February 29, 2012

2012 Goals: 2 months down, 10 to go!

For those of you just catching up now, here are my 2012 goals broken up into 8 categories of the 24 things I am going to (HAVE!) done in 2012.

In February, I:

  • Went to Saturday morning yoga on two more occasions with future plans to continue this.
  • Discussed with Kelsi her options for an awesome plan B (AKA suggested that she move to a variety of locations, all of which I happen to want to visit!)
  • Only went on two coffee dates! Hooray saving money!
  • Updated my Professional Development Plan that I need to complete in order to keep my Wisconsin teacher licensure updated. While I do not have any plans to teach in the state of Wisconsin right this moment, I would like to keep up with the things I need to do to renew the license in two years in case I need a plan b.
  • Updated my resume in preparation for applying for jobs soon! I also completed all the paperwork jumped through all the hoops set up by the Minnesota Department of Education in order to obtain my licensure in the state of Minnesota. 
  • Tried Murphy's Red (yes, weird that I have never had it before) & Bogota Beer Company's Zipaquirá Abadía (LOVED this one - fruity, spicy, unfiltered & based on a Belgian recipe)
  • Revisited my monthly goals!   

In March:

  • There is one Saturday when both my yoga buddies have to be at school for the Destination Imagination tournament - what better day to take myself on a solo date/force myself to go to yoga even without someone to go with.
  • I will figure out what I can do with some of my savings to actually invest it in things and not just have it sit in my account. Because apparently, this is what adults do. Even though it terrifies me in an irrational way since really, I am good with numbers. I know it's weird. 
  • Summer plans!!! There is absolutely nothing I love more than planning to go back home for a Minnesota summer and this one promises to be absolutely fantastic!! Already on the calendar: a family vacation to Colorado (AKA my birthplace and home of mountains/happiness), Brothers in the Sun (Kenny Chesney & Tim McGraw) stadium concert at Target Field with the boy & the brother, a bachelorette party/college friends reunion weekend in La Crosse, and a Pedal Pub for my quarter century birthday
Stick around, friends - 2012 is already shaping up to be quite the fabulous year... and there is so much yet to come! 

February 26, 2012

How to (not) Find Your Lost/Stolen Wallet in 40 Steps

Alternatively titled: How LAN Colombia came to be on my never fly with them again list, right next to Aerolineas Argentina.

We were just getting out of the cab at our hotel in Barranquilla. After being up since 5:30 AM, teaching a full day, and two flights, I felt more than ready for a solid night of sleep.

Then came that sinking moment when I dug my hand into my purse to come up empty handed, no wallet to be found. I calmly search again, thinking it was just stuck somewhere between my phone, book, snacks, iPod, etc. No, it definitely isn't here I told Kelsi and Cassie as we got out. The cab driver helped us search in case it had just fallen out in the cab, but no such luck.

As the ten of us in town for Carnaval de Barranquilla congregated in the hotel lobby, I shared the news that somewhere between taking out my boarding pass as we boarded our connecting flight in Bogota and arriving at the hotel, I had lost my wallet. I then proceeded to do what anyone who has lost their wallet knows all too well - attempt to find it. Here's how it went down:

  1. Call the HR representative from my school, knowing that she will easily be able to call the bank and get my card put on hold much faster than I will be able to do so in Spanish.
  2. Remember that she isn't actually very helpful with anything HR related, and is actually just the Queen of Delegation.
  3. Call the guy she delegates to.
  4. Get him to answer on the second ring and say he will call the bank immediately.
  5. Have helpful front desk man at the hotel help me call the Bogota airport. Get re-connected three times before a man tells me no one has reported a blue leather wallet missing to them so far.
  6. Look up number for LAN Colombia customer service online and attempt repeatedly to call them. No one ever answers.
  7. Hear back from HR guy who says my debit card is now on hold, which is good, however in the mean time my friends have reminded me that it is impossible to use a Colombian debit card in person or online without knowing the PIN number. Good call, Banco de Occidente.
  8. Decide that since LAN Colombia nor the Barranquilla airport seem to have someone answering the phones at 11:30 PM on a Thursday night, the best thing I can do is go back to the airport to look for it tonight.
  9. Ride 30 minutes one-way back to the Barranquilla airport, thanking Kelsi and our original cab driver from the airport many, many times for coming back with me.
  10. Speak to the only LAN Colombia representative at the Barranquilla airport. She explains that the plane turned right around and went back to Bogota. No, no one can get in touch with the plane. (What???) No, she cannot call anyone in Bogota to check the plane when it lands. No, she doesn't have a phone number for LAN Lost & Found. No, the phone number posted on the LAN website for customer service is not correct (in fact that one is for LAN Chile), the actual phone number is not posted anywhere, but she can give it to me. No, I cannot fly with a copy of my passport, but must get an official report from DAS, the Colombian authorities to return to Cali on Sunday. Thanks for nothing, lady.
  11. Spend all 30 minutes of the return trip to the hotel on hold with LAN customer service - no one ever answers.
  12. Call HR guy back. He completes the official report with DAS online and emails it to me by the time I get back to the hotel.
  13. Have helpful front desk guy print me a copy of my passport and the official report. Thank God that I listened to some travel advice years ago and saved a scanned copy of my passport as a Google Doc so at least I have some form of ID for the weekend. (NOTE - everyone who travels a lot should do this right now)
  14. Go to bed.
  15. Wake up in the middle of the night to check my purse - my wallet still isn't there. That really did happen. 
  16. Wake up the next morning with (foolishly) renewed faith in customer service people. Call the Bogota airport Lost & Found - no one has reported my wallet missing. Call LAN Customer Service - get someone to answer (!) and give me the phone number of the Lost & Found department (!). No one answers the phone at Lost & Found.
  17. Go out to the hotel pool and try to forget about it. Thank God that I emptied my wallet and therefore only lost my Colombian ID (cedula), debit card and the equivalent of about $50 USD.
  18. Borrow money from Kelsi and spend Friday and Saturday rocking Carnaval de Barranquilla anyway.
  19. Return to the airport on Sunday afternoon to fly back to Cali. Note that the LAN representative  from Thursday night AKA most unhelpful woman in Barranquilla is one of people checking in passengers. Initially dislike this until Kelsi reminds me she is the one who told me I could fly with this DAS report, so at least they will have to let me fly.
  20. Check in with the help of a Colombian military man who was needed to "validate" my DAS report AKA give it a glance.
  21. Get escorted through security by said military man.
  22. Sit at the gate for our flight to Bogota for two additional hours waiting for the plane to arrive from Bogota, where all air traffic controllers have gone on strike.
  23. Fly to Bogota. Realize we missed our connecting flight to Cali by three minutes and LAN didn't think to hold the flight for TEN passengers. Don't worry though, they will give us $18,000 pesos ($9 USD) to spend at McDonald's. Gross. No gracias, LAN.
  24. Tempt fate and exit security in search of food and the Lost & Found office near baggage claim. Feel slightly nervous that Bogota will be more strict about letting me fly back without ID and I will be spending the night in Bogota by myself, but decide I am not spending this impromptu five hour layover by myself.
  25. Find Lost & Found office for LAN airlines - music is blaring, lights are on, but no one is there.
  26. Understand a hell of a lot better why no one ever answered their phones.
  27. Find some men at the baggage claim desk. Explain to them what happened. Yell at them in broken Spanish/English/jibberish when they tell me the only woman with the key to the locked security box where all valuable lost items are kept is not at the airport and will not be there until 8:00 AM the next morning. Stomp up the stairs to Crepes & Waffles restaurant in the midst of a very epic "I hate Colombia" moment.
  28. Attempt to explain what just happened to Kelsi, Cassie and Mandi. Get one sentence in before I am crying at a Crepes & Waffles in the Bogota airport. Feel like a giant social pariah and overall, pretty awesome about myself.
  29. Eat a delicious crepe, drink a Chai tea and pray that I will be let back through security.
  30. Stop by McDonald's. Feel immediately nauseated by the smell. Decide LAN Colombia already has my wallet, they might as well keep my $18,000 pity pesos too.
  31. Get let back through security with no problems (!).
  32. Speak with super lovely woman working at the Bogota Beer Company in the airport. Confirm with her that my wallet was not left there on Thursday night, which I didn't think it was, but just covering all the bases. Explain to her what the LAN Colombia people said - she confirms it makes no sense to her either. Wonder aloud why everyone who doesn't need to be helpful in this situation (hotel front desk guys, cab driver, Kelsi, Bogota Beer Company lady, Colombian military men, security people, etc.) has gone out of their way for me, but the people who I actually need to help me (anyone from LAN Colombia) have done nothing.
  33. Return to Cali at 1:00 AM - five hours later than we were supposed to.
  34. Sleep for 4 hours.
  35. Go to school on Monday morning. Wait until 8:30 AM to call Lost & Found in Bogota. A man answers and tells me that the supervisor with the key to the lock box will be in "around mid-day". ON A MONDAY.
  36. Call back at 1:00 PM. Speak with Diana, supervisor of lost items and baggage for LAN Colombia. Describe my wallet. Get cut off mid-sentence when she tells me it isn't there. I ask how she knows that when there is no way she has opened the lock box within the last 5 seconds. She says nothing has been turned into the office in over a week.
  37. Feel incredulous at the idea that I am the only person who has lost anything on a NATIONAL airline in over a week. Know there is no way that is true. Either people know better and aren't even attempting to locate lost thing because they know there is no point, or someone who works for LAN Colombia now has my lovely leather blue wallet and the cedula of a foreigner named Kristin.
  38. Say gracias and just hang up. Realize it took me four days of wasted efforts just to end up without a wallet.
  39. Email HR guy to say thanks for all his help. 
  40. Receive email back from him saying my new debit card will be ready for pick-up on Friday.
Turns out, everything is replaceable. Lose a debit card, get a new one. Lose faith in an airline, get a new one.

