Walking for exercise

We recently bought a treadmill. It’s for me, really, because Edwin uses the treadmill at the gym at which he is a regular and dedicated member.

When I announced this purchase at work, one of my colleagues laughed and told me it would end up being a giant clothes hanger and why didn’t I just walk outside. Why indeed? I’ve never even remotely considered buying a treadmill before as I’ve always gone for walks in the great outdoors on walking trails or isolated river tracks near my childhood home, so what is different now?

Well, you see Bogota isn’t exactly a city made for people who like to walk for exercise. There are lots of parks, playgrounds and green spaces (depending to a degree on where you live) but there are not many easily accessible trails you can walk or jog around on an everyday basis. Driving to a trail is out of the question given the hideous traffic and lack of parking that Bogota is notorious for, and walking around in the streets is a surefire way to either get frustrated at not being able to cross streets or wind up getting hit by a car. I guess many people have a gym membership, however I felt that getting a gym membership just to walk on the treadmill was, for me, a guaranteed way to never use it.

Today, Good Friday, dawns and unlike spending my Holy Thursday holiday in my pyjamas reading books and organising my wardrobe, I write a to do list, topped with “Get on treadmill”. Probably a good idea given that it has sat, unused and collecting dust, at the foot of my bed for the good part of a week.

However it is too nice a day to stay inside our apartment praying that the narrow windows will let in some soft breeze along with the sunshine and views of blue sky. So I look to Google Maps to help me find somewhere green I can walk to and around. I’m open minded to try anything really, as there is hardly any traffic after the mass exodus of Bogotanos to celebrate Easter outside of the city. Then I see the Rio Molinos with strips of green along the sides. It’s not far from our apartment, so I decide that I can do a loop of it between Carrera 11 and the Autopista.

It’s the best idea I’ve had in a long time.

You would hardly call Rio Molinos a river. It is a typical Bogota river, a cemented aqueduct that is stagnant and stinky like a sewer. But after the smell stops bothering you, the beauty of the trail begins to emerge and gives you a perk in your step. The river is lined with many trees, some flowering, some providing shade, playgrounds and grassy nooks, there are even bottlebrushes with their red flowers coming out and reminding me of home. It’s quiet. Being in the middle of a peaceful residential area there is very little traffic around, although crossing the Carreras 15 and 19 are still a bit challenging even on a quiet traffic day without a convenient pedestrian crossing nearby.

Fifteen minutes into my walk and I’m planning when I can get here next. I fall in love with Bogota all over again. I feel an energy and lightness enter me. The barnacles of the everyday frustrations of this city release their hold on me and I’m smiling. I have an extra bounce in my step, the air sucks deeper into my lungs and the vitamin D leaches into my skin.

Even though the Rio Molinos is ugly and in no way compares with the magnificent Murray River I grew up alongside, today Bogota has given me an extraordinary gift, and has proven me wrong in thinking I needed a treadmill to get exercise by walking here in this city.

Out of place in Ciclovia

Sunday Ciclovia in Bogota
Sunday Ciclovia in Bogota

Bogota is blessing us with continued beautiful summery weather, which makes Sunday Ciclovia even more enticing for people, although today I felt rather out of place.

You see Ciclovia has a dress code. Ciclovia activities – walking, running, bike riding, rollerblading, skateboarding – are all categorised as sports, so you must wear sportsgear. It is expected that you will be decked out head to toe in matching attire. Your runners will match the colours in your lycra leggings and the top you wear. Anything else is not acceptable. Like, for example, my outfit of denim shorts, singlet and thongs (the Australian definition).

A couple of weeks ago I got incredibly burnt on the Ciclovia (even despite sunscreen applications). The backs of my hands were red for days and I still have a very pronounced t-shirt line. I didn’t want to get burnt today, but I wanted to spend some time outside, so my idea was to ride to a nearby park where we could buy a coffee and sit and relax (in the shade) outside on the grass. While the boys took a soccer ball and frisbee along, I had a book with me. Hardly categorising as a sweat-raising sport for me.

Edwin gave me funny looks when I refused to put sneakers on and when I didn’t pull out the lycra leggings. He tried to reinforce that we were going to Ciclovia, his stress on the words confirming the association between Ciclovia and sports. He still didn’t get it when I said that my bike was a mode of transport to get me to our destination of the park.

