Survival Tips

A few helpful hints for surviving Colombia that seem to work for the entire continent, or at least the countries I have been to.

  • Close your eyes and ignore the health/safety issues that you cannot do anything about and just be as safe as you can.  Well do not close your eyes when you cross the street, that traffic is lethal.
  • By all means, ask other travelers about safety in an area but don’t be too alarmed by reports of theft, crime, or disease in every city/barrio/country/bus. Usually when you get to the bottom of it, the person did something stupid or dangerous (they went to the beach alone with all cards/phones/money at 2 AM or tried to sell/bargain/cheat/abused the prostitute to a drug dealer).  Also do not take reports of complete carefree safety, they might have been lucky.  Ask locals, they know more and put the two reports together.
  • Always carry toilet paper or wet wipes or both.
  • Pick the nicest meat market you can find (that is not a touristy gringo trap), ignore the smells and the fact the lady just put raw chicken on the scale without a paper and gives it to you in a regular plastic grocery bag with chicken juice all over it.
  • Ignore the children running across the street with cabs gunning for them or the fact there are no safe alternate routes when a road or sidewalk is closed, just cross the street.
  • Watch to not step in dog poop and puddles of mysterious brown liquid coming out of pipes and when you see the pipe being fixed under ground and while its fixed all the liquid running into the street.  And for your own sake, hold your breath.
  • Ignore the fact that even though your door is locked with four locks your neighbor can still break in for you with a broom, but be safe and use all of those locks.
  • But, make sure you have a store of medicine you need for crazy diarrhea because with all this other stuff happening, you will get it and it is not a pleasant taxi ride, moto chiva ride, or walk to the drug store to get it when you are worried there will be an accident.
  • And, be sure to push your way in front of the people trying to push you out of the way to get in line first, no matter how much they call you a pushy dirty American gringo.  Or let it all loose (your incredibly irritated bowels, not your mouth) and see how they react, you probably wont see them again.
  • People will give you unsolicited advice about every medical problem you might not know you have and offer every herbal remedy they know.  Don’t tell them about it and you will still get the advice if you hold your stomach or head, have acne, your hair looks out of place because you are a backpacker and do not care, you sniffle/sneeze/cough, you have but bites (you will) or another rash, your are standing near a pharmacy.  The likely hood of unsolicited advice increases dramatically ever second you talk to someone.  If the cure is a yummy tea, hot chocolate, or cocoa leaves, or some herbal spiritual remedy (read: hallucinogenic), which is almost always is, partake as you desire.  You might even get it for free and make a lifelong friend.
  • Somehow though, this advice sharing does not go both ways. If you have not integrated more in your community or known a person long, you giving unsolicited advice can be interpreted as you being an arrogant gringo who thinks they know everything and you also must think they are completely ignorant and uneducated and stupid.
  • Only, if you are worried about this stuff all the time, you will get more stomach problems and not enjoy yourself. Have fun!
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The Things You Can See When You Open Your Eyes

I know, I am bad blogger. I have not posted for a reason though.  A reason I still cannot say.  But, I realize that is no reason not to update!  So, I am back in Cali Colombia.  Maybe to stay for a while.  I finished my TEFL certificate and just need to get the number.  I have started an English group for kids a nearby park, and two yoga classes a week too.  One class is for kids and one for women.  My Spanish is improving leaps and bounds and I feel I am really starting to understand the culture more. But, the more I see and learn, and the longer I am here, the more realize the culture different and the more I realize it is the same.

I mean, when will you see a sheep in need of shearing head butting a pet dog on a very nice patio with the door open and both goat and dog wandering freely?  In the middle of the third largest City in Colombia?  Just as frequently as you see the chickens hopping from patio to patio in search of some food.  Or horses pulling carts to haul away rubble pulled up by expanding the sewer system and fixing the streets.  Oh, and don’t forget the horse or goat that is “mowing the lawn.  I t probably isn’t even their goat or horse, they just shoo it in and let it out when they have eaten their full.

