Author Archive for Paul De Andrade

22
Mar
09

Post-Journey Recap

Alright, yep, my site is still not redirecting properly, but I myself am still alive and kicking. Had a little rough patch back in the Altiplano during which a few different factors collided all at one time – namely my budget crash, serious mechanical issues with my bike, some intense pangs of solitude, the intolerance of endlessly cold and gray days, and, to be honest with you, a lack of enthusiasm for the somber terrain through which I was riding. Actually, there were many other factors which played into this as well, but nevertheless I had to take action.

So, after Mom left Cuzco, Peru I decided to get on out of the Andean Altiplano and fast-forwarded my way to la Paz, Bolivia for some sight-seeing, then to the salt desert of Uyuni, before finally jumping on a train and heading to the Argentine border. Shortly after the border the scenery once again turned to a lovely, habitable green with dynamic red mountains and I once again felt the exhilaration and awe of cycling through the breathtaking natural beauty.

From Tilcara, Northern Argentina, I began pedaling my way Southward once again. I continued onward until reaching Cafayate, where I soon discovered that a friend of mine would soon be leaving Buenos Aires to move to Europe and decided to once again fast forward the trip down towards the city.

From Cafayate I headed to Tucuman for a couple days and then down to Cordoba to visit with some friends of mine there as well. Then finally it was off to Buenos Aires and the city life.

Well, here I am now, and I must say that city life has most certainly been agreeing with me. I’d taken the past week off from working on much of anything besides seeking clients and instead had decided to spend as much time as I could catching up with friends here – especially before some of them left for other parts of the world. However, now its time to start planning and figuring out the next steps once again, so am getting back into brainstorming mode.

Will get some more thorough accounts of the details of the past two months up in the next few days and keep you all posted as to what other news comes up. At the moment I’m in Buenos Aires working out some dental issues until further notice, and since soon it will be Semana Santa (Easter Week) here in Buenos Aires, that may be postponed until a bit later (when everyone comes back to work).

For now enjoy the photos, which I’ve been trying to upload periodically, and I will try to get things moving soon!

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24
Feb
09

Lima Bean

TortugasSo, guess who’s finally in Lima?  To catch you up, after I left Trujillo I scooted down the desert coastline to a town called Casma to see the ancient ruins of Sechin.  However, I figured I’d also say one last goodbye to the coastline by taking a little side-trip to the beach at Tortugas and lazing away the day by the water.  Although it was a strange little beach-town surrounded by infinite desert and with gray pebbles all along the surf, it was actually quite a nice and sleepy atmosphere for just forgetting the world (although I suppose I don’t really need much help with that these days).  Of course, regardless of how much sunscreen I was wearing, I still managed to get burnt, but hey, it was a small price to pay for one of the most amazing sunsets of my journey.

SechinThe following day I was up bright and early and in a moto-taxi (basically the Latin American name for a tuktuk) on the way out to Sechin.  Although the ruins themselves were somewhat insignificant, the bas relief carvings were either amazingly well preserved or… restored – hey, who the hell knows, right?  After a short visit it was time to head back to the super-chic and super-cheap hostel where I was staying and catch my bus up to the mountain city of Huaraz in the Cordillera Blanca.  At 11:00am we were off and it was a loooong, bumpy road.

After about six hours of non-stop uphill climb on a one lane dirt track from the sandy deserts, through shale and rock foot-hills, and to fertile, misty Andean mountains, we finally began a short descent into the valley of Huaraz.  Of course, little did I know at the time, or until this morning when I left, that it was surrounded by absolutely stunning white, snow-capped peaks on almost every side.  Well, why didn’t I know?  Because in my four days there it rained and was overcast every single day – plus fufufufreeeezing cold.  But fortunately, in the mornings we did get some clear weather and I managed to get in on an incredible hike up to breathtaking (literally) turquoise mountain lagoons surrounded by snowy mountains (in which, yes, I did go swimming – agh!), and a morning of rock climbing – after walking through a frigid mountain river up to my knees barefoot.

