Meeting other backpackers

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The two last days in Cali after the intensive work on the farm were fantastic! I met with a friend of a friend, went to a reggae concert, arranged my teeth appointment which was a pure disappointment, got to know the old part of Cali San Antonio from inside-out…. and of course had the best time with Mario and Madeleine.

I was going to leave Cali on Tuesday night but was feeling a bit tired and Mario said “Come on, stay a bit longer to play ‘the daughter’ a bit more.” I was debating. “What is your heart telling you?” asked Madeleine? So, I stayed and decided to leave in the morning.

I woke up at 5:30am, had two pieces of integral bread, packed, kissed goodbyes and took a taxi to the terminal. After strolling around I found the best price for the bus and took a front seat next to a Colombian guy. It was tight and uncomfortable so I decided to move to the very back of the bus.

My side of the story: A few minutes later a very very very tall white guy with blond hair and a back pack showed up on the platform. He was taking the same bus. Since he was big and the only seat available for big people was the one next to me, he sat down.

Thank you God, I thought. For the past few days I was getting cold feet going south by myself. The south of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru is where you start feeling a cultural and appearance difference and people look at you as if you were from another planet. I was hoping to meet someone to at least cross the border. And here he was.

“Do you speak English?” I asked. –Yeah yeah, he said.

Then followed the most common and boring question:

-Where are you from? He was from Switzerland.

His side of a story:

I walk to put my backpack to the suitcase compartment, saw another backpack and thought “Oh, there must be a backpacker on this bus!” I walked in, looked around and didn’t see anyone. Then I found the most comfortable spot for my legs on the back and then:

“Do you speak English?”

*****Then we talked for about nine hours. He bought a ticket to Popayan, and was supposed to get off about 4 hours before my final destination.

“It’s my birthday tomorrow, do you want to come?” I asked.

He bought a ticket extension and we were met by Gloria and Juan Ricardo in Pasto. There we spent five days, celebrated my Birthday with a strawberry cake and salsa music, visited Laguna, and took off to Ecuador.

I was crying ton the way to terminal and Gloria was crying saying goodbye. I definitely got very attached to the people and the country here.

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What if I had a farm?

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Being from a big city and always living in apartments with the comfort of public transport and luxury of convenience, I have never thought I would want to experience a farm lifestyle and have a house in the middle of nowhere. What about salsa dancing?

But now I say: what about growing your own food, recycle, use compost, maybe use a solar power, and have a place that self-sustains itself. What about sharing it with others? More and more I think about how little resources we have left on Earth and how much more we can do to live healthier and more productive.

In Colombia, I have been visiting a lot of places where people transformed a piece of land not only into a self-sustainable farm but also into a gastronomic and touristic attraction. Panaca, Penas Blancas and Nirvana are few of the ones I visited that completely inspired me to live outside of the city and work on the land.

Sometimes I dream: What if I had a piece of land and start from nothing a little eco farm? (Living with a great guy would be a cherry on a cake of course hehehe).  Sometimes I dream that little by little would be nice to grow organic fruits and veggies, maybe fish and chickens, and make your own bread and beer. What if you sell the fruits on the market every Saturday and serve fresh organic lunches to people who are passing by on Sundays? That would be one of those farms where people could have a wedding or come and have lunch or dinner in “campestre” style. One of those places that you know about from a friend and tell two more friends after you visit it.

What if?  – And after Colombia I am totally convinced to do it!!!

Working with kids

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In the afternoon, to get a break from the heavy labor, I volunteered to do activities with kids. The minute you tell them you speak a few other languages and lived in other countries, there come the questions:

“How do you say it in….?”

Day One: We hiked about 5km to a Virgin and played there.

Day Two: I made paper flags, colored them and put on the wall. Then, divided the kiddos into teams and started calling the country. They would have to run to the flag and tell me what continent it’s on and what languages people speak there. Then we danced. Ukrainian and Indian dances were a success!

Day Three: We hiked 10km – UP the hill. It was a killer. Good thing is that in a small village everyone gives everyone a lift. We had to hitch-hike back home.

Day Four: “Who wants to be a milliner,” origami and a paper airplane competition. The planes were from different countries with different flags.

I loved every single day!!!

Thoughts

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I am so grateful for the opportunities I have had me so far, for people I have met on the road, all I have learned and was able to teach while travelling.

The whole experience on the farm made me totally changed my life perspective. The conversations with Mario, the owner of the farm who is a credit-mortgage lawyer, about money, finances, credit, Earth, life, illnesses, and nature made me think a lot about what the life is all about and where we are all going to.

