Tag Archives: colombia

South America… a short video

Our bags are packed and we’re ready to fly home today. As this trip comes to an end, and another trip is in the planning stages, we will continue to tell tales from the road. So stay tuned…

Here is a short video showcasing some of the things we encountered during our travels in South America. Without cheating, can anyone name what 80’s movie this song is from? If you enjoyed this video please share it on your feed. Thanks everyone for following…

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McDonalds in Colombia Video

As some of you already know, we have a love/hate relationship with McDonalds. Although we don’t eat McDonalds back home, while traveling we have definitely taken advantage of the free internet and familiar paper cup of coffee. “Im loving’ it,” as the catch phrase goes. Sometimes its just easier.

“Im hating it,” when I walk in hungry and eat a little too much, more than I initially intended to. I exit the colorful building, hunched over and shamed. Its even hard to look in the eyes of the homeless parking attendant, but I hand him some pesos anyway. Then I would drive down the road and wonder where it all went wrong.

After visiting McDonalds on an international level, its cool to see the different food specific to each country. In Colombia you can order yucca fries while in New Mexico you can get green chile on your burger. For breakfast in Buenos Aires you will order a media luna, (Argentine croissant) and in New York you will get bagels. The little differences are nice, but the one thing they all have in common is the shame and regret you feel after eating a meal at McDonalds.

Our time in Colombia…

I sit alone reflecting on our last five weeks, as a patron in a crowded street-side eatery, while smothering my fried, half potato with spicy green sauce and hot relish. It’s hot, humid, and everyone around me seems to be busy, in this outskirt neighborhood of Cali, Colombia. A young man with not one, not two, but four tear drop tattoos, on his blistered jowls, sits across from me and gives me the smile nod of approval. I respond with the same gesture, as I scarf down the remains of my potato making sure that I don’t leave any crumbs behind, toss my trash, pay my bill, then march back down the street to the mechanic where Sara and Lupe sit and patiently wait for the truck to be fixed.

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Colombians are welcoming and warm. They are delighted to have us in their country as tourists. Colombians go out of their way to make you feel accepted, and at no point in our six weeks here did I feel in harm’s way. It is rumored that Colombians are like this because they try to rid themselves of their checkered reputation as it being a dangerous place active in the drug and kidnapping business, but I would like to believe that this is just the way they are. Although the history here might not look too bright through the eyes of a wayward tourist, I can assure you (from our experiences only), that Colombia is an amazing country filled with gracious people and dreamworld landscapes.

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Old town Cartagena is surrounded by tall, thick walls that were built to keep out pirates and bandits. Roaming the walled-in city streets after dark, you can almost sense what it was like to be an hoary scalawag with questionable intentions in search for women with loose morals and bottle of hooch. The history is voluminous like the walls that surround it, and the atmosphere is alive with the smell of titillation in the breeze. This was the most alluring colonial city we have seen to date.

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The 8 months of torturous heat in Mexico and Central America was unyielding, to say the least. Hot, bright, uncomfortable and with nowhere to hide, one feels like a newborn baby stranded in a newly blacktopped parking lot in the mid-summer swelter. It was time for remission.

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No matter how close you are to the equator, if you are high in elevation than the temperature is cold. El Cocuy Park is around 300 miles from the Caribbean, and a tad farther to the equator. The mountains are snow capped like the drawings of a juvenile, and seeing the glaciers after the tribulations of the heat you can’t help but feel some sense of relief. There are locals are draped in the provincial poncho, long windy day hikes, nights with toasty drinks in hand, and this all feels pretty swell. We camped tucked in the hills at a cabin owned by a local. Juan Carlos was generous with his hand picked teas, potatoes, and plethora of local knowledge. I attempted to repay the favors by handing-off my Bostich hammer, that he found quite impressive, while I hammered in my awning spikes. So now he insists on frying up a double trout dinner, with appetizer, and splendid handcrafted coulis on the side. So I sendoff my “Old Bay” spice to his shelf of kitchen condiments as another act of thanks.

