Monday, December 12, 2011


For Thanksgiving break Jenna and I got a great deal through Exito Travel on a combo package of a flight and all-inclusive beachfront hotel in Cartagena so we decided to take our first trip to the coast here in Colombia. We were accompanied by Heather and David who we have known since our Honduras days for the weekend. Our hotel was located in Bocagrande and provided us the great views of the beach below.

Closeup of the old city from out our hotel window.

Heather leaning out her window from the room next door to check out the sunset.

The draw for most visitors to Cartagena is the old walled city built by the Spanish when they colonized Colombia. We spent part of a couple days there checking out all the old architecture, narrow streets, and beauty of the place.

Photo Op on the walk from the hotel over to the old city.

View toward a beautiful cathedral in the old city from the waterfront.

This was a low part of the wall... just for a little bit of scale.

I love this style of building which lined the narrow streets. The wooden overhanging balconies and large wooden doors were mostly well-maintained or restored in the old city.

Mom and Dad this picture is for you! Check out the name of this jewelry store!

Headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition in Colombia. Apparently there is a tour you can take through this place where they show you all the devices used to torture people, but unfortunately I didn't read about this tour until I got back to Bogota... next time I guess.

More narrow streets with beautiful buildings.

Jenna and Heather walking on the wall.

The gathering of people up ahead there is the Cafe del Mar which is a very pricey bar/restaurant built on top of the wall to the city. It was however a perfect place to grab a bottle of wine and watch the sunset over the Caribbean!

Jenna, Heather, and David waiting for the vino.

Wine + Sunset + Old Cannon = Beautiful

Some nifty looking lights on the walls of the old city after dark.

There was also an old fort built on a hill overlooking the old city which was of course used to guard against any invaders. After declining the tour guides and the audio devices to tell us about the fort, we decided to make up our own stories of the history of the place and had quite a good time at it. I won't share our silly stories, but it certainly made the visit interesting.

There were lots of tunnels in the fort to explore... almost all of which I could stand up in. Shocking!

At the top of the fort enjoying the views.

Apparently the fort was built onto a very large rocky hill so that it was naturally very easy to defend.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Downtown Bogota

A few weekends ago Jenna and I went to check out downtown Bogota for the first time (which is kind of sad given that we have been here since the end of July) with our own personal tour guide Guillo. He is from Bogota and was eager to tell us about all of the history that happened there and I quite honestly can't remember all of it so I'll throw out a few facts here but let the pictures do most of the talking.

The Plaza Bolivar is full of action pretty much all the time. There are protests, celebrations, and just lots of people coming to mull around in general almost any day of the week so even though it was rainy there were plenty of people around. The building on the left here is the Congress and I can't remember what the one on the right is. I'm sure by now that giant metal thing in the middle has been turned into a Christmas tree!

The little house on the street corner here off one corner of the Plaza Bolivar is apparently where part of the independence movement here in Colombia started in 1810.

This is the Palace of Justice on the north end of the plaza. The palace is famous for the siege which took place here in 1985 where the M19 guerillas took over the palace and ended up killing 11 of the 25 supreme court justices. Let's not dwell on the violent path any more so if you want to know more about this click here.

The Plaza Bolivar is of course named for Simon Bolivar and there are plenty of connections to him here in Bogota including a house where he lived and a window he escaped from when word got to him that a group of people were coming to assassinate him. The house was on one of the many streets just like this one, however by the time we got there it was raining too hard to take any more pictures.

The first observatory in South America (or maybe all of the Americas... can't really remember).

The presidential palace is located just a little bit south of the Plaza Bolivar and just to the left of the observatory in the above picture.

There seem to be about a million old churches in the old downtown area and this is just one of the prettier ones.

A view towards the eastern mountains, a statue of some other famous guy I can't remember the name of, and yet another old church.

