Friday, October 20, 2017

New Moon, New Me

Well, my intention was to journal after being back a month, but obviously that didn't help. Frankly, I've had zero time to process since I've landed. The first week back was definitely a transition, quite emotional, and a whirlwind. Since then, it's been non-stop at work with challenges, unknowns, new projects and staff, and yes, some celebrations! It hasn't been easy-whoever said the hard work goes away after the first two years is completely false, at least according to my own experience. Maybe founders experience the same feeling mothers do after childbirth where they forget the extreme pain (or stress) that was required to birth the baby (or organization), but this year has felt like the hardest yet. Trying to find traction beyond our comfort zone of wonderful, but small circle of supporters, it's required boldness, something I've certainly grappled with in the past. But now, I'm not afraid to be bold, I know what needs to be done, and thanks to my music training from way back when, it instilled a discipline and persistence in me, that is immutable. I won't claim I'm indefatigable because it hasn't been without breakdowns, tears, doubt, and hard conversations, but I feel like we're almost out the other side and as the Lady Gaga song goes, "What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger."

The Judd Fellowship presentation went EXTREMELY well! I felt extremely supported by the various people who came: donors, family, friends, neighbors, classmates, mentors, and advisers. It was the first time in a long while I felt like I truly excelled at something and was 100% proud of the result. Never mind my poster somehow got crinkled and the fonts were too small on the poster, I owned my speech with passion, belief, and enthusiasm and stole the crowd. I commanded the room with my presence and was bold. Something I struggle to do as a musician, a student in class, a nonprofit director, a friend, and a daughter. There are very few things I feel wholly true and the argument I make in my thesis is one of those-music can transform lives by developing character skills. This isn't meant to be a recap of my thesis so I'll leave it there, but that presentation proved to myself I can be bold when it's the right fit.

See here for my poster and some pics! If only the paper could go as well. I continue to receive significant critique for revision of my now seven chapter thesis. The good news is most of it is drafted, the bad news is I have significant work to do with transitions, flow, not to mention citations. But I finally have a date-Nov 6-to turn the final draft into my advisor. So these next three weeks will be hard, but the end is in sight and with that I can do anything. So with that, here are my affirmations for the new moon.

Affirmations for the New Moon
I do vow I will continue to care for myself taking one night off a week, not sacrificing sleep or exercise, meditation, or reflection such as this, though a lot more of it has been internal. But as this new moon comes in Libra, the sign of balance, I will accept that the imbalance I will feel the next three weeks is only temporary. That relationships will still be there after T-Day and acknowledge the challenge and hard work that it is! I will not sabotage myself for mistakes, limitations, or other self-criticisms. I will only practice self-love and name when I am not showing that to myself. And for these next three weeks, I will put myself first, whether that be a mental health day, a day to work remotely, or cancelling non-obligatory volunteer activities. I will not apologize for putting myself first, for tears that are shed, or for saying no. I will persist and not give up. Sí se puede!!!

I am not going to share this post on social media, but for those of you who are reading, this is for accountability and a reference point for me come Nov 3 of the full moon and the last weekend I will have the draft in hand!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Amazonian Adventures

The Amazon was really hard to put into words or pictures, because it was about the experience more than anything. I saw some awesome pink dolphins, but walking in the middle of the jungle with nothing but a flashlight and a machete, or coming back to your mosquito netted hammock to find a tarantula on the netting, or catching a fish with nothing but nylon and a cricket, these were the experiences. And more than the experiences, I had the opportunity to stay with an indigenous community. I learned there are 35 million people living in the Amazon basin with only 3.5 million indigenous people, only 10%! I saw them preparing coca leaves, drying cassava, making the largest tortilla I've ever seen. Their houses were simple, made from wood, with hammocks, or maybe a bed, and an open fire for cooking. Very much reminded me of the Maasai in Tanzania, but in the middle of a jungle! My guide was absolutely incredible! A Couchsurfing friend who connected me with various indigenous communities. I introduced a kid to his first carrot and played cards by candlelight. The bathroom was a toilet basin, but one you had to pour water down to flush, and the shower was tributaries of the Amazon river! One day (see Facebook) we did a mud spa in the river, which I also learned helps keep the bugs away! The only time I dare be in a bikini in mosquito territory! They also had two potions against bugs: one was a pill that translates as Thiamin that you took daily and helped you sweat something that repelled bugs and the other was a soap you put onto wet skin and then didn't wash off. I still got plenty of bugs and can't imagine going during the wet season when it's mosquito season, but they helped somewhat :) Of course the indigenous people used nothing!

