Now I am home again. I traveled for 3 weeks. This is the longest that I have been out of Buenos Aires since 2006. When I left I was glad to have a vacation, and glad to leave. I was tired of Buenos Aires, the noise, the dirty streets, the agressive life of the Porteños. Somewhere in the middle of my second week, I began to miss home. Buenos Aires.
I loved Colombia. It is an amazing country. I met the most incredible people. I definitely want to go back. I know now why my ex Diego was such a clean freak. The entire country are clean fanatics. The Brown connection should have lived there. They would have been in nirvana. I am sure my Grandmother would not have needed her white towel test in any of the hotels.
It didn't matter what part of Colombia I was in, it was clean. Every rest room had toilet paper, paper towels, and toilets that worked. The complete opposite of Buenos Aires. People were always kind and generous to a fault. I will never forget the night in Armenia where I asked my taxi driver to take me to an Internet cafe and he offered to take me to his home. I was shocked. When I declined, he told me I would meet his wife and sons. On a whim I accepted. He took me to his barrio. I saw another slice of Colombian life. I met his model handsome and very polite sons, his sweet wife. They gave me arepas and the family computer.
At first I loved the Colombian food. It was the food that Diego had taught me to cook; Arepas, Ajiaco, Sancocho. After awhile I missed my salads, my vegetables. I know now why it never bothered Diego that his kids didn't want to eat vegetables. Colombians love their fried foods and carbs. I would look for the street vendors who had the green mangos. My friends thought I was crazy. I began to crave it.
Our meals would consist of beans (friojles), rice, (arroz), arepas, (a Colombian empanada - sort of), and for me chicken, and egg. The ajiaco is a rich stew of chicken with potato, corn, and cream. Sancocho is another type of stew. I asked my friends if people in Colombia had heart or cholesterol problems. I think they thought I was a little crazy.
Even with this high fat, high, carb diet, the people are beautiful. The men and the women. I love that the women do not try to alter their looks. I used to joke that I was the only blond in the country. My friends used to say that probably I was. Even with all the looks I would get, I never felt out of place, I never felt threatened, and I never felt like I do sometimes in Buenos Aires when I walk down the street and the men call out at me.
Colombians are very polite. For me, I felt very comfortable in Colombia. I had traveled extensively in Mexico. I had many South American friends when I lived in California. This was the "educacion" that I was used to. While there still might be Latin American machismo here, it is not the same as in Buenos Aires. There is a difference. The Colombians are not insecure. They also do not give this air of needing to have sex with every single woman they meet. I felt listened to as a person. It is not easy to explain. Let it suffice to say, that I was very happy to meet men, Latin men, who were polite, intelligent, and interesting..and not overtly on the prowl.
It was a wonderful surprise to me how well I now speak in Spanish. I realize now that I truly am bi-lingual. While I may not speak grammatically correct, I can hold my own in any conversation. I was able to really converse with people on a level where I could get to know what it was like in each area. I had great conversations both with women and men. It took a bit for me to adapt to the Spanish in the 3 areas I visited. The accents and the regional slang.
Both Bogota and Medellin are amazing. They are very modern cities. Don't go here if you are expecting laid back, Latin America. The museums, and cultural centers in both cities are wonderful, especially in Medellin. I was probably extra lucky because I had the best guide in the world, my friend Juan Gonzalo. I met him on Facebook. I saw places in Medellin, people in Medellin never saw. He dragged me everywhere.
In Bogota I had my friend Juan Andres. (me and the Juans) On a Sunday he showed me the parks and Monteserrat. Local people are very open. I met many people through the tango communities there. Tango is danced on the weekends. In Medellin they are maniacs for Gardel. It drove me a little crazy. I am not so hot on Gardel. He died in Medellin and they have made him the Elvis of Medellin.
I think Colombia is wonderful. I want to go back. My next time I want to go to Cali to dance salsa. I loved dancing salsa there, much more than tango. The salsa is amazing. There are some other small towns like Popayan. I almost get the feeling that Cartagena is like Punta del Este and I am not sure now if I want to go there.
