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February 20, 2006

Medellin, Colombia

The last time i was in Bogota, i remember wondering what it would be like to live there for an extended period of time. So i was glad to get to spend another 2 weeks there, wandering the streets and getting more of a feel for the city. Though it stands as my favorite Latin American capital city, i'm not sure i could ever spend months and months there. Seeing the disparity between the extremely rich people and the people starving begging in the street feels bad, which is not to say that that doesn't happen in the U.S. but i've never seen a private security guard pretty much beat up a homeless women for begging from the haughty rich people entering a fancy discoteque. That was just one excerience among several that i won't recount, but it left me with a more realistic, less romantic verrsion of the city.

One of the good experiences (there were many of those as well, don't get me wrong) was spending time in the library of the Instituto Colombiano de Antropologia y Historia. the librarians were very helpful, and i photocopied a ton of information about the Lost City. The other users of the library seemed very curious about why i was there, and i had some interesting conversations. I'm gonna have to spend some more time in the library and at the Instituto when i return to Bogota before i fly out, and i'm kind of looking forward to it.



The last time i was in Colombia, i was told that people from the department of Antioquia were the nicest, most friendly people in the country. Our schedule didn't allow us to visit Medellin, only a few small towns also located in this district. As promised, the people were amazing, so fun, for example here's my entry from that time last year in a pueblo called Marsalles. Remembering that, i knew that when i returned to Colombia this time, i would make certain to spend some time here. I arrived in Medellin last thursday night, accompanied by a friend i made in Bogota, an english guy named Lee. We spent the entire day on the bus staring out the window, watching the countryside as we went over the Andes, and dropped down into the green rolling hills of Antioquia. I tried to take many photos out the window of the bus, which nearly always turns out crappy, but a few were ok. I find that spacing out my bus trips makes the rides more enjoyable, to the point where i look forward to spending a day reading, listening to music, and watching the view.




Medellin is a big, bustling city, the second largest in this country. The hostel we are staying at is very much a gringo palace, everyone speaking english, watching champion's league football and movies in english on one of the two (two? wtf?) televisions, and drinking tons of beer. It's located in a rich part of the city as well, which i don't like nearly as much as the hostels you normally find in the centers of these cities, surrounded by the grit of everyday reality and not within easy walking distance to Blockbuster Video. Unfortunately, i've been too lazy to switch hostels, and i have met some good people here.

Botero sculpture.

Botero sculpture.

me posing in front of the backdrop for the first camera ever brought to colombia, in 1870.

largest brick cathedral in the world.

church in parque berrio.

Yesterday we went to el Peñol, a granite monolith sticking up out of the ground several hundred feet and surrounded by a network of lakes. it was beautiful to take in the view from atop La Piedra as they called it, and afterwords the small group of us headed down the road a bit to swim in one of the lakes and jump off a bridge into the water. It was probably only 10-12 meters, but those heights always feel much taller when you're looking down from them. I loved the feeling of my heart getting worked up as i stood up their getting ready to throw myself off, and then the peace that came over me as i gave my send the 5-4-3-2-1 countdown, and leapt off. my friend Lee took some good photos of the leap.

el peñol.

lakes region.

self portrait.

vegetation growing on the rock.

the bridge i jumped off of.

me jumping off of the bridge.





sunset over medellin.

The one thing i haven't done yet that i must do before i leave this city is vist the grave of Pablo Escobar, just because it will be so weird to do so. i remember reading this book called "Killing Pablo" a long time ago when i was living in Seward, Alaska, about how the CIA and the military of Colombia killed him, and since then i've been morbidly fascinated by his life. i remember meeting argentinians the last time i was down here who felt that Escobar was a hero, because he was selling a resource of Latin America to the United States at a competitive price, instead of just letting us take it, and for that he was killed. i disagreed with this, but it's interesting to think that people will lionize a man who spread so much misery and violence across this entire country. I'll be sure to take a photo of the grave.

Today we're supposed to go hang-gliding. I'm excited for that. it's 25 bucks for a tandem ride, too cheap not to do it.

On thursday or friday i'm heading with a small crew to Barranquilla for Carnivales. it's said to be the second largest party in all of S. America. sufficed to say, it's gonna be nuts. i'm looking forward to it, but if it gets to nuts i'm gonna head out to some small town on the coast to chill out for a bit, drink some tropical fruit juice, and swim in good old el caribe. life is good.

