My ears ring to an unfamiliar sound. A gentle melody of harpsicord and wind instrumentation that I suddenly hate without reason. Only an alarm clock can turn a tune called “morning flower” into one’s worst enemy. I quickly kill the awful disturbance in a flail of half-consciousness and return to the comfort of birdsong and a rhythmic drip from the roof of our camper.
“Why did I agree to this?”
The air is both damp and light, my eyes still heavy. Every night it rains, turning the cobblestone driveway into river rock. Leaves lay limp from the storm of liquid artillery, seedlings uprooted in the mud like casualties of war. In the morning a breeze carries through the valley moving mist and fog into the sky, and the ridge relents its cold shadow to the slowly rising sun.
As the vinyl walls of our ‘loft’ begin to glow, I open the door to find loyal eyes. Centuries of protection and provision have left them with no other choice, man’s best friends indeed. Their wags and floppy tongue smiles shake off the remains of my slow awakening and I summon my best who’s-a-good-boy voice. With the ridiculous tones only reserved for animals and babies, I step into the warm light and greet my furry amigos. “Who wants to do some yoga?..Salma? Alma? c’mon puppers…vamos!”
Searching For Substance
From the beginning of this trip we’ve perused workaway, wwoof and blogs searching for something different. A place where we could settle in and learn from the people and places we visit. Somehow Mexico and Central America passed us by without any options presenting themselves. Options that would have had to hunt us down among friends, beaches and beer.
The truth is that we had never really set aside the time to make it happen, and we vowed to change that habit in Colombia. After a successful Christmas in Cartagena we Jenna did some internet research and stumbled upon a response to a facebook inquiry. Somewhere out there was a finca in a beautiful valley with the opportunity for Spanish lessons, permaculture and yoga; three of the very things we had been searching for. With sights set on starting the new year with routine and purpose, we decide to skip the northern coast of Colombia…south we go!
Known for a massive rock/mirador, lake-strewn landscape and colorful streets, Guatape is a beautiful day trip for those looking to escape city life in Medellín. Add in the option of playing paintball in one of Pablo Escobar’s bombed-out properties and you can see why it’s a must-see for most travelers.
In truth, there is far more to Guatapé than El Peñol (the big ol’ rock) and narco attractions. The interesting history, friendly people and zócolo adorned walkways are only the beginnings of a place we loved instantly, yet that’s not why we came. Instead, a rutted road through a bit of mud brings us to our home away from home.
The host of this unassuming house perched on the bank of a valley is Paola, pronounced pow-la. She introduces herself with kind dark eyes and a welcoming smile, and somehow we know we’ve made a good decision. Luckily, we were not mistaken.
Notwithstanding a trip to Medellín for Jenna’s birthday, we spent close to a month with Paola and remember our time there fondly. Our first week was spent learning Permaculture while the rest involved a potpourri of Spanish lessons, working in the garden (la huerta) and helping out with odds-n-ends on the property. Those are the things we did, but not what we remember the most.
At Ecohostel Medellín students and volunteers are placed on a schedule for cooking group meals. With a simple budget, you and your co-chef have the opportunity to wow the international household with beautiful garden ingredients. This quickly became one of the highlights of our stay, despite the fact that all meals were vegetarian.
Inspired menus turned into all day affairs, with trips to town for ingredients, and these walks with friends became as significant to my memory as getting from place to place can be. Green valley chats along barbed-wire fences while our mascots pursue birds and horses. Coffee in an overly and overtly picturesque square, that’s too damn cute to deny. ‘Sneaking’ beers, ice cream afternoons and women in the men’s pool hall. Paola teaching rhythmically challenged gringos the art of salsa in the plaza. An assortment of moments that have solidified our desire to live in a walkable town back home.
In some ways a stay at Paola’s is to become part of the family, even if only for a while. On lucky mornings we rise with the sun for yoga led by a Brit named Jack. On lucky nights we convince drivers to muddy their tuk-tuks and take us home in the rain. In between we fill our heads with Spanish and our bellies with organic food. We place our hands in the dirt watching seeds sprout and grow, and our thoughts are free to do the same.
There’s no TV to disturb our leisurely daydreams, no Wi-Fi to diminish a moment amongst friends. Basking in the sun like dogs, I pretend this is how we really live, and for a moment in time we do. It’s not often that I find myself content, but our days at Paola’s were something special.
Permaculture can be thought of as working with, rather than against nature. Expanded descriptions include a focus on sustainability, as in permanent-culture and habits of all kinds. Whatever the definition, we found ourselves inspired. Not inspired to go out and ‘do big things,’ but rather to examine the habits that create our daily lives. To focus on our time, interactions and cultivating relationships, instead of following goals set forth by others.
This Panamerican trip has been somewhat of an experiment in pursuing our desires directly. Faced with the option of working, saving and waiting until retirement, we chose instead to drop everything and travel freely now. The hope being that we’d throw ourselves into this education via immersion and come out knowing something, anything we could use to live better. If instead we return home with only a further appreciation for travel, time and South American wines, that’s completely fine. It will have surely been worth the ride. But, and hopes are high, if we plant enough seeds, we have a chance to surf this wave into what we call ‘real-life.’ At best we do what scares us, failing and learning along the way. At worst we continue to live lives more fortunate than most in the world, with a heightened understanding of malbec terroir.
I get it. I may have dug a little deep, gleaning importance from goats and dirt in my nails, to signify something greater. With any luck I’ll look back at these words and remember to find happiness in the simple things, rather than the addicting rush of achievement. When this little trip of ours is over, it’s a reminder I’ll certainly need.
“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”
Interesting Read (link): The One Straw Revolution