Volcano Sinabung Erupts

Sinabung Eruption

We awoke this morning to news that the Indonesian volcano Gunung Sinabung has again erupted. As you may recall, it was just a few months ago that we were in Berastagi, Sumatra, Indonesia climbing Gunung Sibayak. Each morning and evening while we were in Berastagi would would climb to the roof of the home we were staying in and watch the smoke coming from Sinabung.

Climbing to the roof to look at Sinabung

Climbing to the roof to look at Sinabung

Sinabung smoking on the horizon

Sinabung smoking on the horizon

Talking about the last eruption...and the present danger.

Talking about the last eruption…and the present danger.

The husband of the family we were staying with had an extensive album of photos he had taken in 2010, the last major eruption of Sinabung. The photos were a strong reminder of nature’s power – flowing lava, billowing smoke, dozens of charred bodies, horribly burned survivors with skin baked and peeling, everything covered in snow-like ash… A nightmarish scene.

And yet people choose to live and work all around the volcano. The land is fertile, the climate friendly. The area is Sumatra’s “bread basket.” The family we stayed with was convinced that it was totally safe.

Lush fields in our "back yard"

Lush fields in our “backyard”

A house in Berastagi

A house in Berastagi

To put the locations in perspective, here is a map that shows Sinabung, Sibayak and the house where we stayed:

The red circle is Sinabung (just erupted), the green circle is Sibayak (the one we climbed), and the blue circle is the house where we stayed.

The red circle is Sinabung (just erupted), the green circle is Sibayak (the one we climbed), and the blue circle is the house where we stayed. The map scale is about 1 inch = 5 miles.

Sinabung smoulders at sunset

Sinabung smoulders at sunset

A sulphurous lump on the side of the volcano

A sulphurous lump on the side of the volcano

Not hot lava

Not hot lava

Local kids at work

Local kids at work

We hope our friends there are safe, and continue to be so…

From Colombia to Peru

Let’s go back in time about a month. If you’ll recall, we had a great time in the beautiful Paisa town of Jardin in Colombia, then felt the earthquake in Pereira. We spent about a week in Pereira, a small city that was quite nice. It was bustling with commercial activity and seemed to have quite a good standard of living and growing middle class. Tucked into the foothills of the Andes in Colombia’s coffee country, it was also a good base for exploring the area. As with everywhere we went in Colombia, the weather was perfect.

With perfect weather, even the food court at the local mall is open air.

With perfect weather, even the food court at the local mall is open air.

But the hotel bathroom left a little to be desired, at least for me…

Can I get a little leg room please?

Can I get a little leg room please?

From Pereira we did a day trip to the very touristy town of Salento. It was cute, but so touristy we were glad we weren’t staying. While we were there we walked around town and did some horseback riding. The town square was closed to vehicles and there were lots of kids out having fun. Oddly though, they had huge speakers set up playing really weird techno music. Here’s a video showing what it sounded like (I have NOT added a soundtrack, this is really the music they were blasting!!!)

Despite the crazy music, it was a fun scene with all the kids playing. Jette did some cartwheels and handstands, and a little boy on roller blades came over to chat. He was a sweet little guy and we had fun talking with him and just watching all the action in the square.

Handstand in Salento, Colombia

Handstand in Salento, Colombia

The horseback riding was nice. It took us down to the Quindio River and the scenery was beautiful.

One of our friends in Salento

One of our friends in Salento

The other day trip we took from Pereira was to Panaca. This is how Wikipedia describes Panaca:

PANACA is a farming theme park that promotes contact between humans and nature, intended for those who live in the city and to create awareness about nature.

Their tagline is, “Sin campo no hay ciudad” (Without fields there is no city). There are thousands of animals and they grow a variety of crops in display gardens. There are animal shows, exhibits, and even a zip line above it all.

Jette and the Panaca Mascot

Jette and the Panaca Mascot

It was FANTASTIC. We spent the whole day wandering the theme park, and I think we were the only gringos there. The park, the exhibits and the animal shows were great. I wish we had something like this in the U.S. Jette had a great time interacting with all the animals, especially the chickens, rabbits and pigs. As for me, I was shamed in front of a large crowd when I lost a cow milking contest!

