Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Lovers of the Light

A few days after I arrived back in Colombia, Diana, the administrative assistant at the vineyard, asked if I would like to join her for an afternoon in Tibasosa, a well-preserved colonial town just across the valley from Puntalarga. I was happy to have the opportunity to explore more of Boyacá, a place that continues to impress me with its beauty as well as the warmness of its people, los Boyacenses!  When we arrived, we were immediately invited to taste the local specialty, sabajon.  The traditional flavor is feijoa (guava-like) but my favorite variety was café.  It was basically the equivalent of Bailey’s.  Yes, please!  We watched as Boyacenses gathered around the town square for the festivities leading up to the lighting of the square.  The highlight was a dance competition between 4 sweet couples, most of whom appeared to be in their 70’s.

The dance was regional and the crowd loved it!  Then we hiked up the hill to an awesome restaurant called Salvaje Amistoso that had great views of the town.  

We arrived just as the rain did and so we had time to share stories.  Diana’s is one of hard work and determination.  She has a spirited 6-year old daughter named Mariana but goes by Luna.  She lives with Luna and her equally-spirited mother Miriam, in the house 50 meters down the hill from the house I’m living in.  But she spends most of her time in the office in the main house, keeping up with the business of the vineyard.  I was thankful for this time to get to know her better.

Just as the rain lifted, the lights of Tibasosa were illuminated.  It was quite a scene!  Rows of lights draped the entire town square.  The bright white cathedral was now brilliantly white with lights.  

And the “winterscape” on one side of the square made me miss my snow blanketed Vail Valley.  

That would be Santa, chilling in a hammock in a tree

As we were leaving the town to make our way for another city of lights, Nobsa, we exited through a block long tunnel of lights.  And it got me thinking. 

What is it about lights that we love?

Think about it.  There is an amazing fascination with lights, especially this time of year.  Many cities and towns across the world celebrate the lighting of a tree in the center of town and everyone “Oooohs” and “Aaaahs.”  We decorate our own trees and then wait for the moment of truth when someone has the honor of plugging in the lights to illuminate the painstaking work that has been done to cut down the tree and bring it home… or dig it out of storage and carefully attach the right branch to the right hole.  We attend parades of lights and visit festivals of lights. 

And it’s not just in the United States.

Colombia has fully embraced Christmas lights.  Tibasosa is an example.  And then we made our way through Sogamoso and on to Nobsa for their, more tasteful light display.  All of this was during “La Noche de las Velitas” or “The Night of Little Candles” when everyone lights candles outside their home to express their belief in the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary.  I’m amazed I only saw one paper bag burning from the candle inside during the evening.  And then I saw the highway that runs through Puntalarga transform into a tropical winter scene as I understood the purpose for the palm trees made from plastic bottles.  It doesn’t look so great during the day.  But at night, it’s really pretty cool.  (Sorry...no pic of this.)

And our love of lights isn't just a Christmas phenomena. 

Consider Paris – the City of Lights – where I began the journey in September 2013.  The lights in the city create a glow like no place on earth.  And of course there is the Eiffel Tower that now sparkles with lights for a few minutes at the top of every hour – drawing the attention of millions of tourists and locals each year. 

Speaking of Paris – we love candlelit dinners, when that someone special sitting across from you is illuminated by a candle and everything else seems to fade away.  Or cozy campfires where the light also gives warmth to those huddled around it.  Or fireworks displays that dazzle us with the light that seems to rain down on us. 

What is it about light that we love?  

As I’ve pondered this question, I have found, for me, the answer is I love the light because it is symbolizes that which I am seeking after in my life – Jesus, who said “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  (John 8:12)

As I was thinking about the love of light, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a woman in Pokhara, Nepal last November.  She had spoken to a group of Nepali women about how “light” appears in the Bible.  I don’t remember much of what she said so I decided to do my own little study of “light” in the Bible. 

Here are some of the things that were brought to light. (Sorry… I had to.)   

“Light” is in the very first and the very last chapters of the Bible:
“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3)
“No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.  They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  And night will be no more.  They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 22:3-5)

God has used “Light” to save people from death and destruction:
“And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.” (Exodus 13:21) – referring to the Israelites as they were fleeing the captivity of the Egyptians.

David, a man after God’s own heart, knew the power of the “Light” that was the Lord:
“There are many who say, ‘Who will show us some good?  Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!’” (Psalm 4:6)
“For it is you who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness.” (Psalm 18:28)
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)
“For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” (Psalm 36:9)
“He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.” (Psalm 37:6)
“Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling!” (Psalm 43:3)
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105)
“The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” (Psalm 119:130)
“If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” (Psalm 139:11-12)

“Light” is sweet:
Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.”  (Ecclesiastes 11:7)  Amen!  As I trudged up a mountain in the middle of the night a year ago, I kept telling myself, “Just wait for the sky to get light… you know you can do this.”  I’ve never seen a sunrise sweeter than the one from the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
The “Light” transforms people:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”  (Isaiah 9:2)

The “Light” comforts:
“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” (Isaiah 42:6-7)

 The “Light” shines brightest in the darkness:
No one knew this better than Job.  Did you know that the word “light” appears the most in the entire Bible in the book of Job, 29 times?  “Job” is considered to be the oldest book in the Bible.  It is the epic story of the faithfulness of a man to God in the midst of being tested by Satan – as in losing EVERYTHING – and ultimately trusting in God as his creator.  Job knew and lived in light.  And then he knew and lived in darkness.  To him the difference was real and great.  At the beginning of his trial he asked: “Or why was I not hidden away in the ground like a stillborn child, like an infant who never saw the light of day?” (Job 3:16)  But then Job defends his God to his friends, “He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings utter darkness into the light.” (Job 12:22)  Job later explains to his friends “How I long for the months gone by, for the days when God watched over me, when his lamp shone on my head and by his light I walked through darkness.” (Job 29:3)  Then Job’s friend Elihu reminds Job, “God has delivered me from going down to the pit, and I shall live to enjoy the light of life.” (Job 33:28)  And then the Lord speaks up.  He reminds Job of the true nature of the creator God.  “What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?” (Job 38:24)

(The most interesting description of light might be when the Lord describes his creation of the Leviathan: “His sneezings flash forth light, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn.” (Job 41:18) His sneezes flash forth light?  I’m sorry, but that’s just funny to imagine.) 

And as I consider the darkness in the world that I read about in the news, or that I know others are experiencing in their own reality, I know I am looking for some light in the darkness, for the “good news” instead of being pummeled by bad news and sad news. 

