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.
On the first day of our stay in Paso del Mango we went to a local cacao farm to have a tour. When we arrived we sat down for a few minutes while we waited for the guide and we were given a bit of chocolate . The tour was already off to a good start! It was a very dark but it was really nice. We had seen cacao growing last time we were in Colombia but we didn’t know how they turned it into chocolate so I was really looking forward to finding out how to do it.
We were greeted by a woman who started to show us around the plantation of cacao trees. She said that they were planted 15 years ago and that was when they started making chocolate on the farm. Most of the cacao in Colombia is grown in the centre of the country where it is hot and there is lots of rain, especially around Santander. The people on the farm were able to grow it on the hot coast because, as the farm was on a mountain, there was enough rain to grow a successful crop.
As we were walking through the trees we noticed lots of pods in all different colours: red, orange, yellow, green and purple. Our guide said that inside these pods were the cacao beans that made chocolate, and the colour of the pod depended on how ripe it was and the type of tree. She said that there were 2 types of tree: original and mixed. There were two types of original trees; one with yellow pods for when it was ripe and green when it wasn’t. The other original tree had orange and red for ripe pods and purple for unripe ones. The mixed trees included both types, so they had all five colours on the tree, but they were cultivated differently and made more pods. These trees looked like a rainbow and it was amazing to see that the pods grew straight out of the tree trunk. I really don’t think there is any other crop that looks anything like cacao, and we were already fascinated.
Our guide chopped one of the pods off and cut it open with her machete. Inside we were extremely surprised to see white seeds instead of brown. She said that we could eat the seeds but only the coating around the outside. We all took a bit and the seed was so sweet. It tasted like a tropical fruit that had been grown only to eat on it’s own, not to make chocolate. It was so delicious that we had to have more until we’d eaten nearly half the pod’s seeds. Beneath the white coating there was a pale brown seed that looked a bit like an almond and that was the bit that was made into chocolate. When the seeds had been removed from the pod, they were put in a bag to ferment and then put out in the sun to dry. Finally, they were spread out on a platform to dry. The platform had a sliding roof over it so the people on the farm could shut the roof when it rained. It was really important that the seeds didn’t get wet at any point in the process.
At this point we moved inside the finca, where we were shown how the beans were cooked or fired until they started to look a bit more like chocolate. The next step was breaking off the skin around the bean. You were allowed to eat the inner part but it was very bitter. When all the skins had been thrown into the compost the remaining part of the seed was put into a mill or grinder where you had to turn a handle to make a kind of chocolate paste. This is when it turns from cacao to chocolate. Finally, you added sugar and they also added cinnamon which was a family secret, shhh 🤫 ! At this point, we were given some of the chocolate and we were told to make a shape out of it. I made an empanada, Brae made a smily face, Dad made a snowman and Mum made a seal. We were then allowed to eat them, which I was very happy about.
The whole process was so eye-opening and we were all completely amazed and felt that we had learnt a lot about chocolate production. We were struck by how much knowledge was needed to make chocolate and we never expected it to be grown in that way. It really was an amazing day, made even better by the incredible location of the finca, and the beautiful walk through the jungle to get there!
Just when we thought it couldn’t get any more interesting, our guide put some of the paste aside and mixed it with hot water to create a smooth paste which which she put on our faces – a chocolate face mask! While we were letting the mask have its effect we had some delicious hot chocolate and got some homemade chocolate and orange brownie. I think you will realise by now that this was my kind of tour, and it was another day in Colombia that I will never forget!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In case anyone was wondering if our experience in Colombia had been ruined so far by the rain, then you shouldn’t be worried. The day after the storm, the roads had dried up and the blazing sun was burning in the sky as usual!
Those of you who know me won’t be surprised to hear that when I am remembering places that we’ve been to, or things we have done, it always helps me to recall more vividly if I think of a food that we ate at that time! Over the last few days, I have been reliving some of my favourite Colombian food memories. On our second day, the sun was out and we set off for our favourite breakfast: arepas from our local street stall. As we took the first bite, we soon forgot about the pouring rain only a day before. The arepas reminded us of our daily walk to school and the route was very familiar. Bringing back those memories made Colombia feel even more like home.
As well as the arepas, we have also had some of our other favourite food and drink, like bocadillo, mango, limonada de coco and jugo de maracuyá. While I was eating these, I savoured every sweet bite of bocadillo and every sip of the unique taste of maracuyá. All of these brought back many happy memories of our last trip with them. Unfortunately our piña dorada isn’t ripe and we cannot eat it, yet. It’s taunting us from the fruit bowl! We are now fully enjoying our time in Colombia and having tons of fun and new experiences.