Monday, December 20, 2010

Doing Good Works

Quite by accident I was invited to go along to St. Anthony's "Casa de Hermanas" (House of the Sisters) and given my limited Spanish I accepted without any idea what I was agreeing to, but I am always ready for a new adventure.
St. Anthony's is one of five smaller churches in the
Barichara 'metro' area, but it also has a facility for the aged.

It turns out that I was agreeing to help my Art Teacher distribute cheese, cake, the Colombian equivalent of a saltine, along with hot soup and hot chocolate at the local center for the aged and infirm. It is staffed by an order of nuns from the Catholic Church and quite regularly people from Barichara offer to provide an afternoon 'tea' of sorts, but hot chocolate is the beverage of choice for these elders.

Another woman had joined the two of us and she was equally new, so the two of us were given a tour by one of the nuns while the Art Teacher did some of the preparations. The facility is very clean and is quite likely as old as some of its residents. It is divided up into one section for elderly men and one for elderly women and another section houses both men and women in a sort of paid retirement home which allows this last group to be as active as they choose to be.

Over 84 residents are staying here, some in various stages of dementia, aging or infirmity. There is a nun who is a nurse on site, there are rooms to isolate very ill patients, and of course there is a large and functional kitchen and dining area. The activity room across the way gives the patients a place to gather for various events.
I am standing to the left of the nun in the back, watching to see if 'los
hombres' need a refill of hot chocolate.

What struck me was how welcoming those who were alert were to our appearance on the site. I was a great curiosity with my blond hair and blue eyes and being significantly taller than the Colombian woman (I never thought of myself as tall because I had such a tall father and two tall brothers!) they wanted to shake my hand and talk to me... and all I really had to do was smile and nod my head a little and the next one along the way wanted to grab my hand and talk to me. (In the photo where I am standing with the Colombian nun you can see I am easily nearly six inches taller than she is.)

The men sit at one table and the women sit at another and they actually did not even speak to each other while I was there. But they were appreciative of the food, if they even were aware of where it came from, as they slurped their soup and hot chocolate with the cheese in it. This is not unusual for Colombians because they love their cheese to melt in the hot chocolate... I am not that crazy for it, though.

So I did my "Good Works" for this month albeit inadvertently. I really don't limit myself to one-a-month, but this was my first public one in Colombia.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Ten Tips for Traveling Solo

