Find your Passion, and then Live it

Medellín, Colombia

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The many ways to say.. "How are you?" in Spanish

Everday at work we have people enter our office and always ask us how we are... and one day I realized just how many DIFFERENT ways you can say how are you in Spanish... So I started to make a list, and over the past 3 weeks this is what Ive come up with:

1. Cómo estás
2. Qué tal
3. Cómo te ha ido
4. Qué más
5. Qué onda vos
6. En qué andas
7. Qué has hecho
8. Qué pasa
9. Cómo te va
10. Qué hay
11. Bien o qué
12. Cómo vas
13. Cómo amanecen (used only in the morning)
14. Bien o no
15. Cómo van las cosas
16. Qué hay de nuevo
17. Qué cuentas

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Semana Santa Part 2: Bogotá

The second half of my Semana Santa was spent in Bogotá. The plan was to travel to Bogotá over Wednesday night with my friend Leo, and spend 3 FULL days in the city. However that didnt really happen. We decided a couple weeks ago to take a bus to Bogotá because it´s cheaper than flying. The trip from Medellín to Bogotá is suppose to take about 9 hours... however our experience was vastly different.

The day before we left Bogotá there were various reports about flooding and landslides within the region where Bogotá is located. We were told because of this a different route would be taken, and the trip there would only increase by 2 hours. Ok, so 11 hours in total on a bus, that´s doable. We left Medellín at 10pm Wednesday night, and were suppose to arrive in Bogotá at 7am Thursday. However 2 hours into our trip our bus stopped, at first it stopped because of bus troubles, then 20 minutes later it stopped again. This time it stopped for 6 hours... ugh brutal. At first I didnt quite understand what was going on, but later learned there had been a landslide and there was a huge backup of traffic which we were stuck in for 6 HOURS! We had to wait for police to come and move the debris and a large rock from the middle of the road. After that it took another 12 hours to get to the capital. Needless to say we were exhausted and frustrated by the time we arrived in Bogotá.

Here are some photos of the flooding and landslides we saw during our trip:

When we did arrive we took a cab to La Candelaria district, which is where we were staying the first night in a hostel. La Candelaria is a very beautiful district of Bogotá with colonial style buildings. We stayed at the Alegría Hostel for one night, we had our own private room and bathroom. This was my first time staying at a hostel, and overall it was a really good experience. It was separated over two different buildings, and had common areas, a kitchen, patios, etc etc. They also had a cat with 3 kittens which were adorable, so obviously I had to play with them.

Once arriving and checking into the hostel, Leo and I decided to get some food. However we were told to be back before 9pm, because the district of La Candelaria is dangerous at night, specifically after 9pm. Also, the area we were directly in didnt have a lot of restaurants / restaurants open because it was Semana Santa. So after walking around for less than 5 minutes, we got freaked out and chose to get food from the first place we saw, which was a pizzeria. The area we were walking in was a bit sketchy, the people didn't give us the best vibes, so after getting food we decided to just hangout in our hostel for the first night. We met a bunch of different people from around the world, Australia, England, Spain, Germany etc etc. We also watched one of the Barça vs Real Madrid soccer games on tv, which is always a good time. It's definitely a lot chiller in Bogotá, so while watching the soccer game, I sat by the fire to stay warm and cozy.

The next day we left our hostel walked through the Candelaria a bit before heading to the north of the city, to meet up with Leo's friend who's also from Guatemala.

Fun fact about Bogotá... IT'S HUGE. And im not exaggerating.... it took us over an hour to get from one end to the other by the Transmilenio. The Transmilenio is Bogotá's transportation system... it's like a bus/metro system combined. It's quite efficient, and there are a ton of different routes you can take, but it does take FOREVER to get through the city, because it's so big.

We met up with Jorge (Leo's friend) and headed to Salitre Magico... which is kind of like the Colombian version of Canada's Wonderland, an amusement park! We had really great weather in Bogotá, so it was quite warm (about 18-20 degrees) and sunny! We went on rollarcoasters, did kart racing, bummer cars ... the works. It was a totally random day, I really didnt think I would ever visit an amusement park in Colombia... but I did! At night we made a delicious dinner which consisted of steak, potatoes and beer.

