back on the tourist track and happy to be there

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after an overnight stay in quito and a second one in lima, we arrived in cuzco bright and early on tuesday morning. i was so happy to be done with flying for a few days. but, even more happy to have landed in a city that would be the launch-pad for places i have dreamed about seeing since i first became interested in world travel. it’s kind of hard to believe that i’m really here! cuzco itself has been surprising so far. we expected a tourist city, overrun with foreigners with overpriced everything. yes, there are tons of foreigners, but they seem to co-exist just fine with the locals and the city is so old and beautiful that it’s quickly obvious why so many people make it a destination (along with the obvious reason of heading to machu picchu from here).

we got into cuzco a few days before bob’s family flew in. we thought it’d be nice to tool around by ourselves before the whirlwind of touring and catching up began. matt was already here so we also got a nice reunion with him and have been checking out the local restaurant options and hearing about his adventures since leaving us in bogota. our first full day here was about acclimating to the altitude and meandering through the streets to see what cuzco has to offer. it’s a nice change of pace from bogota for many reasons. there are new food options, there are indigenous folks strolling around in traditional dress (which is stunningly colorful) and there is a new excitement about the city because most people are here to have large adventures. here’s a taste of what we’ve seen so far…

part of an original inca wall in the city

nice use of an old volkswagen

we've already scoped out the good coffee in town. this machine is pretty ancient and makes a great cup of espresso.

bob and i had lunch at the market today. it was a little over a dollar apiece for a bowl of rice, breaded chicken, sausage (a grilled hotdog), french fries, and an onion/tomato/cucumber salad. yum! here's a view of the set-up of the booths. you just find one with an open seat and place your order.

we decided it was time to get a few souvenirs for ourselves, so we also hit up the textile markets. bob is modeling his new poncho in the main square. it's super warm, soft (alpaca) wool. you will probably be seeing it again because he might not ever take it off!

i went for the standard 'peru' hat. it's also really warm and will come in handy with all the mountain towns we'll be living in for the next few months. fun times shopping in cuzco!

we also decided to go all out and try the $7/hour massages that were being offered all over the tourist area. we didn’t have high expectations for the cost, but both were feeling a little stiff from travel/months on the bike. so, we dove in and got one this morning. what a hilarious experience, but i will warn you, this is not for the timid or shy out there! they definitely made us feel looser, but also kind of beat us up in the process. i could only think it had to resemble a turkish massage, just not quite so violent. the ladies got up on the table to straddle us at certain points (which did help them get in a better position). but, i had to laugh when i had mine sitting on my butt at one point! the best part were the hot stones that they used and then put in my hands to warm them, as it’s pretty chilly here. i can’t say that we’ll jump to get another one, but we didn’t get hurt in the process and i do feel a little less tight. so, it was worth it to find out exactly what a $7 massage will get you.

so far cuzco has been a wonderful change of pace for us. and we are pretty excited to see bob’s dad and grandma tomorrow morning! we haven’t even started the crazy part of our adventure here. but, i think it’s a really good sign that we are enjoying every minute of it. we head to lake titicaca next and can’t wait to see what the next few days hold for us.

a whirlwind weekend back in the good ol’ u.s.a.

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i am writing this in lima peru, and bob and i were just tallying it up… i have been in four countries in THREE days! i have definitely just set my own record for lightening speed-world travel. i’m sure there are others out there who have accomplished more in that amount of time. but, i’m pretty content for that to remain my personal record, as it’s an exhausting way to try and get anywhere or see new places.

some of you reading already know that i got a rare opportunity last week to fly to washington, d.c. and surprise my sister for her birthday. this was her boyfriend, john’s, gift to her (and really, to me as well). so, i jumped at the chance to spend some much needed quality time with my sister and get a quick taste of american culture. the time spent with my sister was an incredible whirlwind of travel stories and non-stop conversation. needless to say, i had a wonderful time. here’s a visual re-cap of some of the weekend’s highlights.

