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February 25, 2005

Villa de Leyva, Colombia

After 9 days in Bogota, we finally tore ourselves out of there and headed north. my time in Bogota was really nice, it didn't take long to feel very comfortable there, in the same way that san cristobal did when i spent so much time there. Bogota had so much to offer in terms of culture, i could easily see myself returning there, either while traveling through or to live for a while. some of the highlights were-
meeting catalina and mario, a brother and sister pair who were really cool and who we ended up hanging out with quite a lot. they both looked like members of the white stripes and listened to a lot of massive attack and portishead, and catalina cooked excellent vegetarian food, very sophisticated.
this vegetarian restaurant that looked like a cafeteria, aaron and i must have ate there at least 4 times, the ladies bid us a fond fairwell after our lunch there the day before we left.
meeting other travelers in the hostel and playing chess, hanging out cooking meals and drinking beer, and talking about places we've been and places to go.
all the museums, the street vendors, the flea market, and the punk rockers that kept yelling 'smoking weed' to us as we walked past the parque de los periodistas. crazy kids.

those are just a few things i enjoyed, the rest is a big mix in my head. i ended up not buying a digital camera, the prices were about 100 dollars more then in the states for the once i wanted, plus you had to bargain for it, which was very annoying, because the vendors say that i was a foreigner and quickly jacked up the prices. that plus the hyper aggressive panhandling were about the only things i didn't enjoy, everything else was good times.

yesterday we came here to Villa de Leyva, a very old, very pretty town about 3 hours north of Bogota. on the way here, we stopped at the Catedral de Sal (salt cathedral). the Salt Cathedral is a strange, rotten egg smelling salt mine that was converted into a gigantic underground cathedral capable of holding 8,000 people. it was full of crosses carved out of salt, and had tons of corridors leading towards the 4 altars. the best altar had a salt reproduction of the famous painting in the vatican of god touching adam's hand. we spent the greater part of the time down there joking around, which included me climbing up and sitting on the back of a donkey who was looking on at the nativity scene, and sofie, and english girl who came along with us, snapping a digital picture, which i really hope she sends me.
today we walked around this pretty little town and then headed a few kilometers out of town to visit el fosil, which is the huge fossilized skeleton of a prehistoric crocodile. this one measured at least 7 meters long, and it was only an adolescent. then we headed up to a nice waterfall with a new israeli friend, and did some naked swimming. tonight i think we're gonna hang around, because tomorrow we head to one more town before catching an overnight bus for the coast. all day long i want to bleet out 'Beach!' just like the crazy homeless guy that daveo met on the bus in SF, because i'm so excited to get my dirty corpse in the caribbean.
be well.

