Sunday, January 27, 2013

Francois Gabart wins the Vendee Globe!

  1. An Impressive win... Francois Gabart arrives in France earlier today. Please go to for further updates.
    From the Virtual Regatta page and from Vendee Globe.....

Friday, January 25, 2013

He asked me to marry him...

Carlos Martinez was a sweet man, not just because he asked me to marry him at a time I needed either a laugh or a feeling of being wanted, but because he truly did care about others, and I appreciated that about him.

Carlos Martinez, a Colombian friend.
He is the father of Gabriela and Claudia and step-father to Martha and Louisa, but he was the patriarch of all. I met him at Corasoma, the finca in Barichara, Santander when I first arrived there several years ago. I had heard about him before I actually met him, because he was at that time living in San Gil, almost an hour away.

But with declining health he built a small house and moved up to Corasoma where he lived with his daughters and granddaughters for almost two years. During that time he was without a car, and when I was in Colombia I had one, so he would join me on my trips to San Gil and we would go to lunch in some obscure place which never failed to be a terrific meal. Then he would ask to stop at his favorite 'vivero' (garden store) where he would buy plants or trees for Corasoma.

Carlos appreciated good food and knew where to find it!
I was grateful that Carlos allowed me to stumble along in my Spanish, but he spoke English very well and also enjoyed our conversations in that language so he could keep up his skills. On our jaunts I learned the names of plants, got history lessons, met many of his friends and the people who had the best fruits and vegetables in San Gil. He helped me to appreciate Colombia more.

After I turned him down for marriage, he would refer to me as his 'fiance' when people asked who I was... our private joke. But the last time I was at the market and saw the grocers, they asked about him... "Su novio, como esta?" I didn't have the heart to try and explain in Spanish that he wasn't my boyfriend, because I did rank him as a dear friend and knowing he was critically ill, it seemed complicated to 'break up with him' in their minds at this point. Instead I took a photo of them standing all together waving and wishing him well and sent it on to his daughter to share with him.

I didn't really know Carlos for very long or really very well in the long scheme of his life of 80+ years, but I wanted to acknowledge him today as he has taken that long walk through the Green Door leaving behind a legacy of caring, and to acknowledge he touched my heart while he was here.
Sunset at Corasoma: rest in peace dear friend and I thank you for being.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Baby Jesus was stolen from the parish!

Fecha: 20 de enero de 2013 18:33:49 GMT-06:00
Para: <>


Note from me -- I don't know more than what is here, but because it may be an antique and be showing up someplace outside of Colombia, I hope if it is seen, it will be returned.

Let's Play CLUE...

You know this game, you have to figure out “whodunnit.” But I’m going to give you the answer ahead of time… it was the granny in the airport using the family silver. 

Now you really must be wondering what this is all about… When I went to Colombia for the first time several years ago, there were a number of things I didn’t want to risk leaving in a storage unit anywhere. Maybe you’ve seen the weekly TV show “Storage Wars” where people fail to pay their storage bill and everything gets auctioned off. I didn’t want that to happen to silver knives, forks and spoons that were a gift to me from my father when I married back in the 60’s. Some of the other things I valued were an antique mirror with two drawers, a cedar chest, and my PC and bike.

The fellow I went to Colombia with felt he had enough to fill a container, with a little room left over. He was actually mad at me when we were packing it because the little bit of space I was taking was preventing him from taking more things. That darn container weighed over 10 tons!! (You can read about that past adventure here.)

Anyhow, when we decided to go our separate ways, he still had a a huge storage bin in Washington, PLUS all the stuff from the container in Colombia. I took my things and found a house in Colombia to live in, and surprise, I had a lot more than I realized.

In this past year I have been downsizing, and shipped a rather hefty collection of things back to the U.S. including those mentioned above - except the family silver because the shipper would not take responsibility for anything of ‘great value.’
Crew from PORTAN, S.A., packing up my
things. Great job! Nothing damaged!

So I decided I would take it back when I flew home. I was tired when I was packing and not paying close attention to what was going in which bag, and ended up putting six place settings of silver, including of course the forks and knives. GUESS WHAT? They were in my carry-on because they are valuable. GUESS WHO doesn’t like knives in carry-ons? The Colombian version of TSA pulled me aside, opened my carry-on and took out those items preparing to confiscate them.

I am in pretty good health, but I could see a cardiac arrest in my future watching that guy (who probably could have fenced the handles on the knives for a healthy income) walk away with all of it. Fortunately an English-speaking Colombian came to my aid and explained to the agent that they were my old family heirlooms (which are very important to Colombians in general) and they agreed to hold onto them until I could get with the JetBlue agent to help me find a solution.

First of all I centered myself and got calm as I walked off to try and locate someone from JetBlue. But when I got to my gate, there were no JetBlue agents and another flight was boarding for the U.S. Now I was getting frantic. My silver dinnerware is sitting in full view of everyone on top of the scanner, waiting for me to re-claim it, and the gate where my flight was scheduled to depart did not exist.

