Thursday, October 27, 2011

south america. revisited.

Here I Go Again On My Own...

Unfortunately, I do not have video footage of Tawny Kitaen to accompany my daily entry, but words and photos will have to suffice. I just made it into Bogota on a dreary, drizzly day, only intensified by the abandoned streets and empty alley ways. Evidently I planned my trip to arrive on a national holiday in Columbia and entering an unknown city with the graffiti and dilapidated buildings that I normally love becomes a bit eerie with no life around them.
This is perhaps only heightened by the fact that I left my apartment at 1pm yesterday afternoon, and am just now arriving in my destination, almost 24 hours later. As much as I love to back pack, there are moments when I think I am getting too old for this shit. When I was little, my dad's wife would occasionally make note of how pretty I looked first think in the morning, before she and my father attempted to make a breakfast feast of buckwheat pancakes and egg whites. She would comment on the natural color in my cheeks. At the time I took this as one of her disingenuous, sycophantic ticks, but as I woke this morning with only 2 hours of restless sleep in an Arctic room in Panama and hours of travel preceding, I see exactly what she meant, as the flush in my cheeks left years ago, and have been replaced by pillow creases that take half of the day to dissipate and gray hairs much more easily located with the light of an airplane bathroom light.
When I first started traveling to third world countries, I became almost proud to be an American. Sure we are pompous, self involved and arrogant, but at least we have running water and timely public transportation. Or so I thought. Yesterday was a less humorous version of Trains, Planes and Automobiles with no John Hughes to perfect the story line or SNL alum to alleviate the stress. Seated next to a woman who sniffled for 5 hours straight and gripped my hand when hitting turbulence I arrived to a balmy Panama City almost 3 hours late. Luckily, the friend meeting me was patient and greeted me with open arms at arrivals. Marco, a friend I met while in Panama nearly 3 years ago was kind enough to not only pick me up, but allow me to crash at his place for my 10 hour layover in Panama.
Memory is a funny thing, for as I arrived at the Panama City airport it seemed like just yesterday I had been eating french fries with Jackie and perusing the Duty Free shops. Using the exact same facilities as 3 years prior brought on a sense of nostalgia as Panama not only holds a special place in my heart, but now in my passport as well, being the only country with the distinction of 2 stamps.
Marco was warm and generous and kind enough to arrange travel back to the airport for my short flight to empty Bogota this morning.
Not much to report on the drug trafficking scene just yet. But sit tight.

Rain Rain Go Away...

My 24 hours in Bogota has been reminiscent of my time spent in Peru in 2008. Namely, freezing. One thinks of South America and thinks warm, despite the fact that I should know better. When arriving at the hostel yesterday morning I almost immediately met a couple of girls who spoke English, one of whom was American and a teacher in San Diego and one who was a New Zealander by way of Malaysia. After a quick chat, the ladies were gracious enough to invite me along for the day and we went out into the dreary streets that were just starting to get populated mid-day, due to the public holiday.
A quick trot to the grocery store (always one of my favorite outings in a foreign country) and we returned to the hostel to make lunch. I opted for the easy white girl go to of peanut butter and bread but, as made evident time and time again my palette is that of a small child and I really only like peanut butter from the homeland which, for me, means the US. We chatted amiably with our hostel mates, mostly consisting of South American men on a holiday, one most notably from Argentina with eyes and blue as the Caribbean Sea, but I digress. We headed out to the Botero museum and took reprieve from the increasingly violent rain to stare at rotund bellies and asses alike. The museum housed many paintings and even a few Degas' (my favorite), but was mostly dedicated to the still breathing Botero and his Rubenesque ladies and gentlemen.
With grey skies and dropping temperatures the desire to wander for hours waned. We did, however, check out a few markets where I procured yet another piece of Catholic art for my secular home. En route back home, we also stopped at the most famous snack shop in all of Bogota for their famous bread with cheese and hot chocolate. My virgin run with hot chocolate was disappointing, despite their having used the same recipe for the past 200 years.
Back to the hostel to be treated to homemade soup by our hostel mates, I hid under a colorful blanket as I was wet and chilled to the bone. 

As I always find in hostels, it was fraught with counter culture young people who mostly discuss what they have in common - travel. Many of the inhabitants here have quit their jobs, their lovers, their lives back home for open ended stays on the road. Part of me is always jealous they have taken this leap of faith, but part of me loves that I get a Whitman's Sampler of adventure while still returning to my home, either in New York or California and that, most importantly, I get to return to the people I love (and toilets in which you can flush toilet paper). 
A few hours of darts, laughter and solitaire on my iPhone ( I have become obsessed in the past 2 days) and I was off to sleep in almost all of my clothing to awake to a new day with bright skies, frigid temperatures, and a day alone in the city.
Word on the street is there is a church 'in the sky' that I must check out.
Wish me luck....

