[Sound up, Kitchen sounds, mixing granola, Alejandro talking]

Viajar sin Viajar (Travel without travel)

By Tasha Sandoval
Voices (In Order of Appearance)
Eva Natalia Castro García, Co-founder and Manager of Creo Ecolodge
Caroline Gaidon, Creo Ecolodge guest
Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda, Creo Ecolodge volunteer
Tasha Sandoval, Narrator and Creo Ecolodge guest
Line Juul Nielsen, Creo Ecolodge volunteer
Skjold Alsted Søndergaard, Creo Ecolodge volunteer

Eva Natalia Castro García 00:08
Nos dicen que somos los mejores desayunos de Colombia, que somos de los mejores desayunos, muchos no lo dicen y eso, eso a mí me llena mucho el corazón.

(Translation: They tell us we are the best breakfasts in Colombia. A lot of people tell us that and that fills my cup.)

Caroline Gaidon 00:13
We had the best breakfast in Colombia.

Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda 00:16
La vibra del hostal siempre inicia con el desayuno.

[Bird Chirping up, under narration]

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 00:20
I like to snag a spot on the second floor balcony. I eat my breakfast– fresh fruit, granola, homemade wraps and crepes and jams, fresh Colombian coffee. I look out over the mountains, lush with flowers, coffee, and bananas.

It looks and feels like a kind of paradise. Though I know things are never quite that simple.

[Bird Chirping fades]

Eva Natalia Castro García 00:44
​​Para mí, creo, es como una casita, como una casa de campo. Una casa de campo de madera de cemento abajo, en medio de plantas…

Tiene espacios amplios, tiene también una terraza super linda en donde van muchos colibríes…. es como un lugar en medio de montañas.

(Translation: For me, creo is like a little country home made of wood with cement downstairs, surrounded by plants. It has big spaces. It also has a really nice terrace where a lot of hummingbirds go. It’s a place in the middle of the mountains.)

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 01:12
That was Eva Castro, Creo’s co-founder and manager. She describes the place like a dreamscape. A cabin in the mountains surrounded by plants with a terrace full of hummingbirds.

[Sound up, birds chirping]

[Kitchen sounds and laughter under narration]

Creo Ecolodge is a hostel tucked on the edge of a mountain trail in Jardín, Colombia, a small town a few hours South of Medellín. It runs almost exclusively with the help of volunteer travelers. It’s a place I had visited before and had been itching to go back to. I couldn’t get the homemade breakfast out of my head.

I left my apartment in New York for the month of January.

I decided to go to Creo.

I meant to stay for a week but I stayed for nearly two. I embedded. I watched guests come and go from the balcony.

[Kitchen sounds, singing]

Line Juul Nielsen 02:15
Well, Creo is a beautiful, beautiful, hostel, uh, large, um, with, a view over the valley.
Uh, it’s uh, more like a mood. The vibe is just really good. Everyone there’s just happy. And it’s a really lovely place to be.

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 02:35
Danish volunteer, Line Juul Nielsen and her boyfriend, Skjold Alsted Søndergaard, arrived on my last night at Creo. They stayed on as volunteers for nearly seven weeks.

Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda 02:47
Porque Creo está hecho para conocer gente genial.Y los que, las personas que vienen para acá, son personas geniales.

(Translation: Creo is made to meet amazing people… And people who come here, they’re amazing people.)

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 02:53
That’s …

Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda 02:53
Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 02:57
…who prefers to go by Alejandro.

Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda 02:59
Alejandro está, perfe.
(Translation: Alejandro is perf.)

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 03:00
He’s a 20 year-old Venezuelan volunteer who has been at Creo for seven months.

By living and working at Creo, Eva says she gets to travel without ever having to go anywhere. She travels by meeting people from all over the world.

Eva Natalia Castro García 03:13
Entonces que me dio el hostal? El hostal me dio viajar sin viajar. ¿Por qué? Porque mi sueño era viajar por conocer las culturas.

