Colombian Odd Jobs – Part Two

Following on from Colombian Odd Jobs – Part One here are some more jobs I’ve noticed that only seem to exist in Colombia (and possibly elsewhere in Latin America) but don’t really have a UK equivalent.

The Seller of Memories 

Man selling memories in Parque Bolivar, Palmira

Man selling memories in Parque Bolivar, Palmira

As I’ve mentioned before, we have a man who rides around town on a pushbike that has a basket on the front with a little sign claiming that he is a “Venta de Memorias” (seller of memories). In the land of magical realism this conjures up all sorts of scenarios. It turns out that he is selling USB memory sticks. This might be more mundane than initial impressions suggest, but the man does have a compelling piece of advertising going on. Continue reading

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One Year On The Road

Today it is a year to the day since Vicki and me left the UK. So far, it has been a journey of three parts ……

Part One – Mexico

We flew from Manchester to Cancun, thinking that it was going to be the start of a Very Big Adventure for us both. We were prepared, or thought we were, for everything that Latin America could throw at us.

The day before we’d finished packing up our houses in Birmingham, dropped the rental car off and caught the coach from Digbeth Coach Station to Manchester Airport, stopping in a hotel close by. Then we caught Thomas Cook‘s morning flight from Manchester.

Chichen Itza in the sun

Chichen Itza in the sun

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Interview With a Fellow – Tim Hoban

Tim is one of five fellow who has worked alongside Colombian teachers here in Palmira from February to June 2016. We shared a house together while he was here and before he left I asked him the following questions…..

Who are you and where are you from?

Hi I’m Tim Hoban. I’m 23 years old and I’m from Melbourne, Australia.

Tim relaxes in a hammock at Hostal Colonial

Tim relaxes in a hammock at Hostal Colonial

Why did you decide to volunteer on the Heart For Change/Volunteers For Colombia co-teaching programme?

My sister started with the program in June of 2015 and she encouraged me to apply. She was having a great time and had decided to extend her contract for an extra six months. I wasn’t quite ready to get my first proper job after finishing my engineering degree so I was easily convinced to come over and and hang out with her.

 Tell us a little bit about your school. Continue reading

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Colombian Odd Jobs – Part 1

Colombians are an entrepreneurial bunch. The streets here are full of people selling food and drink from a variety of different carts, bikes and stalls. There are a whole range of non food based enterprises as well. Some of them are a genuine exchange of goods or services while others are just a little more than begging.

The following are jobs I’ve noticed that only seem to exist in Colombia (and possibly elsewhere in Latin America) but don’t really have a UK equivalent.

Todo Destinos (Mobile phone calls on the street)

Woman selling mobile minutes in Parque Bolivar, Palmira

Woman selling mobile minutes in Parque Bolivar, Palmira

There are three main Colombian telecommunication companies, Claro, Movistar and Tigo, who are are currently battling for the biggest share of the market.

One way they have done this is to offer very cheap call rates within their own network, but then make calling other networks considerably more expensive. This has opened up a microbusiness opportunity. Continue reading

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A New Career In A New Town

It was almost a year to the day after I began my CELTA course that I started putting it to practice, by co-teaching at my new workplace, Institucion Educativa Del Valle in Palmira.

I am here until November and will be working twenty four hours a week in the classroom. I also have an English Club that I will be running with the students and another hour or so each week helping my fellow teachers with their English.

The entrance to Institucion Educativa del Valle, Palmira

The entrance to Institucion Educativa del Valle, Palmira

A Typical Day

My working day starts at 6.10am.

I’ll say that again, shall I?

My working day starts at 6.10am. This took a bit of getting used to as well as producing no small amount of incredulity on the part of my friends and family.

So, I usually wake up at 4.30am, stumble through the shower, get dressed and have breakfast. At five thirtyish Fernando, our regular taxi driver, comes to the house and picks up me and Jenny, another teacher on the same Colombia Bilingue project.

We drive across town through the dark streets. Although it is really early there are already people about. There are children going to school, the ever present motorcycle taxis or “Motos” and there is even the odd panaderia opening up.  Fernando drops me off at Valle before taking Jenny on to her school, Institucion Educativa Cardenas Mirriñao.

When I arrive the staff room is seldom open so I sit on a bench with a fellow teacher and some students. We mumble greetings at each other in English and Spanish.

Classes officially start at 6.10, but hours are relatively loose here. Usually I’ll get to my first class by about 6.20am and attempt to generate some enthusiasm for learning English amongst the students. Lessons are an hour long.

Break time is from 9.10 to 9.30 and this is the one time of the day when all of the teachers can more or less be guaranteed to be in the staff room.

By mid-morning the day has usually heated up properly with temperatures in the 80s or 90s. Heaven knows what they must be inside the classrooms. By now both teachers and students are flagging a little and ready for lunch. Quite a few students won’t even have had breakfast.

Morning school finishes at 12.30 and there is an immediate changeover of staff and students for afternoon school. I teach a few afternoon classes and so some days I stay in school for another hour. Other days, when my lessons are later in the afternoon, I go home and come back.

Regardless, most days I will leave school and go for lunch at one of Palmira’s two vegetarian restaurants; Mana or Ahimsa. Each of them offer a “bandera” for 6000 pesos. This is a soup, main course with side salad and pudding for the equivalent of about £1.40. After this I wobble back home through the city centre.

Our house in Palmira

Our house in Palmira

Pretty much every day, as soon as I get into the house I realise that my feet are on fire and that I need to get my shoes off before they explode from the pressure. So, I kick my shoes off and then jump into bed for a much deserved siesta.

