Saturday, September 30, 2006

No subject, no pictures, just rambling (lucky I type fast)

Don´t have too much to say, so I will do a bit of rambling. I will be doing a hiking trip in a couple of days, so will be ¨öut of pocket¨ (an old work term, never to be used again, I promise) for a week or so, so don´t worry. Anyway, I recently got an email about how a simple bus ride becomes an adventure for me, so I figured I could elaborate on a few other daily tasks, that when observed from the right perspective, are an adventure.

Donkey and horse

The other day, I was waiting for a friend when I heard a donkey. Upon further investigation, I noticed the donkey dragging the guy holding it over to a horse, swiftly mountint it, lasting about 20 seconds, and swiftly returning to a state where one needs to examine if it is a he or a she, if you know what I mean. In the meantime, the phrase should should be ¨hung like a donkey¨ as the event was quite impressive. I later learned that donkey horse mixes are excellent work animals, and that the animal was purposely being bred, not just a moment of passion in which the animal overcame the strength of man.

Private dance lessons

On Thursday night, I went out with my friends to my local bar. I really like the sound of that. The bar, I had been at every day I was in Chiquinquira, and knew the staff. That doesn´t happen in the States, so I feel like I am allowed to call it my local bar. In any case, after that, I went dancing and realized I have no rhythmn.

I think I will cut this story short though, as I realize it is not interesting, and while I learned a little bit, I much more enjoyed watching dancing than actually attempting to dance myself. I did enjoy being everyone´s project, and also realized that night that I really need to improve my spanish. I am getting better, but the little things needed for deeper conversation are definitely missing.

Kids delay my departure

The following morning, Friday the 29th, I was going to catch a bus earlier, but decided to take a small detour to go to the square one more time. It turns out that there was a procession of kindergartners and such from all the private schools in the city having a parade. This was cute in that they were wearing uniforms from World cup teams, with S. Korea and Brazil being especially adorable Posted is a pic of them dressed as the US team.

This ended up delaying me 4 hours as I followed the parade all the way through town, and to a colliseum where they all proceeded to stop playing music, and do dance routines. Some interesting observtions. When the traffic in town was stopped for probably close to an hour, I did not see one person upset. All seemed to be smiling. Also, while watching the kids, I was approached by Ramiro, the Mayor of Otanche´s, wife, and a friend of mine from the bar. This happens a lot, where the kids and wife practically live in a larger city in order to get a better education. This is the case with my friend Mario in Otanche, whose wife lives in Bogota, and with several minors I spoke to, who work and return to Bogota when they can to visit their children. One specifically told me he moved his family so that his kids could one day maybe go to a University in the U.S.

And here I am trying to figure out how to go to School in Columbia.

Another bus story

Yesterday, I took a bus from Chiquinquira to Bucaramanga. The bus ride was beautiful, as the country side here has few comparisons. In any case, I had occasionally shared a piece of gum, a wafer, or a tic tac with the driver, some passengers, and the drivers helper, so after we got the station, I asked them if it was worth staying here, or if I should move on. In any case, after they clocked out, they invited me out and I got a room at their hotel (it had cable, very evil, and cost about $6) We went out, I had my first shoe cleaning of my life since my shoes were all muddy, bought some Columbian music, was informed I should pay about $10 less than I was quoted from my bus to Sta. Marta, and once again spoke of mining, life, etc... We also had several beers (except for the driver, who did not drink as they have a blow test before driving every morning) After several drinks, I inquired about whether their constant whistling and hissing at women had was successful. After a few funny answers, I realized it only ever worked with friends. I also took it upon myself to go interview a couple of local ladies who agreed with me, and said that simply introducting yourself and saying hello was better, and that the whistling occasionally worked with women of less moral fortitude.
The picture is of me eating with the bus driver and ticket collector, as well as with the guy who cleaned my shoes and the waitress of the restaurant.



