Going home..

After a whirlwind three months that included trips to Chile, Bolivia and different cities in Colombia, I am getting ready to come home in a few days.  As always, leaving Bogotá is bittersweet.  I miss my friends, and my family but I will also miss the city and all of the nice people I’ve met here.

I am posting a map of Colombia, so even though I’ve taken several trips – you can see that I haven’t really explored the country at all. (I’ve posted little push pins on the areas I have visited.)  I excluded Facativa and some of the closer towns since they are really just suburbs of Bogotá, and it would just clutter the map.

Map of Colombia, courtesy of Google Earth

As you can see – I haven’t explored the southern part of Colombia, or the pacific coast at all.  My Atlantic adventures have been confined to Cartagena.  So, I guess this means, I still have a lot of work cut out for me on my next visit(s).

map showing central Colombia

But I hope that readers have enjoyed reading about my travels, the people I’ve met and the things I’ve seen.  Now – I know this is a medical/ surgery blog but since much of the surgery I write about is in this part of the world, I think that including some of my experiences is relevant/ interesting for people who read the blog.  Once I get back home, I’ll post some more articles on medical quality control and standards – and more of my usual dry fare.

Back to Bogota

After stuffing myself with lechona and tamal tolidense, swimming in the fresh crisp water of one of the local fincas, enjoying the controlled chaos of the market in Lerida and being overwhelmed by the tragedy of Armero – it was time to head back home to Bogotá.

Since it was Sunday, the roads were almost deserted, so we made it home in a fraction of the time it took to travel in the other direction. So much so, that we had plenty of time to stop and look around at more sites on the way home.

I got some great pictures of the drive – heading up into the cool mountains.

the valley below

One of the more interesting places we passed once we returned to Cundinamarca was Guaduas.  Guaduas is a small city of about 30,000 that was the birthplace and home of one of Colombia’s most famous women (no, not Shakira but “La Pola”.)

The city was founded in 1572 and was a well-used and frequent stop for travelers from Bogotá to more outlying areas like Tolima.  Now one of its main claims to fame is Policarpa Salavarrieta or “La Pola” as she is known.  Her likeness and name currently adorn a local bakery in Guaduas.

Ms. Salavarrieta (1795 – 1817)  is considered one of Colombia’s heroes (or heroine) for her role in the Colombian revolution.  She is the only female to be honored on Colombian currency (in multiple different designations over the years.)  She currently decorates the 10,000 peso bill, but was also on coinage in the past.

After being orphaned by a smallpox outbreak, she moved to Bogotá where she was able to sneak in and out of Bogotá (which had tight security under the Royalist regime).

She was a seamstress who used her sewing talents to gain access to the homes of staunch Royalists and eavesdrop on their conversations.  She also stole documents and spied on military officers and recruited others to the revolutionary cause.

Unfortunately, after the capture of one of her fellow revolutionaries, she was arrested, tried and executed along with her lover and several others on November 14, 1817.  She was reportedly defiant even as she was led to the firing squad, and refused to keep her back to her executioners – turning around to face them as they shot her to death.

To commemorate her actions to assist the revolutionary efforts, in the late 1960’s, the Colombian government designated her birthday as “Day of the Colombian Woman.”

After learning more about La Pola from my guide, we continued to Faca (Facativa), a city just outside Bogotá to visit one of the fincas that used to be in the family.  Faca is best known for its native roots, and the many indigenous carvings, paintings and sculptures that were found during archeological excavations.  Faca is primarily a farm town – and is surrounded by several large fincas with livestock and different agricultural products including flower cultivation.

From there – we cruised on into Bogotá; where as much as I enjoyed my journeys, it felt great to be home.

in Lerida

in the mountains on the way to Tolima

Most Americans have limited exposure to Colombia, and Colombian life.  Other than media reports about drugs and violence, the majority of people’s opinions about the country have been formed by one quintessential little film of the mid-80’s…

“Romancing the Stone” – yeah, that’s right – the silly little romantic comedy with Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas.  “Is this the bus to Cartagena?” is a line I’ve heard many, many times from people asking questions about my experiences here.

