Category Archives: Making the Leap

Medellín and Moving On

Dear Readers,

It’s been so long since I’ve written to you, and so much has changed since then, that it’s hard to know where to start. Well, maybe not that hard. For one, my husband, three year-old son and I moved to Medellín at the very end of July.

Public transport here takes many forms.

Public transport here takes many forms.

It’s a move we made for various reasons, including potential work opportunities, but mainly because we fell in love with the city. Medellín has turned itself around brilliantly since its darkest days in the 80’s and 90’s, and the city’s innovation and level of community involvement are remarkable – so much so that the UN’s World Urban Forum was held here just a few months back. Medellín’s “eternal spring” climate isn’t too shabby either.

We expected this move to be a relatively easy – nothing compared to the stress of making the leap from Miami to Barranquilla – and in some ways it was. Although paisa and costeña cultures are different, they’re not “different country different”. Daily life in Medellín still bears the hallmarks of the Colombian lifestyle we came to love in Barranquilla. While getting approved for an apartment wasn’t exactly easier – more on that in a moment – this time we knew what to expect. But there were circumstances surrounding this move that we didn’t see coming, as I suppose there always are with any major transition.

Richard Durrett, cousin, husband, friend, sports reporter, and above all, dad.

Richard Durrett, cousin, husband, friend, sports reporter, and above all, dad.

We didn’t expect the approval process for the apartment we selected to take nearly a month – enough time for the owner to receive offers to buy, which he decided to accept. We didn’t expect my cousin Richard Durrett, only 38 years old, to pass away unexpectedly during one of our short but intense apartment-hunting trips from Barranquilla. (This beautiful interview with his wife Kelly speaks to the heartbreak.) We didn’t expect to find out that I was pregnant in the weeks leading up to the move. We didn’t expect to find out that the pregnancy was ectopic, and for me to have to undergo emergency surgery to remove it, only six days before we had to be out of our apartment and on the plane.

We also didn’t expect, given that this move was our choice, to miss our friends and family in Barranquilla quite as much as we do. Friends and family, even if you don’t have time to hang out together all that much, are like money in the bank. It’s a constant reassurance to know they’re there if you need them. And after all that has happened, knowing they’re there is a feeling I miss.

Nope, can't complain about this view!

Nope, can’t complain about this view!

Interestingly, the apartment that we’re in now, which I love, backs right up to the building with the apartment that was sold before we were able to complete the paperwork to rent it. I don’t regret losing that apartment at all; the one we’re in is much better, which brings to mind the Spanish saying, “No hay mal que por bien no venga.” (“There’s nothing bad from which some good doesn’t come.”) But sometimes I sit in the green space at the bottom and look at the other building and think about how much happened between the time we found that apartment and the time we ended up in this one. Only about a month’s time, and yet somehow I see everything differently than I did before.

All this being said, we continue to be excited about this latest leap. Medellín has much to offer. Just within the past week, my husband and I went to one of the most amazing live concerts we’ve ever seen (Chick Corea and the Vigil, this shout-out is for you), took Marcello to the Buen Comienzo (“Good Start”) festival with countless interactive — and free! — exhibits for kids, toured a private castle-turned-museum, and visited with old Florida friends. (One friend just moved here herself, one was here for a fellowship, and two more simply came to visit – all confirming our hope that we would be a little more accessible here.) Plus, I made my first post-surgery foray into running with the Maratón de las Flores 5K, which was fantastically well-organized and fun. (Hello there, 42K, I’ll be seeing you next year.)

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We are looking forward to this new adventure, which brings me to the following question for you: What should this site be called going forward? Those of you who have followed this blog over the long haul know that leaps of faith, along with all the experiences and emotions that come with them, have been a near-constant theme. I’d like to create a website that continues that thread while still allowing for the place-based experiential travel writing – and of course, the humor – around which “Barranquilla or Bust” was centered. I’ve never been good at titles, so will you help me out? Please send me your suggestions. I have missed writing to you and for you, and look forward to retrenching with a bang-up new brand and site.

Thank you for reading – and in advance for sending me your ideas.

