Sena Orientation: Week 261

Coffee preperation demonstration at Sena: Manizales, Colombia

After a week in Bogotá, I was happy to be back in Manizales and ready to start the new trimester. When I started in 2015 there was only one other new teacher, so there were never any official welcome events.

Since this was the beginning a new calendar year, there were a lot more fresh faces. So this time around, instead of getting our schedules and jumping straight into classes, everyone started off with a week-long campus orientation.

Obviously I already had my bearings, but it was nice to be part of an official welcome event. Monday kicked off with a breakfast with the department heads, followed by a tour of the English Lab. Then we walked through the campus farm and ended the morning at Cafetera, which is where they conduct agricultural research.

It is also the same department that studies coffee! We were lucky enough to receive a preparation demonstration. I’ve often heard that the method of preparation affects the flavor of the coffee, but it was never something I actually noticed until I had three cups made from the same bag of coffee. I’m not an aficionado like Barret, but even I could taste the difference.

Sena campus peacock: Manizales, Colombia

After lunch I also had the luck of finally running into the campus peacock with its beautiful feathers on display. I took a ton of photos and I also persuaded the person next to me to WhatsApp their best images as well.

I was mesmerized as it slowly rotated like a beauty pageant contestant, but what I enjoyed most was watching people squeeze behind it. The peacock was blocking the only entrance to the auditorium where Automation was holding its monthly meeting. Definitely an only-in-Colombia moment.

The breakfast-coffee-peacock trifecta meant that the first day of orientation was off to a good start. I am excited to start teaching and I also have the feeling that the next few months are going to fly right past.

First Week at SENA: Week 226

Happy 58th birthday SENA: Manizales, Colombia

Now that I have been at teaching at my center for a few weeks, I can look back on the first week with wisdom. A few observations on teaching at SENA, a technical college in Colombia:

The cafeteria is awesome. I might almost be 30, but picking a seat in a cafeteria still dredges up old anxieties. When I was younger it was all about having the cool friends to sit with. Now that I am older, it is finding the perfect empty table.

There is only one cafeteria at school and for this reason it can be quite busy during the middle of the day. During my first week I happened to see a long queue snaking outside the cafeteria and decided I was better off finding an alternative location. Outside the school gate was a food cart that I had never tried, so I decided it was as good a time as any to give it a go.

They were selling arepas (kind of like a corn pancake), which I love, so I ordered one and rounded off my meal with a cup of salpicón (fruit cocktail). The salpicón was refreshing, but the arepa was a bit of a shock. It ended up being served with a paper-thin meat patty, covered with an inch of sauce, and sprinkled with potato chips. It was the worst thing I had ever tasted. I was not disappointed when a bug happened to land on my food and then promptly drowned in the sauce.

Since then I have gone to the cafeteria for all my meals and it never disappoints. For roughly USD $1.80 a meal comes with juice, a bowl of soup, meat, rice, salad, potato/plantain, arepa, and a small desert. And you know what? If all the tables are taken, it just means it’s a good time to practice some Spanish.

The students clean the room. The school does have janitors, but students are expected to clean the room just before class ends. They sweep the floor, tidy up, wipe down the desks, and empty the trashcans. On Wednesdays and Fridays they are also supposed to mop. All this responsibility makes me feel like I had it easy when I was a student.

Happy 58th Birthday function at SENA: Manizales, Colombia

Classroom supplies. I had been warned that there could be very few supplies available, so I was quite happy to realize that 5/6 of my classes had computers and internet in the classroom. Another thing I was warned about was the lack of classroom space. While this has been a problem for other SENA teachers, I have been lucky enough to have no classroom-availability drama. The biggest downfall- there are absolutely no books for any of my English classes.

My specific department within SENA, Automatización, also has an equipment office. This is where I go to checkout laptops and cables, pick up print jobs, and find someone to unlock my classrooms. Most importantly, this is where I learn all my palabras groseras. Those are the words you don’t say in front of your colleagues. I learned this the hard way.

Adults are just as demanding as children. A full day of teaching kindergarten was exhausting and I kind of had this idea that technical college would be easier. I quickly realized though that while the type of work is different, the quantity is identical. Kindergarteners are so easily distracted by a song, dance, a crayon, or a funny voice that if the lesson is a bit half-baked, it’s not the end of the world.

Young adults, on the other hand, don’t think twice before telling you they would like to, “go to the home.” They have so many more opinions, “emergencies”, and cell phone distractions.

I spend a lot of time thinking about my lesson plans at home and coming up with creative ways to keep their attention. The upside to the extra effort though is that my students are a ton of fun. I hope to be the kind of teacher that they enjoy working with and if, at the end of the day, they think learning English is enjoyable, then I’ve done my job.

