We're all different. Especially him. But there's something kind of fantastic about that, isn't there?

Please Don’t Tell Me Colombia Made Me Skinny

Well, my body decided to go out of my Fulbright grant with a bang. I’ve been sick off and on for the past few weeks, but I brushed it off as the stress and business of life. Friday was supposed to be my last day of classes at UPTC, but my digestive system decided that was not to be. Thursday I woke up at 5AM with a stomachache from hell, and I more or less could not get out of bed until Thursday night. I spent Friday morning sleeping (instead of in class) and ended up missing a surprise party students had planned for me. By Friday evening, I was able to eat a small bowl of gluten free rice pasta with salt and a tiny bit of olive oil after almost two days of not eating. I am going to try to eat something other than pasta tonight.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened to me since moving here. I have had similar symptoms (although not always as severe) four times before. Also, I have a hard time getting sufficient calories here at times because I cannot eat gluten and do not like to eat a lot of meat. So, I’ve lost some weight. I’ve probably lost about 10-15 pounds (4-7 kg) in the last year. It’s not much, but it is enough to be noticeable and solicit comments (or such was my experience when I went home in December). The bright side is that I am still at a healthy weight, and I can still wear the clothing I bought in December – thank goodness!

That being said, I get kind of frustrated when people compliment me on my weight loss. First of all, it brings me horrible flashbacks of crying in bed from stomach cramps. Secondly, I was at a healthy weight before, and I don’t think this weight loss process has been in the least bit healthy. Not eating processed gluten free pizza isn’t a bad thing, but bacterial infections are never a recommended method of getting a trimmer figure. I know that “skinnier is prettier”, and societal norms state that you are supposed to compliment me on my new figure, but I am warning you now. I may or may not go into graphic details of how this weight loss came about. I can only stand so many similar comments before I get grumpy.

People commenting on my weight loss just reminds me of how unhealthy it is to starve yourself and/or purge your body of the nutrients you consume. That’s what my weight loss has been. I will probably gain it all back after a summer in the USA, and I will be perfectly happy with that because I will be eating healthy and exercising regularly. Whatever weight I gain will still be within the range of healthy. I will be fine if the weight stays off too, as long as it’s not because I continue to get what is basically a week long bout of food poisoning every few months.

Note: I think that most of my problems with bacteria here do not reflect upon the quality of food or water in Colombia. I think they are instead a reflection of my own underlying health or lack thereof (I had celiac disease for years and didn’t know it). Most foreigners that I know here have not been sick. Some have even lost weight because they are eating healthier.

The End Is Near

Next week is my last week teaching at UPTC as a Fulbright Teaching Assistant in Tunja. Next week is also my ten monthiversary in Colombia. I’ll be leaving soon after I finish teaching because the value of the US dollar has shot up drastically, preventing me from spending more time traveling here, but that is not the focus of this post.

Ever since I went to Spain, I have wanted to live and work abroad through Fulbright. Even after submitting my application, it felt like a dream that was beyond my reach. Now, I’ve  done it. I am about to become a Fulbright alumni and return to the USA to finish my studies. Sometimes, when dreams finish (as they are supposed to), one is left feeling a bit sad or disappointed. I don’t feel that way though. I’m sad to leave Colombia, obviously (I’ve already written about that though), but I am not sad to be finishing my time with Fulbright. It was a fantastic experience, but I am ready for the next part of my journey in life.

I remember talking to a dear friend in Atlanta early last year. We were probably sitting in a hipster coffee bar drinking overpriced lattes. I remember telling her that I felt that the following school year (2014-2015) was going to bring huge changes in my life. I told her I wasn’t sure what those changes were going to be, but I was confident they were going to happen. Soon after, I received notification of my acceptance as a Fulbright grantee.

This past year has brought so many changes and new experiences to my life although not all of them are due to living abroad. I watched the Harry Potter series for the first time. I took a total of 8 flights in less than two months.I designed class materials. I went to a hospital where nobody spoke English. I took to drinking Chai tea in the morning because it reminded me of home. I found love 4,000 miles away from me. I slept in a place with bedbugs and then poured boiling water over my clothing to make sure I wasn’t taking them home. I accidentally called trash cans “rear ends” in Spanish until my roommate kindly corrected me. I conducted research. I learned to run at an altitude of 9,000 feet. I cut my hair short in a place where most women have hair down to their rear ends. I poured salt all over my room because I thought I had fleas. I rented a washing machine for the day and had it delivered to me on the back of a motorbike. I took a street puppy to class one time. I bathed in hot springs by a waterfall. I learned to drink agua de panela with lime for a sore throat. I took my first taxi by myself (and so many more after that). This week, I will be leading a talk on literature and blues in Spanish.

