Már több mint egy éve, hogy anno elindultam.
Már több mint egy éve, hogy anno elindultam.
so here are the last bits of our travel to have the pic completed.
From Cartagena, we went first to Bucaramanga where we were hosted by Cata, the bigger daughter of my Colombian family. I was curious to see the university where she studied, it is one of the major public ones and said to be a hot place (due to the frequent student protests accompanied by some papasbombas)…since it was soon to be holiday the uni was deserted so she suggested that instead we go to a nearby town, Giron… famous for its whitewashed walls and the Gipsy community that lives there…
and indeed while sitting on the main square and observing the after-work crowd strolling on the plaza buying this and that, eating this and that, we were approached by two ladies wishing to read our palms…too bad they asked for 10.000 pesos (approx. 5 euros) … it was towards the end of our trip so we were much more thoughtful on what to spend our money on…anyway we chatted a bit, i asked them about their community, and was told that approx. 200 of them live in the village, but the exact origins and arrival time is not known…
upon our return in Bucaramanga we made patacones with our hosts and went for a quick drink in town…the next day, Kriszti and I set off earlier as Cata was moving to a new flat exactly at this time, our next destiny was San Gil another small town in the neighbourhood that made its fame trough offering cheap extreme sport activities – a town full of guides crazy about mountain bikes, paragliding, caving in the end we chose to visit a cave full of bats – i still dont know WHY?! as i AM afraid of bats… fortunately, none of them bothered to wake up from their sleep while we were stumbling through the dark caves…and the highlight was surely the jump from a 4m high rock into the icecold water to my greatest surprise i actually enjoyed this, and if we had not had a date with the family to go to their holiday house, i’d surely have stayed to do some more extreme sporting…
but yet again we had a bus to catch…the bus driver, who took us from the village to the town of departure, was kind enough to go out of his way and drop us exactly at our destination – saving us min. 15 minutes walk in the dark and the rain. these are the moments for which you gotta love colombia.
…at the stop we waited and waited and waited…but finally our bus arrived! and after 6 hours or so, at around 5 am we arrived at our destination, jumped in a taxi, and went to the house of one of the aunts. SLEEP – home sweet home.
next day, we went up to the mountains, to spend one day cooking – grilling with the family. corn, platanos, potatoes, envueltos from maize and cheese and bocadillo, meat and meat and meat. chatting , laughing, and even saving a cow!
…soon our trip had to come to an end. I had to be back in the office on Tuesday, so we only had Monday to visit to more treasures of Boyaca: Villa de Leyva and Raquira. Two pearls indeed.
… and on Monday evening were already back in Bogota where my countdown began. last weeks before the plane setting off to Budapest.
Querida Colombia, hope to be back one day – there are way to many wonders I have not seen, Amazonas. Choco, Cali, la Guajira… and i miss your relaxed nature – i miss my relaxed Colombian self, the bien, bien, muy bien, the music on the buses, the concerts in the FGGA and the Media Torta, the random conversations with strangers in Dona Ceci, the love from my Colombian family, colleagues, friends. Ojala que en 2013 para la Navidad.
