“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” -Earnest Hemmingway

A stay in TheMiddleOfNowhere, through Colombia Homestays

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Approaching the end of the month of May 2013, my temporary lease on my apartment was up and I was faced with the dilemma of finding a place to live on a ramman noodle type budget. Luckily, amongst an unhealthy amount of internet research, I found this website. Here, there is a sort of “work exchange” option, including stay outside of Medellin in a Finca. Seeing that I like to test my boundaries, need more Spanish practice, and have virtually no money, I tied the knot with my new temporary home.

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Porch Area

The Finca is run by a guy named Juan Fernando. Nice guy, and all he asks for is minimal help on the farm. We would wake up at 7AM every day and help out on the farm, then the had the day free to ourselves. Since the location is outside of Medellin, the pay is dirt cheap and you will have all too much free time to do whatever. If you’re a writer, It wouldn’t be too bad of an option to check it out for a week or two, since it is quite a serene place and great to clear your head if the hustle and bustle of the city starts to get to you.

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The Finca dog, Negra

As for me, I stayed a bit then decided to leave the country of Colombia for a language school in Antigua, but maybe someday I will return and possibly crank out the next great American novel in the serene countryside outside of Medellin.

Some TED Talks

Personally, I like to waste my time at the least in a more constructive way. One of these ways is perusing the TED site for different new speeches that catch my interest. Over the past month I found a few on linguistics I’d like to share.

This is one of two TED speeches from Benny. The polygot videos he shows give me tons of motivation to work harder. What he says about other students or learners having more talent couldn’t be more on point. When someone else is learning 20% faster than you might be, really all you have to do is put in an extra 20%. What does that look like? if you study for an hour a day, study and extra 10-15 minutes. If you usually chat up 5 people a day to practice your target language, chat up 6 instead from now on. Not too hard.

Many things he says ring true, such as how classes in high school suck. I also draw a similar story too his in the fact that over the past couple of years, I have met many a person who has been able to speak tons of languages. causing me to be extremely impressed with these people. Eventually I had enough at a certain point, pushing me to pursue language goals.

Another thing he mentions which is probably the most important underlying factor in all of this, and that is actually having a passion for the culture. A true interest in the target language’s culture will provide you with a majority of the drive you will have to learn. That is why before I travel to any country in the future, I will hype myself up with any and all the positives that culture has to offer, whether it be food, women, or music. You decide.

The way he starts off talking about dying languages in this video made me think about how powerful a language English is really becoming in the world and how that may be contributing to the death of these dialects.

He also continues talking about language talent, as Benny touches on, and how it doesn’t feel like talent. I agree because when you are communicating effectively, most of the time it doesn’t matter how many grammar or pronunciation mistakes you make. Mistakes will be made, and will be made embarrassingly, but if you are dodging convos consistently you are in the wrong mindset. As he says, you really need to embrace the loss of control. Laugh at it. Enjoy the hilarity that ensues when an interaction entirely breaks down, and learn how to recover through improvisation. Clunky descriptions are just that, incredibly clumsy and unorganized, but they will effectively get you through an interaction. I can’t even count how many times I’ve used the word “cosa” meaning “thing” through my learning of Spanish because I was trying to describe a word in conversation to which I didn’t know the meaning. Use what you know.

This video caught me by surprise. Before I watched this, I kind of scoffed at Esperanto. Uninformed and a bit ignorant, I always questioned the use of a made up language which no country spoke officially, kind of the same sentiments I have toward learning a dying languages such as Latin.

After watching, he presents a brilliant case for Esperanto. It presents a way to think that is essential to making connections in your brain more so than giving you a useful language to use in a foreign country. It teaches you how to think in foreign languages. Very important. It ditches all the boring grammar that kids, including myself in the past, hated about foreign languages in school. Think of how much more fun it would be to disregard grammar rules and learn to communicate in a different fashion. A very innovative way to approach foreign languages. Too bad in the USA there is an impossible amount of red tape needed to be cut through for this to be introduced in public schools.