As I cruised along on my non-sporty bike with a non-sporty hat on, I was surrounded by Bogotanos who clearly haven’t understood that the weather is hot as they were riding and running in long pants and long-sleeved sports zip ups. I sat tall in my seat, soaking it all in and received a passing remark from another cyclist who said “You look very elegant riding with that hat on.”

It made me wonder if one of the barriers to more Bogotanos using bikes to get to work and other places is because the bike is seen as a sporting accessory, not as a mode of transport.

 

 

The Photo Vault: Millewa Pioneer Village

 

Millewa Pioneer Village

Millewa Pioneer Village, Victoria, Australia, 2006

A journalist friend of mine had a story to file about an open day at the Millewa Pioneer Park in Meringur, a tiny town about an hour or so from Mildura, so she invited me along for the day. I was very involved in my community, and this is just one of the types of things that would fill up my weekends.

The Millewa Pioneer Village is a site where a collection of buildings and vintage farm implements, show what life as a farming pioneer in the olden days was like. There is a good collection of history and displays that while interesting, also show the decline in population that is is an important issue in rural Australia.

The population drain on rural and regional Australia isn´t just the young people being drawn to the bright lights of the cities for study and work, but is also a result of changing farm practices, technological advances in agriculture and economics. In order to make a living, farms are bigger than they were when the settlers arrived to farm their parcel of land. Over the years farms have been consolidated, and what was once a viable farm for a family and their grown children also working the farm, no longer provides a living for just one family. So as a result of the growing farm sizes to support a family, the population in these rural areas has declined to reflect this change.

It´s a difficult issue because services that were once available, also become unviable. But one of the beautiful things about rural communities is their spirit and their tenacity. The open day was a success and many people came out to support the day, not just locals, but people from Mildura and other small towns.

I miss my community. I miss being involved in activities and events that make my hometown a better place. I miss the friendships and acquaintances I have there and I miss bumping into people I know and having a little chat truly caring about what they are up to. I haven´t yet found a way of carving out my own community here in Santa Marta, and perhaps that is another factor making me feel rootless at the moment. But this photo, of the mallee scrub, with a gorgeous flowering gum and the iconic corrugated iron water tank makes me feel that my community will always be there, waiting for me to return.

The Photo Vault is where I will be sharing my favourite photos (and their stories) that deserve better than being lost in the depths of my iPhoto never to be shared.

Marinka Waterfalls – Minca

It’s amazing what you’ll find if you follow some random road.

Mi novio is in love with our motorbike and so when we had a Sunday with no plans, he suggested a trip to the beach. Being smack bang in the middle of high season with the beaches jammed with visitors and locals making a paseo, I suggested we head for the hills instead. So we set off in the direction of Minca.

On the ride uphill we passed a number of balnearios, or swimming holes in the river that are much like your local swimming pool. Some have been fortified with concrete and have restaurants and bars. All have loud vallenato music blaring and so it’s best to press on to find nature at its best.

Minca is a lovely and tiny town in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and sits at about 600m above sea level. The climate is fresh and the area abounds with coffee farms, forest and bird watching. If you’re looking for a place to chill out, Minca certainly offers that.

After crossing the bridge over the Minca River, we took the road to right and rode past the church and a few small market stalls set up under the trees. At the end of the strip of buildings, the road continued and was paved – or rather the two tyre ruts were paved. I asked mi novio what was up ahead and he didn’t know, so we decided to find out. We followed a 4WD ute with a bunch of Colombians in the back for a while and as the road got steep, bumpy (and unpaved) and too much for our little scooter with 2 passengers, we passed a group of people on foot. Clearly there was something worth seeing up ahead, but what, we had no idea so we asked. It turned out there were waterfalls.

I am a sucker for waterfalls. I really love them. Mi novio had no choice but to continue and I had no choice but to get off and walk a few of the steeper sections of road to avoid overheating our poor motorbike. After a good 20 minutes on the motorbike we came to the turn off to Marinka Waterfalls. A vendor was selling snacks on the roadside and as we stopped for a coca-cola I got bitten by tiny little mosquitoes which made me wish I had brought repellent as well as sunscreen. The mosquitoes only seemed to be at that one spot, and as we parked the bike and walked the last 400m to the waterfalls thankfully they disappeared.

