por fin

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you’re probably wondering why, suddenly, after so many months of nothing there is a new blog post to read. well, first off, i didn’t want to leave the blog so completely open ended. i thought it would feel better to have a tiny bit of closure on such a profound experience. second, i really needed the time away from writing to digest what i (we) had come home to. we knew we’d experience some ‘reverse’ culture shock on returning to the US. but, i didn’t realize how angry or depressed i’d get in the process.

though i feel like there is plenty about bob and i that remained intact during our travels, there is also a lot that has shifted. our perspective on definitions of ‘hard’ and ‘happy’ have been completely rewritten. and we see consumption (on many levels) in a very different light after traveling with so little and experiencing life in places that consume so much less than we do here. that was one of the most challenging things to process on our homecoming. i think it’s safe to say that we aren’t in as much shock now. but, the first few weeks of witnessing US cultural practices were pretty overwhelming. our hope is not to completely fall back into acceptance of the ‘normalized’ rate of consumption here, but to continue experimenting with our new definitions mean for our lifestyle choices.

i wouldn’t say we’re completely through the roller coaster of emotions that came with trying to re-acclimate, but we have at least carved out a plan for our most immediate next step. i don’t think we, or anyone else, expected us to take this trip and come home to step right back into a life we used to live.  but, now we are pondering what exactly we want to do to support ourselves and our ever evolving ideas on how we want to live our lives. one thing we know for sure: there is a lot that we still have to learn about the world and a whole lot we still want to see. and in staying true to this sentiment we’ve found an organic farm that we’re going to intern on for the 2013 season. it’s a vegetable and flower farm in pennsylvania, about an hour north of philadelphia. (check it out here: www.bloomingglenfarm.com) we’ll go dig in the dirt, learn a skill we’ve both wanted to know a lot more about, and have some time to think and process where we need to be heading next. we’ll let you know how the farming life works out for us!

i couldn’t end this blog without, first, a HUGE THANK YOU to all the dear friends and family who have taken us in or helped us out as we worked to get our feet on solid ground in the US. So to: David, Erin, Joyce, Robin, Lori, John, Michelle, Andy, Matt, Emily, Gary, Mark, Patricia, Sue, Amanda, Crazy Horse, No Show, Peanut, Jersey Fresh, Tory, and Richard…  we can’t thank you enough. But, we can promise that once we are settled (wherever that may be!) we would gladly return the generous hospitality that each of you have shown us. We are lucky to have a network that is so conveniently strewn across the US for things like extended motorcycle tours.

i guess i’ll leave you now with my main intentions for writing this blog:

1) so that i could stay connected to family and friends while so far away

2) so that i could have a different kind of travel journal to look back on

3) so that maybe, just maybe some of the fears and challenges that we faced along the way would inspire you to find something that felt like a crazy, impossible dream, and then just take a giant leap of faith in yourself…

because in the end, that was the most important step in the entire process.

 

 

swapping the bike for an aveo and one last adventure with the family

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most of you know by now that we are currently making our way through the US. we’ve driven through florida, georgia, north carolina, and virginia so far. and, i think it’s safe to say that driving through the deep (deeply conservative)  south right before an election wasn’t the smartest way for us to re-acclimate to US culture. but, we’re making our way and trying to process this crazy country of excess which we call home. i’m really not ready to sum up any thought on re-entry (and maybe never will be). but, what i’d rather do is take a step back to cover our final week and a half in colombia. we had so much to do with getting the bike ready to ship that i didn’t have time to post about my family’s visit. so here are a few of the highlights from a fast paced 9 days of revisiting our favorite places and trying our darnedest to give my family a glimpse of the colombia we knew and loved over the last five months.

we spent a lovely evening in bogota going up to monserrate, the church overlooking the entire city

the views got prettier as the sky got darker

we took everyone to our favorite burger joint, galapago, in chia (yum!)

