Monday, July 11, 2011

A day at the spa...Colombian style

While in Cartagena, Colobia, we spent two afternoons at Volcan de Lodo El Totumo, which is a mud volcano about an hour away from Cartagena. Twice, because it was possibly one of the most hilarious things I have ever experienced. Also because we didn't wait for our friend Kaspar, who was coming to Cartagena to meet up with us, the first time we went, and he wanted to experience it as well.

The first time was more hilarious mostly because we had no idea what to expect. We went on a bus with ten other tourists, and on the way one of the guides explained to us that when we get there there are three optional services you can pay COP$3,000 (approximately $1.50) for: photography (a dude will take your camera and take photos of you while you float around in the mud), massages (dudes who will give you a massage in the mud - they definitely do not have any formal training), the bathing service (Colombian women help you clean the mud off yourself and your bathing suit). We were told that these services were all optional, however, try telling that to the washing ladies. They do NOT take no for an answer.

We got off the bus with only our bathing suits and our flip flops, left our shoes at the bottom and climbed up the very steep stairs to the top of the volcano, which looks strangely like an ant hill, and found a group of people in the 'bath' (for lack of a better word), looking exactly like moving statues, covered almost completely with mud. While you are getting into the volcano, a man would greet you at the ladder, and instruct you to take one more step down then sit back into the mud, then lie down on your back. Immediately you erupt into hysterical laughter because the feeling is just soooo strange. The mud is really, really deep, but you can't sink, even if you want to (we tried, both of us pushed down on Kaspar's shoulders and all that happened was that we came out of the mud), and the mud is kind of warm. You would expect that it would be similar to swimming, because it is kinda like that, but it isn't. Not at all. For starters, you have very little control of where you go, and be careful not to get off balance, or you will end up face first in the mud, which is a bit of a problem, because how do you get the mud out of your mouth when every useful inch of your body is covered in mud? Your only real option is a lot of spitting. So, there you are, laying in a volcano full of mud, and the next thing you know, someone takes you by your feet and pushes you towards the 'massage therapists' who immediately begin rubbing your legs, whether or not you want them too. After telling them several times I wasn't interested in a massage, I found myself being pushed to the other end of the volcano, so there was room for the next 'customer'.

The first ten minutes of being in the volcano was something akin to sheer pandemonium. People everywhere were laughing hysterically, people would lose control and fall, face first, into the mud, which would result in even more laughter. However, by the end of the thirty minutes, nearly everyone was laying flat on their backs, relaxing in the mud, which was warm and quite pleasant. Surprisingly, the mud didn't smell bad, which was not what I expected.

After our time was up, we had to get out of the bath and go down to the lagoon to get ourselves cleaned off. The problem with being entirely covered with mud is that your bathing suit becomes quite heavy. Which isn't exactly a problem in itself, however, it does make keeping your drawers on slightly difficult. The entire trip down the stairs and down to the lagoon was quite a challenge, as I was constantly attempting to prevent my bathing suit from ending up around my ankles. Upon arriving at the lagoon we were greeted by a group of Colombian women, armed with basins in their hands; they grabbed us by our hands and did not listen to our protests. We were directed to sit down in the shallow, cloudy water, and they immediately began pouring water over our heads, and rubbing our faces to get all the mud off. The next thing I knew my 'bather' was tugging on the ties of my bikini top, I told her that I didn't want her to take it off, she told me I had to, and the next thing I knew, I was topless! I very quickly flipped around in the water so that I was with my front down, laughing hysterically the entire time. After she washed out my top she gave it back and made me give her my bottoms. Luckily the water was very cloudy. After we had been fully cleaned we walked back to the bus, still laughing.

When we went the second time with our friend Kaspar, the bathing portion of our afternoon was even more hilarious, which I didn't think was possible. I should explain that Kaspar is much over 6 feet tall, with lots of blond curly hair (which is always extremely popular in Latin America, and 6 feet is not exactly a common sight either). When we arrived at the water, two women grabbed Kaspar's hands and pulled him into the water, laughing hysterically. They pushed him down into the water, and began pouring water over him, continuing to laugh the whole time. The other 'bathers' were watching the women bathe Kaspar, laughing the entire time.

If you ever get the chance to go to a mud volcano, go. Definitely, go. People say the mud is medicinal, but I really think the laughter is even better for your soul.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Paradise: Found

Though I am currently in Cartagena, Colombia, last week we were in Santa Marta, Taganga, and then Parque Nacional Tayrona, Colombia, all of which are on the water. And thank goodness, because it is hot hot hot. Santa Marta and Taganga were good, but Parque Tayrona was the real highlight. When I say that I think it might be the closest thing to paradise I have ever seen, I mean it. To get to the beach and 'campsites' you are dropped off approximately four kms from the sites and have to walk for about 45 minutes through the jungle, onto the beach, back through the jungle, before arriving.