this is just after i got to D.C. and walked up to lori to surprise her at the restaurant john had taken her to. it was a pretty great surprise!

we did some serious baking to prepare for lori's birthday party on saturday. these are made-from-scratch chocolate/coffee cupcakes filled with peanut butter and topped with homemade chocolate icing and peanuts. whoa! i was in a sugar coma by the end of the night. colombia likes their desserts, but they've got nothing that compares to these!

the birthday party was a (2nd annual) slumber party where lori's friends stayed and slept out on the roof terrace of her apartment building. here we are getting ready to turn in for the night.

sunrise on the roof

other than preparing for and enjoying lori’s bday party, i did a few things that i knew i should take advantage of while i was in the US for a minute. i got my hair cut, we went and saw the new wes anderson movie (loved it! go see it soon.), ate thai food, and just tried to catch up with lori and john as much as possible while we had the luxury of being face to face. all of this was lovely and completely unexpected before last week! i definitely experienced some major culture shock, after being away for 5 months. but, it was good to get a quick taste of the US before heading back into travel mode. even if what it did was remind me that i’m not quite ready to go back for good and still have a lot that i’d like to experience before i do. it kind of served as a refueling for the road that lies ahead.

so, with that… happy birthday lori and thanks again for gifting both of us a wonderful weekend, john!

 

trusting the process…

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i’m not going to pretend it’s been an easy/fun few weeks of job searching in bogota. but overall, we’ve gained experience, information and a new grasp of patience after coming down from our ever-changing daily routine as travelers. so, though we had some low moments of thinking doors were closed to us, we sat and contemplated what this meant about other doors that might newly be opened. in four weeks’ time we’ve come up with a plan b, c, d, e and then back around to b! this involved questions about how to get work, how to get certifications we thought we needed in order to work, how to stay in colombia without getting work, how to stretch what money we have left so that we can stay in south america for at least a few more months.

we started out trying to work for bilingual private schools. we trekked around the city taking our resumes and never getting past the security guards. so, we sent them via the internet and made calls. no one wanted to talk to us. we think, partially, because we actually need teaching degrees to get these jobs. so, we felt like that door was officially closed to us. we went for the next type of ‘native-english-speaker’ job, becoming ESL teachers. we looked into getting certified through an institute here, as we were assured we wouldn’t get jobs without an ESL teaching certification. it was going to be $1700 A PIECE! yikes, for a month of intensive training. then you weren’t necessarily guaranteed work. after emailing with the head of the institute and meeting with one of the teachers to get the scoop, we got the feeling that it might not actually be worth the effort: crazy working hours (like leaving your house at 4am!), minimal pay, not a lot of support, etc. etc. so, we hit a point where we weren’t even sure we wanted to try and land any of these jobs.

we have found multiple organizations in colombia and ecuador that take on volunteers to teach and help out with projects at their rural mountain schools. and we started to realize that this might be much more our style. we would be teaching english/music/arts/geography to all ages of children and living with families in the andes. the two organizations that we are considering ask for a VERY minimal weekly donation to their cause and offer so much in return. we both decided this could be the best way to finally dive fully into spanish, as the rural areas definitely don’t use much english. we would be able to teach young kids, instead of high-powered business men (huge plus for both of us, as we are exceedingly more comfortable around kids than business men). and we could learn more about rural life in colombia and ecuador. our favorite experience, hands down, on the whole trip so far was our time in the miraflor ecoreserve in nicaragua. we are thinking this might have some similar opportunities for learning and growth.

soooooo, of course, just when we think we’ve got an idea of our next four months, we both get calls  for interviews at an english teaching institute. we decided we could not pass them up. so we went and enjoyed the process of taking an english grammar test, and chatting with the academic coordinator for the institute. but, learning the pay, the hours, the clientele, we were still leaning pretty heavily toward volunteering with rural kids in the mountains. we’ll see what this next step in our adventure holds for us. for now, we’re are content to be on the ride, plan as loosely as we can, and in the end… trust the process.