Avianca Airlines - you better have it together for spring break 2012 because I am counting on you.

P.S. Who wants to go buy a new Mu wallet with me?

Carnaval de Barranquilla: Quien lo vive, es quien lo goza!

When Kelsi and I made a list last spring break of the ten things we wanted to do before leaving Colombia, attending Carnaval de Barranquilla was definitely on the list. In fact, all we wrote was #6 - Carnaval. It's happening. Basically, after missing the celebration our first year due to lack of awareness that it was happening and missing the second year due to lack of awareness in how far in advance we needed to plan, there was no way we were letting this slip by for a third year!

The Carnaval de Barranquilla is Colombia's most important folklore festival and essentially shuts down all other activities in the city of Barranquilla for the four days before Ash Wednesday. The carnival begins on Saturday with La Batalla de Flores (the Battle of the Flowers), a six hour (!) float parade and the biggest of carnival. On Sunday, La Gran Parada (the Great Parade) features lots of dancing and costumes (even more than the day before!). Monday is El Festival de Orquestas (the Orchestra Festival) which is basically one long concert of various Colombian music groups. Finally, on Tuesday the carnival culminates with the symbolic burial of Joselito Carnaval.

Throughout the four days of celebration the theme is: Quien lo vive, es quien lo goza! (Who lives it, is who enjoys it!)

Who doesn't want to attend a giant festival with a slogan like that???

Therefore, this year we got things started early and by the middle of September we had convinced eight friends to join us, bought plane tickets and put down a 50% deposit at Hotel Prado 72. With our trip mostly paid for six months in advance we had nothing to do but wait for the fun to arrive! In the weeks leading up to Carnaval we also purchased tickets for assigned seating at mini-palcos during the main parade on Saturday. Thanks to some inside tips from coworkers we learned that this was the way to go at Carnaval. The parade is the beginning of the party, so you definitely want a good seat!

