A Travellerspoint blog

December 2014

Things I have learned on the road

sunny 33 °C
View America Latina on chasingsummer's travel map.


6 months away from home. I think it's the longest time in one trip, that I have ever been away from New Zealand on my own, or possibly ever. Maybe because I am over the half year mark, or maybe because the year is approaching Christmas, New Year and my birthday and I don't have anyone to share any of these days with. Maybe because I am semi-trapped in a waiting game for my next flight because my plans messed up... but whatever the reason, I have been thinking a lot lately about the past 6 months and the 6 months that are on their way. I say 6 months approaching, not because I have any plans to return home yet, but because in 6 months one of my very best friends is coming to see me in June and we are going to travel together for 3 weeks. That is my most long term plan, oh and of course Disneyland for Grace's 10th birthday in 15 months time... which all of a sudden doesn't seem quite so far away as it did when I hugged my baby goodbye 6 months ago, tears pouring down our faces at the thought of our longest stretch of time apart ever in her life time.

They say when you travel, you find yourself. I was never entirely sure of what that even meant, figuring it was just another one of those quote photos that I love to compile in my ever expanding pinterest account. Turns out, that maybe whoever invented those pictures (or the quotes behind them) actually knew what they were talking about... because it seems that the longer I travel, the harder the road becomes, the more crazy adventures I have, and the more things I encounter that I really dislike - I learn what it is that I do want from my life, and I learn that I can make it (as Mariah would say) through the rain.
And no, I am not talking about rain in the mountains during rainy season - I mean when times get tough and you have only yourself to depend on to make the right decision for yourself. When you don't know which way to go, so you call home to speak to a friend but you can't get through, or they are rushing off to work or to a meeting, or they are unable to talk for an hour to discuss what it is you need to discuss and get off your chest because you are so sick of trying to speak about it in Spanish and never truly getting it off your chest, or it's 3am on a Wednesday and they're fast asleep and not in a position (I originally wrote prepared then changed it to wanting, but the truth is my amazing friends and family are always there for me and do an amazing job) to hear another 'the world is over Katy problem."
So you learn quickly, that there really is only one person you can count on to get you through - and to not only get you through it, but to get yourself through it by doing the right thing. Because you know something changed inside you a while back, something that makes you want to live an honest life, the life your Dodo always told you to live because at the end of your time you can look back and have no regrets because you were an honest and wholeheartedly good person.
Even though it can be hard because there is still an undying attraction to doing the wrong thing just for the adrenalin rush, probably the result of being brought back from near death a thousand times with either inhaled or injected adrenalin to get the asthmatic lungs working again. But you do the right thing anyway, and you stick to your recently-newly found guns. Like the time you are completely out of money (actually, less than completely out) and someone offers you a job selling drugs to foreigners because they say you can easily work with both the smugglers and the foreigners due to your big smile and your bilingualism. But you stick to your principles and you follow your heart and you say no way man, because you know that definitely isn't the life you want - despite desperately wanting the money just to stay on the road for another year. Or like changing your plans at literally two hours past the last minute, despite spending hundreds of dollars on flights, because if you don't then you just feel you are going to head into something dangerous. And then you wonder how you even know that, and why are you not following your original instincts? But you know, that as crazy as it seems, you HAVE to listen to that voice inside your own heart because that voice has always been right, and every time you haven't listened to it throughout your life - something has gone very wrong. So you put up with the rain - whether it be no money, wasted plane tickets, missing out on festivals or concerts, not knowing where to go or what path to take, because you hope that listening to your heart will see you right and mean you will get out of this crazy ride alive - and maybe even in a way that is true to yourself.
I think one of the truest signs that I am becoming more and more ok with the person that I am, was how after everything ended badly in the mountains I didn't even cry one single tear about it. There was no phone call to 'Daaaadddyyy' or 'Dommyyy", or "Erieeeee" ... I just accepted that the guy had serious problems, and that I was a good 'scapegoat on which he could project his unhappiness and dislike for his own life and self. I understand that it isn't always easy to be around a (95% of the time) forever laughing and smiling girl who seems to have an (almost) never ending supply of good luck in her pocket, and it certainly wasn't the first (and sadly won't be the last) time that someone miserable in their own life has chosen to see me as the reason for their bitter and twisted ways. However, what WAS the first time (and hopefully won't be the last), is accepting that the problem was his and in no way mine. It was the first time in my entire life where I haven't seen what occured as a problem with me, my behaviour, or who I am as a person. The first time where I did not take it to heart, criticize myself, and think badly about those things that make me, well, me! Yes I make mistakes, yes I am too loud, yes I have stupid crazy ideas - and act on them, yes I will force my flatmates into the car to chase a mysterious suitcase on the side of the road because I am convinced it contains $1,000,000 worth of kidnap money (or possibly a bomb), yes I still walk down the street spinning in circles and skipping along like a "fairy" as someone told me once (with disgust in their voice), and yes I act like a spoiled little princess when the world doesn't spin the way I want it to - but that is who I am and I am pretty happy with my wild and wacky life. And if he isn't, if you aren't, if anyone isn't, then that really just isn't my problem! And my god, is that a relief or what?!
