Paso del Mango

By Brae:

Over the last three days we stayed in a place called Paso del Mango, near Minca. It means ‘the place of the mango’ or ‘mango way’. For a while we didn’t know why it was called Paso del Mango, but it soon became clear!  On our first day, we set off on a path beside the river to visit a nearby farm where they grow ‘cacao’ to make chocolate, and after about 5 minutes walking the floor became a carpet of mangoes!

You might remember that when we lived here before, as we walked to school we occasionally used to step over a mango or two that had fallen from a tree, but this was on a whole other level! I’ve never seen so many mangoes in my life, the smell was overwhelming and it was impossible to count them.

As we looked up at the enormous, beautiful trees laden with fruit, at first it
was really cool, but after a while I was just busy trying to find a bit of path where I could put my feet without squashing ten mangoes at once. Lots of things about Colombia have been unexpected, new experiences. For example, I never thought mangoes would be the cause of me arriving late for our tour of the chocolate farm.

Maybe you won’t be surprised that when we were in Paso de Mango we ate and drank a lot of mangoes: mango juice, mango salad, even pasta with chicken and mango. And the chickens in the chocolate farm ate mangoes from the floor for their snack.

Free diving (again)

By Oren and Brae:

One of the most amazing things about our first week in Colombia is that all of the days out we have done have been with old friends that we met when we were last here. Because we were here for two months we made lots of good friends, and this time we arranged to meet up with them when we were doing activities, which was so much more fun and made us feel more at home straight away. It also helped that we were treated like VIPs by our friends, and we got to do things with them that we never would have discovered on our own (like Chengue beach)!

As some of you may know, last time we went to Colombia we arranged a trip to go free diving with our friend Maryline and her boyfriend Camilo. Maryline has now moved to Portugal but we still managed to get in touch with Camilo and his cousin Jose. Last time we went diving at a beach called ‘Playa Blanca’ and we liked it so much that we decided to go again.

We had to meet up with Jose and Camilo early so we could dive before any other people got to the beach. We had to wake up at five o’clock in the morning and I wasn’t very pleased when I had to get up.  We met them by a little pier where the fishermen were selling their catch. Jose said that we were going to walk over the mountain to get to the beach (last time we took a boat). We were all a bit tired but we wanted to get to the beach before anyone else so we set off.

As the sun was coming up, and we started climbing the hill, Jose said that he was surprised that we walked so quickly because when he had taken some friends from University with him they had been crying and praying on their knees for God to save them at the point we were at, but we weren’t even tired! Soon we took a track leading off the main path into the shrubs.  Jose said that he was going to show us a plant that would make our hand swell up really badly for 20 minutes if we touched it. When he pointed to a really innocent looking plant in the midst of bushes with massive spikes on we were a little surprised, but we made sure we didn’t touch any. It is strange that people in different countries must all have different knowledge about plants. In the UK, everyone knows what a nettle looks like so you can avoid it, but I guess if a Colombian person came to visit they would have no idea. We certainly had no idea about the Colombian poisonous plants.

Finally, we arrived and excitedly put on our flippers and got into the water. Even though we had already done free diving before it still took my breath away when you first looked down into the water. The fish were incredible; I’d forgotten how many different coloured fish you were able to see.

 

I soon asked Jose if I could dive under water and he said yes but later he told my mum that he was only expecting me to go down about one or two metres  so he only took a small breath before he came after me. When he saw me disappearing into the depths though he was very surprised. He had to come to the surface, take a big breath and chase after me! I think that all my surf life saving training has helped me improve at diving and be more confident in the water.

By Brae:

We saw so many things in the sea like puffer fish, star fish, sea urchins, dory fish, diamond fish, an octopus and much much more. Jose taught us how to pick up sea urchins so we didn’t hurt them, and which ones not to pick up. I was really proud that I was able to dive down 8 meters to pick up a star fish. I could do so much more than when we went last time.

