When Things go to Sh*t- Colombia edition

I get it! I really do! Travelling to a new country is scary with kids. You don't know the language or culture or where the nearest doctor is, or if the food is safe for your kids to eat, if your kids can handle the itinerary and not become exhausted or sick…or sick with exhaustion & exhausted of being sick!

Little wonder that many families opt to play it safe and go to a resort, cruises or stay closer to home. At least, you can get the comforts of home.

Our eldest did get sick with a stomach bug; our baby projectile vomited in the car due to motion sickness while our tour guide, Luis, was zipping through snake-like mountain passes near Medellin. And of course trying to talk to a local paediatric clinic with our broken Spanish and their non-existent English was,

no bueno.

Can you feel the heat radiating off of this picture?

Can you feel the heat radiating off of this picture?

After Medellin, came the heat & humidity of Cartagena and the Caribbean coast of Colombia as a whole. We had clearly underestimated the level of heat as most days the thermostat was above 40 degree Celsius (inching closer to 45, really), ensuring that your skin would burn and you’d be blanketed in sweat within 10 mins of being outside. But, I did lose more of my post-partum pounds through sweating though  

So the fear of kids vomiting in the car, the sticky heat and endless bug bites, led us to cancel our planned trip to Tayrona National Park in the North-West of Colombia. And sadly, there went our plans to stay in an eco-lodge in the forest, a different kind of adventure that I had been looking forward to. The drive from Cartagena to Yuluka Eco-Lodge would be about 4.5hrs, but that did not include stopping for food (which we planned to do in Barranquilla) or stopping to deal with poopy diaper and pukes. The drive there could’ve easily taken 7hrs in total!

Moreover, Tayrona is located in the Yellow Fever zone, for which we would’ve needed to get vaccinations, and pay for them in Colombia. And alarmingly, we wouldn’t be able to vaccinate our youngest child against this deadly mosquito-borne illness, as the vaccines aren’t recommended for under a year old. I also would not be able to breastfeed after getting my yellow fever vaccine, a mothering task that I haven’t weaned off of yet.

 As much as we wanted to be real and be daring with our kids- we realized that even our kids had their limits. We couldn’t put our kids through misery & suffering, just so we could get off on adventure. With young kids, you can’t always risk it. For their sake, you have to temper your impulses.

We ended up flying to the island of San Andres instead with its unspoiled beauty. Which in itself ended up being adventurous due to our rural, local, accommodations.

 

can you feel the heat coming off of the picture? This is at Castillo San Felipe Barajas, Cartagena. 

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Still recovering from motion sickness & exhausted from all the excitement.  

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Inside of our accommodations at San Andres. Trust me, it’s far dustier inside with broken floors & bugs everywhere.  

Communa 13 in Medellin- An Urban Miracle

I confess: I feel uneasy about “urban revitalization projects”. It often stands for  “let’s push the original residents & businesses out and bring in another high-rise condo.” At least it’s that way in my hometown. 

But after witnessing Medellin’s transformation into a bustling, vivid, architecturally beautiful, politically safe, infrastructurally sound city- I have to change my mind about urban revitalization. The Medellin, which I had the pleasure of living in for a month, was a long way away from its one-time reputation as Pablo Escobar’s hometown (base of his Medellin Cartel) and the Murder Capital of the World. 

And nowhere is this urban revitalization more prominent than in the neighborhood of Communa 13- which was once so dangerous that police and military wouldn’t dare go in, otherwise they would be immediately attacked. Health workers working in government-run clinics would be kidnapped for ransom, as they were viewed as government agents, thus “enemy”. Classrooms had piercings from bullets and students would be dragged out of class, tortured and killed, if they were suspected of being “snitches”.

Various Anti-Government, paramilitary and Communist groups fought each other for control of the land and its peoples. The kidnapping, the murders, the rapes, the terrorizing in the Communa 13 neighborhoods in the early 1990’s-2000’s is detailed in the first-hand witness book, “District 13”. 

But after a decade plus of painful civic reflection and rebuilding- the Communa 13 neighborhood I saw was a youthful, vibrant place with hope teeming for a socially and economically prosperous future.

Mind you, there’s poverty still. Communa 13 isn’t a well-off neighbourhood.

But the people we met were welcoming, proud to show off their community to tourists from all over the world. Many use their dancing and singing talents to put on impromptu open-air performances. Many run businesses in the community catering to tourists, ensuring that income gets funnelled into this community. 

But what this neighborhood is most known for is it’s colourful graffiti, depicting it’s painful, blood-soaked and terrifying recent history and the hope for a better future for its children. Many of the graffiti talk about the government operation of “Orion” done in October 2002- which finally pushed out the rebel groups once and for all; however, at a great cost to innocent civilian lives. 

I have a few pictures here but you need to see it to believe the beauty of this visual historical retelling. 

To see more, you can check out Chota’s Instagram account. Chota grew up in this infamous neighborhood and went on to achieve worldwide fame for his graffiti art. He now gives back to the same community that raised him by running a very successful cafe, providing local jobs, commerce and a stage for young rappers (check out @chota_13)

Seeing Chota’s work in all its glory will make you go- “Banksy, who?”  

