Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bogotá, Colombia (dos)

As well as sight-seeing, I was in Bogotá to meet the other volunteers on the ICYE programme, take Spanish lessons, and find out more about Colombia and the project I would be working on. After a day of rest and getting to know my temporary host family in Bogotá, I met the other volunteers for the first time and all 26 of us went to La Mesa, Cundinamarca, about a four hour drive from Bogotá for our introductory camp.

This was the first time I had met any of the volunteers including those from the UK as I had already flown to Argentina when our national introductory camp took place, so I was slightly intimidated, but I figured we'd all be on the same wave-length and would get on well, and it turns out we were! By coincidence one of the first people I met and spoke to properly was Karin, who is also volunteering and living in Ibagué. We sat next to each other on the coach to La Mesa and had a nice natter, so that was a good start to the trip.

Over the next few days I got to know the rest of the group, as well as the UK there are also volunteers from Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, the US and a whole load of Germans! I'm one of only three or four volunteers who is staying for six months, the rest are here for a year. The majority of us are working with children or young people, about half the group of volunteers remain in Bogotá, the rest of us are scattered across the country:

I stayed in Bogotá for just over three weeks and whilst there I was introduced to some of the culinary staples in Colombian life, including tinto; Colombian coffee, which is mild, and usually drunk black sweetened with lots of sugar, as well as food, and lots of it! Colombians eat a lot of rice (more than the Iranians!) and it is usually accompanied by meat, potatos and yuca, a potato-like carb and very tasty. To drink, usually it's fresh fruit juice, mixed in either water or milk (I prefer in water, it's more refreshing). Along with all the standard fruits Colombia also has many delicious, tropical fruits native to the country, including guanábana, lulo, pitaya and granadilla, and they all taste sublime, particularly as juices.

Then there's aguardiente; this is the essential drink on a night out in Colombia (I've heard it's rivalled by rum on the Caribbean coast, I guess I'll find out when I visit over New Year's!) and if you don't like it, tough luck as there's not much else to choose from! Aguardiente tastes a bit like sambuca but less sweet and not as strong. When you buy it, in a shop or bar, you're given the bottle and a stack of plastic shot glasses correspondeing to however many of you there are drinking it, if you're lucky you might also get some slices of orange to suck on afterwards. Usually though it's taken straight and you just shot it, all night long!

And of course, on a night out in Colombia there is the dancing. There are so many types of dances - salsa, merengue, cumbia, reggaeton, etc - and most Colombians seem to be born with the innate ability of knowing them all and looking ridiculously good whilst dancing them. (Seriously, they are so good at dancing here! I consider myself an above-average dancer in the UK; here, I'm a stumbling idiot.) Our first weekend in Bogotá we ended up at a salsa club and had the chance to try out the basic steps we'd been shown at the introductory camp on an unsuspecting public. I'm definitely getting better at it but it's hard to remember all the steps along with getting used to dancing with a partner and trying not to step on their toes!

There are so many differences in Colombia to the UK that aren't necessarily obvious at first glance and that I'm only just beginning to realise, I hope to be able to tell you all about them over the next few months. On the whole the differences are positive, in particular the extremely welcoming and generous attitude of most Colombians to visitors to their country, I already feel so at home, it's strange to think I've only been here six weeks!

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