Victoria Ross from Newtownstewart YFC travelled to Colorado during the summer months as part of the YFCU Exchange Programme. Here is her report:
I began my journey early on Friday, July 23 leaving Dublin airport to get a connecting flight in London to take me to Denver, Colorado. After 23 hours travelling, I arrived in Denver and then got a bus from the airport to Fort Collins where my host parents Sarah and Scott Tomlinson collected me in their Chervrolet Camaro vintage car. I got to meet the rest of the family when they took me back to their horse farm where they have seven horses, two dogs, six cats and lots of chickens. This is where I met their daughter Kaisa 5 years old and Carter 7 years old; they were both so friendly and welcoming. It was then off to bed so I could start my adventure the following morning.
The next morning after breakfast Sarah, Carter, Kaisa and I set of on a bike ride around Fort Collins. Although it was 41 degrees I thoroughly enjoyed it as I got to see some amazing sites of the city including their 4H Head Quarters and their local baseball stadium. The afternoon consisted of a traditional visit to Dairy Queen for ice cream and then off to a cider brewery called Scrumpy’s. That night we were invited to a barbecue .
The next few days I helped out on the farm by mucking out the horses, weeding the vegetable garden, planting vegetables and helping to make a rock garden. Blistering heat yet again and this time I got burnt as Colorado is a mile higher to the sun, so sun cream should be applied every few hours – I won’t make that mistake again.
One of my first highlights of the trip was climbing Royal Arch in Boulder. This was where I first met the Welsh exchange Daisy as we met up with her and her host mother Amanda to tackle the mountain hike. It was over 14,000ft and it was a challenge for me as I was only in Colorado a few days and I wasn’t used to the altitude yet. Therefore I found it hard to catch my breath the higher we got but I was determined to make it to the top and I’m so glad I did as the views were incredible. After our hike we had a well-deserved meal followed by a wonder around Boulder and a visit to a tea factory. Daisy and I loved this although I’m not fussed on American tea, ours is better. It was interesting to see how they make their tea and the history behind it and we discovered that American’s are great fans of herbal tea as well as iced tea. Again I’m not fussed on either so will happily stick to my Tetley Tea any day.
The following day we walked around Old Town in Fort Collins where my host family showed me some of their favourite spots that included a toy store that was incredible – it was a dream for any child young or old. That night we met up with Daisy and her host family again and visited the local rodeo. Here I got to see bull riding, calf roping and barrel racing to name but a few. There were also various exhibitors selling different merchandise and a carnival as well. It was a fantastic night seeing both the competitors and spectators dressed in cowboy gear as well as the different cattle events they held throughout the night. Again this was another highlight of my trip.
The next day we met up with another family, the Robertson’s, and we headed to Estes Park in the Rocky Mountains. Here we hiked along some easy trails as there were four kids under seven and then we had a picnic to follow. We then walked around the town and I tasted taffy for the first time. After that we headed home to gather in the hay. The family use this hay to feed their horses as well as sell it to other farmers. I discovered that they do not fertilise their grass which I found a bit odd, however the grass is a lot greener than ours is. While we were gathering the hay, the weather was 41 degrees and I had to wear a long sleeve top, jeans, boots and gloves. We didn’t stop until 11.30pm; I then mucked out the horses, ate dinner, had a quick shower and I was in bed for 1am. I then had a 5.30am start the next morning which wasn’t pleasant!
The next week I spent with Daisy and her family and we went ‘glamping’ near a small town called Redstone in the Rocky Mountains for four days. The scenery was stunning and we met up with two other families so it was really good craic! We went for hikes, visited local hot springs, played games and I experienced their 4th July parade. Everyone was dressed in red, white and blue and they are very patriotic about the whole day. The parade itself had loads of floats, marching bands and entertainers. It was amazing to see and something I will never forget.
After we got home from our glamping trip we rested that night with a movie and treats. The next day we went shopping in Denver followed by a baseball game that night. It was my first experience of baseball and I thought it was a lot like rounders!
The following day I helped Daisy get packed up as her Colorado adventure was soon coming to an end. Then we all helped to clean out the camper before heading to a drive in movie. There are very few of these left in the USA but they are incredible as for $7 dollars each we watched Despicable Me 3 and Cars 3. You tune your radio into the station and bring deck chairs or blankets to sit on. It was really amazing to visit and see the vendors come around the cars selling confectionery with their torches.