Both from Gloria and Mario I learned that loaning money is a sin and it’s written black on white in the Bible. More, bigger, and better is all that most people want in this life. But little we realize that with more we have so much less is left for a better healthier life. Global warming, aging population of the Earth, excessive credit, and fast food – are probably going to kill us all in less than a hundred years….or it’s already killing us slowly. When the electricity gets cut off, the internet crashes, and the gasoline runs out – what’s next? – The water or food deficit?

Maybe then we are going to think about recycling, riding bikes, and growing your own organic corn in the backyard? – Just like Portland people do. Maybe, at that point the people stop thinking just about themselves and start living as a group, a community. Maybe that’s when we look back at our ancestors and remember how they started.

Travelling and living with so many people and learning so much about the cultures, ways of life, thinking methods, and history, I realize that there is not too much new under the sun and history repeats itself. The countries of the world are at the different stage of its history and development but where we will all end up is – the basic beginning.

Cali, Colombia – WOOF

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I want to say it over and over again – I am absolutely in love with Colombia and can’t get enough of it. I got to visit the capital of Salsa – Cali.  Salsa, I love you! I danced so hard that at one point felt something wet on my foot. When I looked down, the tow and the shoe were covered in blood. Someone kicked me so hard that the toenail broke in half in the middle.  Sigh…

In Cali, I stayed with a very nice girl who generously offered me her mattress in a separate room and a bathroom, made eggs in the morning and took me out to the most beautiful ecopark where we ate organic fish and hiked up a pretty hill. I was CouchSurfing. Mom and grandma, no worries.  It was safe. I did the research.

After a weekend with the girl from Cali , I met with a couple that I also met through internet on WOOFF and they took me to a farm. I did a good research about the people and at first they didn’t want to host me but after a nice e-mail from my part they were convinced.

For a week I lived with the family who is in charge of the farm. I would wake up t 7am, get dressed, put a lot of mosquito spray, and would work in the garden. At 9am we had breakfast, at 12pm was the time to shower and 12:30 pm to have lunch. After that, I would get ready and leave with the 10 year old Daniel on a hike to look for other kids who would join us for the afternoon activities.

The family who accepted me to work with them on the farm also invited me to their apartment for a few days. Sometimes I am impressed with people just letting you in into their lives and houses. So here I am , staying with them for a few days and then have to head south.

My Colombian visa expires on the 30th of July and I have to leave the country in two weeks. I am very very very very sad and feel like I have to come back. I don’t know if in any other country I would feel the same way as in Colombia.

A friend asked me if I would marry him so he can go to the US but the question is would I marry him to stay here? Yeah, watch out for those Latinos. All of them suddenly fall in love with you and want to get married.

*** I have to say: people are so pretty that it feels like everyone escaped from a fashion magazine. Yet, I did learn that there are a lot of beauty secrets. The cloth and lingerie that makes your unwanted fat to disappear, butt to stick out, and breast to rise up. Various creams and iodine plastic wraps that make you burn 1cm of fat overnight. And, of course plastic surgeries! For only $1000, you can transfer unwanted fat in the place you want. And the most amazing that almost everyone does it here!  You walk around and wonder: how the heck could this be possible? People are so beautiful! But I have to say not only from the outside but also from the inside.

PHOTOS: CALI, NIRVANA PARK, FARM

Would you live on a farm? – Panaca, Colombia

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Panaca – Must visit!

If the answer is “yes” or “no”, it doesn’t matter. You should still visit Panaca. At first I wasn’t very excited about going and visiting the farm with domestic animals.
When we got there, I completely changed my mind. There was anything you can imagine!
The entrance costs between $45,000 and $65,000, add $28,000 to do the canopy tour and about $15,000 for lunch and coffee and that will get you a complete day with beautiful animals on a beautiful farm.
You can learn how to get your own milk from the cow, feed pigs from a bottle, make panela and all you would like to know about the culture and traditions of the region.
If you get time and money, definitely do the canopy tour as it’s the largest in Colombia and you can see the whole park from upside down.
HOW TO GET HERE: By bus from the house, take a bus to the terminal, then to Qundio plaza and from there to Panaca. Leaves every 30min.
WHEN TO GO: The park opens at 9am and you should get there before it opens as it’s a tight schedule to visit every sight.
More about my Volunteering in Colombia please visit: http://emergingvoicescafetero.blogspot.com/2012/06/first-day-in-armenia.html

After a week of volunteering in Armenia

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PHOTOS: Salento, Colombia

I am getting very confused about my feelings about volunteering. There is so much money and business involved that at the end you don’t know whom you are really helping.

I have been feeling down for the past week. Since it’s a pilot project I am the only one here. It feels like I am going waste time and there is not going to be a continuation of anything.

Also, I haven’t really met people or gone out. Volunteering is volunteering but there should be time for fun. Our house is in the middle of nowhere. You can’t really get out of the house unless you want to pay $12-15 for a taxi. A bus is an option bus it takes about an hour to get downtown.

