Pan de Azucar

I’m not sure if I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors. I get eaten alive by mosquitos every time, I get sunburnt, and I’m terrified of everything that flies at me. I love camping, but more than a couple days and I’m done. Of course, I’m not sure where my intense desire to do Machu Picchu and the Ciudad Perdida 5-day hikes come in then. Perhaps it all started when my mom and step-dad took us on a camping trip to Canada when I was a kid. Looking at these pictures, though, maybe not…

Sometimes though, after inhaling pollution on the streets every day, you get a hankering for a visit with nature. Luckily, some other teachers knew of a place just outside the city where you could get some fresh air. There is a little neighborhood area called Pan de Azucar (yes, that means “Sugar Bread”) that you can walk to from Parque San Pío, which is in Bucaramanga.

Saturday morning, 4 of us took off. It was only about an hour up, although with constant picture-taking, it took us a bit longer. Instead of telling you all about it, I’ll just show you. My highlight was picking the cacao pods off the cacoa trees. I had no idea they grew like that…you have to pick the deep red ones, break them open against something hard, and then you pick out these little white nubs that you suck on. Inside are purple beans, which is what they dry and ferment to turn into  cocoa. Unfortunately none of the ones we found were very juicy at this time, but now I’ll know what to look for next time!


It was really nice to get out of the city and into some peace and quiet for awhile! Afterward, we headed to a wonderful vegetarian restaurant with delicious, cheap food and a health foods store connected to it. I stocked up on some quinoa, coca tea, and a fiber mix. Glad that I’m starting to find things I’ve missed since being in the states. As I get to know this area more, the more it really feels like my home!

Weekend at the Finca

As I’m on my way to the Zona Cafetera for fall break, I figure I better update about my past weekend at a nearby finca before I forget everything. A finca is kinda like a vacation home out in the country. Here, people rent out their fincas or in the case of the one we went to, the family lives in the main house full time and then there are separate cooking/kitchen and sleeping areas. Some of the younger Colombians from the school organized it and then five of us gringa girls tagged along.



We left late Saturday night, which I thought at first strange, but later realized it’s because you party when you first get there and then sleep and have all day the next day to lay out by the pool, darty, and have fun. Of course, before leaving, we had to stop at three different places and pick things up. 🙂 By the time we left, we were leaving an hour and a half later than planned, but luckily the trip was maybe 30 minutes long. Another neat aspect of Colombia that we don’t have in the states (or at least not readily available like it is here) is that you can rent a mini-bus and driver to take your group somewhere and they return when you ask to pick you up. Really convenient!

The finca was simple, but met all of our needs. The main house was big, with different buildings for the kitchen and bathroom. Then the pool was out back, along with a covered cooking area, big dining area, bathroom stalls (no tp…..and we forgot to bring some haha), and big bedrooms filled to the brim with beds and bunk beds. It was like living in the 6 girl at Theta, but less space and more beds! And lots of bugs. Lots and lots of bugs. The night we arrived, there were the giant ants they have here all carrying pieces of leaves in a steady stream to their home. I mean hundreds. I took a video of them, but also some pictures.
IMG_0026.JPG The Colombians brought their GIANT speakers, so we immediately had music blaring. Everyone made drinks and hopped in the pool. Thus ensued a night of fun. (While I am enjoying most music here, by the next morning, we gringas needed some English music, so we plugged in our phones. They definitely thought our music was as strange as we think some of theirs is! Haha.)

IMG_0035.JPG The next morning, we had some breakfast and spent all day by the pool, playing games and getting burnt. We even taught the Colombians how to play Kings! Although we couldn’t do the 9-Bust a Rhyme due to language differences. It also made a few other categories more difficult, but fun. While playing, I had some bad luck and got stung by something on my arm. There was a wasps nest in one area of the pool, so I immediately started panicking and one girl got my Epi pen for me. However, the sting just got red around it and was fine, so it must have been something much smaller. Later, I cut my finger open on the drain at the bottom of the pool. This is after one of the guys cut his toe open, along with another girl. We all were getting injured left and right, but it pretty much just added to the experience. Haha

For lunch was lots of and lots of meat. They even brought something called chunchurros (not sure how it’s spelled), but it’s cow intestines. I said I would try a tiny piece and no more, but when they said you can’t cut it because it’s so tough and you have to gnaw it off, I decided to pass. There were so many health code violations if we were in the states. Bloody meat just sitting out, flies all over, and all over our food. But we ate it anyway, it tasted good, and no one got sick! I even was dumb enough to fill my bottle of water out of the tap, which we do in Bucaramanga now that we’ve acclimated to it, but probably wasn’t the best idea in these country. But again, I’m fine and maybe now I’m hardening my stomach! Haha ah



IMG_0030.JPG By Sunday afternoon, we had had enough sun and were all pretty exhausted. Monday morning at school was pretty funny because most everyone who went to the finca was bright red and burned. But it was a great weekend and enjoyable mixing with some of the Colombians rather than just expats. We’re hoping to organize another for one of our puentes in November! At the moment, our flight is about to land for our layover in Bogota, so I’ll update again in maybe a week to let you know how our trip to the coffee region in Colombia is!






