Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Best of Both Worlds

Aclimatarse is a Spanish verb meaning "to get oneself used to" or "to acclimate oneself". When it popped up as my Spanish Word of the Day a few days ago, I thought, "how appropriate," as we were in the midst of re-acclimating to life back in the United States. While it is nice to get back to the lifestyle that we often take for granted in the USA, at the same time, I miss some of the chévere (awesomeness) that we discovered in Colombia. Each country has its downfalls also, so acclimating means being able accept the difficulties while enjoying the strengths. By doing that, we are able to enjoy ...

The Best of Both Worlds!

Medellín, Colombia, South America
Florida, United States of America

Medellin:  City of Eternal Spring ... Daytime high of 82 and low of 62 degrees (fahrenheit) all year long ... Low humidity ... Daylight from 6 am until 6 pm all year long ... Lush tropical green vegetation ... Mangos, potatoes, gardenias, and a few hundred other types of fruits, vegetables, and flowers in abundant supply all year long ... Very few pesky insects ... And certainly, no alligators.

Florida: Fabulous Spring vacation destination ... Cool in the winter and hot/humid in the summer ... 14+ hours of daylight in June, but only about 10 hours in December ... Lush green vegetation ... Oranges, strawberries and Mickey Mouse ... Insects? ... Oh yes! ... Currently, "love bug" season ... And of course, a million or so alligators.

Cost of Living
Medellin: Favorable exchange rates ... Today, $301 US dollars will get you 1,000,000 Colombian pesos ... Rent a furnished apartment in one of the nicest parts of the city for $1000/month ... Take an Uber across town for about $4 ... Getting your teeth cleaned will cost a whopping $35 ... An eye exam will set you back $10 ... And the new pair of progressive lens eye glasses cost less than half of what my last pair cost in the USA a few years ago! ... Take your sweetheart to the movies for $3 each ($1.50 before 5 pm) ... But beware, that tiny bag of imported M&Ms will set you back $5 or more.

Florida: A month in a Florida RV park can run $1000 or more ... A 10 minute Uber ride to pick up our rental car will set us back $22 ... A trip to the dentist?? ... More money than I like dishing out ... But a GIANT bag of M&Ms is only $9 at Walmart ... A perfect birthday gift for Dad ... if Doug doesn't get to it first!

Food and Drink
Medellín: What Colombia lacks in spicy food, they more than make up for in COFFEE ... dark, rich, amazing COFFEE ... morning, noon, and night ... and fresh FRUIT and VEGGIES ... Plantains, guanabana, pitaya amarilla, and avocado ... Fried, blenderized, fresh, or mashed ... Eating experiences so wonderful that they deserve a blog entry of their own ... Coming soon!

Florida: My mother-in-law's fully stocked kitchen ... With the ingredients and utensils to make my famous Chicken Parmesan and Chicken Stir Fry ... Using the SPICES from her overflowing spice rack ... While enjoying a glass of red WINE ... Oh, how I have missed this beloved "fruit" juice as it was fairly expensive in Colombia!

Medellín: We found that buying the individual ingredients in the supermarket and cooking a meal at home cost as much or more than just eating out ... Thus, we enjoyed many of the restaurants near our apartment ... Good food, very reasonably priced, and served in an outdoor garden patio setting exemplified the Medellín restaurant experience for us ... In Situ Restaurant at the Botanical Garden was my favorite ... two entrees, coffee and dessert set us back about $30 (including tip) ... And the beautiful scenery and an after-dinner walk around the garden was included in the price of the meal!

Doug's favorite was closer to our apartment ... A Burger King restaurant and Bogotá Beer Company taproom side by side ... the PERFECT combination in Doug's humble opinion ... Two Whoppers and two craft beers for about $11 ... Yes, the sweet Burger King employee quickly got to know our order by heart!

Florida: Chinese, Italian, Mexican, Greek, or Fast Food ... The choices are endless ... Not so good for someone like me who hates making decisions ... And portion sizes are SO BIG ... But, craft breweries with IPAs and pub fare are aplenty! ... Oh, how Doug has missed you! ... Happy day! ... He is back in the beer coaster collecting business!!