Don't take my lack of memory as a sign that I was not impressed with the downtown and its history. I was thoroughly impressed and am looking forward to going back, it's just that there was so much information and so much history that it was overwhelming. Even after 4.5 years in Latin America the history and interactions of places with the Spanish conquistadors and then their subsequent fight for independence from Spain are still fascinating topics.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Funny Student Conversation

I have to share a funny student conversation from today. In my last class of the day today two girls were sitting in the front desk working on their homework assignment while the rest of the class was chatting quietly and working at the same time. Girl #1 had spilled some juice in her backpack and was also trying to clean/dry it out while working on her assignment. She is a rather vocal student and after cleaning the bag and complaining quietly about her wet notebook she said quite loudly "Man I hate juice." The entire class went silent and Girl #2 who was sitting at the desk with her paused for a moment before a bewildered look came over her face and she said, "What did you say?" Girl #1 said, "It just made all of my stuff dirty and wet." Girl #2 looked very confused and then one of their classmates started laughing really hard. With her accent, it sounded like Girl #1 had said, "Man I hate Jews." Girl #2 is Jewish. You can understand her shock. Thankfully they are friends and once the misunderstanding was cleared up we all got a good laugh out of the situation!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Unicef 10K

Can you find me in the picture above? This was last weekend's Unicef 10K race.

Here, its all about image, so they require that participants in races like this all wear the same shirt so that the pictures look impressive. I have to admit, it does look really neat when the whole street is filled with blue.

I also ran, about four weeks ago, the Nike WeRun Bogota 10K. There we all wore bright coral shirts.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

CNG Campus

The school that Jenna and I work at here in Colombia is called Colegio Nueva Granada. The name comes from the name of the old Spanish colony Virreinato de la Nueva Granada which encompassed Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Panama in the 1700s. Last weekend on our way up to school to toss around a Frisbee with some other teachers we realized that we hadn't posted any pictures of the school yet so here they are.

The school's mascot is the Condor but this elephant is actually used more than the condor on CNG merchandise, posters, etc (in fact I've never seen the Condor on anything related to the school, only the elephant). Since the elephant has been on the elementary/primary playground forever it has sentimental value for all CNG alumni since they played on it when they were little.

The campus is situated part of the way up the mountains on the east side of town so the view from most places on campus is beautiful. This, combined with the fact that the campus is huge since we have over 1800 students, does however make it hard to walk around campus since it involves walking up and down the mountain. The first few months here would leave me out of breath from going to the library which is up the hill from my classroom. I've gotten a bit more used to the altitude (somewhere around 8500 feet on campus) but walking from the front gate at the bottom campus up to the gym or soccer field is still not easy!

View from just outside the gym of some of campus with one of the eastern mountains and some of the city in the background.

More of the city view from the patio outside the gym.

The bottom right classroom in this building is Jenna's room. It's a bit loud with this soccer/basketball court right outside it!

Down in this cave the second door leads to my room. My kids are completing some cool projects right now so I'll post pictures of my room once those are up!

Looking down the middle school hallway.

Just outside the main middle school building looking up the mountain. There are more class buildings hidden behind the greenery there as our campus is full of incredible plants. I think one of the previous science teachers in the HS did a survey and found more than 1000 plant species on campus!

The building with the F on it contains the middle school office among other things. The building behind it to the left is the main middle school building and my room would be some of the windows in the bottom floor that you see.

The administration building.

Elementary soccer fields and basketball courts with a small, oddly-shaped track around them. The field is pretty amazing with field turf (just like the stuff on professional football fields) for the kids to play on since it rains so much that regular grass would be turned into mud. There is a full-sized turf field next to the HS gym which is incredible to play any sport on but we didn't take a picture of it on this day because there was a soccer tournament going on at the time we were there.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Tejo is considered the national game of Colombia (well, maybe the 2nd national game after soccer), so when we had a chance to go play it last Saturday night, we couldn't pass it up. Tejo is kind of like horseshoes or beanbag toss on steroids. Basically you throw a heavy metal disc at an angled box of clay with a small metal ring in the center. Placed around the metal ring are small paper triangles filled with gunpowder. If your metal disc hits the metal ring at the spot where one of the paper triangles is, the gunpowder explodes. Sounds like fun right!

And the explosions were much louder than that where we were playing since it was indoors! We divided our group of teachers and friends into 2 teams (the USA vs. the World team made up of 2 Canadians, a Colombian, and a Honduran) and began tossing our discs. You get one point for whichever disc is closest to the center ring, 3 points for putting the disc into the ring, and 5 points if one of the gunpowder triangles explodes. We kept score and ended up playing to 100 points (unfortunately the World team won) which took a couple of hours, but it was so much fun that it seemed like way less time than that. The second best part of the game (after getting to make things explode with gunpowder of course) is that playing is free; you just pay for whatever you drink during the game! Here are a few pictures to get those of you who are coming to visit us excited because we will definitely take all of you to play when you get here!