Saturday in Bogotá was a really busy day, because it was our last in the city, since we lost almost a full day on Thursday by being on a bus :( . In the morning we headed to Zipaquirá, which is a small town 40 minutes outside of Bogotá that has a major tourist attraction. It's called La Catedral de Sal (The Salt Cathedral). Basically it's a Cathedral underground in a Salt Mine. Entering the mine was a little scary, as it was very dark and goes far underground.
The site where the Cathedral is housed... is HUGE.... and at some points you dont really realize youre underground. There's a special route until you get to the main alter of the Cathedral, and there are different "Stops" along the way, which represents the stops Jesus made on his way to being crucified. Each stop has a large cross carved from stone/salt, with special spots to pray in front of it. After passing 13 stops (... i think there was 13 of them) you finally come to the main alter... which consists of a HUGE cross with lights on it, which reflect off the natural salt. Its very impressive to see, and Im not even a religious person, I was just appreciating it on a structural aspect, as well as the fact that we were far underground.... very cool.

After seeing the main alter, we were able to see a 3D movie (also underground) which explained about the Cathedral, its significance, why and how it was built etc. Afterwards we took a special tour on the Miner's Route... where we were given hardhats with lights attached, and followed a guide on a route that would let us experience what it's like to be a miner. First we were lead through a tight cave tunnel thing, which was really sketchy for me, and at one point I got really claustrophobic and almost had a small panic attack... as we were (god knows how many feet) underground, and it was completely pitch black. intense. Never in my life was I so excited to see light at the end of the tunnel from the guides flashlight, then she explained the daily routine of a miner, how they worked, the risks the worked with, how they chipped away and gathered salt, how they used dynamite etc etc. It was actually really interesting.

After all our tours in the Salt Cathedral we headed back to Zipaquirá and took a small train through the town for a quick tour. Afterwards we headed back to Bogotá, and travelled down town to the Museum of Gold. This was an impressive museum to go to, as it houses a HUGE collection of gold from Colombia ... which makes you wonder if the legend of El Dorado is true or not... hmm... food for thought. You can basically see 2,000 year old pieces of gold from different indigenous tribes located all over Colombia. Gold is still mined today in Colombia, especially in the region of Chocó (which is on the western coast of Colombia). The museum was definitely worth going to see (and I recommend it to anyone who visits Bogotá), and it was only $3,000 pesos to enter ($1.50 !!!).

At night we went to check out the famous Zona Rosa district, which is a fancy bar district in Bogotá. It reminded me a lot of King West in Toronto... and its pretty expensive unfortunately. So we didnt buy a lot of drinks, we did have a couple :) We didnt stay out too late, as we were getting up early to head back to Medellín. We were hoping and praying our journey wouldnt be as long as it took to get to the capital... but unfortunately it took 18 hours... so almost the same amount of time. We were suppose to get back into the city at 7pm Sunday... but I didnt get back to my apt until 4am Monday morning... not so fun.

The city of Bogotá was nice to visit, since it's the capital of Colombia... but I wasnt overly impressed. It was kind of the same impression I was left with when I went to Madrid... the city was ok but I loved Barcelona so much more. It's the same with Medellín. Bogotá was just ok... i found it to be quite dirty and filled with graffiti.
I also felt an emotional attachment to Medellín when I got back, I was really glad to be back... in MY city :) Medellín is starting to feel like my new home, and I definitely felt that when I got back.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Semana Santa Part 1: Medellín

On Saturday (the first day of Semana Santa) I headed to Envigado to the other Trainee's house to meet up with Lucho, Leo and Sara. The plan for the day was to have Lucho (Trainee from Mexico) teach us how to cook authentic Mexican tacos (yum!!). We made a list of all the ingredients we needed, and then headed to local markets in Envigado to get fresh herbs, vegetables, and meat.

Once we had all the ingredients for our tacos we started preparing everything ... cutting onions, chopping limes, making guacamole, the marinade for the meat, etc etc. Lucho was directing everyone, and giving instructions on how to prepare/make everything.

I had the job of chopping onions, and they were super strong, so 3 cuts into the onion, my eyes started tearing up really bad, so I couldnt cut the rest.
Once the meat was cooked, the feast began.... and it was delicious. The tacos tasted exactly like the ones I had in Mexico when I studied in Xalapa... sooo good!! They were pork tacos, with caramelized onions, guacamole, and jalapeños. Big thanks to Lucho for teaching us!!! Check out these photos:

Monday - not having to go to work (yay!) - I spent the day with my friends Lu and Jose. They took me to Las Palmas, which is a Mirador (lookout) on one of the mountain sides of Medellín. From this point you can see the entire city from up above, it's really incredible to see. Ive been to Las Palmas before, but never in the day! We were going to go on Sunday - but it was raining really hard, so we decided to go today instead.

We chatted for a while at the mirador and then headed back down to Medellín for some lunch, and hung out in Jose's house for a bit. Afterwards we got some icecream, and chatted for a while again. I had lot of fun with those two, and we spoke Spanish the entire time. My Spanish is definitely becoming more fluid and I dont have as hard of a time understanding when Paisas speak, as they talk verrrry quickly. So Im definitely improving lots which is really exciting!

