Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Day 55 - Release

I didn’t sleep on the plane. I was feeling very disconnected from myself and the world when I arrived in Toronto. Luckily my loving family were there to greet me and remind me of happiness and comfort.

I spent most of the day napping and resting and catching up with some work things which had already begun in Hong Kong. I was switching gears, slowly, changing my outlook and being forced to think ahead and not behind. A new year awaits.

This summer soundtrack wouldn't be complete without a mention of Pearl Jam, a band which highlights every playlist I have and makes me happier than no other. I know that I've already referenced Eddie Vedder a couple times, but the truth is that Pearl Jam is quite easily the most influential and beloved band in my music collection. Since they came on the scene in the early 1990's I have been enamored with their sound, their song lyrics and their refusal to adhere to traditional music practices, which was most noted by their choice to never make music videos and their boycotting of Ticket Master. There are so many Pearl Jam songs that I can relate to, I can seek solace and comfort within, or to which I can expand an outlet for my creativity or my sadness or my joy. Today's song is Release, but I figure that I could write a story about 40 or so of Pearl Jam's songs explaining, in explicit detail, why they are important to me and why I love them (but that would take hours). Actually, I could have written this entire blog with a Pearl Jam song for each day of summer! Now there's a thought....

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Day 54 - Flame Turns Blue

We didn’t succeed at pulling the mood around much more than a couple of smiles and references to parting ways. We walked around, had lunch, packed up at headed to the airport at 3 pm. We copied pictures with the few minutes we had and said a quick goodbye, completely out of character and starkly contrast to our previous goodbye routine. I guess we both knew this one was different.

This was a David Grey moment, and so today's song is Flame Turns Blue.

Sadly, it was a relief to have this part of the trip come to and end, because Cartagena just wasn’t what I wanted it to be. Silly me for wanting it to be something specific in the first place! Those bedeviled expectations again.

I boarded my plane a few hours later and upon landing in Bogota, Bonnie met me in the airport for a nice dinner at Crepes & Waffles. I shared stories and showed her pictures of our amazing adventures and was momentarily raised from my gloomy mood. The memories I had just gathered of such rich experiences should not be overshadowed by my sadness in the trip’s ending. I am so fortunate and grateful to have had the time we had, to have shared the learning and the discoveries of beauty, to have been challenged to look at things from another perspective and been encouraged to take risks, allowing me time to think about ways I want to live and be. I am forever thankful.

I took off from Bogota at 11:30 pm for an overnight flight to Toronto.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Day 53 - Into The Mystic

Ulrich had a lot of work to catch up on and I was happy to be lazy for awhile in the morning. In the afternoon we tried to tour the city a bit but found it to be unbearably hot and somehow we’d run out of happy holiday energy. We were quick to become frustrated with each other. Time was running out and we both had to face a return to reality, a return to completely separate lives. Oh, end of summer, how I lament you!

We bought a bottle of wine, some decent cheese and a baguette to enjoy along the wall at sunset looking out over the Caribbean Ocean. We went to Café Del Mar for dinner but the food was disappointing and the ambience was boring.

Talk about end of the vacation blues….

Hark, now hear the sailors cry,
Smell the sea and feel the sky,
Let you soul and spirit fly,
Into The Mystic

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Day 52 - Baby, Can I Hold You

We woke up content enough, but for some reason grouchy. We had a crappy breakfast at a nearby restaurant which only bolstered the blah. We packed up and headed for the bus terminal in Santa Marta. The plan was to find our way to the El Tortumo mud volcano just outside Cartagena. Not a completely simple task, but Ulrich made it happen for us. Two buses and two hours later we were dropped off, roadside, with a 1km walk in the glaring hot sun to the volcano. We had a feast of fried fish, patacone, coconut rice, french fries and salad before climbing up the rickety wooden stairs to dip ourselves into the mud. We enjoyed a body rub from the men at the top and smiled for our cameraman who took care of our camera for us while we were in the bath. Afterwards we rinsed off in the cienaga as the sunlight glowed golden from the horizon behind us. It was beautiful and we were happy to be there. Ulrich enjoyed another plate of fish and then we hired moto-taxis to take us to the nearest gas station where we flagged a bus to Cartagena.

My song for today is Baby, Can I Hold You by Tracy Chapman. I grew up idolizing Tracy Chapman and her 1988 self-titled debut album was one of my first cassette tapes. Her music has remained on my playlists over the last 22 years and my more recent favorites include, Never Yours and Crossroad.

We arrived at Lucy’s place in Cartagena in the dark, settled in and got cleaned up. Unsurprisingly, we were still quite exhausted from the previous day as well as this day of traveling and volcanoing, so we skipped dinner and cozied up in bed at 8:30.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Day 51 - Mar Adentro

Leaving mudslide camp just before 7 am, we eagerly set out. I was a bit nervous, not wanting to slow the boys down or bring a burden of extended time, but happy to be challenged and looking forward to the rewards of a shower, good food and a big bed. By 9 am we were at camp 2 where we scavenged for cookies and snacks, made some lime water and bought ourselves a 4,000 peso bottle of Coke. The next segment took me 3 hours, getting us to camp 1 at 11:45am, exactly 5 hours after we started out. Not too bad at all. At camp 1 Diego afforded us a hot lunch of rice, eggs and yucca to keep our bodies fueled. We were also able to buy 3 more bottles of Coke. The next segment would include going down that crazy muddy incline that began our trip on day 1. About 30 minutes past camp 1, the rain began again and I knew that that was bound to turn the slippery slope down into an acrobatic extravaganza, for me anyways. Ulrich was feeling tense about missing the Jeeps that dropped off hikers each afternoon in Machete and we knew the rain would make it harder to employ our back-up plan of a motorcycle taxi taking us down, so he headed off, full speed ahead. Diego took a detour to his finca in order to try arranging something for us by phone. I was all alone and about to attempt the hardest part of the outbound hike. Dun dun dun du….

