Monday, April 1, 2013

Getting muddy in Cartagena, Colombia

I flew from Medellin to Cartagena for only $56 dollars thanks to the local airline, Viva Colombia; less money then the 15 hour bus ride would have cost me. It was bittersweet to leave the beautiful Andes behind, but I welcomed the sweltering heat as I knew how cold it was back at home.
I booked the next 5 nights at a loud party hostal, surrounded by bars and restaurants that played music at the highest level possible, even when no patrons were in them. I did not sleep well, but I was too lazy to pack up all of my belongings so I just dealt with the mind-dulling, constant noise.
The best part of the hostal was that they had a couple of adorable pets.  Two Larakeets? (not positive on that), a cute dog and a cat as well.  They all got along with each other.  The dog loved the birds so much he would climb into their feeding area almost every morning.  The birds nibbled on the dog's fir and the pup nibbled on them back.  I also got to help hand-feed the birds each morning.
Doggie bird kisses!
I decided to take a tour to the mud volcano, Volcan de Totumo.   A woman from Portland and her husband were also staying at my hostal (although they switched places after the first evening....) so she joined me for the day.  They had driven from Portland all through Central America and were waiting for their jeep to arrive.  They had shipped it from Panama, and said their only problems so far on the trip was dealing with the jeep at every border.
We took off in a mini bus and travelled for about an hour to the "Volcano."  In reality, it was a very large mud hill.
Volcan De Totumo
We stripped down into our swimsuits and climbed up some precarious stairs to the top.  The gray brown mud is located in a large pit at the top and is known for its healing properties, is full of minerals and promotes healthy, glowing skin. The mud is about 100 feet deep.
One man took the cameras from everyone in our group so that he could take photos.  He was quite the site with about 15 various sized cameras wrapped around his neck.  I have no idea how he kept track of each one, but was pleasantly surprised to find he took several of me on my own camera.
As I climbed down into the pit, I enjoyed feeling smooshy muck between my toes.  A few local men were waiting in the pool.  The first guides you down the stairs and rolls you gently into the mud. He had me lay down on my back and then he glided me across the top of the mud to another man who gives an invigorating massage and exfoliation.  He focused on my arms, legs, belly and back.  At one point he grabbed the opposite leg and flipped me over to do my back.  I was so awkward, and he rolled me so fast, my face slammed into the mud and I spent the rest of my massage working the grit out of my teeth.
Getting my mud rub
The mud was so dense, it was impossible to sink.  I even tried to claw my way down the wall to see if I could completely immerge myself and could not hold my body down. It was hard to even keep my feet straight down at times.  Occasionally, someone would get tilted onto their back and struggle like a beetle who has been flipped over.... legs and arms flailing to find balance.  Others would assist in pulling them back into an upright position. We got another half hour or so to play in the pit and I ended up getting a second massage. It was really fun to lay on my back and have the men glide me across the pool of mud. 
Happy, muddy me.
  After climbing out of the pit, another man slicked the mud from my body over an iron gate so that it slops back into the pit.  I was lead down another staircase and towards a large lagoon.  Several native woman beckon from the water.  I entered the lagoon and immediately two woman ripped my bikini top and bottom off as I sat in the water.  Breasts exposed to the entire crowd they poured bucket after bucket on my head.  They scrubbed every nook and cranny (and I mean EVERY nook and cranny) on my body to remove the mud.  I did not notice if everyone else was naked or not, as each time I would wipe water from my face they would throw another right over my head again.  It was difficult to breath, let alone look around. They also washed my bikini before guiding me out of the water. After my  free10 minute molestation, I picked up my shoes, dried off and dressed.
At the base of the hill they were selling the mud in old used coke litter bottles.  It looked exactly like those high-end mud face masks that people pay hundreds for (sans the cheap plastic bottle).  I did not purchase any, because I could only imagine the faces at customs; me with my dark mud explaining the medicinal properties held within my plastic coca cola bottle.  Last time I was in South America, a customs agent in Houston scrubbed my hiking boots with a toothbrush and toothpicks because they had soil from another country in them.
To finish our tour we headed to a small fishing village with a beautiful beach for lunch.  I had brought my own meal, but was surprised to find  they could have accommodated a vegan.  Although, I am always leery of any "vegetarian" soups.   I spent my time sleeping and sun tanning on the desolated beach and soaking up some sunshine while the others waited for food.  My new Portland friend woke me up some time later and I found a bus full of impatient people waiting to return back to Cartagena.  I was sunburnt.  So much for my skin healing mud bath...
Beautiful beach to myself.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I met a Shaman. We took a journey

I was a little apprehensive to join the few other people at my hostal on their ayahuasca journeys. I had always been curious about the sacred drink. After all, Richard Shultes, the “father of ethnobotany,” has always been one of my personal heroes. I have read about his experiences in the Amazon. I thought I could never find an authentic experience outside of living with a tribe deep within the rainforest.
For a good recent article on Ayahuasca, click here....

A girl who organized the event at the hostal assured me that this was not a “tour” like so many other companies offer to curious foreigners who are just looking to get as high as possible on one of the worlds most potent hallucinogens.. The owner of the hostal had been the first gringo to participate in this community event, and after gaining respect from the shaman, he was allowed to bring a select few other participants to join in. To the Putumayo culture, this was a sacred and religious event and they were generally happy to invite others to participate.

