To get to Paso del mango, you can not go all the way by car, so we got there by motorbike. We took a taxi to a police station at the foot of a mountain, then we ordered four motorbikes and set off up the mountain.
We had no helmets and our huge backpacks were balanced precariously on the front of the bike as we set off up the road for the half hour long journey. When I say road it was actually a dirty track and it was extremely bumpy and rocky like a cliff. I was just getting used to all the bumps when my driver took our his phone and started playing candy crush!!! I know someone driving up a steep dirt track one handed with a mobile phone in one hand sounds crazy but he really did play it! I think my mum and dad were pleased that they didn’t know about this until I got there safely. On the way back my driver’s phone rung and he answered it, stuck it in his helmet and started talking to the person on the phone, Oren’s driver was listening to music inside his helmet on the way there as well occasionally getting it out to switch songs. I found out that it was not unusual for motorbike drivers to go on their phones while they were driving, in fact they did it most of the time! They must have great skill, although as my driver made the sign of a cross after we arrived maybe my driver was also relieved we made it!
In Colombia motorbike taxi drivers don’t drive on the left, they drive on the right, apart from when some of them drive on the left of course, or in the middle sometimes!!! Pretty much whenever they feel like driving on the left or in the middle they drive there.
We were very surprised by this driving but we also noticed the skill of the drivers: weaving in and out of the rocks at speed up hills and down them! It’s not only on motorbikes that you get driving like that. Some taxi drivers on the coast are nearly as reckless as the motorbike drivers. They go fast and change lanes into the smallest gap. Another thing that we noticed is the amount of beeping that goes on. You have to listen carefully to distinguish between the get out of my way beep, the hurry up the light is about to go green beep, the beep for do you want a taxi and a general beep for the fun of it. There are so many horns going off you can’t even tell whether it is your taxi driver beeping or being beeped at! In a traffic jam it is the worst though.
The other thing that we’d forgotten about was the ‘how many people can you get in a car’ game. When there is a big group of people and you are wondering how many cars or taxis you will need to get to your destination, I can tell you that no matter how many of you there are, the answer will always be one! It is strange how much of a surprise these things can be when you are used to things being a certain way.
This holiday, we are only spending one week in Santa Marta (instead of over two months like last time). That means that we tried to spend as much time as possible with the charity over these days, but sadly, the time has already come to say goodbye. This will be the second and last post about La Lucha.
As well as the ‘sede’ that Oren told you about, one of the major improvements in La Lucha is that they now have their own ‘cancha’. A cancha is a kind of football pitch that can be used for other sports as well, like basketball. Next to the one in La Lucha they have some playground equipment for little ones too. A few years ago the kids used to go to a ‘cancha’ in another neighbourhood nearby for their lessons, but they kept getting into really bad fights with the local kids about who should play there. So, to avoid injuries they decided to do their training in the street in their own neighbourhood and that is where we always used to play with them. You might remember the videos of our sports lessons on the dirt road. Occasionally, a car or a motorbike would drive right through the lesson and we’d have to get out of the way, which was sometimes annoying if we were in the middle of an activity or game of football. Last year, La Lucha finally got their own cancha which was a huge boost for the whole neighbourhood. One thing you should know is that La Lucha is on the edge of a huge motorway and the ‘cancha’ is right by the road. If the ball goes over the tall bars in the wrong direction it could end up in front of a speeding car or motorbike!
It also means that when you’re playing there, it is really loud and you have to shout for people to hear you. The buses and lorries make lots of clouds of dust as well as noise. But still, for the people who live there, they don’t care and they think it’s amazing and they are really proud. Everyone goes there in the evening and sits around and they call it ‘el parque’ (the park).