B' Bye Bogota

Yesterday went unexpectedly, but sometimes those are the best days.
I have found then when traveling, or on vacation, when I don't have an alarm I rise early and feeling well rested. Could it be the oppressive nature of the real world is really why I hit snooze a million times each morning and not my need for some extra z's?
Yesterday was no exception. I rose early to bid my American and New Zealander friend from the previous day's adventures adieu and feasted on the hostel's complimentary breakfast of tea, bread and papaya. I happen to think papaya tastes like dirt, but beggars cannot be choosers. After chatting up a British inhabitant by the name of James we made plans to meet up after his Spanish lesson and head to Mounserrate, the church in the sky I had mentioned.
These plans were foiled when mere minutes later, Gaston, an Argentian on holiday celebrating his graduation from university asked if I was busy. When he mentioned he was heading to the Catedral de Sal I knew I had to join the fluent Spanish speaker as, not only had I read about and wanted to see this attraction in Zipaquira, for anyone who has ever seen me consume food, you knew that a trip to worship at the Cathedral of Salt was long over due. Gaston, or Gato as he asked me to call him, and I had a long journey ahead of us, taking both the Transmileneo (Bogota's Muni) and another bus to get to the Cathedral.
Once there the 28-year old and I took the tour through all of the chapels that had been created within this salt mine in addition to the tour through the actual mine, which is played up for the tourist and in which they ask you to walk through pitch black. They offer a warning previous to the tour asking claustorphobes not to partake and although I do not fancy myself one of those, walking through a pitch black tunnel miles underground being guided by a woman you don't understand can be a bit daunting. 
Fears faced I got a souvenir salt rock and perused the emeralds that are so popular, and relatively cheap here in Columbia and Gato and I took the train down the hill which also provided a quick guided tour of the town which was exactly the kind of Latin American town I like. Not too big, not too small, but just right replete with elderly ladies who cover their faces with their hand stitched aprons as soon as they see my camera emerge from my bag and a feast of yucca, potatoes and chicken which had been the first real meal since I had been here and eagerly welcomed.
Since this was a full day's journey I felt lucky to have had the opportunity to meet and get to know someone new, which is one of the best things about traveling and most definitely about staying in hostels. Prior to me leaving the US I had been asked by someone I carea great deal about to stay in hotels for his own piece of mind and, much like every time I choose to follow my heart and ignore those around me, I am certainly glad I did.
Not only would I not have even traveled to Zipaquira yesterday without accompaniment, I would not have returned to the hostel last night and stayed up till 1 am chatting with 2 Argentian, a Portuguese and a British woman all here for different reasons, all with different experiences under there belt, and all willing to share a bit of themselves with strangers solely based on the fact that we all booked a bed in the same home for a limited number of days.
Recently, several loved ones have so much as intimated that perhaps I am a bit long in the tooth for travel such as this, but as I stared at the blood red sky at half past 12 last night listening to 3 men talk about the pink dolphins of the Amazon in Spanish, I realized I was just where I belong.
Today I will be making my pilgrimage to the church in the sky with one of the ladies I met last night and then catching a not-so-cheap flight to Cartegena on the Caribbean coast. I hear it is a town full of tourists, but as my travel mate from yesterday noted, as long as I don't open my mouth I am the picture of a traditional looking Argentian woman, so maybe no one will be the wiser. 