Cloud-BreakSo yeah, you could imagine that when I left this morning I had had a wonderful time… but was more than ready to get back to the dry heat of the Peruvian coast.  So after a seven hour bus ride down from Huaraz, I’m now in Lima for a few days, before taking the next few legs to Cuzco to meet Momster.  As far as my schedule, I believe that I’ll be in Lima until Thursday, and then will head to the tiny desert oasis of Ica further South to do some sand-boarding (I think its obligatory if you come to these parts of Peru).  After that, a quick jaunt to Arequipa to see the city built from sparkling volcanic rock, and then finally the climb to Cuzco to finally be reunited with my long-lost mother (you can imagine that its been a while).

Oh, and tooooons of new photos up in the gallery – not my favorite work, but hey, at least it tells a story.  Hope you enjoy and more to come about the scandal and excitement of the big city soon.

16
Feb
09

CE: Moche, Chimu, Sechura, and Trujillo

SechuraHmm, feels like its been a while since I let you all in on what I´m up to these days. When I left Piura over a week ago I jumped headfirst into the Sechura desert, fulling planning to only do half the journey through the desert on the first day, camp in the dunes that evening, and finish the journey to Chiclayo the following day. But it didn´t quite work out that way.

As I was riding along through, well, nothing, I quickly realized that I was making great time and thought to myself ¨hey, at this pace I could be almost to Chiclayo by the end of the day¨. I wasn´t to keen on camping in the sand either, and don´t trust putting up a tent in places visible to the highway (and I don´t know if you´ve ever tried to push a heavily loaded bicycle through sand for very far, but it just don´t work). So, this in mind and the fact being that it was the one year anniversary of this lunatic adventure, I decided what the hell – lets break a record.

It was over 125 miles from Piura to Chiclayo and, although I had started riding at 4:30 in the morning and gone about half the distance by almost noon, I still had the determination to keep things rolling. But that´s when the s%$t hit the fan – or, actually, somebody turned the fan towards me to blow it at me. As if it weren´t enough that the entire white sand horizon was wavering under the intense desert sun, the wind decided to pick up as well. And which way did it blow? You can probably imagine.

So I rode, face-first into the howling, gale like gusts. What had earlier been a labor of passion for progress quickly turned into Saharan-Peruvian sand torture. I was physically pouring my strength into every rotation of the bicycle´s pedals and moving at about a quarter of the speed that I had been before. It wasn´t pretty.

Dead in the DesertSo to sum it up, around almost 9:00pm, after over fifteen hours on a bicycle and about 112 miles, I arrived in Morrope, a provincial village about 20 miles North of Chiclayo. Ironically, by that time all I could dream of was a shower and laying down – however things weren´t going to be that simple.

Apparently there was only one hotel in town and it was, yep, you guessed it, full. Oh for the love of Pete, what was I supposed to do now! I didn´t want to camp tonight! But thankfully, some friendly street kids came to my aid in my moment of despair. They told me that the ¨Comiseria¨ along the plaza could perhaps offer me a place to sleep for the evening. Comiseria? Hey, that doesn´t sound so bad – little did I know.

So in Peru Comiseria is what the call the police station, and although the gentlemen of the force happened to be quite friendly, it wasn´t the most inviting of accomodations. To summarize, I slept on a concrete floor in a dusty old room that opened to the back lot and, since there was no running water, poured buckets of cold water over my head to fruitlessly attempt to remove the fifty layers of sunscreen from my skin.

The Barber ShopHowever, the next morning I was up and at em bright and early and on my way to Lambayeque, a town just a tiny bit North of Chiclayo where two of the region´s best museums were located. After visiting the somewhat interesting Bruning Museum and the fascinating Tumbas Reales de Sipan museum, I was ready to get to the city and get settled in, so off I went.

I spent the next two days relaxing and recovering from the desert ride in Chiclayo, along with a nice visit out to the eroded old adobe temple of Sican about an hour Northeast of Chiclayo. Even after only so short a visit, I found little to do in the town and grew restless to make further progress down along the Peruvian coast. Plus, I was paying a whopping five bucks a night to sleep in Chiclayo, whereas in Trujillo the Casa de Ciclistas awaited lured me forward with promises of free and company.