 

 

When we finally got out of the sea Jose were asked if we wanted fish soup with rice and patacones for lunch. We said yes they got out a big sauce pan from the back of their dive hut and took it to one of the restaurants to ask them to fill it up enough for 8 people. My mum asked if she could go with them but they said no because they would charge them more if they knew it was for tourists.

Dream come true. Again!

By Oren:

We are currently staying in a place called Paso del Mango in the Sierra Nevada mountains, not far from Minca. It is tropical forest here and today when we were in the jungle walking, suddenly my mum said, “Oren come quick. Quickly!”. At first I wondered what she had seen, and then as I saw the look on her face it dawned on me. Was it monkeys? It was!!!!!!!!  

When we were planning our trip to Colombia this time, I didn’t really expect to see monkeys, but I thought if we did see them it would be in the Amazon. I definitely didn’t expect to see them today, only an hour away from the city of Santa Marta!

When we spotted them they were balancing on some giant bamboo on the other side of the river. Even though I couldn’t see them very well it was still the best feeling ever! We used our binoculars to look at them and my mum tried to get some pictures (she only got a couple of blurry ones though). I thought things couldn’t get any better, but they did…

After a 5 hour walk, we were returning home along the same path, all a bit tired, and I was in the lead. A mango dropped out of a tree and I looked up to see where it had come from. That was when I saw them. Seven howler monkeys were in the tree directly above us.

I was so happy and shocked that I almost forgot to get everyone else to come and see. This time I could see them so clearly even without binoculars. Time went really fast but we stayed there for at least half an hour watching them move around in the branches above us. There were at least two babies – sometimes gripping tight to their mothers, and other times trying out their strength by swinging and climbing. It was unbelievable how lucky we were to see so many up close, and our guide said that it was very unusual for howler monkeys not to run off at the first sight of people.

This reminded me that people also told us how lucky we were the last two times we saw monkeys in Colombia.  We seem to have a special connection – somehow our experiences have been extra special, with monkeys staying near us for ages and ages allowing us to watch them in a really relaxed way. This time I was struck by how similar the movement and behaviour of the howler monkeys was to the documentaries I have seen of orangutans.  We watched the dominant male scratch his spine along a branch and the younger ones playing and hanging just by their tails.

It was such a magical moment and even if we don’t see monkeys in the Amazon I will still be more than satisfied. It was incredible.

Insects

By Oren:

One of the foods we didn’t try during our trip was a delicacy that they eat in some parts of Colombia that we only found out about when we got back. The dish is fat bottomed ants! We didn’t try this but when I read about it today it reminded me that we spent lots of time looking at live ants in Parque Tayrona and other places in Colombia. In Tayrona there were loads of enormous termite nests and ant colonies around the place we were staying and there were millions of red ants in each one! Brae and I spent a long time watching them and we saw where they went to get food, how they cut up the leaves and where they lived. They had cleared little pathways in the undergrowth in between their food source and their nest and we spent time following their paths. We made a film of their activities (and at the end you can see a glimpse of the amazing Blue Morpho butterfly we saw, but they were very difficult to film).

When we were in Tayrona we walked for hours every day to see the wildlife and we watched the birds and mammals mostly, but when we couldn’t see any we were happy to watch the bugs. One example is that when we went to get our breakfast one day we saw a praying mantis! Screen Shot 2016-04-16 at 22.26.10It was really cool because I didn’t think we were going to see one and I have read a lot about them. They are the predators of the insect world, so I guess that makes them the insect equivalent of a lion or a shark! We also saw, on our morning walk, a dung beetle rolling dung to its house, but it kept on going round in circles!

Lots of people don’t like bugs so they probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the insects, spiders and lizards that filled our cabin at night! We tried to tell ourselves that we had to get used to it because we were in the middle of a jungle and the insects lived there and we were their guests.

