December 30, 2010

Christmas Thoughts

I learned some hard lessons this Christmas break - or rather I re-learned lessons I already knew yet cannot seem to commit to memory. Life is funny that way. This Christmas I remembered that everything and everyone changes eventually. As people we evolve and adapt to the circumstances of our lives. I found myself thinking back to younger days - not exactly wishing I was still 13, but wishing life was still as simple as it was at 13...or 18...or 21 for that matter.

But then I went cross-country skiing with some old friends and Allison said something that really made me think. We were discussing the people we used to be and how we have changed over time. She said something along the lines of, isn't it cool that we can change and grow and have all these new, fun adventures that we never could have imagined for ourselves five, ten or fifteen years ago?

Yeah, it is pretty cool. In fact, I kind of love it.

Last night I went to dinner with my kindergarten-best-friends-turned-sisters. We talked about the next time we will all be in the same place...which is potentially not until 2013 since my friend Ilse leaves for the Peace Corps in four weeks. Normally discussing things like this makes me reminisce about when we used to all live within four blocks of each other. But not this time. Instead we talked about where our lives will be in three years. Usually a terrifying thought, but this time I felt excited - I could see a life for myself beyond just the next six months. (And p.s. - it might involve Chicago but we'll see...)

This life still might not include all of my friends and family on the same block, but you know what? I think it's going to be fabulous just the same. And those people will never be more than a plane ride away.

Here are some pictures of my very Minnesota christmas - which involved snow angels, cross country skiing, so many coffee dates, brunch, Santa, presents, shopping, my adorable brown winter boots which I wore everyday I was home, delicious beers, my huge-ridiculous-hilarious-oh-so-lovable family and friends who make me feel like a very lucky girl.

A million thanks to everyone in Minnesota who made this a wonderful Christmas. Love you all more and more everyday :)

December 29, 2010

So You're Coming to Colombia? [Colombia Travel Tips]

As a follow-up to my international travel tips, here are some specific Colombia travel tips. Most of these are just things that make Colombia a unique country and an awareness of them will help you have a more enjoyable trip!

{Photo: Kelsi with the Colombian flag at Parque Nacional del Chicamocha outside of Bucaramanga, Colombia}

