On Saturday, as I was watching the opening Carnaval procession in the town I would call home for the next three months, I had a moment of clarity. My low-quality pictures on my new Peace Corps phone won’t do it justice but believe me when I say it was as spectacular as any Carnaval I ever anticipated in Rio or Barranquilla. Dance after dance of salsa or cumbia in intricate and colorful costumes. And suddenly I thought, could it really only be Saturday? Was it only exactly a week ago that I was sitting around a campfire with some of my closest friends in Big Sur then later freezing all night in our tent? It seemed impossible to imagine as I watched the procession unfold before me, sweating in the hot and humid Caribbean climate in a crowded stadium.
Sunday was my first day of rest. Was it really only a week ago that I had my last dinner with my family? That I slept in my bed for the last time? A lot can happen in a week.
My 23rd birthday started out with a 4:30 AM wake-up call, but hey, I was getting a free flight to Miami so I couldn’t complain much. I left Fresno and landed in Los Angeles to one of the most amazing sunrises
After a short layover, I was off to Miami. I landed around 4:30 and had had grand plans to go to see the Wynwood Walls by myself that night. But then plans quickly changed when I realized how tired I was. I was able to meet up with some volunteers already in Miami and we got delicious Cuban food: black beans, French fries, and chicken fried like hasbrowns = amazing. They also told the waiters it was my birthday and I got a little tres leches cake and “Feliz Cumpleanos” sung to me. The next day a few of us got up early to visit South Beach before Staging started at 12.
Staging really put my mind at ease because we got some much needed information about logistics and I go to meet the many amazing people I will be spending the next two years with! After a final U.S. meal at Chipotle, we were off the next day at 6 AM.
After a short three-hour flight, we arrived in Barranquilla. We stayed at Hotel Caribe for 3 nights while we had medical tests and information sessions and interviews. It was great to get to know the group even more and we got to see a bit of the city at night. We also got our first taste of Colombian! There was a lot of empanadas, papaya, and rice eaten but my favorite was the salchipappas (Cheese fries with hot dog meat, onions, lettuce, etc).
Now it’s Tuesday and I’ve been in a town of 25,000 about an hour outside Barranquilla for the past few days. My family was immediately so warm and welcoming. I have two parents and a 17 year old host brother. On my first night, there was the “Crowning of the Queen” for Carnaval so things got off to a crazy start. It really was one of the most spectacular shows I’ve ever seen and even my host-parents said it was one of the best shows in years. Carnaval doesn’t really finish until mid-February so there will be a lot more events such as this over the next month.
On Monday, Spanish classes started in our small group of 4. We were able to also find the public library, which has air conditioning and free Wi-Fi so basically we’ll be there every day. All in all, things have been going good. My host mother cooks delicious food. I get lots of different juices, ripe avocado, and great coffee every day. So far, the heat hasn’t been too intolerable although the humidity is something to get used it. The accent and dialect has been difficult to adjust to but it’s coming along. I thought I had a good grasp of Spanish from my experiences in Argentina and Mexico but simple words like “beans” or “surfing” are completely different in Carribean Colombia. “Frijoles” is “granos” here. “Surfear” is “esquiar al mar” here. Little things like that that make it seem like I’m learning an entire different language. And they talk so fast! Good thing I’ve got three months to learn everything.