La Aussie Gringa en Colombia – Hasta la vista … it’s been a hoot!

Back to Cali to pick up Lilia with just enough time to explore some more in Cali. Omaira shouted me lunch so I didn’t leave without having some typical Cali fare. It was lovely. Valentina was kind enough to take me up to the Christo Rey statue (second in size to the statue in Rio), a popular park that contained cat statues by a local artist and a rooftop bar. Valentina was studying to be a pilot and now flying solo but was still getting familiar with driving a car so it was a fun drive up to the Christo Rey lookout!

Lilia and I left Cali in the morning and arrived back in Palermo that night – quite a journey. I’d just finished reading the fabulous book ‘All the night we cannot see’ – a book about a blind French girl set in world war 2 and then found myself watching two consecutive movies on the bus that were based on blind women. I was hoping there wasn’t some hidden message in this but I was certainly feeling grateful for my sight and all the other senses I was blessed to have.

I ran into Tato (the artist) the next day and the first thing he said was “Hola Lettie. Gorda”. I knew when I was being called a fat woman! The theme continued with the other Tato’s mum (Luz Elena) turning up at Lilia’s later in the afternoon and using the phrase ‘bueno, ahora ella no delgada’ – ‘good, now she’s not skinny’! Ok, I was getting the message!

On my last day Lilia and I visited some of the local poorer families to drop off the clothes and cosmetic products I no longer needed. They were such generous people, sending us away with fruit from their gardens. One family was good enough to kill a chicken while I was there. Now there’s an experience I could have lived without!

Alejandra later independently shared her thoughts on the subject of my weight. No doubt about these Latin Americans, they don’t hold back on their thoughts! Paula subsequently phoned while we were having a farewell lunch at Las Palmas and when I laughed about what had been said she kindly assured me it was intended as a compliment – it meant I was healthy and had enough money to eat! So funny but I resolved that October and November would be exercise filled months …. and no more cervecas!

Despite my extra weight it seemed I was still attractive to the odd local. One of Nelson’s friends was lunching at Las Palmas and became besotted with my eyes. They change between green and blue and they happened to be particularly blue that day (a rare sight for Latin American colombianos). After communicating he was an escort and on further questioning elaborating an escort of goods I decided to not take that line of conversation any further!

After extracting myself from the over the top adoration of el hombre we headed back into town. My plan was to communicate a few farewells but alas it was Wednesday, which meant most of the shops/cafes were closed and everyone was indoors so instead I waited for the kids to finish school and come past the house to hand out the Thousand Island Dressing bracelets Leanne had generously giving to me to give away. The girls loved them and the boys were happy to have something to give their mums. The kids were still asking when I’d be back for the English lessons so I was leaving with the hope that they may pursue English lesson opportunities when they arise in the future.

I spent the last evening in Palermo finishing the rest of my macrame projects for Paula with the help of Alejandra and her daughter Valaria. It was really nice that they were hanging around as I sensed Lilia was getting anxious about my impending departure.

It was a sad farewell to my second home but Lilia had been responding “a year more or less” to anyone who asked when I’d be back so when she wouldn’t let me go and the bus was waiting for me I reminded her I’d be back soon enough. Big hugs from a gorgeous little woman who’d been so caring and a great Spanish teacher to boot!

The bus journey back to Medellin was quite lovely as I headed out between the misty mountains. It had its usual laughs, this time provided by the mobile buskers who shared a couple of songs en route to Medellin.

The final days in Medellin had been spent shopping and self indulging with a hair appointment (always a nerve racking experience when you can’t communicate in a common language and this one was no exception) and spa treatments. I’d been very restrained while I was here so it was nice to have a bit of a splurge.

So here I am sitting having dinner in a casual Fonda. I’ve just had a little girl sit with me asking about the horses in my country! Apparently she loves horses!?!? Sweet.

What an amazing six months! I’d lived and breathed a culture so different from ours. I’d learned to be a little more tolerant (only saying a little!) and I’d had the chance to evaluate the strength of a few relationships and their value in my life….and of course I’d learned the basics of building an earth bag structure! I’d also visited some other amazing parts of the world and honed my sketching skills. Feeling lucky to be alive, healthy and to have these opportunities!

I will be forever grateful to Paula for leading me down this path. I have no doubt the experience has changed (in a positive way) what my future now looks like. Thank you my dear friend!

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Enjoying the view of Cali with Valentina

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Cali Christo Rey – a popular spot on Sundays!

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The Cali Gato!

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Feeling the lurv at a rooftop bar in Cali

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Guys are now putting the next level on. 

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Wouldn’t quite getaway with that power point position in Australia!

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Caught a glimpse of him getting his neck broken and now he was on full display!

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Lilia sporting her new opal earrings

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The kids enjoying receiving the Thousand Island Dressing bracelets 

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Farewell from Nelson and Alejandra at Las Palmas

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Picked the room, in the Las Palmas MOtel under construction, for my next visit. 

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Getting a hand from Alejandra to finish one of my macrame projects 

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The wonderfully scenic Palermo to Medellin bus route

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Gotta love mobile buskers!

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Soaking up the last of the views in my accommodation in Medellin

 

 

 

 

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La Aussie Gringa en Colombia – road trippin’ with Lilia

We were on our way to Cali. Lilia was great in pointing out all the major points of interest along the way – names of the rivers, the departments we were passing through and the types of crops growing along the route. The bus to Cali was very comfortable and took an hour less than the expected eight hours so that was a bonus.

As we neared Cali the outside temperatures were increasing at a rapid rate, which had me a little scared as everyone had told me how hot Cali was but I wasn’t expecting 37 degrees! It wasn’t then so surprising when the heavens opened and expelled a big storm, hail and all. It was rather amusing (to Lilia and me at least) to watch all the motorbike riders seeking shelter under bridges or any other solid structure they could find. It was also a great opportunity to learn that hail is ‘graniso’ in Spanish!

