June 23, 2010

Unnecessary Hostility & Little Yippy Dogs: A Commentary on My Return to the United States

How I went 22 years of my life without flying on board a plane with a pet, I don’t know, but sadly that streak has ended. The time is 5:13 am. I am sitting at gate E6 in the Fort Lauderdale – Hollywood (Hollywood? Really? That’s in California, not Florida. I don’t get it.) waiting to board my Air Tran flight to Atlanta with final destination Minneapolis – St. Paul when I hear the woman behind me talking loudly into her suitcase.

Turns out her “suitcase” is actually a pet carrier. She is speaking to it like the thing is a small child. Now in all fairness I don’t like pets, I didn’t grow up with one in my house, so in general animals kind of freak me out to an unnecessary extent. I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt – maybe she was moving and needed to take it with her. Then I got in line to board and it was yipping away all down the boarding tunnel thing. And on the plane. I thought it was nervous for take-off or hot or something. Oh no, it proceeded to make these God-awful noises for the next 83 minutes of my life. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!!?

Why is your dog here? Because even if you are moving, I would have left the thing behind. This is ridiculous!! I could not be more irritated. There should definitely be separate planes for people with small pets. And small children – specifically the one who cried in a similarly shrill voice to that of the dog on my three-hour flight from Cali to Florida.

Anyway, speaking of complete irritation, is being obscenely rude and unnecessarily hostile a requirement for people who work in airport security? Do they screen these people for demeanor and only take the surliest individuals possible? I mean HONESTLY. I was at the Fort Lauderdale airport going through security and a woman screamed at me at the top of her lungs because she wanted me to switch lines and go through a smaller shorter one. Then she freaked out that I am holding my passport in my hands and says I am not allowed to hold anything, Maybe if there were some universal rules about this stuff then people would know what in the world is going on!!! Every airport is a little different and it’s a little hard to keep track of, lady! Also, you want me to switch lanes to make it go faster? Are we not all going to the same place? There is a long line in security, so does it really matter where I go? And furthermore, its actually 4:45 am – how are you already having a bad day?!?!

As for the U.S. Customs agents – way friendly than the security guards and actually a less stressful process than in Miami. However, have you ever taken a moment to think about what our customs process is like for non-citizens and non-residents? Terrifying. Why do they ask you questions like you did something wrong? “What exactly were you doing in Colombia?” Teaching. “Teaching what?” Math. “Oh really.” YES, REALLY. Also, just for note, in the customs waiting room the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (Border Protection? Really? Must we call it that?) there is a welcome sign in four languages – English, Spanish, French and German. Basically welcome Spanish-speakers and white people – everyone else, good luck. Not to mention that the sign in Spanish is misspelled and reads “Binvenidos” instead of “Bienvenidos”. Perfect. Oh hi, millions of U.S. citizens speak this language, but we don’t really care enough to double check the spelling. Welcome to the United States of America.

June 21, 2010

Presidential Elections 2010: A Finale

The campaigning has lasted for months, since the time the candidates were all introduced to their rallies, and finally to the first election. Yesterday Colombians voted in a runoff election between the two leading candidates, Juan Manuel Santos and Antanas Mockus.

Earning a shockingly high percentage (69%) of the vote, Santos will be the next president of Colombia. For the United States government, I think this will be seen positively since Santos is closely tied to the incumbent, Alvaro Uribe, who is a rare ally for the United States in Latin America.

As for Colombia, I don't know enough about the political scene and history to say for sure, but Santos will definitely mean more of the same things the country saw from Uribe. Uribe, who had a very positive influence on the country, helped to reduce a lot of violence in the region and is still highly regarded by the public after eight years as president. Santos will certainly have his work cut out for him since neighboring countries of Venezuela and Ecuador hold grudges against Colombia for various reasons.

In the end, I think Colombians voted for him because Mockus is so different from the norm, and they were not ready for the types of changes Mockus would push for. Colombia is definitely growing into a progressive country where new ideas will be heard, but as a whole, I just don't think they're there yet.

For me, this quote from the NY Times says it all, “I went for Santos because we cannot lose what’s been accomplished under Uribe,” said Aleida Sierra, 27, a clothing saleswoman who voted Sunday in Bogotรก.

June 20, 2010

Ciao for Now, Colombia!

