Feel the fear and do it anyway
I decided to make a diversion to my orignial plans, to save me having to go in and out a city I really had no interest in visiting anyway, it was time for the beach. That meant that I was going to end up in a place called Esmeraldas, I reckoned I could get there in daylight, simply because everything you read said, don't go there, its dangerous.
I wake up at 7am desperate to get to the sea, and as I am heading out with my phone to take pics, the owner comes after me and tells me to hide it.
But he was actually looking after me.
Later on I am going to catch my bus to Mompiche, the owner takes his car out and takes me to the bus stop. Another gesture of kindness.
Im standing at the bus stop and this guy rocks up. Starts to chat, my best sentence now is I dont speak Spanish, that is my get out of jail free card. I do understand a bit, but when they speak fast, I am lost.
Then he buys me an ice lolly. Aww how nice as it is very hot. I look at the label horrified. But dont want to offend him, but I can clearly see the list of additives on the packet, arghhhh my cells contract lol.
Not for the first time this trip, I ate non food, willing my body to move it through and let it go.
He managed to explain to me he was one of the people who jump on and off the buses selling things.
He got on the bus that I was on. I then felt obliged to buy the thing he was selling. Fat free, sugar free and something else free wtf! It was a butterfly........
There are a ton of sweetie shops and things here, I saw about 15 stands all in a row in one village all selling exact same sweetie things. All beautifully laid out, I am not sure what the diabetes rate is here, but the additives are bonkers. I watched a guy in a previous hostel eat fluorescent pink yoghurt.
My food fear continues, need to do more tapping.
5 Story Bamboo Mansion
I had been looking into volunteering for a few reasons.
I wanted to stay in one place for a bit longer, I want to learn, give back and live cheaply to ensure I get the maximum time out of my trip.
I applied for a few places and got word back from and American woman who had built her dream bamboo house in a little fishing village on the Coast of Ecuador.
I liked the sound of it, so decided on a whim to go there. I then got other responses from cool places, I had to turn them down for now.
This continent is enormous, you meet so many fascinating people, who tell you their route, but its impossible to do it all in 6 months or so.
So you have to choose.
I decided I needed the beach, and I liked the sound of Sirena when she face timed me to tell me of her plans.
I was on a bus going to Quito with some friends I had met along the way, when I decided just to keep going and get as far as I could to the Coast.
Its so interesting here, you go up and down at altitude and the climate changes accordingly.
It was a long time on the bus, but for some reason its not bothering me at all, I did not expect to bus so much here, but the scenery is spectacular. And there is something about going over the land, you really see the Countryside and feel the distances under you..
I arrived in Mompiche, her directions were, get the bus here and then ask for Sirenas house. Hahaha and thats what I did.
Its a small town, a few cool bars and hostels along the beach and up the one main street. Its a surf town, I had not realised, I thought of my last surf lessons in Oz, the waves were much less scary here.
The tide comes right into the sea front and there are large sandy areas to each side, its uber cool.
I asked someone at a small cafe, and sure enough I got the directions to the biggest bamboo mansion I have ever seen. They told me you can miss it, its huge. It is, all five floors of it.
Sirena was there to welcome me, then we went on to a cocktail and dominoes and it felt like we had known each other for years.
She told me how she had dreamed this house when she was 21. It is totally amazing.
There are no windows or walls really, its like living in a giant tree house, and I have a platform on the 3rd floor where I wake up in the trees to the sounds of the birds and other things I have no idea what.
The house is still a work in progress, but that does not take away from its magnificence.
It may not be everyones cup of tea, its al fresco with Nature, but it is my idea of paradise.
It overlooks the river, and has high trees, some laden with fruit, all around. The dusk time is just jaw dropping, the colours, the noises, always been a favourite time of day for me, it is just wonderful here.
Sirenas longer term vision is that it will get used for Retreats.
Imagine that coiincidence.
How far can I realistically expect to hike?
