Tuesday, 29 December 2009

In Bogotá

So Christmas pictures are on hold until I can upload the pictures to MY OWN computer, and since we should be moving into our house on Wednesday, it shouldn't be too long. Till then, more Colombia pictures. Anyway, above is a picture of a church that's up on the mountain in Bogota. I wanted to hike up there, but I didn't want to try to drag my two kids up the mountainside as well.

These were some random pictures around Bogota. The horse carts are illegal, but you see them everywhere anyway. And there's little fruit stores like that on every corner. You also see guards with AK47's pretty frequently too.
Here's some more pictures around Bogota, the red bus is pretty typical of all the buses there. Some of them are so short that I had to hunch over when there were no seats and I had to stand. Most of these pictures are around the Candelaria section of Bogota. It's the old part of the city that is a couple hundred years old. Very pretty. Really the only pretty part of Bogota.

These are all from that are too. But I lied, the part of the city up by the Universidad de los Andes is also really pretty.

I really like obleas. We've found them here in the states in Florida, but in the little street vendor carts they have all these toppings...yum! My kids really enjoyed them.

This was at the military museum. We went to this museum because it was close and it was free. It was interesting. I liked looking at all the old uniforms.

The kids (and Leo) liked climbing all over the military
equipment they had. They didn't want to leave that part actually.
This was in the Plaza de Bolivar. It's the central plaza in Bogota. It's a big tourist area, where you can buy llama rides, as you can see. Also, there are tons of pigeons, or rats with wings as Leo and I refer to them.
Here's more pictures of the Plaza, here you can see all the buildings around it. There's the Palacio de Justicia, and one's the Casa de Narino or President's house (like the White House), and the Casa de 20 de Julio where their Declaration of Independence was signed, and a really old Cathedral.
And just for a bit of a history lesson, here's another tidbit:
The Palace of Justice siege (Toma del Palacio de Justicia in Spanish) was a 1985 attack against the Supreme Court of Colombia, in which members of the M-19 guerrilla group took over the Palace of Justice in Bogotá, Colombia, and held the Supreme Court hostage, intending to hold a trial against President Belisario Betancur. Hours later, after a military raid, the incident left all the rebels and 11 of the 25 Supreme Court Justices dead.
Crazy, eh?

Monday, 21 December 2009

Boyacá y Otra

One day we spent visiting purely tourist destinations. One of which was the Salt Cathedral. I thought the dome in the above picture was really pretty, but Leo and I were both more impressed with being underground than with the cathedral. Here's the factoid about it:

The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá (Spanish: Catedral de Sal de Zipaquirá) is an underground Roman Catholic church built within the tunnels of a salt mine 200 metres underground in a Halite mountain near the town of Zipaquirá, in Cundinamarca, Colombia. It is a very popular tourist destination and place of pilgrimage in the country.[2] The name "Salt Cathedral" is mostly to attract tourists - while a functioning church that receives as many as 3,000 visitors on Sundays, it has no bishop and therefore no official status as a cathedral in Catholicism.

The temple at the bottom has three sections, representing the birth, life, and death of Jesus. The icons, ornaments and architectural details are hand carved in the halite rock. Some marble sculptures are included.

Here's a nativity scene from it, I just stole these pictures from the web, but I thought this one appropriate for the Christmas season.

Ahh!!! I just deleted the really cool picture I had of the guy roasting meat over an open fire. But you can see the results above. That was one of the best meals I ate in Colombia. SOOO GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (I really like meat.) I'll have to post that other photo someday when I have the chance--it's on a different computer.
After the fabulous lunch we drove through this area of Colombia. I don't really know where we were, but it was pretty. It was also interesting because it was a section of Colombia that makes a lot of leather. Along the hillsides you'd see big hides staked out on the ground drying. It was like stepping back in time.

Then an hour or so down the road, we hit a totally different type of countryside, it was more rugged and there were natives in ponchos and leading burros everywhere. (Think Juan Valdez). All the hillsides were planted in potatoes.