Our Colombian host for the evening, Guillermo, showing us how it's done.

Heather giving it a go.

My turn. I was actually pretty good until the we got near the end of game and I had a few more refreshments than were conducive to my hand-eye coordination.

As you can see, the clay is soft enough that the discs stick in it when they hit. If you look closely, you can see that the one in the center hit one of the paper triangles on the right side of the metal ring and made it explode and burn leaving some black marks on the clay.

Everybody gathered around getting their discs out and measuring to see who was closest.

We were playing on the "kiddie" courts where we only had to throw the discs about 40 feet. You can see the "big boy" courts here where people were throwing their tejos something like 90 or 100 feet... maybe next time we'll be ready.

This old-timer on the kiddie court next to us was looking at us disapprovingly all night and shaking his head at some of our throws. Oh well, we had fun despite our overall lack of skill, some funny looks from the locals, and a few errant throws. I can't wait til next time!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Exploring Medellin

After the Botero art we saw the first day in Medellin, we spent the other days we had there doing not a whole lot. We found a good breakfast place that made some awesome bagels and bagel sandwiches (as seen below) and proceeded to eat there 4 times.

Other than breakfast we explored a hill in the center of town called Cerro Nutibara, named for a former Native leader, which had a small replica of an old town on it called Pueblita Paisa. The weather wasn't great that day so the views weren't what we had hoped for and the hill itself was ridiculously touristy and therefore not too interesting.

This is part of the replica town.

Jenna is taking in the limited view. The mountain on the right is where the Biblioteca de Espana is located.

Since the weather wasn't ideal we just went back to the Hostel and read for the rest of the day. One of the following days (can't really remember which, might have been the next day) we hopped onto the beautiful Metro again and checked out the Botanical Gardens in town. The gardens were pretty impressive as far as their variety of plant and animal life and the fact that it was a very peaceful place, 500 meters from the Metro, right in the middle of a city of 2.5 million people.

The picture below is of a weird cactus-like plant in the desert exhibit.

A "green" wall behind the stage in the middle of the gardens.

An interesting flower with a bee doing its pollinating job well.

Cool-looking little bird.

The orchid house area of the gardens was covered with a beautiful wood structure to provide the orchids the shade that they need to grow.

As expected, there were some amazing orchids like this one.

Lots of beautiful flowers.

I found this little guy hiding on a branch while we were grabbing something to eat before leaving the gardens.

We then continued on the Metro to check out one of the proudest accomplishments in Medellin's urban renewal: the MetroCable. This system of gondolas (which are included in the price of using the Metro itself) is not just for tourists. It is actually a public transportation system intended to make it easier for residents of one of the slums on the hillsides to get down into town and work as productive members of society. Before installing this line, it would take people upwards of 2 hours to get down the mountain and into the main part of Medellin where they could find work due to the winding roads and haphazard construction of the slum preventing any sort of direct route down the mountain. That time has now been reduced to about 20 minutes using the MetroCable and this has improved the quality of life through access to jobs and the city for people in the slum so much that the city just built a second line to another slum on the other side of town.

At the top of the MetroCable there is another set of gondolas (you can see it in this picture if you look closely) that goes up and over the top of the mountain to a national park with hiking trails and access to nature for the people of the city. This ride would have cost extra and we decided not to do it as there was a storm coming over the mountain, but the entire system was impressive regardless.

Also at the top of the MetroCable (before you would get on the gondola to the national park) is the Biblioteca de Espana (Spanish Library) donated by the country of Spain to help improve the neighborhood as well. It appeared to be working as we saw signs for all sorts of classes and lots of people going in and out of the library with books.

The new title picture of the blog was taken from this same spot looking over the entire city of Medellin. We spent a few days outside the city at the Secret Buddha Hostel after this where we further relaxed and enjoyed a fantastic 8 course dinner with guests from Argentina, Colombia, New York, and Australia cooked by the owner of the hostel to wrap up the trip.