Author Archives: cammeomedici

My Last Visitors: Adventures with my mom and Mel!

Just 10 short days after I saw Matt off at the airport, I was back there picking up my mom. That same evening my friend, Mel, arrived after having spent a few weeks on the Colombian coast. We spent their first morning visiting my school, my office, and my university’s beautiful campus, and then in the afternoon we were whisked away to beautiful, sunny Santa Fe de Antioquia where we enjoyed an amazingly relaxing and fun weekend with my host counselor, Claudia, and her wonderful family. As with most weekends at Santa Fe de Antioquia we enjoyed a ton of poolside lounging, beautiful walks in the morning, some meandering around the old colonial town, a trip to the old Puente de Occidente (Bridge of the West), lots of tasty food, and absolutely wonderful company. My mom and Mel just could not quit commenting on how darn nice EVERYBODY here in Colombia is, and I couldn’t agree with them more.

My mom showing her youthful spirit and competing in the kids' egg race!

My mom showing her youthful spirit and competing in the kids’ egg race!

Mel made a good choice deciding to not be vegan or vegetarian while in Colombia!

Mel made a good choice deciding to not be vegan or vegetarian while in Colombia!

Stopped at our usually spot on the way to Santa Fe to feast on grilled meats!

Stopped at our usually spot on the way to Santa Fe to feast on grilled meats!

________________________________________________________________________________________ While Mel stayed back to spend the week exploring beautiful Medellin, my mom and I headed off to the beautiful island of San Andres, Colombia, which lies in the middle of the Caribbean.  We enjoyed 4 1/2 days in paradise there, filled with adventures, relaxation, and beautiful weather. The highlight of our trip was the incredible amount of snorkeling we were able to do (my mom’s first snorkeling experience, and my best snorkeling experience by far!). San Andres has a number of unbelievable locations to snorkel and scuba dive, such as the tiny island call “The Aquarium”, aptly named for its unbelievable quantity and variety of fish, stingrays, and coral, which leave you feeling like you’re swimming inside an aquarium. Amazing. We had an incredible experience wherein we were able to hold and interact with a giant stingray, which my mom said, “might be the coolest thing I have ever done in my life”. It was so wonderful to have my mom on this awesome adventure with me, having so many first time and memorable experiences. Another first for her was jet skiing, and on the ocean to boot! Super fun, but all the wave jumping gave us old ladies some really sore backs…which we were able to resolve with some massages on the beach. It was just a reeeeally rough week! 😉 For more pics from our San Andres adventure click here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.858566628771.1073741842.34001194&type=1&l=09de418f2a

The beautiful island of San Andres!

The beautiful island of San Andres!

Taking a jet ski out on the ocean!

Taking a jet ski out on the ocean!

Such a fun bonding trip with my mama!

Such a fun bonding trip with my mama!

Enjoying the island life on the island of Johnny Cay

Enjoying the island life on the island of Johnny Cay

Mom and her new stingray friend!

Mom and her new stingray friend!

Stingrays! Such a cool experience!

Stingrays! Such a cool experience!

The snorkeling haven known as "The Aquarium"

The snorkeling haven known as “The Aquarium”

____________________________________________________________________________________________ We spent my mom’s last couple of days touring around Medellin with Mel. In addition to seeing the famous places, like Botero square (with all the chubby statues), our touring included a whole lot of eating. They tried all the typical foods, my favorite street food indulgences, local fruits and beverages, sweets, and more. We spent my mom’s last day up in beautiful Parque Arvi, where we enjoyed the nature and beautiful weather on horseback (another activity my mom is sure she hasn’t done in over 40 years!). It was an awesome way to wrap up my mom’s trip, and I was super sad to have to bid her farewell the next day (as were all my Colombian friends and family, who fell in love with her contagious laugh and jovial personality).

With Botero's plumpy dog statue in Botero Park

With Botero’s plumpy dog statue in Botero Park

Horseback riding in Parque Arvi!

Horseback riding in Parque Arvi!

Mom and Mel meeting my good girlfriends!

Mom and Mel meeting my good girlfriends!

Mom and her first bandeja paisa (typical platter from the region!)

Mom and her first bandeja paisa (typical platter from the region!)

_______________________________________________________________________________________________ Mel and I spent her finally few days in Medellin visiting the local malls (a big thing here), checking out the Science Center (Parque Explora) and finishing up with an awesome day trip to beautiful Guatape and the Peñol. It was a very Antioqueñan adventure, filled with lots of Aguardiente (the local Colombian liquor…which our tour guide began pouring out shots of at 9:00am!), lots of tasty typical food from the region, music, and dancing. I bid Mel farewell in the early morning hours of the next morning and with her departure came the end of my tour guide Cam role here in Colombia this year. With just 62 days left here I am now trying to put my nose to the grindstone and finish up all of the projects I need to finish in order to wrap up my masters program (woohoo!), as well as make good progress on the planning and development of our Rotary water project. So much to do, and so little time! As always, thanks for reading and I’ll be in touch! 🙂 For more pics of my adventures with my mom and Mel click here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.858557317431.1073741841.34001194&type=1&l=88fae9b274

In the colorful town of Guatape!

In the colorful town of Guatape!

On top of the Peñol overlooking beautiful Guatape!

On top of the Peñol overlooking beautiful Guatape!

Getting ready to climb the 740 steps to the top of the Peñol!

Getting ready to climb the 740 steps to the top of the Peñol!

Science Center fun at Parque Explora!

Science Center fun at Parque Explora!

Fun optical illusions at Parque Explora!

Fun optical illusions at Parque Explora!

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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: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.851718033411.1073741839.34001194&type=1&l=f7457161bb

Youth performance at the indigenous health conference, so beautiful!

Youth performance at the indigenous health conference, so beautiful!

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

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A mountain of salt!

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

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

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

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Enjoying the view at Cabo de la Vela

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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!

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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!

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Mud masks during our stop at the hot springs!

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

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

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

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HUMPBACK WHALES!!!! So cool!

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

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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!

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Matt drinking some fresh coconut water during our hike! 🙂

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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: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.851721546371.1073741840.34001194&type=1&l=81fb46b0f8

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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Feria de las Flores Funtivities!

The first week of August brought with it a packed week of funtivities here in Medellin as they celebrated the Feria de las Flores (Flower Festival), which has been taking place in Medellin every year since 1957 and is the city’s most important cultural event and festival. As usual, I have an obscene number of pictures from the week’s festivities, so I’ll largely let them do the storytelling. The week started off with the Cavalcade, which is a parade or procession on horseback. I LOVE horses and it was pretty incredible to see over 6,000 people mounted on horseback riding through the main streets/highways of the metropolis of Medellin. 6,000 horses in the city! It was crazy and awesome. More pictures found here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.850087136741.1073741836.34001194&type=1&l=ecff9a0042

Sooo many beautiful horses of all shapes, sizes, and colors!

Sooo many beautiful horses of all shapes, sizes, and colors!

Out working for Rotary selling the official lanyards required to participate in the horse parade.

Out working for Rotary selling the official lanyards required to participate in the horse parade.

Yep...that man is riding a cow in the parade. I hope you're as impressed as I was.

Yep…that man is riding a cow in the parade. I hope you’re as impressed as I was.

