Disoriented in the País de la Eterna Primavera

We unwittingly associate images, emotions, expectations, and hopes with all sorts of stimuli. Not the least of these stimuli are seasons. Winter: White Christmas, snow, hot chocolate. Spring: flowers in blossom, gardens, rain. Summer: heat, long days, camping. Fall: Autumnal colors, pumpkins, bonfires. Images and remembrances come to mind with no conscious effort based on the calendar, the weather, or other seasonal cues.

In Colombia, we frequently find ourselves searching to verify the current month, or wondering what sports season family and friends may be camped in front of the television to watch. Here in El País de la Eterna Primavera – The Land of Eternal Spring – seasonal cues are few. Fruits and vegetables that in North American appear only seasonally – and many that never appear at all – enjoy a twelve-month growing season. This is the primary reason that Colombia is the second leading world exporter of flowers. Trees, flowers, fruits and vegetables that you may be accustomed to blooming once per year, blossom, are harvested, and die off, only to re-blossom again weeks later in an ongoing cycle.

Don’t get me wrong; this eternal spring is one of the things that makes Colombia so attractive. Constantly renewing and alternating colors, new growth, with fruits and vegetables year round provide a paradise-like environment. But keeping track of relevant events stateside becomes an issue. Here we are days before the Christmas holiday, and were it not for the wrapping tinsel on the table, or the gaudy commercial decorations, and the propensity to decorate every inch of each home’s facade, there are few reminders in the air. No “Jack Frost nipping at your nose”, no “folks dressed up like Eskimos”, no dreaming of a white Christmas.

Suba Hill Cardboard Sledding

Christmas in Colombia

Last week, while on a picnic, the kids sledding were doing so on sheets of cardboard down grassy knolls. When I call family stateside, it’s often difficult to come up with a more relevant sports question than, “So, what season IS it?” No frosty nights to remind one of NFL playoffs, no hot summer days beckoning one to the baseball field. No seasonal clues to forewarn of impending birthdays or events.

 

I am reminded of our personal goal to live life in the moment; whenever that moment may be. With a lack of subconscious cues, we find expectations of the calendar fading. What remains are the people and circumstances of the moment.

So… here we are, living in the moment in el País de la Eterna Primavera. ¡Salud!

How We Spent 5 Brilliant Days in Salento

Overlooking Salento from Alto de la Cruz.

We recently had the pleasure of having family from the US visit us here in Colombia. In addition to seeing some of the sights and sounds of Bogotá, we enjoyed a five-day visit to Zona Cafetera, or the coffee zone, specifically in the wonderful little colonial town of Salento. Zona Cafetera is Colombia’s principal coffee-growing zone. The region is shaped like an inverted triangle (hence the name ‘coffee triangle’ by some), with the cities of Armenia, Manizales, and Pereira. The steep hillsides are covered with fincas (large farms) where you can learn about coffee production, participate in harvesting coffee ‘cherries’, and sample fresh gourmet coffee.

Finca el Ocaso Salento

Colombia is world-renowned as a major producer of coffee that rivals the best in the world. Colombia has some 565,000 coffee farmers, who together produce 12 percent of the world’s coffee, second only to Brazil. The Coffea Arabica coffee plant grows best in well-drained soils at elevations of 2,500 to 4,000 feet, with a constant temperature between 59 and 82 degrees F, and a wet and dry season.

 

Salento was founded in 1842 and is the typical paisa town. It has the most complete Antioquian architecture of any small town in the region. Most buildings are awash in bright, harmonious color, especially Calle Real, the main street. Here you can find an array of restaurants, hostels, souvenir shops, art galleries, quaint cafes, and ice cream shops. The best view of the town is from the top of Alto de la Cruz. It’s reached by a 240-step staircase at the north end of the main street. We were fortunate to have found a wonderful hostel, Casa de la Ciencia, owned and operated by Rubiela, a woman in her later years. She was kind enough to organize our guided hike in the Cocora Valley and secure our transportation to and from the airport in Armenia, which is an hour away.