Then we arrived at our destination. Boyaca. It was where the decisive battle was fought that won the revolutionary war for Colombia from Spain. It had a flame that's always going. Like the one here in the US by the grave of the unknown soldier.

The kids had fun climbing on the rocks. That was some kind of monument too, but I forgot what for.
Then we hiked up the hillside to the monument to Simon Bolivar. Then we ran down the hillside. That was fun. It was a steep hill. Anyway, lots of driving, I was pretty grouchy that afternoon, but it was all worth it. Sorry, I would post more historical notes about Boyaca, but I'm feeling lazy.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

El Museo del Oro

Leo and I had a break from the kids one afternoon, so we were able to go to the Museo del Oro in Bogota. It was amazing. I've never seen so much gold in my life. But then it is the largest collection of gold in the world, so I guess it's the most I could possibly ever see. I liked these monkey earrings.

The breast plates and other ornaments kept making us want to hum Book of Mormon Stories...Hee. Hee. Here's a little snippet about the museum.

"The Banco de la República Gold Museum, in Bogota, Colombia, displays an extraordinary selection of its pre-Hispanic goldwork collection - the biggest in the world. Together with other pottery, stone, shell, wood and textile archaeological objects, these items testify to the life and thought of different societies which inhabited what is now known as Colombia before contact was made with Europe."
In this one Leo's holding his finger in front of the display case so you can see how little and delicate it is.
Some other cool artifacts.
I think I'm rather a pottery and textile person myself, but the workmanship in the gold is incredible.
This is their most famous piece. It's a depiction of an offering the Muisca tribe made into Lake Guatavita. Here's another quick factoid about that:

"Laguna de Guatavita was reputedly one of the sacred lakes of the Muisca, and a ritual conducted there is widely thought to be the basis for the legend of El Dorado. The legend says the lake is where the Muisca celebrated a ritual in which the Zipa (named "El Dorado" by the Conquistadores) was covered in gold dust, then venturing out into the water on a ceremonial raft made of rushes, he dived into the waters washing off the gold. Afterward, trinkets', jewellery and other precious offerings were thrown into the waters by worshipers."

This was a really cool room, you step inside and the whole room is dark and then they light it up in patterns like water with the music (indigenous chanting) and basically you're surrounded by gold. It represents the same ritual as I mentioned above. Very neat.

And as another random note, on another tour we were able to see workers refining emeralds. Colombia has 95% of the world's emeralds and there was emerald jewelry everywhere for sale. Really, I've never seen as gorgeous of emeralds anywhere in the States.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

La Finca

The first weekend we were in Colombia, we drove to La Mesa to Leo's Aunt Adrienna's finca (farm). It was a really neat drive. It's so surprising to me how much the vegetation and ecosystems can change in such a short time. It was an hour and a half drive and we went from the rolling grasslands to desert looking terrain with cactus, to being completely shrouded in fog with bamboo and thick ferns and foliage all around. So crazy. Beautiful too. Here's some of the shops and houses we passed. They sell everything under the sun along the roadside. It's actually prettier houses outside Bogotá then in the city. Because at least then it's not graffiti covered. We stopped for arepas at this roadside restuarant. They do pretty good business. Cycling is extremely popular in Colombia (I'd say we passed over a hundred cyclists on the highway) and they stop and pick up breakfast and lunch, etc. Do you see the big steel thing in the picture on bottom right? That's where they cook their meat. This is at Leo's aunt and uncle's finca. I want a finca like that. The pool area was gorgeous. And they had mango trees with mangos that were easily double the size of the mangos you see here for sale. Also orchids. I love orchids. And mandarins. I love mandarins too. We had a barbeque and most of Leo's family was there. It was fun. I didn't take all these, but apparently someone thought it would be fun to take a picture of everybody with Elena. Isabel was having lots of fun. I had lots of fun too when she took a nap and then I took a nap. (I was still jet-lagged.)Leo's aunt raises Paso Finos and shows them. Leo took a ride, but I declined. I've learned from others not to ride unknown horses when pregnant. And this is a bunch of Leo's family. I'll try to name them all just for posterity. Hee. Hee. Left-to-right: Wilson, Andre, Leo, Kami, Isabel, ?, Orlando, Sergio, Cesar, and Andre's girlfriend. Hey, I did pretty good. Just missed one. Anyway, it was beautiful there and Leo's family was extremely nice. They were all smitten with our two monos (blondes--Isabel and Elena) too.