The guide for the community and jungle walks had some INCREDIBLE stories. I won't try to recount them detail per detail because I won't do them justice and I learned the power of oral storytelling. Whenever it rained, or we were tired and needed a break from trekking, someone would tell a story or start singing a song or doing something to interact with one another. No phones, tvs, etc. etc. Though at the community I stayed they did manage to have on demand tv in one of the houses. I learned so much from them and when I say I'm on life 7, Jairo must be on life 27! He's been tracked by pirates (just last year!), forced to go with the guerrilla, lost in a jungle for 4 days, not eating for 9 days, survival stories you only read about or see in the movies. He said them so casually. One of my favorite things is the stories would be told in pieces. He would start telling one and then we would be interrupted by cooking or something and then Eliceo (my CS friend) would say "Y entonces (and then?)" and he would continue. I learned the best woods for building a house are quinilla and X. I learned when it's a clear night as it was when we camped in the jungle that many animals don't appear because being nocturnal they think it's daylight. I learned some differences between grey and pink dolphins (pink dolphins have more of a scalar fin and much longer noses to fish out of orifices, in addition to being a different color, of course!) and some theories as to why they're pink (something to do with helping them regulate circulation as they exercise). But in addition, I learned the stories of these people. My CS friend studied tourism in Texas, grew up in the jungle, and being indigenous himself, tries to support those communities, which I was happy to do. I HIGHLY recommend him, Colombian Remote Adventures, if anyone is interested. It was so much more than seeing the flora and fauna of the land. It was about truly conociendo the people. It's really amazing how traveling works. You end up being with people for five days that you've never met before and getting along swimmingly almost always!

Fortunately, I was in charge of the menu, and you can bet we had at least one fresh vegetable at each meal, not to mention fresh fish, and no rice or bread!! And pineapple and coconut right out of the jungle! We definitely ate wel! and it is a trip I will remember for a long time. It was equal parts adventure, culture-sharing, and experience. Transport there is old wooden boats that they then put a motor on that reverberates off the river banks. We were sporting high rubber boots, equally good for mosquitoes as mud/water, and machetes. The things you never thought you'd do...

I arrived to Puerto Narino, which is still quite remote, but a village with hostels and a real shower. Sleeping in a hammock was so easy, and it almost felt weird to sleep in a bed after 5 nights in a hammock. If anyone has debated trying hammock camping, I highly recommend it! Of course our guide slept on the jungle floor on a tarp but with the tarantulas, ants, beetles, flies, etc.etc. etc Insects like I've never seen on anything left out to dry so I can only imagine what sleeping on the ground would be like! I also got quite accustomed to going to bed before 10 and getting up with the rooster! Doubt it will last, but one can hope right? (Perhaps that's why I was able to get up at 4 today so easily!). It was a vacation unlike any other and I'm incredibly grateful for the experience, though definitely not for everyone (if you need a toilet, shower, or don't like bugs, don't do it).

I left this morning after spending yesterday buying regalitos and giving mini-workshops to youth who made me feel like a celebrity wanting my signature and bombarding me with questions after working with me for less than <30 minutes. It also reaffirmed my choral expertise, which I am going to work on owning more, even when other choral professionals are present. I'm saying this publicly so you can hold me accountable and to be fully transparent. I helped notes become phrases, I helped phrases become stories, and I helped the youth go from singing words on a page to thinking about what they were singing. This site (I'll leave the name out) had the least amount of social focus and thus questions that required thinking didn't go over well. It was much more a teacher/student atmosphere and go figure was run by a formal orchestra and selected the "best voices of the school." I did bring back a really fun piece for CMC though and the kids made it worthwhile!