So on the third morning in Chiclayo I was once again up and riding out of the city well before sunrise and on my way to Pacasmayo, a tiny seaside village halfway between Chiclayo and Trujillo. The day´s journey through the barren desert went by relatively insignificantly and by around noon-time I was rolling down the final hill to sea level in the little rag-tag town.

PacasmayoI found a place to stay for the evening right in the middle of town and then set off to see the ocean for the first time since the Caribbean coast of Colombia – which already seemed like an eternity ago. I spent the afternoon and evening hours in serenity, strolling through the town and down the wharf searching for whatever photo opportunities that decided to show themselves.

Then finally, the following morning came and it was the final leg to Trujillo, one of the cities of which I had been looking forward to in Northern Peru for some time. Sadly however, my glorious arrival didn´t quite go as smoothly as I had envisioned before awaking that morning.

When I tried to roll out of bed at the sound of my alarm in the wee hours of the morning, I felt groggy and ill. I heard the sound of rain pattering on the roof (yep, in the desert – go figure) and decided I´d sleep it off for the next hour or so and then hit the road. Well, about two hours later I finally got out of bed, still feeling like trash, and told myself that it was time to get going.

But as I rode along, things soon went from bad to worse. From the very beginning of my ride I had felt sluggish and as if I were working double-time for half the result. I was making painfully slow progress and didn´t have the energy to do anything about it. Several hours later it all went to hell.

Los AmigosMy stomach dropped and my guts churned (hehe) and I felt the desire to just fall off my bicycle and roll over in the desert dead. Something was terribly wrong.

I made about five stops in the space of one hour before finally arriving in Paijan, barely able to muster the strength to ride the last few miles into town. I got to the first place that sold cold beverages that I could find, stumbled in the door, payed for a coke, and then barely made it outside before collapsing on the concrete floor of the covered patio out front.

This was bad, this was real bad. I was still conscious but in agony, and I felt like I just couldn´t go on. This is one of those types of times that you just want to be at home in bed and not even have to think about getting out for anything or anyone. Too bad I don´t have a home.

Ladder BoyPlus, of all the places that I had been warned about in all my journey (aside from Colon, Panama and basically all the big cities in Central America), Paijan had been one of them. And here I was, completely incompetent and defenseless. Finally, I mustered up the strength to go back inside and ask the ladies in the restaurant for help (apparently in Latin America people collapsing outside of your place of business is pretty common and I think you just wait for the vultures to come and clean them up).

With their advice I found out where the bus station was, less than a mile down the road, and set off towards it. I was not going to let this beat me – and I was not going to sleep in Paijan. Thankfully, right as I was rolling (literally rolling) up into the center of town, the bus was just about to pull out. I managed to get everything loaded up in record time, climbed about our yellow El Dorado rig to Trujillo, and slumped down into one of the almost comfy bus seats, just thankful that it wasn´t a saddle and that in here there was shade and a breeze.

A little over a half an hour later we were arriving in the city of Trujillo – and thank God, I could barely take it anymore. I managed to get my things transfered from the bus and into a cab and we were quickly speeding towards the Casa de Ciclistas (oops, that means House of Cyclists, by the way) where I could hopefully find reprieve.

Another Hard Working GuardWell that was about three days ago, and now I´m feeling almost all better. It did take me the entire rest of the day and the following one to really start coming around, but since then I´ve managed to get out and start enjoying some of the sights and other pleasant characteristics that the city has to offer… although there has been some absolutely ridiculous drama going on at the casa de ciclistas since I got there (maybe more on that another time).

Yesterday I made an excursion out to the archeological site of the ancient adobe city of Chan Chan, which according to my guide is the largest pre-Columbian city in South America and the largest adobe city in the world – yeah, it was kinda cool. Then I headed to the nearby beach town of Huanchaco for a late afternoon stroll, some photography, and to watch the dreamy sunset over the South Pacific.

Alright, so other than my trip to the archeological dig of the ancient Moche temple of Huaca de la Luna earlier today, thats about it. Have made a wonderful new friend here in Trujillo named Paola with whom I have plans this evening and think I will be sticking around town for another two days or so.

