Friday, August 31, 2012

One wing on one floor of a deserted Medellin mall

The real main square

A Botero scupture - they LOVE Botero

Case in point - yet another Botero museum

Wandering through the botanical garden

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Malls, Museums and Rock’s. Really, Really Big Rocks

Greetings from the wonderfully quaint, oh so quiet (sometimes) lakeside village of Guatape Colombia!
It’s been a great couple of days. We continued our exploration of a Medellin by visiting what turned out to be quite a high-end mall. Our plan was to look around and see where the locals hung out but it didn’t work out that way for two reasons. First, nothing gets going here until well after 10:00 and truth be told, not much before noon. So arriving at the mall at 9:30 and expecting it to be a hustle bustle of local activity we found instead a VERY large, VERY clean, ultra modern multi-story affair around the size of two metro-towns except most stores were still closed and the place was pretty much deserted. It was almost like wandering around a movie set. We wandered around for an hour or so - and by the time we left there was some activity - but for the most part it was a little weird. The other shock was it was where the locals hung out for sure, that is if you’re one of the ultra rich locals living in the luxury high rises surrounding the area. The stores obviously catered to a local demographic that was well beyond our means. Prices were high and the scrutiny was intense when we actually had the audacity to enter a store to look around. We stuck around for a bit but in the end it wasn’t anymore exciting than hanging around a mall in Canada - something we hardly ever do anymore so we beat feet and decided to try something else.

This lead us back to the Metro and downtown where it turns out the square we visited really was the dodgy area. And just like cities here, just four blocks over we found the actual main city plaza, complete with Botero sculptures, the second oldest museum in Medellin and lots of hustle and bustle, none of which felt in the least bit sketchy.

I have to say though, that visiting Medellin isn’t what like I expected. It’s more like a visit to New York than a visit to South America. The city has numerous “must see” sights, good areas and bad, and a real urban vibe unlike anything we’ve experienced in our other travels south. Take Tuesday for instance. We got up, had a great breakfast on the patio and then took a taxi to the airline office (more on that to follow) and then wandered through a modern business district that rivaled anything in Vancouver except nicer. This eventually lead us to another downtown square where we planned on catching a city tour. Unfortunately the timing wasn’t right so, being the old hands that we are with the Medellin metro, we hopped on the train again and rode out to visit two of the most popular sights in the city; the Botanical Gardens and the Science Museum. The former was fantastic, a real oasis in the heart of the city. The science museum was just like home, except larger, and catering to a broader age than just kids and young families, as evidenced by the numerous tour busses full of giggling Colombian grannies that were in awe of the 3D movie. It was seniors day at the science museum and we fit right in.

The highlight of the day had to be VERY nice lunch we had in the restaurant in the heart of the garden but memo to self; when ordering a Sangria in Colombia make sure they understand you only want one glass, not one pitcher. It was a very loooong afternoon after we finished lunch.

Now for an observation. I’m not sure how you define Backpacker but in our case it was how we approached travel throughout most of our trips to Mexico and Central America. We were never part of the hippy crowd but we definitely traveled light, had no set itinerary and our accommodation leaned heavily to the budget side of the equation. For us it was born of necessity - it’s the only way we could go each year for a month at a time - but it was more than that. We actually preferred this approach. We met great people along the way and saw incredible sights in our overland bus journeys. Given a choice of flying or riding the bus we always chose the bus. And what the hell, our luggage of choice was a backpack so I guess that made us backpackers.

But it’s been four years since we traveled this way and we’ve both discovered that that was then and this is now. Our accommodation choice now leans more to an RCI timeshare than a budget hotel and flying definitely has more appeal than a lengthy bus ride. It’s not right or wrong it just is (how’s that for Zen?) but I’m glad we did what we did when we were younger because it was a fantastic experience but we’ll be approaching things a little different going forward.

Case in point, our visit to the airline office. It turns out the buses here are excellent; full on executive class busses just like Mexico, but it’s the road system that is the problem. It’s only 650 klm from Medellin to Cartagena, a trip of 7 - 8 hours in Mexico, but here it’s 13 - 14 hours over poor roads. A little investigation on the internet however, revealed that it’s approx $65 for the bus but only $10 more to fly. Even with a cab ride to the airport it won’t cost us much more than $50 more to fly in an hour what would take us all day by bus. This is where I hang up my backpack, pick up my rolling duffle and say adios amigos to overland travel. I still think we can lay claim to traveler vs. tourist, for now, but I make no claims going forward.

