Friday, June 25, 2010


Here continues the chronicle of Tom and Sherm's visit. I started to tell these stories before, but stopped for some reason. Now I have my very own computer here, and can write as long as I like. Today is the 15th of July.

The second leg of the trip began when we heard Sherm leave for his flight early Tuesday morning. Tatiana brought us coffee before we could stand up, and we had a quiet morning of preparation. That afternoon Tom and I flew out of the rain in Bogota and landed in the mild swelter of Santa Marta. We had bandeja paisas on the boardwalk, playing Rummy and listening to costeƱa radio coming through on my phone.

As evening settled, we toured the North side of town, looking at three different rooms before finding a place we felt comfortable. We walked half a block in the wrong direction, and therefore passed the same whore twice. She'd heckled us in Spanish the first time, so she switched to English as we came shuffling back around the corner. It occurred to me to claim ignorance, como "no hablamos ingles", but I hesitated, instead simply laughing as we sauntered on.

We blasted the fans and lay in our beds watching futbol, lazily pounding beers only because if we didn't they quickly became warm. So the new heat plus some cervezas sent us to bed early. As such, we were up relatively early the next day, and able to stumble into a private shuttle into Tayrona National Park.

The almost-trusty Lonely Planet had told us all about the bus that left at 10 am, but at 9:30, we still had shopping to do. As it happened, we spoke with the driver-guy and he told us No, he'll wait for us, claro no hay problemo. So great, we went grocery shopping, bought a jug of rum, various fruits and even sundry items such as contact solution and a small, waterproof soccer ball.

That's Tom on the bus, on our way into the park. We had a liquid breakfast, starting with juice and continuing summarily back into beers. We bought one for the driver too. No reason why he shouldn't enjoy a cold beverage with us. Unfortunately, the speaker system had been shorted out by the rain of two nights ago, so we were not quite as festive as we might have otherwise been, but even still, this was a supremely fun bus ride.

Having reached the Eastern entrance of the park, we had a bit of a hike ahead of us. We'd picked up a sturdy English girl at the gate, and now the three of of us were traipsing through the jungle. I quickly lost a sandal in the mud, as did our British friend. Somehow Tom's shoes remained clean, while I took the drastic step of removing my footwear altogether. This seemed like a fine idea at the time.

I carried the tent and our bag of fruit. Tom trekked in with a 2-gallon jug of water in each hand. I believe he had the jug of rum as well.

We walked for maybe 40 minutes, tiptoeing past horse droppings, up muddy paths, negotiating skinny through-ways cut between the enormous boulders planted in that sea-side jungle.

The 'feel' of the coast comes first, inevitably setting in as you approach any ocean. You know how you just know it's there? That.

Smell is inevitably next. The negative ions and floating salt engage our most primal sense - that which shoots us straight in the brain - the sea a sensory pistol aimed at our precious pineal glands.

The excitement really begins to rise when your ears kick into gear. We stepped out of the jungle and into the first campground. Tom was there to testify to the newness of the computer perched behind the check-in desk, under the palm-thatched roof. We are told it definitely was not there 7 years ago.

We stopped for a sit-n-snack break. Then continued on, veering left through a group of cabinas, a dirt courtyard complete with donkey and sleeping dog. Then this happened:

Walking on, moving Southeast down the Caribbean beach:

Walking barefoot became far more comfortable once we found sand.

(To be continued...)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

For the Record

If any person place or thing mentioned in these stories has a different version of events, a slant I didn't see, or embellishments I've forgotten, I whole-heartedly invite all-types of commentary or contrary accountings. I also like comments because it lets me know if people are seeing this. Then I feel special.

I am special. Sometimes.

Technical note: if you click on the pictures, they get bigger.

I'm telling you people, this is some high-resolution shit we're dealing with here . Seriously, nothing but the best.

End transmission.


Now that I've settled in Bogota, I thought it might be nice to provide a stop-by-stop synopsis of where I've been in the last 6 months or so (if only for my future benefit, and obviously, that of posterity). I will have to do some research to fix the exact dates, but I'll try to mark those that I know.

Cappo or Keir, please let me know if I've missed or misplaced any moves.

