Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Goodbye Colombia!


It is my final day in Colombia. Tomorrow morning I catch a plane from Bogota to Atlanta. I spend a night there then on the 23 April, I fly from Atlanta to Minneapolis. It has been a rough day today. I am sad this adventure is ending. I keep thinking about going to visit family for the summer, do some consulting work and then hit the road again. I feel like my journey is not finished. There is something missing. My soul is still searching for something.  Hmmmm. Only time will tell. I spent my final day relaxing and enjoying the sights and sounds of Bogota. I started with a coffee at Juan Valdez (with tears), a walk through the Candelaria, through the parks. I have lost it for no reason at all. I watch people going about their lives. I sit and enjoy the moments and realize... this is it. I am returning to the USA. I am preparing myself for reverse culture shock. How will I handle it? How can I continue to grow and develop? I return with so many questions and no answers. At the beginning of this journey I thought I would have more answers to these questions and have a clear direction moving forward. I was wrong about that! I feel like I have more questions. I look at life so differently now. I know I will figure it all out.  I believe in myself. I trust I will continue to develope relationships with people I meet. I find myself thinking about my hobbies and interests and realizing I need to nurture those desires. So many things I would like to do:
1. Start a traveler tales meetup where I live. Travelers are similar people. We like to talk about adventures, encourage others to explore new destinations and share our stories and dreams. 
2. Volunteer with animal shelters. There are many homeless animals that need homes. Be an advocate for them. Socialize with them and encourage others to adopt a shelter dog or cat. 
3. Encourage children to follow their dreams. To believe in themselves and their abilities. It is empowering when you face your fears and realize 95% of  fear is in your head and only a small percentage is real. 
4. Be active every day. Enjoy nature and appreciate the beautiful world/city I live in. Everyplace has beautiful places. Live like a tourist and take it all in.

After a little reflection, coffee and tears I decided it was time to go enjoy my last day. I decided to walk to the university and then to the gondola up to Monserrate. As I walked, I realized I had my idiot smile on my face... you know the one where you are smiling out of pure joy. These people must think I am crazy. My eyes are red from crying and I have a stupid smile on my face.  Maybe they think I am just drunk, or hungover. Anyway, I reached the gondola and and was ready for the short ride to the top of Monserrate. As we glide up the side of the hill, I could see storm clouds were on the way and knew I would likely see a little rain. When it started, I stopped and had a snack as I waited for the rain to end. The weather was appropriate considering my sadness about leaving Colombia and a country I had grown to love. I was happy to just have time to reflect and think about my experience. It was a beautiful and serene place to just sit and contemplate everything.

I returned to the city and had dinner before returning to the hotel to pack and prepare for my journey home. I can't believe how quickly this time has passed. I traveled for 14 months and had an amazing and life changing trip. I am so happy I was a risk taker and took the severance package and followed my dreams. When I tell the story to others I get one of two responses: 
1. Wow! Way to go! You have guts! I am so proud of you for following your dreams. 
2. Aren't you worried you won't find another job? What about ....( start listing all the fears)? 

What I realized is the travelers at heart respond with excitement and desire to travel. Others only see fear. When you realize the fear is in your head and not real, it is empowering. Those of us that travel know this. We engage with others and make the most of the opportunities that arise. I have chosen to live my life rather than to dream of someday and live in fear. And I will never return to that way of thinking. I want to live each and every day with excitement and joy. I know I can find happiness in little things.

I felt better when I returned to the city. I stopped for dinner and a beer before returning to the hostel to pack. I was going home. How would that feel?

I awoke in the morning and the owner of the hostel saw me off. Their daughter had bought me a chiva (Colombian bus) to always remember how much I loved Colombia. What a sweet gesture from a beautiful little girl. She waved as she walked off to school and I drove away in the cab. Next stop, the airport.

In no time I was in the sky and headed towards the USA. Up over the beautiful green mountains and over the Caribbean.  
I spent the night in Atlanta and relaxed. I was emotionally and physically tired. I slept until it was time to catch an early flight to Minneapolis. I was excited to see my family and hug everyone. It had been a long time. As I arrived in Minneapolis, I looked for my mom, sister and neice and nephew. There they were waiting for me. They had been a tremendous support throughout this journey. Encouraging me to live my dreams and were supportive the entire journey. And now they were standing on the bottom of the stairs with signs to welcome me home.
I laughed when I saw my sister holding a cougar sign. I expected nothing less! We had a laugh and filled our time with hugs. It was good to be back and see them. My neice and nephew had grown and had so many things to share with me. It felt like home. I arrived safe and sound back into the arms of loved ones and I was ready to just relax and get some rest. I was exhausted.
 It is always good to come home to those you love.

