There is a saying: “The only real danger of Colombia is staying here forever.” Apparently it’s true true for me. I lived in Manizales for two and half years (that’s how I met Greggo). But I had to leave for a while because of work stress. I taught 350 students a week, six different subjects, and the pay was low, even by Colombian standards. I left to teach in Costa Rica for a year. However, I kept mentioning Colombia, Colombia, Colombia. My coworkers were going crazy: “We get it Kyle, you love Colombia.” It’s true. Last September, I realized I had to go back. It’s a place I felt happy in. My buddy Clint told me about a private school in Cartagena looking for an ESL teacher. Long story short: I got the job and arrived in the walled city of Cartagena de Indias on January 6, 2018.
The first thing that I noticed upon arrival was the climate. It is hot! I’m not just talking about a summer in California. This is the hottest region I’ve ever been to. Just going out for a stroll my shirt gets drenched with sweat (humidity averages 90%). But I can handle it because it’s sunny! Late afternoons are better because the sun isn’t blazing and there’s the added bonus of a cool breeze: natural air conditioning. You still feel the humidity at night though. Just sleep with a fan or air conditioning.
A Bit of Cartagena History
Cartagena de Indias, its colonial name, is a UNESCO Heritage site for its preservation of colonial buildings, fortress, and churches. It’s as famous tourist stop because of the colonial heritage of its founding in 1533. Cartagena is called the Walled City because the historic center has an ancient wall around it built as protection from foreign invaders and pirates. When I walk around, I’m transported into one of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s stories. After all, the setting for his novel Love in the Time of Cholera was inspired by Cartagena de Indias. The film version, which starred Javier Bardem and Benjamin Bratt, was even filmed in Cartagena. I watched it the other day and could tell which part of the city the actors were in. My favorite place is Simon Bolivar park because you can sit down, relax, and watch the palenqueras (the women from San Basilio de Palenque who sell fruit and traditional candy they make in their homes). I feel like I’m walking through time, and there’s a big smile plastered over my face.
The Culture of Cartagena
Colombian culture is a blend of three different sources: the Indigenous populations, the Spanish, and the Africans. Cartagena maintains a strong influence of African culture. It served as a port city for the slave trade. There’s a message on a wall about how we must fight racism and prejudice; an important issue even in today’s modern society.
Another aspect of the African culture is the palenqueras. These women who travel from Palenque to Cartagena de Indias still maintain their African roots. They even have their own language that is a mix between Spanish and the West African Bantu. Finally, there’s the music. Salsa choque is Caleno, reggaetón is popular with the Paisas, but in Cartagena de Indias, it’s champeta, a mix between hip hop and music from Africa. Another style of music popular in Cartagena is called terapia africana, literally translated: African therapy. My gringo ears tell me it’s a combination of soukouss from The Congo and mbanga from South Africa, like the Mahotella Queens. I’ve got a new dance to learn here.
I’m an English teacher at a private school right outside Cartagena and I am very content. English is a life tool, especially in a city like Cartagena where tourism is central to the economy. Since the signing of the peace agreement with the FARC, Colombia is changing and the people are going to need English as a means for communication, for international businesses, international politics, and of course, tourism. Many people from around the world are coming to visit. I see my role as helping the community by teaching English. My students are my joy and passion and I want every one of them to succeed. Seeing a smile on their faces makes me happy. Yes, I might have a trouble maker here and there but when they learn and succeed, that’s what makes me happy.
I have traveled to many places in Latin America: Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and now back to Colombia. This country in particular has a sense of adventure and magic that I can never forget. When I left Colombia, I felt like something was missing. Now that I’m back and in an exciting city, I’m the happiest person.
There’s a lot more to tell … on Colombia!
Guest blogger Kyle is an English teacher and private tutor who has been teaching in Colombia for almost three years. He taught two years in Manizales and recently has relocated to Cartagena de Indias.