A Travellerspoint blog

The End: A Few Final Words, and a Few Final Memories

Two months later and I’m back at work, settled in my new flat, enjoying the constant company of boyfriend and I’ve had a little time to reflect back on all the experiences I’ve had.

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The year flew by, I had an amazing time and I don’t regret anything, not even coming back a month early because I missed Leon!

I did everything I wanted to do and more. My three big aims were:

  • To travel and see more of the world
  • To learn to speak Spanish
  • To take part in my second Raleigh International Expedition

I travelled in all of Central America and to Colombia; I even went to El Salvador which I hadn’t planned to do, and I saw many beautiful sights and many amazing things. People always ask me about my favourites so here are just a few, and it wasn't an easy decision:

  • Favourite Country: Guatemala
  • Favourite City or Town: Boquete, Panama
  • Favourite Beach: Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
  • Favourite Nature Reserve: Volcan Arenal, Costa Rica
  • Favourite Tourist Attraction: Panama Canal, Panama City
  • Favourite Memory: digging baby turtles out of the sand in Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica

I can now speak Spanish to a conversational level, I passed my self-imposed “ultimate test” of Christmas with my boyfriend’s family and he says I made him proud. And now back in England, Leon and I still spend 90% of our time together speaking only in Spanish; I am not planning on forgetting it any time soon!

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Me with a selection of my Spanish teachers...
Such good memorys from Xela, Guatamala and the Spanish school there

I took part in my second Raleigh International Expedition in June, I was recruited as a Logistics co-ordinator, which I found upsetting at the time as I had desperately wanted to be a Project Manager, but was told after the intensive 2 day interview that I didn’t have the leadership skills for that job. But after arrival in country in June, two weeks on-site-training and a one-to-one with my expedition leader he told me he had no idea why that had been the assessment at the time, and he thought it wasn’t in the slightest bit true. I then went on to take part in two of the three expedition phases as a Project Manager. I was ecstatic, I had an amazing time and I got so much out of it, and I have the added after-glow of know many of the young people in my groups feel the same!

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A selection of photos from Raliegh, one from each phase
My Team, Alpha 3: volunteering in rainny jungel of Tenorio
The Girly Road Trip: on our way to Cero Negro, for a trekking food drop
My Team, Xray 4: volunteering in Playa Hermosa with the turtels
Prom, The Final Party before the tears at the venturers leaving!

Many people who take a year out, get a lot more from that year than they ever expected, and I have done too. I got back my enthusiasm for Volunteering and for “Making the World a Better Place” and my enthusiasm for Personal Development, for myself and others. I don’t think I’d really realised I’d lost these drives, but I saw them in others at Raleigh and in the Spanish schools I was at, and I found it in myself again and am determined not to lose it now I am back in the real world!

So, I would like to officially close this blog, my travel blog ... but for every door that closes, somewhere another opens, and this one is really close ... today I am starting my new blog; “Addicted to Volunteering”. Enjoy and speak to you soon.

Posted by marajade1_200 05:22 Archived in England Comments (0)

El Salvador & Spanish (W3): Saying Goodbye

My last week of Spanish School, my last weekend trip, saying goodbye to the family and one hellish bus journey from San Salvador to Panama

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The last week of Spanish School was shorter than usual, after we played truant to see El Mozote on Monday there were only 4 days of school left. I had a different teacher this week, Caroline, who is also the director of the school and she was an exceptionally good teacher. Our main learning topics were adjectives and how political change is like a tree. Adjectives really wasn't very interesting but the tree analogy though was fascinating... And at the end of the week they did a little surprise leaving ceremony for me, which was really cute.

As for extra curricular activities I had a little bit of a relax Tuesday and Wednesday, I went go to a lecture on gold mining and the effects on the El Salvadorian people on Thursday afternoon; horrible business really, polluting everything. And on Friday afternoon I went to the beach with my house mate Sam and two of his local friends. And I received the best compliment to my Spanish yet from one of Sam's friends;

Him: So are you studying Spanish at the School with Sam?
Me: Yes
Him: Why?
<noting that this conversation was in Spanish>

I also did one final weekend trip, but sadly this one was on my own as Christalynn was busy, but I went up to Suchitoot a very pretty little mountain town where I wandered around, bought some earrings, drank coffee, visited the local lake and went to a free guitar concert in the evening. A lovely relaxing weekend before the bus ride from hell!

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Views of the street (left) and from the street onto the lake (right)

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A cute little restaurant I stopped at on the way

On Sunday I came back to San Salvador early, I packed my bags, played with the kids, had one last yummy dinner with the family, hugged Sam goodbye at the house and then got into the car with Mum, Dad and two kids in toe to drive me to the hotel. We then spent 10 minutes taking photo's together on the hotel steps, and saying a sad goodbye to two very large eyed, cute-looking children.

