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.

Indigenous Resistance

Coming from Santa Marta,it is our 10th day in the beautiful and at the same time misjudged country of Colombia. We have traveled through the plains, Andes and are now settled in the Caribbean! Last night, we had the honor of spending a night with an Indigenous community known as the Waiyuus. One of the most adventurous things that we did and something which I did not expect to enjoy was to sleep in hammocks with the companionship of nature!

This group of Indigenous people have been one of the most resistant and populated in the country. They have about 300,000 members of which 150,000 reside in Colombia and the other half in Venezuela, due to colonization. Their community is a matrilineal society in which the mothers last name is passed on, generation to generation. As we spoke with Rosa, the leader of the clan, she mentioned how they have resisted for many years and continue to do so. Their culture and traditions are yet to be respected and both the government and society continue to ignore their way of living. In 1991, it was declared that the territory belonged to the Indigenous but, the natural resources and everything below the land, belonged to the government. Therefore, Indigenous communities continue to be exploited as well as mother earth. To them, the earth is their mother, the one who gives us life and for those reasons, it is protected and used properly. When natural resources are extracted by big corporations, it is as if they are taking the blood from their mother. It is amazing to see and actually experience the lifestyle of our ancestors and how strong they have been to preserve their traditions.

Speaking to these women and hearing their stories makes me realize how weak minded we are. Our society has transformed our lifestyles into one that is centered around capitalism and materialism. Not only are we damaging our own societies but we are also destroying theirs because we exploit their land in order to achieve our “wants”. At the same time, it is evident that even with all the “riches” of the world, America is one of the most miserable. We are so caught up with brand names and luxuries that we forget to appreciate the meaning of family and mother nature. Appreciate the everlasting things that have always been there for us and give us life instead of commodities that give us pleasure for 20minutes and are later tossed or replaced for an “upgrade”. Just being able to lay down on a hammock and feel and hear the wind around me was one of the most peaceful moments I have ever experienced. This is something that is hard to find in the busy streets of the cities we live in. Why is it that we have to travel miles away to feel an emotion that should be the center of our life? Think about it.

A self sustaining lifestyle

One trip that really struck a chord for me was when we went to a parcel of land in the middle of a preserved jungle where two university professors had built a self sustaining farm. It was around two acres of thick vegetation and cleared spots for the houses and gardens with a stream trickling down one side of the property. Everything anyone could ever need could be found there. They grew their own fruits and vegetables, raised chicken and sheep, made their own fertile soil from worm composts, and even mixed their own very potent natural pesticides. They even had a fews medicinal shrubs that would help with circulation or served as a natural antibacterial. We were blessed with the opportunity not only to be given an exclusive tour of the entire property with in depth explanations of how things are so ingeniously done there but also to eat a lunch made up completely of food grown and cultivated on the farm. The vegetables were good enough to make me consider vegetarianism, for a minute. The two professors, along with several other extremely kind and intuitive individuals, had been living of the farm for over 25 days consecutively and were eager to share their skill set and knowledge on the land with us. It was inspiring to see that we as humans still possess the ability to live off of the land alone and do not necessarily need all of the perks we have taken for common life like grocery stores or toilets. When we were told to start the 10 minute walk back to the bus everyone pleaded for just a little more time there and later proceeded to voice their approval for the farm with comments like, "Lets just spend the whole month here." and "One day I want to live on a farm like this."


Colombia: A Mistaken Identity

The common perception of Colombia is that it is an extremely dangerous place to visit because there are drug dealers on every street corner and simply being an anglo-american would almost ensure my abduction and ransom by these hardened criminals, but this could not be further from the truth. I honestly had no idea what to expect out of this trip and was, at times, a little skeptical about our safety prior to arriving, but after being down here for about a week now it is very obvious that we are in good hands well out of harms way. I can see why this country is considered to be the second happiest place on the planet. Being down here and experiencing first hand the living conditions and social structure of this unbelievably beautiful countryside, I feel guilty for ever having second guessed this place. It is sad to realize how misrepresented Colombia is in the eyes of Americans and the world as a whole. Obviously, Colombia managed to achieve its reputation as the staple source of the world's drug trade for a reason, but it only achieved this notoriety as a result of the narcotic's popularity amongst the other nations world wide. That being said however, the world's population has failed miserably in recognizing the amazing things Colombia and its people have to offer the rest of the globe. A recognition that is unfortunately currently impossible to realize without taking the "daring" trip south the the openly feared country.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Nineteen Days of Adventures

