Not a Goodbye

Tomorrow morning around 10 a.m. I’ll be leaving Colombia and heading to Lima, Peru for month four of my journey with Remote Year. The faster my last hours in this perfect country speed by, the sadder I get – Colombia feels like home, its people feel like family, its mountains have become my peace, and all of its details have sparked creative depths in me that I was sure were dead. I’m not ready to go.

It’s been pretty interesting the conversations I’ve had with family and friends back home while living here. “Get those Pablo connects while you’re out there girl!”, “Don’t EVER walk alone no matter the time of day”, “Man, you’re so bad ass to spend that amount of time in Colombia…you’re not scared?!,” and so on…*rolls eyes*. I often cringed at the ignorance, but at one point I, too, had no idea what Colombia would be like other than what I’d watched in the glamorized, ruthless drug-world portrayed in Netflix’s Narcos series.

Long story short: If you’ve never been here, it’s easy to put the idea and perception of the entire country into a tight box — the terror and cocaine-filled 80’s and 90’s Pablo Escobar era is a time that Colombians work extremely hard to move past, and they’re constantly trying to climb out of the stereotyped bubble many outsiders place them into. For anyone visiting, whether it be for a weekend or a month, I cannot stress enough how important it is to enter with an open mind, and an open heart. Colombia is SO much more than the negative weight it has carried on its shoulders, and it deserves more than the insulting Pablo jokes and comments that many U.S. natives casually laugh over. The people take extreme pride in their beautiful country, and my respect runs deep for them.

I’ve spent the past month living and experiencing the gorgeous Colombian city of Medellin. The nicknamed “City of Eternal Spring” is nestled in the center of a deep, wide valley with mountains in literally every distant view. To me, it feels like some kind of fairy tale utopia floating high up in the clouds. Minus the daily battle between the loud thunderstorms and the sunshine, I’m pretty obsessed with the entire place. Upon my arrival here, I immediately felt overwhelming comfort and that strong sense of “I’ve been here before.”

I haven’t blogged all month because the past few weeks have probably been my most busy ones all year – I’ve hiked through super lush jungles & forests, visited a mountain coffee farm and a woman-owned agroecological farm, went on a “tienda crawl” at traditional Colombian corner stores (that serve amazing beer and food), learned about & tasted juicy exotic fruits only grown here, toured the Afro-Colombian neighborhood of Moravia (a city built on what used to be a trash dump), and even visited a cannabis connoisseur.  Aside from all of these adventures, I’ve spent time working and creating in the cutest, perfectly-decorated cafes and bistros that I’ve ever seen. You can say I’ve been busy falling crazy in love with Medellin.

Right now, I sort of feel like a bratty five-year-old leaving my favorite childhood stuffed animal behind – I want to pack up all the greatness of Medellin and keep it all for myself. I’m not at all ready to leave – but I know this is not a goodbye, simply a quick ‘see you later’ – and I’m currently adding Medellin to my “places I would live” list. Colombia has certainly set the tone for my expectations of South America, and I’m freakin’ thrilled to explore more of its wonderful gems.

Enjoy my photo collection & highlight reel from my favorite moments + places in Medellin, I hope it inspires you to visit the lovely & extraordinary City of Eternal Spring (click on individual image to see the full-size):

Cafes & Bistros

Parque Arvi Hike:

Coffee Farm:

Moravia ‘Route of Hope’

Cannabis Tour

Next up on the itinerary is Lima, Peru – til next time!

Xoxo,

Ash

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Worth the Climb

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During my time in Bogota, Colombia I embarked on two gorgeous hikes in the Andes mountains. The views were breathtaking, and I was often lulled into a long, peaceful trance as the green hills cascaded in front of me for miles and miles. The air was clean and crisp, and the physical challenge of it all was strenuous, yet rejuvenating.

Hike number one was through the town of Guatavita, a sacred place about 1.5 hours outside of Bogota where the ancient Muisca tribe once reigned from 600 to 1600 C.E. Before the hike began, we were taught all about the Muisca – they worshipped Zue the sun god and Chie the moon goddess, believed that we should spend vast amounts of time in self-reflection, and were extremely creative.

On a guided park tour through all of the mountain’s lushness, we were lead up to Lake Guatavita – a beautiful blue lagoon that was a powerful, spiritual place where the Muisca people performed many rituals, and it is where the legend of El Dorado was birthed. To this day, many believe there are gold treasures nestled in the bottom of the lake.

