Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Summer of Love

I've dubbed summer of 2015 "The Summer of Love".  Jarrod and I have attended 3 weddings in the past 5 weeks, uniting people who are very dear to us. From a vintage circus wedding, to a mountain-top ceremony, to a barefoot beach wedding, they have all been unique and full of each couple's personality. 

We are finishing this crazy Summer of Love with my sister's beach wedding in Ocean Isle, North Carolina. The event has brought together family from all sides, from all different parts of the U.S. We have spent the last week being beach bums while visiting with family we rarely get to see since we live so far from everyone in the southwest corner of Colorado. 

Friends who don't know my sister have asked me why she decided to get married in North Carolina. "Why doesn't she have her wedding here, in the beautiful Colorado mountains?"  They obviously don't know my sister. She and I couldn't be more different.  While I am the adventurous mountain girl at heart, she is the sit-back-and-relax beach girl, all the way. 

Our mom and dad grew up near the beach on the east coast (Florida and South Carolina, respectively) before moving to Colorado. My mom likes to say that I inherited her "mountain side" and my sister, her "beach side". It's true that my mom loves and feels at ease in both environments, while my sister is out of her element in the mountains and I am out of mine on the beach. 

It's pretty funny when I think about our differences. One summer in college I backpacked the 470 mile Colorado Trail, hiking all day and camping out every night for 6 weeks. I have such great memories from that trip. My sister can't understand why I would put myself through "such misery for 6 whole weeks". She hasn't been camping since we were kids and to her the idea of it sounds like a dirty and uncomfortable waste of energy. "Why would you sleep on the ground with bugs and bears(!) and get dirt under your nails when you could be safe and cozy with all your amenities at home or in a hotel?" I've given up trying to explain why to her. This is just one of the many things that make us different.

So why a beach wedding? She loves the water and hot sun, especially if she has a clean house to retreat to when she's not working on her tan and socializing. (And she has a killer tan, by the way). She spends most summer days with her girls at the community pool where they live in Parker, CO. Our beach house that we rented on Ocean Isle was her idea of paradise: we could walk right out the back door to the beach, and when we were ready to rid the sand from our feet (which she admitted she didn't like) the beach house was right there and it was easy to rinse off. Then we could get another cold drink and find a nice chair on the patio to relax in. 

My adventurous spirit and yearning to explore makes it difficult for me to sit around for too long, although good company and a tasty drink helps me to adapt.  It was too hot to be much more active and besides, I already had two blisters on my toes from attempting an early morning beach run. My energetic nieces did lure me into the water but with all the recent shark attacks we were hesitant to go in past our knees. We jumped over the waves and got thrashed around by the powerful tide. (Todd, Jarrod and the girls lasted much longer than I did and paid the price with sea shell rug burn all over their bodies). 

I do agree with the "When in Rome" frame of mind so I went ahead and poured myself hefty glasses of Sauvignon Blanc and joined my family on the beach, letting the hot sun tan my skin. It wasn't so bad. ;) 
Having so many kids around also provided ample entertainment. We had a glow stick dance-off, sea shell show-and-tell, a game of charades and hermit crab adoptions. On our last night, while dancing to Pheryl Williams "Happy", my nieces even convinced me to do the worm dance.

I enjoyed the storms that blasted through in the evenings, lighting up the sky and blowing down anything that came in its way. The roar of thunder, black skies and howling wind put our Colorado monsoons to shame.  One evening during a storm, a group of us sat out on the screened in porch and tossed a beach ball back forth. It seemed to have a mind of its own with the powerful wind whirling through. I challenged anyone to knock over my margarita that I made too sweet. It took about a half hour before my step dad finally hit the beach ball so hard with the wind on his side that my glass drink flew right off the table, spilling its contents while staying intact. We all cheered and then were quickly hushed by the moms with babies sleeping inside. (My sister being one of them). More family joined us and we stayed up chatting and catching up after not seeing some of them for more than 10 years. So much has changed and so much has stayed the same. I looked over at my little cousin Katie, now 27, and thought about the times when we stayed at the Florida lake house with our Papal (my mom's father). He would let us drive his big boat (she must have been as young as 5 and me 9) and we would ride in the tube behind the boat, giving a thumbs up to go faster. One time, we were told, an alligator followed close behind us as the boat went through a "slow zone". She seems so grown up now, but I guess we all do. 

