It is December 23 and we are not panicked nor running off for last-minute gifts. Here in the countryside of Colombia, we are living life, as usual, preparing for tomorrow to have our Christmas which is celebrated on December 24th. Christmas day is a holiday but for relaxing, not opening gifts. We are deciding on a meal to prepare as I write this blog.
I have often written about my life and how I live as a minimalist in Colombia. We love the decorations, we buy gifts but not in excess, and we enjoy spending time going to visit places to see lights and to enjoy the season simply. That is how we celebrate at Villa Migelita Ecolodge.
I am writing today to say “slow down and don’t overdo gift buying” because that is not what is important. For young children, I believe gifts are fun, but not too many. For children who are growing up, show them the gift of giving to others. Whatever your cause is give them a donation to that and show them material is fun for a couple of presents, but try to steer them into a less selfish state of mind. My intention is to spread what I believe from now on. Even with my granddaughter. I believe in saving our Earth from destruction by humans. If we just contribute a little to saving our planet, we are going to make a difference. Share some good intentions instead of a present that will certainly be discarded in a couple of months.
Finally, share the gift of love. Give a smile to a worker in a store, a flight attendant on your flight who is working the holidays, an older person who might not have a family. Bring your children to volunteer for the homeless, at a nursing home, a hospital. There are so many photos on social media of happy scenes others do not enjoy nor have a life that is filled with so much love. Some people have no one.
I end this simple blog with what means the most to me. What I have created here in Colombia is my gift to myself. Villa Migelita Ecolodge is a place filled with the joy of nature, animals, and beauty. I continue to work to improve every aspect of my Villa. I want nothing more than to wake up in the morning healthy and surrounded by nature and all that I love. I want to celebrate with a heart that is filled with accomplishment. If only one person starts to watch their use of plastic, to become more conscious of what is happening to our planet, to our environment, to try to make a little bit of change in your habits that can make a positive change to the world we leave to our grandchildren, you will give me a wonderful Christmas gift.
It has been over eight years since I moved to Colombia. Many people felt that I was “loca” to move to Colombia. Joyful vibrations were in the air when I arrived on Christmas day 2010. Latin music, festive decorations, the country was alive! I fell in love from that moment and I am still in love with this beautiful and fascinating country. I am living my dream come true. Surrounded by nature, living in my castle in the air, and meeting new people from all over the world who share my passion for nature. I would never have predicted my future to be the owner of an Ecolodge in Colombia when my daughter was murdered in 2010.
I am writing this blog on the day of what would have been my daughter’s 30th birthday, July 22, 1989. Her final resting place is here under a beautiful garden filled with flowers. Butterflies and hummingbirds visit while she is surrounded by the mountains. She was always enchanted with the hummingbirds and mountains during our summers spent in the Smoky Mountains. I dedicate my accomplishments to her. She has been my driving force to find peace. She is in my mind whenever I achieve a new goal. I live for what she lost. Her life.
Lessons learned through hardship are saved in my soul now. I am not the same person I once was. It seems so long ago that I lost that person I once was. I am filled with the wisdom I never knew I could achieve in life. It is not important that people I thought would want to see my Paradise in Colombia have never visited. I have so many people from the world over who come and stay at my nature retreat in the Andes mountains of Colombia. The delight I see in their faces when they experience everyday moments is sufficient to remind me I have created something special at Villa Migelita Ecolodge.
I have made so many friends from different places I knew nothing about! I always thought I was an expert in travel because I was working in the skies for years as a flight attendant. I have visited so many countries, states, and smalltown cities. I knew nothing about any of the above until I experienced a different culture and moved to a really small pueblo. I have learned to honk at everyone I pass in my truck, to give a lift to someone going to Palmira our main city, and to speak in Spanish about how life is going for them. I have found that every guest leaves me with a fresh perspective on what I have created. I have made so many friends that I may never see again but I will always keep them in a special place in my heart that has opened up so much since the death of Misha. I appreciate all that is given to me through the knowledge of others who bring experiences that I can learn from. The sadness from the loss of my child is replaced with the happiness I feel when a guest gets to hold a rescued hummingbird, or they feel the wind against their faces while riding horses in the mountains, or they see the mist of a waterfall that touches them with tiny droplets, while they soar above the clouds and look down onto the mountains below them with awe when experiencing Parapente. These are moments that I keep with me after they leave. Then someone new comes and I get to start again with new adventures.