We were greeted at the transport terminal by Lilia’s other daughters, Omaira and Liliana. Thankfully the temperature had gone down to a reasonable level by Cali. Omaira had offered to put us up for the nights before our departure to Popayan and San Agustin. Omaira’s apartment was lovely and I once again met up with her lovely daughter Valentina and met Vally’s sister, Camilla and father Luis, who now had another family of three girls – strong female genes in these parts!

I decided to take up Vally’s suggestion and so took a visit to San Antonio the next afternoon. I wondered the boho area and stumbled upon an interesting artisanals market and then headed to a big shopping centre for some Panama supplies.

Unfortunately when I had said to Lilia I’d see her later her idea of ‘later’ was very different to mine. I arrived home four hours later to a very concerned Lilia. Seems she had been very worried about me being out by myself so late (?) in Cali. I guess visiting a salsa club solo is out of the question!

Lilia had lived a long time in Cali but doesn’t like the city having indicated to me on numerous occasions that there’s a lot of crime (bag snatching and assaults) but it felt safe in the areas I had been visiting (and Vally had recommended!). It’s definitely got its hotspots as you would expect in a city housing two and a half million people (with another three and half in metro Cali).

The next day we ventured off to Popayan for the night. It was a pretty town but not by a long stretch the best example of a Colombian ‘white colonial city’ as touted in the guidebook but a nice spot to stretch out legs before the next leg of our trip. Our lunch was served by a guy whose mum is Colombian and whose dad is Italian. His mum loves to travel so he’s spent time living all around the world and so was keen to chat in English. He and Lilia shared some background on their lives in Medellin – I got the impression they had some distant joint relative, which seems to always happen with this family!

I wasn’t quite prepared for the bus to San Agustin. Over two hours of the journey was on a dirt road with so many potholes we travelled at a crawl. Needless to say our bags were covered in dust when we finally reached San Agustin. Lilia must have been wondering why, at almost 80, she had signed up for this trip!

Our accommodation was lovely with its little cabin for our bedroom, fireplace in the lounge area and lovely gardens with chill- out areas throughout the property.

We did our food shop at the towns supermarket and booked our activities. I was hoping they wouldn’t be too strenuous for Lilia.

The next day we headed out on our ‘jeep’ tour. We were in an old two-door long-wheeled base land cruiser, which made it quite a challenge for the six passengers to disembark at each stop but we managed.  I had been given the privilege of the front seat to stretch my legs and get gassed by the car’s fumes!

The first stop was the Rio Magdalena. This river runs from the north to the south of Colombia and reportedly reaches up to 3km at its widest point. We were at El Estrecho (the narrows), which was only about two metres wide. I heard different reports on its depth at the narrows but I was inclined to believe the version indicating it was thought to be about 11m. Many a people have lost their lives (about 15 according to the latest sign) trying to jump over the narrows, losing their footing on the slippery rocks and subsequently drowning in the fast flowing river.  It always astounds me that people will take such risks when a sign has already given you an indication of your odds on success.

We then visited a museum with some underground caves/tombs that had been found in an area a good distance from the main parks along with some accompanying pottery and gold (although most gold had been looted from the San Agustin sites back in the 30s).

It was then onto Alto de Los Idolos. This park had many graves, with the largest stone statue of San Agustin (7m tall but only 4m visible) …. dwarfed Lilia! The statues had all been moved since they were originally found. Some having been found adorning people’s homes or used in house foundations without the people realising their archaeological importance.

San Agustin was the most important archaeological site in Colombia and one of the most important sites on the continent. The visit was reminding me a lot of Easter Island and the moais bringing nice memories of grandad. These statues and tombs were from tribes of people who’d lived between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago (well before the Incas or people of Easter Is – think of the times of the Egyptian pyramids). Unfortunately they don’t seem to have had a written language and had disappeared before the arrival of the Spanish so little is known about them outside of their age based on carbon dating – supported by lots of speculation about their way of life and the role of these statues.

We enjoyed a nice lunch, although I wasn’t able to duck and weave out of Lilia’s lecture about my occasional holiday smoking habits! My excuse of “tres mas semanas” was being met with “no, nada!” Funny.

We visited another burial site, Alto de las Piedras, before finishing with a visit to two lovely waterfalls – Salto de Bordones and Salto de Mortiño.

It had been a big day with a few uphill walks so we were both pretty tired. The next day I used the morning to explore the areas of El Tablón, La Chiquira, El Pelota and El Purutal on horseback with a guide. Thankfully there was a Spanish speaking German woman, who’d been doing a teaching internship in Bogotá, doing the ride with me so I got the necessary info from the guide. Although the conflicting info I was hearing among the guides made me wary of relying on anything said.

I made my way back to our accommodation to enjoy the delicious frijoles Lilia had made for our lunch and then we headed to the main archeological park where we wandered through the museum and three of the burial sites and the Fuente de Lavapatas, an area of rocks in a stream that had been carved out to form statues, ducts and terraced pools. It was decaying rapidly so it is getting difficult to make out some of the statues. It’s believed this area was used for spiritual purposes with the people having some aquatic deities.

Understandably, Lilia was a little tired by the time we’d finished this area so I ordered her a cup of tea in the cafe and promised I’d be back after a 15 minute visit to the adjoining forest. It was here that more statues were spread throughout San Agustin.

More than five hundred statues have been uncovered in San Agustin but it is believed there are many layers more below the earth with roads and other structures used for housing and rituals. I was really glad I’d made the effort to get here and it seemed Lilia had enjoyed it too.

That evening we shared our wonder at what we’d seen and laughed about the mosquitos that had managed to make their way into our respective drinks … “calcium” we both laughed.

