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Guest Blogger: Sarah Duncan: Visiting the magical Guatavita Lake in Colombia

Travel Blog: Travel Colombia Visiting the magical Guatavita Lake in Colombia

Sarah Duncan:  Sarepa
Guest Blogger: Sarah Duncan

Today’s guest travel blog is by Sarah Duncan of the travel blog Sarepa. Sarah fell in love with Colombia and has travelled there extensively over the past ten years.

Today’s Sarah takes us to the magical Guatavita Lake in Colombia.

Guatavita-Lake-Travel-Colombia-6-792x356On the way to Guatavita Lake, we drive along the damp stretch of road, bumping along as the path begins to ascend steeply towards the sky. We’re surrounded by a cotton candy haze of low-hanging clouds and fog.

“The weather is like this almost all year round,” our guide, Alejandro, says from the front seat of the car in soft tones that hum when he speaks.

We continue to bump along through a green patchwork of rolling hills that have engulfed us, some dotted by native flora, other patches cleared for agriculture and farming. Potato farms are particularly popular here, we learn.

We’ve been driving for over an hour to the northeast of Bogota until we arrive at the starting point for the short trek up to Guatavita Lake.

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The constant drizzle curls my hair and drips from my eyelashes onto my cheeks before rolling down my face and onto my bright green plastic rain poncho.

The earth makes squelching noises under my feet, adding to the noise of light rain, soft wind and the sound of fellow visitors and school students laughing as they, too, put on their brightly-coloured ponchos.

“The indigenous people from this area were called the Muiscas,” Alejandro whispers as we begin our walk, the tone of his voice adding to the mystery and wonder of the place.

“The word ‘Muisca’ in their Chibcha language means ‘the people’ and this land, Cundinamarca, in Chibcha, means the land of the condors, which is Colombia’s national bird,” he continues.

The condor, which has a wingspan of around 10 feet and is one of the largest birds of prey in the world, is no longer found in these parts of Colombia, Alejandro says. They’ve moved to less inhabited areas in the south near the Amazon jungle.

Looking up to the surrounding mountains, you can imagine these birds soaring through the air, gliding powerfully through the sky before landing on their hapless prey, spotted from above.

From the entrance point to Guatavita Lake it is about a 15 minute trek, but on this walk up the mildly inclined steps, we took a journey into a distant, magical past. Because Guatavita is more than just a lake, after all.

Far from the chaos of Bogota, we walk through the Paramo ecosystem, which some scientists believe to be evolutionary hotspots and hotbeds of biodiverse activity.

They’re mostly found in northern parts of South America including Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador. But the ecosystem is largest in Colombia and through the Andes.

Walking through the Paramo we spotted Espeletia plants, also known as Frailejon, which are shrubs that only grow in these high altitude ecosystems. They have a thick trunks and large leaves which are covered in a soft fur that protects the plant from frost and the brisk temperatures in these parts.

The warm air, all the way from the Pacific, blows through these areas and cools before precipitating over the mountains, creating the almost all-year round fog that we noticed on the drive up.

These unbelievable little shrubs absorb water from the clouds, which is then past through to the roots and into the soil. These little guys grow just one or two centimetres per year. Just imagine how old this guy (on the right) is!

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The local indigenous people of Colombia faced quite the ordeal once the Spanish arrived way back in 1499. Those who survived the introduction of disease were left with some pretty rough Spaniards to deal with, who wanted their vast fortunes of gold, among other things.

For the Muiscas, gold was valuable, sure, but not in the way that we might think. Gold was used in ceremonies, to denote social status, but it was also their material of choice when making handicrafts because the shiny material was so abundant. It was also used during ceremonies, too, right here at Guatavita.

This is the very spot where the story of El Dorado and its buried treasure originates, and it’s thanks to the local indigenous folk.

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Way back in the day, before the Muiscas had to face the Spaniards, each of their regions had a leader, whom was called a Cacique. But not any ol’ Musica got the opportunity to become one of these revered folk, it took a long and arduous series of tests before he was given the coveted title.