hiked to our favorite lookout spot in villa de leyva

bob finally bought a hat he'd been eyeing for awhile, so we made him pose with it in the town square

soaked in the hot springs in manizales

rode horses through the beautiful coffee zone of salento

we played tejo (an explosive version of horseshoes) at a bar in town

looked for some souvenirs on the foggy streets one afternoon in salento

went for another hike in the valle de cocora near salento

and got back to bogota just in time for one last dinner in one of our favorite neighborhoods

whew! i’m tired just recapping everything we squeezed into one week. it was quite a whirlwind, but we loved seeing our favorite spots one last time. it was extra special to get to share them with family. we felt like they were able to glimpse what our life has been like these last few months. and, that can make all the difference. it was also such a great way to end up the trip. we realized that getting to be tour guides kept our minds on all the positives and we didn’t have time to delve into any self-pity about the trip coming to an end or worry about how it would be heading back to the US. that would all be dealt with in due time.

so thanks dad, david, and lori for giving us an incredibly memorable final week in colombia! you guys are now wrapped up into some of our favorite experiences there and we’re so happy that we got to share them with you.

 

lists

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on the eve of our return to the US, we feel like taking a few moments to reflect on our travels abroad is a necessary action. and what better way to reflect on something that is impossible to simplify than to make some lists. so here goes…

MOST MEMORABLE EXPERIENCES

  • krewe du vieux in new orleans
  • first day of riding in mexico
  • eating fresh caught fish on the beach in zipolite, mexico
  • a long night of puking due to bad food, paired with broken ribs and already sore bodies from wrecking the bike only two days earlier
  • sharing traveling digestive issue stories with ryan and juliana in antigua, guatemala
  • learning how to by-pass a fresh landslide guatemala-style
  • dinner (of mayan reclamation cuisine) at hacienda san lucas in copan, honduras
  • our entire 3 days in miraflor, nicaragua
  •  taking the wrong route to monte verde, costa rica which included dropping the bike more times than we want to count
  • the costa rican-panamanian border 
  • leaving the heat of central america and trading it for the chilly air of the andes in bogota
  • a quick introduction to colombian culture at our friend andrea’s birthday party with her entire family
  • horseback riding in salento, colombia (both times!)
  • camping on the deserted beach of bahia concha, colombia
  • hiking to the top of huayna picchu, peru
  • fusion sushi in lima, peru
  • everything about our month in the country with rosa, chavela, and santiago

 

THINGS WE’VE MISSED

  •  mexican food (the real kind that you get in mexico)
  • southern-style barbeque
  • family and friends (obviously)
  • listening to records
  • bourbon
  • the security of knowing the shower will stay hot the entire time you are in it
  • running shoes (which would then lead to running)

 

UNFORGETTABLE PEOPLE ALONG THE ROAD

  • motohank (dilly, texas): he taught us how to ride in mexico and reassured us that we were taking this trip for the right reasons
  • federico (zacatecas, mexico): he took time to show around his beautiful town and was one of the first people to really help us see how connected the Americas are
  • jill and jean luc (antigua, guatemala): hours of practicing our broken spanish over the dinner table, while we all tried to improve and found that people with very different backgrounds can enjoy each other’s company thoroughly
  • our host families on the eco-reserve (miraflor, nicaragua): for welcoming us with open arms, even though we were americans, and helping us to see even more clearly how differently things can be done and how powerful you can be when you come together under a united cause
  • ryan brunhaven (bellingham, washington): our first ‘travel buddy’ who we found was traveling for some of the same reasons we were
  • andrea polanco (bogota, colombia): our guide to all things colombian, she first sparked our interest in diving further into the country and gave us a lot of her free time showing us around the city
  • chavela (gambita, colombia): she made us laugh and confused the hell out of us with her crazy version of spanish. and her passion for life was undeniable.
  • chavela’s brother, uncle tio (gambita, colombia): for showing us that cowboys still exist and giving us a glimpse into a colombia of an older age 
  • dan and elissa (newport, rhode island): we met them at the very end of our trip and wished we could have kept traveling a little longer to meet up on down the road… maybe one day we’ll make it happen and buy that RV 
  • friends and family: without the support from our loved ones we couldn’t have had the experience that we did and it has been a joy to share our adventures with so many people that we miss back at home