Shopping: Grocery and Retail
Medellín: While the fresh produce, baked goods, and local products were fairly reasonably priced, any imported food is expensive in the grocery stores ... Craving a can of Campbell's tomato soup?? ... That will cost you about $4 ... A jar of Prego Spaghetti sauce?? ... $7 ... Save money and eat out!! ... Large centro comerciales (open-air shopping malls) are everywhere ... And they are favorite places to enjoy family time ... Walk the dog, ice skate, play in the central amusement area, grab dinner or dessert, and buy a pastry for breakfast tomorrow ... Just watch the prices at the many small specialty shops ... A haircut for Doug cost $30 here vs $4 at the small barber shop down the street ... But as evidenced by the crowds on the weekends, paisa families embrace social time at the Mall and keep the retail businesses thriving!

Florida: With the ability to buy just about anything online, the popularity of large shopping malls seems to be fading ... Outlet malls, discount stores like Costco, and thrift shops compete for the consumer dollar ... Family members live in different parts of the country, making "family time" a precious but rare occurrence

Everyday Life
Medellín: People ... Everywhere ... All ages ... All times of the day or night ... Dressed very similar with long pants worn on even the warmest days ... Cars are expensive ... Yet the streets are busy and noisy ... Constant concerts of car horns ... Especially during la hora pico (rush hour) ... The Pico y Placa program limits the days and times that cars can be used ... So walking or taking the bus or Metro is the norm ... And that gives people many opportunities to exercise and socialize ... And possibly as a result, we didn't notice a lot of overweight people ... Sunday morning Ciclovia ... Major roads closed to vehicle traffic from 7 am until 1 pm ... Walkers, runners, and bikers enjoying exercise as well as social time ... 7 pm? ... Time to think about dinner at one of the many neighborhood restaurants.

Florida: People in cars ... Everywhere ... In a (somewhat) orderly fashion ... So car horns are seldom needed ... Driving to work, to school, and to the gym ... Pickleball! ... How we have missed you! ... As far as clothing goes ... Anything goes ... We can wear shorts again! ... Quiet retirement communities  ... 7 pm? ... Lights out as Jeopardy is starting!

Medellín: Tall hillside apartment complexes ... Small living spaces ... no need for air conditioning, heating, window screens or doors ... Local barrios (neighborhoods) alive with social activity in the evening and on the weekends ... People hanging out on the street or walking to the café for a café ... Just watch your step as you take that walk ... Uneven sidewalk surfaces and tripping hazards are the norm ... Think that you are safe crossing the street with a "walk" sign? ... Think again ... Better watch out for motos locos (crazy motorcycles) that are going to turn right in front of you.  

Florida: Gated communities ... Large homes with private yards ... Sealed tight with the air conditioning running 24/7 ... Not sure of the name of the next door neighbor ... Quiet streets ... Take a walk on a smooth sidewalk ... Think that you are totally safe? ... Just watch out for a golf cart with a senior driver behind the wheel!

Work and Education
Medellín: Despite a high unemployment rate, there are workers everywhere ... Delivering groceries, maintaining homes, businesses and gardens, cleaning garbage from the streets, trying to sell you something ... Or begging for a little extra help ... Working hard to earn their minimum wage that is equivalent to about $1 usd/hour ... Young people living with their parents while studying hard in the colegios y universidades (high schools and colleges) ... Eager to learn English in order to compete for higher paying jobs or be able to lead tours of their barrio to English-speaking visitors ... Always dreaming of someday being able to move into a small apartment and buy a motorcycle ... Or dream real BIG about someday buying a car and their own home in the country.

Florida: Low unemployment rate ... Minimum hourly wage of $8.46/hour, yet employers unable fill these positions ... High cost of living and education ... Young college grads eager to snatch that high paying job in order to start to pay off their student loans, cover their apartment rent, make car payments, and in a few years have enough saved up in order to put a down payment on a house.

Medellín: With eighteen national holidays a year, Colombia ranks #2 among countries for paid time off ... Twelve of these are religious holidays since Catholicism is the main religion ... Like the USA, many of these holidays are celebrated on a Monday, giving workers and students a long weekend ... And making large cities like Medellín a virtual "ghost town" as people flock to their countryside fincas ... Catholic Masses ... Same format but with a unique style ... Colorful, chaotic, and quick! ... Celebrations like Día de la Mujer (Women's Day) on March 8 and Día de Amor y Amistad (Day of Love and Friendship) on September 21 are wonderful opportunities to give and receive chocolate and flowers ... El Día de San Valentín on February 14?? ... Just an ordinary day here.

