Thursday, 24 June 2010

Weeks 7 & 8, Life in Bogota, working ladies and Birthday Celebrations!

Hello everybody, and welcome to the latest blog post from South America. I continue to enjoy my time here in Bogota, Colombia. Life has included a routine of mainly watching the world cup matches each morning, then going into town in the afternoon for lunch, either alone or meeting Vibi, then enjoying some 'people watching' around town. Social events have included Symphony concerts, Toy Story 3 (in Spanish), and a birthday bowling party last night. The rest of my time has been spent getting seriously worried about how I was going to get from here in Bogota, back to Santiago for my next lecture... so sit back, get a cuppa (cup of tea), and enjoy the read!

I want to share this next picture with you, as with the start of each evening here, more and more street sellers appear, selling everything from illegal DVD's to pizzas, but the one thing I just don't quite understand is the need to sell almost any kind of TV remote.. have a a look in the people here constantly lose their TV remote control, or do they just break a lot???

So one little scene I must share with you all, that I have seen in a few countries here in South America, is a group of people all connected by some kind of chain, and all speaking on mobile phones. It is a very odd sight, but I have finally got to the bottom of this mystery. People here have mobile phones, but for many people their tariffs don't always allow for free or cheap calls. This has led to many people standing somewhere randomly, (and I do mean in random places), holding a sign saying 'minuto' meaning cheap calls per minute on a number of different mobile phones that they have in their possession. To avoid the phones being stolen they are linked to metal chains, and this leads an almost aquatic sight, like an Octopus holding out a mobile phone on the end of each limb. You can see circular groups of people all using these street phone vendors to make calls, like the woman in the picture below! The man with the sign is the street vendor!

So back to the end of last weekend. On a little discovery trip 'downtown', I found a little more than I bargained for when wandering around Calle 19 (street 19). I got off the wonderfully full Transmilenio bus, and decided that I would enjoy a little stroll, (no map needed), through the little side streets, because that is always where you find the hidden treasures... and oh boy did I ever! Searching for a lead for my electric shaver I turned down a little street that seemed to have a never ending supply of electrical stores. I picked up an adapter lead for just 1000 pesos (40pence) and turned around to wonder where I should head next. The scene that greeted me took a few seconds for me to make sense of. In between the numerous electrical stores, there seemed to be groups of women, or a few single women, that seemed a little too dressed up (or dressed down) than you might expect for the time of day. Now thinking that these ladies had seemed quite friendly as I passed them (nothing new there), I began to realise that either I had been walking through several groups of prostitutes, or Bogota's women have some serious fetishes for electrical items.. no comments please!
I quickly moved on after deciding against taking a photo of such a scene, which I so badly wanted to! A little later that very afternoon I was sat in a little place called the 'Classic Pub' watching another appalling performance by France's football team when a rather odd looking couple came into the bar. An older man, and a younger woman, sat at a table in front of me. The man looked old enough to be the girl's father at the very least! My attention was drawn to this couple as the girl seemed to be responding to the guys talk with some indifference, then I saw the guy reach for the young woman's hand. This prompted me to start to look around the bar, where I began to see other rather odd looking couples/groups of younger women with older guys... I was glad to hear the final whistle of the football game and retreat from what was clearly a pick-up point for the 'working ladies'! How do I find these places?

So after seeing one side of the local culture, I happened to stumble across another side of Bogota's cultural delights' the symphony orchestra... on a whim I bought two tickets at just 10,000 pesos each (4 pounds each), these being the cheapest tickets in the balcony of course! So the following evening, Me and Vibi got to see the Bogota symphony orchestra play a concert, I can't say the music was from a particularly famous composer, but it was lively and offered me a different outlook on life here... though I must make a few comments, especially being a former theater duty manager. I learned about classical music working for 5 years at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. I learned that turning up late for such a concert was considered a criminal act by most of the audience, and walking into the theatre, mid piece was punishable by death (looks of death from audience members)... and even though I have become accustomed to the lack of punctuality, and lack of order in general, especially in public places, I was nothing more than shocked to see several audience members not only arrive late, but be let into the auditorium. Worse was that rather than quickly sit down with minimal fuss, they stood in plain view, having a five minute discussion about where to sit! You have a bloody seat number on your ticket!!! The fact that the concert didn't start on time was at least something I could live with... how funny the things are you can and can not get used to! So hear is proof that we did indeed go to the concert!

