Tag Archives: coffee

Teaching English in Indonesia

My time in Malaysia had finally come to an end and it was time to get out of the country to explore a new one.  I had been wrestling with what to do and where to go for a while and all I really knew was that I wanted to continue to volunteer somewhere, but just didn’t know where.

Tirelessly I researched place after place and continuously ran into programs that allowed volunteers to work with this or that animal, but the cost of doing so was atrocious!  Finally I came across a site called helpstay.com.  After reading reviews about the site as to its validity and exploring the various opportunities they had available in surrounding countries, I decided to take the plunge and join as a member of the site so I could contact one very specific volunteer opportunity.  In all honesty, the second I found the posting to volunteer teaching English at a home site in South Sulawesi, Indonesia that also had an organic farm, I signed up to the site and kept my fingers and toes crossed that they had availability for volunteers.

Within a few hours my inquiry was replied to and a Skype date was set so we could put faces to one another and see if we really were a match for each other, volunteer-wise.  Though part of me was a bit nervous to give away information about myself and Skype a literal stranger in a foreign country, the minute we chatted I knew I’d made the right decision.

The volunteer program organizer is an 18-year-old marvel named Faisal.  He invites people from around the world to stay with him and his family in exchange for volunteers to develop lessons and teach english to local students aged 6 to 18 years.  I was so very impressed with him during our Skype session, that I immediately committed to volunteering for a month with him and couldn’t wait to get there!

Now, all of my volunteering to this point involved animals, because that’s really where my love and strength lies.  I’d never taught English before (and I’d made sure to relate that to Faisal during our chat) but being a native english speaker I thought, how hard could it be? Less than a month after connecting with Faisal I was on a plane from Kuala Lumpur to Makassar, South Sulawesi, Indonesia.  I stayed the first night in Makassar (as my flight landed in the late evening) and first thing the next morning made my way to the Terminal Daya bus station for the 8 hour bus ride to Belopa.

Upon arriving at Terminal Daya I noted several men standing in front of the very, VERY basic bus terminal.  I spoke zero Bahasa and no one so far spoke any English (or very limited at best!) but luckily all that was required of me to say was: Belopa?.  That did the trick as they simultaeously all practically cheered “Belopa!” together.  They whisked my bag out of the taxi and walked me over… away from the vehicles that actually looked like busses… to basically a 4 door Ford truck.  Hmmmm…. is this right???  They all had stickers on the front saying “Pelopo” so I pointed to the truck and said again “Belopa?”.  “Ya, ya” was their response as they hauled my bag into the bed of the truck, took out their cell phones and typed in 150,000… the cost of the trip!

Lord knew at that point whether I was getting majorly ripped off or not, but what choice did I have exactly?  As it turned out, that was the correct and normal price 🙂  Happy day!  Moving on, I paid the fee and squished in the back seat with two other females and after a few minutes we were on our way.  There was actually a third line of seats behind my own, so in total we were a team of 7 people trundling along on the journey to Belopa (an hour South of Pelopo as it turns out).

The journey there was visually beautiful.  The mountains and the sea, vast and open rice fields, the endless green and tropical lush surrounding us.  Absolutely stunning!  The one downfall was that the driver smoked the entire way up, which was a bummer, but at least the windows were fully open to allow quick exchanges of air.  We took one break along the way for some food and a bathroom and made it into Belopa just about 8 hours to the dot later.  After a bit of miming and a game of charades with my fellow passengers in the truck, I was able to communicate that I wanted to be dropped off at the nearest ATM as I seriously had zero rupiah on me.  Luckily enough, the ATM I was dropped off at was next to a coffee shop that offered free WiFi.  So while sipping on a cappuccino (made from an instant coffee sachet) I used the WiFi to let Faisal know I’d arrived, and my exact location.

About 5 minutes later, Faisal showed up in his brother’s vehicle and we finally met in person.  Faisal, again only being 18 years of age and having only studied English for about 2 years spoke english brilliantly!  We loaded my stuff into his vehicle and made the 15 minute drive to his town called Bajo.  The town was absolutely adorable!!  When we arrived there was a football (soccer) match at the village field so there were tons of locals gathered for the game.

Just a bit further along the road we came to his lovely and humble home where I met his mom (mama as we called her who spoke zero english) and dad (who spoke a bit of english) and his cousin Irpan (a student in one of the english classes).  His family was lovely and so immediately welcoming that it just made my heart melt.  I was shown to my room and given a tour of the house and the school-house built by Faisal and some of his schoolmates Ucok and Iswan.  We had some dinner together (Faisal whipped up a deliciously spicy nasi goreng if memory serves) and I made my way to bed.