Seeing the ski tracks left behind by Ulrich’s running gait made me laugh to myself and kept me amused for the start of the downhill. It was so slippery, but thanks to a finely straight piece of bamboo given to me earlier by Diego, I had 3 points to balance my shifting weight on. I was doing pretty good, actually. My knees were sore and I could feel the strain of 6 solid hours of trekking, but I was going to do this, and in great time no less! Halfway down I passed the small tienda with the military guards, still following Ulrich’s fresh slide tracks. Almost at the bottom, at another little finca, I was greeted by two indigenous men we had bumped into earlier in the day buying beer at camp 1. I also recognized their faces from other crossings throughout the trip. They stopped me to tell me that my husband had requested that when they see me, they put me on their mule and get me quickly to Machete in order to catch a ride down to the highway. What? Are you kidding me? I thought. I am faster than your mule, I replied smiling and tried to contiue on my way. No, no, no, they weren’t satisfied to let me go on alone. We continued to walk down to the river together, talking and laughing, at which point I was prepared to get on their wooden-saddled animal for the experience alone, if not to actually get me there faster. At that exact moment Diego came barreling down the path and assured me with a smile that yes, indeed, this mule could go faster than me. Huh! So on the mule I got, feet dangling from loops of rope and a wooden stub to hang onto for balance, and we were off in the river. The indigenous men spoke their own language to my delight and even taught me how to say dog/perro (sounds like Kelsey) and mule/donkey (sounds like chinichungana). On the river banks and in the mud, that mule could really go, with me bouncing away through my giggles and the men running alongside laughing, slapping and yelling at the mule to go faster. We arrived in Machete within 15 minutes, passing many military men who winked and smiled and must have thought I was quite the Queen of Sheba on my mule! The rain was really pouring now and when we arrived to the line of restaurants in Machete, my indigenous friend slipped right inside, under the thatch roof of one of them and his mule, with me still in-saddle, followed right behind him. I had to duck to not be smacked off by the roof beams and, to a crowd of laughing men, I attempted to dismount inside the restaurant. What a grande finale, I'd say!

We had missed the Jeeps. We hired a couple of moto-taxis to take us down and managed to cross paths with a Jeep which would carry us to the Sierra Tours office in Taganaga. We were so excited about the comforts of civilization and the extra day of holiday we’d just acquired, nothing much was on our radar for concern. By 6 pm we were checking into a hostel near the football field in Taganga, enjoying a cold shower, clean clothes and WiFi.

All day long I sang Latin Pop songs to myself, to keep my tempo up and my walking rhythm upbeat. One of my favorites is Mar Adentro by Donato & Estefano. They have other hits like Sin Ti, which are also fun to sing and dance to. My all-time favorite song in this category will always by Tu Amor Me Hace Bien by Marc Anthony (this is the one I love to dance around my living room to when I am in particularly great moods).

Friday, August 6, 2010

Day 50 - 3x5

We woke up and hit the trail early after a breakfast of eggs and bread. The path followed the large river past another camp and along some steep edges before bringing us to a crossing point. Some people were crossing in the water, but the current looked strong and it meant getting very wet. Ulrich was carrying our backpack for the first time, which was the deal, and we were less inclined to swim with all of our stuff. That actually was never in the plans anyways, we learned, as Miguel guided us just a few meters upriver to an old fashioned single-person cable car crossing.

After the big crossing the path wound uphill for about 30 minutes and then flat for a while past some indigenous houses and through some fields. Then the path turned into the jungle and began an up and down pattern, crossing small creeks that lead down to the Buritaca on the downs. Eventually we began crossing back and forth across the Buritaca on foot, always at places where the current was minimal and there was a safety rope for groups to use when the river was too high to walk though it. Another 30 minutes and we were at camp 3. The mudslide camp.

We cooled off in the river and then had sandwich lunches before continuing on to Cuidad Perdida. There was a bit of a discussion (which I stayed out of) about whether or not hike up to the Lost City that afternoon or wait until morning. From camp 3 it was approximately 1.5 hours to the top. How could we not go? It was the middle of the day and there was nothing promising to do around Mudslide camp, that’s for sure! We were going today, no matter if it rained or became cold or would be prettier in the morning. Hike for 3 days to get 1.5 hours away from the destination and then rest for an afternoon? Nope. We went on. We followed the river, crossing a few times before seeing the first steps on the river bank. There are said to be 1,200 steps to the top and they are beautiful. I had to go slow, but still managed it up in about 40 minutes. We spent a couple hours at the top taking pictures and letting Miguel do his guide-routine, before heading back down.

Today's song is 3 x 5, by John Mayer. It's a song about traveling, fitting the world into a picture frame, seeing the world through both your own eyes, and sharing things with people you love.

Arriving at camp before dark, but in the rain, we decided to swim, get dry and take a rest. Camp 3 had a few beds and we’d scored one, although I figure we would have been asked to take them anyways because it made no sense for couples to sleep in the hammocks and singles to sleep in the beds. The camp had been slightly compromised for space since the mudslide had taken out half of one of the cabins. After a rest we had pasta dinner and decided to approach Miguel about an idea to hike back to Machette in one day instead of two. He was noot entirely keen about the idea at first, although he acknowledged that his best time from the Lost City to Machette was 6 hours and 40 minutes, so he knew it could easily be done. He was concerned about why we wanted to leave the group and I think he was taking our desire to get out of there early as a sign of how we felt he was as a guide. Truth was, the trail down followed the exact same route we’d just come up, and we were confident that we could do it in one day and why not? If there was promise of new adventure we might have been inclined to stay, but even still, walking for 2 half-days and lazing around at camps we already knew for 2 half-days didn’t seem very appealing.