After reading the two remarks from readers about my safety, I thought I might write a little bit about being a solo woman traveler to those who may be thinking or dreaming of going someplace farther away than the next big city alone.
And I am sooooo appreciative of my reader's concerns... and it is because of those issues that I took this subject today and offer my Ten Tips for Tight-Assed Traveling... mostly for women, but men might find this helpful, too.
There is always a lot to see in a new city or country; take
time to do your research before going to enhance your trip.
First, I think it is essential if one is planning to travel solo anywhere, by car, plane, train, bus, ship or NASA moon rocket to have some kind of itinerary mapped out which is shared with several people who will be receiving your calls, text messages or e-mails along the route.
Second, an agreed-upon phrase to use which will indicate there is a problem and thus some kind of plan of action worked out. It is comforting to know that when you carry a cell phone it is like a homing device for the authorities. As long as it is on, it will "ping" various cell towers in range and you can be tracked in that way. (So if you plan to have an affair and don't wish to be found, leave the cell phone behind.)
Third step is to make plans so that when you arrive someplace you have a car, taxi, or hotel van ready to meet you after customs or baggage delivery. This is required if you arrive after dark
If you are driving on a trip (such as across the country as I have done more times than I care to discuss), make it a rule to stop before dark. If possible, call ahead to reserve a room. These places along highways are less security conscious, so if you are at all concerned and feel the room offered doesn’t provide the kind of security you want, ask to have it changed and that’s why you make sure you arrive before dark!
TIP: Those GPS systems are worth their weight in gold for finding the lost motel or hotel in a strange city in the dark!
I didn't take my own advice on this: After getting up very early in Florida on Thursday, I arrived in Bogota that night about 8 p.m. I was concerned that the hotel I had reserved for the night would not know my flight information and would not be at the airport for me because I couldn’t remember when I made my reservation on line if I had told them I was arriving by plane. Guess what? They must be psychic! They were there; I just didn’t know it. (More fool me... an American woman arriving in Bogota for one night is very likely to be arriving by plane. How did they know which one? Do you really think you are traveling incognito? That’s a fiction.)
But I got assistance from the nice folks at Avianca (airline I flew in on) to find out if there was a hotel shuttle - there was - and to help me locate the representative. The Avianca arrival location at Bogota's airport is away from the regular arrivals so that was another part of my concern. But my name was on their hotel list and they whisked me away and got me into my room by 9 p.m.
Most of the international modern hotels today are very secure and don't do such foolish things as hand over a key and announce in a loud voice, "Here you go, Miss, your room number is 1234 and it's the single room you asked for," as happened to me in Denmark 35 years ago, resulting in a room invasion. That's a story for another time and although I was married, I was traveling alone, going on ahead to wait for my husband.
In fact, arriving at a hotel in Bogota, Colombia is like arriving at a G-9 summit meeting with armed guards, police dogs and undercover agents watching as people move about the lobby.
Have a camera handy if you enjoy capturing light and colors as I do.
The Ar Hotel Salitre is brand new (open only three months), very modern and charming at the same time. There was live music in the bar, the staff is sharp and professional and helpful, and even though the airport is close and the hotel is in a busy section of the city, most noise from outside is greatly diffused. And the hotel food was delicious, which is more common than not, at least in Colombia.
Security is top notch, with guards at the entrance, a para-military structure is in place with a dog patrolling the entrance outside along with its keeper, and all the rooms are only accessed by a card and you must have the card to access the elevators and other facilities - they have a fabulous spa and 'soaking pool' for guests; something I will hope to enjoy during my next visit.
I have written about Bogota before, but if you want to get some of the details and see some photos (I am usually here for such a short time and usually arriving in the dark, so I don't get the best ones.), then please click on the link.
Fourth on the list: Have currency for the country you are going to visit in hand when you arrive. There is nothing more risky than having to get money changed upon arrival and there are LOTS of people watching you when you do this. Most of the larger and international banks can get you some initial funds (equivalent to $200 USD, let's say) for taxi rides or tipping or meals. I make it a point also, to have small bills in a small wallet for these purposes and never, never show larger bills from that wallet. I keep the larger bills in another location in my bag and when I go to the loo, I transfer what I think I will need into the small wallet.  This avoids any big display of money when getting in or out of cabs, vans, or busses when you are really at your most vulnerable to pick-pockets, etc. I also try to have a tip amount tucked away in a pocket so I can just reach for it, knowing ahead of time how much it is.
When buying souveniers, remember that most sellers do
not have change for large bills and you will draw
attention to yourself unnecessarily.
Fifth point: Savvy travelers (men or women) dress to impress or dress to be invisible. I have learned I am more comfortable dressing to blend in and also to be comfortable. Long flights in tights are in the past for me, thank goodness! I wear Patagonia ‘sweater-things’ with zippered pockets ensuring tip money won’t be easily removed or lost and they are wonderful in multiple temperature zones. I wear black pants with a bit of elasticity so they give and don’t show the dirt. Then when I arrive I don’t necessarily look like I’ve been put through a travel wringer, though I occasionally feel that way. The last aspect of this point is that when you travel and are comfortable with how you look and how you feel, you have an air of confidence that tends to put Sneaky Snakes (apologies to Tom T. Hall) off to look for more vulnerable hits.
Sixthly (just kidding): Take your jewelry with you to wear for that special event you are going to, but limit what you wear. I wear a pair of simple gold hoops, a band on each ring finger and a simple silver or gold pendant (sometimes). Although not married, the wedding ring finger band discourages unwanted conversations and the other band seems to add enough confusion that I just continue to do it.
Number Seven: Never, ever take more luggage than you can handle all by yourself! Depending where you arrive and when you arrive, there may not be any porters or other service people to assist you. So all that rolling stock, ladies, better be able to be stacked, wrapped, hoisted or heaved onto your existing bags or your back... and the new baggage rules are 50 pounds per bag - absolutely - no wiggle room. Avianca even limits the weight of the carry-on to 10 pounds now. Spend $7 at some department store and get the baggage weight thing that tells you how much your bag weighs. Oh, and weigh it as well if you are taking it with you.
TIP: If your trip requires more than one bag and more than one stopover, choose one bag to be the one you open at the hotel and leave the other one alone until you are at your destination. This ensures you don’t mess with the weight of each bag by packing and unpacking at all your stops along the way and also makes getting up and out the next day a little bit easier.
Eight down, two to go: Do not tell strangers your life story while standing in line or at the gate. You do not know who is going where and what their agenda is. If someone asks you where you are going or who you are going to see, just change the subject or ask them those same questions. BE PRIVATE. It is possible to be friendly and still be very private. If they persist, be courageous enough to tell them it is none of their business why you are traveling. I am sure I have offended some people by telling them that, but I also ensured that the Sneaky Snake farther back in the line was not going to find out my plans.
Ninth: After arriving, don’t let your guard down. Pay attention to the people around you. Listen to your intuition. Even if you are going to be in a hotel with a group, don’t forget that there are people watching you. Some are hired to do that by the hotel or facility, but there are others who are looking for a chance to improve their situation by messing up yours. This doesn’t mean you have to be paranoid about everything and fearful - not at all. It does mean that you make plans to do things with an eye to your own safety.
Remember: if you have an agreement to call someone upon arrival, please do what you agreed upon. When I was in the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the biggest number of calls we dealt with were people who were called in, by concerned friends or relatives, as “missing” but they were actually those who failed to call in that they had arrived at their destination and were safe.   
Obviously... (amazingly not so obvious to some people) don’t leave jewelry, computers, other valuables like mp3 players lying around the hotel room... that’s why they have wall safes. Use them.
Last - Number Ten: The biggest reason for traveling alone is that you can sleep late if you want to, you can see what you want to see, you can stay as long as you want at the museum, have a massage or go shopping. There are a lot of joys to traveling alone. I met several really interesting people on my recent train and plane trips. I laughed, I enjoyed a meal with one of them, I got some good tips on new books to read and shared photographs of my travels with someone who is never going to be able to do what I am doing. She said, “I am not envious because I am too old for that. But you have made this old woman’s day of travel one she won’t forget. Thank you!”
That’s my reason for traveling... to share, to care, to listen, to talk and discuss, to learn something new, to have fun. I hope your next trip is successful and that you get out of it everything you expected and for those things that are not, may those surprises be wonderful memories.

