Living and learning in Mexico

We have now lived in Mexico for 2 years!  We are learning Spanish and so much about Mexican culture. This little bit of knowledge and language skill gives us confidence to now travel inside Mexico. 

Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.

Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See

This recent trip to Mexico City from our home in San Miguel de Allende starts at the bus station in SMA. The bus system in Mexico is top notch. Premiere buses are luxury buses with Wifi and TVs at your seat. The reclining seats are comfortable with lots of leg room. The buses travel fast and safely over the Mexican highways. A rash of car jackings have plagued our beautiful area around San Miguel de Allende. Seventy (70) over the past three months. Banditos somehow get cars pulled over and at gunpoint get you out of the car, leave you beside the road without shoes and take the car and everything inside. Everything! Passports, laptops, wallets, suitcases and jewelry. While this has not happened to us we are aware and take all the precaution we can to avoid this nightmare. Yes, gun barrels to the forehead is frightening. The best advice: Don’t resist! These buses move fast and strong and feels like the best way to travel on the highway. 

Mexico City is one of the biggest cities in the world with over 25 million people and the crime rate here is one third less than Washington DC. You arrive to chaos and energy and a lot of pollution this time of year because of inversion. Cold air up high trapping hot air below. A lot of hot air from a lot of carbon powered gas cars. 

Ángel de la Independencia

We like the neighborhood of Polanco. The streets are clean and parks are woven between busy streets and sidewalk cafes reminding us of Paris. The people are dressed sharp and greet you with a smile when you greet them with the traditional Mexican courtesy of buenos dais, buenos tardes, and buenos noches. These are important to know and understand. The culture here is strong and knowing just a little will get you through a lot of bad Spanish. 

We walk, talk and shop through the streets of Polanco, thinking in Spanish. What a feeling to cross over to this point. Our Spanish skills are by no means perfect but we are doing it and it is amazing. Our efforts have paid off and the smiles from the Mexican people warm our hearts. We are comfortable here!! We stop for a glass of wine and a beautiful frijoles soup at Dante and just around the corner is Cerveceria Polanquito. Beautiful food and people! There are many world class restaurants here in the city. James Beard award winners with months or more long waits for a reservation. We enjoy finding smaller places with fun bars and bumping music. We love to sit at the bar and find a way to eat plant based. “No comemos carne.” We laugh and speak Spanish with the bartenders while they practice English with us. So much fun!  

Cerveceria Polanquito

Remember, comida is the big meal of the day here and it starts at 2 or 3pm! Yes, 2 or 3pm and restaurants are packed with business people making deals. Saluts abound and wine glasses ching ching! The ”’Three Martini Lunch’ is alive and well here in Mexico City. Every company in the world wants to be part of Mexico and especially Mexico City. Here are just some of the brands with a footprint in Mexico City: The NBA, the NFL, Major League Baseball, Starbucks, Steelcase, Knoll, AT&T, HSBC Bank, yes Huawei (don’t plug in!), Toyota , GM, BMW, even Gino’s East Pizza from Chicago! 

On Sunday one of the biggest streets in Mexico City, Reforma, is blocked off to allow bikes to travel miles without traffic. It is a Sunday tradition as people on bikes travel freely from neighborhood to neighborhood.

We enjoyed our visit to the Anthropology museum but only had time to spend a few hours. You could spend three days!

Museo Nacional de Anthropologia

We will return to beautiful Mexico City and find more favorite places to explore, eat and drink!

Muchos Abrazos Mexico City!

In Mexico we play! In Oaxaca we eat and drink!

Culture here respects and honors the art of playing.

We arrive in Oaxaca straight from Las Vegas.  We left Las Vegas the day of the massacre.  Such tragedy in America’s city of play.  One of Rick’s best friends is Phil Tom who lives in Las Vegas.  Phil is the Lord of playing and fantasy.  Phil grew up in Indiana and played multiple sports.  He would shoot baskets in his backyard for hours pretending he was Larry Bird.  The base of much of his success as a kid and adult is anchored in his own desire and need to PLAY.  Phil designed an 18 hole golf course around his home in Las Vegas as a place to PLAY and created golf’s fifth major.  The holes are narrow, short and a huge challenge for golfers.  Caroline’s Dad and Mary came to see us in Las Vegas and they too walked the course with smiles.