Tbh I had not really thought much about hiking until I got here.
Sounds mental I know, but I was more transfixed on the beach.
I knew I was going to do Machu Pichu but just had not considered the altitude and my current fitness level and health.
For the last 5 years I have had aches and pains in my body that have curtailed and changed how I felt about fitness.
Everything was more of an effort.
I had attempted the Kintyre way and was stopped by an intense buring in my hips.
Nearly 7 years ago I had hiked for 11 hours up Muhavura an elevation of 4127 metres and much as it was gruelling, I had sharp agonising pains in my knees on the descent, for about the last 2 hours.
Both of these experiences came back to my mind as I looked at the volcanoes here, yearning to be at the top, but remembering that this old body might not make it now.
Nothing to do with my strength and cardio fitness, just body parts complaining, when they never used to.
Oh to be post menopausal, what a joy. Not.
I have been meditating on healing my body, and it is defo way better than it was, but to do a 7-8 hour hike at high altitude, I was not that confident.
Holly found a lake we could do. Around 4-5 hours, and foolishly I thought, well round a lake, it will be pretty flat, hahahaha it wasnt.
A 4-5 hour hike was the perfect "test" for my body, which it passed with flying colours.
Usually it is my lower back that gives me the most gyp, but not now. It is miles better.
The mind is an old bugger though, it was casting up all sorts of stories as to why I should not go, making me doubt mycellf, almost telling me to give up.
I was doing the exact thing that Hale Dwoskin and Dr Joe Dispenza tell you NOT to do.
I was dragging the past and throwing it into a perceived future.
Our trillions of cells regenerate on a moment to moment basis and there is no reason for us not to heal and prosper if we just release the old story and focus on a new one.
This is science, this is proven, we manipulate genetic expression with our thoughts, beliefs, perceptions and emotions.
We are powerful and have unlimited potential, but not if we stick to the old story.
I am focusing on a pain free, well oiled, high frequency body, if I do that often enough, repeat it over and over, guess what happens......
The journey South continues
Next stop Popayan.
I take the bus from Cali and it takes about 3 1/2 hours.
There are big buses and minibuses, not a huge difference in price, and I got accosted pretty much as soon as I arrived at the bus station and was in a minibus before I knew it.
Not knowing the language kind of leaves you at the mercy of whoever is there to bulldoze you along.
I had booked into the Arte Hostel which was walking distance so I hiked my way there.
I met 2 English girls there, which turned out to be an enormous stroke of luck which I was yet to understand.
There was a hill a few hundred metres from the Hostel and we took a beer up to watch sunset.
On the way back we were lured into a local bar by bright coloured lights and good music. We ended up staying there for quite a while as a band came on to entertain us and a bunch of locals gave us shots of the local hooch.
A few days there then on to Ipieles which is the border town.
I left Popayan early in the morning as the bus was 8 hours and I wanted to be tired.
An hour into the journey I realised I had left my UK plug, camera and kindle charger and batter pack charging on the wall.
I knew that Holy, one of the English girls was maybe coming the next day, so I thought I would get her to take it or have it, if we could not meet up.
I got a nice hotel there, got a good rest to face the border crossing which we had heard brutal stories of up to 16 hour queues.
Holly was arriving the next day around lunchtime, so I decided to wait on her and get my things. There are tons of shops and a market so I went out to shop, only to realise that my card no longer worked. Long story short I had to order new pin numbers for my new cards, and they had obviously cancelled my old one.
Holy shit. WTF.
Then I thought about Holly, she would have a UK account, I could charge my laptop when she arrived and transfer the money and she could pull it out, if she was willing.
I messaged her, she was totally cool, said we would work something out.
I remembered that to set up a new recipient they would call you with a code. I had no signal. Ahhh Nicky I thought, she said she would sort it out. Great. TheN Holly arrived and her account is in Spain. Nicky would have to go to a bank to do it.
This was Wednesday and I had 2 more days for the pin numbers to arrive before the weekend would finish that plan and I would have not access to cash until the Monday.
