Friday, February 26, 2010

Oldest Film Festival in Latin America

Yesterday, the Cartagena Film Festival (Festival de Cine de Cartagena) began. This year organizers are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Festival, which makes it the oldest continuous festival of its kind in Latin America. *

In the 1960's, the Festival was in competition with the festival in Havana. In the 1970's, it hosted many up and coming names and faces. The 1980's proved to be its Golden Years. Unfortunately, the 1990's brought decline to the event and up until 2 years ago, the Festival seemed to be on its last legs, losing prestige to other international and Latino film festivals. Skeptics and critics alike had all but written of the event.

However, new leadership is bringing about a change. The movies being shown are now award contenders. Additionally, many homegrown Colombian movies are getting a showing at the Festival.

You can read about one here:

For more information check out this article:

* The Havana Film festival is actually the oldest -- started 5 years before the Cartagena Festival, however, the Havana Film Festival missed 10 years a number of years back.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

New Tourism Campaign

The Colombian Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism has announced a new campaign to increase Colombian tourism -- by Colombians.

While the last 6 years have seen an increase of 10% in international visitors to Colombia, there has been little growth in domestic tourism. Colombian officials hope to change that with a new campaign called "Vive Colombia -- el país que llevas en el corazón."

Watch the campaign video here:

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

National Parks -- Parques Nacionales Naturales

Like most parents, we start planning our summer vacation way in advance. First, we decide where we will be going. Then, we research all of the activities and options and prices for our decided destination.

This year, we are planning a month long trip to Colombia. This means I am researching what new places we will visit this year. My hope is to document our trip back on the blog here. We will be taking our 5 1/2 year old and our 9 year old sons.

In part because of my research about biodiversity for this blog, in part because of the new tourism campaign, and in part because of our vacation, I have been researching Colombia's National Nature Parks. Did you know that this year Colombia's National Nature Parks are celebrating their 50th anniversary. In honor of that Golden Anniversary, I plan to feature information about several parks that you might consider visiting over the coming weeks. To check out the whole series, you'll want to click on the National Parks Tab at the right in a few weeks.

FYI -- In Colombia, there are 54 National Nature Parks -- of which 24 are considered optimal for ecotourism. Below is the complete list. However, not all are located in areas that would be safe or recommended for foreign visitors. I plan to highlight those that are safe.

  1. Cocuy
  2. Amacayacu
  3. Gorgona
  4. Los Flamencos
  5. Malpelo
  6. Iguaque
  7. Los Nevados
  8. Otún Quimbaya
  9. Isla de Salamanca
  10. Tuparro
  11. Chingaza
  12. Corales San Bernardo
  13. Estoraques
  14. Old Providence McBean Lagoon
  15. Tayrona
  16. Utría
  17. Macuira
  18. Sumapaz
  19. Puracé
  20. Galeras
  21. Guanentá Alto Río Fonce
  22. Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
  23. La Corota
  24. Cueva de los Guácharos

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

1st Colombian Winter Olympics

This year, for the first time, Colombia is participating in the Winter Olympics. (By the way my little beef with NBC is that for the last 3 Olympics, where Colombia participated, they always cut away on Colombia and then say, "While we were away, Colombia and, X, and X entered the stadium." Couldn't they choose different countries to chop out each time?")

Anyway, as a country where very little snow falls, winter sports are not particularly popular or available. Therefore, it will not come as a surprise to find out that the lone Colombian participant, Cinthya Denzler, wasn't actually born -- or even raised -- in Colombia. However, she does have dual citizenship.

Ms. Denzler was actually born in 1983, in Santa Ana, California, the daughter of Swiss parents. It was in the Alps that Cynthia spent her youth and it was also there that she developed a love of skiing. Then, ten years ago, her father, Hanspeter Denzler, went to Colombia to open a clothing manufacturing business in Pereira, Risaralda. It was there, after living for the required time, that the family was able to acquire their Colombian citizenship.

In 2009, Cinthya represented Colombia at the skiing World Cup. There she explained to a German newspaper that, "I have spent a lot of time in Colombia and as a result, I have deep feelings for the country."

Though Ms. Denzler has little hope of winning a medal, she had a dream of participating in the Olympics. She approached the Colombian Olympic Committee (COC), and they agreed to be her sponsor. With their backing, she participated in the qualifying events and did well enough to qualify her for Olympic participation.

