Travel Hasta La Raíz

by Elisa R. García

I am a young Latina, a nenita in her early 20s who is the first one in my family to go to university and the first one to have opportunities to study and travel freely. With Mexican-Chilean roots and a mother who is from Bolivia, I took full advantage of study abroad opportunities and my financial aid situation to go to all three of these places that have played roles in the histories of my families. I wanted to go hasta la raíz to really understand how we became to be who we are today. Reconnecting with my these histories, families, cultures, and language – all that I have found lost to me in these past two generations away from my countries of origin – has spiralled me onto an unexpected journey of solitude, soundness, and soul therapy. I imagine this kind of journey could do many of us good, though I understand that this is a very privileged opportunity that is not a possibility for many people. This journey was only made possible to me because I found myself in an ideal situation for it to occur as a college student with near full funding for my studies, who was ahead of credits, giving me the freedom to study abroad for about two years in total. If you are finding yourself in a situation where you can realize these homecomings and reconnection to your countries of origin, I highly suggest taking the opportunity. Though I will give a fair warning, this type of journey back to the homelands, learning about who we really are, where we come from, and why we are not ‘from’ there anymore can be a deeply intense and painful, but a beautiful process nonetheless. I was being called back to my roots, so I looked into the study abroad programs offered in these countries – Mexico and Chile. Then I went, and I took the opportunity to go to Bolivia too.

I participated in a field research program in Mexico offered by my university that allowed me to live there for four months. This was only my second time visiting and my first time returning in about fifteen years. I had gone for a month when I was about five years old and stayed with my family who lives in Guadalajara, Jalisco. I was placed for a month in Ciudad de México to study, then in Oaxaca for three months to conduct my field research, and I then visited my family in Guadalajara for a week at the end (where I was prohibited to visit during my program due to travel restrictions). Living in the country for those couple of months, I learned much about about the country, the people, myself, and our shared histories. The Spanish I had lost after having been fluent as a little girl developed so much with dedicated study, immersion, and dating a local. In Ciudad de México, I was introduced to the fast-paced Chilanga lifestyle and enjoyed all the street food. While in Oaxaca, I was given the freedom to design my own schedule, allowing me to realize more than just my research (that is to say that I also spent a lot of free time falling in love and on the back of my partner’s motorcyle getting to know the city and living my best life). Later in Guadalajara, when I was finally able to visit my family, I sat in my bisabuela’s house and tortería, eating all my favorite home-cooked foods and learning a little bit more about my personal family history. The memories of my childhood visit came back to me in Spanish, from when I was more fluent. At this time, I was still developing my Spanish and I started trying to converse with my family about topics I always wondered about – like how and why my grandmother left home as a teenager on her own to the U.S., for example. With time, practice, and use, my Spanish has improved immensely, and I am proud to say that I am now nearly fluent. This renewed skill has allowed me to communicate fully with my family, which has been the most important for me. I’m sad to only have been able to visit my family for such a short amount of time, but I am already planning a three-month return to just stay with them in Guadalajara to really get to know the whole family and our history.

The semester after my study abroad in Mexico, I started my year-long study abroad program in Santiago, Chile. Though the family I have here is mostly from the Valparaíso Region (which is about two hours away), being in Santiago was the closest opportunity available to me and I made frequent weekend visits. I didn’t know much of my Chilean family at first, but they definitely knew me, and showed me all the pictures and letters my grandmother had sent them throughout the years. Everyone welcomed me into their homes with open arms and it was during these initial visits that my search through my family history and the past grew more profound. They shared stories with me about my grandparents and about their childhoods. This led me to ask questions to which led to interesting stories and even more questions. Then I began taking notes, collect data, conduct informal interviews and search for more family members that were introduced to me for the first time in theses stories. I started reconstructing my family history and making a family tree, with the goal of meeting them all and sharing our histories with each other. I would travel to meet each person for the first time and each of them gave me a new perspective, new information, and put me in contact with even more family members I hadn’t previously known about. Así que, with each new person I met, the family and our complex history got bigger and bigger. All this was done in my free time when I wasn’t studying at the university in Santiago, partaking in my internships, or attending events with my exchange program. Balancing all of this work on top of trying to keep mentally, physically, and financially stable was a feat that sometimes I lost to, but am proud of myself for having been able to pull through by means of immense self care and seeking out the support I needed – but that is a whole other story.

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Lisa at the Casa de Frida Khalo in Coyoácan, Ciudad de México

During the break between my two semesters here in Chile, I went to Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia where I met up with my mom for her first time returning home in thirty-three years. I was there for only a short time and spent my time and energy there looking for the missing pieces to the my family history while trying to navigate its sensitive relationships and complicated dynamics. Here I sat down with my family members, trying to get them each alone so we could speak honestly one on one because I knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to share the truth with one another. Some of my family members don’t have cell phones, What’sApp, or Facebook and live in remote regions so visiting them in person was truly the only way. Bolivia is where all the pieces began to come together of the history of my grandparents leaving Chile, building a new life in Bolivia, getting lost in the drug trade, brujería, and Evangelism, and the long and harsh journey that brought my grandmother and mother to the U.S after having been abandoned by my grandfather. After all this searching, I now became the family keeper of oral history, knowledge, and secrets that could have been very well forgotten – leaving my siblings and I, and the generations yet to come, less confused about where we come from and why and how our life became to be the way it is in the United States.