Saturday, 12 December 2009


Well, it's been a while. It feels like ages since I wrote last. I feel ten years older too. But that might be because I spent most of yesterday washing down walls and my back hurts. I know, whine, whine.

Anyway, here's a quick update and then I'll try to post about Colombia.

Ana did not make it out of Colombia with the emergency US passport we bought her. She was all smiles at first because she had wanted to stay with her Aunt Claudia, but by the time Leo left her with our friend on the other side of security, she was in tears. By the time Leo returned back to me, I was in tears too. The whole thing stinks. Basically, because it was a US adoption (Ana had already been a permanent resident) they don't recognize the adoption. Our plan after that was to fly Doris (Ana's birth mother) down to Colombia and Leo and her fly out with Ana. Only we need the birth father, Francisco's, consent for that too....and he's moved and Leo's uncles haven't been able to find him. So we may have to publish in the newspaper a notice to see if he responds. That will take two months. Yeah, two months. I feel sick. I always thought at the very least we'd be able to get Ana home for Christmas. But that's when I thought we had Francisco's address. The US embassy has been extremely helpful, or has at least tried to be. The ambassador has apparently set up (or is trying to) an appointment with ICBF (basically Colombia's CPS) to try to arrange something for us. It's not looking good though because it's Christmas and nobody wants to work, and DAS (Colombia's equivalent to Homeland Security) is under allegations for corruption and is going to be dissolved at any moment and new units made up to replace it. (I guess they're hoping that by separating powers there will be less corruption. I doubt it.) So that's that. At least I really like who Ana is staying with. Leo's Aunt Claudia owns a hair salon on the front of her house so she's home all day with Ana, and her 15 yr. old daughter Alejandra is out of school for summer vacation so she's with Ana all the time too. And Alejandra and Ana get along great.

As for other news, our house we're renting is infested with roaches. It's repulsive. Also, it was disgustedly dirty, even though the property managers sent someone to clean. They painted two rooms and the rest they "spot" painted. Yeah, it was so gross, if we swiped the wall with our rags it would leave a smear of dirt and yuck behind. Two walls are completely rotted away in the bathroom (Leo and I never saw that bathroom before we rented because one of the previous tenants was using it.) One of the walls in the master bedroom is a canvas on a frame stuck up against the frame of the house. The light fixture in the kitchen doesn't work. And Ana's bedroom wall is coming off and her window is broken and is "fixed" with strawberry fabric and duck tape. Etc. Umm, yeah, I have issues with all that. I rather expected them, like most places, to paint, clean, and fix the broken things before we moved in. Basically, we decided to give them this next week to fix a bunch of stuff and fumigate and if they don't have it done or won't, we're going to start looking for a different place. Over Christmas. With all this other stuff with Ana going on. I am tired, that pretty much sums it up. (Oh, and in our defense, it was in the evening and dimly lit when Leo and I walked through it , so a lot we didn't see. I didn't even remember there was a fireplace in the living room, that's how little I remembered. Plus, we were in a rush to find a place, and like I said, we expected them to fix it up some.)

However, Leo, my sister Andrea, and her husband Tim are out there right now, painting the rest of the rooms. And the highlight of the week (besides getting back to the USA and eating my mom's homemade chocolates) was that I picked out three colors for our house. "Toast" in the living room. "Bamboo" in the dining room. And a light blue for the nursery that I forgot the name of. So exciting.

So now consider yourself updated.

