Adios Colombia, Hola Ecuador

I officially finished work on 25th November and my visa ran out on 30th November. This did not give me an enormous amount of time to leave the country, especially as I was going by bus rather than flying out.

There were long distance buses available but these involved travelling overnight, which I am not a fan of and are also more risky in Colombia as they can be held up and robbed, and so I chose to stretch the journey from Palmira to Ibarra over three days.

Day One – Palmira to Popayan

On Sunday morning I was picked up by Libia Estella and her husband Raul. Libia Estella teaches at the school I was placed at, Institucion Educativa del Valle, and she had been especially welcoming, having me round to lunch soon after I started.

Farewell to Palmira
Farewell to Palmira

The couple drove me from Palmira to the bus terminal in Cali. Not only did they refuse to accept any money to cover petrol or the toll on the road, but they also gave me a little packed lunch for my journey. Continue reading Adios Colombia, Hola Ecuador

Palmira, hasta luego

Tomorrow is my last full day in Palmira

I’m writing this after leaving school for the last time and going for lunch with my co-teachers. So, this post might get a bit sentimental.

Teachers from Politecnico at Karen's Pizza in Las Mercedes, Plamira
Aydee, Livia Estella, me, Adela, Alvaro, Gladys, Patricia and Francia at Karen’s Pizza in Las Mercedes, Plamira

Altogether I’ve been here for ten months. I’ve settled in so much that it is going to be an awful wrench when I go. I’ve had a wonderful time here and have made some lifelong friends. I am truly grateful to the power of the Internet that will make it easier for me to stay in touch with them. Continue reading Palmira, hasta luego

Colombian Weekends – Paradise and Pance

The city I am living in, Palmira, is in the South West of Colombia in a department called Valle Del Cauca. The valley stretches from El Eje Cafetero (The Coffee Region) at its North Eastern point down and across to the Pacific Ocean coast in the West.

Where I am the valley floor is a wide plain about 1000 metres above sea level, making it cooler and more tolerable than it is at sea level. This means average days in the high 80s to low 90s. Down by the coast it gets warmer and much more humid.

Palmira itself is resolutely not a tourist destination, but we have been blessed by living close to some pretty cool places to visit for the weekends.

Standing on the steps of Hacienda El Paraiso with Max, Martha and Maritza
Standing on the steps of Hacienda El Paraiso with Max, Martha and Maritza

Paradise Continue reading Colombian Weekends – Paradise and Pance

Interview With a Fellow – Jenny Deseres

Jenny is one of five fellows who is working alongside Colombian teachers here in Palmira from February to November 2016. The two of us share a house with Maxandra, from Jamaica and Karen, who is from the States.

Who are you and where are you from?

I’m Jenny and I’m originally from Michigan in the United States, but I have lived all over the United States and have also lived abroad.

Jenny with Tim, her fellow co-teacher at Cardenas Mirri?ao, Palmira
Jenny with Tim, her fellow co-teacher at Cardenas Mirri?ao, Palmira

Why did you decide to volunteer on the Heart For Change/Volunteers For Colombia co-teaching programme? Continue reading Interview With a Fellow – Jenny Deseres

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?

Selling memories in Parque Bolivar, Palmira
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 Colombian Odd Jobs – Part Two

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 Mirri?ao.

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 Ni?o. 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.