Amazon, part 2. Out of our comfort zone!

There were so many beautiful, magical and wonderful things in the Amazon, but we wouldn’t be giving you a true impression if we only told you about these things. The Amazon is also filled with creepy, scary and disgusting things too! Here are the top 5 moments that definitely made us feel out of our comfort zone.

Number 1:Night walking

By Oren:

One of the most memorable parts of our trip, for wonderful as well as weird and worrying reasons, was our night walk. On our first night in the Amazon, we were in our room listening to the jungle chorus starting up as darkness fell, and our guide came to escort us to dinner. This might sound a bit over the top, but the only way to get to where we were going to eat was to trek through the wilderness. Ahhhh! This offered us the unique opportunity of walking through the Amazon jungle, at night!

From the very first step, we were surprised about how much night time activity there was, but apparently 70% of animals in the rainforest are nocturnal. Our guide set out in the front and as we walked behind him, adrenaline was rushing through us, our hearts beating at what felt like 1000 beats per minute. Soon, he pointed out several stunning frogs and giant stick insects (like the ones our friend Harvey has as pets). It was a great start to our walk, but it was only going to get better. Later on, we saw lots of small spiders and one thing called the scorpion-spider. With a name like that you would never want to meet it in a dark jungle, but it turned out that it was harmless! Suddenly the guide stopped and pointed to a spider a lot bigger than my hand. It looked like something out of a horror film, and to make things worse it was poisonous! It was pretty scary watching my Mum lean in so close to take photos of deadly creatures. We steered clear of that one!

 

Spotting insects that you had only ever seen in books and on TV was nerve wracking because you had no idea what was likely to kill you. Or perhaps we’d see something we recognised, but it would be 20 times as big as at the version we knew at home! We also wondered if at any moment, we’d meet the night wasps again.

Night wasp nest

During the day, we’d seen them arranged in incredible formation in their nest, with one look out perched on top while the other slept. We had been relieved that they had been sleeping, but suddenly I remembered that night was their time. The sense of nervous anticipation will definitely stick in my mind.

Later on Brae spotted a snake too. It was small and cute, and it was perched on top of a leaf so it looked like it was posing for a photo, but apparently it was poisonous too. Literally everything is dangerous here! The scariest part of the snake encounter was that the guide had walked past it. We all had torches and as Brae scanned the undergrowth, his torchlight fell on the snake, so he pointed it out to the guide. He told us that it was in attack position and advised us to walk right off the path in order to go round it. Basically, if Brae hadn’t spotted it I bet that one of us would have walked into the leaf it was sitting on (which was right by the path) and it would have bitten us!

Suddenly we came to a stop and we were told to turn off our torches. It was like being in a pool full of ink, you couldn’t see your hand even if it was pressed up against your face. I felt very sorry for the French people we had heard about who recently got lost in the jungle for 2 nights! Being there in the total darkness was pretty scary for us at first but in that stillness we could really appreciate the sounds of the jungle. We heard booming echoes and screeching. We thought it was monkeys until the guide said casually, ‘oh that’s a frog’. We weren’t expecting that! We did hear monkeys too, and countless insects, but perhaps the strangest noise of all was the spooky sound of the witch frog cackling in the dark! With each moment we were realising how far away we were from everything that we considered normal and how lucky we were to be having these experiences. Then, our guide held up something glowing to me. It was a leaf, and there was a fungus on the leaf that glowed in the dark! It was magical seeing all those tiny lights appear around us on the forest floor as our eyes finally adjusted to the dark.

On the way back we split into two groups and our group spotted tarantulas -and not one, but five! They were lurking behind a rotting log, in the nooks and crannies. They were really impressive and I was thrilled to have seen them. I have seen so many pictures of tarantulas that it was insane seeing them for myself.

So after all that, was dinner worth it? Well, I certainly enjoyed my half a piranha! All in all the night walk was an incredibly unique and wonderful experience and it was one of my Dad’s top 3 moments of our whole trip.