Monday and Tuesday were pretty horrific, Monday I got up at 2AM and was on the bus at 3AM. It was an 18 hour journey crossing 3 boarders, and driving through 4 countries and I arrived in Costa Rica at 10PM wide-awake after a day of sleeping on the bus. I didn't sleep until 4AM (not from lack of trying) and then I was up again at 8AM, packing, getting breakfast and heading down to the bus station for my 15 hour bus to Panama. This one was made slightly less bearable by my sore backside (already tender after the previous 18 hours), and by my continuing inability to sleep through it, but it was made more bearable by the company of my friend Derek, who decided to travel with me. My last day in Panama was also good fun, hanging out with a good friend, but it was all too quickly time to get that 5AM taxi to the airport, again after very little sleep I was quite happily drooling on the chair in the airport lounge for the 2 hrs before my flight.

And now here I am; back in the UK, and just like that the year is over. I have have had an amazing 11 months, but it was time come home. I have missed my family and friends; and I can't wait to see you guys. Let's catch up soon. xxx

Posted by marajade1_200 16:37 Archived in El Salvador Comments (0)

El Salvador & Spanish (W2): The Bloody History of War

This past week I’ve been learning more at school, seeing more on excursions and reading more about the history of El Salvador. And for fun? I started reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in Spanish and took a trip to the beach.

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In Spanish classes Monday to Friday I had the same teacher and was studying with the same group, we’ve covered various interesting topics, including local myths, environmental issues, education, the “communist” uprising of 1932 and the following massacres and various other interesting was and politically related topics.

With the cultural program, I went on three trips this week. We visited The Museum of the Word and the Image, where we saw various interesting exhibits on the war, immigration to America and other topics. And we also met (and got to speak to) the owner the museum, the famous “Santiago” a Venezuelan who ran the guerrilla radio station “Radio Venceremos”, during the war.

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Radio equiptment we saw at the museum

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Radio Properganda, the Radio was a huge part of the war effort and Santiago is still very famos here

We also visited the medical union, spoke to an active member and were given a tour of the hospital. We learnt a lot about the history of the union, the protests against the privatisation of health care in El Salvador, and the current working conditions in the hospital; there are plenty of doctors but not enough money to pay them, they get a small wage and are all only employed for 2hrs per day, the majority of which they spend doing compulsory paper work, whilst patients sit without care in the waiting rooms; it was pretty upsetting.

The third trip was to the local central cemetery and there we heard lots of interest stories of famous El Salvadorian figures and how they died. As well a ghost story of a woman whose statue stands in a wedding dress in the centre of the cemetery…

With the family, we celebrated the 7th birthday of their son Joshua with cake and a wondrous rendition of happy birthday, with the added verse (as they do here), of:

“Now we want cake! Now we want cake…”
or in spanish
“Ya queremos pastel; ya queremos pastel…”.
(image it to the tune of happy birthday)

It was a very cute little celebration; with the family (in a still very macho society, where men very much are still head of the household) trying to teach their children about gender equality by giving their daughter presents, as well, on their son’s birthday. A cute idea, if ever I heard one and good to know that they are trying to teach gender equality, even if they don’t really understand it themselves!

On Saturday I went with Christalynn to the beach; I’ve heard great things about the El Salvadorian beachs and I wasn’t disappointed. The town of El Tunco was lovely, beautifulo little sandy streets filled with bars and restaurants and little corner shops, and the typical little man selling coconuts. El Tunco beach is very famous for serf, but it was very swimmable as well, the water was warm and the beach had a nice cool sea breeze running across it so we didn’t get too hot. We had some yummy fish taco’s for lunch and a very relaxing day, reading, swimming and having a good girlie gass.

Sunday and Monday we adventured a little farther afield, going to the other side of El Salvador we stopped at Rio Sapo with our new friend Vilma (the very lovely little old El Salvadorian lady we met last weekend). As per usual for Latin America, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, and after being waved onto a bus at 5:15 in the morning by a vary excitable Vilmar we ending up on a tour with a huge number of San Salvadorians; all going on a 5hr journey, to spend 3 hrs at the river and then immediately drive 5hrs home again (crazy people).