The locals take advantage of the speed bumps strewn about the small towns, and big city streets. Beautiful, smiling women anxiously stand selling the local tinto (coffee) out of the plastic dental cups for $0.25. The coffee tastes superb, and the convenience factor is quite substantial, considering we are, in fact, lazy Americans who are used to the drive-through culture. The accessibility of any consumable item through the window of a vehicle is quite awesome, to say the least. Other than the coffee, they also offer salty snacks, cold drinks, fresh fruit plates, and even a lunch complete with meat, veggies, and rice.

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Camping is not as popular in Colombia as it is in Central America and Mexico. We did, in fact, stay indoors in hostels and cheap motels more than any other country. So when it was time to penny pinch we would find solitude at the highway gas stations, and set up camp for free. Gas stations have all the conveniences that the pay campgrounds have, minus the shower. These include 24-hour security, clean bathrooms, power outlets, and sometimes a convenience store for the last minute purchase of beer. The gas station attendants are usually so intrigued by the fact that you would want to sleep there, that they can’t help but feel motivated enough to bring you coffee, and keep coming by to see if you are comfortable. The local patrons gaze at you in wonder.  They point, gawk, and whisper amongst themselves, “who are these people, where did they come from, and why in god’s name are they sleeping here?”

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Just like Mexico, people whom have never been to this Latin American nation insisted that we avoid it. They said Colombia is dangerous, we will get robbed, and possibly kidnapped. Not to make light of serious situations, that does happen in these countries, but I do believe that most countries are as safe as you want them to be. You must travel smart, travel light, and of course use plenty of common sense. And if you are in fact one of those paranoid Americans, you can always just tell people you are Canadian.

 

 

Sailing to Colombia story

The smell of septic was present. The stale, unventilated air was very hot and sweaty. Any clothing or cloth-like material had an apauling salty dampness about it. A constant creaking and uncertainty, “are these sounds are normal?” It sounds like something important is breaking, but the crew doesn’t seem to be phased by this, so I can only assume everything is ok. You just need to embrace the fact that you are uncomfortable and nauseous because there are not many options at this point. There are 20 passengers on this overcrowded sailboat and 3 gracious crew. Out of the 4 bathrooms one is in our cabin and shared by whomever needs to use it. The more people that use our bathroom the better the chance the flushing system will malfunction, only increasing the septic odor in what I call my bedroom. I attempt to sleep naked with the mentality that whomever enters the room to use the facilities will feel instantly uncomfortable with the presence of a naked stranger and use one of the other bathrooms, which to the best of my knowledge are worse off then the one I sleep next to.

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I could sleep on the deck aside my vomiting wife, but the hard grip tape-like surface is doing a number on my back and shoulders. Besides she needs her space, and I need to sleep below deck with my dog Lupe to ensure she doesn’t mysteriously disappear into the sea during this multi-day open water crossing to Colombia. I could manage to scrounge up a pillow or two for some extra support but the consequences of sleeping on such a surface will make the next day a painful achy one for sure. The last 15 years its been hard to sleep comfortable due to a number of sport related injuries, so sleeping in certain positions seems to be a requirement for me to ensure a pleasant work day.

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Only a few were seasick, my wife being one of them. The smell of puke was not overwhelming. Sometimes on a vessel seasickness is a chain reaction. One person gets ill, than another than another. The stench becomes too much to handle, then next thing you know the entire boat is regurgitating last nights pasta carbonara with raw tuna sashimi on the side. In my opinion, this is not the best meal to feed a boatload of potential sick half drunk humans. But I enjoyed the meal, and considering all of this, the boat in a whole did a good job.