Thus began one of my most memorable months of traveling…

Visit Faisal’s website to find out more about his amazing volunteer program!!

Review of the Our Chance school

On to Favorite Memories from Bajo

Back to Indonesia

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The Majesty of Kuala Lumpur

When I was younger I watched a movie with Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones called Entrapment.  There was a part in the film where they went to Kuala Lumpur to steal something from the Petronas Twin Towers.  The first time I laid eyes on that tower in the film, I knew that one day I wanted to see those towers in person.  Years later, my desire came true!

I landed at the KLIA 2 airport which was built specifically for Air Asia to accommodate their traffic needs.  While the airport itself is great, it is a bit far from central K.L.  Plenty of options are available however to get to the center of the City, including taxis, trains and buses.  The bus (cheapest option to the city) took about an hour to drop us off at the K.L. Sentral (that’s not a typo, that’s how they spell ‘Central’).  It was quite a scenic trip to the City and honestly I was surprised how hilly surrounding K.L. was.  From there, numerous trains and skyrails were available to take one to any corner of the city.

I had pre-booked (so unlike me, I know!) a little B&B about a kilometer from the towers called The Orange Pekoe for several nights while I awaited my next flight out to Indonesia.  While they did provide great directions on how to get to the B&B from K.L. Sentral, for some reason I ended up getting a little lost once on foot.  I’m just going to blame it on being shell-shocked after coming from a sleepy and chill city to the booming energy of K.L., and of course on the heat of the day as well!  Long story short, though I did wander in the wrong direction several times for about a half hour, I finally found my way (i.e. I stopped and asked for directions) to The Orange Pekoe.

The B&B is located in a partly residential, partly small business street of K.L. and is so obscured that I probably never would have noticed it had I not been looking for it!  While the room was a teeny bit on the dirty side, the rest of the charms of the place made one feel at home.  The staff were really helpful and friendly, and the breakfasts, while basic, were filling and satiating.  Overall I couldn’t complain about the place at all, especially considering its distance from the Towers.  It was perhaps only a 300 meter walk to the covered skywalk that led directly into the heart of the Towers.

I felt like a kid in a candy store having finally arrived in K.L. and able to see the Towers up close and personal.  So needless to say, after quickly settling in to my room, I headed over directly to the skywalk to get to the Towers.  Let me give a warning now to all those who really enjoy finer shopping… If you aren’t looking to break the bank or ring up thousands in retail purchases on your credit card, LEAVE THEM AT HOME!!!  The lower floors of the Towers are essentially a gigantic mall filled with every top clothing/jewelry name in the industry!  From Gucci to Ferragamo, Tiffany’s and Bulgari, the 5 levels and endless hallways of the lower towers are a shoppers dream come true!  Dozens of delicious but top-dollar restaurants are also found there along with at least another dozen coffee shops, a huge food court and a movie theater!!

Again for me it was a bit shell-shocking to arrive in such a grand place.  I normally shy away from larger crowds and detest malls because of the crowds, but I wrestled my way through them to the first level and out the front doors so I could stand in front and view those majestic Towers in their full glory.  Generally I can’t say I’m that impressed by buildings and their architecture, but the Petronas Twin Towers are very impressive!!  The way the light hits off the windows during the day and how brilliantly it lights up at night is mesmerizing.  I could have stood there for hours (and over the 4 days I was there literally did) gazing up their heights, taking in how stunning they are.  In front and behind the buildings they have water displays that light up in an array of colors and even have a water show to music nightly, similar to (but honestly not as grand) as those at the Bellagio in Vegas.

Just like in any large city, there is a lot to see in Kuala Lumpur.  And like many cities, K.L. is well-organized with their transportation options.  One of my favorite features was the ‘Go K.L.’ busses that offered free transport to various parts around the city.  During my time in K.L. I used the free service to get to a starting point, then walked on foot around various parts of the city, eventually rounding my way back to the towers in time to see them light up at night.

