My guests at Villa Migelita Ecolodge of Colombia always ask me the same thing. “How did you do this?” By this, they mean my move to Colombia and opening a hotel in The Andes Mountains. Many of my customers come to see in person what I have achieved. Curiosity about living in another country along with the love of all things nature is a driving force for many of us living in what is a chaotic time in the world. As I said in my last blog: Living Your Best Life, we must stop trying to impress others, we must breathe, live, and be ourselves. We must give up what we think others expect of us and do what we enjoy. We must change, materialism and achievement are two different things. Materialism is a preoccupation with or emphasis on material objects, comforts, and considerations, with a disinterest in or rejection of spiritual, intellectual, or cultural values. Achievement is something accomplished, especially by superior ability, special effort, great courage, etc.; a great or heroic deed: both are definitions from the dictionary. I believe we all have it inside of us to achieve the goals that we set for ourselves. It might take 8 years as I have done, or you might be able to achieve your goal in a matter of weeks.
We should reflect on achievements in our lives and not materialism. I am a spiritual human being. The Universe is my religion. I am not a believer in organized religion. I am not saying it is unacceptable, it is just not for me. I believe in a God of all people who made the beauty of nature that surrounds me in Colombia and the rest of the world. I am worried about the upcoming generations and what is happening to our climate. Spiritualism is my way of life. I do not expect others to follow my beliefs. I do believe we should be civil to each other and respect the Earth. I have shown this is possible by my lifestyle change. I live what I write.
Achieving my goals took time and I have a beautiful hotel. I worked hard and went through difficulties to get to where I am. I didn’t do this when I was young. I did it in my 50’s and now I am a senior citizen according to the definition. I don’t live as a senior. I play volleyball, I hike, I include myself in many adventure travel activities offered at Villa Migelita Ecolodge. I am surrounded by many young people. I work with them, and I have them as guests. I laugh when I realize they don’t ever consider my age and expect me to keep up on all things adventure. I am thrilled they feel this way. I enjoy my life and all that I have accomplished. I am doing what I love, and you should aim for this too. Do what you love, do not look at other’s lives to decide what you need for your life. Do what makes your heart happy.
As for materialism, let it go. You don’t need a new outfit for every occasion, or the latest phone, car, jewelry, or whatever is the flavor of the moment. Living in Colombia has made me see how superficial we all can be. I was that way. In Colombia we wear the same clothes over and over, we don’t have new cars. I joke with my guests about the Toyota truck I drive. They actually say they love my truck. Then they see it is a good investment needed to do all the adventure travel options offered at Villa Migelita Ecolodge. I wish I could have given myself this advice years ago. Being older has a lot of advantages, especially when you have lived through a lot of changes: good and bad. Take my advice and let the good things that surround you bring you joy, not material objects. Fun with your family, the beauty of a perfect day, frolic on the beach, in the mountains, or just play games with your children. We play volleyball almost every single day at Villa Migelita Ecolodge, even with our guests sometimes. It is the little things that bring joy. Not material objects.
This is a short excerpt of the book that I am writing about my life and adventures. My book will include using my skills as a flight attendant to open an Ecolodge in the Andes Mountains of Colombia. I have never thought of myself as an entrepreneur. I worked for Delta since I was 20 years old until I retired in August of 2008. I was given the best training to open and own a business in the tourist industry. I will expand on the stories and memories I have shared with many more tales in my upcoming book which I am actively working on. I am still working on a title of my book. However, I often think of calling it “Two Empty Seats” because I have been to hell and back since my daughter was murdered in 2010.
At no time would I think I would find pieces of my past in Colombia. They are in a Museo Aereo Fenix . I visited this museum and saw silverware, cards, uniforms and more from Delta Air Lines. This museum left such a lasting impression on me, along with my 30 plus years as a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines, I decided on a name for my book after visiting and spending hours checking out the museum. I realized I have had a very interesting life, which will include my time as a flight attendant for the best airline in the world, Delta. I grew up with Delta. I am sharing a blog that I wrote as a guest writer for another blogger below. I hope you will enjoy. It will only be one chapter in a book that will include more than just my time as a flight attendant.