Back to more professional matters, and to prove the world is indeed a small place I has a very interesting visit this past week to some Government offices! The reason for my visit was to speak with an OT (Occupational Therapist), that is working for the Government in the department of health! A key figure indeed. And the reason for such a meeting, apart from the contact made by my host Vibi, this woman was chairing the session that I had presented in, at the conference in Santiago.. what a small world indeed! This lady (Solangel Garcia - Director of Disability Programmes) not only gave me some lovely books as a gift, but gave me a really fascinating insight into some of the Government policies and projects being carried out in the city. in fact I am going to visit a project tomorrow. Here's a little photo from our meeting...

So, onto the main event of the week, and no I am not talking about the re-election of the seemingly less popular candidate, and existing Colombian President - Santos. I have to say that I did not see one single poster or display of support for the existing president, but I saw lots of posters and support for the opposition leader 'Mockus'. So I was a little skeptical to say the least when the TV results showed that Santos had won by a very large margin. Read between the lines if you will!
The main event was in fact my 31st birthday, and wow what a lovely day I had. I didn't mind being woken up at 0730, as the reason for such an early rise was a phone call from mum and dad. I then received a very nice call from my friend Tinh in Vietnam, who sang the first of 4 renditions of happy birthday for the day! Thanks Tinh! The England football team gave me the next surprise of the day by actually winning a game at the world cup, and playing quite well too. After all this excitement me and Vibi headed out for a leisurely lunch at TGI Friday's to have some gorgeous beef tacos, and some cheesecake... hmmm... cheesecake.... this is also where 'Happy Birthday' rendition number 2 was delivered by the TGI Fridays staff, with a complimentary ice cream... bargain!

The evening closed in, and a trip to the mall for a little bit of bowling fun with Vibi, Santiago, Ruth and Alejandra was next on the agenda. Ruth and Santiago decided to give me happy birthday rendition number 3! See below...(if I can get the video to upload - I'm having some Internet troubles...)

Back to the bowling, and here's a few photos of our game (no electronic scoring system, it's all hand written! So we just bowled for fun!).

On returning home with Alejandra and Ruth, I was ushered into a darkened room, where a candle lit cake and happy birthday rendition number 4 awaited. There were balloons, funny hats and fizzy drinks... what more could I have asked for?

And as a final little note I must mention the 'fun' I have had trying to find a reasonably priced mode of transport to get me back to Santiago for my next lecture. The flights from Bogota to Santiago were coming up at around $700... which is way over my backpacker's budget, and seeing as a bus trip would take over 5 days straight, this wasn't really leaving me with much time to play with, or many options! So I thought hey, a little bus trip to Quito (Ecuador) might bring the price down? Hmm... not quite, as the ticket from Quito to Santiago was a rather steep $520... and I'd still have to get to Quito! I was beginning to realise that I had actually traveled a huge distance north of Chile, hence the high costs of flights. My solution; after a serious night of partying on Saturday, I will watch England's game with Germany Sunday afternoon, then get on a bus on Sunday evening, (for 3 days!) and arrive in Lima (Peru) Wednesday afternoon. I then have a flight from Lima that night, to take me Santiago in the early hours of July 1st. My lecture is July 2nd. Oh, and July 5th I fly to Argentina for 2-3 weeks! So I'm going to enjoy the last few days here in Bogota, Colombia and party the weekend away!

Come on England, just beat Germany this one time! (On penalties would be great!)

Regards from Colombia

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Weeks 6 & 7 - Another bank holiday weekend & another pair of shoes... and some river rafting!

Hello everybody, I'm not exactly sure why I have put off writing this last entry, maybe it's because I have lots to say, maybe it's because I'm enjoying a slower pace of life this week, or maybe it's because the electricity went off this morning, leaving me to have a ridiculously cold shower, and my fingers have only just regained enough movement to allow me to type anything!

