Category Archives: Story Time

Humans of Colombia

I’d say that 90% of the people I told I was going to Colombia, or that I went to Colombia responded with some version of “But it’s so dangerous!”.

(the other 10% were other bicyclists who were like – “Woah! Have fun and good luck with the Andes”)

I have met many people, including other Colombians who have had dangerous experiences in Colombia. But I want to be very clear that this is a country of beauty, and I don’t just mean the nature (which is surreal, by the way). What I’m referring to now are the people. Just as with any other place I’ve traveled, its the people I’ve met and the friends I made that create my favorite experiences.

For example, the couple the flagged me down on the side of the road and offered me coffee. We chatted about how beautiful the country is and how much we all loved Colombia- how inspiring to meet someone so passionate about his country!

IMG_0367Or the guy who saw me struggling up our first mountain and drove back to bring me a gatorade saying ‘mucho respecto’ and driving away before I could properly thank him. I stood stunned, almost cried, and then promptly chugged half the bottle.

Or the guy in a small mountain town who saw us ride in and offered to buy us a drink and snack from a bakery- which of course we said yes and got our favorite cookies- just because he was so impressed with what we were doing.

And the girl who stopped me to practice her English, introduced me to her whole family, and offered delicious coffee without pausing to hesitate.

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And the man who saw us late at night with our bikes eating dinner, asked if we needed someplace to stay, then led us to his house and let 6 of us camp outside and stay up celebration our first night of tour with his whole family just inside.

And the guy who drove a potato truck and gave us a ride further up the mountain (to be fair Casey and Sam did help him load some of the potato bags- I was too far behind and arrived just intake to load our bikes. bummer).

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On the potato truck!

And one of my favorite times was getting stopped by a pick up truck
on a rocky mountain road. He asked if I wanted a ride (apparently I just looked like a wreck)and I said yes please. I soon learned the driver was the mayor of the town IMG_0185we had just left. The MAYORWe picked up Sam and Casey and learned that the car behind were other city leaders as well and they were all headed to the same meeting in the next town. We got out to
snap this photo, and then they bought us all coca-colas and some chorizo and we never saw them again!

And of course, there were our couch surfing hosts from Bogota. They were gracious, and friendly, and welcoming, and fantastic cooks and made us feel like family immediately.

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And of course, there were plenty of people who wanted pictures with us. Young girls would shyly ask to take a picture with me, groups of people would gather around to welcome us and get photographic proof 3 gringos on bikes passed through their town. It was silly and weird and kind of awkward but beautiful and special all the same.

Colombia has some dangerous places, of course. But it is so, so much more than that- it’s caribbean coast line, it’s the tranquil, endless Andes, it’s massive cities and tiny villages, it’s people who are rich with gratitude, passion, curiosity and kindness.

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Colombian Hospitality

..and curiosity. It’s huge! Granted, we are three sweaty gringos pulling into tiny towns on heavily loaded bikes asking were there is a good place to camp.

Of course they want to ask about our trip. A few of them try to practice their English. And MANY of them want pictures with us. Specifically, the girls want a pictures with the tall, white, blonde guy.

I once had 2 young girls at a stop recently ask to take pictures with me- the mom invited me into their house to do a little photo shoot. Made me feel special.

But so far the greatest moment was for all of us combined. A group of kids on the side of the road were yelling at me and while usually I wouldn’t stop, something made me think they wanted something innocent.

This 16 year old girl started speaking to me in very broken English; she asked were I was from, what my name was and then to write it down. She had her English notebook for school so I wrote “I am Caitlin” for her to see.

She then asked if I liked coffee, to which I enthusiastically replied “yes”. I was quickly invited in for a drink and was being introduced to her grandmother, uncle, and many siblings who had all been crowding around me this whole time. Sam and Casey rode up then and were invited in as well. We sat and drank our coffee and explained our travels while she explained about learning English in school.

And then many group photos were taken. It was a special moment, the whole family was intrigued and welcoming. It was one of those times were we just looked at each other like, is this really happening right now? This family invited random people off the road to just come hang out. It lasted all of 15 minutes, but it was a beautiful moment. I will never forget the light In this girls’ eyes as she spoke to us in English and hosted us in her home.

Surfing: a Successful Mess

Despite having lived in California for 3 years, I never went surfing. It always sounded like a cool idea, but I just never got around to it. I finally got the opportunity in Portugal for a free half lesson. Apparently half lessons are a thing…

(In case you’re curious, this lesson came from a fair where I had to take a ‘surf quiz’ to try to ‘win’ a free lesson. I didn’t even know what the phrase ‘hang 10’ meant and received total score of 2/10. I still got the free lesson. They were giving them away)

I had the option to go early in the day with the kids, or to hang out for a few hours and go later with the adults. In a moment of panic I chose the kids.

