Walden World

The wacky and wonderful tales of Beth's and Catherine's global adventures. And all things Walden too.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Manizales and Odds and Sods About Colombia

This morning we took the terrifying bus ride from Manizales to nearby perreira. Manizales is a gorgeous city in the Andes coffee zone. They even have an areal  cable car system that takes you from one mountain city side to another. It's built for commuter use so it's funny to watch people working while their little capsule traverses the city sky.

Manizales does have one problem in that while it has an airport, it's a city of 500,000 after all, the planes rarely fly out and most of the time the airport is closed.

This is because of the thick fogs which will cover the town at times as well as the incredible thunderstorms the mountain city gets.

Each night in Millan the gourmet district as it is called (comprised of 5 restaurants I kid you not) you can watch magnificent sunsets as well as astonishing lightning shows over nearby ranges simultaneously.

Driving out today we again passed countless bike riders training for international competition. One thing I had never heard about colombia is that professional cyclists from the world over come here to train for the Tour de France, Olympics etc...

They are all over the highways here and in fact on some major roads there are even dedicated lanes for them.

I guess that the thinner atmosphere coupled with mountainous terrain makes for excellent training grounds.

Leaving Manizales a number of things came to mind. Foremost the clear number of prosperous middle class people in Colombia, unlike most of the Latin American countries we have been to.  Something we didn't expect given the bad rap colombia has.

I am also surprised at the number of car washes colombia has. For every 3 city blocks there is a car wash.

But Colombians love their transport, from the countless motorcycle drivers blasting through the cities, small towns and highways, interestingly at least half of them women, to the homicidal food delivery cyclists working an uber app, everyone is always in movement.

Speaking of movement back to the terrifying bus trip.

Why bus drivers in Latin America drive like maniacs I will never understand.

Yes there were sheer cliff drops down mountainsides thousands of feet, but this time we were on the mountain side lane so in order to go flying off the road to our death we had two other lanes of traffic to fly over. This gave me some confidence.

In Colombia the speed limits down the twisting mountain ascents and descents are strictly marked as to maximum speed.

Bad hairpin turns are marked with 30 to 40 km signs which are supposed to be strictly enforced.  Every 10 km there is a traffic police stop even in middle of nowhere.

Nevertheless crazed bus drivers appear to have been given some carte Blanche exclusion from the rules.

See the sign reading 30 or 40 km maximum and watch as our driver accelerates in to the turn to go 80 km.

They relish accelerating into those turns making me suspect that every Colombian bus driver was required to watchthe film "Bullit" starring Steve Mcqueen as an entry requirement.

The reason you know the speed is because the speedometer of the bus is posted at the front for everyone to see in case you want to text 767  (posted in every bus or taxi) should you want to comment on their driving.

The twists turns and then the drivers glee at the maximum 60 km sign which gives him license to gear it up to 100 km is a thing to behold.

Remember all along the highways are small restaurants, happy dogs and pedestrians with no shoulder for a safety margin at all. Let's not mention the stopped trucks that just appear on the other side of a blind curve or the disregard for the "no passing" signs ubiquitous through the country and staunchly ignored.

I said today to C colombia is the only country where I have been ecstatic to see a speed bump or the backside of a huge transport truck slowly lumbering  up a sharply elevating highway.

Medellin is 180 km from manizales and four days ago it took our little death bus to traverse this span, far longer than the usual 4 - 5 hours.

It took us 7 due to construction. And yes, even behind diesel spewing transports lumbering painfully up the ascents, the Tour de France guys, weRe biking right behind.

But the scenery? Breathtaking. Mountains, coffee plants for hundreds of miles shiNing in the morning sun. Flowers abundant and Vistas unforgettable.

Then more motorcycles whipping down the mountains passing men in spandex in groups of 10, each sporting advertising, pumping their bicycle legs ferociously to make it up the next hill.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Too High

Got a small tour at 6 am to go to the summit of The Sleeping Lion, Nevada del Ruiz, a giant vocano that took out some 25,000 people in 1985. The scientists told the government that an eruption was imminent but apparently authorities erred on the side of caution and when a small eruption stopped at about 7 PM, the evacuation order was cancelled.

However hours later anofher, bigger eruption occured sending millions of cubic meters of lava, ash, and melted glacier ice: essentially a hot horrid flow of mud, speeding down the mountain burying an entire town in an agonizing death.

I remember it now: 1985.

The trip up to the volcano a magical drive of giant wax palms, bucolic villages of free range cattle, happy dogs and bright green valleys.

There was James, the driver, who is Colombian,  C and I, and the first canadian, Steve, we had met on our travels.

From the get go, James kept warning about altitude sickness as we were going above 4500 meters today and told us to keep the windows open and take deep breaths.

We were however not prepared for how cold it would get so we had to keep closing the window.

By about 3500 meters we got out to look down at the city below at 2195 meters.

It hit me like a hammer; dizziness and feeling confused.

C, Steve and James wandered up a high path while the sun smashed my eyes. The higher you get the stronger the sun. You burn very easily so all of us including James, slathered on sunblock.

By the entrance to the park, now over 3950 meters I thought I might be sick or faint after running up stairs to the small bathroom above the traditional  shack restaurant we stopped at for breakfast. Sweet dogs begged for food.