Casas de la Ciencia, Solento, Quindio

Joel Engel, Jim Engel, Rubiela (proprietor), Jane Ann Engel, Sharon Wong

Next, follow the Rio Quindío out of town into the Valle de Cocora, home to the Quindío wax palm, Colombia’s national tree, and a legally protected species. The wax palm is endemic to the country and grows primarily in this region at elevations above 6,560 feet. The tallest palm tree in the world soars to a height of up to 213 feet. It grows extremely slowly and can live up to 100 years. We enjoyed a six+ hour guided hike with Edison Garcia, of Andino Quindio Ecoturismo. The scenery was spectacular, and our guide was very knowledgeable, having spent the past 14 years leading hikes in the area. The Hummingbird Forest of Acaime was well worth the extra 5km off the main trail, and the hot chocolate con queso was a much-needed energy boost. From there, we made our way up a very steep trail to La Montana where the view was majestic and breathtaking, quite literally.

Zona Cafetera is convenient to reach from Bogotá, so we’re hoping to make it back there regularly. In the meantime, we have some wonderful memories and photos…we hope you enjoy viewing them as much as we had taking them!

All You Need in Life is the Love of a Good Cat

All You Need in Life is the Love of a Good Cat

Love of a good catRecently, we made a change in our life. Yes, we moved to Bogota, Colombia. Then we made another change. We adopted a cat. Well, actually, a kitten. And truth be told, she adopted us. A local friend recommended an animal rescue shelter near our home.

One afternoon, after teaching an English class, Jim stopped by the shelter. There, he met Scarlett, the owner, and a passionate animal rescuer. She led him to an area where she was boarding a number of cats and kittens. One of the primary principals, at least for us, in deciding on a particular cat is to wait for a cat to pick you. One such adorable kitten instantly made her way to Jim and proceeded to make herself even more adorable. Kitten, 1. Jim, 1.

The next day we both went back to the shelter. Jim showed me the kitty that chose him and I instantly fell in love. She was a keeper. Kitten, 2. J & JA, 2.

Here’s a little back-story. One can imagine how stressful it is to relocate to another city, let alone another country. One with a language you barely speak. One with a different culture. While we both pat ourselves on the back for making the adjustment as pleasant as possible, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it has been quite stressful.

Isabella 3 Isabella 6

Fast forward to the day we brought home our newly adopted kitten. We had no idea just how stressed out we were until we spent the day playing with, snuggling with, and relaxing with our new fur friend. We’ve named her Isabella Canela; Izzy for short. Canela is Spanish for cinnamon. The markings in her fur look like someone sprinkled cinnamon over her.

Isabella 11 Isabella 15

In the last five weeks that she’s made our home her home, both Jim and I have felt a definite calming effect. It’s exciting to hurry home now, knowing that when we open the door she’ll be right there to greet us. And she’s quick to jump in our lap the minute we sit down. She loves to be petted and she purrs loudly with satisfaction. We love watching her little kitten antics; racing through the apartment, batting around a plastic bottle cap, climbing up the metal clothes drying rack as though playing King of the Mountain, and just posing in her naturally cute way.

She loves us. And we love her. And we wonder why we waited so long to adopt a cat.

Good to Great in Colombia

Note: One of our goals for this blog is to introduce important (to us) ideas regarding the process of becoming expatriates – or immigrants – in the hope that these musings can help others, perhaps you, along in the process. Ergo:

I recall reading Good to Great (Jim Collins, Harper Business, 2001) when it was released, and being impressed by the simplicity of its findings: good companies become great by remaining true to their initial good ideas, by being good, having good ideas, and staying the course.

As we approached the idea of leaving the states for a new home-country, I recall some of the formative reasons: to introduce adventure and romance into our daily lives, and to grow together as we tested new waters. What John Lennon penned is correct, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” It’s easy to become occupied with daily challenges or routines, and lose your initial focus. The great news is that you can always refocus, and grow in the process.