Bogota, Colombia


I arrived in the beautiful old city of Bogota and had very little expectations for the city. None of the travelers had anything positive to say about Bogota, everyone te commended Medellin. I was wishing I had returned to Medellin.
I arrived at the airport and took a taxi to Mr Wostal's Hostel in Bogota. The taxi driver had to make several calls for directions before he found the place. I unloaded and walked into the hostel to check-in. Anna met me and spent time talking with me about the area. Afterwards, I smiled as I realized I had a 30 minute conversation in Spanish. Wow! I was impressed with myself!! 

I unpacked and then took off to find an ATM and some lunch. I guess I should have grabbed a map but I was in a wandering mode. I walked and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the city. I walked through the neighborhoods admiring the street art. The city is nestled into the surrounding mountains. The hills were a nice walking workout. I was enjoying the city, more than I had expected when I realized I was lost. It took me a little while to get back to an area I recognized.As I walked to the downtown, I came to the Gold Museum.
I had talked to many people that had highly recommended seeing this museum and entered the building. It was amazing. So many artifacts crafted from gold. The most amazing room was dark. I walked in and stood with others. The lights slowly lit the room. As I stood in the circular room, I noticed the surroundings. Gold jewelry was lining the room and glittered in the light. Wow! Then a soft light was coming from the center of the floor. Below was more gold. We were bathed in the reflections throughout the room. Amazing! 
As I left the museum, I noticed crowds gathering in the streets. I walked down the Main Street which had street performers entertaining the locals. Old men dancing and doing push-ups, a young men dressed as a woman and acting out different nationalities walking down the street. But my favorite was guinnea pig gambling. The crowd placed bets in which house the guinne pig would run and choose. The winners celebrate with their money and everyone cheers. 
I spent my days walking and exploring the neighborhoods. I walked through La Candelaria neighborhood to the Botero Museum. It was in a beautiful old building with a tranquil courtyard. I sat watching and talking with the locals and enjoying the views. 

As I left, I could see a crowd gathering and walked to see what was happening. People were gathered in front of the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Cultural Center. He has passed away and Colombians were paying respects for his life and literature.  I decided to continue wandering La Candaleria and just enjoying the city. I had spent so many months traveling and sightseeing but exploring an unknown city was my favorite activity. I wandered the hilly streets. Enjoyed the colorful homes, street art and smiling faces of the Colombians. I loved this country. It was in my heart and soul. I had adopted its language, culture and customs. I loved the vibrant lifestyle and colors of the city. 
I stopped when a woman told me I needed to turn back towards the tourist area. She told me this was not a safe area for a woman to walk alone and asked if I wanted her to walk with me. I declined her offer and headed back towards the cathedral. Time for dinner and a cold drink. I passed a young man that worked at his families restaurant. I decided to give it a try. He took me three flights to a homelike family restaurant. I laughed and chatted with his parents and they were impressed with my Spanish. The meal was large and delicious as always. Afterwards the woman came and asked me if I would like to see a very special place. Sure! Why not? I grabbed my bag and followed her out a door and up a back stairway to the roof. It was an amazing view of the tiled roofs and the bell towers of the cathedral. She told me they have had many romantic dinners and marriage proposals at this spot. It was a place they shared with patrons. It was a beautiful and different view io the cathedral and Bogota. 
On Easter Sunday, I decided to take a journey to Usaquen, a small traditional village north of Bogota. I walked to the bus stop and was told the bus would not stop here today, it was Sunday and the street was closed for ciclovia. This is a weekly, city-wide, car-free day in Bogota that opens 76 miles of roads for citizens to cycle, walk, run or skate. It has been running since 1974 and has spread to other cities in Colombia. 

I loved it! Why don't we do this in the USA? So many people were out getting exercise and enjoying it! I was told to go down 2 streets to catch the bus. Not a problem. I took the 45 minute bus ride to Usaquen. I had read the Sunday market was fantastic and would be able to buy some last minute gifts. It was an easy ride and the driver let me know when to get off. The market has many arts and cultural gifts in addition to food and great shops and restaurants. Next trip to Bogota and I would stay in Usaquen. I was walking through the park and saw an Easter procession which I watched before continuing on my way. It was a nice change of pace to get into the village and explore the local artwork and shops.

