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Wednesday 4 August 2004
Working abroad: James Eder
Written by James Eder, AIESEC member
Sonya, Dan and James drink juice from beach buckets
Sonya, Dan & James drink juice from buckets!

James Eder is sharing his business skills with local people in Colombia this summer.

He's travelling abroad with the AIESEC student organisation, and he's writing a regular diary on BBC Birmingham.


Stevie Cameron
Stevie's in The Philippines.
Diary 1
Diary 2
CSR Conference
Diary 3
Diary 4

Andrew Webster
Andrew's in India.
Diary 1
Diary 2
Culture Shock!
Diary 3
Diary 4
Diary 5

Jess Rudkin
Jess is working in the Czech Republic.
Diary 1
Diary 2
Diary 3
Diary 4
Diary 5

James Eder
James is sharing his marketing skills with local people in Colombia.
Diary 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5
Diary 6 - Aims
Diary 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11
Diary 12 - 13 - 14 - 15
Diary 16 - 17 - 18 - 19

Working with AIESEC
Jame Eder introduces the student organisation.

AIESEC in Birmingham
Amaneeta Shokur explains more about AIESEC and how she is involved.

Scheila came to Birmingham from Brazil on a student scheme run by AIESEC.

Students index

Profile of the South American country from BBC News.

Follow James' travels on this map of Colombia from Lonely Planet.

James' photos
Check out James' prints online.

Official website for the UK.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites.



Population: 44.2 million (UN, 2003)
Capital: Bogota
Major language: Spanish
Major religion: Christianity
Money: 1 Colombian peso = 100 centavos
Exports: Petrol, coffee, coal, gold, bananas, flowers, chemicals, emeralds, cotton,, sugar, livestock


AIESEC (pronounced "i-sek") stands for the Association for the International Exchange of Students in Economics and Commerce.

AIESEC is the world's largest international student organisation with 30,000 members in over 86 countries.

View a printable version of this page.
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Fiestas Del Mar

On Saturday lunchtime, a group of us met to head out of Barranquilla for the night to Santa Marta on the North Caribbean Coast for the Fiestas Del Mar - the festival of the Sea.

Poster about guns in the taxi
Gun poster in the taxi...

One of the local AIESECers joined us but decided to drive so the group of eight of us split and three went in the car. Heading for the bus depot, five of us squashed in a taxi. The heat was unbearable. Surprisingly, compared to the Philippines where I was last summer, the taxis here do not have air conditioning. Due to the horrendous road conditions, it is always a very satisfied feeling getting out of a taxi having not had an accident...

Fresh juices in beach buckets!

The Coach journey cost just less than £2 and took around two hours on a main coastal road.

James and Dan get a cab to the bus station
James & Dan get a cab

After arriving in Santa Marta, we got a pick-up-truck taxi to a beachfront hostel found in our trusted guidebook.

We were a bit worried as the first place we tried was full due to the festival this weekend and we were warned it might be difficult to find somewhere.

Looking at a loss, we were outside a juice bar when the owner saw we were looking for somewhere and directed us few doors down - we got in fine.

After we checked in we went straight back to the fresh juice bar where they served the juices in beach buckets! (See photo at the top of the page.) Such amazing exotic fruits - they were so good over the next 24 hours we went back twice more trying different combinations each more delicious than the last.

We spent the rest of the day walking along the coast and walking around the local town. Because it was the Fiestas Del Mar, everywhere was buzzing. After a few drinks at the hotel, we headed out to the party on the streets. There were massive screens everywhere and a competition to decide The Colombian Woman Of The Sea.

Local greetings

Immediately when we entered the main coastal street it was quite overwhelming. We must have stood out being obviously foreign.

Within minutes what seemed like a group of people tried to pickpocket us with one Colombian spraying us with water while I felt a hand go for my pockets.

We all quickly realised what was going on. Dan Evans found one person standing on his foot, face-to-face not letting him move as he found himself surrounded... All staying close together, we moved swiftly onwards gripping on to our pockets.

Coloured chicks
Coloured chicks

Luckily we were all fine and sat down for a bit to get our bearings again slightly away from the commotion where the crowd had cleared temporarily.

Everywhere we walked you could buy something: drinks, food, as well as chicks (which had been dyed pink and blue!?!) and rabbits.

Salsa on the beach

The evening was spent on the beach enjoying the atmosphere and towards the end of the evening, salsa dancing. On the beach!

Sandcastle on the beach

It was an amazing atmosphere just a shame as we felt like we wanted to stay away from the tightly-packed crowds due to what happened earlier in the evening.

We guessed that there must have been at least 10,000 people if not more in the area, packed on the streets that were still very full at 4am when the formalities of the Colombian Woman Of The Sea competition had ended.

Sitting out on rocks that extended out into the sea, even here we were being offered drinks and food, like our own personal shop. It was like a time when you say you really fancy a drink and someone magically appears there to sell you one.

