Throne of the Crescent Moon (Book Review)

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And here is my first reflection for the TwitterBooks Project (introduced here): A Throne of the Crescent Moon review.  I’m not sure if I’ll stick with this format; we’ll see.

(Note: There was a bit of a hiccup with my blog, during which time it DISAPPEARED entirely because the company that hosted it went bankrupt and shut down without warning. This has been resolved, so I’m back online!)

Author’s Name: Saladin Ahmed
Twitter Handle: @saladinahmed
How Long I’ve Been Following on Twitter: About a year
Book Title: Throne of the Crescent Moon
Book Format: Audiobook via Audible, read by Phil Gigante

What I liked: People of color as protagonists, excellent female representation, manageable length, great dialogue, rapid world-building, 
What I didn’t like: Resolution was tidier than I expected, denouement felt a little long.

Last year I read Saladin Ahmed’s very good collection of short stories, Engraved on the Eye (available for free in Kindle edition),  and in one of the short stories the reader is introduced to ghoul hunter Adoulla Makhslood and his young dervish assistant, Raseed. These two are the main characters in Ahmed’s first novel, Throne of the Crescent Moon.

Throne of the Crescent Moon review

Throne of the Crescent Moon coverMy experience with fantasy novels is limited and I won’t go into all of the whys, but a big issue for me is  that they tend to be long, very long, or way too long. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a bit of a slow reader. I like to take notes when I read, pause to daydream, and look up vocabulary that’s unfamiliar. Now that I have a five-year-old I’ve had to adapt my reading to countless interruptions. Throne is 304 pages – less than 10.5 hours via audiobook. That’s right up my alley. I can do that! I can risk venturing into someone else’s world for only 300 pages


One thing I liked about this book right off the bat was that the characters have names like my own and the world they lived in was faintly familiar. Throne is a fantasy inspired by the old Arab Muslim world, and I grew up with an Arabic Muslim name in the Islamic faith; the spiritual language of these culturally religious characters was connected to a huge part of my own past.

As the story continued, I appreciated the quick world-building. A pet-peeve I have about a lot of fantasy is the pages-long descriptions of terrain, cuisine, castle walls, royal lineage, etc. I don’t require that level of detail in my story-telling – I don’t want that level of detail. I’ll skim over it if I have to, because I want to get back to the characters, the premise and the plot. I don’t know why Ahmed escaped getting bogged down by these things, but I’m grateful for it – and I certainly had a strong impression of what things looked, smelled and otherwise seemed like in the city of Dhamsawaat, in the land of The Crescent Moon Kingdoms.

Another point of appreciation for me is that like Engraved on the Eye, the female characters are well-written – not less thought-out than the male characters. As a woman, I can’t even express what a pleasure it was to have three female characters in a novel who were just amazing in their own ways. One is young, and the other two are probably in their 40s? Wow, an age range?! Imagine that. And none of them too holy to get mad and yell at somebody. And despite the fact that each of them is loved by a man (and each of the primary good male characters is loved by a woman) there’s not that creepy obsession of going on and on about their bodies and how beautiful they are.

A real strength of the book is the dialogue. Hearing it read by Phil Gigante – holy smokes, is he fantastic! – was a treat beyond treats. I often hit the 30-second rewind just to relish over the snark, barbs, leering, and praises the characters exchange in language barely veiled by formality.  For example, a wealthy spell-maker named Yassir tells Litaz, also a spell-maker (but not wealthy):

“If I’m going to be praised sycophantically when my skill succeeds and called charlatan or witch when it fails, I’ll at least have some coin in the bargain, thank you very much.  Should I bother telling you yet again that there are much handsomer places in the world for you than in that filthy alley with that gnarled husband of yours? Places where your unmatched skills and your more-vital-than-its years body would receive all the appreciation they deserve?”

I was really happy with this story. The writing is solid, the characters are interesting, the Crescent Moon Kingdoms hold much possibility. And I’m not the only one who thought it was good – this book was nominated for the prestigious Hugo (2013) and Nebula (2012) awards. So I’m really behind the times on this! But Ahmed is working on a sequel, which I plan to read as soon as it comes out. Who knows, maybe I will learn to *love* fantasy as a genre, after all.

