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Tuesday
Jan102012

You're Awfully White: Getting To Colombia

Tyler and I left at the crack of dawn to make our 9 a.m. flight from L.A. on the one day it rained in December.  Some day in my life I'll be early for a flight. This wasn't the day — but I did manage to slap on a coat of mascara just before running out the door.

En route to Miami I did mental victory laps about finishing Christmas wrapping, tree trimming, and otherwise clearing the decks so we wouldn't return to a mess of holiday stress and activity.  (By the way/groan:  as I write this, our tree is still up.)  I read our itinerary, Spanish vocabulary cards, and the Lonely Planet guide, and tried not to re-read the part about how few visitors bring young children to Colombia. 

Early evening in Miami, we traversed the airport by train and foot to make our connection to Medellín.  We've been through Miami airport before, and Tyler reminisced loudly about trips gone by as we trotted along.  I gave serious consideration to cutting, running, and re-routing our journey to the Florida Keys.  

In the departure lounge for Medellín, I perused our fellow travelers discreetly.  Lots of U.S. business people with sensible polos, khakis, and rollerboard carry-ons.  Lots of families returning home.   Very vanilla; I felt like we blended right in.  But no amount of swiping could make the electronic boarding passes on our iDevices work (though they'd gotten us to Miami without a hitch), so it was out of line, get paper boarding passes, try again, board late, and scramble to our cramped aft seats.

Enter Damien.  Damien was tall and broad-shouldered, sporting dark glasses in the already dark cabin, and a blonde, ungelled mohawk flowing down across his shoulders.  His thick arms wore only a series of intricate, reptile skin tattoos.  Boarding just before the cabin doors shut, Damien stashed his bag in a first-class overhead bin, then combat-booted it back to our row in the cheap seats. Apparently Tyler and I had accidentally taken window-middle instead of middle-aisle.  (Doesn't A-B-C usually mean window-middle-aisle?)  I offered to move but Damien let us stay put — after dropping an f-bomb, p-bomb (i.e., "If I weren't such a f****** p****..."), and making it clear I knew it was a good thing he wasn't an a-hole.  (Which had something of the opposite effect.)  Tyler would have thoroughly enjoyed Damien's "sentence enhancers" (as Spongebob would put it), but was deep in an audio book and oblivious.  [Update:  in the comments, Damien swears — heh — no f-bombs were dropped, and I'll take his word for it.  My memory may have embellished.]

Once seated, Damien looked us over.  "You're awfully white to be going to Colombia,"  he deadpanned, despite the fact he himself was clearly of Viking stock, with snowy white skin but for his scaly green forearm flexors.  I told him what we were up to, and Damien and I had a great chat for the next 2 1/2 hours.  He's from Toronto and lives most of the year in Medellín.  He's been to L.A. but not Newport Beach, which I tried to describe:  shopping malls, law firms and stock brokerages, gated communities (though saying you don't live in one is like Clinton proclaiming he didn't inhale).  "Coach bags and SUVs?" he asked.  "Bingo."   

Damien has a place in Medellín, where life is good and real estate prices are, he told me, very attractive.  His local knowledge was far more interesting and potentially useful than the guide book's.  I learned:
  • Manicures and pedicures cost the equivalent of $4 U.S. in Medellín and are awesome.  Colombians love to have well-groomed nails.
  • Wedding bands are worn on the right hand.  (I moved mine.)
  • Damien said Colombian men were "10 times worse than Italians" when it comes to hitting on unaccompanied women.  To stop unwelcome advances, he told me the culturally appropriate tack is to cock your head to one side, give the offender a narrow-eyed once-over, then flash the thumbs-down.  Damien said this would instantly convert any would-be suitor to a harmless best friend/big brother.  (Thankfully I never had to try this, and don't know if I would have had the chutzpah to pull it off.)
Completing our tourist cards, Damien borrowed my pen and I borrowed his brain.  Viventura's itinerary didn't include the name and address of our Medellín hotel, but Colombia wanted this information.  "Put down 'Poblado.' You're definitely in Poblado."  El Poblado turned out to be an upscale, touristy part of the city, and Damien turned out to be absolutely right.     

Though our seat mate's offer of a chiva party bus ride into town was tempting, we spotted Bernardo, who had a comforting sign with our names on it, in the throng of humanity outside customs.  It was close to midnight and we still had a 40-minute drive to the hotel.  Tyler and I thus slipped quietly down the mountainside into Medellín, enjoying the city lights views, 4-bar cellular service, kamikaze motorcyclists, and road signs reminding us we weren't remotely near Kansas any more.

Next time:  I'd take the red-eye to Miami with upgraded seats, grab some sleep on the plane, get to Medellín the next morning and make that a non-tour, rest-and-get-settled day.  Our friends flew in the day before us, went to the science museum (modeled after S.F.'s Exploratorium; there's also a bug museum the kids would have loved), and really benefitted from the buffer day.
Next up:  La Piedra del Peñol y La Reserva de Guatapé (The Peñol Rock and The Guatapé Reservoir), and dinner in El Poblado.

Please see:  the disclosures at the end of this earlier post.
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References (1)

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  • Response
    Bag and Baggage - Denise Howell, lawyer, mom, infovagabond. - Home - You're Awfully White: Getting To Colombia

Reader Comments (6)

It has always been a dream of mine to visit South American countries. My mom has been to Brazil and has always been fond of the culture. She influenced me a lot. Reading this blog post inspired me more to get out for a while and give myself a break. It looks like Colombia would be a nice start. Thanks for sharing!

January 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSanta Monica Attorneys

My friends just visited Colombia last year. And they did have a lot of fun. I felt bad that I rejected their invitation during that time. :)

January 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJames Hardman

Odd. I do not remember being raised in a barn. I am fuzzy on how I arrived at my seat but can be positive that I wasn't dropping *-bombs of any kind.

February 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDamien

If that's really "Damien," greetings! Yes, unfortunately my radar for it has become pretty finely attuned, trying to keep small mouths from dropping them too. Thanks for a great visit and we wish you well!

February 5, 2012 | Registered CommenterDenise Howell

Glad to know you've returned safely to the land of Coach bags and Yukon Denalis with your travel buddy in tow. I can not confirm or deny whether I arrived using sentence enhancers or not. I am relieved to know that digital media spared the child. I am off to Santa Marta, add that to your list of MUST SEE places in the world.

February 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDamien

We drove through Santa Marta, it looks amazing! Definitely on my list for the next trip. Have fun!!

February 7, 2012 | Registered CommenterDenise Howell

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