The City is so full of contradictions.  Poor, but dressed nicely.  Modern, but antiquated.  Friendly and open, yet protective and wary.  Incredibly conservative, but incredibly promiscuous.  Simple yet complicated.  Eager to learn yet unwilling to change.  Hardworking and yet lazy or drunk.

It is an enigma waiting to be explored.  I have not taken any pictures yet, but I will be soon and I have tons from Peru and Ecuador.

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving.  I did.  I made baked chicken quarters, biscuits, Mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, and something similar to an apple crisp on the stove top. I invited some friends over and it was a big success.

Hola from Cali!

I am apparently in the Salsa capital of the world, Cali Colombia and having a great time!  There is a lot of yoga, a big hippy vibe, lots of meditation classes, including a very nice building house a branch of the Self Realization Foundation, and of course a lot of dancing.  It seems in Colombia, music is in the veins of the people like coffee is in the veins of people from Seattle.  Instead of memories of the smell of coffee defining the important moment of life, it is the sound of music playing out of every car, suitcase salesman’s bag, house,tienda, restaurant, and sometimes people just sitting around listening to small speakers. Often the music will start before I wake up and be going after I go to bed, if it ever stops.

Kids all dance around at home, at restaurants, on the streets, in stores.  When a song everyone love comes on there is pandemonium.  They seem to be able to move their hips and torso and arms and knees in ways I cannot fathom how to learn. Everyone seems to come to Cali to try to learn.  Knowing I am certainly not going to ever know how and being incredibly intimidated by the locals, I was going to skip that and do Cali as a quick stop that had cheap flights from Medellin.

But if you happen upon Cali during the Salsa Festival you should really stay, or so I was told.  And they were right.  There are demonstrations, free classes,discussions, cultural displays, and a lot of dancing.  And after a beer or two it is really all fun and only admiring how the Colombianas move instead of being incredibly jealous and intimidated.

Dance is really such an important form of expression for so many people here.  People use it to really show who they are and it is amazing.  Especially for someone trying to figure out who she is and learn express it to people who want to try to define her.  You do not apologize for people for them infringing on your dance space, you are not the wrong size for your clothing, the clothing is the wrong size, and they are most definitely not ashamed to admit to show that they take good care of themselves, all sizes and shapes.  Every woman below a certain age wears tight clothes and is not ashamed of showing what they have.  No one is afraid of looking stupid on the dance floor because their expression is just as beautiful as yours, why should they be?

So to the dance floor I went last night, with a new friend who is an amazing dancer and had a great time dancing with him and watching him dance with some amazing Colombianas who I can can just watch with amazement (ok so a little envy and maybe even a little curiosity).  I was wearing my new tight (though not tight by Colombian standard) Colombian jeans and not caring what might not look perfect in them because I figured out you can buy a nice Colombiana ass with the right pair of jeans (or literally buy it if you want, its cheap here, medical tourism).

So, my two-day trip to Cali has been almost a week and will be more than a week in the end.  My 3-4 week trip to Colombia will be 6.5 weeks.

Acting My Age Traveling

So the area around Guatape is very mountainous and hilly.  There are also a lot of incredibly slick and crumbly gravel roads and trails to walk where you can see absolutely amazing and beautiful scenes of the area, the jungle, the waterfalls, etc.  So you are mostly walking uphill on rubble or literally climbing up the side of a mountain or through a mountain on a little .  I love this about Guatape.  My knees, however, do not.

I remember sitting in a therapy session once talking about weight and health issues.  I was very frustrated that I could not lose weight the way I used to be able to a few years before.  I cannot believe my therapist was able to keep a straight face through the entire conversation we had because looking back at the memory I laugh at my audacity.  He kept saying things along the lines of “but that is years ago, this is today,” or “I am not trying to be mean, but you are older now.”  I must have looked at him like I did think he was mean or crazy.  I guess the thought never occurred to me.  I have always felt older because of my actions and my lack of feeling fulfilled with my life, not my body.  It was eye opening I suppose.

But now, I am definitely feeling the difference between me at 20 and me at almost 28.  I cannot hike everyday uphill because after about three days my knees are swollen and sore.  I am hoping some of this is just not being used to mountains as Florida and Michigan do not offer that type of landscape.  I am thinking of picking up some kayaking or something to give my legs a break.  Though it is a bit intimidating since my neighbors here are professional rowers and kayakers.

