It’s crazy that I’ve been in Colombia almost three weeks now. I feel like I really haven’t done that much. This trip definitely has a different vibe than my previous foreign adventures, and there’s a pretty simple reason why. I showed up late to the party.
In all the programs I’ve done before – Germany, Peru, Georgia, FEMA Corps – as soon as you arrive, you start spending every waking moment with a group of complete strangers who are in the same boat as you. And you immediately find a Best Friend 4 Lyfe. It’s seriously that easy. The shared experience of culture shock, the long van/marshrutka rides, the fact that you are each other’s biggest supports, and no matter how close you are with friends back home, they can’t know what’s going on in your life right now like this person who is also living it – it all comes together to form some pretty strong bonds. And you have those people by your side throughout your stay, whether you’re laughing hysterically while eating impressive amounts of chocolate and gummi bears, limpiando el piso at the club (not us tho, we’re classy), drinking homemade wine to never-ending indecipherable toasts, or singing your lungs out together on the way home from work. These people are what you remember most when you look back on your time there.
I don’t really have that here. While everyone else formed their bonds during the few weeks of orientation in June, I met 2 other people who arrived in October like me, and 2 days later, we were on planes to different parts of the country. I don’t have a roommate like I was told I would. It’s just me and the owner of the apartment. She’s a wonderful lady, but there’s a bit of an age gap. (Although let’s face it, I’m an old woman at heart, and we’ve already bonded over our shared love of needle crafts.) There’s a couple people placed in my town that I can hang out with, but they’ve been here for months, and have seen most of the sites, so I’m kind of on my own for the touristy stuff.
However, as it turns out, not having super close American friends is turning out to have its positives. It forces me out of the little American bubble that it’s so easy to get trapped in when you’re studying or working abroad, and it forces me to put myself out there and make my own fun. It also gives me time to relax. If I tried to stay at the club til 4:00, then go teach class the next day (something I did at least a couple of times in Lima), it would probably be a bad life choice at this point. Plus Armenia isn’t about the all-night club scene, it’s pretty tranquilo as the locals say.
So what have I been doing aside from working?
Luz set me up with a hiking group, so during my first weekend here we went on a little trek along the old railroad tracks from Montenegro to Quimbaya. It was a beautiful hike with some interesting people. At one point we even had to army crawl through the dirt under a barbed wire fence, which had a sign warning that the area within was dangerous due to the animal traps that were set around the crops. Luckily I wasn’t first in line, so it wasn’t my ankles that were going to get severed.
Last weekend, Luz took me to the Artesanias, a craft fair that was set up for the city’s anniversary celebrations. It was huge and had an amazing variety of local and international crafts and food. I limited the amount of cash I brought in order to limit the amount of cash I spent. Luz, however, is a shopping enabler. She would pick out the good quality crafts that were lower-priced than you could get elsewhere, and then convince me that it was worth it, and I could definitely bring it in my suitcase without breaking it, and it won’t take up too much space. There was a pair of earrings at one of the stands which I was looking at, but decided against. When I told her I didn’t get them, she told me I should go back and buy them because they were really pretty. I told her I didn’t bring a lot of cash, so I should save it in case I saw something else I wanted. She told me she could lend me the cash and I could pay her back when we got home. Enabler! ….I turned around and bought the earrings.
This past week, I took up a new hobby. Pole dancing! As I was driving down a street near my apartment, I saw signs in the window for a gym called Pole Fitness. The logo was a picture of someone pole dancing, and then it had someone swinging from those pieces of cloth that hang from the ceiling. I have no idea what this is called, but it’s where you can like wrap yourself up in these pieces of cloth, and then unravel yourself while doing flips and stuff. They did it once on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, so if you don’t know what I’m talking about, just go back and watch all the episodes until you see it. Point being, I’ve always wanted to do that. I gave them a call, and the prices weren’t bad, so I stopped in last week for my first class. I didn’t see any of those cloth things hanging from the ceiling, so I don’t know if they actually even do that, but either way, the pole dancing turned out to be pretty fun, and also the most intense workout I’ve had in a while. I could barely lift my arms the next day, and three days later, my arms and shoulders are still sore. But apparently the years of gymnastics paid off, and I’m pretty good for a beginner! A little more practice, and I may be able to get myself a side job! 😉
Then yesterday, I did my first really touristy thing and went to the Parque Nacional del Cafe (the National Coffee Park) with another volunteer that works at my school. The park isn’t too far from Armenia, and it’s a pretty cool place. It’s less coffee-centered than I had imagined, and more small children-centered, but it was still a lot of fun. It has rides, horseback riding, a sky tram, a museum, and different shows throughout the day. We decided to go to one called The Secret of Nature. It reminded me of that one time when me and Kelsey DeMers, as young adults, decided it would be a good idea to go see Night at the Museum, and then found ourselves as the only people in the theater over 5 feet tall. The Secret of Nature was definitely a kids show, involving an evil witch, silly jokes, and slightly disturbing robotic animals. And spoiler alert, the secret is to plant seeds, people. And probably don’t litter, and stuff.
After that, we saw the Show del Cafe. The sheer number of people filling up the theater and the fact that there were other adults there who weren’t just chaperoning their small children, told me that we would have better luck with this one. And, indeed, it turned out to be pretty awesome. It basically tells the history of coffee in Colombia through traditional dance, and beautiful, beautiful dresses. Pictures weren’t allowed, and they were super strict about it – like I think they booted a guy out for having his cell out, but this video gives a little preview of it. I even recognized one of the performers – my pole dance instructor! And guess what he was doing in the finale?? Flipping around on those cloth hangy-downy things!
The park itself is beautiful, and full of gorgeous trees and flowers, and obviously coffee plants. We took the sky tram a couple times, went to the museum and rode the coffee train. And of course, had a nice cup of tea. Just kidding. I enjoyed a delicious arequipe macchiatto (arequipe = the manjar blanco of Colombia >>manjar blanco = the dulce de leche of Peru >> dulce de leche = the caramel of [insert country here, don’t feel like googling it]).
And then there was my 6 a.m. class this morning. Back to the grind. I don’t think it will ever get easier to wake up at 5:00…