Published: January 12th 2012January 12th 2012
This is one of the last houses in the slums that most of these kids live in. These ones are actually really nice in comparison, maybe because it's on the outside.
Last week, we decided to take the kids from Manos Amigas (my location) up a nearby mountain to one of the waterfalls to ring in the new year. Now this sounds like a grand ol' plan, but this is Colombia here, which means that this plan is really just a tricky situation.
I actually almost didn't go that afternoon, since clouds were threatening rain and I didn't feel like going on a really long hike up the mountain, soggy, with about 35+ wet and cranky kids; especailly after my first experience with hiking the mountain (see the Stupid Foreigners post). But I decided to suck it up and go anyway, the kids were just too excited to say no (even though they would have gone without me).
What started off as a great plan turned not so exciting pretty quickly. To get to the mountain, we took a short cut through the slums, which most of these kids live in, and straight on through a really dangerous slum (the first one is dangerous too, but this one's a lot worse). Don't ask me why we would take kids of all people through these areas, because I'm still wondering myself!
Especially since Berenice was leading the way, she for sure should know better! She's scared to death of these areas herself!
Just when we finished through the first muddy slum, there was a shallow river to get to the next one with no
bridge. So we had to walk through the muddy, dirty, dirty water (and I was in pants and shoes). The kids weren't too excited either, trust me. Plus the river had a bit of a current, which meant lots of the little ones had to be carried to the other side. Luckily, Colombians are very caring and family-oriented, so the older ones immediately picked them up without a moment's hesitation. The only hesitation was getting their tennis shoes all wet (I'm pretty sure the kids don't get new shoes often, you should see some of the conditions their shoes are in).
After crossing another, but smaller, shallow, dirty slum river, up a portion of the mountain, and tredging up a small rushing river to get to the waterfall, we finally made it -everybody was exhausted! The kids were still super excited though and swam in every little bit of the small river the waterfall let
out. It was amazing to see how long these kids lasted considering the water was seriously ice cold, most of them had blue lips because of it -not so tropical sounding, eh? One of them kept going in, coming out, drying off for about 30 seconds, and going back in again for a few minutes, and repeat. I'm pretty sure this was his method of trying to keeping warm!
While the kids were swimming and ordering me and the other two volunteers (an older German coulple that was here for a week) to take their pictures, Berenice was preparing hot chocolate. Now this sounds like a great idea, but not when you're in Colombia! There were easily over 40 to make hot chocolate for and they definitely didn't bring the proper tools to accomplish this task. The hot chocolate was made over skinny burning sticks, in a small
pitcher. Once the water boiled (well I'm not really sure if it actually was boiled, but I'd like to think so. At least I keep telling myself that), it was put into a big container so more water could be boiled. I know what you're thinking: you brought all that water up the mountain with you for over 40 people?!
No silly, we drank river water -you know, cuz that's a better idea. -A small pitcher for 40+ people on sticks in a small pitcher?!?
That takes centuries and you're most likely not bringing this dirty river water to a boil just to speed the process up? Yes, I know. Great idea, eh?
But wait, it gets better: so we left probably at 2:30ish to get to the waterfalls, made it there at about 3:45ish, and Berenice didn't start this light-year-hot chocolate process (sending a few kids all over the woods first to find dry wood) till after 4. Now if you've read my post about hiking the mountain, you already know that going down the mountain in the dark, especially the areas we have to go through, is just something you don't do. Well it gets dark around 6pm here, and this whole hot chocolate thing easily took 2 hours; especially considering the size, or lack there of, of the pitcher! If you ask me, I would have said screw the hot chocolate, give them the bread and if we make it back in time, we'll make hot chocolate
back at Manos Amigas. Especially since making it there doesn't even take a quarter of the amount of time. Plus the kids will get warmed up (hot actually) from the long treck back down, and they have to leave to go to their homes from Manos Amigos before dark since it's dangerous and parents get mad anyway. But no, that would have made sense - the German volunteers also agreed as we discussed this madness in our changed location. We were now all waiting, and for about 30 minutes, on the main trail. We were waiting because when Berenice was almost finished with this light-year-water-heating process, it was dusk and they finally realized it wasn't such a great idea after all. So Liliana (a teacher here) and a few others went further up
the mountain to find a house that would let them use their stove to heat up the last bit -because you know, that makes sense. Everyone sucked it down as everyone, kids included, were getting nervous about the trek back home with the evening approaching.
We pretty much booked it down the mountain and since people go different speeds, there were about three different groups. Two
of the older girls had decided that they loved me during our time at the waterfalls, so they were clinging on to me along with their friends. (The older girls are going through the "too cool" phase and "against other girls" phase. Plus I don't think they want to get too attached to volunteers since they realize they just leave right away.) Well the girls whined the whole way down the mountain, freaking out because it was getting dark so fast. Since I generally can't take a lot of complaining (and it's a thousand times more whinier in Spanish because they're so dramatic), at about half way down I finally told them to zip it, reminding them that complaining isn't going to help their situation any. I was amazed how they quickly they changed their attitudes and still loved me! Normally, they would have given me lip. With this change of attitude the rest of the way down was a breeze. One of the girls even managed to find a guavabana (a yummy exotic fruit) in some random bush on the way down, in the dark! Incredible!
Once we got off the mountain and all the groups reunited, we
were off on our second half of the mission of getting home. I told Liliana and Berenice that I knew a different way back along the road, which is a lot safer and sans rivers. I'm pretty sure they understood since Liliana got excited; but next thing I knew, Berenice was ordering everyone to go left into the really dangerous slum. She first warned us volunteers to hide our valuables upon entering, and my new best friends quickly concealed my watch by pulling down the sleeve of my jacket. As we walked through the slums, I was next to Berenice for a short while and it was kind of hilarious to see her face; I think it's because she acts so tough all of the time. She was so petrified and couldn't hold a conversation since she kept looking over her shoulder and checking on all of the kids! I didn't feel like it was that dangerous, but according to Colombians, it's a definite Danger Zone.
We then got to the river, all of the kids whined until one stepped in to cross, and they all shut up and followed suit. The other part of this dangerous route that
Samuel needed help at one point on the trail and asked me for it. I'm so mean! I just laughed at him and took a picture of him! (I did help after!)
I don't understand is Berenice really, really likes clean clothes. Like I seriously can never use the washing machine since she's always
using it! So of course, when we had to cross the river and she was in her tennis shoes, she tried to go from rock to rock. She's like a midget compared to me without her heels, so her legs weren't extending her anywhere even though she sure tried! She actually held all of us up for a decent amount of time since she tried to cross the river without getting wet (she did this on the way there as well). At this point the German couple were really pissed off, and then I told them there was another way back! Haha!
We managed to make it back a bit after 7pm, only down a pair of sandals (a girl lost them to one of the rivers), but safe and sound. Luckily, the rain stayed away, and only drizzled when we first got to the waterfalls. Parents were waiting for us, and Berenice's kids and nieces were out front with them as well; all with worried faces, terrified because it was night. Wil told me they were
wondering if they should call the police or not since they didn't know what was going on, and they were expecting us back around 5! Seriously, always an adventure in Colombia! Gotta love it!
There are more photos below