 

TwitterBooks Project: An Introduction

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From February 13, 2014:

Some of the books I already have and have read by writers I follow on Twitter.

A few books I already own and have read by writers I follow on Twitter.

I spend a fair amount of time on Twitter, where I follow a variety of writers who, between being hilarious, grumpy, chatty, sweet, morose, philosophical and informative, are always working on one thing or another. One day I was retweeting the announcement of a tweep’s new book when I thought, “Hm. Wouldn’t it be cool to read a book by every writer I follow who has published one?”

It’s one thing to follow a person on Twitter, another to read their blog posts or magazine articles – to read their book? Well, that’s just another level of listening. (I’m working on becoming a better listener.)

I was in Colombia at the time, but returned home to Seattle several weeks later, where this thought came up again and again, until I decided to really do it. And now – midway through February – I’ve started. First I went through my follows list of 850ish accounts and tried to identify all the writers. That came to about 130 people, though I suspect I’ve missed a few. (Twitter’s web app doesn’t make searching ones own follows very straightforward). Later, I’ll sort out the ones who haven’t published a book, but it’s easy to leap right in.

Several days ago I put on hold three or four books by people I follow. One or two should be available for pick-up tomorrow, probably Kinky Gazpacho by Lori Tharps or How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston. After a long Twitter convo with local Seattleite Stephen Robinson, I purchased his novel Mahogany Slade via Kindle. This afternoon I finished listening to the audiobook of the debut fantasy novel by a pretty entertaining young writer.

I follow some writers whose books I’ve already read – take @campcreek for example. Her book, Project Based Homeschooling, is one I’ve talked about a lot here. Or @everettmaroon and his sweet memoir, Bumbling into Body Hair. A few people I follow are fairly famous authors whose accounts I follow because I read a book they wrote (e.g. @Oliver Sacks and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat or @bellhooks and where-to-even-begin-with-her-stellar-body-of-work), so I can tick them off the list if I want.

I follow a few big-name authors whose books I’ve never read – short stories, individual poems or articles, yes – but not books, the majority of my writer tweeps are emerging writers,  indie, niche or “struggling writers” who have only published one or two books through small presses; these are the folks I was really thinking about when I decided to do this.

So I’m going to start a new series here called the TwitterBooks Project. It’s pretty simple and there’s no goal in terms of numbers. I just want to find and read books by the people I follow. One by one. Initially I thought it would take a year, but now that I’m seeing how many writers I follow, I’m thinking it will probably take two years. I’m not a fast reader. But that’s okay. What’s the rush? And as I read them, I’ll come back here and write a little “review” – or to be more truthful – a “reflection” of the book. Why not? It should be fun.

The first book will be @SaladinAhmed’s Hugo and Nebula nominated debut,  Throne of the Crescent Moon

 

 

Rowing Diary: An Almost-Full Moon Vanishes

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I woke up at 4:15 this morning in the midst of a dream, turned off the alarm and fell back to sleep. It was that strange sensation of waking up busy – I can’t recall what was happening in the dream, but I was definitely working and waking up was an interruption.

Boats in a boathouse

Boats in a boathouse

When my second alarm went off at 4:25 I realized what was happening and rose easily. Waking up early hasn’t been a problem since my return … easier than I remembered. Maybe my body is still a bit on Colombia time (three hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time); if so, I’m grateful for this advantage.

The wind forecast had me believing we’d be doing a land workout, so I dressed for the ergs, in a short-sleeve tee and capris. I wore my club’s fleece vest, but when I arrived to the boathouse and joined in on core exercises, Coach was putting together a lineup for an on-the-water row. Luckily, a new member of the team whom I knew from a previous program lent me a long-sleeved, high-necked, fitted jacket. I owe her a debt of gratitude because the wind was biting.

This was my first day touching an oar in nearly three months and I was nervous about stepping into a four. I’ve rowed in fours before, but not much, and I had a perception of them as tippy. And I lacked confidence in the skill-set of one of the people in the boat. This is all a problem, a psychological problem. Being tense, looking for confirmation of ones biases about another rower, not owning ones own flaws, expecting any moment to end up in the water, in short – waiting for something bad to happen: it’s all a distraction!