When I got home, my doorbell rang, when I answered it the postal lady was there with a package for me from England! Super excited, I quickly signed for it and opened the box. My Aunty Marg from England had sent me Easter Chocolates... more importantly CADBURY Easter Chocolates.... aka the best chocolates you will ever taste.
They have arrived just in time for Easter, as today (Monday)) is the 3rd day of Semana Santa (Holy Week/Easter). She has a tradition of sending me Easter chocolates every year... which makes it difficult when I keep leaving the country every year - however she still continues to send them! Last year she sent me chocolates while I was in Barcelona, and now she has sent them for me in Colombia! (What a great aunt! Love you!). So Im definitely excited to eat them, but at the same time I want to savour them, and not go through them too quickly! As one thing Ive come to notice about Colombia, is Im not a fan of their chocolates... they taste different, and not such a fan. They also dont sell Cadbury chocolate, so it's hard to get good chocolate here. But thankfully I have an amazing aunt who sends me delicious chocolate from "Across the Pond". :) <3

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Semana Santa Begins!

This weekend marks the beginning of Semana Santa in Colombia (along with all other hispanic countries). Semana Santa is a week long celebration for the last week of Lent and the week before Easter. It is normally filled with religious events, and processions. In Spain I was lucky to see some of the processions in Sevilla, where they wear traditional garbs, and carry extremely heavy platforms which have religious statues mounted on them. So far in Colombia I havent seen very many religious figures, however, Semana Santa just started, so maybe Ill seeing something more into the week.

As I am not a religious person, Semana Santa for me is a nice week long holiday (or in Spain, 2 weeks!). So I have about 10 days off work (including my weekends). I officially survived my week of hell before Semana Santa began, so Im just hanging out with friends and relaxing in my apartment until I leave for Bogotá on wednesday! My friend and I are taking a bus to Bogotá, because it's cheaper than flying. It will take about 9 hours each way.... thank god ipods and ereaders were invented :P. We're leaving Wednesday night, so we will just sleep on the bus, and arrive early morning on Thursday. Im definitely looking forward to seeing the capital of Colombia, and exploring a new city for a few days!

When Im back, Ill update my adventures along with some photos of course! Happy Holy Week! (Feliz Semana Santa!)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fav Quotes #1

"I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you can appreciate them when they're right, you believe less so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together"

- Marilyn Monroe

3 days, 2 conferences, Spanish 24/7

My working life has been incredibly busy this week, and will continue to be so until 6pm on Friday. What makes this week so hectic?... well it's the week before Semana Santa (Holy Week). For those of you who don't know, Semana Santa is a religious week filled with processions, and celebrations for Easter. For me, it means almost 2 weeks off of work (gotta love Hispanic countries!!). Last year during Semana Santa I had a full 2 weeks off from school, during my first week off I went to the Canary Islands, and during my second week my mom came to visit me. This year during Semana Santa I will be relaxing for a few days, hanging out with friends, and then during the later part of Semana Santa I will be travelling to Bogotá (the capital of Colombia) to be a tourist.

However before my "relaxing" week begins, I have to survive this one. The past 3 days (Monday-Wednesday) I have attended 2 different conferences. The first conference took place all day Monday in downtown Medellín at the Chamber of Commerce of Medellín. It was an educational conference about Exporting Services in Colombia. I was able to learn all about the regulation environment for Exporting in Colombia, along with special zones in the country for businesses to enjoy tariff free conditions and taxation benefits.... wow I am such a business nerd. But it was very interesting.

Then Tuesday and Wednesday was spent at another conference which was about innovation and business development. This conference was filled with group discussions, group activities and then other lecture style sessions. This was a bit intense for me, as I was put in different groups with business professionals and was participating in the activities which consisted in discussing various case studies, and then suggesting recommendations for the company. The first time I had to speak in front of about 7 other professionals was a bit terrifying, but it was one of those Sink or Swim moments, and I just dove in, and starting explaining myself all in Spanish. Talk about intense, but an amazing experience and a tiring one at that. Both conferences were full days so about 16 hours in total.

At the end of the 3 days, I am exhausted, as during both conferences, I had to be actively listening to ensure I could follow what the speakers were talking about, then understand the group activities and therefore know what recommendations I had to think about and then make. intense.

Tomorrow and Friday, I have 2 projects I need to finish before Semana Santa starts. One is a research project about the economic future of Colombia, and the other is a translation project. This is what I love about my job, and this week is a perfect example of the type of things I get to do, as everyday is different. I get to do everything from research to translation projects and then have the ability to attend conferences within the city. My job is so diverse and everyday is a learning experience, whether Im learning new vocabulary in Spanish or increasing my knowledge on the economic and business aspects of Colombia as a country.

