The Welcome Home Party

http://youtu.be/G1jG8HUY4zI

I have more friends and acquaintances these days than I have ever had; an apparent result of getting older, acquiring a small portion of wisdom and of remaining awake, alert, alive and open.

My friends apparently promote me to other people.  That is how a person becomes popular.  I am a poor judge of determining the degree to which I am or am not ‘popular’.  It doesn’t matter.

What matters is that there are people in my life who seem to believe that I am somehow important enough to them that they talk about me amongst themselves… even when I am not in their presence.  It is quite flattering to believe that others hold you in their hearts and minds even if you are not in their presence. It’s oddly pleasing to know that you are missed.

Relationships don’t get any better than that for anyone.  Being missed is confirmation that one is worthy of being remembered, that your presence is so pleasant that others like to have you near them. Being missed means that you are part of something bigger than yourself, that you are connected to others, that you are related, that you belong.

An essential ingredient for Human psychological health is a sense worthiness.  A person’s sense of self-worth is cultivated early in life. It is meant to occur Naturally.  When a mother holds a child, talks directly to a child, corrects a child… all those things confirm to the child that they exist and that their existence is important.

The degree to which a child is held, spoken to or is in general noticed by family members is the same degree to which a child develops their own sense of self-worth.  A child who is not held, spoken to, or noticed is a child who will grow up with the sense that they are somehow unworthy of being noticed.

Some children experience early childhood abuses; either physical, emotional, or psychological.  Those abuses may come from parents, siblings, extended family members or neighbors. Abuse is negative attention. It is, however, a form of attention. Children who experience abuses are given the message that they are important enough (in a negative way) to receive attention.

Children who are ignored or neglected much of the time are given the message that they are not important enough (good or bad) to be noticed for anything. This is not conducive to fostering a sense of self-worth.

A party that is given by friends for a person sends a message that that person is somehow worthy of being noticed.  I’m not quite sure what I have done specifically to win their attention, but I hope that what they notice about me will somehow help them to live a happier life.

Life is reciprocal. We can not properly receive that which is not freely offered. Something offered is different than something that is forced upon another. Nor can we properly offer that which is not welcomed, appreciated, or valued. This is evident in conversations between people who hold different political or religious views.  Authentic, honorable exchanges are always completely voluntary.  The intent of such exchanges is to create a benefit to all parties in the exchange. This is the essence of ‘enlightened self-interest’.

I understand that gatherings are a common and usual occurrence at the location where my Welcome Home Party took place.  Someone made a special effort to make my arrival the theme of this particular gathering.  I was described as ‘The Most Interesting Man In The World’.  That is quite a description to live up to. I do bear a similar appearance to Jonathan Goldsmith… the actor in the Dos Equis commericals.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Most_Interesting_Man_in_the_World)

The pattern of my Life is not one that could be described as ‘orthodox’.  I have done many things things that stand out as unique against the backdrop of the homogenized, corporate, propagandized,  culture from which I sprang.  In many ways I am an embodiment of, and perhaps an inspiration for, the Dos Equis, commercialized persona. I preceded him.  The Dos Equis ad is a rip off of people like myself.  I have no illusions that I am the only interesting man.  There are many ‘oddballs’ like me floating around out there in the world. But, we are rarely known except to our own individual small group of friends/acquaintances.

A liter of aguardiente and a bottle of rum returned with me from Colombia.  Many of the attendees got a chance to sample these during the party.  We played Vallanato music much of the night. Hopefully, the attendees enjoyed the happy strains of accordion, guacharaca, and drum as much as do people in Northeastern Colombia.

Got to dance and have lively conversation with beautiful, intelligent ladies that night. Shared a few stories with friends I had not seen in six months. Many acquaintances remembered me from six months prior but had never visited this blog. It is difficult to tell sometimes when people are truly interested in your stories or if they are just trying to be kind or polite. For those who did express an interest in my journey, I referred them to the blog.

‘You cannot twice step into the same river’ Heraclitus of Ephesus

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Heraclitus

Reunions are celebrations which reestablish bonds and connections. They are an opportunity to  reflect on the many experiences encountered during the course of our absence and how those experiences have changed our perceptions. Reunions cause us to notice how we have all grown and changed.  Life is the river to which Heraclitus was referring.

The past is always in the past. The future is always in the future. We seem to BE a composite of who we have been in the past and who we aspire to be in the future.

Yet, all we ever truly experience exists in the eternal NOW.

Many sincere Thank You’s to all from whom I experienced a sense of ‘welcome back’.

It is good to be HERE. I am content that it is NOW.  There is much comfort in returning to the bosom of connection and belonging.

Thank You

 

 

New Hampshire, Family and Friends

My friends; Edwin and Diane live/reside in two locations, simultaneously.  They have the option of living in Cambridge, MA or in Kingston, NH.  They both benefit from their  late marriage.  Both had acquired material benefits from lives in public service.  Edwin had been a psychiatric social worker for the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health. Diane had been a first grade teacher in Massachusetts most of her adult working life. When Edwin and Diane met, she had only recently become a widow due to the passing of her previous husband. It had been  a very close, very stable, long term relationship.

Edwin and Diane can choose to spend their time in either Edwin’s Cambridge apartment or Diane’s Kingston, NH condo. They choose on the basis of personal need, and inclination.  Edwin was heading to Kingston so that he could spend some time with Diane.  I was therefore blessed and gifted with a ride from Cambridge to NH.

Upon arrival in Kingston, Diane had a scrumptious meal prepared: Lobster chowder, organic salad with all the trimmings, and topped it off with freshly baked rhubarb pie.  I am one lucky fellow.  It was delicious and as good or better than any restaurant fare anywhere.

Diane has become an avid birder.  She has arranged hummingbird feeders in front of windows.  She has binoculars and a listing of the many species she has identified in her yard.  It is amazing to me that after putting up the appropriate size/style of bird house on the side of a tree… that there is a nesting pair of bluebirds living there.

I had previously made it known that I was expected to visit with other friends in Manchester, NH.  After dinner and appreciating  Diane’s special gardening skills and her birding efforts they rode together and gave me a ride to Manchester, NH.