what have we been doing to pass the hours in bogota, when we weren’t on the job search? well, for one thing, we’ve both discovered our favorite lunchtime meal. most restaurants here have a ‘menu del dia’ which is kind of an all inclusive, cheap ($3-5 total!) lunch option that is a ton of food. and most have very similar options, so we’ve gotten to know the choices pretty well.

my favorite…

pechuga a la plancha! this includes a huge chicken breast (pechuga), french fries, rice, plantain, salad, and soup or fruit, with the fresh juice option of the day. so, so good.

bob’s…

bandejo paisa! his is a bowl full of rice and beans, avocado, plantains, an arepa, egg, meat, and a chicharron (deep fried pig skin, yum! and super crunchy), soup, and fresh juice. doesn't he look happy?!

we’ve also gotten to know the city pretty well, walking through a lot of the neighborhoods, going to museums we hadn’t yet been to, a wine tasting expo with our friend andrea, and we’ve experimented with some new dishes in the little kitchen in our apartment. we got a chance to sneak away to the little college town of manizales last weekend. more to come on that trip and more colombian food pics too!

bogota!

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i don’t know how to add an accent mark to that last ‘a’ but put it on there.  it gives it a good ring.   instead, i just put an exclamation point.  we have totally overused the exclamation point as of late but we are a little excited about bogota and colombia as a whole.

this is bob writing by the way, and i love a good city.  i have a lot of criteria for what constitutes a good city in my book and in a very strange way bogota fulfills almost all of them.  strange is a good start to what we have been able to make of the city in the short time we have been here.  there is an endless stream of street culture here, from high brow to sleeping on the street, and everybody seems to have a level of respect for whatever rung of the proverbial ladder in which people are existing.  it is almost overwhelming but is really comforting at the same time.

bec and i stopped into a coffee shop/book store and chatted up one of the employees the other week.  he gave us a movie recommendation that seems, at least from the trailer, to give a good ‘real’ image of what bogota is.  the movie is la sociedad del semaforo. here is the link to the trailer: http://youtu.be/lpR233i8Cfk (hopefully that works) i still need to find the film in order to see it all, but the premise is about a bunch of traffic light performers who figure out how to make the traffic lights slow down a bit and therefore make more money for the performers at those specific lights.  i haven’t seen the film yet, but the trailer looks pretty cool and i think the concept is pretty intriguing and deep.

anyways, let’s get to why bogota is a cool city.  first, to keep with the movie theme, graffiti.  i never had a chance to visit nyc during the 80′s and 90′s, when a lot of people who i really respect have said that it was a little seedier but also a little better.  i kind of feel like i am getting a taste of that type of city.  there is a really great documentary bec and i watched a few years ago called style wars about the birth of graffiti in new york.  graffiti really started off on the right foot, but some taggers kind of made things stupid.  colombia doesn’t have any laws against graffiti and there seems to be a pretty high level of respect for the artists so the art stays in tact.

say what you will about graffiti, but it is everywhere in all of our lives.  we just usually see it in the form of advertisements from coca cola or some bank or cell phone company.  it’s nice to see what somebody that has enough money to buy a few cans of spray paint has to say to the rest of the world for a change.  give them the freedom and enough time and they can really make a good addition to the asthetic value of a city.  another good movie about this bec and i saw at the guatemalan film festival at bellarmine university was regreso de lencho.  

here are some other favorites we have seen so far.

the folks above all hope so

 

 

next on the list of things a city really needs in order to be a place people would like to live:  transportation and green space.  bogota has two forms of bus.  there is the type you flag down randomly in the street, which is kind of cool in its own right, and there is the transmilenio.  the bus in the street sucks because it is stuck in traffic with the rest of the gas guzzling fools.  (even on a motorcycle the traffic is terrible here, and we can drive between the cars)  the transmilenio is a different story.  it is basically a bus system that has no traffic.  they put up a concrete barrier and placed a ticketed station in the center to move a system of accordian style buses through the city.  it is basically like a subway but with very low infrastructure cost.  we have been taking it as of late and have hardly waited more than five minutes for a bus that will get us where we are going fast!

this city is littered with a plethora of parks and other types of green space.  they range from small neighborhood parks with benches, to large parks with lakes, to the parks between two roads that run for kilometers.

the parks here don’t make you forget that you are in a city, but they are a good resource to find a patch of grass.  and if you want to forget you are in a city, you can just head east a half hour or so.

