Dec 27 – Burned to a Crisp and Souping it Up in Tropical Sun

Sunrise/Sunset: 6:09 / 6:05

Foo Song: Saint Cecilia

Sunrise Pic:

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Sometimes I try to create extreme adventures. Other days I just roll with it and keep it simple, though I’m not naturally good at that approach. Parenting, however, has taught me both to mellow out and enjoy the simpler things in life and also to reconnect with my own roots and childhood experiences.

Today, all we did was go to a pool. Just as I did so much at the old Tuscawilla Country Club in Winter Springs, FL, back when diving boards were still permitted and Jimmy the short order cook begrudgingly dished up food to a bunch of smartass, ketchup packet-smashing goons like me and my amigos. Somehow, perhaps because swimming practice became more like a military drill and extra time in a pool seemed about as fun as a soup sandwich, recreational goofing off in pools lost its luster by the time I was in my early teens.

Here, at a Santiago de Cali city recreational facility (not a country club), I reconnected with my inner child. Today included five hours of tossing children in heavily chlorinated water, multiple (at least three, I swear!) generous applications of waterproof bay-butt protecting sunscreen, and a generous lunch (and making sure not to heed the old wives’ tale that you can’t swim right after eating a meal).  In fact, I gulped down five bowls of soup – sancocho (I love that stuff) and cazuela de pescado – fish stew) and plantains two different ways. Man I love the fresh food here.

So awesome playing in the sun, but ouchie on sunburnt skin later on. Tropical sun is picante and bravo (spicy and mad, or a I guess we’d say in Boston, mad spicy, or wicked spicy).

The evening was mostly at home, just watching tube, working on this blog, cleaning up digitally. Plus a brief outing to Cosmocentro to find aloe vera and take a short stop at Juan Valdez Cafe with my wifey. Amazing music was booming in the center of shopping mall. Everybody crowded around. Not some bland crappy production. Shopping is so different here. You don’t just go to get what you need, you take time and enjoy the people you’re with, spending a little extra in the process, but with the dollar so strong right now, I can afford the time and expense. Real genuine energy around.

Looking back, this was my first night of real digital overload since starting vacation, but I was not randomly surfing, and it was fine after such a long day of play and child tossing (and discovering soreness in small long neglected muscles). I was working with a purpose, dreaming of ways to make enough money and pull together all he ideas I have about Colombia and our future living in the US and Colombia. Now that Mateo has reached five years old, it seems easier and easier to live this way, stretching ourself between two places, two cultures, and two languages. Where it used to feel as if I had no home and no center, I am beginning to feel good just knowing that I, and my entire family, is mastering this international life, tied deeply to multiple places.





Dec 26 – Running Wild in Melendez and La Buitrera

Sunrise/ Sunset: 6:09 / 6:04

Foo Song: Iron Rooster (because I can only stand so much salsa!!!)

Sunrise pic:  image (52).jpeg

Awesome morning run with clear view of my favorite place on the planet, Farallones National Park. Can’t keep my eye off those mountains. First time it’s been genuinely safe to go there but no time to hike up there this time around 😦   Ran through Melendez at the far end of my out and back run. Just inspired to check out the old hood. Kept thinking this is the real Colombia for me, warts and all. Ran up a mini mountain on trail that kicked my rear end. Felt great but also bittersweet. Seeing old house in its condition now. Seeing mountain get literally eaten by housing development. Accelerated sprawl. Pretty uncontrolled. Just hurts. Almost as much as it hurt after 70 minutes of running and deciding to stop and walk the rest of the way home. Ouch.

Then we took an awesome little  trip up to old stomping grounds in La Buitrera. Thought a lot about my old dog Doah. Felt good to  be waiting outside the Carulla grocery store with kiddos, just like we used to do and from where we started our hitchhiking trip to San Agustin 18 years ago. Definitely feel rooted here. Like a Yarumo tree. I love Yarumos. My dad would definitely say, “you are a Yarumo face,” if he’d heard of a Yarumo back when I was growing up. (As it is, he stuck with calling us Mugwumps and Gorbachevs while throttling our shoulders and necks in a loving fit of harassment, and I guess that’s why I always mess with my kids about George Stephanopolous and Orville Redenbacher). Some things change a lot. Others not so much. I like that.

