The First Bus Ride

Never let Bret choose where to sit on a long-distance bus ride.

Other than local city buses, so far on our trip we have managed to avoid the dreaded long-distance bus rides I have heard so much about.  Our first one would turn out to be a warm-up to what lies ahead as it is only a “short” 3.5 hours from Cartagena to Santa Marta.

The first option was to squeeze on a local bus with our backpacks and ride one hour across town in the 90 degree heat to the main bus depot and hop on another bus that would take us to the depot in Santa Marta, then walk with our packs to our hostel.  OR we could book a door-to-door, air-conditioned service through our hotel or only a few bucks more.  Door-to-door it was!  We were excited to move on to somewhere new and get there backpacker luxury style in a Mercedes van that only carried 8-10 people.

Travel day arrived and we were ready and waiting for our 7am ride at 6:30am in the hotel lobby.  Around 7:30am our bus picked us up and we were first on!  Sweet, free to sit ANYWHERE we chose.  I immediately leaped into a two-seater spot and called the window seat.  Bret in the meantime went straight to the very back where there were four seats across.  “There’s more leg room back here” he stated.  I hesitantly joined him at the back and again, called a window seat.

The bus drove around to a few other hotels to pick up guests also heading to Santa Marta.  As the bus slowly began to fill up, we still had the entire back seat to ourselves.  Maybe we would get lucky and it wouldn’t be a full bus?  After each stop we grew more and more excited over that idea.  Until the second to last stop. . .   Maybe just one person would hop on and we’d have three seats between us?  Wrong!  A um, rather large couple who could have easily taken up the entire back row themselves had no other choice but to join us in the back. . .  The woman (of course) took the other window seat, leaving the men to battle for what little room remained in the middle.

And so the looks from Bret began.  For the first 45 minutes or so he had a look on his face of utter misery.  About the 46 minute mark that look turned to pure rage!

The following event is not exaggerated.  It is however perspective based and includes integrated visions of imagination.

The foreshadowing couldn’t have been written better by a well thought out and seasoned author.  Sally noting the metal rod that stuck up between seats.  The two of us marveling at the amount of space we had.  “If only they don’t pick up anyone else”, we repeated after every stop.  But this is South America and to have even the smallest thoughts of the bus running at any capacity besides maximum beckoned to be slaped in the face with reality.

The second to last stop, that’s when it happened.  Time went into slow motion.  The chorus of Bob Dylan’s Hurricane filled the bus like an amphitheatre. “Here comes the story of the Hurricane.  The one the authorities came to blame.  For something he never done. Put him in a prison cell but one day he could-a been the champion of the world”.  I could have been a champion.  It felt so destined to be and yet my prison cell awaited.  The right side of the bus had a sudden and sharp tilt to the right which put us at almost at 45 degree angle.  Her head emerged into view as she took each of the three steps with monstrous force.  She turned toward the aisle and realized that regular forward movement would be restricted by her size.  A slight look to adjust to a sideways shuffle, a smile to the crowd, and then she locked eyes with me.  There was no other option but to make her way to the back seat.  She plopped down next to the window, leaving one seat (half of one seat) between her and I.  “This isn’t so bad!”  It might actually deter anyone else from sitting on what was left of the seat next to me.  Just as I was getting through those very thoughts her husband boarded the bus.  She smiled and waved to him, gesturing that there was an available seat next to her.  My heart sunk as a man who had clearly been matching his wife’s eating habits made his way to the back of the bus.  He wedged himself between the two us, not even acknowledging the fact that he was hanging over into my seat.  This mother fucker.

My heart started to pound, my head throbbed, and I knew it would be a battle.  This wasn’t trench warfare being conducted on neutral ground.  The way he slung his shoulder over the top of mine (right over the fucking top!) and used the weight of his hairy leg to wedge extra space was an invasion my country, my space, my self worth as a man.  I took deep and slow breaths.  I slid my leg slightly away to avoid the flesh to flesh touching that made me want to jump out the window of the moving bus.  Only to have that void filled immediately and then some by his invasive left calf.  The pressure on my leg was more intense than before, as if he could sense my retreat.  Holy shit.  Breath Bret, breath.