A group of Americans from the FDA swaggered in. A man with a giant Texas style mustache said to a small begging dog: "you know I'm not a tourist and I dont fall for that" as he pushed the dog away with his feet.

We drank coca tea given to us by the shack restaurant owner: yes the plants cocaine is manufactured from, however here the leaves are legal and it is used by all tour operators, government officials and health practitioners to counter serocho.

Next the seismo bureau (geological) colombians showed up in tow with the colombian Red Cross.  All studying the active volcano which puts over 500,000 people in harms way.

C came back after walking up a tiny hill  next to the restsurant and said she felt like she could barely make it she was so exhausted.

Altitude sickness. Serocho.

The driver James is trying to learn English so he likes to have C or Steve speak into his cell phone and repeat words  to get the proper pronunciation while he also says the word in spanish.

We get to the park Los Nevados, home the volcanoes.

It is now  freezing fog and C, Steve and i are all chilled. We walk to watch a short film about the parks ecosystem. Because of strict environmental concerns and volcano danger you must go in a convoy, just us and two other cars, and you must utilize a guide.

In our case small Pablo. A tiny punk rocker guide with huge ear piercings, fabulous jewelry and a really cool haircut.

At stop 3, we all got out to see the weird near volcano summit. The sign told us we were at 4565 meters.  I felt a headache like a vise squeezING  my head.  I felt so dizzy I was  worried about falling over and that is when I also started feeling very confused.

Pablo was talking about the 1985 eruption. I can't describe the feeling: dizzines?confusion? It was a most like an anesthetic. A vertigo zombie.

I was worried about whether I could walk the few feet to the car.

I picked up the piece of pumice Pablo pointed at so I could focus on something. I held it tight in my hand.

I went back to the van where C and James practiced spanish. James noted that it was hailing while they both looked through the spanish phrase book about how to say "hail" in spanish.

Steve returns to the bus as Pablo and the others start to show up.

It is at that moment, a piercing headache and vertgo beyond belief, I realize I am going to throw up.

I run out of the car and start wretching against a post by a small structure, the start of an tourist operation long since abandoned.

In the 50s they used to have international skiing competitions here but the eruption of 1985 coupled with global warming means that there is no snow left. Out of 19 glaciers only 4 remain.

 I watch the cold rain and small hail pellet the ground while hitting me in the head.

The small guide Pablo tells me to make myself sick by sticking my fingers down my throat.

The Colombians in the other two cars are standing with me along with Pablo.  They take my coat off and insist I drink water they pilfer from Steve.

By the time we got to 5000 meters, I just walked staring at the ground while the others disappeared into a thick fog. It looked like we were on a strange and dismal moon.

5000 feet is where almost all humans will experience terrible altitude sickness. It is thought that people will not be able to acclimate permanently beyond 5500 meters.

You get used to altitude by your body producing more red bloods cells to carry the limited oxygen.

7000 meters is the famous death zone where the human body starts dying. That's why they have finite time to get people down from everest.

I found a small bench beside a weird metal structure, perhaps for the use of geological Survey people, who were a half hour behind us in trucks, coming up in the deserted pre-summit.

I could hear Steve and the 5 colombians speaking through  the fog. C and James are in the bus practicing Spanish.

I could only look at my shoes and get up, walk a small circle and again look at my shoes.

A large or perhaps small bird landed a few feet in front of me. She hopped back and forth pecking at the ground for what seemed like hours.

What kind of food could exist at this great height that would give nutrients to this bird?

The hail got worse and then rain came down heavily.

The others returned from the fog and we descended again to bucolic villages, happy dogs and free range cows.

I still felt weak yesterday but a miraculous thing happened tonight.  We flew out of perreira and when we landed in bogota, home of our initial altitude sickness, C was feeling exhausted and sick just walking to a local restaurant.

However the 3450 meter air felt rich and invigorating to me.

That I think, means my body has started to adapt.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019


If anyone is reading my blogs apologies for all the weird spelling etc.  I am working on an ancient tablet which has a mind of its on and autocorrects half of what I write so I cannot punctuate or spell properly.

Which brings us to communication.

C is crestfallen. No one has any clue what she is saying despite her years and months of study of spanish.

The colombian spanish is accented in a much different way than the mexican spanish we can both understand quite well and can make ourselves understood in.

But we all try our best and soldier on in our attempts to be understood.

Take yesterday for instance.  While buying bus tickets to manizales and trying to figure out where the bus was, a young hipster looking guy was asked by bus staff to assist us.

"Follow me" he said.

We followed, along with other Columbians he was our bus saviour. Confirming we were on the right bus etc..

The ride was for half a terrible ordeal of faSt suicidal driving  down one lane twisted mountain roads where you could observe the most breathtaking mountain views.

Which was a shame as I had to take off my glasses and grasp the seat in front as C kept saying "I need to get off this bus right now!" as we knew any second we would go flying off the sheer drop thousands of feet to the valley below.

Our hipster saviour and I started chatting. By me to refocus me on something other than my total, but really breathtaking doom.

He was a cardiovascular doctor doing a special degree. He apologized for his terrible English.

It was much better than my panic spanish as we rounded another sheer drop bend and the few mini bus occupants were thrown against the wall.