We packed up the next morning for our trip home. I had to laugh when I saw that Lilia had grabbed a bunch of the marijuana that had been growing outside our cabin. I knew enough Spanish now to know she was offering up the old ‘for medicinal purposes’ excuse! Lilia was very into healthy eating and natural remedies so I was intrigued how this one would be used. Maybe it would help with the two wasp stings I’d acquired in San Agustin!

Camilla kindly picked us up at some random stop Lilia had chosen and we headed back to Omaira’s. The next day Lilia and I were treated to a lovely lunch at Liliana and Engenio’s place. Liliana had gone to a great deal of trouble to serve a vego meal (a big deal for this devoted carnivorous couple). We enjoyed a few beers and some great salsa music.

We headed home while a huge storm rolled into Cali stopping by a lookout in El Penon just in time! I was then treated to a huge feed of waffles at Crepesywaffles with Vally, her stepsister Adriana and her dad Luis. Another lovely day before my adventure to Panama!

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Road trippin’ con mi Amiga!

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No surprise that it stormed soon after.

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The changing landscape of Colombia- Cauca department.

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Kids flying their home-made kites high above Cali.

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Popayan

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The grande Popayan theatre

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Our lovely cabin at Casa Nelly

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Rio Magdelena

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Rio Magdalena El Strecho

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Burial sites in Bando museum

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Beeped our way through a funeral … awkward!

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Lilia and her amigos at Alto de Los Idolos

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The carving of a crocodile was a real mystery as there aren’t any within any a reasonable distance – suggesting communication between multiple tribes

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Alto de Las Piedras

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Salto de Bordones

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No easy feat turning in these towns … impressed!

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Salto de Mortiño

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El Tablón 

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La Chaquira – possibly a former church of the tribe?

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La Pelota

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El Purutal – had still retained some colour (obtained from the sap of trees)

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Heading home with a sore bum after four hours in the saddle 

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San Agustin Parque Archueologico

 

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Rana – frog

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Fuente de Lavapatas 

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More statues scattered in the forest

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Lilia drying out her medicinal herbs!!!

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A fun lunch with Liliana, Engenio and Lilia

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Catching a glimpse of the impending storm with Omaira, Lilia and Camilla

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Makes perfect sense – the beer next to the beer sticks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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La Aussie Gringa en Colombia – party time!

I arrived home to give my last English classes. The kids were very cute giving me hugs with sad faces. Their numbers had dwindled over the months with the girls staying the keenest, which I was really pleased about. My adult class had progressed really well and they were insistent on knowing when I would be back!  It had been a real pleasure to give these classes.

The next day was Paula’s birthday. She didn’t want to make it a big deal in town, preferring to host a site party for the final day of work instead so we trundled off to Las Palmas, cake and French champagne in hand for a dinner with Nelson and Alejandra who had also had recent birthdays. They’d decorated the table and opened a bottle of rosé for the occasion, which was really cute.

Site party day – it was a really fun day. Paula had hired Piñeco to make sancocho, the typical Colombian soup loaded with chicken, berg, potatoes, plantain and yuca (basically meat, water and carbs!), and Paula had put on a heap of drinks. People from town wandered in throughout the day and the grande pot slowly emptied.

I headed home as the sun went down having forgotten to wear repellent and needing to pack for my next journey – road tripping with Lilia and a trip to Panama. I ma aged to catch up with Paula and a few of the crew later at Cafe Tertulia (having thankfully walked past on my way back out of town to the block) they’d ended up there after the rain had come early in the evening.

Mario, who I’d only met that day and who was rather drunk, had decided throughout the day that he was in love with me …. his maddening persistence eventually drove Paula and I home.

The next morning it was time for Lilia and I to farewell Paula as we jumped on the bus to get to Cali. Paula was leaving later on the Wednesday with a few loose ends to sort out before her departure. Safe travels my good friend, it’s been amazing – see you back in Australia!

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The barn doors ready to go onto the track

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Sliding timber windows are in!

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Final touches to have a functioning bathroom 

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The back wall sealed for protection from water

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The birthday girl’s party table at Las Palmas

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Team Paula y Lilia collecting guavas

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Un poco torta con su crema?

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Finishing the night at Cafe Tertulia

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Will miss the Tamesis fruit stalls with their giant aguacate!

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Piñeco gets the fire ready for the sancocho 

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Waiting for the veggies 

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Jaime and his novia!

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Mario and his grande yuca!

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Christening the bar!

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Jaime (now Jimmy) takes over after Mario cuts his finger. More hygienic?!?!

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Ready!

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A happy Tato

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Enjoying an ale with Humberto’s (now Albert) partner

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Georgeous Sarita (Jimmy’s sister)

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Jimmy and Israel

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Shown up by Jimmy’s mum in her party dress!

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Just about done and dusted

 

 

 

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La Aussie Gringa en Colombia – getting to the point of it!

Off I went on my trip to La Guajira Peninsula. I thought I’d opt for the AUD$8 option of the bus to the airport rather than the $40 option. A bit of a mistake as I cut it a bit fine because the bus took an hour and a half as opposed to the 45 minute option in a taxi but thankfully I got there on time!

I was quickly reminded of the nature of the sultry Caribbean coast when I arrived into Santa Marta. Hot, hot, hot!

I found my way to the collectivo stop for Minca after many stops for directions to confirm I was understanding their directions correctly. I was lucky enough to sit next to Josh, from the west coast of USA, who shared his stories of the sharman rituals he’d undertaken. They had obviously also told him it was a sin to wash his body or clothes … very smelly; but a great story teller for such a young age!

I found my way up to Casa Loma and discovered on arrival that a ‘loma’ is a hill, which explained the challenging walk to it!

I bumped into Josh again in the Minca mercado and he gave me some tips on what to see and do.