Holly paid my meal, bus, coffees etc and then in Ecuador lent me $50.
A total godsend.
We arrive in Otovalo Ecuador and meet another English girl, who is also happy to help me as putting the money into her account would be easier
Then the pin number arrived and I got cash out, OMG did it feel good.
4 days here in Otovalo and money to pay for it and spend on their famous market.
I seriously do not have enough clothes, I really had not packed for the Mountains, God knows why. No yoga outfit of any description either, so that had to be sorted.
It is an gorgeous little town with an indigenous population in traditional dress.
A lot of the women carry their babies tied on their backs as they did in Uganda, but there are also fancy buggies too.
The people are tiny and fascinating to look at, I would love to take pics of their beautiful faces and clothes but it seems rude.
The market is colourful, wonderful, busy, crazy and I am so tempted to buy for my grandkids and friends kids, but I understand it will all be cheaper in Peru, plus I wont need to cart it around.
Put Otovalo on your route if you are coming this way, there are beautiful hikes too, and it is just fascinating to people watch.
Cali is cool
Cali the World Salsa Capital
I decided to head South and finish the North of Colombia later, before I go to Mexico. My friends have a yacht in Cartagena and hope to be out there in April May, so I am planning to be in that region then.
Your visa only lasts 90 days, so mine will get renewed when I return.
I went to Cali, because it's on the way to Ecuador and Peru.
I had never heard of it, so I asked other travellers what they reckoned.
Prepare to get diverse and opposing opinions.
The girl who led the walking tour in Bogota asked me how many nights I would have here and when I said three she looked at me and said most people only have one.
So I went there with low expectations.
Cali far exceeded my expectations.
There seems to be more money here, gyms, clubs, bars, the river regeneration.
They have planted or left over 300 000 trees in and around the city, and they are protected!.
Their understanding of the land far outweighs ours.
People on mountain bikes, nice motor bikes, cars, clean streets and the usual Starbucks, Dunkin donuts and Subway.
Subway is everywhere.
And phones. Hell yeah, is that not how we measure wealth now, by the phones everyone has.
There is wifi, no worse than Canada and Argyll, everywhere here.
Walking along the river yesterday I noticed, as in the UK everyone is on their phone.
In Bogota there are police, army and security, muzzled dogs and a guards literally on every corner.
You are constantly reminded that you are being protected by these very brave individuals.
Its not like that in Cali. The security firm on the river is private, they wear blue t shirts and blend in with the crowd. There are police here everywhere but it is not nearly as in your face as it is in Bogota. Either way you know they are desparate to keep you safe, to stop crime, and you feel really grateful for that.
And the people here just get on with their lives, hopeful, happy, dancing, singing with a focus only on a prosperous and safe future.
We could do with more of that.
There is also hardly any smell here, unlike some Countries. You see heaps of rubbish on the street, but maybe its the temperature or that fact it is not there for long that it does not matter.
I have to be totally honest here, I am a foody along with being a nutrition twat, and the food scares me..
Tons of carbs, plantain, tatties, fried god knows what, rice, sugar in everything and for a post menopausal granny, this is not good. I have tapped it through and meditated on my blood sugar, as this is actually a real consideration for me.
But I like eating out.
If I buy food and cook in the hostel, it is much more social and healthy, to date only had 4 meals home made.
I much prefet to eat out.
Loads of pop, coke, diluted juice, I think fruit then a ton of granulated sugar.
You get a juice with any meal you order, and you have no idea whats in it.
Maybe a good thing.
Cali is a huge sugar cane providers, but it was the same in Bogota. I think they maybe copy the US with the sugar and everything mentalness.
Street food have bbq's, hot stands and fryers, I had the worst corn on the cob I have ever tasted, actually inedible, I had to throw it away.
Often there is only salt on the table, if that. You get lots of soups and fried chicken, but they usually need salt.
