5 Questions to Serve As Your Compass to Success 

Have you ever heard the saying that you are the summation of the five people you spend the most time with? That these five people affect your perspective, your habits and the way you generally live your life, so you should take care as to who you have “in your circle”? 

As I travel, I change my surroundings every few days, so I don’t have a set group influencing me, but even so, when I find myself in the company of those who do not have the same values or lifestyle I deem important I take notice and I take care, because you can walk the line for some time, but if you cross over from good habits to bad, it’s an effort to get back on track. 

I recently was staying with a kind family in Colombia, and although they were nice, I found myself slipping into their way of life: late nights and late mornings, overeating and eating out, and simply existing versus making the most of my precious and valuable time on this planet. 

A blessing and a curse of mine is that I can be a chameleon and adapt to my surroundings very easily. I am a “go with the flow” type of person, so the path of least resistance was to join their way of life. I found myself frustrated from time to time, but I reminded myself that this situation wasn’t permanent, and I tried to take my personal choices when possible which lead me down the healthy lifestyle path that makes me happy. 

During this time, I read a quote which really spoke to me, “Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.” It was simple yet profound and it reminded me that I am in control of my life, my goals, my outcome, and if I want to be successful and happy I need to actively take these things into my own hands. 

When I think of things that determine whether or not I will have a successful day or life, a few things come to mind. Below are 5 quick questions outlining the general aspects to use as a “compass” for life’s decisions. Take a read and keep them in mind. You might just find them useful as well. 

*How do you start your day? 

The way we start our day has an impact on our outlook and our overall productivity. Are you starting your mornings early and on a positive note? Meditation, exercise and a healthy breakfast with at least one cup of coffee, that’s how I like to start mine. 

  


*What kind of food do you eat? 

You know that saying “you are what you eat”? It is true. The things we put in our bodies act as our fuel for life. Are you getting your greens, or is your life made up of processed sugars and carbs, prepared and packaged by someone else? 

  

*Who do you surround yourself with? 

Are the people around you fountains of inspiration, or do they drain you of your natural energy and enthusiasm? It is important to consider this because your energy in life matters, and those you share it with can also reflect it back to you. If you’re around people who are negative black holes, then you will find yourself constantly giving without getting any positive feedback in the process, and that is just plain draining. 

   

*Are you on the path to achieving your dreams? 

Is what you’re doing helping you put one foot in front of the other to bring you closer to your dreams? If not, is what you’re doing really worth your time? Sometimes we have responsibilities which we need to take care of, and other times we are just in a rut because we’re doing what we think is expected of us. Think twice before you continue blindly doing what you have always done. Is it bringing you one step closer to your happiest self? 

  

*Have you learned something new? 

Keep your eyes and ears open. Observe. Let the world be your teacher. Whether it’s about yourself, someone else, or things that are going on or have happened in the world, it’s important to continuously learn and expand our minds. 

  

There you have it. Life is short, live it well, and let these 5 questions serve as your compass to success. 

What I Learned From Love, Loss and Moving Forward 

I remember one year ago exactly, I was laying on my floor in Costa Rica, in a pile of my clothes, packing up my life and crying my heart out. 

I remember thinking about the saying, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” and thinking that whoever said that was crazy; that heartbreak was the worst pain I had ever felt and that I would never wish it on my worst enemy. 

I also remember thinking about the saying, “If you love something, set it free, and if it comes back it was meant to be.” I knew I was being released because someone loved me enough to let me go; to let me fly and achieve my dreams. I also knew deep down that I couldn’t stay in Costa Rica without first pursuing my dream of world travel. 

But holy sh*t did it hurt like hell to leave a life I loved. 

Flash forward one year. I’m here to tell you that life goes on! Time heals wounds

Sure, heartbreak is still the worst pain I have ever felt, and I still wouldn’t wish it oh my worst enemy, but I now agree that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. 

I learned so much from that love that has helped me to become a better person, and I have taken this on to share with others

I learned compassion, for both myself and others. I learned to look at the world with open eyes and embrace the beautiful flaws. And when it comes to my own imperfections, I remember that if someone out there could love those things about me, then I should certainly love them too. 

