πŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ A Colombian Christmas πŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄

My family and I went to Colombia for the holidays. Not Columbia, but Colombia. Yes, the country where drug cartels ruled and kidnappings once regularly occurred. When I told people what we were doing for the holidays the common response I got was, “Why?” I then would explain that our daughter was teaching there and we wanted to see her. So, we made the family pilgrimage. Little did I know, I’d also come away with some powerful insights.

The trip there was about as smooth as a cracked cell phone screen. We grumbled and complained due to missing our flight because of mechanical failure. Our irritation grew as we were rerouted in the opposite direction. We actually lost an entire day scurrying from airport to airport piecing our arrival together. Then, the requisite cherry on top was the loss of luggage which ensued days of misery for one of us.

Our general misery subsided however, as we arrived to this land overflowing with abundant fruits and generous foliage. The lush, green canopies of aged, coffee plants, towering, wax palms and unidentifiable flora were breathtaking. Of course, seeing our daughter was the real prize. All six of us together on a family trip and we would have unknown memories yet to make.

Arriving during the Christmas season was extra special. My daughter had indicated that Colombia was its most festive around Christmas. The towns were lit up like gigantic, twinkling, tree ornaments. I noticed dancing lights every square inch from our aerial view during our flight from Bogota to Cali. I also noticed something odd- dressed up, lap dogs on our plane. Then street dogs, shop dogs, and personal dogs in just about every place of our first city, Salento. That was where we toured the coffee plantation and horseback rode up a mountain. For the record, most of us did not know how to horseback ride, much less on a narrow path on the side of a mountain.

Colombia is known for their flavorful coffee. I will never drink coffee irreverently again knowing all that goes into it. The back-breaking labor of handpicking ripe red, “cherry” beans (on a steep hill) and sorting through all the beans is impressive, intentional work- especially for the smaller, old fashioned farms that prefer to keep their coffee “pure.” We learned the process and that the country itself drinks the rejected beans and exports their best to the likes of us. “We are spoiled,” I thought more than once on this trip.

Coffee plant
Coffee cherry with beans

Another day, we took off on a Jeep ride to the base of the greenest mountain I have ever seen. There we mounted horses (without any education on riding- instructors couldn’t speak English anyway) and made our way up to the aged, wax palm trees. The trees looked straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. They were approximately 60 meters tall and 200 years old. Standing in their natural arbor, the panoramic view was pure art. Speechless, we took it all in.

At this point of our journey we learned a few curious things about Colombia. First, it is NOT a poor country. Second, you can’t flush toilet paper ANYWHERE in the country and third, people are extremely nice but you can’t expect anyone to speak English. Our most pleasant surprise was how incredibly affordable everything was. Our family of six could eat out for less than half of what we paid at home.

After Christmas, we headed to Cali and attended “La FΓ©ria.” It’s a traditional celebration parade of the peoples of Colombia dating from the indigenous through modern times. Each was represented with floats, music, and elaborate costumes. It was quite a site. Next, my daughter and I had a girls day and the boys tried kite surfing. I was thankful to eat a fabulous meal in a spa-like restaurant and shop Colombian designers instead. Custom clothes abound there. Many have the seamstress connected to their showrooms. I’d never seen boutique couture like that before.

New Years is a family event in Colombia, unlike the US. So, most everything was shut for the holiday. We ended up at the Marriott (notably the nicest and most expensive hotel in Cali) for a sushi dinner and people watching. It did not disappoint as people cascaded in wearing ball gowns and international flight crews arrived in their stylish, European uniforms. It was a feast for the eyes.

For our last stop, we headed to Bogota as our daughter headed to Medellin. We had one last day to see sights. A few of us headed up to Montserrat- named for the same in Barcelona- for good luck, per tradition, while others retreated from the rain.

Sadly departing, we immediately said we were coming back. Colombia we found, is NOT the TV show “Narcos,” nor is it a dangerous, third world country. As the small hotelier stated in broken English, “We Colombians don’t have access to everything but we appreciate more because of it. We have peace in our hearts and that comes from inside.”