Bread and a smile

Today, after watching a couple of movies, doing a few push-ups, and taking a shower; I walked around Bucaramanga. I ate all sorts of street food which included bread filled with exotic fruits, juices, an apple (yes, I am very healthy) Tamales, and sugar coated nuts. The whole city has many parks, and today it was one big market of food and flowers and whatever. In any case, I bought some rolls at a bakery and liked the smile of one of the girls. After walking about for a while, I tried to trace my way back as to not get lost, and figured I would buy some more rolls for the road. When I returned, the smiling girl with red hair was not there, but when I got the counter, nobody would serve me as they all shouted around until she came from around the corner to serve me, with everyone in giggles. I proceeded to finish my book in that bakery, drinking very fruit juices, always served to me directly with a smile. Lame, I know.

These little stories may not seem like much, but I am trying to enjoy the little things. I haven´t heard a word of english in the past week, unless it was somebody asking me in an accent, ¨hello¨ or me cussing because I don´t know the word I am looking for. Please email me if you can. I enjoy getting them.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Villa de Leiva and an interesting van ride




This morning I headed to Villa de Leiva, which is a nice colonial town, with many beautiful churches (all closed, see picture as I had to put at least one church online) I also witnessed a great race when I was there, which was one of the most enterntaining I have seen in a while, with a bunch of kids on bikes and a clown and police.


Van Adventure

Anyway, I missed a bus on the way back to Chiquinquira. It was supposed to leave at 2p.m. I was there at 1:58, and figured I had time to go to the bathroom. I could have told the bus(van) driver that I would be a minute, but he left when the bus was full. In any case, after I came out, and the bus was gone (not leaving, gone!) I asked someone, why it left early. What I then witnessed was amazing. It consisted of a little bit of running, a few whistles, a bus that then stopped (a bus leaving thinking I wanted to be on board and then honking its horn) which then led to a group of people around another corner to start whistling. All the while, I started running to where all the noise was, and where the people were waving. No less than 4 blocks of running and the bus was waiting for me. Oh, it was full, but in reality, they are never full. Think full size van with 16 people. I got in and off we were. I love the busses here because they are very fast, they are very flexible (you just say when to stop, or wave to be picked up) and they are quite cheap. Once a few people got off and I got a seat, I noticed the man next to me pouring down Aguardiente (a liquor similar to Sambuca) like there was no tomorrow. Then, he actually starting whistling at the driver like he wanted to stop (in the middle of no where) but actually started to lecture the driver on safety and slowing down. He explained to me that the roads weren´t safe, but I enjoyed the rollercoaster type rides. After he got off, the driver had to go after him because he hadn´t paid. Oh yeah, and we stopped in the middle of the road once while the drive crawled under the van to make some sort of throttle adjustment.

Anyway, it was a good time. No picture of that really, so use your imagination.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Raquira and Candelaria del Desierto




On Tuesday I went to Raquira, a small artisan town specializing in pottery. It was interesting to see the kilns, and the various art, nice central plaza, interesting colors, etc... After a short while however, I decided to go to the Candelaria del Desierto which is a monastery in the Desert. I asked a local man how long of a walk, and when he told me 45 minutes I headed off. 2 hours later, I ran into him at his house on the road there, and realized I should have waited the 30 minutes for the Collective taxi to leave.


In any case, we had a drink at his house, and I continued on(see picture) The walk had great views of Raquira and the neighboring farms. Once I arrived, I was starving and was told to knock on a random wooden door which was supposed to be a restaurant. I had the place to myself, and took a picture of the courtyard. The food was excellent, and I took a short nap there next to the stream. After waking up, I went to the monastery where I received a tour, once again, by myself. It was interesting to hear about how the monks used to live, and admire some of the things in the museum, which included 400 year old furniture, 300 year old bibles, and an old Victrola and Apple computer. It was a very relaxing day.

Otanche, an Emerald in the Rough


After the birthday BBQ on the farm; Mario, Emilcen, and I took a bus to their hometown of Otanche. It was a bumpy journey that took almost 4 hours. Once we arrived, Mario and I had a couple of drinks at the bar he owned, right on the corner of the main plaza. On a side note, Otanche is a small town, and Mario literally knows everyone. Throughout my time there, I met so many people daily, and all were extremely friendly. It is also quite difficult to get to, and all the vehicles there are 4 wheel drive, mostly dominated by all models of Toyota Landcruisers.