With our flights booked out of Medeliin on Saturday we decided to get out of Dodge for a few days so we hopped on a small bus (I still make concessions when necessary - we‘re staying in a $15 hotel with a suicide shower for instance) and we traveled to the very pretty mountain town of Guatape. A small colonial town on the shore of a large lake, surrounded by vacation homes for the elite of Medellin. It’s a little surreal. I’m typing this at a sidewalk café overlooking a very typical Latin American town square. There’s a dog sleeping at my feet, three guys on horseback just rode by and this afternoon a donkey wandered through the square. But on the outskirts of town there are several large marina’s with boats stacked three high in storage, waiting for their absentee owners to cruise the lake in speed boats, party boats and everything in between. Such is life in Colombia!

But, here’s the best news of the day. Just out of town is El Penol, a 200 foot high granite monolith left over from the last ice age. It’s a huge landmark and quite a site - and stuck precariously to the outside is a staircase to the top that can only be found in countries with little in the way of zoning or building spec’s. That’s not to say it’s not safe - it is - just that there’s little in the way of safety rails and the stairs themselves range from OK to very very narrow. All 740 of them! But this morning, slowly but surely, with stops along the way and sometimes a death grip on the rail, we both made it to the top! That my friends, is truly life in Colombia.

Safe and sound in Guatape Colombia

Dale and Rosi

Monday, August 27, 2012

View from our room

View from the breakfast patio

Another view from the hotel

Roof top breakfast patio

Hall outside our room - the display cases make it look more like a museum than a hotel

Street view of our hotel in Medellin

Metro station - pretty quiet on a Sundy morning

Metro train pulling into the station

Transfering into a metro cable car to start up the hill to the new library

Overlooking the Barrio

Don't look down!

The new multi-million dollar library in the heart of the barrio

Transfered again - now heading into the mountains to the national park

Cheesy smile

Just a shot of our room in Medellin

The little market at the national park - a lot of people were here for day hikes and bought their lunch here before heading out

Just wandering around the sites at the park visiter centre

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A tale of two cities

We’ve had a couple of days now to explore Medellin and the contrast with Bogota couldn’t be more extreme. Sometimes we wonder if we’re in a different country let alone a different city. It’s that extreme. For those of you that haven’t traveled if I asked you to close your eyes and picture a major city in a third world Latin American county I’m sure what you’d describe would be Bogota. And to my new found friends in Bogota, my apologies. Your city certainly has it’s charms - and it’s the people that make a city, not it’s buildings, and in this respect Bogota is truly beautiful - but on the surface it’s a hard city to love. Garbage lines a lot of the streets, infrastructure is crumbling anywhere you look, the traffic is snarled and graffiti covers everything. And I mean literally, not figuratively. We’ve never seen so much graffiti in all our travels and it’s so sad because it sets a tone of lawlessness and despair that may not be how the people really feel but it’s certainly the picture that’s being painted.

Now flash forward to Medellin. If I asked my same friends to close their eyes again, and picture a second major Latin American city set in the beautiful lush mountain highlands, I know for a fact Medellin isn’t what they would imagine. Until you’ve seen it, it simply isn’t what you think of, which is sad in a way because for all we know this is the rule rather than the exception. All I can tell you is Medellin is beautiful, possibly one of the prettiest cities we’ve visited. It’s a spotlessly clean, modern city with glass and brick high rises, lush green parks, a fantastic commuter light rail system with a cable car into the mountains and hardly any graffiti to be seen. The overriding impression is one of greenery. There are parks and trees everywhere and the buildings seem to rise organically from the surrounding mountains rather than the clear cut concrete jungles we seem to favour at home. It’s more like a cross between a beautiful cosmopolitan city in Europe and the best of Toronto than any city we’ve visited in Mexico or Central America.

Yes, the downtown core is more than a little rough around the edges - and today we were warned about one particular area being too dodgy for tourists that stick out as much as we do - but on the whole it’s an amazing place and our time here will all too short.

