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.