International Tango festival

There’s always something going on here in Medellin, so I am keeping busy even when I’m not in the operating room.

Dressed and ready to tango!

Dressed and ready to tango!

This week – it’s the 6th Festival Internacional de Tango..

the crowd at the Botanical Gardens enjoys a free show during the International Tango Festival

the crowd at the Botanical Gardens enjoys a free show during the International Tango Festival

While salsa dancing is a Colombian original (from Cali), the Argentine tango is alive and well here in Medellin.  At this week’s festival, several musicians and dancers from Medellin are being showcased for their skills – along with Buenos Aires legends..  Local schoolchildren are also participating in a series of concerts and dance demonstrations.  It’s quite a bit of fun – and showcases some of the things the city of Medellin really excels at.

After attending a Tango performance last weekend, and numerous other public events and outings – one of the things that it really noticeable is how well the city manages these events.

Fun and family friendly

There has been no trash or litter, no displays of public drunkenness (despite the fact that there is plenty of alcohol at these events), and no disturbances at any of our outings (and several were free).


Roaming the city

During the weekend, we roam the city – taking pictures, enjoying the endlessly lovely weather – and riding on the metro (train).  The trains are affordable, quick (and if you avoid peak traveling times during the week) not too overly crowded.

above ground metro train

above ground metro train

Universidad Station

Universidad Station

Several parks and museums are located close to the Universidad Station including the Planetarium, Parque Explora (for kids) and the Botanical Gardens.

the planetarium

the planetarium

The Botanical Gardens

The ‘Joaquin Antonio Uribe’ Botanical Gardens were a delightfully relaxing place to spend a gorgeously sunny Sunday afternoon in the midst of the city, but away from the hustle and bustle of El Centro (where I live).

Jardin botanico 038

Admission is free.

There was live music to listen to, plenty of flowers, and wildlife to enjoy (iguanas roam the grounds), and assortment of snacks (ice cream, juice drinks, and other regional treats).

Iguanas roam the park

Iguanas roam the park

But the park isn’t just there to enjoy nature.. It’s a great place to people watch.. Also the people of Medellin are very kind and friendly, so they are happy to talk – even to gringas with bad Spanish, like myself.

using his camera to meet girls

using his camera to meet girls

We watched this photographer use his camera to meet girls as he roamed the park..

A group of young people singing…

Jardin botanico 134

Then we met a lovely princess..

Jardin botanico 043

and a local vendor selling gum in the park..

lost his leg due to a landmine

lost his leg due to a landmine

This very nice gentleman is a reminder that as sunny and lovely as Medellin is – there is still an ongoing war to remember.. One that has devastated thousands of young men, and displaced millions of people.

jumping rope

jumping rope


As a visitor (and temporary resident) of Medellin – the wholesomeness of the park is enchanting.. It’s a reminder of one of the reasons, I do enjoy Colombia so very much.. Just like my “Sundays in Bogotá” – the city slows down during the weekends, and people spent time with their loved ones.. No gameboys in evidence, and phones used mainly to take pictures..  It’s a gracious illusion that reminds me of my own childhood in a small town..

Sunday lunch: the food of Antioquia

So, my talent runs short when photographing food..


As I may have mentioned before, the regional cooking of Colombia varies quite a bit.  Cartagena and the other Atlantic coastal areas, are famous for the Caribbean influence of the local cuisine which is heavy on fried plantanos, fish and a caribbean (caribe) curry type flavor.

Bogota, as a more mountainous but cosmopolitan area boasts a ready mix of flavors, but also have delicious traditional dishes such as Ajiaco, and  my personal favorite, morcilla.

We’ve talked about the tamals of Tolima.. and the vast array of fruits and vegetables, many of which only exist here (or in very specific areas of Colombia).  I have an intense love for chonteduro, feijoa and uchuva myself.. There is another blog, by a fellow traveler – who documents his delicious encounters with numerous varieties of Colombian fruit.

found mainly around Cali (and some parts of Panama)

found mainly around Cali (and some parts of Panama)

While I mainly write about surgery and such, I think it’s important that visitors to Colombia have a chance to experience the rich abundance of this country – and no where is it more evident than in the streets, fruit markets and grocery stores due to the readily availability of fruit.  No visitor to Colombia should ever leave thinking Colombian cuisine is just arepas, empanadas and frijoles.

concord grapes, uchuva, mangos, brevas, strawberries, guava and mangostinos are just a few of the delicious (and cheap!) fruit grown in Colombia

concord grapes, uchuva, mangos, brevas, strawberries, guava and mangostinos are just a few of the delicious (and cheap!) fruit grown in Colombia

Mangostinos are a particular delight – with an inedible hard shell, but a creamy, smooth and amazingly rich/ sweet interior.

