Indiana Jones style adventures
and why everyone should learn another language.
By one of the many, but probably more able bodied Andrew Currie’s of this world.
I left Medellin at 6pm on a Tuesday night bus bound for Santa Marta. I went there in search of the remains of an ancient city, high in the Sierra Nevada on the Caribbean coast of Colombia.
I stepped off the bus resembling a ski instructor rather than a fedora wielding adventurer due to 18 hours of travelling in what can best be described as a fridge on wheels. The heat of the Santa Marta air greeted me like a punch to the face, instantly stimulating the sweat glands all over my body. Therefore after quickly grabbing my mobile wardrobe I stripped off a few layers while contemplating my next move in a reasonably sleep deprived state.
It was at this time that I met another of the many Dutch travelers in South America, Bart who politely asked me where I was going and if I’d maybe like to share a taxi to the hostel he had booked. I hadn’t booked anything and my plans to volunteer for a little while on the coast didn’t seem to be panning out so I joined him.
Bart had come to Santa Marta for the same reason as me. He loved hiking, even though one of his knees was a little on the dodgy side. We spent the rest of the day wandering the streets of Santa Marta researching tour companies before we realized that everything was the same and booked a tour for the next day at our hostel. He booked five days for the same price as four (850,000 COP, close to AU$400) just to be sure his knee would be ok, whereas I scoffed at the potential difficulty of the hike.
(2 points/total (2017) 61 points)
Bart was from an area in the Netherlands where German is also spoken. This would prove to come in handy for him in the coming days and I would be left in a mix of constant awe and frustration. Why? I’m glad you asked.
Let’s start with frustration. Just like Jeremy, a Frenchman from near Paris who started the same tour as Bart and I the next morning, I had the opportunity to learn another language at high school. He had the opportunity to learn English and I German, but neither of us could string a sentence together or understand more than a few basic words in those languages. Essentially, we didn’t see the value in this learning opportunity when we were at school.
(4 points/Total (2017) 65 points)
If I could tell 11 — 13 year old me how many Germans that he would meet in the next 21 — 23 years and the conversations that he would miss out on if he didn’t understand he might have taken those two hours a week in the first two years of high school more seriously.
Or, he might have said;
“by time I’m your age, everyone in Europe will speak better English than I will. Why waste my time? I’ll just learn the numbers, because bingo is fun. Maybe I’ll learn how to pronounce some of the letters pretty well so that any Germans I meet can have the priveldge of teaching me funny/interesting phrases and be blown away by my linguistic ability. Then they can continue to have potentially interesting conversations that I have no ability to understand or contribute to. But I promise I won’t feel left out.”
Then I might say;
“Righto mate, don’t take this opportunity. However, just be aware that some of the most beautiful women you’ll ever meet will speak German.”
Now, here’s the awe part.
Luckily for me, the international language of travel is English and most people in Europe have a fantastic grasp on my native language, not to mention a few more. It is common to meet people who speak 4 or even 5 languages to a conversational level. Watching the Swiss couple speak with the French couple, then after a quick breath translating what they just said to Bart, Michiel (another Dutchy) and I in English before having a joke with the 3 Germans (and Bart) and then speaking to each other in their own dialect was absolutely phenomenal. Not to mention the fact that when our guide asked us if Spanish was good for everyone they, as well as the rest of us except one person, responded with “sí”.
The fact that 10% of us needed English on this tour was a problem, even though we were sold a tour with a “bilingual” guide. I’m travelling through Spanish speaking countries, so I made the decision to learn Spanish just in case something like this might happen. If not, like one of our group, I would not have understood 90% of what was said because, for the guide…
“That’s double the work!”
Instead of translating everything that was said, our guide translated key words thrown in between Spanish. Without one of us to translate for Michiel it would have been like trying to decipher what your parents are saying with a dodgy skype connection. You have some context but you can’t be 100% sure of what’s being said.
So, my point is that if everyone in this group of 12 people (including our guide and chef Wilson, who ensured that we NEVER went hungry with breakfast, followed by fruit, followed by lunch, another fruit stop and dinner… All DELICIOUS) just spoke our native languages we would not have had as much fun getting to know each other and we would not have any information about these incredible sights… just like you after reading this 😂
But seriously this hike was worth the effort. I met some great people, including Fransciso, a 10 year old indigenous boy who was playing on Esky lids in the river with his brother at one of the many stops we had to cool off. They started splashing us as a way to say g’day and then we skimmed stones together and chatted in both of our second language (Spanish).
(2 points/Total (2017) 67 points)
Another of the many people I met on this trip was Lorenzo, a 74 year old man from Oregon in the States who had been planning on doing this hike for 25 years. I noticed him throughout the first few days walking slowly but surely or using one of the many mules that were on offer to help with the walk but didn’t chat to him until we were stood in line for the toilet on the third morning. That morning we arrived with whips, satchels and fedoras and stood in awe.
On the way down, his guides prayers were answered as he and his friend Brad were kindly helped down the trecherous stairs by two newly qualified German doctors, Rick and Max who I would have more to do with in the coming days. Lorenzo was also piggy backed through a river crossing by his guide and told me that it’d all be worth it if he made it back safe. Given the zero causality rate of our trip, besides sore legs and mosquito bites that would itch for days, I think Lorenzo would have been very pleased with his accomplishment. I certainly am.
(1 point/Total (2017) 68 points)