Anyway, back to the day’s events. When we got to La Buitrera, we were greeted by the best of Colombian hospitality, but in a different, non traditional way. Full buffet spread of healthy food and omelette. Thankfully, no pan de bonos.

Then we had a home-based “tattoo parlor,” where the kids got their arms painted with a home-mixed extract from the jagua fruit, from the rainforest tree Genipa americana. After the body art, we hacked around with bamboo sticks and hammocks, pet Gorky, an old chocolate lab doing his best to sprawl on the cool tile floor, and played several rounds of Uno while drinking good wine and pure lemonade. Then Mateo and his friend, Zoel, played soccer (with a neighbor’s kid named Sony – or Zony, or Zoni? – apparently named after a DVD player or Walkman …) until they were covered in dirt and about to drop from pure exhaustion.

The best way to explain the day is in pictures. Still need to get me an iPhone to take better pics, but these will do for now:




Dec 25 – Star Wars Snoopy Salsa Small World Christmas After All

Sunrise/Sunset:  6:08 / 6:04

Foo Song: DOA (Star Wars animation) here at this link 

Sunrise pic:

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Today got off to a slow start, but it was a pretty cool Christmas Day in a really warm place (see my Dec 24 post) nonetheless. After opening gifts last night and staying up late (including sparklers of our own and neighborhood fireworks shows, as Xmas here is more akin to July 4th than its staid and relaxed cousin in the north), we went to the movies and took a divide and conquer approach.

We went to see Peanuts and the new Star Wars flick (the ladies decided to stick with the kids to see Charlie Brown and Snoopy and company, while I went with my father- and brother-in-law – Eugenio and Alex – to see the new generation of Star Wars). The Force definitely awakened in me – Han Solo is a badass, Chewbacca rocks, and X-wing Fighters and the Millennium Falcon are awesome – but both Alex and Eugenio fell sound asleep. And there weren’t even subtitles. That’s right, I had to see Star Wars dubbed in Spanish. But it was still great, between their snores and guttural grunts. They sounded a bit like Jabba the Hut, but I was the one decimating the giant vat of popcorn in my lap and gulping down a half gallon tub of soda.

After eating ice cream at Ventolini (again, this time in a different shopping center), and all turning into blobs like Mr. the Hut and getting wired on sugar, Alex, Lauren, Caro, and I were off to the Salsodromo. At this iconic and surprisingly well organized and safe event, we successfully snuck in a bottle of wine after sacrificing two cans of Club Colombia Roja (yes, finally some decent beer here – beginning to take off worlwide – but I begrudgingly took one – ehh, two -for the team with these diversionary tactics tricking the deft hands of the event staff).

Cali has become more and more infested with, eh, I mean alive with, gringos like me. So lo and behold, I met a gringo who works for a publishing company called  Cengage  and is based in San Diego. He and his Caleña wife moved there after several years in St. Louis, MO (when he had the option to interview for a job in sunny and mild San Diego, his wife made it clear that this was the lifestyle change they badly needed). Turns out he knows a guy named Mike Schille, a former teacher at Colegio Bolivar, where I taught in Cali from 1998 to 2001, and with whom I’d play basketball every Friday after classes with teachers and high school students. The gringo’s name is Bob Schuh, and he mentioned how he’s dying to move here one day (soon) and start a business to bring more gringos here (!), and this rang a bell, struck a deep resonant chord with me. His son was also in attendance with him, and we chatted, as we waited for the parade to ramp up, about his post-graduation options. He’s finishing a degree in recreation and tourism. Got my wheels really spinning. Such a small world, but so cool to feel solidarity, too. Our ideas may not be completely unique, but they can be validated by others. Pretty cool.

After the salsa parade was nearly over, and all kinds of characters from the history of Cali came strutting down the streets and flying in the air, I was “attacked” – more like accosted – by drunk woman. A little weird and embarrassing. My mind was racing about dancing and insecurity, lack of love for salsa but clear respect for this talent. And then she jumped me. But I quickly evaded her and ducked under the fatherly cover and safety of Tio Alex. Definitely a weird moment but one of those hilarious memories, too.