Some of these changes have been big, while others are small in comparison. That being said, I don’t think size and significance have much correlation. This year has brought many changes, but some things are the same. I still do not know what I want to do when I grow up. I am back to stressing over what classes to take next and how to pay for housing next semester. I am now confident that I love teaching though, and I have realized that living abroad is fantastic but it really isn’t all that different from living in my own country. There are amazing, wonderful and beautiful places, people, and experiences everywhere. It’s just up to me to find them.

Dear WordPress proofreader, you’re wrong.

Dear WordPress proofreader,

Every time I write a post, I review the corrections that you suggest. Without fail, you always point out at least one passive voice construction that I invariably use. Oftentimes, there will be a multitude of green lines indicating that my writing style is not active enough for your taste. As a linguist who has researched the passive voice and considers herself a descriptive grammarian (who also hates to be told she is wrong when she knows she is right), I take offense to these suggestions.

This is my response as a prescriptive grammarian to the “may” vs. “can” debate.

Your correction of the passive voice is a perpetuation of the myth that the passive voice is “incorrect”. There is nothing incorrect about the passive voice. In fact, there are many contexts in which the passive voice would be a more “correct” choice on the writer’s part.

Firstly, there is the matter of style. Certain styles of writing are more likely to be expressed through the passive voice. Western scientific academia, in general, is more likely to use the passive voice because it conveys a greater distance between the writer and his/her ideas (2). An unidentified subject suggests that the author is discussing facts instead of opinions (which are often considered to have more validity within Western culture). The involvement of the personal self is not usually encouraged in this style of writing.

Secondly, there is the matter of organization and emphasis. In many cases, the passive voice is used because it helps to maintain a desired word order (4). Word order and thus the passive voice can be used as an indication of what information is new, what the topic is and what element within the sentence is being emphasized (end-weight principle and information-flow principle). Most of the time, the use of the passive voice does not change the meaning of a sentence, but it does change the focus (1). In some cases, it can also change the meaning (4).

Thirdly, the passive voice (specifically the short passive) is often used when the agent (the “doer” of the action) is repetitive, unimportant, or not known (3). For example, when I wrote the sentence “I got my nose pierced” in my post about what I did in 2014, I used the get-passive because I felt that mentioning who pierced my nose was extraneous information. I was trying to emphasize an experience that I underwent rather than the person who inflicted such an experience upon me.

According to corpus research, 25% of academic finite verbs are used in the passive voice (2). No, I would not consider most of my blog posts as academic writing. I would however argue that my style of writing is heavily influenced by my many years of academic writing and I do not consider this to be detrimental to the quality of my work. Perhaps if my blog was focused on fictional short stories, your suggestions would be more advantageous.

In conclusion, I think that you should re-consider what you consider to be “good writing”. Instead of looking at textbooks and age-old sayings that have no credibility today, why not evaluate language based on how it is actually used?

Note: For fun, I have put in bold all instances of the passive voice that the WordPress proofreader found and attempted to tell me to correct.

Full Disclosure: This was written based on information I compiled for a research paper I wrote in a grammar class last year. It sounds nothing like the research paper though.




(1) Aarts, B. (2011). Oxford modern English grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

(2) Biber, D., Conrad, S., & Leech, G. (2002). Longman student grammar of spoken and written English. Harlow, England: Longman.

(3) Biber, D., Johansson, S., Leech, G., Conrad, S., & Finegan, E. (1999). Longman grammar of spoken and written English. Harlow, England: Longman.

(4) Celce-Murcia, M., & Larsen-Freeman, D. (1999). The grammar book: An ESL/EFL teacher’s course (2nd ed.). Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

A List of Sorts

As I’m starting to count down to how many days are left until I see my family, I’m avoiding thinking about leaving Colombia. This always happens when I make big changes in my life. There are a lot of things I’m really looking forward to, but there are also a lot of things I’m going to really miss.

