Emmanuel, our first volunteering experience

When we thought about the idea of volunteering we couldn’t possibly think it would be so good as it turned out to be. I’m so glad we decided to do this. The 2 weeks we spent in Emmanuel were simply great.

 

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THE PLACE

Ruperto, a 51 years old man, decided 8 years ago to put an end to his lifestyle in the city, where he’d work more hours than the sun, and buy a piece of land in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta to get a fresh new start close to the nature. He designed and built his own house, and started replacing the coffee plants the land came with, with fruit trees. 8 years later, the result is simply beautiful, and soon enough he’d like to open up the place for tourists to come there, so he wants to build some cabins and a natural swimming pool.

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The views one gets to enjoy here are just astonishing. The sunsets were different every day and amazing on its own unique way. All the colors painted in the sky made it impossible not to grab a chair and just look.

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The place has a fantastic location. Situated 20 km away from Minca, a city which is basically a touristic boulevard, with nothing to offer itself, in our opinion and Ruperto’s, is great as it gets you far enough from the civilization and brings this amazing feeling of being right in the middle of nowhere, where you can go and walk for hours up in the mountain being alone, without any noise around, simply enjoying the landscape and the sounds of the forest.

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7 km away from Ruperto’s place, Mr. Felix had his own. Felix is kind of an expert in bees, and he produces different types of honeys. He explained us in detail how it all works, and I really love it! Here are the almost 30 kg of honey he took from Ruperto’s bee panels.

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But Felix’s real secret is hidden in the mountain. A little river crosses his place, and on the way, it creates amazing natural bathtubs, together with little waterfalls. He showed us the place and let us take a bath in this incredibly amazing place. It looked like one of these places one sees in magazines and wishes to discover. And here we were, discovering this wonder of the nature.

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WORK

Oh yes, it wasn’t a touristic stay, we went there to work, and quite some work we did. We’d wake up around 5:30 in the morning, drink a cup of agua panela (best drink ever!!!) and between 6, 6:30 we’d start working. After 2 hours we’d have breakfast and then back to work for another 3 hours.

Our main task was to build adobe bricks, which we’d later use to build the walls of the swimming pool. The machine we used broke few times (not our fault, I promise), but anyway we managed to get plenty of these little fellas. Kasia took care of “feeding” the machine with soil, and i’d compress it to get a brick out.

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Another thing we did was enlarging the hole where the swimming pool is supposed to go, so basically we’d be shoveling a lot of soil out.

The work was extremely tiring, we sweat like we hadn’t sweat since Cartagena, but it felt great to see the result of our work right there.

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The last thing I got to do was to carry the sand that will be used in the walls. Moving 40 sand bags of 40 kg each from the picking place to the car and from the car down the way to the pool was a lot of fun.

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It just felt so good to finally be doing what I pictured in my head all these years when this trip was in my head. Looking at myself doing something I really liked doing, and seeing how Kasia enjoyed every single task, and did great at it, was simply perfect.

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ANIMALS

Plenty of many different creatures could be found around here. The amount and diversity of birds is just mind blowing. It was a pitty I didn’t have a big zoom in my camera to capture all of them. After trying it with my little zoom and seeing the results I decided to simply enjoy their presence and music and leave the pictures for other things.

One great surprise I had was to discover that I wouldn’t have to spend hours looking for humming birds, but that I could observe them by simply laying down in a hammock in the porch of the house, or while eating a meal at the table. The reason were the banana trees that were in front of the porch. They have a flower hanging from the bananas that opens up during the day, and then the humming birds come to get their food. These things are so beautiful, they move so damn fast, but when they stay right there suspended on the air, as if they weren’t moving, it felt like a great privilege to be able to see that.

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There was also a pretty damn big bird that would come everyday, with a yellow tail, called Oropendula. Well this little thing once started singing and all of a sudden let out a “yeeeeeeeeeeeeha!!”. It was great, weird, but great. It was as if somebody would have taken Tom Waits’ voice, gave it to the bird and told it to scream out loud. We had a good laugh.

