Monday, November 28, 2011

New beginnings and giving thanks

Wow. I cannot believe it has been over a year since I last wrote. In many ways, it seems as if my life is completely different. The location is the same, but the people, my job, my attitude have all changed. Where to begin?

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving. It is always a little difficult for me to be away from my family on important holidays. Especially when you live in the hot caribbean and even the weather reminds you that you are a million miles away. Last year, I had a whole house of gringos to commiserate with. We had TWO full turkey dinners and a whole day of cooking and drinking sangria to make me feel at home. This year, my only gringo friends were all 2 hours away in Cartagena and I had no oven. not even a microwave. For awhile, I thought I might have to go to a Chinese restaurant and call it a day.

But, the holiday turned out so much better than I had hoped! First, thursday is not a holiday here in Colombia, so since everyone had to work, I was a little on my own. BUT, I got to skype in with my family Wednesday night while they cooked. It was awesome. ALmost like being there, minus the smell of food and stealing tastes. We just chatted for like two hours while they chopped vegetables. I loved it. I also got to skype in with the whole family the next day. I got to see everyone and badger people for their Christmas Lists. Ah, tradition. Skype is hands down, one of the most useful inventions ever.

Then, Friday I got to partake in my other favorite holiday. Black Friday. I spent my morning shopping online. My afternoon shopping at the mall (minus the amazing sales). Also dispersed in there was my normal Thanksgiving dash. Trying to find all the ingredients I needed for Thanksgiving. That's right. Tony's family offered their kitchen (and oven) for my Thanksgiving feast. Let me tell you, it is not easy to find things here. I spent all week looking for pumpkin or pumpkin pie. Except for Halloween weekend, there is absolutely NO PUMPKIN anywhere in Barranquilla. I went to every big or international or colombian grocery store. every international restaurant. every bakery. I had all but given up, when I FINALLY found the last and only pumpkin pie in the city. It was like a golden prize at the end of a race. glowing. heavenly music. the whole deal. I practically did a happy dance (and by practically I mean really). By the end of the day. I was all ready. pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes, turkey, etc. The only thing I lacked was actual experience. I had never made Thanksgiving dinner alone before.

The actual day (Saturday) was almost flawless. we started early, like 1030 am. I had the cooking schedule down and it went perfectly. I had plenty of happy helpers (read: Tony's family) to chop vegetables, help prepare the turkey, and to give me all the cooking advice I could ask for. While most of the recipes weren't familiar to them, they were full of great ideas and cooking experience that certainly came in handy. By 630, we had a table full of people (Tony's parents, grandmother, sister's boyfriend, and us) and his sister on skype from Canada (it was her birthday). We went around the table to give thanks. With the beautiful christmas tree in the background, it felt like it came straight out the movies. The turkey and gravy were moist and full of flavor, the potatoes were creamy. And the wine put everyone in a great mood.

Thanksgiving this year may not have been with my real family, and cool fall weather, and 5am black friday shopping. But it was still so special to me. I really do have an amazing second family here. And despite our language and cultural barriers, they not only made me feel welcome in their home, but they helped make this holiday amazing.

I am so thankful for so many things this holiday season. And yes, I know that everyone does these lists, but I feel the need to say it out loud. for everyone to hear. So bear with me. (PS - it gets a little cheesy, so feel free to skip this part if you aren't the sentimental type)

- my amazing family - Who supports me through every crazy decision I make. From my trip to Africa to 2 years already in another country (and counting). My amazing family, who has dealt with communication errors, technology errors, travel errors, etc. and has never once complained. My family who has mailed me credit cards (upon credit cards), and care packages, and flowers, and letters. Who has visited me in Colombia more times than most other families would ever dream. Who has taken care of my dog, while I am off skirting my responsibilities elsewhere. Who has supported me when I had to make difficult decisions, caring more that I do what is right for me and not telling me to just come home already, when I know that this is really what they are thinking. I am so lucky to have you all in my life.

- my amazing boyfriend - who has always been there for me. From helping me with the concrete things, like helping me find an apartment to fixing my leaking roof. To the not-so-concrete things, like keeping me company when I'm missing home. We have laughed together. We have traveled together. We have had more adventures than most people have in a lifetime. And as I enter this next stage in my life, I'm excited to think of you next to me, and of the crazy adventures that lay before us.

