I often thought of writing those words, though, it seemed we would find something completely different almost every time we’d crossed a border. But now we’ve put a hold on rambling for another lifestyle, settling in with a wonderful host family in Medellin Columbia and returning to school to learn Spanish. This certainly is completely different. We even took on different names that are more phonetically appropriate since pronunciations are different in Spanish; Bill is usually, “Beel” and Cindy is, “Ceendy”. Here, they call us Chucho and Sofia.
I’ve wanted to learn Spanish for a long time. Growing up in NYC I had many Latino friends and enjoyed living alongside the culture, the music and the language. We had family friends that were from Spain, too. We’ve traveled to Latin American often and it’s so invitingly close for more trips, learning Spanish seemed like a useful, fun and interesting thing to do. Colombia is proving an excellent place as the people are always appreciative when you try the native tongue and so very friendly and helpful in learning the language. It’s a truly rich experience being immersed in another culture. And we’re loving that there are very few tourists.
Our class time is pretty intensive. We’re attending Universidad Pontifica Bolivariana for 4 hours of daily class room instruction plus one hour of free grad-student-mediated club time (culture/grammar/conversation) about 3 times per week. It feels strange being back in school sitting at a desk, putting on the ol’ thinking cap and using whatever side of the brain language learning resides. Admittedly, learning the language is more challenging than I’d anticipated. There are so many ways to say so many things, irregular verbs, cognates, false-cognates….I wish I had done this when I went to school as a child. I find it fascinating that even though it has been over 40 years since 3 years of French instruction in school, I still understand quite a bit of it; far more than Spanish, but of course, that may be too much to expect for only 3 weeks of instruction. It’s strange how the mind works, especially when it comes to learning a foreign language.
Reputations die hard, as is the case with Medellin. Aside from some hiccups, the city has been on the upswing since a roof-top chase ended in the death of Pablo Escobar in 1993. Ironically, that initiated the tempering of the city’s violent past, where today, Medellin is a modern, western-style world class city. Known as “The eternal city of spring”, it’s set deep into the gorgeous Aburra Valley with a micro climate that accounts for pleasant year-round temperatures. Looking up from almost any place in Medellin, it’s impossible not to notice the soaring mountains that cradle the city. This metropolis has an efficient, clean, secure metro, a cadre of inexpensive intra-city bus routes, a modern cable car system and potable tap water. It’s impossible to hold back when describing the friendly, helpful people who smile sweetly when you stumble your way through buying tickets or ordering food. Medellin has even been written about positively in The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Still, “life in the big city” rules apply as caution is a daily watchword.
During our first free weekend in Medellin, we took a school field trip to Parque Arvi, an ecological reserve set high in the mountains above the eastern slope of the Aburra Valley. We started with an easy to navigate public metro system which took us right to the metrocable.
And then a chiva took us to the park entrance….
We toured the insect and butterfly houses in the reserve.