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Another Side of Buga, Colombia. A City Rich with Culture and Adventure

This blog is more than the story of the Basilica, it is about the beauty of a small town and the outlying areas that makes me say “I will remember this day when I am 80 and can no longer do the things I do now”, I visited the waterfall La Cascada de los Milagros, which when translated means The Waterfall of the Miracles. The story of Buga started from this waterfall and the river it feeds. Here is the story: In a small indigenous community there lived an elderly woman whose daily task was to carry the villagers’ clothing to the nearby river, wherein she would wash it. The humble old lady had little money and few personal belongings, though she had saved about seventy Spanish Real, enough to buy herself a small crucifix in the village’s religious goods market.

One day, she had finished her work washing clothes in the river and was preparing to go to market to buy the crucifix when a man walked past with his head downcast and with tears in his eyes. The man was on his way to prison because he owed seventy Real in taxes that he was too poor to pay. The man’s plight was well-known in the village; he often lacked the means necessary to support his wife and his young children. The old woman was moved with pity for the poor debtor, so to keep him out of prison she gave him her entire savings with which she had intended to purchase the crucifix. The man was overwhelmed with gratitude toward the woman, and he blessed her for her selfless gift that had saved him from going to jail.

Some days later, the woman was, as usual, at the river washing the villagers’ clothes. As she laboured, unnoticed by anyone with her hands below the surface of the water, the current pushed a small wooden object against the cloth that was in her submerged hand. The woman was unsure of what had touched her hand, since her sight was failing due to age, and the piece of clothing she was holding was thick. Hoping to look more closely at the wooden object that had become wrapped in cloth, she lifted it out of the water and, bringing it almost to the tip of her nose, she unwrapped it. Within the bands of cloth, there was a crucifix that was an exact replica of the one in the marketplace. It fit perfectly into the old woman’s palm.

Since she had been working in the river above the village, the woman knew that the crucifix could not have belonged to any of the villagers; it had miraculously appeared in the river. The old woman carried the crucifix back to her home and with great joy she built a small altar upon which to rest it. Then, exhausted from her day’s work, she fell asleep.

She was abruptly awakened from her slumber after a short time by a low knocking noise coming from the wooden altar she had constructed. The woman found that the crucifix on the altar, once small enough to fit the palm of her hand, had grown. Thinking that her vision had deteriorated so much over time, the aged woman took the crucifix to the priests and to the village’s elders. They agreed that the image of the crucified Lord had indeed grown; it was no illusion.

Over the years up to and beyond the old woman’s passing, the crucifix continued to grow until it reached a height of almost two metres and a width of nearly one-and-a half metres. Pilgrims came from near and far to pray before the life-sized image of Christ on the Cross. So many came that the crucifix became damaged, and the governor ordered it to be burned twenty-seven years after its first appearance in the river. The fire was lit, but once the crucifix was placed amid the flames it was not consumed. Instead, the image of Jesus’ body began to sweat abundantly. It continued to sweat for two days thereafter, drawing even greater crowds of people, many of whom were sick but went forth completely cured.

The crucifix first floated down the Guadalajara River (Río Guadalajara, later Río Buga) and into the old Aboriginal woman’s hand in 1580. The governor of the region surrounding Popayán, which included the woman’s village and ranch land, ordered the crucifix to be burned in 1608. In 1819, the woman’s house was restored and made into a place for the ever-increasing numbers of pilgrims to meet and to pray. La Ermita, the church built to house the crucifix, fell into disrepair and became too small to accommodate the masses. Therefore, in 1875 the Archbishop of Popayán invited the Redemptorists to begin construction of a new shrine. The rose-coloured brick church received the Solemn Benediction of the then-Archbishop of Popayán, Msgr. Antonio Arboleda, on August 2, 1907, the Feast of St. Alphonsus Liguori, founder of the Redemptorist Order. A magnificent clock was imported from France and fitted to the bell tower in March, 1909. The home of the crucifix known since the nineteenth century as “El Señor de los Milagros” (“The Lord of Miracles”) and before then as “El Señor de las Aguas” (Lord of the Waters”) was given the title of Basilica, House of the King, by Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, in 1937. Today, the Basilica of Buga is one of the most-visited places of worship in Colombia.(1)Buga 030