In general, like most things, Colombia is nothing like the movies.  Especially this one, since it was filmed in Veracruz, Mexico.

just outside Lerida at Sunset

But Lerida is that Colombia – the hot, humid, tropical Colombia that people think of after watching that movie.  It isn’t jungle-like here, of course,(that’s further south) but it’s an ancient city with stone buildings and some cobblestone streets interspersed among newer construction; but Lerida has the unrelenting heat and steaminess that people generally picture (and fail to find in Bogota.)  My guide tells me that the city wasn’t quite so hot – until most of the trees were removed when the streets were paved.  It makes sense since the neighboring cities (with thick tree-lined streets) are noticeably cooler.

It’s an interesting city – and more than just miles away from Bogotá – more like decades.  Life is a bit more traditional here, but that may be just the heat, and the ancient appearance of much of the buildings contributing to that perception.  Lerida was first ‘discovered’ in 1538 by Spanish conquistador Sebastián de Belalcazar who was amazed by the richness of the land, but it wasn’t officially ‘founded’ until 1777, which actually makes it technically one of the younger towns.  But as you wander the town, you see that people are still living in many of the original buildings – updated and modernized, of course.  But the original architecture with high ceiling and spacious rooms offers the advantages of cooler temperatures despite relentless sun.

As a mentioned in a previous post about Cali – motorcycles are the preferred method of travel in the warmer climes; relatively inexpensive, and good on gas – you see motorcycles just about everywhere you look; with entire families on bikes.

family on motorcycle in Lerida

Women in high heels, babies pressed between bodies, toddlers riding up front, even women riding ‘side-saddle’.

Coming from a society where motorcycles are used more as a statement than a viable mode of transportation; it takes a minute to adjust to the scene of so many bikes – it’s not a convention, they aren’t ‘bikers’, it’s just another day of running errands and going to work.

line of motorcycles

For more posts about my visits to Medellin, click here.

Road to Lerida, part II

As we pass into the valley, and the town of Honda, the whole topography changes.  It’s less West Virginia and more eastern Tennessee – in the summer.  The temperature has become hot and a bit humid.  The land is more flat, and as the land straightens out, so does traffic.  We can finally accelerate to 50km/h for the remainder of our journey.

drive to Santa Marta? no thanks..

(It’s this limited speed that makes the road signs for Cartagena and Barranquilla (1150+ km) so terrifying, yet correspond with other visitors stories about 20 hour bus rides).  But the view is so interesting, and I have great company, so it makes for a pleasant drive, especially once we escape the industrial traffic.

it be corn, but it’s not Iowa..

Even the mountains here in the valley are different, the ones that are visible in the landscape are more like hills, with exposed rock crevices.

My ‘guide’ for this trip just amazes me with the breadth and knowledge he has of this area of the country.  As we pass different outcroppings, and tiny towns – he knows a bit of folklore, facts of interest or history on each one of them.  We travel through places that seems a million miles and twenty years from the sophisticated enclaves of Medellin, Bogotá or Cali.

In the Colombian state of Tolima, we drive through the small city of Caldas.  This seemingly unimportant but bustling town is actually one of the more important towns in Colombia’s history.  When scientific explorers (Spanish) first came here they found an amazing bounty of plants, flowers and fruits.  Many of which are only found in Colombia.

They also found gold here (and in the neighboring towns such as Mariquita).  It was their treatment of the native population in pursuit of this shiny metal beneath the nearby mountains that led to a local uprising (and eventual revolution – leading to Colombia’s independence).

Modern day explorers also made important discoveries in this area of Tolima, near Caldas:  large pockets of natural gas.

In the next town, of Mariquita – gold mining both recently and in the past, has shaped the town.  It was the uprising here in Mariquita against the Spaniards and their gold mining efforts that shapes this town’s history.  Further gold exploration in more recent history has also caused problems – my guide tells me that the tunneling and excavations have caused major subsidence problems, with homes disappearing into sinkholes.  (As someone who lived in the Monongalia Mine area of West Virginia, I can well image the scene.)