I think the most rich yielding from my study abroad experiences has been the reconnecting of my family and the healing process I have undergone in learning the roots of my family’s unresolved traumas and of my own personal traumas. We might not be able to undo whatever harm was done to our families along the way of leaving our countries of origin and starting anew, but we can come home and do some deep searching, honor our histories, and heal. If you are finding yourself in a time where you are able to and it’s safe for you to do so, I encourage you to take a wholesome look at the possibility of travelling to where we come from – para realmente conocerse hasta la raíz. It’s time to know our stories and to tell them now before they are forgotten.

Rio Carnival 2019 by Carina Santos – Black Travelers

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Carina is a Brasileira passionate about travel, so when she decided to follow her passions, she decided to work in tourism. With ten years of experience in this industry, travel agencies, events and armed with extensive education and planning, she acquired a complete know-how and vision of the entire sector. As an Aquarian, she has always cherished the freedom of being, creativity in relationships, and changes in time. With an entrepreneurial vision, she knew that she had to create a project in line with her style.

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Black Travels: Why and How did it start?
Black Travelers gained momentum after Carina’s trip to Europe in 2015. During this time she traveled to 7 countries, met many people from different parts of the world and saw some Black people, though not many. As a result, she thought of something that could make a difference when it came to connecting Black people who travel around the world. Something which allowed them to share their experiences and offering a differentiated travel service in Brazil, revealing its rich Afro-Brazilian culture through local experiences, connecting them to real Brazil that is not presented in travel guides.

The Beija-Flor samba school parades during the Rio de Janeiro's Carnival

Rio Carnival 2019 Trip
What better way to visit Brazil than for Rio de Janeiro’s carnival? Black Traveler’s has organized a robust 7-day trip to enjoy the beauty and celebration of the world’s most famous Carnival:

Day 1) Welcome Dinner – Welcome to Brazil!

Upon arrival you will be met at the airport by Black Travelers representatives and transported to your accommodations.   It’s time to feel the energy of the Marvelous City!

At nightfall, we’ll gather for a true Carioca Night with a visit to Rio’s greatest nightlife district for welcome dinner.

II vegetarian & vegan options available II

Day 2) Rio Hot Spots!

Today we will see the most famous landmarks of Rio. Be ready to meet one of the New 7 Wonders of the World: the Christ the Redeemer, one of the largest urban forest in the whole world and take in some breathtaking views along the way. Have your camera ready to take awesome pictures!

The city of Rio offers many treasures for you to discover and explore the city from all sides,

II breakfast & lunch included  – vegan & vegetarian options available II

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Day 3) Black History

On day three of this Brazilian adventure, we will go deeper and explore the Black History of Rio.  Many of the enslaved Africans that ended up in Brazil were taken from the same part of Africa as the ancestors of Black Americans.  So to learn of there history is to truly learn of a piece of our own. We will visit some of the African Heritage sites that will give you a unique view many who visit Rio are unaware of.  We will enjoy authentic Afro-Brazilian food and by the way: In Rio everything ends in dance. It’s time you learned to Samba! Class will be in session, so get your energy up!

II breakfast & lunch included – vegan & vegetarian options available II

Day 4) Free Day

Today we will relax and recover from a night of partying or not! It’s carnival, the day will be filled with numerous street parties. Everyone else can be found dancing and partying in the hundreds of blocos / street parties – FOR FREE.

IMG-20180215-WA0045(FYI: Come one come all. The are so many street parties happening.  No matter your age, you are likely to find a street party that appeals to you.)

If partying on the street isn’t really your thing, the lavish Carnival balls may be more your style.  Held throughout the city, these glamorous parties provide an opportunity to pull out your best outfits and celebrate in style.

II breakfast  included II

Day 6) Night Parade

We will get together to watch the joy of Carnival Parade. As we already made our contribution to the Parade.  This night we will see the greatness of the Carnival Parade in Rio de Janeiro. The professionals will show their best performances and the competition is stiff.  It’s lots of fun for us viewers, but the competition is stiff. Who will walk away with the title of champion is the question of the Carnival.

II breakfast included II

Day 5) It’s Carnival Time!

At night, it’s showtime! We will have a truly unique experience where we will take part in the Carnival parade. So brush up on your Portuguese as all instructions will be delivered in country’s language…just kidding…kind of.  We will march and dance in the parade along side our Brazilian brothers and sisters.

This is an incredible experience of a lifetime, thousands of viewers will look at us. You will feel the magic of the moment!  This is the highlight of the Rio Carnival experience.

II breakfast included II

Day 7) Carnival Street party

The streets shut down and cars are replaced with people as the Carnival in the streets provide some of the most electrifying atmospheres of the Rio Carnival experience.  We will get together with personalized costumes to have fun at a traditional bloco where we will enjoy the live music, floats and people from all over the world.

II breakfast includedII

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Day 8) See you later, Rio!

It is time to say goodbye to each other and to Rio! Every Carnival has its end. For Brazilians, the year really begins after Carnival. So, we wish you a brilliant 2019

after this remarkable trip.

​II breakfast included II

Included:
-Airport Pick-up
-Local Tour Guides
-Onsite staff
-Daily breakfast
-Single / twin room
-Fees for activities listed
-Transportation for group activities
-1 dinner & 2 lunches
-Fun!

Not Included
-Airfare
-Meals that are not listed
-Transportation during free time
-Travel/health insurance
-Passport/visa fees
-Tips for services

Payment Options
Black Travelers does accept payments by instalments if you would like to spread out the cost and pay as you go. Click here to see pricing.

Street Art in Latin America

Street art has become a huge part of Latin America’s urban areas. For many it is a way to express themselves on different societal topics like politics, race, and culture.