For many people, the dream of a medal is not the only Olympic dream. For most athletes, it is the opportunity to walk into the stadium representing their country -- either by birth or adoption, to do their best, and feel that they are among the top copetitors in the world.

Denzler hopes to finish in the final 30 of the Slalom and Giant Slalom. Though I doubt you'll see her on NBC, where we can only watch Americans, she will be competing on Feb 24th and 26th. I'll write a post on March 1st to let you know how she did.

Monday, February 22, 2010

February Wait List

The most recent Wait List was published by ICBF on February 1, 2010. Joyfully, there has been a lot of movement.

Once again, the ICBF Wait List applies to adoptions through ICBF only -- not through CASAS PRIVADAS. It also ONLY APPLIES TO NON COLOMBIAN FAMILIES. It DOES NOT reflect special needs children. The definition of special needs are children with disabilities, children over 8 years of age, and sibling groups of 3 or more.

All dates that have advanced I am putting in BOLD and RED.

Also, this list only reflects that there are no more dossiers at the national office prior to the date shown. Dossiers from before May 2006 in the 0-23 months category, for example, may still need a referral, but they have already been sent to a region and are no longer at the national office.

Age of Child ------- Date of Application Approval by ICBF
Child 0-12 months ------ May - 2006
Child 13 - 23 months ---- May -2006
Child 2 years ----------- Sep - 2005
Child 3 years ----------- Jan - 2006
Child 2 - 3 years -------- Apr - 2006
Child 3 - 4 years -------- Dec - 2005
Child 4 years ----------- Oct - 2005
Child 5 years ----------- June - 2007
Child 4 -5 years -------- Apr - 2006
Child 5 - 6 years ------- Aug - 2007
Child 6 years ----------- Dec - 2009
Child 7 years ----------- Aug- 2009

2 Siblings 0 - 4 years --- Mar-2007
2 Siblings 0 - 5 years --- Nov-2006
2 Siblings 0 - 6 years --- Mar-2008
2 Siblings 0 - 7 years --- Feb-2009
2 Siblings 0 - 8 years --- Jan - 2009

Friday, February 19, 2010

One Family's Journey: The best thing we did in Colombia

Our trip to Colombia was an amazing, frustrating and beautiful time in our lives. I'm sure any adopted parent will tell you that they'll never forget their first days getting to know their child and everyday I wake up I still can't believe that we are the parents to this little hurricane!

During our time in Bogota, we had many ups and downs and many special moments, but there is one moment that I almost missed: Meeting my son's foster family.

Because we sent a relative to our son's independent medical exam we were able to get our son's foster mother's information and the morning we left we called her and asked if we could meet her and her husband to thank them for the love and care they gave him. I won't lie when I say I was somewhat hesitant to do this. What if she was crazy? But I thought, at the very least we must thank them. Our child is the person he is today because of their love and care, it's the least I can do.

So we arranged to meet them at the Museo de Oro for onces, and I will tell you that meeting them is something I will never forget. It was the best decision I made while we in Bogota.

She and her husband wept with joy when they saw us. I'll demure about whether I was a little red-eyed too. They told us all about his first years, his first steps, his little personality and funny stories. She brought us extra pictures telling me "Bienestar doesn't like us to give too many" but he is your son and these are you pictures. I know all you adoptive parents know how valuable this is. We brought pictures of Elian and it was wonderful to see them flip through them and comments "Oh, this facial expression is just so classic him! Isn't he a little rascal?"

But I think I will never forget when she told me this "You know I've been a foster Mom for 9 years, I've had more than 80 children pass through my home, but sometimes it just gets really hard to let them go. And letting him go after so much time together was one of the hardest things I've ever done. My whole family is furious with me for being so depressed about saying goodbye to him. This week I was praying and asking God "Send me a sign if you want me to continue because I don't know if I can do this anymore". Then she turned to me and said "The morning after I asked God for a sign your husband called me to see if we could meet. In nine years you are the first parents who have ever called us. You call was the sign I was looking for. You are the answer to my prayers."

I cannot tell you how big the heart of a person is that can spend nine years caring for children and giving them away to people they never meet. The beauty of my son's foster parents blew me away, so I urge you if you have the chance please consider meeting your child's foster parents.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

One Family's Journey: El Dorado Airport

El Dorado Airport can be crazy. CRAZY I tell you. You need to go three hours before you flight. It doesn't always take three hours but many, many times I've gone three hours before my flight and barely made it to the gate on time. This is especially true if you are going on an early morning flight. Here's what you can expect when you leave the country.