I opted to visit Pozo Azul. It was quite serene with very few tourists and cool water to overcome the last hour of uphill walking! I stopped at a little shop en-route back to the hostel to enjoy a smoothie and some tea cake…I declined the hash cookie that had been left for me!!!

That night was spent chatting with a range of tourists. A few from France, Germany, England, Uruguay, The Netherlands and an assortment of other countries. Great that so many had or were planning a trip to Australia; one couple had already hitchhiked a couple of years ago between Brisbane and Port Douglas woofing along the way. Was nice to chat with a young German woman who’d had an internship with the CSIRO while she lived in West End! Small world!

Next day it was off to Riohacha via Santa Marta for the bus. I didn’t have a clue where to get out of the collectivo to get the public bus to the terminal but as luck would have it one of the young women in my collectivo piped up and said (at least that’s how it sounded to me) that she was going there also so would help me get there. Thank goodness she did as the public bus stop to it was not marked at all and the terminal was hidden behind an unmarked fence! She then found the bus I needed and ensured I had my ticket before she found her bus. A constant story of the helpfulness of Colombians.

I arrived at Riohacha passing towns with plenty of the Sierra Nevada natives with their white garb – I remember trying to catch photos of them in 2013. Still as difficult!

After an afternoon chilling by the water with a few beers and a shoulder and foot massage I hit the sack for the early morning departure to La Guajira Peninsular – this was what I had made the journey for.

I’d heard the peninsula was quite dry but that hadn’t prepare me for what I saw over the following three days. Our first stop was the salt production area along the coast before heading into Uribia to fill the 4WD and pick up some bags of water for the people living on the peninsula (a tip I’d received from the hostel owner). We had a lovely group (Maryline from France, Francois from Belgium, Sandra from Poland/Scotland and Juliette and Laurent from Switzerland).

We then went on into Wayuu territory, which reminded me a lot of Tanzania and Kenya with the contrast that this place was surrounded by water. It was quite a surprise to encounter the Wayuu people holding ropes along the road to ask for something … enter the purpose of the water bags! Although our guide discouraged us passing them over yet as he said the more northern area was in more desperate need being so far from a city.

A stop in Cabo de la Vela showed us the salt production area and the spot where all the keen kitesurfers head for the winds off the coast.

It was then on further up the peninsula for a couple of beach spots and a lovely sunset. Not many visitors to this part of the world – about 10 4WD tours enter the peninsula a day. Needless to say it was a quiet night. So after a bucket shower it was off to bed in a hammock with the sound of the waves lapping the beach.

I awoke having been attacked by sandflies ….. of course! No repellant was going to keep these babies at bay!

Today we were heading to the upper La Guajira. We drove for hours across sandy desert. I must admit I wasn’t feeling great about being out there without a convoy of cars given how few take the paths. We went through a couple of sand storms whereby our driver Rubén couldn’t see in front of him ….but he just kept going rather than stop in the soft sand. We finally reached Taracoa Dunas where some of our crew took a dip. It was super windy on the high dunes so wasn’t really enticing me to take the walk up from the water getting crumbed in sand along the way!

Our final stop before lunch was Punta Gallinas. This was the northern most tip of South America. A very different look to the frosty town of Ushaia!

After lunch we caught a boat to a flock of flamingos before settling on a beach to watch another beautiful sunset.

I decided to take advantage of the lobster on offer for dinner. It was such a contrast, poverty all around us and then here I was with the luxury of lobster! We also tried the cactus fruit that we’d bought off one of the women along our route.

The night’s shower was not quite as refreshing as the night before – nothing pleasant about showering in salty water!  I couldn’t face a hammock and sandflies again so took the option of paying for a bed in a ‘room’ … but alas that didn’t stop the insects finding me!

Our last day back entailed taking a boat to meet our driver who’d driven the car a couple of hours to the beach spot to reduce the travel time back to Riohacha.

I had really enjoyed the experience of visiting La Guajira but I was feeling really relieved they’d only had the three day tour available for my dates rather than the four that I’d wanted. The conditions had been tough for this insect sensitive traveller!

I spent my last night in Riohacha chatting with 23 year old brainiac Ferry, a physicist from Germany, who’s currently working on research associated with neurologic responses through artificial intelligence. I was shocked by some of the things he told me had been discovered in recent years!  Look out world – things are about to get heavy!

My last night of the little trip was spent in Rodadero, a pueblito of Santa Marta. I shouted myself to a massage before taking in the sunset.

On arrival into Medellin I asked a couple of girls at the airport if they were interested in sharing a taxi into the city. Funnily enough they turned out to be teachers from Melbourne.  They were heading to Costa Rica and Cuba do I offered to send them on my travel tips.

The windy trip back to Palermo was quite funny. One of the guys from Palermo had jumped on part way along and we’d said the usual greetings. We stopped in La Pintada for a toilet and food break. We were about to take off when I asked the driver to stop because my mate from Palermo wasn’t on and his bags were still on the seat. Once he was back on board we started to take off and then an old guy who was sitting on the opposite side to me piped up and asked the driver to stop pointing at the spot I’d been sitting in earlier but had to move from when new passengers took my spot. I quickly realised he was expressing concern about my absence and let him and the driver know I was still on board … gorgeous Colombians!

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Enjoying Riohacha!

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Cooling down in the chilly but very refreshing Pozo Azul in Minca

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Minca from the ‘loma’

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Heading into the lower La Guajira

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Salt production in La Guajira

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Hitting middle La Guajira

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The kitesurfers taking advantage of the windy conditions 

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A tad windy!

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Home for the night in Cabo de la Vela

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Only goat hearder seen in three days

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Kids letting us pass after we’d handed over the water and bread rolls 

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Sand storm moving in

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Dunas Taracoa

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Punta Gallinas

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Flamingos in the upper La Guajira

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Feeling a little self-indulgent given the poverty around me!

