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Salento

After hearing about Salento, I knew it was another stop I couldn't miss. Unfortunately it meant going back through Medellin and straight south, West of Bogota. Another "overnight" bus landed us in Salento at 4am, where we found the kitchen door opened and slept on couches in the kitchen/living room until reception woke us up with a few questions about what we were doing there.
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Salento is in the coffee region - which means warmer temperatures than I'd been used to so far and lush, incredible scenery. First thing we took a tour of a coffee farm, learning all about the process from growing the plants to roasting the beans. Coffee grows best in shade, so the plants are often planted alternating with other plants, so the farm also had bananas, pineapples, blackberries, and I even tried my first Lulo - delicious! Not to mention, drinking the freshest cup of coffee you could imagine. We watched the farmer take the seeds from the drying floor, roast them, grind them, and finally make us a delicious cup of Colombian Coffee.
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Later that day we went on an incredibly horseback ride through muddy and rocky trails, fields, through small rivers, and finally to a waterfall. Cold, but perfect for a little cooling off. The boys stripped down and jumped right in. The girls were happy giving our legs a freshening up.
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At night, a little game of Tejo was in order. Basically corn-hole but instead of bean bags you use metal discs, which are essentially thrown at triangles filled with gun powder. A successful throw is rewarded with a deafening explosion. Welcome to Colombia :) BTW, I absolutely sucked at this game.
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The following day we did a 5-hour hike in Los Nevados National Park. The very highest point was a lookout where we were served hot chocolate and had a mystical views of a hummingbird hotzone.
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Back to Bogota

I decided my next stop would be San Gil, but since I would drive right through Bogota I decided to stop for a day... which turned into 4. I got to re-unite with several people I'd met in Montanita and one from the couple days I spent in Estonia last year! A few more tourist stops were inevitable, and I got a bunch of great Vegetarian food. MMMMMmmmm.
Montanita Reunion!

Montanita Reunion!

Playing in the park

Playing in the park

Demonstration for the rights of the Indigenous People.

Demonstration for the rights of the Indigenous People.

Quick pose with the riot police

Quick pose with the riot police

IMG_1090.jpgMining some sal at the Catedral de Sal

Mining some sal at the Catedral de Sal

Catedral de Sal

Catedral de Sal

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Free Concert in the Plaza

San Gil

San Gil is the adventure sports capital of Colombia. Well known for the class 4 and 5 rapids for white water rafting, it's a small town with A LOT to offer to adventure-seeking tourists such as myself. Unfortunately water levels were high and too dangerous to raft. So instead we went caving! A very cool walk through a huge cave with several gaping rooms felt like another world. We even had to swim totally underwater a couple times pass under to another section.
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Next up, Parasailing! Basically you're just looking over this incredible canyon, they strap a backpack onto you and hook you up to your guide and say RUNNNNNN! Yeah, run off a cliff. A few seconds of wild rollercoaster-like swoops and your up sailing like a bird who-knows how high up over a canyon. I felt no fear as we're gliding and dipping around the cliffsides and into the neighboring canyon. A perfect landing 45-minutes later and I was on cloud 9.
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The last big adventure was supposed to be rapelling down a massive waterfall, but it was apparently raining at the top (although I have a sneaking suspicion the very important futbol game on had something to do with them not taking us). Instead we walked up through the park ourselves to the bottom of the waterfalls. They have so much power it wasn't even possible to swim up to them, you are pushed right back. Perfect for a swmming-in-place workout.
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LOTS of activities lately, which means now it's time to go chill in the sun!

Posted by LSpokojny 06:45 Archived in Colombia Comments (2)

Medellin and Guatape

From a Western tourist perspective Medellin has two big claims to fame - Fernando Botero and Pablo Escobar. One is still displayed proudly in the center of the city, the other is worn as a bit of a scar of terror that the city once knew. Besides all that, Medellin is a large, beautiful, modern, European-looking city. First of all, the metro in this city is spectacular. Clean, large, and modern! Riding the metro was also an experience, as each stop we got off at had a unique and specific "feel". There's also a cable car that runs as a part of the regular public transportation line but unfortunately a main part of it was under construction so I didn't get to go on it. Secondly, the people in Colombia are amazing. You may have heard this before, but let me give you some context. If you show up with a backpack or look lost in some way, someone will probably ask where you're going. And not just tell you where to go, but bring you there personally no matter how far out of their way. And THEN, they don't just drop you there, they stick around until they make sure you are being taken care of and the person they are "passing you off to" is well aware of what you need. Absolutely incredible hospitality. I've never seen anything like it... again and again.IMG_0397.jpgIMG_0357.jpgIMG_0340.jpg

