Friday, November 6, 2015

Day 26. Thursday. Oct 29.

Verdict on Colombia
So a lot of misconceptions about Colombia were debunked in this trip. Colombia is an extremely welcoming and friendly country where I never felt unsafe for a moment.......... except when I shared my room with Michal in Cartagena :o) (just kiddin'!). (Yes, there are certain stories in the blog which may seem scary but they were written in jest and/or exaggerated for entertainment purposes! Please note that this blog also served as a cathartic channel for me). In Bogota, cops are ubiquitous and I always felt safe. There are no signs of "drugs" or "mafia"! People are on time and very professional. The food is amazing and being a vegetarian I never found it hard to find quality food. I would not think twice to visit Colombia if I ever get an opportunity to travel again!

Day 26. Last day at the PSF office! Also, the day of the final presentation to the PSF colleagues. We followed the usual ritual of buying tea/aromatica at the corner store below PSF office.



We met with Diego, Sindy and others at the PSF office. Diego gave us his business card. There is something very creative about this business card - try to guess! You will find the answer after the picture:
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This business card is embedded with Chia seeds which if planted in the soil will yield plants! I think this is a genius concept!!

Our final presentation to PSF was in the afternoon. Since this was the last day at office and we had already finished the slide deck, we took 30 minutes during lunch to visit the Gold Museum (Museo Del Oro) of Bogota. This was a 5 minute walk from the PSF office. This is the largest gold museum in the world and has more than 50,000 gold artifacts on display!

On the way, I got my shoes polished for the final presentation! :)





Meanwhile, I just couldn't stop admiring my shoes.




In the afternoon, we presented the final results to the extended PSF team. We described the SOW provided to us, what we delivered, lessons learned and personal reflections. We got the feeling that everybody appreciated our effort and were excited to use our tools!
PSF is all set to reach the next level of maturity as a company. They have the best people, they have great products and above all the right attitude - all they need is a bit of luck and some generous funders who can see the value they are adding to the society.
One thing is for sure, I'm always available if PSF needs my help.



After our presentation and a Q&A session, we said our goodbyes to the team and headed back to the hotel. It felt a bit strange and sad to leave the PSF office knowing that we probably would never work there again.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Day 25. Wednesday. Oct 28.

Spirits of Zipaquira:
Dan and I were wandering around in the salt mine and saw 2 ladies coming out from a narrow path leading to a vantage point. The ladies recommended that we go into that narrow path so we could get a great view of a long alley in the salt mine. This was certainly off-roading and not the path the guide would have taken us. Anyway, we decided to walk through that path - of course the view was awesome. Dan then switched on his cellphone camera and we saw something really strange. We saw what looked like tiny specs of light moving around. This could not be dust as there was lighting from the ceilings and the floor and any dust would have been picked up by these lights as well. Worse, I could not see it in my cellphone camera. Both of us have an iPhone 5s. 
Dan captured a video of it, which I don't think I will post on my blog. 

Day 25. By now, we have delivered on all the promises mentioned in our scope of work. We have a sense of accomplishment and pride that we helped a Foundation with such a noble cause with their mission (however tiny our contribution may be). We dedicated today to prepare the presentations for the PSF presentation on Thursday as well as the SAP presentation on Friday. 

Liza stopped by at Noon and we went to lunch at Crepes and Waffles. Liza took Michal and me to the rooftop lounge in Juan Valdez coffee shop. She bought me a coffee with unrefined cane sugar (called Panela). It was a unique tasting coffee! I loved it. 

Gerda, Michal and I spent until 7PM working on the presentations. We then spent sometime together reflecting on our experience thus far and our 4-week journey. 

Wow! What a journey this has been. Truly rewarding in every aspect. I'm thankful to everybody who has supported me - especially my wife. 

We're looking forward to present our accomplishments to the PSF team tomorrow. 

Day 24. Tuesday. Oct 27.

Day 24.
Breakfast meeting with Liza.


PSF has a program called Creaciones COMParte in which people from the low income neighborhoods of Santa Rosa are trained in manufacturing jackets and bags. The bags and jackets are then sold to local stores in Bogota. The advantage of these products is that the materials used for making them are sourced completely from within Colombia. Additionally, this is socially responsible manufacturing. However, PSF still employs traditional ways of selling these products. 
We spent the afternoon with Sindy, setting up the online webstore on Linio.com (Colombia's Amazon.com). Through the web store, Creaciones COMParte will hopefully be able to reach out to a greater number of audience with their amazing products. 

