Manic March Making it in Manizales

So, it’s nearly the end of March, one third of a way through 2018 – how did that happen?


And I’ve kept to my usual trend of writing absolutely nothing on the blog. So here’s an update for all of March. It’s been a busy time! (Honestly, it really has!).


In February I arrived from the San Blas islands into Colombia. Medellin is my favourite city I’ve been to so far on my trip, it’s just so damn cool! And so by mid-february I was back in Medellin. I knew I wanted to stay in Medellin for a while, but I didn’t really know in what form; whether it was through finding work there or having Spanish lessons.

(lets just remind ourselves of how beautiful San Blas was)

The first week I spent living in Poblado, which is Medellin’s trendy/traveller/ex-pat area. There are a wealth of fancy bars, restaurants, coffee shops etc; but accomodation here is understandably more expensive and it feels a little like a bubble; it’s easy to stay here and never leave and just spend all day everyday in this area. So I wanted to move out to another area. At the time I was in an Airbnb in Poblado with Reece and Jude (two lovely folk from the UK who I met on the San Blas trip).

(Bonhomia is one of my favourite restaurants in Poblado)

So the three of us moved to a hostel in an area called Estadio to experience a different part of the city and to save some money. The hostel was called Forest Medellin and was one of the worst hostels I’ve ever stayed in by the way. No rules, no respect and not clean.


Whilst the hostel was a bag of shite, it didn’t deter me from my “Medellin dream”. I’d already done loads of Medellin touristy things, but I found even more to do including Paragliding over the city (with; one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.

(Paragliding over Medellin, yes that’s me!)

I decided I was going to stay in Medellin for a month, have Spanish lessons in the morning, explore work options in the afternoons and I placed a deposit on a room in an apartment. The apartment was in the area of Laureles, which neighboured Estadio. Similar sort of vibe, but less noise and more chill – slightly nicer in my opinion.


I started my first week of lessons at Elefun (which I highly recommend) and moved into the apartment on the Thursday evening. On the Friday daytime I saw this job offer to teach English in Colombia with the government. It only required you to have a degree and be a native speaker of English.


Before I knew it I’d completed the “application form” and a guy called Glenn was calling me to give me more information. But the training & induction week started the following Monday in Bogota so he was really pushing me to make a decision.


I thought it’d be a great opportunity for me for various reasons:

1) Earn some money, meaning I can put the travelling “on hold” and stay in Colombia for a while without burning through my travel fund.


2) Leave the tourist hub that is Medellin for another less-touristic city which would help with my Spanish. I thought it’d be an immersive experience for me. Throw me into Colombian life for me to see what it’s really like to live and work here.


3) Get back into a routine, having a job, giving me a totally different experience to travelling – get some teaching experience under my belt.


But I really couldn’t decide – I already had a “plan”; I was going to stay in Medellin and do nothing lol 😉


So over the course of Friday night and Saturday daytime I had this Glenn guy pushing me so hard for a yes. I was busy partying.


On Saturday I was so hungover and you know how decisions become so much more difficult when you’re hungover….so I went to see Selma and Carlyn (two people I also met on San Blas trip) at their hostel in Poblado and told them about my conundrum.


They convinced me it was a good idea to do the teaching. It would tick all 3 of the above “reasons” to do it and I’d only paid a small deposit so far on the apartment in Laureles, so I wouldn’t lose out on so much money (only around £25).


So 7pm on Saturday, when I was half cut on booze I messaged Glenn and gave him the yes he wanted. He’d wanted this yes so badly that he even paid for me to fly from Medellin to Bogota with Avianca (thank you very much!) on the Sunday ready for induction on the Monday.


I packed my stuff and headed to Medellin airport on Sunday to fly to Bogota, messaged the guy who owned the apartment in Medellin and told him I wouldn’t be returning (or returning the key for that matter, which I accidentally had kept in my pocket… whoops!) I didn’t hang around to see if he had anything to say about it.


In Bogota I arrived from the airport to this military hotel that the Ministry of Education were putting us up at. It was so weird, the gate house had soldiers guarding it and it was so retro – made me think of the kind of place you’d find in North Korea (not that I’ve ever been).


It was late by the time I arrived, so I got the sleep.


The following week was spent in the hotel, 3 meals per day, 8 hours in classes focused on preparing us for teaching in Colombian schools. There was around 100 people at the event, and they’d already done 2 weeks of inductions before this one.


