My Ultimate Travel Inspiration: Abuela

A note from the author: This is a tribute to my abuela who recently passed away on Friday the 13th, September, 2019. This article was made possible thanks to my family who shared their oral history, where I was able to match up parts of her story with photos and documents. She often would explain, “yo crucé montañas, rios, y oceanos para poder pasar tiempo contigo” to the grandkids in order to help us understand what kind of effort, distance, and sacrifice was invested in order for her to spend time with us. Clarita was a soul full of colors, love and forgiveness. She was magic with her unconditional love, like a poesía de alegría. She could lite up any room she walked into, filling a house with her energy resembling vibrant colors. To better understand why Clarita was the way she was, our greatest inspiration to keep going despite life’s obstacles, the following is her story.

Clara Beatriz Rey was born on July 29th, 1934 in Bogotá, Colombia, although the date is debatable. This stereotypical vivacious Leo personality argued that her real birth date is unknown since she has no birth certificate to prove it. Her family’s life took a turn when she was 4-years-old because her dad Guillermo Rey Chacón passed away due to Tuberculosis, leaving behind Clarita, her older sister of 7 years-old Maria Helena “Nena”, and their Mami Maria Helena Vazquez.

They moved in with her mom’s 14 siblings, 5 tios and 9 tias who helped raise the young girls. Her mom was the oldest of the 14, therefore she was known as el gran poder, or the mighty power, also due to her affability and kindness leading to a certain don, or gift, she had liaising with people. Clarita would later acquire this same don and impressive ability of connecting with people in a way that even a stranger on the street would love talking to her.  Furthermore, Maria Helena had a distinct ability to play the piano that her parents ordered from Germany.

Clarita finished up to 7th grade (2do de bachillerato), then went to work at a Kodak 100_4407shop that some of her aunts worked at, as well as a laboratory where she packaged medicines. Cue meeting her future husband Carlos Jaime Chavarriaga (pronounced Hi-meh) on a bus towards downtown, both of them on their way to work in 1954 when Clara was 19-years-old. Jaime worked at the Manhattan store, a clothing line for men. By the end of 1954, Jaime and Clara wed at the Iglesia Santa Teresita, and then by 1955 their first daughter Martha was born.

 

First Trip Abroad, 4 Kids, and Career

Clarita y Martha - Culver City, California

Clarita & Martha in Culver City, California

By the end of 1955, a tia of Jaime offered the family of three their first trip to the United States. They took a short stop in Cuba for a couple of days, and they stayed in the USA for about 5 months. Since they stayed in Culver City, California outside of LA, Jaime tried out for various roles as an extra for several movies searching for “Hispanic” actors. He wasn’t able to find a job, so they returned back to Colombia. However, this trip must have made on impact on her first born (and possibly the second born too since she could have been conceived in the USA), which later on it will make sense why.

Shortly after, the brood grew to a total of 4 kids with Maria Clara (1956), Carlos Jaime (1958), and Claudia Rosa “Rosita” (1960). In order to not confuse Carlos Jaime Jr with his dad, we will refer to Jaime Sr as “Don Jaime.” Most family trips consisted of long weekend “Puente” holiday trips to warmer climate and lower altitude pueblos outside of cold mountainous Bogotá a couple of times a year. Girardot, Melgar, and Utica were the most frequented spots. Don Jaime’s brother, Guillermo, was a pilot, therefore the couple or the whole family sometimes got to travel thanks to his benefit. By airplane in Colombia, they visited coastal locations like Barranquilla and Tumaco both on the Caribbean and the Pacific coast respectively. 

 

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Clara on her way to Tumaco, Colombia on the pacific coast in 1971. Her brother-in-law Guillermo was a pilot, so he let her take a quick photo opp.

Family Trips in Colombia:

Entrepreneurship ran through Clarita’s veins, as did her nurturing and healing essence. In 1962-66 she started a fashion design business out of their own house where she had a couple of seamstresses on her team. In 1964-69 she created a cake and dessert business overlapping with the other business. Fast forward a bit of time in 1983, she supported Carlos Jaime’s travel agency business which later turned into a catering and events business, Banquetes Pablo VI, which still continues to this day 36 years later. However, her love for working in the healthcare industry prevailed.

Clarita found an internship working as an instrument nurse at the Hospital San José in 1968. To the dismay of her husband Jaime, who like many men at the time felt she should stay at home to child rear and tend to housework, she went against his wishes as she discovered her passion for working in healthcare and continued with it. At the time, Don Jaime had been working at Abbott as a pharmaceutical drug salesman who visited different Doctor’s offices, a job he held until retirement when he created his own related company Disfarma LTDA. Throughout the years, Clara worked seasonally or part-time at several different hospitals: Clinica Palermo, Clinica de Marly, Hospital Militar, and Clinica del Country. She specialized in supporting heart surgeries from about 1968 until about 1988 usually on part-time or short-term based assignments. She took two separate breaks between those 20 years, once in 1977 and once in 1981.

Clara was always savvy to find or create opportunities anywhere. She landed a job as a live-in nanny for two Cuban girls in the Miami, Florida area (Coral Gables) in 1977. She was there for about 5 months, where she would send her earnings as remittances back home to the family. At the time, the eldest daughter Martha was 22, therefore she helped run the household in Colombia. She later had to go home for unexpected reasons the family does not like to talk about, however the experience served as preparation for exciting opportunities to come in the USA and abroad.

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Clarita’s Beauty Battle Scar

She took almost a year-long break in 1981 after she severely broke her right arm in a freak mini elevator accident at the hospital, when a small container (aka dumbwaiter or lift), that transported medical supplies and other materials between floors in the building, fell on her arm and broke skin and bone. Around the same time, Don Jaime and Clara separated since they spent most of their time fighting. It was a very tough year for Clara due to her arm, her failed marriage, and her eldest daughter had left to live in the USA for good. Once her arm was fully mobile again thanks to healing and physical therapy, she persisted with her seasonal work at the hospital. This is only one of the many examples of Clarita’s strength and resilience. It wasn’t until the birth of her first grandchild in 1988 that she decided to drop everything and leave Colombia for a while.