On a personal note, about a week ago I developed a bad chest cold and I was afraid I might have pneumonia again so I visited a pharmacy and received the obligatory antibiotics that are the drug de jour here in Colombia. For a while I felt better but by the time we arrived here in Medellin I was run down again and coughing quite a bit so yesterday we decided I should see a doctor rather than self diagnose / self medicate.

We visited Clinica Medellin in the heart of the Zona Rosa. It’s a large medical facility that includes doctor’s offices, a hospital, a medical clinic and a pharmacy - and it puts any comparable facility at home to shame. It was spotlessly clean, incredibly professional and the service and care I received was second to none.

It took us a while to check in and arrange to see a doctor because of the language barrier but eventually we were taken to an examining room similar to our emergency rooms at home except this one was sparkling clean , orderly and professional. The exam I was given was thorough and a far cry from the revolving door a visit to my GP at home has become. First I was questioned at length by an RN that took a full history and then my vital signs like blood pressure and temperature. The next visit was by a very nice doctor. She spoke fairly good English as long as we spoke slow and she followed up on the nurses exam by listening to my lungs and palpating my chest and stomach. She heard something she didn’t like so she ordered a blood test and a chest x-ray - both attended to by attentive (and very attractive) professional technicians. From there they put me on an IV which turned out to include an analgesic and I waited for the results. The good news is I don’t have any infection; no pneumonia or strep throat, just an old fashioned case of influenza. The antibiotics, which the doctor was most concerned the pharmacist had handed out like candy, were thrown in the garbage and I was given an prescription for a strong analgesic and something for my throat and my cough. After that it’s the tried and true: lots of rest and lots of liquids. I’m doing my best on the latter but the former is proving to be a challenge :-)

Today we were up and out of the hotel by 9:00 but not before a fantastic breakfast buffet on the rooftop patio overlooking the city. Fruits and muffins, rice, sausages and scrambled eggs, omelets’ made to order, juice, coffee and hot chocolate……. but after that I was full :-)  Rosi on the other hand exercised much more restraint.

We walked to the closest metro station with the intent of taking the metro to the town square but instead we rode the train to the end of the line so we could transfer to the mtero-cable system that took us up to the mountain top overlooking the city. And then, this is cool, we transferred to a second cable car that left the city and took us on a line that goes to a national park approx 5 klm outside of the city, where we wandered around and took in the sites. From there we back tracked until we arrived at the main town square in the old colonial centre of the city.

This area of town however is really quite sketchy. Maybe it’s just because it was Sunday and a lot of the businesses were closed but we knew it wasn’t a great area. We didn’t feel threatened at all, just very aware we should be vigilant - but what the hell, walk down East Hastings or around Victoria Square on a Sunday afternoon and tell me you don’t feel the same way.

But just as we’d pretty much told ourselves that we didn’t need one more picture of a 400 year old church and we might go back to our hotel, two young girls approached us. The oldest, about 16 or so and her sister, who looked to be a few years younger, were VERY concerned for our welfare. She spoke very broken English but she was able to convey that we stood out like sore thumbs (this we knew :-)) and that this area definitely wasn’t safe for us. We chatted for a few minutes and thanked them their advice, and said we’d be careful, but when they left we talked about it and agreed that we’re pretty savvy and we’d be fine - so we continued our walk to circumnavigate the square. We didn’t get ten feet before they realized we were still walking in the square so they turned around, tracked us down and stopped us again except this time they were even more insistent; this area is NOT safe for two gringo’s wandering about with backpacks and a camera and we should leave, now. So after much thanks and exchanging names and emails we heeded their advice. She even insisted on giving us her name and phone number so we could call if we ran into any problems at all getting back. This is a huge city of 2 ½ million and a young girl did this for two old gringos and you have to ask yourself, would this happen at home? I’d like to hope so but I somehow doubt it.

We then had a quick beer overlooking the square and caught a cab back to the Zona Rosa where we had a nice lunch, chatted with a couple from the US here for the flower festival and then headed back to our hotel for a beer and a siesta.