I was nervous and alone and just wanted to go and get it done with. However,  if I had known the coach was going to make us run and warm up on the beach and that all of the kids’ (about 8-12 yrs old by the way) parents were going to be watching, maaayyybe I would have chosen to wait.

Now let’s keep in mind that despite years of ballet training, I am as awkward and clumsy with the best of them when it comes to day to day life. Step 1: put on a wet suit. Step 2: Carry a long surf board across an extremely long and extremely windy beach and get it in the water past all the huge waves crashing into shore? haha riiiight.

I am surprised there is even an ocean left considering how much of it I swallowed or inhaled that day. Sometimes, it was not even because I fell off my board. Sometimes, it was because I was waiting for a wave to pass and it ended up being more massive than I expected and so it tried to drown me. I felt like an idiot. A lot.

I did however actually manage to stand up a few times. I get it now. Surfing is addicting. I always wanted one more wave no matter how tired my muscles were.

After a few more hours (and a slightly less awkward than I expected experience of taking off my wetsuit), the surf company dropped me back at a bus stop so I could catch a ride back to Lagos. And me being my awesome self forgot it was Sunday and that buses don’t run as often sooo I ended up waiting 3 hours by the side of the road…

It was cold and while I was listening to my ipod I started dancing to stay warm. Sometimes I was doing the lip sync for a music video. Sometimes it was contemporary modern. The cars driving by were not impressed.

Overall it was a good day. I want to go surfing again with out a doubt. If anything I have to get one of those mandatory ‘Look at Me Next to a Surf Board’ pictures that I didn’t get my first time around because I was too embarrassed to ask.

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Peanut Butter Lovers and Sneakers

There may be some things I’ve missed about America. Aside from some people, and maybe a few family dogs. This is my ‘reverse culture shock’

 

-Drinks with ice. like juice and soda

-Being able to have casual conversations with random people

-Understanding what the people around me are saying. I keep getting excited that they are speaking English and then I’m like, oh yeah, right..

-Cold beer sections at grocery stores that include more than like, 1 beer

-My collection of mugs. Greg and Patricia in particular

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tea and crumpets with Greg

-Being able to read labels. Sometimes I triple check before a product goes on my face

-This one is SF Bay Area specific- I missed the fact that people actually LINE UP to get onto public transportation. It’s not always perfect, but the idea is nice

-American style breakfast. No one does pancakes and bacon better than ‘Murica

 

Deciding to Work in a Hostel

I might not be the worldliest of travelers (just Europe and USA so far, woop!), but I’ve stayed in my fair share of hostels over the years. Along the way, I’ve met many people who have stayed long term in hostels for various reasons. Maybe they couldn’t find a flat in that city, maybe they just needed a break from traveling because they were fortunate enough to be able to take extended (as in many years long) trips, or maybe they are a wandering soul who decided to quit their Au Pair job and move to the coast and work in a hostel instead. *cough*

On my first trip to Europe I made friends with a few people who met each other because they had stayed in the same hostel for a few (…like, at least 6) months.

In my head I was all “whaaaa, that’s crazy why would you ever do that??”
Out loud I was all “Oh wow cool, that’s great”

I didn’t know that was a ‘thing’. Hostels to me where a temporary, cheap place to sleep while traveling, typically used by young people. And then I learned about people living in them (usually for slightly cheaper rates) and also that the people working there are probably doing a work exchange- free room/board for a few hours daily work. Whatever the reasons, I now understand why people do it.

I was very lucky in that in my travels I was able to find a hostel that was looking for summer workers. I came back to a place I knew I liked instead of venturing into the unknown. Hostels can vary drastically from how they are portrayed online and that worried me a bit (especially after my Au pair experience not going as planned).

Each hostel will be different, but some things to consider before deciding to live/work in a hostel:

-The location of the hostel. Is it in the city center or outside? Is it near public transportation? Is it in a city that you like? Maybe it doesn’t matter and you just need a place to stay. Cool. But if it’s a choice to work there, then make sure you will enjoy the full experience.

-Atmosphere. Party hostel? Small family, run hostel? Is there a bar inside or other common areas to socialize? Do the guests feel comfortable to socialize or does everyone stay to themselves? If it’s a place you haven’t visited before see if you can talk to present workers about their experience (maybe do that anyways).