The bus journey there was a barrel of laughs, there was one lady taking photo’s of EVERYTHING; there were various people selling snacks and drinks; and the bus was really rather cheap, cheaper even than the public bus. Being polite foreigners and not using enough elbow, we ending up sitting on little stools in the aisle of the bus, rather than having seats, and every time the bus stopped suddenly all the women on the bus screamed “ooohhhh!!”, the stools toppled-over and we nearer fell on our faces; it was definitely a local experience!

The river was pretty, the swimming cold and refreshing, and we had a lovely picnic, but it was all too soon time to leave and rather than head back to San Salvador with out new friends, we decided it was best we made the most of being in a vary famous area of the country.

We headed instead up to Pequin, an area famous for its involvement in the war. We visited the war museum; arriving just before closing time we got a tour of the place with a very knowledgeable guide, and a recommendation for a hotel for the night. For dinner we ate pupusas and drank shandy with a chatty Australian guy, before bunking down at a rather reasonable 8:30PM.

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At the meusum; a helicoptor that was shot down in the war by the guerrillas, killing a famous army general

The following day we headed out early and stopped at El Mozote; a town with a terribly sad history; it was here that the El Salvadorian army masacered nearly 1000 people in 1982 during the war. We had both read the book “The Massacer at El Mozote” But we heard the story again and received a short tour of the town from a local girl, who left the area 8 days before the massacre, and was one of the first people to come back again only 6 months after the peace treaty was signed, on returning she was the one to identify the bodies of 7 nieces and 4 siblings whose bodies were found in the house of her father. It was very moving to here the story again from the lips of a local survivor.

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The war memorial (left) where remains of people who were exhumed during the investigations were reburried
The gardens (right) in memory of the children that were killed in this very spot.

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Bulette holes (left) and the sign (right) for the historial sight

Posted by marajade1_200 17:21 Archived in El Salvador Comments (0)

El Salvador & Spanish (W1): Back to Spanish School

I’m with another host family, studying in another school, and visiting another country whilst still missing my boyfriend terribly…

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It was really hard leaving Leon again, but I didn’t sit and sulk, I jumped straight off the plane Wednesday night into El Salvador, and was on a bus Thursday morning into the National Park Impossible; so called for the pass that was impossible to cross, and where many people died, but where there is now a famous bridge! I stayed in a cute hostel run by a lovely family, I did a waterfall jumping tour and met a chatty Argentinean couple and a crazy US guy travelling on his motor bike and camping, I read lots and ate lots of food (catching up on my veggies after leaving colombia).

The four day weekend went quickly and by Sunday night I was back in San Salvador, knocking on the door to my new host family and introducing myself to Ivonne and Roberto, my new mum and dad, as well as Joshua and Allison my new little brother and sister. These two are crazily energetic, I am serious starting to think I am not meant to have kids; they wear me out after 2 hours of dragging me this way and that to play this game, or read this book or watch this… but I am enjoying living with the family, the food is good, they are lovely, the mum is very chatty with me and the kids love me (I am not sure why).

School this week has been good, it is different being in a class with more people again, some ways it is good but some ways it is frustrating as I am used to having all the attention! The school is again very political; and I am learning a lot about the history and the current political and social situation of the country, which is what I wanted but I don’t think the school itself is quite as good as the school in Guatemala, but it had a lot to live up to really!!

I have been on trips in the afternoons nearly every day, Tuesday my friend Derek (who I met in Guatemala) was in San Salvador, so I skipped the trip with the school to go to Santa Teckla (a cute village on the outskirts of San Salvador) with him. Whilst there we met a local university student who showed us around the town, went to lunch with us and invited us in for a drink and we then spent the rest of the afternoon gassing, had pupusas for dinner (a local speciality) and drank a glass of wine together before heading back to the hecktic-ness of San Salvador. Wednesday I went to an archaeological sight with the school (mud houses from 1500 years ago perfectly preserved by volcanic ash); Thursday we went to the war memorial for the civilian casualties of the war and Oscar (the school guide) told us, in-short, the harrowing history of El Salvador (including a lot of killing of indigenous people and the poor people in the country side), and Friday we visited the ecological park outside the city.

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The War Memorial, there were a horendous 30,000 civilian casualties in the war

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Views of the city taken from the Ecological Park

During the weekend I went with my new friend Christalynn to explore the Route of the Flowers; visiting the three lovely little towns of Juayua, Apaneca and Ataco; drinking cocktails; eating pupusas, crepes, and cake; making new friends (some lovely little old El Salvadorian ladies invited us for lunch and are taking us on a trip next weekend); visiting waterfalls and lakes and generally enjoying the ambience of being in little towns in the country and out of the big city!