What I did chase and got nice pictures of where butterflies. There are soooooo many different ones flying around the place. When during the first Sunday we went for a walk, I had so much fun chasing them up and down the road like a kid, trying to get a nice pic of them when they’d stop at some flower.

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And we saw other stuff too. This creepy tarantula came out when a couple of guys where digging a hole, and came to tell me to go see it. It was really huge and scary. After that, I would double check every room i’d enter to make sure there was no such creature inside.

I hate spiders and snakes, they freak the shit out of me, but while staring at this amazing animal, I couldn’t stop liking it, it’s shape, the brightness on its eyes, even how scary it looked was beautiful, but i’d still prefer not to find one of this in the shower.

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But if you think that was scary, wait for the next one. There was something strange in this place, might be the food or maybe the water, but roosters are simply huge. But i mean, scary huge. When we passed by this massive piece of meat, i was really scared, i mean, if this thing wanted, could eat us in a heartbeat, look how big it was!!! The one next to it is a regular chicken, so that you can really get an idea of the real size of this monster. And there were many of them!

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One day, while we were washing the dishes, we couldn’t stop noticing an incredibly high amount of ants in the kitchen, it kept growing and at one point we basically stormed out of it, leaving the dishes in the sink. Ruperto was outside, and when I asked him, he told me it was normal, that from time to time these ants cross the house on their way down the mountain. There were rivers, literally rivers of ants all over the place, that in some areas created little seas of ants. Ruperto just said that one has to learn to share the place with all the little animals. We were seating on a chair observing, and then had to move as the ants also colonized our chairs. While contemplating the scene, we looked left at the back yard, and there it was, a huge turkey passing by. It was a very funny moment, ants all around and a turkey to top it all up.

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And last but not least, here’s Kicia (named by Kasia as he didn’t have a name). It was a half dog half cat type of cat, these ones that like to be petted. A nice little kitty we shared many naps with.

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FOOD

Let me just say that, even if you hate the countryside and can’t bear going to the mountains, it’s worth to come to Ruperto’s place just for the food. This man cooks probably better than many cooks awarded with those michelene stars. We looked forward to every single meal, and they all fulfilled our wettest dreams (culinary speaking).

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It’s worth saying that the portions differ here a tiny little bit than the ones served back home. Huge doesn’t come close to describing the size of the meals, but as the work was really hard, it was just perfect.

This was a normal lunch.

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We could also eat a wrap filled with corn, tomato sauce and onion, rice with scrambled eggs and a hot chocolate, just to give another example. Yeah, I didn’t quite follow a low histamine diet while being there, it was more of a “oh well screw it, let’s enjoy this” kind of diet. And the fresh juices, ohhhh the juices. Mango, papaya, maracuya, guayaba, tomate de arbol, lulo, sooo many sooo good!!

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And we also learnt how to prepare arepas (sort of pancakes made with white corn) . Kasia here made plenty of them (these were with cheese) that we would eat on all the upcoming breakfasts.

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Another really nice thing we got to do was to get the juice from the panela (not sure how this is in English). We would cut the canes, split them into two and then squeeze them to get the juice. This liquid is later used to make panela, which is an amazing sweetener that makes sugar taste like crap, and you can make a killing drink, which we were drinking every morning and afternoon. But to make the panela bricks, it needs to be cooked for long long time. But you can also drink the juice you get from them directly, in this case, Ruperto prepared us a cocktail with fresh peppermint and mint. Kasia’s comment right after trying it was “this would be amazing with vodka”. And actually it seems to be used as a cocktail base quite often.

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The last morning, Ruperto told us he’d make a meal from his home town, Cali, called aborrajados, and served them together with a hot chocolate. Oh boy, oh boy how good this was! I ate 3 of these delicious treats, and if I would have died afterwards, it would have been with a big fat smile on my face.

They are made of platano maduro (this huge banana that you can’t eat raw) and cheese. And he made one for me adding also Guayaba sweet, as when he gave me to try this I almost had an orgasm right there, so imagine the feeling when combining this with this already too good meal. Yes, few consecutive orgasms indeed.

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This was amazing, the only problem will be to measure all the next volunteering experiences against this one, which set the bar pretty high. But I’m sure no matter what we’ll find the way to make them all be a great experience!

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