The sky was mostly clear at first so the water was dark; the wind blew from the south and southwest, and I could feel the apprehension pooling around my feet and beginning to rise. Past experience said to me that this was not the way. Caution is one thing, being freaked out is something else, so I took a few deep breaths and threw my fears into the water, then pictured them drifting away. I settled down, and the apprehension dissolved but for a few puddles.

As we warmed up, the boat was more set than I’d expected. Ahh, the difference between being in a four with members of the local women’s competitive team and being in a four with … people who were definitely not on the competitive team! I tried not to think about my stamina and whether muscle memory would kick in. I decided to focus on what was happening now and not what might happen later in the boat. I floated trust as an option, and trust came through for me.

The water felt heavy at the start – the oar felt heavy!  I didn’t remember having to pull so hard in the past, a sure sign I’m not as strong as I was three months ago. But everything else felt familiar. My foot stretcher and oar required no adjusting, so I didn’t fiddle with or even think about them.  I didn’t feel wildly out of tune, there was no confusion.  

I didn’t focus on any one particular thing, instead reviewing all the basic movements of rowing. My body did remember how to row and the mechanics weren’t a problem. I felt a small strain near my hamstring where I’d pulled my popliteal muscle months ago. I paid attention to that, but the twinges decreased as practice progressed, to my relief! I kept reminding myself to sit up tall, to square up early, to be ready for the catch. Our coxswan was good about reminding us to have fast hands out of bow, so I focused on that as well.

As we headed west toward the ship canal, I could see what appeared to be an almost-full (full moon is tomorrow) moon – bright and yellow in the dark sky – right behind the Aurora Bridge. It was large and really yellow. But by the time we got to the other side of the bridge and I glanced up, it was gone. I couldn’t even tell where it had been. Even though the patchy clouds looked to be flimsy and stretched thin, I couldn’t find that yellow moon anywhere again.

Being in bow, I could see just about everything without feeling self-conscious. The lake was windy but Coach took us and the two 8s toward the Locks, and the shipping canal was largely sheltered and calm. We did warm ups to Seattle Pacific University, then began three minute pieces of 26 spm (for two) and 28spm (for one minute), then upped it, 28spm for two minutes, and 30spm for one, several times … and then upped it again, 30spm for two minutes, 32spm for one, several times, and then ended with 32spm for two minutes and 34spm for one.

Our boat’s stroke coach stopped working right as we began this regimen. I’d had this issue with a stroke coach when I’d coxed on Tuesday so maybe it was the same device. What this meant was our rates were not as challenging. We were able to do the 26 and  28, and probably the 28 and 30, but I have a pretty decent sense of stroke rates and we were not doing 30 and 32 or 34. This was perhaps in my favor – wouldn’t want to pull a muscle on my first day out!

I felt slower than the woman in front of me: was her slide too fast or was my slide too slow? I couldn’t tell. I may have been shortening my stroke, even, to sync up with her without sliding too fast (not good). It was difficult to fix a point in terms of slide control, but I erred on the side of slowing my slide because going into the stern too rapidly is the more common problem. The surprise of the day was my right hand, the pulling hand, began to ache; my wrist felt weak and crinkly. In between pieces, I shook my hands at the wrist to loosen them up, and stretched them. This seemed to help, but my upper body definitely needs strengthening.

Well, it all worked out. My first day on the water worked out okay after all. I didn’t feel hopeless out there. I don’t know how I looked to Coach but I didn’t feel I was so much worse than the rest of my boat.  For the moment, that’s good enough for me!

Being Home Again

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Today marks one week after our return from Colombia, and I don’t feel used to it yet – to being home again. I don’t feel unsettled, either, but without a workplace or school to set the pace, getting back into “the rhythm” is slow and a little strange. Maybe it just won’t happen. After all, how do you get back into the rhythm when the rhythm is your household and 2/3rds of that was away, being re-set?

Hubster says he feels that life is back to normal, but Kidlet and I are still “adjusting.” People keep asking “Are you feeling back to normal? Are you feeling adjusted?” The answer is no, and I’m okay with this. Isn’t that why I left, in part, to have a shift in perspective, to see things a little differently? I think so.