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February 18, 2005

Bogota, Colombia

our overnight bus from armenia was the nicest bus that any of us had ever been on, it had a weird wereworf versus vampire film and comfortable and reclinable seats. the elderly colombian lady next to me kept rolling against me during the night, but the dramamine and and an early start that day helped me to sleep all the way to the Bogota bus station.
Bogota ranks as my favorite latin american capitol city. since a significant part of traveling with aaron revolves around good meals, so far we have been to eat at 3 different vegetarian restaurants plus found some good falafels on the street, and there are still 2 or three vege restaurants we haven't tried yet. The second day we went to an excellent museum in the Colombian Mint, and then yesterday we visited the museum of Fernando Botero, and today we went to the planetarium to see more modern and street art. i remember back to when i was a little kid, not enjoying museums as much, and now as long as it isn't portrait after boring portrait of 18th and 19th century rich people, i find i really get into going to them. when looking at modern art, i feel like if 1 out of 3 paintings or works gets an emotional response out of me, then the time spent has been a success, and the modern stuff here has been quite thought provoking.
as i sit in this internet cafe, a school of kids down the hall just sang happy birthday to one of their classmates in english. the guy next to me says it's a tradition. weird.
apart from museums and eating, we've been walking around a lot. there are times when aaron and kristy says that this city feels like NY, in that it's metropolitan and first world, but then you will see some campesinos leading a donkey pulling a cart down a street in the cobbled stone neighborhood where we are staying, and you remember that on the outskirts of this city are layers and layers of slums and shanty towns.
on wednesday night we went out dancing at some bar, i felt very stiff until some new friends from the hostel poured a bunch of cane liquor flavored with anis down my throat. then we danced like fools till late, after which 3 street dogs tried to bite my leg as i walked home. the candelaria, our adopted neighborhood, isn't the safest, it turns out someone from the hostel was mugged last night walking back from a bar. however, it seems that going out in a big gringo group, while something i don't normally enjoy so much, lends a better sense of security.
seems we are here till next tuesday or wednesday, kristy is having a crown put on one of her teeth that cracked. guess what a crown costs here in colombia? about 60 dollars. she was gonna get gold, but the dentist convinced her to go with some alloy that lasts longer. the dentist, Senor Agular, is a great guy, and we spent a bit of time talking to him after he took the molds of Kristy's poor tooth. he looked at me and said, 'you have the face of an Englishman, the nose of a Frenchman, and the eyes and smile of a Jew.' i was impressed, it turns out he fought with the Resistance in Transylvania in Romania and also in Hungary against the Nazis during WW2 before moving here to Colombia, and he told us of giving blood transfusions with nothing more then a large syringe. i look forward to talking to him more as he drills into Kristy's head.
the folks in the hostel that we have met so far have been good people, surprisingly there are quite a few americans, the first we've seen in this country. tonight we plan to cook a nice meal, a stir fry with tofu of all things, and then maybe we'll hit the bars again. There are still 3 or 4 museums we plan to see, plus i am gonna buy a digital camera, and then it's north towards the caribbean coast. aaron keeps reading us things in the guidebook about the coast and about these islands we plan to visit, it makes us all want to head out tomorrow.

1 thing i forgot to mention that was funny, was when i told aaron that the lyger in Armenia was old and probably near death, he said that meant it would end up stuffed in some natural history museum before to long.

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February 13, 2005

Pereira, Colombia (no ligres..)

