Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Soaking up the sun and the ocean

My last full day in Colombia has been wonderful and relaxing. I've just been taking walks on the beach, swims in the ocean, cat naps on the sand. I read for a while at the oasis like shopping center, next to the fountains, waiting for the pizza place to open, craving Hawain style pizza. Design work during the heat of the day, back to the beach for the sunset. Angelik is cooking me my last home made Colombian meal. All is packed. Reservation made for a bus from here to the airport in Cartagena at 8am manana. It will take 4 hours, then waiting for my jetblue flight to Miami, where I'll stay for a few nights. Feels strange to think I'll be asleep in my own bed in Santa Fe next to my love in 3 nights time.

My trip has been worth it. All in all, I like Colombia. There have been some very sweet people on this trip. I've really enjoyed the nature and the wildlife. Maybe I'd like to come back to see Medellin and that area, especially the resevoir, Guatepe. A great learning experience and recharging period, I'll need for the load of work upcoming next year. The magazine I work for Trend, will start publishing every 3 months in 2015 so who know when I'll have another opportunity like this.

Next time I travel to a foreign country remember:
Bring a back pack not a suitcase (would have been helpful on those mules)
a headlamp and a booklamp
good bugspray from the states
2 bathing suits instead of 1

Don't book things too far in advance, make sure I like the place before booking spanish classes there - its always possible to add them at the last minute.

Being called for dinner...

Horseback ride between the sea and the mountains

I took a bus and a taxi to from Minca to my final stay in Colombia, back along the carribean coast not far from the Santa Marta airport in a quieter area between the mountains and the ocean. My host, Angelik, is wonderful. She is around my age and has studied in France and Spain and speaks French and English fluently in addition to Spanish of course, and has a French beau. She rents out 3 of her rooms in her cozy quiet home which is off a dirt road.

Before I'd left Minca, I'd been trying to schedule a massage/reiki appt. with a man I'd heard about in Minca. He is part of the yoga/massage/retreat place there called Rancho de la Luna. I was meant to have an appt with him in Minca the afternoon before I left, but it turns out he was in Santa Marta near the airport that day, so it worked out better for him to meet me at Angelik's house and give the session in my room there not too long after I got there! I was so happy it worked out at all and he arrived promptly at 7 for an hour and a half session. I've never experienced a treatment like his before. He looked more Spanish or Native American and was trained, you could tell, in lots of energy healing and very gifted. His treatment incorporated a mix of yoga, breathwork, massage and reiki. I felt so much better afterwards and would highly recommend. Needless to say, I slept very well.

The next morning, I'd already scheduled a horseback ride in the mountains with one of Angelik's friend's. So at 8am I was on a grey mare named Blancita headed up the mountains. The only scary part was having to cross a major freeway! Then we were climbing above the beaches and highrises. In 45 minutes we'd reached a glorious view of the coastline below - basically the beach neighborhood/suburbs of Santa Marta west of Santa Marta and east of the airport - I quite like this area as you have the mountains and the beaches both easily within reach. The scenery was stunning, passing from scrubland and tall cactuses and very arid land, into more wet almost jungle terrain. The climate and the day were perfect, blue sky views. Fernando was my guide. A great experience.

When I returned, Angelik has prepared me a delicious Colombian lunch with salad, fresh avacado, fresh fish, rice, and soup with corn, yams and chicken, oh and fresh thick mango juice. After that I took a nap, completely satiated.

Later, after catching up on emails and 4 hours worth of design work,  I ventured to the nearby comercial plaza to withdraw money from the ATM (Minca didn't have one and I was depleted). The commercial plaza was surprisingly nice and I could walk along the beach to get to it. It was like a little oasis with fountains, potted plants, restaurants, a supermarket (where I stocked up on snacks for my trip back), and even a Crocs shoe store. After that, I took a quick swim in the tranquil beach near Angelik's house and watched the beginning of the sunset before walking 10 min back to Angelik's for an excellent nights sleep, with one and half days to go in Colombia.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Restful, Magical Minca

I recently returned from 4 nights and 5 days totally away from the internet up in the mountains above the little town of Minca.

Upon arrival in Minca (a one hour crazy bumpy drive from Taganga and the coast), I stored my luggage at Cafe de Minca (for $1), and took off for a hike with some German girls I met right away at the cafe. I had 5 hours to spare before my hosts could meet me. We hiked to Pozo Azul, a beautuful pool collected at the bottom of numerous waterfalls. We swam in the the cool refreshing water, no one else in sight.

