Over on Medium, James Simpson has a post on how some game makers are getting into the language learning business. Given my current obsession with learning Spanish, this seemed like a good opportunity to go over some of the technological aids you can use for buffing your foreign language chops.


Verbling‘s an interesting creature. It’s essentially a language yenta, matching up people who want to practice in each others’ languages using video chats. I have numerous people from Spanish-speaking countries who have requested opportunities to practice their English with me. (I’m very popular in Spain for some reason.) In turn, I get to torture them with my bad Spanish. Read More

By Matthew Riche (TheMatty).TheMatty at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Greetings all. My apologies for the radio silence, but since my yagé adventure, I’ve calmed down and have taken to settling in in Bogotá.

What does this mean? It means I’ve decided to make Bogotá home, at least for now. It means getting a job teaching english, working on my spanish and planning trips to friends in Brazil and Argentina.

Since my last posts, I’ve moved out of La Candelaria and up to Chapinero Alto. Candelaria was a lovely neighborhood, full of history, art, funky students and some excellent cafés. Unfortunately, it’s also weirdly cut off from the rest of the city if you’re reliant, as I am, on public transportation. It’s also blighted a bit by petty crime such as muggings, thanks to the high concentration of foreign tourists. And since my english teaching involves giving classes at 6:30 a.m. — a crime against humanity, if you ask me — in the more northernly parts of the city, I had to leave mi casa when it was still dark and creepy. Read More

My father, the diver

My father, the diver

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Happy fathers’ day to dads, stepdads, father-figures and all those old dudes who provide guidance and wisdom to the younger generation, whether they’re related by blood or not.

My father died in December 2008. We had been estranged for years, thanks to his alcoholism and my stubbornness. We were just starting to get to know one another again, and I wish I had made more of an effort.

I’m going to cheat now and instead of baring my own soul regarding my father, I’ll point out someone else who can expresses similar feelings. The difference is she got a chance to rebuild a relationship.

My step-father is thankfully still around and making my mom happy. He was also a father-figure to me, teaching me to play the saxophone and helping instill in me a lifelong love of jazz.

Don’t waste time. Take today to say hey to an older, wiser guy you look up to. Because never forget that age and treachery will almost always beat youth and skill, and it probably wouldn’t hurt to get on their good side.

Continued from The Yagé Posts, Part II

PASTO, Colombia — As the night progressed, I spent a lot of time waiting for the dawn, thinking and staring into the fires. I was freezing because the poncho I had borrowed was too small, having been designed for a child, so I huddled as close to the embers as I could. When you’re physically and mentally exhausted, there are few things so soothing as watching a fire, feeling its heat and settling into the warmth of other human beings doing the same thing. The coals in the heart of the blaze glowed like quartz crystals lit from within, and the occasional crack of a log sent sparks spiraling into the black sky, rivaling the fireworks from earlier.

Given the shamanistic trappings of the ceremony, it was impossible not to chew over the nature of religion. And as I soaked up the warmth and the dim glow of the fire, which pushed back the night, I thought, wasn’t all religion just an overly ornamented evolution of fire worship? For it was fire that first gave our species comfort against the cold, light against the darkness, a giver of both life and death. It was capricious and cruel in how it could burn us and yet it was also our salvation against the savagery of raw nature. Listening to Taita Morales’ Cofán growls, I drew my poncho around me as best I could and turned away from the darkness. Read More

Continued from The Yagé Posts, Part I

PASTO, Colombia — … I had been warned by accounts on the Internet that drinking this would mean a long night of vomiting, purging, and possibly terrifying hallucinations. Taita Lorenzo Morales, who appeared to be the most respected of the shamans in the group, in a prayer before the ceremony had instructed us all to think on God. Victoria said it would save me 10 years of therapy. Håkon, a Norwegian psychiatrist friend, said I would need therapy afterwards.

Finally, after an eternity — lasting maybe two seconds — I did what I usually do when faced with fear squatting in my stomach. “Fuck it,” I said, and drank down the tiny cup as deeply as I could.

It was possibly the most vile stuff I’ve ever consumed. Not only did it look like and have the texture of crude oil, it tasted like it had been recently drilled from the Athabasca Oil Sands of Canada. I gagged and immediately reached for the tin cup of water to the side, trying desperately to either wash the taste out of my mouth or at least down my throat where I couldn’t taste it anymore. And then, I waited. Read More