Archive | October, 2013

That Time I Got Stuck In a Jungle Rainstorm Wearing Flipflops

29 Oct

When Christy and Jenny invite me to Minca I say, “of course,” but I knew there was going to be a problem when we decided to go to a nearby club in Taganga the evening before our departure.

The drinking starts early and doesn’t stop.  I take it easy because alcohol certainly hasn’t been lacking on this trip, which is the real explanation for my recent lack of adventure. Though, per usual, I dance my butt off, starting in the hostel and not stopping until the morning light starts to come through.

Of course, we are friends with the bartender and of course his name is Lancelot: a tall, dark, gorgeous Parisian who reeks of the best kind of trouble.

When he told me his name I couldn’t believe it, but then again the characters keep on coming.

Lancelot is joined by Ralph, a red-headed chef with a childlike sense of glee, Steve, the sculpted South African and Chris, who engineers roller-coasters and has no idea how good he is at dancing.

I became friends with this motley crew the day after I arrived in Santa Marta, forcing my way through because I wanted to be a part of their fun.

Little did I know that my Medellin friend Christy had already met them earlier, but then time and time again I’m reminded that you don’t need a phone for synchronicity.

The next day I awake to Ralph’s face telling me that, “we have to leave in 20 minutes,” Christy is woken up the same way only she’s told that she only has five.

Jenny and I shove everything we have in our bags, but Christy sits her the hammock that goes everywhere with her, lights up a cigarette and says, “do we have to go with everyone else? Can’t we take the bus?”

Lancelot declares that, “the bus is shit,” and Ralph doesn’t really care, but after an hour of debating we decide Minca will be better the next day.

So when we’re ready the next the cab driver is late, and  Jenny turns to us to say, “considering our track record, can we blame him?”

Finally, I find myself in a taxi that is going over a rocky jungle road, and I look out the window to see towns that I can barely believe.

Bamboo trees cross each other and lean against fat tree trunks that carry leaves that are half my size.  The beauty is endless and almost redundant; it repeats itself time and again.

It is in the cab that we learn that it is impossible to get to our next destination, Palomino beach, from Minca.  This means there was no reason for us to drag along every bag we owned.

However, it is not until we’re dropped off in the small, dilapidated city square that we’re told it’s a 30 minute hike through the jungle to our hostel.

I think, “this is a real backpacking moment,” because there I am, hiking through the jungle wearing a sundress, long earrings and flip-flops, while carrying a bag that is half my size.

My legs barely lift me up the bamboo steps and I almost topple over sideways, but Christy helps me readjust my backpack.  Apparently, I had been wearing it wrong this whole trip.

Finally, we make it to Oscar’s place, which is not like anything we had pictured.  The “hostel” is really a house of wood and stone overlooking scenery that leaves words speechless.

Of course, four dogs await us, as well as hammocks and a high, hostel owner.

Oscar, who’s originally from LA, speaks perfect English and tells us that he built the house himself 20 years ago, using mules to transport the materials.

We ask how to get to the nearby waterfall, and as Oscar gives us directions, he warns, “it’s going to rain,” but my experienced backpacker friends encourage me to keep my flip-flops on.

“Anyway,” I think, “my hiking boots are at the bottom of my bag,” though I do change into shorts and a tank top.

After a large lunch of an unnameable soup, chicken, rice and beans we begin our hike.  Immediately, I curse myself for my large lunch as I try to ignore my nausea.

We traipse across a blacktop road that is so rocky it clearly ruins cars.  People whizz by us on motos and bikes and we gently tease the two dogs that have adopted us for the day.

Fifteen minutes pass and we begin to wonder where we are really walking to; it is then we learn that the waterfall is 50 minutes away.  Still, while uphill, the road is somewhat easy and my flip-flops are feeling fine.

It is not until we turn down some off-road path that it begins to pour.  The raindrops are so fat that I feel a slight ache as each one breaks against me.  Lightening and thunder follow.

The mud begins to suck up our shoes so Jenny and Ralph happily go barefoot.  In fact, Jenny never stops singing.

I want to shout, cry, or steal Christy’s watershoes, but instead I pretend I am just fine; that I am, “enjoying this new and authentic backpacking experience.”