I also need break days, fairly often.  This is the difference of me physically and emotionally now.  I do not like being on the go traveling around constantly.  In fact I dislike it and it makes me tired without the benefit of feeling as if I have accomplished anything.  So, I go to bed early, wake up early, enjoy watching the sunset on the hammock and have not been out partying once since I have been here.  In fact, most of my nights consist of calling my grandmother or mother, cooking dinner, a beer or hot chocolate, and a book.

My memory is horrible.  It really is hard learning Spanish.  I try as  I might to not have to use the words for have (tener) or to go (ir) because they are irregular verbs with conjugating patterns that I can only remember for saying I have or I go.  if all else fails I use the  not conjugated word and hope people understand what I am saying. Sometimes it works.  Sometimes we laugh and I just point to something.

I like to talk to small children and animals more than adults.  It used to be the opposite, I liked talking to adults more than children when I was a child.  Now I much prefer the nonsense or non verbal love given from dogs and children.  Except here the dogs have little packs based on what community they live near.  The small community near by has a different pack that the one near the hostel which is different from those in town.  When you walk through the other areas, sometimes it is better to carry rocks or let a dog see you pick up a rock.  A younger me would have felt bad intimidating dogs that are probably used to being hit by rocks.  The me now just enjoys not getting rabies.

So, my traveling and who I am is different and in some areas I need to catch up to getting older.  It is somewhat sad because I am just getting used to acting young and feeling young in ways I never had.  The pure selfishness of traveling for no purpose except to travel because it is what I want to do at the moment is exhilarating.  So is not having a plan and knowing any day can contain whatever I want it to, the possibilities are endless.  However, in some ways I do need to start acting my age and taking care of myself as I need to at this current moment.  Re-tearing old injuries from younger days when I could afford the healing time because I healed quickly is not something that will benefit me today where I cannot even communicate with the doctor in the same language and will take a longer time to heal.

Also, maybe I should grow up and wear shoes. I tend to wear sandals and flip flops in the most ridiculous circumstances and have some pretty funky looking feet because of it.  I blame Florida for the habit through.  Oh, and uncomfortable sock seams.  I hate that feeling of sock seems rubbing against your foot.  I used to not wear socks with my shoes when I was a kid because of it.  Not much has changed since first grade I guess.  Only now I have the oddest suntan lines on my feet…

Maybe I should act my age and wear shoes with socks occasionally.  For now I think not…

I am a horrible backpacker…

So, I have decided I dislike backpacking.  It is fun for about a week at a time and then moving around and different people get tiring.  You miss the really cool person you met in the other town but who was flying back to Australia or flying to the US for another leg of their trip.  I hate riding on buses especially with almost everything I own in areas where robberies are not uncommon.  I prefer to fly or take a tourist bus.  I also prefer to stay in one place for a longer time.  Get to know the baker and grocery store owner and the guy that sells papayas and mangos.

So I am staying in Gautape on a work exchange at a hostel for a couple of weeks.  Guatape is a gorgeous little town nestled into mountains on a huge reservoir that was created in the 1960s for power generation.  It buried a town called I think El Penol under water.  There is still a steeple under water that people apparently gather around in boats for an Easter service.  There is a big rock with 740 steps to the top of the little tower on top with tourist shops on the top and bottom.  There are wonderful views of the reservoir and surrounding villages and gorgeous houses.

There are waterfalls, hiking paths, great vistas, a monastery, lots of boating and kayaking, and a lot of tourist things to do on the weekends, such as party boats, little paddle boats shaped lie tractors with large plastic wheels, jet skis, private boat tours, touristy shops, and games, etc.  During the week, however, there is a whole lot of nothing going on except backpackers going on treks and school kids running around at lunch and after school.  I have been able to see a marching band and color gaurde practicing, a small wedding, people watching the same futball game at every tienda or restaurant, and since I am getting a bit of a rapport with a few locals I am practicing my Spanish more and I am taking Spanish lessons.