 

one of the weirdest things about this city is that all of the stores that sell a particular type of product all place themselves on the same street.  it is totally bizarre to see both sides of a block selling nothing but light fixtures, or the same three types of blankets, or evrything you could ever want photocopied.  there is one section of town that specializes in motorcycles.  it makes for a really good bike wash.

at fist it seemed like this was a terrible idea because your competition is right next door, and they are selling the exact same thing.  then one day, i was at a motorcycle shop and i wanted to change my oil while i was there.  they had nothing to do this, but their friend down the street did and he kindly lent his oil pan to them.  i don’t know if this same principle works for the light fixture shop but it is nice to see people working together, rather than trying to beat the competition.  it seems like in the value rankings, making money factors a little lower than family or community.

moving on with the list, the arts and nightlife.  there is no shortage of art, music, and places to get your drink on here.  most of the installed artwork keeps with a lot of latin american themes and is really great.  there are some great museums here and a lot of good art scattered through coffee shops and such.  music is everywhere and colombia has some really deep rooted styles of their own that have influences from around the world.  it is the heart of cumbia and you can hear a million different interpretations of how to use the beat.  on my soundcloud page i have posted one street recording from a group i have stumbled upon a few times.  i’ll get to posting some other recordings here soon.  you can always drink while catching a show, but there are some great mellow bars here too.  we finally visited one bar i had my eye on for a while, el viejo almacen (the old warehouse/grocer/grocery store).  i really liked it.  dark and kind of cramped.  a few older folks ran it and played nothing but a bunch of old tango music on 78s.  the drinks weren’t too expensive either.

and last but not least, the problems.  no city would be complete without a set of disparities and problems.  i know i have painted a pretty rosy picture of bogota, but i will definitely say that a lot of travelers we have come across in other parts of the country want nothing to do with this city.  they think it is dirty, cold, dangerous, and polluted.  they may be right about a lot of that (i would argue pretty hard against the dangerous part) but it is also a city, and a growing one at that.  there are a lot of great people here who are creative and also really nice and helpful.  there are a lot of ways to keep yourself occupied and interested.  we’ll see if anything pans out to keep us here longer than the month and a half that we have had.  it’s looking kind of doubtful, but in a good way, so far.  (more of that to come in following posts) one thing for sure is that the time we have had here has been good.  and if we have more, there will be plenty to get into and explore.

millonarios vs. santa fe

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saturday started out to be pretty uneventful. we slept in, made some breakfast at the apartment, and piddled around while discussing what we wanted to do in the city that afternoon. we remembered that there was a venezuelan youth orchestra playing at the national university for free. so, that quickly became the center of our plans. we walked down to a different neighborhood to catch the transmilenio and were on our way with plenty of time to wander the university before the concert began.

while we were on the bus we realized that we’d be only one stop from the soccer stadium, el campin. making it to a latin american professional soccer game has been on our list since we started this trip. we just haven’t stayed in one place long enough to know when and where they are happening. but, bogota is different. there are two professional teams locally and many in the country. we actually tried to go to a game when emily was visiting, but apparently it was one of the biggest games of the year and was sold out by the night of the match. so, we made a split-second decision to stay on the bus and ask about when the next game would take place at the stadium before walking back to the concert. as we pulled up to the stadium stop, we discovered that the next game might be sooner than later.

there were cops at every entrance, on every tier and at the exits to the transmilenio. so, we hoped that maybe we had gotten lucky and there was a game that very night. not ten seconds after we descended the ramp from the bus station did we get approached by a guy in a very official looking millionarios jacket (one of the local teams) who asked if we needed tickets. because he looked so official and i am the most gullible person in the world, i said, ‘yes.’ and we started up a conversation. i asked where we should buy them and how much. he started walking us down to the center of the stadium and said he could sell us tickets for $13 apiece. (this did not seem unreasonable). then he took the two tickets out of his jacket and said we’d pay when we got to the entrance.