On Friday, we were invited to try out a sports lesson for all the kids aged 8-12. Even though the tour was really good, it was really nice for me just to be playing with the kids again and feel like part of the group. During the training, I was made captain of my group and the ‘monitores’ told me all the rules of the game, and then I had to explain all the rules to my teammates – in Spanish of course! All of my group had loads of detailed questions about the game so I kept having to go back and ask for more explanations of what to do in different situations. We played different games for 2 hours and meanwhile it got really dark. Whenever we weren’t in the middle of a game, the kids were asking me and Oren questions about England and especially about football teams. The time went so quickly I was disappointed when it finished.
While we are here, we wanted to get some stuff for the foundation. First, we brought them lots of sports clothes from home – all the things that Oren and I have grown out of, and we also asked all our cousins for any football kits and ended up with a whole suitcase full of clothes. When we took the clothes to the sede lots of kids started rummaging through the bag searching for their favourite teams’ kit. Most of them seemed to prefer Barcelona and Real Madrid, and luckily we had lots of Barcelona kits because our cousin Luke supports Barcelona. As well as this, we wanted to find out when we got here what they really needed. We realised that a lot of their sports equipment had been broken so Anja told us that it would be great if we could buy them some hula hoops and skipping ropes that could be used in training. These were really popular, especially the skipping ropes as I don’t think they had these before.
Although I never forgot about La Lucha when we were back in England, it didn’t seem quite as real as we were so far away. But going back there has really reminded me how much they have to go through every day. All the kids are really happy about the sede and la cancha and I’m really happy that they have them because it really helps them in their very difficult environment.
Seeing everyone again made me really proud of the fundraising we have done at Colby school over the last 2 and a half years. On the day of the England vs Colombia football match we made arepas and sold Colombian food at break time for a fundraiser, and everyone who bought something should feel like their money went to a good cause. And In October-November last year we did 30-Day No Sugar challenge (including halloween!) and lots of our friends and family sponsored us and we gave all the money to the Colombian charity and we raised over 1000 pounds. Thank you to everyone who has helped us. And we’re definitely going to keep fundraising!
When we were last in Colombia you might know that we spent a lot of time with a charity called Tiempo de Juego. This charity helps children who live in a really poor neighbourhood called La Lucha. They go to school in the mornings but there is no school in the afternoon so they have nowhere to go. This has lead to some children wandering around the streets alone, vulnerable to dangers in their neighbourhood. Without role models to teach them how to get along with each other, the children sometimes get into fights and other kinds of trouble. When we were in Colombia before, the charity had set up a football club after school on Wednesday for children to go to, and we went along too to spend time with them. During the fun football session, the teachers also talked to the children about how to get along and how to behave and they helped them to learn life skills. At the end of our stay we tried to help out by giving the children shoes. The person who was running the foundation in La Lucha always told us that her dream for the charity was to have their own building where children could go to every day, not just once a week, to do homework on the computers she hoped to install there, and to have a safe place with adults who can teach them and care for them.
My mum had kept in touch with the leaders and a year ago they told us that they had finally managed to get a building – they were so happy! Then a few months later they told us they had moved to a new building because the first one was too near to the road and dust was getting in; it was very noisy and smelled of petrol from the cars. They told us the building they had moved into was so much better – it had computers for doing homework and research and they were running sport, music and dance classes for children. They called it ‘El Sede’: the headquarters. We were all very proud that such a small charity had managed to achieve their dreams of helping the children in La Lucha.
Maybe because of the word ‘headquarters’, my mum had imagined quite a fancy place and we were all so excited to go there. As we made plans to visit, the new manager there sent us a picture of the building to help us find it. This is what she sent us:
It wasn’t really what we were expecting, but after we visited and had spent some time learning about what they do there, we soon agreed that it was a headquarters to be proud of. When we went through the rusty metal door there was a courtyard with plants at the front and a room at the back with computers, a fridge for keeping food and drinks fresh, a cupboard with musical instruments and sport equipment and a filing cabinet to keep information about the charity and the children. In the courtyard there were some stairs that led up to a room upstairs which was where they had their dance and music classes. There was also a tiny room for counselling as some of the children had had very bad experiences. It was a bit basic in many ways but it had just what they needed.