Friday, 27 November 2009

A Grand Search

The one thing I told Leo I wanted to do when in Colombia (besides buy a really cool instrument--I've decided that's what I'm going to collect during my travels around the world--one day I will have a singing bowl from Tibet) was spend a day doing family history work. Ever since I can remember, or at least since I was 10 or 11, I was determined that I was going to be "that aunt," the one that is crazy about family history. And I was actually grateful when I married Leo because then I was able to start from scratch. Yes, I know there's still more I could do on my own family lines, but basically it's just checking for mistakes, and several of my families hire professional genealogists to research more. So with Leo's family it just gives me so many opportunities, it's sweet. Leo's parents were very obliging. More than I could possibly ever thank them for. They took us first to Subachoque. It's a fun name to say and a BEAUTIFUL place. Really, I think it was one of my favorite places we visited in Colombia. First of all, it's where they grow all the flowers (70% of the United States imported flowers are from Colombia). There were acres and acres of greenhouses, and the countryside around them, well think Southern California but more green and only an occasional hacienda. These were some of the nicest houses I've seen in Colombia too. I mean the picturesque walled haciendas that look like they came straight from colonial Spain. Martha's (my mother-in-law) father is from that area. Subachoque itself was lovely. It had the Spanish plaza and the church you can see below which was built in 1774. The plaza had been turned into a garden and all the houses were sooo old but so nicely kept up. Such a contrast from Bogota where everything is grimy and graffiti covered. I felt like I should be on a movie set. Well, Martha took me to the little office beside the church where the parish records are kept and within minutes we had copies of her father's baptismal record. All in all, I think we added back 3 generations (not with all the dates, but at least the names give us a place to start from) and we were able to obtain one whole family with all their children. Martha gave me some place names of where I can look for more information too that she had never mentioned before. Unfortunately, one of those, Pacho, is completely unsafe right now, and while it probably has a great deal of family records, there's no way a gringa like me could go there. It wouldn't even be safe for Leo or his parents. Ruff. Stupid guerillas, way to get in the way of family history. This is the house Martha's father, Benito, lived in. Yes, it is a house too, just with shops connected on all sides. I was happy too because Martha seemed really happy to visit there as well. Then we had a long drive to Utica, the very pretty town you see above. I didn't like it quite as much as Subachoque, but in Subachoque it had been in the pleasant 70 degree range and we were dressed appropriately for that. In Utica it was a searing 100 degrees and high humidity and we were NOT dressed appropriately. Plus, it was a LONG, LONG car drive. Think a small 1980's Mazda with room for five, but instead packed with 7 people, no air conditioning, and gravel/dirt roads quite a bit of the way. We passed a lot of people on burros and leading pack horses on that road--ok, we passed even more on motorbikes, but still. Needless to say, we were all a bit tired and grumpy that afternoon. Oh, and did I mention Isabel had been sick and was running a fever the whole time? Once there, Leo took the kids to buy them something to cool down. Oh, that was the other reason I think I liked Utica less, in Subachoque we weren't quite as gawked at. In Utica, it is such a small town and so remote, we were stared at the entire time and not friendly stares. Anyway, Martha and I walked up to the parish record office only to discover it was closed that day. Ouch. However, we knocked and the lady was kind enough to be understanding and helped us find the information anyway. The priest came in too, wearing gym shorts and high-necked white t-shirt. It was all a bit surreal. We were able to get Martha's mother's baptismal record, or at least I scribbled down the info from it--there were no copy machines and an ancient computer. I took the above picture too. In Subachoque, they had the original books too, but they also had it all computerized and they just printed us out a copy of