Sunday, December 1, 2019

We are Returning to Colombia ... And Why You Should Join Us

The freezing temps a few weeks ago had us thinking about Spring ... that is, about the ''City of Eternal Spring'', Medellín. This coming January, we will put Baby Beest into storage and once again, board a plane to Colombia, South America. Our plan at this time is to spend two months in Colombia's second largest city and use the rest of the time exploring a couple of smaller pueblos in the Zona Cafetera (Colombia's coffee country). We were blessed to get to know some amazing ''paisas'' when we visited last year, and we are excited to see them again!

We have rented a two-bedroom apartment in our favorite part of town, El Poblado. I had originally wanted to find something a little further away from the ''touristy'' part of town, but we decided that we liked being close to the shops, restaurants, and people that we got to know last year. The description of our apartment mentions ''penthouse'', so we are hoping for great views of the city. 

Since we will be renting an apartment with two bedrooms, there will be room for guests ... and we are hoping that some of our adventurous family and friends will join us. 

Imagine starting your vacation morning
with a cup of Colombia's best coffee!
I will have to work on perfecting the ''heart'' design ...

or just take you to a cute café down the street.

Is Medellín on your travel bucket-list? Let us tell you why it should be!

The Perfect Climate

With a year-round average high temp of 82 degrees and average low temp of 62 degrees, every day is a beautiful day in Medellín. Flowers are in constant bloom amidst the greenery of the bushes and trees. Being close to the equator, there is twelve hours of daylight all year long ... maybe not so great during our summer, but it sure beats the nine hours that North America gets during the winter. Because it is considered a tropical rain-forest climate, there can be brief showers that pop up (usually in the afternoon), so it's a good idea to always have an umbrella.

Be Smart and You Should Be Safe

Colombia was once considered one of the most dangerous countries to travel to. In recent years, it has undergone a positive transformation. That being said, Colombia receives a mixed rating as far as safety goes. There are areas that are still considered high risk, but be smart, and you should be safe. It is a good idea to ''blend in'' with the natives, thus we try to dress like the locals. So leave your flip-flops and shorts at home. Despite the warm temps, everyone wears long pants and tennis shoes everyday. They also all carry back packs in order to keep their belongings secure. There is a local saying ''no dar papaya¨ which means: don't put yourself in a situation in which you can become vulnerable to being taken advantage of. 

Relatively Inexpensive

At $30/night, our Airbnb apartment (being in one of the nicest parts of town) is considered expensive for Medellín, but it is comparable to what we would be paying per night for a campsite in the US. We found out quickly that while imported goods can be expensive, the local food prepared in the restaurants and cafes is very reasonably priced. Our Friday ''date night'' dessert of carrot cake, cheese cake and two of Colombia's best cups of coffee set Doug back a whopping $6.18 including tax and tip. If you are flexible with your dates and not too fussy about the airline, you can find a round-trip flight for $300 to $400. Spirit Airlines has worked well for us in the past. 

Easy to Get Around

To get almost anywhere in Medellín, hop on the convenient and inexpensive Metro train or Metrocable cars. On every visitor's ''must do'' list ... A Metrocable excursion up the mountainside to Arvi Parque for magnificent views of the city below. Buses, cabs, and Uber are also inexpensive and safe travel alternatives. But let's face it ... with Medellín's perfect weather, it is a pleasure to just walk to nearby shopping, restaurants, and attractions. And speaking of attractions ...

There is Lots to See and Do

Start with the free city tour and learn the story of Medellín's troubled past and hopeful future.

Do some souvenir shopping at any of the many malls, farmer's markets, or sidewalk merchants that line every street.

Tour a castle, enjoy some beautiful gardens and views, and test out your Spanish skills ... I challenge you to try to follow along with the fast-speaking guides.

Board a bus for Guatapé to tour the colorful pueblo and climb Piedra del Peñol for magnificent views of the surrounding reservoir. Day trips like this will set you back about $25 for the bus ride, two meals, and a knowledgeable guide ... who may or may not speak a lot of English. Time to polish up that rusty high school Spanish!

Take a guided Comuna 13 tour. The positive transformation of this neighborhood is shown in the graffiti art on the walls and in the smiles of the guides who are so proud to show off their community.

Once again, you may need to know a little Spanish, so how about just admitting that you have forgotten all of your high school Spanish and take Spanish classes? We attended Toucan Spanish School and were very impressed with their week-long classes as well as their amazing coffee.

If you aren't ready to spend a week of your vacation at ''school'', practice your Spanish at one of the many language exchanges that occur most evenings in cafes around the city. We met so many wonderful young people wanting to practice their English skills. They are always happy to hear a Minnesota accent (you betcha), so I sometimes got through the whole evening without having to admit how poor my conversational Spanish is.

Learn to shop for and cook a traditional Colombian meal. While the popular deep-fried patacones and empanadas were not our favorite, we did enjoy learning to make arepas (the typical Colombian corn bread) to go along with the Sancocho (chicken stew) at a local cooking class. Just be prepared, Colombian food is quite bland, so BYOS (bring your own spices).