I was greeted in Manchester by more most excellent friends and spent the night in a luxurious comfortable bed in a place familiar to me. Good friends are one of Life’s priceless treasures. I have respect for those who prefer to preserve a more anonymous and private life. Thank you for your continued friendship and for your kind and gracious hospitality… you know who you are.

Next day… I went through the process of charging my no contract, simple as it gets, basic, mobile phone. Last year, after returning from a year and a half motorcycle journey, I had to call and get a new sim card sent to me to restore it to working order.

In South America there are small ‘mom and pop’ street front stores and sidewalk stands where people can change sim cards (for different service providers) and purchase ‘minutes’ of service. Nearly everyone has at least one mobile phone device… including the latest ‘smart phones’ and tablets. Nearly no one has a ‘monthly plan’. They rely on the ubiquitous availability of cards and minutes from nearly anywhere, anytime.

I was very pleased when the card I bought to charge my three year old, super/ultra basic phone actually worked. My son was pleased too.

The first call I made on my newly charged with minutes phone was to my son. One of the first things he said to me was that he nearly wet himself in joy that I had accomplished this feat all by myself without requesting his assistance nor complaining about numerous malfunctions.

My son put himself through college… nearly completely on his own. He graduated from Southern New Hampshire University, a private university that is widely known and respected worldwide for it’s international business programs.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_New_Hampshire_University

http://www.snhu.edu/

My son has fashioned for himself a career in the ever changing field of digital communications. I have ardently followed his career path. I have listened intently to each of his harrowing and often heartbreaking,  tales of how he has bobbed and weaved his way through this modern milieu.

My son is a self-made man. I know virtually zero about the complex world of his field nor do I comprehend his corporate relationships. When he describes his working life it sounds like a script from a television series to me.

I am very proud of my son’s amazing,  unpredicted, self-generated, accomplishments. His mother  and I can take some credit for his underlying temperment and attitude towards the challenges of Life.  Beyond that… his achievements are a result of his own relentless and dogged determination to succeed.  The apple does not fall far from the tree.

My mother used to repeat this mantra to my young ears… so many times that they were drilled into my consciousness: “Riki… you are nothing but a stubborn Dutchman”.  My mother’s meaning for that came from the fact that in Connellsville , Pennsylvania, where she grew up, many people were of mixed German, and Dutch descent.  They referred to themselves as ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’… even though my grandfather’s full name Frank Mack. (originally from the 1630’s German spelling of ‘Mock’)

My great, great, great, great, great great, grandfather’s name was Alexander Mack (Mock), the ‘tunker’. He immigrated to Pennsylvania during the same period that William Penn came. ‘Tunkers’ were people who believed in full immersion baptism… which was strictly forbidden in Germany in those days. Alexander Mack, ‘the tunker’ was the founder of what became the ‘Church of the Brethren’. They were very instrumental in the founding of the ‘Peace Corps’.  My grandfather, Frank Mack was an engineer (the guy who drove the train) for the B&O railroad during the ‘great depression’ and his subsequent working life.

My son and I roller bladed across the United States in the summer of 2002 to create a national unity event which I dreamed up, entitled ‘Libertystand’. During that journey we passed through Connellsville,  Pennsylvania.  I spoke at the Church of the Brethren and invited the congregation to participate in ‘Libertystand’. I thought it important for to get a sense of this branch of his roots.  Americans are a scattered people.  Families have dispersed to the point that it is like some huge explosion went off and tightly knit family structures have been blown apart.  Before the 1950’s tightly knit families were the norm.

A part of living in times when the process of change itself is in extraordinary acceleration, is that anything ‘traditional’ is challenged to maintain itself.  My generation has seen unprecedented advances in scientific knowledge and achievement in areas of: aviation (including ‘space travel’), electronics, plastics/materials, medicine, re -examination of everything historical… all these things amount to several different kinds of ‘revolutions’.  All of these things have occurred simultaneously with the expansion of multinational corporations and ever expanding consolidation of power. I have witnessed these things firsthand.

My son is very fortunate to have forged a very strong bond with another very special Human being, his fiance, Kristin.  I am continually humbled by what both of them have endured and how they have faced the challenges that they have confronted.  To me they are both epic heroes of the same scale as anything attributed to Homer. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iliad)     (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odyssey)

My son and his fiance picked me up the day after I returned from Cambridge. We had not seen one another for almost seven months. We have what I would describe as an excellent father/son relationship.  Each being ready, willing, and fully capable of both listening and at sometimes insisting on being heard.  I have had to learn to listen more than speak… to hear how HIS world is… to no longer play the role of ‘father/instructor’.

When I respond to some of his casual comments, he often interprets my response as ‘instruction’, which is no longer the case for me… but that is how he ‘hears’ them. We are still learning how to be ‘fellow adults’ rather than ‘parent’ and ‘child’.  Sometimes difficult for anyone observing our talks. His fiance is very patient and is near sainthood for having endured some of our more difficult exchanges in times past. We are drastically improved from what we were even two years ago. We are happily learning.

It is good to have perspective. It is good to see progress. It is good to have functioning FAMILY. It is good to have FRIENDS.

It is good to feel AT HOME.

more later… next up… ‘The Welcome Home Party’

 

Back in the USA… Cambridge, Massachusetts

P1100977P1110007Bus ride to Medellin airport and plane interior Med to Ft. Laud

Fourteen hours, a taxi ride, a bus ride and two plane rides after leaving the hostel in Medellin, Colombia I arrived at Boston, Logan airport. Plane touched down very early Tuesday morning. That being so, there was very little traffic. Made it much easier on my friend Edwin, who graciously agreed to pick me up. Had other offers to pick me up but those folks would have had to ride in the middle of the night from New Hampshire or Maine.  It’s good to have family and friends.

It is difficult to describe the phenomenon commonly known as culture shock to anyone who has not experienced it. Suffice it to say that after being in South America for a period of six months, it seems odd and strange to be back in the USA.  The degree of feeling the strangeness is different for each individual but it is a common phenomenon. What it really  amounts to, is noticing and being required to quickly adapt to the differences presented in the entered environment in contrast to the exited environment.

