gambita, part 1: life in the country

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it’s hard to sum up a month’s worth of new experiences, but i’m going to try to give you a taste of our life in the country in colombia. there were things that we loved about the experience (our surroundings, the opportunity to improve our spanish, being somewhere long enough to really get to know the people, teaching at the tiny school in the community) and there were things that were very trying as well (living with a spoiled four year old who has no friends and wants your undivided attention, not getting a say in how much we were eating and being served a plate full of starches for three meals a day, trying to keep order at the school while teaching first through fifth grade all together). but, i think each piece of the experience taught us a valuable lesson, whether it was initially positive or not.

we lived with rosa, a tiny 34 year old woman, her mother, chabela, and her son, santiago. rosa’s size could fool you at first. she looks like a thirteen year old girl, but she is a tough cookie from having lived on the farm most of her life. the only time she left this area was to go to college in bogota for four years and then she came back, preferring the simplicity of her life away from the city. her mother is quite a character. she knows everyone around the area and is super social. she speaks a spanish that cannot be found in a dictionary and it provided us with hours of laughter trying to understand her stories. santiago was what you could expect of a four year old boy living in the middle of nowhere with two grown women as his only companions. he followed us around a lot, gravitated toward bob as the only male in the house, and got in trouble often because it was obvious that he was wearing on our patience with his constant need for attention. but, we found some fun ways to keep him occupied when we spent time with him and tried to make the most of our time with him and his family.

rosa, looking serious and taking a break in the kitchen between morning chores

chabela, sitting in her usual spot by the stove so that she can stoke the fire as needed for cooking

santiago pretending to be a cowboy. he was pretty good at fashioning saddles out of plastic bags and leading the dogs around the yard. he didn't have a lot to do.

the house itself was right on the main road between two very small towns. they were both about a two hour walk away. one bus came through the area ONCE a week on sundays to take folks into town. otherwise you could walk or take a horse, which was most people’s preferred mode of transportation. we had visitors at the house often because it was the stopping point in between the two towns, and rosa and chabela sold warm soft drinks and beer out of their front room (which they called the ‘tienda’). but ‘often’ is a relative word because most days we only saw between 5 and 10 cars pass on the road. needless to say, it was a very peaceful existence.

the house and the cows congregating in front for their afternoon milking

Here’s a little snapshot of daily life for us while we were there:

6am – wake up to ducks and roosters making lots of noise

6:30am – get up after feeling guilty about not feeding ducks and roosters

6:40am – drink tinto (coffee) before we are allowed to start our chores, there was no arguing with this routine and we didn’t need to because we both are coffee drinkers

6:45am – feed ducks, chickens, turkeys, and pig on Rosa’s farm

6:50am – walk across the river on a footbridge to the neighbor’s farm to feed pigs, chickens, ducks, and turkeys there (and every other day we fed the coi fish in the pond behind the house) the neighbor doesn’t live in gambita, he lives in sogamoso and is the person who sets up the volunteer exchange

7am – eat breakfast (usually a soup of potatoes and onions or eggs, bread, and onions, and hot chocolate with more bread or crackers)

7-9am – do random tasks around the house (bob liked to collect and cut wood for the stove, do laundry by hand and hang it out to dry, or read a book if there wasn’t anything else going on)

9am – prepare for the walk to school (including: take a cold shower and try to strategically plan it for a sunny day so that you warm up fast, finalize lesson plan, pack bag, eat a snack, etc.)

10-11:30am – walk to school and take in the sights around because every turn in the road added a new and beautiful mountain view, one of our favorite parts of the day

12-1pm – teach English, which means teach mostly in Spanish to 10 students ranging in age from 6 to 12 years old and try to keep their attention long enough to help them retain some vocabulary before playing a game with that same vocabulary and realizing that half of them did not retain any of it

1-2:30pm – walk home from school feeling relieved that another day is done and process whether we thought it went well or was a crazy mess (it changed on a daily basis)

3pm – eat a huge lunch that usually consisted of 1 or 2 potatoes, rice, meat, beans, fresh juice, yucca, and sometimes plantains (starch city!)