A New Chapter – Grand-parenting All Around The World

At the wedding from left to right: Clara, Richard, Martha, and Don Jaime.

Her eldest daughter Martha met a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer, Richard Tracy, in 1978. They wed by 1980, and moved to the U.S. by 1981 after Richard completed his volunteer service. By 1988, they were living in Richard’s hometown Toledo, Ohio when Alexandra was born. Clarita decided by the time that Ale was 3 months that she was ready to be a full-time grandmother in the USA to help while both parents worked full time. A year later, and still the only birth of her grand kids she ever witnessed, Michele was born in 1989. Just two months after that, her 3rd granddaughter Diana Carolina or “Caro” was born in Bogotá to Carlos Jaime and his wife Diana Patricia. Because of this, Clara spent most of her time traveling between Colombia and the USA for the rest of her grand kids’ youth until the U.S. grand kids turned 18. For 19 years, her visits to the USA would usually span about 3-6 months each, about once a year, all depending on her Visa and who was able to cover her flights.

 

The most exciting birth of a grandchild occurred in the outskirts of Milano, Italy. Clara’s second daughter Maria Clara received a scholarship to study Opera in Italy, and she was there with her partner Carlos Yañez who was also studying his PhD from 1987 to 1994 for 11 years. In 1992, Clarita’s only grandson Andrés was born, providing her another way to explore outside of Colombia and help rear her 4th and last grandchild for a full year. In addition, she landed a job as a nanny for twin Italian girls. With her youngest daughter Rosita, who at the time worked for the Colombian airline Avianca, she was able to travel very easily due to perks and benefits from the job that were extended towards family. The two traveled throughout Europe together while they spent most of the time in Milano. They traveled to London, Paris, Madrid, Lisbon, and all around Italy. Maria Clara and her family lived in Italy until 1996, when they moved back to Colombia.

 

Rosita and Clarita always traveled together when Rosita worked for Avianca

Again thanks to Rosita and Avianca, Clarita got to travel all over Latin America for the rest of the 90’s and early 2000s. They traveled to Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile, Rio de Janeiro, Caracas, and Quito. Maria Clara and Rosita spent a lot of time going to visit the USA to accompany Andrés and Caro throughout their youth, but not as much as Clara traveled there with the them. Thanks to Clara’s dedication and guardianship, as well as Rosita, Maria Clara, Martha, and Jaime’s funding and hard work, the four cousins grew up like siblings and all became fully bilingual Spanish-English.

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The 4 primos/siblings: Alexandra, Caro, Michele, and little Andres all together for the first time ever at the Bogota Airport.

Clarita en Santiago de Chile

Clarita and Rosita visiting Maria Clara and Carlos when they lived in Santiago, Chile

In 1991-1997, Martha’s family was living in Texas for 7 years, therefore Clarita had visited enough times to establish relationships in San Antonio, TX. She was able to acquire jobs with her Visa at the time working as a maid at a hotel, as well as babysat from time to time. When Martha’s family left for Mexico in 1997, she decided she was going to try to acquire U.S. citizenship. She continued work at the hotel, found a job at McDonalds, and helped care for disabled people. Whenever she had some extra time, she traveled to Mexico and was able to see some of the states of Coahuila and Nuevo Leon with Martha’s family. Perhaps due to viewing the USA as a ‘superior country’, Clara worked hard to acquire U.S. citizenship. She studied for years for the citizenship test to prepare for once she qualified to actually take the test, especially this visibly worn list of 100 questions in English. Although Clarita had the help of Martha and family to bid for citizenship, benefited from white privilege, and she worked very hard at several jobs, sadly her dream did not come true. It could have been the political and cultural nature of Texas, it could have been her broken English, but unfortunately U.S. citizenship was not granted to her after her test in 1999.

 

 

An Adventurous Life

Clarita Passport Photos

Clarita’s Passport photos through the years

Nonetheless, Clarita lived the last 20 years of her life traveling everywhere with her family. It was always her family connections who made it possible for her to travel so much, and on occasion she was able to save her own hard earned money from different jobs in order to be able to travel. Martha’s family moved to the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan in 1999, Maria Clara and her family moved to Chile for a year in the early 2000s, and then her sister Nena’s family moved to Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 2006, so there was still a lot of traveling. By 2012, all of the female grand-kids graduated from college, and so the family started traveling more together to new places. Alexandra moved to California, where it was the first time Carlos Jaime and Diana Patricia traveled to the USA in 2014 with the rest of the family. After that, different family members traveled with Clarita everywhere including an epically captured trip to Cuba.

Cartagena, Colombia:

Las Vegas, Nevada and the Grand Canyon:

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Clarita was very modern for an abuela, savvy with her cellphone, especially Whatsapp. Here is a picture she sent Alexandra about her piece of luggage she kept just because of the memorable trips Alexandra took with it.

Clarita was a resilient, independent, adventurous, and a vivacious soul. Her love for exploring new places almost matched her greater love for her family. For about 3 years, she begged Diana Carolina for a trip to Aruba. That trip did not occur because her 3 granddaughters thought they had way more time to plan and save up for the trip. Clara passed away unexpectedly in September of 2019 due to catching bacterial meningitis which sparked sudden rapidly deteriorating health. Thankfully, she did not suffer as she was in a coma for 11 days straight, 3 of which she was half-awake to what the family deems a miracle chance for her to say her goodbyes before she passed. The whole family was convinced she would live past 100+ years just based on her positive, magnetic, and vivacious attitude. Nevertheless, the family holds Clarita’s spirit in their hearts, and are currently grappling with how to move forward with this new void in their lives.

 

Stay tuned for our trip to Aruba which will pay tribute to Clara Chavarriaga Rey! Who knows when it will be planned, but it will happen!