Returning to the States: Culture Shock Therapy

Upon my return to the USA, I pondered what would flow through my mind as I was greeted by the oh so lively personalities that inhabit the great city of Philadelphia. As I stepped up from the subway platform the other day into the city for the first time in about 3 months, I was waiting for my friend to pick me up from the corner of 8th and Market in Center City. As the people watching ensued, a familiar yet slightly disturbing feeling came upon me. After spending 3 months in Latin America, I noticed a drastic distinction in the way people act here as opposed to Colombia, Panama and Guatemala, the three countries I came to be familiar with in my travels. In my mere 10 minute wait, I saw at least 4 incidents of people openly yelling at each other in malcontent over the most minute things. Though I must admit it was very entertaining, I realized after It was quite a sad showing to come home too and a bit of a rude awakening.

On a lighter note, I found some ways to keep up my Spanish that I would like to share, a little bit of culture shock treatment if you will. is my best new friend in finding like minded Spanish speaking enthusiasts. Within one search I found three groups in the area that meet often for different events frequently. I attended a Convo Club a yesterday which lasted 2 hours and as a plus went to lunch with some members afterwards giving that a solid 3 1/2 hours of not speaking English in the heart of the US. I’ll chalk that up as a win.

-Due to the expensive nature of language schools and private lessons here at home I decided to check out lessons on which would probably cost me at the most 25% of the cost if I hired a real like private instructor. Benny from fluentin3months writes a useful review here about the site.

For now these and maybe the occansional trip to the salsa club should suffice in my pursuit of fluency in Spanish.

Antigua Homestay: 1 Week


Well folks it’s been one week since I arrived in the cute little town of La Antigua, Guatemala and I can say with confidence it is damn well the most touristy town I have been to in my travels. I am currently at the El Mundo language school doing 6 hours of private Spanish lessons a day. My teacher, home stay family, and school are all satisfactory, all though I never knew German girls would have such a desire to learn the Spanish language. I think 70% of the school consists of German chicks (the schools has about 25 students) and I have learned the German language was not made for the female tongue. Ah how the sounds of Germany put one at ease.

Spanish lessons here have accelerated my abilities sufficiently. That is not much of a suprise seeing that I am getting sufficient practice. What I didn’t realize about Antigua is that you can find any type of human being known to earth in this ridiculously small town. Indigenous people, exotic latinas, gays, douchbags, environmental freaks, robbers, the artsy type, they’re all here in this little town of 50,000. I see the same people around a lot and I have learned to navigate the whole town in less than a week. All you really have to do is look at the big volcano to the south. And you really you never know what you’ll find in a typical stroll down the street. Even the domestic animals aren’t typical. The other day I saw a walked dog dressed in pink baby clothes and a bonnet just 30 seconds after a stray dog instilled fear into my heart.

I feel like I know this town quite well already but still there is more to be said about you, Antigua.

Testing the Fringes of the Darien: My journey from Colombia to Panama on a Budget


While sitting in a  gritty run down hotel right off the Caribbean coast, after what most likely was my most uncomfortable road trip of my life, I certainly felt the hard kick in the ass that traveling gives you from time to time. I heard the salsa music bouncing off the walls right outside my hotel room and when I walked outside I saw a hole in the wall bar packed with Colombians, young and old, where the music is coming from. I thought to myself, “Is this what these people do all everyday, just get drunk in and sit next to a 150,000 decibil loud speaker? Oh yeah, well, I guess it is Sunday.”

The town I so eloquently speak of in the last is Turbo, Colombia, a small little port city that is nestled right between the start of the Darien jungle and the Colombian Carribean coast. Being the cheapest means to get to Panama from Colombia, I chose to work my way up the coast of the Darien by speed boat, then take a small plane from the first small town across the Panamanian border into the city. This is an account of what the trip should feel like if you plan to embark upon it this way.

My journey started in Cartagena whereabouts I had quite a good time enjoying the fruits of that beautiful coastal city. Upon arriving at the bus station, immediatly a Colombian was in my face asking me where I need to go. Ok I surrender. I hopped on a long and sweaty 7 hour bus ride to the city of Monteria, which I would advise you not to visit. Not much going on there.

From there after my hotel stay there were vans running from the terminal to Turbo, which was about a 4 hour journey, half on unpaved roads.


After a while, my back bones on the brink of shattering, we stepped out into the grungy port town of Turbo, Cartagena, where I immediately bought my morning speed boat ticket for Capurganá, a nice little beach/port town on the Panamanian-Colombian border. After this I headed for my hotel.