I looked at Sally and she could see the frustration consuming my body.  Just then we hit a bump and I flew up, hitting my head on the plastic ceiling.  We swung around the corner and made our final stop.  Sally and I whispered to each other about the situation.  Her half-smile not matching her words of sympathy.  The driver packed the final bag into the back of the bus (directly behind us) and slams the door.  The seat jolts forward as the back door bounces off the over-packed luggage.  He repeats this attempt four more times, sending us forward with each thrust of the door before he adjusts the suitcase that didn’t seem to fit.

At that point I felt like a postal worker.  My face relaxed, eyes blank, masking the horrendous travesty I was plotting in my head.  I need a distraction.  I quickly found reggae on my iPod.  Knowing that if Bob couldn’t keep me from focusing on every millisecond that was slowly passing by, I would be in for the worst ride of my life.  My right arm began to sweat.  I could feel every wrinkle of my t-shirt making an imprint on the side of my body.  The AC for the bus blew right over the top of our heads and the body heat that was being put out by the two large bodies next to us could very well be responsible for a portion of global  warming.  My willpower to not forfeit any more of my seat finally gave in to the conscious fact that I was only moments away from using this mans face as a break on the pavement the next time our driver made a dangerous pass around a blind corner.  I leaned forward and put my elbows on my knees.  The rush of body into my seat behind me created a small shaking sensation that was felt throughout the entire bus.  After about five minutes of leaning forward I started to calm down.  I was almost able to unclench my fists and return my heart rate to normal.  That’s when Sally leaned forward and pointed.  “You see that guy in the red hat?”  It was a man who was almost six feet tall sitting next to his wife and looking quite comfortable.  His seat kicked back as he took a little nap.  “That’s where we could have been sitting.”  The steam that shot from my ears must have been noticeable because Sally’s giggle turned into a muffled laugh.  I shared a few words that expressed my displeasure with her statement and noted that I wasn’t able to enjoy her joke at this time.  She did a great job of pressing right up against the window to give me a little more room.  As I slide over to use part of her seat my left ass cheek was reminded of the metal rod that stuck up.  It took every man gene I had in me to keep from crying like a small child.  Sally wedged her scarf down between the seats to cover the rod as best she could.

It was only two and a half hours of self-pity until we dropped off enough people that I could move to a different seat.  The last 20 minutes of the ride was enough time to decompress and remind myself things could be worse.  I could be sitting in a cubicle, looking out the window at the cold dark rain, trying to excite myself that it was Wednesday, and I only had two more days left until the weekend.

We are now two nights into our week-long stay in the Santa Marta area and life is great!  A day of chilling poolside at our hostel allowed us time to catch up on the blog.  Over the next few days we will be spending time at one of the best beaches in the area to celebrate our anniversary.  We’ll also be venturing out to Tayrona National Park for a little hiking and camping.  Yes, that’s right, Bret is thrilled to be hiking AND camping, all within 24 hours!

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An Unexpected Detour

There are some that die to early.  Very few live to be a legend.  You my brother, did them both…

Danny Boy

We are headed to Chicago for the weekend.  We will be back in Colombia and worldtripping on Tuesday.

Cartagena

We touched down in beautiful Cartagena on March 7.  Cartagena is one of the oldest cities in Colombia, dating back to 1533 and is arguably the most beautiful city in the country.

After the taxing one-hour flight, we dropped our bags and took off for a wander. Unfortunately we are not used to the 86 degree heat/90% humidity so after no more than sixty minutes of scrambling from one piece of shade to another in the old town, we ventured back to our room for a rest, grabbed a bite to eat and called it a night.

With a decent sleep (likely the best we’ve had since leaving Seattle), a good workout, and a tasty breakfast (we finally splurged and treated ourselves to a restaurant meal after living off peanut butter sandwiches and potatoes), we felt well-rested and ready to explore this gorgeous city.

We toughed it out in the heat and humidity and spent a good four to five hours strolling the streets of the old town in more depth, as well as the neighborhood of Getsemani where our hotel is located.  The old town, where we spent the majority of the day is full of cobbled, narrow streets, colorful buildings with large balconies covered in flowers and many plazas.

I have to admit, Bret and I are not overly cultured in the museum scene but we decided to take a gamble (it was bloody hot and we needed a break from the heat) and visited the Palacio de la Inquisicion.  It is a palace that was constructed in the 18th century for the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition.  It is where the Inquisition would question and torture accused witches.  We appreciated the history section about Cartagena, which was the only part of the museum in English.  Otherwise it was a swing and a miss in sparking an interest in the museum scene for both of us.

