For our last night in Colombia, Lexi and I got to go to the first of the Carnaval pre-parties! We went to watch the Carnaval Queen, Marcella Garcia Caballero, read ‘El Bando’. Basically, it’s the presentation of the Queen to the people, and she tells them that Carnaval is starting and reads off some decrees. The whole thing is played out in the form of an hour-ish musical, with dances and instrumental music going through the history of each of the symbols and costumes associated with Carnaval. While I didn’t understand a whole lot of what the Queen was saying, I could still enjoy the crazy dances and costumes flying around the stage.

After the Queen’s musical-ish-thing, a couple of musical acts came on and entertained everyone until somewhere around 12:30, and people finally started to disperse. Lexi and I had been in the VIP section the entire time, and so we hadn’t actually seen how large the crowd really was. I thought I saw it all from where we were standing, but as we moved out to go look for our car, we saw that most of the side streets were absolutely packed with people. Thousands of locals had come out to dance in the street, drink, and celebrate the first days of Carnaval! It was really cool to see, and overall a fun and exhausting night.


El Bando crowd stretching back to the Cathedral. It actually went down several side streets and around the Cathedral as well.

Our family gave us an amazing stay in Colombia, and a great start to our trip! Now it’s on to Santiago, Chile!


Trip to Cartagena

Today I left Barranquilla for the day to explore the nearby port city of Cartagena! This gorgeous city has an old castle (which once repelled a 3-month pirate siege), an old city, and a new section with high-rise apartments and a gorgeous bay. It’s incredible to see one city with so much history and also so much modern growth side-by-side.

The first thing we checked out was the castle. It was a terribly hot day, but the castle is alone on a large hill and has some great views of the rest of the city and the ocean. It was great to run around on the old walls and through the tunnels that connect various parts of the castle. We hung around for a bit and then left for the old city.


The old city was amazing. The old Spanish colonial architecture is always fun to see, and it’s all over this section of the city. Brightly colored buildings line the narrow streets and squares, and an old wall wraps around the entire area. We stopped in for some delicious pastries and sandwiches, checked out the wall and other old buildings, and left to drive around the new city. While it didn’t offer as much for walking around and examining history, the new city still had plenty of beautiful new buildings. Overall, the city was amazing. I could easily see spending more than a week there, between all of the history of the old city and the beaches for relaxing and playing. Perhaps next trip!


Family and Food!

It’s been a week since we’ve left Atlanta, and it’s still weird to think that a week is 1/27th of our total travels. There’s still a long way to go! So that’s exciting.

Our past couple of days have been spent meeting more family members and having more amazing food. I’m surprised by every meal here, they’re all so elaborate and so good! Apparently that’s just normal, they like to eat well and so they make sure they always do (I like to eat well too, but usually in Atlanta I have eggs, a sandwich, or cereal). Not only is the food delicious, but there is always so much of it so that everyone who visits can eat as much as they like. The past few nights we’ve spent with various family members that I hadn’t met before, and that I got to speak very slow Spanish and/or English with.

In particular, we’ve spent a lot of time with Lucy’s mother / Camilo’s grandmother, Josefina. She claims not to speak much English (though she always understands me), but she speaks Spanish very slowly. It’s awesome, because I can actually understand and sometimes even respond, which is very motivating. She also knew my father and aunt from a long time ago when they visited Colombia, and so we FaceTime’d with them so she could speak to them again. She looked like you might expect someone to look who was speaking with a family member that they hadn’t seen in decades: like she was so happy she might cry.

It’s been a great week taking part in this culture! We have a few more days here before we’re off to Santiago, but I already hope I get to come back someday to see more of the country and hopefully speak more conversational Spanish.



Last night was my first night out with my Colombian cousins, Camilo and Carolina. Lexi and I went out with Camilo to meet Carolina and visit some nearby bars. I had heard talk of this mysterious “firewater”, and Carolina was eager to introduce me to it. I have found that my cousins can drink incredible quantities of alcohol, suffer the same side-effects as a normal human, and then decide to do it all over again the next night. It’s incredible, and I most certainly can’t keep up.

We visited a couple of different bars, and our cousins explained how we’re all related, the ways in which we resemble each other, and the traits that I have inherited from their side of the family. The culture here is very family-centric. Obviously this is the sort of thing¬†you hear about before venturing into South America, but it’s very true and something I wasn’t expecting to be so real. I met a few other distant family members and everyone told me about the times my father and his siblings visited them, how they were related to me, and asked the same few questions to catch up on my entire life so far. I use the same broken Spanish and English to convey my field of study, interests, and travel plans, and ask them about themselves and where they’re from.

Apart from meeting my distant relatives and spending a night out, Lexi and I also visited Santa Marta, another town about an hour away. We visited Simon Bolivar’s estate, went to a local aquarium, and toured the beaches of Santa Marta and nearby towns. It was gorgeous, and the driving again terrified me. But at least the view from the car was pretty this time.



First Days Away!

So our travels have officially begun! At 5:30 in the morning on January 5th, Lexi and I began an 18-hour voyage down to our cousins in Barranquilla, Colombia. Leaving just in time to escape the onset of Winter in the US, and enjoy the coastal Colombian climate.

Our first two days here have been pretty calm, although I have to mention that the driving in Colombia would terrify just about anyone from the US.¬†Apparently there is no driver’s test in Colombia, only a brief “theoretical driving” course and a few drives with an instructor (or, if you don’t want to go through the hassle of learning to drive, you can just bribe a city official). It is readily apparent, as there is abject chaos on the streets of Barranquilla. Lanes are meaningless, traffic lights are mostly just decorations, and I’m not convinced that many drivers down here are even aware of the fact that they are not alone on the road. Even so, somehow the people just make the whole thing work.

Apart from the driving, everything down here has been pretty incredible for us. Our cousins are showing us around their city, we’ve visited a Colombian heritage museum, relaxed at a pool overlooking the coast, and tried all kinds of amazing new foods.

So now we’re settling in, planning out some trips around other Colombian towns, and enjoying messing with Pipo (pictured below)