After spending nineteen days in beautiful Colombia, I think we found that we all fell in love with it and left a piece of ourselves there. Saying goodbye was harder than we thought it was going to be. While we were over there, we all had a different life. We learned so much, and we did things we never thought we were going to have the opportunity to do. We went through the Andes various times, we slept in hammocks, we swam in the Caribbean, we danced to live Vallenato, we went zip-lining, we met wonderful people and made strong connections with all of them. We lived so much in just nineteen days. They were nineteen wonderful days of adventures.
We want to thank our guides Javier Bautista Ortiz and Julian Osorio for showing us the best and worst of Colombia. Their experiences and wise words helped us form a new image of the country. We saw what no other foreigner has seen, but hope that others in the future have a chance to see and experience it as well. We also want to thank Myrna Santiago, our professor, and Jennifer Heung, for making this travel course possible. It took a lot of time and planning to develop the course, and if it were not for these four wonderful people, we would have never been able to step onto Colombia’s beautiful land. Also, the trip could not have been possible without our wonderful driver Victor. He is by far one of the best drivers we have ever met. All their efforts to give us the best experience possible were utterly successful. We learned so much from all of them. They enriched us with their knowledge all throughout, but they also made the trip fun and exciting. The thirteen students that went into the adventure became really close throughout these days. Being with each other for practically the whole day, every day, was bound to make us closer. We learned so much from each other too. We built trust and strong friendships. [Of course, everybody is now friends on facebook to make it more official.] Every single one of us left with more friends, more knowledge and a greater understanding of Colombia. Now it is our duty to go and share our experiences with everyone, so they can too see the wonders of Colombia and not the portrayed image of the media. We hope that these blogs have helped you all see a little of our adventures and experiences. But if you would like to know more, do not hesitate to ask questions. We would love to answer them.

The Lost Buddy Song

Written and Performed by: Linda Villasenor, Lindsey Cavin, and Eric Holman
(sang to the tune of L-O-V-E by Nat King Cole)

L is how we didn't look for you
O is what we said when we found out
S h.i.t. is what we said next
T is what we drank while we waited for you

Lost is what we left for you to be
Wandering on the beach and the street
Lost was the last word we wanted to hear
Buddy check became our new motto

Please except our deepest apologies
We promise to be the best buddies
Take my hand and please hold it tight
We'll be home by tomorrow night

The Real Medellín

What have you heard about Medellín? Hmm maybe that it is one of the most dangerous places in the world to visit, filled with drugs and crime, ruined from Pablo Escobar, and somewhere to be surely kidnapped.

Well as fun as that version of Medellín sounds, it is quite the contrary.  Medellín is a city full of many surprises.  There is much more then meets the eyes.  There are two very different sides to the city of Medellín, the rolling country hills, and the busy jam-packed streets. Medellín is a city located in the valley, that around 2.5 million people call it home.

On one hand we have the city; a miniature San Francisco. Downtown Medellín is full of life, people moving swiftly through the street vendors, on and off the Metro, and flagging down the next bus.  The fast pace flow of life is contagious and lively.

And then we have the endless beauty stored in the hills of Medellín.  The endless beauty is full of natural parks with lakes, forests, and flowers.  The pace of life is much slower, much less frantic, and full of new discoveries.  Every plant holds its own universe, packed with life.

Although Medellín may have been dangerous at the height of the Pablo Escobar period, it has transformed into a safe and beautiful city, even one of the top places recommended to visit in Colombia.  This city is filled with an incredible history that can teach wonders if you take the time to understand it correctly.

Colombia: "The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay"

Wow! Colombia was amazing at all levels: the people, the culture, the music, and the geography. I went to Colombia not expecting anything and what I got was an experience of my life. Even though at every bathroom that we went to there was either, a toilet seat, toilet paper, or a water pump missing; we still managed to enjoy every moment. As a group we grew closer together, that by the end of the trip we all knew our bathroom schedules. There were many games played on the bus, like Charades, “Never Have I Ever,” Simon Says and many more.  We were constantly on the move, from Bogota to the Coast and from the jaw-opening Andes to the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean beaches. Having been able to live in an indigenous community for two days was an enriching experience because we learned so much from these men and women. One of the pluses of this trip was being able to transport ourselves, in a matter of days, from an indigenous community to an industrial city like Medellin, because it allowed us to compare and contrast the social, economical, and geological problems that each entity faces. This is why the 2011 Colombia trip was so full of exquisite information and experiences. Some of the things that I will miss the most will be the people and the food. I have to admit that the food was bland because it doesn’t contain many spices but what I like about it was that it was all organic with zero preservatives. Colombia left me with good memories and changed my perception of the country in a positive way and I do think that the only risk in Colombia is wanting to stay and not go back to your country. 

