Category Archives: Daily Life

Big Guys with Big Guns: My Take (What’s Yours?)

To be fair, these guys are outside a small military installation (I'm told it's a colonel's home) a couple of blocks from our house. They were very friendly.

To be fair, these guys are outside a small military installation (I’m told it’s a colonel’s home) a couple of blocks from our house. They were very friendly.

Last week, my husband and I and our friend Scott took our usual Friday night trip to the movies at Barranquilla’s swanky Buenavista Mall. As is my routine, I stopped in the bathroom before the show. Coming out, I nearly ran slap into a big guy holding a really big gun – some kind of military-style assault rifle or semi-automatic type thing. (Can you tell how much I know about guns? It’s not much.) I jumped back, since this was not really what I expected in the middle of a nice multiplex movie theater in a very large, ultra-posh North American-style mall. I quickly realized that the movie theater offices were located near that particular bathroom, and that the guy with the gun was in the hallway probably because he and his partner were picking up or delivering a bunch of cash, á la Brinks in the U.S.

This was nothing I hadn’t seen before in Colombia.  Continue reading


Top Ten Ways that Going to the Doctor in Colombia is Different than in the U.S.

As you might imagine or know from personal experience, living in another country requires getting used to certain things that, if you’re lucky, you never have to encounter during short-term travel. Among those are health care and health insurance systems. Besides obvious challenges like trying to describe your symptoms in a language that’s not your native tongue, there are lots of other surprises — good and bad. Here’s my top ten list of how going to the doctor in Colombia is different than in the U.S.: Continue reading

Apps for Expats – Or Anyone Who Wants to Communicate (For Free!) Internationally

Author’s Update, 2/12/14: It’s been over a year since I wrote the below post. While most of the recommendations stand true, I’ve switched from using magicJack as my primary phone for international calls to Skype. magicJack still works as described, but overall Skype connections have been more reliable and clear. Check back soon for Apps for Expats II, with more input and suggestions!

Ask anyone who’s moved abroad or traveled for extended periods and they’ll agree: staying in touch with folks back home is one of the keys to adjusting to a new life. For those with friends and family in another country, being able to communicate easily can make the distance seem a little less.

Fortunately, casual communication across international borders has never been easier or cheaper. Virtually gone are the days of expensive international calls and internet chats with spotty connections.   And while apps like Skype and FaceTime are hugely helpful for calls and chats, there are plenty of other tools for more specific needs. Here are just a few apps – all of which can be downloaded for free – that I love and use regularly: Continue reading

I Should Be in a Nike Commercial

Okay, no, I am actually not that vain! Or that deluded. I have neither the level of fitness nor the physique, even at its worked-out best, to warrant a Nike commercial. (And I’m not sure that I could in good conscience advertise for them, although geez, I do like their running clothes….)

At the finish line of the Reykjavik Marathon in Iceland, 2009 (I think).

But that is how running often makes me feel: self-delusional in a good way – the kind of way that makes you get more done, act confidently, and generally avoid being a neurotic stress case. After years of running (and almost 1,400 miles logged on that Nike+ tracker thing), I can tell you with absolute certainty that the “runner’s high” is real.

So it’s no surprise, then, that one of the first things I asked Gio after his April scouting trip to Barranquilla was, “Can I run there?” Continue reading

Recycling, Colombian-Style

Barranquilla is a very modern city. Nonetheless, it’s still common to see horse-drawn carts on city streets. The guys with the carts (I have yet to see a woman with this job) are usually buying or selling something, which they announce via  megaphone — that way, you can hear it from your apartment and come down to meet them (think ice cream truck in the U.S.).

The odd thing is that they always announce what they’re buying/selling in this nearly unintelligible monotone with no pauses between words. The following 7-second video will show you what I mean. Continue reading

Barranquilla – Where North is West-ish

Ever since Gio and I began contemplating a move to Barranquilla, we were told to live in “El Norte”, the northern part of the city. Our neighborhood, Torcoroma — named after a Romanesque style church in the area that I have yet to see — is definitely considered to be smack in the middle of El Norte. When we take a cab toward El Centro, the center of town (I know, I know, you never would have guessed that “El Centro” means “center”!), everyone says we are headed South.

The orange pinpoint is Torcoroma, our neighborhood. “El Centro” is the area sort of between “Boston” and “Bolivar” on this map.

So imagine my confusion when one afternoon, on just such a drive, I realized that the sun was in the wrong place. Continue reading


Café en la Calle

Café en la Calle

Just about anywhere in B’quilla, you can get a cup of coffee right on the street. Vendors wheel carts with several thermoses. Using a wooden paddle like the one you see here, vendors can prepare several cups, large and small, at once. There’s milk and sugar to add in and you can get a pancito (small piece of bread) too. Who needs Starbucks anyway!

Show me the money!!! Or at least explain the exchange rate.

$20,000 peso bill, back and front. $1,000 peso bill. $5,000 peso bill. My niece recently gave me a lesson in how to tell if bills are counterfeit.

One of the challenges for a NorteAmericano in Colombia – at least for one like me who is not so great at mathematical estimates – is the exchange rate. Right now, it’s roughly 1,800 Colombian pesos to the dollar. So a bottle of Coke might be $3,000 (the symbol for the peso is the same as for the dollar – $) and your groceries might cost $248,000. We bought a queen size mattress the other day and the cost was over $1 million. It’s hard not to feel an initial sense of shock when you hear the number. Continue reading

Uh, which movie is that? And you wanna sit where?

Movie theater at the Buena Vista shopping center.

This past Tuesday, August 7th, was a “día feriado” – a holiday – and so Gio and I headed for a late afternoon movie. Here are a few things we learned from our first Colombian movie experience: Continue reading

Driving Mr. Baby – In Colombia

The infamous baby car seat and Gio installing it.

The infamous baby car seat and Gio installing it.

Ah, the baby’s car seat. Rarely does such an accepted feature of toddler life in the U.S. raise so many issues when traveling abroad. Like most parents, Gio and I are extremely vigilant about the safety of our baby. After being informed by a pediatrician friend and fellow mom that motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of accidental death for children traveling abroad, we committed ourselves to using the car seat during our time in Colombia. Continue reading