Tag Archives: Salento

Keep on moving

On the morning of Wednesday 25th, I shed a few tears saying goodbye to the staff of La Serrana & my little friend Niamh. And then some more on the bumpy old ride into town.

It was just a happy accident that I got to see Jon and Big Mike on my way out. We had already said our goodbyes on Monday morning after my last Ayahuasca, but it was super to be able to give them one last hug in the middle of the dirt road I’d walked almost every day.

I’d gotten quite used to having Big Mike around. Big Mike is a bit of a lone wolf from The Yukon: An exploration miner. His work involved getting dropped out into the middle of nowhere by chopper and then he’d go out in these wild unchartered lands on his own – for days, weeks at a time to look for mining opportunities (oil that is, black gold, Texas tea). He’s a man with a lot of stories. A little bit of darkness. And a big big heart. He saw me. And had my back when I needed a friend. He reminded me a bit of Rog. He loved The Rolling Stones. And was forever bashing away on his guitar. I have a lot of time for the man & I hope to see him again one day.

I remember looking through the back of the Jeep and seeing La Serrana getting smaller and smaller. And I remember thinking, ‘I want to hold onto this memory forever’. Sometimes I worry I’ll forget.

We all come in the same way, and we all go out the same way. And all we take with us is knowledge (& hopefully some wisdom) gained from relationships and experiences. I know I got a while to go yet… but sometimes I fret: What if my mind goes first?

What becomes of amazing experiences when they get forgotten? Do they still exist?

 

Pravin was a beautiful young Sri Lankan boy from Melbourne who had (no questions asked) helped me out of a banking pickle by lending me a few hundred dollars (– there’s a long boring story attached to this where I yell down the phone a lot to various bureaucracies in Australia & in the US to people who either don’t have the capacity to solve problems or aren’t empowered to do so, and so don’t. Do not get me started!)

Anyways, Prav & I went to Cali together for a couple of nights. And it was there I got my tattoo. We tramped all over town meeting artists – none of whom particularly grabbed me … until we walked into Zebra Studios. Stylish. Professional. Clean. And the artist was a dude. Crazy. But in a good way. I had agonised a bit over the placement of it, worrying that putting it on my wrist might mean limiting future professional opportunities but I figured I’m supposed to be creative. And I probably don’t want to work for the sort of organisation where that’s a problem anyways. I could cover it up if I absolutely needed to. Besides, I stand behind the words & their significance to me.

The day after I went to pretty Popyan with its big wide cobblestone streets & clean white washed walls. The trip there took twice as long as it should have, due to a savage accident. When we later saw one of the cars, it seemed unlikely there would have been any survivors. Many of the passengers on my bus made the sign of the cross, as we inched slowly past. As a result I got in late in the evening and only had the morning to have a quick look around. I wished I had more time there.

But I was now a girl on a mission. I still had a bit I wanted to see & do in Ecuador on the way down to the Galapagos Islands. I had a flight booked for the 4th – which gave me just 6 days.

Mixed tape

TIME KEEPS ON SLIPPING, SLIPPING (INTO THE FUTURE)

Time has a strange way of warping when you’re wandering. I ended up staying in the sleepy lil town of Salento for just over 6 weeks. Most folk come to see the wax palms, do a coffee tour, and stay for maybe 3 nights. 4 nights, tops.

When Sammy – the self-appointed ‘Director of Happiness’ (the perfect role for the happy-go-lucky lad) – left, I started working at La Serrana. I did that for just a fortnight. The rest of the time, I was just a paying guest. Far preferable in many ways. It meant I was free to come & go as I pleased.

The work wasn’t hard. It was just a matter of being around every night. All we had to do was take care of after hours’ check-ins / outs and ensure guests were taken care of. In exchange we got free nights & some meals. I also did a marketing strat for Jon in exchange for some additional nights.

I’ll be straight up with you: there’s not a whole lot to do in Salento. But that is kind of the whole point. Having said that – sometimes I would get to the end of the day and would be at a complete loss as to where it had gone. And it wasn’t because I was busy.

In fact – quite the opposite: it was all I could do to maybe have a bit of a morning stretch, take my time over a big breakfast and then struggle through a Spanish lesson. Afterwards I’d stroll into town, buy a Salpicón de frutas & have a bit of a jibber with the locals. Sometimes I’d meet a friend for lunch or a coffee. Then I’d pop in the supermercado, buy some groceries, amble on home, and cook up a tasty feed for new friends. All of a sudden it would be time for bed.

