A Travellerspoint blog

The land of bachata

madder than I ever believed it would be

sunny 29 °C

Dad told me last night that I must write my next blog cos he can’t wait to read the stories of what has been happening. I told him that I am finding it really hard to know where to start because it feels like my already crazy life has recently exploded into some bizarre MTV series. When he responded it, what he said wasn’t even an exaggeration, yet I knew he was right;

“Perhaps you could start with how you drove across most of the Dominican Republic on a bus with no doors, carrying your new pet chicken that you planned to use in a cock-fight to make you and your two policemen friends rich (despite my protests that chickens also have rights), with a goat strapped under a motorbike to the back of the bus along dusty roads for 5 hours.”

I said “Dad, but the problem is that it doesn’t make a great story. Only because I didn’t take a photo. I already told you when you asked for the photo that I couldn’t take one as I didn’t want to humiliate and disrespect the goat who was already miserable, strapped upside down for the long uncomfortable journey. He said it is ok without a picture and that the story of my time so far here in the Dominican Republic really needs to be written anyway…

I feel as if this is the most barbaric yet beautiful country I have ever been to. From the second I touched down on the tarmac and went through immigration, I have stumbled my way through laughter, shock, tears, and craziness. My first introduction to this bizarre island was the customs lady standing up and screaming around her friends while waving my passport high in the air;
“I win, I win! I got a chick from New Zealand!” Her loud, island accented, voice filled the overcrowded processing room. I asked her what on earth she had won, fearing she was going to strip me of my passport - I mean, the USA already locks me up into armed guarded rooms every time I try to enter their borders; once even with Temuera Morrison and me fearing he was gonna go all Jake-the-Muss on me. He didn’t thank god, and just leaned right over and said,
“They always do this to us Maori’s”
Anyway … She didn't put her photo on my passport and move to New Zealand, instead very enthusiastically thanking me as she now gets free drink at the bar due to, “getting the strangest country of the day through her immigration line.”

I walked away laughing, feeling happy that the bachata was already playing from every duty free shop and over the main customs hall stereo - as I hoped it would. I was instantly pleased I could understand the Spanish of the country – it is always a worry because every country has such a different accent and their own words; much like English and the different colloquialisms and accents between Ireland, USA, and home.

