So, after an initial few days spent settling into Medellin I jumped on a local bus on a Sunday lunchtime and I headed off to the little mountain town called Amagá which is just 45 minutes south of the city. After being deposited in the bustling central parque an entire family helped me to locate one of the Willy’s jeeps which would take me up the rough track to the hostel.
And there I fell into another little slice of paradise. I struck gold with the location of the hostel, the owner, the other volunteers and all of the residents in the town of Amagá.
The EcoHostel Medellin is fast establishing itself as a permaculture farm and guests here have various options. My week (and that of most of my fellow volunteers) went something like this:
On a good day I would get out of bed just as the mountains were turning a blue grey as the dawn broke and the soft mist would saunter up from the valley below. I would often attempt to meditate or I would join in a yoga session. Breakfast would be at 6.30 and then me and Nat (and later Mat) would head off up the tiny path up the massive hill to the little one-room primary school where we would endeavor to deliver an English lesson to up to eighteen adorable children. I take my hat off to their full time teacher who taught on four separate blackboards to an age range of between five and twelve year olds, all at the same time. She had the patience of a saint and a smile to go with it.
After the English class we would have an hour and a half of Spanish classes with Paola in the most perfect outdoor classroom. It is tough trying to conjugate those bloody Spanish verbs but it was made far more bearable with the backdrop of the mountains rearing up over us, the vultures circling above us and the insects and birds squawking and chirruping away.
I also worked on the farm for two hours a day – and we usually managed to fit all of this in before a wonderful hearty healthy vegetarian lunch. The farm work varied hugely but could be anything and included planting and weeding, collecting cow poo from the field opposite, collecting leaves down in the jungly bamboo forest, clearing new paths with machetes, digging terraces and making Japanese bocachi (a quick compost).
Some of the volunteers would head off to teach English to the secondary school children in the afternoon, but having done my bit at the primary school in the morning I would either hang around in a hammock and recharge my batteries or I would head off in the other direction into the town. We would also take it in turns to attend an intercambio group consisting of adults and children in Amagá and which usually ended in a beer or two once the little ones had left.
Paola also organised various field trips and experiences for us all. I will tell you about these trips in a future entry but they included a visit to a panela factory, soap and clay workshops and a trip to the local roof tile factory.
Permaculture is as old as the hills but seems to have got forgotten along the way as human beings have ‘progressed’. More and more people around the world are turning to this method of farming which involves working with the land, geography, climate and the natural resources. Water is used wisely, waste composted and the food is organic. It is a complete way of life and if you want to know more you should visit Paola’s place and do a stint here.
Although every batch of guests going through Paola’s place are great, I know that I was with the very best of the bunch. We were an unusually large group as some volunteers had just turned up to check out the place and ended up staying. Some lunchtimes there were sixteen of us around the large dinner table – the guests, Paola and her novio, Tia (aunt) and Mauri our juggling, acrobatic, samba drumming gardener.
We, the volunteers were a diverse bunch but we had the best of times. As well as the yoga and the meditation I had a massage from my Texan friend in the little outdoor schoolroom during the most spectacular thunderstorm, reiki and crystal healing from LL and I have it on good authority that a baby may even be named after me!
I had a magical twenty minutes in our darkened dorm room with my Swedish pal – no.. wait.. where we were totally mesmorised by a firefly which had somehow got in and which treated us to a Disney-type neon green dance as it floated and flashed around our heads whilst we oohed and aahed. Tinkerbell has to have been modelled on this phenomenen of nature and then on other evenings we would spend ages up on the high bamboo platform as dusk fell, watching the magical sparkles as the glittering bugs floated and swooped and danced in the trees and bushes, made all the more magical by their silence and the intensity of their green, orange and white lights.
With no internet, TV or radio at the hostel we would head into town to connect with the outside world. Often, walking along the track we would overtake horses or cows which were grazing along the grass verges, clamber up the ridiculously steep roads to the market and, past the outdoor area where you would see women doing the laundry, lads washing their motorbikes off and miners black with coal dust showering under the freshwater spring where the water gushed freely out of the mountainside. And there were of course many many times when a passing motorbike would stop and with no helmet I would jump on the back, or one of the Willy jeeps would stop, fully laden but would allow us to hang off the back ladder for free.
Many of the houses in Amagá have no running water and residents use the outdoor spring to collect drinking water, shower and laundry. It was always a bit disconcerting walking back from the town after dark and bumping into a silent cow or horse, but the show of stars above and the many glittering lights from the hundreds of houses scattered among the mountainside plantations gave the whole place a cosy feel.
The town has no museum or attraction to visit and there is no reason to stop there as it sprawls up the mountainside – BUT this is what makes it such a magical place and the EcoHostel Medellin perfect for a weekend stop or a more extensive break. Apart from the guests at the hostel you will be hard-pressed to find anyone from outside Colombia in Amagá and therein lies its secret, and of course it is just an hours bus ride away from the magnificent metropolis that is Medellin.
The people here have to be the friendliest, most inquisitive, most generous people in the whole wide world. Whether you are sitting in the market trying to skype home, having a drink in one of the hundreds of little street side bars or shopping, people will come and talk to you. Men, women and children are inquisitive and so proud that you are in their town. They want to practice their English, invite you into their homes for dinner or pay for your beers or coffee. And always they have the widest smiles and the happiest manners.
And I can’t omit to mention the little town library. It is a little hub of activity and with the cutest little courtyard which is lovingly tended by Julio the great librarian, this has to be the prettiest library in the world.
After initially planning to stay for just five weeks I extended my visa and I remained in and around Amagá and Medellin for twelve which will give you some indication of how I fell head over heels in love with this place. I need to move on so next is Cartagena and the Caribbean coast. I need to move on so that I know if I want to return.
I could write forever about Amagá and the region of Antioquia, but I will try not to bore you. This area and its people wove a magic around me. Here I eventually found an inner peace and I am moving towards an acceptance of things that I am unable to change.