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Rubén awaiting our arrival for the trip back to Riohacha

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The butcher shop in Uribia – Rubén picked some up some goat for one of his Wayuu wives and their kids.  Dropped it off on our way back to Riohacha!

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Bussing it back down to Santa Marta

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Playa at Rodadero

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Come 6pm and the police 4WD moves along the beach instructing everyone to leave the beach!

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Just in case anyone is thinking of taging the card for his/her coffee table!

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The trip back to Palermo always gives me a laugh – push bike riders hitching a pull from this truck!

 

 

 

 

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La Aussie gringa en Colombia – flower power!

Off to Medellin for the Feria de Flores. For those old enough, think a combination of Warana and the Ekka! Yep, even timed with the Ekka! I had a chuckle as my cab passed a guy on a bicycle with a washing machine on the front. Where there’s a will …..
I had a few items on my wishlist for this very popular city festival so first stop was the parade of the autos Antigua. Wouldn’t quite meet the technical definition of antique in car restoration language but it was certainly a great spectacle. Would have been just a usual club run for you dad! The truck display was well supported by the locals … .Kenworths only I’m afraid Pete!

I’ve said before that there aren’t many English speakers in Colombia (other than tourists). I was slowly encroaching on my neighbour’s umbrella – hot day – when he happened to ask in perfect English “where are you from, I can’t pick your accent”. He was an English teacher in Medellin! I took full advantage of the situation drilling him for info on the festival.

After the parade I headed to the Carnival Rio Ciudad. I got my fill on festival food and then wandered home to my BnB accom in Medellin centro; this was a great experience as I was staying away from the very touristy area of El Poblado.

The next morning I ventured off to the orchard exhibition in the botanical gardens. The displays were nothing short of spectacular. I had never seen so many varieties of orchards. I happened to start chatting with a couple from Panama, Mireja and Dennis, who I kept bumping into for the rest of the day, even at events in other locations. I’d agreed to go and visit them in Panama since I was visiting their town – they operated an accommodation lodge in El Valle. I was invited to stay but declined as I had already booked my accommodation there.

From the gardens I moved onto the main parade of the festival – the Desfiles de Silleteros. These proud paisas from Santa Elena decorate big stands and then display them through a parade.

All of the tickets for the VIP area had been sold out weeks before and I was told viewing the parade was near impossible unless you got there six hours before it starts. I thought I’d wing it anyway. I was arriving at the time the parade was scheduled to start (I figured this is Colombia so a start time has limited meaning) and managed to nab a fence position near the start. It was fabulous watching the spectacle but I looked on in horror as the scouts, who were there to help lift the arrangements, managed to tip a poor guy’s flowers out of his arrangement. Thankfully he got them all back in but not quite to the original beauty of his original work. I was so glad to see him hold his head up high and walk on – by this stage I was crying in empathy and so were others around me!

Paula had come to Medellin for the day to buy some stuff for the project so we caught up for a few rons in a lovely park bar in Medellin that night. The heavens opening up was our sign it was time to head to our respective accomodation. I’d opted for a taxi given it was close to midnight. The driver was so sweet, refusing to drop me off nearby when we missed my street. He then sat in his taxi until I was safely inside the house.

With the festival now at a close I took a bus to Canon del Rio Claro. This was a beautiful nature reserve along a marble bedded river. The birds were prolific and the water was gorgeous, although you had to hold onto the ropes across the river lest you’d get washed down over the rapids.

I loved the accom type I had selected – a room in a lodge perched high above the river that was open on two sides so you could enjoy the views of the trees, river and listen to the birdlife. Although I must admit I wasn’t so keen on the praying mantis that decided to hang out on my mosquito net!

Despite having visited many caves in my time, I decided to take their 3 hour tour that involved a hike through the mountain jungle, river crossings and the cave hike. I had no idea what I was in for – in the cave we had to wade through water waist deep, slide down natural rock formations to land in out of sight pools, jump into pools that couldn’t be slid into and swim across areas too deep to reach while the colony of bat like birds screeched overhead … needless to say it was a hoot!

With the caving adventure out of the way I spent the next two days just chilling on the river’s edge, dipping in to freshen up and reading my book. A beautiful place that was hard to leave!

I arrived back to Palermo with Lilia telling me how much she’d missed me (lucky I knew what ‘falta’ meant or could have been quite embarrassing) … so, so sweet!

I visited the project to do the update and then the rest of the week was cruisy just drawing locals, reading, giving my English classes and chatting with Johanna (Paula’s niece who paid an unexpected visit from Cali)..and planning an adventure to the indigenous occupied northern most point of South America – La Guajira!

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Chilling on the window sill of Club Lilia!

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In the barrios – near Parque del Boston

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Parada de auto Antigua

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Who you gonna’ call?

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I doubt he had any idea what his hat says!

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Check out the wild instruments of these musicians at the Carnival del Rio Ciudad

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En-route to line up for the Desfiles de Silleteros

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Mariposa going incognito

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Orchard pavilion at the botanical gardens

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Some real pulled pork!

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Scouts trying to make amends for their ‘help’ in emptying his basket of flowers!

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Getting our ‘cool’ on in El Poblado!

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How quickly the experience of last week’s ron session is forgotten!

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En route to Rio Claro

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The lovely rooms at Rio Claro Reserva  Natural

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Ah, ah-ah-ah!  Ok, not quite Jane!

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The march of the ants – can be up to a km long!

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…and that’s the cave that will lead us back to the river!

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Thought it looked like a character out of Alice in Wonderland!

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A bit of monkeying around on my way to dinner!

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The preschoolers come back for another class 

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La Aussie Gringa in Colombia – fiesta con familia!

After farewelling Cliffy in Medellin I retuned home to Palermo and to lots of news.

