Monday, October 31, 2011

Pensamientos (uno)

I've been thinking alot about THINGS recently: clothes, shoes, furniture, make-up, CDs, books and comics. Having lived out of a rucksack for the last half-a-year, I've really started to appreciate how good it is to have things of your own, and more importantly, a place to put them. Here in Ibagué I have my own room, which I've managed to sort-of make my own with a little help from photos, my ever-growing stack of books and other assorted items, like make-up and notebooks. I also did some clothes shopping when I got here, (I thought I was going to be living in Bogotá when I packed to come away and that requires a much more wintery wardrobe than the weather here in Ibagué, so I had to stock up on some sleeveless tops and lighter-coloured clothing), which made me feel a bit more at home, but still, I miss my clothes. The fashion here is very different and if it wasn't for tennis I would've ended up having to buy clothes that just aren't 'me'. It sounds silly but it isn't really, because clothes are what people see you in every day and it becomes your image, how people recognise you, and how you present yourself to the world.

My time here in South America has taught me lots of things, and this is by no means the most important but it's what's on my mind at the moment - clothes matter! This has been brought home to me in particular when faced with the hazard of the South American, and I have to say in particular the Colombian, washing machine (one pair of jeans and one white top ruined so far!), which means it is essential to have durable clothes that can be worn in a variety of situations, e.g. the perfect pair of black trousers (thank you, tennis) or the leopard-print cardigan that goes with everything (I miss you, H&M!), and that most importantly make you feel better about yourself.

Because when you're having a bad day: you miss your family, the kids you work with are being a pain, you can't say what you mean in Spanish; you can go home, put on your PJs and your comfy cardie and feel less crappy. Or the opposite: you're having a good day and you want to show it; you can put on that dress you love and which everyone has always complimented you on, team it with your favourite sandals and everyone else can see how good you're feeling today!

It's the same with make-up, I don't wear it much here, especially not at work, but I've found that something as simple as painting my nails in a colour I know is all-the-rage back home makes me feel less adrift, more connected.

Obviously you could get started on the whole argument that clothes, make-up, etc are the influence of advertising, blah, blah, blah, but I don't think that's entirely true and it's defnitely not the whole story. I know I feel better when I wear clothes here that I would also wear at home in the UK and it feels nice to have a piece of home here, out where people can see it. Being away from home doesn't mean putting yourself or your life on hold and clothes are part of that.

#1 American Apparel top, cardigan from H&M and Topshop loafers, all of which I wear at least a few times week

#2 Belts make it slightly less obvious that I'm wearing the same trousers and skirt, over and over again

#3 My shelves

Friday, October 28, 2011

Bogotá, Colombia (tres) / Ibagué, Colombia (cuatro)

Last weekend we went to Bogotá, and it was so nice to get out of Ibagué and have a change of pace and scenery.

We travelled up on the Friday evening and left late-afternoon Sunday, and in-between lots of fun was had. The main reason for the visit was because ICYE Colombia was celebrating its 30th anniversary on the Saturday. They booked out a big function room at a restaurant and invited a couple of hundred people; there was champagne, dinner, dancing, a couple of speeches, and lots and lots of free alcohol.

For me the best part was meeting up with other volunteers living elsewhere in Colombia and catching up; exchanging stories about our projects, families and respective cities (or in some cases, villages!)

I didn't really do that much whilst I was in Bogotá, but it was fun just to hang out with a different set of people and do something different. One thing we did do was make a trip to the Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogota (MAMBO), which was pretty interesting, although I was very disappointed to find that the shop was shut. Don't people realise the best thing about visiting a gallery is buying postcards of your favourite art afterwards?!
On our way to and from the gallery we also had the pleasure of experiencing Bogotán weather - cold rain and lots of it! - which I really hadn't missed.

You may have noticed from my tone in this and my last post that I'm not feeling entirely positive about my life in Colombia right now. I think after the bustle and goings-on of Buenos Aires and Bogotá, living in a place like Ibagué, with not much going on feels a little flat and disappointing. It doesn't help that we (me and the other two volunteers) have been struggling to make a firm set of friends here.

Still, I have to make this perfectly clear: despite the loneliness and frustration I have sometimes felt, missing family and friends like you wouldn't believe, and the difficulty in learning a new language, this is hands-down one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life and I'm so glad I made it. And I've been trying to focus on the positives: I have a great project here, the weather's nice and the night-life can be pretty rowdy! I've also got some really fun weekend trips coming up, a visit from a friend in December, and then I have almost a month off for the holidays, so there's a lot to look forward to.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I'm attempting National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ibagué, Colombia (tres)

Even though I dreamt about and planned this trip for months and months, sometimes I do just want to be back at home, sitting on my bed, engrossed in my laptop, with my parents listening to Radio 4 in the kitchen below me and my sis chatting on the phone to her friends in the room next door. This evening I've had to make do with just the laptop on my bed, but it has made me feel a little better, rediscovering my tumblr and perusing the blogs that I used to read whilst bored senseless at work. It took me back so much so that when I glanced out of the window and saw the Ibagueñan skyline I was momentarily confused as to where I was!

