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Update on Everyday Life in Barranquilla

I blog a lot about travelling and interesting stuff I do- but I often forget about how I’m getting on in day to day life. This is just a wee update on what I do regularly, how I have fun and how I feel about Barranquilla.


I made it no secret in my first few months that I wasn’t enjoying myself. I struggled with the hot and humid weather, I found it hard to make new friends and the change from independent student living to being with a family and sharing a room, had me feeling depressed. In my first 3 or 4 months I cried a lot, I spent a lot of time talking to people back home and a lot of time complaining about how much this experience had been terrible.

In my fourth month things started to get better. I joined a dance class, and going to it 2 or 3 times a week got me active and prevented boring weekdays. I decided to ditch the attempt at making Colombian friends, and started hanging out a lot more with Beci and Sarah (The other two British Council assistants) and through them I met mor gringos and my social life started to fill up. Over time I found myself enjoying Barranquilla more and more.

Now I really like the life I’ve made in Colombia. Things aren’t perfect, but whenever are they? I still do my dance class regularly. We have a movie night once a week. I’m going out nearly every weekend, and Carnaval fever is setting in.

In the long haul, I’m super glad I stuck through the rubbish first few months. I’ve really started to love Colombia, and I’m starting to think about ways to come back and live here for even longer. My advice to anyone feeling shitty about an abroad placement is stick with it. By forcing yourself to be social, asking your friends for help and keeping a positive attitude you really will come to like your experience: as Dolly Parton says, “If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.”

La Guajira: Cactus, Goats and Lots of Sand


The morning after our farewell night out together in Santa Marta, the remaining group of Kirsty, Jay, Alex, Heather and I were up bright and early to set off on our desert adventure in La Guajira. Our morning bus to Riohacha was uneventful and we mainly dozed, only to wake up in a biosphere completely different from the one we set out from. In hot and sandy Riohacha we found a man to take us to Uribia in his car. Great- way better than a stinky crowded bus. It was nice to get in among the air conditioning… Until we noticed the headline on the newspaper on the back seat. Emblazoned on the front page was a picture of a crashed car, under a title about two dead. It was the same model of car we were in. Travelling along the same road. Fun times.

Once in Uribia we were shuffled over to another car and our driver Maikel (Michael… Don’t ask; Colombians have weird spelling rules) took us along the windy path to Cabo de la Vela. Once there we were mesmerised. Shanty huts, some small brick buildings and little tiendas lined the single road of this small coastal town. Maikel found us a place to stay, with his wife- and they offered us the small brick room they had constructed to accommodate for tourists. It had light until 9pm, 2 beds and 2 extra mattresses- and we were welcome to use the toilet out the back too (using a bucket of water to flush of course). Maria even offered to get us a pail of agua dulce (fresh water) so we could have a wash. Delightful! It wasn’t exactly luxury, but we were here for the adventure and this was a part of it.


We went and got some lunch. Fish and rice, with salad and patacon. Standard Colombian food really. Afterwards, Maikel drove us up to El Faro (the lighthouse) to watch sunset. Kirsty and I lagged behind a bit as Jay, Alex and Heather sprinted to the top of the hill to watch the sun say goodbye. Kirsty and I got their kind of just on time. We maybe missed it a wee bit, but we still had fun and got some nice photos.

That night we snacked on fruit salad and natural fruit juices, and got back to our bedroom to hit the hay.
The next morning we went off to the beach, and to see La Virgen with all the kids in the family and a lovely couple (a German man and his beautiful Colombian girlfriend). La Virgen was nice- a large rocky hill that was an important wayuu (indigenous peoples) site, with a statue of the Virgin Mary on top. There were great views of the coast; the rugged rocks and sandy beaches and we could see across most of the sandy and cactusy landscape of Cabo de la Vela. Down at the beach the three boys got straight in the ocean… Well two of the boys got straight in as I slowly meandered deeper into the water. These waves were bloody massive. Dozens of Colombians were laughing and screaming as they crashed through the waves, ducking and diving over and under the water. Anytime I tried it, I got a firm smash of my face into the sand, and was then dragged across the sandy bottom of the ocean. A few of the times I actually thought I might drown. Exciting stuff.

We had a little lunch. The options available were fish, fish or fish. We all plumped for fish, most of us getting the fried option but Kirsty and Jay went for something else. “It tastes like tuna doesn’t it? What type of fish is it?”. Maria had delight in telling us it was tiburon, or shark as we might call it. Wow. (Everyone knows I am bloody afraid of sharks…)

All together that afternoon we packed our stuff up onto the jeep, as our group along with the couple… And the entire family headed off to see Punta Gallina, the most northern part of Colombia and South America. Initially a bit annoyed by the whole family cramming into the jeep, we were quickly in good spirits as reggae started blasting from the radio and a mini choir (Alex and me) was formed. Colombians love listening to me sing for some reason. They even played a few Shaggy songs too- at which point Heather had her hands in the air, rapping along to every word. “I wanna show da nation my appreciation.”


The desert was different from what I had imagined. The road was windy and long… And calling it a road is a bit of a stretch- it was a dirt trail. Most of it was heavily covered in cactus and other arid trees, until we reached large flat sandy plains, which were partly covered in salt. Apparently these plains were used by drug traffickers to land their planes and load up on all sorts of illegal stuff. We had no idea how Maikel knew the way… Everywhere looked the same. There were goats everywhere- hundreds just running about among the cactus. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many.
Across the path there were many children and even some families with ropes stretched across the road, blocking our way. They were looking money or sweets, some were trying to sell things. We must have passed about a hundred or so. That evening we arrived in pitch darkness. In the hostel we all grabbed a hammock, had a bite to eat and set off to sleep.

