Chicken Bus to #Cancun

November 15, 2018

Before returning to the United States, I called my dad in to see if he wanted to visit Mexico. I was surprised to hear he did. He told me he was going to be staying a week near Cancun and that I should bring a friend and come visit him. It never occurred to me that I should invite a girl so I chose to bring my friend Gen from school. He was the only exchange student in who enjoyed speaking Spanish outside of school.

Unfortunately, there were no direct buses to Cancun. Instead we’d have to go to Merida first, which was 20 hours away. What I didn’t realize is that we’d be making stops every 20 minutes on the way down. With each stop more old ladies and little kids got onto the bus. Not only did a family of five expect to fit into two seats, they also wanted to bring two suitcases for each family member.

As we got further south, the food brought on became more tropical. One passenger brought on a 20 kilo bag of bananas. “How long is this trip going to take if passengers need 20 kilos of bananas to sustain themselves throughout the trip?” I was getting a small preview of the hell that lay ahead.

There are also a few other things I don’t understand about Mexican buses. Why is the A/C only used from 2 to 6 a.m.? I think the bus drivers purposely want to make the passengers suffer at night because they are jealous that we get to wear shirts and sandals while they are stuck wearing a jacket and tie. They don’t stop there however. The drivers spend their off hours searching video stores for the worst movies or poorest audio quality they can find. There seems to be two guidelines for all films shown on Mexican buses; 1) There needs to be at least one animal in the movie wearing a diaper and 2) At least one inanimate object in the movie has to have super powers, a toaster oven that talks, a car that eats cereal or a bicycle that can predict natural disasters.

We got to Merida in what could have been 20 hours or a week later. I lost the ability to measure time. As the bus doors opened, a super-heated wind entered the cabin that sucked all the air out of my lungs for five seconds.

We were at the bus station just long enough to drench ourselves in sweat before we got onto the next bus. After arriving in Cancun, we decided to take a taxi to Playacar. The allure of traveling through the country by bus had lost it appeal. When we arrived at the hotel, the Iberostar Quetzal, it was as if we had entered another world. The lobby had a waterfall running through it with flamingos flying around in reception. Right as we walked into the shade for the first time in two days, a security guard approached us…..

Please view/share the book “Single Abroad: Confessions of a Boyish Man,” by Brian Ward on Amazon.

#colombia #bogota #venezuela #90dayfiance #falcao #medellin #mexico #argentina #colombiancupid #cali #nationalgeographic

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Taking a Left in SF with Grammy Mary Goulding

November 11, 2018

My choice to come to Colombia is one of many examples of a life path involving airports and shady takeout food.

Of all the people I am connected with, my grandmother, Mary Goulding, is one of the forces that has most affected my life path. As a 7-year-old, I would visit my grandmother in San Francisco as often as possible. During these trips, we would ride around San Francisco in cable cars and hand out tuna sandwiches to the homeless people on the street. Most of them had the same reaction to me, “Does this tuna sandwich have celery in it?” When I said it did, 90% of them just shoved the sandwich back in my face. But then again, I guess it was the thought that counts.

Getting back to my grandmother, she led a pretty stimulating life. In the 1970s and 80’s, she ran a psychotherapeutic training facility (in her house) near Santa Cruz, California. Her month-long psychotherapeutic training sessions ranged from the traditional to the weird and wonderful. One of the trainings available at my Grandma’s facility was “body reading.” During the “body reading” sessions, the participants removed their clothing to their underwear or got completely naked so they could read each others’ bodies. Of course, after removing their clothes most people would have had other things besides “body reading” on their minds. But in reality, it was anything but an erotic exercise. “We learnt actually how to read another person’s body by their stance and stature,” remarked Tony White, an Australian participant.

After the long training sessions, the 30-or-so participants would all jump into the hot tub with my grandmother Mary and my step-grandfather Bob.

In 1989, my grandmother’s house/training facility was pretty much leveled by the Loma Prieta earthquake. My step-grandfather, Bob, happened to be in the house at the time of the 6.9 earthquake. He had just sat down to watch the 1989 World Series, as the tremor started to kick in. A half-second later, Bob’s 48-inch television screen started to bounce across the room and eventually pinned Bob against the wall. The shaking was so violent that my grandmother’s dishes turned to dust from bouncing around so much in the cupboards. The earth erupted so violently that huge 40-pound chunks of my grandmother’s pool were flung all over her property. My grandmother, was running an errand at the time in her car, in the unpopulated outskirts of Watsonville, California. As the earthquake hit, she lost control of her car and skidded off the road. By the time she got control of the car, the earthquake had subsided. Unaware that an earthquake had hit and worried that maybe there was a malfunction with her car, she drove slowly back towards the town. By the time she got back into town, she was horrified to see crumbled buildings, fallen electrical poles and fires consuming the small town of Watsonville.

My grandma spent the next two years digging through the rubble of what used to be her and Bob’s house. Most of her pre-Colombian art and statutes she had collected during her numerous trips to Latin America (30+ years) got buried underneath the fallen house.

Two years later, the reconstruction was complete, and shortly after that, Bob passed away. In her 1992 book, Sweet Love Remembered, my grandmother talks about how she first met Bob Goulding, “Is how a couple meets of interest to anyone besides the couple? I doubt it, although many of us keep on telling our stories.”

A short time later, my grandmother was diagnosed with diabetes and had trouble with blood circulation in her lower extremities. She decided to travel to Cuba to receive laser acupuncture (illegal in the USA) and met another special man friend, Juan, who was over twenty years younger than my grandmother and gave her a little extra recovery therapy.

After my grandmother was feeling better, she planned a trip to Irian Jaya, in Western Papa New Guinea. Before leaving, she had been warned of the danger of the trip. When she got back from the trip, she confidently reported that more people were murdered in Yosemite National Park (3) during her trip than were murdered in Irian Jaya (0).

My first trip out of the USA, was paid for by my grandmother. She sent me to stay for 3 months with a family she knew in Costa Rica. When I asked her how I would recognize my new family at the airport in Costa Rica, she said, “Don’t worry, you will be the only blond, unaccompanied 18-year old getting off the plane. They’ll find you.”

