Monday, September 10, 2018

Ecuador

We left Colombia


It’s the last of the Caribbean bordering countries. That means rum quality is going to drop. I sip rum, but Elsie guzzles diesel. However, when the diesel costs just $1.03 per gallon, I can afford to buy the imported rum. And yes, the currency is US greenbacks. Fuel costs alone would have made Ecuador a dream but add in perfect roads, and you’ve got one very happy man driving a 6 ton diesel chugging truck. Not to mention - It was the easiest border crossing I ever made and it was absolutely free.
Aleja at anchor

The Drive To Tena

We stopped on the side of the road to buy some Guamas (you are a fool not to eat these every chance you get)
Guamas
and the lady who sold them to us swore she had some petroglyphs on her family’s property and for the low low price of just $1.50 each, she would have her kids walk us into the bush and show us.
Tracing the ancient lines
The zero traction mudboots were included and my constant slipping and falling was a comedic delight to everyone. The kids crushed up Achote fruit, mixed it with water and traced the depressions in the rock with toothbrushes to reveal the ancient carvings. How old were they? 1000 years? That land has been in their family for as long as they can trace it. Odds are it was their ancestors who made the carvings. It was weird and wonderful and felt genuine. Those non-canned brass ring experiences are rare and memorable.

Misahualli

We chartered a little boat to motor us up river to see how the deep jungle natives live in their authentic villages. When they heard the outboard motor approaching they changed out of their modern clothes and dressed in the non-sense grass skirts and coconut bras that tourists drool over. Falling so closely on the heels of such an over the top experience we had the day before this fake charade left us empty.

Life In The Andes

The color of my coffee changes with my altitude. When I’m at elevation I don’t add milk because I want it to stay hot. When I’m at sea level I add a lot because I want to cool it down. I drank it black in Quilatoa and white in Montanita.

Poverty: Where All Your Dreams Are On Layaway

Cold, wet, poor and hungry: I think that’s the definition of sheer misery. We saw lots of that driving through Ecuador and it wasn’t just the dogs. Hope dies last but without any way to improve your lot in life it’s got to be a cruel existence to be that destitute at such a high altitude.
In the USA there’s really only 2 ways to deal with the ghetto: joining a gang or the military, and either way you’re gonna end up shooting somebody. Whites have one more option; they can join the rodeo, but those poor bastards end up living only half as long as the gunslingers. Do I feel lucky every day? Yes; a lot more than a little.


Quilotoa
There are locations on the planet that are inherently more dramatic than others. Consider the caldera of an extinct volcano at 12,800 feet (3,914 meters) above sea level which has been converted over the millennia into a lake.
Quilotoa
We hiked to the bottom, rented a double kayak, paddled across and back, and then hiked out. That ranked about as strenuous as high school wrestling practice with the Kates brothers.

Upon leaving Quilotoa I noticed a transmission leak. 8 words you’ll never hear in Latin America: “Sorry, you can’t work on your car here.” They work on their vehicles everywhere and it’s immediately accepted.
My drooling transmission
It’s as common place as urinating in public. Pink fluid drooled from a crack that I couldn’t get my freezing fingers anywhere near. The whole town is a remote mudbog. I deemed it not to be a safe bet to start dismantling radiators etc. I made the decision to race the leak to Quito. I cornered the market on automatic transmission fluid in the surrounding area and set off with funnel in hand. We made it.

Mark Sessions


Mark bought this woman flowers
My old buddy flew down to travel with us for a few weeks and I immediately put him to work fixing my leak. We’d spoken before he left The States and he arrived with the needed parts. Mark Sessions – my dear friend and non-stop champion. This guy once drove to a diesel specialist service center, slapped $100 down on the counter, handed the tech his phone and said, “This is my buddy Bobby. He’s stuck in South America and needs your help. Please walk him through what to do.” Pit crew from heaven.

Quito
Parked on a basketball court in a military compound

What to say, what to say…I’m luke warm on Quito. I suppose it’s another huge dirty 3rd world Latin American capital. But it does have some charms. Try to avoid this formula: Quito+public transport+rush hour=nightmare

Cotopaxi

We actually went here 3 times and really enjoyed it all. Why? So much of an experience is dependent on the specifics.