- my many Colombian families - I am so fortunate so have both second and third families here in Colombia.
First, my La Playa families have done so much to make me feel at home here the past two years. You took me in when the only words in Spanish that I knew were si, no, and pollo. When I think about our first dinners together, it's amazing that we managed to have conversations that lasted the entire day. Now, it comes naturally (no, not perfectly, but it doesn't have to). We have shared triumphs and tragedies together, laughed about my language mishaps, and watched each other grow. I wouldn't trade those afternoons for anything.
Also, as I mentioned before, Tony's family has become another second family to me. From the very beginning, despite the language barrier and my uncertainty about Colombian customs, they accepted me into their home and made me feel welcome. So many people, when they realize that your Spanish isn't great, they simply stop talking to you. But this family never did that. We have had hour-long discussions about Costeño language, philosophy, history, family memories. We have shared everything together: birthdays, holidays, parties, beach trips, sunday afternoons, triple dates. They have painted beds for me, helped me find an apartment, given me rides and even let me stay in their house when I had nowhere to live. I would probably be homeless without them. If not, then definitely at least homesick. I truly feel I have a home away from home with them.

- my friends (both American and Colombian) - Simply put, I have the best friends in the world. It is difficult for any friendship when you are so far apart, but my friends are fabulous. They are always waiting and excited to see me, every time I come home. It doesn't matter if its been 2 months or 12 months. Whenever I have a question, or im bored, or I just want to chat, my friends are there for me. Colombian or American. English or Spanish. Near and Far. I am the luckiest girl in the world.

- my new job - In a time when so many (especially young adults) are without work, I feel very fortunate to have found a job that I love. Not only is it doing exactly what I want to do, but it allows me to stay in a city that I have come to fall in love with. Sometimes, I feel like its a joke. No one gets this lucky. A job that you are perfectly qualified for (probably the ONLY job I am perfectly qualified for) AND its with an organization that I love AND its fighting for a cause that I believe in. Who wouldn't be thankful for that?

I am the luckiest girl in the world. And as I look at spending another year in Colombia, I know that wherever life takes me, I will have friendly faces near and far to keep me company. :)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Coffee Region and Medellin...the land of Juan Valdez and Pablo Escobar

So fall break was last week and it was really nothing short of epic. I backpacked on my own around the coffee region and had a fabulous time. I got to visit all the other volunteers stationed in the mountains, made new friends, enjoyed hot showers, and drank lots of coffee. I could probably write a book about everything I did, but I will try to just hit the highlights (and I mean, TRY). So here's hoping...


So I began my trip by flying into Manizales... or at least I was supposed to. In try Colombian fasion, i waited patiently for 5 hours in the Bogota airport until my flight was supposed to leave....then another hour for delays.... then I boarded a bus to the plane.... then I deboarded the bus and went back into the airport.... then I watched a riot ensue as Aires told us our flight had been canceled with no new flights available until tomorrow. It was all very interesting and not the least bit surprising. There with petitions, yelling, fists in the air. A lovely woman had been on my earlier flight from barranquilla and seeing that I had lost my earlier travel companions to a flight to leticia, she took pity on me. Nothing worse in Colombia than being an female extranero traveling alone. So she braved the crowds, gathered the important information, and relayed the information to me on a need-to-know basis. Basically our choices came down to a flight to Pereira, a city an hour and half from manizales, or waiting until the first flight out in the morning. I think the whole flight, moaning and groaning, opted for the flight to Periera. So FINALLY, one flight to a new city, one bus to manizales, and one free ride by my new Colombian mom and her son to my hostel later.... I was in Manizales. ready to really begin my adventure

Manizales was lovely, perhaps my favorite Colombian city so far (apart from the picturesque Barranquilla, of course). The whole city ran on a major road at the top of a mountain, with the side streets all running along the sides of the ridge, making for beautiful views in every direction. Since my original plan to visit Los Nevados (a snow-capped volcano!) was foiled due to tremors closing the national park for the week of my visit, i spent Sunday exploring the city. I walked the 50+ blocks from my hostel to the city, checked the old churches, walked to the top of the Cathedral (the 5th highest church tower in the world), strapped on a harness for a sky walk at the top of the highest point in the city, and generally just wandered around. It was lovely and very relaxing. Since the hostel pretty much emptied out, I ended up spending the evening eating empanadas with a Canadian guy from my hostel and watching avatar on the big screen tv with my new Dutch roommate, whose real name I cannot remember because it sounded like yogurt, so now thats all I can think of. It was actually very relaxing.

The next day, with the park still closed, I met Angela for a wonderful coffee/breakfast date. We got fruit bowls with granola, yogurt, and chocolate flakes and camped out at Juan Valdez for like 3 hours. it was really nice to catch up and hear about what's going on in her life. Plus, I can't resist gathering ideas for what to do after my contract ends. Minus an interruption by my Canadian dinner friend, it was a perfect end my visit in manizales. I grabbed the bus with her on the way to her school and we parted ways, sending me to the cable car to the terminal. Next stop: Quimbaya.


Quindio is an area in the coffee region. The coffee region is typically thought of to be the area enclosed by the triangle of Armenia, Pereira, and Manizales. Quindio's claims to fame include the Parque del Cafe amusement park and the Panaca plantation, neither of which I visited. It also happens to be where Quimbaya and Montenegro are located, the home sites for Miriam, Lynn, Megan, and Adam.

