Find your Passion, and then Live it

Medellín, Colombia

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The 6 month mark!

As of today, August 24th, I have officially been in Colombia for 6 months (or 25 weeks, or 181 days)! This is marks the half way point of my contract here in Medellín, which makes me both a little sad and excited, as being abroad is a lot of fun but it can also be tough when you miss your family, friends and events going on back home.

So what has happened over the past 6 months? Well if you havent been keeping up with my blog here's a summary of the things that have happened since arriving at the end of Februrary.

1. Ive been working at CICE: El Centro para la Innovación, Consultoría y Empresarismo, a consulting firm located in EAFIT University in Poblado. This is the main reason Im here, to work (which I SWEAR ive been doing... see point #2). For those of you that dont know, my job started at about 60-70% in Spanish, but as time progressed and Ive gotten more comfortable with my language skills, and improved A LOT, my job is now about 90-95% in Spanish. I now conduct meetings on my own with clients, or other consultants that Im working with (all in Spanish of course), as well deliver the majority of all my work in Spanish (unless they want it in English which happens from time to time).

2. Ive discovered that Colombians have a ridiculous number of days off work, which are called "Festivos" and long weekends are called "Puentes". Apparently these "festivo" days are suppose to celebrate a saint, but everytime there's a festivo, and my friends and I try to ask exactly why we have the day off, NO ONE ever knows. So we've given up asking, and just enjoy the fact we have the day off work, which we use to relax, sleep or travel. No a bad life style.

3. Ive been learning my way around the beautiful city that I call home: Medellín. The majority of my time has been spent in Poblado, my barrio (neighbourhood) that I live and work in, but Ive also spent time in the center (the downtown) to see museums, markets, plazas, and basically soak up the culture. As well as the west and east to go up and down the Metrocables, as well as the north to catch buses and see soccer games. Ive been to 2 soccer games - one which ended in a stadium riot (not such a great experience) and the other for the World Cup U-20. Finally I was spending a lot of time in Envigado, which is technically a separate town that is attached to Medellín, where a lot of my friends use to live, but now they've moved apts and live in different areas of the city.

4. Ive gotten use to the insanity that is South American driving, whether Im dodging cars to cross the street, holding on for dear life in a bus or taxi, or trying not to vomit while in a friends car and whipping around the curvy mountainous roads. Canadian traffic will be so boring for me when I get back (read: it will be a lot safer).

5. Ive maintained a pretty normal Canadian diet here, with a little bit of Colombian tweaking. For breakfast everyday I still eat maple brown sugar oatmeal (long live Canadian breakfasts!!), and I now try to make lunch my largest meal (which is typically Colombian), and have a smaller meal for dinner. I dont eat a ton of Colombian food, since I cook for myself the majority of the time, but I do enjoy bandejas (which are typical colombian dishes which consists of meat, rice, beans, salad, arepa etc), as well as pan de queso and empanadas. Arepas, which is kind of the Colombian tortilla have grown on me. At first I didnt like them, but now I eat them a couple times a week with scrambled eggs or chorizo. Basically its made from corn, and is round, and when you toast it on your stove it basically tastes like popcorn. So it was strange for me at first, but now im more accustomed to the taste.

6. Ive been taking full advantage of my gym membership, which offers full access to my gym, fitness classes, FREE personal trainers, a nutritionist, a doctor, and FREE physiotherapy. I go about 5 to 6 times a week, and have lost about 17lbs since I got here. I love working out and using my Spanish in this kind of environment, because it's a different way of thinking and using my language skills when I have to concentrate on doing a fitness class, or doing weights with my personal trainer. It's a good way to challenge my brain.

7. My Spanish has become way more fluid, and ive started to use slang, and other words that native speakers use. Most recently my new favourite word has been "pues", which actually doesnt translate into anything in English, but to explain it, it's kind of like when we say "like", "umm" or pause while speaking. Ive picked up on the accent of Antioquia (says my Colombian friend Jorge, who lives in Canada. He mentioned to me one night while skyping that I had a Paisa accent). I also find myself not having to think as hard when speaking with people, my Spanish just flows, and I find myself even thinking in Spanish. :)

8. Ive had the chance to travel around Colombia both inside and outside of Antioquia. My trip to Bogotá was interesting to say the least, as it was suppose to take 9 hours to get there by bus, and ended up taking 18 on the way there, and 20 on the way back. Let me be clear, spending 38 hours on a bus within 4 days is NOT FUN. But luckily I had an excellent travel partner, Leo, so the trip wasnt so bad afterall. My favourite trip so far has been to Guatapé, which ironically looks a lot like Canada. I went with Sara, and we climbed a HUGE rock, which gave us the most stunning views of lakes and islands. Ive also been to Manizales, Jardín, Girardota, San Antonio de Pereira, and a small town called Santiago which had beautiful waterfalls in it. I have some awesome trips planned, all of which will be in the Caribbean. In October ill be heading to Cartagena with Leo, in November Ill be going to Santa Marta with Leo and Sara, and then in December over Xmas and New Years ill be spending 2 weeks in San Andrés (which is a Colombian island) with my mom!

