Tag Archives: Salento

Settling in Colombia’s Coffee Region

There I was in Salento, easily lazing about while viewing the ever-changing landscape of lush grey/black clouds gathering to engulf the green Andean foothills.

Another beautiful sunset

Another beautiful sunset

A little afternoon delight Salento style!

A little afternoon delight Salento style!

As one friend imagined, I spent my days walking around asking ‘hey you, want to learn English?’  Didn’t matter who it was, if they stopped to talk, they got asked.  Of course everyone was enthusiastic in their reply – ‘of course’!!!  People here know how important it is to be able to communicate to a changing clientele of gringos hopping off the bus to enjoy this little beauty of a town.

Street musicians on a Sunday afternoon

Street musicians on a Sunday afternoon

But we all know how these things go:  enthusiasm becomes a cold shoulder (well as cold as Colombians can get – they are a very welcoming people) and classes are cancelled after my 30 minute stroll into town.  Hey, people are busy and things happen.  But how could I complain when I sipped my morning coffee in the middle of paradise?

Sirani and Stephania, my students in Jesus Martin Cafe

Sirani and Stephania, my students in Jesus Martin Cafe

I didn’t have to complain, but I was told about a volunteer gig, not far away, working in schools supporting English teachers and encouraging students to speak and practice their English.  So suddenly my morning coffee was spiked with a decision:  should I spend 3 weeks in a small pueblo/town hanging in a school or stay parked in my bunk-bed resort?  How could I refuse a chance to get my feet in the door of a school and talk with kids the same way I’d been talking to everyone in Salento?  (Though I’m hoping to go to Salento on weekends to continue with my students)

This region of Columbia was settled by exiled Spanish Jews and Basques in the early 1500's.  As for the story behind these Stars of David, well, I'll imagine that they were purposeful decorations!  Just one more question in the story of Jews in Colombia

This region of Columbia was settled by exiled Spanish Jews and Basques in the early 1500’s. As for the story behind these Stars of David, well, I’ll imagine that they were purposeful decorations! Just one more question in the story of Jews in Colombia

So here I am, still in the coffee region, where ironically no coffee is grown – but the fields are alive with sugar cane – in a little town called La Virginia (g sounds like ‘h’).  I’m volunteering with a non-profit called Nukanti.  It’s an international organization, though Colombia now has its own management with a focus on education and youth development.

Just to give you an idea of what it’s like:  there’s only one coffee cafe, lots of billiard halls, one street light, no street signs or buildings taller than 2 stories.  I went for a walk this morning with the other new volunteer (there are now 3 of us here) and we wandered around horribly lost and of course had no idea of the address of the place we had to return to.  Imagine two gringos wandering the street of a town barely able to ask directions – IF we knew where we were going.  Just call me ‘Gilligan’….  After 45 minutes we found our way back.  The good news is my school is just out-of-town on a tree-lined road just outside the place I am staying which means it’s possible I actually know where I am going now.

The market in La Virginia is filled with herb.  These were labeled and I'm still not quite sure (yet) what they are.

The market in La Virginia is filled with herb. These were labeled and I’m still not quite sure (yet) what they are.

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Curse the rain, rejoice in the coffee

My Goldilocks trek through Colombia to find the ‘perfect’ place to teach English now finds me in the green, lush, and wet coffee region.  Can’t say I’m loving the rain, but I’m suffering – happily.

Sunset - always around 5:45p.m. (And this was taken with my iPhone)

Sunset – always around 5:45p.m. (And this was taken with my iPhone)

This is certainly the perfect place.  Tiny, touristy, Salento!  A once sleepy town dotted with coffee fincas/farms, hummingbird preserves, and a killer hike.  Jewelry shops now outnumber cafes and on weekends, tourists fill those shops and the tables in pop-up restaurants serving fresh trout and patrons in a half-dozen ways.

Palm trees making their presence known in Cocora - a valley known for great hiking

Palm trees making their presence known in Cocora – a valley known for great hiking

Like every other place I’ve been in Colombia, few people speak English.  Of course whether I can find anyone interested in paying to learn English, that is another story.  See, here’s the deal:  with the plan to only stay here for a few months it’s all but impossible to work in an institute/language school without a work visa.  And so here I am, making my way into restaurants and shops ‘selling’ the intangible skill of a new language.  Do people here need it?  As the only fluent English speaker I’ve met said:  NO!  Tourists buy stuff and easily order food and a coffee.  Somehow it all works out.  But as I’ve written before, it’s all about doing more than brushing by someone while traveling with a three word exchange. To me, it’s more important to share ideas, thoughts, and experiencs -real life stuff that needs a shared language.  Half-way through my ‘trip’, my Spanish is slowly improving, but not enough for real conversations.  Of course, even with a shared language there are no guarantees.

IMG_2086

So I was here, left, and now i’m back.  It all started my first hour here – getting dropped off on a small street, walking past tiny homes, asking directions to the lovely eco-hostel, while taking in the beautiful green Andean foothills surrounding me.  Green, clean, quiet – what’s not to love!

In the land of pay toilets - with an extra surcharge for toilet paper (of course!).  This little girl (all ready for Halloween) was happy to pose holding my TP at the Medellin bus station

In the land of pay toilets – with an extra surcharge for toilet paper (of course!). This little girl (all ready for Halloween) was happy to pose holding my TP at the Medellin bus station

In Medellin I'd heard that ponchos in this region looked like Tallt/tallises, a Jewish ritual shawl worn during services - brought here by the Jewish exiles from Spain in the early 1500's.

In Medellin I’d heard that ponchos in this region looked like Tallt/tallises, a Jewish ritual shawl worn during services – brought here by the Jewish exiles from Spain in the early 1500’s.

This shot from Cartagena could be from anywhere in the country - hawkers trying to sell to tourists - beaded necklaces btw!  I haven't bought anything - yet and have learned not to make eye contact, just a smile to for those who hawk.

This shot from Cartagena could be from anywhere in the country – hawkers trying to sell to tourists – beaded necklaces btw! I haven’t bought anything – yet and have learned not to make eye contact, just a smile to for those who hawk.