Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Caribbean Sea Breezes, Nisperos, and Large Winged Insects: Week One in Colombia

I can’t believe it’s been one week since I’ve been in Colombia. I was in Bogota the first half of the week, meeting my fellow Fulbright scholars. Most of us will be placed in universities around the country to assist with English classes (ETA program), but there are a few researchers in there who will be working on their own projects, such as studying the effects of climate change on coffee farming and developing sustainable agriculture in the Amazon. I really loved everyone I met—both the Fulbrighters and the amazing team of women who make Fulbright work in Colombia. It was great to put a face to the names that I’ve been exchanging emails with for the past four months.

TEDx event to celebrate 60 years of Fulbright in Colombia!
We’ve spent the second half of the week settling into our new home, Cartagena de Indias. Norbert arrived Friday (with 235 pounds of luggage in tow, most of it kitesurfing gear) and I arrived midday on Saturday. We had booked a room at a hotel that had been recommended to me by the previous ETA, and the plan was to stay here for a few weeks while we found a permanent residence. Well, it didn’t take me long to pronounce that I didn’t want to leave this place.

The Hotel Bellavista, a sprawling mansion across from the beach, is 70 years old and full of history. The walls are covered in artwork donated by artist visitors that have stayed here over the years. There are so many beautiful aspects of this place, but my favorite would be the big open courtyards that are shaded by huge ficus trees. With the sea breeze and the extensive canopy cover, it doesn’t even get that hot here during the middle of the day! Everywhere you look there are vines sprawling out of their pots, brightening up the white-washed walls with splashes of vibrant green. Dozens of cats coexist with a small army of pigeons that roost in the rooftops. The family running the hotel is very sweet and helpful, and the owner is half French! In fact, there are quite a few French people running around this town, including several French teaching assistants and a British one! (No German teaching assistants this year, so Norbert may just have to fill in...)

Our living room!

The traffic outside our front door is pretty intense, but all you’ve got to do it brave four lanes of Colombian drivers before arriving at the soft sandy beach. In the morning, the beach is full of fishermen pulling in their extensive nets (we nearly got caught in one yesterday while taking a morning dip) and vendors hawking the fresh fish on the seawall. In fact, Norbert just walked in with fresh-caught pargo (or red snapper) to fry up for dinner.  

Fishermen pull in the net

Seeing as I was in the middle of reading Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids when I got to Colombia, the idea of living in a hotel has taken on a mythic quality to me. She lived in the Chelsea Hotel in New York City for several years, and living in a hotel sounds like the perfect place to be an artist and meet many interesting people. So that’s my plan here at Hotel Bellavista. I’ve already met a bunch of other long-term residents, all who insist that our apartamento is the best in the house; I’d have to agree because it comes with a private patio that is inhabited by a sweet orange tabby who’s happily adopted us as cuddle buddies.
I feel very Holly Golightly with a cat who belongs to no one and has no name
Kitty in patio

Our first night in our new place was unforgettable. A serious storm descended on us, and what was a cozy stormy night became quite the adventure when we realized our ceiling was leaking. The invasion of water in the roof also released an avalanche of large winged insects (which we later found out were drywood termites) that died en masse when their wings got wet—but not before freaking us both out! We’ll be sleeping under a mosquito net from now on…

Yesterday evening, Norbert broke in his kite, taking it for a spin on the Caribbean Sea for the first time. 
Can you spot Norbert's kite out the window?
Norbert's new friend, fellow kitesurfer Daniel
Happy man

Our front yard

In a little bit, after a fresh fruit breakfast prepared by my beloved, we’ll walk over to the historic walled city to visit the university campus there. I won’t be working in that location, but I’ve heard it’s a gorgeous campus. All in all, we’re happy, we’re healthy, and we’re loving our new home!

Universidad de Cartagena in the walled city

My fellow teaching assistants and me

Strolling down the street in the historic walled city