Flight Attendant Living
As a retired flight attendant I look back on memories of my life as a hostess in the sky with fondness. I was hired at the age of 19, by Delta Air Lines, then I started training when I was 20 years old. The year was 1978, and air travel was still elegant and the job was considered glamorous. I had always wanted to be a flight attendant since I read the book, “Coffee, Tea, or Me,”when I was quite young. I took a trip to Europe with my elementary school and I was quite fascinated with the stewardesses who were all so pretty and elegant. I remember the plane ride like it was yesterday. I really wanted to travel the world like they did.
In 1978, the interviews were held at the corporate offices of Delta in Atlanta, Georgia. I was sent a ticket to Atlanta and really had no idea what the dress code was nor what was expected of me. I was very fortunate to get an interview and it is still very difficult to get hired by Delta Air Lines. I arrived at the interview with a dress I found to be quite pretty. It was brown, with a Chinese style jacket, and a delicate embroidery. I had on 5 inch heels that matched my dress. I walked into the waiting area and 40 other people (mostly women in those days) turned and looked at me with surprise. They all had on the same clothing style: a plain navy suit, including the men. I was a little intimidated by that. I have always been my own person, so I felt I could do well by standing out as a unique individual. I met with the first interviewer and she immediately brought up my outfit! I explained I was a disco dancer and this is how we dressed when dancing. That was the only style I knew. I was hired and my nickname in training was “Disco.”
After graduation from training, a group of us were put in the Atlanta base, although we did have a base in Miami. We all rented in the same place that was close to the airport and we waited to be called for work since we were on reserve.
We carried a “beeper” when we were not near a phone. We had to always have a bag packed for trips and be ready at all times for our job. It definitely took getting use to. I remember my first flights as hectic, but I have always been a quick learner. I worked very hard to do my best.
I became proficient quickly, and even was made flight leader rapidly. I received a base transfer to Miami and was again living with a group of flight attendants who rented at the same apartment complex in Kendall, Florida. One of those flight attendants was in the famous crash of the Air Florida Flight 90 that hit a bridge during a snow storm leaving Washington National Airport. Her name is Kelly Duncan and we were friends, her father was a captain at Delta. Kelly survived, and I will always remember watching her on television being lifted out of that icy water still in her flight service smock. We were all so young and didn’t look at our job as scary. This changed all of us at our apartment complex. We realized we were not just in this job for fun and travel, we were there for safety more than anything else.
I was the youngest in my class and at my base in Miami; however, I acquired seniority quickly. Many hired after me would stay on reserve for years, but I held a “line”as it was called back then in my 6th month of flying. I held really awful routes, but I knew my schedule. I always ended up with New York City layovers, and I was the A line quite often, which id what the flight leader was called in 1978. One time I was on the DC ‘stretch 8’ as the A line flying home to Miami from La Guardia airport and the engines caught fire as we started taking off. The was aborted immediately. I was only 21 years old. I did as I had been taught for emergencies and spoke with the Captain immediately. He said have everyone remain seated. I walked back through the cabin and looked out the windows and saw we were surrounded by fire trucks. Then we were towed back to the airport. The passengers were taking photos, and they didn’t panic. However, they did complain a lot about the delay. We changed airplanes and made it back to Miami that night. I think when this happened, I really grew up and into my job. To this day, I don’t panic when there is a situation that requires attention or there is an emergency.