I wake up an hour or so later and, depending on the day, I might go back to school or have a Spanish lesson with Alba, the teacher who comes to our house, or do some lesson preparation work. Bedtime is early, certainly no later than 10 o’clock, in preparation for another 4.30 start the following morning.

 

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A new home in Palmira

We flew into Palmira in the early morning. As we dropped down beneath the clouds we could see a landscape that was flat, with fields full of sugar cane stretching all around. In the distance mountain ranges circled the plain.

For months I had been warned by all and sundry that I was going to be really hot here, and yet it was disappointingly grey and overcast. Hmmmm.

Leaving the plane and walking along the concourse at the airport I was greeted by the poster below. A salsa circus is in town apparently, this felt a little bit more like it.

Poster at Palmira airport advertising a salsa circus

Welcome to Cali, home of the salsa circus

Leaving the airport and driving along the highway into town we were stopped by the police, an auspicious start to living in our new city. I wasn’t able to open the window in the taxi and somehow my poorly mumbled Spanish was enough for us to be waved on again. A few miles later, as we entered the Palmira city limits, we slowed down so as not to hit any of the cows that were drifting from verge to road to verge.

Just half an hour after landing it was already heating up and the taxi got increasingly toasty as we sat waiting for a giant locomotive engine to reverse and then move forward along the tracks. It turns out that this was no passenger train, just a freight train that transports the sugar cane.

The city centre was still waking up as we drove through. It is arranged in a grid pattern with cracked pavements and faded facades. The roads were filled with street vendors and seemingly crazed motorcyclists, for whom the one-way system appeared to be largely advisory. It looked scruffy, busy and full of life.

Our hostal was an old colonial house which was large and simple with indoor patios and lots of space. I immediately set about haggling for a single room, agreed a price and settled myself in. I lay back on my bed, looking out at the patio, where another fellow was swinging on the hammock and wondered what to do next.

Tim relaxes in a hammock at Hostal Colonial

Tim relaxes in a hammock at Hostal Colonial

Two hours later I woke up.

So, on my first day in Palmira I had managed a pre-lunch siesta, which seemed to be in keeping with the place.

Palmira is currently feeling the effects of El Niño. Mostly this means that it is a couple of degrees hotter than usual, which puts the temperature up in the low 90s most days, but also that it doesn’t rain very much.

Our hostal was on La Trinidad, which is a recently pedestrianised area that runs from Palmira’s central square (Parque Bolivar) for about ten blocks along its main shopping street. We walked along it, trying to take in our new home. By now it was a little bit past midday, the sky was clear and the heat was blistering. All around us people hugged the walls of the shops keeping themselves in the shadows.

There were mobile Frappe sellers, a man whose sole enterprise appeared to be laminating documents and a churros stand. My favourite was the tall man wearing a large brimmed straw hat who was sat astride his bicycle. In a basket on the handlebars was a sign that said “Venta De Memorias”. Surely, I thought, only in the land of Magic Realism could you expect to find a Memory Seller.

I was later to work out that he was selling USB sticks, but for now I was happy in my confusion.

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Back To Bogotá, Back To Work

After nearly six months of holiday I returned to Bogota on the 10th January to start work. During October and November I’d applied for and got a job from January until November teaching English in a public school in Palmira as part of the Colombia Bilingue program that is being run by the Colombian Ministry of Education.

http://aprende.colombiaaprende.edu.co/colombiabilingue

Having spent six months travelling independently, first with Vicki and then alone, it was a novel experience to be met at the airport and transported to an upmarket hotel for the first weeks of training. Having got used to being on my own, organising my own plans and spending time on my own I was suddenly plunged into sharing a room with four strangers, having a schedule to follow and barely having a moment to myself. Continue reading

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Medellin for Christmas

I spent over five weeks in Medellin over Christmas and New Year (yes, I am a bit behind with my blog post writing) and had a fantastic time. It is blessed by a wonderful climate, most of the days I spent there were in the mid 70s with a light, refreshing breeze coming through the valley most of the time.

Nativity scene in Medellin shopping mall

Nativity scene in Medellin shopping mall

Living In Poblado

The apartment I rented was in the quiet, and rather posh, area of Manila, which is in the upmarket Poblado neighbourhood of the city.

Many people criticise well off tourists who visit Medellin and spend their time in Poblado, saying that they don’t experience The Real Colombia. I think that is fair criticism ……. but …….. I will be living a lot more simply while I am working in Palmira. Thus I excused myself a little luxury. Continue reading

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Moving to Medellin


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Tell people that you are gong to Colombia and their first reactions don’t tend to be “Wow, what a beautiful country” but “Are you crazy? It’s full of drugs and guns and when will your funeral be?”

Tell people that you are going to Medellin and that reaction just becomes more extreme. Let’s face it, any city that produces the answer “cartel” ninety nine times out of a hundred in a word association game has a significant image problem.

But reputations aren’t reality and Medellin’s reputation, although changing, is still based on the situation in the city that is now twenty years old.

Parque Lleras in Poblado, Medellin.

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Manizales

After Salento I moved to Manizales for a week and stopped in this quite incredible finca with amazing views over the valleys below.

The view from my finca in Manizales

The view from my finca in Manizales

Unfortunately I was ill for a fair amount of my time here. But, if I had to get poorly somewhere, then this wasn’t a bad place for it. I spent a couple of days in bed and then a couple more feeling a bit sorry for myself. That’s not too bad considering I’d been travelling for four months by this stage.

I did manage to get out and about a little bit though. Continue reading

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