So it was settled that Miguel would stay with the group. Ximena and Juan wanted to revisit the lost city in the morning before starting their descent.  Diego was assigned to escort us out, to my delight because I had begun to enjoy Diego’s personality much more than Miguel’s anyways.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Day 49 - Wagon Wheel

For breakfast we had fruit, granola and yogurt, (Ulrich made some egg and tomato fried rice and the guides were happy to finish the leftovers), packed up and went exploring. The rest of the group stayed behind and played pool at the ‘welcome center’ of Adan Bedoya’s happy camp for party people, aka Camp 1. Afterwards Ulrich and I had a gorgeous morning shower at the waterfall and we let little fish nibble the dead skin away from our feet and legs. Then we all set off around 10am. The trail was easy today, starting off relatively flat and with the mud quickly drying under an intense heat form the direct sunlight; the treading got easier and easier. About half hour into the trek the path began uphill and we all found our own personal pace. Diego was in first place, having left earlier than us with a loaded mule. Mette and Ulrich were ahead somewhere in the lead, I was in the middle, Ximena and Juan took it slow, and Miguel brought up the rear. It was nice to be on my own and the path through the forest was lively and beautiful.

After a long downhill segment we landed at another camp and indigenous village on the bend of a nice stream. Here we all reconviened, shared some pineapple and then resumed the trek. Flat and open, the trail now followed the huge and awesome Buritaca River. Ulrich was ecstatic about getting to it, checking out it’s course and imagining his first decent in a kayak. After 30 minutes along the magnificent river which was full of force and spendor from all the recent rain, we arrived at camp 2. It was just after 2pm. We swam in a forgiving spot in the river until Lunch was ready.

Today's song is Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show. It was sung a lot around OEE Winter Camp and it makes me think of exploring and trekking into the great unknown with close friends.

After lunch Ulrich and I indulged in Switters while sharing a hammock and resting out muscles. Later we walked a bit ahead along the trail to see more of the river and satisfy Ulrich's fierce curiosity and desire for information about the condition of the river. Someone at camp 2 had spoken about the British girl (now known primarily as “La Gorda”) being taken off the mountain by helicopter earlier that morning, so you can imagine our surprise when we saw a platinum blonde girl, sporting an ankle brace and walking stick, being aided by a Colombian girl, making their way along the path towards us. You can imagine our secondary surprise, when we asked if she was in fact the injured Brit, to see that she was carrying barely more than a few extra pounds of chubbiness compared to me. Ah, muy gorda, indeed.

The Colombian and the Brit had not managed a helicopter rescue and they planned to camp at lovely camp 2 with us for the night and continue their descent on mule-back in the morning. We had a nice pre-dinner swim together and then enjoyed exchanges with new people over dinner. Ulrich got the inside scoop on the Buritaca River form the newly arrived guides. It turns out that people had come to scope it out a few years ago, but never ended up running it. Also there seemed to be rising interest and curisosity from the locals and guides about starting up a rafting tour. Ulrich was inspired and excited! After dinner, we all retired to beds, not hammocks, which was a nice luxury for couples at camp 2.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Day 48 - You Can Get It

We woke up early, grabbed our pre-sorted, pre-packed bags and headed to Sierra Tours. It turned out that one other couple had cancelled just that morning and so we’d just be traveling with Ximena and Juan, a young Colombian duo. As we packed up to leave Ulrich went out to buy rope and Aguardiente, only one of which we eneded up with because he managed to leave the rope on the counter while buying the Aguardiente. Oh well, we'd drink aguardiente to get us across those raging rivers!

We hit the road in an old Toyota Land Cruiser with Miguel, our guide, and a driver and a navigator. Around the corner from the tour office we picked up a young blonde Danish girl named Mette, who turned out to be Miguel’s new girlfriend. They had met when she did the trek just over a week ago and now she was returning to spend time with Miguel and as it came to be, our co-guide.

The trip to the town of Machete was long, steep and muddy. The car wasn’t in particularly great shape and often needed water to cool the radiator. We passed a couple other groups going up, one of 12 people looking like they were headed for a day at the beach! I was starting to worry that this trek wasn’t going to feel very unique or special afterall. After a bologna sandwich lunch in Machete we headed out on a muddy trail along a river in the rain. We were soaked through very quickly, but warm from the exercise and happy to be finally on trail. After 30 minutes along the swollen, brown river we began a 90 minute ascent up a switch-back path carved deep into the mountain by many passing animals and hikers. I imaged coming down it would feel like a luge track. The walls of the path ranged from 2 -12 feet high, a swatch of coloured layers with a center track filled with redish slippery mud mixed often with grey slimy clay. This was a workout for me, I was sweating and huffing even without a backpack, as much as it definitely was for a few other day-trekkers, i.e. rosy-faced women in jean shorts, boys in loafers and a crew of people who clearly hadn’t done the same groundwork that we had.

Up and up and up, we eventually were higher than some of the clouds and the vistas opened up before our amazed and energized eyes. I was feeling good and thankful for a bit of flat and downhill walking. We were above the rain and the low nestled clouds still clung to the crevices between the deep jungle mountain ridges which layered on top of each other, getting darker and darker towards the horizon. Small patches of vibrant light blue poked through occasionally, to perfectly offset the dark greens and bright whites.  

By 4pm we were at a gorgeous river camp, playing happily in the ‘picina’ waterfall. At camp 1 we met Diego, Miguel’s brother and secondary co-guide, but more importantly porter and chef. After dinner and a bit of Switters (Ulrich and I had begun reading the Tom Robbins book, Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates together and were referring to it simply now as Switters, who is the main character) we tucked into our separate hammocks for a decent night sleep.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Day 47 - Singin' In The Rain

I woke up at 7 am to go scuba diving. On the way to the dive shop I grabbed a good beach breakfast of juice and a dedito but was delighted to be served fresh coffee at Poseidon’s. The dive instructor I was going out with, Carmen, was basically just passing through on a South American tour. She hadn’t been in Taganga very long and was almost ready to move on. My dive buddy was a Dive Master from the States who was traveling around as well, but had already been on 10 dives with Poseidon. Good people to dive with, for sure. There were a few other fun divers in a different group and one guy doing his very first dive out of the pool. The first dive was nice with loads of colourful fish and gorgeous coral. Nothing big or exciting, just pretty stuff and that awesome peacefulness of submersion that I crave. The second dive was along a spectacular island reef, with a pretty strong current taking us exactly where we wanted to go. This meant we were able to stay below for almost 75 minutes. We saw tons of eels, an octopus, puffer fish, 3 scorpionfish and more large coloured beauties. There were so many Cow Fish and Lion Fish.

