Cristal

The rain caught up with us today. All of our plans involved outdoor activities, so we had to cancel them. I was bummed out because I hate staying inside, but I didn’t really have a choice. I started off hanging out in the lobby and talking to the hotel staff. That only lasted for about half an hour because the staff was small and very busy. Then I tried to gather the gang and play some games, but it seemed like everyone wanted to sleep in or lay around. Finally, I had to resort to hanging out in my room and watching some mindless TV.

I couldn’t really find anything I wanted to see since I’m not really a TV watcher. I thought I could find a movie, but the movies were a little weird in Spanish. It was hard to watch my favorite actors speaking with someone else’s voice, and in Spanish! My last resort was . . . a telenovela. There was a marathon of a telenovela called Cristal. This was Venezuela’s first telenovela and it was made in the 1980s. It’s about a mother who hires her daughter to be a model but she doesn’t know she’s her daughter. Then the mother fires the daughter because she found out the daughter was dating her stepson. There was so much drama; it was a mess! But, somehow, I couldn’t turn it off.

Telenovela Cristal

The weather just kept getting worse … so what else could I do but watch more episodes? In one, the stepson gets married to his ex-girlfriend. I loved the 80’s big hair, bright colors, and poofy shoulder pads. Other people must have loved them, too, because this was one of the most popular episodes ever. It was broadcast in thirty eight different countries and viewed by over seven million people in Spain alone.

I must have fallen asleep during the wedding reception because when I woke up Cristal was finding out she was pregnant. At that point I had to turn off the television. I was sleepy, and I was never going to be able to watch all 200-plus episodes, so it was time. I think I’ll find it online when I get home, but today I was all Cristal-ed out. I see why it was one of the most successful telenovelas in Venezuela, Italy, and Spain!

Activities:

  1. What is a telenovela?
  2. Watch the very famous song from Cristal and some of its scenes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9d3tpifw8pY  Can you tell it was produced in the 80s? Why?
  3. What is the difference between a telenovela and a soap opera? Why do you think that telenovela and soap opera TV shows are so popular?
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Colombian National Coffee Park

I’ve always had a special place in my heart for theme parks. I love the food, I love the games, I love the people, and I especially love the rides. So when I heard Colombia had a coffee-themed park, I knew I had to get there. It is right outside of Montenegro, and it is one of the coolest places on earth.

Have you ever heard of Hershey Park in Hershey, Pennsylvania? It’s like that, only with coffee. When we walked into the park there was a huge directory. I skimmed the directory for all the high points of the park. My eyes immediately went to the rides. There were bumper cars, bumper boats, a Ferris wheel, a free-fall, go-karts, and a roller coaster. All the rides were across the park from the spot we were standing, so we looked for the attractions that were closest to us then we made our way over to the rides.

National Coffee Park - Quindío, Colombia

It just so happened that the Interactive Coffee Museum was close, so we went there first. It’s a science and technology museum, so most of the exhibits were related to the science and the technological advances that have allowed Colombia to dominate the coffee-trading business. Before we left we saw a 3-D coffee movie. It was cute, but I really didn’t like the coffee bean flying at my face!

I got really annoyed with some people in the group. I won’t name any names, but someone didn’t wear the right shoes, so that someone complained so much that we decided to take the train tour around the park instead of walking through it. I wanted to go to the top of the lookout tower, but we couldn’t go because you have to walk up the stairs to get to the top. I wanted to go to the indigenous tribe cemetery, but we couldn’t go because the pathway was made of rocks and very uneven. I’m not complaining about the train ride. It was a fast way to see all the attractions in the park, but I wanted to be out there experiencing it up close and personal! The last straw for me was we couldn’t get on the bumper cars as a group because we all had to wear closed-toe shoes. At that point, I decided to go off on my own for the rest of the day.

Colombian National Coffee Park - Quindío, Colombia

After that, I went to see everything! I went to the National Coffee Museum, I went to the makeshift Quindian town plaza, I went to the coffee gardens, and I went horseback riding. I wasn’t alone for long. I met a guy named Martín and his sister Leidi when I was sitting at this musical theater performance. Being around them and all the fun I was having in the coffee park made me lose track of time. When I looked at my watch it said 5:00 pm. I was supposed to be at the bus at 5:00 pm! I ran all the way across the park, all thirty-six acres, in about fifteen minutes. Good thing I’m in great shape. But don’t think I didn’t get Martin’s contact information before I ran.

