shows on TV right now, How I Met Your Mother. Check out the Slapsgiving clip from last year here.

November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Shenanigans

Happy Thanksgiving!!! I love this holiday because it is really just about being thankful, spending time visiting with friends and family, and eating delicious food! Since many of us are traveling over the long weekend, we managed to celebrate a lot around here this week!

We started things off last weekend at our co-workers' house for a Thanksgiving potluck dinner. This worked out great because everyone volunteered for what to bring, which meant everyone brought something they make really well! I made green bean casserole with the french onions my mom sent last year from the States (cannot find them in Colombia!), so that was super yummy. Aside from the beans, people made potatoes, stuffing, carrots, cranberry sauce, desserts and the hosts made four turkeys!

The dinner was absolutely delicious, and as usually happens here in Colombia, the talking soon gave way to an impromptu dance party!

One of four turkeys made by our hosts, Mike and Mandi!

Bad photography but delicious Thanksgiving dinner! party!

The party continued last night with a celebration at school with the entire K-12 faculty. Another potluck event, but this time everyone is just assigned something to the quality isn't quite as good, but still a fun event. A great way to share celebrate a typically American holiday with our Colombian co-workers.

Hana, Beatriz, Kelsi and I at Thanksgiving dinner.

The celebration finished today with our all-school assembly. Always a bit of a disaster-case since all 1,300+ students are in one place, but still a cool celebration of our school community. My favorite part is when the seniors walk in at the end holding the hands of the pre-primary kids! Adorable :)

Tomorrow I am off to the Caribbean Coast of Colombia for a not-so-traditionally-Midwestern Thanksgiving with my friends Kelsi and Tara. The idea is basically just to relax and come back ready for one of the hardest times ever to be a teacher - the three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am excited to soak up the sun a little bit, since the weather in Cali has been so rainy and dismal lately, however it won't be the typical Thanksgiving weather...

View of the beach where we are headed! (Rincon del Mar)

View of the backyard right now at my house in Minnesota!! Not quite the same...

Happy Turkey Day friends!!

November 22, 2010

Sunday Afternoon Movies

Over the past few months the rain in Colombia has been pretty incessant. No major side affects, other than personal sadness, so far, but it is starting to get to many of us that we live in this tropical country where the sun hardly shines! Last week I wore a long sleeved sweater and pants to work! Sad face. :(

Kelsi and I are combating the glum state of the outdoors with what has quickly become a Sunday afternoon ritual at the movies. There is a Cine Colombia movie theater in pretty much every mall in Cali, and we have visited several of them, but Palmetto Plaza is definitely the favorite. With a Crepes & Waffles, frozen yogurt stand, and two Juan Valdez options (both outside and INSIDE the theater), what's not to love? Did I mention Sunday afternoon matinee movies are only $4,700 pesos, or about $2.50 USD. Ah-mazing.

Here are some of the movies we have been seeing:

Due Date (Todo Un Parto)

I think my reactions are similar to this blogger's when she said: "Maybe there is such a thing as too much Zach Galifianakis." I mean, I loved him in The Hangover, but this movie was insanely ridiculous. However, any time he incorporated the phrase "You better check yourself before you wreck yourself" it made us laugh hysterically.

The Other Guys (Policias de Repuesto)

Saw this one last night. We just had to see Mark Wahlberg, because... well you know, plus Will Ferrell! LOVE. In summary it was actually a pretty ridiculous movie without a sustainable plot line that I don't know if I would have paid $9 to see in the states. However, at one point Mark Wahlberg danced ballet, so there's that. Also, TLC lyrics were quoted several times - random.

Life As We Know It (Bajo El Mismo Techo)

Loved it because I love Katherine Heigl and the guy who plays opposite her in this movie is hysterical and adorable, so...Josh Duhamel = awesome.

The Town (Ciudad de Ladrones)
Ben Affleck wrote, directed and starred, so if you like him you will love this movie. He plays the usual brooding bad boy, which he does so well, so that makes the movie pretty enjoyable right there. However, the rest of his castmates do a stunning job with their roles, even Blake Lively (from Gossip Girl!). Also, the whole plot line was pretty interesting, and they attempt to steal money from the New York Yankees, so you know...WIN.

What else have you been watching lately?? And no, I am not seeing Harry Potter part whatever even though it is in theaters here. Just not into it...still.

November 21, 2010

The time I wished for winter boots in Colombia.

When I suggested hiking Nevado del Ruiz on our trip to Manizales, Kelsi and I figured it would challenging, but full of awesome views of the surrounding mountainside. Several friends have completed the journey and their pictures made it seem manageable, so why not?

