An office of a different color

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Working from the beach is still work.

Summer:

Barranquilla – Bogotá, Villa de Leyva weekend getaway with Natalie, surgically attach myself to Jess in order to run a 3-week orientation in Bogotá, burn my lungs with altitude and pollution trying to stay in shape, visit my favorite bartender, visit my favorite Usaquén artists, spend four mornings at a freezing cold school in the deep south of Bogotá’s hills with the sweetest 11th graders of all time, send 6 volunteers off to the Coffee Region, visit the Most Wonderful People On Earth at my former school in Tabio, get insulted and complimented by tenth graders, run a midservice conference in Fusagasugá (repeat, Fu-sa-ga-su-GÁ), return to coast briefly to do laundry and get chastised by my rugby family for being gone so long and for losing my accent, run another midservice conference in Cartagena, exercise my Polite Angry Spanish for an hour on the phone with a hostel owner, toast micheladas to The Best Summer Ever on Playa Blanca, mototaxi/tuk tuk/ferry/bus/taxi from Barú to Cartagena, surgically detach myself from Jess, return to Barranquilla. Realize we haven’t had a day off since June.

And that’s just the first half.

 

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Here’s to The Best Summer Ever.

 

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“The Aesthetic of Lostness”

I get it. I get why people are boring, or stationary, or afraid to do something different.
Because it sucks.
When you leave somewhere to get to know somewhere else, you run the risk of meeting other people.
You get attached.
You learn things.
The world gets frighteningly bigger and smaller all at once.
You find yourself partido between one or five or twenty worlds.
Maybe you can’t speak your native language anymore without including words from your second language.
Every time you go somewhere, there is someone you care about who isn’t going to be there. Then you start caring about more someones in the new place and they become the ones who won’t be in the other places.
You settle in and create a home where it may be impossible to stay.
You leave a place for a month and realize that the Sad Day upon which you leave for good is going to be heartbreaking and terrible.
Visits become lessons on perspective. Fifteen year olds throw you curveballs with their uncorrupted sweetness.
Your absence is duly noted in several diverse places simultaneously. There is nothing you can do about this.
You realize that money doesn’t measure success or happiness but it sure helps move things along.
Complete strangers, albeit kind ones, tell you you’re brave for doing what you do and you just want to punch them in the face because WTF does that mean, really?
You start to panic that you’re well on the path to becoming the flaky, erratic lunatic who never figured it out at the right time.
You start to understand that you’ll never see or know as much as you want to.
Your everyday complaints turn petty and trifling in context with what you have seen.
It becomes clear that never in a hundred lifetimes could you repay the kindness of friends and strangers along the way.
You can’t forget, much less undo the places you’ve been.
So why bother in the first place?

[Note: I am immensely thankful for my opportunities. I am very much aware that many, many people in the world have so many external factors against them that they become rooted or stuck. Travel, however, doesn’t mean you have to move. It is essentially about awareness, openmindedness. Acknowledging the world and taking advantage of it in whatever way you can.]

Will the real Juan Valdez please stand up?

I’m really not trying to be all evasive and secretive by not writing anything about what I’ve been doing since…October? I’ve just been BUSY. School, rugby, prepping for visitors, socializing and weekend adventures have been sucking my time and brain cells – mostly in a good way.

For the second half of our October break, Natalie and I (Professional Vacationers Anonymous, in case you forgot) took about 20 hours’ worth of buses to get from San Gil (northeast of Bogotá) to Salento, in the coffee region (southwest of Bogotá.) Salento is a sleepy little vacation town with hostels, restaurants, craft vendors and not much else. Luckily, we didn’t need much else. A handful of WorldTeachers converged there by chance so we were able to catch up and lay our eyes on the finish line.

Salento’s main attraction is that it’s located a few kilometers away from the Valle de Corcora, one of the top five most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The valley consists of bright green hills crawling up to mountains and heavily strewn with the Colombian national tree: the wax palm. Wax palms are literal Truffula trees, impossibly tall and thin with a leafy tuft at the top.

We hiked through the back of the valley, up to a hummingbird headquarters nature reserve, then sweated and strained our way up the mountain and descended through the wax palm mist. It’s really unbelievable how many extraordinary landscapes this country has within its borders.

Being exceptionally good friends, we willingly sacrificed another 3-day weekend to return to Salento with Kate, whose flight problems didn’t let her do the valley hike the first round.

“Have you ever met a cloud?”

“Have I met who?”

There I was, a few thousand feet in the air casually chatting with Edward and gaping in disbelief at Chicamocha canyon below me. Seeing as the verb conocer means “meet” and “know,” I thought I was in for a science lesson about the different kinds of clouds we could see from under the parachute. Then, a cold gray mist enshrouded us, and we met a cloud.

Meet a cloud: another one of those things that I would check off my bucket list, if I had ever thought to put it on my bucket list in the first place.

Darn those teachers. Not only do they get out of work at 3:00 every day, it’s like they’re always on vacation (second most national bank holidays, holla at me.)

Colombians will talk your ear off about how beautiful and diverse their country is. There are mountains, deserts, lakes, beaches, rivers, forests, plains, valleys and coffee-themed amusement parks. I can’t even think of a geological feature that you can’t find here, and the craziest thing is – it’s all beautiful. I’ve been to several different departments in the country, and I haven’t seen an ugly one so far.

Santander was no exception. Natalie and I bused about seven hours northeast of the capital to a town called San Gil located in this hilly, hot region of banana trees, Spanish moss and vultures. San Gil is known for its extreme sports, and, being such extreme people, we had no choice but to throw ourselves off some cliffs attached to parachutes and pilots. Chicamocha canyon is really, really amazing but I found it hard to comprehend that I was actually suspended over it thanks to some nylon, plastic and aluminum.

We kept our feet on the ground for the rest of our days in Santander, busing to a small colonial town named Barichara the next day and hiking a few miles to Guane, another, smaller colonial town. Colombia’s best sandwiches at Gringo Mike’s, fried fat-bottom ants, exceptional lulo juice, a few hours of tejo (best. sport. ever.) and two pairs of handcrafted sandals later, we tore ourselves away from San Gil’s weather perfection for the second half of our trip.

If our current professional tracks don’t work out, we should probably just be professional vacationers because we are damn good at it.

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Chapter 6: The Wolfpack on a Boat

We spent two glorious days in the tiny town of Guatapé where we encountered much friendlier people and cleaner bodies of water than Medellín (Río Medellin=WOOF.) Guatapé is a massive, partially man-made lake with dozens of islands. We arrived on a festivo Monday and the malecón or lakefront walkway was crawling with mainly Colombian tourists. There were vendors every few feet successfully tempting us with grilled papas criollas (the most delicious baby potatos on earth) and chorizos, empanadas and arepas, michelada beers, ice cream, obleas and the standard spread of souvenirs (with all these italics I feel like I should probably write a blog about Colombian food.)

The shore was crowded various watercraft for rent, and it was a beautiful, sunny afternoon so we shelled out about 6 USD apiece for a 1.5 hour lake cruise. The four of us didn’t chat much while on board because I think we were all too busy thinking the same exact thing: there is no where on Earth I would rather be right now. And let’s steal that beagle.

We stayed in a beautiful lakeside hostel that Kate’s mom recommended to us after she saw it on House Hunters International. (um, Brig’s mom, where were you on that one?) One morning was dedicated to casually climbing 739 stairs to the top of a strange geological structure called El Peñol, known as The Rock. The ascent was exhausting yet quad-burningly refreshing (if no comparison to Cotopaxi) and well-worth the views at the top.

 

If only there were a Guatapé closer to Bogotá.