Everyone who follows my social media sites knows that hummingbirds are my spiritual reminder of Misha. They surround me with their rapidly moving wings, flying backward just like I experience sometimes when I think of Misha and my memories of her. I know hummingbirds surround me with ethereal knowledge of life that exists beyond this earthly world. Misha is with them in every flutter of their wings. I am blessed when I have a guest who comes to photograph them. Each guest gives me more knowledge than I have taught myself. I have made some very special friends through these special jewels that bring peace and tranquility to Villa Migelita Ecolodge.
Recently Carole Turek of The Hummingbird Spot on Facebook came for a short visit from California. You could say we “clicked” immediately. I had joined her group and began posting hummingbirds from my Colombian Villa. Carole has a goal to photograph all the hummingbird species of the world. She had never been to Colombia but has a trip planned for November 2019. I am honored she decided to visit Villa Migelita Ecolodge first. She spent five days photographing Colombian hummingbirds and wrote a blog featuring her time at my Ecolodge and showcasing the species she was able to photograph while at my home. She also taught me a lot about photography and more about hummingbirds, myself being self-taught through the internet over the years. She is an anesthesiologist in Los Angeles and she also is an expert on hummingbirds.
I had a lovely family come in June who brought with them a love for hummingbirds and photography, but also the delight of having a precious little 6-month-old with them who gave us smiles all day long. Then, of course, my friends from the airlines that come to experience Colombia for the first time, and find a totally different experience than what they expect. I am able to dispel all bad rumors about Colombia immediately and show the magical realism of this country through ecotourism and adventure. There are people who find me through this blog, or my Facebook pages, Instagram (all at Villa Migelita) and the many groups I belong to. They come from Canada, Australia, Europe, and many states in the USA. All become lifelong friends. This is the blessing of customer service, interaction in a personal way. We definitely strive for that here as I never take more than one group at a time. I like to keep my Ecolodge exclusive and the personal service and customized menus are all part of the experience.
My hummingbirds are the most prized gifts that I show to any guest for whatever reason they come to visit Colombia. This is because they fly free in nature, glittering in the sunlight, sharing something special to all who view them. Besides the beauty of the hummingbirds, I have many species of Neotropical birds and butterflies that flit around all my gardens on the property. I like to think all who leave have been blessed in a way that only nature can achieve.
This is my eighth year of living in Colombia. I am a resident of this wonderful country. Colombia can’t escape a bad reputation no matter how hard she tries. She is like the girl in high school who was called awful names, the girl whose rumors were spread no matter how untrue, she just could never escape her past. She changed as she grew up and into her beauty. That is Colombia. Colombia is growing into a major tourist industry despite the reputation she has. She is winning, but then something happens. Just one thing and she has to fight again to regain respectability.
Bogota had an attack in January by a rebel group. A fringe element after the peace agreement was signed and President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This was the first such attack in nine years. Meanwhile, in the United States, there is a mass shooting of some sort almost every week. Some are so horrific that the rest of the world, including Colombia, cannot comprehend why these guns are easily available to these domestic terrorists. In Europe, we read of terrorist attacks frequently, sometimes I worry because I have friends who still are working in the airlines and the places attacked are popular layover spots. So because I haven’t needed to write about how wonderful Colombia is in quite a while, I thought I would share some facts about life here in Colombia. Why Colombia is an undiscovered Paradise and the most bio-diverse country in the world.
Colombia doesn’t meddle in other countries problems. Colombia is a democracy and modeled after the United States with similar governing styles. However, Colombia is pretty much self-sufficient and doesn’t need to go after other countries oil. They are really helpful to Venezuela right now with the humanitarian crisis that is happening. When Colombia was going through bad times, Venezuela was there to help the Colombian people and Colombia has never forgotten.
Colombia is a frugal nation of people. The people pay in cash more than with credit cards. I don’t live in a big city but in The Andes Mountains, the children are raised very much like I was raised in the 1960s and 1970s. They are raised to be self-sufficient, the boys by the time they are adults can fix and do almost any repair, the girls know how to cook, clean and do their own laundry, they can also do almost any repair too! When the children have a vacation from school they go with their parents to jobs and work alongside them. At the schools here in the country, the children keep the school clean. They all have assigned chores for once a week, and once a month is a day that all the children clean the school completely. The school system is really good. They have a bus that transports the children to school and back. School starts at 7 am and for the older children, it is over at 3 pm. They have many classes and homework just like the children do in the United States. They also have physical education, art, and music. Exactly like I had at Nova elementary and high school in South Florida in the 1970s. Art is encouraged with all classes.
