Friday, December 30, 2011

I’ll Be Home for Christmas…

Was home for 10 days to celebrate Christmas with the family and to attend my cousin Casey’s wedding.  While I originally was not planning on returning to the States during my two years in Colombia, it was so nice to be home (even if it was for a very short visit).

·      Casey and Andrea’s wedding.  Absolutely beautiful, the service was only 20 minutes (nice work you two), and the reception was a blast.
·      Seeing tons of family and friends.  Shout out to Pears for flying to Connecticut to visit.  Shout out to Aunt Cathy for another delicious Christmas dinner.  Shout out to Silent Thunder (you know who you are) for becoming the new World Champion of Rummy 500.
·      Snow.  It was only flurries in Upstate New York, but I’ll take it.
·      BATH TUB!  Colombians just don’t know what they are missing.  There is nothing like a hot bubble bath to help you relax.
·      Went to the city with the family to see On A Clear Day… with Harry Connick Jr.  Great time with the family and a good show.
·      Driving.  TUK is out of commission because I took of the insurance on him when I moved.  Still it was great to get in a car and drive (and sing at the top of my lungs, of course).
·      Thanksgiving dinner x 2.  Both Grandma Naylor and mom feed me a delicious meal that included turnips and pumpkin pie with homemade whipped cream to make up for the fact that I was not home in November. YUM!
·      Electric blanket.  I received a lot of awesome gifts but as I’m writing up this blog, I’m lying in bed SO grateful to have this new electric blanket to protect me from the wet cold that often invades Bogotá.
The Cottrell cousins at Casey's wedding

Friday, December 16, 2011


This past weekend I had the opportunity to meet a friend in Ecuador for a long weekend.  It was exactly what I needed.  Even with only a week left of classes, I felt ready to pull my hair out...even it didn't fall out on its own due to a 4 day weekend traveling was amazing.

The trip didn't start off well:  Sitting in 2 hours of traffic to get to the airport, waiting in line for another hour to check-in, arriving at the gate to find that they were short 20 seats (including one for me!).  Short version of the story: I stayed the night in a hotel next to the airport, was given a seat in the first flight the next morning, and was given a free round-trip flight anywhere that Avianca flies.  I'll take it.

I arrived in Quito, Ecuador around 11 am and headed to my friend Haley's hotel to meet her and develop our plan for the weekend.  We had already tossed around some ideas via e-mail but I knew that no matter what we decided having Haley as a travel buddy means a guaranteed fun time.  We decided to leave Quito and take a 4-hour bus ride to Baños, a small town situated next to a rather active volcano.  Cool!

The roads in Ecuador (at least between Quito and Baños) were excellent and the trip was stunning.  Hills turned into mountains and as we approached Baños we could see the smoking volcano looming over everything.  Sadly the rest of the trip there were clouds around the crater, so this was our only view of the volcano. 

We spent two nights in Baños and then returned to Quito for one night there.

Highlights of the trip:
* Hostal Timara cost $8 per night and was clean, adorable, and had hot(ish) water.
Haley in our room at Hostal Timara

* The Chiva ride up to the vista to try and see the volcano at night.  This was actually a total bust but it was so hilarious that it ended up being fun.  Haley and I crammed into a bus with too many people, music blasting, and drove up to a vista where we could so NOTHING of the volcano because of the clouds.
*Delicious meals - super cheap - we're talking $5 tops per meal.   Breakfast was bread, butter, jam, coffee, fresh squeezed juice, eggs, avocado, tomato and potatoes.  Crazy wonderful.
*Conversations with Haley
*Souvenir shopping.  Again very low prices and we got to see people making Melcocha - a type of taffy - in their doorways.
Vendor making Melcocha

*A $20, hour-long facial at the spa.
*An early morning visit to the hot springs
*Hiking around Baños, trying to get a view of the volcano.  No luck, but beautiful views all the same.
With Haley at the Casa del Arbol - Photo courtesy of Haley
View from the Casa del Arbol
View of Baños from the bridge leaving the city

Canelazo - Photo courtesy of Haley
*Relaxing evening with Canelazo and dessert at Cafe Hood.  Again, great conversation.
*Quick self-guided walking tour of Quito.
Streetview of Quito

*Ceviche at a restaurant that was technically closed, but was willing to serve Haley and I anyway (probably because the could sense the double dose of mealtime aggression that we were experiencing!)
Ceviche - Photo courtesy of Haley

*Hot cup of tea with Haley on a balcony at our hostel that overlooked Quito - gorgeous!  And their were fireworks!