In the evening, we met in Sheri's room for the Mexican dinner that she cooked for us. Sheri is an extraordinary cook and the food tasted better than Chipotle Tacos. 

Sheri:


Michal pretending to cook:


Gek brought some boiled quail eggs (I did not dare to taste them, heck I don't even know what a quail is):


Sniper attack on Fatima;
So Fatima had a scary experience in one of the SOLE team member's room in our hotel. There is a building being constructed next to the hotel and can be seen from some rooms in the hotel. Apparently, she was sitting next to the window and she saw a lazer dot hovering over her. She tried to find the source and found a man standing on one of the floors of that empty building. How freaky is that?! :)). Needless to say, we tried to avoid the windows in Sheri's room. 
Fatima pointing at the building:



Buenas Noches! 

Week 4. Day 23. Monday. Oct 26.

Welcome to the week of finals!
Can't believe it's already the final week. With lazer sharp focus and the right environmental factors (called EEF in PMI terminology), it's amazing how much one can achieve in a short span of time!
Heading into the final week, we are feeling very confident, given the fact that we have already completed couple of iterations of each deliverable.
Agenda for this week:
Monday - Final Team meeting with Liza.
Tuesday - Final meeting with the coordinators.
Thursday - Final presentation to the PSF team.
Friday - Final presentation to the extended audience (other clients and Orchids).
Saturday - Flight back home.

Day 23. We spent the day at PSF office working and further tailoring our deliverables. PSF is located in the Emerald trading area of Bogota so we decided to capitalize on this by visiting the Emerald House. Michal and I checked out some Emeralds (unfortunately, we did not buy any).






In the evening, we had a team meeting with Liza. We heard that Liza was sick and would not be able to make it to the hotel. Instead, Liza proposed to do Skype. When we returned to the hotel we had a surprise - there was no power in the Hotel. So the team meeting was canceled and moved to Tuesday.

We saw some teams working in the candlelight in the dining area. Growing up in India, we used to have frequent power cuts in Summer and it reminded me of the days I used to study in candlelight!

Sheri was kind enough to offer us to make Mexican Food (Tacos) this evening. Since we had no power, we have to postpone this event to Tuesday.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Day 22. Sunday. Oct 25

Piyon Liyon Mei Mei
Due to the professional nature of this blog, I was debating whether to write about this new phrase I learned. Due to the lack of interesting content for my blog in the recent days, I decided to include this. :o) . Thanks to Gek who taught me this phrase in Chinese which means "You are a pretty girl". The irony is that it does not work on pretty girls because apparently they are immune to it. So who can you impress with this phrase?......... I'll leave it to your imagination.
Fun fact. A google search of this term, returns the following result: " Three-dimensional and multidimensional microscopy image....". hmmm...Chinese must be a very technical language.

Day 22. Barely made it to breakfast (2 minutes before they closed shop) and scrounged on whatever I could find. We decided to go to the flea market again but to a different one. Thanks to Tracey, we found the best flea market in Bogota! It was 3 kilometers long! Starting on Avenue 7 street 24 to street 10!
Here you could find a wide variety of things from souvenirs to 30 year old Nintendo gaming consoles to Gramophones! We also saw some really interesting street performers and even bet on Hamsters!!






Hamster Betting:

video

We came across some firefighters near Plaza Bolivar. Since Steffen is a part-time firefighter, he was excited to take some pictures with them.


Daniel and Michal enjoyed some great icecream on the Septima (7th Ave). - which they later fed to the pigeons ;o).


We had a great time on the Septima!

I'm looking forward to the final week in Bogota! 

Day 21. Saturday. Oct 24.

Day 21. Agenda for today: first stop at Zipaquira (Salt mine town of Colombia) followed by Guatavita (Legend of El Dorado). Our bus driver was an older gentleman, probably in his 60's but was the most aggressive driver we saw thus far.

We reached Zipaquira at about 9:30 AM - 2 hours after we left Bogota. We drove through beautiful landscape as usual. We learned that there are over 3000 people who visit the Salt cathedral for a mass on Sundays so we were glad to be there on a Saturday.. early. We bought the guided tour of the Salt mine and a miners tour while some girls in the group chose to skip the latter due to the claustrophobic nature of the tour.



Salt mines of Zipaquira.
Also called the Salt capital of Colombia. Salt deposits in Zipaquira formed 250 million years ago. It's nothing short of a miracle because this city is located 2600+ meters above sea level and the formation of salt in such a location is highly unusual. The mining of salt began 500 years ago when the native Indians dug the salt and used it as currency. Since Salt was a very essential commodity, it was in great demand. During the colonial period, formal excavation and mining of salt began. In 1954, a Salt Cathedral was built 200 meters underground. This has been called Colombia's first wonder due to it's notable architecture.