The “Light” is the Good News:
The Good News is that “Light” came into the world when God became man in the form of a baby named Jesus.  “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:4-5,9-13) 

The “Light” taught us of the power of “Light”:
The following are words spoken by Jesus about light…
“You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:14-16)  I know I have failed at this many times.  My light has gone out many times.  Lord, thank you for reigniting my lamp.  May I be faithful to keep it shining. 
 “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” (Matthew 10:27)    
“No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.  For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.  Therefore consider carefully how you listen.  Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.” (Luke 8:16-18) 
“Your eye is the lamp of your body.  When your eye is healthy, your whole body if full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.  Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.” (Luke 11:34-36)
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)  Amen?  Amen!

The “Light” convicts:
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes in to the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”  (John 3: 19-21)

The “Light” gives hope for a New Day:
“For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.” (Luke 17:24)

As you see the lights throughout this Christmas season, my prayer is that everyone would know the loving power of the “Light of the World” who wants to bring all of us from darkness into light. 

I’ll leave you with Linus and his words… after he said “Lights, please!”

Monday, December 8, 2014

Family and the Familiar in Florida

Last March when I was in the process of deciding to extend my sabbatical into a second year, I knew that I wanted to spend either Thanksgiving or Christmas with my family.  I sent a message to my sister-in-law, Carolyn, and asked her what their plans were for Thanksgiving.  During the past 10 years, we’ve been blessed to spend the Thanksgiving holiday in Longboat Key, Florida at Grandma and Grandpa Weaver's condo.  So I asked Carolyn if they were planning on going to Florida for Thanksgiving.  She said that they were planning on going if I was planning on going.  I told her I was planning on going if they were planning on going.  So I guess we were all going to Florida for Thanksgiving, as long as my parents were on board as well.  That was basically a given. 

I also planned my destination this fall keeping in mind a location with easy access to Florida.  Thankfully, Spirit Airlines flies into all the major cities in Colombia… for super cheap!  My flight from Chicago to Cartagena was $170 and I was able to fly from Bogota to Tampa for $220!  And fun fact: Cartagena is closer to Miami than Chicago is. 

And so, I was Florida bound for the Thanksgiving holiday with the fam.  I’m still doing my best to practice the philosophy of “wherever you are, be all there”, but I was really looking forward to time at the beach.  This is in part because it is a place with few surprises.  After constantly learning new things about different cultures, once in a while, the familiar can be a place of great rest.    
Made sure to watch the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico every day.  Love it!

Longboat Key has been this place of rest for our family over the years.  And because Weavers have been making regular pilgrimages here since the 1970’s the memories are numerous.  Most of these memories have taken place on the beach and at our favorite restaurants. 
Last time we took this photo, Zack and Carolyn were just engaged!
Walking the beach, often a couple times of day, is obligatory.  If we turn to the left, our destination is the Longboat Key Club where Pops always says we have to touch the rock. 

If we turn to the right, we pass by a handful of beach “bungalows” (read: ginormous mansions) and then turn around at the Privateer (the second oldest condo building on the island after ours) or if we are feeling “adventurous” we walk another 20 minutes to the pier, then turn around.  Walks have been filled with laughs, with tears, with dreams and with fears.  (I promise I didn’t intend for that to rhyme)  Sometimes we walk alone or in pairs.  Some walk in tennis shoes, other in bare feet.  Some admire the birds, others tolerate the birds (me) and one little one (Hudson) likes to chase the birds.  

I used to look for sea shells to take home but after so many years of collecting shells, it doesn’t seem to be necessary any more. 

And then we are able to spend hours on the beach… mostly reading.  My favorite spot is in a low beach chair with my toes in the water. The only reason to move is when the tide gets higher.  This is the epitome of peacefulness.  

But there is a little more activity now that the 3rd generation has arrived.  Huddy loves the water!  And he also likes putting stuff in containers.  So you can imagine all the work he had to do in filling his sand buckets with water.  I’m quite certain we spent a couple hours on this activity.

On cloudy days or days when we find ourselves a little more motivated, we make our way to St. Armand’s Circle or “The Circle” as it’s known.  On this trip, we learned that the Circle was the vision of John Ringling (of Circus fame) back in the day.  His desire was to make a center for world class dining and shopping.  And it is this, but the best part is the people watching, especially from Crab and Fin – our family’s favorite spot on the circle.  They have a wonderful menu highlighted by fresh baked bread but the best part is the piano player.  Grandpa Bob would always remind us to “tip the piano player.” 

In addition to Crab and Fin, Pops always does an incredible job of treating us to wonderful food.  This trip was no different, and maybe even better as my parents felt it appropriate to make sure I was well fed.  I didn’t bother reminding them that I’ve been treated to amazing cuisine, courtesy of Dr. Marco Quijano Rico, my host and boss at the vineyard in Colombia.  But, I’m definitely not one to turn down good food.  If you happen to find yourself in the Sarasota area, may I make a few suggestions?  Try Antoine's, Cafe Gabbiano, Columbia and Cafe L'Europe.  You won't be disappointed!   

Which brings me to a momentous event in Weaver Family history.  My brother made the Thanksgiving turkey.  By this I mean a male member of the Weaver family made the Thanksgiving turkey.  And it was wonderful.  It was dry-brined and spatchcocked and delicious.  Zack also made the sweeter-than-dessert, sweet potato casserole, a family favorite.  Carolyn contributed her family’s classic broccoli casserole and Pops promised to make the pies.  I was puzzled as to how that would happen as all that Pops makes is coffee and toast.  Moms reminded me that Publix sells pies.  Of course.  What was I thinking? 

My proposed Thanksgiving Dinner, “apps on the beach” was postponed a few days as a result of the "Thanksgiving Day Revolt" (that resulted in Zack making the turkey).  We enjoyed lots of cheese in various forms as the sun was setting over the Gulf of Mexico.  I think we should do this more often.   

But alas, one thing was missing.  Well, two actually.  Luke and Rachel.  I kept hoping for a surprise to show up at the door, but no luck.  Instead they are making the most of their Middle East adventure and we couldn’t be happier for them.  But still, we missed them! 
There's some competition going on between these two couples.
It's all fun and games until someone throws out their back. 

I will say, as much as I loved being with my family in a beautiful place, I almost think reverse culture shock is more difficult that culture shock.  It’s the feeling of being in a familiar place where I expect familiar feelings, but those feelings have now been layered with experiences from cultures where life is more simple.  There are no thoughts of keeping up with Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals or updating my old iPhone to the latest iOS, or being concerned with driving a rental car without my name being on the agreement.  The feelings are more complex and deeper than these examples, but at this point, I can’t quite put it into words. 

Instead, I find myself back at the vineyard in Colombia, a place that felt like home when I arrived again last Thursday.  I was welcomed back by the Doctor, his family and the rest of the girls at the vineyard to celebrate the month long wine festival that began on Saturday… which will be highlighted in future posts. 
View from my "office" at the vineyard

In the meantime, you are all welcome to attend Vid y Vino Internacional (Vine and Wine International), celebrated each Saturday afternoon until January 10th at the Viñedo de Puntalarga.  Let me know if you can make it!  I’d love to see a familiar face!  