How did I fit everything else in before I started travelling? My sabbatical looks to be coming to an end pretty soon and I’m getting a wee bit anxious about returning to my old life: Getting so busy that my friends have to schedule a date with me 6 weeks in advance. Getting so frantic that I need to diarise a few hours to be on my own. Getting so hectic that I don’t have time to notice flowers opening, new graffiti, or lilting butterflies – you know, the important stuff.

Apart from 6 months in Europe in ’98, I’ve never had the luxury of this much time. And maybe I won’t again for quite some time. At first I felt guilty. Thinking in particular of my new-mummy friends, who also have to work full-time and just never seem to have time to scratch themselves. But now after one year – finally, I am truly able to live in the moment and just enjoy. It’s a nice lesson to have learnt – and it’s one I hope I can hang onto when I go back to my ‘real life’.

BREATHE

Having said that, in amongst all this beautiful non-busyness – this simple slow life to which I’ve become accustomed… there’s still a part of me that needs to be productive: to learn or to create.

In the last year, I’ve spent two months taking Spanish classes (on Isla Mujeres in Mexico and also in Salento in Colombia). In Antigua, Guatemala, I took a month-long class learning how to teach English. And on Little Corn Island in Nicaragua, I worked in a bar for just over a month & can now pour a bloody good Cuba Libré. I figure if you’re going to stop & be productive – you may as well do it somewhere gorgeous, Right?

In terms of creating – I’ve discovered I actually do have creative instincts (been in denial for 30-something years) and I’d like to spend more honing this when I go home. But one of the best things to come out of this trip for me is I’ve finally discovered my passion! Writing. How good is that?

So it was a little strange how in Salento – where I had all the time in the world – somehow I struggled to find the time to write. In part, I think this was because I was spending a bit of time doing some soul searching. But I also think I just need to face up to the fact that even when it comes to your passion – you need to practice discipline. Make it a part of your daily practice.

I think this doesn’t relate just to writing. But other stuff as well.

A few weeks ago, a truly gentle man by the name of Nas came to stay with us. Originally from India, he’s been travelling the world for the last 29 years! You don’t travel the world for that long without accumulating a bag load of stories, a good sense of humour & quite a bit of wisdom. Nas informed me I needed to learn how to breathe properly. He talked of noticing the differences in how we breathe in different situations. He said the air we breathe connects us to the outside world. And he suggested that everyone needs to have a practice, such as yoga, where we observe how we breathe. He told me that when you are able to breathe normally in uncomfortable positions, this helps you replicate this type of breathing in difficult situations in life. And that helps you manage the situation. It’s not something I’ve ever given much thought to before. But it really made sense.

I learnt a lot from Nas. I also laughed a lot with him. And I ended up buying two of his paintings (he’s a very talented artist). One was of all the butterflies in the fairytale landscape that was Ometepe (in Nicaragua). The other a light-infused jungle landscape inspired by the northern parts of Panama. I love love love them and can’t wait to get them framed & hanging on my walls someday soon.

THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE

Nas was just one of the many amazing people who came to stay at La Serrana. It’s the type of place that just draws beautiful people to it.

The ‘front yard’ is an unfettered lush green valley with all these gorgeous feminine curves… and just like a woman: it is forever changing moods – the shapes shift, the clouds drift… sunshine peaks out and rainbows form before a headstrong storm… Not once did I tire of looking out at that valley on my way up to breakfast.

Breakfast is held in an ambient dining room. Lots of solid timber & glass. Apparently, the entire property was once owned by a massive, wealthy Cali / Medellin family. And the gorgeous vivacious Olga who cooks us brekky every day used to be their family cook. She told us she once did a dinner for 150 of them. I love eating here: the sun spills into the glassed walls… and from the exposed beams hang hundreds and hundreds of empty wine bottles.

I spent my weekday mornings taking Spanish lessons at one of the alfresco tables. 180 degree views. Marcia, my gregarious teacher, is qualified to teach at university level. She’s one of 6 kids (all of whom are professionals) and she’s also a single mum. Her son is at uni in Bogota studying law. She’s rightfully very proud of him. She’s really helped improve my Spanish and I just loved spending time with her. I‘ve learnt a lot about Colombian culture through her.