Feb 1: Minneapolis to Atlanta to Lima, Peru.
Feb 2: Lima to Arequipa, Arequipa to Puno (by bus)
Feb 3: Puno to La Paz, by way of Isla del Sol

From La Paz, West-Southwest to Rurrenabaque and Parque National Madidi and the Pampas, and back to La Paz
La Paz, South to Oruro for a weekend of Carnaval
Oruro to Potosi (still in Bolivia)
Potosi to Uyuni for a three day tour of the Salt Flats
Train from Uyuni down to the Northern border of Argentina, night in Salta
Salta to Cordoba
Cordoba to Capilla del Monte

Feb 26: Capilla del Monte to Buenos Aires
Week in BA
March 3: flight from Buenos Aires down to Ushuaia, el fin del mundo

Things get a little fuzzy in Patagonia...
Ushuaia, by bus and ferry, North (the only way to go) through Rio Gallegos to El Calafate
El Calafate up to Perito Merino for a day trip to the glacier
From El Calafate across the border into Chile, to Puerto Natales
Puerto Natales North into Torres del Paine National Park for 4 (5?) days
Back to Puerto Natales to catch the NaviMag, going North along the Western coast of Chile, through the fjords for 4 days and 4 nights, eventually arriving in Puerto Montt
Left Puerto Montt immediately, on our way to Bariloche, back into Argentina

March 20: go-karting for my birthday in Bariloche
From Bariloche, North to San Martin de los Andes for one night
San Martin, West to Pucon, Chile, to conquer the volcano (this was about a week after the big earthquake)
Pucon, North to Santiago for the weekend
Weekend included a trip to Valparaiso and Vina del Mar
Slept through a 6+ strength aftershock.
Santiago to Mendoza for a few days of wine-tasting and treating Norwegians to a birthday dinner

April 4: Champagne campaign on the overnight bus from Mendoza back to BA to reconvene with the Doub
April 7: leave BA on a boat for Uruguay, catch a bus to Montevideo
April 8: fly from Montevideo, Uruguay to Bogota, Colombia (by way of the airport in Rio di Janiero, Brazil)
a week in Bogota
a week in Manizales
almost 4 weeks in Medellin
weekend out west, in El Choco
weekend back in Bogota
a week up North: one night in Santa Marta, 6 days on the beach in Tayrona, at Cabo San Juan, then two nights in Taganga

Now I've been back in Bogota for about three weeks.

I found a job, teaching English to business executives around Bogota. Now I need to find an apartment. Once I have an address I can get a bank account. Once I have a bank account I can start transferring funds and allow my debt to begin its slow erosion.

So yeah, that's my life. On the South American continent, I've now touched the Pacific coast (twice), the Southernmost point, the Atlantic coast (BA/Montevideo), and the Northern, Caribbean coast. In my mind, touching all four corner lends my trip an extremely satisfactory sense of completion. Nevermind that I couldn't afford it...



East (Buenos Aires):

(They said it; not me. Here I'm merely documenting.)


Oh yeah, let's see North again:

Just one more time:

North is Up.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I Changed the Background

See that? Softer now, no?

Ok more stories. Back in Bogota with the Brothers Sherman.

Well, but first our plane stopped in Medellin, and we still had to make our connection at the other, larger airport on the other side of town. Our bags were stashed at the Pit Stop still, because we didn't care to carry them out West. So we touch down in Medellin maybe two hours before our next flight, and we're on a mission.

Zip-zip, grab our bags, snag a cab, on our way in no time. The driver found the Pit Stop straight off, which was rare; although, after living there for three weeks, you'd think I'd be able to give directions. Again, zip-inside, grab the other bags - here, even had time to sneak a peak at my gmail in order to take advantage of a plastic present Tom had brought for me, from my Mom - and boom, back in the cab and on our way, 90 minutes to spare. No more than half an hour to the airport, no problem.

So, it's a chicken-or-the-egg situation. See, we can't be sure whether the cab's rusty clutch had made this man age prematurely, or if, in fact, the elderly man was just somewhat clumsy, often forgetting what gear he was in, and thus summarily gumming up the gears. We suspect it was somewhere in the middle.

It was funny at first. Until we stopped for gas. Right before he pulled into 4th as we approached a gradual hill. Then, when the huge Airport-This-Way sign suggested we take the first right of a round-a-bout, our earnest friend slowed around the bend two-hundred and seventy degrees, and eventually made a left. I am sincerely convinced he was doing the best he could, and truly hold no malice toward him. I suspect he simply had no idea we were in a hurry. And on the plus side, I got to listen to a whole GirlTalk album, shit I never heard before. Kept me entertained.

As it is, we made it to the gate on time anyway. Of course we did. Ahh but wait, the nice people at ADA, with their magical self-repairing planes, had made a phone call for us back in El Valle, hadn't they? Making an inquiry on our behalf, in case we might miss our connection. But they hadn't confirmed any changes yet, had they? Oh, well yes I see, you can switch the time of your flight once for free. How convenient, good policy. What's that you're saying, we're confirmed on the 9 o clock flight, not the original 6? Okay. No, that makes sense. Thank you. Si. Gracias.