Before I go... a few more from the Huddy Collection

Fun at the Mote Marine Aquarium 

Looking for his wingman

Boy loves his cheese

The End


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Journey through Thankfulness

I found my seat on the plane.  It was in the middle position but in an exit row.  Some people might breathe a sigh of relief to be in the exit row.  But the extra leg room is wasted on me.  In fact, I’d rather be in a row where I can wedge my feet between the seats in front of me and lean against the window.  So I asked the flight attendant if there might be a person with long legs sitting by a window who might like to change with me.  She gave me a look as though this is the first time she had been asked this question.  The man seated next to me remarked that he would have taken me up on that offer in an instant.  His legs were twice as long as mine (and if I weren’t flying to the US, I would have pegged him for a Dutchman).   This exchange led to a 2-hour conversation with my new friend Logan, which means that the flight attendant’s search for a long-legged window-seater turned up negative.  Thankfully!

The conversation started with the typical exchange: Where are you from? Where have you been?  What do you do?  But the responses were anything but typical.  It turns out that Logan is a writer, focusing on travel and technology with an emphasis on the appropriate use of technology.  He has become something of an expert on this after he and his wife conducted a year-long experiment starting in 2001 when they sold their Brooklyn home and moved to Staunton, Virginia to live using only technology that existed before 1900.  You can read about it in his book “SeeYou in a Hundred Years.”  As you might imagine, we had much to talk about. 

As I was recounting my story to him and some of the things I’ve experienced in the past year he made this remark: “You know, as I hear you talk about your experience, I hear you talking about a similar theme that my wife and I experienced as a result of our experiment, and that is “Thankfulness.” 

No kidding.  Thankfulness, indeed.   How can I not be thankful?

Camino de Santiago, Spain - September 2013
I’ve been living like a nomad since I packed up my home in May of 2013 and the journey that has unfolded has been filled with one blessing after another.  As always, I come back to the people.  I’m so thankful for the people that I’ve met along the way who have shared their lives with me, opened their homes to me, guided me on the road and blessed me with fellowship.  As I come upon the one year anniversary of each of my destinations over the past year, I find myself taking a moment to remember the people whom I’ve shared the journey with.  I’m eternally thankful for these people.

Everest Base Camp - October 23, 2013
During this time of travel, I’ve laid my head on more beds/couches/tents/floors/buses than I can count.  Thankfully for eye masks, ear plugs, inflatable neck pillows and the occasional Benadryl, I’ve woken up (surprisingly rested) in some of the most beautiful places in the world.  Did I really get to see the sun rising over the tiny Spanish towns lining the Camino de Santiago, from Everest Base Camp, the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, the desert of Israel, the Cordillera Blanca, Machu Picchu, the Cuban Caribbean and the Colombian Caribbean, all in one year?  Yes.  That happened.  So, I’m thankful for the physical ability to be able to have had these experiences and to appreciate the beauty of the Lord’s creation and creativity in each of these places.         

Mount Kilimanjaro - January 5, 2014
And the things I’ve learned along the way have filled me with excitement.  Whether it was learning how to cope with the extreme culture shock I experienced in Kathmandu, or the complexity of life for Israelis and Palestinians, or the culturally rich yet rigid reality of life in Cuba that I am still attempting to wrap my mind around, I’m thankful for the opportunity to learn how the rest of the world goes round.  It’s funny to me how I continue to learn more about these cultures even once I have left those surroundings.  What’s even more exciting is that I believe I will continue to learn and attempt to understand what I have experienced for a lifetime to come.  I’m thankful to be able to take this journey in my mind as well!

Mitzpe Ramon, Israel - January 19, 2014
But really.  It’s not just this season of travel and adventure that I have to be thankful for.  The ten years leading up to this season have been filled with incredible blessings.

I have an incredible community that I have been blessed to share life with in the Vail Valley.  Since my first weekend in Vail in February 2003, I have called Calvary Chapel Vail Valley my home.  I’ve been beyond-blessed by the fellowship I’ve been a part of there and the teaching I’ve experienced from Pastor Tommy.  (And typing this makes me want to be seated in row 5 on the left side in those comfy-blue chairs, worshipping with some beautiful souls in the Valley.)  And this fellowship has led to being blessed by a group of incredible women who have gathered together to share life and life with Jesus every week for years.  (And this thought makes me want to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea in hand and dig into the Word with my Bible Study Beauties).  I’m overflowing with thankfulness for this fellowship, even from afar! 

Cordillera Blanca from Huaraz, Peru - March 2014
I was blessed to find a job (the first and only place I interviewed) at Eagle Valley High School starting in August of 2003. Over the next ten years, I was blessed to spend time with some of the most kind, caring and funny students I could imagine. Many have asked me if I miss the classroom. My response is always that I miss my students, the students I’ve already taught. And I’d love to go back and teach those same students again. A solid majority of my “friends” on Facebook are former students. Over the years, and especially this past year, they’ve blessed me with encouragement for the journey I’m on and for that, I am thankful.

Machu Pichu - April 6, 2014
Let’s be honest.  I have my whole life to be thankful for and that is rooted in an incredibly supportive family.  My parents have cheered for me and prayed for me every step of the way.  Moms continually responds to curious friends asking about concerns for my safety by saying “I gave her up to the Lord a long time ago.”  That is an incredible example of a woman of great faith.  And Pops is my biggest marketing agent.  I know he’s been working when I get a friend request from a person I don’t know whom our only mutual friend is my father.  This kind of support is one I’m sure I take for granted as the alternative (having disapproving parents) is one that would take much of the joy away from this experience.  My brothers and their wives have been great as well.  As they continue on their incredibly successful career paths, they still encourage me, their unconventional sister.  And they are looking out for me.  In the past 3 weeks, Zack and Luke both emailed me with future career ideas.  My initial thought was that my parents put them up to planting these seeds but I’ve been assured that was not the case.  It’s sweet to know that they have my best interest in mind… and know me well.  Both suggestions were intriguing, both in the travel realm, one being a restaurant-tour guide.  (You can read all about it in Luke and Rachel’s blog on their Middle Eastern adventure at WhereAreTheWeavers.blogspot.com). 

Havana, Cuba - April 23, 2014
In my life, I have experienced the provision of the Lord. In abundance. All. The. Time. Actually, I think the Thanksgiving Feast is a perfect metaphor for what I have experienced. Incredible food, meticulously prepared and presented at a full table, surrounded by some of the people I love the most. Truly, I don’t deserve any of it. But I will enjoy it, with great thankfulness.

Costeno Beach, Colombia - October 1, 2014
Thank you for reading my Thankfulness Manifesto.  I hope you find time in this season, no matter your circumstances, to reflect on your own.  