Drives with my grandma in my truck were never boring. Our most common trip (when I was driving) was the 2-and-a-half-hour leg from Santa Cruz to my grandmother’s apartment in San Francisco. Usually my grandmother would sleep for the first 2 hours of the trip and then wake up just as we were arriving to South San Francisco. But, one time she woke up a full 2 hours and ten minutes into the drive. Trying to get her bearings after waking up, her first question was, “Where are we?” I had no idea but still responded, “South San Francisco.”

“Take a left!” she pleaded.

She gave commands with such conviction that I naturally believed she knew what she was talking about and took a left. During the next twenty minutes we twice went down the wrong way of a one way street, crossed the Bay Bridge going the wrong way, went through three red lights and finally found her place. As we were getting out of the car, my grandma noticed I had a map which highlighted the way to her house.

“Why didn’t you tell me you knew where we were going?” she asked.

While I was a college student at Chico State, my grandmother would send me boxes of Miss Fields Chocolate Chip Cookies to my apartment once a month. Those were days when I was lucky if I ate anything besides microwavable burritos or oatmeal. With the arrival of each package, I felt as if I were receiving a king’s bounty.

After I finished college, my grandmother got me a job working with a metal wholesaler in Valencia, Spain. For my first dinner in Spain, I went to a restaurant at 12 midnight with my grandma’s Spanish friend Carlos. Once we were ushered into the restaurant, at half past midnight, Carlos bewilderedly remarked, “Wow, I had no idea they were open at this time. I never eat dinner this early.”

2 weeks later, my grandma came to visit me in Spain. When she saw that I hadn’t shaved since I left the US, she asked. “Did you forget to pack a razor?” When I said yes, she grabbed me and we both got into a taxi and went to the mall. She then bought me my first electric razor.

Several years later, my grandma fell down in Cancun while at a restaurant with friends. Fed up with doctors, painful surgeries and ineffective hospitals, she decided not to seek medical treatment. Instead, she tried to commit suicide by not taking her insulin (for her diabetes) and eating chocolate cake all day. While this was happening, one of her friends called my mother and I and said, “You need to come immediately to Cancun.” My mother called me up the same day and I was on a plane for Cancun the next afternoon. When I got to my grandmother’s hotel in Cancun, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I saw what looked like a mummy, propped up against a pillow, underneath a sheet in bed. Luckily my mother knew how to get my grandmother’s vital signs back and running. Within 3 days my mother had helped my grandmother regain consciousness, talked my grandmother out of committing suicide and convinced her to come back to the USA and get surgery on her hip. Not having a medical background, all I could do was cheer my grandma on while my mother attended to my grandma’s recovery.

Once she became well again, she said that it was seeing me and hearing my voice saying, “Grammy’s going to make it,” which gave her the willpower to continue living.

Seeing my grandma’s dramatic recoveries from life’s ups and downs, have made me a more resilient and happier person.

**

Teaching English in Colombia

Instead of bringing in articles from the Wall Street Journal to teach English in Colombia, I liked to demonstrate the varied uses of English using lines from the movie Borat.
When I told a student named Milton that there are a lot of people in the United States who speak English differently than the English you find in books, he wanted to have an example of this language. I demonstrated this by giving him the following line, “What’s up with it, Vanilla face? Me and my homie just parked our slab outside. We’re looking for somewhere to post up for the night.”
When Milton saw this line written, he assumed the quote was asking something about putting a post-it note on the wall. After giving him more examples from my favorite movies, the discussion detoured towards a history of politics in Bogota.
Milton told me that in 2000 the mayor of Bogota opened the TransMilenio in Bogota to the public. The next mayor spent his years in office criticizing the TransMilenio for its inefficiency and the slowness, meanwhile taking funds earmarked to augment the TransMilenio lines and redirecting them into his pocket.
“Obviously the best mayors are the ones that come from the worst neighborhoods,” was my response.
“In Colombia this isn’t true because one of the worst Presidents of all-time, Betancurt (1982-1986), came from a bad neighborhood. He was the President during the 1985 ‘Siege of the Palace of Justice,’ when guerillas took control of the Supreme Court in Bogota and attempted to negotiate a peace between the government and the guerilla groups. Betancurt refused to negotiate and sent the army in. The battle between the army and the M-19 guerillas killed over 100 people, including many prominent judges. The M-19 guerillas then declared the peace process over,” replied Milton.
“What about the current President Santos?” I asked.
“He is very rich. What do you think about him?” asked Milton.
“He looks like a hybrid between a pug and William Shattner after two strokes,” I responded.
“Is Obama better?”
“Having Obama as President is like having a Frenchman as the captain of the Star Trek Enterprise. In the short term it is a great topic for the middle class to discuss while waiting in the checkout line at IKEA. In the long term it might actually inspire the next generation’s Whoopi Goldberg to go into politics instead of starring as Oda Mae Brown, a psychic helping a slain man, Patrick Swayze, find his killer.” I replied.
“What is the secret to having a successful mayor in the United States?”
“Ideally the mayor of a large city should live in the worst part of his or her city in order to be able to see how people’s lives are affected by drugs, gangs and poverty.”
I think Milton thought I meant that all politicians should be born in the worst parts of the cities.
“I disagree. The President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, comes from a poor neighborhood and he has ruined Venezuela. In the 1980’s Venezuela had more money than Colombia and therefore all the Colombians looking for a better life used to go to Venezuela for employment. Nowadays, many Venezuelans come to Colombia looking for better jobs and better security. The other problem is that most of the organized Venezuelans have moved to Colombia or the United States. Therefore, the people who are left are the people who are most easily manipulated by him. He goes to the poorest neighborhoods and offers the families free education for their children, clothes and food. The people who couldn’t normally afford to feed and educate their children love him. So, if there is a new President elected in Venezuela, the country may fall into civil war,” replied Milton.
“Who is running against Chavez?”
“Henrique Capriles Radonski. He views himself as a younger and more street-wise version of David battling a bigger-mouthed and less susceptible to the consequences of his own actions version of Goliath,” replied Milton.
“Do you think he will win?”
“If Capriles wins he will try and keep Venezuela’s resources to itself. I saw a video on YouTube that says that Chavez is actually artificially suppressing the homicide numbers in Caracas.”
“How does he do that?”
“So, unofficially….

