Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Barcelona and good wishes for 2020

Thanks for a great year!
Erin and Philip in La Condessa
As the year 2019 comes to an end, we would like to write a bit about our gratitude for another year well lived among our many worldwide connections.  Every year I write intentions for the coming year and one that has been on my list for a long time is keeping connections with friends and family all over the world. I realize that I do not need to make this one of my intentions as it has become part of who I am. Richard often says "I make the friends and Susan keeps them." This is so true as he is much more gregarious than I am but I am committed to seeing, or at least communicating with ALL of you out there reading this or knowing us. THANK YOU for being in our lives.

The last 10 days of 2019 proved to be a special time for this intention. Months ago we made the decision to coordinate schedules with Erin and Philip (we knew from Mexico and then Pau. France where we spent a month together in 2017.) What fun to wander all over La Condessa (CDMX) for sipping, eating, talking and walking. It might have only been 2 days but a chance to reunite and come up with plans for the future together.

Robin and Ru.
Then we were off to Spain - to Barcelona where we will be until Jan 1. Here we reunited with a friend from Chapel Hill, Robin Renteria and her husband Ru who are living here for the last 5 years. Catching up and talking about Spain and common friends connected us on many levels. It was Robin who interviewed and hired me for my job at the Community Church of Chapel Hill Unitarian Universalist back in the year 2000 - a formative position for me in my life which taught me much and connected me to so many people, building our large community in Carrboro/Chapel Hill, NC.

Now I am sitting in an AirBnb with more special people - those with which we have spent many New Years. Dan and Fi and sons Aidan (age 17) and Will (age 11) from England as well as Amy and Sophie from North Carolina are playing cards as I write. This was another plan made months ago when we came up with the grand idea to meet and share special time together. We have walked miles in the city, learned the Metro system with Will leading the way (he learned the system faster than some of the rest of us), cooked together, ate in the house and out at various veg restaurants, talked, laughed and generally had a good 'ol time every minute. It was fun exploring a new city for most of us and we all fell in love with Barcelona. We even went to the beach to connect ourselves to our many past beach trips. Aidan is a techie and photographer with various cameras and he captured many moments on these. I have added them here at the end to give you an idea of the city.

One of many beautiful veggie
stands in the market

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia

On the Metro

Giant art sculpture in the park

Our anniversary at the beach.

Many of you know that we are on a 4 month adventure heading east around the world. On the first we are off to Valencia, Spain for the month....followed by New Zealand, Australia and finally Japan until April. You can be sure that I will be writing details along with photos to keep my memory alive and keep you all in our loop.

Once again we thank you for being in our lives and we look forward to a very peaceful 2020.

Fundacion Miro

Fundacion Miro

Gaudi house along Passieg de Gracia

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Guanajuato, MX for October 2019

Templo in La Valenciana
It has been a very long time since I have written. I like to review all the details of our "travel" life in this blog, rather than our day to day "normal" activities. We did spend over 2 months in the US this year and caught up with nearly everyone we know during that time. I am always grateful to have time to see you all and our only regret is that we don't have more time. The good news is that when we are not with you, we are with someone else and we are blessed to have wonderful friends and family all over the globe.

Plaza Mexiamora
Getting ready for
We were very happy to return to Mexico and this October we spent the month in the city of Guanajuato (about 1+ hour from San Miguel and the capitol of the state of Guanajuato). It is a place that we enjoy and will return to again. We rented a small casita right in Plaza Mexiamora which is very central to all the activity in town. October is the month of the Cervantino Festival and this was the 47th year. It is a festival of culture - music, dance, theater and takes place at all hours of day and night in all the venues in town. It was our first time and we attended events in various theaters and other venues (such as an ex-hacienda and the golden church right next to the silver mines of Valenciana.
Teatro Juarez

Guanajuato is a University city (Univ. of Guanajuato UG) so it is youthful and lively all the time. We have nightly serenades of the "Estudiantes" - groups of young people who sing and walk all the narrow city streets in group, drinking tequila and enjoying the night life. We have a few friends here but not as many as other places which for us is a good thing - we have time with each other and time to catch up on reading and watching our Netflix series. We are now watching "Reina del Flow" about Reggaeton music and taking place in Colombia where we were earlier this year. It is a soap opera in Spanish (we do read the English subtitles) which is keeping us entertained every night.
off Plaza Baratillo

We also returned to Escuela Falcon for continued Spanish classes - always trying to improve a bit. I must admit that I have seemed to reach a point and don't see any changes in my ability to communicate. I can be understood and I mostly understand but continue to make errors which the Mexican's are SO kind to forgive. We do meet nice folks at school and it was just around the corner from our casita.

