on being half colombian

Friday, September 21, 2012

photos from cartagena, old and new

Recently, a sweet reader emailed me to ask if I could write some more about being Colombian, and travelling in Colombia. It's something I've been meaning to write about anyway, so I'm thankful for the encouragement! Today, I'll share a bit more about my family and our story and next week I'll write my Colombia travel tips.

My mom grew up in a big Colombian family in Bogota. Educated at an American school run by nuns, she was basically fluent in English and decided to go to university in Canada or the US. She somehow ended up under the impression that Vancouver was "practically tropical" (we tease her about it to this day) and decided to do her undergrad at SFU. There, she met my dad, a Canadian from the other side of the country.

Over the next decade or so they moved back and forth between Colombia and Canada. My dad learned Spanish and fell in love with a continent that, to this day, is his favourite place on earth. When I came along they were living in Vancouver, but the three of us moved down south when I was only a couple of months old. They never did live in Bogota though; both preferring the tropical climate and pull of the coast. For my first few years of life we lived in Cartagena, in the historic old city.

Cartagena is like a fairy tale city. Surrounded by la muralla, a huge wall built in the 16th century to protect the city from pirates, it melds colonial architecture with lush tropical colours and Caribbean influences. It is so, so hot but my dad loved it and would regularly be out riding his bike at midday when everyone else was having a siesta. I don't really remember living there, but I'm pretty sure we were having a good time. My dad leading scuba diving tour groups and my mom teaching English. But it was the 80's and the height of the drug wars. Cartagena became more and more dangerous, and a car bomb exploding near our house while I was outside playing was the last straw. We moved back to ever-so-safe Vancouver.

The funniest part of this story is that when we got back to Canada, I didn't speak any English. My Canadian grandmother remembers me as a toddler, yammering nonstop in a language she couldn't understand. Apparently I didn't mind. And I did learn English, pretty quickly.

Because my mom is the only member of her family who ever left Colombia, we went back to visit as often as we could. My brother and I loved going to Bogota to hang out with our cousins, even though he doesn't really speak Spanish and I stuck out like a sore thumb thanks to my glaringly white skin and green eyes. Nevertheless, it's a place that feels like home, every time I arrive.

I haven't been back in over 5 years now, mostly because Australia is damn far and I've been focusing on seeing this part of the world. I miss it though. Every time I hear someone South American speaking Spanish I think of my mom and her family. I can't wait to go back someday and show my husband around; I know he'll love it.

baby me
missing colombia
my family, vintage


  1. my brother is dating a colombian and she is beautiful!
    i hope they get married and i have colombian nieces and nephews!

    xo the egg out west.

  2. Oh my!, adorable little baby-Gaby! I love EVERYTHING about this post, and can't wait to hear more about YOU!

    I do the same thing when I hear someone speaking Spanish; nostalgia sets in and I'm dreaming of siestas, churros and the Spanish seaside.

  3. ya i would think colombia is pretty far from australia:o

    I LOVE hearing your family history and the awesomeness of your mom being colombian and your dad canadian, I just love it. So glad you shared Gaby..what is your middle name?


  4. Love reading about your family history and your Colombian background. Yes - Australia is terribly far away from Colombia isn't it?

  5. linda historia, gracias por compartir! siempre es bueno recordar nuestros origenes

  6. this is such an interesting and cool story/background to have! your parents lives must have been so so interesting moving back and forth.

  7. Hey Stranger! I am so sorry I have been so MIA but it has been so good to catch up on your blog... Seriously... I hope you have been well and I was overjoyed to hear about the wonderful news with you and your chico and so glad you are so happy. I cant wait to read more miss and hope you have a fantastic day!

  8. wow thats cool! thanks for sharing the story and the old photos are amazing.

  9. This is a GREAT post and such a fun story to read, thank you for sharing!

  10. This is an amazing post. Your travel tips are fabulous too!


  11. wow the photos are so beautiful and filled with color! love it!


    feel free to enter my betsey johnson giveaway :)

  12. Hi sweet daughter. This was a good post. The day of the car bombing in our barrio I was 3 miles away and Cartagena was a chaos. Taxis could not be had and el centro was jammed. From 3 miles away I heard the bomb and came running. I grabbed the tailgate of a bus and got to el centro hanging on by a heartbeat. Then I jumped on anything moving in your direction. Fell off a cab roof. It was not going fast enough to break anything. Then I ran the rest of the way.
    And yes that was when we decided to move back to Canada. While I am currently appalled at what Steve Harper has done to this country. A Canadian passport is a good thing to have.

  13. I would have never guessed you´re half Colombian... but then again, they never believe I´m from Argentina because of the white skin, the fluency in English and the Mediterranen thing I have in me (as they call it). They think I´m Greek or Italian but they never go belows the Ecuador line when it comes to my origins! Funny! You know there is something extremely fun about being a South American... it has color and flavor :) and then there´s the Spanish language soooo rich and sweet sounding. If you have more photos of Cartagena would you please post them? It´s on my list of Places I wanna visit soon! :)


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