"There's nothing half so pleasant as coming home again."
[Margaret Elizabeth Sangster]

Sixty five hours from now my plane will touch down at the Minneapolis - St. Paul international airport. This will be the first time in ten months that I set foot in the United States since last July (with the exception of a short weekend in New York City in October). It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it!!

In the past year I dove head first into everything Colombia had to offer me. I visited the Amazon Basin, I trekked through the jungle for six days to find a lost city, I swam in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, I watched the sunset over a Caribbean island, I salsa danced, I tried new foods and drinks, I kayaked on the open ocean, I climbed mountains, I became best friends with Juan Valdez, I met amazing and inspiring people. I learned that not everyone goes abroad for the same reasons, but despite our separate pasts we are all in search of a common future rooted in the understanding that this world is much bigger than you and me.

That being said, it's time to go home for a little while. I miss the people and the places that I love more than I can even describe. Living in Colombia has taught me a million things in the past year, but one of the most definitive is the importance of home - whatever your idea of home might be. Mine is Minnesota, a land of gorgeous lakes, a new baseball stadium, delicious food, good smoothies and people who love me, accept me, and understand me in spite of everything.

I will be at home for about five weeks and in that time I am very excited about:
  1. Seeing my whole extended family the first weekend I am home at my brother Michael's high school graduation party.
  2. Seeing my goddaughter Stefanie at said party - she is six now and I honestly don't even think I will recognize her because kids grow so fast!
  3. A family trip to Cuchara, Colorado over the 4th of July. On the way we are going to pass through the University of Nebraska - Lincoln where my brother is going to college next year.
  4. Visiting my friends Alex and Lindsey in Irvine, California for my birthday in July! This will be my very first trip to the West Coast!
  5. Life catch-ups and discussions with Maria and Anna so we can figure out how we are all going to exist in three different places without each other.
  6. Seeing as many people as possible at the airport on Wednesday morning.
  7. Going to happy hour with my brother Joe! (He turned 21 since I have been in Colombia)
  8. A weekend visit from college friends, Katie and Kirsten.
  9. Driving in the car with the windows down listening to Cities 97 or K102.
  10. Cafe Latte, Happy Gnome, Davannis, Jimmy Johns, Bulldog Bar, Chipotle, Caribou Coffee, Bruegger's, Jamba Juice, The Tea Garden, Cossetta's, Billy's on Grand, Uncommon Grounds, Whole Foods, and so so so much more!
  11. Visiting the Minneapolis lakes for a swim, rollerblade, ice cream, bike ride, or kayaking.
  12. Seeing the third Twilight move, Eclipse, at midnight for Liz's birthday.
  13. Twins games at Target Field! Finally!
  14. A serious sit down over coffee with Jenny aka my travel soulmate so I can hear all about her time in Australia!
  15. Spending little moments and big moments and every free second in between with the very best friends a five-year-old could have found at Thomas Lake Elementary. I am forever indebted to the wisdom, intelligence, honesty and comedy of Kate, Liz and Ilse.
  16. Summer Shandy - so delicious.
  17. Unlimited texting.
  18. Sunlight past 6:30 pm - that might take some getting used to actually.
  19. Having a dryer! My clothes are starting to be ridiculously stretched out after 10 months of line drying.
Of course, even with all the excitement of being at home, I will miss some things about Colombia...
  1. Seeing Kelsi everyday - she literally makes me laugh all the time and I love being around her whether we are traveling together or sitting at home all day on a Sunday :)
  2. The ease and efficiency of living in a city with reliable public transportation. I love the Mio.
  3. Fresh vegetables and fruit - so cheap and so delicious.
  4. Grande vanilla cinnamon lattes at Juan Valdez.
  5. Warm apple muffins from Juan Valdez - actually the best thing ever.
  6. Hammocking.
  7. The 5 o'clock breeze that cools off the city as it rolls through the valley off the mountains.
  8. Seeing my friends from school everyday! There is something about working with lots of people who you like and get along with that makes each day a little brighter.
  9. Traveling to new places all the time!
  10. Speaking Spanish.
As I get packing to head home, here is a short video I made with some of the pictures from this year. I have always lived my life from summer to summer, and this is no different, so as one chapter ends and another begins, here is a brief summary of my first year in Colombia.