Apartment Hunting in Colombia: Week 225

View of the apartment in Manizales, Colombia

After six weeks of living out of my backpack, I wanted to find an apartment in Manizales as soon as possible. Initially I began the search online, however I quickly realized that what worked in Sydney doesn’t work the whole world over. Should you find yourself looking for an apartment in Colombia, these are my observations:

Online options suck: The most success I had was from walking through an area I liked and taking photos of all the ‘For rent’ signs in the windows. There were many more options on the streets than there were online, and unlike Sydney, there was no shortage of affordable and available places.

Contact: Whatsapp is the most popular method of contact in Colombia. This is especially good news if your Spanish is a bit rough and the thought of talking to someone on the phone makes you anxious. If I could have arranged my internet service through Whatsapp, I wouldn’t have needed speaker phone and the assistance of two Une employees.

View from the apartment in Manizales, Colombia

Empty properties: All of the properties I saw from the street were empty. While I thought it was strange that landlords would prefer to have gaps between rentals, I figured this worked to my advantage. First of all, people with empty properties want them filled ASAP. And second of all, I wouldn’t have to worry about people viewing my apartment while I was still in it- awesome! The last time I had a property viewing, a group of people walked in just as I got out of the shower.

Also, when I say empty, I mean empty. You have to bring your own light bulbs when you move in. This was especially ironic to me because my previous landlord had wanted to charge me $110 dollars to replace three burnt out light bulbs.

Paperwork: Oddly enough, I was not asked for a deposit. Come to think of it, none of the online listings had ever mentioned a deposit either.

Once I had found an apartment, the landlord and I went to a papelería (office supply shop), bought a rental agreement, filled it out, and then went to the notary around the corner for the official purple stamps and fingerprints.

Inside the apartment in Manizales, Colombia

Furniture: Because the apartment was completely empty, Barret and I had a hard time deciding how well to furnish it. Eventually we settled on a minimalistic approach, which is just a nicer way of saying empty and cheap. I ordered a mattress over the phone and when I asked the salesman if he thought it would be suitable for two, he advised that I upgrade to the wooden leg posts. They were more ‘secure’.

We also decided that we could live without a fridge. That might sound a little crazy, but when we eat out, the meals come with so much meat that it’s nice to be vegetarian at home. There is a grocery store across the street, so it’s easy to buy fresh vegetables and fruit every few days.

The hardest decision we made was to do the washing by hand. The closest laundromat would have been pricey and we definitely didn’t want to buy a machine. I had heard about a rental service, but it wouldn’t have been convenient- the machine is delivered and installed one day and then picked up the next! Even if we did wash everything at once, there is nowhere to dry it all.

Six weeks in and so far so good. With views like this, it’s totally worth doing small daily batches of laundry.

View from the apartment in Manizales, Colombia

Mi Tierra & The Botero Museum: Week 224

Entrance to Mi Tierra: Bogotá, Colombia

Mi Tierra is reached via a long hall lined with vintage posters and punctuated with a neon sign. Unlike the bars on the other side of the church square, there was no one waiting outside to hustle you in. And unless you knew about the bar, the inability to see into the venue from the sidewalk might be a bit dissuasive.

Luckily Tiffany, one of my colleagues, was in the know. She rounded up a large group of people from our training program and we set out on foot for the Chapinero venue. It was about ten o’clock when we arrived only to discover a metal gate blocking the entrance. Our hearts sank.

Someone rattled the gate and called down the hall. A minute or two passed without a sign of movement and then we heard footsteps approaching. It was Arturo, the owner.

Mi amor,” he affectionately called out to Tiffany. “¿Cómo estás?

Stuffed dog decoration inside Mi Tierra: Bogotá, Colombia

Of course the bar was open. Come in, come in. I wasn’t quite sure if they had opened up just for us, or if they just kept the gate closed when the venue wasn’t busy. It kind of seemed like in Bogotá, if there were enough people, anything could be reopened.

Interior of Mi Tierra: Bogotá, Colombia

During the day, Mi Tierra was an antique shop. There were no windows, so the musty smell of second hand goods filled the room. Some of the items were displayed while the rest were pushed aside to make space for the small dance floor and six tables. The most accessible items around the dance floor were wigs, hats, instruments, a wheelchair, and a small crocodile statue.

A crocodile statue and the dance floor at Mi Tierra: Bogotá, Colombia

Props and the dance floor at Mi Tierra: Bogotá, Colombia

Props and the dance floor at Mi Tierra: Bogotá, Colombia

Props and the dance floor at Mi Tierra: Bogotá, Colombia

We sat down at the largest table, the one with a vintage hairdryer, and began ordering drinks. Many bars rush you to order, but it almost felt like it was an afterthought for Arturo. “Tranquila,” he advised me when I wasn’t sure what I wanted or even how to say it. Take it easy.