For someone who loves Indian, Mexican and thai food it can be a bit bland.
I know some people say they love SA food, but to date that is defo not my experience.
I have gone to nice places and had salmon or a steak, but you pay what you would at home for it, so not really possible to sustain that if you are away for 9 months.
But there are amazing fruits and veggies to be had at the markets so I have no excuse.
Its the same at home, even although we grow amazing food, we don't always eat it.
I need to cook and chop more.
And I want to speak fluent Spanish.
And dance like these dudes.
Walking tour and Police museum
The Walking Tour
There is a gorgeous girl comes round the hostel everyday to tell travellers about the FREE walking tour. Its not free, but they dont tell you that till you get to the square then other gorgeous girl with a yellow umbrella tells you she recommends a donation of 30 000 pesos about $12 which is a lot of money out here. Clearly nothing if you are on holiday, but if you are long term travelling that could be a days keep.
Me and 2 young American girls from the hostel go along for the 3 hour walking tour.
It was really good fun. They took us to different places to promote the local juices, coca leaves, coffee and chicha(local brew) but it was super interesting learning about their amazing fruits, their health properties and the huge benefits of the coca leaf from a nutrition and healing perspective, how they ferment for alcohol and making great coffee from a barista.
We also learned the story behind some of the incredible grafittis on the walls, more info on the infamous Pablo Escabar and some of the fascinating history which I ofcourse have already forgotten.
She asked us if we had seen Narcos.
She recommended the place we tried the chicha for lunch, so a bunch of us went back there and had a great 3 course lunch for only 800 pesos (about 20p).
A few of us then went for a beer, and what a laugh we had in this crazy little bar place. The cool thing about travelling is hearing others stories and getting to know like minded individuals. An American, English, German, Dutch and Scots. Fun combo.
THE POLICE MUSEUM
The next day some of us met up and we went to the Police museum. This was uber interesting, even for me who is not interested in museums.
It was a policewoman who did the tour, it is an incredibly dangerous job here, she said people hate her but she wants her children to grow up in peace and without landmines and bombs.
She is prepared to put her life on the line for that. Truly humbling.
She also asked us if we had seen Narcos?
She showed us the machine for detecting the mines, the Harley Davidson and other stuff that got confiscated after Pablo was arrested. He was clearly living the dream, holy shit. She talked about the operations, the arrests, the corruption and the hopes for change, she was quite an incredible lady.
She explained how many police have died, the guns the cartel have, how the peace process has divided the Country, how they have to wear a bullet proof vest and which guns will kill them quickest.
Its surreal to think this is how people are living.
But fantastic to see it change.
She was warm and witty, strong and hopeful, my God I think living in peace surely is our greatest gift?
It reminded me of a young guy I met in Malta from Eretreya.
He told his friend, "let's go to Europe, I hear they live in Peace there."
That hit home to me.
Candelaria - Bogotas West End
I get to the hostel after a mild haggle with taxi driver and although its before check in they have a really cool hang out area, inside and out, and you can leave your rucksack in the back.
I went on the roof and was immediately invited to join a couple, one English guy and one American gal. We drank beer together and chatted and I felt very relaxed, it is really beautiful on that roof, with the high mountains in the background.
They left to go on a bike tour and I decided to go for a walk. I was in the Candelaria area, totally by luck, not design, the best place to hang out, tons of cool wee local bars, colourful shops along with cheap and more expensive coffee shops and restaurants.
I wandered around, then heard loud music coming out of a local taverna, and went in for a drink. Then I saw the Rob and Rebecca from the hostel and shouted them in.
There was a table of young guys and gals right beside us. They were drinking a carton of stuff along with their beer, it tasted kind of like sambuca. They handed us some shots over, we bought them beer back and the singing, dancing and silly selfies started.
We were having great fun, language no apparent barrier, until we realised that Rebeccas bag was gone.