Snow Angel

Snow Angel

One thing is I’m very relaxed! Part of it is Hubster being home (he took a week off work to spend time with Kidlet after being apart for so long), and part of it is the relative ease and comfort of life after all the work of the past two months. The things I fretted about most – keeping tabs on our belongings, acquiring food, locating safe lodging, transportation, and understanding what people were saying – are no trouble at all in Seattle, where we are fortunate enough to have a home, a car and food security.

How long can this feeling of riding the gravy train last? At some point the relativity of it all must wear out? I don’t know, but I’m savoring it and learning from it.  One thing I took away from our trip to Colombia was the belief that it is possible not to be anxious about what’s going to happen next. I observed people living in such a way that they didn’t talk about things not-yet-done as symptoms of a personal problem or even an economic problem, but simply a fact of life.

There will always be things that need to be washed, put away, dusted, repaired, replaced, discarded, learned. Always. So what do I get out of feeling guilty or angry about that? The guilt and the anger don’t need to be present for me to do the work. I keep going back to what that Seattle monk said, “What is the difference between having a problem and having something to do?”

During a conversation over lunch the other day, I mentioned this to a friend who said he really did need those ugly feelings of inadequacy to be motivated. But shame and inadequacy have never been quality fuel for me. We’re all different! This is what makes the world the way it is.

Early this morning I went to the boathouse and coxed an 8 – last night I was apprehensive and studied my coxing manual to refresh my memory. The water was good, the practice was light, and coach and my teammates were sensitive. It all worked out, and I look forward to resuming my sport. I’d wondered if maybe it wouldn’t feel the same when I returned. But I still wanted to be on the water.

Later in the morning, Kidlet and I watched a ten minute film by Yori Norstein called Hedgehog in the Fog. She loves hedgehogs so I figured she’d like it, but I didn’t expect to be so enchanted. In addition to being a beautiful little film, the story – specifically the ending – touched me. It made me think of all the times we go away and have a lasting experience, and then return to our loved ones who simply haven’t had that experience.  Anyway, if you have ten minutes, I think this animated story would be a good use of your time.

Hedgehog in the Fog – Yuri Norstein (1975) from O.C. on Vimeo.

 

Home from Colombia: Discomfort and Parenting On the Road

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Dear Friends,

This morning I woke up on the edge of a dream. In the dream, I was falling out of a hostel bed in a sunlit room, but instead of hitting the floor, I just kept falling. The sheets unfurled furiously as an endless roll, their energy holding my body aloft through some kind of physics. When I opened my eyes, it was pitch-black. Where am I? Then I heard Kidlet, who was cuddled against me, talking to a stuffed doll and sounding very awake. What time is it? My body told me it must be the middle of the night, but my cell phone said it was 5:30am.

The word "LOVE" written on a rock between two boulders, in a Colombian river,

Love on a rock.

I lay still for a moment. I’m home. The sun doesn’t rise in Seattle until almost 7:30am, hence the darkness. It was my second morning home but everything still feels strange. I look around and am struck by how unreal it seems. How cold it is – Seattle is in the midst of an “arctic blast”, as it was when we left -, how white the walls are, how much stuff there is in our flat, and how it’s all mine. Nothing here seems to have changed, it’s been like stepping into a showroom of memories.

Hubster did a great job of housekeeping – coming home to steam-cleaned carpets and a mildew-less shower is wonderful. Kidlet has latched on to Hubster as playmate and companion, freeing me up to unpack and run laundry. I spent much of yesterday taking out my braids while watching the live streaming video coverage of the Seahawks’ post-Super Bowl championship celebration. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of downtown Seattle to observe the parade. We live just 2-3 miles away but after 16 hours of travel, I was not ready for that kind of outing – especially not with a windchill of 18 degrees. I enjoyed watching the festivities in warmth and comfort.

 

On Being Comfortable

The incredible thing about modern day travel is the speed, of course. And, compared to the last time I traveled internationally, there is wi-fi and social media that can make it feel as though you haven’t quite left home.  Initially, I’d planned to abstain from social media for the most part, wanting to feel truly immersed in Colombia. That lasted a few weeks, until I couldn’t resist the siren call of connection to the familiar.