Monday, December 13, 2010

First days in Barichara

My hotel room in Bogota was the best for the money I've
found so far... there is a shower behind that artfully
carved glass and it had hot water, too!!!
The trip from Bogota to Barichara seemed longer than usual and I guess it was because I was both excited and nervous to be returning solo. So much of my life I have had a “significant other’ (husband, boyfriend, fiance) in it and my experiences have been colored by those people. This time it was going to be all on my own shared only with those who care to read this blog.
Also, I was uncertain what kind of taxi driver I might get in San Gil and would he be understanding of my lack of his language? Would he be uncooperative at the other end about driving up a grassy driveway? I need not have been worried because I found a garrulous young fellow who was excited that I even tried to speak Spanish and he was exceptionally willing to be helpful at the gate. What a relief!
I arrived as the sun was setting so there wasn’t much time to get the bags dragged inside and get lights on. I unpacked quickly - easy since much of it was stuff for the cosina (kitchen) and most of the rest could be stuffed into a drawer.
Happy to be “home,” I put my teapot on to boil and puttered about while the water was getting hot for my first cup of tea. Suddenly I realized I didn’t have much in the larder and nothing in the refrigerator except a soda. Then I remembered I had some crackers from the couple of days I spent here before leaving and perhaps they were not stale and I had brought peanut butter back with me. Sigh... a feast as I listened to the quiet night sounds... I fell into my bed exhausted from two days of traveling and concentrating on a new language.
My casa faces to the east, so I am always going to get early morning
light, provided it is not cloudy or rainy.
Here is a shot of the first sunrise. I was up early and there was no power. My current attitude about these things is that if I wait, it will either come on or I will get information about the situation and getting upset about it is unproductive. So I prepared to take photos until it got light enough to see in the cosina.
Since I only have cold water anyhow, a shower wasn’t a consideration until the sun got higher and the temperature got warmer. I hope to fix that with the installation of a solar shower, either permanent or transportable. I cannot imagine that anyone would pay $600,000 USD for a house with only one bathroom that has only cold showers - that is the asking price for this place I am renting.
There is another problem - more serious than cold water. The mold in the third bedroom has gotten worse since I was away. I have no reason to be in there except to sweep now and then, but the mold has spread. I spoke to someone about it and was told they were planning to whitewash over it. I said sternly, “NO, that will not be sufficient. It will have to be dug out of the wall and rebuilt. Whitewashing over it will be a temporary fix and will not solve the problem. The dirt is contaminated and is permanently damaged.”
I spoke with Randy from Corasoma and they have a mold issue in their sleeping quarters as well. He is now sleeping someplace else until they resolve the problem. With all the rain that has been assailing Colombia, the mold issue is rearing its ugly head for the first time. A doctor friend of mine and I talked at length about the health issues of mold and she said there has never been so much moisture and so she has not seen any health-related issues connected to mold ever before but she was going to do some research as she suspected the rain (lluvia) was going to continue for awhile.
The view of Barichara as seen from La Loma where
my casa is located. You can see the clouds still lie
heavily on this northern section of the Andes and
brings the cooling wind up in the afternoon. Evenings
are still somewhat on the chilly side, for me at least.
The solvable problem for the first days was getting the car started. That was how I ended up in conversation with Randy as he came down with the magic battery charger and we started up the car without any difficulty. I have to find a way to leave the car and not have the battery draining while I am gone. It is a new battery, but the alarm system on the car pulls all the juice out of it if it is not started once a week.
When I woke up this morning it had been raining through the night - not hard, but still wet. But wet conditions do not stop the roosters from announcing at 4:30 a.m. that the sun is beginning to rise. I do not need an alarm clock here.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

AMTRAK rocks... mostly

It was my first train ride in a long, long time. And for the most part, it was not a disappointment. I got on in Jacksonville at a very early hour, thanks to my friend Tobe who was either kind enough or foolish enough to get up at 4:30 a.m. and come and pick me up... I think he was kind.

The Silver Service starts its run in New York City and ends up in Miami, Florida some 15 hours later, if I figured the time correctly. It takes about 5 hours to ride from Jacksonville to Tampa and slightly longer if you choose the Atlantic coast route to get to Miami.
Dr's Lake is south of Jacksonville and it was cool to see
the places I saw when driving up and down I-95
from the relaxed comfort of the train.
This photo is near where I once sailed on my boat, and I've driven I-95 (the bridge you see) many times.

The only caveat I have about the train is that it is not  as clean as it could be, should be! And especially the windows because the whole point is being able to SEE out of them! Bring your own food and only buy drinks since the cost of the food is outrageous and it's not very good.

Several of the train stations where we stopped were very clean and bright and others were so raggedety as to be offensive. The service providers were helpful and professional and I found most of them pretty agreeable as well.

Orlando Station for AMTRAK has a Spanish motif.
So, I will do the train again and perhaps the next time I will even try a longer trip.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

This Must Be a Sign...

I followed my friend Betty into the Hospice Haven to see if I could find a transistor or portable radio for someone in Barichara. No luck. But while I was waiting for her to finish paying for some little treasure she found, I overheard a young woman making a comment about Colombia.

My ears went on red alert and I immediately, without any thought of the consequence of eavesdropping, listened to her conversation. But it was the end part that made me just shiver.... "and I cannot wait to get back to Bogota!"

Friends know me to be very approachable and I also do a lot of "approaching," perhaps because of all the years in the newspaper and other media businesses I was in. "Excuse me, senora, I couldn't help overhearing you speaking about Colombia... and I am leaving for there in a short time..."She moved over to speak to me and interrupted, "When, when are you going?"
A path from the village of Barichara to the overlook to try and see
if we could see the Rio Suarez from there.

I told her I was aiming for the first week in December and heading to the north in the country, to Santander and Barichara. Her eyes got all misty and when I told her I loved her country, she turned to her friend and said, "See, here is someone who can tell you how beautiful my country is since you don't believe me."