Over 6,000 people mounted on horseback participated in the parade!

Over 6,000 people mounted on horseback participated in the parade!

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Marta, the wonderful Rotarian who I currently live with, and a couple of her friends invited me to a concert mid-week that featured a typical Colombian style of music called Vallenata, which derives from the coastal region of the country and are typically love ballads of sorts. I’ve found that many people don’t dig vallenata music, but those who do are seriously into it! While a concert of love ballads may sound dull, these people were drinking their fair share of Aguardiente (Colombian liquor), dancing the night away, and belting out the lyrics at the top of their lungs. One thing I find interesting about Colombia is how typical it is here to just drink straight liquor, particularly rum or aguardiente, which are both produced here. As you can see in the sign at the concert, the alcohol available for purchase was various sizes of rum or aguardiente…forget beer and cocktails…that stuff is for pansies here.

With Marta at the Vallenato Concert!

With Marta at the Vallenato Concert!

Bottles of liquor are often the alcohol sold at events here...beer is apparently for pansies. (No flower festival pun intended.)

Bottles of liquor are often the alcohol sold at events here…beer is apparently for pansies. (No flower festival pun intended.)

_________________________________________________________________________________________ The next funtivity of the week was the “Orchids, Birds, and Flowers Show” at the Medellin Botanical Garden, which I attended with a group of friends from school. This event greatly exceeded my expectations, as I was expecting to simply see a variety of orchids, birds, and flowers sitting around on display throughout the botanical gardens. What I found was one massive exhibit after another of artistic and creative displays of a vast array of flowers and orchids, many of which were in colors and forms I’d never seen before. It was truly breathtaking, and my pictures don’t even begin to do it justice. Many more pictures can be seen here:http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.850090165671.1073741837.34001194&type=1&l=6112ec7804

Out with friends from school at the Botanical Garden's festival event.

Out with friends from school at the Botanical Garden’s festival event.

There were so many crazy and beautiful flowers I'd never seen before!

There were so many crazy and beautiful flowers I’d never seen before!

Flower art displays at the Botanical Gardens.

Flower art displays at the Botanical Gardens.

A ginormous flower bouquet creation! So cool.

A ginormous flower bouquet creation! So cool.

Beautiful artistic flower displays at the Botanical Garden's event.

Beautiful artistic flower displays at the Botanical Garden’s event.

Awesome flower art in Medellin's downtown area.

Awesome flower art in Medellin’s downtown area.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________ That Saturday morning a group of friends and I woke up unnecessarily early (we’re talking 4:30am) to beat a phantom rush and crowds of people that we were supposed to have encountered as we tried to make our way to Santa Elena. Santa Elena is a nearby town that holds the long tradition of making the infamous silletas, which are massive flower displays mounted on a wooden framework and then carried on the backs of men, women, and children (who are called silleteros…because they carry the silletas) during the flower festival’s biggest and final event, the parade of the silleteros. So these silletas are built with dried and fresh flowers the Saturday morning before the big Sunday parade in the town of Santa Elena and big crowds come to watch the locals as they build their beautiful silletas. However, the crowds (we learned) start showing up around 9:30-10:00am…not 6:30-7:00am as we’d been told. So we got to watch the whole morning’s events…including the silleta makers eating breakfast before they even started working. 🙂  Also, we had the fortune of getting to watch the making of the silleta that the next day would win overall grand champion out of the 500+ silletas in the parade, so that was cool! I tried my hand at carrying a very small and simple silleta and those things are HEAVY. The ones carried in the parade range from 90 to 250 lbs!!!! CRAZY. And crazier still is that by law they must be carried by someone from Santa Elena, typically the person who made it, which are often people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s who have been carrying on this tradition every year for over 50 years now!

In Santa Elena looking MUY Antioqueña (the region I live in)

In Santa Elena looking MUY Antioqueña (the region I live in)

Watching what ended up being the grand prize silleta being built in Santa Elena!

Watching what ended up being the grand prize silleta being built in Santa Elena!

Even the silletas with almost nothing on them were super heavy!

Even the silletas with almost nothing on them were super heavy!

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________ So Sunday was the big day of the parade of the silleteros and I was luck to score some excellent free tickets to a private viewing stand owned by the local liquor factory (thanks again to Marta and her friend!). I invited my friend from school, Juliana, to join me and we had a super fun and long day, spending over 6 hours in our bleacher area watching the festivities and enjoying tasty cocktails courtesy of our viewing stand’s sponsor. It was utterly unbelievable and amazing to watch the silleteros hauling their 90-250 lb silletas on their back along the LONG parade route. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking. Although it couldn’t rain on the awesome day we had, my parade day had a bummer of an ending when 15 minutes before the end of the parade I looked down to realize that my bag, which had been in between my feet for several hours (I should mention everyone else around me also had their bags, purses, etc between their feet) was no longer there. Gone. Stolen. So I lost my cheap Colombia cell phone, my house keys, my Colombian ID, my Colombian bank card, and various other items. It was a pretty awful inconvenience (particularly getting my house keys stolen and my hard earned, long-awaited Colombian ID taken), but at the end of the day I felt fortunate that although I’d been robbed, it had been in an entirely non-violent way. Also, long, crazy story short…whoever robbed me was kind enough to pull out my Colombian ID, keys, bank card, and medical insurance card and leave them somewhere, and then a kind stranger managed to contact me and get them back to me! By that point I’d already gotten new keys, paid to apply for a new ID, etc, but it’s still incredible that they were returned to me! Okay, I’ll let my plethora of pictures do the rest of the talking. Stay tuned for my next post about more recent adventures, including visiting the Colombian desert region, going to an indigenous health conference, and last, but certainly not least, Matt’s 3rd and final trip down to Colombia, which was WONDERFUL. 🙂 Even more pictures found here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.850098723521.1073741838.34001194&type=1&l=42906d90f7

Dancers celebrating the proud tradition of coffee growing in Colombia!

Dancers celebrating the proud tradition of coffee growing in Colombia!

Precious little girl!

Precious little girl!

These are the traditional little box silletas.

These are the traditional little box silletas.

There were sooo many incredible old women like this parading along with pride!

There were sooo many incredible old women like this parading along with pride!

One very proud and adorable silletero!

One very proud and adorable silletero!

Some of the 500+ silleteros that participated in the parade!

Some of the 500+ silleteros that participated in the parade!

Beautiful dancers sporting cigars while they performed!

Beautiful dancers sporting cigars while they performed!

Carrying on a proud tradition!

Carrying on a proud tradition!

Beautiful young silletera girl

Beautiful young silletera girl

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Endless Adventures in Beautiful Colombia

It seems that every time I live abroad it gets progressively more and more difficult to keep my blog up-to-date as the months go by. I think it’s a combination of getting busier and busier as I get more and more involved in my new city (thus having less time to sit around and write and post pictures) and knowing that the readership of my blog typically dwindles as the months go by as well (leaving me less motivated to get posts up quickly…no hard feelings here by the way. Its just natural that at first everyone is super intrigued to see what the new country I’m in is like, how I’m adjusting, etc, and after a while they’re like…ya she’s just off having one little adventure after another…yawn). So if you are still reading these posts, thanks and hopefully I can keep you intrigued.

