Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Colombia; to stay or to go?

I was infatuated with Colombia even before I knew the country then I fell in love. I was crushed leaving to work in Canada but I knew I would return. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder but also time changes things and that new love wares off. I am still passionate about this country but I have come to realize Colombia isn’t it for me, or Santa Marta isn’t it. I thought it would be. I thought this was the place for me but since returning I have felt very unsettled. Each minute I change my mind about staying or leaving. I originally wanted to fly to Argentina from here but then I decided to stay and work in the hostel again in Santa Marta. The area is beautiful, I know it, and I love the beaches, the parties and the people. Santa Marta is comfortable and this is why I need to leave. I need to be inspired, I need adventures and to discover new places. I need to be writing. I can not stay working in the hostel.

Some people don’t like to keep a journal but I believe it helps. You remember why you made the choices you did and why you act a certain way. I realized each time I start traveling after working for a long time I feel out of sorts and misplaced. I feel the need to stay in one place but then that doesn’t feel right either. It takes me a while to get back into traveling and to spending money without any coming back in. I almost stayed in Guatemala to work at the Piscina in San Pedro two years ago then last year I accepted then changed my mind about working in the Kokopeli hostel in Lima Peru at the beginning of my travels.

I am a traveler and the road is calling my name I just need to listen to it. I became very frustrated when I couldn’t find a flight under $900 to Buenos Aires but do I really need to go to Argentina now? I don’t have any solid plans which mean I am open to anything. People had suggested different options to me but I wouldn’t listen even if they made complete sense. It wasn’t until I had lost all hope when the Brazilian walked in. He was leaving for Medellin and forgot his laundry. Brazil! The Amazon! The Amazon is my dream for this trip but being here I have lost sight of that.

A guy here in the hostel has a tattoo that says “The obstacle is the path” There was my answer all along. Colombia is my path to Brazil. I don’t even know all of Colombia because I spent so much time in Santa Marta working. It makes sense to stay in Colombia but travel it and get to know it better. Rediscover why I fell in love with this magnificent country. I have a feeling my adventures in Colombia are just beginning.

My Colombia I am not leaving you yet.

The Dreamer Hostel Santa Marta; Six months later

As an aspiring travel writer to hear the words, “I am here because of what you wrote.” is a huge compliment and accomplishment. The posting I wrote about the Dreamer Hostel in Santa Marta back in April when I was working there has been my most visited posting. I didn’t realize how many people read it until I returned six months later to visit my friends and relax on the beaches of Santa Marta before traveling South America again. Fulvio one of the owners told me I was famous and my blog was very popular as a lot of his guests had come to the hostel because of my blog. While staying here I even had an older guest tell me I was the reason he was there. He was impressed by what I wrote and liked how personal it was. He told me when he walked through the door to the Dreamer he felt like he stepped into a different world, a traveler paradise. The Dreamer lived up to what I had written and more.

Six months on and a lot has changed. The measly patches of grass that Brian the night worker had to water every night is now a lush green lawn. The bar is up and running with a traveler serving happy hour drinks alongside a pool table. The kitchen is revamped with an additional stove, microwave and more counter space. They have built a grass hut to house Ristorante I’Alchemista serving the best homemade Italian food in Santa Marta. The sketches on the walls have turned into beautiful murals. Reception is way more organized than when I was here before. As well during my stay they hired a Dutch girl to organize activities such as trips to beaches and waterfalls, Quiz nights and football games.

Tigre the little kitten that was mischievously jumping at my ankles my first night here back in February is now a full grown cat that has calmed down to the pace of life on the coast. There are many more improvements planned for The Dreamer to make it the ideal place for travelers to discover the area around Santa Marta and to relax.

It was a bit odd coming back and not being a part of the place, not working here and telling people where to go and what to do. I loved sharing my insights and secrets of the pearl of the Caribbean. The staff has also changed as well Milady the cleaning girl has moved away, the night guy Brian left and young Jose who would collect people from the bus station has gone onto university in Medellin. The Dreamer doesn’t even need him anymore it has gained enormous popularity but still keeps its laid back charm.

I was happy to see my favourite pizza man is still there up the road from the hostel serving pizza even in the pouring rain always smiling and loving what he does. The great and economical fast food joint Rapitoco on the main street near the hostel is also still there serving hamburgers, salchipapas and other great food. The bar La Puerta is still the happening place pumping out reggeaton and popular music. I even drank a bottle of Aguardiente in the parque de los Novios for old time sake. Now the hostel even offers Chiva bus parties on weekends which are a crazy alcohol filled ride through the city stopping to dance on the beach in various locations.