Never At a Loss for Words

 

We use A LOT of words in our household. Some would add we use too many. This is probably true. Rare is the occasion when we don’t know how each other feels. You’d think we were first generation Italian just without all the good food. Occasionally, the word pollution can be too much, but it can also be really funny.

My young adult, triplet sons are merciless when it comes to ragging on each other. They are so quick witted with comebacks that I struggle not to laugh out loud at their lightening quick, verbal assaults. It seems no subject matter is off limits either.  I might cringe on occasion, but I do have to admit that they are very creative in their put downs. Too bad there isn’t a paying summer job for their exceptional talent.

One such occasion was Mother’s Day about a year ago.  Our family went to a steak house for dinner and was waiting to order when one brother looked across the table at the other and made an annoying comment about his haircut.  Without any expression, the recepient of the comment deadpanned, “What?  I can’t hear you through your perm.”

They can be merciless in poking fun at me too.  Mom jokes are a team effort.  “Type A++” is their description of me due to my incessant house cleaning.  I also get compared to the You Tube video of the son dressed up as a mom yelling at everyone to, “Throw everything away!  Make our house look like no one lives here!”  Also, long ago two words became bad in our home:  the “f” word (which was “fat”) and the “o” word (which was “old”).  They may say a lot of things about me, but I don’t like to hear either when they tease me.

Our elderly chihuahua isn’t spared the heat either.  She’s a 14 year old, 9 pound rescue. Her sight has deteriorated to the point she occassionaly walks into trees.  She also has trouble hearing so one son renamed her “Helen Keller.” She doesn’t seem to care.

Recently, when inquiring what the triplets wanted for their birthday,  I mentioned possibly getting all three ear pods. One son immediately countered,  “First of all, it’s Air Pods, and secondly, I’d rather get a telescope and just steal their’s.”

 

 

REDNECK RIVIERA

I often refer to my children’s father as the Pied Piper. He’s the Huck Finn type and proved it when he relocated our family outside city limits to the river. He said this way we’d avoid HOA violations because we weren’t “neighborhood people.”

Our new home was actually an old fishing cabin on a sandy creek. It had been added onto multiple times and I’d swear there wasn’t one square angle in the house. Gold speck counter tops, a blue toilet and matching cast iron tub weren’t exactly swoon worthy. I also noticed Elvis -era red linoleum in corners, painted paneling and SEVEN sliding glass doors. It wasn’t my dream house by any stretch. The property, however, was beautiful and offered a sandy bank along a creek for the children to explore, swim and play. He’d always wanted to live by the water and assured me that the children would benefit. Longer rides to town, a fixer upper, and multiple safety fences had me thinking otherwise. Somehow he convinced me we’d one day fix it up and we made the move.

Adventures were weekly conquests and the children ate them up. An example was the “wave pool.” Their dad put layers of visqueen in the back of his truck and filled it with water. Then he put all the kids in the back and drove them up and down our bumpy, dirt road to simulate waves. We looked like the Beverly Hillbillies but the kids got a wave pool, by gosh.

Another method of his childcare containment was the boat. It became our playpen during winter. We’d bundle the kids up and put life jackets on and go on long boat rides. This was nearly every Saturday. This kept them contained and happy (as long as nobody pushed anybody off their seat.)

One of their favorite water activities was the slip and slide. This was created by 50 yards of visqueen and a quart of Dawn dish liquid. My husband would lay the plastic sheeting down a sloping hill and run water to it with an extension hose. Our kids, their friends and a few parents would run, dive, and howl with laughter flying down the hill. Occasionally, he’d add hay bales to avoid people sliding into trees. This ritual became a yearly event.

Trips to “the chards” were another pastime. Unique to our creek were clay potters a century ago. That left pottery shards and jugs discarded along banks and submerged under water. My husband would pile kids in the canoe and paddle them way up the creek. He’d tell them he’d give $50 to whoever found an intact jug. LOTS of pottery pieces, or shards, have been discovered over the years and maybe two full jugs. Those are some of his prized possessions proudly displayed in our home today.

River life has been great raising our brood. Lots of fun memories and yes, we did eventually remodel. I don’t miss the blue toilet and got rid of every sliding glass door. Elvis no longer reigns in decor either.