Reason # 1 – and Holidays in Colombia

Over the years, people have asked me the same question repeatedly. “Why, Colombia?” Different people have asked me this question for different reasons, about different things. Sometimes it’s Colombian people – government officials, surgeons and others, and they are asking in relation to my work in medical travel.

Sometimes, it’s my fellow North Americans asking for the same reason. Sometimes, it’s my co-workers in the USA, who want to know why I spend so much time here. Sometimes, it’s Colombians for the same reason. Sometimes, it’s just people who are curious.. There are many many reasons, and I won’t talk about them all today.. But..

The #1 reason I love Colombia, live in Colombia and promote Colombia and Colombian culture is: The People!

Obviously, people are unique, and there are good and bad people etc.. everywhere. But I have found my Colombian friends, acquaintances, neighbors, and even many many strangers to be some of the nicest, and kindest people I have encountered. I would have never been able to write the books, if that hadn’t have been the case. Before smart phones (and related technology), and speaking very minimal Spanish, I was able to navigate, research and write several books about this country, all due to the countless times absolute strangers helped me out, whether I was lost in the far part of town, needed to complete a task complicated by complex instructions, or just needed additional information. There was always someone that volunteered to help. Many of these people went on to become close friends, or colleagues. But sometimes, it was just a stranger on the bus who was giving me directions to where I needed to go.

Of course, there are nice and helpful people in the United States – I always tell people, that in general, “gringos” are friendly and welcoming to strangers. And the rest of the world, has no shortage of nice people either. But it’s more than that – here there is a sense of family and inclusion that we seem to have lost in the United States. When I was a child, during the holidays, families (like mine) always invited visitors, strangers, single people etc. to join us – and celebrate with us. But much of that sense of inclusion has diminished over the last several decades.

Where my parents would invite people to picnic with us at one of our soccer games, etc. my generation is more closed off – our immediate nuclear family becames a secret club. Instead of saying, “I can’t do lunch because of my child’s X activity, but would you like to sit in the stands with me so we can catch up?” people have become exclusionary – and often times, pretty darn proud of it. It becomes almost a badge of honor among young adults to start excluding even very close friends once you marry and had children.

It’s more like, “Look at how special I am – I have a spouse, and kids, [and thus don’t have time for you].” I am not the first to remark on this phenomena, there has been miles of articles, books and literature written about it. It ties in with the helicopter parenting and other childrearing trends that are more prevalent in North America. This anti-social, narcissistic trend probably isn’t entirely absent in Colombia – but it’s not common. So, in Colombia, at least, your friends with kids are still your friends and vice versa..

Thus, for someone like me – who likes to travel (and likes to travel alone) and live a very independent life – being able to maintain friendships with people, and being able to include them in my life and theirs, despite their childbearing status is important. (I love my friends, and even though I don’t have kids of my own, I enjoy being around children, especially when they get to that fun pre-teen age).

But during the holidays, these trends tend to be enhanced, which is why they talk about the depression and risk of suicide during the holidays – in the USA – because we have a lot of lonely people being left out of a lot of socializing for superficial reasons (like divorce, widowhood, or single status) even before the pandemic turned our world upside down.

But let me give you a recent example (just one of many many experiences I have had) and tell you about my Christmas – because maybe it’s better to just talk about actual events – instead of sociology theories..

Of course, let me acknowledge, that the Holidays in Colombia are a very special time anyway.. It’s not about a bunch of presents under the tree or buying a lot of stuff you don’t really need. Colombia is a Catholic nation – and religion is definitely part of it – but not overwhelmingly so. (I am not terribly religious – and none of it makes me uncomfortable here – which means something; when you consider that many times at home in the USA – I can’t get through a business meeting without someone feeling the need to invoke Jesus, repeatedly, in a lengthy and aggressive manner, whether or not it’s appropriate.)

Christmas, New Year’s and the Holiday season is a time to celebrate – with friends and family. It’s a time for homemade cooking, exchanging hugs, stories and spending time together. It’s gotten more complicated recently – but this year, everyone was vaccinated – and boosted – and several of us remained masked too (with doors and windows open for extra ventilation).

This year, 2021, my neighbors, the Gonzalez family invited me to join with their big, boisterous, lovely and sweet family for Christmas. I moved here in the middle of the pandemic – with strict lockdown rules in place – so I didn’t really know my neighbors well – only enough to share greetings in passing. We had exchanged holiday greetings and neighborly gifts (they gave me a lovely anchete (gift basket), and then they invited me to spend time with their family.

Look at this lovely anchete, filled with great things..

Side Note:

I learned a long time, when I first came to Colombia – to say yes to these opportunities. (When I was new to Colombia, I would often say no because I didn’t want to be “a bother”, or inconvenience anyone. I thought saying yes was bad manners – so sometimes, I turned down invitations to do things that I really wanted to do because I thought people were just inviting me to be nice – and again, I didn’t want to inconvenience them…. and then a nice Colombian girl I knew explained that by turning down invitations, people got the impression that I wasn’t interested in what they had to offer..