Overall, a great weekend!  And one step closer to visiting all the countries in South America. :)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

El día de la fraternidad

Christmas has arrived in Bogotá.  The lights have been hung on every building and with the switch from November 30 to December 1, the feeling has completely changed.  This is good and bad.  For whatever reason Christmas lights and Christmas generate feelings of warmth and happiness deep within my core - probably connected to memories of Christmas pageants, opening up stockings at the foot of my parents' bed, and Cookie Day with my mom and her friends.  This time of year, however, also brings life to a level of hectic that I have never been comfortable with.  Schedules at school constantly change, there are too many parties to attend (usually on school nights when I have too much due the next day), and everyone wants to play Secret Santa (here, it's Secret friend....that's another story).  Still, while my school has been slowly driving this uber-organized gal (me) insane with the regular surprise additions in the schedule that result in canceled classes - this Friday's schedule change was a delight.

This Friday was the día de la fraternidad. I think translated it's "day of brotherhood (and sisterhood)".  On this day the entire school headed to the nursing homes throughout the city to bring gifts, music, and love to the "ancianos" of Bogotá.  My group was a group of about 150 students and we were visiting with about 150 elderly folks.  We arrived to this beautiful convent (supposedly most of these homes are NOT so nice, so it was nice to see one place doing things right).  The elderly adults were in a giant sunroom waiting for their guests.  I had no idea what to expect from the students but they were incredible.

First, they spread out the through the room simply saying hi and finding a place to sit.  Then the novenas began.  I think I might need to explain novenas in another post (next week when they officially begin in Colombia) but briefly - Novena de Aguinaldo is a series of prayers that Colombians say during the nine days before Christmas.  Because our school ends the day before the novenas officially begin, I think they've decided to get in an extra round of the novenas.  Each day of the novena includes a series of reading AND songs.  We spent about 20 minutes going through the reading and singing the song.  Thankfully it's the same song over and over and I had a student to help me learn the lyrics.  The songs are fun and the students brought guitars and tambourines to liven up the performance.

Following the novena, the students spread out again throughout the room and colored pictures of Christmas scenes with the members of the nursing home.  Everyone was laughing and telling stories and having a wonderful time.  I was so impressed by the kindness and the maturity of the students.

Our stay only last about 2 1/2 hours but it was an absolutely wonderful way to begin the holiday and to remind me of the things that really matter.  There will always be work and stress, but it is important to relish in these moments and take time to notice all the beauty, kindness, friendship, and love that does exist in this world - even when it's sometimes hidden by all the yucky stuff.

Monday, November 28, 2011

So much to be thankful for!

So it was definitely a bit sad when Thanksgiving arrived and I found myself riding in the van to school - the only one aware that this very big holiday was in progress.   I found myself missing turnips (that Grandma Naylor makes special for me...because I think I might be the only one in the family who eats them); missing walks in the woods bundled up with hats, gloves, and scarf; and missing the same family stories that are told every year and somehow seem to get funnier with each telling of them.

Still, as it is a day to give thanks - there is certainly a lot that I am thankful for.  I made sure to use this day to let all my students know what it is about them that I am most thankful for.  I wrote them each a thank you note and before I passed out the note I explained what the holiday is all about.  They loved it - and many of them took the time to say what they were thankful too.

Also, I wasn't alone for the holiday.  My cousin Drew flew down to visit during his long weekend (Wednesday through Sunday).  It was so nice to see a familiar face and not feel like I was totally isolated from the Naylor/Cottrell clans.  I signed him up for an all-day tour of the city on Thursday because I had to work and then on Friday he came to school with me and helped teach 3 of my classes.  So fun!  Every night we went out for great Colombian food, drinks, and fun.  On Saturday, what was supposed to be a quick lunch up in the mountains turned into a road trip because on our way down the road was blocked so we had to drive an hour away from the city before we could connect to another road that would lead us home.  It ended up being an awesome addition to Drew's trip, as he got to see the Colombian countryside.  So thankful for Drew's visit, as sharing with someone else reminds you of all the wonderful things that you have in your life.