Plaza Botero and the Museo Antioquia, where Fernando Botero donated most of his artwork. Botero took inspiration from daily life in Medellin and used volume to alter perspectives. Not just fat people :) Museo Antioquia also houses other beautiful modern and colonial artwork so it was a pretty cultural day if I do say so myself.
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There is quite an effort to keep some green in the city, so we visited the Botanical Garden, which was pretty, but small. And you all know how much I love to be barefoot these days, so after keeping my feet cooped up in my hiking boots for the last couple weeks, the Barefoot Park was a perfect and welcome activity!
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A couple of the guys I was hanging out with suggested going to a futbol game (American soccer of course) so we gathered a large group and jumped on the metro to the game. This brings me right back to where I talk about how amazing the people are. We stopped so a couple of the guys could buy t-shirts. I asked where we could buy tickets and we were told that the ticket booth was closed so you have to buy tickets on the street. I inquired if there were a lot of fakes and what section we want to be in. He told me, but then he and two friends spent the next half an hour finding people selling tickets on the street, making the deal for us and inspecting them for authenticity. THEN they walked us through the security lines. We thought that was it. Then they stood with us for the hour it took to get through the final security line and into the stadium. Pushed us through the pack of people and found us a section to sit in. They ditched their other friends to sit with us and most importantly, coached us to put our cameras away, since every once in a while the pack of people will storm forward like a mosh pit and trample everyone in front (us). The game was a blast, with singing and drums the ENTIRE time. Our team won 1-0 and the evening was a huge success.
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After several days in Medellin, and some fantastic food and poeple (we managed to avoid the really cool shopping) we took off to a small town an hour and a half away to climb a giant rock called El Peñon. Okay, so it wasn't just a giant rock. Guatape is an adorible little city with tile carvings on the side of every building and man-made lakes weaving through the land as far as you can see. The first day we climbed the 600+ stairs to the top of El Peñon for a magnificant view of the landscape below. Our new dog friend followed us around the entire town for hours to find a row boat for rent. And after the lady emptied the boat of water with a bucket, the 5 humans and 1 dog piled in for a little "fishing" although there were no fish to be found. We had great day in a dreamy little town, but it was time to hit the road for some serious coffee education a little more south...
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Posted by LSpokojny 10:00 Archived in Colombia Comments (1)

Bogota

rain

Chapter three of my South American backpacking adventure begins in Bogotá, Colombia. THE question from people in the US seems to be, "Why Colombia?" From everyone I'd spoken to and everything I read, the real question was how in the world could you NOT go to Colombia. Apparently one of the most biodiverse countries in the world- famous salsa clubs, coastlines to surf, camping in hammocks in the national parks, climbing volcanoes, working the fields in the coffee region, need I go on? Oh and the people, supposed to be some of the most friendly people in the world.

So off to Colombia I went. The Bogota I know is a charming city with uneven cobblestone streets and distractingly cool street art. I stayed in a relatively small hostel in Candelaria, where street performer of all kinds would put on shows throughout the day and night. Most exciting was a “marching band” from New York that put on such a show they had the entire plaza dancing – at one point even started a mosh pit to trumpet music. Hippies, hipsters, and backpackers enjoyed the small cafes, bars and shops in the area.

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I arrived during Semana Santa, the week of Easter. Unfortunately, everything closes and the whole city mass migrates to the coast (at least I wasn’t on the coast). I spent the first several days in Bogota walking, walking and walking – there weren’t any bars or restaurants to even go to! But I got a good feel of the city, and several days later when everything opened up I loved taking in the new vibe of the city – open shops everywhere with interesting fashion, and international food. My hostel was small and unassuming but had a wonderful vibe in the upstairs living room when light came through the glass blocks in the floor and colored glass on the walls. I had a great crew that was equally as lazy during out days in Bogota and we pretty much took over the hostel as our own living room. One night we made a big Easter Feast and brought our blankets to the living room to veg and watch movies. Oh and by the way, did I mention it rained every single day?

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That’s not to say I didn’t see plenty in Bogota. One of the highlights was the Mount Monserrate. A super steep hill with a church on top. After two failed attempts at walking up (closed both times) we gave in a took the cable car. A breathtaking view of a vast city. The gold museum was pretty cool, we also walked around the Palacio de Nariño, a church or two, and another plaza or two. Lot of obligatory site seeing ☺

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Posted by LSpokojny 17:27 Archived in Colombia Comments (3)

Surfing - progress update

Surfing

When I first started learning to surf when I got here I was just abused on a daily basis. I called surfing my fight club – why was I so willingly signing up for a daily beating? I had no idea how abusive this sport is, with bruises on my knees, ribs, hip bones, and anywhere else my board or fins decide to smack into me. I always had a strong feeling I'd love surfing and finally know that I do. Even when there are few or no waves, floating on the water during a sunset is the most beautiful and peaceful thing I can think of. I can feel myself improving and am excited every day walking home from the beach with surge of energy- even after getting pummeled by waves or slashed by fins. Once I learned to “pop” and stay standing to ride out the wave, the world of surfing became real to me. That’s not to say I still don’t get beaten up, or have a TON to learn (master the green wave), but I actually feel like I’m surfing now. And now I'm finally able to share some surfing photos thanks to Chris's GoPro!
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I was hoping that surfing would help alleviate some of my snow envy during this winter – the very first winter since I could walk without snow and skiing/snowboarding. I actually think it’s making it worse cause Breck and Montanita are basically sister cities (Small ski town where a bunch of transient 20-somethings are there to bum out and drink and ski/ride vs a small surf town where a bunch of transient 20-somethings are there to bum out and drink and surf). I’m out there learning to surf having a blast, and then I see a facebook post that Breck got 2 feet of snow. Okay, maybe I’ll go skiing this week… maybe not.

