Visiting Chocó: Prana Pacífico (part 1)

This past week, we had our October break and this is the first time I’ve gotten a full week off, so I decided to take advantage of it and finally cross off one of my bucket list destinations in Colombia…the Pacific Coast in the department of Chocó! Chocó is an isolated region along the northwest coast of Colombia and is only accessible by air or boat. Because of this, development has been very slow in Chocó and you truly get a rustic, unique experience. The main attraction of this region is the whale watching that is best from June to October when migrating humpback whales pass through.

Many people choose to visit Nuquí, but flights were already sold out when we went to book a couple months ago because they are small local planes coming from the Medellin EOH airport. So instead we booked to Bahía Solano. A bit later, we learned about a place called Prana Pacífico that was owned by a British gal named Linsey who was friends with some teachers from my current school. We decided to first visit her place for a few days and then head north to Bahía Solano. This first post will focus on the days spent at Prana Pacífico.

Day 1: Departure from Olaya Herrera airport in Medellin > tuk tuk ride > (wet) boat ride to Prana Pacífico

Our departure was uneventful besides one of our friends forgetting his bathing suit and having to rush back to the apartment while we waited in line at the airport. The local airline, Satena, is so small that they wouldn’t even check us in until an hour before so we hadn’t even moved in line. Luckily, all of our bags were just under the 10 kg limit and we were on our way! (Naturally I had to squeeze a friend’s hand the whole way to survive the smaller airplane with propellers where you can feel EVERYthing.)

Upon arrival to the Bahía Solano “airport”, we could immediately feel the change in humidity as we disembarked. (I use the term airport lightly, considering it was a small building with whales wearing Santa hats painted on it outside.) We were shuffled along to pay the tourist tax of 20 mil if you have a cédula extranjería (our ID card), or 30 mil if you’re a foreigner just visiting Colombia on a tourist visa. While paying the man for all of us as they wrote our information in a physical book, he must have known who we were because he gestured at a man behind me that Linsey had sent to pick us up and take us to the port in El Valle where we’d take a boat out to Prana Pacífico. I’m guessing they warned him that there would be five gringos coming, including one giant, blond one. We definitely stood out in this area!

IMG_0005 2

The airport in Bahía Solano

Riding in a tuk tuk is always an adventure, as it is essentially a moto converted into a small vehicle to carry up to 3 people. The “road” was all mud and puddles as it had been raining and continued to rain during our hour long, bumpy, wet trip to the port. Once we were in the town of El Valle, we bought some bread and met up with Carlos, an Argentinian man who would be taking us by boat out to Prana Pacífico. Fortunately, we had the foresight to bring garbage bags to put our backpacks into as it was a VERY wet ride. Well, at least for us three girls who sat in the back. The two boys stayed nice and dry in front of us…. After awhile, I even put on my poncho but still had so much salt water landing in my face that I spent the rest of the trip like a turtle with my head bent forward in my poncho. It was quite amusing to look at it now, but at the moment, a very long two hours.

When I popped my turtle head out of my poncho as the boat slowed though, I was in immediate awe. We were coming upon a small beach where the tide was washing over part of the sand and connected two sides of the island where Prana Pacífico is located. It is on its own private island, built up in the jungle at the top, so you have to walk up around 240ish stairs to get there. With all of our stuff, it wasn’t the most enjoyable stair stepping I’ve ever done, but Linsey had a nice cold beer waiting for us up on top, which I promptly chugged. She discovered the steps maybe a year ago when visiting this part of the coast, though they’re so well-hidden that I’m not sure how she did it. But she is running the place for the owners, which apparently used to be three brothers. The first one bought the land originally for around 50 mil (the equivalent of about $18) and later sold it to his two brothers for about 200 mil (around $50 profit…). Linsey is trying to update it and use it for yoga retreats, as well as a hotel. It’s a beautiful location and as it continues to get updated, it will be amazing.


The boat to the right is what we rode in on. The island to the front is where Prana Pacífico is located (at the top).

The rest of the day, we pretty much relaxed, laid in hammocks, took in the views, read, and I got an amazing deep tissue massage from Linsey on the back porch as the sun went down and I could hear the waves. Magical.

Side story: We did freak out a little as we discovered a MASSIVE spider hanging up above in the boys’ room, but the top part of all the rooms was open, so by the next morning, it had come into ours and was dangerously low to our mosquito nets. A bit terrifying, but the boys took care of it for us because they said they didn’t want to wake up to us chatting and screaming again. hahaha


“Rex”, our not so welcome visitor


Day 2: Rain, swimming, and whales!