The family that runs it (warm and friendly), the backpackers we met (fun and Irish, which is pretty much redundant), the food, the llama, and then there was biking down the mountain at breakneck speeds. It was also the first encounter Alejandra ever had with snow.

The Quaint Villages of Ecuador

The natives are beautifully dressed and somewhere between 4 to 5 feet of height. You have to be sneaky when taking their picture. The Lowland Natives are sunburned and the Cloud Natives are wind-burned.

The other natives are horrible: Those Alpacas spit with incredible speed, range and accuracy. And then there’s the stink. . . I feel like we took the native market tour of Ecuador. Otavalo, San Peguche, Saraguro.

Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs

Q: “After a Latin puts a roof over their head, what is the next concern?”
A: “A soccer field.”
All the little mountain towns have graded flat spots so the kids can play soccer. It’s that important.

Tourist Trap Photo Op

It’s easy to subscribe to the gringo trail of Instagram pix. Line up, wait till the previous phony snaps their selfie, move into position, snap yours, step out of the way, let the next sham artist step into frame, and no one back home is any wiser. We’ve seen a lot of fantastic vistas but this place is completely packaged.
Nicknack Tourist Crap

Combo restaurant shoe store. Shoes make great ladles


Montanita

We came down out of the Andes and meandered our way to the coast. Surf. Sun. Fun. Ecuador is a winner due to its dramatic geographical & climatic inventory in such close proximity to each other.

Cuenca
Founded in 1557 and resting at 8,200 feet of elevation, present day Cuenca is wonderful and waiting for your visit. Ancient Cuenca might be even more interesting. There is reason to believe it may be the most likely candidate for the fable of El Dorado – the lost city of gold that the Spanish so feverishly sought, but never found. It was originally built and inhabited by the Canari people around 500AD. The Inca defeated them in 1470 and built Pumapungo, a city to rival Cusco in Peru (and trust me, that is saying a lot!).  However, it was demolished by the time the Spanish arrived with only tales of its golden magnificence left to tantalize.
It's thought that when certain stars shined in the water
 in the rock holes that it was time to plant

We loved our time there and even rented an apartment to enjoy the city from a different perspective. The only downside was the horrendous air quality that has been tragically degraded by the city buses. We literally took to wearing face masks.


Our friend and tour guide in Cuenca: Philip

Menu of the Day

While elbow to elbow with strangers packed into a restaurant, the waitress asked a question, and the answer was “Poquito.” I started singing to the tune of the hit single Despacito; “Poquito Poquito“. And the mother of 2 sitting next to me immediately began dancing in her seat, caught herself, and everyone including her teenage daughters laughed out loud. Latins can’t control their urge to dance and the slightest spark can ignite a fire. I always thought “quick to laugh” was a reason to admire a culture, but maybe “quick to dance” should be included in the list.

A Quick Aleja Story

One time we were parked next to a plaza with a lot of horrible construction noise and I ask Alejandra, “What is that one awful noise? Do you hear it?” and she moved closer to the window and she looked, and she listened, and she carefully said, "Ah yes, it's a macheen"

“Oh really? Thanks. Thanks a million. I thought it was a volcano, or a very looong explosion, but now I can rest easy knowing..... It's a macheen”. If only I could package her brand of cute. Sometimes it’s the things you see, and sometimes it’s the people you see them with, and when they both align – oh happy days.

Your man on point,

Captain Bobby

Monday, August 28, 2017

Colombia Part 2

Aleja
She said, "leesen", and then she scratched her tiny shoulder with 4 fingers in rhythm, It sounded like horses quietly galloping, and she said: "Dats horses."
She’s 5 feet tall and her hair is 3 feet long. You do the math: Hair everywhere. She’s young and wild and Latin and cute as a cuy and that accent has no equal on the planet.