I want to recommend my hostel in Bogota. Myriam and Andres are wonderful hosts. It was more like a bed and breakfast. It is in the north of Bogota. You get maid service and a wonderful breakfast everyday.Hostal Campobello You can book with them directly or through Hostelworld . They also have a hostel in Popayan.
In Armenia I would recommend that you stay in an Estancia. I didn't make any reservations. I took the bus from Bogota. There is a wonderful tour guide named Alfredo in the bus station. He has a small office in Local 41. You can email me for his cell. Everyone knows him. Just ask for him. He will find you the best place at the best price. When I first got there I went to the Tourist Information booth and it was like Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion in Colombia. They could not recommend anything, and they used up all my cell phone credit calling Estancias that wanted 100,000 Colombian pesos per night.
Alfredo recommended an Estancia to me that was 30,000 Colombian pesos ($15 USD) that was like staying in a palace. It was paradise. The telephone is 313-723-1253 or 301-419-9355 or 317-475-5790. Spanish only. The same with Alfredo. In Armenia I do not know if you will find anyone that speaks English.
Then there was my trip to the USA. It had been almost 4 years. So much had changed. Including the Gap and Target. They used to be my favorite places. I was in Florida. Maybe had I gone back to California or to NYC I would have felt different.
First of all I could see why obesity is such a problem in the US. I have never seen so many HUGE people in my life. There were not just a few, there were mucho. These people were not just fat, they were HUGE. It was amazing, at least to me. Now I know why people think people in Buenos Aires are thin. If these people are representative of the US, then we are thin here.
I could not believe how much stuff was now made in China. Wake up Americans. You are now owned by the Chinese. Target, which I used to think had great quality clothes at good prices had all these Chinese made clothes that were just OK. But, then again I was in Florida. Maybe Target in California is more demanding.
The Gap was horrifying. Donald Fisher would be turning over in his grave. It is no wonder they are not doing so well. They used to have good quality jeans. Basics at reasonable prices. What I found was cheap, thin, denim, with not so basic styles at not so reasonable prices. Yes, they fit well, but I was not about to pay $80 for cheap, thin denim jeans. Made in China, like everything else.
I spent hours in WalMart and Target. I mean hours. After 4 years in Buenos Aires where imports are prohibitive in price, I was like a child in Toys R Us. I spent hours just gawking. Grape Listerine. 50 kinds of dental floss. I never bought any because I was overwhelmed by the choices. The same with tooth brushes. With batteries or without. It took me 25 minutes to buy Secret deodorant. There were 3 shelves and I don't know how many kinds. I don't know if I bought the correct ones, and I didn't care.
Americans are bombarded with stuff. They live with stuff. They have so much stuff they can buy. I went up and down each and every isle like a kid just gawking and looking. Now that I had new contact lenses where I could see, I was the tourist. The person I stayed with I don't think understood how I could spend hours and hours just looking. 4 years is a long time to be away.
I went to two milongas. Lydia's was very nice. It is on Sunday. I ran into Graciela Gonzalez who was there to teach. We were surprised to see each other. I danced with most of the Argentines who were there. The men who were going home in December asked for my number, "Tomamos un cafe." They would say to me.
The other milonga was in a small restaurant in South Beach. I danced with the organizer/teacher who is from La Plata. He was thrilled to dance with me. We are going to meet up when he comes home in December to visit. A nice man.
It was weird to watch women try to dance as men. (And I do mean try) At one point a woman asked a man to dance and he answered "Who is going to lead? You or me?" I was shocked, and really sad. I have stopped trying to explain to Americans what tango is. The point is, they don't care.
Tango is an embrace, between an man and a woman (or in the queer community - 2 people). It is a seduction. It is a passionate, simple dance, to music that has lyrics that are very symbolic of the life in Buenos Aires. Musicality, beats, technical. Why does it have to be looked at as a process? As something to excel at? Don't people in the US enjoy anything for what it is and not for what it could be? I wanted to scream. You feel the music. It is very simple. It is not a computer program. Why does everything in the US have to be compartmentalized? Overdeveloped? Overanalyzed? Argentines might always live in the moment, but look at what living in the future brought the USA?
