Monday, December 19, 2005

Islas del Rosario

So, I went to spend some time this weekend in Cartagena with the folks visting from UC and we ended up taking a day trip to the Islas del Rosario. Like many things in Cartagena, the isla trip was nice and I enjoyed it, but I think I always expect more after hearing people talk about it. The lancha takes about one hour to get out to the archipelago, which is just outside the Bay of Cartagena. There's somewhere between 23 and 27 small islands, depending on who you're talking to, many of which are privately owned. We were on Isla Grande, at a place called Media Naranja. This was the first turquiose blue, what-I've-always-thought-the-Caribbean-should-look-like water I've seen since I've been here.

The interior of the island was also interesting, although not very accesible. One of the other girls and I started walking on our own, but a guide quickly caught up with us. That was probably for the better, since all of the paths looked the same! I didn't have my camera with me though, which was unfortunate. Lunch was included, too-the typical fried fish, arroz con coco, salad, and patacones.

The best part though, was the trip back. The sea was fairly calm in the morning when we went out, but the afternoon was a different story. It was the next best thing to a rollercoaster! Luckily, we had sat in the front of the lancha, so most of the water flew over us and hit the poor, unspecting people sitting in the back. I felt bad for the couples that had brought their babies with must have been completely miserable. So, in the end, I'm nice and tan now, but I'm sure I'll lose it quickly over Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

10 more days until I freeze

So I see this tree outside my office every day and then I think about how it's only 30-some degrees in Cincinnati right now and how I'm going to freeze to death when I step off of that plane on Christmas Eve. Maybe that's a good thing doesn't feel like Christmas here, where on a hot day it's still in the 90s. I went to the artesians fair to buy some presents to take back with me and was looking at some hats made of Alpaca wool, but it's not easy to think about wearing a wool on your head when it's that hot!

There's no Christmas music playing here either, although I have been hearing a lot more cumbia lately on the buses since Carnaval is getting close. The carols I have heard are all translations from the English versions, other than one or two. I'll have to post pics of some of the crazy Christmas light displays I've seen. To me, it's rather depressing that Christmas here is just as commercial as it is in the States, if not more so. To be continued...
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Tuesday, December 13, 2005


So I went on Sunday evening to see Junior play against one of the Cali teams. This was the fourth time that I've been to the stadium. It really irks me that every time I go, they change the rules about what you can and can't bring in with you.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Costeño Dictionary

Check out El nuevo diccionario del Costeño to learn lots of "Spanish" words in the Costeño dialect. You probably won't ever hear them from anyone who's not from Colombia's Atlantic coast, but it's still interesting. For example, we have boli: jugo (zumo) de fruta congelado que se vende en bolsitas de plástico transparente which are kind of like the popsicles you make out of Kool-aid in little Dixie cups when you're a kid, but tastier. They were called cubitos in Mexico.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Being diseased in B/quilla (or other places where you can get amoebas from the water)

I find it necessary to comment on the wide variety of strange health problems I've seen since I've been here. Fortunately, the only major thing that's happened to me so far is my twisted ankle that stayed swollen for over two months. I find strange bruises all the time, from the way-too-small shower and the crazy bus rides where I think that I'm going to fly through the windshield if I don't hang on the whole time, but I can live with those. My roommate woke up one morning to find a weird lump that looked kind of like a gigantic splinter on the back of one of her fingers, that then disappeared (just guessing, since she hasn't mentioned it since). Another girl I was talking to last night got something called a "dog" parasite from sitting in a chair at the one beach I go to frequently. I'd already decided to never, ever get in the water at the beaches in Barranquilla again, but that makes me think twice about even using the chairs when I go to soak up the sun! One of my coworkers called me this morning to tell me about the "mold" he got from his towels not completely drying after using them. Someone else got stung by jellyfish at the beach (which they didn't know at that time) and the doctors first thought it was herpes. The same person had some other strange kind of dryness/rash/growth that they said was from soap. I just keep waiting to see what will come next!