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20 plus bodies are littered on any flat surface that can be found. God for bid you need to get up in the middle of the night to take a piss, you will be tripping on humans in the blackness of the evening, not trying to step on their faces with your filthy moist feet. Besides any excuse in the middle of the night to go outside for a breadth of clean air will be taken advantage of. After breathing and moving in the stagnant thick air for several hours like one of those dreams when everything moves in slow motion, you contemplate just using your own bathroom because it can be quick and easy, and you’re half sleeping in a hypnotic state, questioning if your even awake or just dreaming this. Then after having more difficulty breathing, you enter the bathroom while stepping in 2 inches of unthinkable water, sweating profusely, taking small fast breadths of the septic poop filled air, you decide to parade outside stepping over the bodies while the boat rocks heavily, grabbing anything you can get your sweaty grip on. Your rancid foot only manages to come in contact with a few bodies, and as you accidentally wake these people up by stepping on whatever body parts wind up under your feet, you don’t seem to care. You just need to get outside fast because your suffocating from the hot, wet contaminated air of the cabin. After I take a whizz off the side of the boat, check up on my sick wife, admire the amazing view from the rapidly moving sailboat, you realize how easy it is to fall into the black early morning sea without anybody else realizing until its too late. With a few sloppy foot steps you could easily end it all, better take caution.

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You find one of the last nooks to squeeze into on deck because you need to take advantage of laying down in the cool fresh air, and your too exhausted to stand. The smell of the ocean is refreshing and clean. You are a bit chilly and shivering, but its such a relief from the cabin you decide to see how long you can take the cold night with minimal clothing and no blankets. You could go back down to the black polluted cabin to fetch a sheet, but the chore seems like more work than your willing to do, and during the process there is a good chance your sleeping surface will get snatched by another human. As you lay down and contemplate life and this adventure you decided to embark on, you notice another body slowly shuffling up from below deck going through the motions you just went through. You managed to steal the last possible outdoor sleeping surface so they are forced to stand in their semi slumber while gaffeling as much oxygen as possible. you smile mischievously, stare at the constellations, forget about the hardship, feel grateful for where you are on the planet, and really take in your beautiful view of the 3 am sky in the middle of the sea.

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We could have taken a airplane to Colombia instead of the 5 day sail. But putting Lupe the dog on a plane would involve stacks of paperwork, vet visits, and a possible non entry to the country because her breed has a bad reputation in Colombia. We could not take the risk of non entry because our truck is also on a ship someplace in the middle of the Caribbean awaiting our arrival in Colombia. Plus smuggling Lupe through international borders is a task we know all to well at this point. Since we did the boat, we would not have to pass through any security or authority of any sort with Lupe. So no matter how uncomfortable the over crowded vessel was it was really the only option to arrive in Colombia. Plus we are embarking on a journey where flying might seem like the easy thing to do, challenges are a big part of this trip, and suffering will humble a person. Though the stank boat overcrowded with twenty something year old cocaine filled backpackers was not a walk in the park, I did enjoy it thoroughly, and might do it again if need be. After all, being comfortable your whole life will make a person soft. And soft people suffer when things get tough. The midnight view of the sea and the flying fish hitting you in the chest made the experience interesting and worthwhile.

 

Some truck repair

After several  failed attempts over the course of 15,000 miles (all involving minimal effort on my part), I finally decided to get my steering bushing replaced on the Taco.  Throughout the entirety of Central America, 9 countries later, I make the commitment to get this taken care of.  It became increasingly easy to say, “I will do it in the next city,” but as the dirt roads of Bolivia hover in our near future, I am presently more aware than ever that rugged driving is quickly approaching, so I can no longer f* around.

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When I brought the truck  for a tune-up, in Colorado almost a year ago, they informed me that I was in need of new bushings. I shrugged this off, mostly because it was expensive and it was not a priority at that point in our travels. We just wanted to hit the road. We are now in Southern Colombia, talking about our crossing into Ecuador, and I am beginning to get a rising sense of anxiety as I think about the unpaved roads of Bolivia and Argentina. It is time to pull the trigger and install new bushings. In speaking to the mechanic, he reported that the bushings are totally destroyed. I expected this.  It explains the large amount of play in the steering that I have felt ever since we purchased the Tacoma almost 2 years ago. The whole situation reminds me of a T-shirt I recently saw being worn by the first mate of our Panamanian sail to Colombia.  It read “procrastinators unite,” then under that it said, “tomorrow.” 