So I got over my uncomfortableness at feeling like I was “putting people out” and started saying Yes.. To just about everything… and it has made a heck of a difference – and I’ve had some amazing experiences and gotten to know some wonderful people).

So off we went to his brother’s house.. Both John and his brother were born in the atlantic coast of Colombia, even though they have spent most of their lives here in Bogota. So, in a salute to their costeno heritage, they were cooking some delicious cuts of meat – using a smoking technique called al trapo..

Our host, Richard Gonzalez

Don’t worry, while I may have been too busy enjoying myself and talking to everyone to take pictures of all the members of the Gonzalez family – I did manage to get lots of food pictures..

Big bowl of cuts of beef and pork

My neighbor is one of five siblings – and three still live in Bogota. He and his wife, Brenda have six grown children, who all live nearby.. So it was a fun gathering of some very nice people, who all love each other a lot. Mr. Gonzalez brother, Richard was doing the honors cooking the meat with one of Mr. Gonzalez’s sons.

My neighbor’s middle son..

So first you dampen a piece of linen or loosely woven cotton cloth in wine.. Red wine, preferably, but any wine will do. It just needs to be moist, not dripping.

Cloth moistened with wine

Once the cloth has been moistened with wine, sprinkle coarse salt and some pepper on the cloth. Then place the meat in the center of the cloth. Roll the meat in the cloth, adding additional salt and pepper between layers.

Meat rolled in wine soaked cloth and tied with string

Then the meat roll is placed directly into the fire (on a wire rack over the flames)

The first meat roll placed in the fire

Cook the meat for 20 to 30 minutes. When the roll is removed, it will look crusty and burnt, but it will be juicy and delicious inside. Cut the fabric and the strings.

After the covering has been removed, let the meat rest for five minutes before slicing and serving.

There was a bevy of other delicious things to eat.. I took pictures of some of my favorites

mmmm.. Chorizo
with mango salad

There was a delicious mango salad, with lettuce, pineapple pieces, mango chunks, and raisins. I don’t know what the dressing was – but it was delicous and mild enough not to overpower the delicate flavors in the salad.

holiday desserts including Natilla
delicious cheesy bunelos

Besides enjoying all the delicious food and drink, we had a lovely time. John and Brenda’s kids are a lively, good-natured bunch.. I wish I would have gotten more pictures at the time..

the Gonzalez family

At midnight,, everyone including the sweet little grandkids gathering in the living room to watch the little ones open a few presents.

the grandbabies, enjoying some desserts..

Then we played some games, chatted and the adults enchanged secret friend gifts.. (They did charades during the gift exchange, so you had to guess who the gift was going to..) Danced a little bit – enjoyed some jokes.. and then it was time to go home..

All and all a lovely time, with a charming family, celebrating Christmas here in Colombia..

Tiny little bags

There is a phenomena of “tiny little bags” here in Medellin.  For the uninitiated, these bags carry a sinister implication.  However, the truth is (sometimes) much more mundane.

While these bags are often used for nefarious purposes (just check out the “Park of the Journalists” (parque de la periodista), these bags are also utilized in much more innocuous ways.

these tiny little bags actually contain some innoculous spices; salt, oregano, red pepper and black pepper

these tiny little bags actually contain some innoculous spices; salt, oregano, red pepper and black pepper

For instance, the tiny little bags from the picture here are actually from a pizza delivery last night. The bags contain a selection of spices including oregano, garlic powder, salt, red and black pepper.

Just an example of the little differences here that sometimes lead visitors to jump to the wrong conclusions due to Medellin’s reputation.  So the next time you see a tiny little bag littering the street – maybe it’s the remnant of a drug transaction – or maybe it was just lunch.

Images of Colombia

While I am back here in the United States, I wanted to share many of the images I’ve gathered and collected during my most recent visit to Colombia..  Some of these images will be familiar to long-term readers from various posts about my trips to Lerida, visits to the finca, and day-to-day encounters with different and interesting people in Colombia.

I hope you enjoy!

Happy Anniversary…

As my long-time readers know – I am a huge fan of Adriaan Alsema, a Dutch-borne journalist in Medellin, Colombia.  He is the founder/ creator/ and genius behind Colombia – the English language news source for all things Colombiano.

Mr. Alsema, Editor-in-chief, Colombia Reports

Mr. Alsema, Editor-in-chief, Colombia Reports

It’s the fifth anniversary of Colombia Reports – so I wanted to wish Adriaan a Happy Anniversary..


Christmas comes to the foothills of Bogota

Like I’ve said in a previous post – one of the great things about living in a city like Bogotá, is all of the interesting people..  Some of them are lifelong residents, some are visitors like myself – and others are making Bogotá a temporary home, like my friend, Johanna and her husband, Paul.

a true photographer, my friend, Johanna

Johanna’s a talented photographer (I’ve much admired her photos for a long time) so I am hoping to enlist her in some of my efforts..  She took several of the pictures here (the good ones!)