After that I should be heading down one day´s ride to the port town of Chimbote farther along the coast, from which I´ll catch a bus up to Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca for a short visit and some hiking before coming back down to the coast. Apparently the Cordillera Blanca is the second highest mountain range in the world after the Himalayas – so yeah, I´m not riding my biking, if thats what you were wondering, you smug bastards.

Alright, love you all, more to come soon!

11
Feb
09

Medellin – the Long and Shart of it… ah Forget it, Just the Shart

MedellinWell, what can I say about Medellin really?  Life was good, life was fabulous.  The truth is that I don’t really know what normal life is really like – there were the rebellious teenage years when all energy was devoted towards battling my parents, then there were the hazy drug-urchin days where it was all about finding the next high, and then there was crazed academic obsession coupled with workaholic tendencies – from six in the morning till midnight every day.  Oh, and of course, that somehow transitioned into a mad bicycle pilgrimage down through the Americas and back to the “fatherland”.  So yeah, I don’t think I really knew what a normal life felt like until I got to Medellin.

Alright, so given, perhaps being unemployed for a few months in an urban South American garden of Eden isn’t really reality, but hey, its not for lack of trying!  I’ll be honest with you, I spent almost every day out on the hunt – following employment leads, networking, extending visas, and desperately struggling with national work permit laws.  Yeah, you could actually say that trying to get hired in Colombia was like my full time job… ok, a little pathetic… but true.

Well anyway, I was living on the cheap – I had an apartment for $280 with meals included, laundry service (you mean I get to just throw it on the floor and it comes back clean…??), daily room cleaning, a pool and penthouse views.  I couldn’t really complain, thats for sure.  Add to that a kick-ass burger joint with the tops in cheapy burgers only a block away (and open 24/7!), a quick walk to the metro train station, and stumbling distance to some of the best watering holes in the city (which is important for me, since I like to do a bit of pre-gaming to stick within my budget… and then stumble to the bars.  Is that wierd?).

Nevado del RuizSo yeah, life was good.  Add to that my little friend Elkin, and the practical in-separation of the two of us for almost the entire of my stay in Medellin, and yeah, I kept pretty busy.  We had a lot of country to visit together as well, and although I didn’t know it at the time, not much time in which to do it (couldn’t have predicted the dry job market and consequent short stay).  So, over those sweet few months in Medellin, somehow we managed to climb the snowy Nevado del Ruiz, lounge around in the delicious coffee growing region of Eje Cafetero, collapse in exhaustion from excessive salsa in Cali, fiesta in Cartagena in honor of the national beauty queen, chill out in Santa Marta like Colombian tourists (ok, given, one of us was), and ruin ourselves while hiking through the jungle and back in Parque Tayrona on the Caribbean coast.

Hmm, so why exactly did I leave?  Oh thats right, I was still unemployed – after three months, had only distant prospects – my oil field was drying up, and my visa was about to expire (again).  So, after two previous visa extensions (yeah, its a really short stay in Colombia) and no dice, I wasn’t willing to shell out the extra cash and fill out the dreary paperwork to keep myself in the country and harboring false hopes for any longer.  It was time to go.

After all of the time, energy, and funds that I had invested into starting my new life in Medellin (temporarily, of course), it was a shame to go, but I knew that it was now or never if I still wanted to have even a prayed of paying my way back to Brazil.  I said goodbye to my wonderful new friends in Medellin – sweet little Elkin, crazy little Mary, and quirky little Kristen –  ok, I suppose thats a bit redundant, but when you’re as big as me, that’s generally how you see the world.  And then there was Marisol and Sonia as well – goodbye my sweets!

Colombian Coastal WipeoutIt was hard to pick up and go, even harder since I had pigeon-holed myself into virtually having to flee the country by bus just in order to escape before the expiration of my visa, but as the day of my departure grew nearer I found myself renewed, rejuvenated, and re-invigorated for the journey ahead.

I would miss Medellin and the wonderful people with whom I had shared my life – but it was time for family – and time to continue onward to the destination of which I had dreamed of my whole life – Brazil.  And so, as with most difficult decisions in life, I said goodbye to the wonderful things that I had managed to fill my life with while living happily in Medellin, and pushed forward to the divine light of the future, and hopefully the fulfillment of which I had eternally longed for.

