Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Barely Back in Canada

As the years go by I find airports harder to handle. They are a place where I am always saying goodbye to someone and it’s not too often there is anyone waiting for me on the other side. I had to say goodbye to my Bogota boy on the phone sitting on the floor in the airport. I felt like I was in a trance wandering around. After a good searching of my bag I was on the plane in my selected seat number 17 and asleep before the plane even took off.
My flight to Buffalo stopped in Orlando on the way, which was where I had to go through customs. I happily lined up in the foreigner line with all the Colombians, then after a look at my passport and the information about me on the computer I was escorted to another room. I had no idea what was going on. I was tired and a bit scared....hmmm...after 5 months in South America I arrive in the United States and this is the first time I am scared. A few Colombians were brought in with me all waiting our turn for doom. I felt like a criminal. They called my name and brought me into a small office where I was drilled with questions, I felt even more like a criminal but I did nothing wrong. The customs officer told me Colombia is a very dangerous place and asked why I was there. He probably has never been to the country. I told him that’s what people would like you to think but it’s beautiful and amazing.” At this point he is wondering where I hid the beautiful and amazing white powder Colombian souvenir. He asked me if I have ever been arrested, if I support myself or if my parents do, hello I’m 27! The questions went on and on. I had an easier time getting into Israel! They took me from that room into another area of the airport to wait some more. Did someone write mule on my forehead while I was asleep on the plane? Next was the bag search. I got really scared when I saw the big Latino customs officer putting on latex gloves; oh shit he’s going to put his fingers in my bum! Welcome to America!

Luckily it wasn’t a full cavity just a good thorough searching through all my personal belongs. The officer was very strict and ridged with me and I was not impressed at all. I couldn’t believe I had to deal with this. Then I saw him reaching for my secret condom pocket in my backpack. “Great! Just great!” but surprisingly it changed his attitude and loosened him up a bit. He reached in the pocket and found my stash and looked up at me. “What?!” I said “you should always be prepared and safe.” From then on everything he found in my bag turned into a joke regarding the condoms. “So this journal is this where you write about what happened with them?” It was slightly entertaining. After he had finished he helped me repack apologizing for messing up my precision packing and told me he sees a lot of people coming and going through the airport and I am the coolest girl he’s met. “Well you know what,” I told him, “I have been to a lot of countries in the world and yours is the hardest to get into.” I grabbed my bag and headed off finally having my freedom.
I looked around seeing all the oversized pasty people and a McDonald’s in the food court. Its official I am back in North America. I decided to join the lot and get a big Mac. Now I wouldn’t normally eat in a McDonald's but after Athens with my Ex it became tradition to eat in McDonald's in airports. It was odd being in an English speaking county again. I didn’t have to prepare and go over in my head what I was going to say to the woman at the counter. I could just order my food without thinking.

I discovered the Orlando airport has a fantastic wifi connection all through the airport and right at my gate were big comfy chairs with outlets so you could plug in recharge and compute away. It was fantastic time killing while I wanted for my flight. I thought it was the best thing in the world until I looked over and saw my planed had boarded and no one was around me. Crap! I had completely lost track of time while I was chatting to people, writing e-mails and messing about on facebook. I shoved everything into my bag and ran onto the plane, just in time.

This time I had someone to meet me on the other side, my parents. They had made the 4 hour journey to Buffalo to pick me up. It was a casual reunion as we had been through the routine many times before. It’s always good to see them again though. We drove to the Canada USA border and passed into Canada with no problem. I was on the final leg of my journey back to Canada to start a new job. As we past Tim Horton’s on the highway I looked out the window and wondered what adventures lay ahead of me on a boat in Ontario.

My Last Night in Colombia

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, when I figured I had my three, my streak of bad luck had to be over.....well it wasn’t. The story of my life, drama to the very end, I wouldn’t have it any other way though.

I said goodbye to a friend and went to a Juan Valdez coffee shop to buy presents for friends. I thought I could walk back to my friend’s house as it was only a few blocks away but the rain was so hard that I was getting soaked through and through. After witnessing a fight on the street between two businessmen I quickly got in a cab. Relieved to be out of the rain and saving my newly done hair. I was in a hurry to get out and in the house completely away from the rain. In my rush I had left one of my Juan Valdez bags in the taxi, which I realized after finding myself locked out of my friend’s house. I was stuck in the pouring rain, wet and cold, with no presents just a stupid bag of coffee. I wanted to scream. This reminded me of my last night in Panama last year. I was locked out of my friend’s apartment in the rain, seems to be tradition.

I called my friend several times but I only got the voice mail and I left a few panicky upset messages. I tried calling the friend I had just gone to a cafe with but again no answer. I rang the door bell again and again even though I knew no one was there. I tried to get a key from the neighbour but on the one side the maid had no idea what I was talking about and the other neighbours weren’t home. My bag of coffee and I were getting wetter and wetter. Eventually I discovered the number of a friend of the guy I was staying with, in my phone. I was given his number because he wanted to talk to me about opening a hostel in the north end of Bogota; we never ended up talking though. I felt a bit weird but I decided to give it a try and call him. It was that or stay in the cold pouring rain all night until someone came home. Fortunately he was in a meeting only a few blocks away and when I told him my situation he said he could pick me up.