 

FOOD WE’D LIKE TO COOK WHEN WE HAVE A KITCHEN AGAIN

  • pozole
  • pinto gallo, gallo pinto
  • aztec soup
  • garbanzo, chorizo, olive dish from a restaurant in colombia
  • refried black beans (every day)
  • anything in mole sauce
  • mayan inspired foods

 

FAVORITE PLACES WE’VE STAYED

  • hotel mina real (real de catorce, mexico)
  • la casa de dante (guanajuato, mexico)
  • hotel estrella (san juan del sur, nicaragua)
  • pension marilos (boquete, panama)
  • renacer guest house (villa de leyva, colombia)
  • hostel chimenea (banos, ecuador)

 

ITEMS THAT WERE PACKED AND NEVER USED

  • ace bandage
  • fuel canister
  • cheap jump rope
  • 9-volt plug adapter (for the motorcycle)
  • medivac insurance (thank goodness!)
  • platypus water bags
  • anti-diarrheal meds
  • two pairs of earrings

 

LESSONS LEARNED THAT ARE IMMEDIATELY OBVIOUS TO US

  • how to ride a motorcycle on gravel, dirt, uneven pavement, through crazy city traffic, on crazy mountain roads, sand, and mud
  • how much food we actually need to consume in a day to keep going
  • patience gets you places
  • how to carry on a conversation with the same person for eight months and still like that person at the end of it
  • smiling when you don’t know what else to do usually helps
  • when in doubt, just say “si!”
  • the americas (outside of the US) aren’t as scary as we were taught they are
  • as a random woman from louisiana said, “people are people”
  • living out of a box (+ one giant duffle bag) gets old after 8 months
  • less is more
  • travel forums should be taken with a serious grain of salt
  • attitude is everything
  • trusting people works out better than the alternative
  • we don’t know how to salsa (hopefully that will change one day)
  • fear is bad for the soul
  • a good poncho is warmer than a winter coat
  • machetes can hack the shit out of some wood

colombia, we'll miss you. (but not the nine hour process of waiting around for this machine to get shrink wrapped)

 

for your viewing pleasure

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i think it’s a little masochistic to show a video of ourselves looking like total idiots to all our friends and family who read this blog…

but, we didn’t want to deny you the laugh-til-you’re-crying enjoyment that you may get from the experience. the back story: we made an overnight stop in a tiny town a few months back while traveling to bogota from the north coast of colombia. we lucked into a really nice little hotel on the route and the owner was very friendly. she had lived in florida for many years so she enjoyed chatting with us for a bit about her history and why she had moved back to colombia. she also seemed really involved in her small town, called pueblo nuevo.

so, in the morning as we were packing up the bike to get back on the road, she came over and asked a favor of us. the local news was doing a story on what great things the mayor had recently done for pueblo nuevo. and they needed to interview some folks talking about these accomplishments. they decided it would be fun to have two gringos on the news, so they swooped us up and the next thing we knew, we were sitting by the pool trying to quickly remember what they wanted us to say. i spoke in spanish and bob was supposed to translate what i said into english. but, if you know bob, you won’t be surprised that he added some info here and there. anyway, i won’t give the whole thing away. just click on the link below and start watching around minute 30… then you can enjoy making fun of us for the rest of your day!

http://www.pueblonuevo-cordoba.gov.co/audio_video.shtml?apc=Cfxx-1-&x=2592957

 

in an attempt at redeeming ourselves, i’m adding another video from our time in the country. we decided to give you a little taste of what our daily chores included. so, here we are workin’ hard on the farm.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pXuSSoe27Fg