All over Latin America you can come across lively neighborhoods with unique homes, cobbled streets, and art. Lots of it! The great thing about street art is that you do not need to go to a gallery to appreciate it.

Main city centers have historical pieces such as murals by Diego Rivera in Mexico, or  “The Presence of Latin America” by Jorge Gonzalez Camarena in Chile. The largest street mural in the world “Etnias” (Ethnicities) by Eduardo Kobra is located in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The following are some street art locations and murals you can check out while in Latin America:

Beco do Batman -São Paulo, Brazil

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bh33xQPl1t6/?taken-by=agnaldomirage


Vila Madalena – São Paulo, Brazil


Calle 26 – Bogota, Colombia


Bellavista – Santiago, Chile

https://www.instagram.com/p/BeUWM_2HC-V/?tagged=bellavistasantiago


Cerro Concepción – Valparaiso, Chile


La Boca – Buenos Aires, Argentina


Ataco – Ahuachapan, El Salvador


La Roma – Mexico City, Mexico

Do you know of any other art murals or towns that should be included on this list? Let us know in the comments below.

Around the World Beauty by Stephanie Flor

Stephanie Flor, Make-Up Artist and Digital Creator
By day, Stephanie is a NYC-based makeup artist with Ecuadorian and Costa Rican roots who works with some of the most influential celebs out there from Mariah Carey to Sting and brands who focus on global beauty like Shea Moisture, Clinique and many others.. After hours she’s a bona fide #BeautyTraveler who’s traveled to the tip of India to take part in the Ayurvedic way of living, and through the heights of South America where she climbed Machu Piccu – you know – just to get a closer look at the sun. Stephanie is the host of “Journey to Beauty,” a regular beauty and travel series on vivala.com and her global beauty tips have been featured in O, the Oprah Magazine, on travelchannel.com, allure.com, cosmopolitan.com, and more. She’s also been named as one of Latina Magazine’s “Beauty Vanguards” a trailblazer in Marie Claire Magazine and was featured in Glamour and Skyla’s “Making Her Mark” campaign.

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Stephanie Flor

Stephanie created Around the World Beauty because of her passion for culture and travel. She wanted to find a way to combine her career in the beauty industry with adventure, while also breaking out of the norms of what we think beauty is. Beauty is an adventure, getting outside the comfort zone, and seeing from the heart. To see from the heart, it takes being with yourself, taking risks, and willing to trust others. Travel is truly the only way to discover who you really are.

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Around the World Beauty reveals beauty rituals and traditions that are practiced by women all over the globe. Our mission is to inspire women to reconnect with their ancestral beauty path. Ancient old beauty remedies passed down from generations that celebrate the beauty of women in all different cultures.  

Discover Your Beauty Roots
1) A call to explore the history of global beauty, which spans from the beginning of time.
2) The demand to uncover the beauty traditions of one’s ethnic heritage.

ATW has offered trips to India and Ecuador in the past. We’ve ventured into the Amazon, and meditated next to the ganges under the Himalayas. It’s been a beautiful journey expanding to new locations, and making women travel to locations off the beaten path, full of inner and outer beauty.

Peru Beauty Journey (November 15th-24th, 2018)
Experience the land of Pacha Mama, the mountains of the Incas and Sacred Valley that holds an abundance of Beauty Energies. This journey brings us to Peru to discover the deeper meaning of beauty. Together we will immerse into the true spirit of holistic wellness while we #BeautyExplore two days in the ancient city of Cusco, six days in the Sacred Valley at Willka T’ika Retreat Center, and spend two days at the mysterious Machu Picchu. We will be special guests of Willka T’ika, the luxury full-service retreat center situated at the feet of the Andean Peaks in the Sacred Valley. Experience cultural and traditional Incan ceremonies with healers, musical celebrations, vibrant Chakra Gardens, and the delicious organic gourmet vegetarian cuisine.  There will also be plenty of free time for Andean Spa Treatments, and to be immersed in the spiritual essence of the Andean world. Here, you will be surrounded by the beauty of the mountains, the magic of ancient civilizations and transformational energy which can only be found in the lands of Pachamama. Alchemy with the Elements, Beauty Rituals, Chakra Gardens, Ceremonies, Mystical Temples, Sacred Sites, Pristine Mountains and Sacred Lakes, Q’ero Wisdom, Beauty Give Back, Textile Shopping, Solar Bathing, Andean Spa Treatments.

 

The retreat is designed to accommodate 10-15 women. We bring women together in a safe, spiritual space to learn about the meaning of different beauty rituals, the source of #BeautyCulture from Around The World. Our following is a niche group of nomadic and conscious beauty lovers who care about the world of beauty around us, and changing the way we see and share in beauty.

ATW’s Journeys explore the deeper meaning of beauty and the passed down rituals of our ancestors to celebrate and empower younger generations through wellness and beauty from the source. Let us inspire you to make a beauty discovery of your own! Join our next Beauty Journey to Peru 2018.

 

A Note on the Deposit and Instalments
The initial non-refundable deposit is $1,150. You are able to pay as you go for this trip until September.
The full price for this trip is $4,250 but she’s offering $150 off if you use the code: TravelXLatina.

 

A Love Letter to Bogotá

Ah, Bogotá. 

Every day, the thought of your cloudy skies and rainy streets permeate my mind. I never thought either of those things would appeal to me, not now they’re forever preserved in amber in my memory.  

In July of 2016, I flew into you, not knowing much more about you other than the fact that you’re bursting with about eight million people.