Montañas, Rios y Oceanos

Possible tattoo inspiration found by Michele. Clarita, a Leo with the Sun as it’s ‘planet’ (star), would often say “yo cruce montañas, rios y oceanos para pasar tiempo contigo.”

Another Reason Why Locals Dislike Expats

I decided to a share a story from my visit almost two years ago (March 2017) to Casa Elemento Hostel in Minca, Colombia – a breath-taking and popular hammock viewpoint hostel in the Sierra Nevada mountains just outside of Santa Marta. Though the view and the food were outstanding, I was really upset to see how I was treated by a bartender there. My objective with this article is to bring awareness to all of us as travelers in a foreign land, especially to increase our ability to see how our actions can appear imperialistic, a.k.a. toxic settler/colonizer mentality, or simply down-right rude.

I was loving the music being played at the hostel, which I should mention is owned by a North American woman. It was mostly U.S. American hip hop and rock tunes being played. I don’t know why I thought it would be fun to request a Latinx song to get the mostly European and U.S. American guests to start dancing and experience this very important part of the culture in Colombia. For those of you who know me, I’m always excited to get the dance party started. I went to ask the hostel staff about my music request, and the whole interaction went down like this:

Me: Can I please play a Salsa song?
Mexican Bartender #1: Sure! You’ll have to ask the owner if that’s okay though.
Me: *Confused* …ummm, okay

*I walk up the few hill stairs from the bar closer to the restaurant.**
Me: Hi are you the owner? I was told by the bartender to ask you if it’s okay to play Salsa music?
North-American Owner: Oh that’s so cool! Yes, everything is up to the discretion of the bartender. My rule is no electronic music. That’s so cool though, Salsa!

*I quickly walk back down the hill to the bar where I couldn’t find the first bartender I talked to, so I talked to the second.*
Me: Hi I just talked to the owner to get permission to request a Salsa song and she said it was okay.
British Bartender #2: Oh, well, I don’t have that kind of music.
Me: That’s okay, I have my phone we can plug in
Bartender #2: I’m sorry, but if you can’t tell, there are mostly British and [U.S.] Americans here, so we are playing music that most people want to hear.
Me: But, we are all visiting Colombia.
Bartender #2: *Smirks, shrugs, and walks away without a care in the world*

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Panoramic view from Casa Elemento Hostel


Not only was I appalled by this poor customer service but I was deeply disturbed by this insensitive way of treating a non-European, non-traditional U.S. American customer. I spoke to Bartender #2 in English as a Colombian-American, so I can’t imagine how local Colombian employees and/or guests are treated by this bartender. I told the only other Colombian guest I met at the hostel, and she was also deeply distraught by this treatment.

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Sunset view from Minca, Colombia


I was livid, but I appreciated that both Bartender #1 and the Colombian receptionist Jessica at least listened to my complaints. Ultimately, I do think Casa Elemento needs to talk to Bartender #2 about their insensitive comments because this will deter local Colombian or overall Latinx/Latin-American customers in the future.

Moral of the story: at least TRY to act like you are interested in the music, culture, and customs of the country you are visiting or living in. We are guests in that country short term or long term, so we need to show respect. In the future, I will try to avoid touristy places that don’t have mostly locals in order to avoid this kind of treatment.

Thank goodness for those breath-taking views, motorcycle rides through the Sierra Nevada mountains, and the coffee tour we took, all of which made up for poor treatment at the hostel. Minca is one of the only areas along the Caribbean coast of Colombia that cultivates coffee, as it is rare in this region compared to the interior’s Coffee Triangle. I highly recommend checking out La Victoria Coffee Farms for a tour, and there is a craft brewery across the path from them called Nevada Cerveceria.

 

My Cuerpo de Paz Service Reflections

One of the proudest moments in my life was when I began Peace Corps training in August of 2016. I was still working on Travel Latina, however difficult it was to access the internet. I was ecstatic to share a very special article by Danica Liriano called My Narrative as an Afro-Latina Peace Corps Volunteer. Nothing could make me happier to publish and share this article on our blog and Instagram account. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I ran head-first into an unexpected comment made on her article that made me question everything I was doing. Name is changed to initials in order to protect identity:

“[DFV]: thanks for sharing this piece! i definitely validate the authors experiences, but i think their critique is incomplete, since they ultimately place faith and believe in the peace corps’ agenda. peace corps was a geopolitical tool designed by JFK and part of his alliance for progress to stifle anti-colonial revolution (following success of the cuban revolution) through reform that masked foreign, largely US, penetration of national economies and cultures across the third world, especially in latin america. i expect more of the author frankly. nameley, i expect them to expand their critique in order to indict the peace corps as a neocolonial, humanitarian, white saviour institution that inflicts violence on the countries and communities it interacts with. i believe we need to be more mindful of the need to center subaltern voices and stop believing the west can provide the answers, since it has only played, and continues to play, oppressor!”

I was floored. Not even 1 month into my service training, I questioned everything that I thought about my international development career, and everything that I thought about the Peace Corps (PC) ever since my Dad inspired me to do it. I began obsessing about the Saviour Complex, and how I could avoid any imperialistic, white supremacist, and/or neocolonial practices. I decided that I needed to try harder. To make sure to community organize and perform my work with integrity, with full support or in collaboration with the community, and with sustainability in mind. In international development, I truly believe that Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) is the best, most sustainable way to work with communities. The ABCD approach “builds on the assets that are found in the community and mobilizes individuals, associations, and institutions to come together to realize and develop their strengths. This makes it different to a Deficit-Based approach that focuses on identifying and servicing needs” (Nurture Development 1). In addition to that, it’s necessary to implement effective impact evaluation to see if an international development service or aid is actually working, or in order to look at ways to improve it.

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Our Peace Corps site placement in Dibulla, La Guajira

Moreover, there were even more problematic PC stereotypes to work through. There was a comment made when I announced on Facebook that I was about to leave the country to begin the PC:

AJ: Felicitaciones! Sabes que lo dicen Cuerpo de Pasear 
Translation: “Congratulations! You know they call it Travel Corps ”

Peace Corps in Spanish is Cuerpo de Paz. Pasear means “to travel or take a promenade out on the town”, so the play on words turns Paz, or “Peace”, into Pasear. In other words, my FB friend was poking fun at the infamous way that PC volunteers use their time in their assigned host-country to travel rather than actually do work.