Monday, January 31, 2011

Night on a Hammock

When Myrna first mentioned the possibility of sleeping on hammocks in class, it was a bit frightening to think we would have to spend a whole night out doors on a hammock. To think about all the possible animals that could be outdoors, all the mosquito bites we would get, and how horribly uncomfortable it would be to spend a whole night on a hammock. With the enthusiasm of the trip and eagerness to be in Colombia, I just overlooked that detail. When we first arrived to the indigenous reserve, I was very excited to learn about the community that lives there, but I still could not wrap my head around having to spend a WHOLE night on a hammock OUTSIDE. I was sure I was not going to be able to sleep all night. After talking to Rosa, the representative of the Wayu community, and learning about their traditions, beliefs, and culture. I could not believe that for one night I was going to be part of that. I felt so honored that this community was giving us the opportunity to spend time with them, allow us to sleep in their “guest house”. Learning that each of the hammocks we would be sleeping in were woven by the Wayu women, and they were allowing us to sleep on them was great honor. Also knowing that they were going to share with us for a night the territory they struggled so much to maintain. At that moment on the idea of sleeping on hammocks seemed incredible. As the night came to an end we all got ready to go to sleep on our hammocks I was still worried I would fall in the middle of the night of the hammock, but I was so excited about being on the Wayu reserve that I didn’t care if I had to sleep on the dirt. Sleeping outside no longer bothered me, once in my hammock I loved the idea of being able to look up at the sky, feel the fresh air around me, and hear all the little animals around. As I laid in my hammock staring up at the sky reflecting on what a wonderful and amazing experience being there was, I drifted into a very deep relaxing and peaceful sleep. That night was probably one of the most relaxing nights I have ever had, to my surprise I did not fall of the hammock, nor was I bitten by any mosquitoes.

Colombia y Medellín: ¡Te Quiero!

As we plan to leave Colombia Saturday morning, we are all a bit sad to leave the country that we have all grown to love. Colombia has offered us so many opportunities to learn of safe environmental practices, Colombian history, efforts to advance the Colombian economy and introduce tourism. It has been a great and beautiful experience and my perspective of the “dangers” that lie in Colombia has been changed completely by Julian and Javier since I arrived in Bogotá early in January. The place that surprised me the most on this trip was Medellín.

It’s not a lie that before coming to Colombia I was a bit apprehensive about going to Medellín out of all the places we were going to. Before coming to Colombia we watched the film “The Two Escobars,” which documents the life of drug lord Pedro Escobar and his brother Andrés Escobar. After Pedro was killed, drug lords put a lot of money on Andrés winning the world cup for Colombia. When he did not, he was shot in Medellín. This made me a little nervous as it happened only 15 years ago.

What I discovered in Medellín though was as far from this truth as I could have imagined. It is a beautiful city filled with the happy and adventurous feelings. It is something compared to the feeling of walking around the streets of Chicago. The city is sprawling and also feels lively and busy like Mexico City. Complete with magnificently beautiful views of the Andes mountains in the background, Medellín is a city to visit over and over for its beauty, the park Arví where we spent 5 glorious hours exploring nature, and the joys of city life. I will truly miss the light hearted attitude that defined Medellín and the gorgeous views we saw on our drive from Medellín to Bogotá. ¡Colombia, ya te extraño mucho! Hasta la próxima vez que te veo. ¡Ciao!

Investigations on Ecology and Beauty

Of the 28 amazing cities that we have stepped foot in during our adventures, one thing that has stood out for me is the level of economic consciousness that we have seen throughout the country. From the knowledge of our guides Javier and Julian about the economic problems of the globalization of capitalist consumerism to the many environmentally mindful parks and farms we saw in Colombia, our group has experienced a far different Colombia than is advertised on the news. We have seen an environmentally conscious and aware country that rivals the US in so many ways. Our first learning experience of the efforts of sustainable environmental growth in Colombia came during our visit to la finca, a farm outside of Villa de Leyva.

When we left the hostel in Villa de Leyva, a beautiful town surrounded by jaw-dropping views of the Andes mountains, we headed out to meet the owners of a completely sustainable farm community. We learned of their composting system that uses different stages where worms can eat the waste and fertilizer can be produced to help their amazing garden grow. They showed us the environmental library they run to teach young children how to live sustainably and to help the farm as they work to become completely sustainable, only wasting what they produce. We ended our tour by having an ecological lunch with fruits, vegetables and other foods produced from their own garden. The respect that Colombian people show for their natural environment is refreshing to say the least.

Coupled with a background of the mindset of environmental conservation in Colombia, I have come to feel a greater respect for the beauty that I see all over Colombia. Knowing the hard work Colombians do to maintain the splendor and majesty of their natural environment makes it more special. I am amazed at how much green I see in this country. It is unreal. I walk out of our hostel in the morning and stare at the Andes in awe at the beauty of the rolling hills, the forest of trees and the colors of the rice fields. I cannot even compare the beauty to anywhere in the United States. It is so immense, producing a feeling of comfort and love for Mother Nature. It is something you just have to experience on your own in Colombia. It’s a site we will all never forget.

