Colombia Update #4: From Santa Marta to Cartagena

photo[3]Our group has concluded their jungle trek, and by now has journeyed from Santa Marta, their home base for the trek, to Cartagena, to begin their service project.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves!  Often the stories and photos that reach Bellingham are not in chronological order, or even related clearly to each other!  But the group is doing a great job of getting stuff sent, so here are some of their stories, patched together with a series of images that are hopefully aligned with the stories.
America reflects on the travel to La Ciudad Perdida:
photo[6]During our time in Colombia we had the opportunity to take a five-day trek in the humid, tropical forests of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The jungle is still populated by indigenous peoples related to the Tayrona people. Of the four associated tribes, we were able to have the most in-depth experience with the Kogi tribe. At one of our three primary camp sites, we had the privilege of having one of their tribal leaders, Ferman, give us a lecture about his culture. What fascinated me the most was how they kept track of time. At the age of 18 the shaman gives young people a gourd and a stick. These symbolize man and woman, and sun and earth.
photo[4]These gifts also as serve as part of a coming of age ritual, in which they are sent from their village for four days and four nights. Within this gourd is a mixture of crushed shell and coca leaves. The shells have been cooked over wood, boiled in water, and turned into a powder. The coca leaves are put in a sack with hot rocks to dry out. Once the shell is in powder form and the leaves are dry, they are put into the gourd. Then the repetitive ritual begins, involving putting the stick in your mouth to cover it with salvia, then dipping it into the shell and coca concoction, followed by rubbing the stick onto the neck of the gourd. This process is done over and over throughout the life of the gourd, gradually making it thicker and thicker and more and more yellow. The growth of the neck of the gourd symbolizes the individuals’ thoughts, and is considered a diary and thought process which is only interpretable by the shaman. Overall, the Kogi tribespeople are very peaceful and down to earth. The tradition, which takes so much time, is passed down through the gourds through generations.
photoNoah writes about the reaching the ruins and the following transitions:
We reached the top of the ancient staircase of 1400 steps leading up to La Ciudad Perdida. The spectacular sight of the circular terraces coated in moss and well-kept grass had us all mesmerized by its sheer size and beauty. We walked across the terrace with a calming breeze at our backs, watching the tall palm trees gently sway back and forth. We looked over the edge of the ancient structure, gazing upon miles of lush green jungle, untouched by modern man. We climbed to the highest terrace and sat for awhile, absorbing 900 years of Tayronian culture. 
Kiira picks up the story:
photo[2]We spent an additional day in the Santa Marta region upon our return from our trek. A short drive out of town lies the Parque Nacional Tayrona, which is home to some of the most breathtaking Caribbean beaches. We hopped in a small boat that shuttled us out for a day of snorkeling and playing in the waves. It was a much-needed day of rest, and was a highlight for all.
On Saturday we traveled by bus to Cartagena, where we met up with Alex Rocha and to start our service project. Alex is a native of the Barrio San Francisco, the neighborhood where he still lives and operates his youth center. As Cartagena is an epicenter for tourism, knowledge of English is of high value. Alex and his staff offer free English classes to underserved students in the neighborhood that would otherwise not have access to this advantage. The center is continually bustling with kids of all ages playing soccer, practicing their language skills, and building community.

Intro at the Alex Rocha Center

Nina writes about Cartagena:
We drove through the streets asking for directions to the Alex Rocha Center, and eventually arrived in a neighborhood that did not look like what we expected to be our destination. There were small houses and narrow streets, and the sun was beating down as children quickly ran out of the way of our giant van. People sat on their porches, watching we we passed through. We were eventually led to what is currently under construction as the new Alex Rocha Center, a place where doors were being installed even as we arrived! This was our first chance to really experience the culture and community of Colombia, acting less as tourists and more as friends with Alex and his family — the entire neighborhood came out to greet us!
We dropped off our bags and walked to Alex’s home, where we were fed a home-cooked meal. We began conversing with children who had specific sentences of English perfectly memorized in order to introduce themselves. Our first night was spent mingling with the community and speaking a fair amount of Spanglish, many of us not really sure of what was going on. Eventually the idea of heading to the historic center of Cartagena was introduced, so our ragtag group split up and hopped into trucks-turned-taxicabs, known here as collectivos, seeking a different kind of city experience. The town was lit up with yellow light as circus groups took the metaphorical stage in front of a huge, beautiful church. We sat, eating chicken kebabs, feeling eternally sweaty from the humidity. Alex Rocha sat to my left, and our teacher to my right, and I wondered about what impact our group could really make on this community in a matter of five[1]
Today was another packed day in Cartagena.  We camped out at the youth center, participated in a typical Colombian day of loud music, dancing and soccer in the streets, and time with family. This week we look forward to teaching English classes at the center, walking through historic Cartagena, and getting at least one more swim in the Caribbean.

Bacchus Joins the Circus!

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