bob immediately felt sketched out and stopped for a second to try to get a handle on what was happening. the guy was very reassuring. he showed us our seat numbers on the tickets and after another moment’s hesitation we were being escorted into the VIP section of the stadium by the police who were manning that entrance. we hadn’t paid a dime yet, though. so, we were shown our seats. they were in the government section in the little glassed in boxes that very few people are allowed into. we were dumbfounded as to what had just happened and how quickly it had. but, we decided they were legitimate enough to get us in, so we tried to just enjoy the fact that we were going to see a real, live professional soccer game.

our seats in the VIP box. they are bad pictures, but I wanted to provide visuals.

but, we were way too early. the stadium was still deserted and we were stuck in the VIP section. so, we asked if we could leave and come back in an hour and were allowed out. so, the guy in the official jacket was waiting for us when we got out (duh). and walked down the street with us for a minute. that’s when we had to pay him. he knew all the security guards, so we were guessing that he normally got courtesy VIP tickets to sell on the street. we decided that $13 was fine and payed him. then went in search of a pre-game beer. the next street over was a side street to the stadium and there were tons of young santa fe (the other local team) fans hanging out waiting for the start of the game. we found a tiny pizza place and sat down for a beer before heading back. at one point we were the only people in the restaurant and the owner asked if we were going to the game. then he gave us a five minute long lecture about how all the kids hanging around wanted to rob us and that games were super dangerous, especially this game, which was between the two local rivals. he even started pointing out the teens on the street and saying, ‘him, see? he smokes marijuana.’

we weren’t sure what to make of it, but after drinking one beer we decided it was better to get back to our seats before the fans headed for the stadium. (oh, he also informed us that no alcohol is sold inside the stadium. what!? that was a blow to our american-ized understanding of sports. but we realized it must be for the better.) so, we left feeling a little bit like targets after the man had made us feel certain we would be robbed.

not surprisingly, nothing happended on our way back to the stadium. we got to our seats and some folks had started to trickle in. the game itself was great! totally dramatic and the fans on either far end of the stadium (where the cheap seats were) did not stop chanting and jumping up and down the entire game. there were 12+ yellow cards given and 4 red cards! by the end we started to fear for the center ref’s life. but, we decided that surely he got an escort out, given how many police were there. nobody won. the final score was 1-1, due to a penalty kick in the 90th minute of the game (the last one, for the non-soccer fans)! i told you it was dramatic. two of the red cards were given right before he blew the final whistle. and for the last 20 minutes of the game the announcer kept repeating that the santa fe fans were going to be allowed to leave first and then the millionario fans could leave 15 minutes later. we started to realize why it was a poorly attended match. apparently fights were a given with this rivalry, the two local teams. so, once again we geared up for chaos when we left the stadium. (oh, the VIP sections gets to leave whenever they damn well please, no matter what side they are on.)

the teams: millonarios, blue and santa fe, red. only in bogota will the cheerleaders find a clever way to put umbrellas into their routine.

bad picture of the millonarios fans in the cheap seats. they were so loud we had no trouble hearing them through our glass box.

the police line had posted up well before the game began. and they were finally needed in the last minutes to keep each side from pummeling the other (while they were still inside the stadium).

so, we headed out toward the transmienio station, which was right outside but just over a pedestrian bridge. we started out for one side of the station, but on seeing 10 mounted policemen, we decided not to go in their direction. so, we headed the other way mixing in with a bunch of santa fe fans headed for the bus as well. and once we were on top of the pedestrian bridge we realized why the horses made us walk the other way. at the back side of the stadium a rush of santa fe fans all started running at something we couldn’t see (we’re guessing the millionarios fans) and motorcycle cops, cops on foot, and the horse mounted cops all made a bee-line for the chaos. it was wild. we, along with everyone else on the bridge, stopped to take in the scene for a minute, until the cops monitering that area shooed us on through the station. WOW! what a crazy night. it appears we happened upon the most riotous game we could have chosen to attend. and our adrenaline was pumping well after we got off at our stop. the thing we realized, though, was that you decide if you want to be a part of the chaos. otherwise you can just watch it unfold from your perch above the street with all the other non-violent, sober (remember) soccer fans.

