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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