The hum of Pillar Point’s Dove oozing from my headphones, I gazed out onto the hazy, emerald mountains outside my scratched, undersized window. I’d watched Kia Labeija voguing through Bogotá each day before visiting you, each time my soul building with anticipation to wander La Candelaria’s cobblestoned streets. 

 

I couldn’t wait to see your jarring contrast of skyscrapers and Montserrat’s looming presence with my own eyes. I wanted to feel as free as the uncaged Kia.

As soon as I arrived, I felt disoriented. Which way was North? I wondered countless times. My obsession with order was flipped on its head. I’m usually quick to orient myself, but with mountains on all sides, it was hard to do so.

Which way is up? I might as well have wondered. I was vulnerable in a most basic sense, but I’ve learned to grow from this discomfort.

I was nervous and thrilled, but with you, this excitement was different. I’d returned somewhere I’d never visited. I felt as if you’d been waiting patiently for me all these years, trusting I’d walk in the door eventually. Like a dormant volcano whose crater filled with water over millennia, you basked in waiting.

What was the rush?

I’d meet you in due time. Now, as I write this, I realize how much I miss you. I miss the cool air that put my blankets to use. I miss wearing jeans without sweating and layering my clothes. I miss the peppery smell emanating from food carts selling warm empanadas.

“Beef or chicken?” the vendor asked me.

“Mmm…One of each, please. Oh, and do you not have salsa?”

“Como no,” he said, and he placed the magical ingredients in a brown paper bag.

I felt inspired during the Bogota Graffiti Tour. I’d learned of the artists from Ecuador, Mexico, and New Zealand who’ve made this place their second home, and now I wanted to join them.

 

 

A Reptilian monster wrapped itself around buildings’ unassuming walls, and an indigenous woman looked to the sky, averting her gaze from us mortals. I’d learned of the artist the police had shot, then of the subsequent police barrier protecting Justin Beiber while he stained your walls. Once the police left, your artists reclaimed your wall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I loved the atmosphere of change. Of recuperation from trauma of a violent, capitalist-driven cocaine trade. Just like with any trauma, I’ve never completely recovered from mine. I constantly seek to explore my traumas and the effects they’ve had on me, and writing has been my saving grace in that process.

Bogota-Street-Art

On your walls, people explore their traumas or those of humans no longer with us. This homeless man was beaten to death and one artist commemorated him.

I was only there for three days, yet I was blessed with being able to queer it up during the LGBTQ Pride Parade. Just like Pride in Managua, Nicaragua, you haven’t sold out to corporate interests. Instead of free t-shirts, I got kisses on the cheek from new friends. We floated past the rainbow banners in between patches of sunlight that the skyscrapers’ granted us. I took my sweater off and put it back on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I danced the night away at the immensely fabulous gay club, Theatron, then on the taxi ride home, I fell into darkness. It could’ve happened anywhere, and I’ve learned just how resilient I am since it happened.  

I wanted to stay. You know, I really do love museums. It’s how I get to know a place intimately. I wanted to dive further into you, to explore your history in its glory, sadness, and tumult. I still want to know you. I felt the heaviness in my heart one feels when they’re not ready to leave a place. This feeling reminds me of Iranian author Azar Nafisi’s words about leaving:

“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place… like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.” – Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran

I miss who I was when I was with you, Bogota. Now you know. I can’t wait to explore you again.

Love,

Char.

Our First Workshop in Eje Cafetero, Colombia

This spring, Travel Latina is teaming up with Scarlet Macaw Trips to host the first ever CONEXION LATINX in the beautiful eje cafetero region of Colombia. The week (slated for late March, early April, 2018) will be dedicated to personal and professional discovery, cultural growth and understanding via dynamic workshops, fun classes and immersion activities, dialogue, art making, and professional roundtable seminars.

As entrepreneurs, we at Travel Latina and Scarlet Macaw are in the process of molding our passion projects into something sustainable and for the greater good. We suspect we are not alone in trying to get a passion project off the ground …and so we are reaching out to our community.

 

 

We are inviting artists of all kinds, movers and shakers, entrepreneurs and adventurers to join us for a week in the eje cafetero region of Colombia to explore themes that we believe will help us galvanize growth in our personal, professional, spiritual, and emotional lives.  

As Latinxs, we believe we are stronger, smarter, and more powerful together.  We want to hear your stories, what you’re doing and dreaming, where you’re stuck, and how we can lend helping hands or facilitate a meeting of minds. Sharing insights from our respective experiences might inform the choices we make next.

 

 

 

Why Colombia?

  • Both Ale and Sahara (the founders of TL and SMT, respectively) have chosen to move there and are currently working on projects specifically linked to the country. With travel to Colombia booming, the time is right to host the first workshop for Latinx here in the rich soil of the coffee region. The fertile lands that produce world-class coffee, guanabana, banano, papaya, orchids – and more – can serve as a metaphor for what we hope to nurture with you throughout this week. What can we plant? What can we cultivate within our communities for the greater good?
  • We know the region and feel comfortable hosting you here.
  • A number of Ale’s travelers have passed through or want to return to Colombia. We think this is the right spot for our workshop not only because of the country´s breathtaking beauty but because the environment is inspiring and lends itself to community interaction and collaboration. Colombia will open our minds and serve as ground 0 for creating meaningful work.

