Friday, February 05, 2010

the lost city, prologue (with an unfortunate TMI section)

a man arrived at our hotel to brief us on our trek to the lost city the following morning. he told us he would be our guide. he spoke barely a word of english, which was unfortunate since we'd be spending the next 6 days with him. still, this was entirely expected. almost nobody speaks english in colombia, even those who cater to gringos.

he told us that only the four of us would be on the trek. the four included mike (uk), walt (usa), avi (israel). mike i just met earlier that day, walt and avi i had been traveling with for about a week now. i was quite happy to be trekking in a small group.

so we pay the man our $500000 each ($250 USD--yes they also use the dollar sign to indicate colombian pesos, which causes a fair amount of psychological sticker shock), and set out to buy our supplies for tomorrow's trek. for me this meant toilet paper. there were rumors that we would be drinking untreated river water and god knows the food prep would not meet with the highest standards of cleanliness as well. still, i was feeling optimistic and went with a cheap, low quality, sandpapery small roll. walt on the other hand went with a luxurious, brand name, triple roll. but then walt is one of those guys who organizes his day around his many bowel movements, spending half an hour or so locked away when the need strikes (sharing rooms with him for several days i had long since realized this). i have never figured out what those people do in there for so long, but maybe it involves a lot of TP. i, on the other hand, am decidedly in the half-a-minute camp, and i'm always trying to come up with ways to improve my times. in fact i so hate third world toilets that in recent years my body has learned (involuntarily) to rarely need them at all outside of the standing position. yes, i was currently on something like a weekly schedule, hence my overwhelming confidence.

i deeply apologize for that unnecessary exposition.

other than the TP, i grab a bottle of rum. i actually considered that much more important, either as a sleep aid or as a painkiller, or perhaps even as a disinfectant. i say sleep aid because we would be sleeping in hammocks in the jungle. i don't think i've ever spent in a full night in a hammock in my life, let alone in a jungle filled with god knows what creatures trying to climb into my hammock with me.

back home

want to know how to get your bags thoroughly searched by US customs? tell them you just spent a month in colombia. when i saw them put on the rubber gloves i was even more worried, but i'm sure they wanted to go there even less than i wanted them to. i was mildly impressed by their questioning however. they used a few slightly tricky techniques to see if i might be lying. i don't know why they can't seem to do that BEFORE people get on a plane, when it might actually be useful.

anyway, after a few days of R&R, the blogging now really gets going.


Friday, January 29, 2010

the end

my epic trip home has begun, and the gods are trying to stop me. after 0 days of rain the entire trip, the skies have opened up and rain, thunder & lightening are pounding the bus station. one of the ticket saleswomen uttered a terrified prayer after one massive thunderclap. water is starting to come through the roof and i keep having to move my laptop to dodge it. i'm not thrilled about my bus ride in this weather.

here's the trip i'm piecing together today/tomorrow:

medellin metro
overnight bus to bogota (9 hrs)
taxi from bus station to airport
flight to mexico city
7 hour layover (w/ possible trip into mexico city, if i have the energy)
flight to SF, arrive late saturday night.


then, at last, i'll finally be able to properly blog.

Monday, January 25, 2010


colombian buses--by now i've taken a lot of them.

it's funny. you rarely negotiate prices in colombia. but there is one exception: buses. whenever you head to the bus station, you go from window to window, bargaining hard for your fare. in many countries the bus fare is the only thing you DON'T negotiate. here i regularly get about 20-40% cut off of the initial asking price.

but that is only mildly interesting. much better is that the local buses are occasionally adorned with shit the driver or bus owner thinks is cool. the most common i have seen are buses that have "thundercats" emblazoned across them. yes, it's THE thundercats--the 80's animated series. how this became so cool in colombia is something that warrants further study.

and it gets better. the other day i saw a bus with a massive "la toya" painted on the top of it's front windows. at first i thought this must be a destination. but then i saw "jackson" in smaller script just below it. yes, there is a bus in colombia dedicated to la toya jackson. i suppose she was slightly more popular than tito, but still...


i have returned from the jungle unkidnapped, followed by a few days in the beautiful yet godawful tyrona national park. there is so much to report and so little time to report it. i sort of dawdled early in my trip and now i am scrambling to get in the last few sights. i currently find myself in cartagena which will be followed by medellin (once the home of pablo escobar's ruthless drug cartel, but now supposedly a very pleasant city), and then back to bogota to fly home. i actually have a 7 hour layover in mexico city so i am considering the final challenge of heading to the center of mexico city via the subway, since i've never been there.

this trip has been different in that i have been traveling with people almost the entire time (something that has further interfered with my blogging). i am not quite sure how/why it happened that way. today for example, i share a room with Walt from NYC, who is obsessed with colombian cleavage (which i am forced to believe is more plentiful here than anywhere else on earth). before that there was the turkish/irish nurse from germany, but i had to end that when she got a little weird. i must remember to dial down the charm when traveling with women.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

cuidad perdida

here's a fun recent article on la ciudad perdida.

quick update

i have had a great many (mis)adventures in the last week, and so little time to blog about them.

things will only get worse, since tomorrow i disappear into the jungle for 6 days to find the ciudad perdida, or lost city. truth is, it is no longer lost, hence the 6 days. then, if i don't fall prey to the jungle madness, my blogging resumes.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

fun with coca

a retiree from chico, california introduced me to the coca leaf. no, not the refined powder, just the legal (i think) leaf that south american mountain folk have been using as their stimulant of choice for generations. it was an interesting and mercifully brief experience. he gave me "a bit too much" because he wanted to be sure i felt it, something he told me after the fact. apparently many people don't feel much. i am not one of those people. when i started to sweat profusely, he recommended i balance the effect with booze, as necessary. maybe this is not the guy to take advice (or anything else) from.