The cost was 17.000 COP for the night (roughly $9.00) and I’m not sure I got what I paid for having heard some pretty shady sounds during my night of half sleep.

Regardless, I was up and at it at 7 AM ready to speed boat my way through the Carribean. When arriving at the dock, I somehow got a front row seat on the boat, the worst row, probably because I didn’t tip the boat manager. IMG_1149

After about 2 and a half hours of jolting up and down, we were finally at Capurganá.


The town was quite pleasant yet very small. It housed about 5 or 6 hostals. Most of the roads are cobblestone wit an occansional horse and carriage walking by. It had a smalltown feel, and no cars, making for a nice serene getaway for any tourist. I made friends with some Swedes on the boat over, and me and the three of them decided to stay at a new Hostel called Victoria’s run by a Colombian lady who owned a finca about a 20 minute walk from the village. She was quite kind, although would not let me use her kitchen (standard hostel obligation right?) and seemed very taken back and offended when I tried. I now know not to screw around with a Colombian woman’s kitchen.

Since I didn’t book my flight for the next day early out of Puerto Olbadia ( the first town across the Panamanian border) early enough, I had to stay in town til the next one which was three days away. This gave me a few days too check out the area.

The next few days I mostly hung around with the Swedes. It was quite hard to interact with many of the locals, since they all spoke in that terribly obnoxious and hard to understand Caribbean dialect of Spanish. The first day we hiked to Sapzurro, a smaller tranquil little town with beautifully clear beaches and less tourists. It was there that I took a dip in the ocean for the first time in  about a year. Complete peace.

Overall Capurganá was a good experience but 3 days there is more than plenty to see and do it all, so by the Thursday of my flight I was ready to leave. I was up at 7 AM once again on the boat for Puerto Olbadia, and once again I snagged a front row seat on the boat! Not only was this ride bumpy, but by the end of the ride I was soaked in Caribbean sea water. Hells yeah, this is what traveling is all about kids.

Upon arrival at customs after about an hour long boat ride, they proceeded to check search all bags of arriving customers. This was expected. After getting my stamp, I made friends with a a south Korean girl who was also on the same plane, along with about 10 Argentinians. After waiting a couple hours, we headed for the airport, if you want to call it that. It had one open air building, with no baggage check or anything of the sort. I am pretty sure one of the Argentinean guys took a piss on the runway.

When the plane arrived about 2 hours late, I was pretty damn ready to see Panama City.


We boarded the plane of about 20 people, and within 15 minutes we were off.


Smooth plane ride, not much turbulence, and an hour later we were in Panama City. Overall, 6 days, 1 terrible bus ride, a bumpy van ride, 2 speed boat trips one of which gave me a Caribbean sea shower, a stay in a quiet little beach town, a little plane ride, and a hell of a lot of waiting is what it took. Total- about $200.00 dollars.

Overall I would recommend this method of travel between countries. Certainly it has it’s ups and downs, but you get to sea a part of the world that not many people experience. The Darien jungle is dangerous and uninhabitable, so this is the closed you will get without a kidnapping from the FARC or whatever the hell is lingering in that part of the border.

If you want good directions on a step by step way to do this, check out this post from a guy named David. His directions are useful and very thorough.

If you are traveling farther north to Costa Rica make sure you get your Yellow Fever Vaccine with the yellow card. I was denied at the Costa Rican border because I did not get my vaccine until I was in Panama and tried to travel the next day. Apparently you have to wait 10 days for the vaccine to kick in before you can enter Costa Rica. It is always good to check immigration laws for the given country you are set to travel, one thing I have learned the tough way.


Bogotá Spanish Trumps Medellín Spanish

Bogota La Candelaria

Until this past weekend, I had only been acquainted with one Colombian city, that being Medellin, Antioquia. So it was time for a new experience, Bogotá, the capital of Colombia. Seemed like the right time to get out of Antioquia. Upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised with the city. Cool neighborhood here, sick street art everywhere, …ok, other than the fact that this beggar is now telling us he needs more money than we just gave him, I can get used to this.


