Archive for the 'Sports' Category

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!

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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.

25
Jan
09

Letting the World Slip Away in the Eternal Spring of Medellin

Old MedellinI’m not sure if it was all of the enticing descriptions that I had heard about the city, the deliciously sunny spring-like weather, the lush landscape and organized city-scape of Medellin, or if there really was just some indescribable magic about the place.  But as we descended gracefully through the green mountains of Northern Colombia and the city came into view, my heart raced with joyful anticipation.

Within our first few observations and interactions Justin and I were instantly struck by the place, the people, and the almost forgotten feeling of welcome.  After being dropped off on the third floor of the Northern bus terminal in Medellin, Justin helped me lug my bicycle and equipment down the flights of stairs to the taxi pickup area, my foot still throbbing malignantly with every step.  After finding a cab with a roof rack and strapping my baby on top, we stepped into the cab and were surprised to find a friendly and inquisitive face awaiting us.

Within twenty-four hours Justin and I had become completely enamored with Medellin.  After the chaos and less than friendly culture that we had endured throughout Central America, arriving here was like falling into a big warm hug.  We made new friends, laughed, explored and for the one of the first times in our journeys, felt absolutely no desire to hurry off to anywhere else.

Parque BolivarOn my third day in Medellin I met Elkin, my new little Antioquian “buddy”, while out on the town.  We quickly became quite fond of one another’s company and before I knew it, we were out exploring the Colombian countryside together.  We climbed el Peñol, a massive vertical rock formation surrounded by endlessly meandering lakes which stretch out across the horizon.  We journeyed out to Santa Fe de Antioquia, a quaint little colonial Colombian town that was almost perfectly preserved in its historic glory.  And we meandered around Medellin, getting to know one another, relaxing, and just enjoying the ride.

However, although the idea of settling down in Medellin and improving my Spanish had been bubbling around in my head for some time, I also wondered if perhaps I wasn’t a stone’s throw from some place that might perhaps be even more suited to me.  That was how, despite the wonderful time that I’d been having in Medellin, I soon found myself making plans to head to Colombian metropolis of Bogota.  So, only one week after arriving in Medellin, I found myself heading to the bus station and saying goodbye to Elkin and the city for the first time.  However, as I was soon to find out, it most certainly wouldn’t be the last.

24
Jan
09

Trapped in Cuenca – Thanks FedEx

CuencaHere I am, still in Ecuador, still making very slow progress.  I´m not sure if I´d mentioned in any of the previous posts, but the reason that its taking me so ridiculously long to get to Peru is because I´ve been waiting for my credit and debit cards to be delivered ever since when I was robbed in Quito.  Thanks to FedEx, which is now yet another week behind on their delivery, I can´t leave until I´ve received my delivery.  I won´t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that if you´re going to try to send something internationally, don´t bother wasting your money on the incompetence of FedEx – plus, once its departed the country of origin, FedEx there will no longer provide any support to you at all.

Ok, well, I needed to get that off my chest (using less profanity here than in the letters that I sent to them).  Apart from that, as soon as the delivery does arrive I´ll be back on my way and am now sitting within one to one and a half weeks from the Peruvian border.  Fortunately, of all the places that I could be stuck waiting for a package, Cuenca is one of the three most beautiful cities I´ve visited since leaving the U.S. – alongside Mexico City and Cartagena.

Since the last update I finally left Baños, continued onwards to Riobamba, waited there for my package for several days (before having to reroute it to Cuenca, due to FedEx´s incompetence), then caught the Nariz del Diablo train near Alausi.  Sadly the almost $8 that I spent on the train ticket was really a bust, since THE day that I went to catch the train was the same day that they banned roof-riding on the train, which is basically the entire point of taking the trip.  Then there was also the fact that the journey basically looked just like the places that I bicycle through (sheer drops over endless cliffs), so it wasn´t particularly exciting for me.  Oh well, live and learn.

Charlie´s AngelsAs far as here in Cuenca, I´m starting to get the photos up on Flickr, so hopefully soon you´ll start to get somewhat of an idea of the sheer beauty of the place.  Fortunately I´ve had my ¨Hollandaise¨ friend, Susan, here to live it up with me during my down time in Cuenca, and aside from our own trials and tribulations, we´ve managed to get some killer salsa dancing sessions in at a hip and sultry club here in town.

After leaving Cuenca it should be almost a straight shot to the border, however, with one stop in a small town called Vilcabamba.  Fortunately this town happens to lie right along my impending route, as everyone has said spectacular things about it, and now that I´m in the Southern Highlands of Ecuador it looks like I´ve escaped the all day rains of the Central Ecuador and am ready for some days in the beautiful spring-like hills before my next chapter.