Favorite & Least Favorite: My First Year as a Teacher

Last week as the school year came to a close I asked each of my students to complete a short evaluation of me as a teacher. I think feedback is important at any point in our lives, but I knew that especially as a first year teacher I wanted to know what my students liked about my class and what they disliked. None of their responses were shocking, as most of their comments are things I already knew about myself, but I really enjoyed receiving some concrete feedback about myself as a teacher.

Here are some of the most frequent comments...

Favorite Things/Things to Continue for Next Year
  1. Connect with students and listen to them.
  2. Maintain an updated website with worksheets, calendar and answer keys to quizzes/homework.
  3. Teaching strategies - explain things clearly and allow students to ask questions until they understand.
  4. Time to work on homework at the end of class.
  5. Enthusiasm for math and life and baseball.
Least Favorite Things/Things to Improve for Next Year
  1. Set stricter guidelines for students who misbehave.
  2. When students make non-friendly comments (in Spanish or English) don't always take it personally.
  3. Give less homework. (Not happening, sorry.)
  4. Check the homework first to see if people did it, then read the correct answers, otherwise people do it as the answers are read.
  5. More organization with after-school tutorials.
Thinking about these comments gives me a starting place for next year - a definitive place to focus my energy. Discipline is definitely difficult for me as a teacher, mostly because I would rather have students listen to me because they want to learn instead of listening because if they don't I am going to send them to the dean. However, I realize the reality is that not every student has an internal motivation to learn, so this is sometime I hope to improve on in the future.

June 18, 2010

DONE!

After 180 some school days we are DONE for summer! This year time seemed to fly back and all of the sudden here we are at June 18th. After all my time spent studying and going to school to be a teacher, it feels good to actually be a teacher and have my first year finished. Everyone has always told me that my first year of teaching would be the most difficult, so while there were certainly memorable moments throughout this year, I am glad its over!

As the buses left the parking lot for the last time all the teachers from pre-primary through high school lined up and waved goodbye as the bus drivers did a few (too many) loops around the parking lot - horns honking, children yelling, parade style. It was definitely a sight to see and was an excellent form of closure for the year.
And of course once the last bus left, the teachers had a little celebration of our own! It's summertime!!! :D

June 16, 2010

Primary Teacher Talent Show

As the last days of school finish there are many assemblies and meetings, but my favorite was the primary teacher talent show. Unlike middle and high school, where many students are too cool for school and don't really get enthusiastic about assemblies, this teacher talent show had all the kids clapping, singing and dancing along!
Almost every primary teacher in my school contributed in some way. The whole theme was based around the World Cup cause its pretty much all Colombians think about right now. Catie and Hana kicked off the show as co-emcees and did an awesome job acting out their introductions using a script they wrote the night before!
Other teachers, Amanda and Aaron, did some partner swing dancing which the kids totally loved. They got big cheers!
Some of the soccer coaches showed off their skills on stage. Of course a group of female teachers danced to the Waka Waka Shakira song that has become a theme song of the World Cup. The whole thing finished with a big group, including Kelsi, singing and dancing along to K'naan's Wavin' Flag. Yes, they were led around the stage by the primary principal. Amazing.
Mid-dance moves to Wavin' Flag.
Kelsi "I am famous for my dance moves"
Please check out this video to see some of the sweet dance moves by the primary teachers. Also, please note that the man in the yellow Brazil jersey with the wireless microphone is the primary principal. LOVE.

June 15, 2010

8th Grade Celebration

Only two more days left with our students, so today we took the afternoon to celebrate the 8th grade class as they prepare to move to high school. The school ordered sandwiches from a local restaurant, and then we had a small awards presentation. As tradition goes, every year two members of the class hand out funny and memorable awards to each student. The awards are basically supposed to represent one specific thing that each person will be remembered for. Some examples include best girl/boy football play, prettiest eyes, biggest flirt, class clown, most fashionable, most organized, etc.  I enjoyed just spending the afternoon hanging out with the kids and seeing them recognize the things they appreciate about one another. 
Our principal talking to the students about the last days of 8th grade and the awards.
My award!
Yes, even the teachers got awards and this is mine!  "Wannabe future Mrs. Mauer" Haha! I'm not quite sure what they mean by "wannabe" since I think "Future Mrs. Mauer" would be quite fitting.  In summary, some of them might not know algebra as well as I want, but they sure know a heck of a lot more about the Minnesota Twins than they did nine months ago. Education comes in all forms. ;) 

June 14, 2010

Hammocks - built for one. Unless...