The highest volcano on the central range of the Andes Mountains, the Nevado del Ruiz stands at 16, 732 feet above sea level. This still-active volcano last erupted in 1985, killing more than 20,000 people, and now often called "the sleeping lion of Manizales".

We set out early on Sunday morning dressed in the warmest clothes we own in Colombia, full of water to attempt to avoid altitude sickness, and ready for a full day. After driving about an hour from Manizales we stopped at Laguna Negra for breakfast, then continued another hour and a half in the van to El Refugio, the snack shop at 15,748 feet. From here you typically are able to walk uphill to the flag pole or summit. However, on the day we visited the entire area beyond El Refugio was roped off and no one was allowed to wander uphill. The snowy conditions made for extremely limited visibility and hiking any further was much too dangerous.

Freezing cold!

The snow and hail fell almost the entire time we were at the top of the volcano and made our hour long stay there quite chilly. Needless to say, we were disappointed about not getting to actually hike, but all things considered we didn't really feel like venturing too far from the wind-sheltered van.

Seeing the Nevado definitely felt weird, since I haven't seen snow like that, or really been cold in that way in almost eighteen months. The experience confirmed by belief that living in Colombia has made me less tolerant of the cold. I am reasonably concerned I will spend a large portion of my Christmas vacation in Minnesota feeling positively numb to the snow and ice!

Check out the video below to observe some of our adventures at the top of this snow-capped mountain - basically us being freezing cold and me teaching Kelsi how to make a snow man. Enjoy! :)

November 20, 2010

Finding Good Coffee in Colombia

I don't drink coffee every morning before school. Mostly because I have yet to acquire a taste for plain black coffee, or even cafe con leche (coffee with milk). Also, I do not really like the idea of being dependent on something to "wake me up" each morning, however much I might benefit from it on some days!

Then again, I do love me some coffee in a big way. There is just something so delicious and soothing about this drink that we have come up with a million different ways to prepare. And honestly, I just love the idea (and actualization) of being a regular at a coffee shop. When I arrived in Colombia I knew there was good coffee to be found, but this is not immediately apparent. Since so much of Colombia's coffee is exported for profit, very little of the actual coffee in Colombia is good to drink.

In an attempt to search out some of the "good stuff" Kelsi and I started our visit to Manizales, a small mountain town about six hours from Cali, with a tour at Hacienda Venecia. Situated in the foothills of the central range of the Andes Mountains, at about 5,000 feet above sea level, this operating coffee finca is a prominent force in the Eje Cafetero, or the "Coffee Axle" of Colombia. Their coffee is specifically labeled as "cafe de origen" or in other words, coffee directly from the source.

We began our tour by learning that coffee originated in Ethiopia and has since spread out around the world to be grown in warm weather mountainous climates between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer.

There are two main types of coffee - arabica and robusta. During the tour we did a smell comparison of the beans from both types and noticed that the arabica beans smell a bit sweeter than their more bitter-tasting counterparts. Also, our guide told us another distinct difference is that robusta coffee tends to have more caffeine per bean. Hacienda Venecia produces a variety of arabica coffee called washed arabica, which basically just means the beans are washed several times before being dried and stored for exportation.

Starting things out at an appropriate place - next to the very first advertising poster for Juan Valdez AKA Colombian Starbucks.

Kelsi sorts through a pile of beans to find the best beans for roasting. This process is usually done with machines, but in some cases it is done by hand for maximum quality. Also - I had no idea coffee beans were green until you roasted them!!

In the end the "bad" beans are kept here in Colombia to be used for the coffee sold pretty much anywhere in the country that is not Juan Valdez. Awesome.

The full, good beans are exported to places like the United States, Germany, Spain, France and Italy. These are the beans we sorted as "good" enough to be roasted!

Hacienda Venecia covers a lot of ground with all of their coffee plants, production, on-site hotel and hostel, so our walking tour was quite extensive. Please note the adorable green ponchos to avoid the almost daily rains experienced in this part of Colombia.

One year old baby coffee plants - waiting to be placed in the ground to begin producing at the end of the second year.

Coffee cherries (yes, I also did not know that coffee beans came from the inside of coffee cherries) being washed for the first time.

Braving the humidity in the drying room where the coffee is completely washed and dried before being placed in bags.

For only $25,000 pesos (or about $13 USD) a day at the coffee farm was a day well spent in educating ourselves about this important resource for Colombia. Second only to Brazil, Colombia produces the most coffee in Latin America, and remains a vital source of income for many in this region. At the end of the tour we tried to buy coffee to take home, but many tours went through that day, so we settled for our very own Hacienda Venecia burlap coffee bags to one day hang on the walls of our "grown-up" houses.
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