Tag Archives: Latin America

Of God and Gabriel García Márquez

Sunday Mass at Barranquilla's Buenavista Mall

Sunday Mass at Barranquilla’s Buenavista Mall

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my nearly three years in Colombia, it’s that you can go to church almost anywhere. And I’ve learned this despite my non-church-going ways. How? Because it’s obvious. In Colombia, church very nearly comes to you.

There’s Mass in the mall. Big services occur every Sunday morning in the same place you go to see a movie on Saturday night, bringing new meaning to an old Jimmy Buffett song lyric: “There’s a thin line between Saturday night and Sunday morning.”

People crowding in for Sunday Mass at Santafe Mall in Medellín

People crowd in for Sunday Mass at Santafe Mall in Medellín

There’s Mass at the water park. I can’t show you photos because Continue reading

What message does your city send? This is Medellín’s.

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As 2015 rolls on, Medellín is still enjoying its reputation for innovation and urbanismo social (social urbanism)–an inclusive form of urban development famously manifested here in the use of cable cars and outdoor escalators as public transit and the placement of major public works like the España Library in poor areas. The city exudes an inspiring insistence on making sure that the tide of urban development lifts all boats.

But a question that comes up on occasion is whether Medellín’s reputation is based on reality or is merely the product of great marketing. (That Medellín resuscitated itself after years of violence toward the end of the 20th Century is not a subject of debate.) This Next City article, “Latin America’s New Superstar: How Gritty, Crime-Ridden Medellín Became a Model for 21st Century Urbanism“, and this This Big City piece, “Medellín: Miracle or Marketing Ploy?” provide a point-counterpoint.

As a new resident of Medellín, I’ve come to see the debate as a little beside the point, as long as the marketing is accompanied by sincere actions and significant progress. Living in a city that holds good values and repeatedly asserts them in a visible, pervasive way matters. Messaging can’t take the place of hard work and actual successes in helping people out of poverty and designing communities with a decent quality of life for all; the marketing would be downright offensive and frightening (nobody wants to be brainwashed or feel like they might be) without efforts in those areas. But, as the author of the “Medellín: Miracle of Marketing Ploy?” article alludes to toward the end, city leadership that expresses real concern about the needs of all its residents and acts on it, even if insufficiently and imperfectly, is better than city leadership that isn’t concerned at all. Besides, the good marketing ideally helps create a positive cycle in which saying the right thing and doing the right thing–at both the leadership and grassroots levels and on the individual and collective planes–feed each other.

For me, nowhere is Medellín’s messaging more notable than in the small text that appears just below the vast majority of billboards in the city (sponsored I assume by the Alcaldía, the Mayor’s Office). Continue reading

8 Ways that Medellín and Barranquilla Differ

Not too long ago, a reader considering a move to Colombia wanted to know more about the differences between Barranquilla, where I lived previously, and Medellín, where I live now. As I told her, in many ways the two cities could not be more different. Prior to my own move to Colombia, I heard from others that the cultures of the country’s four major cities – Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, and Barranquilla – are very distinct. So far (without having visited Cali – that’s on my list!), I’ve found that to be true, though I’m only qualified to talk about two.

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For others who may also be wondering how Barranquilla and Medellín line up, here are a few key differences to consider:

1. As Colombia’s second largest city (after Bogotá), Medellín feels like a big metropolis.

Continue reading

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!

(Video) A Taste of Pre-Carnaval in Barranquilla

Living in Barranquilla at this time of year, you never know when you might turn a corner and walk into a parade or party. That’s exactly what happened one night last year, when my husband and I heard music from our apartment. We wandered halfway down the block and were treated to a thorough sampling of the traditional costumes, dances, music, and cultural traditions that are part of Barranquilla’s Carnaval. Consider the 4-minute video below your “time lapse” Pre-Carnaval parade experience. If you live here, you may already know that there’s a big parade tonight, the Noche de Guacherna. Que lo disfrutes!

Want more? Here’s a very colorful photo essay and a little more about Carnaval’s history. Enjoy!

(Friday Fotos) Now THIS is a Rock – El Peñón de Guatapé

La Piedra, as seen from the Embalse Peñol-Guatapé (Peñol-Guatapé Reservoir).