I explored China Town (which honestly wasn’t that impressive as it was mostly all about bargain shopping and not food!) and the very impressive sentral market; enjoyed a lovely picnic and walk around the park with a couple I’d met at the B&B from Norway, as well as a visit to the Muslim museum.  I was also there during Deepavali, which is the ‘festival of lights’ celebrated by all Hindus, so I got to enjoy several nights of fireworks up and down the streets.  I had thought to visit the caves while in K.L. but sadly the weather wasn’t as cooperative as I was hoping for, and honestly I was content just spending my days lingering around the city, spending time in the Towers and chilling with my new friends.  I did of course take advantage of the movie theater in the towers and  watched the movie “The Wire” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt based on the true story of the high-rise wire walk between the NYC twin towers.  Kind of ironic I believe…

On to Teaching English in Indonesia

Back to Malaysia 

Further tidbits on the Towers: The Petronas Twin Towers are so named because of the oil company (Petronas) which occupies the majority of the office space of the towers.  They were designed to resemble motifs found in Islamic art, reflecting the Muslim religion. A joining walkway is found on the 41st and 42nd floors of the towers and tours are available most days for about 80 ringgit (if memory serves!).

It took a total of 7 years to construct from its groundbreaking to the inauguration at a cost of $5.6 billion!  The towers were the tallest in the world for 6 years, until Taipei 101 was completed.  However, to this day they still remain to be the tallest twin towers in the world!

Facts about the towers were provided by Wikipedia

Monkey Beach Adventure

After having kayaked to Ko Nangyuan on Koh Tao, Anna and I were hooked and made a pact of sorts to make sure and do it again!  Ko Phi Phi Don provided yet another fantastic opportunity to do so.  On our second or third day there, we got up bright and early (around 10am-ish?) and headed out for food and coffee to quench our slightly hung over bodies.  It was probably about noon or one by the time we made it to Lo Dalam beach to rent a kayak so we could paddle our way to Monkey Beach.

As soon as we stepped foot on Lo Dalam we were approached about renting kayaks by a local shop worker.  The price for the day was 600 baht.  This price wasn’t out of the realm of what we were expecting to pay, but being the bargain seekers we were, we tried a couple more places first.  The third place we stopped by was the winner.  The woman (whom I’d guess to be the boss) had that feisty vibe that reminded me of Mol from Mol’s beach bar on Hin Wong Bay (Ko Tao).  We asked her how much the kayaks were, and she said “200 baht per hour”.  We replied that we wanted to rent one for the day, to which she gave us a quizzical look, checked her watch, looked back at us and said “for the day??”.  Lol!  We had to laugh and give that one to her!  I’m sure most people renting kayaks for the day would have in fact rented them in the morning, but alas there we were mid-day.  She gave us the kayak for the bargain price of 400 baht and away we went.

The crystal clear water of Lo Dalam bay was so calm and almost lake-like that the paddle just around the corner to Monkey Beach took very little effort and time.  Once there, the only thing to really watch out for was the boat traffic!  Dozens upon dozens of tour speedboats were coming and going with numerous tourists aboard, all coming for the snorkeling and monkeys.  A quiet beach this was not!!  The snorkeling was also ok, but not the best of the bunch really.  The monkeys of course were adorable and lovely and amazingly patient as tourist after tourist shoved their phones and iPads toward them on selfie sticks.

After several hours of literally baking in the sun, we decided to try to get to yet another beach that was located across the Lo Dalam bay.  We skirted around tour boats and out into the open sea we went!  While the sea looked to be quiet and calm from our perspective on Monkey Beach, it wasn’t quite the correct story once we were actually out there…  Lets just say that Anna started to feel a little sea-sick and we both started to question whether it was really smart of us to continue on.

We opted for the “Safety first” route after making it probably 3/4 of the way.  But seeing how the waves were crashing violently against the cliffs ahead and not wanting to potentially be part of those waves doing so, we headed back toward the sanctuary of the bay waters.  We didn’t quite make it until sunset on the kayaks, but instead simply went to the Sunset bar for drinks to toast the setting sun. 🙂  Anna took a picture of a kayak in the sunset (while we sat comfortably drinking) and we pretended that was us in spirit. 🙂

On to Ko Lantaaaah

Back to Thailand

Favorites from Koh Tao

Favorite coffee shop: Through the Looking Glass

Favorite beach: toss up between Ao Luek, Hin Wong and Koh Nangyuan

Favorite island dog: Am (Through the Looking Glass)

Favorite beach bar: Mol’s Beach bar Hin Wong

Favorite sandwich shop: Through the Looking Glass (chicken, bacon & mayo!!)

Favorite Monthly Rental: P’un House (in Sairee. If you are a light sleeper, do bring some ear plugs to drown out street noise!  Another great place to check out too is Sabai House or the Bottle House.)

Favorite view: The View bar

Favorite gym: Island Muay Thai

Favorite Italian food: Thaita

Favorite Thai food: Mint Kitchen (I specifically recommend the green curry!!)

