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12 may201812

The bright side of living off-grid

Guatapé, ColombiaGuatapé, Colombia
It has been 5 weeks since I moved to Guatapé, or as locals call the area here Quebrada Arriva - located 5 km (3.1m) from the town itself or 6km (3.7m) from the nearby El Peñol. After all those weeks I am still as excited to be here as I was when moving day came upon me. 

When I looked at my life's history and where I lived throghout the years it is always clear I am a "small-town boy" as they say. 

0 - 5 years old - Bolechówko, small village in Poland that had only nearly 600 habitants in 2014, so in 1987 you can bet it was significantly lower
5 - 19 years old - Murowana Goślina, small town situated 20km (12.5m) from Poznań, established in XIV century and few years ago had just a little bit over 10 000 people
19 - 23 years old - Bishop Auckland,  technically it was St. Helen Auckland but administrative system in the UK has never been easy to comprehend, where a town begins/ends and what is just a district. Just before I moved from Bishop Auckland (2011) they had just over 16 000 residents
23 - 30 years old - New Brancepeth, in 2010 I decided to move a little bit more north as near to Durham as possible. I spent 6 years in that village that only has 900-ish people living there. 

That gives us 6875 people on average. It becomes clear why my soul did not feel completely satisfied in Medellín, a city that has almost 2.5 mln residents! 

When I first saw an opportunity to live in Guatapé I didn't have to think twice. I asked my friend & boss and it worked out perfectly. Bottom floor of a finca that hasn't been lived in since the property had been sold turned out to be a match in heaven for me. Not only I feel like at home but also I get to make the space my own and hopefully a cozy place to live for any guests that will come after me. 
My room before latest additions
Week after week I managed to add something to make my space cozier. A carpet, kitchenware, decorations, and with every little thing the space becomes brighter and more colourful. 

Living 5km from the nearest town has many advantages, one of them is all the wildlife you get to encounter. With such close proximity to forests and small stream an unbelievable amount of bugs and other small life forms happen to visit me every day. 
The first photo is of a spider that's preparing his victim for later, the orange thing is some kind of leaf that must have come off from a tree and it must have got caught in his web. It was magnificent watching nature in the works how he was weaving his dinner..

Second photo was the first time I have seen Phasmatodea (Patyczak) or commonly known as stick insects. I believe it's Megaphasma denticrus or giant walkingstick - not very flattering name to be honest

The frog happend to come into my room 3 days in a row even though every night I would take it back to the stream so it can hop back to where it belongs. Sometimes I can't help ut think what those animals are trying to tell me. 

The last one is Ascalapha odorata or in other words black witch moth - that's a kick-ass name if you ask me. It stayed in my room for three days and I couldn't make it go back to the wild. Ultimately it died probably trying to go through a window or a wall while I was sleeping. Black witch moth is one of the biggest noctuids in the world - what's interesting is that in Latin America and Caribbean they believe it is a sign of death or misfortune. Its wingspan was about 15cm!  (6")

And that's just the beginning! There are so many little lives that are so different and interesting, all of them creating this ecosystem it's pleasure to live in. Even the spiders who jump on you when you shower - yes it happened to me :)

When I first visited Medellín, I didn't feel the air pollution as everybody was saying, perhaps Cusco got me used to it a little bit without even knowing? It's only when I started travelling to Guatapé that I realised the difference between the quality of what gives us life. Away even from the town there are only few cars here (mostly our AirBnb guests) and handful of motorcycles here, which means air stays quite in tact and now when I go back to the city I can really feel the difference!

Another big win in my current situation is the ability to get creative. Despite having spent two years as a sports merchandise graphic designer it turned out it wasn't a job for me. I had the ideas, I had the skills but I always lacked the magic creative flair that joins the two. However different kind of creativity came back to me when I started living off-grid. There's a lot of wood and bamboo around here, most of it not being used for much - that had to change! And it has! My first little project of bamboo key hanger was a catalyst of wanting to do more. Right now I am working on my bedside table made out of a tree stump. Two days of sanding, which gave me a terribly bad back for a week, and staining is just the beginning - I'm planning on making it very functional - hopefully I will finish it very soon!
My stump drying and looking pretty, waiting for the next stage!
DIY turned out to be an amazing escape from the virtual world. My productiviy goes up because I can't wait to finish my jobs for the day and spend last 2-3 hours of sunshine doing something like that. The fact tht sun goes down every day at the same time 18:30, it means you can't escape darkness, but also I know that every day at the same time I go back to my duties. 

Apart from working with wood or bamboo, a different thing that switched in me was the "I can recycle everything" mindset.  No glass bottle, wood piece, a box, or even an industrial staple will not go to waste on my watch. I don't have ideas what I'll use them for just yet but my mind believes in saving first and then the ideas will come!

After few weeks of planning, sanding, staining, varnishing, and drilling I  could finally move it into its final place (using two bamboo sticks as the stump is pretty heavy!). This is the result:
The last few days were a bit dry on the DIY front but everything due to all the work that I suddenly have. Juggling between 4 responsibilities is making my days feel extremely short. However I never stopped thinking what I'm going to do next. After getting my visa extension I know I can stay here until 16th August I could start planning my next projects. At the moment I have at least two: building my own desk and a crate shelving unit.

Besides that I really need to start on the vegetable garden as it's a perfect start to get into the permaculture - can't wait.

But recently I have also tried something new. While buying my veggies and fruits at local legumbreria I met Clauding, a woman from USA who has been travelling on her bike for 3 years and happened to be in Guatapé to do a course on cob building.

What? Cob building? What's that - I'm hearing you :)  In Britan and New Zealand it describes a building material made out of clay, sand, and straw. Its etymology comes from Old English word that means a rounded loaf of bread {"type":"www", "url":"", "date": "24 May 2018"}

It's a 3-week course that teaches you how to build whole houses and constructions only using clay, sand, rocks, straw, and everything else that mother earth gave us. The use of cement is non-existent or minimal (for foundation) as is the use of tools. The mixture that's used to make bricks and walls is made using hands and feet. Because of lack of tools, or rather lack of necessesity to use them, you do a lot more work with your body. On our first day we were also taught how to use our body mindfully while building, making sure not to strain it and work using the physics to our advantage. Some say it has an element of yoga. Unfortunately I can't do a whole 3-week course and so far I only did one day but I'm hoping to attend 2 days a week at least.

The best thing about cob building is that it's not just to create a construction for living, it's way more than that. It's about creating a living space you can call home and thanks to sculpting in clay and making patterns on your walls, using colourful bottles, painting zocalos, all of those techniques are part of the process to make your place a home, something unique, and something you can identify with. Just have a look at this house in Cape Verde:
Beautiful Cob Store on Sal, Cabo Verde, built by CCG Workshop students in May 2017
If you would like to find out more about this awesome movement visit their website - examples of their work are outstanding!
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