 

From Pereira, we made a quick trip to Cali, Colombia. Cali wasn’t originally on our agenda, but when I received an email from my bank notifying me that they were cancelling both my credit and my debit cards (the bank was switching from MasterCard to Visa and there was no way to postpone the switch!), We needed a reliable place to have them sent and given where we were in Colombia, an international hotel in Cali seemed like the best bet. So we spent one night in the Hampton Inn in Cali. It was actually a really nice hotel and my new credit card was waiting patiently for us, safely tucked inside a FedEx envelope at the front desk.

Hampton Inn Cali Colombia

Hampton Inn Cali Colombia

From Cali, we caught a flight to Lima, Peru. On the airplane we read about far off lands…

Where is this fabled place called "Dallas"?

Where is this fabled place called “Dallas”?

Overall, Colombia was fantastic. It is a beautiful country – an amazing landscape, with an amazing climate and a proud, friendly people. With its history of conflict and crime it has been off the mainstream tourist circuit for years. It still has some healing to do, but wow, what a great country. We’ll be coming back again, I’m sure.

Counterfeit Money in Peru!

After a great couple of weeks exploring Peru – Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, etc. – we’re back in Lima. As we slow down for a few days I thought I’d get a quick and easy blog post up. More detailed posts about our recent adventures are in the works and coming soon!

Counterfeit currency is everywhere here and I thought it would be fun to show you one of the counterfeit bills we’ve received and how to identify them.

We haven’t been checking notes we receive very closely, so we got suckered! We received this counterfeit 20 Sole note somewhere along the way, either as change from a purchase, or possibly from an ATM. Since the counterfeit notes can be purchased for 25% of face value, the crooked businesses that buy them and pass them off to unsuspecting tourists as change have quite a high profit margin – if they don’t get caught! We first realized that we had a counterfeit when we tried to buy lunch and the shop rejected the note. Bummer!

Here’s another video about a counterfeiting “bust” in Lima:

And a Guardian story about counterfeiting in Peru.

Here’s a video about the security features in U.S. currency:

 

Earthquake!

Have you ever been sitting in a movie theater on the 4th floor of a giant shopping mall and felt the whole building shake? We hadn’t either, until tonight!

We went to the 6:20 feature of The Jungle Book at the Victoria Mall in Pereira, Colombia. About 30 minutes into the movie we felt the whole building shake. It was a weird sliding motion, not too extreme, but enough to really feel. At first I think we all thought it was an effect or trick of the senses from the 3D movie. When we realized that the whole building was moving, we got up and headed straight for the emergency exit.

About a quarter of the theater had the same idea, but people were so casual about the whole thing it was weird and frightening. They were moving very, very slowly, many of them just standing around in the stairwell and blocking the exits. As we were making our way out of the theater the lights came on. No one was panicked and people didn’t even seem to be talking about it. There were no announcements and no visible security or direction from staff. We got out of the theater and into the main part of the mall. There it was as if nothing had happened. Nonetheless, we got down to the ground level as quickly as we could and went outside, straight to the middle of a large plaza on one side of the mall. We wanted to be somewhere safe if another, stronger shock hit and buildings collapsed.

No one else seemed the least bit concerned, or seemed to be doing anything at all. Apparently we were overreacting by local standards. Hey, better safe than sorry as far as I’m concerned! How could we know if that was it or just a small tremor kicking off a much bigger series of shocks?!

Once again, our superfriend Anita gave us instant access to global quake data!

Once again, our superfriend Anita gave us instant access to global quake data!

Apparently what we felt were shocks from a 7.8 earthquake centered in Ecuador. The news is currently reporting 28 dead there and a tsunami warning. This is what it looked like in Ecuador:

We’re getting ready for bed, and while it seems highly unlikely that we’ll have a dangerous quake here, we have an exit plan worked out should we be surprised with another set of tremors overnight. Sweet dreams!

The Beautiful Town of Jardin

With the picturesque town of Jardin, Colombia has won us over. This place is great.