Back at the cafe, we each had most amazing tall coffee frappachinos with crumbled oreo on top and I ran into the woman from Tazmania, Australia, Katerina, I'd met in Salento and had Thanksgiving with! We made plans for the next day. Cafe de Minca is a lovely oasis with handcrafts, an assortment of clothing (had to buy a dress from there even though it was way overpriced, its very original), gifts, coffee, jams, art, chocolate and a book exchange, and a wonderful comraderie of locals, expats and like minded travelers!

At 5pm, my ride arrived - Eugenio and Anna with 4 mules to take me up to their coffee farm. We rode the mules 45 minutes up a steep mountain path, arriving after dark. The smell of cilantro wafting through the air, stirred up by the mules who would snatch a bite at every chance. My entire stay at the coffee farm was quite magical. Numerous travelers and volunteers from around the world came and went and shared food. Anna cooked outstanding, typical colombian fare with a farm fresh flair. Delicious fruit juice from organic fruit on the farm - bananas, mango, papaya, lemonade, moras (rasberry like berries), passion fruit. Organic fresh coffee from the farm. Eggs with farm grown tomatoes and onions basically every morning, with some concoction of fried green platanoes. For dinner: coconut rice, salad or russian salad (cubed potatoes, peas, green beans, onions with either chicken or tuna; fish, chicken soup, meatballs and vegies over noodles or rice, vegetable/bean soup. Sometimes followed by organic hot chocolate. Each meal only cost $5 and breakfast was included in my $15 private rustic room.

Touci, the baby Toucan was always around for meals. He was quite the cheeky creature. Long thin butterfly like toungue to drink up any leftover juice. He would make a clicky sound with his beak that sounded like a cat purring whenever you stroked his neck.

There was also a mischievous 6 month old dog named Mona, female monkey in Spanish, the 4 mules of course, and an assortment of chickens for fresh eggs.

Most mornings I would wake up to sun, then the rain showers would arrive in the afternoon, followed by clearing and the lights of Santa Marta sparkling far below. The climate was delicious and refreshing. One day, I walked down the mountain to Minca to visit Katrina at her hostel, called Oscar's place. Another amazing oasis with views and a stone inground pool, owned by a Colombian named Oscar who'd lived in California for years, and now owned 70 acres of minca forest he was on a mission to protect from destruction. The rain torrented down all afternoon so I was trapped, what an amazing location to be trapped in :) Minca is the type of place that inspires creativity, where your heart can open back up. As I was sitting with the rain, poetic thoughts started forming.

While I wait for the rain to stop.

Always waiting for something, it seems.
I'd like to just be with the rain, no waiting.
As it slows, then pounds down again,
Decreasing to a trickle, then flooding the view,
In sheets over the mountains, solid, fickle.
Only the sound of cascading water,
The percussion of the jungle.
Slowing to a standstill, and sanding of wood,
Can be heard now from nearby.
No where to be, but with the rain.
Happy to be dry watching, listening.
The plants soaking it all up, glistening.
Clouds dispersing the blue pale sky.
Cool misty air moistening face.
I'll make it back up the mountain,
Without a single care now,
Cleaned out with the rain fall.

I had to hike back almost at dark when it stopped.

The last day, I went on the coffee tour included in my stay. It was the most in depth coffee tour I've experienced. The farm has been in Eugenio's family for 4 generations. It has survived the time when the FARC was in control and Eugenio's father was forced to pay them half his income or die, and most of the farms were required to grow drugs in addition to their normal crops.

On my last morning, Eugenio took my luggage down by mule, but I walked since the trail had become dangerously slippery to ride down. When I got into Minca proper, I again stored my luggage in order to explore. I hiked up to the Cascada de Marinka, a beautiful high waterfall. Then I went to the Lazy Cat Cafe for a delicious salad and cheese cake. So many of the restaurants in Minca are organic. Its quite a cute, artistic town. If I had to choose somewhere to live in Colombia, it would be Minca. Needless to say, I was sad to leave!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Back to the Carribean side

Because my end flight is out of Cartagena back to Miami (in retrospect I should have returned from Medellin and gotten to explore that area as I hear great things, oh well next time), I flew from the Armenian airport (near Salento) to Santa Marta to explore that region, especially Tayrona National Park and the mountains in Minca. Rather than stay in Santa Marta, I'd opted to stay in the smaller backpacker/beach town of Taganga a 15 min bus ride over a mountain from Santa Marta. I'm glad I chose to do that because its been much more peaceful and less expensive. I have my own room with bathroom for $15/night, and its set away from the main roads off a dirt road, so its the first place I've stayed where I don't have to where earplugs.