I learned to relish the moments of cultural exchange, where I can teach and learn and grow from each interaction. 

I learned that having a childlike curiosity keeps you both interested and interesting. Ask questions. You start to realize you don’t know what you don’t know. It keeps you in a state where you are constantly learning and growing. 

I learned to care for my health, and to develop my spirituality. Both of these have served as beacons which guide me in the best direction for my life. 

I learned to flourish in a life of Spanglish, which in turn opened up a whole new sector of the world. 

I learned to help others, and to give and to give, and to give some more. 

I learned to never settle. There are people out there who help you to be the best you can be. Seek them out and hold yourself up to these standards.
I learned so much from that love, and for that, I will be eternally grateful

Eventually, I was able to pick myself back up, dust myself off, pat myself on the back and continue on down my own trail. Did I look back? Yes, far too many times. But now I am looking forward again, and as the song says, the future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades

  

10 Reasons to Come to Colombia

When I first came to Colombia I had no idea what to expect. I knew that it would be my gateway to traveling South America, and I had a few sights on my “Amazing Places” list that resided in this country, but after a month and a half of traveling this spectacular country all I have to say is: Pack your bags and make Colombia your next destination! It is amazing.

Colombia is a country that should not be missed, and after reading this list of 10 reasons to come to Colombia, you will understand why…

1. The scenery 
Colombian scenery is breathtaking, no matter if you’re walking around a colorful old colonial town, hiking in the jungle, relaxing at the beach, or simply driving from one city to another through the layers of mountains.
Santa Barbara Colombia

2. The people 
Colombians are some of the happiest, friendliest and most attractive people I have met in all my travels! Try speaking a little Spanish with them and it will get you a long way…Otherwise, just smile, and they will smile back at you. English is still developing here as tourism starts to kick off, so you will benefit greatly if you brush up on the basics of Spanish before you visit. Try using an app like DuoLingo, or read this article for more tips on learning a language.
Silvia Market

3.There is always something to celebrate 
In one month I witnessed at least three “holidays”, which always fall on a Monday to give people a long weekend. I absolutely love that concept! The funny thing is, a lot of the time people don’t even know what the holiday is- they just know that they have the day off work, so why not live it up and celebrate? I like that concept too… Happy EVERY Day in Colombia! Santa Elena Feria de las Flores

4. The fresh fruits are phenomenal 
I thought that I had been exposed to plentiful exotic fruits after two years of living in Costa Rica, but Colombia raised the bar to my standards once again. You can indulge in delicious fruits morning, noon, and night, whether they’re fresh from a tree, fresh from the market, or freshly squeezed. Just make sure you don’t go “giving papaya”, aka making yourself or your objects an easy target.
Colombian fruit

5. The dancing culture
Even if you don’t think you like to dance, you should still take a lesson while traveling in Colombia. Whether it be a professional lesson, or some tips from the man at the corner bar, you will be surprised at how much fun you have as you sway your hips and spin around to the Latin tunes that pump through the air. Delirio Colombia

6. The nature 
As mentioned above, Colombia has it all, from beaches to mountains, from oceans to rivers to waterfalls and even some hot desert land. If you like to get lost in the nature, there are plentiful opportunities to get out there and explore. A few of my personal favorites have been Minca, a cloud forest with rivers and waterfalls, Tayrona National Park, tucked in to the jungle and located along the aquamarine beaches of the Caribbean and Valle de Cocora, a mountainous meadow speckled with sky-high Palm trees that make you feel as though you just stepped into the world of Dr. Seuss.
Valle de Cocora

7. The flowers 
Colombia is covered with flower farms, from roses to hydrangeas to carnations and beyond, and if you’re a flower enthusiast, or you simply want to experience life in the country, then take a trip to one of these spectacular farms and let yourself be wowed. IMG_0084

8. The prices 
Colombia is just getting started with tourism, so it is the perfect time to take a visit. Many places are familiarizing themselves with the needs and desires of tourists, but the place hasn’t been completely exploited yet, and the prices are half what you would pay in other countries. Think $2-8 for a really lush local restaurant meal, and $1-10 for many excursions.
Colombian soup