Florida: Although there are ten federal holidays a year, most American workers only get paid time off for six of them ... Christmas is the only religious holiday widely celebrated ... St Valentine's Day is a hugely commercialized social holiday, and a prime opportunity to buy expensive flowers to give to your sweetheart ... And these flowers are more than likely grown and exported from Colombia.

Medellín: Thirty years ago, Medellín was considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world ... But contrary to what TV shows like "Narcos" depict, Medellín has transformed itself into a relatively safe and very welcoming vacation destination ... You just need to follow a few common sense rules like dressing to "blend in" and not flashing your money, phone, or valuables ... And you should pay attention to what stores and restaurants are charging you, as it can be a bummer when you realize that you just paid the "gringo price".

Florida: Like Colombia, using common sense keeps you safe ... Getting back on the US highways and driving fast ... Or driving at all after four months of using public transportation takes some re-acclamation ... Oh, how I miss the fabulous Metro Cable cars that were able to get us anywhere we needed to go!

Overall Impression
Medellín and Florida ... Two amazing but very different places ... So glad that we went and happy to be back (for a while) ... Like the message of this song by Colombian musician Alex Campos, we are extremely grateful for the chance to appreciate the Best of God's World every day!

(Lyrics translated into English below)

Until next time ... Acclimate to and Appreciate the Best That Surrounds You Every Day ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!

Not too surprisingly, we have experienced a roller-coaster of emotions as we reflect on our time in Colombia and adjust once again to life in the USA. Our Colombian adventure has far exceeded our wildest expectations, and we are looking forward to our new RVentures in a smaller casa rodante (house on wheels). 

But, not so fast ... 

Our "Plan B" (to pick up our new Winnebago Travato right after we returned from Colombia) has been put on hold as the dealer tries to fix to malfunctioning lithium battery system in our new rig. When we arrived in Florida two weeks ago, the message from our salesperson was "a few more days". Then came the not-so-promising news this week that our new Travato would not be ready for another three weeks forcing us to formulate "Plan C" ... That is part of the reason why this blog is so long ... I have had a little more time on my hands while we figure things out!

Do we have a Plan C??

Yes, we actually have a Plan C (what Chris wants to do) and a Plan D (what Doug thinks we should do ... which is usually the best plan). We are crossing our fingers that all goes well ... And hoping that we can let you in on the exciting details of Plan C&D soon!

Thank You (Lyrics)
Thank you for being good
Thank you for loving me
Thank you for the cross
Thank you for paying for me
Thank you for saving me
Thank you for your compassion
Thank you for your light
Thank you for your life given.

Since you, there is no other
Since you, there is no other god
You are my hope
Jesus, Jesus

Thank you for your covenant
and for giving me your favor
Thank you for your love
And everything that you have done through me.

Since you, there is no other
Since you, there is no other god
You are my hope

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

Only to You, I will give all the glory
Only to You, I will give my adoration
You are life, You are eternal God
Your light shines in me.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

A Visit to the Finca

In a country where seventy percent of the people identify as Catholic, religious holidays take on a special significance in Colombia. Semana Santa (Holy Week) is one of the most important religious occasions, and thus has also become a popular vacation time in Colombia. Across the country, schools and businesses are closed. The normally busy metropolitan areas seem unusually quiet as many people journey into the countryside to enjoy time with family on the "finca", the Colombian term for a country home or farm.  We were delighted to be able to visit our friends, Luis and Piedad at their beautiful finca in the countryside just outside of Bogotá during Semana Santa.

Because Bogotá is at a higher elevation than Medellín (8500 feet verses 5000 feet), the temperatures tend to be a bit cooler. A light jacket and a warm coffee was needed when greeting a new day from their patio garden.

A walk around the garden filled our senses with beautiful colors, but delicious aromas soon drew us back into the kitchen.

Every morning we were treated to a typical paisa breakfast of huevos revueltos, arepas con queso, and chocolate caliente (scrambled eggs, arepas with cheese and hot chocolate). Arepas,  flat, round, unleavened corn cakes, are the iconic staple of the Colombian diet. Cornmeal, choclo corn, or yucca ... fried, baked, or grilled ... with cheese, butter, or hagoa ... for breakfast, lunch, or dinner ... arepas are all the rage! Our favorite was the slightly sweet grilled arepa de choclo con queso y mantequilla (with cheese and butter).