Were we in real danger? - who knows, but the level of caring and concern two strangers showed for two gringo’s speaks more about the country and city than a few rough characters in a sketchy area of town. If I could I’d compliment their parents on the great job they’re doing raising two lovely young ladies. I’ve sent an email to her and her sister to thank them and I hope their parents get the message. Viva Colombia!

And just one more interesting point about the metro. The city purposely ran the metro line into the barrios at the east and west edges of the city as an act of inclusion. Giving the poorest citizens cheap and easy access to the rest of the city also gave them a sense of belonging and pride. Even in the poorest areas - and we had to visit these areas in order to transfer to the cable car at the end of the line - the stations are spotless and there’s no evidence of vandalism or graffiti. And by giving the poor access to jobs in the city the town planners were able to raise the living standard in ways not possible in the past. Does it work? According to our guide books the murder rate in the poorest, most dangerous Barrio dropped from 2,500 murders per year to less than 500 once the metro was complete. On top of this, in the poorest, most dangerous, most crime ridden area of Medellin the city built a multi-million dollar library that was opened by the king and queen of Spain just a couple of years ago. The library, filled with more than 14,000 donated books, is the jewel of the city and this area is now safe to walk around day or night, with no crime problems at all. A lesson maybe we can all learn from.

Safe and sound in Medellin

Dale and Rosi

Our hotel in Villa de Leyva

Outside our room in Villa de Leyva

Little girl in Aquilla

Restaurant in Aguilla but closed so we moved on 

Small stream running through Aguilla

Dinosaur fossil

Another angle of the fossil

What it looked like when alive

Colombian Stonehenge

Apparently they worshipped more than just the sun

We wondered why the waiter asked for our names when we ordered

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Dinosaurs, a Colombian Stonehenge and an Aborted Landing

Greetings from Medellin Colombia. A city once gripped by fear and ruled with an iron fist by that most infamous and ruthless leader of the Medellin Cartel, Pablo Escobar and now the jewel of Colombia pride.

It’s been a day or two since my last post but apparently you can’t enjoy the tranquility of a laid back, isolated Colombian colonial town and still expect unfettered high-speed internet access. Oh well, such is life. Until I spring for a Colombian iPhone4 I’ll have to learn to live with hotel wifi if and when it’s available.

Our time spent in Villa de Leyva was great but all good things must come to an end. Our return to our “backpacker” roots however hasn’t been the smooth transition that I thought it would be. And here I have to firmly give credit to Rosi. She’s the hardcore backpacker trooper of the two of us - it’s me that’s become a bit of a wimp. She has the patience of Job - me, not so much. Rather than riding mini-combi buses to get to the outlying sites I voted for hiring a taxi for a day.

It was well worth the expense. We visited a small neighboring village known for producing beautiful pottery and we had a great lunch at one of the only restaurants in town. We were their only customers and the only other “patron” in the restaurant was a young boy working on his computer who we assumed was a friend of the young waiter we had - who in turn we believe was the cooks son because as soon as she finished cooking our lunch she joined the two boys one table over. Ah, life in a small town in Colombia!

We finished the day by visiting a fantastic site just an hour out of town where they have the fossilized remains of a dinosaur that once lived in the ocean when this area was part of a large inland sea. The whole little museum was done up very well - very professional even though it was in the middle of nowhere and it was quite interesting.

Our last stop was something like a miniature Stonehenge - a series of boulders and rocks set perpendicular in the ground by the Muisca Indians, a pre-Colombian race of indigenous peoples that lived in the area thousands of years ago. Apparently they had a sophisticated astrological ability to read the stars and used the rocks we viewed as a way to tell when it was time plant their crops etc.

We decided by Thursday however that we would move on to the next city on our agenda so on Friday (yesterday) we set out on the next part of our journey.

It was a looooong day.

We started the day at 8:00 by riding a small combi bus from Villa de Leyva to the department capital, Tunja. This is a trip that normally takes 45 minutes but in our case the driver was the lesser known of the Andretti brothers, Juan Carlos. And like all good Italian drivers, Juan Carlos didn’t care what was behind him - or beside him - or, apparently, what might be coming in his lane just on the other side of the blind corner he was passing on! Suffice to say, we made very good time but for a few moments we wondered if we’d be the lead story on a five minute news blip that started with, there was a bus accident in Colombia today and Foreign Affairs confirms there were two Canadians on board.