In the Bleachers 18-5-15

Moving from your home country – regardless of how prepared you are or how positive the change – is, by definition, life changing. Moving to a city many times larger than you’ve ever lived in, whose language is different, as well as its social structure, economy, etc., can, let’s say, take your eye off the mark. An important lesson we are learning is to PLAN times to “call a huddle,” to take time and make an effort to continually reassess our goals and see where we are relative to them.

Ballard Street 18-5-15

Bogotá, Colombia, South America, Spanish, work/income, language, and more, are each important, but only in context of our larger goals and aspirations. Four months (is that all?) into this new adventure, and looking at how we will progress, we are finding it beneficial to take time to refocus on our priorities; namely, each other. We are having – quite literally – the time of our lives, and finding it is time to make sure we are staying true to our goals, to be certain of a sound strategy, and to come up with workable tactics to bring our aspirations to reality. Perhaps most importantly, we are learning, yes, to be self-reliant, but also that we can rely on each other, and that self-reliance and mutual reliance forms an exciting and fun life.

Stay tuned… the best is yet to be!

 

Jim & Jane Ann in the Media – May 2015 Issue of Incomes Abroad

One of the exciting activities we hoped and planned for in our new life in Colombia is to share our experiences with friends, acquaintances and followers who may be interested in the same or similar adventure. International Living’s publication, Incomes Abroad was kind enough to ask that we provide our summary story for publication in their May 2015 Issue. Click here or on the image of the publication below to open the issue of Income’s Abroad, and read our story on page 3.

Incomes Abroad May 2015 p3

We would highly value your thoughts, comments and reactions to the article. Please feel free to repost or share, and we hope to encourage a few to make your adventures and dreams happen. As a first step, share your dream or adventure with us here in the comments below!

Out of Bogotá

Friends (Sophia, Fabio and Julian) kindly invited us to join them on a weekend trip out of Bogotá, to Villa de Leyva, to enjoy the nightlife and surrounding beauty, and join them in their home town of Tunja.

Villa de Leyva is Colombia’s poster child of architectural preservation. Founded in 1572, this colonial town was declared a national monument in 1954. It’s been preserved in its entirety, including its stone-paved streets. Some are embedded with fossils from the surrounding area. Every building is whitewashed, with terra-cotta tiled roofs, green doors, trim, and balconies, many with decorated flowerpots. The town is laid out in a grid around the vast cobbled Plaza Mayor. This is the place to hang out, day or night, and enjoy the people mingling about.

Villa de Leyva is a base for dozens of excursions and intriguing day trips. With friends as our guide, we headed out for a day hike to see some beautiful, local falls. In addition to the falls, there’s zip lining, bungee jumping and repelling the waterfall.

North of Bogotá, the first major city you encounter in Tunja (tōnˈhä), one of the oldest cities in Colombia. The Spanish founded the city in 1539. Tunja was the capital of Pan-Colombia, prior to the establishment of the Republic of Colombia in 1830. Just south of the city, a monument and bridge commemorate the Battle of Boyacá (1819), the decisive battle in the independence struggle. A measure of Tunja’s importance during colonial times lies in the number of churches that were built. Anyone interested in religious art should visit the city.

Here is a visual remembrance of our trip:

 

As always, we would value your comments. Let us know your impressions of Colombia, and tell us what you would like to see.

Nos vemos,

Jim & Jane Ann

Taking Time To Be Tourists

Two months into residence in Bogotá, and we finally made our first tourist excursion. We took the day to bus (TransMilenio, always an adventure) to La Candelaria, the historical foundation of modern Bogotá, dating to 1538. Most of the time was spent at the Museum of Gold, but we also spent time walking the old streets and taking in some historical architecture.

Following is a whirlwind photographic tour of our day:

 

We hope you enjoyed sharing our tour of Bogotá’s historical Candelaria district. Please comment on your experiences in Bogotá, or other fascinating travel spots.