Oh, and btw one of my first times out surfing I went to a neighboring town called “Las Tunas” on a surf trip and had a bit of a run in with a sting ray. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, sting ray stings hurt like hell. At first it sort of felt like a crab pinch on my ankle. I hobbled away trying to walk it off, then as the pain got more intense ran/limped up the beach to the cabana where everyone was relaxing. Immediately a few of the more informed surfers go, that’s no crab, that’s a sting ray. The pain went from, “yeah it hurts” to “holy shit someone giving a level 10 indian burn to the inside of my muscles”… all the way up to the top of my leg. Don't worry, there were a handful of doctors there that assured me I would live. After an hour or so the intense gut-renching pain began to lessen and it turned into a mild limp for the rest of the day. And mine wasn’t even a "bad" one. From now then on, I learned the sting ray shuffle (p.s. over a month and a half later I still have a hard little welt from the sting). And don't let the tini-tiny dot in the photo fool you- little sting, BIG pain.
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Posted by LSpokojny 08:59 Archived in Ecuador Tagged surfing ecuador montanita sting_ray Comments (0)

The Montanita Way

Cerveza, Surfing, Spanish, Surfing, and Salsa

It became very clear that my life in Montanita would be exactly the opposite of my life in Peru.
In Peru I became very tranquil, quiet, and didn't feel the need to go out and socialize - In Montanita we were going out every single night
In Peru I was wearing 3 layers to bed just to stay warm - in Montanita i couldn't be bothered to use the sheet on the bed and mosquito nets are mandatory.
In Peru I meditated, read, watched movies and talked to friends and family often - In Montanita if I have one free second I use it to jump in the pool
In Peru I would go for walks or hikes in dry mountain paths - In montanita i surf in the ocean
In Peru I wore hiking boots - In Montanita my flip flops broke so no longer wear shoes
Okay, you get the picture. I live in a party/beach town.

My average day:
I go to work every day from about 8am - 5:30, taking out an hour or two for spanish class each day. After work I grab a surf board, run back to the cabanas to put on my bathing suit, and walk to the beach barefooted to surf during the sunset. I had to give Montanita its own sunset scale - a montanita 7 would be a 10 in most of the world. A Montanita 9 makes your breathless and speechless. A Montanita 10 would make anyone cry (haven't had one yet but I had a couple 9s). After surfing I jump in a shower that varies from burning hot to refreshing cold before beginning the night's activity. I've never lived in a place that sometimes doesn't have COLD water but so it is. Part of my job as an intern is to organize/run the activities, which we have about every other day. These include welcome dinners, pool tournaments, soccer matches, cooking classes, salsa classes, a bonfire, and BBQ every other week.
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Salsa at the BBQ


Carrying the surfboard for the first time

Carrying the surfboard for the first time

Juggling school

Juggling school


After the evening activity we hit cocktail alley - a street with more than 20 cocktail stands that make the exact same list of cocktails at exactly the same price. We of course have our favorites, and as an intern at the school I worked out a deal to drink for free when I bring a group... Which is every time I go :) A few times a week after cocktail alley we will go to Cana Grill - for my breck people this would be my newest Salt Creek, except there's a live band on every wednesday, lots of salsa, and the whole floor of the bar is sand. There are a couple other bars that I rarely frequent, but the other main option is to just go hang out on the beach. Ahh paradise. I'm exhausted just writing that. Now you know why I haven't called much.
Honorary cocktail girl

Honorary cocktail girl

A round at Cocktail Alley

A round at Cocktail Alley

Fire on the beach

Fire on the beach

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Contrary to my initial impression of Montanita, you can actually live here on the cheap. Veggies and fruit are VERY inexpensive. Canned and packaged goods are considered to be incredibly expensive here, although incredibly expensive here is probably about at US prices. When we go out we have a few favorite places that cost around $4 per meal. But more often than not we cook family style for between 4 and 10 people for about $1.50 a piece. This fruit salad you see below is considered a splurge but sooo filling and satisfying makes it the perfect lunch.
Family Dinner

Family Dinner

Yummy Lunch

Yummy Lunch

It's no surprise that we have an amazing group of people. Many are even here long term, which makes it easy to feel like home and get in a groove. It's hard to say bye to those coming and going, but each week is stacked with a new set of fun and interesting additions. There is definitely a pattern though - Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, and the US seem to be the only countries that exist at times. And here's a special introduction to Gijs and Chris- my fellow interns and partners in crime.
Don't drink in your work shirt

Don't drink in your work shirt

Intern Love

Intern Love


Cana Grill

Cana Grill

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Posted by LSpokojny 11:35 Archived in Ecuador Tagged surfing ecuador montanita Comments (3)

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