I didn’t really know who was picking me up just some random guy that was in my phone but I remembered I actually had met him for a brief moment before the wedding I went to in January but didn’t remember what he looked like. I was delighted when a very stunning young Colombian guy showed up in a SUV. He got me out of the rain and put his suit jacket around me. I was quite upset and told him my long drawn out story of every shitty thing that had happened to me. He decided I needed to have a good last night in Colombia, seeing as how my friend was not answering his phone and it was close to 9:00pm. I had visions of a lovely dinner with my hair and nails done in my nice dress but that was never going to happen, he had to work late.
So after numerous beers and jokes about midgets we were feeling quite good and all the recent shitty events, my stresses, and my emotional upset about leaving Colombia washed away. My friend arrived home after 11:00pm to find me not there and my text message on his phone saying, “Please call me”. He got really concerned and tried making a missing persons report to the police. Which they wouldn’t do before 48hours, it’s a good thing! I wasn’t missing I was having a good conversation and getting pretty drunk, I knew exactly where I was.

Eventually he got a hold of me but I was having too much of a good time to leave, translation I was drunk and happy. We did finally leave as I had an early flight and my new friend has a very serious job that he needed to be at quite early.
Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea for the gentleman to have driven me home, we were followed by the police who pulled us over and caught him for drinking and driving. Like I said before just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse. The police took his shiny SUV to some place far from where we were. My friend was trying to call us all night but we were a bit preoccupied with the situation. Nothing we couldn’t handle though and eventually a nice bribe did the job.

By this time it was stupid O’clock in the morning and I had to get to the airport. My friend hadn’t left me a key outside like I instructed him to and the door was locked. I tried calling him and the house but no answer. This time it was serious I needed to get in to pack and get to the airport. The maid who didn’t look too happy finally appeared at the window and let me in, I felt like an ass. I quickly packed and tried to say goodbye to my friend but his door was locked and he wasn’t answering his phone, so I left. I felt bad for leaving without saying goodbye and I had a huge lump in my throat. I should have spent my last night with him. I wanted to go back in time to fix things but I couldn’t. I was exhausted and tired from everything and lack of sleep. I was emotional and upset; it wasn’t a good feeling waiting in the Bogota airport. I guess life can’t be sunny beaches all the time; you need to mix things up a bit to appreciate it all.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Colombia es pasion

My heart is still breaking as I spend my last few days in Colombia.

I have had to explain over and over again to my Colombian friends why I love this country so much. They understand why they are passionate for their own country but me being a foreigner it’s a bit strange for them, especially coming from such a peaceful, clean country like Canada. Colombia has its problems and it doesn’t have the best reputation in the world.

There is such a soul and passion to Colombia like no other place I’ve been. You feel it deep within yourself. Colombians don't take things for granted because at any moment it could all be taken away from them, unlike some people I know...cough cough Canadians cough cough. Come on, you know its true we have it too easy. Happiness for them is like sitting on the edge of a cliff at any moment you could be tipped off balance. For this reason they revel in their happiness through their distinct history, culture, music, dance and festivals, you can feel it in the music of Carlos Vives.

I don’t know if it was the strong coffee I had just drank in a Juan Valdez coffee shop or the soul of Bogota reaching within me but as I was walking the streets of the Candelaria my heart starting beating faster. I passed beautiful colonial buildings that looked like backdrops to a movie. I dashed into a bookshop to find refuge from the pouring rain that Bogota is known for. I had to brace myself as I was faced with an entire wall of Gabriel Garcia Marquez books. Cien anos de Soledad, an autobiography of the famous writer, Of Love and other Demons, Love in the Time of Cholera.....
I wanted to buy them all. As an aspiring writer, literature is one of my passions. I get overwhelmed in book stores and libraries. The smell of an old book is like a sensory passage into the past. My passion for literature combined with my love for all things Colombian was too much to handle in this store. I dragged myself away from Mr. Marquez but was caught by books about the guerrilla, the history of Colombia, politics, coffee, Botero, nacrotraffic....I rushed out to catch my breath and save myself from buying every book in sight regardless of my level of Spanish.
I was not safe on the street either; the beautiful Colombian men passed me on the streets with their dark skin, stylish clothes and Latin demeanour. They teased me with the smell of their wafting cologne.

I was infatuated with this country; I had butterflies just with the thought of it. As time passed, as I got to know her better, as I accepted the good, the bad and the ugly, my passion for the country stayed but the butterflies left and what remained was a deep love. A love I feel within my soul. As I got beneath the skin of Colombia she snuck up and got deep inside me.

Colombia es pasion

Semana Santa Colombian style

In Canada and lot of other countries we celebrate Easter with a bunny and chocolate eggs, the holiday seems to have lost its real meaning. I am a huge fan of chocolate but it is nice to see Easter celebrated like it should, as I did in Oaxaca, Mexico during Semana Santa a few years ago with a procession and a huge religious festival or in Colombia with a large group of friends on vacation together, drinking, relaxing and enjoying the heat.

I recovered quite quickly from my streak of bad luck with the help of Jack, Johnny and Jim. My three favourite men, although Johnny made me wake up in the maids bed, Jack made me a bit too flirty and Jim made me fall in the pool with all my clothes on...oops. Disgracie came out to play for the weekend.

I really wanted to hate my friend for tricking, kidnapping and forcing me to go on this trip with his university friends but it was really hard to do so. It was at a beautiful location in the heart of the coffee region with a swimming pool, mouth watering traditional Colombian food, plenty of alcohol and a fantastic group of people.
His friends, like most of the Colombians I have met are warm and welcoming. I really felt a part of the group. Most of them went to University together and they all live in Bogota, I was an outsider but never did I feel like it. As well most of them were couples but both the guys and the girls were open and friendly. There was always someone to chat to and always someone to have a round of pool with.
We went as a group to the Parque del Cafe, an entire amusement park dedicated to Coffee!! Upon entering the parking lot we all bought matching white hats, traditional to the region. We spent most of our time in the park taking group photos and standing in line for a ride. It really wasn’t a good idea to go to a park on a holiday weekend, the place was packed. It was still a fantastic experience for me though. I loved being a part of this group and going on vacation for Semena Santa like Colombians do every year.