I have also learned this year, by discovering more of what I dislike, what it is I really want to do with the rest of my life - career wise. I want to edit and I want to write. For who, and about what, and whether I will need to study more in order to do so, is all just details. I just know that I want to spend my life editing and writing. It's funny, I can sit at the computer and edit for what feels like half an hour, but when I check the clock it has actually been 6 hours straight and my stomach is rumbling and my bladder is bursting. It actually feels like the computer has sucked me into a completely different realm. I used to think it was education that did that, because I would have the same feeling when I wrote my assignments for university. But now I can see it was the writing itself, and not much at all to do with the content. It's strange too how I have reverted to the career choice of my youth, when I spent my hours either reading a book or writing in a journal. I wanted desperately to be the editor of the Chicago Sun Times - I know the press is not where my future lies (after my time as Princess in Mexico) but I can definitely see myself editing more books for a University, more novels, or perhaps even translating from English to Spanish or vice versa - one day.
I have learned that when things go wrong, or when plans change, it doesn't even matter. Money doesn't matter, nor do the everyday stresses that fill the thoughts of most people in the western world. When you travel at length through countries where people live on the streets, where dying dogs search through scraps of rubbish that people have already picked through first, when you walk down pavements that are broken, dusty, and filled with rubbish and holes that drop right down to the sewers and water ways below, it does something to you. At first you feel sad and you want to 'help' everyone and 'save/ change the world'. But then you that the biggest change comes within yourself, the worries that used to fill your mind actually aren't even real problems. Like if there is no garlic bread to accompany the pasta when your dinner party sits down around your table in a room dedicated solely to eating. It doesn't matter when your flatmate forgets to refill the ice tray for the millionth time, because there are people in this world who can't even drink the water that flows through their taps. Or the feeling of dilemma that goes through your veins during a spring clean, when you are deciding whether to donate that old "21st dress" or to keep it stored for another 6 years in a box with the thought of "I may use it again one day", or the desperation in the supermarket of which type of cookies to buy, or not affording enough gas to go and see your friend who just got married or had a baby. Yet when you travel, you meet people in third world countries with nothing, yet they offer you the best seat in their office/ house/ store (all rolled into one of course) as they serve you an equal amount of whatever they are all eating for their only meal of the day. And you eat it, even though you are a vegetarian and you know it will destroy your stomach the next day, because you know that for them, they are so happy to be able to share all it is that they have. Yet we at home, decide to pack away that dress we haven't worn in 5 years rather than giving it to the salvation army, we apologise at dinner parties that we 'ran out of time' to bake garlic bread instead of enjoying the great joy of sharing a meal with friends, we hide the cookies away for good occasions - or so that they aren't easily shared around everyone else in the house, and we stay at home and search photos of the new baby on facebook because we decide a little more money in the bank account will be of much better use than driving for 5 hours and actually being there in person for our friend. And I can only say all of this and say that these are worries within the minds of many western people, because I have been guilty of every single one. Currently, I owe money (or I will do soon) to IRD because I missed the cut off date. But I'm not even worried about it. My only options are pay it from here (which I can't do) or go home and work so I can keep paying my student loan for the next 400 years. I refuse to let a loan drive me home, not because I am ignorant or unaware of the danger, but because that goes against every single thing I feel I stand for. Westernised ideologies of money and debt will not drive me home, because they infuriate me. It feels like yet another way to keep people depressed, controlled, and working numbly towards a society driven by greed and desire for economical gain. Instead I would prefer to give every last cent I have to the lady living in a one room apartment with her child and three unofficially adopted orphan nieces, who cares for every sick and dying animal on the street. Because in this consumerist world I feel that she is what matters; people who are doing all that they can and giving all that they are, despite their circumstances, to make their lives, and the lives of others more positive...
And I can only hope, that my newly found attitude of letting the small things roll off my back, will stay with me for the rest of my life.
And I have half learned, or at least I am getting there, that it is ok to not know where I am going or what I am going to do. To not have my plan carved out in stone, because the plans of a true traveler are forever changing with the wind. But what I do know is that with the love of the amazing people in my life, I really am free to go anywhere that I want in this world, and that is a privilege not to be wasted as it is something that many people in the world are without. To chase an opportunity when one arises is of course something I have always done, but to accept that sometimes the universe is biding it's time, to be patient and understand that things will fall into place when they are ready, is something that is very new to me. To not know where I am headed can be scary and intimidating, but if the pattern of my life is anything to go by I know the future will certainly be an interesting ride!