On Sunday morning you can join the hundreds of walkers, joggers, and cyclists as they take over the streets for a morning of exercise and family/friend time. Ciclovia is one of many government initiatives to promote health and community.

Other Tempting Reasons to Visit Medellín

Plentiful, delicious
and inexpensive fresh fruits ...
... that provide the main
ingredients for delicious smoothies!
A walk through the Botanical Garden
followed by a delicious lunch
at the garden's restaurant, In Situ!
Colorful flowers ...
... and  colorful urban paintings
everywhere you look!
Airport taxi drivers who will
quickly become your friend.
Smiles that will leave a
permanent mark in your heart.
Friends who are excited to show you
the many reasons why

we are returning to Colombia ...
and why you should join us!

Intrigued?? Message us to learn more ...

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Habitat for Humanity Build #16: Fredericksburg, Texas

We were excited ... a Habitat for Humanity Care-a-Vanner build in the beautiful and still unexplored Hill Country of Texas in early November!

It will be sunny and warm!

... or not!

A series of frosty mornings and rainy days slowed the build schedule slightly, but it could not put a damper on the smiles of Chris, Veronica, and their four children as they watched the walls of their future home go up.

And their smiles were contagious.

Taking advantage of the few sunny days, we were able to ...

study plans,


and raise walls.

It was once again a learning experience for me, but I was happy to be able to apply a lot of the ''framing skills'' that I picked up in Las Cruces. 

Like operating the chop saw,

handling the nail gun,

and making ''works of art'' out of
insulating foam.

But my greatest feat was organizing the local affiliate's tool trailer.
Look how pretty it is!

Living in a small van, I have gotten pretty good at ... ''a place for everything and everything in its place''!

But quite a few of my ''jobs'' didn't actually require all that much skill ... I was pretty awesome at holding up the walls until they got nailed into place,

... and being Doug's personal assistant who kept track of the pieces of wood after he cut them.

We made great progress in between the rain showers and the freezing temps. For despite the harsh temps, the sharing of building skills and smiles amongst all the Care-a-Vanners warmed us all.

Once again, a talented group of Care-a-Vanners was able to work together to raise walls and raise hope for a brighter future for another deserving family.

Caleb (14 months), me, future homeowners Chris and Veronica,
Ian (12), Lexi (7),  and Gabriel (4)

At our final get-together, we were each presented with a beautiful granite cross like the one I am holding. It was handmade by future homeowner Chris and given to each of us as a ''thank you''.

It will be cherished as a beautiful reminder of the warm blessing of friendship that welcomes us during each of our Habitat for Humanity builds.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Back to the Basics of Love in Luckenbach, Texas

It's November ... We are in southern Texas ... And yes, we are wearing our down-filled winter jackets.

Layered up for a day at the Habitat build site.
Thankfully, working under the Texas sunshine quickly warmed us up!

A couple of strong cold fronts producing rain and freezing temps over the past two weeks have not only shortened some of our Habitat build days, but also prompted Doug to figure out how to ''winterize'' Baby Beest. On the bright side, it also gave us extra time to check out the Hill Country around Fredericksburg, Texas.

Fredericksburg, we found out, is the hometown of this handsome and skilled Fleet admiral Chester W Nimitz. Nimitz lead the Allied air, land, and sea forces in the Pacific during World War II, so it is no surprise that the National Museum of the Pacific War is located here. We visited this all-encompassing museum one rainy afternoon with our friends, Joanne and Gary. The tremendous amount of ''history'' overwhelmed our non-history loving partners, Joanne and Doug a bit. Gary and I, however, were easily drawn into the stories of the personalities, strategies, and battles that eventually brought about an Allied victory. 

Joanne was very patient as we delved into
the battles of Midway, Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima.

During this Veteran's Day week, it is important to remember and celebrate the ''uncommon valor'' that is seen in every one of our country's dedicated veterans!

One other local site caught my eye and made me think ... where had I heard the name of that town before??? 

Being a fan of classic rock of the 70s and 80s, I recalled a country crossover hit by that name. See if you remember ...

This #1 Country Hit from 1977 pushed Luckenbach, Texas, a tiny ''widening in the road'' located 13 miles from Fredericksburg, into the national limelight. A virtual ghost town, this 9,000 acre community was bought by two investors in 1970. The property had two buildings ... a combo post office/general store/saloon and a dance hall which the new owners used to host many unique musical events.

The success of Waylon Jennings' song secured Luckenbach a place in country music history and made it a tourist destination where ''Everybody's Somebody in Luckenbach''.

So, ''Let's go to Luckenbach Texas'',

to check out if they are selling anything
that we can't live without,
 or just stretch out and relax by the
warm fireplace,
and enjoy some impromptu
country music performances.

We are happy that we could ''Get Back to the Basics of Love'' when we were faced with another cold, rainy afternoon. Because ''in Luckenbach, Texas there ain't nobody feelin' no pain'' when hanging out with good friends!