The different people I capture during my travels around Colombia always fascinate me. I wonder what they do, where they live and if they are happy. I always make up stories in my mind when I am especially intrigued. The man on my cover photo made me smile, as he smiled back with his sailor cap on. How wonderful that he transports boats around Lago Calima, Colombia with his tractor.
Every image I have inserted tells a story to me. The one that especially stands out is the man sitting in the park alone. I saw him cross the street with the poncho he is sitting on around his shoulders. I found him fascinating because he was alone, but yet so proud. The man swimming in the river saw me photograph him and he looks directly at my camera. I wish I could know what he was thinking at that moment. The tiny tienda has no one there, but it captured my attention with details. Who owns this little store? The chairs in front are inviting anyone to stop and rest awhile. Colombia is a country of such color and beauty in all the simple things of life. My camera captures those little moments that are transient because they are fleeting moments that I will not see again.
Mother’s Day is coming this weekend. I have a hard time with this day. I spend the day reflecting on the past with my children. One who is deceased the other who doesn’t really have a lot of contact with me. It makes me think what could I have done differently? I was the Mom who was always involved with their activities. But then I took care of my own mother for years who had dementia. It took a great tole on me and my children. I now think should I have kept my mother in my home? Should I have divorced sooner than later? I don’t know. But I love my memories of happy times in their lives and all the happiness they grew up with. That just left when I decided to divorce and then my daughter was murdered.
I reflect on this photo, and realize Misha was a reflection of me, she looked like me and was very headstrong like me. I treasure this photo. I could beat myself up over and over again because I might have changed something in our lives and maybe she would still be here. But as I grow older and I meditate daily with Yoga, I realize we all have free will. We cannot change the path of our destiny, because we can’t control others, just ourselves. Most people do not want to change, and they will never do it. Me, well I wanted change after this horrible time in my life and I have become a different person. The problems in our lives are often brought on by thinking too much and worrying too much. Once we let go, we find a solution. Maybe not immediately, maybe not for a few years, but the solution is there. We just need to look for it and we need to accept that people come and go in our lives. Even our own children.
I have discovered while living in Colombia I do not live a life full of plans. Plans here are often disrupted with the littlest things. A battery has died in the car, and you need to wait for the local mechanic to come and give you a jump, the weather changes and that walk you planned on is now going to be later in the afternoon, the party you have at 3 in the afternoon with friends turns into an all night dance fest. Or it is a beautiful day and you take off in the truck to visit a place that is beautiful, remote and in the middle of the Rainforest.
Reflections in life are usually in the moment, not in memory. I have discovered this in my time as an expat in Colombia. I reflect often, but usually I reflect on how I can make my life better, to improve, not to waste time on mistakes or others who contributed to those mistakes. It is all about being the best person you can be. I reflect on that often. I know I am not there yet. But I will be before I die. At least I will die trying.
Awaking to the sound of birds, falling asleep to the sounds of frogs and crickets. The cool breeze that comes through my window while I write in my office. The sway of the leaves of the banana trees. The sun that is an orb of fire as it sets over the valley. The fog that comes up suddenly over the mountains. A high-pitched wail that I hear every evening around 6 pm coming from the mountains surrounding my Villa. Like clockwork I hear the shriek of some bird or animal calling the day to a close. Comfort like a warm blanket over me when I am snuggled in bed, secure in the knowledge a new day will come in the morning with new adventures to discover. Where I see horses grazing, livestock who are so friendly they follow me on my hikes. The sound of a rushing river, and a random butterfly who finds itself trapped in a window at my home. The little church I own here in my pueblo, having a mass where the dogs participate also. This is my life in Colombia. I am secure in the knowledge that I have found my paradise. As I hike and look up to the clouds the sun is shining on me with an embrace I can feel in my soul.