I got in an overpriced taxi ($35 USD!) and was driven 10 km to my hostel. The first thing I noticed was that the drive from Punta Cana was full of bare streets. There were no people whatsoever, and there was nothing on the streets at all. Both sides of the street were covered with walls, at least 4 meters high, that stretched for miles and miles and miles. I had no idea what was going on, why there were so many walls along such beautifully tar sealed roads – the best I have seen since arriving to Latin America all those many months ago. The driver informed me that the walls keep the people out of the resorts – and the people in. I have since found out that the all-inclusive resorts actually tell the people who are staying there that it is too unsafe to leave the resorts and that they should stay within the walls at all times. I guess that’s one way to stop people dancing bachata all night, meeting people, and learning that it is possible to eat the best lobster of your life for $12NZD! Instead, these people are locked away in a rich man’s prison, paying thousands and thousands of dollars to enjoy a beach that is walled off for the people who call this country home. The best stretch of (calm) beaches on the island are walled off from the local people, many with barbed wire, electric fences or broken glass at the top, for as far as you can see. I wanted to throw up.
I arrived at the hostel and immediately made friends, drank far too much rum, and danced bachata until 6am – before I had even seen the island by daylight! I knew that I was going to love this country from that very first night, especially because I was immediately slammed in the face with the realisation that 8/10 men on this island are model material. I have never been surrounded by such good looking men, and so many of them, in all of my life. And they all dance my favourite style of dance/ music. Can you say dream life?
The following day I stumbled my hung over self through streets and walls to find an entrance to the beach – meaning, a restaurant that granted me permission to walk through their property to reach the beach since my skin is white (albeit tanned white). I was instantly disappointed. For as far as you could see in both directions along the perfect white sand beach – tourist traps, overpriced seats to rent outside billion dollar resorts, local people desperately pleading people to have their hair braided or to buy woven bracelets or take oil massages, fat old Russian men with young Dominican girls sitting on their legs laughing at jokes that aren’t even funny.
The water was as blue as the sky and I didn’t even swim, again I wanted to vomit. I spoke to my friend, a well-travelled German guy in his 40’s. He said he walked for 7 hours in one direction just to see when it ended. He ended up taking a moto-concho (motorbike taxi) back to the hostel as it never did. I left the beach, laughing when I saw a bunch of tourists screaming and drinking aboard a pirate ship, thinking I was better off back at the hostel with the other travellers and my Chileno and Dominican friends who also felt the same way as I about the terribly exploited island.
I was supposed to stay 4 or 5 nights – I left after 3, and the only thing that kept me there was dancing bachata until 6am every night. I caught the bus to Santo Domingo without stopping to sight see, then another to the colourful town of Samana.
There a local man spotted me and took me out to lunch on fresh fish, coconut rice, and fried banana. I fought with some old man about the meaning of love, and watched as funeral procession went by. The friends and family walk through the town, singing and chanting as the body is driven through. My friend then helped me to find the guagua (vans that are used as local buses) to get to my next destination: Las Galeras.
As we drove through the wild peninsula, spotted with colourful houses, palm trees, and blue waters peering around every single corner, I began to get really excited – this was what I had come to experience. I finally got to my restaurant where I planned to work for a month, and was not disappointed when the beautiful location was even better than the pictures. The Spanish owners and Dominican workers did not speak a word of English so I tried not to be too down hearted when I was quickly told; No treehouse bedroom like promised, and the 5 hours x 5 days per week was now 8 hours x 6 days per week in exchange for a crappy bedroom covered in dead bugs and with blood on the sheets. At least I was going to improve my Spanish right…hmmm.
And I worked hard for a week, meeting local people after work. One day I even went for a sunset horse ride along the beach with a guy who owned the local ranch.
I felt like I was being accepted into a new community, I began teaching an elderly gentleman English in exchange for bachata classes in his funny little garage shed house. He took me under his wing, even offering me a place in his house to sleep if I wanted it, and taking me for lunch at his favourite local restaurant.
I loved working with the Dominican staff at the restaurant, they filled my day with laughter and sunshine. But I quickly realised the Spanish owners were exploiting everyone – including me. They were paying the staff no more than $10NZD per day for 13 hour shifts. They would take commission from the local guides who took the guests out on tours (it was a hotel and a restaurant where I worked), but would never give commission to the same local guides who brought staff to dine at the highly overpriced restaurant. The owner who did not speak English would fight with me about the language itself, telling me that I was grammatically incorrect - I am a native speaker AND an editor. When I proved him wrong, he then told me that it was just because he enjoyed arguing with people. Then came the nail in the coffin; he began calling a Haitian visitor a drug addict/ alcoholic who was going to rob the restaurant. He told me I needed to learn how it was in this country, that I was new here and would find out the hard way if I wasn’t careful. I asked him how he knew such things, because I genuinely wanted/needed to learn who I could and couldn’t trust for that exact reason. He told me, “Go and ask the bloody Dominicans in the kitchen, they will tell you.”
I then realised that the guy who he wanted to throw off the property was not a known thief/ drug addict, and that he was being racially stereotyped for reasons way out of his control. I ran to my friends in the kitchen with tears pouring down my face at the shock of such blatant racism as I told them exactly what had happened… and that day 3 of us quit. The following day another, and a week later 2 more. They all thanked me for helping them to get the courage to leave, that they were sick of being treated so badly in front of guests. They explained to me how at a recent wedding, the owners had gotten drunk and talked badly about Dominicans right in front of the entire staff working there. It wasn’t long after packing my stuff, getting on the back of a motorbike in the pouring rain, driving through the mud into the main town, that I realised how much the Spanish owners are hated throughout the main town. I do love that I quit in such a dramatic way as I have always wanted to do that. I literally walked out, packed my stuff, and told the fake woman who speaks with the dreaded European Spanish lisp,
“I am not happy here, you treat people badly and I will not work for racists.”
And then took the entire staff with me. Assholes. Viva la revolución
In the midst of the drama, I burnt my leg badly when we hit a rock on the motorbike. A 3rd degree burn that has now taken far too long to heal, but seems to be finally ok. It is actually called the Dominican tattoo, and I have been told by many that I am now an official Latina because of the nasty scar I will have for the rest of life, mid-calf on the right leg.
While working at the restaurant, I met two local police men who quickly became my friends – Mainardi and Jeisson. We danced bachata until daylight, went to the beach, ate beautiful fish at all times of the day.
They boys told me these beaches aren't even pretty ones, that the Dominican Republic has much better beaches in other parts. But I still insisted on going, even though I couldn't go in the sun or the sea due to my leg.
They helped me get cheap accommodation, brought me fresh fruit and water, and sat with me when I felt sad, lost, and alone with a badly burnt leg and receiving psychotic emails, ranging from I need your help to get out of my life and then back again, from someone I once called a very good friend and was now someone who had absolutely no care or consideration for the position I was in – alone in a new country, with an infected leg, and not quite knowing who to trust or where to go for help, and quickly running out of money. The reason I couldn’t trust anyone came down to the fact that the town itself, as beautiful as the area is, was a very strange place. The expats were trying to get me to help them because of my 2 languages, yet were also trying to pay to get their choice of mayor elected, others promised empty offers, and many were simply after money/ and or sex. I guess in a country that has been so hugely exploited, it is impossible for the local people to not want to exploit us travellers in return. It wasn’t a very good time, and I truly began to feel that going home was the best answer. Thank you Erie is all I can say – and that I love you my darling esposa for always answering the tearful phone calls despite the time of the day, for never failing to be an amazing friend, for somehow making me roar with laughter - even when I am so sad I can’t eat/ sleep/ or feel my hands.