Normality has definitely entered my life in small doses. I know the people in the local shop, after having a very entertaining conversation about why I would to buy the whole box of tea bags (only 12 bags) instead of a single one.... I mean who would buy one tea bag? Evidently the answer is a Colombian person... this country is famous for coffee. I use the crowded 'Transmilenio' bus service, and have been joining the rush hour fun on many occasions. I know where to buy different things around town, electricals, dvd's and wine! I have even felt comfortable enough to get my hair cut at the local hairdresser, and she did a grand job too! But before I start to get into my perceptions of normal life here, let's recap on the past week.

Ok, so where to start? Hmm.. lets go back to the end of week six and after two very informative meetings with the National Universities, including me giving a lecture to the Occupational Therapy students, I found myself visiting the very reputable private ECR University, and the Occupational Therapy department there. I was picked up in town by one of the lecturers and driven to this impressive little building, in nice grounds, where I was introduced to a lovely bunch of OT staff, who shared their thoughts on their education system and asked a fair few questions. Here's a little picture of them...

After an invitation to have lunch with some of the staff, including a very good English speaking speech therapist, I returned to the University for a little tour of their facilities and a meeting (a surprise meeting) with the head of the OT course. She was good enough to spend close to an hour talking with me about the curriculum and exactly how the OT students were expected to work, in a 4 year course (as opposed to the standard 5 years elsewhere in Colombia). I was even given a little present, and asked to write an article for the University Journal! The teaching methodology and philosophy appears very different from my understanding of the UK system, and the students seem to respond well to the demands placed upon them. UK Universities again please take note, the Universities here in South America are keen for international collaboration, and can offer a lot of new and differing ideologies regarding OT... get in touch and start working together! I also had to rely far more heavily on my Spanglish, than I have had to in previous days, and found that I could actually start to get the theme of most of the conversations happening around me I was very proud of myself! That particular day was finished off by a little trip to the movies to watch 'Prince of Persia' in Spanish of course, and dinner at TGI Fridays, with a live band! They had some funny toilets though, one room, with a partial partition for the men's urinal, and a cubicle within the same room, for women... strange! looks like they just ran out of space to build different toilets for men and women.

So to the main event, the second bank holiday (public holiday) weekend in a row here in Colombia. We decided to do a little traveling, a 7hr coach journey to the area of countryside known as San Gil. The journey itself was uneventful, that was until about half way, we were stopped by a military checkpoint, and all the guys were ordered (ok well they were asked) to get off the bus and produce some identification. Two things struck me as odd, firstly as they only check men, and slightly intelligent group would smuggle stuff etc using women right? Secondly, the soldiers looked about ten years old, well that's a little exaggeration, but they were kids... here's me having a little chat about their somewhat questionable policy!

San Gil had a range of adventure sports (of which I'll talk about later), and some stunning national parks, and beautiful little hillside towns in the close vicinity.
We traveled on the Saturday, during the England vs USA game, though had a food and toilet stop just at the wrong time, as I go to see the moment when the England goalkeeper Robert Green decided to throw the ball into his own goal. Never mind, we don't like to do things the easy way! Got to give the Americans some hope right?
So we arrived at the the hotel which was set in the hillside as you can see...

... and without wanting to waste the first day solely on the bus, we took a taxi with a nice driver called Aurellio, to the town of Barichara. It was well into the evening when we got there, and the the town was illuminated with beautiful churches, plazas and little streets, like a scene from 100 years ago. The street pizza sellers, and the modern boutique hotels were well disguised as to not lose the atmosphere of the place. Here's a few pictures...

The first full day was spent travelling to the main attraction, or so I thought at the time, to 'Parque Chicamocha'. This place was situated across two mountain tops, with a canyon in the middle, allowing for stunning views, especially with a cable car running across the valley! I won't bore you with details when you can see views like this....

Of course you can't escape the sight of little churches in such a catholic based continent, so here's me and Vibi outside a pretty little church on the other side of the valley.

