Monthly Archives: July 2012

Cartagena!

A fairy-tale city of the first order, Cartagena, Colombia did not disappoint. The air and the magnolia trees and the buildings and the people… all made me think of this place being a mix of New Orleans and Charleston — only even more mysterious with a palpable old world South American majesty that it carries with it to this day.

In addition to the obvious charm of the place,

 

 

And the HEAT :

 

 

There was incredible DANCING!!

We caught an impromptu street dance-off, which the boys loved and then tried to copy:

 

These dancers were harder to mimic, but amazing to watch!

 

 

 

So far, WE ARE LOVING COLOMBIA! 🙂

Categories: From Jamie | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Happy Birthday to Luke!

Okay, so I’m almost a month behind here, yikes! The learning curve of this traveling phase has been…really something. I’ve started no less than 6 different posts about all that’s happened and the thoughts evoked, but finished none of them because everything is still a jumble of data that Bo and the boys and I are still sorting out. So, to avoid being overwhelmed by all the make-up I have to do on here, I decided to start with an event easy to relate because it was so important to all of us:

Luke turned 5!! Luke turned 5 in Cartagena, Colombia no less. Something we couldn’t have imagined when he was born at Gunnison Valley Hospital all those cinco years ago.  He has grown so much in this time. His imagination has taken off, he is a joy, and jokester, always hungry, growing, bouncy, no-longer-baby BOY.

This year he was given fewer toys then he’s ever received for anything, but he enjoyed them more and was more grateful for them than he’s ever been. Music to our hearts for sure.  All he really asked to do for his birthday was dig. And have everyone dig with him. So, one hot HOT boat ride later we found ourselves on a white sandy beach a bit out from Cartagena called Playa Blanca where we each dug and buried and built things out of sand to his heart’s content. Bliss. 🙂

Topped the day off with a Happy Birthday serenade like no other. The whole boat full of Colombians and folks from all around the world did their best ENGLISH Happy Birthday song — really making one little gringito boy feel so so special. Which he is. 🙂

Categories: From Jamie | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Awake in Colombia

As I wake up to the sound of high heels and chatting business people in the hallway instead of the giggling school children and honking bus horns, I realize, in that still half asleep kind of way, that we’re in a new place; we’re in Popayán. There is hot, fresh coffee ready 24 hours a day around here which is all the motivation I need to get up. Jamie and the boys fast asleep in the other bed (did I force Jamie out of this small bed last night?), I quietly grab the laptop and head up to the rooftop.

The sun is creeping up through the green hills and distant clouds. Sipping my coffee in a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops feels luxurious. The climate seems something close to perfect. Not too hot, not too cold. Humid, but not wet. The smell of fried corn bread is in the air. Horse hooves clop alongside the revving of motorcycle engines on the street below. I can see the domes of three churches popping up in a sea of red tile rooftops. Two cats have decided to join me, soaking up some early morning rays on the terrace.

We’re sure enjoying this new place. Some of the reasons are obvious: the amazing historic white-walled city center, the amiable and snazzy people, new and tasty foods and a clean, safe hotel (the boys would add the five channels of cartoons on the flat screen mounted above their bed and the indoor playground at the very modern mall). Below are a few pictures of our latest adventures to give you a taste!

Some of the other reasons we’re enjoying it here are a bit more elusive because they have more to do with what’s going on inside us instead of around us. Here’s a guess at some of what’s going on…

We are able to just take the place in as it comes without judging it as much as we did in Ecuador. In Ecuador, we had to live with whatever we experienced for months on end so we measured a day’s events against our high hopes and expectations for the whole time. Since our time here is short we’re trying to savor it but we also know that we have plenty more travel ahead of us so we’re not taking the frantic squeeze-it-all-in approach as is typical of the standard American one-week vacation. Also, our time in Ecuador desensitized us to the many things we are seeing in Colombia that would have overwhelmed us previously. We’re now used to random boy-sized-holes in the sidewalks, to traffic that seems to be aiming for you and to not understanding at least half of what is said.

So here we are, safe and sound in Colombia. Today we’re feeling grateful for this chance to see and do new things together. Packing up and leaving Ecuador was hard. The two days of travel on hot, dusty and bumpy roads was tough. And tomorrow we’re going to pack it all up again and hop on an airplane to Cartagena. Surely, there will be some surprises along the way. Hopefully, we’ll take them as they come with a bit more grace than we had when we arrived on this continent. If learning to live in the moment and face each day with a centered stance of calm and possibility is one of our goals, and it is, then we are currently attending the best university on the subject. Speaking for myself, I think I can handle the course load…as long as they have fresh, hot coffee available the whole time.