...your name appears on this list.
So in summary, we're still at Crepes & Waffles. I still don't want to grade. Due to lack of hammock worthy men in Colombia, Kelsi and I have found ourselves having many conversations lately about what celebrities we might allow in our beloved, built-for-one, hammocks. After much deliberation and some questioning of each others choices, we have compiled the following list of guys who have an open invitation to our hammocks for the duration of our time in Colombia. Most of these are mutual, although some are more specific to me (Keith Urban) and others are more specific to Kelsi (Gael Garcia Bernal). Some of our favorites do not appear on this list because we would not come to a mutual agreement on them - Taylor Lautner, Jesse St. James (from Glee), and Kelsi's Wednesday night spin instructor. ;)
The list is not in exact order from least to most hammock worthy, although in general, the choices get better as you get further down the list. Enjoy!
Gael Garcia Bernal
Clive Owen
Jay Hernandez
Keith Urban
Adrian Grenier aka Vincent Chase
Javier Bardem
Paul Rudd
Mr. Schuster aka Matthew Morrison
Jim Halpert
    Bradley Cooper
    Matt Damon
    Mark Wahlberg

    Hammocking - What What!

    It's official. I have discovered the thing I will miss most about Colombia when I am in Minnesota for a month this summer. 
    Hammocking with Kelsi. 
    After a lot of running around gathering hammocks and all the things to hang hammocks, and a guy with a drill to hang our hammocks, we are in business! They are hung at opposite ends of our balcony overlooking the city and they are DELIGHTFUL. I am in love.
    We drink tea/coffee in them. We eat in them. We read in them. We use our computers in them. We creep on our friend (and neighbor) Tara's house while sitting in them. I would rate my happiness while in my hammock at approximately 1,000%. LOOOOOOVE them. :)
    Kelsi enjoying our Monday off from school with some hammocking and reading time.
    This is me following her directions and looking out pensively over Cali.
    JOY.
    Kelsi's hammock.
    My hammock.
    This weekend is yet another long weekend, and today is a holiday off from school, so once again we have parked ourselves at Crepes & Waffles with our Mac books and the last few finals I have yet to grade. Tomorrow we will resume school for the very last week of the school year. Three full days and then a half day on Friday! The school year came to an end so quickly, and I cannot believe I am just days away from completely my first year as a teacher. Everyone says the first year is the hardest because everything is new, which I am totally in agreement with. I definitely learned a lot, but I am happy to have some of those "firsts" completed.
    Besides hammocking and sitting at Crepes and Waffles, this weekend has been pretty relaxed. On Saturday, I played ultimate frisbee with some fellow teachers, spent some time grading at Juan Valdez and then played soccer with Kelsi and some other girls. (Yes, I played soccer, and yes it was about as ridiculous as you would assume, but I actually really loved just going out there and running around!) Sunday we went to the Bodies exhibit (the same one that toured around the US) with friends and then saw the movie A-Team in the afternoon. Kelsi and I are now firmly in love with Bradley Cooper.
    Ciao for now,

    June 11, 2010

    Looking Back

    On July 27, 2009 I made this list of things I would miss about Minnesota, but also things I could not wait to experience in Colombia. The school year is quickly coming to a close and the date of my return to Minnesota will be here in just 12 days. (Commence happy dance)

    When I think back on all the things I have done this year, it seems like I have been here forever. I have seen amazing places, traveled to parts of Colombia that I didn't even know existed, and learned a ton about myself along the way.  However, overall, this year has flown by me. Being a first year teacher in a new place certainly makes the days speed up.

    As things wrap up, I reflected back on this list of things I was excited for when I moved to Cali. Not so surprisingly, given my goal-driven, to-do list filled lifestyle, I managed to tackle everything on this list at some point over the last year - check it out:


    Things I Can't Wait to Experience
    Meeting my students because as cheesy as it sounds, I became a teacher because I love helping kids learn.  Helping students learn is literally what motivates me to get up before the hour of 9 am on most days :)

    A year into this crazy career of teaching and education, and this statement is just as true as the day I wrote it. There are difficult days with students, parents, coworkers, and just work in general, but I still love helping kids learn math. They motivate me to be a better teacher and a better person. They are the very best reward I could ask for.

