Downtime …

I was recently reading an article from a fellow blogger on the importance of ‘downtime’ (The importance of downtime – Niraj’s blogs (home.blog) And, as much as this topic is universal, I wonder whether it transcends all ages and stages of life.

Can you have ‘downtime’ from a life of ‘downtime’? That’s the big question.

There were moments over the past 35 and more years when this word would totally escape me – it wasn’t even part of my everyday or occasional vocabulary. Very rare was it that I would have a moment to spend by myself or for myself. These moments, if at all, would have to be stuck in at the very beginning or at the very end of the day, when alas my eyes would close and I would drift away into a dreamland far far away not knowing whether I actually had this downtime moment of not.

I certainly tried to find that work/life harmony – exercising 3 times weekly, eating right including fruits and vegetables in my diet, savouring the ‘antioxidants’ from my daily glass(es) of wine, sneaking away on weekends to the coast to soak in some much needed sun and sea breeze. It was hard work finding this harmony and I used to wonder whether stressing on the importance of finding time to de-stress wasn’t a big part of the reason we were all so stressed. And most times I would just let the day go by and whatever moments were left in it for me, I would be grateful, joyous and feel ever so blessed.

And so now that my days are filled with whatever I want to do, I wonder whether it is still necessary to seek ‘downtime’. For my days can be quite full (note that I’ve removed the word ‘busy’ from my vocabulary), and tiring. Am I in fact catching up on all the ‘downtime’ moments I missed over the past years. Or am I just in another stage of life where I am able to make that ever so important choice of doing what the hell I want to do.

Stay the course my dear friends. Work/life Harmony is important. We must however manage our expectations as to what this ‘harmony’ looks like. Then and only then will you be able to achieve it.

Dear Dad,

Circa 1950

For the past year and a half, you’ve been constantly on my mind. Covid-19 has sent the world in a tailspin, and as much as I miss you and mummy terribly, I’m forever grateful that you’ve been spared this ‘inconvenience’, and selfishly, that we have not had the added worry of keeping you guys safe. It would have been a lonely existence for you both, one which, after such a long and happy life, seeing your children and grandchildren almost daily, would have possibly left you bereft of what was most important to you – family.

We’ve managed well, though – and keep in touch with each other often. Meeting up when we can for quick get togethers at each other’s homes, dropping by to share excess fruit (Julie mangoes, Mummy’s favourite), Zabocas (the boys are still competing as to whose is the best), homemade bread (your eldest has become quite the baker), but most importantly, keeping our family bond strong.

You’ve left us with a legacy so ingrained that in this time of forced isolation, our family connections have pulled us through and we thank you for this.

Circa 1972

And oh the family keeps on growing – with some scattered across the globe, we still remain in touch thanks to the technology which baffled you so much towards the end. Your great grandkids keep us busy and entertained. Some we have not yet met due to Covid, and some on the way. And they all look ‘just like you’ – if not physically, certainly in their hearts which are full of love of life and family.

You would be proud, as are we.

Forever and always……

Salento – Touring the Wax Palm Forest in the Cocora Valley

We arrived in Salento late into the night, in pouring rain, cold, damp and hungry.  What was supposed to be a 5-hour drive from Jardin stretched into an 8-hour journey due to unforeseen traffic and road works.  Needless to say we were tired and after a quick dinner, bundled into our ‘Glamping accomodation’ and fell asleep before anybody could say “Jack Sprat”.

As we emerged from our tents in the morning, the beauty of the surrounding mountains, the sound of the birds chirping and the cows mooing in the distance immediately erased any displeasures we may have experienced the day before. We were on the Lumbre farm in the Cocora Valley situated in Quindio, Colombia, located in the Central Cordillera of the Andean mountains.  What an absolutely beautiful morning view.  And the day had only just begun.

For we were about to embark on a tour of the Carbonera estate known for its Wax Palms and amazing views.  We chose however to do this tour with a local guide (www.salentocycling.com) in what could only be described as an unconventional way – not only hiking through farm lands bordering the Wax Palm forest, but exploring what is known as the Cloud Forest on dirt road bikes.