This serendipitous delay led us to some basement diner in order to find the first proper bandeja paisa I ever saw. I've seen better since, but this first time was a glorious event. Beans and rice, fried platano maduro, some form of carne (almost steak) with that sunny-side up egg perched on top, waiting to bleed all over the plate; chorizo (so much more than a hot dog), and the deep fried fat that tastes like bacon (with the name I can't remember), and an arepa, like a flour-colored hockey puck, reluctantly soaking up the left over juices. Here:

Take note: this is a beautiful photo. Everything is happening. The food has been explained, but the salsa de aji is there on the left, next to the Club Colombia beers. Poker, Pilsen and Aguila are the other three most popular beers around here. They are all pilsners and are all generally about a dollar, with 4% alcohol content relative to volume. Club Colombia has 5%, and can be a thousand pesos mas costozo. We were also in the midst of a fierce game of Rummy; those are Tom's points you see splayed out on the edge of the table. I could be wrong, but I do not believe we ever completed this game. It was the first game, however, when cards started falling for me. Although, at the same time, I support Tom's theory that because we switched decks, the cards were finally getting shuffled properly, so the game became more random, thus I got lucky.

We had been sitting, waiting for the plane to fix itself in El Valle, wondering where would stay once in Bogota, when Sherm's old friend Mateo called to insist that we stay at his place. He and his lovely new wife Viviana live on the North end of la septima. As hosts, they were most generous, providing Tom and I fat air-mattresses on the floor, while Sherm had his own room. Viviana brought us coffee before we stood up everyday. There was breakfast, too. It was truly heartwarming to be taken care of so carefully. That first night we - meaning Mateo, Sherm, Tom and me - emptied a proper full-size bottle of aguardiente. Easy.

Next day, we got up and cabbed downtown to Plaza de Bolivar for a Mockus/Fajardo rally. Antanas Mockus and Sergio Fajardo are both former mayors, I'm now told, of Bogota and Medellin, respectively. They were the duo representing the recently-created El Partido Verde in these most recent presidential elections. This rally was their last before the first round of voting. There was some music, but we mostly only heard Mockus speak before sneaking off for awesome Mexican almuerzo. He tries to explain his nuanced views by speaking very slowly, and people find him difficult to understand. It seems he is too liberal, too intellectual for the people at this moment. It was a profound experience though, being in the midst of this, listening to the chants of "La union (beat) hace la fuerza!" This says a lot:

Just look, I mean: the girl on her fathers shoulders, braving the rain and the pain in her shoulders as she tried to hold that green sign up high; the older girl standing next to them, arms outstretched in hope of some undefined deliverance; and the woman on the right, focused, and fiercely pumping the sunflowers in her fist around in a circle above her head; that's El Colegio Mayor de San Bartolome in the lefthand background, El Congreso de la Republica closing the square; and all the way on your right, ladies and gentlemen, let's hear it, Mr Thomas J Myers! Okay, everybody! He and I got lucky our raincoats were the right colors for that rally, his yellow, mine green.

In that first round of voting, Santos and Mockus were the two top vote-getters, among a number of candidates. Santos won something like 49.7%. If he had had 50% plus-one-vote, there would have been no run-off. As it was, there was a run-off this past Sunday. Santos won with 69% of the vote, to Mockus' 28%. In essence, Santos is the conservative choice, and is seen as a continuance of current President Alvaro Uribe's policies. The result was, unfortunately, expected, but it was a step in the right direction, I think. I know many Mockus supporters who did not vote.

For Sherm's final night, there was a reunion of sorts. Sherm and Mateo invited friends from their Fulbright days for a barbecue. It rained all day while Tom and I ran about town collecting the necessary goods for said barbecue. This involved kababs, chickens and bbq sauce, two pineapples, more aguardiente, charcoal and, of course, flowers for our lovely hostess (this was Tom's idea, and scored us big points). Sherm spent the day giving surprise visits to old friends, and Mateo has a job. (There were sunflowers involved in the bouquet).

As it came time to spark the charcoal, the rain was still in the process of stopping. The moment demanded drastic action. Something had to be done, and I believe we all knew precisely what that thing was. There was a laundry room with windows, with tile flooring and the remnant stench, hidden and permanent, of stale, putrid water. Perfect. We needed to seal off the area to minimize the influx of smoke into the rest of the apartment.
The series of pictures explains...