Posted by bendan at 09:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 12, 2006

feliz cumpleanos a mi


also, happy birthday to grandpa Joe, the big 90.

i think i will leave bogota on wednesday. maybe thursday though.

Posted by bendan at 03:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 10, 2006

a temporary life


i really like this photo.

yesterday while riding towards the north part of the city in a taxi, the arterial we needed to take was blocked. there was police tape, cops on motorcycles, and the crime scene van. everyone was rubbernecking out their windows to the right. as we slowly rolled past what everyone was looking at, my stomach dropped. lying in the middle of the street was a dead man, probably an unlucky pedestrian. His torso was torn and his guts leaking onto the street. just lyiing there in the middle of the street, no blanket covering him or anything.
it was the first time in my life i'd seen a dead person.

Posted by bendan at 06:42 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 04, 2006

Bogota, a nice city in Colombia

33 hours on a bus

you climb aboard, eyes steeled, resigning yourself to a day and a half of near-comatose fugue. armed with a water bottle, music, a book, a digital camera. as the bus pulls out the station, an armed officer comes down the aisle, videotaping everyone's national identity papers or passports, and then their faces. you give as toothy a grin as possible. the bus courses through traffic, passing tenements, ferris wheels, slums, finally breaking into the green of the hills and mountains that surround Caracas. a constant zigzagging ensues, the bus heaving from left to right, from right to left as it switchbacks up narrrow highways, past ramshackle houses, patchwork fields.

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you try to read, but the swaying of the bus makes it hard to concentrate on Lady Chatterly, so you put the headphones on and they lull you to sleep for half an hour, forty-five minutes, until the driver slams on the brakes, the bus tilts forward, and you shake awake, wondering whether it was a car or a farm animal that was nearly crushed. mostly though you stare out the window, as the world and so many lives roll by, the child minding a goat as it chews vegetation in a ditch, the old lady carrying a heavy basket on her head. no matter how hard you look, no matter how many times you try and remember that you will never see this scenery again in your life, you still can't take enough of it in, it flashes by and you crane your neck to catch a second glimpse of that narrow pitched valley behind, missing the crest of the hill and the morning sun through the trees. So many different shades of green and light out the window, but you're separated, and all you feel are waves of cold from the air conditioner. it's frustrating, everything looks fecund and verdant, life stacked on top of life, and you're only an oberver on this sterile, careening bus.

you jerk awake again, disoriented and wondering as the rest of the passengers rise heavily out of their seats and shuffle out the front door. following, you lower yourself down the handrails into the parking lot of a roadside restaurant. inside, you settle for a plate of rice, sliced onions and tomatoes, and a small yellowish potato that tastes delicious, so much more flavorful and textured then any potato at home. you dowse all of it in homemade hot sauce and shovel it down mechanically, nearly forgetting to chew before you scrape the plate clean, slap a dollar fifty in pesos colombianos on the table and head outside. clouds or fog swirl above in the steep hills rising around you, and you sit on a concrete wall, petting a mongrel dog that had a chow somewhere in it's background. looking down the road, you see small children walking home from school, and more then a few give you a double take. maybe it's your silly haircut, or your pale skin, but you smile and wave, and they smile back and then run onwards up the road.

you climb back into the belly of the bus as it heaves back into motion. it's dark again, and you notice the middle aged couple sitting opposite to you, wrapped in blankets and curled snugly together. they remind you of hibernation, the looks on their faces stoic and yet somehow also gentle, and you feel that this is their way, the way really of most people in this country, in this whole continent, to traverse mountains and fertile plains in these chugging great machines, buckled and battened-down as the hours and the kilometers unwind, racing constantly against each other.

precious little is visible in the nightscape out the window, twinkling of towns here and there, halogen lights on streets illuminating men standing around in front of small bars drinking beer, waiting for nothing.