Favorite homemade booze: Baileys from Taste of Home

Favorite night out entertainment: Lady Boy Cabaret

Favorite place to relax: Chalok Bay

Favorite sunset bar: Fizz (Sairee)

On to Koh Phi Phi Don

Back to Thailand

Through the Looking Glass

I was first introduced to the local bakery and coffee shop called ‘Through the Looking Glass’ on Koh Tao by an acquaintance I’d met while volunteering for ‘Trash Hero’ (a volunteer group that got together weekly to pick up trash on the island and beaches).  After one particular volunteer session, the fellow volunteer suggested we get some lunch, so we wandered into ‘Through the Looking Glass’ for a nibble.  While I honestly wasn’t very hungry at the time, I soon discovered why the little bakery was a local favorite.  Their coffee was REAL (fresh ground!!!); all the breads and baked goods served were made and baked FRESH on the premises (seriously, finding baked bread is a treat all by itself in Thailand, but to also find cakes, brownies and other goodies??? Pinch me now!!); and their chicken, bacon & mayo sandwich was to die for!!!

Though I didn’t know anyone there (except the fellow Trash Hero volunteer) it was easy to see (apart from the delicious food and coffee) why this place was so popular.  Everyone said hello to one another whether they knew them or not.  The owners (Deb and Rick) engaged with customers and treated everyone as good friends.  The location itself (being off one of the main roads in Sairee) was a delightful spot for people watching.  And best of all, everyone was greeted by Am.  Am was once a street dog who adopted Deb and Rick.  While she stays true to her street dog nature by bounding off and visiting her street dog friends daily, she also enjoys the loving attention and care of her adopted owners.

Perhaps it was a week or two that had passed since first popping in for a bite at the Looking Glass when I got to thinking that I needed a routine.  When staying in one place for a while, it’s important to develop a good routine that also gets you out and about.  So far my only real routine had been to go to Muay Thai training but then after I’d want to chill out the rest of the day at home and would find myself not engaging with the outside world so much.  So I decided I needed to inject a social routine, and the Looking Glass was the only place that popped to mind when thinking just how to get it done.

The new routine went as such: Muay Thai training in the morning, home, shower and then to the Looking Glass for coffee.  It was no time at all before I practically knew every person on the island!  As I chilled out at the Looking Glass consuming (admittedly) a ridiculous amount of coffee (up to 6 cups a day, but on average only 4) I met numerous new people, got caught up on all the goings-on of the island, spoiled Am with lots of loving, and chatted with Deb and Rick whom I grew to consider as family.

For the rest of my time on Koh Tao (over a month) not a single day passed that I didn’t stop by for a visit (except for their day off).  It was quite a bitter-sweet moment when it came time to leave the island.  Once Anna arrived, while we did spent another 10 days or so exploring Koh Tao together and enjoying daily coffees and sandwiches at The Looking Glass, it was time to move on and explore more islands of Thailand.  For our last night on the island we went out with Deb and Rick to A Taste of Home (delicious German food and homemade Bailey’s!!) and drank and ate and laughed until the wee hours of the morning.  I miss Deb, Rick and Am terribly but am blessed to have known then at all.  It’s friends like them that you meet along the way that make traveling all that much more special!

On to Ao Luek & Chalok Bay

Back to Thailand

Sex & Drugs in Amsterdam

Red Light District & the church: The women are viewed as entrepreneurs and not as common prostitutes.  They are self-employed, practice safe sex and are tested regularly just in case of mishaps.  They are even protected by the government.  Pimps are illegal and apparently part of the job of cops in Amsterdam is to question women of the district to try to snuff out any potentials for them being forced to be there.  The women are even paid for their time of questioning (50 Euro for 15 minutes- That’s the going rate).  Every woman is there on her own free will.  Sex is not something to be ashamed of or to be banished behind closed doors and never talked about.  Everything is out in the open.  I adore that kind of freedom and commend the government for being so accepting and ensuring the women are safe instead of turning a blind eye and creating dangerous situations.   The picture below is of a statue of sorts planted in the street in the Red Light District that pays homage to the women of the District.

Embracing Love
Embracing Love

 

The church just outside of the district just made me chuckle:)  Amsterdam was a port town and many of the men who worked abroad the ships had been away from land for a year or more.   So once they landed in Amsterdam and stumbled into the Red Light District, they of course had a lot of pent-up energy to get rid of.  So they would spend their weekend blowing all their money with the women, then stumble out of the district and directly into the church, very conveniently located, to repent all the naughty things they just engaged in… LOL!!!  Love it!