Posted by chasingsummer 11:06 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Finding my way

Exploring, mountains, working, and thinking

sunny 25 °C
View America Latina on chasingsummer's travel map.

The last couple of months have gone both fast and slow. I have officially hit the 6 month traveling mark, it’s Christmas and New Year season (and you can’t walk a metre without being reminded of this in Colombia!), I have worked and lived in the jungle, I have taken people on tours, cleaned and cooked meals for 30 people, and I have up and quit my job like never before in my life. It has been a complete roller coaster ride, and I can’t say I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute because that would be a lie. But I like to give the percentage of 85% loving this crazy ride, and 15% wanting to get straight off and run back to New Zealand screaming.

During my time in Bogota I went to some amazing places with Kat’s parents. We went to Paipa for a long weekend (Colombia has 26 long weekends a year by the way!). Paipa is a thermal city/ town, kind of like Rotorua in New Zealand. It has a large lake and the houses and hotels are all built around them. Our hotel was so beautiful, I had the most amazing views out across the lake from my room!
We did lots of touring around, we went to neighbouring towns and drove right up into the mountains that eventually lead to the border to Venezuela. We went to a town that sells only feijoas, and of course with my allergy I couldn’t taste a thing!
We went and saw museums, and the Puente de Boyaca up close – the place where Colombia won back its independence.
We saw the vargas swamp lancers statues where artist Rodrigo Arenas has created Colombia’s largest monument in bronze to remember the large battle that happened there when the 14 soldiers of Simon Bolivar’s army, armed only with lances, won a battle against the Spanish.
Mama Kat and I went out in one of those little paddle boats where you ride it like a bicycle to move. We had the aim of a puntico rojo but we just kept going in circles, crashing into other boats, and laughing like maniacs because we got absolutely nowhere! It was one of the funniest things ever!
We went to a beautiful beach called Playa Blanca, that is actually part of a lake. We ate the best trout I have ever eaten in my entire life on that beach. We were going to go for a boat ride but it was so cold. Because the lake was high up in the mountains, it was about 9 degrees and we weren’t equipped for that cold temperature.
We drove through towns famous for potatoes, others famous for sausages, and areas where they grow nothing but onions – it was so bizarre putting my head out the window to smell that! We stopped and had photos on top of a mountain that looked right over Tota lake to where playa blanca was on the other side.
We went to a little village called Pueblo Boyaca that had different areas of housing styles to represent all of the different towns within the municipality of Boyaca. This was my favourite part because there were rainbow houses and white houses and beautiful gardens. There was even a shop that sold only things painted with cats on them, so of course Papá Kat bought me something from there because I was so excited.
We went to a Catholic church, one of only 2 in the world, that has a sculpture of the devil inside. Everything in the church is covered with gold leaf, and it’s really sad because in the lower parts you can see where people have come in and tried to scratch it off. The town itself is a coal town, and that too is sad because it has a high rate of child exploitation where they force the kids into the mines and then to make the statues later on. Not everything is rainbow and butterflies, sunshine and beaches, on this trip and I hate reminders of this even though they are necessary.
We also went to a town that is famous for knitwear. A very famous thing from Boyaca district is a ruana, so we went searching to find me one that I liked and that papa Kat would agree to aswell - funny, he didn't like the same rainbow ones I did!
We had such a lovely weekend together and it was so sad when it was time to go home to the city. But home we went, and that was ok too because I had made some new friends on couch surfing. We got together one night, a huge group of us, and we made pasta from scratch! Another night we went out to dance bachata – which of course made me very happy!
I found a job at the hostel in the mountains, where I had stayed earlier in the year. They were looking for volunteers so I bought a plane ticket to Santa Marta and then made the trip by dirtbike (in the pouring rain) with all of my things, up to the top of the mountain.
It was great to be back in paradise, even if I was immediately put straight to work. I literally didn’t stop working for even 5 minutes, for my first 2.5 weeks. I was the first of the new volunteers to arrive and I worked my ass off – changing 20 beds worth of sheets every day, cleaning up, cooking lunch, taking tours, translating Spanish and English, and doing reception check ins/ check outs. It was hectic, but I still had an amazing time. I loved meeting the travellers who came through, learning about their stories and their travels, and just being on top of the world with that view.