Meeting The Family
I knew I would be meeting her mother and sister. I knew they were going to have tough questions to ask. Who wouldn’t? I was asking the family to trust me with their youngest daughter while I took her out of her country for the first time. I prepared. I made a list and I practiced how to answer in the best Spanish I could muster. On the day of the interrogation, I took Aleja and her sister to a movie. Nathalia seemed to like me. Good, I needed every ally I could get in that room. Her mother would
be home soon and the clock was ticking.
On the long walk to her house I even asked Aleja to role play with me to get a better handle on how her mother might throw me a curve ball. “What do you think will be the toughest topic your mom is going to ask?” “Well, you do know that she is convinced you are going to sell me in Ecuador, right?” I checked my list. Nope, I hadn’t prepared for that one. “What? She thinks I’m going to sell you!” “Oh yes, she is sure of it.” My foot touched the first step. There was no turning back. The front door was open.

We climbed the stairs and entered the home. We exchanged casual niceties. I had brought a plant. It seems like a hollow trade now. I can’t believe I was that foolish: “Here’s a plant to take the place of the daughter you raised.”
She asked me to be seated. Her boyfriend appeared. Great. Guys know guys. I’m never gonna get out of here alive. And Jhonny speaks really fast. I had trouble following along. Aleja had to translate a couple times. Then her mother’s best friend entered and joined in. Sure – let’s invite the whole block.
There’s no way I’m going to pull this off in a foreign language surrounded by people who have, and should have, a healthy distrust of a man twice her age. I took a deep breath. I made peace with my ensuing failure. I mentally repeated the words; “speak from the heart”.

It was a machine gun staccato of questions and I felt my palms get wet, but I sat up straight and I answered honestly and humbly. I made eye contact and I admitted that there would be hardships and that I wasn’t interested in just adding a slave to my passenger list. I wanted a partner. I saw a slight tension release from the shoulders of Dona Aura. There was a long pause. They looked around the table at each other.  Dona Aura said “Pues, Bueno que mas vamos a hacer, tomemos  cerveza?”

I whispered to Aleja: “did your mom just suggest we drink beer?” “Yes!”

I immediately stood and volunteered to buy. AB and I walked out the door, down the steps and out of sight. “I think we won!” I think we won too!”

Goodbye Party
Alejandra has a boyfriend. Her boyfriend isn’t stupid, just Spanish disabled. When she said that her friends were throwing her a “despedida” (goodbye party), I thought she said “desaparecida”, which means “disappeared”. Hilarity ensued. I made the mistake of wondering aloud if I would get more for selling her whole or by the kilo. The butcher at the carniceria didn’t think it was very funny. I’m probably not going to try that joke with her mother.

The Last Day Of February
We departed Medellin. Hair pinned and hair brained switchbacks were the norm.
Tramps like us – Baby we were born to run. She learned English from Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. She’s heard of Led Zeppelin but she couldn’t name 1 song. She’s never heard of David Bowie. Do you remember the last elongated scene from The Graduate? The music from our phones became the 3rd passenger.

Jardin, Manizales, Salento, Cocora, Tulua, Cali, Rosas, Pasto, Lago Cocha, Las Lajas: We meandered our way out of Colombia. It was the first time she had ever left her own country. How would she live without Arepas?
Now this is how to eat chicken. The shirt was later donated to a cold dog

The Arepa – The Leatherman Of Foods
The arepa is a wonderful building material. It’s also a sturdy projectile for self-defense. However, the consumer grade commodity product that arrives at your table in the plastic basket with your silverware isn’t really fit for eating.
That's the commodity arepa
It explodes in your stomach to 3 times the normal size, and you can’t eat the rest of the day. It was designed to get the campesinos back in the fields for more work.  Because it doesn’t get served with the food on your plate; I consider it more of a delivery system
adjunct.  A little mortar and paint and you could build yourself an outhouse – and you’re gonna need one. It’s also the perfect size and weight to use as self-protection from a starving dog (they won’t eat them either). None of the above applies to the Venezuelan version.
Cold Dog of Cocora Valley

PRB ~ It Doesn't Stand For Pabst Blue Ribbon
It’s the phonetic replication of the Spanish language; which sounds like a motorcycle with a sputtering carburetor issue. Listen, here’s the proof: “podrias probar esta para remover la pintura”. You must remember that the “v” sounds like another “b”. It's the constant babble of the Spanish language that refuses to ever downshift into a slower more comprehensible gear. I now live with a native Spanish speaker and I’ve never been closer to quitting the language.