I've also been overwhelmed by life lately.  This is the time of the year where the work starts piling up - there are holiday parties, Secret Santa games, final exams (which means LOTS of grading), Christmas shopping, packing, I've also squeezed in a visit to Ecuador scheduled for December 7.  So what does this have to do with being thankful?  Well, the reason that a lot of the work is becoming overwhelming is because I have developed a nice little network of friends here.  I now have lots of plans each week - and so the quiet nights I used to have at home are dwindling.  I am back to needing to work on the balance - but I so thankful that I have wonderful people to experience Colombia with!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Suesca: A weekend getaway

This weekend was another long weekend – or puente (bridge) as the Colombians say.  I had another chance to get out of the city with friends.  My friend Liliana’s brother, Willy, owns a bike shop and on the weekends runs bike tours in a small town called Suesca known for mountain biking and rock climbing.  In the town he owns a small hostel as well.
On Saturday, a friend of Willy’s, Juan Carlos, picked up Liliana, her son, and me – and we headed to Suesca for the weekend.  The town is about an hour away but within 15 minutes of leaving the city the air is clean and fresh.  We drove the whole way with the windows down, playing great music and laughing.  We also stopped at this amazing little restaurant that served the typical Colombian foods – meat, potatoes, plantains, and yucca – and drank Refajo, a refreshing beverage made by mixing beer with a typical soda (kind of like cream soda) called Colombiana. 

We arrived to Suesca around 4 pm and spent the entire afternoon and evening relaxing at a little restaurant in the center of town.  It is impossible to visit this town and not be relaxed.  Everything slows down the minute you get there.  Everyone in town knows each other and so we hung out at this restaurant like it was our own home.  We played music, ate empanadas and pizza and soup.  We also drank Canelazo - basically Christmas in a cup – it’s a hot beverage with cinnamon, lime and aguardiente – and in the crisp evening air of Suesca it is the perfect thing to sip to stay toasty.  

Around 8 pm, what felt like the entire town met up to play basketball.  Basketball is not quite as popular in the Colombian as in the United States.  Generally, I find that in the U.S. most guys can pick up a basketball and have a decent game.  In Colombia, no.  It was SO much fun, but we played 8 on 8, which is kind of ridiculous and the players were not good at all – traveling, shooting the ball over the backboard (repeatedly), etc.  I looked like an all-star and I haven’t played basketball in ages!

We ended the evening by heading to the hostel and enjoying a good night’s rest. 

Early the next morning, we woke up around 7:30 in the morning to head into town for breakfast – eggs, empanadas, and coffee.  Again, this town is very relaxed.  We took our time, enjoyed each other’s company, and eventually headed back up the hill to the hostal to get ready for our bike trip.  Things were not quite as organized as I expected.  The bikes didn’t have toe clips (I’m used to riding with clip-in shoes…I realize this sound pretentious but once you’ve used them it’s very difficult to enjoy riding a bike any other way).  I also had no water, a helmet that was extremely tight, and was scared to death that I wouldn’t be able to keep up.  I had decided that I wasn’t going to bike.  Liliana was going to follow behind in her car anyway because she had her 4-year-old son Marco with her anyway, and just wanted to enjoy the beautiful scenery.  Juan Carlos said that he would like to bike ride and so Liliana, Marco, and I began to follow him in the car.  After about 5 minutes up a very steep hill, Juan Carlos stopped and said he needed a break and that I should ride for a bit.  They totally tricked me into riding! :-)  But I was so thankful.  For about 2 hours, Juan Carlos and I took turns riding.  When one of us needed a breather, the other would hop on the bike for a bit.  The views were breath-taking, there wasn’t a single other car on the road, and the weather was overcast and cool – perfect for the strenuous work.  After the two hours, we finally reached the downhill and I flew down the hill for a good 10 minutes or so.  Absolutely awesome!  When the car caught up with me – the roads were extremely rocky so going downhill is easier on a bike – Liliana decided she was going to give it a try.  She was feeling out-of-shape and weak but she missed biking so she got on.  

This may have been the second highlight of the week because I got to drive!  As some of you may know, I LOVE driving and I have not been able to drive since I got to Bogotá because I, 1) Don’t have a car and 2) Can’t drive a stick-shift, which all the cars in Bogotá are (for the most part).  Juan Carlos’ car is also a stick-shift but he knew that I wanted to learn and told me this was the best place to do it.  I "learned" pretty quickly.  I spent the next 30 minutes driving down the road practicing going from parked, to first, to second, and back down.  I probably sounds silly but I was in heaven!  I am not quite ready to cross off “Learn to drive a stick-shift” from my bucket list – I still need to learn how to reverse and practice with the other gears – but I am off to a great start and am SO happy about it.