With the exploration of the old town under our belt I thought we deserved a good drinking session (I mean some time taking in Cartagena’s night scene!)  I was excited to check out Havana, a salsa club down the road from us so we freshened up and made our way there.  We peeked in and noticed it was rather empty so we spent the next half hour or so walking the streets (beers in hand) debating whether or not to head in or wait for it to get kicking, all the while eagerly checking the time.  After much debate we decided we’d save some cash and head in before they started the cover charge.  The salsa music was blaring and the stage was set, ready for the band to arrive and do their thing – I was eager to dance but it was too soon, as there were roughly (exactly) four people in the bar.  We pulled up a seat at the bar and checked out the drink menu – shit, the cheapest cocktail on there was half our budget!  Damn it, we can’t just leave!  We hesitantly ordered their famous mojito and boy did I savour every last sip!  Bret tried but he was done within seconds.  Sadly, I finally finished my drink and due to the prices, it was time to leave – my dancing feet would have to wait.

After my little sulk we decided to grab another beer from a store and wandered around, checking in at the odd bar, seeing how much a beer would set us back – about four times the price of one from the street!  “That’s US prices!” we would grumble to each other.  So, another beer from the street it was and off we went wandering again (apparently we’ll be doing a lot of that on our budget), checking out the scene some more.

Closer to home, we spotted a guy with a street food set up cooking chicken, beef, sausage and all the fixings.  We grabbed a chicken meal with yucca, potato, salad, etc for only USD$3.50 and damn it was good!  This guy definitely redeemed the Colombian street food in our minds.

The third day in Cartagena we felt brave enough to venture the half mile across the bridge to Castillo San Felipe de Barajas.  A defensive fort constructed to defend the city from its enemies.  Being the smart gringos that we are, we waiting until peak heat when the sun was directly above us.  That way we didn’t have to worry about any shadows obstructing our attempt to burn off yet another layer of skin.  At the entrance we discovered that for an extra hourly fee we could rent an audio recording of the fort’s history in English.  This seems to be the standard in Colombia.  There is an entrance fee and then essentially a second entrance fee if you don’t speak Spanish and want to have a clue what the fuck is going on.  Luckily we have been in country long enough that we have become quite used to not knowing what the fuck is going on, so we passed on the audio rental and decided we would speculate and or create our own analysis of the history that took place.

The castle was pretty impressive.  The various layers of fortified brick created a great defensive structure that surely kept most enemies at bay.  I even got Sally to go pretty far down into the maze that was constructed to confuse the enemy and hold the area finals for hide-and-go-seek.  After we marveled at the view from the top of the fort where Felipe had his morning breakfast (which also served later in the day as a tanning area and or dance-off location), we made our way back to the hotel.

Cartagena

We are now packing up and heading back to the states for an unexpected detour from our world tripping.

A Vacation from the Vacation

Three days.  It took us three days to shit on our plans and flush the budget down the toilet.   I am acutally pretty impressd we made it that long!  The cramped quarters in Bogota combined with the great reviews we heard about San Andres Island, gave us about a five mintue diliberation as to whether we should make the two hour flight to the Caribbean island.

San Andres was exactly what we were looking for.  Great weather, good people, and cheap (flights/accommodation excluded) There are plenty of tourists and the locals speak English.  So my act of being a narcaleptic every time I am forced to speak Spanish has been put on the back-burner.  We have met several backpackers with great tips and ideas.  We also met some that are at the end of their trip and a little jaded on the routine of travelling.

While we sat at the computers trying to work on our budget and blog, there was a backpacker sitting next to us and the conversation picked up about travel plans.  He noticed we were working on our blog and mentioned he had one of his own.  “That shit will fade as your trip progresses” he stated.  Fade?  It took a monumental amount of energy and time to throw together the few paragraphs of content we have!  Fade?  Fuck it.  Facebook updates and a few pictures thrown on our walls is going to be it from now on.  No point in fighting the inevitable.

