Saturday, 26 March 2016

Trip to Guatapé

The last day in Medellín we spent visiting a nearby town (2 hours drive by car) called Guatapé that is situated in the middle of one of the most stunning lakes I have seen until now at an altitude of about 1900m. There are many many islands and the water just fills up the spaces inbetween stretching really far.

To get a better view of the whole landscape there is a huge stone that seems like it was made for climbing and looking into the distance called "La Piedra de Peñol" and at the first sight it seemed impossible to get on top of it.

Fortunately, they built a staircase into the stone with more than 700 steps to get on the top viewpoint which we climbed on what seemed to be the hottest day of the month. They call it "the worlds most beautiful panorama" - I do not believe that but I guess it gets pretty close.

Again it is obvious that the lake suffered from the drought caused by el niño. This also allowed us to get carribean-like close-up-shots from the lake when driving around by boat and exposed beautiful beaches that else would be covered by water.

And even the town of Guatapé itself is a feast for the eyes. The whole town is pretty colourful, all the houses are decorated with different colours and patterns and every street seems more beautiful than the one before. It is just like I would like every town to look like.

I even got a souvenir from the visit to the town - a good sunburn to remember the beautiful sunny day on the lake. Really, everday I actually spend in the sun I end up red no matter how much sun protection I use because I always miss a spot or unknowingly wipe it off. I really hope that gets better soon. I am already quite tanned but in comparison to my friends here I am still a huge contrast (I love how the following picture reveals that).

After that day, we went back home to Ibagué in a long roadtrip and for now I am back to daily life at least until the next weekend.

Friday, 25 March 2016


For the "Semana Santa", the Holy Week, we decided to get out of Ibagué and to Medellín, the second biggest city of Colombia. And Medellín has kind of a history, but not that kind that usually attracts tourists. I found this great claim about the city online: "Next time someone says “most dangerous city on earth”, I’ll pull a machine gun on them." Because, well, there was a time it was known as the most violent city in the world, with no place where a live counts less.

Some might also know the name of the city from different series and movies made about Pablo Escobar "Don Pablo" "El Zar de la Cocaína" who was the wealthiest criminal in history and operated from Medellín. But don't worry - he is dead and Medellín is much much safer now. It is a lively and modern city that actually does not have much to offer for tourists like typical tourist spots - because the city is quite modern - but it has a lot to offer for just enjoying the time! Also, the people are really nice. In the metro, they keep seats free for those who really need it. And one woman overheard our conversation and when it was our stop she told us that we have to get out here so we don't miss it - just because she wanted to help.

In the center of Medellín we found one big plaza with many statues of the famous artist Botero that made sculptures and pictures of obese people and animals. The rest of the center consisted of many many street sellers of various goods and it seemed not always completely secure. It was nothing like city centers in Europe where the center contains the historical part of the city.

 A little bit outside there was a castle and as soon as I saw it on the map I decided I needed to see it because castles are pretty rare over here on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and it was absolutely worth it. Of course, this castle was built by europeans that settled here and the castle inside looked pretty much like a miniature version of european castles. But I was impressed by what influences could be found here from all over Europe. There were paintings of Venice in the typical style of italian paintings, there was glass of Murano, porcelaine of Germany, painted windows from France, tiles that looked like the ones in Istanbul that were probably imported from Spain and pictures of various componists from all over Europe, including many from Austria, I even found a cup with a picture of Mozart on it. It was really impressing to see which parts of the european culture have reached Latin America.

They also had a beautiful park from where we got a great view over the southern part of Medellín. Medellín itself spans over many mountains with a population of more than 3 million people, therefore too big to see it all from one spot. The park was in the typical style of castle parks as well, but with plants that grow here like the palm trees in the background.

In the middle of the city on another small mountain there was a small village called "Pueblito Paisa" that showed how a typical village in the surrounding area of Medellín looks like which is a really huge difference to how all the buildings look like in the city. While all the buildings in the city seem to be built with the same red bricks, the houses of the colonial towns are white with coloured windows, doors, fences and pillars - really beautiful! And we even encountered an iguana - just for scale, the fruit in its mouth is a mango we feeded him.