He asked me what I did  and I replied in spanish I was a human rights lawyer. He was very impressed and told me that human rights protection in Colombia was non-existent.

He said that he belonged to a special group. They protect people and do works for the community.  He said "how do I say?" "Me and my dog do work for people trapped in seismo...the buildings, my dog looks for survived. Finds them"

"Wow, really finding survivors the rubble? That's so great!"

"Yes he has saved many"

The doctor continues: "My dog and I also, when bad in Colombia, they kidnap people, my dog and i go to negotiate to get the people back"

This was puzzling. Your dog was involved in kidnap negotiations, I thought. But hell, this dog finds people in rubble, maybe if, I don't know, the narco terrorists kidnapped someone and they were right behind the dog could follow the trail to the lair and then the doctor starts negotiations!

"What do you call when you have no use?"   The doctor asks. "When you no work, not wanted?"

I'm trying to figure this one out.  "You can't find work?" No he responded. "You can't work because of disability?" "No. No use.  My dog is of no use."

I was about to  cry, they put his dog down, because he can't work anymore.

"Your dog muerte?

"No how you say money because you are old - from government"

"Old age security? Pension because you are old?

"Si, si, My dog has only that."

I was completely mystified and was about to ask "your dog is receiving old age pension?"

 Well I thought,  maybe , I dont know, they give hero dogs some pension?

He was about to show me a picture of his dog, but then the photo disappeared as it does on all these cheap burner phones in Colombia. Then he got a phone call.

A minute later I finally got it and started laughing but at that point I was sure we were going over a cliff so our odd conversation was left behind.

Today in the volcano spa I asked C if she heard any of the talk I had with the doctor.

"Yeah, heard the whole thing, his earthquake rescue dog, and negotiations with cartels and he was about to show you a picture of his dog"

"That's what I thought too...but he mixed his words up, he mistook the word 'dog' for 'dad' - he was talking about his father not his dog"

Now of course, in my head, I still have this idea of some sort of Lassie Wonder Dog, sniffing our rubble survivors, fearlessly negotiating with Pablo Escobar in a hot jungle somewhere: "woof woof..OK Pablo, (cue dog panting sounds) woof woof...let's see if you are man enough... (Cue sweet puppy eyes no one can resist)

Pablo Escobar: "confrides, let this kidnap victim go for a low price...this dog is too cute but you never know, he may turn on you!"

Cue tense spanish music.



Monday, February 18, 2019

Two Buses

There is a Lincoln commercial where a highly salaried Matthew McConaughey, driving said Lincoln, says something like : "it's all about the journey. Not the destination. "

I don't have Matthews dulcet pipes, nor his thin handsome rugged  good looks, but I can assure Lincoln and many other car companies, in these last two bus rides, it was most certainly not about the journey. Rather the destination.

Keep that in mind when you are advertising to families.

And I don't  even have one.

Sunday, February 17, 2019


I am not going into the complexities of the almost 60 year semi civil war Colombia has suffered in this post. I will write about that in the next few days.

However how cocaine fits into that conflict I will talk about.

In the 70s Americans figured there was gold in them thar' hills, in this case Colombia
gold cannabis which is then imported to the states en masse.

In the early 80s Pablo Escobar and other bright thugs catch on to the north American and European love for cocaine - drug of stars of the rich and powerful.

The new gold: white gold as it is called here.

The massive demand for cocaine production and enormous wealth that comes from processing leaves in the jungle leads to destruction of rivers; thousands of hectares of rainforest and jungle are wiped out to make way for coca production.

Manufacturing cocaine from leaves is a very complex process utilizing toxic chemicals which are dumped anywhere and poison the soil.

After the cartels are starting to be shut down in the early 90s, the right wing paramilitaries and FARC, begin to manufacture and traffic cocaine to fund weapons purchases.

Violence, vengeance and profiteering is rampant. The average colombian or peasant Campesino is saturated with a culture of death, mistaken identies and vendetta.

Interesting to think about the dance clubs of the 90s - New York, LA, even Toronto: "we like to party".

A world away a young boy is shot.  A young woman raped, and her mother murdered.

All part of the cycle of white gold.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Ignominious life of Edward Vernon

You have all heard the famous story of the great Edward Vernon. The hero of the British navy. The man who changed the world!


Well here lies the tale...

Cartegena the greatest gold and slave trading port was coveted by all.

The French came with Baron Potis who handily captured the town . He looks a bit like a James Bond villain but if he lived in 1657.

The baron chuckled at his great capture however  the mosquitoes and heat and malaria became too much so he simply took his entire fleet back to France.

In the 1700s a Bourbon kiNg ascended the throne allied now to France England 's sworn enemy.

So sets our stage:

Cartegena, 4 ships - all galleons!  500 hundred soldiers, some slaves forced to fight and a few indigenous fighters.

APPOINTMENT TO GREAT ADMIRAL EDWARD VERNON! TAKE now in his majesty's name a commission to take cartegena and all colonies associated.

Edward plundered portobello in Panama and went forth to cartegena. He knew the barely defended town would be child's play.

Vernon had over 23,000 men, over 180 ships, the greatest armada ever seen in the Americas.