Now theft has played a big part in my life recently. My daughter was robbed weekly in her business, my friends came from Canada to mountain bike and had their very precsious mountain bikes stolen on the last day, and now Rebeccas bag was gone.
From right under our noses.
We were in a corner, had put the bags beside us where you would have thought they were 100% safe.
Was it when we were taking pics?
Was it when she was at the tiny wee stinking toilet?
There were 2 cctv cameras pointed on us, they could defo see who had taken it if they worked? The young guys beside us were upset too, the police were called but deep down we knew nothing would happen.
In her bag was 1 card, her phone and her waterproof jacket, it could have been worse.
But we all know our phone is the most precious commodity these days, not because of the value, but its our contact to everything.
Then mental thing was my small osprey back pack was right there too, and because I had not yet bought a padlock, I had everything in there, stupidly thinking it would be safer with me. My iphone, my new camera, my passport and all my cards and cash. Holy shit, that was soooooo close.
We all know material things can be replaced, but theft does way more damage than that. I changes how you feel about people and places. I know how I felt in Argyll, so hurt by how my daughter had been taken advantage of, money stolen from the salon, plus her tip box saving for Disney with the kids, I wanted to leave and never come back.
Then the overwhelming support from the community reminds you that most people are good.
I know when Lesley and Paulas bikes got stolen, they were furious at Scotland. What a betrayal after such an incredible trip, on the last day too. They too then experienced the support when their facebook appeal found the guys who had stolen the bikes, everyone was truly gutted for them, if you are a biker especially, you will understand the value of a bike you have built. But again the police, could not or would not do anything to bring them to justice or get the bikes back.
Same as Rebecca, there were 4 men just sitting watching us, someone knew who it was. We were backed in a corner, it could have been a member of staff? Someone turned a blind eye.
I wonder where that gets you dear Universe?
A fact of getting robbed.
It changes how you feel about a place and the people in it.
You wonder who all is involved and who is staying dumb. You wonder who you can trust and who you cant, and it is not a nice way to live your life.
Coming to Colombia, every single person tells you to be careful and keep safe. The young guys we were with, messaged the next day, apologising, saying how sorry they were, one came up to the hostel to make sure Rebecca was ok. I told them it happens in our village, in our County too, I think it happens in most places.
Its sad you need to be so vigilant, it actually pisses me off. (release)
If people didn't steal we would not need keys, passwords, zipped bags and jackets.
How much easier my life would be.
I know it is not personal, I understand we have been conditioned by our ancestors, childhood and environment, I get that they have their own issues, it's not my drama.
But in the ideal world, I would not have thieves, and evil in general.
In the 5th dimension there will be none of that nonsense :)
Bogota is such an interesting and amazing place, but the warnings of others ring in your ears, be vigilant, don't wander about at night, keep everything on you hidden, they may have knives and guns, its dangerous at night and so on.
I have been releasing on other peoples points of view, its the perfect place to practise, because you keep getting them, over and over.
I felt completely safe and tbh they are tiny, you feel you could outrun or wrestle them if push came to shove.
Then I walked out a restaurant yesterday and left my phone on the table........
When I ran back it was their, they had kept it for me.
Again showing me how many good people there are.
The good massively outweighs the bad.
The Colombian people are trying very hard to change the reputation of their Country.
What an awesome attitude, I am humbled by their spirit.
They have hope, and guts and a stunningly beautiful landscape.
I AM excited to see more.
I left Glasgow at 7am with the red eye down to London.
From getting on the bus in Lochgilphead to Glasgow I could feel mycellf getting excited.
With the stuff that I teach, that excitement means you are following the right path. So bring it!
Brekkie in Gatwich at 9.30am then straight to Barcelona where the fun began.
American entry visa ESTA
Do you have an ESTA the nice lady at the check in asked?
Hmmm my heart starts to sink, nope. But I do have at ETA which is the Canadian equivalent, so I knew roughly what she was talking about. You need to get one online she told me and luckily I had plenty of time, 5 hours, famous last words.