9. The coffee
It is seriously the best I have ever tasted. You can drink it “tinto” which is black, or “pintada” which is with milk. Oftentimes they will add natural panela sugar cane to the mix without consulting you first, but it adds a delicious twist to the flavor of the coffee. You can also tour coffee plantations, which are typically located in the beautiful mountainous regions. The oldest operating coffee plantation in Colombia, La Victoria, can be visited on a trip to Minca. It is still running with the hydropower of the nearby river, and German owner Mickey has quite a story about regaining control of the plantation from the guerrilla back in the 80s, if you’re lucky enough to meet and speak with him over a cup of complimentary coffee. Colombian Coffee

10. The colorful cities
Colombia is a country with dozens of quaint cities bursting with color. You can spend hours walking the streets “oooh”ing and “ahhh”ing over the spectacular colors of the doors, window frames, and the beautiful combinations of one house next to another. A few of my favorite places to wander the streets were Guatape, Salento and Cartagena. Colorful Cartagena

There you have it. 10 reasons to come to Colombia. Now it’s up to you to come see for yourself.

19 Surprising Things About Colombia Which You Probably Didn’t Know…Until Now

Before I came to Colombia, I didn’t know too much about this incredible country. In the nearly two months I spent traveling around, I was constantly exposed to something new, whether it be an interesting phrase, a fact about a new place, or simply something I considered odd, but was really common place in the day-to-day life of Colombians. I wanted to share some surprising things about Colombia which I learned along the way, to give you a heads up for when you visit this amazing place!

1. “Don’t Give Papaya” is an expression Colombians use to say don’t make yourself an easy target. “Close your purse! Don’t give papaya!”

2. “Monas” and “Monos” are people with lighter colored hair.

3. Toilet paper is usually found outside the bathroom stalls, and typically there are no toilet seats.

4. “Chivas” are open-sided colorful school-bus shaped busses which are packed with either people or cargo.
Chiva bus in Colombia

5. In the 90s, Medellin was known as the “Murder Capital of the World”, and in 2012 it was voted “Most Innovative City in the World”. It is inspirational to see how far the people and the city have come. Age of Terror Colombia

6. “A la orden” is a saying you will hear over and over as you walk past or enter shops. It essentially means that they are there to serve you.

7. Yogurt is so liquidy that it’s always drinkable, and there is something similar to yogurt called “kumi” which is worth a try.

8. You will see signs all over the place for “minutos” and there will be telephones with chains attached to a cart, or a person wearing a vest. Colombian payphones

9. “Cuántos cuotas?” is something you will be asked if you pay with credit card. They are asking over what period of time you would like to pay off the bill.

10. Hot dogs are very popular, and often they are eaten sliced and out of a pop-top tin can.

11. Cigarettes are available for individual purchase in many corner stores. Cigarettes for sale

12. Hot chocolate is a popular morning drink, and is served in a bowl which you drink out of.

13. A special treat is to have hot chocolate, or “agua panela” with a piece of queso (cheese) in it, which you eat with your spoon as it starts to melt.

14. Arepas, round cornflower tortilla-but-thicker things, are a staple part of the meals. They are typically eaten with eggs (huevos pericos = eggs with diced up tomato and onion) or cheese for breakfast, and sometimes come with soup. Arepa con queso

15. Soup is included as part of your meal with a typical lunch or dinner, and comes before the main plate.

16. There is a famous artist from Medellin, Fernando Botero, who makes all his figures chubby, but he preferred to call them “voluptuous”. Fernando Botero

17. Valle de Cocora is the only place in the world where you can find the towering wax palm trees, Colombia’s National Tree.
Valle de Cocora

18. Colombia is known as a “world in one country” because they have access to both the Caribbean and Pacific Oceans, and you can find nearly any type of weather and landscape here, from mountains, to deserts, to beaches and rivers and waterfalls. It is phenomenal!

