Finally some video in ENGLISH. Wow, I've been making all those videos about Peru, Colombia and my experiences with traveling and volunteering in Latin America but all the time in Polish. And every week, every day I meet new people here with whom I would also like to share my stories. So from now on once in a while I will start making more and more videos in English. And yeah, my Spanish is still pretty funny, but I will make videos in Spanish too! :D Actually I am thinking about one bigger project related to videos in Spanish but that will come in couple of months and now... go and visit Sabaneta with me and with my friends from Language Institute.
Cali. The city, which I have been thinking about for a long time, but somehow I didn't manage to visit. Hostels and language schools which I was trying to contact did not bother to reply to my emails. Time for my next move to Apartado and then to Medellin was getting closer and I thought I will stay in Bogota until than. Well, but after all one of the the best parts of my adventure is the unpredictability. Therefore, one Friday evening together with my amigo from Soacha we came up with an idea to visit the salsa capital of the world and next morning we were already in Cali welcomed by super kind couchsurfing host.
Who are you Colombia?
Cali is exactly like Colombia. If Colombia could be represented as a city it would be the city of Cali. I already wrote about the difficult history of this country couple of times. Nearly seventy years of violent internal conflicts that started with the killing of one of the politicians in broad daylight, the conflicts that cannot finish until today. First it was the political conflict. Conservatives versus Liberals. Socialism versus capitalism. The right wing versus the left wing. After several decades of violence the third party joined the conflict. The party that made the conflict boiling hot because it added critical and destructive element to it - the money. I'm talking about the Narcos, the drug cartels that in the 80ties tortured the country, creating it's infamous reputation all around the world and creating the stigma which Colombia will probably still need to carry for many more years. As soon as cartels with big money joined the game the conflict ceased to be ideological and became simply a war for influence and interests. Today, hardly anyone knows (or rather cares) which paramilitary groups are the right wing and which are the leftist. Danger zones in Colombia are mainly rural and suburban areas where guerrilla groups are fighting with the government in the worst possible way for the civilian population - land mines, which regularly make an unlucky farmer or a child lose a leg, an arm or a life (to learn more on this subject I recommend watching a strong story prepared by the Vice portal). In urban areas it is usually drug ghettos, where a person with a brain will simply never go. About one of those ghettos I already wrote when I was describing my unfortunate escapade to the borders of area called Bronx in Bogota (I wrote but I still need to translate:)). Thanks to this experience, I had become convinced that if you have brains and you are not looking for problems in Colombia, trouble will not look for you either.
Why such a long historical introduction to my post about Cali, the capital of salsa? To understand the situation and the mentality of the people here. Of all the cities I have visited in Colombia while Medellin is the city quickly rushing toward the future, there's still a long way for Cali to get there. Now, I don't want to be unfair. I've been in Cali only four days so there have to be a lot that I still didn't see. Also, my first impression of Medellin was pretty bad - an that changed 180 degrees with time. But at this moment when I'm writing those words my subjective opinion tells me that Cali has a long way to go. The whole world has heard about "the famous criminal from Medellin". His megalomania earned him an army of enemies all around the world and that eventually resulted in his assassination on the roof of his aunt's house from which he tried to flee once again. Much less people have heard anything about the second most influencial Colombian cartel. Maybe it's because the Cali cartel had chosen to lay low and focus on business rather than getting involved in politics. Maybe for this reason, Cali is still a city in which the security level is lower than in Bogota, Medellin and any other city that I have visited. Cali streets are full of homeless people and drug addicts. During the four days that we spent there it was difficult for me to tell where the business district or the wealthy neighbourhood was. And it had to be somewhere. The city is huge and inhabited by more than two million citizens. But still most of the people which I contacted through Couchsurfingwere going to the same pizzeria and to the same salsa places. Hotel Intercontinental, one of the popular meeting points is located about 50 meters from the river bank where many homeless people built their shelters. A hundred steps from the Colombia's largest bank other group of homeless people established their cardboard houses.
Looking for the Paradise
This image of the city that I created in my mind after strolling down the streets of Cali did not quite fit the image that I had in mind when I was talking with the citizens of Cali. "Cali is a paradise!" "You're gonna love my amazing city!" Their enthusiasm, cheerfulness and optimism reminded me a story that I've heard couple weeks earlier when I was in Medellin. "The Colombian is a man who stands in the swamp, delving into it more and more. Up to the weist, the chest, the neck. By the time when the poor man almost sinks suddenly he notices the branch, which he grabs and pulls up with all his strength, hope and with no looking back." Residents of Cali do not see, or try not to see the problems that the city has. Each of them will take you to the salsa club where the locals will invite you to dance and offer teaching basic steps. Each of them will tell you about the cats of the river, which I've probably seen fifteen times within four days. Every person will tell you about the local quisineand the marvelous weather. Yes, this is probably the biggest difference between the troubled post-Soviet countries in Eastern Europe and equally troubled countries of South America. The optimism. I read this story in one of my favorite books titled "Geography of Bliss" the book which by the way also pushed me to my big journey(so be careful if you decide to read it :)) The author describes his experience of staying in Moldova, one of the countries with the lowest level of nation's happiness.
