Grief is something that I have learned to live with. I have a hard time when I read of an unexpected death. It happens a lot because I am connected to many people on Facebook. I especially loved the page Hummingbird Haven started by Faye, a very dear person I came to know many years ago. She posted such beautiful photos of hummingbirds she had taken at her home in Oregon on the Columbia River. An amateur photographer who taught herself to take great photos. She encouraged all of us who were not photographers with how fast she learned the artistry of nature photography. Hummingbirds are special messengers to the spiritual world, and I have many here in Colombia, South America also. Faye had her own stories of grief, hardship, and love which she shared willingly with all of us who followed her. She helped so many of us who did not actually know her personally, she was a brilliant diamond who drew us into her world, life, and her love of hummingbirds.
I would visit her page daily just to see the beautiful posts she shared of the world surrounding her along with the photos of her hummingbirds. She posted photos of Eagles, the Columbia River, scenic landscape shots of her home, and barns. I was enchanted to visit with her every single day. I would occasionally send her a photo of one of my hummingbirds and sometimes she would post them even though the quality of my photography left a lot to be desired back when I was learning about photography myself. She would direct people to my page Villa Migelita Ecolodge and tried to help me gain followers. She was so generous in her help to others. She was instrumental in getting me and my Ecolodge started.
One day a hummingbird flew into my office through the open window. I was able to video the miracle that occurred with my other hand. I kept trying to put this Fawn-breasted brilliant hummingbird back outside with the other hummingbirds. It kept returning to me. I am still convinced it was a message of love sent to me through the Universe from my deceased daughter. I wasn’t finished with the construction work on my Villa, my chipped fingernails and hands that were very chapped from working in my organic garden looked horrible. I look back at this video and think this is when my destiny took hold, and I soared with the prospects of a new and better future. I shared the video with Faye and she posted it on her page for me. I couldn’t believe it when the video went viral. I think over 500,000 people viewed it.
As a result of this video and dear Faye I was contacted by several people and had my first guests arrive to stay at my Villa here in the Andes Mountains of Colombia in the Valle del Cauca department. I now have a popular hotel visited by hummingbird photographers, nature photographers, nature lovers, adventure travel enthusiasts, and people who just want to visit and bask in the peace that surrounds me. I know it is because Faye shared the video of the hummingbird that wouldn’t leave that I had my moment to shine. I continued to pursue my dream as a woman entrepreneur and to meet people from all over the world.
I am living a life that any retired flight attendant would love, a life that I appreciate daily when I look around at what I have created. All the while having visitors come to my place of living. I get to share the hospitality I learned from being a flight attendant for so many years. I will be forever grateful for Faye. She helped me and I am sure she has helped others as well. If you were on her page she prayed for you. I know she did because she told all of us daily that she kept all of her thousands of followers in her prayers. I can only hope that she knows how many of us loved her so much, even though we didn’t know her personally. She was an inspiration to all. God bless you Faye Marie Miller for all you did for the people you touched. I know I am a better person for having shared some of my life with you. Now you are gone to a better place escorted by the beautiful hummingbirds you loved so much. I will never forget you. I hope you meet up with all who have gone before you and continue to spread the joy you gave to all of us. Thank you, Faye, I will always appreciate what you did for me. I also hope you meet my daughter, I will always feel she had a hand in our meeting and that very special video.
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 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
In order to be free we have to be willing to think for ourselves, learn for ourselves, and to live our lives as our real true selves. Being free is when you are able to get past others opinions, when you are able to make decisions on what is best for you based on what is happening in your personal life, and not worry about what others may think, say or do. Being free is making choices that might not conform to a standard expected by a majority of people, but following your instincts and persevering no matter how many obstacles you may encounter. This is why some people are successful and others are not. I have found that quitting is not an option for me. The strength I have obtained because of stumbling blocks in my journey is invaluable. I thought the one thing I lost when I moved to Colombia was independence, but in actuality I have gained it. As I progress on this journey, I learn more about myself and what I am capable of. I am able to do what I need to do to secure a life filled with my passion for nature and animals.
The gorgeous woman you see has been my friend for almost 40 years. She came to visit Villa Migelita a couple of years ago with our other sidekick from the 1980’s Janet. She wanted her husband to see what I have done after such tremendous loss(the death of my daughter) in my life. Their visit has been another turning point for me. Before they arrived I had a lot of upheaval here in Colombia. I have handled it well, but it hasn’t been easy.
