A million thanks to everyone in Minnesota who made this a wonderful Christmas. Love you all more and more everyday :)
December 30, 2010
A million thanks to everyone in Minnesota who made this a wonderful Christmas. Love you all more and more everyday :)
December 29, 2010
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- "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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Money conversion in foreign countries can be a little complicated. Just remember that $2,000 Colombian Pesos, COP, is about $1 US.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
December 28, 2010
- 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!
- 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.
- Utilize online check-in to select your seats ahead of time whenever possible.
- All customs forms to immigrate to another country will ask for your forwarding address - so know where you are going!
- 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. :)
- 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.
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]
December 19, 2010
“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.
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.
December 17, 2010
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!
- 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!)