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Rolling With It

I have been blessed to find a home at the Viñedo de Puntalarga, a beautiful vineyard on a hilltop that has incredible panoramic views of the Valle del Sol (Valley of the Sun) which is in the Boyacá Region of Colombia, about 4 hours from northeast of Bogotá.  I’m living on a VINEYARD!  How cool is that?  And even more so, the family that has taken me in is remarkable.

Panoramic of the Valle del Sol
Doctor Marco Quijano Rico (known by all as “El Doctor”) is a refined Colombian gentleman of four score and one year old.  He is a European-trained chemist who has pioneered the field of cultivating grapes in a Cool Tropical Region to produce high-quality wine, Dry Riesling and Pinot Noir specificially.  He has a great taste for all things aesthetically pleasing and he loves his languages – German, French, Italian and English.  Basically, if you look up “Renaissance Man” in the dictionary, you will find his picture. 

The Doctor has shared life with sweet Sandra – whom the Doctor calls Sandrita for over 20 years here at the vineyard.  (Observation:  Using dimimuatives is quite common: “Diana” becomes “Dianita” or “Little Diana”, “copa” becomes “copita” or “little glass” even “momento” becomes “momentito” or “little moment”.)  Sandra is soft-spoken but uses her words wisely and timely.  She is also well-respected by the girls that work at the vineyard in the tasting room and seems to be a confidant to many.  I look forward to getting to know her better in the weeks to come.     

They are the parents of Marion vid Fiorella (“Marion vine Flower”).  The Doctor often calls her by her full name.  Other times she is just “Princesa”.  Or sometimes she is called “Princesita Marion vid Fiorella, mi amor” for short.  Marion might be the coolest 15-year-old this side of the Mississippi.  There were hints of this early on but my hunch was confirmed over coffee one day in Duitama when we started to talk about music.  I thought it might be a good topic of conversation considering she was wearing a Beatles shirt.  Sure enough.  This chick likes Oasis, Pearl Jam and others that I don’t recall but remember thinking she has great taste in music.  AND, she uses Spotify… the best app around (in my humble opinion) for music streaming.  I have challenged her to the “Top 40 Challenge” (see blogpost “The Joy of Sharing Music”) and anxiously await what she comes up with. 

In addition to this sweet family, I’ve also become friends with a couple of the girls who work here.  I’ve commented multiple times about the incredible staff they have at the vineyard.  There are some seriously awesome chicas here.  So far, I’ve gotten to know two pretty well. 

A few days after arriving, Diana introduced herself in English and told me she would love to practice with me, a common request.   However, she has a little more motivation as she is studying modern languages at a nearby university.  So I practice my Spanish with her and she corrects me.  And vice-versa.  Diana has also taken up rock-climbing this year, something her boyfriend Eduardo has taught her.  This Monday (a holiday) she invited me to join Eduardo and some friends to climb in nearby Gameza.  It was a spectacular day and it felt great to be out on the rock. 


The routes were definitely a challenge, including some slight overhangs which I have never successfully attempted before.  Although “successful” could be defined in different ways, I did manage to make it to the top of both routes I attempted.  
It's been over a year since I've climbed!  Loved it!
With tired arms and aching hands, I was happy to spend the rest of the day watching some crazy and talented and crazy-talented climbers take to the wall.  
Admiring the talent
Wilson was one.  He was introduced to me as someone who has fixed most of the routes on the wall we were climbing.  It was clear that he was pretty familiar with the routes as I’m pretty sure he climbed 6 of the 8 routes a time or two or six in the afternoon he was there.  Willy joined the group a little later on and wowed all of us as he successfully climbed a route that Eduardo had never seen anyone climb before.  We were all impressed.  I also loved that he played House of Pain’s “Jump Around” to get psyched for this challenge.  During the bus ride back to Puntalarga, Diana asked me what I thought of the group.  Again – Colombians continue to amaze me as being wonderful people.  This group just added to the collection of great people I’ve met along the way.   
My Climbing Buddy and Language Practice Friend, Diana

And then there is Laura.  I met Laura on a Sunday morning.  I had intentions of asking about church recommendations the day before but never did.  When Laura arrived, I immediately noted that her phone cover said “YO ❤️ Jesus”.  Then she mentioned something about church.  I asked if she went to church.  She asked if I was a Christian.  I said yes.  She stuck out her hand to shake mine and said she was too.  Laura is one of the fastest Spanish-speakers I have encountered and at first I thought that it might be a tough challenge to overcome.  However, somehow, I manage to catch most of what she is saying.  And to accompany her mile-a-minute talking is her energy.  This girl is finishing up her college degree, works on the weekends, is super involved in her church: teaching Sunday school, participating in a small group and leading another small group – see “Day 5”, and is a major provider for her family.  I can barely keep up, but enjoy trying. 
I've got my soccer jersey.  I think that means I'm officially Colombian. 

So those are a few of the key people in my life so far here at the vineyard.  But in terms of experiences, the overarching theme seems to be “just roll with it”.  Consider the following examples:   

Day 0, 7pm: I’m freshly showered (my first hot shower in over a month!) after the 28-hour journey from Cartagena.  I meet the Doctor for the first time.  After some basic introductions and niceties, I ask him what exactly he has in mind for me during my time here at Viñedo de Puntalarga.  He explains that each year they have a month long wine festival during December and he is hoping that I can help plan the wine festival.  And maybe I can help some with the marketing of the vineyard.  And maybe I could translate the website (www.marquesdepuntalarga.com) into English. Well, this isn’t quite the “working with tourists” box I checked on the workaway form, but I like wine and I like event planning.  I think I’ll just roll with it.

Day 2, 4pm: Gerardo, my fellow party planner, says to me “Vamos!” (“Let’s go!”)  I ask “Where to?”  He says we are going to Sogamoso, the nearest town about 15 minutes away.  I ask why.  He says to meet someone.  Ok.  I had not anticipated this mid-afternoon field trip, right about the time when I was about to “punch the time clock.”  Did I miss something?  The answer: most likely.  My Spanish suffices in almost every situation and I’ve become an expert on picking up context clues, reading body language to determine how to respond to an exchange that I may not understand, as well as carefully watching people’s mouths as they talk to better understand – which makes talking in a car or on the phone very challenging for me.  But still, I know that there are some important pieces of information that I miss out on.  Often times I find myself replaying an exchange over and over in my head to figure out what I missed and sometimes it will hit me in the middle of the night or the next day – and I laugh at my mistake and I’m grateful for the patience of the polite Colombians for the slow Gringa.  (Observation: People are VERY polite.  Everyone responds to other people with “Si, Señor” or “Si, Señora” and often multiple times in rapid succession: “Si, Señor.  Si, Señor.  Si, Señor.”)  Anyway… I get in the car with El Doctor and Gerardo and we go to Sogamoso to run some errands and then sit down at the Doctor’s favorite restaurant, Gula y Lujuria, to discuss details of the upcoming festival.  We didn’t meet anyone.  Just roll with it.   