I even got asked for directions today.  Though, when I asked for her to repeat where she wanted to go because I was somewhat dumfounded someone thought I would be able to provide directions and speak Spanish, she stopped.  The sad part is I just was studying directions and might have been able to answer properly in Spanish but the man she was with was English speaking and she just deferred me to him sort of hiding behind him.  Most people here just smile or if they know any English want to say hi to me in English.  Occasionally I try to strike up a conversation with old ladies who are incredibly amused at my attempts and usually end up laughing in fits at me.  It is kind of funny.

In other news I found out how to use a vpn to watch hulu.  It feels much more normal sticking it out in one place, cooking dinner, going on hikes everyday, seeing familiar faces, and watching the sunset with a Colombian cerveza (beer).

Well here are the pictures!

Medellin

Guatape

Santa Marta, Taganga, and Tayrona

Hello!  I have left Cartagena on a cushy Avianca flight that cost about the same as the 18 hour bus.  I will take the one hour flight, especially with baggage included, TV and games and juice, huge seats, and the nicest flight attendants I have ever met (put Spirit to shame, which is not hard to do, but also most domestic Delta flights under a few hours).  Well worth it.  Had to have help booking it online since they only accept Colombian credit cards but that is what a great hostel does.

Cartagena

I stayed at Casa Viena in Getsemani.  The area has a lot of restaurants where there are mostly locals along with some more international eateries which still have a lot of locals and hostels. Mind you, if you are coming to just see the nicest, most touristy, part of Cartagena or do not want to see the side that has prostitutes selling themselves and drugs and propositioning you, it might not be the best area to walk back from at night or even sometimes in the day time.  But only a few limited streets are very bad, the rest I did not hear anything and there were locals watching out for the tourists, helping if I look lost, asking me if they can speak English to talk with them in English, stopping traffic so I can cross the street, helping me up into the colectivo (local bus) with my ridiculous pack, telling me how wonderful Colombia is and how I will not want to leave, telling me the best place to eat, telling me to be careful on certain streets, telling me to watch out there is a puddle and a car coming to splash it on me.  Honestly, I am getting the impression that this is who the Colombian people mostly are.

I know there have been a few muggings and confrontations with drug dealers in the area, but just do not carry a lot of valuables at night and don’t flash out fancy phones or cameras in areas you know you shouldn’t at times you know you should not and ya know don’t buy sex or drugs and you should be fine.  Be vigalent about your pockets and cash and belongings.  I had two dollars in bus fare stole from my pocket, I even saw the guy do it and he had a “so what you gonna do about it” look.  Also I have felt pick pockets, though I do not normally carry anything there so it was just annoying to have my ass poked.
Santa Marta

I stayed in Santa Marta at an awesome hostel that had a free drink and free breakfast included and was MUCH cheaper than any in the area.  Candela y Chocolate actually has been the cheapest I have stayed in, at 16 COP per night.  They also have the CUTEST dog.  It is two blocks from the main park near the beach, which has about 4 banks with ATMS and a couple police officers checking the ATMs regularly.  There are fruit carts there also and there is an Exito on Calle 20 and Carrera 5 (Hostel is on Calle 12 and Carrera 3), so 8 or 10 blocks.  Exitos I thought were grocery stores but this one was like a super Walmart.  The hostel had excellent Wifi, stores luggage (5 mil COP or free if you stay when you get back), paid laundry service, books buses, etc.

The town is a touristy beach town that seemed awfully crowded when I was there because it was a national holiday.  It seemed expensive.  Also while I was there I met a large group of Peace Corps volunteers serving in Colombia.  One of them got mugged sitting on the beach late at night by three guys.  I recommend you not sit on the beach by yourself at 2 AM.

