I don’t always recommend traveling to exotic places with children, but if you do here is my experience. I knew I was in trouble the Saturday morning when my husband rolled over and said “Amoooooooooooor! Vamos a Choco.”
I had a bit of a back and forth debate with my husband about how soon to travel El Choco with our 7 month old son, Daniel. Initially I declared that I refuse to go there until he is crawling and able to sit up independently. I also said 6 months too. When I woke up on a Saturday morning to Jaime talking sweetly and convincingly about going to see his mom, I couldn’t come up with a good enough reason to say no.
I knew I was in trouble the Saturday morning when my husband rolled over and said “Amoooooooooooor! Vamos a Choco.”
And I couldn’t remember the last time I had taken a spur-of-the-moment trip like this. My inner adventurer took over and I relented.
Packing for El Choco
Breakfast was a hurried mess of cooking and juicing. I packed a bottle of carrot, cucumber, apple and celery juice to give Daniel during our trip. I also had to plan clothing for me & Daniel.
When mommyhood hits you pack lighter for yourself and heavier for your baby. In this situation having lightweight, easy-to-wash clothing is essential.
Here are some of the things on my packing list:
- A few spaghetti strap tanks tops
- 2 sports bras
- 2 pairs of lightweight pants and wool socks. Wool socks are very comfortable for hiking and will dry quickly, especially with rubber boots.
- I prefer pants with zip-off legs which are great for changes in altitude and microclimates.
- I grabbed my long sleeve SPF-30 long sleeve (but extremely lightweight) button up shirt from Columbia Sportswear.
- I packed a blanket, sheet and my Hennessey Hammock because this time I am going to sleep comfortably and not get bitten by every no-see-um hiding in the verdant foliage, the beds and everywhere in between. Weighing in at 2 lbs and only 5-10 minutes to set up, it’s the #1 most valuable piece of camping/hiking/bug out gear that I own.
- For Daniel I packed socks, cotton pants, onesies, his glass baby bottle full of juice, and plenty of diapers and wipes. If you are traveling in the tropics with a baby bottle, ALWAYS have a lid. There are many flies and mosquitos carrying various diseases and it is imperative you keep the nipple covered when not in use.
Travel in many parts of Colombia is like a freeze-frame from another time. First, I had to catch a bus from Pereira to Cartago, a short 30 minute trip. Taxi to the Chiva bus station. Finally, the 4-5 hour Chiva trip. Traveling by Chiva is a very unique experience, it’s everything contrary to the first world image of proper travel. The bus is built on a set of heavy duty axles, think dump truck size axles. This is like the off-road bus, high off the ground and made for abuse. The scary part is the wooden bench seats, open windows, nothing much to grab onto for stability, no windows and no doors. The bus seems to have more brightly colored wooden parts than metal. Our bus was loaded down with a couple tons of bricks, some live chickens in a sack, various packages, boxes and the luggage of the passengers. I hope I have painted a picture that gives you a pretty good idea of the adventure, risks, wildness and use of the legendary Colombian Chiva bus. It wasn’t very comfortable but it is well adapted to the rough dirt roads we had to traverse in order to arrive in San Jose Del Palmar.
Hiking to the Farm
After a very long and hot bus trip we finally arrived in San Jose del Palmar. I have a special fondness for this pueblito, it is perched up on the saddle of the Andean mountains and every direction you look are breathtaking vistas. However this is only half of the voyage. I was unable to nurse on the bus due to all the movement and roughness of the road. Titty bites! Ouch! So we stopped for me to nurse Daniel and exchange our shoes for rubber boots. A 30 minute coast down the mountain on the back of a motorcycle and we were ready to load our stuff onto horse back and head to the farm. I rode, Jaime walked carrying Daniel. Due to the incline Daniel was jostled and bounced around too much to ride with me so he rode on daddy’s shoulders.
On The Farm
Our stay was beautiful. I have always felt a connection to my sister-in-law Chello and the visit to her farm was refreshing! We laughed, misunderstood each other and shared stories. Poor Daniel was scared of the calves but fascinated by the pigs. Colombian families are beautiful in the fact that they are very affectionate and caring of the children.
Daniel was passed around and I relaxed while everyone else held and cooed and loved on him. We fed him fresh milk mixed with panela as the physical exertion of hiking around makes breastfeeding harder and milk production lesser. I kept my energy up with fresh avocados and homemade cheese! Yum!
The next day after our arrive we hiked on up the mountain to stay with my mother-in-law. I was tasked with carrying the backpack as my balance on the trails made me afraid to carry Baby Daniel. Add to the complication that I cannot touch the ground or the plants around me for balance due to stickers, thorns and poisonous insects like centipedes.
My mother-in-law has the best view of all. Her house however, is a disaster since the two rotating gates are old and easily opened by her herd of assorted farm animals. I felt a bit stressed as a result of the constant invasion of chickens, turkeys, dogs, the piglet and even horses hanging their heads over the porch railing. Even Daniel picked up on my emotions making him fussy and difficult to manage. This is one of those moments where being a dutiful wife gets tricky as I navigate the waters between my own selfish desires and those of my husband. In the ended I simply just do the “grin and bear it” routine. Then I make a note to myself about my future farm and having a fenced yard around the house where the animals can’t go. Truthfully though Melba, my mother in law, cooks wonderful fresh arepas, we drink our fill of fresh milk and panela. Jaime helps out with repairs while we chat and spend time in a beautiful place where life moves much slower. Everything here is so otherworldly and antiquated. In a house without electricity bedtime comes early and we get up with the early morning dawn. The animals are fed, cows milked and the pig slopped. We wash our clothes by hand and hang them to dry for our return trip. Daniel was too small for us to do much hiking up in the nearby jungle, but he loved all the animals.
As I said previously, nursing is tricky when you are traveling on rickety old buses and hiking over rough terrain.
During our visit, I fed Daniel mashed avocado with milk, panela (sugar cane juice) mixed with fresh cow milk and beef or chicken broth from the traditional soups which are served with all the meals.
The rest of the time I nursed. The carrot juice I traveled with held him over wonderfully until we arrive in the pueblo. At home he eats 3 times a day. I make baby food from papaya and yogurt, avocado and yogurt, oujama (a type of squash), carrot and yogurt…..lots of yogurt. Soon I will try to feed him egg yolk (no egg whites until 1 year). Whenever I am cooking I give him a piece of fruit or a slice of carrot to chew on. It’s a day by day process of learning how to feed a baby, sometimes I make mistakes resulting in diarrhea or spitting up.
Our trip was quite brief but difficult. Traveling in this way with a baby really challenges your patience. In Colombia they have been doing this for decades. On the Chiva were other mothers with babies traveling, some of them much younger than Daniel. It’s a way of life. However, the beauty of it is in the way people treat each other. The drivers assistants are always there to help and hold the baby while momma climbs up or down. A young girl who was a passenger on the bus held Daniel while I ran to the bathroom on our only rest stop. Often other children traveling on the bus will sit together and sing or play. There is always the danger of roadside bandits stopping the bus or the rare outbreak of paramilitary violence, it is all part of the adventure.
Upon arrival Daniel and I fell down onto the couch exhausted. What a trip! What a grand adventure! Can’t wait to do it again in a couple months!