I have invited her to come to this blog to read about my travels and see pictures of her beloved land... and as I was leaving I was pondering the little miracle of finding a Colombiana in a small town in Florida - do you think it was a sign?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Singing Again

The Barichara Chorus was rehearsing in this shot.
I was part of the choir at St. James Episcopal Church today and it was quite amusing to see the reactions of 'the regulars' as they came past the choir for their communion. More than a few did a double-take seeing me in the Alto section and it was  good to be singing again.

My connections in Barichara, the village in Colombia, report that rehearsals are continuing and I was sent some words for one of the songs I have to be ready to sing in a couple of weeks.

This week I will be re-packing my suitcases and checking to make sure I have all the promised items I was asked to bring back or that I will need in my little casa.

The church choir director, Dr Alfonso Levy, was not directing us this morning because he was put into hospital for various reasons. So he did not know that I was there for rehearsal on Tuesday or in church today. I decided to go and visit him this afternoon and got there just as his brother and sister-in-law were leaving. He was so overwhelmed that I was there that he got us both crying and I said I was going to have to leave if I was upsetting him. He replied, "Girl, I don't want to be anything but upset right now I am that glad to see you."

We talked about my Colombia 'choir' and how the director there noticed that I knew about correct breathing and immediately Dr. Levy relaxed and said, "You just have to watch for the commas," and I smiled and said I didn't know how to say that in Spanish yet, but I remembered his instruction about that and would learn the words so I can share his tip with the group there.

Before I left Dr. Levy for the day, I asked him if he wanted me to do Reiki on him again (as I had done once before with a critical health issue for him) and he said I should proceed "as usual,' which made us both laugh. So I have been doing Reiki on him at a distance and intending that these current health issues resolve themselves so that he can be up and around again.

The other half of the Barichara choral group at rehearsal.
It will be hard to leave here but I am still excited about my new adventures and plans and the only things I really am waiting on are my papers for the 'pensioner visa' which are being processed from all I can gather.

At any rate it was certainly pleasant to be singing again as there is something so very satisfying to be in a group making music together, and I know how hard it is for Dr. Levy to be lying in a bed and not doing that which he loves... Get well soon, my  friend.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Multiple Myeloma Takes Another One

I dedicate this sunset photo to Hamada
who, according to Susie, loved them.
The news from Susie that her beloved husband Hamada had passed away on November 23 from the consequences of Multiple Myeloma was no real surprise after her continuous updates of his failing kidneys, but it was still very sad news for those who have come to know her and the love of her life through her blog and her poetry.

It is also a horrible reminder that without aggressive and skilled medical intervention, this disease will show no mercy and will steal life long before that life should have ended. There was a notice on one of the MM sites that some people in the UK are putting forth an extra effort to educate the medical community about the symptoms of Multiple Myeloma since it is often mis-diagnosed, losing valuable time for the disease to gain a stronger position.

Reading other blogs often provides links to new information or theories which may bear fruit, for example "Riding the Wave" or "Margaret's Corner." I would not want to forget Phil Brabb's blog, MM for Dummies, and the efforts to fund-raise with Cancer Kickers, providing an inexpensive way to bring MM more into the public eye.

Education is something that should be happening world-wide since it appears that more and more individuals are facing this fight and at younger years (in MM for Dummies this week there is a story of a young woman in her 30's). I know I will continue to do what I can to educate those I meet about it, encouraging people to be more proactive in their discussions with their doctors and more than that, pushing them to eat healthier, more natural foods. I have also tried to get the message to President Obama that the government Veteran's Administration has not demonstrated compassionate care for our vets and in the U.S. there is a huge population of veterans suffering from MM.

This is no consolation for the wife of a man who loved her and who was well loved in return - nor will it bring him back. But perhaps those who are about to be diagnosed with MM or those who have recently been discovered to have it will take time to read the various blogs and make some educated decisions about their treatment so they can have a better chance at the remission that is sought after.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

On my own again

Looking back over the past 15 months I realize I have traveled over (approximately) 45,000 miles (!!) by air, boat and car with Jey-hu - the most I have ever traveled with anyone. He said the same was true for him and we both agreed it has been "a most interesting adventure." No regrets.

We part as friends, in spite of the volatile circumstances that drove a wedge between us. And today I begin a new journey, heading toward Florida on my own from Texas - one of the flattest states in the U.S. I am certain - and then I will re-pack for my return to Colombia.

Cartegena, Colombia as seen from the tour boat "Alcatraz."
My journey has taken me back and forth across the U.S., seeing wonderful places and eating great food as well as giving me a new view of South America and its people. These past few months have been rich in color as well as texture, providing me with plenty of photos for my new phase of working on my art.

When I look only at my 'label list' on this blog, I realize that from A-Z I have traveled a rich road even though not always spending much money to do so. I have become more flexible about sleeping arrangements, more tolerant of delays, more understanding of the people who provide services and more willing to try something new. These almost 450 days have been a way for me to grow in ways I could never have predicted ahead of time. So truly there are no regrets... but it will seem strange to be on my own again.

Winding up the Washington Era

The last captured sunset over Puget Sound - see how
those high winter clouds stretch across the sky?
It was a time when things were incredibly uncertain, fluid and transitory as I tried to work out the details of getting my personal gear moved. One day I was going to ship it and the next I was ready to walk away from all of it In the end I decided it made sense to load it into the old Ford Explorer and drive it all the way back to Florida.

Jey-hu surprised me by offering to drive part of the way with me to make the trip more tolerable and to give us time to conclude the relationship amicably on this one last trip together.