Phil Tom on the famed Lake Shore 6th hole
Lake Shore Golf and Country Club

For the past 19 years Phil has put on the Lakeshore golf tournament for the Make a Wish Foundation to help benefit kids who are fighting for their lives with little opportunity to PLAY.  This year the tournament and party raised over $10,000.   The total for 19 years of is over $200,000.  Thank you Phil. 

We wake up in Mexico to our phones blowing up with concern from friends and family that knew we were in Las Vegas. We turned on the news to the horror of the morning aftermath of a mad man that fired upon 22,000 people at PLAY, listening to music, dancing and singing.

The timing is perfect for our first visit to Oaxaca, in southern Mexico where only two weeks earlier the area was rocked by three major earthquakes that killed hundreds and left thousands without safe shelter.  We called our contacts prior to our arrival to make sure all was well and that we would be welcomed at this time of disaster.  Everyone asked us to please come!  Ciudad de Oaxaca was rattled but okay.  The city is ancient, the land around the city is mountainous and green.

Ciudad de Oaxaca
Ciudad de Oaxaca

The people, oh the people of Oaxaca thank you for showing us your beautiful spirit and welcoming us to your city!

First stop is the city’s indigenous, botanical gardens. We are toured by Carole Turkenik a famous, retired, American botanist who loves Oaxaca and lives here most of the time.  She is in awe herself as she explains to us the origin of the chile pepper.  Every chile pepper in the world originated here in Mexico and specifically here in Oaxaca.  Can you imagine Thai food without chile peppers?  Chinese food without chile peppers?  Indian food without chile peppers? They are all from here!  The garden is called an indigenous garden to help represent the 16 different indigenous cultures here in Oaxaca.  Amazing!

Mercado--20 Noviembre
Mercado–20 Noviembre

We learned where much of the world’s great foods originate and now we learn to cook! Our cooking class started in the markets of Ciudad de Oaxaca.  Markets in the world should take note of these beautiful markets filled with color, smells, food and drink.  From stall to stall you are greeted with big smiles and ‘buenos días’!   Fresh, clean vegetables are gathered by our guide and chef Esperanza as she works her way, with us in tow and eyes wide open, through The Viente Noviembre Mercado.  The mercado is well designed with well lit stalls and wonderfully displayed products from classic Oaxacan chile peppers to lush local chocolate.  We arrive at our kitchen for the day and meet our classmates.  Julie, Maya, and Carrie all friends from New York.  What a fun day to spend with new friends in the world. Augustine is the head of school and the English translator.  He greets us with humor and welcomes us to his home.  The kitchen fills with the smells of roasted garlic, grilled onions and roasting peppers.  We learn to make authentic tortillas, guacamole, and beautiful red mole.  We taste Mezcal and drink beer as we help Esperanza cook and teach us indigenous recipes.  We get to know each other and share our meal together along with a bottle of Mezcal that makes us all laugh as we toast each other to one more.  Salud!  In Mexico we play!

The next day our driver Erick picks us up for a day of exploring.  First stop, a cypress tree that is the widest tree in the world.  Its boughs fall with grace from the sky as gentle feathers. 

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We stop at a textile mill where men and women perform an ancient dance with ancient weaving machines as they stomp and  pull the old wood contraptions and slap the cotton or wool threads into beautiful designs. 

Our next stop is a Zapotec village where families still weave wool rugs with designs from ancient Zapotec symbols.  The colors are created from nature.  Walnuts help create browns, marigolds brighten yellows and red comes from a parasite that only lives on the Nopal Cactus.  As Spain conquered Mexico they began to mass produce and export the color to Europe.  The beautiful color soon became the third most exported product from Mexico behind Silver and Gold.

Picture from Craft in America web site
http://www.craftinamerica.org/artists/j-isaac-vasquez-garcia/

Now modern medicine, science and the food industry seek the parasite because it creates a red that does not cause cancer.  J. Isaac Vasquez Garcia is a family run weaving business and is honored as the best in Mexico.  The story is good and the products are fantastic. 