Marquita is also home to a historic church – and the “Milagro senor de la ermita.”

Church services were actually in session when I arrived, so I didn’t many pictures.  (I took the one interior picture from a little alcove so I wouldn’t disturb services while my companions lit candles).

Church in Mariquita

The state of Tolima is famous for it’s tamales  – which have little in common with the Mexican version.  Mariquita itself is famous for having excellent tamales tolidense so we stopped at a place off on a side street which was recommended by the locals, called “El Tamalito” en San Sebastian de Mariquita.  The tamales were, indeed, delicious.

The owner, Mr. William Naffati has been making tamales for over 20 years.  He lived (and worked) in Bogotá for 40 years before coming back to Tolima (where his family is from) 2 years ago.  He states that he makes the ingredients for 200 tamales at a time, in huge metal VATS.

William Neffati, in the kitchen

He states that the secret to the rich flavor of the tamales is due to three key oils: chicken, pork and another which he’s keeping a secret for now.  Then the meats and vegetables are slow cooked for a minimum of four hours before final preparations.  He reports that during the course of a weekend he will prepare and sell over 1200 tamales.

Now this next part of our journey probably deserves its own post – but since I am using borrowed internet to post this – it will have to do.

Lastly, as the sky darkened we passed Armero, a ‘lost town’ that was destroyed in the November 1985 volcanic explosion that spewed rock and lava throughout the area.  The official death toll was 24,000 but locals estimate that it was higher.  As the lava rained down on the town – it burned and destroyed many of the buildings, and their charred and abandoned structures remain – as a memorial to the site.

My guide and my traveling companions know a great story about this town too.  As the volcano rained death down on the 29,000 residents of Armero, and a sea of mud/ sludge began to destroy the town, somehow, despite being in the center of the storm of rock and lava, the local hospital (which did sustain heavy damage) was spared.  Not a single one of the hospitalized patients (who were on the second or top floor of the building) were harmed.

what remains of the hospital today

I guess when you consider the devastation to the area, that would make the hospital of Armero the second miracle of our journey.   I’m not usually so sentimental, but looking at the town, it’s hard not to be.

Ruins at Armero

Unfortunately, it was getting dark as we came through, so I couldn’t get any photos. (But we came back through the next day – and I managed to get a few.)  We didn’t get out of the car because the structures are unaltered and are considered unsafe.  I would have loved to crawl around them a little bit, but I try to take good advice.

The guide

My guide for our trip is Mr. Alvaro Palacios, an adoption attorney.  Last year, when I was writing the Bogotá book, I was renting a room in one of the apartments  he and his wife own.  After being there for six months – we became pretty close.  Especially since once my roommates returned to their home countries, I was alone (sometimes lonely, when l had enough time to think about it) in the apartment.

Mr. Alvaro Palacios

But they always made me feel safe and secure in the fact, that they were next door, and that someone would notice if I didn’t show up one day*.  So I came to very much enjoy talking with the Palacios, their daughter, Camila and their son, Alvaro who was a medical student at the time.

Dr. Alvaro Palacio

In fact, that’s the reason they’ve invited me along – we are heading to Lerida to visit their son who is doing his intern year at the hospital here.  (In Colombia, all doctors have to do a ‘social service’ year working and training in underserved areas.)

Road to Lerida, part 1

Had a wonderful Thanksgiving with some delightful friends yesterday.

I went to the operating room this morning with Dr. Alberto Martinez – but we will save that for later.

This post is for my good friend, Steven Morrisroe who always tells me to devote more posts to ‘everyday life’.  He’s been a big supporter of my work – so Steven – I hope you enjoy this.

Gee.. it doesn’t look that far..

The road to Lerida – part I

The most effective and efficient way to travel in Colombia is by plane; flying to Medellin or Cali is an exercise in ease – by the time the coffee carts comes around (yes, Colombian airlines take care of their passengers), it’s time to sit up your seats and prepare to land.