Day 3, 2pm:  It’s another one of those “everyone get in the car quick and go” situations.  I think I ask where and why but this is the last time that I’ll ask this.  Again, it’s the Doctor, Gerardo and Marion.  This time our destination is Duitama, 15 minutes in the opposite direction of Sogamoso, to run a few errands and enjoy some lunch.  (Observation: Lunch is the main meal of the day.  As a result, dinner is either small or non-existent.  Not too worry.   I’m quite sure I’ll weigh in a few pounds more than when I arrived.)  We walk into a restaurant and immediately go to where a hostess counter might be in the US and instead find an oven where huge hunks of meat have been roasting all day.  The Butcher and the Doctor have an exchange of which I miss most of.   Next thing I know, the Butcher is cutting off big hunks of meat that could surely pass for the USDA standards of your daily meat allowance.  The Doctor, Gerardo and Marion each choose a piece.  I follow suit and enjoy a delicious piece of meat that was either pork or lamb.  The Doctor nods in approval and we are seated to enjoy our lunch.  I thought what we just ate could suffice for lunch but I’m taught that this is what is called “degustacion” or the taste test.  You are served a “sample” size of meat to determine if it is up to your standards before you decide to enjoy a meal at this particular establishment.  Just rolling with it.        

Day 5, 4pm: My friend Laura had invited me to attend a small group of sorts that meets to pray on Monday evenings.  At 2pm, Laura tells me to meet at her house at 4:30 pm.  At 3:30 she texts me to tell me to meet her now but it takes me about a half an hour of texting back and forth to figure out that she means she is ready to go now and not at 4:30.  We meet down the hill from the vineyard and get a ride with a friend of hers to Duitama.  Before the small group, Laura has the apparent task of selling mushrooms (the kind you buy in the grocery store) produced by her brother’s girlfriend whom we’ve just gotten a ride with.  She hands me a bag of about 8 cartons of mushrooms and we proceed to walk around to a few different restaurants and grocery stores she seems to have connections with and in a matter of 15 minutes, the mushrooms are all sold.  We have time to grab a couple of empanadas at her favorite empanada place in town before meeting up with the small group.  

We finally arrive onto the college campus where we join Carolina in an empty classroom for the small group.  The group is small.  It’s just the 3 of us.  But then suddenly the prayer group turns into approaching unassuming students sitting on what might pass for the “quad” and striking up a conversation with the ultimate goal of sharing the love of Jesus.  Evangelism is clearly a gift that Laura has.  It is not one of mine.  I’m rolling with my Jesus-loving homies.   
Sharing the Love of Jesus with a stray dog on the "quad".
I don't usually touch stray dogs but he didn't give me a choice. 

 Day 6, 8:30am: This is the time set each day to join the Doctor and Sandra for breakfast.  By the way – food is delicious and often cooked in the European-style.  And the Doctor is also the Chef.  After a couple of decades spent living in Germany, Switzerland and Italy, he’s mastered the art of European cooking.  And for that I am very grateful.  But there are some occasional twists.  One morning I was served a large slice of avocado with a large sardine resting where the pit should be and garnished with diced tomatoes, green onions and well-seasoned with salt, pepper and olive oil.  I’ve never had a sardine.  I’m rolling with it.  And it’s delish.  But there is no time for fish and avocados this morning.  The Doctor tells me I must eat quickly as there is a meeting taking place in Duitama about a topic that he believes I would take some interest in.  No more details are provided.  Just roll with it.  I join he and Sandra for a meeting put on by the Dutch Organization called PUM – or Netherlands Senior Experts.  The meeting consists of a crash course in effective business and marketing practices.  My notes consist of taking pictures on my phone of the rather informative PowerPoint slides that are presented very quickly.  This is followed by a kind Dutch man named Cornelius explaining how the Dutch don’t have many natural resources but they have "know-how" and a bunch of retirees who were bugging their spouses and had spent too much time on the golf course.  These retirees got together to find something else to do.  Result: send retirees with over 30 years of experience to developing countries, partner with a business in this developing country to provide “know how” for a particular area of development that the hopeful entrepreneur may be facing a challenge with.  The retiree donates 2 weeks of their time offering potential solutions for this particular challenge in exchange for a place to sleep and meals.  I’m telling you… this program is brilliant.  Any retirees from the U.S. (possibly my 5-days retired father?) willing to replicate or partner with the Dutch?  Check out www.pum.nl.  The Dutch know how to roll. 

To be clear, I don’t want to give you the impression that I’m stressed out by these unexpected events.  Instead, I find myself shaking my head in wonder at how I ended up in this position.  I’ve found a beautiful setting that reminds me a lot of the Vail Valley in early-September (I’ve named the Valley of the Sun, the Land of Eternal Fall – as they tell me the seasons never change).  Every person I’ve met has been kind and wonderful and welcoming.  And again, the Lord continues to provide for me every step of the way, and in ways that I could never have fathomed or planned myself.  I’m thankful to be experiencing what an incredible adventure it is to walk by faith.  In other words, I’m thankful to be rolling with it.   

This includes doing laundry the old fashioned way

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Feeling the Music, Living in the Moment

Sometimes I delay writing a post because I’m not sure which story to tell from the previous week.  Of course, too much times passes and there are even more stories to tell.  Then I feel like I’m not doing justice to the Journey.  This is what I find myself thinking presently. 

I’m 2 hours in to the 22 hour bus ride from Cartagena to Bogota.  There’s been a smirk on my face for most of the last two hours.  Much of it has to do with the music I’m listening to. Last May I made a playlist called “Havana Day Dreaming” as that’s what I was doing when I made the playlist.  It has 3 songs on it.  Extensive, I know.  I chose the songs because they reminded me of Havana… but they could easily be heard throughout all of Latin America.  I’ve decided to listen to these three songs on repeat until I finish this blog post.  One might think that it would make you sick of the music, but I’m confident I’ll be wishing the blog post was longer.  If you want to feel what I’m feeling, take a minute to find “Oye Como Va” by Tito Puente, “Vivir Mi Vida” by Marc Anthony and “Bailando” by Enrique Iglesias.  Go ahead.  The blog can wait. 
Or... open the link to the playlist in Spotify: http://open.spotify.com/user/12693643/playlist/1SRmEy9u4fkwrxGbVGt9nq

Can you feel it?  The music?  I don’t know what it is but it just gets me.  Like all over.  In the music I can see the Latin American world.  And right now it doesn’t have to be just in my mind’s eye.  As we pass through town after town, I see the tiny tiendas on the side of the dusty road … men resting with their shirts pulled up to their chest revealing a round belly, the color Carpe Diem Anna would describe as canela pasion – cinnamon passion. I see kids in their bleached white shirts and navy skirts and pants, their school uniforms.  I see men driving motorcycles (a woman driver is a rarity… I think I’ve seen 4 in the last month) helmets on, helmets half on, no helmets, their hand-woven bolso draped over their shoulders, typically with one passenger, maybe a kid sandwiched between two adults.  I see lots of deep green trees… palm trees, mango trees, papaya trees, avocado trees, and any other tropical tree you can imagine.  I see cinder block houses painted Pepto-pink, Tigo-blue, Aguila-yellow.  A few minutes out of town the colored houses fade to grey with make-shift roofs: sometimes corrugated metal pieced with some black or blue tarp, sometimes it’s made of palm leaves.  It often seems that someone is mid-construction project but my bet is that if I came back a year from now, the same cement bags, shovels and buckets won’t have moved very far. 