I have loved this city since the first time I visited in 2011 when I moved to Colombia. Not only is the church beautiful but the town is refreshing and full of history, great shopping, lovely streets and great restaurants. I had no idea about the river and the waterfall that is part of the story of Buga until recently when I was contacted by the owner of the Holy Water Cafe and Buga Hostel. His name is Stefan Schnur and he is from Germany, but is living in Buga now. He has a distillery where he makes the best beer you can get in my area of Colombia and most likely all of Colombia! I was recently featured in a story about ex pats living abroad by Yahoo Finance and this article has brought more friends to me. I am forever grateful for the feature in this article, not only for the publicity but for the meeting of others living in Colombia from other countries. When Stefan contacted me, I looked on his page and saw that there were many adventures not to far from Villa Migelita. I immediately made plans to visit Buga again with a different perspective. I wanted to see the mountains that surrounded Buga, as all Colombia towns are surrounded by the beauty of mountains and nature! What a wonderful adventure I had. We met at Stefan’s personal home and Pipo our guide was waiting for us. We talked for a while with Pipo and Stefan, and then we took my truck and drove to the start of the hike up to the La Cascada de los Milagros (The waterfall of the miracles). The journey through the small towns on the way to the hike is enchanting, the countryside incredibly beautiful with lovely pastures framed by the mountains. When we arrived to the starting place we were greeted by beautiful horses and friendly people enjoying their day. Buga HIke 030. Then off we went on a hike that is not extremely difficult and crosses a magnificent bridge that suggests thoughts of how many have walked this bridge over the hundreds of years it has been there.Buga HIke 005 As we continued up the path, I watched the river below thinking of the miracle that came from it and how blessed I felt to walk this journey to the La Cascada de los Milagros (the waterfall of miracles).1779878_322194794644335_875250029474459086_n We had a small guide too, a sweet little Beagle, Pipo told us that a different dog always accompanies his guests on the tour.Buga HIke 018 How charming! When we arrived to the fall I was overwhelmed with emotion as I have never seen a waterfall that was so transcendent and forceful at the same time. I could feel the mist hitting my body and the spiritual connection with nature is something I will take with me in my heart forever. La Cascada de los Milagros took me to a place all of us search for, but sometimes never find; a place of peace in my soul. The time I spent in front of this towering giant will stay with me for the rest of my lifetime. Buga HIke 023

On our walk back down we got rained on but that was not a problem as we all had a change of clothes, getting wet does happen when you visit the Rain Forest in Colombia. We then stopped at a house where friends of Pipo lived. They were delightful and welcomed us into their house with the warmth of the Colombian people. I enjoyed their pets and left with a bag of mangos from their tree. We talked in Spanish and I am always thrilled when I can converse with the locals and they understand me. Their mango eating retriever just completed the ambiance of warmth and new friendships.10952137_322195371310944_542221093474305611_n We left their house and drove around a bit to see more of the lovely villages surrounding the area and I found Alaska. I was really surprised when I saw a sign welcoming us to a pueblo with that name! Another refreshing moment in an already perfect day.Buga HIke 033

When we returned to Buga Pipo brought us to the Buga Hostel and Holy Water Cafe where we had a late lunch. The food and beer was delicious, especially the side dishes that were offered along with a great choice of beer. Buga HIke 072 We enjoyed Baba Ganoush and pizza. The surroundings were lovely, the views overlooking Buga were outstanding. A perfect end to a perfect day! The prices so reasonable, a pleasure that is only found in Colombia. You can have a feast, great beer and enjoy fantastic views and not break your wallet! I now intend on going back soon to explore another tour with Pipo at a farm with private natural pools as soon as I can arrange it. The best part will be stopping again for lunch at The Holy Water Cafe to try a different item from a great menu filled with sumptuous treats! Until then I say cheers to a day filled with memories!Buga HIke 063