19. Colombia’s slogan for tourism is that the “only risk is that you won’t want to leave'”… And it’s true. Colombia is amazing! What are you waiting for? Come check it out now :) Santa Barbara Colombia

 

Don’t Get Pissed, Get Polished – 5 Tips for Overcoming the Blues

Anyone who has ever traveled knows that in order to experience the amazing highs that come with exploring a new place, you have to go through some really frustrating times as well. There are some days where everyone talks too fast, walks too slow, and you find yourself feeling lost and going in circles. It’s on these days that you want to throw your hands up and go back to the home you know, the people you love, and say,  “Screw it, I’ve seen enough.” But then you find an off-the-beaten path gem, a stranger smiles at you, and you remember why you decided to follow your bodacious dream to see the world.
On the days that you find yourself feeling melancholic and the world seems to be a bit lackluster, step outside of yourself. Adjust your attitude. Remind yourself that you have a precious human life, and you’re not going to waste it. As this fantastic quote by Rumi says, “If you’re irritated by every rub, how will you ever be polished?” Keep this in mind, and when the day isn’t going your way don’t get pissed, get polished.
Here are some things I try to do to improve my mood when I feel myself walking down a dark path of loneliness, contempt or self-pity. These are things we can all do, whether we are traveling or just having a bad day at home.
1. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and remember that whatever negative thing you’re feeling- it will pass, if you let it. You’re in charge of how you feel. Choose positivity. Find the bright side of things. Did you just step in shit? Well, as Forrest Gump says, sometimes it happens.

Tayrona National Park

 2. Exercise yourself into a better state of mind. Sweat out your worries, increase your endorphins, and strengthen your body in the process. Whether you’re counting your squats or push-ups, focusing on your breath during yoga, or trying not to trip while running down the sidewalk, your mind will be busy.

Beach exercise

3. Smile. Smile at yourself in a reflection. Smile at a stranger and see their reaction. Smile to the sun and remember that life is good. And if you’re crying, smile. Be happy you’re not a heartless robot.

Tayrona National Park

 4. Find a quiet place, preferably with green space. Breathe the life of the plants. Admire their beautiful details and remember that we are all connected. Whatever you’re going through, you’re not alone.

Minca Colombia

5. Pick up trash. You’ll distract yourself and make the world a better place at the same time. At least if you’re feeling worthless you will be doing something worthwhile. And smile. :) Remember, one person can make a difference.

Oropendola nests

At the end of the day, try not to let every rub hit you the wrong way; allow yourself to become polished. You’re only as happy as you make up your mind to be, so put a few of these tips to the test and see if you can turn your frown upside down.
Happy happy.

Minca Colombia is a Must See for Nature Lovers

Just 45 minutes outside of Santa Marta, Minca is an experience not to be missed. With the rolling tree covered hillsides, plentiful flora and fauna, and refreshing rivers and waterfalls, Minca is a nature lover’s paradise.

World's Largest Hammock Casa Elemento

 After spending nearly a week in the colorful coastal town of Cartagena, hiking along the beautiful beaches in Tayrona National Park and exploring the historical city of Santa Marta, I needed a break from the heat. I set out towards Calle 11 where I caught a 4 person “collectivo” group jeep taxi for $7000 pesos each.
The 45 minute ride out of Santa Marta and up into the mountains of Minca flew by as I shared travel tips and stories with some “travel brahs” from England and an Australian girl. The Brits were going to Casa Elemento and I decided to go to Casa Loma with the Aussie. It was a steep 20 minute hike up a path behind the town’s church, to the right. I had brought all my belongings, so I was loaded down. When I finally got to the top, I dropped my bag, and gratefully accepted the glass of water that was handed to me. Then I turned around and reveled in the breathtaking view that stretched out before me.

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 My first night in Minca consisted of one of the oddest gatherings I have ever attended, but my next two days were just what I was looking for.

Carpa Roja

 As I came down for coffee the next morning, I selected an open seat next to a guy studying Spanish. I had intended to do some work of my own, but soon we were talking, and I came to find out he was from Iran and his mom owned a flower shop and taught floral design classes there. That certainly caught my attention! Then I found out he had been traveling South America for the past two years, and he was chock full of advice on places to see and explore. How cool! I tell you, when you’re traveling, everything and nothing happens by chance.

Minca

 My new Iranian friend had already hiked to one waterfall that morning, and was setting off for another in a few minutes with a French couple. I liked his energy, and happily accepted his offer to join them. The next two days were full of exploration in nature, swimming in rivers, eating fruit from alongside the road, hiking to miradors and checking out all sorts of unique hammocks and coffee plantations along the way.