The tests began when the chosen boy was just nine years old. He would be put in a room and denied the world’s earthly pleasures such as salt and spices.

Instead, he was only allowed to eat boiled vegetables and meat. After nine years eating like a paleo, before it was hip, at 18 years old, and at the peak of his sexual awakening, he was tested yet again. This time several beautiful women were to accompany him and be at his beck and call.

If he could deny these “cuchas”, which means “woman more beautiful than rainbows” and not the modern translation “old woman”, they could then proceed to the next test. If he couldn’t help but have his cake and eat it, too, then he would be cast out from the community.

If he passes this most difficult of tests for an 18-year-old, then he was given a house full of all the pleasures of the world. Yes, even salt and spices and beautiful cuchas.

Could he at last enjoy such pleasures? Of course not! He had to refrain from any of these things, but live under the same roof with them, just for one more day. If he could last a mere 24 hours more, then he could become a Cacique.

But, the ritual doesn’t end there, and this is where the story of Guatavita Lake really comes alive. These Caciques would arrive at the lake to make offerings in order to receive abundance from their goddess.

And how do they make such an offering? Well, they smother themselves with sticky stuff, probably honey, which is rubbed into their naked bodies and then covered in gold.

They’d then walk up to the lake and, from a raft, throw pieces of gold into the water as an offering, an act which has since inspired curiosity and greed from treasure hunters from around the world.

Over many years Guatavita Lake has been drained, people have scuba dived to its depths and a channel was even dug up, leaving a V-shaped hole in the mountain. One hopeful man even suggested that more than one billion sterling worth of goodies were still sitting on the bottom of the lake.

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Thankfully, the lake and some of the surrounding area is now protected and people are no longer able to come here to look for buried treasure or clean their cars (as Alejandro mentioned wasn’t all that uncommon not that long ago!) and, more seriously, it is no longer at risk of being further damaged in the pursuit of riches.

Walking up the steps to Guatavita Lake, I became short of breath because of the high altitude and thin air (we were 3,100 metres above sea level), but what really took my breath away was the energy, the history and the mysticism of this truly important and beautiful place.

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Sarepa was invited to visit Guatavita Lake by Colombia4u and Destino Bogota on the Zipaquira Salt Cathedral and Guatavita Lake Tour. For more information about the tour, be sure to click here. All opinions are her own.

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I hope you enjoyed that blog by Sarah 🙂 Thank  you Sarah for sharing your travels! I’m certainly inspired to visit Colombia and enjoy reading all of your blogs.You can also follow Sarah on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.Sarah has a blog writing course coming up that you may be interested in. I completed this course a couple of months ago, and loved it, and have been busy implementing the information I learned ever since.

Who’s the course for?

The Build Your Best Blog course is for anyone who has a project, idea, business venture or creative mission who wants to be seen, heard and engaged with online. If you’re unsure why having a blog is so important, what platform to use or how to ensure your personality and your message shines through in the ever-crowded online landscape, then this guide about how to Build Your Best Blog is a great first step. 

What’s included:

  • Daily emails: Every day for four weeks you’ll receive an email from me with the day’s course content, which will include information, helpful videos, worksheets and exercises to help you put into practice what you’re learning each day.
  • Private Facebook group: You’ll receive access to a private Facebook group which has been set up to help you. Have a question about the course content? Want to connect with other bloggers? Want to be part of a community? That’s where the Facebook group comes in. It’s all about supporting you!
  • eBook: You’ll also receive a 100-page eBook with all the necessary information we covered over the course. That means you can refer to the information as you need it, whenever it is most convenient for you.
  • One-on-one coaching: A really exciting addition to this course is the opportunity to have one-on-one blog coaching from Sarah (that’s me!). At an allocated time, Sarah will go over  your blog and give you personalised feedback about areas to work on with you blog, so you can get the most out of your experience during the course.
  • Access to videos, worksheets + more!