Elaine’s husband Marshall was very impressed that I had started a hotel, could speak Spanish and was accomplishing so much while still learning a new language and culture. He is the kind of person who offers sound advice and has a very kind way of saying things that I found comforting, even when it was constructive criticism. I don’t often speak about the things that have gone wrong while living in a new country, because so much has been right I don’t want to dwell on the times I have struggled. However, I haven’t really had many people say to me ‘”hey you’re doing a great job!” In fact, hardly anyone says much as I move forward each day with my growing business. I have a proclivity to self talk negatively to myself since my daughter died. I try not to, but to be honest I do. So when someone I didn’t know said he couldn’t believe what I had done here with my life and my business, I was delighted to have someone validate the strenuous undertaking of creating a hotel in another country. He also said the entire time I should have Netflix come and do a documentary on my life. I have been featured in Yahoo Finance and International Living, all because I reached out to them. So maybe I will start reaching out to other venues to see if they are interested.
Colombia has agreed with me. I know many still judge why I left the United States after my daughter was murdered. If you are really interested go back to the beginning of my blogs and read. It was a dreadful time in my life and I just couldn’t make any progress, I felt my personal growth was gone. I made some difficult choices. That is all we can do in troublesome situations. We should be the first priority for our well-being. If we are not, then we can’t show a good example to our children, family or friends.
I keep plugging away with my business. I have had a couple of people work with me, but I have been the one driving the business forward with my social media sites that publicize how Colombia really is. Me alone. I have done this, and I am not really that great with these things, but somehow I have figured out how to do more than I thought I could. I have created a following of people who never knew how wonderful and beautiful Colombia is. The days of old are gone, and Colombia is thriving. The government is really focusing on the tourism industry. So all the hard work I have done over the years I have been living here is starting to pay off. People from all over the world are discovering what a bio-diverse and gorgeous country Colombia is.
So with the lovely words of my friends husband inside my head still, I am feeling pretty good about my life in general. I have learned to deal with unpleasant situations without allowing them to affect my daily life. I know I can handle anything anyone wants to throw at me, I will catch it and throw it back. I will no longer allow others problems to change my way of thinking, I will continue to be the person I am. Yes, I am kind, I am compassionate, and I am strong. Perhaps, the only thing that has happened from my struggles here is that I am less trusting. I am losing that vital part of myself. I have found it is not in my best interest to be trusting, as I have been taken advantage of. Lessons learned and filed away for now.
So I will continue on with my love of Colombia being shown to all. If Colombia has changed it’s image from a turbulent past, so can I. I can become the best person I can be while living a life in Paradise. You see I know Misha is with me in every endeavor I undertake even the ones that are really difficult. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I do make goals for myself that I try to follow, this year is to let go of fear. Ever since Misha died I have that fear thing inside of me. I am always waiting for another horrible situation to arise. I have to stop that. I have not allowed her death to stop me from creating what I have. I have to stop the negative talk and start the positive talk inside my head. I need to be proud of what I have accomplished and continue to achieve.
So with that I am going to do my best to make Colombia a great tourist destination known around the world for nature lovers like myself. I am going to continue my journey of living in the now. I am going to be the free spirit I have always been, but I lost for a little while after my daughter’s death. I am going to try to say I am happy, because I really don’t say that much. I do say I love my life, but I have had trouble with that happiness thing. It seems elusive still, but I am working on it.
It took almost 6 years but I am now a legal resident of Colombia. If you relocate to another country it is always a process every single year for your Visa. I now have my residency and I don’t have to do another thing for five years. However, I can start the process of being a dual citizen in 3 years. Which of course I will do! I love my extraordinary life of adventure and friends here in Colombia. I love that even though I have endured many hardships, including some here, I have persevered. I haven’t let anything stop me. Now I am a legal resident. No more E for extranjero before my cedula number. The ID we all carry when we live in Colombia. I am full of satisfaction for an extraordinary life! One full of friendship, color and adventure. These photos were taken by friends at immigration. They know me very well. I like them so much. It seems la gringa en Colombia is here to stay!
Have you ever felt there is more to life than this? A cliché statement, but so true for most people at some point in their lives. You drift through life looking for, then hoping you can do something to help yourself out of the situation you are in. You feel stuck in a job, marriage, relationships that are not working. There is not a person alive who hasn’t felt this way at some point in their life. Then you are old and full of regrets about the way life passed you by. We are constantly bombarded by social media about someone who is doing well, or has changed their life for the better and you wonder “why not me?” It makes you feel down, wondering why some people achieve their dream while you can’t find yours. But actually it isn’t that way at all. Every person who has started a business, or has decided to make changes in their life knows that it starts as a concept you can envision, but you are not sure how you will go forward. It can take years and a lot of really difficult moments to achieve your aspiration. The difference between you and that person is that they have overcome fear to take a chance. Most successful entrepreneurs when asked will tell you they failed many times BUT they kept trying. That is the key to flourishing in life. Let go of fear. It is just that simple. Take a chance on your dream. See what happens. It might not work out like you expected but you will know you did the best you could to get yourself on a different path from the one you are now on; the one that makes you unhappy.
