Saturday, February 5, 2011

Cold Showers

Living in the United Stated we tend to take many things for granted it is not until you have to be without them that you learn to appreciate them. In the US we are given so many things that to us are “basic needs” while in many other countries they are more like luxuries. On this trip I learned to appreciate one of those very small things that I always took for granted, a hot shower. When I decided to go on this trip it never even ran through my mind to question if we would have hot water to shower. When we arrived in Bogota, that our guides informed us the water was shut off at night it seemed understandable because they wanted to conserve water. Once group members began to say there was no hot water I began to worry, but I figured we will only be in Bogotá another night and we will go to a different place I’m sure they will have hot water. When arriving at Villavicencio, the second place we went I was really excited to finally take a shower, to my surprise there was no hot water again. The weather was pretty hot so it wasn’t too bad, and after not showering for a few days all I cared about was being able to shower. The third place we went to I was very happy to know that they actually had hot water to shower with, so I figured we would probably have hot showers in the rest of the places. As the trip continued I quickly learned that the third place was the only place where we had hot water, every where else we had to shower with cold water. After long days on the bus and being in the heat all day, the cold showers we had to take felt great. It took a while to get used to taking cold showers, but after about the fifth cold shower I began to really like the cold showers especially in hot humid weather. Through out the whole trip I was able to take one hot shower, two warm showers, and the rest were all cold showers. I can’t complain about the cold showers because they felt great, but I am looking forward to going home and having hot showers!

Friday, February 4, 2011

La Mezquita en Maicao

Today was the greatest day of the trip thusfar, and it will likely be the highlight of the entire trip once I get back home. We traveled for hours today to the Northern city of Maicao located in Department of La Guajira. As we approached our destination I was overwhelmed by the beautiful site of minarets towering over the buildings and trees in the neighborhood. We were at the site of the Omar Ibn Al-Khattab Mosque. This is the second largest mosque in Latin America, and I was blessed to be able to witness it with my own eyes, let alone get a tour by the gatekeeper.

From the moment I told my Muslim friends in the states that I would be visiting Colombia, they asked if I would be able to visit any mosques. I did not think it would be possible, but here I was. From the green dome, to the towering minarets, to the enormous wooden hand-carved door at the entrance, to the large green-prayer room - it was a breathtaking site. I loved every minute of being there, especially walking through the courtyard watching the children play fútbol.

Today was a special day :)

Cultural U.S. Influence in Latin America vs. the Middle East

Visiting Colombia was an eye-opening experience for me. I have traveled to various countries in the Middle East and the prevalent influence in the region was that of the United States. In the Middle East I was surprised by the Starbucks locations on virtually each street corner - as well as Applebee’s, McDonald’s, etc. The extent of western influence was nice to some degree, but it was much more disturbing because it seemed to hijack the country’s culture.

In Colombia this was not at all the case; in fact, Colombia was the exact opposite in this regard. The culture in Colombia is so rich and the people so proud that McDonald’s and Applebee’s truly have no place here. Colombian food is healthy, tasty, easily accessible, and cheap leaving no real reason to go to any of the above-mentioned chains.

As for a Starbucks popping up on a Colombian street corner - HA! Colombia, arguably, has the best coffee in the world and any outside company wishing to market their coffee here is would be out of their element. There are multiple coffee shops on each street here in Bogota and the idea that a foreign company can do coffee better than the coffee experts is farfetched to say the least.

Colombians are content with their options, and having spent 19 days in the country, I can see why.;

Parting Thoughts

Dear friends, family, colleagues and students:

Our Colombia blog is now complete. Thank you to all the students for sharing your experiences with the community. Although I have already thanked everyone one of you for your participation in the trip, I want to acknowledge publicly my gratitude to you all. The trip was wonderful not only because Colombia had so many surprises and new histories for each of us, but because you, as a group, made the adventure amazing. You were truly exemplary, demonstrating that LaSallian values are not just rhetoric, but lived experience. Your patience, good humor, and flexibility when faced with uncertainty, last minute changes in the schedule, and no answers for basic questions ("when will we get there?") was commendable. But it was your acceptance and care for one another that made all the difference. You looked out for each other. You took care of one another. Even when we were were all sweaty, cranky, and exhausted, you never lost your cool. You smiled,kept going, and showed kindness no matter what.

I could not have asked for a better group to cover those 2,000 miles of Andean roads in 19 days. You were the best travel companions!

The reunion has been arranged. Mark your calendars and bring your friends to share pictures, film, and stories: Wednesday, March 9, 7 p.m. in the Orinda Room in the Soda Center.