Ordering drinks at Mi Tierra: Bogotá, Colombia

Out of nowhere a birthday cake appeared for Arturo’s partner. We all sang happy birthday in English and then in Spanish. After the candles were blown out, Arturo grabbed the microphone for a heartfelt serenade.

A birthday celebration at Mi Tierra: Bogotá, Colombia

The fact that such a large group of foreigners were invited in for a small birthday celebration just goes to show how friendly everyone was. While I had met a lot of nice people so far, it was the first time I felt such a generous ‘welcome’ in Colombia. If I’m ever back in Bogotá, you know where I will be.

The bar at Mi Tierra: Bogotá, Colombia

On my last day in Bogotá, three colleagues and I went to the touristy neighborhood of La Candelaria. It is one of the most historic neighborhoods in the city and many of the buildings are beautifully preserved.

Our first stop was at the Plaza de Bolívar. It dates back to 1539 when it was first called the Plaza Mayor. Nowadays, it is a massive paved area that fronts the Catedral Primada and the Capitolio Nacional (Nation’s Capital). The plaza usually attracts more people on the weekend, but this Saturday it had two strikes against it: it was raining and Colombia was set to play that afternoon in the Copa América.

El Presidente, 1997: Botero Museum, Bogotá

El Presidente, 1997

Just down the street was the Botero Museum. It was founded in 2000 with the donation of 203 artworks from Fernando Botero himself. More than half of the art was his own work, while the rest was that of international artists like Calder and Bacon. Not only was it a priceless collection, but it was also free to the public.

Mujer delante de una ventana, 1990: Botero Museum, Bogotá

Mujer delante de una ventana, 1990

While the international art collection was great, I was really there for Botero. His inflated figures are both fascinating in form and grotesque for the greed they represent.  Their fleshy figures devour their clothing and their small eyes sink into their faces, like raisins in pudding.

I could have spent all day La Candelaria looking at national treasures. However, some of the most important Colombian things can’t be found in a museum; they can only be found on a big screen TV. It was time to head back to the hotel to watch the Copa América.

Guerrilla de Eliseo Velásquez, 1988: Botero Museum, Bogotá

Guerrilla de Eliseo Velásquez, 1988

How to get to Mi Tierra: Calle 63 #11-47 (In front of Parque Lourdes), Chapinero, Bogotá

How to get to the Botero Museum: Calle 11 #4-41, Bogotá

Hombre con Perro: Botero Museum, Bogotá

Hombre con Perro, 1989

Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá: Week 223

Inside the underground Salt Cathedral: Zipaquira, Colombia

I spent my first two weeks in Colombia at a teacher’s orientation in Bogotá. Monday to Friday was filled with activities- from teaching methods to applying for national ID cards. Most of it went smoothly and most of it required being up early in the morning.

By the time the first weekend rolled around, I was more than ready for some sightseeing. I was also feeling a bit lazy, so when the program coordinators announced that they had chartered a bus to Zipaquirá, I was happy I didn’t have to plan anything.

Zipaquirá is a small town about an hour outside of Bogotá and it is famous for the Salt Cathedral. The Catholic cathedral was opened to the public in 1995 and, as its name suggests, it was built inside an underground salt mine.

Two women praying inside the underground Salt Cathedral: Zipaquira, Colombia

I have been to an underground church in the past, so I thought I had an idea of what it might look like- the passageways would be dim and the walls would be roughly hewn. However, that was about where the similarities ended.

Main nave of the underground Salt Cathedral: Zipaquira, Colombia

For starters, the scale of Salt Cathedral was massive. I had been satisfied with the first few rooms I saw and it took awhile for me to realize that those were only the Stations of the Cross. We hadn’t even gotten to the main nave! If only my Spanish were better, I might have been able to relay some of the interesting facts that I’m sure we were told.

The gift shops at the Salt Cathedral: Zipaquira, Colombia

The other thing that surprised me the most though was the shopping arcade. There were tons of emerald shops, booths that sold religious salt figurines, and anything else that could benefit from the addition of a little Virgin Mary.

It was going to be awhile till I got my first paycheck, so I decided to save my money and instead purchase an arepa from the underground cafe- La Tienda del Minero. The restaurant was decorated like a 1970s living room and had the lighting of a TV sitcom. I kicked back with a few other teachers and just absorbed the surroundings.

The underground cafe at the Salt Cathedral: Zipaquira, Colombia

I hadn’t arrived in Bogotá with high expectations of the capital city. Everyone I had spoken to had told me to get out as soon as I could. However, after a week in the city, I realized I was actually enjoying it. I was glad I’d eventually be living in Manizales, but for now I was in a nice dark salt mine, surrounded by good company and Catholic guilt, and eating a delicious arepa. You can’t ask for anything more than that.

About: The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá

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