I started by visiting Quimbaya to catch up with Miriam and Lynn. It took me a little longer to get there than I had hoped, but it was pretty easy to do. I got there just in time to see their apartment, get a small tour of the town, enjoy some fresh fruit juice and a heavenly arepa con queso on the balcony, and accompany them to their evening class. It was so nice to sit in on someone else's life and routine. And they were fabulous hosts. I even got my own room to sleep in! The next day I went to school with them, and then still had enough time to make it to Megan and Adam's school to watch part of their school birthday celebration, complete with an array of colombian dances. I spent the afternoon in Montenegro, catching up with Megan and Adam on their balcony, getting a great tour of their town, running in the rain, and having a perfect stuffed arepa dinner. I don't know why the coast doesn't enjoy these amazing delicacies!! All-in-all, it was a great visit with the mountain folk! I was really glad I came.


The next morning I woke up at the crack of dawn to begin my journey to Salento. I got into town and found my hostel at about 9, which was apparently perfect timing to run into my roommate from manizales Yogurt, well obviously thats not his name but since thats what everyone calls him, I don't actually know what it is) and sign up for his horseback rising tour. Horseback rising was hands-down my favorite activity all break. We had an awesome group of people, most of which from Holland, and we just cantered and galloped through the countryside, up and down mountains, along coffee plantations, and through rivers. There were no helmets. just you and the horse. it was aboslutely lovely. Since I was pretty comfortable on a horse, me and another guy kept ending up way ahead of everyone. It was nice to just be able to ride with your horse on your own, separate from the group. I loved it.

After horseback riding, I was exhausted. It was actually pretty good exercise and lasted over 3 hours. Plus I woke up and travelled crazy early. However, there was a tour of a coffee plantation that I didn't want to miss. We got to see the plants, learned about the different kinds of coffee and the advantages of each, and even got to try some freshly made colombian brews. It was really interesting, and the plantation was breaktaking. Exactly what I had hoped for. After the tour, we grabbed some dinner in town and headed back with some wine to hang out in front of the fire. Yes, that's right. There was a fireplace. It felt like a ski lodge. Or a really cool sleep-away camp. I loved it. The people were all really cool, but I called it a night early because I was beat. Besides, I needed my energy for the 6 hour hike through Valle de Corcora the next day. i ended up taking to my roommate for like 2 hours, so there went my resting idea. However, we had a really good talk so I can't regret it too much. I love meeting new people backpacking!

On Thursday, the whole gang from the hostel went to Valle de Corcora. We loaded up on the first set of jeeps out of Salento, with people standing on the back and squished on top of each other. it was quite the adventure. The hike was lovely. The group of maybe 15-20 quickly separated. I first ended up walking with my roommate, Nolene, but we soon met up with two guys and made a foursome. Which was nice, since the path was less than obvious at some points. I may have cut myself on barbed wire and balanced on some very sketchy-looking bridges. But it was all worth it. After several signs claiming the first stop was nearby, we made it to the humming brid sanctuary, where we could enjoy some hot chocolate with cheese. The altitude had started to get to me, so taking a break was just what i needed. Some wanted to turn back, but we hadn't actually made it to the waxing palms yet so I insisted we continue. Little did I know that the next hour was completely uphill, in the mud. But it was all worth it. I thought the scenery was just breathtaking. Totally worth my struggle. :)


The next day I had a few travel mishaps. Los Nevados was still closed, but I decided to try and make a pitstop in manizales anyway to check out the thermal springs. This was a poor choice, since they were blocking off part of the road and we ended up sitting on the other side of the mountain for 2 hours. When I finally got there, there was nothing I could do but jump on another 6 hour bus ride to Medellin. Needless to say, by the time I got there, I was ready for a little relaxation.

So I won't go day by day (mainly because I don't remember), but here are the highlights:
- Exploring the city - Botoro Museum was super cool, parque de la luz, the Cathedral, the botanical gardens etc. The city is huge and surrounded by gorgeous mountains so there is no end to places to explore. I also enjoyed finding small cafes to sit in and read.
- Pueblito Paisa - a small model of a typical Paisa village up on a hill. I also had fun exploring the park that surrounds it and meeting the lovely military men that apparently sleep there at night.
- Paragliding - AWESOME. totally worth the $40. Even though i didn't listen to the suggestion to get there early and instead had to wait 3 hours for the winds to die down enough. But it was still awesome. it was literally flying. nothing below you. the scenery was spectacular and we even spiraled to the ground like a bird. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
- Guatape - sadly I dont have any pictures from this because I was too lazy to take them off my camera and then was stupid and let it get stolen in Bogota. However.... there is a huge rock you can climb up to and see the country side. It is about an hour and half outside Medellin and definitely worth the trip. It is surrounded by beautiful lakes and full of colorful houses and decorative plazas. There was some kind of festival taking place while I was there so there was tons of good food and stands with beer and crafts set up. it was great. I cannot believe I lost my pictures :(
- Food and Nightlife - so I had some awesome food. Best meal? probably the steak dinner with holondase butter and a glass of red wine. But the chicken pad thai was a close second. Nightlife? was insane. It is like everyone comes to this one area of the city and it just gets crazy. i went out a little with people I met at another hostel (since mine was pristine but devoid of people) but I didn't stay out long. I definitely wished I had been there with some friends because it could have been really awesome. next time!