All of this, plus the experiences I've had visiting the doctor and dentist here, make me seriously think about what would happen to me here if I really do get sick sick. Don't get me wrong, I know that there's good doctors here, but I've yet to meet any of them. Maybe it's because I've gone to the IPS (through the insurance I have here), and the quality isn't even close. Time to try private practitioners! The time it takes studying here to become a general practitioner is shorter than it is at home, and the doctors come out soooo much younger! That, on top of how much students cheat here (once again, certainly not everyone, but we've had some very interesting conversations on this in my classes!), make me question what the doctors tell me here. Well, I'll continue this rant later...time to go home and cook my Thanksgiving food!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The BIG J in Ohio

Check out the New York Times article on Monroe, Ohio's gigantic plaster Jesus! It's not exactly what you expect to see on the side of interstate 75. I wonder, has the number of accidents gone up since Solid Rock built this? Very Ohio, very Bible belt. You might need to sign up on the Times website to read the article.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Cartagena de las Indias, Part II

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas

So, one of the more interesting things I saw in Cartagena was the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. Cartagena was originally founded in 1533 by the Spanish and was at that time the principal port for the area. After various attacks by pirates and others looking for a piece of the Spanish wealth that sailed out from the city, construction was started of the Castillo in 1639. It became the most extensive fortification in South America. Check out the
Global Heritage Fund's website for more information on the Castillo (click on Colombia, then More).

The Castillo brought back memories of Fort Sumnter in Charleston (even though it was built much more recently) and of the fort in St. Augustine, Florida, which I think I remember going to at some point. We didn’t go through the structure with a guide, one because I hate guides and two because the groups were too big and I have a hard time understanding Spanish when there’s twenty people all talking at the same time. So I suppose I didn’t learn much of the history, but oh well. Next time, or in the guide book that I’m realizing that I really need to buy. The fascinating part of the Castillo was that I didn’t see any rooms inside. There were lots and lots of tunnels with small person-deep compartments off of them, supposedly for the Spaniards to hide in if someone attacked (if I’m wrong here, somebody please tell me!). It would be extremely easy to get lost inside…the tunnels just keep going down and they all look the same. I kept expecting to get to a room or chamber of some sort, but there was nothing. The fort itself is gigantic; I can’t imagine the manpower needed to build something of that size and complexity inside. But I won’t get into that now… More pics to come, but blogger's acting up right now and I have no patience to sit here and wait for it to upload!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Cartagena de las Indias, Part I

So on for this past weekend's puente, I went to Cartagena. As you can see from the pictures, it's a nice place, but I think I had rather high expectations based on the praises that people give it and what I've seen of colonial Mexico. Other than the high costs, the poverty that surrounds the beautiful parts of the city, and the overly persistent street vendors, I think that it would certainly be a more friendly and interesting place to live as compared to Barranquilla. There was not so much honking of the horns or out-of-control driving and it was possible to walk places without the fear of being run over even at night! The beaches right around the city were about the same as the main ones in Santa Marta, not great, but not the nastiness of Puerto Colombia. The Islas de Rosario are supposedly much more beautiful, but I didn't end up making it there. I especially enjoyed the snow cone vendors, like the one above, and even though I couldn't have one in fear of being sick another two weeks, I decided I want to buy one of the machines. All in all, though, I discovered that I need to buy a Colombia travel guide if only to have the name of decent cheap hotels. Finding a place to stay was horrible! More to come...

The Cathedral

Torre del reloj, where we entered the walled part of the city

Statue of Pedro de Heredia, founder of Cartagena

Peagusus Bridge (did I spell that right?) in Cartagena de las Indias

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Futbol Madness

I went to see Seleccion Colombia play Chile this past Saturday at the estadio metropolitano. Unlike the Junior game I went to where the stadium wasn't even half full, there were tons of fans at this game, all dressed in their yellow Colombian jerseys. Too bad Colombia didn't play well (a trend, I'm told), so they only tied 1-1. That means that today, Wednesday, almost all of my students are skipping class to watch the Colombia vs. Paraguay game, which will determine if they go to the Copa Mundial next summer. Colombia has to win or tied, I think, and Chile has to loose, for them to make it. People go crazy over soccer games here. It took us forever to get out of the stadium area after Saturday's game was over.

Today is also Dia de la Raza, an attempt at making Columbus Day something that we should celebrate. Didn't fool me. And tomorrow is the Juanes concert, so most of my students will be gone again for my evening classes. And I don't get to go...

Things are looking up though. I've been told that I can find pumpkins (canned or otherwise edible, hopefully) to make pie with, as well as canned cranberries. I know Thanksgiving is still a little ways away, but Canadian Thanksgiving was last week!

Friday, October 07, 2005

Fruit of the Day: GUAYABA, the kind I don't like, but since they all look the same from the outside, I bought the wrong one.

Fruit of the day: LULO

Sunset on the beach near Prado Mar, maybe a week or two ago.

Boca de Ceniza/Las Flores

Last weekend I went to Las Flores to catch the train to Boca de Ceniza. This is where the Magdalena River and the Atlantic Ocean meet (on this map, the northernmost piece of land). The ecotrain, as it's called, runs out along the river, with the final part built on a man-made rock divider. Neither the ocean nor the river is very nice to look at there, but it was interesting to see the water where they come together. Someone also told me that there are supposedly pink river dolphins swimming around there somewhere, but I didn't see anything. This last picture is from the train, looking back at
Barranquilla and the bay,
ocean side.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Towards Venezuela...

