So, you find yourself in a place where no one within two and a half hour’s drive speaks English (except your travel friend – I am truly not exaggerating – Paula had told me this before I came and I really thought she was exaggerating). You’re about to embark on a construction development. What do you do? Here’s a snap shot of what I’ve done so far!
Day one in Palermo:
A detoured trip to Palermo means a 3.5 hour journey in darkness around windy hilly roads. I meet Paula’s lovely mum late in the evening and do a lot of smiling and nodding. Paula’s mum instructs Paula (in Spanish of course) that Paula should only speak to me in Spanish …to help me learn. Great idea in theory not so great for my sanity. Thankfully Paula decides to defy her mum on this one!
A wander around town lets me appreciate that people do it tough in this village. There is not one ounce of resemblance to the tourist centric locations of Medellin. We head up to a lovely rustic home on the hill, which belongs to one of Paula’s cousins, and eat in her adjoining restaurant (fish bred in the terraced ponds).
We pick up a few provisions in town, which includes some less than fresh fruit and veggies, and pay way too much for the essential ride in a 4×4 up to the house on the hill that will be home for the next six months (realise it’s going to be a taxing daily hike if we’re not up to paying for the ride until we have a car).
Feelings: anxiety about the language and how we will possibly have the skills to drive up and down to the house; grateful that Paula’s cousin has given us the use of the house; excitement that something new lays ahead; determination that I will be moderate in balancing my fears with reality.
I wake to the ducks going off in the pond outside our room. It’s been a sleepless night with the bugs crawling over me all night – I come to realise the value of my investment and carriage of the mosquito net! Day two saw it hitched!
The views from the house down to the village are just lovely. We don our sports shoes and make our way down the road coming to Paula’s block of land halfway. It’s more challenging than I had anticipated with no real level areas and many boulders jutting from the ground. My first impression is that it would be great for a timber multilevel building but maybe not do ideal for the solid construction Paula has planned. Timber’s not going to work as Paula’s told me termites are a problem in the area.
I question some of the processes for building and Paula conveys frustration that I’m looking for problems. Fair call. I’m a risk manager – I like to know what I’m embarking on and where the problems might lie so I can eliminate them in advance or at least have solutions in the ready if they eventuate. The first real test for the coming together of two very different cultures.
We need food provisions so we get a lift with Paula’s cousin to his home town of Tamesis. It’s the nearest largest town to Palermo. It’s Sunday and so is bustling with people visiting the fruit and vegetable market in the plaza at the foot of the church (your typical colonial town layout).
We visit the tourist centre (Spanish speaking only of course) to find out about tours to the historic petroglyphs in the area before grabbing a bite to eat. While Paula’s outside chatting with someone she knows an old guy at the restaurant stops me to ask me some questions. Very well dressed and clear English (apparently learnt in New York). I’m ecstatic to converse in English but get a little nervous as to his motivations once he continues wit his questions…this is Colombia after all with some pretty colourful community members…so politely farewell el senor.
The shop is easy – not too different to home if you understand a little Spanish but fruit and veggies still not great. Thankfully the markets in the plaza come through with the goods.
We take the big walk up the hill with our goods. It takes 25 mins and my face is as red as a beetroot when I get there. I take advantage of my hot state and jump into the cold shower. There were no gasps this time!
Head to bed after a couple of wines with hopes for a good sleep now that the mozzie net is rigged!
I lay awake and so decide to email Cath and Karyn to share the thoughts buzzing around in my head. Not long after I hear a rustle in the room next to my bed and my heart races that someone’s in there. I ask Paula if it’s her and in her dazed sleep she lets me know it’s not her. Next thing Paula sprongs out of bed and says there’s something in her bed. Little bats have been known to live in the main part of the house so we worry there may be a rogue one in our room. After a quick scan with the phone light we discover the culprit – the house kitten has snuck in while the door was open earlier and is now attempting to be incognito under the bed! He’s soon hustled out with a broom.
Feelings: scared that I’ve jumped into this without truly understanding the challenges; apprehension that the estimates and processes I’ve been working off are accurate;
scared that I’ll make the wrong decision about proceeding or not proceeding and either let down Paula, end up with a mess I’ll regret or end up with regret I bailed too soon.
Another crappy sleep so I decide to take advantage of Paula’s cousin’s morning visit to sleep in. I awake to some sage advice from both Cath and Karyn overnight and I’m feeling a lot more calm.
Mid morning and Paula and I have a chat. We share our thoughts, frustrations and fears. We agree that tomorrow we’ll sit down and look at construction options, what could work for a co-invest and what would would be palatable to Paula for a solo investment. We’ll then use the coming days to obtain info on the options (costings, labour availability, etc) so I can make a decision by the weekend. We will have to visit Manizales by Tuesday if I’m to get my Colombian ID for local banking and property investment, etc.
I feel like we’ve made real progress and that there’s less pressure on me to proceed if the numbers don’t add up. If they do I’ll be giving Juan, a solicitor and my former 2013 Airbnb host, a call in Bogota to sort out some legals.
Paula heads down to the village to visit her mum and friends and I stay at the house to chill.
The eight year old daughter of the property manager comes to visit throughout the afternoon. The only part of the conversation I understand is “Letitia….” and then I’m giving the Spanish translation of “how do you say” a serious run for its money! We’ve started swapping English for Spanish for things we can see…amazing how quickly a game of billiards can help you learn your colours!
Feelings: optimism that I’ll make the right decision; happy that Paula sees options for her if I don’t proceed with the investment; excitement at the prospect of helping the project over the coming months even if I’m not an investor.