Pre-Menstral Meandering

Another early morning rise, assisted by the hole in my ceiling that lets the bright morning light shine lovingly/glare directly into my face each morning letting me know another day awaits.
I was treated to a semi-scalding semi-freezing shower, a welcomed improvement from toweling myself off with a wet nap I had stolen from Friday's in midtown Manhattan before my departure the week before when there was no water for several hours at the hostel yesterday.
Breakfast was served and seconds of bread were readily ingested as I made sure to meet my carbohydrate requirement as I do not feel nutrition or calories exist when abroad.
Ally, my British mate for the day from Bristol arrived early and we happily sat having tea and coffee for quite some time discussing being women and growing older in the Western world before heading out. Nothing like a little light conversation with a stranger to get the day going.
We had been given mixed messages about the trek to Monserrate, but when the hostel's proprietor assured us that the likelihood of being held at knife point and robbed was significantly lower during daylight hours, we took the 20 minute walk to the cable car that precariously drags you up the mountain. Out of breath and sweaty, yet still able to see my breath I marveled not only at the city below, but at the Colombians ability to function in this altitude. Much like when I was in Peru, I feel terribly fat and out of shape until I realize just about all foreigners are having trouble with mundane movements.
Ally and I meandered on top of the hill for a while, making note of how large Bogota is and how, when you visit a place and then see if from a bird's eye perspective you realize just how little you are in fact seeing. Barely having scratched the surface, I knew that my hours were dwindling in this city for which I had developed some real affection. I made sure to buy my niece her traditional doll from one of Auntie Nani's adventures and we slide back down the mountainside and dined at the sole vegetarian eatery in the city before hiking back up to the hostel and saying out goodbyes.
Ally gave me a hug goodbye and I waved to the blue-eyed Argentian who had been exceedingly nice to me over the past couple of days, but saying goodbye to Gaston, my travel mate from the day before was actually sad. He graciously offered his home to me and my sister when we are next in Argentina and I did the same for any US needs he may have. It is strange the intimacy you feel with fellow travel mates almost immediately. It is like the intensity of reality TV without the cameras. 
My cab arrived and I soaked it all in as my driver pointed out sights on our way out of town. He was one of those Spanish speakers who subscribes to the theory that if you repeat the same word or phrase enough the non-Spanish speaker will all of a sudden understand you. Never one to be rude, I exercised my neck with head nodding whether or not I understood and allowed my pre-menstraul nostalgia to kick in as I set off. 

Never allow a woman to travel in this state, I beg of you.
At the airport I managed to get to the proper gate and on the proper flight and in just over an hour I landed in the far more tropical city to a far more touristy hostel. I dare say that I believe Alanis Morisette was playing in the lobby upon my arrival last night. Never a good sign.
With the sun setting and my irritation at other countries ideas of what appropriate personal space growing I went to the supermarket, picked up some fresh bread and salami and dined in my hostel before falling into a deep sleep and dreaming up an assassin movie set in Sacramento, California and starring a motley crew of loved ones and Hollywood staples.
Off for one of my all time favorite things, a morning jog in a foreign city.
I will check in soon.

A City For Lovers... Solo

Cartegena is a city of cast shadows and intimate whispers.
Cartegena is the Thomas' English Muffin of Columbia, however the nooks and crannies are not filled with delicious melted butter and sweet jam, but rather young couples canoodling at every bend. Never having been a hormonal teenager swept up in the passion of youthful exuberance and naivete I can admit that these overt displays of affection are somewhat enviable. It never ceases to amaze me that people want to be affectionate in humid climates. I speak from experience when I say the sweat trickling down my back in not an invitation to touch me.
With endless weeks of rain in Cartegena, the skies parted ( I would like to think just for me) yesterday and allowed me to do just as the tour books and locals suggest, roam the narrow, intricately woven set of streets with no particular destination in mind. Being in such a tourist friendly city is not ideal, but does allow the freedom of knowing you can take out your camera and not be robbed, as the economy here is clearly based solely on tourism.
I spent my morning yesterday city in one of the many town squares reading a book on the civil rights movement in the 60s. The warm weather was no contest for the chilling stories told within the pages of this book and the goosebumps were hard to fight off even with the sun shining down on me. I had chosen to stay in the old part of the city while here and despite seeming to lack an adequate amount of reasonable priced eateries, I would describe this coastal town as charming.
Often times when I travel I feel guilty if not constantly on the go. Hell, in my real life I am plagued by the same pangs of guilt if not constantly immersed in a useful activity, but choosing to see this voyage as perhaps a moment for a little vacation time yesterday, that is just what I did. I vacatde my overwrought mind, read, lounged and tried to breathe in the mix of sea and arepa that permeates the nostrils while in Cartegena. Relaxing does not come easily to all of us, and trying my best I stopped into a local vitamin shop/restaurant to concentrate on my book, my banana bread, and my breathing.
After hours in the sun I retreated to my bedroom, emerging when it was time to eat. The thing I have found about traveling alone is a big production of a meal seems a bit much and with street vendors and gilded restaurants meant to attract the retirement community as the options for dining here, I went back to my favorite one stop supermarket to make a couple of international phone calls and create a feast meant of a pseudo Latina Queen: a can of peas and carrots, microwave popcorn and a mango. Say what you will. It was delicious and nutritious. I thought I had stuck gold with a sausage vendor on my walk home, but after one bite of the mealy meat I can only assume was pork (please, god) I ditched the oil soaked paper bag of mystery meat by a man sleeping on the street and headed back to my room to feast while watching the Kardashian wedding with subtitles. Not traditionally Colombian I suppose, but a stress free evening none the less.
This morning I woke early, before the city began to creak with activity to run by the Sea. The city is walled in by an ancient artifice and scaling the stone steps not only ensured that my ass will stay on point for years to come, it was a welcomed change of scenery from St. Nicholas in Northern Manhattan. I was set to take a tour to the beach today, but with the unruly sea, it was canceled and I was left chatting with a far less kindred spirit Argentian man, amiable all the same, who was aghast when I told him how old I was.
 Is 30 now really the age where people look at you aghast at how well you have 'held up?' I have been told on numerous occasions over the last week that I look good for my age and there seems to be genuine disbelief in the eyes of the snotty 20 something year old's eyes that a woman of a certain age can still manage to pull it together. Don't get me wrong, I am grateful for that reaction, but the arrogance of youth is both endearing and offensive.
Now, left with my last full day in this Carribbean town and a sky void of clouds beckoning me, I am off to see what the day has in store.

