The Difference is the Same

“Every individual matters. Every individual makes a difference.”
― Jane Goodall (British athropologist, b. 1934)


One of my favorite views: Plaza San Teresa, in front of Hotel Charleston

To some, living as a foreigner in Cartagena de Indias may seem like permanent vacation: living five minutes from the beach, exploring centuries-old churches and historic landmarks, dancing to live music in a plaza lit by candles at dusk. Yes, this is everyday life here and in many ways, it’s like living anywhere. You get used to things as they are. You shop at the same stores. You stop and say hello to friends on the street. You make repeat visits to the same juice place.


Never gets old: the gorgeous torre del reloj, the clock tower

Yet somehow, often, it still feels special. With a currently-limitless deadline in Cartagena, enjoying picturesque sunsets over ancient stone walls and eating handmade arepas con queso from a cart, it is easy to see how not even the smallest detail is taken for granted.


Alberto makes the best arepas in Centro!

Details like feeling blessed to see the same people each day and being constantly grateful for the diversity that exists. Watching the young people selling coffee who stop and talk with the old men through their fences. Listening to the grandmotherly neighbor who insists on everyone’s clothes on the shared line being hung inside out so they don’t fade.


ensalada de frutas, served with a smile

The rotund, smiling lady on the beach, who offers fresh piña samples, even though she knows you have already tasted (twice) what she is offering in her ensalada de fruta. For all these things and more, gratitude for even the smallest of details is plentiful.


Charleston? Nope, Cartagena.

While Cartagena is starting to feel like home, there is one city to which there will always be a connection: Charleston, SC, where I lived as a young girl. Often, it seems the similarities in Cartagena and Charleston are part of what enticed me to move here in January 2015.


Gorgeous colors of.. Charleston? No… Cartagena!

Both cities have a colorful, colonial downtown with a dark, historic battle-torn wall and horse-drawn carriages still making the rounds on cobblestone streets. Both also rely (and thrive) heavily on tourism, and both are notorious for their sweltering heat and humidity.


If it weren’t for the hotel sign in Español, this could be Charleston

Sometimes, at the sound of a coche passing, I close my eyes and rapidly open them to wonder, momentarily, in which city I am living. For this, it is both ironic and devastating that, while I cheered on Colombia in their first Copa América victory over Brasil, nine people were killed in the American Methodist Episcopalian church in Charleston.


OK this one is Charleston, SC

Innocent victims, who had gathered for bible study, gunned down by a terrifying racist with no remorse. While one side of my heart was swelling with pride from a well-earned victory, the other side was aching with pain for the families of a loving community.


The original Bella Artes in San Diego, Cartagena

Living as an extranjera in Colombia for the past year-and-a-half, I have endured plenty of full-on stares, inappropriate questions, and the occasional “invisible” treatment. But I’ve never felt segregated because of the color of my skin. It seems that every person here is every color, meaning it is hard to tell where one color ends and the other begins.

Gis and Tomás resemble twins James and Daniel Kelly

Gis and Tomás resemble twins James and Daniel Kelly

My friend Gis has rich, creamy dark brown skin. His brother Tomás, born of the same parents, has light, milky-beige skin with tan freckles. Both are beautiful in their own way and, still, they look nothing alike. Yet they are born of the same blood. As we all are… somewhere…deep down.  We all exist the same in this world, together, even if we’re born looking very different for one another.


I haven’t lived full-time in the US for a few years. Reading news headlines and listening to responses to the shooting, I felt helpless living abroad, far away in a seemingly-twin sister city. Hearing about the week’s events, thinking of the senseless hatred from one terrible person that took the lives of nine beloved others, there was nothing to do but pray.

But while it seems just one act of violence can undo years of progress and change, the people of Charleston are proving that this is not something that will tear them apart. They are rallying together to fight hatred; some are even forgiving the shooter and moving on.

Forgiveness says you are given another chance to make a new beginning.
 – Desmond Tutu (South African leader, born 1931)

As my upcoming travels take me flying at the same hour of the Copa América game between Colombia and Perú, my heart will definitely be in two places: up in the air with my seleccíon, and soaring among angels from American Methodist Episcopalian.


Posted in Cartagena, Charleston, Colombia, Copa Americá 2015, Gratitude, Gringa, Iglesias, South America, United States | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

La Chiva pa’ La Gringa

It’s probably been mentioned before, but living in a picturesque city selected in 1984 by UNESCO as significant addition to the heritage of the world, has its advantages. For one, you are surrounded by beauty and history which, for most, is a treat in itself. But for another, when your friends visit, you get to play tourist for a few days and discover all that the city has to offer, including some corny but cool options to explore and enjoy.


Happy Birthday, Cartagena! 481 years young

One adventure in Cartagena that shouldn’t be missed is a night on a Chiva tour. Totally touristy, tacky and tiring, Chivas are city-roaming, open-sided buses that drive groups around the downtown area and beaches, with most stopping at sights, serving drinks and snacks, and providing live music. Though there are several companies offering the tours that seem similar, its rumored that no two Chivas are alike.


Step 1: Meet the Chiva Dealer

While hotels and hostels offer tickets for Chiva tours, you don’t have to sign up in advance to find a good one. Denis passed me and my friend Javier, visiting from Perú, as we navigated a skinny Centro sidewalk. He smiled wide, catching my eye and rattling off the typical script given to tourists: “Playa Blanca, Isla Rosarios, Castillo San Felipe, Chiva tour…” “Yes!” I answered, almost startling him, “Chiva tour!” Denis’s smile broadened, “Si, amigos, ven conmigo!” (Yes, friends, come with me!) he responded, turning on his heels.


Yes, there’s a Chiva called La Pechichona

As we walked together, Denis cheerfully made small talk about the city, adding that he loves his job and enjoys meeting people from around the world. Soon, we reached the Plaza del Reloj, where a tall man with a vest and ID badges wrote out paper tickets.


I love the Chiva THIS MUCH

The tall man explained that, for the low price of $35000 COP (about $17 USD), the Chiva tour includes drinks, snacks, live music, an outside view of Castillo San Felipe, a visit to Las Murallas, and entry to a local discoteca, in about four hours. Denis then accompanied us to a large, colorful bus parked just outside the clock tower wall, where the front windscreen read Chocolate Tours: a Chiva company often seen around town (but unfortunately, with no website to reference here).


We are just getting started here

We climbed aboard, settling into a long, burgundy padded bench seat, surrounded by colorful tin cutouts and brightly-painted ornamental wood. Other excited Chiva riders soon filled the rest of the seats, with one row dedicated to the three-piece Vallenato band of a caja, guacharaca and accordian.


Sitting alone on the Chiva? Stock photo from

Step 2: Hold on to your vaso

The tour was off to a slow start as the bus snaked its way through Bocagrande, stopping at several hotels and homes where customers had made prior reservations. Though the pick up activity seemed to drag on for about an hour, the emcee, Rafael, stirred up the tourists over his microphone, asking where everyone was from, and encouraging the male riders to stand up and booty-dance over their seats.


Rafael masters the microphone

The videographer, Denise, filmed smiling couples and families, as riders from Perú, New York, Chile, Miami, Argentina and Colombia shook maracas to the beat of the band.


Rafael rallies the crowd

The driver, Bernardo, carefully navigated skinny streets, stopping at a small tienda where Rafael loaded boxes of rum, liters of Coca-Cola, and bags of ice to put in plastic cubetas until, finally, the Chiva got into full swing. As riders served drinks to each other, the band played loud, rhythmic Vallenato and sang harmoniously.


should we be suspicious the rack is designed for this bottle?

At our first stop, outside of Castillo San Felipe, riders were quickly advised by security to keep off the grass and obliged, but happily continued snapping photos as the castle loomed eerily in the night sky.


With Bernardo our driver and the grass-stompers taking photos

Step 3: Bailando under the night sky (or inside the discoteca)

Continuing, the Chiva drove through the colorful streets of San Diego, stopping a second time at Las Murallas, where riders descended upon the high wall that surrounds the center of Cartagena.


I’m thinking of this as my summer job. Yes?

On top of the wall, musicians took turns playing in groups as vendors hawked icy beer and soda, while others offered straw hats and shell necklaces. Tourists, as well as a group of local Mapalé dancers, celebrated in the hot but breezy Caribbean night.


The kid was leading the vocals, amazing!

Gathering the group, Rafael escorted us back to the Chiva where a large tray of fritos, including arepa con huevo and several types of empanadas, awaited hungry riders. Before moving on to Manga, a residential area just beyond the Centro, the Chiva made several turns through bohemian-esque streets of Getsemani, passing bar hoppers and evening diners at local cafés and restaurants.


Wilmar the vendor and his colorful cart killing it in the viking hat

Once in Manga, the Chiva stopped a few blocks from Taboo Crossover Club, a small discoteca where a DJ played popular songs in Salsa, Champeta, Vallenato and Reggaeton. Chiva riders disembarked for more dancing, this time among strobe lights, fog and air conditioning.

Step 4: Thank the Chiva and tell your friends

After about an hour, Rafael gathered up the riders wishing to return to the Centro, while several others remained at Taboo, having purchased botellas to drink on couches for lounging, probably well into the night. Arriving back at the Chiva, we discovered the rum was gone and the musicians had retired for the evening, but were grateful for the ride back to the Centro to catch a cab for home.


Bernardo wanted me to drive but I don’t have a Colombian license

Having seen Chivas tours around Cartagena for the past year, I would absolutely recommend them to anyone wanting a fun evening out, or a good way to start a serious night of celebration. While the company you select may not be important, Chocolate Tours seems right for professional partying. Although the owner Jose Antonio mentioned other services the company offers, including beach excursions and private transportation it’s obvious the Chiva tour carries the most bang for your buck in just four hours.


Overall, the Chiva with Chocolate Tours was exactly what this Gringa Costeña wanted: a night cruising through Cartagena with fun people, enjoying live Valleanto, sipping rum and Cokes and appreciating all that makes this city live up to its nickname, La Fantastica.


Posted in Cartagena, Chiva, Colombia, Gratitude, Gringa, South America, Vallenato | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

La Gringa Paisa

One of the (many) great things about Colombia is it’s multiple festivos throughout the calendar year. In addition to Navidad (Christmas) and Semana Santa (Holy Week, or Spring Break), there are several long weekends with a Friday or a Monday acting as the “festivo.”


Colombia is Love!

However, ask any Colombian what the festivo is celebrating, and most of them will be unable to tell you, mainly because there are so many in the year and also because, well, no one really knows, but any day reserved to celebrate and relax in Colombia is greatly-accepted, regardless of the reason.


Pop hangin with his moped

For this festivo weekend, with an added day off for celebrating Dia de la Maestra (teaching is awesome), a quick getaway to Medellin and Guatapé fit perfectly into four days and three nights. An Avianca flight booked days before whooshed easily up in the air and back down in about forty minutes; another flawless flight on the favorable Colombian airline.


lush lush lush crops everywhere

After landing in Medellin, transport to the city was had on the community buseta for a barato $8,600.00 COP, versus a taxi for the quoted $50,000.0o (más o menos) COP. Gracias a Díos for public transportation in South America. As the little buseta ripped its way over winding hilly terrain at daredevil speeds, I repeated the Spanish word for rollercoaster outloud “montaña rusa, montaña ruuuuusaaaaa!” as my neighboring passenger laughed at my fear/excitement.


this doesn’t even begin to show the size of Medellin

Arriving to my guest home, I was greeted by a beautiful woman named Gloria who welcomed me, fed me, and asked me questions about my life in Colombia, before wishing me a good night’s sleep. Waking to the smell of café con leche and warm arepas, desayuna was enjoyed with my other host, Juan Fernando, prior to catching the metro to the terminal de transporte. A large, bustling, half-indoor, half-outdoor estacíon reminiscent of the one in Guayaquil, people rushed up and down the stairs of the four floors.


I was pendiente of the lady in yellow, who seemed to know the deal

The buses to Guatapé, located on the bottom floor next to the departure area, flashed neon signs advertising the small town about two hours away, as well as it’s main attraction, La Piedra Del Peñol, a gigantic monolith surrounded by a man-made lake and sprawling fincas and ranchos: the main reason for this personal journey to the land of the Paisa.


rollin’ down the highway, fur-blowin’

The bus, priced at $12,500 COP one way, and packed with people (and one small dog), provided a breezy ride on twisty, winding mountain roads through lush green rolling countryside. This interior terrain of Colombia is spectacular to see, and the climate – know by many as “eternal spring,” was a welcome relief to the rising heat of Cartagena.


Juan Valdez lives!

Stopping to pick up vendors and drop off passengers, the bus continued until at last, appearing in the vast landscape like a humpback whale rising from a foamy green sea, it was finally visible: El Peñol, which left this gringa without words at first sight.


my heart started racing: first sight of El Peñol

As the bus drove closer,  finally passing the giant rock and rolling its way through Guatapé, I was so enamored by the scenery that I missed the little town and had to get off after the bus passed over the river, taking a colorful, speedy moto car back across.


This guy was so nice! He called a moto car for me after the bus stopped over the bridge

At my first stop, Lake View Hostel, where I “booked” my reservation by emailing the owner, Greg, a day before. I was greeted warmly by a gentleman named Johnny who proudly showed me the relatively-new hospedaje, my home for the night.


“Your (amazing, multi-colored, inexpensive) ride is here!”

Following a conversation with Johnny about Colombian life (and how we both love it), I took a moto car to El Peñol for $10,000 COP. It should be noted that collectivos, a rideshare in the back of a Nissan Patrol or similar vehicle with other passengers, are also available for about $3,000.


Looking up, feeling all of my years in my feet!

Regardless of the cost of transport, ascending the giant entry to El Peñol was almost as magnificent as standing before this huge monolith in person. Prior to moving to Colombia in 2014, this giant edifice, made of minerals including quartz, feldspar and mica, and rising 2,135 metres (7,005 ft) nearly straight up, has fascinated me and been at the top of my list of places to see in Colombia.


Halfway up: “Please God, let the Gringa get to the top.”

Fortunately, after paying $12,500 COP and climbing all 700 steps to the top, El Peñol did not disappoint. The climb up is momentarily brutal but overall exhilarating. Watching visitors from ages 3 to (possibly) 93 climb the skinny, carved rock staircase in the side of El Peñol was an adventure in itself.


Obligatory halfway-up selfie. Look at that view! Colombia te quiero!

Once at the top, the extraordinary view of this beautiful, diverse country made every step worthwhile. As the wind whipped around people taking selfies and staring out over the sprawling terrain of greens and blues, it was almost impossible not to feel a spiritual connection with Colombia.


Made it! Look at this beautiful country! When are you coming to visit?!

After a good hour at the top, the climb back down El Peñol was refreshing and easily achieved. Piling into a double moto car disguised as a Chiva and able to hold six people comfortably, I squeezed in as a seventh, riding on one of the two batteries to either side of the driver.


Yes, those are my feet next to the wheel. Nice arms, driver!

Yep, a “seat” of about 50 square centimeters (8 inches) was my ride space for the 15-minute journey down twisty, tree-lined roads. Praying to keep my balance steady, I cozied up to the driver over a few bumps, while he delivered our party safely, as promised.


Here I am acting cool but secretly praying to make it back safely

Walking through the colorful little town of Guatapé was a huge treat for panoramic-vista laden eyes, listening to the sound of a televised futbol game off in the distance, as families ate early dinners on their multi-level patios.


Mini Chiva and mini-mini chiva! The driver and I had a good laugh over this

As evening settled on Guatapé, colorful lanterns, strung on the tourist boats that cruise the river, dotted the horizon of the night sky, like a rainbow of low-hung stars.


Photo courtesy of

Returning to Lakeview Hostel at dinnertime meant trying some bites from Thai Terrace, a restaurant open to the public and located on the rooftop patio. Two types of Spring Rolls, fresh and flash fried, were served with interesting dipping sauces – peanut to compliment the fresh and spicy plum to enhance the fried. Both were excellent and presented prettily on small plates.


Barely awake: Champagne and me with el Peñol in the background

The next morning, before the bus ride back to Medellin ($12500 COP), an early start meant my choice of horseback riding companions from the vaqueros who congregate in the centro. I chose Alberto, with his wide smile and friendly “Buenos dias, mona linda, a la orden.” His smooth greeting roped me in like a baby calf to a seasoned cowboy.


Alberto my horseback guide. Paisas are awesome.

The air was crisp and dewy, and the poncho I had bargained down the evening before was well-appreciated, as my horse Champagne galloped along old stone roads.


Riding through the town streets, we headed out to the monastery, about an hour’s ride uphill, through back roads, passing little fincas and roadside tiendas.


Alberto and I talked about our future living here. Just kidding. (Or am I?!)

After horseback riding, a few hours walking along the malecón in Guatapé revealed a lively, friendly town excited to cater to tourists and locals alike. Vendors accepted price wagers cheerfully, and those preparing drinks and snacks made profitable advances in the warm, sunny weather.


Mango margarita with fresh lime and chili – $5,000 COP are you kidding!? Amazing!

A hat for $18,000 COP was haggled down to $15,000 just in time for the sun to start beating down. Passing through colorful street after colorful street, it was easy to become enamored with this tiny picturesque town.


Favorite vacation photo – feeling Paisa proud in Guatapé!

Returning from Guatapé to Medellin felt a little sad, like going from a colorful bike with a banana seat to a giant 10-speed bicycle overnight.


The bus station in Guatapé! Don’t blink, you’ll miss it

As the huge city appeared in the valley, and the terminal de transportes ushered in the return bus, and a grateful sentiment was expressed for a safe journey and the humbling awe of making another dream come true.


Harley Davidson of Medellin had a rally in the Guatapé Zocaló on Sunday!

Exhausted from the past day and a half, I slept for nine hours straight after arriving to Gloria and Juan Fernando’s. The next morning, and last day in Paisaland, I set out for a free walking tour with Real City Tours, booked online two nights before.


Back in Medellin, buildings everywhere…

Fortunately, I was able to avoid being one of 85 people on a waiting list by jumping in at the exact moment the online reservations opened up.


Photo courtesy of Real City Tours. Try them!

Meeting at a metro station, our group of twenty-four listened intently as our guide, Juliana, born in the US and raised in Medellin, delivered interesting, fact-filled monologues about her giant metropolis.


the Belgian architect never finished this – fancy vs. “get it done.”

Adept in holding a crowd’s attention, with a university degree in storytelling, Juliana discussed everything from business to politics to history,  enthusiastically stating statistics and reciting remembrances about the second largest city in Colombia.


Guarapo – amazing drink made with cane sugar and lime!

While the camera-happy tourist in me longed to see more buildings and artwork along the tour, the extranjera in me curiously soaked in the richness of Medellin and it’s powerful vibe as the second largest city in Colombia.


I am so grateful to be a teacher in Colombia!

Juliana spoke volumes when she described the ideal Paisa as a hard-working, intelligent, proud (but shrewd) businessperson whose manners are foremost in conversation, occasionally overshadowing the advantage of a deal but still welcoming a savvy deal-maker.


“You going to try out for the Juan Valdez lookalike contest this weekend?”

While Juan Valdez lookalikes can still be seen in the area surrounding Medellin, this fictitious character based on a hard-working coffee farmer who loves his country and his job, is really not too far off, he’s just evolved with modern times.


Does every city in Colombia have a statue of Simon Bolivár?

On the last stop of our tour, Juliana stood beside a metal sculpture that was blown to bits by dynamite during the 1980’s, and pieced back together as a memorial to tragedy, loss and bad memories. Though the city wanted the statue demolished, beloved Colombian artist Fernando Botero insisted it be displayed, stating that if we forget the past, we are destined to repeat it.


Botero birds – bombed and made new, side by side

The statue remains on display, next to a newer version, so Medellin would not forget how far it has come since the crime-laden days of Pablo Escobar in the 1980’s, and the years of extreme political corruption the 1990’s.


Medellin you are gorgeous!

Working my way back through the Centro to catch the buseta to the airport, I reflected on the incredible diversity of Colombia and felt grateful for my new life here. I said a little prayer of thanks for every incredible place there is to see, the amistad and warmth of the people, the fantastic culture and, especially, the bonus of festivo days to experience it all.


Juliana from Real City Tours! Proud and delightful Paisa woman

Posted in Cedula Extranjera, Colombia, Gratitude, Gringa, Medellin, Paisa, South America, Teaching, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

La Gringa Vallenata

Y no la pasamos chatiando todo el tiempo, Me dice tu musica si me encanta
Es que la tengo a la gringa en su puesto, Y yo le envío canciones Vallenatas
Es que la tengo a la gringa en su puesto, Y yo le envío canciones Vallenatas

All the time we are chatting, She tells me I love your music
It is that I have the gringa of course, And I send her Vallenato songs
It is that I have a gringa of course, And I send her Vallenato songs

– from “La Gringa” by Silvestre Dangond & Juancho de La Espriella


It means “welcome to the happy ranch” and they mean it!

Of the many wonderful things there are to note about Colombia, one that bears repeating is its universal love of festivos and celebrations, when most people take at least an extra day to relax and have fun. Learning several days prior that the 48th Annual Festival Vallenato was being held the weekend of April 30th in beautiful Valledupar, Cesar, there was no question about what travel plans to make.

Leaving Barranquilla... look at that lush tierra!

Leaving Barranquilla… look at that super green tierra!

My WorldTeach Colombia 2014 host and hermana Colombiana, Marina, is originally from Valledupar and has always encouraged me to visit her home town for its rich culture, gorgeous landscape and … of course…Vallenato.

photo 1

I bought it on the bus for $1000 COP. I figured it was fate.

After an 8 hour bus ride which left Cartagena at 6:45 am, connected in Barranquilla, and concluded the last two hours without air conditioning, thirty or so sweaty people, most wearing sombrero vueltiaos and drinking water from little plastic bags, rolled down country roads, and finally arrived in Valledupar.

Cute taxi kiosko in Valledupar

Cute taxi kiosko in Valledupar

At the Terminal de Transportes, I was greeted by a young woman working with the Governmental Department of Cesar, who encouraged me to take a free tour organized by the city for this year’s festival, and presented some post cards and a map highlighting adventure spots in the area.


Do you think she secretly knows there is no tour?

Another new adventure in itself is the online community,, which so far has connected me with friendly travelers in Cartagena. Arranging the week before to stay with hosts from went well for this trip to Valledupar. My first host, Darwin, greeted me at the terminal and swept me away to his stunning home on lush green land nearby. We enjoyed making patacones together and talked about travel, music and cooking.


Don’t even think about it, doggie

Darwin told me some history of Valledupar and the surrounding areas. Around 8:00 pm, he dropped me off for a gran concierto featuring several Vallenato and Champeta artists. It immediately began to rain very hard.


Three women from Medellin called out to me, “Gringa, estas sola? Ven, ven aca!” Taking me in with them, we waited out the downpour under a palca with several police officers and concert workers, as the waters rose around us and the ground turned into a giant mud pond.


Martin Elias and the gigantic amazing Rolando Ochoa

After the rains subsided, we were escorted to seats near the front of the outdoor theater, where artist after artist took the stage accompanied by a slew of backing musicians. For several hours, Churo Díaz, Mr. Black and El Zorrillo, Kvrass, and Martin Elias with Rolando Ochoa all performed. Martin Elias was perhaps the most impressive, with his infectious energy, tight showmanship and resounding voice. The son of late Vallenato superstar Diomedes Diaz, Elias sang each song with precision and enthusiasm, clearly an artist born to a legend, but who stands on his own when performing in concert.

"What is this gringa doing in Valledupar?"

“What is this gringa doing by herself at a concert in Valledupar?”

Leaving the show in the early morning hours meant sleeping until noon, after which Darwin and I said our goodbyes from Centro Comercial Guatapuri, where my Colombian boyfriend Juan Valdez served a generous cup of his delicious coffee, before leaving for the free tour promoted by the Department of Cesar.

Juan-derfulUnfortunately, the tour never happened. Arriving at the biblioteca meant finding many beautiful paintings of Vallenato artists outside, but no tour. A group of disappointed visitors complained outright when a two-level bus arrived from Banco de Bogotá, not the Department of Cesar, and did not have a tour to offer.


Great painting! Now where’s my free tour?

Recognizing two women from the Cartagena bus, Mariela and Indira, we agreed the tour was a bust and took a taxi together to the centro, where we enjoyed listening to music among a huge crowd in the Plaza Alfonso Lopéz. Soon after, my second Couchsurfing host, Luis Fernando, arrived to take me to a street party of friends and family.


Agua de Coco with Luz Mariela and Indira

As we arrived, the birthday guy happily exclaimed, “una gringa para mi cumpleaños? Gané! ” (A gringa for my birthday? I Win!), as his wife (the party hostess) handed me a large platter of birria y bollo (goat and corn buns). Being a polite vegetarian, I ate the bollo, and Luis Fernando graciously snuck the plate of birra back into the house.


we ARE getting on that bus

Saturday morning, determined to see the city from the top of an open tour bus, Mariela, Indira and I met again outside the biblioteca, where a large bus arrived, this time reserved for Banco de Bogotá employees and their families. Indira explained to the driver we had waited most of yesterday afternoon for a tour that never happened. The driver replied it was not his decision to only include Banco de Bogotá employees and their families. Still, we stood firm, determined to get on that bus.


Indira, Julian from Banco de Bogotá and me, dancing all day

Eventually, Mariela, Indira and I were given t-shirts like the employees were wearing and invited on the bus. The camaraderie, hospitality and fun among these Banco de Bogotá employees was incredible. We danced on the sidewalks by the Parque Mercado Artesanal. We danced in the parking lot near the Rio Gutapuri.


“Stop dancing and buy a mochilla!”

We even danced on the second floor of the bus while it was moving, ducking to avoid treacherous mango tree branches and low-hanging utility wires.  In fact, the Banco de Bogotá group was so lively and fun, we danced more than we sat, and still saw the entire city from the top of the bus. Mission (of fun) accomplished.


Tintico, little tinto (coffee) served out of a vintage Willy’s jeep

Following favorite traditional, delicious Colombian lunch of fried fish, patacones and arroz de coco, Luis Fernando chauferred a driving tour of the popular statues and landmarks of Valledupar. We stopped at each monument, taking photos and reading about the history of this diverse and creative city. In the evening, Luis Fernando recommended a nearby space that had been turned into an outdoor discoteca-vallenato fusion dance club (yes, more dancing).


With Luis Fernando and the Accordion statue

As the DJ mixed songs from Alkiados and Kevin Florez with Peter Manjarrés and Carlos Vives, cerveza Club Colombia, who sponsored the event, switched out icy buckets of cold beer for thirsty dancers. The next morning, the streets showed evidence of revelry, waking slowly, littered with paper plates, beer cans and cups, and workers who rose early to clean up the festive mess.


Sightseeing in Valledupar

Boarding a bus back to Cartagena for eight hours, the sound of Vallenato still lingering, I watched from the window as the coast of Colombia rolled by, arriving home in the evening to catch a moto from the terminal de transporte and get a good night’s sleep. The following day, I asked my 11th grade about their weekend activities, and the students asked about mine.


The plane outside of Barranquilla… almost home!

Before I could finish telling them about Valledupar, several began singing, “La Gringa” by Silvestre Dangond. “You have to see the video!” they exclaimed, “It’s about a gringa who comes to Colombia and falls in love with the culture. She goes to La Guajira and learns to dance Vallenato!”

At the student’s suggestion, we played the song over the classroom speakers, just loud enough for those next door to hear we were having fun and learning English. As I watched them singing and dancing, reaffirming this country’s love of festivos and celebrations,  I once again felt grateful for being in Colombia. Even when teaching seems too difficult, the air makes it too hot to breathe, or dancing until 5 am is simply exhausting, I’m reminded that life – no matter where you live or what you do – is truly all about what you make it. You can choose to be sullen and dark, focused on all that you can’t get through, or you can choose to smile and celebrate until you find the silver lining. Or, in Colombia’s case, the gold that shines brilliantly, like a giant accordion statue in the middle of Valledupar.


Gracias por todos, Valledupar, te quiero mucho!

Posted in Colombia, Festivals, Gratitude, Gringa, Musica, Teaching, Uncategorized, Valledupar, Vallenato | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Nueva Casa y Semana Santa

Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.
– Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., American author 1809 – 1894

In the past thirty days, I have escaped from yet another awkward living situation that I agreed to and got myself into; a situation that turned out to be a bad choice rift with life lessons in human psychology as well as some self-reflection. One day soon, it’s all going to make for a fantastic book, but for now it’s a painful reminder that if we step outside of ourselves for a moment, most of what we experience is continuous learning in everything we do.


my new neighbor’s patio is ceramica swanky

The leap from a 10th floor bedroom to a sweet little ground-floor apartment took perseverance, patience and persistence. As with circumstances before, it paid off, costing me only a haggled-for “added fee” not discussed prior to the move-in, and one giant reminder of how powerful a weapon silence is during appropriate moments.

Sometimes the words people don’t say are as powerful
as the ones they do.”
― Ann E. Burg, American author

I bid farewell to the Bocagrande digs around the week of March 27th; up to this date, the days were so extremely odd (and at times unbelievable), I did what any extranjera in a strange situation who aspires to publish a book would do: I wrote about it. Each time my former housemate pitched a fit or questioned me up close with an unpredictable smile, I retreated to Rapunzel’s room to write about the event(s).