Mangostinos (and brevas) with rich creamy interior of mangostino visible.

Mangostinos (and brevas) with rich creamy interior of mangostino visible.

But the food of Medellin, the food of the ‘paisa’ has its own flavors.. Hard to know where to start – and you don’t want to get locked into thinking ‘bandeja paisa’ is all Medellin has to contribute to Colombia’s culinary culture.

But I am fortunate enough to live with a native Medellinesa, Diana, who (among other things) is an excellent cook, so I can pretty much label “Authentic Cuisine of Antioquia” to most of what comes out of the kitchen, with the exception of the few paltry and miserable offering of my own.  (I am not a good cook.)

DeAna, with Olle Petersson

Diana, with Olle Petersson

So for Father’s Day lunch, we had grilled pork with a grape sauce, rice and a ‘green salad’ made of green tomatos, mild onions, avocados and a light dressing along with a creamy vegetable soup.  (Sorry I don’t know all the foodie terms like compotes and such – but it was delicious all the same.)

creme of vegetable soup, pork with grape sauce, green salad and rice

creme of vegetable soup, pork with grape sauce, green salad and rice

Medellin, my beautiful friend..

I don’t know how it always happens.. I set out on one kind of expedition and (frequently) it turns into something else.  So we have it.. I was planning to write extensively on Panama City, but looky, looky – here I am again, living in the fantastic, tragic beauty of Medellin.

As I wrote once before, Medellin is a city of great loveliness, but somehow Bogotá always blinded me to Medellin’s charms.. But it’s time to give Medellin a fair shake, so here I am..

Medellin 002

Ceviche with Anthony Bourdain in Panama City

Okay, okay.. so maybe it wasn’t actually WITH Anthony Bourdain, but based on Anthony Bourdain and his episode on Panama.. (Season Six, episode 1 of “No Reservations“).

As everyone who is a fan of any of his shows already knows, Anthony Bourdain loves ceviche.. Me, personally, not so much..  I mean – it is raw fish – in juice.. Or at least that’s what I thought it was after a particularly nasty encounter in Buenos Aires..

But one of the members of my “Away Team” convinced me to give it another shot..  Since, rumor had it – “Anthony Bourdain recommends the ceviche at stall #2 in the fish market.” Logically it seemed like sound advice – where better to re-attempt ceviche than a place named “Abundance of Fish”..

type different varieties of ceviche from the famed stall #2.

type different varieties of ceviche from the famed stall #2.

Anthony’s right – it was delicious..

Afternoon at the finca, and a day at the market

We spent Saturday exploring Lerida and cruising around.

Ready for adventure

We stopped at several roadside stops to buy some local fruit before heading off to La Gaviota, a local finca owned by a Brazilian woman.

buying papayas

We bought some delicious sugar mangos, along with some sweet papayas and mandarins.

enjoying sugar mangos

La Gaviota, a finca in Tolima

Now, there are two kinds of fincas in Colombia; working fincas and pure vacation fincas.  A working finca is usually a farm or an orchard – often owned by a city resident but managed locally.  This allows people who live and work in Bogota to have a get-away place that also brings in income.

one of the lakes at La Gaviota

Some of these fincas have been in peoples’ families for generations and produce much of the fruit and livestock products (dairy, meat etc) that are sold in Colombia.

Other fincas are pure recreational homes, and as such, are primarily owned by wealthier Colombians though this is not always the case.  Fincas vary from modest cabin style affairs to elaborate, ornate mansions with swimming pools, tennis courts and private fully stocked ponds.  Since most working people can’t stay at their finca very often, many owners rent out their fincas part-time.  Such was the case with the lovely La Gaviota.

the pool, surrounded by fruit trees

The entire property has been planted with fruits and trees native to Brazil and the staff encourages visitors to sample the many exotic varieties.

Yaca, a fruit native to Brazil

There is a swimming pool, and several lakes stocked with fish.  There is also a hotel, and a restaurant, where they will prepare your fresh catch.  Like many of the numerous fincas that dot the landscape here, they welcome travelers and offer services at reasonable rates.  So we spent the sunny afternoon at the pool.

The next day, we went to the market in Lerida.   We bought some more ‘tipica’ or traditional Tolidense food called lechona from a very nice young man who helps his grandmother.

young man selling lechona

While I vary from vegetarianism to veganism in the states, I never hesitate to try another delicious typical dish when I am traveling – and it was marvelous; warm, savory and flavorful.