Women in Colombia

Like the rest of Latin American countries, Colombia is a patriarchal society. However, that is not to say that things are not changing. There are monuments dedicated to women that were defining in the history of Colombia like La Pola who was murdered for being a part of the resistance of the independence. Women are also prominent in the workforce. For instance, in the Santuario de Iguaque (the organic farm we visited), I spoke to Mariela a native of the Santuario who worked for the national park in creating consciousness to stop using agro toxic fertilizers. As a part of her job, she got the opportunity to travel to France. While here job has opened the door to many opportunities like that of earning an income and traveling, this has all came at the cost of her marriage. When I asked her about machismo in the area of the Santuario de Iguaque, she mentioned that machismo was extremely prevalent there. Mariela told me that her husband decided to leave her because she chose her job that required her be too much outside of her house (the house/the private being the appropriate place for a woman). As she was telling me this, she seemed satisfied with her decision. In another instance, women like Rosa from the Wayuu community were also bringing income into their communities. The women had their own means of employment. They ran what is called community tourism. While they lived in a matrilineal (genealogical relationship follows the female side), they still follow the patriarchal norms of their community. However, being able to earn their own income and contribute to the community gives Rosa and the women some respect/status in the community. Colombian women are challenging society’s patriarchal norms and choosing their own paths of life. 

Driving through Colombia

The natural beauty of Colombia is utterly beautiful. The clouds, the Andes, the jungle, waterfalls, rivers and the entire natural scenery are appallingly stunning. However, driving through Colombia it was apparent the presence of the military in the everyday lives of Colombians. There were tanks on the side of the highways and military check points.  As intimidating as it may seem to have the daily presence of the military, I didn’t feel intimidated or uncomfortable by their presence. Speaking with Colombians gave me the impression that they were accustomed to the presence of the military in their daily lives. In fact, they seemed to trust the military and the police. While years ago, the Colombian military and the police were characterized by their corruption, today there is little trace of that. Colombia has been taking great strides in eliminating corruption from the military and law enforcement. They have fired corrupt officers and made education a requirement for service. All officers have to at least get a university education. While it is impossible to say that there is absolutely no corruption in law enforcement or the military, Colombia has become a model for greatly decreasing corruption in the military and the law enforcement.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Colombia te quiero: me has cambiado

            Before we left for Colombia a very interesting man walked into our Dante classroom with a news-camera and tripod to record some of our pre-Colombia discourse. This man was Lawrence. He recorded us in silence, saying nothing, but recording everything from many angles, from many points of view. But he wasn't just recording, he was listening and seeing and absorbing. For many years Lawrence has been behind the camera, but it was strange to me that this cameraman never spoke; he only listened and recorded and by the time I had wondered if anyone ever asked him for his opinion or his point of view, or if anyone had ever recorded his story, his words, or his say Myrna asked him what he thought about the War on Drugs and Colombia, US involvement in Colombia and our trip to Colombia. I was so glad that she had done what I was anxious to do, but might not have had the courage to do: ask Lawrence to share his perspective on the world. I wont tell you what he said in this blog, but he shared with us what he has experience in a long career as a cameraman traveling the world to record events that he acknowledges are staged and edited to match the political agenda of the people who control the media. So his challenge to us was to be critical of everything we are shown, to train ourselves to be critical and to develop and exercise critically thinking minds.
            I am writing about Lawrence because the knowledge that he shared with us in the classroom was so intense and so intriguing and informed that I had wondered why no one had put him in front of a camera. Lawrence is an amazing intellectual and the challenge that he left us with matched the challenge that our Colombian professors and guides gave us early in our Colombian adventure: to be able to define Colombia and to see beyond the image of Colombia as a place of drugs and violence because Colombia is a safe place; in Colombia there is always conflict, but the conflict is not what defines Colombia. Colombia is defined by the people and their experiences and their response to the conflicts in their homes, communities, and country.
            I have been in California for about 24 hours now and I already regret leaving Colombia. It's not that I had to choice to stay or go, but I didn't want to leave Colombia and now that I have I want to go back. Colombia is an amazing place with amazing people. The course was focused on new histories and new challenges in Colombia in relationship to development, ecology, and women's issues. What was interesting is that on our last day in Colombia we visited the Universidad Nacional in Bogotá and as we were leaving the campus we saw a message on a building - the campus is covered in progressive and politically and socially conscious ("leftist") student art and poetry and graffiti, which I loved and wish SMC would allow - that read "Soy historiador(a) porque creo en la transformación social." I love these words because the people we met and our professors and guides and their organizations are all studying history so that they can understand and anticipate the causes of the social, economic, and political issues in Colombia today. We don't just study history in order not to make the same mistakes again, but to understand today and today's issues of ecology, development, and women etc. I want to be a historian because I believe in social transformation too!        
            Historians, Geographers, Social Scientists, Anthropologists, "leftists", revolutionaries study the past to understand what is wrong in the present and how we can make tomorrow better. It's a matter of developing a better world. Colombia te quiero y me has cambiado mucho. Gracias a la vida.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Cartegena is it Colombia or not?