Perhaps it was the two hours of sleep, or the reflecting, but on the plane, I began to cry, weep. I've never cried for leaving a country before, only the people. But I really started to realize how much I was going to miss not just the people, but the place, the atmosphere, the $2 lunches, the familial feeling everywhere with everyone, the food (though I did try to bring some of my favorites back), But I know I"ll be back. I've never been so certain of returning to a country before. I want to bring that familial feeling to our country and extend it to foreigners, especially in these times. I want others to feel just as welcome in MN as I felt in Colombia, where after a night I already feel like they're family, where they want to help in any way they can to ensure my trip is the best. I want to change Minnesotan culture to be a warm, welcoming place, including to a MInnesotan's house. So if I can ever help you to know MN better or host you, PLEASE tell me! I will gladly do so.

All in all, I am far more impressed by Colombia than any other country I have visited in regards to community music programs. The social aspect has been far more apparent and consistent. I'll say more once I've analyzed the surveys fully, but there are definitely trends across all programs and the level of self-determination is significant. I couldn't have picked a better country if I tried and really had very few negative parts of my travels. I didn't get sick except for a stomachache yesterday, I didn't ever get frustrated with cultural differences, I was able to fully embrace my blonde hair and womanhood (the brunette thing failed miserably!), and I truly have a part of me in Colombia now.

As I return back, please bear with me. Reverse cultural shock is almost always more difficult and I am trying to do what I do when I go somewhere-have no expectations and just let what I feel happen and process accordingly. I feel incredibly blessed to have had this opportunity and will be forever grateful for being a Judd Fellow and receiving C Charles Jackson Foundation funds to make this trip possible. Thanks to all who followed me and if anyone has any questions, I am more than happy to answer. And if you want to travel to Colombia, here's my list:

1) 4 days in Bogota area: 1 day: Gold Museum, Candelaria, and the parks if you want; one day Zipaquira and Laguna Guatavita; one day Villa de Gleyvi (Didn't make it here, but it's on the list for next time), and one day of travel (there's a lot of traffic!)
2) Medellin: Electric stairs in San Javier, Grafitti tour. Parque Arvi, the Ciclovia for biking, but it's just a great city to explore!
3) Salento (3 days): Valle de Cocora 1 day, hot springs 1.5 hours from Pereira (didn't make it here, next time!), and one day just giving yourself a retreat in the beauty
4) Santa Marta: 4 days. 2 days Tayrona National Park-but book your tix ahead of time online and your mirador hammock too! One night Palomino, one day Minca (didn't make it to either this trip either) and if the Lost City Hike is of interest, this is the place to do that too! You could also take a bus and go to Cartagena, but I didn't make it there
5) Cali: Dance. Eat. Repeat. If you're not a huge dancer, it's not a must see, but I really enjoyed it. Popoayan was a cute city for a night too.
6) Amazon: 4 days Leticia->Puerto Narino and go to parks nearby. Keep in mind now is the dry season, less bugs, but less water so fewer animals.

Well there ya go folks! Just landed!

Besitos

Batuta

Yes, I know it's been a bit since I've written. My time in Bogota was pretty uneventful. I saw two programs. One was Batuta, funded majorly by a program called Music for Reconciliation, and only works with victims' families. A social worker does a class once a week that uses either the telling of a story, something they call cineforo where they watch a movie and then discuss a theme, or have a workshop and/or discussion on a certain theme. THe point is to engage the youth in their lives through whatever the theme is. I would love to bring this aspect to CMC, especially for Crescendo!

I saw a class that was geared toward special needs humans, not just children. They were mostly cognitive needs, but regardless, had a really cool partnership where they partnered with occupational therapy students at a university who did activities with them and served as teaching assistants. When I was there, they colored and provided individual assistance as needed. The students were taking turns playing the drum and most of them were quite on beat. You could tell it was a highlight of their week. Especially because as in other parts of South America, students who are labeled as descapaz (literally uncapable) cannot attend a traditional school and there are no laws about discrimination of ability there so very few handicapped adults are able to work. To see them so happy during this class at least gave my heart a lot of joy.