Marcia was sweet enough to invite me and Marc – an Aussie larrikin who arrived here on crutches – to dinner at her house for Santa Semana (Holy Week). She cooked up a most delicious traditional dish called Ajiaco Bogotano for her son, friends & us. Marc had 3 helpings it was that good!

He was a good boy that one. Bit out there, but a heart of fucking gold. He reminded me a bit of wild brumby. We had a great night literally (okay, maybe not literally) laughing our arses off on golden tops we’d found in the fields under cow patties. That was definitely one of my all-time favourite ‘big nights out’ in Salento. Mind you – they were very far & few between!

Most of my evenings were spent cooking up a storm in the communal kitchen… generally huge vegetarian feasts for the long-termers – teaming up with the softly-spoken Fernando from Argentina (who was one of the other volunteers there) and drinking cheap Chilean reds.

Either that or revelling in Olga’s culinary skills. Mexican nights were my favourite, followed very closely by her mushroom & nut burgers. Which Olga gave me the recipe for, as part of my farewell present from all the staff – I was stoked! I ended up getting quite close to the staff there. Particularly Olga and the one of the hardest working Latin Americans I have ever met, Luz. They all only spoke Spanish which provided a great opportunity for me to practice. But moreover, I just really enjoyed getting to know them. We shared lots of girly goss & giggles. Tears were shed when I left. I’m gunna miss them all terribly.

TATTOO

In fact, I’m going to miss the whole country terribly. I ended up being there close to my 90 days. It’s a stunning country. And the people are so warm & welcoming. It’s funny: you hear all these things about how dangerous Colombia is & blah blah blah.

One night I found myself stumbling home down the 1.2km dirt track from town, in the middle of the night – quite drunk & completely alone. I don’t know that I would even do that in Australia. And here I was in goddamn Colombia! I know for a fact that I had absolutely nothing to worry about. I was safe as houses.

Colombia was full of surprises for me: It’s no secret that a lot of tourists  go there for a *good, cheap* time. And as someone who’s always been up for a *good cheap* time –it is a little ironic then that Colombia for me was the beginning of something a lot deeper.

This vacation has never been about eating, loving and praying (just quietly – I hated that book). I originally just wanted to take some time out, see a bit of Latin America, do a bit of diving & possibly drink a *few* mojitos.

I’m not even certain if Colombia was originally on my hit list. I was only supposed to be away for 4 months. Nearly one year later & here I am – still going. And I’m delving more into the spiritual and less into the spirits.

I ended up participating in the Ayahuasca ceremony three more times. And every time was wildly different for me. And extraordinarily enlightening. Sometimes scary. My past came back to haunt me. My future made itself known to me. I took a walk with my demons. And I saw my guiding lights. On my last night, I thought I was going to die. In all seriousness. I saw a white light. I heard a voice calling me. My body temperature dropped dramatically. I was unbearably cold. And then I started thinking about everyone I loved. It was terrifying. But also very revealing. I learned what I need to focus on from here on in.

I feel very fortunate. It might be overstating it a bit, but I felt like meeting the Shaman – Señor Carlos (or Tita) was akin to meeting the Dalai Lama. He is very clearly an extraordinarily spiritual, wise man. He sees stuff. He knows stuff. He can fix stuff. He and his people are very experienced and are all amazing caring individuals.

The morning after my penultimate ceremony, I spent some time with another Shaman, ‘Jairo’, who amongst other things told me I needed to meditate on these four words: Humildad, Respeto, Amor & Gratitud (Humility, Respect, Love & Gratitude). These words – while simple & essentially non-revolutionary really resonated with me. I knew immediately that I wanted to tattoo these words on my wrist as a reminder of my time with these people, as a reminder of the things I need to be mindful of on a daily basis and as a reminder of my time in Colombia. Beautiful, surprising Colombia.

Wild Horses

A couple of days after my first Ayahuasca ceremony, my roomies – a delightful wee Irish lass by the name of Niamh (pronounced Neve – a girl I would become really good friends with); another Aussie gal, Nadine; and I decided we would go horse riding down to a nearby waterfall.