Walking the steps of UG
We are beginning to get in shape for our big upcoming trip in 2020 which will include lots of walking. We are daily walking up the long steps to UG either 1, 2 or 3 times/day. I continue to find something to draw everyday, especially in this colorful city.
A view of the Pipila from our casita

time to juggle

Fandango music and dance

The little star of the show
favorite gordita spot
Flowers in Plaza Baratillo

For the information of those who did not know - I broke my wrist in July and just want you all to know that I am healing well and nearly back to all range of motion, including downward facing dog in yoga so for that, I am grateful. I have a plate and 5 screws which I believe will stay in forever. 

That is it for now as we head off to San Miguel de Allende for several months. The big news is that our annual "Big Read" for Libros para Todos is happening in November. If you are in the area, please join us for various activities. Francisco Jimenez will be at Bellas Artes on Sat. Nov 9 at 11am (Spanish) and at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of SMA on Sunday, Nov 10 at 10:30 (English). These events are open to the public.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Medellín - the city of eternal spring.

We have definitely saved the best for last. This city in Colombia called Medellín has been transformed into a thoroughly progressive city for all to enjoy. It has a population of almost 4 million which has grown significantly since the trouble began to subside on November, 2016. There are still issues that have to be solved but like life, anything is possible. The hope is that Colombia is moving forward and Medellín is the shining example to the rest of the country. The people here are so thankful and happy that tourism is on the rise and not a day has gone by that some someone hasn’t demonstrated to us their deep sense of appreciation. They have made us feel so much at home that we will definitely be returning here in the future. 

Getting around Medellin is a city planner's dream. This is a bike friendly place with ample bike lanes, above ground metro system, cable cars for getting up to the higher mountain locations and a large fleet of taxis always ready to take you anywhere you desire. I can’t say enough about this place and for those using the US dollars you can enjoy a very reasonable vacation. 

If one plans on coming here without being on a tour I feel you should have some command of Spanish. People are very happy to work with you but we must have patience with them as the Colombianos have with us. Also like any big city one must be careful when showing money or other valuables like cell phones. They have a saying here “no des papaya” which translates to "don’t give/show papaya or your valuables".

Susan will fill in the rest of the blanks on some things to do while traveling here in Medellin along with some pictures. Love from Ricardo.

Calle 40, 74-74
We arrived and checked out our neighborhood before settling into our two week AirBnb apartment in the Laureles area of Medellin. I chose well as this is a quiet neighborhood with loads of restaurants, coffee shops and stores for groceries. After 5 weeks of travel it was nice to "settle" down and just live our lives. We found a gym, yoga classes and our favorite spots very quickly. We did one big adventure/tourist activity each day. We were 20 minutes from the Estadio Metro Station which allowed us to use the system well and explored many different areas of the city via Metro. The people are very proud of their comprehensive public transportation system which costs under $1.00/trip and includes the Metro Cables which are cable cars that go high up the mountains to ensure that the poor as well as middle class have opportunities to connect daily with the city.

Big shopping center
For our memory, I will list all the places we explored along with photos. Two weeks was great but there are many places we still have not visited in the city and surrounding area so might indeed return, especially to the city of Medellin.

Our first night was special as we met with friends Francine and Louise who are sisters that we know from San Miguel de Allende. They were on their last day of Medellin as we were on the first. They gave us many good tips, including a good taxi driver Jamie who took us on a few trips when necessary. Thanks Francine and Louise.