At the ‘sede’ we met one of the charity’s managers, Anja, and two of the older children in the foundation who were ‘monitores’. These are the children who have shown themselves to be role models during classes and so they are promoted and asked to help the teachers to run activities. The monitores were going to give us a tour of the neighbourhood. Anja told us that she had asked four monitores to do the tour with us but that only two turned up on time. She said that she always had to book more monitores than she needed because she knew that some wouldn’t come. Although the monitores are some of the best kids in the neighbourhood, some of them are still learning about respecting their responsibilities and being on time! The two that came were called Mateo and Onehis and they were great. Mateo is at university and we knew Onehis from when we lived here before so it was great to see him again and know that he is doing so well! They took us out into the neighbourhood of La Lucha. Some younger kids from Tiempo de Juego decided to come along too as they were really excited to see English visitors to their neighbourhood.
As we walked, one of the first things I noticed was pipes all across the dirt floor of the streets. Anja said that they were pipes bringing water to the houses. La Lucha is set on the side of a mountain and the people have just built houses there out of things they have found on the street. There are no pipes underground or proper bathrooms or kitchens, so they need pipes to get the water to the houses. Mateo and Onehis then explained that the neighbourhood only gets water two or three times every month so the people living there have to make the most of the water when it comes. Everyone was washing their clothes that day and it made me think what things would be like if you could only wash clothes or wash yourself a few times a month!
We started to climb a hill with the younger children running off ahead.
They were very small but they had a lot of confidence and we were told that they were especially keen to come because they weren’t usually allowed up the hill on their own as it was quite dangerous. One of the funniest thing was when they found out that Brae could floss and they spent a long time flossing with him, trying to see who was the fastest!
One of the houses at the top of the hill was made out of only tyres and other recycled materials. We asked who lived there and Onehis said that people from Venezuela had recently built it -there were 15 people all living there. He then explained that because of the hyper inflation and other problems in Venezuela, many people had left the country because they can’t afford to feed themselves. More than one million Venezuelans had arrived in Colombia in the last year and many were sleeping on the streets of Santa Marta. Some people did not welcome them, but people from La Lucha had seen them there and said ‘Why don’t you come and build a house in our neighbourhood instead of living on the street? We have room on the hill.’ So lots of Venezuelans have come to La Lucha since we were last there. I think the people of La Lucha had probably welcomed them like this because they knew what it was like to be without anything.
From the top of hill we had an amazing view of the sea in one direction and ‘La Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta’ mountains in the other.
Where we were standing, the mountains and the sea were closer together than any other point along the coast of Colombia so it was a special view and you could tell that Mateo and Onehis were really proud and thought it was very beautiful. On the way back down the mountain we encountered a dog which was straying away from its owner and when we got close it growled and bared its teeth at us! Luckily Onehis knew what to do and he scared it off with some rocks and bark.
The tour was fascinating. We are very thankful to Mateo, Onehis and Anja for helping us to better understand the neighbourhood that the kids we have seen progress so much grew up in. Selling tickets for the tour was such a great way for the children themselves to earn money for the foundation and it was also great experience for the monitores to have the responsibility to teach people about la Lucha.
It was amazing to see how much the charity had progressed and expanded since we gave out shoes to the children last time, and it was and incredible to see something we care about growing so much.
On Thursday, we went to the most spectacular beach we’ve ever been to. The water was so clear and every shade of blue that I’ve ever even imagined.