I talked to another guy who was living in Salento. He participated in the weekly ceremony as often as possible. He had been seriously injured, dislocated hip, back injuries and shoulder problems. Western doctors had informed him that he would never run, bike or play sports again. (hmmm, sounds like my doctors... and the reason why I refuse to see them anymore.) After two ceremonies with the shaman, he no longer experienced any pain. He now plays rugby every week and runs on a daily basis. His story sold me. If I could find any way to relieve my back pain that did not involve a daily does of horrible, chemical-ridden pain killers, I was willing to try it. The entire day before the event, my stomach was in knots. I was nervous for my upcoming healing journey.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Salento Part 2: Tejo and a horse named Rex.

After touring Don Elias Coffee Finca, I wandered back up the steep hillside towards the hostal. I found another veggie restaurant tucked on the side of the dirt road.  I stopped in for beet soup and falafels (I was in heaven!) All this good food in Salento was getting me back to fat American status. Oh well, its rare for me to indulge this much on vacation with my diet. After my meal, when I had almost reached the top of the hill, a man came riding by on a horse. He yelled out, "OREGON!" It just so happened to be Jeff, an owner of a local restaurant in town, Brunch. He was originally from Bend. We had talked a little when I ate at his place (yet another delicious veggie option) so he knew I was living in Hood River.

Reppin' Hood River and on the Brunch wall.
I admired his horse and after a few moments, he asked if I would be willing to ride his horse for him. Would I be willing? Holy Shit, I would be honored! I was estatic. I could not believe he was offering me free reign around the valley on his horse, and he told me to stop by his restaurant anytime to set up a time.
That evening, a group of people invited me out to play the favorite Colombian sport of Tejo. It was pouring rain, so we all hopped in a jeep or “willie” (all the taxis in Salento are Jeeps) and ran into town. A joint called Amigos is the local Tejo bar. As long as you buy beer and give the game guy a small tip (50 cents), you can play all night. The man in charge of the games set us up on the small court (“the woman's court”). The locals played on a much larger court.

Salento, Colombia: The town that stole my heart; part 1

The fresh mountain air, rolling hills, glimpses of snow-capped peaks, coffee farms, artisans, horses, waterfalls, vegan food, hiking and a loving community..... What more could a girl ask for? Salento has seriously stolen a piece of my heart, and I am more then happy to have left it there. The warm welcome from its colorful residents resonates throughout the city. Buildings are meticulously painted with contrasting bright colors. Dogs run free. Horses are tied up near the breakfast cafe.
Colorful Calle Real in downtown Salento
I arrived in Salento after a night in Pereira. I was a little disheartened to find, after a 25 minute walk with all of my gear into the countryside, my hostal of choice was full. I booked a bed for the following night at La Serrana, I gulped down a few glasses of delicious tap water and packed my butt back to town. I found a nice place to stay for the night, La Floresta.
Even the street dogs are beautiful in Salento.
 I named this one Brozy Cinco (inside joke, sorry)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Getting High in Colombia: Medellin Parapete

My stomache had been in my throat all morning.  For some reason, I was nervous.  After a ride on the metro through downtown Medellin, a bus ride winding up the surrounding hillsides to San Felix and a finally a hike up a steep hillside to a viewing area looking down towards the Zona Cafeteria, the Andes and the city of Medellin.

My boyfriend made a joke before I came to Colombia.  He said that instead of getting leid when stepping of the plane like they do in Hawaii, Colombians would be waiting for me with a mirror and a line of cocaine.  Well, they weren't, and that was not the high I was seeking anyways.  I had heard paragliding was very cheap in Medellin and was walking towards a perfectly nice cliff to jump off of.  I was going to get high above the city.

My nerves began to settle as I watched a few other people "run" towards the ledge.  They would take two or three steps forward and gently float up into the sky.  Not so bad, right?  I got strapped into an awkward  "travel stadium chair" attached to a large backpack.  My pilot sported a similar outfit and we wandered towards the giant piece of cloth and ropes which would now be in complete control of my life.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Marine Life, Machine Guns and Machetes: Coiba, Panama

I met up with my dive instructor in Santa Catalina and a couple other divers, prepared our gear and crawled into a little boat. After about an hour cruising around several islands, we arrived at our first dive spot, “the buffet.” In the distance, spotted eagle rays leaped out of the water about 10 feet, flapping their “wings” to rid themselves of parasites.   Dolphins swam alongside us, and schools of flying fish shot up out of the water and glided atop the surface. 
Our "well maintained" dive gear

I was nervous. It had been almost 5 years since I had last dived, and I had never jumped out of a boat before. I prepped my gear and cautiously watched the more experience divers check their lines and equipment to get a reminder of what I was supposed to do. Finally, it was my turn. Hand on my mask and respirator I rolled backwards off the boat and crashed into the water. I immediately felt claustrophobic and out of breath. Swimming over to the anchor line, I practiced clearing my mask. As a result, I had inhaled salt water up my nose and it was now irritating my eyes. Struggling, I also drank quite a bit of salt water.

A lazy surf town; Santa Catalina, Panama

Santa Catalina is located on the Pacific Coast of Panama. I chose my location based on it's proximity to Coiba (pronounced “COY-BAH”) National Marine Park. The park was formed in out of the same volcanic chain as the Galapagos, and boasts a diversity of similar comparisons.
Map of the Area

After my long journey, hitchhiking, taking three busses and two taxis, I crashed very early the first evening.  I fell asleep reading in the worst mattress I have ever slept on. I could feel every single spring and my back was hating me for choosing that resting place. I did have a cool neon green mosquito net hanging over the bed, so that made things slightly better, in my head.