Unfortunately not all travelers share the same dream, the caring and compassion as the owners of The Dreamer Fulvio and Michel. A couple had stayed one night in a private room at The Dreamer and left to Taganga without paying. Fulvio contacted the hostel where they were staying and went to collect the money he forgot to pay. The guest got very angry with him and without reason, he was the one who did not pay his bill. He threatened Fulvio and said he is going to cost him more than the worth of his room. Since then he had written untrue information about the owners of the Dreamer and the hostel on travel sites, forums and blogs. He is saying that the manager of the Dreamer is working with the police in Taganga and they made him with draw a large amount of money from an ATM. He even has gone as far to say they arranged violence on this guy’s girlfriend. (This is what he is writing)This horrible incorrect slander was even written on my blog posting. I was outraged someone wrote something so awful about my friends on my blog, friends of mine who are only trying to live their dream of helping travelers. They have taken this incident in stride there isn’t really anything than can do but continue the outstanding services they offer.

Please do not listen to bad comments made towards The Dreamer I highly recommend the place to anyone. If you have stayed here in the past please tell people about the experience you have had here. Feel free to write a review on Trip Advisor, the Lonely Planet or if you make a reservation through Hostel World remember to review the hostel after you have left.

If you are going to the hostel or even just Santa Marta feel free to contact me about any questions or concerns regarding your travels. I can give you any tips or advice you may need for Parque Tayrona, Ciudad Perdida and other places in the area.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A return to Colombia

Days were counting down until my flight to Colombia and no call from Air Transat. I was completely unprepared to leave as I was sure I would receive a call just like the 2000 other people. My mind had been on this job as well as the walking tours I was making and I had failed to realize that I was flying right into a huge carnaval in Colombia. Of course there is a carnaval in Colombia! I didn’t book a hostel because I knew Cartagena and where to go but now that there is a huge festival I may be screwed! I’m usually on top of these things, usually my whole reasons for traveling is a carnaval.

Even though I was unprepared with an accommodation I had all my documents ready to enter the USA where my flight was leaving from, unlike last year when I was almost denied entry. I had six hours to kill in the Detroit airport, then a flight to Fort Lauderdale in which I was placed beside a couple who fell asleep locked in an embrace Romeo and Juliet style. My second flight and the last leg of my journey I sat beside a really nice American guy who was going to Colombia for his grandfather’s funeral. We chatted the whole way over a noisy bachelor party group behind us. They were off to Colombia for 5 days of drinking, partying, celebrations and the Miss Colombia beauty pageant which was just one of the attractions that was going on. From Nov 10th to Nov 15th Cartagena is the focus of this country which is obsessed with beauty. Plastic surgery, fashion and glamour thrive here. The other event going on during the same time is the independence of Cartagena.
I had been awake for almost 30 hours but was enlivened by the energy in the city. I could see the dancers in brightly coloured costumes as our taxi zipped by. It finally dawned on me, I am back in Colombia!

I hadn’t written about Cartagena before on my last travels and I finally remembered why. I liked the city and there is a lot to see and do. Previously I took a trip to the mud volcano, hung out on the beach at La Boca Grande, toured the old city, a little dancing and a lot of drinking. I returned to the hostel I stayed in before because it had a pool and I remembered how hot the city gets. I seemed to have forgotten the type of hostel it was, a party hostel. I do love a good party don’t get me wrong but you find these type of hostels all over South America...actually you can find this hostel with the same people in any city in the world. They were all speaking English, getting drunk, doing drugs and listening to English music. They are completely oblivious to the country they are actually in. I had one girl suggest a certain bar to me because it won’t be playing Latin American music. I am in Latin America of course I want to listen to Latin American music. Music is all a part of the experience. How can you get to know a country and its people without one of the most important cultural elements? That was the thing; a lot of people do not really want to know the country. They want to see a site, have a good time and say they have been to that country. Fair enough but that is not how I travel. I want to learn the language, the music, the people, the politics, the dance, the food. I want to try and taste it all.

So while the other travellers were drinking in the hostel bar discussing where they should go. I grabbed my gorgeous Brazilian roommate and went down to the Club Colombia beer garden where they were playing Latin American music.

The beats of salsa, cumbia and reggeaton dragged me in. It was twelve thousand pesos to enter ($6.40usd) which gives you 6 beers and the best party in town. People where dancing everywhere with buckets of beer. The music was pumping and it was hot in all senses of the word. The atmosphere heightened when it started to rain with soaking wet bodies gyrating to the music. I even noticed a couple dancing on top of an old podium for a fountain. The Air Transat job and all my unnecessary worries were the furthest thing from my mind. The rain got harder and harder forcing me and my Brazilian to find shelter then make a run for it in ankle deep water on the street to our hostel.

I have returned to Colombia to relax, visit friends, see more of the country, and let the passion of this vibrant place start me off on my South American adventures.

Monday, November 8, 2010

My dream job!