He sets sail. The cartegenas flee in terror to the mountains.

How can they resist a huge attack?

On the spanish side you have the Vice Roy. Then the famous half man as he calls himself:  BLas de Lezo.  He calls himself half man as fighting, he had lost his leg- but won the battle; then latef lost his arm - but won the other battle and fiNally lost an eye but won that battle.

I may be half a man he bragged! But I defeat any whole men!

He also produced 9 kids to boot.

This is a driven guy.

Great Admiral Vernon arrives with his huge fleet but must attack the small entrance into the harbour. The spanish have planted a massive undersea wall some 4 feet below the surface of the large harbour entrance, Bocagrande,  so no ships can enter.

That defensive  structure is a miracle of engineering.

Yet the English easily took the next two walled forts in the small entrance.

Then the next sad fort. Our half man Don Blas was overuled by the vice roy.  Despite the fact that he held the little foft for so long, the vice roy sides with the other commander and ignores the counsel of Blas to cut the losses and retreat to the imposing edifice of san felipe.

The few fighters fought to the end in the tiny fort.

A fierce battle followed but with limited men and ammunition, the spanish held.

The 16 days of fighting gave the spanish their edge.  Vagaries of nature.

Soon so many English lay wounded or sick they gathered bugs. Moequities and flies swarmed.

After his first fantastic victories Edward sent forth a missive to the king by  fast ship:

Tell the king I have captured cartegena! All of new spain is ours! Tell them to mint coins to remember the victory!

And indeed many coins were minted showing the viceroy bowing to Vernon and exclaiming  Britain rules the the south american seas!

However after the 16 days of heavy fight for the last port fort yellow fever infected the British ships killing or disabling 10,000 of their force.

Left with 13,000 men the British planned an attack on the main fort which Blas had retreated to.

It had 10 foot walls.. the Britush decided to attack the strong fort using 10 foot ladders they would construct to easily overcome the defence with their fAR superior numbers.

But they dilly dallied.

A spy told the spanish about the plan.  The spanish simply went out and dug all the soil below away.  When the British attacked their ladders were many feet short.

A fierce battle ensued and the British weakened by disease and unaccustomed to the fierce heat fell in droves.

Edward Vernon limped out with 3000 men still walking. The rest dead or so sick they could not move.

And to history this great admiral is well, never to be hear of again.

Thus the lesson of hubris which should be observed by the powerful in our day.

The greater the rise, the larger the fall.


We arrived in medellin today. A city nestled in a valley between mountains with flora reminiscent of San Francisco.

On the twisty winding 35 kilomter trip from the airport which kind of felt like a cross between a video game and Roller coaster, you see jaguar and ant-eater crossing signs.

Pretty though the scenery is this city has the look of the Latin America we know so well but have yet to experience in Colombia.

Although we are in a "good" neighbourhood, we were cautioned to leave the Centro by 6 pm.

It was a bit like the film The Omega Man where you have to get insideas before dark or the flesh eating zombies will get you.  We grabbed a cab back however it was an interesting journey to the Centre to hit the art museum.

First we pass a park/street on ramp. A man who looks like Christ, aged early 40s lies bare chested, staring at the sky on a filthy blanket. We passed just as a paramedic wearing gloves threw the remainder of the blanket over his face and proceeded to wrap him up in the shroud.

Whoa I said. Catherine looked at me her eyes like saucers. Did you see that she asked. Yes he's dead.

What a way to go she replied.

The taxi driver let us off at the metro station to walk to the museum warning me to be very careful and watch everything.

The station's enormous steps were covered in thousands of people, so thick and weird the crowd it looked post-apocalyptic in some way.

We arrived at the square behind an enormous art deco mansion that looks like the castle of a mad scientist, the doors all blocked by huge iron gates.

The square itself is filled with giant sculptures by Botero, the Colombian artist who makes everyone fat.

Once at the museum we went to the cafe on site overlooking the square to have a well deserved soda.

While viewing the area I saw Hotel La Grieff across the large avenue. It sported a hanging flag with the playboy bunny logo and a mispelled sentence: A GRIL SHOW, it advertised.

The hotel itself was the scuzziest dive. I haven't seen something the bad since New York in the late 80S.

Interesting to a spectator, you could see naked men, at least the top half, though I presume the bottom didn't have pants, peak out the windows and stare at the square then disappear.

One Man wrapped himself in a dirty curtain. Another man smoked Crack out his window.

A third man sat upright on what have must hAve been a bed next to the window and lowered down a bottle of something he was drinking and hid it on a ledge just below on the side of the hotel.

After the museum closed I met C outside as she stayed in a different gallery than I.

This is prostitute central she told me. Do you see them all? They are all over the place.

A man who was off his head on meth or glue stumbled by.

In the museum Bertolo's Death of Pablo Escobar hung in the Bertolo wing, symbolizing, the museum said, the rebirth of Medellin.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Curse!

C thinks I am unfriendly and should smile at people more and not assume the worst motives. However as they say in the new parlance I am a gender non-con forming woman. Most times it doesn't pay to make eye contact with everyone.

As my brother related to me years ago, his red headed friend in New York swore she had a weirdo magnet in her stomach.

