Saturday night we went on a chivas–a party bus–to kick off Brandon’s birthday celebration. But you can’t limit it to just one night. Sunday, we went to Playa Hawaii. Monday night, to Alta Vista.
And just a few more photos from this week. They have nothing to do with Brandon’s birthday, but I’ll include them anyway.
Brandon’s partner, Jason, arranged an amazing three (or is it four?) day birthday celebration. It started off Saturday night with a chivas–a Colombian party bus. There were lights, music, balloons and lots of dancing.
The rest of the group went out to a nightclub, but I wimped out and went home before midnight. Such a great night and a new way to explore Colombian culture.
Just can’t say how very relieved I am to be here in Colombia. Feels like I’ve been unsettled for the last year. Maybe two. It’s like I’ve come (almost) home. Sure, there’s lots I don’t know about the culture and I’m horrible at the language, but it feels like that’s going to work out if I just stick with it. It’s like finally being able to exhale. I hope this continues.
2/14/2018 Wednesday (Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday)
Without a doubt, this has been the best start in a country yet. The school seems pretty solid. They have very fair teaching materials and facilities. They don’t supervise much, nor is there a lot of paperwork. They schedule me and I’m on my own. The school is living up to their promises, but they didn’t really make many. At this point, I would have been afraid to depend on any school. They didn’t pick me up at the airport. I didn’t expect them to help with communications or exchanging money. I found a place to live without them, though they helped arrange temporary housing. I like this city and the Colombian culture. I’m close to the services I need and can walk to school. I can easily eat on the street, but I also can get supplies to cook. The other teachers are fantastic. My roommate is great. The apartment is basic, but functional—kitchen, laundry area and we’ve been told they are getting us a larger fridge. I like my students. The public transportation is buses and taxis. I’m still figuring out the first, but they seem to cover the city and even the nearby towns. The latter are not too pricey.
But mostly, I’m just thrilled that no one has lied to me since I arrived. I’m grateful for small favors. And very grateful I bailed on Bolivia and took a chance on Colombia. It wasn’t a country on my radar, really. The name was synonymous with “danger” and drug cartels when I was growing up. Things have changed for the better.
Sunday, I got a Facebook text from Rod, a guy I met four years ago while hiking the Appalachian Trail. He, his wife, Amy (who is now my unofficial sister) and a bilingual friend, Kevin, are on a South American tour and just happened to be spending a few days in Ibague! What a thrill for me! I had the best time with the three of them. It’s so nice to spend time with folks who not only love to travel, but have a penchant for doing it frugally, as I do. They just happened to stay in the same hostel I did when I arrived, so even finding them was easy. They mostly travel by bus or on foot and eat the local cuisine, including street food. It saves a lot of money and allows you to have an authentic experience, getting an idea of how life is for the locals.
A big bonus was having Kevin along, since he could serve as interpreter. While my Spanish is getting better, I often don’t have the vocabulary to ask or understand much more than the basics. Kevin learned Spanish in The Peace Corps during the 1970’s and worked in Venezuela. (The Peace Corps no longer teachers Spanish, though they typically teach other languages to recruits. I suspect they can now find enough Spanish speakers.) Kevin still has land in Venezuela and lives part of the year there. His children live in Costa Rica. Kevin is hilarious and has more stories than I do–which is really saying something!
After Rod’s text, I grabbed a cab and went to meet them. We started with no real plan, but eventually jumped on bus #48 for a 45-minute ride north to Juntas (“junta” means “together.” It’s a town built where two rivers join.) The village is on the edge of the Parque Nacional Los Nevados, part of the Andean chain of mountains. Nevados are snowcapped mountains, which may give you an idea of how high they are. There’s a lot of rock climbing available, a ski-lift (that wasn’t working), some thermal pools (there are active volcanoes nearby!) and a mirador—a look out point—that almost anyone can climb. We also had a great lunch.
While in Juntas, Kevin—who has clearly never met a stranger in his entire life—got to talking with this young man, Jorge, who is a local guide. The guide is interested in learning English and offered to take us from his home in Villa Restrepo (still north of Ibague, just before Juntas) up the mountain to a farm where we could have lunch. His services were free, just for the opportunity to practice a little English! It was quite a climb up, but the views were amazing. Lunch was great—roast chicken with rice, fresh yogurt, a tomato and onion salad, and the best fresh squeezed lemonade you could ask for.
I can’t say how much I enjoyed my time with them.
About 6pm on Monday, I got a text from the school asking me to teach the next morning! Fortunately, I had the book for the class already, so I could prepare before I went to sleep. Class went well and I feel I’m really fitting in here.
Just a few more photos from the top of the mountain.