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 Interview With a Fellow – Tim Hoban

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)

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 Colombian Odd Jobs – Part 1

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 Mirrinao.

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.

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.

 

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 NiƱo. 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.

Back To Bogota, 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 Back To Bogota, Back To Work

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 Manizales

Salento and Valle de Cocora

Look on any map and you might be forgiven for thinking that Salento is just a short drive from Ibague, what with it being a mere seventy miles along a main road. But, as I travel around Colombia, I am beginning to realise that maps are not always a reliable way of estimating travel times. This is especially true when the route takes you through the mountains.

My journey was on a public bus that spent most of the time following a succession of large trucks that were slowly insinuating themselves up and down the hillsides. Passing places seemed to consist of any straight stretch of one hundred metres or more, and overtaking manoeuvres were very much reliant on the good nature of the drivers of any oncoming traffic that the bus encountered.

I tried to keep my head in my book as much as I could.

I read the same page a lot of times.

Palm trees in the Valle de Cocora
Palm trees in the mist

Continue reading Salento and Valle de Cocora

Ibague and Combeima Canyon

AirBnB enthusiasts often speak about how the site helps you have a closer experience of a country by meeting your hosts and getting to know local customs. Whilst this can happen, I think it is sometimes exaggerated.

In the case of my Ibague stop this was certainly true though as, within a few minutes of my arriving, my host had introduced me to herself, her dog and her wooden leg (in that order).

The combination of a Latin American sense of personal space and a lack of any sense in her right leg meant that I inadvertently kept standing on my host’s shoe. I must have appeared to be a stereotypical Englishman abroad, repeatedly apologising to her for no good reason.

Christmas present packages on sale at my Ibague BnB
Christmas present packages. Available from your local Ibague BnB

Continue reading Ibague and Combeima Canyon

Zipaquira Salt Cathedral

While I was in Bogota I took a day trip away from the hustle and bustle of the capital, out to the medium sized town of Zipaquira to visit its enormous underground cathedral, which has been carved out of a salt mine.

Statue in the Salt Cathedral at Zipaquira
Statue in the Salt Cathedral at Zipaquira

Before going down the mine I had a walk around the town, which has a very large central square. After downtown Bogota it made a pleasant change to wander around such a sleepy, relaxed place.

Walking out of the town I climbed the hill that leads up to the salt cathedral. The salt mines have been created by drilling horizontally into the mountain. This means that you do not have to enter using a lift going down a shaft, but by walking down a long corridor that is also high and wide. It also means that the entrance is on the side of the hill and not at the top. Phew! Continue reading Zipaquira Salt Cathedral

Bogota: busy days and quiet nights

Bogota from Montseratte
Bogota from Montserrate

After the relaxing environment and bright sunshine of Pasajcap, coming to Bogota was a bit of a shock.

The city stretches across a valley 2500 metres above sea level where the weather can change very quickly. It is normal to walk along in the bright sunshine and then be hit by a sudden downpour. Think UK April, but a bit warmer.

So, the weather was a bit shittier, to say the least.

On top of that I had booked a hotel in La Candelaria district of the city. It is a pretty and popular tourist area in the city’s historic centre with many hostels and hotels.

During the day La Candelaria is a bustling and lively bit of town, with attractions such as the Museo De Oro, the Quinta de Bolivar and Museo Botero.

Botero Sculpture in Museo Botero
Botero Bums in Museo Botero

The latter is a free museum containing a range of paintings and sculptures by Fernando Botero, a Colombian artist from Medellin. His figures typically have exaggerated dimensions making them look out of proportion to their surroundings as well as a bit on the chubby side.

Just down the road from Museo Botero is the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Cultural Centre. Gabriel Garcia Marquez was a Colombian author and journalist who invented the Magic Realism style of writing.

His cultural centre houses another art gallery, a bookshop and a nice cafe where you can drink coffee, eat cake, leech off the wifi and people watch.

So far, so cultural. However, at night La Candelaria can get a bit on the hairy side, so much so that it has been granted its own special slot in the UK government’s security advice for citizens visiting Colombia:

Street crime is a problem in major cities, including Bogota, Medellin, Cali and Santa Marta. Mugging and pickpocketing can be accompanied by violence.

British nationals have been robbed at gun point in the Candelaria area of Bogota.

 

Blimey.

As if to emphasise this, the hotel I stopped at, Tip Top Casa Hotel, had it’s front door permanently locked and bolted, as did most others in the streets close by. The owner, Maria, was also keen to recommend a “really good” restaurant for my evening meal that was suspiciously close to the hotel.

Maria was really friendly and helpful and she was very happy to suggest a range of activities for me to do during the day, reassuring me that they were “segurro”. This included going to Montserrate, the mountain above the city, visiting various museums and taking the Transmilenio, something that a number of online sources viewed as being anything from a bit dangerous to an out-and-out suicide mission.

I’ll say a little about the Transmilenio in another post.

On the Sunday, taking Maria’s advice, I went for a walk down “La Septima”, the road that goes from Plaza Bolivar to El Parque La Independencia. The first couple of blocks are pedestrianised anyway, but continuing on from there the next dozen blocks ar least were taken over for a street market. Attractions ranged from clothes stalls to juice vendors, from music/DVD stalls to pavement side Virtual Reality gaming.

Guinea pig gambling game at Bogota street market
Where is that guinea pig going?

At one point I was enjoying an old live performance of Daddy Cool by Boney M when I was distracted by the crowd at the next stall falling towards me. Two lads wearing VR headsets were standing in front of a pair of screens which showed them attempting to complete some kind of “Bungee jumping through a cityscape” game. Unsurprisingly, one of them had become a bit unsettled and wobbled into the crowd, scattering them into our video zone.

Best of all was the guinea pig betting.

There were a good three or four examples of this punctuating the street fair and they seemed to be the equivalent of a Find The Lady game.

Twenty or so upturned washing up bowls are set out on the road, each one has a number on it. People place bets as to which bowl the guinea pig will go to. A bloke with a Bluetooth mike stands about 15 metres away with his little group of guinea pigs. On his say so one of them hares it along the road and vanishes into a washing up bowl. If you’ve placed money on the bowl, you’re a winner.

I watched these games for a while and realised that the Bluetooth hucksters each had a number of guinea pigs by their side. Cynic that I am, I wondered if each one was trained to go to a particular colour of washing up bowl. It would certainly weight the odds in their favour.

I had a good stroll up and down the street market until it started to get dark, when I made my way back to the hotel.

Man walking his llama in front of the cathedral in Bolivar Square, Bogota
Man walking his llama in front of the cathedral in Bolivar Square, Bogota