I knew I needed to get out of the town, despite the great friends I had found in the ex-workers of the restaurant. So when Mainardi offered me a week with him (he works alternative weeks) in his local town 10 hours bus ride away, I jumped at the change. We woke at 5am to board the bus with our new pet chicken, a prized fighting rooster named Cluck.
Turns out chickens quite like busses. Especially in the morning, they just seem to curl up and go to sleep for a long while. Maybe they are used to it, but either way, our $1500 peso ($30NZD) chicken slept alongside us – until we never saw it again. It was a prize rooster, evident in the number of pecks that covered poor Mainardi’s hands. But because it had a rope around it’s leg, the only answer was that it was stolen while we slept. Or maybe someone else who was concerned about animal rights set it free… I promise it wasn’t me… And I mean that promise too, unlike the time Benji and I set the monkey free in Laos. Because I understood that as despicable chicken fighting is, it is a way of life here that brings community spirit and money to the poorest of families; of course a chickens life or suffering is not worth any more or less than a humans.. but that is a conversation for another day. Money is not easily come by, as I was soon to find out when I arrived in my new town – Cristobal, near to Barahona.

I couldn’t believe people lived like this, and still managed to have such wide smiles on their faces. The water truck pulls into town once a day and everybody sends the kids out with buckets. They get 8 buckets each which are painstakingly brought back to the house and dumped one by one into larger buckets where it is stored and then used to clean, cook, drink, bathe, and flush the toilet. None of the houses had running water, and electricity came in bursts every couple of hours – if at all. It was the kind of place where every single person stared at me, children in the street pointed and called blanca blanca (meaning white girl), and the local kids would come to our house just to sit and stare me with fascination. Imagine their joy when I gave out the lollipops I had bought in Colombia! 20150131_152516.jpg20150131_152513.jpg20150131_152457.jpg20150131_152451.jpg20150131_152424.jpg20150131_152249.jpg20150131_152130.jpg

I woke up at about 10pm one night to Mainardi’s mother (Juana) and two elderly ladies standing over me as I lay in bed. I stifled a scream and said hola in a very timid voice, only for the eldest lady to stroke my skin and tell me I was beautiful – I had never felt less as I had been bathing with a precious half bucket of water every couple of days, eating nothing but white bread, white rice, and white pasta for 5 days, and was suffering from my now excruciatingly painful infected burn. I truly believe that the town has never had a white girl stay longer than 5 minutes when driving through in an air conditioned bus on the way to the nearby national park. The people couldn’t believe I was there, let alone able to speak Spanish, and I could see that the family were proud to have me as their guest. I did my best to use as little water as possible, to eat as little as I could since on some days the mother would feed up to 15 of the local street kids with a bag of white rice and some beans. The kids who had no house at all didn’t get water delivery, so they bathed with their parents in the ditches on either side of the road – especially the days it rained. I knew I was the local gossip, especially when Mainardi’s ex-girlfriend who lived 3 towns over found out I was in town and came storming into the house in a whirlwind of screamingly fast Spanish, attacking me verbally and physically. Thankfully, everyone in the small community came to my rescue – I mean I was already babysitting their 13 day old babies within hours of my arrival – dragging her off me, throwing her while kicking and screaming out onto the street, and calling her parents to take her away. After locking me up in a dark room (of course) until Mainardi returned from coconut hunting only to tell her if she came back he would use his police power to arrest her. Like I said, life has gone nuts. Mainardi and I went to the beach one day, despite his protests that it was too far away and too expensive a journey. I paid the $15NZD – including transport for us both, lunch, and drinks as we climbed aboard a guagua with no doors, traveling until we saw a spot we wanted to get off. The water was the bluest water I have ever seen, there was not a single person on the beach, and the beautiful fresh water river that ran alongside the white pebbles was cool and sweet, leaving us feeling clean and refreshed after a wonderful day by the sea. He told me it was one of the best days of his life as he had not seen the beach (other than in Las Galeras) since he was a little boy. Imagine living on a very small island in the Caribbean and never being able to go to the beach near to your house? I wanted to cry.