Travelling with my companions was quite different from what I was used to. We were less visiting the spots to see and more just enjoying where we were and what we do now. It seemed to me like the big difference in the cultures of Latin America and Europe. I really did enjoy the time and all the things we did but I was always thinking "we did not see this yet" or "we have to go to another spot now if we want to see it" and it was quite difficult to turn down that voice inside my head. I knew I will come back when a friend is visiting me in July to travel Colombia so I will have time to see all the missing spots, but still... I just can't imagine that someone doesn't care about visiting the most important touristic spots of the city. I guess it is all just a matter of priorities and I need to rearrange mine while living here.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

One month in Ibagué

When I realized that it's more than a month ago that I arrived in Ibagué, at first I couldn't believe it. It's crazy how time flies. But really, I could already experience so many differences. Like, at first, I somehow managed to get sunburned today while sitting on the balcony the whole day - in the shadow! I didn't know this was even possible. I read somewhere learning something new every day keeps you young - I guess I am on my way to enternal youth!

A big part of my life here are the other international students. Last weekend we were in Prado where there is a huge and beautiful lake. Unfortunately we had bad luck with the weather and I got bitten by mosquitoes all over, also, like visible at the seashore, due to the draught following the phenomenon "el niño" the lake was missing a lot of water. But - because I arrived late - it was my first overnight trip with the international students.

Of course, there's always the language barrier, I still don't understand if anyone asks me anything spontanously and I don't even have the slightest idea what they want from me at the moment and I can't say everything I want to say. But you know that moments when you relax around someone and don't need to think about everything you say anymore? I experienced that and almost started talking german to them.

Also, they prepared the nicest birthday party for me with cake and balloons and everything. I would have celebrated anyway because I can't remember any birthday I didn't celebrate but it is great to see everyone so eager to have a great party :D

And I found something that helps standing the hot weather. Did you know that some say it is proved that warm drinks keep you cooler than cold drinks? Forget about that. The only time I can really stand the heat is while drinking a limonada filled up with crushed ice. What's even better is that they also taste great and are really cheap - about 30 cents at my favourite limonada seller. To make them, there are special limon presses that look kind of like an oversized garlic press and works really great!

The clothes here are way more beautiful - and so different from each other! In Austria I always feel like looking on the same piece of cloth just in the current trend colour every season but here everything seems like being unique - and way more colourful! What I'll probably never understand is why everyone here wears just long trousers when it's that hot. But still, there are really beautiful and colourful trousers as well! But, to tell the truth, the most of the clothes are not really cheaper than in Austria.

The traffic is also very different. When crossing the street as a pedestrian, no car will stop. And by no car I mean no car. Either there is a gap inbetween the traffic or you won't be able to cross the street. Also, the drivers are not likely to slow down when seeing you crossing the street. At very few places there are traffic lights and on even fewer places there are pedestrian lights but there it's still risky to cross the street without looking because cars are not used to stop for pedestrians. By now I already got used to the traffic but I am really glad I left my drivers licence at home because I really wouldn't like to drive here.

And for those who didn't know this great car alarm that accompanies me every day, I found the video of where I first encountered that alarm. I really didn't know that there are places where this alarm is actually used! Really, listen to it! Why should I be the only one suffering from this sound? One time, when I wanted to sleep it kept going on for one hour... it succeeds to make the most peaceful minds really really aggressive. Fun fact: The moment I posted this the alarm started somewhere outside (fortunately quite far away and it went on only for a very short time).

For the holy week we are planning on going to visit Medellín and all the surrounding area so I will keep you updated!

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Living in Ibagué

Today is the World Womans Day and I never knew how important this day is until now. You must know, I had an exam today at night and so I sat on the balcony - my favourite place in the flat - almost the whole day to study. There I saw so many men passing below with flowers in their hands I already wondered what's up with them today. And when I entered university there were people selling flowers at the doors and guys walking through the classes handing out sweets to women. I really got envious, I mean why don't we have that habit in Austria as well? It would really please us women!

I already learned to play this mexican game for children which is like Bingo with pictures and spanish words - just that they use it for partying. And I learned some new rules for Uno which I am already looking forward to explain to my friends for the next game of Uno in Austria! But I must really confess that the sweets from mexico are quite strange. They are not really sweets, because they are all kind of hot. I have no idea how they can live with this kind of sweets. Needless to say they LOVE all the sweets I brought with me and gave them to taste - especially the Kinder Schokobons but Haribo as well. Because, well, they are real sweets that are actually sweet.

Like I wrote, today I had this exam at university which was, of course, in spanish. I might have panicked a little when I realized I need a translator for almost half the words and I will never be able to remember them all so I started writing out everything in easier phrases and still felt completely unprepared - the topic was actually quite easy but explaining negociacion strategies in another language makes it quite hard. Fortunately I could discover that the exam was mostly multiple choice, so no sentences to write, just marking which answer is right. The only difficulty was understanding the question but they were almost the same words as in the texts we needed to lern. I guess I never had such an easy exam. I wonder why all the natives here even bothered to study at all.