Categories: From Bo | 7 Comments

La Esquina de Juan Montalvo y Pedro Moncayo

This has been our address while we’ve lived here in Cotacachi, Ecuador. It has been easily the most eclectic home we’ve ever had, but it has (mostly) kept the rain off our heads and (mostly) kept the sun off our backs, and it has been ours. It has given us neighbors to smile at and beds to sleep in that are the same every night – and on sunny days we have even had hot showers in the evening. I can find my way around it in the dark with no bruises to show for it come morning. We have enjoyed its bird’s eye view into the neighborhood and the life that is all around us. We can see both the top of the Cathedral and the top of Imbabura Volcano from the windows at either end. It has been hot, cold, loud, beautiful, comforting, safe, funny – home.

It is now pre-dawn and, once again, Bo and I are about to wake up our little boys and ask them to come with us as nomads. God Bless those precious hearts for all their trust in us. Wow do we love them!

There are so many things that were going to go into this goodbye post, but leaving is work, packing more so, and frankly I hate goodbyes and put them off as long as possible. We are grateful. We. Are. So. Grateful.

We are also, once again, without an address.

However, a few bus rides more, some hostels and archeological sites to sample and then landing in Cartagena, Colombia! Which is a fairly good trade we feel.

Vamos a Colombia!

Categories: From Bo, From Jamie | 10 Comments

Walking on Clouds

This morning I hiked Volcan Cotacachi with Milton who has been our guide on other treks. At 4 am we made the two hour drive up to the trailhead and started out in the early morning light…in the clouds. In the clouds is where we remained almost the whole time. Thankfully I could see the plants which changed dramatically from velvety grasses to strange alien formations which seem more at home on a coral reef. After two and half hours of moving up through the mist and with the breathing getting progressively harder, we reached our destination at 15,550 feet. This was roughly 700 feet below the peak which we didn’t have the equipment or life insurance to attempt. After a few more photos and pieces of chocolate we made our way back down through the clouds.

Categories: From Bo | 3 Comments

Inti Raymi, Dancing and Death

Our experience with Inti Raymi began with innocence and ended with beauty. In the middle there was dancing, blood, tear gas and death.

Maybe I should start before our beginning.

This Quechua ‘Festival of the Sun’ has its roots in Incan times and is celebrated by indigenous communities in Ecuador and Peru – and as far as I know, in any place up and down these Andes where the Inca’s traditions persist. For the Inca, it was the primary festival of the year, done during the time of year they mark as the change of seasons and to honor their most important god, Inti. In Peru, I read, they sacrifice animals as an offering to the god of harvest. The more blood – the better the harvest. It is a belief held by the indigenous communities around Cotacachi as well, but the blood spilt here each year does not come from animals. Again, I am ahead of myself.

The information I have on this specific Inti Raymi is gleaned from conversations with the people who participate in it and/or have lived here for years and watched it unfold time and again. It spans two weeks of events that begin with the men doing a midnight ritual cleansing in surrounding streams and waterfalls, a day of children dancing at each corner of the square in circles (honoring all the stages of the sun), two weekends of men marching to the square then dancing and chanting sun circles and/or fighting, and ending with a day of just the women dancing around each corner of the plaza as well.

The main event, without question, is the men. The (mostly younger) men of the surrounding communities drink until the line of reason is long forgotten, dress up in large black hats and chaps covered in goat hair with some wielding conch shells or flutes while the majority take various tools of battle from whips to ‘fake’ guns to stones. They then head off  “to take” the center square, marching and whistling and rhythmically chanting past the small army of riot police called in each year for this festival.  The riot police do what they can but each Inti Raymi brings tragedy. Last year a little girl was trampled, the year before that, a man stoned to death. Most of the fighting breaks out when one community moves on to the next corner and the group already there refuses to move on as well. Although, it must also be said that there is a palpable energy from the thousands of spectators that flock to this event that seems to radiate the desire for an outburst of aggression, which makes this whole festival that much more complicated to explain.

Calera is the community most known for its strength in these enactments, and the story I was told is that there has been “bad blood” between them and the neighboring town of Quiroga since forever ago when La Calera stole a sacred bull from Quiroga and ate it – to double the offence. This year’s main battle was between Calera, who stepped in to defend the smaller community of Santa Marta, who had had a member shot by someone from Cuicocha. So apparently there’s enough bad blood to go around for other rivalries to sprout up as well.  Enough to cause at least two deaths and countless serious injuries still to be tallied.