“Wanna Mix Things Up?”
Before Columbus came to the New World, there were no oranges in Florida,
no bananas in Ecuador, no paprika in Hungary, no potatoes in Ireland, no coffee in Colombia, no pineapples in Hawaii, no rubber trees in Africa, no chili peppers in Thailand, no tomatoes in Italy, and no chocolate in Switzerland. Columbus “discovering” America caused the deaths and subjugation of millions. But there was an upside. They call it the Columbian Exchange. We humans re-inventoried the planet. I’ll let you decide if it was for the better or not.
But change came, and for me, my entrance into South America was a big revolution. The Spanish changed (yet again, and by a larger measure), the culture changed, the food changed, the climate changed, and the people changed. I love it down here. Don’t forget to put this continent on your bucket list. Man is it good.

Acting Class 101
My teacher said, “Take chances!” And that’s carried through to everything. If you aren’t raising eyebrows once a month for telling inappropriate jokes, you aren’t pushing the bounds of humor, and you should be. If you aren’t getting your heart broken every 2 years, you aren’t making yourself vulnerable to others, and you should be. If you aren’t coming face to face with death’s stinking breath yearly, challenge yourself a bit more.
Take chances! Keep the party rolling, because nothing is a bigger buzz kill than a corpse, especially when it’s yours, but push a little deeper, ask a bit more from yourself and others, Take Chances!

Your man on point,

Bobby Freedom

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Colombia Part 1

Everything Is Relative
The Atlantic waters of the San Blas Islands are gin colored and peppered with low lying islets & smiling local Indians. For me, the highlight wasn’t the locale; I’d seen much better during my years at sea, it was my fellow shipmates. After 5 days on the boat we disembarked in Cartagena, Colombia. It was my first time in the country and on the continent. DJ and I toured Cartagena, Minca and Santa Marta together and then he got called back to the States.

I met my new Spanish best friends and thus began the bureaucratic nightmare of getting Elsie out of Custom's grip. Entering the building was the first step and they wouldn’t let me in without closed toe shoes. I bought the cheapest pair of crocs that I swore I would never own, after seeing other cruisers offend the universe with these synthetic atrocities. I marched back over to the port authority and began the 3 day process of extracting my freedom machine from port prison.

36 Hours In Hell
I bought a new tire and got my oil changed. The mechanic only finger tightened the nut that holds all my engine oil in and in the middle of a dangerous highway it fell out with all my oil. The cops woke me in the middle of the night while hurricane Mathew
was well under way and told me that it was not safe, I was in danger, and that I had to leave. 3 tow trucks later I was safe and slept for 15 hours. That oil mishap could have burned up my engine and ended the trip but I dodged the bullet on that one. My truck has an auto-shut down when the oil is low. Lucky!

Driving In Colombia
If you find yourself in a situation with decreasing range and constant bearing; aka: a collision course, don’t follow the rules of the road, follow the rules of tonnage, which is the safety fallback a little boat on the ocean adheres to. Sure, you might be in the right but the bigger boat is going to run you down and come back to port with a paint streak on her hull and report nothing.
In Colombia you are never the stand on vessel. You must always be the give way vessel because Colombians are the world’s worst drivers. Just consider them to be rudderless hazards that have lost all steerage. They have no regard for their lives and certainly less for yours. I say again: They are the world’s worst drivers. The general consensus is that they are only in the list of the top 3, but I’m ready to commit. It’s a sense of evil they become flush with when holding a steering wheel.
Are they in love with a nurse? Are they trying to meet a doctor? Do they hate their mothers? Why would anyone drive like that? They become instantly selfish and that’s just not who they intrinsically are. If you are going to Colombia, you are going to love the Colombians, but take a defensive driving course.


Uninterrupted Dancing
If you’re white, your grandparents danced to Benny Goodman, your parents to The Beatles, and you don’t dance to either. And none of your dance steps look remotely similar. In Latin culture grandparents, parents and all of their kids dance to Salsa. That didn’t happen in white culture. We don’t have a unifying music that transcends the generations. Here’s the result: “I’m not going to Gramma’s party. Are you kidding?” Vs: “I can’t wait to dance at Abuela’s party!” This has long ranging effects….
Colombians hate toilet seats and tear them off 

Air Guitar VS. Salsa 
Sure Latins are really good at dancing, but they suck at air guitar. Only white people are good at air guitar and everyone knows that air guitar is just as sexy as Salsa. That’s obviously uncontestable, but why are they so bad at air guitar? It’s because their music barely has any electric guitars and never any driving hard core solo riffs. They never reach for the imaginary whammy bar for the same reason they never step on the imaginary foot pedal – almost zero experience watching Eddie Van Halen. They just really lack the awkward teenage angst it takes to do air guitar which everyone knows is required to rule the world. Wait a minute….maybe they don’t want to rule the world. Maybe, just maybe…. They only want to dance. Nah, everybody wants to rule the world.