So thats my trip in a rather large, tree-like nutshell. it was awesome and I would recommend any part of it to anyone!! I was so glad I did it! I can't believe we are now in the homestretch....

Monday, September 13, 2010

Stormy nights

"We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin' rain... and big ol' fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath. Shoot, it even rained at night... "
-Forest Gump

They say that barranquilla has never seen such a rainy summer. It rains almost every day. And if it doesn't rain in la playa, you can sit on the roof and see it storming somewhere in the distance. It has easily become one of my favorite activities. I will sit on the roof and watch the clouds roll in. The lightening and thunder is like nothing i have ever seen or heard in my life. It feels like a war. The thunder rumbles so loud and long that it shakes the whole house and snaps like a bomb going off. Depending on where you are, you can hear car alarms going off and dogs barking in response. The lightening lights up the entire sky and streaks huge bolts across the horizon. It's like a light show every night. I honestly can't tear myself away. I will stay on the roof until the huge drops come down hard enough that I can't possibly stay any longer. it is completely relaxing and lovely.

Now, if you are unfortunate enough to be out in the rain, that is another story entirely. When it rains, the entire city shuts down. In the US, if it looks like rain, it merely means you might want to grab an umbrella. In Barranquilla, it means you don't leave your house. at all. not for anything. This is mostly because there is no drainage system. Therefore, after less than a minute of heavy rain, the streets literally become rivers. Major roads shut down. People can't even cross the street. Cars can't pass. and buses risk turning over. All over the city are signs saying "arroyos peligrosos" or banners with a skull in a river, warning people not to try and cross. Often, people will construct wooden stepping stones or use a cart to push people across the street for a small fee.

I can remember one time several months ago when I was meeting a friend for dinner deep into the city. it hadn't been raining when i left, but once it was time to go, the city was a mess. The water was above my knees on the streets. My bus had stopped running and if there were cabs free, they laughed out loud when I asked about la playa. I was literally stuck. So I hopped onto a tiny bus that was still running, in the hopes of at least getting closer to my house. However, not even a block away, the bus got stuck in the arroyos in the streets and had to wait. We sat in that spot for easily an hour while it kept raining. What we were waiting for, i wasn't sure. But I watched as tires, pieces of drift wood, and other objects floated past. Cabs attempted to brave the water, but it was over their tires. One cab actually slipped backwards nearly crashing into another one attempting the same thing. The bus was missing the lid on its emergency exit on the roof, which allowed water to pour in over this woman. So I took my umbrella up into the hole and plugged it. It was quite the adventure. I ended up having to walk like 20 blocks in the rain until I found a cab willing to drive me home. A 30 minute cab drive (if that) ended up taking me over to 3 hours. Quite the adventure.

Typical Barranqulla. Everything is an adventure. i love it ;) What else can you do but huddle under an umbrella and enjoy the view?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Welcome to Urban Beach...

So I've been a terrible blogger (again). I've realized my problem. It's that I wait until I have way too much to say and end up with a marathon story of what I've been up to. Then, I never have time to tell it all, so I wait until I can do it justice. However, in teh meantime, I miss out on sharing all those random little stories that are actually more interesting anyway. So, I still have some of those big events to share (including my parents visit). Something to look forward to. But in the meantime, I'm just going to share my random musings before I forget them.

Having just 3 months left here in Colombia terrifies me to my very core. It's weird. But while everyone else is excitedly booking tickets home, I'm hanging on to every moment. I've learned so many things about myself here and every day pushes me and challenges me in ways that I never managed to find in the US. I feel so grateful to have had this opportunity. So as I'm figuring out my next step, I'm really enjoying the simple moments that have made this experience so memorable. Here is my thought of the day:

I close my eyes and I'm on the roof in La Playa. I feel the warmth from the sun. the breeze off the ocean. I hear the sounds of the neighborhood bustling below. children shrieking. the call of street vendors selling fresh produce. the song of the ice cream cart cycling through the streets. Somewhere, I can hear vallenato music playing and people laughing. There's a faint hint of jasmine from the trees along the street, the smell of fresh-made bread from the panaderia. I open my eyes and I can see the high-rise buildings from the city center. the crashing waves of the Atlantic in one direction and the flowing water of the Magdalena River in the other. I see the children racing through the alleys of la urba. the stray dogs wandering the street. The women carrying plates of food to their neighbors and some star-crossed lovers walking arm in arm down the street.

