Amazonas · Colombia · El Cielo · Leticia · South America · Tabatinga · Teaching English · Travel

The Amazon Part 1

When deciding where to go when I left the country because my work visa expired and I had to be out of Colombia by the 31st of November and come back in on a tourist visa I was torn between going to the Amazon or Bolivia.  I had grown up in Bolivia and in the Amazonas of Venezuela, so wanted to experience at least one of the places again.  Venezuela is too uncertain right now and Bolivia can be hard to travel in.

A lot of my friends are from the US and there is a visa that they need to get to travel to Bolivia as well, so I decided to fly to Leticia and then wander into Peru and Brasil.  It was all the rain forest so I figured that my experience would be very similar to that which I had growing up in Venezuela. A couple of my friends were also interested in going to the Amazonas region, so off we went.

The area we were going to was called ‘Tres Fronteras’.  It is made up of the bottom tip of Colombia and a small section of Peru and Brasil.  The cities of Leticia, Tabatinga, and Santa Rosa meet on the Amazon river and people can wander freely between the three countries.  It is the person’s responsibility to go to the immigration office of the country they need to for the proper exit and entry stamps before traveling further in the country of choice.

map area 3 fronteras

I flew into Leticia on the 28th of November and met up with my friend who had flown in that morning.  We had decided to stay at an airbnb for the first two nights, then meet up with another friend who was also coming down and then we would head off into the jungle on a three day adventure.

LEticia

It was hot – oh so very hot!  The air was sticky and thick – as soon as I got off the plane I was enveloped in the oppressive heat! I was exited to see all the signs in the airport about it being so clean, but as I left the airport, I realized that the signs were merely hopeful – the place was covered with litter.  There was trash thrown everywhere.  It was depressing to see that the Amazon, the lung of the earth was buried in trash.

I got a cab to the airbnb, dropped my things off and my friend and I set about exploring.  We walked into Tabatinga, Brasil to look around and just revel about being in another country.

TabatingaTabatinga1

We walked and walked – it was amazing how quickly the language changed just being on the other side of the border.  The money was immediately different as well.  The places accepted pesos, but we got reales back in change.

We walked back into Leticia, had an amazing dinner at a little restaurant called ‘El Cielo’. The food was amazing.  We had this pirarucu fish pizza that was absolutely delicious.  I have not been a fan of Colombian food, but I can see now that I could be!  The service was great and the ambience was refreshing.

El Cielo 1

El Cielo

Back to the Airbnb and to bed!

 

 

Advertisements
Bogota · Colombia · CRI · Paralympics · South America · Teaching English · Travel

The Paralympics CRI style!

This year they started the 1st annual CRI Paralympics.  It was an amazing experience that I am so lucky and honored to be a part of!

juegos logo

There was a big opening of the games with the lighting of the torch and speeches.  The participating soldiers came out and lined up in front of the stage.  The rest of us sat in our areas and then stood for the national anthem.  Then there was the speech, and then the whole games were begun by the lighting of the torch.  It was very moving.

The next four days were full of events such as Futsal, Sitting Volleyball, Weight-lifting, Brain Games and Fencing.  There were the customary playoffs with one team or person winning each category.  It was amazing to watch the soldiers participate with their whole heart in the games.  Many times I see them have way more courage to participate in life than I do and am awed.

At the end of the events were the presentation of medals and closing ceremonies where a former soldier who re-habilitated at the CRI and is currently in training for the Paralympic games in Seoul presented his jersey to the center!  The event was very moving.

The Paralympics ended with bands playing and dancing and merriment true to Colombian custom!  The celebration was now complete and I am blessed to have been a part of it.

closing band

 

Colombia · South America · Teaching English · Travel

What is it with Colombia?

So, as volunteers with the ‘program’, we are getting close to the time to leave the country.  We all signed up with either Greenheart travel or Heart for Change to work here in Colombia for 10, 9 or 6 months.  We have our visas until the end of November and then we need to leave the country and come back to work with another organization or re-apply to our current organization or we move back to our home country.  The time of decision about our future is upon us!

