Wednesday, March 4, 2009

me gusta me gusta me gusta me gusta

The subject line is a song where the lyrics are just that... weird.

Since I wrote last here is what has happened:
I got scuba diving certified, visited Tyrona National Park in Northern Colombia and slept in a hammock, took the much advised to avoid overnight bus to San Gil, Colombia known for its adventures to stay there for a while. I had read about this place in National Geographic Adventure. The town was beautiful, set on the most dramatically vertical hill, with these trees that had grey strings growing out of it. (Hard to describe). While there I went paragliding off some cliff where the guide gave me the most thrills of anyone (spins, drops, swirls). I went rafting on a river that was class III through V. I cracked up inside that the guide only spoke Spanish except for the necessary rafting commands and that I was about to embark and a very dangerous river in Colombia! We practiced rescues before going. However, only one person fell out of the boat. I got knocked around pretty bad, those were some MASSIVE rapids. It was FANTASTIC! I went repelling down a waterfall that was HUGE. It had three parts to it, we went down the middle one right in the middle of the falls so I got good and wet. Again, the guide only spoke Spanish... but it was great. Then I went exploring in a cave. I have been in caves before, but this was something else. We all had helmets with lights on it and that was ALL the light we got. We waded through water, squeezed through incredibly tight spaces, and again the guide only spoke Spanish. At one point we had to grab a rope, hold our breath and go under the water as someone pulled the rope with you attached through a small hole. That was freakin´ scary! Cause it was a longer under water tow than I had expected. Another part we had to go through a passage only a two feet high. So a few of us rolled through it, some others crawled army style. I have never been so down and dirty in a cave before, it was awesome.

Then I sadly left San Gil and all the amazing people there to go back to the coast to Barranquilla for Carnaval. You all know of the big Carnaval in Brasil right? Barranquilla is 2nd behind Rio and I decided to couchsurf. What an idea that was. It turned into something like 30 couchsurfers all partying together for four days. However only me and three Chileans stayed with our host Dina. Now I can not party like these folks here, and the Colombians can party, nor do I want to. Caranval was full of foam fights, water tossing, colors, and everyone enjoying themselves. It started on a bad note when one of our couchsurfers was literally attacked with foam and had his video camera stolen. The parades were so long! 5 hours every day of dancing and music! Every day was different too. I spent most of my time with the Chilean boys. We had foam fights with kids at the parades, with each other, and at night during the dancing. The music was ridiculously loud all the time so I pretty much lived in my ear plugs. Everyone else had problems the following days with their ears. But that is the Caribbean for you, they are a different type of people here in Colombia. The difference between someone from the Caribbean and someone from Bogota is unreal.

I was very sad to part from my Chilean friends, one in particular, but that is the way of traveling. I took the, again highly unadvised only in the US because US is incredibly ignorant to what it is really like in Colombia, night bus to Bogota after Carnaval and stayed with another couchsurfer. By this time I was incredibly sick with a stupid cold. I had very little energy but managed to enjoy a little bit of the city and figured out the buses. I went to a Salt Cathedral in a nearby town. Basically there is this salt mine, a massive massive salt mine, and they decided to carve out a cathedral. So I am walking in this salt mine, the walls are salt, the crosses are carved into the salt, and things were lit up with blues and greens. There were neat sculptures in sandstone added and there was a lot of significant relgious overtones I was told about, though the cathedral is specifically for tourism and not a real cathedral. They had a balcony for a choir and apparently have concerts there often, classical concerts and the acoustics are supposed to be amazing because of the design of the actual cathedral. Though my pictures kind of suck because it was so dark in there, it was a pretty neat thing to see.

I was told at the beginning of Mr.and Mrs. Smith they showed a scene of a jungle and labeled in Bogota and that pissed of the president of Colombia a lot. Colombia is amazingly safe. I feel safer here than in Panama. Everyone likes that I am here and are more than willing to help (see story below). Bogota has some crime, but so does New York. The hostels are in a dangerous area so at night it is common for people to get robbed, but if you´re smart that won´t happen to you. I couchsurfed in Bogota and therefore didn´t have any problems. I stayed in a different area and was with locals the whole time. The only problem I had was not being able to afford some things. The beer was the same price as Alaska! They have very nice ritzy places to eat. There is poverty of course, but there is a lot of classy western culture here as well. And Bogota is HUGE! Not a jungle. I am annoyed that I actually cared about what I read about Colombia... it being unsafe, night buses are bad, bad things are likely to happen to me. Bad things happen in all countries, and Colombia still has problems, but it is unlikely I will ever meet anyone from the FARC, see a coke plantation, or have my bus hijacked. Peru maybe. I also met up with a friend I had studied abroad in Ghana with in Bogota. I hadn´t seen her since the program three years ago and she had just gotten to Bogota to teach English only a few days before me. Small world.