Taganga 

I only spent a few hours in Taganga waiting for the boat to Tayrona.  It was a gorgeous ride down on a little colectivo (you can catch the bust to Taganga on Carrera 5, just look for a sign in the window saying Taganga, for about 1,500 COP).  Not too long of a ride in a little rickety bus but driving down the hill side into this little town nestled into the mountains with a small beach front was amazing.  The prices seemed a little cheaper, or maybe I was just better at bargaining.  I tried to go early enough to get there and store my unimportant luggage at a hostel and buy some fruit to take but I got there and the boat was leaving so soon I did not want to risk missing it.  Just show up and someone will offer you a boat ride, maybe though if it is not so busy as it was when I was there, shop around.

And here to help me with the boat salesman was a couple from Michigan!  They were hanging out with two friends (Californians maybe) who were teaching English Baranquilla.  I hung out with them for that day.  It made me feel safer swimming with people.

Tayrona

I know it is way more expensive (45 mil COP though I heard a girl paid 20 COP at the hostel I was in) but it was gorgeous.  The coast line along the entire Tayrona is amazing.  People rock climbing, lots of caves and little deserted beaches and mountains…it just really has it all.  Then you arrive in Cabo San Juan.  Cabo San Juan has two of the swimmable beaches. Arrecifes, the first beach from the trail down, is incredibly dangerous to swim in because of the currents.  I think you can swim at Piscina (half-way between Cabo San Juan and Arrecifes) and you can also swim at Play Brava.  Playa Brava, however, is a tough hike that takes about 4 hours if you do not have a lot of stuff with you.  I walked almost half way trying to see the Pueblito at the top of the hill (half way up) but my shoe broke and I ran out of water so down I went.  It is a very tough up and down and through and over rocks hike.  Very steep and sometimes you have to figure out the path.  I think it 2.4 km but 250 m incline.  Possibly.  There is a sign saying do not take kids and do not leave after 1 PM.  Good suggestions.

In Cabo San Juan there are lower hammocks and upper hammocks.  The upper hammocks can get wet and cold and do not have mosquito nets.  They are however positioned on top of a rock right on the ocean, there is also a path to go sit on the rocks.  The lower hammocks are near the tent area.  There is a restaurant, snack shop, lockers (free, provide your own lock), bathrooms (provide your toilet paper) and showers.  The food shops close occasionally and the lockers close at night so take what you need out (bug spray, flash light, water, pajamas, tooth brush, bathing suit, towel).  Though, I did not see a single mosquito.  In fact, in Cartagena in the hostel I saw one mosquito and one night got bit by something, I have no clue to what it was but the bump looked sort of like an ant bite.  I wonder if I brought some from the beach.  I carry bug spray with me in case I need it, but so far limited need, thankfully.

The food is way expensive (25 mil COP for chicken and rice which was about 6 mil COP near where I was staying in Cartagena). Bring a large amount of water and food with you and have a light pack on the way out.

I did yoga on the rocks, swam, sunned, napped, watched and talked with one of the workers swapping Spanish and English help (his English was very good, my Spanish almost nonexistent).  It helped me a lot to just talk.  I tried my hike to the Pueblito, a small indigenous village.  When I went we got a few of the last hammocks, so get there early if it is a holiday.  The next day there was hardly anyone and mostly foreigners instead of Colombians.  I have found Colombians go to bed late, wake early, and make a lot of noise doing both.  So bring ear plugs or headphones or something.

I woke every morning early, the day I left around 530 when the sun came up.  It was a good 2.5 to 3 hour hike (with my huge heavy pack remember) that was only partially marked.  It was beautiful, especially with the rising sun.  The path from Cabo San Juan to Arricefis was a bit rocky and not too much up-hill while the hike to the bus stop was very steep but fairly smooth as it is a horse path.  You can hire horses for different parts to carry you and stuff but I think no one should take the horses or demand they take better care of the horses and charge more.  There was actually a demonstration outside Cartagena while I was there about abuse to horses.  The horses are very sad, have heavy saddle marks and whip and switch marks.  They carry huge loads for as small as there size is.  It was very sad in both places.