Kristin's Colombian Travel Essentials
  1. Learn some Spanish! As the national language, everyone in Colombia speaks Spanish and outside of Bogota, few speak proficient English so the more you know, the better! Even a few short phrases will improve your trip dramatically.
  2. Colombia is spelled with exactly zero u's. If you travel the country and continue to spell the name the same way you do the U.S. company, Columbia, you will be embarrassing yourself.
  3. Yes, Colombia is safe for tourist travel. However, as with many Latin American countries, there is still a strong military presence in public places like bus stations, public transportation stations, malls, and airports. It is 100% normal to see a young man (most of them appear about 16-18 years old) in full camouflage gear carrying a gun. While this may appear strange at first, it really is normal and actually is helping to keep you safe.
  4. "Rules of the road" is a loose term in Colombia that basically means your taxi driver does whatever he feels like. This means speeding down roads, swerving around potholes, whipping around corners and coming to a screeching halt just after your destination. The most important thing to remember is your taxi driver is someone's son, father, husband, grandfather, etc. so he wants to get there just as safely as you do. Whether it appears obvious or not, he is just abiding by a very different set of road rules than those we are accustomed to in the United States. As a side note, there are no seat belts in the back seats of most taxis in Colombia.
  5. The kiss thing. When greeting Colombians they will do the kiss thing. This means you lean in, put your head to the left of their head and put your right cheeks together. They don't actually kiss but instead make a quick kissing noise, sort of like if you gave someone a peck on the cheek. This in done all the time except between men, who typically just shake hands or do the guy hug thing. The only time the person might actually kiss your cheek is if they know you quite well. When a Colombian enters a gathering, he or she will literally greet every person this way before sitting down or chatting with anyone in particular.
  6. Colombians are some of the nicest, friendliest people I have ever met. Except on public transportation. The public transit system in Cali is called the Mio. When the bus approaches for the Mio, every single person waiting for ANY bus will stand directly in front of the door, whether they actually want THAT bus or not. This basically means they are in the way of everyone trying to get on or off the bus. Additionally once on the bus, if someone from the inside seat gets off, the person on the outside will NOT move over for you. They fully expect you to climb over them on the moving bus if you want the inside seat. They don't really mean to be rude, but this is literally the way of life for everyone. In fact, if you are on the outside and move over for someone they will be grateful, but very confused at your gesture.
  7. Want to small talk? Suppose you have improved your Spanish or you meet a fellow English speaker. As a general rule, Colombians do not really discuss politics and religion openly. While they are very aware of the image their country has in the world, they do not necessarily want to discuss it all the time. And they definitely do not want to discuss the country's somewhat tense relationship with neighboring Venezuela. However, if you are looking to score points start talking soccer (futbol). Colombians love soccer and the more you know about last summer's World Cup, Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, the better.
  8. Tax and tip are included. In most places where tax and tip are expected they have already been included in your final bill. The tax (impuesto) and tip (propina) do not need to be calculated separately so long as you pay the final amount listed on your bill.
  9. Money conversion in foreign countries can be a little complicated. Just remember that $2,000 Colombian Pesos, COP, is about $1 US.
  10. The equatorial sun is not playing around. Assuming you are not from a tropical place bring sunscreen and a hat. There is nothing worse than getting burnt the first day of vacation...I learned that the hard way!
  11. Yes, you can drink the water. The water in all major cities is just fine to drink out of the tap in Colombia. This being said, the water will contain different things than the water in the US...tap water just varies from place to place. So if you are just coming for a short time, it may not be a bad idea to just stick with bottled water to avoid the possibility of getting sick. To save money buy a large 5 liter bag or jug of water and just keep it at your hostel/hotel to refill your water bottle as needed.
  12. The beer is terrible. The four and ONLY four varieties of national beer (Aguila, Club Colombia, Poker and Costena) all taste equally like flavored water so if you are a beer drinker order yours "Michelada" which means with lime juice and salt. Otherwise stick with reasonably priced glass of wine imported regularly from Argentina and Chile.
This is a brief list that I assembled based on my experience, however I am sure other travelers of Colombian have more to add so please use the comments for your thoughts! Colombia really and truly is a gorgeously unique country of landscapes, people and experiences so come visit me :)

"Its amazing to me that this place [Colombia] exists, and not everybody wants to live here."
Anthony Bourdain

December 28, 2010

International Travel Tips

My dad hasn't ever travelled internationally. My brother has been to Colorado, Florida and a variety of Midwestern states - always with some sort of sports team or our family. On January 5 they will travel to meet me in Cartagena, Colombia before we head back to Cali, Colombia on January 9.

Needless to say I am somewhat concerned for them to arrive in Cartagena and intact together so I have assembled the following list of travel tips for international travel. I will follow up tomorrow with a list of tips specific to Colombia!

Kristin's International Travel Essentials
  1. Make two copies of your passport. Leave one at home with someone staying behind and bring the other one with you - packed separately from your original passport!
  2. Empty your wallet of everything you will not need while abroad. This includes credit cards you don't need (i.e. you don't really need to bring 5 abroad), charge cards to specific places, business cards, photos, etc. Once you have your wallet limited to the bare essentials, empty the contents and photocopy the front and back of every card. Pack this photocopy separately from your wallet when you travel.
  3. Utilize online check-in to select your seats ahead of time whenever possible.
  4. All customs forms to immigrate to another country will ask for your forwarding address - so know where you are going!
  5. Be friendly to all customs agents! (And security people too!) They probably hate their jobs so the nicer you are to them the better chance you have of getting out alive. :)
  6. Travel carry-on unless you absolutely need to check something for security reasons. Checking bags for just a short trip is a hassle, you run the risk of your bag getting lost, and there really isn't anything you need for 7 days that cannot go in a carry-on bag. Just remember that all liquids (this includes "weird" liquids like toothpaste, peanut butter, etc.) need to be 3 fluid ounces or less.
For detailed instructions on how not to be an obnoxious airport traveller, please reference my previous post.
Safe travels!