I have mixed feelings about it, and am not sure it was a good idea to use social media so much. On the one hand, it helped me keep sane with a young child; on the other hand, I looked at backpackers spending an hour or more in the evenings, logged into their FB pages, doing video chats with friends back home, and otherwise “connecting” and saw the reflection of myself. To connect with fellow travelers – the people we’d traveled thousands of miles to encounter – took a lot more effort. And at the end of a long day of stretching your mind with a foreign language, testing your patience with foreign customs, and aggravating your stomach with foreign food, “more effort” isn’t always appealing.

Days before returning home, Kidlet had to go to hospital

Hospital visit.

One thing about our 56 days in Colombia is that I felt like so much happened, yet I’d wanted so much more. We didn’t go to the Amazon (I’m okay with this because BUGS), we didn’t make it to the desert, and we didn’t make it to a white sands beach (this I truly regret). My Spanish, though it improved dramatically, did not improve as much as I’d wanted – because I didn’t study the way I’d planned. I’d underestimated key things, like the amount of time it would take to travel around the country; and overestimated other things – like how well we’d handle the heat.

There were days I thought, “I give up; I just want to go home.” And if I’d had the ability to instantly transport us back, I’d have done it. There were nights with scary bugs, and frightening rural animals, and vomit, and sickness and discomfort. There were days when Kidlet and I would literally be standing in the street, glaring at each other; if we possessed horns, they ‘d be well-worn by now. And yet, as easily as one might turn a page, the next day we’d be smiling together in the sunshine, hands swinging together, feeling like the most fortunate pair of people to have each other and this experience.

It was always remarkable, the way things turned around. By the end of the trip I’d begun to anticipate that experience of dawn after the night. A horrible, lousy experience would seem to be followed by an especially wonderful one. A case of comparison, or was it objectively the case? It’s hard to say, and I can’t claim objectivity. On this trip, state of mind accounted for almost everything.


Parenting on the Road

I took Kidlet on this trip for many reasons: I missed traveling; I wanted to improve my Spanish; I wanted to introduce her to Spanish; I wanted her to see the world; I wanted her to understand that life is different in other places, and not to take her cushy life in Seattle for granted or assume it was the same way for everyone everywhere; I wanted her to develop patience, learn to do without so many things and get used to schedules and plans that didn’t revolve around herBut as is often the case when I, as her parent, try to “teach” Kidlet anything, I discovered that my determination for her to learn certain “lessons” was a cosmic joke. Two weeks into the trip and I was constantly and miserably aware of my hypocrisy. After hearing myself irritably and even aggressively tell Kidlet, “I need you to be patient!” over and over, I began looking at myself with the same wary look she was giving me..

Kidlet contemplates torture at the Inquisition Museum in Cartagena

Inquisition Museum in Cartagena

Kidlet, to her credit, met me head-on with obstinate, outspoken and downright rude behavior the likes of which I had no idea she was capable of. It was a struggle. Traveling solo for two months with a five year old was far more challenging than I’d imagined. There were days when I resented her so much, right alongside feeling that she was the saving grace of the entire experience.

Night after night I’d lay in bed feeling like a failure, as a traveler and as a parent. But day after day, the sun rose and I could try again. We began to start the mornings off with the words, “Today, let’s love each other and be kind to each other.” A futile exercise? It felt so, at first. I tried so many manipulative methods to get Kidlet to do what I felt I needed her to do, methods I’d barely entertained at home – bribery, threatening, intimidation, guilt-tripping; bribery with threatening and guilt-tripping, etc!

Kidlet threw them all back in my face. She gobbled up my bribes and then demanded more while refusing to do what I’d “asked.” She repeated my threats to me at the most embarrassing, ridiculous times. She started saying horrible things about herself that I’d originally said about myself in useless attempts to elicit sympathy from her. There was no escape. Whatever one of us threw out, the other would be hit with, and it would just continue back and forth like a ball bouncing between two walls placed irrationally close together.

