Diaperbag Traveler

Setting out to break the mold. To find something other than traffic fumes, instant Mac and Cheese, suburban competition and working for the weekends. Trying to find out what our life can be when we leave our security net and jump in to the unknown head first. We dream to show our kids life outside the bubble. We may sink or swim but no doubt we will challenge ourselves and grow. Come follow along as we dive into a reality unfamiliar and all that comes with it.

El Corazón

Graffiti art on Calle 43A in El Poblado, Medellin. Photo taken after 6 weeks in lockdown during the allowed 1 hour of exercise time.

Corazón. English translation, heart.

Colombia is going on 2 months of lockdown and in the city of Medellin where we reside it is highly reliable on tourism (which won’t pick back up until likely 2021), the majority of people here live in extreme poverty. This pandemic, is beyond mere inconvenience like for many of us, here it likely means the end. Living in a very nice area of the city, we often have had people come selling their street food and things outside our apartment complex as there are no longer people on the streets. We actually spend most days eating our breakfast with the music of our local avocado seller belting “aquacate, aquacate, aquacate” and my children often join in the rhythm of his call. Well today something different happened. 

Families that typically live off of selling
or bags on the street left with empty streets during lockdown in Colombia

Today I witnessed a moment I don’t even think I will forget. Today families approached our apartment building yelling out “corazón, corazón” and that they had children and needed any help. This is not atypical but what happened after was. I watched as the cleaning and maintenance workers of the building approached the families from inside the complex and started talking with them. Of course as Americans we think they are driving them off as how can we be so inconvenienced with people interrupting our Netflix streaming from our fortresses behind gated security. But instead the crew went and gathered items for them and handed them clothing and food. Then people from their balconies 23 floors high started gesturing they had food to give. So of course I ran to our pantry and gathered any non-perishable food items and some cash. As I handed these families my items through the electric fence fortress, I felt a human connection I have not in a long time. Even though we could only see each other’s eyes behind our masks and could not communicate with words, we were connected in that moment. An unspoken love and kindness from two different worlds. As a steady stream of people came down giving what they could to these families, a group of police showed up. Everyone witnessing this knew that this could be very devastating for these people because if they are breaking the rules of quarantine it means big fines or even jail. But then I heard a clap and more clapping and soon realized that members of our complex were out on their balcony applauding in support of these families. People continued to bring goods down to these families as the police were questioning them. Eventually they were allowed to go and we all waved and clapped in solidarity of this moment. A moment that could have ended in many different ways but instead humanity prevailed.

Below our apartment where the families gathered to ask for help and the police encounter

As tears were streaming down my face my daughter asked confused what was going on. I told her that I was crying from feeling so much love and kindness. And so if I have learned anything from being here during this time is that ignorance is blind. That sitting high behind our Costco stashes of food, mounds of toilet paper, Netflix and air conditioned massive homes lets remember what is really important. Lets stop ignoring what we don’t want to see. Stop turning up your headphones or looking the other way when we pass someone asking for help. Because making eye contact would mean that you have to admit what you are doing, what you are ignoring. Stop changing the channel of the TV when there’s a news story or documentary too hard for you to bear. Because if we are blind to it, well then it doesn’t exist right? Well it does. And I think we all know that during these times nothing is certain and things in our lives can easily be stripped away. And then what do we have left? Well today gave me the answer, each other. 

View of Medellin, Colombia from our apartment during our 2 months of lockdown

We all stand in some way mourning the loss of our lives before this pandemic. The loss of the ability to freely give human touch. This moment gave me perspective that I think we all need in this time of isolation. Where the world moves to a future of barriers and distance that we can still let humanity prevail. We all just need a little more corazón.

Empty streets in Medellin, Colombia during quarantine. Only allowed out for essentials every 4-5 days based on the last number of your ID.

Gringo Life

Becket and MK

Hola! Sorry for the delay in my posts. It’s kinda that awkward length of time like… everything okay? Well, everything is just great. Who knew staying at home with two small children would be so consuming. Just putting thoughts together and going to the bathroom on my own is a daily challenge. So writing thoughtful words has not been happening as regularly as I wish, and therefore taken a back-burner, a back-burner to living the life that I want to write down here someday. And in 2020 as we all promise to do great things, I will promise nothing, but will try hard to share my experiences better.

Santo Domingo (Comuna 1) stop on the Medellin Metro Cable (first public transportation utilizing a gondola system in the world) built by the city to help these people in this poor area of town that would walk for hours up/down the hill to work. One of my favorite days so far!