 

This trip is right for you if:

  • You’re at a crossroads or on the ascent professionally
  • You’ve started a project and are seeking ideas or collaboration
  • You want to explore Colombia while collaborating with local women and supporting local entities
  • You are seeking an amazing travel experience (day trips, nature, beauty, music, good company) while seeking answers or feeling curious and want to explore your inklings with us
  • You are collaborative, driven, adventurous, and are craving a peer-to-peer experience

Goals for this trip experience & workshop:

  • To nurture this first cohort of Latinx Firecrackers from here on out; this group is for life – a growing network of Latinxs working in every sector from education to tech, art to medicine.
  • Support and strengthen you through this travel experience.
  • Provide a safe space in which to address everyone’s project, offering genuine support and honest feedback. Constructive criticism makes us stronger and equipped to take on big challenges.
  • Show our travelers other facets of Colombian society not often shown by western media.
  • Connect with: the earth, ancestral roots, each other, ourselves, local communities.
  • Bring back to our communities at home more reason to listen, watch, and learn from this generation of Latinx.

Stay tuned on social for further details about pricing, itinerary, and registration process – tentatively opening on February 1 at midnight.

Carnaval de Barranquilla

Quien lo Vive es Quien lo Goza

Carnival is a mix of joy and rebellious celebration, and while the world knows all about Rio de Janeiro, it’s Colombia’s festival that has a place in my corazoncito!

The biggest celebration during the week and a half before Ash Wednesday takes place in the industrial port city of Barranquilla. I’ve explored much of the Colombian Caribbean coast’s pre-carnaval celebrations that occur every weekend leading up to Mardi Gras, and my experience was specifically in a small beach-side pueblo in Dibulla, La Guajira about 4 hours from Barranquilla. Recently I had the opportunity to experience the festivity with many of my Peace Corps co-workers in Baranquilla.

I highly encourage everyone to check out this vibrant, colorful, happy, and fun event. It’s no wonder their slogan is always “quien lo vive es quien lo goza“, translating to “who lives it is who enjoys it.”

History
Carnival originates from a combination of pagan ceremonies, catholic beliefs, and ethnic diversity (a mixture of the African, Indigenous, and European traditions), dancing, and music. It was at first a holiday for slaves protesting and mocking the reigning power, religious authority, the wealthiest classes, and other forms of crippling colonization. It later grew to be a celebration of the region. The first documented date in the Carnival’s history was in 1888 when the first King Momo was picked. The King Momo signifies the beginning of festivities, is usually charismatic and/or a good dancer. Unfortunately, the queen is chosen by her physical appearance, unlike the King, as well as her charisma and/or dancing skill. It is customary to choose a King Momo and Queen by schools, institutions, and regions.

Parade
We had a wonderful time! We attended the biggest parade that takes place on Saturday before Mardi Gras by road Via 40. Here is where we haggled for tickets (25,000 Colombian Pesos or about $8.50 USD per person) just outside of the parade gates. We did have to wait around for about an hour in order to find the best price with the help of local Colombian friends. It didn’t help that we were with a small group of “stereotypical” Gringos, therefore we were given higher prices by most. This is where being Latinx or POC and speaking fluent Spanish will help you, and possibly get you in faster with a better price offer. The same Colombian friends said the tickets are usually more expensive if you buy ahead of time because the tickets we got were last minute. We went to the parade again on Sunday, which was free but not as extravagant as Saturday.

The most comical of these caricatures is the Marimonda because they are usually silly and perform goofy dance moves. They are always trying to make fun of everyone, especially the ruling powers. When I ask what type of animal the mask represents, I get hilarious explanations:  “a monkey”, or “no it’s not an animal, it represents male and female genitalia on the face!”

One of the first quotes I saw in large, bold print on a taxi when I first arrived to Barranquilla for my initial Peace Corps training said “Más feliz que un gringo con disfraz de Marimonda“, which translates to “More happy than a gringo with a Marimonda costume”, meaning that even foreigners enjoy the fun that this caricature brings.

A couple of us were featured in the local newspaper El Herlado with exactly that quote as the title since Colombians have been very excited about the decrease in violence and the uptick in tourism.

Entertainment
The most popular form of music and dancing during the parade and other events is Cumbia and Mapalé:

Two highly recommended evening events we attended for open-air dancing were the Carnavalada in the Parque Cultural del Caribe with live music, and the famous La Troja on Carrera 44 con calle 74. Take a look at the Carnaval’s main website for a list of events starting from pre-carnival season until Mardi Gras. The most common music played at these venues is Vallenato, Champeta, Salsa, Reggaeton and other Afro-Colombian beats.

Warnings
Be aware of three potentially annoying things to look out for at this celebration.
1) Constant flour, foam, and water being thrown in your face, hair, clothing, and even directly in your eyes. This will happen no matter what you try, so if you know you won’t like this, don’t go.
2) Be wary of wearing fancy jewellery, clothing, or carrying your phone. Colombians will always urge you to not “
dar papaya” which is slang for “making yourself a target.”
3) Black Face is very prevalent throughout the festivity which is cringe-worthy. Be prepared to see this, while most dancers and paraders are a mix of black and brown Colombians, and while the majority of the queens are white or light-skin Colombians. Be careful if people dressed like this approach you because they like to intimidate tourists and foreigners to give them money, and they will try to touch you with the tar they are painted with.

black face

This caricature is supposed to represent African slaves mocking their masters. They cover themselves with black tar, wear large colorful hats, and make crazy movements with their mouth.

 

Experience it yourself, por que quien lo vive es quien lo goza!  Carnaval de Barranquilla‘s main parade takes place the Saturday before Mardi Gras every year. If the time coincides, flights to Colombia are very cheap in February!

To hype you up, enjoy a video I organized of our 2017 experience:

What You Need to Know About Cancelling a Flight Involving Colombia

I was in Colombia this week to visit family and had a last minute change of plans, resulting in me having to figure out a way to get home. There was lots of panic over the cost and frustration with a useless insurance policy.