It was a bit touch and go at times but overall it was a great kidnapping as far as they go in Colombia. The thing about me is I never stay mad and once someone has found a place in my heart they stay there forever, no matter what. I am so grateful for the amazing weekend I had in Armenia and the wonderful people I met, which I will always remember.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A string of bad luck

Maybe it’s a sign I should be leaving. Maybe it’s a way of making leaving this amazing country harder whatever reason I have been having a string of bad luck. There is the saying that everything happens in threes and after the first two events I was hoping a third wouldn’t happen but sure enough Tracy got shit on yet again.

The first incident: I started to experience really strong pains in my stomach. I thought it was female pains but it was so bad I couldn’t walk or even move for that matter. The fetal position didn’t even work. I felt like my stomach was going to explode. Eventually one of my boss’ at the hostel decided it was best to see a doctor. I got in his girlfriend’s car in my pyjamas and his sandals as mine are always left someone randomly in the hostel. Two really nice Colombian girls joined us to help out as well. We went to one clinic that was too much money then Miguel’s girlfriend Marjorie took me to her friend’s house who is a doctor. She examined me and told us to go to the hospital where she works. She pulled some strings and got me in right away. I was put in a room to get blood work done but there was nowhere to sit and the pain was so much that I sat on the floor much to the doctor’s disgust. My Spanish wasn’t so good in the state I was in, I yelled at them, “no Puedo!” They put me on a bed and the pain got so bad I felt nauseous and I yelled “necesito lie down! Necesito lie down!” once they got me laying down then I began to vomit. After which I felt a bit better. My friends left me and I spent the entire night in the hospital where I couldn’t sleep and I was very thirsty but they wouldn’t give me anything to drink. They did more blood tests and an ultra sound in the morning but couldn’t come up with what was wrong with me. I felt better and was let go. I hailed a taxi with cotton balls attached to my arm and hand, in my pyjamas.

The second incident:
Two days later it was my last night in the hostel I had planned on having a nice dinner with my hostel staff and friends that were staying there and after we were going to party it up in Rodadero, my favourite spot in the area for a rumba. A friend had borrowed my jacket and left it in a cafe in the centre so before going out I had to go to Santa Marta to retrieve it and I was working on a secret present for my friend’s birthday in Bogota that needed me to go into town as well. I wanted to get there quickly so I got a mototaxi instead of a bus. The mototaxi driver was really annoying me because he wouldn’t shut up and I couldn’t hear a word he was saying in the wind. I kept on having to say, “Como? Como?” He was really nice though and wanted to chat. He asked if it was ok to take a different route because of the traffic and I said it would be fine. I got to town quickly went about my errands then hailed another mototaxi to return. I made sure to get the right price before getting on. He wasn’t chatty which was nice I wanted to be left in peace. This one took a different route as well but didn’t ask me. I figured he also wanted to avoid all the lights and traffic. I know the area well and felt like we were going in the wrong direction. I asked him where we were going and he said Mamatoco so I stayed quiet. We then got onto the highway to Rodadero which is not the right way at all it’s completely out of the way. I was demanding to go to Mamatoco and he said we were. This wasn’t right I got a bit panicky when we went down a dark road way past Rodadero where there were no lights. I knew something bad was going to happen. He kept on asking what time it was and I didn’t have a watch so I said I don’t know. I then started screaming at him, “Where are we?! Where are we going?!” He just kept asking the time. Eventually I found my cell and told him. He said something that I didn’t heard and started grapping at my bag while he was still driving the motorcycle. I then yelled at him and hit him on the head several times with my phone and pushed him. He slowed down which enabled me to jump off and run. I was able to save the present for my friend but in the fight I dropped my jacket, the reason I went into the centre. I was stuck in the middle of nowhere on a new highway where buses or taxi don’t enter. Eventually I was able to get a friend from Rodadero come in a taxi to get me with the help of a really nice family that lived on the side of the highway. I have no idea what this mototaxi driver guy was thinking but he knows now not to mess with Tracy Gaudreau.

The third incident:
I was emotional about leaving my amazing friends and job in Santa Marta excited to go to Bogota to see my friend and go on vacation with him and his university friends for Semana Santa. I was in need of a little romance and what better time than a vacation in the hot land by a pool with a hot man. My first night in Bogota was fantastic then I was ignored for the next three days. I started to notice strange things, first his red sun glasses matched his running shoes and when we went for a run in the city with his friend they were sharing the same IPod. He dresses way too well and told me how he wants to put a full length mirror in his room to view himself while he dresses. After getting locked out of his room, avoided and discovering a Madonna CD, I came to the conclusion with the help of my close friends that my Colombian romance is gay and doesn’t know it. I was stuck on this vacation with a sexually confused guy who is too afraid of girls to spend the entire night with them. I walked the streets of Bogota cringing to myself thinking of all the signs I should have seen before. How blatantly obvious this should have been. He listens to Queen and the Village People!
I was thinking of a nice way to confront him about his sexuality when the actual truth came out, He starting seeing another girl and that’s why he was avoiding me. He is just extremely metro with another love interest. I was told this information right before we left on a 7 hour journey to Armenia where we were going to spend the weekend with all his in love coupley friends. I sat in the car where anger, hurt and frustration went through me in a cycle. I felt like clawing the windows and yelling, “I’m stuck in a glass case of emotion” like Ron Burgundy in Anchorman.