Yesterday while sitting at a cafe dying of heat and thirst I gulped down ice cold soda water with lime like Lawrence of Arabia after the desert.

A street peddler approached from behind offering C sunglasses. She said no Gracias as did I very briefly making eye contact.

Upon looking at me he became enraged and with spanish spitting in gutteral tones he twisted his fingers and hands in a spell turning around to pronounce some bad magic against me.

OK that was weird C said.

I was half laughing though a bit alarmed.

I think that guy just cursed me! What the hell? I didn't do anything! And he just put a curse on me.

He was mentally ill obviously, she replied.

I swear if it was 1935 and brownshirts in Germany had just smashed in the front windows of my store  she'd consign it to mental illness.

However put the curse behind you and go to enjoy the fabulous massage you booked in the hotel.

A half walkway up some reserve stairs I lay down on the table for a not bad massage. 

The horrid pan pipe muzak loop playing Careless Whispers and Elton John standards weren't enough to wreck my relaxed muscles and spine into their rock hard tense state I usually carry.

I went back to the room to enjoy the superb mutil-jet shower: cue the scene from the original  Carrie  where sissy spacek enjoys the last hot shower and minutes of a world of innocence and safety.

Well with Carrie we all know what happens next.

I turned the shower off and went to leave.

Earlier that morning C had taken a shower and left it on for me.  When I went to get in, the door was shut tighter than the Bank of Zurich.

We kept pulling, tugging, lifting, doing any thing to get the damn door to open.

Worse the Jets from the shower were beginning to flood the large bathroom area floor.

I went to the front desk to get help. 

Francisco the grounds keeper about 6.5 ft arrived. He tugged and pushed and pulled but couldn't get the damn glass shower door open. However he reached over the door to turn the shower off and finally opened the door.  The door had a flaw: don't close it!

Man, I thought, what if you were alone and got trapped in the shower.  That would be awful .

I went to leave my Roman sanctum. However while bathing the whipping winds (this is true) which were shaking the locked windows and doors like a hurricane smacked the shower door shut.

I was trapped. Pushing, pulling, lifting tugging all covered in greasy massage oil.

I thought well C will soon be back from her mall shopping trip to drop off the clothes. 

No such luck. 

It was going on 10 minutes just standing naked in a shower pushing pulling trying McGuyver moves.  I had nothing. Crawling along the floor -how could I unscrew the hinges? Shampoo bottle? No. Only soap. I didn't even have glasses and kid you not the walls and shower door were 8 feet.

I started jumping up to try and open the windows to call for help. I managed to unlock one. It was now 20 minutes. No C.

HOLA I yell over and over. I can hear the staff in the garden. No response.

After 15 minutes I hear the distinct sound of people walking down the metal catalk stairs.


Finally I hear someone say - are you talking to us?

Yes I am trapped in the shower in my room  I can't get out and need help.. the door is jammed!

Oh dear, I hear in reply

What room are you in?

22 I am trapped in the shower.  Room 22 the door is jammed. GO to the front desk and tell them I need help!

But also tell them before they come in I need a towel (I was naked).

Happy I was at my immediate rescue...however time dripped as I was allowed to meditate on the many flaws of my body.

Finally I heard a staff person knocking on the door
HELP, AUYUDA HELP...I am in the shower I am trapped!

Senora? Senora?

Yo Aqui I scream jumping at thw window 8 feet above. Suddenly a woman stuffs large towel through the bars of the window and walks away.

COME BACK! Returno! Por Favor!

OK I GO to front desk...

Nothing. No one.  I am getting cold by now but turning on the shower will signal no emergency.


I finally hear another clonk down stairs.


pause...do you need help?


Silence. Then the phone starts ringing. I can't answer.

Finally knocking at the door I yell come in at least wrapped in a towel.

The nose picking front desk guy and the very efficient woman who cleans the hotel push, pull, tug, lift and finally the efficient woman manages to open the god damn door.

I walk up to the bar at the roof  of the hotel. C was walking down the stairs. - where have you been? I've been waiting here.

The next day walking down a small street a woman looks me directly in the eye.

She has braces, therefore money. She changes direction to walk right into me and starts laughing in my face and I think she's going to punch me.


What is wrong with that woman? C says, I think she must be mentally ill.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Venezuela - Where go thou?

Colombia and Venezuela are next door neighbour's and we're also part of one large country with Bolivia and Panama after the regions hard fought independence from Spain led by Simon Bolivar.

The first Venezuelan refugees we saw were in Villa de Leyva. A man trailed by two young boys, looking disheveled and worn, went to the kitchen door in the French restaurant we were eating lunch at.

The father begged for food for his children. The waiter asked how many they were and the father pointed outside. The waiter told him to wait in the courtyard.

As we walked out we saw the father , now with his wife and two boys sitting on the stairs. She and her husband looked sad and worried.

In Santa Marta closer to the border the many beggars on the streets are apparently all Venezuelan. Over 1 and a half million refugees have flooded into colombia.

The refugees sell sweets, and small bon bons in hope for a donation. They clean and squeegee car windows wanted or not, begging for change.

Along the streets  you see mean holding huge thick wads of bills which they try and trade for any valid currency. The bills are millions of worthless Venezuelan dollars.