I left the following day, he began to protest his deep love for me, wanted me to have his baby, and become a part of the family. He wanted me to return to Las Galeras and live with him there as he was about to return the next day for another week of work. His mother wanted the same, introducing me as her new daughter in law to everyone we encountered. As much as I will be eternally grateful for his friendship in a time I really needed some comfort, friendship was all it would ever be and I could see that staying would hurt them all far more. Tears, hugs, and promises to all meet again, and then I was gone on the very same chicken bus I had arrived on – but this time alone and with a feeling as empty as the promises I had just made. I boarded the bus with no idea of where I was going to go. I had written to 3 different hostels and a couple of volunteer work positions and decided I would go to whichever responded first. No matter where I went, I at least had to return to Santo Domingo first and then go from there – so each location had 5 hours to be the first to reply. I sat next to a girl with no teeth and watched her eat a thigh/leg piece of chicken. She even ate the bone itself, somehow sucking at the bone and crunching it between her gums. I swear every chicken on that bus screamed in horror with me. Everyone on the bus wanted to talk to me, they already knew who I was, and the offers came in thick and fast to stay with them in their cousins-sisters-best friends- ex-boyfriends-homes with them in Santo Domingo. I was tempted, but at the same time, as a newbie in this land, I still do not have the same sense of comfort and safety that I had in Colombia. I travelled for nearly 10 hours by bus that day, as we inched towards Cabarete I felt minute by minute that I had made the right decision, no matter how hard it was to leave Mainardi and his family in Cristobal. If I was not romantically involved I could not consume their energy, their hearts, their precious water, or the limited space in their house. They had even offered me the master bedroom, the parents planning to sleep on the floor while the children of the street slept 5 in a bed right in the 3 other single beds next to mine (because of course I refused their bed) in the cramped house. Just before it was time to get off the bus in Santo Domingo and I was about to use the old fashioned way of booking a hostel (phone call) to stay a night in the capital itself and give everywhere I wanted a further 24 hours to respond - I got a reply. I was going to Cabarete, a surfing and kite surfing town at the north of the island. So I got off the bus, boarded another after a quick snack, and watched out the windows as we drove through new parts of the island. And as we finally approached the town I began to get excited, the shops were actual shops and the houses began to look like they had running water and 24 hour power.
When I arrived at the hostel, I was immediately offered work by the manager and my now good friend Mati from Argentina. I wearily climbed the stairs and turned on the faucet – and would you believe it, after 4 very long months, I had my very first hot water shower. Despite feeling guilty to the core of my being, knowing I was wasting more water than my family in Cristobal would see in a month, I stayed in that shower for half an hour, I washed my matted and oil incrusted hair multiple times, I shaved my legs, I just stood there and let it pour over my body and wash away the black film from my skin that I had thought once was a tan until I could stand the guilt no longer. It was one of the best and worst feelings of my life, all at once.