Charity begins at home, and justice begins next door.
– Charles Dickens, English novelist


So. Weird. The Universe is sending many messages.

Upon leaving, which happened with raised voices and calling a co-worker for backup, I created an amusing short story quite suitable for screenplay material. For now, it must remain among the rest of the tall tales about Colombia, at least until I am out of the country and far from an arm’s length of hair-pulling and mysterious spells.


My new neighborhood pub. Just kidding!

As soon as my two suitcases landed, they took off again, this time on a spontaneous Semana Santa getaway to Barranquilla to stay with the wonderful family I found (manifested) last year in April.  The two hour Berlinas bus ride had me so excited to be back in La Arenosa, that I somehow lost my $40 mil text-and-talk only pay-as-you-go (read: crap) Movistar phone I purchased during my first month in Colombia. Que pena.


En route to Barranquilla from Cartagena

Somewhere, someone found the little celulár without a camera (but with an FM radio) and talked away the remaining $10 mil of minutes. Movistar was surprisingly easy to contact via Facebook (of all places) and the stellar customer service agent cancelled the SIM card immediately, assuring me that I could keep the same number. Ah, the notable ways of business in South America.


Ocho Sweet Ocho, so nice to be back

Arriving in the Terminal de Transportes and taking La Carolina to La Ocho felt like coming home. I was greeted with hugs and kisses and some of Marina’s delicious Colombian cooking. Buzzfeed recently did a piece on Colombian food, and left out half of my favorites, including the bebida de campeones, Pony Malta, and Marina’s amazing arroz de coco.


rumor has it the video was removed for “translation errors.” buuuu

Anticipating “one or two days tops” for a visit, the reality was five full days, which passed quickly with riotous laughter, sit-down meals and gift exchanges, as well as feeling truly blessed to be considered family with these incredible people.


The tiniest Lolaya bus ever

My Colombian “sister” and I joked about dating, gossiped (nicely) about the neighbors and caught up on the latest music blasted from the discoteca next door. We rode the bus clear past Centro Comercial Buenavista one afternoon, missing the stop for Estadio Romelio Martinez and heading out to La Playa, a cute little town between the top of Barranquilla and nearby Puerto Colombia.


La Playa center plaza with igelsia

On the return route, we stopped at the stadium to purchase low priced souvenirs, walking a few blocks to La Frutera Barranquilla, to enjoy plentiful pizza, flavorful bolas de papas and amazing fresh juice. If you ever visit the city, check out this wonderful place. It’s on the  corner of Calle 74 and Carrera 46 and often very busy.


Even the pizza has the colors of the Barranquilla flag

During my stay, I was happy to hear Marina is hosting another WorldTeach volunteer this year, and noticed that many of her friends visit the house at all hours of the day. Marina is a generous host, welcoming the extranjeras and shooing her kids out of the living room when things get crazy. One evening, we returned home to find five gringos on the couch planning their evening: a fantastic sight to see in La Ocho, as people often told me how dangerous it was to live there (mientiras!)


WorldTeach volunteers (and one alumni) with Marina in the center

After visiting with a teacher friend from Colegio Distrital Hogar Mariano and seeing familiar neighborhood merchants, the journey back to Cartagena felt bittersweet. While Cartageneros are known for their culture-savvy style, there’s no doubt Barranquillernos have a reputation of being relaxed but always ready for la rumba of life. After more than a year amongst warm, wild Costeños in both cities, it’s difficult to declare a favorite, as each has it’s equal share of admirable traits.


Keep being you, Barranquilla!

Returning to Cartagena at the end of Spring Break still allotted time to play tourist, with a long-awaited tour of Casa Museo Rafael Nuñez. While amable security guard Jhon Haido recited many interesting facts about this former Colombian President, a visiting crowd perused the grounds and peeked into rooms of the home once occupied by Nuñez and his second wife, Soledad Roman.


Hangin’ at Casa Museo Rafael Nuñez

This impressive couple kept busy during and after Nuñez’s multiple years as President: while Soledad had a church built across the street from the house, Nuñez wrote the words to the country’s national anthem, Oh! Gloria Inmarcesible, and eleven-verse poem set to music by opera singer Oreste Sindici, at the request of José Domingo Torres, an actor from Bogotá.

(Ojalá! Are you feeling the total Colombian history nerd vibe now, or what!?)


Soledad Roman’s beautiful little church at Parque Apolo

As Holy Week came to a close and normal life returned to Cartagena, knowing this journey may be ending sooner than anticipated makes savoring every moment a requirement, not an option. Watching another day slip beyond centuries-old colonial walls, gratitude and appreciation for the present moment – and this screenplay-worthy life – radiated outward like the Caribbean sun setting over the deep blue ocean.


Camino en las Murrallas

Posted in Barranquilla, Cartagena, Colombia, Giving up, Gratitude, Ladrones, Simplify, South America, Teaching, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Esperanza en La Fantastica

esperanza /ess-peh-RAHN-zuh/ feminine noun 1. hope (deseo, ganas); expectation (confianza, expectativas); org: Spanish

The first three months as English teacher with Aspaen Gimnasio Cartagena de Indias have been exhausting, interesting and overall satisfying. Though the schedule of class hours are average for a profesora, the school is anything but average. Located on a grassy acreage outside of the city, this notable Cambridge International Exams-affiliated school consists of several large, modern buildings and sizable classrooms connected by brick walkways, with colorful peacocks roaming freely on the grounds.

peacockschoolTeaching English to levels 9, 10 and 11 includes instruction of literature, with a focus on reading, listening and speaking, as well as creative writing. Reading five different books in a term is demanding, but also a task any literary nerd would embrace with enthusiasm, and respond to by sharing this enthusiasm with intelligent young minds.


Photos with loved ones, Cafe Cordoba, alarm clock from Spain and… four out of five books!

Embraces aside, this experience varies greatly from volunteering with 4th and 5th grade public school students last year, but some things about life on the coast, and teaching as a foreigner, feel similar. Most students are curious about life in the US and speaking with an extranjera, as well as ready to dance at a moment’s notice.


Señora Samara with the smiling girls of Colegio Distrítal Hogar Mariano

During Carnavales, a video featuring the dancing docentes of Colegio Distriál Hogar Mariano in Barranquilla, Atlántico, made its viral journey to hundreds via Whatsapp. Watching beloved campeñeros of last year’s WorldTeach Colombia 2014 volunteer school shimmy across stage was a bittersweet reminder of the challenging and inspiring time spent with them.


Next Stop: Bonga

In February, the teachers of GCI attended a convivencia (overnight retreat) at a gorgeous finca just outside of the city. A huge country house with dozens of rooms, large sitting areas and an enormous second story patio, Bonga is located on a grassy hillside overlooking the ocean near Manzanillo del Mar, halfway between Cartagena de Indias and Barranquilla.


Welcome to Bonga!


The ocean view from one of the sleeping rooms at Bonga.

Teachers were treated to team-building workshops, planning discussions, and worship sessions, including a special mass in the beautiful chapel. We talked about the importance of family and student relations, as well as participated in role-playing activities.


The teachers all had mass together here. So sweet.

With its early-morning meetings, family-style meals and breathtaking views of the Colombian coast, Conviviencia Bonga enero 2015 provided a busy 24 hours and a wonderful way to forge new friendships with the amiable and fun teachers of Gimnasio Cartagena de Indias.


Where was your last company retreat?

Bocagrande y Base Naval

Like most places in the world where life is busy, the weeks in Colombia pass quickly. Living in Bocagrande under restrictive shared housing until a new apartment is ready in April means getting out now and finding relief outside of the torre 10 floors up.

Paintings of Cartagena welcome guests at Hotel Balcones de Bocagrande

Paintings of Cartagena welcome guests at Hotel Balcones de Bocagrande

One evening, the sidewalks on both sides of the main street, Avendia San Martin, filled with families celebrating La Virgen de la Candelaria. Calvagata, a Colombian tradition of horseback riding and showmanship in traditional clothing, featured sturdy caballos mounted by paisas who handled the strong animals with perfection, parading by in a charismatic presentation.


That’s probably Aguardiente in his pocket. Giddyup!

Another weekend, an invitation from a friend to tour the SS Providencia, docked at the Base Naval , provided amazing views of the city and marina one can only experience from the deck of a boat, in this case, a large Navy ship. From the captain’s area, where the boat is steered, to the top deck overlooking the engine room, touring this boat was a unique honor.



Fantastic view of La Fantastica from afar

As Caribbean winds whipped through the steel tresses of La Providencia, practice Navy barcos, private yachts and tourist boats commingled in the busy waters, gliding towards port as colorful skies settled into evening.


Happy tourists aboard “El Mejor” – the best!

Finally, leaving the boat at 6:00 pm, it seemed the entire Naval base went still for the sounding over speakers of the Colombian national anthem, Oh! Gloria Inmarcesible , wrapping up another weekend in Cartagena in patriotic style.


On the deck of the SS Providencia with historic Cartagena in the background

¿Por Que, Colombia?

As time passes, adjusting to a new school and its students, as well as living in a breathtaking, beautiful city,  has its moments of stress and doubt. “Why Colombia?” People often ask. “Why Cartagena?” It’s difficult not to ask oneself this, when tearful days of disappointing lessons and heartache from missing family and friends feel overwhelming.


Juan Valez Café, a comforting place for grading papers

In these moments, it’s best to remember coping techniques learned as a volunteer, including to the often-accurate W Chart, which shows highs and lows of a dramatic life experience (one typical example is first year university). This simple yet effective way of seeing a situation provides not only insight to “why am I feeling this?” but also one essential element: hope, in this case that things will get better. Just as the lines of the W go down, they also come back up; believing the future may rise often helps.


graphic provided by Thought for Food

One effective way of “going up in the W” is reflecting on the things to love about living in Colombia, unwavering reasons like the incredible scenery, the gorgeous people and the picturesque city; its difficult to be sad when there is so much beauty everywhere. Another reason is the music, with its wide range of tempos and origins. Lately Carlos Vives’ La Fantastica, an anthem of adoration titled after Cartagena’s nickname, feels especially enlightening.


One of the beautiful people in La Fantastica

With it’s referential lyrics, rhythmic tambor and shrill gaita sounds, heavy spirits begin to lift with just one listen of this song. Combine the sound of  La Fantastica with the gorgeous view of golden-hued colonial buildings, weathered cobblestone streets, and warm smiles of the people here and suddenly there is no question as to why, just bountiful thoughts of gratitude… and how to make a new life in Colombian work for the best.


Posted in Bilingual, Cartagena, Colombia, Gratitude, South America, Teaching, WorldTeach | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Legales, Ladrones, y Lavadoras

Returning to the land of golden arepas and Vallenato music during a January festivo weekend meant time to walk around colorful San Diego, in the center of Cartagena de Indias. Although most places were closed up tight, tourists continued to fill the streets, mixing among the locals and non-natives who have relocated to this brilliant city on the Caribbean Sea.


As slow day at the Sombrero Vueltiao stand near El Centro

Legally Blonde

Most new employment for foreigners in Colombia requires a visit to Migracíon, either to request or renew a cedula extranjera, Colombia’s national photo ID. Nearly every Colombian can recite their cedula number at notice, and for some non-citizens, it is a privilege to carry this card.


Gorgeous! Look at that proud Migracíon building


The Migración building is located in Pie de la Popa, a barrio named for an old monastery on a hill overlooking Cartagena. Pie de la Popa is moderately safe during the day, making the short walk from the bus stop somewhat enjoyable. Located near a beautiful church, Ermita de la Candelaria, the historic Migración building is a divine example of classic Cartagena design.


Sweet soft green of Ermita de la Candelaria

Painted rich colonial gold with white trim, the inside of the Migracíon building features carved wood transoms over the windows, and swinging gate-like panels of stained glass in front of huge mahogany office doors.  Muted hues of gray, burgundy and gold accent the patterned tile floor, while exquisite dark wood chandeliers provide visitors places to stare as they wait to have their Take-a-Ticket number called.


Inside Migracíon, the back patio area.


Searching for housing on a new teacher’s salary and as a foreigner has been like a double shot of reality served neat. Upon arrival to Cartagena, a living situation arranged in December via proved to be an exalting challenge.


Santa Maria de barrio Crespito, ayudarme en esta situacion.

Enhanced by the lack of wifi in the home, being told by locals that the price, agreed offline before arrival, for 10 days in a jail cell-sized room was nearly the same as a month in a regular-sized room with wifi burned like Aguardiente on an empty stomach.


“Perfect for a backpacker!” You don’t say…

With faith in humankind proving a foolish choice, agreeing without AirBnB involved was a bitter lesson learned. To all Airbnb users, please proceed with caution when dealing with anyone wanting to bargain offsite. You forfeit your right to a refund once you have paid and are unable to write an honest review about the host, should the need ever arise. In this case, cash in hand once taken, was clearly non-negotiable, resulting in 10 days of living comfortably, but with mild regrets.


Tumble Dry Low

Despite the lamentable details of the OffBnB apartment, it wasn’t as bad as my first place in Barranquilla, and it was pretty, with a notable modern convenience: una lavadora. As with most countries, clothes washing machines vary from portable simple tubs to elaborate front-loaders. This one, a small Haceb model is very simple: hose water comes in, the clothes are efficiently washed, and the hose water drains out. The best part however, is the centrifuga, which spins the wet clothes wildly with a whirring mechanism, wringing all the water out. After several months last year hand-washing everything from tangas to towels, waiting hours for things to dry, this salad-spinner like device was a welcomed site.


God Bless You, little Haceb lavadora

Buscar Lugar

Lavadoras aside, the search to find suitable housing with restricted resources in a limited time meant scrambling: walking around, knocking on doors, calling random ads from community boards and perusing the advertisement website OXL . Most days, the search resulted in dodgy-sounding room-and-board situations, or houses with stinky pets and questionable boarders, all of which began to seem promising as the date to vacate the costly mistake location neared rapidly.


The view from the new laundry area

Fortunately, February 1st presented a mes-de-mes room with a private bath, and the jail cell door sprung open. A high-rise apartment with a view ten floors up of the beach at Bocagrande, the “big mouth” of Cartagena, and 24 hour reception/security is where a suitcase, backpack and computer bag have temporarily settled.


Everybody into the pool! OK just me for now.

In contrast to its strict rule of no visitors, the high-rise has a small shimmering pool on the roof, which is great for relaxing and planning the next move. As the search for a cute little apartaestudio or new shared housing (with visitation rights) continues, it’s nice to be among shopping, restaurants and within walking distance of my loyal Colombian boyfriend’s place, Juan Valdez Café.


Yep, grading papers with Juan Valdez. I’m definitely back in Colombia.

Posted in Cartagena, Cedula Extranjera, Colombia, Giving up, Gratitude, Ladrones, South America, Teaching, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Holiday Travel 2014: Us, We, Me and O Not U


Manos de WorldTeach! Hands of our 2014 Volunteer group

December, with its many festive celebrations, gift-giving and end-of-year conclusions, was like a turbulent snowstorm churning out change in its unpredictable winds. Completing a year of service as a WorldTeach volunteer was emotive, celebratory, conclusive and relieving.


The “new” Finca Santa Cruz, outside of Bogotá

At an End of Service retreat to close the program, the remaining group of 2014 volunteers discussed transitioning back into home life after a year in Colombia, such as how to speak about our many experiences, and reasonable answers to odd questions.


My award from WorldTeach Colombia 2014. ¡Verdad!

Surprisingly, after a week in the United States, the most relevant information EOS provided was how to deal with your thoughts, plus appropriate reactions to what used seem normal but now seems strange.


Capilla de la Valvanera outside Bogotá. Beautiful!

Often, it appeared people we had left for the year did not care about a volunteer experience abroad, where power outages were common or the streets turned to rivers during rainstorms. Instead, they turned their focus to what was comfortable: “Really, you lived without air conditioning? That’s crazy! Want to go to Starbucks?” Suddenly, the familiar felt unfamiliar.


City Hall, Sugar Hill Georgia

After flying the friendly skies from South America, a week in Atlanta, Georgia was like a southern-fried welcome of hot molasses over chipped ice: sweet, but messy, too. Between sleeping late and visiting with friends, there was the official business do be done at the Colombian consulate for a 2015 work visa.


The consulate in Atlanta, operating in a modest office building near Sandy Springs, boasted a giant Colombian flag, a photo of President Juan Manuel Santos, and several paintings of countrymen wearing sombrero vueltiaos. Following a brief interview regarding my purpose for living in Cartagena de Indias, and restraining myself from breaking into “Oh Gloria Inmarcesible!,” I was granted a visa to return and work in Colombia.


Arepas for dinner after a visit to the Colombian consulate!

Seven days in Atlanta passed as rapidly as commuters in the HOV lane of Interstate 85. Next stop for holiday merriment: the Carolina Lowcountry. The Charleston International Airport is a modest 30-minute drive to James Island, where olfactory senses come alive driving along salt marshes emanating their briny pluff mud fragrance into the evening air. This aroma, typically pungent to the visitor of Charleston, is quite possibly one of the most comforting smells to anyone who has spent time living in the area.


Looking towards Charleston from Sunrise Park, James Island

Three weeks on James Island was perfect: enough time to savor the flavors of Charleston, satisfying all cravings of Southern food, hospitality and charm, but ending before saying, “fix me a plate” sounded like a normal way to talk.


Hoppin John, collard greens and boiled peanuts: Happy New Year 2015!

Delectable cuisine ranging from plates of beach fusion to traditional Peruvian holiday dishes, to the greatest of all culinary treats, Mom’s potato salad, was enjoyed with enthusiasm and extra napkins. A perfect blend of potatoes, radishes, celery, hard boiled egg, seasoning and mayonnaise, this potato salad makes you wish every meal needed a side dish.


Papa la Huicana Perúvian potato salad

The crab cake eggs benedict brunch special at La Tabella would make Anthony Bourdain’s swear jar overflow (if he had one). A backyard oyster roast on John’s Island, where guests shucked and sucked their way through bushels of bivalves, accompanied by saltines and plenty of hot sauce, was simply delicious.


3 seconds later the mimosa flew off the table. Good times.

Fried dill pickles, lobster macaroni and cheese, fried okra and multiple cups of She Crab soup were devoured with delight during this epicurean adventure.


Southern meals typically start with grace, which is where faith comes in, rolling holy. Sunday morning appearances as a lifetime member of the warm and welcoming congregation of a local Presbyterian church brought smiles and curious inquiries about my volunteer work, as well as repeated explanations that I live in “Colombia (South America), not Columbia (South America).”


Adorable adornments from Guatemala at church

Questions of doubt were met with gratitude, describing a challenging year in which prayer played an important part of staying. After experiencing amazing (as well as a few awful) situations in Colombia, being a part of this community again was a genuine reminder of the power of faith.


Another reason church is a great place to go

If prayer isn’t enough inspiration during one visit to Charleston, it can also be found in local free magazine stacks anywhere within a 5 mile radius of downtown. More than just cheap classified productions or glossy promotional publications, these magazines are entertaining, inspiring literary works.


Magazines… and a not-so-awesome pisco sour

From City Paper to Art Mag, the Lowcountry boasts quality reading, like the all-time favorite Skirt!, where an excellent article by Dean Lofton elaborated on the importance of personal writing practice.


Inside an Embusa in Barranquilla, Charleston get a clue!

While its true South Carolina has a unique culture, picturesque places, and mouthwatering food, it lacks one element that Colombia has mastered: public transportation. It seems everyone in Charleston has a car, or a car and a truck, for those weekend boat hauls and multiple trips to Home Depot. Some people drive golf carts or ride mopeds, however, unlike the mototaxis of Colombia, mopeds are primarily used when a driving license is suspended, and golf carts are often driven by underaged kids. With it’s huge bridges, miles of marsh-bordered highways and sprawling suburban areas, its hard to determine what type of city bus could handle the Lowcountry terrain and still adequately serve the public.


Charleston… or Cartagena? The similarities are surprising

Following Charleston, a quick trip through Atlanta brought an evening of flashback fun watching The Smiths cover band Smithsonian perform at Terminal West. Atlanta has changed dramatically in recent years,  and huge buildings now stand where there once were grassy fields, giving new meaning to the term “urban development.”


Smithsonian at Terminal West, Sweetness I was only joking!

Regardless, one thing that remains unchanged is the song catalog of The Smiths, and Smithsonian expertly belted out hit after hit from the London-based 80’s sensation, covering with perfection the brilliant sound of Morrissey and Johnny Marr.


Freaky formation under the ocean en route to South America

After three weeks of pralines, prayers and passenger seats, flying from Atlanta towards Cartagena was as bittersweet as a wide slice of rhubarb pie. While it seems ironic to no longer consider the Southern US home, deferring this title now to Sacramento (California), Jalisco (México), and most recently, the Northwest corner of South America, it also seems the most honest response to the question, “where do you live?”

To which I reply, “Colombia,” followed by thinking silently to myself, “not Columbia.”


… And way over there, Centro district. Cartagena de Indias

Posted in Atlanta, Cartagena, Charleston, Colombia, Gratitude, South America, Teaching, Travel, United States | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Improvise and Dive

For a volunteer living on a peso-pinching budget, the past two months in Colombia have felt surprisingly rich while making trips to Cartagena de Indias and discovering things to do in Barranquilla. Adversely, the months have also felt like tests of patience and resilience, with frequent on-the-spot lessons in how to improvise. The heat of Barranquilla has cooked the thermal sensor of my Macbook, damaging the RAM and rendering it useless until a visit can be made to the Apple store.


God Bless you, Jesus and your awesome copy shop

New challenges in email communication, maintenance of two websites, and preparation of final exams, as well as the effort to keep up with friends and family, are proving to be extremely difficult. Relying on older, pay-by-the-hour PC’s with low-resolution screens and grinding processors is painful but bearable, as I consider the alternative which is… nothing.


by some miracle… THIS happened

As a teacher and a writer, working without a computer must be how a runner feels with a severe limp: the handicap is not enough to stop everything, but it definitely impedes speed, distance, achievements and endurance.


Running man in Cartagena photo ©KateDana 2014

Fortunately, to a determined runner (or teacher and writer) with a plan, it’s not the end of the world, though it often seems like a cross between torture and a difficult test. Regardless, it is possible to assemble a list of recent non-computer-assisted accomplishments:

Exploring without traveling. Frequent visits to the George Washington Library at the Centro Colombo Americano mean enjoying back issues of Condé Nast Traveler and thick, glossy books about the history of Colombia. While discovering new places to visit and smelling Hermès perfume sample pages, it’s also nice to indulge in the icy air conditioning of the library.


Books at the Colombo Americano library

In addition to escaping through magazines, I recently read two compelling, 800+ page books by Stieg Larsson: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire. Anticipated next, the final book in this excellent trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest. 

Cleaning, donating and downsizing. In preparation for December departure as a WorldTeach volunteer, there are papers to sort through, a year’s worth of faded, ill-fitting clothes to donate, and the clever schematics of fitting everything from souvenirs to unworn winter clothing into two small suitcases. The once-tight skirts and no-longer brilliant blouses will go, but the Alpaca hats and aji amarillo will stay.


5th grade graduation at Hogar Mariano

Gifting Candy and Giving Thanks. The 5th grade students of Distrial Colegio Hogar Mariano graduated this week, transitioning from primeria into secondaria. With little Congratulations! tied to the sticks of Tipitin paletas, its obvious these students definitely deserve more, but with 160 of them, the gift of candy is realistic on a volunteer budget.


Tipitin graduation congratulations pop assembly

The fantastic teachers in the school received colorful, laminated collage bookmarks, handmade and decorated with words in English. At the graduation ceremony, the students and faculty presented me with the humbling surprise of a monetary gift.


Bookmarks for the teachers at Colegio Distrial Hogar Mariano

Accepting the gift in front of hundreds of parents and students, I joked that it might have been better to get me a Spanish dictionary, which I received the following day. Although this volunteer year seemed impossible at times, it has all worked out, with many thanks to Hogar Mariano for being a great school.

with the Pulido Escorcia family. I had both girls in class. LOVE

With the Pulido Escorcia family. I taught both girls this year. LOVE

Listening to Audiobooks. Not everything can be done on the iPhone, but it is possible to download some audio books. Bossypants, written by comedian Tina Fey, tells stories of growing up nerdy, befriending theater geeks, and adoring her father from an early age. These wild true tales read by Fey in a witty delivery and interspersed with hints of sarcasm, catapult listeners into fits of laughter.


Cocina 101 with Andrea, Shauna and Marina

Learning to Cook Colombian. On a Saturday afternoon, WorldTeach volunteers Andrea and Shauna joined my host Marina and me for lessons in cooking Colombian food, including arroz de coco, patacones and jugo de maracuya. Marina previously taught me how to make arepas and cocada blanca. An experienced cocinara, she serves a Bandeja Paisa so delicious it would make Juan Valdez blush.


pouring agua de coco into the arroz

Secured Work for 2015. Somehow, without a computer, I managed to secure an opportunity in Cartagena which will return me to Colombia in 2015. Through the help of two generous friends, one miraculous Skype interview, several emails, and a teaching website (maintained through internet café PC’s), I greatfully accepted a position teaching with Aspaen Gimnasio Cartegena de Indias. Yes, among the constant confusion of living in Colombia, the decision to return in 2015 and work with Gimnasio came easily, enhanced by a love of Champeta and Vallenato, arepas and Pony Malta.

Pretty school. Photo Gimnasio Cartagena de Indias

Pretty school. Photo Gimnasio Cartagena de Indias

As the volunteer year comes to an end, there are still things left to do, like sifting through dried up board markers and maintaining this blog at dial-up Internet speeds. While it’s true Colombia may have cooked my Macbook, diving back into this sizzling country means there is still more to experience in South America. Life ahead still feels like the crap shoot that usually it is, but now it’s happening one inspiring, challenging, improvising moment at a time.


Colombia! The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay… and paint like this

Posted in Barranquilla, Collage, Colombia, Comida-Food, Giving up, Gratitude, La Playa-Beach, Simplify, South America, Teaching, Travel, Uncategorized, Volunteering, WorldTeach | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Go Go Romantico

The Lonely Planet guide to South America mentions Barranquilla in a few short paragraphs, remarking on its famous Carnaval, and describing the city as “one big traffic jam.”  Living here for the past year, admittedly there are few things to do, but the city has some interesting attractions worth noting, like the Museo Romantico.

A trip to the Museo Romantico on a breezy Wednesday afternoon was a leisurely walk from Portal del Prado, just past Universidad Simon Bolivar. The gorgeous Centro Cultural Comfamiliar del Atlantico, located next to the museum, is a reminder that, despite its reputation as a party town, Barranquilla is a city with some sophistication among its festive atmosphere.


outside the Centro Cultural Comfamiliar del Atlantico


After receiving the $10000 COP (required) “donation,” a museum docent turned on the lights to a small room, revealing life-sized cardboard cutout of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, as well as a thick, concrete statue of the celebrated author’s smiling face and upper body wrapped in a silky Colombian flag.


Photo of Museo Romantico ©

Posters and paintings of Marquez share wall space devoted to Spanish-born painter Alejandro Obregón, and journalist/activist Josè Felix Fuenmayor, and glass book cases house various editions of Marquez’s titles, including Cien Años de Solituda and Vivir para contarla.


Smiling Gabo. Follow me on Instagram

Among this rich collection of original material published by The Barranquilla Group – writers, journalists, and philosophers who congregated in the city during the twentieth century – are newspaper clippings in albums following the activities of the group throughout their most active years.


Moving through the museum, the adjacent room holds archives of the Himno de Barranquilla including what appears to be the original manuscript on brown, tattered paper. Written by Amira de la Rosa in 1942, the hymn celebrates Barranquilla’s beauty and potential as a growing port city. A large painting of conductor Ezequiel Rosado hangs on the wall over an antique piano layered in lace doilies and dust.

Watch a video with many photos of life in La Arenosa and listen to el himno here.


Amira, is that your funeral dress?

Next to the hymn room, a large office space filled with aging electronics and artifacts of technology – several rotary dial telephones, tube televisions and typesetting equipment – emits a slightly metallic, mildewing plastic smell, vaguely comforting and similar to that of a basement library or ancient printing press.


Beyond two large wooden doors, a wide hallway features several mannequins in glass enclosures, dressed in gowns from past Reinas de Carnaval, as well as Jesùs and some unusual, demon-like creatures.


Throughout the bottom floor of the Museo Romantico, the eclectic method of organization in some appears to be “put that next to this”; surprisingly, this keeps the museum from being boring: as visitors eyes dart from one unique “treasure” to the next, they combine to make this a unique establishment featuring a diverse collection of artifacts.


Detail of the murals that line the walls of Museo Romantico

The second floor of the museum has several displays ranging from beautiful dioramas of Barranquilla to peculiar exhibits of military and naval history. Nearly half of the floor is dedicated to a presentation by the CUC, featuring the evolution of Barranquilla as the 4th largest city in Colombia, with miniature replicas of the area when it was first settled to its current, modern day inhabitation.


A political costume favorite of Barranquilla’s Carnaval

The military and naval rooms hang heavy with a slightly musty gunpowder smell. Heavy artillery, uniforms and historic newspapers evoke gloom, but turn the corner and suddenly you are surrounded by the colors of Carnaval, Barranquilla’s most popular annual cultural event.


