This week Ellen and I have been doing less touristy things and spending more time with locals, which has been a pleasant change of pace from the usual activities of travel. At this time of year in Colombia, students are still on a break from school, and so most people are able to take time off to travel, too. Our cousins have had a variety of visitors from around Colombia staying at their farm, and we’ve had the chance to join them in exploring the area as the locals do. Ellen and I actually split up for this, with me joining one group of friends in the theatre and martial arts industries, and Ellen spending her time with another. I can’t speak for Ellen’s adventure, but mine was most enjoyable! We started off meeting friends for lunch, at which we had a traditional almuerzo. Almuerzo is Spanish for lunch, but in a restaurant in Colombia it means a set meal cheaper than ordering off the menu. This is essentially what we were eating in Cartagena every day – soup, rice, beans, and some kind of fish or meat. The waitress rattles off a list of proteins being served that day, and you name your meat of choice. The side dishes are just whatever’s on offer that day, and the meal is preceded by soup. I chose barbecued meat (Carne Asado) and got a large portion of grilled pork, served with rice, a cabbage and cilantro salad, beans, grilled banana, and a piece of yucca, along with a glass of iced tea. After lunch and a stop at the kumis stand for my cousin’s favourite fermented milk drink, we wandered through a market before driving to the town square of a different town to meet another friend. We headed over to a coffee-shop/bar that the locals frequent, a two-story building full of a variety of rooms of comfortable chairs and couches, spilling out onto balconies overlooking the main street below. At 3pm on a Friday, the place had plenty of seating available without feeling empty, and pleasant music played over the speakers loudly enough to set the mood without making conversation impossible. Although my cousin assured me their espresso was wonderful, I paid more attention to the beer menu, which offered 29 brews ranging from the ubiquitous local mass-produced Poker Beer to imports from a dozen different countries. To my delight, they also sold artisanal beers from two Colombian microbreweries – 3 Cordilleros, from Medellin, and BBC – Bogota Brewing Company. I had BBC’s pleasant and mildly hoppy pale ale, while the others tried their porter and amber ale. Bogota Brewing’s bottles featured the slogan “The biggest little brewery in Colombia” which gives me hope that microbreweries are in fact scattered around the country much more than my preliminary research into South American microbrews indicated. Sufficiently refreshed, we made our way to a theatre run by friends of my cousins, where there was to be a concert performed by a local group of musicians. My cousin was apprehensive, never having heard the band before, but the pair of musicians was amazing. The lead guitarist switched between a twelve-string acoustic, a six-string acoustic, and an electric guitar, and also lent his baritone voice to the lead vocals when he wasn’t playing the flute. The bassist also played the six-string acoustic and the electric guitar as necessary to back up the lead, and occasionally added a tenor harmony to the songs. They called themselves a folk-rock duo, and I left the theatre thoroughly impressed with the calibre of folk rock in Colombia.

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We finished the evening at our two favourite bars in town, but that didn’t stop us from waking up bright and early this morning to organize a Capoeira class for the local residents of my cousin’s village. About fifteen people, mostly children, participated in the two-hour lesson held in the studio space on the farm. The instructor, my cousin’s friend from Cartagena, took us through a variety of exercises before demonstrating how they could be used in sparring. Capoeira is a combination of dance, lifestyle, and martial art. According to our instructor, it derives from dance movements created by African slaves in Brazil, who wanted to preserve their martial arts manoeuvres without appearing to be practicing fighting. Although it is performed to music, its formalities and movements reminded me much more of martial arts than dance. The focus of sparring in Capoeira is not to land a hit on the opponent, but to watch your partner and perform the counter to their attack simultaneously, so that a strike never lands. A Capoeira practitioner would probably be very good at predicting an opponent’s strategy in a real fight. I certainly hope to have the chance to practice it further. I suspect this weekend is the last one at my cousin’s place. With the number of friends coming and going, our guest cabin is prime real estate, and we’re ready to start working and volunteering again. I can’t say I’m eager to leave, though, given how welcome we’ve been made to feel, but I’m excited as usual to see what our next home will be like. We are most likely going to spend about two weeks at a self-described “yoga eco farm” which forbids intoxicants – no beer for us, I guess! However, if we want to meet people with contacts in conservation, this next stop might lead us in the right direction.

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