I've found some pretty spots to camp
Why They Will Never Rule The World
The 3 things a Colombian immediately think upon waking up: 1.) Where can I dance? 2.) What’s the soccer score? And, after they have their “tinto” of Juan Valdez, and their brains are working at full power – 3.) How can I cut in line more successfully? Asians just bully their way in front of you but Latins do it with dance moves. It’s the easiest country in the world in which to meet women.
Just cue up and almost immediately some cute little thing has sashayed her hips right in front of you. It shows they are trying to get ahead, and I hope they do because they are some of the best people I’ve encountered but . . . . when you put a steering wheel in their hands they somehow lose their courteous and selfless proclivities. It’s as if the steering wheel gives them the will to rule the world, but have no fear, they never will, because they can’t be on time. To anything. Ever.

The Subjectivity of Time
In order for you to derive full meaning from this I must first give you a Spanish lesson. In most Spanish speaking countries “ahora” = “now”, and “ahorita” = “right now!” “Ya” = “already”. Here’s how late the Colombians are: To them, “ahorita” means “in 2 hours”. If they want to say right now, they say “ya”. Think about it…. They have to use time travel to be punctual. The only way they can express “right now!” is to go back in time and use the past tense which is “already” That is taking tardiness to a whole new level. (Thank you Elliot Fairchild)

Every restaurant is first come first serve. There’s no such thing as reservations, because they never show up when they say they will. They must be shocked to realize that first world countries hold tables for people who actually arrive when they promised to arrive. When a white person hears 9:00, he thinks; “I need to be there at 8:55” When a Latin hears 9:00, he thinks; “Oh cool, I have until 10:30”.

A Slight Similarity To The Asians
The Asians have this “save face” thing where they’ll never tell you no. They’ll always give you at least a maybe when they really have absolutely zero intentions of following through. To a lesser extent the Colombians do it too. That is an option that every child has. The maturation process in the white world trains that out of children. Our parents taught us that no matter how difficult it might be, we must tell the truth. “Sometimes telling a person “no” is difficult son, but telling people what they want to hear doesn’t work in the long run for anyone.” We don’t say “sure!”, and then never show up.
We say, “no. I’m sorry but I won’t be attending.” Bottomline – that “save face” cowardice is just a childish trait that lingered into adulthood because your parents didn’t know better. I love you Colombians, and you are so much better than the Asians, please . . . rethink it. And yes, I love making blanket statements. My blog, remember?

The Road From Cisneros Up To Medellin
Holy Cow. Out of this world beautiful and I didn’t get one picture. I was expecting to see cherubs floating on clouds strumming harps. That’s the problem with solo travel. I’ve got the steering wheel in my hands and there’s no safe place to pull over on these mountain roads. Well – now you know, drive it yourself.

Traveling alone
It is surrendering to the death of hope, when, as a single overlander one begins to use the passenger seat as storage. I resist by keeping the seat clean and empty in the hopes that I will meet and include a traveling companion. It’s difficult. Most of the people I meet are married or romantically involved couples. It does happen that I meet 2 girls traveling together but trying to peel one away from the other has never worked. The single girl traveling by herself is the only option that has ever worked for me and the number of girls who travel alone in third world Latin America is tiny.
However, there are options that are available to a person who travels alone that don’t appear when you are a couple, a triple or a foursome. You certainly get invited to more dinners and events.

The singularity is bitchin – I am the undiluted captain. I play my music as loud as I want. I go where I want. I park where I want. Zero compromise. If it’s interesting to me I stop. No negotiation. No concession. I enjoy other people’s company but when I’m alone there is an overwhelming sense of “Look at you! You are doing it!” They are all my accomplishments, undivided by 2. It’s a big powerful beast and I’m the only one charged with driving it. That’s just cool. Chevere! Bacano!