    Meeting all the other new teachers!

    Last July I was sitting on a plane from Minneapolis to Miami thinking about the other 12 new teachers who were hired at my school. I was so excited to learn their names, their histories, their likes, their dislikes, etc. Thankfully, we do not still travel around in a giant group of 13 as we did those first days in Miami and Colombia, but each of them have made this experience unique and fulfilling. Martha, Lori, Amy, Emily, Catie, JoAnne, Kelsi, Amanda, Aaron, Hana, Maggie, and Stephanie are wonderful educators and I have been so blessed to have them all as coworkers, friends, and even roommates.  They have become the people I turn to, the people I depend on, the people I travel with, and I will forever remember their impact on my first year here.

    Finding my way around my my new neighborhood when I locate an apartment.  I really want to become a solid regular at a good coffee cafe, I sincerely hope this works out.

    While my living situation has actually changed a few times since I arrived in Colombia, I feel really blessed for the way it worked out.  By the end of the school year I will have lived with Maggie, Steph, Hana, and Kelsi at some point, all in different apartments in two very different areas of the city. I had the unique experience to be able to live in both locations during the year, and it totally helped me broaden my horizons, understand the city better, and experience a lot of Cali. While there isn't exactly a delicious Juan Valdez in our neighborhood, Kelsi and I have become regulars at the Juan Valdez located between our house and school, so that seems good enough for now. Also, in the absence of reliable internet at our new apartment for the time being, we have quickly become those girls who sit with their Mac books in cafes and restaurants for hours on end using free internet. :)

    Hearing Spanish spoken all around me!

    I still have lots to improve on next year, but my Spanish has gotten so much better while I have been here! I understand what people are saying to me now, I know the typical Cali expressions and slang, and I feel 1000 times more comfortable speaking to people in Spanish. I definitely still sound like a gringa just trying to speak the language, but at least I feel understood. 

    Cafe con leche

    I cannot even begin to list the places in Cali and in Colombia where I have enjoyed cafe con leche. Despite the fact that Colombia actually is the land of terrible coffee, there have been some delicious cups of caffeine in my days here.

    Traveling around the country of Colombia

    I'm sorry - have you read my blog??? I think some people think I ONLY travel here, and just casually show up to work when I am in town. ;) The past year has taken me to Bogota, Villa de LeyvaLago Calima, San Andres, Pasto, Santa Marta, Ciudad Perdida, Medellin, San Vicente, the Amazons, the Pacific coast....and and and don't worry there is still lots to see next year :)

    Having my very own classroom for the first time ever...where I don't have to move around between class periods and I know where everything is!

    My classroom at school is totally me - with math posters and Minnesota Twins posters and cheesy things my students draw me hung up next to the family Christmas card that my students love to reference (if only to remind me how much older my brothers look than me!). I love having a place of my own in the school, where my students feel safe and welcome to come learn or talk to me.

    According to my guidebook...somewhere in the Amazons there are pink dolphins. I plan to find them and take pictures. I really hope this isn't some myth crafted by the writers @ Lonely Planet.

    Okay, so there are indeed pink colored dolphins that do exist in the Amazon. We didn't have much luck seeing them in person (once in the whole week we were there) and definitely not on camera (although I tried like hell to photograph them), but overall - mission accomplished.

    That feeling I will get about a month in when I feel like I really belong in Cali and all my old nervousness will seem silly.
    Haha! I won't say all my nervousness was unwarranted, but I really do believe that so many things in life led me to this place, with these people, at this time, and just that gut feeling makes me want to sing and dance and jump up and down and just...yay :)

    Salsa dancing. Perhaps in two years in Colombia I will learn to dance, or at least enough rhythm to fake it? We shall see, but either way I'm going to give it my very best shot!
    Well, I am not good, but now I know the steps and I can at least follow someone on the dance floor without stepping on anyone :) Thanks to a few dedicated weeks with Steph and Kelsi, I definitely feel like I have a good understanding of the whole salsa dancing culture in Colombia and especially Cali.
    So, I guess this means I should start thinking of the things I am excited for about next year, right??? Look forward to that post by the end of the summer. :)

    Copa Mundial de la FIFA (World Cup 2010)

