Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Semana Santa

Semana Santa means Holy Week and pretty much everyone is off work for at least part of the week here in South America. Our school was closed for the entire week before Easter plus the Monday after Easter for another Catholic holiday. 10 of us decided to take advantage of the long week off to go visit a different part of the country. Alan, my fiance, and Whitney's brother, Dan, flew in from the US to visit and came along on the trip.

Day 1 and 2: We loaded up at 5am on Saturday morning to start our long drive towards the coast of Colombia. To get there and keep it cheap, we rented a van and driver for the entire trip. The first day we drove 12 hrs (it should have only been 8 but road construction caused us to go 3 hours out of the way...T.I.C) and so we arrived in Medellin about 12am. We had been warned about driving after dark because of FARC and the dangers of 9 Americans who look very white getting stopped. Fortunately that didnt happen. We stayed in the Seminary school dorms that night in Medellin and woke up at 7 the next morning to start the 2nd day of driving to the coast. This should have only taken us 9 hrs but again took 12 hrs and we arrived in Cartagena at 1am.

Day 3: Cartagena was incredible. We had arranged to rent an apartment of someone who has relatives at ECA (the school where we all work). She gave us a great deal and all 10 of us had this huge apartment with 4 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms to ourselves (and the live in housekeeper) for the next 2 days. We were only 2 blocks from the beach and the apartment was in the nicer part of town.

The first day we lounged around and recooperated from the long hours in the van. We relaxed on the beach for the first part of the day and tasted the shrimp (ceviche) with salsa that they walk around selling to the beach visitors. The beach is not as relaxing as it is in the U.S. because many people make their living off of selling their jewelery, food, massages, hair braids, etc. by hassling the tourists. You can't go a minute without someone walking up to you asking you to buy stuff.

That afternoon we all went back to the apartment to shower and then went to the "Old City" of Cartagena. Cartagena was once a spanish fort and the city was surrounded on all sides by a large wall. This is now the "old city". It was very beautiful and had a cool spanish/italian feel to it. A group of us walked around and took a tour of the Castillo de San Felipe (the castle) which is right outside of the city. Then we headed back inside the city walls and walked around. Alan and I split up from the group and had dinner in a courtyard. It was an nice unexpected romantic evening! We headed back to the apartment and others joined us after taking a carrage ride through the city.

Day 4 (Cartagena):
We left early in the A.M. for a boat tour to the Islas de Rosario (islands). Like most purchases in Colombia, we had to negotiate our ticket prices until we found the best deal. For lunch and a full day of the boat ride and island trips we spent about $25.00 per person which is so cheap compared to what something like that would cost in the US.

We had about a 1 1/2 hour boat ride to the first island. Many passangers got sick along the way...pretty gross. On the first island Alan and I walked through the outdoor aquarium. It wasnt anything too extravagant but it was nice and there wasnt much else to do on the tiny island. Katherine ran into our neighbor (in Bogota)'s cousin and she was staying with the owner of the island so she showed us around a bit.

Next stop was Playa Blanca where we were served our lunch of fish with its head attached. The beach was small but nice and not too crowded. We hung out there for an hour or so before heading back to Cartagena. We were pretty impressed with these beaches. The water was so clear and everything was so beautiful. We definitely got a great deal for what we paid.

On the way back, the waves were pretty large and since we were on the front of the boat we were getting soaked and again, people were getting sea sick.

That night we were exhausted but got up enough energy to go eat at Hard Rock Cafe in Cartagena's old city. I had forgotten how delicious american food is! I can't wait to go home and eat this stuff again!

Day 5: Driving again.

On Wednesday we began driving to our next destination. The trip took us 4 hrs but we didnt arrive in Santa Marta until 4pm because our van driver picked us up 2 hrs behind schedule. When we arrived, we went to the house of a previous principal of ECA who is now a missionary in Santa Marta. He had offered for us to stay at his church for free during our time in Santa Marta which was really nice and cut cost incredibly. We had a late lunch with his family, then settled down at the church. That evening we went to a part of the city called El Rodadero, which is the more touristy high class area.


Day 4:

Taganga- another section of beach around Santa Marta. This is a small bay where everyone parks there boats. From here we took a boat to another nearby bay. We layed around there most of the day and then headed back and had dinner. This day was a difficult one for me due to issues with the van driver and insults from the colombians against us americans. It was nice that it was a relaxing day but I was definitely longing to be back in my familiar culture.

Day 5: Parque Tayrona

In Santa Marta there is a national park surrounding the Sierra Nevada. Within that park you can hike to the beaches and to the Lost City. We did the easy- one day trip of walking the coastal part. The beaches were gorgeous, however, it was a bit crowded for a national park due to the holiday.