(Translation: So what did the hostel give me? The hostel gave me travel without travel. Why? Because my dream was to travel to learn about other cultures.)

[Kitchen sounds up under narration]

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 03:24
So, everyone: Eva, Alejandro, Line, Skjold, and I, we’re are all traveling, in our own way.

We’ve all come together in this same seemingly mystical place. But why?

[Sound down]

Why do we travel at all?

[Birds Chirping sound]

After finishing up undergrad in Denmark, Line and Skjold took a sabbatical year and embarked on a 9-month trip.

Skjold Alsted Søndergaard 03:53
So we started traveling in September, 2021.
Um, and we’ve pretty much jumped from volunteer spot to volunteer spot as we moved from Peru through Ecuador and then, and then came to Colombia, um…at the end of…

Line Juul Nielsen 04:11

Skjold Alsted Søndergaard 04:12
Yea, at the end of February.

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 04:13
They are spending most of their time volunteering, mostly through the international volunteering network, Workaway.

Line Juul Nielsen 04:22
Yea, so some of our responsibilities were, uh, to like, to clean the rooms, make, check out check-ins of guests, make sure that the, like the hostel was, uh, running, uh, smoothly.

Skjold Alsted Søndergaard 04:39
And then when, when all the, the daily tasks were completed, then you could, um, spend the rest of your working hours on projects that you wanted to work on. So I, I did some work in the garden, um, germinating a lot of native seeds, planting some native plants and, and labeling a lot of the plants. Um, and Line did some, some painting, uh, decoration.

[Kitchen sounds, granola mixing, under narration]

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 05:06
The volunteer model of the hostel business isn’t uncommon. Owners like Eva fund their small businesses through volunteers like Line and Skjold, who they lodge and feed. The volunteers get to save money while spending extra time in one place, ideally engaging with that community.

[Sound down]

This is pretty popular among a certain kind of backpacker. The slow traveler. The kind that wants an authentic experience. The kind that is choosing this as an alternative to more traditional travel. It’s also a temporary alternative to a fast-paced life.

[Eva’s laughter]

Eva loves the volunteer travel model.

Eva Natalia Castro García 05:50
Y eso el lo que me encanta, también del voluntariado. Que te llegan personas increibles.
(Translation: And that’s what I also love about the volunteer program. That these amazing people show up.)

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 05:55
Volunteers help clean and maintain the hostel but sometimes, they leave lasting marks on the place. For Eva, it’s all about this exchange of ideas.

Eva Natalia Castro García 06:04
Y de hecho a veces me sorprendo porque a veces hay personas que wow, que me dejan cosas hermosisimas.
(Translation: Sometimes it’s surprising because sometimes people leave me with gorgeous things)

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 06:09
But most people can’t take weeks or months off from their lives to paint a mural or germinate plants, or write personal essays from the comfort of a balcony overlooking a valley, like me.

Skjold Alsted Søndergaard 06:21
Work aways is, is definitely what makes it possible that we can travel for so long, but, but it is definitely our privileged backgrounds that make it possible for us to travel at all.
[Sound, Birds chirping]

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 06:42
I go back to Colombia often because I’m Colombian-American. Born in Bogotá and raised in the U.S, I’ve spent my life being able to go back and forth.
From the balcony at Creo, I sit and think.
[sound of bugs up]
I think about the power of my American passport. About the privilege it gives me to go back and forth, to experience both worlds and identities.
[Hiking steps under narration]

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 07:15
During my stay at Creo, I went camping in the mountains nearby. Eva had been working non-stop for weeks, and she needed to get away. Luckily, she invited everyone at Creo to go with her. On the first day, Alejandro and I went for a hike.

When Creo reopened in October 2020 after a prolonged pandemic shutdown, Eva had no European backpackers to turn to.

[Sound down]

She needed help running the place for the new onslaught of local Colombian weekenders, desperate to get out of Medellin after being cooped up in their apartments.

Through friend and family connections, Eva secured some new volunteers. Venezuelan migrants.