Colombian Flowers

 If you have two days in Minca, and like to hike, check out these two options. If you get tired along the way you can always cut a hike short or hail a motorbike or taxi in the road- nearly all will be open to driving you to where you need to go for 20,000 pesos or less.

Pozo Azul

 Day 1– Set off for Pozo Azul and spend the day hiking up the river, stopping to sun yourself on the rocks and swim along the way.

Pozo Azul

 All locals can point you in the direction of Pozo Azul, and it’s probably a 30-45 minute walk up the road from the central area in town where all the colectivos and motorbikes wait. The trail is off the main road, and when you reach a restaurant on the side of the road there will be a sign. Pozo Azul is free to enter, and many locals go there to picnic and jump off the rocks on weekends.

Pozo Azul

 We hiked up the river, past the jumping point, and kept going and going until we hit one final, powerful, gorgeous waterfall. With each step we took there were less people and the scenery got even better. It was an awesome way to spend the day, watching birds and butterflies and the wind in the trees, swimming when we got hot, and absorbing the heat from the rocks when we got cold. Make sure to bring food and water so you don’t have to leave due to hunger setting in.

Pozo Azul

 There is a trail along one side of the river, which we took to speed up our walk back. If you would prefer to take that right from the start, it is to the right of the river as you approach it, and it says “Minca Aqueduct”. Technically you’re not supposed to go there…but some rules are meant to be broken. 😉

Pozo Azul

 Day 2– Wake up with the sun and set off hiking for Mirador de Los Pinos, a beautiful lookout point at the top of the mountains. To get there, walk past the church along the same road you would take to get to “the waterfall”. It’s a beautiful walk, with lots of bird sitings and trees providing shade the whole way. There are also dozens of fruit trees lining the road, and we indulged in mangos, jocotes, guava, mandarins, and some other pod-like fruit during the climb.

Colombian fruit

 About 45 minutes after leaving the center of Minca you will come to “the waterfall” or “la cascada”. There’s a 3000 peso cover if someone is attending the entrance, and the waterfall is tall, beautiful and refreshing, but there isn’t much of a swimming hole. We were short on time, so kept hiking, but if you love waterfalls and have the time it’s worth a stop to cool off before continuing on with your hike.

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 After approximately 2 hours, if you’re taking it slow, you will start to see signs for “Casa Elemento“, which means you’re almost there. When you get to Casa Elemento, pause and relax in the World’s Largest Hammock. Maybe have some breakfast or a cup of coffee, and ask them if they’ll draw you a map to Los Pinos and La Victoria. If you’re feeling too exhausted to continue, you can always have them call you a motorcycle as well.

World's Largest Hammock

 If you’re fit to go on, Los Pinos is another 15 minutes up the hill, always keeping to the left, and walking through a coffee plantation. If you’re lucky, and the season is right, you will encounter delicious “mora” or black berries along the way.

Mora

 When you finally get to Los Pinos you will feel so accomplished! It’s a spectacular view, and the tall pine trees at the top provide shade and add a freshness to the air that, when mixed with the breeze, is pure bliss.

Mirador Los Pinos

 If you want to turn this walk into a loop, rather than retracing your steps, continue on down the road for another hour or so until you come to La Victoria, on the right hand side. Stop here to learn the history of the oldest operating coffee plantation in Colombia. We didn’t take the tour, but we had the most delicious sandwich ever, and ended up talking to the German property owner, Mickey, who told us about how he came to negotiate with the Guerrilla back in the 80s to get this property back after they took it over from his parents, who bought it in the 50s.

Minca

The coffee is free, the food is phenomenal, and the Nevada Cerveceria is there, brewing its “Happy Jaguar” and “Happy Toucan” in the old chapel on site. Despite being tucked away in the mountains, over 24,000 tourists have been registered here in the two short years that they have been keeping track of their visitors. It is such a cool place to visit.