It started out as a discussion about how I was going to make the trip and evolved into helping me pack the SUV as full as it ever has been. The original plan was to leave on Wednesday morning - very early. But the weather indicated that Snohomish Pass was going to be overwhelmed with 6-10 inches of snow that day, so we rushed our preparations and left on Tuesday night, about 8 p.m. We took turns driving over the pass in the very gusty winds and as the sun was coming up, we were well ahead of the coming storm and pretty darn tired.
Sunrise in Utah en route to Salt Lake City.
Somehow by taking turns driving and sleeping a couple of hours at a time we managed to get to Salt Lake City where an old and dear pair of friends now live.
My car at the Salt Lake City Information Center.

Grant and Ellie Mitchell, once from St. Augustine, FL,  have 'retired' and Grant was the one I wrote about having Frontal Lobe Dementia. Ellie cares for him with help from his children and local folks.

Once a successful real estate broker, Grant's focus now is on what is immediate. He likes to keep track of the time, remind Ellie to "hurry up" with dinner, and keep the leaves off the patio. Being with the two them is a reminder of the importance of the strength of a long and enduring love coupled with incredible patience on her part.

Grant enjoys his evening at the lake feeding the ducks.
Ellie drove us to share their regular evening journey of feeding the ducks and while there we saw the most glorious sunset.

It was as if God was pointing His finger to the skies and painting with it to remind of what is important.

So there I was, a car packed full of the few things I have left, on my way back to Florida with the man who lured me away helping me to leave. A most strange and wondrous place in time, with a magnificent and artful demonstration of Nature's creation. Wow.

Sunset on a small duck pond in Bountiful, Utah in November.
I am fortunate that I had the camera with me so that I can share this incredible beauty with my readers. Enjoy!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Renting a house in Colombia

Just go around the corner and
you will see the entry - don't
bother to knock!
Once having located a house to rent, one of the requirements by this owner was to have someone who could 'vouch' for me as being someone who will honor the contract. I was fortunate that my friend at Corasoma was willing to take on that responsibility. Then one must appear in front of the notary and bring proof of identity, and be prepared to sign as well as imprint the index finger next to the signature along with the person vouching for you. In my case, the document was then sent on to the owner to sign and I will receive a notarized copy when that is completed.

See? This is the main entrance into the living area.
This is the view from the living room as if you were already in it. Can
I offer you a cup of tea? A gallieta (cookie) ? The kitchen is just in the
next room and I think I can hear the kettle whistling....
There is a formality insofar as the documentation goes, but I was allowed to move my personal items in before everything was completed based on the inherent trust that exists in this country - a pleasure to do business as a result. So before I left Barichara for Bogota I was moved in and the house will be waiting for my return in a few weeks.

Now I am back in Washington State closing out my life here and getting things sold, given away or packed up. I will be sorry to leave my wonderful Persian landlords behind as they have been incredibly generous in so many ways. Friends in Florida are waiting for me to come and celebrate the uniquely U.S. event of over-indulging in a large poultry dinner. Although I have seen turkeys roaming the roads of Colombia, I have never seen one being used for a meal. Interesting.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Exciting plans in the works...

In a few days I will be heading to Bogota to catch a flight back to the U.S. But this is just another step in my retirement plan as I have decided to make the leap and rent a small casa here in Barichara for a year to see how I like being a Colombiana.

I have met some wonderful, strong, creative women here who are very supportive of my choices and have helped me to find a safe place to park myself and my stuff. One of them is a Colombian Gestalt art teacher, another is a British medical doctor/archeologist/artist, another is an Austrian creative chef and instructor, one more is a French woman who started her own furniture business years ago here. And there are more who are part of the fabric of life in this vedeta (area). What is the thread between us all is our 'art.' And what I loved about Barichara at the first was the powerful creative energy that pulls us to this place to share and support each other.

I will always be grateful to Jey-hu for being the catalyst that brought me here. And for all the wonderful people at Corasoma who have been, and will continue to be, a part of the journey as well. (Click on the link for the English version, if you like.)

Jey-hu is returning to the U.S., but if he returns to Colombia, he will have his own choices to make about where to live. The trip to the northern coast with him was friendly, but reaffirmed that the gap has only widened between us. He is unwilling to invest himself in the local community and language, he really only wants to "see" it, take pictures of it, tell stories of it, but he is not a part of the picture or the story.

My desire is to immerse myself in this life... I have joined the local chorus, will be taking art classes when I return, am fully investing in learning the language so that I am truly conversant in Spanish the way I used to be in French. Making the choice to find a place to live and to move forward with my "pensioner visa" (retirement visa) paperwork is part of the process required to enjoy this new 'home'.

I tried to post a photo of the casa, but the uplink is too slow, so when I return to the U.S. I will share several photos of it and more of my plans.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Journey to the Coast

