Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Puerto Colombia- la playa mas cerca

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Saturday Elizabeth and I went to Puerto Colombia. It is a small town on the beach just outside of Barranquilla. Actually our school is about half way between the edge of Barranquilla where we live and Puerto Colombia. We went there one day the first week we were here, but I hadn’t been back since then. It’s not really the best beach, and the water is not the bright blue color that you see in pictures of the Caribbean (it’s at the mouth of the Rio Magdelena), but it is a beach and it is really close to where we live! Just a short bus ride and 1600 pesos (less than a dollar) to get there. Anyways, here are some pictures from Puerto Colombia.

There are lots of small places to get food and beer along the beach, but this section seemed relatively unoccupied. They were doing some work on a sidewalk along the beach that I think will be really nice when it is finished.

We found some delicious fish for lunch. This fish is called robalo. I had no idea what it was, so I googled it and discovered it is a type of snook. It tastes good! The rest of the meal was too, I think this is a meal that I like better each time I try it....

Doesn't it look good?
While eating we listened to very loud vallenato and champeta music. One couple was dancing, lots of people were sitting and enjoying Aguilas, and some kids were playing on a home-made swing. All in all, it was a pretty relaxing place to be!
One of the reasons that we went to the beach was because Elizabeth wanted to surf. We talked with some surfer-dudes and found out that one of them has won a whole bunch of surf contests and was even sponsored by Quiksilver! The waves weren't that great in the afternoon, so no one went surfing- but maybe next time!
While hanging out at the beach, I started to think about the possibility of living out here instead of Barranquilla. It is just as close to school as where I live now.... However, at the end of the day when the mosquitos came out with a vengence and I realized that there were only small tiendas, no regular grocery stores, Barranquilla didn't seem so bad. I was happy to return to my nice clean, sand-free apartment knowing that la playa is just a short trip away.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Tale of No Internet

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Why is it that after being here for almost 8 weeks, I still do not have my own working internet? *sigh* Long story. I will try to be brief. Basically I bought a portable modem about 2 weeks after arriving in Barranquilla, but it wasn’t working on my computer so I sold it to Dave. (Later I found out that it was just my antivirus blocking it.) I didn’t rush to buy another one because a) the place I bought it from was kind of far away b) I was waiting to get some more Colombian money and c) I was able to use a neighbor’s unsecured wireless internet. Plus Dave and Elizabeth were having issues with their internet and we heard that there were cheaper options. The wireless connection that I was using disappeared. Our director lent Elizabeth and I her portable modem until we could figure out our internet issues.
Last week I found out that the grocery store that I go to just about every day actually sells modems and you can recharge them with the cashiers (since they do everything!) So I should have had working internet last week, right?

Sunday, September 20th
I bought a modem, took it home to try it out- but it didn’t work! It came with two SIM cards, but neither of the other modems that I’d used had them… so I wasn’t sure what to do with them. They are cardboard and have a chip hot-glued onto them. As I was attempting to figure out what to with them, I, uh, broke one…. But seriously- it’s cardboard and hot glue! Anyways, I put the other card in and it still didn’t work.

Monday, September 21st
I brought my computer to school to have the tech guy take a look at it. He couldn’t get it to work either and told me to bring it back. After school I took it back to the store and they tried the modem in one of their laptops. It didn’t work. The very nice saleswomen (whose name was Karen also) offered to meet me at the main Comcel store the next day to solve the problem.

Tuesday, September 22nd
I took a cab to Comcel and found Karen waiting for me there. She explained the situation and found out that the SIM card that I broke was the one that I needed in order to use the internet. They got me a new card and Karen said I should come back to the grocery store the next day and she would officially activate it again.

Wednesday, September 23rd
I went to the store, but Karen was not working.

Thursday, September 24th
I went back to the store and Karen told me that she had already activated it and that it should work. We tried it in her laptop and it worked! I took it home. Tried it in my computer and it didn’t work. It said something about a data card not being properly installed. I decided to take it the tech guy at school again the next day.

Friday, September 25th
The power was out at school and everyone went home at 12:30. With all the craziness I didn’t talk to the tech guy.

Luckily throughout this time I’ve been able to either steal the neighbor’s connection or use my director’s modem. Even if those connections haven’t been the best- they have at least worked part of the time. Elizabeth tells me that for the last couple of weeks Mercury has been in retrograde and that this causes problems in communication and transportation. I don’t really know anything about Astrology but I’m tired of having communication problems! Apparently Mercury will stop retrograding on Tuesday morning. Here’s to hoping that my internet will be fixed by then! (And also that I will have a decent enough connection to be able to post this tonight...)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Plants of Taganga

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“The shore is an ancient world, for as long as there has been an earth and sea
there has been this place of the meeting of land and water.”
Rachel Carson

Here are some of the plant pictures that I took in Taganga. To be honest, I was at least as excited to see the plants as I was to see the Caribbean! :) Taganga has a dryer climate than Barranquilla so instead of seeing tropical green hills, the hills are a redish-brown color with dry grass, large cacti and small trees. It reminded me of the area around Cabo San Lucas where I went last summer.