We met our exuberant guide Eduardo in Salento and once fitted with our gear, climbed into the back of a Jeep and made our way 20 km up to 11000’ up into the estate.  Rumbling along the rocky dirt road we eventually arrived at our first point of decent – an 8k downhill bike ride which took us to the start of our trek to the Wax Palms.

Amazing views awaited us as we climbed up and down the gentle slopes back to the top where we picnicked relishing in the peace and quiet of the nature that surrounded us.  And then the adventure really began as we were carried back up to the top and jumped on our bikes to make the final 20k ride downhill back to Salento.

The cloud forest, at a temperature of roughly 18C provided mystery at every turn as we could see just 10 meters ahead at any one time.  As we descended further the views of the Cocora valley opened up once more and we were treated to the mooing of cows and even accompanied by a couple of young foals who galloped alongside us for part of the journey.  The excitement building, adrenaline pumping as we had just experienced the tour of a lifetime.

The pictures speak for themselves, and the memories etched in our minds forever.

Jardin – A small town with a big heart

We pulled up in front of our hotel perfectly located on the picturesque square, El Libertador Park,  of the small town of Jardin, located in northwest Colombia.  We gasped at the imposing presence of the neo-Gothic Basilica of the Immaculate Conception which towered over the square in all its glory.  The square was encircled by tents with vendors of local food and art, restaurants full to the brim of customers enjoying their Sunday lunch, parents sitting amongst the rose gardens, while their young children ran around chasing the birds, laughing with their friends.

We smiled, and immediately fell in love with the sheer beauty of Jardin, known for its brightly painted houses, colorful floral displays and milk candies.  We too began to laugh and chit chat as we wandered in and around the stalls and shops making our way to the nearest local restaurant for lunch.  A normal Sunday, in a small quiet town.

As the afternoon continued, we began to notice young children in their costumes, likewise teenagers and some adults.  It was Halloween we were reminded, but nothing prepared us for the unfolding events that would take place as the sun set on what we thought was the sweet quiet town of Jardin, Antiquoia.

While relaxing on our balcony overlooking the square, we noticed crowds lining the streets under our noses, music from bands began to play on the other side of the plaza, the stalls that were selling local art and candies filled the air with the inviting smells of street food.  The town had come alive in a way totally unexpected.

And then we realized that we were about to witness a parade of Halloween bands, not unlike the Carnival parade of ‘Ole Mas’ bands we are accustomed to in our small twin island of Trinidad and Tobago. This parade however not only featured the well orchestrated bands as they marched or danced pass but also included a large contingent of motorcyclists showing off their road skills.   The revving of their bikes, intermingled with the sounds of the orchestra, the costumed participants of all ages and the varying methods of expression, made for a highly energetic display much appreciated by all.

We were thoroughly entertained and left this sweet town with its unsuspecting vitality imprinted on our hearts.

La Piedra, Guatape

675 steps up to an altitude of 200m to witness what is claimed to be the best view in the world.  A panoramic vista as far as the horizon towering above the town of Guatapé Antioquia.  Fresh water lakes formed by a hydro electric dam interrupted by small islands, dotted with what you can only imagine to be vacation homes and the odd boat speeding from one island to the next.  You can almost see vacationers tanning on the decks with children splashing in the water enjoying the brilliant sun shiny day that it was.

It is known as “La Piedra” and has been the reason for many rivalries between the towns of El Peñol and Guatapé over the years.  This is highlighted by the letters “G” and an incomplete “U” (leaving the letters GI) painted on the western face of the rock.  The two towns had long disputed ownership of the rock and the residents of Guatapé decided to settle the matter by painting the town’s name on the rock in huge white letters.  It did not take long for the residents of El Peñol to notice the work and a large mob was assembled to stop it, leaving behind the unfinished graffiti.*

According to geologists the rock is approximately 65 million years old.  The indigenous Tahami, former inhabitants of this region, worshipped the rock and called it, in their language “Mojarra” or “Mubarak” (rock or stone).   The landform is a granitic rock remnant that has resisted weathering and erosion.

Climbing the rock is not for the faint hearted.  Yet it’s a challenge that many take on as the view literally takes your breath away.

* Wikipedia

La Comuna 13

Children should not be working in the streets, but on their dreams.