Finally some new volunteers came through, and things became a little less hectic which meant my work load got lighter and I had more time to enjoy the surroundings of where I was. One of the days I took a 3.5 hour hiking tour through the jungle with a group of travellers. The view from the top was even more spectacular than from the hostel. It looked right over the entire city, and to another city called Baranquilla which is hours away by car!
We had headed off to visit a coffee farm called La Victoria. It is the oldest coffee farm in the region, 122 years old and every piece of machinery is both original and hydro-powered. 90_DSC00461.jpgDSC00460.jpg90_DSC00453.jpg90_DSC00450.jpg90_DSC00448.jpg
The hydro power machinery brings the beans in from all over the 160 hectares around the property so that the pickers only need to walk to drop off points rather than all the way to the main building. We also got to taste fresh coffee beans and their surrounding fruit - kinda gross! DSC00447.jpg
I found it fascinating to learn about coffee production, to know how little the local people get paid – just 200 pesos (10 cents NZ) per box that they collect, and that it takes 7 kilos of the fruit to make just 1 kilo of coffee. 90_DSC00444.jpg
I also found it fascinating that the fruit didn’t taste or smell like coffee until it had gone through the washing/ selecting phase and was in the drying phase, ready to be toasted. Only then could you taste it ever so slightly.
I had no idea there were so many different types of quality, nor did I really understand how large coffee trees could grow!
It was cool seeing the entire process, complete to getting put into the bags for export!
It was really funny though (or maybe not and I am a terrible guide) because one girl was a mess. Crying, falling down, saying 'this is the worst day of my life.' Especially after we got chased out of some land by wild dogs and one dog nipped one of the others on the butt. Everyone else saw the funny side... but she did not. I suppose there is always one huh!? So I arranged Motor tours for the way back, and we lost her. And her friends were worried that she would be even more of a mess, crying and scared as she had never been on a motorbike and she was wondering where the helmets and safety gear were when we set off - um honey, we are in the Caribbean jungle of Colombia! Anyway, she finally did catch up to us and she had the biggest grin ever and told me after 'thanks Katy, that was actually the best day of my life ever and I can't believe I did it!"
I loved working in the mountains, the toucans and the hummingbirds, and the endless change in the landscape due to the clouds and storms, time of day, sunshine and rain that would roll through.
One day it rained so hard I put some glasses out to catch the water. I then created a drink called rum and rain; it was so good I think I can never look at rain the same way again. I will always see it as God’s mixer for rum!
On one of the days, I took the hostel cat (Pancake) down to the nearest town (10km down a very very rough dirt road) to the vet to be castrated. I had to take him down in a backpack, the poor cat was totally traumatised – as was I. When we got there, it was none of this hand your cat to the receptionist deal like I do in New Zealand with Bob. I waited on the street with 50 other locals and their pets, for 3 hours, while we waited our turn. The poor cat was very distressed, and I even more so when I had to hold him down for his injections and then hold him up while he vomited a rat before they would anaesthetise him!
We had thanksgiving dinner in the mountains, complete with turkey (for meat eaters) that was cooked underground in the earth oven. This was a fun night and everyone got together to eat and drink and be merry.
Sadly however, my time was cut short because one of the owners and I had a huge personality clash. He was always using a lot of heavy drugs and so was either high on life or down in the dumps with the after effects. He had half learned Spanish (badly) purely as a means to get what he wanted and had no desire to actually speak with and get to know the local people. He asked me to help him with his Spanish and then got angry when I did. He treated the local people badly, underpaid them, and said horrible things about them behind their backs. This was something I could not stand for seeing as I love this country almost as much as I love my own. I know I am loud, and can be highly annoying at times, but I worked my ass off and felt that I genuinely did a good job. However, I made the decision to leave because of the abusive manner in which he treated me and others. Most of the staff found him to be highly irritable, had a bad energy, and made other people feel down about themselves – and as I travel around the world that is definitely not how I choose to spend my time feeling! However, I am still grateful for the time I had there, the experience, the beauty of the place, and the good people I did meet there.

