Indigenous Health Conference and Matt’s Final Visit!

My mother is currently in flight on her way to Medellin, so I thought I’d better get my blog caught up before I head off on more adventures with her! Just a week after the Feria de las Flores (Flower Festival) finished up in Medellin I headed off to an indigenous health conference in the region of Guajira, which is Colombia’s desert area. The conference was attended by professionals from Canada, India, Pakistan, Kenya, Venezuela, Colombia and various other locations around the world and their shared experiences working in the area of indigenous health were at the same time fascinating and inspiring, yet challenging and disheartening. Around the world indigenous populations continue to have their land, their rights, and their culture taken away from them in the name of “development”, “becoming civilized”, and “progress”. It was enlightening to hear views shared regarding “quality of life”. One man said, “Doctors and groups come here concerned about our life expectancy and want to help us live a couple years longer than we currently do. But when I see the way they tend to spend those extra years of life they’ve gained…taking 8-12 pills a day, on breathing machines, undergoing painful transplants and surgeries, facing crippling chemo treatments…I don’t quite understand how living a couple more years, but in those kinds of conditions and with that kind of quality of life is superior to dying a more natural death a few years younger”. I think many around the world would agree with him and agree that Western medicine often focuses too much on simply extending the life of a patient, rather than ensuring that they have a good quality of life in their last years. After the conference finished up I took a day trip to visit Cabo de la Vela, a beautiful area where the desert runs into the ocean. Goats are the primary livestock of the region, and can be found roaming through miles of empty desert or munching on plant life along the beaches. I also visited a salt processing area, where they pump ocean water into fields, let it dry, and then collect the salt from the ground. Interesting stuff.  A sampling of pictures below and more can be found here:

Youth performance at the indigenous health conference, so beautiful!

Youth performance at the indigenous health conference, so beautiful!


The region of Guajira is nationally known for its gorgeous handcrafts, particularly elaborate crocheted bags.


A mountain of salt!


I’ve seen horse signs, cow signs, deer signs, etc…but I do believe this was my first goat sign sighting.


A precious little girl who was out begging for change near the salt mines.


Beach goats! Not much greenery to munch on here, but their view is awesome!


Enjoying the view at Cabo de la Vela


With an awesome group of indigenous health leaders in Guajira!

_____________________________________________________________________________________________ Never one to leave too much time in between one adventure and the next, the day after I got back home from Guajira Matt arrived for his third and final visit down to Colombia. That evening we went out on the town with some of my friends from school and Matt got his second round of salsa dancing lessons from my girlfriends. The next day we flew to Nuqui, which is a fishing town along the Pacific coast. From there we took an hour long boat ride to our hotel, which sat on a gorgeous part of the coast where the jungle literally runs into the ocean, absolutely beautiful. We enjoyed 3 1/2 days there in the blissful relaxation of nearly untouched nature. We went snorkeling, swimming, and kayaking on the ocean and went on a number of long hikes along miles of pristine beaches to waterfalls, hot springs, and more. Last, but not least, we got to go out and see the humpback whales that call this part of the Pacific home from July-October, so awesome!

Out with my friends in Medellin!

Out with my friends in Medellin!


Sara giving Matt some encouragement during his salsa lessons!

Juliana teaching Matt how to move those hips!

Juliana teaching Matt how to move those hips!

We saw so many cool plants and flowers along our beach and jungle hikes!

We saw so many cool plants and flowers during our beach and jungle hikes!


Mud masks during our stop at the hot springs!


Canoe ride down the River Jovi through beautiful tree canopies to a refreshing waterfall!


Enjoying a brisk swim and an intense back massage in the waterfalls!


Jungle bugs are BIG. This was a giant grasshopper/praying mantis thing that decided it liked my hair.




Enjoying tasty “coco loco” (crazy coconut) cocktails at our hotel


We came upon this old man processing coconuts during one of our hikes and he offered us a freshly chopped open coconut, first to drink the coconut water and then he chopped it up for us to eat the raw coconut. So yummy!


Matt drinking some fresh coconut water during our hike! 🙂


One of the many gorgeous beaches we hiked along

__________________________________________________________________________________________ After Nuqui, we headed to the capital, Bogota, for 3 days to explore and be our foodie selves at some of city’s best restaurants. We arrived in Bogota the exact day that the whole city was to be striking in solidarity with a massive, national agrarian strike that had been raging on for the previous two weeks. The agrarian strike, in short, is a massive number of dairy, coffee, sugar, and various other farmers who have finally decided that they’ve had enough of being pooped on by the government. Basically, their products, such as coffee, sugar, etc, are the backbone of the Colombian economy and the government does little to nothing to help them in terms of subsidies, crop insurance, or anything else, leaving the majority of them living in absolute poverty, while the country makes enormous profits off of their tireless labor. And it seems the whole country has the farmers’ back on this matter. Most everyone I’ve spoke to says the farmers’ absolutely deserve the rights and help they’re asking for and that quite frankly this strike should have happened decades ago. Anyhow, so Matt and I arrived to a Bogota covered in riot police and were promptly advised to go nowhere near the city center that day where the marches and protests were to take place. So we spent our first day eating our way through Bogota’s Zona G, or gourmet district. The next day the strikes had calmed down and we were able to go to the city center and visit the Gold Museum (super cool museum FILLED with ancient gold, silver, and platinum artifacts and history), the Botero Museum (filled with tons of Botero’s “chubby” art, as well as his private collection of various artists from around the world), and the ginormous public library (that reportedly receives more than 10,000 visitors a day!). That evening we celebrated our pre-anniversary (exactly one year before our wedding date!) at one of Bogota’s finest restaurants, Criterion, where we feasted on everything from foie gras crème brûlée to salmon confit to scallops to dark chocolate pistachio mouse…suffice it to say it was foodie heaven. We finished off our last day with a visit to the top of Monserrate, a mountain that overlooks Bogota. Overall, we both really enjoyed Bogota, but even just based on climate alone (Bogota has daily temps of 40-60 degrees with a misty rain pretty much 365 days a year) I left Bogota feeling all the more grateful that I chose Medellin as my home for the year, rather than the capital city. Pics below and more can be found here:

Display in downtown Bogota of faces of those who have been killed, kidnapped, and/or disappeared during the last few decades.

Display in downtown Bogota of faces of those who have been killed, kidnapped, and/or disappeared during the last few decades.

Mural in Bogota depicting the thousands of lives lost to "crimes of the state"

Mural in Bogota depicting the thousands of lives lost to “crimes of the state”

"Peace is ours" mural in Bogota

“Peace is ours” mural in Bogota

Bogota is COVERED in graffiti and murals, many of which are incredible works of art

Bogota is COVERED in graffiti and murals, many of which are incredible works of art

On top of Monserrate mountain overlooking Bogota

On top of Monserrate mountain overlooking Bogota

________________________________________________________________________________________ After bidding Matt farewell, my final countdown, if you will, officially began. As I write this post I now have just 83 days left until I head back to Chicago! With that countdown comes a rollercoaster of emotions, as I’m so excited to be back home with Matt, my family, and friends, but I’m also LOVING my stay here in Colombia and have so much I still want to see, do, and accomplish during these last few months. Stay tuned for my next post, which will highlight my travels with my mom and my friend, Mel, who will be arriving in just a number of hours!

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