As I returned to the bus stop, I saw this car. Colombians take any business opportunity they get to start a business. This man was selling everything...panela (sugar), cookies, cheese, nuts and sandwiches.

When I returned to Bogota, I decided to walk down to the cathedral one last time. I love that I can walk down the street and buy anything I wanted.
A delicious fresh cup of coffee, fresh fruits or coconut water.
How often does a man stand on your street chopping open fresh coconuts for you to drink? Mmmm. I walked and ate my way down the street until I arrived at the cathedral. It was busy as usual. Children were running and adults were watching the street performers. It was a good day. Everyone was relaxed and enjoying life...even the llamas.
I love the joy, warmth and happiness in this culture. Colombia feels like home and I am sad to be leaving all that I love. I know it is time...but it is difficult. This is the end of an amazing journey. I walked back to the hostel the long way. I wanted to savor ever minute of this city and all that I feel here. I walked back thinking of all of the amazing people I have met and places I have visited during my journey. I am blessed and have lived my dream. I am so happy I followed my gut and did what I wanted rather than what society expects from me. I know I am a better person for this experience and amazing things lie ahead. What? I do not know. I found myself on this journey. I learned to love myself and this amazing world. Nobody can ever take this experience and the joy I gained from this. I returned to the hostel smiling. I accomplished a dream. Nothing feels better. I will sleep well knowing I had amazing 14 months.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Popayan, Colombia

Popayan, the white city. A city of pilgrims during Semana Santa (Holy Week) and one of the most famous celebrations in Colombia. I planned to stay for three days and meet up with my friends Mosan and Georgie (from the UK). I knew I had to make some plans for the holiday week but I hadn't. I like to travel by the seat of my pants and it irritates me to have to set plans. I committed to deciding where I would spend the week before I left Popayan. I walked from the bus station across the footbridge and up and over to the old town. I saw the bright green bikes of Hostal Carocal before I saw the sign. This was my new home.
When I arrived at Hostal Caracol, I was asked if I wanted to stay through Semana Santa. I explained I had not decided and he explained they had discounts if I stayed longer (private room for $150 if I stayed for2 weeks). I told him I would let him know tomorrow. It was time to do some online research. I settled into my room and went to walk around town. As I walked, I noticed the city was getting ready for the onslaught of tourists. Truckloads of motorcycles were delivered for the police and military.   
As I walked around the town, I noticed that everyone was preparing for Semana Santa. The outsides of most the buildings were being painted white.
I found the local Exito (supermarket) and bought bread and cheese for a picnic lunch and some veggies and pasta for dinner. Of course, I bought a bottle of wine for dinner. I turned a corner and there were my friends Georgie and Mosan. Yes, us westerners stand out! We all walked to the town square and enjoyed a picnic lunch as we watched the people and Pepe, the local llama that gives rides to children. Everyone seemed to think we were odd as we sat making cheese and avocado sandwiches. We quickly became a sight for the locals.
We relaxed and watched life in the square. People were talking with friends. Musicians were singing. Children were playing. Men were getting their shoes shined. I realized how different it is from home. I love the social interaction of the parks and talking with the locals. These men serenaded us and allowed me to practice my Spanish. 
We all decided to head back to our hostels for a few hours and to meet back for dinner. I walked back towards the hostel and found this beautiful piece of artwork. It stood out in the stark white buildings of Popayan. I missed the bright colors of the rest of Latin America. I went in to explore and found this was one of the art schools of Popayan.   
When I returned to the hostel, I relaxed and started doing some research. Where to go next? Do I just stay here and then to Bogota? As I was looking up information there was a knock on my door. I was told I had friends here to visit me. It must be Mosan and Georgie! I was excited to find them sitting in the cafe waiting for me. It was dinner time and we decided to try an empanada stand they had heard about.  As we talked, we made plans to meetup the next day for some exploring. 
We tried to go to the museums and they were all closed in preparations for Semana Santa. We decided to explore the art college and were invited to listen to the orchestra practicing for a concert for the Semana Santa. The students and professor were excited to perform for us. This was something Georgie and Mosan frequently did on their travels. They explained the universities often allow tourists to sit in on practices and save money. I thought it was a great budget travel suggestion! 