Not really going to Siberia (been there, done that!)

But the roads are notorious for being poorly designed exercises in endurance and frustration.  It’s something Santos has pledged to address – outlining a massive overhaul of Colombia’s infrastructure, which is desperately needed.  Despite being one of the major roads to this part of the interior of Colombia – it’s a two-lane road, hugging a hill on one side, and a dramatic cliff for the other for the majority of the journey.  While mom-and-pop restaurants and mini-markets dot the roadside, along with tiny houses and laundry lines – this is a heavily trafficked major route for the transport of goods across the country.  There are produce trucks, heavily laden pickups, buses, even several car haulers with brand-new Japanese cars all crowded together with more tanker trucks than I’ve ever seen in my life*.  At one point, I looked out the window at the road ahead and it was all semi-trucks as far as the eye could see in both directions.  It makes this little road as crowded as peak traffic in Bogotá.

this picture is actually from Honda, when traffic finally thinned out..

So much so that what should be a swift and picturesque journey becomes a six-hour crawl as the speedometer stays markedly fixed at less than 30 km/h (yes, that’s kilometers).  The only exceptions being quick bursts of pulse-raising, dare-devil maneuvers as we attempt to pass another in a seemingly continuous line of tanker trucks as we head into another blind and narrow hairpin curve.

passing, but you can’t see the motor cycle passing us..

We settle back into the agonizing crawl, behind more semis.  The line only broken when we attempt such feats as the double pass – passing a tanker truck on the far left as it attempts to pass a slower moving, more heavily laden truck. But at least, it breaks up the monotony and frustration of breathing diesel fumes and enduring the smell of hydraulic breaks being tested by the continuous grade.

this is actually a truck wash hugging the cliff

But don’t get the wrong idea – it’s still a beautiful journey and I am enjoying it immensely.  I just want you to be able to picture the chaos and flurry of activity amidst the serene surroundings.

Once you pass just outside of Bogotá – you are in the country.  Most of the trip is up and over a mountain pass – with a breathtaking view of what must be the Grand Canyon of all valleys.. It’s astounding lovely, but I was unable to get a photo of the massive verdant green valley with rivers and lakes scattered below.  It looks so much like West Virginia, that I have to remind myself where I am more than once.

Where am I?? (Answer: just past Honda)

After twisting and turning for hours – we emerge in the valley below and arrive in the city of Honda..

*My tour guide informs me that the reason there are so many tanker trucks is that despite having ample oil reserves, Colombia does not have a single oil refinery, so all the oil produced travels on this very road to be exported to the USA for refining.

Checking in at Santa Fe de Bogota

After a year and a half – it was time to stop in at Santa Fe de Bogotá and see what was new.

Dr. Roosevelt Farjardo, MD (general surgeon) has been instrumental in implementing some of these new and exciting changes such as the ‘Virtual Hospital’ that I will be writing about (soon).  He was very nice about taking time to update me on some of his new programs at part of the Center for innovation in education and health.  Telemedicine is just the tip of the iceberg as far as some of the cool things they are doing.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the International Patient Center  – or rather – I can’t report anything other than the fact that Ana Maria Gonzalez (the previous director) has left for a position in the United States and that Dr. Carolina Munoz has taken her place.

I was hoping to get some statistics and report back about some of the specialty programs for overseas travelers – but Alas!  I am unable to bring this information to you.  I waited over 70 minutes after my scheduled appointment with Dr. Munoz – and despite several calls from her staff, she never showed up and never attempted to reschedule.

I wish I could say this is an isolated incident – but I am afraid this is more like a clash of “cultures”.  I say this because I met with Dr. Munoz  previously; during the writing of the book (when she was the Director of the International Patient Center at rival Fundacion Cardioinfantil.)

At that time, (if I remember correctly, she introduced herself as a cardiac surgeon who had retired to “spend more time with her children.”)