 

the end of ecuador

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knowing we only had a few days left in ecuador before we needed to start heading back toward bogota, we decided (kind of at the last minute) to make a stop at laguna quilotoa. it ended up being a much more strenuous ride than expected, with hail and rain once we climbed up into the high plains. and we rolled into the tiny town of quilotoa right at dark, frozen and without a clue where we were going to stay. luckily, it was very easy to spot the bare-bones hostels run by the local indigenous folks and we found one that would work pretty quickly. after warming ourselves up by the wood burning stove and getting a solid dinner, we were happy we made the trip. we were staying just a two minute walk from the top of the crater. so we headed out the next morning to take a look. and were not disappointed by the views.

laguna quilotoa

it was cold and super windy at the top of the crater, but the views were pretty amazing.

the views driving through the altiplano were pretty spectacular too, and we found a roadside friend who would pose for a quick picture

taking a break during a construction stop for a land slide. these have been so routine on the trip that they don't phase us at all anymore. i was trying to stay warm in the sun while we waited. it was cold up there!

we got super lucky on the drive back to otovalo from the laguna and had an extremely clear view of volcan cotopaxi.

some roadside propaganda to make sure the folks in ecuador don't forget what their government is doing for them. and yes, the road conditions were very nice. but, the fear of getting put in jail for speeding (which was happening to people) made us want to book it back into colombia as fast as we could, under the speed limit of course.

sunset view of yet another volcano back at our hostel in otovalo. we soaked up every last view we could before heading for colombia the next morning.

we expected the border crossing back into colombia to be a little more involved than the crossing going south. we’d heard from other travelers that going north is always harder. but, exiting ecuador was easy and painless. we just had to get stamped out and then an aduana guy checked our VIN number on the bike and said we were good to go. they gave us new paperwork on the colombia side, which took a few minutes, and checked out the bike again. but, all we had to do was sit in their office for a half hour and we were on our way soon enough. back in colombia for our final two weeks of south american adventures! it’s so hard to believe how quickly it’s all coming to an end. it feels so much more imperative that we take in everything we can and savor our time left in the andes. we’re going to go into mountain withdraw when we land in miami. but, we’re not ready to think about that just yet. there’s still plenty of colombian living left to do before we cross that bridge.

the 9th and final frontier

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we decided to head to ecuador with the few weeks we had left, but it had to be a quick trip. we need to be back in bogota by october 1st to meet my siblings and my dad for our last 10 days in colombia. so, we chose strategically where to spend the little time we had. we made our first stop just past the border at the small town of tulcan. it had a famous cemetery with  loads of sculpted shrubery. so, we roamed around and caught a few of our favorites on camera before hitting the road again.

bob with shrubs

los gorditos

after our short stop in tulcan, we headed to otavalo (which promised to have a great handicraft market) and found the hostel where we camped for a few nights. it was just outside of town, up in the surrounding hills and had some great views of the volcanoes in the area.

from otavalo, we headed down to banos to celebrate our fourth anniversary and do a little relaxing after being on the road for so many days in a row. we found a great hostel (hostel chimenea) that had private rooms with balconies for $17 a night. ecuador’s prices on everything from food to gasoline are pretty sweet, by the way.

we rented a dune buggy and took the avenida de las casadas, which had view after view of amazing waterfalls. here's one.

bob at one of the viewing spots for the biggest and most powerful on the route, pailon del diablo. it was incredible to get that close to it. we even got to crawl through a little path that took you to a lookout behind the waterfall! (couldn't get the camera out in that moment, so you'll just have to imagine it.)

safety first

here i am behind the wheel for the first time in 8 months! it was a little scary at first, seeing as how i was driving a rickety dune buggy on the main roads with semis and fast cars. but, once i got used to it i had some fun driving again. and i'm positive bob had fun getting to sight see while on the road for the first time in 8 months, too.

one more for your viewing pleasure

more from the quick trip through ecuador to come…

 

finding scorpio and libra on the road south

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after our month in the country it was a bit shocking to ride into bogota with all it’s people, buildings and lights. but, it took the sting out a little to get to stay with our friends andrea and matt and spend some quality time catching up with them. after we settled what steps we need to take to ship the bike to miami, though, we were antsy to get on the road again. we only have a few weeks left til it’s time to head back to the states and we decided that we should take a quick peek at ecuador while we’re down here and while we can.

