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

Meet the teachers – Alvaro

Since coming to Colombia I have been working on the government’s Colombia Bilingüe project. I have been a co-teacher at Institucion Educativa del Valle (also known as Politecnico) in Palmira, which is in the Valle del Cauca department, about 20 km from Cali.

The system we work to is one where we always work alongside a Colombian co-teacher in the classroom. Our role is to be native speakers in the classroom, assist our co-teachers and help to develop lessons, especially ones that encourage the students to speak.

So, who are these teachers that I have been working with I hear you ask? Well, meet Alvaro


Alvaro during a lesson on healthy eating
Alvaro during a lesson on healthy eating

Continue reading Meet the teachers – Alvaro

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

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,
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

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 Mirrinao, 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

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

Continue reading One Year On The Road