Comuna 13. Walking up
to the escalators
As we often do, we took the Real City Free walking tour which is the best for us to get the general history and lay of the land in a new city. Medellin is very large - close to 4 million, and growing day by day. A few days later we took the Comuna 13 History and Graffiti tour to the neighborhood which was supposedly one of the most dangerous during the long difficult history of drugs, etc. Now it is a lively, thriving community of art, music, dance and pride to show the changes that have been made.

One of the many amazing
graffiti artists

Walking up to the
home of our guide.
To connect this large area there are 8 escalators riding in zig zag up the mountain. Our guide took us to her home where she and her 13 siblings grew up and many still live there. Of course, the views from anyplace above the city are incredible. We witnessed a lively energetic break dance event during our tour which added even more to the sensual experience of this neighborhood.

Raul and Martha
A big highlight was our reconnection with Raul and Martha, a Colombian couple who left Medellin 20 years ago and recently returned. They had been Richard's English students, along with their daughters when they first arrived to Carrboro, NC. Thanks to social networking, we have been able to reconnect and enjoyed a lovely Sunday afternoon at their home. They too are proud of their revitalized city and took us on a tour of the Envigado neighborhood where they live. We met up again in Poblado at a delicious vegan restaurant - Restaurante Justo and they showed us some of the interesting areas around Poblado - a large neighborhood that seems to be the favorite of the expats from all over the world.

La Piedra de Peñol 
A day trip outside the city took us to La Piedra de Peñol and the small city of Guatapé. Once again there was a physical challenge. I wasn't sure I was going to walk up the 750 steps to the top as it looked really difficult from below. I decided to start up and could always turn around. Amazingly, it was not as hard as it looked and the views of the lakes designed for hydroelectric power were beautiful from above. Next was the colorful town of Guatapé where each of the homes have relief paintings representing something about the family, the business or a design. It is mandatory for each of the historic buildings to continue this tradition and the creativity on each home was a delight to my eyes.

A driveway into the garage

And so we don't forget....we visited the Museo de Memorias, a museum to remember the long violent history and to make sure not to forget. There are interesting exhibits to help understand what the people of this country went through. A surprise visit along with the Barefoot Park (uneventful - a few shallow pools for walking through barefoot) was the Museo de Agua. Exhibits include the history of humanity and its involvement with water at every stage. Also are exhibits to show the importance of consciousness to water usage.

At park Arvi
We took the Metro Cable to Santo Domingo station and then 15 minutes more on another cable car to Parque Arvi, a large metropolitan park with many walking trails, a restaurant (with vegan bean soup), exhibits and more. We did a short walking tour with a guide about orchids and bromeliads.

Jardin Botanico
The Botanical Garden is a short walk from the University Metro station and a lovely spot to spend an afternoon in the beautiful shaded areas with many plants, trees and flowers including orchids. We came upon a large tortoise (Colombian slider) and an iguana as we walked around.

Back to "drawing a day"

To make a general summary of Medellin I would have to say that it is my favorite large city as there is so much to see and do and so easy to live without a vehicle using the public transportation system. We had 2 weeks so that was also a plus for getting a chance to learn the city. The people of Colombia are kind and generous in all ways, all of the time. They are a proud people and seem to be happy though I will admit we did not get to meet that many. Everytime I entered a metro someone graciously gave me their seat. I presume it has something to do with my age, but it was very kind anyway.

Now we are off to Bogota for our last few days and then back to Mexico for the next several months. Again, thanks for traveling with us.

Friday, January 25, 2019

To the beach !

Parque Nacional Tayrona
Our place in the jungle - Manigua Tayrona Hostel
The beach from the
 jungle -
Playa Los Angeles

I am not sure where I heard about this beach/jungle/National Park but I am sure glad that we decided to visit for several days. We stayed at Manigua Tayrona Hostel and once again living with many young backpackers and other travelers. I like finding hostels with private rooms as the "vibe" is different than a hotel. Right now there are 7 people all on their phones in the dining room - planning their next trip or ???  I've been talking to a woman who is traveling 5 months from Norway, and the others are German, English, Italian and Colombian. We have hardly met anyone from the US during our 5 day stay.

walking into our hostel over
a bridge
This is all in the National Park area though one has to walk in daily to avail of the park beaches. We walked about 5 miles into "El Cabo" and then out again. Along the way were several beautiful beaches and we spent time at La Piscina which was a very calm cove where swimming was great. Some of the beaches have dangerous waves and undertow and swimming is forbidden. It was another very long day of up and down rocks with sunny beach walking in between. We were both quite tired at the end and I decided that we would do nothing the following day, but we ended up going to Playa Los Angeles as I felt fully recovered.

