Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Golfo de Morrosquillo

More than a month ago (I know, it's taken me forever to post about it) I also went on a Classroom Without Walls trip with my 8th graders but to a very different place than Jenna went with her students. We went to the Golfo de Morrosquillo which is on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Early on Super Bowl Sunday (yes it was that long ago and this was the first time in my life that I didn't get to watch the Super Bowl) we flew to Cartagena, took a 3 hour bus ride to a tiny town on the coast called Puerto de Verruga, and then jumped onto boats to head to our first destination: the 4 star Decameron resort on Isla Palma.

A quick background on the island since it has an interesting history. Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha aka "El Mexicano" was one of the leaders of the Medellin Cartel run by Pablo Escobar and consequently had more money than he knew what to do with so he bought a Caribbean island, built a huge house on it and stocked it with animals like flamingos, a water buffalo, monkeys, and a huge aquarium with a dolphin and several other types of ocean life so his friends could all come play. After he was killed by police, the government took over the island and eventually sold it to the Decameron resort chain who turned it into what it is today.

The decorations are kind of weird inside the hotel with lots of carved African-looking statues and other out of place things on the walls but the overall architecture is cool because it's designed like an enormous beach hut that's open to the ocean breezes on both sides so it stays fairly cool inside as long as there is even a small breeze. Here is a look through one of the sitting areas outside... notice how there is no outer wall at all.

The hotel kept Gacha's bedroom fairly in tact and turned it into the Presidential Suite. Since we had so many students and there were no empty rooms at the hotel, 8 of our boys got to use the room so I was able to sneak in and take a look around. Watch the video below and imagine the crazy things that must have happened there in the 80's...

We did lot's of team-building activities, games, and nature-related activities on the island and below are a few pictures of my students and some of the things that we saw in our time on the island.

Some pretty cool looking vacation homes built on coral reefs.

This island, Santa Cruz del Islote, is the most densly populated island in the world (click on the link for more details on the population). The boat drivers told us that the houses are so close together that people actually have to walk through their neighbors houses to get to their own since there isn't even space for paths or roads! They also told us that the reason that everyone lives on the island is to escape the mosquitoes from the mainland (since there is no green space there are no mosquitoes) and to protect the environment. Both of those reasons are probably untrue as the people simply can't afford land on the coast (which is only a mile or so away).

A view of the hotel on Isla Palma from down the beach. That big grass hut-looking thing is the hotel.

My students playing on the beach.

Team building game where students had to balance on a set of logs and every time the got a question wrong they had a log removed until they fell down.

Hike through the mangrove forest.

Some flamingos in a lagoon along the hike.

Discussing our hike back at the hotel.

After Isla Palma took a 30 minute boat ride to the Reserva Natural Sanguare. Here everything was the opposite of Isla Palma. There was no AC, all the food was local, organic, and sugar-free and the hotel was decidedly not 4-star. With that said I liked it more than I liked Isla Palma. The natural wonders that we saw there and the lack of pretension were awesome. For example, take a look at this baby Hammerhead shark that one of the staff members was able to grab just off the beach!

Here my students were learning to make grasshoppers (literally).

Instructions for a kayak trip where we got to see the most amazing thing that I have ever seen in nature happened. We kayaked out to a point to watch the sunset and then in the dark rowed into a lagoon through a mangrove canal. When we were approaching the lagoon, I began to notice that when I put the paddle into the water and moved it the water around the paddle started to glow and there was a small glowing trail after my paddle and the boat itself. As we continued into the lagoon, the glowing intensified. Once inside, we tied all the kayaks in a large circle and jumped into the water inside the circle and spent the next 20-30 minutes giggling like 2 year olds as we played with the water and it glowed all around us like magic. Magic is really the only way that I can describe what it is like to have every movement you make in the water result in the water glowing a bright yellow light. Even as we got back into the kayaks we could see yellow streaks of light going under the kayaks as fish swam by. It turns out that the lagoon is filled with bio-luminescent plankton that respond to movement in the water. I had seen some of these SCUBA diving before in Belize but there were at least 20 times as many here and they were yellow instead of the blue that I had seen before. If any of you come to visit Colombia , I would highly recommend doing this! Sadly I don't have any pictures or video of the even as my camera is neither waterproof nor particularly good in the dark so you'll have to settle for the picture of the group before we set out.

Some of my students making a coconut desert in a traditional fashion.

The beginning of the Eco-Challenge race where we had to undo a human knot, dig a hole and pass under a log on the beach (pictured below), pass the entire team through different holes of a giant rope spiderweb, traverse a 50 foot rope suspended between 2 trees, crawl through 30 feet of mud under some ropes military boot-camp style, and finally work as a group to swim a log across a lake as we were all touching it. Needless to say this was difficult but awesome as well!

Human knot.

Students posing in the dining hall.

The large grass hut dining hall.

Hanging out by the pool with the friendly neighborhood parrot.
Overall, I had a great trip and got to know my students better. I look forward to doing it again next year!