I flew JetBlue and didn’t purchase their flexible ticket option, so I searched around and found that Colombia’s aviation administration issued new rules in 2015 that generously protects passengers…including what happens when you have to cancel a flight.

“When you a purchase a ticket from any booking channel in Colombia and/or your trip itinerary originates in Colombia, you can request a refund within at least twenty four (24) hours before the flight departs, in which case JetBlue can retain ten percent (10%) or fifty dollars (USD$50) of the base fare (whichever is less).”

If the ticket is purchased in the US, you can use the Law of Retraction in which JetBlue takes 10% from the base fare or $50, whichever is the smaller amount. A credit is then given to you in their Travel Bank and you can use it within the year.”


http://help.jetblue.com/SRVS/CGI-BIN/webcgi.exe?New,Kb=askBlue,case=obj(120961)

I called up JetBlue and my customer service agent didn’t know about the policy, so I directed her to their website and was on hold for a bit while they figured it out. They were super great and helped me out!

Since I purchased my flight directly from JetBlue and reside in the US, I was eligible to use the Law of Retraction resulting in a $198 travel credit that must be used within the year, and the airline only kept $12.06.

This amazing policy is not just applicable for JetBlue flights, and there are other details that may also benefit you. It was really refreshing to see this kind of protection for travelers and also a reminder that there may be rules in that small print of your ticket that could save you a lot of trouble.

Now what to do with this travel credit…

Pre-Carnavales Under the Mango Tree

One of the most famous carnivals in the world is in Barranquilla, Colombia. The secret I have to offer is that Colombia’s Carnival celebrations span anywhere along the Caribbean coastal region near the cities of Cartagena, Barranquilla, Santa Marta, and Riohacha. I happen to be living in Dibulla, La Guajira, a coastal pueblo near Riohacha for my Peace Corps service. Never did I think I would be enjoying the charm of Colombian carnival season for longer than a month starting with the weekend after Three Kings Day, and every weekend leading up to Mardi Gras.

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Casetas
Every Saturday during this season, people go out to celebrate “pre-carnavales” in a “caseta”, which are enclosed spaces used to celebrate during carnival season. These spaces could be a bar, discoteca, or an empty lot that is only used for carnival alone (like where I live in Dibulla). Each city has many of them, and each pueblo might have one or two. My pueblo has one that just happens to be next door to me, called KZ Lesvia. This venue is in my neighbor’s back yard, where it was used to screen movies back in the day. Considering the fact that there is a mango tree that looks over the entire venue, and the screen-turned-stage is perfect for the DJ to do their thing, it is an enchanting carnival experience. The best part of attending this venue every Saturday night is seeing how people dressed up more and more as time went by, including more bright colors.

 

If you ever attend a caseta (aka in Spanish “KZ” for short), there are a few things you need to prepare for before you arrive. Colombians celebrate any party by throwing flour or baby powder, foam, or water. Many women wear hats in order to protect their hair from most of these elements, but there is no getting away from the amount that gets on your face and clothing, so come prepared knowing you can’t do anything about it. It’s all in good fun, and there is no point in getting upset if you know what to expect.

 

Parades
I was surprised to see a parade on a random Friday, three weeks before actual carnival. The mayor’s office organized a small parade with their office workers and some mobile speakers. They walked down my street, and I was more than happy to join in on the dancing and celebrating for what I thought was a random surprise. Apparently, there is a parade every Friday a couple of weeks before carnival. The week later, the parade grew to include at least 5 “comparsas”, or parade groups, that comprised of the hospital, the mayor’s office, the school, and a couple of other groups. To top it all off, there just happens to be mango trees that line the streets and met us every step of the way we paraded, no more than 2 miles around the small pueblo.

 

I had the distinct honor of parading with girls that I have been giving dance classes to. I was even more excited that they decided to make red leotards that matched mine. It made me super happy to see them organize, sell desserts, fundraise, and have their new dance outfits made all within one week and with barely any of my help or council. They also made sure to place me right next to their comparsa.

 

Music
Growing up with a Colombian Mami, Checo Acosta was well known in my household for the song Ché Mapalé, which always got everyone who is anyone up off their seat to dance. This is still a largely favorite song to play during Colombian carnival, but there are many more classics as well as new songs that everyone listens to in the Casetas. If you want to listen to some of the music, click on the links for the playlist created for the Carnaval de Barranquilla, and El Heraldo’s song competition for the 2017 Carnaval song. The music spans from traditional Cumbia, Puya, Mapalé, and Vallenato to more modern sounds like Champeta, Reggaeton, Tropi-pop, and more.

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The Caseta when it’s empty and quiet, being set-up with the huge “Picó” speakers. Notice the mango tree in the venue, and behind the tall white wall (that’s our patio mango tree!).

The costumes, colors, colors and more colors
There are particular Carnival costumes that are popular in Colombia, but here are some more that were found particularly in Dibulla:

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I attended the 2017 Carnaval de Barranquilla starting on February 25th, so click on the link to explore the largest most famous Carnival of Colombia.

WEPA CARNAVAL – QUIEN LO VIVE ES QUIEN LO GOZA

 

 

A Day in Cartagena, Colombia

Dios bendiga Cartagena, La fantástica, Viva el África, Viva el África” says Carlos Vives, a Colombian Vallenato singer in his ode to Cartagena, Colombia: La Fantastica. In his song, he alludes to the Afro-Caribbean roots of the people. I’d later find out what made this city so fantastic!