Our second day started with a ton of rain, so we lazed around reading and playing games. There is a small jumping dock down on one side of the island, so the two boys and I decided to check it out. We checked if the tide was high enough, had some fun, and then someone had the brilliant idea to swim from the jumping off dock over to where our boat had arrived the day before. It didn’t look far, so I agreed. Mistake. Halfway through, as I fought against the waves, I realized this was a very bad idea and started to think about all the people who die in the waves, including in the book Refugee that I was currently reading for our book club. Thank God for one of my guy friends who basically let me be dragged by him the rest of the way to the beachfront. Never swimming that much in strong ocean waves again!


A lot of this happened during our rainy first few days!

Luckily the rain had cleared up by lunch (did I mention that the food here was AMAZING?? Linsey is an incredible cook. I think I gained 5 pounds this week alone.), so we were able to take advantage of it and go on our whale watching tour. There were several other boats in the same area looking for them and it did take awhile before spotting a mama humpback and her baby. The first time I saw the giant tail flip up out of the water, it took my breath away. Getting pictures and videos was hard, so I tried to burn it in my brain. We followed this pair for awhile, but it was kinda slow since they can stay underwater for so long. We knew ahead of time that we were near the end of the whale migration season for that area, so I was just happy to have seen something. But as we headed back to our island a few hours later, we happened to see a baby ahead of us jumping out of the water! My jaw dropped; it was magical. We watched this pair for awhile and the baby was very playful as he jumped, twisted, and rolled in the water. It was SO worth it and I feel lucky we got that experience. (Side note: I’m already planning on going back to the area where we stayed in the second part of the week in either July or August, which is the height of the season, if anyone wants to join!)

We returned to Prana Pacífico to Coco Loco Lunes, which was a delicious alcoholic beverage and served in the coconuts a local boy had cut down and brought up all the stairs (which I later learned firsthand that they are VERY heavy). Linsey also had prepared a bunch of fresh tuna sashimi sushi for us to enjoy plus a ton of other delicious food. We played games, chatted, drank, and enjoyed one another’s company.

Day 3: Attempted hike, a visit to town and termales, and local liquors

Our third day started with more rain, which we later learned is common in this part of the region to be so rainy. But it did start to clear up, so the two boys and I decided to do a waterfall hike that would take a few hours and then meet the others in town at the local thermal baths. Unfortunately, right as we got ready to head down the many stairs, it started pouring again. Knowing the hike to already be muddy even without additional rain, we decided not to go and it turned into more games and reading time.

Later we went down to the jumping dock again, took some pictures, and then headed on a leisurely walk along the secluded beach to the “town” of Termales. It is literally just a dirt path set a little ways back in the jungle with some homes and shops. The main attraction are the naturally heated thermal bath. But the 45 minute or so walk there is absolutely stunning as well. It is a huge stretch of gorgeous beach with just a few buildings along it. We took pictures, I did cartwheels, and the boys played Frisbee as we walked there.

Once at the termales, we washed in the cold river to get rid of all the sand and eased ourselves into the warm water. A man was there using a special type of rock that he rubbed against a stone to create a natural mud for facials. We got our facials on, drank some beers, and relaxed. Near sunset, we started to head back but walked by a lady selling some fish empanadas on the front porch of her home, so naturally we had to stop and enjoy one (or two, in some cases! haha). The walk back along the beach in complete darkness was a bit more challenging as none of us had lights and were getting bit by sand flies (we think), but we finally made it back and “enjoyed” a cold shower coming out of the pipe on the wall.

That night, we ate an amazing curry dish that Linsey created from who knows what and hung out, sad to know we’d have to leave bright and early the next morning.

Day 4: Boat ride to our next destination along the area of Almejal, near the town of El Valle, further north

After getting packed up, some breakfast, and loading up in our boat again, we made sure to put the boys in back this time, hoping they’d get soaked. Of course they didn’t, but a couple hours later, we pulled up along another huge, long stretch of secluded, beautiful beach to basically be dropped off right in front of our next hostel, Pelican House Hostel. I’ll continue this part of the trip in a different post!






Teach Online with VIP Kid!

Last year, I started hearing about and seeing some teacher friends doing this online gig teaching English one-on-one to kids in China. After finishing up my Masters in December, I found myself with more time than I am used to so I decided to check it out myself. I’m glad I did! Here’s a quick rundown and any of you fellow teachers or stay-at-home moms/past teachers may want to look into it. (P.S. If you do, use my referral link please! )

What is it like?