Medellin, Colombia is a city with a past. A dangerous past. A city of people with great pride, they call themselves Paisas. Paisas feel they are different from the rest of the Colombians, because of their history that is intertwined with Medellin. They have seen the worst and now they have seen the best. They have lived with the horror of Pablo Escobar, the FARC, barrio warlords, gang leaders, unimaginable violence. They have a past that lies dormant in their memories of what Medellin used to be like, something we Americans can never understand. After moving here I saw a different world view, one I hold inside my heart. But now they have stability while the tourism industry has grown 260% since 2002. They are very proud to live in Medellin, but they are still getting used to having foreign people come to visit this once very uncontrollable city. They have those horrible memories that will never leave them.
Sergio Farjado mayor of Medellin from 2003 to 2007 started the talks about improving Medellin beginning with the poorest areas. A bottom up strategy that has worked. I had two wonderful tour guides while visiting Medellin and both were from the poorest areas, they had many stories to tell. Most importantly, they both were not old, Manny was in his mid-thirties and Camillo was around 23 or 24 years old. They both used what was offered by the government to improve their lives. Both are successful and proudly independent, not wanting to take anything more from the government. They are truly proud Paisas.
My first guide Manny was from a barrio that has been transformed with escalators to allow the poorest to reach public transportation easily. To be able to get to work without the steep climb up and down the mountains. He told stories of the area we visited. Manny remembered the army had to use helicopters to begin projects in these areas as they were so dangerous. He spoke of dead bodies being placed outside the homes planted with grenades so the police and military could not enter to help the populations of these poverty-stricken areas. They couldn’t even remove the bodies to bury them. It was quite sad to hear this from someone who actually witnessed such brutality. But with persistence the truly needy and their homes have been reinvented. Manny said many innocent lives were lost. However, now the violence is replaced with libraries throughout these areas, programs for the poor to send them to school, to give them loans to start businesses. Every public park in Medellin has free WiFi. Colombia and especially Medellin has shown you can take the people from the most needy areas and give them a reason to break the chain of violence and drugs. The above photos show the images posted in an office at the top of the barrio I visited, before and after transformations. Here is a video I took of the ascent to the top. You will see the street art which is used all over Colombia as a way of expression to show the past and the new future. This street art is a favorite part of my love of Colombia. I love to see color, a lot of color. I also love light, not darkness. The homes are so bright and cheery in these under privileged areas.
Color is important
The barrios are so clean
Looking out at the view
The Street Art is Colombia
Colombia is spending millions on infrastructure to improve all the big cities. Cali, Colombia which is closest to Villa Migelita , my Bed and Breakfast, is transforming areas also. What is really fantastic is that all the walking areas throughout the large cities in Colombia, have a strip in the middle of the sidewalk for the blind to guide them. Wonderful, thoughtful ideas are being implemented! Unlike the USA, Colombia is not using the tired line of trickle down economics of the rich vs the poor. Colombia is showing the world that improving and giving to the poor is a way to get the whole economy thriving and raising people up to achieve great things! Medellin alone went from 40,000 tourists in the year 2010 to over 4 million visitors in 2016. I arrived in Colombia to live in 2011. It is not difficult to get a Visa to live here. The only thing that needs to be emphasized is that Colombians are super polite people. They do not want to offend anyone, but they are noticing the bad behavior of some tourists. Check out this photo.. Please, thank you and a nice greeting in Spanish really impresses all Colombians.
Another amazing part of Medellin is the super fast metro system built during very turbulent times in Medellin, also the cable car system is phenomenal. While in the city I used this metro and cable car system more than taxis! Wonderfully clean, because no one will destroy what they are so proud of! If disabled, older, or pregnant, a seat is offered immediately by all who are nearby. I watched and observed the behavior of everyone. I am so proud to live in this country as an expat.