Please view/share the book “48,000,000 Colombians Can’t Be Wrong,” by Brian Ward on Amazon.

7 Habits of Highly Effective College Students

October 30, 2018

College was a great time in my life. By 2 p.m. each day I would be finished with my classes and homework. By 3 p.m., I would be asleep or playing Super Nintendo with my room mates. While I was studying at Chico State, I enrolled in the study abroad program and got accepted to study in Queretaro, Mexico.

Before leaving, several of my friends offered to store my Super Nintendo at their house in case I didn’t come back. I was really scared that living in Mexico might be detrimental to my future. I decided that I had no evidence to support Mexico being a dangerous place. I would therefore have to go there in person in order to prove or disprove my North American society’s view towards Mexico as being a dangerous place. Too often society uses fear to take away our freedom and keep us “on track.” I decided not to let unnatural fear dissuade me from achieving my dreams.

The morning of my departure for Mexico finally arrived. My step dad Alan came to pick me up early Friday morning. As I wheeled my luggage to his car, there was already a problem that we hadn’t anticipated. How was I going to fit two huge suitcases and a carry-on into the tiny trunk of his Mazda Miata? My step dad did some quick thinking, he bungee-corded one suitcase onto the trunk, opened the convertible top and seat belted the other bag into the backseat. We drove to the airport. During the ride, we gritted our teeth against the 80 mile-an-hour winds that blew into the convertible. Meanwhile, our feet baked under the car’s heating vents. While checking in for my flight at the San Francisco airport, the ticket agent gave me some bad news.

“I’m sorry Mr. Ward but your connecting flight through Los Angeles has been delayed until 5 p.m. due to bad weather.”

“Impossible. If I take the 5 p.m. flight from Los Angeles, I won’t get to Mexico City until 2:30 a.m. At that time, it will be too late to get a bus to Queretaro,” I replied. After saying that, a Mexican guy behind me offered to help me get onto the bus to Queretaro with him. I accepted. Before I even boarded my first flight, I had already met a local person from my host city.

His name was Rafael and he was connecting in from Hawaii. He had visited a girl he’d met at the same university where I would be studying.

After we both checked in, Rafael and I went for a meal together. I had so many questions to ask him about Queretaro.

“What kind of food do they eat in Kae-taro?” I asked.

Rafael laughed when he heard my pronunciation of Queretaro. He told me that most North Americans pronounced it that way.

He took a pen and wrote down the pronunciation, kah-RAY-tah-row. It was easy.

We didn’t get to Queretaro until 5 a.m. the next day. I fretted about calling my host family at such a strange hour. I imagined myself being awakened in the middle of the night by some Huckleberry Finn character saying he was to be my new housemate. I made the call at the bus station and explained to three members of my host family who I was and yes I was sure I had the right number. They told me to wait at the bus station and someone would be there to pick me up. Rafael gave me his number and told me to call him in case nobody came to pick me up. The truth be told, I think he would have let me move in with him if I wanted to. As I waited outside for my host family to pick me up, I got my first glimpse of Queretaro. It definitely didn’t fit the description of the Mexican town I pictured. At night it looked like any town in California, with gentle hills that were so perfectly illuminated by street lights, the town reminded my of Chevy Chase’s roof in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. I don’t think Santa Claus himself could have done a better job.

The campus at Queretaro, a city of 800,000 people, is about 125 miles Northwest of Mexico City. My school, El Instituto Tecnologico de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (El Tec), was founded in 1975 and during my stay was enrolling 3,000 students. El Tec currently operates 26 campuses throughout Mexico in 25 different cities.

Queretaro also has many well-maintained historical buildings from the Spanish colonial period and limitless options for night life. Many multi-national corporations like Kellogg’s and New Holland are opening up headquarters here, providing a number of high-paying jobs.

International Programs at Chico State recommended that I get to Mexico two months before classes in order to adjust to the food, culture and layout of the town. I arrived less than 24 hours before classes were to begin.

On my first day of school, I was given a cookie-cutter schedule of classes which included Mexican culture and basic Spanish. On the 3rd day of sitting in Spanish classes with a bunch of Americans I realized that I wouldn’t learn anything surrounded by Americans all day. And I probably wouldn’t receive credit for the work I was doing, since none of the classes had anything to do with my business major. I decided to go to the International Programs office and change my classes to ones that would give me credit in my major and expose me to more Mexican students. This turned out to be a very memorable day in the history of higher learning in Mexico. I grabbed my new schedule of classes and set out to look for my first class of the day, which had started a half hour earlier.

As soon as I walked through the door of my first class, all heads swung in my direction. After I introduced myself, my teacher greeted me by saying, “How you feeling, man?” Whispers resonated throughout the rows of students,“…..que, que dijo?” (what did he say?). My teacher explained to the class that he got his teaching degree at USC and loved California.

The classes were a lot of work for me. This was mostly because I couldn’t speak or understand Spanish completely. During class lectures, even if I could understand the teacher speaking in Spanish. I tried my best to translate the lectures from Spanish into English and then write the lecture into my notes. I could never make any sense out of my notes when I read them after class.

Even getting to school sometimes was a bigger chore than the classes. I was taking a bus to and from school four times a day. At midday I returned home to eat lunch with my host family. After I finished lunch at my host family’s house, I took the bus back to school. This back and forth four times a day left me exhausted. Sometimes I was so tired that I would walk into the wrong class.

When I made it to the right class, I did well on the homework but bombed the tests. After a particularly bad grade on an accounting test, I walked into my teacher’s office crying and asked what could be done. He introduced me to the teacher’s aid and she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen in my life. I was still crying a little but tried desperately to wipe the tears from my eyes. I couldn’t get my hand in front of my face because my thumb was caught on my backpack strap, so I gave it extra force and ended up punching myself in the face.

Her name was Bianca and she was of medium height and light-skinned. I could tell she was older than me because she dressed in high-heels and business suits with her hair tied back. She told me I was welcome in her office whenever I needed help with my accounting class. She also suggested that I should bring my accounting book to class (What a novel concept?), because the formulas I was writing down in my notes were mostly wrong. If I copied them directly out of the book, I would have less chance of getting them wrong. Even if I was going to flunk out of accounting at least I could use that as an excuse to come see Bianca every day.