As with most natural attractions in Colombia, you couldn’t just discover the waterfall in its natural setting. A couple of roofed huts have been added, with one serving a rustic set-menu lunch. I was pleased to be charged the Colombian entrance fee rather than that for foreigners. If I just keep my mouth shut and let mi novio do all the talking, I can often get away with this.

The waterfalls have two drops, a cascade of about 20m and a drop of about 10m, into pools that you can swim and relax in.

We didn’t really spend much time there, but had a bit of a swim and relaxed while marvelling over our random discovery because even mi novio didn’t know about this waterfall.

As we were leaving the site we came across four almost elderly people who we’d seen struggling at the turn off. They had walked all the way from Minca to the waterfalls and then refused to pay the entrance fee and so were turning back around. They argued that you shouldn’t have to pay to see nature and the guy collecting the entrance fee said that the site needed to be maintained. Whilst I agree with their sentiments,  I know it is common to have to pay. During my roadtrip in the US, I visited a lot of national parks and each had an entry fee (although buying an annual pass is much more cost-effective if you plan to visit a few US National Parks). However at the end of the day, I think if I’d spent an hour or more walking uphill in the heat, I would pay the small entrance fee to cool off rather than turn around in stubborn defeat.

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Want to go to Marinka Waterfalls?

What’s there: Waterfalls, swimming and a walk in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

How to get there: Take a collectivo to Minca that leaves from Calle 11 and Carrera 12 near the Mercado in Santa Marta between 8am and 5:30pm (COP$6000, US$3.40), a mototaxi or taxi (COP$40,000, US$22.60 from Santa Marta). Cross the bridge over the Minca River and take the road forking to your right past the church. Continue following this road uphill for about an hour. Just after you ford the river, you will see a stall and signs to Marinka Waterfalls on your left. If the walk is too much, you can also hire a mototaxi from Minca to take you there.

Entry fee: COP$2000 per person (US$1.10) for Colombians or COP$3000 per person (US$1.70) for foreigners

Hike difficulty: Moderate. The path doubles as a road but the walk to the waterfalls is uphill.

Walk time: Approximately 1 hour from the church to the waterfalls.

What to take: Sandals or walking shoes, water, sunscreen, snacks, money, bathing suit, towel and camera.

Roadtrip to Quebrada Valencia

We finally stretched the legs of our new motorbike with a day trip to the cascades at Quebrada Valencia.

With $3 worth of petrol in the tank, we headed east along the Troncal Caribe in the direction of Riohacha. I am not the best pillion passenger as I have a tendency to dig my nails in and yell into the ear of mi novio should we approach other vehicles too quickly, go over speed humps (or dead policemen as they call them here) without braking, overtake trucks or buses and I curse and scream “I don’t like this” when we weave in and out of traffic. But, after leaving Santa Marta’s city limits, we were suddenly quite alone on a well paved highway and riding under a canopy of green forest.

The air was cooler and the scenery divine. The wind blew all of the weariness and frustrations of the city away. Instead of screaming in mi novio’s ear to slow down or pay more attention, I was conversing with him, constantly exclaiming “This is so lovely.”

While I marvelled over the scenery and breathed in the fresh air (any odd insect or two), I realised that it must be quite tedious listening to me rabbit on about the scenery when he has passed by this same route thousands of times for his work but he told me that it was a completely different sensation on the motorbike where you really feel your surroundings to that of watching out the bus window.

50km and a bit over an hour later, we arrived at Quebrada Valencia, with an internationally recognised tourist attraction brown sign announcing the destination. The entrance to Quebrada Valencia is right beside the highway with a small pull-in on either side, a local store and a market stall selling aqua socks to the Colombians from the interior who can’t bear crossing the river in their sandals or bare feet.

Quebrada Valencia, with its impressive range of cascading falls, is a 20 – 30 minute walk from the entrance and our first task was to cross the river. During dry season, the river is clear, shallow and tranquil, making the crossing (and subsequent crossings) quite easy. On the other side we passed by vendors selling coffee and fresh cooked arepas and walked alongside a banana plantation for a little bit. Not far into our walk we came across an enormous tree blocking the path, forcing everyone to walk around it. The tree has great clumps of root-like vines dangling down, and looks rather like you would imagine a tree relative of Mr Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street.