The Museo Romantico appears to have the humble need for resources mixed with the charm of original, historical objects.


Clown and Cumbia dancer at Museo Romantico

From scary clowns and Cumbia dancers to muñecas and Reyanos, a visitor could get lost for hours among the wigs, fabric, sequins and bows of original Carnaval costumes worn by aging, dated mannequins.


Death watches over Rey Civico 2012-2013 Ruben Angulo Montoya

With its unique artifacts and curious smells, the Museo Romantico is worth a visit, but considering its dim lighting and eerie mannequins, it is questionable if any visitor could spend an entire night here.


Hangin’ with one of many Carnaval kings

The Museo Romantico is located at Carrera 54 # 59-199 in downtown Barranquilla. Phone 5-3399000. Open most weekdays 8 am – 5 pm. Donation: $10000 COP adults, $5000 kids 5 and under

Posted in Art, Barranquilla, Colombia, Festivals, Museums, South America | Tagged , , , , , ,

Of Luxury…and Loss

After the pedagogical rush of Bilingual Week in Barranquilla, it seemed appropriate to take a break in Cartagena, a city with the addictive pull of raw beauty and fascinating culture. Leaving late on a Saturday afternoon, the ride via Berlinas in drenching rains was slow, as the windows resembled driving through an automatic car wash. Arriving in the evening to traffic-heavy streets, the final destination was a welcomed sight, with a view from an 8th floor apartment in BocaGrande overlooking the bay.


Sunset over la bahia… ahhh Cartagena

Heading out for the evening, we traversed the cobblestone streets of San Diego and Getsemani before settling on Bourbon Street, a drinkery crammed with rustic wooden tables serving Louisiana-styled pub grub, and waitresses dressed like the burlesque girls of historic New Orleans. Having visited the Crescent City many times before, I appreciated the parody of this Bourbon Street, thousands of miles away from its namesake location.

Inside "Bourbon" Photo: Jetsemani Travel

Inside “Bourbon” Photo: Jetsemani Travel

The night included a live band covering 90’s songs in English and a Halloween costume contest, but the real highlight of the evening was meeting photographer Andrès Lesmes and his assistant/model, Carolina. As Carolina whirled through the crowd in her feathered headdress and glittery makeup, Andres told funny stories between champagne toasts celebrating his birthday. The night pulsated into early morning hours until, finally, our respected parties separated and disappeared for home.


Long lounge chairs await you. Photo ©

Sunday morning Andres and Carolina whisked me away to a beautiful part of Cartagena heading towards Barranquilla, a small area known as Manzanillo. Upon arrival to award-winning Karmairi Hotel Spa, we were welcomed with warm smiles. Beyond the main veranda, a beautiful beach stretched out, appearing nearly-deserted for miles. After placing two large lounge chairs side by side, a chic waiter dressed in all-white asked politely if we wanted anything, and nodded as I requested an arepa: Colombian street food at a boutique beach resort. Several minutes later, the waiter delivered a gorgeous circle of golden goodness, and I gleefully devoured the cheese-filled pocket, grateful for this moment of gourmet simplicity.


mmm behold my arepa de la playa

Following breakfast, Andres elaborated on his photography, which includes travel, hotels, hospitality and food with clients in cities like Bogota, Medellin, Santa Marta and Cartagena. Hours passed as the sun made its way to directly overhead. Naval servicemen running along the beach timed each others’ barefoot sprints.


Pretty nice for a photo taken on an iPhone

Laughter erupted when someone mentioned the absence of champeta music blasting from a pica and the lack of vendors hawking necklaces and buñelos – characteristics of the lively atmosphere on beaches along the Caribbean Coast.


Fresh fish for lunch! Served fried with coconut rice, patacones and ensalada.

Karmairi definitely reveals a unique view of Colombia, one that lends itself to beauty and charisma. It is almost impossible to not feel thankful during a day of relaxation and enjoyment. While there are other places to spend a Sunday in Cartagena, Karmairi was perfect at this moment, offering large white beds to lounge on and a superb staff to thank for their services.


relax and have a nap on the beach

Having volunteered my time and lived on a tight budget nearly an entire year in this gorgeous country, I was especially humbled and grateful to God that I was experiencing what is definitely not a typical day for me at the beach.


simple beauty at Kamairi

After a torrential, hour-long rainstorm spent sheltered under a small seafront cabana, the sun finally poked through the clouds as the afternoon crowd of local families began to arrive, parking their cars sequentially along the top of the beach.


gorgeous tranquility at Kamairi

Following a quick splash in the bamboo-walled outdoor shower of Karmairi, I waited for William to arrive in his taxi for the drive to Cartagena’s bus terminal. As the evening light settled along the historic city walls, a sense of serenity and gratitude evolved from another fascinating weekend in Colombia.


the resort hotel at dusk. Photo © Karmairi resort

My average days are filled with catching city buses, walking on broken sidewalks, and dodging mototaxis. In eleven months as a volunteer here, I have enjoyed few moments of luxury in places like Karmairi, making it almost dreamlike when I do.  In the past two months my computer and camera have both broken, leaving me to rely on pay-by-the-hour Internet cafes and blogging via iPhone. For anyone who’s ever had to survive on minimal technology, it’s easy to agree, after we become accustom to working a certain way, having to adapt to another is almost debilitating. Sure, it’s not horrific, but it definitely is an inconvenience.


Photo of Carolina in Cartagena ©Andres Lesmes

While these setbacks are possibly preparing me for my next life as a Digital Nomad, typing on a 4×3 inch qwerty keyboard is no luxury. At this rate, one would think the efforts of a travel writer may as well go on hiatus, but this post is proof you can get results with determination.


Don’t laugh, this is one of my five cell phones

From a day lounging at Kamari to nights blogging by smart phone, everything that is eloquent and humbling about living here equally distributes a personal adoration for the diversity of Colombia… and all that there is to experience about being here.


En la playa con Andres, gracias amigo para todo

Posted in Barranquilla, Cartagena, Colombia, Comida-Food, Gratitude, La Playa-Beach, South America, Teaching, Travel, Volunteering | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Bilingual and Bewildered

Picture 1While it may seem from this blog that all I do as a volunteer in Colombia is teach and travel, there are some rewarding obligations as an educator, which is the true basis of my year living in this gorgeous country. After a week of diving into clear blue waters of picturesque Isla San Andres, Colombia, came a week of diving into language teaching during Barranquilla’s VI Semana Distrital de Bilinguismo (6th Annual Biligual Week), 27 – 31 octubre 2014.

My contribution to Bilingual Week started early as I developed  a presentation titled Bilingual Bloglingual: Using a Blog to Promote Bilingual Learning in the Primary ClassroomBeginning in late September with a simple web page and blog, I added students’ work and information about naming the url, links to building a web site and finding a suitable host, and suggestions for maintaining what you’ve created.


The weekend before Bilingual Week, I made another trip to historic Cartagena, returning to Barranquilla to find my Macbook has a case of bad RAM. Days earlier, my trusty Canon PowerShot stopped opening its lens window, meaning no more photography during frequent travels. Rather than think of how to write a travel blog after the loss of these items, I brainstormed how to improvise. I gave thanks for printing the handouts for Bilingual Bloglingual in advance, as well saving all files to an external drive.

Fortune favors the prepared mind.
– Louis Pasteur, French Chemist (1822-1895)

Bilingual Week in Barranquilla began on Monday, October 27th as teachers, businesses and administrators gathered at reception center Combarranquilla to enjoy five business days filled with workshops, lectures, presentations and awards. If you think seminars and meetings are boring, you haven’t been to one in Colombia, where most activities are fueled by tinto, interspersed with song and integrated with dance. Every day of Biligual Week was another exciting opportunity to learn helpful information and enjoy inspiring entertainment.


Mi Jefe! Secretario de Educación José Carlos Herrera Reyes

After a ceremonious welcome from the Secretario de Educación José Carlos Herrera Reyes,  several companies and schools delievered presentations. Ser Bilingue, a company that offers intensive teaching courses to schools, wowed the crowd by demonstrating their pedagogy through songs, while Peace Corps volunteer Andrea Doyle from Colegio Distrital Gabriel Garcia Marquez dazzled the audience with a unique version of the Rainbow Behavior Chart for classroom management.


The Lady in the (far right) Front Row:  With my campaneros de WorldTeach

The actual presentation for Bilingual Bloglingual was a short but thorough slideshow supported by printed handouts. Since information about the location, facilities or equipment was not provided in advance, I prepared as I have before, teaching in Mexico and Colombia: expect there will be nothing, and celebrate if there is something.

Only the prepared speaker deserves to be confident.
– Dale Carnegie 

Fortunately, Combarranquilla was equipped with large screens and projection rooms, but having discovered this the day of the presentation (and the day after my Macbook stopped working), I improvised with printed handouts, delivering 45 minutes of facts and entertainment. While it was hard to judge if the audience enjoyed what was being said, it was a pleasure to talk about using a blog in the classroom.


WorldTeach volunteer Shauna Dillon and some of her beautiful students

Creating a presentation with little information on the available resources or environment caused me to think about my time in Colombia and the challenges that occur on a daily basis. Everything from power outages and no water, to my now inoperative Macbook and broken Canon Powershot, have made it clear we often have to find workable solutions to life regardless of the cirucumstances. Right now I’m struggling to move forward and calculate grades, update websites and write this blog, but I am also rediscovering things like reading novels, cooking delicious meals and creating collages.


A little “light” reading on isla San Andrés

The quote by English critic and novelist Aldous Huxley is a great mantra to apply during unpredictable moments:

“Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him,”  


Ahhh yah, la bebida de los campeones and Shakira!

Most of this year has been spent discovering creative ways to teach English, adjusting to life in Barranquilla, and getting lost on buses en route to some of South America’s most beautiful beaches. With recent events – both celebrations and setbacks – it is bccoming clearer what may be the real reason behind being here, an idea that surfaced ironically during the 6th Annual Bilingual Week:

Life isn’t about what is happening to me in Colombia, it’s about what I am doing with what happens to me in Colombia.

To this I say, traer el.

Posted in Barranquilla, Colombia, Giving up, Gratitude, Simplify, South America, Teaching, Volunteering, WorldTeach | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Isla San Andrés: paradiso en Colombia

“Believe. No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars,
or sailed to an uncharted island, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.”

― Helen Keller, American author (1880 – 1968)


Arriving on La Isla, gracias Copa Air!

Teaching in Colombia recently provided more generous time off from school, and a week in the breezy Caribbean to escape the constant heat of Barranquilla seemed perfect. Straining a volunteer budget to pay slightly more for a nonstop ticket with Copa Airlines was worth it to avoid plane-hopping and crazy departure times. Copa delivered an adequate 90 minute flight over open, deep-blue waters from balmy Barranquilla to gorgeous Isla San Andrés.


(Love at) first sight of Playa Centro

Arriving to Isla San Andrés felt like dreamy deja vu.  Having lived in the Caribbean as a child, hearing friendly islanders speak with beautiful Creole-Caribe accents, saying “mon” (man) and “dos det der,” (those right there) evoked vivid memories. The look of brilliant smiles, the smell of salty sea air and the sounds of a beachfront calypso band resonate and linger… long after a visit to the islands.


Day One: Playa Centro, Johnny Cay y El Acuario

Sprat Bay, also called Playa Centro, sits at the edge of the downtown area, near discount tourist stores and duty-free shops. Mesmerizing blue waters and white sands beckon provocatively, calling for the traditional taste of a Cuba Libre and the aromatic blend of cocoa butter on tanned skin.


mmm Cuba Libre in a can

Walking the beach with a smile and clipboard, William approached sunbathing tourists, selling an afternoon lancha to El Acuatico, one of many Isla San Andrés attractions. Around 3:00 pm, a boat launched from the nearby marina, carrying the Capitan, thirteen Argentines, two Chileans, a family of four from Manisales, and one Gringa from Barranquilla.


The view boating out to Johnny Cay

The island is ours. Here, in some way, we are young forever.”
― Emily Lockhart, American author (born 1967)

Johnny Cay is a splendid little island, on this day scattered with tourists and locals seeking shelter under palm tree palapas from an afternoon thunderstorm . The group spent a few minutes at Bibi’s Place before walking to the next smaller island and El Acuatico.


A little Rastafarian rain

Walking in Neoprene water shoes, holding a bag of beach possessions over your head, trekking  through ocean tides surrounded by large fish and manta rays feels both ridiculous and fun. Crowds of families gathered on the shores of El Acuatico drinking Aguila and socializing while in the water one medium-sized manta ray flopped loosely in the arms of a man, posing for photos with swimmers.


El Acuatico… the short walk from Johnny Cay

During the return journey from Johnny Cay, the fearless blue eyed capitan stopped to tell the history of the cay and its ecosystem while a tour guide dove into  open waters, emerging with a glorious, hefty estrella del mar.


Capitan Blue Eyes! An enthusiastic guide

Passing the starfish around the small boat, it seemed a magic connection happened between the passengers and the early evening sea. Collectively, everyone cheered on Max from Argentina, tempting him to make the next dive in (he didn’t).


La Gringa, Estrella de Mar and Max de Argentina

Day Two: La Piscina 

Many buses in Isla San Andrés are no bigger than 16-passenger cargo vans with a front and a back door; somehow they miraculously seem to hold up to 30 passengers… with the doors open. A short bus ride from the esquina in El Centro is La Piscina, a tourist attraction worthy of noting for its eclectic history and friendly propietor, Leard Pomare Myles.


Diving into La Piscina

The land of La Piscina has been in Pomare’s family for centuries; in 1971 he decided to create a tourist friendly area to celebrate the natural pool where exotic fishes gather and swells crash upon rocky cliffs. After Hurricane Joan ripped through in 1988, Pomare erected an open-walled snorkel rental shelter and restaurant offering delicious fresh seafood for hungry pool-jumpers. With a beautiful relaxing pool area and historical island information courtesy of Pomare and his sons, La Piscina has become an established landmark.


Coctel de Camarones and a Crab Empanada. Delicious!

 Notes on La Noche

Isla San Andres may lack big-city lights but it has a vibrant nightlife, and is relatively safe for walking around after dark. Motos are everywhere, flying over the asphalt, carrying up to four passengers, all dressed to impress. Discotecas like Éxtasis and Coco Loco boast their biggest crowds from Thursday to Sunday nights. El Viajero, a hostel group with locations in Colombia and Uruguay, occupies a 5-story building in El Centro, with a generous, patio bar on the top floor.


Ragga Ragga DJ’s y Dancing. Photo: TripAdvisor

Refreshing Caribbean night breezes blow through El Viajero as the DJ spins popular music and the bartender serves drink specials. A few nights during the week, El Viajero has free salsa classes, interactive games and Ragga Ragga dance lessons led by the enthusiastic staff, getting travelers warmed up for a night out on the island.


San Andrés at night from El Viajero’s rooftop bar

La Musica: Ragga Ragga

Music is prominent on Isla San Andrés, offering a spicy hybrid of Nigerian, African, Caribbean and Colombian influences. The “island sound,” is a blend of calypso, soca and reggae with vallenato, salsa, hints of gospel music and United States R&B, resulting in a chaotic mix that inspires people to dance and sing.


Playlist for a week in Isla San Andrés

With the local accent this:

I don’t understand one thing when I try to listen to a dub song
I tried and I tried and I tried and I tried and I know that something’s wrong
Anytime the DJ decides to play, one hand goes up in the air
Everybody’s chanting, doing the Bogle, oh what an atmosphere

…sounds like this:

Adols anas talwa tink wana tai tu lisen tu wa song
Ay trai an ai trai an ai trai an ai trai an ai nu dats somtin wrong
Evry taim de DJ dis ai tu, pay uan han gou ap in da eir
Eny vary chanyin duin de bugel o wat an atmosfer

– from the song “Ragga Ragga” by Red Plastic Bag

Ragga Ragga, a Jamaican-based sub-genre of reggae, is mostly electronic music with a beat similar to hip hop. Sampling other songs, Ragga Ragga blends to form “ragamuffin music,” or “raggamuffin” deriving its name from the music of Jamaica’s “ghetto dwellers.” Tourists and locals love dancing the bow-legged, chest-pumping movements, trying to decipher the words as they sing.

Day Three: Iglesia Bautista, La Loma

The historic Iglesia Bautista, founded in 1844, is a small church perched on a hill near the neighborhood of La Loma. While not especially dazzling or architecturally striking, Iglesia Bautista provides a stunning view of nearly both sides of Isla San Andrés; with its hilltop location, the church may be seen from many spots around the island.


Iglesia Bautista and a single hibiscus

Even on rainy days, the humble little church seems to glow proudly on its generous grassy terrain. Single-paned windows tinted in primary colors and a simple congregation with dark wood pews make Iglesia Bautista is a sweet reminder of the early days gone and faith still present in Isla San Andrés.


Looks like the inside of the churches on Antigua. Cute.

Near the Iglesia is the town of La Loma, with multicolored wooden houses and children playing futbol as mototaxis zip by on the main road. Some houses feature two stories and wraparound porches, while others offer lunches of Comida Tipica de Isla, like Rondon, a traditional stew with pescado de leche de coco (fish cooked in coconut milk).


La Loma, Los Motos and El Perro!

Day Four: Rocky Cay

Cayo Rocoso, located at Sound Bay, is a picturesque beach with calm shallow waters and soft bleached sand. Upon arrival, it appears to be a private beach for guests of Decameron, but it is actually a public space where $10000 COP will get you a lounge chair for the day. Nearby is a full bar and tienda for drinks and snacks. rockycaywelcomeIn the water, several meters from the beach, is the large rusty cadaver of the ship Nicodemus, once owned by Aristotle Onassis in the 1980’s. The rumored tale is that Nicodemus suffered damage during a storm and was being towed near Cartagena when it split into three parts, two sinking to become reefs and the third a rusty monument to the shipping tycoon and his many adventures.

“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.”
– Aristotle Onassis, Greek Businessman (1906 – 1975)


Catamaran and Jet Ski, another way to the little island

Between the shipwreck and beach is a tiny island with a natural aquatico, offering visitors a safe spot to snorkel among coral and barriers. Another walk through crystal blue waters carrying a bag overhead gets you from Rocky Cay to the little island.


The hulking mass of Nicodeums, seen just beyond the little island

Randolph, a San Andrés native, works on the island renting snorkel masks and diving down for anemones and spiny starfish with visiting children whose parents swim nearby. On this day he presented a huge sea urchin for our group to hold.


Rocky Cay: The view walking from the beach to the island

Randolph told the story of the island, which was once occupied by a man for 9 years, who lived in a small house and fell in love with a Chilean woman. Though the little house is now gone, and the couple now resides in the city of San Andrés, a large flag from Chile flies on over the tiny island.


Randolph with La Gringa, Valentina and Eloisa de Barranquilla

Days Five: Moto Tour

For the final days of this visit to San Andrés, Randolph from Rocky Cay offered a tour of the island by mototaxi, which turned out to be an inexpensive way to see some remaining areas through the eyes of a local. Zipping through traffic of El Centro, out to a road bordered by beach on one side and jungle on the other brought miles of smiles.


Randolph and the day’s tour vehicle. Fun!

First passing the Casa Museo – a museum showing life as it once existed on the island in a traditional home. Two women in casual beach sarongs smiled and called to golf carts driven by tourists, “Ayrie, come to the Casa, mon!” encouraging them to stop.


Continuing on to pass Morgan’s Cove, Randolph stopped at a small reggae-themed coctel bar which occupied both sides of the road – an ingenious way to catch traffic in either direction.


The little coctel bar, street-side

The owner of the coctel bar busily swept the area, happily greeting guests and suggesting a fresh coco loco libation. Visitors took photos and relaxed in the swings and hammocks overlooking the opulent tiny private beach.


Mini Paradise across from the coctel bar, beach-side

Riding on revealed the huge rocky cliffs in the center of San Andres, Cerro La Loma, also known as El Cliff, which some say is due to the eruption of a volcano which threw rocks older than the seafloor to the surface, creating the island. A massive bulk sprouting jungle vines and menacing uneven terrain, it is easy to imagine El Cliff as the set of Peter Benchley’s The Island, were it not for the beautiful houses and small farms surrounding its base.


View of El Cliff from the back of a fast moto

Reputations rise and fall almost as regularly as the tides.
Peter Benchley, American Author (1940 – 2006)

Day Six: Adios, Isla San Andres

Walking to the airport, as travelers towed roll-on luggage over rocky sidewalks, the Caribbean sky beamed a brilliant blue with giant billowy clouds. A group of locals eating at a corner tienda discussed the results of the previous night’s friendly partido, where Colombia won over El Salvador 3-0. “Den it wa oba, ba Argenten, don cry!” a man laughed, mocking the futbolistas.


As the departing plane jetted upward beyond Isla San Andrés and its turquoise seas, white sands, delightful people, infectious music and savory dishes, its hard to imagine anyone leaving this paradise who don cry at least a little. Ragga Ragga!

“The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.” 
― Ralph W. Sockman, American author (1889 – 1970)


Posted in Colombia, Gratitude, Iglesias, Isla San Andres, La Playa-Beach, South America, Teaching, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Livin’ La Vida Ocho

She will wear you out, livin’ la vida loca ocho, Come On!
Livin’ la vida loca ocho, Come on!
She’s livin’ la vida loca ocho.

– Ricky Martin, “Livin’ La Vida Loca” (revised) 


Street art, like Colombian pride, runs deep in La Ocho.

In April 2014,  I moved to Barrio Alboraya in La Ocho, a neighborhood in the south of Barranquilla. I found my new home thanks to Airbnb and many hit-and-miss home visits that had me running all over La Arenosa. While it has the reputation of being peligroso y pobre (dangerous and poor), most of the people that live here would be insulted at this idea and invite you to visit and see for yourself. Outside the loud discotecas and corner tiendas, beyond the crazy divided lanes of traffic, life is actually good in La Ocho. ¿Quieres saber más? 


La Location

The main street, Carrera 8 (La Ocho) is flanked by two main avenues, Calle 30 (Boyacá) and Calle 45 (Murillo Toro). The area known as La Ocho is composed of several small barrios including La Magdalena, El Campito, and La Alboraya. Clearly, Googlemaps doesn’t have a Googleclue about La Ocho, however it does have several of the neighborhoods listed.


Some say La Ocho also includes La Victoria and La Union, or basically the areas between Carrera 14 and Carrera 6, but this — like many things in Barranquilla – often depends on who you ask.

La Shopping

La Ocho doesn’t have the famous designers and three-story glamour of Buenavista, or the vast space and deep discounts of Unico, but it does have some options for shopping, including the event-hosting Panorama and, just a little further south, the indoor-outdoor Metro Centro. There are two Olimpica grocery stores on Carrera 36B and a Jumbo on Calle 30, but the best shopping in La Ocho is the little stores along the main street.


Plan Separe, in case you want to put those overalls on layaway

Perhaps not as picturesque as it sounds, the main street and its little stores provide the neighborhood with local options for just about anything, from pharmaceuticals and fresh fruits to casual clothes and hardware. Best of all, the prices in the local stores are generally reasonable to barato (low).


La Plaza features giant fruit salads y más

For your office needs, visit, where Jesús offers inexpensive impresiones and fotocopias más rapido (very fast prints and copies). Is your cat coughing up hairballs again? Make an appointment to see the good doctors at Veterinara la 8, where dogs often arrive for their check-ups via mototaxi.


Look closely – those boxers have mustaches

Finally, for the best shopping in la Ocho, don’t miss El Rematazo near Calle 36B. This tienda de varidades sells everything from households to clothes to beauty supplies. The selection and stock in El Ramatazo puts Dollar Tree to shame, and rumor has it that the WorldTeach volunteers living in La 8 are regular customers of El Rematazo, no doubt for its decent papeleria and personal service.


The outside is only the tip of this amazing shopping iceberg

La Rumba

Tell anyone in Barranquilla you live in La 8, and their first response is usually, “ah, La Rumba!” La Ocho is famous for it’s huge discotecas and corner tiendas, blasting music at all hours, serving copious amounts of Aguila, Club Colombia and Aguardiente day and night.


True, the original is in the north, but this is La Troja de la 8.

The giant clubs, including Pink Panther, King Kong and PKDOS rise above other venues like La Troja, Estadero Super Rico de la 8 and the appropriately named Beer Party.


“I’m gonna stand here til the club opens tonight! Just kidding.”

You haven’t truly lived in Barranquilla until you’ve experienced Vallenato music at top volume until 4 a.m. on a Saturday night, especially when it’s right next to your house. Sleep comes with experience, and miraculously your brain eventually tunes the music out.

Las Buses y Los Autos

It’s true much of the traffic in La Ocho is mototaxis or people cutting through from Calle 30 to Calle 45, however it is also heavy with buses on regular routes, which is fantastic if you live without a car. Many of the top companies in Barranquilla serve La 8, including Sobusa with its giant old school buses that run from the top of the city to the bottom and back, the dark green and yellow former tour buses of Loyola, and Embusa with its vintage dark blue and orange buses.


There’s also the giant yellow buses of Transurbar (Maria Modelo), and the gold-and-black La Carolina buses, which conveniently end their route at the Terminal de Transporte. If you’re not sure which bus to take, visit the Transporte Público Barranquilla website and go crazy trying to figure out the best route for your destination, or just do as the locals do… ask someone on the street.


Typical site: a mototaxi swerves in-between two buses at a corner turn.

No neighborhood would be complete without a body shop (would it?), but the one in La Ocho is worlds apart from anything you’d find at Earl Scheib. In La Ocho near Calle 41 there is a drive up automotive “shop” without walls, meaning… it’s in the street. Literally. Six (sometimes seven, depending on how busy) days a week, several men cover glass with papers, hand sand, prime, and spray paint cars to a gleaming finish.


Saturday, 7:00 a.m. Hand sanding and firing up the compressor

Though they’ve been spotting applying the occasional rattle-can spot job, most of the drive-up paint work uses a compressor, which sucks so much energy at times it has been known to blow the power out on the street nearby. Amazingly, the compressor stays operative, filling the air with paint fumes and dust as the rest of the street waits for the energy to be revived.

La Conclusion (La Vida)

So isn’t exactly the colorful tourist attraction of Carnaval, or the quiet and picturesque neighborhood of Ciudad Jardin, La Ocho is definitely a unique part of Barranquilla worthy of an afternoon visit for the adventure and experience. If your day in “La Rumba” happens to end with you dancing salsa all night at a giant club or celebrating a Juniors victory with the locals at a corner tienda, consider yourself lucky… after all, you’re living la vida ocho.


Goooooal! I can’t even guess which futbolista this is.

Posted in Barranquilla, Colombia, Gratitude, South America | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Pasar para Palomino

“My life is like a stroll on the beach…as near to the edge as I can go.”
– Henry David Thoreau American author and poet (1817 – 1862)


Hello, Palomino. (PG-13 note: Delia’s other side has been edited out).

TripAdvisor has it’s Traveler’s Choice Awards of Best Beaches. Condé Nast Traveler has The Prettiest Beaches in the Caribbean. As for me, I have The Best Beaches to Explore on Long Weekends in Colombia… or at least I will have this list before my service ends in December.


One of the lower cliffs along the road to Palomino

Often, teaching 4th and 5th grade takes its toll on me during the week, so when a 5-day weekend pops up, I scramble to pack a bag, catching the next bus (Berlinas, $12000 COP) out of Barranquilla to find adventure along the coast of this gorgeous country. Most recently, I traveled just beyond my beloved Playa el Rodadero to Palomino, a small beach town along the Troncal del Caribe in the department of Guajira, close to the revered Parque Nacional Tayrona but miles before the Wayuu occupancy along the peninsula.


Caballo parking only. On the road from Santa Marta to Palomino.

The long weekend began in Playa el Rodadero, where days were once again spent relaxing by the pool of Carroll’s Hostel and basking in the beach sun, sampling mouth-watering cocada and gorging on the deliciousness of arepas asada sold near the Olimpica.


Coco Loco, Playa el Rodadero. Never gets old.

Afternoons were perfect for shopping in the Mercado Artenisals, where unique gifts included gorgeous bolsitas de Mola and a miniature aluminum guacharaca (also called a guiro). Walking along the malecón sipping fresh juice and watching the sun set with the locals gave new meaning to the word “getaway.”


This delicious juice stand was named for the owner’s 22-year old granddaughter, Tatiana.

On Saturday night, a short taxi ride to Santa Marta provided mixing with friends on the rooftop deck at Hemingway with watching happy families and well-dressed couples fill the aptly-named Parque de los Novios.


With Santa Marta musicians (far left) Pipe and Rolando, plus José Antonio from Carroll’s Hostel

The real adventure began after booking a night at the Tiki Hut hostel and boarding the bus to Palomino, accessed by first taking a bus from el Rodadero to Santa Marta and walking through the somewhat dodgy Mercado Publico (Centro). Armed with directions from Trotamunda’s Transatlantic Journey, this bus-walk-bus transfer was miraculously completed in less than an hour. Taking off with photos of sullen-looking Wayuu advertising tours to La Guajira and legroom only a four year old could enjoy comfortably, the breeze blew in cooler and crisper as the bus climbed along the coast.


the less-than-luxurious (but fast and inexpensive) bus

Arriving 2 hours later to Palomino, the bus stopped just long enough for passengers to literally jump off with their backpacks as mototaxists swarmed the crowd, eager to transport people to nearby inns and hostels.


a few minutes earlier they required horn blasts to vamos from the road

Rafael quickly offered a brilliant smile and a wide back seat for my overnight bag, and off we went down the dirt road to Tiki Hut, arriving to find cute houses lined along a grassy yard with large blue pool. Once settled into the loft bed of the Playa Cristal cabin, swimsuit on in mere seconds, it was beach time.


