Thursday, January 28, 2010

It´s the little things...

I love the little details that make us who we are, as individuals and as a culture. Like how Americans are so used to tipping, and it seems so ridiculous to people here. Or how a lot (not all!) American men don´t dance because they don´t feel macho, and yet here you´re not macho unless you can dance. Or how a man with a bag in the US is looked at strange (I believe they are called ¨manbags¨or the ever-famous ¨murse¨ + purse), but here it´s typical... men need to carry things too! How Americans like our meat served in such a way where we can completely disasociate it from the animal from which it came. But here, you get an entire fish or guinea pig (in Peru... Cui!) staring back at you from a plate, or an entire hoof in your ambiguously-named soup. You know, just those silly little things.

In both Colombia and Peru, typically food is served with potatoes or rice, and many times with both. That´s like, the first no-no rule I learned of dieting back home... don´t combine your carbs! But that´s a foreign concept here. You´ll never see a plate of food in Peru without potatoes and rice on it. Colombians also fry just about everything, and add sugar to just about everything, even their natural fruit juices (all hail the maracuyá!!!). Consequently, most of them have a barriga (a belly), and frankly, no one seems to mind. It´s refreshing to be in a culture that embraces people of all sizes, after a year of living among the Argentine anorexia/ body-obsessed community.

In Colombia, when you buy something, you say thank you to the person who sold it to you. In Argentina, when you buy something, they thank you. And forget what your Spanish teacher taught you about saying ¨you´re welcome¨in Spanish... you won´t hear many people saying ¨de nada.¨ In Argentina, they say, ¨no, por favor!!¨very animatedly, which always cracks me up. It´s sort of like saying, ¨oh please, it´s nothing!¨ In Peru they always, always say, ¨con mucho gusto,¨ which is super polite. And in Colombia they always, always say ¨a la orden,¨ which loosely translates to ¨at your service¨, which also sounds super polite. They also use ¨a la orden¨ when you first walk into a store, or even as you walk by a store... so there is constantly, all day long, a million people shouting it to me as I walk down the street. I feel so... serviced!

One more little tidbit, before I hang up my nerdiness for the afternoon. In Argentina, the porteños, the word for the Buenos Aires capital city natives, have a reputation for being the worst... as in, the most closed, unfriendly, sort of douchey in Argentina. People from outside the capital (from provincia) tend to view porteños negatively. Its funny, then, to be here in Colombia and realize it is just the same with the rolos, the word for people native to the capital city of Bogotá. The rolos themselves insist they are the best, while the rest of the country (namely the paisas, people from the coffee zone near Medellin, and the costeños, people from the coast) tends to hate rolos. Personally, I can´t tell the difference, but it´s funny how these sorts of stereotypes are universal, I suppose.

I think it´s these small anecdotes that make me love travel so much. I love saying buena onda and genial in Argentina when I like something, and chévere and bacano in Colombia. I love calling people boludo in Argentina and huevón in Peru and Colombia. I crack up every time someone asks me if I´m from Argentina (happens more than you´d think!) because of my porteño accent I just can´t seem to shake (Sho me shamo Erica!). And I love hearing people´s impressions of their own countries and of mine, and sharing stories. I feel like that´s what travel is all about... the little details from everyday life, that make us who we are.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Colombia, te amo.

I just want to everyone know I´m alive, doing great, had an amazing (and incredibly challenging) experience in Ciudad Perdida (it´s beautiful and so, so old it just takes your breath away) and am now happily in Cartagena. This city is magic. I don´t want to leave, ever. I´m staying with two adorable little old ladies, the aunts of the mom of my friend (I know, I´m reaching) and just enjoying exploring the city, hanging out with a friend of mine here, and soaking up all Colombia has to offer, Every moment I spend in this country I fall more and more in love with it.

I plan to be in Cartagena this weekend, then am going to pack in Cabo de la Vela AND Bucaramanga before heading to Bogotá for one last hurrah before BRAZIL on February 5!

Will blog eventually. Right now I´m spending more time loving life than playing with computers. It´s phenomenal.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Oops, need an update! ...Manizales, Santa Marta, Parque Nacional Tayrona, Taganga... and up next..???

Hi friends!!! Oh man, you know how it goes, when you go for too long without updating, the task just seems harder and harder!! So much has happened I will surely miss oodles of things, but I will do my best to fill you in on my wild Colombian adventures. I´ll go backwards, because I remember things best that way.