What I’m looking forward to

  • FOOD – I’m going to gain weight when I go back, and I am perfectly content with that.
    • having restaurants know what gluten free is, so I can eat out without worrying about getting sick
    • gluten free products: beer, bagels, pizza, all the things that can be made with bread such as grilled cheese, deli sandwiches and French toast
    • raspberries
    • sushi
    • Indian food
    • cheese that is not soft, white and bland
    • black olives that don’t cost a fortune
    • ice cream at Big Olaf’s on Siesta Key
  • Coffee shops – the culture and the coffee. Although the coffee here is of a high quality, it is watered down in comparison to what I am accustomed to.
  • Races – I was running a race a month when I lived in Atlanta, but I cannot find that many races here.
  • Running at a reasonable altitude – 9,000 feet (2,800 meters) is NOT an acceptable altitude
  • Yoga classes – I only recently found out that they do exist here, and it’s kind of too late to pay for a membership. It’s also way to cold to practice comfortably in my house.
  • Hot weather – when I get back to FL, summer will be in full swing.
  • The beach
  • Knowing what is culturally appropriate in all situations – sometimes I’m still confused as to what I should do or how I should act.
  • A direct communication style
  • Being long distance instead of really long distance with B and being able to see him more often than once every six months
  • My family and friends (seriously, I’m so excited to see these boys)

It was a lovely morning with two of my favorite boys at Siesta Key.

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What I’m going to miss

  • Food
    • Arequipe – Colombian caramel
    • A constant supply of freshly made arepas
    • Fresh, delicious produce
    • Being able to afford as much produce as I want in a week
    • All the fruits that I won’t be able to find in the US and the juices they make with them
    • The freshly made limeade that is so easy to find here
    • The Mexican restaurant I always go to
    • Fresh eggs that are cheap
  • The mountains – I hate the altitude but these mountains are so beautiful

More of Monguí.

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  • Having money to travel
  • My students
  • The friends I have made here
  • The sweet boys at the coffee place I always go to who greet me by name and ask me about my life
  • Making well above a living wage – I’m going back to being a student next year.
  • Speaking Spanish all the time
  • Not ever having to drive and having everything I need or do be within walking distance
  • Fantastic medical insurance
  • Never having temperatures below freezing

An Update Long Overdue

So back in December I went home to visit my family and boyfriend in a short two weeks. I managed to pack three cities, two states and a vicious intestinal bacterial infection into those fourteen days. I am a fan of slow traveling, but I was limited to two weeks outside of Colombia thanks to my Fulbright contract. I visited two different states because my family and B don’t live anywhere near each other (which is a shame).

I had a great time, but I was really disappointed by the fact that I was extremely ill the first week – so sick that I found it difficult to get off the couch. After getting lab results and an antibiotic, I started to feel better, but by that time, I was already far away from my family and visiting B and his family. When I returned to Colombia, I was sick (again) and sad. I wanted to be back with my family enjoying time with them or exploring the Amazon. I actually had a flight ticket purchased to Leticia in the Colombian Amazon, but I decided that it was wiser to not go seeing as I was sick.

My body healed by mid-January, but I was definitely still very homesick. Plus, it didn’t help that my university was requiring my presence even though I had been given absolutely no work. I spent the rest of January and the first half of February moaning to my roommate about how miserable I was. I also moaned to my family and my boyfriend, but not as much, because I didn’t want them to worry. I knew that once I was back at work with something to occupy my time I would feel better. I chose to not write during this time because I have people who care about me who read this, and I didn’t want them to worry unnecessarily.

It wasn’t all dark and gloomy during this time though. My roommate and I went to all our favorite coffee shops over and over again in order to feel like we were doing something.

This is my favorite Colombian dessert: arequipe con queso (caramel with cheese).

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I had a Fulbright friend come and visit, and I had the chance to go to a beautiful lake up in the mountains that is located in the department I live in (Boyacá).

Playa Blanca on Laguna de Tota. (This is definitely a #latergram).

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At the end of February, classes started again and I joyfully threw myself into work again. My schedule this semester is even crazier than the last because in addition to all of the work I was doing last semester I am also leading an Academic Writing Workshop. (This was my suggestion). In general, this semester has been easier with regards to planning because I have a lot of lesson plans to draw from and I know most of the students and professors that I am working with.

My life has felt like a whirlwind since I started working again. In addition to my work at the university, I have begun to read in preparation for the research papers I will be writing this summer that will summarize my experience here. I also had college friends come and visit, and I traveled a bit with them. We also got a whole week off which I used to lay by a pool in San Gil and research and get re-enrolled at my university in the US.