It Was A Day Of Superlatives. 
It was Oct 10th 2016. My sweet mother was having hip replacement surgery as I drove into the city that is Medellin. Nothing can prepare you for driving into that city.
The sheer visual weight of all those homes and the humanity that it represents is crushing and it goes on forever. I heard myself exhale the words, “oh my god.” I drove up a hill that must have been a grade 12 – 14 degrees and it went on for 10 miles!! And there at the top the whole valley exposed itself to me. Medellin.










The Thrill Of Exploration
I pack a bag, I button up the rig, and I grab a local bus back into Medellin. Then it’s flowers, smiling loud brown people, big trees, bigger mountains, terrible roads, but who cares, I’m not driving and boy does that feel good. I’m so in love with travel that even though I live in a Freedom Machine I get a giant rush of pleasure from changing my mode of exploration.
I rented an apartment; I learned the metro and the metro cable, I joined a gym and a Spanish school. I traded fuel consumption for the consumption of delicious meals.

Friendly is not Hygenic
If you’ve known me for long, you no doubt are aware of my disdain for shaking hands. It’s unhygienic and weird. I don’t need to hold the hand of a stranger. Let’s just smile at each other. Keep your flu to yourself and we’ll become better friends. However, the Colombians are so damn friendly that every encounter starts and ends with a handshake.
Seeing this never makes me more comfortable
Even if you saw the person earlier in the day you will still be offered a palm. I play along. However, there is another component to this Colombian friendliness that I can’t agree to: They seem to have no sense of spatial recognition and respect for the personal bubble. Remember how your grandpa drove that huge Oldsmobile and he put those curb feeling whiskers at the wheel well so he didn’t scrape things? These people need to wear those because they are always bumping into me. They are always in my traffic flow. It’s as if their proximity sensors aren’t functioning. They simply don’t know how to get out of the way. Just move aside Colombians. We all need to share the sidewalk.

Medellin
I’m not sure that I’m qualified to declare Medellin one of the top 10 greatest cities in the world. That’s a lofty title but I have a hunch it might be true.
They call it “The City of Eternal Spring”. The weather is damn near perfect. It’s a 3rd world city with 1st world infrastructure and dining. Your greenback dollar goes a long way and then there are the women.
The great place I lived at for 3 months
What in the world happened here? Beautiful girls everywhere! I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the posterior of this city. It’s theorized that the strong proud haunches that have become a trademark of Colombia are due to the hills, and all the stairs they have to climb every day.
They say that Brazil invented the ass and that Cuba and Colombia immediately began fighting over the title for world’s best. What you’ll find here is nothing short of weapons grade. I’ve always thought they should rename the country Culombia. (See what I did there Spanish speakers?)
My housemates & our weekly BBQ

Grading The Latins
There’s something about Colombia that Central America just didn’t have. They are all poor, but there is a sense of style here. It’s not just abject poverty and remorse. Maybe that Darien Gap is a cultural division as well as a physical one. Something has changed. South America just really feels different. The Central Americans seem to have had a childhood spent in sepia, while these people got the full spectrum of color. I’ve spent over 2 years of my life in Central America. I see no need to go back. It’s just much better down here.

A Fling In Medellin
I’m in a difficult era. Most of the women my own age are mired in a mortgage with a serious job commitment and they have an 8 year old. They aren’t going to take off on a global jaunt. That’s why the young ones are a better match since they are foot loose and fancy free, which is where I try to operate. Aesthetically speaking I’m barely viable. I still have some hair. It hasn’t turned gray and I know how to smile. I’ve got a good squint. It’s not Clint Eastwood good, but it’s pretty good. We met at an ”intercambio”, which is where you speak English for 5 minutes and then Spanish for 5 minutes. Back and forth. My Spanish is passable. It was a rather typical boy meets girl moment. I asked for her number and followed through. So. . . . if you didn’t hate me before, you are sure to hate me now. Let me introduce you to my girlfriend Alejandra.

The next dispatch begins leg 3!

"I'm a stretched rubber band, I'm a coiled spring, I'm about to launch."

Blacktop Bobby