The good thing about San Andres is there isn’t much to report.
Day 1 – Went to the beach. Drank Rum.
Day 2 – See Day 1
Day 3 – Took the bus around the island.  See Day 2

The third day we also met a guy from South Africa.  He had organized to go out to a club that night with a group of Swedish backpackers.  The rum didn’t seem to be hitting the spot anymore, so we switched to the second cheapest vodka the island had (hey, we have standards).  After a couple of hours and a bottle down, the first gauge of our intoxication levels was offered up by our new favorite South African, Warren (Big-dub).  It was the lucky chance that classic rock had come up on the ipod.  Warren inquired about our collection and mentioned he had won several talent contests and many rounds of applause for his full rendition of Dire Straits ‘Sultans of Swing’ on air guitar. The stars were aligned and the amusement gods were shinning that night.  Warren proceeded to play the entire song completely on rhythm.  Every cord was perfect and the dancing, head whipping, and facial expressions would have made it hard for even the Russian judge to give him a poor score.

Around 11pm, the three of us headed upstairs to grab a couple of beers at the hostel bar and meet up with the Swedes.  It was about the second beer down and the willingness to attempt salsa in a public place that I realized the vodka had done the job.  The Swedish group comprised of three girls and one guy.  Needless to say, they had no problem organizing a free ride for us to the club.  Piled in the back of an extended golf cart, we weaved our way though the streets of San Andres.  We made it to the club around midnight and stumbled out of the club around 1am.  The budget busting idea of coming to the island has put us on a peanut butter sandwich lunch and potato dinner budget.  Paying the club price for a beer that is the equivalent of buying an entire bottle of rum from the grocery store didn’t sound appealing.  Leaving the club was an easy decision, deciding how we get back to the hostel was not.

The Mission: Find he Hostel
Complications: High level of intoxication, drove to the club and have to walk home, don’t know where we are, don’t speak Spanish, don’t want to pay for a cab.
Grade: D-

We stumbled out of the club like new-born calves.  Our legs unstable, our eyes blinded from the club lights and covered in a gross layer of sweat.  We zig-zagged around people smoking and made it to the middle of the street.  We marveled at our ability to finally stabilize.  Legs shoulder width apart, knees shaking, arms extended out for balance, I slowly erected my upper body to the vertical-ish position.  Yes.  Just as I expected, absolutely no fucking clue where we are at.  After a quick glance left and right, Sally made the decision that we have to go left.  The street to the right dead ends and turns into shops.  We came by golf cart.  Therefore we have to go right to go back the way we came.  Now this isn’t long division she is doing in her head, but I was still thoroughly amazed by this simple decision.  With all the confidence in the world, we tilted our heads in the intended direction of travel.  Our lower bodies doing a walk/jog/pivot to keep ourselves from face-planting, and our journey began.

Eight blocks later and an unknown number of pit stops and right hand turns, we consulted each other to better understand the planned direction of travel.  It was at that point that we realized neither of us had taken the head navigator position and we were simply going where our wobbly legs took us. Frustration set in.  We eyed each other up and made a note of the nearest weapons.  It was unspoken, but we both knew the other one would have to supplement for food if this turned into survival situation.  A few more blocks of broken down shacks and empty streets, a few more grumbles about who was to blame, and suddenly the silent night erupted with a loud and ferocious bark.  The events that followed are still being disputed to this day.  From my perspective there was a push-off sensation that propelled me in the direction of the dog.  As I looked to my right I see Sally combat rolling into the street and leaving me to fend for myself.  Sally claims the noise made her jump and she tripped into the street.  The dog left to be the only true judge of the events.

Either way, once the excitement died down we realized the dog was a block and a half away and on the other side of a fence.
The bruised knee and ego added to the difficulty of our journey.  Ten more minutes passed and we finally see something we recognize!  Is it possible!?  Have we done it?  We both agreed that we knew this road, we have been here before, we are headed home!  As our excitement peeked we turned the corner and saw what it was that we remembered….. the front of the club.  Turns out the unknown quantity of right hand turns was four.  It took us an hour + and a life threatening situation to get right back to were we started. Well done Bret and Sally, well done.

After both agreeing to take the right to the dead-end and shops, it only took us about 10 minutes of the bobble head walk to get home.  The next day on our morning run we jogged right by the club.  Sure enough, we had been by that very spot several times our first two days on the island.  It was at the end of the beach that we had been visiting every day.

Day 4 – Went to the beach and drank rum.
Day 5 – See Day 4
Day 6 – See Day 5
Day 7 – We packed up and took off for Cartagena.