On the way back, my horse tripped over a wet log and fell on its front legs. I went flying over the top of his head and bore the brunt of my body on my right shoulder. My sunnies took out a good chunk of skin just near my right eye and somehow I also managed to sustain minor injuries to my left leg. It all happened so quickly – there was absolutely nothing I could have done about it. I just remember hitting the ground and then bursting out into tears. It fucking hurt.

To cut a long story short, I ended up in the local hospital getting yet another shot of anaesthetic (that would be lot # 3 on this trip. Niamh thinks I should BYO next time) before getting two stitches to my eye and the advice to go to Armenia as soon as possible for x-rays.

That night, I collapsed into bed absolutely exhausted. When I awoke – all my adrenalin had worn off and I was in a world of pain. Frida the Swede (one of the three gorgeous volunteers at La Serrana) offered to come to Armenia with me with her very decent Spanish to help translate.

It was there, we had another quintessential Latin American experience. We walked through a security gate which would put most Australian airports to shame. We were seen by 3 different admin people before we got to see an intern. There were a lot of long waits, a bit of paperwork and being shuffled around from room to room.

I was forced into a wheelchair to be taken to a room upstairs. Frida & I were falling apart at the sheer ridiculousness of it all. We were sent back downstairs and shuffled around a bit more, while various kids in orthodontic braces looked at my x-rays. It was a long time coming before we got any kind of diagnosis. The details of which are still a complete mystery to this day.

They then told us we needed to go procure a sling which they would then fit once we returned. We tried to leave the building the way we came however the guards would only let Frida leave. For some reason I’m still not clear on, I had to stay put. So Frida left, went to 3 different pharmacies and came back sans sling.

No dramas: we’d go to the pharmacy in the private hospital and if necessary we could get them to fit the sling there.  We informed the admin kids of our intentions and they told us we couldn’t leave without the right permissions. WTF!

I picked up my x-ray and made my way to the nearest door, figuring I didn’t need any goddamn permission to leave. It’s a hospital right? Not a freaking prison.

It was then things started to get really interesting.

The door was locked and the security guards wouldn’t let us pass. Frida & I initially started off calmly explaining our situation and quietly asking why we couldn’t leave. When we were told it was for our own safety, in case we weren’t psychologically fit to leave – it was then we started to lose our shit. This was the epitome of ludicrous. We started getting antsy with the guards and this quickly escalated into a screaming session. Frida in Spanish & Swedish, and I in English (I figured they would get my gist). They weren’t offering us any advice or solutions. We both felt frustrated and moreover, trapped. I started yelling something about being detained against my will and wanting to call the Australian Embassy. Quite the crowd gathered to see what the crazy gringas were carrying on about but noone stepped in to try and help. Possibly they had concluded we were indeed not psychologically fit to leave.

By this stage, Frida had lost the ability to communicate in any language. And I also was at a loss for words. A man was let in from outside to help translate. We resumed our shouting until eventually we had to take a breath. The man then very calmly spoke to us: yes, he empathised and, yes the system was shit, and yes, he would help us leave.

Then the penny dropped. This man wasn’t staff. FUCK. We had been yelling at a regular guy who was simply stepping in to help. Woops.

I started asking him questions. Turns out his grandfather was in the ER and the stupid security guards weren’t letting him INTO the hospital. Another WTF! So apart from being yelled at by a couple of crazy girls – our situation had actually benefited him in that he would now be able to see his grandfather. But Frida and I couldn’t have been sorrier. We felt absolutely terrible. This poor man’s grandfather could potentially be dying and we were standing there shouting at him.

In the end, he found a staff member who could organise the paperwork for us to be able to leave the hospital. We apologised profusely, wished him & his family the best and bid him farewell. I paid my outrageously expensive bill and we left.

A couple of hours later we were back in the peaceful surrounds of La Serrana, me in a sling and happily drugged up, recounting our now hilarious story to anyone who would listen. I did a lot of self-medicating that night and decided I would ask Jon (the owner) ASAP if I could stay on to volunteer when Sammy left. Even if I had wanted to leave (which I didn’t) – there was no way I’d physcially be able to pick up my backpack for some time anyways. It seemed fate was convening to keep me here – at least for the time being.

Cool change

After bidding my good friend Scott a teary farewell on the side of the road in Santa Marta, I was having a quiet beer in the cool wooden bar of la Brisa Loca when I met André – a sexy young thang from Melbourne, who introduced himself to me as a painter. At first I thought he meant houses. But he meant paintings. He showed me his sketchbook. Turns out he’s a pretty talented aerosol artist.

