Traditions and rituals surround the Colombian New Year. Yellow panties hang in storefronts, grapes are stocked high near the check out counters of large shopping centers, and families gather together to celebrate. The Ano Viejo doll is my favorite Colombian new year tradition.
In preparation for the new year, some Colombians create effigies to burn at midnight. The dolls can be small and purchased from a store or, like many we saw around the city, life-sized and made from old clothes, newspaper, and straw. The idea is simple: in addition to making good wishes and goals for the upcoming year, you also write down 12 burdens you want to let go of and burn them with the doll. As we walked though the streets we looked at the dolls while wondering curiously about the written histories that were about to be burned in celebration of the year to come.
I usually make a New Years Resolution list but my life-changing goals typically only last around a month or two before old habits fracture and dissolve my good intentions. It was getting close to midnight, so we all grabbed pens and started scribbling down hopes, dreams, goals, regrets, unwanted vices, and burdens - and tucked them into the jean pocket of a small doll my friend had purchased. We ran outside and started the countdown, as the final seconds rang we ate 12 grapes, cheered to the new year, and lit his shirt on fire.
We spent the rest of the holiday break enjoying our time off with very little planned. Callie's brother Jake joined us in town and sang to us daily as we continued our travels. We spent a day in Pance - this time without our packs - and explored the town on three borrowed horses with our friend Sasha. She had told us that these were the three friendliest horses in town, although admittedly not the fastest. We rode up dirt pathways and saw community members slowly building the worn path into a road. The materials were gathered from nearby farms and hauled by hand, mule, and horse up the steep hillsides for the construction project. Sasha said that the strongest people she knows lived in this town, including a woman in her 80's who hiked these routes without help to get to town from her home.
My horse, Handsome, was eager to move and we trotted upwards. I could hear Jake coaxing his horse to move between verses of humming and singing.
As we sat down to grab lunch, a kitten joined our table begging with blue marble eyes. Aaron picked up the kitty and with one look he commented that it was time to expand his and Callie's family to three. Callie joked about the look, but also joked that she was sure Aaron was going to bring a cat home any day (a few weeks later, he did).
The last leg our our journey took us to Salento, a well traveled area for backpackers and other foreign tourists in the Andean mountains. We hopped from one packed bus to another making sure that we would make it to town that day. After 30 minutes in stalled traffic we took the final few miles to our hostel on foot. The town was packed, not only was this a popular tourist destination, but we came to town on a festival weekend. We met up with friends, grabbed a little food, and Aaron introduced us to his favorite game: Tejo.
In Tejo, the object of the game is to throw a chunk of lead at a metal ring positioned in the middle of a pit of clay with four small paper triangle packets of gunpowder. Points are awarded for the way the tejo sticks in the clay, and if you can get the gunpowder to explode in a sharp pop. The game was wickidly fun. I threw lazy handed, and Aaron won the game.
In the morning, we arranged for a jeep to pick up our group an drive to the Valle de Cocora. As we hopped in to the jeep, we looked around and everyone already had their cameras pulled out. We split the car into Team Canon and Team Nikon with a simple competition: The best photo from the day will win - and the winner will get a free beer. We all smiled and started clicking away.
The Valle de Cocora is a region with the last remaining Quindío Wax Palms. The area is highly respected and people travel great distances to see the palms. Our hike began along a small cattle ranch along a rolling hillside which brought us to a small sanctuary for humming birds. We took a break to watch the bright birds zip to and from trays of sweet water. Afterwards, we continued on to a small home where we ordered the specialty of hot chocolate with queso fresco, cheese.
The day was hot, and we were feeling tired, however, we continued on while being constantly amazed at how beautiful the views really were. A deep valley cut down from our trail and as we descended, we stared up at the towering palms swaying above us. Our shutters clicked constantly until, one by one, we all sat down to take the time to appreciate the area. I watched an endangered yellow-eared green parrot pivot around the wax palm he was perched on long enough to see shadows move across our bodies like a series of giant sundials.
Later that night, we compared photos and instead of being overly competitive, we laughed, smiled, and chose the winner : Golnar, with her beautiful image of the palms, of course.
The next day we walked to the nearby Finca Las Brisas, Cafe Don Elias.
This coffee finca was small, locally owned and operated for generations. The grandson led us through the farm to show us their sustainable growing methods. Plantains and banana trees provided the coffee plants shade, water in drought, and mulched fertilizer. Pineapple plants were scattered throughout the finca to attract pests as the insects preferred the sweet pineapple leaves to the bitter coffee leaves.
We toured the hillside of their property and were guided through the sustainable coffee harvesting process.
Small batches of red and yellow coffee cherries were picked, hulled, air dried in a small greenhouse, and roasted. A dented pot over a wood fireplace roasted one of the best tasting cups of coffee I have ever had. I relished this cup of coffee with friends and tried avoiding thinking forward to the office coffee machine that would serve me burnt coffee in two days. I snapped myself back to our time together. We ate well the rest of the day and shopped in town square after most of the festivities ended.
The next day we said our goodbyes. We hugged, promised to see each other again soon, hugged again and went along our separate ways. Callie and her brother had another journey ahead. Aaron and I caught a few buses back to Cali where we ended the trip in a manner respectful of our college days together. Pizza, beer, and an action flick.
Aaron called a cab for me, when I got to the airport the poor woman at the ticket counter had to radio me an interpreter so that I could get a tax exempt stamp before my flight - I had yet to perfect my Spanish, and 20 hours later I was home. Another hug from my Aaron, a comfortable bed, and a few hours of sleep was the only separation from my trip and my first day back at work.
The feeling after a trip is always odd, you have changed but the life that you return to has not. Callie's first word for me Tranquilo was sliding through my hands, but I hoped to hold on to that mentality just a little longer. Life is a matter of perspective after all, and you can bring with you the wonderful experiences gained to you everyday life.