A Travellerspoint blog

Colombia

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Goodbye Bogota

sunny 18 °C

Just woke up to our last full day of life in Bogota! Although we will be stopping through on our way back to the states after our travels, this is our last day in OUR apartment in OUR neighborhood with whatever semblance of normalcy we have created for ourselves over the last 8 months.

Its been strange to pack things up, un-decorate the walls, and fit our lives back into suitcases so to ease the transition we have mixed things up a bit. First, we reverted back to our nine year-old selves and made a fort (real mature, I know) but it really has made things not look so empty.

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Aside from redecorating the interior of our apartment with children's sheets and pillows, we have been making sure to visit or revisit our favorite places, eat our favorite foods and just soak it all up before its gone. The closer we get to leaving the better we can identify which things we will miss and which things we will NOT be missing. Here are just a few:

Things we WILL miss:
1. Our neighborhood 'mom and pop' restaurant that has been so good to us
2. Empanadas from the empanadas guy down the street
3. Being able to say, "We're in Colombia!" every so often and having it still be novel
4. Pineapples for 60 cents, coconut on every street corner and most fruit in general
5. Exploring all the nooks and crannies of Bogota and Colombia- the Candelaria, Villa de Leyva, etc.

Things we will NOT miss:
1. The parties that start at midnight at our complex's meeting room
2. Dog sh*% littering every sidewalk (its a landmine worse than the streets of Paris)
3. Transmilenio
4. People making out (and loudly) in every public space!
5. Our teacup/half cantaloupe/cereal bowl/crater-shaped bed

The list goes on, but most you have already heard. The point is, it has been an adventurous, exciting, exhausting, terrifying, frustrating and rewarding few months. We are incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to experience something like this and for all the support we have had here and from home. At times its has been difficult to extract the "positives" from whatever was going on but we are truly thankful to have done all of it- the good and the bad.

Our next adventure starts on Monday as we leave behind our life here in Bogota to explore Peru and the Amazon. We are looking forward to 3 weeks of trekking and exploring and can't wait to get back to life in the States. Marty has posted the last of the pictures for Bogota and you can check them out on our pictures site.

We'll try to keep you posted on the highlights of Peru and see you all in a month!
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Posted by tuffchix 09:07 Archived in Colombia Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Winding Down

But Looking Up

semi-overcast 14 °C

My days of hearing "pro-fay" and "teacher" being shouted down the hall as student try to catch me to deliver whatever late work or excuse they have have come to a close. When I submit grades on Thursday I will no longer be a university professor. While I can't say I'm sad to be leaving that role behind I have had a hard time feeling accomplished there. I know there is the whole 'exposure to a native English-speaker thing' and I 'brought new perspective' to their routine lessons and yadda yadda, but accomplishment on a personal (albeit selfish) level.

My goals in coming to Colombia were little more than to volunteer with the YMCA and travel in South America. I'll make a pretty good dent in the latter but its the former that I struggle with. Its that particular struggle that has not made me reevaluate my decision to come or stay (not having done either of those would have clearly been a mistake), but 'reconfigure' my expectations.

In all honesty I tried not to have expectations--easier said than done! Not because I was afraid the experience would somehow fall short of those expectations, but more because I really didn't know what to expect. As we became acquainted with the Y and its work, I developed some hopes as to what and where I would be working yet some days even the smallest and most basic of hopes seemed to go unfulfilled. Other days the gratification from some trip or adventure far surpassed any expectation I could have had. Nevertheless, frustration and disappointment embedded themselves pretty firmly into my experience here yet they haven't quite left the destructive path they are known for. Quite the opposite actually.

The things we learn from our struggles far outweigh those we are granted in our triumphs, but we would never know that if we weren't faced with challenges (enter: Monica Zigler- University Professor). Perhaps my tallest mountain was my time at the university, although there were no small shortage of steep foothills leading up to it. It seemed that while my resume ballooned, my connection to the YMCA and its work was collapsing. I always had their support, and my work at the university was in the name of building a reputation for the Y, but that wasn't what I had come for, I thought.

The further I got into the semester the lesser the time I was spending with the organization and people that had brought me down to Colombia in the first place. Initially angry and betrayed-- I had come to work for the Y and yet they still seemed to be pushing me elsewhere-- I wanted to be working with the social programs. The ones they told us the Y in Colombia did so much work with. The ones where you are actually helping people who can't help themselves. But as irony plays its cruel tricks on us all, turns out I was helping exactly those who couldn't help themselves- the YMCA. I was right in the middle of all I thought I was neglecting. I was exactly where there was a need.