Many people think of flight attendants as waitresses in the skies, but nothing could be further from the truth. As I continued on with my life as a flight attendant, I remained based in Miami and Delta had opened a base in Ft. Lauderdale. I moved to Ft. Lauderdale because this where I grew up and I had many friends. We often buddy bid together, and swapped trips to fly with each other, or to change our schedules. Then the unthinkable happened. Flight 191 from Ft. Lauderdale to Dallas, crashed with all of my friends working that flight. This crash resulted in the longest aviation trial in history and many movies, documentaries, news articles were written about this horrific crash. To this day, I am friends with many of the same people and we always recognize this anniversary on social media. The friends we lost impacted all of us greatly. We were all changed forever by the loss of our friends. Three of our co-workers survived. I am friends with one of them. A lovely courageous soul who wasn’t injured, but had to watch fireballs flying by and see others dying. She was one of the last to leave the tail section that had broken away from the other part of the Lockheed L-1011 aircraft. She had to get help to get another survivor from he plane. We all had done this trip before. They should have ended up in Los Angeles International Airport, a favorite layover spot for all of us at the time. I was in Dallas on a layover when this crash happened. I remember taking off and flying over the debris of the crash. It was there for a long time. When I arrived home I had a voice message on my voice recorder from Diane Johnson, a flight attendant killed in the crash. It haunts me to this day.
Many wonder what life is like for a flight attendant. What we do on layovers, how hard is the job, do we mind going away from our families, what is it like for boarding and deplaning, our work rules and more. As I continued with my career, times changed and so did my job. I was able to hold nice layovers, and as usual, I flew with my fiends. The job is not easy. We have to board and set up the plane before the passengers enter and wait until the last passenger leaves before we either go on to another flight or a layover. I flew domestic for most of my career and LAX layovers were always the best to have. We would always have celebrities on our flights back in those days. I had so many bands, singers, politicians, sports-players announcers, actors, a prince and even a President. Richard Nixon flew on my plane, and I have an autographed personal card from him. Prince Albert of Monaco was another guest in first class. He did like to flirt and he did with me when I served him. Most celebrities are really nice, but I had Coretta Scott King on my flight and she would not even speak with me or order her own food or beverages, but her bodyguard gave me an autographed pamphlet. Huey Lewis is one of my favorites and he spent most of his flight in the galley chatting with us flight attendants. I had Bill Gates and he was super humble and nice also. You just never knew who would be showing up on any flight, but as progress took over , we would get manifests that would show who the first class passengers were and we would know beforehand sometimes. Joan Rivers was a hoot, and she was so tiny. I remember her eyes watered the entire flight like she had just had surgery on them. Sometimes a famous person would give us tickets to shows or invite us out.
What do we do on layovers? If it is short, we sleep. If it is long, we go out and have fun. I flew International during my final years and we had to set an alarm when we would arrive because we flew all night. Two hours was the limit we would sleep and then we would meet and do fun things, I have seen a lot of the world. Rome is a favorite, any layover in South America is always fun. I have ended up living in Colombia as an expat because I enjoyed my time spent in Guatemala, Buenos Aires, Chile, and Peru. Because of my training customer service, I have opened an Ecolodge in Colombia for those who enjoy nature and adventure. Paris is a lovely city that I never tire of, so is Dublin, Ireland. Ireland just opened an embassy in Colombia! Who could get tired of traveling to other countries? I enjoyed many fun layovers in Germany also. My favorite domestic layovers were California, Arizona, NYC, Boston, Seattle,and Savannah, GA. However, there were always fun things to do everywhere, if we had enough time. I loved my San Diego layovers, many times I would go with fellow flight attendants to visit Tijuana, Mexico. One time we rented horses and rode on the beach in California. The only problem was our horses were untrained and went crazy on us. They took off riding in the direction of Mexico. Picture this, people sunbathing and seeing 4 horses out of control running on the beach, all the people were running away, or entering the water! I was holding on with my hands, thinking I am going to fall off! I had ridden horses since I was really young, this was something I have never experienced since. I will never forget the loudspeaker “GO BACK YOU ARE ENTERING MEXICO!” and all of the people running into the ocean just like a real movie scene. I still can’t believe we weren’t arrested. I finally got control of my horse and we all turned back and entered United States soil again. But the horses were sweating and horribly upset. One horse escaped. So we had three horses and 4 of us. We tried to get two of us on the same horse but that didn’t work. Slowly we started back, and all of a sudden an all terrain vehicle came up and took our friend with them. We returned all the horses, the one that escaped was already back and we drove our rental car to the hotel. Just one adventure of many in my 30 years of flying. A memorable one for sure.