My passport was issued in France when I was living in Malta and I am a UK citizen. So it kept rejecting my details. Another super helpful girl phoned the boss in Madrid, sent pics of what was happening, while I just stood thinking, not for the first time in my life, what an idiot I was. I had booked with a company called Kiwi travel, paid £368 for the 4 flights and it said it looked like no visa was required. Small print issue maybe.
So I stood for 4 hours, then another uber friendly woman said, just lie basically, and put it all through as the UK. Hey presto it went through great relief, but then said pending......godammit....
Now the gate was closing, so they decided to try and put it in their system to see what it said, and PING it came through.
Literally on that last minute. I grabbed the girl and hugged her, they were all laughing and delighted that plan B, which I had not made yet, was not necessary.
I am uber tired by this point and starving. So get mycellf to the gate and as I approached I thought I heard them saying my name in a very strong Spanish accent. WTF I thought. So went over and the guy apologetically told me my name along with 6 others had been randomly chosed for another luggage check and that they would hold the plane up while this happened (American law, Donald fecking Trump) . Just before a 10 hour flight... great.
Not even a second to grab a sandwich so I internally raged about Donald Trump and the US as I was not ever going there, just passing through.
Its not terrorists these eejits will stop its tourists.
This took another hour. Unbelievable. The new American laws are reaching out and affecting people who dont even work there or even want to go there, but have to land on their soil to get where they want to go.
US Borders have just got bigger
AND!!! You must have an exit flight. Fair enough, BUT they include Cuba, the Caribean islands, Mexico and Canada in their exit flight catchment. That means if you are going to any of these Countries via the US, you must have an exit flight.
They have extended their area right out, the staff at the airport have to follow the laws but you could tell how pissed off they were too as another couple going to Mexico with no exit flight were not allowed on either. I mean seriously. Assholes.
I made way wearily back to the gate and here are the 3 women that helped me, they all shouted at the same time "Lilia, what has happened" and I explained I was randomly chosen, they all hugged me and apologised and wished me a great trip. And that made up for all the hassle.
I flew Norweigan airways. You never quite know what you will get when you dont read the small print, just book the cheapest price. So I was pleasantly surprised. Had a small screen in front, but the shittest pile of movies and docs I have ever seen, totally unwatchable, and I tried but got bored half way through. But I smiled when I realised you could go on and order some snacks, remember I was starving, run a tab on your tablet, order whatever you wanted and they brought it to you. That was handy. Not the kind of food I wanted, but got some salad and cashew along with my cheese toasty. I missed the meal thing, I could have pre ordered, but again the small print. A 10 hour flight has to be broken up with good movies and food in my opinion.
But it was comfy enough and I slept a good 6 hours, so happy days. Buenos dias.
I practised my spanish on my new babbel app, that is a lot of fun.
I was so looking forward to getting into Fort Lauderdale and getting and good meal and a glass of wine. Oh oh, what a disappointment that airport is. One tiny wee coffee shop that did not even have any sit in. A fairly basic chicken caesar and I bedded down for the night on a bench, which was actually fine.
I woke around 4am and got through security, towards what I had hoped would be a good brekkers, not to be but eventually I got on my flight to Bogota.
I arrived in airport and looked round for a taxi or shuttle, to be met with a wee guy offering me a cab. I knew what this meant, rip off, but Im tired and hot now, so I thought fuck it.
We negotiate in the most ludicrous way, and came to some agreement I think. I only had 50 million pound notes, so you can imagine. He drives like a real loony, kind of like Malta, busy roads, tooting the horn with nothing to be gained. I mentally think about my insurance. The bus lanes have an actual small concrete division, which it could be easy to hit, anyway Im here to tell the tale..
Hostel Botanica was a welcome site, and it was one of my great decisions. I am not sure what tactic I used to pick it, but it worked.
I sat down with a beer and viewed the incredible mountains on one side, and the city stretched on on the other, boy did it feel good.
The adventure has begun.