But then there is another difference in the grading system. In Colombia, 5 is the best mark and 1 the worst, and there is no percentage scheme like you need 50 percent to get a 1. They just take the average of marks (sometimes weighted) and thats how your grade is made. And in the other class, there are no exams, just short group works that are graded, and we got a 3 on one of our group works and all my group members were like "a 3? How can that be? Why?" and now I am wondering if they might also have a different understanding on what's good and what's bad. I might need to figure that out as well.

What I am really missing is some kind of park where I can go when I feel like nature or just some place where we can sit all together where we don't have to pay - which would be a park in Europe, but surprisingly there are no parks here even if the weather would be perfect for the park everyday. And there are no cakes here! I mean, you can buy some fancy decorated tortes at the supermarket but when I looked I couldn't even find cake pans to bake something myself. It is as if they do not bake at home at all. Kind of a disturbing thought, isn't it?

Also strange for me was that here kind of everyone is in a relationship. Maybe I am a victim to selective perception because at home I kind of surrounded myself with single people and here I might have just met those in relationships. But all the time I am asked if I have a boyfriend of course I ask back and they are like "yes, of course". As if it was a bad thing not to be in a relationship. Also, I got the impression that the relationships are not so serious here (except for my host family of course). Might be the age - most of them are younger than me - but they never talk about their partner and it seems they don't even really spend time with her/him. Strange enough for me, but I will find out the reason for that too.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Cañon de Combeima

I already wanted to write something about my life and aspects I had not covered by my last post but today I was at a place that was so awesome I need to tell you first.

Near from Ibagué is the volcano Nevado de Tolima, which is 5200 m high and fortunately there's a river flowing down from that volcano that passes through Ibagué. Because of this river, the Combeima, there is this beautiful Cañon all the way up the Mountains to the National Park of the Nevados. I went there with Karla, the mexican, and Jonny, the brazilian - we only caught a glimpse of it but it was really stunning!

We started from Juntas, which is the small town on the left on this picture. This was the final stop of the public bus and from there we had to walk. Like I already wrote, going by bus is always an adventure and this time was no different. First we didn't find the right bus and when we found it it was competely full and we had to stand the 30 minutes bus ride, Jonny even on the step of the door (while the door was open, of course). And the bus is really not high enough for standing. I bumped my head way too often on that bumpy road. We felt like we already accomplished a lot when we arrived just in Juntas.

As we learned soon, those with car could go way further and everybody was like "what, you walked all the way up?" But by walking, we could enjoy all the marvellous views on the cañon. Truth is, we had no idea what to expect. I saw one picture in a brochure about Ibagué and told everybody I want to go there because it looks beautiful and at some point they were convinced they wanted to go there too.

I still have no idea where the picture of the brochure was taken, there was the Nevado the Tolima in the background which unfortunately we couldn't see because of the clouds so we can't be sure. But all the rest of the panorama was still stunning. While hiking higher and higher, we passed many mountains and I thought "that's it. Behind this one there must be the Nevado de Tolima" but there were only higher mountains behind every time.

And then we found a funicular in the mountains, connecting one side of the cañon with the other. On the other side, there was a restaurant running the funicular and offering even some leisure activity. This was the moment we decided we had to come back. We haven't been to the river which is said to be completely clean. Also, just 5 km further up the mountains there's the entrance to the national park that even has thermal springs.

I made a friend on the mountain - the majestic almighty lama! They had a kind of small pet zoo with rabbits, guinea pigs, different birds, horses and many more but I liked the lama best. Behind it, you should be able to see the Nevado de Tolima, but like I already wrote, it was way too cloudy up there to see anything.

When we decided to go back (with a heavy heart), we realized we did not bring enough money to pay for the furnicular and the bus. And furthermore, there are of course no cash dispensers anywhere - only in Ibagué. So while walking down to Juntas we thought about all the different possibilities how to get money up there and what we could sell. We got really creative, like we could close the road and collect money from everyone that wanted to pass. Fortunately, a guy and a girl were nice enough to take us down with them in his car and he was really happy to tell us about all the great places we needed to visit and even bought us a typical ice cream - with real berries and mangos frozen inside! It was delicious. This unexpected turn of events made the day kind of an adventure. But fortunately we did not have to walk all the way back from Juntas and got to Ibagué savely by even learning something new.  And I am already looking forward to coming back and exploring even more of the cañon!

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Cultural differences

One of the international students, Karla from Mexico, had to make a video about cultural practices at university and asked me to help. Of course I was glad to help - and here's the video:
(It is most fun for those who can speak spanish and german)