I found it intresting that when we got to the beach in Santa Marta our tour guide stop us before we entered the beaches and walk through the jungle, in a not joking matter, that everyone must respect this place.  He went on to explain to us how we would appreaciate if someoe used peed in our house how would you feel or threw trash in your house.  After about 10 min of that he gave us a stare and we got to move on.  When we got to the Cartegena i did not see that same fire about the beaches, in fact he went on to explain to us how the taxes of Cartagena never see the rest of Colombia. the poor have been pushed to the outskirts of the city and corupt poltics have kept the high dollars of tourism in Cartegena. The real Colombia is around the cites that are still in poverty.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Santa Martha

 Woke up early today I knew we had a beach day planned so I was really excited.  We took a 20 min drive through some twisty roads as usual but it was a short ride. For the past week and a half or so, I could not get this conversation that i had on the plane ride here.  The guy sitiing next to me was an x UFC fighter that was on his way to Colombia from Los Angelas.  He is a frequent to Colombia, about a 100 times when I asked him how often he goes to Colombia, and why Colombia since its been a question ive been asked on a dozen or so occasions since I decieded to go. He took about the whole plane ride to answer but it came down to this, he fell in love with the Colombia first becuase the people are filled with so much passion and love, the language is spoken with love and affection. He went on further to tell me that its really hard to explain but Colombia is a country so rich in natrual resources, so rich in culture from the Andian region, to the Amazon or where we are at right now, the Caribbean. The food were having here is no different, you can almost get to know the people becuase you eat the meal they cooked for you its just made with love, and I mean every meal here is almost like some intimate connection to the people that made it for us. I can go on and on about that but I want to tell you about the beach we just got back from. The weather is about anywhere from 85 -90 clear skies. We got to the national park, I believe it was called Tyrona. We were all told to bring lots of mosquito repellent and hiking shoes becuase its a 45 min hike to the beach. I mean were in the the jungle climbing up and down and up and down, back and forth ,snake like vines, gigantic trees, huge boulders everywhere and after about 30 min we got a peak.  Absouloutly amazing there is no way to describe peaking my head over a rock and seeing the deep blues and greens of the caribbean in Colombia. When we got there I had the best ceiche Ive ever had in my life, oh did I say ON THE BEACH, fresh squeezed oj and unbeleivable arepas con huevos.  In all I personally did 12 miles of hiking along the beach and I could have done 12 more.

Sleeping in Hammocks

We had an incredible time two nights ago while staying with the indigenous Wayuu of Colombia! They are a matrilineal society which means that the men marry into the women´s family and take the women’s name. They had many hammocks set up for us to sleep in under an open structure with a palm frond roof. It was a great night where we were exposed to a whole new way of self sustainable living. It was not a great night for everyone as one of the students got food poisoning. They were well taken care of all night and are 100% better now! Because of the commotion that night I woke up at around 5 am. It was a blessing in disguise. My early wake up allowed me to see the share the sunrise with one of the guides, Julian, took the other student and I on a ten minute walk to the beach. It was beyond gorgeous! To the left we could see the tallest mountains in Colombia (which are always capped with snow) and directly in front of us was the Caribbean. It was an amazing combination of Colombian landscapes! On the beach we saw the moon set over the water. Julian led us to a place where some local Wayuu were fishing for shrimp. All by hand. They pulled the net in by hand then sorted out the fish and shrimp. Three types of shrimp were in the catch. Most were what I was used to seeing, normal size and all, but then there were some tiger shrimp in the mix! These things were huge. I mean as big as my forearm! The fishermen were very nice. They listened to our questions and answered what they could. They had been fishing since midnight and were very tired as this was one of the last catches of the day. We did not bring cameras and so the three of us only have our memories and words to remember and describe the moment. It was so peaceful and refreshing to be out there, without the commotion of the whole group or the cluster of houses. We walked back and excitedly described what we saw to the rest of the group. The whole thing was very spontaneous and much needed after the hectic night. It brought the three of us closer and allowed us to share are experience. An incredible end to a hectic but fantasticly enriching and fun night.