Colombian people are brought up to be polite. They will always be attentive and respectful to everyone in person. However, they love to gossip and embellish on any story and usually by the time you hear the “chisme” it is so untrue and I can only compare it to the novelas they watch on television It is part of the culture and I have learned to just ignore and live my life. Everyone here thinks I am a wino who drinks wine every single day. I do. I don’t care if they like it or not. I enjoy my wine, and my health is good. Colombians will never act rude to your face. They will just talk about you later. I find that as I grow older, I enjoy my solitude from anyone who is a fake person. No matter if they live here in Colombia, or in the United States. Fake is fake, and I have no room in my life for this. If I find out a person is fake, I let them go without thought. No matter what you think of a person here in Colombia, you greet them politely. This is how it is living here. Personally, I find this the best way to live. I just let things go. I say hello, but in my mind, I am saying goodbye.
I live in the Valle del Cauca department of Colombia. I am in a very safe area. There is a department called Cauca (This department has some warnings). This is not the same as the Valle del Cauca. I am a birding paradise in the mountains. My Ecolodge is Western style with mountain views surrounding the entire villa. My area is called La Buitrera de Palmira and the areas encompassing us are filled with the biodiversity Colombia is known for. Neotropical birds are abundant, along with many different species of hummingbirds, small mammals like the black jaguar, monkeys, armadillos, and owls. I have yet to see an owl on my many eco-hikes but I see many photos of them from a friend who is a guide in the mountains. Colombia is colorful whether you are in the city or in the countryside. Flowers are bountiful, including orchids, roses, lilies, bougainvillea and many species of Heliconia and exotic plants. Fruit is everywhere in the country, and you can just pick it right off the tree, so are butterflies. Colombia has the most species of butterflies, birds, fruits, and is considered the most biodiverse country in the world. I live 20 minutes from Palmira the city and an hour from Cali, Colombia. There are many fun tourist activities in the Valle del Cauca, including my new favorite tour of birdwatching while on a small motorized boat through a nearby jungle reserve. We are also known for Parapente (para-gliding in English) which is a wonderful bucket list adventure. I am a legal hotel Campestre registered with the Chamber of Commerce but do my taxes in the USA because my guests are always from another country and they do not pay taxes for lodging in Colombia.
Cars are expensive in Colombia. I bought a 4 x 4 Toyota Hilux when I arrived and it is old. I just replaced the motor, because having a truck is important when living in the country. The roads are dirt in many outlying areas. If you are thinking of relocating to Colombia, you cannot bring a car with you unless it is brand new and shipped here. We keep our cars forever in Colombia. The cost of maintenance is very low, and to buy new is really pricey. I love my old truck and it takes my tourists on many adventures, many into the jungle surrounding me at Villa Migelita Ecolodge. I keep it safe and always up to date with repairs and maintenance. Colombia is about being humble and not showy at all. When you buy a good car, you keep it. I became a minimalist since relocating here. I also live like a millionaire. My views, my lifestyle are completely different than the life I left behind in the United States. I live simply, but elegantly. I was very lucky to find the home I did and for the price I paid. Real estate is expensive in my area now.
I have made a good investment, and I hope to continue to live like I do well into my old age. I can never describe the views I experience while watching the sunset in the evening, nor the climate I live in. I have perfect temperatures year round. We are on the cool side, but perfectly cool. I advise my guests to bring real pajamas for sleeping and jackets because we are cold in the morning and evenings. Palmira just 20 minutes away is hot. I do my errands early because I hate the heat now. I am spoiled with this wonderful lifestyle I live. I love to be at my villa more than I have loved anyplace I have ever lived. You just never know what bird will show up and even enter through our open windows and doors to the balconies. A completely different lifestyle than living in an enclosed space of regular homes such as I grew up in and lived my entire life in the USA. I enjoy the fresh air, no air-conditioning, and the food.
The food is always organic in my area. Even when buying produce from the grocery store the locals sell to the markets. The fruit and vegetables are sometimes still covered in dirt. For example, when I go to a local fruit market and buy potatoes, they are sold by the pound and just taken from the earth. The meat, chicken, and pork come from a store that is always fresh from the country, all free range. Fish comes from the Pacific coast and is caught by local people. I have special stores for all my purchases. I don’t just walk into a store and do all of my shopping. I have a store for the meats, and one for the seafood, a regular grocery store for staples. I haven’t been sick with a cold in a long time. We eat healthily, and we cook food that is tasty and with the Colombian flair. Breakfast is at around 8:30, then our main meal is at around 1:00 pm. We eat light at dinner, which is usually a soup, sandwich, or salad. We make desserts from bananas growing on my land, or oranges. We don’t have junk food here. There are fast food places in the cities but I never see many people inside if I am around one of these locations. Colombians eat well and food is a serious business. We always have food in the house that is fresh, no boxed juices that are so common in other countries. We make our juices, lemonade, and we use very little sugar.
