I have been busy traveling back home, but I wrote this out before I left and never got around to publishing it. I think it’s still relevant to where we are.
As another school year comes to a close, I get the chance to reflect on this year in comparison to others and how I feel about heading home for summer.
This school year was a good one for both my children. Much more settled and comfortable in their surroundings, established friendships and easy routines made for a much smoother experience.
This year was more about their growth as students then their ability to understand the culture and new country they were in. I think it allowed them to relax and get more involved in what was happening on the social level, without the uncertainty of being the new kids.
While we are so excited to come home for summer, it means saying good-bye to our friends in Cartagena for a while, some who won’t be back in the fall. We had to jam in as much fun as we could, sprinkled with some visitors, ladies nights and class parties.
One of the highlights was taking a group boat trip. Snorkeling to sunken airplanes, checking out the Oceanium and finding a quiet white sand beach.
It feels good to be headed home to see our family and friends, but also good that we were successful in another year living abroad. I am excited to enjoy some of our favorite foods and places, hopefully getting to relax somewhere in there as well.
We had some very personal reasons to make our way over to Gulf Shores, Alabama 2 weeks ago and they were 7 years in the making. Across the Caribbean pond from Cartagena, I was eager to check out this part of our country. I have never been to the South and couldn’t wait to get a taste of that southern charm.
If you haven’t guessed it yet, we were here to watch our favorite team and our favorite coach/Nana go for the big win! Lucky for us, it was the perfect reason to take a mother/son trip. First things first, we had to get cheering for our Waves! I have always enjoyed being a super fan and it was the perfect weekend to let the Pepperdine flag fly!
I love getting to have this one on one time with Logan, showing him things I love and also getting to share new experiences with him. We cheered and cheered and cheered some more.
In our off hours, we explored a few of Gulf Shores other attractions. First stop, Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo: We got up close and personal with Lemurs, of course had to check out the gators and say hello to the Capybara!
We also checked out Fort Morgan:
Mostly, we enjoyed family, friends and fried food!
I loved those white sand beaches full of sea shells and that we could share this time with people we love. We learned some lessons about winning and losing, but also just being there for it all, no matter the outcome. We had a blast in Alabama and I hope it’s not the last time we get to these parts!
I felt like I should give a quick update about being a little over 1.5 years into this crazy journey. What has changed? What do I know now? How have my expectations met my reality?
We are comfortably into our daily life here, long enough to establish “favorites” but still fresh enough to see and try new things when we are feeling adventurous. Being half way into our second year, we now have a frame of reference for what is coming. School events, weather, city festivals and so on – it’s not our first time anymore. It feels good to have memories that include Colombia.
There have been many times that Colombia has proven to be so much more than I ever imagined for our family. We have had so many people come into our lives, that have invested in our short-term experience and not held back because there might be a good-bye in our near future. We have succeeded because we have had help doing it. It takes a village.
I say my kids are turning more “Colombian” everyday. They have accents better than mine, request their favorite Colombian snacks (plantains and piñita), they love Shakira and reggae-tone and enjoy many of the perks that come with being an expat kid (lots of travel). I could never have matched this experience in any other way. On the flip side, they have learned how to be comfortable being “different.” I’m not sure they realize it on a daily basis, but they understand we are not the same and that’s totally ok. We can do things differently and it’s not better or worse.
I know now I can not only survive without many of the conveniences of American life, but I can thrive. This isn’t to say that I don’t have my moments (or lots of them) where I miss life at home. I do, especially when I’m craving my favorite foods or just want to have lunch with my Mom. However, I think the greatest asset in succeeding here is that we try to keep it all in perspective. We will have all of those things again, probably quicker than we realize and this will all be over. I try to stay in the frame of mind that our time overseas is limited and remind myself that good, bad or different, there is an end point approaching so I might as well enjoy it. It will all be a good story one day.
I do feel like this experience is going by very quickly. Getting adjusted in the beginning felt slow, but as soon we found our groove, it seems like the months just fly by. I don’t know what the next phase of life will be like or how it will all play out – I have become more comfortable with an open-ended 5 year plan!
What I would tell my earlier self is that patience is learned with good practice, so sit tight, you are going to get really good at it. You will also be surprised how your kids will rise to this challenge. You will appreciate the convenience of city life, despite the noise. And finally, you will not regret your original decision because the adventure is worth all the stress.
When we had the chance to take a trip to Aruba sin our Niño’s, believe me, we jumped. Thanks to wonderful friends who took great care of them, we set off on a worry free long weekend to discover the Caribbean island just 16 miles off Venezuela.