With Rafael, mototaxist extraordinaire

A five-minute walk towards the sound of crashing waves revealed a beautiful long stretch of mostly unoccupied beach, the sun darting between large clouds overhead as Vallenato music blasted from a nearby restaurant.


Up top in the Tiki Hut: the little bed under mosquito netting.

First attraction: the small cage of baby turtles, where visitors purchase the turtles for a few pesos each and “release” them in the ocean… though many look like they’ve been released more than once.


“Pick me! Pick me!” Really, is there a difference?

Lured by the large “beds” made of wood and bamboo outside Finca Escondido, a crowd around one of the tables beckoned beachcombers to join them for sips of Ron Medellin cuba libres and talk of travel… New Yorkers, Austrians, Colombians and Germans welcomed those passing by, including this Californian-gone-Colombian.


The Colombian kitchen and coctel bar at Finca Escondida

During the week, the beach of Palomino is quiet most of the day, with the exception of a few travelers around the pool at the Dreamer Hostel and groups taking jeep rides for an afternoon of tubing on the Palomino River.

“The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea.”
-Isak Dinesen (Danish author 1885-1962)


Nadar es Peligroso! But loving the beach too much isn’t.

At night, the sands are lit with tiki torches and “patrolled” by locals with flashlights which may or may not be acting as security for safety reasons. Unfortunately for me, leaving my shoes beside one of the large beds by Finca Escondido for all of 10 minutes was a mistake, as they were stolen, along with my flashlight, leaving me to return barefoot in the dark to my hostel. I admitted to my carelessness of “dar papaya,” but was grateful for it not being more.


Big wood beds outside Finca Escondida: bienvenidas

Palomino lacks many comforts, including a large grocery store for travelers who like to cook their own meals, leaving them to purchase pricey meals and snacks from the hostels and restaurants around the area. The sewage system, which not surprisingly is very primitive, leaves the dirt roads smelling swampy in many areas – fortunately, Rafael was an expert in avoiding these on the mototaxi ride back to the main road.


Kogui tribes person in one of the few tiendas around Palomino

The next morning, after calling Rafael’s cell phone for a pick up, sipping a fresh guyabana juice and waiting for the bus to Santa Marta, left a moment to reflect on Palomino, giving it a ranking of 6 in a scale of 1 to 10 in Best Beaches to Explore on Long Weekends in Colombia, laughing at the thought that somewhere, someone’s mom or girlfriend is enjoying my $25000 COP shoes in style.


California? Hawaii? Why no, this beauty is all Colombia…

“It’s such simple stuff, but… If I could stop the world and restart life, put the clock back, I think I’d restart it like this. For everyone.” 
― Alex Garland, The Beach

Posted in Barranquilla, Colombia, La Playa-Beach, Santa Marta, South America, Teaching, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Playa el Rodadero – Lanchas y la Gente

Weekend getaways in Colombia are often inexpensive and easy to do, especially last-minute. When a festivo hits on a Monday, you can bet much of the country is planning to travel, even if it’s just to the next municipio. Following the locals, I packed a bag early Saturday afternoon and boarded a Berlinas bus to Playa el Rodadero for the holiday fin de semana.


The road from Barranquilla to Playa Rodadero – miles of quiet beach

After an uneventful 2-hour ride, arriving to Carroll’s Hostel, with its security-camera front gate and sprawling, bright white facade, was a treat for bus-weary eyes. A chat with the proprietor Alan revealed that Carroll’s hostel was, until recently, a private home for a family of four.


Carroll’s Hostel – casa blanca bonita

Proving to have potential as a hostel, the large stone balconies stretched over a spacious patio, and a crystal-blue pool reflected the afternoon sun. Travelers relaxing on lounge chairs sipped chilled Club Colombias as a mature turtle greeted guests ascending the stone steps to reception.


Romeo greets guests and keeps the grass low

Carroll’s optimum location is a short walk to the centro of Playa el Rodadero, where the evening included a treat of watching the sunset with locals and weekend vacationers. A ten-minute bus ride from historical Santa Marta, Rodadero is reminiscent of many classic beach towns, with a main avenue (and occasional chaotic traffic), reasonably priced souvenir shops and mid-priced restaurants serving local cuisine.


¿Cuanto vale? Regular vs. Gringo price

In the heart of centro is a beach-boardwalk area dotted with street food stands, vendors squeezing mouthwatering jugos, and artisans selling their wares, including several working their crafts in demonstration. By day, the beach of Rodadero is filled with sunbathers soaking in the Colombian heat and families enjoying plates of pescado frito and patacones.


Mucha gente en la playa – everyone into the water!

At night the beach is a spectacle of sand-dredged fiestas – groups gathered and dancing to cumbia, salsa and champeta, with the occasional live Vallento group playing traditional songs for tips. The dark spaces and light reflecting off the Bahia de Gaira makes for a moody, lively atmosphere, like a outdoor discoteca, interrupted humorously by happy kids running around in shorts and sandals.


Rodadero at night: the party’s just getting started

Playa Rodadero tends to be over-crowded on many festivo weekends; a quick getaway to nearby Playa Blanca is easily had for $10000 COP and a 15-minute, slightly bumpy ride in an open-air lancha.


Note the times on the ticket: don’t miss the last lancha back!

One company, Casa Linda SAS, has well-dressed muchachos strolling the beach, offering tickets and ushering clients to the nearby shack, where a serviceperson will slowly write out a fractura for you to board the next lancha. As with most beach purchases, Casa Linda SAS accepts cash only, preferably (like most Colombia sales) in small bills.


Would you have been able to resist Oliver and his lancha tickets?

Gringos, take note: the lines for the lanchas fill up fast at the shore’s edge. If you’ve ever waited in line in Colombia, you may already know most people ignore the queue, meaning you may have to stand your ground (in the sand) to avoid being passed up several times as the boat is being boarded. On this day, the Casa Linda staff putting people on the boat were not helpful, so be assertive and get on that next lancha!


Everybody on the boat! Gringos in the back.

Once in the lancha, wearing a life vest and getting the occasional face full of sea spray, you’ll notice the coast line is weathered and brown due to extremely low rainfall in the past year.


Beautiful water against an arid shore

Rounding a stony corner, you’ll come to a beach bearing the same name as one near Cartagena: both Playa Blancas feature a small cove with crystal-clear warm water, bleached reefs of coral and soft, white sand.


Playa Blanca, Magdalena – here we come little beach

On this festivo Sunday, the skies opened up and dumped rain on beach-goers, considerably strange having just passed the dry cliffs and terrain on the boat ride to Playa Blanca. “Húmedo sobre húmedo!” (wet-on-wet) a man was overheard shouting to his friend as he dove into the water. Clearly, the dark skies, which lasted about half an hour, didn’t shadow many spirits, and the beach continued to buzz with afternoon activity.


Húmedo sobre húmedo, refreshing rains on Playa Blanca

Waking to a picturesque morning on the patio of Carroll’s Hostel meant savoring an aromatic cup of rich Colombian coffee before a brisk walk to the Olimpica on Carerra 4, where a man out front offers traditional arepas asadas generously stuffed with cheese for $1500 COP (75 cents US).

Not my actual arepa guy's asado. Photo:

He didn’t have hot dogs. (Not my actual arepa guy’s asado.) Photo:

Paired with a fresh-squeezed Maracuya juice ($3000 COP) from the boardwalk, this inexpensive breakfast was just enough fuel for the Berlinas return bus trip to Barranquilla. It should be noted that on festivo weekends, the ticket price jumps from $12000 COP ($6.00 US) to $18000 COP ($9.00 US), but don’t let this stop you from visiting Playa Rodadero: just one of many beautiful beach towns on Colombia’s gorgeous coast.


¡Adios, Playa Rodadero, nos vemos pronto, espero!

Posted in Colombia, La Playa-Beach, Santa Marta, South America, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Rains and Recreo in Turipaná

Summers in coastal Colombia can be excruciatingly hot, and although August feels a little less scorching than July, it’s still blazing most days. Attempting to beat the Barranquilla heat can be successful if recreational days are timed correctly to coincide with the weather.

Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire
Couldn’t conquer the blue sky

– “Weather With You” by Crowded House

One idea is to catch the colorful bus ($3700 COP) to Turipaná Comfamiliar, located between the beach towns of Playa Mendoza and Caño Dulce in Municipio Tubará.

Turipaná Bus

Just one of the many colorful buses to Turipaná. photo: Barranquilla or Bust

If you’ve never visited the area before, hop off the bus at the sight of the water slides and the giant billboard announcing Turipaná. Head to the security gate, pay the $3500 COP for entry, and take a short walk along the landscaped (but always slightly under construction) recreation area. After passing a few futbol fields, restaurants, and cute cabana houses, you will come upon a giant concrete-and-blue-tile piscina. 


Is she having fun, or scared to death? En grande under a grey sky!

A ticket to enter the pool costs $5300 COP a person, but before planning a full day at the pool, take note: pool time… is pool timed. That’s right, on Sunday, $5300 COP gets a single swimmer 1.5 hours of splash time, nada más. Upon arrival, you may find you are “in-between” pool entry times and have to wait. Already laughing at the irony of this adventure? Just relax and visit the adjacent beach, accessible by walking through a small coconut grove, to pass some time in the ocean before returning to the pool. 


Near the beach by Turipaná: cutie in the coconut grove

When the next hour change at the pool comes up, be sure to return to on time. Minutes after the gate opens, the pool may already be crowded and nearly lounge every chair occupied. Most of the large chaises are bolted down and several have no backrests, although parked under fiberglass umbrellas, these may be the most sensible ones available under the blazing sun, plus there is plenty of shaded grassy areas around the concrete.


Walking off the wait time before the pool…

On the day of this visit, one unplanned detail appeared… rain. As the drizzle began, it seemed hard not to laugh (again) at the irony of a timed pool day under thunderclouds rapidly gathering overhead. In minutes, the rain began to fall at a steady pace, yet the pool remained filled with families and friends having fun, not noticing at all the thundering rumbles from beyond the sky.


“Hmph. It’s not the same as an Aguardiente bottle, but…”

As the skies began to open up, a salvavida blew his whistle. In most parts of the US, this would signal clearing all swimmers, as the slightest threat of a storm means “Everybody out of the pool!”  Nope – this whistle-blower was just telling the big guy handing out shots of Aguardiente that giant glass bottles aren’t allowed near the water. Laughter ensued as Señor Aguardiente offered a shot to the salvavida, who politely declined.


“…and then I offered the salvavida a shot!” Colombians are awesome.

Some people feel the rain — others just get wet.
– Roger Miller (American songwriter, 
1936 –  1992)  

At 3:15 exactly, the salavidas began blowing their whistles furiously like a sporting event gone wild. Waving people out, they cleared the pool in less than 10 minutes, including Señor Aguardiente. The fountains shut off and the water fell still as the rains began to subside. Waiting just outside the main gate, a group of people carrying float devices, coolers (at least one with Aguardiente) and soggy towels from the recent rain, anxiously anticipated their swim time.


5 minutes left to get crazy in the pool

Returning from Turipaná to Barranquilla is simple, just walk to the main road and wait for the same colorful bus ($4500 COP) at the small tienda across from the gate. If you plan to visit in the future, it may be worth noting these tips:

1. Enter through the beach side of Turipaná Comfamiliar and avoid the (unnecessary) $3500 COP fee for the paved road to la playa.
2. Visit on a Saturday, when pool time is 2.5 hours (opposed to Sunday’s 1.5 hours) for the same price.
3. If bringing Aguardiente, buy it in the convenient Tetra Pak to drink (in moderation) poolside while splashing around.


Spirits in TetraPak boxes. Another reason to love Colombia. Photo: Viaje por Latinoamerica

Finally, as you ride back to La Arenosa in the back of the bus, appreciate watching passengers doze off in their swimsuits and squishy clothes. Take time to sense a slight tone of gratitude among people enjoying a Sunday, feeling the breezes from the roadside, and simply being relieved, even temporarily, from the oven temperatures of Barranquilla.

Posted in Barranquilla, Colombia, La Playa-Beach, South America, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Cumpleaño en Cartagena

Celebrating a birthday in Colombia? Fantastic. Celebrating a birthday with 5 days and nights in beautiful Cartagena, Colombia? Priceless. Or at lease well worth the cost of my hostel, meals, bus fare and sightseeing. Arriving on a Friday after a long week of teaching, the hot Caribbean sun was just beginning to set in the deep blue sky. After taking the inexpensive but slow-paced Metrocar S.A. from the bus terminal, it was a relief to walk around the alluring Getsemani neighborhood again, my third visit since arriving in Colombia.


Color and concrete in Getsemani

With the weekend finally here, the streets of this trendy neighborhood were crowded with tourists and locals enjoying happy hour drinks in the balmy, breezy evening weather.  Still reveling from 10 days in Lima, my friend suggested dinner at Restaurante Perú Mar, with its elegant atmosphere and great service.


Stacked, savory causa with a side of cancha at Perú Mar

A friendly waiter brought traditional cancha as a snack on while the meals were being prepared. The ceviche, causa and Pisco Sours he graciously delivered were authentic, fresh and flavorful: every morsel deserved to be savored. On this Friday night, the restaurant was busy serving its delicious Perúvian fare accompanied by the live performance of Spanish-influenced guitar.


Glowing dome of Catedral de San Pedro Claver and a streetworthy chiva

A walk around the gorgeous Plaza de Santa Teresa at night revealed the popular spot for couples and romantic tourists taking photos beneath the glow of the domed Catedral de San Pedro Claver. A stop by the vendors along Plaza de los Coches, many of whom stay open late, meant a sweet treat of sugary Cocada in several varieties, including fruity guayaba, lush arequipe and velvety panela.


Dolls of Milk! Sold beside jars of cocada and other treats in Plaza de los Coches

Beaches Boca and Blanca

The next morning, heading out for a day at the beach meant stopping by Tienda Naturista Girasoles Restaurante Vegetariano, a wonderful discovery from my first visit to Cartagena. After selecting some of their tasty whole wheat empanadas stuffed with cheese and sautéed mushrooms, I darted through skinny streets, dodging wayward taxis, towards Plaza de los Coches to catch the bus.


MMM vegtarian pizza and empanadas. Photo: Tienda Naturista Girasoles

As one might guess, there are several expansive beaches near Cartagena to choose from, including easy-to-reach Bocagrande, and white-sanded Playa Blanca. On this visit, an afternoon in Bocagrande included a bargained-down chaise lounge under a spacious umbrella from a friendly vendor named Jose, and cold, refreshing Aguila, rated by LatinZine as one of the most popular beers in Latin America.


A view of Cartagena from Boca Grande

Several days later, Playa Blanca was accessed via what has become my own non-touristy route: Take the bus to Pasacaballos ($1700 COP), get off and hail a mototaxi ($10000 COP) for a ride over the convenient new puente and along the twisty roads of Isla Barú to arrive at a breathtaking beach. The entire trek takes about 1 hour and costs less than the boat tour or a hired taxi.


The Pasacaballos bus carries everything from passengers to doors to giant bags of onions

To return, call the mototaxi (if he provides you with a number, some will) or walk to the top of the stairs, where several others are waiting. You can also catch a boat back, paying less than the tour groups, as lanchas and large tourist boats often need a few extra passengers (and pesos) at the day’s end. Bargain fairly and be safe!


Smiles underneath a weathered helmet with my favorite mototaxi driver

Castillo Climbing and Jetlag Dancing

If the gorgeous cathedrals and picturesque plazas of Cartagena aren’t enough, take a taxi (or if you can bear the heat, a 15 minute walk) from el Centro to alluring, historic Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, built in 1536 by the Spaniards to defend the city. A massive structure on the hillside of San Lázaro, the castillo successfully guarded Cartagena for 121 years. Tickets range from $8000 COP for teachers to $17000 with a guided tour.


La Popa Monastery seen in the distance from Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

Not only does Castillo San Felipe de Barajas offer spectacular views of the city but, because it was built by slaves, their quarters and underground tunnels may be seen and explored during a visit. There’s also a gigantic Colombian flag with an extraordinary view of Cartagena, prefect for a taking photo to show off your orgullo for this stunning, diverse country.


I couldn’t resist. ¡Como te quiero, Colombia!

Finally, if you happen to be in Cartagena on a Tuesday night, consider yourself suerte, as you can catch the unique, free social event, Jetlag Tuesdays. Held at Explosíon Salsa, the weekly event offers a small, stylish space to practice your mad merengue moves, or learn something new, like the Costeño favorite Champeta.


Paloma vuela en Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

On the night I attended with Laura from México, Alexis from Argentina and Joaquin from Perú, Jetlag Tuesday was cooking with great beats, drink specials and nonstop dancing, all of which we engaged in and enjoyed.


Jetlag July 25th – photo: Jetlag Tuesdays

Making our way back through the quiet weeknight streets of Gestemani to El Viajero Hostel, our group agreed that Cartagena is an exquisite, historic city with a magic all its own worth experiencing at least once, or in this case, as many weekends as your volunteer year in Colombia allows…

Posted in Cartagena, Colombia, Gratitude, La Playa-Beach, South America, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Whole Lima Love


PAZ LIMA. I’m really here!

Since creating my goal of visiting all 21 Spanish-speaking countries, Perú has been a top contender, and I immersed myself in the culture of this beautiful, diverse country by watching films made in Perú, studying the unique history of the Incas, and sampling the incredible gastronomy at Peruvian food festivals many years before finally arriving this year in mid-June.


Tourists and locals love parasailing over picturesque Miraflores

Working with a volunteer’s tiny budget, Macchu Picchu was out of the question; honestly, it’s always been Lima, with its high cliffs overlooking the ocean and dozens of historic plazas mixed with modern architecture, that captured my heart.


Cheering on Argentina with free team shirts. Thanks, Pariwana!

Pardon el pardito de Pariwana

As with Guayaquil, Ecaudor, much of my travel in Peru was thwarted by the Copa Mundial, and I found myself at Pariwana Hostel in Miraflores watching their wall-size projection of the games for hours.


Ricardo from Chile, part of the amazing Pariwana staff, with a special message on the patio – love!

Pariwana is a “party” hostel that may not suit some weary travelers, but for anyone wanting an international atmosphere, warm friendly staff, comfortable accommodations, free breakfast and hot showers – all at a reasonable price in the heart of Miraflores – it is the perfect place.


Engineers Club of Peru in Miraflores – gorgeous

Parque de las Amores, Centro Commercial and Museo de la Nacío

Day one in Perú, I met my street-savvy guide Javier in Miraflores for the 12-block walk to the Malécon, with its spectacular views of Lima’s vast shoreline. We continued to the picturesque Parque de los Amores, filled with colorful mosaics and sculptures about love, and finished the day with a menú del dia meal near the trendy Calle de las Pizzas, a sliver of pedestrian-friendly street featuring small discotecas and bars.


Mosaics of Parque de los Amores and Puente Eduardo Villena Rey

For several days,  Javier and I took combis to the main tourist attractions in Lima, including Plaza Mayor (Plaza de Armas), lined with spectacular buildings like the Palacio de Gobierno, the Archbishops Palace, the Cathedral of Lima and the Palacio Municipal.


Spectacular architecture near Paseo De Los Heroes Navales


Amor en Azul: blue Neo-Gothic Church Of La Recoleta


Gorgeous salmon-hued school Colegio Mercedes Cabello de Carbonera


Basilica Catedral de Lima in Plaza de Armas

One day, after a morning of perusing the stalls of Mercado Central, enjoying savory cheese samples washed down with cool Chica Morada – a purple corn drink spiced with cinnamon – Javier and I ran feverishly through the streets of Chinatown, arriving to Estadio Futbol Club just in time to watch Colombia beat Japan 4-1.


queso, acetunas, and lots of leche from Gloria


Javier and me! Plaza de Armas, Lima Peru

Another afternoon was spent perusing the Museo de la Nacío, which featured an incredible photography exhibit on the suffrage in Peru at the hands of Abimael Guzman, communist and founder of insurgent group Shining Path.


Shining Path inmates perform a tribute to Guzman. Photo: Carteras magazine

The dark mood from the exhibit was instantly lightened with lunch at Cebicheria Manolito, a place favored by locals, serving fresh ceviche soaked in “leche de tigre”, a Peruvian delicacy.


Cebiche fresca y frito. Look at that compote!

In addition to delicious ceviche, traditional food not to miss in Perú includes causa con atun, chifles, papas a la haucina, and the popular, low-priced Chifa (Peruvian-Chinese food).


In the back, the causa I ate. Every. Day.

Huaca Pucllana and Cerro San Cristobal

Close to Miraflores, in the center of the city, there is a curious-looking adobe ceremonial center built during the cultural height of Lima’s history, somewhere  around 500 A.D.


Hauca Pucllana with Miraflores in the background

During the tour of  Huaca Pucllana, the guide explained the garden filled with plants typical of the area and animals native to Peru, as well as the occasional mummy, unearthed as renovation continues on the center.


No visit to Peru is complete without a llama. Underbite optional.

One evening, I ventured to Cerro San Cristobal, overlooking Lima from a mountain near the Rímac District. Climbing 400 meters up a steep, narrow hillside, our small combi of 12 people passed the scenic Alameda de los Descalzos, a promenade with churches and marble statues built in the 1600s.


The view from Cerro San Cristobal – gorgeous Lima

Accompanying the spectacular city view from the top of the mountain is a wooden cross, originally placed by Spaniards, destroyed by Quechua soldiers, and replaced with a replica that shines brilliantly above the city. Decorated with small lightbulbs, the cross is visible at night from most of downtown Lima.


Church and Convent of Santo Domingo.

The Catacumbas of San Francisco

Even with its rich historic overtones, Lima is a well-orgnaized, modern city with convenient public-transit and the fast Metropolitano, which will take you from Miraflores to Centro in minutes.


Iglesia de la Merced, home of the first mass in Lima, 1534

Once in el Centro, gorgeous ornate churches like the soft pink Iglesia de La Merced and buttery yellow Iglesia and Convent of San Francisco offer decorative facades with sturdy spires and complex carvings. Iglesia San Francisco is a true gem, with a soft glow outside and intricate Spanish tiles inside, as well as huge domed ceilings.


Iglesia and Convent of San Francisco

Taking an afternoon to tour the catacombs of Iglesia San Francisco was nothing short of spectacular. A friendly, bilingual guide showed off the iglesia’s expansive library, the lush center courtyard and the elaborate baroque decor of the gorgeous congregation. He continued by describing the strict rituals followed by monks of the church as they dedicated their lives to service.


Band performance from students at Colegio Mercedes Cabello de Carbonera

The tour ended with a final walk deep below the congregation, in the famous catacumbas.


The massive library at Iglesia San Francisco

As our group of 20 tourists weaved through shallow, stone tombs lined with browned femurs, we passed a well ten meters deep with human skulls neatly arranged in circular piles: a horrifying yet fascinating sight to see. [The skulls are fairly morbid. Google “Iglesia San Francisco Catacumba skulls” or click here].


Creepy catacombs with boxes of bones. Photo:

Barranco by Night

An evening invitation to Barranco seemed impassable with the opportunity to walk through the streets of his bohemian part of Lima, which in recent years has earned a reputation for its variety of restaurants and nightclubs. Traveling by taxi, arriving just after nightfall to a charming plaza, the breezes of Barranco swirled around the tiles at the entrance to the historic original Biblioteca.

Stunning Biblioteca of Barranco. Tower added in 1911.

Walking along steep stairs cut into cliffside led to a dreamy view of Lima at night, with a return pass by the intimate little church. Completing this night visit meant stopping for a proper Pisco Sour and enjoying the atmosphere of Ayahuasca, a gorgeous restobar housed in the former Mansión Berninzon, constructed between 1875 and 1895.

The glow of La Ermita church in Barranco, near the Puente de los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs)

Chullos, Chicha and Cancha

No trip to Perú would be complete without some serious souvenir and a little gift shopping. Although the Inka Market in Miraflores is a popular choice among travelers, there are several reasonably-priced shops with personable vendors in El Centro, near Iglesia San Fransciso.


Theater and literature social space Casa de La Literatura Peruana

In one store, a woman neatly placed stacks of natural-hued chullos made from alpaca (and some colorful wool ones) next to intricate, embroidered pillows and woven leather bracelets while her husband nailed together wooden frames for his original, folk-art triptychs.


Chullos! Some are reversible. Photo: Contiki Tours

The woman negotiated fair prices with curious customers as her husband hammered away, and shoppers appeared happy to give their money to this creative couple.


Super souvenirs! Photo:

[ has a great article on Bullying vs. Bartering and shopping tips for travelers]

While a majority of my gifts were purchased from the local supermercado, including chica morada drink mix, cancha snack corn and several packets of spicy aji amarillo powder, I left the souvenir store with a large bag of swag for family and friends, plus a bright yellow Inca Kola shirt for me: a colorful reminder of my resplendent 10 days here, where I definitely fell for the whole love of Lima.


Inca Kola shirt + frothy Pisco Sour = Love

Posted in Gratitude, Iglesias, Peru, South America, Travel, World Cup 2014 | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Guayaquil Me Now

Two perks of being a teacher in South America are vacation time and easy travel options. For me, this meant 3 weeks to explore and several inexpensive airlines to choose from. Based on my slim volunteer budget, I elected to go to two countries: Ecuador, which has recently piqued my interest, and Perú, which I have dreamed of visiting for years.


Fun Guayaquil font created by

Stepping off the AeroGal plane in Guayaquil, I arrived to a climate similar to Barranquilla: hot, sticky days and breezy, balmy nights. A short taxi ride took me to the 3rd-floor-up Re Bed and Breakfast, where co-owner Fede greeted me warmly, mixing Spanish and English, describing the Centro district as “totally walkable,” pointing out places of interest on a map. I couldn’t wait to get started on my 5 day visit to this river-bordered town, officially named Santiago de Guayaquil, which resembles a hybrid of an Inca-influenced tapestry and a Méxican fishing pueblo.


The view from Re Bed and Breakfast ~ Fede ordered fireworks! Just kidding.

 Re Bed + Breakfast  and El Centro

My first instinct when traveling is to find a local supermarket. Fede from Re suggested a small supermercado nearby, and while the downtown streets were dark at 7:00 pm, they were still busy with people and felt relatively safe. Once inside, I was fascinated with the store’s selection of traditional Ecuadorian foods and brands, all at very low prices in US dollars. Twenty-seven cents for a bag of chifles (plantain chips). Two dollars for a stack of large, fresh flour tortillas. A dollar for several Kolosso chocolates.  I returned with my goods and cooked a delicious meal for one in their spacious, clean kitchen.


Some of the bounty after Frida and I went shopping

After a restful night in a cozy bed, I woke to a full breakfast of eggs, toast, fresh juice and coffee served with a warm smile by Hector. As with my time in Bogotá, I planned my days around the World Cup 2014 schedule, returning each afternoon to Re, where I enjoyed watching games on their large, flat-screen TV with Ana, Fede and a few other guests.


A perfect little breakfast. ¡Gracias, Re Bed and Breakfast!

For one of the Ecuador games, several of Ana’s friends came over and we celebrated the team’s 2-1 victory over Honduras, I grew to appreciate my stay at Re, which is more being at a friend’s house.


Watching the Colombia-Cote d’Iviore game with Colombians Sergio y Rosana

As the days melded together, I fell in love with Guayaquil. From my first day’s visit to the beautiful, nature-focused Parque Histórico to my final hours perusing the tiendas and souvenir shops of  the Artisanal Market, each moment in this pretty city delighted me more than the next. 


Beautiful aquamarine Unidad Educativa San José La Salle, Guayaquil’s college

[Please note all days are scattered around FIFA World Cup 2014 schedules. It should also be noted that on my current volunteer budget, I did not go to Galapagos Island, but stayed all 5 days in Guayaquil, and it was perfect.]

Museo Nahim Isaias, Catedral Metropolitana, Parque Seminario (a.k.a. Parque Bolivar Park or Iguanas Park)

Museo Nahim Isaias

This small museum is made of several rooms linked together on the 3rd floor of an office building. The current exhibition, presented in dimly-lit rooms, revolves around the theme of the 4 elements (Fire, Water, Air and Earth), which have interactive displays triggered by motion: as you enter each room, sounds and sensations of the elements begin. There is also a vast collection of gorgeous religious statues, as well as iconic paintings, all presented under spotlights.


Spooky-cool sculpture at Museo Nahim Isaias

Catedral Metropolitana, Parque Seminario 

Parque Seminario, also known as Parque Bolivar Park or Iguanas Park, is a grassy plaza across front the Catedral Metropolitana where dozens of huge, tame iguanas lounge on park benches and hang from overhead tree branches.


Look closely. I almost sat down here.

With a phobia of iguanas, I wasn’t sure this would be on my list of Things to Do in Guayaquil, but once in the park, I noticed if I stayed one or two steps ahead, the mighty green ones couldn’t get too close. After several squeamish minutes, I headed to the Catedral Metropolitana and thanked God for protecting me from the mini dinosaurs.


