It’s still somewhat surreal.
During orientation, sequestered as we were at an isolated hotel forty-five minutes outside of Bogotá, it was easy to forget that after travelling for twenty-four hours, we had ended up on the other side of the world. We spent two weeks at Hotel Xué Sabana where we brushed up on our teaching skills, got to know some of the other volunteers, and learned a bit about Colombian culture.
The whole “we’ve-moved-to-Colombia” thing became a little more concrete when we visited the city on our day off. Oscar, a student I taught in Cape Town last year, offered to spend his Sunday showing us around, exemplifying the generosity and friendliness for which Colombians are famous.
We explored the historic district of the city, visiting the Plaza de Bolívar, the Botero Museum and the Museo del Oro. We climbed a meandering staircase to find a table on the top floor of a cosy restaurant, where we tried some food typical of the region. Ajiaco is a chicken and potato soup served with cream, corn and capers, and is definitely the best local dish I’ve tried so far.
We barely scratched the surface of Bogotá, only granted enough time off to explore the historic district; I can’t wait to go back and see more. The Andes peaks lay siege to a sprawling city of contrasts and diversity. Walking the cobbled streets of La Candelaria, we found amazing street art and ancient churches, festive music and political demonstrations, tasty street food and impressive museums – the accessible history and culture of a vibrant city.
I thought the reality of moving abroad would hit home upon moving to Barranquilla. However, we’ve been here just over a month now and it still feels a bit like a strange holiday in a city no-one would intentionally choose for a holiday. Before leaving home, I spent hours researching our placement city. All I could gather from the few sources available was that it’s situated on the coast, it’s very hot and humid, and it’s home to one of the biggest carnivals in the world. We were very curious as to what it would really be like.
Carnaval was just starting when we touched down in Barranquilla on the 12th of February. In fact, dancers and musicians serenaded us on the flight from Bogotá, and we were greeted with shots of agaurdiente (*blegh*) at the airport.
We enjoyed four days and night of festivity – parades, street parties, concerts, and of course the ever-present music blaring from speakers in car boots, on front porches, and in every tienda (corner shop) in the city.
It was the craziest possible introduction to our new home, but I’m grateful we didn’t miss the one event for which Barranquilla is famous!