Batuta is far more extensive starting at age 2 until 18, only stopping at that age because the Music for Reconciliation programs require that. It is far more inspired by El Sistema in the structure, though I found it interesting. There was symphony orchestra (basically a replica of EL Sistema, but mostly with paying students on a sliding scale in representative groups) and then there was everything else under Education. This included choir, music introduction (which seemed to be a theme at all three sites I visited), and the social classes I talked about earlier. So the orchestra students did not have these social classes-which furthers Geoff Baker's point in his book of the hegemony that exists of the symphony orchestra. THey were exempt from the "educational" classes,

The program was gigantic serving 32,000 a year! I commend such a major foundation 26 years old being run by a woman too. This is a theme that I haven't expounded upon, but I Have been amazed in the best way possible how easy, for lack of a better word, it is to be a woman here. No cat calls, no machismo, and a woman can be herself. Perhaps I saw a fachada (facade) but talking to many women it sounds like this is true. I got "hello" or "que bonito" in the streets in Bogota, but more because I was foreigner, than a woman. This surprised me because with Chile being "the most developed" I would have thought that would have had the least machismo, but not so, at all. IN some cases, the woman was the head of house, staying at home, taking care of the kids, but also in charge of any household decisions, traditionally a male role in the US. And in many cases, especially our generation, women were working and being respected or bosses of men! Was really empowering to see a woman in charge of such a huge organization! And until recently, due to politics, La Red was also run by a woman for four years.



Monday, August 21, 2017

Every Child Can

Forgive the political nature of the name of the post, but I can't exclaim enough how much I've seen "kids be kids" regardless of background. You give them the ball, they play with it. Boys roughhousing with each other, girls whispering to each other, all ravaging for the candy from the pinata, and proud of their accomplishments. This includes kids from the lowest strata, which they call 1 here. One school was even side by side with strata 6, the wealthiest class. I was impressed how many encouraging words there were about reaching your dreams, hard work, and one school even had every student's name on the desk with a reason of why they matter.
Yet, I will never forget the ride to a school in San Miguel, a rural "suburb" if you will of the Buenos Aires neighborhood. This used to be a conflict zone and all of the youth they were working with had either been displaced or suffered from sexual abuse or maltreatment at home. All of the youth were from African descent, which was a VERY different Colombia than I had been exposed to the past two weeks at La Red. The views to get there were by our standards, gorgeous! Mountains, open fields, but of course this meant minimal development, and more importantly, no access to water. The little shops only sold pop and energy drinks, not water. We stopped at the teacher's house to use the bathroom as that was the last bathroom we were going to have-there was no bathroom at the school. With no water and no bathroom, I can't imagine trying to learn how to read, how to do my best, etc. without water or a bathroom, especially as a girl.

This just goes to further my belief that every child can learn, take these music programs as just one example. But they can only do so with the basic Maslow needs. We can't expect them to read or score well on a test if we haven't addressed their physical needs, step one. But step 2, is we need to address their social and emotional needs. What has struck me about the programs in Cauca is that there was always a social worker and/or psychologist present, whether she (in this case) happened to be giving the instruction or in the room helping in whatever way needed. This is a  position I hope to add to CMC in time as I've seen the power that has come from having someone involved in the evaluation, in the teaching, in the program's administration. But in development, we have to stop trying to have our goal be that youth score at X level or can read at X level, and ask ourselves, are children's needs being provided for? Physical needs and classroom supplies (like having desks, and non-broken chairs) is a start, but especially when working with youth from traumatic, vulnerable, backgrounds, we have to stop assuming that youth can learn without addressing these needs first.
I heard a harrowing story about two women fighting with machetes and chopping the other's fingers off. If that is my mom, how can I expect to care about school when my mom's life is endangered, or maybe my own? If we took this approach to MSP's achievement gap, would we see different results? I can't help but say yes, when Colombia's most dangerous neighborhoods have evolved into lively spaces available for every child to learn. If we acknowledged the trauma that came from the Rondo neighborhood's destruction, or the fact that 1/5 Black men are/have been in prison (and thus most likely are black youth's family members), would we teach differently? How would we measure success differently? At the end of the day, should literacy be our end goal? Absolutely, every youth should be able to read, but not before making sure there other needs are provided for. We cannot expect academic results to change without an investment in the physical, social, and emotional needs of these children. Every child can learn, but needs the supports to do so. We can't expect resilience, music, or any other magic silver bullet to change these kids lives or help them or even impact them minimally if we don't give them the foundation. It's like expecting them to build a house, but only giving them supplies for a roof.
Tomorrow begins my final research chapter in Bogota. I'm curious to see the differences and the similarities, but I challenge GenNext to instead of measure reading levels and invest in literacy programs, to invest in more SEL resources, social workers, etc. and then see the changes. Maybe this has to happen through CMC. You can bet your money this is getting added to the list of things I'm telling the new Mayor!