At this point, it’s kind of difficult to focus on my life here because my mind already wants to transition to the next thing. I am channeling this energy into the reading that I am doing, and I am trying to remember to enjoy what time I have left in Colombia. Thanks to the current crazy value of the dollar, I am going to finish out my contract and go home almost directly afterwards. I have six weeks of  teaching left, and I plan on making them good ones.

This Is a Little Bit Less Awkward

About a year and a half ago, I was nominated for a Liebster Award by a fellow blogger. This caused me a great deal of social anxiety which you can read about here. Today, Peter at Reinvention Diary nominated me for another Liebster Award. It’s always a good feeling when someone tells you (and the general public that reads their blog) that they enjoy your writing. This time around, I’m not going to stress about this. I’m honored – Peter is a fantastic writer whose posts make me think (in a good way) – and I’m happy to pass on the compliment.

Here are the rules for those of you who are unfamiliar:

As a blogger, I’m a horrible networker. I like to actually follow individuals and what they have to say instead of following hundreds of blogs just for the sake of “getting my name out there” or something. Here are a few of the blogs that I really enjoy reading (that I haven’t nominated in the past). To the bloggers I’ve nominated, this just means I really like your blog; don’t take it as a requirement to continue this “award” which is more or less a glorified chain letter.

James Patrick Casey writes about whatever he is thinking about and usually manages to make me laugh and/or think while doing so. I also always enjoy our comment threads that could spawn blog posts of their own.

Unexpected Wanderlust is a group of travelers who write about…traveling. I love reading their posts which are from the perspective of individuals who have a mindset similar to my own (and I’m pretty sure I failed to thank them for a Liebster Award nomination or something of the sort when I was busy moving to Colombia).

The Great Unwashed writes about her daily life and is absolutely hilarious. I also relate to her hatred of washing of any sort.

Sincerely, Jess is Jess’s blog about topics such as body image, race, feminism and faith. I love her honesty and her thoughts.

My “11” questions for these bloggers IF they decide to pass this own – no pressure on my part. There’s no way I can come up with 11 questions, so I’ll write four for the four bloggers I’ve nominated.

1. Where are you dreaming of traveling to now?

2. What food means “home” to you?

3. What is your life motto?

4. Cold or hot weather?

Here are the 11 questions from Reinvention Diary and my responses.

1) Why do you blog? I blog because I love to write. I also blog because it’s a good way to allow people close to me to keep up with what part of the world I’m living in.

2) What keeps your blog fresh? How do you keep from just repeating yourself? (I really want to know!) My mind is always full of 8,000 different thoughts. My life is almost always full of awkward, humorous or interesting events. My camera always has too many photos taking up the space on my memory card. Between these three things, I can usually find something to write about.

3) What is your spirit animal? The dog. If I could sleep, snuggle and eat all the time without feeling that my brain was wasting away, I would be extremely happy.

4) In one sentence, what do you think of “stuff”? I hate it.

5) Lefty or Righty? Lefty. No, I won’t have a shorter life span due to this.

6) Do you prefer city life or country life? I prefer country life within driving distance of a city.

7) If you discovered a magic ring that made you invisible, what would you do with it? I would use it to proctor tests in my classes.

8) Were you cheering for the Patriots or the Seahawks? I cheered for neither. I “watched” half the Super Bowl only because my friend wanted to see it. I am not a fan of American football for a multitude of reasons.

9) What makes you laugh? Lots of things including sarcasm, stupid humor, my own awkwardness and puppies.

10) What makes you want to pray? I pray the most when I am worried or sad. Recently I have been trying to also pray when I am happy.

11) What strengthens your faith? Suffering and serving are the two things that strengthen my faith most.

Here are the 11 random facts about me:

1. People regularly think that I smoke weed. I never have and don’t have any desire to do so in the future.

2. I was diagnosed with celiac disease before going gluten free was a fad. I have to eat gluten free for both my short-term and my long-term health.

3. I hate showering when it’s cold in the house.

4. I prefer my hair a little bit above shoulder length, but I don’t like paying for regular hair cuts.

5. Because I never studied Spanish at a university outside of one useless class, I have almost no confidence in my ability to write and speak academic Spanish.