Despite the dust, the dirt, the sewage problem, the trash and the endless road construction, there really is no place like it....

Saturday, August 21, 2010

"There is no such thing as fun for the whole family..." - Jerry Seinfeld

Unless of course, its in Colombia!

So I know my parents are waiting to hear what I have to say about their visit. And it was certainly... epic. if there is a word for it. we laughed. we cried. we yelled. we ate amazing food. we drank cocktails at sunset. we played tourist. and we had more together time than I've had probably in the past year.

In some ways, the week they were here (or less, taking into account 2 days for travel time) didn't seem like long enough. I wanted to show them everything. I wanted them to see all my favorite places in Barranquilla. my school. la playa. my kids. my favorite hang-outs and go to my favorite restaurants. But also, in many ways, Barranquilla is not the most beautiful city. It doesn't have a ton of gorgeous architecture or the breathtaking greenery of the rainforest. So if this was going to be their only experience in Colombia, I wanted them to see some of the amazing, diverse Colombian world outside my dusty metropolis. So we absolutely had to take a weekend trip away. So much to do. so little time. But still, at the end of it all, I don't know how much more Colombian fun we could have handled. ;)

I had them stay at Hotel del Prado, which I don't think they regretted. The staff spoke English very well and the building was amazing. Crown molding, vaulted ceilings, and beautiful archways that screamed of old-world charm, seeming to have jumped right out of a movie set in Cuba in the 50s. The staff wouldn't let you lift a finger and the rooms were huge. Needless to say, even though I only spent one night there with them, I would definitely recommend it to anyone.

We ate our first meal Thursday night at Wepa, one of my personal barranquilla favorites. It's nothing terribly exciting, but they have great tex-mex food, an eclectic menu, great cocktails (just don't order the margarita) and an atmosphere fusing together Colombian and American influences. Me and my enchiladas were very pleased to be meeting again. After this, I let them get back to their hotel, sleep off the wear of traveling, and promised to pick them up for lunch around 1230 the next day.

After work on Friday, I quickly unpacked my backpack full of day planners, flashcards, and teaching supplies and filled it with fun weekend adventure items, like dresses, flip flops, travel cosmetics, and enough shirts and shorts to last me for a few days. Note, not included was a swim suit. I then raced out of the house with enough time to make the bus. After dropping my stuff at the hotel and arranging a puerta puerta to Cartagena (our weekend adventure destination), I took them to another great spot called Las Flores. I'm sure I mentioned it before. It's an off-the-beaten-track neighborhood in barranquilla, along the Rio Magdalena, known for its amazing fish markets and relative poverty. There are also a number of amazing fish restaurants along the River, with great tables by the water and the best fish around. I figured if they wanted to try real Colombian cuisine, this was the place to do it. Needless to say, the fried fish, complete with bones and eyes, was a little bit of an adjustment for them, but it tasted fabulous. Plus, with arroz con coco, it was pure heaven. Even with mom's insistence on trying something new (a weird seafood medley on top of her fish about which even I was a little cautious), the real adventure came when it was time to get back to the hotel. It had been raining all day, which is not abnormal around these parts, but what i hadn't considered was that the resulting arroyos would block us from getting back. Soooo we finally found a cab in the rain, realized that the Circumvaler (main road around the city) was closed off do to the flooding, and finally turned around and got some kids to push the car through the water in the direction of la playa. Needless to say we got back to the hotel and onto a puerta puerta, headed for Cartagena in no time.

Cartagena was amazing. We had a great weekend. We did all the touristy things that I never get to do, had amazing food, and plenty of beach time. Friday night we just grabbed some sandwiches at La Dulceria, walked around Boca Grande, and took it easy. Saturday was reserved for all things Old City. We spent the morning walking around the walled part of the city, popped in a few churches and shops, and had a great lunch at La Cevicheria. Dad is a huge fan of No Reservations, the TV Show with Anthony Bourdain. So since La Cevicheria was his restaurant of choice when he came to Cartagena, I knew it was a must for our visit. The food was great, and despite the publicity, the restaurant was still a rinky-dink little place in a tucked away corner of the old city, free from the annoying souvenir vendors of the main tourist areas. The paella and shrimp pita were absolutely fabulous.

After lunch, we took a chiva tour of the city, including the Castillo San Filipe. We weaved in and out of the city, stopped at a few shops, and toured the entire fortress, including the winding tunnels and narrow passageways. The tour was all in Spanish, so it was a little challenging. While I usually had a pretty good idea of what they were saying, but translating it all into English was exhausting. Still, I think we enjoyed the afternoon. After the tour, we showered, got dressed, and had a lovely dinner at San Pedro's Cafe. It was a lovely night, so we sat outside and enjoyed the warm Caribbean breezes and the bustling city from the plaza, with San Pedro's Cathedral directly in front of us. The meal was amazing. Asian fusion food with quality and quantity that I hadn't seen since coming to Colombia. I had chicken pad thai and to say I was in heaven was probably an understatement. The colonial architecture, the lovely weather, the amazing food, the fun conversation. i could have sat there all night. We even got to watch a bunch of weddings taking place in the Cathedral. It was like something out of a movie. However, we had a busy day on Sunday, so back to the hotel we went.