Cali

I want to pinch myself. Scored a glamping tent overlooking the Cocora Valley, wow. For $28 a night! Not too shabby! Hearing the birds cackling and a mist in the mountains with the palms below. Definitely a change in climate-very thankful I brought the smart wool and a jacket! This is just unreal. If this isn't a meditation corner, I'm really not sure what is. And tomorrow I'm splurging and getting a massage after hiking. It's a shame there are clouds because I would have a perfect sunset view. But this ecohostel is incredible!!

Siloe was a far more complex project than I realized. The foundation funds various projects including sports and I also had a wonderful interview with one of the coordinators of the soccer for pecae program. Too bad they didn't have participants over 18 as that would have been a very interesting comparison. The big difference I noticed was youth in that program only participate for 2 years maximum whereas music the average was 5 years and some as many as nine years. I haven't tallied the results yet to say how they would compare to La Red in terms of responses, but they have social workers on staff who teach a class called "psicosocial" where they pick a theme and play games to address it. THis year's theme is Gender reconcilation-no shallow stuff here! I have to read all the documents sent about this to elaborate but each youth in the orchestra program has this class once/week and the orchestra program is 5x/week, each day with individual practice, sectional, and ensemble. Choir is only for the youngest singers with music literacy, but their music literacy class was also very singing-based. They were working on Pirates of the Caribbean and Mozart, so not as much Colombian music as La Red. HOwever, all of their sectional teachers they called monitores and were volunteer former students now in the chamber orchestra and attending the conservatory.

The tambores de siloe program was by far the highlight. These kids were a maximum of 11 (I didn't get to see the older kids because it was dark and not safe to leave at night) as well as a month and a half strike that occurred among teachers, making students have significantly more work to complete. But even though the kids I saw were younger, did not mean I was not impressed (see videos on Facebook). It seemed they learned all the songs by ear and 80% were written by the teacher who himself was self-taught. There were three levels. You started with the equivalent of a bass drum, except it was made out of half a plastic trash can; then you moved to the pvc pipe vibraphone which you hit with a foam rectangle, and lastly you progressed to the marimba, whose keys were wood, but amplified by plastic bottles placed over a bucket! Talk about innovation. These kids did not tire from practicing and entertained themselves when the teacher was rehearsing with another group. The tambores group didn't seem to receive the same intensity (only 2x/week) or comprehensiveness (no psicosocial or music literacy class) as the orchestra, which saddened me, particularly because most of the music was representing the Pacific and was far more "folk" than traditional classical music.

I think what amazed me was how remote/"dangerous" these sites were, though I only saw children playing on the park outside and people running around in flip flops or moving a wheelbarrow or a family of 4 on a moto-I was only in there in daylight though. Taxis did not go there so I had to arrive by moto raton (which literally translates as motor rat, but is what they call motor taxes, piki piki for those who know Swahili). I don't think cars could go where we went even if they weren't afraid. We went over broken roads, people's front ledges (can hardly call them porches), super narrow, and super steep. And to know that music was happening inside these places 2x/week that took places in libraries, and that there were libraries even in the most difficult to reach, "dangerous" neighborhoods. There were also gondolas in these neighborhoods, but the parts of the neighborhood I went to were not served by them. Yesterday, Karen, the 19 year old teacher, left the site on foot, so I had no choice but to be accompanied by her down the mountain (you only go with moto ratons you know and obviously I didn't know any). Walking down in sandals as a gringa was pretty...interesting in that many were shocked I was there, but at the same time, it was completely uneventful. Salsa music was playing from people's houses, kids were playing outside, people were talking or laboriously working. Nothing happened (of course I was accompanied by a local), but it's so interesting how these neighborhoods where people don't dare go get perceived. I spent probably more time in Siloe than Cali, or at least as much, since that's where all the sites I visited were. Kids were kids (more on this in the next blog post), people continued to welcome me, and once again, carrying an instrument was a sign of peace, so these teachers were like the local celebrity and the kids could pass the invisible borders without problem.