Drunken Thoughts in The Bogota Beer Company

I decided to take myself to dinner while my friend was working long hours in the law office. I ended up in the trendy neighbourhood of Usaquen in the Bogota Beer Company. Colombia’s answer to an after work pub.
I realized my alcohol tolerance has lowered after ¾ of a pint and I start to have drunken thoughts:
• I love beer
• Mmmmm Patacones
• He he he Patacone is slang for penis
• People in Bogota are so cool!
• This girl is so cool, she is really working her beret
• I should work my beret
• Did I just spend 9000 pesos on a beer?! Shit
• I’m drinking alone but I’m still cool?
• Maybe I should wear really big sunglasses when it isn’t sunny then I could be cool or “chevere”

• I wish I was chevere, one day
• Somebody has a really big present, I wish it was for me
• I am full of patacones.....he he he he
• I’m really not fashionable enough for this city
• No no no I’m really not vain enough for this city
• Another beer?
• Language problem, I asked for the menu and got the menu and another pint. I’m going to get drunk and go broke....alone

• I’m a loser
• I just sloped food on myself
• Cross legs in the opposite direction and everything will be ok
• Shit, I’ve discovered slop on the other leg
• I wish you could take beer to go. I’m stuck here with a full pint. Crap.
• Alright Beer it’s me against you. I will win I can drink you. I will drink you and escape; you do not have me trapped!

• A patacone really doesn’t look like a penis. I mean if you roll a penis over with a rolling pin then maybe but who does that?

• I wonder if I look drunk.
• I hope not
• Oh my god! I think I’m attracted to gay men!

Leaving Colombia

My plan was to stay away as long as possible. I worked as hard as I could all last summer taking any job I could find so I had enough money to support my travels and live in Colombia. I started off picking stones out of a farmer’s field with a bunch of elementary students. I would see friends from high school who I hadn’t seen in years and who are all now teachers. They would ask me what I do and well, I would have to tell them I pick stones. I then worked for my cousins business doing house restoration, landscaping and cleaning. I did a lot of painting and cleaning pubic hairs off the bathroom floor of the rich and disturbed. Eventually I found a waitressing job on a nearby Native reserve.

I saved up enough money to comfortably travel for six months then I would find work and a place to live in Colombia. As it happens though, an opportunity came knocking at my door. I received an e-mail from a cruise company in Ontario interested in me for a position in the 2010 summer season. I was in the beach party town of Monanita, Ecuador at the time and put the e-mail aside. The beach, $1.50 cocktails and hot Argentinean and Colombian men were waiting for me. It wasn’t until I got to Bogota and realized I should read through this e-mail and seriously think about it. For years I have been bouncing from one country to the next and from job to job wondering where the money would come from next and where was my next destination. I’m sure a lot of people make money from their blogs which enable them to keep traveling and enjoying this type of lifestyle but I get a bit caught up in traveling and let my blog slack too much. My fame and fortune as a writer won’t come from my blog but hopefully elsewhere(unless someone reading this somewhere wants to give me money and make me famous!). In the meantime this job is a fantastic opportunity to work in a unique environment save money and spend the winters how I please, exploring the world.

The only problem is, I have to leave Colombia. I had to battle with this conflict for some time now. I was excited to start this new job and all the doors it would open for me but now that it is close to my departure date, I am sad. I left Santa Marta on Saturday night and I have one week until I return to Canada. I have been mopey in Bogota and the rain and grey skies don’t help my situation. It feels like the end of a relationship. I feel like I am leaving a lover. I say I will be back but you never know what the future holds. I feel like this whenever I return to Canada after being abroad. I don’t feel like I am going home. I remember my last night in Panama city I was locked out of my friend’s apartment so I went to his roommate's restaurant, La Terreza a posh Japanese restaurant with the most amazing view of the city and the bay. I sat on a high stool outside above the city sipping red wine that Carlos brought me. I had the sinking feeling in my heart like I do now. It will go away I know this and I will see old friends and family. I will be in a bit of a culture shock with the country life in Canada but time eventually blends together. Spring will turn to summer and I will smile under the Canadian sun. Summer will turn to fall and just as the leaves are changing colour and you can feel the crisp cold in the air and the frost on the ground I will be packing my bags, booking a flight and leaving again.

Good bye my lover

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What six days in the jungle does to you

I love the outdoors and roughing it as much as I love luxury and being pampered. I felt completely comfortable on the trek. Although I am glad I wasn’t on it with a love interest, I stank! But I loved it! Sometimes its great to be single you can be dirty and smelly and it doesn't matter.

I was sweaty, dirty and smelly but it was great! I didn’t care. The instant you put clothes on they got soaked in sweat. By the second day all my clothes were filthy. I gave up caring and just enjoyed it. I also gave up showering in the showers. Why stand under a cold thin stream of water in a dirty shower when there is a river that you can swim in. If the locals could shampoo down there then I was going to as well. I’m sorry to admit this but the jungle also became my toilet. Not at the camps but along the way. I am proud to announce I did a number two in the jungle, much to the shock of the Londoners in my group. Yes I was pleased with myself enough that I had to share this fact with everyone. Dug a nice hole and covered it all up,it was a leaver! Come on I grew up in the country this was nothing.
I felt so comfortable there that I didn’t want to go back to civilization. I felt quite emotional leaving on the last day and getting back in the jeep bound for Santa Marta. I even liked the native’s potato sack looking outfits. I could totally sport one of those and make it fashionable, just add about 10 brightly coloured bead necklaces and a nice belt. They would take me in as one of their own and show me they’re ways. Instead I took my smelly ass back to the hostel where my bed, the pool, a beer and my friendly neighbourhood pizza man were waiting for me.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ciudad Perdida Part three: Playing with the Military