Sunday we spent the day at Playa Blanca. This was the first time I had been there on a weekend and I would definitely advise others against doing the same. It was crazy crowded with tons of vendors. Nothing like the calm waves and relaxing atmosphere during the week. I had planned on picking up a boat from the port and making our way there ourselves, but for the interest of ease and simplicity, we decided to go with a tour from our hotel. Big mistake. It was complicated, took forever, and left little room for flexibility. After driving around the whole city picking people up, maneuvering through the port, finding the right boat (and the rest of our group), paying a $12 mil peso tax a person, a bumpy boat ride , and probably 2-3 hours later, we finally arrived at the beach. Yes, it was crowded and yes, there were lots of vendors. But we did have a nice time. We got a cabana to sit in, the warm caribbean waters, a few pina coladas (from coconuts cracked right in front of us), and a lovely fish lunch. It was nice to stop moving and just sit for a little while. Mom got a massage on the beach, and dad made a few new friends. ;) But like usual, the fun always comes later.

We had great weather, until the very end when it started to rain. We packed up our stuff and took shelter under a patio roof until our boat came. Now, if you think a bumpy speedboat is rough in the sunshine, try it with bullets of rain coming at your face and a motor that appears to break down halfway to the city. While to me, it was just Colombia. nothing out of the ordinary. I think my parents feared for their lives. When we were back on dry land, we were all ready to wash the beach off and relax a little. Resisting the urge to nap, we showered and got dressed for a night out on the town. We had reservations at one of the best restaurants in the city, 8-18. But before dinner, I wanted to grab drinks at Cafe del Mar, a great bar right on the city walls. We hustled and got there just in time for sunset. It was amazing. We grabbed great seats and watched the sun set over the ocean, with the colonial city in the background and a drink in hand. We told stories, laughed, and had a lovely time (and of course took a few pictures). Then, after the sun was long gone and we were slightly more relaxed than we arrived (read:tipsier), we headed towards the restaurant. 8-18 wasn't far, but if you hadn't known it was there, you might have missed it. It was in a small alleyway, with a simple sign next to the door. In fact, the host at the door was really the only tip-off. The restaurant was small, and we were seated downstairs, with a great view of the kichen and only 6 other tables. The decor was simple but the ambiance was classy. We ordered a bottle of wine, naturally, and preceded to order the most exquisite and expensive things on the menu. I felt like I was in a whole other country. I got braised oxtail, falling off the bone. Mom got rich and creamy blue cheese risotto with calimari, and Dad got a steak that was to die for. I felt like I literally had died and gone to heaven. And of course we got dessert, a brownie, ice cream, nut concoction that was fabulous. Easily my best meal in Colombia the entire time I've been here. Needless to say, I went to bed very content.

Monday was a long day for us. We had lunch reservations at La Vitrola, which is supposed to be the best and most famous restaurant in town. We were eager to see if it would live up to our heavenly experience at 8-18. But that wasn't until 1pm. Before that, I still wanted to go up to the convent, the highest point in Cartagena, and stop by the dungeons, which had been converted into souvenir shops. No rest for the weary. The Convento de la Popa was amazing. We got a cab to drive us up there, wait for us, and drive us back. He was quite a character and I got to practice my Spanish, which was fun. Once at the top, the view was great. It was a clear morning so you could see all the way to the old city. The building itself was also quaint and had great quotes by saints posted all over a delightful courtyard, complete with plants and a sleeping cat.

After the convent, we headed towards Las Bovedas, for a little souvenir shopping. The dungeons themselves were really cool, and because it was a Monday, it wasn't too busy. I even got a really cool painting on a piece of driftwood. It was challenging to let my parents shop without interjecting with my own knowledge about appropriate prices. But we got some great gifts. And finished with plenty of time to get to La Vitrola. The restaurant itself was adorable. It was said to feel like an old-world Cuban restaurant, which odten boasts live bands in the evenings. This particular afternoon it was quiet. I was disappointed that they didn't have the lobster ravioli, since I've only been craving it for months since I've been here. However, we found appropriate substitutes. The food was good, but I think we would all agree it was nothing like the night before. It was good, but not out of this world. I was glad that we went and it was good, but I wouldn't do it again.

After lunch, we wandered around the town, went to a museum, but it was wicked hot and we were all tired so we ended up hanging out in the hotel lobby for like 2 hours until the bus came to take us home. A long 3 hours puerta puerta ride later, we were back in the lovely Barranquilla. We were all exhausted so we grabbed a light dinner at Crepes and Waffles, a Colombia must-see. It was perfect. I got cream of mushroom soup and a ceasar salad. Just what i needed. Then, I crashed at the hotel, because my parents were coming to school the next day and I needed to help them get there. Sleeping in a real bed, with a soft mattress, goose-down pillows, and a hot shower was definitely something that had been lacking in my life.