Gloria has been very nice and sweet taking me places and even went to the best salsa place with me till 2am, but I just can’t ask her to do it all the time.

The beauty of travelling is that YOU can decide whether or not to stay or to go. So, I have decided to move on.

SALENTO: Try the best trucha in Colombia!

Teaching English in Chivor

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With every place in Colombia I visit I fall in love more and more. As it’s said about Colombia, “The only risk is the want to stay longer.” Chivor wasn’t an exception.

For the past two weeks I have been volunteering with Emerging Voices in Bogotá. That involved working with blind kids, helping grandmas and working with homeless people. Teaching English in Chivor was organized by the group Vitaminas who is trying to promote tourism in the Minas of Esmeraldas in Chivor.

The main goal is to teach people English for about $12 a months, 4 days a week, 2 hours a day and give them $6 back if they attend all the classes. What can be better?

“So do you want to come and help teaching with us for a week while we are looking for a permanent volunteer?” – asked me Monica. “Free food and bed, beautiful place?”

“Free food and bed and getting to know a new place with minas and mountains? Lets do it!” I said.

When we arrived to Chivor, we were met by the nicest people who right away asked if we wanted anything to eat, drink, visit, etc. They also called me “profe.” I felt very important and respected.

The first day of classes we had to wake up at 5am, take a cold shower, eat a large plate of delicious soup and leave for High School at 6:45am. There, the director introduced us to two English teachers with whom I spent the rest of the day presenting myself, sharing Ukrainian music, singing anthems in French, Russian, Ukrainian and English, and teaching the kids basic English questions and answers.

In the afternoon I had classes at 2pm and 6pm for adults and a few kids. That was a blast. They loved the dynamics and teaching method of the classes. On the other hand, I loved to see how they were learning. The best thing was a little note written by a 5-year old girl saying “Profe, I love you.” Tears came to my eyes.

Between the classes someone would always ask you to go have coffee or a bandeja paisa, or a pastry, or a chocolate. If you wanted it or not, you were always around the nicest people and food in Chivor.

At the end of the week two nicest women took me to the mines of Esmeraldas. The idea was to walk from the house for the sake of exercise but the nicest miners driving pass us gave us a lift all the way to the final destination. There, almost in every little site we visited where live miners, we had a cup of coffee. I think I had about 10 of them.

On Saturday, before leaving to Bogotá, another nicest neighbor took me on  motorcycle ride to visit the vicinities of Chivor and on a stroll in a ferry. It was fantastic!

What can I say? If you are in Colombia and close to Bogotá, it’s a MUST see place. And if you can volunteer there, it’s even better.

Climbing with blind children

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Have you ever seen a blind person climbing a 20 meter rock-climbing wall?

Before I met these amazing kids, I haven’t. Would you be able to? I can’t even remember the last time I climbed a wall to the top with my eyes wide open.

What can I say? It was amazing. They were about 8-13 year olds. They don’t see but they could feel, smell, trust, and accept. I was fascinated with these little adults whose life is so much different from ours. They have so much passion and persistence. I didn’t see anyone getting frustrated or upset. They were attentive. I envy them.

It was a great experience helping them climbing, walking with them, eating, and talking. You were trying to be around but not too protective. You couldn’t help them with everything, just guide them.

I am going back to the blind institute on Thursday and am about to go to a park with a friend to learn Braille alphabet. Today I learned about a complete different world and different way of living I had no idea about before.

Blind Institute in Bogota: http://www.institutoparaninosciegos.org/

Ahmsa – Volunteering in Colombia

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8am – meeting at the TransMillenio with Sebastian and taking a bus to a little town in the outskirts of Bogotá.

At first it was very unclear what Sebastian was doing and what Ahmsa was all about.

http://www.ahmsa.org/?lang=en

When we got there, he told me to put a volunteering jacket on to be safe. We walked through a dusty dry road into a very poor neighborhood.

The goal for the day was to teach a class about a disaster. The people of the pueblo live at risk. The houses are built on a mountain that is slowly falling down. The main street and most of the houses on the main road are destroyed.

Sebastian started the class. We had about 20 people, including kids. The main points were: Before/During/After the disaster and how to help each other as a community.

After that, we headed to the backyard where people received a free bag of dirt and compost to start planting trees and vegetables  On the way out from the town, we saw a lot of houses full of plastic, bottles, and bags.

-What is it? I asked.

-Recycling shops, said Sebastian. People collect bottles in Bogotá, bring them here, process with a special machine and sell to the companies that need plastic.

-How did they get the money to buy the machines? I asked

-Microlending.

Then we had a long conversation about the micro-lending and Mercy Corps that provides the funds to Ahmsa.

I learned a lot, took a lot of pictures and am really ready to head to Armenia to start a volunteering project there.