So where do I start after 2 months? That is the question. I think diving into something called “gringo life” would be a start. So the term “gringo” is used for those foreigners living abroad, a slang term for an expat, of any nationality other than its hosts. But gringo is also reserved to those expats that you can spot from 10 miles away. Those people that you see out and just cringe at the way they try to speak Spanish drawn out for an excessive amount of time, “GR-A-CIAS’. And that is even if they try, meaning try to speak the native language. Ugh, so obviously foreign and such an obvious gringo. You can spot it; the Patagonia, North Face, backpack, flip-flops, big hat and shorts. They are here for the instagram photo. For a good time and story to tell their friends back home, wherever that may be.

Jardin Botanico of Medellin, Botanical gardens. A free 34 acres slice-of-heaven park in the middle of city. Kids are looking at the about 20 iguanas nested in the trees.

Well speaking from someone who came here with a stash of my beloved Patagonia attire, flip-flops and yes, everyday I do sport a backpack (#diaperbagtraveler), I am trying to change that term. Yes, we are a gringo family, and so obviously that. I am not trying to being anybody but us. But I am here for more than an instagram photo and story. We are here to immerse ourselves in this wonderful culture. We want to order what the locals do. We want to speak like the locals do. We want to buy where the locals buy. And everyday for the last 2 months we have been trying to do something along those terms. Which often continues to entail making a complete and total fool out of ourselves. But I can see it, the change.

Kids playing with neighborhood friends at the pool. This is the majority of their Spanish lessons interacting with other friends we meet. Always amazed at how kids can instantly be friends even when they cant communicate.

The change that my daughter now aspires to be the girl at the park that “Mom, wow, that girl can speak both English and Spanish and I want to do that!” She willingly asks me how to say things in Spanish and even ordered her own food the other night in Spanish. I can see the change that my son now regularly says “ciao” to people without prompt. And the hubby, well we are still working on him, walking around daily in his shorts and REI t-shirts, sticking out like a gringo. But to his benefit… it is difficult to find things his size in this country. And myself, well I see a lot of change. I see a strength I never knew I had, a freedom I never knew was there. Somedays I recap the things we accomplished and I feel like I am taking 10 steps in the right direction. And then other days I talk to a lady at the amusement park in Spanish telling her about our time there before and she looks at me and says in Spanish, “You don’t speak any Spanish?!” Well, apparently not and also not sure what language she thought I was then speaking for the last two minutes.

On the Metro Cable riding to the top of the rail to Arvi Park, an ecological nature reserve. Cheapest gondola ride I think there is, took about 20 minutes to get to the top. Total cost of riding for our family was <10$USD.

But in the end, in the past two months since my last post, I have certainly changed. We have changed, in ways I may not be able to write down or explain. But the change is good and we are here to continue to explore what this is. And in the end we hope to come out, well… a little less gringo. Thanks for being patient and sticking around.

Our first metro rail ride! Medellin has the only rail-based metro system in Colombia. So cheap and such an efficient way to travel.
Every grocery store here has isles like this dedicated to Arepas. They are a Colombian staple food, one of the most popular. They are comparable to what a tortilla is for Mexico or what bread is in Italy. They are made from corn flour and can be served in many different ways.

Tranquilo

Parque UVA. Public park built into the side of mountain. You feel as though your on-top of world.

Tranquilo by definition translates in English to “calm, quiet, serene”. By my definition in Colombia it means “chill, stressed out American lady, its all good”. I have been told this 9 letter word on average about 3x a day since arriving here. The locals here say it to me with sympathy and honesty, almost as they wish they could take away my stress in that moment. Every time it hits me and makes me reflect. Do I walk around all day just giving off fumes of stress? Is it me or do all Americans channel this reaction? Tranquilo to me defines what I have seen in the Colombian culture in the past 2 weeks of living here. For example, when my son eats food he more like dissects it apart, smears it on every surface and then a portion makes it into his mouth. So when eating out with him you can imagine what the aftermath looks like. As happy as I am to be paying for someone to clean up this mess I know how awful it is. Every time I apologize for the mess when eating out and every time I get told, “tranquilo”. This is also typically followed by a high-five or nice comments about our kids. Can you imagine every interaction at a restaurant in the states like this? Genuine pleasure to be serving someone even though they created an insane amount of work for them after. 

Typical morning eating chocolate croissants while I have a latte. Cost of breakfast typically less than 3$ USD.