6. Here in Colombia, I eat 3-4 plantains a week.

7. I don’t play video games because I’m bad at them and they give me motion sickness.

8. I didn’t start dating until was 18, and I have no regrets about that.

9. I don’t like swimming.

10. I really really want two tattoos (I already have the designs in mind) and a tragus piercing, but I’m super picky about artists and piercers. Plus, I don’t feel that it would be wise to spend the money right now.

11. I can crack my lower back, my upper back, my shoulders, my neck, and my knuckles.

El Eje Cafetero: Pereira

This is my last post in a series that details my trip to the Eje Cafetero. You can read about my time in Salento here, here and here and about my time in Manizales here.

Our return flight left really early from Pereira, so the day before our flight, we left Manizales and returned to Pereira. We dropped off our stuff at Hostel Kolibrí and then headed to the Termales de Santa Rosa de Cabal. This was the last thing on our “have-to” list and we were determined to get there even if it was inconvenient. (It was definitely inconvenient.)

We asked for advice from the receptionist at the hostel. She gave us a map and explained how we could find the buses that left for Santa Rosa. She told us to get off the bus at the main plaza in Santa Rosa where we could find another bus which would take us to the termales (hot springs). She warned us that the buses were scarce and we might end up waiting for a while in between buses.

We found the first “bus stop” with no problem and got on the bus to Santa Rosa. We arrived in Santa Rosa and assumed that the main plaza would be easy to spot. We were wrong. We arrived at what was obviously the turning point for the bus to return to Pereira and realized we weren’t quite sure where we were. We asked the bus driver but he just shrugged and told us we had missed the stop.

We saw a large sign that said “Termales” and decided to follow that. We stopped in at a bakery and asked if the buses to the hot springs passed by there. The bakery workers reassured that they passed right by there and were clearly marked, but they weren’t sure when the next bus would arrive. We sat down to wait. After about twenty minutes, the bus arrived and we got on.

We were delighted once we arrived at the hot springs. They really were worth the trip. It cost us about $15/person to get in (peak season prices). We went from pool to pool and also cooled off in the waterfall (which was freezing cold).

Today we went to the hot springs in Santa Rosa de Cabal.

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Eventually, we decided that we were sufficiently toasty. We headed down to where we could meet the bus. We learned that the next bus wouldn’t arrive for another hour. We grabbed a snack and waited. Eventually, a Jeep arrived and people started piling in. The driver asked us if we wanted to join, but we declined due to the fact that we felt that there wasn’t space. He disagreed, we bartered the price down and we got in. These Jeeps have an open back which allows for more people to sit in the back and others to stand. Sadly, I did not get a picture, but it was similar to this.

At one point on the ride, we had 16 people crammed into the Jeep. It also started to rain with thunder and lightning so the driver kindly stopped and threw a tarp over those of us in the back. There was something rather exhilarating about that ride. For $0.50 USD, I stood in the back of a Jeep in the dark and felt the wind on my face while lightning flashed around me.

We arrived safely in Santa Rosa and caught our bus back to Pereira with no difficulties. We went to bed, tired and content with our time in the coffee region of Colombia.

El Eje Cafetero: Manizales

After our rather eventful time in Salento (you can read about that here and here and here), we bid the town goodbye and headed to Manizales. Manizales is a more commercial city in the Eje Cafetero that is famous for the national parks surrounding it. After arriving, we took a metrocable from the bus terminal to downtown and then walked to our hostel.

Hostel Kaleidoscopio was clean and charming with huge full-sized beds for each person, but the heart of this place was its owner. Marta was like a mother to us. She was funny and sweet. She was accompanied by her small fluffy dog, named Gizmo. She was also extremely helpful at all times.

By the time we reached Manizales, we were somewhat tired and didn’t feel the need to do constantly. We had already accomplished all but one of our “have-to’s” for the trip. Thanks to Marta’s guidance, we explored the cathedral in Manizales which was really impressive. We cooked dinner together, took lots of naps and went to a national park outside the city which had hummingbirds, ostriches, orchids and a shiitake mushroom gazebo. There was one day where we all took a nap and I didn’t wake up. Eventually, my dear friends woke me and informed me that dinner was ready! Waking up to a hot dinner is one of the perks of traveling with kind and generous people. Don’t worry, I did my fair share of cooking the next day.

I love looking up.

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We stayed two nights in Manizales and greatly enjoyed Marta’s homecooked breakfasts and the break from being busy.

The Eje Cafetero was so pretty.

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2014. Summarized.