From Tunja we transferred to a second-class bus that had seen better days. Transferred doesn’t really describe the process though. It was more a case of hectic yelling as someone grabbed our bags and hustled us aboard because they needed two more passengers before they could start. All I know is the bus was moving before we were even in our seats. And as far as their promises that it was a “directo” bus to Bogota - direct must mean two different things in Canada and Colombia because we stopped to pick up and let off passengers whenever it was convenient for them or the driver. Oh well, at least Juan Carlos wasn’t driving!

We arrived in Bogota around 1:00 and stayed in the bus terminal for lunch and then caught a cab to the airport. Yes, the airport - because as much as my wife, the intrepid traveler, was willing to consider another nine hours on a bus to Medellin just the thought of it was too much for me. Not when 15 minutes on Expedia produced a one-hour flight from Bogota to Medellin for $75 tax in. In hindsight though, for a time I thought hers may have been the better choice.

We took off from Bogota right on time at 5:30 with a full flight on a very modern Boeing jet. It’s a short one-hour flight and except for some turbulence due to a wicked storm and a VERY close lightening strike all was well until our landing in Medellin. Or, more accurately, our non-landing. We were within what seemed like seconds from landing, with the runway lights whizzing by and our wheels down, when the pilot aborted. He obviously pulled back on the stick and poured on the coal because we literally stood on our tail and with engines roaring, we shot back up without touching down. And this is when the language barrier is a HUGE inconvenience. You could see the worried looks in the other passengers eyes - or in my case a look of OMG, we’re going to die! - but the pilot came on and made an announcement that calmed most people down. The only problem it was in Spanish and meant nothing to us. Luckily though, the passenger sitting across from me saw my concern (the whites of my eyes is more like it) and explained that there was a problem at the Medellin airport and we couldn’t land. We went on to Cali where we landed and took on fuel and then went back to Medellin for an uneventful landing albeit, two hours later than scheduled. From there it was a half hour to claim our bgs and a 45 minute cab ride into the city but by 10:00 we were finaly in our hotel.

And now for a little lesson in travel economics - a lesson Brad has tried to teach me more than once but I’m still learning.

My friends know, when it comes picking hotels I can be, how shall we say, frugal. When Rosi and I travel we’re on the road for up to four weeks so watching our pennies, especially for hotels, is important. That’s the story I’m sticking to anyway. The problem is, this was easy when we were truly part of the budget backpacker crowd. Today though, we’ve moved up a bit. We haven’t gravitated to luxury resorts yet but we’ve definitely left really budget places behind - and finding something in the middle is more challenging than you’d think. The pictures on the internet often don’t match the reality of the hotel once you’ve checked in and mid-range can become “budget” in a hurry, but without the benefit of a lower price.

Such was the case with the hotel I picked for our first night in Medellin.

What looked to be a modern hotel at a reasonable price turned out to be stark, barren, uninviting and devoid of any redeeming qualities whatsoever beyond the friendly staff doing their best to put a positive spin on a property better suited for a prison than a hotel.

And here’s where Brad’s lesson in economic comes in. I focused on a price of $45.00 which Brad is quick to point out means nothing. What matters is value - and sometimes you can’t put a price on nice linens and a good nights sleep. So this morning, after a REALLY poor nights sleep in cell number 204, I hit the internet with the goal of moving us to a better room but still within our budget.

Here’s what I found literally just around the corner - close enough that we walked to the new hotel in five minutes this morning to change rooms. It’s a high-end boutique hotel with beautiful decorations, several onsite restaurants, lounges and a coffee shop and a top floor spa. There’s a floor to ceiling window in our room overlooking the city and a buffet breakfast is included. The cost? Only $40 more than the original, including a breakfast that is worth at least $20.00 And as Brad would point out, that’s value, not cost.

Check it out, it’s not too shabby


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Time Travel

Is time travel possible? It might make for a good movie plot but scientists will tell you  no, there are too many paradox’s and closed loops for true time travel to ever be discovered.

