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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Watching the "Cumbre de las Americas"

I'm sitting on the couch watching the dignitaries enter the “Summit of the Americas” or “Cumbre de las Americas”. I never watch the news and wouldn't care about this gathering of Presidents from 32 countries in the Americas except that it is taking place in Cartagena this year.
The conference is held every 3ish years to discuss topics such as: trade relations, the war on drugs and the environment. These, the most powerful people in the world, gather to discuss policies and relations that have a trickle-down effect into my life.
The embassy here in Bogota has been focused on this event for the last 6 months. Planning, meetings and trips to Cartagena have affected every employee. Many families have known their spouse would be in Cartagena for some task – whether making sure a Senator's luggage makes it to his hotel, working a security detail or like my man, making sure any American who drinks water from the tap gets anti-diarrhea medicine!
The streets have been cleared and security is at it's highest. I'm watching armored SUV's pull up to the center. The Colombian Navy in their dress whites stand in salute guarding the red carpet as the Presidents get out of their vehicles and ascend the long stairway. At the top they are greeted by President Santos before entering. For an hour I text with my man who is inside the convention center. As I watch the dignitaries on TV, he comments about them as they pass.
Chad in front of "The Beast" - the Pres. limo
A limo pulls up displaying the Colombian flag in one corner and the American flag in the other. The presidential seal is on the door and I feel a smile spread across my face. The leader of our country.
Erica by huge bouquet in convention center.
The Presidents have entered the center so now the cameral follows them through the long hallways to the hall. Cream marble and the Navy in salute silently speak of the powerful presence represented there. The journey is long and each President with only a spouse to accompany them walks alone.
They enter the hall to a room-full of people snapping pictures. I see phones and i pads held up to take pictures of each President. I search the crowd to see if I recognize anyone. Then Obama enters and half the hall puts down their phone to applaud.
Hmmm... If I was there would I want my one glimpse of the President to be through the lens of my camera, or with my own baby blues?
The convention begins with Shakira singing the Colombian national anthem. It's the first time I've heard it sung and am glad Elena was sitting with me to tell me who was singing what! I text my husband. “Shakira?” Yep, he's back-stage and she just walked passed him.
He texts me "where's Obama sitting?"  From the vantage point of the tv I'm able to see head-on where he is.  "Front row, left of the middle."  I text back.  Silence.  Then "I'm peaking through the curtain and I can see him.  I'm like 30 feet from the President!"  Wow.  It's fun to live in the moment of exhilaration.
This won't make me start watching politics on a regular basis, but I think I'll pull-out the quilt I'm working on and stay tuned for a few hours.

- Kris

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Los Nevados

At Colegio Gran Bretana every year (grade) is assigned a place in Colombia that they can go to for a camp, but the camp is optional. Year 8 is Los Nevados.

A view of one of the many mountains on a rest stop from the jeeps.
Los Nevados is a beautiful part of Colombia, but is very cold! - and there is not a lot of snow. Not everyone chose to go on the trip so some of my friends didn’t come. But there also has to be enough people, which didn’t happen for Damon and Maddie, so they didn’t get to go on their camps.

Everyone packed in the jeeps

The drive there was very long, but being with my friends helped pass the time. After we got off the bus we stayed at a hotel for one night, and luckily my friend and I got to share a room. The next day we got up early and hopped into 3 jeeps. The whole back was open, so the person on the outside had to hang on for their life! It also was much colder, but very fun. We were in the jeeps for about 3 hours, very cold, and not allowed to put on all our warm clothes all at once, but it was probably my favorite part of the whole trip. 

On the jeep ride to the park where we were staying. As you can see the roads are very windy, but the view is beautiful!
When we arrived at the camp ground everyone was cold and felt pretty sick. We also went very high up so throughout the week people had to go on oxygen. We got into groups and set up tents. Every night a different group had to take a turn making dinner (which was always disgusting so I almost starved). The next day we got right to work and went on our 'practice hike” took 5 hours to hike up (but only 1 to get down, which was good).  My friends and I were tired, but we managed to stay in almost the front of the group the whole time, and hiking with my friends made it more fun. It turned out to be fun and we felt very proud of ourselves when we finished, and I have to say, the view at the top almost made it worth it! 

