Part Five Colombian Trip
One matter to clear up for those that emailed to ask. I am being asked, where are the details? Pictures? Rent cost, taxi fare food, etc etc. Patience Grasshopper! I have a number of videos coming with much of the detail and the neighborhoods as well as downtown. I have at least one interview and specific plans for comparisons from Armenia to Cuenca, which will begin on this blog and finish with a video. It will all be there. These current entries are my attempt to share with you my experience and feelings as I go from day to day. While yours may be entirely different, I want you to feel what it is like in my shoes on this trip. For those considering a visit or even moving here, by the time this series ends hopefully you feel you saw everything I saw, and I am making a point to gather some specifics. I do thank you for all your kind comments. The amount of views has really surprised me. Please know I am doing my best. (This intro was written yesterday morning. Below is today, Saturday evening)
On day two in Armenia, I decided to go for a walk. I walked north on Calle 19 (main 4 lanes) I went about 6 blocks. I crossed over east 2 blocks, then walked back past the Cine. A left turn up the hill, past the University, and right turn. Walked a few more blocks until I got to Texas Burger again, I was craving this burger so I returned to get it. I sat on the outdoor patio people watching. What a huge difference. The women here dress as if you were in the USA on a hot day. midriff shirts, latest fashions, make up, etc. In many ways, it is similar to a small, nice USA town/city. It numbers around 300,000 people in total. That is half the size of Cuenca. There are perhaps 200 Gringos here. I haven’t seen any, but I am told they exist. That number is a guess among three people. I can tell you first hand, the people here are very fond of the USA and the people, and are extremely welcoming. Perfect strangers stop to talk. Everyone I have met, in a store, restaurant or on the street, is very helpful. They also try very hard to understand your Spanish, and in every situation, they actually would coach me to the right word or phrases. I found a town full of Spanish teachers! There is also a huge desire to learn English. Go back 15 years. I had spent most of my time in Pereira, and some time in Armenia. Not a single person in all the months I lived here spoke English. How times have changed since the trade agreement about 10 years ago. In Armenia alone, there are at least a dozen institutes specifically to teach English. In fact, any native speaker is welcome to come to work.
Let me take a moment to tell you about where I am staying. It is extremely easy to come here and just find a hotel/hostel. They are everywhere and range from $5 a night for a shared room, to around $10-$15 for private room and bath. I opted to plan it ahead and paid over the Internet for 5 days. It was $12 a night. The bedroom is very small. It has enough room and a single bed. It also has attached a private bathroom and shower. Hot water is fine. I have the run of the place, including a new washer, kitchen, and fridge, living room, etc. It is very comfortable and homey. There is fresh juice and coffee whenever I want. Breakfast and lunch are offered daily but I haven’t been too hungry, so I generally pass.
There are plenty of traditional US style hotels as well for $30 and up. I chose this as I know it is better to find help with the local scene. Boy was I right there!
I am staying in a 24-hour security building, on the third floor, and it has 4 bedrooms. Javier is the father. He works at the municipal Judicial building about 8 blocks away. His wife is away, staying with her mother, who is in her end of days, over 90. She wanted to spend every possible moment before that happened. She left her job and family, with full support, to do that. One daughter has her own place, I haven’t met her. Her name is Jessica. I suspect she lives in another city. Janet lives here. She is perhaps 28, and is an English teacher in a large building right across the street. She is extremely outgoing and constantly keeps her brother in check. She will tear into him in a heartbeat. Not in a bad way. She is just very strong willed. Jammer (pronounced Hammer) is the son, perhaps 32. I never ask where he works, but he brings home stacks of papers, and works through the night, then heads off early in the morning. He works hard.
These people have been amazing. Aside from catering to my every need (which I have to constantly turn down), they have shared all the spare time they have to talk to me, explain the area to me, and taking me out to see various things. The past two evenings they have taken me out to eat, their treat. Today was quite an adventure but that will be in an upcoming installment.
