I’m notorious at the local super market for being the Bagless Mona. They think I’m nuts because I never want a bag. And they are crazy about bags in Colombia. Not only does nearly every item in your cart get it’s very own bag, but they also tie each back closed in a very annoying way that makes it hard to carry. So when I say, “Oh, I don’t need a bag, I can just put it in my backpack.” I get a lot of stares. Or almost worse is when I try to give the bag boy instructions to put it all together in one bag, please… I often find myself in an argument about whether it will be too heavy or not. Sometimes it’s not worth the fight. I realized the extent of my reputation one day when I did take a bag. Everyone paused to stare and one girl said “Es un milagro….”
Piropos is the spanish word for compliments, usually cat calls in the street or declarations of love given on the dance floor. In my past travel experiences piropos have left me feeling anywhere from annoyed to pissed off to violated, but I’ve come to love the Caleño piropos in the last few months. Most commonly I get a simple exclamation of “Mona!” which is the Colombian term for light skinned girl (like guera or chela in Mexico). Sometimes it’s “Mona linda…” or “Mona bella” but it’s often just plain “Mona!” which would be like yelling “Ginger!” as you passed a redhead on the street. It always leaves me with the urge to call them out on something obvious…but what to say? “Colombian guy!” or “Brown Skinned Man!” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. But my favorites are “Reina” and “Nena.” Reina is queen and Nena means baby girl, but they are both used as pet names in an affectionate, non-threatening way by both men and women (usually older women). I was recently proof-reading film school applications for a couple Colombian friends who are applying to grad school in the US. In one of the screen plays my friend had a street kid addressing a women as “Beautiful Princess” and I had to explain that we don’t have anything like that in English…Beyond “mam” or “miss” there isn’t really anything…I’ll miss being called “Mi Reina” all day.
Last weekend I escaped the city for the Zona Cafetera (Coffee Region) just a few hours north of Cali (between here and Medellin). Salento is known as being a quaint tourist town but most people go to tour the Valle de Cocora which is full of wax palms, the tallest palm trees in the world. Not to mention the incredible vistas, the misty blue mountains, the rivers, the fields, the hummingbirds…it was stunning. I stayed in an amazing little home away from home hostel called Yambolombia. I chose it because it was TV and internet free and situated about 25 minutes walking outside of town (even quaint Colombian mountain town enjoy the weekend Rumba and I was looking to escape the aguadiente and the dancing for a few days.) Gabriel, the hostel owner, was muy buena onda, and I immediately felt at home. But the best part of all was the mirador. From Yambolombia you have almost a 360 degree view of the valley. Layer upon layer of mountains, greenery, all the way down to the river at the base of the valley. Every morning found Gabriel, Hana, and myself on the mirador welcoming the sunrise with yoga. And the evenings were filled with fireflies, stars, and the delicious feeling of being cold and cuddling up under 3 blankets to sleep. I went to Salento to escape the city and all it’s distractions (salsa three nights a week, dates two days a week, rum many nights a week…) and spend some introspective Corinna time. I couldn’t have asked for a more peaceful and gorgeous place to dive into my own processing. I will absolutely be back with Gabriel soon! I know that Salento will be calling me again in the near future. Next time I am going to rent a tent from Gabriel and sleep on the mirador. As the say in Cali, It’s “Deli” up there (deli as is delicioso.)
Oh, I almost forgot…I promised the story of how this yoga pose saved my life. Ok, saved my life is definitely an exaggeration…but I’m still grateful. It’s become my tradition to always take a yoga photo in front of beautiful vistas while traveling. I have yoga photos on the Nicaraguan beaches, in the Peruvian andes, at the Patagonia glaciers…so when I was near the end of my 7 hour hike through the Valle de Cocora and I realized I hadn’t done a wax palm yoga photo, I found the first stable fence post I could and set up for a self timer balancing pose (which is actually a little difficult cause it involves setting the 10 second timer and then rushing to find your center and get into a a good balance before the camera goes off…) Just as I got set up, a Canadian couple came around the bend. I got shy and pretended I was just enjoying the view. I very nearly decided to forget the photos and just keep walking, but I really really wanted my yoga photos, so I stuck it out, chatted with them for a while, and then stayed on while they continued the walk. The photo session went well, so I was ready to follow them down after just about 5 minutes. The trail curved down hill into a big field, so I could actually see the couple in the field as I headed down. Suddenly, there were 4 people, and I couldn’t quite tell what was happening down there but it looked like horseplay…the girl was kind of running, arguing, then she was on her knees…. my body completely reacted before my mind was sure of what was happening. Total adrenaline rush. I still didn’t know what exactly was going on, but I knew it was not good. I quickly took stock of my backpack. SIM card into the bra. Credit card and ID into the underwear. I left my camera (sans card), some cash, and my decade old IPOD accessible as bait and I started down the hill. I am not sure why I started down the hill…I think that I thought that whoever those people were, they would be coming up the path and I was there, alone, in their way. I didn’t want to be alone and in their way, so I figured I would meet them, at the same time I would be uniting myself with the Canadian couple. But they didn’t come up the hill, they took off running down the valley. I reached the Canadian couple just a few minutes after the ladrones had left. They were shaken and in tears, without cameras or money, but unharmed despite the gigantic knives that had been used in the theft. We found a local guide, reported it all, joined forces with a Swiss couple so we could be 5 strong for the rest of the walk, and continued on for the last 20 minutes. The ladrones weren’t caught but the local guides and police were all really helpful. Apparently Salento and Cocora really pride themselves on being known as safe tourist destinations and the concern for maintaining that reputation means that the communities stay pretty vigilant. It was unfortunate and it was actually the closest I have been to getting robbed (as far as I know) in all of the years I have traveled Latin America. But I still couldn’t help but thank my yoga guardian angel that kept me from being 5 minutes ahead of myself on the path…and alone. So appreciate the beautiful yoga pose. =)
Yesterday was Halloween! And Thursday which means that you can find me at Tin Tin Deo, one of the traditional salsa clubs. I have absolutely turned into a salsa snob. The Salsa Boys I have met through my friend and yoga teacher Delana are absolutely amazing dancers. Sergio, Daniel, Ricardo, Carlos…I lose myself in their arms every Wednesday and Thursday until my whole body aches and my toes are blistered. I made sure my panda bear Halloween costume wouldn’t impede on my double spins and dips. =) Cali has 100% adopted Halloween, American style- except with the Colombian twist that the parties last from Wednesday to Sunday. The kids are all decked out in store bought costumes and they all head to the local malls to trick or treat (or “Tricky tricky ‘alloween” as they say) from store to store. I saw many many 4 year old princesses (with extensive eye make-up and sparkling high heels), quite a few 5 year old police officers and super heroes, and a lot of baby animals. So sweet. And as you can imagine, the Colombian women go all out on the traditional sexy costume front. =)
The news on the research front is…No News. Yet. I swear, I am going to get the go-ahead in these next couple weeks and soon I will have something for you to read about besides my social life. 😉 But until then I will work hard to have as much fun as possible…for your benefit of course, so I can have good stories for you, my loyal readers. Muchos besos…y hasta pronto!
(Having a hard time uploading photos for some reason so I’m going to have to send you to the Salento album on facebook! https://www.facebook.com/corinna.michels/media_set?set=a.10100129996058722.1073741841.7104513&type=3