Yesterday, we went to La Calera which is a picturesque community just outside of the city.  Sundays are a particularly popular day for city residents to get a taste of small town life just twenty minutes outside Bogotá.

leaving the rainy city behind for a day in La Calera

But our excursion yesterday was a bit different from some of the lovely, and lazy afternoons I’ve had wandering the villages surrounding Bogotá.  This time, we were there for a cause.

nope, still not in trouble.. just hanging out

We joined Colombia’s Civil Defense – Cundinamarca division for a toy drive to benefit children in one of the outlying villages.

Civil Defense 4 x 4 division toy drive

They will deliver the toys by 4 X 4 next month..

with the Colombia’s Civil Defense

While they were collecting toys – they also had some activities for the local kids – including a ‘Paint the Car’ activity which proved popular with kids and adults alike.  (After all – how often do the police hand out spray paint?)

Civil defense officer helps a small child paint

It was a lot of fun – for a good cause, so I’ve written some more about it over at

Hoping to do some more interviews this week – to bring more of Bogotá’s residents to readers..

The people of Bogota

I’m actually out of the city for a few days – but during my long flight, I reflected on some of the reasons I enjoy this city so much.

Why do I enjoy Bogotá so much?

Well, the people, of course!  Now, I know that people are shaking their heads – but for a small-town girl like me,  a cosmopolitan city like Bogotá is very exciting indeed.   So many festivals, events, galleries and museums**.

But it’s the people who are the heart of the city – and what really brings it alive.   Just this week, I had the opportunity to rub shoulders with and talk to a Colombian film director, a geo-petroleum engineer, a civil rights (labor) attorney  and one of the executives of Caracol.   It’s just that kind of town – like Washington D.C. but down-to-earth and accessible.  [Now, my little eight-year-old friend, Flavia has met President Santos just walking on the street one day, but I haven’t.]  But there are still wonderful opportunities to meet and talk to interesting people who I might not cross paths with in my ‘normal’ life in the hospital.

For example, I found myself sitting next to the film director, Andres Barrientos at a birthday party for a mutual friend. (Of course, the guests at the party were a like a small UN delegation – but less protocol and more fun;  it included Colombians,  two delightful ladies from Venezuelan, a British gentleman, and the guest of honor – another American like myself –except for her beautiful Argentinean Spanish.)  These are all just people and friends I have made wandering around the city..

Of course – talking about the ‘extranjeros’ or foreigners living in Bogotá is an entirely different topic – and one we will get around to one of these days.  But as I chatted with the very normal, very nice Mr. Barrientos (and he politely refrained from laughing at the ridiculousness of my YouTube efforts), it made me consider how many film producers I met in Danville, Virginia, Mexicali, Mexico or Reno, Nevada during my various moves.  (The cumulative answer is: Zero.)  And why would I – on the streets of my small southern town?  But Bogotá is a different matter entirely – it is a global city, with its tenacles on the pulse of Colombia, Latin America and the world.

Global positioning and perspectives

Talking with labor attorneys and several petroleum company officers just brings home some of the amazing lack of insight we (as North Americans) have on some many issues affecting the rest of the world – and our roles within this context.

While Americans are often accused of being willfully ignorant – this just isn’t true.  The reality is that: we are intentionally blinded as citizens to much of the outside world.  I mean, I make a continuous, specific concerted effort to find English language information about issues facing Latin America (for this blog) and it is exceedingly difficult.

What we do see on CNN, BBC and our nightly news and read has already been translated (and censored) for our consumption.  As a result – if it isn’t a  sensationalized report about a bomb going off somewhere – or a huge drug seizure, then there just isn’t much information available – whether we are talking about our southern neighbor, Mexico, the economic powerhouse of Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Chile or any of another dozen countries.

But when you live somewhere like Bogotá – you become more globally informed just by meeting and interacting with all of your fellow Bogotá residents – from UN representatives, other foreign nationals on down to your every day taxi driver.  (Always talk to the taxi drivers – they are usually exceedingly nice, have a wealth of information and different perspectives on everything from affordable healthcare, the American presidential elections, the environment and Latin American economic policies.  You will be surprised what you will learn.)

That’s just something I can’t get on Main Street, Danville, Virginia..

**Speaking of which – they are offering my book for sale at the Festival de Librarias in Parque 93 this weekend.

Life in Colombia: Medellin

Adriaan Alsema, the founder of Colombia Reports (the english language paper in Colombia) originally published this blog on their site – but since it’s a nice portrait of why Americans like me find Colombia so enchanting – I wanted to mention it.

Now the author’s reasons for chosing Medellin differ from my own since I originally went to Colombia to write – but his perspectives on the friendliness of the local residents is very similar.  (Afterall – without their help – there would be no book.)  No only that – but without the various episodes of random kindnesses from complete strangers – I would probably still be wandering around the back streets of Bogotá.

Of course – whenever I come across interesting stories, blogs etc. about Bogota and Colombia in general – I like to share them with readers, so they can get their own sense of the city..  Here’s one of my latest finds – at a fellow wordpress site, Life is Real Good 😀

It’s a blog about the adventures of Eoin and Ryan, two young guys who spent six months exploring Latin America..