Jardin town square

Jardin town square

Jardin is tucked into the mountains, about 3 hours south of Medellin. It’s name (“Garden”) fits it well, as the town is full of beautiful roses, orchids, and it seems that everything grows in its perfect climate. The surrounding mountains are lush with jungle, coffee, banana palms, and green, green pastures. The average high temperature is about 70F and the average low is about 60F – every month of the year! Can you say “perfect”?!

Local dog enjoying a snack among the flowers

Local dog enjoying a snack among the flowers

Jardin hasn’t really been discovered yet. It’s not in most guide books and there are very few foreign tourists. We arrived on Tuesday having read a few blog posts praising it, but not really knowing what to expect. Our original plan was to spend three nights here, but given the town’s charms, we ended up staying a week.

We left Medellin last Tuesday afternoon by bus. Actually it was in a van that seats ten. The van left from the southern bus station in Medellin, which was surprisingly clean, modern and efficient. Tickets were 20,000 Pesos each. The drive was a fast and winding one, through beautiful mountain scenery. Our driver was a bit heavy on the accelerator and late on the brakes.

Our driver, Speed Racer

Our driver, Speed Racer

Jette breaks out into song

Jette breaks out into song

Then it was time for a nap.

Then it was time for a nap.

I couldn't get any good shots with my phone, but the view on the drive to Jardin looked something like this.

I couldn’t get any good shots with my phone, but the view on the drive to Jardin looked something like this.

The drive went by quickly and before we knew it we were stepping out into the picturesque town square of Jardin.

Hello, Jardin

Hello, Jardin

We weren’t sure where our hotel was and Google Maps wasn’t working on my phone, so we walked over to the middle of the square and took a few minutes to get our bearings. While we were sitting on a bench, a bunch of kids playing a game of “color tag” started using us as “base”! It was really sweet. Jardin is the kind of town where even the littlest kids run around and play on their own.

We got directions to the hotel, which was on the south edge of town, about a 5 minute walk from the square.

Finca Hostal Condor de Los Andes

Finca Hostal Condor de Los Andes

Side yard and mountains in background

Side yard and mountains in background

Barn with horses and chickens

Barn with horses and chickens

Hammocks

Hammocks

The hotel is very simple, but nice and very clean. We met the super friendly couple that owns the hotel and it turns out that Juan Felipe, the husband, is a TV producer and director who just did a show on adventure travel, culture, and nature in Colombia called Expedicion Condor de los Andes.

Expedicion Condor de las Andes

Expedicion Condor de los Andes

They had a national contest to select the cast members from all walks of life and from all parts of the country. The assembled team gets to go an adventure all across Colombia (something that probably wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago) white water rafting, spelunking, skydiving, bungee jumping, exploring ancient ruins, meeting local artists, etc. Colombia is a diverse, beautiful country and with the violence of the past decades, Colombians themselves missed out on the opportunity to explore their own country! The show is on one of the national channels Saturdays and Sundays at 7:30, so we all sat around last night and watched it together. It was great.

OK, so back to Jardin. We spent our first couple of days here just wandering around town and working intently on math. Jette has adjusted her study schedule and has decided to spend 4 hours per day on math until she has finished all of the remaining 5th level math workbooks. When we left Medellin, she had 3 workbooks remaining, and today only one and half. I expect she’ll have them all complete today or tomorrow. So, mornings we spent on math and afternoons exploring town.

Breakfast is scrambled eggs and arepas, with coffee or hot chocolate.

Breakfast is scrambled eggs, arepas, queso fresco and crackers, with coffee or hot chocolate.

Working on math.

Working on math.

If you look at the map, you’ll see that Jardin is a tiny little town, so it is quite easy to walk all over town in a very short time.

Google Map of Jardin

Google Map of Jardin

The town square is lined with cafes, restaurants, bars, and of course the church. It’s really the center of life, and in the evening it is packed with people.

Colorful tables and chairs in the square

Colorful tables and chairs in the square.

Another view of the square

Another view of the square

Just tie up your horse and have a cerveza or coffee.

Just tie up your horse and have a cerveza or coffee. You are as likely to see horses as cars in the town square, and on Sunday nights the cowboys ride their finest paso fino horses into town and show off.