Paula had come off her motorbike – almost in front of the house but had luckily escaped with only bad grazing to her arm and leg. Could have been much worse given she was wearing only shorts and a tshirt and no helmet. The bike came out unscathed save similar superficial wounds, that sadly would not heal naturally.

Zika had made its way to Palermo, with poor Valaria (Alejandra and Nelson’s daughter) being the first to contract it. Thankfully she recovered quickly. We later got news that the Health Department was coming to town for some community awareness raising.

The other news was that Paula had decided to go back to Australia at the end of August rather than the planned October. The house wouldn’t be finished but she planned to get as much done before she left and to finish it on her return in December. So, that all left me thinking about how I should spend the last month of my holiday. I still hadn’t got across to Cali (the third largest Colombian city, where most of Paula’s immediate family lived) or San Agustin (Colombia’s most important archeological site) and the beaches and jungles of Panama were still on my radar so it looked liked they were now pencilled in for September!

Life was pretty cruisy in the week I returned. Paula’s brother, Juan, had extended his visit from Israel and Liliana and Eugenio were across from Cali while Juan was in town. It was a full house again with lots of gatherings here and there.

One particularly memorable day started with a walk to Juan Saul and Marta’s finca, Potosi, where we lunched and swam in the pool. I was doing my best to stay off the drinks midweek until I lost some of the weight I’d gained over the four months so I just sat back enjoying the view and aguardiente fueled chatter while I sketched. We were all shuffled back to town for the final of a three game soccer series between Colombia and Ecuador. The mayor of Medellin (it was the Medellin team representing Colombia – Nacionale) had announced that if Colombia won the game that the next day would be a public holiday for Medellin! Nolberto at Cafe La Tertulia had set up a big screen and projector for the community to gather. I felt rather special when I arrived and a chair was brought over to me. The crowd went pretty wild after Colombia scored first. Ecuador just couldn’t match it so what do you do in Palermo when your team wins? Well, you all jump on your motorbike, in the back of a utes or cram into a car and head off in a procession to Tamesis with horns tooting in answer to each other. After a few victory laps of Tamesis – to the cheers of the green wearing Tamesis supporters – you head back to Palermo. What a funny day – such a passionate bunch of people these Colombians! Love it!

The next day I visited the house to see how things were going. The electrical and plumbing infrastructure was now in, including the septic system, so work was starting on the wall plastering. It was looking great but the piles of gravel on the access road were hindering a bit of progress so we were all wishing the evening rain would stop long enough for the road to dry so the gravel could be spread.

Juan Estevan, Elkin’s son, was back in town and staying up at Las Delicias so Juan Pablo had invited him, Paula and me up to his place for frijoles and ron! Knew the beans were likely to contain meat and I’m not a big rum drinker but it was the weekend so time to cut loose. I didn’t touch the beans and I was wishing the next day I hadn’t touched the rum – first big hangover since leaving Australia. On the encouragement of everyone I ventured back to bed in the hope of a miraculous recovery. It was so lovely and quiet up at Santa Teresa, overlooking Palermo in the distance.

The walk back down in the fresh air obviously did me good as I was back into my sketching and macrame hanger making by the afternoon. Yep, that’s right, old school macrame hangers! Pinterest had been giving me lots of great ideas for them.

The first English classes back after my break were a bit of a disaster. None of the kids showed up, likely caused by my late notices and the cancellation of the class days before because the library closed with no notice! But they were hanging around while I did the adult class so hopefully a few will remember the dates and times I gave them for the next week’s class. The time hadn’t been wasted as while I was waiting I had my macrame out and two of the town’s intellectually disabled adults took great interest in what I was doing so it turned into a craft lesson for Juliana and Viviana. It was lots of fun for me and them!

The running shoes were getting a work out again. I was now doing a daily hike up to Las Delicias having realised the former role it had played in my weight management here! That and the midweek alcohol abstinence had to make a difference!! I was also back at the gym doing yoga sessions so overall feeling pretty well in myself.

The Zika thing didn’t really concern me but I must admit I was a little concerned when ghostbusters came to town! The fumigation truck in Cuba had scared me but the fumigation guy going house to house in Palermo concerned me more. I was quite surprised by the acceptance by the townspeople to have their place fumigated without any information on what it contained or assurances about its safety. Would certainly have a different response in Australia!

My classes in the library were also disrupted as they came to fumigate just at the time the class for the little kids was to begin but thankfully one of the mums had offered to get access to the office above Cafe Tertulia. When she came back with the key she bought about 10 little 4 and 5 year old kids with her. They were so cute in their attempts to learn, trying to repeat everything I said. It felt like the classes were back into the swing of things, which was a relief given my little trip away in the next few days had been centred around returning in time for the classes next week.

Tomorrow I was planning on attempting a bit of a run out of town and then on Saturday I was off to Medellin for a bit of the Feria de Flores and then a couple of days chilling in Rio Claro; it’s a tough life!

 

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A roof on the lower level!

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Septic system ready to go!

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Juan doing a bit of trout fishing!

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Enjoying the vista with the family

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A visit to the lovely finca, Potosi, owned by Juan Saul and Marta

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Marta and one of her beloved Great Danes

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Enjoyjng the chatter from my hammock

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Juan Saul speeding up the effects of the aguadiente for Nelson!

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Cafe Tertulia hosts the community viewing of the Ecuador vs Colombia soccer series

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The gravel piles on the access road finally graded

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Catching a ride to Juan Pablo and Ruvy’s with Popo and Juan Estevan

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The traditional campo kitchen, rather than interior kitchen, was used for the big cook up of frijoles.

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Checking out Juan Pablo’s work shed while admiring the great antique doors

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Paula reunited with her bike.

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Paula celebrating the two weeks healing of her injuries

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The cluster of family homes at Santa Teresa

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Enjoying the Ron (rum) with Paula, Santiago, Juan Pablo and Juan Estevan

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Too many!!!