This flowering shrub (below) is one that I have seen alot in Barranquilla as well. However, I don't know what it is! I would really like to find a field guide or something, but I think that will be difficult.

I saw pink, white and organge Bouganvilla in front of many houses and businesses. The brightly colored "flowers" aren't actually flowers at all, but leaves. The small white blossom is the actual flower.

And finally, here is one last flower that I thought was really cool-looking.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


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"The edge of the sea is a strange
and beautiful place"

Rachel Carson

This weekend we went for a weekend get-a-way to the beach. It was great to escape from school and life in the city. Taganga is a fishing village on the edge of Parque Tayrona that attracts many travelers.

After consulting our guidebooks, Elizabeth and I decided to stay at hostel called Divanga. (I love my guidebook, by the way, it has great information and so far all their picks have been wonderful) So, the hostel itself was a really nice place to hang out. It had a pool, hammocks, books (in many languages!), free wifi, and a rooftop restaurant. There are lots of hostels in Taganga. Divanga is one of the smaller ones, but it was very peaceful and we met people from all over. There were people from Argentina, France, Holland, Portugal, Israel and the US. Interestingly, even though we were in a Spanish speaking country, the common language seemed to be English.

Since we arrived Friday night, I was excited to see what Taganga looked like in the daylight and do some exploring. It is definitely more 3rd world looking than Barranquilla. The majority of the roads there are just dirt roads. Most of the houses are small and many are brightly colored. Lots of pretty flowers, but also garbage and stray dogs. The village has about 5,000 people and is centered around a horse-shoe bay filled with small fishing boats. We had a delicious fish dinner with arroz con coco, patacones (fried plantains) and ensalada for about 5 dollars. Yum! A local musician, Rolando Sanchez, sang a few songs about Taganga. I even bought a CD.

Taganga is rapidly transforming from a quiet fishing town to a tourist destination. It has certainly been established as a place for backpackers to go. Besides the many hostels that you can stay in, there are restaurants and internet cafes such as Mojito Net that definitely cater to travelers. While out and about we met other Americans, Canadians and a girl from Ireland. There was a lot of construction. New round-abouts were being put in that look like they will be very nice. It was funny to see all these nice new traffic circles separated by dirt roads though! I have a feeling that the town will look very different soon.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Cuando no hay energía, no hay agua

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I swear I am not making this stuff up! It actually happens!
After about 24 hours sin agua at my apartment (this is what happens when you don’t pay your bills) I was excited to be able to take a shower in the morning. However, when I arrived at school I was told that there was no power.

Umm… do we know how long we’ll be without power? Will we cancel school? Should I open the windows or leave them closed?

Well, it could just be an hour or two, but it might be the whole day. If it’s the whole day, we’ll cancel school. Open your windows.

Okay- off to my classroom which at 7:00 in the morning is too hot and stuffy even for me. Normally I turn on the air-conditioning before I do anything else because the room takes awhile to cool down. Although the students come in essentially right after I do, so it is still too warm when they come in. As I let students in the door, my co-teacher tells me that there is an assembly to go to. We listen to some personero (ASB) speeches and then my class has Sociales with another teacher. I am pretty happy that I will not be teaching all morning with no air-conditioning.

I go to the teacher’s lounge and use the restroom. The toilet kind of flushes. I turn on the sink. Nothing. No hay agua? Yup. Cuando no hay electricidad, no hay agua. Of course not. Although now it occurs to me that there will not be any coffee either…

The good news is that my students got to pick up their books today. Yay! Finally! The rest of the teachers materials, well, they should be here soon.

At 10:00 the power comes back on the rest of the day is almost like un día normal. One of the Colombian teachers in our carpool assures Elizabeth and I that stuff like this doesn’t actually happen that often in Colombia. I’m not sure if I believe her….

{By the way, I wrote this on Wednesday, but didn't post it because my faithful internet connection I've been stealing has been MIA for the last few days. }

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What happens when you don't pay your bills...