1) Bring with you a copy of the Sentencia and the birth certificate. Our facilitator made us a little airport packet. Immigration will ask to look at this, sometimes they keep it! (Yet another reason to get lots of notarized copies of everything). It is their right to do that.

2) There are some weird airport exit taxes in Colombia, sometimes they are included in your ticket, sometimes not. I don't understand the rules and never have, but regardless the airport personnel will help you figure it out. They usually send you to get your passport stamped at this special "Impuestos" window and then sometimes you don't have to pay. This is a good thing!

3) Because of the drug trade security is sometimes REALLY tight at El Dorado. I mean drug-sniffing guns, take everything single thing out of your tightly packed suitcase -- by hand. The last few times we went it hasn't been too strict. The first time I went everything in my suitcase was touched by at least two people.

4) When you get in line you will be interviewed by somebody before you get your boarding pass. They will ask you where you've been etc. This is standard procedure for everyone leaving the country.

5) Once you get your boarding pass you can proceed to the International gates. Here you will pass through a security screen and then customs. And then another security screen. If you have a little time to kill there are lots of cafes and even a Crepes and Waffles on the second floor of El Dorado. We took the time to visit with our friends and hosts Andres and Maritza at Juan Valdez before our tearful goodbye.

6) There will be one last security screen to enter the waiting room for your flight and then you are on your way. Good job CAMPEONES!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

One Family's Journey: To-Do Before You Leave

Okay you made it! Time to say goodbye to your Colombian friends and family, eat your last empanadas and wonder if the flight home is going to be smooth or bumpy? We had less then 8 hours from the time we got our visa till the time we got on our flight, but we still managed to do something which I highly suggest to other parents.

1) Get a copy of your child's entire file. This requires you to leave a written request and a notarized copy of your Sentencia with Bienestar. You can do this any time after the Sentencia is final. The file we got contained some very interesting information that was not included in the Referral. I highly suggest it for your child's benefit. When he gets older and starts to ask questions we can tell him "Here it is, we got everything for you."

2) Likewise, you can go to the hospital where your child was born and request a full copy of his medical records. We didn't do this, but I think it would've been a good idea if we had the time. [Colombian Mommy Note: I spoke with Hospital San Blas in Bogota about doing this. They require 1) a written, notarized request in Spanish, 2) a notarized/authenticated copy of the Sentencia, 3) if you don't plan to stick around a few days, you will also need a power of attorney that allows someone else permission to pick up the file when they are finished copying it.]

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

One Family's Journey: Embassy Rounds

So now you've got Sentencia. You've got your child's Birth Certificate. You've got your child's passport! What's next? Embassy Rounds!

1) First you have to go see an Embassy doctor who will make sure that your child does not have any contagious diseases. This is a public health precaution not an actual doctor's visit, so don't expect your doctor to actually give you any health advice. The guy who saw Elian grumped at us "That kid is active!" My husband said, "Well he's a toddler".

Many kids will need some vaccinations which can be given at the same appointment. The doctor will give you a sealed envelope to be taken to the embassy. DO NOT OPEN IT!!! The envelope will say this in big letters, but still it bears repeating. DO NOT OPEN!!!! Okay, I feel better, I've done my duty!

2) When you have gathered the following:
  1. A copy of Sentencia
  2. Your child's passport
  3. The medical results
  4. Your child's birth certificate
  5. The conformidad from Bienestar

you can go to the Embassy and apply for your child's visa. You must enter the Embassy before 11 am Mon-Thur. You will sit around for a few hours and pay $400 US for the visa. It is boring and they don't allow you to bring any electronics inside. To my great relief Elian fell asleep for most of the three hours we were there. I suggest bringing a book. There is, however, a cafe that sells palitos de queso which I found to be a great relief from boredom. The embassy waiting room is outdoors. Expect to see a thousand Colombians there applying for visas. You talk to the consuls through those same telephones you see in prisons. It's not a very friendly set-up, but still there are "palitos de queso" and coffee! Look on the bright side!

You will be shuffled around to a few windows, but the last stop is the "interview" of the child. Elian is a toddler and didn't have too much to say so our interview was quite short. Then our visa was approved. Yay!