You teach one-on-one classes via an online portal for 25 minutes. Curriculum is prepared by VIP Kid, so all you have to do is prep maybe the night before the class and know the target vocabulary, sentence stems, phonics patterns, high frequency words, etc that will be covered in the lesson. You may teach trial classes to kids trying out VIP Kid for the first time or major courses to kids already enrolled in it. Trials are a bit more challenging because you don’t know student’s exact levels and they may have never done the online thing before, so it’s a bit intimidating for them! There are levels 1-6 with Level 1 (Pre-VIP) being age based for kids under 5 years old. Currently levels 1 and 2 are interactive, whereas in upper levels, you and the student can write on the screen but much of the interactivity is through acting things out and props. Most of your students will likely be emergent English levels, so you have to be very energetic, speak slowly, use lots of TPR (Total Physical Response), and find ways to get the students engage. The goal in lower levels is 50% teacher talk/50% student talk. In upper levels, the goal is 30% teacher/70% student. Getting certified for different levels can take awhile. Initially after being hired, you may only be allowed to do trial classes until you’ve completed a certain number. I was invited to do the Level 1 kiddos based on my mock classes and I’m glad I did because a lot of my first classes were with this age group! Even after a couple months, I only have level 1 and 2 certifications. This may move faster if you teach more classes, but I primarily do weekends only and that works for me.

How much are you paid?

This part seems complicated, but once you figure it out, it makes a lot of sense. Essentially, you will receive a base pay per class between $7-$9. This is determined based on your experience, interview, and mock classes. Then for each class that starts and finishes on time, you receive $1 for the “participation incentive”. Let’s say you start out with a small schedule…for example, my base pay is $8. So when I complete a class, I get $9 total ($18 for the hour if I teach 2 classes). But then, if it is a short notice booking, meaning they booked less than 24 hours in advance, you get an extra $2. So now, I could be earning $11 per class or $22 in an hour. But if you teach a lot of classes in a month, there’s even more incentive! If you teach 30-45 classes within a month (even if they are no-shows), you get an extra $0.50 per class. If you teach 45+ classes, you get an extra $1 per class. Some people teach a LOT and so they bring home more money than I even made as a classroom teacher. But there are a few caveats…

Student no-shows: This is common with trial classes. If a student does not show up for a trial, you have to wait 15 minutes or until it is marked as no show. Then you’ll get only 50% of the base pay. You still get the participation incentive though, short notice if applicable, and it counts toward finished classes.

Teacher no-shows: VIP Kid is really hard on these. You can only have six no-shows during a six month contract period, or they can fire you. If you cancel with less than 2 hours to go or don’t show up, it counts against your six no shows and they deduct $10 from your pay. If you cancel between 2-24 hours in advance, it counts against you and you lose $2.

Taxes: You are considered an independent contractor when you work for VIP Kid, so none of your earnings are taxed initially which means you may owe a lot come tax time! You’ll want to consult with a tax professional to determine if you need to estimate and pay your taxes quarterly and how to file accurately. Don’t forget to set aside quite a bit of your earnings to pay Uncle Sam!


  • Bachelors Degree (or Associates is acceptable if it’s in early childhood education)
  • Native English speaker
  • Experience teaching kids in some capacity from ages 5-12
  • Computer with good Internet
  • Criminal background check

I’ve read different things on who gets accepted and estimates that only 6-10% of applications are accepted. Talk up all teaching experience and even if you don’t have an official teaching background, if you’ve worked with kids at all, list everything you can on the application and you never know! It doesn’t hurt to try.

Interview Process:

  • Application: To sign up, go to the website: You’ll have to fill out a short application form where you need to highlight all the work you’ve done with children. Be specific. Then you’ll wait to receive an email and see if your application is accepted in order for you to move on to the next step.
  • Interview/Demo Class: At this point, you’ll have to prepare for a demo class which is basically your interview. You can sign up for a time slot and do it with a staff member, or you can record your own and send it in. I opted to record my own at a time that worked for me (11pm at night :)), but I don’t suggest it. Here’s why: the first few minutes of the interview, the staff member will ask you a few questions about your experience and background, or if you’re recording your own, you just talk about it. This part was fine. The next 15 minutes, you will record a shortened demo class using the material they will send you via pdf. If you’re doing it with the staff member, they will pretend to be a 5 year old with limited English. This sounded strange to me, so I decided to do the self-recorded option when you have to pretend you’re talking to a 5 year old that isn’t even there. This turned out to be much harder! I recommend signing up to do the video interview with the staff member. **Wear an orange t-shirt for every video/mock class in this process, as this gives you little brownie points since it’s the company’s color! (I wore one inside out because it was the only orange one I had, but it had a picture on the front and no one ever said a word…)
  • Teacher Training & Quiz: If you pass the interview/demo class, they will send you 6 hours of material to study and videos to watch to learn about the curriculum, teaching techniques, and more. Then you take a quiz, which you must get 80% on to pass to the next step. But you can take it multiple times, so it’s not too stressful.
  • Mock Class 1: In a 30 minute video chat with a VIP Kid mentor teacher, you’ll teach a full 25 minutes just like you would with a kid. However, it is split up into two parts. The first 15 minutes, you will teach part of a level 2 lesson (material provided to you ahead of time so you can prepare). Then your mentor will stop you and give you feedback. The last 10 minutes, you will teach part of a level 5 lesson, at which point your mentor will give you additional feedback. **This mock class is super important, as your mentor will choose personality tags for your profile based on your teaching. Good personality tags associated with your profile will help increase your bookings! (Once you’re hired, you can email the support site FreshDesk and ask what your tags are. I was happy to see mine were the following: outgoing, enthusiastic, phonics and reading, body language and facial expression, speaking and discussion!) 
  • Mock Class 2, if requested: Following your first mock class, you will receive an email indicating if you are immediately hired or if they want to see you do a second mock class so you have more practice time.
  • Sign contract/upload paperwork: If you’re hired, congratulations! At this point, you will sign and upload the contract, a copy of your bachelor’s degree, government issued ID, and teaching certifications (if you have any). You will need to fill out a W-9 form and upload your bank account information too, so you can get paid!
  • Set up your profile for parents to see: You will upload a few photos of yourself and record a short greeting video that showcases your personality and maybe a prop or two. I put mine together on iMovie, put a quick intro slide with your name, perhaps some music behind it, and talked with my monkey puppet. Remember to talk slow and be enthusiastic! Parents use these to decide whether or not to book classes with you.
  • FINALLY open up slots for booking and be patient! It can take awhile to build up bookings, especially in the beginning. I don’t open up very many due to limited time, but they’re still not fully booking yet.
Screen Shot 2018-03-13 at 7.24.16 PM

Speak slowly and be excited in your greeting video! Wear an orange shirt, have good lighting, and a happy, colorful background. Use a prop if you have one.

How do I get booked?

The beauty of this gig is that you can open up as many or as few slots as you want. You can open slots from the app on your phone or online and if you check the little box, this means you’re willing to do a short notice class that can be booked in less than 24 hours. If you do this, make sure you’re paying attention to the app! I’ve heard of people that checked this box, went to sleep, and forgot to check in the early morning and missed classes, racking up teacher no shows and losing pay. 😦 I only ever do the 24 hour booking myself for classes that are after other ones I already have booked. I have a hard enough time waking up as it is!

Here is one of my previous weeks…I leave for work at 6:15am, so I only have time for one class in the morning during the week at 5:30am without waking up too crazy early. Your times will depend on your current time zone. I’m on Central Time because it’s Bogota time, so Beijing time is 13 hours ahead. It’s important to note the red and orange times. Red is Peak Peak Time (PPT) which is when most kids want classes and they’re likely to be booked first. Orange is Peak Time (PT), which is also highly sought after. If you have a boring weekend, this is a great time to maybe pull an all-nighter and make some cash!

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 1.49.36 PM

Below you see an upcoming week. I only opened up Saturday and Sunday morning times. Only a few are booked so far and may fill throughout the week. I checked the 24 hour short notice box so that way they could still sign up Saturday morning if they so choose (and I get an extra $2 bonus!).

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 1.49.49 PM

Support after being hired:

Even after doing tons of research, reading other blogs, and watching videos, I felt kind of lost after getting hired. This is where I was thankful for social networking! On Facebook, there are two groups in particular: VIP Kid Newbie Support and VIP Kid Teachers. These are great to ask questions, read others’ questions/advice, and learn! I also started following some teachers on Instagram to get ideas and support.

VIP Kid offers discussion forums through something called the Hutong (where you can also do challenges and earn coins to be redeemed for different things), something called FreshDesk where you can submit tickets if you have questions or problems, and they have lots of workshops and material to teach yourself. The workshops are taught by VIP Kid Teachers and you sign up for a particular time and it’s like a webinar workshop. I haven’t actually done any myself because the times don’t work out for me, but they seem helpful from clips I’ve watched.



Are you enthusiastic and interested in making some quick money working from home while wearing pajama shorts on bottom and an orange shirt on top?? Use my referral link if you decide to sign up! Thanks!



The literal translation means “coexistence”. At our school, it means a field trip to a location nearby, where you do team building and self-esteem activities. On Thursday was my class’s convivencia and beforehand, I really had no idea what to expect. As it was our first field trip, the kids were excited beyond belief. Plus, it was a casual day which meant no uniforms for them!