07
Feb
09

CE: The Melting World of Piura

Southern EcuadorIts almost painful to walk the streets here during the day.  Perhaps thats why, as the hot afternoon sun beats down upon the city, only one sidewalk on either edge of the streets is ever populated with pedestrians, and even then the city appears almost desolate.  The meager daytime population melts lazily beneath that shady side of the street on only their most necessary of errands while the sun blisters everything else that it touches.  However, its not an unpleasant place, with its tree-lined boulevards and verdant squares, its just a sultry place.  And when the evening winds begin to sweep through the urban landscape and breath life back into its barren streets, the city comes back to life.

That was how it happened that as I walked here to the cafe at sunset this evening, the streets were miraculously teeming with life as if some secret quarantine had been lifted from the world.  So yes, basically what I’m trying to tell you is that this place is hot.  REALLY hot.  And although the daytime hours do indeed create quite a predicament as to accomplishing or seeing anything (since, of course, nothing in Latin America has air conditioning), it does make the luxuriantly cool mornings and ravishingly refreshing evenings that much more intoxicating.

Alright, so enough about the city, I guess you came here to find out what’s going on with me.  About a week ago I finally set off from Loja, in the South of Ecuador, with the intention of not stopping until I had reached the Peruvian border (and perhaps even a little further).  It was truly a torturous journey, turning from what many people had told me was “all downhill to the coastal deserts of Peru,” into endless green tropical mountains rising and falling (…and rising and falling… and rising and falling) inifinitely on the horizon – and of course, forcing me to cycle up and down each and every last one.

Downhill?However, it was also a magnificently picturesque and serene world, a land where the hand of modernization and globalization were truly completely devoid and there was only me and a narrow strip of road through the magnificent Andes for as far as the eye could see.

Well, the mountains didn’t last forever and, eventually, after one night camping in the thickest and most visually impenetrable blanket of fog which I’ve encountered in my entire journey (actually, I was sure that I was going to die for about an hour there, as I looked for a campsite anywhere before getting hit by one of the infrequent trucks that would appear out of the gloom only twenty feet behind me), and one night of camping in the humid lowlands between the mountains of Southern Ecuador (and gloriously bathing naked in the rushing brown rapids of a huge mountain river – to get fifty layers of sweat and sunscreen off my body before sleeping), I finally descended abruptly to the steamy border town of Macará.

I spent one night amidst the rice paddies of Macará, catching my breath, and the next morning set off for the nearby border crossing to Peru.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t remembered to try to smuggle anything across, as I certainly wouldn’t have been met with any suspicion or resistance whatsoever (then again, what the hell would you bother smuggling from Ecuador to Peru?), and within about fifteen minutes I had crossed the bridge into the new world (only took me that long because the Peruvian border official was so chatty).

After that it was truly smooth sailing.  Oh sweet Jesus, I can’t tell you how long I had yearned for that moment.  It was like I literally crossed the border and instantly the entire landscape changed.  No more craggy Andean peaks, no more endless mountain ridges along the horizon, just smoothly rolling provincial highway meandering through the countryside.  I just can’t explain to you, it changes everything.

Rice PaddiesLike a spark igniting a fire my speed came right back to me, after all of those months of doubting.  In only a short few hours I had reached Las Lomas, a small village with sand streets nestled into the rolling green hills around it – and which seemed to have forgotten that the world around it existed.  I had a blissful afternoon of deliciously cheap meals (I payed for soup, a full platter, and an icy cold panela with just one coin!), jubilantly flowing writing, and a couple of cold beers there among friendly people before settling in for the evening.

The following morning I set off bright and early, literally racing forward at a speed which I hadn’t accumulated since way back before arriving in the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico (literally the beginning of the end).  It was a phenomenal day, filled with gorgeous spring-green scenery and friendly smiling faces.  Eventually, however, I did begin to draw nearer to Sullana, my original destination for the day, and the landscape soon began to transform into arid semi-desert scrubland.

Well, Sullana ended up looking like a real dump while I was passing it (literally trash and scary looking people all over the sides of the road), so I decided to skip that one and continue onwards to Piura, another forty or so kilometers South.  After Sullana the road began to look more and more like desert until I was finally arriving on the outskirts of Piura, and although I was parched and (of course) sunburnt by this point, I knew that I had made the right decision.