Of course, my obvious question – was “oh, and how many children do you have?**”

I thought we were making polite conversation – because at the time, I was less familiar with Colombian customs, culture etc.   In reality, she was reminding me of her elevated stature in comparison to mine (as ‘just a nurse’).  Dense as I was – it became obvious as the interview progressed – as she made sure that I knew that she had replaced her rival (Ms. Ana Maria Gonzalez – RN) who had also worked at Fundacion Cardioinfantil in the past.  I’m sure she resented having to answer questions about the Executive Health Program and other aspects of their medical tourism program from someone she found to be inferior to herself.  (She made that pretty clear at that initial interview back in 2011).

So I guess it is no surprise that she didn’t bother to show up to our appointment this week – which is a shame, as I had looked forward to finding out more about the evolving International Patient Center at Santa Fe de Bogotá.

Luckily for me – there was another nurse there, Sandra Salazar – who could give me some basics.   She was delightful, helpful and dreadfully embarrassed about the whole thing.  She was even able to give me a list of some of the American insurance companies they have worked with in the past.  I had lots of questions about the HIPEC program, which she couldn’t answer – but she outlined the entire medical tourist process – and answered a lot of other questions.  She showed me how they streamline the process for their international patients, and the process for medical and surgical evaluations.

Now, there’s some good news for readers:  You aren’t nurses.  You are paying customers – so I am sure that Dr. Carolina Munoz will put aside any of her personal feelings (whatever they are) towards foreigners and will make time for you.

**The answer as none – as she is not married, and was not planning to be married in the foreseeable future.

Now when I am talking about culture – I am not strictly talking Colombia – America.  I am talking about Doctor – Nurse relations.  Watch some old Turner Classic Movies sometime and you will see what I mean..

Now I debated writing about this, but after talking with some other non-Colombians here in Bogotá, I felt it was important to pass it along because it illustrates quite a few things about my work:

1.  It’s not as easy as it looks (I spend a huge amount of time waiting..)

2.  Cultural differences can cause a lot of problems – so be prepared to be tolerant.

3.  If there is a chance that patients may get poor service – I want to know about it!  (And part of readers need to know about – is my experiences.)

Calle de Mascotas – avenida Caracas

Just a few more weeks here in Bogotá before heading back to the United States.  My days are crammed with interviews – so I haven’t been posting as much as usual.

Right now, I am making copious notes – and taking plenty of photos so I can starting writing up several articles in the next several weeks.  Much of my  work will be published over at Colombia Reports.com so I will attempt to keep from duplicating it here.  (Also – I won’t have the time..)

I’ll still try to post pictures and stories here – about Bogotá life in general, to give readers a sense of the city, and the people here since that’s something that they won’t get with my (rather) dry surgical descriptions/ evaluations.

But – I am already working on plans to return to Bogotá, (and other parts of Colombia) this spring.  Once I have some concrete plans, I’ll post them here for readers and (potential travelers..)

homeless in Bogotá

I wandered around Avenue Caracas (Carrera 14) for a bit this afternoon.  It’s not the best area because there are a lot of homeless people, and it has a reputation for quite a bit of crime (muggings and such) but I couldn’t resist walking by the “Calle de Mascotas”  or the three blocks (from Calle 53-56) on Avenue Caracas that hold about a dozen pet stores..

The man crouched down in the photo above just finished stamping out his cooking fire as I came by..

kittens in a pet shop window

It was particularly heart-wrenching for me – while I’ve been down here in Bogotá, my long-time friend and companion – my 17-year-old cat passed away.  (Don’t worry, he was surrounded by loved ones, and died in my husband’s arms).

This inquisitive little fellow here reminded me quite of a bit of my cat (though they do not look-alike.)  So it was hard to keep walking – but then next to one of the pet stores, I watched two artists create this mural..

a work in progress

Hard to believe all this detail came from spray paint (no brushes!) but it did..

working on the mural

This artist, and his assistance were really nice, and didn’t mind me taking their pictures.

I’ll post some more stories soon.. In the meantime, you can read more about my recent interview with Ilene Little here.