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The waterfalls in Juayua (left); the view from the hill top in Apaneca (center) and Laguna Verde in Apaneca (left)

Today is Monday, and I have another week of school and trips ahead of me, but I am already looking forward to next weekend; dreaming of the beach and the trip on Sunday with our new friends!

Posted by marajade1_200 16:44 Archived in El Salvador Comments (0)

Colombia (W4&5): Family, Food and Coffee

Meeting the Family: the cottage, Medellin, and speaking lots of Spanish to lots of Gomezes; travelling through the coffee region and getting to know Bogota: and then saying goodbye to Colombia and to Leon … the whole thing went much quicker than I wanted.

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Leon’s family was lovely, M, D and little brother met us at the airport in Medellin on Christmas eve, and we drove back to the Cottage, stopping on the way for a quick pre-dinner snack and a visit to the local town; on arrival at the cottage I was immediately bombarded by more people, but somehow managed to pass the first test and have a conversation with a group of about ten family members about languages.

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The Cottage (left) and Me and Leon posing with the Snowman (right)

Christmas eve was an experience, we ate BBQ (a family tradition), and stayed up til late drinking, then at midnight we started opening presents. All the presents were from nino dios (or baby jesus) rather than from Santa, and ever time someone got a present everyone threw wrapping paper at them and shouted “que se lo abro, que se lo abro” (open it, open it) and once it was open “que se lo ponga, que se lo ponga” (put it on, put it on!!) seemingly no matter what it was it had to be put on!!

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The Christmas Presents (sands tree), and Leon's M&D openeding one of my presents

Christmas day in Colombia is a little like our boxing day, sleeping late, getting over the hangover, spending more time with family. In the afternoon, after a hearty Colombian breakfast, a chat with M&D, and a pretty hefty lunch we headed out to visit Guatape, a pretty little town, with a famous rock (a pretty big, rock with very nice views).

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The Big Rock (left) and the view from the top (right)

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The pretty and colourful town of Guatape

Between Christmas and New Year, we spent the time in Medellin; visiting the Christmas lights; taking a day trip to national park Arvi; heading over to Pueblito Paisa (a mock up Paisa village); leaving town with the family to visit the town of Santa Fe de Antioquia and to see a famous Colombian suspension bridge, which in it’s day was the longest in the world; going out with friends; visiting the various shopping malls (a favourit Colombian pass time) and going to the cinema.

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The Christmas Lights, the 3rd best Christmas Lights in the World

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The National Park Arvi

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Pueblito Paise (left) and the view (right)

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The town of Santa Fe de Antioquia

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The famous bridge

New Year was a repeat of Christmas, a family affair at the cottage, however there was even more family there than for Christmas! We drank, danced, ate grapes, walked round the house with suitcases, we threw lentils (well I had lentils thrown at me anyway), we drank champagne and set off fireworks, and we burnt the old year (represented by a stuffed man), in order to welcome in the new one… leaving the family was hard work, especially for Leon, but after 10 days together it was time to get on the road again…

We headed to Selento in the Zona Cafetier; a very pretty little town in the middle of a festival that the locals seemed to love but to me and Leon seemed like a lot of loud noise and not much else, but it didn’t spoil our three days there, we visited restaurants, drank coffee, visited many souvenir shops, took a lovely walk to a local coffee farm and visited the Cocacora National Park.

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The coffee finca, and the lovely walk there and back

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The Cocacora Nationla Park, famous for the tall palms

Our last stop was Bogota where we spent the first day with a friend of Leon and his son visiting Guatavita the famous lake where the Spanish thought to find the gold of El Dorado. It was a very beautiful place with an interesting tribal history; the story goes that the indigenous people used to throw Gold into the lake as part of religious ceremonies. The Spanish drained the lake on two different occasions, and various treasure hunters and divers have scoured the site, and whilst a reasonable amount of gold has been found, not enough to cover the cost of the searching.

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The Guatavita Lake

The second day in Bogota, and the last day of our trip together we visited the Gold museum, we walked around the Calanderia (the old town), we ate Ajiaco (a famous Colobian soup), we muched cake (because we like cake), and we drank coffee (because Colombia is famous for Coffee, and Bogota is reputed to have some of the worst Coffee in Colombia and I just hat to see this for myself) and finally we finished with Asian food for the last super (no comment, but we do like asian food).

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The Candaleria, Bogota Town Center

The parting in the airport this morning was horrid, I didn’t want to come back to El Salvador, I wanted to go back to London with Leon. Five weeks has gone too fast, but it is only six weeks until I am home and I am not going to wish it away, I am going to make the most of the next month and a half and finish off my Spanish learning experience on a high!!

Posted by marajade1_200 18:34 Archived in Colombia Comments (1)

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