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.