our first stop outside of bogota was a desert observatory outside of neiva, where matt camped out on his way south. his pictures of the place looked pretty impressive, so we thought we’d check it out. the scene was pretty spectacular driving in, but we weren’t expecting to see too many stars as it was slightly overcast. but, we totally lucked out and just as the sun was setting and we were getting set up to camp, the clouds moved out and left an incredibly clear night sky for us. the caretaker out at the observatory was kind enough to call the local astronomy professor to come out and show us what was happening in the sky above us.

sunset at the observatory

we weren’t expecting too much, so we were completely blown away when we got up to the roof and saw the biggest telescope i’ve ever layed eyes on. then we got a two hour run down of everything visible in the southern sky. it was all in spanish and we were also really happy that we understood the majority of what the astronomer was saying. (those four weeks in the country really paid off!) i would say one of the coolest moments of the night for me was when we got to see saturn through the telescope. you could easily make out it’s rings through the lens!

saturn! you could see the rings way better in the telescope, but we thought it'd be fun to take a picture of it too

bob made it up for sunrise and captured it pretty beautifully

we headed on south that next morning, wanting to get as much time in ecuador as possible. we had chosen a path to get to the only recommended border crossing that would take us over a high mountain pass. we made pretty good time getting to the turn-off for the road cutting through the mountains, but had no idea what the conditions would be once the pavement ended. we ran across a military check point (which is extremely common here, but we usually don’t get stopped). at this one, they were stopping everyone. they immediately were interested in our whole get up. so, we quickly had 5 or 6 young soldiers asking us questions about our travels. their commander came over and got super interested in conversation as well. by the end of twenty minutes we had them laughing at every other thing we said. but, we also got some sound advice on the pass we were attempting to take. there was a land conflict between the indigenous folks living in that stretch of the mountains and the national park there. so, they didn’t advize that we cross the mountains there.

instead we were diverted on down the main road to the tourist town of san augustin (which we weren’t planning on stopping in). but, we decided that we should definitely not be taking any chances and headed south. this added a night to our path to ecuador. but, we were happy to have a night in a bed (instead of a tent) and rest up a little for the ride the next morning. this was the route that matt had taken to ecuador and he had warned us that the road over the mountains was not an extremely pleasant drive. when we started out in the morning things seemed pretty good. it was sunny, the road wasn’t in too bad of condition and there was lots of construction going on, so we were hopeful that the conditions had improved in the months since matt had driven through. but, half way up the mountain things turned crazier and crazier.

a little taste of what the road turned into the higher we climbed: nasty, sloppy mud

it was super cold, windy, rainy, and extremely muddy. but, we made it to the other side of the pass eventually with a treat waiting on the other side. we camped at some hot springs that night and got to utilize the tubs whenever we wanted. so we sat in them well after dark, trying to stay warm and putting our new star gazing skills to the test. once we found scorpio, everything else was easily visible. a fun fact we learned from our professor was that libra, which is just below scorpio, used to be part of the same constellation (it was scorpio’s pinchers). so that clears up a few things about why bob and i are together. our signs aren’t supposed to be ‘compatible’, but obviously if they were the same constellation once, there’s some history between them.

packing up to hit the road once again. can you see the mud caked bottom half of the bike? a little gift from our crazy ride through the pass the day before. time for a wash!

so, after another night of star gazing, we headed to the nearest city close to the border, pasto. it was more of a city than i had expected. but, we quickly found our way to the hostel and got settled for our last night in colombia. we were up early the next morning as the border was our first crossing on the bike in four months! so, we wanted to make sure everything went smoothly and we could get to our desired first stop in ecuador before dark.

we made one final stop in route to the border, though. there was a church built straight into a raven in a small town right on the border (you may remember matt’s pictures of it). well, we never made it all the way down into the valley because there seemed to be a massive pligrimage of sorts heading into the town. there was a large group of people walking and singing, blocking the road in and a long line of cars was backed up behind them either wanting to join or just trying to get through. so, we stopped at an overlook of the valley and decided it was time to make our way to the border. goodbye for now, colombia, we’ll be back sooner than later.