For all of you you doubted I was ACTUALLY working down here... there's your proof. I actually work very hard... :P but then I get to enjoy the country and travel a lot too! :)

Officially a millionaire by the age of 22 !

So I recently got paid and I can officially say Im a MILLIONAIRE (by the age of 22).... millionaire in Colombian Pesos that is.

The thing about living in Colombia, is that you feel really rich and everything seems really expensive, because their currency is in thousands .... but in reality, everything is pretty cheap.

For example...

- A beer costs $1,500 pesos but is actually 75 cents. FTW !
- my average grocery bill is around $50,000 pesos... which is about $25 dollars
- my rent is $500,000 pesos .... which is only $250 a month. :)

The domination of their currency is as follows:

- 50 pesos
- 100 pesos
- 200 pesos
- 500 pesos
- 1,000 pesos
- 2,000 pesos
- 5,000 pesos
- 10,000 pesos
- 20,000 pesos
- 50,000 pesos

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Millionaire.... Colombian Remix

CIVETS is the new BRIC

As I've mentioned before, I think global investors are too focused on India and China, and therefore are almost ignoring new and potential emerging markets.

Recently, a new group of countries (CIVETS) have been identified as the next big group of emerging markets, or more specifically the next BRIC. For those of you who dont know, BRIC stands for Brazil, Russia, India and China, and is also known as "The Big 4". The economies of these countries are experiencing massive global growth and therefore are pushing them into the future as being the next major global superpowers. Goldman Sachs has argued that, "since the four BRIC countries are developing rapidly, by 2050 their combined economies could eclipse the combined economies of the current richest countries of the world. These four countries, combined, currently account for more than a quarter of the world's land area and more than 40% of the world's population".

However, a new group consisting of less popular countries are being called the ones to watch in the near future for immense global economic growth. CIVETS stands for: Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey, and South Africa.

According to the International Business Times, "The Economist coined the term CIVETS while setting out an argument that these countries are next in line to the emerging market superpower status. Predicting that these countries will power the next emerging market growth cycle, HSBC CEO said these will be the places to watch in the next ten years". The new focus on this group of countries is due to the fact that they all exhibit "large, young, growing populations. Each has a diverse and dynamic economy. And each, in relative terms, is politically stable". Most importantly, each country highly benefits from a growing consumer market as their middle class expands. Another reason CIVETS are “the new BRICS” is due to the potential that they have as second generation emerging economies. “Emerging markets will grow three times as fast as developed countries this year [2010]” - Michael Geoghegan, CEO of HSBC. For this, the center of gravity of the world is moving towards the East and the South (Asia and Latin America).

Although these CIVETS has been identified as the group of countries to watch, the GDP growth projection for the next 20 years for BRIC is 4.9%, where CIVETS falls just short of this with 4.5%. So if the GDP projection for CIVETS is less than BRIC, why the big fuss over this new group of potential countries?

Well according to sources, "the BRICs have exhausted their unique advantage of being an untapped market offering a potential windfall in returns, though risks could not be entirely ruled out. Their economies have now been assimilated with those of the advanced countries, and the growth outlook in these countries is increasingly getting priced into the investments".

Why Colombia is included in CIVETS:
Colombia has seen a lot of change over the past 20 years, and it has been working incredibly hard to change its image of being a violent, dangerous and drug infested country around the world. The dramatic change within Colombia has been achieved through pro-business policies which has helped the economy grow immensely as well as better government regulation to deal with guerrillas, paramilitary groups and drug trafficking. Much of this change can be attributed to former President Álvaro Uribe's actions.
According to Frank Holmes, CEO of U.S. Global Investors, Colombia "has become extremely easy for foreigners to invest in and develop the country. The country now ranks high on a global competitiveness survey for business sophistication, market size, and strength of investor protection". In fact Colombia is now more attractive to invest in than it´s neighbour Venezuela as well as Mexico.

Interesting Stats about BRIC:
According to a new report from Goldman Sachs, "China might surpass the US in equity market capitalization terms by 2030 and become the single largest equity market in the world. By 2020, US GDP might be only slightly larger than China's GDP. Together, the four BRICs may account for 41% of the world's market capitalization by 2030, the report said. Due to contraction of Japan's GDP in Q4 2010 by 1.1 percent from the previous quarter, so China's GDP surpassed Japan's GDP by $5.88 trillion and $5.47 trillion respectively and make China as Number 2 in Economy".