These invisible borders are quite prevalent in Colombia and the huge source of most danger in the neighborhoods. But of course because they are invisible I didn't see them. Borders are such an interesting concept since they're arbitrary lines to begin with, visible or not. Yet the power of who owns that land is decides everything. Take the US as one example, (especially in this era!). It was great to see such an emphasis on Pacific music and learn more about the non-mestizo populations of Colombia. I will definitely return to Cali. It's certainly a city, but a city with so much heart. That's really the only way I can explain it. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Adventure of Pueblito

Wow, what an adventurous weekend. People, both Colombians and more generally, continue to treat me well. Had a crazy taxi driver going 60 kph on side roads that refused to bring me two more blocks to my hostel and I will NEVER fly Vivacolombia again, but all is well.

The past 24 hours have been quite adventurous! I got to Santa Marta late Friday after a long day of traveling from Guatape via bus, taxi, plane, taxi. Masaya was a really cool hostel! Had a pool, a rooftop bar/kitchen/pool/dance floor, and I finally danced with a professor from Andorra. He gave me some really helpful travel hints, one of which I'll share here since it's more general-MapsMe is an offline maps application for your phone. Download it, you'll thank me later!!
I then met up with a CS who let me keep my stuff at his cousin's house while I was in Tayrona and showed me around the local market. I'm so happy I brought the food I did-a bullo of maize (think tamale minus the stuffing), a bit of queso costeno, another huge avocado, and some fruit. I was advised to get to Tayrona early and by the time we met up with his counsin and went to the market it was pushing 9:30. Nevertheless, they were very gracious having me try this aloe juice and that corn masa, and saw me off. THe only stop on the bus was the bench in front by the driver. While I was on display, Tayrona is really touristy so it wasn't that big a deal. I got off the bus quickly, the advantage to being in the front, and rushed to stand in line, only to find out 2 things 1) I could have made a pre-reservation and 2) you took a ticket number. I waited for close to an hour and a half and finally entered the park for $2 less than my private room in Medellin!

I began hiking (and sweating almost immediately) in the jungle-wooden bridges, humidity, and lizards galore. Iguanas didn't seem afraid at all! I got quite close to multiple! I met two Paraguayans, Andres and Diego, who were on vacation and going to Florida after to do a work-study program. We ended up conversing the whole way and spending the rest of the time together. One studied opera (even in Paraguay!) and one studied business. THey both spoke English, but by default we spoke Spanish. Honestly it's harder for me to think in English than Spanish at this point. We stopped for a beach picnic after some lookout pictures. It's so rare because the path leads to a beach right out of the jungle! The jungle reminded me a lot of Belize, both in climate and appearance, and the beach was beautiful with rocks and the jungle backdrop. There was one beach called La PIscina (the pool) where one could swim, but we still had 40 mins to reach our destination so we decided to continue on-I was determined to get one of the hammocks! After crossing streams, mud,sand, and jungle, we arrived at Cabo de San Juan and wow was it gorgeous. Many others seemed to think so as well, but it was worth it regardless. It was interesting because it was a park, but it also had a restaurant, outdoor bathrooms, and lockers. I got lucky traveling solo and scored one of the coveted mirador hamacas-hammock that looked out onto the ocean! It was beautiful and frankly, after that hike and the past two weeks of research, I deserved it! I strew clothes on my hammock so others wouldn't sit in it and went swimming. Boy did the water feel incredible! DIego and Andres camped and I met up with them riding the waves like I used to in New Jersey with my cousins on boogie boards.

