Colombian Adventure Part 2: Cartagena and Bogota

Continuing part 1 of the adventure, I have been wanting to go to Colombia for 5 years now, pretty much ever since I have heard about the splendors and wonders of Cartagena.

The thing though is that sometimes when you travel too much, it can be akin to over-dating. Once you’ve been around the block long enough, you must have gone out with most types (the credentials guy, the jock, the insecure but overcompensating guy, the shady guy, etc) and have had every possible conversation. Then about 5 minutes into your next date,  you had already figured out the type. Then you get bored and start nodding in the right places, stealing glances to the nearest clock and hoping your friend will call with some emergency to bail you out. Unless, the guy turns out to be REALLY SOMETHING SPECIAL.  Then the story is completely different.

Anyways, I am regressing. Back to the story: I had very high expectations of my first date with Cartagena, but then I found it quite similar to other touristic colonial towns I’ve been too. It was like the initial excitement of going out with a really good looking guy and later finding out that he is actually quite superficial and wouldn’t stop taking about the latest episode of Big Brother.  Well, I guess I am exaggerating. It’s a cute little town but there’s not much to do after day 2.

We had a terrible experience of visiting Baru Island’s Playa Blanca that held the promise of being heaven on earth but in reality turned out to be a tourist voodoo torture chamber for the local vendors. After being shoved (and charged) under a sun umbrella, we spent the whole day fending off massages, sweets, sea food, jewelry and anything else imaginable (I suppose this can be paralleled to a date with a guy that doesn’t get the meaning of the word “No”). Finally, we had to fight for our lives to get out, as the locals pushed us out as they stormed the return boat as if they were going to be stranded on the island (while the foreign tourists quietly waited in line for their turn to board).

I posted some more notes and photos about Cartagena’s streets and boutique hotels on the Blooties blog.

Bogota,  on the other hand, was more like a date with someone average who turns out to be quite interesting and then you start discovering that he has a nice smile and his eyes sparkle when he laughs and then after the date, you want to know more.

I spent a wonderful afternoon strolling around the brownstone tree-lined streets of Zona Rosa residential neighborhood. Then took a taxi to the artsy district of Usaquen, where I checked out the local artsy market and local crowd. I finally got to try the delicious Ajiaco soup I have been waiting for the entire trip. Bogota was also great for shopping, for souvenirs or otherwise, with many interesting and beautiful options

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Descrimination at Work

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I have to applaud Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg for increasing awareness and adding color to the array of issues that our society (and I would emphasize society, rather than just women) faces in better incorporating women into the workforce and reducing the gender gap.

In this recent article (first of of a series) in the New York Times, titled: “When Talking About Bias Backfires”, they write about the fact that raising awareness about gender bias may actually deepen stereotypes about women, rather than reducing them.  

When we communicate that a vast majority of people hold some biases, we need to make sure that we’re not legitimating prejudice. By reinforcing the idea that people want to conquer their biases and that there are benefits to doing so, we send a more effective message: Most people don’t want to discriminate, and you shouldn’t either.

I like the analysis but I think it reaches the wrong conclusion. A call for action attached to the awareness is not enough. It’s all about the good old “WIIFM” (“What’s in it for me? “). In my numerous conversations about the gender gap I found out the following.

1. The terminology is problematic. Gender Bias, Gender gap, Gender equality, Gender Equity, are all stuck up academic terms that alienate the average person from the topic. Talking with these terms creates an immediate dissociation in the listener. The conversation becomes formal, academic, bureaucratic, compliance related instead of a meaningful discussion about an important issue for society. This is why increasing awareness about the terms may be ineffective. I have seen this numerous times in the corporate world, when a new initiative is launched with bogus names such as “Program for Gender Equity”, “Say No to Sexual Harassment”, “Corporate Ecosystem Services Value Chain Analysis”. Employees simply hate it because they know that their company is just covering its behind on their expense. When you have to train the trainers (ex: HR) to understand what the name of the program means, most likely you have to come up with a better name for it.