Before traveling solo to Colombia for two weeks, I was sure that I’d see Medellin and Bogota, since I’d be flying in and out of these two cities. I also knew that I didn’t want to spend a week in each (but now I want to live in Bogotá, so…).

Aside from visiting these cities, I had to decide between Cali, Santa Marta, and Cartagena. Where would I spend 3-4 days? I wanted to experience more than just the mountains. Cali’s famous salsa and music scene had an undeniable allure. Santa Marta, on the Caribbean Coast just like Cartagena, appealed to me as the gateway to Parque Tayrona and La Ciudad Perdida. I’d need more time.

When I asked foreigners and Colombians about Cartagena, I heard mixed reviews:

“Cartagena is where tourists go to find cheap sex and cocaine.”

“It’s more expensive than Miami.”

“There’s not much to see-it’s where rich people go to vacation.”

On my final days in Medellin, I had to pick a place, but I couldn’t decide. Finally, I went to the Laundromat in El Retiro to pick up my neatly folded clothes-in-a-bag. While there, I met Carolina, a kind and friendly woman my age who spoke perfect English (she went to college in Chicago). We would’ve been friends if we’d studied together. Now, she was back in Colombia, helping her family manage a Laundromat after they’d moved from Bogotá. I was telling Carolina all about my trip, and presented her with my dilemma. Her father, I skinny man with black hair and rimless glasses, sat behind her, sewing a garment. Her brother sat nearby, helping him.

Carolina and I asked her father for advice on where I should go. “If you have a few days, go to Cartagena. La ciudad amurallada (the walled city) is nice, and the beaches are, too. Just be warned that vendors won’t leave you alone. They’ll offer you massages and sea shells, but just tell them no.” I ended up chatting with them for about 30 minutes. It was getting late, and since I’m used to heading home by the time it gets dark in Nicaragua, I headed out.

The next morning, I bought a plane ticket to Cartagena on Viva Colombia airlines. It was one of the most impulsive things I’ve ever done. I’d be leaving in about five hours! Since I knew no one in Cartagena, I scrambled to find a place to stay. A host named Libi had an apartment for about $17 a day, so I made a reservation. I called her to confirm that everything was in order for me to arrive that night, and she said that there was a problem-the apartment wasn’t ready. What she could do, however, was give me the keys to another beach front apartment for $20 a day. I’d have air conditioning, and be by the beach? Fair deal. I booked it for three nights.

I packed up my bags, triple-checked that I had my passport with me, and took a bus for the Medellin airport. While waiting for my flight, I went inside my new favorite store, Velez Leather. Since I couldn’t afford their gorgeous $200 backpacks, I settled for two $9 bracelets. I’m not much of a bracelet or a leather person, but I just had to have some of that high quality leather, even in miniscule form.

As I sat in the terminal, I hopped onto my Couchsurfing application and put in a public trip. I explained that I was a queer woman traveling to Cartagena for certain dates, and that if anyone wanted to host me or just go to the beach with me, that I’d appreciate it. Again, I didn’t know anyone, but with this feature, I was confident that I’d eventually meet someone.

For each city I’d go to, I would post a public trip. I also posted the same thing on the Cartagena Couchsurfing facebook group. Then within a few hours or days, I’d get someone from that city message me. Even though I was openly gay on my profile, it was interesting that 95% of the people who offered to host me were men. To be clear that I wasn’t looking to hook up, I’d ask if they had queer friends or if they knew about LGBT spots. I’d also see if they had hosted other solo women before. There’s only so much verifying you can do online, but these strategies brought me more peace of mind. Since I was traveling alone, I would only stay with a man if they were living with a partner or if they were gay.

Around 7:20 p.m., I walked down my airplane’s staircase and a wall of humidity hit me. As I waited for me suitcase, I was nervous because of what I’d heard about Cartagena as a drug capital. I felt tense like Chimamanda N. Adichie felt in her Danger of a Single Story Ted Talk,  before she traveled to Guadalajara, Mexico, which she thought was going to be a drug cartel warzone. When she realized it was just like any other city, with people going about their daily lives, she checked herself.

I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the suitcases spilling onto the belt have been filled with drugs over the years. I couldn’t believe how tense I felt in this tiny airport. I’m sure that JFK has had way more drugs slide through. I needed to stop thinking like I was a drug mule for Johhny Depp in Blow. I needed to experience Cartagena for myself. I wasn’t here for a drug trip—traveling alone in a new country is exhilarating enough.  

Libi and her friend from Bogota met me outside. Libi is a small, friendly woman who made me feel like I was her host daughter. We walked for about ten minutes into the Crespo neighborhood and she showed me the apartment. It had two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and deliciously cool air conditioning. Cartagena averages about 80 degrees (F) a day, but it has a humidity index of 90%. So at night, things don’t cool down too much.

A few minutes later, Libi’s mom walked in. She was timeless. Maybe it was her naturally jet black hair, or the fact that she still goes out dancing in her 70s. Maybe it was her intriguing, sparkling eyes that were even darker than her hair.

When I looked into them, I thought of what Nobel Prize winner and Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez had said about magical realism in the Caribbean: 

It always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination, while the truth is that there’s not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality. The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination. 

“Do you want to know why keeps me looking and feeling young? Berro (watercress). It’s really good for your health. I haven’t had to dye my hair because of it.” Libi’s mom told me, as she tapped her long fingernails on the couch and nodded her head, matter-of-factly.