The hefe at the mechanic spoke perfect english and he even lived in the states most of his life This was good, as clear communication is important in these type of situations (especially since my Spanish mechanic vocabulary is somewhat limited). He even offered us camping at his farm, an hour away (Colombians are suspiciously friendly), but we decided to stay local. We are in Cali, Colombia and this major Latin American city of 2.7 million is hectic. It is Friday, Colombia plays the World Cup tomorrow, the weekend is here, and the truck can’t be worked on until Monday. Shit just got real.

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We decided to drive south, out of town, and stay at whatever cheap no-tell motel (popular Latin American hotels frequented by men and their mistresses) we could find. They are muy economico, gated, have security, and are in close proximity to the city. As we cruise the streets on the lookout for such an establishment, we notice people giving us the thumbs-up, waving, smiling, and communicating a general sense of approval through various hand motions. We are being welcomed by the city folk, perhaps because they can tell by our plates and rig that we have traveled a great distance to arrive at the lively city of Cali, Colombia.

A newer model Toyota Landcruiser pulls up next to us. I can see the woman in the passenger seat is trying to take photos of me, without me noticing. The couple could be my parents age and appear to be upper class. I glance over and she hides the camera. I roll down the window (we are at a stoplight) and give her the go ahead-take my photo. I like the attention. She takes a few and smiles at me. I ask them If they can recommend a cheap hotel. She responds, “Follow us” (in espanol). It is early, we have nowhere to be, are unemployed, so we follow them. We pull into a gas station, they make calls, she flirtatiously winks at me, and it seems that they have found a place for us to go. We pull some U-turns and continue to follow them through the city streets. I am not completely sure why, but I felt good about this situation. I think one should trust their instinct, and mine was telling me to trust these complete strangers with whom I can barely communicate.

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After 20 minutes of traffic, following, driving through this unfamiliar South American city, we are finally at the destination hotel. We thank these strangers, exchange information, they provide us with their phone numbers, shake hands, wish each other well, as we go our separate ways. It was like they woke up that morning in search of lost gringos to provide assistance. They went completely out of their way for almost an hour, made phone calls, and drove in the opposite direction of where they were initially headed, to provide us with much-needed help. This happens a lot south of the border. I cannot visualize any American doing this for a foreigner in the states, but maybe that is just me.

I enter the hotel, inquire about a room, but the hotel clerk informs me that they are unable to accommodate dogs. I am not surprised. In typical Colombian fashion, the employee goes out of her way to provide us with the name of another establishment that is able to take dogs. After 30 minutes of hunting for this “other place” and asking various street vendors for directions, a strange man appears from out of nowhere.  He is wearing tight, bright colored clothes, driving a Volkswagen pickup truck car, and makes a claim to own a hostel. I trust this man for some reason. We tell him we have a dog, he winks at Lupe, and we negotiate a price for a room on this street corner. We now follow him. I felt good about this, and the price was right so one cannot dispute.

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The hostel is clean and comfortable. We have our own room and we are the only ones here, so this is all good. Now I sit with the young soccer hooligan who works here, and despite the fact that he doesn’t speak a lick of English and my espanol is no bueno, we drink beer and root on Colombia as they school Greece in the World Cup. We will wait until the weekend is over to bring the truck in for repair.

It has been very common for an unusual chain of events, such as these, to unravel into a positive outcome. Since we have  been on the road, an important lesson that has been learned is to have extremely loose plans (if any at all). See where fate brings you, take a leap. Most of the time this will work out in your favor. When things get strange or you feel uneasy, you have the ability to get out.

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