Catedral Metropolitana. No más iguanas. Gracias, a Díos.

Malécon 2000

The Malécon 2000 of Guyaquil,  is mostly just a large, wooden walkway along the Guayas River, with a few vendors and restaurants available.


Malécon 2000: Loving life in Guayaquil

Beginning at the Crystal Palace, and passing the beautiful Moorish clock tower, the Malécon provided a relaxing path to walk without traffic. At the end of the Malécon, near the Museo de Antropologia y Arte Contemporaneo (MAAC), with its collection of pottery, artifacts and a small modern art exhibit space, I stumbled upon a school-centered cultural event celebrating the native languages of Ecuador.


Moorish Clock tower and Guayaquil flag, flying proud!

Kichwa and Fiesta del Inti Raymi 2014


Dancers onstage at the Fiesta del Inti Raymi

A centuries-old celebration of the Sun, Guayaquil’s Fiesta del Inti Raymi (Fiesta del Sol, en Quichua) was colorful and inspiring, resplendent with traditional dance and costumes.


Loving the traditional colorful costumes of cultura Kichwa

Clearly the only blonde tourist inside the event, a man asked, “Are you an English teacher in Ecuador?” to which I responded, “I am a volunteer teacher in Colombia.” He quickly grabbed a chair for me and said, “Sit, and please, enjoy our presentation!”


Beautiful Ecuadorian girls and their booth for Dolores Cacuango

After watching several dances, I checked out a few booths promoting Kichwa, culture, and food, including one honoring Dolores Cacuango, a pioneer of the indigenous rights movement in Ecuador. It was refreshing and inspiring to feel the pride and joy of the friendly students and teachers of this great event.

Las Peñas, El Faro and the Chapel of Santa Ana

After my fill of Kichwa, I headed to Las Peñas, a colorful stair-ladened barrio with little houses and cobblestone streets. Winding my way through the multi-leveled neighborhood, I finally reached the infamous “444 Steps,” which felt more like 544, as the stairs taunted me “just one more!…”


Colorful houses along the climb: 400+ steps of Las Peñas

At the top of Las Peñas is a beautiful small Faro overlooking Guayaquil, as well as the picturesque tiny chapel of Santa Ana, with a spectacular view of the city.


Santa Ana Chapel and the colorful houses of Cerro Santa Ana


Visa from the top of Las Peñas: gorgeous Guayaquil!

Leaving Las Peñas, I made my way down to the impressive Iglesia Santo Domingo de Guzmán, Guayaquil’s first church, built in 1548.


The sky agrees with Iglesia Santo Domingo de Guzmán

Parque Historico – structures, screamers y más

A lifetime fan of park-museum combinations, I dedicated a full morning in Guayaquil to visiting Parque Historico, a large park across the Durán bridge, on the east side of Río Daule.


Horned Screamer, or Cancíon: Mr. Red Eyes!


Saíno de Collar, Collared Peccary: pig cousin to Perúvian mink hound?

In addition to a spacious, boardwalk-pathed walking zoo featuring multicolored birds, lazy sloths and exotic large rodents indigenous to South America, Parque Historico boasts a relocated colonial street front and beautiful marshland.


Colorful buildings of Parque Historico

The colonial “urban architecture” area includes several residential homes, commercial businesses and the breathtaking Corazón de Jesús Hospice.

Corazón de Jesús Hospice

Just beautiful. Inside the Corazón de Jesús Hospice

Playas General Villamil – a bouncy bus ride and tattoos on the beach

Guayaquil, like Barranquilla, is not directly on a beach: people think “coastal,” but the coast is about an hour’s bus ride away. Leaving early in the morning, I took the modern Metrovia from El Centro to the massive Terminal Terrestre de Guayaquil, where I purchased a ticket to Playas for about $2.20 US. After an hour on a bumpy highway, I arrived to a pueblito with a busy downtown boasting ceviche restaurants and heladarias.


Buenas tardes, Playas General Villamil

 Two girls selling suntan lotion out of a wagon pointed me in the direction of the beach, and within a few minutes I arrived to a large sandy coast scattered with cabanas, round seafood restaurants topped with palm fronds, and beach chairs for rent by the day. I bargained down my single seat from $5.00 US to $3.00 using hand signals with the vendor and sunk into a cozy chaise.


A Playas salvavida sporting his seleccíon gear for Ecuador

I spent most of my beach afternoon with a family of local police officers, who shared large bottles of Pilsener and stories of their daily lives in the village of Playas. As the day passed, I soaked in the Ecuador sun, eating fresh, warm chifles from vendors and watching Fernando get a tattoo right there on the beach. Heading out just before sunset, I enjoyed a savory, seafood-based casserole from a street side restaurant before catching another bouncy bus back to Guayaquil.


MMM This is Ecuador

Besos y Abrazos, Guayaquil

The day of my flight to Lima, Perú, I realized my Spanish still needs improvement when Ana woke me at 4:30 a.m. to tell me my taxi was waiting downstairs. I had asked for a 4:30 cab ride to the airport, but remembered she had asked me earlier, “¿mañana?” which meant in the morning, and I replied, “si, mañana” which (to me) meant tomorrow.


Posing with the piggy bank and beautiful Ana at Re Bed and Breakfast

After a brief apology to each other, Ana sent the taxi away and we both went back to sleep, waking the next day to laugh over my “taxi translation.” Riding in the (afternoon, correct) cab to the airport, I said a happy-sad goodbye to Guayaquil, understanding why the Ecuador Ministerio de Tourism boasts, “Ama la Vida,” (Love the Life). Living here, it’s probably the easiest thing to do.


Guayaquil Collage, June 2014 ©Kate Dana

Posted in Ecuador, Gratitude, La Playa-Beach, Travel, World Cup 2014 | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gold and Gooooal! in Bogotá

My summer vacation is starting in Bogotá, a city I always forget is so amazing until I am here. While my WorldTeach Practicum was completed in Bogotá, I spent most of my time on buses, and one afternoon high on the scenic vista of Monserrate.

Iglesia Amarillo

Colombia amarillo in beautiful Candelaria

On this adventure I chose to stay in La Candelaria at Masaya Hostel, sister hostel to the Santa Marta location. Just like the two cities, the hostels are incomparable, which will be noted in my upcoming HostelWorld review.


Masaya Hostel’s mama kitty loves my pashmina

After an unimpressive flight with VivaColombia, I arrived in Bogotá in the early afternoon, and headed off  to the Museo del Oro. I gladly paid the $3000 COP entry fee, and enjoyed seeing an impressive collection of gold pieces to dazzle even the most materialistic of bling-lovers.


Museo del Oro shiny gold from 1080 DC!

After an hour at the Museo del Oro, I headed over to the Botero Museo, which features an impressive collection by Fernando Botero, as well as select pieces by Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso and Max Beckmann. I was especially attracted to the exquisite display of a Salvador Dali sculpture, housed in a small niche and perfectly lit for such an eerie piece.


Busto restrospectivo de mujer by Salvador Dali

I returned to my hostel before nightfall, just in time to pass the Centro Cultral de Gabriel Garcia Marquez, created by the Fondo de Cultura Economica in Mexico and the Spanish Cultural Center, featuring a fantastic bookstore.


Gabo discusses his crossover to cinema at the Centro Cultral de Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The 2nd day in Bogotá was spent entirely dedicated to futbol and friends. Meeting Jordan and Ana early in the day, we headed out to Joshua Café Dubli – that’s right, an Irish bar for the Colombia-Greece game of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.


Face painting with Jordan!

Surrounded by yellow jerseys and fans fueled on giant pints of lager, we basked in the glory of Colombia playing, and winning, their first World Cup match in 16 years.


Celebrating Colombia’s first World Cup 2014 victory

Buzzed on the excitement of Colombia’s victory, we stayed to watch Uruguay lose to Costa Rica, before going to El Inglés, a tiny but mighty pub, to watch the Ingleterra-Italy game.


Pints and coffee at El Inglés

Sadly, England lost in a tight game of 2-1, which was just as well, with the evening giving in to Ley Seca, when the entire country goes dry for the 2014 Presidential Election.


Inside the Senora del Ave Maria in La Candelaira

On Sunday, while most of Colombia spent the dry day voting in Manuel Santos for a 2nd term, Jordan and I perused the pedestrian-only streets blocked off for flea markets and vendors.


Guinea pig races in the street… all money on the green!

Coming from sweltering Barranquilla, unprepared for the chill of Bogotá, I picked up a much-needed pair of pants ($10000 COP), a sweater ($10000 COP) and thick colorful bufanda ($12000 COP).


Even the dogs in Colombia have World Cup fever

As I plan the afternoon today watching the US-Ghana game with some WorldTeach campeneros, and tomorrow my beloved Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez in the Mexico-Brazil game, I can’t think of a better place to be for the 2014 World Cup than Colombia… except tomorrow my plane leaves for Ecuador.

Posted in Colombia, Travel, World Cup 2014, WorldTeach | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Price of Being a Gringa

“If you want to feel rich, just count the things you have that money can’t buy.”
– Proverb


Colombian Pesos – my 2 favorites coins: $500 and $1000. Shiny, beautiful!

June marks six months as a WorldTeach volunteer in Barranquilla, Atlántico  and I’m finally familiar with the bliss and the burn of being in this life-altering world experience. The bliss is in the work I do: I love my students, I’m grateful for every day with them (even when they make me crazy), I adore my school and I’m honored to be working with the Alcaldia of Barranquilla. The burn is in my pocket: my challenge with personal finances that, no matter how I carefully manage them lately, somehow seem to flow as fast as the arroyos when it rains.

No matter what cultural benefits, redeemable qualities or warm-and-fuzzy, heart shaped words you use to describe it, volunteer means the same thing in every language: work for free.

vol·un·teer [vol-uhn-teernoun

1. a person who voluntarily offers himself or herself for a service or undertaking.
2. a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.


Thanks Mom! And everyone who supported my journey to Colombia

I prepared for this journey about six months in advance by selling all my possessions and receiving generous donations from family and friends. I still remain grateful for the support of so many people who helped me reach my goal of $5,500 for 2014. While WorldTeach provides volunteers with a monthly stipend of around $250 US, it is based on the exchange rate at time of payment, which means it often fluctuates.

(That’s right, I’m living off $250 US a month. Think about that for a minute while you sip your third $5.00 Starbucks coffee of the week…)

These days, my personal entertainment and dining options lead to creative stretching of the Colombian peso that would make Policarpa Salavarrieta blush.

She has such a fascinating history... a spy, seamstress y más!

She has such a fascinating history… a spy, seamstress y más!

One thing I occasionally cannot avoid, no matter how I try, is the Gringo Price (GP). Travelers and locals alike will all attest to this phenomenon, when the price suddenly increases because you are a gringo/a.

After living in México for a year, I learned a few ways to avoid the GP, including

1. being with a local at the time of purchase and having them pay or negotiate the price for you
2. making sure the shop owner knows you as a local by frequenting their store and getting to know them
3. stating clearly, “soy gringa, pero soy local, sí tu vendeme del precio normal o me voy a comprar de un otro mercado.”

Usually I went with option 2.


Tienda Buenos Aires in Barrio San Jose: nice people and no GP for me.

“The art of living easily as to money is to pitch your scale of living one degree below your means.”
– Sir Henry Taylor

Still, Colombia has its share of GP’s and ways to experience them. Already, I have stories worth remembering long after I leave. While many have ended by spending more than budgeted, some have just been too hilarious (and obviously scam-tastic) to resist.  As I work on a way to express these stranger-than-fiction recollections (through a book or web page), their clever subtitles include:

Chorizo is not Carne
– Parque Price of a View
– Next Vendor Over
– Circle the Block
– ¡Dame tu Plata!
–  Barco Barato
– You Asked for It
–  No Me Gusta Fotocopias


One thing I will gladly pay the GP for: cocadas on the beach! Addictive! Photo: ColombiaFestiva

June has begun and my budget finally has a solid presence, with the necessary purchase of the month being a new pair of shoes. That’s necessary as in need. Not want. Not “Don’t match my purse” or “would look cute on Saturday night” need, but really, truly need, as in I only have three other pairs: sad sandals, kitten heels and all-purpose tennis shoes. Have you ever needed and had to wait to buy a pair of shoes? It’s a weird feeling after many years of work with pay, and being able to buy what I want as well as need.


Whatcha think? Too practical? Photo:

“Don’t tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I’ll tell you what they are.”
– James W. Frick

Recently I was asked what I thought my true purpose was in being here. While this loaded question remains unanswered, one thing I know is I am learning more than just teaching English and how to not get lost on the bus. I’m learning value, gratitude, generosity and humility, as well as how to live within my means. I’ve become skilled at prioritizing and tracking where my money comes from and where it really goes; if that’s not a life-altering world experience, I don’t know what is. As I prepare for summer break, traveling to Ecuador and Perú, two things are constant in my mind: how to have the best time possible spending the least amount of money, and – most importantly – how to avoid paying the Gringa Price.


FCB coin purse and a budget book says, “Mucho Dinero Para Me” Bet on it!

Posted in Barranquilla, Colombia, Gratitude, Teaching, Volunteering, WorldTeach | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Mid-Service, Marinistas y Más



Burro Whispering in Playa Rodadero. Love.

May 2014 marks the mid-way point of my volunteer service with WorldTeach, and until recently, I wasn’t sure if I would be in Colombia to say this. My lamentable housing situation greatly affected my views on everything from traditional food to riding the bus. Having recently relocating, I am finally enjoying this beautiful, diverse country, waking up each morning grateful that I am here, even on unbearably hot days.


Colorful Casa del Ritmo, our mid-service HQ

Over the weekend, my WorldTeach campeñaros on the coast met for Mid-Service at Casa del Ritmo in Playa Rododero near Santa Marta. It was great to see our friends currently volunteering Isla Barú, as well as our Field Director from Bogotá. In the setting of a casual, colorful hostel, we shared both horrible and hilarious stories of our teaching experience so far.


“Classroom set up.” For dinner, we did the long table set up. ¡Perfecto!

Our group exchanged opinions of service, schools, social aspects and situations at this mid-way mark, agreeing time has passed quickly since our arrival. We discussed culture, structure and what we anticipate for the coming months, as well as where we are traveling for the summer break.


WT Colombia 2014 volunteers posing around the mini pool. ¡Chevére!

In addition to being a recap of what’s happened so far, Mid-Service prompted our group of volunteers to focus on the real reason we here: teaching English. Admittedly, for me, adjusting to my school has meant finding a daily routine that works, learning the unique Colombian names of my students (almost 400 total) and being able to differentiate between guided practice and individual practice (guided usually means groups… or games!)


With my co-teacher, Maria and several of our 5th graders

Since the end of January 2014, I have been teaching 4th and 5th grade students at Colegio Distrital Hogar Mariano, an all-girls Catholic school. Each morning,  I am greeted by little voices yelling, “Teacher! Teacher!,” as Marinistas drag pink overstuffed backpacks,  their braids bouncing rhythmically with plaid uniforms blowing around them.


Alicia, te extraño, bonita

Sadly, the weekend of February 21st, a beautiful 4th grade student named Alicia died unexpectedly, darkening the first month-and-a-half of my experience here. Although I was Alicia’s teacher for less than 2 months, her smiling face and sweet morning greeting of “Good Morning, Teacher!” will always be remembered.


Notes, stickers, books y más

Like the Caribbean ocean tides, school rolls on; I am now deep into teaching classes, grading papers and giving lessons that I hope will keep the students’ attention. I have a catalog of  hand-drawn visuals that continues to evolve, making me forever grateful to my parents, who helped finance my years at art school earning a Bachelor’s Degree.


Look closely and you’ll see El Presidente

My plan book is covered in stickers and drawings from students, as well as my notes like “disaster – abandon ship,” or “great lesson, students loved it.” The administrative staff of my school is wonderful and supportive, and I adore the other teachers, who constantly encourage my teaching, as well as tease me about my limited dance moves.


Try not to be jealous: my school has a cat I call Arepa.

WorldTeach Costeño Mid-Service weekend wrapped up with a session on what’s ahead, or “future plans,” for when our service ends in December. While some people have a solid idea of their next move (in 2015), others haven’t a clue, but hope to figure it out by the end of the year.


Zona de Lanchas, an added bonus to our mid-service weekend

The session included tailoring your resumé for a career with non-profits, corporations and education, but didn’t mention my foreseeable future: owning a business.


Another business idea: Fritos y Jugos! ¿Porque no?

While I know my dream will take fruition as the end of the year approaches, my plans for today are simple: writing a good lesson, delivering it with enthusiasm and, most important, not getting lost on the bus ride to school…


Buenas tarde, Colombia. Gracias por mi vida aquí.

Posted in Barranquilla, Colombia, Gratitude, Teaching, Volunteering, WorldTeach | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Casas, Cocadas y Colaboración

My last post, written during Semana Santa 2014 in Santa Marta, raised a few questions from readers regarding my current happiness and well-being in Colombia. The truth is, I have been hanging on by a yellow, blue and red thread to my new Costeño life in Barranquilla, Atlántico. Until last week, I was trying without much success to adapt to my housing placement. I used many different approaches to existing in someone else’s home; one after another, they fell as flat as a day-old areapa. I even tried not trying, which was the hardest of all.


Created in February… often, prayer takes time!

Finally, I surrendered and sent a request to the Universe to find another place to call home. From Sacramento to México, when my living situation began to tank, I did this and it worked. Again, I was successful, only this time, it seemed to take as long as the check-out lines in Olimpica on a Saturday afternoon – about a month and a half.


note the claws coming out, slowly…

I am grateful to now be in a wonderful home in barrio Alboraya near La Ocho. My new room is spacious and clean, with a small private bathroom. There’s a house cat, who right now hisses at me when I say “hola, gatita,” but we will be friends before long. I know well that the place we call home is truly worth our attention, and I have such gratitude for this opportunity to finally appreciate La Arenosa, where I prayed to be placed as a volunteer.


In preparation for our upcoming mid-service weekend, our WorldTeach assistant field director asked us to submit two photos: something we love about Colombia and something that drives us nuts. Surprisingly, my “love” list greatly outnumbers the “nuts,” although the nuts is definitely keeping up at times.

Colombia Makes Me Nuts


Shiny n sweaty at La Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino

Barranquilla is hot. During a weekend trip to Cartagena, I laughed listening to Suisse backpackers whine incessantly about their “litres of sweat” and “massive clouds of humidity.”  I sympathized with them because it’s true. I sweat a lot here, more than post places I’ve ever lived, including Charleston and México. My clothes are often soaked through after 10 minutes outside, and air conditioning is like a magical invention that deserves celebration. I escape the heat in shopping malls and grocery stores “stealing” their A/C, but it’s a temporary thrill. Some afternoons I simply pass out from the heat, which is always fun, because I wake up not knowing what day or time it is.


Apes in Malambo. It could happen for me.

I loathe the bus. Apart from a few beautiful, colorful buses with regular schedules, bling decor and friendly drivers, the buses in Barranquilla leave me wanting more (like a motorcycle). Several times I have boarded a giant, crowded bus only to discover I am going in the wrong direction or the bus has a funky route that won’t put me anywhere near my desired location. I frequent the Barranquilla transit site so often, I’ve memorized the top menu bar. One of my goals for the year is to leave without hating the bus system here… or at least managing to get someplace in a record-breaking time, meaning 45 minutes or less.


If a bird cat-calls you, is it a bird-call? This flirty one did!

Machismo Knows no Bounds. While I am saving the savory (and sour) stories of harassment for a book I may write after leaving Colombia, I can say for now cat calling seems second-nature in Colombia. I’ve watched men eyeball a girl while their wife is walking directly in front of them. I can barely make it down a city block without at least one “ssst ssst” in my general direction, and I’m still unclear if it means “look over here,” or “I’m looking at you,” or nothing. Regardless, hissing seems like lazy flirting.


“Regalame tu numero, mi cielo” jaja

Recently, as I passed by two boys who looked about 4 years old, one called out, “Linda mona reina,” which translates to “pretty white (girl) queen.”  I started laughing hysterically at them. The boys covered their mouths and giggled to each other. We all stood there cracking up at their preschool-level flirtations until their mom yanked them away by their tiny arms. With their free arms, they waved wildly, yelling, “ah-dee-ooos monnn-ahh!” Too much.


Mama and her pup, on my walk to work in barrio Cevillar.

The Animals Make Me Sad. Every day I encounter (or at best, observe) hungry skinny dogs, limping dogs with legs run over in traffic, mama dogs with their puppy-feeding breasts nearly dragging the ground, and packs of dogs who dig through trash, fighting each other for scraps of rotten food. I see tired, over-worked burros pulling carts with drivers, running through rush hour traffic.


Shiny and sweaty again, this time with a hot horse

I see horses surrounded by huge buses, loud horns and dangerous mototaxis. The humanitarian in me wants to pet and feed them all, and free them from their sad lives, but the street-smart traveller in me remains at a cool distance. Still, I am unsure of how to cure my sadness for the animals.


First Colombian dog bite! Pet dog, all shots up to date.

Colombia is Like No Other Place I’ve Loved 


Champeta. This island-original music, with roots in salsa  jíbaro and reggae, is generally played at full volume through big loudspeakers known locally as “picós,” from the English word “pick-up.” The beat and style of Champeta has dug so deeply into me that I find myself recognizing Kevin Florez songs within the first three notes. 


Artists like Karly Way, Young F and Mr. Black are among the “crew” groomed for success with the help of  promoters and deejays in Colombia, including famous Cartagenero ‘El Rey De Rocha’ Noraldo Iriarte, better known by his followers as “Chawala,” whose name is frequently heard in Champeta songs. If you like Reggaeton, think of your favorite Reggaeton song. Now add a spicier beat, lyrics in Costeño slang, and horns, keyboards or accordion. This is only the beginning of the infectious groove called Champeta.


Papas con queso: giant tater tot of love

Coconut Treats and other Colombian Delights. Finally, I am beginning to love the food here. After four months without much of an appetite, a friend’s mom taught me to make the simple-yet-satisfying arepas con huevos, piquing my curiosity in Colombian cuisine. In Cartagena I enjoyed a giant ball of potato with cheese in the center, and went back to the same place twice in one day for empanadas con champiñones with a side of steamed yuca.


Oh Cocadas, at 600 pesos each, how I love thee

I am addicted to cocadas, the handmade coconut-sugar patties sold on the street. Sometimes called chancacas or panelitas, these treats come in variations such as guayaba (guava), arequipe (caramel) and panela (unrefined whole cane sugar). Colombia rules with its fresh fruit juices and tangy limonada – no corn syrup here – and while I’m still a devout vegetarian (and not close to trying meat like butifarra), I am happily accepting many new dishes with unbiased taste buds.


with my awesome co-teacher Maria and some of our 5th graders

Colegio Hogar Mariano. My school ranks among my most happiest and grateful things about being in Colombia. In addition to the staff and my co-teachers, 400 brilliant, active 4th and 5th girls are helping me to understand the culture, history and daily routines of this country, as well as how things are done.


My students have enlightened me to things like why people feel entitled to your food (because they would give your theirs, if they had some), what makes someone a good dancer (the rhythm, then the foot moves) and, my favorite, why they can’t sit through an entire class (we don’t want to miss anything in other parts of the room). I’m not 100% convinced of that last one.


As I mark the start of my 5th month in Colombia, I am glad I decided to pursue the changes that were needed. I am inspired by the opportunity to contribute where I can, and to know when enough is enough with where I am living each day. When we finally recognize the difference between what we have and what we deserve, often the world around us will begin to collaborate. Now, if I can learn to dance Champeta…


“Teacher, bailar!” Trying my best at Champeta. The girls told me try harder. Photo: Nazly Beleño


Posted in Barranquilla, Colombia, Comida-Food, Gratitude, Teaching, Visioning®, Volunteering, WorldTeach | Tagged , , , , ,

Semana Santa 2014: Planificación para Planificar

sunset Santa Marta

Sunset en el centro, Santa Marta, Magdalena Colombia

Lately when I am asked how I like living in Barranquilla (Colombia), my response varies. Some days…”It’s hard. The city is hot and the culture is frustrating. I don’t like most of the food, the buses are disorganized, Costeño is like hillbilly Spanish, and most people just stare at my blue eyes and blonde hair.”


Making new friends near balneario de Santa Veronica, Atlantico

Then there are days I respond with, “I love the music, especially Champeta and Vallenato. Colombia has delicious coconut street treats and fresh juices. The people are unique-looking and beautiful.” Unfortunately, these moments are few and far between.

Sombrero Vueltiao

Can’t help but smile when your sombrero is this big

Although I left the US with few expectations, Colombia, teaching and WorldTeach have not exactly been what I hoped for prior to leaving. Instructing English to approximately 600 3rd, 4th and 5th grade girls is not how I anticipated 2014, and I’ll admit I’ve had several days that my purpose feels futile. I find myself wondering what I am doing here, verdad. However, in all this frustration, intrigue and wonder, there is the option to do one of my favorite things: travel.

Masaya roof view

ahhh the view in Santa Marta from the roof of Masaya

Semana Santa or Holy Week in Christianity, is the last week of Lent and the week before Easter, and bears Friday of Sorrows as well as Good Friday (ironically, happy-sad, like my life lately). I elected to spend the week in Santa Marta, a beautiful historic town on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Founded in 1525 by the Spanish conquistador Rodrigo de Bastidas, Santa Marta is the first Spanish settlement and the oldest surviving city in Colombia, as well as the second oldest city in South America.

Bolivar Distillery

La Quinta de San Pedro – looks a lot like Charleston

Literary buffs may know Santa Marta from the Banana massacre (Masacre de las banners), a mass-killing of workers for the United Fruit Company that occurred in nearby Ciénaga on December 6, 1928. The treatment of workers was so bad that the US government threatened to invade with the Marine Corps if the Colombian government did not act to protect United Fruit’s interests.


One of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s typewriters at el Museo del Caribe

Famed Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez depicted a fictional version of the massacre in his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. [Sadly, and coincidentally, Marquez died this week.]  

Masaya Piso

The spectacular tile floors of Masaya

Determined to have a decent Spring Break, I ventured to Masaya in El Centro Historico and enjoyed 5 wonderful days in a beautiful, multi-level hostel with colorful tile, original architecture and modern furniture. Here I met some incredible people, including Irene from Miami, Santa Marta arquitecto-musician Rolando Enrique Sanchez, and David at reception whose character and charm obviously keeps visitors feeling welcome during their stay at Masaya.


Rolando Enrique Sanchez and his blue guitar. Love.

My second day in Santa Marta, I joined two French travelers, Nicolas and Julian, at Playa el Rodadero, a short bus ride from downtown, where we enjoyed a hot-sand beach with gentle waves, a moderate crowd and interesting vendors.


Nicolas impersonates Leo Messi. ¡Coco loco!

Intrigued by the mini-boat bar steered across the sand by Frankie and his first mate, Willington, I couldn’t resist a cuba libre served in a coconut, and remembered fondly living in the Caribbean with my dad, who loved this refreshing rum-cola-lime cocktail.


With Willington and his barco de coco loco – irresistible!

Another day I ventured out to Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrinohacienda built in the 17th century that once produced rumhoney and panela, and is now a museum and historical landmark, best known as the death place of Simón Bolívar (December 17, 1830).


one of many statues on the grounds of Quinta de San Pedro

This sprawling tourist site is loaded with giant roaming iguanas, plants indigenous to the region, gigantic old trees, as well as a beautiful main house, mill, bakery, distillery, and a spooky marble crypt for Bolívar (who now rests in Venezuela).


Simon Bolivar was small but mighty. Kid shown for scale.

Although it seems odd to be placed outside of the city, the impressive but small Museum of Contemporary Art is also housed at Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino. 


One of dozens. May as well be a Kimono dragon

The current contemporary show, Noviembre 1985, features the work of East Bay artist Josefina Jacquin, in a Warhol-esque tribute to her brother, Alfonso, a Colombian guerrilla who disappeared in 1985. 


Enrique Grau’s El Sonámbulo de las Mariamulatas

It was intriguing to view not only the amazing Warhol-inspired work but the motivation to bring attention to the prolific tragedy of this date by a Santa Marta native living in California. For a few minutes, I felt the elements of my life and Colombia running together like the ice and cream of a cholado on a typical steamy Barranquilla day.


Pablo Escobar by Josefina Jacquin

Santa Marta is a fun town to explore and shop in, but the best treats are a short bus (or taxi) ride away. On day three, I joined two fellow travelers, Kameron and Marialejandra, on a journey to Minca, a small jungle town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. We hiked high up dirt roads, crossed skinny bamboo bridges, tripped over giant root trees and enjoyed several waterfalls in Minca, before returning to Santa Marta, dusty, watery and done with the day.


At the Minca waterfall with beautiful Marialejandra from Venezuela

A few days, I just relaxed in the town of Santa Marta, walking its skinny streets and exploring the ancient buildings open to the public. There are street vendors selling everything from clothing and electronics to birds and dogs, and of course delicious coconut treats. The catédral is small but beautiful inside, featuring statues of saints and large sculptures depicting suffrage and dedication.


3D gilded gold inside the catedral de Santa Marta

If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine — it’s lethal.
– Paulo Coelho (Brazilian lyricist and novelist, born 1947)

In an attempt to wrap up my break bohemian-style, I crossed a small mountain by bus and landed in the sleepy fishing village of Taganga, population 3000. I found a fantastic coffee place, Cafe Bonzai, where a large rooster flirted shamelessly with women on the street.