So, at the last minute, I ended up escaping from Barranquilla during our mid-semester break. It was either Cartagena (about an hour to the west) or La Guajira (not nearly as close by). I left Friday morning on a bus to Riohacha, the capital of the state of La Guajira. If you’re looking at a map, it’s the northernmost state in Colombia, right next to Venezuela on the Caribbean coast. It was an interesting ride…you go from Barranquilla, where it’s relatively flat, pass through Santa Marta, which is home of the highest mountains in the country, past Tayrona, where it’s much more tropical and jungle-like, to end up finally in a arid, mirage-making desert.

From Riohacha, our guide with a Land Cruiser, Juan Miguel, managed to squeeze six of us, plus luggage, into one tiny space for a rough two and a half hours to Cabo de la Vela. Along the way we stopped to take pictures of a train (apparently there aren’t many trains in Colombia, because everyone except me was extremely excited by this), the salt flats at Manuare, and a church in a town that is the indigenous center of La Guajira (didn’t catch the name of this one. Past Manuare, the roads were all dirt/sand and very, very rough. By the time we got to Cabo, I felt sick from all the up, down, all over the place driving. The two ladies from Bogotá wanted to see the flamingos, so we sidetracked back through an endless maze of cactus and dry arroyos to the mouth of the river. Not many flamingos since it was the wrong time of day, but lots of other birds. Too bad I didn’t have any binoculars to really see them with. As an indication of what the driving conditions were like, the axle on the Land Cruiser broke on the way back, in the pouring rain. Thank God that we were only a couple of kilometers outside of Riohacha when it happened. Good Samaritanism on the roadside is not such a big thing here, at least from what I’ve seen.

The people at Cabo de la Vela are mostly of indigenous (Wayúu) or mixed backgrounds. There were quite a few who didn’t speak much Spanish, including a few older ladies who cursed at me in their dialect for not buying anything from them. It’s a beautiful place, especially El faro y el Pilón de Azúcar, which I posted pictures of, but very, very isolated.

New words learned: hamaca = chinchorro (update from Monday: No, not really the same. Chinchorros are made with ropes, kinda like fishnets, are less comfortable by far!)
I wanted to sleep in one right by the water, but that didn’t end up happening.

Disturbing things I saw: Locals catching an enormous sea turtle to make soup. I wanted to cry. In Riohacha, beautiful beaches covered with trash. No wonder you don’t have many tourists.

Other things of interest: Roadside “gas stations” (guys with plastic containers full of gas and tubes to put it into the car) near Maicao and the salt flats with “imported” gas from Venezuela.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Dia de amor y amistad

So next week the Colombian version of Valentine's Day, Love and Friendship Day, is celebrated. My students tell me that the main reason it's in September is because there were already too many holidays in February with Carnival and all. My class today insisted that we play "secret friend" (kind of like Secret Santa that we have at Christmastime, or at least used to when I was younger). You basically switch names and then buy the other person chocolate or candy of some kind. Another group told me that a common combination here is chocolate and beer for the boyfriend or girlfriend. Other than that, there's not much to it. It's just as commercialized as Valentine's is in the US. We actually have our mid-semester break this coming week, too, so that's kind of nice that we get a couple of vacation days to get out of the city.

Other than that, not much has been happening. Bought a blender, which is essential for making juices out of tomate de arbol (below)

and zapote (to the right). Yum, yum, yum. There's lots of crazy fruit here, or if it's not crazy, it's got some other costeño name (like watermelon = sandia = patilla).

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A larger version of the "small" arroyo...this is the one that woke me up in the middle of the night with its rapids.

People paying their 100 pesos to cross what turned out to be a "small" arroyo in front of my house.

The view from a friend's apartment in Prado Mar...too bad every day can't end like this! You can't really see the sun set in Barranquilla.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Arroyos peligrosos

So, people are scared of rain here in Barranquilla. Yesterday in my evening class it started to rain and the students immediately began to whine, "teacher, let us go home now, so we can still catch a boat," and, "teacher, I have to cross three rivers (flooded streets) to get home, so I need to leave now." I already knew that people don't leave their houses when it's raining here, but I still hadn't seen what they were talking about. There've been one or two days where the guy downstairs put out his portable bridge to be able to cross to the other side of the street, and I've seen people crossing the flooded parts in donkeys, but it wasn't that bad. Last night, I woke up around midnight to a storm. It was raining hard enough that the water was coming through my window (there's a large exterior window, then my window, which is actually inside the apartment. I got up to close the outside window, and when I looked out, there were rapids where the stree used to be! I can easily see how you could get washed away in a "river" like that. The street was completely empty, except for the couch cushions and various things I saw being swept past my house. Amazing. What's even more amusing is that they haven't figured out a way to put a drainage system in the city to get rid of the problem! Barranquilla's not much more than 100 years old in most places, so I find it hard to deal with the fact that they didn't plan any better than this. I'll post my pictures tomorrow of my "river" if they come out okay!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