cool, even from far away

gambita, part 4: la ferria (or, the town drunk thinks he’s a matador)

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one of the most memorable days for us in the country was the day we went into gambita, the nearest town, for their summer fair. we caught the one bus that passed the house each week on sunday morning along with all the other country folks heading into town for the day. the route was pretty horrible for a large bus, but we went at a snail’s pace and reached the town after a little over an hour. to put this into perspective, it takes two hours to walk the same distance.  when we got into town it was still pretty early. not much was going on yet, and the food vendors were just starting to put out their tables and chairs. so we went up to the main square and checked out the church. one of the sunday morning services was about to start, so we went in and met the priest. but, decided not to stay for the service as the fair only happens once a year.

 

the church in the town plaza and the photo where i look like a giant

things started to pick up shortly after we started meandering back through town. but, we quickly realized that there wasn’t much to the gambita fair. it was mostly a bunch of food vendors with flame cooked meat and potatoes, a bunch of town folks and visitors drinking beer, and a livestock exposition in the arena on the edge of town was the main attraction. but the atmosphere was festive. so, bob and i were content to follow rosa around while she shopped for fruits and veggies to take home to cook for the week and people watch (while they all watched us b/c most of them had never seen a gringo in their town).

Santiago waiting patiently while his mom shops for food

rosa took santiago home on the 1:30pm bus, the only one going back the other way in the entire week. and she let us make the decision as to whether we wanted to head back on the bus or stay in town with her mom, chavela and catch the main event later in the afternoon… the bull fight. of course we wanted to stay, as we’d been waiting to catch one of these. but, the only dilemma was that our options for getting back home were to walk the two hours back or try and catch a ride out of town. we decided we had to take our chances. and, as soon as rosa and santiago were on the bus the real fun began.

chavela knows everyone in gambita after living there her entire life, and she has a lot of friends. so, before we knew it we were walked into one of the tiny bars and gifted an almost cold beer by one of her friends. then we all stood around laughing because we couldn’t understand a word of the spanish being spoken to us. but, everyone seemed to have a good time. after that we did some more people watching while chavela left us for a bit to socialize (it was her one day in town for who knew how long).

where the real action at the fair takes place

we all regrouped around 3pm, ready to head to the arena for the bullfight. we payed for our tickets and found a spot right in front of the arena, up on the grassy hill above. slowly, a small crowd trickled in and the festivities began. it has been a few years since killing a bull during one of these fights has been allowed in colombia. we knew this going in, or i might not have been so eager to see it take place. so, the fight itself was pretty standard. the matadores took turns with their bulls and managed to plant their banderillas in their backs. the crowd yelled ‘ole’ at all the right moments and we tried to follow along as best as we could.

matador working his cape

but, the most memorable moment of the entire day came when the town drunk (who apparently isn’t all there when sober, either) jumped the fence and ran into the ring. he grabbed one of the red capes and was immediately charged by the bull. he fell and got back up again, trying to taunt it back toward him. meanwhile the crowd was cheering and urging him on, and bob and i were horror-struck thinking he was about to die. he was charged again and this time the bull ripped his pants all the way down one side as he was taken to the ground. this time he did not get back up. the matadores and clowns had finally regained their senses enough to get the bull away from him and finally herd him back into the coral. but, the poor old guy had to be carried out by the medics, and it didn’t seem like he was going to recover quickly.

after that, we had lost our appetite for any more bull fighting excitement that day. so, we said goodbye to chavela, who was staying for the dancing later that night and would probably end up sleeping at a relative’s or friend’s house. we started our long walk back and contemplated how dark it was going to be before we reached the house. but, we lucked out and about 30 minutes into our walk and pickup truck passed and then stopped to let us jump into the back. it was already occupied by two older folks catching a ride. so, they made room for us. and we bumped our way along the rocky dirt road while the old man sitting with us jabbered on in drunken incomprehensible spanish.