Around the second day into the trip, I noticed I was communicating a bit more smoothly with the locals. In a recent post I had briefly analyzed the different aspects of the Spanish language in Medellin from a learner’s perspective. Suprisingly difficult speech and unidentifiable vocab were amongst the critiques of the dialect spoken in Medellin.While conversing with the locals, I had the opportunity to do a little research to find out whether my theories were well backed up, or whether my listening skills were in reality just shit. Well folks, I maybe I do suck at listening but there was a clear difference in the clarity of spoken language between the cities.

Catedral Bogota

It is clear that the cultural differences amongst the different cities in Colombia are significantly different for being in the same country and geographical range. I look forward to seeing what the coast of Colombia has to offer come Thursday when I make my trip to Cartagena. Until then.

One of the greatest tools for learning language, and travel

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About 4 years ago I made a purchase. I bought a very simple Amazon kindle. Back then I wasn’t the biggest reader, but I figured if I had a kindle it would obligate me to do more reading, and damnit was I right. I was reading at least 2 or 3 books a month.

Fast forward 4 years and yet another discovery was made with this great technological tool. With one simple download of a English Spansih Dictionary, you can have any unknown Spanish word defined for you on the spot, in the manner shown in the photo below…

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This particular book shown is El Principito, a great read for beginner intermediate students or speakers. As you can see, the Kindle gives an English definition, as well as an example used in a sentence. Reading Spanish literature, or any literature of a language you are learning is a great way to study and I highly recommend it.

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Really, just look at that face of pure enjoyment. Buying a kindle is a must, get on it.


Advantages and Disadvantages of Learning Spanish in Medellín, Colombia


Spanish is one of the most important languages of the world.  Being the official language of 21 countries and the mother tongue of of 400 million people, the importance why is obvious, but where?

Colombia has been praised for it’s reputation as some of the clearest spoken Spanish in the world for native English speakers. So I figured with the rich culture and perfect weather in Medellin, Colombia, my learn Spanish mission would go quite smoothly.

Well kids, I was much mistaken.

What I didn’t know before I arrived in Medellin, is that this “clear” brand of Spanish was not actually the manageable brand of Spanish I had been reading and hearing about. Take a 45 minute plane ride to the capital Bogotá, and you will get that pure brand of Spanish you are seeking.

Almost one and a half months into my trip, it seems that I am just starting to get accustomed to the Paisa (Medellin region of Colombia) dialect. The people here speak in a more fluid and musical manner. It is very colorful yet its tough to tell when the hell they break their words off. Another factor adding to the difficulty is the street slang known as “Parlache” which the people here incorporate into their language. During the strength of the drug trade during the 80’s and early 90’s in Medellin, a new brand of street lingo was born dubbed Parlache. Even though the city is not nearly as dangerous or violent in street crime, this new lenguaje has incorporated itself into many aspects of the Spanish spoken in Medellin. I now can relate for any foreigner who has come from outside to the Northeastern United States to learn and practice English, because much like Paisa Spanish, our brand of English is spoken fast and contains a decent amount of slang.

That being said there are some great things about starting your studies in a language here. Probably the main component in language learning is the amount of time you spend practicing, and if you tend to be more of introverted type, its ok because the people of Medellin are exceptionally warm and easy to talk up. Sometimes it is almost weird how friendly they are. Many times when I have asked someone for directions to a certain place, within one minute there will be a little crack team of 3 or 4 Colombians trying to decypher the best way possible for me to go 4 or 5 blocks. Pretty much everyone is friendly to gringos or foreigners of all sorts and if you want to practice, all you need to do is step outside, because I am sure there is a overly friendly Paisa in close proximity.

Furthermore, once you get the slang and strange vocab down, it is actually cool to use in conversation. Communication in Medellin is very lively when mixed with the down to earth feel of the city, I am pretty happy about my choice.

Some Quick Tips

-Make sure you aren’t paying more than around 25,000 COP for a private tutor

-If you enroll in a Spanish for foreigner program at a local University, make sure you ask to sit in on a class. I did this exact thing at UPB and it turned out that only 3 or 4 people were enrolled in the program, where which they had two levels of class difficulty. You always want a class that is a bit harder than your skill level

-Go out as much as possible. I did the most practicing, obviously, in a social environment.

-Join websites such as couchsurfing and italki. It took me by surprise how well these sites are set up and how much people have benefited from them in their travels.



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