11:30 was the pickup time and a bunch of us were lying in my room watching the Olympic gymnasts do their stuff. We all agreed that it would be amazing to be so fit, flexible and talented but that sadly none of our parents had enforced a strict routine of exercise, practice and an athlete’s diet when we were younger.
Nonetheless the time came to say adios, and I waved goodbye to the Bogotá assistants as Beci, Sarah and I headed off to Barranquilla. Our flight was at 1:30 and we must have arrived at check-in at roughly 12:45. Our plan of pretend not to speak Spanish so they don’t charge us for overweight baggage did not work, and sadly my plea to a security staff member to allow us to skip the queue so we could reach our flight on time was unsuccessful. Still, somehow we managed to reach the gate before the plane flew off, and we boarded safe and sound.
Arriving in Barranquilla we felt slightly underwhelmed- from the plane it looked a cold and miserable day, not the tropical Caribbean weather we had hoped for. Our concerns were misplaced, however; as one footstep off the plane was enough to bring us from freezing cold into the blistering, humid heat of the costeño region.
Through baggage we met our mentors, gave our final farewell hugs to each other and set off to see the places where we would be staying. The first thing I was told was “you can’t have any relationships with your students.” OK, nice to know. Once that was covered we moved onto the business of the day, “So what foods do you like and not like?”
This was the question I had been waiting to answer. “Well I hate eggs and cheese, but that’s about it.” Put my foot in it, hadn’t they into gone and made me a cheese soup as a welcome meal. Whoops, what’s a boy supposed to do?
I was dropped off at my accommodation- living with Leticia (middle aged woman), Jair (her son) and Christina, who is Jamaican and works as an English assistant in the same school as me. “This is your room, you are going to be sharing with the son…”
My mind was screaming, “NOOOOO HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE I JUST WANT SOME PERSONAL SPACE?” but for some reason my head was nodding and my mouth was uttering the words, “Sí, de acuerdo” (“OK”). I did not feel good about this one bit.
So that evening I ate dinner, chatted with the family a bit and ultimately spent a lot of time online, chatting to my amigos about the dismal room sharing situation. When I had arranged the accommodation, I figured “a relative of mine has a room” meant “A relative of mine who is about your age has a spare bedroom you can have”.
The bad room situation put me in a spiral of worry. I was missing Bogotá and the other assistants, missing Ireland and most of all missing my family. The 6 hour time difference meant I couldn’t Skype them today and I felt crappy. I had a look through my farewell cards I brought with me; one of the few reminders of home I have here in Colombia.
Off I went to bed. Sleeping in 30 degree heat is hard. It took a while but I eventually dozed off, which was good because I had an early start the next day.
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!
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