I’ve decided to try and blog again. I was planning on blogging initially, but I got frustrated when Tumblr wouldn’t let me post any of my photos and gave up on posting anything in protest. That’s silly, though, and I will try my best to update this more regularly.
I realized last night, watching the biggest full moon of the year illuminate Colombia’s silvery mountains, that I have been in this country for a month already. The last time the moon was full I watched it rise over Bogotá’s mountains from the rooftop of the hotel we were staying at. I had been in the country for only one day at that point. Now, a month later, I am finding it difficult to know where to begin. I have felt so much the past few weeks, and I am not convinced that English words are capable of capturing these feelings. I’ll try to start at the beginning, though, and see what I can figure out.
My team and I arrived in Pácora late on a Sunday night. We had just spent the day dropping off my classmates in each of their respective towns, and as the sun was setting in La Merced, we realized that Pácora was still three hours away on winding, unpaved roads. Around 10 o’clock we rolled into a quiet plaza, ordered some arepas con queso from the only food stall still open, and sat in the empty square with our street food and cervezas, trying to wrap our minds around the fact that this would be our home for the next two months.
It wasn’t until we awoke the next day that we realized the extent of Pácora’s beauty. The town is nestled in a low spot between the lush, mountain tops, so the balcony in our hotel looks out over tiled roofs and infinite shades of sloping greens. The clouds are always dramatic, and the lighting easing its way over the coffee fields and young avocado trees never ceases to be enchanting. The town consists of the plaza, one main street of shops and homes, which our hotel is located on, and a handful of other parallel streets that are mostly residential. As you reach the edge of town, which doesn’t take long in any direction, the houses become smaller, a bit more spread out, and then give way to fields for grazing cows, horses, and donkeys, and for growing coffee, plantains, avocados, and a few other staple crops. A river runs through the lowest point, and many of the buildings in town have been built to allow for streams to pass under them. Every direction out of town is up, so the views only get more impressive the further out you walk.
The plan for the next morning was to meet the mayor, and make some decisions about what our project might be while we were here. It turns out that the avocado project we thought we were going to be working on didn’t actually exist yet. There was a young avocado farm, but the trees weren’t producing yet, and as far as we could tell nobody had talked to the women about whether or not they were interested in pressing avocados. So, we were starting from scratch. As we found out early that next morning, it also turns out that the mayor had to leave for Manizales immediately. We had a quick cup of tinto with him to introduce ourselves, and he told us he had gathered his best team to take us out to lunch later that day.
At lunch, we met the employees of the Mayor’s office we’d be working with most closely— the cast of characters for the summer. There was Marcela, who works for UMATA, which is the agricultural department in Pácora. She is an English teacher, now our Spanish instructor, and has been invaluable to our team. She is pure kindness, and has gone above and beyond to help us navigate the workings of the town. She set us up with a desk in her office, so we are now office mates as well. We met Mauro, the gregarious head of community development, who insisted on refilling our shot glasses of aguardiente at least 4 times throughout the meal. He also shares an office with us, and has a habit of shouting our names across the plaza and waving from the balcony. Claudia, the mayor’s secretary was there, as was Rafael, the town’s Secretary of Education and historian— a warm, gentle man who has given much of his time to thoroughly answer our questions. Finally, we met Hugo— the head of the Casa de Cultural, or the cultural center in Pácora. He is the gatekeeper of the public meeting spaces in Pácora, which are all housed in the cultural center. He was incredibly kind to us that first day— he gave us a tour of the cultural center, took us out for more tinto, and later in the evening gave us a tour of the town. We quickly found out, though, that he likes to be in control, and because of that has some complicated relationships with others who work in the mayor’s office. We decided, over the next few days, that it is best to keep Hugo at a distance.
It’s a little crazy to look back on that first day, which was really not long ago at all, and think about how much we have learned and experienced since then. Colombia has a way of twisting time, making it feel simultaneously so fast, and so slow.