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After walking the property, you could grab a bite and a beer and recharge at the La Victoria restaurant, or you could even take it with you to eat later as you make your way back to the road to continue on down the hill. You will actually run in to Poza Azul before getting to Minca, so if you didn’t walk up the river, as previously suggested, you have another chance to indulge in a spectacular nature hike. Whatever you do, if you’re a nature lover and a river lover, don’t miss the chance to hike Pozo Azul!

IMG_1838

When the time comes that you must leave the paradise of Minca, there are always jeeps and rickety cars waiting to bring you back to Santa Marta or wherever you must go. If you’re in a rush, you can pay the whole taxi fare, ~28000 pesos, or wait until the car is full, at ~7000 pesos a person.

Minca Colombia

In my time in Minca, I stayed at Casa Loma, which was a steep 15-20 minute hike up the hill and to the right behind the Church, and I had the pleasure of visiting Casa Elemento while I hiked up to the Mirador Los Pinos lookout point.

Casa Elemento

There are quite a few hostels and guesthouses all throughout Minca, especially en route to Casa Loma, and most have either the option of either private or shared rooms, or a hammock. Casa Loma is close to the village, serves food, and had a stream of tourists pumping through when I was there. Casa Elemento was much more removed from Minca, being a whole motorcycle ride up the hill, but it had an epic view, a massive hammock, a swimming pool, and on-site food, plus tons of fruit trees all around.

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As you can see, Minca is absolutely amazing. A trip here, whether it’s a day, a week, or a month will leave you feeling naturally refreshed by re-establishing a connection with the great outdoors. Take a break from the city and take a trip to the paradise that awaits you in Minca, Colombia, a must see for nature lovers. 

Take Your Time and Enjoy Tayrona National Park

The gentle rustling of palm leaves mixed with the crash of the ocean waves. A smell of salt in the air.  A deliciously refreshing breeze washing over me as I walked the soft, sandy path which separated the jungle from the aquamarine waters of the Caribbean. I reflected on the three days I had spent in the Tayrona National Park, and I couldn’t help but be filled with gratitude for the opportunity to explore this marvelous place.

Tayrona National Park

As I travel the world, I make it a priority to explore National Parks. I am at my happiest when I am able to be one with nature. Tayrona National Park, however, is a great mix for people who need some “modern amenities” but who still want to get lost in the pure beauty of nature.

Cabo San Juan

 Getting to Tayrona is easy, which probably aids the number of tourists who come here. From Santa Marta, it takes about 45minutes to an hour to arrive, depending on whether you take a public bus (~5000 pesos) or a mini-tourist bus (~10,000 pesos). Upon arrival to the park, you must first watch a welcome video which explains about the ecosystem of the park, and also touches on “Dos” and “Don’ts” while in Tayrona. After watching the video, which plays in Spanish but has English subtitles, you will be given a ticket which then allows you to get in line to buy your entrance ticket. If you’re 26 or under, with a valid student ID and a passport your entrance will be 8000 pesos, but if you’re older, or you don’t have an actual passport and student ID then your entrance fee will be 39,500 pesos.  *Note that you need an actual passport or photo copy- a picture on your phone will not qualify because they must make a photo copy of the passport. Being the “viejita” (little old lady) that I am, at 27 years old, my student card didn’t make the cut, but my 19 year old friend didn’t ‘get the discount either because he only had his passport picture on his phone… Be prepared, and reap the benefits of a discount.

Tayrona National Park

 After purchasing your entrance ticket, you can either walk 5km along a road to get to the point where the trails actually start, or you can pay 3000 pesos for a mini-bus and save your energy for walking in the park. We opted for the bus, and it was money well spent.

Tayrona National Park

Once in the park, the trails are well maintained, with wooden walkways and handrails leading up and down steep areas. If you have hiking sandals, use them. Even though the path is soft, you will be happier if you have shoes which are stronger than flip flops, especially if you decide to hike up to the ancient indigenous town of Pueblito.

Pueblito, Tayrona National Park

 After about an hour of hiking you will come to the first set of accommodations in an area called Arrecifes. There you can find inexpensive lodging with a tent or hammock at half the price of Cabo San Juan. This area has a total chill vibe, but you can’t swim in the ocean here- you must walk up the trail approximately 15-20 minutes to find a swimmable beach.

