As promised, I said I’d give more information about what’s been going on when I’m not in school. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve already forgotten things I did just a week ago, thus the necessity for me to blog more frequently to help my own memory!
The weekend before school started, there was a brief social at school with all of the staff during which (gasp!) there was beer drinking and salsa dancing. Some staff members even kicked around a soccer ball. There is both a men’s and women’s staff team here at the school. No, I will not be joining. Also, that Saturday night, a few expat teachers that were here last year threw a get-together on the roof of their apartment building. We attempted to cook some meat (using magazines to try and get the charcoal burning in the windiness) and shared some food. It was nice to get to know some of the past teachers in a new setting because I felt like I’d only gotten to know the other ones that are new this year (there are nine of us, which is a lot!).
Throughout the first week of school, I kept pretty busy trying to rearrange my plans and rethink some procedures because, as I mentioned previously, nothing was working, including all the things I’ve used before with great success. I did manage to get in a run outside, which was pretty terrible since you are dodging traffic, broken sidewalks, people, random dogs, and plants the whole time. Plus, there are only so many places to go around my house. Afterward, I thought I would stop in the little “basement gym” of my complex. As I began to do some lunges using the free weights, an awkward conversation ensued with the porter as he kept telling me I needed “guantes”. Well, I later figured out need GLOVES to use any equipment. Definitely not a fan of this policy (or the cap in the pool for anything). I stopped by a mall today to look at prices, and they cost around 50,000 pesos (about $25). UGH. I still haven’t been able to get a gym membership either because I’m still waiting on my official cédula identification. I’m getting antsy and needing to work out, so hopefully this comes soon.
I also started salsa lessons! That was probably the highlight of my week, even though it was incredibly hard. The lessons are one-on-one and given by the elementary PE teacher at school, who apparently dances salsa competitively with a group. He started off basic until I think he realized it was too easy and I wanted to do harder things. But then it got REALLY fast and hard. There are many stylistic techniques specific to Colombian salsa that do not come naturally, so I need to keep practicing. We have class again tomorrow (Tuesday). Without air conditioning, we were both dripping sweat in the empty room on the top floor of my house. Learning to spin was my favorite, although I definitely got lost a few times or had difficulty following his lead!
Friday evening after school, I left fairly quickly (with convincing) to get a few drinks at a hole in the wall place. That night, a group of us went into Bucaramanga to hit up a karaoke bar! It had a nice patio where we had some drinks while waiting for our room…it was one of those places where you get your own room and then choose your own music. It’s nice because you don’t have to listen to anyone else sing ballads or just sing terribly….oh wait, I probably would be included in that. Anyways, we sang a mixture of Spanish and English songs and just had an absolute blast!
On Saturday, a group of us were supposed to go to this lady’s lake cottage in a town about an hour away, but plans fell through. Instead, a few of us went for manicures/pedicures at a place in town. While waiting, we were served coffee and got to enjoy their little patio. After waiting nearly an hour, we finally had ours done, but it still was soooo slow. But it was actually great in the end because we got talking with a girl who worked there and another girl that comes every week, both of whom are about our age. Neither speak any English, so we’ve talked about meeting up every week or so at the nail salon to practice our English/Spanish and get our nails done! This is totally fine because, get this, the mani/pedi was only 20,000 pesos which is like $10!!! Total! One of my new goals for Colombia, totally unrelated to language or teaching or culture, is to get my nails to grow to a normal length and not look like little kid hands anymore. J The lady who did my nails even put on this bad smelling and tasting top coat for me when we discussed how I bite them when I’m stressed or working. hahaha. Then my roommate and I went over to these other teachers’ places and made dinner together…it was a great time!
Since our original plans fell through, yet we were still itching to go somewhere (and especially since we had Monday off), three of us decided to just take a bus trip somewhere and go with the flow. Our goal was La Mesa de Los Santos, but we weren’t sure exactly how to get there or even what to do upon arrival. Well, after taking one bus and then a different one, we were in a town south of us called Piedecuesta. Luckily a nice woman who was heading to the market walked us through the busy centro and to another “bus station” where we could catch a bus to La Mesa. I use the term “bus station” lightly because it was actually just a giant garage. We literally never would have found it on our own…just a giant hole in the wall with zero signage and people milling about everywhere. (Sorry, no pictures…I don’t like having my phone or camera out in any busy areas.) This kind woman helped us get our tickets and waited with us until the bus we needed was ready to go (again, no signs so we probably wouldn’t have gotten on the right one).
