The second part of this tale was Monico Madness on steroids, as we joined up with Granny (Anna) and Grandpa (Martin) to bring seven Monico’s and our long suffering teacher Robert under one roof. The question of which roof and where had vexed us for months. The beach in Colombia is wild, the cities quite hectic, so we opted for a rare bit of bling on our travels and reserved a hilltop villa two hours south of Bogota, that Pablo Escobar himself would be proud of.
We arrived at the formidable gatehouse of Puerto Peñalisa, the gated community that is built to keep the 99% out, and the golf balls in. It was quite a shock to see the level of security, as the similar “puerto” we stayed at in Argentina was a low key affair. Here the security have pump-action shotguns. We guessed “that should do it,” but it left a little itch of “is that really necessary?” But hey, despite all the economic development of the last decade, it is still Colombia.
But how do you go about choosing a villa for your entire family for a week, who can just about hold it together over 3 days of Christmas?
- √ Space – We needed lots of it. A place to come together; spaces to run-and-hide.
- √ Service – With two gracefully ageing parents, one teacher and two kids in tow, we are gonna need help, and lots of it
- √ Rooms – Lots. 43 is just too old to share with your mum and dad
When we finally found the villa we were blown away by its striking architecture; and complete lack of doors or windows. The villa was designed by a local architect who had built a number of other properties across Peñalisa, and it occupied an imposing hilltop spot. The house is setup as an epic family home, with a number of James Bond villan style features – an infinity pool, outdoor jacuzzi cinema (too wrinkly, and not just for mum and dad), 2 x golf buggies, jet ski and quad bike which the far too honest guard would not let us use for love nor Pesos. Things were looking up: we will get through the week.
For the most part we honoured our Airbnb hosts advice of “there is nothing to do at all around the villa, just stay in and enjoy it,” although I sensed my Dad’s rising cabin fever so we set-off for a urgent and critical mission to buy more insect repellent in the nearby town of Girardot. This thinly disguised escape had us wandering around a town that felt a long way from the tourist trail. As we rolled into town a convoy of motorbikes passed; each loaded with two soldiers, all brandishing M16s. Of our travels so far this place felt most like the wild west, and we attracted a lot of attention, with some of it quite upsetting: a man raised his sleeve to show pulsing boils the size of golf balls up running up his arm, a man with one leg just staring, and hobbling over to our parked car and holding us in his dead gaze, and a man with his child in tow indicating with his hand to his mouth that he needed food. And this is the economic essence of oil rich Colombia, where Bond style villas rub up against those who can’t see beyond the end of the day.
Back at the sanctuary of the villa, all was well. Granny is expert at painting horses, and had bought a travel pack of artists wares with her, to help the girls paint their favourite horses with acrylic paint. Probably the hardest part of it all, was the girls choosing their favourites with Bella choosing the fast and capable “cute faced Tornado” and Emily choosing the Palomino of her own imagination.
For Anna, coming to Colombia was an incredible feat. Anna has not left the UK for 10 years, and following illness over that time has become a little frail. To see her make this journey halfway around the world, and psyche herself up to take on various challenges while she was with us, made us all profoundly happy. Here are some pics of a couple of our favourite moments:
Granny’s first jacuzzi in 20 years.
Granny’s first time on a horse for 20 years.
Competitive spirits rose for the inaugural Monico Family Travels pool tournament, where pairs of Monicos (with Rob adopted) pitched into battle as teams “Daemon Giraffes”, “Sparky Wonders,” “Breaking Balls” and “Hawk Eyes” to knock-out their competition. Given that none of us can play pool (other than Rob) to save our lives, games took a little longer than expected but we dug in deep, put our best foul forward and cheered as Bella and Rob as “Daemon Giraffes” lifted the trophy.
My culinary whims were indulged no end by the discovery of a wood fired pizza oven, and I embarked on a risky mission to cook pizza for the first time for our much looked forward to Friday movie night. All seemed on the right track: we probably had flour though I wasn’t sure if it was rice or wheat, we had yeast and we had a badass American made Kitchenaid dough mixer. Come on! Grandpa Monico opted to be first, but his pizza was so intent on survival that it point blank refused to slide into the blazing inferno. With a little trial and error all was well; pizza of various “artesanal” shapes was served and the curtain rose on movie night, albeit a few hours later than intended.
So special thanks to Robert, whose amazing patience and tenacity kept the school bus on the road despite the feeling that we were on vacation, and to Allegra, Martin and Anna who trusted us to take them on a journey into this unusual part of Colombia.