You can find out further information by clicking on the affiliate picture below.

Build You Best Blog Course

Sarepa Build You Best Blog Course

Have you travelled to Colombia? We’d love to hear your thoughts about Colombia in the comments below.

 

Words of Wanderlust

 

Words of Wanderlust- on aureviour.com.au

Words of Wanderlust- on aureviour.com.au

Today I’m honoured to be featured as a travel writer and photographer on the Words of Wanderlust blog by Au Revoir Travel website. Click here to read my interview with Cherie.

P.S Check out the travel journals whilst you’re there… did I mention I have a birthday coming up in oh, 160 days? If you’re stuck for a gift, a travel pack would be tops, as I’m heading off to Bruny Island in Tasmania…just joking, oh no really, a travel candle would be nice…

 

The power of transformational travel

Transformationaltravel

Today I’m excited to launch the first of a new series of blogs on transformational travel. Recently I’ve been reflecting about what I want to achieve on this blog. My friend Sarah Duncan of Sarepa asked me to define my intention:

My intention is to inspire you to make conscious choices about your life enabling you to live with purpose and intention. When we live with purpose and intention we colour outside the box, become creative and open our eyes to the wonder of life. By doing this, we live a life that is meaningful to us, we decide how we wish to be of service to the world, and exit with a lasting legacy. 

As a part of achieving this, I will be introducing you to some inspiring people who have either traveled intentionally, or followed their passions to create a career that is meaningful to them. Today, to launch the series on transformational and intentional travel, I’m very excited to introduce to you my wonderful friend Amanda.

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Amanda Cassar: Photo by Katische Haberfield

We met last September at the Business Chicks Gwinganna retreat. (You can read about it here) Since then I’ve caught up with a couple of times, including once when I was privileged to be invited in to photograph her home. Since then she’s raised $10,000 and gone on a transformational trip to Uganda to learn how one organisation “The Hunger Project” is empowering people to change their lives.

I asked Amanda if she would reflect on her journey to Uganda and the lessons she learnt. I hope you find it as inspiring as I have.

Katische

A transformational trip to Uganda

I had always wanted to travel, for as long as I can remember; starting with learning about exotic faraway places in Social Studies and Geography classes in primary school.

The story of Pompeii fascinated me.  Paris sounded romantic and wonderful.  The United States screamed adventure and Europe oozed history!  So many places to visit!  And such a big world to see!

My parents certainly weren’t globetrotters by any means and my first overseas trip was my honeymoon to Hawaii. This was the first of many marital compromises – I wanted the U.S.A. and he wanted the Islands – with Hawaii, we both got what we wanted.  And although the travel bug was firmly planted, two babies came along quickly and I had a business to grow and houses to build.

We managed a couple of Asian trips and Pacific Island getaways with the family, but it wasn’t until 2009 that my travels began in earnest with a trip to the United States with my sister.  We did Los Angeles, Michigan and New York and I was hooked!

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Souvenir in Amanda’s kitchen from her travels to Paris. Photograph: Katische Haberfield

Since then, there’s been lots of travel, with friends, solo and with the family.  Bucket list places have been ticked.  Pompeii is as fascinating as I thought.  Paris is as wonderful as I’d imagined, the States have been full of adventure and Europe did drip history from every cobblestone, museum and church.

More recently China, Malaysia, Bali, Dubai and South Africa have been added to the list of ticks, but it’s one country that had never jumped out and grabbed me, begging to go on my list, that has had the biggest impact on me personally.   Uganda.

I was privileged to apply for and be selected in the Business Chicks Leadership & Immersion Program in May, 2015 to this eastern African nation that straddles the Equator.

My knowledge of Uganda at that stage was limited to, but included a history that involved Idi Amin and human rights abuses, civil war, pictures of malnourished children and the home of some of the last mountain gorillas.  After that, I was pretty clueless.