We arrived in Barranquilla late on Thursday night and easily found our way to the hotel which is located in the central neighborhood of El Prado. That night we pretty much just went to bed in order to prepare for the weekend festivities.

Friday we spent some time relaxing by the hotel pool and searching for costumes to wear to the parade. We hadn't exactly been aware of the costume aspect for parade watchers before arriving in Barranquilla so we had some catching up to do! Friday night we found our way to a cumbia (a style of music native to Colombia's Caribbean coast) concert in a giant field, and yes, it was about as random as it sounds. However, the whole atmosphere just felt electric with excitement as people prepared for the official start of carnival the next day. Groups of foreigners and Colombians alike were spread throughout the field, dancing, drinking beer and aguardiente, and listening to the music.

One of many market stalls we encountered on Friday while searching for costumes. 

The next day we woke up to the stunning blue sky of Barranquilla and excitement everywhere. We got things started early - getting breakfast, coffee, and costumes on by 10 AM. Errr at least the girls did this. The boys were still sitting around the hotel room not dressed and drinking, so finally we left them behind. We had been warned to get to the parade early and we had about a 15-20 minute walk to get there.

 Kelsi and I ready to go in Carnaval t-shirts and beads! 

The walk ended up being an adventure in itself. My friends Rita and Sam had chosen traditional Colombian costumes to wear to the parade so several people gawked at the two gringas along the way. Also, for reasons I still do not know, children at Carnaval paint themselves all black and charge at walkers with long sticks asking for money in exchange for letting people pass. The whole thing was a bit odd and un-settling.

Finally at the gates to the enter the parade route I purchased myself a Panama hat to protect from the already brutal Caribbean sun and we found our way inside. Here, the trouble really began as soon as we discovered that the cross streets printed on our tickets were not actually the streets were our seats were located.  Unfortunately, no one else at Carnaval seemed to be able to locate our seats either. After walking many blocks and speaking with numerous un-helpful Colombian policemen, we had had enough. At this point we happened upon quite possibly the tallest, largest, Afro-Colombian military man I have ever seen. Dressed in fatigues and sporting a jet black Camelbak that somehow made him look more intimidating, our new best friend took about 30 seconds to find us a less-impressive man who held a very impressive Carnaval badge. With the help of this man and his magic badge we were soon leaving the un-helpful policemen behind and walking down the middle of the parade route in order to avoid the crowds on the way to our seats.  Based on the crowd response, I think everyone really enjoyed the spectacle of 7 gringas in costumes walking down the middle of parade route. I know I did.

 Just a couple gringas trying to find their seats at Carnaval. Note the not super imposing man with his special badge in the red shirt...I wish I had a photo of the Colombian military man.

Finally in our seats at mini-palco number 47, the boys arrived a mere ten minutes later, also having been escorted (but via the sidewalk!) in order to find our seats. Then the craziness began. Led by one of the first floats which featured dancing street cleaners with neon green brooms and including a variety of brightly colored costumes and floats, the parade was awesome!! We danced and sang along with various floats and cheered on any parade member who posed for pictures or danced near our group.

Finally in our seats for the parade and only a few minutes before the start! 

The boys showed up wearing t-shirts they had made which feature a picture of them in ridiculous costumes, naturally. 

Street cleaners of Barranquilla, unite! 

The marimonda - one of the typical costumes/characters of Carnaval. 

One of so many brightly colored floats! 

...so enjoy it! 

 Cassie and I....and David.

Getting our Carnaval on!

Six hours later our group of ten was down to five since some people hopped the fence to join the end of the parade, so Jessica, Cassie and I decided to locate ourselves some food and lots of water. We happened upon a deliciously random combo restaurant serving Italian and sushi. A fabulous end to a great day of celebration.

Sunday we enjoyed more (recovery) time at the pool, Kelsi and I led ourselves on a self-guided tour of Barranquilla AKA walked to the nearest Juan Valdez for coffee and we headed back to Cali. A little sunburnt, exhausted, most likely dehydrated, and with new costumes for future shenanigans we certainly lived it and we most definitely enjoyed it!