A tip to those visiting Medellin. Use the free walking tour offered by Real City Tours. My guide Camillo was fantastic. He was informed and educated. He is from the poor barrios, but has a degree in bio-medical engineering. He is bi-lingual, he is charming, and he is making money taking these tours around his city of Medellin. He is what we should strive to be in this chaotic world. I cannot say enough about his intelligence, drive and knowledge. He rose from poverty to become a part of sharing the history of Colombia’s success, and also his success. I often say to those who make fun of other’s accents, “Do you speak another language?” “Can you rise from a past that had you living in violence to having a college degree?” “Are you successful?” I think success is based on what you accomplish, not just money. I told Camillo, you must make your family so proud. He was so modest, so polite, and so intelligent.
Botero Plaza in Medellin
Camillo would make any mother proud and I told him so. He was delightful, smart and fluent in English because the Colombian government gave him a chance to become all that he could be! I was so impressed with his stories and the walking tour. It is free, and a tip is your price. Again I emphasize, be kind, be generous, and enjoy the culture of Colombia. Don’t be cheap because you can be. I had that happen with recent guests. They ignored my lovely and hard-working maid after 33 days of being cared for by her. I will never allow that to happen again. Please remember to give thanks to those that give you good service here in Colombia. We don’t tip like in the USA. However, tips are to be given to those that become part of your stay, part of your journey.
The last part of our walking tour was at a park for concerts in Medellin. This square also features the art of the artist Fernando Botero. In these last photos I will show there was a lesson present. A bomb blew up his sculpture of The Bird in the 1990’s. This bomb killed a little girl and more than thirty people. The perpetrator was never found. The Colombian government wanted the sculpture immediately removed. But the President of Colombia received an important phone call from Botero himself. He said “leave it there to remind all to fight against this terrorism” So they did. It is a reminder to all who live in Medellin of their past. One they need to remember as the future unfolds with the prosperity and growth of Medellin. Colombia is now a thriving and innovative country. A country of proud people with a past they would like to forget, but never will. We are the future. People like me, an American who lives here in Colombia and is showing the world that a terrible past can evolve to a wonderful future. Maybe that is why I feel so at home in Colombia. I know the past does not define who you are.
When I moved to Colombia in 2011 I never thought I would be enjoying the wonderful life I have today. Colombia has moved on, just like I have. Peace is on the horizon in Colombia. I have a life filled with peace and nature.
I will never say I am completely happy, I don’t believe it is possible. But I will say I am grateful. I am grateful I had the strength to go through 6 years of improvement. I have worked hard. I have turned my life around. I left a destructive and very dysfunctional life. I have found my niche in Colombia.
Be kind to yourself. Stop the mad dash for a Christmas present that will probably be put in a closet to be re-gifted. Christmas is for children, and they enjoy those wonderful presents. As for adults, isn’t it better spent enjoying the beauty that surrounds us? Whether it be family, nature, inspiration, happiness where you can grab it, friendships, animals, travel, anything that really moves you in your core. Embrace that, not material things. You can stop right now. Just be you. Enjoy those who you are blessed to have in your life. Nothing is ever perfect. I know that. But look around and make a list of all that fulfills you.
I live in a beautiful home in Colombia. I have the love of my animals. I have my business and wonderful guests who give me new perspectives on everything. They give me companionship, they give me laughter, they give me their thoughts on my Villa in Colombia, they teach me new recipes, they give me comfort and support, they give me a life filled with purpose. I have discovered all those years of working as a flight attendant has given me a lifetime of training to become the mistress of my own domain. But, I have learned to include other’s opinions. That is a path I embrace.
When you have a life of meaning you have it all. This is the best present to yourself. I know that from my past. Life is too be lived in the now. If you can appreciate what this season really means, no matter your religion, your beliefs, you can find your path. If you can look around your home and see anything that makes you smile with fond remembrance, just one thing you are grateful for, you will be ahead of others who are rushing to buy a present that means nothing. Carve your own path to success in 2017. It might be a small path, but it is a beginning.
Stay strong, stay focused, stay determined and you will find your path to success. I have.
