Ibarra: a finca, monster trucks and ice cream helmets

My home for a week in Ibarra was “La Finca Sommerwind”, a camping and cabins set up next to the Laguna de Yahuarcocha a couple of miles outside town. It is beautiful and largely peaceful, except for when there are motorbikes racing around the racetrack that is directly opposite. 

View of the lake and Finca Sommerkind on the left
View of Lake Yahuarcocha, with Finca Sommerkind on the left and the racetrack in between

Still, this was really only for a few hours at the weekend. During the week the busiest it gets is with people walking, jogging and cycling around it. Also, the view from the cabin of the volcanoes across the lake more than made up for this slight annoyance. Continue reading Ibarra: a finca, monster trucks and ice cream helmets

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 Holidays – San Andres

“We must go to San Andres!”

This declaration, and variations of it, are my first abiding memory of Martha, who is mine and Max’s mentor here in Palmira. This sentiment was amplified by many of our fellow teachers in school who all enthused about us needing to go there.

And so we scrimped and we saved our co-teachers’ salaries so that we could take a five day trip to Colombia’s tropical island paradise in the Caribbean.

Photo showing the many colours of the sea in San Andres
The many colours of the sea in San Andres

San Andres

San Andres is a coral island that (whisper it) lies off the coast of Nicaragua. However, it has historically been a part of Colombia and, despite the best efforts of the Nicaraguan authorities, Colombia isn’t about to give it up any time soon if they can help it. Continue reading Colombian Holidays – San Andres

Colombian Holidays – Cartagena

Alvaro, one of my co-teachers at school, and me visited Cartagena for a short city break in the July holidays. We stopped in a beautiful colonial style hotel, with white walls, an interior patio and hot and cold running WiFi.

Each morning we sat on the roof terrace and looked out at the castle while having our breakfast. This was usually in the glare of the morning sun, but still early enough for the temperature to be bearable.

Alvaro having breakfast on the rooftop terrace
Alvaro having breakfast on the rooftop terrace

Continue reading Colombian Holidays – Cartagena

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

Colombia Votes On Peace Deal

On Sunday 2nd October Colombia has a plebiscite to decide whether to accept the peace deal that was signed on Wednesday this week between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC).

If the country votes Si then FARC’s guerillas will continue the process of disarming that began last weekend, following a unilateral ceasefire that has largely held for the past year. The FARC have been at war with the Colombian state since 1964.

This means that the majority of the friends I have made here in Colombia have never known their country at peace.

Woman waves Si flag in Parque Bolivar, Palmira
Some people are very open about their voting intentions

For the past four years the government has negotiated with the FARC in Habana, Cuba. For most of that time the talks were held in secret. What has emerged is a detailed agreement, with the headline being that the FARC will disarm in exchange for their legitimisation as a political entity. Continue reading Colombia Votes On Peace Deal

Colombian Holidays – Leticia – Welcome To The Jungle

Back in June and July we had a three week school holiday and so myself, Karen and Jenny decided to take a trip to the Amazon.

We flew out of Cali late at night and headed for Leticia. When we got there it was “too wet to land” and so we headed for Bogota. After a couple of hours camped out in Bogota Airport in the middle of the night we set back out for Leticia, this time discovering that it was now just wet enough for touch down.

Part of the port area in Leticia, photo by Gunay and Cengiz Alparer, https://www.travelblog.org/Photos/6017199
Part of the port area in Leticia, photo by Gunay and Cengiz Alparer, https://www.travelblog.org/Photos/6017199

We sloshed our way onto the bus and headed through town for the port area which sits on a backwater of the Amazon. From here we caught one of the lodge’s boats down the river. As we left Leticia we left the backwater and joined the main river at a point where it is possible to see both Brazil and Peru across the water. Continue reading Colombian Holidays – Leticia – Welcome To The Jungle

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

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 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.