So here I am, in Piura – and yeah, its a little toasty – but wow, its not Ecuador.  Ok, ok, maybe I paint Ecuador red, but the truth is that it just wasn’t my cup of tea.  And upon arriving in Piura, although it isn’t exactly the most cosmopolitan place ever, its amazing the difference in culture and sophistication which I rediscovered after these almost two months.  Oh, and did I mention that the internet works here?

Road CornWhat else?  Hmm, so I’ve decided to add the little CE to the header of these periodic updates, which signifies Current Events (ok, perhaps a bit cheesy but let me know if you think of some better acronym), since as Rachel was reading the site last time she menetioned that it was a little confusing as to what was a flashback from my storytelling of where I’d left off and when I was just making a quick update.

Also, for those of you who aren’t familiar to Twitter, I’m going to introduce you to it, since a friend of mine recently mentioned something to me which made me think that perhaps it might be a fun idea to share it with you.  Alright, so I’ve already been using Tiwtter on the website for some time now – its the little news blurbs on the right nav bar that I put up from time to time.  What it does is allow me to update the site from my cell phone when I don’t have internet access… however, it can do a whole lot more than that.

For now, I think that the element that I’ll share with you is that if you are actually interested, you can get my Twitter updates sent to you mobile phone.  I’m going to try to explain this in terms that even my mother could understand (if thats actually possible), so stick with me and open a new window (actually, its really simple… I think).

1.  Go to http://www.twitter.com

2.  At the bottom of the screen click on the green button that says “Get Started — Join”

3.  After you’ve filled out all of your info and hit “Create Your Account,” it should take you to your profile screen

4.  In the top right-hand corner of the screen click on “Find People”

5.  On the next screen, directly under the words “Find People.  Follow Them,” click on the little tab that says “Find on Twitter”

6.  Type in the name “ipedaler” in the text field that comes up and hit enter

7.  When my little red picture shows up, click the word “Follow” to the right of my profile blurb

Bam!  That’s it, you’re following me.  If you have any problems with this, there’s a little help tab up at the top right hand corner of the screen – I’ll let you handle it from there (although I suppose you can email me if you’re stuck hehe)

Ok, hmm, I think thats it for catching up.  Alright, so what’s on the menu next?

Two Japs & a DonkeyWell, as ridiculous as this might sound, I’m stuck here until Monday because….. I’m waiting for my laundry.  But to be honest with you, I think its probably for the best, as I just got here yesterday and need a few days of rest before what is to come next.  On Monday morning (probably at four or five in the AM) I’ll be leaving Piura and heading Southward through the Sechura desert.  Ok, this time when I say desert, I mean REAL desert.  Apparently there’s nothing out there – and it goes on for a long time.  The distance is about 200 kilometers, and although, because of the heat, I was thinking of taking three days to do the journey, I’m thinking that perhaps two would be better for my state of sanity.

What I’ll probably try to do is cover at least 100 kilometers each day and tomorrow I’m going to see if I can’t find a super-cheap beach umbrella to take with me, as there apparently won’t be anything to use for shade out there in the endless sand and to be honest with you, my tent gets real real hot when the air starts boiling in it.  Maybe that way I can stop and take breaks along the side of the road under the umbrella during the hottest hours of the day and just ride in the early morning, and, if necessary, in the later evenings as well.

So that’s about the lot of it!  Next stop, Chiclayo, Peru – and my first destination along the coast!  I can’t wait!  Things have been looking up since I got to Peru, so I’m feeling optimistic and ready for some ancient ruins (which are apparently littered around that city and a bunch of places from thereafter until the Bolivian border).  Will post another log from Colombia tomorrow and get some more photos up between now and when I leave.  Wish me luck, and if you don’t hear from me by Wednesday, hopefully its because I’m slung up somewhere along the Pacific coast and not a scorched carcass in the Peruvian desert.

