They had made friends with the dog because mommy gave it some food, Sophie told me. A tan-coloured dog had indeed attached itself to their family, and lay panting in the shade close to their backpacks.
We were all waiting for a bus in the main plaza of the small town of Salento, deep in the coffee region of central Colombia. Sam and I were stood with an American-Canadian family, Frederic and Edda and their two little girls, Sophie and Elsa, five and three years old respectively, whom we had met that morning over breakfast in our farm-hostel. We were all headed to the same city, but our attempts to catch a bus out were somewhat thwarted by a helpful lady at the tourist point who gave each person different information. No bus had turned up yet and wouldn’t, apparently, for another hour, as far as we could work out. We decided to cut our losses and find a place for lunch, then work out what to do.
During lunch, we asked the owner of the restaurant for an alternative way out of the town, and after eating we all rushed out and onto a bus just pulling out of a small terminal. On the bus, the two girls sat with me. It was the first time that Edda and Frederic had sat next to each other on a bus during their six-week trip around Colombia, but I wasn’t doing them a favour. We may have spent just one mealtime together, but I was already falling for their two girls. The three of us spent the journey chatting. Sophie told me about various events of their trip so far, as Elsa stared at two tiny dogs sat on the lap of the woman across the aisle from us, and intermittently proclaimed ‘Look, puppies!’ They then invented several great games. Number One: point to the bracelets on my wrist, and one by one recite which South American country they each came from (Sophie had them all committed to memory by her second go, and Elsa wasn’t far behind, happily proclaiming after each, of many many rounds, ‘I did all of your bracelets!’). Number Two: pull my long hair (declared to be ‘scrawly’ by Elsa, who I think was going for curly + swirly, but got it slightly wrong) across my face to see how completely they could hide my eyes, then giggle excitedly whenever I appeared from behind the shroud again. Number Three: take out several coins from a tiny purse they each had, and get me to read which country they came from; Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Bolivia.
These games kept us entertained across several short bus journeys, as we moved towards the city of Manizales. Sam and I could have chosen to get onto an earlier bus midway through which only had two spaces free, but somehow we were all in it together by that point. By the final section of the journey, Sam and I each had one girl on our lap, labelling bracelets and holding up coins, whilst Frederic and Edda sat in front and called us Mary Poppins.
Mid-afternoon we arrived in the city of Manizales and parted for the night to go to different accommodation, but arranged a day trip together for the next day. And that was it, Sam and I were goners. That day trip was followed by several meet-ups in the next city where we also crossed over.
And so, I bring you a selection of photos from our time as Mary Poppins (like one great fictional character, but spread across two, less magical people):
We wandered through Recinto del Pensamiento Nature Park, spotting hummingbirds, marvelling at the miniature perfection of bonsai trees and fascinated by butterflies and jewel-like cocoons in the butterfly enclosure. At the end of our loop of the park, we came to an ostrich enclosure where two beautiful birds strutted up and down, and were very interested in Sam’s camera.
In the afternoon we visited the Termales El Otoño, thermal hot springs located in the mountains. The view was somewhat spoilt by a large and very fancy hotel complex, but on the other hand, even though it was Sunday and Colombians love their hot springs, we had the place to ourselves for the majority of the time. With the two girls having more sensitive skin, we stuck to the cooler of the two pools, which was still 30°C (even half submersion in the 40°C pool seemed like an achievement to us adults). Dressed in a blue polka dot tutu swimming suit (yep, unbelievably adorable), Elsa turned to me and asked, with an almost unbearable cuteness, ‘Do you love me?’ Day One and I was already discussing the complex issue of love with a three-year-old. Sophie wandered around with our GoPro (definite photographer/filmmaker in the works), so when Sam and I got back to our hotel room, we had some stunningly original photos of people’s legs, feet and the blue of the pool, as well as a burst of thirty photos all taken in one second, all featuring Sophie’s close-up, confused face staring into the lens.
We were reunited in the city of Medellin a few days later. Together we travelled on two of Medellin’s cable car lines. These lines are linked to the Metro system, as the city sprawls out from the bottom of a valley and up mountain slopes, so the cable cars provide access to the city centre for people living higher and further away. We crossed 6.6 kilometres, lifting out of the valley over the bustle of the inner city, slowly ascending over shanty towns, farms, and finally a long stretch of dense forest until we touched down again in Parque Arvi, a huge forest park.
We wandered through the park. The air was heavy with the smell of pine needles, but quite a lot of sections were roped off by fences of barbed wire so a lot of time was spent walking along the road, the only route available to the public. We reached a river after a while, and the girls enjoyed watching Josh, a friend of ours who we had brought along for the day, jumping into the cold water of a pool beneath a small waterfall. He’s kiwi, so I assume that explains why he would do such a mad thing!
The next day, we met up in the evening for a final meal together, before the family flew home to California. After the meal, we all played in a small playground outside the restaurant, helping the girls rock up and down on the seesaw (‘you’re stuck in the sky… now you’re stuck in the mud’) and catching them at the bottom of the slide. We parted with a big group hug; I’m sure several adults and a couple of children stood in a circle hugging in the middle of a playground is a normal thing for Colombians to see.
Sam and I are in our early twenties travelling across Latin America. Stereotype dictates that we should probably be boozing our way through these countries rather than attaching ourselves to a family. Don’t get me wrong, a night out here and there is great fun, but it is unusual to meet many families who are travelling, particularly with young children. When you have been on the road a while it is nice to keep things fresh, and hanging out with this family, especially Sophie and Elsa, added a new dimension to our experience. They allowed us a perspective shift; the trials and tribulations of travelling as seen through the eyes of a child.