After hearing the scoop about everyone hunting Lion Fish in Panama I inquired about the Lion Fish hunt in Colombia to find out that a similar story exists here. Actually, everywhere in the Caribbean people are hunting Lion Fish like mad, trying desperately to keep their numbers under control. Turns out that the 'story' in these parts is that entire thing was started by an unfortunate accident somewhere in Florida where a commercial aquarium lost a ‘shipment’ of Lion Fish into the Caribbean ocean. Just this one tank of critters has propagated itself into blooming population, because of their lack of natural predators and love for the wonderful, warm waters of the area.  Trouble is they eat many hatchling fish and are becoming a potential threat to other species livelihood. So all around the Caribbean people are culling back the populations whenever possible, hopefully there’s some good eating from those flashy little spiny guys!

So I did some digging and found out a bit more,

"It was once thought that Lion Fish were brought to the Caribbean in the ballast of cargo ships, but studies have shown this to be erroneous. Genetic evidence of a strong founder effect indicates that most lionfish in Caribbean waters came from just eight fish (one male and seven females) that were accidentally released in Biscayne Bay, Florida when an private aquarium broke during Hurricane Andrew in 1992." Link

" It has been speculated that this introduction may well have been caused when Hurricane Andrew destroyed an aquarium in southern Florida. However, a more recent report states NOAA ecologist James Morris Jr. has discovered that a lionfish was caught off Dania, FL prior to Hurricane Andrew, as long ago as 1985." Link

After a huge lunch at Casa De Holanda, we walked around and checked in with a another Cuidad Perdida Tour agency. This time we discovered Sierra Tours and they seemed like a good choice. We’d think about it. On an interesting note: we'd emailed these guys and gotten a high quote and request for a deposit into a German bank account, which turned us off of them completely. Showing up in person and discussing options with them landed us a price that was much cheaper!

Later in the day, after an afternoon nap, we were ready to venture out for dinner and book our trekking trip but became slightly deterred by a serious downpour. Then Ulrich suggested we get out and soak it up. What a perfect way to cool down and lighten up a little. All the decision making in tandem was not easy for us all the time, creating stress and disagreement. Funny, when when all we really wanted was for each other to be perfectly happy; how easily the outcome of each other’s actions produces the exact opposite of its desired effect! And really, we’d been taking ourselves just a bit too seriously, so we headed out into the driving rain which had already accumulated into red muddy rivers along the narrow roads of Taganga.

This made me think of not a song that I love, but a video clip I love where David Elsewhere re-enacts Gene Kelly's famous Singing' In The Rain scene with a modern twist.

At Sierra Tours we met the group who was coming down from the Trek as we signed up for the next day’s departure. We signed up for a 5-day trip, 3 days up and 2 days down, with a total of 6 people. The trekkers coming down were young University students from London and they’d had a slightly dramatic experience of leaving one of their group members at the top with an ankle problem. She had stayed at the Lost City with their other traveling companion, a Colombian/British girl and couldn’t make it down on foot. She wanted a helicopter retrieval and the boys had left on schedule to bring this news to the tour company. Ulrich helped to translate through the young man’s anxiety-strained communications with the tour operators. It was made obvious that the injured girl was overweight (in Spanish she was described by the tour receptionist as muy gorda = very fat) and it was clear that the tour company did not like any connections or feelings of responsibility being put on them by the young men. This was slightly tense, mixed with the ignorance of the young men (in terms of understanding the military dynamics of the area and the logistics of getting a helicopter into the site) who were, of course, very concerned for the wellbeing and evacuation of their friends.

Later that evening we ate pizza at a local pizza delivery shop which had plastic chairs on the roadside, almost in the gutter, under drizzling skies and amidst a busy street corner. Ulrich bought a cheap box of wine and the pizzeria gave us small plastic glasses. Our two British buddies passed by and we invited them to join us and fill is in on the situation with their friend, the rescue mission and the tour agency. I was also delighted to hear more perspectives on the trek itself and these boys painted it as an experience of a life time. I had my fingers crossed, against my nagging worry, that somehow it would be fulfilling for Ulrich. Things were looking better the more I heard.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Day 46 - Resolution

We woke up and Ulrich had to start work right away. We passed the first few hours of the day online in the lobby, talking to people and overhearing their stories about the Lost City, both groups about to go and ones just coming down. Turns out there had just been a mudslide which took out part of a camp, but no one was injured and trips were still going.

I went out to explore Santa Marta a little bit and it interestingly reminded me of Puerta La Cruz in Venezuela. The park along the waterfront, the shops and patios, the internet cafes and the SAn Andresito markets just a few blocks in from the oceanfront road. I got some juice and some breakfast and got back just in time for Ulrich to need to leave. We ate quickly, rushed to check out and headed for Taganga.

We managed to get a small room in Casa De Felipe, while a few of our other choices were full. The internet was, again, intermittent and/or slow at best and the room was hot and dark, but clean. Ulrich and I needed space. He needed to work. I needed to holiday. I went to check out the beachfront strip and find some lunch. Once Ulrich was finished work for the day we went for a realy nice and refreshing hike over the hills to the next beach area. We explored the ridges a little and spent a while at the top of a couple peaks, just enjoying the view, the breeze and the time for good conversation.

Today's song is called Resolution by Thievery Corporation. They have great background music, songs in many languages with interesting instruments and vast global influences. It's great yoga music.