Tayrona National Park

En route from Arrecifes to Cabo San Juan, you will encounter Restaurant Lilli which is right on the beach, and Panaderia Vere, a bakery, which serves the most delicious chocolate, arrequipe, or guava-queso bread you could ever dream of. At 3000 pesos a loaf they cannot be missed. Do yourself a favor and stop here, take a load off, and sit in the shade of the trees, looking out on the little lake behind the house…you might even happen to see a cayman floating about!

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The beach after the Panaderia Vere is swimmable, and also has food options of arepas stuffed with eggs, vegetables, chicken or meat, and cost between 3000-5000 pesos depending on your selection. You can also refresh yourself with fresh squeezed orange juice, or a cup of ceviche, also costing around 5000 pesos. Stick along the coast, and you will sneak up on “La Piscina”, a picture-perfect swimming area with big boulders that you can climb on for fun. Kick back and relax here, or continue on through the jungle trail for another 20-30 minutes to reach Cabo San Juan.

Tayrona National Park

 The second accommodation area of Cabo San Juan is breathtakingly beautiful, but is more “resort like” than the laid-back area of Arrecifes. If you arrive in the afternoon, be prepared to wait up to an hour in line to reserve your lodging, and by then the hammocks might be sold out. Tents start at around 25,000 pesos a person for a single, and a hammock will run around 20,000 pesos. If you arrive early enough, ask if you can get a spot at the little hut on the beach. There are only about 12 hammocks there, and two little sleeping areas up top, but the breeze is phenomenal, and the view of sunset or sunrise is worth the extra cost.

Cabo San Juan

 The ancient village of Pueblito lies a steep 1.5 hour hike up the mountain from Cabo San Juan. The path is naturally formed by boulders, and at times you must grab on to a rope in order to climb up and over the gigantic rocks in the path. This is where you will be happy you have more than just your flip flops. I wore my hiking sandals, and more than one person commented that they were jealous.

Pueblito Tayrona National Park

 Once up in Pueblito, take a seat, eat a snack, drink some water, and imagine what this village was like thousands of years ago when it was bustling with activity. There are still indigenous people living in the village, and you can see them and their hut houses as you pass by a local stand selling cold drinks. Rather than hiking the boulder path again, take a softer trail back which takes you through the jungle and pops you out on the beaches. It is still about 1-1.5 hours hiking, but it is different and worth checking out. Both routes can be seen on the park’s maps which they give you at the entrance.

Pueblito Tayrona National Park

 During my stay I spent both nights in Cabo San Juan, but if I could go back and do it again I would spend one night in Arrecifes and one night in Cabo San Juan, to experience the different vibes of both places. Cabo is always bustling with people and activity, and each night everyone comes together to eat in the dining hall, which can be nice if you’re looking to meet people. The meals are a bit pricey in comparison to normal (25,000 pesos for a fish dinner, 10,000 pesos for an egg and arepa breakfast) but it makes sense because you’re in the middle of no where. You can always bring your own food to keep your costs down, and definitely bring a lot of water (at least 3 liters), because although they do sell it in the park, it’s 3000 pesos for a small bottle. Indulge in the freshly squeezed juice at least one time during your stay.

Tayrona National Park

When it comes time to leave, you can either retrace your steps and exit the park through the same entrance you came from, or you can take a path out to the road from Pueblito, which you can see on the map. I had a few friends who only spent one night in the park, and they opted to hike out from Cabo San Juan via Pueblito to the road, which allows them to “see it all” in just two days and one night.

Tayrona National Park

 I walked back out the same way I came in, stopping to relax and swim along the way. As you leave the park, take it slow. Enjoy it. Make sure to soak in the salty ocean breeze, and to let the sound of the waves and the rustling palm leaves engrain themselves in your memory. Tayrona National Park is exquisite.

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The Period Party

Woooooofff. I had just walked at least 500 steps up a mountain with my overstuffed bags and set them down with pleasure. The hostel hostess quickly brought us water, and we sat there, drinking it down and drinking in the view that stretched out before us: rolling, tree covered hillsides as far at the eye could see. The city of Santa Marta sprawled out in the distance, now over an hour away. 