After the hike down from the lake we briefly visited the local town, which offered a few small restaurants, shops, and vendors. Here is a bit of what I captured during our trek:

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View from the top of the hike
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Lake Guatavita

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Hike number two consisted of a longer expedition through the rugged forests, vast plains, and sky-high mountains of Suesca – we climbed rocks & boulders, crawled through cold & claustrophobic Colombian caves, and walked for a total of about ten miles.

About these caves…IT. WAS. NOT. EASY.*deep sigh of relief* I will say this was one of the most challenging things I’ve had to do both physically and mentally in my adult lifetime. Navigating through the caves required a decent level of skill, upper body strength, and mental discipline.

We had a total of five major physical tasks we had to complete to proceed to the next part of each cave – this included scaling and squeezing through rocks, swimming through ice-cold water, and climbing rickety ladders made of wood. Think of American Ninja Warrior but inside of pitch black caves deep under the ground.

About 12 of us did this insane activity together and we were each others’ cheerleaders. There were tears, moments of frustration and panic, and finally a sweet feeling of accomplishment at the end.

Views from the hike and inside the caves:

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For me, making it through to the light of day at the end of the caves filled me with overwhelming elation. It was a pristine moment of growth, and I felt it in every inch of my bones. I now feel like I can do absolutely anything in this world – maybe even skydive, and that’s saying A LOT (I have a crazy lifelong fear of heights).

The whole thing was an obvious metaphor for life, really – you’ll have to push through places and moments that seem totally impossible. You’ll have to gather every ounce of your strength, and even dig deeper for more that you didn’t know was there, while riding the wildest emotional rollercoaster. But in the end, you’ll absolutely always make it out.

I’m now in Medellin, Colombia for the month of March, so new posts coming soon!

Besos,

Ash

Bogotá Views & D.C. Blues

Waking up to a dreamlike view of the Andes mountains and the fresh air in Bogotá every morning has offered a nice contrast to the heaviness of Mexico City. I no longer hear the tamale man circling around our block with a megaphone trying to sell his delicacies or the echoing of dozens of dogs barking in the street. My chest also feels way less tight from all the pollution we were living in. But mannn, I’m missing those Nutella stuffed churros that were just a three-minute walk away.

The layout of our new apartment has us feeling like we could be in any major U.S. city or spending a spontaneous weekend in South Beach, Miami – we have a white leather couch with two matching dining chairs, a lime green ottoman, large shag rug, with accent pillows and chair to match. It’s all bright as hell and modern, and it’s much better than the falling bedroom ceiling and the God-awful sulfur smells we dealt with in our Mexico City spot.

Our small balcony offers a vivid view of the regal mountains on the upper left of us with tons of business and apartment buildings down below. It’s been 10 days and we like it here – the only beef I have with Bogotá is that I have yet to find the perfect empanada. *sigh*

Lately, I’ve been really missing home. I’ve even made my favorite Nigerian stew with fried plantains twice in the past week to fill the little void I’ve been battling. My Facetime dates with my three younger siblings are bittersweet – I do love seeing their faces and answering their redundant questions, but they’re getting even taller, started cooking their own dinners, and are writing essays about going to college in five years. I’m super proud but want them to slowww downnn. At least while I’m gone.

Practically every day since January 1st has offered perfect weather. With sunny days and cool, crisp evenings, I forget what rain and snow and bitter winter winds feel like. The most I’ll need at night is my light leather jacket. But oddly, I miss my east coast winter days – wrapping up in my chunky scarves and throwing on my long black boots with every outfit. I would also kill for a boozy Sunday brunch with a delicious bowl of southern shrimp-n-grits. Gahh.

D.C. isn’t going anywhere, and it’ll surely be the same when I get back in December. I’m working hard on being present, and fully immersing myself in the now.

Favorite Bogotá moments so far: taking a cable car up the Monserrate mountain and obsessing over the views, finding the perfect sushi spot, and dancing to live Afrolatina music at El Campanario.

Not so favorite moments: playing a dangerous traditional Colombian game called Tejo (it uses explosives WTF), walking miles around dusty construction, and being stared at blankly when speaking pretty damn good Spanish.

I’ve been spending most of my time this week in my apartment, mostly because I have a stupid little cold. But I plan on exploring much more of the beautiful city of Bogotá. Here’s some of what I’ve captured so far:

Downtown Bogotá  & Museum District

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Day trip to Monserrate

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XOXO,

Ash