The end of June and the beginning of July were vacation weeks at my university so I took the opportunity to travel to the region of Santander and stay with my friend Sara and her family. Her uncle (he’s one of those younger than her uncles), Andres, and our friend, Dani, were also visiting her and the 4 of us, along with some other friends here and there, enjoyed a week of awesome outdoor adventures in the region. Our outdoor funtivities included a white water rafting adventure, exploring caves, rappelling down mountains AND a waterfall, jumping off cliffs into icy pools of water, hiking along rivers and waterfalls, swimming in various rivers, bike riding, and fishing. I was in outdoor heaven. There are few places that you can find me happier or more at peace than out in nature, and the week was just the perfect mix of adventure, relaxation, and quality time with great friends. I also got to visit an awesome cotton coop, where local women are still hand spinning organic cotton and hand weaving it into beautiful products. I got to take a stab at both the spinning and weaving, which was sooo fun and made me respect their labor intensive work all the more. Andres, Dani, and I ended our trip by taking a day trip to the beautiful little town of Barichara on our wake back to Medellin. Tons of pictures below!

Group photo after cliff jumping into a freeeeezing pool of water.

Group photo after cliff jumping into a freeeeezing pool of water.

My super fun and spunky friend, Sara!

My super fun and spunky friend, Sara!

Another stunning waterfall we hiked to.

Another stunning waterfall we hiked to.

One of many gorgeous waterfalls we hiked past.

One of many gorgeous waterfalls we hiked past.

One of my catches during our fishing outing.

One of my catches during our fishing outing.

Getting ready to rappel down a mountain near San Gil.

Getting ready to rappel down a mountain near San Gil.

Getting ready to go rafting with friends near San Gil!

Getting ready to go rafting with friends near San Gil!

Cave exploring with friends!

Cave exploring with friends!

The cave was filled with thousands of fruit bats!

The cave was filled with thousands of fruit bats!

Getting ready to rappel down a mountain and then a waterfall!

Getting ready to rappel down a mountain and then a waterfall!

For those of you who know me well, you know what a craft geek I am and understand how pumped I was to get to use this super old school weaving machine to hand weave this cotton fabric!

For those of you who know me well, you know what a craft geek I am and understand how pumped I was to get to use this super old school weaving machine to hand weave this cotton fabric!

Hand spinning organic cotton! So fun! So me!

Hand spinning organic cotton! So fun! So me!

I seem to make parrot friends wherever I go down here.

I seem to make parrot friends wherever I go down here.

Barichara had one of the most beautiful cemeteries I have ever seen.

Barichara had one of the most beautiful cemeteries I have ever seen.

Barichara's beauty is in its simplicity. ALL of its streets look like this, clean, well-maintained, with brightly colored doors and windows on all the homes. So quaint and beautiful.

Barichara’s beauty is in its simplicity. ALL of its streets look like this, clean, well-maintained, with brightly colored doors and windows on all the homes. So quaint and beautiful.

Dani, Andres, and I goofing around at Barichara's lookout point!

Dani, Andres, and I goofing around at Barichara’s lookout point!

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Just one day after getting back from my trip to Santander my little sister, Amelia, arrived in Medellin for a week-long visit. Her 19th birthday was the day after she arrived so we spent most of the week celebrating her birthday with various groups of my friends here in Medellin. We hit up all of the local attractions here in Medellin during the week, and then headed off for an awesome weekend adventure at a place called Rio Claro (Clear River), which is about a 3 ½ hour bus ride from Medellin. While there we spent the night in an awesome open air bedroom (see pics), went rafting down the river, tubing down the river, swimming in the river, and explored the coolest cave I’ve ever seen. The cave has a small river/stream that runs through it, and so during the 45 minutes you are inside the cave you go from being up to your ankles in water (crystal clear water thank goodness…so you could see what you were walking through with the help of your flashlight) to actually having to jump off small rock ledges into pools of water that you’d then have to swim out of. There were some super cool parts that you slid down massive slabs of rocks into pools of water. Can’t say enough about how sweet this cave was. Unfortunately no pictures to show since cameras weren’t recommended due to the significant amount of time spent in water. Overall, it was a super-fast, but super fun week spent with the little sis!

Celebrating Amelia's birthday over lunch with my Rotary Host Counselor, Claudia! (Best chicharron ever!)

Celebrating Amelia’s birthday over lunch with my Rotary Host Counselor, Claudia! (Best chicharron ever!)

Out to dinner with friends for Amelia and Leonela's birthdays!

Out to dinner with friends for Amelia and Leonela’s birthdays!

Medellin lookout point with Amelia and Leonela

Medellin lookout point with Amelia and Leonela

Amelia and I in our awesome open air bedroom at Rio Claro

Amelia and I in our awesome open air bedroom at Rio Claro

Our open air bedroom at Rio Claro!

Our open air bedroom at Rio Claro!

Rocking out before our rafting trip at Rio Claro.

Rocking out before our rafting trip at Rio Claro.

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I just finished up my epidemiology course last week and now we are on break for a couple weeks again, during which time I’m trying to make progress on my thesis and practicum work. Additionally, the Feria de las Flores (Flower Festival—the biggest annual event in Medellin that runs for about a week and a half) has officially started here in Medellin, so I’m trying to take advantage of as many of the festival events as possible! Stay tuned for pictures and updates from the festival!

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Rotary Water and Sanitation Project in the Indigenous Village of Cañaduzales

Over the last few months I have been working with the Rotary Club of Medellin Occidente to develop a clean water and sanitation project for an indigenous community in the region of Uraba, about 5 or 6 hours from Medellin. I spent the first couple of months researching water and sanitation projects around the world, particularly projects implemented by Rotarians, and developing connections with professionals and experts in water and sanitation here in Medellin. I met with professors and students in my school of public health that specialize in health of indigenous communities and sanitation engineering and planning. Along with fellow Rotarians from Club Medellin Occident, I met with regional government officials in the department of indigenous affairs to discuss ideal locations and communities for our water and sanitation project.

After a solid month or two of researching and meetings we were able to decide on a relatively small indigenous community in a rural area of Uraba. Myself and two other Rotarians from Club Medellin Occidente took a two day trip to the region in late June to do a project site visit. Our visit included a lengthy and productive meeting with the indigenous village’s leader, Angelino Bailarín, wherein we discussed the community’s dynamics, their history, their interest in receiving water and sanitation infrastructure, the communities health beliefs and practices, and much more. The following day we were able to actually go out and visit the community, which is about a 10 minute drive and then a 30 minute walk from the nearby village of Mutata. The landscape around the village of Cañaduzales is absolutely beautiful and the 30 minute walk from the roadside took us across rolling hills and a number of streams. The community had received help a number of years ago from a community organization that helped provide them with a number of septic pits and toilets for various households and the local school. Unfortunately, the organization wasn’t able to help bring water to the community, so the toilets and septic pits have gone virtually unused since there is no water readily available to even manually flush with. The only current water source in the community is one small hose that runs down to the community from a stream far above. Although we have yet to run lab tests on the water to test for parasites and other impurities, we are quite certain that it is not potable. The community suffers from the typical symptoms of waterborne illnesses, such as high rates of diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems.