We had dinner in a nice restauarant, just up the road from the beach, where a new little hot spot had developed around Casa Holanda. Ulrich went about asking more tour operators about their trips to the Lost City and about scouting kayaks for the decent. Disappointingly, he was mostly getting the same answers about the trip, because all the trips are identical, and the same funny looks about the kayaks, because the people who work in the offices don’t even know the trail, let alone the river. We needed to decide something by tomorrow.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Day 45 - Hallelujah

We said goodbye to the finca and all 4 of us hit the road early. By 10:30 am we were en route to Bogota with truffles from the French Bakery and a pretty nice day for scenery from the bus. We detoured to the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, a place I'd always wanted to see and was intrigued to finally get a chance to check it out. Unfortunately, it didn't quite live up to my grand expectations. You know I think I'm fairly good at being open-minded and creating my own experiences, but every once in a while those darn expectations of mine sneak up when I least expect it.

From Zipaquira we continued on to Bogota. Bonnie and William left us on the outskirts of the city to make their way to Bonnie's new apartment and Ulrich and I carried on to the National Airport to catch an evening flight to beautiful and warm coastal city of Santa Marta.

We arrived late in the evening and were taken directly to the hostel we'd booked online. Bonnie has mentioned that she thought it might be more basic than we were prepared for and she wasn't wrong. It was old and definitely the definition of basic. We had a late dinner and Ulrich struggled with the WiFi and the temperature in the room. We had a semi-decent night sleep and agreed to move to Taganga the next day.

Today I'm posting a song by Martin Sexton called Hallelujah. This really is a beautiful piece of footage. To read about my love affair with Martin see this earlier post.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Day 44 - No Ceiling

If we could take the previous day's weather patterns as balances, then the rain this morning extended a promise of sunshine for the afternoon. We decided to hike Iguaque. By the time we got organized and made our way up to the park entrance, however, it was already 11am. The park warden warned us that it was too late to trek beyond the first lake and we agreed to do only that and then return before nightfall. Moments into the rock trail leading up to the lodge we were joined silently by a furry critter of unique character. Seemingly domesticated, but obviously wild, this animal had a raccoon tail and an ant eater's nose and was as portly as he was unabashedly relaxed with us immediately. At the lodge we learned that he was, indeed, a 'pet' and he would probably follow us all the way up to the Lago Iguaque if we made it there. His name was Osi and he was a South American Coati (Nasua nasua). 

I made it to the lake in exactly 3 hours, with Osi on my coattails almost the whole way up and Ulrich made it up ahead of us in 2.5 hours. From there we ventured a little bit further, Ulrich on high speed and me at a more cautious medium. We crossed the ridge above the lake, which I had never done and managed a vista of the other lakes and the valley on the opposite side looking out towards the Periquera. It was beautiful and worth the extra muscle work. Osi, of course, knew better and didn't follow us above the lake. About halfway back down, around the time you exit the Páramo and enter the forest, Osi reunited with us and lead the way down to the park entrance as our chaperone. It was getting dark and I figure he must have been a bit worried about us. We left the park by 6pm to the park warden's relief and Bonnie and William came up to get us in the Polar Bear.

We dined in town at Casa Quintero and then went home and directly to bed, satisfied and tired from a really good hike.

Today's song is No Celling, by Eddie Vedder and from the Into The Wild Soundtrack. It's a song about places you love and today was a fitting day to think about and appreciate a place I love so dearly.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Day 43 - Home

In the morning I decided to accompany Bonnie on some errands in town and I drove the Polar Bear for the first time. Adventures of mother and daughter, laughing contagiously while roaming over bumpy roads (in a vehilcle with no shocks) and crowded campesino streets with horses, motos, trucks and buses. We picked up groceries and flowers at the vivero before heading back to the farm.

In the early afternoon's softest moment of sunshine William, Ulrich and I set out on mission towards the Well of the Old Woman along a route I'd never traveled before. We were searching, eyes to the ground, for Villa de Levyian treasure! Ulrich and I said goodbye to William at the river and continued on 4 levels up to the ruinas. It was only my second time there and unfortunately we were not graced with visits from either the Macaw nor the Lammas. As dusk settled across the sky from the Periquera towards Iguaque, rain clouds gathered and warned of a cold walk home. We decided to whimp out of the cloud's dare and call Bonnie to come pick us up. It was, indeed, a very rainy and muddy drive home with Polar Bear putting on quite a show for a thoroughly entertained audience. William welcomed us home with candles and a roaring fire. We made dinner, sipped wine and Bonnie and William put on a dancing show for us in the living room. It was a perfect night at the Finca, with all 4 of us very present and attentive, happy and content.

Today I thought of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes' song, Home. I love this song. What a bunch of outrageous hipsters!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Day 42 - Little Trees

Another lazy morning of my farting around while Ulrich, Bonnie and William worked on something or other. It was a bit rainy and cool so we were in no rush to get up and go anywhere.

In the early afternoon the sun had come out to begin a drying cycle and Ulrich and I set out to hike to the Periquera. We got a little lost here and there, sometimes a bit sidetracked by a farmers field full of cows, or  a party on the side of the road or the promise of a shortcut. After traversing the waterfalls of the Periquera, we ended up at the main road near the Tahoe tienda just as darkness fell and we called for Bonnie and william to pick us up.

Today's song is dedicated to Brian Davidson. The last time I had been at the Periquera was with Brian and Cara and Sergio on our alternative practicum trip during teacher's college in March of 2008. Brian introduced me to Miracle Fortress almost within the same first few days that we were introduced to each other at the start of that school year. The song Little Trees always makes me think of him, driving in the Subaru back from winter camp or the movie theater, and all the other adventures that we had together in many climates (physical and intellectual) in 2007-2008.

We enjoyed a lovely dinner in town at a restaurant called Antique in front of a blazing fire and with live music. The stars were out and it was magical... as Villa always seems to be.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Day 41 - #41

Today we hung around the finca for most of the morning, me being lazy, Bonnie and William doing house/yard work and Ulrich doing his work. Oh, to be on holidays.... isn't quite as exciting when you're the only one! In the early afternoon we set out to Santa Sophia to hike to Angel's Pass.

