Friday, October 24, 2008

The Indians Are Coming!

Today we had school cancelled. I've had "snow days" and "cold weather days" be responsible for school being called off. I imagine some places even have "hurricane days" or "fire danger/drought days."

But today was a first. We had school cancelled because the indigenous peoples of the southern part of Colombia were marching on the city of Cali. I'm not even sure what to call that kind of a day!

Apparently the native Colombians in that region are upset over the lack of government funding they have been getting, including health care, as well as the encroaching corporations into their land. They began marching from near the city of Popayan (about a three hour bus ride south of Cali) and picking up more supporters along the way. They were scheduled to reach Cali sometime today or last night. Thus far I have seen no one. (They are all sporting green bandanas so please don't think I'm trying to judge people based on certain physical stereotypes!)

The latest news we were given is that they plan on marching into Cali, staying a few days and then continuing on to Bogota. Well, President Uribe obviously doesn't want the image of this many people walking halfway across the country splashed all over the international media, so he has agreed to come and meet with the leaders of the group on Sunday.

This is supposed to be a peaceful march. The reason school was cancelled was twofold; other people (members of various paramilitary groups for example) might use this demonstration to further their own cause inciting violence, and our campus is in the southern part of the city, fairly close to where the marchers will be entering.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the coming days. Until then, isn't it interesting how, it seems, no matter where you go in the world, the native peoples always seem to have been unjustly persecuted in some way through out their history?

Monday, October 20, 2008

3:29.34 Later

I can now say I am an International Athlete. This past weekend I completed my first marathon. (I say "first" because although today I am hobbling around like a ninety-year old man with two new hips who forgot his cane, I plan to continue this athletic endeavor.)

The race took place along the beautiful Lago Calima in the northern part of the Valle de Cauca region (where Cali is located). The lake itself is actually a man-made resevoir created by the damming of a river and it is high in the mountains. This meant the course was hilly, the air was thinner, and the climate was perfect.

I did the race with one of the guidance counselors (Adriana) and a few senior students. One of the seniors had a family finca ("farm" or cottage) in the area so we all drove up the night before, had a great pasta dinner and relaxed. Being that I was traveling with people from school who do not want to get kidnapped, etc, we had a bodyguard escort us on a motorcycle and the car was bullet-proof. The bodyguard stayed with us all weekend, obviously.

My favorite conversation during the ride up included the sentence from Adriana who stated matter of factly that "If the guerilla stop us and try to shoot us we can just sit in the car and 'Miguel' [the body guard] will have to drive thru the cane fields to get help. If they pull a bazooka out though, we should probably get out of the car." Where are you people taking me that this conversation even needs to be brought up!?!

Anyways, the race began at 6am while the sun was still trying peak over the mountains. The starting of the race was a little anti-climactic because there were only about 500 runners total and at least half of them were only running the 1/2 marathon; running is not a very understood or popular sport here in Colombia.

The course was gorgeous but the hills were awful. I felt as though I was either running up or down the entire time; climbing or jamming my toes - pick one. Adriana has run several marathons in her life, including New York, and she said that this one was by far the most difficult one she has competed in yet.

I'll let the pictures tell the rest of the story for me:

This is around km 9 going throught the pueblo El Darién. The course started in the town, went 5 kilometers south and west, then returned to the town to go to the northern end of the lake.

At km 22, just past the half-way mark with a split of 1:36-something, and still feeling good enough to whip out the camera and snap some pictures. This is the dam at the northern-most end of the lake. The course continued around the tip and climbed away from the water for a solid 4 kilometers or so and then turned around to head back.

The military was present about every 1/2 kilometer or so. If I didn't want to count the painted kilometer markings on the road, I could have just waited to see army men. It would have been about as accurate.

Some of the aid stations had tables, others did not. This one did not. The girl working her assigned stop at km 24 was handing out the typical refreshment: bags of water. You can get these all over Colombia and they are a lot more environmentally friendly than bottles since they take less energy to make and less space in landfills. They are GREAT for races though because you just bite off the corner and squeeze the water into your mouth instead of clumsily spilling all over yourself with a paper cup.

The turn-around back to El Darién happened at km 26. This is right before km 28. Yes, the scenery is unbelievable, but sometimes it felt like the entire course was uphill.

KM 36 had cows in the road. Typical...
I hit my "wall" soon after this and the camera was forgotten temporarily. KM 39 got walked as I was tightening up pretty badly and it was uphill. It got to the point where I realized I could walk as fast as the tiny running steps I was taken - so I did.

When I got to El Darién's town square everyone was cheering and encouraging me on. The finish line was facing the "wrong" way and I wanted to walk across is so badly but I didn't know where to go in my exhausted state. Forget about speaking Spanish, I could barely function in English! I threw out the universal "where-do-I-go?" arm position and picked out one guy's voice who was telling me I had to "run around the park." I know it was a small block but seriously? The finish is RIGHT THERE and I just did 42 km! "Around the park" is an eternity!

After that eternity I finished and my new friend Juancho Correlón was there to greet me. 3 hours, 29 minutes, and 34 seconds later...

After I finished and waited for the rest of my group to come a lot of other runners were shaking my hand and asking me all kinds of standard questions like where I was from, did I like Colombia, did I like running, what was my time, will I do more, etc. As the sole foreign runner (and a pink freckly one at that) I was getting a lot of attention. As we were leaving an official came running over and said to Adriana, "You can't leave! You won a prize!" She asked him what he was talking about and he tells her she was the first finisher in the womens' division. Needless to say, by the time we left the area both of us had become minor celebrities.

I don't think I'm going to visit the track for the next couple days though.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I'm Feelin' Hot Hot Hot!

This past weekend we finally had our first three-day weekend of the school year. I believe this is the longest stretch we need to endure without a tiny break; glad that it is behind us!

My friend Tina and I took two of the new import teachers, Carrie and Tara, on a short little road trip to show them how the insanity of the bus station works and how the general concept of reservations is irrelevant most of the time. After all the weeks without a break from the students we all agreed some rest and relaxation was in order so we headed for the tiny hamlet of Santa Rosa de Cabal in the coffee-growing region about four hours north of Cali.

Santa Rosa is great because it is quaint, up in the mountains so that the temperature is comfortable sweater-weather but not snowing cold (not ready for that yet!), and near a bunch of thermal hot springs. All perfect for a weekend of decompressing!

We arrived in the mid-afternoon on Saturday and found a hotel near the town square. Normally, this would have been fine, except the town was having their 164th Anniversary celebration so when the revelers were leaving the party at all hours of the night, roughly one fourth of them staggered past our street-side room. Tina and I scouted out other lodgings the next morning and found a colonial-looking one near the edge of town owned by a nice couple who spoke English and had lived a time in Miami. (If you should end up in Santa Rosa, stay at the Hotel Cohiba - that's my plug.) He was from Cuba originally and was nice enough to drive us to the very best thermal hot springs in the area and pick us up when we were good and relaxed. That's hotel service if you ask me!

They had a great backyard with a high stone wall, chickens, a rooster that is lucky to be alive after waking us up much too early the next morning, and a nice little green parrot named Pacho who asked "¿quiero cacao?" Perhaps the Colombian version of "Polly wanna cracker?" Cocoa is a much better request than a cracker if you ask me; I think these Spanish-speaking birds are on the right track. He was my favorite, obviously.

The springs were amazing. We could tell we were getting closer as we drove, not only because of the increase in other weekending Colombians and the smell of sulfur, but because of the steam rising from the green leafy mountain ridges. There were several waterfalls at the site of the thermal springs, some fresh and freezing from streams higher up and others boiling hot originating from deep underground. As the pools got more crowded and the day progressed, we took the opportunity to get a massage at the on-site spa. I've never had a professional massage before but I could get used to this luxury! The best (and most surprising) part was when my masseuse began digging into my gluteus muscle. I could go for just one of those next time; its like walking on air afterwards!

That night we partied with the locals in the main central park and ate the regionally famous chorizo sausage among other meat products. It really is impossible to be a vegetarian in this country. I don't think anyone would laugh at you, you'd just end up starving after all the mangos, pineapples, oranges, avocados, and cilantro have bored your stomach to tears.

Things that will continue to amaze me about living here: grocery store "hoes." These are the girls that certain brands pay to stand all day in grocery store aisles and pimp their product while wearing apparel usually reserved for "women of the night." Well, the grocery store off of Santa Rosa's town square had girls serving customers shots of whiskey as they came in and out of the store. Classy, no? Only in Colombia...