Yours in the journey,

Courtenay

P.S. If you send a website/blog name that I use, I will give you credit and a hyperlink on the site’s home page (pending editorial control to ensure appropriate content) for the first six months, and on the “About” page for the first year!

The Divided Life of the Modern Day Expat*

I used to dream of writing a novel called Halfway to India. I envisioned the book as a stylized version of the life I was leading at the time – a life married to a quintessentially American guy who had lived in the US for decades, but whose ties to his country of birth remained very strong. The “halfway” part alluded to my frustration that I could never work out the opportunity to actually go to the place that exerted such a powerful, pervasive influence on my everyday life. It was definitely a case of so close and yet so far.

Today, the tables are turned. I am not in India, though I eventually did visit.

Borders, identity cards, and legalities fail to convey a more complex reality.

What does moving to another country really mean in the age of the internet?

Instead, I am very happily in Colombia, the home turf of another culture that I love. But in many ways I am still only “halfway here”, in this country that I have made my home by choice. This is the blessing and the curse of the modern day expat: the ability to live with one foot in your country of birth and the other in your country of residence.

This divided – or integrated, depending on how you look at it – life that my husband and I lead is definitely a product of our technology-driven lives. Continue reading

The Pace of Change: My Post-Holiday Barranquilla Redux

Little did I know the changes amassing in Quilla while I was in the US!

Little did I know the changes amassing in Quilla while I was in the US!

I spent a truly lovely few years of my life – longer ago than I care to admit – living in Seattle. I don’t know whether Seattle is this way now, but back then, even though it was (and is) a big city, it offered a level of “sameness” that one might usually associate with a small town. One could go away on vacation and feel confident that Seattle would be waiting, basically the same as before, when one returned. Even after I had been living in Miami for two years, when I went back for a visit to Seattle I was still able to get coffee at Café Ladro and Espresso Vivace, and a big, fat peanut butter cookie from Cinnamon Works in Pike Place Market. I swear the same guy even checked me out at Bartell Drugs. (Whether this is good or bad is a question for that guy, but the fact that Bartell’s still exists is actually a little remarkable in and of itself.)

This isn’t to say that nothing changed – like any big city, there were always new developments in the urban landscape – but the changes were usually additions to what was there before, not replacements. This made Seattle sort of a comfort food of cities for me, which was important at the time since I was going through a divorce and other seismic life changes. Seattle was not always perfect, but there was a lot of security in knowing exactly what I was going to get.

This feeling stood in sharp contrast to my experience of Miami, the next place that I lived, this time for nearly a decade. Continue reading

Transportation in, to, and from Barranquilla

Readers, I’m thrilled to bring you a guest post from Paige Poole, a fellow Barranquilla transplant. Paige’s own blog, Transatlantic Adventure, includes fun and useful regular features like “Word Wednesday”—a must-read for people looking to bone up on Costeño (Coastal) Spanish. Paige also writes regularly for Uncover Colombia, a great source of destination-related info.

Brightly painted blinged-out buses are a common sight.  Figuring out how to use them is the challenge!

Brightly painted buses, often tricked out with special lights, are a common sight in B’quilla. Figuring out how to use them is the challenge!

After my family and I scored cheap plane tickets to Medellín based on Paige’s insights, I realized that she would be the perfect person to demystify what can be a challenging prospect for newcomers: figuring out how to get around. Believe me, if you’re moving here or even if you already live here, I know you’ll join me in thanking Paige for her incredibly helpful post, which follows below.

– Courtenay

Transportation in, to, and from Barranquilla

When first arriving to Barranquilla, public transportation can seem daunting, confusing, and overwhelming. While at its core you can find similarities between public transportation in Barranquilla and public transportation in other big cities around the world, you’ll also find there are many differences and peculiarities that can cause chaos if you are not aware of them!

First of all, you need to know that the main methods of transportation within the city of Barranquilla include: taxis, buses, “busetas,” and Transmetro. Continue reading

The Evolving Mental State of an Amateur Marathoner

I have now run four marathons – one at an okay speed, two at semi-impressive speeds, and one terribly slowly. But even at my fastest, I am the turtle in the tortoise/hare story — only the hare most definitely wins. But I am a happy turtle, and something keeps me coming back time and again. For anyone who’s ever wondered, “What the hell is she thinking?” — and for my fellow distance runners who understand the obsession and for the loved ones who have to put up with it — this post is for you. I present to you the inner thoughts of an amateur marathoner before, during, and after the big race.