A Beautiful Mess: El Dorado International Airport

A Beautiful Mess:  El Dorado International Airport

The new international terminal at Bogota’s airport opened October 18th and it is gorgeous.  Walls of windows and sky-high ceilings give the new terminal a feeling of light and airy spaciousness.  The new space is great for International travelers and on a recent trip to another part of South America, I breezed through check-in and security in just minutes with no hassles.

But for in-country travelers – a word of caution:  while Avianca offers some of the best deals around* – finding their terminal for domestic flights can be a real headache.  While the majority of domestic carriers including LAN, COPA and Sabena are housed in the domestic portion of the airport – Avianca is housed in a completely different area.  Even with my basic Spanish skills, it took some maneuvering.   I had arrived at the airport in what should have been plenty of time; but between trekking  from the international terminal (where my taxi driver insisted on dropping me off despite my protests) walking around ongoing construction and upgrades down to the domestic terminal (passing three separate, but not the correct, Avianca desks) requiring several stops for directions and finally a ride on a bus to get to the Avianca domestic terminal;  I missed my first flight, for which they wanted to charge me a 100,000 peso fine.

While I was able to negotiate my way out of the fine, and ended up flying standby on the next flight – I would advise fellow travelers to other destinations in Colombia to leave early.  Give yourself plenty of time to get around – and catch the airport shuttle if needed.  (Of course, now that you know where the Avianca terminal has been relocated – just ask your transportation to take you there.)  From the outside it looks like a maintenance hanger, with corrugated aluminum walls, (the only different is that now the building is teeming with activity).

But despite the hassles – in six months – El Dorado International Airport will be beautiful and finished.  All of these hassles and confusion will be sorted out – and travel will be smooth and effortless; like it was for my recent trip to Chile.

In the meantime, if you get the opportunity to see other parts of Colombia like Medellin, Cali, Cartagena, Santa Marta or the Coffeelands – do it.. Just be prepared for a little chaos on the way out..  Try Viva Colombia for low-cost domestic flights..usually around 40 to 60 dollars a trip (Medellin to Bogotá, one-way)

*For my current domestic excursion consisting of a three leg journey – from Bogotá to Cali – then Cali to Medellin and then back to Bogotá again – the total price was only 156.00 dollars (taxes included).

This week in Bogota

Finished a short film on robotic surgery yesterday and posted it to YouTube.

Going to the operating room this week with Dr. Torres, the nice young thoracic surgeon I spoke with last week.

Fashionistas beware!

I’ll be assisting Bogotano fashionistas this week – co-hosting a fashion party with my friend, Camila.  She is moving to Miami so she has to liquidate all the stock from her popular store on Calle 95.  It will be an afternoon of wine, cheese, fashion and fun – as she hosts a mini-fashion show for some of our friends on Saturday.

Closets by Camila is hosting a fashion event

A reggaeton group is playing down on Calle 83 this Friday – so we’ll be down there to check it out..

There’s also a big hip-hop event in Parque Simon Bolivar this weekend.  It’s the 16th year for this event – and it sounds like a lot of fun.

Still hoping to hike Monserrate but haven’t gotten around to it yet – but when I do, I’ll post some photos.

New International Terminal to open October 18th

Returned to Bogotá after a conference, and I am happy to report that the massive airport construction project at Bogotá Airport (El Dorado International Airport) is almost finished.  The first flight from the new terminal will be on October 17th – with full operations commencing in the new terminal on October 18th, 2012.

As one of the busiest airports in Latin America – and a hub for Avianca, Copa, LAN, Satena and EasyFly – (offering 6,000 flights per week on Avianca alone) this new terminal will ease congestion and improve traveler comfort..  I am flying out again later this month – so I will update everyone on all the details soon.

Want to wait in style?  Check out the VIP lounges.

Sundays outside Bogota

Since we’ve talked about the beauty of Sunday afternoons in Bogotá in previous posts – today we will talk about another great Bogotano Sunday tradition – the afternoon ‘in the country’.