Another example is that I often take my children in the mornings to a nearby mall to get their energy out and walk around. Yes, I know this is very weird but the malls here are the “place to be”. Its not like at home when you think of a malls you think of a sad looking strip mall with a half-lite JcPenny sign that you only enter after procrastinating for a month to return that birthday gift from your great-aunt. In Colombia, from my experience, the malls are a safe and fun place for people to socialize and hang out. The malls are these gorgeous and vast inside-outside buildings that are kept immaculately clean with decorations or themes that change each month. They have levels for “sit down resturants” and then another level for the “fast food court”. Each mall has children activities, even theme parks, community work out classes and list goes on. So on one of our morning trips to the mall my kids were playing on a display that was being set up for Christmas. As they were playing one of the security guards came up to them and I immediately start apologizing and telling them to get off. But instead of scolding them, the security guard picks up my son, twirls him around until he is laughing and gives him a hug. Then proceeds to tell me to “tranquilo” and starts a conversation about how cute my kids are. I again walk away pondering the encounter and thinking maybe the reason I am being told to “tranquilo” is because my reaction was ingrained in me. If this interaction had happened back home I do think the response would have been different at least I would have felt some “judgey eyes” from some onlookers questioning my parenting choice. But in Colombia, its all good.

Santa Fe Mall, Medellin. Kids have been watching them put up the Christmas display and get ready for events for the holidays.

The last example happened at the most unexpected time and I still am pondering this today. I took my first trip out in a taxi with my kids to a outdoor playground. I didn’t have as much cash as I thought I did so was nervous about having enough to make it back in a taxi. I also knew that there was little chance of finding one of the few ATMs that took my card to get more cash. I was basically going to have to chance it. So when it was time to leave I hailed a Taxi. As we were headed toward our destination I gestured to the meter and told him in my spanglish that I only had 8,000 pesos. As the meter was already at 4,800 pesos and we were not close to home. He just nodded and kept driving. I figured that when it would hit 8,000 pesos he would let us out and I would have to figure out a back-up plan. I was dripping sweating watching the meter. As the meter hit 8,000 I was prepared to get everyone out and gestured he could let us out but instead, he kept driving. He turned around at the light and told me to “tranquilo”. He drove over the 8,000 pesos right to our destination and also helped us all get out of the taxi safely to the side-walk. I thanked him over and over and he replied ‘con gusto’ which means ‘with pleasure’. Now if that is not a good enough example to you that Colombia is not like the Hollywood scenes from Narcos and that Pablos Escobar era is far behind, then I don’t know what else is. This culture and the people here are warm and embracing. They really are “tranquilo”. So after hearing this and experiencing this day in and out I wonder if I will become more like the 9 letter word. It is possible to take the “crazy stressed American lady” out of America but is possible to rid myself of what has been so ingrained in me? To rid myself of assumptions, image and expectations and just be? Today I once again was told this 9 letter word, so its safe to say I don’t think I have had much success but I am still hopeful for the months to come.

This is a Aquacate Injerto, a type of avocado most common here. This guy was 1.5lbs, extremely delicious and cost equivalent of .80$ USD. Maybe that’s why everyone is so ‘tranquilo’?

All the Emojis

Today marks one week living in Medellin, Colombia. We are all alive and healthy but also overwhelmed and exhausted. Within the last week I believe I have felt every emoji there is possible, sometimes within the same hour. There have been many moments of pure exhilaration and excitement quickly followed by frustration and doubt. Our first thoughts were something along the lines of “holy crap this place is fricken gorgeous” 😲. It’s a very modern city located within the mountains at about 5,000 ft elevation with insane greenery peaking out everywhere serving as a reminder that we are so close to the Amazon rainforest. Medellin is also named the “city of eternal spring” as its climate is the same year round with average temperatures of 75-80 degrees. So initial emojis were 😍 everywhere we looked. Beautiful + perfect weather = why didn’t we come sooner.

Buildings across from our apartment where the kids can play

But in this gorgeous and vast “instagrammable” photo worthy backdrop on every corner here, this is real life. The reality of moving our two young children into a foreign environment and all that entails: 4:30 a.m. wake up calls, feeding your kids raw plantains thinking they’re bananas, breaking and spilling glasses at dinner because your kids are not used to a meal lasting a minimum of 1.5 hours, falling off the couch because living in 1/16 size of space takes some getting used to and tantrums in the middle of the mall floor or checkout line or basically you name it. You get my drift? If there were emojis for overtired and hangry this family would have perfected them in the past week 😫😴. And as you can tell by the pictures my children don’t necessarily blend in here. With their very fair skin, blonde hair and blue eyes, they stick out like a sore thumb. We definitely draw attention everywhere we go, there are comments (“que lindo”) and everyone wants to “chocolo” (high-five) with my son. Colombians are extremely nice and friendly but when you can’t communicate back to them I often feel like a fish out of water.