3) The day after your visa is approved you will come back around 3 in the afternoon and pick up your child's visa. Check it over to make sure there are no mistakes. And then breathe a deep sigh of relief. You made it! You have all you need to go home!!!!

Monday, February 15, 2010

One Family's Journey: Sentencia and What Happens After

After a quick break to catch my breath we're back to tell you the story of our last week in Bogota and all the legal hoops we made it through to come back home! Here's what you can expect to happen when you get SENTENCIA!

1) Your lawyer will submit your paperwork as I described in my last post. Then you will wait around. This part is exceedingly boring, but after the drama of our last week, I would tell future parents to enjoy the calm because things get WILD the week you leave.

2) Your lawyer will call you and tell you that the judge has signed Sentencia and when you're appointment is to sign the papers. Our lawyer called us on a Monday morning and we went Monday afternoon at 2:30 pm. I have heard that some judges like to meet the families before they sign, but we never saw our judge.

3) You arrive at the court, and in Bogota anyways, it's all extremely disappointing. No judge, a million people looking for who knows what and PILES of paper everywhere. In Colombia, digital copies are not legal. We went to our Juzgado and a notary authenticated our papers with our signatures. [Colombian Mommy Note: It is very important that you double check that all names are spelled correctly and exactly as they appear on your passports. Also double check that your passport numbers that are listed are correct. You may not be able to read every word, but it is up to you to make sure that all of your identifying information is correct. Many a family has been delayed because of small errors and then the Birth Certificate office refuses to issue a cert or the passport office refuses to issue a passport -- SO DOUBLE CHECK!!!]
4)Then while our lawyer was securing the necessary copies we went to the bank to pay for copies of Elian's new birth certificate. Because getting extra copies of my husband's birth certificate was a nightmare, we bought extra copies of Elian's. I highly suggest this!! And they only cost a few dollars each anyways. [Colombian Mommy Note: Absolutely get many copies you need then for immigration, readopt, US passport, Social Security Card and a few other reasons. We got 8 copies and used all but one of them. This is not a time to be cheap. You will also need more copies if you plan to have you child maintain Colombian citizenship and get a cedula and libreta militar in the future. Also, double check that everything on the certificate is correct and that all names and identifying numbers are exact.]

5) After this we waited for our lawyer and because he has great connections we were able to get Elian's birth certificate the same afternoon. To do this you need to go to the "registuradia" where your child was originally registered. In most cases, the copies will be given to you that day.

6) Next, you can go get your child's Colombian Passport which you need in order to start the Embassy rounds. I didn't do this, but if you are in Bogota DO NOT go to the passport office in the Centro International. They are a bunch of incompetent slowpokes. Go to the the one on Calle 100 [Colombian Mommy Note: Amen!!].

7) Next your facilitator will take a copy of the sentencia to Bienestar in order to get a copy of the "Conformidad". This document says "These people adopted this child". This redundancy must be shown at the embassy in order to get the visa. It is a Hague requirement that is somewhat new. We had a series of traumatic events that led us to almost not get this document. You can read about it here. What happened to us probably won't happen to you though! We have extraordinary luck!

After you get this document you can go to the embassy! I'll blog about that part tomorrow. And if you'd like some visuals about what our Sentencia day looked like you can check out a photo documentary of our day on our personal blog by clicking here.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Amphibian Biodiversity

Colombia ranks 2nd in the world for diverse species of amphibians (only Brazil has more).

Here are some interesting statistics -- according to a report jointly issued by Conservation International, The World Conservation Union, and Nature Serve:

Colombia is home to 698 unique amphibian species.
  • 648 -- frogs and toads
  • 19 -- salamanders
  • 31 -- caecilians

Colombia also has the largest number of threatened amphibian species in the world with 208 -- that means about 30% of the amphibian species in Colombia are in threat of extinction.

  • 50 species are critically endangered

  • 78 species are endangered

  • 80 species are threatened

An additional 48 species are considered near threatened.

A few months ago, I wrote a post about one critically endangered frog species -- the Golden Poison Frog. Read about it here:


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Butterfly Biodiversity

Prepona praeneste or prepona roja de la montaña

In Colombia there are an estimated 3800 different butterfly species, with a confirmed count of 3273 as of January 2009 -- ranking the country #2 in the world in terms of butterfly diversity.