This is a very difficult decision for most of us.  We are all so happy here.  This country has accepted us with open arms and hearts.  It has welcomed us and allowed us to work and live here safely and with encouragement.

There is a certain persona that travels to another country where they know no-one and begin a new life where everything is unfamiliar and I have found people like me – I have become close to people faster than I do normally.  I feel like I fit in and I love this country – I am scared about returning to the US.  I don’t want to live in the US.  But…. I have a husband in the US.  My daughter and part-time kids are in the US.  My nieces are in the US.

My heart is here – my cat is here – my family is there.

I was in Cali for the weekend with some other fellows I’ve met during my time here and they are all feeling similarly.  They don’t know what to do and where to go.  There are always a lot of people who re-apply to the program and there are some who move to other countries to teach English and there are a LOT who go back to their country of origin.  But there are so very many who want to stay in Colombia and are loath to return to their country of origin, so that leads to my question…. What is it about Colombia?

I LOVE this country.  I really really do!  But, why?  The food is bland unless you get ‘salsa de aji’ to put on it.  The people are rather rude in that they shove past you on the street and to get in line for anything.  It is rainy a lot of the time.  The sun sets at the same time all year long and that is really early!  The roads are bad  and the electricity goes out at times.  There is a lot of petty crime.  There is no hot water anywhere in my house but the shower.  The mail system is a joke and the the light switches are placed in weird locations or hidden in the most inconvenient places.

But…. I don’t want to leave.  When I set foot out of my apartment in the morning to head to the bus to go to work, I look up at the mountains and feel alive!  I love my job, I love the people, I love the city!  I feel alive for the first time in a long time.  I feel that life is somehow more alive and real here in a way that it isn’t in the US.  I don’t want to leave.

I think that a lot of us feel let down by our home countries and this new country is in a spurt of growth that is accepting and open to change and people.  A lot of us are from countries that have made life at home difficult, like the US, England, Australia whose governments are turning scarily inward and repressive, and Venezuela whose governments is not open to any kind of opposition.  In Colombia we have found a welcome respite from the difficult truths that lie at home and that is comforting to us.

Colombia, you have welcomed us at a time when we really needed it and I will always be grateful to you for that.  You have allowed me to travel around your country enjoying all you have to offer and my heart is full.  I am truly alive and eternally grateful to you.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.  I hope I gave even a little of what you have given me back to you through my time here.

Bahia Malaga · Buenaventura · Colombia · Juanchaco · Ladrilleros · South America · Teaching English · Travel · Whale-watching

Whales!

Every year between July and November, humpback whales swim over 2000 miles from Antarctica to the warm waters of the Colombian Pacific coast to mate and give birth to their young.  It is an amazing sight to see and tourists travel to the coast to try to get a glimpse of the whales in the ocean.  Obviously, I became one of these tourists!

There are several places to go to on the coast, but we chose to go to Ladrilleros and Juanchaco by ferry from Buenaventura as we were short on time and visit the national park of Bahia Malaga to see the whales from there.

To get there, I was going to meet up with my friends from Cali and then take a bus with them to Buenaventura and then ferry to Juanchaco.  When I got to Cali by small plane($50usd),

Avianca

I took a bus to the Terminal de Transporte  (6,500cop) where we caught a bus to Buenaventura (25,000)cop.

terminal cali

The port city of Buenaventura was not pretty, as anyone will tell you, but the port itself was interesting.  We went to the pier and bought a ticket to the city of Juanchaco on ferry (30,000cop).

Ferry2The ferry ride was very choppy and uncomfortable.  We were low in the water and closed in while trying to hold our backpacks up so they wouldn’t get wet.  They did have us all wear lifejackets which was a nice sign, but it added to the claustrophobia on my part.  Many people zipped up their plastic ‘windows’ which added to the effect.  The scenery we were passing was beautiful though that I ended up enjoying the ride in spite of the claustrophobia!

view1

We got to the ‘port’ of Juanchaco and it was raining.  The rain was warm though as this area of Colombia is very hot.  There were children playing in the ocean and the effect was pleasing and quaint – I immediately loved it and was thrilled to be here.