La Piedra, as seen from the Embalse (Reservoir) Peñol-Guatapé.

Medellín is perfect for day-tripping, with several great destinations within easy reach. But be forewarned — if you take one of the standard tours to El Peñón de Guatapé, you are probably in for a bit of exercise! Our driver dropped us off at the base of La Piedra de Peñol (the Rock of Peñol), as the freakishly pointy rock is also known, and then informed us that he’d wait while we ascended the 740 steps to the viewing platform on the summit. That we had a two-year-old on our hands did not seem to change our driver’s expectations. My husband, ever the good sport and fortunately boasting admirable upper body strength, was up for the challenge. I did a bit of toddler-hauling myself, and we made it to the top. The good news is that the climb was worth it.

La Piedra is a natural rock formation with a total height of 2,135 meters above sea level. The prominently visible portion rises 200+ meters from the surrounding terrain. The locals told me it may have been a meteorite, though other sources state that it emerged as part of the region’s natural rock bed. Regardless, it’s no surprise that the rock was treated as sacred by the indigenous people that used to inhabit the area. La Piedra was first ascended in 1954 by local admirably-crazy guy (I have deemed him such) Luis Eduardo Villegas López and a couple of others. The masonry steps, squeezed into one of the Stone’s few natural crevices,  were built in subsequent years by a visionary family that supposedly still maintains them today.

Visible on the rock are two giant painted letters — a “G” and what looks like an “I”. Legend has it that they’re remnants of a dispute between the towns of Guatapé and Peñol, between which the rock sits. The story is that Guatapé residents started painting their town’s name on the side of La Piedra until folks from Peñol mobilized to stop them. Only the almost-GU remains. Personally, I kind of feel for Peñol, seeing as how the original town of Viejo Peñol was flooded in 1978 and relocated to create the Peñol-Guatapé Reservoir. That being said, another account I read seems to imply that the letter-painting was halted because of La Piedra’s designation as a national monument by the Colombian government. I choose to believe the more fun mob story.

In any case, El Peñon is definitely worth the pain in your calves and shakiness in your quads. Take a look and enjoy for yourself! Click on a photo to open a slideshow and see captions.

Reflections on Thanksgivings Away

A Strickland Family Thanksgiving.

A Strickland Family Thanksgiving.

Just before my senior year of college, thanks to a generous scholarship from the Georgia Rotary Student Program, I had the opportunity to attend the International Summer School at the University of Oslo in Norway. (By the way, the application process for this scholarship is currently open!) The students hailed from more than 80 countries around the world. The experience was equal parts magic (there’s nothing quite like the views en route between Oslo and Bergen) and practical learning (people from almost anywhere will eat rice with a bean sauce, but music is harder to agree upon). Regularly scheduled “Cultural Nights” were intended to help students get to know each others’ cultures, from local crafts to music, dance, style of dress, food, and more.

Fortunately, making a presentation during Cultural Night was optional. Why fortunately? Continue reading

Ten Surprising Facts About Shopping in Colombia

I am not much of a shopper. I find the whole process a little intimidating. In spite of this, I’m a bit of a clothes hog and a total nester, as well as an admitted sucker for beautiful design.

One of Barranquilla's primary "big box stores" - a Super Almacen Olimpica (SAO).

One of Barranquilla’s primary “big box stores” – a Super Almacen Olimpica (SAO).

There’s no doubt I like owning nice stuff. If you add the fact that I have lived most of my adult life on my own at a nonprofit salary, then it becomes (maybe) a little understandable that I developed some semi-unconventional shopping habits. For years, I craigslist-ed my way into great furniture, bargain-binned into fancy clothes, and spent all the rest of my money traveling and moving to new places. I thought I had the whole shopping thing figured out — and then I moved to Colombia. Below, are ten facts that took me off guard as I learned to navigate the shopping landscape in Barranquilla. For more shopping specifics, be sure to also click on my Leap Sources page.

1. Generally speaking, imports are really expensive.

Imports are heavily taxed. Now that the US-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA) is in force, tariffs are being reduced or eliminated entirely from various categories of US imports. 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