We returned to the city on Sunday evening but it was a perfect getaway for the long weekend and I hope to return often!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fiesta de Disfraces

It has been waaaaay too long since I have written in this space.  I think that's a sign that I'm getting busier and busier - but I also suppose that means there are more things to write about!  I'll try and be better about writing at LEAST once per week.

This weekend was a long weekend - which means I have Monday off.  Very nice.  On Saturday night I visited a fellow teacher's home for a belated Halloween party.  Not a whole lot to share there.  Costumes (disfraces), food, alcohol, and dancing.  Pretty normal stuff.  But the pictures are fun and so I thought I'd share a few.  :)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cupcakes in Colombia

I have groups of students at my school.  They are called courses but that's kind of confusing.  Anyhow, two of the courses are 5th grade and two of the courses are 6th grade.  Each period the courses compete with the other course in their grade to earn the most points from Kate's Top Ten.  Kate's Top Ten is a list of things that I want my classes to do everyday.  Honestly, I kind of threw it together at the last minute in the beginning of the school year and there are some things that seem a bit redundant, but the students have complained and it seems to motivate them.  The winning 6th grade course won a class block off, in order to watch a movie in the library (we all hung out on the floor with pillows and watched Stand & Deliver).  The winning 5th grader course (because I see them only 90 minutes each week) won cupcakes.

I thought that would be easy...I was wrong.  Generally, I think in Colombia people make things from scratch - frosting, cake batter, things that in the U.S. we buy pre-made or in a manner in which they only require adding one or two additional ingredients.  After searching high and low I was able to find cake batter, chocolate frosting, AND sprinkles....thank you Betty Crocker!  I was not able to find the cupcake paper cups (I think there is a word for them...but sadly my English seems to be escaping more and more and possibly at a greater rate than my Spanish is improving.  Yes, I may be in trouble.)  Anyhow, my host mom assured me that we could just grease up the cupcake tins and we'd have no problem.  Oops. Wrong.

What was supposed to be a quick, 24 cupcakes in the oven became an emergency rescue mission.  Mission:  Create a presentable treat for 5th graders with the cupcake pieces that did not stick to the insides of the tins.  Thank God for Colombian ingenuity and the fact that my host mom is the craftiest woman on the planet.  Without even hesitating, my simple cupcake-making project became her baby.  She jumped right in grabbed as much as should could of one cupcake out of the tin, rolled it up into a ball and I just stood by and watched the magic happen.  Olga melted chocolate, covered cupcake balls in chocolate, then in sprinkles, and created the most delicious chocolate covered cupcake ball I have ever had.  We proceeded to make enough for my class, laughing (I had tears in my eyes the whole situation was so ridiculous), and doing our best to uphold a conversation in Spanish.

Needless to say, the cupcake balls were a hit.  The students were so impressed that "I" made them...and one fifth grade, who's a little crazy but also crazy smart said, "Kate, these are so delicious because they are made with love".  Augh! Too cute!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Informes - A New Approach to Grading

This week students did not come to school.  It was the end of the first term and so they had a break while the teachers spent the week completing grades.  For some people this post might be SUPER boring, but I thought others might be interested in the unique way grades are done at my school here in Colombia.

At Gimnasio La Montaña (GLM) students do not receive a letter grade or a number grade.  There is no such thing as an A or an F, an 85 or a 65.  At GLM, the report cards that students and parents receive are very detailed.  Students are still given a rating of Superior, High, Basic, or Low but these ratings are much more subjective.  For every course the student takes, the report lists the large objectives or learning goals and the individual indicators or skills.  For every student, for every indicator, teachers have to determine at what level the student is able to perform the skill and then provide feedback explaining the strengths and weaknesses the student is demonstrating for each overall objective.  Additionally, as teachers we then provide general feedback about each student's behavior and socialization in the class.  It is a LOT of work but after completing reports on each of my 113 students,
I have a very clear understanding of each my students and their needs for this next term.  It is truly amazing.

