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

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"Getting Back Out There"

Yesterday, as I was packing my last few things into my bag, my mom stood in the doorway and asked, "What are you most excited about?"  I pondered briefly and replied, "Getting back out there."  She looked at me with a puzzled look then said, "Ah, yes, I get it." We both laughed because we both knew she did not "get it" at all.  I get that the journey I've been on for over a year is one that many people don't "get."  It might be one of those things that you only "get" if you experience it. And that's ok. 

So a quick catch up to how I got here (on a plane to Cartagena, Colombia). Last February I began to consider as people encouraged me on my journey to "do it while you can" that I still could... as long as my amazing renters wanted to stay another year. When they agreed to extend the lease at the end of March, I thought to myself, "What have I just done?"  I quickly got over my doubt and began to consider my options for my next journey.  I knew I wanted to keep traveling but the funds I had set aside for last year were more than gone. So, how do you travel for close to free?  Workaway.info!  Workaway is a website (I believe it originated in the UK) that allows you to name your job, name your country, and there is work to be done on a volunteer basis (to avoid work visa hassles) in exchange for room and board.   I had heard about it prior to planning last years adventure but wanted the sabbatical to really be a sabbatical without working, so I filed the idea away. But now was the perfect opportunity to look into it. I coupled the idea of working away with pursuing my interest in opening a B&B at some point in the future.  Last year I found that I loved meeting fellow travelers in the various albergues, tea houses, and hostels I stayed at along the way.  So I checked the box on workaway that said "working with tourists". Then I began scouting out where I would like to spend my first month in Colombia.  As a result of my research and inquiries, tomorrow I will start my first day of work at Finca Carpe Diem in Paso del Mango. It's about an hour south of Santa Marta and the Caribbean, in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I have no idea what lies ahead of me but I'm excited to learn and share my experiences with you! 

Which brings me back to "getting back out there". I've kept in touch with fellow travelers, many of whom are still "out there". As I was updating my friend Dan (whom you may recall from Peru days) on what my plans were, he said "Welcome Back."  By that, I think he meant "back out here."  And another friend that I met "out there" in Cusco is planning on meeting me at the airport in Cartagena!  When Sherwin told me he would meet me there, any anxiety about the Colombian unknown subsided. Even though I'm venturing out there alone, I'm never alone!

If my memory serves me correctly, this is what I remember learning about how best to experience life "out there."  (And most of these lessons probably are in the blog archives in some way, shape or form.)

Be flexible. 
Live simply. 
Expect the unexpected. 
Accept the hospitality of others. 
Say "Thank You" (Even if it's a phrase Americans are known to overuse, it's one cultural trait I refuse to abandon because I truly am thankful for the hospitality of others and I want them to know that.) 
Pay it forward. 
Be open to sharing life with others whom you may not normally converse with. 
Pray... for provision, protection and opportunities. And then acknowledge how The Lord worked in all of it. 

Not that it can't happen back in the States, but I found I was much more open to living life this way when I was out of my routine back home. Maybe practicing this life for one more year will help to make this a lifestyle for always, regardless of where I lay my head. 

But for now, I have one question I need to figure out a good answer to.  "So, what do you do?"  Right now I'm thinking that my answer is going to be "I live life."  But I'm open to suggestions. 

Thanks for joining me as "The Journey Continues..."