The colombians are by and large very sympathetic to the refugees. When things were not so good here 10 years ago or so and Venezuela was booming many Colombians went there to make money and feel like they owe the Venezuelans for their current success.

Yet there is unrest. Venezuelans will work illegally for half minimum wage pushing down wages across the board. This morning a large protest in Santa Marta about salaries.

And just now while writing this over breakfast on the hotel rooftop, two military jets scream by doing some kind of practice flying over the city and then disappear into the distance.

Colombians look warily to their border a mere few hundred kilometers dead east.

All that oil,  they say, waiting below the ground.

Monday, February 11, 2019


This morning we set off for Camerones, the spanish name for an Indigenous Pueblo  (small village)  where we might be able to see a large population of flamingoes.

Our guide was Martin from the Czech Republic who speaks fluent spanish and has started his own small tour company working with local indigenous communities at times.

He is a solid

We drove though mountains and valleys to reach the dried salt flats of the lagoons the wayuu people fish.

We then picked up our local wayhuu guide Jon that Martin worked with. A long bumby ride thru exclusive wayhuu territory  we got to the lagoon.

We didn't have to row a boat as the birds were close to shore. Un fortunately a small group of moto guys had beat us to it.  We saw them in the distance.

They went far too close to the flamingos and the flock  lifted as one pink hue sky above and away.

Our only choice was a boat belonging to the wayuu.  Our guide jon as i said was wayhuu.  He convened for a half hour with the boat owners.  They had to consult .

A bus of turistas were in the village and all 30 had priority for the dinky boat which might hold 7 to 10 at most.

25 minutes there and back you do the math.   Profit is premium.

Some time later standing in shallow lagoon mud, the sun beating like a hammer and the wind off the ocean whipping salt and sand at our eyes, we saw the distant turistas pack into the bus and drive off.

The ferry man returned.  Apparently the turistas would rather drive around the mud salt flats to try and see the relocated flock of a thousand rather than spring cash and wait to be ferried to see them by water.

We watched the bus drive along the salt flats as we went to the flamingos.

Suddenly the two wayhuu chuckled. The bus had got stuck in mud.

Just like two the last two days.

And as we wended, our way across the wave ripped lagoon, the flamingos growing larger in our sights, the tiny ant turistas at the far side again departed the bus. 

They had to wait for a tow out of the sand.

When we were ferried back to the flats I picked up small pink feathers: the birds of naturally white or grey but turn rosa from eating shrimp.

We passed by the bus: it was so trapped you could only see the very tops of the bus tires.

The turistas, who I marked as Colombians or other Latin Americans left the bus to walk to the sea.

The wayuu refer to anyone colombian, gringo or other as anuhaya.

At last report as we bounced and banged up the salt flat guided by John,  an anuhaya woman from the tour group insisted on walking to other side around the lagoon to see the flamingos.

That would be quite dangerous I thought given how hard it was to walk 10 minutes across sucking mud and sand to get the small boat to launch.

I had also thought of what dangers in terms of sharp things might lay in the mud of the drying lagoon.

On the way back we were waylayed by the smallest highway men one could imagine.

A little girl maybe aged 6 accompanied by her 2 year old brother had put a rope across the road . To pass  we had to pay.

Apparently this is a child indigenous practice through colombia and you must come prepared with candy and bottles of water to cough up the fee for passing thru.

John and Martin returned to their discussion of the errant tourist walking around the flats.

Jon then said to our guide: she is in great dangers - she could get sucked into the sand or stuck and not get out, plus the many broken shells are everywhere on that side and they are very sharp...

I asked martin... Umm did they warn her about that?

Yeah I think  so... they must have.



Sunday, February 10, 2019

Again the Wild Square a Brief History on Santa Marta

We spent the day at the gold and ethnographic museum. Pre-contact Indigenous culture was well covered as well as the current Indigenous communities living in the larger Caribbean coast.

In the Tayrona culture special people would be trained at reaching puberty to become batman shamans. They would alter their bodies with piercings to resemble the faces of bats and live in caves meditating taking on the wisdom and characteristics of bats: their ability to live and see the world upside down; watch  the world from night and travel the cosmos.

Interestingly they were altered to resemble the vampire bat which in Tayrona culture was associated with fertility and birth.

The history of colombian colonies recorded a lengthty history of resistance and assertion of sovereignty by the various Indigenous groups - one holding out for 75 years against the Spanish until they were massacred by some governer brought in by the Crown to do the deed.

To augment the slaves the Spanish made of the Indigenous groups, the spanish also loaded up slaves stolen from the Gambia and brought them chock and block to work the many indigo, sugar and cassava plantations.  Like the Idigenous slaves, those from Africa fought back and a number were able to escape and form their own free communities called Palenques where they established social orders and governments akin to the models of home communities in Africa. They also intermarried with Indigenous peoples who had escaped the spanish controlled regions.

All this means Colombia is a fusion of 3 different groups, reflecting the complexities of numerous ethnicities.

Last night at the old town square the power went out in the area for about 4 hours but that didn't quash the joyous party of a Saturday night.

The white Colombian  street musician with dreads played traditional  Colombian songs while everyone on the street, the peddlers, jewellery makers and restaurant staff all joining in on the chorus clapping and dancing.