I heard a rumour in the hostel about some girl who was kidnapped by the FARC but fell for one of the guys who kidnapped her and joined the cause. She sent a photo to her boyfriend in her bikini holding a rifle with ammunition trapped across her chest and her new Colombian boyfriend standing behind. That was how she broke up with him. An American girl told me this story. Sometime later I was talking with one of my long term guests in the hostel who was telling me about the Ciudad Perdida trek. He mentioned he found some guys blogs

which gives a fantastic account of the trek, really well written with great photos. The best part he got to hang out with the military protecting the site and there was a photo of his girlfriend holding a rifle with ammunition trapped to her and a cheesy military guy standing behind. Underneath the photo was written, “I dared her...she did it....now it is a rumour on the Gringo trail.” The exact rumour I heard!
My friend Joe and I both agreed it was an amazing blog but I could do a better photo. The girl looked good but the guy was smiling, that is so not tough. So when I decided to do my Ciudad Perdida trek Joe said to me as I was leaving the hostel, “You know what you have to do.”
I came prepared. On the day that we left to hike the 1800 steps to the top I threw a bag with packages of cigarettes and a lighter in my backpack. One of the girls in my group had injured her knee and another ripped the nail off her toe so they were moving quite slowly. I knew I didn’t have much time to accomplish my mission so I kept a steady pace and tried not to slip on the wet uneven stairs. Once we got to the top and had a bit of a rest I was off on my own. I ditched my group in search of the military. I was told I would see them all over the place during the trek but I really had to search for them. It was getting very foggy and you could hardly see anything through the jungle. I kept on hiking further to the top until I saw a phone cable. I knew I was close then they noticed me and told me I wasn't allowed up there. I held up my bag of cigarettes and told them I have presents. They started to trickle down from their makeshift station and I did what I do best, chatted them up. I waited until we were all good friends, listened to some Daddy Yankee, made a few jokes while they smoke my cigarettes then I ask for a photo with the gun. It was the head commander guy I was asking and he wasn’t a fan of the idea. He asked me how I was going to convince him, at first I thought he wanted me to “do” something for him but he meant verbally convince him it’s a good idea, give him a reason. I told him I knew of a girl who came here and got a photo with the rifle and I wanted one as well. He didn’t buy it at first but wanted my IPod. That wasn’t going to happen. After much pleading and my putting my best flirting skills to the test he agreed. He told me I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone else and only I could do it. He didn’t want every tourist coming up asking for a photo (Sorry!).

I had my camo bikini and American Eagle Military shorts just for this occasion. My camo Che Guevara hat added to the effect. I posed alone without a cheesy military guy smiling behind me. The fog swirled around me as they showed me how the hold the rifle and took the photo. They seemed to like them quite a lot because after they all wanted to be friends with me on facebook.
We left early without seeing much because of the fog and it was starting to rain, a bit too much like Machu Picchu. What is with me and rainy ancient sites? I couldn’t imagine going up those traitorous steps again but our guides said it would be possible for us to go up again in the morning and I knew I had to.

The morning was bright and sunny and the steps were so much easier the second time around. I made it to the top in no time. I wasn’t preoccupied about getting my gun photo this time so I was able to enjoy and take in the site. No it wasn’t Machu Picchu but it was still equally incredible. Take away the dramatic landscape of Machu Picchu and take away Wayna Picchu the tall mountain that towers over the city then what do you have? Ciudad Perdida was a 3 day trek in the jungle. It is surrounded by lush vegetation and cascading waterfalls in the distance. Up until the end of Feb tourists actually camped right on the site. I was unaware of this, had I known I was have got my butt there sooner instead of spending an entire month on the beaches of Santa Marta. Our guide showed us the circles which used to be the houses and the shaman throne. In the centre of the site is a rock pointing towards the sun which is the fertility rock, I stirred clear of that rock; don’t want to be fertile just yet.

We saw my military boys coming down as we were going up. Had a little chat and kept walking. There is so much history in this site going back to the Tayronas and they believed it was a very sacred place. Some of my group agreed they seemed a lot like Avatar; I had yet to see the movie. You did feel a mystical presence there in all the beauty but I wasn’t as moved as the actress’s friends were telling me. They must be some of those movies stars that are into the whole new age voodoo. I was just taken back by the beauty of the place and the remoteness. There was no one up there but our guide, me, the Belgium girl and the Israeli guy from my group. Where else can you go to an important archaeological site and be the only one there?
Before going back down to camp I took a few more photos with the military guys that were left up there. I still wanted to play and I had one more mission yet to get accomplished. I needed to get a Colombian Military dog tag. Joe would be more than impressed. I asked to see their dog tags and asked questions about them. It was all fun and games until one guy pulled out a zip lock bag with a few tags in it. He told me they were friends of his who were killed near Medellin. You forget every now and then that this country isn’t stable and there is a civil war going on. No matter what I like to tell people back home kidnapping has happened and there still are dangerous parts to Colombia. This military guy’s comrades were just killed the year before. I almost felt guilty when he eventually let me have his dog tag. We were going to trade my necklace for it but my necklace wouldn’t come off, then he just ended up giving it to me. I gave him a kiss on the cheek for a thank you and walk away with my Colombian dog tag in the palm of my hand. Missions a success!!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ciudad Perdida Part two: Natives and Movies Stars

Everyone had told me that the first day of the Ciudad Perdida trek was the hardest. I also had a fellow traveller tell me, “The first day is the hardest, It’s a lot of walking and don’t expect Machu Picchu.” Right, I wasn’t expecting Machu Picchu, I wasn’t really expecting anything. I had written up information about Ciudad Perdida for our guests in the hostel but other than that I knew nothing. Back in the summer when I was reading about the trek the one thing that drew my attention was the fact that we got to sleep in hammocks in the jungle, which I was very excited for. No one really knows much about the lost city therefore you can’t have too many expectations or let downs, which is alright in my books.