06
Feb
09

Bogota – I Think Not

CandelariaAfter all was said and done, and all of my hopes and aspirations for the city, I must say that Bogota and I were just a short but torrid affair.  I had gotten in touch with Mauricio several weeks before I was even near arriving in Bogota and so he had plenty of warning before the chaos that is Paul arrived.  But then again, I shouldn’t really say that as, although we did have some fun and debaucherous nights out on the town, we also had some pleasantly domestic and politely elegant experiences as well.

It all began with sophisticated lunch at the country club.  I’m not sure if I was really ready for all this – and my wardrobe most certainly wasn’t – but hey, who can resist an opportunity to play high society for a day after eating tasteless almuerzos and sleeping in dives for the past sixth months.  So I did my best to dress myself up and off we went, dining like celebrities out on the back patio and chain smoking with my new buddies as though I couldn’t remember the last time I had touched one of the things.

And no, the afternoon didn’t end with me diving into the pool in my leopard print thong in front of the entire wealthy geriatric community of Bogota (although I do know of someone who did that at four in the morning in front of every campesiño in Baños…), but instead making plans for  big dinner with the society law queens of the city for that evening.  So after dwindling away a few hours in-between lunch and the dinner party, Mauricio and I dressed to impress and headed out to search for just the right bottle of wine for the occasion.

The Night the Lights Went OutAfter a fifteen minute drive with my new conservative buddy Mauricio biting his fingernails at the stress of city driving the whole way, we finally made it to the wine shop and I found myself, oddly, thanking my lucky stars for seven years in the restaurant biz.  After out-witting the (clueless) wine store attendant on random vineyard trivia, we’d finally made our purchase, wrapped up our controversial debate on bullfighting (no comment), and were ready to booze it up with the prosecution.

I have to admit that I didn’t understand everything that was going on during our evening of catty, but deliciously scandalous, conversation, but I loved every minute of it nonetheless.  We passed the wine and whisky till none but the fierce remained and then it was time for Mau and I to hit the road.  Well, not exactly the road, but the bars – to be more exact.

That was when we magically found ourselves going from the semi-sophisticated company of opinionated older gentlemen to the refreshingly mindless chaos of Téatron.  Cavernous, massive, endlessly tunneling – that was Téatron.  Mau and I bounced around for a while, exploring the fifty (or whatever) rooms of the massive club and searching for our right vibe – but then ending up back in the main theater.  We drank – too much – and had a festive evening of it, but then finally it was time to go, and it was past my bedtime.  As with getting older (I know!  I’m not even that old yet, why has it already happened to me??), there’s a certain point when it just ain’t fun anymore, and that was when it was time to go home.

The AuthoritiesNevertheless, my first day in Bogota was a huge success in my eyes, and I was ready to head out and discover what other cosmopolitan delights awaited me.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t much.  I shouldn’t get down on it so much, the truth is that it just wasn’t my type of city (not much walking, not much admirable architecture and city planning, and about a mile short on that “it” charm), but in comparison with the other shady metropolises of Latin America, perhaps it isn’t really so bad.

That said, the truth is that the most memorable times I had in Bogota were, in fact, outside of Bogota.  After muddling about and searching for a job for several while at the same time learning about the intricacies of Colombian immigration laws, I was ready for a break from the rain and gray or the city.  So Mauricio, his little buddy (that’s my way of saying I couldn’t remember his name even if someone held a $100 bill in front of my face) and I decided a day in the country might do us all some good.

The itinerary was Zipaquira – and whatever else might find us between the journey there and back.  Zipaquira was basically a salt mine for many years which was then declared to be a holy cite and transformed into a massive subterranean salt cathedral.  Now, thanks to the endless tourist attractions that I have inevitably met during the course of this little journey of mine, I headed to Zipaquira with the eye of skepticism, but I must say that, at least for me, it did not disappoint.

ZipaquiraAfter about an hour-long road trip, leaving the bustle of the city behind, we were quickly out in the picturesque green plains around Bogota, and soon thereafter disembarking the the salt mine.  A single red steel-braced  tunnel led us onwards deep into the belly of the mountain, and as we went along our guide pointed our attention to the striking white salt walls around us.  Again, thats about as far as I got with the guide, as since my Spanish was still a little rusty at the time, I didn’t waste much time in tuning him out.

