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What does “Colombia” bring to mind? This South American country has sometimes been misrepresented, only known for cocaine, guerrilla groups, coffee, and Shakira’s hips. In 2011, Bryanna Plog spent a year in the country to find out what the headlines might be missing (headlines, that let’s face it, sometimes misspelled the country as “Columbia.”).
As a volunteer middle school English teacher in an impoverished community outside of Cartagena, Colombia, Plog recounts with delightfully understated wit her year traveling Colombia’s cities, deserts, and rain forests (fairly successful ventures), her attempts to hold class on a regular schedule (less successful), and her quest to eat meals that didn’t include rice (a complete and utter failure).
Through her teaching and traveling, Plog realizes Colombia is a place closer to a paradise than a country supposedly off-limits to travelers. Instead of having to survive encounters with drug cartels or avoiding kidnappings, Plog discovered her biggest problems included trying to get her students to pay attention in class, the country’s strangely undrinkable coffee, and the searing Caribbean heat.
Misspelled Paradise gives an honest and lighthearted look at the history, culture, and diversity of this complex Latin American country. Colombia may be struggling with poverty and civil conflict, but over the year she gets to know the country and its people, Plog also sees it celebrate its passion for life with raucous street parties powered by champeta, vallenato, and reggaeton music, crates of tiny watery beers, its eighteen national holidays, and a never-ending parade of beauty pageants.
Misspelled Paradise is a book for readers of memoir and travel writing and anyone who is interested in travel to South America. It gives an honest looks at the ups and downs of teaching abroad and how one teacher and traveler was surprised and captivated by a culture and country so unlike her own.
Plog takes her readers to the mountainous streets of Bogotá and to the small island of Isla Barú, to the deserts of the Guajira Peninsula and to the jungles of the Amazon rain forest, to the inside of her sweltering classrooms and to the sweeping beaches of the Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
Learn, be surprised, and laugh out loud as you journey through a reinvented Colombia.