The whole while I kept waiting for a breakthrough, an epiphany, that tremendous a-ha! moment – in part because I’m writing a book about the experience, and that kind of thing is convenient. But I should have known by now that in my life things don’t happen like that. There is no sudden storm, relief from the drought – there is no drought! There’s just one not-too-dissimilar day after another, lined up like beads on a string. And so finally, towards the end of our eight weeks on the road, I began to surrender to the reality of moving forward one half-step at a time. Some moments or hours I wanted to throw a fit, “I just can’t anymore! Why do I have to be kind! Why do have to work so hard to be the parent!”

Brave Kidlet

Brave Kidlet

But eventually I was able to get to the point where I could surrender with dignity. I could refuse to say something cruel or manipulative, I could abstain from churlish demands for “respect,” I could resist the urge to throw my weight around. I could just say, “That is NOT okay,” and leave it at that for the moment. One foot in front of the other. And I apologized more, and when I apologized I found she would often immediately apologize for her actions. And by the end I was very amazed, and very proud of Kidlet for pushing me to parent smarter and demanding better of me than what was easy.

When I was her age, I wouldn’t have had the fortitude or self-regard to withstand the badgering she suffered from me for weeks on end. I was a good little girl, who never caused anyone any trouble; I had no guts at all.  It’s become apparent over the last two months that my daughter is very different from me. She is already starting off on her own path, and the influence I have over her is more and more about what she observes me doing on my path.

Was it a good experience? Yes, obviously. (Is it obvious?) Would I do it again? Well, that’s like asking me right after I gave birth to Kidlet if I would “do it again.” I’m glad it happened, and I don’t regret it, but I’m not ready to do it all over again right now. It was a lot of work, and there’s still a lot for me to reflect on and collect from the experience.

Besos,

HSofía

Boyacá, Colombia

Boyacá, Colombia

 

Last Week and La Candelaria

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Dear friends,
I have had issues with wi-fi on my laptop for a while, so I am behind in updates. This will be a brief update.

We are back in Bogotá for just one night after visits to Cartagena, Barranquilla and Cali. Kidlet and have flown four airlines so far here in Colombia! Flying domestically is quite pleasant, easy and stress-free.

Cartagena’s historic core is fantastic and so romantic. It is hot there but evenings are perfect with the night breeze. I would love to return again for a get-away with Hubster or some girlfriends. Unfortunately, when I left the core – which we did to go to the local’s bus station – I saw that much of the surrounding area is, as a Colombian resident described, “fifth world.” Not all of what I saw outside the core is that way, but the contrast is stark. But I did love Cartagena, as did Kidlet. I even managed to locate the most famous Gabriel Garcia Marquez literary locations, and kidlet visited her first castle.

Next we went to Barranquilla – out of cost concerns, actually. We couldn’t afford to stay in Cartagena any longer and Kidlet wanted a beach.

Unfortunately, Barranquilla didn’t deliver on beaches and we couldn’t make it to Santa Marta or Tayrona due to Kidlet’s bus ride intolerance and flight schedule limitations. We stayed at a family hostel in Barranquilla and visited the zoo but mostly we just tried to stay cool. The humidity on Barranquilla was so overbearing for me I dreaded leaving the hostel during the day.

We spent two nights there with an Italian-Colombian household full of travelers and then took the 6am flight to Cali, where my friend’s mother invited us to stay near her finca/holistic day spa.

Cali is the second largest city in Colombia, and like Cartagena, has a large visible Afro-Colombian population. I felt pretty comfortable there, even though of the six days we spent there, only two were really spent in the city. We visited the Cali Zoo which was quite good (far superior to Barranquilla’s), the archaelogical museum, and the museum of gold of Calima, as well as a few other sites.

Our guide, Noemi, works for my friend’s mom, and she took us around on a hilarious-in-retrospect transportation adventure! And also, we danced with hundreds of other people in a popular Thursday night plaza dance party.

We ate healthy food in Cali and enjoyed the rural life, which included walking dirt roads in the dark, many many many ranging dogs (and chickens), countless bug bites, swimming in the river and a rustic cabin in the woods. (Okay, I did not much enjoy the dogs or the bugs.)