Footnote (1) A Canadian Catholic Perspective

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Why I Am a Minimalist

Everything in life is temporary. When it rains, it eventually stops and the sun comes out. When we go to sleep, it is just for a while and then we wake up again. A bad day is just that: temporary! We start all over the next day with new hope that this day will be better. When we examine our lives we need to remember our time on Earth is not guaranteed. We have no guarantee that there will be a tomorrow. The only assurance we have is of this moment now, this day now. When we grasp this way of thinking it makes it easier to let go of the excess baggage we all have in our lives. When you look around your life and what you see overwhelms you it is time for you to embrace change, a change that can help you in all aspects of your life. A primary cause of unhappiness is disorganization, often inside our own minds. If we look to what is causing the disarray it is oftentimes our own living space. It is our office with unnecessary papers that we need to throw out or file, it is our car with garbage or things that just collect and stay there, it could be our closets which overflow with items we want to keep, our bathrooms with too many products, or how about that kitchen, do you have tons of excess everything that gather dust and sit for years on the same shelves? If so, it is time to become uncluttered! Time to get rid of the possessions that you never use! It also could be a habit of buying too much ‘stuff’ just because the bit of happiness we get with something new takes us away for a while from discomfort, sadness, a stressful day, boredom, the addiction of needing to have the latest trend. I gave this up when I moved to Colombia. I no longer go anywhere to just ‘window shop’, I always have a purpose when I enter a store along with a list of what I need. I am a minimalist and I am proud of it! A person who lives minimally does not live in poverty or without beauty. I think my Villa and the surroundings show this.10917359_779044682161600_7268934190294602342_n A minimalist has just decided to get rid of the chaos that surrounds them in their personal space. We don’t feel the need to have the newest car, but a car that is functional for our lifestyle. We don’t feel the need to have the latest clothes, or fashion of the moment, our phones do not need to be the latest development  shown on social media, we have no need for the paraphernalia being fed to us constantly. We keep only the most special possessions that mean something to us and we make the space we live in functional and clear of debris. We do not let our property overtake our lives; we live our life based on what we actually need. Starting with our living space! If someone enters my home, they will see the areas of living free of unnecessary clutter. My favorite pieces of art, including my collection of African pieces and Highwaymen paintings are main focus points. I brought only my favorite items with me to Colombia. I have a Pie Safe from the 1700’s that I bought when I was in my twenties. A fabulous piece used for storage here at Villa Migelita, just like it stored pies so many years photos and hummingbirds 001 I love this Pie Safe, it brings to me a sense of timelessness; and that is what you need to look for when deciding on what to keep and what to let go of. That is what minimalism is, our personal space filled with really great memories, but done in such a way that the house looks put together without too much of those trendy space fillers that only gather dust. So how do you do this in your own life?

First of all just let go. Do you need those dishes that were your grandmother’s passed down to you? I had them and I sold them before I moved. They were not my taste, they were someone else’s taste. Do you need the dishes you picked out for your wedding long past? If they sit in a break front not being used you should sell them. You should sell or donate all items that gather dust and have not been used in the last 6 months; including clothes. If you love framed photo’s of your family, you should make a special wall for your favorites and then have all the others put on a Zip drive. You do not need all of them on your walls and tables. Make photo albums if you prefer, but take away all the many items just filling space. I did this before I moved and believe me when I say I am not reminiscing about anything I no longer have. The most significant thing is eliminate clutter and your life will feel more peaceful. The point being you gather freedom when you let go of the consumer culture we are fed daily through television and internet. You want to make all parts of your life peaceful and stress free. Think about how easy it will be to keep your home clean without all the furniture that you have bought to store the items you don’t need and no one even looks at. My house here in Colombia is large, but the rooms are kept simple and the cleaning is not a long process. I enjoy my time outdoors hiking in the mountains, or sitting by my lake watching the sunset in the evening with my animals all around me. We tend to give way too much importance to things and not enough importance to the life we live and the natural beauty that surrounds all of us. Minimalism is a way of life all of us can embrace no matter where we live. We just need to let go of the priority we place on stuff and use this thought process as a tool to free our lives of the excess so we can focus on what really is important. If you clear away distractions you can create something incredible! I like to think of the Villa Migelita suite as my incredible personal space. I have a bed, soon to be made large chaise lounge, two end tables and a television.bird singing 011 The bathroom has a huge closet for clothes, and bedding including much-needed blankets for the cool nights. The room is quite large, but the space is free to enjoy the views of the mountains seen from the glass walls. You do not have to give up style to be minimalist, you need to give up things you do not use nor need. It is that simple. It is that easy. It is a way of putting yourself and your needs before the needs society has filled your head with.