27 Perks of Living and Teaching in Colombia

After my last post about the lessons I’ve learned in my first two months here, I realized some of them came across as negative when, in reality, they are the things I am learning to laugh at. Since there are so many wonderful perks of living in this country, I decided to highlight some.

1. I get to practice my Spanish day in and day out! Yes, people always immediately recognize me as a “gringa” as soon as I open my mouth, but it’s a really good feeling when you participate in an IEP meeting fully in Spanish and contribute and understand 99% of it!

2. There are little shops everywhere to get your fresh fruits and vegetables, basic groceries, drinks, and so on. Great for stopping by when you just need a couple things and don’t want to go to one of the big supermarkets.

3. As already mentioned, alcohol and any other goods can be delivered right to your door just by calling the corner shop.

4. You get to walk everywhere! Some people may hate this, but I really missed being within walking distance of everything when I lived in Indy.

5. People actually work out hard here and sweat as much as, if not more, than I do. Yes, the girls are wearing cutesy coordinated outfits, but usually they are actually doing something productive.

6. Exercise classes are way more fun in Spanish! Also, instead of random Zumba classes, I have the options of rumba, salsa, urbana, danzika, and more. I couldn’t be more happy.

7. Everyone is a good dancer and most people love to dance! No matter where you are, a small party, bar, or social gathering at school, there are always bound to be people dancing.

8. Certain things are cheaper here….produce, certain services, phone bills, medicines, and so on. Of course, other things like clothes, electronics, cereal, and hair products are more expensive.

9. Beauty treatments are readily available and cheaper than in the states. I’ve been seriously considering a keratin treatment on my hair, but that means I would potentially be sacrificing my curls for good…definitely for at least 3 months. But with this humidity, it may be worth it!

10. You can buy single cans of beer from nearly any corner store.

11. They have awesome juices that they make from all the different fruits. I’ve attempted them at home and don’t do the greatest job, but you can get them freshly made at several different places for cheap.

12. The weather is beautiful….year round!!! It still hasn’t sunk in that I will still be going to the pool come January. Especially after the polar vortex this past winter. Am I starting to miss a bit of fall weather and pumpkin spice lattes? Yes. But sunny weather day in, day out, really helps put you in a good mood!

13. I complained about it being difficult to get a regular iced coffee, but I didn’t mention that those granizados (blended iced coffee) are really quite delicious…

14. Most people are incredibly welcoming! Isn’t it always so in countries where they kiss each other on the cheek when they first meet you??

15. You need small denominations for your taxi rides, but that’s only because they’re so cheap! To go into the actual center of Bucaramanga (about a 15-20 minute taxi ride depending on traffic) is only about 8,000 pesos, or $4. Split that amongst 3 or 4 people and it’s dirt cheap.

16. The scenery! Even though I live in the city and don’t have nature immediately available, it’s always a good feeling to be walking home and looking up at the mountains around you. I can’t wait to visit the coffee region of Colombia over our fall break because it’s in the Andean region and supposedly even more gorgeous!

17. Teaching has way less pressure and stress than in the states. Most of the pressure I have is what I naturally put onto myself.

18. I have a great bilingual assistant in my classroom…never did I realize how many little extra things I’ve had to do and deal with until I’ve had her and she’s taken care of them.

19. I have so much prep time!! Even on my busiest day, Thursday, I have a morning prep from 9:45-10:30am when Spanish is in my room and another in the afternoon from 12:45-1:30pm when they are at Music.. I only have recess duty 3 days a week (really only 3 recesses out of 10 total recesses in the week). And I have a full lunch break. I still tend to scarf down my food because it’s what I’m so accustomed to, and I’m struggling to make the most productive use of my preps at the moment, but I wouldn’t trade the time for the world. (GB friends, don’t get jealous…you’re more than welcome to move to Colombia and teach here, too!)

20. Administration and parents (for the most part) fully respect you, your position, and your expertise. I’m given quite a bit of freedom to adapt my instruction for how I see fit and parents are asking my recommendations on extra tutoring for their children. Yes, more involved parents has definitely come at a cost that may drive me a bit crazy from time to time, but it’s well worth it.