School was.... school. The kids loved meeting my parents. My parents loved seeing where I worked, where I lived, and the kids. The kids hugged them the second they saw them and dragged them around school, hand-in-hand. I was exhausted, so I wasn't really on the top of my game. But it was good to share that with them. After school, we did some shopping at buenavista mall, went to the souvenir market near the stadium, and ended up at the hotel, eating a late-afternoon snack and playing in an Olympic size swimming pool with almost no one in it. It was perfect. We got to have some down time, while spending time together. We finished off the week with maracuya mojitos at the Lounge, a drink I had promised dad all weekend. it was the perfect end to a lovely, yet exhausting week.

And that was our week... not in a nutshell. Family + South America + good food + drinks = quite the adventure.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Signs you might be becoming Consteño

Or perhaps in my case, signs you have been in Colombia too long

1) You arrive 15 minutes late to everything because you know nothing starts on time. ever. sometimes if at all
2) The temperature drops below 90 and you suddenly break out long pants, a jacket, and a sheet to sleep with
3) Your wall is covered in blood stains from all the mosquitoes you've killed and it doesn't bother you
4) Everyone in the neighborhood knows where you live, and apparently has no qualms about sharing that information with others
5) You've finally learned that rain outside doesn't just mean you need an umbrella. It means you aren't going anywhere. at all. or the streams in the street might make getting home impossible
6) You stop trying to make plans in advance
7) you answer your phone anywhere and everywhere (in movies, class, in the middle of conversations)
8) You take 2-3 showers a day and yet you accept that you will never really feel clean
9) You can now drink the water everywhere without becoming deathly ill
10) You can't go too long without a fresh juice, frito, or comida rapida in your life (and no that doesn't include McDonald's).
11) They finally get buses with air-conditioning, and you actually prefer the ones without because the AC is just too cold
12) Your evening is not complete without hearing Yo no se manana, I Gotta Feeling, Nina Bonita, Sexy Bitch, Hasta Abajo, Tirate Un Paso, and some type of vallanato.

It's nice feeling like you belong. ;)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Half Time Game Plan

So last weekend was the WorldTeach Colombia mid-service conference. All the remaining WorldTeach teachers from each of the different sites convened in Taganga, a great little diving village about two hours away from Barranquilla, and swapped stories and brainstormed teaching ideas to make the second half of the year even more successful. But even more importantly, there was also some serious beach and R&R going on. We had a lot of catching up to do.

However, since it is a little more than "mid-service "(I am actually about 7 months in) it's about time that I reevaluate what the heck I am doing here. Rest assured, this is not the first time I have thought about this. I think about where I am going and my goals just about every day. But it is time that I officially admit it. I have had a ton of fun here and have kindof put the whole "goal-reaching" aspect of my time here on the back burner. While I could blame it partially on GRE studying before break, I have absolutely no excuses now. So here goes. My Colombia Status Report:

Eating healthy and exercising were two of my original goals for myself. I knew I would have some free time here and since I cook for myself, there is no reason not to try and do it a little more healthfully. Plus, with my sleeping problems getting worse, it certainly can't hurt to get the rest of my body functioning at top performance.

Ok, so first exercise: I was exercising fairly regularly at home, so theoretically, it should have been an easy one. Simply do it. And to be honest, I actually really like exercise. I just selfishly miss the cool nights in the US and my air-conditioned gym. But here, where it is a bazillion degrees out, the kids are wearing me out during the day, and I'm still struggling to get this whole "sleeping like a normal person" thing down, its a real challenge for me. Plus, I kinda like to keep my exercising to myself, and with a house full of athletes and a neighborhood where there are no secrets, its kinda hard. I was actually doing fairly well before summer break. I played soccer a couple times a week with some students after school and had 4 exercise routines (lasting about an hour) that I did at least 3 times a week. I used the same order every time and the routine was really good for me. I even mixed it up and went running a couple times. The heat just really gets to me for some reason. even at night. However, since break I have thus far completely fallen off the exercise bandwagon. I've actually been sleeping comparatively well, but I'm exhausted all the time and this makes for a very detrimental lack of motivation. I know I just have to get started and that the extra exercise will help to boost my energy level, but I haven't been able to bring myself to do it. That is until now. My new goal, mark my words, is to start exercising three times a week again. I will aim for Monday, Wednesday, Friday, but allow for some flexibility. However, my choices are running, the exercise routines I was doing before, or actually, aggressively playing a sport. I did play soccer once with the girls (which, since i havent played with people over the age of 12 in 10 years is pretty impressive in and of itself) but the exercise portion of the activity was less than impressive. Therefore, only real exercise counts. This goal is easy to keep track of and with a schedule, I should have absolutely no excuse not to do it. So there. punto.