all the records we asked for, plus they could search easily for other related family members. Not so in Utica. She wanted the exact names and dates, and so the only thing else we were able to obtain was Martha's parents' marriage record. But that did give us several generations back of names (without dates) that we hadn't had before. The clerk found for us the record of Martha's grandfather's baptismal record, or at least she found where it should have been. Yeah, that's the book, in the picture above. It had been eaten through by something, and some pages were so completely faded the text was indiscernible. She went through page by page, but never found his actual record. Ruff. And then, like I said, she wanted exact names and dates, and since we didn't have anything else (why oh why didn't I take the list of siblings???!?!?) that was all we could get. But again, at least it gave us more to go on. Here are some more pictures from around Utica. One day I need to go back there without kids for a week and just search through each and every book they have. It made me almost want to cry to see that one book in such decrepit condition--I guess the librarian/historian in me is fairly pronounced. Really, I just wanted to offer to recopy or microfiche or something their records for them. How would that be, me begging, "Please! Let me save your records before it's too late!!!!" Hee. Hee. The priest said they only had the records till 1800 though, before that they were all sent to a center in Bogota. Which led me to look online on LDS.org, and sure enough, there are several census records and what not from the departmentos (states/provinces/whatever you want to compare it too) that Martha's family is from. So maybe I'll just be searching through those page by page instead. It will still leave a gap, but it's at least another lead to explore. (You know, this is kind of like archaeology in a way--I love it!) So all in all, not a bad day.Then surprise, surprise, I asked Leo's dad to ask his mom for some information. She is not a very forthcoming lady from all I've been told. Her parents had never been married and an aunt had raised her, and she never ever spoke about her parents to anyone. I had been told that, so I had just wrote down some general questions about her for more of a "history" of her (likes/dislikes, favorite games as a child, that sort of thing) rather than to obtain info on her parents or anything else. Well, guess who turned out to be quite the storyteller. Yep. It was great! She is quite a funny lady. For instance, she described herself as spoiled rotten and consequently quite stuck up and mean to all the other girls in town. Hee. Hee. And once she ate 18 soft-boiled eggs (her favorite food) all in one sitting. AND for the first time that Orlando (Leo's dad) had ever heard in his life, she gave us the name of her father, and told us all about him, and the names of his brothers and sisters. Also I found out that she had a brother, which I didn't know before either. Apparently her mother died when she was really young, and then having the two kids was too much for her father and while he stayed involved, he left them to his sister to raise. Her parents had simply never married because they were too poor. That's her (Leo's grandmother) in the picture above, at 18 yrs. old. You can definitely see where Leo and Isabel get their curly hair. Unfortunately, it's just a picture of a photocopied picture, so it's not that clear. But better than nothing, right? This is my last mystery. This is Leo's paternal grandfather. He left the family when Leo's dad was quite young, and while he's been back since then, it was never a good experience. Nobody is willing to even try to get information from him, if they even know where he is anymore. Plus, I don't know if he has any brothers or sisters we could contact instead of him. Crazy. So that line is pretty much at a halt right now. Ruff. Anyway, Leo's Uncle Henry had quite a few photos and I tried to photograph this one with my camera, but as you can see, the results aren't that great. He was nice enough to walk Leo and I to a photocopy place around the corner and photocopy the rest of the pictures too, but this picture that I took is probably better quality. It wasn't the nicest place to go, that's for sure. I also tried to convince Uncle Henry that he should just give the pictures to me, but he just laughed really hard, and commented that my Spanish was really good to Leo. Sigh.