Like Birds, many species are threatened. Among the threatened species are the Arhuaco ica or mariposa de los arhuacos, Lymanopoda caeruleata or Limanopada azul, Morpho rhodopteron or Morfo Anacarada, all native to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. In addition, the Prepona praeneste or prepona roja de la montaña from the Andean Zone and the Prepona werneri or prepona azul from Chocó are all endangered species.

The loss of species is due to the growth of agriculture, cattle, and most importantly the cutting down of trees in order to plant drug crops which are then sprayed with chemicals (thank you US government) that destroy insect habitat.

On Flickr there is a group of 54 pictures of Colombian butterflies. You can click here and then click on detail to see each one up close.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bird Biodiversity

Did you know that Colombia has the largest number of unique avian species in the world? With 1,871 different species, they rank #1 in avian biodiversity.

I am a statistic lover. So here are a few you can throw up on your personal blog or your child can write into their report on Colombia.

In 2009, there were 1871 unique, recorded avian species in Colombia. Of those, 1 has been declared officially extinct. Another 13 species are critically endangered, 31 are endangered, 52 are threatened, and 60 near threatened.

Currently, there are 15 avian preserves in Colombia. Three in Antioquia, 3 in Santander, and one each in Boyacá, Cauca, Magdelena, Meta, Nariño, Norte Santander, Quindío, San Andrés and Tolima.

A few months ago I wrote post about one of the 13 critically endangered species. You can read about it here:

Today, I want to focus on the species we have lost. Known as the Zambullidor Bogotano (Colombian Grebe or podiceps andinus), it lived in the wetlands surrounding Bogotá and into the lakes and swampy areas of Cundinamarca and Boyacá (Altiplano Cundiboyacense). The species was lost as wetlands were drained and pesticides polluted the remaining water causing eutrophication. Eutrophication occurs when an increase in the concentration of chemical nutrients in an ecosystem increases the productivity of the ecosystem. This usually spawns an over production of algae and plankton and reduces the production of larger plants needed to sustain larger animal life.

Zambullidor Colombiano
Instituto Alexander Von Humbolt

While the species was still abundant in 1945, by 1968 there were only around 300 left. The last confirmed sighting was in 1977, and 2 exhaustive searches in 1981 and 1982 failed to find any sign of the species. Today, it is considered extinct.

WHAT can you and your family do to get involved in saving endangered birds in Colombia? Join FUNDACIÓN PROAVES, or better yet -- Foster a Nest. The cost per year is $85US. That is around $7 a month -- so forgo that Latte or Hamburger and help save a priceless treasure. It is easy. Just click here to learn more.

If you are a birder and plan to visit Colombia, you can get a copy of a Colombian Bird list current as of 2009, (to add to your life list) here:

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

2010 International Year of Biodiversity

We share the planet with 13 million different living species including plants, animals and bacteria, only 1.75 million of which have been named and recorded. This incredible natural wealth is a priceless treasure that forms the ultimate foundation of our wellbeing. The systems and processes of this BIODIVERSITY produce our food, water and the air we breathe – the basic fundamentals of life.

However, Biodiversity’s contribution to our life is not just practical, physical and utilitarian, it is also cultural. The diversity of the natural world has been a constant source of inspiration throughout human history, influencing traditions, the way our society has evolved and supplying the basic goods and services upon which trade and the economy is built. The disappearance of unique species is a loss that cannot be calculated and leaves us all much poorer.

The UN has declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity. As a consequence, a global campaign designed to encourage worldwide action to safeguard biodiversity has begun. People all over the world are working to safeguard this irreplaceable natural wealth and reduce biodiversity loss. Humans are part of nature’s rich diversity and have the power to protect or destroy it.

Unfortunately, Human activity is causing the diversity of life on Earth to be lost at a greatly accelerated rate. These losses are irreversible, impoverish us all and damage the life support systems we rely on everyday. But we can prevent them. Now is the time to act.

BIODIVERSITY IS LIFE!!! BIODIVERSITY IS OUR LIFE!!! and COLOMBIA is one of the world's most biologically diverse countries. In honor of the 2010 initiative, I am planning a series to focus on some of the great biodiversity that can be found in Colombia. Hand in hand with this series, I plan to highlight some of the amazing national and natural parks of the country, and make suggestions as to how you can help Colombia preserve its biological diversity. I encourage you to involve you Colombian born children in learning about the amazing biodiversity of the country and taking at least 1 action as a family to preserve that diversity for future generations.