3:30-6:30pm – free time to do whatever we felt like doing (hiking to one of the waterfalls nearby, sitting by the river and reading, napping, etc.)

6:30pm – at dark we usually migrated back to the kitchen to sit and chat with Rosa and Chabela while they fixed dinner (which was usually a smaller version of what was served for lunch), then we ate with them and entertained four-year-old Santiago, or watched Chabela hand spin wool into yarn

8:00pm – we returned to our room to prepare a lesson for the following day of school and then read some before going to sleep, our earliest bedtime on the entire trip!

this was the view from the backyard. such a beautiful place!

 

 

easy living in the country

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well, we made it safe and sound to our current country home near gambita, colombia. it has been a week since we arrived and we are definitely starting to acclimate to the time table of life in the country, but it took a few days to adjust. we wake up (almost) at the crack of dawn, feed chickens, ducks, turkeys and pigs, drink coffee, have breakfast and walk an hour and a half to a tiny country school to teach an hour of english. it´s not a bad life for the present moment and we are really starting to improve our spanish.

there won´t be many blog posts in the next month, but i´ll make sure to post a bunch of pictures once we are back to a spot with a little more technology. but, for right now we have a local country fair to enjoy outside, and i don´t want to miss too much of it. just wanted to check in to say that life is good in the country and we are enjoying the complete change of scenery for the next few weeks.

chao for now…

felicitaciones a matteo!

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a BIG congratulations to Matt (Pete) tonight. he just landed himself back in good ol’ kentucky after making it all the way to buenos aires! how strange it must feel to be back in the US after all that we have seen and experienced. we’re going to have to get some pointers on how to acclimate when our return time grows closer.

the tres amigos have enough stories to keep us entertained for years to come after this adventure. but, i’m sure matt is already planning his next destination. can’t wait to see where the next one takes him…

it all began with a cold campground reunion in the middle of texas.

and around 10,000 miles later... we parted ways for the final time in peru after a whirlwind, yet amazing, tour of the main attractions. can't wait to see what the rest of matt's adventure looked like through his camera lens.

So Pete, don’t grow up too fast now that this adventure is at an end. And don’t forget your love for tortillas now that you have so many options again!

Hasta luego amigo.

Un abrazo, coco y rufio

sleepy towns on rivers and lakes

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heading south again from cartagena, we decided to take a small side trip to the town of mompos. it was definitely not on our route to medellin. but, after getting a recommendation from a friend and looking into it, we decided it was a place we wanted to see. it is the inspiration for one of the towns in gabriel garcia marquez’s: 100 years of solitude. part of the draw was the adventure in getting to the town. it’s in the middle of the magdalena river basin, where many tributaries all converge. we had to catch a ferry across the magdalena, then go over two (not so stable looking) bridges, and ride a stretch of road where the pavement was long gone and was a muddy mess of divits and huge potholes. we headed there on a sunday, and keeping with our routine of not doing too much research before arriving in a new spot, we didn’t pay too much thought to the ferry schedule of a tiny-middle-of-nowhere town. so, we pulled up into the town where the ferry was to leave and were told that there wouldn’t be any more leaving late on a sunday afternoon. but, then the two old gentlemen we had consulted decided that there was in fact one more that left from a point 20 minutes up the bank. so, we booked it down the dirt road with locals motioning us on in the right direction, as it was obvious where we were headed. and we drove onto the last ferry not five minutes before they started up the big engine and pulled away from the bank. whew, close call!

heading off on the ferry. all you have to do is drive down the little mud bank and you're on.

bob captured some of the goings-on in one of the main plazas while people watching in mompos

we saw a total of 9 black cats on our way into this cemetery. creepy! you'd think it might have dissuaded us from entering, but no.

inside the cemetery

the church by our hostel at night

we left mompos on a rainy morning, which they swore they hadn’t had in months. so, it was  a little trickier maneuvering the puddles and muddy stretches of road. i would say the craziest part was getting up the dirt bank (which turned into a slick mud bank) while exiting off of the ferry. but, bob got up it like a champ with tons of local spectators. so, we were back on pavement quickly after that and on our way south again.

