A Beautiful Family

I wasn’t at my best when I arrived to stay with the Ruiz family. There had been drama in the air for my last few weeks in Leon, Nicaragua. I was pulled to stay and pushed to leave and rum had been the solution of choice to help me deal with it. I eventually left Leon solo with my dwindled belongings after they had been stolen from a poorly organised full moon party in Playa Gigante. I was sleep deprived and needed some love. This is another Blogging 101 assignment where I will write with one person in mind as the reader.

I was told by another traveller about this family in Miraflor, a small town in the mountains of Nicaragua. I arranged to stay with them through a little organisation called Tree Huggers in Esteli who were a pleasure to deal with. Very informative and friendly.

Kurt, a traveller I had met and a wise counsellor for my recent dramas accompanied me on the tricky journey from Esteli to Miraflor. Well, tricky for me as my Spanish was almost non-existent. I wanted to have this experience solo but was happy to have Kurt on board to check out the sights on the first day.

We were greeted off the bus by the eldest son Jeymi on horseback and trekked up a big mountain to the family home. The smiling mother Deyanira made us feel immediately welcome and got to work preparing a delicious breakfast of Gallo pinto, tortillas and some home made white cheese with a drizzling of fresh cream and picante.

After breakfast we set off to see some of the surrounding forrest on horseback. At first I was dubious as we were not given helmets. I have ridden a handful of times before but without a helmet I decided to take it very slow on the horse. We climbed steep rugged terrain and dropped down into rivers with valleys and visited waterfalls. I felt a connection with my horse instantly and he responded well to even my slightest directions on the reigns. So I was feeling confident and after not too long I broke a branch from a near by tree to use as a whip and started to gallop like I’d done it a million times before across the countryside. It was a such a rush that each time I came to a halt again I would throw my arms around the horses neck to thank him for getting me through the last stretch alive. We crossed rivers alongside farmers moving large cattle and found a clearer part of the river along the trail to dive off rocks into the river and rest in the sun. I liked Miraflor instantly. Calm and beautiful. A wonderful break from the intense heat and chaos of Leon.

Back at the house Kurt departed and I was introduced to the rest of the family. The dignified father Orlando, a carpenter and war veteran. Two very girly 18 year old daughters Maria and Celeste who are beauty students and the baby of the family Juan, a cheeky 5 year old. The parents and I sat down to a dinner and through the language barrier I managed to learn a little about the Orlandos involvement in the Nicarguan civil wars and how he had built the family home.

The house was basic but had a wonderful charm. Dirt floors and concrete walls with solid wooden shutters and a corrugated iron roof. Family photo’s were displayed all over the living area and little decorations to brighten the place up. Power is expensive in Nicaragua so natural light would be used as much as possible and typically we would use a torch after dark. The house had another couple of bedrooms and a little convenience store out the front where locals and travellers on horseback would often come to purchase things and sit for a while with a cold drink.

My favourite spot was the kitchen. It had no modern appliances and my Deyanira my “nica mum” cooked on a little fire stove. Always a lovely smokey smell mixed with whatever was currently on the stove. I spent a lot of time there learning how to make cheese from cows milk, dulce de leche, tacos and some new vegetarian dishes for the repertoire. Everything we ate was grown on a large vegetable garden on the property. The family had some pigs, chickens, cats and dogs who surprisingly lived in harmony and would sometimes venture into the kitchen looking for food scraps. Nothing was wasted.

I woke up each day when the roosters crowed which I later discovered was about 4:30am (I had no devices or watch to know the time) and I would go with the parents with a large wooden bucket to milk the cows. Deyanira brought along a black coffee and turned it into a latte with milk straight from the cow. It was pretty good! We would then head back to the kitchen to prepare breakfast and a packed lunch for Orlando to take to work. Grinding mais to make tortillas and preparing gallo pinto sprinkled with white crumbled cheese. The rest of the day was spent cooking, gardening and relaxing. I asked my nica mum to teach me how to do laundry the traditional way which is a skill that has come in handy time and time again. I actually find it quite therapeutic, working the soap into the clothes and forcing the water out again against the ribbed stone basin. Deyanira watched on in shock at the amount of clothes I had with me.

The girls and I would go for walks with a few dogs in tow and as typical 18 year olds they would take selfies and show me pictures of boys they had crushes on. I happily let the girls practice their beauty skills on me and they painted my nails in the local fashion with intricate little flowers and de-tangled my hair which had become a dreadlock in the heat and surf of Nicaragua.