My little table and the giant menu boards at Café Bonzai

Spying me through the glass door, he would crow loudly, then turn to make sure I was watching as I worked in my collage sketchbook. That’s right, a rooster flirting with women in Colombia. I swear, I can’t make this stuff up.


¡Gallo coqueto! I loved how persistent he was

After dinner of ceviche, patacones and rice I hitched a ride on a mototaxi to a low-grade hostel where I slept very little, listening to street dogs argue over the neighbor’s amplified Reggaeton. I worried about the front gate which was unlocked most of the night.


Buenos Dias, Taganga

Early in the morning, I packed and left for the bus terminal in Santa Marta, stopping briefly to watch the Taganga fishing boats heading out in the morning light.  As I stood on the beach, I thought about a quote I’d read and its sheer relevancy to life right now:

Adventure is just bad planning.
– Roald Amundsen (Norwegian Arctic & Antarctic explorer, 1872 – 1928)

It’s definitely time to start planning.

Posted in Art, California, Collage, Colombia, La Playa-Beach, Musica, Teaching, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Planes, Plazas y Pasacaballos

Cartagena Architecture

Cartagena with its beautiful Colonial Gold

And when all’s been said and done
It’s the things that are given not won
Are the things that you earned

-“See the World” by Gomez

Cartagena Dia 1

It’s no coincidence, accident or stroke of luck that I am living in Barranquilla, Atlántico, with many beaches, cities and historical places to discover nearby. Barranquilla is a short 2-hour bus ride to Cartagena de Indias, Bolivar, a place I have wanted to visit for many years. I had Plaza San Teresa on the computer at my IT job: the vibrant gold and white colonial colors of Colombian edificios luring me each day to change my life. And two years later, here I am.

Hostel courtyard

The courtyard at El Viajero Hostel

I left my house in Barranquilla to catch La Carolina, my favorite bus line, traveling through La Ocho and arriving at the terminal in about 45 minutes. The Expreso Brasilia to Cartagena was a comfortable and uneventful 2 hours. I arrived at the Terminal de Autobúses about 5:00 pm, and took a taxi to El Viajero Hostel, where Miriam at reception gave me a set of sheets and assigned me to my dorm. Outside I met Stephano from Switzerland and Deborah from Milwaukee, and later joined Soledad from Ecuador whose constant reminder “¡por favor, en español!” made me laugh when our conversation slipped to English.


early morning Boca Grande with Stephano and Soledad

The first morning of Cartagena, I joined Stephano and Soledad at Playa Boca Grande. Soledad scolded me for making them 30 minutes behind schedule and told me “7:30, Switzerland! That is the perfect time, 7:30″ I asked for what, and she replied, “Everything! 7:30!” I Googled this later, but only came up with one universal theory.

Perros en la playa

Doggone, it’s Cartagena: Perros en la playa

Playa Boca Grande is large, sparse and not very pretty, but the view to the city is charming, the water is warm and calm, and the people we met out for an early swim were friendly. After Soledad enjoyed a quick shoulder massage on the beach, we headed back by bus only to get lost and have to walk back to the Centro Historical. We made the best of it, stopping for coffee, and taking a few photos along the way.


Because Blanca loves the Morena

After a quick shower and change of clothes, Soledad, Stephano and I met with Deborah and Jim for lunch, criss-crossing Calle Siete Enfantes for an affordable but appetizing meal. I found Restaurante Vegetarian Girasoles and almost cried tears of joy; my first vegetarian restaurant discovery since arriving in Colombia in January. I quickly ordered the bolas de garbanzo menu del dia, which was served with frijoles, arroz con coco and ensalada.


Catalina India, KD and Stephano

Clutching my comida rapida vegetariana, I laughed out loud when Deborah cynically noted, “they probably cooked it in lard.” Having only met Deborah the night before, I loved her comment for it’s striking honesty. Travel has taught me that everyone we meet along the journey is different, including ourselves. If more people stepped outside their inner self when visiting some place new, they might be surprised at the things they discover about who they are.

Deborah and KD

Smile Deborah! It’s lard you can love

After eating nearly every bite of my Girasoles lunch, I spent the rest of the afternoon discovering (and falling in love with) Cartagena. I wrote and mailed 3 postcards – my only ones so far in Colombia – and paid three times the amount for the stamps as I did the cards. Dropping my handwritten hopefuls in a small blue box marked “Buzons,” I wondered if they will one day reach their intended recipients…


Hey you kids, get off my plaza!

Walking through Plaza Anadula to Plaza de los Coches, I felt my heart beginning to race. Not only have I wanted to visit Cartagena for years, but I have often dreamed about seeing the place where one of my favorite artists, Tito el Bambino, filmed his video for Llueve El Amor.

As I turned the corner to Plaza de Los Coches, my heart still racing, I nearly burst at how different the scene appeared from the video. Not only were there vendors selling coconut treats, cigars and touristy tchotchkes throughout the main building, but there was trash everywhere. I thought to myself that Tito must have had one fine clean-up crew the day of the shoot. It wasn’t until I returned home and researched further the tourist attractions of Cartagena that I realized I had misjudged the colonial gold. The video was shot at Las Bovedas, a long building that once served as a jail, meaning I missed it completely. But since Cartagena is only 2 short hours away, I know this won’t be my last visit to this beautiful city, and now I have a reason to return.

KD-Plaza de Los Coches

Plaza de Los Coches: seeing is… believing that I’ll be back!

Making my way through the busy market, I was approached by a man. “Hello, how are you, do you speak English?” he said, introducing himself as a guia de tours. We chatted briefly about US baseball before he pointed me in the direction of  street vendor selling beautiful shells pressed in lucite rings for $5000 COP (about $2.50 US).

When the solution is simple, God is answering.
– Albert Einstein ( German theoretical physicist, 1879-1955)


Sonrisas y las brisas en Plaza de Santa Teresa

Exhausted from the day(dream come true) of Distro Historical de Cartagena, I went to bed early and woke with a plan to visit Playa Blanca off Isla Barú. Currently WorldTeach has three volunteers living on Isla Barú – Megan, Alex and Joe. Unfortunately this weekend they were in Santa Marta, so my adventure to see their al fresco school and frog-filled home is on hold for now.

“You can devise all the plans in the world,
but if you don’t welcome spontaneity; you will just disappoint yourself.”

― Abigail Biddinger   (the other AlBid)


Orgulloso en Cartagena, Bolivar

Cartagena Dia 2

The day trip by boat to Isla Barú was advertised at $50000 COP, which for me was spendy, and honestly, I wanted to see how the locals get there. I shared my plan to take the bus to Pasacaballos, then a mototaxi to the ferry over to the isla with Stephano, Deborah and Jim.


Café with Stephano, Deborah and Jim

Parting ways after coffee, the group wished me luck just before introducing me to Silvio from Argentina, who agreed to join me in my adventure to Playa Blanca. Less than an hour later, I was running for the bus to Pasacaballos with Silvio, Gonzalo, Federico, Silvia, Maggie and Lucia, all from Argentina.


¡PASACABALLOS! My first mate! with Federico, Silvio, Maggie, Lucia and Silvia.

After the initial yelling of “Pasacaballoooos!” like we were on a roller coaster, the group passed around mate in a small ceramic cup. I always imagined my first real mate experience would be in a café in Buenos Aires, but as the cup was passed to me, I knew better than to refuse it, the hot grassy flavor flowing easily over my tongue through from the metal bombilla. Ahhh refreshing.


Ferry-catcher selfie with Federico, Silvio, Silvia, Lucia, Maggie and Gonzalo

40 minutes of bumpy road and Vallenato music later, our crowded bus arrived in Pasacaballos, a small town with ferry access to Isla Barú. We walked a few blocks to find the rusty, flat ferry already loaded with people, cars and motorcycles. Jumping several feet from shore to ferry, we barely made it on before the boat set off to cross the murky river. Once on the other side, mototaxis swarmed us for rides to Playa Blanca. “Gringa, I take you! Beach, ride, Gringa, here!” The energy, sounds and smells were dizzying under the hot Caribbean sun.


The $50000 COP boat I’m so glad we didn’t catch

I was grateful for my new Argentinian friends, who negotiated firmly (“no we will not pay more for the American”) with a taxi driver named Hermés to take our group , and finally we were on our way, traveling down a dusty rock road through fields of cattle, past small tiendas and shacks.


Federico and Gon… with a family of photo bombers. Playa Blanca, Bolivar Colombia

Arriving at Playa Blanca, we walked down the uneven concrete stairs to find a beautiful, white-sand beach with palm trees, blue skies and clear turquoise water. The group let out a collective celebratory sigh at the beauty before walking beyond the families and huge crowds in the shallow shoreline until we found a half-shaded, half-sunny spot to settle.


Amigos en la playa – Playa Blanca, Bolivar Colombia

An entire day was spent swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing, playing cards and taking photos: it appeared that everyone enjoyed just relaxing among beauty, nature and touristy hammock hotels on the beach.


Yep, it’s me in my swimsuit. Just smile!

After calling for a taxi pickup, we said goodbye to Playa Blanca as the sunset over Isla Barú. Hermes was fast and efficient in retrieving us and dropped our group off promptly after seeing the long traffic line. We walked for what seemed like miles, among huge commuter buses and families in cars, to reach the ferry.


Obligatory sunset photo “Pinterest!”

It quickly became apparent there was no sense of urgency to shuttle people off the island, and I wondered as we passed them how many of them would actually be spending the night there. Once again, I was grateful for the Argentines, as the evening fell in Cartagena and our group traveled back to the hostel, retracing our original steps.

A goal without a plan is just a wish.
– Antoine de Saint-Exupery, French writer (1900 – 1944)


Hermes to the rescue! Catching the ferry from Playa Blanca

Exhausted from the adventure to Playa Blanca, I went to bed early and woke the next day to pack my bags for the return trip to Barranquilla. Before leaving, I had one last cup of coffee with Silvio, who showed me photos of his barrio and its metro stop in Buenos Aires. As we talked about travel, music, people and  life plans, I realized this weekend, among the new connections and memorable adventures, I had made a goal a reality through my plan to visit Cartagena and see a place I’ve dreamed about.

“First comes thought; then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination.” – Napoleon Hill (American author, 1883 – 1970)



Posted in Colombia, Gratitude, La Playa-Beach, Travel, Visioning®, WorldTeach | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Carnaval Huracán


Carnaval de Barranquilla 2014 blew into Colombia like a hurricane: starting with slow winds a month ago, building with showers of colorful confetti and costumes, and finally, erupting into a full-blown, four-day party resplendent with celebratory music, parades in the streets and people dancing at all-night parties: a tumultuous storm that left intense and blurry memories for everyone who stepped in its path.


With Shauna, our neighbor Ramón (in orange) and Cumbiamba La Guapachosa

Last weekend’s Guacherna opened the Carnaval skies to start the festivities; my friend Shauna and I ventured out on a Friday with some neighbors and met a friendly group, Cumbiamba La Guapachosa, who were performing in the evening parade. We met Willy, the Flauta de Carrizo player who mastered the flute made from a hollowed reed.


Willy and his flauta – sonrisas!

We reveled in meeting the dancers, who insisted we try on their giant faldas and pose for photos. I learned very quickly not to refuse the offer to wear a skirt, even if you have to hold it with one hand while dancing. After catching a ride in their chartered bus, Cumbiamba La Guapachosa insisted we walk the parade route with them, leaving our feet tired from dancing and our faces aching from smiling as we headed home.


Afortunamente, this falda fit just fine! With Cumbiamba La Guapachosa

Still glowing from Guacherna, the real celebration kicked in Friday night, with scheduled “official” events and small parties outside houses scattered throughout the approximately 150 barrios in La Arenosa. Exhausted from a week of teaching, and my heart aching from the tragic and sudden death of a beloved student, I stayed home and saved my energy for the weekend. (Side note: I lost a beautiful and brilliant Marianista from my school and may or may not blog about this later. For now, prayers go out to her sweet family during this difficult time.)


Glowing red and excited for Carnaval.

On Saturday I joined my compañeros from WorldTeach to watch the Batalla de Flores from street-side seats. Crowded together on plastic chairs under a glowing red shade tent, we drank Aguila in cans and passed around bottles of Aguardiente, while huge floats covered with plaster decorations and giant paper flowers swooshed by. Fit dancers in bikini costumes and elaborate groups in traditional dress marched by for hours.


Caught up in the celebration, our group (and several parade-viewers around us) honored the Carnaval custom of smearing each other’s faces with cornstarch and spraying candy-scented soapy espuma.


Espuma happens. With Rose Flynn.

The remaining days and nights were filled with huge outdoor parties, crowded taxi rides to different barrios and hours of dancing with locals and tourists alike.  The parade in my barrio, San Jose, filled Carrera 21B with colorful floats, wild costumes and families gathered together on hiatus from school and work.

No pockets, no problem. Balance!

No pockets, no problem. Balance!

I enjoyed meeting several Barranquilleros, including Jésus, his brother David and their humorous uncles, as well as many other happy, welcoming people excited by the international draw of their annual event. With street parties giving way to clubs, many places such as local favorite La Troja experienced massive, messy crowds of people dancing and celebrating into the early morning hours.

His smile was irresistible, giggling as he watched the parade

His smile was irresistible, giggling as he watched the parade

As the weekend of Carnaval de Barranquilla 2014 spilled into Monday and Tuesday, my barrio became noticably sparse; businesses that are regularly open during the day were closed and locked up tight.


Espuma. Jésus. La Troja. Estoy aqui.

The local Olimpica, with it’s bare shelves, looked like a Kroger before a snowstorm in Georgia. Still, the street parties continued, and people sat out on their porches until late at night, extending friendly hello’s to those passing by.

Bailar en bikini! Mujeres y hombres

Bailar en bikini! Mujeres y hombres

With the hurricane eye safely out of range, Barranquilla seems to be returning to it’s Costeño way of living: wigs and costumes are put away until next year, and many people will resist sipping Old Parr (for at least a week).  Having immensely rejoiced in this year’s Carnaval, I now understand the Colombian saying, “Quien lo vive, lo goza,” or she who lives it enjoys it. Absolutamente!

I met Ronal on Saturday and we reunited on Monday. Carnaval hurricane!

Ronal and I met on Saturday and reunited on Monday. Carnaval hurricane!

Posted in Barranquilla, Colombia, Festivals, Travel, WorldTeach | Tagged , , , , ,

Pretty Candy Pinch


COLombia COLlage, February 2014

As I turn the corner on my first month in Barranquilla, Atlántico (Colombia), I find myself writing lists in my Attic Journal from Spanglish Arte (Sacramento, CA). Each list has its own page in the journal and, so far, just a few items under each title:
What I Notice
What I Don’t Understand
What I Hope to Know
What I Miss
What I Wish I Had Brought With Me
What I Brought but Don’t Really Need
What I’m Happy to Have With Me
What I Like


yeah, something like THIS, on a good day!

Recently, fighting off a dip in the W,  I was torn between What I Miss and What I Notice; this week, what I notice is how poorly people drive here. I’ve heard traffic is bad in Argentina, but twice this week I was nearly hit, first by an impatient taxi turning right on a red light (is that even a law here? Who knows!) and next by a mototaxi who drove up on the sidewalk to get around a parked car. “It’s a sideWALK not a sideRIDE.” I also notice nearly everything I eat makes me feel sick, not violently ill or vomitous, but like a candy pinch: that cramp in your stomach that you get after you eat too much candy. If only it were from a giant bag of pastel Robin’s Eggs.


Crowd shot at the Canchar de Futbol de Cevillar

Moving on to What I Like, last weekend my friend Shauna and I walked a few blocks through our neighborhood to the nearby Cancha de Futbol de Sevillar for a free outdoor party in anticipation of Carnaval. While the actual Carnaval is not until the beginning of March, Barranquilleros begin celebrating at the end of January.


Breaking it down:  Jan Carlos, me, Eddy and Shauna

Arriving in barrio Sevillar, we found blocked-off streets with police patrols, donkey carts selling fresh fruits, street meat asados, and people gathered at corner tiendas enjoying cervezas and chatarra. Of course, Vallenato music was blasting and people shouted at each other over the festivities. We walked onto the sandy lot of la cancha towards the huge stage and were soon surrounded by smiling faces of the growing audience. Once the music started, a young man introduced himself as Eddy and insisted we dance with him and his friends. People looked on and laughed as the “gringas” twirled and bailado, oblivious to any potential criticism of our moves.


Gorgeous vocalist and great live music

The woman who sang for the band on stage was simple yet incredible; with a silver sequined top hugging her every womanly curve and her tan thighs spilling out of black shorts, her entire body seemed volcanic and yet melodic as she rhythmically danced and led the songs. As I observed this singer, I couldn’t help but remember when the US dubbed Jessica Simpson “fat” for gaining weight and performing with a few extra pounds. In Colombia, Jessica would be revered as sensual, feminine and “normal,” which to me, she is.


Gorgeous vocalist. Also, the trombone player was a nut!

For the next few days, I began to notice the people here; to my surprise, few people who are emaciated or frightfully underweight. Women have realistic figures and even the naturally-thin girls have curves. Saturday, I watched a statuesque woman in a  bright yellow top, tight jeans and heels flirt openly with a mototaxi, then hop on the back seat like she owned it (for $2000 COP and 10 minutes, she did).


Now, these are real, beautiful people!

Sunday at Playa PradoMar, I watched curvaceous girls in bikinis splashing in the shore. I met Roxy and her friends – three beautiful, non-skinny Colombians with gorgeous smiles, infectious laughter and a taste for Aguila – who playfully poked at me through my tankini as we posed for photos. While this may have made me self-conscious in the US, here it just makes me laugh and feel “normal.”


Me with the Ceviche man at PradoMar. Candy pinch, coming up!

Completing an exercise in my 4th grade class a few days later, I was disappointed to find the publisher had included, on a page about describing who we are the option for “I am fat/thin,” after “I am short/tall.” While short/tall is clearly obvious, several students seemed confused by fat/thin; as mentioned before, all of my students are beautiful.


With one of my pretty students after the Cancha de Futbol de Cevillar

With body image an important aspect of kids’ lives, I decided to change the words in the book, and had my students write “pretty” instead of fat or thin. I told them (as my fantastic mom told me), “people come in all shapes and sizes,” and added, “and all of you are pretty.” Because they are. They beamed at this declaration, and now we sometimes say, “hello pretty!” to each other in the halls.


Sorry Jerry! Now get lost with your I am Thin self.

With another week as a volunteer in Colombia coming to an end, I am grateful to have noticed more, including the beauty in those around me, how to successfully avoided being hit by a taxi and walking upright while feeling the candy pinch. Currently, I’m focusing more on the What I Hope to Know list, including how to not get lost in a city with no printed maps, and why the sidewalks resemble all heights of Crossfit jump boxes. More on those as I discover them…

Posted in Barranquilla, Colombia, Festivals, Gratitude, Teaching, Volunteering, WorldTeach | Tagged , , , , ,

Love Thy Neighbor(hood)


Smiling chicas, ready for Pre-Carnaval

Week 2 of my life in Colombia came and passed quickly, and with Carnaval less than a month away, I suspect time will fly by in the weeks ahead. After four days of teaching 3rd, 4th and 5th graders how to greet each other and sing the Good Morning song, our Friday classes were shortened for a pre-Carnaval celebration. As several girls shimmed and shook on the auditorium stage, including one crowned as the Reina de Carnaval, loud and spirited music blared; fascinated by the costumes, glitter and chiffon, I never exactly figured out who was the Reina.

I think of all the girls as queens, and I am blessed to be surrounded by happy, curious girls as a volunteer with WorldTeach. Although teaching is challenging and tiring, the rewards – like a day of dancing and laughing with my students – bring balance to the demands and exhaustion.


Safe enough for… pizza

Inspired by the dancing and celebration at school, my friend Shauna and I went out recently to learn more about our new city.  Along with one other volunteer, we are living in the southern part of Barranquilla, while the rest of our group (Club Quilla) is clustered in the middle-north towards the center of the city. I am incredibly grateful that I can walk to my school (definitely one of my highest priorities regarding placement), but I have been told that I live in an “unsafe” part of the city. In my first week teaching, the other teachers told me not to carry a cell phone or electronics, and to constantly change my walking route so my schedule is not memorized by locals with intrigued by the gringa.


My new friend, San Nicolas and me

My opinion varies greatly on what constitutes “unsafe.” I have lived in many cities deemed dangerous by the media and, despite the rumors about some areas of the world, they don’t always match real life situations. When I lived in Jalisco (MX), I always felt safe, even walking alone, however, living Atlanta and Baltimore (US), not so much. As I walk to and from school, I observe people rushing to work or sweeping their patios early in the morning. Mototaxis zoom past, cars converge and buses billow exhaust: all seemingly normal things to me. Everyone I see says “Buenos dias,” and in the hot afternoons, simply, “buenas.  So far, nothing has felt threatening and malo, and I am grateful to God for keeping me safe.


Streets of Centro – loco y más

After Shauna and I briefly discussed safety, we opted to walk from Carerra 20 to Carrera 44 – about 24 long city blocks – taking in the scenery and barrios along the way. At one point, we were surrounded by mechanic shops, the streets crowded with cars being serviced on blocks and transmission fluid flowing onto the sidewalk. Although this felt like the sketchiest part of our walk, with cat calls and constant stares, we were soon out of the oily blackness and into an apparently “better” area. We kept waiting for the feeling of “transition,” where the crappy area gives way to the posher part, but couldn’t exactly decide where it was.


mmm enjoying a Pony Malta in Plaza San Nicolas

Shauna and I first walked to Centro near Plaza San Nicolas, a place I have been curious about even before arriving to Barranquilla. For months, the Iglesia San Nicolas was the desktop image on my computer, and I had the same spooky feeling in front of Iglesia San Nicolas as I did at the Basilica de Guadalajara: after months of hoping and dreaming about being there, I am. Visioning® works wonders in my life, and there is nothing like having tangible proof. Ask. Believe. Receive.


Obligatory tourist shot of the iglesia

Iglesia San Nicolas is a huge church, painted brightly in orange, blue, and cream, with tall steeples and gigantic doors. Inside the sanctuary is spacious, with marble floors and many rows of wooden pews leading up to a grand altar. At the time I visited, there was a service going on, and I watched a street dog trot up the center aisle, then turn left to sit at the front. I was reminded of an article I recently read about a faithful dog who visits his deceased owners church, and I loved seeing this Colombian canine feel welcome in the iglesia.


Narrow sidewalks, a la orden, a la orden

Centro consists of several blocks bustling with street vendors, shanty-like kioskos, open-sidewalk restaurants, people shouting over loud Vallenato music, and the smell of fritos, fried cornmeal prepared several different ways. I bought a mirror for $2500 COP (about $1.25 USD) from a handsome vendor who wanted to speak English with me, “Hello! My name is Ubito. Thank you.” I regret now not asking to photograph his beaming smile and table of everything from espejos to bootleg CD’s.


Shauna, cute birds and friendly vendor. He smiled after this!

Many people recognized us as foreigners and said, “Good afternoon,” or “hello, how are you?” When we replied “Fine, thanks, how are you?” our responses were met with blank stares or laughter; greetings are probably the extent of English for many.


Museo del Caribe!

After Centro, we met with our new friend Rafael and enjoyed a traditional Colombian lunch (beans, rice, patacones, yucca and ensalada), before heading to Museo del Caribe, a concrete building with a huge open patio for special events. Inside, the museum exhibits and displays are large and informative, but not very interactive, and the museum overall seems dark and cold, although the first attraction, the Gabriel Garcia Marquez room, is a reputable homage to the great writer filled with books, his typewriters, and cameras.


With Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s typewriter: ¡Que chevére!

The Marquez room offers a beautiful animated film based on his famous titles, including Love in a Time of Cholera and 100 Years of Solitude. Clearly, Garbiel Garcia Marquez is greatly revered in Colombia, as he should be. Overall, the Museo del Caribe is good for a one-time visit. I expected color and excitement – it’s the Caribbean, after all! But honestly, the museum could use some vibrancy and intrigue for the visitor.


Rafael and the wall of Costeño slang at Museo del Caribe

As we headed home escorted by Rafael, Shauna and I agreed we have much to learn about Barranquilla, not just it’s culture and the incredible Costeño accent, but where we are, where we are headed and how to get there.


Hut one, hut two… after this, home!

Passing by a place where we recently enjoyed dinner, we saw our waitress friend, Gigi, who exclaimed cheerfully after besitos, “¿Cuándo vas a volver a verme?” (when are you coming to see me?). Suddenly, the feeling of being a stranger dissipated on the night air, mixing with the smell of fritos and sound of Vallenato music.

Posted in Barranquilla, Colombia, Gratitude, Iglesias, Teaching, Travel, Visioning®, Volunteering, WorldTeach | Tagged , , , , , ,

Escuela, Finca, Playa … It Is What It Is

bobotekSeveral months ago, I made a pact with the Universe, focused, prayed, manifested, practiced Visioning® and now I’m here, in Barranquilla, Atlántico, where I asked to be. As expected, the past week has been a mix of everything from confusion and frustration to gratitude and joy, as I settle into my placement. Graciously, my friend Mark reminded me in a recent chat that it’s only a matter of time before I’m situated and living comfortably with my host family, their cute dog and two birds.


Welcome to my cute school… with values!

My primary reason for coming to Barranquilla is volunteering for a full year with WorldTeach Colombia. Fortunately, my school is a beautiful, all-girls Catholic institution about 20 minutes walking distance to my house; with local traffic being a cross between the classic arcade game Frogger and the streets of Vietnam, I am very thankful for the location.


Tienda in the school… with parking, too

The school is large, with an open courtyard and large classrooms holding between 32 and 40 students each. In addition to a gymnasium and cafeteria, the school has it’s own tienda inside the gates – humorous to me but safe for students during the daily break. I teach early in the mornings, arriving at 6:30 a.m, and I’m finished around 12 p.m, leaving afternoons free to lesson plan on the back patio of my host family’s home, where my friend el pájaro performs his serenata and whistles with me.

My classes average an hour each, and students are engaged for nearly all of the lesson. Since this week includes introductions, we sang songs, wrote conversations in notebooks, recited greetings and played a few games. I am delighted with the smiles of the girls when they realize they understand something in English, and I enjoy the colorful stickers they give me before and after class.


A serious photo of my students – at times they are silly, too

I have only had to separate a few students when the talking is incessant, especially during the announcements and prayers. Remembering that Oprah Winfrey describes herself as “the girl in class that never stopped talking“, I try to be gentle but firm with these future superstars, whose beautiful Colombian names (Roseangelita, Mariajuliana, Estefany) are my biggest learning challenge so far.


Catching a breeze in the mango trees

During the week my new friend Oscar took me to his family’s finca near Malambo, a small town with colorful buildings and small streets just past Soledad and the airport. As we rode in his farm-ready, 1983 Nissan Patrol through acres of mango trees, the breezes kicked up dust and swirled yellow tree flowers across the road – like the scenes in animated movies where pixie dust paves the way to a wonderland.


Cuddling kittens and puppies, Finca-style

For hours I chased chickens, talked turkey, patted piglets, cuddled kittens and embraced my favorite, the burro, as well as milked a cow for the first time in many years.


Jaime helps me get a grip. Leche fresca, anyone?

I still don’t know why I’m so enamored with farm animals, but it was great talking with all of them, my vegetarian conscience clear and happy.


He holds the don-key to my heart

On a second visit in the same week, my friend and WorldTeach compañera Shauna joined us for homemade sancocho and long walks around the property. We both agreed fincas are the answer to relaxation and rejuvenation in Colombia, with beautiful Santa Cruz being our first experience.


Shauna and Edward enjoying savory sancocho

Over the weekend, I joined several WorldTeach Colombia volunteers from “Club Quilla” for a day at the beach. Turipaná was a noisy, warm 45-minute bus ride north, and as we walked across the black sand towards salty surf, I remembered the credo of our training: no expectations! I’ll admit I felt sad, not seeing white sand and blue water, but after a cold Aguila and a swing in the rope hammock under our palapa, I let go and felt South America soak in.


Black sand, salty surf, and some flips by the boat

A delicious lunch of fried fish, coconut rice and patacónes helped put my mind at ease,  and as I devoured the day’s comida, I remembered there are other beaches to visit, including the picturesque Santa Marta, and a year ahead to see many places.


Muy rica, platillo de pescado

After standing for the entire bus ride home and feeling a bit of a sunburn, I stopped with our group to take in the delights of a Cumbia dance party going on in the street, complete with live music and traditional clothing.


¡Bailar con tus vecinos! Bailllllarrrr

Finally, I made my way home on the bus and collapsed in my twin bed after a refreshing cold shower, thinking about how completely different my life is now from this time last year. I decided at that moment to let go of the comparisons, lose the expectations, and accept my new mantra:

It is what it is.