Church outside Red Light District
Church outside Red Light District

 

Coffeeshops & drugs: if you are looking for a cup of coffee while visiting Amsterdam, you won’t find any in any of the coffeshops around town.  For real coffee, go to the Kaffe shops:)  If you would like to partake in smoking a bit of an illegal substance, well then the coffeeshop is for you!  Here again is an example of how the people coexist peacefully.  It is actually ILLEGAL to smoke marijuana in Amsterdam.  Yes, it is.

However the government turns its eye from those smoking in coffee shops.  Because they are just sitting in coffee shops.  They aren’t bothering anyone or doing anything wrong.  They are just hanging out.  In fact, the guide even said that you could walk up to a cop, tell them that there are people smoking marijuana in that shop over there and they would simply say “what are you talking about? They are just having coffee” and walk away.  Again, I love the acceptance and tolerance.  Even though the law is technically being broken they recognize that the people in the shops aren’t bothering anyone.  They are simply enjoying something they enjoy!  Sure does make our view on marijuana in the States seem so petty, especially knowing that people are sitting in jail for smoking/growing/selling/possessing marijuana while murderers are out on parole!!

I wish more countries would take a lesson from the way that the government in Amsterdam views drugs and addicts.  At one point in their history, not that long ago, Amsterdam was plagued by heroin addicts.  They were violent, damaged themselves and others, and even cops were not really willing to deal with them because they were so dangerous.  So the government took on a different view on drugs.  They divided drugs into hard and soft drugs.

People who were addicted to hard drugs (heroin) were viewed as sick people who needed help.  Not as criminals.  They provided places where heroin addicts could go to get their fix and they would allow the addicts to use heroine in these places where they provided clean needles and were under the watchful eye of a medical professional to make sure they didn’t O.D.  The addicts were then allowed to come and go as they pleased.  The addicts always had a safe place where they could go to take their drugs.  If they got in trouble with the law however, after the third strike they would be sent (mandatory) to a rehab center to get them clean.  If they wanted to voluntarily go at any point, they were allowed at no cost to them.  Now that’s the kind of mentality that makes me believe that the government ACTUALLY CARES about their people… Does Amsterdam have a drug problem today with crimes and cartels running rampant?  No they don’t!

Soft drugs (marijuana) on the other hand are allowed a “free” pass.  Or in other words are simply overlooked as long as they are occurring in coffee shops:) Mind you that even though there are probably more drugs and varieties of drugs per square inch in Amsterdam than in any other place, I was never once stopped on the street or harassed in any way about buying drugs as I was when in Costa Rica and Berlin.  I wonder why…???

On to Drug Bust en route to Paris

Back to Europe

Loch Lomond (Conic Hill)

Though there was lots of drinking throughout my trip to Scotland (and Glasgow was no exception) I was at least countering some of the calories I was ingesting via beer in the form of hikes!  As Anna is also a big fan of hiking, we set off for Loch Lomond to take on Conic Hill!!!  Markie also joined us for the day of fun!! 🙂

Now, while we are fans of hiking and walking in general, we aren’t necessarily the most organized of people… Real hard-core hikers are prepared in advance.  They pack the necessities, make sure they have the right shoes, get up at the rear of dawn to make it to their destination so they can get in a good hike before lunch.  Yea…. this was not us at all!!  We woke around 10, made our way out of the house maybe around noon?? Left in jeans and random everyday-use sneakers. Then went to get Markie, headed to Conic Hill to climb the “mountain” (it’s really just a hill!!) got some candy bars and some water at the little store at the base of the hill, then headed on up!  Actually, had it been completely up to Markie, we would have just stayed at the base where there was a little restaurant and had some whiskey and beer instead of climbing at all (he was like “you were serious about hiking??” lol!!).  So after convincing him that yes, we really were going for a hike, we headed off!

Though again we kept calling our hike “a hike up a mountain” it literally was just a hill.  The climb was not tough or really that steep, just cold and quite windy at the top!!  The more movement we made though the warmer I felt (of course from circulating the blood) but the second we would stop, I would freeze!!  It only took about 45 minutes to get to the top at a very leisurely and relaxed pace.  The view from the top was splendid as you could see all across the Loch and each of the little islands in the Loch.  Sadly, that particular Loch is quite popular for parties in the summer and such… I say sadly because apparently there are a lot of deaths that occur in that Loch due to people getting too drunk, then getting on their boats or trying to swim or what have you… And because of the currents/depth/clarity/size of the Loch, it’s more like people just go missing… The bodies aren’t always found:(  In fact, not that long before we were there, a news report had come out that a foot had washed ashore on one of the beaches on the Loch… Joy!!  It was thought to be from a case years before of a child that had apparently drown, but the body was never found…

Another interesting thing to note about Loch Lomond for those seriously into hiking and camping out during hikes… It is the start of the West Highlandway which is a 4-5 day walking camp route!!  It is quite a popular route and in fact even as we were coming down off the Hill, we passed several younger people with their backpacks, yoga mats and wee tents strapped to them.  Obviously they were off to tackle the West Highlandway!

