Posts Tagged With: Barranquilla

Since February 11, 2011 – My Journey So Far

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I need to pick up the pace 🙂

Since I started this trip in February, this is the ground I’ve so far covered. It may not seem like much to you, but if you stretch out that line that shows the path – from Colombia, where I started – It would place me somewhere in Chile. I took a sort of roundabout trek through Colombia, heading north from Bogota, then south again from Cartagena. It was always my plan to spend up to two months in Colombia because the country is so incredibly fantastic.

I spent weeks in some places I really liked. In fact, it felt like I was a resident of those places and that’s been the general idea all along: to spend a good deal of time in places where I found some connection to the people and the place. And it’s been terrific.

I have said from the start this is not a sprint. It’s more of a stroll around the world. But I am conscious that I have to keep moving forward in some timely fashion. After all, it makes sense to reach certain places at certain times and for certain events (carnaval in Barranquilla, Colombia, for instance).

On Sunday, I leave Cuenca for Peru. Peru is one of those countries I’ve always wanted to visit mainly to achieve that age-old  rite of passage: Machu Picchu!

So Cuzco here I come. Lima and your purported best food in the world, I will be there soon to sample. Peru! Wow. I can hardly wait to see this magical place – the land of the Incas.

But first another border crossing – Ecuador to Peru – and this one by all accounts is an obstacle course of con-artists, thieves, corrupt border officials, tricky taxis, and all sorts of characters waiting to ripoff travelers passing through. I’ve heard and read the horror stories. I just have to pray it all goes well. I’m dumping clothing, toiletries and other items to lessen the weight of my backpack. I have to be able to move as quickly as possible through this region fellow travelers refer to as “the kill zone”.

The tricks the crooks use at this border are similar to the ones I witnessed at  the Colombia-Ecuador border crossing – money exchangers with fixed calculators; people offering to help you fill out customs forms to get their hands on your passport; counterfeit dollars; robbers pretending to be taxis; on and on.

I managed to make my way through that minefield on the Colombia-Ecuador frontier unscathed, unlike some other travelers who crossed at the same time I did. They fell for the rigged calculator tricks and lost a lot of money during money exchanges. Information, my friends, is power, and knowing what to expect and what to do before you get to the border is crucial to avoiding becoming a victim. Also, do not be afraid to be rude. Say “NO” forcefully and ignore people calling out to you, unless they are a police officer or customs official and can prove it with an official ID. Don’t allow people to grab you in a “friendly” manner. Tell them to let go and back off. In short, trust no one. If you keep your guard up through the border you will survive to enjoy the rest of your trip.

So let the journey to my next border crossing begin. A bus awaits.

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My Nomadic Network

I have become them.

I am them.

I am part of it.

I am it.

Them.

I am now part of that loosely connected network of travelers with their entire lives stuffed in backpacks, roaming the world and bumping into each other in new wondrous places, in different countries and cities, across new oceans, mountains and deserts. We share phenomenal moments and fun here and there then pack up and part ways after days but sometimes weeks.

Our conversations are almost entirely about where we’ve been and where were going, and casually share itineraries sometimes with the aim to meet again elsewhere. E-mail, Facebook and other travel and social networks keep us connected.

After three months of travel it occurred to me today that I had unwittingly joined this global network of nomads. I was having breakfast in The Rock, a restaurant on Santa Cruz island in the Galapagos when a couple from London, England, entered. I looked at them and thought they looked familiar. They sat at the table next to mine and the woman immediately made the statement they had seen me several weeks earlier in Ecuador‘s capital city, Quito. I confirmed that indeed that was the case. We chatted about our travels past and future. Their itinerary was very similar to mine. They had left Quito, traveled to Guayaquil then the Galapagos and now were in route to Peru and onward south to other countries in South America.

During breaks in our conversation I looked out the large windows of the restaurant – a favorite hangout for foreigners on their way to someplace else – and in a span of less than an hour  recognized several other familiar faces. These were individuals I had seen and interacted with in other parts of Ecuador and Colombia.