 

 

Valle de Cocora

By Oren:

One of the things my mum and dad had been reading about when they were first planning our trip to Colombia was a walk in a place called the ‘valle de cocora’. They really wanted to do it but they didn’t know because they had read about gap year students who hadn’t been able to do it because the last bit is up a mountain, and it is a really long walk. Despite this they wanted to do it so much so Brae and I rose up to the challenge…

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Milk delivery, passing us as we waited for our guide

About half way through the walk there is a humming bird place called Acaime so we were looking forward to it. We had booked a guide but when we arrived he wasn’t there so we asked some people where he was and they said that he was drunk so he was very late. After we heard that we decided that it would be best to go on without him.

After we set off the view changed a lot and we were enjoying it because it was beautiful. We also passed over lots of rickety broken bridges along the path.

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After we had been walking for about two hours we reached Acaime and my feet were hurting a bit so that was a relief. We thought it would be an enclosed area where there were a few humming birds quite a long way away, but it was way better than that. The sanctuary was in an open space in the middle of the jungle where they had some feeders with nectar in. The nectar made so many different birds from the jungle come down to feed and you could stand just about a metre away from them! There were literally loads of shimmering humming birds flitting around like lightning on the feeders and on all the branches and flowers around us!!!

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After we had stayed for nearly an hour and a half we decided we should probably go but our minds were still full of colour and light.

After Acaime we had to re-trace our steps a little bit and we came to a mountain path which was the next part of the route. It was an extremely steep bit and we struggled. Brae didn’t though because he went as fast as a mountain goat, but because of my altitude sickness I went slowly. When we reached the top it was a relief because we were all tired by that point. We looked at the view over the valley but we couldn’t see much at first because of the clouds (we were so high we were right inside them). We had a big rest up there and then we set off again on the downhill part of the journey.

My dad had told us that on the walk down there were palm trees that were sixty metres tall, but we didn’t believe him. Sixty metres is about 30 tall men standing on top of each other! When we got to the bit where the palms were supposed to be we saw some that were thirty metres tall so we said to him: “Told you that they weren’t sixty metres tall”, but then we turned a corner and saw palms that really were around sixty metres tall! It was hard to see the tops of some of them because they were so high.

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You can see how small the cows look!

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I felt amazing that I did it and I felt that I could do anything now I have completed the walk, but I was exhausted. My mum and dad were really happy and proud of us.

Colombian animals update : MONKEYS!!!

By Oren:

A few weeks ago we went to “Parque Tayrona”, one of Colombia’s national parks, so we could see some extraordinary landscapes and wildlife. They don’t allow cars in the park so we had to walk to where we were staying. It was an hour and a half’s walk but we got a horse to carry our heavy bag so we were able to really enjoy the hike.

We walked for about an hour up some steep slopes through the jungle without seeing hardly another person. We were quite lucky because it was early morning and a bit misty and cool for the first time in months. Suddenly, we turned a corner and my Mum spotted a little monkey clambering around in a tree! tayrona-7

If you know me, you will know that I LOVE monkeys and have been dreaming about seeing them in the wild for my whole life. I managed to get a glimpse of it and I thought: ‘it’s going to go now but at least I saw it!’, but instead, it stayed right where it was! It was sitting in a tree and picking and eating berries when I spotted another one near it, then another, and another, until there were twenty monkeys hopping around in the trees above our heads!! I felt so overwhelmed I basically couldn’t speak. I felt so happy right then and I will never forget that moment when I first saw them. We stayed there for ages and the monkeys seemed really calm and they came very near us and carried on picking and eating the berries. After about half an hour of watching them, a few more visitors caught up with us and saw us watching the monkeys, but when they arrived the monkeys started jumping up and down and running off to hide. When the people left, the monkeys became more relaxed again and carried on eating and came back close to us! I think that the monkeys didn’t mind us which made me feel very special. tayrona

We spent three more days in the park keeping a look out for more but we didn’t see any. We asked people working in the park and they said we were really lucky to see so many and maybe it was because it had rained the day before for the first time in months. The monkeys we saw were capuchin monkeys but there is also a kind of monkey in Tayrona called the ‘mico Titi’ and they only exist in that jungle in the whole world! Because they don’t live anywhere else in the world they are critically endangered. The third kind of monkey in Tayrona is a howler monkey.