I will miss nights sleeping out under the shooting stars on the big hammock with friends, I will miss living in the mountains and dancing in the rain. But I choose to see it as lesson learned rather than something to hold a grudge over or be sad about. I have learned I will never again work for an expat organisation while in Latin America, instead working for the local people. This is purely because I want to be working in a purely Spanish speaking environment. And 2, I will never work for people who are high on drugs all of the time. And by learning 2 more things that I don't want, I am getting closer to finding what it is that I do want. And so now, I write this from the family house of my good friend Didier. I am staying here for the moment thanks to their wonderful kindness and understanding of my situation. It is also a very strange feeling as I waved his parents and son off at the airport yesterday as they made their way to New Zealand to be with Didi and Cindy for Christmas. I have never truly understood the desire to get into someone’s suitcase quite so much…
And again, I am unsure of which way I am going to go now. I know I have 1 month until my flight to the Dominican Republic on January 16th. I have Christmas, New Years, and my birthday to get through here without any friends and not even a single plan other than to spend a lot of time editing and working on the book to get some money back into my account. I have also decided to spend my birthday at the hairdressers, as my hair has become almost out of control due to the sea, the pool, the humidity, the jungle, and the endless wandering.
I was talking to a friend yesterday who told me that he is worried about me and wanted to know if I am happy. The truth is, yes I am fine and I am enjoying my travels and my adventures. My Spanish is growing from strength to strength and I love that I can speak two languages and that I can truly immerse myself in the life here in a way not many other travellers can. But I have not found anything on my travels yet, that is equal to or better than the life I had at home. And I wonder if that is why I keep searching, am still unable to stop and stay put in one place, and why I still struggle to find my place in the world. However, I remind myself that I am only 6 months in, that I have seen more of the world than many people ever will, and that I have some very big plans for the next year of wandering ahead. Including a much needed beach day tomorrow with Didi’s brother Ariel. Bring on the sea, it has been 2 months since I have even smelt it x

Posted by chasingsummer 11:01 Archived in Colombia Tagged mountains trees hiking jungle caribbean adventures giant_hammock Comments (0)

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