Sweat and Sunburn

This morning I awoke in a haze of sweat, sunburn and sick breath. (Please hold all marriage proposals till the end). Nothing completes an adventure like getting sick in a city where everything closes at 9 pm. The illness that had been nipping at my heels for weeks set up shop in my respiratory system last night, resulting in restless sleep with dreams starring a cast of co-workers past and a puffy eyed arousal.
As mentioned, after running along the Caribbean Sea yesterday morning not only did I think to myself that if I had the luxury of doing this every morning I would have buns of steel, I managed to book a tour, usually something I avoid, to a nearby beach. On 55,000 pesos, I thought it was worth the price to add boat to my modes of transportation while here and perhaps get a little color. With clear skies and mild temperatures, I thought it was the perfect day, however, moments later while eating the rationed corn flakes and mysterious pink water-type beverage served each morning to hostel guests, I was informed that the Sea was being temperamental and all boat rides had been cancelled.
A fellow guest, seated near by was informed of the same thing and I saw this as my opportunity to start a conversation. I had seen him with a British man the day before, so assuming he was British as well I did not even bother to charm him with my broken Spanish and set right into my native tongue. Little did I know, he too was Argentinian. Pablo (or Paolo, I am not really sure, so lets call him Argentian P) became my partner for the day and shortly after our morning feast we headed to a nearby beach that had been described as 'not spectacular.' With a recommendation like that, how could I resist?
A 40 minute walk along the water brought us to Boca Grande, a series of beaches located in the new city fraught with sagging European tourists in speedos and aggressive merchants eager to get their hands on my hair. Evidently they did not think my braids were sufficient. AP spoke English very well, despite having not practiced for many years and was chivalrous, ommitting the same energy that a boy I grew up with and for years considered my brother, so the vibe was easy and platonic.

Being the cheapskate I am and being the gentleman bred into Argentian men AP sprung for a couple of beach side chairs shielded from the midday sun by a yellow umbrella. Sampling the local beer, Aguila and a mango with salt (why have I never had this before?) our relaxing day by the sea was only tainted by the constant bombardment of vendors trying to sell us everything from massages to fruit salads made with passion to authentic Colombian jewelry of which I could also acquire at the local Dollar Tree. Its curious to me that many of these salespeople are young men with charming dispositions and broad, white smiles. Its like the silly American women,such as myself cannot say no to a pretty young thing. I resisted, for the most part...
Having been assumed to be Argentian all week, I also seemed to assume I had the melanin of a South American as I turned slightly pink under the Caribbean sun. After a few dips into the salty waves lapping against the black sand (a definite benefit to being with someone else, as I would never leave my camera unattended) AP and I headed back to old town, this time via taxi.
A little too much sun and a bumpy car ride resulted in a brief nap and a shower before meeting back up with AP for a late lunch at a place called Mulatta. A place of which I made special note not only because it had good food and a very cool metropolitan vibe, but because that term is considered to be antiquated in the US. I highly doubt anyone would go so far as to name their establishment the Mulatta stateside. Dated terms aside, this was the first real meal I had had in a couple of days and the generous portions of sausage and chicken, washed down with fresh lemonade were consumed in a ravenous manner. 