Activities:

  1. Do you like theme parks? Why or why not?
  2. Mention a few factors that contribute to make Colombia’s coffee so outstanding.
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Bolas Criollas

The crew and I decided to take a walk in the country today. We didn’t have any tours scheduled, so it was nice to have some down time. As we were walking, we heard a set of cheers. We looked around but didn’t see anyone. So we walked a little farther and saw a crowd was gathered behind a set of homes ahead. Of course we were interested in what they were watching, so we walked over.

The crowd was standing around this large, long, rectangular court. It was blocked off by wooden boards. It looked like the center was flattened dirt or pressed mud. I think one game had just ended, and when we got there, another was about to start.

There were two teams of four people. One team was wearing blue sweatpants with a white stripe and white-collared shirts. The other team was wearing red sweat pants with white-collared shirts. Each team did a 1-2-3-break! and three of the team members stayed at the end of the court and one team member went to the other end. A neutral person took this small, golf ball-sized ball and tossed it towards the single team members. Then the game began for real.

Bolas Criollas match - Photo by the Federacion Venezolana de Bolas Criollas y Bochas

All of the team members took turns rolling a round shot towards the little ball. I’m not sure about the rules or how you play, but all I know is each person took a turn rolling a ball. A few minutes later the game was over and the crowd was cheering. I was thoroughly confused, but it was cool to see a new game. It reminded me of bocce ball, but with MUCH heavier balls.

When we got back to the hotel I put “dirt court and rolling balls” into a search engine and the words Bolas Criollas came up. It said this game came to Venezuela with Spanish monks during the same time as the conquistadors. The native Llaneros adopted the game from the monks and for centuries perfected the rules and play. Bolas Criollas became an official sport in 1956, and now has a national team in Venezuela, Colombia, and Cuba. This game united genders and social classes through the years. It seemed pretty cool. Maybe next time I’ll get to try playing!

Activities:

  1. Describe how the game Bolas Criollas is played.
  2. How did this game start in Colombia?
  3. Do people in the US gather outside (in parks, etc.) to play any games? Why types of games?
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Colombian Food

One of the best parts about visiting all of these countries is that people open their homes to us for dinner. I must say, one of my favorite countries to eat in is Colombia. Last night we went to eat at Rosa María Betancur’s house. She’s about the age of my grandma, but she has so much energy!

The aroma of cooking food met us at the door with Mrs. Betancur. There was a mixture of spices that I couldn’t put my finger on. I inhaled deeply, then my stomach growled really loud and everyone laughed at me. Mrs. Betancur smiled, but she didn’t laugh out loud like everyone else. She motioned for us to come into the formal dining room where she had some chips and bread waiting for us.

I found out later that Mrs. Betancur won several contests for her cooking. The first dish she served us was a soup called ajiaco. She won first place in a local contest with this soup. It could have been a meal all by itself. There was chicken, three kinds of potatoes, corn cobs cut into small, half-inch rounds, all served in a rich broth. Then she put white rice, capers, cream, avocados, and bananas in the middle of the table for us to share. Mrs. Betancur said we put all of the ingredients in the soup or put a little of each element on the spoon and savor each flavor in one bite. Being the foodie I am, I chose to savor each bite. That was the way to go. There were so many lovely flavors and textures in my mouth at once. I wish the bowl was bigger because I wanted more. Little did I know that there was another course coming.

Ajiaco Soup

Before I could ask for another small bowl, another lady came out of the back with a plate of food. I was starting to get full, so the sight of this plate kind of freaked me out. It was HUGE! There were beans, white rice, a fried egg, sweet plantains, a full steak, and a homemade pork rind (chicharrón). Back home, my mother used to make me sit at the table and eat every crumb on my plate before I could get up. I ate and ate and ate and ate and ate until I couldn’t eat anymore.

I was absolutely stuffed by the end of the meal. I looked around the table and everyone had this stuffed look on their faces. So when Mrs. Betancur came out with a cake, everyone let out a big sigh. The lady helping her laughed at us and whispered something in Mrs. Betancur’s ear. Mrs. Betancur nodded in agreement and sent the lady back into the kitchen with the cake. When she returned, she had a box with the cake inside. I was grateful for the meal and even more grateful for the boxed cake. It was a traditional Colombian Torta de Coco (Coconut Cake), and it made a great breakfast the next morning.

Activities:

  1. What is ajiaco? What ischicharrón?
  2. What typical Colombian dessert is mentioned in the text?
  3. Which Colombian dish would you like to try? Why?
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