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A bird friend in Montes de María, Colombia

I’m not going to lie, some of the most necessary trips I took out of my site placement was our official PC “Weekend Aways” to the nearby cities once a month. Never have I stared my privilege so closely in the face, and been so ruefully aware of my U.S. born & raised, U.S. passport-holding, light-skin Latinx, privileged self. Never had I felt so disgustingly and embarrassingly fragile, with my time in the PC having the worst impact on my mental health, which I believe had a direct negative impact on my immune system. I am wary to admit that my trips away were not only to “pasear”, rather to attend to my mental health. So much so, that I didn’t even realize the extent of my poor mental health state until PC doctors demanded that I pack up and leave site on an official ‘Medical Evacuation’ just two months shy of finishing my 27 month service.

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The view on Santa Marta and the Caribbean sea from Minca, Colombia

Don’t get me wrong, I got to know my motherland in a way that was unforgettable, especially when visiting other volunteers in their assigned sites, and visiting my family in Bogotá. Unlike most other volunteers, I did not have the budget to visit the USA as often as they did (read: once in 2 years, while most PCVs visited 2-3 times), which did not bother me too much except for being 30 meant I missed a lot of weddings. Unfortunately, I did observe that many fellow People of Color in the program struggled with not being able to visit their family as often as non-POC. WOC, in my cohort particularly, dropped out more often than everyone else, which I think is a sad, yet clear, sign at how difficult it is to complete service with little means or support, along with poor treatment. At the end of the day, most locals at my site did not have the resources to travel in-country the way we did, or even access to certain medical or psychological treatment that we had, and many times I allowed it to eat me up inside. On the other hand, I had to remind myself that I was a volunteer with no real income, and furthermore, that I could not have the pretentious saviour complex.

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A coffee farm outside of Salento, Colombia

I’m far from perfect, the Peace Corps is far from perfect, the United States is far from perfect, no one is perfect and EVERYONE is problematic. I’m willing to get called out, receive constructive criticism, and become a better volunteer and overall person. I needed to make sure to work in the best way that *I* could in order to avoid the aforementioned issues. At the end of the day, I taught, I had important conversations, I facilitated, I empowered, I led, and I did everything I could to share what I hope is beneficial knowledge in Dibulla, La Guajira with the utmost mindfulness. There is no true way to measure whether I was successful in any way, or whether I was *woke* enough. However, I feel satisfied when I observe the way people in Dibulla talk about race more positively, seeing past stereotypes (i.e. how US citizens are supposed to be), increasing savings and personal money management awareness, less bullying among students, and overall more interest in entrepreneurship. If I did anything at all, at least I am satisfied to know that I created connections that will last a lifetime.

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Trekking to a cacao chocolate farm in Montes de María, Colombia

Do I recommend the PC? It’s not for everyone, in fact I wonder if it’s best for those who have money or their families have it. Perhaps, it’s better for the fresh college grad who’s use to living on a very meagre budget. I was neither of these, but the reality is that I want an international development career, and the jobs I desired weren’t hiring me because I needed at least 2 years of fieldwork experience. It was my only option, even if I had giant student loans to attend to, even if I put my physical and mental health at risk. I was determined to struggle through it all, while trying my hardest to stay “woke”. The BEST part of it all? I got to explore my ancestral roots in a way even my family couldn’t guide me through.

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My altar honoring my ancestral roots in Colombia

 

Under the Knife and Under the Sun: Plastic Surgery While Traveling

By Camila Luna

Travel and plastic surgery. Yes, I traveled to where it’s sunny and warm (and cheap) and  got plastic surgery. Phew! There, I said it.

Like many of you, I, too, have struggled with self- image. I have looked in the mirror, and despite my best efforts to love myself, have told myself that I don’t like X, Y, or Z about my appearance. And, like many of you, some of those “imperfections” I’ve changed with surgery  (you’d be surprised who has had work done), and other “imperfections” I’ve learned to accept.

For me personally, two of my biggest insecurities have always been my nose and my breasts.  Nose too big, and boobs too small. I have done the typical girl things to cover up these insecurities with contour, bras, and flattering clothing, but at the end of the day when you’re bare-faced and the clothes come off, you’re faced with reality.

So, you’re probably wondering: what work did I get done, and how did I plan for it?

Well, I’ll start with the latter question. Honestly, I did not really plan for my surgery. I was at the beginning of my two-month trip through 3 countries and 5 cities, and I suddenly got the idea that while I’m in Colombia, I might as well get the work done that I have always wanted. Mind you, at the time of my decision, I was in San Francisco and was planning on being in Colombia in about a weeks’ time. I had one week to find a surgeon and schedule the surgery.  I was planning to target my two major “imperfections”: boobs and nose .

Right away I started researching surgeons in Bogota, and even reached out to a few, but then I remembered my dear cousin, who has had quite a bit of work done (and looks gorg, btw). My cousin put me in contact with her surgeon, who wrote me into her busy schedule right away.

While all of this was going on, I was sharing my plan with my close friends and family. Of course, all of them were trying to dissuade me from surgery, and my mom, being a scientist, managed to find some really interesting research on breast implants that ultimately changed my mind about getting them.

Although breast augmentation is one of the most common plastic surgeries in the world, it also has the potential for the most complications. Namely, breast implants are NOT lifetime devices. Although those silicone (or saline) pouches have improved dramatically through the years, if you’re in your 20’s, you must plan and expect to have AT LEAST one more surgery down the line to have the implants replaced or removed. Every extra year that you have your implants, the risk for complications increases, and after every additional surgery to fix or replace your old implants, the risk for complications increases even more. Top that off with the fact that I have a tendency for skin allergies (large foreign object implanted in body= unhappy allergies),  and I realized that breast implants were not worth the risk for me.  The absolute best case scenario was that they’d be great, last me a good 30 years, and then I’d need to have them replaced at age 50 (and then again at 80?? Uhhh…), and the worst case scenario is that I’d have a reaction and have to have them removed in a few years (with no guarantee of the condition of my natural breast skin & tissue after removal). I was not down for either scenario, so I decided against the boob job.