To learn more about the UN initiative:

Facebook page

Monday, February 08, 2010

What We Wish We Would Have Known

It is about time for another installment of Jane's advice for people adopting a older child. So here goes and thanks Jane:

Here are a few ideas from the "Stuff we wish we would had known about before adopting an older child" file:

  1. That a summer vacation isn't real life. Some of the children who are up for adoption come as guests of a summer program. Of course children on vacation are going to have a good time with their host families. But once the vacation is over, the papers are signed and real life begins, it is a shock. Be prepared for the reality. That a child's wishes may not be in her best interests. If your child wants to change her name, that's not cute. She wants to forget the past, which is impossible. Just because you have adopted an orphan doesn't mean you have to accede to every wish. If she wants to stay up late, text boys you haven't met, watch only Spanish TV, it's OK to just say "NO!" And then explain why. You'll be doing a lot of explaining! LOTS and LOTS of explaining....

  2. That kids who say they don't want to be adopted probably mean it. We know a family whose social worker in Colombia pressured the child to go through with the adoption, only to end up with difficult problems once thechild was brought to live here in the States. The problems were finally resolved, but the process was painful and harmful.

  3. That a bilingual therapist is a must. Start early. Find out the depth of your child's trauma and start the healing process at once -- don't wait.

  4. That English is hard to learn. Go easy on your child. During the first year, we allowed our daughter to watch Spanish language TV on the weekends. It was her comfort zone. Think how excited you would be in Colombia, if you found your favorite show in English.

  5. That experience raising children is a HUGE advantage. Going from NO children to an adopted child must be tougher than having raised kids already. This is simply speculation on my part.

  6. That the form accompanying the child during her summer visit doesn't tell you everything. The dossier accompanying the child is often sanitized. Some of these kids have been through stuff that would curdle your blood. And you may not find out about it until your child is in your home. Accept any information you are provided with a grain of salt. And if your child tells you stuff that is different from what the authorities told you, chances are your child is right.

  7. That knowing how to speak the child's language is important. Take Spanish lessons! Your child is going to put out her best effort to learn YOUR language. Buy Rosetta Stone and learn hers. It's the least you can do while waiting for sentencia.

  8. That you will question your decision once in a while. It's only natural. Some mornings you will wake up thinking, "What have I done??" It's OK. You'd do that with your biological children: it's OK to do it with your adopted child!

  9. That it will turn your life upside down --in a good way! Are you up to the challenge? Is your marriage up to the challenge? The child is going to take A LOT of time and emotional energy. Your relationship with your significant other had better be strong. Seriously! Schedule time alone with your husband/wife/significant other.

  10. That your kid doesn't necessarily want to socialize with kids from her past. Just because your child came to your town with other orphans doesn't mean that she likes the other kids. It may be fun for you to meet up with the other prospective parents once in a while, but your child isn't going to find it particularly fun. Hanging out with former orphans isn't cool. Hanging out with regular kids is.

  11. I wish I had known about this book. An adopted friend of mine recommended it. Read it! The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child by Nancy Verrier. Quote from Amazon: "This book is a definite 'must read' for all parents of adopted children." I know that as a parent you will resist believing in the Primal Wound, but you must, for the benefit of your children. You will learn to understand your adopted children and will be able to help them throughout their lives - sometimes even in the smallest way, i.e. the simple reassurance that you WILL return home after work.

Jane and her husband John run the organization: FRIENDS OF COLOMBIAN ORPHANS. Recently, their organization won a competition and received several thousand dollars. Read more here:

Saturday, February 06, 2010


If you will be headed to CALI in the next few weeks be aware that the city is currently experiencing an out break of DENGUE FEVER. Unlike Malaria, which typically strikes in rural areas, DENGUE hits both rural and urban areas. So far, there have been 718 suspected cases with an additional 111 confirmed cases.

The fever causes severe pain and headaches and for this reason received the nickname --breakbone fever, can result in death and this week claimed the lives of 4 children and a 24 year old man. It is transmitted by mosquitoes and there is no immunization to protect you from it.