Probably near the 10k mark.

Buenos Aires Marathon, October 13, 2013. Probably near the 10k mark.

DAY BEFORE – Time to pick up the race kit with my number, T-shirt, etc. Husband goes with me. Check-in people ask if he has brought his release form, etc. I tell them I’m the one running. They try to hide their surprise. Continue reading

Big Orange Trucks

Last night I said goodbye to a dear expat friend who returned to the US after living in Barranquilla for almost two years. While I am excited for this new era in his journey, he’ll be deeply missed here in Colombia.

As I helped him take his luggage to the counter at the airport, I felt that pang in my chest, signaling that the page is turning to a new chapter. While the page was mainly in his book, not mine, I have been there often enough to be familiar with the gratitude and anxiety, the hope and happiness, and the sentimentality and the sadness that pools behind that pang. It’s the feeling that comes up at all turning points — your own, and those of friends and loved ones. It’s the feeling that this poem tries to capture. Continue reading

The Price of Bliss (It’s Not About the Gun)

A gun doesn’t look like a gun when it’s pointed at you – at least it didn’t to me. It looked like a dark gaping hole – an ominous round circle, the center of which disappeared into a black void. That circle is the first and really the only thing I saw when I was mugged at gunpoint a couple of weeks ago about a half mile from my home in Barranquilla.

An artist's rendering of a black hole in the Milky Way, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

An artist’s rendering of a black hole in the Milky Way, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

It happened like this: I left the house around 4:00 pm on a Saturday afternoon, to do my weekly “long run”. I had planned to jog 18 miles through Barranquilla’s northern neighborhoods, but about eight miles in, I wasn’t feeling it. At mile 10, I reached the Parque Electrificadora that’s popular with many runners – there’s about a ½ mile loop around it – and stopped to walk. The sun had gone down, but plenty of people were out. I decided to walk toward home. I did not think this was a dicey decision – it’s about a mile between my house and the park on a busy street through an upscale neighborhood. Continue reading

(Friday Fotos) House Hunters International Take Two!

I knew it! You’ve been sitting around moping for the last three months because you missed our June debut on HGTV’s House Hunters International, Reconnecting family ties in Barranquilla, Colombia. Well, chin up, my friends because we’re back! Yep, we are officially a rerun. If you missed the show the first time, you can catch it this Saturday, August 24th at 10:30 PM and 1:30 AM Eastern/Pacific (click the above link for details).

To whet your appetite, below are a few screen shots of our TV during the June 10th airing. Apologies to all who were expecting some real, if amateurish, photography. I promise to do better next Friday. In the meantime, you can also check out these cool behind-the-scenes photos by Milena Thinkan, a member of the crew. If you watch on Saturday, you’ll get a pretty good sense of what Barranquilla is like these days. Thanks for tuning in, and happy Friday!

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In Celebration of You. That’s right – YOU.

This one is for you.

This one is for you.

Sometime last week, BoB hit 10,000 in the total number of site views.

While BoB still has a long way to go to hit the big leagues, I am humbled to have reached this point. Humbled because of you, because you take the time to read this blog. Time is a gift and you, my dear reader, have been very generous. I thank you.

For some reason, hitting the 10,000 mark made me pause to think about what this blog is really about. Under the title, it says “International relocation and other leaps of faith.” It’s the leaps of faith part that should be the focus. Continue reading

One Way, One Year – Looking Back on Our Leap

Proof!

One year ago today, my husband Gio, son Marcello, and I took a one-way trip on Spirit Airlines (ugh) to Cartagena, Colombia. We were in route to our new city of Barranquilla – a city in which I had never before set even my big toe. The weeks leading up to the move were intense.
We sorted all our worldly belongings into three piles: 1) ship to Colombia (a small pile), 2) store in Atlanta (a bigger pile), and 3) get rid of in some way, shape, or form (the biggest pile).

Getting rid of stuff can be really hard, and I don’t mean just making the decision to do it. I mean actually getting rid of it. Continue reading