Amaga; Bonds and Friendships
As the end of my original planned five weeks at the Ecohostel drew nearer I knew that I wasn’t ready to leave the area yet. Amagâ is a small mountain town where not a lot happens but it is one of the places on my trip that has stolen my heart.
Paola arranged for me to move in with a family and to teach English to the seven year old who I shall call Abra. So one weekend I moved from my shared dorm in the hostel with its cold showers and (very nice) vegetarian food to a place with a pool, my own room and massive grounds.
My routine was flexible but I began every morning with an hours walk back to the hostel so that I could continue with my Spanish lessons. Paola had replaced herself with Lu so that she herself could travel for a month and Lu from Mexico endeavoured to continue my education.
I may have moved to a lovely home but this was still Colombia. Several events had the family laughing at me over and over again – from my shower which burst into flames above my head and dowsed me in thick smoke and flames, to the giant ants which set up a nest in my shoes. A dangerous spider was marching across my bedroom floor one morning – had it bitten me during the night I would have had to spend three days in hospital and the cockroaches and beetles were the two inch long variety.
Abra had an adorable four week old kitten which clambered everywhere and Abra just loved to kick a football around. I played handball with the sports team on one of their days out when as a group we all went for a hike into the countryside and I helped out with the basketball trainingat the town sports hall. I also taught English to a great seven year old girl (Juli) at her home and often Abra was joined by Jac – the thirteen year old daughter of the lovely Vivi who helped out at the big house.
I went out a couple of times with Mauri into the campa. Maura speaks fluent English and German as well as teaching Spanish and told me many stories and tales about the area. On one occasion we trekked slowly in the searing heat, stopping to swim in the crystal clear pool of a river which tumbled refreshingly cold down from the mountains and then we poked our head into the dark entrance of one of the (probably illegal and unregulated) coal mines. We also had a beer at a football pitch on top of the world. Up here there was a three hundred and sixty degrees panoramic view where the mountains just marched on and on in their green folds for ever and ever.
I popped in and out of Medellin and I also stayed for a while at the Ecohostel whilst Paola was away. That was challenging – not least because one of the big humpback cows got onto the land through a hole in the hedge. Me and the amazing dog Guia managed to herd it back out of the gate (four times) and stopped it doing too much damage. It was a massive animal and not very sweet tempered but I was very proud of myself that we accomplished that between us before it could eat or trample too many of the vegetables.
Before I set off on this Latin American adventure I was always nervous out by myself and I would avoid walking out in the dark or the countryside alone. But now I was walking miles and for hours down country lanes. I wouldn’t freak out when a truck or motorbike slowed to talk – in fact I was actively hitching rides from them and as for living in the middle of nowhere all by myself – some of my friends would never believe it possible.
I met up with Diego a couple of times for English/Spanish intercambio. One night I was unable to return home to the big house because the guard dogs were roaming free during the night and the odds were high that I would get eaten if I attempted to open the gate, D’s mum insisted that I stay and she gave me dinner and then made up a bed for me in the spare room. I cannot get over the kindness and the generosity of people here in this small town. They never see anything as an unsurmountable problem and they are full of trust and sunshine.
I was invited to dinner with families when before eating I would be introduced to the neighbours and local kids would hang through the bars on the living room windows watching me eat. I will be a lot more sympathetic when I next visit a zoo and stare and watch the penguins because it is very weird to be watched and listened to while you are trying to get on with other things. Everything happens in the open here – even the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings take place with the double doors open to the street because it is so hot – and whilst everybody can see the semi-circle of people gathered I guess that it is such a small community there is no way very much can be anonymous.
Yo and his partner Joha always have an open house in the town – for people and animals. They are both involved with a local community group called Corporacion Cultural Poncherazo and Yo also organises an intercambio language group with the volunteers from the EcoHostel. People just drop in and out of their home and they seem to know EVERYBODY in the town. They are both mad keen on animals and they have adopted some of the street dogs and cats, taking them into their home at night and leaving bowls of food and water outside their door for the others. I lived with Yo and Joha for nearly two weeks at the end of my stay in Amaga and I cannot thank them enough for showing me such kindness. I was living with them close to the centre of town and I was a part of the community.
Night life in Amagâ is low key but fun with a couple of bars and nightclubs. One rather odd place even has the mens urinal at the side of the dance floor!! There are a couple of hotels (love hotels) where people check in for the night or part night so that they can get some privacy and countless bars with some very colourful locals who are often rolling drunk but funny and harmless and spend their days in the parque or in the market.
Colombia is one of the richer countries that I have visited so far in Latin America but there are massive differences between here and my old home in the UK. For the majority of people here, their social interaction with others is of the highest priority – both for the simple act of connecting and sharing with others and also because good manners have been instilled into them from an early age. The children will just as quickly approach and ask very politely how you are, or ask where you are from, engaging in a conversation, just because they can.
Shopping takes on a whole new meaning as shopkeepers serve several people at once and all contribute to a five or six way conversation about what is being bought, the price, why you want the product and the news of the day. I have finally got used to being in the middle of being served and then abandoned for another customer – but that just means that the customer to my left can start a conversation with me. I am also now used to interrupting the customer who is being served and asking the price of something and I no longer feel embarrased when the shopkeeper abandons them for me. Its just the way that it is here.
I am sure that I will return to Amaga and the region of Antioquia one day. In the meantime I take a little piece of it and its inhabitants away with me in my heart.
On my final bus ride out of the town I sat on the left hand side so that I could drink up the views for one last time. I had my dark sunglasses jammed on tightly and I wept a few tears at leaving. I really hope that I will be back one day.