Pills, Pills, Pills

Before we embarked on this trip we all had to get physically prepared...meaning that we had to go to the doctor and get our pills and vaccines. I was nervous when they told me that I had to take the yellow fever shot, typhoid pills, and malaria pills. I thought that I was going to get sick from one of the many side affects of these medications, rather than the disease itself. The best was when I went to get my yellow fever shot and the doctor told me that five people have died from it. I was like great...Ill probably die before I even get to Colombia. When I first got to Colombia I was paranoid of all the bugs, especially the mosquitoes. I make sure everyday that I take my malaria pill because there are so many bugs out here. Also, while on the bus, Jennifer, one of the professors told me that if I take B1 vitamin, it would make my blood taste bad to the mosquitoes. I was like I want some of that too.  Not only are we at risk of getting malaria but also getting motion sickness because Colombia has many winding roads, especially up in those Andes, that it seems like we are literally going in circles. For that I take ginger root pills so I won’t get nausea. My daily intake of pills is as follows:  one malaria pill, two ginger root pills, and one B1 Vitamin. On top of that I make sure I lather sunscreen and drench in DEET. I think... no, actually I know that I have taken more pills on this trip than I have in my whole life...but then again I am paranoid about getting any type of sickness so I try to prevent it, therefore, must take multiple pills. So far I haven’t gotten motion sickness, or malaria…I hope because I have already been bit 20 times and I am still alive and feeling very good. Either the many pills are working or I haven’t been bitten by infected mosquitoes. I will continue my battle with the mosquitoes and bugs and once I get back well see what happens.  

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Bus Drive

Imagine being on a bus for 11 hours. Sounds painful huh? Suprisingly not so much.  Its more like roadtrip with friends I feel I´ve know forever, making memories I´ll never forget.  I have yet to have a painful experience in Colombia yet (excluding the bug bites).  Only the vast amounts of beauty in the landscape and people that tend to be overlooked with the negative portrayals of Colombia.
The 11 hour trip from Villa de Leyva to Valledupar was filled with curvy roads, rolling mountains, and broken down roads.  Due to recent flooding in Colombia, about 2 million people have been displaced and many roads have been damaged or completely washed out.  Of course of all the roads in Colombia, the only route that would allow us to continue on to Valledupar, was a route that was only open from 3pm-10pm alternating one hour of traffic either way.
So our adventure began around 4pm on January the 18th, 2011.  We had just grabbed some food in Bucaramanga.  All was dandy and well until we hit the damaged road area.  Now this was not slow, bumper to bumper traffic like 880 in rush hour on Monday night, but it was in fact miles of parked cars in the middle of the road, like the full parking lot the Oakland Oracle during a concert.  There was no moving in any which way direction.
So, what better to do then get out, and have some cool drinks at the restuarant across the street with all the other Colombians stuck in the same pickle?  We stayed positive, and enjoyed our cold drinks. There was no complaining, no checking of the watch. We were simply in the moment, not caught up in the rush that fills American lives, but rather enjoying life as it came at us, as Colombians do. 
An hour passed by, and then in the flash of a moment there was a whistle, and all hell broke loose. It was as if an ant hill had been kicked, and the ants exploded with comotin and within seconds the once packed restaurant was desolate with only empty beer bottles.  Everyone was packed into their buses, motorcycles, and cars.  However after all this effort, it was only a false alarm.
Slowly people retreated back to the restaurant and hesitantly hung outside of their vehicles.  But low and behold within 15 minutes, the ant hill had been kicked again, and the ants were off running.  However this time the ants took their vehicles with them, as it was finally our turn to drive the road.  We had students and guides alike, jumping into our moving bus as we took off.  All of this is well documented on our flip camera luckily.
And so began the rest of our drive at 7:30pm on the damaged, nearly non existent road.  As we drove by the affected area, you could see the crumbles of buildings that once stood tall.  There was only half a road at one point, the other half down a mile down the mountain with the rest of the rubble.  Although this may have put our trip at an hour or 2 hour set back, imagine the setbacks of the people that once called the crumbles their homes?
When we finally made it through the damaged roads, it was all straight for there, literally straight roads until Valledupar.  Easy right? Yeah only 7 more hours of straight roads.  But at this moment, there was not a care in the world because we had in fact discovered the air conditioning system of the bus, 7 hours, 15 hours, who´s counting when we have AC?
And so 7 hours later, at 3am we made it! All in one piece, a little tired, maybe a lot tired, full of crazy incoherent dreams from our slumber, but safe and sound in the beautiful city of Valledupar.  And so it goes one of the most eventful, and longest, but memorable bus rides I have ever taken.