I did this last year and I felt that it was a fantastic way to end the year. I know I’m a bit late for saying goodbye to 2014, but I hope you won’t hold me to that. These posts take a while to create.



I spent the first half of January at home with my family enjoying their company. I then headed back to Atlanta to start the second semester of my M.A. with classes in English Grammar, Second Language Acquisition, Practicum and Advanced Spanish Grammar. I got my nose pierced, I went to a Sea Wolf concert with a dear friend, I ran a 5K, I learned that avocado can be used to make chocolate pudding and I experienced my first snowfall stateside.



In February I spent a lot of time studying. I also ran a 5K, received a sweet note from a stranger on Valentine’s Day, helped throw my dear friend’s surprise birthday party, found a magical tea shop, and went to a couple cool museums in Atlanta. At an event with said dear friend, she took a picture of me and I realized just exactly how much weight I had lost. (It hadn’t fully sunk in before this.) I proudly helped BoMF pull off the Mizuno Women’s 5K as volunteer coordinator. It also snowed AGAIN in Atlanta which is practically unheard of.



March continued to be rather chilly, but I maintained my dedication to Back on My Feet and got up to run with them even when it was 19F outside. I even managed to run a 10K. The winter weather was getting to me, so I began to buy myself fresh flowers to brighten up the house. I also obsessively took pictures of the spring flowers that were beginning to bloom around the city. I drove home for a weekend to see my family and enjoy the beach, and I ended up on the side of the road an hour outside my hometown after my car decided to have an electrical system failure. It was pretty scary, but I was fine.



April involved a lot of schoolwork, specifically a monstrous project for SLA, and two devastating falls. Although I only caused bruising and some pretty nasty wounds on my knees, I wasn’t able to run the entire month of April which was rather upsetting. I did walk a Color Run, but even that was extremely painful. I was hired at the Latin American Association as an English teacher, but never ended up working there. On a brighter note, this was the month that I learned that I had received a Fulbright ETA (and found a restaurant that served delicious gluten free waffles).



In May, I went home again to visit family and say goodbye to my favorite Mexican restaurant after I finished up for the semester. I then spent the rest of the month agonizing over the packing process and deciding what would stay in Atlanta, what would be tossed, what would go back to Sarasota for summer use, and what would go on to Colombia with me. My knees finally healed and I was able to return to running. I also went to an organic farm, went out with my roommate and his friends, attended the Atlanta Jazz Festival, and went to a movie premiere. At the end of the month, my roommate threw me a going-away party which included many of the people I had met during my year in Atlanta.



In June, I started part-time work at the preschool that my sister worked at. I promptly contracted the norovirus and spent the next few days extremely ill (I’ll spare you the details). June was an idyllic month filled with preparatory shopping for Colombia, gym time, yoga, running, lazy mornings on the beach, scrapbooking and crafts with the little ones I cared for a few days a week. I ran by the bay, ate lots of gluten free pizza, and spent time with friends and family. At the beginning of the month, I had reconnected with B, a childhood friend, thanks to a throwback Thursday photo my dad posted. At the end of the month, B came down to visit me and we decided that we were no longer just friends. 45% of my social circle deemed it necessary to tell me that I was crazy for starting a relationship so soon before leaving for Colombia. I agreed and proceeded with my own plans.



July was a crazy month. I went to Orlando to get my Colombian work visa and see some friends from undergrad, to Lake Wales to counsel at a summer camp, and to Fort Benning to visit B. After a few days with my family, I moved to Colombia and spent my first week there at Fulbright orientation.



On the 1st of August, I moved to Tunja which has been and will be my home during the extent of my Fulbright grant. I spent a good portion of the month out of breath from the altitude and the craziness of a new job in a new country. I watched tractor-trailers race backwards in Samacá, wandered around the colonial streets of Villa de Leyva, decorated my new room in record time and discovered the joy of arequipe. There was much rejoicing when I finally got internet in my house after a week or so without it. I also spent most of this month very hungry as I struggled to adjust my gluten free diet to the options available in Tunja.



In September, I learned to better control my hunger by shopping at Jumbo which carries gluten free pasta and I started making my own arepas. I experienced the first serious student strike of the semester complete with tear gas, masked bomb throwers and a bewildering lack of communication. I returned to Bogotá for a Fulbright seminar and to Villa de Leyva to spend time with friends. It was in September that I first began to feel my foreigner status.