Our arrival saw us fly in to Entebbe on the edge of Lake Victoria and then drive an hour into the capital city of Kampala.  It was around a 30 hour trip door to door.

The rich red fertile dirt was sprouting with banana tree crops.  Paw paws and jackfruit trees lined the way.  Market stalls were established along the main roads selling ball gowns, bed frames, fruit and mattresses.  Children actually did roll bicycle wheels with sticks along the roadside.  And everywhere, it was busy!

Beautiful dark skins and hair, brightly coloured clothes, big blue African skies and a hive of activity were our entry to this amazing country.  I think every place has its own unique smells and scents.  For me, Uganda is the smell of the dirt, so earthy; and the smoky fires constantly burning… and maybe a dash of armpit…

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Photo courtesy of Amanda Cassar

In conjunction to working in with The Hunger Project (THP,) we were shown a side of Uganda that not many tourists ever get to see.  And some of the locals, had never met white visitors before either!  As part of the program, the 16 women attending had to raise a minimum of $10, 000 each for this incredible cause, and we got to see firsthand where the fruits of our labours and those who so kindly donated, were directed.

And then, after a couple of days settling in, being spoiled by international buffets, cute chefs, spa treatments and hotel life, we jumped on a bus and headed southwest for about five hours.  We were finally going to meet the people.

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Photograph courtesy of Amanda Cassar

Brass band fanfares welcomed the “Chicks of the Business Kind” when we travelled to the various epicentres set in place by The Hunger Project and the smiles of welcome were genuine and large.  Children and adults alike danced and sang in welcome, local politicians gave speeches for us and the women showed off their handicrafts with pride.  It was very special and completely overwhelming.  A total rock star welcome, and although inspiring, I felt a little undeserving.

We learned how none of the changes wrought in the community would have ever been possible without a complete change of mindset.

Uganda has now had generations of war, murders, hunger and poverty.  The team from The Hunger Project work with local communities and help them to see that change is possible, it can be real and that the people living these lives can overcome these hurdles themselves.  They are the key to ending chronic persistent hunger – and it can and is being done.

Those who had embraced the key pillars of The Hunger Project were living positive, empowered lives, making a difference to their immediate and extended families and to their communities.  Functional adult literacy classes meant parents could now proudly sign documents.  Children had clothes, school uniforms and shoes.  Parents were taught to save and apply for small loans to improve their lot through rural banks or SACCO (Savings and Credit Co-Operatives.)  Nutrition lessons are provided, best agriculture practices taught and health centres are available for AIDS testing, midwives and nurses were on hand, baby weighing is done and consultations are accessible.  Husbands bragged about their empowered wives who were now partners with them, instead of just another mouth to feed.

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Photograph courtesy of Amanda Cassar

But that’s not all we saw.  There’s those who are too proud to change their ways and learn something new.  There’s some too ashamed to admit their ignorance.  There’s those who live too far from an epicentre to get there for education and there’s those, who just don’t want to know.

And for them, the despair is still there, and it’s real.  Their children still sport the large swollen bellies we recognise from years of relief organisation campaigns.  They have thin, frail limbs, lightened hair, sores, runny noses and go to bed hungry.

And then we became frustrated and angry.  It was a hard road to travel.

Why couldn’t we help the people who we’d met and had impacted on our lives?  Those who’d invited us into their modest homes and shared their stories with us.

Why couldn’t I directly give Eveline some money to send her children to school?  Eveline’s husband abandoned the family when their third child was 9 months old, selling everything including the mattress before leaving and never returning.  She has terrible allergies and syphilis and earns around $1 per day tending the fields of others for up to 8 hours.  She stays up all night to brew a local form of alcohol to supplement her income.  She can’t afford school supplies, let alone her medicine… And the unfairness drove me crazy.  I had two months’ wages for her in my purse floating around as spare change.  I just didn’t get it… yet.

Eveline waving at Amanda.

Eveline waving at Amanda.