 

the search is on

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it’s been a busy week here in bogota. now that we are decidedly trying to find jobs in the city we’ve been revising our resumes, visiting schools, checking the paper and internet… whew. we had almost forgotten how the job search feels since it’s been a few years since either of us have gone through the process. and as (most likely) all of you know, it sucks. but, it has been positive in other ways. we have started to learn how to navigate through the city (on bike and on public transportation). we scored a cheap apartment for the month of june through air b&b, in which we are living with a wonderful older couple who are helping us practice our spanish and giving us advice on where to look for jobs. we bought groceries the other day and even have a little bin in the kitchen that is all our own for storing our things. (big, big deal when you’ve been on the road for 4 and a 1/2 months!)

we’re trying to be gentle with ourselves in getting back into the stress of job searching after being in a completely different head space for months. so, over the weekend we took off for the little town of villa de leyva (we’ve been there once before) to get in some fresh air and excercise away from the city. it was just what we needed to recharge before heading back for another week of putting ourselves out there.

while we were there, we took advantage of the easy access to some pretty incredible hiking. we walked straight down the road from our hostel and then for about 2 and a 1/2 hours straight up into the mountains. once we reached the top, we ended up in a valley that led to more, higher mountains. we were done with our climb, but the valley held a tiny community of farmers and made for some beautiful views of the surrounding hills.

as we have become colombian coffee junkies, we thought it was time to show you one of the typical machines we see it made from. this one was in villa de leyva in a tiny corner store that also sold pepsi, box wine, and potato chips. i especially love the eagle perched on the top which makes it so much more fancy than it already was. yay for good coffee!

we camped at the same hostel again and started to feel quite at home with the staff. when we told them that we were trying to live in bogota they all were excited and asked us to make their town our weekend getaway. as cheap and convenient (and beautiful) as it is, that won’t be a hard order to fill.

so, we’re back in the city churning out the resumes and waiting to see if anything happens. in order to not make ourselves crazy with this process, we’ve added daily walks into our routine to scope out potential neighborhoods for apartment hunting. the one we visited today had a very authentic indian restaurant, which upped it’s chances of becoming our new home.  (colombians aren’t big on spicy food).  here are a few shots of our home for the month of june…

it's got lots of big windows, so it's nice and sunny during the day

the cute, small kitchen where we have been pretty happy to find more than one knife, a cutting board, options for skillet sizes and so much more!

here's bob hard at work on job searching in our room

there's a maid who comes on wednesdays, and stays all day to do laundry, clean the heck out of the place and even rearrange the furniture (apparently a hobby of hers). maids seem pretty common here and also seem to be like a part of the family. there's no dryer in the house, so this is the state of the laundry area once she's done. i actually think it's kind of pretty with so many different colors. :)

and it's back to the electric shower. i don't think i've ever showed one of these. they aren't too bad because they at least guarantee hot water, even if it comes out at not much more than a trickle. i can't tell you how much better that is than a cold shower in chilly weather. (sorry it's blurry)

so there’s the state of life for us in bogota right now. some days we think it would have been easier to keep traveling because we had gotten good at that routine. but, we know that if we can find work and a way to settle here for awhile that our current state of limbo will definitely be worth it. wish us luck and we’ll keep you posted if we get any leads.  here’s hoping!

 

colombia, who knew!?