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Loving Juan Pablo’s alpaca poncho from Ecuador

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Some of the familia from Santa Teresa

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When the 4WD is full there’s always space on the roof!

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Lilia showing me how it’s done without a foot treadle

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Ghostbusters arrive to treat Zika!

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La Aussie Gringa in Colombia – the hills are alive

Just when I thought the kids had finished partying I was awoken at 3:30am by their boom box blasting out over the valley. It seemed they’d all gotten up for the sunrise albeit a little earlier than necessary. I suspected their drugs of choice had either just taken effect or worn off. Either way the earplugs just weren’t cutting it so it seemed I’d gotten my sign it was time to leave Las Delicias. I packed up my room and headed down to Lilia’s place. You can imagine I jumped a few times during the dark walk. You think an iPhone torch puts out a bit of light …but it doesn’t! I arrived too early to knock so sat out the front until I could hear movement – it was a good thing Paula is an early riser!

After a sleep at Lilia’s Paula let me know we were being picked up by Mario that afternoon. Mario had popped by Lilia’s on Sunday, while I was at the spa, asking to speak with the English teacher! …hope I’m not breaking any laws running these classes …I figure they’re free and I haven’t advertised I’m actually a qualified teacher.

Turns out Mario was a guy that Tato (the artist) had told us about ages ago. He’d lived in Sydney for 21 years after doing his economics degree there. He was a colourful character having been good friends with Margaret Olley and other Sydney artists. He’d returned to Colombia to build an ecolodge on some land that was previously his mother’s. He was trying to get English lessons for one of his workers and once he met Paula was keen to share ideas on the projects they both had underway.

We visited his property, La Oculta, that afternoon. It was absolutely magical. The gardens were delightful with their well established gingers and haleconias. There were hummingbirds and butterflies fluttering everywhere. The accommodation was hidden on the top of the hills of the property. The views down to the Rio Cauca were fantastic. We farewelled each other with the promise to catch up again sometime soon.

We finished the public holiday with a look at a three bedroom apartment that Paula thought her sister, Omaira, might be interested in. It was quite nice and seemed pretty good value to me at 115,000 pesos ($57k).

I returned to Las Delicias to pick up some more of my stuff and to give Valentina, Andrea and Cruz Elena their English lesson. As suspected the kids had left a mess so Cruz Elena was in the process of cleaning it all up.

I communicated to Alsides and Cruz Elena as best as I could that I was going to live down at Lilia’s but that I’d see them when I got back from my trip to Cuba and Costa Rica. I couldn’t understand what they said in response but I got the sad faces and the tapping of their hand on their hearts. They had been so good to me, helping when I had trouble with stuff in the house and just keeping me company. I would certainly miss them.

I’d left a bag and my mozzie net up at Las Delicuas for Paula. Popo picked me up in morning and I shifted some of my stuff down to Lilia’s.

We had apparently had an earth tremor that morning but none of us had felt it.

It was then back to the job on Tuesday. It’s certainly a fluid project. Paula had been concerned about the structural integrity if the walls go the planned 4 metres so had decided to keep it at one level. That will mess a two bed, three bathroom, kitchen and living room house. The plan would be to extend the volume of rooms through the construction of individual earthbag bungalows. This will obviously make the main house a lot cheaper and will reduce the build time. I could get to see the finished product yet!

Paula had employed one of the guys we’d been drinking with on Friday night to replace Negro. He was only a wiry young guy but he was very strong – reminded me of my dad and brothers.

Poor Lilia had to deal with the fallout of my English classes. I had a few kids turn up at Lilia’s house that night asking for me to help translate a song. They left happy – I just hope they didn’t make it a habit.

I awake to Lilia mimicking something that looks like her falling out of bed. The new apartment had a real mould problem with Lilia’s room being so bad she wouldn’t sleep in it instead choosing to sleep with Paula in a single bed. I was sure she was saying Paula pushed her out, which was later all cleared up when Paula and Lilia shared what actually happened – all very innocent. Language barriers hey!!!

Now that I was living in town I’d finally gotten an opportunity to start to use the gimnasio – I was doing yoga sessions; it wasn’t about to shift the extra holiday tummy but it would certainly be great to get stretchy again.

First trip to the gimnasio for a bit of yoga. Wasn’t about to lose the holiday tummy overnight but determined to stretch out the body.

A former Palermo teacher and now friend of Paula’s, William, came to town on Friday night. We joined him for drinks at Jaime’s park bar. It was a nice night although I was a bit anti-social trying to get my blogs up to date.

Late in the night I headed up to the library as I could get strong wifi at the front doors. When I got there I found it open. Turned out the main hall doubles as a movie theatre so all the older kids were watching a movie. I was sitting outside when all of a sudden I heard a a mass scream and then the lights came on ….scary movie! It took a while for all the kids to settle down before the lights went out and the movie went back on. Hilarious!

We’d decided to head off to Jardin for a night. I was really keen to check out some sewer cabins I’d seen on line. Jardin is supposed to be one of the prettiest towns in the Antioquia department. We’d decided to go part of the way on motorbikes for a bit of fun so Paula found some moto taxis and we set off. It was a bumpy ride on some dirt roads with plenty of corners. The views were lovely following the Rio Cauca and passing a varying terrain – even a eucalyptus plantation forest.

One of the corners we stopped at we had a guy walk up to us with the insistence that I looked just like Senior Gonzale’s daughter (whoever he was). He kept stating it with that the locals sitting around laughed. We figured he was a local with a few mental problems – probably says the same thing to every woman that stops at the corner!

The next corner we stop at the guy checks the wobble of his wheels and then we’re off again – wasn’t sure if it was a precaution or in response to a perceived problem. I decided to form the view it was the former!