Today's song is inspired by the number 41, the number of the day of my holiday and a great song, #41, by The Dave Mathews Band.

Come and see, I swear by now
I'm playing time against my troubles, oh...
Oh, I'm coming slow but speeding,
Do you wish a dance? And while I'm in the front,
The play on time is won,
Oh, but the difficulty's coming here.

I will go in the way, and find my own way out...
I won't tell you to be here, but it's coming to much more...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Day 40 - Volverte a Ver

We woke up to glaring bright sun shinning directly into the cabin at 6:30am, grabbing us sharply from our slumber and then politely hiding amongst some clouds to soften the visual alarm clock effect.

We spent the morning and early afternoon in town and ate pizza under the Golden Arches. It was a beautiful summery day and the square was quiet and peaceful. For some reason Villa De Leyva always makes me thing of Juanes. I think the first time I heard Camisa Negra was in the square and I have a vivid memory of listening to Fotographia on the bus between Tunja and Bogota, after leaving Villa. My favorite song my Juanes has always been Volverte a Ver. There is a beautiful live version of this song, sung at the March For Freedom Mass Throughout Colombia, dedicated to all the hostages of war.

Later that evening we made pasta for dinner at the Finca, followed by great discussions over wine around the fire place. We talked about things like energy-efficient light bulbs, models of government, trust, stratifying of utilities, economics and what really motivates choices we make. Good talk.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Day 39 - Jet Airliner

Having to wake up to an alarm clock, the first one in a long time, was not enjoyable! Compounding this unhappiness was a feeling of not being quite ready to leave my new found paradise yet. 10 days went so fast. The fantasy of living here was sweet on the lips, but all I'd had was a small taste.

We flew on a 9am flight from Bocas to Panama City, Ulrich running errands and tying up lose ends here and there and everywhere as we departed. We almost had our baggage removed from the small plane when they attempted to leave 20 minutes early. Hey? Isn't this the tropics? The land of 'No Problem' and 'Soon Come'? Obviously Bocas airport staff have adopted a more western approach to deadlines, schedules and boarding times. Anyways, we made it onto the plane which was full of people waiting for us and nicely nobody seemed more annoyed than the stewardess (who was also the check-in lady).

We spent the day in Panama City. Me working on the video project in a small casino lounge sipping mojitos while Ulrich did more wrapping up, mostly involving hours at the HSBC. Then we were off to the airport to catch our Jet Airliner to Bogota. I was eager for the second stage of my tropical holiday, eager to show Ulrich Colombia, eager to see Bonnie and hoping that finally, maybe, the was a smidgen of a chance that Ulrich could relax and be "on holiday" for a little while too...

We arrived in Bogota, made our way to the bus terminal and caught a bus to Tunja. William and Bonnie were there to pick us up around 1 in the morning with the Polar Bear. It was cold, foggy, rainy and the ride back to the finca was a slow one. By 3:30am were were happily tucked into the sleeper cabin under warm wool blankets and clearing skies, cozy and happy, even knowing that tomorrow was only a few short hours of sleep away.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Day 38 - Smell of Paradise

Our last full day in paradise. It had been a rainy night and the morning continued with clouds, sporadic showers and constant thunder off in the distance. Admittedly, it was a nice change from the excessively hot sun of the previous 2 days. We took a few more pictures for the video project and worked on getting little things cleaned up and ready for our departure. In the evening, we had Ricardo and his girlfriend up to the Hill House for dinner.

Here's the video we made! The song used in the second half is called Smell of Paradise by Sa Trincha.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Day 37 - The Warmth

We woke up and made breakfast before heading off on a small excursion to a village along the coast. Ulrich needed to get residency paperwork and Ricardo needed paperwork for his livestock. It was a glaring hot day and being on the water really seemed to pull all the life out of me. I was feeling exhausted and slightly lethargic but couldn't exactly pinpoint why and was confused by this state so early on in the day.

On the way home, Ulrich wake-boarded and water-skied a little bit and then we stopped in at an old friend of Ulrich's place to check on things. It was a gorgeous house in a prime location. Some people around here really do pull out all the stops when it comes to making their paradise fantasy homes come to life. In the face of all this luxury, high end precision and attention to details, I'd still chose Ulrich's place above and beyond any of these elaborate displays. The spaces that Ulrich has created at the Hill House and the Water House are so organic, functional, appropriate, harmonious, authentic and in so many ways they accentuate the natural beauty of the region.

I still wasn't feeling well when we headed home in the early afternoon. After a quick swim to cool off and a rest up at the Hill House, I realized that I was a little sun burned and quite possibly suffering from a  touch of heat stroke. I rehydrated and took it easy for the rest of the day. Today's song is The Warmth by Incubus. I love Incubus.

In the early evening we went to Ron and Cindy's house to borrow their windsurfer. Ulrich tested it out back at the Water House, but unfortunately we'd missed the wind by a short period and he was stuck out there in the dusk stillness. I stayed by the Water House and just played around, soaking up the warm salt water and gorgeous sunset.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Day 36 - My Skies

We started the day off immediately after breakfast with a trip to Ulrich's other property where Ricardo keeps his cows and a few other horses. We saddled up 2 horses and trekked through the jungle to the property line where the fence needed to be worked on. After leaving a worker there with instructions for a day's work, Ulrich and I walked while Ricardo and Gary rode to a piece of land that Gary's brother wants to buy. It was such a hot day!

The four of us walked around through the jungle to see another piece of farm land that Ricardo wants to buy. We hiked almost the entire perimeter, which was at times slightly swampy. It was a much longer hike than we had planned for, but beautiful and exciting and definitely worth the time and energy.