View from the rooftop pool

The biggest challenge that we have faced so far is communication. I have learned my Spanish sucks. I feel like I am starting at square one. I thought I could speak pretty decent “spanglish” from my prior study abroad experience in Spain and interactions in my life and work in Texas. Well, the Spanish spoken here is much different. Colombians speak so eloquently but its fast and the accent is very different that I have trouble understanding quite easy words. Instead of “hola” its “buenos”, instead of “adios” its “ciao”, instead of “de nada” its “con gusto”. I feel like my 21-month son, trying so hard to ask for one thing when the other person is completely lost. No wonder toddlers throw themselves on the ground in frustration I have wanted to the same so many times this week 😡. But then I will have little moments of success, like when I did a solo trip with both kids to the market, which is a 9 minutes walk away (basically uphill both ways) to successfully buy fresh fruit and milk. When we got home with no major injuries or catastrophes, snacking on the the best pineapple ever, I basically felt like a superhero 🦸‍♀️.

Fresh fruit from the mercado. Mangos, kiwis, bananas, limes, mandarin orange and avocado. Total cost about $2 USD.

I am convinced that the more you know the more you realize how little you really know. What I mean is that when you open up your mind and heart to new things you realize what you have been missing and what you are capable of. When I started out a week ago I refused to pay for anything and made my husband do it. Trying to speak Spanish while converting the Colombian pesos to dollars in my head simultaneously corralling my children from running into the street was a panic attack waiting to happen 😱. But, I obviously could not live my life here reliant on my husband to pay for all my lattes. So on our 2nd night here I decided it was time and I set off alone to a market to buy some dang butter. And I did it; I made it to the market, found the butter and paid for the dang butter. It sounds ridiculous but this was a turning point for me. That if we are going to be successful in making this life in Colombia work I was going to have to get outside of my comfort zone and see what I am capable of, not only for myself but for my family. Because when our children see us struggle and either fail/succeed they don’t feel as afraid to do the same. We ended this week on a high note, today my daughter all nervous and anxious went up to two children and attempted to ask them to play. They struggled for a bit and there were a lot of gestures but what came out of it was “I don’t know what they are saying and they don’t know what I am saying”. In the end they didn’t play together, but the fact that she put herself out there and tried is worth all the emojis we have felt this week.

😘 Ciao from Colombia!

My daughter getting outside of her comfort zone attempting to make friends.
Sunday mercado in El Poblado

Leaving to the Unknown

For the past few years my husband and I have been seriously exploring life abroad and how to make that happen. We were beginning to feel the grind. The grind of working full-time and raising kids. Spending time sucking gas fumes while commuting on I35 I knew there had to be something different. Fueled by caffeine and stress in order to keep up with not only the dang Joneses but all aspects of life was not the way I wanted to mother my kids. We are not unique, living in the burbs trying to make it all work I am sure is so familiar to most. There was no turning point or dramatic story that led us to securing passports and booking tickets. Our life was great, wonderful and who are we for wanting to change that? The problem for us lies in that in the boundaries of the burbs and Costco life stash of food in the pantry comes security. And what’s wrong with that, well nothing really, but its predictability. For my husband and I we thrive on unpredictability (him more than me) and a 30-year mortgage is not our dream at this time in life. I blame our prior travel experience and the fact that I have watched all 130+ episodes of House Hunters International as the primary base pouring gasoline on the fire.

Our dream was to move to Spain, where we met, but Visas in the EU are difficult to obtain. So we looked south as a warm climate and Spanish speaking country were on the top of the list. Colombia came out of nowhere but checked all the boxes. It had work opportunities, 3-6 month travel Visa, Spanish speaking, cheap cost of living and dreamy climates and terrain. So we pinky swore to make it happen and within about 4 months we had tickets in our hands. So here we are moving to not only a country I have never been to but a part of the world I have not crossed. Packing for the unknown is extremely hard but also quite simple. Speaking from someone who had a massive walk-in closet packed to the max you would think this would be impossible. But I have never felt so freed then tossing my clothes into trash bags. One white shirt, one pair of jeans, one jacket and so on. In the end we took 5 suitcases, 2 backpacks and my daughters suitcase. The thought that our life contents can fit into one picture it exhilarating. There we were just like my favorite family the Griswold’s heading out on an adventure with so much to see yet so much to mess up. There are more unknowns than there are knowns but the one thing I do know is I have the most important people by my side, which is all I need.