[Hiking steps up]

Unlike their European and North American counterparts, most Venezuelan volunteers have stayed for months instead of weeks. For some, like Alejandro, Creo is a welcome alternative to the grind of Colombia’s cities.

As of 2021, nearly 2 million Venezuelans have entered Colombia, looking for greater political and economic stability.

[Sound down]

Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda 08:19
Yo soy un migrante venezolano, en una situación en la que yo me fui de Venezuela y estoy trabajando. Y creo me da la oportunidad de poder hacer mi chamba aquí siempre y cuando… o sea, creo me ayuda a eso. Me ayuda a mantener mi situación estable. Y eso es gracias a ella.

(Translation: I’m a Venezulean migrant in a situation. I left Venezuela and I’m working and Creo gives me the opportunity to do my thing as long as.. In other words, Creo helps me keep my situation stable. And that’s thanks to her)

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 08:41
Creo has given Alejandro the chance to do his thing and gain some stability. He also acknowledges that his situation is different from that of the other volunteers.

Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda 08:51
Por lo menos no soy un viajero europeo que tiene algunos ahorros y puede viajar tranquilo.

(Translation: Let’s say I’m not a European traveler with savings that can travel no worries)

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 08:57
Besides fulfilling his volunteer duties, he also cooks and sells dinners to hostel guests.

[Kitchen sounds up]

Because Eva lets him keep 100% of what he makes, Creo has given him the chance to save up.

Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda 09:08
Al final la gente come siempre y yo puedo cocinar siempre.

(Translation: In the end, people always eat and I can always cook.)

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 09:11
He loves to cook and see people enjoy his food.

Alejandro also took on the entire kitchen…

Eva Natalia Castro García 09:17
Él me quitó toda la cocina.

(Translation: He took over the kitchen)

Tasha Sandoval 09:20
…taking inventory and helping Eva with the food shopping.

[Kitchen sounds down]

Eva Natalia Castro García 09:23
Y tomó esa responsabilidad. Y va, hace las compras, me trae las facturas.

(Translation: And he took on that responsibility. He goes, does the shopping, he brings me back the receipts.)

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 09:27
For Eva, this all balances out. It’s an exchange. Especially because work options for Venezuelan migrants have been limited.

Eva is particularly grateful to Alejandro for being so reliable. She calls him by his first name: Jesús.

Eva Natalia Castro García 09:41
Jesús me dejó pues como admiración, porque [era] un niño de veinte años y era muy responsable.

(Translation: I admire Jesus because he’s a 20-year-old kid. And he’s so responsible)

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 09:49
Alejandro left Venezuela in February 2021 and went to the border city of Cúcuta to work.

When things didn’t work out as he’d hoped, he took the opportunity to go to Jardín.
He got to Creo in October 2021. On a good week at Creo, Alejandro makes about 200,000 pesos. Around 50 US dollars.

[Hiking steps up under narration]

Hearing Alejandro’s story, I began to understand what was going on at Creo, under the surface.

[Hiking steps down]

People were living and volunteering together but under very different circumstances.

[Hiking steps up]

Alejandro left Venezuela by foot.
Tasha Sandoval 10:32
¿Cómo se cruza la frontera?

Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda 10:33
Por la trocha. Estaba cerrado el puente.

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 10:37
…crossing through “la trocha” an informal border crossing in Cúcuta.
He was in Cúcuta for about 6 months. Then, he went to Jardín.
Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda 10:48
Estoy sacando un permiso de permanencia por diez años. (Translation: It’s a type of permanent residency for 10 year)

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 10:53
Alejandro has started the process of getting Permission for Temporary Protection. PPT en español. The Colombian government introduced this special status in 2021, giving Venezuelans permission to stay for up to 10 years.

Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda 11:08
Pero cuando niño cuando, era adolescente, quería viajar por toda Latinoamérica asi, mochileando… por Europa. Por lugares todos locos. Me encantaba. Yo tenía eso en la mente, yo quería ir. Mochilear por todo el mundo, sabes? Es algo que cualquier joven que conozca va a decir “Wow, yo quisiera.” Sabes?