At the top of the first hike

The second day hike was around 9 hours up and 3 down. I thought I would never make it! The goal for everyone - that made everything worth it though; the hike, the cold - was the snow at the top. It wasn’t the first time I have ever seen snow (though it was for some people), and it wasn’t the best snow ever, but the snow was from an old glacier that used to be there, which I thought was pretty cool!

Our tents (you can see the hotel right behind them)
After we got back from the long hike that night, the lady who took care of the hotel felt bad for us sleeping outside in tents so she let us all sleep on the floor in the common room of the hotel.  This made packing up the next morning much easier and sleeping a lot more comfortable. The hotel was actually the highest hotel in South America which made it very expensive and a BIG honor!
The next morning we packed up and hit the road, first in the jeeps (where I ended up on the floor to make room for everyone else) and then another very long bus ride.
In the end it was all worth it, and I enjoyed my experience in Los Nevados a lot!

Victory is ours!!! (at the top of the second hike)
I don't look that thrilled though because someone had just thrown a 
snowball down my back

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A day in Tobia

Our first day of spring break promised to be good as a peak out the window revealed a beautiful morning. I awoke sleepy teens, packed up the car and headed to a day of adventure in Tobia. Little did we know...
After slowly battling traffic to get out of town, we crossed the rim of the basin that Bogota is settled in and the view unrolled before us. Lush, green, forest covered peaks rising all around us. I opened the sunroof and enjoyed watching the temperature rise as we dropped in elevation.
Following my friend's car we turned off the main road and onto a dirt road. Up went the windows and I closed the sun room as we squinted to see through the fine dust being kicked up. We passed through the very quaint, in its Colombian way, town of Tobia, turned off the road and descended to Mariposa Azul, the company that would take us on our rafting trip.
After stretching our legs from the 2 ¼ hr. drive we loaded into an old Land Rover and headed up river. Our safety demonstration was conducted in Spanish and hand gestures with a bit of English sprinkled in. After deciding that Maddie & Elena would go with our friends and I would go with Damon and the other two teenage boys, we loaded into rafts and shoved off.
Our white water excursion was on the Rio Negro or Black River. (The boys got a kick out of that oxymoron!) A fine, grey silt giving the river a muddy look must have provided the inspiration for the name. The stretch we were doing was a class three. Very comfortable for us all! On the smooth parts our guide encouraged us to jump in then hoisted us up before we needed to paddle again. We enjoyed the fun rapids and gave a hearty “hoorah” after passing through. All was well until...
The “hole” was not visible as we paddled down the river. The next thing I knew, we turned backwards and water began filling our raft. Within moments it appeared we were sitting on the water because the raft was completely submerged and more water was continuing to pour in as the nose was pushed farther and farther under water.
In retrospect I realize the guide most likely steered us directly there to give the boys a little fun. What he didn't realize was the way the one woman in the boat would react. Having a deep-seated fear of dying through drowning I began screaming. Not the “it's so fun to be flying on this roller coaster as my stomach flip-flops around”, but rather the “I don't want to die” scream. All I could see was a wall of water churning into our raft and I could only think of falling into the water, being turned around and around like the clothes in my washing machine, never reaching the top to breathe again. The raft shifted a bit putting me a few inches closer to the churning water. I clawed my way in a frantic fashion over my son, who patted me on the head, to the other side of the raft. I hugged the wall for dear life and let the teenagers get over their staring at me to get us out of this predicament.
Of course we broke out of the hole, the raft drained and we were happily, although shakily, on our way. The tour ended, we piled back into the the tuck and jumped into the pool for a cool off before lunch.
Lunch turned-out to be the most delightful affair. Women in the open-sided kitchen prepared food as we settled into chairs under the open air shelter. Just as clay bowls full of steaming beans and rice were placed before us, thunder cracked overhead. Soon the skies opened and rain poured down around us. We rejoiced in our beautiful morning on the river and the secret lunch we were now having, curtained from the world by a sheet of water. Conversation flowed, lunch delighted in and rest washed our souls. Just as we finished eating the rain abated and our thoughts turned towards home.