Local entrepreneurs

Boy recycles a can

We witnessed the tourist police asking some people to move on because they had erected a toilet cubicle on the beach out of scrap wood with a curtain and was charging 500 pesos for its use.

There was a stagnant smell of urine that greeted us every so often as we walked down the street. Amazingly, there is limited rubbish on the streets as it is collected by people, often children, who either recycle it themselves or sell it. Sometimes people even wait near you until you finish your bottle or can.

Rodadero & The Playa Blanca

Playa Blanca
Playa Blanca

On Sunday morning, we headed over to Rodadero, a nearby town on the coast generally considered an area more well off than Santa Marta - you could see a difference with a number of modern tower blocks.

We were met by the local tourist service representative who directed us to the boat shack where we were to buy tickets for the boat to Playa Blanca, a 10 minute ride away; supposedly a slightly quieter and more beautiful beach.

Given the hard sell

Fresh fish
Fresh fish

The beach was more beautiful, but as soon as we arrived, the afternoon felt like we were being given the constant hard sell, from jetski rides to local crafts, jewellery to fresh fish for lunch which if we wanted it, they insisted we had to by immediately.

Aside from the constant pressure to buy something, the day was really great. It's funny - some of the things they were selling we were interested in, but as soon as you showed any interest at all, you end up being swarmed by the others. Being offered a drink every few minutes was fine when you wanted a drink... it just got a little tiring by the end of the afternoon.

Aguila girls out in force

We headed back to Santa Marta, after being directed up and down the beachfront from boat to boat. As we had pre-purchased our return ticket, no one seemed to want to take us.

Due to leave at 4.30pm, it was now 4.50pm - we were a bit worried, although by now we should have expected that 'Colombian time' would have kicked in.

Aquila girls
Aquila girls

As we got back to Santa Marta, the festivities seemed to be continuing with Aguila pumping out music and parading their girls. The whole place seemed so alive. We stopped off for one more juice and headed to the bus depot.

It was already 7.45pm. On leaving the hostel, we were told the last bus on Sundays was at 8pm! It felt like a race to get to the depot, with a number of minutes passing with little talk in the cab as we all thought we might miss our last ride home. Lucky we got there just in time and it was all fine.

A close shave with the police

Getting on the coach after a great two days, we settled in to watch the film 'What Women Want' to try to pick up some more Spanish. The bus suddenly came to a halt.

The next thing I know is the police are standing in front of us, demanding a local Colombian, a German exchange student called Bernt who we were travelling with and my IDs.

I handed over my driving licence and waited just wishing that that would be that and they'd just get back on the bus, give us them back and we'd be on our way.

When they came back onto the bus, they demanded the German and I get off the bus. I gave Dan Tatnall-Murray who was sitting next to me a worried looked and asked almost pleadingly for him to come with as he speaks the best Spanish out of all of us.

I really didn't want to get off the bus at this stage either with the worst thoughts running through my head. In the guidebooks, it suggests you shouldn't speak to the police even if you really have to.

Once off the bus, Bernt was interrogated first, although it was in Spanish I got the gist: Why was he here? Where was he living? etc. I was then questioned about why I didn't have my passport. Locals had told me that my driver licence would be ok. Luckily, Dan had a copy of his passport that he showed them and explained that we were living with locals back in Barranquilla and we had just gone to Santa Marta for the night.

After apologising in my best-attempted Spanish accent, they let us back on the bus with a strong word saying I must have my passport if I am stopped again. Once back on the bus, I spent the remainder of the journey contemplating every other possible eventuality of the situation - not generally pleasant thoughts. This was especially after I discovered that if you don't provide the documents the police want to see they will put you in prison until they receive them.

Sunset in Santa Marta
Saunset in Santa Marta

The police, although more than a bit overwhelming at the beginning, were nice enough.

The local Colombians told me that it was a good thing that they stopped as it showed the police were concerned about safety. My main concern however was that maybe they weren't actually police. Everything worked out just fine, so nothing to worry about. I just need to be more careful and take my passport everywhere.

Struggling to communicate

Overall, it was a great weekend. We never met up with the other AIESECers that we originally planed to go with due to difficulties in communication. They ended up staying in Rodadero, staying at a local's house. It was a shame but could not be helped.

After a number of missed calls and lack of signal on my phone we all guessed it was not meant to be and left it at that. It is strange adjusting to the lack of communication and lack of mobile phones, although people have them they are used less with many people constantly out of credit.

Back to work but off to Medellin

James and Sonya on a boat
Returning to Santa Marta on a boat

We returned to Barranquilla for a three day shortened week as we are off to Medellin for Colombia's most spectacular flower festival.

We'll be there from Wednesday night until Sunday attending with other international AIESEC trainees from all over the local committees around the country.

One part of the AIESEC programme is to provide experience in the local culture and communities for graduates and students who are participating in the exchange programme. Trips and activities are organised to maximise experiences and integration. With a manic four-day agenda, it promises to be another highlight of my Colombian experience.

Written by James Eder

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