When Bogotanos need or want a break from the hustle and bustle of the city – they don’t have to go far to enjoy a sunny afternoon in a more rural setting.  Just twenty minutes outside of Bogotá – the climate becomes warmer, and the landscape more serene.  Bogotanos by the carloads head out to enjoy an afternoon of “Colombian tipica” cuisine which includes some of my favorites; Morcilla (a delicious blood sausage), a corn-based soup, arapas, ribs and an array of traditional Colombian foods.

Enjoying Colombian tipico with friends, outside of Bogotá

Afterwards, a trip to the market for farm-fresh vegetables and fruits.  Today, we went to the market in Chia – a cocoa-scented orgy of a wide array of fruits and vegetables..  (About the only thing I’ve never seen here in blueberries – but with the vast variety of fruits here in Colombia, you will never miss them..)

Market in Chia

I know that I’ve talked about the various fruit markets before – but for me; these fruit markets are a symbol of how I see Colombia as a nation:  a country with such a rich bounty of resources, and a colorful mix of history and culture.  To me – it is impossible not to feel this way while strolling through the aisles.. Beautiful, colorful, deliciously rich fruit; familar standards (bananas, apples, oranges, strawberries) mixed in with the more exotic textures and tastes (frujoa, uchuva, guabanaba, about ten varieties of mangos, six different pomagranate type fruits, the sweetest pineapples ever tasted..)  And that’s just the fruit..


But more than escaping the city for a few hours to enjoy the food, and the sunshine – it’s a day to spend time with family and friends..  (Which is another thing that Bogotanos and Colombians do with style and enthusiasm..)

Spending the afternoon with friends

In the United States, we often tout our love of family and friends – but just as often, we don’t make the time to spend with them.  (I am just as guilty of that as anyone else.)  But  – it ‘s different here – no matter how busy (and many of the people I know here are extremely busy!) people stop to have a leisurely cup of coffee, a stroll in the park, or a long lunch with friends..  As someone who frequently travels alone – the friends I have made here during my extended visits have made a huge difference.. It’s more than the informal tours, and accidental introductions – it’s the sense of friendship, love and comraderie which made six months away from home and family bearable..  Not only that – but I find that these habits, and traditions become part of the lifestyles of everyone who lives here – so the Americans, the Germans, the South Africans and everyone else I’ve met has adopted many of these practices as well.  I know I have – taking time to smell the flowers, enjoy the day, no matter what else is on my schedule – and remembering to enjoy time with and appreciate the people I am with..


What is home? (and where is home?)

One of the questions I am asked frequently when I travel is “Where do you live?” or “Where are you from?” and sometimes, “Where is home?”

While these questions seem the same – they aren’t.  For someone like me who travels often for extended durations – the answers are often deeper than the questions.  The nature of the question of home changes.  Of course, I am from the United States – and I always will be; a born and bred southerner from Virginia.  But is it home?  Probably not, as my extended family lives in several different points of the globe, and without a job or a house in Virginia there is very little reason to return.

the neighborhood I call home..

Where do I live?  Not so easily either – unless you are asking directions to the apartment here in Bogota where I am staying for the next several months.  But is that home?  The answer is yes, and no.

I am not a native Bogotano and never will be.  My trips here are always too brief stops before heading on. But at the same time, in many ways it does feel like home.  Just yesterday – as I took my Sunday stroll, I ran into a friend of mine, so we walked a bit and enjoyed the sunny day.  Then as I was coming back, two people asked me for directions – (which I was able to give)..  Today, I am helping teach an English class and tomorrow I will be doing more research..

if home is having a favorite restaurant, then this is certainly it..

So in that sense, Bogota is more my home than several other places I’ve stayed.  I have favorite places to lunch, to shop, to buy groceries – all of those things that come with familiarity, with belonging. I can hop on and off Transmileno like a native and navigate myself through this busy city.  But in a few months – I will leave again – and don’t know when I will return.. so I guess Bogota is not home either.

Maybe home is the place a person longs to be.  But even that is fraught with complexity.  While I love my friends here, and always look forward to being here, for example,  I am also ‘homesick’ for many of my friends back in Mexicali..

or is this (the operating room/ hospital) home? Because I am certainly there a lot – and I miss it when I’m away..

