Sunday, April 25, 2010

Stayin' Alive!

From the Beatles' last group hit, "Let It Be," in 1970 to Madonna's "Like A Prayer" in 1989, the twenty encompassing years were a unique time for music in North America. The years that gave the world funk and disco came alive again this weekend on the Colegio Bolívar stage in the form of a 70's & 80's themed talent show complete with live student rock band, full choir, alumni guest appearances, and dance numbers - including "Stayin' Alive" and "Maniac" from Flashdance.

I lent my voice to the male section of the choir on Queen's rousing, "Somebody To Love", who was backing an alumni guest performer with applaudable chops. I also made a choir appearance in "Like A Prayer" and the famous collaboration "We Are The World", as well as dabbling in some supportive percussion work during Bonnie Tyler's overly dramatic "Total Eclipse of the Heart."

Other songs that were brought back to life were "Top of the World", by the Carpenters; "The Boxer", by Simon & Garfunkel; a Jackson 5 medley; "Don't Stop Believin'", by my person favorite, Journey; "Alone", by Heart; and the duet "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" by Elton John and Kee Kee Dee. Two of the more surprising songs on the set list were Little Eva's "The Locomotion" (originally from 1962) which evidently made it to the top of the charts again in 1974 in the hands of Grand Funk Railroad and Frank Sinatra's recording of "New York, New York" which, believe it or not, he recorded in 1980. (It wasn't even written until 1977!)

"Stayin' Alive" (The Bee Gees)

"The Wall" (Pink Floyd)

"Maniac" (from the film Flashdance)

Saying goodbye to the Seniors...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Drip Drip Drop

Most athletes know that the reason a marathon is called a "marathon" is because the Greek messenger Pheidippides, ran from the Battle of Marathon to Athens, a distance of 42.2 kilometers (26.4 miles). In a similar spirit, Sunday there was a race in Cali, organized by one of the local universities, Universidad ICESI, to raise awareness of water care and usage. The race, called Nuestra Carrera Es Por El Agua (Our Race Is For The Water), was 6 kilometers in length, which is, evidently, the average distance most people in impoverished areas of the world must go to get clean and safe drinking water. There were similar races run in a multitude of countries around the world on this day in a show of unity.

The fact that we are in the midst of one of two rainy seasons here didn't seem to poke its ironic head out on race morning and we were greeted with pleasant sunny weather. The course was through the picturesque Ecoparque Rio Pance (a nature reserve along the Pance River just outside the city) and more resembled a trail-run than anything else. The beginning was rough with all the runners trying to squeeze onto the narrow and muddy tree-lined path, but once everyone found their pace, things spread out. As the course wound its way though the trees and along the river, up and down hills, I just tried to not trip on a root or slip on one of the wet foot-sized leaves carpeting the way; for me, not biffing it and face-planting in the mud was going to be the victory!

I finished in around 22 minutes and 40 seconds and was informed soon after crossing the finish line that I was "el primer niño" to arrive. I told the man who celebrated this fact with me that I was 28, and therefore not a "niño," to which he tried to recover by telling me I was "the second non-Colombian" to finish. This only only made me think, "Wait! Who was the first?!?!"

I ran the race with my usual race partner and colleague, Adriana, as well as a few other teachers who were up for a good cause and a shorter distance. Four students also took part; hopefully Adriana and I can recruit them to do more races with us and increase the youth interest in a near-non-existent sport here in Colombia.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Pastuso Walks Into A Bar...

Brunettes make fun of blondes. Us northerners have jokes about the southern rednecks and they have their "yankee" ones in return. Minnesotans have the 'Sconies to laugh at. And everyone makes cracks about Canadians. It almost seems to be part of human nature to assign one group of people as the delegated "butt" of jokes. Well, Colombia is no different and here they have the Pastusos to thank for that.

The southwestern most part of Colombia, mainly the department of Nariño, includes the mountainous region bordering Ecuador as well as a small part of the tropical Pacific coast. Due to its proximity to Ecuador and the terrain of this part of the Andes, the region is culturally different than much of the rest of the nation. Winter coats, wraps, and scarves are worn by anyone in the streets. Cuy (guinea pig), a common food staple in Ecuador and Perú, is is sold in many restaurants and street cafés. And the selection of hot drinks is plentiful, as is mora juice - a blackberry relative.

My high school friend, Chris, who I traveled with to Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca in Perú over Christmas vacation, is currently on a two month trek through the continent and was conveniently passing into Colombia at about the time my Spring Break/Semana Santa vacation was beginning. I met Chris in the border town of Ipiales, where money changers were commonplace around the main plaza exchanging U.S. dollars (the currency of Ecuador) for Colombian pesos.

Sanctuario de las Lajas
There isn't much to do or see in Ipiales save for the majestic and architecturally out of place Sanctuario de las Lajas, a massive church that spans a picturesque mountain gorge. Originally built has an homage to the Virgin Mary after a peasant girl saw her imagine on a rock in the gorge in the mid-1700's, the worship structure has morphed and grown many times in the last 200 years to the point it is at today.

During the guided tour of the church crypt and museum, our guide, while knowledgeable, did not do her fellow countrymen's dim-witted reputation any favors. For several rounds of questioning, she insisted that a black and white photograph depicting a little campesino girl in her mother's arms, pointing at a picture of Mary and two saints drawn on a rock, was "an actual photograph of the girl" who saw the imagine. Until it was pointed out to her that the camera wasn't invented until at least 50 years later - and I'm pretty sure there wasn't one in rural southern Colombia, nor was it of this kid of photographic quality - she continued insisting on the pictures authenticity. She also disappointed and confused us in her spacial awareness as to what part of the church's lower levels we were in. After going down two and then three flights of stairs, she insisted continuously that we were still in the first level below the church despite that fact that the windows were much different on each level.

So, what do you call a Pastuso tour guide who...oh, you've probably heard this one before. Never mind!

Our next stop in Nariño was the larger city of Pasto. For being isolated, mountainous, and not very large compared to Colombia's other metropolis's, Pasto was quite cosmopolitan in its cultural atmosphere. There were many beautiful churches and plazas to visit as well as an abundance of cozy cafes filled with well-dressed and trendy locals. It was the perfect marriage of small town quaint and big city bustle.

Laguna de la Cocha

Just outside of the city of Pasto is Colombia's largest and highest lake, Laguna de la Cocha. After spending time in Perú's Lake Titicaca, Chris and I joked that we should visit all of the highest lakes in South America. We stayed at a Swiss lodge founded and run by a couple from Switzerland. It felt like a ski resort without the snow; there was a lot of wood in the building, hot drinks served all day long in the restaurant, and bags filled with boiling water put under your bed at night. From the top of a nearby hill we got a scenic view of the northern part of the lake as well as the sole island, home to a nature reserve for the trees and birds of the area.

After a relaxing and chilled couple of days in the mountains, we headed to the airport to fly back to the tropical warmth of Cali. I mention the airport because it is located on the top of a flattened peak. Flights literally take off by running out of runway and the airport shuts down when there are clouds. We were fortunate enough to have a sunny day and clear skies for our return trip to the land of salsa dancing and no coats.