our next stop was another town on the water, but with a totally different vibe. it was a little lake town outside of medellin, called guatape. and the locals take a lot of pride in their store- and home-fronts. almost every inch of the town was painted in bright colors with little scenes of daily life or nautical themes. it was totally overdone, but fun at the same time. and the lake views were spectacular as it snakes through the entire town. there is also a random rock face jutting out of the hillside, which adds a lot to the view. we took it very easy in guatape as it was a pretty relaxing environment. well, except for having to do a tiny bit of bike maintenance. we got our first flat tire of the entire trip! not a big deal though. we got it patched up quickly and got right back to relaxing.

a taste of the decorating style in the town. every house was different, but had this general design theme

even the 'auto chivas' were super cute.

bob rolling our tire back down to the hostel to put on the bike

being silly while we walked around town

a restaurant on the lake that had awesome fried fish. we liked it so much we ate there twice.

our view of the lake and the rock from our hostel. now can you see why we wanted to sit on the porch and relax the whole time?!

it was a great whirlwind loop of the northern and central parts of colombia. and these two sleepy towns were a great way to end it up. we feel like we have a much better idea of the different regions in the country now. we’re back in bogota getting paperwork on the bike together and then we’ll head up to gambita. we’ll let you know how that experience goes as soon as we can. wish us luck!

 

 

Cartagena de Indias

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i am so glad we stayed in colombia long enough to visit cartagena! it’s a beautiful mixture of old (restored) colonial luxury and current disheveled grittiness. it’s pretty oppressively hot there. so the city goes at a fairly slow pace (except for the tourist throng) while the sun is up. and, as soon as it goes down it comes back to life and is incredibly pleasant to wander the side streets with the night time breeze, taking in the comings and goings of the local residents.

with our travel budget, we stayed out of the fancy wine bars and stores in the main historic area of town where the dress code seemed to be exclusively: white linen. but, we found plenty of street vendors with everything from shaved ice (yum!) to shrimp cocktail. by the end of two full days of roaming, we practically walked every last inch of the walls surrounding the city. that part of the city really reminded us of charleston. the seedier parts and the balconies reminded us of new orleans. either way, it felt like a little taste of home.

in the courtyard of the inquisition museum. we got to see a lot of witch torturing devices (which were disturbing) but the museum didn't quite live up to it's $8 entrance fee.

beautifully restored historic center

the massive wall surrounding the city, complete with a huge walkway on top

a shot of the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas taken from on top of the wall. Does this remind anyone else of Romancing the Stone, or am i the only one who had a childhood obsession with that movie?

looking a little creepy with the modern downtown area in the background (which we never ventured into). the old part was just too enticing.

For Luckett: not quite as cool as the alpaca shot in peru. but, it's our own laundry drying on the roof of our hostel after a good handwashing in the shower. the image in the background is the castillo de san felipe popping up just over the roof.

we caught a colombian couple in action, partaking in one of their favorite vacation pasttimes: photo shoots! we've witnessed tons of these and never captured one. but, it's pretty simple. the girl is all dressed up and the boyfriend, husband, etc. is taking tons of photos of her posing like a model. it's pretty great! one of a handful of quirky colombian pasttimes that we've grown to love.

we found our favorite juice combo yet in colombia: mango and maracuya! it was also really refreshing in the cartagena heat.

the eerie beauty of cartagena

it was fun to wander this historic city for a few days. but, we decided in the end that we were just going to want to cave and spend money the longer we stayed there. so, we headed south again for a much less touristy, much lazier town called mompos. there’s not much going on here, so it’s nice to sit under the ceiling fan and get another blog post out in preparation for our month off the grid. we start volunteering next week and are expecting very little internet availability for the month. i’ll try to get a few more posts up before then. but, for now i think i’d rather be wandering aimlessly around the streets of this sleepy town. and it will be to your benefit too, eventually, because i’ll take my camera! until the next chapter unfolds…