He was augmented by two young women turistas, one who was learning the bongos and they jammed together. She wasnt bad given that she was a novice. I learned yesterday that woRd bongo and hence the drums, comes from the name given to the  escaped slaves who worked as ferry men along the canals transporting goods around the carribean.

Pirates of old, stolen gold and so many stories untold: Santa Marta.

Friday, February 08, 2019

How Weird is This?

Last night the heavens again let loose thereby causing a landslide closing the road from villa de leyva to the main highway. We allowed ourselves 5 hours to traverse the 170 kilometers from the small town to the airport.

Traffic in outer bogota would give any raging torontonian a run for their money.  Even after clearing the land slide it took us only an hour and bit to get to Bogota. The other hour and a half was getting just to the airport.

All roads in bogota feature four straight one way lanes for traffic with multiple off ramps: now they are regular streets, not highways.

There goes the logic that if we simply build more roads and lanes traffic will cease to be deadlocked.

To quote "Field of Dreams" : Build it and they will come.

Cars and more cars.

They won't get less, just more and more and more. Just like India.

The Santa marta airport lies right beside a golden beach where colombians swam the ocean.  Into santa marta itself which the lonely Planet complained was boring and spread out albeit with some good restaurants.

We were led to believe the place was some industrial rat hole sans heart.

Leaving out hotel tonight in the centre of old santa marta  and a half block away we entered into a huge pedestrian zone that was wilder than New Orleans at carnival.

Thousands of people spilling out from restaurants, clubs and street bars and cafes. This is only 7 pm mind you.

People performing socca; tribal drumming; merengue; Reggae, rock n rock and African-colombian chants: an ethnomusicologists dream.

Jewelry  makers, hip hop dancers and people juggling fire on every corner, the place so crowded you be wary of being a mark - the artful dodger awaits in the shadows of old pillars in the simon bolivar square.

Back in the 60s there was the iconic film "Easy Rider" co-directed by Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda. Two hippie motorcyclists drive across the country to find america.

There is a scene where they wait to drop acid in new Orleans and it's really weird. Not just because of the realist method acting direction, but Umm also because they are also on acid.

Sans acid  just looking for a restaurant I was reminded of a quip from Fran Lebowitz:"to go to to Rome is to realize Fellini doesn't make movies, he makes documentaries.


Thursday, February 07, 2019


Why is it that every hotel we ever book has construction going on starting at about 6:30 am?

Our hotel in villa de leyva is gorgeous however the work next door, couplEd with a dog who barks all night doesn't translate into good sleep. I could handle the cats fighting last night ,and the roosters who wake long before dawn and even the out of tune colonial church bells that sound frankly like large tin cans being hit; but the radio next door blaring merengue at 7:30 was a bit much.

We took a tour yesterday bleary eyed around the town.   A fascinating convent from 1650 where the monKS used the ubiquitous fossils found everywhere to decorate the buildings. Upon entering the entire floor space is made up of intricate designs made from ammomites, cretaceous plant life and ancient fishes.

To my glee I returned to an 8 year old girl later in the day. A visit to the excellent paleontology museum brought me back to the trembling excitement of being a dinosaur obsessed child.   You see villa de leyva was a warm shallow sea in the late cretacious period and is one of the very few places to ever find pleisiosaurs those enormous sea dragons as they are called here. They have pleisiosaurs coming out of the walls here with almost full perfectly preserved skeleton. So preserved in fact you could see last meals in their tummy (giant ammomites) and eggs in the fossilized extinct giant turtle.

Seeing a rare 50 foot long neck pleisiosaur completely intact sans last 30 feet had me almost screaming like a teen at a beatles concert in 1964.

This brings me to another question:

I wonder what the monks 500 years ago thought the fossils were.  I have read that they thought them life which had been made extinct in the Great Flood. Thus Noah didn't take any ammomites on board with him in the arc.

After our joyous dinosaur day (C said she had never been interested in them before until yesterday - the amazing symmetry of ammomites 10 feet across to a half an inch; the complete preserved skull of a pleisiosaur with eyes perfectly preserved - black pupil surrounded by white - 100 million years old)

Seeing things come perfectly to life from a distance of hundreds of millions of years is profound.

On the tender side, in the 500 year old convent, the brick tiles all original dating from 1650 - the years of construction, featured paw prints from goats, many dogs and a few cats who walked over them while the Terra cotta tiles dried in the sun before being kilned.

Most moving a few random footprints of  toddler, then on one a child likely of 7.  Someone who lived, ran, strayed where she shouldn't have, lived a life, and died and was buried 450 years ago.

I will never know her name but she, like the pleisiosaurs, livec, and I am witness to their existence.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

the trip

The first thing I neglected to remember was that some Latin American countries continue to keep siesta which means everyone is civilized and leaves for lunch. Unfortunately that meant waiting 45 minutes on  street in bogota for a woman to come back and sell me a camera battery charger which I had forgotten at home in our last minute packing before the airport.

After making the purchase where nikon requires not just your date of birth, blood type and ancestral history (provided by a wonder colombian women who was fluent in English and gave the woman her information just to speed things up) we were on our way to the bus station.