We disembarked from the ferry and walked down the pier to look for transport to Ladrilleros.  We had not booked a room at a hostel, but Ekatarina knew of someone who had a hostel.  It was raining and we were being hounded by guides, so we decided to go to Ladrilleros where there was a hostel that was available.  We had not seen or heard of it though – so it was chancy but at least we could get out of the rain!

tractor

Because of the rain in the area, the taxi is actually a tractor that pulls a trailer with benches.  It was interesting, but only 3,000 cop and it got us there!  In we climbed!

Ladrilleros

We walked down a muddy path to the hostel.  It was on a cliff overlooking the ocean!  The view was gorgeous!  The room was not.  It was small, the beds were lumpy and thin, the pillows were flat, there was a small window and a fan and the bathroom was tiny and sparse. But… we were going to see whales and the view!

view hosteThe guide, Jimmy, told us where to eat in the ‘town’.  We left our backpacks in the room and went to find dinner.

dinner

He was right – it was cheap and cheerful!  Just what we needed.  We had dinner and then found this little bar on the cliff down from our hostel where we had a couple of drinks and danced for a while.  It was nice to hang out and relax listening to the ocean.

He signed us up for a boat to see the whales at 8 the next morning.  We were a little worried as it was still raining.  It stormed all night long.  It was nice to sleep while the storm raged outside, but we were concerned when we woke and it was still raining at 6:30 in the morning.  We dressed, ate breakfast at the hostel, and then the sun came out about 7:45 – we ran and changed and went to go see the whales!!

I was impressed that they had us attend a talk before we got in the boats.  We learned that the whales are very closely monitored and the boats have to stay a certain distance away – even farther if they see a calf, only 3 boats can follow each whale, if there are three boats there, you have to find another whale!  All very good rules!.

Parque

We then got in the boats and took off to look for whales!

Whale huntingAs we were leaving the pier, we spotted a dead whale.  It was so sad – the people were standing around talking about how tragic it was and how it never happens.  They were speculating about why it died.  We later found out – as it was in the paper later in the week.

Muere ballena cerca de Parque Natural Uramba, en el Pacífico

We left the pier in search of whales – the ride was two hours long and it zoomed by.  We were all looking and straining to see something.  It was an amazing ride.  We saw some whales finally and it was so exciting to see them.  I felt supremely lucky!

whales

I saw whales!!!  My life is now compete!

Our guide, Jimmy!

guide

Colombia · Immersion Camp · La Tebaida · Ministerio Educacion · South America · Teaching English · Travel

Immersion Camp – The fun!

My favorite part of the camp was the time we all spent growing together as a group.  We grew as a group of fellows by all living in the same house together for the duration of our time.  I am an introvert as were most of us!  We would all scatter when we needed our ‘alone’ time.  I am so impressed that we grew as a group and really enjoyed each other’s company.  There was only dissension at the end and then only with one fellow!

Every day started with a warm-up after breakfast.  Breakfast was the only thing during the day that was optional.  Most of us started out coming to breakfast and then deciding that we could definitely use the extra 1/2 hour to sleep instead!

lunch

The warm-ups were a lot of fun.  They consisted of activities and songs that the teachers could use later in their classes of elementary students.  They included a lot of repetition and ‘repeat after me’.  We all got to share the songs we grew up on in our countries!  The teachers loved this time and we had to create a file to write down the words to the songs.

One of the most fun days we had was called the Super Human Challenge day.  On this day the teachers had to complete tasks in groups working together physically and speaking only English!  It was so much fun and they all loved it!

We also had a multi-cultural night where we as fellows shared about our culture.  We came from England, the US, India, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Venezuela, Canada and Australia.  The teachers came from all the regions of Colombia.  It was a fun night, of food, presentations, displays, dancing and singing!