Ulrich and I ended up walking all the way back to the Hill House, making the morning excursion even longer. By the time we got back we were in desperate need of water and a cool-down in the ocean. We hadn't quite realized how hot it was. This pretty much zonked us out for the rest of the day.

Today I thought of the song My Skies by James Kellaghan. His music has serenaded my entire life, from  childhood to folk festivals to road trips and summer parties. He is a historical songwriter who taught me many things about unique stories which are rarely told, always with an effectively poetic sense of story telling. Another favorite is Hillcrest Mine. Here are some words form James Kellaghan's biography:

"His masterful story telling has, over the course of nine recordings, been part of the bedrock of his success, earning Keelaghan nominations and awards - including a Juno (Canada's Grammy) - and acclaim from Australia to Scandinavia.

Possessed of an insatiable appetite for finding the next unique story line, Keelaghan forges his pieces with brilliant craftsmanship and monogrammed artistic vision, making him one of the most distinctive and readily identifiable voices on both the Canadian and international singer-songwriter scenes.

His journey has attracted fans of literate and layered songwriting to join him on his artistic expeditions, some of which weave their way through marvelously etched historical stories with underlying universal themes, others of which mine the depths of the soul and the emotional trails of human relations.

His songbook has enlightened, enthralled, and been embraced, by audiences around the world."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day 35 - Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

After breakfast, we headed out to visit a couple, Linda and David, who are close friend's of Ulrich's and have lived in Bocas for a very long time. We managed to join the second half of a tour of their cocoa farm and were able to see how David harvests and processes cocoa. While we were at Green Acres, we also met an interesting dude from New Orleans who is doing his PhD research on natural selection on brightly coloured frogs in the region. We also met another American, Michelle, who is working in a local village as a teacher for the American Peace Corps. Here are a couple shots I managed to get of cool frogs out in the jungle as well as some other awesome flora and fauna shots I've been taking.

Around 5:30pm we went to Pizza for a Party in honour of Tony's birthday with all the Gringos. Tony merrily sang Always Look on the Bright Side of Life to his wife's utter embarrassment and it made us all laugh.

Ulrich bravely went wake-boarding amongst the jellies in the almost-full moonlight on the way home with Gary driving the speed boat.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Day 34 - Paradise

Another great lazy morning in paradise. We had a swim and then I went paddling in the kayak just up the coast. It was blazing hot and I enjoyed being out on the water.

Ulrich suited up the underwater cameras on a small plank of wood, eye- distance apart for a 3D experiment. We set out to go wake-boarding in the afternoon but Ulrich, who went first, ended up getting stung by many jellies, so we retired from that effort. Instead we went for a long snorkel and took 3D videos and pictures of the coral and in the mangroves. We saw an octopus, a puffer fish and a few barracudas. Check out these amazing videos!

In the evening, we cooked chorizos and pasta for dinner and went to bed early, as is the norm on the farm. It was a great day in the sun and in the water. Ahhh, life in Paradise! Sade is a singer who doesn't make it into my playlists very often, but when I do hear her I am instantly reminded of childhood days in Montego Bay with Martin Orr.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day 33 - Pasos de Gigante

Ulrich and I spent more of a lazy day, online, eating, hammocking, reading and chilling out around the farm. We found two very large stick bugs making out on the front porch which was pretty cool. Unfortunately one of them had lost a limb and in our investigations of them it somehow lost a second, leaving it with an awkward stance on 4 legs. We read that possibly they can regenerate limbs, but we also realized that this particular one was quite old (because it was huge) and maybe was not even going to live that long.

In the afternoon I went for a long snorkel and took some amazing underwater pictures. Later in the afternoon, Ricardo took us on the horses up toward the top of the hill overlooking the property. It was a beautiful view from the Heliconia forest. Amazingly, I still had no reaction whatsoever to being on horseack. Ulrich and I dismounted at the highest point and bushwhacked back across the property line to the Hill House, while Ricardito took the horses back.

We went for an early evening swim and then made a nice dinner of bacon/tomato/cream cheese grilled sandwiches on fresh bread with homemade chunky guacamole.

Today's song is Pasos de Gigante by one of my favorite bands, Bacilos. I first heard Bacilos after Bonnie and Christine had become enamored with them in Medellin, Colombia sometime in 2001. We listened to Tabaco y Chanel and the entire self-titled first album for a few years without tiring of it. Since then their next 3 albums have frequented my playlists and they remain an all time favorite of the Cahusacs. The band consisted of Jorge Villamizar (Colombia), Jose Javier Freire (Puerto Rico) and Andre Lopes (Brazil). They broke up in 2007 with a couple Grammys and many fans around the world.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Day 32 - Rise Up

After the morning farm work was completed - finishing touches on securing the solar system to give us power at all times - Ulrich, Ricardo and I went on a trip to see a neighbor about some wood, stolen items and property lines, etc. Seemingly regular Bocas disputes. On the way back I decided to test my reaction to the horses by riding Ricardo's horse just a quick 15 minutes through the jungle back to the shoreline. I figured this was a good time to see how my body would respond and, quite surprisingly, I had no allergy symptoms at all.

Rise Up is today's song, by Eddie Vedder. It was written for the Into The Wild Soundtrack. This movie is one of my all time favorites and its soundtrack has frequented my playlists for the past 3 years.

Later Ulrich and I made a big fish stew with lemongrass from the yard. Once it was dark we went for a night swim and snorkel to see the phosphorescence and check out the underwater nightlife. We played for a long time, diving down deep and marveling at the sparkles and twinkles of light, like a million underwater stars. We also used a headlamp in a ziplock bag to explore around and underneath the Water House. Super fun!  

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Day 31 - Sunrise

Oh, another full day in paradise. One which started by watching the sunrise creep across the sky as the daylight began, with me periodically snoozing off and on in a happily lazy state from the bed on the top floor of the Hill House. From here there are panoramic views of palm fronds and tree tops splashed upon the constantly changing hue of a tropical sky backdrop. The area is so spectacular and breathtaking. I can't describe the feeling of waking up in the Hill House and seeing the view down to the water with nothing but soft early morning light and sweet bird chatter echoing in from all directions. It smells fresh and lively even though the air is as humid and thick as mud.