All of our cousins on our dad's side of the family have kids (and they all happen to be girls).  Now Rachel and Todd have three girls of their own: "His, hers and theirs".
One evening as the sun was setting, I went for a walk on the beach with Jarrod and our eight year old niece, Kalei. She had an idea to play "the silent game". For a few minutes the three of us were silent, communicating with each other with gestures and stifling our laughter. Suddenly, she stopped and picked up a stick to write in the sand, "Toddy and Mommy" and she drew a heart around their names. I broke the silence and asked her if this made her happy. She smiled and nodded yes. Then she held each of our hands and we walked back toward the beach house, swinging her between us as we used to when she was smaller. It was one of those magical moments that you want to hold onto forever. 

I know it's not traditional for the bride and groom to have two kids and a baby; But seeing them all together seems so natural that I can't imagine it any other way. It's great to see how much Rachel and Todd love spending time with their kids. In fact, they were hesitant to be away from them on their wedding night, even with family readily available to babysit. They are so used to doing things together as a family and they like it that way. Their marriage has brought them closer together, like pieces of a puzzle. 

This brings up another big difference between my sister and I: while she now has a family of five with an eleven year old, an eight year old and an eleven month old, Jarrod and I have no children of our own, and live a very different lifestyle. 

I think that my sister and I secretly love our differences. What fun would it be if we were the same? Even though she is by far the more sassy one and I am the sweet one, she can be quite sweet and I can be quite sassy. As we reach new milestones in life we can appreciate our differences, learn from each other and actually grow closer. 

This post is dedicated to my sister Rachel and my new brother-in-law Todd and to their three girls; my lovely nieces Morgan, Kalei and Taylor. I am so happy for you and couldn't love you more. 

Note: These are just a few photos from the wedding. More from family and friends can be found (and added to) Wedding name is RachelToddFiwek.

Also, here is a look at the professional photos from the wedding:
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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Adventures along the Caribbean in Colombia and Reuniting with Old Friends

The nice thing about returning to a place where you've been before, is that things are more familiar and the return trip seems to go much smoother. If you're lucky, maybe you made a few friends on your first trip and have someone to visit when you go back again.

This second trip to Colombia was all about visiting old friends and I felt comfortable and relaxed traveling solo to a not-so-foreign place.

Roland was kind enough to take some time away from his hostel to show me around his neck of the woods in the in northern Colombia, along the Caribbean. We hiked up from his town of Palomino into the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, visiting with local Kogui people - his neighbors and friends - along the way.  We walked along a dirt road that narrowed into a footpath, which became a strenuous hiking trail. People who live up here (mostly natives) rely on the land to survive and make trips into town with horses and mules to sell produce, coffee, butter and handwoven bags along the highway.  We passed families who were all making this trek down into town. It was clear that everyone had a role, even small children who helped carry things down or steer a horse. Roland and I were going in the opposite direction, away from town and up into the hills to take in the beauty of the river. To escape the heat of the day, visitors can go tubing down the calm waters and it eventually spits you out into the ocean.

Another day we hiked into Parque Tayrona, a National Park along some of Colombia's most beautiful coastline. The entrance is half way between Santa Marta and Palomino, so either of these places is a good jumping off point for visiting the park. We went with a girl visiting from Belgium as well as a local Palomino girl who lives at his hostel. It was a full day adventure, with a hilly five mile hike in to reach beautiful beach coves, which made for a refreshing swim before hiking back to reach the car by sundown. A lot of people backpack in and camp inside the park. If you do this, I recommend packing light and realize that you will be sleeping in a tent next to lots of other people. The views are incredible though. 