The following morning (Sunday 9-24-2005) we had a HUGE breakfast of soup, plantain, and largest piece of chicken I have ever seen. We then went to Cosquez, an emerald mine that is the main industry in the area. The drive, and the area in general, was absolutely gorgeous. Very green, steep hills with great views. Once we arrived at the mine, we strolled around and I met a friendly miner that took me into one of the "cortes" which are small holes in the mountain or mines. It was very interesting, and I was extremely dirty in no time, after climbing up ladders in tiny little tunnels deep in the rock.


After my short adventure, we went to the nearby Emerald market, which didn´t look like a market at all, until you inquired about buying emeralds, and were immediately swamped by people selling. Many thousands of dollars are exchanged there daily. It was quite the adventure, and I had my friend Mario do all my negotiating for me, as i really had no idea what a quality emerald looked like.


Once we started back to Otanche, the taxi driver (Cesar) became excited, and wanted to go to some caverns which were pretty much unknown in the region, and definitely never seen by anyone but some local farm boys. After visiting the emerals museum, which was free and owned by a miner who did well, I was convinced to take a bus the next morning, and we were off on our new adventure. This included asking 4 different farmer families for directions, only one even knowing what we were talking about. The directions consisted of looking up at the mountains and say, it is up there where there is rock, more or less. Anyway, after about an hour, we were lost. Me and Cesar´s son Daniel were having a blast, getting all muddy, making our way through dense jungle while Cesar was upset he left his Machete in the car. In any case, we ended up finding the entrance and it was beautiful.


Unfortunately, my small led headlamp and our 2 flashlights were not sufficient, and were using cell phones and my camera screen for extra light. Several pictures did turn out pretty well, since there was so little light we really didn´t know what we saw until we looked at the pictures later. In any case, after that hike, without water or food, we were glad when each farmer offered us a drink. We had milk and various juices before heading back. Then, the negotiation began about how we should have another adventure the next day, and that I should once again postpone my bus. We agreed to meet at 6a.m. for a trip to Pena Blanca, another mine in the area, and another beautiful drive.


That morning, the 4 of us set off again, with Cesar even letting me drive his Landcruiser part of the way to this town that basically consisted of a couple of wooden building housing some miners, owned by the family running the mine. It sort of reminded me of the wild west, with horses hauling things, every male carrying a gun, etc.. The owner gave us a tour of yet another mine, with huge quartz veins and intricate tunnels. One of the pictures is of the owner holding one of the many great formations they find while mining. Many of the miners live there for 20 days, returning to the city to visit their family and then returning. After returning to Otanche, I almost agreed to stay longer. It was an excellent time.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Rural Colombia, the Adventure I was looking for!

After leaving Bogota, I was planning on going to the north coast to do a week long trek to the lost city of the Tayrona (indigenous people) It was only recently discovered in teh 70´s I think, and several travelers recommended. On the way, however, I was going to stop by this Salt Church, deep underground in a salt mine and a place called Villa de Leiva, which is also a beautiful little colonial town. Anyway, here I am, almost 1 week later and haven´t made it that far. I did make it to the church, but then on a bus ride (2 hours, standing most of the way) I met Marlen, who was going to Chiquinquira for a birthday party. In any case, after meeting up with her husband (Mario) and a friend (Emilcen). We had dinner, went for a walk, had a few drinks at a bar, and had an incredible night. For instance, after that, I was invited to their family farm the next day for grilling, I met the mayor of Otanche where I subsequently went with Mrrio for a few incredible days, and met Margarita, Monica, and Jenny, 3 great girls from the town. Needless to say, I haven´t seen another tourist for the past week. Now for some pics:

This is the only picture that turned up in the Salt Cathedral, located in Zipaquira. It is an underground salt mine which they build a cathedral out of. Very large to say the least.

The gentlemen in the picture is "Ingeniero", a great guy who owns the bar and is an Environmental Engineer, and "el Alcalde" Ramiro, mayor of Otanche. When I went to this bar with Mario (from Otanche) and Marlen (Mario´s wife who I met on the bus/van) I met them, as well as several others and had a great night. I also met Margarita, Monica, and Jenny that night, 3 local ladies who were very interesting, and I enjoyed our long conversation immensely.
The following morning, I joined Marlen, Mario, and Emilcen at their family farm where we had incredible food. I met the family and we talked, walked, and told jokes (almost all of which I didn´t understand or did a horrible job of translating) We also ate unbelievable amounts of food, including soup, chicken, beef, potatoes, salsa, and a fair portion of beer as well. It was a great time.