It was really hard going, everyday I felt completely mentally drained; there was a lot of information to take in. And the evenings were spent organising visas, documentation, bank accounts, sim cards etc.


It was none-stop, though we did manage a couple of nights out to the largest club in South America  “Teatron”; which is this huge mega-club with around 5 floors and loads of different rooms and genres of music.

(on the roof of Teatron)

The following Sunday the government flew us all out to our destination cities where we’ll be living and teaching.


Fortunately – I got my first choice city of Manizales (through a bit of “Hello, who do I need to be nice to in order to get my first choice city….is it a woman called Marissa?”….. “Yes, I’m Marissa”….awks lol). But it seemed to work, she was amused by my slip up.


So I arrived in Manizales, high up in the mountains of Colombia’s coffee region. The views from the plane as we were coming in to land were incredible! And the weather was on form to welcome me with lots of sun (but didn’t last long).

(Manizales from the Plane)

Situated amongst the mountains, Manizales is unique, in that rather than being a city built in a valley, it’s built in and around the mountains and up the sides meaning it’s very visually beautiful. The “main street” is along the ridge of a mountain, with the streets dropping steeply down each side. It was clear to see this as soon as getting off the plane, as the airport is situated high up on the top of a mountain and boasts great views of the city below.


I arrived on a Sunday and had a hectic week ahead. The first week I was required to go to school everyday, but it was just to observe classes, meet my mentor, meet students and organise my schedule with the academic coordinator.


My school is quite a way up the mountain outside Manizales; in an area called Bosque del Norte. I’ve been told by multiple people that it’s a particularly rough neighbourhood, but the locals, students and teacher alike all make me feel very welcome; I couldn’t feel safer when I’m inside the prison-like school. And I have organised a lift to and from work with another teacher in his car. So it’s all a pretty good setup.


I’m going to write up a seperate blog about the teaching.


So everyday after school for my first week in school I found myself busy doing banking, visa, health related things that the government required us to do. These might seem like simply 30minute tasks, but when you’re in a city you don’t know and tackling Colombian bureaucracy things tend to take time.


Amongst all this I needed to find some accommodation, I was staying in a nice place called Mountain Hostel, but I’d paid for a private room in the hope I’d get a better night sleep for work, so I couldn’t afford this long term.


Finding a place seemed really difficult at first, I mean all I wanted was a room in a house, within a fairly wide location, with a bed. Not too much to ask is it? But turns out it is. Whatsapp is a massive means of communication in Colombia (often provided free by service providers), and when asking for details (price, location, what’s included, who lives in the house etc) the answer is “come and see first”. So you end up going to see these totally unsuitable shitholes that would have easily been wiped off the list with a couple of tiny pieces of information. For example one place wanted 550,000p per month (around 150,000 more than average) for a place without a bed. Just a mattress on the floor. No thanks.


So I decided to move into an Airbnb in the area I wanted to live to have a private room at reduced costs. I found a great room in this lovely gated estate with Katherine and her mother. They were so welcoming and kind. We went for coffee together one afternoon.


After around 5 nights there, I eventually found a place one street over.


It’s a large house with 8 bedrooms that the owners rent out individually. In an incredible location, just 3 minutes walk from “Cable” (where all the bars and restaurants are) and only 340,000pesos per month (£85) included all utilities and laundry and a mountain view from my room, it’s quite the find.


So I moved in on the Sunday (one week after arriving in Manizales). The following week was my first week “teaching” in the classroom, though what I’m quickly learning is that classes/whole days of school frequently get cancelled here in Colombia. So I can’t say I was particularly overworked.


Then it was easter. So after a strenuous couple of weeks I finally get a week off school! Hurray!!! It’s now Good Friday, and I’ve spent the last 5 days exploring Colombia’s coffee region. One of the teachers from school very kindly put me up in her holiday home in Pereira (a nearby city). Then we got the bus to Salento. Now back in Manizales, I’ve finally got time to write an update on the blog.


So that’s it. In summary (longest post ever) I arrived back in Colombia and decided to pursue my “Medellin dream”. And what has happened instead is I’ve found myself in living a slightly different dream in a totally different city. But all is good. It’s nice to have a base for a while after 5 months of constant travelling. Somewhere to call home for the time being. I’m excited for how it’s going to go here in Manizales and even more excited for what’s on the agenda next.


It’s stressful this travelling life!!

(the featured image in this post is a photo I took of Manizales from the plane)


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