    Today marks the official beginning of the 2010 Copa Mundial de la FIFA (FIFA World Cup)! Despite the fact that I am not really a soccer fan...and by that I mean don't play it, watch it, follow it, or really appreciate it fully...I am still super excited!  My students have been collecting stickers for the 2010 World Cup sticker album for weeeeeeeeeeks now so I am psyched that the day is finally here!
    I love the fact that it is being played in Africa for the first time, and I love the pride that so many South Africans have expressed based on that fact. Kelsi and I watched the opening night concert last night (yay for Direct TV hookups!) and it was absolutely stunning. If you missed it look here for links to some of the performances from Black Eyed Peas, Shakira, Alicia Keys, K'naan and Juanes.

    I love stuff like this - lots of people coming together, celebrating life, happiness, sports, etc. People coming together to celebrate our infinite commonalities as human beings rather than discuss the things which divide us. We were totally getting teary eyed last night when K'naan came on to sing the world cup anthem song, Wavin' Flag. I have been listening to it on repeat since I heard it in February, and I love the lyrics just as much today as I did 4 months ago, even if the song is totally overplayed by Colombian radio stations. :)


    Check out the official video here and see how they used the song with images of Africa. Some great marketing went into this video!

    I also totally loved Shakira's performance of Waka Waka "This is Africa" because the whole song seemed like such a great celebration of the first World Cup on African soil. And she is Colombian so yay for countries coming together :) Also, as we observed last night, the woman can dance like nobody else - please check out her hips and shoulders and just everything in the video. Out of control.



    With a mountain of finals in front of me to grade over the weekend, I am sure I will have plenty of time to check out some of the games happening this weekend.  The US plays their first game tomorrow versus England at 1:30 pm central time, so check it out! Happy Friday!

    p.s. Unfortunately, today is definitely not all fun and soccer games. My thoughts are in South Africa as the World Cup opens and Nelson Mandela, former president and liberation hero, is unable to attend the opening ceremonies due to the death of his 13-year-old great-granddaughter Zenani in a car accident last night, on her way home after attending the opening concert in Soweto. FIFA acknowledged her death with this open letter to Mandela as posted on their website. What a terrible tragedy on what should have been a day filled only with glorious happiness for this country.

    June 10, 2010

    Kayaking Adventure: Pacific Coast

    Almost a month ago Kelsi and I spent a long weekend kayaking on the Pacific Coast of Colombia. I described the trip here and told you a short little story about losing my camera here. However, now that I have collected all the photos that our guide took over the weekend, here are some thoughts post-adventure:

    Saturday
    • After waking at 4 am, we left Cali around 5 am, and headed for the coastal town of Buenaventura. Buenaventura is the only town on the whole Pacific Coast of Colombia that you can drive to, and it is only about three hours from Cali.
    • After arriving there, we embarked on a 45 minute boat ride to Juanchaco, our home base for the weekend.
    View of the bay from Juanchaco docks.
    • In Juanchaco our accomodations were pretty nice, considering the coast is known for being one of the most "rustic" parts of Colombia. We stayed in a cabin with three other teachers from school that had three rooms, a kitchen, bathroom, living room, and front porch.
    Our cabin for the weekend.
    • We ate all of our meals in a little restaurant right on the shore where we kept the kayaks. The restaurant did a great job of providing us with filling Colombian-style meals for the weekend. After a quick lunch and a short nap around mid-day, we were ready to kayak!
    Waking up at 4 am is tough business - Lyndi, Kelsi and I couldn't really hack it.
    • After some instruction from our guide Julio, we launched around 2 pm, and headed out to the ocean. Kelsi and I were surprised to find how strong the ocean currents are! No one told us about that beforehand... :(
    Julio telling us about our route for the first day.
    Lauching the kayaks with some help from the locals. In total, Kelsi and I successfully launched on day 1, I flipped us on day 2, and Julio basically held the kayak steady for us on day 3. Winners.


    Day 1 - successfully launching the kayak - what what!
    • The coolest part of this day was kayaking through a little tunnel formed under an island in the ocean. Our guide headed in without a word, and we just followed along, despite some hesitations. However, the ocean waves basically pushed us through the tunnel, and it was totally worth it! A great ride!
    Getting our first taste of ocean kayaking.