This becomes harder when I am bit by a fireant.  Until that moment I hadn’t known that fireants existed, and since we had just arrived at the waterfall, I just stand there frozen trying not to panic.

Pain shoots through my toe, and I begin to pray even harder.  Finally, as everyone is stripping down to their bathing-suits, I explain my pain.

“Oh, it’s just a fireant,” Jenny says, “once I stepped in a nest of them, that was the worst,” and so I quickly shut-up and stand at the edge of the unimpressive waterfall with my feet in the water, silently hoping we soon begin the long hike back.

“Umm, it’s getting late,” I say, and for once I am right.

As we slip up rocks through mud, an enormous mud-puddle sucks up my foot, and my sandal breaks.  This is when I start to laugh because I know on some level I have been asking for this experience.

Any illusions of control are gone; there I am, in gorgeous Mother Nature, getting completely fucked.

So, I decide to like it as best as I can.  I bend down and by some miracle quickly fix my sandal because I have already learned that my feet are still too tender for the rocks.

The rain doesn’t stop, Jenny sings, and occasionally I join.  I am filthy, soaked through, shivering, but there is no shelter.

An hour and half later we make it back to the square and the men leaning against motos laugh at us.  We buy dinner supplies and it’s then I realize that the trek back to Oscar’s Place doesn’t seem so long.


Medellin and Cartagena Take II

29 Oct

You’re standing on a table on top of a rooftop and the music is vibrating through your feet and the Irish boy is looking at you and you know he wants to kiss you and later you let him because why not?

This is Colombia: hot, scandalous, interesting and a bit dangerous.  You don’t recognize yourself here.  You’re darker than you’ve been in a long time and people ask you if you’re from Argentina.

You sleep in dorm beds that remind you of sleepaway camp and pick up new friends each day.  You ride on searing hot buses through jungles and you know that men could come up in machetes and take everything away, but that happens so rarely.

It really all began in Cartagena; that colonial town that inspired Gabriel Garcia Marquez who you never really liked until you read him in Cartagena, though you get called, “middle class,” for saying so.

This is a continual conversation: class.  You’re told you’re from a class,”mass alta,” and because that’s something you have never really thought about you know it’s true.

On buses, in taxes, on foot with your gigantic backpack strapped on, you pass by houses made of grass and plastic with thatched or corrugated tin roofs.  The children come out to point, laugh and feed the too skinny dogs.

After Cartagena you go back to Medellin even though it wasn’t in, “the plan.”  The plan was shot to hell anyway, though when asked why you returned you didn’t really know.  You said it was desire but it was an answer not a reason.

But saying goodbye to Cartagena was hard.  You stayed an extra day and danced in the streets because Colombia won the futbol game.  In your hostel you watched people do cocaine and talk too much, so you left at three in the morning and slept on a couch.

The Americans convinced you to stay.  They arrived just in time to watch you roll all your clothes up and stuff them into your bag.  You constantly cracked jokes because it was just such a relief to speak American and you told them about the time you were 21 and made four dollars dancing in a strip club even though you weren’t on stage.

You told them about the Uruguayan who followed you around Playa Blanca and reminded you of some character that stepped out of a Llargas novel; the kind that still believes in romantic love.

He said, “Samantha I have nothing to offer you but your face is like a poem,” and you sat together on the concrete walls of Cartagena that once protected the old port city.

You sipped whiskey and then declared, “stay!”  You then told strangers your life story and danced in the middle of the circles that surrounded you.   But the next day you hopped on a plane, went backwards and drank more rum because you felt nervous.

In Medellin one day lead into another.  You went to the Botanic gardens and sipped sugar water because you were so dehydrated; you went to quaint restaurants, sipped wine and tried to be funny.  You cooked large meals and went to some unmarked club while two Colombian men tried to convince you to be their second girlfriends.

You slept in and became spoiled because the dorm beds started to drift away.  You began to lose the whole purpose of why you left.  You said you would leave the next day but then you didn’t and you were glad because you would’ve missed so much.

But you knew your belly was becoming soft and your feet tender.  You knew your muscles were shrinking in on themselves and that the feel of your weighted backpack was beginning to leave you.

You wondered if this was now your new forever, even though you knew that thought was fleeting, and you washed it down with your Paisa breakfast of eggs, rice, beans, sausage, ground beef and chicharron.