-The Boss. Is it the owner or will it just be someone else like yourself who has just been there a while? Do they treat you like family for like a random, cheap worker? This might not matter so much if it’s short term, but for me I needed someone I could connect with. I’ve learned that the better my boss treats me the more willing I am to put in the extra effort. Work doesn’t feel like work to me (even the parts I don’t like) because my ‘boss’ is more of a friend and I want to be a part of her team.

-The exchange. Most hostels give room and board. Some will even pay! Buuuut do you have to stay in a dorm with the other guests? Or maybe you can be lucky, like me, and sleep in a little cave of a room with no windows or air. But hey, at least it’s my own space.

Check out these sites if you are interested. The response rate is not always the best, but if you find a hostel that seems worthy perhaps it’s best to just contact them directly.
http://www.hosteltraveljobs.com/
http://www.hosteljobs.net/

 

“It’s only awkward if you make it awkward”

I hate when people say this to me. It’s only awkward if you make it awkward.

Yeah, thanks for that…advice?. I wouldn’t have started my story with ‘it was so awkward’ if I hadn’t made it awkward. Awkward is a feeling, it’s an energy, and I feel it often. The other person/people I am with might not feel it, but I do. And THAT’S the point.

I talk to fill silences and it’s always rambling incoherently. I laugh too loudly and when I stop it’s like…what WAS that?! The first time I hung out with a group of people after a city tour, I tried taking my pullover off at the table while telling a story and got stuck. In the sweater. Six people sat staring at me in silence as I took a moment to stop and start over again. Hi guys, I’m a grown up.

IT’S AWKWARD OK??!

That moment was tangible. As have been countless others. Sure, sometimes that ‘awkward’ could probably be replaced with a ‘it was so random’ or even more rare, ‘awesome’. However, I feel awkward and gawky and goofy and misplaced so there it is. The story is from my perspective, and from my perspective it was awkward.

To be clear, I don’t really get embarrassed. I’m pretty good at laughing things off and talking my way to out of a situation to save myself from becoming completely mortified. It’s a skill I’ve been fine tuning since the 6th grade when I used to cry of embarrassment in school.

Now let me attempt to walk away with what dignity I have left…*runs into doorway with shoulder*


ehfacecaitlin is a clumsy dancer, a homebody who loves adventures, and an inarticulate talk-a-holic. she writes for fun and with horrible grammar.

 

I Don’t Speak Scottish

I will make this as quick as possible, because it’s really not that exciting of a story. I just thought it a good one to share because it shows how I deal with my awkwardness while traveling…

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I got off a 9-hr night bus from Bristol to Glasgow at 7:30 am with glazed eyes and foggy brain only to discover I could not. understand. anyone.

As a native English speaker, this kind of took me by surprise.

Heading into the city center after checking into my hostel, I passed a beautiful building that turned out to be a library and  decided to take a look around.

There was a security man just inside sitting at a small desk. Everything happened so quickly…

Me: Hello, would it be alright if I took a look around?

Him: Ahwellwedon’tusuallydotours, whereareyoufrom?

Me: uhh, I’m American…? I think that’s the right answer, I’ll just ask the same question again. This is a beautiful library, can I take a look around?

Him: Yeahwhydon’tI takeyouonatourthislibrarywas….

At this point, he was gesturing me to follow as he walked away still talking. I hesitantly followed, not 100% sure where he was taking me.

This man took me to a few rooms, maybe 20 minutes total, but he talked a LOT and this is all I understood and some of it just from contextual guessing:

-the books are very old
-no one can touch them
-and they have the original poem/score for the song ‘Auld Lang Syne’, you know, the New Year’s Eve song..’let old acquaintance be forgot’…and the only reason I got that part was because I actually SAW the sheet music.

After he’d ramble on about a room he would stand there expectantly, waiting for my response, but all I could do was carefully place my ‘oh wow’s, and ‘yeah, that’s amazing‘s and even a few ‘oh, I had no idea‘s into the mix. I asked him to repeat something as often as I could without being obnoxious, only to still not understand so another ‘oh, right, sure sure…’ was thrown in.

This guy probably thinks I’m some stupid American who either can’t learn or doesn’t want to learn anything. In my defense, maybe he was also boring, I’ll never know. It was a harmless situation and I appreciated him showing me around anyways.

So remember the next time you’re traveling and can’t understand what someone is saying, at least you aren’t struggling to understand your own language.

The Library
The Library