Now we are in La Candelaria neighborhood, which is beautiful and close to the bus station (I think). We found a lovely hotel that I wish we were staying at for another night, but alas. Reservations await us at another farm in Villa de Leyva. I enjoy farms but I like having easy access to the town. We’ll see if our place in Villa de Leyva offers that.

Nine days to go in Colombia! And for now, good night.

Besos,
HSofía

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Six Things I Miss – Traveling in Colombia

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Dear Friends,

One month into our eight-week trip of traveling in Colombia and Kidlet’s homesickness has kicked in. We’ll be riding along in a mototaxi or sitting together and suddenly she’ll whimper, “I miss my Dad! I’m homesick!”

Helping Kidlet deal with her homesickness got me thinking about the things that I miss. This is the longest I’ve traveled abroad, but, like a turtle, I carry my world around with me, so homesickness hasn’t troubled me much in the past. (Culture shock has been more my bag.) But after a month here, there are definitely some things I wish I had easy access to – things that would make Colombia feel more like “home.”  Like Kidlet, I miss Hubster, but he’s not a thing, so I won’t put him on this list! (Will save that for another writing.)

Here’s a rundown of six things I miss while traveling in Colombia.

1. Exercise

Kidlet pace.

Kidlet pace.

This is huge. I had grand plans when I first arrived, and began each day with a short, do-able regimen of 100 squats, 20-40 pushups, crunches, yoga stretches, leg lifts, etc. Then the altitude sickness in Bogotá got the best of me after six days and I simply couldn’t bring myself to do them anymore. Then we hit the road and were staying in hostels where there was no place I could perform these exercises with any degree of privacy. I fell out of the habit.  And I get sweaty doing these exercises so I like to do them first thing in the morning, before my shower. Difficult.

My back-up plan had been to go on hikes with Kidlet on my back, but her carrier was in the suitcase that was lost in Bogotá, so even though we walk several miles a day, it’s at Kidlet pace. The only time my heart race is elevated nowadays is when I’m on horseback and afraid I’m going to fall off and be kicked in the head!  There’s still time for me to figure out how to work in my morning regimen again, though it may not be daily and it may not be in the morning. Re-evaluating the situation is a must or I will suffer a LOT when I get back to the boathouse!

 

2. Non-Meat Proteins
Seattle is one of the top cities in the US to be a vegan, so I’ve been spoiled by the variety  and availability to non-meat proteins  at restaurants, cafes, food carts, and of course grocery stores.  I miss chick pea salads, quinoa, lentils, veg*n Thai food, tofu, Field Roast, baked beans and other staples of my Seattle diet.  In Colombia, we eat meat.

 

3. Non-Dairy Milk Options

Kidlet reduced to eating an artificially flavored and colored popsicle to cool down.

Kidlet trying to make her tongue stick to the popsicle (never mind it is 80 degrees).

Colombia’s milk consumption boggles my mind. I don’t even have the context to identify the varieties of milk I see on the shelves here.  Powdered, concentrated, sweetened, in bags, lactose free, and many more, judging from the packages and labeling. Some milk products are refrigerated, most are not.  If you love milk and milk loves you, come to Colombia! If milk doesn’t love you, be prepared to resist it. Yogurts and smoothies abound. Tortas soaked in milk, puddings, and caramels are the most popular desserts I’ve seen here, along with homemade ice cream popsicles (sold everywhere!) and scooped ice cream.

Kidlet, who loves ice cream, is tortured by the sight of grown men and children eating ice cream popsicles at just about any time of day. Frozen fruit juice popsicles are available, but these are all artificially flavored with artificial dyes, which she reacts to. It’s pretty sad for Kidlet. I allow her an artificially flavored (and sometimes dyed) popsicle every few days and she eats a slice of cake to satisfy her sweet tooth. Her skin is not great, but her eczema is controlled.

Breakfast and lunch are often served with blocks of queso – cheese – even if you specifically say “no queso.” or “sin queso.”   Dairy can upset my stomach and I’ve avoided all but cream (cooked into things), butter (same), and some queso out of solidarity with Kidlet.