Upon reentry to the US from Medellin, Colombia every passenger must pass through both Customs and Immigration. US immigration officials simply check the passports of US passport holders to make sure that it shows them as having officially exited (stamped) their most recent foreign country. There is no need to have a US passport stamped as having entered the US. The passport officials actually say: “Welcome home” to US residents.P1110013New passport scanning machines issue an identity form which you must render to the officers upon exiting the customs area

The next process is to turn in the white customs form to the customs officials. Returning US residents will be asked several times if they packed their luggage or if they let anyone have access to their luggage at any time in any airport. You are not to return with certain items and you must declare what items you brought back. Each US citizen is allowed to bring in the equivalent of 800 US dollars worth of gifts or items purchased in a foreign country without paying additional ‘import duties’.  My items totaled fewer than 200 US dollars.  There are uniformed officers with dogs that sniff everyone’s luggage while standing in line.

One gets the sense that there are hundreds of uniformed people who are working for different branches of government, each with a different task/function during the course of the return process.  It is a time consuming process and it occurs to the person going through it all as an endurance event. It is not glamorous nor fun.

My flight from Medellin arrived Ft. Lauderdale about 6:30PM as expected.  My connecting flight to Boston was scheduled to depart at 8:20PM. That may sound like a lot of time. It is not; because clearing customs and immigration took an hour and then I had to find the gate for the ongoing connecting ‘domestic’ flight… AND go through the tsa screening process to board that flight.

Oddly enough, the domestic flight experience seems to be even slower and in some ways more complicated and time consuming than arriving from a foreign country. I’m not exactly sure why it feels that way but it does. Part of the reason is that there are many  people who are going to many different domestic destinations (hence, different flights) that must pass through the same tsa inspection process area. Consequently; the lines are clogged with people.

Then, when it is your turn, you must: remove your shoes, ALL items from every pocket, all coats, and hats. All your personal items; including wallet, change purses, medicines, glasses of all types. EVERYTHING must be placed in plastic bins that go through an x ray machine.  Your carry on luggage must all be opened and available to be examined. If you have a lap top computer in a carry on bag it must be removed and must pass through the x ray machine out of the bag.

I have a lot of electronic equipment because I have been recording my experiences in photos, videos, and digital recording devices. I also carry a portable hard drive onto which I store these things so that if my computer malfunctions the files will not be lost. I have a card reading device and an mp3 player.  Over half of the items in my carry on case are electronic. I also have a personal care kit with soap and a rechargeable hair/beard trimmer/medicines/disposable plastic safety razors… etc.

On travel days, I wear a long tan denim ranch coat with many pockets, making it easy to carry small books and other small items. What a traveler wears is not counted as ‘luggage’. I usually fill 3 or 4  plastic bins. You place all items in the bins and they are carried on a conveyor belt that takes them through the x ray machine. Then the traveler,  is directed to move forward and walk/pass through another ‘scanning device’. I was explicit in my request to NOT go through an x ray machine. I was assured that the machine I was directed to enter was not emitting any kind of radiation. It must be some kind of magnetic resonance scanner or the like. I hope that is the case.

It was noticed that some of my lower pockets (I wear cargo pants) had an empty fabric wallet and my passport in another pocket. I didn’t think those counted because they were not metal. They made me remove EVERYTHING in ALL pockets and hold them in my hands as I entered the machine. I was directed to raise my hands above my head as the scan was made. Then, I was directed to step forward.

There were two or three uniformed people after exiting the scanner. One issued directions… “turn around”… “raise your arms”… “turn again”… while another person waved another hand held scanner all over my body. Makes you wonder why they have the scanning machine if they are going to repeat the process… manually…  with three uniformed people after you exit the machine.

Finally, I was told that I could move on and reunite myself with all my personal  items in the plastic trays ten feet away. Then; I had to re- pack the computer and other items back into my carry on luggage.  I put on my coat, hat, and shoulder bag.  As I was about to put my boots back on, an announcement was heard over the pa system  that  last call for boarding my flight was underway.  I grabbed my boots in my hands and my bag and jogged towards the gate in my socks which just happened to be at the extreme end of the terminal.  Approached the man checking boarding passes and was encouraged to move quickly.  Entered the plane, still cradling my boots in my arms and carrying my carry on bag.  I was breathing heavily and had developed a slight sweat by the time I seated myself.

The entire nearly two hours from arrival to boarding the new plane was spent in lines and the ‘process’.  Turned out that there was no need for me to have run. More passengers filed past me and many in seats in front of mine. The plane’s door shut about 20 minutes after my dash.

Departed  Ft. Laud about 8:30PM. Flight had a scheduled stop in Myrtle Beach S.C. before continuing on to Boston.  Thankfully, I did not have to change planes. Arrived Boston, Logan airport about 12:30 AM.  As 1:00AM rolled around I had my checked bag, my carry on bag and my walking staff and exited the building to the curb outside.

My good friend Edwin and I spotted one another in fewer than two minutes. He and I were wearing very large, wide brimmed straw hats. Edwin is a long time resident of the Boston area.  Because of the hour and the lack of traffic and Edwin’s familiarity with the area we were in his apartment building’s parking lot 25 minutes from exiting the airport grounds.

Edwin and I had not seen one another for about seven months. He and his wife Diane had become fans/readers of this blog.  He had read all my adventures.  I had much to inquire about the activities of his past several months.  My day had begun about 7AM Monday. Despite this, I was strangely energized by being ‘back home’. Edwin and I chatted through the wee hours of the morning like old college dorm buddies. We were awake as the daylight of Tuesday morning illuminated  the panoramic view of Boston from his 14th story window.

I dozed on and off in a reclining chair in the living room. The same chair in which Diane had recuperated from the rigors of two artificial hip replacements.  Sleep, strangely,  does not come easy to returning international travelers who have burned the midnight oil.  Sleep occurs more like a dream state. Hard for the consciousness to grasp the new reality of the more highly ‘civilized’ existence and the world of white faces where everyone speaks English and the world where known friends and family are glad to have me back.