so i´m sitting in an internet cafe, about to catch a bus back to the bus station. kristy forgot her passport under the bed in the house we stayed at last night in marsalles, so aaron went back for it and kristy stayed at the airport, feeling sick. since i had about 2 hours to kill, and because the guidebook mentioned something totally weird, i caught a bus and then a taxi to the zoo. now, normally, i would never patronize a zoo, especially not in a third world country, because the cages would be small and there would be concrete everywhere instead of grass and trees. however, rumor had it that the zoo here, which was located right next to the airport, and an actual living breathing liger, that´s right, half lion, half tiger (they spell it ligre in spanish) so i wandered around the zoo, looking at all the depressed animals in their small and dirty cages, being harrassed by colombians who ignored all the signs and both fed the animals junk food and also took the time to throw rocks at them. finally i found the liger cage, and guess what? no fucking liger. i was bummed, and some security guard told me that the liger was at the vet or something, because in it´s old age it has developed problems with it´s foot and claws, and most likely won´t be returning to the zoo to be gawked at by colombians anymore. i felt dirty for giving money to the zoo, and quickly left.
last night we had a really good time, having left Cali for the small town i mentioned earlier, marsalles. when we hopped off the bus at the main plaza, there were people everywhere in the street, because it was saturday night and everyone was in town for market day. it took us three tries to find a hotel that was open, finally ending up at this excellent old colombian lady who showed us the barren rooms. quickly we dumped out packs and headed out on the town. aaron managed to track down an excellent beans and rice dinner for a dollar and fifty cents, and we sat eating and drinking beer, watching all the life in the plaza. the waiter advised us to go first to estadero la bomba for drinks, and then to the biggest discoteca in town. we went and sat drinking beer, marvelling at how much better the ambiente was in this little town of 9,00 then it had been in all of Cali. then we went to a second story discoteque, and watched in awe as even the young teenagers danced the salsa, the merengue, and many other dances like professionals, while aaron and i refused to go out on the dance floor, for fear of showing how white we are and how stiff our poor hips move, like wooden boards. finally we made our way to the big discoteca, which was about half full of teenagers and 20 somethings when we arrived. immediately some guy grabbed us and started feeding us shots of aguardiente and anis, an potent mix. he had lived in canada, and was excited to speak english and tell us about this little town. people kept giving us startled looks, i think it was the first time they had seen foreigners in their town. soon we were on the dance floor, and the dj, who sang along to every song he played, doing a pretty good falsetto for the female vocalists, was giving us shout outs, yelling ¨bienvenidos a Marsalles, welcome welcome welcome to Marsalles!¨ it was pretty excellent. when the bar finally closed down i went with the dj and some of his friends and sat on a porch somewhere, and we hung out talking and continuing to drink the cane liquor and anis mix until at least 4 am. the kids were very excited to teach me every possible curse word you could think of in colombian spanish, and i filled them in on some mexican as well as english slang. i fell asleep on the floor of the dj´s house, and woke up at 7 am, very dehydrated. i made my way back to the hotel, and feel back asleep on the bed, which featured possibly the most lumpy and uncomfortable pillow known to man. this morning we checked out the jardin ecologico, which had some really cool examples of simple machines, and well as a collection of slingshots that the local boys had traded in for free tickets, a strategy that helped lessen the killing of local birds.
we all seem to agree that the small towns are where it´s at, the people are very friendly and not jaded by tourism. tonight we go to a town called salerno i think, it has a valley near it filled with the tallest palm trees in the world. after that it´s an overnight bus to bogota, which promised to have tons of vegetarian restaurants, good museums, and other travelers to meet. i´m excited.