Paul and I in Cajas National Park near Cuenca, Ecuador. Another time, another place, another country

We were all obviously on the same track, weighted down with backpacks. A nomadic network of  travelers saying hello, saying goodbye, and hello again.

In Cuenca, Ecuador, my current location, this network was evident as I exited La Cigale restaurant. A man who held the door for me asked if I had been in the Galapagos about two or three weeks ago. I responded in the affirmative and he said he had seen me on the island. A few more steps through Cuenca’s colonial center and across the street I saw three people I had met two months earlier in Taganga, a fishing village in Colombia. We had sat on the beach there having beers and watching a spectacular sunset. These sort of encounters have been repeated over and over again in just these short three months. Imagine how many people I will have met on the road  and new experiences shared over three years of travel?

One such person is Paul Ford of Austin, Texas. I met cool Texas dude Paul in Cartagena, Colombia, where we chilled, discussed travel plans, partied and got drunk together (celebrating the birthday of another person – Luis – whom I had previously met in Barranquilla, Colombia). Paul and I had some good and crazy times in our travels together and apart.

I left Paul in Cartagena after that crazy night of celebrating Luis’ birthday and didn’t know if I’d see him again. But this is the network and somehow it works to bring travelers together. He sent me an e-mail on the couchsurfing Web site. He said he was in Cuenca, which I had already decided would be my next destination once I left the Galapagos and returned to the mainland.

Now, Paul has sort of become my Cuenca sidekick. We have spent countless hours checking out the city, hiking in Cajas National Park, and meeting new people in the nomadic network. Through Paul  I have met others and introduced him to others. And so the network goes and grows. We meet, we greet, we travel and we meet again. Long term travel has created this global network of friends, all with people, places and many things in common. It’s been simply fantastic.

Natalie of Paris, France, my fellow travel companion for a day, tries to decide on a purchase in Sigsig, Ecuador.

The nomadic network works. For the most part, it consists of some of the most open-minded, coolest, most resourceful and resilient people on the planet. Traveling for months or years with everything you own in a backpack is not easy or glamorous. Getting from one place to another takes an awful lot of logistics, energy and will to continue. Most of us are traveling on a budget and sometimes end up sleeping in some scary places. When I’m not sleeping on somebody’s couch through couchsurfing, I am in a hostel or hotel or camping. Some hostels, well, let’s just say you get what you pay for. In Cuenca, after leaving my CS hosts’ swanky digs about 45 minutes by bus outside the city, I landed in a smelly, moldy hostel that lacked housekeeping. The house maid, I was told, simply didn’t show up for work. Sometimes you do what you have to do to stay within your budget. And sometimes because you’ve penny-pinched so much you can afford to splurge a bit, if nothing else, for your own health, both physical and mental.

My smelly hostel cost $10 a night. My current digs, The Victoria Hotel, costs $40 a night, and it’s worth every penny. It has afforded me a good night’s rest, a clean bathroom, a hot shower, and a place to take care of other important business to carry on traveling.

I love my nomadic network. When I leave Cuenca I will probably see Paul and other travelers in some other country, sharing new experiences with new people, largely locals, which also is fantastic. The network is what makes the journey fun and rewarding. It’s about people. It’s about some of the coolest people. It’s me.

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Montañita

Jugglers, musicians, all sorts of street performers all over town. You will be entertained.

On a visit a few years ago to Santorini, Greece, I sat at a sidewalk cafĂ© contemplating – yet again – the meaning of life.

As I sipped a very strong cup of coffee on this beautiful island, its crystal blue Mediterranean waters shimmering in the early morning sunshine,  I basked in the idea of someday dropping out of society and making my home in a small village such as this one on Santorini. The idea was made even more appealing given the fact this tiny village was on an island not easily accessed by the average traveler.

Yes, Santorini gets its minions of visitors, but the vast majority arrive on cruise ships, spend money but little time. To otherwise reach isle, you must fly to Athens and hop on a ferry, too much of a trek for some. Most people with limited vacation time –Americans – simply opt for other more accessible parts of Europe, thank goodness! For this island is so tranquil, especially on the other side away from the ships – it’s the perfect place to escape to read, write, watch the world go by and even contemplate the meaning of life.