Being minimalist does not mean giving up really nice things. I have lovely furnishings, but not in excess. I have made my space filled with the best of the best. That is all I want. I also must emphasize that I have very little debt. That will be the subject of another blog, but minimalism includes living a debt-free lifestyle too. First though, look around you and get rid of the things that are unnecessary in an environment that will create peace. That is the first step. If you cannot do it yourself, hire someone. There are many out there who can be hired to help you unload. It will be money well spent. Remember minimalism is about quality over quantity. Spending money on someone to help you achieve your goals will be money well spent. Now I leave you with this thought, everyone has a different idea of what minimalism is; you do not have to give up your iPhone or iPad, you can still enjoy luxuries like great sheets, beautiful clothes, manicures (everyone knows I love my great manicures who follow Villa Migelita), a nice car, beautiful antiques or paintings. It is about making your life simpler, and yes giving up some things to enjoy the other things you love more. That is a start. Now I say go for it. Look around your space and make a change now. Remember to be kind to yourself, this is about your peace. If you have to do this slowly then do it slowly, if you cannot let go of something then put it aside to decide later, but start to make small changes. Small changes can then become medium changes and then you will be where you want to be. Remember it is all about your own personal freedom. You are the reason I am writing this blog. Let me know how you do in the comments below. I am there for all of you with anything you want to ask me. I was not always this way. I was always organized but never minimalist. So don’t be hard on yourself, just try to start the change and be consistent and determined. Remember this; “Minimalism is a tool used to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.”

The last quote is taken from The Minimalists
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Traffic Stop = Ticket =Gratfulness+Kindness

Yesterday I set out with a friend to go look for some finishing touches to complete Villa Migelita. I was feeling happy and carefree on a beautiful sunny day here in Palmira Valle, Colombia. Music playing, gorgeous mountain views with the sun high in the sky nothing could get in the way of buying a sofa for the upstairs living area, and shopping in Cali. As we were traveling to Cali we encountered a traffic stop. Here in Colombia police hardly ever give tickets for speeding, running stop signs which happens all the time, or other infractions. They set up traffic stops to check your papers for insurance, techno mechanical’s required here for emissions, to make sure cars have good tires and decent running conditions. They also check your license and ID occasionally. Yesterday when motioned over we had no fears because all was and always is up to date. Well, so I thought. What do you know both our Colombian drivers licenses expired as of Dec 12. Whoops. The police officer came to the window and asked for the papers, they are always professional. Colombian police have rules that are written in law about their behavior and to respect all the citizens of Colombia. They still give the tickets usually, and the fines are quite hefty. However, this police officer could have also towed my truck, but he allowed us to stop a taxi and ask if he would drive our truck to a parking area. The police officer also told us that we could pay the ticket in a five-day time period and it would be discounted by fifty percent. He was very nice, and to be honest I have to say I am grateful it was him who found this problem. I would have kept driving with an expired license and not have known because I thought I had a five-year license: it could have been a disaster if I had this happen in Cali and the same problem found. The truck would be towed, and the cost even higher because you have to pay the tow charge and to get the truck out, along with the ticket, while also having to renew your license which also costs money. So instead of getting upset with this situation, I was grateful. Now on to the rest of the day, shopping for sofas was not going to happen.

The taxi driver who pulled over to help us was a wonderful, kind human being. I have said many times in my past blogs that the Universe directs our lives. How lucky to get stopped in a small town area with a decent police officer who could have just towed away the truck, and then no one we knew answered their phones so my friend motioned a taxi driver who stopped. This taxi driver’s name was Antonio, and I will always call him a friend, as he saved the day. He stayed with us until the ticket was issued, which took a while. These things are slow in Colombia, as the police were motioning other cars over at the same time. I actually saw one woman rip a ticket up in the face of a police officer. Here the officers just laugh, as it is just like in the States, they have the license number and information they need and they will suspend the license. They do not chase after anyone, nor challenge with violence. That impressed me, as I can’t imagine if a person ripped a ticket up in front of the police in the USA how they would react, but I imagine they would be arrested. Next with the taxi driver taking over the driving responsibility of my truck, he started telling us the process to get our new licenses fast, as in that day. Then he drove us around the corner and said here take the truck and go park it. I tried to give him some money but he would not take it and had to walk back to get his taxi! We asked him to pick us back up and take us to the place for the exams needed to get a new license here. Yes, you read that right, every single time you renew your license you go through a barrage of tests. As he drove us to the first stop of a long day he explained we had to go to another place to get the actual license with our results and it was in another city. We could have taken the bus but he gave us an incredible price (around 20$ USD) to take us there. He dropped us off at the first place with his number to call him when we were ready to go on to the next step.