Janet flew to Bogata last night (Friday) for a planned week with friends. I was a bit worried as she was my English connection. But in truth, it was a blessing. As I have mentioned many times, I lived here a while 15 years ago. During that time, I struggled with Spanish but could understand people after a few months of zero English. I was married for over 8 years to a wonderful Colombiana as well. But in Cuenca, I have struggled mightily with the language. What I am about to say is difficult to explain, and will probably be misunderstood, but I am going to try anyway.
When I arrived in Ecuador, I felt like it was a language I never heard before. I assumed that was due to the many years since I heard it. I am not saying it is not Spanish or wrong. But in my own head, I was confused. So many words were new, so many were pronounced differently, most people speak quietly, and fairly fast. Even words and phrases I know I struggle with. I also find that quite often if I do not pronounce something exactly as they want, they act like I am from Mars. I’ll repeat a word over and over, only to find on the fifth try, they say the word to me, and to me, it sounds the same. It is frustrating and I constantly feel stupid. This is from my perspective only and is inside my head. Had I come here never being anywhere else, I doubt I would have the issue. After several years I barely manage. Hell, I learned Japanese fluently in a year! I know I’m not stupid.
Here is the positive for me. I arrived in Armenia and felt comfortable. People were speaking slower and clearly. They spoke at a reasonable volume. They pronounced words the way it had burned into my head. I will give you one example. LL. In Cuenca, that is silent. Medellin is pronounced “Med-a-yeen”. But here all LL sound like a “J”. Med-a-jeen. There are many words like that. In my head, since it was familiar, it felt like a stabilizing anchor. Some expert may know what that is about. I have no clue. I just know over the past few days words and phrases are flooding into my head and I can actually carry on a bit of a conversation. I spoke almost only Spanish with Javier all day. We spent the day seeing several towns. I spoke with a number of vendors, ordered food and drinks, talking about horseback riding and many other things. It was like the flood gates opened. Like I had a blockage and just got rotor-routered. I don’t get it but I am really grateful. I feel when I come back this next week (To Ecuador) I will be able to have the confidence to do much better. I was wondering how I survived here for so long before with no one speaking English, but couldn’t now. Maybe I need a shrink. Oh, by the way, to that retired Spanish professor from the USA that I discussed this with a few months back… you were wrong, sorry. I explained to him the differences and how it confused me. He said I was wrong, and it was all me, He said it was my ear, and that Colombian Spanish was exactly the same. Javier and I had a good laugh about that. He told me he struggles with Ecuadorian Spanish himself. I realize I will get a ton of messages about this. I’m sorry. I am just saying how this has been for ME.
There is so much to tell you about this place. So much, in fact, I am struggling with prioritizing and organizing! If we were talking I would likely be gushing incoherently. To help myself I will bullet point a few things coming up.
I have a ton of really good video clips. I have several interviews, I think 3 so far. One is with Janet, speaking in English about what you could expect life to be like here. She describes rental costs, costs of living, and a number of other important things if you are considering visiting or even moving here. Today, We went to a beautiful tourist town. Winding country roads with breathtaking scenery. A picturesque town, and horses everywhere. We drove on to a nature site with the ultra tall palms, the countries national tree. It is quite a view. Last night, we went to have charcoaled Chorizo, and then I cover the drive to the airport, with the entire family singing to the radio (Jammer a bit key-challenged). A few shots in the airport as well. I have some El Centro info, as well as shots of apartment buildings and a residential area. You will find some things striking, one is the fencing. The houses have low decorative fences rather than a wall. Coming from Cuenca, that jumped right out at me. You will see an interesting technique to disguise cell towers. I have a number of pricing comparisons as well.
To those that have been following this blog, and sending so many nice comments, I thank you very much. I really hope to cover as much as possible for you and present the most honest and realistic view I can make. My last blog of this series will be after I return to my little town of Giron. I think the perspective of being home will be a good way to close it out. I wish I could make the video’s companion to these blogs, but for several reasons, I do not think I can get the first one out until after I get back home. So I’ll keep gathering the info and planing the videos, and if you still follow you will see the same trip only with sights and sounds. My goal with the blogs is to share the feeling. I began this blog a day and a half ago, so while I am repeating a bit, I am updating.