December 24, 2010


"You take a snapshot of your life

the last time you leave someplace, and,

I don't know, it's dumb,

but you think it's never gonna change."

[Party of Five] 

For the past two months in Colombia I felt ecstatic at the idea of coming home for the holidays. I couldn't wait to board that plane back to Minnesota and spend "the happiest season of all" with my friends and family. I was excited for good friends, good conversation and that warm, fuzzy feeling that reminds you that distance doesn't mean anything when compared to life-long friendships.

In fact, I was so [naively] insistent upon this fact that I finished my family's 2010 Christmas letter with these words:

"Looking around I realized that these people sure don’t look like the ones from Christmas card photos past, but we remain forever connected in a way that truly only we will ever understand. So in 2010 that’s what I learned about time and distance – that your mom might not make your lunch everyday and you might not wake up the sound of your dad’s coffee maker but it doesn’t mean they are any less a part of you than they always were. Your family is your family and you are inevitably tied together by the memories you have from then, and from now."

I wrote that at the beginning of December when I could not wait to be back in Minnesota. Exactly halfway through my twelve day vacation here I frequently wonder what I was thinking. Why do we romanticize the past? Why do I think I have all these great relationships to come home to? Why do I keep trying to pretend that we all still matter to each other more than jobs, more than money, more than significant others or potential significant others, more than selfish pride? I mean, yes, some relationships are as good as they have always been and I love them and appreciate them more than I can ever express in writing. However, a distinct several are nothing like they once were.

Turns out time does change everything. So does distance. And you can't pretend you're 13 again and none of it matters. Cause it does. It matters a hell of a lot.

So in summary....Merry Christmas. This year I learned that Thomas Wolfe may have known a thing or two about life when he said you can't go home again.

Hurray for life lessons, growing up and adulthood.

December 19, 2010

Go to the other plane.

“From the time I have children I am not traveling until they can carry their own baggage.” [him]

“Pack AND carry their own baggage. Then if they forget their swimsuits it can be their fault, not mine” [me]

Lines snaked back and forth behind the check-in counters at the Cali airport. The first day of Christmas vacation and here we are, awake at the ridiculous hour of 6:00 AM and already standing in line no less. My fellow Minnesotan teacher friend Stetson and I wait in the line at American Airlines to begin the long journey home.

After a ten-minute observation of some of our fellow passengers I felt that indignant feeling inside me. It always begins with an observation of something small, like the person who stops in the middle of the aisle to look up flight information with no regard for people walking behind him or her. The feeling grows when I witness the family of fifteen, (sometimes I exaggerate in stories when I get frustrated), check in together with approximately 11 pieces of luggage apiece. After some initial observations I remarked to Stetson that infrequent or incapable travelers should have their own lines at airports at all times.

We had no idea how useful the idea would be throughout the day. After fourteen hours of travel, we’re kind of like experts on the topic so without further ado, we present:

Kristin & Stetson’s Criteria for Landing Yourself Immediately In The “Other” Line/Section At the Airport

  • You arrive at the check-in point to go through security. Where is your passport or identification? In the bottom of your purse or jacket? At the check-in counter? Still in your wallet? Go to the other line.
  • You made the metal detector beep. Weird, except you’re still wearing your belt, shoes, watch and you have coins in your pocket. Go to the other line.
  • Standing in the long line at Starbucks? Figure out what you want before you get to the front of the line. It’s airport, everyone has a place to be so get moving. Bonus points if you get your wallet out in advance too.
  • Your laptop computer has always had to go in a separate bin to go through security. No, you cannot throw your jacket on top of it. It must go alone. If you think this rule has changed since the last time you were here go to the other line.
  • Yes, please ask 20 bajillion (exaggeration, told you.) questions to the security guards about what you need to do when going through security. If you refuse to read the handy sings posted pretty much everywhere, go to the other line.
  • Can’t find your gate? Look for one of the helpful TV screens to direct you. Wait – are you standing in the middle of the aisle? Are other travelers scurrying to get around you and then turning back with the evil eye? Go to the other line/section of the airport.
  • You arrived at the airport an hour after everyone else on your flight. Hurrying to get on the plane since you did not allow enough time, you abruptly cut in line in front of other, more-prepared passengers. Go to the other line.
  • You are under the age of 18 and/or may make any noise on the plane above the level of a normal human voice. This including screaming children, loud-speaking women and men who yell to be heard. Go to the other plane.
  • The plane is at the gate. Everyone is excited you have reached the destination. Are you standing in the aisle organizing your things? Quick, check the front of the plane. Is it empty? You are holding up literally everyone (no exaggeration) behind you. Please go to the other plane.