In the late afternoon of that day, Edwin treated me to dinner. His son, Aiden, who had developed an interest in ‘classical’ literature and had won for himself an enrollment at the University of Paris… also known as the ‘Sorbonne’ joined us for dinner. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Paris)

P1110053Myself, Edwin, and Aiden at a wonderful Cambridge restaurant

Father and son relationships are known to be challenging for both father and son. This is as true today as it has always been. This seems to be a Natural consequence of the next generation learning new things and maturing into adulthood, while the parent(s) learn to relate to their ‘children’ as adults in their own right.

Dinner was delicious and the conversation lively.  When we finished, Aiden went off in his direction and Edwin and I returned to his apartment.

Edwin had been introducing me to many people in his apartment building and the library and even to his barber.  He really went out of his way to make me feel as an honored and welcomed guest.  Edwin makes no secret of his desire that I try my hand at living the more ‘civilized’ existence. He continually suggests that I ought to apply for a slot in his government assisted, elder housing building. He is a good friend and as he describes it, he labored vigorously to cultivate my friendship.

We met at an event that was suggested by his long time therapist; Arthur Cobb, about whom I have heard many admiring reports from Edwin.  Edwin and I  have done many things together as friends over the course of about eight years. I helped Edwin move all of his belongings from his small apartment in Manchester-By-The-Sea to Cambridge in my truck. He had never been South of Washington D.C.  when he joined me on a month long tour of Belize. It was the adventure of his life.  On another occasion we traveled to Florida for six weeks in a motor home I once owned.

My life has generally been one of extreme self-reliance. I remember my mother recommending that I read Emerson’s Essays when I was about 10 years old. (http://www.emersoncentral.com/selfreliance.htm) I have grown to prefer rural environments.

Edwin grew up in Medford in an Irish/Catholic family. To be Irish/Catholic and to be from the Boston metropolitan area is a fit like a hand in a glove.   Edwin is basically oriented and inclined to prefer city environments.

In many ways, the Aesop fable of the ‘town mouse and the city mouse’ and it’s many subsequent rewrites by different authors in different time/places contains instructive insights that describe the differences in inclination(s) between Edwin and me.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Town_Mouse_and_the_Country_Mouse

Edwin spent thirty and something years as a social worker in the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health service. He worked for many years with people diagnosed with various forms of severely disabling ‘mental illnesses’.  He also has cultivated a keen  interest in politics.

It is very interesting that although we rarely (if ever) see eye to eye on those issues… we are capable of successfully exchanging views.  Often, however, Edwin suggests that my views (from his perspective) are suspect of being what he deems ‘delusional’.  He rarely allows that his views (as are the view’s of nearly anyone) are also subject to ‘delusion’ and/or ‘self-delusion’ .

Seems to me that we all have our own personal experiences and PERCEPTIONS of those experiences. Then… we also are left to INTERPRET our perceptions.  Who is to say whether or not a perception is correct or not? Then, furthermore; who shall claim to be the ‘authority’ or arbiter in determining which interpretation is the accurate one? That is the crux of the ‘authority’  fallibility/infallibility dilemma.

During my 65 year tenure here aboard planet Earth, I  have acquired many experiences and perceptions through which to sort. I have spent many, many hours in deep contemplation regarding the process of interpreting my experiences/perceptions.  I have determined that my current philosophical bent exists in close proximity to classical Greek skepticism; after the fashion of Sextus Empiricus who seems to ‘pre-echo’ many of my current views.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/sextus-empiricus/

 I consider myself a VERY fortunate man to have many wonderful people in my life that I am happy to call friend… one of whom is Edwin Lynch.P1110067Edwin, at home and in his element, next to a Guiness ad in front of a popular Cambridge pub/restaurant on Massachusetts Avenue between Central Square and Harvard Square.

I liked Cambridge a lot. It is clearly a melting pot and an authentic crossroads of many international cultures. It is home to many of the most intellectually disciplined and practiced scholars anywhere.

I experienced sticker shock regarding the prices of nearly everything as compared to what I have recently experienced in South America. I can see that in Cambridge there is a very real effort to provide customers with the highest quality coffee, tea, fruits, vegetables, breads… as well as food for the mind and soul. It is a wonderful and most interesting place.

P1110069One bulletin board in one small ‘natural food’ store, fewer than a five minute walk from Edwin’s apartment building

Medellin… Again

P1100791

Advertisement of a recent local ‘artsy’ event pasted on a wall on the main street in the Poblado district

Medellin is the city where my flight arrived in S. America in  November 2013.  My impending flight back to the states departs from Medellin. Therefore, my return to Medellin marks the completion of this, my latest of South American adventures.  I am aware of having experienced a gradual, minutely increasing level of ‘civilization’ the past month. I call this process ‘recompression’.  Leaving environs where the People/culture is more agriculture based, and where the primary focus is on ‘the family’.  Have gone from Amazon river towns, and gradually progressed to arriving in Cartagena, the Colombian Caribbean coast, Valledupar, Barranquilla, Mompox, Bucamaranga, P. Berrio.  I have thus returned to more ‘civilized’ environs.  I am feeling the normal sadness intermingled with the joy and anticipation of returning to friends and family that comes at the end of an epic journey.

http://wikitravel.org/en/Medell%C3%ADn

The bus ride from Puerto Berrio to Medellin takes 4 to 5 hours depending on time/day of travel and traffic/road conditions.  The bus was another very modern, new, air conditioned vehicle. This trip the driver and crew did not play any videos in the drop down screens which is common practice.  The bus was half full (half empty for you with a pessimistic slant) upon departing Puerto Berrio at 10AM on Saturday.

The route is through verdant green pasture land.  Cows and horses and even a few water buffalo. The dirt where exposed is a reddish brown between Puerto Berrio and Cisnero. Between Cisnero and Medellin the terrain gets gradually higher in altitude and you can see the ground gets more yellow/sandy and there are large granite rocks intermixed with the soil. The Cisnero/Medellin stretch runs parallel to the Rio Medellin for a distance.

P1100362P1100535When was the last time you saw clouds like these?