To quote a line from a television commercial; “these people are who we like to call, wrong.” I’m here to tell you that time travel - or at the very least, time standing still - is not only possible, but readily accessible high in the mountains of the Colombian highlands.

We left Bogota at 2:30 on Monday and traveled by bus for four hours high into the mountains, until we arrived at the colonial town of Villa de Leyva where time is truly standing still. It’s a large colonial town, established in the 1500’s by the Conquistadores and it was designated a heritage site in the 50’s. Since then there has been little in the way of development in the downtown core. Cobblestone streets and alley’s all lead to the main town square which is the largest stone square in the Americas (so they claim anyway) and if you close your eyes it’s not hard to imagine you’re back in the time of the fabled El Dorrado. The pace is slow, the people friendly and the low whitewashed colonial buildings inviting. A welcome respite after the hustle and bustle of Bogota.

The journey here though - Aye Carumba! The twists and turns of the Devils Backbone have nothing on the road to Villa de Leyva! High passes, narrow roads, no shoulder and tight switchbacks - all you heard from me was a low mutter and my new mantra - don’t look down, don’t look down.

Arriving was also a bit of a surprise. It was dark when we pulled into the small bus station and the lights in the station were off. And I’m not talking dark, it was full on black - like the inside of a cave black - like I’ll trip and kill myself in an unmarked manhole, black. It only took a minute to realize it wasn’t just the terminal though, the power was out everywhere because just then the power came back on and all you heard was a joyful Ahhhhhh from everyone there - and it immediately changed from scary and intimidating to funny and inviting. But just as we got our bearings, click, the power went out again - accompanied by a group Ohhhhhhhhhh . Then Ahhhhhhhh as the power came on the second time, this time to stay.

We made our way by taxi - a short three block trip but slow because of the large cobblestones (aka rocks) to a small hotel right out of the time of Zorro. A colonial building at least 200 years old with 18” thick walls, low doors and all built around a welcoming interior courtyard. By 7:30 we had dumped our bags and were drinking a beer in a sidewalk café overlooking the main square.

Yesterday we wondered the town in the morning and took in a huge lunch as part of the Colombian custom of eating the largest meal mid-day. There are a lot of sidewalk cafes and restaurants close to the square catering to tourists - and their prices reflect this - but one block away we found an absolutely spotless restaurant catering more to the local crowd. A “Comida del Dia” (Meal of the Day) consisted of a large bowl of delicious soup, a large fresh salad, a main dish of rice and a large filet of trout in mango sauce, a class of fresh mango juice and a small desert. All for less than $15.00 for both of us. Muy Bueno! We then took in the other popular Colombian tradition of an afternoon siesta!

And to give you an idea of the way we’re being treated, apparently the town is REALLY busy on weekends with day trippers from Bogota but during the week it’s Muy Traquillo. Rosi and I are the only people here in the hotel. They serve breakfast after 7:30 but we like a cup of coffee first thing in the morning. Yesterday I hunted down a couple of cups myself but this morning - right at 7:00, the time I asked for coffee yesterday - a young girl delivered a tray of coffee to our door.

But don’t be fooled, Villa de Leyva isn’t like Bogota at all. It’s a threatening place and you have to keep your wits about you. The town and the people living here have threatened to capture our hearts and the danger is we may never want to leave. I guess Colombia is a threatening place after all.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Monuments and Mountains

Marching to the changing of the guard

Pomp and circumstance

Applying for a job with a Colombian Credit Union
Meeting new friends at the main square

Presedential Palace
First class pod on the flight down

Our new friends at Gestando

Colombian jet from the 50's

Gold from 500 AD

Gold, Art and Soldiers

Greetings from Bogota!

Yesterday and today were great. Bogota is a vibrant city and the downtown core where we’re staying has a real youthful vibe because it’s also a university town and a lot of them are clustered around this area.

Yesterday we spent at least two hours in the national gold museum. I know, it sounds boring but it’s an amazing place and it’s as much an archeological museum as anything else and there are incredible displays of gold and gold work from 900 BC, right up to the time of the Conquistadores. We also spent at least two hours in the national art gallery and another hour touring displays in the national bank. Who would have thought that a national mint and bank would be interesting but it was amazing and really held our interest.