There are several variations of lechona, which is stuffed pork but the Tolidense version uses a base of garbanzo beans for the stuffing and comes with a sweet-flavored bread stuffing called insulso on the side.


The grandmother, also invited us to come to her house where she had other tolidense specialities for sale, including tolidense tamales.

with grandmother

There were other vendors selling panela which is popular sugar product here in Colombia, (and other latin American countries.)  It’s a staple, a form of unrefined sugar produced at the local sugar cane factories in the region.  (I particularly like panela in my coffee and tea.)


We met and purchased several tamales from another vendor in the market, a very nice woman who was very happy to pose for the camera.  I am ashamed to say that I forgot to write her name in my little notebook because my hands were full with all of our great purchases.

homemade tamales

Photo shoot day 2

In National news today – sure don’t know what those Nicaraguans were thinking to ‘wander’  [ie. smuggle] into Colombian waters and cause an international ‘diplomatic’ incident..

Police found a truck literally full of drugs.. It was a construction vehicle – and when they examined it – it was literally stuffed with drugs that came pouring out when they pierced the body of the truck..

Completely hooked on the ‘El Patron’ series.. My Spanish must be getting better because I can actually distinguish the Medellin accent. Going to have to find a boxed set to bring back home with me since I missed the first season.

Can’t help but love this fabulous city – always something going on – something to see, people to meet and talk to..  (and Bogota loves all its citizens..)

street art

Met some LDS missionaries from California today.. Such nice kids – said they are enjoying the city.

Back in the studio with the fabulous Aj for another dramatic photo shoot.. Two different looks today –   the first is 1920’s theme – aka “Betty Boop

Like I said – I’m not the professional photographer – he’s just nice enough to let me take some pictures while I’m there.. so these are the unretouched, unaltered versions.. He’ll probably do something really fabulous with the ones he took..  I just though y’all would enjoy seeing another facet of my daily life here in Bogotá.

The Betty Boop pout

I have a picture of Aj with the photographer – a great guy named Edgar Bernal.  He has a shop on Calle 64 No 7 – 38 (and a great eye for style.)

Aj gets a touch up – as if perfection needs any help!

One more Betty Boop –

For the next set – more of a traditional 1920’s Bob, if you can call fuchsia traditional.

getting ready

She has such the perfect face for this look –

Then a quick stop – just to pop-in and say hello to German Encino and his wife, Else.. They are the owners (and operators) of a little corner restaurant called the Superdeli on Calle 64 No. 8 -04.  I didn’t stay for lunch this time – but it’s definitely one of my favorites – just a laid back place – good food, nice atmosphere, and nice people..

German Encino and his wife

I do a lot of wandering / exploring/ adventuring around the city – so I end up at different little cafes and kitchens everyday but I wanted to mention Superdeli for a couple of reasons – one – the food is good enough that I’ve come back several times (and the Lulu juice!)  and secondly – they are always friendly and welcoming in a neighborly way – not a ‘hello tourist’ way…

On that note – of wandering – a little advice to fellow wanderers…

If you can see the mountains – you are never really lost..

If you can see the mountains – you are never really lost, and can always find your way home.. The carrera starts at the base of the mountain (carrera 1) – so if you walk a few streets – you’ll hit carrera 7 (septima) which is a main artery for the city..

The calles run in the opposite direction – Calle 1 is in the heart of town (not a particularly nice area but some interesting stuff is located here – like Hospital San Juan de Dios) and heads outwards in both directions..

they only look fierce –

Of course, if you are really LOST – these guys (above) are always happy to help.. Even if you don’t speak Spanish.. (Just keep a note card with your local address on it – it’s also good for taxicabs..)

Had a great day in the operating room today – so I’ll post something tomorrow (with pics)..

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..


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.

Saturday in Mexicali

After all our serious discussions about TAVI this week, we’ve moved on to some more casual topics.. It’s a sunny, quiet Saturday in Mexicali – so we spent the day enjoying some of what the city has to offer..

First we stopped by the Betty diner for lunch – a Betty Boop themed 50’s diner that we stumbled across the other day.

Betty Diner

Av. Honduras #123

Esq. on Bogotá

Col. Cuauhtemoc Sur

Mexicali, B.C

(near the Plazita)

Open 8am to 9am – closed Mondays..

Betty Boop restaurant

I’m not usually a ‘food poster’ – so I don’t usually post pictures of food – but since we are talking about a restaurant, I’ll break some of (my) rules..  It’s a casual place – with a mix of Mexican and American style food.

with the requisite chips and salsa..