Looking forward to that already!


Reunion on March

Thursday, February 3, 2011


A few statistics from the trip-

Days in Colombia: 19
Students on the trip: 13
SMC professors on the trip: 2
Cities visited: 28
Bags lost (and found): 8
People lost (and found): 2
Bottles of bug spray used: 4
Combined number of bug bites: 186
Bottles of sunscreen used: 8
Sunburns: 8
Pictures taken: 11,223
Massages given/received: 30
Bottles of hot sauce used: 3
Hostels with bunk beds: 5
Hostels with pools: 3
Hostels with WiFi: 5
Hostels with hammocks (including when we stayed with the Wayuu): 5
Times going up and down the Andes: 10
How many times we did laundry with a machine: 1
Hot showers taken: 2
Indigenous bags bought: 19
Pairs of earrings bought: 86
Bracelets bought: 124
Hammocks bought: 2
Miles traveled by bus: 2,010
# of times the group used taxis: 2
# of times the group used gondolas: 2
# of times the group used boats: 4
# of times the group used public bus: 1
# of times the group used the train: 1
Tollbooths gone through: approx. 40
Pesos spent on toll: approx. 500,000 or 250 USD
Pages of 100 Years of Solitude Read on the trip: 1,250

Nature's View

One of the places I enjoyed most was near the end of the trip. We were staying in a hostel in the out skirts of Medellín that we had all to ourselves called El Fuerte Ecológico. It may have been one of my favorites for the simple reason that it was beautiful. We were nestled in the hills near Medellín and had large areas of grass to go run around on, as well as a swing set and see saw (we may be in college but still have a child in all of us)! The walls of the hostel were painted with bright vibrant colors. It was a warm and astonishing place. One of the coolest things was that it boasted a fique learning center and museum. Fique is a plant that’s leaves look similar to agave. People pull the fibers out of the leaves and let them dry. They turn a golden yellow color and can be made into various sized ropes. We were lucky enough to see the entire museum and ask many questions about the plant. It covered the chairs and walls and everything in between, braided and twisted into different patterns and designs. We didn’t just stay at the hostel but were busy as usual, even in our last few days, seeing all that we could squeeze into one day. We also went to a nature park where we experienced many new things. A lady from the park took us into a butterfly house and taught us about the different butterflies. We saw the different stages of the caterpillar changing to a butterfly and how each species differed from one another. We also got to go to the insect museum. There were some examples of very big creepy crawlies that I don’t think I or anyone else would be excited to see alive. Another part of the park was taking a rowboat out and seeing first hand the wild life. There were fish, water birds, and many kinds of water and land plants. The whole time we were learning about the ecology of the place. It was a different tone than much of the rest of the trip but we all loved it! The best part was at the end we got to zip line across the huge lake. Everyone did it! As I said we each have a child inside of us and that day we really let them out!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Home is Home

After spending 16 days in Colombia, anxiety started to kick in and I was ready to return back home. Although I have made several connections with the people, views, locations and all the different beauties of this country, it is not hard to miss home. I would say that Colombia is one of the most amazing and beautiful countries I have ever stepped foot on and the U.S is nothing in comparison to it. Every-time I travel to a Latin American country, I notice that the people are very social and humble with each-other and foreigners like ourselves. A simple “hi” while were walking through their town makes a lot of a difference compared to a mean mug in the streets of California. At times we bump into each other and dont even have the courtesy to apologize or say “Excuse me”. The U.S is a very individualistic society and the only reason we reach out to each other is to gain something for ourselves. Its all about give and take.

Something that Javier taught me and constantly reminded me of was that with them, nothing belongs to anyone. Its all about sharing and whatever one person has also belongs to the other. It is always “We” before “I”. Not to say that all of Colombia has this type of conscious or that we do not live by it in the United States but, it is more visibly seen in their country. Even though this type of mentality is one which I try to follow, it is difficult to do so when your caught up in a capitalistic society. Its all about survival of the fittest and stepping over one another in order to progress individually.

Even with its corrupt ways of thinking, California is where my heart is and what I call home. I would say that Colombia is a wonderful place to live in but, I would not be able to leave my home country. For those reasons, I continue to judge it and change my way of living. I can not change anyone else but myself. The only thing that I can do is to carry those memories and messages that I learned in Colombia wherever I may be. All the knowledge that I have learned these past 19 days will not only remain in my heart and mind but transcend on to others. By doing so, I can create and teach others a new way of thinking which will only better our society. We wont have to travel or escape to a different country in order to feel those emotions we had in Colombia.