You knew you couldn’t stay one more day even though you wanted to, and when he used the word resentment you were glad that you had planned to go.

He was right anyway, to stay would mean not to move; not to strike your feet down unto the rocks and leave your sandals behind in the mud.

Because that’s what happened.  It stormed more the once.  When the plane took off back to Cartagena you were so frightened that you began to pray.  It dropped twice, then went sideways and righted itself.  You had a small scotch to calm your shaking hands.

When you landed the old man sitting next to you practically adopted you and made sure you got to your hostel, though you told him, “you’d call him,” when he asked to breakfast in the morning.

The Argentinean on the front steps helped you with your bag and told you that you had, “beautiful eyes and a good energy,” and you wondered how one man leads into the next even when you don’t want them.

It was Cartagena for only one night, and again it was hard to go but for this time there was no reason; it just has a piece of you forever.  You are leaving pieces of yourself all over, and when you learned in Yoga class that Colombia was supposedly the earth’s heart chakra you believed it because Colombia clearly has yours.


Now and Then

18 Oct

You walk away from everything like you always do.  You can never walk away quietly; it is always fire.

You wonder why you are like this – why it has to be this way, but then you know that you never want anything to come back to.

This is how your life is – one circle of flames on top of the other, spiraling up toward some purpose you hope is waiting for you.

Because that must be it, and if it isn’t, at least you burn.

And as you watch your former lives fall away you know that you feel younger now than you did then.  And you know this time the finger on the match was yours.

And you know now new flames are being lit within, connecting back into the belief that all that you thought you were capable of is still there.

This is your responsibility; to grasp onto your own inner belief, grasp onto what you belief you can provide to serve wherever you land.

But you don’t know where that is, and you don’t know how long you’ll drift, and you don’t know how long you will want to be alone, free and beholden to none.

You only know now is the reckoning, or the change, or the space that you needed to look back at your own creation; to look back at all you destroyed and walked away from; to look back and see what’s left of you when you return.

For now it is disconnection, uneven terrain, passion and silence.  It is a pen in a hand and paper that no one will read.

It is stories that won’t ever be told; it is cities that have no return.  It is a map to nowhere and a destination that is foggy; it is the echoes between the mountains, in valleys that reflect back the sound of your own making.


Cartagena and Playa Blanca – a lesson in planning

9 Oct

Traveling, as a job is interesting because it is not constant movement.  Many people initially approach traveling this way and soon get exhausted.  Novice travelers start out with schedules, maps and the experienced ones roll their eyes at the word, “plans.”

At first these reactions annoyed me.  These people didn’t know me, and my plans were flexible.  However, as the days, and now weeks pass I can see how soon I will narrow my eyes at those I just meet and silently wish them good luck.

Traveling is a culture in and of itself; it is a wandering community with no official destination.

Professional travelers land in cities, bunk down in dorm beds and sip on cheap beer.  They will sometimes engage in the tourist activities and they will sometimes only stay for one night.

However, that one night could lead into the next and suddenly they possess a job at the hostel and are learning that they can bribe the police to let them get away with anything.

I was determined not to really become one of these drifters.  In Cartagena, I immediately made friends, went off to Playa Blanca and then suddenly decided to stay for three days.

Me and my new Peruvians friends rented a wooden shack with a grass-thatch roof that changed from brown to green when the rains drenched the entire beach.

We ate fish at a white plastic table that sat near the near sea.  The owner of the shacks lit candles and we watched the fierce lightening string itself across the sky.

Of course, we talked about sex because that’s what women do together when they’re on an almost deserted beach and no one can judge them.

The next day I felt the need to stay and unlike my new friends I had nowhere I had to be.  So I stayed, and swam in the Caribbean in the rain.  The tourists didn’t come because the boats weren’t allowed to cross the choppy water.

My “shower” was a wooden stall that I could enter between the hours of 5-7 pm, and I was given a bucket of water to dump on my head.  The bathroom wasn’t much different and my clothes became encrusted with salt from the water.

After three days my plans encouraged me to jump on a boat and return to Cartagena.  I had to go to Santa Marta, Tyrona and the Surf Camp.  “Seeing everything,” was egging me on.