 And then it began to drizzle, which turned into pouring rain. We took shelter under the restaurant roof and for the first time I didn't have my book and wanted it (didn't think it'd be worth the weight). Regardless we had a nice chat and waited for the rain to cease. An ice cream vendor continued to say he was going and this was our last chance to get ice cream...for an hour. Pretty amusing. The horses were all saddled up (they might have even slept like that overnight :() and I splurged on a juice of course twice the price as normal. Thank god I brought the extra 50,000 I did because I spent every penny! The credit card reader wasn't working with the weather so after an outdoor shower (with very low walls) we split a fish plate three ways. Coconut rice might just be my new favorite thing. We definitely demolished it, but somehow the one plate fed all three of us! I bought a lock for the lockers that I ended up selling to them at their request (and a way for me to get more cash! If you go to Tayrona, bring A LOT of pesos). They then accompanied me to the mirador where my hammock was located and we had an amazing view of the stars. No meteor showers here (It was perseids), but still beautiful. My first hammock camping was great-no bugs (though I took local precautions-both a pill that makes your sweat a repellent, and a soap that you don't wash off), and I actually woke up slightly chilly and thankful I had brought the scarf and jacket I did (hard to imagine being cold earlier in the day!). Because it was rainy, no sunrise, but the rain shortly subsided and Andres, Diego, and I had a breakfast picnic on the beach of a stuffed pepper with avocado and tuna, and some fruit. Little random, but it sufficed (I had no more money for even the cheapest thing on the menu because it was 3x as expensive as breakfast usually is!).

I then set off for Pueblito, which translates as little town. I knew it was up a mountain, but was in NO way prepared for what lay ahead. THere was a sign that said "if you value your shoes more than the hike, it's not worth it" but nothing about the difficulty of the hike or the terrain that lay ahead. Within 10 minutes, I couldnt' figure out where the path continued, and after wandering around for a bit, met two German ladies, and very thankful I did. Turns out we had to crawl through a cave (the arrow on the sign said to go that way, but I didn't realize it meant THROUGH the cave!). And that was just the beginning. Over the course of the next hour, we hoisted ourselves up rocks, praying we wouldn't slip, used each other for hands and German-English-Spanished our way through the jungle. We encountered a guy from Barcelona and he made me feel much safer. He arrived jumping from rock to rock as two French guys that passed us did. This guy was AGILE! He dropped his water bottle and then sunglasses and both times just leaped between the two like no big deal. Meanwhile I did not take the leap of faith and inched my way through a 3 foot tall rock (that might even be generous) and then climbed up. I haven't been that dirty in a very long time-especially that quickly. We were sweating uncontrollably with dirt sticking to us and miraculously no bugs. Eventually, we had a beautiful view of the canopy (yes we hiked from the ocean to the canopy of the forest!) and came across a stream. Ana, one of the german girls, laid down in the water. I certainly washed myself and putting my feet in felt SO good. Unfortutunately, getting the Keanes wet wasnt the best idea and resulted in blisters :( At that point we were 90% there! I now know why this is the less touristy route, but was thankful I didn't have to climb down (we were exiting the park). At that stream, I met a gaggle of travelers from NZ and one from South Africa. They said these types of hikes were totally normal in NZ (!!) and I was sure I would lose them in the dust. But somehow I kept up with them and the Germans continued on and we had a lovely hike out, Two couples who were traveling for a year and a guy who was traveling by bike all over South America!

We arrived at Pueblito, which was the equivalent of four huts where some indigenous people lived and 250 terraces they used for storage. Definitely about the journey, than the destination! I bought a US-priced banana and a bag of water (I had been completely out!) and we carried on. After we had finally stopped climbing up (I wish I had measured the vertical on my phone, but it was 5 miles of distance), we had a lovely jungle picnic-stopping for crackers and peanut butter and Colombian Chips ahoy in the middle of the jungle-I don't think peanut butter has ever tasted that good (esp when it's such a rare commodity here!)! We even tried a combo of peanut butter, tomato, and onion, which actually tasted pretty good. They were so gracious to share with me. Two were even vegan. They definitely made me reminisce about Chile and we exchanged travel stories. It's times like these when I"m so thankful to be traveling solo, because these things just don't happen when you can depend on another person.
We had a beautiful view of the forest, with some unidentifiable red flowers, and began the descent at last. As we did, a symphony of cicadas accompanied us-they sounded like sirens!

40 mins. later we arrived in the small town of Calabazo where one of the travelers loaned me his flip flops (my blisters were really bad at that point). That hike made me thankful I wasn't doing the Lost City hike-I had my share of nature this weekend! We refreshed ourselves with a cold Lulo juice and after being turned down by several buses, rode back in style on an A/c wifi bus to Santa Marta-or so we thought. Turns out it didn't go all the way to the town. So we transferred to a city bus and I took it until my CS host told me to get off at the fire station, tracking my location on my phone (what did we do pre-cell phones!) I walked barefoot two blocks to his house (barefoot seems to be a theme this summer!), my feet minimal contact with the hot ground. My poor left foot, this trip! First run over by a car (don't worry I'm fine, just a bruise and slightly swollen now, but I"m not even taking Ibuprofen) and then blisters.