Again, we’ve been spoiled in Seattle with its offerings of vegan ice creams, cakes and cookies alongside regular desserts in most shops. Servers in the restaurants we frequent are familiar with the concept of dairy free and can prepare meals or guide us to meals without dairy. I wish we could eat cereal or the delicious granola they have here, but except in Bogotá where I bought soy milk in an upscale grocery store, I haven’t seen non-dairy milk available.  It’s possible to avoid milk, but if you are severely allergic to cross-contamination, I advice caution here.

 

4. Big Salads

If only instagram made salads LARGER.

If only instagram made salads LARGER.

Colombia is known for the variety of its fruits. But vegetables, so far as I’ve seen, are mostly treated as an afterthought. Potatoes are ubiquitous – if you’re a meat and potatoes kind of person, come to Colombia!  However, if you thrive on leafy greens, prepare yourself for disappointment. I have only seen broccoli once; kale, collards and chard do not appear to exist here at all.

In a large, upscale grocery store in Bogotá, the vegetable aisle was a single aisle, and the vegetables stocked there looked like basic vegetables you could find just about anywhere in the USA: carrots, onions, potatoes, celery, a few beets, a bit of cabbage, lettuce, maybe a red pepper, some really sad button mushrooms and garlic. Compared to half a dozen fruit aisles!

I miss salad bars, stir fries, vegetarian protein salads, and being able to order salad as a meal. I gobble up whatever napkin-sized salad I’m served here (often with pineapple or strawberries as a main component, along with the iceberg lettuce I wouldn’t bother with in Seattle), and am always left wanting more. The thirst for fresh, raw veggies is real in these Colombia streets! I’ve met other North Americans who’ve expressed the same sentiment.


5. Spices
My friend in Bogotá, X-, warned me in my first days here: “Colombian food is kind of bland.” No problem, I thought. I’m not a picky eater, I enjoy food but I’m not a foodie. And I’m the kind of person who can eat the same meal for lunch or dinner every day for a week and not get tired of it. But, man. X- was not joking! Salt and pepper seem to be the main seasonings here, along with chicken and beef broth packets loaded with sodium (probably MSG). Tip: Be sure not to salt anything you’re served until you’ve tasted it first!

I ordered a “Mexican style” burrito in the hopes of getting some fresh flavors, and it had a curry sauce – the mildest, least spicy yellow curry you can possibly imagine. The burrito wasn’t served with green onions, or salsa of any kind. Like so much Colombian food I’ve eaten, it was completely inoffensive, it just lacked flavor. The most flavorful food I’ve had so far has been at X’s house, where she cook using a variety of fresh herbs and spices (which she may have purchased in the US and brought back with her!). Also, I’ve had a few, good, imported chorizos that had some kick. I’ve been told that there are exciting restaurants in trendy neighborhoods of Medellín and Bogotá, but these places are not inexpensive to our budget. I may have to splurge on one of these later.

They're not getting wet in this downpour, but they're not exactly getting dry, either.

They’re not getting wet in this downpour, but they’re not exactly getting dry, either.


6. Clothes Dryer
Hanging clothes out to dry is charming and energy efficient, and would probably not be a problem if I had all my clothes. But I don’t. Kidlet and I are living out of a suitcase, and when it takes 3 days for our clean underwear to dry (because some days are cloudy or it rains), I get antsy. I spend far too much time keeping track of our clean clothing situation! I have even planned my travel around how long it will take me to get my laundry washed and for it to dry. I definitely miss my janky old clothes dryer.

 

Hope you enjoyed my list, hope to write again soon.

Besos,

HSofía

Traveling in Colombia – A Video

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Holá,

This is my first video from Colombia. I’d like to try to make more, specifically in Spanish. The idea to do this came from Benny Lewis, AKA The Irish Polyglot over at his website, Fluent in 3 Months. Maybe it was one of his posts or videos that recommends this, but I cannot find it exactly at the moment.

In any case, while I’m not super keen on being in front of the camera, I made this short little video on the word “Ciao” and how it’s used in Colombia in lieu of “Adios.” Kidlet video bombs most of it, by the way.

AND, if anyone has suggestions for future topics, let me know here in the comments Also, if you have a question you’d like me to answer, let me know in the comments, and I’ll do my best to make a video answering your question (in Spanish!).

Ciao!

HSofía