In summary, if at any point you find yourself doing any of these things or thinking about doing any of these things please find another line, plane, airport or means of travel. And definitely don’t travel with Stetson and me.

Love Actually Is All Around

Countless Christmas movies tell the stories of people headed home for the holidays. In planes, trains and automobiles, people all over the world travel to be with loved ones during the Christmas season.

This is the first year I have joined the masses in the commute to home. Growing up we always lived within an hour of both sets of grandparents, so we never traveled far for Christmas. Even in college, the two and a half hour drive home from La Crosse, Wisconsin never seemed long. This Saturday I spent 16 hours, from start to finish, headed home for the holidays.

You know what I discovered? Traveling for Christmas is magical. Actually magical; it makes you believe that anything can happen. People are happier. They set up entire Christmas display scenes in airports. There are a million holiday drinks at Starbucks (cause they have those in the United States – love!) and guess what? I am pretty confident they are all delicious. People remember to say thank you. Boarding gates are decorated with bows and garland. Basically it’s a time to remember that love actually is all around.

Despite my seven-hour layover in the no-free-wireless Miami airport, the whole airport experience felt more pleasant than dreadful. Who knows if my return to Cali in twelve short days will be just as pleasant, but in the meantime…if you need some joy in your life I highly recommend your local airport.

Traveling through the Miami airport with fellow teachers:
Angie, Nira, Caleb and Stetson (and one elf)!

Safe travels,

December 17, 2010

School's Out - Time to Play!

As I type this my students are waiting for the buses to leave. They are headed home, not to return to school until Wednesday, January 12. The long awaited Christmas break in finally here and it could not have come soon enough! Being a teacher around Christmas time is awesome in that you receive lots of gifts from students, but terrible in that students are so excited about the upcoming vacation and holiday that they act terribly about 95% of the time. Not really an excellent trade-off and for some reason this week has been particularly brutal. Despite having three half days of school for students to take finals, I honestly feel like I have been in school for a month straight. Staying up until midnight to grade finals probably hasn't helped that at all...

With all the grading and finishing the semester I have not had much time to blog so here are some quick notes on what I have been up to lately.
  • Grading finals.
  • Watching all of season 1 of Modern Family while pretending to grade.
  • Christmas shopping - both in Colombia and online.
  • Making plans for while I am home in Minnesota for Christmas.
  • Planning last-minute details of my dad and brother's trip to Colombia in January!
When the teacher's bus leaves school today I am headed home to finish packing and get some sleep before my flight to Minnesota tomorrow! Assuming no more giant snow storms strike the Twin Cities in the next 24 hours I will be in Minnesota by 10 PM tomorrow!!!!!!!!!!!! Since I didn't go home for Christmas last year I am super excited to celebrate Christmas Minnesota style!!! A few things I am looking forward to especially:
  • My mom's Christmas cookies.
  • Hanging out with my brothers.
  • The Holidazzle parade in downtown Minneapolis.
  • Seeing my friend Liz's new apartment in Uptown!
  • Possible cross-country skiing play date around Lake Como
  • Three (yes, THREE!) Christmas celebrations.
  • Friends dinner at my house :)
  • Having my friend Ilse make me coffee when I visit her at Dunn Bros.
  • Shouthouse with my brother Joe.
  • A lazy Christmas morning & Christmas day with just my immediate family.
  • Catching up with so many friends and family!!
  • Celebrating my Dad's birthday (one day late since his birthday is actually today - HI DAD!)
AHH cannot wait!!! Happy Christmas vacation everyone! :)

December 12, 2010

Holiday Preparations

There may not be snow on the ground, but the holidays have arrived, even to Colombia. Christmas in Colombia means people and things literally appear by the dozen in stores, malls, on public transportation, etc. Everywhere I go in Cali these days just feels busy!!! Such a hustle and bustle to get everything finished before the holidays!