When I moved to Colombia, I had an idea in the recess of my mind..it was there in a shadowy corner ready to emerge, but I suppressed it. When asked by friends why I was expanding my Villa so much, I would say ‘Oh, I want to have a hotel.” Did I believe what I was saying? Not really. I wanted a hotel but didn’t think it would actually materialize. That being said I was still doing all the right things to make it happen, which was a subconscious way that my inner self was showing me the correct direction to take. I wrote to editors and they answered me, and then I was published(scroll to page 8) about my dream, and more than once. I just kept moving forward, even when I felt inside it wouldn’t happen. I believe a lot of us become overwhelmed with life as we know it. I changed when my daughter died. I became a bit fearless and did things I wouldn’t have ever considered before. If we look at life the way I suddenly viewed it after her death, we do become fearless and that is when we can really move towards our dreams.
To thrive we must find our passion and follow it. I did it accidentally. I didn’t have some major business plan in mind. I just sort of fell into things as they occurred. Yes, I did all of this ‘by the seat of my pants’, as my mother used to say. It has worked out well, but again, I live in the moment so tomorrow I could regret all that I have accomplished up to this point. One thing is for sure, I have impressed myself with my resiliency, my tenacity, my inability to give up even when things look grim. Yes, things have been grim for me more than a few times. That is why I say let go of fear, let go of distractions, let go of overwhelming thoughts and just live your life the way you want to live it. Thrive and flourish by being the person you want to be, not what you think others want you to be. Always remember your joy is there inside of you, it never has left you. No matter how many horrible things have happened in your life, your intensity for life is inside of you. But you have to be the one to realize it. No one else can give you this ability to create a new life. Only you.
The 3 C’s of life: choices, chances and changes. You must make a choice to take a chance or your life will never change. Unknown~
The first time I read this quote I remember thinking that I was a living example of these words. I had made a choice, to take a chance and move to a new country, and change what was wrong with my life situation. It was a very sudden choice that I didn’t really contemplate like you would think I should, and it has worked out well for me. I really didn’t think a lot about what it would entail. I am sure most people think I was crazy to move to a foreign country without knowing the language, nor the culture, but I did it. I am loving life here in Colombia 4 1/2 years later. It is a life many strive to achieve but never actually do what they need to do to get there. I think desperation drove me to a place that made taking chances not so alarming as they normally would be. I was sad, hurt, and misunderstood by many people. Gossip and innuendo followed me and there came a point that I just wanted to escape the hell I was living in. So I picked up and moved after I visited beautiful Colombia.
It has been a journey. I have had incredibly wonderful moments, frustrating moments, and learning curves. I am a firm believer in living in the now. I am still struggling with Spanish. It is not so easy to learn a new language. I can comprehend most conversations now, I can watch a movie in Spanish and understand, but I still struggle daily with my verbal communication. Some days I can talk away like it is my second language, other days I struggle. I have always been a confident person, but speaking Spanish has made me timid. I realize it is a real feat to speak more than one language and I appreciate all who do. I also have learned to live simply. I am a minimalist. I do not have anything in my life I do not need. What a nice change that has become for me. I no longer shop unless I need something. My Villa is not cluttered. I no longer want a lot of clothes, jewelry, nor items to decorate that have no purpose. I just want simplicity in my life. I look to nature and my animals to find the love I used to seek while collecting a closet full of clothes, a jewelry box full of jewels, and a house full of the latest trends. Nothing is trendy about my house. It is classic. I think of myself as classic too. I seek no-ones approval.
So now I continue on this incredible journey that happened so quickly with the opening of my Bed and Breakfast. It is a new exploration in entrepreneurship for me. I was always the employee and I am now the owner. I enjoy this odyssey I am on. I believe it will work out. However, I know life is one day at a time, there is never a guarantee. I struggle with that. I WANT a guarantee, but after I lost my daughter to tragedy I realize that this is just not possible. So I will keep on writing about my journey and hopefully when the reality of old age overtakes me I will have established a legacy that will show my commitment to an exploration of new beginnings.