 

back to the heat

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it’s been a mobile week for us: heading back from peru, getting our colombia paperwork in order so that the bike could stay in the country a few months longer, and then taking a quick loop north to visit some must-see sights on our list before heading to the mountains for our month of volunteering. we passed a big milestone yesterday, too… 10,ooo MILES!!! i can not believe we’ve come so far. but, when i think back to memorable moments from six months ago, it makes me remember just how long we’ve been traveling and how much we’ve seen. i’m feeling very grateful of all i’ve been able to see and do on this trip and how smoothly things have gone for us. just feeling a little reflective after 10,000 miles.

here’s another picture show of some of the most recent miles covered.

paragliders over the coast in lima

bob on the beach, watching some surfers do their thing

back in colombia and headed for the coast. our bike parking on a side street in baricharra, a small colonial town north of bogota

a roadside break in the mountains

chicamocha national park. this was our view for quite a few miles of the drive into this valley. we definitely want to make it back here before we leave colombia.

we met up with andrea, her husband matt, and andrea's brother arturo in santa marta (the oldest city in south america!). we were in route to a little beach town with them when we stopped to catch this great sunset over the water.

capturing the end of the sunset in the small scuba diving town of taganga.

after santa marta, we camped for two nights on a lovely beach called bahia concha. it was pretty far off the beaten path, so we practically had the place to ourselves. there was a french couple with a small sailboat who shared the bay with us every night, but their boat made the view prettier so we didn't mind.

there was perfect color separation in the water at bahia concha and very little waves. it was pretty awesome for swimming.

another great sunset. we didn't have much to do at our little deserted beach. so the changing colors gave us a few great hours of entertainment each night. oh, and the little lights out on the water are small fishing boats that went out at sunset and stayed out all night. it was one of the prettiest night scenes i've ever had on the ocean.

cartagena!!!! we made it to the beautiful, historic city that feels like the perfect combination of charleston and new orleans. we decided to spend a few days here to take it all in. so, more cartagena pics in the next post.

 

 

more peru adventures with michelle and jacob

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after an amazing day at machu picchu, we headed back to cuzco late on wednesday night by way of another train/bus combo. bob’s dad and grandma were leaving the next day. so we decided we’d all hang out in cuzco and have an easy day of checking out museums and doing a little souvenir shopping for the nieces and nephews. we moved into a hostel where we could take over a 6-bed dorm room, since it was now down to the 5 of us.

jacob posing with his dinner at our new favorite restaurant in cuzco, los perros. it was so good that we ate there two nights in a row.

on thursday we decided to go white water rafting. we did quite a bit of research on which rivers were cleanest, safest, etc. and found out that because we were in the dry season the one we chose wouldn’t be too crazy. this was an important piece of information as none of us had ever been rafting before, and we didn’t want our first experience ever to end up being traumatic. the river was just a few hours southeast of cuzco, so it made for a very easy day trip.  we got shuttled to the camp where we’d leave all our stuff and changed into wetsuits. this was a bit of a task as it seemed they had mostly one size for women and one for men. but, we were all glad to have them as the river was glacier fed (meaning freezing cold!). so, we grabbed all of our gear and headed on up the road to where the boats would start out. we got a 10 minute safety course and lesson in commands, which really just scared me more than i had been before. after i felt the water i was pretty positive that i did not want to fall out of that boat. so, that became my focus.

we had tons of fun rafting down the river. and at one point michelle and bob even jumped in for a ‘swim’ when the guide told them we were at the best place for it. they quickly realized that they weren’t getting back into the boat unless we helped. so, jacob and i had to ‘save’ them the way we had learned in our crash course, which was stand near the edge and hoist them up using their life vests. the rapids were only up to class 3+. but, i think it was the perfect amount of adventure for beginners. none of us fell out, though there were boats that lost a person here and there and had to pick them up further downstream. we all had a great time and got a pretty nice upper body workout by the time we were done. we forgot to go to the rafting company to see if we wanted to buy any of the pictures they took. so, you’ll just have to imagine how bad-ass we looked while we were paddling our way down the river!