End of vacation and back to reality

So, I'm at the end of the second week of classes here at Uninorte. I've got five sections of the same class (level 7 out of 8, I guess what you might call upper intermediate), which is kind of boring in some ways, but also nice since I don't have to plan for a million different things. Now that we're finally started it's been a bit of work, especially after sitting around for two weeks. Hopefully it'll slow down a little though, and I'll finally be able to have a routine.

With being here at work all day and the not feeling well from the food, I haven't had much time to do anything else. Two weekends ago I went to Santa Marta with some friends, but forgot to take my camera with me. Santa Marta is about an hour away from Barranquilla, somewhat to the north (I think) and is thankfully much quieter and cleaner than here. The beaches we went to were nice, but I think I like the mountains more. The Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta comes right up to the city and is the the tallest (I think) range in Colombia. I finally got some unfried fish, which was delicious, and learned that my favorite from Mexico, huachinango, is called pargo here.

Other than that, I've still been looking for a new place to live, since the traffic on the street where I'm at now is crazy and continues to wake me up at 5:30 in the morning. It's also just a little too far from the university at night, and since I typically don't leave until around 9:00, I'd prefer to be in a place where I can safely walk to get food or groceries. Some day I'll make a list of all the different kinds of juices they have here...that's one thing I like! Nispero, zapote, guyaba, guanabana, tamarind, tree tomato (tomate de arbol), and this crazy unrefined sugar drink...

I'll try to be better about posting, but I haven't had much to say in the month I've been here!

Friday, July 22, 2005

One Week

Well, I've found a place to live...a pension, or room, in this lady's apartment. It's pretty nice and she comes recommended from some other professors. I'm finding that I'm not quite as lost as I felt before in this city, even though most everything still looks the same to me. All of the streets are on what is more or less a numbered grid, with calles running west to east and carreras running south to north. So you can't (really) get lost, although since all the buildings look similar, it's really hard to know when to get off the bus in the dark! Other than that, I've been "working" at the university...mostly going to short training sessions and then messing around the rest of the day trying to get the stacks of paperwork sorted out. It's not been quite as hot the past day or so, which is nice, since when I got here it was miserable.

I'm still lacking motivation to do much of anything. I started doing yoga again several days ago, but whenI went to visit the doctor yesterday for the required physical, she forbade me to exercise again until my ankle isn't as swollen (tripped in a hole in the water at the beach). Personally, I think the morning bus ride is harder on me than yoga is! Drivers here are crazy...stop signs, lights, lanes...these are all just suggestions that no one pays any attention to. Crossing the street is an ordeal for me. I think that when the bus drivers see speed bumps coming up, they intentionally speed up, which is unpleasant when you're standing in the aisle smashed between three or four other people.

The days here also start earlier. The sun comes up about 5:30 and is strong enough to wake you up right then. By the time I leave at 7:00 or so, the heat's already returned, if it ever left.

For those of you who kept telling me about the mud volcano, Grandfield and I tried to go last weekend, but we got to the bus station way too late to go. Coming soon in the future though, I hope!

Monday, July 18, 2005

Okay, so here I am!

So, I've made it! It's hot here, over 90 but I'm not really sure how much over. I've been at the university for a couple of days now. It's nicer than I expected, which is great, but there certainly are some differences (I'll talk more about that later). Barranquilla's also smaller than I thought, so there's not much to do other than going out to dance or drink, which I'm not too excited about. Oh well. It reminds me somewhat of Acapulco (if you've been there), with all the crazy streets and ugly buildings, but without the beautiful beaches and cliffs. The people here are wonderful...extremely friendly and helpful...I'm once again living with costeños! It's funny, the costeños here speak just as fast as they did in Mexico, cutting out syllables or whatever else they feel like in similar places.

What else? I've been to the beach twice so far-once looking for apartments and the other just to sit around and escape the heat. Apparently the weather is normally much nastier, but because of the all the hurricanes and tropical storms, there's some rain to cool it down and keep a little bit of a breeze going.

Sorry for any horrible mistakes you may see in my typing...I'm trying to adjust to using a Spanish keyboard again. Once I get my office computer in working order I'll start posting pics and entries more often!