After this first visit we now have some foundational information about the community and have established rapport with the village’s leaders. We are now in the process of working with the Department of Public Works in order to conduct a more thorough assessment of the land layout, the water quality, and the most appropriate types of clean water technology for the community based on its location and needs. Below are some pictures taken from our visit to give you a feel for the community. Stay tuned in the coming months to find out how you can help contribute to this great project! 🙂

The village's one school room

The village’s one school room

One of the only toilets in the village that is near a water source (small hose) and thus can be "flushed"

One of the only toilets in the village that is near a water source (small hose) and thus can be “flushed”

Indigenous home in Cañaduzales

Indigenous home in Cañaduzales

With Inés, the village's woman representative (I was impressed to find out she's my age!)

With Inés, the village’s female representative (I was impressed to find out she’s my age!)

The village of Cañaduzales

The village of Cañaduzales

Angelino, the village governor

Angelino, the village governor

The largely destroyed and unused toilets (since they aren't connected to water) outside the school

The largely destroyed and unused toilets (since they aren’t connected to water) outside the school

An old septic tank that was dug and never utilized due to lack of water

An old septic tank that was dug and never utilized due to lack of water

Inés headed back home after our visit

Inés heading back home after our visit

Indigenous home in Cañaduzales

Indigenous home in Cañaduzales

Walking back from the village with Angelino, the village governor

Talking and walking back from the village with Angelino, the village governor

Hiking up and across various creeks to get to the village

Hiking up and across various creeks to get to the village

My two fellow Rotarians, Angelino (village governor), Inés (village's female representative) and I

My two fellow Rotarians, Angelino (village governor), Inés (village’s female representative) and I

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Colombian Coastal Adventures with Matt!

It’s officially summer vacation time here in Colombia and I am now midway through what is going to be nearly a full month of traveling throughout this amazing country with various people, for various motives. My travels got off to an amazing start when Matt and I headed off to the Colombian coast for round 2 of our Colombian adventures together. Consider yourselves forewarned that I always try to narrow down the number of pictures I put on here, but with HUNDREDS to choose from I’m usually proud to get it narrowed down to 20 or less. 🙂

Blissfully reunited! Matt's arrival breakfast!

Blissfully reunited! Matt’s arrival breakfast!

Food Collage

Those of you who know Matt and I well know that we take food seriously. That we SERIOUSLY love food. Just a glimpse of some of the amazing seafood and dishes we enjoyed during our week on the coast!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We started off with a couple of days touring the historic and truly gorgeous city of Cartagena, which is the tourist capitol of Colombia. We were pleased to find that “high season” had not truly hit yet and the city was yet to be inundated with tourists. We leisurely strolled the old paved streets, walked on top of the ancient fortress walls that surround the old walled section of the city, dined on copious amounts of fantastic seafood, took a horse drawn buggy ride around inside the old walled city at night, and simply loved every minute of our time in Cartagena. It was blazing hot and kept us sweating from breakfast to midnight, but with no rain or storms and the occasional air-conditioned café or restaurant to cool down in, we had no complaints.

Horse-drawn buggies along the historic streets of Cartagena

Horse-drawn buggies along the historic streets of Cartagena

Our new little family with our baby sloth!

Our new little family with our baby sloth!

Romantic evening buggy ride around Cartagena's historic center.

Romantic evening buggy ride around Cartagena’s historic center.

Headed to the Rosario islands with Cartagena in the background!

Headed to the Rosario islands with Cartagena in the background!

From Cartagena we took a boat ride out to the Islas del Rosario (Rosario Islands) where we spent an incredible two days scuba diving. Matt was already certified with a number of dives under his belt, but this was my first go at it. Having completed 10-12 hours of coursework on diving theory, instruments, safety, etc online, I had arranged to complete my pool and open water practice sessions of my Open Water Diver PADI certification on the islands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diving had mildly terrified from the start, and even after my first pool practice session I was more than a little scared of my ability to breathe normally, deal with emergencies, etc deep below the surface of the water. Apprehensively, I joined Matt, my instructor, and about 5 other divers on my first open water dive to about 10 meters below the surface. It was a matter of minutes before my anxieties, fears, and apprehension were replaced with utter fascination, wonder, and appreciation of incredible underwater world surrounding me. The gorgeous coral formations, spectacularly colored fish, and other amazing underwater creatures that surrounded me left me in awe, and just like that, I was hooked (figuratively, not literally).  We both did a total of 4 dives over the course of the two days and each was spectacular. Crabs, lobsters, shrimp, GIANT eels, tropical fish, and amazing coral were among the incredible life forms we encountered. There are TONS of pictured attached, but of course the mediocre underwater cameras utilized couldn’t even begin to capture the magic of what we saw and experienced.

In front of the little hut we stayed in on the Rosario Islands!

The lil hut we stayed in on the Rosario Islands!

Fried fish dinner at our humble abode (really was humble) on Rosario Island!

Fried fish dinner on the Rosario Islands

Incredible underwater life forms!

Incredible underwater life forms!

Awesome coral formations!

Awesome coral formations!

The gorgeous Rosario Islands.

The gorgeous Rosario Islands.

Scuba diving near the Rosario Islands

Scuba diving near the Rosario Islands

Lion fish! They were everywhere. (Which turns out is bad because they are an invasive species AND their spines are toxic. BUT, they're sooo cool looking!)

Lion fish! They were everywhere. (Which turns out is bad because they are an invasive species AND their spines are toxic. BUT, they’re sooo cool looking!)

A MONSTEROUS eel we spotted! Glad he wasn't on the move!

A MONSTEROUS eel we spotted! Glad he wasn’t on the move!

My first scuba dive!

My first scuba dive!

Rosario island scuba diving

Rosario island scuba diving

Scuba love :)

Scuba love 🙂

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After the islands we returned to Cartagena and then headed to the coastal cities of Santa Marta and Taganga. Having heard that Taganga was a quaint and peaceful little fishing village that was less touristy than Santa Marta and had ample supplies of delish and cheap seafood, we decided to spend our two nights in the region at a cozy little hotel there. Taganga is indeed quaint, and you can walk the length of the beach and the town in a leisurely 10 minutes. We relaxed, ate incredibly delicious and affordable seafood, sipped on fruity tropical cocktails by the water’s edge and simply soaked in the charm of the little fishing village. We spent our last full day in the region hiking through a section of the vast and breathtakinig Parque Nacional Tayrona (Tayrona National Park). The hike through Parque Tayrona took us through forests filled with giant centipedes, massive trails of marching ants and incredibly colored (read: likely dangerous) spiders. It took through palm forests filled with sand crabs and brilliantly colored lizards, and last, but not least, it took us along some of the most beautiful and pristine beaches I’ve ever seen. It was a boiling hot day, but the views, the great hiking, and the amazing beaches and refreshing ocean swims made it a truly amazing day.

Sunset over the village of Taganga.

Sunset over the village of Taganga.

One of the many beautiful beaches in Parque Tayrona

One of the many beautiful beaches in Parque Tayrona

The little bay of the fishing village of Taganga

The little bay of the fishing village of Taganga

Enjoying a swim in Parque Tayrona

Enjoying a swim in Parque Tayrona

Hiking in Parque Tayrona!

Hiking in Parque Tayrona!

Pure relaxation along the beach in Taganga.