We arrived at a finca about 20 minutes south of town and led the students to a pavilion to meet their leaders. I found out later that convivencia is common all across Colombia, and the leaders of our group travel around doing this for different schools. Unfortunately, many public schools do not have the funds to do it, but at our private school, parents pay a “convivencia fee” along with their regular tuition that month.

Throughout the morning, students participated in some team building activities like this ball game below.

Then they talked about Hopes and Dreams, including what they wanted to be in the future and how that profession is beneficial. They paired up and traced each other’s profiles before coloring and decorating it like their future professional self.

There was a giant soccer field, playground, and some animals there, so we spent our snack time and recess exploring that area. It was SO great just observing the animals and talking about them with many of the students, rather than all the pressure you have in a school setting. I even have some great videos of the turkey gobbling at them to go away! haha

Enter more games, activities, discussions, etc…..then came my favorite part and the whole reason I wanted to write a post! Students were given a blindfold. Soothing music was put on, the leader was talking them through the growth of them, as if they were a seed. Students relaxed down onto the ground, felt their heart as their seed center, stretched and grew, and so on. I felt as if I was at the end of my yoga sessions doing the Savasana! They were mostly calmed down over 10 minutes of this…of course, being first graders, some were curious and kept trying to take off their blindfolds! haha.

Then we were told to choose about half the class that we felt were sufficiently calmed. Those students went around to the still-blindfolded kids, gave them hugs, said thank you for different things, apologized for others, and in general, had kind exchanges with the others. I LOVED seeing the reactions on everyone’s faces and the hugs. Then they switched places. Several kids began crying. Once they all took blindfolds off and some kids saw the others crying, of course they began to as well. Seeing this made ME cry! The students went around and did lots of hugging, then they all started coming over to my assistant and I. I cried more and the kids noticed. We talked about how it was out of happiness, instead of sadness.

We had finished up most of the activities by that point in the day, so it was lunchtime and extra long play time! The students were LOVING the merry-go-rounds, and I got 19 of them going fast on one of them. I explained to the Colombian leaders how they are now illegal in the states. Shortly after, one of my kiddos fell off a different piece of equipment (a climbing arc thing) and split open her lip. Whoops. Then another boy fell while trying to spin the merry go round. Whoops again. But as I tell them…they’re tough! They’ll be just fine. Kids spring back so easily most of the time.

While not necessarily educational in the traditional sense, this field trip was one of the best I’ve ever been on. It was like counseling for a group of kids! They do it again in the spring, but also with parents. Very neat. Today during our Morning Meeting at school, we talked about what we had learned yesterday…they seemed to have absorbed most of it! Of course, some students were fighting within minutes, but hey, they’re kids…right?

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!

A Few Thoughts On Being Home

As I sit in the Panama airport for my 7-hour layover on my return to Colombia (better than the 10 hour layover on the way), I can’t help but reflect a bit on my time at home. It’s peculiar, really, because being home for 3 weeks was enough to almost make me forget about my life and job in Colombia. It was like I never left in July. But as soon as I began the return journey, which always includes people watching and sleeping in airports, it was like that part of me turned back on.

It was great seeing all my friends and family, not having to think so much to communicate, eating all the foods I missed and then some, and having my car to drive around! Thank you to everyone who opened time in their schedules to catch up with me. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Below is a list of some thoughts that crossed my mind in no particular order during my 3-week vacation. I wish I had written everything down because then it would be more complete, not my sporadic remembrances, but hindsight is 20/20.

  • The taxi driving me to a friend’s place in Chicago…. “We leave so much space in front of us when we drive!”
  • “My toes are cold.”
  • “Ohhh yay, shopping in peace without a salesperson attacking you.”
  • “We Americans speak SO loud.”
  • “My toes are freezing.”
  • “Why do we all dress so sloppy when we go about our errands?” (Note: I am entirely guilty of this as well, even in Colombia when I go out and about in my workout capris and tanks. It’s far more comfortable, I understand! Going to Wal-Mart just caused me to notice that our culture does it as a whole.)
  • “Oh my god, my own space, my own car, to go wherever I want whenever I want. The freedom!” (Just a result of living where public transport becomes your only form of transportation.)
  • “So much stuff in our houses, our grocery stores, just everywhere.”
  • “I think my toes are going to fall off.”

As it always is when you move to another culture, you find that you miss certain parts of your own culture, while discovering that parts of your new culture really make a lot of sense if you stop to think. Being home was great, but vacations are always a bit haphazard and I’m ready to get back to my regular routine.

Okay, and the warm weather. 🙂