I started to become self-conscious about my clothes after meeting Bianca. I was the only guy in my classes who wore clothes from the Goodwill. I started to want to dress more normally when I was around Bianca. I still wore a lot of goodwill clothes but instead of wearing ripped clothing, I wore new T-Shirts and tucked them into my pants. My test grades continued to suffer, but I kept up with the homework.

After I bombed yet another test, this time in Service Marketing, I went into my teacher Miguel Angel’s office and told him I couldn’t understand why I was doing so badly on the tests when the homework was easy enough. He opened his grade book to find out what grade I had. It turned out that I had an 83%, I couldn’t believe him. After looking at my grade I showed

Please view/share the book “Single Abroad: Confessions of a Boyish Man,” by Brian Ward on Amazon.

#colombia #bogota #venezuela #90dayfiance #falcao #medellin #mexico #argentina #colombiancupid #cali #nationalgeographic #garciamarquez

#culture #travel #colombian #amazon #caracas #botero #colombia.travel #colombiatravel #panama #elpibe #vamoscolombia #cartagena #brasil #gabriel garcia marquez #travelwriting #vergara #elgabo #barranquilla #valderrama #shakira #oprah #hurricane #vegasstrong #learnspanish #southamerica #sofiavergara #workabroad #volunteer @48million #visitcolombia #rcn #villadeleyva #accommodation

#elephantwhite

October 20, 2018

In the last decade, many foreign companies have started to augment their filming operations here in Colombia. The reason for this increased presence of film projects in Colombia are numerous:
#1) Colombia has many different shooting locations to offer in one country (jungle, the ocean, historic architecture and modern cities).
#2) Colombia’s weather allows for film companies to shoot during the whole year.
#3) The exchange rate to the US dollar makes filming in Colombia very accessible.
#4) Security in Colombia has increased dramatically in the past decade (the US State Department has lifted warnings on Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena). The filmed productions in Colombia range from syndicated TV shows, to car commercials, to movies, such as the comedy El Paseo (The Stroll).
If a foreign person is seriously thinking about

making a career working as an extra/actor in Colombia, then the first step this person should take is to register with as many casting agencies as possible. Once a foreigner registers with a few agencies, they will likely be sent on casting calls for movies and commercials as well as have semi-consistent work as an extra.
The advantages of working in Colombia as a foreign extra are numerous:
#1) It is a job that is easily done (and probably preferably done) while drunk.
#2) The foreign extra needs nothing in the way of work visas, a Colombian bank account, nor proof of health insurance to work in Colombia.
#3) Speaking Spanish is not necessary either and it is to the extra’s advantage the less Spanish he or she knows (the costume designer’s assistant won’t insist that you try on the same size of pants that are two sizes too small fifty times, if you can’t understand what he is saying).
Which foreigners will have the most success in movies and TV in Colombia?
“Foreign white guys who look like cops or ex-marines will always have a solid future in the movie and TV business in Colombia,” replied Irish actor Pádraig Victor Ciarán Sweeney.
Are there any foreigners who shouldn’t work as actors/extras in Colombia?
“Gringos with glasses, a concave chest and unable to grow a mustache have no business working as extras in Colombia,” replied the always candid Mr. Sweeney.
For those of you without a concave chest, once registered with a casting agency, you will receive calls that will be for anything from:
Extra roles in TV programs – the pay is $90,000 – $120,000 pesos ($45-$60USD) a day
Appearing in movies – anywhere from $300,000 – $600,000 pesos ($150-$300USD) a day
Recording commercials – $700,000 – $1,600,000 pesos ($350-$800USD) a day
Modeling jobs – The pay can go up to $3,000,000 pesos ($1,500USD) a day

After registering with a few casting agencies, I got my first call to go to an audition for a movie. The only thing I knew about the audition was that I needed to report to 70th Street with 9th Avenue at 10 am in the morning. I, of course, got there at 9.30am, introduced myself to a few people who were either on their computers or cleaning the floors and sat until they needed me. After, I sat down, a woman named Lucy approached me and asked where I was from and if I spoke English. I confirmed that I was from California and yes, I could speak English. She asked for my “escenas.”
She realized by my expression that I was lost, which probably was the highlight of her day. There is nothing more likely to make a Colombian grin than watching a gringo stumble through life in a foreign country. She then switched to English.
“Do you have your scenes?”
It still didn’t register. After a few more seconds of uncertainty, I guessed that she thought someone may have sent me some kind of instructions or a reason why I was in her office on a Tuesday morning.
“Did someone tell you why you are here?” she asked.
“No, I was just told to come here at 10 a.m.”
She smiled at me for a short second and then told me she would be back in a few minutes. I opened my book about wilderness survival and waited. At least I was indoors and in a comfortable chair. A few other people introduced themselves to me as I was waiting. I even opened the door for a few people coming in that morning.
Finally, it was time to go upstairs and chat with the people who would decide if they wanted to hire me to work on the new movie, Left to Die, which was being filmed in Bogota. When I got upstairs, I was introduced to Diana and Rodrigo. They were dressed like J.Lo and Marc Anthony. Diana told me a little about the part I was going to audition for and asked me if I had any previous experience acting. I named off a list of Colombian soap operas, hoping to impress her.
“Big Boss 2, Divorced, The Prepaid, Cocaine Route, Happy Saturdays and The Parabola of Pablo Escobar.”
I don’t know if this impressed her or Rodrigo, but it gave me more confidence. I didn’t mention that my roles in these other soap operas were limited to driving a car, sitting in a hotel lobby, looking out a window as I drank whiskey and opening the door for a jury that was entering a court room.
I was then handed my scene and given a few minutes to rehearse.
The scene was eerily familiar, I had actually been given a version of this script a month prior by my German friend and urged to practice it. My scene was supposed to be for an American woman aged 20 to 25, but I guessed probably women foreigners were less common in Bogota than male foreigners. In the scene, I was working as a congressional aide in a small congressional district in Florida and the daughter of a woman who disappeared in Colombia was asking me for information on how to get in touch with her district’s congressman.
Feel-good movie productions in Colombia like Mi Abuelo, Mi Papa y Yo (a movie about the amusing ups and downs of love in its many forms) were long ago replaced by more aggressive productions like Elephant White….

