At the beginning of December, my parents did just did. The 10 days that we spent together were amazing! Not only was I able to show them around beautiful Colombia, we were able to explore a new country for all of together - Panama! Here's the recap...
My parents arrived in the late hours of the night following five different airports and four flights. Seeing them walk through the security gates was an amazing feeling. It had been a little over 15 months since the last time I had seen them. After a quick cab ride back to our hotel in Barranquilla, we called it a night and got ready for our adventure to begin the next day.
The next morning, we endured an entertaining cab ride through the city to where I catch my bus to my pueblo. This isn't the nicest place in town, but that's just how life goes sometimes! We caught the bus to Repelón and after the lovely two hour journey, arrived in the pueblo. I finally found someone else who doesn't fit well on these buses - my dad!
Once in town, we made our way to my house, where my host family greeted my parents with open arms. The days that my parents were in the pueblo (December 7th and 8th) was also a holiday here in Colombia. Known as "Dia de las Velitas" (Day of the Candles), this holiday marks the happening of the Immaculate Conception. On the coast, the tradition is to light a plethora of candles in the wee hours of the morning on the 8th and eat sancocho following this. It really is a unique holiday that I am hoping to continue when I get back to the United States.
After spending the afternoon resting in front of the all important fan (true to form, the heat was incredibly on point as always), I showed my parents around town. This really seemed to be an eye opening experience for them. It's sometimes hard to accurately capture the look and feel of a place through words alone. It really take an all sensory experience to fully appreciate your surroundings.
Following the walk around, we headed to the police station. Mel, the police chief, had invited us over for dinner and a chance for him to practice his English. For my parents, this was probably one of the real highlights of their trip. Not only were they able to meet one of my closest friends in the pueblo, they were also able to participate in Dia de las Velitas. Knowing full well that we would not be making it until the early hours of the morning to light candles with my host family, Mel went out and bought candles for my parents and I to light, along with some of the the other cops. Seeing my parents interact with some of the more important people of my service here in Colombia was a real treat for me to witness and be apart of.
We continued our trip to the coastal city of Cartagena. This is a popular tourist stop and a former port city where many of the slaves entered the country back in the 14th and 15th centuries. Because of this, there is a a strong African-Colombian presence throughout the city. This leg of the trip was highlighted by a walk along the old city wall, enjoying some traditional Colombian dances (cumbia and mapale) in the park, and enjoying the architecture of the walled city.
Our next stop was the capital city of Colombia, Bogotá. With cooler temperatures, breathtaking scenery, and a beautiful old city center, this city has a lot to offer. The climate definitely agreed with my parents, as they were able to trade in their sweat rags for sweatshirts and turtlenecks. We made our way to top of Monserrate, a mountain that dominates Bogotá and provides amazing views of the entire city. This mountain is a popular pilgrim destination, as many people make the trek up to visit the church and stations of the cross located at the summit.
After taking in the views of the city, we made our way to the old part of the city, Candelaria. This neighborhood offers some of the beautiful old architecture of the early days of Bogotá, along with the Plaza Bolivar. Located here are the national cathedral, President's mansion, and other important governmental buildings. We concluded our stay in Bogotá by enjoying some delicious ajiaco, the traditional thick, creamy chicken soup from this region.
The last leg of our trip took us out of Colombia and next door to Panama. We spent a glorious four days exploring Panama's capital city, Panama City. Highlights from this part included:
- a tour of the city by bus
- a visit to the famous Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal
- a thorough exploration of Central America's largest mall, complete with 700+ shops and 100+ restaurants
- a casual stroll around Flamenco Island and its marina
- an enjoyable jaunt through the old part of Panama, complete with street salesman and beautiful architecture
- a 3-hour cab journey to a rain forest discovery center that wasn't actually there
- a complete view of the city from the top of Ancón Hill, the highest point in Panama City
- a great stay at the perfect apartment