Finally I was able to flag down a JetBlue employee who had a walkie-talkie and he called his supervisor, who then showed up and called someone else to go back to the scanning area with me. As this all took about an hour, my flight was now at another gate and would soon be boarding and I am wondering what kind of solution will evolve.

People… in the worst - or what seems like the worst of situations - when you get calm and do your intention “there is a solution for this for the highest and best good of all concerned,” it does manifest!

Pretty soon a nice JetBlue female employee walked me back to the scanning area, the silver was still there, the Colombian agent had us do the paperwork to sign off on these weapons of mass destruction, I was informed I could put them back in the carry-on but it would be checked at the gate and I would be escorted to make sure that was going to happen.

Just as we were returning to the gate, one of the other passengers on my flight threw her left-over coffee cup, half-filled with cream, toward the trash can, but missed it and hit me instead! She was horrified, I was amused, and when she said she was sorry, I replied, “It could have been worse; it could have been higher and hit me in the head instead of my shoes.” She laughed nervously and admitted, “Yes, it could have been worse.” and I was thinking to myself, “You have NO idea… I have just rescued my heirlooms from a confiscation bin.”

So what is the CLUE here? Traveling, and preparing to travel, makes one tired. Or at least it does that to me now. But even if you are tired, go over the items in your carry-on AGAIN and check them off against the MOST CURRENT Not Allowed list, and particularly do not think that just because you used the knife and fork for breakfast that the people who are protecting the skies see them as harmless instruments of gustatory delight.

Looking south from the mirador in Barichara.
I want to publicly thank the customs employees at El Dorado Airport for their willingness to listen, to discuss alternatives and to be patient with me while finding one. I also want to thank JetBlue's staff for their unparalleled customer service, showing concern and compassion in a competitive atmosphere. At any point along this journey of my stupidity, someone could have been insensitive or uncaring and I might have had a very different ending on this day.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Vendee Globe & Virtual Regatta is nearly over

With over 66 days following the Vendee Globe 2012-13 and participating in the Virtual Regatta I have a new appreciation for the life of a solo sailor. Of the 20 boats that started, only 12 are still in the race. The current leader is MACIF skippered by Francois Gabart with about 3800 miles until he reaches the finish. At his current rate of speed, and depending on the weather,  he might arrive in France in the next 10 days!! In second place today is Banque Populaire helmed by Armel Le Cleac'h and Jean Pierre Dick is working hard to maintain third place on Virbac Paprec 3.

When I started on the virtual race, I was late and my starting position was 224,249 but over the next few weeks an additional 200,000 sailors joined, so during that first week I was definitely in the middle of the fleet. I managed to work my way up quickly and got to about 150,000th, but then was penalized for something - I never learned what it was - and was put back to 200,000th place. Maledicion!

Steadily over the past month I have inched my way up, and during a day when I couldn't get online, I missed a critical gate and had to go back to round that mark. That cost me some miles and time. Then I faced a critical problem of not having internet service and my boat was at the mercy of the winds in the Southern Ocean, but my son agreed to take the helm (via internet) when I could not and kept the boat on course - actually he did an excellent job and gained a lot of speed for the boat. So technically I suppose I should be disqualified, but there was really only one skipper on the boat at a time, so perhaps not.

Since then I've been sticking as close to the rhumb line (for non-sailors that is the imaginary line of the shortest distance between two points) and today I am 136,520th out of 463,019 boats which I believe puts me in the top 33%. I have 7338 miles to go to the finish, so I am at least a week behind the top finishers, it would seem. But I have passed through all the gates, documented them all, and I know some boats will be disqualified if they cannot document clearing the gates. That might move me up some, but hardly enough for any winnings. Sigh.
Upper left shows wind speed and direction, lower left shows the sail in
use and the red line is my track with the red boat being "BirdWoman."
In any event, at this moment "BirdWoman" (the name of my 12 meter boat) is within 18 hours of rounding the last cape, on South America, and due to start heading north toward France.

Why am I doing this when clearly I won't be a top finisher? Partly it was to see if I could overcome the odds and finish well, partly it was because I love sailing and the challenge by itself and finally it is because it is a virtual game and I've never played one before.

Sombrita doesn't mind sleeping on a patterned cover.

Ultimo prefers to sleep on things that are all one color.
Meanwhile the two cats are curled up, sleeping and dreaming kitty-dreams with no idea they are sailing anywhere, much less on a virtual ocean thousands of miles south of their comfy nap spots.