Please view/share the book “48,000,000 Colombians Can’t Be Wrong,” by Brian Ward on Amazon.

#colombia #bogota #venezuela #90dayfiance #falcao #medellin #mexico #argentina #colombiancupid #cali #nationalgeographic #garciamarquez #culture #travel #colombian #amazon #caracas #botero #chile #colombiatravel #panama #elpibe #vamoscolombia #cartagena #brasil #gabriel garcia marquez #travelwriting #vergara #elgabo #barranquilla #valderrama #shakira #oprah #hurricane #cancun #learnspanish #southamerica #sofiavergara #workabroad #volunteer @48million #tarantino #rcn #villadeleyva #accommodation

I Speak Colombian

October 16, 2018

The first expression that most foreign people in Colombia will learn is, “Estás amañado en Colombia?” This is a general question that basically is asking you, “Are you getting acclimatized to Colombia?” Sensible responses to this question would be, “Of course, I love the fact that I don’t have to tip any of the waiters in this country and also I can buy $400 pesos ($0.20USD) worth of deodorant in a small envelope at any corner store if I am running low on cash.”

Spanish in Colombia is pretty easy to pick up, due to the fact that every Colombian who sees you wants to talk to you. Colombian people are naturally drawn to foreign people. In some cases they treat the foreigner as if they were the smartest most trustworthy people they have met. So much goodwill can be downright unnerving sometimes.

Probably the best thing about speaking Spanish in Colombia is that you don’t have to really learn the names of any Colombian men. Instead, you can just refer to any man you have met on the street as maestro. In English, maestro is reserved for an artist who has their work displayed in many different museums around the globe or for someone who has been paid to conduct a symphony. Here in Colombia, you can call someone a maestro just because you like the quality of chips he is selling out of a shopping cart near the mini stop.

An everyday phrase here in Colombia is, “Hay un inconveniente.” In English, this phrase would be used if maybe the meal you ordered at a restaurant is going to take 5 or 10 minutes longer than expected to arrive to your table. The waiter would tell you, “Sorry sir, there is an inconvenience, the pork sandwich you ordered is going to take an extra 10 minutes before it will be ready.”

Good luck if you are in a hospital in Colombia and the doctor tells you, “Hay un inconveniente.” This no doubt means that what they thought was just a little routine acid reflux really means that your kidneys have exploded and you have 3 minutes to live.

Another oddity in Colombia is the fact that the customer is made to feel almost like royalty. This example is illustrated when you enter the small corner grocery store and the sales clerk says to you, “A sus órdenes su merced” (At your service, your mercy).

You thank the clerk for such a warm welcome and try to explain to her that really you aren’t anyone important. You actually just came in to buy $1,500 pesos ($0.75USD) worth of that good Bocatto ice cream and are not worthy of being called “Your mercy.” To this, the clerk will promptly respond, “Para servirle” (another common way to say ‘at your service’).

Even the older gentleman, with the fleet of dogs by the bus station is always asking “Me colabora?” (Would you like to collaborate with me?) Like we should get together and work on a project, just him and me. When I inform him that I really already have enough business partners in place and he should use the capital he was going to invest in my company to maybe buy some more food for his dogs. He then looks at me like I am the crazy one.

At home, I always hear my girlfriend say these bizarre expressions over the phone like, “Mommy, make sure to put all your books in your backpack for school tomorrow,” or “Mommy, make sure not to spend all your money on candy, save it for your lunch.”

I would then ask my girlfriend two questions, #1) I didn’t realize your 53-year old mother was still in school and #2) Isn’t it a little out of the ordinary to lecture your own 53-year old mother on how she should be spending her money?

“When I say Mommy, I am referring to my daughter, not my actual mother.”

“Oh ok, that’s clear,” I would reply.

Another strange occasion involving my girlfriend’s daughter arose when she showed me a text message she sent to her daughter, “Mommy, don’t let the other girls ride you in school.” (Mommy, no dejes que te la montan en la escuela).

“Ok, I understand the mommy part now, that’s clear. I am a little confused about your daughter being ridden around like livestock while at school. I thought she was going to private school.”

“No, te la montan is referring to when the other girls pick on my daughter at school.”

Many people complain about riding the buses here in Bogota. They say that the drivers are crazy and the people who ride the bus all smell like ham. Trying my best to keep an open mind, and mostly failing at it, I always try to control my anger towards the driver, who seems to speed up every time he is approaching a red light. One day, I heard the voice of a woman who had just gotten out of her seat and was walking towards me on her way to the back exit of the bus, “Qué pena con usted.” (What a disgrace with you). Wow, this woman must have really done something bad. The situation then righted itself as the distracted man quickly moved out of her way. I realized the only thing she was guilty of was wanting a clear path to get off the bus.

Many Colombians are eager to speak English with foreigners. But, they sometimes start a story without enough vocabulary to actually finish the story. An example of one such story I heard from a Colombian; “I was at the quick stop, and a large man with a gold chain, a leather jacket and many tattoos asked if I could loan him some money…” followed by a long pause. You then see by the look of terror and shame on your Colombian friend’s face. Alas, the needle has slipped off of his record. He politely makes eye contact with you and says, “The dove has left me” (Se me fue la paloma). This means that whatever he was going to say, he isn’t sure of the correct way to express his idea.

Or you will be going to the movies and waiting in line with your Colombian neighbor Giovanni. The line seems to go on forever. Out of frustration Giovanni will announce, “There are a lot of Chinese here.”

You look ahead at the line in front of you, and it seems like all the people are typical young Colombians out on the weekend. There is no evidence to believe there are any Asian people in or near the movie theatre. So, you turn to Giovanni and ask, “The people in line don’t look Chinese to me.”

“Ah no, ‘Hay muchos Chinos aqui,’ means that there are a lot of youngsters here at the movie theatre.”

Another widespread turn of phrase to be heard in Colombia happens when you are having trouble hearing the other person you are talking with on the phone. To make sure that the line hasn’t been disconnected you ask, “Are you still there Juan?”

Juan then replies, “Sizas.”

Suizas? (Swiss women?). I thought you preferred Portuguese-speaking women?” you ask Juan.

“No, sizas, just means ‘yes’ in Colombian Spanish.”

Another expression that fascinates many foreign people is hearing a Colombian say, “Me saca la piedra” (It takes the rock out of me).