(Translation: But when I was a kid, when I was a teenager, I wanted to travel all over Latin America like that, backpacking… around Europe… around crazy places. I loved it. I had that in mind, I wanted to go… I mean, backpacking all over the world. Any young person you meet is going to tell you that they would be down to do that, you know? )
Tasha Sandoval 11:23
¿Por donde vamos?

Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda 11:24
Derecho… Entonces…tambien lo pensé. Mochilear por todo el mundo sería brutal.
(Translation: Tasha: Where are we going? Alejandro: Straight…. So, yea, I also tought about it. Backpacking all over the world would be sick.)
[Sound down]
Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 11:29
When he was younger, he dreamed of backpacking all over Latin America, all over Europe. All over the world. He wanted to until he realized that money is everything. He needed to work.

Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda 11:41
Pero el sueño lo fui perdiendo, Entre más crecía y me daba cuenta que todo el dinero me entiendes. Fue perdiendo la aventura porque claro, necesitaba trabajar y si estaba ocupad no podía mochilear. Entonces que iba a hacer? Pues trabajar, porque trabajar me daba para comer.
(Translation: But I started to give up the dream as I grew up and I started to realize that everything is money, you know? I started to lose that sense of adventure because, yea, of course, I needed to work and I was busy working so I couldn’t go backpacking. So what was I gonna do? Well work, because working gave me what I needed to eat.)
Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 11:56
Eva, who helped support her family for several years, has always wanted to travel. For a long time, she wasn’t able to.

Eva Natalia Castro García 12:04
Yo tengo un sueño de viajar fuerte y yo siempre he querido viajar, pero volvemos a lo mismo… La nuestra economía no es, no es igual. Entonces, cuando tú eres una persona que tienes que apoyar a tu familia en vez de que tu familia pueda apoyarte, es diferente.
(Translation: I have a strong dream of traveling and I’ve always wanted to travel, but we go back to the same thing… Our economy isn’t the same. So when you’re someone who has to support your family instead of your family supporting you, it’s different.)
Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 12:21
Eva sees the basic economic differences that exist between herself, volunteers like Alejandro and volunteers like Line and Skjold. It’s the reality of the world we live in.
But, everyone at Creo is traveling in their own way. Experiencing. Exchanging. Learning.
She goes back to the same line. What she lives by.
Eva Natalia Castro García 12:45
Viajar sin viajar.
(Translation: Travel without travel)
Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 12:47
Through Creo, Eva travels without having to go anywhere. Alejandro has also taken up this way of life, traveling through his exchanges with others.

Tasha Sandoval 12:56
Entonces, estando en creo, ¿tú sientes que estás viajando?

Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda 12:59
Esa es la idea de Eva. Eva dice: “Así es como yo viajo sin salir de mi casa.”
(Translation: Tasha: So, being at creo, do you feel like you’re traveling? Alejandro: That’s Eva’s philosophy, She says: “that’s how I travel without leaving my house.”)

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 13:05
Alejandro describes Line and Skjold as a couple of adventurers.

Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda 13:08
Una pareja de aventureros, pues.
(Translation: A pair of adventurers)

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 13:10
From Skjold, a biologist, he learned about plants.

Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda 13:14
Le saqué mucha información sobre las plantas.
(Translation: For example, from him I got a lot of information about plants)

Line Juul Nielsen 13:17
Alejandro was a person that whenever he was up, he was just a hundred percent, like always, always happy, energetic, uh, doing stuff.

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 13:34
Alejandro tells me that anyone that goes to Creo, myself included, are a part of it. We’ve chosen to be there.

Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda 13:43
El intercambio con las personas que pasan por aquí es super bien, porque son muchas mentalidades distintas, pensamientos distintos, lenguaje distintos. Entonces intercambiar tanto es agradable, claro que sí.

(Translation: The exchange with people who pass through here is really good because they are a lot of different mentalities, different ideas, different languages. So exchanging that much is really satisfying. Of course.)