Bogotá’s La Candelaria district, where we’re staying while in the city, seems to be made up of a series of narrow cobblestoned streets lined with hostels and dotted with museums of various sorts. It’s walking distance from Plaza de Bolívar, the center of the old part of the city, which we discovered on our first excursion of the day. We’re not exactly sure what was going on when we happened upon it, but it was rather packed with street vendors, demonstrators, a man with his face painted white speaking rapidly into a blow horn, a couple alpacas, a number of people feeding the pigeons, and some others who, like us, were just wandering. The air was filled with bubbles, I’m still not exactly sure where they were coming from, and there was music playing not too distantly. Perhaps it was our lack of sleep, or our hunger, or some combination of the two, but the whole thing seemed rather surreal. We wandered along its northern edge, and found ourselves in a packed cafe eating rice and yucca and watching the rain hit the streets outside, turning the old buses more vibrant shades of orange and green.
My first impression of Bogotá is that it is surprisingly smiley for a city that feels so much like a city. Of course these smiling strangers might be smiling at us because we look so out of place. Or maybe they’re just responding to my smile, I’ve found it hard to stop since I got here. Or maybe they actually just are this smiley? Whatever the reason, I appreciate it. And I am thoroughly appreciating being here. It’s so refreshing to be somewhere new, and so exciting to know that I have the next two and a half months to get to know this country more thoroughly.
My goodness it’s been a long time since I’ve wandered back to this page! I (Jessica) am currently en route to Bogotá, and I figured that meant it was a good time to start this thing back up. I’m back waiting in an airport, that strangest of limbos, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Did you know that in Fort Lauderdale they make their carpet look like tile? Well they do. And the only thing open at the airport between midnight and 6 am is the Dunkin Donuts. So that means I have about 7 hours to update you on what Travis and I have been up to for the past two years. I’ll give you the summary version.
After the UK, which is where we left you, we headed back to California. Travis started a musical duo, recorded an EP, and worked as an audio engineer for a studio in San Diego. I spent most of my time on a sustainable farm near the border teaching kids about compost and hanging out with goats. I was also applying to grad school. After our year of travel, it became clear to me that to really understand what was happening in the international food system, I would have to understand international policy on a much deeper level. But I also wanted to learn about creating change in that policy from the ground up, community development and citizen empowerment and all that. So, I started applying to a wide range of masters programs that I thought would help me achieve both of those things. Eventually I settled on the New School’s International Development program, and in July of 2012 we moved back to the old ‘hood in Brooklyn.
Once back in New York, Travis started working for a tech start-up— a youtube network that helps out independent musicians— started a band (their first EP is set to be released sometime this summer, keep your ears open!), and I dove into my first year of grad school. I ended up applying for a summer field program in Colombia, which leads me to where I am now— alone in an empty airport in Florida on my way to Bogotá. Eventually I’ll make it to Pácora, a smallish town in Caldas, in the coffee growing region of the country, where my team for the summer— a fellow New School student named Alix and a Colombian student I haven’t met yet— will spend the next 9 weeks working with a group of internally displaced women from farming families who are setting up a coop on an avocado farm. We don’t really know what we’ll be doing yet, but at the very least we’ll be able to offer an outside perspective on the organization, and that fresh point of view might be what they need to figure out the ways to overcome some of the obstacles they’re struggling with at this point in the process. We hope, at least. And no matter what happens, I’m sure we’ll learn a ton, which is probably the main goal, seeing as we’re all students.
Whatever we end up doing, I’ll do my best to document it here. If you’re interested, feel free to check back in every so often. Expect some pretty pictures, I hear Pácora is beautiful, and probably quite a few of me eating avocados, because I plan on doing that a lot. Also, Rachel is wandering down in early July and Travis is meeting up with us at the end of July and I’m sure many adventures will ensue, which we will also do our best to document. Hope you enjoy! And thanks for tuning in to Let’s Go Daddyo, season two.