This is usually heard when a Colombian goes to the corner store to pay his water bill (via the online lottery machine/bill paying teller). As the clerk starts entering the billing information, the machine spits out a ticket that….

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Colombian Cupid

October 13, 2018

Before coming to Colombia, I myself, decided to go online and look for a girlfriend.

“Our South American tour to Colombia is an unforgettable experience that may very well change your life forever. You will be introduced to literally hundreds of stunning women from Cartagena, as well as other surrounding Colombian cities. Why Colombian women? They just so happen to be some of the most beautiful, genuine, and sincere women in the world. These women are extremely friendly, warm and sincerely looking for someone with whom they can build a serious relationship. No matter how much we try to prepare the men who attend our Cartagena romance tours, they are always overwhelmed by these very special women.”

This is the hook introduction to the Colombian section of an internet site that specializes in romance tours all over the world. With tour packages starting at $1695USD, this might be a great way to justify taking a nine-day trip to Cartagena, or, this may be a south-of-the-border hail mary for middle-aged divorcees, who have been looking for love in all the wrong places. My personal opinion is, that if you are going to get into a serious relationship and possibly marriage, you might as well double down and come start a relationship in Colombia. With the divorce rate hovering around 50-60% in most of the English-speaking countries, it is probably a safer bet to search out a relationship with a foreign, non-English speaking person than risk marrying someone from your own national origin.

The $1,700USD tour is pretty impressive and well thought out. For your money, you are given two fully catered, special invitation, large socials. These are basically ballroom parties that take place in the same hotel that the tour has booked you into. Of course, there will be many intelligent and beautiful women there to meet, as well as probably a few women who fall into other categories. The tour also includes hotel accommodations in Cartagena, unlimited personal introductions, complimentary interpreters (provided at all socials), airport pickup as well as 24-hour hospitality and guidance from the website staff.

For the rest of us (people who don’t have $1,700USD to spend), there are dozens, if not hundreds, of websites specializing in meeting Colombian and Latin American singles. The one that is most familiar to me is ColombianCupid.com. This website is free to use if you just want to see who is on the website. If you click on “advanced search,” on the portal page, you are instantly presented with a two-paged form that helps you best search for romance, based on your own criteria. Say for example, you would like to meet a 30 to 35-year old woman, living in Bogota, with a profile photo, who is searching for romance/dating/marriage, speaks some English, has a bachelor’s degree and is willing to relocate to another country. After hitting search, there are over 1,000 profiles that come cascading down your screen (in order of which members are most active on the site).

I wanted a girl who lived in Bogota, because I figured that Bogota would have the highest concentration of women who had a good education, spoke neutral Spanish and had were most used to dealing with foreigners.

After viewing several hundred profiles of girls online, I decided to spend the $25 for one month and start emailing the girls I was attracted to. I was careful to upload of photo of me with a hat on, covering up my high forehead.

Once I got registered, a standard question I was asked by the female members on ColombianCupid.com was, “What is your job?”

I always made a point of answering this question the following way, “I paint fences for a living.” No matter what your employment status is, the best strategy is to never to make yourself sound rich or important. This is a highly effective way to reduce the number women emailing you who are just looking for a sugar daddy.

If the girl was still emailing me after she found out I was a fence painter, I would start asking her questions about herself. My opening line to all the girls was pretty bad. I asked them all the same question, “How do you like Shakira?” If the girl responded, “What kind of crazy question was that?” I figured I would have to scratch her from the list. If the girl responded, “I really like Shakira,” I figured we were off to a good start. I would then ask more random questions like, “Tell me about a time in your life when you did something embarrassing,” and, once again if the girl asked, “What kind of question is this?” I would scratch her from the list. I ended up chatting with a lot of interesting girls who told great stories about getting dumped in elevators or falling down stairs at church. I quickly had a group of about 10 girls from Bogota, who I was chatting with five times a week. And, because there were so many Bogota profiles of single women, I could also eliminate all the women who weren’t smiling in their photos, had visible tattoos, had their underwear showing, too much cleavage hanging out (this means that they are either overeager or possibly using someone else’s photo) or were on the verge of black-out drunk. I spent probably a solid 80 hours on the site during my first month of membership. I soon had a solid list of three girls I was emailing at least five times a week.

There was one girl in particular (let’s call her Ms. Barragan), who I really wanted to chat with, but, she didn’t respond to any of my emails. I was nervous about one specific email I sent which I went into some pretty specific details of my obsession with Shakira. This email, might have made me sound like a stalker. This infamous email went as follows:

“Since seeing her 2004 DVD entitled Live and Off the Record I have been an admirer and have had a crush on Shakira. In this DVD, not only did she speak for the rights of 3,000,000 children in Colombia who don’t attend school, she also gave a great concert for her fans in Rotterdam. Shakira doesn’t see herself as being above her band, so she actually tours on the same bus with her group and hangs out with the other band members, even though she could have her own bus if she wanted one. She also held true to her fans in Colombia by insisting on doing a concert in Baranquilla, Colombia, even though it wouldn’t make her any money. Her promoters also warned her about talking about politics in her concert, but she held true to her values and put up a puppet show of Bush and Saddam fighting over the world oil supply on the projection screen while she performed on stage. Not only does Shakira refuse to be censored, she has also made it a priority by sticking up for the rights of people who can’t defend themselves (poor children).”

As luck would have it, after my fourth email to Ms. Barragan (and one marriage proposal) she finally responded. Her message seemed like probably she couldn’t understand any of my Spanish, which….

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Goodwill Hunting in Colombia

October 10, 2018

Bogota, the youthful capital city, is perched on an

8,000 foot high plateau called “the savannah.” This is the modern heart of the country. With a teeming population of over 10 million, this sprawled out city stretches out into the surrounding Andes Mountains.

During my first week at the Hostel Sue (in La Candelaria section of Bogota), I met a guy from the Czech Republic named Chris. I had originally heard stories about this guy from his Australian friend Scott who arrived a few days before him to the hostel. The two had met each other while working as English teachers in Ukraine. So, basically, I was getting pumped full of stories about Chris involving his exploits through Eastern Europe and his followers on Facebook.