We got chatting and hit it off well enough to decide to hang for the rest of the afternoon. We watched the sunset from the water’s edge, walked around the plaza and grabbed a bite to eat at a lil cafe which did a great fusion of Colombian and Mediterranean food.

Later we went back to the hostel for happy hour. A few rum & cokes and What Have You, and it ended up being quite the night. We met a top bloke from Cootamundra (drowning in Aussies over here) who I ended up hanging out with the next day.

Josh & I took a bus & then a motorbike right out of town to a local’s beach. Clean and virtually deserted. A man kept bringing us icy cold beers and later a huge tasty fish lunch. Why can’t they do deliveries on Bondi Beach? Bloody genius.

Next day I took a plane to Medellin and quite literally bumped into Piers as I was walking into a hostel. Another happy accident! Piers is one of the two gorgeous big blokes from Aus that Pinky had brought to Little Corn. I thought he was still up on the Caribbean coast, so it was a terrific surprise. He was travelling with his friend Tara from home and Sam from Switzerland. They were good banter so I kicked around with them for a few days. One afternoon, the boys accompanied me to the Modern Art Gallery which I rated. But outside is where it’s really at – there’s all this incredibly vibrant street art.

We also took an overnight trip to a quaint lil town called Guatapé, where we visited El Peñól. ‘Big Rock’. And it is. It reaches an elevation of 2,135m above sea level and weighs an estimated 10,000,000 tonnes (I’d love to know how they come to this figure). It is said to be 70 million years old.

On one side of the rock, in white paint there is a massive letter ‘G’ and part of the letter ‘U’. Apparently the two neighbouring townships of Guatapé and El Peñol had long disputed ‘ownership’ of the rock. The folk of Guatapé had decided to settle the matter by simply painting their name on the rock. As you do. The people of El Peñól naturally noticed the works in progress and put a stop to it.

We climbed 644 stairs for an amazing view. It’s strange, but this particular part of Colombia is reminiscent of rolling European landscapes. Not what I was expecting at all. But I like it.

We went our separate ways after that. They made their way back up the coast. I returned to Medellin but to a different hostel. Secret Buddha was a beautiful retreat way out of town. I met a lovely young Aussie chick by the name of Ginger (who is actually blonde) and her & I played nanas for a few days. Healthy food, zero booze and lots of early nights.

She left for Salento in Zona Cafetera a day before me. I met her in the Plantation House on Saturday night. Recommended by LP, I thought it a bit rubbish to be honest. I moved the next day to a beautiful eco-farm called La Serrana which is about 1.5ks out of town and I’ve been here ever since.

Salento is a small country town 1,895 m above sea level; population 7,500. The town itself consists of a big plaza and just a few streets of cafes, bars & souvenir shops. The latter can lend a bit of touristy feel to the place. But if you look around, it’s still a very traditional town in many ways. Lots of preserved colonial architecture and wrinkly old brown cowboys sitting around in ponchos.

I really like it here. Everyone says hello when they pass you in the street. It’s got a very relaxed vibe. In one of the most stunning settings. Expansive green mountains and wide open valleys, cloaked by cool grey clouds.

I took a ‘tour’ of a boutique family-owned coffee plantation and learned about the process of picking, drying, roasting, blending, brewing coffee. We spent the better part of the day with a gorgeous family. And got really jacked up on too many espressos. Gosh they were good!

I also did a big hike in the nearby Cocora Valley. I need to start getting fit again if I’m to take on the Inca Trail and other hikes around Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. This area is a great place to start.

The Cocora Valley is part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park. This valley is one of the main reasons folks come to visit this area. It is here the Quindio wax palms grow. The wax palm is the national tree & symbol of Colombia. These trees which can live up to 100 years old & grow up to 50m are the tallest palms in the world. There’s so many of them and they create this completely surreal landscape. It feels like you’re walking through a scene in Avatar.

I spent the next few days simply enjoying La Serrana. Taking short walks, reading, drinking lots of good coffee, cooking. It was in these first few days that I decided I really wanted to stay here. They have a program where you can volunteer in exchange for free accommodation, breakfast and ½ price dinners. I thought I could stop for a while & take some more Spanish lessons.

Then on the Thursday evening (15 March), I was offered an amazing opportunity to take part in a very special event…