From the flight in, I could see that amazing turquoise water. I have never seen water this color, at times, it didn’t look real. We stayed at the Renaissance in Oranjestad, who have the only private beach in Aruba. I had seen many photos of flamingo beach and I couldn’t wait to go check it out for myself.
I apologize for the flamingo overload that is about to happen.
This was by far my favorite part of Aruba. It was so relaxing, it felt like we were somewhere exotic and we basically chilled many hours away.
For the adventure portion, we took a trail ride though the Arikok National Park, seeing the arid desert and cactus landscape all the way down to the rocky shores of the island. It was peaceful and beautiful, one of us may have enjoyed it slightly more than the other. But the other is a champ and I love him.
For the rest of the time, we did some city exploring, shopping, day-drinking, and lots of eating. We made sure to waste some hours in a hammock and caught up on some R&R.
What can I say? It was the perfect getaway. Such a friendly, clean and mellow island, even our taxi drivers were happy to make conversation. Seeing that we were not too far away to begin with, our travel days didn’t eat too far into our vacation time. I sure do hope we get back to Aruba one day.
After Guatape, we headed into the city for a few days. The drive in is such a stunning mix of mountains and city scape, and I couldn’t quite get a shot that is really representative of how beautiful it really is from the car.
We stayed at the newer Marriott and loved its location. Set in the El Poblado neighborhood, we immediately set out to check out our nearby eateries and just enjoy the fresh air. At times, it felt as if we could have been back in Portland. Clean streets, lots of trees and parks and we even strolled up on a Starbucks, what?
We went to check out the Zoo afterward. I was pleasantly surprised at the facilities and the care towards the animals. Lots of knowledgable staff just waiting to share information with you, and many of up close encounters with animals from this region.
The next day, we headed for the metro cable cars, giving you a bird’s eye view of the city. Such a different way to see the vastness of this city and its different areas.
On this trip, I was really able to see my kids embrace a new City with all the adventurous spirit I hope they keep forever. Not all of our activities were “kid-centered” but they liked them nonetheless. I was so happy to be walking around in jeans and t-shirt with a slight breeze, I could have stayed another week! Overall, Medellin was the perfect long weekend. Easy in so many ways.
A quick one hour flight from Cartagena and we landed in the beautiful city of Medellin. I gladly welcomed the cooler temps and mountainous terrain. It was gorgeous to see all the finca’s on our way in and just drive with the windows down. Proof that I am still a Pacific North West girl at heart, give me all the cloudy days!
We went straight out to Guatape, this amazing natural rock that jets straight into the sky out of nowhere.
It’s nothing compared to seeing it up close. They say it’s 650 steps, but really there are about 25 more, so here goes nothing!
The reward is well worth the climb. Some of the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen. The water and the small islands, it almost doesn’t look real.
After some water and some sugar, we made our way back down. Which after the climb up, legs were a bit wobbly.
I’m so glad we scheduled this into our trip, well worth the windy but beautiful drive outside Medellin. Sometimes a change of scenery is just what you need.
Next up: the rest of our time in the city.
My baby is 4 and when I say it was yesterday I first laid eyes on those cheeks, I mean these years are flying by.
My March baby loves Unicorns, Rainbows, Cats, Dogs, Horses, Magic and all the chocolate she can find. I feel so grateful that I get to parent both a boy and a girl, and I am just starting to see the beginnings of what a mother/daughter relationship will hold for us. She wants everything I have, be it a latte or eye shadow, but she also wants to do it all by herself. If I choose an outfit for her, she will almost always pick the other option. Strong willed and opinionated, I wouldn’t want her any other way!
Our youngest member is certainly not short on spirit, she loves with her whole heart and never feels the need to put on a show. If you are lucky enough to make it into her circle, she will love you so genuinely and sweetly.
Happiest Birthday to the most amazing 4-year-old I have ever met. Can’t wait to see where this year takes you baby girl!
Living this slightly nomadic lifestyle has brought about such great excitement and adventure but also a few questions for me that I hadn’t previously thought about. Because of the nature of our foreign post, we are limited in the time we can stay abroad and thus, we are constantly discussing our next steps, otherwise know as, our exit strategy. Where to next? I actually enjoy the many conversations and process of discovering where the next chapter leads us.
I have always said that we are not running away from anything, but moving toward something that excites us and we are interested in trying. It leads me to the questions, am I living like its temporary? Does that limit how involved I get? Does it change the way I view the issues and people who I come in contact with? Is saying good-bye all the time so emotionally grinding that I really only get so attached to any given piece of my life right now?