Pure relaxation along the beach in Taganga.

A rather pesky breakfast guest in Parque Tayrona

A rather pesky breakfast guest in Parque Tayrona

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

________Our week of adventures wrapped up in Medellin where we enjoyed a relaxing last night at the country home of one of my favorite Rotarians here, Evaristo, and his lovely wife, Suzi, and their beautiful daughters. Their hospitality and kindness was bar none and their whole family welcomed us so warmly into their home.

After a whole 24 hours back home in Medellin I headed off on my next adventure to the region of Uraba with two other Rotarians to do a site visit for our water project. More details to come in my next post!

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Hodge Podge Post: My Birthday, Visitors, Rotary Fun, and Life in Medellin

Sooo much to catch you all up on! I’ll attempt to provide a brief synopsis of the past few weeks here in Colombia, but for those of you with little time to read all the details, here is an overview of this post so you can skim forward to the parts that interest you most. I had a couple of lovely grad school friends visit from Chicago, I turned 27, I went to the Rotary District Conference in Tulua, I got sick—multiple times, AND I moved to a new part of town with an absolutely wonderful new family! There are also random pictures from various outings and adventures.

My grad school friends, Nicole and Alison, decided to take a post-graduation trip to Colombia and were able to spend a few days visiting me in Medellin. Their trip just so happened to coincide with my 27th birthday, so I got to celebrate with them and spend my birthday showing them around this wonderful city I get to call home this year. In addition to hitting up all my favorite museums, parks, and other fun spots in Medellin, the three of us took a day-trip tour to the Municipal District of Guatape and El Peñol. The Guatape area is an absolute beautiful area of little islands of sorts (see picture) and El Peñol is a mammoth rock formation that has been equipped with 740 steps that allow you to summit the rock and take in the gorgeous panorama of the Guatape region. The bus tour of the region was tons of fun and throughout the entire day we were offered (aboard the bus) shots of Aguardiente (the anise flavored official liquor of Colombia), starting at 8:30am! We turned down most of the shots throughout the day, but the majority of other passengers (mainly elderly) happily accepted one shot after another, it was hilarious.

On our Guatape tour, accepting our first shots of Aguardiente...at 8:30am. Only in Colombia.

On our Guatape tour, accepting our first shots of Aguardiente…at 8:30am. Only in Colombia.

In the beautiful and colorful village of Guatape

In the beautiful and colorful village of Guatape

Parque Botero with wonderful chubby statues.

Birthday lunch at the Botanical Gardens

Birthday lunch at the Botanical Gardens

Hitting up the Medellin hot spots on my birthday

Hitting up the Medellin hot spots on my birthday

Mexican fried ice cream birthday dessert!

Mexican fried ice cream birthday dessert!

The beautiful landscape of the municipal district of Guatape

The beautiful landscape of Guatape

On top of El Peñol, enjoying the amazing view.

On top of El Peñol, enjoying the amazing view.

Visiting "El Peñol", a mammoth rock equipped with 740 steps to the top.

Visiting “El Peñol”, a mammoth rock equipped with 740 steps to the top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out on the town with my Pedialyte, keeping hydrated, stayin classy.

Out on the town with my Pedialyte, keeping hydrated, stayin classy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My birthday was also made soooo so special through a collaborative effort of my Colombian friends (who provided the idea) and my incredible fiancé (who took the idea way farther than my friends had anticipated). The night before my birthday I received a big ol’ FedEx package and upon opening it I found inside 35+ birthday letters and cards from friends and family ranging from high school to grad school, from nephews and aunts to soon-to-be siblings-in-law. I was so surprised and so overwhelmed with gratitude and joy that I shed more than a couple happy tears. It was hands down one of the most thoughtful and loving gifts I have ever received, and when I told my Colombian friends about it they were blown away, and said, “Wow, when we sent him the idea we figured he’d collect like 5-10 cards or something…he really outdid himself!” I’m excited to give him a giant hug and thank you in person when he arrives for his second Colombia visit this coming Saturday! 🙂 My wonderful friends here also threw me a birthday dinner party complete with fun handmade decorations, yummy cake, and a good old fashioned girl’s slumber party afterwards. It was simply wonderful.

The 35+ birthday letters and cards I received from all my friends and family back home! Yes, I cried. :)

The 35+ birthday letters and cards I received from all my friends and family back home! Yes, I cried. 🙂

27th Birthday Celebration with my Colombian besties

27th Birthday Celebration with my Colombian besties

27th Birthday Celebration #2

27th Birthday Celebration #2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After my Chicago girlfriends left Medellin I flew to the Rotary District Conference in Tulua, Colombia. At the conference I was reunited with about 20 of the Rotary Exchange Students that I toured the Amazon with (side note: found out that at least 18 of the 25 students who went to the Amazon came back very ill and suffered anywhere from 1-2 weeks of vomiting, diarrhea, etc…which made me feel a little bit better about my good ol’ iron gut getting defeated). The weekend was filled with parties and festivities, including a Carnival celebration where each Rotary Club dressed in crazy costumes and performed a dance, and an elegant gala celebration to close off the weekend. It was a farewell weekend for most of the exchange students, as they are coming upon the final month of their exchange year.

Carnival celebration at the Rotary District Conference

Carnival celebration at the Rotary District Conference

Carnival celebration at the Rotary District Conference

Carnival celebration at the Rotary District Conference

At the Rotary District Conference in Tulua

At the Rotary District Conference in Tulua

Carnival celebration at the Rotary District Conference

Carnival celebration at the Rotary District Conference

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I ended up picking up the flu over my weekend in Tulua and came back with a fever and spent the following 3-4 days laid up in my bed with fever, chills, aches, etc. I also suffered another bout of parasites the week before my Chicago friends arrived, so I spent the first couple days touring the city with them while chugging Pedialyte to keep hydrated (see picture)! Fingers crossed that I’ve put in my time in terms of illness here, as I’ve now spent about 3 of the last 6-7 weeks ill, which really cuts down one’s productivity!

Lastly, this past weekend I moved from my house in La Estrella to an apartment in the neighborhood of Poblado, which is a much more centrally located neighborhood and is the more up-scale, going-out, ethnic restaurants, and hip part of town. My commute to La Estrella had become burdensome now that I’m much more involved with Rotary projects and my practicum and also now that I have more invitations to go out with friends in the evenings and weekends as well, so I decided to look for a more centrally located housing option. The family I’ve moved in with includes the mother, Marta, who is a Rotarian, and her 21 year old twin daughters, Camila and Cristina. The three of them are sooo kind and wonderful and have already made me feel like part of their family. Tragically, the twins’ father, who had been battling a brain tumor for nearly 2 years, passed away over the weekend, the very same day I moved into their home. They optimistically said, “Well hey, you are going to get to meet the whole family right away!” They are all coping with their loss with incredible grace and strength, and celebrating with gratitude that their father is now at peace and no longer suffering. I am just incredibly grateful to have been welcomed into their loving family.

Here are a few random other pictures from recent happenings here in Medellin. Stay tuned for my next post about my upcoming adventures on the Colombian coast with Matt! 🙂

Making sushi with Helena at my old house in La Estrella

Making sushi with Helena at my old house in La Estrella

Presenting to the Rotary Club Nuevo Medellin

Presenting to the Rotary Club Nuevo Medellin

Out on the town with friends from school!