bogota stats

bogota turns out to be a fairly nice city--easily the nicest large latin american city i've ever visited. less crowded, less grungy, less menacing (although one beggar called me a "white donkey" in english and made threatening gestures) than the central american capitals. parts of the city have real character. i'm staying in the young, bohemian, hipster/rocker part of the city. the young guys all have hair like mine, so i almost fit in. i saw many of them last night as i went from pub to pub. i didn't travel across town to the salsa clubs, which is apparently the thing to do. i got stuck with the lazy/cheap crowd. another surprising thing is that nobody smokes. the grungiest bars have "no smoking" signs, not because they have to, but because their patrons prefer it.

google tells me the elevation here is 8357 feet, which is pretty crazy, though i feel no strain from it. flying in i could see snow-capped peaks jutting up through the clouds, which is pretty impressive for an equatorial region. still, the days here are nice (mid-70s)--only the nights are cold. 3 shirts and a fleece seem to do the trick though, just barely. i suppose this must be as cold as it gets, since the buildings don't have heat.

this doesn't feel much like the third world. if not for all the street hawkers, i might think i was in spain. i hop from museum to museum, feigning interest in fine art like i haven't done since europe. the bogotans i've run into are very middle class, though i have yet to visit the slums.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

a visit to my colombian dentist

since i am a ridiculously clever traveler, i thought i'd utilize cheap colombian dentists for a long overdue checkup/cleaning. only suckers pay those ridiculous american prices. the guy who runs my hostel claims that colombian denistry is cheap and of high quality.

so i find a nearby dental clinic. very pristine and professional looking. i try like crazy to get the two women working up front to quote me prices, but they wont. it seems like a pretty basic request, but they seem to be telling me that i must see a dentist first, and then they'd quote me prices based upon what he finds. like taking your car in for repairs, i suppose. i feel annoyed, but i decide i can live with that, though i still worry that some kind of consultation charge will be levied. they ask me to sit and wait a whole 5 minutes to see a dentist, given that i have no appointment and it's a saturday. so i sit down and watch the tv blasting the top 100 videos of the 80s on vh1. after brian ferry and sade and whitesnake and a few others i realize i am waiting a lot longer than 5 minutes. then some guy emerges from the back and starts chatting me up in perfect english. he says he's american, and that he was just there for a few fillings and a cleaning, and it only cost him $500. i feel my bowels begin to give way, but all he notices is my jaw dropping and eyes widening. "that's expensive", i say. "yeah it is," he says, "but think about it compared to home." well i had already, which is why i reacted the way i did, dumbass. we go back and forth like this. my travelers scam radar is on high alert. this feels like a confidence scheme. the trustworthy guy sets my price expectaions to something ridiculously high, then the dentist confirms what he says, or maybe even undercuts him slightly. yes this is how i think when i'm on the road--you have to. but i'm also thinking how ridiculous this idea is--this is obviously a big corporate chain dentist. anyway, the dentist finally calls me in, ending the argument. no english at all from him. he examines me in 2 minutes flat, and tells me i need the hardcore cleaning (which was to be expected--i have more tartar than teeth these days). we sit in front of a computer while he prices it out. comes out to be over $200 for the cleaning alone. i tell him he can get bent, and leave, trying to make out what video number 71 is on my way out. there is no charge for the exam. oh, and his exam yields no cavities, which makes me more likely to conclude it wasn't a scam. but can you tell if someone has cavities in a 2 minute exam without x-rays?

i talk to some british travelers in the evening and they confirm that british dentists give very short exams and rarely order x-rays, so my exam wasn't too absurd, and i can probably believe that i don't have cavities at least. therefore i must conclude that the real scam is the 40 years of american dentistry i have suffered though.

i currently put the chance of scam at my colombian dentist at about 9.3%.

Friday, January 01, 2010


bogata customs was far easier, and quite friendly. even the cabbie was extremely good natured, probably because the city is deserted with absolutely no traffic. easiest fare ever. he only honked his horn once--a new record. it was kind of eerie actually. apparently everyone was sleeping it off.

my room here is wildly expensive--something like $17 a night, and i don't even have a private bathroom. i never paid so much for so little back in central america! fortunately my hotel provides free wifi and all the coffee i can drink. frankly for these prices i was expecting all of the coca leaves i can chew.

now to go out and find my first meal.

sick in the city

it's 5:47am new years day (3:47 pacific time), and i'm in the mexico city airport on the first (or second, i guess) day of my trip trying to find my way to the plane to Bogota. oh, and i'm sick too. this is one of the most disorganized airports of all time. the information screens from 1963 actually leave out information such as the gate of the flight. and for some incomprehensible reason, they made me pass through mexico customs. i have been given 30 days in the country even though i am spending 2 hours in the international terminal. i should have had to walk 10 feet to change planes--instead i spent half an hour getting lost in this maze of an airport and talking with various officials (at least my spanish is getting a jump start, which is a challenge when sick at 4am).

by the way SFO was easy. i got there 3 hours early which was completely unnecessary. they had one of those terrorist blowing air puff machines in use. funny thing is there were 2 lines, so anyone could choose to avoid the air puffer if they wanted to. clever. i chose to avoid it for fear of being stuck in line due to technical difficulties. still i was pulled aside and tested for explosives.