So that was my Grand Search for Family History in Colombia and I couldn't be happier with the results!! Now, I just have so many more questions.....

Second Thoughts

Since I’m still in Colombia and have quite a bit of free time—not as much as you would think though, since Isabel’s been sick and clingy, and before that I had to follow her every move to keep her out of Leo’s aunt’s things—I decided I better write and give some second impressions of Colombia.
Some crazy translations.
First off, a lot of things have cleared up about my husband that I didn’t quite get before. Number One of these was how he always lifted up both the lid AND the seat of the toilet when using the bathroom. I always found this rather weird. Now having been in Colombia several weeks, I understand. MOST toilets here don’t have a lid or a seat, so that would explain why he’s used to that. Second, he insists you need only two squares of toilet paper. Again, I thought this a bit stingy. Why only two? Again, most places in Colombia don’t provide toilet paper or you have to buy it, if not paying to use the toilet all together. Hence, the rationing makes since if you’re only using the sole tissues in your pocket. For the record, I did read an article once that compared the amount of toilet paper Americans use vs. Europeans, and we use quite a bit more on average, (I think it was 5-6 squares vs. 3). I think the study was something to do with conserving resources, if you were wondering.
Also, I’ve noticed in Colombia that the diets here are all carbs and meats. Literally, dinner will be rice, potatoes, meat and arepas (a corn meal thick tortilla). Not a vegetable in sight. However, they do eat a lot of fruits. Leo and I were both craving vegetables by the second week. Yes, even Leo found it a difficult adjustment. They also eat tons of soups, even if it’s extremely hot outside (that would be when we were in Cartagena). Really, if it’s 95 to 100 degrees with extremely high humidity, I don’t want to be eating hot soup. Nor do I want a huge, heavy meal—which is all they make with all the carbs and meat. I don’t want to sound so complaining, and really the food DOES taste good, it’s just a salad seems unheard of here.

Another thing I’ve discovered is that my kids and I are the center of attention wherever we go. The blonde hair more than gives us away as gringas. J And tourists aren’t so common here that people are used to it. At least not in some of the places we’ve been. Leo mocked me every time a car honked when we out walking (which was frequent). Ruff. I’m six months pregnant—it’s ridiculous. And my girls are oohed and ahhed over by everyone. Although I have to admit, I think they’re pretty cute too. It’s also interesting to see the military presence. When leaving Leo’s grandmother’s house one night, the car Cesar (Leo’s brother) was in with some friends was stopped by a couple guys from the military and they were all asked to show their IDs and military IDs. (In Colombia, every male is required to serve in the military for 1 year when 18 yrs old and carry a military ID afterwards stating what branch they served in and other info. You can buy your way out of it, or if you have good connections, be put in a cushier area, otherwise it’s by lottery where you serve, and a certain number get sent to basically be guerilla fodder. Leo’s parents bribed his way out, but he has an ID.) If you don’t have the proper IDs they put you on a truck (it was sitting right in front of their car) and enlist you. Cesar didn’t have anything, plus he never served in the military here, having lived in the States since he was a teen, but luckily they believed him when he said he was living in Arizona and they let him go. Leo’s mother was hyperventilating by that time though.

Some weird looking birds.

Another time, driving back from Santa Marta to Cartagena on a tour bus, our bus was randomly stopped for security checks. They had every male leave the bus and they were all patted down. I thought it a bit silly, because it’s not like they watched them as they left the bus so any one of them would have had time to stash something, and they didn’t search the bus or the women, so again, anything could have been hidden easily. It was kind of funny though because Elena had vomited all over Leo just as the bus was pulling over. He was the last one to leave the bus because we were trying to clean him and Elena up. Anyway, when the guard went to pat him down, he quickly changed his mind and just let him go. I think Leo would have preferred being patted down to the vomit however.

And then during our last day in Cartagena, the president was coming, so there were soldiers everywhere! It’s rather strange to be playing at the beach with soldiers with AK47s strolling by. But then, Presidente Uribe has had the most assassination attempts on his life than any other current president anywhere in the world. Just FYI.

Oh, which reminds me, it is also weird to see a huge billboard of Hugo Chavez as a monkey when driving down the road. Can’t really say I disagree much with that one though.

Tomorrow, I’ll have to post tales of my Grand Search for Family History. Unless someone can tell me where I can read another book online—yes, yesterday I read Midnight Sun online. I swore I’d never touch the Twilight series, but I was desperate for reading material, and my older sister had forced me to watch Twilight with her a couple weeks ago, so it was on my mind. Ruff. I have to say honestly, I have less of a desire to read the rest of the books now and I really don’t care if she finishes Midnight Sun. But I still read it mostly in one sitting, at least as much as possible with Isabel being so sick. She just laid next to me most of the day. Enjoy all those Thanksgiving leftovers for me.