The boys worked all morning on the solar system and I began a sewing project with the mosquito netting down at he Water House. We took a break for lunch at the "Pizza" across the straight with all the Bocas Locas. It was a pretty big Sunday afternoon crowd of Gringos eating pizza and drinking beer. Imagine. Afterwards we made a visit to an indigenous family's house deep in the mangroves and traded some zapote for a breadfruit and some oranges. We also visited and a couple other foreigner's houses, in particular a French couple who are building a small village of cabanas and houses on a beautiful expanse of land with amazing views. They are even installing a guest pool and 2 jacuzzis! I imagine those will be nice on cool nights when the temperature dips down below 30 degrees!

More snorkeling with Ulrich in the afternoon, both up the coast and around the farm. We started taking photos and videos for the video we are going to produce to help rent this spectacular place out (coming soon). For dinner we made fresh fish that Ricardo had cleaned for us with fried breadfruit and pumpkin.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Day 30 - Great Big Boat

My first full day in paradise.

Ulrich woke me up early to show me the view from the top floor of the Hill House in the dawn's light. After a short while we went for a swim down a the Water House. The water was perfectly clear and we snorkeled around a little. Garry, who is living in the Water House temporarily, told me that there had been dolphins outside his window earlier that morning.

We ventured down the coast to have lunch with Ulrich's friends, Marilyn and Tony, at their lovely house. After lunch there was more snorkeling with Ulrich, and he took me into the nearby mangroves along the coast. What an amazing experience! Later on we made pork chops with zapote chutney, fried green bananas, roasted pumpkin for dinner. Yummm, fresh local food in paradise.

Today I thought of a song that Rohanna introduced me to, form the Putamayo kids album called Great Big Boat, by Taj Mahal (sorry this YouTube version is not exactly high quality).

Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 29 - Panama

I woke up around 4:30 to get myself organized for my 7:30 flight to Panama City. I arrived to more rain and cloudy skies, but at least warmer temperatures. I took a taxi to meet Ulrich at a hostel near Casco Veijo and we had a very sweet reunion.

After a bit of running around and sushi for lunch, we boarded a 3:00 flight from Panama City to Bocas Del Toro and within 50 minutes I entered into absolute paradise. What a completely magical place. Ricardo and Gary met us with the boat and we picked up some food and supplies and headed for the farm. The weather was not ideal, and yet it was still completely breathtaking. Even through some cool rain and grey misty skies, the scenery was captivating and being on the ocean seemed to set my entire being back into a wonderful sense of harmony. I never quite remember just how much I adore and ocean until I'm on it. It always feels like my home place.

After a brief tour of the property, mainly the Boat House, The Hill House and Ricardito's House, Ulrich and I made dinner and hung out with the geckos at the Hill House for the evening.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Day 28 - Messages

I woke up and began packing all my things up. Organizing myself for 3 weeks in the tropics - Panama and  all around Colombia. At noon, Bonnie and Nana drove me to the airport for my 3:15 flight from Toronto to Bogota.

I arrived in Bogota to buckets of rain and a chill I hadn't been expecting. I stayed at a small hotel a ways away form the airport with very friendly staff and a decent room with wifi. It was cold.

Xavier Rudd is an Australian singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.  His music is great for traveling and because he has many songs about discovering the world, I often think of him while in transit or en route to somewhere. His songs often make me think about being a better person and and realizing what's important in life. Messages is one of his most famous songs and one of the first I ever heard. My introduction to Xavier Rudd was watching him play live to a very excited dancing crowd, vibrating in the rain and mud, center stage at Hillside Music Festival in Guelph in an afternoon performance. Another great song by Xavier is Let Me Be. To hear some of his newer music, check out his website

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Day 27 - Englishman In New York

Bonnie and I strolled around Toronto in the morning and eventually made our way to the Colombian Consulate by around 9am. Then we walked around downtown Toronto heading up towards Asha's office. We had a lovely lunch with Asha and Melissa and then Bonnie and I took the GO train back to Burlington.

No song really comes to mind for this day... apart from songs about being in the "Big City", so I'll just share a song that I love lately with this theme. Sting's Englishman in New York.

Rita, Nana, Bonnie and I had dinner with Granny at the lake and afterwards I got ready to embark on the next portion of my summer adventure. The tropics, here I come!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Day 26 - Taylor

It was lovely to catch up with Ellie and see the new house. It was also very wonderful to meet baby Kenzie for the first time. Lily was as sweet as ever and is growing up into such a gorgeous child. All of us headed off early in the morning to play a bit at Wasaga Beach. Jeff came by later on, after getting off work, and we had a nice lunch on a patio by the beach. It was a visit that ended up feeling much too short, but of course it was nice to at least touch base and see the entire Clendenning-Wice family together.

For the last 7 years I only get to see Ellie in the summertime. We've had great visits in Muskoka (sometimes surprise visits), driving from Ontario to the East coast, and in the Stayner area where she lives with Jeff and their girls. Often these visits remind me of Jack Johnson songs which usually make the perfect summer soundtracks for swimming at the lake, sitting on the deck, barbecuing and drinking beer. Today's song is Taylor, a fun video that was one of my first introductions to Jack Johnson. In the following years we listened to a lot of Jack in LaBuitrera on lazy Sunday mornings and after fun hikes in the mountains or while entertaining guests and cooking.

I drove back to Burlington in time to return the rental at 5pm, meet Bonnie and Maxine and head to Toronto with them, after a quick swim with Dustin, Aaron, Shelley and Terri who were in Burlington visiting. They boys had some fun with the underwater camera.

Bonnie and I stayed the night at Maxine & Sandra's house for a visit and so that Bonnie could go to the Colombian consulate in the morning.