It has been a strange couple of days, with some major downs and not so many ups unfortunately. Still, it's nearly the weekend and this time we're off to Bogotá for the 30th anniversary celebration of ICYE Colombia, which should be a rollocking good time! I've decided that weekend trips away are the way forward and over the next few weeks I hope to visit Pereira, Armenia and anywhere else nearby that takes my fancy.

* * *

I watched Heavenly Creatures this evening (quite wonderful and disturbing), which of course led me to other Peter Jackson-led films and these...

I would really love to visit New Zealand again, it's been over six years since I travelled there!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Ibagué, Colombia (dos)

Saturday morning with the whole weekend ahead of me is one of my favourite times of the week. I'm normally alone in the flat, and I sit listening to all the music I left behind in Manchester and that I miss more than I thought possible. It doesn't help that my mp3 broke in Bolivia so all I have is one CD that I bought in Argentina of this great performer I went to see at La Catedral, and of course the reams of vallenato, reggaeton, etc that is on the Colombian radio, which I enjoy but it's not quite the same.

That's how I spend pretty much every Saturday morning here, listening to music, reading the Guardian online and skyping my family, it's quite a peaceful start to the weekend and it really puts me in a good mood. This weekend is particularly nice as today (Monday) is a holiday too, and even though I enjoy my working at my project, I enjoy a three-day weekend even more.

Plus we have visitors from Bogotá so we've been showing them all the delights that Ibagué has to offer. They arrived on Saturday and we all headed up to the Museo de Arte del Tolima, our one art gallery here in Ibagué and which I am yet to vist, which was closed. So we decided instead to go for a coffee, but the café we chose had run out of coffee and wouldn't be getting any for some time. Then it started to rain.

-- Autumn has finally arrived here in Ibagué, the temperature has dropped (although it's still warm by my standards), and there has been a lot of rain, with streams of rainwater running down the roads, forming massive puddles, and rain filling up the river and playing havoc with our water supply. There is a strange irony here that when it's absolutely pissing it down there is a lack of water as the river we get it from is too full, of water, rocks and other debris, that they can't get enough water out of it. So I had the bizarre experience the other day, of getting in absolutely soaked, wanting a hot shower and not being able to get one as we had no water in the building. --

So anyway, Saturday; it started to rain and we headed over to another café for coffees, and then as we couldn't think of anything else to do and the rain had got even heavier, putting a stop to my tour of the centre, we went home. We met up again later though for dinner, which was nice. Then I went home and the others went out, and from all accounts had a pretty good night, but it wasn't quite the 'interesting day in Ibagué' that we'd planned.

Luckily yesterday was quite wonderful and made up for the ups and downs of Saturday. We were invited to the finca of a friend of Carole's host brother, way out at the end of Via Restrepo, the road that leads out of Ibagué and towards the Nevado del Tolima. This is the road that my family's finca is also off and it's full of restaurants and street vendors selling lots of traditional Colombian food. The finca we were visiting however was very much off-road, so much so that it can't be accessed by car, only by foot or on horseback. So, we rode up! On horses! Well, horses and a mule. And guess who got the mule. The safe, steady, and oh, so slow, mule.
I didn't mind too much though, as I've never ridden, and we were going up a fairly steep slope, and our pace meant that I had time to look around me and realise:

I'm riding a horse, (OK, fine, a mule), but still; I'm riding uphill, surrounded by beautiful forested mountains swathed in cloud, in Colombia.

We passed several other fincas on our way up, all brightly-painted with gables and porches and gardens filled with flowers. There were lemon trees, streams, blue dragonflies, it was lovely.
And the view! Once we reached the actual finca, we dismounted and I went to look down the slope we had just climbed up from: I could see and hear the grey, rushing water of the river that runs through the middle of the valley, the rocky outfaces of the hills peeping out from under dense greenery, I felt like I was in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I just wanted to fall down into the landscape below and float away.

After the excitement of the ride up we all just hung out, playing with the dogs, enjoying the scenery and drinking tinto. We also helped prepare lunch, the standard Colombian fare of steak, papas and guacamole, which was simple yet delicious.

Afterwards we went for a walk further up the mountain to pick mora and passionfruit, but the weather was too misty to climb much higher and it was starting to rain and get dark, so we headed back down to the house, and then further down back to Via Restrepo and where our car was parked. I walked down with a couple of others, not feeling particularly confident about riding downhill in the rainy half-light, not even a mule! But some of the others rode down and looking back up at them, coming down the slope on horseback with their hoods up against the rain, I felt a little like I was in a fairy-tale, specifically The Hobbit, and that I was watching Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves riding through the wilderness. It was quite something, and a fitting end to a rather magical day here in Colombia!