A fumigation initiative has been started in Cali, but it would be a good idea to bring repellent.
You can read more from the Colombian newspaper EL TIEMPO:

Friday, February 05, 2010

Bogotá for Beginners: Museo de Oro

When the Spanish came to what is today Colombia, they heard a tale of a tribe of Indians that were masters of gold. Indians in the Caribbean region spoke of a tribe of Indians that made beautiful gold pieces and that had so much gold that they would paint themselves with it and sacrifice boat loads of gold to their God.

Thus began the search for El Dorado (the Golden One). Though the story the Spanish heard was greatly exaggerated, there was indeed a tribe of Indians that made a sacrifice of Gold in what is called the lake of Guatavita.

When the Cacique (ka -SEE-kay) of the village of Guatvita died and his successor appointed, the new chief or cacique would indeed be bathed in gold. Then, he sat upon a large wooden raft that was covered in items made of gold. He would float out into the middle of the lake and all of the items would be dumped into the lake then he would jump in and wash off the gold from his skin.

The piece pictured here at the left is a representation of that ceremony. This piece was found by campesinos in 1969 in a cave outside Pasca. It is actually the second one found the first was found in the 1800's and was destroyed in a fire on its way to be housed in a German museum. Because of the loss of the first Balsa del Dorado, Colombia has never allowed, nor will it allow this piece to leave the country -- you can only see it at the museum!!! It alone is worth the trip.

But wait, there's more!!!! You can see literally thousands of pieces from some 12 different Pre-Hispanic Indian tribes. In addition to gold there are other master art pieces and cultural icons of Colombia. And, drum roll please, a super cool children's section which is HANDS ON!!!

Free tours are conducted daily in Spanish and English. There are also audio tours available in Spanish, English and French for a fee of $6,000 pesos. But, if you want a personal guide, you can get one for $106,000 for groups consisting of 1-10 people. These guides speak English, French, German or Italian and must be prearranged by calling 343-1206. Also available are special tours in Spanish for the blind or in Colombian sign language for the deaf -- this may be a great thing for families adopting kids with special needs. You must prearrange your special needs tour by calling 343- 2222.

Finally, there are adult and children's workshops nearly every week. These are amazing hands on learning activities. The workshops are free, but space is limited to 30 people, so you need to call early to reserve a spot 343-1206.

The Museum is open Tuesday-Sunday. The price to enter the Museum is $3000. Free for those over 60 years of age, under 12 years of age, or of indigenous origin. It is also free to the public (but quite crowded) on Sundays.

Getting to the Museum is easy on the Transmilleno bus system. You want to go towards LAS AGUAS and get off at the Museo de Oro station. You get dropped off just a few steps from the Museum.

There are so many amazing things to see while in Bogotá, especially for those who have spent most of their adoption process in other regions and are trying to finish the process at their Embassy. However, don't be in such a rush to get back home that you miss spending a morning or afternoon at the Gold Museum. I carried our 21 1/2 month old in a hip carrier through the whole museum, and I am so glad I did. Truly an amazing experience.


Thursday, February 04, 2010

Bogotá for Beginners: Museo Nacional de Colombia

In the U.S., we have the Smithsonian. In Colombia, there is the Museo Nacional -- the National Museum. The Museum was established almost 187 years ago -- on July 28, 1823. It thas been housed in many locations, but the most recent (from 1948 - the present) is the former Cundinamarca Prison -- which was declared a National Monument in 1975 because of its amazing architecture.
A few years ago, a newly restored and updated interior was unveiled. What a change!!!

Today the museum boasts permanent and travelling exhibits on 3 different levels. The permanent exhibits consists of 17 areas and over 2,500 pieces.

The first floor houses the Pre-Colombian exhibits as well as exhibits from the time of the Spanish Conquest. Gold, pots, mummies, swords -- way cool for little boys!!! You can learn about native Colombians from many different regions -- Tolima, Boyacá, the Coast, etc.

The 2nd floor houses exhibits from 1550-1886 -- the Colonization, Independence (including items belonging to Simón Bolivar and the picture of Pedro Pascasio Martinez) and growth of Federalism.

The 3rd floor hosts exhibits from 1886 to the present.

The travelling exhibits include one that right now pays homeage to the TELENOVELA -- and what self respecting Colombian would not agree the the telenovela is an integral part of Colombian culture, just ask Ugly Betty what I'm talking about.

The first time I went I was told that you can, for a fee, request a tour guide that speaks English. While I was there I heard one giving a tour in French. So, it would be worth calling and seeing if this is still available.