The trip from Barichara to San Gil was uneventful and after getting all the campo mud out from the undercarriage of the car at the car wash in San Gil, it seemed as if the old girl was considerably lighter on her “sneakers.”
After days of rain, it was pleasurable to see the sunshine and the trip to Bucaramanga was done in record time... just under two hours! The Chicamocha Canyon was vastly different from all the rain... all the cacti and other growing things were swelling and green and the Rio de Chicamocha was roaring down the canyon.
Just upon arrival in Buca, the rain started and followed me down the other side of the mesa. Due to the excessive amounts of rain, there were a number of places where the land has slid anywhere from 10 to 50 or even more feet down onto the road, carrying rocks, trees, and other plants with it. But all the blockages except one had been bulldozed away. 
Although an incredibly dangerous act, the driver was
leaving the same stop we were and I have to think he
was aware of his 'tailgater,' as he drove slowly up the hill.
Two hours north of Bucaramanga took me out of the state of Santander and into Nord de Santander, countryside that was still very mountainous, and also very green, but with long stretches of flat land that provides a lot of grazing for cattle and horses. But the small villages along the way are, for the most part, exceptionally dirty with trash from daily living scattered throughout the pueblo. And in the cleaner towns apparently the residents take their trash out to the roadways and dump it there. There are a number of signs that stipulate “No basura aqui!” (No trash here!). Colombia needs to help their populace learn how to recycle and give them ways to dispose of the non-recyclables that doesn’t blight this otherwise beautiful countryside.
I found a small, but clean “hospitaje” just as the sun was going down. The patron, a woman, showed me a room with two beds... concrete platforms with mattresses inserted into them...for $15000 (about $9 USD) and in a few hours, in spite of flying ants swarming in the room, I was asleep.
This appears to be the milk 'wagon' getting ready to
make a delivery someplace.
Venezuela begins about where the mountain are. This is
from the Departmento Cesar (state), north of Bucaramanga.
The next morning my failure to inquire about hot water came back to haunt me. The shower was a pipe and clearly had only one spigot... COLD! But it was clean and soon so was I, although shivering.
Breakfast was two scrambled eggs and an arepa (corn pattie cooked on the fire) with some wonderful fresh jugo (juice) of mora... a red berry that looks like a cross between a raspberry and a blackberry. Breakfast was not included, but for the equivalent of $3 USD, it was a good deal.
Back on the road at 8, the road continued downward and by the time I reached border of the next state, Cesar, the mountains were more distant and the vegetation was that of rivers and flat agricultural producing areas. And the temperature was higher as was the humidity. The young men in their military uniforms at all the checkpoints along the way made a point to be standing in the shade.
If you look carefully at the bicyclist just behind the moto,
you can see he is carrying not one, but TWO washers!!
As I worked my way north to the seacoast on the Atlantic/Caribbean side, the color of the skin of the natives seemed to be darker, there were more palm trees (in fact, grove after grove of them) and the other plants and trees had a more tropical appearance. And the road got straighter and better.
Sales of mandarinas were slow, I think, at this 'bump' in
the road, one of about 50 we passed over on this route.
I arrived in Riohacha, in the state of Guijara, just before sunset. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the city is like a larger version of the villages... not mud huts exactly, but the construction seems older, shabbier and the alley ways are muddy and  narrow. Colombian “resort” it may be, but it has a long way to go to match Mexico’s Cabo San Lucas for style and charm. The hotel I found was hardly three stars and yet it was full, so I could only have one night there for the equivalent cost of $75 USD. The room was sparsely equipped with a single bed with a horrible mattress and a set of bunks, cheap dresser and a small TV with poor color. In the U.S. this would have qualified as “fleabag,” (not even one star) but here it is considered “upscale.” Perhaps because the room has AC and a hot water handle...but no hot water! However, breakfast is included.
The security guard told me it was not wise to walk on the beach at night. So since “night” begins at 6 p.m., my planned beach walk was postponed for the next day. Instead I went for dinner at the hotel restaurant which was clean and pleasant and had their version of steak for about $8.
This was all the sunset to be captured in Riohacha, Colombia.
After a steady day of driving - not stopping along the way except for gas - I was exhausted and after using the hotel’s wifi access to check my mail, I was able to fall asleep on the mattress from hell... I am too spoiled, I admit it!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Discovering more about Colombia

A few of San Gil in Santander, Colombia from the edge of
the Rio Fonce which is near flood stage from all the rain.
I decided it was time to take a trip to find out more about Colombia, so I will be posting short updates as I have internet access. For now, just a quick note as to where I am headed and what I have seen so far. I am aiming to reach the northern coast on the Caribbean side to see Santa Marta and Cartagena, depending on weather and bunches of other things.

There has been so much rain that many of the roads have very large, even HUGE boulders either on them or right next to the roadway. El Presidente has advised people to not drive after dark because of the risk of being injured either by falling rocks or by hitting something already in/on the road. So all my traveling will by done by daylight only!

So check in once in awhile and I hope to have some interesting pictures to share... ciao, amigo/as!!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Birdwoman in Colombia

Some of my friends know how much I love birds and how much I miss my sweet African Grey parrot who fell in love with my best friend's husband... I will be going back to Florida to visit that friend and the bird very soon! But in the meantime, I've become the rescue Birdwoman in Colombia when two very different kinds of birds required assistance.
Green Parrotlet, native to Colombia and the region where
I am staying, found on the ground nearly done in.
One was a tawny colored dove which had had an open wound just above the beak and was fluttering around at dusk unable to get flight. I gently captured her with a towel and put her into a wicker basket for the night. The next morning she was still alive and eager to fly and took off brushing past my head as she went. I smiled as I watched her strength and was glad the cat didn't get her.

The next rescue was a day later when I was walking with my hostess along a path and we saw this lovely green miniature parrot lying limp on the ground. I gently picked it up and began doing Reiki and breathing little breaths into its beak. This bird, it turns out, was the female of the species. In the picture above you are seeing the results of the Reiki... the limp little bird was coming more alert.

The little spot of blood on my hand was from the bird's eye which was damaged so there was grave concern as to how it might do overnight. Still, it was able to cling to my finger, so I was encouraged.

Off it went into the wicker basket as well for the rest of the day and the night. Just before going to bed I looked inside and the dear little creature had its head under her wing, clinging to the wicker. The next morning I could hear the birds gathering everyone together and I quickly took the little basket outside, seeing through the slits that the little bird was upright and bright-eyed.
This little bird was recovering and able to grab my finger
with her claws, a good sign.
"Ready to go, little one?" I opened the top and before I could reach my hand in to lift her out, she was on her way, zooming past me to catch up to her flock. She was out of sight before I blinked my eyes.

