By Taylor Sullivan
Last night over dinner at Faro, a fantastic restaurant in San Antonio, Conor and I started reminiscing on our time here so far and realized it’s already been a whole month of living here in South America! Setting up our apartment, meeting the staff and students of Colegio Bolivar, getting to know the area, and forging new friendships has been a blur and at times exhausting! However, we agreed without hesitation that the people of Colombia are by far the most genuinely warm and welcoming people we have ever met. Previously on our travels as foreigners we’ve received our fair share of exasperated looks when people realize we don’t speak the local language, or when we ask for directions to a destination that is probably painfully obvious to them. Conversely here in Colombia, the people we meet have been patient, full of advice and love for Cali, and more than ready to let me practice my very bad Spanish. This warmth has radiated from the native Colombian teachers and staff members at work, our students, people at restaurants, and perhaps most evidently from our many Uber drivers. For this, we have been incredibly grateful. My first impression of Colombian people is that they are highly social people who are quite attune to emotions, and they love to have a good time!
Each month I plan to post a list of our “favorites” and then wrap things us with a “getting schooled moment.” The favorites section is pretty obvious, so let me explain about “getting schooled.” I have come to realize that as a foreigner in a new country, it is almost impossible to fully blend in, and avoid public embarrassment. I have chosen to embrace these moments as not only a chance to learn a lesson, but also an opportunity for a good laugh. I believe laughter is best when shared, and therefore I vow to share my best (aka most cringe worthy) “getting schooled” moment here with you each month!
-La Chorrera del Indio, a beautiful waterfall just 20 minutes away from school, in a town called Pance
-Iguanas slinking around the school campus as casually as an American squirrel
-Cholado, the most delicious and refreshing dessert of fresh fruits, shaved ice, raspberry syrup, sweetened condensed milk and coco powder
-The teachers at school here all eat lunch together, when lunch time is actually happening, at one long table in the school cafeteria (mind blowing!)
-Students teaching me how to dance Rumba, Bachata, Salsa, and Reggaeton at our 10th grade field day
Runner Up: Getting kicked out of an Uber because three other teachers and I shut the door too hard.
Explanation: On day one of our orientation, our wonderful HR director warned us Americans that Colombians are very sensitive to door slamming. Here it is considered to be very rude to shut the doors of cars loudly, and she advised us to be extra careful with this. Fast forward to a fun night at a salsa club only three nights later. As we hopped in the Uber we were chatting and laughing and didn’t consciously monitor our door closing- mistake. The combination of three of us shutting the doors, American style, all at once created a pretty loud slam noise, and before we knew it, we were asked to get out of the car and call another ride.
Lesson Learned: Door slamming is not cool, so you better be careful with the velocity of your door closing or you could find yourself walking.
Winner: Getting diarrhea and then attempting to go on a very advanced hike (cringe).
Explanation: Okay, so many travelers to other continents have probably experienced their own version of this fail to some degree. When you move to a new country, it is likely you will encounter some “gastrointestinal issues” as your body adjusts to the new microbes in the water and on the fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, this is an issue that really can only be remedied with time, unless you’re planning on becoming a hermit and eating only pre- packaged foods. Since I love fresh produce this was not an option.
A group of new teachers had made plans to hike Tres Cruces last Sunday, and although I awoke to some stomach troubles, I didn’t want to throw in the towel and miss out on the great views. I took some Imodium and figured I would be good to go (WRONG). Fast forward to almost passing out on the trail due to my little problem had causing serious dehydration (whoops). Luckily, Conor transformed himself into my personal nurse and sat me down, got me some fresh juice from one of the many juice stands on the trail, and was very patient with me while I regained my strength. Not so luckily, just when I thought I was good to go again, I found myself rushing top speed up the mountain to a bathroom where I had to pay a nice woman and her daughter to use the only toilet in sight (genius business idea on their part). In addition to my personal problem, the sun was REALLY beating down on us, which also caused our three friends to turn back early. When a Colombian friend advised us to leave at 6 am to avoid the heat, we took the advice with a grain of salt. By our 10 am departure the sun was already high in the sky, and we suffered! Safe to say next time we will take her advice. Oh yah, I almost forgot…I also tripped on a rock and face planted into the dirt.
1) If you’re having “stomach issues” take the time to re-hydrate rain check on mountain climbing
2) Listen to the advice of native Colombians, they know what’s up
Taylor Sullivan is a 10th grade English teacher from New England who enjoys cooking traveling, and art. For all the details, check out her blog, Getting Schooled in Colombia.