Day 6: We left Santa Marta at 4am and drove the entire 18 hrs (this time we actually did it around our estimate) all the way back to Bogota, getting back at 1am. It was good to be back and we still had 2 full days left to rest and get ready for school to begin on Tuesday.

Monday, February 18, 2008

El Penon

Our Principal's husband, Rafa, has connections with pretty much anyone in Colombia and so we often get offered really cool trips out of the city. (He is kind of like the Christian publicity guy of Bogota if you want to call it that- meaning, he brings people in from all over the world to speak, perform, and minister to people in the city, as well as having his hand in numerous ministries throughout the city in some way). My first weekend back after break, his family asked us if we wanted to go with them out of the city to a vacation house owned by one of these people he has some connection with, who had offered it to us, no charge.

The place we went was called El Penon. This is a gated (very gated and secure) community in Giradot, about three hours from Bogota, with a lake and fancy homes, all made of white stucco. It was definitely fancier than what anyone would expect out of a vacation for missionary teachers. These homes were ridiculous! No wonder the FARC took over this community and ran everyone out- yeah they did, but sometime in the past year or two they were run out of the territory. That's probably why they required us to stamp our fingers, take a photo, and do a small background check before we could go into the community.

The house we stayed in was probably one of the smaller ones, sleeping 11 people (we fit 16). Every house has it's own pool and mango trees in the backyard. We had incredible food, thanks to the maid who takes care of any visitors at the home, and fresh juices the sip by the pool. It was a fantastic weekend getaway filled with boat rides, games, a crazy photo scavenger hunt, bonding time for us teachers and the high school students who joined us, and large amounts of peaceful reading time. When we left to head back to the city, we brought with us sunburn and tons of mosquito bites!

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Since last I wrote…

I’ve been back for a month now and this semester has seemed easier, more comfortable; more like a home than it did last semester. That is partly due to how little like home the states felt for the month I was there and my growing love for this county, its problems, and its people.

Many of you may have heard of the march against the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia). This march took place on February 4 all over the world. When announced at the school a few weeks before that we would be taking part in a peace march, we all assumed it was a small event that happened every year. Then we started seeing shirts being sold along the street sides saying “No mas secuestros, no mas mentiras, no mas muertes, no mas FARC”. This translated means “no more kidnappings, no more lies, no more deaths, no more FARC”. I was so disappointed that I hadn’t bought one after realizing what a big deal this event had become after being started as a Facebook group. I arrived at school on Feb. 4, wearing my white shirt for Peace as told by the school, along with all other students and staff. At 11:15 the march began and classes were cancelled for that hour so that the whole school could participate. However, right before the march, the US embassy emailed our principal asking anyone with a US passport to not participate so not to draw attention to areas with high US citizen populations. The FARC are really against Uribe, the president here, and Bush, who they say are working together, and therefore would target citizens because it would look like we were supporting the US government’s role in Colombia. Many students were calling home to ask for permission to march with their peers because many of them are ½ Colombian or have lived here their whole lives and feel Colombian. For us teachers it was very disappointing because our reason for being here is to support the missionaries and stand behind them in their efforts to reach this country, and also to support the students, in their personal lives, which would include marching with them against something that affects them everyday. So, many of us decided to march anyway since it was our choice whether or not to go against the warning from the embassy. It was a great choice and it created a unity between us and the Colombians more than before. The students really appreciated our willingness to take that risk to show our support for them and their country. We knew we were putting our lives in danger when we came here and part of the reason we came here was because we knew the country's circumstances and wanted to try to improve those circumstances. Missionaries typically don’t go to places where they think they can avoid having to fight for something they are passionate about. Anyway, so that was a pretty cool thing to take part in and after seeing it on the news and in the newspapers, I was thankful I didn’t miss out.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Colombia: Part II

Hi everyone! I am back in Colombia for the second part of my time here. I arrived last night to my wonderful roommates and friends and new roommate (a puppy). It is good to be back and see everyone again although it was difficult to leave to U.S.; maybe even more difficult than the first time.

School started a week and a half ago for the teachers and students but I will start back tomorrow. If you didn’t already hear, I am getting married this summer and had asked for extra vacation time in the U.S. to get some of the wedding stuff done. That was pretty productive I guess and I am grateful that the school allowed me to have that time. Tomorrow will be the first of 4 ½ more months at El Camino Academy before the school year ends. I am excited about seeing staff and students at the school again and I am hoping it won’t be too difficult to get back on a work schedule after having a laid back vacation. I’m sure the transition will be a challenge for a week or so.