The owner, Francisco Padillo was there – and he was very nice, along with all of the servers.  I made my husband order his meal in his (worse than mine) remedial Spanish.  He also paid in dollars – with no eye rolls and/or  sighs from the staff..

the smiling staff at the Betty diner

All and all – it was a nice lunch.

Since, I was acting like a preadolescent girl, my husband (continued to) indulge me – and we headed over the Hello Kitty store just down the street – in the Plazita..

The Hello Kitty store

(Really – who can resist Hello Kitty!  – she’s just so darn cute!)

After that – we were off to do some of our regular errands..

Mexico on my mind….and the city by the fence

Actually, it is on my mind quite a bit these days, as you can imagine.  But that’s also the title of the new website where I will be contributing to articles about life, and health care in Mexicali.  It’s a website designed for Americans and other extranjeros living in Mexico, so I thought it was the perfect place for some of my articles on medical emergencies and medical services.

I think that if you are an ex-pat living in a different country/ culture/ etc. even if you’ve been here for a while – if you become ill, it’s a little more frightening and confusing than it might be in your old hometown.  So, hopefully the addition of a fellow gringa to help navigate the system, so to speak, is more comforting and helpful to readers..

Of course, many of the readers of the site are living in different areas of the country, so this is also a chance for me to speak up and promote Mexicali – and after being here for a couple of months – I really think that Mexicali is often judged harshly.

Sure, I don’t want it to become the next Cabo San Lucas – where Spanish is drowned out by drunken teenagers hollering, puking and carrying on in English, and Mexican culture has been submerged beneath a sea of tacky shops, Starbucks, and the homogenous effect of chain restaurants and fast food.  But I also think that when people skip over Mexicali, they are missing a chance to see an interesting side of Mexico – a side that is often downplayed to tourists unless you are heading to Mexico City.

But first – let’s be sure to say what Mexicali isn’t.  It isn’t a quaint seaside resort, or charming village.  It also isn’t a crime-infested border city, as we’ve talked about before.

If you are looking for cute, charming and rural – this isn’t the place for you.

But that’s not to say that Mexicali is without its own considerable charms.  It is first and foremost – a city of industry.  While this contributes to wide areas of industrial blight (factories and their by-products aren’t particularly attractive) – it also means that there is a significant sector of skilled labor and a higher overall standard of living.  Some of this industry is medical, but much of it is more traditional – factories and companies who came here to take advantage of NAFTA.  Frito-Lay is here, Modelo brewing is here, as well as several juice distributors and machineries.  But there is also Intuitive Surgical – the makers of the DaVinci Robot, a two million dollar piece of extremely sophisticated medical technology.

street art in Mexicali

It is also the capital of Baja California, so there is a large contingent of government offices here too,  along with the Universities and educational facilities of higher learning.

But most importantly, it is a city of people.  These people are the true heart of ‘Mexican culture’, in a very real sense.  I am fortunate that as a student, in my daily activities – I get to encounter these people on a day-to-day basis – and the people of Mexicali have proven to be as friendly and welcoming as any city I’ve ever lived.  Despite the close proximity to the border, this is the real Mexico – and it hasn’t been diluted.  Spanish remains predominant, and real working class citizens populate the streets and buildings as opposed to the more touristy destinations where everything has been ‘Americanized’ for our comfort.

Want to learn Spanish?  Then come here.  You will get to practice every day.  People will help you, correct your grammar, offer you the occasional missing word – and they do it with patience and a smile, but they will expect you to speak Spanish all the same.

The charm is here – on the quiet, upscale streets in the different barrios of the city, in the music emanating from well-kept homes, in the kitchens of mom and pop restaurants serving native dishes, and in the way that residents still welcome outsiders like myself.

They have pride in their city, their way of life and take pains to encourage me to sample it – pieces of their culture, whether as part of traditional festivities for a national holiday, or a bite of food from a street vendor or even just directions to the best [blank] in town.

an art museum in Mexicali

It also has its own identity, distinct from larger Mexico.  Some of this comes from dealing with the heat – 120 degree days in the summer are not uncommon – on these dry, sun-baked and parched streets.. Some of it comes from the unique make-up of this city – which boasts a shared heritage with a large Chinese community who fled the states after building the railroads.  So, yeah – they probably have the best Chinese food in Mexico too.

So hopefully, as I write about the doctors, and hospitals of Mexicali, visitors to the city will see the other charms that make me appreciate this place a little more every day.