the next day was michelle and jacob’s last full day for seeing any more of peru. so, we decided to leave cuzco behind and head to a small town just north, called pisac. it’s a significant stopping place in peru because it holds another ruined incan city. this one impressively wraps around some high peaks overlooking the tiny hippy-filled town below.

the terraces at pisac

the siblings taking a quick break

inside one of the ruined housing structures on the hill

michelle with more ruins and the valley of pisac behind her

me and michelle on the walk back down through the valley into town

the ruins were high enough above the city that no one seemed to try walking up (that we saw, at least). but, the hike down was through a beautiful valley that headed straight back into town. the landscape changed multiple times, and there were some steep points. in a few patches the rocks got really loose and slippery. so, of course, i took a spill about halfway down. my feet just flew out from under me and i landed on my butt. but, the scary part was that i landed right on the edge of the trail and there was a good 10 foot drop just off to my left. so, i was perched right on the edge and i’m sure i had a terrified look on my face. michelle was in front of me and tired to run back up to lend a hand and matt came running down from behind. but, it was so slippery that matt started to slide too and when he did michelle tried to back up to give him room. when she did she ended up stepping off the side of the trail and dropping a good two feet herself. somehow i managed to hold on to a bush that ended up gifting me with tons of it’s little dried buds. so, i did not tumble over the side. but, i was laughing so hard by the end of the whole thing that it’s a wonder i stayed where i was. i’m just sad that no one documented that moment of the hike!

it was really nice to get to experience a tiny colonial town with jacob and michelle before they left. so we were happy about our decision to go to pisac for the night. we finished the day out with cheap tacos, tall beers, and a game of yahtzee in the little courtyard of our hotel. the next day we headed back to cuzco with michelle and jacob so they could catch their flight to lima. matt headed on south toward bolivia on his bike to finish out the last leg of his adventures. and bob and i decided on a 20 hour over night bus ride back to lima to save ourselves some travel cash. we were pretty exhausted after an action packed two weeks. so, we mostly slept and sometimes tried watching the bootlegged movies they were playing only in spanish.

that smile is fake. but the trip wasn't so bad. we were just a little delirious when we arrived in lima and had a really hard time speaking spanish to our cab driver.

what the non-tourist side of peru looks like from a bus window

we’re now back in lima, resting up so that we can get back to biking adventures in colombia. we’ll head north from bogota to travel up to the coast for a few weeks before we start our first month of volunteer work in the mountains.

 

we made it to machu picchu

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michelle and jacob arrived in cuzco the day we got back from puno. we took the evening to regroup and catch up while they acclimated to the altitude. the next day we headed out for aguas calientes and then on to machu picchu from there. we took a train into aguas calientes which was a pretty fun experience. the views were spectacular and we got a peek of the inca trail on our way in. we had one night in aguas calientes, so we visited and the hot springs there and took advantage of the crazy happy hour deals to have a few more pisco sours. the next morning we headed up to the ruins on a bus to meet our guide. once again, i think you’ll enjoy the photos more than my account. so, here is our morning at machu picchu…

the dixons/eckerles waiting for our bus up to the ruins

lots of people, but it didn't take away from the experience too much. it was still incredible to be there.

here we are! the peak in the background is named huayna picchu. we climbed to the top that afternoon!

bob's dad and grandma had a great time touring the ruins too. we were really happy to get to share the experience with them.

i just really like this one. i'll stop posting pictures with the same background now.

beauty shot

the only way into the city was through this gate

we’re all trying to catch a little shade while we can. the direct sun was pretty intense there.

ok, i had to post this one too. it's not often you get the chance to capture a 16 year old wanting to pose with his mom. we love you guys and miss you already!

the walls of the city were impressive

the terraces were expansive (can you find bob's dad and grandma in the picture?)

 

after our tour of the main attractions of the ruins, michelle, jacob, matt, bob and i climbed up the north facing peak of the area called huayna picchu. they had an age limit and a maximum of 400 people per day who were allowed to summit it. so, we left mark and helen to tour the ruins some more and find some shade. and we headed straight up for about an hour. needless to say, it was a strenuous climb for most of us. i think jacob could have climbed it in half the time we did. but, he was nice enough to keep our pace. the views all the way up were amazing and it was awesome to get to climb high above the ruins and look down on them. it was definitely my favorite part of the day and i felt very accomplished when we reached the top.

