Instead of packages under the tree, this year we decided to take our children along with their grandfather to visit Colombia, their grandfather's homeland. It was a dream vacation. The kids met the South American branch of the family who embraced us with enthusiasm and warmth. At our first event, great aunts and uncles literally pulled us into conga lines of dancing. From then on, it was one big bouncy lovefest. We are all glowing.
Our first day, we joined pilgrims and tourists making the steep trek up to Monserrate (10,341 ft.) where Christmas Day services were held in the lovely open air Catholic church. Many Colombians wept as they ascended towards the peak.
Yes, those are skyscrapers we are looking down upon. Bogotá, a city of nine million, sits in a bowl surrounded by the lush green Andes mountains. This is their summer, but the climate is cool and often rainy. At night, it gets quite chilly.
A few things were ubiquitous in Bogotá: street vendors selling anything and everything, graffiti, and stray dogs. (Do you see the doggy peeking out of the door slat in the photo above?) The dogs were never aggressive and seemed to be well cared for. We fell in love with one in particular who followed us on a long day hike. She had just birthed a litter of puppies and maybe she needed a break from the kids. Maybe she was hungry. But she was our companion for the day and enjoyed our snacks.
The beauty and bounty of nature bursts out everywhere, even on crowded city streets. You can see in the photo above how a local craftsman fashions intricate toy grasshoppers out of a single strand of reed. My father-in-law loved shopping the market. He never haggled over a price, and when I asked him about that, he said that the money meant much more to the vendor than it did to him. He was happy to pay the price they asked.
On Bolívar Plaza (above) in central Bogotá, 16th-century churches share real estate with pigeons, llamas and little girls in tutus. Speaking of Simón Bolivar, we saw his likeness in marble or granite in many public places. And no wonder. He is a revered liberator whose stature is akin to our own Abraham Lincoln. I loved seeing a young Colombian boy tracing a quote. We also saw Gabriel Garcia Marquez sets of volumes everywhere. But c'mon, One Hundred Years of Solitude, my eye! History is never far away in Colombia.
To escape city life, Bogotanos go in search of "tierra caliente" which is the region outside the city, lower in altitude and therefore considerably warmer. The vegetation is jungly, lush, and wet yet dry because of the altitude. Strangely, we saw few bugs.
To get to those altitudes, we hired a driver, Mario, whom my family is convinced is South America's Agent 007. He hiked with us, in a suit, and never broke a sweat. While scaling rocks and jumping over streams, he talked about his grandchildren and his favorite hobby, competitive biking. And what a gentleman. When I got fatigued, he leant a hand or made sure my footing was good. Back in the van, he praised me for keeping up, telling me that I was muy fuerte.
We enjoyed some amazing places that, in our minds, rivaled the beauty and grandeur of the Grand Canyon and Yosemite. The "Cloud Forest" of Chicaque and the Cascada de la Chorerra, Colombia's highest waterfall were awe-inspiring. I found myself singing John Denver's words, "Life is old here, older than the trees. Younger than the mountains, growin' like the breeze."
Of course I found as much charm in the lodges erected inside these parks as everyone else found in the wild. Plus, the food was delicious. My favorite was the ajiaco, a traditional Colombian soup made of potatoes and chicken with a big fat cob of corn stuck in the middle and a plateful of fresh garnishes like avocado, banana, rice, capers, and sour cream. Soul food!
We are home one week now, and continue to count our blessings for a beautiful adventure together in a land that calls us to come back again sometime soon.