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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There you have it. 10 reasons to come to Colombia. Now it’s up to you to come see for yourself.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
15. Soup is included as part of your meal with a typical lunch or dinner, and comes before the main plate.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As my time in Taganga came to a close, I was amazed as I reflected on everything I had experienced in my long weekend there. I had devoted my energy to developing myself, and in the process I had overcome tremendous fears, earned myself a PADI Open Water Diver certification, and I had gotten to know the people of the town on a personal level. The small fishing town which had originally felt so foreign now felt a bit more like home. As I set off on my next adventure, exploring Tayrona National Park, I knew that Taganga would always have a special place in my heart, and that every time I embark on a dive in the future, I will always remember my time with Chopper, and be grateful to my wonderful Couch Surfing host for introducing me to the Octopus Dive Center.
*Scuba pictures courtesy of Octopus Dive Center. All others taken by me.