We continued our easy walk in the forest and crossed the river another five times to reach the lower swimming pools and rocky cascades of Quebrada Valencia.

It’s a popular spot for tourists and locals who take along picnics, and even their own hammocks. The falls drop over a rocky vein that obstructs the river’s flow and creates pools at different levels and some great jumping points.

We were instantly enamoured, and climbed the rocks to find a little ledge under a shady branch to leave our belongings while taking a refreshing dip in the rock pools and a slide down rocks beaten smooth by the water current. It is a great spot to relax and unwind and enjoy the company of family and friends. I couldn’t believe when mi novio said he hadn’t been there before. Not even on a family outing with his parents or with other friends.

Further up were more water pools and great views of each waterfall and all the way down to the end of the cascades, but we couldn’t climb up to the very top as it was cordoned off with plastic ‘do not enter’ tape and had a guy posted beside to enforce the no climbing rule.

After an afternoon of bathing in the lovely rock pools, we followed the easy trail back to the entrance and our motorbike, all the while exclaiming that we will have to bring D and la suegra here one day. Quebrada Valencia really is an all-round great day trip for lovers, families and groups of friends.

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Want to go to Quebrada Valencia?

What’s there: Waterfalls, swimming and a short hike in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

How to get there: Take the Troncal Caribe from Santa Marta towards Riohacha by car or motorbike (parking COP$2000 – $3000 at the entrance) or by a public bus that leaves from Calle 11 near the Mercado in Santa Marta that also passes by Parque Tayrona (ask to be dropped at Quebrada Valencia) and then flag down any return bus.

Entry fee: COP$3000 per person (US$1.65)

Hike difficulty: Easy but must be able to cross the rivers, the walking path is flat and well looked after

Walk time: 20 – 30 minutes

What to take: Sandals or flip flops, water, sunscreen, snacks or money to buy from vendors along the way, towel and camera.

A love affair with autumn

I love autumn. I think it’s perhaps my favourite season.

I love the crispness in the air.

I love those beautiful mild evenings that take you by surprise and madden you with excitement for the world.

I like the change in the weather, and the scent of the earth as it begins to soak up the moisture that it was robbed of during the head of summer.

I love the sunny days and moonlit nights.

I love the kaleidoscope of colours, browns and rusts and oranges and golds.

Every autumn moment is precious to me, especially now as I prepare to move to a constant tropical heat, where there is no real fluctuation in temperature and where there definitely aren’t four seasons in a year. Going from Melbourne’s famous four seasons in one day to Santa Marta’s hot all day but occasionally with a rain shower is going to be a shock.

So I am luxuriating in my love affair with autumn and making every moment count.

What is your favourite season? What do like the most about it?

Dust storm

The dust storm coming in from the west

The magnificent force of nature where I grew up is best demonstrated by a dust storm.

A tsunami of red sand billowing towards you from the west, gathering dust particles from wheat and sheep paddocks, blocking out the sun and giving a rosy haze to the sky is quite spectacular. From the vantage point of the family home, perched atop a red sand dune is truly quite awe-inspiring.

A few years ago a major dust storm crossed Australia from west to east and arrived in Sydney carrying the legacy of our deserts. This caused widespread amazement and many photos of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House bathed in a red hue. But where I’m from, this isn’t so unusual. Granted, it’s not an everyday occurrence, but you get a handful of big dust storms each year that make you hurry home to close the windows.

The dust storm dominating the sky

I was with my parents in the truck on Good Friday and as we travelled back home, we drove into the dust storm. The sky darkened and the windswept red rivulets of sand across the highway. As we turned off the highway we started to come out the other side od the dust storm. The mirrors were filled with a stormy red sky and in front of us lay a wide expanse of blue with some wispy white clouds.

“We’d best get home quick to close the windows,” my parents said.

Arriving at home we ran to make sure all the windows were closed and take the clothes off the line and then we were enveloped in the storm.

Water tank in the dust storm
A water tank stands sentinel during the dust storm

There is something so ethereal about the light and a quiet eerieness to a dust storm, there is a palpable sentiment to the westerly winds carrying the desert. I wandered around the house, searching for the best lookout point and occasionally coughing at the gritty sand that was drying out my mouth.

As I’m about to move to a hilly green seaside town in Colombia, I really appreciated the red sand show nature put on for me.