Comuna 13 was considered one of the most dangerous communities in Medellin if not the world.  Many may remember our fear of even so much as visiting Colombia due to the rampant drug trafficking and the violence that surrounded this trade.  Stories abounded with kidnappings, drug lords taking over small communities, the crime rate soaring.  After the death of Pablo Escobar in 1993 however, the government decided to intervene in the ongoing destruction of its youth in Comuna 13 one of the hardest hit communities where a life of violence and crime seemed to be the only option open to its residents to climb the social ladder, or so they were led to believe.

Investment was made in the infrastructure of the community allowing everyone access to schools and public transport instilling in them not only a new vision for their future but a sense of pride in themselves and their community that has transcended from generation to generation.  A community that truly embraces the spirit of ‘each one help one’.

Today Comuna 13 is considered one of the safest districts in the world, its walls covered in graffiti art depicting not only the struggles faced by their inhabitants and the evolution of its community, but also embodying messages of peace and unity amongst its people.  As you walk the streets, you are entertained by self made dancers, hip hop artists, singers – all intent on making an honest living while promoting a life of honesty and integrity.

We thought we were going to visit an exhibition of the finest street art Medellin has to offer.  Instead we were silenced by the beauty and humility of its people, the exuberance of a new culture of youth who look out for each other and who understand the value of community living.  We felt safe and secure exploring the ins and outs of the many shops and thoroughly enjoyed the talents of the local artists who performed on demand for our voluntary contributions.

You can visit on your own or with a tour guide (Aeroturex).  You will be welcomed with open arms at all times.

An overhead view of la Comuna 13, courtesy our Tour guide Aeroturex

No Dejes Rastro

These three little words follow you wherever you go in el Canon del Rio Claro situated west north west of Bogota, Colombia.  Its owner intent on ensuring that the natural environment is kept as pristine as possible.  But in its own way, this place unknowingly leaves traces of serenity and beauty in your heart and soul.

A mere 5 hour drive from Bogota, traversing the undulating terrain and beauty of the Central range of the Colombian Andes, el Canon del Rio Claro is tucked away in Antiquoia.  As you enter you are immediately transported to what can only be described as a place of peace and quiet.  As you drive alongside the rambling river of Rio Claro to the reception area, you are surrounded by natural forest and can see small waterfalls, and hear the chirping of birds along the way.

The buildings are tucked away in the forest and made of natural materials.  Your connection to the outside world is limited, there are few ‘new world’ amenities but you willingly forego what you consider to be ‘must haves’ in your modern world and embrace the simplicity of life as you truly have all you need to relax in these surroundings.

Our day was magical, exploring the Rio Claro from many different angles.  It began with a short but invigorating run along the river, the trail carrying you through stone paths, across wooden bridges, alongside huge rock formations and down onto small beaches beckoning you take a quick dip in the flowing waters of the Rio Claro.

Then we literally zipped across the river through the canopy of the forest surrounding the river enjoying the expansive overhead view of the terrain wishing that we could do it again and again.  Ending with a quiet but exciting rafting on the river itself, jossling over the rapids, cruising under the waterfalls, and of course taking a quick swim in refreshing water.

This place is used as a weekend retreat for the locals, visited by many young Colombians who want to enjoy the daily activities as well as bird watchers from around the world who want to get a firsthand view of what the forest has to offer in a more intimate manner.

We did manage to leave some traces in Rio Claro, our worries and pieces of our heart.

Beauty just around the corner…

We’ve been hiking the Paria Trail for very many years now, enjoying our treks with the rainforest on one side and the waves crashing on the north coast on the other side.  The pelicans and parrots accompanying us on our journey.  A lovely hike with its fair share of challenging inclines.  A trail well-travelled by many an adventure seeker.

And just like that, with a glint in her eye, one of our neighbours living on the trail let out a well-kept secret of a hidden waterfall nearby.  Not far off the trail.  Around some rocks.  Crossing a beach covered in pebbles.  Look to the right and follow the river.  And right there, without any fanfare, a small but pristine waterfall, welcomed us.

Happiness for any hiker.  Clear refreshing pool of water.  A gem found.  Just around the corner.