In Colombia, aside from a foreigner being a novelty, English speakers are highly sought after. In a nation desperate to be among the ranks of the modern world, they have committed themselves to learning a language which would allow them to operate as a player in the big bad business world. The Y's mission is to serve the greater community in Colombia and the world and the Y was using my talents (English) to serve a community in that way. I had to put on hold my own mixed feelings about teaching English to a country with such a strong sense of pride drawn from their own language to see my work as a service. When I put myself in the Y's shoes for a moment, I could see it. When I saw it as a waste of talent, they saw English as a way to generate interest in programs, further the English teachings and hopefully generate just a little something extra which could be diverted to the social programs I wanted so desperately to be a part of. As the Executive Director and our boss explained to us, "We are building right now. To do what we want and what the people need we have to build relationships, generate interest and make the Y and important part of life in Colombia for ALL". If I have done nothing else here, I have at least helped to build when and where it was most needed. Maybe just a few bricks here and there but a building crumbles without even the smallest part of its foundation, right?

So, in my time here, while I may not have clothed the naked, I have fed those hungry for something a little less literal. I have got a long way to go before I reach any sort of savior status but I have climbed a rather daunting mountain and laid the first few bricks of what we can only hope will be a large and welcoming building.

Quite possibly the greatest gift I have received from all this is the good sense to suck it up, if only for a moment, and if for nothing more that to clear my head and go at it again. Without this (and I have many to thank for it), I don't think I would have discovered this next part:

'The true spirit of volunteerism is not doing what you think will be the most helpful, but being at the will of others who can tell you how you can be the most helpful.' I can't really say that I have mastered this type of humility yet, but I'm working on it and that really is the best any of us can do.

Posted by tuffchix 22:48 Archived in Colombia Tagged educational Comments (0)

Where we live...

...for just another month

semi-overcast 16 °C

And then its down to Peru to see the Amazon, the beach and some ancient ruins!!

Wish I had found this earlier, but here is the link to where we live on google maps. I couldn't get the little pinpoint to actually rest on our apartment but if you take a look right of center you will see a little blue "M" that is our Transmilenio stop. If you follow the road sticking out from the left, Cl 137, we live right there, just before you get to that yellow, unlabeled cross street.

There are some pics in the left hand column of some of the places in and around our neighborhood and if you zoom out, you will see even more.

I was hoping to put our work sites (universities, camps, offices, etc) on the map as well, but it would look like a connect-the-dots done all out of order, so I will spare you all.

Happy viewing!

Posted by tuffchix 23:11 Archived in Colombia Tagged lodging Comments (0)

Easter Sun-day

A little R&R does a body good.

sunny 34 °C

After an accomplished week of hiking, a near defeat by the swarms of blood-thirsty mosquitoes, and a chance to take in some of our world's ancient wonders, we were to relax. Added bonus: familiar faces! Marty's family had decided to come down to visit during their Easter break.

From Santa Marta we hopped a bus to Cartagena to meet up with the Argentis. While we had our own adventure on the bus (surprise, surprise!) they had had their fair share of trouble following Colombian "directions". It's a fantastic ideal to name your streets numerically, but it only works if they are sequential, as in- in numerical order. Crazy, I know. Nevertheless, Marty and I arrived to a beautiful air conditioned modern beach-themed apartment and were very excited to sit down in the first real chairs we had seen in over a week! Let the vacay begin. I was only slightly ashamed to show up to see my boyfriend's family for the first time in months not having showered for a solid week, but they didn't seem to phased by it (thanks guys!). Whatever feelings of gross-ness and shame were quickly washed away by (a real shower) and wonderful conversation, updates on life at home and the re-telling of some of our jungle adventures. Ahhhhh vacation!

We spent the next couple days wandering the streets of Cartagena's gorgeous and colorful facades, cute little shops, indulging in some Crepes and Waffles ice cream, and trying to duck in to whichever air conditioned store was closest just before the waterfalls of sweat started pouring down our backs. Don't you wish you could get that image out of your head?? It was seriously hot. The walls surrounding the old city keep the sea breeze out and the stickiness in, but we managed to keep our cool (no pun intended) with a mojito here or a limondada de coco there (the latter is my new favorite non-alcoholic beverage, essentially a blended coconut limeade).

It was great to be back in Cartagena. Not that staring out over the tops of the mountains while standing in the jungle doesn't give you something to look at, but the walled city is a far cry from an eyesore. Its just gorgeous. We took in the gold museum, a warm up for the one we have yet to see here in Bogota, the Inquisition Museum (no sloth this time), the fortress and had some delicious food! On Easter we made it to mass and had Easter brunch on the patio at a nearby hotel managing to escape the already blazing heat.

Later, we packed up and were on our way to Santa Marta. Not without a brief stop at the nearby Volcan Totumo (volcano) where you can sit in the mud that pools at the mouth of the volcano. We opted for pictures and coconut water straight from the coconut instead.
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We made it to Santa Marta and checked into our hotel just in time for happy hour. We spent the next week taking in Santa Marta's offerings- Taganga (the backbackers town just outside of Santa Marta), Parque Nacional Tayrona where you can literally stay for days if you want. The white sand beaches are lined by jungle trees that stretch almost to the water and we saw a couple lemurs, plenty of lizards, butterflies and I could have sworn a capibara walk across the path in front of us. IMG_9338.jpg

We also wandered through Santa Marta, lounged at the pool, had our fill of seafood (yummmmm!), went to the aquarium, only accessible by boat and dangled from zip lines across the canopy (which was drier than I thought it would be). IMG_9349.jpg

By the time it was all said and done, I was putting up a little silent protest to the end of my vacation. Not only had it been wonderful to be included in Marty's family's vacation, for which I am incredibly grateful and thankful, but I had really enjoyed getting out of the BOG for a couple weeks. It was just the ticket to recharge the batteries for the last stretch here. We have about a month of work left here in Bogota before taking off for a few weeks of sightseeing elsewhere in South America.