Bogota, Colombia

I was supposed to leave for Caracas Venezuela, but missed my flight and then subsequently changed it to Bogota Columbia. So far that has been a great decision. I also love this city. I have visited more museums here in one day than in my entire time in Tucson. A bit hypocritical, I know, but I had the time and was wandering about, and they all just sort of appeared. One dealt with gold from indigenous people, one churches, and one was the private collection of a Columbian artist, Botero (everything he paints looks really fat)Anyway, he had many famous works (Picasso, and many more I know how to say, but not how to spell).
Guess from what museum this is from?

Anyway, I also wandered by the Palace as they were about to change the guard. That was phonomenal. They do it every 3 days, and there was almost nobody to watch. Much better than the often touted affair that happens elsewhere in the world. The below pictures of the red guards physically took down and folded the flag, and are dressed in the original military uniform, the second picture is of the current guard that were changing.


That first evening I went out with a couple of British guys, and met up with some Spaniards, an Irish guy, and a Swiss guy. After getting some dinner, we spoke with some locals who recommended a club we hadn´t heard of, called LA PISCINA. I thought I was leading them to a better place than where they were planning on going, and felt bad when we ended up in the red light district amongst strip clubs, transexuals, and underaged prositutes. In any case, I didn´t feel so bad when we ended up where we were supposed to go, and the electricity was out. We ended up at a bar, split a bottle of rum (the Brits bailed after being mislead at the strip clubs (which we didn´t bother entering) and went home shortly before the sun rose.

The next day (Thursday Sept 24), I ate excellent tamales before going up Monserrate, which offered incredible views. Monica, who I met the evening before, introduced me to the tamales, and we went for a bit of a hike up Monserrate. Quite a lovely day, which included another museum, some internet time at the local university, and the spectacular views from above. Below is a picture of Monica eating tamales, and the view from Monserrate.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Costa Rica - Robbed!

After renting a car, I drove to Arenal. Shortly I will put a picture of the road, but I would say there were more pot holes than actual pavement. After a short hike, I was througoughly drenched, but did get the opportunity to hear what I thought was the volcano erupting. It spewed out a some smoke and looked really cool. see picture below.

Anyway, after that, I headed to Nosara where a friend I met on the plane offered to let me stay at his place. It is also plagued with potholes, but the rental car made it fine. The beach there has excellent surf, and I practiced a bit the following morning and evening, until the sun set.
Below are pictures of me surfing and the road.




During the afternoon, I went to see a plot of land my friend purchased and intends to subdivide a bit. I was definitly interested after realizing it borders a nature reserve, and after walking back along the river to do a bit of swimming in the waterfalls. That same evening, being that it was Costa Rican Independence day, I splurged on a fancy buffet with typical food, and live music.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot, while surfing at the beach, the car got broken into. Don´t worry, it was the best possible robbery in history. I only had around $20 in my wallet, they only took one debit card, and left the wallet. also, they didn´t damage the vehicle, but picked the lock. The lock was slightly damaged, but the rental place didn´t care. In any case, I hope to straighten out the debit card issue in Atlanta. I figure I am bound to be robbed, and this worked out perfectly. a bit of money, a debit card, and some cheap sunglasses.

Well, I am in Tegucigalpa now, after a day long bus journey. I will fly to Atlanta tomorrow, where I hope to add several pictures.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Nicaragua

I spent the last couple of days in Nicaragua. It was really charming and the people were very warm. Granada was an absolutely excellent city, with colonial style houses, a great square, etc... The morning there I spent walking around, and had a seafood soup, which can be seen below. I should be much healthier now though, I was told to suck the brain out through the eyes. I can´t say it tasted great, nor can I say I feel much better. Maybe I am smarter now though?