Turn your week around…

… with a midweek escape.

There are so many simple pleasures in life that we dismiss.  Not enough time.  Too much of an effort.  The weather isn’t so good. Maybe next week. 

Take this on as a challenge.  The next time you have an opportunity to do something different in the middle of the week. Jump at it.  It may turn your week upside down.  It may delay some of your deadlines.  And then again it may not.

I promise you that the time you spend will be rewarded with a great sense of appreciation, relaxation, and accomplishment.  For you would have done something out of the ordinary.  You would have shaken up your routine.  Your busyness will be put on hold for just one day.  And the rest of your week will fly by with a smirk on your face.

Go ahead, I dare you….

I am learning something new…

I am developing a new skill – the art of quilting. Yup – a crazy lady living in the tropics learning to make quilts – primarily used in temperate climates as a warm bed covering – according to google. Crazy maybe, but boy is she having fun. Thanks to the encouragement of a long-time friend whose talent can only be described as inspirational.

It’s a mind boggling thing – a quilt. You purchase yards of fabric, cut them up into small pieces and sew them back together again. My husband shakes his head at the process, but allows me my space as he has to admit that I am happiest in front of my sewing machine. Well let’s just say that it is one of my many happy places.

I learned to sew sitting next to my mom while she was at her machine, quite some years ago. She wasn’t meticulous about her sewing but the outcome was always good. Her advice was simply to measure twice and cut once. And when that didn’t work out so well, she quietly quelled my tears by assuring me that ‘every mistake is a fashion’ which has served me extremely well with my quilting.

I’ve joined a Facebook group entitled ‘Quilting‘ – a group of extremely talented, generous, inspiring and caring women and men who share the love of, you guessed it, quilting. It is a hobby for most and an income earner for others. It’s a space where you can share your successes and be applauded and what you consider to be failures and still be applauded, because as I’ve learned, there is no ugly quilt. It’s a space where you are encouraged to continue regardless, where getting advice is quicker than google and where you feel a great sense of belonging. You seriously ‘feel the love’ in this group.

Why didn’t I do this before? Well for me quilting takes time. You pretty much need to have nowhere to be and lots of time to get there, not to mention a whole lot of love for this art. So, here I am quilting to my heart’s content.

A baby quilt entitled ‘Trini Roots’ for my grand niece living in England

,

Nothing fancy…

Just to share the beauty of nature in its stages of new growth, peak of life and the aging process. How it coexists naturally to bring beauty and depth to our surroundings. Much the same way that families welcome their young, nurture their youth and cherish their elders – all coming together naturally and beautifully to ensure continuity of life.

Making the most…

So many times we talk about making the most of every day, every moment. I often wonder however what that really means and whether or not I am living a life of ‘making the most’.

There are moments filled with excitement, moments filled with anxiety, love, adventure, sorrow, sheer joy. Those moments filled with the good stuff should be easy to enjoy – and I even wonder if we actually do. And what about the other moments, where we are not sure what to do, where we become angry or are faced with challenges seemingly beyond our control. How do we make the most of those moments that we would rather they just disappear.

When you can make last minute decisions to spend time with family just because. When you can drop what you are doing and drive an hour to your favourite location on the coast and spend a few un-interrupted days with no specific agenda. When you can drop by a friend for a spur of the moment glass of wine. And those times when you can spend the day tucked away in your personal cave reading, watching videos, sewing, creating. When you have nowhere to be and lots of time to get there. Sure it’s easy to make the most.

I firmly believe though that making the most doesn’t depend on the amount of free time that you have – otherwise we would all be a lost cause. When you are disappointed – how do you make the most of that moment. When you are angry, sad, lonely – how do you make the most of those times in your life. How do you make the most of the times you’d rather forget. Moments that probably make up a very large percentage of this short life we have on earth.

If I’ve learned anything in my plus 44+ years, it’s your attitude that pulls you through every single time. It’s the choice that you make every single moment of the day to keep looking forward, to seek the silver lining, to do what you can to fix those undesirable moments, if you can – and if you can’t, you need to work hard to accept those moments and carry on regardless.

It’s not easy to make the most of every moment of our life, but it certainly is worth the try.