9. I now like reggaeton. Reggaeton, which is like Latin Hip Hop, is the music of choice at the majority of all the bars and clubs here in Medellín, so since I hear it all the time, it has grown on me. Ive also improved my latin dancing skills such as salsa, bachata, vallenato, and merengue, but still miserably fail at samba (good thing that's brazilian and not colombian!).

10. I was able to experience one of the best and most impressive festivals in all of Colombia: La Feria de Las Flores. This has been one of my favourite things so far during my time here. It gave me a great insight into the culture of Antioquia and how proud they are of their country and region, and how beautiful the flowers are here in Colombia. The silletas (saddles of flowers which are carried on people's backs) were breathtaking, and so impressive to see them being carried throughout the crowds of Medellín. Not to mention the ongoing parties for 2 weeks straight throughout the city, as well as music/culture events and parades. Anyone who is planning a trip to Colombia MUST come to Medellín during La Feria de Las Flores, it's an event you do NOT want to miss!

11. Finally Ive made some incredible friends here from many different countries. That's the beauty of an experience like an AIESEC internship is that youre constantly meeting people from all over the world. So far Ive met people from: Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Mexico, France, England, Uganda, Denmark, India, Australia ... the list grows everyday. funny enough Ive only met one other Canadian while being here, and when I met her it was like a love fest. I was so happy and excited to meet/see someone from my country, it was definitely a nice reminder of home.

Im excited to see where I am with my job, language skills, and travels in 6 months time when Im on my way back to Canada. i know it will be bittersweet, but so far it's been one of the best learning experiences of my life, and also one incredible adventure. I came to Colombia with an idea in my head, but living here has completely changed my mentality and opinion on the country. What a surprising place it is - the people are so friendly, happy and proud of their country - and so they should be! Colombia has seen some amazing changes over the past 10-20 years, and not to mention what a beautiful country it is with mountains, exotic plans/flowers/animals, beaches, and jungles.

So there it is, my short summary of my 6 months here. I cant believe how fast time has flown, but at the same time i feel like ive been here for a long time - it's a weird feeling because there are no seasons, as it's the same beautiful weather 24/7. Long live "La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera!" (the city of eternal spring).

Thursday, August 11, 2011

La Feria de Las Flores - Weekend 2

This past weekend was the final few days of La Feria de Las Flores in Medellín, one of the most important festivals in all of Colombia, and also one of the most impressive. After the first weekend of the festival I was left feeling excited, impressed, and genuinely amazed by the culture of Antioquia, and how hardworking and happy paisas (people from antioquia) are. Gives you this kind of warm fuzzy feeling inside :).

On Saturday, I didnt have to go very far to see a parade of classic and antique cars, as it was right outside my house infront of EAFIT. I met up with a bunch of my friends literally outside my house, and stood under the sunshine watching old cars, army vehicles and parade floats go by. It was a beautiful day, sun shining and the temperature in the high 20s, Medellín doesnt get better than this. Here are some photos from the parade:

After the parade my friends Mariana (from Brazil) and Sara (from Colombia) and I walked to one of the malls next to my apartment as there was a flower display there. Entering the mall we saw the main floor just COVERED with flowers, and it's not until you take escalators up a couple floors that you realize there's a design and pattern within the hundreds and hundreds of flowers. It's impressive to say the least. Check it out:

On Sunday, was the mother of all events, the most important event of the ENTIRE festival: El Desfile de los Silleteros .... the parade of the flower carriers. This event literally attracts THOUSANDS of people, and I was warned beforehand, that there would be a LOT of people, but i didnt realize just HOW many people:

Luckily AIESEC had a tent reserved along one of the streets the parade would be passing by, where we could stand. However I had to fight my way through the crowd still to get a good spot to be able to see and take pictures of the Silleteros (people who carry the flower displays on their backs). So there my friends and I stood in a huge crowd, anxiously waiting for the parade to begin, and for my first glance at the silleteros!

I was so excited for this parade because i had heard, and read so much about it before attending the event. It's one of the most famous things about Medellín, and since im feeling more and more attached to the city everyday, this was going to be an event to remember, and to feel so proud of! I wasnt sure how long the parade was going to be, or how many silleteros there were going to be, because the silletas (flower saddles that silleteros carry on their backs) are so heavy, so once the parade began, I started taking pictures like a mad woman, because I wasnt sure how many opportunities of the silleteros I would get to photograph. Little did I know the parade would last for about 3-4 hours, and there were SO many silleteros. It was impressive. Silleteros of all ages, and the majority of them were quite old (which made it even more impressive), yet still carrying up to 70kg silletas, packed with flowers, beautiful designs, and the pride of their region.