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Ibagué, Colombia (uno)

It's October. Stating the obvious it seems but what with the climate here and the speed at which time is passing, it doesn't seem obvious at all. Today marks a month since I moved here from Bogotá to start my six month volunteering placement and I'm starting to get into a routine here: Monday to Friday I take the number 6 buseta to Barrio Yuldaima which is where Por Amor a Ti, the foundation I work for, are based. It's a 20 minute journey more or less and on my way there I go up Carrera Quinta, the main thoroughfare, and up through the city centre. The foundation is essentially a soup kitchen for kids, feeding between 60-100 kids lunch, but they also have other programs such as sponsoring various kids and paying for their school uniforms and equipment. And now they also have English lessons six times a week too, courtesy of yours truly!

The first week here I was just getting used to working every day again, but it wasn't difficult as the people I work with are really accomodating and friendly, and the kids are all so sweet and really nice. I was constantly getting asked, how do you say this in English? And constantly asking, how do you say this in Spanish? My language skills have definitely improved, they have to as noone really speaks English, but it's a great way to learn, very intense!

Then on my first full weekend here my host brother, Juan Diego, who is living and studying in Bogotá, visited us (I'm living with his Mum, Olga Lucia, a lovely lady) and took me, Karin, Carole (the other ICYE volunteer based here) and her host sister, Marcela, out, and we danced the night away. The next day, (me feeling slightly worse for wear), Juan Diego, Olga Lucia and I drove out to a finca and I got to see some of the beautiful countryside surrounding Ibagué, mostly lush forests, very mountainous, with the peaks swathed in cloud and sudden rain showers interspersed with bright sunshine.

My second week here I managed to fall ill from gastroenteritis so I spent most of the week in bed within close proximity to the nearest toilet, watching episodes of 'Fringe' and 'The Big Bang theory', both of which I love. That weekend three of our friends volunteering in Bogotá visited us and we showed them around the city, and went to a great outdoor pool about 30 minutes outside of Ibagué; there were two pools, a "beach", lots of palm trees and waters slides, so we had a really great day. The night before that we also went to Carole's host family's home where we were cooked really tasty Mexican food by Marcela and were introduced to some of her friends.

The third week here was my birthday week (I am now 26 years old, increible!) and I felt spoilt as everyone was so generous. Early on the morning of my birthday I recieved a text from Karin telling me to prepare for a surprise later on in the day and to make sure to bring trainers with me when I met with her and Carole after work. Arriving at work I was greeted with hugs, smiles and big bouquet of orange, yellow, pink and red flowers all tied with a big orange bow. I took in some balloons and sweets for the kids and most of them greeted me with a kiss on the cheek and a 'feliz cumpleaños', which was adorable!

Then after work I met Karin and Carole for ice-cream, pedicures (Karin and I) and manicures (Carole) and the surprise - a dance class, which was really good fun, and a also my present, which was a months worth of lessons! Afterwards we went for cheeseburgers and a beer and it was a lovely end to a lovely day.

So we've been attending our classes three times a week and it's been so much fun, and a very energetic way of learning the many dances they have here in Colombia, inlcuding merengue, salsa, cumbia, reggaeton, etc. The weekend after my birthday we had the opportunity to try out some of our new steps when we went out with some of the people we met at Carole's house and Juan Diego. We had a very drunken night involving litres of aguardiente and lots and lots of dancing, it was super mega bien! We didn't feel quite so positive about the night the next morning though when we were driving out to the finca for lunch, there were three very quiet Europeans in the back seat!

We perked up once we got to the cooler air of the finca though and met my extended host family - Olga Lucia's sisters, brother and mother, along with a brother-in-law, sister-in-law and nieces and nephew too. We felt even better after our trek to a nearby waterfall to splash about in the refreshing water there and when we got back we were greeted by an amazing lunch of steak, yuca, potatoes, guacamole, plantain and chorizo - delicious! Afterwards we enjoyed a game or three of Rana - a traditional Colombian game that involves throwing small metal hoops at a box with holes in, each hole leads to a drawer marked with different points, the aim of the game is to score as many points as possible.

The last week has been a continuation of the routine I've already mentioned: working, attending dance classes, getting to know Ibagué a little better. On Friday, Carole, Karin and I had a quiet night in with pizza, sweets and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone on the TV. Then yesterday Karin and I met up with two Colombianos and after a drive of over an hour we ended up trekking through a jungle in the rain to get to a set waterfalls and pools that we bathed in as the rain fell down around us, getting heavier and heavier. We sat on rocks overlooking the falls as thunder boomed and lightning flared, watching as the water flowing over the falls increased in speed and volume. Our clothes and shoes were soaked, as were our towels and pretty much everything we'd brought with us, so we walked back through the jungle in our swimsuits.
Afterwards we sat in the car eating sandwiches and on the drive back the sun came out and I spotted a rainbow. When I got home I had a lovely, hot shower and sat on my balcony watching the sun set over Ibagué.