Right now I´m in Taganga, a fun little town about 20 minutes from Santa Marta. It´s pretty and has a lot of bars and restaurants and things, but is small and the beaches are dirty, kind of like sitting on an ashtray... ugh. (I am told that the very sad earthquake in Haiti has caused the beaches here to be dirtier and the tides higher than usual, but I can´t saywhether or not that is true...) Luckily I´ve had PLENTY of beach time lately and am royally tanned/sunburned (open for interpretation) and am happily using the internet and avoiding the sun.. it is HOT. I don´t know the temperature, but I´d estimate it´s around 100 or higher. I also think all the sun I got the past 4 days in Tayrona really did me in, and I arrived yesterday afternoon to Taganga dehydrated and stomach-achy, and feeling so lightheaded I could barely talk... and those who know me know that if I can´t talk, I must be ill. I took last night very easy though, skipped the Saturday night rumba and opted to sleep for 12 consecutive hours, battling the mosquitos despite my mosquito net, but overall woke up today feeling much better...

Which is why I just purchased my trek to Ciudad Perdida tomorrow!! It´s something I´ve been planning to do on this trip for a long time, and though I thought about wimping out, I finally sucked up and bought the trip... not too bad,it cost me $250 USD for a 6 day trek, which involves 3 days trekking to the site (uphill through the jungle, crossing rivers... w00t!) and then a full day at the site, an ancient ruin believed to have been built in 800 AD by the Tayrona people, and then 2 days trekking back. I think it will be very difficult, and the weather here makes it hard (sweaty! humid! gah!) but I also think its an incredible unique experience that I shouldn´t miss. Unlike Machu Picchu, this trek will be far less overcrowded, more virgin... and its older! Wow, I´m excited! Let´s hope I stay healthy.

Anyway, yesterday I arrived in Taganga via an insane motorboat trip from Parque Nacional Tayrona... the boat was jumping over 10 meter high waves and I think my butt is permamently bruised from the impact... but super fun! I was on the boat with 9 screaming guys from Israel and my friend Pablo from Switzerland I met in Tayrona. I spent 4 full days in Tayrona, and I must say, it is gorgeous. And after the sort of disappinting beaches in Santa Marta (anyone who says they are stunning needs to tell me where to go, because I seem to have missed it), it felt like paradise. It´s no undiscovered treasure though. The crowds are intense and the beaches are far from virgin. But it´s worth it... the beaches are perfect, small laguna areas carved out of the ocean, with enormous boulders in the water and along the paths (I mean where did thesehuge rocks come from?? They are enormous, like they just dropped from the sky.), and the jungle right there next to the beach to wander through. The mosquitos, however, were ruthless. I slept in a hammock 3 nights in a row, which seemed so cool and exciting at first, but now I feel like the thrill is over and I want my back back!! Hahaha well too bad, because I´ll be sleeping in hammocks 5 more nights starting tomorrow in the Ciudad Perdida trek...

Anyway, getting to Parque Tayrona is an adventure in itself. From Santa Marta I took a 45 minute drive in a buseta, which is like a small van bus thing. The drop you at the main gate, where you pay about $17 USD to get in (not cheap!). Then you take a bus ride for about 15 minutes to the second gate. From there you have to walk down a fairly treacherous path through the jungle for about 45 minutes... not too fun in the heat!!! But really beautiful, and an adventure for sure, which I always appreciate. You finally arrive at the beach in Arrecife, and the first thing you see are signs everywhere about how more than 200 people have drowned there and not to swim.. and there you are facing the ocean, drenched in sweat. It´s brutal!

There are about 6 or 7 campsites there around Arrecife where you can pitch a tent or rent a hammock, but I decided to be motivated and hike another 45 minutes to the very end, Cabo de San Juan, which I´d heard was a prettier and more fun option. So off I went, dripping with sweat, passing swimming hole after swimming hole... there´s a lovely swimming area called La Piscina between Cabo and Arrecife that I looked at longingly, but really wanted to put my stuff down so I kept on... finally arrived in Cabo so hot and sweaty, and.... no more room! Sold out! It was really packed, with tents absolutely everywhere. But the beaches really are the best. It´s paradise. Unofortunately that first day I had to head back with my backpack on (luckily, I only had a smaller backpack, because I left my bigger one in Santa Marta) and headed back to Arrecife to find a place to camp. When I finally made it into the water for a swim around 4:30pm it was amazing! The water is the perfect temperature, not too cold and not too warm, just perfect.