We went ouut to dinner with Alex and Lauren afterwards at DeLulus near my in-law’s house, and we had a major case of our ojos being way more grande than our estomagos. On the walk home, we bumped into Alex’s old boss, whom Alex referred to as the architect behind his master’s degree in Spain, a time in his life that was so pivotal and led to the success he has experienced in breaking free of Cali (yet ironically, just like Caro, is always drawn back here). And then we bumped into a Caleña friend of Alex and Caro who lives in Boston). Small mundo in word and indeed.

The best sight ever greeted us when we got home, pretty accurately reflecting our own state of mind and physical / gastronomic exhaustion – Mateo was spread eagle and sound asleep on the bed.

Too often I stress about the amount of $$ we spend visiting Cali, as does Caro, but besides the exchange rate being absurdly in our favor, it’s also impossible to put a price on this stuff. Money will work itself out over time, but the clock is ticking so fast as these kids grow up and we all get older, experiences like this are truly priceless.

Dec 24 – Dreaming of a Cali-ente Xmas

Sunrise / Sunset: 6:08 / 6:03  (Hahaha, cheating time with a few extra hours of light!!)

Foo Song: All My Life, Salsa-ized Version: Watch it here. Es excelente!

Sunrise Pic:


Christmas in Cali is hot. Damn hot. Like upper 90’s hot and brilliant sunshine. But I’m not complaining. Plus, the 24th in Boston is apparently setting high temp records, too.  Today I slept in until 7:30 and then took Mateo out to the park down the street from my suegros’ (in-laws’) house in Cali’s Camino Real neighborhood. I wore my fancy new trail running shoes, and he wore high socks and cleats. That kid can chuck a football in full spiral really far. Good stuff.

Then I took off after a good breakfast of buñuelos, almojabanas, and a more diverse array of fruit on one plate than is possible to find in all of Boston. I walked alone down the street snapping a few pictures of life in Cali – funky street art, weird and bad taste, and depressing scenes.

When I’m in Cali, I feel untethered in a good way. My cell phone doesn’t work. I don’t run my life from my Gmail inbox, and I take crazy long naps. And Caro runs the show. I like it like that 🙂

After a good lunch of Chinese rice and homemade avocado-based hot sauce – kind of a watery super spicy guacamole that is actually awesome – I headed over to Palmetto Plaza with Alanita and Caro in search of our family tradition McDonald’s. We found Mickey D’s, and despite Alana’s protests (she’s been brainwashed into thinking fast food is evil, which it kind of is) to the contrary and appeals to Grandpa Reed’s past self, we got the grub, with a little McColombian flare:

This evening is a night of revelry, with sparklers, visits with family and friends. The emphasis isn’t on an endless stream of presents to open but on enjoying each others’ company. Sometimes it feels odd, as I don’t really get into the religious stuff at all, but the idea that it’s a shared cultural experience is pretty amazing. I do miss some of the cozy aspects of Xmas back home (not Xmas eve church candlelight Bible beating, though) and the adventure-seeking that comes from not having set norms to follow, where we’re like “let’s invent something to do” versus here in Cali where everyone follows a script that everyone understands – the definition of culture?

Most importantly, the fact that my kids are exposed to these differences and this tension, able to identify what they like better in each place, is pretty neat. And they can see this country in a way that so demystifies the Global South. They’d definitely read “Third World” and think it makes no sense, have a better sense about geography than 90% of well educated adults who always ask me if it’s Colombia’s winter in June (never winter here, as it’s right by the equator, not way far south just because it’s in South America – a distorted mental map many seem to have of the world), etc. And this all must go a long way to helping them consider other people, cultures, and races are not so very different from themselves… So, in a Christmas roasted nut shell (chestnut or otherwise), to paraphrase a popular credit card commercial from a few years ago, that’s priceless.