Will Twitter you all in when I manage to get out of Cuenca.  Until then, happy January and enjoy the photos!

In Another Life

23
Jan
09

Venturing Deeper into the Infamous Colombian Interior

Bags of Water?After almost two weeks of smoldering in the blazing Caribbean sunlight, Justin and I had grown restless to leave the coast behind and venture deeper into the unknown of Colombia. Normally, this would have been the part where we would say goodbye and go our separate ways – I on bicycle and he by bus – however as circumstance would have it, we instead found ourselves traveling high into the Andes together.

The main reason that we had lingered in Cartagena for quite so long was to investigate and ideally remedy the situation with my injured foot. The massive, swollen and incredibly painful lump had immediately bulged out on my foot after crashing against the hull of the Stahlratte during a rope swing accident in the San Blas Islands. Three days after the damage had been done we were finally pulling into port in Cartagena and my first order of business had been to find the local hospital.

Colombian PuebloAlthough I had sat waiting in the emergency room on several occasions, been thoroughly x-rayed, and prescribed topical ointment for the hideous aberration, even after two weeks the pain was unchanging and the welt as malignant as the day it was inflicted. However the doctor had assured me that there was in fact no reason to worry (although I nevertheless always did) and that the damage was simply muscular.

Well, I wasn’t going to wait around forever. So the day after my final visit to the hospital in Boca Grande Justin and I made our way to the bus terminal of Cartagena. Sadly, the bus terminal was nowhere near the old city and none of the small collective buses that made the journey appeared to be able to hold my bicycle. Instead I found myself meandering through the back slums of the city, completely lost and with the searing pain of my foot rotating atop the pedals, for the hour-long ride out to the edge of town (while Justin rode along in the bus…).

Sincelejo PlazaWe both agreed that our next major destination would be Medellin, the city formerly known as home to the infamous drug cartel of Pablo Escobar, yet always referred to as a modern Eden by everyone whom we encountered. Yet it seemed a shame to simply jump directly from the Northern coast to a point almost halfway down the country without getting to know some of the places along the way (plus I hate long bus rides). So, after referring to our maps and guidebooks, we eventually agreed that the next stop on the journey would be the small provincial city of Sincelejo in the Northwest of the nation.

Three warm but breezy hours later our bus was pulling into the station in Sincelejo and we were hopping out. We quickly situated ourselves in what was probably the smallest hotel room known to man, but hey, it was a steal. Although we hadn’t had a particularly strenuous day, sometimes even a lengthy bus ride can wear you out and so, as the room had television (which I hadn’t watched in many months) we melted into the mattress and vegged out for a few hours.

Sidewalk NotariesEventually we decided that we owed it to ourselves to go out and get to know the city. I remember how several months later while spending time in Colombia many Colombians would frequently refer to Sincelejo as a backwards and characterless city. But for some reason as Justin and I made our way through the quaint streets bustling with villagers, we couldn’t help but swoon with contentedness.

A delicious wind whipped through the town ruffling the leaves in the trees of the central square and refreshing us after our many months along lowland Caribbean and Pacific coasts after the past few months. Low rolling hills surrounded the town in every direction and exposed the burning amber sunset to us. Everything seemed close-by, the hand of corporate chains was almost nowhere to be seen, and the town could have served as a model of delightful efficiency and aesthetics in comparison with the towns and cinderblock cities of Central America of which we were accustomed.

Moto-CultureWe agreed to spend two nights there to give ourselves ample time to unwind and not spend all of our time packing and unpacking. Plus, the room was economic enough between the two of us that it offered a guilt-free opportunity to exist without paying rent. Seeking to further our familiarization with the region, we sought out locals with whom to spend our time and that was how Viviana came to us.

I found Viviana through CouchSurfing and by the evening of our second day we were hustling down the stairs of our hotel to hop into the SUV which had pulled up out front to pick us up. Three sweet and jovial young Sincelejan ladies awaited us and soon spirited us away towards one of their favorite restaurants. We chatted and joked well into the night and only decided that it was time to head back when I noticed that Justin’s eyes were quite nearly closed from the exhaustion of trying to understand the conversation (since at that time he wasn’t the Spanish whiz that he probably is by now).