Out on the town with friends from school!

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Amazon Adventures and the Defeat of the Iron Gut

A couple of weeks ago I set off on an adventure to the Amazon with a group of 26 Rotary International Exchange Students ranging from 15-19 years old from over 15 different countries. These 26 students have been studying at high schools here in Colombia since August of last year, and since they are young lads it’s relatively difficult and dangerous for them to travel to remote places, such as the Amazon, on their own. So Rotary organizes trips for all of the students to be able to visit places such as the coastal regions, the coffee growing regions, the Amazon, and more. As a Rotary scholar I don’t get any such trips planned for me, but luckily, they were more than happy to allow me tag along as the relatively old lady of the group.  I had the fortune in 2010 to visit the Bolivian Amazon near Rurrenabaque where I encountered monkeys, alligators, anacondas, pink dolphins, and so much more, which was an unforgettable and, I thought at the time, once in a lifetime opportunity to visit the incredible and vast Amazon region. So when this trip presented itself with the opportunity to get to know another region of the Amazon, I jumped on it.

On the boat we called home for 3 days.

On the boat we called home for 3 days.

With 26 Rotary Exchange Students (ranging between 15-19 years old) from over 15 different countries!

With 26 Rotary Exchange Students (ranging between 15-19 years old) from over 15 different countries!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a 5 day excursion that started off in Leticia, Colombia and took us through regions and villages of the Colombian, Peruvian, and Brazilian Amazon. In short, it was an absolutely incredible trip, filled with wildlife encounters, absolute serenity among some of the world’s most pristine nature, and unforgettable opportunities to meet, interact with, and learn from various indigenous tribes throughout the jungle region.

We spent the first couple of nights at the Reserva Natural Marasha, which is a little lodge of sorts built in the middle of a nature reserve about 2.5 miles deep into the jungle. We slept in bunks with very good mosquito netting, which is beyond essential. I had myself BATHED in bug repellent that is specifically made for the Amazon, (read: I was COVERED in some serious chemicals) and I was absolutely eaten alive by some of the most aggressive mosquitoes on earth during the evening hours before retreating to the safety of my net protected bed. These mosquitoes bite THROUGH your clothing. Only thick blue jeans are really enough to prevent them from getting at you. Cotton, polyester, spandex, etc…forget it.

This "wild" parrot has become a regular at the reserve I stayed at.

This “wild” parrot has become a regular at the reserve I stayed at.

There were toucans all over the place at our lodge, trying to steal food, cameras, clothes, papers, you name it.

There were toucans all over the place at our lodge, trying to steal food, cameras, clothes, you name it.

Relaxing on the hammock dock at the Reserve we stayed at the first two nights.

Relaxing on the hammock dock at the Reserve we stayed at the first two nights.

Getting friendly with a baby Caiman. They grow to be 6 or 7 meters long!!

Getting friendly with a baby Caiman. They grow to be 6 or 7 meters long!!

Our guide steering us through the flooded mangrove jungle.

Our guide steering us through the flooded mangrove jungle.

Day 1: Preparing to paddle 2.5 miles into the jungle to the Reserve we'd sleep at.

Day 1: Preparing to paddle 2.5 miles into the jungle to the Reserve we’d sleep at.

A family of Capybaras, the world's largest rodent! They're so ugly they're cute!

A family of Capybaras, the world’s largest rodent! They’re so ugly they’re cute!

A beautiful couple of macaws that hung out at the Reserve we stayed at.

A beautiful couple of macaws that hung out at the Reserve we stayed at.

The male macaw defending his mate from the pesky toucan

The male macaw defending his mate from the pesky toucan

So mean and pesky, but so beautiful!

So mean and pesky, but so beautiful!

Our parrot friend eating an Arepa (local form of tortilla).

Our parrot friend eating an Arepa (local form of tortilla).

Our bunks and mosquito netting at the Reserve in the middle of the jungle.

Our bunks and mosquito netting at the Reserve in the middle of the jungle.

Our guides and leaders of the "tribal games"

Our guides and leaders of the “tribal games”

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To my surprise and amusement, I found out the first night that the 5 day excursion was to include “tribal competitions” (think Survivor reality TV show). The 27 of us were broken up into 3 teams of 9 and would spend the next 5 days competing against one another in challenges that would be revealed at unknown times throughout the week. My first thought, “REALLY?…Cuz, I kinda thought I was going to just be enjoying the peace and relaxation of the Amazon, not unknowingly be thrown into a team survivor competition”. The next morning we were awoken with whistles, shouts, and other irritating  LOUD noises around 5am, while it was still pitch dark (in the middle of the Amazon mind you) and told that each team had 10 minutes to report to the dock for the first challenge. Over the course of the 4 days our challenges consisted of kayak speed races, a 4 mile team canoe race down a river AT NIGHT (again…in the AMAZON), and a hard to describe team “ants walking” challenge where one team member had to walk across log/sticks the other team members were holding (people holding the stick in the back would have to run to the front of the line to provide the next stepping  log, etc) in a long and fast race to the finish line. Aside from the super early morning wake-up call (teenagers are not the happiest bunch at 5am, especially when they’re getting shouted and whistled at, haha) the “tribal challenges” were actually a lot of fun in the end.

Other highlights of our excursion included: a) rope climbing utilizing a harness system up to the top of a GIANT tree and then subsequently zip lining from the top of that tree across the river to a huge tree on the other side that we rappelled down–SUPER FUN, b) kayaking to a spot in the river where trees beside the river were filled with little monkeys that jumped from their trees ONTO our kayaks, where we proceeded to feed them bananas–SOOO AWESOME, c) meeting different indigenous tribes and watching and participating in their tribal performances with dance, music, and storytelling–UNFORGETTABLE, d) having the opportunity to hold and/or interact with all kinds of wildlife like parrots, toucans, SLOTHS!, caiman (type of alligator), and even snakes (see picture for proof that a snake touched me—note: I’ve had a phobia of snakes since about age 12 that I’ve been battling for years!)–CRAZY, e) meeting a local shaman (indigenous medicine man) and being selected out of the group to stay behind after his presentation to receive a personal message and blessing wherein I was told I have a special gift “to heal others”–HUMBLING and f) going over to Brazil on our last night and day to enjoy Brazilian cuisine and dance performances–FUN! (note: Brazilian dancing is very erotic and left most of us with our jaws dropped! haha)

So you might be wondering what “the defeat of the iron gut” in this post’s title is all about. For the past 10 years I have had the fortune to travel all over the world and to live in some really remote places in South Africa, Peru, and Bolivia. Along the way I discovered that the “traveler’s illness” or “traveler’s bug” that affects most Americans when they go to these remote places, leaving them terribly ill with vomiting and diarrhea, just never seemed to happen to me. By the time I lived in Peru and Bolivia in 2010, wherein I ate and drank all sorts of questionable foods and beverages in rural and remote areas of the countries, I was given the nickname “Iron Gut” due to my stomach’s ability to endure and defeat all the foreign bacterias I was consuming. The couple I lived with in Peru even joked about how I could make a business selling the miraculous natural stomach bacteria I have that keeps me healthy to toursists who come, and brand it “Iron Gut”. Due to this decade-long history of being able to eat just about whatever wherever I want, I had definitely become slack with many of the precautions that other travelers take. Well, turns out that somewhere in the Peruvian, Colombian, or Brazilian Amazon, there are some badass bacteria that decided they wanted to challenge my “Iron Gut”…and suffice it say, THEY WON. The Iron Gut officially got defeated and days after returning from the Amazon I was hit with the “traveler’s bug” and didn’t leave my house for 5 days. So I will now sadly have to be a little less confident and cocky about my good ol’ Iron Gut and perhaps take some precautions here and there…but not too many. 🙂 I still plan to eat my way through this country. And for the record, the Amazon and everything I ate, drank, and did there was sooo incredible, I’d totally do it all over again, even if I knew I would be sick again afterwards. It’s THAT awesome. 🙂

The group at the top of the giant tree preparing to zip line across the river after using a rope and harness system to get ourselves to the top.