Photo by Zygi Goldenberg
Our trip through nature continues as we visit the Don Agave Mezcal tasting room and distillery.  Our guide walks around the grounds showing us agave plants in various stages of life and explains the process of identifying and harvesting quality agave for Mezcal production.  We see the ancient beds where the agave is buried and cured with hot volcanic rocks.  The rocks and mesquite wood create the smokey flavors so unique to Mezcal. The ancient process of grinding the agave using a giant stone wheel being pulled in a circle by a horse still exists.  The end product is pure 38% alcohol and a treat to taste if you know how to taste the elixir.  My friend Dan asked me on Facebook.  “Doesn’t Mezcal taste like paint thinner?”  Actually no, we learned from our guide.  To taste and drink Mezcal the art is almost like smoking.  Fill your mouth with a small amount of Mezcal, swish it around your mouth to taste the flavors.  Swallow the Mezcal and as the flavors reach the bottom of your stomach exhale as if releasing the Mezcal back through your mouth and nose.  The flavors then return as you taste a variety of essences.  Flowers, oils and some smoke.  So good!  We taste Mezcal and eat roasted Grasshoppers!

http://www.mezcaldonagave.com/
http://www.mezcaldonagave.com/
http://www.mezcaldonagave.com/

We ended our week on a the rooftop of Casa Oaxaca. Chef Alejandro Ruiz is a top chef in Mexico and the food proves that fact. 

Red salsa ground from roasted tomatoes and tomatillos, red chilies, garlic and onion using a Molcajete to mix the ingredients together right at your table creating an aroma and mouth watering salsa to begin your meal.

Table side Salsa!
Table side Salsa!

A beautiful bottle of Cabernet from Valle de Guadalupe, which is Mexico’s premier wine region. To finish us off a beautiful piece of Sea Bass arrives cooked to perfection.  Firm, rich and full of taste as if right from the beach.  Above a full moon begins to part the clouds and below a parade begins to take shape.  We learn that a new University has come to town and the young people dance, weave and sing below us to welcome the new school.  They are playing and celebrating life in Mexico.  We sit in awe and talk about how grateful we are to be in the presence of these people in their country.  We are welcomed by everyone we meet. The kids in the street, the people at our hotel which is the holiday inn express.  We think it’s the best in town and Trip Advisor agrees.  They care for us and greet us with smiles, buenos días and ask us how we slept.

We love this country of Mexico, the people and their culture.  Keep making time to PLAY Mexico and we will continue to learn and play.  This is fun!  Come and see us. 

Next up, we will be playing with two Australian Shepherds!  Stay tuned! 

Mighty is the earth, mighty are her people!

 

Mighty is a word prompt from Ben Huberman of the Daily Post. https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/27030/posts/1600207536

We are in a time right now where the Earth feels mad.  Two massive earthquakes, in Central Mexico, in as many weeks.  Many people dead, missing and without homes. 

San Miguel de Allende
Weekend Celebration of Independence Day

Hurricane after hurricane pounds the Atlantic destroying Puerto Rico and Dominica, making the powerful hurricanes Harvey in Houston and Irma in Florida feel like a distant memories.  As Florida and Houston recover other communities suffer. 

Mighty are the forces of nature that remind us we are small.  Is the earth mad?  Is global warming making things worse?  The ocean waters are warmer than normal making the hurricanes mighty. 

Mighty is the Orca Whale in the Miami Seaquarium.  Lolita/Toki has been in captivity in a small tank for 47 years.  Yes, 47 years!  She was captured in a brutal human act of domination in the waters of Puget Sound in Washington State on August 8th 1970.  She has survived Irma the storm, the winds and the tidal surge.  Her tank is a mess with intake valves polluted  by a massive sewage spill. caused by the storm.  It is time to send her home.  There is a plan.  A good plan.  Here is a link to the plan.  Please learn the plan and make up your own mind if she belongs in her home waters or in a shallow bathtub like tank in Miami.  #FreeLolita #Blackfish

http://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/The-Plan-to-Retire-Lolita-371083321.html

Earthquakes likely have nothing to do with global warming.  Likely?? 