Rhinoplasty, on the other hand, is one-and-done. I knew the risk was not liking my new nose, and the usual complications that go along with surgery, but I trusted the surgeon based on the work she had done on my cousin, so I decided to go for it.

While in Bogota, I got all of my hospital tests done, booked my Airbnb for where I was going to stay (I wanted to have my own space while I was recovering instead of staying with family), and even arranged for someone to take care of me post-surgery when my mom wasn’t around.

I met with my surgeon three times before my operation to discuss what I wanted, what was realistic, and possible complications, and even got to sneak in a super intense 4-day trip to Medellin right before the surgery (not sure if my doctor would have advised that, honestly). Then, exactly one week after I landed in Colombia, I found myself laying on the stretcher, with an IV in my arm, ready for surgery. I couldn’t stop thinking to myself, “This is a joke right now. Am I seriously doing this? Whoah this is crazy. Am I crazy? You’re kidding me right now”. Nevertheless, I went through with the surgery, and woke up 1.5 hours later groggy and with a big cast on my nose… but very happy nonetheless.

Buuut….as soon as I was able to look in the mirror after surgery, my heart sank. My nose was exactly the opposite of what I had wanted! 😱😱 It was upturned, and the space between my lip and nose looked huge. My lips looked thin. I looked like a cross between a chipmunk and a pig (pigmunk). I knew that the way my nose looked then was not going to be the final product and that my cheeks were all types of inflamed, but it was really hard to stay positive.

In the first few days after surgery, I think it’s safe to say I was depressed. Surprisingly, my nose did not hurt at all during the entire recovery process (although my doctor had cut both bone and cartilage), but emotionally, I was not in a good place. My face still looked like a pigmunk, my cast looked crooked, I couldn’t sleep because my nose was so stuffy, and now I was starting to get bruising under my eyes. I was terrified that I was going to have the nose of my nightmares.

I am generally a person who is positive and in a good mood. Even if I’m having a hard time at work or if I get my heart broken, I just cry it out, read some books on inner peace, and then I bounce right back to my normal, happy-go-lucky self (yeah, for my exes reading this… even if you screwed me over, I was SO over you in just a few days 💁💁💁😂) . But post-surgery, there were some days when I just wanted to lay in bed all day and feel sorry for myself. It was a kind of sadness/emotional numbness I hadn’t felt before.

Thoughts whirled in my head. Was I succumbing to unrealistic European beauty standards that weren’t even for me?  Was I minimizing my African and Muisca roots? Was I betraying everything I stood for? Do I love myself? Can I love myself and still risk my health by unnecessarily going under the knife???? And if I don’t love myself… will I ever be able to truly, deeply love anyone else??????

I didn’t want to see anyone, or even walk around the block as my doctor had instructed. I just wanted to lay in bed and think about how bad I looked and then judge myself for being so vain (talk about vortex of self-pity😩) Regardless, I had promised myself that even if I didn’t like my new nose and looked like a pigmunk for the rest of my life, I was not going to get revision rhinoplasty and would just accept myself the way I was. I had PROMISED myself that my nose job was one-and-done.

One week after my surgery, when the highlight of my day was being  able to breathe out of one nostril, I had my first follow-up appointment with my doctor. She removed my cast and immediately I started smiling- under the ugly cast and the tape holding up the tip of my nose, I saw my dream nose! It was smaller, had no bump, and still had the characteristics of my old nose that I liked: it was still long, like my Muisca ancestors, and still round at the tip, like my African ancestors. My new nose was perfect for me, and I knew that through the recovery it was going to look even better!

My doctor put on a new, smaller plastic cast on my nose, and for the first time in a week, I put on some lipstick, dressed up in my cute clothes and even left my house to socialize with family and close friends. Finally I was feeling like myself again!

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Before the procedure I had told myself that my surgery was going to be top secret. I felt ashamed, felt like a huge hypocrite (body- positive feminists don’t get plastic surgery?? 😰), and matter of fact, my biggest fear was returning to Shanghai (where I currently live) and having people realize that I had had my nose done. But with time, I found myself telling almost everyone around me. I told almost everyone except for my three best friends in New York who I would see in two weeks. These girls, who have known me for about a decade, were going to be the test reaction of my nose job. I was excited and nervous.

When I finally arrived to New York about two weeks after my surgery, no one noticed a thing. When I told my friends, all I heard was … *crickets*…. “wait, really?” “but where?” “but what was wrong with your nose?” “did it hurt?”. No one noticed a thing. My family joked that I had wasted my money since the difference was unnoticeable to others.

Despite this extremely anticlimactic reaction from my friends, I am very happy with my surgery and don’t regret it at all. When I look in the mirror, my nose is exactly the way I want, and I can absolutely notice the difference. I still contour my nose, but now it looks just the way I want when I take off my makeup. The difference is very subtle and natural, and I feel much prettier.

Now, for the big question many of you may be wondering about: how much did my surgery cost? The surgeon fee cost the equivalent of about $1,300, but with the hospital fees, anesthesia, medicine, etc, I would say the whole surgery cost about $2,000. This is freaking cheap AF. I paid it in USD, which probably thrilled my doctor.

I have decided to be open about my surgery because honestly, surgery is serious, it was as much an emotional journey as a physical one, and it is an experience that has changed me both inside and out. I know there is a lot of stigma and judgment around people who get work done, especially in the US. But honestly, I feel more comfortable and free when I’m open with others- even if they disapprove. I don’t want to normalize plastic surgery, but I want those of us who have chosen to go under the knife to be included in the self-love dialogue, just like everyone else. If you’re reading this and thinking terrible things about me (or even feeling “concern”/ “pity” for me), it’s ok, I honestly don’t mind- maybe you also secretly want to get some work done… hahaha 👀🙊.  Also, I understand it can be hard to wrap your mind around the fact that someone would get surgery just for vanity.

