Tag Archives: caribbean

Bienvenidos to Puerto Colombia

I haven’t made time to write much lately, but I promise there are a few posts in the draft queue. In the meantime, I thought I would give you a quick introduction to my new home, Puerto Colombia. This is my permanent site on the Colombian coast, where I’ll be living for the next two years!

Welcome to the main street into Puerto Colombia!

According to the official statistics, Pto as a municipality has about 45,000 habitants, but our “pueblo” claims about 5,000. There are several little townships squished together, and you can walk between Puerto Colombia, Pradomar and others in just a couple of minutes.

Puerto was the main, bustling port of the coast about a hundred years ago, when the pier linked Caribbean shipping lines with the Colombian railroad. Over the years, as Barranquilla built up its port, Puerto Colombia has quietly downsized to a sleepy fishing village/bedroom community to B/quilla.

The famous “muelle”. It still has remnants of the train tracks that used to run train cars straight out to the waiting ships. Now, it’s the fishermen, bored teenagers and tourists who walk the concrete catwalk out to deep water.
Today’s pier broke into pieces about 7 years ago, and now the only way to visit the end of the once-long and majestic pier is by lancha, or small fishing rowboat. Or by swimming, if you’re brave/stupid.
A view looking towards the beginning of Puerto Colombia’s coastline. I actually visited Pto before they announced that I would be living there for two years. Love at prior sight/site!
My school, which is K-11th grade in two branches. This building houses the middle school/high school ages, from 6th grade to 11th grade.

In Colombia, high school is 6th-11th grade (I know, can you imagine being put through the high school experience 5 years?), and at 11th grade they graduate, usually at the age of 16 or 17. From there, kids either go straight to work, attend public or private university, or attend a technical college.

My school is K-11th grade, and I’ll be working mostly with 9th to 11th grade (at least in theory.) Since a large part of my job is facilitating the professors’ work, I’m hoping to work in depth with them, improving their pronunciation and English conversation skills, as well as contributing ideas to curriculum and materials design.  I have five counterparts to work with, some of whom teach mostly grammar and others that teach English laboratory.

My counterparts and principal!

I’m assigned 18 hours with my school, which will be partly working with the English faculty, partly working with the primary school teachers, and partly co-teaching classes to our 10th graders who are prepping for the ICFES (now called the Pruebas Saber). This test is their qualifying exam for university, and it measures the usual math, science, literature, etc. as well as a huge portion of English grammar and conversation. Because of the importance of this exam, I’ll be spending a lot of time with both the students and the faculty in making sense of the speaking/listening/conversation part of the English language.

These are my 10th graders, demonstrating the use of technology in the classroom for a film crew from Bogota.

Fun story about the above photo: My first “teaching” moment happened in front of a film crew. I showed up on a weekend to help out with a segment at my school, and ended up teaching a brief English lesson for the camera and my future 11th graders! Apparently, a cable channel in Bogota is doing a show on technology in the public school classrooms of Colombia, and our school was chosen to demonstrate said technology. One of our students placed in the top category on a recent national test, as well, so Cisneros has been featured several times lately. This class of 10th graders was the most-behaved and quietest that I’ve ever seen (or will see.) Once the cameras turn off, they’re back to their usual vibrant and costeño selves–loud, excited, curious and not at all excited about studying!


Now that school is out for the holidays, I’m spending time integrating into the community. I’m meeting my neighbors, learning my way around town, and trying to get a feel for the porteña life! I’ve already been warmly welcomed and people are receptive to the idea of English clubs, community work and teaching me to dance salsa! I’ll be here for the holidays, so I’m looking foward to getting the full experience, Caribbean style.

Happy holidays from Puerto Colombia!



On Hayaca

This weekend (and I mean the whole weekend) was hayaca time, because my host mom wanted me to try her hayaca before I move out. My current host family is from the interior, from a department/state called Norte de Santander. They moved here in grade school, but the three ladies have kept several recipes alive in the house! Perhaps the crown jewels of the recipe box are the hayacas in the Cucuta style, the city where they were born. These are kind of like tamales on steroids, to give them a VERY broad translation into American cultural knowledge.

My host mom woke up at 4:15 am on Saturday to start the process.


First, she prepped all the ingredients individually:

Boiled and seasoned garbanzos

Boiled and seasoned chicken legs

a load of onions, bell peppers, green onions and oil

a bowl of raisins

a bowl of capers (giant ones!)

the masa made of corn flour

the leaves for wrapping the hayacas


Then, the process begins. First, she preps the leaves with a swirl of oil, then she rolls a ball of masa and flattens it until it shows a print of the leaf pattern.


Then come all the fillings, expertly placed into a perfect pile by the years of experience in her hands.


Once the piles are perfect (she even placed the raisins individually–it’s an art!), the whole thing is folded into the leaves and neatly tied up with string (green leave packages tied up with string are now one of my newest favorite things for breakfast.) 


And there is one hayaca, all prepped and ready for the olla on the stove. Rinse and repeat–25 more times!!

This woman is incredible, and I’m so glad she wanted me to taste the magic of Cucuta! Sunday morning we had a breakfast party with tios and tias, everyone kissing their fingertips and talking about their childhood in Cucuta. Que rico, para chuparse los dedos!