Are You Serious?After being dropped off back at the hotel by the girls, we bid our farewells, got a full and restorative night of sleep and the following morning were jumping onto the next outbound bus to the North. We had questioned Viviana as to whether there was another point of interest worth visiting en route to Medellin and she had recommended the village of Santa Rosa de Osas, about six hours South of Sincelejo. Sadly, Justin and I had decided to go super cheap on our bus budget (since bus prices had taken a huge jump since Central America) and instantly found ourselves cursing the day that the bus driver was born after being tricked into boarding the most cramped, crowded, and superheated bus in the existence of motor vehicles.

As I sat there with my knees almost up against my chest I was felt livid towards the chauffeur and his assistant and spent almost the entire ride plotting of rampaging up to the front of the bus, giving him a piece of my mind and storming out – but then I remembered that my bicycle was jammed into the boot of the bus. So Justin and I just gritted our teeth and continued on.

Santa Rosa de OsasFortunately for us, about two hours into the bus-ride we reached a transfer bus station, jumped off and demanded the remainder of our bus fare back – we were over it! We would find another company to ride with. And so we did, a massive and comfortable bus, and once again we were back on board and bound for Santa Rosa de Osas.

Justin and I had left Sincelejo a little later than planned and the journey had taken quite a lot longer than we had been informed, however as we arrived in Santa Rosa we were in for the true rude awakening. It was already dark by the time our bus pulled alongside the highway by the town, and as we stepped down onto the pavement in shorts and t-shirts it was as if we were shot through the hearts with an icy arrow. It was truly bone chillingly frigid! Neither of us had experienced cold like this in months and the surprise took us completely without warning.

Little Town StreetsWe needed to find a place to stay (and change) and quick! Well, after one glance at the village up high on a hill, we decided that that would be too far and looked around us desperately for another option. Thar she was, a little truck-stop style hotel clustered in amongst the highway-side restaurants, and so we scrambled over with our overburdened loads of equipment.

Once we had checked in and gotten ourselves up to the room we were in for another little surprise. Apparently, places like this in the Andes, despite the bitter cold, often didn’t have heating or fireplaces! And of course this was the situation that awaited us in our icy bedroom (with an open and un-closable window). However the frosty shock had also jolted us into a jittery and high spirited delirium, and so, after finally discovering our cold weather gear (way down at the bottom of our packs), we layered up and headed out to explore.

Another Church?It was a steep and curving lane that headed up from the highway and into the town and as we ascended I found myself doing little cold jigs and hurriedly spitting out random jibes in a ridiculous attempt to keep my body temperature up. But finally we made it to the top, and although that first corner of the town appeared to be almost deserted, aside from a few meandering old campesiño men in cowboy hats and ponchos, as we approached the other side of the square things drastically changed.
Apparently we had stumbled upon the main street of the town and as we turned onto it and made our way forward it was as if we had stumbled into a chilly highland village somewhere in Spain. The quaint villagers hardly resembled any race which we had encountered previously within our travels in Latin America, but instead looked like a town which had been purely founded by colonists and completely forgotten by the world around it. Even the costume of the villagers was more like that of old world provincial Europe.

And somehow, despite perhaps its apparent relative insignificance, Justin and I found it absolutely wonderful and fascinating. We strolled the streets as though we were villagers past young girls in pleated schoolgirl skirts, old men in black felt hats, and mothers with their shoulders and heads wrapped in silken scarves. It was a delightfully pleasant stroll and after an hour and a half of meandering the winding town and feasting on street-side kabobs Justin and I headed back down towards our hotel both, both completely struck by the feeling that we had indeed entered a new and wondrous chapter in our voyage.

Soon thereafter we were back in our room, wrapped with our blankets up to our chins and nestling ourselves to sleep somewhat cold, but completely satisfied. The next day we were up early for a daytime stroll of the village and to find a light brunch before hitting the road again and heading for the fabled metropolis of Medellin only two short hours away. However, as we once again found ourselves back on the side of the highway loading our bags and bicycle up into a colectivo, little did I know that my arrival in Medellin would be no ordinary tourist visit, but that soon this misunderstood but magical city would quickly draw me in with its charms and I would find myself calling it home for the next chapter of my voyage.

19
Jan
09

Ahh, Paradoise – The Majesty of Cartagena de Indias & Serenity of Playa Blanca

The SteepleIt was a bittersweet arrival as we disembarked from the Stahlratte’s dinghy at the port of Cartagena. On the one hand it had been an incredible voyage by sea across the Caribbean from Panama and the San Blas Islands. However, on the other hand, we all felt somewhat rueful at the thought of saying goodbye to one another after the raucous events of the past few days and the wonderful memories that we had forged together. But hey, we were in Cartagena – and in South America! – and it wasn’t over just yet.

