How to hike to Cascada Ipachanaque

One of the things I like about living in Colombia is that it’s a country full of waterfalls. Many cities are located close to the mountains, so there are plenty of opportunities for hiking. The TEFL in Colombia blog isn’t primarily a travel website, but I like sharing tips for places that are a little bit off the beaten path. I’m not a big fan of overpriced tours, so I prefer to recommend locations that are accessible by public transport. If you are looking for some lesser-known places to visit in Antioquia, you may find this article relevant.

How to hike to Cascada Ipachanaque from Barbosa

Medellín is a prime tourist destination with a lot of activities to do. If you want to do something else and escape the busy city, you can hike to Chorro de las Campanas, which I have written about before. Many visitors also travel to towns such as Guatapé, Jardín, or Santa Fe de Antioquia. You can find a lot of information about those places online, so I’d like to focus on a town that doesn’t receive many foreign tourists.

Barbosa, which is located approximately 40 kilometres north-east of Medellín, doesn’t feature on many people’s travel lists. There is nothing wrong with the town, but it isn’t as colourful as Guatapé, so it’s visited mainly by locals from Medellín. Barbosa sits in a valley, and that’s usually a sign of potential good locations for hiking in the nearby mountains. The retro-looking Places of interest section of the town’s official website suggests that it’s true, so I decided to give it a visit.

Getting to Barbosa is relatively easy. You just need to take the metro to Niquía and take a bus from there. The station is quite small and finding the right spot is easy. However, the bus to Barbosa stops at Parque de las Aguas, which is a popular weekend spot, so if you want to avoid long queues, it’s better to travel early in the morning or go on a weekday. You can also use your Cívica card on the bus.

There is no shortage of options when it comes to waterfalls near Barbosa. I chose Ipachanaque because getting there isn’t that straightforward, which means fewer visitors. In fact, I believe that it is necessary to use this expertly-labelled map to demonstrate what I mean:

How to hike to Cascada Ipachanaque from Barbosa

The bus left me near the main square (green star); the starting point of the hike is on the road called Vereda Buga (blue star). The most logical route would be to take Calle 13 and cross the bridge. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to reach the bridge because the road was completely blocked off due to construction work. It looks like the same thing happened to the person who uploaded this Wikiloc trail in June 2020, so it’s not clear if taking Calle 13 will even be possible in the future. If you encounter this obstacle, there are two main options available to you:

  1. Get a taxi to the starting point of the hike.
  2. Take Carrera 22 and then walk on the hard shoulder of the motorway until you reach the starting point of the hike.

Long-time readers of this blog will probably find it easy to guess which option I chose. Let’s just say that cars driving on that stretch of Ruta Nacional 62 reach very impressive speeds.

How to hike to Cascada Ipachanaque

Vereda Buga is a one-lane road that looks fine at the beginning, but the higher you go, the worse it gets. Taxi drivers will most likely refuse you to drive you up this road because a four-wheel drive is needed to avoid damaging the car. Many people use mototaxis to get to the fincas over there, so if you do this hike, you shouldn’t use headphones to listen to music because you’ll need to let the fast-moving motorcycles pass. You’ll eventually reach a stream and it may be necessary to use a footbridge to cross it if the water level is high.

If you walk fast, the hike to the waterfall can be done in an hour. The elevation gain is 500 metres, which isn’t that bad, but it may get a bit tiring on a hot day, so make sure to drink a lot of water. Along the way you will probably see a lot of cows and horses, and there are also some impressive rocks, including one with ancient petroglyphs that are sadly not really visible anymore. You can simply follow Google Maps or the Wikiloc trail linked above; I suggest going through this gate to get to the waterfall from below because it’s faster that way:

How to hike to Cascada Ipachanaque

The path is used by horses and gets very muddy when it rains, so wearing proper hiking boots helps a lot in the final stage of the hike. Ipachanaque doesn’t rank among the most impressive waterfalls in Colombia, but I think it’s definitely worth visiting. You can jump into the pool below it and enjoy the refreshingly cold water. Thanks to the fact that the waterfall isn’t exactly easy to reach, you may not even meet anyone else there, so this is a pretty cool opportunity to get away from the crowds.

How to hike to Cascada Ipachanaque

The hike itself isn’t that long and you can return to Barbosa relatively quickly with some spare time to explore the town. Just remember that it’s a good idea to call a taxi to pick you up where Vereda Buga meets the motorway. Buses to Medellín leave from the corner of Calle 11 and Carrera 20; some of them will leave you in Niquía and others go to the centre, so ask the driver and choose the most convenient bus for you. There are also a few hotels in the town in case you wish to stay a bit longer and visit other places in or around the town.