As I grew older, I found my patience was thin for the demanding passengers that seemed to feel that with their tickets they bought the airplane and the crew. Cellphones and computers were always on even when people were told to turn them off. People wouldn’t follow instructions when there was turbulence, and the days became longer. Delta could keep us on duty for over 16 hours if they called irregular operations. This is a part of the job passengers have no idea. There were many times all I had to eat were the snacks offered to the passengers. I did take a bag of food with me all the time, and it isn’t easy to pack an entire food bag for a 3 day trip. When the terror attack of 9/11 happened, everything changed. The fun camaraderie enjoyed by flight crews of all bases ended. We became like soldiers in the sky. We were often told in our yearly training classes for updated security and safety, to look for the danger that now is a part of our job experience. It was still fun to get together with others on layovers, but the job was one of intense briefings before flights, and many flight attendants took it too far. I can say I have lost friends over their actions on the plane towards their co-workers. People who fly often don’t realize we are not paid during boarding. We are paid when the door closes, and the pay stops when the boarding door opens. The boarding process is the most stressful part of our job. They became mini dictators, and I didn’t like it. As flight attendants, we are the boss of ourselves in the air. The flight leader gave the briefings, but many became different. Mini drill sergeants with ridiculous expectations. The fun for me left. I was offered a buyout at the age of 50. I had always been young for my seniority and I retired with 30 years and 4 months. I can never describe what my job as a flight attendant gave me, except to say, I am doing well operating a hotel in another country. I have even learned to speak Spanish. I thin a person who takes on the job as a flight attendant has a special part of their soul seeking adventure. I am certain that describes my outlook on life completely. Adventure is the world for all flight attendants.
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Healthcare: If you can obtain a Visa here in Colombia you will get a Cedula which is the country ID in Colombia. The different Visas available in Colombia are listed on the Colombian government website: most are pretty easy to obtain. We have social security cards in the USA and the Cedula is similar : but it shows your blood type and a number that registers you to the country of Colombia. You need this card to get healthcare, you need this card to show your identification anywhere as a person living in Colombia. It is more important than a driver’s license. Colombian healthcare is not socialized, you can shop the different healthcare companies. They make you take a physical and then they rate you by your health. Colombia does not turn people down, but the rating of good health gives you an advantage. I can never emphasize enough how much I love my healthcare here, the peace of mind it gives me. For more information you can write me below in the comments. I want everyone to know the benefits and the care I have received living under the Colombian healthcare system is like nothing I have had in my life. And the price: did I mention I have the prepaid Gold plan for around 120 dollars per month ?
Great Climates for everyone: Colombia offers so much diversity, you can travel the country and look for a department that you feel is perfect for you! The Pacific and Atlantic coasts are warm and humid, the Andes offer cold weather, so does Bogotá. Then you have the Amazon which is hot and humid and the biggest department of Colombia. The Valle del Cauca where I live is quite diverse. The mountainous regions are cool, perfect temperatures, but the cities of Cali and Palmira are hot oftentimes. You just need to decide on what it is you want and you will be able to find the perfect location. Another reason to come and explore Colombia!
Real Estate: Colombia still offers affordable real estate. You can buy for a very reasonable price, or you can rent anywhere for so little you won’t even want to buy. Most places for rent are not furnished. You will most likely have to supply your own refrigerator, washer, dryer, furniture and any electronics. But you can find a beautiful place in most any department for around 400 to 500$ per month. Furnished places are more expensive. I suggest anyone who wants to try out living in another country to rent for at least a year. Then you will know if you like the area. If you don’t you can try another spot. It is so worth it though, especially for the healthcare. Healthcare alone makes moving to another country worth it.
Learn a New Language: The language barrier. ARGH it still is haunting me, but I can speak Spanish now. It is certainly not perfect, but I can communicate. Learning a new language is an endeavor that is not easy. Especially Spanish: all those damn rules will never be perfect for me. However, I love that I speak two languages. It is an achievement I am quite proud of and I will never understand anyone making fun of someone for an accent or improper verbage when speaking a language not their own. At least they know two languages. Do you?