This morning while my roommates were at church, I stayed home to unpack and rest so that I would be ready for the early transition tomorrow. My first realization that I am no longer in the U.S. occurred when I went outside to take the puppy out and forgot that our door is permanently locked so it always requires the key to enter. So there I was in shorts and a t-shirt (clothing that Colombian women never wear even when at the gym) in the small park outside our door with no where to go because my roommates weren’t coming back until late afternoon. The neighbor came out and I asked if I could climb through her window onto the roof to get to my window that I had left open. I had a difficult time remembering the Spanish needed to explain this to her whole family who had come outside to see what was wrong. She explained that there are permanent bars on the windows but that I should go tell our guards. So I walked around with the puppy in my arms looking very American and asked the Portero (guard) for a ladder so that I could climb onto the roof. I felt like such an ditz by this point but eventually it all worked out after having to climb a ladder while the guard and neighbors watched me with shorts on and the puppy in my arms (I was afraid to put him down and lose him and I wasn’t sure how culturally inappropriate it is to ask someone to hold your pet) and walk on the small brick part of the roof so that I wouldn’t step through someone’s ceiling. This was actually pretty humorous but hopefully the adjusting wont get worse.

Another challenge I will have is raising my financial support again while 1,000s of miles away. My insurance company has repeatedly denied coverage of my diabetic supplies, which is a huge expense coming out of my account. I will continue to fulfill my commitment to the school and what God has called me here to do and I won’t let this frustration I have with insurance cause me to break my commitment. My missions account is empty now after living abroad last semester and I need the financial support to get through the remainder of my time.

I will try to update my blog more often than I did last semester for those of you who read it frequently. I would love to hear from you all and if you want to know more about Bogota, El Camino Academy, my crazy life, etc. let me know because life here isn’t as odd to me anymore and it’s hard to think of out of the ordinary things that would be interesting to people not living in South America.

Thanks for listening! Hope to hear from you soon!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Un Dia Especial

I mentioned in my last blog that a certain event during Alan's visit deserved its own post and here it is.

On Monday, October 29, Alan's 3rd full day in Bogota, we set out to see some other parts of the city that I had heard were "chevere" (cool). We decided to go to a place on top of the mountains called Monseratte.

First we took the Transmilenio bus to Candelaria, which is a neat historical area with cafes and artesenias. We stopped for a small bite which turned into a large meal because the waiter thought we had ordered two of the same plates when we actually wanted to share. (I wasn't too happy about this because I wasn't very hungry and didn't want to pay for two large meals. In the U.S. you wouldn't be charged for something like this. Alan calmed me down and we decided to find a homeless person to give the extra food.)

Then we left and began walking towards the bottom of the mountain where Monseratte is located. (We found a homeless guy on the way). From the bottom of the mountain, we took a cable car lift thing called the Teleferico to the top of the mountan. As the car ascended up the mountain we were able see a great view of Bogota. Once on the mountain we had an even more amazing view of the city and were eye level with the clouds. On top of the mountain there is a gorgeous famous Catholic Church, some artesenias, 2 restaraunts, and a walkpath with statues of the sequence of Jesus' death. It didn't take long to do everything up there but it is very peaceful (especially on a Monday when everyone is at work) and we spent a good amount of time looking at the view and watching the clouds. When we first arrived the sky was clear, then the storm clouds surrounded us and we were inside of them, seeing nothing but white all around, then later the sky cleared again.

Around 5pm we went to an early dinner at the nicer of the two restaraunts. It was a super cozy French restaraunt with amazing food and we sat in the glassed in sun room with a view of all of Bogota. There were only one or two couples in the whole restaraunt. We ate and talked for a few hours. Alan started asking me serious questions like "where do you see yourself next year", "how many kids do you want", "when did you first start falling in love with me", etc. I felt a bit strange answering those questions because I usually avoid talking about "married people stuff". Then he started telling me about what he wanted out of life and how he felt about me. (I don't remember exactly what he said because the whole time I was wondering what was going on and denying what I thought might have been happening.) Then he started messing with his pocket and leaned over the table to kiss me (or distract me) and then went back to talking about the future. Next thing I know he was telling me that he wants to be with me forever and will never leave me and then he asked me to be his wife. I think my response was "OF COURSE", but said with shock and a gasp of air and a kiss before I even looked at the ring that he had hidden under his hands while talking to me. (He pointed out that I didn't look at it yet as he was giving it to me and then told me about how he designed it himself, how he decided to not do a diamond from a past conversation we had about the movie "Blood Diamond", how he asked/told my dad that he wanted to marry me, and how he didn't want to wait until I came home for Christmas to propose even though he had no way of planning it out in Bogota, Colombia.)
I later told him that I had pointed him out to my friends at church sometime in February/March of 2006, before ever officially meeting him, as the guy I thought I was going to marry, even though I didn't believe it myself and new I was crazy for saying it outloud (but my friends new I was crazy so they didn't think anything of it). I think I am finally getting over the shock that this actually happened and that I am not dreaming (even though it is a dream).
So I am engaged and maybe by July or October of 2008 I will be Mrs. Alan Wilser or as the students at my school say, he will be Mr. Mclambcito.
So my request is that you be praying for us both as we are apart from each other while I finish up my year in Bogota and while he is who-knows-where, as we plan for marriage, as best possible without being together, and that God will bless this time apart to help bring us together as one.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Special Visitor