Also as the old saying goes it’s not the destination but the journey. It didn’t really matter what lay at the end of this trail through the jungle, it was getting there that I was going to remember the most.

We did stay in Hammocks a few night but it’s wasn’t in the middle of nowhere jungle like I had expected, it was in a camp with showers, toilets and a kitchen for our guides to cook us dinner. You could even get beer although the closer you got to the site the more expensive beer got. The great thing about the camps was most of them were located on the river that we were following towards the lost city. After a day of hiking in the humid heat of the jungle you could refresh in the crystal clear water of the river and bathe under a waterfall.

In the camp which was halfway to the site I had come back from swimming in the river and was waiting for lunch when I say a super attractive guy come strutting up with two large backpacks, he threw them both down walked over to the cooking area chugged a glass of water and smacked the locals guys and guides on the backs. He was oozing with pure testosterone. He had a very mainly physic, tattoos and light wavy hair. I had to calm myself from the scene that had unfolded in front of me. Soon the rest of his group arrived and later on as I was sunning myself on a rock in the river trying my best to look sexy I noticed his whole group was extremely attractive, especially the one girl with long dark hair.
After our dinner my group moved over to extremely attractive group’s table to play some cards but instead we got in a conversation with them. They were all friends from Bogota and one of the couples had just gotten married up in Ciudad Perdida by an indigenous shaman. It was the coolest thing I had heard. The indigenous population in the area have not really changed much in centuries. There are different tribes one being the Koguis but all of them are very similar and they do not talk to tourist or like their pictures taken. They are very private, shy people. I have heard some people say they are rude and not nice but this is untrue. They just want to be left alone. This does create a problem though, if they do not communicate with the outside world their culture is in danger of getting lost. You cannot find much information on the natives in this area in books or on the web and they do not read or write it is only oral education. This group of people from Bogota was very much into the native’s culture and understood the importance of preserving their traditions and identity. They had one indigenous guy with them who knew a bit of Spanish and they wanted us to teach him a bit of English. With his assistance they taught us a bit about their culture. He pulled out a gourd shaped wooden object from his bag. This was a symbol of manhood. When you became a man you receive one. You need to mush up coca leaves in your mouth and mix your saliva with seashell powder to make a paste which you rub on the outside of this thing to give it a really big rim. It takes a lot of time to make this.

The Bogota group told us lots about the natives and it was very interesting to hear about their close relationship to nature. It was a very rare experience that we got to sit and chat with this guy about his ways and traditions while most travelers just pass on through the indigenous villages trying to take a sneaky photo, we had a native right at our dinner table teaching us about his people.
They told us in the morning a Shaman was going to come and visit. He came while we were eating breakfast with his white pointy hat. He gave a necklace to the sexy guy with wavy hear and let him take their photos. My group just stood off to the side in amazement.

We soon left in the opposite direction of the Bogota group, continuing our ascend to the Ciudad. It wasn’t until a while later that our guides informed us that the couple who got married is actually Zharick Leon and her boyfriend, a famous Colombian actress and singer. None of us had ever heard of her but it was still cool that we got to hang out with a famous Colombian actress.
As well the fact that she did the hike with her closest friends and wedding dress in her pack gave me a whole lot of respect for her. Other famous people have visited the lost city such as Juanes and Political figures but they all flew in by helicopter. It appeared her and her friends have a strong appreciation for the natives, nature and their country.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Ciudad Perdidad Part one: Tejo in Machete

I didn’t have much time left in Santa Marta before heading off to Bogota for Semana Santa. I wanted to go on the Ciudad Perdida trek and return to Santa Marta for the weekend to make a rumba in Rodadero. As it turned out my planning was a bit off I wanted to leave on Election Day when everything was closed. I eventually found one company going. Because of the elections our group was very small we had just 5 of us.

Ciudad Peridad is older than Machu Picchu. When the Spanish came over they killed and forced the natives (The Tayronas) out of their land so the city was left to be forgotten under the thick jungle. It wasn’t until a group of grave robbers years later stumbled upon the location that it was discovered. Archaeologists uncovered it but because of its location it was a hot bed for many years of fighting. Even recently back in 2003 a mass kidnapping of tourist took place at the site. Now there is a huge military presence and has been safe for many years.

To get to the area that the indigenous believe is sacred and powerful you have to take a jeep for two hours into the mountainous jungle on a bumpy trail. You then arrive at a small village known by the locals as Machete. The hike to the site and back can take from 4 to 6 days depending on how much you want to walk in a day. I decided on the 6 day hike, my reasoning; it’s the same price no matter how many days you do it, I am getting my money’s worth of food, drinks and accommodations.