Buenas noches, Colombia, hasta manaña por más

Posted in Barranquilla, Colombia, Festivals, Gratitude, La Playa-Beach, Teaching, Travel, Volunteering, WorldTeach | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

El Presidente y Pasar a la Ciudades


Club Red! With Becky, Jena and WT Field Director Jessica in Bogotá

For the final day of our WorldTeach Orientation, volunteers were treated to an exceptional occasion in Bogotá, arranged by our incredible founders and directors, Luis Enrique Garcia and Pablo Jaramillo Quintero. Early in the morning, after packing our bags for prospective placements, we traveled by bus to the Casa de Nariño (Presidential Palace), where we cleared security and waited patiently for Juan Manuel Santos Calderón to arrive. El Presidente extended a warm welcome to our group, a combination of WorldTeach Colombia, Volunteers Colombia and SENA (Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje).


Feeling guarded outside Casa de Nariño

President Santos expressed his gratitude for the teachers for being a part of the bilingual movement in Colombia, before turning the microphone over to a Volunteers Colombia member, who spoke in Spanish and English about his positive and enriching experiences for the past 2 years. The President then circled the room, shaking hands, asking where volunteers were from, and stopping for photos. Following the greeting, volunteers were served delicious coffee in fine porcelain, agreeing with one another that this unique experience was simply fantastic.

¿De donde eres?

President Santos asked, ¿De donde eres? WorldTeach volunteer Sarah Vogelman (right), making eye contact!

After meeting President Santos, our group reassembled outside the palace gates for some last-minute photos and goodbye hugs before boarding a bus to the airport. Club Med (Medellin), The Brits, Club Quilla (Barranquilla) and Crew Barú all represented.

Club Med after meeting El Presidente

Kirsten, Aaron and Melissa: Club Med after meeting El Presidente

Roomies! Love

With my amazing (and beautiful!) roommates from Finca Santa Cruz, Emily and Eula.


¡WorldTeach Colombia 2014 Voluntarios!

Several hours later, Club Quilla arrived in Barranquilla, where we were dropped off at our host families’ houses in the dark, porch lights and screened areas lit to welcome weary volunteers. Beatriz and Luis have opened their home to me and I am grateful. My room is large and sparse with plenty of sunlight, and just outside is a busy street with friendly neighbors, large patios and corner tiendas on every other block.


For some, life begins and ends at La Tienda!

The sounds of Colombian music and reggaeton are constant day and night, and as I washed my clothes in the warm afternoon, I sang along to some Don Omar, certain la familia will learn, poco y poco, soy loquita.


Laundry time! Feels like I’m back in Tlaquepaque, México. I got this.

I am thrilled to have my friend Shauna, a WorldTeach volunteer from Kentucky, just across the street and a few houses down. Because we are further south in the city than the rest of Club Quilla, we are not as close to the others and have already missed a group trip to the beach on our first day here.


Go for the Gold! Sidewalk.

Fortunately, Shauna and I made up for missing the beach by going out for pizza in the evening with two friendly and talkative Costeños, Oscar and Rosanna, who discussed with us everything from Colombian politics to managing fincas to the best salsa clubs in the city.


Oscar and his caballo at la finca. ¡Que Chevére!

After exchanging phone numbers and saying goodbye to our new amigos, Shauna and I agreed Barranquilla is going to be a great place to learn and grow in Colombia, both by teaching English and embracing what the country has to offer. Gracias a Díos por mi vida buena y especialmente por mi barrio, mi familia host y mis amigos nuevos. ¡VIVA!

Posted in Barranquilla, Colombia, Gratitude, Travel, Volunteering, WorldTeach | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Catedral de Sal y un Secreto Maravilloso

Katie and Jena demonstrate sausage-eating at the asado girls' table

Katie and Jena demonstrate sausage-eating at the asado girls’ table

Adapting to Colombian culture and learning to accept sudden changes in schedules (or not really having a set schedule) appearing to be working for most volunteers as does doing things “in the moment.” For our goodbye and to celebrate completion of our Practicum and orientation, WorldTeach Colombia 2014 volunteers  enjoyed a delicious farewell asado prepared by the staff of Finca Santa Cruz, while anticipating departure to our placement locations on Monday.


Driving into Zipaquirá

Just when we thought orientation was over… we received news yesterday of an unexpected delay…quite possibly of the best kind… giving us one bonus “free” day to explore the area around Bogotá.


La Plaza en centro Zipaquirá

 While the news will remain a secret for now, volunteers took full advantage of the time, with many groups going to the city to shop, others planning a hike in the nearby mountains, and several going to Zipaquirá, a small town past Cota and Chia, famous for its Salt Cathedral.


Emily en la plaza, Zipaquirá

A fan of unusual tourist attractions, and especially Latin American churches, I joined a group of about 8 volunteers and caught a morning bus to Zipaquirá. We arrived in the small town after a 40 minute ride in a fast-moving bus via twisty 2-lane highway. Melissa, a volunteer from the UK, and I sat up front with the driver, enjoying a first-hand view of the wild navigation and close stops typical of this public transportation.


KD en la plaza, Zipaquirá

Zipa is a cute town with a large main plaza flying colorful flags, small shops and cafés, plus several religious icons, churches and common areas throughout. We hiked the 30 meters or so to the famous Catedral de Sal, a large cathedral built underground in a former salt mine. As volunteers on a budget, some of us winced at the $2300.00 COP entrance fee, but upon leaving felt the visit was worth every peso.


Melissa, Emily, Kirsten and Becky outside Catedral

Following cues from the informative tour guide (en español, claro), to the large carved cruxes along the dark, stone-lined walkway, to the colorfully-lit arches and huge statues of angels, we were mesmerized by the eery yet tranquil caverns and crevices along the way.


Inside Catedral de Sal, Zipaquirá

After about an hour and a half in the Catedral de Sal, we emerged to a sunny afternoon and searched for food in el centro area, some enjoying a cerveza bien fria, others a full sit-down almuerzo, and yet others munching on street food, including banoleras – arepas con queso, bocadillos de yucca, and empanadas con carne – washed down with icy refrescas.


One of many crosses inside Catedral de Sal, Zipaquirá

As we made our way back to Cota and Finca Santa Cruz, we agreed our free day was well-spent, taking in a new small town while enjoying an historic and famous Colombian attraction.


KD and the giant cross inside Catedral de Sal, Zipaquirá

Mañana we leave Finca Santa Cruz early in the morning for our placement locations, following a special event. While the event remains top-secret among our group and Field Directors, we are all excited (and some even a little nervous), anticipating to be motivated and encouraged beyond words as WorldTeach volunteers.


Melissa and her novio outside Catedral de Sal, Zipaquirá

Posted in Colombia, Gratitude, Iglesias, Teaching, Travel, Volunteering, WorldTeach | Tagged , , , , , ,

Street Meat, Practicum and Stealing Our Eyes


Mazorca en Plaza Bolivar!

Time is passing quickly for my WorldTeach Colombia 2014 peers and me; we are in the home-stretch of training, learning to master South American life skills including calculating pesos, eating street meat with maizorca and playing a mean game of tejo, as well as how to plan a well-executed lesson in only 3 hours.


Teleferico high above Bogota

On Sunday our group was treated to a rare “free” day which included another bus ride into Bogotá, this time to La Candelaria, a neighborhood brimming with universities, cafés, street vendors and a magnificent view atop Monserrate, high above the city. Most volunteers rode the funicular, a small electric train that took standing passengers up a steep mountain side, while a few others braved the terrain and walked the hour-long climb to the top.


Justin, Frank, Becky and Melissa high above Bogota

Religious carved dioramas depicting the crucifixion of Christ lined the stone path that lead to catédral San Augustin, where a mass was being held with the congregation spilling out of the front and side doors. Many  volunteers enjoyed the sprawling view of Bogotá, and walked around the lush park area, breathing in the sunny afternoon air.


Lllama ride while waiting for the Funicular, anyone?

A small group, curious for more of Colombian culture, braved sampling local cuisine and shared a serving of morsialla, tripa, chicharonnes and plantains, described by volunteer Frank Hand (Paco Mano) as tasting like “a zoo.”


With my beautiful friend Shauna on Monserrate

As the climate changed from chilly and damp to warm and dry, we shed our sweaters and jackets, noting a few stares from the crowd. One especially tall volunteer, Justin, had a beautiful Colombian girl request a photo with him; I took an identical photo to capture the moment of this anonymous cultural encounter.


Justin and his beautiful Colombiana misteriosa

In addition to learning Colombians are friendly and curious about non-Colombians, we were told in our training that if your eyes are light-colored (blue or green), people will ask you for them. While no one directly received the request for their eyes, our group did receive it’s share of attention as touristas.


Teleferico high over the city

After enjoying la buena vista, volunteers descended down the mountain, again a few by foot and others by man-made devices, this time, the Teleferico, a small cable car on wires that swiftly moved passengers below. Hungry for anything but morsialla, we split up into groups and searched for lunch before returning to the bus for a sleepy ride back to Finca Santa Cruz.


Field Directors know, Practicum is harrrrdd :)

For our last week of orientation, volunteers began Practicum training: our first day in the Colombian classroom, and for many, the first time ever teaching. Some volunteers fumbled while others excelled, and some experienced ripples of chaos followed the next day by waves of achievement.


Outside Chicala, ready for action!

Despite living in Finca Santa Cruz, with no Internet access and limited resources, the general consensus for our teaching practicum was that of success, as volunteers asked each other for advice and shared ideas to help with lesson planning.


The kids love Mr. Ashley!

With Practicum now finished, volunteers appeared to have gained perspective from peer observation and “de-briefing,” where our Field Directors discussed what worked in the classroom and what did not. While some parts of Practicum were difficult, such as traveling in smoggy Bogotá or leading 45 4th graders in a reading lesson, most of us were grateful for the experience, and enjoyed meeting the staff and directors of the schools.


With my 4th grade Practicum class

As orientation comes to an end, our Colombia 2014 group remains alive and well, as we prepare for our prospective placements as WorldTeach volunteers.


Lesson plans and futbol, definitely where it´s at

Posted in Colombia, Gratitude, Sacramento, Teaching, Travel, Volunteering, WorldTeach | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Teacher Camp 2014 semana dos


One week in Colombia and I already have a novio. Mooo!

January 9th marked one week since our WorldTeach Colombia 2014 group met and moved into Finca Santa Cruz. We have made two bus rides into the city to cover legal matters and hear more about the program as well as our role as volunteers within the country.


WorldTeach Colombia 2014 Ladies Group

The first visit took us to Imigracíon, where we applied for a cédula extranjería (foreign identification card) and completed lengthy applications to establish bank accounts. Of course, our Field Directors managed to squeeze in a session during one of our two days in Bogotá, splitting the groups demographically into Costeños and Cachocos to learn about using Visual Aids in the Classroom.


Alejandro, Jeff, Ashley and Cody prep for the US Embassy

On our second visit to Bogotá, WorldTeach Colombia 2014 was welcomed at the US Embassy to hear more about living in South America and how to protect ourselves from crime, as well as all the progressive work being done to increase English learning throughout the country.


Dante charms us all each morning at Desayuna

After a break of coffee and empanadas, volunteers were referred to the website for English America, as well as briefed on the opportunities open to Colombian teachers wanting to study in the US on grants and scholarships.


with Shauna, Becky, Ashley and Frank, Barranquilla crew 2014

The rest of our second week passed quickly and included guest lecturer Katie Bain, an English Language Fellow based in Barranquilla. Katie’s engaging and interesting sessions included incorporating games and writing in our lessons, applying the Color Vowel Chart and it’s yoga exercises, and several references to pizza as an easy subject in the classroom.


Costeños crew 2014 in Bogota

As the week have progressed, several volunteers appear to have bonded more closely with others, some by location and placement, others by sharing common opinions or sports teams. For many, this clique-based community works, while for others it seems awkward, since we are required to share activities and ideas.


Shauna recites in our Spanish class

I’m surprised that inexperienced volunteers aren’t trying to benefit more from the help of experienced teachers, but my hope right now is that everyone will understand we have a common goal of volunteering, even if we are all on our own journey in life.

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt


Shauna, Britney and Jordan waiting for the bus to Cota

As another week of Teacher Camp 2014 comes to an end, it appears nearly everyone is adjusting to the busy work schedule, and remaining motivated to learn as much as possible before being sent to our placement cities. More than anything right now, I am looking forward to some free time, including a few evening hours in Cota, plus a rare full “free” day sightseeing tomorrow in Cadelaria. Gracias a Díos por mi vida nueva aqui, y especialmente por mis campeñeros fantasticos de WorldTeach 2014. ¡Viva Colombia!

Posted in Colombia, Gratitude, Sacramento, Teaching, Travel, Volunteering, WorldTeach | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Welcome to Teacher Camp 2014


Oh Christmas Tree!

It’s remarkable when a week can feel like a day, or six months like a month, as happened recently before my January departure to Colombia with WorldTeach 2014. Several weeks have passed, and I am now living in South America, blogging bi-weekly from an Internet café in Cota during my volunteer orientation. Before I dive into the amazing new adventure of my life, it seems only virtuous to recollect and be grateful for the weeks leading up to the present.


Red cabbage, spaetzle noodles, potato salad and potato pancakes!

Christmas day featured a dinner of traditional, home-cooked German food and wine, plus opening gifts around a tiny tabletop Christmas tree decorated with Latin celebrities, flags and tiny paper strips inscribed with wishes and thanks. The day, which included phone calls to loved ones and a visit to the neighbors, was definitely resplendent with love, appreciation and gratitude, inching closer to the end of an incredible year.


With my friend Marcos in the South Beach Marina

After Christmas, I rushed to pack the last bit of my life into 2 large suitcases (with help from two beloved friends) and caught the 6:05 a.m. flight to Miami, propelled by a mix of jet fuel and earlymorning coffee. My friends Marcos and Esther graciously hosted me in their modern apartment near Margaret Pace Park, and included me in their New Year’s Eve festivities on the 27th floor of a lovely, generous couple, Dominic and Michelle.


Piper Heidsieck with my new Miami amigo, Rybo

I felt truly blessed for my life, with friends new and old, as together we watched the Neon Orange drop down the side of a nearby building as fireworks explode over beautiful South Beach.


Touchdown! But not really our plane

Two days later, I was on a flight to Bogotá with an amazing, enthusiastic group as part of the WorldTeach Colombia 2014 program. Chatting excitedly with my compañeros as our plane landed and we spied the first glimpses of our home for the next year, I felt all the anticipation and nervousness from months of planning suddenly slide away as we touched down on the tarmac.

For the past week our group of 34 volunteers, ranging in age from early-20’s to mid-60’s, from all walks of life and from different places within the US and UK, have been living in Finca Santa Cruz, a large community-based farmhouse near Cota.


It has been a growing process for use all, as we get to know each other, while also learning Spanish, exchanging ideas about teaching English, and enjoying home-cooked meals of comida de Colombia.


Mi primera cena en Colombia, muy rica!

Savory breakfast, lunch and dinner include variations offresh fruit, baked goods, meats, fish, rice and salad, as well as yucca and plantains. I feel well-cared for as one of a few vegetarians, with our meat-free options including baked pasta, lentil soup, bean casseroles.


The finca is spacious, clean and rustic, with dormitory-like sleeping rooms, his and hers community
bathrooms, large common areas, comfortable sitting spaces, and expansive, sunny brick patios. Our
classes are held in the sitting spaces and we stick to a daily schedule, with some room for flexibility
(always needed in the country, where you’re subject to exciting events like power outages).


On the 2nd day of training, several volunteers celebrated the 23rd birthday of another with an after-dinner walk to the nearby tienda, where saludos included a shot of Colombian traditional Aguardiente and a serenata de cumpleaño by a group of local paisas. ¡Felicidades, Frank!


Alejandro instigates our first taste of Aguardiente!

Our days are mostly spent in 2-hour learning sessions where we learn about classroom management and lesson planning, watch videos of past volunteers working, and discuss the cultural differences of teaching in Colombia versus other countries: all good information to learn prior to our placement.


The sessions fill volunteer’s minds with statistics, theories and methods, our training is helpful an interesting and our Field Directors are really fantastic leaders.


Joe and Brittney balance the wire

Of course, the learning sessions are exhausting at times, so whenever there is downtime, volunteers take full advantage of breaks with relaxation and recreation, everything from cat naps to card games. On one particularly beautiful day, several people played a friendly game of futbol with some locals, while others practiced wire-walking or relaxed on the scenic grounds of Santa Cruz.


As the first week of Teacher Camp 2014 (as the volunteers have humorously dubbed it) comes to an end and we anticipate the next, whether experienced in the classroom or teaching for first-time, one resounding and universal thoughts appear obvious: we are all excited to begin our volunteer service with WorldTeach and can’t think of a better way to be starting this New Year.


Any time we are fed, we are happy!

Posted in Colombia, Gratitude, Sacramento, Teaching, Travel, Volunteering, WorldTeach | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

SpanishFriday: Papa a la Huancai­na

This week’s Spanish Friday is about a tasty holiday dish from Perú: Papa a la Huancai­na (potatoes Huancayo style). Even though I am heading to Colombia soon with WorldTeach as 2014 volunteer and look forward to tasting Colombian food, I have been wanting to make Papa a la Huancai­na for a while. ¡Disfruitar! 

Click here to translate this entire blog post

Mi primero tiempo por sabor la platillo tradicional de Perú, Papa a la Huancai­na, era en la Fiesta de Comida Peruvian a Sacramento. Yo recuerdo otra platillos, especialmente la muy rica Causa, con atun y aceitunas, pero yo creo en mi mente, Papa a la Huancai­na es ensalada fácil, y perfecto para mi, la vegetariana.

Causa de Peru

mmm causa y cerveza de Perú

Primero, hervir la agua con papas, 20 minutos mas o menos. Cuando la agua son hirviendo, prepara la sauce con queso fresco, leche evaporado, aji amarillo, galletas saladas, cebollas y ajo. Dar a las papas una bañera en agua frio, y quitar la piel cuidadosamente. Lave la lechuga fresca y presentar en el platillo. Cortar las papas, y poner en la lechuga. Cubre con la sauce y aceitunas negros. (Es tradicional con huevos hervir y cortar, por la ensalada, pero no me gusta los huevos.)

La receta es por 4 personas, mas o menos, depende en cuantos te gusta por tu cena. ¡Provecho!


mmm yo preparé: Papa a la Huancai­na en mi platillo de Andy Warhol!

Posted in Colombia, Comida-Food, Festivals, Peru, Sacramento, SpanishFriday | Tagged , , , ,

Santacon y Más: Vivir la Buena Vida

Barranquilla desktop

I’ve had this on my desktop for months. St. Nicholas Square, Barranquilla

It’s amazing what can happen to change your life in one week (or even just one day). Last Thursday I received an email from WorldTeach, informing me of my placement with the organization as a volunteer in Barranquilla, Colombia. Although I was prepared to gladly be of service anywhere WorldTeach needed me, I have been praying daily for this northern location, the 4th largest city in Colombia (and Shakira‘s hometown), as my home for the next year.

Barranquilla prayer

My prayer, posted months earlier for daily review and Visioning®

Upon reading the email, I  jumped up and danced a wild jig with the dog, phoning my friend and screaming, “It’s Barranquilla! It’s Barranquilla!” The feeling is incredible when you express what you want, have faith and eventually it is delivered. Ask. Believe. Receive.

Delta Ride

CA-160 along the American River (only an hour off schedule)

Still giddy from the news of Barranquilla, I decided to spend a 4-day weekend in San Francisco saying goodbye to old friends,  reminding myself life is best lived when you feel awake and alive. Having borrowed a friend’s Bajaj 150 scooter while living in Sacramento, I agreed to return it by meeting the owner halfway.

“There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” ― Dr. Seuss (American author 1904 – 1991)


Break time: Guadalajara Fruit Bar and the Bajaj, Fairfield CA

I took off for San Francisco on the Delta Road along the American River, CA-160 by way of County highway E9. Although Google Maps gave me several wrong directions (including a 2-lane country road that led to a dirt dead-end), and I rode at top speed with the sun directly in my eyes, I finally arrived safely in Fairfield to enjoy some tasty comida Méxicana while waiting to be picked up.


Say what? Santa Pyramid with Penguin topper in Union Square

The next morning began with a holiday bang as SantaCon, the annual event where thousands of people in cities throughout the US dress as Santa Claus and create mayhem in the streets, took over Union Square and other parts of San Francisco. In addition to Santa, people dressed as Christmas trees, elves, gingerbread men, penguins and candy canes, all commandeering the bars and parks. The San Francisco Fire Department collected toys for charity, while  kids walked around appearing to be mesmerized by so many Santas in one place.

Tree trimming

They told me to look for the tree branch. Ha ha, very funny.

One brave Santacon soul had snow made and brought to Duboce Park, where red-and-white outfitted participants staged a snowball fight. Although it seemed like a great idea, in actuality the snow smelled like dog poo and melted very quickly, while the snowmaker received several tickets including staging an un-permitted event and littering (because, obviamente, snow is litter). Bah Humbug, SFPD?

Duboce Park Snowballs

Duboce park snowballs with Jerry! Note my Colombian and Méxican flags

With Santacon 2013 deemed a success, I needed a break from beer and candy canes, and found the perfect place in one of my favorite SF neighborhoods, Clement Street, with its independent book stores and dim sum restaurants I achingly missed while living in México.

Blue Danube

Chandeliers, gold guild and tree branches!

Blue Danube Coffee House provided a delicious cup of brewed warmth, but what I really enjoyed was discovering the Blue Danube Journals, a series of blank journals with decorative covers authored (often anonymously, with illustrations) by visitors to the café.

Blue Danube Journals

Blue Danube Journals and the coffee counter reflection

The weekend of holiday celebration continued, first with the San Francisco Scooter Girls’ Annual Holiday Party, where friends gathered to enjoy food and drink, as well as steal hilarious white elephant gifts from one another, including a large pillow printed with Nicholas Cage, purchased from Etsy.

Nic Cage pillow

Take that, Randy Pillowface Off McDonough!

Next on the celebration agenda was a company party at Gracias Madre, the delicious vegan Méxican eatery in the Mission district. At the invitation of mi amiga bonita Claudia, I enjoyed meeting Gracias Madre owners Matthew and Terces Engelhart, dancing with the staff to classic DJ “hits” (we like to party!), and eating copious amounts of meat-free sushi (sin mariscos, tambien, claro).

Gracias Madre

Claudia (top right) and her Gracias Madre compañeros!

Winding down the weekend, I returned to Sacramento where I enjoyed a splendid dinner at Tres Hermanas with friends from the original Sacramento Craft Mafia, founded many years ago by Amy Cluck-McAllister.  While we reminisced about early meetings at Coffee Garden (corporate sponsor of Kate Dana Colombia 2014) and the demise of the club due to “irreconcilable differences” among the members, we also gave great thanks for friendships that endure… definitely a craft only time can perfect.

Sacto Crafty!

Original Sac Craft Mafia: Angelica, Lauren, Lorraine, KD and Amy

Looking ahead, with 2 weeks to clear my remaining clutter before leaving for my new life/adventure in Colombia, I am counting the holiday blessings both given and received. I am overjoyed with the generosity of others, the support from other for what lies ahead, and the sincerity of friends both new and old. If it’s true that we receive what we give, then I look forward to days filled with wonder, laughter and love, glancing back occasionally, just enough to say thanks.

“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” – Mae West (American actress 1893 – 1980)

Posted in California, Colombia, Festivals, Gratitude, Visioning®, WorldTeach | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SpanishFriday: Gracias por Mariposas

This week’s Spanish Friday is about a recent sale from my Etsy store. Although Etsy has been a bit of challenging fundraiser for my WorldTeach 2014 campaign, I have made some wonderful connections with a few with kindred spirits around the US. This week’s stellar purchase is from a woman in Massachusetts who volunteers in the Dominican Republic, a country I greatly enjoyed visiting in 2012.

Click here to translate this entire blog post


¡Orale! un otra venta en mi tienda de Etsy

Recientemente vendí una pieza favorita de obras de arte basado en las hermanas Mirabal de la República Dominicana. Kelly, la mujer que compró mis voluntarios de las ilustraciones con su hermana, para ayudar un fundación sin fines de lucro llamada en Cabarete (cerca de Puerto Plata). La Proyecto Mariposa tiene como objetivo capacitar y educar a las mujeres jóvenes en la comunidad.

El Proyecto Mariposa

El Proyecto Mariposa – enviar para más información

La arte es imagens de las hermanas Mirabal, con el clasico Proverbio de Perú“Aunque lo que dicen no es con que lo aseguren basta” en inglés: Although what they say is not so, with assurances it is enough.

Aseguren Basta

Aseguren Basta ©2012 Kate Dana 9×12″ collage on paper

Al igual que las hermanas Mirabal hizo hace tantos años, Kelly es faculta las mujeres a la Republica Dominicana para hablar y sentirse fuerte y buscar por segura oportunidades en vida. Gracias, Kelly, por tu inspirando compra, y gracias por tu confidencia en mi, ayudar otras con WorldTeach 2014!

Republica Dominicana 2012

Fuera de la catedral más antigua de América, Santo Domingo 2012

Posted in Art, Colombia, Gratitude, Peru, SpanishFriday, Travel, Volunteering | Tagged , , , ,

Enough with the Stuff (Shift Happens)

“When you have cleared all of your clutter, you can be of greater service to those around you.” – Michael B. Kitson

The weeks are flying by before I leave for a year as a volunteer with WorldTeach in Colombia, South America. Although the past few days have felt a little low, I’m still motivated by my dream of helping others and experiencing a new culture. This week, the massive clearing of personal items has begun and it feels great, compared with a few months ago, when I was just starting to sell everything.

Full Etsy Store

Ah yes, when my Etsy store was full…

I’ll admit, selling online has not been how I imagined. First, it seems I am not quite hipster enough for Etsy, since I’m not selling items like $75 wooly hats that resemble the Grinch’s hair or a lamp made to look like a water balloon. By the time the Fiestaware Police got to me, I stopped pretending to know what I was doing.

Fiestaware Police

Honestly, this is what you do all day, Patricia?

While I still have some artwork for sale – currently only $20 any size, with $5 shipping – (thanks, Erin for your purchase of 3!) – the vintage items have been removed.

Click to shop! And follow me on Twitter, too.

Click to shop! And follow me on Twitter, too.

In addition to Etsy, I tried to relearn selling on ebay, with this being my first time returning to the site since Meg Whitman ran for Governor. Of the 3 items I posted, 2 have sold; the third appears to be relisting itself into infinity.  Finally, I’ll own up to being apprehensive about Craig’s List, where lowballers snuff you out and spammers link to your email. You’d think I’d lost all hope in humanity. No way, not even close.

Rica Vida on Ebay

1 item remains in my ebay store but I’m not even sure how to sell it to you.

I am so grateful to everyone who has faith in my dream. Just to hear the words “I believe in you” speaks volumes. I find myself especially touched by those who came to my yard sales and pop up shop. Thank you all for making purchases to support me in the year ahead. I am thankful that Lauren bought a special vintage fan for her art studio, and that Allison cherished an antique pink clock radio.

Fan of the radio

Aqua blue and baby pink. Great things now in the hands of equally great friends.

I’m hoping that one day UPS believes in shipping addresses and Jeffrey will receive the coffee mugs he so graciously purchased. Dewane has the Sweet Potatoes book I made, Suzanne bought the autographed Howard Finster book, and Rhonda sent a beautiful photo of the glass candle holders lit up in her altar. I’m overjoyed that these things have gone on to bring happiness to others. As for the rest of the stuff, it’s still taking up space around me and slide-riding around in a friend’s car… but not for long.

“The things you used to own, now they own you.”  ― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

Sweet Potatoes: A Delicious Mash of the South

Sweet Potatoes: A Delicious Mash of the South, thanks Dewane!

Seeking motivation for the final push, I read a few articles confirming my ideas. I laughed out loud at the relativity to my current situation. Then, things got real: I talked with my friend and published author Karen by phone and felt a shift happen. Karen and I met in Tlaquepaque, where we shared a beautiful, large traditional Méxican home (to which Karen has recently returned: jealous!)

Zalatitan cocina

Casa Zalatitan – en la cocina – Hey, Karen, what’s in that lower cabinet?

My former compañera de cuarto told me she cleared away all her things on her last visit home to Canada: yearbooks, furniture, photographs and more, keeping just enough to fit in 2 suitcases. Karen returned to México feeling lighter than ever, and exclaimed to me joyfully: “You have no idea, it’s so liberating. Take it from me, do it. I feel so free!”

Stop Dreaming. Start doing!

No one can do it but you. Make the change! Image courtesy of Just One Way Ticket

In addition to Karen’s influence, I am finding myself motivated by the idea of being free of the energy stored by tangible items, some of which no longer bring me joy. I am thrilled at the idea of swapping tchotchkes for delicious food and shoes for stories told in a language that I love. Trading “cool” stuff for the spray of salty air from a place I have only seen in magazines? I’ll do it in a second.

Isla Baru, Colombia

Isla Baru near Cartagena de Indias, Colombia – WOW

The time is now. I have photographed the cute furniture and rotary dial phones. I’ve read articles about Teaching Traveling, having your life fit into one bag, and how letting go of things opens up opportunity for experience. The boxing up of dishware, retro home decor and copious art supplies has started an avalanche of space clearing. I am inspired and motivated, ready to fit my life into a suitcase and carry-on. Next stop: Thrift Town for a drop-off and tax receipt.  Let the adventure begin.