When the silleteros walked by, everyone applauded them, for their work, their effort of carrying incredibly heavy silletas on their backs, and for the pride of Antioquia. Everyone is so proud of this festival, the parade, and the tradition that is still kept alive through the Silleteros. It was such a great feeling to be there, applauding the silleteros as their walked by, and calling out "vuelta! vuelta!" for them to do a twirl so you could see in the full, the design of the silleta on their back. Here are some of the most impressive silletas:

Now this is going to sound nerdy, but one thing that Colombian companies do for the parade is branding, where they brand various silletas, to promote their company, brand, campaign etc. They pay big $$ to be able to have their company name displayed on a silleta, however the silletas are VERY impressive. Here are a few examples:

The parade also consisted of musical bands, dancers, and floats. It was probably the longest and most impressive parade I have ever been to or seen in my life. If anyone wants to come and visit Medellín, they HAVE to come during La Feria de las Flores. It has hands down been one of the BEST things Ive seen and done here in Colombia. So impressive, you dont even know. The flowers are incredible, and the people are so happy and proud of their region, it's such a great atmosphere to be in! I am so lucky I have been able to experience it.

Finally, here's a group pic of all the AIESEC people at the end of the parade. Amazing network of people from all over the world, experiencing one of the best festivals in Colombia!

Friday, August 5, 2011

World Cup U-20: Argentina vs England

Well it finally arrived! This week I went to the World Cup U-20 game in Medellín with my friends Sara and Leo. We saw Argentina play England each other.

Upon arriving to the stadium, which was a sold-out game, we found the buses of each team, so we were taking pictures next to each bus. While we were doing this, a bunch of colombians were doing the same, and one of them noticed me, and then asked in broken English "can I take a photo with you?".... apparently he thought I was British, because I wearing red, blue, and white (colours of England´s team),and I was speaking English. (Meh, Canadian... close enough. So I agreed, and we took 2 photos together, then afterwards I busted out my Spanish and said "Alguien más? 5 mil cada foto"... which means "Anyone else? 5 thousand pesos each photo". The guy was shocked, he didnt know I spoke Spanish, the expression on his face was priceless. I love that I can joke in Spanish, it´s so amusing.

It took a while to find our seats because there were SOOO many people, but it was great to see the amount of people there and the fact the game was sold out! Glad I bought our tickets super early (back in April). Our seats were on the upper level, but perfectly centered so we had great views during the game.

The game started out with Argentina having the most posession of the ball, which I immediately thought... great we´re going to lose (I was cheering for England by the way...given my mom´s whole side of the family is from the mother country). However in the second half England stepped up their game and started to play much more aggressively, and have more posession than Argentina.

The game was good, not crazy exciting like I thought it would be, but still good. There were a lot of shots on net, and at one point a shot went in, and it appeared that England had scored against Argentina. So Sara and I went nuts along with the other England fans in the crowd (note... there werent many). At one point I think i even yelled "Suck it Argentina" out of pure excitement, but then realized that the goal was called offside, and it didnt count. My expression and mood quickly changed from pure excitement to pure disappointment. Haha. Unfortunately for the rest of the game there were no other goals, and the game ended 0-0.

However, even though there werent goals, it was still a great experience to go to a World Cup U-20 game, and of course see 2 countries play, that bred some of the best soccer players in the world: England and Argentina. After the game, Leo, Sara and I went to grab some good old Colombian street meat. Now this is much different than Canadian street meat, as it´s more delicious and you get way more food.

For example... for $8.000 pesos (around $4 CDN) you get, a huge piece of bbq chicken on a stick, with an arepa, salad, and french fries. Not a bad deal, plus it was delicious. Check out a photo here:

Here is a video I took while at the game:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My favourite Salsa song of all time...

Álvaro José Arroyo González, also known as Joe Arroyo or El Joe, was one of Colombia´s most famous Salsa singers. He was born in Cartagena (one of the most beautiful cities in all of Colombia), and unfortunately died recently on July 26 2011.

Joe Arroyo was hugely successful mainly due to his ability to mix salsa, soca, kompa, zouk and other kinds of music from the African Diaspora in a unique style that earned him the prefix of Chonero de la Salsa by critics and fans.

The song below "La Rebelion" (my favourite salsa song of all time), is one of his most famous. During his musical career he recorded an astounding 43 albums! Check out the song below and get a taste for Colomabian salsa!

Listo Medellín! - Salsa song about Medellín

Song about Medellín by one of the best salsa groups in Colombia: Grupo Niche.