This was my first visit to a mine, ever, so I was really excited! There were 15 other people with us and we were assigned a Spanish guide who spoke with a personal speaker so everybody could hear her. I'm sure she was a great guide - but none of us understood a word she spoke  - except when we heard a "Sshhhh". I guess that's a universal word for "Shut up". Since we are a high energy group and were constantly chattering and coming up with theories about what we were looking at, I have the feeling our guide was not very happy. Needless to say that after 15 minutes, we broke from our guided tour and went on our own way.
The salt mine was fascinating and we may have seen over 100 Christian Crosses. The mine is so claustrophobic and I cannot imagine what the miners would have gone through working here day in and day out. We couldn't help but feel sorry for them.









After the guided tour, we did some souvenir shopping, 200 m underground! and watched a 3D movie about the history of the salt mines of Zipaquira.

Some of us then did the miners tour. This was pretty interesting as we were given helmets to wear and asked to follow a guide in pitch darkness. We were then led into an area where we could use a pick-axe and actually mine salt! It was a really cool experience.



After the tour, we met up with the girls and headed to Guatavita in the bus. We stopped by for lunch in a restaurant which looked like a miniature Andres carne de res. The food (French Fries - the only vegetarian dish on the menu) was great!



At this point, it was 2 PM and we were all set to drive to Guatavita. The main attraction of Guatavita is the laguna (lake) of Guatavita which is believed to have the gold of El Dorado. The lake is on a mountain and looked really cool in the pictures.

On our way, we saw signs to the Lake of Guatavita. Unfortunately, our bus driver thought that the sign was not correct (??!??). He drove us to the city of Guatavita where there is another lake - but this lake has nothing to do with the legend of El Dorado. By now it was 3:45 PM and we realized that the gates to the Lake of Guatavita would close at 4 PM. We decided to take a chance and drive back to the actual lake of Guatavita. The road to the Lake was pretty horrible and the driver was doing 40 kmph and slamming into 2 meter deep potholes while driving uphill! It was a miracle that were not covered in each others emesis (let me use a technical word here to make it sound less disgusting).
Anyhow, we reached the gates of the Lake of Guatavita at 4:10 PM .............................. and of course it was closed! :). After trying to convince the security guard to let us in and not succeeding, we took some pictures of the Lake of Guatavita banner outside the gate and headed back to Bogota.

This security guard would not let us in:

Girls not happy:


Taking fake pictures of Lake Guatavita =) . 


The girls were supposed to go to Villa De Levya in another bus and we (boys) were supposed to head back to Bogota with our driver. We asked the driver to take us to the bus station in Guatavita where the girls could catch the bus to Villa De Levya. Our driver drove us around in loops for the next 25 minutes and stopped at a random bus station on the highway. We asked a cop there and realized that this was not the right stop. At this point, our driver told the girls to pretty much cancel their plans to go to Villa De Levya and that he would take us all back to Bogota!!

I am unable to determine if he was having a bad day or us!

After 2 hours of head banging to some great rock music (read: accelerating and braking in traffic), we reached Bogota - just in time for our dinner with Juan. Juan suggested an Indian restaurant which he loved. The food was amazing and I was glad that we went there :) . Juan, Sindy, Mathieu, Gerda, Michal and I went to this restaurant.

Juan asked me to suggest a dish for him and I selected Malai Kofta - which he loved.



Probably the last time we will be seeing Mathieu, as he will not be available during our final week - Week 4. It was great working with you, Mathieu. You are truly an asset to PSF and we wish you the best of luck in expanding the Mercados business in Medellin!


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Special Post: Global Giving. Day 20. Friday. Oct 23.

PSF
Being a Social Business, Proyectar Sin Fronteras intends to make a profit from its business in order to reinvest into new social activities - therefore creating "sustainable aid". For example, in the Mercados line of business, PSF essentially sells baskets of organic fruits and vegetables to households in Bogota and reinvests the profits into training the micro farmers/producers from vulnerable areas in Bogota.

Organizations like PSF make a world of difference to people in low income neighborhoods with little or no education by providing them with sustainable income. The employees of PSF do this without expecting too much in return for themselves. They do this because they are invested in making a change. PSF does not compromise on quality of the products. Therefore there are a few exception farmers who are not from vulnerable areas. For example: Rosalba.