21. (edited) I don’t know how I forgot to mention this the first time around, but Colombia has the second most number of national holidays, I’m pretty sure. This, coupled with the American holidays we also get off, means we have a 3 day weekend, or puente, as they call it at least once a month. Plus almost a week fall break, week at spring break, and 3 and a half weeks at Christmas. Yet, we still start at the beginning of August and get out by the second week of June. God knows we teachers need those breaks probably more than the kids!

22. CHIVAS. Enough said.

23. Consistent sunrise and sunset. This has helped me to be okay with getting up in the 5ams. When you’re walking to school at 6:15am, it doesn’t feel like when I was driving to those horrid 7:20am meetings where I felt like a zombie. Having full sun really helps! Of course, this means I’m ready to be asleep by 8pm.

24. Living in South America means it’ll be way easier for me to travel throughout the continent. While I’ve decided to come home this Christmas since most other expat teachers are also going home, I’m looking forward to exploring some other countries next summer! (I’ll be home Friday, December 19 to Wednesday, January 7. I want to see as many people as I can! You can still iMessage me if you have my email in my contact, or contact me via FB/email since my US phone number doesn’t exist anymore.)

25. Condiments come in squeezable bags instead of jars. At first I thought this peculiar, but now I’ve realized how convenient it is! They are smaller and you don’t need a knife to spread it.

26. Yes, all sorts of bugs in our home and around is terrifying, but on the flipside, I’m becoming less of a baby in dealing with them (until we have dead geckos or cockroaches…then my roommate is the brave one). I figure by the time I return to the states someday, little spiders won’t scare me anymore.

27. Frozen yogurt is everywhere! I’m obviously in heaven and may or may not get it on the way home from the gym 2-3 times a week. My favorite part is that they have plain or chocolate yogurt, but you choose a frozen fruit or two to blend into the frozen yogurt as it comes out of the machine. I try new combinations nearly every time I go.

Coming up with these 27 things was quite easy, and I know I could come up with more if I tried. Colombia is really an incredible country that is changing for the better more and more as time passes. I’m very fortunate to live in a city where I have many creature comforts of home, beautiful weather, safety, and a supportive school community. Obviously I’m still adjusting and go through periods of up and down, but I honestly don’t know if it could get much better! 🙂

Swimming into the Honeymoon

Probably this title doesn’t make sense to any of you. But let me explain…tonight, as I went and did some laps in the pool of my conjunto (complex/neighborhood/living area), every third stroke I looked up at the moonlight above me and thought…this is what contentment feels like. Following my swim, I was asking the pool worker the length of the pool and before answering, he of course had to comment on the mascara all around my eyes (terrific impression). But then he took me around and showed me the jacuzzis (hot and cold), sauna, and “turco” which appears to be a steam room. I also discovered that there are a couple exercise classes in the little gym there and dance classes (salsa and meringue) in another room! The gym seems to have only a couple old machines and past teachers said they’re often broken, so I was planning on paying for a membership at a nice gym near the school once I have my cédula, but I love having these options so nearby. This was prefaced by an encounter at school with the kindergarten PE teacher who apparently is an excellent dancer and has taught salsa classes after school to expat teachers in the past. I know there is at least one other new teacher who is interested, so we’re going to plan on meeting after school one day a week with him to learn it. 

photo 5

(clockwise starting at top left) The gate we walk in, the pool up ahead, the court where kids are roller blading or playing soccer at all hours, and walking up to my house.

I also had a fun trip today to the Migration office, which may sound bizarre, but another teacher and I had to go with our Human Resources woman to do some more paperwork for our Colombian IDs. As we sat and waited (because, naturally, it took forever even though we were practically the only ones there), we laughed and talked and just had fun. I feel like I already know some of my co-workers as people, rather than just colleagues. It’s refreshing.

On the walk home from school, I stopped by a Droguería (drugstore) and they were wonderful in helping me get a B vitamin that apparently can help keep bees away from you. I’ve never heard of it, but two nurses told me and several Colombians seem to know about this. So we’ll try it! 

There’s just a lot of wonderful things happening right now. So this is where the second part of my title comes in….the honeymoon. If you read up on the stages of culture shock, you’ll find that the initial stage when you’re in a new place is the “honeymoon phase”. You are pretty much jaded by everything and see only the good. Following that is an irritation/hostility phase, then you slowly adjust and feel at home. The whole process takes 6 months usually. (source)


 Now, with the way last week started, I thought I had skipped the honeymoon phase. But now I realize I’ve actually started it. Yes, there are already things that irritate me–crazy, honking drivers; the humidity/lack of ac; slow services; the meat-heavy, vegetable-scarce food. But I’m also looking around me from time to time and simply smiling. (Just not when I’m on the walk to school at 6-6:15am…that’s more zombie-like.)