Mid-morning the square is relatively quiet.

Mid-morning the square is relatively quiet.

As evening approaches things pick up.

As evening approaches things pick up.

One thing that was huge contrast to the bigger cities of Bogota and Medellin is the almost total lack of police, military, and creepy dudes. We haven’t seen any of the latter, and only a couple policemen in the week we’ve been here. This place feels really safe, and all the little kids playing in the streets and in the square is sure a nice thing to see. This is a town of hard working people who live in a real community. They clearly take pride in themselves and their town, and it shows. Everything is well maintained. From the simplest shops and homes to the grand church and beautiful gardens, there are clearly strong values of pride and responsibility in ownership.

Most restaurants serve the Colombian versions of meat and potatoes.

Un menu typico

Un menu typico. This is a typical selection at a nice restaurant with somewhat high prices (currently about 3,000 pesos to the USD).

Un plato typico.

Un plato typico.

Colombian food is not highly seasoned, often fried, and heavy on meat. It is not light. After a couple weeks in Colombia I can almost guarantee that you will be craving a salad! That said, there are some delicious dishes and we certainly haven’t gone hungry. If anything, we’ve struggled with the quantity.

On Thursday we hopped into a Jeep and headed for the mountains outside of town.

Ready for an adventure

Ready for an adventure

We drove for about 20 minutes up into the lower mountains where we were to trade the Jeep for horses. We saddled up and rode up higher, all the way into the clouds.

We rode for about an hour and a half. The views were absolutely spectacular, with winding, narrow trails through jungle and high mountain edge vistas. We stopped for lunch at a little ranch tucked into a valley and had a delicious banana leaf meal.

Hearty banana leaf lunch

Hearty banana leaf lunch – one of the best meals we’ve had in Colombia.

After lunch we hiked up into the jungle. It was about half an hour of climbing along steep, narrow, and often slippery trails to La Cueva del Esplendor, a small cave with a beautiful waterfall cascading down from the ceiling of the outer chamber. It was really pretty.

On the path to the cave.

On the path to the cave.

Wow a photo with all three of us!

Wow a photo with all three of us!

River crossing.

River crossing.

At the mouth of the cave

At the mouth of the cave

Jungle gymnastics

Jungle gymnastics

After some time at the cave, we hiked back to the horses and rode back down the mountain. On the trip down, Jette was up front with the fast group, her horse sometimes trotting and even galloping. She had never been on a galloping horse before, much less a galloping horse on a beautiful mountain in Colombia! We all had a blast.

Adios horses!

Adios horses!

Getting ready to head back down the mountain.

Getting ready to head back down the mountain.

Agua fria

Agua fria

On the way back to town in the Jeep, we stopped at a cute little house. There were beautiful flowers, and behind the house, a simple shed with smoke coming from a chimney in the middle of the roof.

The panela cottage

The panela cottage. See the smoke coming up from the shed in the background?

Amazing orchids

Amazing orchids in the garden.

In the shed there we piles of sugar cane, a sugar cane press, and a series of big wood-fired pots for boiling sugarcane juice to make panela. We got to see the whole process and taste the finished product. It was actually really interesting to see the process from start to finish. It is amazingly simple. They sell a ton of panela in the local markets, but we still haven’t figured out the various ways they use it here in cooking.

If you can’t tell, we had a great time in Jardin. Colombia is such a beautiful country, and the people are among the friendliest of any place we’ve visited. I could go on, but I’ll wrap it up here with one more video. Jette and I made a wild zip line crossing of one of the canyons on the edge of town. We put on our harnesses, helmets and leather gloves. The right glove had extra layers of leather stitched onto the palm, as they only way to “brake” was to reach up, grab the overhead cable, and squeeze! As it turned out, it was quite a steep and fast ride and Jette’s arms weren’t long enough or grip strong enough to grab the wire with any force. Once she gained speed, her hand simply bounced off the whizzing cable. Yikes! This lead to a dramatic ending.

If you are wondering, yes, she would do it again, but I’m not sure we would want her to! That was a little bit too exciting.