We soon found out that the majority of our crew would be lodging in Getsemani, the slightly shabbier portion of Cartagena’s old town, for the next few days. So it was time to live it up and make the best of what time we had left. After dispersing to our respective guest houses, I found myself on my way to Hotel Holiday by bicycle to meet up with Justin, my Kiwi buddy from the Stahlratte voyage, completely unaware that we would become quite close over the next month and soon find ourselves journeying almost halfway across Colombia together.

Las MurallasOnce Justin and I had settled into our new home for almost the next two weeks we headed out for a promenade around the magnificent walled city of Cartagena before rendez-vous-ing with some of our other shipwrecked pals. It was truly a glorious place this Cartagena. The sultry Caribbean air was refreshed by cool breezes floating in over the sea as we casually meandered the charming colonial architectural relics of long gone pirating generations and the once thriving capitol of South America’s gold exportation days. Majestic rotundas and spires rose picturesquely above the shady cobble-stoned streets and from time to time a group of children or plump Afro-Colombian women would erupt into hypnotically fascinating traditional dances in the many palm lined plazas and parks.

Once Justin and I had braved the afternoon heat for several hours of strolling about, we retired to our room in Getsemani to relax and refresh ourselves before heading out to meet the others for a night of merriment off of the boat and in this new Caribbean paradise. After reuniting we found ourselves at a lovely old plaza in Getsemani, flanked on one side by a quaint canary-yellow colonial church and filled with chattering locals and the sound of Colombia’s tropical cumbia music drifting in the air.

Los Jugos de CartagenaWe weren’t sure of just how we intended to pass the next few hours together, but after spotting a lone jugo kiosk (a fresh fruit smoothie blending operation often found on the streets in Latin America), I was suddenly struck by a magnificent burst of inspiration. That was how we soon found ourselves all blending in among the locals, sipping on rum cocktails of mixed fruit smoothies with mango, papaya, banana, and other sweet endemic coastal Colombian fruits. It was a deliciously simple evening in the company of wonderful friends and one that I’ll surely never forget.

Over the next several days different members of our ship’s old crew began to filter out of Cartagena one by one – but not before a few of us were able to find new and unusual adventures to get into. As a number of us had wanted to head to the nearby mud volcano of Totumo further up the coast, we decided that this would make for a terrific last hurrah field trip. That was how we found ourselves (Sinead and Aaron, the Irish couple, Lindi and Aaron, the American couple, and Justin and myself) all sitting on one another’s laps, with two Colombian campesiños (country-folk) and a driver, all crammed into a tiny four door taxi for a one hour trip down a muddy, pot-holed dirt track to the boonies.

TotumoAlthough it seemed improbable at the time, we did all survive the trip and eventually made it to Totumo in one piece. The mud volcano indeed did turn out to be an experience unlike any other that any of us had ever experienced before in our lives and moments after arriving we were down to our skivvies and climbing the rickety wooden staircase of the tiny brown “volcano”. Upon reaching the summit we discovered a shimmering crater of viscous brown mud with a small handful of Colombian tourists up to their ears in the fluid, and began lowering ourselves into it one by one.

It was a wild sensation – the buoyant mud-bath had no discernible bottom (apparently it went down hundreds of feet to the source of the unusual muddy sediment deep below the earth’s surface), yet refused to let us sink below the surface for more than but a moment. We soon found ourselves giggling and smearing one another’s faces with mud while doing frozen Han Solo impressions with our mud-slicked bodies floating on the surface as if coated in some strange alien material.

Han Solo... and Princess LeyaAlmost two hours later, once we had had our fill of mud (in our mouths and ears as well), we headed out and down the stairs and were greeted by local body-washers in the lagoon down below. We went running into the water, tackling one another and tossing about some of the pesky children which had recently appeared. But this didn’t last for long as the skin and bones Afro-Caribbean ladies got hold of us and began scrubbing us down. Before we knew what was happening, they had our bathing suits off and we were left in the lake in all our naked splendor, being scrubbed by smooth talking Costeñas.

As we recomposed and redressed ourselves, made our way out of the lagoon and scrambled for change to tip the “body-washers”, we suddenly realized that the last bus to Cartagena from the main road would be leaving in fifteen minutes! We had not time to waste, we had to get out to that bus stop. But we were way out along a dirt side road that would take us at least half an hour to walk. There was only one solution, and as we heard the rumbling engines roaring up, we knew we had better hurry.