Since that day, I have now been in this mad hostel for 2 weeks. The hostel itself looks like a castle, and we call it that too.
I learned how to make Cuban cigars with new friends I met on the main street who own a cigar shop. My cigar ended up looking more like a dying rat than anything else, but of course that was all part of moulding me into my new career!
It is probably the most insane hostel I have ever stayed in – not because it is a party place, because it isn’t really. Although, it isn’t a quiet hostel either. I have given it a little thought, and I think because most of the guests are here long term it has become more like flat-living. Craziness happens every minute, you never know what will happen, and we all gossip about it every day like it’s the daily news report. We have the German girl with what we assume is tourettes, she clucks like a chicken in her sleep, twitches her face into spasms as she speaks, and then screams obscenities in German in a deep manly voice constantly throughout the day and night. But she never screams in public, always removing herself to the bathroom or the kitchen or an empty room. So we just hear these deathly screams coming from wherever she has hidden herself. We have the lovely Dutch guy who got penis fondled on a 3 way motorbike ride (with one half of the wonderful Finnish couple) to the chicken place (restaurant) by a drunk 2 month pregnant 19 year old girl – and then came home to sleep with her because he knew it wasn’t going to be a good story if he didn’t close the deal – but he stopped midway when she told him the condom was burning her and it didn’t matter as she was pregnant anyway – thankfully he realised he was being visa scammed and kicked her out. We have the Polish girls who I love to bits who are now stuck in the Dominican Republic forever as they were robbed of their cash and passports on the beach so now share the bed above mine to keep costs down, we have the drunk kisses, the 36 year old Italian creepy guy who lives down the road but comes over to hit on everyone with a vagina and then claims to be a respectfully nice guy - but is now fearing for his life after I told him if he doesn’t stop hurting people I will remove his balls from his penis and tell every girl who checks into the hostel that he has a terrible std. We have the Spanish guy who took me to learn surfing from him but then abandoned me on the beach for 4 hours. We have the crazy pro-surfer who will never give you a straight answer to any question whatsoever who point blank refuses to disclose his nationality - but is one of the kindest most caring people you will ever meet and who leaves me laughing hysterically after every conversation. We have the lovely Finnish couple who convinced us to go out for sushi cos it was cheap sushi night – but the restaurant completely scammed us and had me spending so much money on food that I still haven’t bought any food from the supermarket since because I am too scared to spend any money. We have the security guard who carried me to bed on the night I learned that Dominican rum is not the same strength as my beloved Colombian rum, lifted me into my then top bunk (I have since upgraded to the bottom bunk – or is that downgraded?) and patted my head until I fell asleep as I mumbled sentences of mixed languages into my pillow. We have the American guy who keeps 45 guns hidden in an underground bunker alongside 3 years’ worth of stored food for the day the European Union comes to the United States and strips every one of their weapons. We have the obnoxious Chinese looking American who asks everyone if they have Facebook in their countries, where our countries actually are “in relation to America in the middle of the map of course”, and talks a thousand miles a minute and switches conversations quicker than anyone can keep up, before explaining that he hasn’t “taken his medicine in a while and sorry he is a bit manic right – have you seen my ex-wife’s photo with the new baby born with – wow the Dominican Republic has changed so much since – I need to go for swim cos today is so – Oh wow I mean I haven’t taken my medicine.” We have the old gringa who offered me work translating for poor/ indigenous communities over a 5 day health centre where she is bringing in USA dentists and Doctors, only to turn around, fall down and literally break her face but then laugh it off hysterically. We have the sweet yet completely naïve Australian girl who has traveled for 8 years but now believes that medical insurance is a complete scam – even after not being able to afford proper medical treatment when seriously sick despite the doctor telling me he thought she was crazy not to have it, combined with her uninsured Spanish teachers brother in law suffering serious head injuries from a motorbike accident that has now bankrupted the family. But she still point blank refuses to get travel insurance and tries to tell everyone who will listen that it’s a scam – yet naturally she hasn’t managed to convince anyone to join her revolution, but hey maybe in time right? All revolutions need a leader! We have the old gringo man who snores like a freight train during the night after attending meetings at the drug and alcohol recovery clinic in the next town every day at 5pm. We have the wonderfully crazy 19 year old Quebec girl who is far too much like me, people actually tell her she will be me at 27 (god help her) and last night after dancing bachata until 3am we climbed into a wooden dinghy on the beach after failing to pull it into the ocean (with the help of the owner of course) in our desire to row our way to Puerto Rico, instead rocking it back and forth on the sand and fighting over who got to be Captain Jack Sparrow. We have all the Dominican friends in the bars who yell bachata and happy hour every time I/we walk past, knowing that they might score a few bucks or at least a few laughs from us. I truly feel like I have walked into one of the maddest places in my life, one of the very few places on earth where everyone around me is just as mad as me – if not madder. And for the first time in quite a while, I really don’t have any intention of leaving anytime soon. But I promise I will try to start taking more pictures, or at least keep writing stories because this part of my life cannot be forgotten.

Every single day I still miss home. I miss my baby Grace more than I ever imagined I would. Especially when she sends me tear stained snap chat pictures and crying videos. I cry too, after every single skype with her, when I see her hair has grown and her mouth is no longer full of gaps, and the teeth that I soothed her for when they grew in the first place all those years ago, are now replaced by pearly whites that make her smile even more beautiful. I miss seeing my parents for dinner or coffee, mum making her candles and soaps like a crazed woman and showing them all to me with pride, I miss laughing with my Dad and cuddling up with him on the couch, I miss belonging to a country and not having misunderstandings; cultural or lingual, I miss my crazy friends who love me unconditionally, and I miss good Asian food – I would literally kill for a plate of dumplings. Sometimes I even google pictures just to stare and drool and pretend I am eating those little doughy balls of deliciousness. But I know that right now, I am exactly where I need to be. Of course I am, I trusted that the first 5 hour bus journey would give the universe time to lead me in the right direction and that is exactly what it did. I know that I am getting closer to achieving my dreams, I am learning once and for all who I am and how to be independent, how to respect and love myself in a way I never have but always so desperately needed to. I am learning to live in the moment, so much that I have no idea which way I am about to go and I am 100% fine with it. And I know that as soon as I do feel that burning desire to move on again, I can and I will. That it doesn’t matter I have no money, because my craziness for the first time in my life is working with me rather than against. Because I know I am not bound to anyone or anything here on my travels, and I won’t be until that person or place is as deserving and as respectful of me as I aim to be of myself. That I won’t settle for the first piece of comfort that comes my way, that to battle through the sheer homesickness, loneliness, and desperation can be so rewarding when I finally find a place where I feel like I belong – even if of course, it is only temporary.