I was still pretty nervous about being alone in what people made me think would be a cocaine expo, and beauty tips weren’t first on my list. “What places should I avoid?” I asked Libi. She named off a few neighborhoods, then interrupted herself.

“Why don’t we talk about the places you should see, instead?” she asked, in a firm yet reassuring tone. Guests probably ask her this all the time. She recommended that I visit la ciudad amurallada (Cartagena’s walled city and fortress), a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for having the most extensive fortifications in South America. Libi’s mom mentioned a restaurant, La Mulatta, where I would find regional dishes.

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This was the view from my $20 Airbnb apartment rental. I recommend staying at Libi’s in the Crespo neighborhood!

Libi and her mom invited me to grab a drink the following night, and I asked if her mother enjoyed dancing. “My mom can go dancing longer than I can. She loves to go out!” The older woman laughed and nodded in agreement. Her eyes glowed like diamonds lost in the depths of a coal mine.

Also, the women in my family age well, but still- I should look into berro

The next morning, I woke up and went to the corner store for breakfast. The family who owned it was attended to hungry customers sitting at plastic tables in plastic chairs just like the ones in my house. I asked for an agg arepa, and the cook carefully slid a raw egg into the empanada-like arepa. Then, he deep fried it with the other arepas floating in their oil jacuzzi. I mistakenly ordered two. Oops! After eating the first one with the deliciously spicy home made salsa they stored in used plastic jars, I was full. I took the other back home in its oil-stained brown paper bag and left it on top of the fridge as a snack.

After take two of leaving my apartment, I grabbed a taxi headed for the walled city. A black woman sat in the front seat, and she and the driver asked me where I was from. I gave my long story about how I was born in Mexico, grew up in the states, and have been volunteering in Nicaragua for two years, and that I’m traveling alone in Colombia, Panama, and Costa Rica. I mentioned how friendly Colombians were (honestly, I’ve never been in a Latin American country with an more rude locals than friendly ones).

“Somos mas saludables que el Alka Seltzer,” the driver added, his hand making a dropping motion into an imaginary glass. In English, this literally translates to “we’re healthier than Alka Seltzer” but instead of “healthy” it’s meant to be taken as “wholesome/friendly.”

“With lime!” I added, and we all laughed. I thought of the way my Nicaraguan host grandmother would pinch her nose as she showed me how to take a shot of Alka Seltzer with lime whenever my stomach hurt. She calls herself La Curandera (the healer) for a reason. The driver took me all the way to the center of the walled city, and I saved his number because I felt safe around him. It was only around 9 a.m., but humidity was brutal.

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In the Walled City’s Plaza de Santa Domingo, I met Gertrudis, a sculpture by Colombian Artist Fernando Botero. This voluptuous, powerful woman rests there for all to see and to interact with.

One could easily spend the day wandering around the walled city and its many shops. I found respite from the heat by entering stores and by eating kiwi-flavored popsicles. These popsicle stores seem to be all the rage now. After going into too many stores selling $300 purses, I decided to hit up the more affordable stores in the perimeter. One of my favorites was Seven Seven. Almost everything was 75% off, so that has something to do with it.

 

I hopped around to different department stores that had DJs set up with their own booths blasting vallenato, bachata, and merengue music nonstop. The staff at these stores were super helpful. As soon as I walked in, they attended to me and even waited for me to try on clothes in case I needed a different size. Then they’d go look for the sizes I’d ask for. One woman did such an excellent job that I tipped her, and I’ve never tipped someone in a clothing store before. She seemed as surprised as I was by her service when I handed her the money. Tipping isn’t nearly as expected in the Latin American countries I’ve been to as it is in the states. 

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In hot cities like this one, I like to pretend that I’m in a video game where I will stay alive in shady areas. For every patch of sun I hit, I lose life. I didn’t understand how people could come up with such sexy, sweat-free glamour shots in the streets of Cartagena. Maybe it’s magical realism that blesses everyone except me. I was dying and constantly going inside of stores I didn’t want to go inside of. Well, I did enjoy the Cuban menswear boutique more than I thought I would…

Once the sun’s rays relented a tiny bit, I walked to the non-air-conditioned modern art museum. Outside in the plaza, locals were selling hats, mangos-in-a-bag, and the nicest-looking counterfeit Ray Bans I’ve ever seen. A woman wearing a colorful dress sat on a bench talking to an old white guy. His wife was smiling as she took a photo of the two. I felt strange seeing this type of staged interaction-I hope they paid the woman.

The couple looked so happy, but I can only imagine how this counted as their deepest interaction with the locals. I have to remember that not everyone speaks fluent Spanish, though, so it’s hard to have cross-cultural interactions with people when you can’t even converse with them in the first place.

As I thought about the implications of this scene, I paid my entrance fee at the Modern Art Museum’s front desk. The museum was a tiny, two story building-it sure wasn’t the Museum of Antioquia by any means. I’m not much of a modern art fan, but I did enjoy the pieces. Each room had huge fans blowing the hot air around to make the rooms a tad less stuffy, but I forget about the heat as I finally sat down.

I love museums because you can rest your mind and your feet at the same time. I love it when museums are as empty as the benches placed in front of paintings. It’s like an invitation to contemplate exactly what’s in front of you. My tired, hot feet appreciated the break.  My mind appreciated the opportunity to construct Cartagena from my experience and not from the preconceived notions I’d built up of this city.

 

The next morning, I’d meet two women who, like the city had done, show me the meaning of La Fantastica. They’d profoundly shape my love for Cartagena and Colombia. 

The featured image above is an ink pen and colored pencil drawing I did. Shout out to my girl Gertrudis for being an excellent model!