After seeing the capuchin monkeys I thought things couldn’t get any better and I knew that I would leave Colombia knowing I’d completed a dream. But during our last week staying on the coast we decided to go to a place called “Don Diego” because we wanted to go down the river on a tyre again, because we enjoyed it so much the first time on a different river. The other reason that we went was because we had been told that going to Don Diego river was the best chance to see some howler monkeys. Even though I had seen monkeys in “Parque Tayrona” I still wanted to see some more (obviously!).

We had been floating down the river for a while and we were just getting over seeing about ten kingfishers when we went under a bridge and the guide pointed out some shadowy shapes sitting in a tree. As we got closer we saw that they were monkeys!!!!!!!!! We stopped the tyre and got out on the bank just underneath them so we could get some photos, without disturbing them.
don diego-10don diego-13 Howler monkeys are completely different to capuchins. They are much bigger, dark red and they were just hanging around quite lazily, instead of rushing around like the capuchins. We got a great view because they were on a bare branch without leaves hiding them. We carried on down the river and found out that it wasn’t just that tree that had monkeys in it, and it wasn’t just one more, it was that nearly every tree we passed had monkeys in! Around the next corner, we spotted a huge group sitting in a tree (there must have been about 15 or 20) and the guide, who had been doing this for years said that he hadn’t seen that many monkeys in one tree ever before!!!don diego-16

Of all the nature experiences I have had in my life these two will be the most memorable, and no one can guess how happy I was to see them.

You can find more Colombian animals here.

More Colombian animals update

By Brae:

As you can remember in Minca we saw an amazing lizard that ran on water. But in parque Tayrona we saw even more amazing lizards.tayrona-3

For example we saw a lizard that was black with yellow stripes! We also saw a lizard with a blue head yellow body and green tail and we saw one that was black with a bright blue tail!

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We did not manage to get pictures of all of them but here are the ones that we could. We promise we have not changed the colour lizards were! Me and Oren spent hours watching them and seeing where they went.

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You can see more Colombian animals here.

Another Colombian animal update

By Oren:

One of my favourite things about Colombia is the wildlife and some of my most amazing nature memories were made in a town called Minca. Last weekend we went back to Minca so we could see our good friend Niall and meet his girlfriend, RyAnn, and also to see the wildlife. Because last time was so awesome I thought that we might not manage to see as much new nature, but I shouldn’t have worried.

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Brown basilisk just after it ran on water!

While we were in Minca we saw a lizard when we were out swimming one day, basking on a rock by the edge of the water. We must have startled it because suddenly it shot away from us into the water right next to a waterfall and Brae and I thought it was going to drown! But amazingly it didn’t because it actually ran along the surface of the water like lightning and scampered out the other side!!!!! If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I wouldn’t have believed it. When we got home we searched online and found out that it was a brown basilisk, which is sometimes known as a Jesus Lizard. I have read about these lizards but I never thought I’d actually see one doing it. It was insane.

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Chicharra

The other new wildlife experience that I will never forget (but not in a good way!) was the sound of a very annoying bug in the jungle in Minca. On Saturday, we tried to go out for a peaceful evening walk to see the sunset but it turned out to be torture! It was all thanks to a bug that a Kogui tribesman told us was called a ‘chicharra’. We were walking down a path and we were deafened by a horrible buzzy drone, which seemed to be coming from the trees around us. It was so loud that it seemed like someone was drilling the road and we had to cover our ears! These nasty cicadas were all over the mountainside and the noise got carried on the wind so you could hear it wherever you went. If you don’t believe how loud it was play this video on full volume and it still won’t be as loud as it was in real life.

minca2-17 When we got home to our apartment the next day, a chicharra flew right into our lounge through the door to our balcony. It flew around the room bashing into the walls and making a big racket. This one was green and you can see how big it is by comparing it to my dad’s phone.