Unfortunately, PSF has not been making a profit on the Mercados business or any of their other line of businesses yet. Therefore, they are in need of funding. There are multiple ways PSF tries to seek funding - they write proposals for funding from large corporations, they seek crowdfunding, donations, etc. Since their business is scaling, they are in need of as much funding as possible.
Please visit the PSF website here: http://www.ong-psf.org/website/
You can also follow them on twitter: https://twitter.com/PSF_Colombia
Their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/PSF-Proyectar-Sin-Fronteras-151355431588549/?ref=hl
Mercados page: http://sembrandoconfianza.com/

Global Giving.
PSF has a crowdfunding campaign coming up called Open Challenge where they have to raise 5000 USD with a minimum of 40 different donors. If they achieve this challenge, they get to keep the money (5000 USD) and will be permanently accepted on the Global Giving platform where people from all over the world can shop causes and donate at the click of a button. I was told by Tracey that this has not been setup yet and is expected to be finalized in the coming weeks. I will write another blog post when they have this website setup.

In the meantime, if you feel generous and would like to help this Foundation, please donate here:
http://www.ong-psf.org/website/en/faire-un-don/

Day 20. We had a great day at the PSF office. The feedback on our deliverables was great! Obviously, there was a little bit of change management we had to handle but with Juan in the office, this was easy.
We have planned a visit to Zipaquira and Guatavita on Saturday. Zipaquira is one of the oldest cities in Colombia and is home to the Salt Cathedral, 200 meters underground. This Salt Cathedral was built inside the salt mines of the Halite mountain. Lake Gautavita on the other hand, is home to the legend of El Dorado.
Will be an interesting visit.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Day 19. Thursday. Oct 22.

When have you used the word "incredible" twice in the same day and truly meant it?

Day 19. Totally feeling rested by now and looking forward to the field visit to producer Rosalba's farm in Subachoque. Subachoque is a 90 minutes cab ride from Bogota.
I met the PSF photographer and our translator, Virginie, in the hotel lobby and waited for Gerda, Michal and Francios (who was also joining us to the farm). Virginie is a freelancer photographer, contracted by PSF. She is French. Her husband works in the Oil industry and we traveled to Subachoque in his company car. It was a Toyota Prado with Bulletproof windows!
Look at the thickness of the windows:

The landscape, en route to Subachoque was amazing!






Rosalba's house/farm is more than 3300 meters above sea level and on top of a mountain, overlooking the entire valley spanning many villages, including Subachoque. The heavy bulletproof SUV barely made it up the mountain. At one point, we lost traction and started moving downhill in reverse in a particular section of the mountainous road. By the time we reached the top, the SUV was smelling of burnt rubber.


The weather was just perfect!
We were greeted by some not-so-friendly dogs.

We could already see the animals around the farm.



The view from inside of her house was truly spectacular!



Rosalba.
Rosalba is a producer of PSF Mercados. She is 70 years old and manages her farm on her own! She only produces organic products which include Yogurts, Bread, Cookies, etc. She produces 5000 yogurt cups and more than 100 breads per week. She was an attorney in Bogota and retired 10 years ago. Rosalba was extremely warm and friendly and was very happy to have us at her farm.

She made amazing Cappuccino with fresh cow's milk and some carrot-yogurt delicacy (this tasted like Carrot-halwa :)). She also gave us homemade cookies. All organic!





She gave us a tour of her farm and her "yogurt house".





We saw a horse being trained in a traditional walking technique (ambling).

This picture below reminds of the Gangnam style song :o) .


Francios, who is an agronomy engineer, inquired about a lot of topics to make sure that the products are indeed organic. It was a good learning experience. 

We thanked Rosalba and headed back to the PSF office. 

Gerda and Michal knocked out!

We met with Sindy in the afternoon and discussed her feedback on the first set of deliverables. We also tried to setup an Amazon page for her to sell her Creaciones COMParte products. 
In the evening, we planned a dinner at a Peruvian restaurant. This is the most upscale restaurant in Zona G and the most expensive restaurant in Bogota.
The food definitely lived up to it's expectations... and so did the bill :/ (69,000 pesos. definitely not the incredible experience I was refering to earlier)



Veggies and fruits in an Andean broth. Tasted like Navratan Kurma (Indian dish) .

As if I was not satisfied with the day, I decided to go with Steffen to Monserrate. It was 10 PM by now, so we were definitely taking a risk :) . We took a cab and then a funicular up the mountain. It was another 10 minute hike uphill to reach the highest point of the mountain. I was totally breathless by the time we reached the top. Another 3150 m above sea level! Just for reference, the tallest mountain in Austria is about 3700 m high.
The view of Bogota from the mountain, in the moonlight, was just incredible! 



Steffen.