The music gets me in my hips, right where salsa is supposed to hit.  I love to dance but Colombian women put me to shame and therefore leave me wishing I had just a hint of the natural talent that oozes out of them.  If only I could have gone back for salsa lesson two in Trinidad instead of limping into a hospital in Guatemala, I’m sure I would be light-years ahead of where I am now.  They ask me how do people dance in the US.  Salsa?  Merengue?  Bachata?  I’m learning the difference between each of these and try to explain that in the US, people dance “libre” – free.  But when my “Profesor de Bailando” at Carpe Diem, Facu, asked me where I learned to dance implying that maybe I had a little skill, I almost believed him.  As I dance in my head, I know I look like a natural.  Somehow when I live out the dream in reality, I’m reminded that I’m very much a white girl from the Midwest.  But a girl can dream, no? 

The music gets me in my heart.  It reminds me of the people I’ve met through the years in the countries I’ve been blessed to visit South of the Border.  I think of my first friend in Guatemala back in 2007 – Estela… and how when she first told me “Dios Te Bendiga” I thought she was telling me “Dios Te Vendiga” which I translated as “God have vengeance on you.”  I thought it was a strange thing to a tell a new friend as she said it with a smile.  She was telling me “God Bless You.”  I think of the sweet Guatebabies from Nido de Aguila orphanage.  I wonder often where Rosalia and Miriam are today.  And am amazed as I get to watch kids like Nathan, Cam, Baylia, Nathan/”Colocho”, grow up with their forever families through Facebook friendships.  I think of Lola and Giancarlos who served up the best lattes in Huaraz, Peru.  I think of Miguel, whom I met my last night in Havana as we shared a beer in the Plaza Vieja, and talked about the things I had learned and experienced in his country, and hoped to return again someday but under less-clandestine circumstances.  And then I think of the surreal experience of spending an evening walking around the plazas on Friday night, my first night in Cartagena, with Juliana.  It was clear that Juliana had taken up the trade of the “oldest profession” in history.  Somehow we struck up a conversation that left me wondering why I was sitting on that particular park bench at that particular time.  There were many things I wanted to tell her before I left her to her business later that night.  Things like: “You are worth more than you are selling yourself for” or “What made you decide to pursue this career?”  But all I could get out was “Jesus Te Amo y espero que Dios Te Bendiga”.           

We continue down the road.  And then I see a row of people looking off a bridge into the water below.  The bus slows to a crawl.  I ask the bus steward “Que es eso?”  He whispers “muerto”.  A death.  And suddenly the joy I’ve been experiencing  from the rhythms of Latin American are cut short.

Many times I wonder how I have ended up in these different towns, plazas, hostels, meeting so many people from so many different backgrounds.  I have wondered what my purpose is here, in this place, at this time.  And then I’m reminded that I know what my purpose is.  I figured it out a few years back during a retreat with the Vail Leadership Institute.  My purpose is to be a blessing.  So whether that is making coffee for Anna and I before she showed up for work at Carpe Diem or enthusiastically recommending that fellow tourists seek out Free Tour Cartagena led by Edgar to enrich your Cartagena experience or sitting on a park bench and offering up a warm smile to the guy shining shoes next to me, I hope that I am living out my purpose.

Saying "Goodbye" to Carolina and Anna

I left Carpe Diem on Friday morning with an overwhelming feeling of gratefulness for the month I had in such a unique place, one of the most tranquil places I’ve ever had the blessing of spending time at. 

Click on the Bubbli Links for a 360 degree view of some of my experiences...

http://on.bubb.li/301748adf1bbmqb1695jouj (Hammock Kiosko at Finca Carpe Diem)
I made my way to Cartagena for 4 days that were every bit as enchanting as people had promised it would be.  

http://on.bubb.li/301748ab1o71bpe5j4p1s16 (The cutest bookstore in the world, in Cartagena)
http://on.bubb.li/301748aymx4vtr157c9dlz4 (The monstrous fortress of San Felipe)

http://on.bubb.li/301748a8qvod3c77wd84suq (Teatro Heredia in Cartagena)

But on Friday afternoon I began to realize that my next Workaway placement was falling through.  I found myself in a situation in which I was absolutely open to whatever the Lord had next for me, without being too bummed that I would be missing out on what looked to be a pretty cool gig in Jardin.  Sunday afternoon, I popped into the cathedral during mass and prayed while the foreign Catholic traditions were being carried out around me.  I prayed for an open door.  And then prayed for my friends from Carpe Diem – which I’ve promised myself to do every time I look at my new “tattoo."  And I walked out the door to inquire for work at a cool looking bed and breakfast I had passed a few times while getting lost in the Old City.  It seemed like a long shot, and it was.  I left my info but never heard back.  A closed door.  I sent out 7 more inquiries on Workaway, explaining my situation and that I would be available as soon as someone told me they would take me and a bus could get me there.  Monday morning I had 3 possibilities waiting for me in my inbox.  I chose the vineyard outside Sogamoso – or 4 hours from Bogota.  I don’t know what is in store but I trust that the Lord has a plan and I’ll do my best to be a blessing.  And vivir mi vida.

You can turn off the music now.  Or maybe it’s gotten to you too.  De Nada.    

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I got a tattoo.

A Colombian tattoo.  Let me explain.

Two-wheeled Vehicles Are Not My Friend. 

I’ve stated this fact since I moved to Colorado in 2003 and tried mountain biking for the first time.  I’ve never worked out so hard I thought I was going to throw up… until I tried mountain biking.  Maybe it would have helped if I knew how to work the gears. 