He graciously offered me a shower and water, and then accompanied me to the ATM and to retrieve my wheat bread from the hostel fridge. Meanwhile, it began to downpour. And the streets in Santa Marta flood, so then I was barefoot because we had to cross the road with water up to our ankles! We made it back and he offered me some crackers with queso costeno and MUSHROOMS! I haven't had mushrooms since being here so I was overjoyed. We then waded our way to the bus, which was incredibly delayed in the rain. In the rush, I left the bread (after all that!). It eventually arrived, but I was super worried about making my flight (I had only an hour at that point) and my host advised I get off and take a taxi. After getting off and unsuccessfully waving down a taxi, a man on his way back to Cartagena gave me a lift to the airport-and charged me nothing.

 People here are incredible. I had to pay for checked luggage (only flying Avianca from now on!), but I didn't care. It's been an incredible 48 hours and while people say you need 4-5 days to see Santa Marta, two days was definitely worth the trip! I def. plan to return and see Minca and Palomino. I was proud of myself for accepting it was better to skip it, but I would've had an hour max. Off to Cali now for program 2 of my research, an all-percussion program and some reparation programs. Not nearly as intensive as La Red, so I'll have time to salsa :):):)

Well we're landing. Adventures never cease, but that's the way I like it. Just amazing to think this morning I was meditating in a hammock overlooking the ocean and then ended up having a grueling, but incredible hike. The agile Spaniard even said he was exhausted so that made me feel better :) He also described it as a personal reto, challenge/goal. That it was and is part of the reason I love hiking! There were definitely various points where I proved to myself I could do something that looked harder than it was and continued mind over matter despite the physical challenge, heat, and exhaustion. I felt so good when I completed a tough section! And you can bet I got an ice cream, mora with arequipe (caramel) to celebrate in Santa Marta! 

MDE

MDE

A city with intention
The people so helpful and friendly
Bustling with activity
Developed and yet still full of arts and culture
Library parks and fitness complexes present
Environmentally aware
Exitos saving me from the dearth of greens
And yet avocados the size of sweet potatoes.
An authentic social evolution
From the murder capital of the world
To a cultural centre.
Mountains framing her heart
Bridges and metro connecting the city.
Music and flowers abound.
This is Medellin.
The hilltops still fighting combos
as combo takes a new meaning among the youth playing music in the city.
Escuelas de Musica, the true centers of the neighborhood.
The combos defending them, protecting them.
The smell of carne roasting on the camioneta
arepas served with all
The only bland thing in the city.
Kids so curious who I was and where I was from.
Lomas abound, like a roller coaster, but with the steeper incline
Comes a steeper violence. Complejo as they say.
People treating me only like family.
and bringing my emotions to the forefront.
Tears have broken free
Cheeks have been kissed
Minds have been sought
And most of all, hearts have been connected.
Our paths will cross again.
This I am sure.

No cars on the beaches.
Only pure nature.
A hiatus from surveys, compiling data.
Only me and the trees.
That is this weekend!

I want to write more because it's been so long. Stage 1 is complete, and the most thorough. Now it's mostly observation with a few surveys and interviews spattered in there. Part of me wanted to stay in Medellin the whole time. I don't think it's possible for me to become more impressed, but I am trying to keep an open mind and see other models-less intensive, for sure. Readjusting takes so much energy, but Couchsurfing helps with that. And I'm excited to meet Liliana, Natalia's aunt and see ATK in BOG. What a small world. This is the part of the trip where I get to do more artsy things. Talleres, who knows, but the majority of the data has been collected. Now it's just me and salsa dancing. Me and conocering. Me and some heat-for sure. I know it's gonna fly by as this second week certainly did. But I can believe it's been two weeks, and I still have three more! Here I come Tayrona. And I'm more or less in a routine of waking up at 8 am, despite bedtime of 1 am. I'm so excited to eat fish on the beach with coconut rice and go to bed early tonight. These two days I get to do what I want, on my timetable. And I Haven't talked to anyone back home, aside from text messages. They've actually been pretty minimal.