Colombia has the most holidays in the world also. There are many three day weekends throughout the year. Colombians do not work on Sundays ever unless they are employed by a supermarket or restaurant, or health professional in a hospital. Sundays are for your family and friends. This week is called Santa Semana. The Easter week. It is as special as the Christmas holidays. Forget doctor appointments or anything important during a week of celebrating in Colombia. However, you will find many fiestas and fun. The Colombian people love to party. They also enjoy any time they can spend with family. Nothing is ever stressful here in the countryside. I just look out at my view and I remember I live in complete peace, in a mansion surrounded by nature. I never had this in the United States. Never. I have it here and I appreciate my life more every day.
I could continue and I will in another blog. Life is delicious here in Colombia. I have a manicurist come to do my nails every week. She does designs which are another special part of Colombian life. You must have a Colombian manicure and pedicure if you visit this wonderful country. You will see for yourself the myths perpetrated for years when you visit. Just remember to be humble, to leave jewelry home and buy some of the beautiful artistic jewelry sold here by the Indigenous people and locals, and to relax. Colombians love to wear jeans and nice shirts, and pretty shoes. We are simple and we are fun. Come visit Colombia. Look for more soon in my next blog. Michele
I recently went to see Bohemian Rhapsody here in Colombia, South America. I did not know a lot about Freddy Mercury’s history, or upbringing. I had to read a lot about him before going to the theater to see this marvelous movie in Spanish (I was a bit worried about my Spanish but I understood everything). He was an amazing talent, a true genius. I was young when he became famous, and to be honest his music was what I liked to dance to. I didn’t care about his personal life, and in reality I preferred music that was not Rock as I was a Disco loving girl. His music captured people like me, people outside of his genre, people who were not Rock fans, but who loved a good beat. This is where his true gift showed itself. Everyone could value and appreciate his talent, even those like me who enjoyed a different style of music. I am listening with new interest to all the songs that made him famous.
I love to watch the sunset at night here at Villa Migelita Ecolodge while listening to music. The other night I was listening to Stevie Wonder sing Ribbon in the Sky. How interesting to think this man who is also an inspiration to all, just like Freddy Mercury, sings about sunsets. He cannot see what he is singing about but I felt like he was seeing the sunset with me as I sat watching the sun go down. This is when I realized that life is a gift to all of us no matter our limitations. We all share heartbreak, it might not be the same, but we all share that shattered heart in some way. With that realization, I believe that Thanksgiving is truly a time to be grateful for what we do have in our lives that is good, that is of value, how our lives can change in a moment and we should appreciate anything that brings us blessings.
We alone have the ability to move forward in our lives, even when the situations around us are bringing us down. We are not without distractions that throw us off path, but we can always redirect ourselves forward again by staying positive and persevering with determination. I find myself thinking about these sorts of things when I watch the sun go down while listening to music. Music is a great healer, and for me has always been a way to help when I have a bad day. Music is always playing at Villa Migelita Ecolodge, often Spanish music which helps me with my Spanish-speaking. Speaking a new language is an obstacle that I have overcome, one I should give myself credit for. We should give ourselves kudos when we accomplish great things. Learning a new language and becoming very independent here in Colombia is an achievement I am quite proud of. I drive alone to do errands now, I run into friends and speak in Spanish easily if not perfectly to all. I write to my friends on Whats app chat in Spanish and have an active social life filled with new friends from this different phase in my life. This to me is a blessing, one I have worked eight years to achieve, along with running a hotel in the rain forest of Colombia.
Many thought I was crazy and perhaps I was a bit erratic when I moved to Colombia. After all, I was still recovering from my daughter’s murder and a horrible divorce. In my mind Colombia was only a 3 1/2 hour flight from South Florida. I knew I could obtain great healthcare and live well. I didn’t take into account that many people still felt Colombia was unsafe, nor that I was actually isolating myself from many people by moving. I found out that there were many who disapproved when I returned for a retirement luncheon and found myself being given the cold shoulder by people I had known and loved for many years. I was still very overwhelmed with grief, and in actuality I was a different person from the one these old friends knew in the past. I was beaten down inside. I will never forget that luncheon and how I felt like a deer in the headlights. As the years have progressed and I have made a life for myself here high in the Andes mountains of Colombia, I no longer feel that sense of insecurity I felt that day surrounded by all the people I had grown up with as a young flight attendant. I feel blessed. It turned out I made the right decision for myself, even if others didn’t understand. It was my destiny, and who would know that I would need such a rare surgery that would have cost so much money in the United States. The great healthcare I have here was such a wonderful blessing this year and I have healed quite successfully from my hip surgery.