Mighty are the people of Mexico who are surviving 8.2 and 7.1 earthquakes within two weeks of each other. Both Mexican quakes occurred on the Cocos tectonic plate.  Five states and thousands of people are devastated by the latest earthquake which happened on September 19th, thirty-two years to the day from the massive earthquake that killed thousands in 1985.  32 years to the day?  The earth is mad and we must listen to her voice.

As we watch the news in Spanish here from San Miguel de Allende we are un touched physically by the devastation.  We see the mighty people of Mexico by the thousands pitch in to help the over worked rescue workers.  Thousands of people, in Mexico City, line up to help clear the rubble of collapsed buildings with hope of finding someone alive.  The line of volunteers work to clear ruble, gently bucket by bucket.  Rescue workers raise their fists as a sign to the crowd for Silencio! Silence so they may hear the cries of trapped men, women and children under the weight of totally collapsed buildings including schools filled with children and teachers.  The crowd goes silent. Thousands of people go quite as hope of someone alive grows.  Next, cheering as they do find someone alive and pictures captured by a brave photographer show a small child crying being pulled from between broken concrete slabs.  We are un touched physically but we are touched emotionally as the people of Mexico suffer. Families here in Mexico and the United States will be touched by these earthquakes.

Mighty are the people of Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominica, Houston, Florida and more.  Mighty are the people.  Mighty is our earth.  Please mighty people guard our mighty earth like your lives depend on this duty. 

Thank you for the prompt Ben!  https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/27030/posts/1600207536

San Miguel de Allende—The Sun, The Moon, and Love:

The opening sentences of Juan Rulfo’s Perdro Paramo.

‘I came to Comala because I had been told by my father, a man named Pedro Paramo, lived there.  It was my mother who told me. And I had promised her that after she died I would go to see him.  I squeezed her hands as a sign I would do it.  She was near death, and I would have promised her anything.’

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Pedro Paramo by: Juan Rulfo

We were given this book to read to help understand the culture of Mexico.  Caroline and I devoured the book; it scared us and helped us to understand the culture of Mexico.  Carmen, our friend here, gave us a copy in english to read and also blessed us with it for our own collection.  It is a prize and if you find it you must grab hold as it is 139 pages of emotion, surrealism and frightening Mexican culture. 

We live most of the year in San Miguel de Allende in Central Mexico.  The beauty here is hard to describe but easy to see and even easier to feel in your heart and soul.  The town is said to be built on giant beds of crystals.  The way the Churches line up with the sun and moon is not an accident. The sun sets right down the middle of Calle Umarán as color and light simply beam as the bells of the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel ring through the city with the throaty melody of a baritone singer.

Calle Umarán and the Paroquia
Sun setting perfectly in line….

Cañada de la Virgen is an Otomi archaeological site that has been recently excavated.  (Started in 1995) The site was ruled by the Moon, the Sun, and Venus, as demonstrated by archaeoastronomical studies conducted by the National Institute of Anthropology and History. Its main features are: Ceremonial Avenue, House of the Wind, House of the Longest Night- scientists believe has some relationship with the Otomi’s belief in the duality of the heavens and earth (Sun and Moon, Man and Woman), and House of the Thirteen Heavens.

 

 

Our fantastic guide Albert Coffee tells us that archeologists believe it took 500 years to find the location and another 500 years to build the pyramid.  Perfectly designed archways and man made mirror pools line up exactly on the first day of Spring with the sun and in October the moon sets directly in line with the doors of the Pyramid.  Off in the distance is San Miguel de Allende and the beautiful Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel that also lines up with the Pyramid.  When Spain conquered Mexico, Coffee tells us, they attempted to crush the Mayan culture.  Part of Spain’s strategy was to build their own buildings, and Catholic Churches right over the top of of the Otomi, Mayan and Aztec Indian sites which were brilliantly positioned and built to respect and honor the earth.  Building over the top of these sites to crush a culture only protect and honor it even to this day. 

Albert Coffee
Archeologist Albert Coffee

My own history in Mexico touched down here in 1978 while in college I studied Spanish in nearby Morelia.  The moon and stars lined up that year as I learned that one of my best friends that I had not seen in over two years had lived in San Miguel de Allende.  Pre cell phones and email.  Only hard mail letters, phone calls from parents and friends led me to San Miguel with zero communication with Tia. 