As we gathered our things we noticed that my car was sitting in a puddle with a very flat tire. My friend who is overly familiar with all the troubles I have had with this car was very gracious to offer the services of her driver. Fabian took charge and had the spare on in no time. With tire spinning we gunned it up the hill and out of the rafting oasis.
The boys had noticed an ice cream shop in town on the way in. The sun was now shinning and sweat dripping down our faces as we pulled over for a snack before the long drive home. As the kids huddled around the ice cream case Fabian asked me if I would like to get the tire fixed right away. My mind had already begun to think about the long drive home on gravel and paved roads twisting and turning through the mountains – with a spare tire. I was a bit nervous about it. Then the thought of trying to find a place and communicate in Spanish to have the repair made. “Yes, I want it fixed now” (while I have some help!).
A few inquiries by Fabian from people mingling in the street and we were soon headed a few blocks away to the repair shop as everyone else enjoyed an icy treat.

Fabian pointed and we stopped in front of a shop 6 feet wide and 12 feet deep. This was no Discount Tire. Old bikes who had seen better days hung on one wall. Worn-out tires suffering from dry rot hung from the ceiling. Dust, dirt and grease coated the room. The man pulled my tire from the trunk, spun it around and found the culprit – a nail. He pulled it out, patched the spot, washed it off with gasoline, cranked up the car and had the newly repaired tire on in no time flat. I glanced at my watch. We had pulled up 8 minutes ago. I smiled, the ice cream would not have even had time to drip down the side of the cones. “How much?” I asked. $5,000 pesos - $2.50 USD. My smile grew.
At the ice cream shop we found the others engaged in a game of soccer with some kids from the town. Fabian and I got our snack and sat down to watch. We piled back into the cars - sweaty, full, tired and all satisfied. The teens fell asleep. I turned on some Gungor and soaked in the view. As we climbed in elevation I watched the temperature drop. I drove home in peace and without a worry.
These days away and out of town are good. They always fill the soul and provide an unexpected adventure!

  • Kris
Mariposa Azul

Tobia, Colombia

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Seed Factory

Pin made out of the Tagua seeds

Over spring break, we went to the seed factory. The seed factory used to be a button factory. Buttons used to be made out of wood, shell, bone, ivory, and tagua seeds. When we got there, we got to look around at all the jewelry and things made

Tagua seeds
Button Machine
from the seeds for a bit, then we got to go on the tour.
First we went down a few flights of stairs to where they cut the seeds (someone delivers the seeds all shelled and ready, so they don't have to do that). The seeds are very hard, so it is hard to cut them. They also made a lot of dust.
Next we went to the connecting room to seed the big mixers that mix the cut seeds and sand together to make them smooth. After they are smooth, the tagua seed is mixed with little ceramic stones to make the seeds shiny. Sometimes they aren't mixed with the stones, so the seeds are still dull, but smooth.
We went upstairs to the break room, where they had a few colorful birds from the forest.
After the break room, we saw the button machines. They still use them for putting holes in the seeds, and for making a few buttons.
Pots of dye
Next we saw how they dye them. The seeds' original color is white. They put them in little pots of hot, colored water for hours. If they wanted a design on a seed, then they had to draw designs with a special glue, then put the tagua in the color they wanted. The glue would block that part from getting any color. After it was done getting colored, someone had to scrape off all the glue, which took about ten minutes per seed.
Scraping off glue 
After getting colored, the seeds were sent to the room where they were made into jewelry. Each country designs their own jewelry, then the factory puts it all together and ships it to them.