Do you suppose their sleeping choices have anything to do with the color of their fur coats?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Ruta del Sol to be constructed in Colombia

This news was just announced by Colombia Reports:
"Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos on Friday announced 30 bids worth $22.65 billion for construction of the ‘Ruta del Sol’ motorway.
Part of the Ruta del Sol might cross over the
Chicamocha Canyon, This shot was taken on
the current road from Bucaramanga to Bogotá.
The motorway is set to link the Caribbean coast with the Pacific via Bogota. The World Bank recently cited poor transportation as one of the main factors of economic uncompetitiveness in Colombia, something an efficient transnational route will dramatically improve.
President Santos also announced that the $22.65 billion will only be delivered "when the works are...complete.” This addendum comes after numerous reports of infrastructure project funds being embezzled while the works go unfinished.
In addition to hopes of faster-paced construction, Santos claimed that the 'Ruta del Sol' project will create 5,000 jobs.
According to the Economist, "the costs of Colombia's deficient infrastructure -- which came 79 of 139 countries' networks ranked by the World Economic Forum -- are massive." Luis Carlos Villegas, the head of the national industry group, likened the infrastructure deficit to a 10-15% tax. Government planners added that resolving it could raise annual GDP growth by a full percentage point."
My hope is that some of those 5,000 jobs will be developed as 'intern' positions for students to learn more about projects like this and also for those young people who have no training but want to move up the construction ladder to become supervisors, etc.
No news about when it will be started, or how long it will take to be completed, but this is exciting news for the country. Truckers, carrying products, will be able to travel more easily from the north (Atlantic) to the south (Pacific) providing more driving jobs as well. I suspect it will open up more of the country for tourism as well.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Reflecting on the start of 2013

Cathedral de Barichara at night New Year's Eve 2013
It has been an interesting start to 2013, surrounded by hundreds of people and yet quite definitely very alone, but not lonely. Christmas and New Year's holiday in Barichara, Santander, Colombia, S.A. is usually pretty busy anyhow, but this year must have set some records. All the hotels were occupied, the streets were crowded with cars, and every day it was a challenge to navigate the sidewalks and streets with all the traffic and people.

Riding a motorcycle was really hazardous because the visitors were unaccustomed to the narrow streets and seldom looked before opening their doors to see if anyone was passing. I gave up riding altogether because I did not want to either be the cause or effect of this crowding.

Old Year is burned while rockets are launched.
There was another demonstration of this concentration of visitors in what is really quite a small area. After the fireworks on New Year's eve, apparently there was a confrontation between local young men and young men whose parents have vacation homes here. I don't know the details, so I won't say more than the issue of alcohol was clearly a contributing factor in the clash and that I sense the 'town and gown' problem is not going to go away as more and more families choose to have Barichara as their vacation get-away spot.

The over 30-minute firework display was impressive and very loud as rockets and display fireworks were set off near the Cathedral. The burning of the Old Year (in effigy) must have been watched by over 2,000 people around the square, young and old.

In previous years I have enjoyed the display from La Loma, but for various reasons that was not where I ended up. And after days of early morning explosions, late night booms and blasts, it was my fervent hope that this culmination of light and noise would bring some peace and quiet back to this Andean village.

An explosion of fireworks over the parque in Barichara.
Sadly on the same night as the fireworks, there was a fire in the Eco-forest which did a lot of damage. (The Eco-forest is a three-year old project to teach the youngsters about saving native trees and plants.) It  was not known for certain what the cause was, (at least not as of today) but with the lack of rain, the trees and bushes are tinder dry. So it was no surprise at the level of involvement and scary to think how a fire could have a devastating effect on this area if it got started and it was not controlled quickly. Since there are no local 'bomberos' (firefighters), it could definitely be a problem.

It still disturbs me that visitors think it is appropriate to damage our walls with their graffiti. I wish there was some kind of fine for this.

I am sure a lot of people really enjoyed their visit here (and were respectful of this national heritage), and the merchants most certainly benefitted from a vacation period where people were buying things, going to the restaurants and markets, using the taxis, enjoying the recreational resources and musicians were in great demand for all the nightly dances. This definitely was a happening place for the past three weeks, but it is also clear that many of the locals are burned out with the pressure to provide services, often from very early in the day until quite late at night.

Why bring this up? Because it means that the popularity of Barichara may be its undoing unless the mayor and other civic leaders address the challenges of growth. In the past year I can see lots of new houses being constructed and while this does bring employment to many, it also creates enormous dissatisfaction among those who were promised a chance to have a small casa in the proposed barrio to the south, but after two years the development seems to have stalled.

No one wants this colonial village to maintain its quaintness and specialness more than I do. And a couple of ideas I have I think will help to do that. Here they are:

1) During holiday weekends and special events like Feria, eliminate parking in the central park area  and provide small bussettas to transport people from the designated parking areas into the central part of town.
2) Establish a fine for defacing any building or walls anywhere in the village and post notices which warn people of the consequences if they are caught. Enforce those fines and after a few serious enforcements including posting a notice of the names of people who were fined in a public place, it may have the desired effect of causing people to at least think twice before gouging their messages into the walls.
3) Limit use of fireworks to specific days and times so that people can be sure of having good sleep.
4) Make the public toilets available, post information about where they are and keep them maintained.
5) Put out more trash containers and post requests for people to use them; if possible have recyclable and paper trash division.
Central parque of Barichara during Navidad 2012.
I have passed this information on to the local leadership and I hope some of these ideas will be implemented. I know progress is inevitable, I just hope it will be managed.

For me, no resolutions this year - just continuing to offer intentional support where it is needed.