Now, before I have you too worked up about this festival, and La Calera in particular, I need to make a few other points. These few days of violence are bookended by an entire year of near perfect peacefulness. I’ve mentioned in other posts how drawn Bo and I were to this area of Ecuador BECAUSE of the peacefulness and beauty of the indigenous populations that stood in stark contrast to every other area we’d toured. And the idea of setting aside one day, or set of days, when everyone agrees to get out their grievances for the year and everyone knows that is what they are getting themselves into if they participate, isn’t unique to Inti Raymi or Cotacachi. Takanakuy is one fesitval (on Christmas Day!) in Peru that has similar precepts with similar rest-of-the-year peace success, albiet no one is allowed to fight to the death on that one.

Also, the two closest local friends we’ve made here: Luis, who has tirelessly answered every question, helped with every outing, and who we sat next to just days ago at the preschool graduation watching his daughter and our son sing together; and Rodrigo, who has befriended Bo more than anyone else we’ve met, sharing beers and talking shop and family and life into the wee hours on more than one occasion and whose wife and two sweet children shared our first Chachimbiro outing with us. And all their friends that adopted us by association and stepped in to help or play or visit from time to time…all Calera. All people we trust, admire, and respect. Rodrigo spoke at length with Bo about how much he hoped the violence would not escalate this year, from what I could tell he does everything he can to focus his community on the ritual and the music and the dancing and the culture of Inti Raymi as opposed to bloodletting. The violence may be systemic, but it is not everyone’s desire.

Which is why, we were happy to see that the enormous group unloading and camping out across the street from our apartment on the onset of Inti Raymi turned out to be La Calera, the community we knew the best. Bo went down a number of times and caught a great video of Rodrigo getting the group energized with music and marching before ever heading out to the street, he even danced a few circles with them just under our window. It’s also why, after being told that as long as you went during the daytime you were safe, I joined the masses and followed La Calera on their march to La Matriz (Cotacachi’s central plaza) early Friday afternoon.

And now I know what tear gas is like.

As it turns out, that Friday afternoon’s march was the most violent of this year’s events. Even four blocks away the wind had carried some of the tear gas into our apartment and Bo quickly got the boys into their room and away from its sting. Although Vaughn felt some minor effects of what he called, “spicy nose gas” they were all safe. Many many that day were not.

I was at the back of the march, taking pictures and grinning with the adorable children dressed up to mimic their fathers when the first shot of gas was fired and the screaming and the running began. I turned and ran as well and managed to squeeze behind the closing gate of a parking lot just as my eyes began to stream and my throat and nose to burn. There were 7 of us hiding there, one of which was a young Afro-Ecuadorian girl who’d been hit full force by the gas and whose beautiful black face was splotched and red. She ran in and grabbed a water hose dousing her face and crying while the older men there ran to pull the hose away as water actually makes the affects of tear gas worse. Instead the men herded us under a tarp-covered shed in the corner and began passing out cigarettes. Taking deep inhales and then blowing directly into the children’s faces (there was another young boy there) or blowing into their shirts and sticking the children’s heads in their shirt to breathe in the smoke. I don’t understand why, but it did help, and so I gratefully accepted the cigarette, sat next to the girl who’d gotten it the worst and had no idea where her parents were, and blew smoke directly into her face. Over and over again. The fighting in the square had only gotten worse, which meant we had to withstand wave after wave of newly released gas choking us, making my young companion whimper each time we felt a new one come on.

Eventually, the waves stopped coming and with a few awkward smiles and farewells, we decided to try our way out from the shed. Stepping back onto the street I saw men being carried away by their sisters and wives.  I saw a lot of blood – on the street, on people’s clothes, on people’s bodies. Ambulances raced by, women cried and ran. And then about a block from home I saw a cotton candy vender selling his wares to a family of spectators up on their balcony above the street. I think that is when I started to run. I made it back to an immensely relieved husband and sons contentedly watching a movie behind the closed door of their room. Safe. I don’t know what else to say about that day.

Soon it was Sunday and the women came out in their finely embroidered gowns and danced the same circles as all the dancers before them, but accompanied by the lilting tunes of an Andean flute and the giggles of their daughters. Gracefully swishing their skirts while smiling at the sky.

And then it was over, as quietly as it had begun.

We’ve included some video links throughout this post and a slideshow of some of the events is posted at the bottom to give you a sense of what my words cannot.

It is impossible to end this post with a clear point, because I don’t have one. Bo and I are still trying to reconcile the images and sounds and smells of the last couple weeks, with no real conclusion.

We are curious though, what do you think?

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Categories: From Bo, From Jamie | 10 Comments

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