Santa Marta didn't seem like anything special. It had a nice, but small down town area with hostels and expensive cafes - overall the whole carribean coast is way overpriced from the rest of Colombia. I can't say I'm really a fan like I thought I was going to be of the colombian carribean coast. Its just so hot, humid and full of mosquitos and the cost is high. Maybe its just that I've been spoiled by way nicer, quieter and more beautiful beaches in so many other places I've traveled like New Zealand, Austrailia, Hawaii, Taiwan, so these over crowded ones here are just okay to me. It seems to me that they get raves from people who haven't experienced many other places, like Austin does to people who've only experienced the rest of Texas. Just being honest.

To be fair, my time in Tayrona National Park was lovely and a much needed reprieve. It was glorious to sit at Cabo San Jan beach for hours just listening to the sound of the sea and watching the waves come in. It never gets old doing that no matter where you are. The campsite was still packed with people, but all the foreigners were respectful and quiet, it was the colombian vacationers who had the music blairing until 11pm, which in a campsite near the ocean is highly annoying when you just want to fall asleep listening to ocean. Why do you want to hear music and tv in a place like that when you have to hear it day in day out in the cities?

To get to Tayrona National Park, I took public transport to the lesser known/entered Calabazo entrance. I got off the bus and started walking into the park. Basically I had a 3 hour hike over the mountains to get into the park. I was headed first to an ancient ruined civilation called El Pueblito. I didn't pass anyone for 2.5 hours until I arrived at El Pueblito! It was a wonderfully introspective time.

This whole trip has been so introspective. As my friend told me, I should store up this time for when I need it. How often do we get alone time? I'm so grateful for it. I do feel mentally recharged from this time alone so I'm not burnt out from work and am ready to go back and face the deadlines again. Physically, I'm pushed myself on this trip, but in a good way and my health feels great. The stagnation in my back has all but disappeared thanks to this introspective travel time. I realize how grateful I am for all that I have. The more I accomplish on the trip, which is rough around the edges, the more I boost my confidence and become more trusting of the guides within.

When I got to El Pueblito, I ran into the first people on the trip, a UK couple from London my age. We clicked right away and I ended up spending the rest of my time in the park with them. I was grateful to have like-minded company and people to help watch my stuff while I went swimming, eat dinner with and share the experience with! The beaches at Cabo San Juan were great for swimming. In other areas of the park the waters are too rough. We saw fish, sea iguanas, white egret like birds, and lots of neon colored lizards. A mangey little dog, that looked more like a cat, also befriended us. My new friends saw monkeys, but I missed them.

After the sun set, we had dinner together, fresh fish, rice, fries, salad and cerveza. I opted to rent a tent for the night (rather than a hammock). Even though it was stuffy, I didn't get chewed up my mosquitoes, just a few bites.

In the morning, we took another swim in the ocean, then started the 2 hour trek out the opposite side of the park from where I'd come in. This stretch was all flat along the beaches. Because I had come in the back way, I hadn't had to pay an entrance fee from that direction. I lucked out leaving because they were only checking people in, not out!

The bus dropped me back off in Santa Marta, I mailed some postcards, then took a little bus back over to Taganga where I spent one more night. I'd left most of my belongings at the hostel there and only took minimal things into the park.

Taganga is an alright little town, very shappy/shanty town feeling, but it does have a few hole in the wall restaurants with healthy options. Nothing to write home about.

Today I will take a bus back up into the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the little artist down of Minca. My hosts will pick me up by mule and it will be a 45 minute mule ride to my next little homestay at a Minca coffee farm for 4 nights. I may not have a lot of internet access there, which is grande.

I had quite a bit of design work come in while in Taganga, but luckily was able to get all caught up on it before and after the park trip, so I feel ready to head out....

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Last Few days in Salento

After Thanksgiving, I spent a few more relaxing days in Salento. I lucked out finding a massage/reiki clinic tucked away behind some other shops. A Colombian/Canadian woman owned it and she set me up with a reiki session with a Colombian lady who looked like she belonged in India with her saris, crystal bead between her eyes and short, plump, smiling budah stature. She gave me a wonderful session with her unique blend of crystal pendulums and colombian essential oils. I've been feeling great ever since - the little knot in my mid-back that's so stubborn to disappear is still gone 5 days later. But I think it was equally the rest I recieved in Salento and the time I spent in nature, the long hike through the wax palms, and the absense from my computer, that did the trick.