October was the month when I first began to truly feel heartsick for my family. I kept myself busy with a 10K in Villa de Leyva, a series of mishaps in getting to Raquira, a Color Run, a horseshow, hot springs in Paipa and a couple other visits to nearby towns. I had reached a point in my work in the classroom that I felt that I could travel on the weekends and still be prepared for my classes. Although I never had a “groove”, things weren’t as overwhelming or unexpected as they had been before. I also made a guest appearance on a radio show in Ventaquemada (a nearby town).



In November, I failed at blogging for the first time in a long time. I spent too much of November sick, but I also went to Girardot for a Friendsgiving with fellow Fulbrighters, visited Bogotá to run another 10K and see an old friend, made homemade eggnog, spent a magical day in Monguí and left for Medellín after finishing my first semester as an English Teaching Assistant at UPTC. I spent my birthday in the clinic although my day was made better by Skype calls and a package that miraculously made it intact and on time.



December was a whirlwind of traveling. I started the month in Medellín, then went to San Andrés, Salento, Manizales, Pereira, Sarasota, and Raleigh. Because I returned to Tunja between each major trip, I took a total of 6 flights in December. I climbed up a giant rock, encountered bed bugs, watched Colombians celebrate the start of the Christmas season with alcohol and Christmas lights, wandered the beaches of a Caribbean island, went down a mountain barefoot, picked coffee, hiked to a valley of towering wax palms, rode in a Jeep with 15 other people, and finally returned home to the people I love. I celebrated Christmas with my family, B drove down to FL, and then we roadtripped up to North Carolina. We rang in the New Year with his family and friends.

This has been a year that has surpassed my wildest dreams. I have great hopes that 2015 will be even better than 2014.

El Eje Cafetero: Salento (part 3)

This post is a continuation of my December travel adventures. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

On our third day in Salento, we decided to do the hike which Salento is famous for: Valle de Cocora. This a moderately difficult hike that ends in Cocora Valley (thus the name) where Colombian wax palms grow. These tall wax palms can grow to up to 200 ft. and are symbolic of Colombia.

After our previous hiking experience, we prepared differently for Valle de Cocora. We rented rubber boots from the hostel and brought food and water with us. We took a “wheely” which is a Jeep to the hiking entrance early in the morning. (These Jeeps are the only taxi-like service available in Salento and there is a schedule for those that go to and return from Cocora). Once we arrived, we began the hike. After about 20 minutes, the trail became very challenging with steep, muddy inclines that sometimes required a great deal of skill to surmount. About an hour in, we began to wonder if the route we had taken was the correct one (the Cocora trails are more or less unmarked although they are well traveled). We had seen no other hikers and weren’t confident that we were in the right place. We stopped to rest and discuss this dilemma.

As we were discussing our options, we saw a woman on horseback who was descending. The moment she was within speaking distance, she commented that we were lost. She explained that we had taken the wrong fork and were headed towards another mountaintop which would be a hike of 6-7 hours if we were in top shape. We thanked her profusely and headed back down the mountain. My friends were very patient with me, seeing as this hike down made me really nervous. I did it though, and I felt better for conquering my fear. It was a lot easier in boots with tread and  with the ability to go at my own pace.

Once we reached the fork, we corrected our mistake and headed in the right direction. From there it was fairly easy going for a while. There were lots of rickety handmade bridges that we had to use to cross the river (the trail crossed the river multiple times) and a few questionable turns that we figured out. The last kilometer or so to the farm Alcaime (the halfway point if we hadn’t gotten lost) was challenging and I was very happy to sit down and enjoy agua de panela con queso while admiring the many hummingbirds that are attracted to the flowers and hummingbird feeders at Alcaime.

The next stretch of the hike was challenging for me. It was pretty steep for about an hour until we reached the farm La Montaña which was the peak. This farm did not charge us or offer us “free drinks”, but we were able to buy water there and play with the sweet guard dog. This farm also had a ton of hummingbirds that were feeding on the flowers growing there.

At the Finca La Montaña yesterday.

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The rest of the hike was a smooth downhill. I happened to chat with a fellow hiker who was a military vet from Atlanta. When we reached the valley, we spent some time admiring the view and taking photos. The huge palms were awe inspiring.

We went up the wrong mountain but then we found the right one.

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The weather then threatened to turn wet so we hurried back to the meeting point for the Jeeps. We made it just in time for that round of Jeeps and also managed to miss the rain. Despite my blisters and sore legs, the hike was more than worth it.


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