Ahh yes, the deck is better. Rain over, coals hot, Tom and I took over cooking to let all the old companions converse. Perfect spanish moves too fast for us anyhow. Fantastic times. Nothing short of classic.

More later.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

In The Meantime...

Right. Still here. It's been exactly two months since my last update, so there is much to discuss. My intention is to lean towards summary.

Looks like I left off in Manizales. Wow, that was a long time ago. Anyway, we showed up in Manizales during the Pit Stop Hostel's inaugural week. We made friends with Paul, the Irish owner, and after a week in Manizales (previously described), we piled in for a severely discounted busride, thanks to the native-Spanish-speaking negotiating skills of Paul's gorgeous Colombian girlfriend.
We got our money's worth, as our driver bounded up blind mountain curves, passing trucks and bikes alike, prompting Cap and I to buckle up and say our prayers. We made it back to flatland, and the driver made an unannounced stop for lunch. This, along with two other stops to satiate small bladders and nicotine needs, and our 4 hour journey took 6. However, we managed to arrive alive.

Medellin is a beautiful city, with perfect weather all year round, a great party scene, and surgically enhanced women everywhere. In fact, the whole city sort of thrives on artificial enhancement, being the destination sought by those wanting the Pablo Escobar tour, upon which you might meet his brother, the mechanic, or even have the opportunity to bump a line off the top of Pablo's gravestone. Tasteful.

Speaking of which:

The first thing I saw when we walked into the Medellin edition of the Pit Stop, was a big sign asking for help behind the bar. This was a turning point in our trip, as it was the moment I realized that I was going to stay in Medellin by myself and conserve cash until the Brothers Sherman made it down, while Cappo was sure to go North alone. But first we had a week or so to play in the City of Eternal Spring. PG-13 party stories are boring to both read and write, so I will leave you to imagine all the empty half-bottles of aguardiente, the bad salsa dancing, the photos full of overexcited poses, and the half-brained Spanish that was thrown around during this time. Although, as I may have mentioned before, my Spanish steadily improves as the night goes on, until about 4 in the morning when I am basically a native speaker.

There was one night when Cap and I went out to meet some girl he'd met somehow (I've stopped asking for these type of details; she had a friend with her, okay great, let's go). The night before there had been some miscommunication between she and El Capitan, a simple issue of "Where are you? I'm right here. No you're not.", but it devolved into her, let's call her Melissa, crying her eyes out, bawling about it being the worst day ever, and being lonely and, well, basically giving us reason to suspect this individual to be somewhat emotionally unstable. I'm not judging, just trying to provide context. Anyway, she was 21 years old. But the combination of her braces and her child-like frame made her appear to be more like 15, 17 at best. Okay, still no problem, we're happy to have someone to hang out with, to show us around, and she said something about a concert. Great, perfect.
But first we had to go meet up with her cousin. Her 14 year old cousin. So now Cappo and I are strolling around downtown Medellin with a 15-year-old-look-a-like and her 14 year old cousin. Totally normal. We hopped a city bus to the mall, where we're told the concert is to be held. Sure enough, there was a gaggle of youth swarming around the entrance, and a stage setup just inside. The band was called Tres de Corazones, which for those uninitiated, refers to the Three of Hearts in a deck of cards. Guess how many members this band has...

A quick googlesearch has revealed a glaring error. The name of the band is actually Tr3s de CoraZon. My mistake. I strongly recommend that all of you lovely people out there perform this same googlesearch, and thus spare me the trouble of explaining to you exactly how and why this is the worst kind of music possible. Talk about pissing in the ears of the audience... Really, really bad emo-pop, aspiring toward a grunge twist but apparently settling for a commercial-interrupted gig at a preteen infested mall. So much for their indie street cred.
At first I thought we were going to have to babysit our dates right up front, but Cappo's quick-thinking saved the day and we ended up standing in the back, pounding beers. The lack of laws concerning public consumption (in the mall!?) is one liberty we have here in the South Americas that is sorely lacking in the Northern, 'land of the free' (New Orleans receives a notable exception, honorable mention here). Anyway, I know you all are worried, so allow me to put an end to your anxiety by assuring you that the cousin was not given a beer of her own. She had to share. This night actually turned out really well. Another of-age friend showed up, and we had delicious dinner, followed by a party in the park, followed by proper live music (reggae/hiphop) on a rooftop.

In this photo, are you able to distinguish between the pre-teens and the infants?