This fact was solidified in 2007 when I was talked into taking a mo-ped ride around Mykanos, Greece… although I tried my best to resist.  My lesson in riding this vehicle: “Right hand is the gas, left hand is the break.  Got it?”  First inclination should have been that I wasn’t able to get the bike off the kickstand.  And then when I did manage to, the bike fell to the side.  I had underestimated the weight of a mo-ped.  And it’s take-off as well.  An up-hill, one-way cobble stone street were the circumstances I faced as I began my mo-ped career.  It ended 20 feet later as the famous white-washed walls of Greece began coming towards me.  I managed to scrape the right side of my body and bike against the wall only to fall into an open driveway.  I’ve heard that it is hard for American women to rent mo-peds in the Mediterranean.  I am “Exhibit A”.

In my last post I was explaining how the only way to Paso del Mango is on a motorcycle.  Every time I’ve taken a motorcycle I’ve wondered if this will be my ill-fated trip.  However, I was priding myself on the fact that my death grip on the handle behind my seat had loosened considerably during my two weeks here.  I had even managed to let my arms hang to the side for a few seconds.  Welp… today was the day.

Last Sunday I managed to find a church in Bonda to attend.  It happens to be right next to Anna’s house.  Anna is the awesome Colombian woman I have the joy of working beside everyday.  But after I asked about the church, it took another hour to arrange a moto-taxi and then 20 minutes to actually get there.  By the time I arrived there were two minutes left in the service.  (As a result I asked if there was another church meeting which led me to the rather charismatic service I was enjoying until 2 hours into the service and the Bible had yet to be opened and there was a lot of talk of money and health…)  This Sunday, I was only 30 minutes late.  Carolina’s husband, Ivan, was my moto-taxi driver this time.  Carolina also works at Carpe Diem but usually during the shift opposite me.  Ivan was gracious enough to wait for me and bring me home as well.  All was going well, even with the 10-year old kid we picked up on the way (translation: 3 people on the motorcycle).  We dropped the kid off before a rather big hill we made up fine, but the next big hill didn’t go so well.  We hit a pretty big hole, the bike fell to the left side, I tumbled off, with just a little dust on me, but a rather large burn on my leg from the muffler that instantly removed the top layer of skin.  I dusted myself off, hoped back on the bike with just a few minutes to go to Carpe Diem.  After Carolina and her adorable kids Andrea and Martin, and two lovely British/Belgian guests Rich and Julie all assessed the damage, we decided that ice was the best remedy for the moment.  Carolina took out a big block from the freezer and broke off a chunk to apply to my leg.  Rich and Julie ran to get their rather impressive first-aid kit.  And 4-year-old Martin used the piece of paper in his hand to fan me.  Precious!  Another Dutch couple suggested a visit to the doctor.  That would most likely mean another moto-taxi ride that I wasn’t really all that thrilled about taking at the moment.  6 hours later, as I type this, I’ve applied a pretty serious coating of Neosporin and used a big bandage provided by Rich and Julie.  Right now, I only remember the burn when I look at it.  I’m hoping for the best, and that my new tattoo heals quickly.   

The rest of the story is this.  At church, where my presence increased attendance by about 3%, the pastor was teaching on the story of Joseph.  On the ride home, I told Ivan, who joined for the last 30 minutes of the service, that the story of Joseph was one of my most favorite stories in the Bible.  It’s a story of God’s sovereignty and a plan that could never be laid by man.  It is only after decades that the Lord’s plan and purpose for Joseph’s life becomes clear.  I don’t want to over-spiritualize a burn from a motorcycle muffler but I look forward to seeing how this may play into the Lord’s plan for my time here at Carpe Diem.  Already, I can say that it has helped to mend a somewhat strained relationship between Carolina and myself.  For reasons I don’t totally understand, I haven’t quite been welcomed into Carolina’s life.  However, her care and concern today has been wonderful.  If a fated ride on a two-wheeled vehicle was necessary to make that happen, so be it.  To God be the Glory! 

In other news…

I’ve spent a lot of time reading.  No internet access is good for that.  I’ve completed books that I’ve started years ago.  A few have common themes.  I highly recommend David Platt’s “Radical” and Francis Chan’s “Crazy Love”.  If you read the first chapter of each book, you will understand why I was avoiding finishing the books.  But considering the life I’ve been living for the last year, the idea of rethinking American excess as Christians is a little easier to swallow. 

Last week, I managed to turn my day off into 48 hours away from Carpe Diem.  I spent the night at a chilled-out “surf camp” inhabited mostly by Aussies called Costeno Beach.  I spent my second night in a hammock.  It was much more successful than my first night.  The next day I took off for a trek through Tayrona National Park.  I took a less traveled entrance which was my first serious trekking session since the Achilles mishap.  The first two hours were up-hill but on a decent path.  My only company were two Colombians on horseback that passed me half way through.  And then I made it to Pueblito, a settlement reminiscent of the native way of life.  I have to be honest and say the trek from Pueblito to Cabo San Juan, was a pretty gnarly “hike” around boulders and tree roots and obstacles such as deep pits under said boulders and roots.  I managed to arrive at the incredible beach destination of Cabo San Juan without incident and immediately found enjoyment in the most delicious beverage I’ve ever tasted, mango juice with milk.  I spent a wonderful afternoon on the beach and then a pretty restless night in a hammock.  The next morning, I chose to take the hour long horseback ride out of the park as opposed to the three-hour trek.  I had a great conversation with my guide Alex, about faith and family.  Then I made my way back to Carpe Diem… definitely making the most of my time away.  And needing a vacation from my vacation.  

As I was doing my Sunday afternoon task of cutting loads of carrots, onions, peppers and tomatoes in preparation for the Sunday evening meal of “espegetis”, I was reflecting on how much I really enjoy my role here.  I’ve never done so much physical labor in my life, but it feels good to work with my hands.  I’ve pulled lots of weeds, most every day.  I’ve swept away mud and dirt from sidewalks and stairways as the daily rains create some pretty significant run-off on our hillside location.  I worked with Julian to plant some grass seed.  I’ve carried buckets of food to the compost pile a few minutes away and up to the chicken coop to feed the 4 chickens and 2 ducks.  And I’ve scraped paint off of a wall, in the rain, which left me covered in a wet-yellow-powdery mess.  And then Julian and I painted the wall white a few days later.    I’m not gonna lie, while I’m completing every task, I’m recalling the tools available in the US that allow each task to be completed in a fraction of the time.  But for the first time, I understand the value and satisfaction that comes from working with your hands with limited tools.  This also means that I have a greater appreciation for the simple life touted by people like Wendall Barry.  I don’t think I understand that fully before.  I’ve also asked myself if I’d feel the same way if I did this day-in and day-out.  I can’t say that I can honestly answer that question. 

But the best part of the job remains the people.  Around the dinner table at night I’ve enjoyed conversations with Colombians, Argentines, Brits, Kiwis, South Africans, Dutch, Germans, and Belgians.  We talk about our travels and learning experiences along the way, world politics, and books we’re reading … all things I love talking about.  Each day, I imagine what it could be like to do hospitality of this sort in my home.  I’m looking forward to the day when my dreams will become reality. 