Photo courtesy Amanda Cassar

Photo courtesy Amanda Cassar

I shared my concerns and upset with my fellow travellers and the local Hunger Project staffers, and their confidence and determination were refreshing.  At present, they impact around 1-2% of the population, but to those thousands, they’re having an enormous effect.

Word is spreading and more want to become involved.  I needed to get over myself and my ambitious desire to ‘save them all’ and now.

I’d never been so confronted and felt so useless, yet learned so much.

The resilience of those who had turned their lives around through a simple change in mindset shone in their beautiful smiles.  I do have the trust that there are a lot of good people doing their absolute best to assist their fellow countrymen who can make the best decisions about where the investor dollars flow.  Handouts cannot achieve this.  They need to have a vision of what the future can look like, commit to that, and learn how to act to make it a reality.

I know now, that I can spread the word of the great work that this charity does in giving a ‘Hand Up’ rather than a ‘Hand Out.’

My business allows me the freedom to travel, to be able to gift time and money to devote to the things that are important to me.

The lessons learnt in rural Uganda have impacted me deeply.  Most trips I’ve been on before have been ‘transactional’ rather than ‘transformational.’  I went there, took the pics and bought the T-shirt.  Great memories.  Uganda provided great impact.

I can no longer ask ‘I wonder what the poor people are doing?’  I know.  I’ve been there.  I’ve sat in their dirt, windowless homes on the mud floors and heard their stories.  This in turn has provided a clarity.

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Photograph courtesy of Amanda Cassar

I’ve always enjoyed what I do.  As a financial adviser I get to also impact people’s lives for the better.  When things go pear-shaped, I’ve set up protection strategies that can assist financially.  I can make that holiday a reality.  I can assist in making retirement a better place.  How cool is that!?

I’ve also joined the Qld Development Board of the Hunger Project and can be part of a charitable form of giving that I know has an end in mind.  THP aim to end world hunger by 2030.  (And I thought I was ambitious!)

Now, being able to give back and contribute in a meaningful way gives me a greater and enhanced enjoyment for what I do.  Perspective is a beautiful and ever changing thing.  I’m very grateful that I haven’t needed to lose a limb, be in a tragic accident, survive horrific circumstances or test my endurance beyond what’s considered humanly possible to have the deep gratitude for the many experiences that I’ve been so privileged to be part of.

If you ever get to be a part of something like this, please put your hand up and jump in feet first.  Think about the logistics later.  You’ll take away so much more than you ever could have given.

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Photograph courtesy of Amanda Cassar

To find out more about Amanda’s trip, and how you could be involved with the Hunger Project,  you can contact Amanda at http://www.wealthplanningpartners.com.au or via the following details below.

E: amanda@wealthplanningpartners.com.au

T: 07 5593 0855 M: 0410 455 158

Share Amanda’s story with your friends by clicking on the social media icons below 🙂

The colours of autumn

There’s something magical about the golden colours of autumn. The bright reds and greens which over time fade into rustic colours before they drop to the ground. Living in Brisbane we don’t experience the dramatic changes in season. There is a Maple Leaf tree in our street, but to experience the real colours of autumn, you need to travel somewhere colder.  Stanthorpe is a perfect location for this.

I highly recommend that you call the Visitor Information Centre before going, to ensure that the leaves are still on the trees. A three hour trip is a long way to go if they have already fallen…  http://www.granitebeltwinecountry.com.au  1800 SO COOL is their phone number.

Copyright- Katische Haberfield

Quart Pot Creek, Stanthorpe. Copyright- Katische Haberfield

 

Copyright- Katische Haberfield

Copyright- Katische Haberfield

Copyright- Katische Haberfield

Copyright- Katische Haberfield

 

Escape to the country

Mallow Cottage Stanthorpe

Stanthorpe and the Granite Belt

The nights are getting cooler, and retailers are trying to convince us it is time to rug up in winter woolies, despite the unusually warm weather we are experiencing in Brisbane. As soon as it gets cool, I start dreaming of getaways that involve log fires, red wine and doing nothing.