We stayed at a lovely place with beautiful white hammocks (which is where you sleep), right on a beach, with jungle and rolling green hills as the back drop. It was so peaceful there (at night there really was nothing to do besides go to the beach, lie in your hammock, or drink the wine we forgot in Taganga), and there were not so many tourists. On the walk to the beach that was swimmable (the beach we were on had extremely strong currents and had taken the lives of more than a couple tourists) there were times we were the only people on the beach. I always knew I loved swimming, but I have discovered the real difference between here and home is that here it is actually hot enough to want to get into water that is not bath temperature. It was so wonderful floating around and then laying on the beach until you get hot enough to go back in.

It was delightful, relaxing and rejuvenating. Paradise, even. So, if you like paradise (and who doesn't?), go to Colombia.

Because its awesome.

Signs it is time to get the hache out of dodge....

And by dodge, I mean South America. We have exactly seven days until we board that plane back to Canada, and though I am having the best experience of my life, I think it is good this time has come. For lots and lots of reasons. I will list them here (and likely forget many of the reasons...). Here we go.

1. Neither J nor I have a properly functioning headlamp. I broke my first one. Bought a second one, however, in my chaotic scramble to get ready to catch the bus to Ecuador after 'Fright night', (which you can read about under 'Love of theme parties? Confirmed.), I stupidly left it behind. Do you know how difficult (and loud) it is to fumble around a dorm room in complete darkness, using only an iPod or digital camera as a flashlight. Not good.

2. Total number of umbrellas we have? Zero. We had two, but J broke her's in Cali while trying to show me a trick (opps). I (again, stupidly) left my umbrella in Cali, as it had fallen onto the dude's bed below me. I checked my own bed for left over belongings, I did not think to check those of my dorm mates. You're welcome, Dorey.

3. I lost my bite plate. I (third time, stupidly...), left it in my sheets at the hostel in Quito, Ecuador. (Sorry, cleaning lady, that was likely gross...). Which is not only potentially an expensive mistake, but is extremely detrimental to the health of my teeth. Do not be surprised to see me back in Halifax a lot chubbier and with shorter teeth - I have a wee bit of a grinding problem. Luckily, there is essentially no stress in my life here.

4. J and I seem to have developed some strange way of communicating, almost like a pseudo language, except its not the words, its a very particular way of using your voice (which is not always fit for public consumption). We have attributed this to spending entirely toooo much time together the past six months. I fear what would happen to us after another six months. Pure insanity.

5. My bronzer is almost gone, and what I have left is a crumbly mess.

6. I am getting so tired of locking up my possessions and having to climb a ladder to get to
my bed.

7. My 'money rash' is getting out of control, which likely sounds strange (and kinda disgusting...) which makes sense, because it is strange and kinda disgusting. You see, in order to avoid having to carry a bag when going out (and to keep our money safe) we generally carry our money in our bras, in the side part, under your arm. The only problem is money is dirty and it's hot here, it is not really so good for skin I don't imagine. So, I am excited to be able to carry a real purse, with a proper wallet and everything! Though, admittedly I will miss waking up with money in my bed. Sometimes (actually, most times) when getting ready for bed I forget to take out the money and it falls off on it's own, resulting in waking up surrounded by pesos, which never fails to make me giggle.

So, thankfully (and sadly) we only have seven more days to wander around, hoping for no rain (especially because it is waaaay too humid for rain jackets, I fear I would suffocate), fumbling around in the dark by the light of my iPod, and subconsciously (in my sleep) try to ensure I am not grinding my pearly whites.

Get ready, Canada, get ready.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

I like to move it, move it

I have always been a big believer in the importance of physical activity. For both physical and mental health. My three weeks in Cali were completely amazing and confirmed to me just how important movement is. We spent an average of three hours a day dancing (sometimes more) and I have not felt happier in a long time (which is definitely saying something because I haven't really been unhappy in a long, long time). During the group classes (which were often like Latin dance aerobics classes with amazing instructors) I would notice that I could not stop smiling. I am convinced that dancing is in it's own special league in terms of it's benefits and people's ability to express themselves through it.

One of the things I am going to miss most (about south America in general, but more specifically Cali) is the amazing music and the way that dancing plays such an integral role in daily life here. Though Cali is famous for its amazing salsa, when you go to the clubs you see dancers at all levels, having fun, smiling and just feeling the music. It is amazing and is something that will not be easily replicated in Canada. To make ourselves feel better J and I are getting all the music from Cali that we can, which is helpful particularly because of music's amazing ability to transport one to a specific time or location in our lives.

A great big muchas Gracias goes out to Cali, Jovitas hostel, Son de Luz dance school, and all the amazing people we have met that made Cali the experience that it was. I leave with some sadness, but mostly with wonderful memories, some new moves, hilarious pictures, a happy heart and a whole lot of gratitude that I was able to have this beautiful experience.