In addition to the valuable information that these reports provide to students, parents, and teachers, there is great bonding that takes place among teachers during this week.  All our desks are in one large room.  Normally we are all coming and going, following our individual teaching schedules and there is limited socialization between the teachers during the work week.  During this week of grading we are all in it together.  For 8 hours a day, for 5 days, we are all plugging away at this important task, and while it is an arduous, time-consuming activity, we know that we are not alone.  On Friday, we celebrated our work by having a pot-luck breakfast with fruit salad, meats, cheeses, breads, marmalade, and more.  For the first hour of the day, we all just sat around a table and told jokes and laughed and relaxed.

Overall, I've learned more clearly the value of objective tracking on a new level.  It is something that we talked about all the time in the United States but it was always at a very numerical, black and white, objective level.  Here the performance of each student, for each objective is know at a deeper level.  The reports are descriptive and provide suggestions for how the student can improve.  This is something that "80% mastery of objectives" or an A in the class simply does not offer.  Awesome learning experience.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Bucket much to do!

So I've mentioned my Bucket List in this blog before but I've never shared it publicly.  It's a work in progress and some things I've already done (they are crossed out).  There are also things I feel tempted to add and cross out because I have done them and I want to feel like I'm making progress...but that's kind of beside the point.  The typed version of my Bucket List was finally created around April or May of this year as I was preparing for graduation and thinking about my next steps.  Until then it was written in bits and pieces in my journal.  I'm including it here for a few reasons:

  1. I was just reading it tonight and thinking about how much I want to do while I'm here in Colombia... it's exciting but also overwhelming but it helps me set goals.
  2. Accountability.  There is a lot I'd like to do while I'm in Colombia and the time is flying.  The "visit all countries in South America" goal is already looking like it's probably not going to happen in the next two years - there's so much to do in Colombia itself!
  3. For suggestions.  What very cool and important things am I forgetting?  There are lots of places that I'd like to visit that I have yet to add.  But please send places, activities, important milestones my way for consideration.
  4. For company and/or assistance.  If there are things on this list that you'd like to do as well, let me know and we'll start planning it. :) If there are things on this list you can help me with, let me know that as well.

Again, I'm always looking for new experiences and adventures, so this list is by no means getting in the way of my spontaneity or openness but it also ensures that I'm not sitting around twiddling my thumbs and it keeps me going on those tough days when I'm feeling lonely or defeated.