[MUSIC up]
MUSIC: “Haribol” by Gokula 13:59
[Music continues under narration]

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 14:18
He sings a song by Colombian musician Gokula, who played at Creo a few months back. “Singing all day.” “Dancing nonstop.”

For now, after 7 months, Alejandro is leaving Creo.

Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda 14:41
No se si sabias pero me voy de creo en unos dias.
(Translation: I don’t know if you know but I’m leaving Creo in a few days)

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 14:43
He’s helping a friend open up their own hostel in Jardín.

Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda 14:47
Hablé con un amigo que montó un hostal en el pueblo. Entonces me voy para el hostal de mi amigo. Y ya dejó, creo.
(Translation: I talked to a friend who is opening a hostel in town. So I’m going to his hostel and leaving Creo)

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 14:52
He’ll be cooking meals for guests.

[Music Fades]

Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda 14:54
A la gente le encanta mi comida. A mi me encanta cocinar.
(Translation: People love my food and I love to cook.)

[Hiking sound, Alejandro emoting]

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 15:03
Walking and talking in the mountains, Alejandro and I walked through fields and fields of hilly cow pasture. We came to a sudden stop.

Tasha Sandoval 15:13
¿Dónde estamos?
(Translation: Where are we?)
Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda 15:16
Estamos en el camino de Las Palmas.
(Translation: We are on the Palm path.)

Tasha Sandoval 15:18
¿Y por qué nos detuvimos?
(Translation: Ans why did we stop?)

Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda 15:20
Porque hay… dos toros están en todo el frente de la ruta y no están mirando muy mal.
(Translation: Because two bulls are right in our path and they’re staring us down.)

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 15:26
The bulls were watching us. They were keeping us on the other side of the fence. They were intimidating.

And this wasn’t our first rodeo.

Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda 15:36
Ya se estaba oscureciendo.
(Translation: It was getting dark.)

Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 15:37
Alejandro described our first bull encounter from the night before.

Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda 15:40
Y entonces empezaron a subir las vacas de la de la loma. Empezaron a subir hacia donde estábamos nosotros. y a rodearnos, a olernos, y a estar cerca, a escuchar, a mirarnos durante como media hora. Pues duró mucho y se sintió eterno ese pedazo porque la vaca se acercaban cada vez más y no sabíamos si querían atacar. Fue super loco. Y eran todos toros.
(Translation: And the cows started to appear over the hill. They started to come up near where we were. And they surrounded us, surrounded us and got closer, they listened, they watched us for like half an hour. It was so long, that moment felt eternal because the cows were getting closer and closer and we didn’t know if they wanted to attack. It was really crazy. And they were all bulls.)
Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 16:01
As the sun started setting, the bulls appeared. Then they surrounded us, slowly but surely. It felt eternal, the way they enclosed us and watched us. It was scary. But it was also exciting because it felt special.

Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda 16:19
Me asusté pero lo disfruté porque fue un momento único. Pero me asusté y todo.
(Translation: I got scared but I enjoyed it because it was a unique moment. But I did get scared.)
Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 16:24
The bulls could have charged on any of us. On all of us. To the bulls, we’re all the same.

Alejandro April Los Toros [02:29] Es un ejemplo muy bueno. Para los toros, no hay diferencia. Para ellos, todos somos personas.
(Translation: There’s no difference to them. To them, we’re all people.)
Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 16:31
The bulls reminded us of our shared humanity.

[Kitchen sounds up, arepa making, silverware, milk pouring]
Jesús Alejandro Ovalles Poveda 16:43
…El desayuno genera como un intercambio obligatorio con los huéspedes. Ves? Entonces el desayuno le da esa chispa de que siempre estamos en contacto…
(Translation: Breakfast creates an obligatory exchange with the guests. See? So breakfast gives the place this spark and makes it so that we’re always in touch)
Tasha Sandoval (Narration) 16:52
Creo is a place where you can travel through the person sitting next to you at breakfast and from the person who made that breakfast. The best breakfast in Colombia.