When I finally met him, Chris seemed to be the kind of guy who doesn’t pump the brakes before going through an uncontrolled intersection. One night, while we were eating at a Mongolian Barbecue restaurant, two college-aged girls came into the restaurant to play some Gypsy songs for us. Between songs they would go around accepting donations from the people in the restaurant. Instead of giving them a few bucks for playing for us, Chris offered to spoon feed them heaping mouthfuls of his stir fry and to use his spoon to redirect any of the Eastern flavor that went amiss, back into their mouths. Keep in mind, this was Chris stone cold sober. When going out to a discotheque with this guy, he would direct women towards you every fifteen seconds, if you weren’t constantly chatting with three girls at the same time.

One such opportunity occurred, when Scott was playing the loner role at the bar. Chris immediately picked up on this and sent a Colombian girl over to chat with him.

“Why don’t you like Colombian girls?” she asked Scott.

Scott looked up at her, without having a clue what she was talking about.

“Your friend Chris told me you don’t think Colombian girls are friendly.”

Scott immediately had to regroup and adjust to the situation thrown at him by convincing the girl that he really did like Colombian girls and that his friend was trying to help him meet women. The next morning at the hostel Scott was a little upset at Chris’ “speed dating” approach to meeting women in Colombia. However Scott couldn’t find Chris anywhere around the hostel so he sent Chris a message about his disapproval of his speed-dating. A text message apology came from Chris and everything was sorted out by midday.

I still didn’t know Chris that well, but was invited to have a meal with him the following night with Scott and his Dutch friend William. William had been hanging out with Chris in Medellin for several months prior to their arrival to Bogota. Chris came over with William, because William had gotten a girl pregnant in Medellin and was trying to get his Colombian citizenship. At dinner, William informed me that the cousin of his Colombian girlfriend was already a grandmother at age 38. During the meal, we were all treated to an in-depth description of a bug bite Chris had gotten a few weeks prior on the bottom of his foot, which was slowly developing into a throbbing red vein that was slowly spreading throughout the rest of his body. Instead of opting for a visit to the doctor and finding a solution for the problem, Chris decided to post photos on his Facebook account of the throbbing red vein, in order to draw sympathy from women his was romantically interested in.

“Have you ever been to a live rock concert?” asked Chris.

“Yes.”

“Have you ever seen the lead singer do a back flip into the drum set?”

“No.”

“Obviously you have never been to a Mr. Bungle concert.”

“Who is Mr. Bungle?”

“Imagine the following situation: it’s 1991, Mr. Bungle is suggested to me by my brother, who is currently discovering cool music in college. I’m in ninth grade. That night while doing my homework, I popped in Mr. Bungle. I remember everything up to this point very clearly.

The next hour is gone.

What I do remember is the true fear that I felt when the album stopped spinning and I came to. Fear of how close-minded my musical sense was. Fear of what I didn’t know or understand. My head hurt. How could someone have even thought up this delightfully evil music? Who was this Vlad Drac fellow and what planet….

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Colombian Bucket List

September 30, 2018

One of the things I love most about my girlfriend is the freedom to discuss three completely unrelated topics at the same time. Here is a sample of a conversation we had, when Kary called the house following our female landlord’s most recent visit.

“How did the visit with the landlord go?” asked Kary.

“It went perfect. She asked about our trip to USA and I told her it went great. More good news. I have another person who is interested in renting the room,” I proudly announced.

“Who is it?” asked Kary.

“It is a woman who will be staying in Bogota for 5 months. She has brought her child here so he can get medical treatment in a hospital in Bogota,” I responded.

“How did the class go with the little guy today?”

“He is 7-years-old and usually puts his fingers in his mouth when he is reciting the alphabet,” I replied

“And what did she say to you?”

“Are you talking about the lady who is interested in the room?” By this time I was completely lost as to where this conversation had ended up.

“No, the landlord when she came to visit?” said Kary.

“She asked me why I brought you to the USA. I said it was because I wanted to take you to the ballpark in San Francisco. She then asked, ‘Are you sure it wasn’t because you want to get married to Kary?’”

“And what did you say?” replied Kary.

Assuming we were still talking about the landlord, I replied, “I am looking forward to getting married to Kary next year. Would you like to get married in Cancun?”

“I don’t think my family would be able to make it to Cancun. How about Cartagena?” Kary asked.

“I don’t think anybody I know will show up to my wedding no matter where we have it. Cartagena is perfect for me,” I replied.

That was that. I then got busy, sending out wedding invitations via email. Greg Sanders, our tagua buddy, was the first guy to respond:

Hi Brian,

That’s fantastic news, congratulations! I’m surprised but not shocked that you found a wife in Colombia. I met my wife when I was traveling, so I approve of your methods. It looks like you found the solution for the rest of her travel and transit visas.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to go to the wedding – I’m strapped on cash and time. There’s an off chance that I will be in Colombia in December, though. If I go I’ll definitely let you know well in advance.

Most of all, I’m happy that I had the chance to meet you as a free-spirited single guy . . . before a woman has had the chance to slowly constrict your amiable social tendencies over the next few decades of marital cohabitation. Is this your first wife or do you have the wisdom of experience to know what you’re in for?

Cherish your girlfriend while she’s still there. In a few months she’ll start the metamorphosis process and you’ll have a wife (which won’t give the sex time as much as girlfriends and is much more confident and blunt in pointing out your flaws).

Congratulations again,

Greg

Through extensive test marketing, I have found out that, 37-year-old white guys with receding hairlines and a collection of Bigfoot shirts weren’t exactly at the top of most women’s list in terms of marriage material. I figured I was in no position to turn anyone down, much less a woman who was cheerful, beautiful and didn’t seem to mind being around a guy who refuses to use a Kleenex

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The Chilean Package

September 29, 2018

After realizing we were in some serious debt, we started once again to look for another roommate. We finally got a lead from a guy who seemed interested. We met him in a shopping center on 72th Street in Bogota. After sitting down with him, he started to tell us about himself. His name was Jorge Ramirez, he was a Chilean architect who had come to Bogota to design vertical gardens that would be attached to the TransMilenio stops as well as many downtown buildings. His introduction was flawless.