 

Number 2: Canopy

By Oren:

During our Amazon trip, we had the opportunity to journey through the jungle canopy. Before deciding to take on this challenge, we had thought it over quite a bit, because my Dad is scared of heights, so it was definitely out of his comfort zone. To get this completely different perspective on the jungle, we first had to haul ourselves 38m up a rope to the top of a tree. We had harnesses and braces that held us in place and stopped us sliding back down when we were climbing, but it was incredibly hard work on your arms. We were absolutely exhausted when we reached the top so we were pleased to rest and admire the view from a platform before starting our journey from treetop to treetop, by zip wire!

To tackle the first zip wire, which carried you through the air, high above the jungle floor, we first had to swing our legs off the platform while the guide strapped us in. Then you had to stand on a thin branch and jump off! It was extra scary because whenever someone went on the wire, the whole tree shook (including the platform).  The next wire was much longer and it took you down 21m to the next tree, and it was over 100m long. It was so fun but also frightening going down that one because you felt like you were going to hit a tree at any moment. We got into a chat with one of the helpers before waking along a wobbly, rickety bridge that was held together with bike tyres! That was the worst bit in my opinion because the bridge sagged and swayed under your weight. We then proceeded to slide/fall down a rope to the ground. Brae and I went first and, as you went one at a time, we weren’t exactly sure how our Dad was getting on behind us. We thought he would find it a lot scarier than us and he did. He found it especially scary when we were hanging our legs off the side of the platform and standing on that log. In the end, we felt very impressed that he completed the whole course, until he said that the guide had told him that once you started there was absolutely no way back!

Number 3: Jungle houses

By Brae:

When we were in the Amazon we slept in places that were very different to what we’re used to at home. For example, on just our second night, our guide announced that we would hike through the jungle for a whole day, then travel by river, then hike some more and eventually arrive at a large indigenous hut in the middle of the jungle and that is where we would sleep. Well, first I should tell you that the night hike we did was in something that the guide called secondary jungle. This means that at some point in the past, the jungle in that area had been cut down and what we could see now had regrown. It still looked like wild, huge jungle, but apparently the trees weren’t as old and it was full of fast-growing plants and trees. The place we were going to stay on our second night was going to be in primary jungle – jungle that has never ever been disturbed – so it felt even more like the real thing. Primary jungle is generally where the jaguars are.

After an amazing day of hiking, we reached our ‘maloka’ house, in the middle of nowhere with no other huts to be seen. Our guide had built the house himself and it was really beautiful. We arrived just as it was getting dark and so soon we were surrounded by candle light. There weren’t enough beds for us all so me, Oren and our friend Hector slept in hammocks surrounded by a mosquito net. At first I wasn’t sure about sleeping in the hammock because I didn’t know if I was going to be able to get to sleep, but actually I had a wonderful night’s sleep. The hammocks were hung in the middle of the room and to get inside you had to undo the zip at the bottom and climb inside the net, and then get round into the hammock before reaching down to do up the zip at the bottom.

The beds weren’t the only different thing about this stay. Also on this night our shower and loo was outside the ‘maloka’ on a pentagonal platform. It had no walls so there was no hiding if a indigenous person or monkey came wandering in the other direction! This felt quite strange as I stood there in the shower but it was actually really cool too. It was the best view I’ve ever had from a shower!

Another odd sleeping place was on our first night when we slept in a tree house. This was not what might come to mind when I say ‘tree house’ as it really was a house in a tree. It had four beds, a bathroom and a balcony. Our first impression was: wow! It was a very nice place to stay as you could look out of the window and see the jungle below you! The balcony was home to a small colony of bats who slept in the roof. As I got in bed to go to sleep that night I said to my dad “I have Oren on my right and bats on my left!”. You may think that the bats were about 10 metres away but they were actually under a foot from my face. I could hear them squeaking to each other as I went to sleep.

As well as the bats we had been warned that there was a small mouse living in the treehouse too, but that we shouldn’t worry about it. That night my Mum went to the toilet and suddenly a loud scream echoed through the cabin. We all called her name to see what was up but she still didn’t answer straight away. Eventually she came back into the room looking a bit white and said that our treehouse guest wasn’t a small mouse, it was a huge rat, or some other jungle rodent! I told her off for not answering when we were saying her name – anything could have happened to her – not just a rat-sighting. Later on we had visits from a massive cricket and a lizard . It was cool seeing them flitting about. It was a wild cabin!