I was glad for a stop at the pretty town of Hispsania as an hour and a half in the saddle was tough on the legs and butt!

As soon as we get off Paula gives a big hug to a guy who looks remarkably like her cousin who’s apartment we’d looked at recently. I decide it has to be his brother … and I was right. There was even a pretty balcony above us that had the same lovely wooden frames hanging plants

I felt safe enough on the bikes. They were pretty small only managing a top speed of 90 kms and that was downhill but when the phone came out for some text messaging it was a different story!

We’d passed a few landslides but they weren’t big enough to affect the traffic lanes. It really was beautiful scenery.

The guys dropped us off in a town called Andes and directed us to the road that the buses take. We decided to have lunch in the town before heading off to Jardin – of course the plaza was on the top of a hill and the guys had dropped us off at the bottom! We found a nice spot on a balcony overlooking the plaza – there was an anti-family violence educational campaign going on in the plaza so lots to look at.

We get down to where the buses were supposed to leave but of course it’s further up the road. We jump in a taxi and it starts raining. We decide to go the rest of the way in a taxi. We were glad as the road was very hilly and full of bends.

After checking out our lovely accom, Charco Corazon, we returned to the town. It was a lovely town but honestly I thought the little town of Hispania was more beautiful with its park full of gardens and the colourful homes of Tamesis were just as nice. What was great though was the night food market and the buzz of this town that was watched over by a really unique church with aluminium spires and it’s pretty blue ceilings and gold plated column carvings.

We were just about to place our orders when we hear a roar and all the cooks go running off to the bars. Turned out Costa Rica were playing Colombia in the America’s Cup which may have explained the buzz of the town.

We decided to have a final drink in a bar. Well the final beer turned into three. We’d wandered into a bar when a local guy was out with his kids and they were all so excited to be together that they kept sending beers over to our table despite our request to the bar staff not to send any more. One of the daughters finally joined our table and with that Paula has acharvabd we extricated ourselves.

The stay at Charco Corazon had been great. We found out the pipes were actually just formed concrete rather than actual sewer pipes, which was a bit disappointing as we thought they could be a good solution at Paula’s but they were novel none the least.

The property was just flowing with the water fed from a waterfall across the road. Paula was really happy to meet the owner of the property, Mario, who was also the builder. He showed us through the property including the places up the road that he was building for his daughters. He was also keen to with with Paula on her project – the offers were coming from everywhere!

We caught the La Garrucha cable car for a coffee while enjoying the view of Jardin before jumping on our bus, which would take us to the spot we were meeting some more moto taxis.

We were a little concerned when the driver introduced himself and then invited everyone to let him know if they felt sick so he could stop the bus – more hills and bends to come! I was glad to get off. Paula had drifted off and we passed a corner I thought we’d turned from on our way to Jardin. After a minute I woke Paula to let her know in case that was related to our meeting spot – Puenta Iglesia. Paula quizzed the other passengers about where we were and yep we’d missed our meeting spot. We jumped off the bus and thankfully we hadn’t gone too far so the guys on the bikes came and picked us up.

These bikes were a little bigger so we had a bit more speed but not quick enough to get me off the bumpy roads. I was asked if I wanted rapido or despacio; I said moderato so rapido it was! I felt pretty unwell when we got home mainly caused by the bus trip but contributed to by the helmet being too big and falling down over my eyes constantly. It had been a weekend full of lots of fun and laughs.

I spent Monday preparing the kids’ lessons – Paula had agreed to deliver them for a couple of weeks while I’m away. It was then off to the block for my last day of work before my trip.

The classes on Tuesday were mixed. More adults but only a few kids in each class – I had realised it was school holidays…doh!

Paula, Lilia and I headed up to Las Palmas for a meal together before my early morning departure from Palermo. They had opened just for us as they’re normally closed Tuesday night. It was great to see the progress being made for their accommodation.

I was off to Medellin on the 5am collectivo taxi – only three passengers which made for a rough trip in the back seat. It was actually better to have three people squeezed into the back seat to minimise the falling from one side to another.

I was looking forward to meeting Cliffy at the airport (or Sifilly as Alejandra pronounced it) that night but before I did I was off to a hairdresser. I’d decided that my darker hair on arrival to Colombia had made no difference in me standing out so figured I might as well go for a little more colour… Hopefully Cliffy will recognise me!

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A visit to Mario’s lovely La Oculta ecolodge 

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Noblerto wearing his favourite sombrero while trimming the gardens of his Cafe

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Jaime getting high on the job!

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Alejandro’s joined the work team 

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The stairs are causing some grief meanwhile the guys get a rock drain built

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The rock pile cleared from near the house 

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Paula with her cousins Alejandra, Tato, his wife Angela and Elkin

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The road needs new paving so some of the locals pitch in to get it done while the others watch on!

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Satch taking a break from her pups

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No RSA laws prohibiting entry to the bar area here!

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Maybe the winning lottery ticket?

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Off to Jardin – don’t worry mum, I’m picking up the helmet at the corner!

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Pretty Hispania

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Lunch overlooking the high Andes plaza

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Getting the anti-domestic violence message across in onesies!

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…and back down we go!

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Interior of the Jardin church 

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The Jardin night food stalls 

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Where to start when you get no eating implements?

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Jardin church

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The bars are packed for the America’s Cup match between Colombia and Costa Rica

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Senor and his family out for the night and so happy they keep sending beers to our table!

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The lovely Charvo Corazon accommodation

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The faux sewer cabins

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Paula and Mario exchanging ideas

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A Fordson?

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Crazy Colombian braving the cold water 

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Waiting for the arrival of the La Garrucha cable car

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The aluminium spires of the Jardin church

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The variety of transport options never cease to amaze me!

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Las Palmas sending me off with a great feed!

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Getting my laughs on my way back to Medellin – old mate, his amigo and his amigo’s push bike!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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