Medellin has a North and a South bus terminal. My bus ride ended at the North terminal. Had no difficulty negotiating my way to a taxi. Showed the taxi driver the address of the hostel. 15 minutes later I arrived in front of the Arcadia hostel in the Poblado district.  The entrance is a small door at the sidewalk. After ringing the bell you can hear a ‘click’ at the lock. This indicates that the lock is now disengaged and you can open the door. There are steep stairs that lead up to the reception desk. Was shown to my dorm room within five minutes of arrival. Luck would have it that my dorm room (another level up) has five bunks… but is vacant except for me.  There is a bathroom inside the room.

I checked my pockets. I have only a very few Colombian pesos left, just enough to get me to the airport.  Organized my gear, reviewed the maps and literature of the town in the hostel and went outside to experience this part of town.  Went to the local ‘Exito’ which is a large city style supermarket chain, further exposure to more ‘civilized’ environs.  Bought some peanuts which are a good item to have because they are good nutrition, inexpensive, not messy and easy to carry.

P1100801Yes, It’s true… Medellin has some of the hottest young women anywhere. They obviously enjoy that reputation and do their best to live up to it.

On my way back to the hostel, several blocks away. I saw an older gent sitting on a sidewalk bench on Calle 10, the main street of the Poblado district. I casually asked if he spoke English.  Turns out he was from Connecticut but had traveled extensively for an number of years, much of it solo. A bird of a feather. I shared some of my peanuts as we shared travel… and other LIFE experience highlights with one another. I retrieved a digital recording device from one of my pockets and turned it on, and conducted an impromptu sidewalk bench interview with the 74 year old Paul.

If you met Paul, you might guess him to be ten years younger.  He had traveled with his wife and subsequently with a few foreign girl friends. He described having been to India and Irian Jaya which is part of the island New Guinea.  He spoke fondly of Ladakh, India as one of his favorite places. He had been to Taiwan and mainland China. He recited an Aldous Huxley quote from memory regarding the experience of travel.  He is a film/cinema fan, glowingly describing some scenes from various films.  He described sleeping on cardboard during some parts of previous journeys. He had been a Veterans Administration psychiatric assistant as part of his working life.

While we were engaged in our animated sidewalk exchange a 23 year old young man approached us oldsters to join the conversation.  Jesus (his name) grew up in part of the states but was clearly a South American. I forget to ask which country he claimed as his residence.  When Paul mentioned that he worked with psychiatrists in the VA Jesus immediately responded with: “Dude, a psychiatrist really fucked up my life”.  I recorded some of the ensuing conversation between the three of us.  They both leaned into the microphone when speaking.

Jesus went on to describe parts of his life as a teen. He admitted to having used many drugs. I asked what kind.  Weed, and psychedelics. He described having been a young man who fasted and ate only weed for a period of a year or two. He was on a ‘ascetic’ trip after the fashion of Gautama Buddha.  His father interpreted his gaunt/thin appearance as him being a junkie.  Jesus then described that his father arranged for him to go to an expensive rehab place on the Island of Margurita, Venezuela.  He rambled on as I occasionally interrupted him to ask Paul to respond with his views about Jesus’ experiences.

We wrapped up our conversation, exchanged email addresses and continued on our separate ways. Another of the amazing things that happen and the amazing people that you encounter when you are a traveler without a rigid agenda.

P1100779The Arcadia hostel entrance

Returned to the hostel. Saturday night, There was a large group 20 to 30 something people there. Medellin is a cultural mecca and university town. They were having ‘karaoke night’. I got the same impression as I did at the hostel in Bucamaranga, that many of the attendees were locals and knew each other. Others were European and American hostel residents, one of whom had been there for over a month.  As the ‘older fellow’ and the newest arrival I did not feel particularly invited to mingle with them. They were not unfriendly… but merely rather aloof, and into their own group.  I returned to my room and happily listened to the party downstairs.

Gone are the dark days when Medellin was widely known as one of the most dangerous cities in the world. The cartels conducted open warfare on the streets. The murder rate was in the stratosphere. That all changed when Pablo Escobar was killed… and then more and more pressure was placed on the people who were responsible for all the violence.  Residents of the city are very happy for the decrease in violence. That is the perception of the people I have spoken with.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pablo_Escobar

Medellin is now a city that is attractive to all kinds of people. It is considered to be as a ‘safe’ as any other modern city in the world. It was voted as the world’s ‘most innovative city’ (by someone who rates/ranks these sorts of things.

Next post will be from Cambridge, Ma, USA

 

 

 

Puerto Berrio

Had no intention of stopping in Puerto Berrio. Never heard of the place before Thursday, May, 15th when I went to Bucamaranga Bus terminal seeking a ride to Medellin. All the buses were  booked full and it was recommended that I catch a ride to Puerto Berrio which is about midway between Bucamaranga and Medellin.

I did as suggested. Bus departed Buca around noon. Arrived in Puerto Berrio around 4PM. I was tired and I mentally reviewed my options. I COULD have tried to find a bus to Medellin right away. I pushed pretty hard hiking to different places in Bucamaranga. I had to admit to myself that I was tired. No pressing nor immediate need to get to Medellin so I opted to check into a room as close to the bus staging area as possible.

My bags came out of the back of the brand new Mercedes Benz 16 passenger van/bus that brought me. No sooner than when the hit the pavement there were mototaxi guys pandering for my  business. I let them know that I was going to the nearest place I could find…. which as in happens was less than 150 feet from where I and my bags were. I saw a sign with the large letters of ‘HOTEL’. There was a small sidewalk doorfront and one flight of narrow  tiled step leading up to a barred metal door. I moved my bags a few steps up and in from the sidewalk and walked to the top of the stairs.

Yes, they had a room. Yes, the room had a fan and a private bathroom. Yes, it was within my modest budget range.  Handed the copy of my passport to the lady behind the desk so she could begin the check in process and descended the steps to get my bags. Was shown to my room before the registration process was complete. Freshened up a bit and layed out my gear before returning to the registration desk. As I exited my room I noticed the full name of the place.

On the back of the entry door facing the inside of the room is fastened a printed copy of the rules of the hotel and the check out time. The name of the place was ‘Hotel Galaxia’. There is a picture of a spiral galaxy featured at the top of the paper. The Galaxy is a big place. I have reason to suspect that there are affiliate operations of The Galaxy. P1100167This was attached to the inside of the door to my room

Went out after completing the registration process to explore this small town I  had never heard of prior to the day I arrived there.