when we reached the house, the truck stopped to let us out and everyone got out to see who the two gringos were that they had given a ride. the truck had a large cab, so two couples got out and chatted us up about what we were doing in gambita and how long we were staying. it was obvious that they weren’t locals, so we assumed they were just in town for the fair. but, as they prepared to leave, they invited us up to their farm the next day from lunch. after they were gone we went to the kitchen to drink some afternoon coffee and got the full scoop from rosa. the man who invited us to lunch was a colombian representative, who had grown up on a farm up the road. he and his siblings still owned the property and visited a few times a year, while they paid someone to live there and care for the animals year-round. so, we sipped our coffee and slowly camed down from the afternoon’s events, sharing our stories of the bullfight with rosa and pondering over our lunch invitation with the representative. it was a day that neither of us will soon forget.

gambita, part 3: bob kills a chicken

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this is bob guest writing again.

so for anyone reading this who is a vegetarian because they don’t want to see animals die or think that killing animals for food is cruel, you should probably stop reading this post.  if you are still interested though, i killed my first chicken during our farm stay.

i had mentioned to rebecca early on during our stay that i was feeling the need to kill an animal.  being in such close proximity to and feeding so many different sources of food, i felt it unfair that i have eaten so many animals in my own lifetime but have failed to kill anything i have eaten other than frogs and fish.  there is a critical step in the food chain which incredibly i, and most people i know, have been able to skip entirely.

so rebecca watched rosa bring in a dead chicken to de-feather one day and mentioned that i was interested in helping the next time.  a week or so later rosa and the family were heading to tunja, a larger city a couple of hours away, for chavela’s sister’s 70th birthday.  they baked a cake and were taking a couple of chickens from the farm.  rosa told rebecca what was going on and rebecca tracked me down.  about fifteen minutes later i was holding the flailing, broken neck poultry by its feet and contemplating my new status as a chicken killer.

the chicken

 

it all happened really fast and pretty much the whole time i was in a nervous state.  it kind of took me back to taking the first illegal drinks of alcohol as a teenager.  you know it is something that people do all the time but you still wonder if what you are doing is wrong. chavela helped point out my nervousness by asking me to show my shaking hand when i came back in the kitchen.  she laughed at me in the same manner as she did for pretty much the whole month.

the whole process was much easier than i had expected.  first, i tied the chicken’s feet together, holding the torso under my arm.  then i held the animal firm, gave its head a 360 degree turn, and finally grabbed just under the head and gave it a pull and a jerk to the side.  sadly, i think i only mostly killed it with my death pull.  rosa helped make sure it was fully dead quickly after though and showed me a better location to place my hand for future attempts.  after this was all completed, i hung the chicken upside down by the rope tied to its feet and let it writhe out the last bit of life it had in it.  rosa said she prefers this method to cutting the head off because she doesn’t like chickens running around the farm and getting blood everywhere.

once the chicken was hanging without movement, i passed the duties over to bec.  she took the bird and dunked it into the boiling water for a few seconds and took it outside to de-feather it.  she said the process was a lot easier than what she thought it would be.  the feathers were removed and boom, supermarket chicken with feet and a head.

krogers ain't got nothing on this bird

 

so we took the chicken over to cutting rock and cleaned and separated everything and this was where i saw the most amazing part of the whole process.  look closely at this picture and see if you can find who likes the chicken tripe.

only two there, but plenty more arrived soon after

 

i had no idea they were cannibals and it was totally bizarre watching the fierceness they had in fighting for a bite of the insides of their former friend.  rebecca was in the bathroom washing her hands when this process started and she said when she came out there were two chickens playing tug-of-war with a piece of intestine.  after a little bit of griminess and learning how to only cut the tendons, we had a chicken ready to be made for lunch and dinner for the next couple of days.  other than the tripe, they keep it all too: feet, head, you name it and they eat it.  i nibbled on my first chicken foot but didn’t care for the texture too much.  otherwise the chicken tasted fresh and like chicken.

i feel like i definitely gained a little deeper connection to my plate from this process, and  i think i have a little more clout as an omnivore now.  i was surprised at how easy the whole process was and also have a new appreciation for just how easy and sustainable chickens are as a source of protein in your diet.  they consume very little resources, need very little space, and are fully grown in less than a year.  all that said, i can’t wait to go back to less meat consumption and more veggies.

here are some black and white photos of the farm.