Let us hope this stage sticks around for awhile. 



Arrival & First Impressions

Well, I’m here! It’s already been 6 days, though it feels like much longer (in a good way). It would take too long to share everything, so I’ll just highlight a few points. Also there are pictures on the Photos page. I promise to take more, but it’s not smart to take your phone out on the street and I’ve just been busy.

Flights – I got quite lucky by having a kind check-in woman at the airport. I planned to check three bags (two of which were free) and had a weight limit of 50 pounds each. Two suitcases were at 51.5 lbs each and the third bag was at 49.5 lbs (all classroom stuff in the third). Luckily, she didn’t make me pay excess weight fees! However, she did forget to give me the baggage coupon that I needed to get reimbursed…  Anyways, I was fortunate enough to travel with two other new teachers so we were able to get to know one another and figure things out together.

Arriving to Bucaramanga airport – We got in at about 10:30pm (11:30pm EST) and after leaving for the airport by 5:30am EST, I was already exhausted. (Yes, this is even though I slept throughout every plane ride. It’s all I do on planes.) Luckily all our bags made it through and there were three waving people ready to pick us up–John is the Director of the school, Maria (MDR for short) is the HR person that helped arrange everything for us and answered a bunch of my questions, and Sheldon is the Middle School/High School principal. They are all fantastic people and SO WELCOMING!

Guns – On the way out to our little mini-bus that took us to our different apartments, there were two men dressed in army clothes and with giant guns. “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore

House – I live in a complex which has a security guard at the front gate, which is a good feeling. There are lots of connected houses in one part where we live and then also some apartment buildings in a separate area. The house is way bigger than I expected…3 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, another room on the top floor where they put two desks (could be another bedroom), a maid’s room, and a nice little balcony. Another girl named Jennica who will teach 5th grade lives there with me.  It’s older than any of the apartments where the other teachers are though, so we have already had a lot of stress dealing with some problems. Let me explain…  

  • Toilets: two of the three toilets didn’t work when we moved in. They sent a plumber to fix them, but guess what? They stopped working again, so now I don’t know what will happen.
  • Lights: a bunch of lights were out and when we told them, the repair men literally took the lightbulbs that were working, put them in the spots where they were burnt out, and left the rest empty. We still need to go get some bulbs.
  • Shower: Looking back, this actually was quite a funny story, but at the moment not so much. Jennica was showering at about 10pm one night and came in to tell me she couldn’t get the shower to turn off. I go in and notice that not only can neither of us turn it off because something was wrong with the knobs, but it also was shooting water at a terrible angle and it was going onto the floor. This is the second night we were here and we didn’t have any internet or phones. We had no idea what to do. We went up to the porteros (gate guards) and explained the situation with a lot of fumbling around in Spanish and asking them to speak more slowly. These porteros are super young and they pretty much were just laughing at us, not in an unkind way though. So the portero follows us and ends up turning off our water completely by opening a mini-manhole type thing in front of our house and turning off a knob inside it. That stopped the water, but then we couldn’t use the toilets or even brush our teeth!
  • Bugs: I noticed the first night when I was in the kitchen that there were these little tiny bugs, like mini ants crawling on the countertop. I got a rag and wiped them up. Over the next few days, there have gotten to be WAY more. MDR from school told us they were termites, but then the elementary school principal (Dan) told us they were actually just ants. He said they were normal here in Colombia and there’s only so much you can do, but I don’t think that’s too accurate since NONE of the other teachers are having issues with them. I think part of the problem is that it’s an old house and we’re on the bottom floor. We’ve already had to throw away some food because they eat through plastic and get into everything. Dan told us to try cotton balls soaked in boric acid (borax?), sugar, and hot water, and then I’ve put down some solid combos of sugar/boric acid to kill the larva.  We are hoping this helps.  Also the school said they will get someone to fumigate the house, but things in Colombia take way longer to get done…something I learned quite quickly.
  • Internet: This actually is not something I can complain about because none of the other teachers have internet at home yet. Apparently the router was still here from the teachers last year, though, so we were trying to get it working. The IT guy from school, Andres, came and fixed it one morning for us, but by the time we got home from school, it wasn’t working. He went back to the house the next day with Jennica and got it working. Apparently one of the cables was broken. So hopefully we will have this until we get our Colombian IDs and get our own service.