Turns out, that Puerto Berrio is a prettiy interesting place. How is it that a small town that exists between two mountain chains hundreds of kms from the ocean could be called Puerto something? Puerto means ‘Port’ in English. Well, it is because Puerto Berrio really is a commercial port… on the Rio Magdalena. Remember… Barranquilla and Mompox are also on the banks of the Rio Magdalena. The past six months I have been on five or six different rivers that feed into the mighty Amazon.

The Rio Magdalena is far away from the Amazon basin. It’s water flows from mountains nearer to Bogota and empties into the Caribbean sea.  How strangely odd, yet fitting somehow that I end this latest visit to South America with viewing life on a river a bit further North.

(It’s late and I’m tired… will complete this post later… probably from Medellin)

Bucamaranga

It was almost as difficult to exit Mompox as it was to get there. Bought a ticket to Bucamaranga the day prior to leaving. Early the following morning a hostel staff member told me that the lady who sold me the bus ticket was downstairs and needed to speak with me. Was informed that the bus that I was expecting to be on would not be arriving in El Banco because protesters had blocked the route. Was further informed that there was another bus service in El Banco that could take me to Bucamaranga. The hostel staff in Mompox kindly offered to go the other company and get a ticket, exchanging the one I had… with the other company. Apparently there is an arrangement like this in place, leading me to suspect that delays/breakdowns/changes are normal here.

The truck ride from Mompox to El Banco is over the same kind rutted, dry sand and gravel road as the road in. It is a two hour ride to El Banco. The new bus ticket indicated a departure time of 1PM. The truck/taxi departed Mompox at 11:30AM… even though I was told to be ready at 10:30. So… upon arrival at El Banco the 1PM departure turned into a 3PM departure.

The bus actually departed El Banco around 3:20… not bad.  The road to Bucamaranga from El Banco improves about 45 minutes into the trip. Surprisingly, the road from then on is excellent. It is being converted into a 4 lane highway… two lanes in each direction with a median strip. The traffic is heavy with tractor trailers and other trucks, buses and cars. Terrain is gently rolling hills with mountain vistas in the background.

Arrived Bucamaranga about 9PM. Where the bus first stopped was not a city bus terminal, but rather on the outskirts of the city. There were several taxis waiting. I showed the address of the hostel to the taxi driver and the bus driver and he consulted with one another… both agreeing that this would be the best place for me to get the taxi, rather than the city bus terminal. It was a 15 minute taxi ride. I felt I was being treated fairly and with care.

The hostel I selected was featured in a Colombian hostel guide book I was given in Valledupar. The name of the Buca hostel is Kasa Guane. Guane is the name of an indigenous tribal group that went extinct about one hundred years after the Spanish arrived. There are many excellent examples of pottery and descriptions of their way of life and dress recorded by Spanish witnesses.

 My arrival was on a Saturday night. There was a huge crowd of twenty something people who were partying on the terrace/café which is part of the hostel. I stashed my gear in my room, cleaned up a bit and joined the young people on the terrace. Many women in Colombia look like fashion models naturally and on weekends they go out of their way to enhance their looks.

Being older in an environment that is the domain of younger people is sometimes odd. It depends on the group itself. There is such a phenomenon as a ‘group dynamic’.  This particular crowd appeared to be Colombian university students who were friends mixed in with eight or so mostly European hostel dwellers.

No one approached me for a chat. There were ‘cliques’ evident. Friends sat with one another at different tables where lively conversations took place. This terrace/café is where they began their night’s activities. The terrace/bar/café is only open on Thurs/Fri/Sat nights and stops serving around 11:30 PM. The young crowd moved on to other night hot spots around the city and the terrace was empty except for the hostel staff cleaning up and a few hostel residents. I returned to my six bunk dorm room and thankfully went to sleep.

I knew nothing of Bucamaranga prior to looking at the guide book. After Valledupar,Barranquilla and Mompox I chose this route simply to take in some more of Colombia’s astonishing geography and people and to make my way to Medellin where I have a booked flight back to the states.

Bucamaranga is surprisingly beautiful, clean, and quietly bustling. The streets are lined with trees. The owners of the tiny café/restaurant where I got my morning ‘tinto’ (black coffee) and an empanada would hang their pet birds (cages) in the trees outside near the sidewalk. The man obviously wished to offer his birds a taste of their Natural environment. I observed many, many people walking their very healthy pet dogs in the neighborhood. I saw veterinary/pet shops on the main streets. Within a five minute walk of the hostel I saw two laser (dermatology) treatment centers, three orthodontic centers featuring invisible braces and implants, etc.,twenty small sidewalk café restaurants, two bakeries, three banks, a tattoo place, two drug stores and an assortment of small (under 8 stories) office and apartment buildings.

Bucamaranga is well a well groomed city. Population is reported at just over half a million. There are 10 universities offering different specialty fields so the place is crowded with smart young folks. The main street is Caraterra 33. Along twenty or thirty blocks of it are small, very clean, sidewalk storefronts. At least one of those storefront was the office of a place offering cosmetic surgery, liposuction, and physical enhancement ‘treatments’ of all descriptions. There are well over 40 parks in the city, very well kept. There are large sculptures to  be seen everywhere. There is an obvious sense of respect and appreciation for the arts. Public transportation is inexpensive and readily available to anywhere in the city and outskirts.

Wandered about the neighborhood and rested up on Sunday. On Monday morning I had wanted to see Chicamocha National Park but the hostel staff  told me it was only open Wed-Sun. The suggested an alternative. I was given a single sheet copy of a rudimentary map of Bucamaranga, Floridablanca, and La Mesa de Los Santos where the national park is located.

On the map just outside of Floridablanca is shown a winding road that leads to ‘Montifiori’. I was told it would be a three hour uphill hike that would give me a 180 degree view of the city. Negotiate my way on the bus system to Floridablanca. From there, I had to ask several people it they knew where the roadway that led to Montifiori was.

As is normal everywhere in the world… most people know only a little about their own surroundings. Had to ask five or six people before I was pointed in the right direction. Along the way, I had lunch at a small spot before continuing. It was about 1PM and I figured that if I hiked up, I might not make it back before dark so I flagged a taxi driver. I showed him the map. He had never been there before but agreed to take me to Montifiori.