My group arrived too early to Machete as we wanted to avoid the police on Election Day. It was 10:00am and hot, so we did what any sane person would do, start drinking beer. The local men shirtless with machetes hanging from their jeans were playing a traditional Colombian game called Tejo and drinking beer. Always up for anything I decided to join in with the men. The game is somewhat like horse shoes which we play in Canada but instead of a horse shoe you use a tejo, a heavy round disc. Instead of hooping the horse shoes around a post you are throwing the tejo towards a frame of wood filled with clay. Inside the clay is triangles called mecha filled with explosives. Yup that’s right explosives, come on this is Colombia. I have been telling you all along there is fire and passion in this country. To get point you have to set off the explosives. It quite a masculine game but the guys accepted me in the game and were eager to show me how it was done. With a sip of my beer of threw my first tejo which went nowhere close to the clay and a few guys had to duck out of the way. So I needed to warm up a bit. My next one was perfect, I didn’t set off the explosive but I had fantastic aim and was quite proud of my throw.

Eventually we had to say goodbye to our new friends and leave them to their beer and games. We started on our trek toward Ciudad Peridad, 5 of us plus our two guides and mule.

Previously on Lost: Parque Tayrona

Santa Marta isn’t just fantastic beaches, it has a little of everything, the Sierra Nevada Mountains behind with villages, waterfalls, rivers and organic coffee. There is also Rodadero, a little Miami where the wealthy from the interior like to play. On the opposite side of Santa Marta is the backpacker/fishing village of Taganga, which is also a fantastic place to take a diving course. Then there is the jungle trek to Ciudad Perdida. However if beaches are what you want and what you came for, the best in South America lie in Parque Tayrona, Colombia.

I had wanted to go for ages but wanted someone to go with me. What’s the point of sleeping in a hammock on a beautiful beach practically naked (in some places completely naked) by yourself? A really cool group of Argentineans came to the hostel along with two amazing Chilean girls, my perfect opportunity for beach paradise. After convincing my bosses with my best big eyes, I packed my bag, grabbed my hammock and bug net and jump on a bus. The Argentineans left about twenty before me so I had to get there by myself on two buses and then hike through the jungle for an hour to catch up.

At the entrance military searched by bag before entering then I had my trek ahead of me. An hour completely alone in the jungle can do funny things to you. I found myself practicing my double R’s in Spanish, saying out loud “Carretera, Carro, perro.” I sounded completely ridiculous. I moved quite quickly on the trail hoping the find the others on the beach, waiting for me with water and food as I ran out of the hostel too quickly I had nothing but one small bottle of water.
I finally got to where the jungle opens up to the beach but it was deserted. There was no hot Argentineans, no one in sight. I found an Italian couple that had stayed in my hostel but they hadn’t seen them. I looked at the campsites guest book and they were not in there. Strange, they told me Arrecifes the first beach why would they go to another? I walk on further checking in at each campsite and found nothing. I then started to ask random people if they had seen 5 Argentineans. Right, it’s like asking if you have seen a Chinese person in Sydney. I was first directed to La Piscina the next beach with more camping but they weren’t there either. I walked back to the first beach and saw no one again. The next group of people I asked directed me to the furthest beach El Cabo, there were lots of Argentineans and that is where most people stay. I was tired, hot, hungry, thirsty and frustrated. How hard could it be to find some Argentineans on a deserted beach? I trekked through jungle trails to get to the last beach. I was even too exhausted to care about a monkey that was hanging in a tree beside me. Once I got to El Cabo I saw a fantastic campsite with tents, an island hut with hammocks, people playing games, a football pitch and a line of ants carrying bits of leaves across the ground in front of me but no Argies. Again I checked the guest book and they weren’t in there. It didn’t make sense at all. I had seen so many past guests from the hostel and random other people I had met elsewhere but not the Argentineans. I hiked back again to the first beach. People saying hi and asking if I had found them along the way, even vendors selling Arepas and soft drinks in wooden huts asked how I was doing and if I found them.
I didn’t know what to do I was about to give up when I got to Arrecfies I saw a group of people sitting on the beach. It was them and they had just arrived. Apparently they walked 20 min before catching a bus then their bus broke down and they had to wait to get another. They didn’t get the bus from the park entrance to the start point of the trail so I had past them hours ago.

It was late and getting dark so we got our hammocks set in Don Pedro’s camping. The next day I showed them the way to get to the beaches which I knew inside and out. When we came to El Cabo it was like paradise, a clear blue sky, palm trees, coconuts, and warm Caribbean water with lots of brightly coloured fish. We spent the day sunning, swimming and eating coconuts. I could have stayed a week. I didn’t end up making it to the nude beach which was one of my goals but again I wasn’t going alone and the opportunity to go didn’t present itself also I was too tired from my trek the day before. It will have to be another time but hopefully the trek next time will not be done alone and I will trade my hammock for a hammock for two.