When I was watching the movie of Freddy Mercury I was struck by the loneliness he felt, it was subtlety presented but I picked up on it. I have felt that same loneliness myself. A loneliness brought on by being different. When you don’t follow the norm, people will find a reason to be critical. I now try to accept when people are not what I expected them to be, when they hurt me, when I am let down. I am surrounded by peace, nature, beauty, and wonderful friends here in Colombia. I found a beautiful spot to heal from great tragedy. When I am out doing errands, I am always thinking just this one last thing and I can go back to my Villa and enjoy the wonderful place I alone am responsible for making a place of comfort and joy. One I share with guests who come to stay with me, and become friends with new people from all over the world. I recently had a young couple who are also doing what they want with their lives, and doing it while young and healthy. They wrote about my hotel in this blog. I was so flattered, because they captured in their writing and their fabulous photos Villa Migelita Ecolodge perfectly.
My greatest reason to be thankful this year is that when I think of my daughter now, I think of her watching the hummingbirds with me, or hearing the rain fall, or watching the fog move in and then move out over the mountains. I feel her presence in all the symmetry of nature that surrounds me.
Just like the branches of these raspberries growing in the wild, or me in front of this tree with extensions that are contorted, life has so many connections that intertwine. I have found that these connections do not happen by accident. Especially with my new love. How much my life has been changing since I met Avi that fateful night on my cruise to the Bahamas. I know all who follow my blog know I believe in the Universe directing our life paths. Now if only others can follow their life paths and know when something happens that is good, they should embrace it and use the opportunity to better themselves. I find myself getting so stressed when I return to the United States. It is hectic, it is full of people who want to cause harm to others for no reason, including me. I am going to try to come over more often because of my new love. I have made it clear I do not want to live in the United States full-time ever again. I do not like it there anymore.
Why? Because the people are mean, they are without any kind of patience, they do things I do not understand. I live so peacefully. I have no quarrels with anyone here in Colombia. I enjoy my guests, I enjoy my animals, I enjoy the nature surrounding me. I have my routine. I like it. When I come to Florida all gets twisted. I don’t desire this nor want it. I want to live in peace with those I love. I wish others could learn to live peacefully. Maybe a visit to Villa Migelita Ecolodge and Colombia could help? I know living the way I do has left me with very little patience for those who seek to harm others.
Hammocks or hamacas in Spanish is a way to ground myself. I just look up at the sky and meditate. I talk to the Universe. I find a lot of answers. Now I am waiting for answers to what I always try to do. Help. When I see wrong I will not let it go.
Who says liquid has to be water? It can be an old tree 30 years old with weeping sap. It can be the love that flows from a photo of your one true love. Liquid can be smooth or splashing, it can be running down a wall, it can be flat with calmness. It can be luscious with the beauty of love. Everything is liquid. Not just water. Our lives are liquid with the change that happens daily, sometimes really wonderful happenings, sometimes awful. These photos represent liquid to me.
Liquid to me is life, because we can never know if we will be calm like the photo with my man, tranquil with peace. Or will we be tormented like the sky in a thunderstorm coming quickly to overwhelm us with lightening and thunder.
Will we find peace in our lives or will we find the rushing water is too much and we need to change?
I can never say enough how life is river that flows in one direction than it takes another turn. We can never be prepared for this change. But we can accept and try our best to live a good life. I am doing that in Colombia. I live a good life. Not a life of rushing water, ready to descend and sweep me away, but one of tranquility and without fear of my future life. “Que sera, sera” What will be, will be.
Lush landscapes, the sun shining through clouds upon the mountains, rainstorms at sunset, the hummingbirds that buzz by as you sit quietly watching, bananas growing on trees that surround you, Colombia is my place.
I am forever in my place, never to leave to move anywhere else. I have a property that is incomparable to most anywhere in the world at Villa Migelita Ecolodge. I am in a small country with people who have huge hearts. My heart is full with gratitude. My heart is full with love, my heart is full of Colombia.