My week with the Belcerek family in Denver was now at an end so we all headed back to Fort Collins to help the Tomlinson’s with the last of their hay. A thunder storm was rolling in so it was all hands on deck. Thankfully it didn’t take us too long but poor Daisy got blisters on her hands due to the jagged hay and pulling on the cords.
Daisy and I sat with the two families whilst the kids played and helped them to organise their trip to the UK at the end of July for the wedding of our very own Curragh YFC members Jacki Hamilton and William Bolton. They were also going to do some sightseeing so Daisy was the Wales expert whereas I was the Northern Ireland expert. When all the planning was over I said my farewells to Daisy and her family as that was the last I was going to see of them. That night we had a relaxing evening of movies and food before it was time to start mucking out the horses again.
The following few days were to be my last with my host family. We went on another hike in the Rocky Mountains, this time to Mount Evans which was another 14ft. The weather wasn’t great but the views were still breathtaking. I was able to see mountain goats up close and personal which was great as well as the snow covered peaks. I also went to the gift shop and got some gifts for my family. That night we went to a barbecue at a friend of Scott’s and it was unreal to meet a man named John who was originally from Enniskillen who moved to Colorado when he was 9 years old. The world really is such a small place.
The next day we went to a nearby outdoor pool as Kaisa had a play date. With the good weather the place was packed but it was so much fun as there were slides and various different things to climb on. That night Sarah and her friends took me out Salsa Dancing for my birthday. Daisy was able to join us which was great. We went for dinner and then I had my first experience of proper salsa dancing. Everyone looked like professionals and they all took it very seriously. It was amazing to see some of the moves the couples had, they made it seem so easy. I mustn’t have looked too bad as I got asked to dance a few times, I think I lost my calling as a dancer.
12th July was the next day and this was my actual birthday. We went shopping during the day and I was able to finish off buying souvenirs for my family and I picked up a few things for myself like an authentic pair of cowboy boots and a Colorado Hoodie which had the state flag on it as well as Horsetooth Mountain (a smaller mountain close to Fort Collins). That night we had a barbecue for my birthday and invited over some neighbours to join us. The family were so sweet and bought me a little cow boot ornament, a birthday cake and card. One of Sarah’s friends, Rachel, also bought me a Colorado hat for my birthday so that I would have something to remind me of my time spent there.
The following day we brought two of the horses (Flame and Batman) in from the paddock, groomed then and got ready for some western style riding. I hadn’t been horseback riding since I was a kid so I was hoping it was all going to come back to me, like riding a bike. Western style riding is having both reins in one hand and your other hand is on your hip. I found it hard at first to get Flame to go where I wanted him to but soon I was in full control. We started off walking, then trotting and finally even a bit of cantering. Sarah thought I was a fast learner and that I should take it up as a hobby. Sarah then headed to work whilst I watched the two kids. They watched movies and I started to pack my things. This wasn’t an easy task as I had bought so much stuff! That evening we then headed to Pole Mountain in Wyoming for two more days of ‘glamping’. Sarah had arranged for some of her friends to meet us there so there was a big group of us which made it really fun. We made our dinner over the fire, shared stories and watched the shooting stars above us, it was truly heaven on earth.
It was now the day before I had to leave for home but I wasn’t going to let that sadden me and we had an action packed day full of events. We made our breakfast over the open fire and then got ready for some quad bike racing. I was really looking forward to this as where we were camping there was open space as far as the eye could see. After a day of quad biking we had some food, played some games, had a few sing songs and then it was time for bed.
The next morning after our fry up we went for a walk around an old army bunker that was nearby. After our excursion I had a quick shower and then lunch and by then it was time to start saying all of my goodbyes. Kaisa took it the worst, she starting screaming and crying; it was hard to leave her! Sarah then drove me to the nearest town called Cheyenne (capital of Wyoming) where I got my three hour bus journey back to the airport and started on the long journey back home.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Colorado. The people and the places were amazing and I would highly recommend it to anyone. I loved every moment of it, I just wish I could have stayed longer.