    Going through a tunnel similar to the one described above, only that one was a lot smaller and darker!
    • After some ocean time, we kayaked along a small tributary and through some mangroves. We were able to explore some freshwater pools along the way.
    Kelsi & I paddling through the mangroves.



    Sitting in the mangroves.
    Attempting to exit the kayak ever so gracefully in search of a freshwater pool.

    Walking through a shallow part of the river - headed for another pool.
    Relaxing in a fresh water pool deep in the mangroves.
    video

    A short video - demonstrating just how difficult it is to walk on the slippery, slimy bottom of a river...even in good hiking shoes. :)
    Sunday
    • Despite a rainy morning, we hiked the short distance to the neighboring town of Ladrilleros. Ladrilleros is about 30-45 minutes from Juanchaco on a short path connecting the two towns along the cliffs above the shore. The walk allowed us to really take in the beauty of the rustic, undeveloped nature of the coastline and see the gorgeous beach in Ladrilleros.
    Hiking along the ridge from Juanchaco to Ladrilleros.

    Kelsi & I crossing a stream along the hike.
    Hiking along...in matching raincoats.

    Kelsi, Lori and I on the hike.
    Loving my first time seeing the Pacific Ocean!
    • In Ladrilleros we ran into some fellow teachers, Angie, Caleb & Tara, who were there enjoying some weekend beach time.
    Taking a break in Ladrilleros with friends!
    • Around 11 am the tide went down, so we were able to walk back to Juanchaco along the beach. There were definitely times when the water still came up to my waist when the waves came in, so it was quite the thrilling walk! The little inlets and caves made for some great photos along the way.
    Walking along the beach, getting closer to Juanchaco.

    Kelsi & walking along the shore going back to Juanchaco.
    • In the afternoon we headed out for what would be the toughest kayaking of the trip. Our plan was to go around the three islands directly in front of Juanchaco. If the currents had their way, we would have floated swiftly back to Buenaventura, but with some very intense paddling stints, we successfully ventured around all the islands! The currents are very mild next to the actual islands, but in between them the water pushes off from the front of the island and rushes around the sides. This means zero fun for everyone.
    Kayaking around the second island - lots of little caves and inlets!

    Paddling around the second island.
    Basically...to summarize, these people joined our group for one day and ran into Kelsi and I a lot with their kayak. We made a plan to avoid them shortly after this photo was taken.

    Snack break! Yes, those are corn nuts I am eating. Even more delicious when enjoyed in the middle of the Pacific.
    Our whole group!
    Heading back into Juanchaco around sunset. So gorgeous :)
    Monday
    • Without peer pressure from Kelsi, I never would have gotten out of bed at 5 am for the third day in a row, but somehow we made it down to the shore in time for a 5:30 am departure. Good thing we did, because dolphins awaited us! About 200 m from shore we saw a pair of dolphins playing and presumably, searching for breakfast. After all our time in the Amazons searching for dolphins, and now here they were, right in front of us!
    Dark photo of Julio giving us our instructions on the last day. Please note that is it dark because the sun had not yet risen.
    • This day we kayaked around the entire island of Isla Palma, the biggest of the three islands in Bahia Malaga. We had not seen the front of the island from the kayak yet, and it was interesting to compare the two sides. Our guide pointed out how each side is completely unique in vegeatation and animal life, because the wind, weather and water current patterns change from one side to another.
    • We also had a chance to see some cool blue-footed birds!
    Checking out the blue footed birds.



    Cool Kelsi, I will handle the paddling :)
    • To finish the tour of the island we stopped at a little beach on the backside of the island.
    Our own private beach! I was swimming just before we decided to take this photo...thus no pants. Whoops.
    Weekend of kayaking = amazing...and also exhausted.
    Matching Keens = successful kayaking. :) Yay for Lori & me!
    While we definitely wore ourselves out with the weekend of kayaking, this was an absolutely stunning way to see the coast. I love going on trips with Julio because he loves nature and kayaking, and he is super helpful...and non-judging when you flip your kayak. The beauty of the un-developed coast left me dying to go back sometime soon. Supposedly, the whales migrate right along the shoreline from July to October, so we have plans in the works for a fall whale-watching trip...cause that would be...just fabulous. :) Also, Kelsi and I both have life lists of things we want to accomplish and during this trip we discussed changing them from "things to do" to "places to kayak". Updates on that to come.
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