On Bungee Jumping, Eating Elephants, Fiesta del Reyes and Betrayal

IMG_6865 One of my friends, when I was in the throes of last-minute what-am-I-doing panic, sent me this pep-post:

So here’s how I see it: It’s like bungee jumping… it sounds cool when you decide to do it, but then you have to put on that harness thing and that’s totally outside your fashion and overall comfort zone, but then it feels exciting and daring and so okay, you agree, let’s do it, but then you have to actually step off that bridge, in other words, jump, and that’s what tomorrow is, it’s the jump, but today you’re still in that crotch-hugging harness and it’s kind of uncomfortable, and until you jump, everything must feel really strange and unsure, but alas, jump you will and jump you must, but lucky you, you get to do it with the people you love more than anyone else in the world, and then you get to go up and down and you’ll yell out, and laugh, and there will be ups and downs, but in the end, you are caught, and safe and together, and you will return to the place where you started and you will feel so excited and high and happy and you won’t believe what you just did, and wasn’t it cool, and isn’t the world brighter and more interesting because you took that leap…

And it struck me as so incredibly true for so many moments in life when you are teetering on the edge of something huge and scary and that you know you will be glad you did (unless the 1% comes true and you aren’t).  The waiting-to-do is so much more painful and awkward because it’s too unknown.  So her lovely sentiment got me through the awkwardness of leaping off the bridge, metaphorically speaking, but I can’t really stomach the idea of bouncing on a bungee for six months, even as an analogy, so I had to switch to something else.  What I have now is this:

Q: What’s the best way to eat an elephant?

A: One bite at a time.

This — at least for getting here and getting settled — is my centering thought; I can only think about the current bite, not how I’m going to tackle the rest.  So far, in my head, it’s gone something like this:

Bite #1: Rent car and drive to LAX.  Easy-peezy-lemon-squeezy.  Except we had no phones (so 1997!) which meant I had to remember to write down — on paper! — the rental car agency address and then spend an uncomfortable 20 minutes exploring the dodgy check-cashing-and-laundromat section of Century Blvd. east of the 405 — never straying (no map) — looking for dinner (no Yelp), until we gave up and ended up having our last California meal at Burger King, of all culinary disasters to befall us.

Bite #2: Take a red-eye to Florida.  No biggie. Except that it appears that one needs proof of a ticket out of Colombia to check-in for a flight to Colombia. Luckily John, the only friendly and helpful Spirit Air employee we encountered, promptly sold us four fully refundable tickets from Bogata to Ft. Lauderdale for a random date in April and explained how to return them the moment we cleared customs.  Note to self: read the “getting there and away” section of Lonely Planet.

Bite #3: Board a 4-hour flight to Colombia.  Ho-hum.  Except that they didn’t even bother announcing the boarding and gate information in English.  On Spirit Air.  In Ft. Lauderdale.  Todos en espanol, which is great for learning and not so hot on 0.0 hours of sleep.  And all the boarding passengers gave Jack and me double (even triple) takes.  That’s the moment I realized that even if Colombia made Forbes Top 10 Spots for 2015 list a few months ago, what we are doing is not normal yet.

IMG_6873Bite #4: Collect luggage, navigate customs, find our Spanish teacher and get to our apartment.  Absolutely the easiest bite of the whole trip.  The immigration official needed no paperwork and gave us a 90-day visa, no questions asked.  And Robinson and Ava were right outside customs, waving like maniacs at us.  Then into a taxi and to our new home where I promptly forgot any Spanish I know, trying to explain who we were to the doorman.  But at least he laughs every time he sees us now.

Since then, bites have included Buy Groceries ($0.60 per kilo mangoes!), Survive First Day of School (fresh notebooks in hand), Learn to Put Toilet Paper in Trash (yes), Decipher Laundry Detergent (It Is Detergent, Isn’t It?) Directions, and Figure Out What’s Required Re: Bathing Caps in the Complex’s Pool (still not clear).  Give me a few more days and I may be able to plan my assault on the the next limb of this beast.  But not yet.

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FiIMG_6853esta de los Reyes (Epiphany) marks the end of the Christmas light season in Medellin.  For weeks, the whole city glows with lights.  Every church, every square, an entire multi-mile stretch of the river is taken over by gigantic, brightly-colored light displays.  20 meter high Christmas trees.  Miles of iridescent snowflakes decking the center of streets.  Every apartment building has their own complex arrangement of twinkles.  They would laugh at our Christmas Tree Lanes.  The most refreshing part?  Not a single representation of a Disney character.

IMG_6880
IMG_6872Last night, we braved the metro to see the last night of lights
along the river and found ourselves in an enormous fair with seemingly half the residents of Medellin.  A huge plate of grilled pork with arepas, potatoes and cabbage fed all four of us.  Caramel apples and street performers.  Tacky toys and homemade carnival games.  It made me like this city even more — the crush of incredibly polite people, including the dodgy vendors who all smiled and backed off after only a single, “No, gracias.”

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IMG_6875Two days of language school and I realize we have been completely betrayed by Rosetta Stone’s Latin American Spanish.  At least half of our verbs are wrong for Colombia.  It turns out that you don’t “beber” here, but instead “tomar.”  Unless you mean alcohol, so my question to my son about what he wanted to “beber” caused giggles from our waitress.  So you can “tomar” water or cafe here, but certainly can’t “tomar” a bus or taxi (thanks, Rosetta Stone, for that entertaining image).  Also, you don’t “doblar” to the right or left, unless you’re folding something; instead, you “voltear.”  A “maestro” only plays music; everyone else is a “professor.”  And why teach me “Como se llama?” when everyone here wants to know, “Qual es su nombre?”  And all the Mexican Spanish niceties I know?  Nope.  For example, the correct response to “gracias” isn’t “de nada” but “con gusto,” and “buenos tardes” starts promptly at noon, not at the time you’re opening your first weekday cerveza. Luckily, I know so little Spanish that it should be easy to un-learn the wrong stuff and concentrate on grammatical constructions that don’t make me sound like a three-year-old crossed with Yoda: “Me excuse please.  Question for you I have.”  In the meantime, I can’t sleep for the random words tornadoing around inside my brain, like dry leaves caught in a whirl of wind.IMG_6859

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