For sure had it been actually warm weather I could see being interested in doing something like that… But you all already know how much of a complete wimp I am in the cold!!  Good times!  In any event, once we made it back down, to reward ourselves we just had to stop in for a pint and some whiskey to warm up!!  Since Anna was driving though, she could only have coffee… poor thing!!  Don’t worry though, she caught up to us later that evening once we ditched the car! 🙂  We hung out for a couple of hours enjoying our beverages then headed back to town for the evening festivities!

Almost forgot!  On the way back we actually stopped in to visit with Anna’s dad for a few moments where we were scoffed at each time we called “Conic Hill” a “mountain” 😉  Obviously we were trying to sound tougher than we actually were and her dad knew better!!  Lol!!!

On to Lochgoilhead

Back to Glasgow

Back to United Kingdom

Manizales

Though not terribly far from Medellin, once again it took several hours winding in and out and up and down mountain range after mountain range to get to my next destination.  Manizales is itself situated on the top of a mountain and you either need a car, a cab or most popular, a tram to the town!  It was much smaller than Medellin but had a lot of character as well.  It was also quite a bit colder than Medellin…  I took the tram to the town and found a hostel again right on the main strip, though a little toward the end.  I was basically one of the only ones in the hostel leading me to think that that particular time of year was simply out of season.  The hostel was quite nice, so I couldn’t think of any other reason it would have been so slow.  Perhaps it was the cold that drove others away too;)

Two things I noticed specifically in Manizales: #1 the HUGE amount of candy, cake, bakery, sweet shops, and ice cream shops!!  Literally every other store had something to do with selling a sugar based treat to eat.  I’d never seen so many sweet shops in such a small amount of space.  And what stores, you may ask, were in between each of the sweet shops?  Well, that would be #2, the SHOE shops!!  Manizales would definitely be the dream place for any shoe enthusiast.  From boots to heels to stilettos, Manizales had every shoe possible and catered quite strongly to women.  The amazing thing to me was that the majority of women were wearing stiletto heels and walked the streets as if walking down the red carpet or a runway!!  I mean they worked it and made it look so natural and easy!  Now, I myself have been known to rock a heel shoe, but what made the Colombian women wearing stilettos so impressive is the quality of the roads!!  They were walking in stilettos as if the roads and sidewalks were perfectly paved without a hint of a defect anywhere.  The reality however was far from this as the roads and side walks left quite a lot to be desired!  And many of the little roads were made of brick, so the spaces in between each brick…. I’ve no idea how they didn’t break their ankles on a regular basis!

Anyway, I stayed in Manizales for only a couple of days.  And honestly, because of the weather mainly (I’m seriously a wimp in cold weather) I was just uninspired to do anything!  Not to say there wasn’t anything to do in Manizales, but the cold just made me want to curl up with a blanket and a little fire.  Plus, I was still trying to make sure that I got to Bogota in plenty of time to see my brother, so that too cut my time there to just a few days.

View from Hostel Rooftop_4

Had I had more time to explore that are however, I would have absolutely (and I do plan to still check this area out) gone to the coffee region of Colombia, one of the more famous spots: Armenia.  I’ve heard a lot about this area from fellow travelers and from some who are from the area and have heard of nothing but fabulous reviews.  Perhaps once I get there I will have found a spot in Colombia with awesome coffee and where they drink it not only at breakfast;)  Seriously, it was shocking to me how unimpressed I was by coffee in the areas I did travel of Colombia.  It was as if they saved the best coffee to be exported elsewhere or something, lol!!

 

On to Bogota

Back to Colombia Quicklinks

 

Capurgana, Colombia

So we made it!  “Smuggled” into Columbia through the San Blas Islands on a sailboat captained and crewed by what Nicki (my German companion on the sailboat) so eloquently named “modern day pirates”.  That they were indeed, modern day pirates!!  We actually arrived and docked in the water on the Panama side in a little inlet that had the teeniest towns nearby.  From there a local took all of our things and put them in a little motor boat, squished us all in (we finally got to get our shoes back, mind you!) and motored us around the inlet bend and into the Colombian side of land and dropped us off at the dock of Capurgana, Colombia.