When we got up that day, we thought we were going to go to a beach called Playa Cristal. This is an amazing beach inside the Tayrona National Park that we had never been to. Our friend Alexander (who took us to see the howler monkeys the last time we were in Colombia) said he would help us to get there, because you can only get there by boat. Alexander, his wife Monica and their three children – Pacho, Maria and Samuel – piled into the 4×4 with us and we set off (9 people in 6 seats!). On the way there, Alexander told us he had an idea about changing our plans. He said that he knew someone who would take us to a different beach, that was not open to the public. He told us that it was a very special beach – the prettiest in Colombia – and he’d only ever taken 2 other people there before. Even his own family very rarely go there so it was going to be a treat for all of us. My mum thought that maybe he was telling us this to make us feel special and maybe it wouldn’t be so unique when we got there. We went into the national park and drove along a really bumpy road until we arrived at a deserted beach. Alexander walked down the beach to talk to his friend and soon we all hopped into his boat and sped off. To get to our destination we went out round a peninsula into open sea with quite rough waves and I thought we were going to capsize but our awesomely skilled ‘lanchero’ (boat driver) got us back into the next cove in one piece.
As the boat pulled into the beach I looked around and there was absolutely nobody for miles around. The water was unbelievably clear, full of fish and really warm. The first thing we did was run into the sea for a swim before we went free diving. When we swam out to the reef we saw red, orange, white, green and yellow coral and so many fish including a puffer fish, a metre long fish and fish of all colours. We stayed at the beach all day and never saw another person. We had an adventure walking to a salt lake that the local tribe use – they swap salt for food with other tribes. This is one reason why Alexander doesn’t bring people here as it is a very special place for the local tribe. We made sure we took care of the beach well and we collected some plastic that had been washed up there from the sea and took it home with us.
Oren and I played with my ball that bounces on water with Alexander’s oldest son Pacho. He is the same age as Oren but the same height as me. Everywhere we go people can’t believe that Oren is 12 when they see how tall he is! They think that England is a land of giants!
It was really nice to share this amazing day with a Colombian family. They were all so kind and at the end of the day Pacho asked if we could come into his house to play but we were too tired because of the jet lag (on our body clock it was 1am). They also asked if we could go camping with them and maybe this weekend we will go round to their house for dinner and to play.
Welcome back to the Everetts In Colombia blog! We have returned to this amazing country, over 2 years after our original family adventure.
By Brae and Oren:
After a long day of travelling we finally arrived at our old apartment in Rodadero, near Santa Marta, Colombia. As we walked into the building we were greeted warmly by the ‘portero’, as if we were long lost friends. We were so happy to see him too and it felt so great to be back. Just then, it started raining. We were pretty surprised because we don’t think we saw a single drop of rain during the months that we lived here, two years ago. We thought it would stop quickly but we were very wrong.
We already had plans for our first day, so before long we set out to do a tour with our Colombian charity friends. We took a taxi into Santa Marta (our local city) and the rain just kept falling. As the water flowed in rivers down from the hillsides, and swirled around the taxi, with thunder and lightening crashing around us, we were starting to get a bit worried. Dad spotted a teenage boy, taking a shower in the street, using the water that was streaming off one of the roofs, overflowing out of the end of a gutter. Then the taxi driver said that he couldn’t take us any further because the water was just too deep and his taxi would flood.
When we got out, we still hadn’t got to the place where we were meeting our friends, so we bravely tried to continue our journey on foot.
Sometimes we had to turn back and try a different route, when the water got too deep, but we didn’t give up easily and eventually we got to a place where we could almost see the cafe we were heading to. But disaster, the water on these final few streets was waist deep and fast flowing and it was just too dangerous to go any further. Also, at this moment, Oren suddenly noticed
bugs crawling along the walls on the other side of the road. We looked some more and discovered that loads of ‘cucarachas’ (cockroaches) had made a home on the side of someone’s house. They had fled there in search of dry land as their usual hiding places were under water. It was disgusting!
I should mention that even though it was raining and we were drenched from head to toe, it was very, very, very, hot.