Posted by chasingsummer 11:15 Archived in Dominican Republic Tagged beach party caribbean paradise dancing boys adventures tanning bachata Comments (0)

My last few weeks in Colombia

before the land of Bachata!

sunny 35 °C

So as those who I speak to regularly already know, lately I have been quite bored. I think I miss working and had gotten quite used to it up in the mountains. Also, I have already travelled and seen this part of Colombia and so I have basically just been waiting until my flight to the Dominican Republic – which is now in less than a week and I am very excited! 5 months is a very long time for a backpacker to spend in one country, and as much as I absolutely love Colombia, I am more than ready to move onto different shores and get that rush that comes with being in a new place. To ease the boredom a little, I have made a few friends locally through couchsurfing. I have gone to see movies, been out for dinner and drinks with new friends, and gone to rivers/ waterfalls. It hasn’t completely banished the boredom, but I have had a couple of wonderful days that made my being here more than worthwhile.
I made a friend named Mauricio who took me tubing one day at a river called Buritaca. He picked me up super early in the morning on his motorbike and we headed out with his two friends Yuca and Claudia for breakfast. It was horrendously early as we had been out until 4am the night before, I think I got 2 hours sleep, I am not sure how much he got but I know we were tired! We rode for a couple of hours, past Tayrona national park with the most beautiful view out to the Sierra Nevada on one side and then out to the Caribbean on the other. We finally got to the river and then had to hike up higher through the jungle so that we could have a longer float down. When we arrived we had to blow up the tubes on the side of the river.
It was so hot I had a swim while the boys did their part. It was a really strange feeling though when a couple of ladies and their children arrived where we were after walking for 3 hours down from the mountains. They had arrived to bathe themselves, their children, and their clothes. And we were there to float down the river, talk about perspective.
They were lovely people and we chatted to them for a while before heading down on our tubes
The view on the way down was stunning, beautiful clear water, rocks, limestone cliffs, mountains in the distance, and eventually the Caribbean sea on the other.
We found a spot where of course I had to jump off…
We found a river side makeshift café where we pulled over to eat fried banana with cheese – actually tasted better than it sounds!
Then as we were making our way towards where the river met the sea, we saw a crocodile! I have since been told he is actually a Cayman, but whatever he was – he was so so cool! And he was just tanning on the side of the river, I think we must be soul brothers!
But I was terrified, and I think I may be the only person in the world who has managed to float down a river while standing/ kneeling on their tube in an attempt to be above the water!
We passed banana plantations and kids spear fishing in the river, we saw beautiful birds, and we laughed the whole way down the river.
Once we got to the beach, the water had cooled us down so much my fingers were numb from the cold and we had to sit and eat fresh mango and tan for awhile to warm up again.
Of course, in 35 degree heat, warming up never takes too long and it was then time to swim again. I asked the boys if they knew of a cool place to jump off more rocks and waterfalls. The boys are both pretty outdoorsy and love mountain biking and trekking so I knew they would know a cool place… and did they what! Mendiguaca is now one of my favourite swimming holes in the entire world! You have to bike down this dodgy as path to get there, then climb through a barb wire fence and through a muddy dirt track through the jungle to get there, but boy is it worth it!
Not a single person is there, and there are huge rocks to jump from!We stayed there until dark and I was only able to be dragged away when Mauricio promised to take me back for my birthday!
I have been editing a lot during my time in Santa Marta and going to the beach a few times. I went to the beach with a friend I met from Venezuela, Glencora. We had a lovely day at a beach area called Rodadero, possibly the most awful beach I have ever been to in my life – full of rubbish, gasoline in the water, and a million vendors bugging us. When we first entered the water, we found a condom floating beside us! We screamed and moved immediately about 300 meters away. It was such a bad beach, you could see the oil tankers out off shore and the sand was just hard and dirty. But we started playing this game with the men selling ceviche. Every single one that approached us, we would say we weren’t hungry yet and then ask for a taste tester of their ceviche. Over the time of an hour, we had eaten so many free taste testers of ceviche that we actually no longer required them! We had told them all to come back in about an hour, so we ran away before they surrounded us. Sometimes, when in a gross place there really is nothing else to do than have some fun. It certainly beats complaining anyway! We couldn’t understand why the beach is so famous, it really isn’t pretty. We figure because we are both blessed with such stunning beaches in our respective countries that it just seemed terrible to us – either way, it was lovely to make such a great friend. I am really hoping she will come and join me for some part of my travels as she is wanting to travel more. She is a monkey vet, how cool is that?
