Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Sogamoso and Surroundings in Colombia

The plaza of Sogamoso, in the province of Boyacá
The cool Bogotá savannah extends well north of the capital and continues through in similar form toward Tunja, the capital city of the province of Boyacá. A bus ride to the north and east of Tunja showed me that this same savannah continued to Sogamoso, also in the province of Boyacá, before finally ending there. Sogamoso is a small city with lots of activity in its commercial district and large central plaza, which honors both its indigenous past with a sculpture honoring the sun god of its ancestors (the last cacique or chief of the region before the Spanish conquest was named Sugamuxi), and the Catholic cathedral of St. Martin of Tours behind the sculpture.

Interior of the church in the town of Monguí
It takes a little less than an hour to take a bus to the nearby town of Monguí, winding slowly through the mountains. Monguí is a really picturesque place situated in the hills, and would be noteworthy for its colonial architecture alone. However, the town has carved a niche for itself in another way: as a manufacturer of soccer balls. In the plaza you can find stores that dedicate themselves to this craft. We went in one store to peek at the workers busily making them and look through all the sizes and varieties available, with World Cup posters decorating the walls.

Flower pots in Monguí decorated with the soccer balls the town is famous for making
Another noteworthy side trip from Sogamoso is to the Lago de Tota, the largest natural lake in Colombia. The cool breeze reminds you that you are at a high elevation - 3,015 meters (9,892 feet) above sea level, to be exact. There are plenty of captivating views and towns surrounding the lake, among them Aquitania, which prides itself on rainbow trout caught in the nearby waters, as well as being a major source of onions. As for us, we were not in search of trout or onions, but rather for some delicious ice cream in the plaza, which capped off the day nicely.

On the shore of Lake Tota

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Feria del Barrio in Philadelphia: A True Community Festival, taking place on Sunday, September 23

Longtime Philly resident Elba Dormoi showing her ornate Panamanian pollera at the Feria in 2017
The Latino community of Philadelphia is an integral part of the city's tourism offerings. At a short distance from the center of town, many cultural manifestations such as food are available. With that in mind, tours were developed hitting some of the key community centers and sampling the culture.

One event located in this same community is the Feria del Barrio, which loosely translated means Neighborhood Block Party, but in reality this is a larger festival than a typical block party. This event has been in existence since 1979 and is an important component of the Latino community's efforts to affirm and celebrate their heritage with performances, food, crafts and activities for kids. I always like to participate in these events as a way to experience the culture when I can't travel to the countries directly.

I have been to so many of the Ferias over the years that I've lost count, but I can say that I've been more involved in its planning starting in 2016 via the organization I co-founded with Yolanda Alcorta in 1991, Raíces Culturales Latinoamericanas (Latin American Cultural Roots), or Raíces for short (www.raicesculturales.org). The event this year takes place Sunday, September 23, from noon to 5 pm and stretches north two blocks from 5th and Huntingdon Streets to 5th and Somerset Streets, with the main stage in the middle at 5th St. and Lehigh Ave. The co-sponsors along with Raíces are Taller Puertorriqueño, Congreso de Latinos Unidos, and HACE (Hispanic Association of Contractors and Enterprises), along with Telemundo 62. We are especially enthusiastic this year because we are increasing our cultural offerings at our tables in front of the Taller Puertorriqueño's beautiful modern facility, opened in 2016. We'll feature workshops from the performing groups Inca Wayra, Ballet Folklórico Yaretzi, and Raíces Boricuas, as well as a Guatemalan weaver. The website is feria.tallerpr.org if you want to learn more.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Info on my presentation: Diversity in Caribbean Culture: An Introduction

Diversity in Caribbean Culture: An Introduction

Friday, September 14 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Michael Esposito, co-founder of Raices Culturales Latinoamericanas will lead a lively and vivid discussion on the diverse Caribbean Culture. A global traveller and world adventurer, Mike dives into the Caribbean exploring the unique islands and peoples of the tropics. He is most at home with the Latino Roots Culture and cross-connection of the Caribbean Roots.
Caribbean Community in Philadelphia will collaborate with Raices in facilatating a dialogue of multi-layered dimension.
Councilman Brendan Boyle’s Office will be represented with resourceful information for the immigrant community.
A first installment of Caribbean Conversions during Philly Welcoming Week.