We reluctantly decided to head back to Rodadero, and give up on our mission for that day. To cheer ourselves up we had our favourite Colombian ice cream flavours (maracuyá and arequipe) for lunch. We didn’t mind about not having a proper lunch because we had already had some Colombian food at the airport at three o’ clock in the morning while we waited for our connecting plane: buñuelos, palitos de queso, pan de bono, arepa de queso…..yuuuummmmm!
We really enjoyed our first day and the apartment feels like a second home even though it’s extremely different from our Norfolk home. Today’s adventure felt like just the beginning of a long line of adventures to come over the next month.
When we were living in Santa Marta the weather was extremely hot because it was summer there. There was a severe lack of rain and often when we walked past a river bed we noticed that there was hardly any water in it. Lots and lots of people were very worried about the drought because there was hardly enough water to drink. The wind there was wild nearly all the time so it made a kind of whooshing noise in our apartment and we could barely shut the door! Here is a video showing you the wind there:
Often people we knew and taxi drivers would blame the drought on a climate pattern called “El Niño”. El Niño is when the water in the Pacific Ocean near the equator gets hotter than usual and affects the atmosphere and weather around the world. El Niño is Spanish for ‘The Little Boy’.
We went to a very famous place in Colombia called Guatapé and it is special because of all the decorations around the houses. The bottom of the houses all around the town have painted sculptures of animals, farmers feeding animals, vehicles or local places.
It is also famous for a dam that they built in the 1960s and it makes almost a third of Colombia’s electricity. When they built the dam it flooded all the valleys and lots of Guatapé and its surroundings so the landscape has lots of lakes. Some houses and towns ended up underwater and we heard that the only bit of the old village you can still see are the tops of the hills and the spike of the church tower sticking out of the water. We went on a boat around the lakes but we didn’t see it.
One very big hill, high above the water, is called ‘el Peñol’ but people also call it ‘la Piedra’ (the rock).
It’s quite amazing looking because it sticks up so much higher than everything else and I guessed that it was flung out of a volcano and we found out that I was right! We heard that you could climb it, because someone had built stairs in a gap in the rock, so we did.
We climbed up and I got there really quickly because I ran up but everyone else went really slowly. At the top there was an amazing view and we learned that there were six hundred and fifty steps and there was a tower at the top that was about fifty steps so I had run up about 700 steps altogether!
At the top we were about to go down when I saw a moth that looked like a leaf. It was really cool and we were quite surprised as it seemed very strange for a moth to be this high up.
Guatapé was one of our favourite-looking ‘pueblos’ (which means towns) but we went to quite a few other beautiful places too, like Ráquira which is famous for mud and pottery, Salento (where we played Tejo), Filandia and Villa de Leyva which has the largest cobbled square in all of South America.
Even though we were in Colombia for three months, we still never got used to Colombian people being so kind and generous! Sometimes people came over to talk to us and ask where we were from and things like that. That might seem a bit normal to you but if you’d known someone for 5 or 10 minutes would you think it was normal if they then offered to do something incredibly kind and generous for you, as if you were one of their best friends or part of their family? It didn’t seem normal to us but in Colombia it happened all the time. Here are a few examples:
One time, when we were in Barranquilla, we were on our way out when a man walked out of the hairdresser next door and started to talk to me. After about 10 minutes, my mum got off the phone and he said to her (in Spanish): ‘What lovely boys you have. They are really good at speaking Spanish. It’s my birthday tomorrow, would you like to come to my party?’. When my mum said that was really kind he replied ‘mi casa es tu casa’ which means ‘my house is your house’ and he offered for us all to go and stay with him and his family. When we said we were fine where we were staying, he told us that if we had any problem, we should come to him (he lived across the road from where we were staying) and knock on the door even if it was 2 o’ clock in the morning! Then he showed us around the neighbourhood. The next day we went to his party and we ate lots and danced with his daughters who were really nice too and met some of his friends (also really nice!) and when Brae got tired he said he should go inside to have a sleep so that my mum and dad could stay up late at the party!