The Granite Belt region, and the town of Stanthorpe is the perfect location for this- two and a half hours drive from Brisbane. With the Autumn upon us, the leaves will start changing colours and it will hit peak accommodation season in the region.

We hit the road with our dog over the New Years Break, seeking solitude, a location that would accept a pet and a new adventure. It had been at least a decade since our last visit to the region and despite the easy access to restaurants and wineries, we just wanted to chill. Our taxing holiday wish list was to read books, eat good food, and pull out the cameras when we were inspired.

sunflowers Allora

To start our journey we visited the famous Sunflower fields of Allora, and ran into a number of other Instagrammers who were there to do exactly the same – capture the illusive photo. As luck had it, the Sunflowers were about to be harvested and had lost their petals, however it made for a stunning stop regardless.

The road past Mallow Cottages Stanthorpe

Mallow Cottage has its own private entrance on the property and is fully fenced to ensure the safety of your pet or children. There is no wifi and minimal phone reception, so you can truly disconnect and enjoy the moment, your partner and your surroundings. Helen the owner checked on us each day to see if there was anything we needed, but otherwise left us to enjoy the peace. We ordered a pack of organic lamb chops and sausages to cook on the bbq and enjoyed dining on the verandah.

Sheep Stanthorpe

The free range pasture feeding and certified organic farming practices and care for the welfare (there is no mulesing) certainly agrees with the sheep. And we’re not the only people to think so- Mallow Organic Lamb was a Medalist in the Paddock section of ABC’s Delicious Magazine’s Produce Award in 2012. The camera’s got a workout, and the books stayed beside the bed.

Shearing Shed- Stanthorpe

Helen invited us to wander the property at our leisure. Mallow Cottages is a photographic heaven. Black cockatoos, Willy wagtails, kookaburras and butterflies galore visited us.  Not to mention the resident sheep. The property is a working organic lamb farm, complete with historic shearing shed, which was a Cobb and Co stop and a pub to name a few things.

Shearing Shed Stanthorpe

The cottage itself is a delight, tastefully renovated in a style sympathetic to its farmhouse origins, using where possible sustainable or salvaged materials and furnishings. This is line with Helen and Andrew’s philosophy of ‘creating a lighter footprint’.

Secret Lake House Stanthorpe

Near the dam is a secret summerhouse, which although we didn’t use it, would be a fantastic place to watch the colours of the afternoon golden hour, whilst relaxing with a bottle of wine. During our time we were treated to spectacular sunsets over the dam, and a storm, which brought magical clouds and freshness to the country air.

Sunset Stanthorpe

Two of our three days were spent relaxing and exploring the property, and New Year’s day we ventured out to explore the historic Wallangarra Railway station on the border of Qld and NSW and the Boonooboonoo falls near Tenterfield.

Wallangarra Historic Railway Station

We were so taken by the property we didn’t get a chance to explore Stanthorpe or its wineries. Stanthorpe is a fantastic spot to escape the searing heat of summer, due to its elevation, however, we look forward to returning to stoke up the fire and enjoy the chill of a proper winter.

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The writer and her partner stayed at Mallow Cottages and Organic Farm at their own expense. They have fallen in love with the property and the owners, not to mention the lambs and will be back with their kids as soon as possible.

From $327 per night for all three bedrooms, or just $ 192 for the one bedroom for a romantic escape. (www.mallow.net.au) We booked through www.alluxia.com

 

Travelling through life with a camera

I need to escape regularly. Working from a home office, I need to get out on the weekends and inject some fresh air and life into my blood. I find travelling an easy way to do this. When I bring my camera along with me, I find that I stop more, and really take in my surroundings. I look for textures and colours, for the shapes in the clouds, and the everyday things that make me laugh. I look for the things that other people walk past.

The following photos are from a recent trip to Sydney’s eastern suburbs.