Either way I’m still me, and even though I changed one “imperfection” with surgery, I’m still on the journey of learning to tolerate/love my body. Will I have more invasive plastic surgery in the future? Honestly, I hope not. I’m happy with what I’ve done and don’t want more. Will I get little things like fillers or Botox? Honestly…. that’s a definite yes.

Mostly, I want to continue this journey of body acceptance/enhancement/modification with a prayer for myself and everyone reading this:

 “Universe, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”

 

Oh, and one last thing. If you’re considering surgery while traveling, here’s what you should know:

10 things to know before getting plastic surgery while traveling:

  1. Unresolvable cognitive dissonance. But… but…I’m a body- positive, intersectional feminist who barely shaves her legs… how can I get plastic surgery??????
  2. No flying for at least 10 days after surgery. Nope, ya can’t leave right away! And if you’re in a mountainous place like Bogota, you need to be in the city at least three days before surgery while your body adjusts to the altitude.
  3. No sun. I know, the title is misleading. No matter how beautiful the beach is near you, after surgery, you need to stay out of the sun to prevent swelling and possibly permanent discoloration.
  4. You will probably feel depressed. This was big for me. You will probably be in your room, in pain/uncomfortable, questioning your life choices/ beauty standards/mental health/sanity, and feeling ugly as hell for at least a week after surgeryThis can be quite isolating, and you might be thinking of all the cool things you could be doing if you weren’t suffering from your own vanity.
  5. Kissing will hurt, and you need to curb the hanky-panky and any other form of exercise. Sometimes flings & things happen while traveling, so tell your new amiguito to chill because you just had surgery and can’t get too crazy with any type of physical activity.
  6. With your cast on in Latin America, people will assume you got a nose job. With your cast on in the US, people will assume you had an accident… LOL
  7. You will think people are judging you, and they probably are, but guuurl (or boy or they/them)….. do you anyways.
  8. No alcohol in the days before and no alcohol for at least two weeks after surgery. Yep, gotta curb the fiesta.
  9. You should definitely speak the local language, or find a doctor who speaks excellent English. Clear communication with your surgeon is SO important to get the results you want.
  10. RESULTS ARE NOT GUARANTEED!! There is a possibility you will not like your results or that there will be complications. Be sure you are very, VERY aware of this and be emotionally prepared to deal with this kind of situation if it happens.

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When I posted this photo from my room in Bogota, no one would have guessed I was laying in bed with a cast on my nose.

Check out more of Camila’s articles on the Travel Latina website, and check out her travel blog in photographs at @camila.lunaaaaa on Instagram!

 

Hermanas are the Best to Travel With

This is dedicated to my sister Michele Catarina Tracy Chavarriaga for her birthday

Gritting your teeth while sitting in the car during a long road trip, you would yell, “déjame en paz!” This was normal for you when we were young since I was usually the annoying one trying to bother you. You couldn’t sit still, loved shaking and moving in your seat…which we would find out was because you were holding your pee because Papi would get mad at us if we needed to use the restroom too many times.

We would play the road trip game “I spy with my little eye”, and sing “Cielito Lindo” or “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” in order to avoid annoying our parents with the constant restless question of “Are we there yet?” We would listen to Carlos Vives, Gypsy Kings, Gloria Estefan, Maná, all kinds of Classical music, and much more on the vehicle’s stereo system.

Despite all of the fights, the long drives, and the cranky attitudes, one of the best parts of growing up was traveling with my hermanita. There isn’t anyone else that has experienced the world almost the exact same way as me growing up. We both had the privilege of having humble parents that valued experiences and education rather than material things. I am so grateful for them.

Our trips were either to the park in our community, or to go visit familia in South America. We also moved all over the USA, lived in northern México, and visited our family in Colombia together. Every family trip was made together up until our college years. We were quite literally THE traveling hermanas.

Following are some of our most fond memorias I have explorando with you

Where visiting our Colombian family every couple of years was always a big deal:

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The first time we remember meeting our prima Caro at the airport in Bogotá, Colombia in 1995

Living in Texas for almost 7 years meant exploring the U.S. Southwest:

 

Living in México for 2 years meant exploring a lot of this gorgeous country and receiving lots of visitors:

Moving up North to Michigan meant traveling became less frequent, but the few trips we did take became more extreme:

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The first time traveling to stay with family in Bogotá, Colombia for a whole summer without our parents was in 2001. This is our whole family greeting us at the airport.

 

Moving away from home means meeting up to explore together:

 

Michele, I truly hope we never stop adventuring together. When and where will our next trip together be? TE AMO MUCHO!

Anyone else LOVE traveling with their sister or siblings? Send us stories, photos, comments, etc!

Burning Man: Chinese Edition

I had recently moved to the somewhat antiseptic Shanghai, China, and was trying to downplay my natural “eccentricity” to avoid scaring away potential friends. I was starting to feel a little disconnected from the free spirit in my heart, divorced from the boogie-down-Brooklyn in me, and disjointed from my colorful lipstick and even more colorful wigs. Detached from some of the things that made me feel like…me.

And then I found Dragon Burn.

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Interactive heart that glows to the rhythm of participants’ pulses

Dragon Burn is the Chinese Regional Burning Man. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Burning Man, it’s an annual iconic, desert-dwelling gathering. But don’t get it twisted- it’s not a music festival- it’s a community of beautiful souls, coming together to share their gifts, talents, music, and most importantly, their love. Like Burning Man, Dragon Burn is based off a few key principles that really resonate with me. These are concepts like radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, inclusion, and decommodification.

Dragon Burn was exactly what I needed and expected…but there were, of course, some surprises.

