Monday, January 25, 2010

Sorry we were late, but...

There are lots of reasons why one might be late for an appointment in Colombia. It might be because you had to shower in a bucket because there wasn’t any water coming out of the spigot. Possibly it’s because of traffic - getting stuck behind large trucks on a narrow, winding road on the edge of a canyon that competes with the Grand Canyon for impressive heights and vast vistas means you have to wait for a chance to pass and the courage to do so. (There are few guardrails and the ones that are there are more for looks than function.)

But this is my favorite reason: yesterday we had to wait until a horse which had gotten loose was captured because it was standing in the middle of the road between the houses in Barichara. A few days ago it was the cattle shown in the picture above which impeded our forward progress. On the way to Bogota we were slowed down because of a herd of goats in the roadway had gotten free of the tethers which had them grazing along the roadside. There is plenty of visual entertainment while traveling in this charming country.

When driving on a back road over the hill to San Gil, we saw several uses of the Mother Mary statue which caught our eye. Unfortunately due to the wretched baud rate on the modem we use, we won't be able to post the pictures. One was planted in the middle of a pond very much in need of water and the other one was erected beside the road where there was a sharp turn (missing it would mean a quick trip down a very steep incline to the valley below) and several headlights had been placed at her feet, possibly as a reminder to make sure your lights are working before navigating this particular stretch of road at night.

In a week we head back to the U.S. to conclude some of our business affairs and to appeal to the Colombian Consulate for a retirement visa. We have determined that living here, while challenging on many fronts (language, culture, services) it is also richer and simpler at the same time. I discovered more time for my artistic energy and Jey-hu found a little more time - after dark - for reading just for pleasure.

There are 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. People in the country tend to go to sleep around 7 or 8 and get up at 5 or 6. In the ‘metropolis’ of Barichara, everything gets pretty quiet after 9 p.m. (including the church bells) and it all starts up again around 5:30 a.m. I have to say that the country lifestyle is more appealing from the noise factor. We have been staying at a casa in Barichara to help the owners out by supervising some construction projects while they are away. It has given us a chance to determine that metro living is NOT for us. Here is a list of some of the noises which on one day - all at once - nearly put us over the edge:

  • motorcycles, especially those where the operator is racing the motor
  • Roosters crowing
  • fireworks, mostly rockets
  • dogs barking, then dogs howling (at the fireworks)
  • crying children and laughing children - just outside the door of the casa
  • electric saw trying to cut through Colombian wood (incredibly dense & heavy!)
  • someone hammering something hard, probably Colombian wood
  • cars with squeaking brakes
  • trucks with loud horns
  • church bells at 5:45 a.m., followed by more at 6, 7, 8 and 9 (yes, it was Sunday)
  • male voice repeatedly calling out something that sounded like “mee-lah” and another
  • male voice at full volume singing off key to Karaoke featuring loud Colombian music
  • insect noises - like crickets chirping under the bed and
  • mosquitoes buzzing around our heads

I’ve probably left a few out... but in the campo the list is shorter: crowing roosters, bellowing bulls, birds chirping and bug noises. All the city life noises can be heard out there but they are moderated by the dusty 2.5 kilometer distance so they are don’t have the same impact. And while we have bugs and mosquitos in the campo, I have to say that there seem to be more of them in the pueblo. And we don’t have netting here, so it’s hard to determine if the missing netting is the key to fewer bug bites or that there just are more of them.

We both agree we are going to miss the people we’ve met and the smells of the area which are generally very agreeable - blooming things, cooking things, and earth smells. We won’t miss the loss of inches and pounds that has happened here! (We’ve both lost at least 15 pounds.) I intend to continue studying Spanish and getting better at it and even Jey-hu has been able to learn a few phrases and said he realizes he has to learn a few more. Never having studied a foreign language of any kind before, it’s harder to wrap his mind - and tongue - around unusual sounding words. Just ask him to say “tree” in Spanish...

(This view is from San Jose Alta, on a road high above the campo looking back toward Barichara, approximately 6,000 feet.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Water Consciousness?

(The sunsets continue to be intense and remarkable, even though the clouds pass us by.)

Water continues to be a critical problem here in Santander, Colombia. This northeastern section of this South American country has not had a drop of rain in over five weeks. A long time ago when I lived on a sailboat, we ran out of water and I remember how scary it feels to think there may be nothing to drink.

In the midst of this ‘aqua’ crisis, I am astounded at how limited the ‘water consciousness’ is in the population. People do not think about how to re-use water. They don’t save water from the shower to put on plants and they have not learned how to wash using non-toxic cleaners, so if they did put it on plants, the plants would probably die anyhow.

When I was on the sailboat I learned how to wash all the dishes for three people in less than a quart of water and then that water was used in another place before it was considered too dirty to use again. When I tried to teach some Colombian children who were visiting our campo kids on how to save water, they looked at me as if I was from another planet. But when I showed them the results of their shower (more than 5 gallons! each!) saved in a bucket, their eyes got large. I then poured it around the base of a fruit tree to show them how it can be used again. I wonder if any of them told their parents about their ‘sleepover’ at the campo and the strange gringa who collected their shower water.

It’s even a stretch to get the campo residents to be more water conscious... and that makes me a member of the Water Police as I keep trying to convey in a variety of ways that every gallon wasted is a gallon that doesn’t get on the plants to help them grow.

Last week we had to go to Bucaramunga to get our visas extended because we were only allowed 60 days and since our departure date is after that limit, we needed to be 'approved' to stay those extra days. It is also a process which paves the way for our 'retirement' visas, so we didn't want to cause any disruptions. This photo is of the Chicamonga Canyon and you can see how dry it is. Notice the road which weaves left and right up the mountainside... it's like that most of the way between San Gil and Bucaramanga which is why it takes around two and a half hours to drive a distance that takes only 30 minutes by plane.

We have met some interesting people in the last few weeks, one of whom is from Austria and is extremely water-savvy. He has developed his own water collection and storage system in a house in Barichara. We had dinner there and discussed this system and then he came out to the campo to give us some pointers on things we can do to improve our water processing and storage systems. He told us that the Powers That Be in Barichara have been told there is considerable underground water to access, but apparently this water was contaminated several decades ago and they are reluctant to open up the wells - even to check and determine what the contaminants are and if they can be filtered out.

And we were told there are individuals who live next to the river that supplies some of the local water and those people have either altered the river flow or changed the riverbanks so that if the water levels rise, those banks will not resist and could bring a lot of dirt downstream. What is most offensive about this situation is that the offenders are very highly educated and should certainly know better.

All in all, in my humble opinion, until the water consciousness is raised here, the water levels will stay low. Water has been proven to be sensitive to emotional energy and perhaps it doesn’t like how it is being treated here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Critical water shortage

We have heard that all of Colombia is struggling with water issues, but what we see here in Barichara (Santander state) is that the reservoir where we get our water is dry. We have had no running water for several days, and over the last holiday weekend, even the water purchased in jugs was completely emptied out by all the visitors.
The garden, looking so lush while we could provide water to it, is now showing the horrible signs of drought. We have no idea when it might rain, and that is the only salvation.
Having new 'sanitarios' (toilets) is useless because we cannot use any water in them, so it is back to filling up post holes.
So if anyone out there is reading this, please align with my intention that we have rain all over Colombia right now, enough to fill up the reservoirs and provide relief for all living creatures, for the highest and best good of all concerned. So be it and SO IT IS... thanks.