Short answer is yes. Maybe that’s sad to admit, but I can’t commit for the long haul, I’m in a short-term frame of mind. That doesn’t mean I’m not attached or making great and lasting friendships, it just means in the back of my mind, I know it won’t last like this for very long. If anything, it has taught me to seize all the moments I can. For I know there are pieces of this pie that I will miss terribly when it’s over.
I do notice that my kids do not have this. They love, invest and live in the moment like there is no other option. They are all in. It is such a great reminder to appreciate the present. I’m glad they have the chance to experience Colombia fully, and I hope they remember it as a part of their childhood in a very significant way.
So until our next fresh start, I’m going to make the most of this one. Here is a little of what we have been up to lately.
When we arrived back in Cartagena after summer break, Coffee Tuesdays were born. Something that had been discussed for a few months came to life and it has made all the difference for me this year.
It is one morning set aside every week to explore. New restaurants, galleries or shops. A no-guilt couple of hours dedicated to discovering new gems in the City. This day gives my usual weekday routine a nice exciting twist. We have talked about the creation of a coffee-table book made solely from the pictures we take on Tuesdays, and I think I might have to give it a try.
When we moved overseas, I felt eager to find my new routine. I needed a schedule and a comfort zone. I have also enjoyed playing the tourist on weekends with my family, but this isn’t about hitting every stop on trip advisor. It is about slow mornings with friends, finding the best coffee, meeting locals, going somewhere on a whim and wandering around to find the most beautiful and photogenic spaces. Most of these are difficult with kids in tow. If I could give everyone this same advice: go explore your town, keep your sanity and give yourself something to look forward to in the middle of the week.
Coffee Tuesdays will forever be one my fondest memories of our time living in Cartagena.
It’s no secret, I miss a good book-store. Maybe it’s the Portlander in me, but browsing all the latest books, sipping coffee and the quiet murmur of people is one of my top 5 favorite things. Haven’t been able to find that here in a real consistent way. Especially books in English. Until now, or at least until the end of February.
The Logos Hope in port.
How cool is a floating book store? The Logos Hope pulled into port at the end of January and we took our turn checking it out.
Over 400 international employees devote a year or longer to work on this floating book store, promoting education, literacy, and social awareness around the world. What an awesome opportunity and how great to bring this experience to people all over the world?
I am often in awe of the organizations and experiences that we have discovered while living here. I was impressed and inspired by the people and the mission of this team, that I otherwise would never have known about. When the Logos Hope leaves port, she will venture north up to Guatemala and various stops in Mexico until Summer. So thankful she stopped here for a bit. I am hoping I can squeeze in another trip before she goes.
Good news. We found a barn, with horses, and a riding school and I couldn’t be happier. As I sat on the outside of the arena, watching my kids take their first lesson, I thought about how many hours my own parents had logged watching me. I don’t know if my children will grow to have the same love of horses I do but I am thrilled that we can afford to give it a try.
My dream ever since these little kiddos came along has been to ride along side them. Doesn’t every parent want to pass on a love for something they enjoy? Today, we started working our way towards that goal.
Whether they love it or not, I want them to be try-ers. People who want to try. I did not always love everything my parents pushed me to do, but in the end, I had a strong sense of what I really loved and wanted to pursue. It hopefully turns into a confidence for learning and a well-rounded set of experiences. There are many activities that are not available to us while we are here, so finding what we can do and making the most of it is important to our sanity.
Just listen to the excitement from that little voice.
Today was the first day since arriving back in Cartagena that I felt in sync with everything going on around me. I feel like I hibernated a bit after we came home, trying to process the transition back.
When people ask me about living in Colombia, I often talk about the quality of life you are able to have here. What I sometimes fail to mention about living abroad is the mental energy it takes to live your everyday life. This is not a whiny rant, so don’t go there. It can be a real struggle to live your everyday normal life where you still can’t fully communicate and where the cultural customs can still be quite different from what you would choose. I occasionally have to give myself the “you can do it” pep-talks, but more often, I head into the world armed with google translate, bi-lingual friends and the courage to outlast any awkward situation.
So, today, walking around our city on some solo errands somehow felt like I had found my comfortable place again. The city is always alive and buzzing and I just needed to borrow some of that energy.
So without getting to wordy, here is what we have been up to the last month or so… Swimming, enjoying the coffee and all the views.
It’s also no secret that I love animals. We have been treated to so many cool and unexpected encounters since we got back. Red Squirrels, Monkeys, Iguana’s, and my favorite was the Sloth.
It may have been a slow start, but that’s ok. I need to be reminded that even though we are a year and a half in, this isn’t an easy process. There are good days and bad ones, and most days have a little of both.