The parque's centre piece was equally impressive, it was a kind of monument that looked like it was a broken ship, with a series of spikes and statues protruding from the centre, this allowed people to take some quite amusing pictures including some of the following...

We saw a little zip wire thing, so we decided to have a little adrenaline rush and speed along a zip line, and at some speed smash into a big crash mat, that was waiting at the bottom to stop you! Unfortunately I couldn't take my camera whilst I was doing it so I don't have photos, but the adventure sports don't stop there, so just hang on. The next day which was to be a relatively short one, was packed with fun. We decided we couldn't leave San Gil without doing some kind of extreme sports, so we decided that despite the rain clouds, we would head to the river for a spot of rafting!

As you can see we were joined in our boat by 4 nice ladies, who also volunteered to take the 'rough route' and our great guide Sergio. I was just about able to remember the Spanish commands in time to see the first rapids hit!

In fact the first big set of rapids (Grade 3) had us lose our first crew member...

As we recovered our crew, we started to get the hang of things, and even had a little voluntary swim (well I should say float) down stream, it was bloody cold though! And as the title of my blog suggests, this was truly the death of my latest pair of trainers. I bought them in Santiago, and they have been through, Chile's desert, Bolivia's salt, Peru's mud and altitude, and now Colombia's river. So I think it's about time to lay them to rest and get some new ones, I am trying to dry them out in hope that they will not be too smelly! I'll keep you posted.

After the rafting we enjoyed our last hour or so walking around the 'Parque Gallineral', I wasn't going to include this, but the pictures are too nice not too.. does anybody think 'Avatar' when they see these photos??

So how to end this week's blog? Only one way really, with a video of the rafting! Enjoy, and regards from Colombia!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Week 6 - From Peru to Colombia - Partying in Peru & University lectures in Colombia

Hello everyone, I'd love to get straight into talking about Colombia, as the four days I have been here have been more than eventful, but there are a few things I'd like to share about the remaining time in Peru before I get onto Colombia, and the intriguing city that is Bogota.

So after the spectacular scenery at Machu Picchu, I returned to Cusco for two nights, to do some laundry, blog, email and just relax for a day or two. Ha, no chance to relax in Cusco as a seriously huge festival was taking place the exact two days that I happened to be there for! What Luck! The town was swollen with both national and international tourists, there was music, food and colourful parades all over town, all day and night! I was woken up one morning about 0900 by a passing parade complete with band!!! Enjoy the photos below, but before the photos, I have to share one sight which I didn't catch on camera. One evening as I just enjoyed walking through the crowded street, I could hear a rather out of tune, (possibly quite drunk) small band in the street. There was a small group of people (30 or so) surrounding the band, I'd like to say that they were showing their Latin American dancing style. However, as the music sadly lacked any kind of rhythm, the same could be said for the dancing.. and the scene looked like one huge giant seizure, as people's arms and legs seemed to move in no correlation to the music or the other parts of their body.... it was quite a sight to see this group of people having a great old time in the street, entertaining me to no end!

So after a fond festive farewell to Cusco, I decided that I would learn my lesson and pay the extra couple of pounds for a nice comfortable seat on the bus ride to Lima, now the distance isn't that far (by South American standards), but at 22hours... comfort was going to be required! And this is what I got.... oh a picture from the journey (Cusco to Lima)...

We arrived in Lima mid-late afternoon, and another random meeting with a fellow bus passenger (Alana), had us sharing a cab to a hostel in the more upmarket area called Miraflores. The hostel was cheap, had warmish showers, an extraordinarily large TV in the living space, right next to our room! We took a dorm room, which we shared with a really lovely French couple, who had literally only arrived in south America that day! After sorting out my flight check in for Colombia, I gave in to a craving for unhealthy food and found KFC!
My time in this busy city was short, and to be honest consisted of only one major event - meeting up with Lizardo. Lizardo was the young guy who saved me from the very rude and scary old woman in the hot spa... (read the previous blog entry). Lizardo met me the following day and not only took me to a fantastic student party, but got me on the guest list avoiding a reasonably expensive 'cover charge'. He also introduced me to some of his student friends, who partied the day away with me. Yes you might have noticed I said, 'day' and not 'night', as the party started at 3pm!!! Normally here it's 11pm at the earliest! I wasn't about to complain and so me, Lizardo and his friends, enjoyed some beers, and some excellent live Latin music! More salsa practice for me, and by 9pm, I was ready to drop! Here's some pictures!