De Valledupar con Amor

One of our most recent destinations was Valledupar. Valledupar is a city where one of Colombia's musical identity was born. Music can be a very important part of someone's life and that is just what music is for the students of La Academia de Musica Vallenata. This music school was founded by Andres “El Turco” over 30 years ago. El Vallenato is a type of music where the accordion is the main instrument supported by the guacharaca, which is a thin cylindrical light piece of wood with grooves that you strum with a three pronged metal comb, and a small “tambor” or drum. These instruments combined make the melody of the wonderful rhythm of Vallenato. This genre of music is one of the major symbols of Colombia. It is part of its identity. It includes themes such as love, culture, history, among others. Both men and women participate in the Vallenato world, and we can see this in the Academia. There are no gender barriers in this music school nor ethnic or class barriers. The musicians in this school come from very different backgrounds and all over the world, since the academy is one of the most popular Vallenato schools in the world. The students had the opportunity to play at the White House for Presidents Clinton and Bush. People really connect to the music, especially its musicians. For the students of the Academia, Vallenato is a way to express their sentiments and their lives through their music. It alleviates the soul and is a form of communication for them. For example, one young child who has no sense of sight, is one of the most promising talents of the academy. With more practice and a couple of years of experience, we might see the next best Vallenato player of our times, and we had the chance to meet and interact with him. After talking to other two young students, I learned that one of them has been playing the accordion for ten years and is an amazing player. Another young man plays the guacharaca and has done so for only one year, yet he is great! We saw and met a lot of talented young people. It was a great experience and a great way to connect to the musical part of the culture of Colombia. So, it is recommended that you go and look up some Vallenato music and listen and experience what we are living in the wonderful country of Colombia.

The Magic of Reality

I have seen, learned, and experienced more than I could have ever imagined in these last few days in Colombia. It feels like so much time has passed, but I am in love with the place that is called the second happiest place on earth, the place of magical realism, and a place that is misrepresented, misunderstood, and that I must return to. My time in Colombia has illuminated the beauty and blessings of my life. GRACIAS A LA VIDA!
On January 12, our first day in Colombia, we traveled from our base in Cota to Bogotá. In south Bogotá I did a handstand on a small hill with a cross, similar to Saint Mary's cross and hill. This hill is the crossroads of the major social and ecological issues: urbanization, garbage, poverty, pollution, U.S. intervention and globalization. All these issues are interconnected. On one side of this hill we see a prison built by the U.S. in accordance with the U.S. War on Drugs and the U.S. Drug War policy and intervention in Colombia, a Mexican mine and pools of polluted water created by the Mexican company and skyline housing projects that are being built on important agricultural and indigenous land in an attempt to house the millions of Colombians who have been displaced by violence in Colombia. On the other side of the hill we see a landfill that has polluted the rivers and the air.
But there is so much beauty in Colombia. IT continues to change and our Colombian professors are a part of social change in Colombia and are introducing us to other people who are creating a new Colombia.Our Colombian Professors, Javier and Julian are showing, teaching and revealing a Colombia that is not often advertised by the popular but unreliable media in the US. In the south of Bogotá, we see a densely populated community created by the people for the people in response to their displacement by the violence of Colombia's past and the grassroots movements for the development of social consciousness and social change in Colombia is beautiful. In south Bogotá, next door to the US prison, the urban community, the mine, and the garbage are many many organic farms that feed Colombians and protect the land from urbanization, pollution, and destruction.
We continue to see threats of globalization, capitalism, and US intervention in Colombia throughout our travels, but at the same time we are also being introduced to the grassroots, indigenous, women's and social justice movements in Colombia that continue to address the threats to the second happiest place on earth. Julian and Javier continue to remind us that Colombia is a safe place with a violent past that is always in conflict, but where is there not? Colombia is the place to be and I'm glad to have made it here.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Relationship between Nature and Colombia

Today was yet another amazing day in Colombia. This morning we enjoyed pan dipped in hot chocolate, the best scrambled eggs you dare to imagine and freshly squeezed orange juice. This meal, while not as extravagent as others meals, proves that sometimes the most simple meals are the most pleasurable ones. While the majority of us enjoyed a few hours of peace on the bus, I stayed awake for the entire drive and saw Chicamocha Canyon, one of the highest large canyons (around the size of the Grand Canyon), but painted green from all the trees with splotches of yellow from what Giovanni, the newest guide to join us, called Arboles Oros, or gold trees because of their leaves. This vegetation is by far the  most breathtaking bosques I have ever seen in my life. What I have come to love most about Colombia is that everything here is so rich in colors and life: yesterday, we went to a self sustaining farm that is planting nearl extinct trees, conserving those naturally planted, and somehow maintaining human life without destroying the nature surrounging themselves. This place was strikingly beautiful because there is such a basic and simple truth to it that few ever seem to be aware of, let alone try to engage in. After touring the farm, we were given a meal that was made up from veggies grown in the gardens, steak grilled over an open fire, and even trout from a local lake. The meal expressed the same basic truth as the farm represented: out of the most simple close to nature things, comes the best that could be created by humans. Colombia is wonderful because of the prevelance of nature here: I hope it remains a secret from mainstream tourism, I can´t imagine Colombia any other way than this.