I truly on this trip saw why Argentines say Americans are "cerrados." They live in their homes with all of their "stuff." Their gas plasma televisions, and DVDs, home theaters, and all the other "stuff" they have, watching reality TV and eating. The supermarkets are full of garbage. Processed foods loaded with chemicals, sugar, and fat. I laugh at the "organic" movement. People have all these "food issues."
With major cities like NYC and San Francisco being an exception, people are inside. You don't see them. They are in their houses or in the malls. I wanted to walk. I needed to walk. My friend told me people would think I was the "maid" because I was walking around. I was too well dressed (but not well enough) to be considered homeless.
Americans are isolated. This is what I found. They have put so much emphasis on their "stuff" and "food", that they forget how it is being out with people. Buy, eat, buy. I was told not to call people "Asian, African American, or anything else." This is no longer politically correct. They are just people.
This is the problem. In the search to be so correct, people are so sanitized, they are a mess. In my opinion. In the search to have open sexuality, the sexuality in many ways is closed. In the woman's department clothes are boring. I often complain how in Buenos Aires you are either a "puta" or an "abuela" but at least I can celebrate my femininity. A low neckline does not bring the comment from a friend that you look like a "hooker."
What is going on in a society where you cannot call people what they are? You cannot celebrate your femininity or even masculinity. Where it is not politically correct to tell a woman she smells good. I think something is a little wrong here. Maybe things have gone a little too far.
I missed Buenos Aires mucho when I was in Florida. I didn't really want to be in the US much at all. I felt most comfortable speaking with Latinos. My friends in BA were emailing daily, "When are you coming home?" I missed my dog. La Demonia. I missed the milongas. Even El Attorante was emailing me. Bah.
I know that these last 4 years have changed me. I understand now my Latino friends in California who have lived there for years. Now when I open my mouth Spanish comes out. I am beginning to think that Spanish is my first language. It was nice to hear from people in Colombia how good my Spanish is. People would actually come up to me who would hear me speaking to comment. (Even with my wacko Argentine accent.)
In the airport in Miami I was dropped off 6 hours early. I had to wait to check my luggage. The line was amazing. It took 2.5 hours to get to the front. I was in the middle of people from Ecuador. They had come to shop in Miami. We spent 2.5 hours together, in the end we exchanged phone numbers and emails. I want to visit Ecuador next. When they left to check in, we kissed and hugged. It all seemed so natural.
The LAN employee controlling the line would not let me check in until all the people from Ecuador had checked in. I had a great conversation with her. She was from Buenos Aires. "Hablas muy bien." she said to me. She asked me how I learned to speak so well and also to speak like a Porteña. I told her that is was important to me to learn how to speak like the people I live with speak. I told her how my friends were great. How they taught me so much. She was very impressed.
When it was finally my turn to check in, she personally walked me to the the counter and told the the agent "Este chica es medio Porteña, no cobras por sobrepeso." It turned out that only 1 of my bags was overweight, but the agent told me to forget it, and that if I had things in my carry ons that I wanted to put in my checked luggage to go ahead. I was shocked. I thanked both the agent and the other employee. I was on my way home.
I remember dancing with a man in Lydia's milonga. He asked me where I was from. When I told him Buenos Aires, he said to me "I hate Buenos Aires. Everything is broken. Nothing works there." I said nothing. He continued "The sidewalks are broken, the toilets are broken. Everything is dirty. No one speaks English, I got robbed." I looked in his face. "You are correct." I told him. "Everything is broken there. I am sorry you got robbed." He went on and on about what a horrible place it is. "Why do you live in such a terrible place?" he asked me.
I thought about what Dr. Brain once said to me. Buenos Aires is like a bad marriage. You keep getting hit in the face. Your friends ask you why don't you leave. But you cannot. Because you are in love.