The first thing I remember thinking about this place was how colorful it was!  It was so Caribbean and the vibrant colors of each building just added to that cool Caribbean vibe of “come as you are and chill, man”!!  Just adorable and quaint and just the place that was needed to go and relax after the onboard adventures of the previous week on the sailboat.

We all disembarked from the little motor boat on the dock and went our random ways to find hostels/hotels for the night.  I chose a place not too far from the dock and stayed the first night in a room fit for several people (though I was the only one) then moved to a smaller, better suited room on the second floor for the next week.  Now, one must remember that after being on the sailboat for 6 days certain things hold true… First and most important, I had to get my land legs back!  Even though we had been on land for little bouts throughout the week on the sailboat, my sea legs were still well intact.  Hence why I chose to stay for several days in Capurgana… Not only because it was so vibrant yet chill, but also so I could fully recover from the crazy sailboat tour we had just come from.

After getting settled in the first afternoon of our arrival (oh and of course getting our entrance stamp from immigration, which was closed for the first several hours we were on land so had to wait a while to actually be legal in the country) Nicki and I headed around town to find a cup of coffee.  Now, honestly I’ve never really been a big coffee drinker in the States.  Maybe because all the famous blends and roasts come from places like Costa Rica and Colombia.  Or rather especially Colombia… So we thought it would be quite easy to find a place that sold coffee since we were afterall in one of the countries that was best known for their production of coffee… No.  Not at all. It literally took us the better part of an hour, plus going into dozens of stores before we actually found a place that begrudgingly made us a cup of coffee!!  And to boot, it wasn’t even anything that special.  Apparently, as we came to learn quickly, coffee in Colombia is served only at breakfast and is really not available at any other time!  Ok, now perhaps I really shouldn’t generalize for ALL of Colombia, so I will just say for sure in Capurgana:)

Anyway, all in all the time spent in Capurgana was quite nice.  One day was full of hiking through the surrounding jungle, others just wandering the small town watching and experiencing life.  The evenings were spent passing time with card games with friends from the sailboat.  Oh and one afternoon was spent watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in England (just to give a time stamp of when I was there:)).

To be honest, though I knew I had to move on, I really wasn’t looking forward to it.  The only way out of the town was either on a teeny tiny plane literally fit for two people and luggage (that could not weigh more than a certain amount) or to take a motor boat from Capurgana, across the bay to Turbo, then catch a bus to the next destination.  After having spent so much time in the simplicity of life, between Puerto Viejo, the San Blas Islands and now the tiny town of Capurgana I wasn’t looking forward to getting back into the “hustle” of the faster life.  Honestly, I don’t even recall vehicles in town, only horse drawn carts.  That’s how isolated and simple Capurgana was.  No roads actually lead into it, only a small airstrip and dock for boats connected this small Caribbean town to the rest of the world.

Alas, I did have to get back on the road again however and booked my trip out of Capurgana via the boat.  Nicki, the Aussies and the British fellow had already or were soon also getting on with their travels too.  We each went separate ways.  Though I had wanted to go to Cartagena, Colombia, oddly enough I had gotten an email from my brother saying he was in Bogota for work.  So I altered my plans to try and catch some time with him in Bogota and opted to head first to Medellin.

 

On to Travel from Capurgana to Medellin

Back to Columbia Quicklinks

Monteverde Horseback Ride Tour

My tour was due to start around 11am.  As I sat in the common area of my hostel (Cabinas Eddy) I was surprised by a delicious homemade tamales that the Eddy family offered me, as well as to learn that I was the only one who had signed up for the horse tour!  The people who ran the tour however were very good friends of the Eddy family and as such, Eddy the first and his wife opted to come along on the tour with me!

Eddy Sr and his wife didn’t speak a lick of English, and as I was still learning Spanish, communication was quite entertaining!  But certainly not impossible as my knowledge of Italian helped a lot and hand gestures and charades made up for the rest.  All during the ride to the horse facility Eddy talked about Monteverde explaining how the majority of the land is used for the growth of coffee beans and chocolate.

We reached the facility about a half hour later and were greeted with open arms.  As mentioned earlier, the “horse” family and the Eddy’s were good friends so we were all greeted as such.  We sat in the main lobby area as the two families caught up on each others lives, then we set off on horseback for the tour.