In the morning we set off to see the sights. First was Punta Gallina, the most northern part of Colombia and South America. There was a small brick building to mark the point, and we all got our pictures taken at the top of this crazy country and continent. We then went along to some nice beaches. I helped Maikel and Maria’s daughter collect shells. Little did I know that she was going to bury some in a grave, and release others out to sea. Interesting. We even had time to take another pyramid photo- this is becoming the staple pose of the British Council assistants group.

20130131-151356.jpgOur next stop was spectacular- the spot where the ocean meets the desert and all vegetation stops. It was like scenery from Aladdin. Pure golden sand, with pure blue sky. Not a cloud or cactus in sight. We ran about, rolled in the sand- ran in the water and took awesome jumping photographs. This was probably the most stunning part of the desert yet. A piece of earth so different to anything I’d ever been on before, and exactly like the desert I had imagined.

We made the long journey back, stopping for lunch. To our surprise the menu had changed- and we all tucked into goat instead of fish. To my surprise it was delicious. I will certainly be eating it again. That night we once again stayed in Maria’s room. We played with the kids a bit before getting some shut eye. In the morning we made the journey backwards and in Riohacha killed some time at the beach and getting food. We failed in our quest to haggle with street vendors of souvenirs, and said our final goodbyes as we all went our separate ways at the end of a wonderful trip.


Our guide, Maikel, told us many stories about the indigenous people of La Guajira. I have written about this here


Last Day in Bogotá

Two days in the hotel pass: we visit the Ministry of Education, get teacher training and a security brief at the British Council and all the girls get manicures. We are all having a hoot. Everyone is getting along, and we seem to have just clicked as a group. As its our final day all together we decide to go out.

We hit the Tangerine bar where the staff ply us with aguardiente and play every song we request. We all reminisce about our short few days of friendships and make promises to meet up throughout the year, have a traditional Christmas together and have lots more parties. We have fun, open up to each other and everyone is sad that tomorrow we will all go our separate ways. ¡Qué lastima!



Monserrate, Vodka-Cranberry and Aguardiente.

Another day came along and the hostel is now bustling with Irish, English and Scottish accents as more language assistants have arrived. We decide to spend this day wisely on the tourist trail.

Finding a nice café where we can all sit and have a bite to eat, we all order the same thing: ajiaco soup, a traditional Colombian dish. “But Daniel… What if it has eggs or cheese?” I hear you say. Don’t worry folks, I made extra sure to point out to the man that I had a severe allergy to eggs and cheese, so all was safe. Ajiaco soup is lovely, you chicos should try it some time.


Onwards and upwards (literally) we went. A quick confusing bus ride halfway across Bogotá led us to the foot of its famous mountaintop church, Monserrate. We squeezed by the llamas, food stalls and traders and got to the cable car. A slow but interesting journey followed as we stood in the car chatting, laughing, joking and wow-img at the view below us- while the Colombians sharing the journey stood in silence. I think they were afraid of us.

We reached the top; dandered around the church and mountaintop; checked out the stalls of religious icons, Colombian souvenirs and funny-coloured food; and mostly, admired the view of the vast and expansive city below us.

The days are moving quickly and a new morning is upon us: it is time to move from our hostel to the hotel arranged for us by the British Council. Carriaged over by Mauricio, we stood in the lobby for about ten minutes as a man took our suitcases from us. We didn’t know where he was bringing them, but decided to go along with it- as it was too much of an awkward Galapagos turtle (c) to say anything.

Ryan, Jay and I were first to bagsy ourselves a room so on we trotted up. Walking in there were two single beds and a sofa, “awww I so don’t want the sofa” I was thinking, and then Ryan shouts “OMG guys there’s an upstairs!” I swear I ran faster than Usain Bolt as I shouted “SHOTGUN” and jumped on my beautiful double bed. It was like having my own apartment.

So we had a lovely meal at a traditional Colombian restaurant (I had empanadas) and then headed off to the BBC. No, not the broadcasting corporation, but the Bogotá Beer Company- a quaint wee bar in the trendy, upmarket zona rosa. Looking at the menu it was all mainly beer. Honey beer, sweet beer, traditional ale- a beer lover’s paradise. Unfortunately, I’m not a beer drinker. So I ordered myself a vodka with cranberry, to the shock, awe and horror of the other assistants. “WOW hardcore drinking from the Irishman“. It was obvious none of these guys (bar Ryan, who is from Larne- poor soul) had been to Belfast on a night out.

On our way home we stopped and bought some of the local drink- aguardiente, which is a bit like weak sambuca. Ryan and I realised that this half bottle of light spirits wouldn’t be enough to quench the thirst of this big bunch of 20somethings so we cleverly got ourselves a bottle of Bacardi as well. Better too much, than not enough. In the hotel we had a mini-party. Danica, Rob and I enjoyed the breeze and view in the balcony. Steven ordered himself a midnight steak. Lucy entertained us by listing famous people who you wouldn’t expect to be Canadian but are, and told some horrendous cheese jokes. Everyone had a great time. A good end to a brilliant day.


Thank you to Kirsty for her wonderful photo of us having lunch