3 Reasons why I -❤️- Santa Marta
My best friend Brídín and I moved to Colombia from Ireland just over 4 months ago to teach English to high school students in Santa Marta. We have happily settled into our schools and city. I personally think I have been placed in the best city. I have met some amazing people along the way that have made my time here very special. Embracing a new culture isn't straightforward when you have poco español. My once in a lifetime experience have definitely outweighed my bad days in Colombia and that is why I want to share with you the three reasons why I love Santa Marta.
Since moving to Santa Marta I have met friendly open-hearted people. From the school community to the people in my barrio, everyone wants to help. This has been my longest time away from my family and friends but the costeño people have to give me little opportunity to be homesick.
Teachers have welcomed me to their homes. On my first week in school, I was invited to lunch at Magaly’s house. She teaches different subjects in the school so she doesn't have any English. I only see her in the staff room but she felt it was important to make me feel at home. After the delicious lunch her family we're happy at helping us out finding somewhere to live. We got sorted on our own in the end but her family was helping Brídín and I like we were their own. She still checks in with me to make sure we are happy and settled.
Me with Elvira and her beautiful daughters
Another time Elvira, one of my co-teachers invited me to a party at her sister's house for Mother's Day. It was a typical Colombian BBQ (asado in Spanish). Again they treated me like one of their own. I have little Spanish, to begin with but they all took their time to have a little chat with me. There were over 30 people there! In Colombia, it's very important that when you walk into a room/party you must greet everyone!! If you don't, they will think you're rude. We danced and laughed so much that day until the electricity went out. I was so grateful to get invited and to get an insight into the life of a Colombian family.
Afterwards, Elvira invited me to her house for lunch on two different occasions, where we picked mangos and I played cards and dominoes with her girls. Her family loves to knock fun out of me with my Spanish but I honestly just as much enjoy it! I can say a lot of things that don't make sense, sometimes even in English.
One of my students Yasunairis brought me to her family home one day after school. I wanted to see how coco rice was made. She said her mother would show me but my god they just fed me like it was my last meal. She told me it was too hot to teach me and to enjoy my lunch while putting extra coco rice on my plate. After lunch, they gave me a lesson in salsa. It was an enjoyable afternoon even using the little Spanish I had. I picked up some dancing tips but I didn't come out a pro that day.
As time has gone on I have gotten to know various people on my street. I always smile and greet them on the street. Knowing the locals in my area makes you feel safe. They are always happy to help you with your Spanish too! Colombian people love knowing everything about you but they also want to make sure you are ok. Bringing back Colombian kindness to Ireland is one of my missions already. They have taught me to be more open to everybody!
I feel very lucky that I get to call Santa Marta my home. It's an easy city to get around. A lot of tourists use Santa Marta as a hub because it's surrounded by beautiful beaches and mountains. Parque Tayrona is an hour away from Santa Marta. It is the real reason people come to this part of Colombia, even Colombians. The park has lovely trails you can take by foot or horse and some beautiful untouched beaches. They were the nicest beaches I've seen since coming to Colombia. I only did a day trip there but you can stay in hammocks or tents there for a few nights. I would highly recommend it.
As you go more north along the coast you can go to Palomino where the seafront has lovely waves and sandy beaches. It also has a very lazy river where you can go down in tubes. Make sure when you go on the river to bring sunscreen! That was the big mistake I made when I went tubing down the river during semana santa!
Up in the clouds of Minca
On the other side of Santa Marta are the Sierra Nevada Mountains. There you can do a 4 or 5-day trek to the famous Lost City. I haven't done it yet but it is on one of my lists to do. Another thing that you can do is go to Minca! It's a small village up in the Sierra mountains less than an hours drive from the center. Up above the clouds, you can visit a coffee plantation, hike and get incredible views, jump into refreshing waterfalls, and chill out on huge hammocks. It has much cooler temperatures than Santa Marta. To get this variety of climate in just a small area is astonishing! All the different climates in Colombia really make it hard for someone to want to leave because you do have the best of all worlds!
Culture & typical life
I have gotten a true insight into the culture of the Caribbean coast by teaching and working with Colombians! I will admit there was a lot of nerves and some culture shock when I first started school. Large loud class sizes and sweltering heat made it a real challenge to teach. As I got to know my students though it made it a lot easier. They have the warmest and open hearts. I integrated a lot of song and dance into activities. When I adjusted my lessons I had more students engaging in activities. It was a turning point in my class. Dancing is very important in Colombian culture. It's up beside family and football! It has been a treat to see the closeness of families even when they are huge! I'm telling you it took me a whole week to get through everyone's family trees, but there were so proud of each and every person. They didn't hide any skeletons! Like some families in Ireland. La familia es primero!
My friend warned me to adjust my watch to Colombian time before coming here. This meant never being too early to things and to not get upset if you have to wait in line for more than ten minutes. Time goes a lot slower in Colombia than Ireland. Así es la vida!
The Colombians may never be early but they will always dance or find an excuse to bailar! Every Wednesday in my school my students get to play music on the intercom and for them 30 minutes they dance their feet off. Every household will have a state of the art stereo system and they will play the music loud for everybody on the street to hear. They have different types of music and dances all over the country it's hard to keep up! I got to see that with my own eyes when I went to Carnival Barranquilla. There were color and happiness everywhere.
Carnaval Barranquilla con Brídín
The students and costeño people really will make you dance all night! Dancing makes them so happy. This really did help Brídín and me when we first arrived because we had no Spanish. Communicating through dance is very effective. In Ireland, the people are so shy to dance. It only happens after a good few pints you could get them up.
Living like costeños mean working early in the mornings. I wake usually at 5 am and I am in school from 6:30 to 12:30. By the time school is finished the sun is out in full. We hide for the rest of the afternoon. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day where you would get the menu del día. The menu del día includes a soup, main meal of chicken/fish/pork/beef with rice coco, salad, plantain and a juice. It's very filling so usually, I have a siesta after. As it starts to cool for the sunset around 6 you will start to see people go out to the park and playground or workers sitting in a tienda with an ice-cold cerveza after a long days work. After the sunset and just before the sunrise are my favorite times of the day because it's when you see people trying to get work done before/after the sun. The heat of the sun really does make it hard to work.
My lifestyle is simpler but a lot richer in other ways here in Colombia than in Ireland. I am learning Spanish and salsa among the local and giving children a glimpse into my home world through English song and dance. I am very happy calling this my home for another five months and I hope you enjoyed my 3 Reasons for loving Santa Marta.
Author: Sinead Duignan
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