Classroom – While the school is very nice, the classrooms are older. As the director told us, he’d rather the money go towards quality teachers, technology, and curriculum development. I’m perfectly okay with that! The only places that have air conditioning in the whole school are the administrative office, teacher’s lounge, and library. I have two fans in my classroom, but I can already tell it’s going to be HOT. Whoever the teacher was before me was an absolute mess. I spent 3 afternoons this week just cleaning out the supply closet and more. I still have the desk and a bookshelf full of random teacher materials to go through. However, it’s starting to come together and now I need to decorate with my scarce materials. I found some fabric today in Bucaramanga, so I’ll cover my bulletin boards with that. The walls are brick, so very little sticks to them. I’m wishing that I had brought more command hooks!!! So far, I’ve hung parts of my calendar with the small ones and then used masking tape for other parts. The issue here is the humidity. I’ll see if it’s all still up when I go in on Monday.

Driving here – …is terrifying. Pedestrians are the LAST to have the right of way. Little yellow taxis beep beep all over town, while the motos fly in and out of cars and onto sidewalks sometimes. When there’s a stop sign, Colombian drivers seem to think it’s a yield…maybe….and maybe not even that, more like a green light! You have to be extremely careful when walking, even more so because the sidewalks are tiny and often have holes or giant concrete grates may have gaping open sections (no caution signs to warn you here!). It’s an adventure every time you’re walking or in one of the taxis.

Money – They use Colombian pesos here. $1=1,874 pesos, but whenever I see the price, it’s easiest just to divide in half and take off the zeros. It’s definitely challenging me in my Spanish numbers! Like earlier, my boric acid was 5,550 pesos (about $3). My dinner with three other people was nearly 100,000 pesos. Trying to figure out each of our bills and get the right amount of cash/change to each of us was a challenge that took probably 10 minutes. All the money is very pretty though. 🙂

Food – As the Bucaramangueses say, this is a meat culture. I’ve literally had more meat in the past week than I had had in the past month in the states. Very few veggies and tons of fruit here. I’m craving vegetables HARD. Like a spinach salad now. (Never thought I’d hear those words come out of my mouth.) There are lots of fruits I’ve never heard of or seen before, too. My roommate and I had quite the experience trying to figure out some of the fruits that were in our fridge when we arrived. (The school had bought us some basic food necessities that were already at our house when we arrived!). Luckily, there was a “Juice Breakfast” orientation at school for us new teachers. The chef of the school (literally a chef; he used to work for a restaurant) made many different juices for us right in front of us, while the ES principal translated, so that we’d know what to do with all the fruits we find in the store. They are all made with water and/or milk, some have sugar added because of their sourness, and blended. Then you use a mesh strainer to strain out the seeds that typically got blended up (certain ones that have smaller seeds). The fruits that we tried to eat whole or by scooping out the flesh made way more sense in juice form. Now it’s just trying to keep all the names straight! A few you could look up are: maricuya, guanábana, guayaba, pitaya, lulo, and mora.

The heat – It’s perfect when you’re outside or in an area with nice open areas for breezes to pass through. But in our house and if you’re walking around too much, it is quite warm. It’s not so much the temperature as it is the humidity. I’ve only been able to wear my hair down once and it didn’t last long. I didn’t really sleep my first few nights at all. We each have a fan in our bedroom, so I keep it blowing on me all night long.

Heels – Similar to Spain, all the women wear heels! Here they are more wedges or chunky though, instead of stilettos. Regardless, I don’t think I’ll be joining that trend. 🙂 Only when I start learning salsa! Several other people are also interested and so I’m hoping we can get on that soon.

Spanish – While I’ve received a few compliments on my spanish, it’s typically when I’m talking. I have the hardest time understanding what other people say! I’ve been told Colombian spanish is typically the clearest, but it’s still a challenge when it’s so fast. It also depends on who is talking. Taxi drivers, for example, are way harder to understand for me. I had a nice conversation today with our neighbor lady (who poked her head around our connected balconies and terrified me) and a custodial lady at the school helping me move furniture around in my room. I’m hoping everything will start to make more sense soon!

There’s so much more to say, but I’ll leave it at that. I’m happy to say my iMessage and Facebook is working when I’m on wifi (at school and temporarily at home). Also, once I get my Colombian number, I’ll have WhatsApp so download it! We can’t get our own internet service or cell phones until we get our cédula, which is our Colombian ID. It usually takes a few weeks and since my visa process got messed up, it will be even longer.

Hope that answers people’s burning initial questions about life here. 🙂 Anything else you want to know, post a comment below!

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