Thrift Town

Dangerously close to where I’m living en el campo

Posted in Collage, Giving up, Gratitude, Sacramento, Simplify, Tlaquepaque, Travel, WorldTeach | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Fiverr, GoOverseas and Amen

Fiverr® cover

Fiverr® can’t decide if I can keep this cover photo or not. But I like it!

Counting the weeks before leaving for Colombia as a 2014 volunteer with WorldTeach, I am also counting the fundraising efforts created towards my year. I am so grateful for the generous donations received, this week alone, from friends and family, people near and far, who believe in me and my desire to help others. You know who you are, and it truly is inspiring! To keep the momentum going, I  started a campaign and entered an Intership/Volunteer Scholarship contest at It’s going to be great to see what happens next!

My Fiverr® campaign

When I was living in Puerto Vallarta, I ordered a wonderful Mother’s Day gift from Fiverr®: A personalized song by Maya in the Moment, playing her ukelele and singing lyrics based on an online form I completed. This unique gift was only $5.00! Yes, my mom is worth millions, but to me, this heartfelt song written especially for her was was priceless.

Watch more videos and subscribe to my YouTube channel!

I decided to check out Fiverr® for myself and discovered, among hundreds of great ideas and offers at only $5.00 each, they have a category for Gifts, Postcards from… You send $5.00 and the seller sends you a postcard from their travels (or home) around the globe. How great is that?! Even with the rising cost of postage, snail mail is still a fun way to send and receive a tangible message you can hold. (Although lately, Postcardly seems to be making more and more sense…)

my first campaign

My premiere gig with – order a postcard from Colombia today!

My Fiverr® campaign is up now, offering a handwritten postcard after I arrive in Colombia! I can’t wait to see who donates the price of a Starbucks® venti Frappuccino, so I can write to them from South America. Sign up now, donate $5.00 and I’ll send you a beautiful postcard thanking you for your support of this dream!

Whoops! Looks like Fiverr® still thinks I live in México.

My entry

In addition to creating my first Fiverr® campaign, I entered a competition on for an Volunteer/Intern Abroad Scholarship, which offers $500 to winners twice a year.  GoOverseas functions as an independent site with ratings and reviews for nearly every available program in the world, including  teach, study, intern, gap year, and volunteer along with a great online community and more! For my entry, I shaped a queso y jalapeño-stuffed pupusa from our local pupuseria, La Flor de Michoacan, like the country of Colombia and photographed myself holding it.

Hungry for pupusa de Colombia?

Holding my pupusa shaped like Colombia… mmm tasty!

As required, I also completed the online application, writing 5 words that come to mind when I think about volunteering abroad; honestly, it was hard to choose. I decided on service, dedication, inspiration, encouragement and compassion. I believe all of these words are exemplary when it comes to helping others and hope I will be able to practice them all in the next year with WorldTeach in Colombia.

Why Volunteer

I also Tweeted this! Some of the other responses are great.

As the Thanksgiving weekend kicks off the holiday season, I’m hoping for more opportunities to give and receive, share and enjoy, pack and downsize, as well as find more online contests, create more gigs on Fiverr® and begin and end each day with a big “AMEN.” After all, being grateful for the riches you have now ensures you’ll never have room in life to feel poor.

Amen to that!

“The man who does more than he is paid for will soon be paid for more than he does.”
Napoleon Hill (American, author and investor 1883 – 1970)

Posted in Colombia, Gratitude, Sacramento, Teaching, Travel, Volunteering, WorldTeach | Tagged , , , , , , ,

GoGo Girl Experiment

The weeks are flying by before I leave for a year as a volunteer with WorldTeach in Colombia, South America. I am so grateful for the generous donations from Francis, Carl and Marleen, Diva the Rug and others. While the volunteer campaign I started as a fundraiser has been slow (despite my promoting the page on Facebook, Twitter and this blog), I still believe it will all come together just before I depart.

WorldTeach Fundraising Page

WorldTeach Fundraising Page. Thank you everyone for your generous donations!

In order to boost my chances at meeting my goal, I created a second fundraiser campaign on IndieGoGo that is getting  some attention.  No money yet, but as the band Hot Chocolate sings, I believe in miracles, like receiving donations of $5,500 in just under 5 weeks!

You hear that? Everyone, that’s you, you sexy thing. 


Hooray, it’s my IndieGoGo page featuring my students from Guadalajara.

Thankfully, I have already received a wealth of support and positive comments from people I reached out to about my dream, and even a few dozen people I’ve never met, who have left encouraging compliments about my journey on Re-connecting with others whom I’d previously lost touch is motivation beyond words to feel confident success is ahead, and yet still feel compelled to do more.


A call from THIS amazing woman made my week. And it’s only Monday!

… the things that I’m really passionate about, if I fail at those… what do I have?
– Eminem (American musician, 1972-) 

(Yes, I just quoted Eminem. But it’s a good quote! Read it again, you may just agree.) profile page

My page. Are you sick of this photo yet? Good, it’s also on my new business cards, yay!

In addition to putting the final touches on an insider’s guide I’m writing about Puerto Vallarta (coming soon on!), I am doing  other creative things like entering photo contests online and brainstorming possibilities for active fundraising. The ideas range from how to hold a successful Kissing Booth disguised as a Pop Up Shop to more sensible, and less germ-passing, like how to better market my artwork, calendars and greeting cards so people will buy them as holiday gifts. Sometimes the greatest plans aren’t perfectly calculated, but rather, thought up on a whim… because someone believed in an idea. 

Milagros sólo

“Miracles only happen if you believe in miracles.”

If I succeed in meeting my goal, it will be a miracle, and if I don’t then I still succeed because I tried it! I refuse to accept the word failure, especially when so many other things have gone South in my life (and I don’t mean to my beloved México). Rather than say “failed experiment,” I just say, “experiment.”

My next five weeks are an experiment in what can happen by doing 3 things I love in life: Ask. Believe. Receive. 

Posted in Colombia, Gratitude, Sacramento, Teaching, Travel, Visioning®, WorldTeach | Tagged , , , , , ,

SpanishFriday: 6 semanas y Tejuino siempre

This week’s Spanish Friday is happening 6 weeks before I leave to volunteer with WorldTeach for a year in Colombia (2014). As my life lately is mostly happy chaos mixed with frustration (wait, did I just describe nearly everyone’s life?), I am electing to post about something easy, familiar and soothing: Tejuino.

By the way, if you could donate to my fundraiser in vats of Tejuino instead of dollars, I’d take it, though it clearly wouldn’t go quite as far to support my volunteer teaching in the year ahead. Plus,  I don’t think I’d be allowed to take a zillion 3 oz bottles through customs. El sigh. 

¡Tejuino Siempre!

Tejuino es un bebida de Jalisco, México hecho de maiz fermentada, azucar, sal y hielo. Algunas personas creativa hacer Tejuino diferente, si o no fermenta, con masa mismo por tortillas, o masa flaquita. También, algunas personas gustan Tejuino mucho frio o nada mucho.

tejuino con nieve

Rico Tejuino! Foto cortesía de Flickr usar Experience Tequila

leer una receta para Tejuino tradicional aquí, cortesía de

Para mi, Tejuino es perfecto con un poco hielo, un poca salsa, mucho de Tajin, y limón fresca. Mi primero taza de Tejuino fue en Lago Chapala con mi amigo Tapatio, Lino.

tejuino primero

Mi primero tejuino en Lago Chapala, amor en primera vista! noviembre 2012

Yo recuerdo la tienda pequeña, el olor de limón fresca, y el hielo casi licuado. A primero, yo creo esta es el mismo de la Slurpee de 7-11, pero más mejor, hecho en México y hecho de la maiz.

tejuino tonola

Tejuino en Tonóla, cerca Guadalajara mmm rico! Foto de Lino, diciembre 2012

Después mi primero Tejuino, yo fui un experto de la sabor, bebiendo cuando yo tengo la oportunidad – en muchos ciudades, en la calle o en la plaza, y siempre con el popote.

Allison en Vallarta

Mi amiga Allison con mi amigo favorito de Tejuino en Puerto Vallarta, abril 2013

Yo espero cuando me voy por Colombia, la país tine un bebida similar. Yo creo ellos tienes Champús – un bebida de la maiz, piña y otra ingredients – y también Chicha, una bebida de alcohol en Sur y Centro America, mismo de la cerveza de jugo de maiz.

Yo no se de ti, pero tengo sediento ahorita! Y soñando de Tejuino… siempre!

Posted in Art, Colombia, Gratitude, Sacramento, SpanishFriday, Teaching, Travel, Visioning®, Volunteering

SpanishFriday: Banderas Brillantes

This week’s SpanishFriday is about flags! With the  departure date for my year volunteering with WorldTeach in Colombia (2014) approaching soon, I am familiarizing myself with the flags of South American countries.


Click here to translate this entire blog post

Recientemente, he descargado el HelloTalk aplicación para el iPhone (gracias otra vez, Lauren Brandy). Localizaciones de los usuarios se identifican con la bandera de su país. Reconociendo la bandera ayuda a hacer amigos para estudiar español con más fácil.


Free app HelloTalk: connect with others and learn a language

Yo recibiendo un libro de la biblioteca pública, Flags de DK Eyewitness Handbooks, mi compania favorita para las guías y libros de viajar. Me encanta las paginas en todo color, y la información es siempre interesante.

DK Eyewitness Flags

Yo aprendido las banderas de muchas países en America Sur son un poco mismo. Por ejemplo, la bandera de Colombia tiene amarillo (oro), azul y rojo. También cierto de Venezuela, Ecuador, y Bolivia es mismo pero tiene verde, no azul. La razones son historia, guerras y tiempo bajo España.

Venezuela, Colombia y Bolivia

Banderas de Venezuela, Colombia y Bolivia

Una otra bandera me gusta mucha el Peru, por la rojo y blanco: esta es simple, pero orgulloso. Me gusta las banderas de Honduras y El Salvador, el mismo azul y blanco, pero diferente también.


Me bandera favorita ahora (y por muchos años) es México. Me gusta los colores, verde, blanco y rojo, pero me encanta la centro, simbolizo con un serpiente, el águila y nopales. Es fuerte, histórica y valiente.

Bahia de Banderas

Bahia de Banderas, con mi bandera favorita: México 2011

Hoy yo entiendo el joven cantante, Justin Bieber, mostró mucho falta de respeto por Argentina cuando se limpió el estrado con una bandera de la país. Bieber dice la bandera fue sacudido por un fanático, pero es no excusar por mal comportamiento, evidente en este video.

Latin Flags fabric

¿Qué bandera de país es tu favorita, y porque? Dejame un comment. ¡Gracias!

Posted in Art, Colombia, Peru, SpanishFriday, Travel | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Militar Mixta, Gracias a Todos

PBS recently aired the documentary “Latinos Americans,”  a 6-hour presentation about “the rich and varied history and experiences of Latinos who have helped shape North America over the last 500-plus years”.  Because Latin history and culture is currently my greatest passion, I watched every episode with fervor, taking notes as if for a class.

Fighting Medinas

The Fighting Medinas: Puerto Rican family of military service, circa 1943

I was surprised to find about the treatment of Latinos who served in the military, particularly Civil Rights activist, surgeon and serviceman Guy Gabaldon, who inspired the film “Hell to Eternity“, and Marcario Garcia, the first Mexican national to receive a U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor, who was later refused service at a café near his home in Texas.


Garcia recieves the Medal of Honor from United States President Truman, 1945

Learn more about this fascinating 6-hour documentary that originally aired in September on PBS.

I am grateful times have changed and both Latinos and Americans in the military have grown to be a recognized, respected group who does more in a few days than most people do in a lifetime, serving, defending and representing our country. Some try to turn the attention to corruption and scandal in the military, but not me, and definitely not today: Veteran’s Day in the United States.

Poppy remembrance

My brother-in-law Gene always buys the poppy in remembrance of Veteran’s Day

As a traveler, I see the military often in airports and bus stations, carrying their heavy, stuffed duffel bags, usually dressed in camouflage fatigues, with dog tags jingling as they hoof it from one gate to the next. On occasion I have bought them coffee if they are in line next to me, and nearly every time I just say, “thank you,” if I am lucky enough to catch their eye. Recently, I learned  through the Gratitude Campaign that many people do this on a regular basis when traveling among our soldiers.

Today I am reflecting on veterans and military servicepersons who have touched my life, both personally and from afar. When I was living in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco México I had the fortune of meeting a Marine who worked with Special Forces, training and assisting with both the Méxican and US Marines. We quickly struck up a close friendship and I was charmed by his wit, street smarts, and genuine demeanor.


Dinner with mi amigo Marino in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco México

My amigo Marino rarely spoke about his work, but I sensed it was pretty heavy. Generally, he was lively, engaging and thoughtful, but he assured me that the rest of the time, he had a serious regard for his job. Since my amigo Marino often worked several days in a row without a break, I was honored when he wanted to volunteer his Saturday off by picking up trash in the Rio Cuale as part of La Brigada de la Basura. The kids were excited to have a strong male to carry bags with, and he appeared proud to mentor them in taking pride in their neighborhood.

con los chicos de la brigada

Con los chicos de La Brigada de la Basura, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco MX

On this Veteran’s Day I send huge thanks to those who have served, those who are still enlisted, and those who have intentions of joining our armed services. You are all heroes in your own way, and to those of us you protect and serve, in every way. Gratitude and love to you all, including (and especially) my dad, Holly, Mark, Cheryl, Jaymi, Tom and extra-especialmente, mi amigo Marino. 

Posted in Gratitude, Jalisco, La Brigada de la Basura, Puerto Vallarta, Sacramento, Volunteering | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

SpanishFriday: Tortas Cubanas

¡Yo preparo por Miami!

Kool Korner Sign
Having just learned this week that I am leaving out of Miami, Florida for Bogotá, Colombia to begin my year of volunteering with WorldTeach, I am excited to eat some Cuban food in Little Havana before I go! This week’s Spanish Friday is about Cuban sandwiches, particularly the amazing ones from my years in Atlanta, made at a great little tienda by a very special man.

Ildefonso Ramirez con torta

Ildefonso Ramirez con torta. Foto cortesía de Kool Korner Sandwiches

Yo vivi en el barrio de Home Park en Atlanta, Georgia por muchos años. Cerca la casa fui una tienda, Kool Korner Grocery, con el dueño Ildefonso Ramirez y su esposa, Lucia. Ildefonso hizo las tortas Cubanas muy rica tradicional en la prensa, con jamón, puerco, queso, lechuga, tomate, pan y encurtidos.

el original Kool Korner de Home Park

el original Kool Korner de Home Park

Porque soy vegetaríana, recuerdo Fonso dicé, “¡Aye muchacha! Una torta sin carne es no normal, pero yo preparo para ti esta tiempo (y todo tiempos)”. Cuando yo compraba una torta con mi amigo Tommy, recuerdo nos comprabos una refresca (Jupiña o Matevera de Yerba Mate) y una bolsa de fritas de platános.

Kool Korner Torta

foto cortesía de Dan, bhamsandwich en Flickr

Ahora yo comprende Ildefonso mudar a Birmingham, Alabama, y tiene una restaurante “Kool Korner Sandwiches.” Espero las tortas son mismo, pero es diferente sin la tienda pequeña de mi barrio.

menu de Kool Korner

Foto cortesía de Dan Holloway y

Soy muy entusiástica por comer la tortas de Miami en diciembre, y ya tengo una lista por lugares de visitando!

Posted in Atlanta, Colombia, Comida-Food, SpanishFriday, Travel, United States, WorldTeach | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Miami, Mariachis and Midtown

¡Es Miami!

Photo by Steve Shook, Shook Photos

Photo by Steve Shook, Shook Photos

It’s finally happening. After weeks of anticipation, planning and fundraising, I learned yesterday that I am flying out of Miami International Airport for Bogotá, Colombia with WorldTeach on January 1st, 2014. I’m thrilled, not only about the itinerary, but having time to visit with my friend Marcos and his girlfriend Esther who live near South Beach. I can’t wait to explore the neighborhoods and enjoy some delicious Cuban food!

The past few weeks have been a roller coaster of emotion, from sheer frustration to joyous gratitude, as I eliminate possessions and prepare to leave the US. My plan is to eventually travel to other parts of South America, including Ecuador and Perú, leaving no room in my suitcase for teak chairs or clock radios.

GE Clock Radio

I’ve had this pink baby for 20 years. That’s a lot of morning time hitting snooze!

Lately I’ve been reading about material ownership, clearing clutter and being free of excessive things.  I’ve read some interesting articles about selling everything to travel the world and tried hard to find ones on how to not be surprised when your friends don’t want your stuff. Most mention the freedom that is felt from having fewer tangible items, and giving up things in exchange for experiences (which at this point in my life sounds great).

Rotary phone and Gossip Bench

Aunt Kathryn’s rotary phone and Catherine’s “gossip bench.” Sold separately!

Special or family items have been packed for storage into a large box, leaving the rest to sell and fund my year ahead volunteering. At first I thought people would be clamoring for a pink “gossip bench” telephone table or an aqua blue rotary phone, but few things have been selling as planned. Many items have been reduced to far below what you might pay at antique store in an attempt to find them good homes.

Etsy Sale

I slashed prices up to 50% in my Etsy store!

Last weekend I held a Super Sale of vintage items, art, home decór and more. Accompanied by a loyal friend, I was moved by complete strangers who stopped to admire (and buy) my original artwork, and wish me well in my journey to Colombia. “You are so brave!” “It’s going to be great!” “How wonderful and exciting!”  Encouraging words flowed freely from people passing by.


I had originally planned the sale until 4:00 pm, but bailed around 1:30 after slow sales, knowing Mariachi Alas de México from Guadalajara were scheduled to play at the Pantéon de Sacramento. I could either sit at a table full of my stuff, or go watch live Mariachi music on a beautiful sunny afternoon. The choice was easy!

Mariachi Alas de México performed the night before and I was impressed with their finesse and talent (not to mention their handsome outfits). After the show, I chatted with a few members, who seemed excited to hear I had lived in Tlaquepaque, famous for Hacienda del Parían, where many Mariachis perform when not searching for work at Plaza de Los Mariachis in el Centro.

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On Sunday (after the Not-So-Super Sale), before settling in to watch Mariachi Alas de México, I stopped by the AeroMéxico booth at the Panteon de Sacramento and won some swag. Although Volaris was the airline I flew when moving to México last year (and also who brought Mariachi Alas de México to Sacramento), I couldn’t resist the friendly faces  (and the free photo) from AeroMéxico.


With the Basilica de Guadalajara in back! Gracias, AeroMéxico. ¡Contigo!

Following the wonderful Mariachi Alas de México performance, the band graciously posed for a photo along with Miguel Figueroa from Mariachi Los Gallos in Sacramento. ¡Ay, Dios Mio, gracias por los Mariachis!

Mariachi Alas de México y Manuel de Mariachi Los Gallos

Mariachi Alas de México y Miguel de Mariachi Los Gallos

As the weeks draw near to departure for Colombia (via Miami!), I am determined to be free of nearly all my things. I have faith it is going to work out, and my favorable outlook beats the crap out of the negative. I feel empowered when the positivity kicks in, and it seems to bring great things my way.

Come visit HelloXOXO

This weekend I have a fantastic opportunity to sell with HelloXOXO in Midtown on Saturday, November 9th, 2013. I’m thrilled to be working with this all-inclusive community organization, and 2nd Saturday is definitely one of my favorite things about Sacramento. While it’s not quite as exciting as Miami followed by Bogotá, it will get me one step closer to the leave date, and that makes it a total Win-Win.

Posted in Colombia, Dia de los Muertos, Gratitude, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Musica, Sacramento, Tlaquepaque

SpanishFriday: Ofrendas para Siempre

Coinciding with one of the most important holidays in Latin culture, this week’s Spanish Friday is all about altars and Dia de los Muertos. Since I began studying Latin culture around 2009, I have had an altar in my home, usually on a table top or a shelf.  Preparing now to volunteer with WorldTeach for a year in Colombia (2014) has caused me to consider what I take and what I leave (sell, give away or otherwise).  No matter where I live next, no matter how big or small my space is, I know I will always make room to include loved ones who have passed.

Altar de El Pantéon de Sacramento

Altar de El Pantéon de Sacramento, 2011

En 2011, yo tuvo la oportunidad por exhibición en el Pantéon de Sacramento con La Raza Galeria Posada. Mi altar (ofrenda) fue por mi amiga, Catherine, y otras en mi vida quien salieron el mundo, incluido mi tío especial y mi Doberman. La theme de mi altar fue “Pescando de Aguacate,” para un juego y broma privada desde Cath y mi. Mi mesa incluido colores vibrante, telas, pinturas, flores, frutas, fotos, y más cosas de recuerdos.

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Altar de mi sotano

Altar de mi apartamento sotanó en Midtown Sacramento, 2010

Antes yo tuvo mi altar en el Pantéon de Sacramento, yo tuvo una caja grande de madera  en mi buena apartamento en el sótano con velas, platillos de santos, flores, joyera y fotos. He utilizado un cajón yo encontré y pintado y forrado con tela. Me gustó los noches con la luz de velas suave.

Mira una película corta: una viaje de visual para Dia de los Muertos de Enrico Martino

Altar de Casa Zalatitan

Altar de Casa Zalatitan en Tlaquepaque, Jalisco México 2012

Cuando yo vivi en Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, México en mi casa grande de calle Zalatitan, yo tuvo una altar en la parte superior de mi cajones de ropa. Con los cosas mismo en de mi primeros altars, y también algunas cosas nuevas, yo celebrado la vida de mis amigos en la país de altars originales.

Altar de Puerto Vallarta

Altar de mi casa de los sueños, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco México 2012

En mi apartamento bueno en Puerto Vallata, con la vista bonita de la Bahia de Banderas, yo tuvo una altar, otra vez en la parte superior de mi cajones de ropa. Mi cajones eran pequeños con pintura verde suave, las muebles incluido de mi apartamento yo rentan. A veces en la noche, con las velas brillando y las brisas de la océano, yo creo recibí la visita de amigas de mi memoria.

Altar en la casita

Altar en la casita ahorita, Sacramento 2013

Ahora, viviendo en Sacramento, yo tengo una altar en mi casita de los cosas mismos por muchos años. Mis papels, telas, flores y fotos tiene viajado mucho conmigo en los años, pero ellos siempre dame buenos sedimentos y paz en mi alma. Yo se es no importante donde yo vive, pero es mas importante, mis amigos que han muerto tienen un lugar en mi vida. Siempre.

Posted in Art, Colombia, Dia de los Muertos, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Puerto Vallarta, Sacramento, SpanishFriday, Tlaquepaque, Travel, Visioning® | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

SpanishFriday: Refranes de Amor y La Vida

This week’s Spanish Friday includes Refranes Méxicanos,  Spanish proverbs or dichos that impart wisdom by focusing on traits of culture and human nature.  With the weeks drawing near to leave as a volunteer with WorldTeach in Colombia, I am counting my blessings in friends, relationships and opportunities, remembering some favorite refranes about life, love and looking ahead.

** All mixed-media artwork included in this post is for sale and will benefit my volunteering in 2014. Contact me to find out more.**

Mejor Solo

Mejor Solo – Mixed media on paper 5×5 inches ©2012 Kate Dana

Mejor Solo – “Better alone than in bad company.” Esta es un refran favorito porque es fácil por practicar en tu vida. Cuando tu no tienes buenos personas en tu vida or tu tienes las personas que no te hacen sentir tu eres número uno, tu no tienes alegría, buenos sentimientos, o un honesta lugar con ellos. 

Sin Saber

Sin Saber – Mixed media on paper 5×5 inches ©2012 Kate Dana

Sin Saber –  “I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.”  Esta es un parte de la poema Cien Sonetos de Amor de Pablo Neruda. Yo creo es muy hermosa, honesta y sincero. En la poema, es importante a ver la tiempo presente, y no pregunta o juzgar los detalles. Simplemente amor la otra persona.


Arquitecto – Mixed media on paper 5×5 inches ©2012 Kate Dana

Arquitecto Destino – “Everyone is the architect of their own destiny.”  Esta es un otra refrane favorita. A veces es muy fácil para nosotros creer el destino de la vida es porque de las otras personas, porque nos selectos trabajos, porque como nos nacemos. Pero, realmente, todos cosas en nuestras vidas es porque de nos. Acuerdas, tu tiene una selección por cambio con cada día nueva en tu vida.

Que Significa

Que Significa – Mixed media on paper 5×5 inches ©2012 Kate Dana

Que Significa – “whenever you are afraid that means there are opportunities”  Esta es no refran, pero yo creo es OK por incluirlo aquí. Las palabras son de una película de los imigracion. Yo no recuerdo el titulo de la película, pero me gusta pensando esta es un idea apropiado por muchos cosas en vida, de trabajo de la viajar a amor.

Posted in Art, Collage, Colombia, Gratitude, SpanishFriday, Travel, Volunteering | Tagged , , ,

Clearing Clutter Selling Spree

“When you have cleared all of your clutter, you can be of greater service to those around you.” – Michael B. Kitson

Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui

One of my all-time favorite books by Karen Kingston

Clearing clutter to most people means the purging if unwanted or excessive items. Eliminating everything from tangible objects to toxic people is said to open up passages for better and more appropriate things to come in. Quite often, we associate personal items with value (and occasionally, sentiment), when realistically, they are just things that occupy space. This point is beautifully made on the blog

Red Hen

This lovely Little Red Hen lives next door to my current residence

Before I left the US for México last year, I tried to sell all of my things. I’m not sure if I would call these things clutter, as they were of some value and good use, yet they seemed to serve less purpose in my life than in previous years. I listed items on, ebay and Etsy, and contacted people when I thought an item would suit their taste. Unable to find buyers, and a bit frustrated with the Little Red Hen aspect, I ended up leaving several pieces of furniture, artwork, and other items with a friend.

Cosas si vende

Someone asked, “Do you have a store?” What a compliment! Wait, doesn’t everyone have pink furniture?

Having now returned to the US, I am once again faced with the task of purging things, mostly what I didn’t part with before leaving. Although it is a bit difficult to sell dishes gifted from my family and collage art from my sketchbooks, it is for a good cause: raising funds for the year ahead in Colombia, as a volunteer with WorldTeach. But what’s the best place to sell things, especially vintage furniture that’s not easy to ship? How can I get my things out of the house and into the public eye?

Cosas con Jessica

Selling my stuff with vibrant Jessica Pollock, who volunteers with Happy Tails Pet Sanctuary

A believer in Visioning® and manifestation, I was thrilled to receive a recent call for a vending/sale opportunity. Almost within the same hour that I expressed out loud my wish for a venue on a busy street to set up and sell my artwork, furniture and households, I was contacted by a friend asking if I had things to sell the next day. (Ask, Believe, Receive!) I jumped at the opportunity, and my Saturday at the Happy Tails 20th Anniversary Open House and Food Drive proved to be worth the effort of scrambling to affix price stickers to the items listed in my Etsy store. Grateful and exhausted, I brought home a nice chunk of cash towards my Colombia fund, motivated by the feeling of releasing things. Let the selling spree begin!

Posted in Giving up, Gratitude, Sacramento, Simplify, Visioning®, WorldTeach | Tagged ,

SpanishFriday: Agradecimiento Otra Vez

This week’s Spanish Friday is about gratitude and thanks. I have blogged about both in the past, but with the time passing quickly before I leave to volunteer with WorldTeach for a year in Colombia (2014), it seems there is no better time – among the chaos, frustrations, joys and celebrations of the changes now and ahead – to appreciate life and say gracias.

Sparrow's Nest

hermoso collar de The Sparrow’s Nest Studio

Cada día, desde me dejo de Puerto Vallarta, mi corazón es mi memoria: poco triste, poco sentimiento bajo, poco menos con espero. Cada día, me extraño mi vida buena en paraíso. Pero es no igual, cuando yo tengo un oportunidad por un vida nueva pronto en Colombia.

Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco

Sonrisa en mi vida hermosa, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco

Cuando soy voluntario, mi corazón es satisfecha, mi mente es clara, mi sonrisa es cierto. Ayudando otras es el mejor sintiendo en el mundo, yo creo. Pronto, pronto. Pero hoy yo necesito dar gracias. Sabes cuando tu dice “gracias” antes tu recibir, Dios escuche tu voz? Preguntar. Creer. Recibir.

1. Gracias por ayudar mi vende todos mis muebles antiguos, arte, y las todas cosas tengo antes me voy por Colombia.

mesa de teléfono

Antiquo mesa de teléfono. ¡Si, comprar aquí!

2. Gracias por mis amigos, mi familia y mi comunidad. La gente quien apoyo por mi sueños, incluso cuando mis sueños son loca y un poco miedo.

3. Gracias por donaciones generoso yo recibir por mi gol, dinero igual o más de $5,500 dólares.

WorldTeach Donation Page

¡mi primera donación! está empezando

4. Gracias por la oportunidad con WorldTeach, para mi en servicio de los otras, y especialmente por enseñar.

me encanta enseñando

Gracias por los oportunidades. ¡Me encanta enseñando!

5. Gracias especialmente por mi toda vida: por mi salud, mi sonrisa, mi mente claro, mi entusiasmo, mi creer en la buena, y mi confiar en Dios por continuar estas cosas.

Posted in Art, Colombia, Gratitude, Sacramento, SpanishFriday, Teaching, Travel, Visioning®, Volunteering | 2 Comments