-an idea of our climb. it was pretty much stairs all the way

our view of the ruins from the top of our climb. they look so small from that far above!

we're at the very top! the view to the other peaks and snow caps was unreal.

bob is happy to be hiking again

there were a few tricky descents. jacob is showing the way we all got down this one: hold onto the wall and don't let go.

taking a much needed lunch break near the top

 

after we descended waynapicchu we checked in with bob’s dad and grandma and took one more (less intense) hike up the southern side to the sun gate. it is the last part of the inca trail that leads straight down into machu picchu. we wanted to make sure we got every possible view of the place in our day there. who knows if or when any of us will be back there. we all agreed it would have been a pretty incredible way to get your first view of the site after four intense days of hiking. but, we were also pretty happy we didn’t choose that route so that we’d have time and energy to do a few other things.

sunset from the sun gate

 

i think it’s safe to say we got a very full experience of machu picchu. after years and years of wanting to go there i am so happy that i’ve experienced it. the heavy tourism really didn’t take away any of it’s magnificence. and i would still recommend it to anyone who is thinking about trying it. the hiking was our favorite part because it added even more to the views and gave us a very full day of exploring the area.

more of our week with michelle and jacob to come…

lake titicaca and the floating islands

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we decided on the easy route for touring lake titicaca. the air was thin and none of us were feeling super adventurous in the conditions, especially not bob’s grandma, though we were super impressed that she was even willing to try 13,00o feet. but, we were all content to get to see the floating islands and get out of puno for the day. the boat ride was easy and scenic and we shared it with two canadian girls. so, it almost felt like a private tour.

enjoying our ride out to the islands.

bob staying toasty in his poncho as we head to our first stop

the 'mercedes benz' of the island, as the president called it

the president of the first island teaching us about their way of life with a very artistic diorama of the houses, people and boats on the islands.

i'm trying to contemplate the way of life of people who live on floating islands and survive solely on tourism. it's hard to figure out how to feel about being a spectator there for a day.

i climbed up to the crow's nest to get a better look around

bob joined me up top

overall, i would say that lake titicaca was a success. it was pretty surreal to see something i had heard about for so long and thought to be so mystical. the truth is that the tourist side of the islands made me feel a little strange and sad. but, we met other travelers who went a little further off the beaten path and saw different things. i would recommend looking into ecotourism or spending more time there so that you can get more of a taste of the area and some of the islands that don’t depend solely on tourism. we heard great things about copacabana and isla del sol in bolivia. we just didn’t quite have the time or ability on this trip to get there. i am grateful to have come so far on this journey, though. and totally understand why much of peru is swept up into tourism. it’s an awe inspiring place with some captivating scenes and crazy mixtures of ancient and modern. i will definitely never forget this experience.

 

 

the road to puno

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bob’s dad and grandma arrived safe and sound in cuzco (though somewhat sleep and oxygen deprived) and had a day to acclimate before we hit the road. we made our way to puno, a city on the shore of lake titicaca, by way of an all day bus tour. i think the visuals will do a better depiction than my writing. but, i will say, it was a day full of spectacular views.

bob's grandma and dad on the bus, taking it all inone of our stops along the way to visit some inca ruins. this is in the little town square.

outside of an old spanish church, the 'sistine chapel of south america'

view from the bus

our highest stop, going over a glacial pass at around 13,000 feet. it was cold and very hard to breathe.

a peek at the glacier with alpacas grazing in the foreground

the dixon boys

some furry friends at our lunch stop

high plains in the andes with a tourist train in view

 

it was a long day full of amazing views on the bus. we got to puno late in the evening and managed to find dinner and a hotel. there wasn’t much to the town, so we were all content to get a good (cold) night’s sleep and prepare to head out to the floating islands of lake titicaca the next morning. more photos from that experience to come…

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