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

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

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,
Part of the port area in Leticia, photo by Gunay and Cengiz Alparer,

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

Moving to Medellin

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.

Continue reading Moving to Medellin

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

Sumpango kite festival

Two kites on display at Sumpango Kite Festival
Sumpango Kite Festival

I walked into town at a quarter past five on the morning of the Day of the Dead and came across a small group of Mayan kids playing basketball to a loud, heavy Dubstep being played through the community centre`s PA system . A group of women dressed in their traditional, kaleidoscopic dress waited by the bus stop a few metres away, smiling tolerantly. Strange as this was, it was by no means the most curious or exotic experience of the day.

I was stopping in San Marcos, which is one of the more esoteric of the villages around Lake Atitlan. There’s often a waft of weed in the air and a lot of the self-catering adverts mention yoga pads. For one of the first times on my trip, getting vegetarian food had been easy. Continue reading Sumpango kite festival