To go, or to stay, I was debating what I should do? Go to South America as planned since I got my boat job or to stay in Canada and wait for the chance of a life time.
I thought the job on the boat was perfect I could work six months of the year then have the winters off which enables me to travel and focus on my writing, my dream, my passion. After working my first season on the boat I realized how much of a bubble it is and is this plan really ideal for my long term goals? I considered going back to university for journalism but the suffocating feeling of being in one place for 4 years and being in debt put that idea to the back burner, as well as a snotty recruitment officer from Carlton University. Do I really need a degree?

I knew what I wanted to do this winter as far as next year I was going to take some time to think it over. In the meantime I booked a flight to Cartagena, Colombia for Wednesday Nov 10. I also booked a bus Tuesday November 09 from my hometown to Detroit to get the flight. In the intern time between finishing on the boat and my departure I have been working on walking tours of Oaxaca City, Mexico for GPSmyCity ( They contacted me through my blog and asked me to be a travel content writer. I agreed back in August but told them because I was on a boat I couldn’t start the walking tours until October. I had to teach myself how to do audio recordings, pin point GPS coordinates and write interesting blurbs about sites. It was quite time consuming especially because I had no idea what I was doing.

In the midst of my tour making frustration I went to sign onto my yahoo e-mail and saw on the yahoo news Air Transat offering dream job. I checked it out and discovered it really was my dream job. I remember telling my co-worker on the boat I wish someone would just come up to me and offer me my dream job where I get paid to travel and write about it, everyday is different and a new adventure and I would be able to see my name in print. As I read the requirements on the screen it was like someone had already looked at my resume and designed a job for me.

• Must be at least 21 years of age – Check!
• A passion for travel –So check!
• A taste for pleasure and adventure – Check and check!
• Strong oral and written skills – check!
• Strong interpersonal skills – check!
• Able to project a dynamic, energetic image – Check!
• Good knowledge of social media – Check!
• Independent, able to adapt – Check!
• Able to travel (2 consecutive weeks per month for 1 year) – Check!
• Good mastery of digital audio-video equipment – Check…well I can figure it out!
• Able to manage a flexible work schedule – check!
• An excellent knowledge of English is necessary, due to the nature of the work – Check!
• Spanish an asset – Check and in Spanish por supuesto!
• College and/or university degree a must – Check!
• Must have a valid Canadian passport – Check!
• There must not be any restrictions preventing the vacationer from travelling and crossing borders – Check!
• Good knowledge of software (Suite Office) – do do do do DO check!

That is Tracy Gaudreau in a nut shell! Air Transat is looking for someone to be a Vacationer a foreign correspondent to travel to 12 destinations in 12 months and share your experiences with the public using web videos and a blog. To apply I had to make a two minute video, the first minute talking about a local attraction and the second minute why I would be the best candidate. I wrote out a few things, researched the famous Peterborough Lift locks and recruited my friend to film me on my tiny little green point and shot canon camera. I downloaded Windows movie maker to make and edit my movie which I had to teach myself how to do. I was quite happy with the results and even happier that I did it on my own. I was trying to recruit my movie maker friend to help me out but couldn’t wait to align our schedules. My video is 100% a product of Tracy Gaudreau. I stayed up until midnight finishing it off and tweaking my resume. I was so nervous when I pushed the apply button and sent it off into cyber space. This job and video consumed my life for over a week when I hit send I was relieved I could relax try to put it out of my mind for a few days and see what happens.

10:10am the next morning Michel from Air Transat called to interview me. My previous posting WRTIENOW is a result from that call. They told me they would let me know by November 8th if I get a second interview. I couldn’t sleep for 2 weeks.

I am now relieved that I didn’t wait to the last minute to apply and got my application in early. I discovered on the Air Transat Vacationer facebook page the site was having problems and people couldn’t get their resume and video in. The site most likely crashed with everyone submitting their videos at the last minute. It looks like tough competition as well, I do admit I have been creeping the Vacationer facebook page. There is a girl who's travel blog won an award for best blog of 2010! She won an award for her blog and mine only gets viewed by my friends on facebook or random people who google putas (note to self no matter how funny it is to you never use puta in a title for one of your postings again). Although my ambitious and competitive nature is not going to let these award winners and seemingly friendly posters on the site get me down. I am still pretty freaking awesome if I can toot my horn this one time.

Now back to my problem, I thought I had a plan, Air Transat said they would call by November 08 if I got a second interview now the deadline for applying is pushed back and a lot of people have applied last minute there is no way they are going to get back to me within the day, logically speaking. So I am leaving on a plane to Colombia. If they call I will fly back for an interview but if not then I can continue trying to obtain my goals of traveling and writing. The Gringa Trail is off again for new adventures in South America!

Fingers, toes and everything else crossed that I get a call back! To view my video application check it out on The Gringa Trail facebook fan page!
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