I took a bus alone from Morelia to San Miguel de Allende in search of a friend and love.  I walked to the Jardin that night and asked an American student if she happened to know a young woman named Tia.  She said, ‘yes and I think she is right over there in that bar playing congas in a band’.  Excited, I walked in to the bar and found my way near the front of the stage and stared quietly at Tia as she grooved on the congas.  It took Tia 15 minutes, as I thought what am I doing here?, to notice and recognize me and her rush off the stage and in to my arms was one for the movies and especially my memory.  Thank you Tia for showing me San Miguel and teaching me the importance of travel and learning. 

Here we are now in San Miguel studying at the same school Tia studied 40 years earlier.  Seriously?  How could it be so long?  We walk the same streets of the Jardin that I walked when I was 19 years old, when my thoughts were, like many of my friends today, ‘how far away is the beach or where is the beach?’  The beach is far and Mexico is so much more than beaches.  

Calle Umaron and the Paroquia
Sun setting perfectly in line….

We do have a few adventurous friends that have visited us here.  John and Miriam Larson.  Laurie Flynn, Laura and Lorna Shirley and Andrea Jewett.  Make the trek friends!

 

When you do come to San Miguel you will meet people.  People like Gabby.  Today we took a vegan cooking class with Gaby Green.  We chopped, cooked, laughed, shared stories and listened to each other and learned from each other.  We learned to cook traditional Mexican food which Gaby taught us from Mayan history is vegan.  We cooked Chiles en Nogada, Cebiche de Verduras, Green Mole, and Nopales Jengibre-soya.  All 100% vegan and delicious. 

In the Kitchen with Gaby Green

We sat to enjoy this beautiful meal with Gaby and our friends from the States Laura and Lorna Shirley they are here visiting us, getting away from the stress of the US, learning and laughing as a mother daughter duo.  Mom and daughter cherish the gift.  Moms and daughters cherish the gifts.  A cooking class, a horseback ride, a shared glass of wine and a kiss on the head goodnight.  Cherish the gift of shared experiences.

 

 

Gaby is brilliant.  A film study, an artist, a chef, she speaks German, Spanish, English and is working on French.  Gaby’s heritage is Mayan, Jewish, Russian, and Austrian.  She told us people often ask her if she wants to live in the US. Her answer:  ‘I’m Mexican and Jewish, I have tattoos and a girlfriend.  In the US I would be considered derelict; here in Mexico I can be me!’  It feels, to me, that in the US we used to think this way.  No?

These are a few sentences from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a famous writer from Colombia in the forward to Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo: 

‘I felt like I had many novels in me, but I couldn’t conceive of the convincing and poetic way of writing them.  That is where I was when Alvaro Mutis climbed with great strides the seven storeys up to my apartment with a bundle of books, extracted form this mountain the smallest and shortest, and said as he laughed himself to death: 

-Read this shit and learn!

The book was Pedro Paramo.’

We are learning, learning so much about language, culture, people, and ourselves.  Thank you Carmen, and thank you Gaby for your guidance and friendship.  Thank you Caroline for your love.

“Living” in Colombia—Weed, wine and women!

“All journeys begin at home.  That moment when you pull the front door closed behind you is one to relish…like the “glug” sound when you first pour from a bottle of wine.”

I read this line this morning as I was getting ready to write.  It’ s from International Living and Eoin Bassett.  Thank you Eoin it’s perfect to get me rolling. 

When we started our journey in January our goal and dream was to live in three or four places each year.  Traveling is one thing but having the ability to LIVE somewhere foreign is why we are out here. 

Photo Aug 05, 11 58 59 AM (1)

Traveling is so much fun but you always go “home” in a few weeks.  Back to work, back to the comfort zone.  This blog is titled “Our hearts” our idea is to document our travels and truly sink in somewhere and feel like we are home wherever we are in the world. 

The past six weeks we have lived in Medellin, Colombia.  We went to school to continue our study of Spanish.  Going to school five days a week, four hours a day is a routine, a structure of sorts almost like a job.  It gave us a chance to learn not only the language but the culture as well. 

We shop and cook our vegan meals and explore the wines of neighboring Argentina and Chile.  Eating vegan in Colombia is a challenge because the culture is set up around carne, pollo and camerones.  Part of the culture shock for us is; here to eat meat is a sign of wealth and success.  When we say “sin carne” they look at us like we are crazy.

