Monday, April 5, 2010

Decisions, decisions!

Seven months on the road, and these travelers are beginning to grow somewhat weary. The pursuit of adventure is alive and well as we still relish in each new vista seen or new friend met... but after seven months of living out of a backpack (five of which we have been constantly moving), breaking points are beginning to be hit, for several reasons.

Sleeping on rock hard beds, with equally hard and lumpy pillows. Counting squished bugs on the wall while brushing teeth. Having only Doritos for a meal...again. Hours of research scoping out each destination. Sitting next to a another pukey kid on the bus. Killing monster sized bugs that are surely going to kill you if you don't get to them first. Cold showers. Smelling all four pairs of dirty underwear to determine which can be worn again, only because it doesn't smell quite as bad as the others.

I could go on. And once I look at that list, and think of other things that make this vocation a difficult one, I am surprised that we have any enthusiasm left after seven months.

To be clear - despite the rough going sometimes, we have zero regrets. Everything we have done, everything we have learned, and every new challenge we have conquered has made every lumpy pillow or bag of Doritos worth enduring. But, as we are in the last country of our South American journey (before making the jump into Central America), and as I find myself becoming increasingly sensitive and bitter when we do hit the rough spots, there are some things we have had to ask ourselves. Most importantly, do we think we can keep this up for four and a half more months?

Before I reveal our answer, let's look back to our few days that forced us into these tough questions!

We left Popayan early, and arrived in Colombia's third biggest city, Cali, in the early afternoon. We checked into our hostel in the cute neighborhood of San Antonio and laid down on the bed for a quick stretch after the 4 hour bus ride. Bed: harddddd and terribly sloped. Pillow: lumpy. After having virtually no sleep in Popayan our last night (bad bed and very noisy), I could have cried. It had been quite some while since we had been in a place that I could feel completely comfortable in, and I couldn't visualize getting any sleep in this room without chemical assistance to do so.

Thankfully, the hostel had another room available with a posturepedic bed (more expensive, of course), but we jumped at it. While it wasn't the cleanest thing we have stayed in for awhile, at least I wouldn't wake up with a back or neck ache. Problem solved, tears averted.

Next up - food! Having only Doritos for lunch (frequently happens on travel days), we eagerly went out and enjoyed a good meal at an Italian restaurant nearby. Back to the hostel and we caught up on some much needed sleep.

Day two in Cali and we set out on our walking tour of the downtown. Ick. I mean, it has it's marginally pretty points, to be sure, but it has to be one of the least attractive cities we have seen in all of our travels. Granted, we had not heard very great things about this city (many people skip it), but Pete was determined to give it a chance, if only because it has the cool name of Cali (insert appropriate LL Cool J lyrics here!)

No matter, so what if the downtown didn't offer much - we were really here for one main attraction - salsa, baby! Cali is the reputed home of salsa dancing in Colombia, and we were excited to see it in action. After spending the rest of our afternoon reading and doing research for the next leg of our trip, we got gussied up for dinner and a night out dancing (or, watching dancing anyways, we know our personal limits).

Unfortunately, it was not to be. Semana Santa (Easter) is taken quite seriously in this part of the world, and as it was Thursday evening, everyone was apparently at church or with their families instead of keeping their restaurants open or salsa-ing for the entertainment of these two gringos. The city was dead, we had a tough time even finding food.

Our two day stay in Cali thus ended up being a bit of a bust, and the next day we were back on a bus bound for Salento - the much anticipated beginning of coffee country in Colombia!

What was supposed to be a 4 hour journey turned into 7, thanks to bad weather and irregular buses. And when we finally got into Salento, we stepped out of the bus and into a torrential downpour. Walking through the slippery and muddy streets we made our way to our hostel - The Plantation House - which thankfully was not too far out of the way. We were also thankful that we didn't arrive too much later, as another couple was waiting to take our reserved room.

If it wasn't for all the rain on top of our travel weariness, we might have let that other couple have our room. But Salento is a very small town, and we knew there were likely no other options to this relatively expensive dump (visions of La Pedrera in Uruguay came flooding back). There were bugs to be dealt with, it was dirty, and the bed was no better then sleeping on a sheet of plywood. Shortly after checking in, the power went out. We woke up to no running water for a few hours. Doritos were our meal replacement, again. This time, tears spilled over, and this is where the tough questions began to be asked. Can we really keep this up for four+ more months?

But! It wasn't all doom and gloom, at least while the sun was shining and we were able to escape the hostel. This small coffee town surprisingly had a lot to offer - quaint little artisan shops, decent restaurants, fincas (coffee plantations) and many hiking trails.

Hola little coffee beans!

We were also pleasantly surprised to run into our friend Kylee (met in Bolivia, saw her again in Uruguay and now in Colombia!), and she joined us on our hike in nearby Cocora Valley. Cocora Valley has really beautiful countryside such that we have not seen before during our travels - we hiked along a winding trail that led us over and around creeks through the rainforest. There were scores of Wax Palms (the highest palm trees in the world), peaking out from behind the cloud forest that often engulfed them.

For 5kms we walked uphill in rubber boots to reach a refugio for many types of birds - mostly hummingbirds! We were greeted warmly by the family that runs it, and they served us our choice of coffee, tea and hot chocolate with a side of cheese. Yes, cheese! The tradition here is to actually put the salty cheese inside of the sweet drink and consume it with a spoon!

We sat for nearly an hour enjoying the eight different types hummingbirds as they darted around us and into the nearby water feeders.

We could have easily stayed longer but decided to get a move on and hopefully avoid the afternoon rains that seemed to happen like clockwork. Sure enough, it came as scheduled when we were nearing the bottom of our trek. We waited only slightly for a jeep to take us back into town and sought refuge in a nice restaurant for dinner before heading back to our dumpy hostel for the night.

After three long sleepless nights, we were anxious to get up and out. A short bus ride brought us to our current locale of Manizales. Ahhh...soft beds, a super clean hostel and friendly staff were waiting for us. We are back in a city but removed enough from it's core that we are enjoying some quiet but are also anxious to take advantage of the many activities that this other area of the coffee region has to offer. I couldn't be happier to finally be in a place that I can call "comfortable". It has been awhile.

And while we bask in our comforts and look forward to a good nights sleep, there will be more discussion on our next steps. The thought of another night in another dumpy hostel down the road might spell b-r-e-a-k-d-o-w-n (for me, specifically!) and thus we are changing our plans.

We need to sit still. We need to sit still where we feel comfortable. We need to sit still where we feel comfortable and get back to two of our main purposes for coming down here in the first place: to
contribute to lesser advantaged communities by volunteering our time and to work on our Spanish. Once Pete made the suggestion and we spent some real time thinking about it, we are confident that it is the absolute right thing for us to do right now. Central America will have to wait for another time - we are instead going to settle down in a place we have been before where we know we will be happy to sit still.

That place? We don't know yet! We have a couple of options in mind and have a lot to think about before we make a decision (our trusty friend the Magic 8 Ball may need to weigh in on this one). All we know is that we are going to finish up Colombia in the next month or so, and then likely jump on a plane back down into the southern hemisphere where we can actually unpack our bags and set them aside for awhile. I feel better already!

¡MAS FOTOS! Click here

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