Amazon culture

The end of the camp was celebrated with a graduation and all the participants received a certificate of completion.  We were all exhausted, but happy.  It was quite an achievement and we created WhatsApp and Facebook groups to continue our relationships!

Graduation

Teaching English

Immersion Camp Part 2

When all the students had arrived and checked in, they took the Pearson Level 2 English exam to establish their level of English. The ministry was expecting the majority to be at a level A2 or B1.

The teachers were very nervous and it was hard to see.  They were worried about doing their best – they had been chosen over others and wanted to prove themselves.

Testing

Everyone was then divided into houses based on literary genres and/ or authors.  We had a Mystery house (Japanese Ghost stories), Sherlock Holmes house, Shakespeare house, Canterbury house, and Wilde house.  Each house had their own book to read and put on a presentation for, their house colors and were encouraged to work together and bond.  There was 1 English Language Teacher, 4 fellows and 22 teachers in each house. I was in Mystery House.

Mystery House selfie

I loved my group – they were amazing and we interacted so well together.  We had a WhatsApp chat group that we were in contact with each other on.  We read the stories and discussed them – obviously there was a lot of new vocabulary!  We told ghost stories from our own countries.  We had a fellow from Ghana on our team and he told us a ghost story from his country.  We heard La Llorona from Colombia, and a story from a fellow from New Orleans.

La Llorona

Madame Lalaurie

The camp lasted three weeks with the teachers having one or two English classes daily where they learned new strategies for teaching the English language to elementary students. They had a reading class daily where we read from the book and talked about what we were reading and prepared two presentations from one of the stories in the book and a teaching strategy. They had one or two conferences most days as well.

Classroom

We were all very busy with the basics plus the extra activities.  We went to bed tired every night and unwilling to rise each morning, but each of the teachers really gave their all and there was very little complaining!  They were so grateful and attentive to us and to each other.  I love Colombia and Colombians even more after this experience!

It rained so much during the time we were there.  We were all getting really sick of it. It rained and stormed so much that we were without electricity for two days and without water for one day!  Still the teachers carried on – most of us foreigners were convinced that we would be able to sleep in on the morning with no electricity – but… by the time we got to breakfast, the teachers were finishing theirs, and were all made up and ready for the day!

Raining camp

 

Colombia · Hotel Campestre Portal del Sol · Immersion Camp · La Tebaida · Ministerio Educacion · Quindio · South America · Teaching English · Travel

La Tebaida – Teacher Immersion Training

The ministry of education here in Colombia is working hard to achieve a bilingual Colombia.  They have many initiatives to accomplish this goal and my job here is one of them.  I continue to be very impressed with their efforts and the programs that they use to achieve their goal.  Colombia Bilingue has more information on their initiatives.

Part of their program is an immersion camp for teachers of English throughout Colombia.  This year, they have elementary English teachers attending the camp and I get to help out as a fellow.  I was so excited.  The camp was three weeks long and took place a a hotel Campestre in La Tebaida, Quindio, Colombia.  The ministry took care of our transportation to and from Armenia and our host cities.

The hotel was gorgeous and was in the middle of coffee country.  There were 20 fellows and 109 Elementary teachers.  There was a group of 5 English language teachers there from Pearson Colombia – That is the group that was doing the testing and educating the teachers in methodologies.

The hotel was called Portal del Sol and was gorgeous!! There were swimming pools and trees, flowers and birds everywhere.

We fellows arrived two days before the teachers to prepare warm-up exercises, activities and the testing for the teachers.  They were to take a test upon arrival and just before leaving to gauge the efficacy of our camp.  This was an English immersion, so only English was to be spoken the entire time at camp.  The ministry was expecting all the teachers to be at an A2- B1 level.

The teachers arrived ready to go!  They were eager to learn English and were thrilled to be chosen from over 350 applicants.  These were the lucky 109 Elementary English Teachers!  I was so excited to meet them and begin our camp together.