What a delight to see such progress and to know that I had foiled the cat once more. But there was another surprise in the trees. About noontime, I heard a commotion in the tree next to where I was working. I looked up and saw the largest flock of green parrotlets I've ever seen. They were all chirping and sounding off and although I looked for the one I'd helped, I couldn't see her in the mass grouping. But I had the strongest sensation that they had all come over to let me know that they appreciated my help and as soon as I said "You are most welcome..." in my head... they were back in flight again.

Call me crazy... I am the Birdwoman and probably deserve the adjective... but the universe has an interesting way of giving messages if we care to pay attention.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Month In the Country

Just as the sun was setting, I was getting ready to have a
look at a house that was for rent, but the owner was not
readily available.
It seems hard to believe a month has passed and I am beginning to count the days until I head back to the NW to start to sort out my life in the U.S. I had a long conversation with my host tonight about the various aspects of "control" and how my life seems very much "out of control" with no particular plan. When I started on this journey, it all seemed to be so clear and now I have no road map, hauntingly similar to what those with MM face as they try to make sense of unfamiliar territory and language.

So tonight I simply sat and watched the sun go down, knowing that tomorrow is another day with new challenges, new ideas, new activities. Like Scarlett in "Gone With The Wind," I have decided not to think about it now, "I shall think about it tomorrow."

And, now just as I am writing this, another surprise from Madre Tierra... more rain - I can hear it on the clay roof, sometimes quite intense and with thunder. This always changes things, because with lots of rain the roads become impassable again. So any plans made have to be adjusted and modified.

Now I really will have to wait to to see what tomorrow morning brings when I get up and assess the weather. One thing is certain, the weather is definitely not within my control!

Finally there was a night's end without rain, so I sat and
quietly watched the sun set and the delicate colors that
Madre Tierra was painting for my pleasure.

Friday, October 8, 2010

New Paths

Walking up the path under the mango
trees, past the lemon tree on the
right and into the sunshine ahead.
Sometimes we are forced onto a new path, sometimes we have the choice of taking one or another. I am sitting with the idea that I am in both places at the same time - being forced and also choosing. It is a strange state of affairs, but I am in the perfect place to reflect on this process. The spiritual energy of Corasoma and of this part of Colombia provide me with an excellent support system for new growth.

While the daily routine has been restricted somewhat by the voluminous amounts of rain in the Santander state (like the states of Oregon or Washington sometimes get in the winter), a day with sunshine is heralded and possibly even a trip to the pueblo is possible.

Today several of the residents of Corasoma made the journey which should normally take about 20 minutes and were detoured due to 'rhumbas' (rock falls) and over-flowing streams so that the trip actually took 45 minutes. I joked that Madre Tierra (Mother Earth) is doing her own version of the Rumba and all her jiggling is making all her jewelry fall off.

I wanted to get a photo of the vacquero (spanish version of cowboy) herding all the vacas (cows) which was one reason our progress was so slow, but it just wasn't possible. Just imagine that we became part of the herding process as the recalcitrant cows wanted to go other places than the road ahead and we had to honk and rev the engine to keep them moving forward. Such fun!

I thank my readers for their kind comments and observations. It is helpful to not feel quite so alone on this new path, whereever it is leading me.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The View from Here

This was a photo I took and "photoshopped" it into a
more artistic format. Hope you enjoy the view!
The view from here, as long as we are not in the clouds from the rain, is lovely and peaceful. Yesterday we saw a rare blue butterfly with wings of the most heavenly azure iridescent color. It flew within inches of me as I saw having a cup of tea and I realized how fortunate I am to be here now. Even with all the rain and the various "michus" (pests), I am becoming part of the picture, not just an observer.

The pueblo of Barichara sits high on a ridge of volcanic
strata. And much of the ground is this iron-filled clay
which makes a nice rammed earth home, but doesn't
come out once it stains the clothes.
On Wednesdays and Saturdays, while I am here, I am part of the local chorus preparing for the Christmas festivities. It is chance that is rare because non-natives are not usually included and I am getting a chance to learn music in Spanish! And to learn the local festival songs as well...

This "waya" or street to the finca was under-
mined by the ditch being dug which filled up
with water. Poor planning and bad results.
I love this village and the people I am meeting. My dream would be to have a place of my own to come back to, but for now I have to take care of personal business first. For those who have been following this blog, it is with sadness that I report that my traveling companion, Jey-hu, and I have parted ways. The details are a detraction from the beauty of this land, very like the corruption that lurks within the management of Barichara causing the streets to be impassable because of bad decisions and the weather.

So it is with someone who has chosen to be less than forthright, undermining a partnership, making it impossible to travel on the same road together.
All the rain has benefits when the sun shines; the sunflowers
bloom and bring wonderful seeds for man and beast to eat!
So, while the rains have been falling, they wash away roads and yet nurture the land. My life is similar - a road has been washed away in terms of having a planned route and there have been tears. But the sun is going to shine again and I do not regret this journey one bit.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Ticked off and such...

Greetings, amigos y amigas... Since the arrival in the campo, I have been assaulted by bugs of all sorts, in part due to the rain. But the worst are the miniscule ticks which embedded themselves all over my arms and legs. I didn´t realize that the itching wasn´t just from a bug bite, but a miserable infestation laid out every couple of inches on my legs by this dreadful pest. The solution? Find a pin, straight or safety, and forget about disinfecting it... just start digging at the little (VERY tiny - about the size of the periods in this posting) dots until they bleed, then use some alcohol (don´t drink it or you´ll never get the job done) and finally the itching will stop.