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so we’re back in bogota but it has a bit of a different feel this week. mainly because bob and i have made a pretty huge trip decision… we heart colombia! we’ve spent  four weeks in colombia, in and out of the city as our respective guests arrived and left. and, from the first week there was a little voice in both our heads saying, “maybe you don’t need to leave.” well, the longer we’ve stayed in the country and the more we’ve discussed the pros to trying to make it here, we really started to come up short on reasons to leave.

so, what are we doing this week that feels different than the others: WORK! haha. we have been in a whirlwind of resume revision, short-term apartment hunting, bilingual school hunting (for job opps), and conversations with family and friends about our decision. the pluses are endless… colombia has a good economy right now, they are a country who wants to learn english and still don’t have hundreds flocking in to teach it, it is the most gorgeous place we’ve been so far, vacation possibilities are endless, we actually have friends here (ALREADY!!), and one of the biggest bonuses is that the plane tickets from/to the US are truly affordable. that’s a pretty huge bonus, since we’d like to see our family and friends in the next year. and as my brother put it, they won’t have to sell a car to afford a plane ticket down here. argentina was not going to be quite so economical.

so there you have it. our big trip decision. when we set out on this trip we left with the goal of finding a place to relocate for awhile where we could learn about a new way of daily life, learn spanish, and gain some international job skills. we had planned to go all the way to argentina. but, part of what we learned along the way was that we missed being able to interact with people on a more meaningful level. passing through city after city was not the best way to achieve these interactions, and i think it started to wear on us. but, colombia has been a boon of new social interactions, the possibility of friends in a big and lively city, and a revival of our desire to really learn spanish (not just travel spanish). if we don’t find work, we’ll of course be moving on (or back, if the money runs out). but, we didn’t want to live with the regret of leaving bogota before we made the effort to create a life here for a minute.

now, some visual reasons to love colombia…

coffee!! it truly is some of the best in the world. and when you order it 'con leche' even the little corner stores have a milk frother. they take their coffee very seriously here.

mountain views everywhere! they are some of the prettiest views i've seen in my whole life.

jugo!! fresh-squeezed exotic juices are the other beverage of choice here. and i don't think i'll ever get tired of them.

did i mention beautiful mountain views already? well, here's another one.

motos rule the road in bogota (as long as they can fit!) this is emily and matt on our way back into the city during her visit. it's a little wild, but once you get used to it you realize why half the city drives motos instead of cars.

 

niki!

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we are tired. we’ve had visitors for two weeks straight now. and, when faced with the task of cramming as much of colombia into one week as possible (while having the convenience of a motorcycle to get you around) we obviously overdid it. twice. but, the driving from bogota to a small western mountain town, called salento, was some of the best we’ve had on the whole trip. we were so bound and determined to give niki an authentic out-of-the-big-city experience that we didn’t take much time to break her into our riding style. so, her first day of riding was a full 7 hours of windy, windy roads and breathtaking views.

 

our lunch stop on the way to salento.

heading into the coffee region. nothing but hills and more steep hills of coffee plants!

the view from our bed on our first morning in salento.

horseback riding fun! we rode all the way down into the valley, through a river, and back up. it was definitely worth the sore butts we had for the next few days. and we even got a glimpse of a real colombian cowboy galloping along one of the surrounding hills.

 

bob trying his luck at crossing a very rickety foot bridge. he made it across and back in one piece, thankfully! my legs were too wobbly from riding a horse to even want to try it myself.

we did some hiking in the beautiful cocora valley. the tree in the center is the cocora tree. it's the national tree of colombia and they can grow to be 50 meters high (150 feet!).

we saw the most beautiful scenery of our entire trip, so far, on the drive back from salento. the pictures don't quite capture the depth but hopefully you get somewhat of an idea. every turn we made on the road opened up to new, overwhelming scenes of valleys that went on for days and jagged, vibrantly green mountain peeks. we are definitely driving back down this road in the near future.

me trying to get a good shot of niki with the mountains behind her. it was a difficult task to get the layers and layers of ridges that seemed to never end.

we said goodbye to niki on sunday and then took a full day off to rest from our whirlwind two weeks of visitors. it's hard to get an impression of a country in only one week. and we didn't even know what we were heading into with our visitors as we had never been to the towns ourselves. but, i think niki got a pretty amazing taste of the beauty and diversity of colombia. and now we have some must-see spots for anyone wanting to check it out!

emily!