Afterwards, we would walk around the neighborhood, taking in the beauty of the surrounding mountains and savoring the quiet of the countryside. Only the occasional crowing of a rooster interrupted our "Spanish conversational lesson".

When we returned, we were treated to a lunch complete with fresh salad, ajiaco soup and a juice made from tomate de árbol that had just been picked from the trees outside the kitchen.

In the afternoon, the sala (living room) was transformed into a yoga studio as Fernando led us in a two hour session. This guided exercise worked my muscles as the Spanish mantras taxed my brain.

Piedad's cousin, María Isabel and her husband, Rafael joined us for a few days, and we enjoyed the culinary delights that result when everyone shares their talents in the kitchen. Top Chefs, Piedad and Rafe, picked out a colorful supply of fresh fruits and veggies from the local market.

Combining a Spanish lesson with a cooking lesson, I chopped and sauteed ...

... while Doug provided the comic relief.

"Mire, el aguacate es tan grande como mi cabeza!"
(Look, the avocado is as large as my head!)

The resulting pasta pesto ... muy delicioso!

Evenings were filled with Spanish fun and games ...

and crafts and "girlfriend gab sessions" which gave me even more opportunities to listen and practice speaking Spanish.

Although it was challenging at times to speak solely Spanish, our visit to the beautiful finca of Luis and Piedad helped us realize that laughter and friendship transcends any language barrier.

We beat the crowds back to Medellín by returning on Saturday and were able to celebrate Easter at our small neighborhood church.

The observance of Semana Santa ... reflected in the beauty of the church decorations and celebrations,

... but also reflected in the tranquility

... of a visit to the finca!

Hasta luego ... savor the tranquility of a visit to the finca ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!

We arrived back in Florida and are currently at the "finca" of our parents in Ocala. Our hope to pick up our new RV has been put on hold as the dealer works on some problems with the RV's battery system. So ... we are taking a deep breath and repeating the mantra ¨tranquility now¨ as we try to calmly wait and see if we need to come up with ¨Plan C¨ ... all the while remembering what a blessing it is to be able to enjoy family times at the finca! 

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Our Fourth Anni-RVersary: With This Ring ...

The beginning of May marks two important dates for us. Thirty-four years ago we started our life together as husband and wife, and four years ago we started our new life together as full time travel companions. Just as each year of marriage brings changes of some kind, so too does each year of RVentures.

Our biggest change this year has been to venture even further out of our comfort zone. With the sale of the Wildebeest in December, we set out on our Colombian adventure. A new country, new language, new culture, and new lifestyle is never easy. But we have found that this change has been better than we could have ever imagined. 

  • We found that we are enjoying the even more minimalist lifestyle that living out of two suitcases has given us.
  • We found that we have been blessed with new opportunities and new friendships.
  • We found that we are ready ... and excited to commit to a new RVing style when we return to Florida next week.

Rings have long represented commitments. Last year, when we visited our friends Luis and Piedad in Colombia for the first time, Piedad, a skilled jewelry maker, gave me a gift.

The beautiful silver ring that she made for me served as a reminder of my need to commit to the study of Spanish in preparation for our extended stay in Colombia this year.

When we returned to their house for a visit a few weeks ago, another gift even more special awaited us. But first, some background information ...

A year and a half ago when Doug was working on the Wildebeest's battery system, he took off his wedding ring and put it in his pocket because ... he wouldn't want to electrocute himself or something. Well, somehow the ring fell out of his pocket and was never found. 

A few weeks ago, when we were visiting our friends, Piedad got out some of her jewelry-making equipment. What started out as small round balls of silver became for us a precious sign of friendship!

What a beautiful moment when I could once again put a ring on the "dedo anullar" or ring finger of mi amor!

But wait ... it wasn't going to be that easy!

Major commitments like this require one to get down on their knees ...

and seal it with a kiss!

As we begin our next year of marriage and traveling,
With This Ring,
we commit to a few new changes as we enjoy more RVentures together!

Hasta Luego ... Commit to Embracing Change ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!

PS ... this photo was taken last December when we were looking at Class B camper vans in Florida. But, God-willing, we will post a similar photo of us in front of our new "home" in the next few days!