Last year we had the pleasure of ringing in the new year in Portugal with some good friends. This year we were warmer, but didn’t have the great company, so you win some and lose some. We still managed to carve out an evening for ourselves that felt (mostly) festive and celebratory. Here’s some stuff we did.
This is it! This is the whole reason we came to Medellin! Well, OK, there were other reasons, but the lighting at Christmas is what put Medellin on the map for us. We saw one of those Top Ten Places to Spend Christmas lists that are always floating around the internet and we read about this city-wide light display. Dan and I love Christmas lights. Anyone who knew our family from our days living in Wilsonville, Oregon will attest to this fact.
The tradition of Christmas lighting in Medellín began again in 1955, when Empresas Públicas de Medellín consolidated as a public utilities company. For the holiday season, part of the city was modestly adorned with special lights jointly contributed by EPM, the government, and the press. Local citizens would go out at 6 p.m. to walk along La Playa Avenue and look at the lights.
By 1967, EPM assumed the role as the creative team for the city’s lights each year, and therefore decided their design, installation, and costs. Over time, these lighting systems were broadening in scope and becoming one of the biggest tourist attractions in Medellin in the year-end season.
The light display is usually done along the river that runs North/South throughout the city of Medellin. But the riverbank is currently undergoing a major renovation project to put in a massive park, so this year the city moved the lights to the various parks around the city. One of the things we love about Medellin is all of the parks.
New Year’s Eve had come and we had not yet seen all of the lights, other than in passing as we were doing errands or going about our business around town. So we contacted one of our favorite Uber drivers and asked him to drive us around for a few hours to the various parks. He picked us up at 6:30 on New Year’s Eve and off we went.
Each park had a bit of a different theme and all of them were designed for you to get out and walk around, visit the street vendors, and browse the night markets of food and crafts that were set up. Twist my arm! All of this is in extremely pleasant mild weather, where a light hoodie may or may not even be necessary. Now we’ve got Dan’s attention too.
Here’s a few pictures of the light displays, although my phone’s camera really struggled with night photos. You’ll have to imagine that it looked better in person.
Delivery? Or no delivery?
While seeing the lights at a huge park and pedestrian area in the north of the city, we passed by vendor after vendor of food. Massive amounts of meat, traditional arepas, wonderful smelling churros and all kinds of other sweets. The kids begged to eat but we said we’d be going to a restaurant after the lights so we refused them. Also, although the food smelled great, there was no place to comfortably eat it. Some vendors would put out plastic tarps on a nearby curb and you could sit on it to eat from your lap, but I’m super-averse to eating on my lap, and Dan is super-averse to eating on a curb. So we said “Gracias, no gracias” and kept on walking. Spoiler alert: mistakes were made.
Our Uber driver dropped us off at a park near our house where there are tons of restaurants. We figured we’d grab a quick bite to eat and then head back to our apartment to celebrate the new year with a game of family poker. Well, Medellin did not get the memo that the Shermanos were planning to do that. Evidently it’s quite the THING here to either, 1) go to your farm and celebrate with family, or; 2) eat at home with some traditional foods (probably the ones that the vendors were serving), or; 3) make reservations at a fancy restaurant where you eat for hours and then get champagne at midnight. We were not expecting to do any of those things so we wandered around for awhile and were turned away at every restaurant we chose.
Finally we saw a little restaurant serving everything fried so we ordered a few burgers and fries to go. This is not how Dan wants to eat New Year’s Eve dinner but it seems like one of the best options so we did it. We order and wait for a bit until the employee approaches us and says they are all out of all the things we wanted and they only had wings. Mind you, we had already paid for our meal. No one wants wings so we get our money back and head home. Dan starts firing up his phone to order food delivery but, as you might guess, it’s not cooperating either.
By the time we get home Dan is full-on frustrated at all the restaurants listed as closed but he perseveres. Maybe some of you know that Dan does intermittent fasting to keep his girlish figure. So dinner is his one meal a day and he wants it to be GOOD. The rest of us had moved on and had decided to eat leftovers since the food delivery was going to take so long, but Dan was insistent that he was going to get something from our food delivery guys at Rappi: “We can’t be the only ones who want to order food for delivery on New Year’s Eve…” says Dan. The restaurants’ response? “We don’t care what you want, we are closed.”
After finally finding a restaurant that seemed open and placing an order, an hour later Rappi calls and says that they are at the restaurant to pick up our order and it’s closed. We learned Dan can curse in Spanish.
So Dan had leftovers too. Sad Dan. Don’t be like Dan.
There are all kinds of traditions that Colombians have about how to ring in the new year right, and how to stack the deck for the best chance of success. Some of these traditions include eating grapes – 1 per second for 12 seconds before midnight, running around the block with a suitcase to hope for more travel in the new year, wearing yellow underwear (must be brand new) for good luck and carrying lots of money in your wallet to inspire financial success.
There’s also a doll that you can burn, signifying the end of last year’s worries. I’m all for ending worries so I got each daughter a doll for Christmas. They didn’t seem to care much about the worries, but they sure were excited to burn stuff. Whatever works.
After the burning of our worries (spoiler alert: didn’t work for me), we played a few rounds of poker and before we knew it, it was midnight. We tried to find a ball-dropping channel on TV but I guess Colombians don’t do that because it wasn’t happening. We figured out it was midnight when we heard the fireworks. Thanks to the view of the city from our deck, we got one long massive fireworks show. In every direction all you could see were fireworks. Wow, this place loves fireworks, just like Panama.
17 in 2017
But what good is a new year without reflection of the old one!? We did some counting and we determined that we visited 17 countries in 2017. It was a year of a lot of faster travel than 2016, and probably 2018 as well. Here’s a calendar of our year. Each color represents a different country.
It was a fascinating year, starting in Portugal, then Spain, (lay over in Ethiopia) South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Dubai, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia and Colombia, with a few stops in the US thrown in on the side. All that travel comes at a cost, both emotionally and financially. We are expecting to stay put for a little longer in 2018 and enjoy some of the comforts of being stable and longer-term residents. We will continue to share our adventures with you, our loyal readers. We have no idea where we will be next new year to ring in 2019 but we hope you’ll follow along and celebrate it with us.
But wherever we end up, we’ll be sure to make our restaurant reservations in advance. #sorrydan