After enjoying lots of sunshine in Santa Marta and the surrounding areas, I took a bus to Cartagena to meet Mama Kat and Ari for Christmas celebrations which were so much fun. We ate wonderful food, drank lots of whiskey, opened presents at midnight, and just had such a lovely time.
I ended up staying from Christmas Eve until January 2nd, and we had such a lovely time. We were staying in their friend’s apartment – Pacho, Marielvis, Marce, and Francisco. They showed me such wonderful hospitality and I felt so lucky to be accepted into yet another amazing family here in Colombia. We went out shopping, went for drinks in the evening, went for lunch on the beach with friends of theirs, and stayed up all night talking about how to save the world – my all-time favourite conversation!
They have the most amazing apartment and we went up to watch the fire crackers from the rooftop helipad on New Years Eve. Before Ari and I went out to the old part of Cartagena to see what adventures we could find. Most parts seemed to be quite quiet but we did find the Carlos Vives concert where he was singing on top of the old wall that surrounds the city. So we danced and sang along and found that exciting.
The other thing that happened in Cartagena was I went out for dinner at a Mexican restaurant, where I was supposed to meet a friend - he never found the restaurant. When I got there it was closed, but the lovely lady 'saw the love of mexican food shining in my eyes' so she made me a giant plate of my favourite food. I was so happy! And I got a limonada de coco with it, so it was my favourite Mexican flavour accompanied by my favourite Colombian flavour! It was such a treat!
I fell in love with the view from the 27th floor so I forced Francisco to take me up (everyone else was too scared) before I made my way back to Santa Marta. I wanted to get some pictures sitting on the edge, because you really can see the castle of San Felipe, Cartagena old city, Boca Grande, and of course to the horizon of the Caribbean. The building we were in is the tallest in Cartagena and the photos do it no justice, as always!
I woke up early on my birthday after a long trip back on the 2nd, to my friend Mauricio outside and rearing to go. We went back to Mendiguaca and had such a wonderful time. Of course since I had already been, I was busting to go exploring. So we scrambled up the waterfall for a couple of hours to where we found lots of secret little tunnels and caves, mini waterfalls, and swimming holes. It was just magical.
We jumped from the big rocks, we tried to find the snake we had found the previous time but he wasn’t there.
And then he dropped me to see my friend at Rancho Relaxo. Turns out that two other friends of mine who I had met in the mountains were also there so my plans changed… I had only meant to stay for 20 minutes… well that became a crazy drunken birthday party night and then a three day stay in the jungle…
Rancho Relaxo is a beautiful spot and is kept amazingly clean and organised. It has its own private waterfall for swimming, although they are still in the process of digging in a natural pool too. They cook the best food to be found in Colombia and they are all so relaxed, chilled out, and happy to sit and chat. Not only do they have the best grounds and huts/ cabanas, they also have the best collection of movies in the world, including the labrynth to watch at 5am after drinking 3 bottles of rum on my birthday – BLISS!
I only left because I really needed to take my asthma medicine, as I hadn’t planned on staying at all I had absolutely nothing with me and I was also starting to feel dirty. At the waterfall though I met a military guy who was stationed in the area and he loaned me his soap and we had a bath in the waterfall, it was pretty cool! But very strange to be bathing with a massive gun next to us just lying in the dirt, so of course I had a photo!
I have now been back in civilization a few days and I can’t say I am enjoying it to be honest. I got my hair fixed even though it went green first. The hair dresser tried telling me that was what I had asked for, and that is what the Colombians like so I should just accept it. I told her that my hair was about 7 different colours like the sea in San Andres and she laughed and did her best. I guess that is why hairdressers here are so cheap, and why we never go to unqualified salons at home. However, it got there in the end with me putting a box colour over the top of her mess!
I just don’t enjoy city life, especially when I don’t have many friends to make it enjoyable. It’s hot, smelly, dirty, polluted, and just far too full of people – all cities are, not just this one! I am working hard on the book and getting ready to fly to Bogota on Tuesday before the Dominican Republic on Thursday. I absolutely cannot wait to be there, to be dancing Bachata, to have real Caribbean blue beaches to spend my days on, to explore new sights and rivers and waterfalls, to meet new people, and to be working in a location where we can see whales from our balcony! I also get my very own treehouse (with electricity and a double bed) to sleep in! EEEEEEK! Bring it on I say, I love you Colombia but like it was to leave New Zealand – time to fly!