On one of the first days of DB, one of the organizers asked me what was most surprising about the experience, and in all honesty, I said “the work involved”. Dragon Burn is not a spectator sport. You don’t show up to be a part of a fashion show, to be catered to, or even just to party. At Burning Man, you participate, you give, you love, and you work. Our camp had mouths to feed. Who will feed these mouths? Us. Part of forming a community of people who love each other is forming a community of people who care for each other, who nurture and support each other, are responsible for one another, and who put actions behind their words. Although of course, no one likes to think of “kitchen duty” or “camp setup” as pleasurable, ultimately, it helps us connect to others through the undeniable awareness of what others are doing for us, and what we have done for others. I experienced work as a profound art of giving and caring.

Another major theme in my experience of Burning Man was the feeling of freedom. I was free to be who I wanted, to come and go as I desired, and to connect with others in ways that challenged me but were ultimately absolutely fulfilling.

I was free to dress (or undress) in any way that felt completely genuine to my heart without gender expectations or body shame. Did I want to wear my big Brooklyn (faux) fur coat? Did I want to dress up as Mulan? Did I want to be a dominatrix in all spandex and leather? Or did I want to free the nipple? All was fair at the Burn, which was so, so liberating.

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My first tattoo: a stick-and-poke

 

Next, was GROWTH. I was also able to explore various types of relationships, and I was given the opportunity to constantly learn new things through dozens of daily workshops that were given on subjects as far-ranging as Tantra, to mandala-making, to tattooing. I was able to grow spiritually through all of these experiences and form new connections with myself and with others.

I realized how many artists, scientists and spiritual thinkers we have in our midst, which is so, so eye- opening. If you take the time to listen, the stranger sitting next to you on the train could open your eyes to another universe. Even when I felt I had nothing to give, I realized that even my gifts were appreciated- I was able to contribute some of my own knowledge and skills through giving a salsa workshop (yeah, yeah- sprinkling a little Sabor Latino in China 😉 ).

On the final day of Burning Man was the long-awaited BURN. Yes, burn. Fire burn. Ashes, ashes. Everything burns away. We had all worked so hard to build the effigy, or the giant wooden dragon, and now, we were going to burn it. But not only were we burning the dragon, we were also burning our other wooden structures we had so carefully put together. We were burning our wooden bar on which I had served so many drinks, burning our James Brown statue, and even some of our small wooden decorations.

Items I had grown a close affinity to were now going to be ashes. This reinforced to me the art of LETTING GO. Building, loving, experiencing, and then letting go. Letting your love exist in your heart but then allowing it literally to flow into the wind. Creating friendships, connections, and relationships, and then knowing that things may never be the same. But something about the energy, the interconnectedness, and the partnership of dancing around the fire with my new community while everything turned to ashes reminded me that yes, the people, places, and objects, in my life may change, but the love, the universal life force, and the energy behind them will never disappear.

After the Burn, I knew that I would never be the same. I walked into my home and everything looked, tasted, and smelled the same, but I was different. I was absolutely exhausted to the bone, yet felt radiant. I was humbled to the core but sensed a new confidence in my being. I was weird but appreciated.

But most of all, I realized that I am minuscule, tiny. A dot on the edge of this world. Yet somehow, I could see the universe inside my soul.

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Volunteers building the effigy- the giant dragon that would later be burned

Introducing: Camila Luna

Camila was born in New York City to a Colombian mother and African-American father. She spent much of her childhood feeling out of place due to her mixed heritage, but after a year of living in France with her mother and attending an international school, she realized that her “place” was not with one country or ethnicity- she realized she is a global girl. This experience and newfound realization caused Camila to then seek internationalism in all her pursuits- in college she studied abroad in La Habana, Cuba, and majored in intercultural communication and anthropology, and later in graduate school she focused on international education.

 

 

Today, Camila lives in Shanghai, China, and in her free time she can be found travelling,
dreaming up entrepreneurial pursuits, listening to business podcasts, and most of all, dancing! Camila is very excited to be a part of the Travel Latina community and loves to help empower Latinx all over the world to live their best lives. In her writing, Camila likes to highlight the spiritual aspect of living and travelling. You can find her on Instagram at @camila.lunaaaaa.

 

Introducing: Cepee Tabibian

Born a citizen of the world to a Colombian mother and Iranian father in West Virginia, Cepee spent all but 9 months of her childhood growing up in the Lone Star State and proudly considers herself a Native Texan. Although her parents were from South America and the Middle East, her passion for travel didn’t start until high school when she befriended a group of foreign exchange students.  Convincing her traditional Iranian father to let her travel solo the Netherlands for her 17th birthday was no easy feat. Little did they know that his support of her trip to visit a friend would become the most pivotal moment in her life. Her first trip abroad prompted a deep and magical love affair with travel and self-exploration that continues till this day, 20 years later.

Her education includes a bachelor’s in marketing and a master’s in international relations. In between her travels, she has worked in a variety of fields including marketing, sales, education, and travel. In 2015 she moved to Madrid, Spain and recently snagged her first remote job, a dream position that allows her to balance both work and travel. She is a running and yoga addict with a slight obsession for podcasts and social media. Cepee spends most of her free time building her brand Wanderlicious, a plant-based food + travel blog about Madrid and beyond. Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, or reach her at (and send your podcast recommendations to) wanderlicious.es@gmail.com.

Introducing: Kayla Zapata Fory

Kayla is a native Californian of Afro-Colombian roots with family on four continents and cousins seemingly everywhere. Her passion for travel started after an amazing summer study abroad to Havana, Cuba. The more Kayla traveled, she realized the exceptional fluidity of identity within different cultures and environments. Kayla was inspired by these experiences to launch a bilingual travel blog called Tejiendo Experiences that curates content from the African diaspora and shares her adventures around the world.

Kayla is passionate about promoting international social enterprises and sustainable development. Since graduating with a B.A. in International Relations from Tufts University, Kayla now lives in Accra, Ghana where she works for an ethical fashion brand supporting local artisan communities. She hopes to apply for an MBA program to learn more about scaling social impact in emerging economies. When she is not solving international fashion crises, you can find Kayla drinking coconut water, hunting for new fabric deals or reading at the beach around Accra.