I just hosted two of my long time friends at my Villa in Colombia. We had not been together for over thirty years. The 1980’s were our prime, but we still feel young at heart, although many years have passed since those good old days of dancing and clubbing when we were young flight attendants. Our reunion was one that novels are written about, one where we recall all of our old adventures while living new ones. Our first day together was glorious. We spent the day in Buga, Colombia, hiking, swimming under a waterfall, enjoying a Colombian family dinner in an old hacienda, then visiting the famous church Basilica de los Milagros in one of the oldest cities in Colombia. This was a day of new memories, a day that made us feel young again, a day of delightful happiness with the sun shining and the beauty of Colombia surrounding us.
We started the night before when the three of us reunited at the airport. What a moment the three of us shared when we hugged. Tears were close as we talked over each other. Who would think our reunion would be at Villa Migelita, my Bed and Breakfast in Colombia, South America? We awoke the next day to a beautiful sunny day as we embarked on a drive to Buga and the 150 year old hacienda that is a private residence with history. A place most tourists will never see. The waterfall and natural pool is on this property. We are given a tour of the home and then we are off for a short hike to swim under the cascade. We can smell the aroma of the food cooking as we leave. The dining table set for a meal of Vegetarian dishes, a special request honored by the lady of the house. The fun is just starting! We leave through the old doors that look out to beauty words cannot describe. You have to see it in person. It is exactly as it was many years ago…and we hear children in the family laughing as we start our hike. A sound that never changes no matter the century.
The hike is short and not very strenuous. We pass sugarcane fields and little rivers. Butterflies are abundant, while they stop for a drink and flutter around us. We arrive and change into our swimwear right there by the natural pool. We laugh and laugh as we remember memories of our past times. We are delighted with ourselves and that we have actually reunited in Colombia of all places. My friend Janet has to coax me into the water. I am nervous as I have vertigo and everything is a challenge to me, she has to go in a few times to show me how I will enter and exit the water. I finally get in after I watch her go under the falls. I enter and am immediately refreshed. Life is good. Life is amazing. Life is what we make of it.
We spend a while relaxing and swimming and then it is time to venture back to the hacienda for lunch. More butterflies surround us. We have definitely worked up an appetite! We arrive back to this old home with only two bathrooms! We have to wait our turn to change into dry clothes. Part of the adventure! We sit down to an amazing meal! We share stories with everyone, and my dear friends experience a Colombian meal in a family situation. They talked about how they enjoyed this unique opportunity of sharing a meal with a Colombian family in their home. We left with a full stomach to venture into Buga and the church of the miracle Basilica de los Milagros.
This church is very special. No matter your religion, or no religion it is a miracle that happened. I wrote of the miracle . I classify myself as spiritual. I believe this Jesus that is displayed behind the glass is the result of this miracle. I really do. It is like no other crucifix I have ever seen. It is a very sacred moment for anyone who stands before him. It is not important what you believe. It is a a moment to save for your memories. We leave quietly and with peace in our hearts. We wander the streets of Buga to shop and sight-see. We run into people I know and sit with them for a while. The day was perfect. It was a day made to remember for years to come. A day of friendship, laughter and fun.
The Yupik culture of Eskimos have a belief that the soul never dies; even those of animals. They believe that the soul continues on even though the body is no longer with us. Elaborate winter ceremonies emphasized the relationship among humans, animals, and the spirit world. Hummingbirds also have that spiritual effect; Native American birds, animal symbols and totems are believed to represent the physical form of a spirit helper and guide. The meaning of the Hummingbird symbol was to signify peace, love and happiness. I have plenty of hummingbirds all around me here at Villa Migelita. My video’s are many; the most viewed is here. If any creature on this Earth represents the eternal soul I believe it is the hummingbird, with butterflies being a close second.
