The past five months of my life have been an ongoing adventure. I rode a horse to an UNESCO World Heritage Site, hiked through the world’s largest palm trees, eaten way past the point of being full, bathed in natural hot springs, taken a bus without fully knowing my destination, bodysurfed in the Pacific Ocean for the first time, averaged around three cups of delicious coffee a day, watched the sunset from the top of a mountain, and got lost way too many times to count.
In short, Colombia has far exceeded my expectations. In January 2016 I arrived to Colombia with a rather limited perception of the country. My prior knowledge of Colombia was solely based on its turbulent past and booming coffee industry. In fact, I had never even heard of my placement city, Cali. I am pretty sure some of my relatives think I am in California. If you are interested in a detailed account of how much Cali rocks, refer to my previous post here. I applied to be an English Teaching Fellow through CW Latin America because I wanted to improve my Spanish and maybe learn some salsa. I had no idea I was about to embark on the best and most challenging year of my life.
I stay very busy during the week with a full schedule of classes, a weekly English Club, and trying to practice my Spanish outside the school; however, I have found my weekends to be just as busy! A tremendous perk to life in Cali is the city’s proximity to many beautiful travel destinations, many of which are overlooked by tourists making the visits truly authentic experiences. With over forty Teaching Fellows in Cali you can always find a group or two traveling every weekend. With a huge bus terminal and international airport in Cali traveling throughout this lovely country has been a breeze.
A few weeks ago a friend on the program asked me if I was interested in traveling to San Agustin. Frustrated with classes and tired of city life (remember, I am from Ohio), I immediately said yes but honestly had no idea where or what San Agustin was…I just needed a break. Readers, you heard it here first, GO to San Agustin. This pueblo (small town) is located about three hours outside of Popayan. My group left on a bus from Cali Friday afternoon and arrived in Popayan around 9pm to find that we missed the last bus to San Agustin.
Luckily, a few other fellows live in Popayan so we grabbed drinks with them and crashed at their places until the following morning. In almost every major city you will find Heart for Change Teaching Fellows so whether you need travel advice or a bed to sleep on they are your go-to resources. On Saturday we grabbed an even smaller bus which navigated through the curvy, dirt roads to San Agustin. At this point I have grown accustomed to constant carsickness and have a solid routine to avoid the worst (inquire for details). Nestled between rivers, mountains, and valleys, San Agustin is lined with brick streets and traditional Colombian architecture. From the second we arrived in the town I felt refreshed. The kindness of the people, the breathtaking views, and the cooler climate affirmed that I had made the right choice in traveling to this paradise. We found a lovely hostel (check out La Casa de Nelly!), stood in awe of the 5,000 year old statues that serve as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and fought for the front seat of the car so we could see the marvelous views just outside the window. Further, I faced my fear of horseback riding and “successfully” made it through three hours on the back of a horse. Successfully meaning both the horse and I returned alive. Pictures are worth 1,000 words so here you go:
Juanchoco y Ladrilleros
Like I said, my previous knowledge concerning Colombia was both narrow and incorrect. For example, I thought Cali was on a beach. Well, it is not even though the climate feels like it should be. While I was raised in Ohio, I have always loved the beach: the sand, the smell, the waves, everything. After 4.5 months in Cali I began to feel landlocked, I craved the beach. While the Caribbean Coast is a 50-75 USD flight away (still very cheap), el Pacifico is only a short distance via bus. On Friday morning, two friends and myself hopped on the three hour bus ride to Buenaventura, a large port city on the Pacific Coast, and then nervously boarded a lancha (a glorified motorboat) to the beaches of Juanchoco / Ladrilleros. While the one hour boat ride was a bit wavier than expected, we immediately forgot all of our problems and motion sickness when we saw the beaches of the Pacific.
If you want the best seafood of your life, the Pacific Coast is for you. Fresh shrimp, oysters, lobster, crab, fish, you name it and the residents of the Pacific know how to cook it. I expected the beaches to be full of vacationers but aside from the few other guests, some locals, and a man selling fresh coconut water we basically had the entire beach to ourselves. This weekend getaway to the playa was exactly what I needed and I cannot wait to return. The Pacific Coast is Colombia’s best kept secret, so don’t tell too many people. You just have to come see for yourself.
It is hard to believe the first semester of school is almost over! Classes end the first week of July for a month-long break. I am in the midst of planning a trip to the Caribbean Coast to wander through the colorful streets of Cartagena, hike through the mountainous region of Minca, and bask in the sun on the beautiful beaches of San Andres. When classes start back up in August there will be a new batch of Teaching Fellows working with Colombian students until the end of the school year in November. The first half of this year has flown by between classes, traveling, and trying to remember to email my parents (hi mom&dad!).
Please feel free to contact me or CW Latin America if you have any questions or want to start the easy application process today. You could be sipping coconut water on the Pacific Coast…~Sarita
Infinite possibilities and the chance of a life-time experience are awaiting you! Want to join us?