But the sights that awaited us were well worth the pittance of an entrance fee.  Plus, for the first time (in either Southeast Asia or Latin America) everything was actually done in tasteful lighting! (not hideous fluorescent mosquito-bulbs)  We plodded along the stations of the cross searching for random photo ops for some time before descending down into the caverns of the true cathedral.  Various rooms and carvings and statues greeted us along the way and, adding significant authenticity to the whole event, there was even a mass in progress during our visit.

An hour and a half later we were all salt mined out though, and we made our way back out to the car.  Despite my insistence on going to Panaca (since our Zipaquira tickets included free or reduced admission there too) and getting a picture of my riding a goat, the other boys vetoed that idea.  Nevertheless, there was another sweet surprise just around the corner, and although in a way completely different, it was still somewhat along that same line of live-stock thinking.

Andre's Carne de ResA half an hour later we were pulling up in front of the mob-scened Andre’s Carne de Res steakhouse.  I never could have imagined just what exactly awaited me within those doors and just why exactly this place was such a hit – even way out here beyond the city.  But it struck me the second I entered the building.

The place was an absolute zoo of insanity.  Giant bugs buzzed into people, drunken sailors serenaded young Bogoteña girls, and rainbow colored Bjorks on roller-skates danced precariously on table tops.  I wasn’t exactly sure if I’d come for lunch or for the show, but I’ll tell you what, either way I was up for a bit of lunacy.  Fortunately the steaks were quite sumptuous as well.

We spent the next two hours there at Andre’s, enjoying the food, the fun, and the beer, and finally knew that it was time to bid adieu to the action and head back to the grind of the city.  Well, not quite directly, but after a stop-over at a mall to watch – hold your breath – Mamma Mia…  Yes, that’s right, we did it.  But, there was one redeeming quality to this visit, and that was seeing the smelly, unwashed Bogoteños who’d been living in a Mini-Cooper for the past several months, sitting in the middle of the mall plaza (strange eh?  Funny what these Colombians do for a bit of diversion).

Bad Omen for BogotaAnd so that was my visit to Bogota.  Yeah, alright, so I was there for a week – but that’s what stuck with me!  Ok, I had a few pleasant walks through the Candelaria neighborhood (the quaint little historical district of the city) and a wonderful hike up to the ethereal monastery on Montserrate, but that’s not enough to make me want to live in a city.  It was just a tad to year-round overcast misery and showers to really lure me in, and mixed with the endless Trans-Millenio commuting (no, not the sequel to Trans-America) that life in Bogota would surely entail, I could already feel myself drifting back to the sweet sunshine and happy birdsong of Medellin.

Of course, no week-long friendly visit would be complete without unnecessary ridiculous drama, and so Mauricio and I made sure not to part without the complete experience (hehe, nope, no details) – but nonetheless it was a wonderful week together.  And so I headed back to the bus terminal from whence I came (or at least arrived) and popped my jagged little sleeper pill to to prepare me for the long journey back to Medellin… hoping to start the dream just a little bit early.

26
Jan
09

The Road to the Peruvian Border

Mexico in CuencaI’ve had a few requests as to my route over the next few weeks, and as I may soon lose most contact with the world (with the exception of a stop in about three to four days) and not be sitting in front of my computer waiting for FedEx all day anymore, I figured I’d go ahead and clue you all in while I still can.

Tomorrow morning I’ll be cycling South from Cuenca and I believe that it is about a three to four day journey to Vilcabamba, where I’ll take one more break before heading on to the border.  Between here and Vilcabamba I’ve been told that it might be somewhat trying terrain, and, thereafter it is supposed to be brutally unfriendly weather in addition to the endless up and down mountain landscape.  I think that from Vilcabamba to the Peruvian border it will be about three to four days.

Then after the border, there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of civilization for the next few hundred miles.  That means that I’ll be traveling through small provincial villages and mountains until I reach the Chiclayo, on the Peruvian coast.  Chiclayo should be a decent small sized city and will mark the beginning of my ride down Peru’s desert coastline.

Either way I’ll try to send you all an update from Vilcabamba in a few days to let you know the outlook.  Until then, peace!  I’m (finally) out!