As c noted the bus station store are odd selling cans of tuna and hot dogs along with never ending rows of sweet cakes, breads and cookies,  plus beer.
upon boarding the bus I noted the front panels behind the driver which sported full length pictures of some aquatic themed Virgin Mary and on the right Jesus in heaven watching over the planet from outer space .

I for one was glad to be included in his presumed care.

Two terrifying Latin American bus driver hours later (4 hour ride only ha,f frightening) we were in villa de leyva. A 500 year old colonial town of Terra cotta roofs and cobblestone streets.

We wandered the streets today petting the ubiquitous mascotos (dogs -pets) that are very well cared for and run this town.

People here love dogs and the dogs have free rein of the city.

A hot day high in the Andes surrounded by mountains which having been a prehistoric sea floor risen high by tectonic action, release a bounty of priceless fossils and dinosaur bones. So common are the fossils that the quarried rock which built the town in the 1500 and 1600s, from walls to steps feature gobs of anomites, Cambrian sea life, plants and creatures extinct for millions of years.

A brief period of weirdness when eight colombian soldiers walked into town in full fatigues, helmets and sporting M-16s on full fire mode watching the low roofs around them spread out on patrol.  They took up guard in front of the town hall and stopped and searched anyone driving by, guns ready to shoot.

An hour later they disappeared into thin air it seems as a massive dark thunder head system crept up slowly up, over and down the mountains surrounding the town.

We ran to a cafe, one if many that surrounds the colonial square: plaza mejor.

The heavens broke and 2 hours of torrential rain fell from behind while the sun shone in front.

A colombian insisted on taking cell photos of his friends, a couple kissing in front of the historic fountain in mid square while the rain pelted so hard on the cobblestone it created mists as it was thrown back up.

The best: two turistas, I guess Germans by their clothes,  both in rubber sport sandals and indigo cotton shorts trying to race across the enormous cobblestone plaza without slipping or breaking an ankle; their quest to avoid getting soaked but it was too late by that time.

They were unfortunately followed and circled by one of the town dogs, a large golden retriever who got it into her head that they were playing a game with her.

Watch them turn and pirouette like football players as she tries to inercept and jump on them, sporting that huge innocent happy dog smile.

See them leap over the rivers that flow through the cobblestone plaza which has cut channels for the rain.

Did they make it to shelter at the Banque de Agricultural de Colombia on the far side?

The rain was too heavy then for me to see.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Bogota today

Amazing relaxing day just soaking in the cheerful Sunday in zona Rosa with dogs everywhere bicycles cafes late lunch and hundreds of Columbians watching the superbowl all cheering for the Patriots

I think Colombians love sports they never follow just because they are happy to cheer for someone

The entire street which is car free had large screens showing the game. People showed up in patriots gear although I caught a bunch of Colombians bursting oUT laughing at the singing twins and the weird frightening jet fly by .

Earlier in the day I asked for help in finding the huge mall from a small family.

The one son had spent 3 months in Winnipeg in the winter and still loved canada.

The other sister was a doctor and was very concerned when I said we were both suffering badly from altitude sickness. It hit C yesterday but hit both of us like a brick this morning.  The sister walked recommending over the counter medicine for our dizziness and feeling of leaden legs.  Their mother warned us repeatedly about how careful we needed to be.

She was worried we hadn't had lunch and wanted us to eat with them.

We had had a huge late breakfast of tamales cheeses eggs fruits and coffee so we were ok.

She insisted on writing down the names of the stores we needed to go to and the family email and phone numbers on a card.

You must call us if you need anything or information and please be welcome to Colombia and enjoy our beautiful country she said while her children translated.

It was a beautiful day.


Bogota is nothing like we expected. Having seen many a Latin America capital I expected the usual flat, dusty runoff squat buildings with iron gates and endless tire and car part stores.

Instead Bogota is perched in the Andes mountains stylish apartments hanging off of precipices in the mountains that the city covers.

We are staying in the middle class zona Rosa which is home to green parks and a bustling night club and restaurant scene.

Today traffic is closed and the streets filled with joggers and cyclists. Bogota also appear to love dogs who are everywhere generally leash free but wa.ki g besides their people without incident.

From an architectural perspective it's a beautiful area with new brick low-rise apartment buildings constructed in a tiered fashion with balconies overflowing with plants which tumble down the walls.

Neither of us can get over the number of parks and green spaces which cover the area. Although there are 10 million residents unlike mexico city it doesn't feel crowded.

The green initiatives are big here focusing  on water conservation, recycling and energy conservation.  All the street trees have a rubber mesh cover at their base to prevent the base from being used as an ashtray but also hold in water giving the city tree a gooddrink.

Our hotel,s exterior is planted with grasses and plants up the entire structure.

With respect to the Bogotans themselves they are some of the friendliest people we,ve met .  Yesterday while trapped with thousands of Colombians in a tropical mountain deluge people kept asking g if we needed directions or any information.

The other surprise was how high this city is. One of the highest capitals in the world at over 8450 ft above sea level in the Andes. Thus C hS had some altitude sickness symptoms telling this morning that she felt like she wasnt getting enough oxygen only then remembering that a Montrealer in the airport warned about altitude sickness.  But that has so mewhat mitigated her fears was having a heart attack which plagued her yesterday at the gold museum.