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Seizing the Day at Finca Carpe Diem

It’s hard to believe that I’ve only been in Colombia a week!  Almost as soon as I arrived at the Masaya hostel in Santa Marta, it was as though I had never left the tourist trail last May. 

And being back is bringing back so many memories and experiences of the last year.  I know I've used these titles before but they are so fitting for the experiences I’m having.  So please excuse that I’m kind of recycling some thoughts.

“Mom, you have no idea” – Although I didn't actually say this to her during our FaceTime today, the thought was definitely going through my head as I was on the final leg of my journey to Finca Carpe Diem.  From the time I left Peoria on Monday until I made it to Carpe Diem, I had used a bus, taxi, plane, van, taxi and ended with a mototaxi.  For some reason, I had in mind that a mototaxi would be a tuk-tuk, much like those 3-wheeled capsule like vehicles found in much of the rest of the world.  But when I got out of the taxi where I was instructed to switch to a mototaxi, I was surprised to find that I would be hopping on the back of a motorcycle to get to my destination.  My first thought was, where do I put my backpack?  I’m sure I could have handled keeping it on my back but I was grateful when my “taxi driver” offered to hold it between the handle bars.  For the next 20 minutes I had a funny grin on my face as we made our way up the dirt road strewn with boulders that gives the few 4-wheel drive vehicles that brave the pass a run for their money.  
Friends Wim and Sabrina take off on their mototaxis
How we roll at FCD

Anna was there to greet me with a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice.  I’m sure she made it last Wednesday.  But since then, squeezing the oranges with a manual juicer has become one of my morning tasks.  Julian, the other Workaway volunteer, picks the oranges from the grove once a week. 

“The Simple Life” – A few days after settling in to Carpe Diem, I came to the conclusion that what I was experiencing was the best part of camping, and taking out the worst parts of camping.  For instance – there is no cell service or internet which frees everyone from the most obvious distraction of modern society.  One of my favorite things about camping is sitting around a camp fire with friends and telling stories, gazing at the fire, and enjoying the simple life.  I think this will be one of my favorite things about my month here.  (To clear up confusion, I’m spending my day off in Santa Marta – about an hour away – to get an internet connection.)  Carpe Diem itself is made up of a couple little buildings – one being the dorm and bathroom where I sleep.  The other being the kitchen, living area with a couple other private rooms and an open air dining area in the front.  

Sharing Life

A small courtyard separates the two and is shaded by a coconut tree, banana tree some beautiful flowers and flowering tree that is home to a few humming birds.  My white noise I’ve needed to sleep since college is the river just across the path.  

Rio Manzanares hums me to sleep

Nature and simplicity abound – the best parts of camping!  But I still get to sleep in a bed!  However, hammocks are available for interested guests and are great for an afternoon snooze.  And there is a kitchen, and awesome cooks Anna and Carolina, who are dishing out some amazing meals.  So far my faves are carrot soup, mashed potatoes with cheese and perfectly steamed fish with fresh veggies.  Julian makes the bread fresh every couple days and I’ve learned to be much more generous with my servings of honey, that comes from the bee hives kept on the finca.  I cut myself a few pieces at least 3 times a day… other than meals.  Delish!  And there is running water!  Albeit, it comes from the river.  This also means there is only cold water.  Rather, I should say refreshing, because after a day’s work in the Caribbean climate, a cold shower is all you want.  The only bad part of camping that still exists here at Carpe Diem are the bugs.  And bugs I’ve never seen before!  But they seem to have the same impact on my skin as mosquitos do.  Bummer.  And I didn’t pack the bug spray… mostly because I hate using it but began to wonder on Day Two if Amazon Prime works in Paso del Mango.  So far I’ve resorted to turning on the fan to keep the bugs away.  Julian asks for an explanation every time I do this.  I think it helps.  Although bug spray is what I’m on a mission to find as soon as I post this blog, before heading back to my peaceful little haven. 

“It’s the People” – Every time someone shows up at Carpe Diem, my face lights up!  Mostly because I’m excited to see who my new friends are going to be, but also because it is low season (aka rainy season) and fewer tourist are expected.  On my first day, we welcomed 3 German girls, Joana, Kathia and Julia, who were finishing their year studying abroad.  The minute they left, Sherwin showed up!  He was joined by Wim from Belgium and Sabrina from Germany.  The three of us had a great time of visiting the local cacao (chocolate) farm – just 15 minutes up the hill.  I’m pretty sure Horacio shared with us every bit of his knowledge he has accumulated about farming cacao over the course of his lifetime.  Amazing.  And Diana pampered Sabrina and I, and part of Wim, with a face mask of chocolate… straight out of the hand cranked grinder!  

Horacio shows us how to "shell" the cacao seeds

Sabrina and I benefitting from the chocolate face mask - and hot chocolate!

Our friends Horacio and Diana at the Finca de Cacao, up the path

Horacio teaches everything there is to know about Cacao - starting with the fruit

We passed the evenings by playing cards, sharing music, dreaming up travel plans and sharing what we thought were our 3 most annoying traits were and our 3 best character traits.  This was Wim, the social worker’s idea and one that was most welcome.  Wim and Sabrina and I also ventured to the “La Hermanita de Ciudad Perdida” (or the Little Sister of the Lost City).  15 minutes away is a pretty incredible indigenous staircase that few people ever explore.  
Wim scaling the stairs up la Ciudadita Perdida

Hiking again!  Yay!

Then we hung out with 3 teenage (maybe pre-teen) couples hanging out at the local swimming hole near Bonda, the nearest town.  (Achilles update:  It’s awesome to be out hiking again!  I think I’m progressing… although I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I would be wise to give it a rest for a day or two.  But that could also be because I chose to start hiking in Chacos, wet Chacos, with sand.  Blisters need a break too.)  And then I said goodbye to my friends and anticipated a quiet evening of working on lesson plans.

Saying goodbye to Wim and Sabrina

I had the thought that I’m quite certain there is no one else in all of Colombia considering how to integrate the Common Core Standards into lesson plans for sale on Teachers Pay Teachers.  But, that was what I was doing, as rain was pouring on the tin roof… and a person appeared in the darkness… soaking wet… with a backpack and skateboard attached… asking if there was room tonight.  And that’s how I came to know Kevin, also from Germany, who’d been studying architecture in Mexico City for the past year.  He has one week left before getting back to his studies in Munich.  I’m sure I know some of what he is feeling at this point in his journey.             

So… those are a few glimpses into my life at Finca Carpe Diem.  I’m here for 3 more weeks if anyone want to come visit!  Hammocks run $6 a night or you can upgrade to a bed in the dorm (my room) for $9.  Flights from Chicago are $160 into Cartagena, one way.  Who’s in??? 

Directions to Finca Carpe Diem