Its been almost two months that I have been back to Budapest, hm, time flies…I do miss Colombia, especially the everyday miracles, interactions, the language, the vibe of the people, of the city…So it is time to write the last post about the Great Trip – it will be a nice way to remember some special moments…
It all started in June – when Kriszti, my friend from Budapest arrived and we set off on our almost-three-weeks trip from Bogota to the Caribbean coast, the jungle of Sierra Nevada, the national park of Tayrona, the historical city of Cartagena, the villages of Giron and San Gil, the family farm in Boyaca….but lets take it all step-by-step…
From Bogota we flew to Santa Marta – one of the holiday resorts at the Caribbean coast. We landed on Saturday evening, wandered around the city, but except a small local music festival did not find many things going on – rather strange given that the city is most famous for its beaches and nightlife. It could also be that we deliberately avoided the resort part of the Santa Marta where tall and elegant hotels are located awaiting mainly Colombian (middle and upper class) tourists. The next morning we strolled through the morning market a bit, but still the city did not awaken our interest so we decided to move to Taganga, a nearby fishing village and spend a night there before we set off on our jungle tour in the Sierra to discover the Lost City of the Tayrona…
Taganga stayed below my expectations as well – in all sincerity, I started to to “fear” that the Croatian islands in the end will beat the Caribbean coast…How wrong I was at the time! Taganga itself is neatly located in a small bay, but the lack of infrastructure to deal with the trash makes it hard to sit back and enjoy beach without being constantly reminded of the flaws of our civilization…also, as it turned out later on, Taganga is sort of the Colombian equivalent of Ibiza/Siófok, whose appeal to most tourists is electronic music combined with cheap mind altering substances…well, to give some credit as well, the beach is full of local women selling the most delicious juices – it was my first time to try zapote something not to be missed…not to forget our lunch of fried fish with coconut rice!
The next day we set off to the Ciudad Perdida – the Lost City, a five day hike through the jungle of the Sierra Nevada, home of the Kogi tribes who are said to be direct descendants of the ancient civilization of the Tayrona. This part of the trip was truly magical..
…being in the jungle with a dozen, hundred, thousand different shades of green…
…waking up in the morning and seeing a six-year old girl leaving to school on a horse…
…observing a parrot eating chocolate bread while chatting with the seventy-something-year-old owner of the camp, who told me how he managed to modernize his campsite in the past couple of years, installing electricity… building a bridge…and even the French embassador once hiked to the Lost City and slept here (the other important politicians usually take a helicopter straight away to the peak…)
…going up and down, forcing ourselves, but also knowing that when we arrive to our luxury camp (with english toilets and showers), our lunch will already be prepared by our chef and his son, sleeping or better said trying to sleep in the hammocks…
…jumping into crystal-clear mountain rivers to cool ourselves…
…questioning the values of “my civilization” and trying to overcome the guilt of invading the Sierra as a tourist…
As we went more and more up, the presence of the Kogi tribe became stronger and stronger. The Sierra is populated by four different clans, who are all said to be direct descendents of the ancient civilization of the Tayrona. When the Spaniards arrived the Tayronas fled Sierra and abandoned the City. It was only discovered in the 60s by some robbers who thereafter searched the ruins for the gold present in the graves of the Tayrona. Due to a violent incident among the robbers, the government discovered the presence of the ruins and they declared it a national heritage. The land itself belongs to the Kogi tribe and as they said they only allow tourists to visit the Lost City so that they do not bother other sacred sites. We were however told that there is a plan to open another route to the Lost City which made me question whether ethical tourism can ever be done…or the pressure of money is always a winner…and then again, I was there, and I was part of the system…wasnt this invasion already?
It was a strange sensation to be walking on the narrow paths, trying not to stumble in a stone, and then suddenly looking up and bumping into a Kogi – who was patiently waiting for us to pass, and was 100000times more skillful in running up and down the mountain often without shoes. Feeling the burden of my guilt, I wished we could enter into interaction but then again, I was intimidated - who was I, but a stupid white tourist…There were some moments of fleeting interaction…One evening, the representative of the village came to talk about their traditions and explained about the gender roles (men are responsible for farming and hunting; while women gather coca leaves and weave bags from the fiber of a huge cactus) and the use of coca leaves (basically only men are allowed to carry the leaves in a small bag with them, by chewing on the leaves they do not feel tired, and may go on for three days without sleep). He also commented that almost no one of the community chooses to leave to the city for a different life style, rather those who attend university do so in order to represent their community in formal matters and after finishing their studies return to their village…
….after three days, we arrived to the Lost City…such a strange mixture of lifeworlds…while we were sitting and listening to the stories about the Tayrona, some Kogi children walked past with their mothers while in the back we could see a group of Colombian soldiers who are constantly stationed at the ruins…
From the top, we headed down in 2 days and what followed was simply the cherry on the cake. We ended up in paradise for real. Yet again I had such a strong sensation that this cannot be real, that all that is happening can simply be a dream, I felt an overflowing gratitude…
Tayrona = Paradise on Earth. Beaches, palm trees, mango and coconut trees at the camp site, horses, iguana, banana bread wrapped in banana leaves, mountains, endless ocean, waves, golden sand…
After three days of perfect relaxation, it was time to discover another pearl of the Carribean, back to civilization, after the perfect paradise, the perfect historical town, Cartagena. Full of colors, beautiful old colonial buildings, trendy fashion stores…in a way the perfectly restored center can be seen as a mere a showcase for the tourists, nevertheless, its charm cannot be negated. and well, I simply loved to be greeted by random old and young (gentle)men in the street: Hello, my Queen, how are you today?