Gracias xo

Thursday, June 9, 2011

If you like big butts and you cannot lie....

Then perhaps you should head to Colombia. Seriously. No, I am not suggesting that the Colombian people have naturally larger butts than any other people, but Colombia offers extremely cheap plastic surgery. What does that have to do with big butts, you are likely asking yourself? Well, for some unknown reason it is very popular for women to have butt implants, as well as breast implants. Often on the same woman (that is a whole lotta silicone...). I have a bit of trouble wrapping my head around anyone actually wanting to pay for more junk in their trunk (I have some extra in case anyone wants any....), considering in North America there are industries devoted to helping women lessen the load in their derriere. I initially was just assuming it was cultural, but this week J and I had salsa class together with our teacher, Miguel (who, for the record, is 17 years old). We were talking about the popularity of butt implants here in Colombia and talked about women in north America working hard for smaller bums. As soon as the words were spoken he immediately asked why and looked horrified. He then called to one of the other male dancers on the sxhool's team and told him what we had just said and his response was the same.

Definitely cultural.

We have been in Cali for almost three weeks and we have been going to a salsa bar on Monday nights where there is an overwhelming amount of silicone. I was not aware of this, but there is a reason for that. Apparently the club is often frequented by a lot of the drug dealers (or 'narcotraficantes' en espaƱol) go there. Again, what does this have to do with plastic surgery? Allegedly, once they are making good money they will often pay to have their women get a little bit more plastic....

What the h? Anyways, if you like big butts, Colombia is the place for you. However, if you aren't into butts that are strangely shaped and look like someone has pumped them up with a bicycle pump, maybe not the best place to go looking....

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Happy 88th Birthday!!

Grandmothers are the best, and I am lucky to have the BEST Oma ever. I have so many wonderful childhood memories of time spent in Komoka with her and my mom's family. I can think of almost nothing I enjoy more than hearing stories about what it was like living in Holland during the war, or immigrating to a country where you do not speak the language.

Yesterday was my Oma's 88th birthday. It also was the date of her wedding anniversary, and much later, the date my Opa was buried. Oma has had such an interesting life, immigrating to Canada in the 1950s, after WW II was over, though that was not her original intention...

She was raised in a Catholic household, along with her nine brothers and sisters. When she was in her late 20s she decided, after working for a period of time as a nurse/social worker/mid wife, that she wanted to become a nun. After speaking with the convent it was suggested that she think about this and that perhaps she should go to Canada and spend some time visiting with her five siblings who had already immigrated to Canada with their families and were running their own farms. While visiting one of her sisters in Ontario she happened to meet a Dutch man who had very recently immigrated to Canada and was staying with her sister. Instead of returning to Holland (and the convent!) she stayed in Canada and six months later she and my Opa were married and less than a year after that she gave birth to my uncle Adrian. Now she
has six children, nine grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren, all of whom love her.

She is truly one of my favourite people in the whole world and I want to take this opportunity to publicly wish her a happy 88th birthday. I wish I could be there to celebrate with a couple games of rumicube and perhaps some dominoes! I hope your celebration is full of things as sweet as you are (like perhaps beer with sugar, her fave...).

Happy 88th Birthday, Oma! Here's to you and another happy and healthy year!
With so much love,
Melissa xo

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Smiling in Cali

As I type this I am lying in a hammock at our hostel in Cali, Colombia, which is incredibly famous for it's amazing salsa dancing. I am taking a wee break from reading my very first novel in Spanish (I'm pretty sure it is going to take me three years. Do you know how many words there are in a language?). We arrived in Cali (actually in Colombia) on Saturday, and have since experienced the usual confusion around currency, and I don't really mean just straight conversion, which I can figure out (it's almost 2000 Colombian pesos to one dollar), but more about how much things cost, when is someone ripping you off, and how much money is enough to bring for a night of dancing? It all hurts my head.
On Saturday night we went out with a group from the hostel to this dicey little salsa bar that was packed full of Colombians, many of whom had spilled out onto the street and were dancing outside. I was so pleasantly surprised to see that not everyone was dancing 'Cali style', which is extremely fast and complicated, and I have no idea how to do it. Yet. It was great fun.
J and I went to the zoo here on Sunday, which was fun, though it really was something of a fashion show. There were so many young families there. We discovered that Colombians dress well! Even the little kids are dressed like miniature adults. I felt slightly under dressed.
We completely lucked out with our hostel, they offer free yoga and salsa classes (which is very unusual), and makes me feel so happy. We had our first class yesterday, and then J and I went for a run and then a group from our hostel went to a salsa place where the 'professionals' go (on a Monday!). It was completely amazing. I hace never seen people dance like that before, there was more than one would champion in the club.
We had yoga this morning at 7:00 sm, and this afternoon I start my private salsa lessons.

I can't stop smiling.