you drift in and out of conciousness, vaguely amused to recognize a bus station from the last time were in this country, when you made this journey but in the opposite direction. you smile at the memory of this small city, eating chinese food with your two great traveling companions, discovering a Simpsons themed bar on the main street, amused and laughing to drink beers under walls painted with familiar characters. This time as some passengers disembark and others come aboard, you hop out and buy a bag of mandarine oranges, already pulling the skin off of one of them (it comes away easily, promising a certain disappointing dryness for the fruit inside, but you don't care, it's still sweet and amazing) as you climb back up the stairs for the last time, into the homestretch.

the border between waking and sleep seems to soften, you eyes hurt until you open them as wide as you can and then they feel wiped clean, and you imagine two red and white balls hovering in the back of the bus. Though you've already spent 30 hours in transit, and more then half of that unconcious, there is no tender relief of rest, just a cloddy dullness in your mind, a scratching of throat from the cold air, and an increasing desire to lie horizontal, anywhere would be fine, just prone and completely still.

the lights of Bogota begin, and you recognize the look of apartment buildings surrounded by steel blue fences. a light rail station passes, you you begin to gather your things, the insistent thumping of a poorly paved street not mattering now, your watch reading 2:50 am not important either, your only thought that you will have arrived! and that there will be no long bus journeys for 2 weeks.

the driver guns it through a deserted stoplight and under an overpass, everyone in the bus in accord with his desire for this to be done, and the terminal hoves into view, a shining star, a beacon. the airbrakes sound, the great machine settles, and you wait patiently as everyone files out, feeling not defeated but like a knife in desperate need of sharpening. you collect your pack, breaking a strap as you lift it up onto your shoulders but that doesn't matter, the taxi driver guesses the neighborhood you're staying in and you nod in assent, the quiet and empty streets of Bogota flashing by as he barrels towards the target, that bed in the hostel with your name on it. the familiar street, the silly animal painted on the door, you pay him and ring the buzzer, the night clerk yawning and brushing sleep from his face as he opens the door, shows you to your room. You stow your pack, hang your clothes on a wall hook, climb onto your top bunk, nestle under the blankets, all in one fluid motion, and you lie there, cashed in but still awake for a moment, your mind racing for the weeks ahead, your head finding an angle with the hard, lumpy pillow, until your breathing slows and you fall into merciful, blissful sleep.

So i ended up staying Caracas for a few days longer, mostly because of even more new friends i made. we had the opportunity to visit Barrio 23 de Enero, a poor barrio that's improving itself from the inside, with some help from Chavez. the people were amazing to talk to, very resolute and proud. I find that i'm more or less a believer in Chavez, that for all of his faults he is really in it for the people, and not just the people of Venezuela but for all of Latin America. So many conversations were had about him and his Bolivarian Revolution, and i can only hope that his heart is in the right place, and that he succeeds where he should. I took a bunch of photos of the Barrio,you can see them here, and i'm working on a written piece about the visit.

so when i woke up the next morning in Bogota, well rested and filled with plans for the day, i met a nice german guy named tobias, who was desperately looking for someone to help translate for his very sick girlfriend, juliana, who was up all night vomiting and had a sharp, excruciating headache pain at the base of her neck. Naturally i jumped into action, and we went first to a clinica, and then to an urgencias, where after a ridiculous amount of paperwork and having to pay for each part of the process (the consultation, the lab fees, the the saline solution and analgesics) separately, she saw a doctor, got a bloodtest, and hours later we were relieved to learn that it wasn't some exotic illness picked up in the jungles of Ecuador, that it wasn't meningitis, but instead it was her first migraine, and a doozy at that. we brought her back to the hostel in the afternoon, all my plans for the day down the drain but it was alright, i received many thanks, all my beers that evening were purchased for me, and i got to feel helpful with my spanish.

yesterday i hung out with Catalina and Mario, some nice local kids that Aaron, Kristy and i met last time we were in Bogota. we listened to music, made dinner, and talked a lot about all sorts of stuff. though they both speak some english, we always speak in spanish, and before i left i told them we should spend a whole day only speaking english so that they could practice, and i said this in english, and it felt so weird, i don't know why, i guess just cause we always speak spanish, but it was funny. maybe that last bit made sense.

not sure what i'm up to today, probably i'll got get lunch at the vegetarian cafetaria restaurant (again) and then look for some new books to read.

oh, i met this guy, he was very interesting to talk to, and as you'd guess, a bit nuts.

Posted by bendan at 08:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack