Thursday, February 23, 2012

Without Words

We've all been reprimanded with the phrase "actions speak louder than words" at one point or another.  And if you're me, your parents cleverly amended this idiom to say "and yours are screaming so loud I can't hear anything else."  In Colombia, this is no exception; sometimes actions can be more effective communication than speaking.

Just as in any culture, there is a unspoken language in Colombia that I find intriguing.  Ever since I arrived I have been fascinated by the little differences in body language that a non-native would notice, that most Colombians take for granted.  For example, beckoning someone to come toward you requires a palm down clawing sweep of the hand versus the North American "come hither" palm-up style.  (Incidentally, the palm-up version is used for animals and therefore offensive here.)

The following video was posted on a friend's Facebook wall recently and I couldn't help but laugh out loud at that fact that some of these have become commonplace for me.  I don't necessarily use them, but when I see people on the street or even in my classroom bust out a "neck cut" or a "lip point," I no longer consider it strange.

It should be noted that my maid is the "'Grave' Floppy Palm" champion and I will confidently pit her against anyone when it comes down to it.  I'm constantly impressed that her hand doesn't fly away, detaching from her wrist bones, with the vigor she utilizes while shaking it back and forth.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Moving Forward

My entire adult life I have been fortunate enough to have been making forward progress; I mean this both professionally and geographically.  Beginning with my first quasi-adult move to enter college from the Twin Cities to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to my first actual job on the opposite side of the same state in the town of Manitowoc on the shores of Lake Michigan, to Cali, Colombia where the exploits of this blog have been played out, I have found a way to also move toward the rising sun.  That trend will continue, it seems...

While this may not be late-breaking news, I have signed a contract to leave the amazing country of Colombia and further my experience as a teacher and of Latin America in another school in another country.  In July I will be moving to the city of Campinas, Brazil, for what will end up being a combination position of various life science-based courses and probably a Master's degree program.

While I still have about four months left to explore and enjoy a country that I will hold forever dear to me, allow me to share a little bit of information about my new home.  Campinas (say: cahm-PEE-nahs) is located in the Brazilian state of São Paulo, about a ninety minute drive from one of the world's largest cities, São Paulo itself.  While the aforementioned metropolis has about 11 million people - if the surrounding suburbs are included this number doubles - Campinas has a modest 1.5 million.

My future campus.

The school I will be teaching at is similar to the one I have been at, except that the origins of my new place of employment are and continue to be linked to foreign corporations, such as 3M, the company that founded the school.  São Paulo is a financial and corporate force in the world economy and therefore the proximity Campinas has to it is residual in many ways.  I look forward to living and working in a smaller large city with a large professional population with a fair amount of cultural offerings.

Campinas means "meadows" or "plains" in Portuguese, a new language I will have to learn.  That being said, there are many coffee, cotton, and sugarcane plantations around the city, also contributing to the economy.  (After living in Cali and Colombia, I am used to the burning 'cane fields and coffee has become a staple part of my diet. This will be a welcome part of the transition!)  

Because this is Brazil, Campinas has not one, but two professional soccer teams, and three stadiums.  I'm not sure what the plans are of yet for the World Cup in 2014, but a game or two in Campinas at the early stages may not be entirely out of the question!

The climate is pleasant year-round with a slight change in seasons, something comparable to a Midwestern spring/fall to summer.  To put it simply, even the wealthy homes do not have central heating.  Along with several picturesque parks and trails, there is also an extensive public transportation system, two malls, several theatres for the performing arts, and a plethora of reputable universities, ensuring that the nightlife is also on par with larger more metropolitan locales.

A lot of this information I was able to ascertain from my coincidental visit last spring for an educators' conference.  One thing I learned from Wikipedia is that "Campinas was the third city in the world to adopt the technology of the telephone in 1883, after Chicago and Rio de Janeiro."  Who knew?!?!

I look forward to this new change and to find out more things about Brazil and Campinas.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Colombian Superbowl

Eli Manning and I had a lot in common this past weekend, namely that we both went to and conquered a superbowl.  Only Eli got a nice trophy and ring while I got nauseous and windburned.

Volcán Puracé

Despite the misconception that all of South America is beaches and rainforest, people may be surprised to know that I keep a supply of winter hats, gloves, fleece jackets, and thermal underwear on hand in the event I go somewhere cold.  Last weekend four other teachers and I joined a tour to the Parque Nacional Natural Puracé, which straddles the southern departments of Cauca and Huila.

While the park's main draw is it's namesake active volcano, our tour also included visits to two of its other unique natural attractions.  On the first day we stopped at an overlook of a deep valley where Colombia's only population of condors habitually exist.  Condors apparently mate for life, can live up to sixty years, and only lay one egg every two years - a few reasons condors in many parts of the world are endangered.  The park workers set out raw meat on a rock outcropping to tempt the enormous birds from the sky, which eventually worked, but only after vultures came and tried to take their food.  Vultures, not small birds themselves, looked like little crows next to the majestic condors when they descended to claim the baited meat.

We also made a brief stop at the sulfury-smelling San Juan thermal springs, so named for the river they eventually supply.  The river is composed of the confluence of mountain spring water and volcanic minerals mixing together at the site of the thermal springs.  This is said to be the second most beautiful river in Colombia.

Superbowl Sunday began with a 4am wake-up call and breakfast, followed by a "¡Vámonos!" rally call and a steady march uphill in the pitch dark.  Our ultimate goal: the park's namesake volcano, Puracé, at an elevation of around 4700 meters (about 2.5 miles above sea level).  From our lodge at 3200 meters we hiked through some hillside pastures - cows and all - and over some fences until we reached a relatively flat stretch of muddy trenches and moss fields.  This part of the hike took us through a unique biome that exists in very few parts of the world called a páramo (English: paramo).  Found mostly in Andean locations throughout Colombia, Ecuador, & Venezuela characterized by higher altitudes coupled with cold, wet weather, the páramo is both lush and desolate.

The frailejón, a shrub plant, is characteristic of the páramo biome.

A little after sunrise on the way up; still smiling.

After a brief pit stop at an old geological monitoring station to take shelter from the chilling wind, we began climbing again.  The green landscape turned quickly and dramatically to nothing more than lichen-covered rocks and boulders.  The clouds around us thickened until we were walking in an endless expanse of white, the wind began blowing the droplets of water in the air horizontally so that it whipped any exposed flesh on our faces, and the oxygen thinned noticeably.

Mandi being blown off the mountain a little over half-way up.

My "I paid for this?!?" face.
Over an hour later the ground had gotten less stable and was less like hiking and more like scrambling up an ashen sand dune while only taking tiny half-steps partly from altitude exhaustion and partly from a completely rational fear of being blown clear off the volcano.  By now the hikers had all been spread pretty thinly and one cluster could barely make out the next by their ghostly grey silhouettes severals dozen yards distant against the suffocating white.  I will never again look out an airplane window and think "what nice fluffy clouds!" without remembering how one tried beating me to a pulp.

Finally reaching a semblance of flat ground, my two remaining friends and I found one of the guides with about five other hikers crouched behind some large rocks.  The guide then took us about 100 yards more, across what I imagine Mars looks like, to the mouth of the volcano; even this took considerable effort and coercion from my fellow hikers.  Feeling equal amounts of exhaustion, nausea, and frustration, we looked into the nothingness, took one quick picture, and headed down to base camp as fast as our weary legs could carry us.

What we were supposed to see (left) versus what we saw (right).

Our guide later said that the weather we experienced was more on par with the turbulent season of August, when there are no tours.  Predicting the weather atop the volcano is impossible and nothing below can accurately predict what will happen above.  While the National Park itself was gorgeous, the páramo enchanting, and the climate a refreshing change from Cali, our volcano hike was more or less one of the more trying and uncomfortable experiences in recent memory.  Actually I am not exaggerating when I say that the only sustained event I can think of in the last five years that was worse was when I contracted Dengue.

Manning and I both may have felt like we were on top of the world on Sunday, but I'm pretty sure I was the one who felt like vomiting.