Perhaps not as ravenous,though, if I had not stopped and gotten an ice cream cone on the way to the restaurant. Here is where I would like to give a word to the wise - ask what flavor you are requesting, don't just point. Thinking I was about to devour a sugar cone full of chocolate chip ice cream, I was terribly disappointing as I bit into the first bit of chocholate and began to chew. And them chew some more. Turns out Rum Raisin is fairly common in these parts. That does not, however, mean its good.
AP and I walked the lovers promenade along the coast as I had alone the night before and landed at one of the 2 establishments there at sunset. We sat in large wooden chairs facing the breeze off of the water and listened to the DJ's mix of euro-lounge, a combination that would usually result in my vomiting from the seemingly forced romanticism of it all, but I have to admit, it was kind of nice, almost magical. Nothing like spending a romantic evening with a stranger to make you realize how much you really love the person at home. 
A little shopping in the artisinal market and a bottle of water enjoyed while watching an outdoor Zumba class and we both retreated to our respective places. It was a couple hours later I decided I needed cold medicine and bread and went out in search of it, to be met with plenty of people, but no open establishments. The streets truly do come alive here at night with the young and old side by side on street corners, and buses with disco lights and sound systems dropping off and picking up at the edge of town, but I have been spoiled by New York City and when eateries and grocery stores close before before 1 am, I am almost angry. 
I retreated in defeat and had yet another meal fit for a queen of peanuts and cookies and nodded off in a congested haze.
Today is my last full day in Columbia and although I am looking forward to air conditioning and Tylenol Cold, I am saddened that yet another adventure is coming to a close....almost.

Back in the US, Back in the US, Back in the USSA

With fluorescent lighting illuminating my keyboard in what can only be called a cubicle, I am, sadly, back to 'reality.'

My last day in Columbia was long if nothing else.

As I ran along the Caribbean I tried to take in the salty air, knowing it might be a while before I am able to do so again.

I had been thinking about a shirt I had scene in the artisnal market and went back to purchase it,  only to be met with a confrontational Abuela who finally acquiesced and allowed me to only by the top of a cumbia ensemble, as honestly that is the only part I would wear. She insisted it was my size, and being sweaty from my run, I didn't want to try it on, so I greedily returned to the hostile with my new colorful garb only to discover, not was it only not my size, but not that made for any woman who is post-pubescent. Like every woman, I thought to myself, if I only lose 5 pounds, but fear fitting into this may require the removal of some ribs as well.

When going to the front counter to check out, I ran into AP again, who I went to get one last fresh juice with before he had to depart for his flight back to Bogota.

After a quick drink and kiss (on the cheek) goodbye, I set up camp at one of the town's many squares for people watching, reading and general merriment. In the shade the weather was unbelievably perfect, which made it all the more disappointing to hale a cab not even an hour later to bring me back to the airport and, back to Bogota. Luckily, a make shift ad bearing Kim Kardashian's resemblance was there to offer a friendly face on that last ride out of town.

At the airport it would seem that AP had missed his previous flight, and was now on mine, so we had one last chance to say goodbye and I had one last chance to let my ovaries ache at the beauty of a little girl seated next to me on the flight. As much as dirty diapers and crying brats don't appeal to me, the chubby arms of a sleepy baby lazily draped across her mother's chest is almost enough to make me forget the temper tantrums and runny noses. But alas, still barren, I de-boarded the plane just over an hour later.

It was here at El Dorado airport, I had a decision to make: Do I attempt to salvage a few hours left here by spending money to get into town and then returning to the airport later that same evening, or do I tough it out and hang at this surprisingly amenable airport till my flight, almost 15 hours later...

So, 15 hours in the airport it was.

This was not my first overnighter in a foreign port, and I am sure it will not be my last.
All things considered, my stay was pretty comfortable.

I bought a couple last minute souvenirs, ate a couple of decent meals and slept almost comfortably on a set of chairs located outside of immigration. Note to self: travel with a blanket, as airports are always chilly.

Rocking my best homeless chic ensemble of insulated leggings replete with polka dot socks and converse, coupled with a gold shirt, blue pull over, purple hoodie, jean jacket and orange beret, I was all Fanta Girls rolled into one homeless package, served with a side of backpack.

With a futile attempt to get on an earlier flight and a friendly conversation with a woman who possessed a thick Southern accent and interesting history, I slept for short spurts at a time and 9 am came surprisingly quickly.

With a sleepy eyed wave goodbye, I said goodbye to yet another country. My 21st to be exact and as I sat on the plane and continued the contemplation about what my next travel goal should be, I decided on a terribly predictable one.

30 countries in my 30s it is.

Just over 9 years to go, and 29 countries left to visit... 


october 2011

1 comment:

Pablo said...

I loved the note, sincerely AP. ( Pablo, the Argentinean).