You have probably guessed that even though these sleeping experiences were definitely out of our comfort zone, we thought they were pretty awesome in the end. The thing that I found most amazing about sleeping in the jungle was having the sounds of the jungle around me as I dropped off. However it was a little bit worrying because there was not much stopping a tarantula or a venomous snake getting into our huts!

Number4: Grub!

By Oren:

While we were staying in Puerto Nariño we were just having breakfast when our guide came in holding a writhing humungous maggot. It was absolutely revolting and when he said ‘this is lunch!’, I almost threw up. It was even worse when he said, I know someone who will eat it, follow me. Outside we met an indigenous man who proceeded to eat this creature alive! It was the most disgusting thing I have ever seen, or at least the top five! I can hardly write this without feeling sick. What he did was rip its head off and then suck its gooey yellow insides from inside it. I had to walk off quietly and take some deep breaths after that. To make it worse, Justine offered 50 pounds to anyone who tried it and so did my dad! Hector was considering a teeny taste but I said it was worth all the money in the world and more! As you can imagine no-one felt hungry after that!

Even though we didn’t try the grub we did try to think about how different cultures have different traditional dishes and people from other countries might find them disgusting. People from Puerto Nariño might find some of our traditional dishes horrid too. Even though I try to keep an open mind about tasting new things it was on a whole new level of gross for me. I’m not a complete disgrace though, in Bogotá they sold fried big bottomed ants and I tried a bit of that. I just hated the fact that the maggot was alive. To be honest it was quite a disgusting experience in total.

Number 5: Indigenous chief

By Brae:

In the Amazon region, most people are indigenous and they call the places they live communities, instead of town and cities. Each community has their own way of life and traditions and, as Oren mentioned in the last post, they can decide their own rules and laws. We have been lucky enough to travel so much around Colombia, and we think that some of the Amazon communities we visited were among the nicest places we saw anywhere in the country. We especially loved Mocagua (where the monkey sanctuary was) and the communities in Puerto Nariño (we will tell you more about that in the next blog). They seemed to have a lovely way of life and you felt like if you lived there you would probably be very happy. But, we did spend time in one indigenous community that made us feel a bit out of our comfort zone and this wasn’t a place that we thought we’d want to live. I am going to tell you about this one.

On our second day in the Amazon we went on a long walk through the jungle and stopped for a rest when we reached an indigenous house. We were going to have lunch there and we were about to walk in when we were told we had to go round the other side and enter through another door. It was explained to us that these indigenous people believe that the house is like a body and so you must enter through the mouth and then go out through the rear!

The hut was a large oval shape with just mud for a floor. There was a wooden table and benches, some hammocks and an open fire. So it was quite basic but it was very pretty and surprisingly cool considering how hot the jungle was outside. In the corner there was a big pot which we thought might be our lunch. We looked in and there was a sloth’s head being cooked in it! It still had all its hair still on, it was absolutely disgusting. This was a real shock as we had spent all morning hoping to see a sloth sleeping on a branch of a tree. We definitely didn’t want to see one in a pot! Thankfully our guide told us that it was not for us, and he said that the chief did not hunt sloths to eat but this sloth had died accidentally when a tree was cut down so they were cooking it so that it wasn’t wasted. I was happy to learn that they didn’t hunt sloths but I was still quite upset about the head in the pot!

To escape this cooking we quickly got into our swimming costumes and headed down to a small tributary of the Amazon river. Because it is so humid in the Amazon, going in the water felt like being brought back to life because of how refreshing it was. However, it was a bit worrying because even though caiman, anaconda and piranha usually don’t go in that area there was nothing to stop them doing so! After we had had a swim, the chief asked us to help move a canoe, and we were quite surprised when we found the boat about four foot under water!

Lifting it was actually fun but it was really tiring work because the canoe was VERY heavy and we were up to our chests in water and there was a very powerful current! In the end, one person stood in shallow water so they could be really stable and then we joined hands to make a chain, with each person getting deeper and deeper and nearer the canoe, and then we all heaved, pulling against each other so that we didn’t fall over. We nearly gave up a few times but finally we succeeded  in getting it near the surface and then we bailed all the water out. Then me, Oren and our friends Hector, Petra and Tom all got in the boat and went across the river to test it. It was extremely wobbly and kept letting water in the sides so in the end we all jumped out into the deep river.