#6 - check.

February 10, 2012

Why not Colombia? - 30 Travel Bloggers Jump On Board for Colombian Tourism

"Why Colombia?"

"How did you choose Colombia?"

"Is it safe there?"

"Are there still a lot of drugs?"

Here I am three years into expatriate living and yet, every time I tell a new person about where I live, they ask me all the stereotypical questions. Questions that relate back to the international image that Colombia had, however well deserved, about 20 years ago.

Now? That image is outdated. Yes, there are still things Colombia as a country can do to improve, but overall everyone I talk to seems to think it is a much different and much improved place. I couldn't agree more, and as much as I have loved having the wonderful tourism opportunities here be off the well-paved gringo backpacking trail, it's high time people truly discovered all this place has to offer.

Turns out other people think this too - Cali was one of New York Times' 41 Places to Go in 2011 and Colombia was one of New York Times' Top 31 Places to Go in 2010.  Now, Colombia is taking this moment to seize some of the positive press that has been building in recent years and really remake the international image of the country. Leading the charge in this is a company named Proexport.  Since November 1992, Proexport has been in charge of promoting exports, foreign investments, and international tourism within Colombia - and for 2012, they are stepping up their game in a big way.

Pairing up with 30 expatriate and/or travel bloggers, Proexport aims to provide potential tourists with a complete, updated look at a country with so much opportunity for growth in the tourism industry. As one of these chosen travel bloggers, I am so excited to be working with this talented group of people to promote a country that will always have a big place in my heart. The Official Travel Blogger program will feature English, Spanish, German, Portuguese, and French bloggers writing about travels and experiences within Colombia. Check out my page here!

While the details still seem to be in process, as this is very much a new thing for Colombia and Proexport, I think the benefits of seeing a place like Colombia flourish will be well worth my time spent writing a bit more about this place I call home! The program officially began this week in Bogota, and while I was unable to attend due to school, I am excited for the February 20th kick-off of posted articles as well as getting to know some of the other bloggers. In the mean time I will be busy pondering my first blog post...turns out three years has given me a lot of material to pull from!

February 1, 2012

2012 Goals: 1 month down, 11 to go!

Remember how I have this list of 24 things I'm going to do this year? After one month, I have accomplished a few 2012 goals, have plans for more, and need to wait on some others.

In January, I:

  • Got a tattoo - Hooray!
  • Kept up my routine of working out 3x per week.  In January, I (re-)tried a new Saturday morning yoga class that I love. A new kick boxing teacher started at our gym. He knows our names and is very quick to call us out on being slackers, so that is helpful/the worst thing on the planet. Simultaneously, of course. Also, some of the teachers started getting together to play flag football a bit, which initially caused me a lot of pain due to the fact that football involves lots of running/changing directions, but is now much more fun.
  • Kept up 1x per week phone dates with friends. While I don't talk to all my friends every week, I do talk to several friends each week, thus being able to keep up with most of them every two weeks or so.
  • No more than 1x per week solo coffee date. I think this is the biggest accomplishment of January because it involved saying no (at least once!) to Starbucks AKA land of happiness, which has since been left behind in Argentina, not to return to my life until I get near gate D10 at Miami International in June. So, you know, will power - for the win
  • Re-visited my goals.
  • Figured out how much money I need to save in the next six months to meet my goal of how much I wanted to save each year in Colombia.
  • Tried 1 new local beer - Quilmes in Argentina. Which is actually terrible, but hey, now I know.
In February:
  • Kelsi is going to get accepted to grad school in Boston so that we can start planning my visit there to coincide with fall in New England/her 30th birthday. Obvio.
  • I'm going to treat myself to a lovely Valentine's date because this boy doesn't live here, so...self-love dinner date. 
  • I will update my professional development plan to renew my Wisconsin teaching license (back-up plan if I cannot find a Minnesota teaching job....).
  • ???? 
How are your 2012 goals going? New Years resolutions? Do you still remember what they are??? ;)

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