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At the top of 7 escalators, taking you to the top of this hilly neighbourhood 

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Tree of Life 

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Chota’s graffiti art. 

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6 Reasons Why Adventure Travelling is Good for Kids

Oh there are so many reasons, I can tell you. We are currently travelling through Colombia now with a 4 year old and an almost 1-year old.

Is it challenging with many frustrating moments? Yes!

Do your kids act out, have tantrums, don’t want to eat different foods? Yes!  

Does your kids sleeping schedule go all crazy? Yes!  

Does unexpected things happen, which you have to deal with, improvise, even? Yes! Especially when they throw up all over you in a moving car  

Do you get to enjoy meals at restaurants focusing on food & good conversation with your husband? Not really.  

But adventurous travelling, exploring a new country and interacting with people in their own language, sight-seeing, spending a lot of time walking & observing, has helped my children’s development in the following 6 ways:

1.) Both my children learned to walk early. My first one, walked right before his first birthday & my second one began walking before 11 months.

 2.) Both babbled early

3.) Very friendly and curious about people, seeks out and make eye contact with others to make new friends

4.) They are adaptable

 5.) They get an education which is unparalleled: learning new languages, eating different foods, learning to behave in public, subconsciously learn about history, sociology, architecture, science, geography...

6.) They get to see and understand privilege & that they as children are very lucky and privileged that they have the means to travel.  

What are some reasons you have travelled with your children? What do you feel your children have learned, while travelling? Please share your own listicle in the comments.  

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Panoramic view of Communa 13 in Medellin, Colombia. Communa 13 is an urban revitalization success story, going from one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in South America.  

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Old Town, Cartagena  

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Monserrate Summit, Bogotá  

Travel Season is Here: Please Vaccinate Your Kids

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The title says it all really! I am and always have been a HUGE proponent in scientific facts. Scientific advances, more than anything else, have allowed us to live longer, healthier and with access to clean water and nutritious food.

A major part of the reason why we are living longer and with healthier lives is due to vaccinations. We are now able to have immunity against common yet dangerous illnesses such as polio, measles, small pox, whooping cough, tetanus, diptheria, Hep A, typhoid, mumps, rubella, influenza, Hep B, Hep C, malaria, dengue, yellow fever, pneumococcal, rotavirus…and these are just a few that I have come up with.

And believe me, there have been reported deaths. All from these illnesses.

Any of these illnesses would have killed vast numbers of children (and even adults) before the 1960’s or leave one with permanent disabilities including physical impairments, deafness and blindness.

In fact, during 1951-1954, an average of 16,316 paralytic polio cases and 1879 deaths from polio were reported each year. Meaning thousands of people would be left paralyzed due to polio, exacting a huge medical, physical, mental and societal toll.

Ask your grandparents, they likely knew people who had died or were severely affected by any number of the vaccine-preventable illnesses I mentioned above. Now think about it, how many people do you now know who are left scarred by these illnesses? You have vaccines to thank for that.

Despite or because of the public health victories due to vaccines,  we are now seeing measles return in larger numbers. And part of the reason it’s happening is due to vaccine-hesitancy and high-speed travel, causing un-vaccinated people contracting and spreading the illnesses from one corner of the world to another, in a matter of hours.

So Please vaccinate your children. They are the ones most likely to get severely ill or die, due to these vaccine-preventable illnesses. If you had a surefire way to ensure your children can live into their old age and be healthy, why wouldn’t you do it?

When you are travelling this year, you can prep your family and protect them in the following ways. This will ensure that you don’t spend your precious vacay-time sick, or in the hospital and incurring HUGHE financial cost:

  • Meet your family doctor or paediatrician. You can get prescriptions for travellers vaccines such as Typhoid (gotten from drinking or eating food made with untreated water). They can also administer the vaccine for free or a minimal cost.

  • Your pharmacist can also administer many travellers vaccines. There may be an extra cost, just ask.

  • Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine can be given to babies as young as 6months. Highly recommend as measles have cropped up in many countries. I have done this with both my kids and they are healthy, happy, and are not on Autism Spectrum (in case you were wondering).

  • Check your immunization card and see if you need booster shots. For Tetanus, you need a booster shot every 10 years.

  • A lot of workplace and private insurance cover the cost of getting these vaccines which are not part of your state or province’s regular immunization program

And for god’s sakes, please get your information from resources such as Center for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Public Health Agency of Canada. All of these direct links provide detailed and easy-to-understand info on vaccines, what they are made of and how they work to provide protection 

No, the former model with NO medical experience or training, Jenny McCarthy, is NOT a reliable source for life-preserving health information. Neither is that Facebook “vaccine choice” group.

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Planet Hoth should’ve been Montreal

There, the winter air is so cold and dry that it burns your nasal pipes and air sneaks in through your heavy-socked winter boots giving you frostbite on your toes. Never mind the sheets of ice all over, so that you actually have to slide rather than walk, if you care to remain upright. 

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