Likewise in other simmilar countries which cannot brag about the history, economy or culture Moldova emphasized its high quality of the food. However, in contrast to Peru and Colombia citizens of Moldova are lacking the optimism and the hope. From my plain historical knowledge I am tempted to say that this lack of optimism is due to post-communism scar, which effectively killed or drowned the hope of the people from Eastern Europe, but further discussion on this topic I leave to historians, political scientists and anthropologists. The unquestionable fact though is that optimism and well-arranged values allow Colombians to live their lifes at least a little bit better.
Ayyy, there's so much going on around me! If I look back at 2013 or 2014 or wait... maybe it was 2011? Doesn't really matter, cause most of these years were pretty much the same. For my big escape from the reasonable, organized and mature life I was preparing step by step. For first several years, probably a bit subconsciously, later with raising awareness and increasing excitement I was looking in the direction of the unknown. Finally, Fate, God, and the Stars have listened to my silent cries and unspoken appeals and made this decision easier for me to take a leap into the new world. And since then not even for a second have I regret this step. However, one needs to be said. This thing called Career Break, so a break from previous work, lifestyle and the decision to leave family and friends behind for God knows how long is not for everyone.
My adventure is not always as colorful as the photos that I post on my Facebook wall. It is not always as hot as the salsa and reggaeton songs that appear on my fan page. It's not always as exciting as the stories that I describe on my blog. Most of the January, I was feeling like the main character of the Korean movie 'Oldboy'. The guy closed in home prison for years and fed with nothing but dumplings by his torturer. To save my money and keep the budget stable every day I was eating nothing but empanadas, arepas, and carrots (to get some vitamins too). And budget constraints is just one of many drawbacks of leaving the corporate life and full-time job. Still, even if I have to change empanadas to breadcrumbs I will not return to my home country any time soon. The ice cold water under the shower every single day is not a problem for me either. It's discomfort for a while, but after a month I got used to it and now I take cold showers even when I don't need to. I knew what I'm was getting into so things like these only get me going even more. But to all those who write to me and say how jealous they are I gotta say that my current adventure is definitely an alternative, but for sure not a paradise. So far it wasn't necessary to scrub toilets and wash other people underwear, but it's highly possible that one day I will need to experience the charms of such work as well. Wait! I did wash the underwear some time ago as a part of my volunteering at elderly women house. So, this one is already 'checked'. I guess what I am trying to say is that if you decide for something at the same time you have to give up on something else. I gave up on a fixed salary, comfortable apartment, full-time job, close contact with my family and friends, and blissfulness of comfortable everyday life. In return, every day I receive the whole range of new experiences. Below, a little more about it.
Travel broadens the mind
I'm thirty-four and I use the phrases straight from teenager's diary. But what the hell, I really feel that I learn something new every single day. The things that I learn are unfortunately hard to translate to my CV, so after returning home country or my previous business track my Resume will not shine among the other CVs bright like a diamond. Nonetheless, I feel like these are the things that will allow me to live my life better, to appreciate things more and scoop from every day some joy and fun. Speaking of which. This year Colombia has been once again selected the happiest country in the world according to its inhabitants. 87% of respondents identified themselves as happy, and only 2% said that the happiness is missing in their lives. Colombians are able to enjoy the simple things, the family is the most important value for them, and to nonimportant details like a traffic jam, queue, or someone stepping their foot in the bus, they put as much attention as should be put to things of such importance. None. The fact that they enjoy life and value the family does not mean of course that they are the Saints. Far from that. However, despite some, every day sins, and as one Colombian told me, despite salsa dancing on the border between legality and illegality, still at the end of the day with their families they enjoy and appreciate another blissful day. Or at least that's how I see them after nearly three months of living in this country and trying to get to know as many Colombians as possible.
Travel broadens the mind. You bet it does. Traveling teaches me the lessons every day. Lessons that sometimes I can painfully feel on my own skin. Like last time when I got myself involved in stupid, stupid conflict with the twenty-year-old boy, resulting in me leaving "the Big Brother" house of volunteers two days before New Year's Eve. Oh, fate's irony... a week earlier I worked with the homeless, a moment later, I become one. And all that pretty much as usual. The stupid ego. If I were able to bend my neck and bite the bullet for two more weeks after which I was to officially complete my program. Yes, I am thirty something but I still have lots and lots to learn. But there goes another lesson... I do not remember where I read it and who said that but it goes like this: if life closes one door it opens a few other ones at the same moment. Kicking me out of the volunteer's house, although it cost me some bucks which I won't get back, cost me ten times more pride too. All this, however, I'm able to rebuild with time. What is more important this incident, brought (as usual) a lot more good than bad. At the time when I became temporarily homeless so many people reached the hand to me and so many people offered to help me to look for work or other volunteering opportunities that it really exceeded my expectations. After I finished my safe, pleasant and nicely organized volunteering I started more unpredictable part of my journey. I was here and there. I was helping in one school in Bogota, then in Apartado for some time. Now I reached Medellin and look for another job, probably for a longer time, if lucky.
Will it work? I have no clue. But despite that I am peaceful and calm. Every day new opportunities pop up, new circumstances surprise me and unforeseen events happen, which usually takes me to next tracks and new places. I am surprised by saying that, but I really feel much more relaxed here with this highly unpredictable life than when I lived in my cozy apartment in Krakow surrounded by family, friends and stable job. This week is exactly five months since I left Poland and came here to Latin America. And this week I feel that my adventure with Latin America is only just beginning.