Dec 23 – Plastic Irony in Cali

Sunrise/Sunset: 6:07 / 6:03

Foo song:  Learning to Fly

Sunrise selfie:

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If going to the dentist is this fun, you know there’s truly some magic realism in this place. I never thought I’d be a fan of shopping centers, but today in Cali, I finally gave in. Just rolled with it. And it was awesome. Christmas carols everywhere. Elves and South American Santas running around. Last minute shopping. Visit to the dentist (including his box of clown faces and toys for the kiddos and view of the Farallones mountain range from his 6th floor, brightly colored suite). Haircut for the kiddos, ice cream at a chain called Ventolini and its awesome play park on the upper floors of the complex (a new part of Unicentro since I lived here in the late 90’s), and a view of the Cordillera Central.

The Cordillera Central is a rare sight from Cali, a city that abuts the western range of the Andes, a wall of green lushness, including Farallones National Park, that is the only thing standing between the relatively dry heat of Cali and the jungle slopes leading down to the Pacific Coast. The Andes split into three fingers once they roll into the southern reaches of Colombia, just north of Ecuador, dividing the country geographically and culturally, and providing for the rich (and challenging) history that makes this country so unique.

Staring at the central mountain range in the late afternoon sunlight is always a bit ironic – I’m escaping the cold but straining to see through clouds to distinguish snow on the upper reaches of Colombia’s high peaks – its nevados – in this case the Nevado de Huila. And I’m looking at this natural paradise from one of the most “plastic” places in Cali – a shopping mall full of people with plastic surgeries, push up undergarments, and sever overdoses of perfume.

But while I used to beat myself up over this kind of irony, not today. It’s all good. A bit weird, but life’s pretty weird. And I know I’ll touch that snowy peak someday. But for now, I’ll just finish my ice cream and help Mateo learn to climb. Plastic or rock. No matter 🙂

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Dec 12 – A Climate of Hope at End of Another Season

Sunrise/ Sunset: 7:04 am / 4:12 pm

Foo Song: My Hero (my kids are my heroes, and the negotiators in Paris pulled off a great feat today)

Sunrise pic:

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Success in Paris (more on that below). Success at home. Kids’ wrapped up another season of singing. Caro and I took a rare walk together in unseasonably warm weather, hand in hand, to head home and take Nira for a walk, genuinely enjoying JP. Another reason this dog thing is working out for us so well 🙂 After playing jacketless in the church playground next to the winter concert, we drove over to JP center and chowed down on Dunkin Donuts (Mateo’s favorite) and then at JP’s Purple Cactus ($150 per month there?) Need a single line item in our family budget – if we really used one!! – for that restaurant alone…

Regarding Paris and global climate change, I’m stealing something I wrote (draft form) for EcoLogic a few days after Dec 12 (the wonders of back-dating a blog post ;). Here it is (plus photos of beers I drank tonight, related to the Audacity of Hope, which I think is related to political courage on climate):

At the end of another year that went by much too fast, EcoLogic reflects here on the recent Paris agreement for climate change action at 21st meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)— more commonly known by its abbreviation, COP21. Our aim in this post is to provide a bit of background and overview of our own experience in Paris and dish up a curated list of what we see as some of the best articles, blog posts, and op-ed’s that have been published in the couple of weeks since the agreement was reached. Undoubtedly we have missed many, and we would love your suggestions and comments on this post. No matter what, we end the year on a hopeful note and wish you happy end-of-2015 reading. We hope this motivates you to commit to a greener 2016 and provokes some critical thinking and/or new ideas about how we may all take action to solve the interrelated challenges facing us in the years to come.
The setting of COP21 itself was historic, coming on the heels of horrific terrorist acts just weeks before. We were fortunate to be there, with staff member Dave Kramer and Board members Robin Chazdon and Lance Pierce in attendance. The energy of the many events and campaigns was palpable, bringing color to the gray fall, illuminating the City of Light. It was a Paris that seemed full of people focused on the potential and need for change. During our brief time in Paris, we attended the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF), COP21’s largest officially sanctioned side event. And Dave spent his final day at two inspiring events: a working group meeting for the Landscapes for People, Food, and Nature Initiative (LPFN) and the UNDP Equator Prize Awards Ceremony in a historic theater in downtown Paris, a few days before the final Paris climate agreement was signed.