When we got back to the hut we had lunch and we were served catfish and piranha, not sloth. This tasted fantastic, and instead of a table cloth and plates we had a colossal banana leaf covering the table to eat our food off.

After lunch, the chief wanted to show us one of his community’s traditions and he asked us to help him make a powder from the coca leaf. I know that the coca leaf is used to make something that Colombia is very famous for but this is not the same. The indigenous people use coca to keep them alert and active, a bit like coffee. Coca leaves are also used across the country and in other countries like Peru to make tea to help with altitude sickness and for general health, and the indigenous people used it like this for a long time before the other way of using it was invented.

So, we helped the chief. First you pick the mature leaves, leaving the youngest ones on the plant. Once you have picked the leaves you roast them over an open fire being careful not to burn them. You grind the roasted leaves into dust by using a large stick. Then you add ash from a special tree and mix the two together.To take the mixture, you place some of the powder under your tongue. Some of our group tried it and the chief had loads. Apparently it is like putting a load of ash in your mouth and it made speaking very difficult.

It was then time for one of the scariest parts of our trip! It was time to make the next part of our journey, by boat. The chief led us to the river and told us to get in a boat. He said he’d got a new canoe for us but the one he pointed to looked very familiar! Yes, the one we had raised from the bottom of the river! Yes, the one that we had tested that let in loads of water! But we didn’t know what other choice we had so 10 of us clambered into the small and extremely unstable canoe. Once we were all in it, the rim of the boat was barely above the water line. The next half an hour felt like ten hours as the boat continually let bucket loads of water over the side and, if that wasn’t bad enough, there were holes in the boat that let even more water in.

Oren and Brae looking nervous!

I think the chief picked up on our nervousness, so he sang us a song to cheer us up. This was a nice idea, but his swaying in time to the song just made more water enter, and so the trip was even more terrifying! Three of us were constantly bailing water out and my mum was petrified that we were going to lose her camera to the water with all our photos of the trip. We somehow managed not to sink and arrived at our destination only slightly soaked. We then said goodbye to the chief. As I watched everyone else receiving a very sweaty hug from the half naked chief I slunk off and hid behind Oren. Thanks to my Dad who pointed me out, and made sure I wasn’t forgotten and got my special squish!

 

 

Caño Cristales, part 2.

By Brae:

At last the day arrived when we would hike to reach the Caño Cristales river. Seeing the water was one of my favourite parts of our trip to Colombia, with shades of pink, green, blue, yellow and more. I really enjoyed looking at the river, as well as swimming in it, because it was so beautiful. The thing that I found really amazing was how clear the water was. If you were wearing goggles it was as clear as swimming in air, and even if you weren’t wearing goggles it was clearer than wearing goggles in a swimming pool!

   

One thing that made our day extra special was that we were allowed to go in a group of just the 5 of us, with our own guide (called Jose), and we didn’t see anyone else in the national park for the whole day, apart from right at the end! There are strict rules about how many people can enter the park each day and it’s really well organised. Each group is given a different route and a different start time. We did a 14km walk with 4 awesome swimming spots, lots of wildlife and the prettiest views you can imagine! We were chosen to do the longest walk in the park because before you go to Caño Cristales you have to fill in a form about how healthy you are, and then they will chose a walk appropriate for your group’s average health and fitness. We had to say that both me and Oren are very active 7 days a week and that brought our average fitness level up loads!

The dog thought it was an early start too!
The dog thought it was an early start too!

Because we were on the longest walk, we had to get up really early and catch the first boat to take us to the entrance of the national park. Just as we were setting off, a dog jumped on board with us! We were then told that the dog always goes to the pier and waits for the first group of the day and then it goes with them into the park.

When we got to the entrance, the soldiers searched our bags and my Mum had her lipsyl confiscated! To explain why, I’d better tell you where the colours in the water come from. There are some plants which don’t grow anywhere else in the world, and they only grow for a few months each year in the Serranía de la Macarena National Park. The plants grow underwater and this is what gives the water some of its amazing colours (as well as other plants, deep pools, reflections and sand).