I am now in a place called Armenia, Colombia in a part called Zona Cafetera. It was a nine hour bus ride through mountains to get here, and a beautiful ride if I may say. I wanted to see a coffee plantation, the place where all you folks get your stuff. However, I didn´t know where to go. There is a place call the National Parque Del Cafe... this is where everyone expected me to go. This place is ridiculous. They have rollercoasters, theme park stuff, gondolas, just crap built around a small coffee plantation. So I go to this information area and was handed brochures and nothing was fitting to what I was looking for. I went to eat and just as I was leaving I came back to use the bathroom. The guy who works there and checked me out starts to talk to me in English. Suddenly two other gentlemen are talking to me in English too, all wanting to help me, curious to know where I am from and why the hell I am crazy enough to be traveling alone. The first guy was going to have me go to a town a hour away to see the plantations there, but another guy tells me its too far (everyone thinks everything is far... jeez, even my 20 hour overnight bus ride is too long for most folks in Bogota... for me its a simple, cheap way to get around. Didn´t have to pay for accommodations that night and woke up where I needed to be.) So I take the second guy´s advice to go to Montenegro.

I didn´t realize till I was almost to Montenegro on the bus that the second guy didn´t know I had no intentions in stepping foot in the Parque. And that is what was in Montenegro. I turn to the girl next to me to ask her if there was another plantation I could visit. She only spoke Spanish, suddenly I find myself following her to where her sister works, she takes me to her house which is a tomato farm, she feeds me, walks around with me for an hour and half to nearby farms, a coffee plantation asking the people to let me in and take pictures, walks to me back to town and helps me buy good coffee, and takes me to the bus. All our conversations were in Spanish (I need improvement, my ability to understand sucks, but never fails if they write it I understand it, but who wants to constantly write stuff down for someone?) She was fantastic with speaking slow and using simple words. By the time I got home I was kicking myself for not getting an email or some way to get a hold of her again. I mean she spent the WHOLE DAY with me just because.

The next day I went to a small town called Salento just to explore and be in a small colonial village. I walked up some hill to an overlook spot where there was a swing set so I sat there looking over the tiny little pueblo. I asked a guy to take my picture there and suddenly I have a friend for the day again. He only spoke Spanish, he took me on some unpaved trail (this place is full of mountains and hills, lots of country side) to see the valley behind the town better. I was thinking ¨this is crazy, I am following a strange guy on a back trail somewhere...¨ But all was okay. I played with some cows, enjoyed an amazing view, ate a fruit called lulu (very sour)and then he took me to the near by shops in town. I met his family, walked all over the town (which took only 20 minutes) and got on the bus and said goodbye with no problems. He may have had a hidden agenda but he never acted on it, but the girl didn´t so this is just a common thing of kindness I see. Not to mention the buys from the shop in Armenia who I shared breakfast with again this morning.

Because I took such a long time in Central America I only have a month left and I wanted that whole month for Peru. So I decided to cut out Ecuador all together and I am flying from Bogota to Lima on Saturday. I am sad to miss Ecuador, but I will be happier to not feel rushed in Peru. I mean, I should be spending three months in Peru with all the things I want to do, but I´ve narrowed it down to things I can fit in a month.

So far I have slept in 20 different places: beds, floors, where ever but not including over night buses. I have met people from 21 different countries (I counted last night). I have a pros and cons list to traveling alone. At times it is very very lonely, but I couldn´t have done a lot of the things I did with someone. I have a lot more freedom when meeting people and going places. But it is more expensive by far to travel alone. I take taxis alone, sometimes when there isn´t a hostel to stay in for dorm prices I have to take a whole room to myself which costs more than if shared. But I am doing just fine and still content to be traveling alone.

I hope everyone is well and sorry if this got a little long. Take care.

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