Would I recommend Barbosa to tourists planning to spend just a couple of weeks in Colombia? Probably not. I think this trip is a pretty good option mainly for those who have already been to most of the popular places in Antioquia and would like to visit a new location with some really nice hiking opportunities.

John Field: Listening in the Language Classroom (2008)

When I get asked for book recommendations, there are a few names that always spring to my mind in relation to specific areas. Teachers interested in teaching listening skills usually receive a quick one-word answer: Field. That’s basically all you need to know from me because reading this author’s book Listening in the Language Classroom is likely to change the way you deal with listening in your classes. John Field is a respected figure in ELT, but he doesn’t seem to be active on social media, so his work doesn’t get that much attention on the internet. Well, let me give you a few reasons why every English teacher should read this book.

John Field: Listening in the Language Classroom

First of all, listening seems to be kind of a neglected area. Coursebooks usually promote using the traditional lesson format with three stages that all teachers are probably familiar with. We typically ask our students a few comprehension questions to check if they have understood the text, but the problem with this approach is that there isn’t much actual teaching taking place in that type of lesson. Of course, there is time and place for testing comprehension, for example in proficiency exams. The main theme of Field’s book is that we should do much more than that in our lessons.

The listening comprehension approach is based on activities used in testing reading even though the nature of listening isn’t the same. Written texts allow you to read some passages again to double check your answers; listening is more challenging in this respect. Listening to English speakers is also quite difficult due to the language’s peculiar relationship between spelling and pronunciation, which may cause beginners to feel completely lost. You may have seen this short film showing how English sounds to those who don’t speak the language:

Field suggests that we focus on processes that are employed when listeners try to understand a text. He describes why students struggle with decoding what they hear, and since I’m a curious person, I like conducting my own experiments. The procedure is quite simple: Find an authentic text, let’s say a 10-second segment from a TV series, ideally with a few contractions and modal verbs, and ask your students to transcribe exactly what they hear. Even when the utterances are quite simple and the learners are familiar with the lexis and grammar structures, you may encounter some completely unexpected words in their transcripts. Connected speech is a common source of confusion, even for high-level English learners.

Listeners often use the context and co-text to fill those gaps in understanding, which is perfectly normal. In fact, I had a lot fun with my Delta LSA based on top-down processing. You obviously can’t rely on the context and background knowledge all the time, so what can be done to improve the students’ ability to decode rapid speech? Listening in the Language Classroom contains plenty of useful tips to help you with that. Listening is inextricably linked with pronunciation, so it may be necessary to address some key differences between English and the learners’ mother tongue. My favourite example is the word chocolate, which has four syllables in Spanish but only two in English; this simple distinction can be used to make the students aware of the importance of stress and the role of the schwa (/ə/).

Connected speech isn’t composed of completely random features, but it actually makes logical sense when you consider the rhythm of English and analyse how phonemes are produced. There is a complete list of weak forms, so why couldn’t they be taught? Field suggests targeted practice in recognising function words in connected speech, which I find extremely helpful in my own teaching practice. I believe that the students should know that Tell him is often pronounced /telɪm/ and Where does he live? may sound like /weədəzɪlɪv/ because it will help them understand spoken English a little bit better.

I understand that the idea of teaching listening and pronunciation may seem daunting, especially to new teachers, because we usually don’t think about what happens in our mouth when we speak. I think it’s worth studying all the places and manners of articulation that are described in Adrian Underhill’s Sound Foundations. Having that knowledge probably won’t help you impress people at a party, but you can use it to help your students improve their listening skills. Why is the World Cup pronounced /wɜ:lkʌp/? Why do some people say /fʊpbɔ:l/ instead of /fʊtbɔ:l/? What on earth is going on when English speakers say /wʊʤʊlaɪk/? These questions don’t keep many people up at night, yet there are pretty good reasons for addressing them in the classroom. Such lessons can be a lot of fun as well, which is a pleasant bonus.

Teaching listening is more complex than just focusing on connected speech, so I recommend that you read the whole book. Field encourages teachers to go beyond asking the students to eavesdrop on coursebook conversations that don’t even sound like real-life speech. If you feel that your listening lessons could lead to better results, you should consider using the procedures mentioned in Listening in the Language Classroom in your own classes.

In fact, this book recommendation is based on my own experience. Working as a freelancer has given me an opportunity to experiment with new kinds of classes, and for the past few months I’ve been running courses for students who wish to improve their listening skills. Field’s book keeps providing me with ideas for designing materials and activities that help the students develop their listening skills. I find literature that challenges traditional approaches to teaching extremely important, and this title will definitely motivate the reader to explore a less-travelled path when it comes to teaching listening.

Finally, I’d like to hear from those who have read Listening in the Language Classroom. Do you agree with Field’s criticism of the comprehension approach? Have you used any of his recommendations in your classes? Feel free to leave a comment here or on my social media profiles.