There are games and activities for children (at least that is what I read online -- didn't take the kids last time I went). Here is a link:

I think the best part of the museum is that you leave with a greater understanding and appreciation for Colombia. That is a gift to give yourself.

The museum is located on Carrera 7 between Calles 28 and 29. You can get there by taking the Transmilenio and getting off at the Estación Calle 26 and walking 2 blocks. You can't miss it -- here's a picture so you will recognize it.
It is open to the public on Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. It is closed on Mondays.

The price of admission is 3,000 pesos for adults, 2,000 for kids 13-18 with a student ID card, 1,000 pesos for kids 5-12 and free from kids under 5. It is also free for everyone on Sundays.


Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Bogotá for Beginners: Museo Botero

Back in December, I wrote about the artist Fernando Botero:

Today, as part of the Bogotá for Beginners series, I would like to talk about the Botero Museum in Bogotá. This truly is a must see for any adoptive family.

In 2000, Fernando Botero donated 123 works of art to the art museum that now bears his name. The works include drawings, paintings and sculptures. You can see online photos of the collection here:
In addition to the works by Botero, you will find other works by the following artists: Corot, Renoir, Bonnard, Dalí, Chagall, Beckmann, Delvaux, Giacometti, Picasso, Miró, Bacon and Moore.

The Museum, which is FREE to the public, is located in La Candelaria, right next door to the Casa de la Moneda. The exact address is Calle 11 No. 4-41.

Its hours of operation are:
Monday - Saturday 9:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Sundays and Holidays: 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Closed Tuesdays


Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Bogotá for Beginners: Casa de la Moneda

In the heart of Bogotá, just a few steps from the Plaza de Bolivar, you will find the House of Coins --La Casa de la Moneda. Established in 1621, by the military engineer Alonso Turrillo de Yebra, who had been authorized by the King of Spain to create the first money minting facility in the New Kingdom of Granada (el Nuevo Reino de Granada).

It was in a rented house, in what is known as La Candelaria, that Turrillo de Yerba began making the first gold coins in the Americas. The coins were known as doblones. The original ones made were done by hand and each looked slightly different on the edges. But by 1756, the production was mechanized and more uniform circular coins were made.

In the 1960's, the Colombian government began the process of restoring the original mint and its colonial architecture. In 1982, the restored building opened to the public as a museum. There are both permanent and temporary exhibits.

The exhibit that most impressed our boys was seeing a real Pirate treasure chest and original money safes. On the day we were there, we were given coins that read CASA DE LA MONEDA on them. Very Cool!!

The best part is that it is free!!! There is no admission charge. Below you will find the address and hours of operation.

Calle 11 No. 4-93
Monday -Saturday 9:00 a.m. - 7 :00 p.m.
Sundays and Holidays: 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Closed Tuesdays

Monday, February 01, 2010

Bogotá for Beginners: Divercity

What to do when spending endlessly long weeks in Bogotá waiting for Sentencia. If you have children ages 4 to 13, I would highly recommend spending a weekday morning at DIVERCITY.

DIVERCITY is a mini city for kids inside a huge, new shopping mall in the North of the city-- the Santa . Kids over 3 pay about $5 to enter (parents cost about $3). For the price of admission, they are issued a $20 divi dollar pay check. Once inside they cash the $20 check at the bank and learn how to use an ATM card. Then, they can start spending or earning money. They earn money by working at different occupations- police detectives, fire fighters, foot loop packers, coke bottlers, veterinarians, pilots, farmers, TV station announcers, Radio announcers, beauticians, insurance agents, supermarket clerks, paleontologists, architects, authors, discotheque workers, etc. They spend their divi money if they want to go on safari, watch a play, climb the rock wall, play arcade games, take bus rides, or buy prizes.
Spanish fluency is not necessarily a requirement as there are things that do not require language. Even 2-3 year olds, in the company of older siblings, can enjoy milking cows, bus rides and dressing up.

There are 2 daily sessions, morning (10am-3pm) and evening (4pm-9pm). I recommend the morning session during the week as there are typically fewer kids and therefore your kids spend less time waiting in line.

This activity would not be good for kids who cannot handle a crowd or noise. But it is a blast for most kids. Our son was 5 when we took him and he liked it so much that we went back twice during our stay in Bogotá.

Here is a link to their website.