The next time we saw Melissa, it got awkward because she kept laughing and telling me she wanted me to be her boyfriend, and my careful non-response somehow made her think that I thought she was kidding, a disastrous misunderstanding which only encouraged her to repeat her slurred desire again and again until I called a cab. Cappo was of no help here. I'm told this was very funny. Ha ha.

Then Cappo left. He flew to Santa Marta/Taganga to go scuba diving and trek to the Lost City. I stayed, hung out behind the PitStop bar, searched for work, and lived the thrifty life as best I could. Keir continued to eliminate rigmarole at every opportunity.

(Note: this is the correct spelling of 'rigmarole'. However, on principle, I refuse to let spelling affect phonetics, and will continue to pronounce it 'rig-a-ma-role'.)

Then, on the 16th of May, the Brothers Sherman landed in Medellin. By way of explanation, the Sherman Brothers are my good friend Tom Myers and his older brother John. Sherman is a nickname they pass back and forth between them, although more often than not, John is Sherm.
Our three days in Medellin (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday) were uneventful except for when we almost became television spokespeople for Colombia's new tourism campaign. Tom and I were in the travel agency, listening to Sherm use his perfect Spanish to arrange our trip to El Choco, the department on the Pacific coast of Colombia. Next door was a casting agency. In idle jest I suggested that we go get famous while we waited. Then, of course, on our way out of the building, two young, professional women walked in. As I held the door for them, they looked us over, and at the last second, asked if we spoke Spanish. I stuttered (because that's how I speak Spanish), and pointed to Sherm. He took it from there, and up we went. I filled out a form, and we went in front of the camera, one at a time, to turn and pose and twist our heads, then maybe say something about why we love Colombia. And, well, we haven't gotten a callback yet, although I've been encouraged to visit the Bogota office to see if there are any new campaigns coming up. So yeah, still not famous.

Okay so then we went out west. El Choco is a region of Colombia that is, if we're honest, still a little dangerous. But it is not nearly as dangerous as it was just seven years ago when Sherm was first here and desperately wanted to go, but could not. The military presence has increased, so guerrilla kidnappings have gone down. This is good news, because El Valle (where we went, at the north of Utria National Park) is some of the most beautiful Earth I have ever been blessed enough to witness. Jungle encroaching on ocean, great waves breaking... just, spectacular. It's a place, I believe, that I'd seen in a dream years ago. A truly fantastic dream: I was swimming, as the ultimate aqua-mammal version of myself, and then I decided to fly, so I shot straight up, just high enough to see the curvature of the Earth, and I was looking out over jungle-covered shoreline and islands that stretched endlessly, and water spanning the full spectrum of blue hues, like a paradise, and then I felt like falling, so I fell and landed happily back in the warm ocean, except then I was tired so I woke up sleeping on the beach. This was that place, in real life. Except I can't fly. But we did go snorkling! Lots of pretty fishies that I imagine my father can name.

So that was Parque Nacional Natural Utria, where we snorkeled and ate fried fish on the beach, and Tom and I played baseball with driftwood and a coconut. We spent another day on a nearby beach, enjoying the most picturesque disc-toss possible, and looking into purchasing an ideal property -- a small rock outcropping on the beach, perfect for a bar with a view, a restaurant, and the adjoining property would be the hostel. Brilliant. Except, my Spanish is not good enough to negotiate all the payoffs we now believe would be necessary. Nice idea though. Never any harm in real estate speculation. One day it rained and we stayed in bed, reading and sleeping all day, then played Rummy after dark. Strangely that was maybe my favorite day.

On the day we were due to fly out, we were at the airport in plenty of time. We figured we'd have a beer each, then we'd need to go. Two beers later, we were still waiting. We'd seen our plane land, empty of passengers and baggage, and then sit on the 'tarmac' (read: compacted grass), but no one moved. Then word came through that there was an issue with the plane. A flat tire. So we'd have to wait. Okay, no problem, the Champions League final was on anyway. All the military personnel were cheering for Inter. Then word came through that there was some other problem with the plane, and they needed to bring in a new one, so it would be several more hours. Shit. Now we were in danger of missing our connection to Bogota. But okay, what can we do but wait... Then, all of a sudden, everything was ready and we were boarding. Except, but, hey, there was no new plane. In the four hours we'd been sitting there, in plain view of our plane, not one person who even resembled a mechanic had gone near it. No one had touched it. Now suddenly we were boarding, ready to go, no problem? I took a picture of Tom before we got on, as evidence, just in case my camera survived and we didn't. (We did.) I suppose this is just how things get done.

Bogota was next, my second venture there, but my hands are tired of typing and there are people encouraging me to be social. Yighlchh. Fine. More soon.