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!

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