The tour was led by a girl about 12 years old who knew the land like the back of her hand.  She was patient and kind and was very knowledgable about the land she grew up on.  It was quite entertaining because there were several times when she would begin to explain something about the area only to be interrupted by Eddy Sr. who would continue the explanation as if he were the guide.  I found this to be humorous as I could see that everyone was eager to share their knowledge of the area!

The horses are a much smaller breed than those found in the states, and since I had just come from a horse facility riding draft horses, it made these horses by comparison feel like ponies!!  But nonetheless it was great just to be back on horseback!!  It probably was a good thing that the horses were so small however as there were many areas that I literally had to throw the reins away and allow the horse to navigate their favorite path through the terrain!  Parts were so narrow and muddy and slippery and on the edge of cliffs and through rivers that it honestly made me nervous until I just allowed the horse to do their job and get us through safely.

Over hills, through jungle, along hillsides, to the top of a small mountain we finally arrived and my-oh-my what a view!!!  Our final destination felt like we had made it to the top of the world with a 360 degree view of everything around us!!  You could see Monteverde, Santa Elena and all the way to the Nicoyo Peninsula including the Gulf!!!  Though it was a little windy up there, the view was absolutely spectacular and honestly had it not been for the wind, we probably would not have been able to see so far!!

We got off the horses at this point and just spent time walking around enjoying the magnificent view all around us as the horses took a well deserved break, snacking on the grass around us.  After we all had our fill of our surrounding views, we mounted back up and headed down a different path to get home.  As some areas on the way back were safer to canter along, we did so enjoying the faster pace.  You could tell the horses were once again quite familiar with their jobs as though they would never take off without instruction, they always slowed down when they knew they were coming to the end of an area that was safe for speed.

All sorts of day-critters were spotted along the path, including a large variety of butterflies and birds, and of course spiders and webs!  Once we made it back to the ranch, I was shocked to realize that almost 5 hours had already passed!!  How time flies when you are having fun!!  I was very pleasantly surprised upon our arrival back to the ranch that we were greeted with a delicious homemade lunch!!  Now, I’m not entirely sure if lunch was ever part of the tour itself or if it was simply that I was being joined by friends of the family that I was served lunch.  Either way, it was delicious and I was very thankful to have had lunch as it had been a while since I ate anything as well:)

After our meal we all took a walk to their garden where we were shown a large variety of plants that they grow on their land including sugar cane and a very large variety of spices!  Our young tour guide cut some cane down and led us to and old shack that had a hand-crank machine designed to crush sugar cane.  She placed a bucket at the mouth of the machine and fed sugar cane bark through the machine as Eddy Sr. and I worked the hand cranks to make the machine work!  After several feeds of the cane through the machine we had several cups of pure sugar-water entirely from the cane!!  It was quite amazing to me how much sugar-water was squeezed out of only a few pieces of cane!!  We all took shots of the sugar cane juice and cheered to a wonderful day!!

After our garden tour, I was asked if I minded taking a trip off the normal path of the tour and instead join Eddy Sr. and his wife on a trip to one of their friend’s house.  Absolutely, I would love to join them was my response as any opportunity to see real life and real family life in different cultures is part of the reason for any of my travels to begin with!!  We headed off on foot to their friend’s house (who I later learned was the family of our young tour guide.  She was the eldest of the children in the family) where we were once again greeted with open arms and offered refreshments.  I was absolutely taken aback by the beauty of where they lived!!  The house was modest as all of them are, with only 3 bedrooms (to be shared by the parents and 7 children) and one bathroom, living room and kitchen.  I loved the kitchen as though it was simple, it was the largest of all the rooms and was completely open with a large table in the center just welcoming family and friends to join.  The roof was tin and as with most of the homes here the walls didn’t meet the roof but rather had a gap of about half a foot all the way around.  I could just imagine how wonderful the sound of rain would be off the roof, echoing around the vast area!!  How splendid!!

A better spot for the house as well could not have been picked as the land it was on had a phenomenal view of the mountains around them!!  The sun was getting lower on the horizon and it simply lit up the land around us in a fantastic glow that changed in color as it set lower.

Just being with the family, listening to conversation, being present in their tremendous hospitality humbled me.  There was nothing but love and fun radiating from them and though I couldn’t understand a lot of what was being said, the general feeling was of community.  We headed back to Cabinas Eddy about an hour later and though it was technically still early, I was definitely exhausted and just relaxed the remainder of the evening.  Of course I did make sure to thank everyone profusely for the fantastic day as none of it would have been possible without first the Eddy family joining me, and second for everyone’s amazing hospitality all along the way!!

On to Manuel Antonio

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