2. Awareness is a nice thing indeed. But most of the talented young women I met, were already somewhat aware of the gender bias. This is why they were consciously trying to distance themselves from this “women issue”. They have spent their careers fighting for their place and proving that they can do it, “just like any man”. They didn’t want their gender to be a factor. They wanted their achievements to be the issue of discussion. They would try so hard to not make it their problem that I would just have to make it their problem. Two of the common questions I would ask in response to rejection of the topic were:

a) Why  should you have to behave like “one of the guys” in order to be accepted, given that you’re not a guy,  you are a woman?

b) it’s so great that you have been given equal access to opportunities, but do you know other women in this company that were discriminated or mistreated because of their gender?  Could things be done differently?

After those, the real conversation would start (and sometimes would last for hours).

3. There is too much focus on the problem instead of on proven solutions. I have heard several women talk about how the system is all messed up and there is nothing to do about it. Sexism in banking and VC doesn’t seem to go away, family-friendly labor practices are a rainbow in the horizon, and women don’t really want to be CEOs anyways. Maternity seems to be the top-of-mind obstacle (perhaps because the bellies are so visible). However, I really have  hard time believing that this is the real issue. Having met several supermoms that have several kids and run their own companies as well as households, I know it can be done with the right amount of ambition (and of course financial success). We need much more emphasize on the success stories of individuals and companies challenging the status quo so that people would have more reasons to believe and the debate could be richer.

All in all, I am very optimistic and am hopeful that in the not so far future, the terms “gender bias” or “gender equity” would become obsolete because this will be a non-issue.

Colombian Adventure – Part 1: Medellin

Before departing to Medellin, Colombia my father gave me his advice: be careful of the cartel. To be honest, I have been so removed from popular culture the past few years, that I haven’t even thought about this connection. I once associated Colombia with drugs, the FARC and perhaps coffee but one day I had the pleasure of sitting on a lecture of former president Alvaro Uribe. He told us that everything was much better in Colombia now. So I took his word. He was a nice guy.

And so I left for my trip without any expectations but with some curiosity to learn more about the story of the cartel.

I was pleasantly surprised by Medellin. It’s very clean, fairly modern and well organized city, basking in greenery. The Antioqueños, Medellin’s residents, are very proud of their metro system, the only one in Colombia, and zealously ensure its cleanliness. This is an extremely impressive cultural value that we could only wish was translated to public goods in many other countries.

We took the train to the district of Santo Domingo, which just a few years ago was one of the most dangerous parts of town but have undergone a serious development effort. It is now connected with a cable car line to the metro line and has various social initiatives that helped reduce the influence of the cartels and integrate the more vulnerable populations into the city life. Connecting to another cable car, we visited Arvi park, a beautiful natural reserve on the top of the mountain.

Cable Car View
Cable Car View
Cable Car view
Cable Car view
Arvi Park
Arvi Park
Arvi Park Mariposario (Butterfly House)
Arvi Park Mariposario (Butterfly House)

Another pleasant surprise in Medellin was finding out that it’s the home town of the extremely fascinating artist, Fernando Botero. We took the train once again to the Botero Park and adjacent Antioquia Museum that features his art collection. I finally found out why Botero paints his subjects so chubby. I can’t really place it but something about his art makes me really happy. I loved Botero’s piece dedicated to Pablo Escobar’s (the former head of the infamous Medellin cartel) death. Escobar is somewhat of a legend and he kept being mentioned in other situation.

 

Botero Square
Botero Square
Botero Square
Botero Square
Botero Collection, Antioquia Museum
Botero Collection, Antioquia Museum
Botero Collection, Antioquia Museum
Botero Collection, Antioquia Museum
The death of Pablo Escobar
The death of Pablo Escobar
Chubby oranges
Chubby oranges


After this urban adventure, it was especially pleasant to travel through the beautiful mountains to the quaint city of Guatape and climbing the El Penol rock. The region just felt like a little Colombian Switzerland. In this region, Escobar’s name popped up once again when we sailed by one of the farms that used to belong to him. 

You can read about part 2 of the adventure here.

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Piedra del Penol
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Escobar’s farrmIMG_3935

The church of old El Penol Village (underwater)

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725 steps to the top
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The Colombian Fjord
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Panoramic view