The driver had to ask people along the way before we found the correct route. In any town environment where there is an adjacent hillside/mountain there are several road that look like they might lead uphill but they turn out to be dead ends. Finally, we saw a sign with the name Montifiori… 8kms.  The taxi had a small digital meter below the dashboard so I could keep my eye on the fare as we proceeded. 

The road was steep. We saw another sign that veered off to the left… 6km to Montifiori. From this spot the road became rutted gravel. From then on we were only able to go 8 to 10 mph. The road got more dicey as we continued. We began to see scenes of Bucamaranga below and in the distance. We passed tiny farms. Barbed wire on both sides of the road. Bananas and cattle mostly. Another sign… 3.6 km to Montifiori. 

We passed a few small rivulets running over concreted spillways. More gravel. More ruts. Bare patches of exposed bedrock in parts of the road. I could tell the driver was expecting the road to be this bad.  At a sign that said 2kms the digital meter stopped working. More ruts. We came to a spot where it appeared we might ‘bottom out’. I told the driver I could walk the rest of the way. We negotiated a fair price.

An hour later I arrived at Montifiori… I had no idea that it would be a hostel.

The place is a private environmental reserve at the end of the road. It is a two or three story handbuilt tiny ‘castle’. Pottery sculptures of frogs and lizards and other animals are everywhere. It is a dreamworld artists heaven.  Workers were working on the roof and near the tiny pool. There are plantings to enhance the pottery work and the vistas are amazing! Departed shortly after arriving because I knew I had a long hike down and wanted to be back in Buca before dark if possible. A three and a half hour hike later, I was in Floridablanca . Located the right bus back to Buca and my hostel. Slept very well that night.

Saw more of the city on Tuesday. Visited the Casa de Bolivar (he is everywhere) and the Casa de Cultura which shares space with some lawyers offices. Then went to the local Mercado central.  This being a modern city environment I had seen the normal supermarkets and smaller grocery stores. I am pleased to report that in Bucamaranga there exists an ‘old style’ Mercado central that is loaded with locally grown produce of all descriptions. It is housed in a four story building an take up half a city block. Taxis are on the upper deck waiting to take people home with their purchases.  I love it that even in the city environment there still exists the traditional central market ubiquitious in all small towns/villages throughout Central and South America. Hooray for you, Bucamaranga!

On Wednesday, I went to Chicamocha national park. Made a lot of mistakes in my travels there… that in the end… provided me with a view of the two routes to it. The park extends across two spines of mountains. There is a cable car that goes down into a canyon, crosses a river and then goes back up the mountain on the other side. So… there are actually two entrances to the park. By unintentionally making a ‘mistake’ in reading the rudimentary map I experienced both entrances.

There is bus service from Piedecuesta to the main entrance. That route continues onward to Bogota. I was the only person exiting the bus to go to the park. That entrance is also where the main viewing and recreation areas are. There is a Guane museum there. There are several restaruants, a zip line, and ostrich park, and an ‘extreme swing’ where you can swing out over the mountainside.

There is a restaurant at the extreme end of the uphill ramps and steps where there is a 360 degree vista of two different canyons. The canyon that the cable car decends into and reascends on the other side is reported to be the second ‘largest’ canyon in the world. How the definition of ‘canyon’ is arrived I do not know. How the definition of ‘largest’ is determined I do not know. I have experienced the Grand Canyon from the Northern Arizona side. Chicamocha is nearly as spectacular a view… but walking/hiking trails down into the canyon do not exist here. I am sure you could do such a thing, but it is not part of the ‘park experience’. 

What I was not prepared for was the absolutely incredible work of art that exists just below the 360 degree vista area.  I am not exaggerating when I say that the sculpture…………………..may well be the most moving and beautiful sculptural art piece I have ever experienced. Walking amongst the 35 individual larger than life sized pieces of bronze stuns a person who allows being attuned to the art itself.  The intended message it is meant to memorialize, the symbolism of the base, combined with the location… in the sky with the clouds forever in the background of the piece is mindboggling.

The entrance fee to the park includes fare for two rides on the cable car. It is a half an hour ride from point to point. Two tickets are included because most people will probably want to exit the park from the same place they entered. This did not include me. I learned that the bus ride back to Piedecuesta is shorter and less expensive from the other entrance on the Mesa de Los Santos side. As it happened there was only one bus which departed at 5:30PM. Did not arrive in Piedecuesta until 7:15PM. From there had to locate the correct bus back to Bucamaranga.  Was lucky to spot a bus whose route included passing directly past the neighborhood of my hostel.  Arrived back in Buca around 9PM.

Thursday morning, I got a taxi to the Bucamaranga main bus station… the one I never saw upon arriving from Mompox.  The Bucamaranga bus station is modern, clean, and has a park like atmosphere. Wanted to go to Medellin but the buses were all booked that day. It was suggested that I get a bus to Puerto Berrio which is midway between Bucamaranga an Medellin. I got to sit in the front seat next to the driver of a brand new Mercedes Benz 16 passenger van.

Mompox

P1090055 Bolivar’s words honoring the people of Mompox

Santa Cruz de Mompox is a small village on the banks of the Rio Magdalena. It is about 430km South of Barranquilla.   There are three versions of how to properly spell Mompox.  Mompoj is the Native indigenous phonetic version. Mompos is another Spanish version. Mompox seems to be the favored form.

It is not easy to get to Mompox. My bus ride from Barranquilla took 6 hours to get to the small town of Magangue. The timing of the bus almost guarantees that you must spend the night in Magangue. The reason being, that the Rio Magdalena river boats do not run at night. You must take a boat across the Rio Magdalena and further upriver to another small dot on the map where taxis and 4×4’s await.

It is another 45 minute taxi/truck ride on along a bumpy dirt road before you arrive in Mompox. If you look on the map you will understand that this area is a vast flat floodplain. The few roads that exist are built on dykes of sand that are elevated above the swampy surroundings.  On the ride you pass vistas of cattle ranches and low swampy plains.  The land is flat for as far as the eye can see.

