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!


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