After twenty previous COPs, forests emerged victorious. In the past, forests were given short shrift. Earlier negotiators couldn’t even see the trees, much less the whole forest. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol notoriously left out forests from the mix, and the struggle to figure out REDD+ and other mechanisms was never backed up by the weight of an international agreement. At the GLF, there was a sense of optimism, with many of the speakers and attendees noting how much the tide had shifted over just the past few years (this was GLF3) and how much more cross-sector integration has become the norm, where efforts like that of the LPFN are a driving force for change. For example, agriculture and forestry are considered more closely linked and interdependent than ever before. Frances Seymour tossed out this statistic to fire up the crowd (as much as it’s possible to fire up a crowded room of jet-lagged conference goers!): “If deforestation were a country, it would rank third amongst all nations in carbon emissions.” So, it’s always seemed ludicrous not to include forests and land use in climate change agreements. The importance of restoration, not just preservation of land, was, as we say in Boston, wicked clear to everyone. And it’s true that, to solve the wicked problem of climate change, we need to restore massive areas of degraded land – absorbing (sinking) carbon emissions, reconnecting forests, and rehabilitating nature’s own capacity to provide services we depend on, such as water. We’re particularly proud of the role that Central America played at COP21. Various Central American nations joined forces with the Small Island States to push for more stringent temperature increase targets (1.5 degrees C instead of 2 degrees C) deemed vital for countries most vulnerable to climate change-related events. And one Central American nation, Panama (the homeland of EcoLogic’s Director), led the Coalition of Rainforest Nations. The Coalition came into the negotiations with a bold strategy to pepper the text with references to forests and worked feverishly to keep forests and land use in the final, binding text.

However, we share one major concern that many have voiced, and one criticism that many have lobbied at the Coalition of Rainforest Nations. Land tenure and indigenous peoples’ rights were highlighted at the GLF and fiercely defended at the Equator Prize ceremony. Because the Paris Agreement includes a strong focus on forest conservation and restoration, it’s possible, even likely, that countries will respond to international pressure and commitments to lower their carbon footprint at much too high a cost to indigenous peoples. As one article below points out, scientists estimate that 20% of tropical forest carbon is stored on indigenous land. This is land that, despite being the historical home of its people often has no formal land tenure in the eyes of the relevant national government. With no safeguards built into the binding sections of the Paris Agreement text (only mentioned in the non-binding preamble) it’s now up to groups like EcoLogic’s local partners to find ways to advocate for themselves and fend off land grabs and other ill-advised uses of their land that don’t properly consult and consider the needs, interests, and rights to self-determination of local communities and indigenous peoples. While we feel disappointed about this shortcoming of the Paris Agreement, we’re counting on efforts underway from groups like the Rights and Resources Initiative to protect land rights through mechanisms like the International Land Tenure Facility, announced at COP21.

More than anything, we are still hopeful overall, as a blog post listed below makes the case, that Paris is just the beginning of an awakening in which we all, as global citizens learn to act with our collective interests in mind. Perhaps that’s too much too ask, but one thing we know for sure is that we are inspired by the dozens, if not hundreds, of fantastic organizations studying and writing about the “what next?” post-Paris landscape (and landscapes!). Together, we can all inform one another, debate constructively, and keep applying the necessary pressure to make even the most aspirational language of the Paris Agreement a reality in the years to come. We’re all going to need to do our best to stop climate change in its tracks while helping one another adapt to the challenges and changes inherent in the warmer planet we’ve already created. Not to despair in paralysis but to rally in conviction that yes we can. So, on that note, we leave you with the following list of links to articles to dig into:

General posts about COP21 Paris Agreement:


Forests and Landscapes:


Rights and Indigenous Land:


Central America in the Hurricane’s Eye of Climate Change:




Next steps post-Paris:

A Tipping Point for Humanity?

At Packard Fdn, look her up on GLF website to get official title. She moderated the session with GFW called “Pixel Perfection,” if that helps find her … Please also double check this by watching first few minutes of this (to make sure I attributed the quote correctly, now can’t recall whether it was WRI/GFW presenter or the moderator (Frances Seymour): “Pixel perfection for carbon detection: How technologies and communities can curb global emissions from land-use change”