The atmosphere was lovely and I would return here for the peace and pleasant climate. As a bonus, I met some very nice travelers in Salento I hope to keep in touch with. I'm glad I went out of my way to get there. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

From Cali to Salento

Yesterday, I had a full last day in Cali. I woke up at 6:30 and started the hike up the hill of 3 crosses. Its highly recommend to start early when all the locals are going before work and when its cooler. Otherwise there could be thieves. Jorge, the man I'd met my first day in Cali, insisted on meeting me in the park near his house to walk me to the start of the trail so I wouldn't get lost. He has really made my time in Cali feel safer. Then he asked a local woman hiker to show me the rest of the way up. She went too fast for me, or rather, I hadn't drunk any water and was feeling dehdrated so had to rest and drink a bunch before continuing slower up on my own, but making sure to stay close behind another pack of people. It was a steep 1 hour climb up. How they got the towering 3 crosses up there a century ago is pretty amazing. When I reached the top, I saw the woman from the start of the trip and, even though she spoke no english, we were able to carry on a basic converstation about travel, family, life in colombia, etc all the way down. The way down only took 35 minutes.

After the hike, I went to the modern art museum. It was very well maintained and a nice community outlet for culture, offering cinema and live music on weekends. Then I was starving, but it was in between breakfast and lunch, so I walked back to my hostel (all in all 3 hours of walking). Awesome you can walk right up the mountain from town, rested then went out again for a delicious vegetarian meal near my hostel. I did a few hours of design work and relaxed the rest of the day.

Today, I again woke up at 6:30 and made my way from Cali to Salento with taxis and autobuses in about 4.5 hours. Sadly, I left my back pillow in the last autobus leg of the trip. Why do I always do that? Its the 3rd time I've left it behind on a trip and I really needed it this time! Oh well, if thats the worst that happens, thats not too bad - I can roll up a towel or a jacket to put behind my lower back the rest of the time and I'll just have to buy another one and clip it to my pants so I won't forget it form now on!. I think the hiking helped my back as it does feel better today.

There is a 5 hour hike I could opt to go on some day in Salento that's fairly moderate. We'll see. It rains a lot here, so the hostel conveniently rents rubber boots, but if its pouring, I don't think I'll want to go, since half the fun is getting to see something.

The hostel I'm staying at is immaculate, minnimilist and right around the corner from the Plaza. Its dutch run. I have my own room for $22/night. Its worth it for my work since I have my own desk, quiet and space. Its slightly quieter here than the other two places I've stayed in Colombia so far, but since its still on the streets, I do have to continue wearing earplugs like all the other places. Latin america is quiet. Even here in a town of only 7000 people, you can hear babies crying, kids on skateboards, icecream truck tunes, marching bands, people calling out selling things, horns beeping etc. The rain is very peaceful though and the hostal itself is quiet and I can feel myself relaxing here, out of the city.

Thanksgiving in Colombia

I woke up on Thanksgiving day not knowing exactly what would unfold. The weather forcast the day before looked like rain. But, I woke up to sun! so decided to go on the 5 hour loop hike through the wax palms and took one of the willies up to the base with some other travelers at 9:30am. I was lucky to sit next to a very nice woman from Tasmania, Australia, and we ended up doing the whole hike together. It was absolutely stunning! and so wonderful to be in nature and hear various birds and insects. The trail was very muddy, criss-crossing streams and lost arc-like swaying bridges, and I was grateful I'd rented wellies for $1.50.

At about the 2 hour mark, we reached a little coffee finca and stopped for a rest and some moca before continuing on up the steepest part. An assortment of brightly colored hummingbirds zipped around the feeders stationed around the finca. As we started to descend on the other side of the mountain, the fog cleared and we had amazing vistas of wax palms. We rested on the softest grass carpet looking up at the 200 plus year old trees. You can really see the height compared to the cows in the fields below. It felt very prehistoric. We caught the willies back at 3:30.

Back at the hostel, we learned there was a thanksgiving dinner happening at 6 that included the 3 course meal for about $16 plus extra for alcohol, so 4 of us from the hostel decided to go. To get there, we walked 20 minutes to an ecohostal where the spread was being prepared. 46 other travelers from around the world also showed up. It couldn't have been easy to cook a non typical colombian meal for that many people. They did a great job - we even had turkey! It was delicious - especially the carrot souflee they'd subsituted for pumpkin pie. We were all stuffed at the end and sleepily walked back another 20 minutes to our hostel and all went to sleep by 10pm. What a wonderful way to spend thanksgiving and the best part was the unexpectedness. I really love Salento and am so grateful I ended up here for thanksgiving and have another few relaxing days here.