African dance on the Ecuadorian beach in the glow of sunset

So I said to myself, this is where I will come to drop out of the hustle and bustle of everyday life. I will simply show up one day on the island, not tell a soul of my destination, and never leave.  To the villagers, I will simply come to be known as the oddball American who turned up one day and just spends his days at the beaches, cafe, walking about town, but mostly reading, writing who knows what, and relaxing. Santorini. Yep. That would someday be my exit. That was it. That is, until a few days ago I discovered another option: Montañita, Ecuador.

Counterclockwise, Katu, Eeva, Kahyda, Yemmy, Victor Hugo and the headbanded me! 🙂

I first heard of Montañita during my two-month journey across Colombia. I was in Taganga, a fishing village in northern Colombia overrun with “gringos” – most of them American and Euro potheads and pseudo-hippies. One of my companions mentioned that Taganga had some similarities to Montañita, largely in the carefree people it attracted. At first, I had no interest in visiting Montañita. Seen one hippie commune, seen them all.

But once I made it to Ecuador, I began to hear more about the place. And once I arrived in Guayaquil, my host Veronica and mom Sara in Ecuador had sold me on the place. I decided I would go. Then behold the power of the universe: an e-mail arrived in my inbox. It was from my Ecuadorian friend Kahyda, whom I met in Barranquilla, Colombia, and who was among those that first told me about magical Montañita. In her e-mail Kahyda said she and others had hired a driver with a van for a weekend trip to Montañita and it would be great if I came along. Oh, yeah!  A few days later, six of us in the chauffeured van were off to the legendary beach town to have fun on its beaches, in its bars and clubs and streets teeming with street performers.

I had heard stories about Montañita, but didn’t know exactly quite what to expect. When we arrived, a smile that pretty much never left my face took over. I was very pleased.

First,  Montañita is off the charts as far as laid-back, stress-free  beach towns go.  It was a three-day weekend in Ecuador, so it was jammed with people, a nice mix of Ecuadorians and foreigners. The foreigners were mostly surfers, hippies, partiers, misfits and dropouts. The don’t worry, be happy, live and let live crowd. My kind of people 🙂 . Totally chilled. They set the mood and the tone of the town.

Second, the town was built for them, by man and nature, with its gazillion cheap hostels, lots of beaches with big waves for surfing, lots of sunshine and hot weather, plenty of places to eat, drink, party and have a good time.

On weekends, the incredibly loud music throughout  Montañita is on full blast for 23 hours a day! Choose your hotel wisely. Choose a hotel or hostel next to a dance club and you better be prepared to stay up all night. The sound system from the dance clubs shake and rattle everything, and that may include you!

Sunset swim

I didn’t choose my hotel. I point the finger at Kahyda 🙂 To sleep, I stuck my earphones in my ears and cranked up my iPod. My music was preferable to the BOOM BOOM BOOM bass from the dance club next door that shook the bed and bounced off the walls.

On weekdays, Montañita tones down the partying a bit for a more very relaxed atmosphere, some might say even boring. The loud music, mostly Salsa and Reggaeton, that is piped across the town is gone. By Thursday it’s back and by Friday it is cranked up again and never really stops. Invest in earplugs.

But this is a place where you come for a good time or to escape something – or someone. There are a thousand stories here. People who left something or someone for this spot on the Ecuadorian coastline. This oasis. There are many places in the world where you can party all day and all night long. But Montañita is part party scene, part hippie commune, part surfer town, part circus, part sexual escapade, all rolled into one, nicely coexisting. I loved the place and found it hard to leave. So did the owner of Hotel Montañita, where I stayed. David, who is from Chicago, said he came to visit the town years ago and never left. He bought the hotel and the rest is history.

Someday I’ll be David, living in a town like Montañita, no rush, no fuss, hanging loose. But for now, I am off to perhaps discover other Santorinis and Montañitas.

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