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we had a whirlwind week with emily. and for her first motorcycle adventure ever, i’d say it was a pretty good introduction! we saw the sights in bogota, did some day trips into the mountains, and then headed down into the central valley for some warmer weather. it’s really interesting to host someone in a city that isn’t your own. but, bob and i got a better handle on the city after navigating by ourselves for a few days. here are photos from our week with emily.

emily and bob strolling through the city

gearing up for her first ride

we watched a 3D movie during our visit to the salt cathedral, an underground cathedral created in an old salt mine. it was interesting but a little theme-parkish. 3D movies are always fun, though.

the dixons in their gear

in a cable car heading up to cerro monserrate, a great overlook of the city

the view from the top just as it was getting dark. we picked a perfect time of day for heading up the hill. we got and beautiful sunset and got a glimpse of the city as it came alive at night.

the whole crew on our ride to the valley.

 

the pictures could go on and on. but, i think this is sufficient to show that we had a week packed with activities and motorcycle adventures. emily took to being a passenger really quickly. and as far as we know, had a great time seeing the sights in colombia with us. we really enjoyed having a guest and getting a week full of social time. we’re resting up today to have more motorcycle colombia adventures with our friend niki who just arrived. we are really excited to have a louisville friend in town and we’re heading out to a different part of the country later this week to soak in as much of this beautiful country as possible.

villa de leyva

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in order to escape the city for a few days before bob’s sister emily arrived, we headed north through the countryside to a small colonial town called villa de leyva. lots of colombians and tourists alike told us it was a must see place. the ride there was pretty spectacular itself. the valleys are expansive here and you can see miles and miles of mountainside farms and lush green hills. we took a few pictures in route, but the camera really doesn’t do the view justice.

we got into villa de leyva late in the afternoon and quickly found ourselves on the rough cobblestone streets typical of the city center of an old colonial town. these were huge stones, and a litttle tricky to maneuver, but we made it through town and found the hostel we were looking for just up the hill from the city center. they had camping available and a pretty nice common space. so, we jumped at the chance to save some money while still getting use of a bathroom and kitchen.

our campsite at sunset with a great view of the valley and mountains surrounding the town

the main plaza was expansive

the four nights we spent in villa de leyva went by in a flash. we kept pretty busy and also enjoyed the company of some travelers from all over the world at the hostel (south africa, the netherlands, argentina, belgium, colorado). it was a great place to practice our spanish, too, because most folks were trying to stick to spanish there. we feel like we are finally improving on that front. so, we get excited at the chance to chat with folks whenever we can.

we hiked to a waterfall in the area just above our hostal

a view of the valley from the highest point in our hike

we've been working hard to try all the different fresh juices here. there are SO many to try. at this restaurant we liked the green one, called feijoa, the best.

we rented bikes one day and had fun riding the rough gravel roads around the area. the trip back to the hostel was all uphill, though. so it wasn't nearly as fun as the trip down.

we stopped at a winery for a break from the bikes and ended up loving the wine. we were impressed as we hadn't heard much about colombian wine.

bob was feeling a little dramatic at the winery.

we headed back to the city yesterday to await emily’s arrival. but, we stopped in a little town called chia for the afternoon to meet our friend andrea for lunch. it turned into an entire afternoon of events: lunch in the historic center of town, an adventurous car ride with her brother and cousins up to a church overlooking the city, and then we stopped by a dairy factory where they had a grocery store full of milk products and desserts. colombians like to eat. we got a huge day of spanish practice with andrea and her family. and by the end of it we were brain-dead and had a long drive of bumper-to-bumper city traffic to deal with in order to get back into bogota. but, we made it. we found a hostel and are anxiously awaiting emily’s arrival this evening. we’re so excited to have another visitor and to explore more of colombia with her!

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