“El Prado” translates loosely to “the greatest place on earth”

Life is so exciting! When we left Nashira we went to their Cali store where they sell everything they make in the co-op. They have a cool machine that turns recycled plastic into hangers and flyswatters that they can sell, and they can even reheat old ones to make new ones! No waste!  They have a whole warehouse of handmade paper! And they cut old donated wine bottles to make gorgeous drinking glasses to sell. Ingenuity and recycling and development minded income all in one? A+ Nashira.
After a few days in Cali (Salsa dancing and then salsa lessons after realizing how bad we were and then more salsa dancing) we headed down to beautiful Popayan, where we all slept on the floor of my amazing Colombian friend’s house for 3 nights. It was an great opportunity to experience Colombian life with a real Colombian family in a small village.  We took a day trip to explore Sylvia, an incredibly gorgeous village set within the hills. About 80% of the locals there still wear indigenous clothing to show their solidarity in peace against violence that has plagued the country for so long. The market in Sylvia is totally insane, happening just once a week and bringing together all the people from the surrounding villages to sell fruit, veg, clothes, used electronics, medicine…anything you can think of basically (all for crazy cheap). All our girls bought plenty of souvineers to take home, and we relaxed under the sun atop the mirador mountain overlooking the village for a while before catching a bus home.
The next day Dan and I (the trip leaders) snuck away at 7 am leaving a note saying “gone to the hot springs, you didn’t want to come did you?”. The rest of the group had a great adventure finding their own way out to where we were, about a 1.5 hour journey, (almost) always following the rule that the 2 spanish speakers in the group couldn’t do all the talking. We promised that if the group arrived to the pool having spent less money than Dan and I did (having haggled for group discounts etc), we would buy them all ice cream. They got there with a savings of about 300 pesos per person (about 15 cents each), which earned them an ice cream in the bus station as we boarded our bus to our next eco-village near Pereira.
We arrived late at night to El Prado, our second eco village, greeted by our excellent hosts waiting patiently for our late bus. El Prado was formed by a group of working professionals and their families, almost all with masters degrees,  whom together dreamed to raise their children together in a community.  The village we saw was the fulfillment of a 25 year old dream!  The atmosphere in this village was very different from our last ecovillage, Nashira, which was formed by women bonding together in the face of poverty. It’s a really interesting contrast for our group to be working in both communities and seeing the differences between the two.
We spent the first few days working on the El Prado farm and ecoreserve, finding guava fruit and building an herb garden and an running outdoor youth leadership workshop with a group of 8-17 year olds who are into environmental activism. We spent a day visiting an organic farm, planting and harvesting fresh beans plants, a day in gorgeous Solento horsebacking riding through cloud forest, and a day working hard on a coffee farm learning about the entire coffee process (a picture documentary can be seen here:
We have 2 more days working in El Prado before we head off for Medellin, the city of eternal spring, for a few days of exploring, and then we leave for Independent Travel Time! Most of the group is planning to head to the coast for old-city-exploring/beach-relaxing/ruins-finding adventure time, while the leaders and one participant are planning to build houses, rock climb, paraglide and hike in Bogota, Suesca and San Gil. Good times for all! Yeahhhh Colombia!
Love Melissa, hiding in an internet café while our great girls farm all day in the country.