I am super excited to be headed back home to snowy (14 inches this weekend!!) Minnesota in just six short days, but in the meantime we have been celebrating the holidays here with Christmas music, cookies and holidays parties!

As always NSync Home for Christmas is getting a ton of play on my ipod, cause it reminds me of Christmases growing up :)

Don't knock it until you try it. ;)

We attended Catie & Scott's annual Tree Trimming party where we decorated Colombian themed ornaments for the Christmas tree!

Kelsi models our Colombian themed ornament - El Fuente salsa bar, sangria and our favorite Reggaeton artist, Pitbull.

Demonstrating our love for all things Colombian :)

Then this weekend we helped Rita & Sam decorate their tree by painting Christmas ball ornaments!!

Christmas ornament painting party!


Beautiful drying ornaments.

Finally this weekend was full of getting gifts for people at school (secretaries, the copy guy, my principal, etc.) and making Christmas sugar cookies! Delicious! Hope everyone had a fun-filled weekend of holiday preparations!

December 8, 2010

How I Spent My Day Off

Thanks to the Colombian devotion to Catholicism and all its holidays, I spent a lovely day today in my pajamas and not leaving the apartment. Absolutely fabulous, I highly recommend you give it a try!

I did however get something accomplished on this free day from work! After seeing a photo book from Shutterfly at my friend Stetson's house last week I knew I wanted to make my own! The website made it super easy to upload photos, edit, and create pages of a book. The printed version will be shipped to me in two weeks but for now take a look at the digital version!

I cannot wait to see how it turns out!!

Happy Wednesday!!

December 5, 2010

Thanksgiving on the Coast

Tara, Kelsi and I never could figure out how to get to the island of Providencia for less than $700 in plane tickets, but after our marvelous Thanksgiving 2009 on the beaches of San Andres we also were not ready to give up the idea of Thanksgiving on a beach.

After some research and discussion with colleagues we settled on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia, between the historic city of Cartagena and the Panamanian border. Sandwiched between these two landmarks is a coastal line that is relatively untouched in a tourist sense. Many Colombians go here on long weekends or holidays, but the towns themselves are not really popular destinations for foreigners.

Thursday we flew to Monteria, Colombia in the northwestern part of the country before continuing on a three hour car ride to the small town of Rincon del Mar. Our hotel, Aracuara, was situated right on the beach of this town where the streets were literally made of sand. In fact, the car couldn't even go all the way to the hotel, so we had to get out and cross a bridge then walk through more sandy streets in order to get there! After an adventurous beginning to the trip we were ready to relax.

The rest of the vacation included reading, relaxing, and not much else. I loved having time to swim, play with the kids on the beach, take naps on the beach (the best types of naps!), read without feeling like I should be working on lesson plans, walk along the shore, and just chat with Tara and Kelsi.

Some photos from our trip:

The perfect view.

Beachside naps. HI KELSI!

Huge shells we found walking along the shore.

The perfect locale for our beachside reading.

Nothing to do. Nowhere to be. A simple little kind of free.*

Making new friends with the kids in town :)

Every Thanksgiving should include Coco Locos (rum-filled coconuts).

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone had a fun and restful Thanksgiving weekend! This week we were back to school with all the craziness that comes with finishing up the semester! Only one week of classes left, then a week of finals and then.............MINNESOTA!!! That's right in 13 days I will be writing to you from the frozen tundra that is the midwest....where there will most definitely not be beaches and coco locos but instead snowmen and peppermint mochas. :)

Happy Sunday!
*Name those lyrics.
Related Posts with Thumbnails