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.

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


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