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How I'm Traveling for Free in Colombia, and How you can, too

COLOMBIA | Thursday, 23 February 2017 | Views [1030]

Hola all!

I'm still traveling in the Zona Cafeteria in Colombia and it has treated me well. I expected to be in, or close to entering, Ecuador by now... But nope, not yet- the green has got me. I have found the coffee landscaped mountain views align with Colombia’s marketable slogan “the only risk is wanting to stay.” I have indeed fell victim to that risk.

Why here? Firstly, I enjoy the variations on weather- now currently staying in the elevated mountains just north of Manizales. The air is crisp and slightly chilly in the morning. Frequent bursts of rain during the day remind me of living in Hilo- a place that holds an aching fondness in my heart. During the day it is hot and the sun beats down with intensity. These variable weather patterns bode well for the millions of coffee plants, who thrive in warm climates but need lots of reliable water. Where coffee isn't planted, cows inhabit, and they have made the best out of a steep & undesirable location by naturally terracing the mountainsides. From far away, the terracing looks man made--like ancient green carpeted steps covering hundreds of acres. It is quite fairytale-like.

Finding myself in a hammock watching the sun rise and set over the steamy, hazy Manizales mountains with a cup of Colombian coffee in hand is something I keep wanting to re-live, so...I do. I'm now coming up on my third week here and have incredibly found a way to stay for free! The secret?........It's quite simple and I must admit, i was quite skeptical, but the truth is, if you can speak English and have two working hands, you can travel for free in South America. Many doors for shoestring travel opportunities are wide open if you so seek them.

About two weeks ago, I sent out dozens of emails to farms, hostels and families on a site called workaway.info, that which caters to travelers seeking volunteer positions across the globe. I was in Salento and knew I wanted to stay in the Zona Cafeteria for a longer time, so I chose to send emails to places accepting volunteers in cities like Pereira, Manizales, and Armenia.

I had been sending emails on workaway as early as one month before my arrival to Colombia. The response rate for these emails is generally not impressive. Maybe 1 in 10 will respond- which is why I sent out copious amounts stating my desire to volunteer, primarily wishing to teach English. Luckily and thankfully, while traveling I received an email from a lady named Johanna who lived 20 minutes away from the location I was at in Manizales.

At that time, I was staying with a local couple, Caro and Tony, whom I met through a dear friend while hiking in Salento. Meet Taylor: a seasoned traveler at 26 years old--a couch surfing Minnesotan who speaks Icelandic, and has a knack for navigating off the beaten path towns like no other. We immediately hit it off while hiking in (for me, the second time) Corcora Valley in Salento. It felt nice to meet someone who could understand the small nostalgic details of home--of growing up in not only America, but the Midwest. (I hadn't met an American on the road in some time. Surprisingly, it's been my experience that American travelers aren't so common in Colombia. I think the past tense stereotype of drugs and danger still rings louder here than in other countries? The majority I meet are from Europe, Australia, Canada or South America). Taylor & I laughed a lot, hiked a lot, and trotted from small Zona Cafeteria city to city together for the next few days.

When we met, Taylor had already pre-planned to stay with Caro and Tony for the following week. He asked permission for me to tag along and stay too. I was given the go-ahead. I couldn't believe how graciously they invited me to stay in their mystical, wifi-less, open-aired bungalow in the tucked away mountains of San Peregrino- and for free! To feed me, to entertain me and introduce me to their friends was a blessing I'll never forget. Taylor and I were able to cut travel costs, and in return, we cooked, cleaned and bought beers for our hosts. We were also invited to participate in a Tamazcal Sweat Lodge ceremony with a Shaman and 20 locals near the Sierra Nevada Mountain range-- but that is a story with too much bulk, intensity, emotion, and I could write an entire novel about that experience...

During my time (off the grid) in San Peregrino, I made a point to travel to Manizales city to find wifi to solidify my work exchange opportunity. Johana and I kept in contact, set a date, and before I knew it, I was parting ways with Taylor, Caro & Tony (quite sad!) and en route to the coffee farm where I'd be volunteering.

Right now Im living with Johana and her husband on a primo coffee bean farm teaching English for 1 hour a day and helping with coffee tours. In return, I get to stay for free, eat for free and enjoy all the mountain sunrises and sunsets I can manage. There's no immediate access to grocery stores, bars or restaurants here which means ZERO dollars a day! To say I'm grateful would be an understatement. I hope to stay here for maybe 1-2 weeks with Ecuador soon on the horizon.

To travel for free is doable, it just takes some searching. In this day and age, the internet is a traveler’s best friend. Sites like workaway, helpX, and Couchsurfing are brilliant resources--it's just about mustering the courage to try it. (Hell yes I was wary, hesitant, and scared before trying) but trust me when I say this: South America is much safer than it's reputation if you're a smart, intuitive, and aware traveler.

Already, I have local families who I plan to stay with in Ecuador who have hosted some of my friends I have met on the road. I'm only writing this with hopes of inspiring others to believe that traveling with little money IS possible. Just go. Just do it. Seek, my friends, and you will find.

So that's about it for now. Until I make it to Ecuador, Hasta luego.


Tags: adventure, budget, colombia, free, travel

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