Now, Colombia was not place I had ever imagined coming to, on this trip, or any other, but after meeting two Occupational Therapists at the conference in Santiago, Chile, and after listening to many backpackers rave about Colombia, I could not refuse the invitation to visit. My host for this stay is Vibiana, and her friend and colleague Alejandra, and here they at the viewing point overlooking the city of Bogota.

The fight was 3 hours from Lima (Peru) to Bogota (Colombia), to give you some idea of how far the distances are here, and some of the views from the plane were once again spectacular, here's my favourite...

The time here in Bogota has been pretty eventful, as I have had two meetings at the 'Universidad Nacional De Colombia', one meeting with staff, and one lecture (yesterday) with the OT students. I have also had the pleasure of visiting my host's work place and seeing a very entertaining children's end of year graduation 'show',

related to the work of Vibiana. Vibi and Alejandra have also taken me around the city and I'm getting a feel for the place. Bogota is an interesting place, that seems to have multiple identities. You can find, all kinds of architecture from one building to the next, there appears to be a friendly atmosphere to the place, but some real hussle and bussle when using the seriously crowded, but excellent trans-milenio bus service. There is obvious poverty (as in any big city) contrasting with areas of wealth. Visual security forces are not as evident as I thought there might be, but there remains evidence of the past political and violent struggles. I have to say that the city feels safe enough, the people friendly, and I think I have worked out why people here are quite comfortable in each other's personal space. When you use any of the crowded buses, and have at best an armpit in your face for 20 mins, or at worst, someone's crotch just 2 inches from your head for the duration of the journey, a hand shake to introduce yourself must seem almost rude and distant! Here's a couple of shots of Bogota.

and a quick sign I saw on the bus...

Oh a quick funny story about how the smallest things can cause confusion in a new place... I wanted a cup of tea (nothing new there), and I got some matches to light the gas on the stove. The matches were quite small, and when I put enough pressure on the match to get a spark, it would instantly break... the matches are much thicker that I have seen in the UK. After using 5 mathces (breaking them all) I thought about asking for help, but didn't want to seem stupid. After another ten failed attempts I had to ask Vibi to show me how to light the bloody match! Vibi and her little boy, found this very amusing! This is the exact expression I had at the time...

So much for an intelligent therapist eh?
Ok almost there, just keep reading a little longer. The main part of this week has been visiting the 'National' University here in Bogota. I have again learned so much about the OT education and health system here in Colombia, and how the focus of OT in education seems far more widespread than I am aware of in the UK. The OT education process if 5 years, as in Chile, compared to just 3 years in the UK, and 4 years in Australia. The time spent on fieldwork education is far greater, as it would appear is the teaching of practical 'therapeutic' activity skills. The complex issue here (and in Chile), is the number of private Universities, which run alongside the government Universities. Yes there are jobs for therapists in hospital, but just like Chile, there seems to be a much larger emphasis on private practices, and with difficult health reforms, the incentive to work in a hospital seems to be variable. Are the students here actually receiving a far more rounded experience than their UK counterparts? People pay for University here, most students spend 5 years studying! I am starting to understand how the social and economic demands of a society, definately reflect the kind of work environments that are proving the therapy jobs. Also I feel the concept of 'community working' can be very different here. Elements of community/social projects here seem to focus on less direct one on one health care, and more community liaison work. But it is early days and I have lots more to learn!
Here are some pictures of me at the University and visiting some OT related work places! Oh and I must say a huge thank you to Vibi for arranging the meetings with the University, the staff for taking the time, and the students for coming in, during a 'holiday period'. A special thanks goes to a student called Raul, who acted as my translator, you were brilliant, good luck with your studies!

I could write so much more but think the blog is not really the best place to go into much further detail, so I'll say goodbye for now!
Regards from Colombia... oh and come on England in the world cup!