Then I realized my legs were covered in bites, so I waited a day for them to heal, and my sandals got stolen so shopping was a must, and then it became obvious that it was time to do my laundry.  So one day stretched into the next and these days stacked on top of one another and my plans became so weak I just didn’t listen.

Now, four days later with a flight to Medellin on Friday I realized that even that flight was a foolish plan.  I will board the plane, and happily say goodbye but now I know that I will always need more time.

And that’s when it becomes interesting; it’s not the constant leaving but where you decide to stay and why.  It’s having no boundaries or commitments.  It’s the realization you can just stay in a city for as long as you like and slowly discover it at will.

It’s the slow unfolding of one day into the next without belonging to or owing anyone anything.

Stopping at The Pit Stop – a crash course in hostel living & adventures in Guatape

6 Oct

In Cartagena, it’s so hot that my nail-polish melts off onto the white sheets of my dormitory bed.  For an entire day I don’t realize what’s happening and think there are random red stains on my bed, which I try to ignore.

This is hostel living: dirty, communal and at times uncomfortable.  Things like showering or changing are not exactly private.  The curtain doesn’t close all the way, or you’re too short to fling your towel onto the rod.  Instead, it flops into the big puddle that is left after your shower.  Then you can’t really dry off or cover yourself.

As an only child this is a huge adjustment for me.  I was first introduced to the realities of hostel living in Medellin.  After a luxurious evening at my friend’s apartment, I packed up and happily went off to The Pit Stop.  The name should have been the clue.

It reminded me of the large fraternities that stately sat on the Indiana University campus – empty beer bottles and a kitchen that wasn’t entirely clean.

I was a bit horrified, and mentioned my horror to my new friends not knowing that some of them had been living there for months.

That’s another thing about Medellin.  People come for a visit and then never leave.  They get seduced by the climate, which is a Spring that never quits, or they fall in love with the location.  A white, hilly town full of flowers that sits in a valley surrounded by some of the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen.

I meet a man with a neck tattoo who is living off his army pention and found a girlfriend on the Colombian version of OkCupid.  I learn later that he had to date her Mom first, stating his salary and intentions.

Then there is the kind, cross-eyed computer engineer who talks like he just strutted out of Silicon Valley.  He tells me and Christy, the Texan, that his greatest relationship started the night his face got burned.  We both laughed, but secretly agreed his lack of scars made his story an absolute lie.

These are the kinds of people you meet traveling – confused, broken, happy, searching, or enjoying the break that life gave them.

Those with the breaks are the ones with the time limits because they have something or somewhere to go back to, and these people are the ones who are most interested in exploring.  This is how I end up tagging along with three Australian Jews who just graduated law school.

I find out that they grew up in the same community in Melbourne and that their plan is to ride the Metrocable that stops at the EcoPark.  This is a “must see” in Medellin, and so I invite myself because I really don’t know how to navigate anywhere on my own.

We hop on the subway, which is better than anything I have seen in the States, and then jump onto what looks like a Ski Lift.  A hanging car from a wire that lifts us up over the city and into the mountains.

My companions talk constantly, and a part of me wishes they would be silent and appreciate everything that we are flying over.  It’s not only the trails and mountain shrubs, but the Communas – shanty towns with corrugated tin roofs that stretch out for miles.  The mass of humanity that inhabits these towns is like a world onto to itself.  It is a life that I can’t really imagine, though it puts my hostel grumbles into perspective.

Eventually, we arrive at the EcoPark.  It is fresh, cool and completely boring.  We stop to eat a mediocre lunch and then I spend the next few hours writing in my journal, and trying to engage the others in conversation.

Time passes by slowly and finally we ride the cable back into the station.  I sit alone on the subway and watch the three of them talk.  That night I spend my time making new friends.

This is how I end up getting invited to Guatape with a similar, solo female traveler.  That next morning we lazily awake, eat bread, and then I ride my very first South American bus to a tiny town that sits on a river and is full of colors.

The town itself is not the attraction; it’s the massive, meteorite of a rock that draws people.  It’s 740 steps all the way to the top with surreal views that exist in dreams people strive to remember.

Of course, I secretly puke before the climb because I order a weird mango drink with milk.  However, after my hostel complaints, I stay determined not to let my friends know the state I’m in.