I started to take note of my immediate surroundings, and noticed that there were many women in the entry room, and more continued to huff and puff their way up into view as they climbed the steps. As conversation began to unfold, I came to understand that they were all gathering here in the woodsy setting of the hostel to have a “women’s meeting” and that I was more than welcome to join. I always love meeting strong women who are active in the community so I was elated at the offer. I set up my hammock, took a quick shower, and joined the women for their early evening gathering. 

There were many red sheets strung up between the trees, creating a sort of red tent, and women were entering one at a time. Outside the tent, one woman was wafting the smoke of a bundle of burning rosemary around each woman who was awaiting entry, and once she had been “cleansed” the tent would open, and a woman dressed in all red placed a red flower “bindi” on the forehead of the woman entering, welcoming her to the tent. 

The whole procession reminded me of the best parts of India, with the smoky scents hanging in the air, and the bindis. As I waited outside the tent, the women were so kind, saying they were happy I had come, and I was happy to be there. I had no idea what I was in for. 

I was welcomed in to the tent, the same way as the others, and I took a seat on the red carpet that covered the earth. There were some other foreigners from the hostel, or transplants to the town of Minca, and we chatted amongst ourselves as we awaited the beginning of the meeting. Spread before us were a variety of delicious treats, and finger-painting like pictures hung above an area with a book, a flower, and a glass of water. Incense was lit and its aroma drifted around us all. 

  

Eventually the last person entered the tent, and the woman in red began to address us all. Everything was in Spanish, as I imagined it would be, and she started explaining to us about the “Tienda Roja” book, which was the basis for this meeting- a meeting intended for women to honor themselves and learn to love their menstrual cycle. 

The leader of the meeting started by telling us a bit of the history of where the idea for the “Carpa Roja” group came from. Historically in some cultures when women were menstruating, they would put up a red tent, and the women would go inside, separate themselves from the world and reflect during that seven day cycle. She went on to describe how each week of our cycle was like a season: spring, summer, fall or winter, and how we should pay attention to the feelings we have during these seasons. She even encouraged that perhaps we make art during our menstrual cycle, and then she gestured up to the “finger paintings” that were hanging in the tent and told us she had made them using her own beautiful blood. I tried to keep an open mind. 

I had heard there would be meditation during the meeting which is part of what drew me in, and there was, but it wasn’t at all as I was expecting. During this meditation we closed out eyes and were told to go back in time, to the day we first received our periods. We were to talk to our past selves and process the thoughts and emotions that arose. Afterwards we were asked to share how we felt about all this. 

At one point, a woman came in to the circle, late and with her young son. When it came time to sit in a circle, hand to uterus with the person next to you, the little boy asked, “What’s a uterus? I can’t feel mine. Where should I put my hands?” This provided some comic relief, and the leader told him to put his hands to his heart. 

During another portion of the meeting all women stood, and a red string was passed from person to person, connecting us all. We then went around and in turn we said who we were. For example, I am Holly, daughter of Lori, grand daughter of Edith, and mother of all my dreams and projects. For each of these things we wrapped the string around our wrists, paying homage to all the uteri before us, and all the uteri that would follow. 

As a closing project, we were given a piece of paper with a chrysalis on one half, where we were supposed to write things we wanted to overcome, and on the other half we were supposed to draw a butterfly, signifying what we would become. Then we left the tent, stood around a bonfire, tore the paper in two and burned the pieces, saying what we wanted to overcome and what we want to become. 

We closed this multiple hour meeting with songs around a fire. This was possibly the most enjoyable part for me, except I was so hungry I could barely concentrate, and the leader kept wanting to sing another and another and another song. After some truly lovely songs about being a beautiful woman who is one with the earth we went back to the tent where we all passed around the treats and reflected upon this unique Carpa Roja group and what we got out of the meeting. It was a long meeting, much longer than I was anticipating, and the whole experience was definitely a surprise to me. I don’t think I was the only one who went in to the meeting blind, I think some others had no idea they were about to join a 3.5 hour long “period party”, but it was an experience to remember, to say the least.

Apparently this is a global group, with meetings in multiple countries, so if you’re actually interested in getting involved, seek it out. In English the book is called The Red Tent and the groups are called The Red Carpet.