Learning and teaching under Colombia’s stars


Travelling around the world without destroying it – environmental awareness and travelling often don’t go together. But the young scientists Kira and Marja show that they actually can. With a project close to their hearts, “Cielo y Tierra” (Heaven and Earth) they have got to know Colombia’s nature up-close and passed on their knowledge of the environment. And all that using a unique and sustainable way of travelling: 1,000 kilometres on horseback and in the air. A project that companies can also learn from.

“Of course, there are other ways,” Kira says, shrugging her shoulders. “But would they really be easier and more effective?” She is sitting with her friend Marja on a bench in San José de Suaita, a small village in the heart of Colombia. The two are having themselves followed by GPS – you can see where they are on the map: there is nothing but green all around them. Only very few tourists ever reach such remote places. But the two of them are travelling by very special means of transport: horses and paragliders.

An ideal combination in the “Cielo y Tierra” project: wanderlust and science. Marja and Kira have put their heart and soul into it.

On horseback and in the air

They have been touring around the South American country with their project “Cielo y Tierra” since the beginning of February – on a grand mission. They want to travel as close as possible to nature, experience Colombia, share their knowledge with others and encourage people to learn more about the planet. Now they are here: two young scientists travelling with two horses and a mule, loaded with paragliders and telescopes – how did they get such an idea? Bit by bit, Marja says. Both of them were about to finish their studies. Marja has a doctorate in astrophysics, Kira a masters in ecology – so they know all about heaven and earth, Cielo y Tierra. “We wanted to go travelling on horseback together after our studies. Later came the workshops on astronomy and ecology as well. From that we got the idea of ‘Heaven and Earth‘ and included the paragliders as a further element,” Marja explains. “For us, the most important thing was to travel in an eco-friendly way and create environmental awareness for our planet.”

“For us, the most important thing was to travel in an eco-friendly way and create environmental awareness for our planet.”

The two research scientists, who have already known each other for 20 years, quickly agreed on a destination: Colombia. “Horses are a firm fixture in Colombian culture,“ Kira tells us. “The country has stable weather conditions and lots of take-off and landing places for paragliding. What’s more, many young people in rural areas break off their schooling very early. With our workshops we want to learn more about the country and its people and encourage them to get vocational training.” In their courses, the two scientists talk all about the environment: from photosynthesis to deforestation – an important subject in a country where large areas are covered in rainforest. “We talked a lot about how important it is to protect the environment and therefore our climate.” A look through the telescope also confirms that, says Marja. “So far nobody has found a planet which is similar to earth. It is unique – we won’t get a second chance.”

The fascination of the moon: when the scientists let people look through a telescope, they open up a whole new view of the world to many of them.

1,000 kilometres and even more experiences

This initial wild idea soon turned into something serious. They planned the trip for months, fixed a route, and looked for sponsors. Meanwhile, the two-month trip is almost over. In a few days, they will be making their way to the airport, boarding a plane and landing back in Europe to their daily lives. Between the start and now lie 1,000 kilometres and even more new experiences – both positive and negative.


Adventures to read about: in their blog, friends, family and other followers can read all about what Marja and Kira experienced on their journey from Bucaramanga to Cali. More at www.cieloytierra-project.com.

One of the horses became so ill that it couldn’t walk any more. Some days the heat was unbearable both for them and the animals. Most of the technical equipment was stolen. They never knew how each day would be – sometimes good, sometimes bad. But they never had any doubts. “We see the project as a great adventure, a challenge and a huge chance to learn.” Through it, they want to break away from conventional stereotypes of scientists and adventurers, Marja says. “Our aim is not to teach knowledge in a pedantic way but to learn ourselves and encourage others to learn through knowledge-sharing, observations and discussions.”

New friends, new views

We ourselves learned – for example about hospitality. “We were invited so often to a meal, to stay overnight, to come again,” Kira says. “Even when the people had hardly anything themselves, they wanted to share.” For example, they stayed the night with a family all five of whom slept in the living room. “You have a new family here – these were often the parting words.”

The connection to the locals was also particularly strong when they were showing people the moon through a telescope. “Everyone, regardless of whether they are young or old, gets a new outlook on life when they see the moon for the very first time through a telescope,” Marja recounts. “Only yesterday a local said: it’s unbelievable how you have changed my view of the world.” And if Kira and Marja have managed that, the long journey has been worthwhile.

Kira and Marja were accompanied on their trip by a camera. The result is presented on their website and at film festivals. Further information at www.cieloytierra-project.com.


Picture credits: Cielo y Tierra