A red flag marks dangerous, forceful water where swimming is prohibited.

Crowded campground inside the park

No cars can reach this point but venders manage to carry in jewelry and other items to sell

Another nice spot to visit is Minca, a mountainous little coffee growing town, just up the hill from the coastal city of Santa Marta. This is definitely worth a visit and its 2100ft elevation is a breath of fresh air after spending time on the hot and humid coastline. We stayed at Casa Loma, which can only be reached by climbing up about 400 steps from town, but the view from the top is worth it. The British owner, Jay, is a friend of Roland's and welcomed us in like family. 

Casa Loma has a tree-house-like feel to it

After hauling our bags up the 400 or so steps a cold Aguila (Colombian brew) was a nice way to cool off and take in our surroundings.

View from the hostel
The next couple of days were spent hiking to waterfalls, tasting the local coffee, happy hour on a recently built deck above the hostel and delicious vegetarian dinners with other guests at the outdoor communal tables. 

Iguana just hangin' out in a tree

Casa Loma is a wifi-free zone, but there is an outlet mounted into a tree for charging your devices!
Roland on a business call

Safe(?) river crossing

A little "cafe" (which was really just someone's house) with Garfield at the entrance to greet us

The time went by quickly and before I knew it, I was saying goodbye to Roland and was on a flight to Bogota. (Viva Colombia offers cheap domestic flights which are faster and often cheaper than taking a long bus ride). From Bogota I took a 4 hour bus ride back to my beloved town of Villa de Leyva, where I volunteered a couple of years ago at the Colombian Highlands hostel. The rest of Roland's family lives and works at the hostel and this is where I met Roland and several other locals who became friends during the 5 weeks I spent there. 

Other than Roland's brother Oscar who owns the hostel, I hadn't talked to anyone in Villa to tell them I was coming. Since Oscar was out of town and I had nobodies phone number, I arrived in my familiar town feeling like any other visitor: I knew no one. Not a problem; Villa is a small town with a big central plaza where most people congregate in the evenings. As soon as I arrived at the hostel I dropped my bags and walked straight down to the plaza. I decided to get a beer and sit on a bench in the plaza to wait until I saw someone I knew. 

My plan worked! I hadn't even finished my beer before I heard my name from a familiar voice with a middle-eastern accent. "Tracy?!" It was Ali! Oscar's brother-in-law! He heard that I would be coming but wasn't sure when. Right away we decided to go to dinner to catch up (I love how people live for the moment here).  As we were walking down the cobblestone road I asked him about Mauricio, the wine maker. Just then Mauricio approached us from the opposite direction, completely surprised to see me. We all chatted for a bit and made plans to go biking and visit Mauricio's new apartment/winery in a couple days. 
The rest of my time in Villa fell in place just like that. I connected with old friends, made new ones and by the end wasn't ready to leave.

Lunch with Ali after picking out delicious produce at the farmer's market

Avocados come in a variety of sizes in Colombia

Reunited with my little friend Carolina at the hostel

Finally visited the crazy clay house in town

Henry, the bike shop owner, was still wearing the "Si Se Puede" bracelet that I gave to him 2 years ago

Fernando Botero, the talented artist and one of the kindest people I have ever met, surprised me in the plaza with a bread loaf full of flowers

Last night in Villa, sipping on Mauricio's delicious wine at the Enoteca.

My return flight to the states was from the beautiful city of Medellin, Colombia. I am so enamored with the art of "The Other Fernando Botero" who lives in Villa de Leyva, that I decided to pay a visit to the more famous Fernando Botero. Known for his inflated sculptures and painted figures with works all over the world, he is originally from Medellin. My hotel happened to be across the street from the Botero park and museum.
There are over 23 bronze sculptures outside in the park, for all of the public to enjoy.

Perhaps voluptuous Colombian women are a source of his inspiration? 

The park/plaza is a nice escape from the busy city streets, and gave me something interesting to do while waiting for my bus to the airport. 

Goodbye for now Colombia. I will return again.