Once you get to the park entrance there is a 2 mil COP bus to the main road (or a 3 km additional walk up a paved road) and a 5 mil bus (on the same side as the park entrance, the bus will be going right as you exit the park) to Santa Marta.  I took the tourist bus back thinking it would be more comfortable and quicker.  It was not.  We had to stop a lot along the way and go through Baranquilla, there were broken seats, barely enough room, no room for luggage and it broke down on the way back and for an hour and a half we were sitting in a bus with three less seats that what we needed.  There was a guy sitting on top of the luggage and someone sitting on someone’s lap.  For 42 mil COP, so not worth it.  This was Marsol.

Leaving from Cartagena

I stayed at Casa Viena when I got back to Cartagena again.  They had the camera charger I left there. Very honest people.  I had a phone interview with Google Voice and they had a headset with microphone I could use.  I walked around and took more pictures and then met up with a friend I met last time and we left to Medellin.  We took the colectivo again which was on the main bus area near the entrance to the city (millions of buses, can’t miss it).  You want to be on the furthest side of the road near the water heading away from the City.  I think the bus said something like Crespa on it.  Also the airport is sort of small and hidden, we missed the stop and someone stopped the bus for us and we walked two blocks back down to the airport.  The national departures area is the furthest down to the right.  And you know the rest!

The internet is spotty here, I guess it is broken, so I am not going to add links and pictures here, I will add a separate post later when I have reliable internet.  Now off I go to find a long sleeve shirt and a hot shower (ah, luxuries) in the posh party hostel.

Officially Unemployed…Let the Traveling Begin

Unemployed

So as of Thursday I was told I will no longer be working for my company.  It was not a huge surprise, but still somewhat unsettling.  I do not quite have the amount of money I would like to have to be able to travel without worrying about money and my student loans.

Things to Think About

Tomorrow I am heading for Michigan to see my family and visit my grandmother who is sick.  While I am there I will think about what my next step is.  I am thinking in July or August I will head to  south America.  July would be preferable time wise because that gives me a July and August and part of September to get through Colombia and Ecuador and then I can be in Peru at Machu Picchu at the end of September for my birthday.  However, August would give me more time to save up money (if I can find a source of income, I guess there is always unemployment but that is not a lot of money).  Plus flights are dirt cheap to Cartagena in August, $240 one way from Detroit and $115 one way from Miami from Spirit.

Also, I need to grieve the ending of one passage and celebrate the beginning of another.  I forgot how the much power grieving can give to the celebration of new.  I was not previously celebrating the end of where I was in life so I was not being reborn into my new life. That is why I felt I was not moving on i think.

So I have things to think about.

Maps

In order to visualizing my thinking process, I am putting together a Google Map of places I want to visit.  I just started so it only has a few pages, but you can add suggestions to it!  This map is open to suggestions.  Places I want to go or I am thinking of going are in green.  If you could add in suggested sites, transportation, hostels, etc in colors OTHER than green, that would be great!  I will make another map of my final destinations and projected path once I get going!

I added a few pages to the website for Maps.  On the top Menu under Travel you can access my Maps page and under the Maps page is my South America Suggestions Map Page.  Also, I am looking for help trying to figure out how to embed the Google Map to my blog page.  Google’s instructions are here, however, when I try to follow them WordPress does not accept the HTML and just changes it to a click-able URL link.  Am I just not allowed to do that on WordPress?

Loose Ends

One of the things I am doing now is tying up all those loose ends I should have taken care of long ago. This includes getting shots and doctors visits in before my insurance ends, visiting friends, cleaning out my car and doing one last downgrade of all my “stuff” that i have left, getting rid of my cell phone and getting a cheaper pay as you go plan (anyone have suggestions on where to find an unlocked gsm phone?), deciding what to do about a computer (mine is so heavy), and setting up my house sitting profiles.

I have not joined a site yet.  An article written by Nora Dunn, the Professional Hobo, has a discount to Trusted House Sitter. I did, however, put up the recommendations I got a long time ago from friends and family I have house sat for in the past (well I have two of them).

House Sitting Profile

So, if you need someone to stay in your house while you travel and watch your puppy or kitty, here are:

My house sitting profile

Sarah H. Recommendation

Kathy M. Recommendation

You can also find a link to those pages at the top menu on the right hand side!

So Many Changes

I hope you can all keep up with all the changes to the blog and my life, because I am having trouble with it!