I wheeze all the way to the top and stop every 100 steps.  The altitude is a bit crushing, but eventually when I climb the 740th step the view leaves me speechless.

We stay until we are kicked out, and then we hop onto an army truck (back into town) that the United States dropped down into South America after WWII because we had too many and we didn’t know what to do with all of the metal.

The truck drops us off in the center of town near a gorgeous church that has clearly been there since its beginning.  I wander into the services, but the Spanish is beyond me.

Dinner is skipped, and I am more than okay with that, but as we walk the streets we are invited into a fiesta.

The town is inhabited by 18-20 year old army cadets who joined to travel and for opportunities.  They all have sweet girlfriends, and they tell us that they rented out the bar to celebrate surviving their first few weeks.  My two companions watch me as I salsa with the giggling boys and girls.

The next day we see them in uniform carrying large guns and shy smiles.

Eventually, we cross the bridge back to bed, and I climb up top with my book, and decide that if there’s anything I could get used to it’s living like this for a long, long time.

I Thought I Was In Medellin

2 Oct

It’s midnight and no one is waiting for me at the airport in Medellin.  I am admittedly tipsy and am recovering from spilling my coffee all over the man who was sitting in front of me on the airplane.

“Que pena,” the passengers sitting around me exclaim – what a pain you are.

I didn’t mean to get tipsy before flying, but I also hadn’t planned being taken to a beerfest that day.  I consider my options and decide to call the hostel I booked, though I know the call will just add to an already sky-high phone bill.  Apparently, T-mobile didn’t unlock my phone, so my lack of a Colombian SIM card means American prices.

A man who’s clearly in a club answers.  He tells me to hail a Taxi and he will talk to the driver.  He tells me everything will be ok.

I listen, and five minutes later I’m speeding down a dark highway with a married couple who asks me how old I am and why I’m not also married.

This is a question I often receive in Colombia, and I just don’t know to explain it’s not time for me yet.

A half an hour passes, and I ask how far we are from Buddha Secreto, the hostel I chose because the photos looked beautiful online.  From what I can gather, the driver tells me we’re still 40 minutes away and the hostel is not even in Medellin.  However, it is in a nearby town.

At this point I’m completely sober, exhausted and praying that I’m just not understanding the man’s Spanish.  Often people speak too quickly to me, so that I only understand half of what they’re saying.  As long as I smile and repeat back some words people assume that I understand everything.

I use this tactic in cabs, babbling, so people don’t try to rip me off, “I am an expert, ” you see.

Unfortunately for me, it’s obvious that this hostel is up a gravel road in a town that’s fifteen minutes outside of Medellin.  It’s also obvious that I am the only person staying there.

A tiny, Walnut woman greets me with two large, barking dogs and asks for money.  Even though I paid online, I can’t seem to make that clear and hand over the pesos.  Then I write panicked messages to my friends in Bogota.

“Omg,” I type, “beginner traveler’s mistake – I’m not even in Medellin!”

Luckily, my Bogota friends stay up late and are clearly as obsessed with Facebook as I am.  This is how I get an invite to an  Englishman named Jonny’s pool the very next day.

I awake to a breakfast prepared by the Walnut woman, and I look around and see the hostel is as beautiful as the photos promised.  I then receive a phone call from the owner of the hostel who’s at a Salsa fest in Cali.  He says that the hostel is his home and that he’ll be back on Tuesday.

“You should stay, I will show you around.”

For reasons beyond me I lie and promise my presence.  Then I ask the Walnut lady to call me a cab.

This is how I spend my first day in Medellin.  On a lounge chair, looking out at the mountains that surround one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen.  As the hours pass, Jonny and I go from hot-tub, to the steam room, to the frigid pool, and then he invites me to stay in his guest bedroom.

He tells me his story, in his Liverpool accent.  How he jumped from continent to continent and ran a business in Valencia for two years.  With his help, I book a hostel in Medellin for the very next night.

Suddenly, I look down and see that I am wrinkled, and the cool night air begins to wrap itself around the city.  That’s when we decide to  order BBQ chicken pizza and watch terrible American movies.

Though it’s not until I crawl into my very own bed that night that I thank God for all of my very many mistakes.