I spent 2 nights in Arrecife (but walked to Cabo each day to hang out at least) checking out different beaches and getting a tan, and eating very little because the food is very overpriced. The first night I met a couple British boys who were crazy enough for me to hang out with, and then the second night I was joined by 7 Chilean boys traveling together, who shared with me their 3 liters of Chilean pisco... needless to say, I have forgotten the majority of that night. Then finally on the 3rd day I was able to swindle my way into a hammock in Cabo, so I stayed there my last night and the following day. It really is better, though more expensive. There´s a lot of people, which can be good or bad, depending on what you´re looking for. The shower experience was pretty dreadful, sort of felt like a concentration camp because there´s about 30 people, boys and girls, in line, and they kind of throw you under the water where you quickly scrub yourself down in your bathing suit and then go rushing back out. But whatever, it was great, and I enjoyed my final night by treating myself to an overpriced fish dinner and sipping beers by the beach with a couple Argentines I met and listening to the ocean. It´s really divine, despite the crowds, and I´d recommend that anyone in Colombia not miss a visit.

I have much more to write but am being kicked off the internet in 2 minutes... I´ll try to finish up this blog post tonight and write about Santa Marta and my final days in Manizales with Diana and her family and friends (seems like ages ago) enjoying their annual feria and staying up until I-don´t-know o´clock every night. If not, you will be hearing from me in 6 days after the crazy Ciudad Perdida trek! Please send me the good luck vibes that I don´t get attacked my dengue mosquitos or kidnapped by guerrillas! Thanks! :-)

Love to all, and I promise to write more later...

Friday, January 8, 2010

Carnaval de Negros y Blancos

Was absolutely insane! I have never been so dirty in my life.

All day for 3 days people throw talcum powder and paint and carioca (foamy white stuff) all over you, and it gets pretty rowdy. I had a great time on the road trip to Cali, then to Chachagui to stay on Chris's family's finca for a couple days, and then a couple days in Pasto for the Carnaval. I'm beat, as we drove 12 hours back to Manizales yesterday and then went out and partied for the Feria de Manizales, which goes until this Sunday. I have so much more to say, but I lack motivation for blogging, sorry more later...

Friday, January 1, 2010

Feliz Año Nuevo!

Happy 2010 everyone! I just want to start by expressing how incredibly happy and thankful I am to have such a great life, filled with the best friends, the most supportive and loving family, and the most fun and outrageous adventures a girl could ask for. 2009 was really an incredible year in Argentina and beyond, and I feel like 2010 is going to be another exciting time for me. Who knows what is around the next corner?

Anyway, right now I´m in Manizales, Colombia! I flew into Bogotá on the 29th and spent the afternoon and evening with one of Diana´s friends, Gustavo, who met me at the aiport and showed me around the city. I was absolutely struck by not only the beauty of Bogotá, but also how organized and clean it is. It really has such a great onda and vibe... made me want to spend a lot more time there. I loved the architecture, the cobblestone streets in the La Candelaria neighborhood, the festive lights everywhere, and the feeling of being in a big and lively city, though one which managed to feel more manageable and relaxed than Buenos Aires. I am for sure planning on spending a few more days there before I jet off to Brazil in February.

On the 30th I hopped into a car with Gustavo and one of his friends, plus the friend´s mom and sister... felt like I was in a clown car for over 8 hours on one of the curviest and most insane roads I have ever been on, through the mountains of Colombia to get to Manizales. Luckily I took a real name brand Dramamine and was fine, and really enjoyed the ride and the scenery, even if I couldn´t feel my legs after the first hour. Apparently the bus ride is longer and much more treachurous, so I was thankful for the car. Also, taking the car ride allowed us to make stops along the way for food and new treats like agua panela con queso (tea made from a fruit local to the area called panela, with cheese and fried bread on the side... you soak the cheese in the tea and then eat it with the bread... totally bizarre, but kind of delicious) in the town of Delgaditas, or juice made from fresh squeezed lulo or maracuyá (yummy fruits I´d never seen before), pan maritiqueño (bread made with a ton of butter so it is soft and a bit flakey like a croissant, but in loaf form... its famous all around Colombia, and I see why!) in the town of Mariquita, or my new favorite dish bandeja paisa (a massive mixed heart-attack-on-a-plate of beans, rice, fried plantains, meat, arepa, egg, and chicharrón). Wow, I like the food in Colombia.