The group at the top of the giant tree preparing to zip line across the river after using a rope and harness system to get ourselves to the top.

Feeding monkeys on our kayaks!! Too cool!

Feeding monkeys on our kayaks!! Too cool!

Using a rope and harness system to pull ourselves to the zip line platform at the top.

Using a rope and harness system to pull ourselves to the zip line platform at the top.

The elevated walking paths at our Reserve built during the high water seasons.

The elevated walking paths at our Reserve built during the high water seasons.

A group of indigenous children performing tribal dances and songs for us.

A group of indigenous children performing tribal dances and songs for us.

Downright adorable drummer boy.

Downright adorable drummer boy.

A new little friend who taught me bracelet making skills!

A new little friend who taught me bracelet making skills!

A hut in one of the Amazon villages we visited.

A hut in one of the Amazon villages we visited.

Our guide posing to show the incredible size of the trees in the Amazon!

Our guide posing to show the incredible size of the trees in the Amazon!

Indigenous performers in Macedonia.

Indigenous performers in Macedonia.

Performing tribal dances for and with us in Macedonia.

Performing tribal dances for and with us in Macedonia.

Typical canoes used for local commuting and transport.

Typical canoes used for local commuting and transport.

Display of just a fraction of the amazing handmade, hand-carved goods sold by the indigenous communities.

Display of just a fraction of the amazing handmade, hand-carved goods sold by the indigenous communities.

The hammock house (each with mosquito netting) that we stayed at our 3rd night.

The hammock house (each with mosquito netting) that we stayed at our 3rd night.

Adorable children in a village we visited.

Adorable children in a village we visited.

Local indigenous children performing dances and songs

Local indigenous children performing dances and songs

Holding a baby sloth! Such an incredible experience!

Holding a baby sloth! Such an incredible experience!

Three-toed sloth, such an incredible creature!

Three-toed sloth, such an incredible creature!

"Traveler"

“Traveler”

Making friends with the Brazilian performers!

Making friends with the Brazilian performers!

Brazilian performers our last night in the Amazon.

Brazilian performers our last night in the Amazon.

They are sooo sleepy and lazy! AND adorable.

They are sooo sleepy and lazy! AND adorable.

THE most UNBELIEVABLE photo that exists. Yes. Me. With snake. It happened.

THE most UNBELIEVABLE photo that exists. Yes. Me. With snake. It happened.

Soooo happy to meet this little guy! Even if he attaches himself to you by digging each set of his three "toes" (nails) into your skin to latch on.

Soooo happy to meet this little guy! Even if he attaches himself to you by digging each set of his three “toes” (nails) into your skin to latch on.

Aerial view of the immense and dense Amazon rainforest.

Aerial view of the immense and dense Amazon rainforest.

I will let the abundance of attached pictures do the rest of the storytelling. If you ever find yourself in South America with even the most remote opportunity to get to the Amazon, do it. The people, the nature, and the wildlife are just sooo wonderful and beautiful.

Brazilian dancers working up a serious sweat!

Brazilian dancers working up a serious sweat!

Just one sample of the jaw dropping erotic dance performances (in a family restaurant, mind you)

Just one sample of the jaw dropping erotic dance performances in Brazil (in a family restaurant, mind you)

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Matt en Medellin :)

Matt’s visit to Medellin was jam-packed with funtivities, outings, and adventures and absolutely flew by waaaay too fast. We visited museums, parks, my university, several different neighborhoods of Medellin, and even managed to squeeze in a night and day in my host counselor’s luxurious timeshare in Santa Fe de Antioquia. I intentionally scheduled my Rotary presentation with my Rotary host club here for the week that Matt was here so that he could have the chance to suit up, meet all the wonderful Rotarians I spend time with here, and hear my presentation as well. 🙂 We had a super fun night out with a large group of my friends on Saturday night and both received personal salsa lessons from one of my male and one of my female friends…we were…okay salsa dancers. Definitely plenty of room for improvement. 🙂 On his second to last day we made it up to Parque Arvi, which is a beautiful park area up in the mountains right outside of Medellin and is accessed by one relatively short and one relatively long cable car ride. While there we hiked, zip-lined, picnicked, and even got to go horseback riding.

Being the food aficionados that Matt and I are, I made it my personal mission to ensure that Matt experienced the wide variety of amazing culinary delights available here in Medellin. I had him try an average of two new juices, two or three new beers, and one new wine each day he was here. I fed him empanadas, chorizos, blood sausages, fried ants, chicharron (think about a pork chop and bacon having a delicious baby…that’s the heavenly taste and texture of chicharron), sweet plaintains, fried green plaintains, beans, quail eggs, arepas (thick Colombian corn tortillas) of all different types, fresh street fried potato chips, and all the crazy fun fruits I could squeeze in the middle of all that savory goodness (green mangos with salt and lime, guabana with salt and lime, tomate de arbol, lulu, granadilla, and more). Our  dining locations ranged from on the street and cheap restaurants in the downtown sector to a  fancy celebratory anniversary dinner at one of Medellin’s finest restaurants, El Cielo. Included in the very long list of things I adore about Matt, is his love for food and his willingness, if not eagerness, to try all kinds of new foods…even fried ants. 🙂

I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story, but needless to say they were five joy- fun- and love-filled days that I wish I could have stretched out for weeks. We had a tear-filled goodbye at the airport and we are now eagerly awaiting and planning his next visit in August when we’ll head off to get to know the Colombian coast together.

In Parque Botero with all the chubby statues

In Parque Botero with all the chubby statues

Reunited at the airport! Kinda, sorta, a tiny bit happy.

Reunited at the airport! Kinda, sorta, a tiny bit happy.

Fun at the science center!

Fun at the science center!

Science center fun at Parque Explora

Science center fun at Parque Explora

Matt eating his first "typical dish" of the region of Antioquia.

Matt eating his first “typical dish” of the region of Antioquia.

Happy Anniversary, love!

Happy Anniversary, love!

Presenting to my Rotary host club

Presenting to my Rotary host club

With my Rotary host club's president after my presentation.

With my Rotary host club’s president after my presentation.

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Medellin!

Medellin!

Out for our fancy anniversary dinner at El Cielo

Out for our fancy anniversary dinner at El Cielo

One of the fancy desserts

One of the fancy desserts

Serious eatin' face.

Serious eatin’ face.

