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.