In the evenings after dinner the family would sit around a very old and small TV and watch a nica soap-opera. Other nights the guitar would be out and Celeste and her father would play and sing some local folk music.

I loved my time with this family. I kept having to ask for less food but it was deliciously prepared my nica mum. My only regret for this experience was not knowing more Spanish as we really couldn’t chat without great difficulty. I wanted to give the family some gifts, the girls were over the moon at inheriting some of my designer dresses. I didn’t know if my nica mum would like the handbag I gave her as the closest city was far away and I wasn’t sure if she even left Miraflor much. I needn’t have worried, the day I left Deyanira and Juan came to Esteli also to do some shopping and my nica mum marched proudly out of the house sporting her new hand bag.

So I have my nica mum, Deyanira in mind for this assignment. Any tourist who stumbles across the opportunity to stay with this family are indeed very lucky. It was a pleasure being welcomed with such warmth and to get a real taste for the traditional lifestyle in the more rural areas of Nicaragua. The Ruiz Family know how fortunate they are and I could feel their sense of pride in their family and in their little slice of paradise in the mountains.

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Killer Atmosphere at the Football

Our eccentric hostel manager warned us before heading to the football match in Medellin “Go and put your bags away. Don’t take anything with you. People will rob you, not just rob you but rob you with knives and guns”.
To be honest some friends and I have become a little tired of people over-dramatising the dangers. Foreigners go to the football all the time and make it out alive. Obviously its important to take precautions as always. So I smuggled my camera down my top and off we went.

We arrived and then our next round of warnings as the tickets friends had purchased were for the Sur stand. That is where all the die-hard fans or Medellin equivalent soccer hooligans go. It is dangerous there we were told. By everyone. We tried to change seats but it was impossible.

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I was nervous after all the warnings but once we arrived I think I would have been disappointed to sit anywhere else. The atmosphere was electric, like being at a rock concert. I’ve never seen more passionate supporters. There was a full brass band playing the Nacional supporter songs and the whole crowd sang and danced along to the trumpets and drums for the entire match. Except ofcourse for the only foreigners in the stand! We had a bit of banter with some people in the crowd. Some dolled up Paisa (Medellin local) girls who looked about 16 with DD breast enlargements (very common here) and some very smiley Paisa guys.

Extreme measures are taken here to ensure there is no trouble at the football match. A high level of security obviously, I was told later over 50 knives were confiscated from fans on their way into the stadium. No alcohol served at the stadium (people load up at the nearby bars beforehand). But by far the most extreme precaution – only one fan base is allowed into the stadium. The stadium was literally half empty with only Nacional supporters. That didn’t stop the passion, after half time when Nacional came back to the field the crowd became a sea of white launching streamers over the entire stadium.

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Another fantastic experience!

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note the half empty stand opposite as only one supporter side are invited to avoid riots

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Lets be honest

I’m happy with that title. Reminds me of the film Pitch Perfect with Rebel Wilson. For anyone that knows the reference, I’m not about to come out of the closet, I’m still straight to the best of my knowledge. Although currently in Colombia where the women are stunning so if I were to turn, now might be the time! OK back to my point. This is my first assignment for a short course on blogging. I’m to explain who I am and the purpose of my blog.

I’ll start with the more difficult of the two, the purpose of my blog. I thought originally it was a good forum to share my travel adventures through South America with friends and family. But it’s been difficult because I shudder at the thought of creating yet another boring travel blog. Its taken me four and a half months to publish some crappy(in my opinion) posts on my adventures and I’ll explain why.

My lifestyle is to take a lot of risks, or chances, or whatever you want to call them. Living this way makes for some great stories that I would love to share. But I find that all the better stories are too personal or risqué to share. I worry they show me in a negative light. So I end up toning everything down or skipping vital details and ta da! Another boring blog. For example stories involving men, it’s something I’m commonly asked about by friends and Mum and I’m pretty comfortable sharing with most but I worry about my exes or more conservative friends and family members reading about them. Another example, a story from the weekend where I found myself intoxicated and alone at 5am in the centre of Medellin. A reasonably dangerous city where robberies at knifepoint are not uncommon, even in broad daylight. I’m told that many times to keep myself safe, and these kinds of stories would naturally raise some concern over my ability to do so. I would never intentionally compromise my safety, I don’t have a death-wish but personal safety is all subjective. Live fast and (hopefully not) die young. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Also if there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that danger can be absolutely anywhere. Not just in dodgy areas late at night. That is a fact.