Today we saw something real cool. Bogota is a really family centric city and on Sundays the city closes 135 klm (yes, 135 klm)of main roads and thoroughfares to only pedestrian and bike traffic. Riding bikes is a national pastime here and this morning we saw part of it. Literally as far as the eye could see all the main roads were closed and it was a sea of families riding all kinds of bikes everywhere. We could learn a lot.

We finished the day by walking back down to the main square to see the changing of the presidential guard. A lot of pomp and circumstance and military bands etc and well worth while.

Our thoughts so far;
Not what we expected - not as cosmopolitan as we thought it would be and a lot more litter. It’s still great - just a little different and a LOT of graffiti down town. But….. No security issues whatsoever. We haven’t felt threatened in the least and in fact no one really notices you or looks twice even though there’s a noticeable lack of tourists.

Anyway, we’re alive and well and heading to a small town in the mountains tomorrow afternoon.

Dale and Rosi

Saturday, August 18, 2012


Greetings from Bogota Colombia!

We arrived on Thursday around 1:00

It was a long flight down because of the layover in Vancouver but the first class seats to Toronto and the executive first class “pod’s” to Bogota made it more than tolerable. We didn’t get into Toronto until 12:30 in the morning and we were up again at 5:00 to catch our 8:00 flight to Bogota but there’s nothing like a fold lat bed, an attentive flight attendant and linens and silverware to make it all worthwhile!

We’re staying at a small boutique hotel in the heart of the colonial city centre: It’s within walking distance to most of the major attractions and it’s very comfortable.

Yesterday we met with members of Gestando, an organization that supports and mentors new start up businesses, similar to our Community Futures but on a larger/national scale. They’ve partnered with CCA to support rural start up cooperatives as part of CCA’s mandate to fight poverty through cooperative development and I paid a courtesy call because of my involvement with CCA in Mongolia.

We were picked up at our hotel at 7:30 (Rosi was soooo impressed this was how we started our “vacation”) and we had presentations and a meeting with Gestando until around 10:00. From there we spent the day with an interpreter and a rep from Gestando and we visited three different credit unions and a cooperative bank. Senior representatives from each organization gave us tours and presentations and I learned a lot of valuable lessons I can take back to share with my peers.

Today we can officially start being tourists! Lonely Planet in hand we plan on visiting the national gold museum and the Botero national gallery and tomorrow we’ll visit the national military museum and a couple of must see art galleries. In the evenings we’ll walk around the main city square and take in the sights and the general vibe of Bogota.

Adios mi amigos

Dale and Rosi

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

One more sleep.....

It's been a while since we've done this. The last two trips south we drove. Easy Peasy. Load as much as you want into the car, hop in and take off. No muss, no fuss and definitely no packing anxiety.

The two trips prior to that were on the bike. WAY more restrictive from a packing standpoint but in some ways even easier. Simply put; there's just no room for anything but the basics so the packing is easy. If it fits in the pannier it goes, if not, it stays.

This time we're right in the middle. We're each taking one mid-size rolling duffel with back pack straps and one small carry on knapsack. So for the past couple of days we've been using the Lonely Planet approach to packing; put everything out on the bed you think you'll need and/or want to take - then throw half of it on the floor and start again. Seriously though, it's a lot of fun. We're trying to keep things as simple and as light as possible - and all the travellers out there will agree, your standards definitely go down once you start on an overland trip. At home we only wear a shirt one day and then it's in the laundry for a fresh one in the morning. On the road - not so much. What the hell, I'll never see these people again :-) So, with the multi-day approach to wearing cloths and never forgetting that laundry is available at every hotel or around most corners, it doesn't take long too realize that you don't need as much as you think.

And for those guys out there with wives that struggle with this concept, there's an easy solution. Tell her she can bring as much as she wants - but she has to carry it. All of it. Rosi is a real trooper and the best travel partner around. And yes, she carries her own back pack. OK, I help out more and more these days, but in the past she's slogged her own bag up the stairs of  Central American budget hotels with the best of them - and nothing cures over packing like carrying your bags up two flights of stairs in 30 degree heat and 90% humidity.

The packing is almost done, the arrangements are made and we leave in the morning.
Woo Hoo!