Cost of Living: You can live really well anywhere in Latin America on a fixed income. You do not have all the variables that you have to put in your budget in the USA. Healthcare is so reasonable and there are no deductibles, you can get a prescription without going to a doctor! Your grocery bill is one-third of the cost in the US. You can buy fresh meat, chicken, fish at the local Galleria. This area of business is in all Colombian cities and they also sell produce and supplies for farms and pets. Also the food is organic. You don’t have all the insurances you pay in the USA. What a big savings that is!
The People: Colombian people have been rated time and again as the happiest in the world. After living here for 6 years I will agree and they also have lovely manners. If you walk into a doctor’s office everyone will look at you and say hello. If you have a favorite restaurant, they will learn your name. The friends you make will be your friends for life. They will also help you learn their language without any snide looks or eye rolls. They will correct you and they will practice with you. They will be your forever friends. I love my friends here, and I respect them more.
Nature: If you love nature, if you love the mountains, if you love the ocean, if you love biodiversity and the perseverance of the animal kingdom, then Colombia is your place to live! I see big construction projects all over my area of the Valle del Cauca: but they leave the trees alone. We have trees that date back over 350 years here. The Colombian people respect that nature is first. I love that and so will you if that is as important to you. We have the most species of butterflies, birds, fruits and flowers in Colombia.
Departments of Colombia: There are 32 departments in Colombia. Departments in Colombia are like what we call States in the USA. If you decide you want to visit Colombia you need to see a few of these departments and enjoy our tourism. I am still traveling and finding new places to visit. My department the Valle del Cauca is known for the agriculture, but also includes Buenaventura where the shipping port is. We have many forests and waterfalls, and a great amount of hummingbirds, bird species and butterflies.We are also famous for Parapente, because we have great wind currents. If you love the beach then you will want to include Cartagena, Choco, and Santa Marta in your travel plans. You can watch whales in Choco, sunbathe and eat great food in Cartagena, hike mountains and see the ocean in Santa Marta. We have a bit of everything to offer in Colombia. We also have rivers that turn colors like Cano Cristales, and then the Amazon which is adventure travel with lots of water and animal life, including pink dolphins.
Peaceful living: If you like to live peacefully without drama then you need to move to another country. I am very happy in my mountain home high in the mountains. I hear frogs at night when I fall asleep, I hear birds when I awake in the morning. I can be down to the city in 25 minutes, but I can stay at my house and never see a crowd. It is about what I want on any particular day. I am at peace in a beautiful home I have remodeled and it is heaven on Earth. Believe me, life is good.
You can start a business without any fuss: I started the business of my Bed and Breakfast. I didn’t do much. I am on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and I have my own blog and website. I don’t do much to advertise my place. I haven’t needed to. You just have to have a small amount of capital and you can do what I have done. It is rewarding, it is fulfilling and it is on your terms.
A favorite photo of me when I first discovered the beauty of the country of Colombia. Riding the back roads on a motorcycle and exploring nature was all it took for me to want to change the lifestyle I had been living in the United States. I felt free, I felt the wanderlust hidden inside of me waiting to burst out like the flurry of the wind hitting my face as I road the little Suzuki motorcycle around the mountains.
My divorce, my advancing age, and my love of the mountains all came together to make the decision to seek an alternative lifestyle. One I do not regret. I am flourishing here in my adopted country. I find that no matter your life lessons, you can go on to accomplish great things even when you have found yourself beaten down by life. I started my new career as a hotel owner four years after this photo was taken.
Who can ever know what life has in store for us? We have to wing it sometimes, and I have. I am discovering new things about me, what I am capable of. Living my life for the moments that I encounter that bring me joy. Colombia is also coming around, being named by many prominent publications as the country to visit in 2017. A little country full of great people, wonderful nature, and inexpensive to visit.
One thing I have definitely learned is life is about accomplishments, not possessions. Let the allure of whatever is your secret desire pull you into that path, that walk, that direction. Just go for it! Life is short, a cliche I know, but true. Don’t let your life pass you by!