Some of the things are more serious than others...and again, its a work in progress.  I'm a bit nervous sharing this...but you're supposed to one thing every day that you're afraid of, right?
And so, without further ado, my bucket list:
  1. Become fluent in Spanish   My Spanish will never be perfect but I can work and live in Spanish, so we're going to say "fluent".
  2. Learn to drive a stick shift.
  3. Visit all 7 continents.
  4.  Live alone.
  5.   Live in another country for at least a year.
  6. Have an article/paper published in a journal or magazine.
  7. Visit these major sites:
    • a. The Great Pyramids
    • b.   Great Wall of China
    • c.   Taj Mahal
  8. Float in the Dead Sea
  9. Take a road trip across the United States (focusing on the northwest national parks)
    • Grand Canyon
    • Grand Tetons
    • Yellowstone
    • Redwood Forest
    • Lake Tahoe
    • Rocky Mountains
    • Drive the California coast
    • Visit New Mexico
  10. Run a marathon (Glad I can say I did it but…yuck.)
  11. Run a half marathon in another country (I’ve already done the marathon – and HATED IT…but I love running and 13.1 miles is pain free!)
  12. Achieve debt freedom!
  13. Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro
  14. Visit Jerusalem
  15. Visit all 50 states
  16.  Learn to knit
  17. Go on a meditation/yoga retreat in India
  18. Present at an international conference
  19. Take my parents on a vacation
  20. Skype monthly with my brother…not doing so well with this one Bub
  21. E-mail my grandparents monthly
  22. Sell my artwork
  23. Learn to sail
  24. Get PADI certified (scuba diving)
  25. Swim with sharks…to get over my fear
  26. Go running in a sports bra - no shirt (and feel comfortable doing it!)
  27. Plant a vegetable garden that can feed me and my family
  28. Learn to surf
  29. Complete a New York Times crossword puzzle
  30. Meet my Texas B’s for a vacation (aka Double Wide #?) in another country
  31. Milk a cow
  32. Get to a point where I can donate 10% of my earnings to others in need 
  33. Buy a house                         
While in DC for the summer…
  1. COMPLETE a crossword from the Express during my morning commute to
  2. Go on a 6-mile long run each weekend      
  3. Volunteer while I’m there
  4. Attend the Quaker meeting house on a Sunday
  5. Go to the Phillips Museum in DC
  6. Organize Thirsty Thursday for my 10 weeks there
  7. Visit the library of Congress
  8. Shop at Eastern Market
  9. Shop at a Farmers’ Market
  10. Visit Peggy and Jack
  11. Dim Sum in Chinatown
  12. Spend a Saturday or Sunday at Busboys and Poets perusing their amazing bookstore, sipping coffee, writing/sketching, and reading;
  13. Eat a cupcake from Cake Love
  14. Visit the H-Street Corridor
  15. Visit Columbia Heights
While living in Colombia…
  1. Visit all the countries in South America
    1. a.  Peru (Machu Picchu, Lima, etc.)
    2. b.   Equador (Quito, Galapagos, etc.)
    3. c.   Visit The Guyanas all at once (everyone tells me there’s no point…but I need to decide that for myself)
    4. d.   Buenos Aires, Montevideo
    5. e.   Brazil
    6. f.   Venezuela
    7. g.   Chile/Patagonia
    8. h.   Paraguay
    9. i.    Bolivia
  2. Dance salsa in Cali (with the full realization that I will be terrible in comparison to everyone else)
  3. Take a class (cooking, art, etc.) taught in Spanish OR take Spanish classes
  4. Draw/paint again
  5. Maintain a blog to document my experience
  6. Give a presentation in Spanish
  7. Date a Colombian (come on!  I had to include this!)
  8. Plan a program/activity/lesson between U.S. students and Colombian students (connected students in Colombia and Rwanda instead...I'm letting it count)
  9. Visit Villa de Leyva
  10. Go rock climbing in Suesca
  11. Hike around Guatavita Lake
  12. Buy a bike and use it to explore the city on Sundays
  13. Sleep in a hammock
  14. Visit La Ciudad Perdida
  15. Learn how to use the Transmilenio
  16. Finish 100 Years of Solitude … I’ve tried several times but then got disrupted for a few weeks…this time I will FINISH it!
  17. Attend a professional soccer match in Colombia
  18. Visit Medellin
  1. Participate in a Tough Mudder

Alright folks, what do I HAVE to add... think BIG! :)

Friday, October 7, 2011

5-Day excursion, Day 5: Back to Bogota

A great city but nothing is as good as being outdoors and watching young people surpass the expectations they had for themselves.  Perhaps working with kids outdoors is what I should be doing.... :)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

5-Day excursion, Day 4: Coffee plantation and rafting

We had a chance to sleep until about 6:30am today (woo hoo!) and then began another fun but busy day.

First we visited a coffee plantation.  The weather was perfect.  We had the chance to pick coffee beans and then see the entire process of how they turn it into a product ready sell.  The students had fun and Nata (another teacher and my partner in crime for the week) and I got to enjoy some excellent "tinto"(coffee).
After lunch we went rafting.  This was not as crazy as rafting in the Nile in Uganda but perfect for sixth graders.  It was about an hour and half trip and we got to swim in the river...VERY enjoyable for all.

We returned to our hotel and had a chance to explore the town of Barichara with a game of "Amazing Race".  The students were in groups and had a packet of questions to answer by asking people in the town.  Barichara is recognized as the most beautiful town in Colombia and is a national monument.  Because of this they work hard to maintain the original architecture.  My favorite part of the city was that there was honeysuckle everywhere.  There it is called "caballero de la noche".  Honeysuckle is quite possibly my favorite smell, to me the town smelled of heaven - absolutely intoxicating.  Warning:  I might move here and never leave.

We ended the game at the top of the hill where we all had a chance to reflect on the trip.  The students talked about how beautiful their country is and they hope the school would invite other foreigners to come work and see Colombia so that they could truly understand what Colombia has to offer.  (If you're interested in teaching, let me know!)  I couldn't agree more.  I know Colombia has a bad reputation but the people are loving and welcoming and the country itself is like something out of a picture book or a movie.  I feel so lucky to be here and to know that this is just the beginning.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

5-Day excursion, Day 3: Leaving Chicamocha

Bridge out of Jordan
After a less than comfortable night's sleep, we woke up at 6:00am for a breakfast of cereal, milk, banana and juice.  We stretched and the began our assent out of the canyon.  The distance was less but the sun was out after raining all night so it was very hot and very humid.  There was quite a bit more complaining, some vomit and some tears (not from me though!) but again beautiful views, an incredible level of camaraderie and support among the students and int he end we all survived and made it to the top where lunch was quickly made and inhaled. 