After our day trip to Silvia, I talked to the owner of the hostel. Most of the hotels and flights in other parts of the country were booked. He offered me a great deal for staying until Good Friday. I decided that I would stay and then he recommended I fly to Bogota. It was the same price as a long bus ride and only a couple hours. Done! I finally made a decision. I told Georgie and Mosan goodbye at dinner and decided to relax and enjoy Popayans festivities. 

Popayan is known as the religious center of Colombia and is home to more churches per capita than any other city/town in the country.  The tradition of processions has been going on for 400 years and each is full of vivid religious imagery. Throughout the week are different processions with effigy bearers taking four images to the center of the town.  On the first night of Semana Santa (Saturday night before Palm Sunday), I heard drums and walked to the street entrance to see what was happening. I looked out in the street and saw men, women and children lining up the sides of the streets with candles. 
 It was a beautiful procession. Marching bands came down the street followed by a religious float with Jesus.
As the float progressed down the street, the people walked along the sidewalks progressing with procession. Woman were dressed in traditional clothing. It was quiet except for the marching bands. Nobody talked.
It was a beautiful and serene sight. As they marched away, I was told this would continue each night with the culmination of the largest parade on Good Friday. 

The next morning, Palm Sunday, was a large parade. I walked to the town square to watch the mass that was being conducted in front of the cathedral. People were selling beautiful palms. These were not the simple palms I remembered from my childhood. The palms were beautifully braided and shaped into hearts. Children and adults were walking with beautiful palms and preparing for the procession.

The procession took a couple of hours and I was lucky I had met a Colombian man that wanted to practice his English with me. He stood next to me explaining the parade and telling me about the history of the Semana Santa celebration in Popayan. I was most surprised that the majority of the bands were military/police bands.  
The next procession was not scheduled until Tuesday night, my last night in town. I spent my days relaxing and talking with other travelers. We were all similar in that we were tired and just relaxing this week of the holiday. On Tuesday, I packed my bags and took a nap so I could make it until 11:00 PM or midnight when the procession would pass through our neighborhood. I waited until I heard the beat of the drums and then walked a couple blocks to the parade.
Once again, it started with the beat of the drums and the military marching band. The religious pilgrims silently stood on the sidewalks with candles. Each of the floats were proceeded by a woman in traditional Spanish clothing and carried by men in robes.

The procession stops several times to allow the men carrying the religious statues to stop and rest. Then, they heave it back onto their shoulders and continue walking around the city past the main churches.

The parade culminated with the military policy and veterans injured in the call of duty.
It was a beautiful religious procession. It ended around 1:00 AM and I walked back to the hostel and crawled into bed for 4 hours of sleep before a taxi arrived to take me to the airport. I left as the sun was rising. Goodbye Popayan. My next stop will be Bogota.  

Friday, July 18, 2014

Silvia, Colombia

Georgie, Mosan and I had heard about the Tuesday market in Silvia. The Guambiano Indians bring all of their produce and handicrafts to the town market. The buses arrive in the town square early in the morning. We took a short bus ride to Silvia and arrived at 8 AM. As we stepped off the bus at the town square, it was like stepping back in time. 
The Guambiano's are indigenous to the region and dress in traditional clothing. The women wear black skirts, a blue poncho, black bolo hat and boots. The men wear blue skirts and similar shoes and hats. They do not like to be photographed and I was sensitive to their feelings asking if I could take a photo. 

As we entered the market, we noticed what was farmed in this region, the primary crop was potatoes. Bags and bags of potatoes.  
Georgie, Mosan and I wandered the market looking at the fresh fruits and vegetables. We talked with a man and his family about their fresh made cheeses and they have is a taste. He and his family have come to the market for years and recommended that we go to a stand and order coffee with cheese. Why not? We ordered and sat down at the table. Georgie, Mosan and I sat and wondered what coffee would taste like with cheese in it. We laughed when the saucer was set down and noticed that the cheese was on the side. It was all delicious but we did not put the cheese in the coffee. We finished our snack and walked around the produce market. People smiled and waved to us to look at their products.  
As we walked out the back door, we came upon the livestock market. We saw these 3 women checking out 2 calves for sale. We watched as they talked amongst themselves and negotiated a price.
Eventually, We went over to ask the price of the cattle. The man was very excited to sell them to us. He wanted $250 (USD) for the larger one. He was disappointed when we told him we were traveling and unable to buy one. We were just interested in the going rate.
Around the next corner, I saw the cutest thing! Three piglets in a wheelbarrow!
Three little pigs that went to market. I loved these little guys and wanted to play with them! Such cuties! Every street had something to explore or an interesting site.