Now onto healthy cooking. This has also proven to be somewhat of a challenge for me. Mainly because I have little idea as to what is actually healthy. Ok, in the US I was trying to eat healthier meals. I bought low- or no-fat versions of ingredients. I looked up healthy recipes online and made tons of fresh salads and great recipes with the fully stocked kitchen at my house. However, in Colombia, where my personal food budget is around $15-20 a week, I struggled to find ways to cook healthy meals simply, with few ingredients and without any fancy cookwear. For the longest time, we didn't even have an oven. So, once I started shopping for one on quite a budget, I found healthy cooking a lot more difficult. Yes I know, cheese and carbs = mostly bad. fruits and vegetables = pretty good. But I found myself a little lost as to what my alternatives were. So, I fell back on the easy, old favorites. Quesadillas, eggs, sandwiches, grilled cheese, stir fry, tuna melts, pitas stuffed with salad toppings, pita pizza, and even a little boxed mac & cheese after my sister visited. Not overly bad, really. But most involving bread and/or cheese. Probably not the best choice possible. I did start to make frozen fruit smoothies (when i coudl afford it) a new regular addition to my diet. I don't really like bananas, but once i froze them, added frozen strawberries, and some milk (no sugar added), it was like heaven. However, to be perfectly honest, overall I ate to survive, rather than to get my body exactly what it needed. So. with that said, my new goal is to do a little better. I bought a book recently about what constitutes healthy eating and what a balanced diet really looks like. I'm definitely hoping to reduce my intake of carbs and cheese and increase the amount of fruits and vegetables I eat. I just need to come up with some creative ideas for ways to do this. But living in a country where fresh crops are plentiful, and in a house where half the people drive their diet based off of healthy eating, I should have no problem getting the motivation I need to make this happen. What I need to focus on is the energy to put in the effort necessary. Totally doable, I think.

OK, this is a huge one. I stopped studying Spanish to study for the GRE and it really hurt me. I lost a lot of time. Now, I plan to at least make the most of my last 4 months. Here are my main steps:
- I need to study at least 3 times a week. I have a textbook, a CD course, a dictionary, and a wealth of information online so I have no excuse not to study and practice. While I am conversing with people, I think of a million questions and words I don't know, but I never follow-through and actually figure them out. So my new goal is towrite stuff down more and actually study on a regular basis. I find that going to the nearby university is a great way to go because there are people going to classes around me and i dont have the internet there so i cant get distracted. It's getting motivated and out of the house that tends to be my challenge. Including this very moment.
- I checked 2 books in Spanish out of the library (The Christmas Story by Dickens and one by Gabriel Garcia Marquez). Neither very long (no more than 150 pages), but with lots of new vocabulary. So far its slow going, but I like the challenge. I also have Harry Potter, left behind by Marilyn, and Sherlock Holmes, which I bought awhile ago. So I have reading covered.
- I also want to listen and translate more songs (mainly so i can sing along better when I'm out, jaja) But also to pick up the everyday vocabulary and use the music to help me remember the words
- I also need to watch more Spanish TV. I'm thinking about trying to borrow some movies (where I can add Spanish subtitles as well) and maybe pick up a telanovela online.
- Lastly, I need a Spanish practice buddy. Right now, I have the assurance of two separate friends, both who need help with English for school. So hopefully one of those will come through. However, I am a little apprehensive practicing with people I know, and people who speak fairly good English at that. I'm also going to try to get to the Colombo center and see if they can set me up with someone. That way, we will both be on the same page, I hope. :) I'll let you know how it goes!

So i really need to set up a special project. I want to get more involved in the program development aspect of the foundation and the issues that actually interest me, such as the challenges of internal displacement, economic development in an impoverished community, and the lives and concerns of the people. I really want to get more involved in the community so I am going to try and spend more time in La Playa and with my students and their families out of class. I still haven't decided exactly how I want to focus my career goals with the rest of my time here, but that is definitely something I need to work out.

I won't go into great detail here, mostly because this piece of my life is highly personal to me. However, a big part of this year was trying to figure out who I am, what is important to me, and where I want to go in life. Along with this comes my spiritual growth. I have gotten away from regular reflection, devotions, and church attendance, and I really need to fix that. I can feel it in my daily life and the decisions I make. Therefore, I am bringing these aspects back into my life in a big way. I actually tried going to a church this past sunday, but it was raining and after waiting an hour for services to start, I gave up and came home. I did a little self-meditation while I was there so it wasn't a complete loss. But I need to make this piece a bigger part of my daily life as I seek greater balance and health.

So there you have it. More exercise, more Spanish studying, more time with my kids and their families, and more spiritual growth and reflection. Doesn't sound too hard, does it? ;)