So what is this hummingbird effect? I believe they are little jewels of nature. There are many of us hummingbird lovers out there. We find them fascinating and mystical, these warriors with the ability to capture our hearts when they buzz around us. They can fly backwards with tail feathers spread while fighting over their territory. They seem to have no fear, even of humans who stand right next to them at the feeders. They are better than any jewelry I have owned; their sparkle in the light of the sun is better than any diamond. They are here year round at Villa Migelita. I have many at once even when it gets a bit cool during rainy season. Wherever you sit at my farm, you will hear their clicking wings beating a thousand beats per minute and then you will see them. They will be in the flowers, or at one of my strategically placed feeders. They will pay you no attention as they go about their business of drinking the nectar they need to survive while also being a sentry at their particular spot which they guard with ferocity. Such fierceness. Such independence. Such delightful antics.
I recently opened my Bed and Breakfast here in the mountains of Colombia. I was not completely ready but my two visitor’s from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico wanted to come anyway and stayed in the room that I have used for personal guests. They had seen the Hummingbird video I posted above and it drew them to my farm. Claudia, who contacted me, insisted it was not a problem that we were not actually open yet. She had to come to Colombia; she had to see for herself what a wonderful country this is and meet the girl who had a hummingbird stay on her finger and not want to leave. My first guests were like these tiny miracles; they brought their wit, spirituality, and peaceful presence to Villa Migelita. The moment I met them in person at the airport I felt a common bond of friendship that only happens when you know a person shares many of the same similarities as yourself. It is the hummingbird effect! Those lovely little jewels opened up my heart when I first moved to my farm and now they have brought me the friendship of two wonderful guests whom I celebrate in this blog.
How fast the week went; too fast as we shared adventures that I have longed to show others who enjoy nature, animals, beautiful surroundings, and peaceful solitude. Colombia is a wonderful jewel just like the hummingbird. A country of diversity, with many departments and two coasts; the Pacific and the Atlantic. A quick airline flight gets you from any of the beautiful departments in Colombia, all unique, all with much to offer. Before they visited Villa Migelita they went to Barranquilla and the coast to whale watch and actually snorkel with the whales! The first thing they did when they arrived here was wake up early from the song of a lovely bird that sings every morning to all of us at Villa Migelita. A lovely song to greet lovely people! They wandered the farm taking in the hummingbirds, but also the beauty and peacefulness that Villa Migelita offers. We have so many birds and butterflies your camera needs to be ready at any given moment! We wandered to the river and came back to have lunch and get ready for Parapente. You can see them taking off here (one of the guests Norma was already in the air) and meeting up in the sky with Claudia for a majestic journey over the beauty of the mountains. A thrilling experience, which started in the park of La Buitrera with the fun play of a baby horse and it’s mother which you can see here. I was enjoying every minute. What a wonderful first day!
The second day was a visit to El Paraiso and The Sugarcane Museum. Wonderful spots with lots of beauty and history. The hummingbirds that inhabit my adopted country are all around anywhere we go, where there are flowers there are hummingbirds in Colombia. We ended up having a really late lunch due to the time we took visiting both spots. It is difficult to leave Villa Migelita in the morning because sitting outside is so enjoyable! We would sit and watch the hummingbirds and of course Luci my rescued parrot would be outside with us also. Colombia closes early during the week and we had to see both spots, so lunch turned into an early dinner.! The third day was one of spiritual unity with nature when we visited La Chorrera the waterfall famous for healing. The park was empty; it was as if we had rented it out for ourselves. I have never been with a more entertaining person than Claudia who was introducing me to new music, a lot of fun stories and a great singing voice. She actually talks more than me! We had a traffic stop which are common here and she had the police officer so entertained he did not even look at our papers and was just interested in listening to her tell him how she was enjoying Colombia! I was laughing so hard when we left; I really have never seen anyone work the police like she did that day! She just is one of these people who has this aura all around them that attracts and generates good attention. We even had a donkey horse approach our truck at the entrance into the park of La Chorrera, which was in itself delightful. You can see it here and watch to the end because you can not miss Claudia break out in song! All went under the waterfall