This was their big day in the "city" and to sell their goods. One of the things that is noticeable is the women are doing the majority of the work. So, where are the men? They are with their friends at the bar. We saw our share of drunk men in the plaza and stumbling out of the bars. Most of the men were behaving well. A few were drunk and a little belligerent. Most of the women turned their heads and ignored the scene.
We stayed until noon. Many of the Guambiano's were packing up and loading the buses and jeeps with their purchases. The people waited in the town square and then loaded onto a bus to return to their homes until next week.
It was definitely worth the trip to witness this piece of their lives, laugh with the people and to enjoy the market. Another beautiful day spent in Colombia  

Friday, July 11, 2014

Beermaking in Buga, Colombia

March 26-28, 2014
Buga is off the tourist path. Most people pass it up in a rush to get to Cali for salsa and fun. The people that come here are traveling a little slower and want to try some of the best microbrew in Colombia. That was what captured my interest! So, the first night I was told Stephan was making a batch of honey ginger beer. I was invited to watch at 9am. I walked the short distance to their house and was introduced to Stephan (German). He was the mastermind and creative genius behind the Holy Water Ale Brewery. I had met his business partner Carl in Salento and we met up again. They had just purchased a commercial beer setup and were altering their recipes for the increased tank capacity. Stephan explained this was only the second batch he had made at this capacity and had to think while he brewed.
They had set-up the tanks in the courtyard of the house. After watching the process, I thanked them and went to explore the town.
Buga is quiet but had a cool vibe. Very laid back with few tourists. Most Colombians asked why I chose to visit Buga. I wanted a town off the tourist path. A place to relax and enjoy. One of the most interesting sights is the cathedral. Why? Not only does it have a black Jesus but the cathedral is hand painted to look like bricks. From a distance you can not tell but up close, it is obvious someone hand painted each brick!!
I walked along the park and found a cafe. I walked in and ordered a cappuccino and relaxed. It was delicious! I followed Julio's recommendations and looked for a café that roasted and ground the coffee fresh. As I sat reading my book, I heard someone day "no way!" In English! I looked up and it was Big and Little Jose from New York City that I had met in the thermals at Santa Rosa de Cabel. They sat down to join me and we discussed our travels. They had arrived in Buga and decided to rent a place to start a small taco restaurant. They invited me to their family farm for dinner. I said we would have to see. We said goodbye and I continued walking around the town. Past the stores, churches and the meeting point of any Colombian town - the town square. I can enjoy hours relaxing and talking in the town square with the locals. My Spanish is definitely improving and it is becoming easier. These four were some characters and told me about their lives and the women they loved. I have learned that no matter where I have traveled we are all the same. We want to be loved and provide for our families. As my Aunt Sue always said "Life is good!"

Afterward I went back to the hotel and relaxed before dinner. As I sat enjoying dinner, my friends the Jose's arrived and we enjoyed an evening of relaxing and talking over delicious home brews. We discussed going to their farm again for lunch and to see the farmland. I told them I would let them know in the morning. They left and I finished my drink and went to bed. The next morning I was sick. Dizzy, fever and upset stomach. No way I could do a day at the farm. I called and canceled with the Jose's. I am not sure what was wrong with me. I fainted a few times. One right into the floor after having a light meal. Strangest thing ever. I had been sitting at the bar talking to friends and got hot, sweaty and dizzy. I said I needed to go to my room. As I stood up, I went face first too the floor. I came to and everyone was standing around me. They were worried about me and walked me to my room. Every couple hours they checked on me. I spent the next day relaxing for fear I would faint again. I was told to keep an eye on the fainting and my temperature. Everyone kept suggesting I may have dengue fever. No!! Not the dengue!
Luckily, I had a nice room with windows overlooking the street. I heard music and laughter on the street and decided to get up and look out the window. I looked over the ledge and saw a parade of children and band walking down the street. I watched as they laughed and danced. This young girl was twirling in her white dress, it was a beautiful sight.
Buga was a great little town and the Buga Hostel was relaxing and a great place to recuperate from whatever was ailing me. Sunday, I decided to move on. It was time to go south easy to Popayan. I went to Cali and then took a slow bus to Popayan.