Read more at:

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Clásico: Medellín vs Nacional .... a terrifying experience.

While living in Barcelona I got really into soccer, and even went to a few Barça games, so of course when my friend asked if I wanted to go see two of the most famous teams in Medellín (Independiente Medellín and Atlético Nacional) play each other, which is known as a Clásico match.... I said yes. I went with my three friends Kevin, Leo, and Sebastian, his sister, girlfriend and his dad.

While heading to the stadium, a few things caught my eye: armoured police (looked like SWAT), armoured vehicles, intense security checks, and very loyal fans (dressed head to toe in the colour of their team).

The stadium is divided into four sections, North, South, East and West. The 2 most dangerous places to be are the North and South sections of the stadium, because that is where the hard core fans are, which happens to be right behind the goal keepers. So naturally we sat in a non-dangerous place ... or so we thought....

There was such an incredibly energy in the stadium. Medellín and Nacional fans were chanting and singing at the top of their lungs anthems and songs of their teams, waving banners, flags, scarves and balloons. While the game is going on, you hear a LOT of people yelling, and swearing at the players .... if you ever want to learn swear words in another language, just attend a soccer match.

The majority of the game was pretty civilized. Every time either team scored a goal, the fans went crazy, jumping in their seats, celebrating etc. However at one point... everything changed. In the section we were sitting, which had a mix of Medellín and Nacional fans, was sort of close to this large fence that divided the East and North sections, this separated the mixed fans from all of the Medellín fans. I guess something happened, which caused one of the sides to provoke the other, and they starting yelling, and getting very angry. When we noticed this, we were just staring, and I didnt really understand what was going on. Then the Medellín fans (on the other side of the fence) starting throwing objects into the crowd. This is when things started to get bad. Once objects were starting to fly in the air, the Medellín fans started to climb the fence with the barbed wire, and I thought "there's no way they're going to come over that fence..." ... I was wrong.

Here you can see the fence we were sort of near by. The picture was taken earlier in the game, before most people had filled the stadium:

When some of the fans had reached the top of the fence and were about to jump to the other side, people started to panic, and push each other. People were trying to run to the exits, and all of sudden I found myself in a panicked mob of people. I saw the sister of Sebastian run but as she was running, she quickly took off her Nacional jersey, and her father followed her. I grabbed onto the shirt of Sebastian's dad, so I wouldn't get lost in the crowd of people (who were pushing, screaming, and scrambling to get away from the angry Medellín fans who were over the fence and starting to chase after people and hit them). Sebastian's dad grabbed my hand, and pulled me along as we were escaping the crowd of people and made it to the exit. We ran down the stairs to the level below. I had no idea where the rest of my friends were. My heart was racing, I was shaking, and was very scared. For a moment, it felt like the panic and riot had calmed down... but then a mass of people started to run down the stairs, to get out of the stadium. I saw my friend Leo, and called after him. He grabbed my hand, and we ran out of the stadium. On our way out, we saw a man clutching his hand to his head, to a large wound where he was gusting blood. When we got out of the stadium, I thought we were ok, but Sebastian's sister was panicking and just kept running as far away as she could from the stadium, so we kept running too. When we were far away enough, we caught our breath. I was still shaking, very afraid and felt the adrenaline pumping through my body. Leo kept asking me if I was ok. I shook my head yes, but just felt very panicked, and was glad to be out of that chaotic crowd. We crossed the street, and made it to Sebastian's father's car. At that moment, my cell phone rang, it was Kevin calling me to make sure I was ok, and we had everyone accounted for. A couple minutes later, Kevin, Leo, Sebastian and his girlfriend met up with us, and we got into Sebastian's dad's car, and drove back to El Poblado.

It was terrifying to be in a situation like that. I've heard of South American soccer games becoming violent before, and people even dying from being trampled or excess violence, but I never thought i would experience something like that. I was told after the game that apparently there are always problems when Medellín and Nacional play each other, because they have such an intense rivalry (sort of like Barcelona and Real Madrid, but more violent). The good/bad news aspect of this situation, is that a riot hasn't occurred in a long time in Medellín and between Nacional and Medellín. So unfortunately, I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. Thankfully, I was with people from Medellín, and Sebastian's father was there, so I felt safer knowing he was there with us. But needless to say, it was probably the scariest moment in my life. To feel that level of panic, and insecurity, in a large crowd of people who are also vying for their safety, was intense.

I thought European soccer was intense, South American soccer is a whole other level of crazy.

Below is a summary of the game that we saw. The game was really exciting, and had some amazing goals. The game itself was really fun to go to... until I experienced what it was like to be in a riot in a soccer stadium. Not so much fun.