Welcome to Colombia

It threatened to rain all day, but didn’t. Still, with the high humidity, my hand-washed clothes didn’t get completely dry.


I arrived here yesterday, after three overnight flights from Santa Cruz, Bolivia. With my tiny grasp of Spanish, I was able—just barely—to function. In Bogota, Colombia, I changed US dollars for Colombian pesos, which turned out to be good since there was nowhere to do that at the much smaller Ibaque airport when I landed.  The final flight to Ibague was on an old prop plane. When it was delayed I was a tad concerned, but I finally made it only an hour and a half late. I’d had little sleep but by anyone’s standards, I’m now traveling light. Because of airline weight restrictions, I had to divest of some of my things. I’m down to a single, large suitcase (about 20kg, 44 pounds), a soft-sided hand carrying bag (6kg, 13.2 pounds) and the blue backpack I use to carry my books for school, which had all my electronics. Buying a second checked bag (which was iffy) was about $100US each flight. Shipping the items (just as iffy) would have cost too much, as well. Either option was more than the cost to replace the items, so I passed out things to my Bolivian roommates. Let’s hope they enjoy them. I ditched some clothing, my ukulele, a couple pair of shoes, and almost all books/notebooks.

Here’s the front of my hostel. It’s locked up tight all the time, so you have to ring the bell to get the attendant to let you inside.
The living area of my hostel. All the furniture is made from shipping pallets and they have a resident cat. It’s a small place. I count only about 6 rooms, but there’s a decent bathroom and kitchen (except for the lack of hot water) and they serve a simple breakfast of granola, milk, coffee and fruit. Pretty good for the equivalent of $9US a day.

Once in Ibague (pronounced ee bah GAY), I got a taxi to the hostel. I’m pretty sure the driver over-charged me. There was a fee for my luggage, which is a first. But at least we did agree to the price before I left the airport, so it’s not quite so bad. This is the first country in a long time where the taxis are metered. I like that. I hate haggling in any language.

It was about 2pm when I got checked into the hostel. The operator was very sweet, but spoke no English. I just barely had enough Spanish to make the transaction, mostly because I already had a reservation. Glad I’d gone to the trouble of getting a sufficient amount of local currency in Bogota. The hostel doesn’t take credit cards as the booking online indicated. A quick shower (no hot water here!!), and I fell into a deep sleep. In fact, I woke only a few times before 6:30am today.

I had an amazing dream, but can’t seem to touch it now. There may have been several dreams. All I can remember is that the information was very important. I kept telling myself that I needed to write it all down. It was something very detailed. There were steps and sections to record. But now I can’t even remember what it was about. How does that happen? I feel I’ve lost something that really mattered and the sense of loss has followed me all day.

Here at the hostel is an Italian man—sun-bleached dreads, clearly well-traveled, 20-something. He seems friendly. Never leaves the hostel, however. Tomorrow, he’s going to a nearby town to celebrate Carnival–a huge celebration, second only to Rio, he says. A couple from France left this morning after breakfast. There’s another Spanish speaking man who was dressed in a tie this morning, so I’d guess he was here for work, or looking for a job. I was able to hand wash the clothes I wore for too many hours yesterday. It’s humid today, so they are still drying as I type this.

There’s not a lot of street art in this area, but some.

Today has been productive. I walked to the school (which is closed today) and most of my photos are just from walking around. Google Maps isn’t perfect. It got me close and then, after asking several people, I found the place. Two old men argued for 3-4 minutes about where the school was, then decided that I needed to take a taxi because it was not nearby. It was. I suspect they just didn’t want to admit that they didn’t know where it was. I spent 3 hours getting there. It was only 4km away, but I don’t know how to get around here. First, I went the wrong direction, which wasted almost an hour. I also made several stops for things I needed and saw along the way. I got a SIM card for the phone, which is really important. I now have another new phone number. I bought red tennis shoes that I’ve been looking to find for quite some time. I found a large supermarket where I got water and tea and a small towel. At a pharmacy, I found toothpaste. This city is in the foothills of mountains, so most of the walk was downhill until the last half km. Then it was straight up. I got my workout! Anyway, I started to walk back, but after 1km, I grabbed a taxi the rest of the way. Then went to the supermarket for basics for sandwiches and water. That’s what I’ll eat for now. Easier. The hostel provides a simple breakfast and I brought my precious French press and travel mug for additional coffee in the morning.

Pare is “stop.”

It’s going to take me a bit to figure out the money here. First, everything is in such huge amounts. The smallest bill is one thousand pesos. And they are changing from old to new currency, so you have to pay attention. One US dollar = 2841.00 Colombian pesos. That’s going to take a minute to remember. But so far, I’ve determined that a bottle of water is about 2,000 pesos. I spent about 14,000 pesos on ham and cheese for sandwiches. The loaf of whole wheat bread was 3,700 pesos. So, prices seem pretty normal to inexpensive. Let’s hope my new salary covers the basics of rent, food and basic transportation.

Being in the bowl between mountains means that this city isn’t flat. Lots of ups and downs. Lots of stairs. I’ll have to stay in shape.

Tomorrow, I will take a taxi to the new school and meet the manager. She has a possible place for me to live—a shared house with other teachers, very near the school. I hope that works out and I can move in the next day. The hostel here is busy and I don’t want to have to move to another temporary quarters. I have orientation Wednesday or Thursday this week. I teach my first class on Saturday. The school is closed Sundays and Mondays, so I get two days off a week—a luxury compared to most of the schools I’ve worked at.

Outside the hostel door. You can see the fog over the mountains in the distance. There are calles (streets, that run east and west) and carreras (avenues, that run north and south). I’ve not quite figured out the house numbers yet, but businesses and streets are fairly well marked.

Here’s some info on my new hometown:

Ibague, Colombia: “Musical City of Colombia,” Ibague is 200 km South-West of Bogotá, in the state of Tolima (called a “department”), with roughly 600,000 inhabitants and has most modern amenities. The city is situated in a valley surrounded by tropical mountains and has a climate that is near perfect. The city is one access point to Los Nevados National Park.

Climate: 28-30C daytime (82-87F) to 18-19C at night (64-67F). Rainy season is April-May, and again in October, with an average of 9 inches per rainy month. Expect 3-4 inches in each of the other months. Relative humidity is 77%, very stable across the year.

Elevation:  1,285 m (4,216 ft).  Ibagué is located in the Colombian Andean region, in the center of the department of Tolima, surrounded by mountains on all sides with the exception of a plateau which extends to the east. It has two active volcanoes in its immediate vicinity: the Nevado del Tolima, 28 km (17 mi) NW of the city, and the Cerro Machín (dormant for 800yrs), 17 km (11 mi) west of the city center but still within the Municipality of Ibagué. In the event of an eruption, the city of Ibagué would not be affected despite its proximity to the volcano.

So that’s my new home. Let’s hope it’s an improvement from the last situation.