Fancy dry ice...that smelled like gum...intentionally :)

Palate cleansing fancy dry ice…that smelled like gum…intentionally 🙂

Matt mastering his maraca skills

Matt mastering his maraca skills

My friend Cristina teaching Matt how to salsa!

My friend Cristina teaching Matt how to salsa!

Matt receiving lots of lovin' from my best friends here!

Matt receiving lots of lovin’ from my best friends here!

Horseback riding in Parque Arvi

Horseback riding in Parque Arvi

Horses=Happiness

Horses=Happiness

Horseback riding in Parque Arvi

Horseback riding in Parque Arvi

Our lunch...or a plastic model in the insect museum... ;)

Our lunch…or a plastic model in the insect museum… 😉

In front of the Puente de Occidente (bridge of the west) built in the late 1800's.

In front of the Puente de Occidente (bridge of the west) built in the late 1800’s.

Relaxing in Santa Fe de Antioquia

Relaxing in Santa Fe de Antioquia

Night out in Medellin

Night out in Medellin

With Leonela's WONDERFUL mother

With Leonela’s WONDERFUL mother

Picnic...all wrapped up in banana leaves.

Picnic…all wrapped up in banana leaves.

Sporting his awesome new Universidad de Antioquia shirt!

Sporting his awesome new Universidad de Antioquia shirt!

Riding a chiva in Parque Arvi

Riding a chiva in Parque Arvi

Matt zip-lining at Parque Arvi

Matt zip-lining at Parque Arvi

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Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Santander

Matt arrives in Medellin in less than 6 hours and I promised myself I’d get a new blog post up before his arrival. My current ability to focus on just about anything else other than his arrival is diminishing by the minute, so hopefully this is coherent and not too reflective of my current scatter-brain.

Holy Week here in Colombia is called Semana Santa and it is observed by all schools, universities, government, large employers, etc. People typically use this week of vacation to travel back to the regions of the country (often rural) that they come from and/or to take a nice trip to the coast or other desirable cities in the country. I had originally planned to take a solo trip to the city of Cali, where I planned on entertaining myself with salsa lessons and other local culture. The week before Semana Santa, however, Leonela convinced me to change up my plans and travel with her and a friend to the region of Santander and the city of Bucaramanga. It’s a beautiful region with a much hotter climate than Medellin and is rapidly evolving into one of Colombia’s top adventure sports regions (whitewater rafting, kayaking, rappelling, etc).

We spent a total of 8 days in Bucaramanga, and also traveled to nearby towns such as Floridablanca, Giron, San Francisco, and Panachi. We took a day trip to the Canyon of Chicamocha, which is deeper than the Grand Canyon and has one of the world’s longest metrocable cars that runs from the top of one side of the canyon, down to the very bottom of the canyon, and then up out of the canyon on the other side. The canyon and its park were beautiful, and while there we ate the typical dish of the region, which includes goat, yuka, and a rice/bean/goat intestine combo. I wasn’t tempted to ask for seconds on the rice/bean/intestine combo, but the goat was delicious. I tried a wide variety of other local food offerings as well, the most interesting of which were the fried hormigas culonas (which literally translates as fried “big-ass ants”). They are a local delicacy that the region is infamous for, and you pay about $10 for just a 1/3 cup of the little guys. People say they taste like peanuts, and due to their crunchy and saltiness I’d say that’s about right, however, they have a distinct acidic aftertaste that is not for everyone. I happily ate them, but the locals I was with were split in half with half of them loving them and the other half thinking they were terrible and disgusting. I’ll let pictures tell much of the rest of my adventures in Bucaramanga.

Leonela and I at the Canyon Chicamocha

Leonela and I at the Canyon Chicamocha

Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Bucaramanga

Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Bucaramanga

Leonela and the family that hosted me eating the "American" meal I made them, tacos. It was the first time they'd ever eaten tacos and they loved them! :)

Leonela and the host family eating the “American” meal I made them, tacos. It was the first time they’d ever eaten tacos and they loved them! 

Rotarians and their service projects can be found everywhere in the world!

Rotarians and their service projects can be found everywhere in the world!

Typical dish of the Santander region, featuring goat and rice/bean/goat intestine combo

Typical dish of the Santander region, featuring goat and rice/bean/goat intestine combo

Colombian flag! :)

Colombian flag!

Street vendor in the town of Giron

Street vendor in the town of Giron

Two adorable ladies in the plaza in Giron.

Two adorable ladies in the plaza in Giron.

Weaved palms in Giron for Palm Sunday services

Weaved palms in Giron for Palm Sunday services

Leonela and I preparing to eat fried ants.

Leonela and I preparing to eat fried ants.

Leonela and I eating fried ants!

Leonela and I eating fried ants!

Eating obleas (thin wafers filled with jams, cremes, and other sweets)

Eating obleas (thin wafers filled with jams, cremes, and other sweets)

Decided to try fried ants on my dessert! :)

Decided to try fried ants on my dessert! Why not?!

Fried hormigas culonas (literally translated "big-ass ants")

Fried hormigas culonas (literally translated “big-ass ants”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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First Rotary Presentation

First Rotary Presentation

Last week I gave one of my first Rotary presentations to the Rotary Club of Medellin de Occidente. It went really well, and after the presentation and having heard about my experience and interest in public health the club asked me if I’d be interested in helping them carry out a potable water project they’ve been dreaming up and planning for a number of years now. As part of my Rotary scholarship my responsibilities include participating in a local service project, and up until being presented with the potable water project, none of the projects I’d been presented through the Rotary clubs had really struck my interest. So I am now working with professors in the School of Public Health to gather and analyze data and statistics for rural and indigenous populations in the region to see where there are the highest levels of waterborne illnesses and to try to locate an ideal site for the water project. There are innumerable villages and populations that currently don’t have access to potable water here, so it’s just a matter of finding an ideal spot for a pilot project that is feasible, sustainable, and that has the greatest need.

Things are getting official here. :)

Things are getting official here. 🙂

Rocking my spiffy Universidad de Antioquia vest for the prison visit

Rocking my spiffy Universidad de Antioquia vest for the prison visit

Lastly, yesterday I had my first visit to one of the local prisons that is part of our tuberculosis project that I’m working with for my practicum experience. I have another visit next Tuesday to a different prison in our project, so I’ll be brief here. But suffice it to say that the capacity for this prison is approximately 2,250 and there are currently more than 7,000 prisoners living there. People sleep in hammocks strung across the ceiling, the hallways, they sleep on the floor in the halls, up to 40 plus people will sleep in the bathroom overnight, etc. Moreover, the health surveillance is essentially non-existent. No TB tests, HIV tests, etc are conducted when new prisoners into the prison, nor after the fact, despite the fact that research teams have gone in and found extraordinarily high rates of both diseases, among so many others. The “isolation room” for those with active tuberculosis infection (which is rapidly spread through the air) has large windows and vents that open up to the hallways and other rooms where all other patients, nurses, and doctors are…thus the bacteria are not even remotely “isolated”. It was a very eye-opening experience, to say the least, and clearly demonstrated the breadth and depth of work to be done in order to have a successful surveillance program in the prison.

Alright, I’ll cap it off there. Next report will feature an uber happy me with Matt by my side. SO EXCITED!

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