Posted by chasingsummer 20:56 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Things I have learned on the road

sunny 33 °C
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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
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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)

life isn't always sweeto burrito

when the depression hits on the road

storm -50 °C

There have been times on this adventure, when not all is perfect. There are times when the tears fall as hard as the Bogotá rain, times when I feel completely lost and alone. For the most part, I am living the dream. I have chased my heart and I am finally here in the continent where I so desperately wanted to be for so many years. Yet there are times when I still feel unhappy, as if I am still unable to ever achieve what it is that I want to achieve. To stop, to breathe, to relax, and to just switch off my mind. Just because I am here and living this amazing life, doesn't mean that everything is perfect. Yes, I speak a new language and I have visited some amazing parts of the world - places that I never even dreamed existed. But there have been moments when the isolation, and the rawness of being alone when something bad happens, hurts more than anything. Like when Bob died. And when 2 of my friends were in a horrific bus crash in Bolivia. And like right now, because all of my plans have fallen apart, money is running low, and I literally have no idea which direction to go.

I met a boy, I thought he was lovely. Turns out, he is just like all the rest. Even sadder, I found out after I finally decided to stop being so afraid and to allow myself to trust him. Maybe my fear was my heart screaming at me to run away from him? Who knows? What I do know is that I thought he was a good guy. I really thought he was different, and I liked him a lot. And now it’s over. Again. Like always.

My plans to go to Venezuela fell through, due to safety with the political situation and the decision that I am still not ready to teach yet. My break from the classroom is not ready to end as I still don’t want anything to do with mass numbers of children.

I had applied for a job and even had one interview with the top editor of a very large and famous publishing house. But I never heard back, regardless of chasing things up. Not even a no, but thank you for rushing to meet with us at last minute notice because we were so desperate to meet you after reading your cv, or a sorry, all those plans we discussed in the interview have actually been burnt in a terrible fire so we no longer need your services. Just nothing.

I’m in Colombia, which I love, but I am hardly eating because I just really don’t love the food. It is not a good place for a vegetarian. I miss the Mexican food so much that I only seem to eat whenever I pass a Mexican restaurant. The upside is that I can now see a couple of bones that I haven’t seen in a few years.

I’m in Bogota, with my amazing friend Kat’s family. They love me, they look after me, they have taken me away to amazing places, and I am forever grateful for their love, support, and understanding. But this city is cold, always due to altitude, and it is so endlessly big. There are so many people, nearly 8 million, and for some reason I find it so hard to meet just one good person who wants to be friend – not my lover or someone who sees me as a potential visa ticket to a life in New Zealand.

I got robbed last week, just after taking cash out of a ATM. I lost my eftpos card and my money that I needed to buy a coat for the cold. I was so upset, I felt I had been violated. The ladies at the mall didn’t even care, instead choosing to continue their discussion about nail polish or something equally as life changing.

I feel as if I am sick of being let down, by trying so hard to be nice and kind and pleasant to everyone. I have noticed that I don’t skip down the street in quite the same way as I used to, that now I wear the same blank/ bored face as everyone else, because it stops the unwanted male attention and the never ending peddlers. I feel as if I am changing, but I don’t know in which way.

A huge part of me wants to run home, to get back and cuddle my parents and my Grace. I miss her so much, I see photos of her and her hair is longer now. Her teeth have come through and she is taller and somehow skinnier and just even more beautiful with every second. And I’m not there to watch her grow up anymore, I’m not there to make new memories, to run around with her and have adventures, to cause trouble, to stay up all night talking and eating ice cream and candy in bed, to watch her dance, or to hear about her day and all the mean girls at school.

I think about coming home a lot. I think about coming home to the bubble, to curl up in my bed and cry with Bob. But then I remember the bubble is gone, and so is my beautiful fat boy. I think about getting my own apartment, so I can make it pretty and rainbow and beautiful. But I just don’t know where in the world I want that place to be. It is like I am homesick for somewhere I have never been.

I think of all of the amazing people I have all over the world, the friends, the family, the people I have met on this trip and on others. And I know I can never have everyone I love together in one room. I think of all of the amazing people I have at home in New Zealand, the truly good people and wonderful friends who have never let me down. And I wonder why the hell am I here, so far away from them all, chasing a crazy dream to see this part of the world on my own?

And so I am left with a mind swirling with a million thoughts, yet not one is concrete enough to follow. I feel as if my heart has stopped talking to me right now, maybe it’s confused. For so long the dream was to just be here, and now I am – what next? Dom believes my heart only talks to me in the sunshine and that I need to get back to the Caribbean. Maybe he is right, I am the happiest there. Dad thinks I need to be out of a big city, that they never really do me any good. Thank god for skype, viber, and watsapp is all I can say, one day I will write them a letter of gratitude. It gives me hours of free conversations with my amazing people around the world.

I’m not writing this now because I desire sympathy or attention. But I am writing it because I want people to know that not everything is always perfect. I love hearing from you all, to know that you still think of me and love me as much as I miss you and love you right back – even if it is from so far away. I want to write this so that I can always remember that chasing the dream wasn’t all turquoise waters and cheese quesadillas, that there were times of true sadness and confusion where nothing made sense and everything seemed like a dead end. I know this won’t last forever, because nothing does. I always have faith that things will turn out, if for no other reason than because I make it so. But right now, today, this very moment – I choose to be sad until my heart tells me which way to go next.

Posted by chasingsummer 12:17 Archived in Colombia Comments (1)

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