After the get-to-know-you period, his story took a somewhat ominous turn. “On my first day in Colombia, I was robbed outside of the Western Union at knifepoint and the guy got off with $1,600,000 pesos ($830USD) I had just received from my wife in Chile,” recounted Jorge as we sat on a bench in the shopping mall with him. From that point on, the story became even more fishy. According to Jorge’s story, Western Union sells insurance on any transaction it does for an additional $10,000 pesos ($5USD). “I didn’t want to get the insurance, but the teller insisted. I told her twice, ‘No thanks, I don’t need insurance.’ She then told me that 3 people had been mugged in front of that Western Union location and she would strongly recommend that I get the insurance,” said Jorge. “I finally said, yes.”
Up until that point, he seemed like a nice enough guy, he had those cool reading glasses that have a magnet and detach at the nose with a band that went around his neck. He was wearing a blue button-down, long-sleeve shirt and a grey hat with the Brazilian flag. He looked like the kind of guy who hung around George Clooney on the weekends. Just based on his attire and personal hygiene, we probably would have rented him the room even if he told us that he was an almost-recovering heroin addict. So, we started walking to the TransMilenio to take him to our apartment. I paid his ticket and gave him some tips about riding the TransMilenio (always sit or stand as close to the driver as possible and never show anyone your cell phone).
We then arrived to the apartment and gave him a tour. After the tour, he said he loved it and didn’t try to negotiate the price. There was one more piece of information he gave, “I won’t be able to pay the rent until I get the refund from Western Union, which will take 10 working days.”
Jorge then asked when he could move in. We told him that he could move in today. He was overjoyed. He quickly left to get the rest of his things.
He came back to the apartment with his things two hours later. As he was moving in, he told me a story which I really didn’t pay too much attention to. “I was watching you in the parking lot take out the trash,” he said as he wheeled his suitcase down the hallway. “That’s strange, I took out the trash more than 30 minutes ago, why would someone sit in the parking lot for a half hour while we were inside waiting for him?” I thought to myself.
From that point on, he was the ideal roommate. He was gone early in the morning and would spend all day out of the house. He never cooked any food, and therefore there were never any of his dishes lying around. On the weekends he was never around. I started to wonder, “This guy is too perfect, there must be something going on.”
Two weeks went by and Jorge still hadn’t paid us. It was at this point that my girlfriend Kary and I started to get suspicious. To buy time, Jorge would think of clever ways to convince us not to worry about the rent money, even if what he said contradicted itself. In the evening he might say, “Tomorrow I am going to sign a contract worth $30,000,000 pesos ($15,000USD) with an architecture firm on 74th Street.” Then an hour later he’d ask, “Do you know which bus passes by 74th Street and 7th Avenue?” Why would someone about to sign a contract worth well over $15,000USD take a bus to sign the contract?
Then the next day would come, and there would still be no money, “. . . due to some clerical error I wasn’t able to sign the contract,” Jorge explained back at the apartment.
When asked when the refund was coming, there was always some last minute unexpected delay which was going to postpone the money being refunded until the following Monday. A full 20 days had come and gone and still we were left holding the bag. Then, on a cloudy Saturday morning, Jorge knocked on our door. “Sorry, I have to go to Melgar to start a new job. I am leaving now and need your signature so the doorman will let me take my luggage out of the building. I realized that I have committed to living here for 4 months, so I will deposit three-months’ rent into your account on Monday,” Jorge said to us while peering through the doorway into our room.
Kary was pretty much in shock at that point, so I got up and took a walk with Jorge to the front desk. When I asked the doorman what was going on, he said to me, “If your roommate is going to leave, he needs to talk with the building supervisor. Her office is above the parking lot.” Luckily, the doorman had stopped him from leaving.
I told Jorge to wait in the apartment for me. I then went to see the building supervisor. “In order for your roommate to leave, the person in charge of the apartment needs to submit a letter of all the things that will be taken out of the apartment. The tenant must also leave a deposit of $140,000 ($70USD) for administration fees that will be refunded in….

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A Place Colombian Rock Stars Go

September 27, 2018

Our living situation with our roommate Tristan was very good at the beginning. We would frequently share dinners with her. Kary often brought home desserts for all of us to share and Tristan helped me make a Valentine’s Day card for Kary.

Like mine, Tristan’s life pretty much revolved around sending instant messages, uploading photos of cats playing the piano to Facebook, sleeping, talking about the lack of quality swimmers/swimming facilities in Colombia, sleeping some more and making a plan to do something, and then changing her mind 3 seconds later. Example: “I really need to do my laundry and go to the bank. I think I will go take a nap.”

Knowing how in love Tristan was with her computer, I knew it was serious when Tristan said, “Look, the bottom part of my computer is falling out, do you know any place I could get it fixed?”

“Yeah sure, Kary works with many computer experts, I’m sure she could bring it to work tomorrow and they could fix it.”

“Oh well, that’s ok,” immediately losing interest in any topic that didn’t involve being asleep or using her computer.

Then there was the time when she got really sick, and was coughing for over 3 weeks.

“Tristan, are you sick?” I asked after listening to her stay up the past 5 nights coughing until 3am.

“Yeah, I think I need to go to the doctor’s. Is there any doctor’s office close to here?”

“Yeah, Kary’s doctor actually does house visits. We could call him and he could come over tomorrow,” I replied.

“No, I should just wait and get more rest,” she replied, coughing twice as she walked back to her room.

Then there was the month-long period when she would ask me each night before she was about to go to bed, “Can you remind me to call Australia and renew my travel insurance tomorrow morning?”

“Tristan, what time is it in Sydney right now?”

“9am.”

“If I remind you tomorrow morning, it will be the middle of the night in Sydney and you won’t be able to call anyone. Why don’t you call the travel company now?”

“Ah, I don’t have any money, never mind.”

This became an ongoing theme with Tristan. She would constantly talk about things she needed to do or problems she needed to be solved, but when offered a solution she would just go into another room.

Her lack of conviction wasn’t always so prominent. During her first month in the apartment, she diligently practiced her Spanish every evening with Kary and I, often falling asleep at the dining-room table while studying. During the day she would frequently go for a run and then hit the pool for an hour at the local gym. After she came home from the gym, she would usually give me a report of all the people in the pool who didn’t know how to swim and were clogging up the swimming lanes, she would then speak for another twenty minutes about

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