La Despedida

(My blog posts have gotten a little out of chronological order. I apologize.)

June was an exciting month. Not only was almost every weekend a puente (literally, this means bridge, but it refers to a 3-day weekend), but we also had 3 birthdays in a row – Claire’s on the 13th, mine on the 14th, and my roommate Donata’s on the 15th. The weekend of our triple birthday was a puente, so we decided to go all out for it, and use it as a going away party for me as well.

We decided we wanted to rent out a finca. There’s no good translation for finca in English. Essentially it’s a farm, but it usually grows coffee and bananas and has a huge colorful house with multiple rooms and a beautiful yard with a pool and maybe some outdoor games. A lot of Colombian families, at least in the coffee triangle, have a finca, and there are a lot that you can visit to learn about coffee production or to stay overnight.

When we mentioned the plan to our friend Oscar, he called around to get some prices and then figured out how many people we would need for everyone to pitch in a reasonable amount for the weekend. It was a process getting people invited and RSVP’d and collecting payments so that we could make a deposit and buy food, but we got it figured out. Oscar did basically all the planning and preparation, and I just tried to help as much as I could, which in the end, was not very much.

We had about 30 people RSVP’d and decided we would prepare a sancocho, a yummy Colombian soup, for lunch on the first day, grill out for supper, and make a pancake breakfast for the next day. The day before the party, Oscar and I went to buy groceries. This was a process. He had done some investigation into meat prices, and found that Super Inter was having a sale and would be most economical, so that was our first stop. We left with a cart full of a ridiculous amount of meat, 72 eggs, a bunch of oranges (which were kind of a “just because” purchase), onions, potatoes, 6 bags of milk (because milk comes in bags in Colombia), some other veggies, and some condiments.

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This was only the beginning.

We unloaded our supplies at Sonia’s house. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned her before, but Sonia is the wonderful and super helpful woman that Claire, Jana and Earl live with. Our next stop was at the city center for vegetables. We got a couple of huge bags full of produce, and then stopped by another shop where Oscar haggled for some good plantain prices and we bought an entire bunch still on the vine or branch or whatever you call it. We also stopped by a place to rent a sound system for the music.

We unloaded all of this at Sonia’s and then stopped at a store that sold disposable dishware and cutlery (stores in Colombia can get very specialized). Then we popped over to the street that has all the mariachi bands and Oscar asked about prices – I’ll get to why in a minute. We made a stop at Ara for some juice, water, pasta and a few extra things, and then we pulled up to a dark street where Oscar instructed me to get off the motorcycle and knock on an unmarked door because this is where they sold charcoal for the grill. This all seemed very strange to me, but I looked up and saw a little handwritten paper sign on a second floor window that said “Charcoal for Sale” and someone else actually walked up to buy some too while we were there, so I guess that’s just like a normal way to get your charcoal. We headed back to Sonia’s to drop off the last of our stuff and then Oscar took me home. The whole process lasted about 5 hours, but we managed to get everything we needed and to stay within our budget.

When I got home, I set about baking a Queso and Bocadillo cake for Claire and she was going to bake a lime one for me. I also tried to prepare some lentil burgers for the vegans and vegetarians. The first batch turned out fine, however, I realized when I was throwing the first few burgers in the pan that the eggs I put in them weren’t exactly vegan. I tried another batch using “flax eggs” but they crumbled, so I ended up making a lentil salad with the remnants. I also made some cookies because yum. Then at about 1 a.m., I went to bed.

The next morning, we headed to Ian and Jordan’s place, which was the meeting point for the Jeeps to pick us up and take us to the finca. We lied to everyone about the time the Jeeps were going, since Colombians don’t usually show up on time, and because foreigners in Colombia assimilate to that aspect of the culture very easily. It turns out the Jeeps were about half an hour late anyways, so it all worked out.

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Selfie while cruising through Armenia in the back of a Jeep.

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When we got to the finca, there were slips of paper on each bed with peoples’ names on them, so we hunted around 2 floors of the main house and two rooms of the other house to find our names. My name was missing so I just stole the bed of one of the girls who got sick and couldn’t come.

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Sancocho preparation.

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You can’t really tell the scale from the picture, but a small child could easily fit in this pot.

We set to work making lunch. Everyone pitched in and soon we had a giant vat of sancocho ready to dig in to.

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Birthday girls with birthday cakes.

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In the afternoon, people watched the Copa America game (which Colombia unfortunately lost) and hung out in the pool. In the evening, we fired up the grill and hit up the dance floor, and everyone had a great time.

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La hora loca.

Oscar had already proposed to his girlfriend Viviana, but he had not had a ring when he proposed, so he wanted to present it to her at the finca with a mariachi band. He had scheduled the mariachi to come at 1 a.m., so when Viviana announced she was going to bed at midnight, we tried our best to get her to stay up without giving away the surprise, but she was tired and ended up going to bed. The mariachi band didn’t show up on time, so Oscar left the finca to look for them, or so we thought. When they did show up, I gave him a call to let him know he should come back, but he told me to tell them to leave because he had gotten a new one. That was not something I wanted to do, but he insisted, so when I got off the phone, I tried to get out of it and make Ian do it. Ian didn’t want to do it either, so he called back Oscar to tell him that we couldn’t send home a mariachi who had driven all the way out there at 1:00 in the morning. Ian ended up handing the phone to the head mariachi (I’m sure that’s the correct terminology) and Oscar told him himself. Just a few seconds after their van pulled out of the driveway, another one pulled in with the new mariachi. We went to wake Viviana up.

When we got there I tried saying “Viviana, wake up,” but she did not respond to that, so I tapped her on the shoulder. Nothing. I nudged her and then shook her a bit and she woke up. We told her she should come out because there was something she should see, but she wasn’t having it, and just wanted to sleep. We tried to convince her a little, and then finally told her that there was a mariachi there. She pulled the blanket over her head and said that she didn’t like mariachis because they made her sad. Not exactly how this was supposed to all play out. Finally we dragged her out of bed and sat her down in front of the mariachi.

The next little road bump was that instead of sitting next to his fiancee during this grand romantic gesture, Oscar ended up getting in a fight with one of his best friends about one of those silly little things that best friends fight over at 2:00 a.m. after too many cups of aguardiente, so there were a couple really awkward moments where Viviana was sitting by herself, the mariachi was playing, and Oscar and his friend were on the sidelines in a shouting match. Luckily, that blew over pretty quickly, and Oscar presented Viviana with the ring and they enjoyed the rest of the songs together. I even got a mariachi version of “Happy birthday” before they packed up and left.

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All’s well that ends well.

I think some people partied until the wee hours of the morning, but I was not one of those people. The next morning, I woke up feeling pretty well rested, and commenced the making of an enormous batch of pancakes. We had a nice breakfast, and then everyone chipped in to help clean up.

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Soooo many eggs.

Some people had come from really far away, so they headed back early to catch their buses, but others stuck around to enjoy the pool a little longer. When it started to rain we all packed up and headed home.

It was really an amazing weekend. Volunteers placed as far away as Popayan and Ibague came, so I got to see a lot of people one last time before I left. Some SENA teachers made it too, and it was nice spending time with them outside of work. Usually when you have something of this scope planned, something always goes terribly wrong. Or when you are looking forward to something for a long time, it ends up not being as great as you expected. This was not the case here. It exceeded expectations, and Jordan told me a lot of the volunteers commented to him that it was one of their most memorable weekends in Colombia so far. It definitely made my list. It’s always nice to go out with a bang.

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