Macarenia clavigera

Because the plants are so unique they are trying really hard to protect them. That means you can’t always swim where the plants are, and if you’re going to swim you can’t wear any sun cream, or insect repellent or any other soaps or creams in case it goes in the water and damages the plants. For this reason, my Mum didn’t mind about her lipsyl and so we boarded our jeep to start a 40-minute journey to the start of our hike. After the first few minutes bumping over roads eroded by water, we noticed that the dog was running along behind. We tried to ask our driver to stop and give him a lift, but they said the dog did the run every day too and would be fine. And sure enough it ran after the jeep for the whole way!

Vellozia macarenensis

As we finally set off walking, we were surprised by the unique landscape and flowers and how different the insects were. First we saw white flowers everywhere. It was another special plant that could survive the fires that happen there. You can see the burnt stems in the photo but it just starts growing again. At one point an insect landed on us and Jose was really amazed as it was something he had never seen before. It was like a cross between a bee and a butterfly. He took photos to show some university students who are studying the nature in the park. When you remember that this place was completely unexplored for a long time, we really thought that maybe we discovered a new species!! We also saw some grasses that we thought Nonna and Jesse would like.

 

We were lucky because it was cloudy in the morning which meant it wasn’t as hot as usual, but even so it was extremely hot. After we had been walking for about half an hour we came across our first glimpse of the river and it was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. Before we went to Caño Cristales we were not sure if it really was going to be as amazing as everyone said but when we got there it was even more amazing and beautiful.

To get to all the places that we wanted to go, we had to jump over rocks and wade through the water. We also passed giant waterfalls and holes in the rock that had been made by the water. Some of them were like perfectly round, super deep swimming pools, and we even climbed through a hole to see another waterfall.

The first swimming spot was quite shallow apart from a large circular hole that was up to my neck. But the reason I liked that spot was because there was a waterfall that you could sit under and it was really nice and refreshing.

 

The 2nd swimming spot was also really cool because it had loads of awesome places to jump into a really deep pool. This one was in the shade which was a very big relief. We also had lunch there which was wrapped in a banana leaf that we had brought in our backpacks. It was a very nice packed lunch, with chicken, rice and some kind of delicious sauce.

My favourite swimming spot was the 3rd one. In the middle it was 8 meters deep and it was really fun diving down and picking up sand from the bottom. Over a wide area it was at least 3 metres deep so it got quite tiring because we were swimming there for about an hour, but luckily there were lots of stones to stand up on.

We spent the whole day hiking and it was perfect. We walked a bit and then just as I was getting hot and tired we’d turn a corner and come to a different branch of the river and a new place to swim. We were so glad that the next day we were told we could go and explore another part of the river called Cristalitos, because we didn’t want our experience to end. Cristalitos is a river like Caño Cristales but smaller, and our guide Jose knew a way to get there because he had part of the Cristalitos river on his own farm, which I found really amazing! So, first we got to see around Jose’s farm and he was growing lots of things like pineapples, coca, yuca and guanabana. He was also doing some conservation work to protect the turtles from the main river and we got to see lots of babies. When we reached Cristalitos river it was just as beautiful as Caño Cristales and we we had a lovely swim.

Too soon it was time to leave to catch our flight back to Bogotá. Our stay in Caño Cristales was definitely in my top three things of the whole trip.

 

 

 

Bogotá

By Brae:

We would recommend Colombia to anyone, because they would have an  amazing time there and have incredible experiences. But what makes Colombia extra special for us is that we have a Colombian friend called Diana. And what makes that even more special is that all of her family are really, really welcoming and kind. They all live in Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia, which is why we used this as a base for our trips and spent quite a lot of time there.

When we first arrived in Bogotá and rang the bell of their flat, Diana, her husband Ernesto and her brother Luis Fernando were all there to welcome us and we really felt like this was our Colombian family. Diana’s flat had the most amazing view in the world out of the window and we saw humming birds in her garden!