Taller Puertorriqueño
2600 N 5th St 
Philadelphia, PA 19133 United States
+ Google Map

Monday, June 11, 2018

Playing the tourist in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (2018)

Bávaro Beach in the Punta Cana tourism area

My wife and I had wanted to visit Punta Cana for years and finally had our opportunity in May 2018. We found a great deal at the all-inclusive Iberostar resort in the Bávaro Beach area, comprised of three hotels: Bávaro Suites, Iberostar Punta Cana and Iberostar Dominicana. We stayed at the Bávaro Suites area but could use the facilities at the other two hotels. As it turned out, we liked the Bávaro Suites just fine and had a nice-sized room close to the pool area.

This hotel complex is geared to serving huge crowds, and many of the guests hailed from Europe and South America as well as the US (Germans and Argentinians were especially there in good number), so Americans don't dominate there the way they sometimes do at other resorts. Food was plentiful and varied; not everything was a hit in my estimation but there was so much to choose from that it was inevitable to find plenty to one's liking. The service was very good overall. The Dominicans that we encountered on our trip struck me as friendly and exuberant, accommodating and easy to chat with.

I observed that items were pricey, and outside of the normal run of tourist activities, there was not much of interest close by unless you didn't mind being on a long guided tour to Isla Saona, Altos de Chavón or Santo Domingo which would have eaten up most of the day. Any impulses I might have had to stray from the resort or the shopping areas in Punta Cana were tempered by the distances, the cost of hiring a taxi, and the intense heat. Things for sale were mostly the souvenirs that everyone is accustomed to buying, save some local crafts. The best way to catch the local flavor was by buying food, no pun intended. A free shuttle can pick you up at the hotel at certain times of the day to be taken to a small shopping mall called the San Juan Plaza Shopping Center. We did find a few souvenirs there but we especially liked finding Dominican specialties in the supermarket.

Accurately or not, I generally gauge the pride or the knowledge that the local hospitality industry has in the regional culture by the amount of cultural items that are available at the airport. It was impossible to find so much as a guidebook there, and in that respect the area did not compare as well to Cancún, which was built in the middle of a number of culturally significant centers, such as the Mayan ruins at Tulum. My recollection was that the taxis to go into town were not as expensive in Cancún as they were in Punta Cana.

For me, the negatives were minor because the amenities and the friendliness of our hosts made the trip more than worthwhile. After noticing how difficult it would be to go off the beaten path in a way that I would have normally liked, I decided that for this trip, I would not engage in that pursuit and play the tourist on this trip - just this once.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A quick business trip to Bogotá, Colombia (2018)

Part of the "welcoming committee" at Andrés DC Restaurant in Bogotá

In 38 years of traveling to Colombia, I had never taken a strictly business trip there, but an opportunity arose this year (2018) as I was hired by a consultant to do research on pharmaceutical manufacturing. (I have probably not mentioned here that I have worked in the pharmaceutical industry in one capacity or another for over 30 years, and now I do consulting independently under the name TrainReach Consulting, LLC (www.trainreach.com). One occasion to learn more about the manufacturing and distribution side of the industry came at the GS1 Healthcare Conference in Bogotá, Colombia in April. The timing was wonderful, and aside from the informative topics on the use of barcodes in healthcare, our hosts made every effort to expose us to Colombian culture. The attendees came from several areas of healthcare, from Pharma companies to hospitals and pharmacies, and from every inhabited continent except Africa, which would have its own convention in May.

There were two instances where the culture was celebrated: first, with a reception at the hotel featuring a band that played music from the Barranquilla carnival; and second, a dinner at one of the Andrés chain of restaurants that have become so popular. The first of these was Andrés Carne de Res in the nearby town of Cota, which became popular not only for its food, especially the steak (hence the name "Carne de Res"), but also for its quirky design and a plethora of touches, with a Disney-like precision but definitely Colombian style. There is jovial entertainment or interaction of one form or another almost constantly, and you see it from the time you walk in the door, such as in the photo above from when we arrived.

While we were there, I had the chance to chat with a gentleman from Belgium who was visiting Colombia for the first time, and as he was not going to be able to do any additional touring in the country, I shared with him what I knew and tried to give him some perspective. I've learned that one has to be really careful sharing anything that is negative, because of the danger of possibly reinforcing stereotypes. Of course, there were plenty of positive things to share, such as Colombia's incredible biodiversity and cultural diversity, and he could see the legendary Colombian hospitality for himself.

The weekend gave me the chance to relax in Bogotá before returning home. The week had already been packed!