Today I had my first visit to a Colombian hospital.

I have been sick for about a week now. It has been thoroughly unpleasant. I will save you all the gory details but let you know that I drank a lot of water to stay hydrated and spent a lot of time in the bathroom.

I probably should have went to the doctor a few days ago but I put it off because I was very busy and didn’t want to explain all my problems in spanish.

So I spent ages wondering which hospital to go to. In the end I just picked one nearby and hopped down to their emergency department.

Apparently I was at the wrong hospital. I don’t know what odontology is, but apparently it’s not what I needed. The receptionist took my insurance details and ID. Then a doctor took me into one of those curtained rooms. A nurse took my BP and heart rate while a friend of his popped in to say hello.

He took my temperature… Not with a thermometer in the mouth or up the bum- but in my armpit. How weird. Thank god it wasn’t the bum though. (Although that might have made a better blog post)

Anyway after explaining my symptoms to a doctor, he gave me some paper and sent me to a pharmacy.

I was literally in and out with a prescription in hand in about 8 minutes. 8 minutes and I wasn’t even in the right hospital. He didn’t even need to check the ‘sample‘ I brought along with me.

I couldn’t believe it. At home I would wait 8 days for an appointment. (Well thats a bit unfair. Normally mum phones and gets me an appointment on the day itself. Thats why you should always be nice to the receptionist!) One time when I had a malaria scare (that’s a story for another time) I was waiting in A&E for over 4 hours. I’m pretty sure that if I actually had malaria, I probably would have died.



To get into the Carnaval spirit, I bought myself a wonderful t-shirt and marimonda mask.

The Marimonda character is one of the most popular and most important in the carnaval’s tradition. Stories about its meaning and symbolism are different; some say it represents male genitalia (monda is a crude Spanish word for penis), but others say it represents the people of Barranquilla (Barranquilleros) letting their hair down, dressing a bit silly and getting in the fun of carnaval season. Certainly, the backwards trousers and strange ties worn with the mask seem to support this.

All over the city people have marimondas on their cars, on t-shits, on hats. They are hanging from street lights, and adorning shopping centres along with other popular folkloric characters and costumes such as la negrita and el hombre caiman.


Indigenous People of Colombia: Sierra Nevada & Guajira

Indigenous People of the Sierra Nevada
While on our trek to Ciudad Perdida, our guide Archie explained to us about the beliefs of the indigenous tribes of the area. In the Sierra Nevada there are different groups, different tribes and each have slightly different beliefs and practices, but they also have many things in common. I am by no means an expert, and all the information I relay here is second hand from our tour guide.

The groups in the Sierra Nevada chew on coca leaves. This helps alleviate the effects of the high altitude, and also gives them many of the effects associated with cocaine. At the age of 18, each boy receives his own instrument to grind the leaves, and this is symbolic of his becoming a man. At 18 he is also found a wife, and married off to her. The wife usually won’t be 18- as soon as girls begin their periods, they get married and start to have children. This is due to a belief they have about menstruation; that the blood attracts evil bats, and in order to keep them away it is necessary for women to be eternally pregnant. This shocked us a lot, and it was something that truth be told we were not completely comfortable with- and it caused quite a debate in our group about what point something changes from an aspect of culture that needs to be respected, into an issue of human rights. When a couple get married, the family of the groom offer something to the bride’s family. This is usually composed of land and livestock. If the woman is unfaithful, her family must pay back 3 times what they were given- despite the fact that the men have several wives and can do as they please. They have Shaman chiefs, who lead and rule on religious, health and economic grounds. Shamans perform marriages and funerals, and lead the communities in other religious events- such as calling for good harvests or rainfall.

Indigenous People of La Guajira

The main group of indigenous people in La Guajira are the wayuu, and our guide Maikel on that trip explained to us several aspects of their culture. When they marry, the groom’s family makes an offering to the bride’s family. This is normally made up of goats- which will come to no surprise to anyone who has visited La Guajira as there are goats everywhere. The indigenous people in La Guajira are more integrated with the Colombians. They have married amongst each other, they do normal jobs and they lead normal Colombian lives- and although many of them retain indigenous practices and beliefs, many others have converted to Christianity. To the wayuu people, anyone born with a disability is highly cherished in the community, and are never discriminated against. They believe that those with disabilities are blessed with other talents and skills, and should be loved entirely.

Sexy Dancing in Cartagena

Ryan and Tamsin about to start the dance

In our hostel in Cartagena (El Viajero, which I would definitely recommend) we had a dance lesson each night. The first night we did a great routine of African dancing- it was great fun, and a great workout too! The second night we were treated to some Champeta, a dance style that originates in Cartagena. The first 45 minutes or so of the lesson were fun and tiring… But only three of us (Ryan, Tamsin and I) stayed for the last part- which was a bit more intimate.

Ryan and Tamsin paired up, as the male instructor used me to demonstrate. In the first move the girl falls into the guy, and gyrates a bit. In the second move. The girl hops up onto the guy and they gyrate a bit more. For the third move… The guy holds the girl underneath him as they gyrate. After Ryan and Tamsin did this gyrating for a bit, the whole hostel had come to watch and they got a rapturous round of applause. Then it was my turn, so Tamsin and I got going while abut 50 guests in the hostel sat around watching, cheering, hooting and shouting.

The dance was kind of like sex with clothes on- but totally allowed, as we were learning about culture. The audience loved it, we had a laugh… and learning champeta was definitely an eye opener into Colombian dancing.


New Years Traditions

I’m all ready for New Years here in Colombia. I’ll be spending it with other assistants working for the British Council, and we all have our yellow pants ready to wear on the 31st. It’s traditional in Colombia to wear yellow underwear for luck on New Years. At the countdown, people (attempt to) eat 12 … Continue reading