We had a 3-hour drive back to our hotel (all were completely passed out in the bus) because we had to drive around the canyon this time.  The hot shower was very much needed.  We had dinner, played some games and made it an early night.
We hiked down that mountain in the background yesterday!  Seems crazy.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

5-Day excursion, Day 2: Chicamocha

 So cute!  Chicitica!
They're ready!
Tuesday was the beginning of a 2-day hike into (and out of) what the students kept calling Colombia's Grand Canyon - Chicamocha.  This hike was an absolutely incredible experience.  The climate in Santander is hot and humid and the hike was with 60 12-year-olds and still it was a great success.  The first day was into the canyon - all downhill.  Tough on the feet and knees but GORGEOUS.  When we began I had no idea what to expect but around every bend was a view more spectacular than the last.

We were lucky enough to have a cloudy day (not as good for the pictures but good for survival!) that kept the heat level down.  In fact, it was a bit chilly when we started our trek.  We all had packs with food, water, our sleeping pads, a sheet, and our clothes for the next day.  Additionally the guides from Off Bound Adventures had extra supplies (food, water, and medical kit) as needed. 

On my way into the canyon
Taking a break with students
We took many breaks along the way

I had several students with me throughout the hike.  We practiced Spanish and English, sang songs, and the students were so strong and positive - encouragin each other along the way.  Adorable. 

We had lunch around 2pm along a river with our feet in the water...ahhhhhh.  About a half hour after lunch, we arrived to the town of Jordan, population 25.  We were welcomed by the school there - students come from all over the canyon.  They had a presentation prepared for us and then the students paired up and got to know each other a bit.  After that they worked together for about 45-minutes to help with the restoration of one of the walls in the town's center.
Lunch along the river
Dance performance by the school
Painting the wall in the town square

At this point everyone was thoroughly exhausted and famished but we also were all craving a shower.   The boys and girls stayed in separate buildings.  In the courtyard of the girls' building there was a giant tub of water.  To bath, each girl put on a bathing suit and then a teacher would slowly dump a bucket of water over them as the quickly scrubbed away all the sweat, smell and dirt.  It was certainly a bonding experience and we all felt a bit better afterwards.

Dinner was meat, potato, plantains, arepa (like a grits patty) and agua de panella (kind of like iced tea or lemonade sweetened with panella which comes from sugar cane and is similar in taste to molasses) served on a banana leaf.  No utensils.  Delicious.  We all devoured the food.

To end the day the students came together to reflect on the highlights and what they learned.  It was great to hear from them.  Some of their reflections included their surprise at their own strength and how thankful they were for all they have.  One student pointed out how she felt ridiculous for some of the stuff she has complained about in the past after meeting the students at the school and Jordan and realizing just how much she has.  Hearing these reflections emphasized the power of this trip.

Was exhausted but wouldn't want to be anywhere else.
Beautiful view of the canyon
After lunch on our way to Jordan

Monday, October 3, 2011

5-day excursion to Santander

This week I had the opportunity to go on a week-long excursion with my sixth graders.

The trip was five days long through three departamentos (like states) - Cundinamarca, Boyaca, and Santander  - and we traveled by bus.  Overall, it was an incredible introduction to the country and it has made me want to travel more.  The following entries will provide some of the details/highlights from the week.

Day 1: Monday, October 3, 2011
Up at 4:45am in order to be to the school by 6:15am.  Most of the first day was spent in the bus heading to our home base for the week - Barichara, Santander.  The students were as excited as I was and they were great in the bus - playing music and games, talking and SLEEPING.  Along the way we made a few stops.  First for breakfast and then we stopped to visit an historical site (a bridge) where the Colombians won their independence from the Spaniards.  After that we stopped for lunch and then in Socorro,  a colonial town, to visit a museum that explained some of the cultural history of the country.  It was pretty difficult for me to understand but still interesting.  Finally we arrived to our hotel, had dinner, and hit they hay.

And we're off!
Rolling down the hill at the monume
Relaxing at the monument
Breakfast time!
With Mariana, the students call her my twin
Lunch time

At the Casa de Cultura in Socorro