Another time, we were trying to get home from Parque Tayrona and saw a bus pull up. We asked how much the tickets were but it turned out to be a private bus for some students from Boyacá. Even though we were just random people from the public, they said we could ride in their coach all the way to Rodadero where we lived (more than an hour away). On the way, my mum was chatting to some of the students and because they studied geology she told them Brae was in Emerald class and he wanted to bring an emerald home from Colombia to show them (they don’t really have amethyst mines in Colombia, so I can’t bring one back). The girl suddenly rooted around in her bag and pulled out a stone, studded with little emeralds! We thought she was just letting Brae have a look but when we tried to give it back she said “no, keep it”!
We have already told you about our taxi driver Javier (he drove one hour in the opposite direction to get a photo of shark oil for our blog -insert link to shark oil here), but we didn’t tell you that when we got back to Rodadero from Palomino my mum realised that she had forgotten a dress and he drove back and got it even though Palomino is an hour and a half away! We also told Javier that we were trying to find a Spanish teacher for my dad and he said he’d ask a friend of his who had retired after working as a professor at the university. Next thing we knew, this professor turned up at our house with his grandson to say that he wanted to apologise in person that he couldn’t teach us because he was a geography teacher, not a Spanish teacher. But he was so sorry not to help that he said he would be happy to give me and Brae free geography lessons and do anything else to help us feel at home in Santa Marta. He even went with my mum to help her set up a Colombian mobile phone!
If I wrote about all the amazing, generous Colombian people (for example, Maryline, Camilo and Jose, Laura and her family, all my mum’s friends from work, Guillermo, all the wonderful teachers and families from our school like Luis, Shamir and Alasha…) it would take a day to read this post, so I will have to leave lots of things out. But I can’t finish without telling you about Diana. Of all the people in Colombia who were nice to us, our friend Diana and her family were the most kind.
We met Diana in London when we were very young, and she has felt like our Colombian family ever since. At the end of our time in Colombia we went to stay with Diana and her husband Ernesto in their apartment and they looked after us so well when we spent a week with them. They both cooked us amazing food and took us to great places. We also saw Diana’s brothers Luis Fernando and Iván every day and also their mum and cousin. Luis Fernando took us to an amazing show at the theatre and to lots of nice restaurants and showed us around the city, Iván bought me and Brae Colombian football shirts and taught us all about the Colombian football team and Diana and her mum taught us how to make Colombian food.
Her family has done so many nice things for us that we can’t write them all but I should tell you that Diana and her family seemed to have every second of our time in Bogotá planned with lovely things to do so my family and I would have the best and most memorable time. It was really sad to go and we didn’t want to leave her.
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…
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.
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!!!
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.
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.
We went to a place in Colombia called Salento, in coffee region. In the town we heard of a place where you can play Tejo, which is the national sport of Colombia. We learnt about the game before we left England and really wanted to play it. We had tried to find somewhere in Santa Marta but we asked a taxi driver one time and he said the Tejo places in Santa Marta were really just for truck driver, not for children. The place that we heard of in Salento was called Betatown and it was OK for children too.
Tejo was invented more than 450 years ago by indigenous tribes. It used to be that you threw gold discs into a hole in the ground. After the Spanish arrived, they liked the game but they changed the rules a bit. They took the gold away and used iron instead, and they added gunpowder!
Now you play Tejo with a heavy disc of metal which you throw about six meters. You throw it into a box of clay with a metal ring buried inside and little triangles of gun powder touching the metal. You do not get any points if you miss the box of clay, you get one point if you land in the clay and you are closest to the metal ring, and you get three points if you hit the gunpowder and it explodes.
We played in teams of two and slowly got better, in the end we all exploded the gun powder. The gun powder was very loud and with lots of smoke and fire. We enjoyed it so much that we went to play it again the next day. Here are some pictures and videos of us playing. You can hear the rain at the end, because it was a thunder storm. It was the first rain we’d seen for nearly three months so it was quite cool.