Reason 2 for my lack of blogging...

Oct 26- Nov 8

ALAN came to visit! I imagine the anticipation was beginning to drive myself and everyone else around me crazy since I had started counting down a month before the arrival. On Friday I left early from school with Rafa and Rodrigo, the principal's husband and son to retrieve my wonderfully goodlooking boyfriend from the El Dorado Bogota Airport. Of course we were running behind schedule since I was depending on Colombians to get me there but that was ok becuase Alan was flying from Nicaragua which meant he was also on Latin American time and running late. Rafa stood at the exit with me and tried to calm down my jitters and remind me that it is better to go to the restroom than to pee on myself from excitement. We waited and watched the exit for 30 minutes hoping that Alan would be the next to walk around the corner and then finally he appeared, as goodlooking if not better than I had remembered, but he was walking to the other exit. So I shot across to the other exit as quickly as possible, dogging everyone else who was waiting for their (not quite as special as mine) visitors, and grabbed him from over the railing; An incredible memory that I will never forget. It felt unreal that he was finally here with me. That night we went to dinner, I showed him around the neighborhood a bit, and introduced him to my "family" here in Colombia.

Saturday the roomates had people over for a costume party to celebrate my birthday. Sunday, we went to church and explored a small porcion of the city (in the rain) and had a nice dinner. Monday (a special day that deserves its own special blog after this one is finished) I took the day off and we saw other parts of the city and went to Monserrate. Tues-Friday I worked and showed him what my life in Colombia is like as best I could. Friday- Monday we went out of town with some other teachers. Then on Thursday he left to go back to Nicaragua.

A great nearly 2 weeks that allowed me no time to update a blog because I spent every available moment with the guy I love!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


So if you are wondering why I haven't posted a blog in a while, here is one explanation...

Oct 20- Oct 25: HACKER

On Saturday, October 20th I was talking online to Alan, my boyfriend, and getting ready for an all day concert "Raza de Campeones" of 5 Spanish Christian artists that I was super excited about. Alan mentioned to me that he had just received an email from me saying that I am was Africa. I told him that Bethany, a friend of mine here, had used my computer the day before and was probably playing a joke on him since he was going to be flying here next week. Then he copied and pasted the email into our chat and immediately it was no longer a joke. Someone had stolen my password and sent an email to everyone on my contact list. Alan noticed that I was signed in on my email chat so he sent a message and the "kcmacHacker" responded. He continued to email people on my contact list for a few days and ask for money from anyone who responded to the initial email. A few of my friends here created a fake email and went along with kcmachacker's scam for a few days. It was quite entertaining at times and lightened up the situation a bit, especially when "Dave Gonzalez" reminded "kcmachacker" of their love affair and the poetry and love songs and memories they had shared. To make it even more hilarious, Kcmachacker went along with it and said things like "I am crying", "I'm so sorry I did that to you", "Don't leave your wife for me, I don't deserve you", etc. However, the laughter did not completely dissolve how violated I felt and the feelings of losing part of my identity since so much of my life depends on internet and email while I am in Colombia. I had no way of contacting everyone that received the email because I did not have a list of my contacts. Fortunately kcmachacker does not speak very good English so it wasn't a very believable email. I also had stored many important things inside my email over the past year such as bank info, credit card numbers, passwords, plane tickets, and very special emails from very special people that I had saved as memories. AND since my Blog is through Google and connected with my Gmail account, I was unable to access it as well which explains me not updating everyone on the situation.

But good news! By the end of the week Gmail had responded and I was able to reclaim my email identity. I guess the positives are that I learned not to trust and depend on the internet so much and to not store important private info out in www land. I also saw how many people stand up for me and help out in tough situations. When my email was returned to me I read many emails that were sent to the hacker defending me. Many of the responses were witnessing to him and sharing our faith with him and it was such a blessing to read the message that those people were trying to share with him even if he blew them off. So, thanks to everyone who helped contact people and who helped me through that tough week!