Look - No Mud!Moments later we were mounting onto motorcycle taxis, each of us mounting onto a different taxi behind the respective moto’s driver, and throwing our helmet on for the fast and bumpy ride out to the highway. I saw everyone else’s taxi tear off out of the Totumo area in a cloud of dust ahead of us as my driver was just starting up his engine and next thing I knew we were off. However, my ride wasn’t destined to be quite as simple as for the rest. Only two hundred meters into the journey we were laboring up a steep hill through the thickets and our motorcycle began to tip backwards! I half fell and half jumped backwards off the rig, barely landing on my feet and slightly shaken up.

Apparently these moto-taxis weren’t built for big and tall gringos. But my driver told me to run up to the top of the hill to meet him from where we would continue the ride. I sprinted up the remaining several meters, launched myself back onto the rear seat behind him, and this time cinched up a little closer to my driver in a very intimate position, not in a hurry to find myself rolling in the dusty trail behind us. We raced back into action and flew forward, practically flying over the many bumps in the road and desperately trying to catch up with the rest of my motorcycle riding party.

Jewel of the CaribbeanLess than ten minutes later we emerged from the underbrush and joined back up with the highway. Our motorcycle lurched up onto the pavement, turned sharply to the left and then once again sprang forward, shooting towards the other buzzing swarm of motorcycles disappearing over a hill in the near distance. The wind warm wind whipped against my shirtless skin as we made our way along the smooth highway and it wasn’t long before we were catching up with and then passing the rear stragglers of the party. We fell back into pace and only a short while later were slowing to a stop and hopping off our moto-taxis along the roadside to await the bus.

Fortunately, on the way back we managed to catch a somewhat more comfortable bus than the taxi which had borne us to Totumo and we sat in pleasant exhaustion throughout the ride back to Cartagena. Over the next two days the remnants of our friends who had journeyed with us from Panama disappeared back into the ether that is the backpacker world and Justin and I were left alone in the jewel of the Caribbean. However, after our buddies were all gone we began to feel the pangs of the “party’s over” syndrome and felt we had to get out of town.

Playa BlancaThe following day our luggage was in storage and we were on a ferry boat back out into the sea and on the way to Playa Blanca. The peninsular beach of Playa Blanca had been recounted to us as being a white sand paradise only a few hours from the port of Cartagena and so we thought that a little camping excursion along the turquoise waters would be a pleasant getaway for a few days. After several hours at sea and a stop at a tiny aquarium island, our boat drifted towards the remote shores of Playa Blanca and our ship’s passengers were loaded up onto the floating platform which bore us to shore.

The next two nights and three days living on Playa Blanca were indeed delectably paradisiacal however, what we hadn’t anticipated was the complete and interminable isolation. Yes, I had brought a book, but this was no match for the deserted shores of Playa Blanca. During the height of the afternoons, boatloads of tourists would arrive at the white sands, lounge under the swinging palm trees that bent desirously over the lapping waves, and within several short hours would once again load up and disappear – leaving us almost completely alone once again.

Massage-GirlJustin and I made sporadic conversation over the course of each day, with the recurring sarcastic theme of “ahh, paradoise” (in a New Zealand accent, that is), but towards the end of day two we knew that we couldn’t take much more. We had spent the entirety of those few short days roasting on the beach, slathering on sunscreen, haplessly trying to defend ourselves against the sly Afro-Caribbean massage ladies which would mysteriously appear behind us with their slippery hands on our shoulders (and other parts of Justin…), sleeping in a sandy tent and smoking the sweet fruits of the Caribbean by night. But it was nay enough to keep us entertained.

Then finally, as Justin spent his last few hours bobbing in the sparkling blue waters (which he basically did all day every day while we were there), I began readying our equipment for departure and soon we were plodding back up the beach to await our transport. By late afternoon we were back on board the Alcatraz (nice name for a ship to and from paradise, eh? Oh the irony…) and navigating our way back along the Colombian coast towards Cartagena. The sun was setting behind the infinite high-rises of Boca Grande as we pulled into harbor that afternoon, and boy were we glad to be back.

Boca GrandeNevertheless, Justin and I soon found ourselves restless to move on and continue our voyage deeper into the Colombian interior. It was soon time to say goodbye to the languid pace of Costeño life, the jugo kiosks and street ceviche (which yes, was a real bad idea in the first place…) and make our way up into the Southern hills. Once again we were hit with that same familiar bittersweet feeling as back when we had arrived in Cartagena many days before. However this time it was the sadness of definitively closing the Caribbean chapters of our Latin American Adventures and the excitement of embarking into the mysterious and unknown allures of what was to come in the approaching months of our foray down the spine of the fabled Andes.