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Here is a description of Colombia from a website called InSight Crime.  InSight Crime is a foundation dedicated to the study of the principal threat to national and citizen security in the Americas: organized crime.  You can follow them on Twitter as well.  @inSightCrime

“Colombia has been in a civil war for  over half a century and the rise and fall of drug trafficking empires, Colombia has made huge strides in improving its security situation in recent years. However, it remains beset by guerrilla rebels and criminal networks, and the Colombian underworld is a potent mix of ideological organizations and their remnants and organized crime where the boundaries between war and crime are fluid. These armed groups and criminal networks are involved in an extensive range of activities including drug production and trafficking, arms trafficking, money laundering, extortion and illegal mining.”  

http://www.insightcrime.org/colombia-organized-crime-news

One of our friends told us that as she grew up everyday was marked with tragedy as a family member, friend or neighbor was killed by gangs either by gunshot or bomb.  Even now she said as celebrations of holidays are marked with fireworks people still cringe, duck and wonder when the fireworks could actually be a car bomb exploding someones life because of a line crossed. 

The bottom line is Medellin and Colombia are still dangerous.  Pablado, where we lived, is relatively safe but outside this little bubble you can find yourself in harms way. Somehow though it does all work for the Colombians who live and work here.  The gangs, cartels and drug lords work together to create a sense of normal in a city that is still recovering from anything but normal. 

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If you travel to Medellin you will find beautiful people inside and out.  This modern and thriving city is full of young people going to work, dressed to the nines in high rise buildings with women wearing high heeled shoes attached to legs and bodies that will make your head spin.  Caroline turns to me with her big beautiful eyes and says…”Where does that booty even come from?” 

You could wake up, look out and think you are in Seattle, Vancouver or Denver.  Just  like these fine cities you will have the pleasure to smell the distinct smell of Colombian Marijuana.  No, we didn’t taste it but the smell is distinct bringing back memories of another day.   

Photo Jun 22, 3 16 16 PM
Medellin, Colombia

Continue reading ““Living” in Colombia—Weed, wine and women!”

Medellin-Steps-The Metro and the Pick Pocket

In Medellin we walk!  No cars, no taxi just walk and the metro to get us in and out of our longer walks.  We set our step goal at 12,000 steps per day which is about 5 miles.  What a great work out at any altitude.  Especially this one.  Medellin sits at 1,495 meters which is just under 5,000 feet.  We just stride on by the honking, noise of the motorcycles, trucks and taxis.  Oh, and by the way. Do NOT expect them to stop for you while crossing in a crosswalk.  Caroline jokes that she hears them step on the gas as we cross the streets.

Continue reading “Medellin-Steps-The Metro and the Pick Pocket”

Medellin!

We arrived to live in Medellin in mid July for 5 weeks.  Our first seven months in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico were fantastic but we set out on this journey to live in three or four places a year.  We are living here in Medellin and learning here.  We meet people, talk to people and learn the culture as best we can.  The city is clean and fresh especially after a hard rain.  We are feeling at home and relaxed. 

Photo Jun 22, 3 16 16 PM
Medellin, Colombia

We are in school in Medellin at Total Spanish and we are learning new verbs and phrases different from Mexican Spanish.  Both work together well and we continue to learn.   Our teachers are kind and patient.

The barrios are incredible! Including Comuna 13 which was once considered the most dangerous neighborhood in Latin America.  We learned that Hip Hop Art continues to be credited with bringing the barrio back from the brink of crime and drugs.  We met the artists and saw the amazing spray paint art that changed a neighborhood. 

July is when the Fieria de las Flores takes place.  A festival of flowers that fills Medellin with flowers, people of course, music and food.  The Orchid competition and display at the botanical gardens is world class. 

Parque Arvie is an ecological and archeological park in Medellin that sits high above the valley.  Recently a gondola  like tram was built to bring people in to the city from the hillsides and to deliver people to the beautiful park above the city.  Check out the video of our trip down.  Just like a ski lift at your favorite ski hill.  Mine is Snowbird!

Photo Aug 13, 12 04 43 PM

Continue reading “Medellin!”