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Apr '12

A week of “Once in a Lifetimes”

I knew this trip would be full of new experiences, new perspectives and new ideas. However, this past week has really made me aware of just how great this great big world is. We’ve spent the past week traveling with Aaron’s brother and his wife. I have never said: “I’ve never seen anything like this before” so many times in a row.

Our first once in a lifetime was hiking through the Valle de Cocora.  This is a valley in the coffee region in Western Colombia that is absolutely stunning. The main attraction (among many) was the Cocora Palm, the national tree of Colombia. They stand over 200 feet tall, towering over the valley.

The beautiful Cocora Valley

The 6 hour hike was a mixture of mud (thank goodness for the boot rentals at the hostal!), river crossings (Abby’s really getting over her fear of bridges) and beautiful cloud forest with a brief stop at the top for some hot chocolate (all hikes should have coffee shops at the top!).

Cocora Valley hike

Literally up to our knees in mud

The next day, sore from our hike, we wandered over to a local coffee plantation for a tour. Our tour was led by the owner himself, Don Elias, a 75 year old Colombian who still runs this small coffee farm. He took us on a tour of the plantation, teaching us about how to grow coffee, the different types of coffee, and many other things we didn’t quite understand as the tour was in Spanish. He then showed us how he processes the coffee, all completely natural and in most cases, by hand. After the tour, we were treated to probably the best cup of coffee I have ever had.

picking coffee beans

The next once in a lifetime was caving.  After the Valle de Cocora, we went 7 hrs. Northeast of Bogota to San Gil. There are many caves in the area, and we signed up for a tour of one, Cueva de la Vaca (Cave of the Cow, so named because cows tend to fall into it).  The tour was quite an experience. To start, you climb down about 15-20 feet and then immediately, belly crawl through muddy water before arriving at a mud slide (don’t wear your Sunday best…).

Cueva de la Vaca

stalactites, stalagmites, and mud, oh my!

The most exciting part (for Abby anyway) was the portion where you had to go underwater and pull yourself along a rope to get to the next room of the cave. I initially was not going to go due to this one section, but, as has been the case for most of the trip, I faced my fear and went through no problem!

There were many different rooms we visited and the cave seemd to go on forever (which, it just might. The guide said that people have gone for over 10 hours and still haven’t found an end or other exit). It was such a unique experience to be that far underground and see all the different formations. At one point, we turned off our headlamps and walked in incredibly serene darkness for a few minutes.

We rounded out our week with some good ol’ fashion white water rafting. Claire and I had never been before so it was great to have a buddy for this new experience. While many people will white water raft many times in their lives, I’m still unsure whether this will be a once in a lifetime experience for me! We had a blast, but the adrenaline rush of going over a rapid almost sent me over the edge. Then, when our guide decided it would be fun to flip the raft, I literally did go over the edge. 🙂 All in all, it was a great day and we all came home safe and sound!

Rio Fonce River rafting

Claire and Abby are safely in the boat, John and Aaron, well....

The night before John and Claire left on their 1am bus to Bogota, we were treated to a most unique evening playing the national sport of Colombia: Tejo. In a nutshell, Tejo is horseshoes with gunpowder. Go ahead and check out this video that Claire managed to capture to get a sense of the game.

We started on the “gringo” lane upstairs which was about half as big as the regular one with lighter stones, and after 1 hour, John finally was the first to blow up our gunpowder. Aaron followed soon after, while Claire and Abby had to resort to dropping the Tejo directly on top of the gunpowder to get our “booms.”  After “mastering” the gringo lane, we went downstairs for the real deal, and managed to lug the stones 100 feet with minimal embarrassment…


At the gringo lane

Our final once in a lifetime last week was the opportunity to travel with John and Claire.  Being away from friends and family for over 3 months has been hard and reinforced the importance of community in our lives. Having John and Claire make the trip to be with us was priceless and we loved every minute of traveling with them. Of course traveling with family will not be a once in a lifetime experience, but the memories and bonds we created with them on this trip are and we couldn’t be more thankful for that.

Head on over to our photos page to see more pictures of our time with them!

Happy Travelers!


4 comments to “A week of “Once in a Lifetimes””

  1. ted Says:

    aye caramba! horseshoes and gunpowder – that sounds like a sport that could gain some serious popularity in the southern US!

  2. Sandy Says:

    I want to be like YOU! Love your posts, keep em coming,
    love and miss you guys,

  3. Don Berg Says:

    You reminded me of once sitting with Ethiopians (from our former church) who roasted green coffee beans on the floor of their home. The aroma of the roating beans was out of this world. Hope you experienced that too! Thanks for sharing your journey! Underwater pulling yourself on a roap … WOW! Better yall than me!

  4. Elaine Olson Says:

    WOW, Aby and Aaron, what a life you lead! Thank you for the pictures and stories of your adventures. We are surely thinking of you and hoping that you will continue to be safe. Take care! Aunt Elaine and Uncle Wayne

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