Paradise found in Parque Tayrona, Colombia

Monday, April 5, 2010

Beach Villages Of The World And Their Seedy Under Belly

I have lived in quite a few beach villages in the world and for some reason they all seem to remind me of the first one, Perissa on the island of Santorini, Greece. It’s not a real Greek village and when the reason is over the stores, hotels, hostels and restaurants are all boarded up and forgotten about during the rainy, windy winter months. In the summer it seems like a paradise with scorching hot temperatures, fantastic Greek restaurants lining the beach front, cheap cocktails, the Aegean Sea to cool off in and an impressive mountain behind the village. As a tourist you are unaware of what is really going on with the workers, the business owners (who are from the main land) and the island locals. I have found the smaller the village the more drama you will find. I worked seven months in Perissa and in my first months, a 23 year old Canadian girl got into a car accident killing a local Greek man and sending the owner of the vehicle to jail on another island for three days, and that was only the beginning of the season. I stayed for quite a while in other beach villages but it wasn’t until I went to Roatan Honduras where I was one of the workers again. I reminded of Perissa but this time it was on a Caribbean island known for one of the best dive sites in the world. I have found where there is sun sand and tourism there is also drugs, murder and scandal. The unsuspecting tourist has no idea what is really going on behind the scenes in their 5 star resorts or their fancy dive shop.
I lived right on the beach in West End of Roatan where the village consisted of one road with restaurants, stores, bars and dive shops competing for the small amount of divers arriving to the island. The drama between the different dive shops was multiplied by certain seedy characters that thrived on causing trouble. Then you had the island locals who would get into fights over drugs. Prostitutes would linger in bars hoping to be taken back to a hotel to earn a day's wage. All the time while this is going on tourists and cruise passengers are sipping their Margaritas, sunning themselves in the warm Caribbean sun and forgetting all their stresses of home.

There is a beach town like these near Santa Marta called Taganga. It used to be a small fishing village but now has turned into a backpackers beach hang out. It’s not a real Colombian town, the people that live and work there are only there for the tourists. In the night clubs it’s rare to find Colombian locals. You will see drunken tourists dancing to the Black Eyes Peas. The Colombians that you do find are there to supply the gringos with their magic white powder. There used to be a colony of Argentinean hippies that lived in the mountains of Santa Marta but years ago some were murdered and forced out. They now live on the streets of Taganga, penniless. What do you do if you were robbed in Colombia and left with hardly any money or possessions? Apparently the answer for one guy was to sell drugs to tourist in Taganga. Backpackers flock to this beach paradise for the diving, beach and parties but little do they know like most beach villages there is a seedy under belly secretly tucked under a blanket of the scorching Caribbean heat.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Dreamer Hostel, Santa Marta, Colombia

I normally wouldn’t write about a hostel in a blog. I have learned while traveling to be very careful who I recommend a hostel to. One person’s palace is another person’s nightmare. The Dreamer hostel is different though because it was where I arranged to work.
Back in August I was surfing the net looking for information on Colombia and perhaps opportunities for work when I came across a forum. Some guy put up a post inquiring if he would be able to work in Colombia to stay longer. There were the usual replies from knobs such as, “you are not Colombian you can’t work there, why do you want to take job away from the locals”, or the usual English teaching job suggestions. Then I saw a reply from a hostel owner saying he will be opening up a hostel in Santa Marta Colombia in either December or January and is looking for staff. I replied to the hostel owner hoping he would forget this guy and hire me. We kept in contact since and I arranged to arrive in late February after Carnaval. On my way through Peru and Ecuador I tried promoting the hostel to help him out.
I didn’t know much about the hostel, only that is was somewhere in Santa Marta and the owner was Italian. I was a bit weary though because I had no idea what it was going to be like. I feared it was going to be one of those party hostels that you find all over South America. The bar is raging all night full of drunken Canadians, Aussies, Brits and the rests of the gringos. Girls are coming out in groups from the bathroom after having done lines of coke. People are shagging in one bed while coke is being dealt in another. A guy is so messed up on coke and drunk that he shits on a white pool chair.
I wasn’t sure what my new job was going to be but if it was going to be behind the bar I was afraid I would be the one feeding this mob and creating the disaster.
I left late from Barranquilla on a last minute decision and got on the last bus to Santa Marta. I got dropped off somewhere on the side of the road in the dark and the bus driver grabbed a taxi for me. The taxi driver had no idea where he was going and had to ask directions several times, we eventually got to The Dreamer Hostel. I was tired from the bus ride and from the week of Carnaval so I didn’t take in much of the hostel only that I was greeted by a very friendly attractive Italian who told me they had been waiting for me.

In the morning I was refreshed and able to discover the hostel and Santa Marta. It is beautifully designed with one storey colonial buildings surrounding a swimming pool. To one end is a guest kitchen with a bar yet to be established. Off of reception is a TV room with comfy couches and all the way around hammocks are hanging waiting for the tired traveller. It is a traveller’s paradise. The owners Fulvio and Miguel are young Italian guys who also share the passion for travel. They went on an around the world trip in 2006 for 18 months with the thought in the back of their minds to try and find a location for a hostel. They travelled the United States, Mexico, Central and South America, India, South East Asia and more countries but of all those places they fell in love with Santa Marta, Colombia. At the time as well there weren’t any hostels in Santa Marta. In the last year they have been popping up all over.
They have a lot of enthusiasm towards their hostel and pay a lot of attention to their guests. I haven’t seen hostel owners as helpful as them. I started out trying to organize them and make touristic information for the guests then I worked in reception. When we had a full house we made BBQs and on weekends we took the guests to the city centre to drink Aguardiente in the Parque De Los Novios and dance in the discos.

I was delightfully relieved that is was just the type of hostel I was hoping for. It reminded me of the hostel I worked in, in Mexico. It felt like home and the owners and employees felt like my family. The hostel is located in a neighbourhood outside of Santa Marta called Mamatoco, set amongst beautiful houses with grandmas rocking in their rocking chairs on their front porch trying to cool off from the hot Santa Marta nights where at midnight the temperature hovers at 35C.
The Buena Vista shopping centre is only 3 blocks away with a huge super market and at night you can get the best pizza in Colombia from a street side vendor for 2000pesos a slice ($1).
I would lie in a hammock by the pool of the hostel writing on my laptop in my bikini thinking to myself, Carrie Bradshaw had her location all wrong.

Check out my updated post about the Dreamer hostel; The Dreamer Hostel Santa Marta Six Months later
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