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.

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