We touched down this afternoon and are working on wrapping up the blog, pictures, budget, etc.  San Andres was amazing!  The only criticism it gets from us is the poor selection of street food.  If you like deep-fried dough around canned chicken, a hot dog, or questionable cheese, you are in luck.

We will leave you with a few point-and-shoot snaps from our week-long vacation on San Andres (in random order).

San Andres Island, Colombia

Collapsing in Colombia

Sally turned ghost white. “I don’t feel so well,” she stated.  Right before she leaned back, rolled her eyes back, passed out and started convulsing…

We touched down in Miami around 6pm on the 24th.  The warm air was a welcoming change from the February winter of Seattle.  My boy La picked us up and the airport and we wasted no time getting settled in.  We spent the night catching up and planning our day at South Beach.

Miami

South Beach was another late finish to the night and an early start to the morning.  The reality of our adventure finally set in the next morning when we were waiting in line at the airport and were the only ones not speaking Spanish.  This became even more concerning after we boarded the plane.  The air hostess stared at me blankly when I asked her a question in English.  Shit.  Our Spanish on disc lessons covered the entire range of “essentials”.  The only problem is we are only about a quarter of the way through them.  I quickly devised a plan of action.  The next time the stewardess came our direction, I did what any man with  a sense of pride would do.  I pulled my hat over my face and pretended to be asleep.  Sally struggled through getting us some water and food.  My valiant effort did not go unnoticed.

We touched down in Bogota and made our way to the hostel.  It was a pleasant relief to be greeted in English.  We unloaded our bags into the 4X6 cell that many inmates would object to as cruel and unusual punishment.  White peeling paint, a bunk bed, and barely enough room to do prison style work outs (tested our second morning).  We couldn’t be happier!  We then ventured off to explore our surroundings and grab a bite to eat.  Our excitement to have our first taste of Colombian food quickly turned to chaos.  We clumsily stumbled through our order, pointing and saying “si, dos por favor” until the waitress left and brought back food.  It wasn’t two bites into the soup when Sally said she wasn’t feeling well.  Within seconds she turned a ghost white, fluttered her eyes, and rolled her head forward.  I jumped up to save the table from a horrible Sally head imprint.  She went limp and started convulsing.  About 45 seconds later and a few slaps to the face, she came back to.  I quickly jumped up and used every Spanish word I knew to try to explain my wife wasn’t feeling well.  Turns out she doesn’t handle high altitude too well.  Considering that was expended in about 10 seconds, I decided to repeat them a few times to get my point across.  Sally waved at me from the table and told me she was feeling better.  We grabbed the food to go and made our way back to the hostel for the afternoon.

We savoured our first meal of the day and decided to chill in for the rest of the night.  The hostel was very chilled and quiet so we thought it would be a great time to catch up on some sleep.  10pm rolled around and in rolled the late night crew.  Five English guys and two American girls were competing for who could live up to the “loud obnoxious” stereotype the best (the patio area just happened to be right outside our prison cell).  Once 5am rolled around and they called it a night, Sally and I decided it was a tie.  We managed to get a quick nap in before the hostel morning crew were up blasting music, getting their day started.  The second day of our trip was spent wandering around the streets of Bogota, trying to work on our Spanish and taking in the Colombian culture.

After another sleepless night, it was time to get out and see some shit.  I (Sally), was feeling adventurous and suggested we make a trip out of town to see the Catedral de Sal in a small town called Zipaquira.  Initially, Bret was a little reluctant to take the 1.5 hour bus ride out of town but after a little pep talk, we were on our way.  Surprisingly, it was quite easy and uneventful.  Once in Zipaquira, we made the brief walk up to the Cathedral and spent a couple of hours looking around.  Catedral de Sal is a Roman Catholic church that was built in a salt  mine, 200 meters underground. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt_Cathedral_of_Zipaquir%C3%A1)  Bret and I agreed that the long journey out of town was well worth it.  With not much else to see in “Zipa” we started making our way back into Bogota (during rush hour traffic).  Feeling tired from the long day and lack of sleep we decided to keep it chill (yet again – damn we´re getting old).

After little deliberation, we decided that we needed to escape our prison and planned the next leg of our trip – a vacation from our vacation!

Bogota and Zipaquira