In my previous post about animals, I mentioned that the last time we went to Minca we saw a massive Iguana. We were hoping to see it again but this time we saw a different one! We were making a video to send to Emerald class and as we were filming Brae spotted a baby Iguana. We had to stop the video so we could get a good look and some proper photos of it (sorry Emerald class!). It was a baby one and it was bright green and we had never seen a baby before.minca2-2minca2-4

 

Everything is so awesome in Colombia and I am so lucky to have seen so many incredible things, but I still have one dream – to see a monkey in the wild. Next weekend I really hope to see one when we go to the national park “Parque Tyrona”, so wish me luck!

You can find the previous Colombian animals post here.

And in case you don’t already know, we’re now trying to do something amazing and really help children in Colombia. Check out our fundraising page: EverettsInColombiaFundraising

Colombian birds update

By Brae:

This weekend we went to Minca again and we saw even more amazing birds than the last visit.

Last time we were walking for hours but we only saw a toucan from far far away. So we went back to Minca and this time we did see a toucan and it was the best view of a toucan ever!!! It landed on a tree really near us and did not fly away for ages so we could get really good photos of it and focus on it with our binoculars! The toucan was so many different colours and it was amazing.

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To see a toucan was a thing that we had been wanting to do for ages so when we saw it we were so so happy! It was like a wish come true.

We also saw three different fabulous blue birds. One pale blue, one really dark blue and a blue headed parrot (but we could only see its head because it was in a tree).

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Blue-grey Tanager
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Blue-headed parrot
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Red-legged Honeycreeper

One thing I can tell you is if you want to see birds, go to Minca!

minca2-16As well as seeing amazing tropical birds we also saw some birds that you will probably recognise!

 

The first Colombian birds post can be found here.

Free diving

By Brae and Oren:

In our last few posts we told you about statistics and school, but now we want to remind you how many really, really fun things we’re doing in Colombia…in case you forgot!

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Our friend Maryline, who is my mum and dad’s Spanish teacher, helped us go on an incredible diving lesson on Sunday. Her boyfriend Camilo, and his cousin José are both diving teachers. And because we are friends with Maryline, we had an extra special experience!

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dive1-13We went to a beach called Playa Blanca (white beach) and the only way to get there is by boat. When we arrived, no one was there and so we had the whole beach to ourselves, apart from a little dog and its owner, who has a restaurant on the beach.

dive1-8First we climbed up a hill so we could see the view. From the top we could see black smudges in the water. José told us that they were schools of sardines.

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For our lesson, José took us into the water and gave us our masks and snorkels and told us important things you need to know if you want to go free diving. Free diving is when you can dive right down underwater with your snorkel, not just staying on the top. We practiced all the tips he gave us and he said we were doing really well so we set off to the other side of the beach, got our flippers and he told us how to use them.

dive-17We went diving near a rocky cliff and there was amazing coral and all kinds of incredible fish and sea anemones. We were amazed about all the different colours of the fish. It felt like being in an aquarium.

About half way along the cove José spotted a puffer fish swimming around among the coral. He dived down and gently urged it up towards the surface by putting his hand near its nose but not actually touching it. We were lucky enough to touch it, extremely gently, and it felt like silk because it wasn’t frightened or puffed up. When they’re puffed up they have spikes that point out so they’re like a balloon with spikes on. We would have liked to see it puff up but we didn’t want to make it frightened. While we were diving we didn’t touch the coral as we didn’t want to damage it and also José told us that the orange parts of the coral would really sting if you even put one finger on it.

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We feel really lucky to have this great experience and to have friends like Maryline, Camilo and José to help us do something so extraordinary that we will never forget.

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