A very heartfelt thank you Carla and Jerry for including me in your family trip and making me feel welcome. Thank you fo Beth for making not 1, but 2 trips down to visit. You have made part II of 'Marty and Monica do Colombia" a lot more rich and exciting.

Posted by tuffchix 14:54 Archived in Colombia Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

A Disturbing Tale

Kidnapped at the Ciudad Perdida, as told by our guide Manuel Carabali.

sunny 30 °C

In 2003 Manuel headed out to the Ciudad Perdida with a group of eager trekkers, all foreign. His group of 7 would later grow to 8 as he was unknowingly watched by the hidden guerrilla forces of the ELN (the smaller of the 2 guerrilla groups in Colombia, the 2nd being the FARC. This group was always smaller and less cruel and is now considered more or less defunct). After 3 routine days of hiking with nothing out of the ordinary, the group arrived in Ciudad Perdida and settled in for the night.

Early in the morning Manuel was woken up by a light tapping on his knee. An calm and seemingly undisturbed voice told him he needed to come outside and when Manuel said he would wake up the rest of the group so they could all hear whatever important announcement this person had, Manuel was told it wasn't necessary. Thinking the man's reluctance to awake the rest of the hikers a little strange Manuel went with the man outside. The visitor started to ask Manuel questions with obvious answers, stirring Manuel's discomfort with his presence even more. At that point some of the tourists had woken up and had made their way down from their sleeping platform to see what was going on. As Manuel was peppered with questions, he noticed a few more visitors entering the camp who started going through the trekkers backpacks and demanding that the hikers put on their shoes. Manuel was certain at this point, from both the questions and quickness with which the guerrillas worked, they had been watched during their ascent to the Ciudad Perdida. As Manuel tells us, of his 8 group members 5 were taken as hostages (the others left behind because they were uncooperative or didn't have good shoes to be marched off). Manuel and his guide buddy were tied up and told that if they untied themselves they would be killed when the guerrillas returned later in the afternoon.

The guerrillas then left with their 5 foreign hostages and Manuel and his buddy left alone. They eventually freed themselves and having noticed that the indigenous who usually visited in the morning had not come, went off to their camp to see what had happened. He found all of the indigenous tied up inside one hut, one man strapped to explosives which thankfully never exploded. After untying the indigenous, learning that they had been tied up first so they could not run to warn Manuel and his group Manual set out to look for the other guide and group who had also been at the Ciudad Perdida in a different camp. Later he would learn the guides had run up into the hills at the first signs of trouble and 3 of the other group members had been kidnapped as well. After sending the indigenous off to their nearby friends and relatives, he evacuated the Ciudad Perdida with the shaken and terrified remaining hikers. They headed back down the mountain as fast as they could, some without shoes which had been stolen by the guerrillas to prevent a quick escape. Two days later they all reached Santa Marta, Manuel hadn't slept or eaten and reported everything to the police. After hours of questioning and interrogation the police and military had enough information to start their search.

The combined efforts between the military and paramilitary (historically uncooperative but the military didn't want to risk a run-in with paramilitary groups during their search so decided to solicit their help) to encircle and rescue the hostages was unsuccessful. It wasn't until 5 months later that the hostages had all been released in what as being called a politically motivated kidnapping. Manual learned later that while some were released relatively early for their cooperation with the guerrillas (willingness to teach English to the soldiers for example) others were held for longer becuase of their refusal to speak in Spanish or English.

In the meantime Manuel encountered a fair share of criticism. Everything from accusations of being in cohorts with the guerrillas to aid in the kidnapping to giving incorrect information about the events that occurred and even questioned by the president as to whether there should even be foreigners at the lost city (apparently the president didn't understand what the Ciudad Perdida was or he would never have called that into question). While being interviewed on national television, he was told his facts were wrong- the network had received bad information- and Manuel threatened to stop the interview unless they were willing to report unbiasedly and accurately.

Marty and I had done our research before going on the trek and were well aware of the kidnapping. While hearing it first hand makes you realize your vulnerability in a place like the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, it was not a deterrent. Since the kidnappings, military has been placed all along the path to the Ciudad Perdida and there has not been an incident since. We were in the hands of incredibly knowledgeable and experienced guides and had done our research ahead of time to soothe any fears we had. And when in doubt, its only nature to get a little spooked here and there along a 6 day hike in the middle of a jungle filled with everything from pythons to plantains to panthers, we dutifully recited our motto for our time here in Colombia, "Be smart but not paranoid". Its gotten us this far...

Posted by tuffchix 17:33 Archived in Colombia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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