If I’m truly honest another reason I’m blogging is that I had held on to some hope that I’m good at writing. I know blogging is not such a traditional form of writing but its a great way to practice. Well, after recent attempts, I have shattered this particular disillusion. But what did I expect? I barely make time to read books which in my mind is essential to become a good writer. Also, the key factor, I don’t practice writing. Or haven’t done lately outside of work. To focus on the positives though, I suppose you have to start somewhere. Surprisingly this is one of the scarier risks I’ve taken, to publish.

So in summary, “fuck it” is what I ever so eloquently tell myself. All this stress will seriously limit my development and dampen my voice. My blog is about my journey and I’ll write whatever I feel inspired to. Tales from my travels through South America and encounters with some of the fascinating people I meet along the way. Some of the details will unfortunatley have to be omitted, unless Im feeling particularly bold or drunk. I’ll share my adventures as honestly as possible and sometimes they will be worrying, hopefully entertaining, and hopefully not offensive.

Moving on to a little about me, I’m a 28 year old kiwi that sounds like a bloody strayan (Australian). I have had careers in hospitality and finance, each for five years and left my wonderful life in Melbourne in April 2014 to travel the world. For now I simply learn, feel and hope to grow as a person.

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San Gil – Colombia’s Adventure Capital

After a 6 *cough* 9 *cough* hour bus ride from Bogota, I arrived later than planned in the lovely warm San GIl. Despite arriving late I felt no danger wandering the stone streets looking for a hostel and stayed at the clean and modern Open House Hostal. I was fortunate enough to have my own private dorm here for 3 nights at $18,000 pesos ($9 USD) per night.

The town is touristy but peaceful, not much of a night life but the adventure sports are the star attraction here. I didn’t waste any time and set off paragliding on day one. I went to Chicamocha about 40 minutes from town surrounded by coffee and tabacco farms. The cost was $60,000 pesos ($30 USD) for 15 minutes and due to some light winds the first round, I was taken twice 🙂

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Round one was lovely and peaceful and after my request for adrenalin “quiero adrenalina por favor” I got to experience my guides extreme piloting. Swirling around rapidly and narrowly missing hills, even doing a full flip, it was a lot of fun.

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Day 2 I had my first experience caving at Cow Cave Curiti. It was one of the most fun and scariest activities I’ve ever done. We were told the name came from cows falling into the entrance and being killed – lovely start to the trip! Myself and one other in the group were fitted with helmets and head lamps and climbed down a steep ladder into the cave entrance. We squeezed through a narrow crevice into an open room with bats and cockroaches and some seedlings that grew in the bat droppings, but died shortly after due to lack of sunlight. Then into the cold water we went, crawling through a wide and low section of the cave which was about 60cm high and half submerged. We felt our way along the muddy and stony cave bottom and soon encountered the fully submerged section of the cave. Definetly not for the claustrophobic. We had to dive down and swim a few meters. The guide would then tap us when we came to the end and we could slowly surface, faces titled upwards to gasp a few breaths of air in the 4cm of breathing space. Fortunately the cave soon opened into wider rooms again and we continued to explore indoor waterfalls and beatiful rooms with sparkling stalactites and stalagmites and some amazing rock formations resembling columns. Unfortunately my camera died within 2 photos but here are a couple of my cave woman antics.

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My final day I took a 40 minute bus ride to the unesco world heritage listed Barricharra. This town was an absolute delight to wander around in, beautifully preserved. Enjoy the pictures!

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2 days in Bogota – which became 4 weeks because I loved it so much!

I arrived in the chilly capital of Colombia at 10am and checked into Fatima Hostal, La Candaleria. It was nothing special, but a great location and very inexpensive at around $16,000 pesos ($8 USD) including breakky the staff were very friendly and made me feel right at home. I met a lovely english lady in my dorm and we lunched and she gave me a tour of the city.
She introduced me to Tinto – 50 cent coffee sold out of flasks from people in the street and we lunched in one of the many trendy restaurants of La Candelaria. I ordered a hot chocolate which came with a side of bread and cheese. The cheese, a creamy mozzarella is to put into your hot chocolate…thought I’d pass on that but a cup of hot chocolate served with a side of bread and cheese is not all bad on a chilly morning after an early flight!
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around La Candalaria

Later we had some beers and rum. I was feeling very drunk and sleepy after a few beers and my new friend asked me, “so how are you coping with the altitude?” aha, that explains it then. Somewhere in my memory bank was the useful little fact about Bogota being 2,640 meters above sea level. I attempted to have a night out with my new friend and some of her amigos who we met a trendy jazz club in town. Sadly I could not physically keep me eyes open and retired after a few minutes!

