Saturday, June 18, 2011

Spice It Up

While visiting the local nursery in search of flowers and plants to brighten up the hostel, Miles and I built up a collection of our own. The first plant we bought was basil. This was very exciting because the basil from the store comes in a big bunch that you couldn’t possibly use all at once and goes bad absurdly quickly. I’d started to feel guilty every time I bought it, already knowing that so much would go to waste. The second trip brought home a rosemary plant, but the third purchase was far and away the most exciting.

We bought a chili plant! And . . . wait for it . . . they’re spicy!!! I flipped when I saw the plant but when Miles asked the lady about it she told us they were decorative chilis. Huh? Does such a thing exist? Then it came out that there was one customer who said she eats them. Good enough for us, we decided to take our chances. Not only are they edible, but they are the perfect spicy chili for the missing half of my Thai cooking repertoire. No surprise though that to a Colombian palate the spice content would classify the chilis as ‘decorative!’

The Friendly Paisa

A constant conversation among guests at the hostel is how nice Colombians and especially people in Medellín are. Travelers observe a distinct difference between Colombia and many of the other countries they’ve traveled through either on their way down or up. Aside from the fact that Colombians have generally not followed the common trend of taking advantage of foreigners, they also go out of their way to help you and ensure that you are having the best possible experience in their city. In Medellín I think that citizens are especially cognizant of their dark history and are eager to ensure that visitors are exposed to the new and improved version. This city has something to prove as it enters the global consciousness as a travel destination rather than the playground of Pablo Escobar.

My favourite friendly Paisa story is a time when Miles and I were searching the center without success for a table lamp. We asked in one store that didn’t have what we were looking for. Rather than sending us on our way, the woman came out from behind the counter and escorted us two blocks to another light shop that she thought might be able to help. Talk about going above and beyond! We hear similar stories from guests all the time and judging by this, I’d say locals are doing an excellent job of promoting their new image.

Sunday, May 29, 2011



Alright, it is finally time for a long overdue blog about T&A, also known as ‘tits and ass.’ The women out here have these unbelievable bodies, I go to the gym and am in awe of the other women working out there. I walk down the street and there’s booty everywhere, and cleavage spilling out of tiny hot pink shirts. It’s hard not to do frequent double takes and it’s easy to see why Colombian women, and Paisas in particular, are renowned for their bodies. However, if I’ve learned one thing after eight months in Medellín, it’s that if it looks too good to be true, it’s not.

First let’s talk implants. Colombia is a top destination for plastic surgery and that applies to breasts and bottoms as well as the usual facelift variety. What do you expect from a country with a long-running TV show called “Sin Tetas No Hay Paraiso” or “Without Tits, There’s No Paradise.” And when they turned the show into a movie they actually gave the actress a boob job as part of the deal! So silicon is big, and is even a somewhat common present for girls’ quiñeras, (15th birthday celebrations). I find that one of the most ridiculous facts I’ve heard down here. Who is done developing at 15?! No wonder my friend who used to work in the ER told me that it not at all unusual to receive female patients with irritated silicone busts or leaking silicone butts. People actually lose legs that way and mortalities are not unheard of.

This brings us to the safer, cheaper, and more accessible option: padded underwear. That’s right, women actually wear underwear with butt pads to enhance their curvature. A favourite pastime of mine is the real or fake guessing game. This is a little greyer than the equivalent game in Thailand regarding transvestites, which was the surgery of choice in Bangkok, because our general rule was if you have to ask, then she is. But here, some women really do have incredibly curvy bodies, the plastic surgery is state of the art, and even padded asses often look proportional, so it can be difficult to make a final call. My trick is to examine the ass to thigh ratio and look out for the ‘shelf effect.’

As amusing as it often is to view such an interesting cultural phenomenon, ultimately I find the whole situation very sad. Why are 15 year olds getting breast implants? In an already competitive world, how are “normal” (read: natural) women supposed to compete with the supermodel and cartoon pinup bodies that are literally created on a daily basis? Why do women feel the need to wear ass pads even to the gym? The US definitely isn’t known for promoting healthy self-images to young girls, but I would imagine that this society could be very difficult for a young girl to grow up in.

Hey, Monkey!

Speaking of offensive ways to get people’s attention, I never wrote about one of the most surprising forms of address down here. This would be when I walk down the street and someone asks me for the time, directions, anything, and they get my attention by calling “Mona!” or “Monkey!” Yup, that’s right, I get called monkey on an almost daily basis. And although my first inclination on hearing this isn’t to turn around with a smile on my face, I’ve learned that there is absolutely no ill-will borne with the word.

It’s not a foreigner/local thing either; anyone who is light skinned will likely be referred to as mona/mono. I have no idea what the history behind this term is, but I did recently find out that Colombians actually use a different word when talking about the animal. And I do think that any Colombian leaving the country should be forewarned that referring to people as monkey will likely not be as well-received elsewhere!

Hey, Woman!

Miles and I finished our night out with empanadas, the Medellín equivalent of hotdogs in Seattle, pizza in New York, and falafel in London. I was so thoroughly engaged in my empanada that I missed the exchange between the woman behind the counter and two customers, which Miles described to me later. Two guys came up to order and yelled “Oi, mujer” or “Hey, woman!” to get the employee’s attention. The woman turned around with an expression that made it clear she couldn’t quite believe what she’d just heard and said “What?” The guy had the gall to repeat “Oi, mujer” one more time. The employee served them but was obviously very displeased at being treated so rudely.

I completely understand how “Hey, woman” would be offensive. Especially given the tone in which it was delivered, reminiscent of a “Hey, woman, get back in the kitchen” type comment in the US. What I find strange is that the polite way to get a female server’s attention is to call out “Niña!” or “Girl!” This is the case regardless of age. Even though I know that this form of address is totally acceptable and expected, I still find myself reluctant to call out “Niña” to a woman who is clearly my senior. But at risk of offending an unmarried woman by calling her “Señora,” I find my hands tied. I do know, though, that based on the woman’s reaction last night, you can be sure I won’t be calling out “Mujer!” anytime soon!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Having been in Colombia for six months, I finally made my first visit to the capitol, Bogota. And . . . I loved it. I love Medellín too, of course, but Bogota has a completely different vibe. It reminded me a lot of international capitals and therefore of the west/the U.S. if that’s not too un-PC of me to say. Bogota reminded me of many American cities: the state of the roads, the Big Dig in Boston; the layout of the city, D.C.; the ready availability of culture and music, New York; and the fashion reminded me of bohemians and hipsters.

Our time in Bogota was filled with live jazz, salsa clubs, mouthwatering martinis, international food, a flea market, plazas, museums, and general wanderings. We took a few days from the city to head out to Villa de Leyva, home of the largest town square in all of South America. Although the square was quite big, we were more impressed by the first Colombian wine that we’ve encountered. The Marqués de Villa de Leyva absolutely shamed Gato Negro, which has become our wine of choice in Medellín.

All in all a great trip, and since I didn’t freeze my butt off as expected, I see return trips in my future.