I guess in the end, home is defined as my personal comfort zone.. so where ever my laptop and I end up – for how ever long – that must be home.

Bogota revisited

Finishing my first week in the doctoral nursing program before heading back to Bogotá in mid-September.  (I’ll be keeping in touch with my professors via Skype, Scopia and a variety of on-line media.)

I am exciting to be coming back to a city that I have come to know and love!  In fact, my only regret is that I didn’t devote enough pages of the book to the city itself.  At the time, I rationalized that people who were interested in the city would be able to find plenty of information in the existing travel guides (and I am not a traditional travel writer) – so I devoted myself wholeheartedly to medical tourism, hospitals and surgery.  But as time has passed – I regret not sharing the city more with readers, since after living there for almost six months (and traveling all over the city daily), I certainly became intimately familiar with much of it.

So, readers will be happy to hear that I haven’t made that mistake with my latest book on Mexicali, MX – but I am just happy to be going back to Bogotá, a city that truly has captured my heart..

It’s insidious, you know.  The things that I initially didn’t like (like the ‘eternal autumn’ weather) become some of the very things that make me enjoy the city so much.   Bogotá is a city that has to be ‘known’ to really be appreciated.  If you don’t scratch beneath the surface of this vibrant, amazing place, then you really won’t see (and love) the city.

For example; that cool, mild weather, that had me groaning the first few weeks also made it possible for me to spend much of my time outdoors – exploring the city, walking miles everyday.  Spend a week sweltering in Cartagena (or Mexicali, in August, for that matter) and you will see what I mean.

The food that seemed plain and unspiced at first, became something to savor.  All of the exotic and tangy fruits, and ‘real’ food taste – unmasked by heavy additives let me appreciate how wholesome and unaltered it really was.  It made me appreciate the subtlety and complexities of the meals I was enjoying.  (If you drown everything in ketchup or hot sauce – what are you really tasting?)

So, in just a few weeks – I will be back in this wonderful, charming, whirlwind place that has claimed a little corner of my heart.

as the mercury soars..

into the 110’s (and higher) it’s been an interesting week in Mexicali.  I’ve definitely entered new territory in my book writing venture.  In the last books, I basically didn’t see the forest for the trees – meaning that even as I raced around, and enjoyed the cities I was living in – I didn’t include any of the information about the cities themselves.. Just the surgeons, and surgery.

In retrospect – I think that was a mistake.  While I know the beautiful multifaceted Bogotá, my readers don’t.  At the time, I didn’t want to duplicate the efforts of the many talented travel writers out there.  But on consideration – living in a city is so much different from visiting one.   It takes months to see and fully appreciate the nuance of many locations – especially cities..  Anyone can talk about the historic church built in 19 whatever, but it takes time and familiarity to see the beauty of Mexicali’s Graceland, or the changing canvas of the UABC museum.  It takes time to collect the stories that bring the city to life.  So now, I am trying to do that – in a small fashion with everything I’ve collected since coming here in March.

I am not Frommer’s.. I am more like his awkward, quirky little cousin. I don’t have the manpower or the resources to talk about the hundreds of restaurants here (more than 100 Chinese restaurants alone!) but I can tell you some of my favorite places; for a casual lunch with friends, or a night on the town.  I can’t give exhaustive listings on all there is to see and do in this thriving city, but I can show you the heart of it.  I can tell you about the things that make Mexicali more than just spot in the hard-baked earth; the things that make this city real, and make it a fascinating place to be.  I can make your stay; whether just a few days, weeks or months; interesting and informative.

It’s been a fascinating and amazing journey to discover these ‘pockets of life’ and living history – and now that I am outside my realm (of medicine and surgery) one that would have been impossible without the numerous people who have embraced me, and shared their wisdom.  (It’s becoming quite the list – and I’ll share it with you all soon.)

But I certainly hope that my future readers enjoy the journey as much as I have.