The Breathtaking Andes

We left Bogotá for Villavicencio today and were prepared for a very long bus ride. What we were not prepared for, however, was the breathtaking beauty we would experience along the way. I woke up from a nap, looked out the window, and was absolutely speechless. I had heard of the Andes before, even seen photos of them, but what I woke up to was more beautiful than any photo I have ever seen. Truly, words cannot properly convey the serenity of the Andes Mountains. Each member of the group woke up and began positioning themselves to take photos.
My personal reaction to this beauty, along with the excitement and surprise was a feeling of how small I was in relation to these massive mountains; it was truly a humbling experience. From the sheer size to the beauty of the colors and the shapes, it was an incredibly refreshing experience that I connected with spiritually. God’s work with nature amazes me in general, but the Andes have surpassed any feeling of amazement I have had in the past. The beauty we have come to witness in Colombia thus far has us all anticipating what is to come next. I hope you will continue to follow our adventures in anticipation as well!;


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Colombia: New Prespectives on a Beautiful Country

Colombia is filled with many present suprises and beauties that I never thought existed in this country. When we arrived at the crowded Bogota airport it was a little stressful, but soon we realized the great joys of Colombia. At our hostel in Cota, a small town outside of Bogta, we were introduced to the great fruit and coffee of colombia. ¡Y que suave! The coffee is so great here and learning about how it is produced by farmers in the region was very interesting.

One thing that suprised me the most was the medical system in Colombia. I had hear from my dad that the Colombians have very advanced medical care, but did not know how much so until we ventured into Bogota. My luggage was accidently left in LA on our trip, and all of my medicine was in my bag. When Myrna, Julian (one of our guides, he´s great!) and I went to the pharmacy, not only did we find some, we found almost all of the different types I use in the US! This made me realize that Colombia is a really advanced country and a safe place to be if you need immediate medical attention.

I was exposed to more beauty in the south of Bogota where we learned about the ecological movements and how the youth is very instrumental in the movement. That is refreshing to know that there are people in this country trying to save the evironment, and I´ve seen more parks and green areas here than in the US. And the Andes. Don´t get me started. Soooo Beautiful! Amazing views. Well, I got to go to lunch. Will write soon.


Colombia, mi amor

Hola amigos y familia!!
What a crazy trip its been, but how amazing it has been so far. Needless to say, trying to find internet here is a bit harder than we anticipated but we have finally have time to sit down and blog to you.
So much has happened yet so few words to describe how wonderful it is here. I am so embarrassed by being afraid of Colombia before. The people here are so friendly and welcoming, always smiling and willing to help us linguistically challenged of the group. The food is amazing: so far the best was pan dulce dipped in hot chocolate. The sites are beautiful, always managing to take away my breathe and make me wonder how this country has managed to stay out of the public eye of tourism. I absolutely love it here, I feel ten times safer than I ever have walking through the streets of Oakland, San Francisco, or any city in EEUU. Last night I was swinging in a hamaca right outside the hotel room, watching chickens go by and listening to the calls of the caretaker´s parrots and knew that while I will go back to the State and leave Colombia, Colombia will never leave me. I have fallen head over heels with this country, and want to make sure my mother, stepfather, and amazing older brother can come with me one day to experience this wonderful país.
Until next time!!!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Off we go!

Dear friends and family:

Excitment is running high among the two faculty members and the 13 students leaving for Colombia tomorrow.  This is especially the case after a panicky weekend when I realized that the storm dumping ice and snow throughout the southern United States would close down the Atlanta airport, which was our point to departure for Bogota.  Sure enough, by Saturday night all Delta flights had been cancelled through Tuesday, including ours.  Their phones were down so there was no one to talk to.  I alerted the students Sunday night.  I wrote to our hosts in Colombia and we immediately began making alternative plans, not knowing how many days late we might be.  How would we get 15 seats on another flight 24 hours before flying?  As soon as I woke up this morning, I started dialing numbers until one actually said something other than "due to severe weather, all of our offices are closed."  I punched an endless number of digits until I was told to wait for the next available operator.  That took some 35 minutes, but it was worth it.  I talked to a real human being who diverted us to another airline through Los Angeles to Bogota for Tuesday and pretty much the same times.  Whew.  No changes needed to be done to our schedule in Colombia.  Another round of e-mails and quick, happy responses all around.

So, off we go tomorrow morning.

We will do our best to stay in touch through this medium.  But be patient, as we will be moving from town to town nearly every day for the next eight days.  We will be thinking about you and wishing you were here!