I could spend a week walking up and down the small streets in the center, but it was also interesting/sad to observe the contrast between different parts of the city. A part of the center turned rather ugly during the night, during the day we were casually walking there, and during the night, the street suddenly seemed to be filled by prostitutes. Also one night, around 10pm, we bumped into a longlong line of people (about 100 of them) and when we asked what they were doing on the square, they responded that they were waiting for a job interview that takes place the NEXT morning, and when we went there the next day, the queue got longer and longer…
To see some behind the scene Cartagena, we also went to the local market…of course, beforehand everyone warned us to leave all our valuables at home, so we arrived with some money tucked in our pockets, and nothing else…walking through the narrow streets, however, I did not feel unsafe at all…the only difficulty was not to get totally muddy in the rain and to overcome my gutfeelings when seeing a dozen of raw bull eyes neatly stocked up on cardboard paper.
From the coast to Bogota, we choose to travel by bus and stop a bit in Bucaramanga, Giron, San Gil and Boyaca, where my family invited us to spend some days together on their farm. Whereas Colombian buses are definitely comfortable, in these days, we reached our limits, in 3 days we spent 15+2+6+8=31 hours on the bus…
..to be continued….
I chickened out.
Before coming to Bogota, I was told that it is in a way a bikers heaven in Latin America, as the previous mayor promoted this way of transport by building bike routes and initiating a the car-free Sundays, when a big chunk of the city is only available to bikers and pedestrians.
However, when I learnt about the magnitude of the city and the chaotic driving culture, I dropped the idea of making my way around the city with a bike. Maybe it was a mistake???
Last Friday, I went to an event called LA BICICLETADA organized by a university. The aim of the event is to motivate people to ride the bike and at the same time show hidden treasures of Bogota.
So much fun! Definitely a thing that should be offered in Budapest as well!
We went to a local market on the edge of historical city center, which is also home of the theater group, Teatro de Suenos (Dreamtheater). They showed us a bit of their work – pieces of clown, juggling and miming.
When you ask a foreigner living in Bogota, what is the best thing about living here, the usual answer is it’s the people! their kindness, the fact that you can chat with anyone and anytime. Countless times it has happened to me, that after 5 minutes in a bar with a “gringo” friend, we were invited over to the next table and spent the rest of the evening with a bunch of Colombians…
In the past week, I was chatting about this with two different persons, Bogotanas themselves, and it was interesting to hear that they do no share this opinion. They commented that probably the fact that I am a foreigner makes locals behave in a much more friendly way with me than they do among themselves. One reason is that there is a general attitude of hospitality and friendliness towards foreigners in Colombia, but in Bogota this coupled with the feeling of “paranoia” towards fellow-bogotanos, meaning that people in Bogota usually do not talk to unknown people, because in a way they always represent a potential threat. But if you are a foreigner, you are considered to be harmless, i.e. “you would surely not rob anyone.” Security is an issue here that in a way, one grapples with 24/7.
When looking back, in the first weeks, I was rather paranoid, not knowing where to go and not to go, the whole city seemed like a place with dangers all around the corners. Then slowly, I learned about the different neighborhoods and the difference between the streets. There is a rather complicated pattern to learn as it can happen that a supposedly very dangerous street only lies 2 squares away from a middle-class or touristy one. Also the city has two faces, one of the day and one of the night. Some areas are totally safe during the day, but considered dangerous after 8-9 pm.
However, this was only part of the learning process – on a more subjective level, naturally I became more and more at ease with the places that I got to know (mainly through work) – may they be in an allegedly bad neighbourhood. When you know all the bakeries by heart, when you connect to the people who live there, visit their homes, the place attains a personal touch and loses much of its negative reputation.
This is not to downplay issues of security in Bogota. It is true that statistic show that in the past years, the city has been dramatically improving, and some no-go areas of the 90s-early 2000s are frequented tourist places nowadays. Nevertheless, compared to Budapest (well, not to forget that the size of Budapest is the size of one district here!), for instance, I am much more on the lookout and often times my decisions what to do are not up to me, there is a constant limitation of where to go and not to go at certain times of the day.
This type of independence is surely one thing that I miss from Budapest. Riding on a night bus at 3am – such a natural thing over there, but looking from here it is in a way a privilege. Something that I had taken for granted.
I owe a longlonglong post about the recent trip I took to the Caribbean, but after watching this video, you surely understand why I want to give the title, “Welcome to the Paradise…”
It is in such a sharp contrast of what I experienced today. I went to the center to run some errands, when I sew that on the Septima (a main road) there is some manifestation going on. This is a usual thing in Bogota, but as I approached the people, my heart jumped. There were about 50-60 indigenous people, women sitting on the pavement with their children on their laps, and man forming a circle around them with sticks. Some employees of the mayor also seemed to be present, distributing water to the children…I stopped and after a while a huge car appeared which was a strange hybrid of a bus and a tank. The people jumped up and started shouting, whistling, so in the end the car withdrew….As night fell, another car arrived this time bringing some warm food (hopefully enough for everyone)…I asked one man why they were there, and he said he was displaced two months ago and since he arrived to Bogota, he has not received the sufficient help from the authorities so now he was here (along with his wife and child) to reclaim their rights, We will stay until they give guarantees – he added. May that be the whole night? – i ask myself now…
The two faces of Colombia: hell and paradise.
This Friday, there was a huge farmers’ market on the main square. Organized and financed by Oxfam, the European Union, ILSA (Instituto Latinoamericano para una Sociedad y un derecho Alternativos) and the Mayor of Bogota.
- I bought roasted ants I can report that they do not look groce, as the head is taken off, and that they taste like chips, however, a bit greasier than potatoes.
- there was a small performance of an oldies folk dance association, followed by the youngsters of the village on stage, nevertheless, the oldies kept on going in front of the podium! i loved it!
Here are some pics:
ICYE (my hosting organization), has a newsletter and the volunteers have an opportunity to write a small article for it…This is what I came up with, its kinda long, but I thought I would nevertheless post it, its sort of a synthetics of my (professional) experience so far…I took bits from the blog, so some of you might have a bit of deja vu…
Achieving social justice – shared responsibilities
First and Third World, developed and developing countries, global North and global South. These are terms frequently used when talking about global injustice and the unequal distribution of global wealth. In the 21st century, the statistics still paint a gloomy picture: for instance, 925 million people suffer from hunger, even though on a global scale, enough food is produced to feed everyone. It is also frequently cited that the so-called developed countries are mainly liable: unjust trade policies and unfair consumption practices lead to the ever-increasing impoverishment of the world’s hungry.
When I came to Colombia, these abstract terms and statistics came to live and vividly materialized themselves. Being Hungarian, I had been familiar with the sight of extreme poverty, may it be unpaved streets, children in torn clothes, houses falling apart. Unfortunately, this is not an exceptional scene in many ghettoized villages in the east of Hungary. However, I still remember the first time, I entered Bosa, one of the poorest districts on the southern-western margins of Bogotá. The intensity and magnitude of poverty left me speechless and even after four months of living in Bogotá, there are moments when I relive the shock of the first experiences.
The statistics yet again depict a sad reality: it is safe to say that every second person in Bogotá can be considered poor, meaning that his or her basic needs are hardly met. To a large extent, poverty in Bogotá is tied to displacement. Since the 70ies, a huge number of people have been arriving every day to the capital, fleeing the violence induced by the conflict between narcotraffickers, the guerilla and the army. The population of the city tripled in the last 20-30 years, and for many of the newcomers, their move to the city only brought continuous misery.
This is the local context of my hosting organization, Asociación Cristiana de Jóvenes (Young Men’s Christian Association). I work as a volunteer in the Youth Area, which is one of the subdivisions of the organization. They are present in 7 different neighborhoods in Bogotá. In some places, they work closely with the daycare centers of ACJ, in others; they operate without a fixed place. Their basic aim is to create and strengthen youth groups that take collective action and engage themselves for their communities. Their mission is openly political: However, in their terminology, politics does not simply mean party politics. It encompasses all actions that have the collective good in their focus. To reach their theoretical aim, they, first, create and support youth groups that are based on some shared interest (hip hop, capoeira, basketball). Thereafter, they educate the leaders of these informal youth groups and motivate them to actively participate in spaces of collective action (for instance, in the local youth councils). As a volunteer, I am placed in four different neighborhoods, and my main task is to teach English classes for youngsters. Besides this, I also help with everyday office tasks, I am involved with fundraising, and I often find myself in the role of an informal cultural ambassador, as I am constantly bombarded with questions about the reality of my country and Europe in general.
The four months, I have spent in Colombia have meant a lot to me. Both professionally and personally, there have been countless inspirational moments, just to name a few of them:
Receiving a candy, a piece of chocolate, something and anything from pupils of my English class as the only thing that matters is their will to give.
Talking to a single mom, who travels an hour, or even, 90-minutes every day, back and forth, to attain the high school diploma, but when talking about this experience her eyes are shining, and one doesn’t feel any regret or complaint.
Asking an 8-year old girl about her daily routine, and getting to know, that she gets up every day at 4 am, to take to take a shower, get dressed, then make breakfast for the whole family. But I don’t mind, she adds, I like cooking.
But frankly speaking, I am often at unease, as well. When facing the complexity and depth of social problems in Colombia. I cannot help, but question myself. Have I given enough? What does my presence as a volunteer really mean? Is my contribution merely a drop in the ocean?
Debating these questions, I came to an important conclusion. Finishing my voluntary service must not be the end; rather it is supposed to be the beginning of an equally important work. I, as a volunteer, who had been granted the privilege to personally discover and experience Colombia, have the obligation to share my knowledge upon our return. More importantly, I need to show in what ways, we, “Europeans”, contribute to the perpetuation of the Colombian conflict. In the European media, the armed conflict of Colombia is often presented as an isolated case of internal politics, and hardly anything is said about the shared responsibility. To make social justice and peace a reality in Colombia, rural poverty needs to be diminished, so that the farmers, who are at the moment involved in coca production, would have a viable alternative. We all have our job to do to make this happen. On a personal level, we can change our consumer choices and opt for fair trade products that guarantee a just income for the farmers. On an institutional level, we can engage ourselves to pressure our governments to create more just trade policies. Moreover, we can lobby for drug prevention and rehabilitation programs that would have a direct impact by reducing the demand for cocaine.
Last, but not least, upon return, I have another mission to accomplish. I pledge to show people the wonders of Colombia. I will tell them about its vibrant culture, the amazing beats of its music, the beauty of its landscapes, the warmth and cordiality of its people. Breaking the negative image and the stereotypes will be another way to give back a bit in return of what I received.
So how is the food different in Hungary? – asks a 13 year old boy.
Well, for instance, we make soup from fruits.
Yes, you mix fruits, milk and sugar.
Ah, you mean, you make juice!