We were lucky to have gotten our tickets early because we got to have seats on the bus. It was incredibly old, hot, and smelly. As I sat in my seat crowded next to an older man with people (and a dog!) lining the aisle next to me, I seriously thought I might get sick from all the humid smells overtaking me. Luckily, after about 15 minutes, the bus finally took out and the air from the windows helped. Throughout the course of an hour, the bus kept stopping and dropping off/picking up people in the most random areas…literally the middle of nowhere. I still don’t know if these were assigned bus stops, or the people just waved the bus down. We got to see a lot of rural homes and deep poverty…something I had not seen too much of in my neighborhood near the school. At other times, we were on the edge of a mountain and when I looked out the window, my angle only allowed me to see straight down to the valley…we had to have been super close to the edge and I’m glad I couldn’t see any better.
After about an hour, the bus stopped at what appeared to be a giant market with lots of people milling about, flying kites, and so forth. We weren’t sure if this was where we were supposed to get off, but it looked cool so we did! The worker who takes the money on the bus told us it wasn’t the pueblo of La Mesa yet and was asking us where we wanted to go. But as we are trying to communicate with him, the bus is honking at him to get on and starts pulling away. He banged on the side of the bus and tells them to wait….which they do for about 7 seconds, then they start driving away without their worker! He had to run after the bus and hop in the open door. (This seems pretty common here…busses don’t make stops. They do “roll bys” and you better be quick!)
Turns out this market was really neat and we were happy we stopped! Tons of little connected stalls that looked like mini-huts selling traditional foods they made right there, sweets, meats, clothing, handmade goods, fruits, vegetables, and so much more. One was a little organic coffee place where the man, Don Jerito, grows, roasts, and sells his own coffee from the Antioquia region, known as the coffee growing region. I was so excited to find true Colombian organic coffee, not the instant stuff that they drink here. (All the good stuff is exported to, yep, the USA.) We were starving, so we went to find some food first. I got an arepa typical of the Santander region, served in corn husks. It’s basically like corn bread or corn casserole smashed into a pancake shape and this one had cheese on it. It was sweet, hot, delicious, and filling! I also had a handmade sausage from the same stand…it was a little fatty for me and filled with things I wasn’t so sure about, but it still had good flavor. Afterward, some strawberries with fresh cream for dessert…nom.
Then we headed back to the coffee guy. He ended up doing all sorts of demonstrations for us using different methods and then we got to taste them! He even spoke some English, which was an added bonus. We got talking quite a bit, and he sat me down to tell me some different stories. According to him, we know more about coffee in the USA than those here in Colombia and we know how to drink it better, too! We also learned about a self-sustainable Eco Hostel located outside of Medellín that one of his friends runs. Check out their website: http://ecohostelmedellin.com/ …sounds super neat, and we’re talking about going for a couple days over our October break (and doing a couple days in the city of Medellín, too). He even OFFERED US HIS CAR!! We said we still wanted to see the pueblo of La Mesa and asked how to get there, but he said it would be easiest for us to drive and told us we could take his car. Obviously we didn’t, but wow, how nice! I got some ground beans from him and promised to be back again. He even delivers all around for no charge, but I think it’s more fun for me to go back to the market anyways.
After wandering around for a few hours, we decided we should figure out how to head back. Turns out this was a good idea because we had to sit on the side of the road for about 40 minutes before a bus came rolling by. (We sat next to the man holding his chickens…not sure if they were for sale or what? And a man selling his pineapples.) It was a different bus company than before and it dropped us off at its last stop in the middle of Piedecuesta…we had no idea how to get back to our city, so we hopped on one that appeared to go to the right neighborhood. Note to self: the busses here are confusing and don’t go where the signs say. We ended up way too north of the city and finally just got off (another hour later….) and took a cab back to our place, where I walked the rest of the way home in the pouring rain. This day took it all out of us, so I napped for a bit and headed back over to their place for dinner and to watch “Good Will Hunting”. RIP Robin Williams.
All in all, a good last week or so. I’ve made friends, learned some new words, found good frozen yogurt (clearly all that’s important in life :)), experienced the public transportation, visited a new place, and learned how incredibly nice and helpful many of the Colombian people are. There are so many instances than I’ll ever be able to remember of people helping me or a group of us out when in need. ¡Mil gracias a los Colombianos!