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Last week the other North American teachers and I got our bank accounts set up just in time to receive our first paycheck on Friday. We also got the second installment of our relocation money on Thursday. Yes, we did know that it was the beginning of the month and that there were probably bills to be paid. However, we had not received any bills, nor did we actually have money to pay them if we had received them. Come to think of it, we also didn’t know where our mail box was… hmmm… Yesterday, we found out that the school actually pays our rent for us (in part from a housing stipend and the rest from our salary) and that in order to get our utility bills, we should ask the front desk guy at our apartment. After that we had several options for paying the bills: paying them at the bank, paying them at the grocery store, or bringing them to the school where they would pay them for us and deduct the money from our next paycheck. No problem.

Yesterday, when we got home, there was no water.
(Actually, we went to the gym first and then returned to find that there was no water.)

Since the water had been turned off at our apartment 3 times since we’ve lived here neither Elizabeth nor I were too concerned. It will probably come back on pretty soon, we figured. Several hours later, Elizabeth’s friend called and told us that the water was off for the whole neighborhood, but that the gym had it’s own well. Back to the gym we went, but this time just to shower. We went to bed clean and comforted by the fact that the water was supposed to turn back on at midnight.

As you may have guessed there was still no water in the morning.

Elizabeth mentioned this to the school director, who deducted that we may not have paid our water bill… She made calls to the front desk guy and the water company to confirm that in fact, our water had been shut off. Somehow, she acquired our bills for us, then collected money from us and sent someone to the bank to pay our water bill for us. (Yes, she is that amazing.) We were grateful and relieved to have that taken care of, although we knew our water would probably not be turned back on for 24 hours.

After an extra-long day, we went to the grocery store to pay our electric bill, buy some water, a couple beverages, and then go to gym to shower. We tend to bring backpacks to the store and use them to carry groceries, which is not only good for the environment, but much easier to carry. After showering, one of the beverages in Elizabeth’s backpack exploded! We laughed at the fact that her school bag now smelled like a brewery and there was no water to wash her bag.

We walked into our apartment complex to find our director finagling a deal with the front desk guys! It turns out she had pulled some strings and asked the maintenance guy to turn our water back on for us! But when she called the apartment back to see if they had been successful, they told her that they were missing a spare part and couldn’t do it. Not to be deterred, she went to the store, bought the spare part and brought it to our apartment. (I think she may actually be Wonder Woman…) For some reason, maintenance guy could only turn the water on in one of our apartments, but our director stayed until the water had successfully been turned on and then flew off to fight crime or something.

What an eventful day!

I set my backpack down on a chair, but it toppled over, cracking the 5 liter jug of water that was inside and spilling approximately 2.5 liters of water.

And so….

Moral of the story #1 Always know when and how to pay your bills.
Moral of the story #2 Don’t put liquids inside your backpack!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Breakfast Club

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I am now three weeks into the school year. Over all, it has been frustrating. It was very hard to establish routines when I missing very basic supplies the first week. Even now, we are supposed to have daily agendas that should be signed by parents every night; but they have still not arrived. My students have cubbies now, and most of their textbooks; but not their language arts textbook. The school received boxes with new textbooks this week, and I was so relieved. I had a time scheduled for my students to check out their new books, only to find out that morning that the 5th grade books weren’t actually there. My personal boxes that I sent to myself before I left on July 30th are still sitting in Bogota. And we will be starting a completely new schedule next week. On top of school, the other North American teachers and I have had other business to take care of, such as getting a bank account set up, getting a cedula (Colombian id card) and trying to get internet (which, at the moment none of us have).
The students themselves are very talkative. Part of this is the culture, it is always loud in the staff room. People talk over each other at lunch and in staff meetings. The majority of my students are very sweet and helpful. However, there are some definite behavior issues. These are students who literally do have a maid at home, who cleans up after them and takes care of all their wants and needs.
Last Saturday we had an open house. One of the counselors was with me to help with any language issues I might have, and also respond to concerns about a situation that happened last year. The director of the school also came by for a little bit. After talking about curriculum, etc, there were concerns. Basically I had a room full of parents yelling about how unfair it was that year after year the same few boys disrupt their childrens' learning and that the whole class gets punished for it. Fortunately, the director was in the room to address the parents. I understood the gist of what was being said, but certainly not everything, given that everyone, including the director, was talking in Spanish, all at the same time. (Did I mention everything echoes in my room?)
This week I learned that it is illegal in Colombia to remove a student from the classroom. It is discrimination. Also, yesterday the dean of discipline had a meeting with all of the 5th grade parents to discuss discipline and how parents could help support the process at school. Apparently this went well. I wasn’t there. However, I was pleasantly surprised when the dean showed me a list of students who would be going to Saturday detention. And so, as I leisurely enjoy my coffee this morning, it puts a smile on my face to think that at this very moment, certain students are spending their Saturday with the Dean of Discipline.