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February 09, 2005

Cali, Colombia

so finally i make it to a computer, and find myself with some catching up to do. The last i wrote in here, we were in Quito, preparing to head north. from Quito, we went to Otavalo, the most touristy and crummy town in all of Ecuador. we hung around for a few nights as i got through a bout of Giardia, which involved me staying up all night keeping the bathroom company, and then running to the pharmacy the next morning for some antibiotics. i can't imagine where i got it, i am always careful to drink purified water, so it might have been some unwashed tomatoes at a resturant in Vilcabamba.
matt and denise decided not to come to Colombia, so aaron, kristy and i headed to Tulcan, the border town in Ecuador. the town was buzzing with people getting ready for Carnivales, all the little boys and teenagers were throwing water balloons at the school girls, and a good nervious energy was in the air. this was probably my favorite border town ever, it even had an amazing topiary garden which we walked around for half an hour right before it closed.
the next morning before 7 a.m. we were up and headed for the border. leaving Ecuador was simple, but there was a huge line on the Colombian side. standing in line we met Cristian, a Colombian headed back home after traveling through southern south america for a few months. he helped us handle dealing with the border guards, who had a new rule that any foreigner entering the country has to have a ticket showing that he/she has sufficient money to leave. we got fake tickets from the bus company then changed them for real ones. kind of a hassle, but we did get to meet a little old colombian cab driver, who wanted to talk about the drug cartel leaders who were being extradited to the u.s.
Colombia has a much different feel then Ecuador, this we noted as soon as crossing the border. the people are more expressive, more friendly and likely to start up a conversation with strangers, and the air here has a tension from all the chaos that has occured and will continue to occur.
The first town we visited was Popayan, about 8 hours north of the border. The busride was wild, the driver alternated between driving as fast as possible on windy narrow roads, accomplishing amazing passes of semi trucks around blind corners going up hills, and then he stopped and ate 3 leisurely meals. By the time we arrived we were exhausted, and glad to pile into our room at the hostel. We spent the next day walking around the city and getting used to Colombia. Popayan had these empanadas filled with potatoes and spicy peanut sauce, aaron and i thought we´d died and gone to heaven. You got about 10 of them for 80 cents. After a day and a half we were ready to hit the road, though not before spending out last night in the oldest bar in Popayan, a dark smokey place full of colombians singing along to colombian songs from the 50´s to the present, almost all on old vinyl records on shelves behind the bar. The bartender, a very short man, played dj as he and his wife served drinks, and the atmosphere was so good, so untouristy as we chatted with the locals and a mexican girl from the hostel had the bartender play the song from her town.
Our next stop was san augustin, a terribly bumpy 6 hour busride from popayan. the second we stepped off the bus we we accosted by people trying to rent us horses or have us stay at their hostel, it was very annoying. eventually we found an ok place to stay, and later that evening made plans to go on a horseback ride the next day with a guide and 2 euros we met, steve from norway and dewey (nickname) from holland.
the next morning we met in a plaza and mounted out steeds. horseback riding for me brought back memories of when i was a little boy and would ride the horses of my folks around the arena. the horses were better suited for small latin american people, and we found them small for me and kristy, and very small for aaron. we rode for 4 hours, visiting 4 sites and managing to hold our horses to a trot and occasionally a canter, since they had obviously done the circle hundreds of times and were itching to get back home for lunch. on dismounting the pain in my tender bits reminded me of why i preferred bikes as a young boy to horses.
the horse wrangler dropped us off at the archeological park, and we walked around for a few hours, listening to a nice guide explain the geological, geometrical and cultural history of all the carved statues. towards the end i tired of translating what she was saying to steve, who doesn´t have such good spanish, so i began making up history about that statues that, while it was totally untrue, everyone agreed was much more interesting.
the next morning, having tired of people asking us of we needed horses (too late i realized i should have been replying whether they meant if we needed horses to eat), we caught another bouncy busride to san andres, so that we could visit tierradientro. this much quieter town suited us very much, and we settled in at the house of dona marta. dewey had come along with us, and the next morning he lurched out of bed at 7 am. letting him leave, we slept in till past nine, and then went out to hike to the tombs in the surrounding area.
in the 70's, graverobbers discovered underground tombs housing urns filled with the bones and possessions of important shamans from the cultures that had inhabited the region around 600 a.d. examination by scientists in later years showed that, while the tombs held no gold, there were a whole lot of them, filled with artifacts and scattered around the surrounding valleys. climbing down steep stairs, aaron, kristy and i found ourselves nearly speechless at the intricate painting to be found on the inside of the tomb walls. from when they were buried, these caves were sealed and untouched by human hands for nearly 1400 years. there was a sense of mystery and awe as we peered into these holes, trying to fathom what 1400 years really is. this site ranked in the top 5 man-made monuments that i have seen in my travels.
bidding dona marta farewell, we caught an early morning bus to cali. the music on the busses and indeed in the streets is much more enjoyable then in ecuador, it appears the 3-legged horse has finally passed on, thank goodness. we arrived in cali yesterday, and today we have so far had a nice breakfast, and then spent the afternoon visiting the modern art museum, which had a really cool lithograph exhibit and 3 floors of heartwrenching photos from photographers who have been documenting the war here in colombia between the various guerrilla groups, the army, and the army sponsored paramilitary groups. the photos showed the human cost of the war, from churches blow up to children armed with automatic weapons fighting for a cause that seems to me so muddled as to be nearly indeciferable. sad sad sad. walking around the streets, there is the usual feel of a latin american city, mixed with a slight edge of danger, as people recognize that we are foreigners and attempt to talk to us and sell us things. i have become adept at ignoring when someone yells ¨hey mister.¨
tonight i think we will go out for my birthday a bit, maybe eat at one of the FIVE vegetarian restaurants in this town. Cristian who we met at the border plans to meet up, as do Dewey and Steve.
tomorrow the plan is to look for a tattoo parlor for aaron, and i may try and get in touch with some colombian punk rockers, to see if there are any shows.
i am well, looking forward to the caribbean coast,and i hope everyone is enjoying february as much as we are so far.

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