Diana’s family also took us to stay the weekend at her mum’s old house and it had a pool right next door and we swam in the pool all the days that we were there. The first time we went into the pool I was surprised that I way out of my depth because all the other pools I had been in in Colombia haven’t even been up to my neck. Later on, everyone was in the pool hitting the ball to each other in the air, and I could still do it but it was harder for me because I was treading water the whole time when everyone else could just stand up   .

  

In the evening, we played poker and suddenly Diana pointed under the table and the look of horror on Luis Fernando’s face as he jumped up and grabbed a flip flop made me sure that it was something bad. I looked and I saw a scorpion under the table! Then SPLAT – Luis Fernando crushed it under his shoe.

One of the best things about seeing Diana is that we just do normal family fun like playing games and cooking. Diana always teaches us a new recipe and this time we made a Spanish dish called paella. It’s basically a lot of rice with vegetables, sea food and meat. In fact, food is always a big part of the time we spend together and the whole family makes sure we get to try the best Colombian food. On our way back from Diana’s mums house we had lunch at a ribs place that Diana’s other brother Ivan wanted us to try and he was right because it was the best ribs I’ve ever had!!!

In Colombia, breakfasts are very different because in England you might have cereal, toast or pancakes but in Colombia you eat a big meal. It could be arepas, cheese, eggs, sweet rolls, envueltos, tamales, meat, left over dinner from the night before (we had paella and pizza for breakfast in Bogotá!), patacones, empanadas etc. It’s going to be hard getting used to a small bowl of sugar-free cereal again!

Another example of their kindness is that Diana’s husband Ernesto saw me and Oren watching football on TV one day and the next night he took us to see Santa Fe (their local team) play a game at the stadium nearby. I’ve only ever seen Norwich City play before so this was so exciting and it was one of my favourite things we did. Even though the stadium wasn’t even half full, it was probably a lot louder than most games in England because the fans were so supportive, shouting and blowing horns and there were two huge bands playing instruments. It was especially cool because Santa Fe won 1-0!

    

On our last day in Colombia we went on a bike tour around Bogotá. We rode bikes around the city for 5 hours seeing things that Colombia is famous for. For example, we went to a chocolate shop and a place they roasted coffee. We also tried these things called fat bottomed ants and they tasted a bit like salty popcorn but they have a really grim aftertaste. Best of all was the Paloquemao fruit market where we tried loads of fruit, like zapote, mango, lulo, tomate del arbol, maracuyá, dragon fruit, guanabana, mangostinos and feijoa etc. I have eaten so much unusual fruit while I’ve been in Colombia. I think you could try a new fruit every day for a month or more! I’m going to miss all the fruit juices and fruit ice cream flavours.

Lychee
Lychee
Mangostino
Mangostino
Uchuva
Granadilla

 

Guanabana
Feijoa
Dragon fruit

 

 

 

 

 

We also parked our bikes for a while to play Colombia’s national sport ‘tejo’, which is where you throw metal disks at explosives! We played it last time but this time we played it in a bigger place and the disks were a lot heavier, plus the explosions were much, much louder because it was inside and there was a lot more gunpowder.

Last of all, we got to see some of Bogotá’s graffiti. Diana is a lawyer and it was so cool to find out that she had been involved in making the law that stopped graffiti being illegal. Some of it is really amazing.

Jaime Garzon, a comedian, was assassinated in 1999 during the violence.
Jaime Garzon, a comedian, was assassinated in 1999 during the violence.

I really liked the bike tour and afterwards Diana took us to a restaurant that she really liked and the food was one of the best meals I’ve had on the trip so it was a great way to end a brilliant day. We are really going to miss everyone.

 

 

 

 

Grandparents, do not read!!!

By Brae

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.

Road to Paso del mango

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.

Sports lesson

By Brae:

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!

https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/EverettsinColombia

Back to La Lucha!

By Oren:

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.

Painted beer can decorations

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.

Playa Chengue – Tayrona National Park

By Brae:

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.

We’re back, it’s hot, it’s wet!

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.

View from taxi

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

Can you see the cucarachas!

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.

El Niño

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’.

Guatapé and other pueblos

By Brae:

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.

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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).guatape-14

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! guatape-2-3We 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!

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guatape-9At 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.

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Riding home from el Peñol in a tuk-tuk