See her features on a vibe.com and melaninass.com and follow her on Instagram @kaylafory

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Kayla in Busua Beach, Ghana

Scientist Series: Facing Fears while Scuba Diving in Colombia & Panama

Science terms to know:

Salt wedgeoccur when the mouth of a river flows directly into salt water. The circulation is controlled by the river that pushes back the seawater. This creates a sharp boundary that separates an upper less salty layer from an intruding wedge-shaped salty bottom layer..

 Refraction: the bending of a wave when it enters a medium where its speed is different. The refraction of light when it passes from a fast medium to a slow medium bends the light ray toward the normal to the boundary between the two media.

I have spent most of my life living in fear. An inherent fear that lead to extreme caution in all situations. Upon arriving at the University of Michigan this portion of my psyche did not go away. It grew. It snowballed into something bigger and bigger every day as I walked around campus. Science had always been something I was extremely attracted to. I remember being a child and pretending I was a chemist by mixing all my shampoos together like a mad scientist. Later I would start collecting rocks and read children geology books, sticky notes with my third grade handwriting littered the pages. Ya, I was born to be a huge science nerd from Day One.

In Ann Arbor, everyone warned me about the difficulty of the science classes. My fear kept me away from something that I loved. The fear was only multiplied when I believed everyone who told me that the only reason I had been able to enroll at Michigan was because of my minority status. I believed them every moment that I was a student. My fear and belief that I was not qualified were enough to hold me in a place that lead to unhappiness. I did not fit in with my Communications classes. I did not fit in with my Political Science classes. I did not fit in with my Psychology classes. This is normal for college, I get that, but fear was keeping me from exploring what I truly loved.

Thankfully due to some course requirements, I was forced to take an introductory Oceanography course. I am not going to lie, I did horrible on my first exam. Mainly because I came down with Scarlet fever, but that is neither here nor there. After I did horrible on that first exam I decided to delve deep into this class to make sure I ended it on a high note. The more I studied for this class, the more I realized that I was not working so hard because I wanted a good grade. I was working so hard because I truly enjoyed studying for this class  and I was genuinely so engrossed with the subject matter.

At the end of this course, I knew I had to take more Oceanography/geology classes in the fall semester, maybe dabble with a minor in Oceanography. Summer vacation quickly came and I decided to move in with my grandmother and my aunt in Colombia. I took a literature and writing class at the Universidad del Rosario while I lived in Bogota, the capital city. Working out was  a top priority while I studied. Swimming has always been my exercise of choice and my wonderful aunt found an outlet for me. She got a little dramatic with it though (thankfully) and she signed me up for a two-month-long Scuba and Free Diving course. We met every day for two hours, it included a yoga session and swim work out on top of SCUBA certification lessons and free diving instruction. In a nutshell it was heaven.

At the conclusion of the SCUBA class, I was sent on a trip to Capurganá, Colombia. A little town nestled between the border of Colombia and Panamá. Only accessible by plane or boat. The airplane I had to take was so small, I watched the pilot eat his ham and cheese sandwich as he maneuvered the flying metal tube of death. Awesome. Capurganá was unlike anywhere I had been in Colombia. The jungle was thick and the humidity was unforgiving. A biologist had accompanied the trip and she was pointing out exotic ferns, Leafcutter ants, and a boa constrictor among more exicting biology.

Our first dive came and I was once again consumed with fear. As much as I had practiced getting into water with all the equipment I could not help but panic as I descended into the ocean. The sound of bubbles bombarded me and my scuba buddy also began to panic. She had forgotten how to equalize the pressure in her face mask and her frantic gestures put us both in a frenzy. After I froze I motioned to my nose and tried to show her what she was forgetting. When she gathered her composure we were finally able to descend and that is when I saw it. The salt wedge. A very simple term in oceanography.

I had a flashbacks to sitting in class answering questions about estuarine environments. But there it

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A salt wedge is created when the freshwater and saltwater meet. Image from: biodiversitybc.orgwas. In person. I could see it with my own eyes and feel it with my exposed hand. I was mesmerized. Tears welled up into my eyes. It was simple, almost too simple. A salt wedge is where a fresh body of water meets ocean water. The division can be seen with the human eye because of the refraction occuring between the less saline warm water at the surface and the colder saline water below the surface layer. Both bodies of water have different densities so light travels through it at different speeds causing a refraction. A similar phenomena  occurs when you place oil and water together in a glass. The division between each liquid can be visibly seen.

was. In person. I could see it with my own eyes and feel it with my exposed hand. I was mesmerized. Tears welled up into my eyes. It was simple, almost too simple. A salt wedge is where a fresh body of water meets ocean water. The division can be seen with the human eye because of the refraction occuring between the less saline warm water at the surface and the colder saline water below the surface layer. Both bodies of water have different densities so light travels through it at different speeds causing a refraction. A similar phenomena  occurs when you place oil and water together in a glass. The division between each liquid can be visibly seen.

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While having lunch on a deserted island off the coast of Panama, I found this small microscope. At the time I felt it was a sign that I needed to pursue science.

 

I still get goosebumps recalling my first real life encounter with a salt wedge. From that moment on, I knew I had to take every single Oceanography/Geology class Michigan had to offer. My fears of failing were not as important as learning everything possible thing about the ocean. That fall, I summoned the courage and told my parents I would be majoring in Geology focusing on Oceanography. I would later learn that they jumped for joy when I finally choose to study a science.

This all leads back to fear. As a minority, you are constantly being told by the media what categories you fit in. I fell into that trap. I only saw myself as a failure before I even gave anything that I was truly passionate for a try. This is why representation of minorities in STEM fields is so vital. Thankfully for me, after some academic requirements, support from my family, and real life experience, I faced my fears. I jumped in fins first into a geologic abyss and I have not regretted it for one moment since.