The environment of this hostel, the people who worked there and the food were excellent and a pleasant place to spend a "vacation" during our vacation.


Leaving the Santa Marta area of Colombia we headed by bus to Cartagena in a small van of 11 people
for 4 1/2 hours which brought us right to our AirBnb in the center of the walled city. After a few days in this bustling city of African-Colombian people mixed with the Spanish-Colombian along the Caribbean Sea gives a feeling of "island" life. The city is very large, placed along the sea with high rise buildings in the newer part of town (we never went there). We spent most of our time in the walled city wandering the streets with beautiful, colorful buildings and interesting architecture. There are areas where no one ventured several years ago but now are revitalized with tourism growing moment by moment. There are large ships that dock in the harbor, evidenced by the large groups of tourists wandering around the city. We enjoyed, again, the free city tour which gave us a good background to the city.

Once again we came upon our favorite veg restaurants but also enjoyed having a kitchen of our own after weeks in hotels. As it is also very warm everyday, we are grateful to have an air conditioner in this apartment. We are happy that we came to Cartagena but it is our least favorite of the places we have visited so far in Colombia. I think that three days would been sufficient for our stay.

On our last day we decided to hire a taxi to take us to San Basilio de Palenque which is a small village a bit over one hour away. Below you will find the information I found on the web about this very unusual destination taking us back several hundred years.
Benkos Biohó

San Basilio de Palenque - the first free slave town in the Americas.  It is a small village nestled in the foothills of the Montes de Maria, a small mountain range to the south of Cartagena. It doesn’t appear in many guidebooks, and few tourists take the time to visit. However, this small settlement of some 4,000 people is one of the most important historical villages in the Americas and a UNESCO-declared ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ since 2005. 

Palenque was founded sometime in the 16th century by Benkos Biohó, a former African king from either the Democratic Republic of Congo or Angola, who was sold into slavery and escaped the slave port of Cartagena in 1599. He fled his captors into the swamps and went on to form an army of escaped slaves who conquered the area.

Recording studio for local band
famous for Champeta
Biohó also created an intelligence network, which helped to facilitate more escapes. Eventually in 1605 the governor of Cartagena offered him a peace treaty. It was finalized with inhabitants of Palenque in 1612 before being violated by the Spanish in 1619, when they captured Biohó in Cartagena. He was executed by hanging in 1621 on the basis that his image was likely to inspire dangerous subversion among the slave population. Today he is immortalized in an evocative statue in the main square with his right arm reaching towards Africa, broken chains hanging from his wrists. 

The village of Palenque grew slowly in the early days when it was a small group of escaped slaves living secretly in the mountains. However, in 1691 the Spanish Crown issued a Royal Decree officially freeing the Africans in San Basilio de Palenque from slavery. This made them the first free Africans in the Americas and Palenque the first free settlement.

Famous Featherweight
world champion boxer born in
Palenque - Antonio Cervantes
aka Kid Pambelé
These former slaves maintained many of their African oral and musical traditions, including the only Spanish-Bantú spoken on earth, known as Palenquero. Influenced by the Kikongo language of Angola and Congo, it is only spoken today by roughly half of Palenque's residents but is recognized as the only Spanish-based Creole language that exists in the world.

We witnessed all of the above in person through a guide that spoke some combination of Spanish along with his native language. They are living so very simply in adobe or concrete one story houses with dirt roads. The government would provide paving but they choose as a community to keep the roads the way they were. They also have their own police system (similar to the indigenous communities around San Cris in Chiapas). I am happy I discovered this place to visit which gives a completely different view of a small part of Colombia. (Really different!) They are very proud people and well known for their particular style of music, their actors and boxing champion.

So, friends, we are leaving the beach and off to Medellin tomorrow for a nice long stay in an Airbnb. Thanks again for traveling with us.