I am at the local internet cafe (no tea or coffee tho) and so I will have to post my photos for this week another time as I didn´t bring a flash drive with me this time. I had to rush this morning because there were people needing a ride to town and I had an appointment with one of the co-founders of Corasoma who is a massage therapist. ¿Good? Claudia is excellent! If you get to Barichara, just ask anyone how to find her for an appointment and they will set you up. She is well known and very, very good.

All is OK with me except for the bugs... when the sun shines, all is right with the world... otherwise we are struggling with mud and sinking roadways and falling rocks in Santander, but everyone is working to keep things together, so come on down and see this lovely part of the world!!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Una Die Sin Plagues - A Day Without Plagues (bugs)

Most everyone in Corasoma has been under attack by something equivalent to the “no-see-ums” found in various parts of the U.S. in springtime here in Colombia. A small ferocious fly with a huge bite leaves large, itchy welts when it zooms in and does its work before you even realize you’ve been chewed. But on Wednesday, Sept. 22, we made a short ride (about 25-30 minutes) to San Gil, and a drop in elevation brought some of us temporary relief from scratching and being bitten.
Horses here are not always treated well, sadly.
The purpose of the trip was to buy some groceries as ‘miercoles’ (Wednesday) is market day... how I remember the word in Spanish is that it sounds like ‘mercado,’ which is the word for market.
On the way out of Barichara, however, I saw a number of fellows on horseback (It’s easier when it’s so muddy to have a four-legged drive transport if you don’t have a four-wheeler.) and one sad little creature hitched to the spot outside of town while the rider gets supplies.
In another spot, near where we had lunch, we saw a pile of what appeared to be sticks moving on its own up a hill. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a wretched little over-burdened small horse, struggling to climb the hill with stalks of cane to be harvested for panella (sugar from the cane). It is a sad fact that work animals here are not treated that well for the most part. But then neither are the lower class workers, male or female, given much respect by those who have them working. No wonder a man who is in his 40’s looks like that little horse, beaten down, struggling just to make it to the next day.
This was the fried version ... yummy!
Lunch was at this wonderful little country restaurant called “Pesque y Coma” which really means “fish and eat,” because you can actually fish for your dinner. But I like the idea of the sign which made me think of the fish being so divinely cooked that it puts you into a coma... which it almost did. Very moist Tilapia in two different versions: one was fried and the other was wrapped in foil and steamed. 
San Gil was bustling with people and traffic as usual and it always takes longer to find what one is looking for because no single shop carries all the items, so it’s necessary to walk up one street and down another, asking each proprietor if they have what you are seeking and being told, “No, but you might try....” and on to the suggested next stop.
At Corasoma we cook with a wood stove, and the oven gets its heat from that wood, which is hard to regulate. I was looking for an oven thermometer and did not find it, but I haven’t given up.
On the way back to Barichara, our ‘tour guide’ for the day, Carlos, suggested we stop and see another village called Villanueva which is supposed to have more services than Barichara. About 80 years old, this village was dirty, plain, and totally uninspiring. The residents do not seem to have any pride of their place. In fact, I found the energy quite depressing and was glad to leave it. Clearly it is not a place much visited by turistas as we were stared at as if we had just landed in a space ship. I later learned that this was once a very violent area, and perhaps I had picked up on that historical psychic energy.
By the time we returned to Corasoma, it was almost sunset and the rainclouds were moving fast over the mountaintops. Although the day was interesting and the food was good, I found out some upsetting personal news via the Internet today, so it was good to get back to friends and a hot cup of tea while I ponder the information received.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Much Has Changed in Barichara

The road to Barichara from San Jose Altos is awash
after the rainstorm the night before.

The first thing I noticed is that there has been, and continues to be, plenty of rain. This has created a lush, vibrant landscape and the pinched look in the faces of the Colombians has disappeared. The once dusty roads are now impassable at times because of the ravines created by rushing torrents. But the birds are joyous.
A kind of canary native to this part of Colombia
I have not been able to capture with the camera a beautiful, azure-colored mini parrot, but the canaria shown here is about the same size. The garden at Corasoma is growing all sorts of edible delights, and even some tobacco has bloomed and produced the leaves for smoking. Smoking pure tobacco is a very different experience than that which is commercially produced and with the upcoming full moon, I hope to join the local circle to thank the gods for the rain and the crops.
With this new year apparently the manager(s) and politicos for Barichara have realized the importance of not going through another drought like last year. Many of the streets are currently torn up with the installation of drainage pipes and a new water treatment plant is under construction below the village (pueblo). Another hotel is under construction, so that makes two in close proximity to each other.
But there is also other construction which signifies the discovery of Barichara and people from all over the world are coming here to ‘retire.’ A new development is under way nearby Corasoma and also close to the small stream near the pueblo itself. I hope this intense interest will not change the area, but inevitably those people who come here for what they love will destroy what they initially found entrancing to make it more livable for their way of life. It is the way of all things.
Now after a week in Colombia, I am finally in the right time zone for my sleeping success and my language skills improve daily. All of the Corasoma residents went to a fiesta on Saturday to raise money for the young lady who will represent this vededa (area) in the annual larger fiesta in October in Barichara. We watched the locals play a game with a ball and three large posts, but the rules for success were not entirely clear. What was clear was that the winner would get a goat as a prize for the most points. No one from the Corasoma group felt qualified to even enter the fray.
While much has changed regionally, the sun still sets at 6 p.m. and rises at 6 a.m. as we are only about 400 miles north of the equator. There have been other changes, such as my plans, but they are not firmed up yet and will have to wait for another blog.