 

 

 

 

the neighbor felipe's farm

goat skull and hard hat

barbed wire

arco iris cascade

crazy plate tectonics

tuff

and all of this was within 30 minutes walk.  definitely one of the prettiest places i have ever had the chance to visit.

gambita, part 2: escuela de chinata

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teaching in the tiny school was an experience that neither of us will ever forget. when we first arrived, we thought we’d get time to talk to the teacher about what the expectations were and where we should pick up with the english lessons that the last volunteer had taught. but, we didn’t really get any instruction. we arrived in gambita on a saturday evening and went to school on monday, ready for an interesting first day. that day we were supposed to teach from 1 to 3pm. this, we found out, meant that the kids would leave school to return home for lunch and then the ones that wanted to take english lessons would return at 1pm to do so. we got to the school and the teacher didn’t really have anything to say about the lessons or where we should start. so, we waited patiently for the kids to return so that we could ask them where they had left out with their studies. we had two girls show up in the end. so we talked with them about what they wanted to learn in the next month. they were both shy and it was difficult to get any information out of them.  but, we got somewhat of an idea of things they wanted to learn.  the teacher was pretty obviously disappointed in the turnout, so by the end of the afternoon she decided that we would teach from 11 to 1pm. and all the kids would stay for english class before going home for lunch. we had thought it was a good idea to only have the kids who really had a desire to learn english in the class, but we didn’t think it was our place to say so.

so the following day we came at 11am and the entire class of ten was there waiting for us. the teacher said hello and immediately left us alone with them for our two hour class. needless to say we had an awkward day of getting to know the students and finding out how much english they had retained from the last volunteer. one thing that was a total surprise to us was that we were really teaching in spanish and using some english words for class. we had expected it to be the other way around before we arrived. but, we got through our first day with a full class and were gearing up for the next day. but, the teacher stopped us before leaving and said that the parents didn’t want their kids missing too much of their normal lessons for English class. So, she thought it would be better if we just came from 12 to 1pm for a one hour class. feeling a little defeated (and a little relieved, since the age range was going to be a huge challenge) we walked home and prepared for our next class that would be only one hour.

most of the month was spent reviewing things they had already ‘learned’ because they hadn’t had a volunteer in four months and had lost most of the vocabulary that she had taught. we learned pretty quickly that they had never learned the sounds of english words, so we spent a good deal of time on pronunciation and sounding out words. we had to be very creative to keep their attention, especially since some of them knew they would never use english and were not too interested in learning it in the first place. but, we worked hard on games that challenged their brains in new ways, even if they didn’t retain the english words. and, by the end of the month we felt like we had finally gained some authority over the class and that they respected us as teachers. but, it was a long struggle of constant discipline (in spanish!) to get them there. one of the most positive pieces of the teaching experience was our practice with spanish at the school. teaching in spanish was such an amazing way to improve our ability quickly. some days I’m sure I sounded like a crazy person to the kids, especially when trying to discipline one of the boys in a stern voice while searching for the right words to say that would make them understand. it was a trial and was such a great experience at the same time.

and even though some of them were difficult at times, we really developed a relationship with each student. our last day there was spent playing with the kids and enjoying each other’s company. we jumped rope, played volleyball, and soccer. then we had a snack with them and they all gave us handmade thank-you cards. it was a pretty great way to end a crazy month. and, i think we all enjoyed it thoroughly. the experience only solidified the fact that i want to get into teaching when we head back to the US, even with the crazy days! so, that was another huge plus to the month.

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