In any case, to get Granada, I had to take a taxi from Managua, with several others. It was Sunday and there were no more buses. I had an excellent conversation with the driver about prices, the economic state, etc.. Here are a few details. A factory worker earns aprox. $40 per month, for a 8 hour day, but all work overtime to get to about $100 per month, or 16 hour days. Also, there is a major power problem there, where the power gets shut off nightly. THe KW costs $0.80-0.90, so most people are hooked up illegaly. Anyway, I will write more later.



After leaving Granada, I headed to San Juan del Sur to try and learn to do a bit of surfing. The sunset is of the bay, the night I arrived. The picture of the bus is similar to the one I took there (about $1, 2 hours), but my bus was passing this bus when I took the picture. Keep in mind, that I didn´t ride on the top of the bus, though that was an option. I did chose to ride in the bus, crowded as it was, because I am slowly maturing and being much safer, so need to worry about me.

The following morning, I rented a board, and headed to that bay, but the waves were too small to ride. I then caught a shuttle (a broken down looking pickup truck which carried 8 boards, 2 boogie boards, and 10 people) down a really bad dirt road to a famous beach called Playa Madera. There, on the other hand, the waves were too big to surf, and I boogie boarded most of the day. The funny part of the ride, however, was that I met a girl named Rebecca Zgraggen. We started off speaking Spanish, then realized we could speak english, and I eventually found out she grew up in my mom´s hometown in Switzerland and we actually knew people. In any case, that was an excellent lazy day at the beach.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The unplanned adventure begins

Until now, I have been in a relaxed state, staying with friends, on a pretty laid back island diving, in a secure situation throughout, etc… Today though, the unplanned portion of my travels began. After taking a Ferry and arriving in La Ceiba, I wanted to get back to San Pedro, to catch a 5a.m. bus. I asked a couple of young German tourists if they wanted to split a cab to the bus station (I was going to go to the luxury buses but they wanted to save $4 and take the cheaper non a/c buses.) In any case, they had also been in negotiations with a taxi driver, the two taxi drivers began charging less and less to get our business. In the end, what is published as a fixed fare of 35 lempiras/person(~$2) became 10 lempiras ($0.50) and ended with several taxi drivers cussing at our driver and promising to get him suspended for 15 days for undercutting them. Upon arrival at the bus station, of course my bus was already late to leave, and was now waiting for me. I quickly paid, kindly corrected the gentleman who shorted me 100 lempiras on the change, and then pulled my passport and some books out of my bag before it was checked under the bus. This always makes me paranoid, especially when everything is rushed, and a random stranger points at the guy who grabbed by bag and ran off and told me “ladron”, which means thief. I took off after the guy, and found him at the back of the bus, putting my bag in the bus. I asked the driver if it was possible to take it on, and was insured it was safe. 4 hours later, it was still there.

Below you will see a picture of me coming off my last dive, and a picture of me enjoying a drink and game of chess around sunset on my last night on the island.

Some pictures to post

Below are several pictures of the trip so far.

The first is Raul Jordan along the inside wall of a Spanish fortress (San Fernando de Omoa), just west of Cortes. The second I took of Raul from inside the fortress jail. Alas, it only took me 2 days to end up in jail again.




This picture of Marek Fabian (an EX-coworker from Slovakia) and Raul Jordan (my generous host in San Pedro) was taken at a restaurant in Copan, where Mel Gibson recently stayed.



The picture of my backpack and serving tray are in La Ceiba. It is just to show you how much I am bringing, and my creative security measures in shady accommodations (anyone opens the door, the tray falls, etc….) Notice how the deadbolt doesn't actually attach to anything as the wood it did go into has been broken off the wall.




That is all for now, as I am about to endure 20+ hours buses and several days of travel getting to Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Ciao,
Christoph

Friday, September 08, 2006

Advanced open water diver status obtained

Tomorrow is my last day on Roatan. It has been a great time. I am on the beach, doing internet stuff at the moment, and about to go to the opening of a new bar on the West End. I have been doing a lot of diving, and today went to a wreck and completed my advanced open water certification. I also have a scooter rented and have been exploring the island. It is booming, and will likely not be the quaint place I will remember several years from now. in any case, I will write more when I have more time. At the moment, writing online is not a priority.