except me because of my vertigo, it is a strong stream of water and I was afraid of losing my footing. I did swim in the natural pool and we all had a lovely lunch. This video shows everyone going under the waterfall which legend says will heal you of all problems and cleanse your soul. Once again I thought of hummingbirds and spirituality because of two butterflies which stayed with us during the time we swam and enjoyed the waterfall. One was the famous number 89 butterfly which has my daughter’s birth year on the wings. We went later to the famous San Antonio area, a very trendy area of Cali for dining and shopping. The church which dates to the 16th century overlooks the park and town. We wandered the streets shopping and ended having tapas in a lovely restaurant that reminded me of many European towns I have visited as a flight attendant. This restaurant had butterflies on the walls everywhere, including the one I feel represents my deceased daughter with the number 89 on its wings, it was another spiritual connection. I was beginning to feel that Misha sent these two wonderful guests to be in my life! We really enjoyed this restaurant with the ambiance of another era, complete with a theater that showed old movies and had posters from long ago. Day 4 was to be horseback riding and then Nirvana the Natural Reserve, but we changed it up to go to Nirvana first. We did not leave Nirvana until it was almost dark. Horseback riding will wait until they visit again; which I have no doubt they will. Everyone comes back to Colombia once they have experienced the magic. We hiked to the very top of Nirvana and stayed to look at the view for a long time. We ran into one of the owners and visited his beautiful home overlooking the valley. When you reach the top which is only about a one mile walk (but feels like it is 10 miles!) there is a little tienda with beverages waiting and a view of Palmira Valle that is incredible. The walk back down goes quickly and Claudia hitched a ride on a motorcycle of one of the workers. I laughed out loud when she passed me by! The restaurant is outdoors and you can sit under the Jade Orchids where you will see more hummingbirds; I like to think of them as joining us while we dine. The wings of the hummers clicking along with the camera’s that are always nearby. That hummingbird effect goes everywhere with us!
Friday came way too fast and my guests did not want to do anything but sit outside at Villa Migelita and watch the hummingbirds. I had told Claudia she would see the exotic long-tailed hummingbird with the white tip on its tail. She saw it several times and even got a good video of it while it drank from the nectar of the Heliconia. This particular hummingbird is not a regular at my feeders; it comes to the flowering plants only. She was able to get a video in the light of the sun showing the exquisite iridescence of its feathers. All of my hummingbirds look dark but when in sunlight they sparkle like jewels when the sun catches them just right because their feathers are like little prisms reflecting the light . They can have spots on their necks with emerald on the bodies, they can have red beaks or black beaks, they can have red tails, or long green tails with white tips, they have brown with a touch of green, and some have no color until the sun hits them. There are many species at Villa Migelita, this is the long curved beak hummingbird here. This hummingbird is different and exotic, and does not fight nor mingle with the others. It is a lone breed that is all over my farm. I have seen many other long-tailed species in Colombia; but not at Villa Migelita. It is quite cool in the evenings and some breeds need a warmer climate and can be seen at many places around Colombia. I have visited a lovely restaurant on the other side of Cali that has feeders hanging while you eat and the kinds of hummingbirds they attract are much more colorful than mine here at the farm. I do have one species called the White-necked Jacobin which is always around my feeders and quite different from my darker green hummers. They are bright blue with a white neck.
The hummingbird effect is a real thing that many of you share with me. We know they represent spirituality. We know they bring peace. We know they represent all that is good in the world. I believe my daughter uses them all the time to send me signs. I think the hummingbird that would not leave was her; and that video has brought me my first guests to Villa Migelita. I also believe she is following me on my journey here in Colombia and wants my Bed and Breakfast to be a success. How can I fail with these little spiritual totems that surround me? I know I will have many more of you come visit Villa Migelita, because you want to see the hummingbirds while discovering the magical realism of Colombia. Colombia a little country with so much to do and see awaits your visit. We will welcome you with warmth and friendship. Come and see for yourself this beauty that is all around me. All you need to do is sit anywhere at Villa Migelita and hummingbirds will surround you. I have found what I want to do with the rest of my life; I want to share my lifestyle with others. I want to show everyone that there is still untouched beauty in this world, and I live it every day.