Arrived in Manizales in the clown car around 9:30pm on the 30th, and after putting my stuff down in Diana´s gorgeous house and met her mom, dad, and sister (all super nice), I showered and dressed for a night on the town.. went out with Diana and her sister to a bar called Milagros which was decorated kitsch-cool with Jesus and Mary everywhere and filled with people dancing salsa and drinking aguardiente (anis flavored, so I hate it, but when pressured drank it anyway). Manizales is a beautiful small city in the coffee mountains (this region is called the Zona Cafetera) with hills and gorgeous views everywhere, so just enjoyed being out and about in this new place.

Yesterday of course was NYE-- FELIZ AÑO! It was a lot of fun, although it wasn´t quite what I expected. Diana had told me that typically on NYE her whole family gets together, and everyone brings a dish and they have a huge feast, and then go out dancing and partying after midnight... so what a surprise it was when around 7:30pm we learned that no one in the family was bringing anything and her parents were stuck at work, and we basically needed to cook everything for about 20 people!! So we got to work making a curry and a stir fry type thing along with a ton of fruits to snack on (traditionally in Colombia they eat grapes at midnight on New Year, so we had a ton of those especially), not exactly the typical Colombian food I had hoped for, but still turned out delicious. We feasted as planned and hung out at the house. Honestly, I missed watching the ball drop. Not having that image to focus on made me feel a bit disoriented as we counted down the seconds to the new year. The TV had some random image of a building on it, and when asked, no one could identify what building it was, so who knows what I was staring at as the clock struck 12... then HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

First things first, we all made the rounds around the whole room kissing everyone on the cheek and wishing them a Feliz Año. Then Diana went into a closet and dug out a suitcase and told me that traditionally you walk around the block at midnighton New Years if you want luck to travel all year long... so naturally, she and I took a spin around the block with a suitcase, and everyone who saw us made a comment about how we´d be traveling this year-- clearly a commonly known superstition. Let´s hope it works!

After the suitcase walk, a group of us took off to another neighborhood called Fatima, where supposedly everyone goes to party. There is a tradition where the neighbors make life size dolls, sometimes of famous people, and then burn them at midnight. We´d seen that one of the dolls this year was of Michael Jackson, and I was fascinated to watch them burn him in the middle of Manizales... however we arrived late, and when we got there the entire neighborhood had had a power outage and everything was black, and people we listening to music from their car stereos... we soon learned that the people who´d made the Michael Jackson doll had stuffed it with gunpowder, so when they set it on fire, it blew up and exploded into some kind of electric circuit and shorted out the entire neighborhood, right at the stroke of midnight!! Haha Michael Jackson! So yeah everyone was kind of recovering from that and waiting for the lights to come back, so it was I think more mellow than usual... we party hopped for a bit, drank a variety of drinks and met a bunch of people, and eventually ended up back at Diana´s house snuggled up for the night... so it wasn´t the salsa fest I´d expected, but was still a lot of fun, definitely interesting and entertaining and very different at a minimum!

The best was waking up today for New Years to a warm and bright sun! We packed up and drove the whole family to a river where we lounged on the shore and swam and got some sun... well, they did... I am apparently destined to be blindingly white forever.

Now.... the feria de Manizales goes from the 3rd to the 12th of this month that I really want to check out... there is another feria in a town called Pasto way down south called Carnaval de Negros y Blancos, at which everyone paints their faces either black or white and celebrates for a week in the streets. Diana is dying to go, and I´m certainly intrigued, so off we go! Tomorrow we´ll drive to Cali (5 hours south of Manizales) to see the city and pick up her boyfriend Chris. Then the following day we´ll hop in the car and head for Pasto together for the feria. We plan to spend about 3 days there and then drive the 15 hours back to Manizales, so I should be back around the 7the or 8th, in time to enjoy the end of the Manizales festival. There is a running of the bulls involved, which both horrifies and intrigues me, along with a ton of artisans and music and fun, so I definitely want to be back for that.

So yes, wish me luck on my crazy road trip all the way to practically the border of Ecuador and back (funnily enough, I am basically going to sandwich Ecuador, having been to Máncora in the far north of Peru and now Pasto in the far south of Colombia, without ever actually entering Ecuador... whoops) on some of the windiest roads you can imagine, through some of the most beautiful countryside in the world. I have a feeling I am in for an adventure!

A very happy new year to all! May your 2010 be happy, healthy, and full of new adventures!