We enter the Driver License exam building and the employees were so professional and helpful. I am always somewhat of a distraction as they do not have a lot of Americans who visit these offices in Palmira. The fact that I can speak Spanish and I always do my best to talk for myself impresses the Colombian people. Even if it is not perfect, they like that I am learning their language. My friend does speak English, but I am very firm about letting me try to do by myself first. We found out we could get a ten-year license, and then we were given paperwork to fill out. We always have to put a fingerprint next to our signatures here in Colombia for anything important like a license or any document. We also get a picture taken, even though it is not for the actual license. Then you sit in a waiting area for your call to start the exams. Now I need to digress a bit. When I first moved to Colombia I got a license which I thought was for 5 years and thus I never looked at the expiration date. I had to take exams then also. One was a computer generated program of me driving on a road with motorcycles coming at me on both sides. I passed, but I really don’t know how. We Americans do not encounter this sort of driving in the USA, however rest assured you do have this happen here in Colombia. Motorcycles whip in and out of the traffic on either side here and you need to be vigilant as they can come up into your blind spot. I assumed my exams here would be similar. However they were not. This time my first exam was for vision. I am fine with my far vision so I passed as my examiner said with excellent results. Then I went to the next place and this was a computer with questions I needed to read and answer with a no, yes, sometimes or very much yes: no, si a veces, si mucho. I study Spanish everyday so I am not bad at reading Spanish.
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The questions were all about depression! They asked if I had feelings of aggression, if I felt that the world was against me; I am sure you get the point. I could read all of them and just needed help with a word now and then. I passed, no depression with me. How can I be depressed living in Paradise? Then I was on to the doctor who examines me for health. Yes, I had a mini-physical! Again, I did this by myself with no help in translation…I guess I am really doing ok with my Spanish. She asked regular questions about my health and then took me to a table just like at a doctor’s office and examined my blood pressure, my throat, my lungs, my reflexes, and my pulse. Then back to the chair about my general health again. I passed and I also was told my Spanish is very good for less than 4 years…but my ability to know I need a new license sucked. I just put that in. She did not say that. HAHA! Then on the last test which is a booth for hearing. I am just saying they need this in Florida where I am from! Why not check people’s vision and hearing? I think it is smart. I sit inside a booth and have on earphones. They have you raise your hand when you hear sounds. They do it for both ears. I passed. YAY.
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After that morning a good lunch was next at my favorite restaurant Karen’s Pizza. What a relief to have the exams in our hands and know in a few hours we would have new licenses that will last ten years. I know many who follow my blog want to look for places to retire that are less expensive than the USA. However, sometimes I find I still encounter some small problems, like this day. Believe it is small when you compare getting a ticket for an expired license to the difficulties everyone experiences . I learned from this day, I will never allow my driver license to expire again. When lunch was over we called Antonio the most wonderful ‘pay it forward’ person I have every encountered. He really gives the meaning to that phrase. He came and picked us up with a smile. We arrive at the next place (did I mention he had the best cab with air-conditioning?) and waited in line to get our actual license. This was the funniest part of the day! Colombia is a country that is behind but it is also very forward thinking. I wish that rules were enforced in the USA the way they are here. No one gets preferential treatment. Rules are written and followed. It is simple. However, they are behind with some basic technology. Here you get photographed again, this time for the license. As I stood in line, I saw the camera on a little shelf in front of the woman who processes the licenses. Every person had to pull this rolling board over and sit on a chair to be photographed. It is so funny, and believe me a lot of Americans would make a fuss about it. I loved it, and was smiling the entire time while in line. I talked with others who were laughing too. NOW this is the funniest part. Everyone had their pictures taken without problem and then I sat down. I was too white for the camera. Everyone was helping behind me. The lady said “move the board that way, now a little closer, oh now to the left” Nothing worked! The photo was not good. Then a young man behind me who spoke English said let’s turn the lights down. YAY. My photo was taken and processed. I left with my friend with a brand new license for ten years! My taxi driver and new friend will come visit Villa Migelita, and he will be welcome. He saved the day with his knowledge, but most of all with his kindness. I will always be grateful.

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