I’d been informed petty crime is rife in Bogota, that waiters would take your order and steal your purse from your bag while they concealed it with the food menu, or that people on scooters might take your backpack in passing. Walking the streets alone after dark is a definite “no no”. So I took precautions but after almost a month in this city I can honestly say I’ve not been the target of any petty crime. I don’t even think I’ve been ripped off by taxi drivers or paid “tourist tax” from vendors who realise I dont speak much spanish. Its been a nice break from 4 months of haggling and feeling disheartened by greedy opportunists. Bogota is also a nice break from the cat calling Ive experienced in most of the other places I’ve visited. Much easier to blend in here. Aside from a few taxi drivers who’ve had their eyes on me in the rearview mirror rather than the road and invited me to sit up front. Pretending I don’t understand Spanish works well in these situations, a little harder to pretend I don’t understand the gestures but they all give up eventually.

After the first night in Bogota I had decided to give couch surfing a whirl. I had a skype date planned but in the interim received an invite via a message from a Facebook friend to stay on his couch. I racked my brain, who was Sergio? Obviously someone I’d met from Bogota, I vaguley remembered his friend Juan Paulo who had helped me in Cartagena with some instructions for my arrival in Bogota. I had spoken to Sergio very briefly and was wary ofcourse but after a quick facebook stalk I thought “why not take a chance”.

Now I know what you’re thinking, guy invites single female to stay…and admittedly I did wonder about this but I was made to feel absolutely at home by Sergio and his cat Jack. I’m very happy I took the chance. This is just one example of the many encounters I’ve had of Colombian hospitality. I did not expect this from a bustling city of close to 7 million people. If locals even catch a glimpse of a map in your hand or a lost expression you are sure to be offered help or in my experience an escort or ride and at times a place to stay. I had some high school girls save me big time when I got lost in the tricky Trans Milenio bus network.

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Sergio and Jack

Aside from the cold weather, Bogota has been one of my favourite cities so far. A multitude of trendy bars and nightclubs. Huge food culture with delicious options from both street vendors and little artsy cafés and stylish restaurants. Beautiful architecture, lots of parks and some pretty outstanding street art. Plus the people I’ve encountered have been great fun. I have been cooking a lot here and I must say the fruit and veg is divine and bursting with flavour! Not to mention the gigantic avocados which became an accompaniment to every one of my meals. Must watch out for the comidas rapidas (fast food) and freshly baked bread and croissants at every turn however, they are cheap and delicious but perhaps not the most nutritious.

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City Centre with Montserrate in the background

One evening I had gone a little overboard making mushroom and asparagus risotto for dinner and Sergio had the idea to set up a lunch date with his retired nieghbour Bernado to take care of the left overs. I had been having a few days to chill and catch up on things, so was happy to have some company. Bernado arrived at the door with a bottle of French red wine and we talked about my travel plans and Bernados Amazon expeditions. After lunch we progressed to espresso martinis, Maria the house keeper included, and then Bernado showed me around his apartment. It was like a museum. A two story library in his living room and artefacts from all over the world. Precious stones, spears from indigenous tribes in the amazon, cow bells from Switzerland and fossilised wood to name a few. Bernado grabbed a few albums of his amazon travels and some big maps from the most organised study I have ever seen. It was great to get some inspiration for the upcoming amazon leg of my journey and Bernado was a very enthusiastic host. Flicking through pictures and exclaiming how “fantastic” it all was with a heavy accent.

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Bernado in his home

Some other highlights of my stay were the Botero museum, Andres Carne de Res – a cluster of steak and tapas restaurants with a packed dance floor for everyone to come together and dance until the wee hours (odd combination but it works), a night out with the crew from Hostel Sue and Nighclub Baum and the view from Montserrate. Enjoy the pictures 🙂

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you can almost see the 4 seasons all at once