Some information I have found refers to Mompox’s historical importance in relation to Cartagena. This is a bit confusing because Cartagena is about 140km West from where the Rio Magdalena enters the Caribbean sea, where is now situated the city of Barranquilla.  In 1540 Barranquilla was a tiny town about 20km upriver.  Several hundred km upriver lay Mompox.

http://wikitravel.org/en/Santa_Cruz_de_Mompox

One internet site I saw claimed that Mompox was founded in 1540 by the governor of Cartagena whose name was Juan de Santa Cruz. P1090058Mompox was founded in 1537

It makes sense that there would be a place on the banks of the Rio Magdalena where there would be built storehouses for products and to serve as a base for further explorations further inland, upriver, toward Bogota.  Momox was this place.  It is far enough away from the Caribbean that it would have been difficult for vessels of pirates or privateers to get  far upriver without exposing themselves to great danger.

http://www.colombia.travel/en/international-tourist/vacations-holidays-where-to-go/recommended-weekend-destinations/mompox

More or less unknown to North Americans or most Europeans, Mompox became the South American equivalent of Portsmouth, New Hampshire;  Boston, Massachusetts; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in that it was in Mompox where independence from Spain was first declared.  Simon Bolivar claimed that: “If to Caracas I owe my life, then to Mompox I owe my glory”.  It was in Mompox where he raised his first army of followers that successfully fought for independence from Spanish ‘royal’ rule.

http://www.colombia.travel/en/official-bloggers/entry/richard-mccoll/mompox–a-trip-into-colombias-heartland–saints-sinners-and-masons

P1090193Statue of El Libertador in Parque Bolivar, Mompox

Today, nearly forgotten little Mompox is under construction… or rather, RE construction. It was declared a ‘unesco world heritage site’. Not that I am a fan of the united nations organization but, here is an example of a branch of that crew doing something to preserve the history of a place that will forever be remembered for it’s role in breaking away from Spanish rule.  (Interesting how the unesco site remembers the historical role of Mompx as:  …’Founded in 1540 on the banks of the River Magdalena, Mompox played a key role in the Spanish colonization of northern South America’)

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/742

P1090096 P1090098La Piedra de Bolivar lists the dates when Bolivar arrived and departed. The photo above shows the riverfront under restoration.

It is said that the novelist Gabriel  Garcia Marquez used Mompox as his model for the fictional town of Macondo in his book: The General In His Labyrinth.

http://roadtrippers.kinja.com/gabriel-garcia-marquezs-mompox-is-a-beautifully-real-1573002674

P1090090This building has a dock on the Rio Magdalena. It is also in the film adaptation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s: The General In His Labyrinth

I spent only a few days there. It is hot and humid. The restoration effort is in full force. Most of the riverfront is as of this writing under intense reconstruction. Looks to me like in a few years this will be an incredibly beautiful town filled with many outstanding examples of 16th century colonial architecture.

I stayed at the La Casa Del Viajero in Mompox. The hostel is a colonial style house and has been completely renovated.The owners are kind and gracious hosts. They are knowledgeable and very helpful. The place is very clean and has a/c in the dorm rooms.P1090127 P1090268

La Casa Del Viajero Hostel and twilight view from the terrace

Barranquilla

Adventuring is often punctuated by moments of quiet bliss and moments of exhilaration which are counterpointed by moments of the mundane.  All of which, make life interesting. The previous entry describes a high note. This one registers on the other side of the scale.

Hired a taxi to Valledupar bus terminal on Sunday morning, the day after the Vallenato festival. In retrospect, I ought to have left on Saturday. The town was packed with visitors (mostly Colombians) and after the festival they wanted to get back the their towns. Many people travel by bus. My next destination was Mompox. However, I was interested in completing my terrestrial circumnavigation the Sierra Nevada De Santa Marta… so I opted to go to Barranquilla.

Three companies go to Barranquilla but all the buses had been booked full for the next few hours. On days with many travelers alternate buses are plied into service. I was lucky to get a ticket on one departing at 3PM.  The bus station was jammed. I watched carefully as visitors went through the same thing I had. They approached company windows and were informed. I watched how different people reacted.  The situation was no different than holiday airport scenes in holiday seasons in the US. Lots of strangers going here and there, each with their own unique agendas and emotional responses.  It was the denoumont scenario of the festival.

Bus departed 45 minutes late. Journey normally takes 5 hours. The road to Barranquilla is a two lane road. A solid line of traffic was the norm on our journey.  Add to that, the continual road maintenance crews and the police checkpoints and the impatient drivers who often pull into the oncoming lane to pass with little regard for safety.  More than once the traffic stopped completely and cars would pull around the bus into the oncoming lane and both lanes would be filled with cars, trucks, and buses heading in the same direction. Then  people would get out of their vehicles and walk ahead to see what the issue was. I overheard at one such point that bumpers were locked together by two vehicles who were in opposing directions. The crowd intervened and the clog was unclogged and slowly the traffic began to lurch forward.

My 5 hour journey took 8 hours. I had accomplished my goal of going completely around the tetrahedral mountain. Exited the bus in the strange (to me) town of Barranquilla about 10PM. Showed the address of the hostel I had chosen to the taxi driver at the small bus stop. He looked at the address and shook his head. 20,000 pesos to go there. He recommended a hospedaje not far away and said it was a safe neighborhood and the owners were honorable.  He explained that the address I had showed him was very far away.

It being late, and me being dirty, hot and tired, I was in no mood to quibble.  He dropped me off in front of a house in what appeared to be a residential neighborhood. He rang the bell. Five minutes passed before someone turned on a light and opened the multiple barricaded entrance.  Yes, there was space… with a/c, and a private bathroom. There was no sign of any kind on the outside of the house.  Once inside, I saw that there was a refrigerated case of sodas behind the usual chest height counter. I presented my passport copy, paid and was shown to the room. Turned on the a/c, removed my duds, took a shower and laid my weary self on a nice double wide bed. I was out in no time. No internet at the hostel.

Next morning I negotiated my way on the bus system to the city of Barranquilla. The cab driver from the night previous had not lied. It was quite a distance to the city. Took two different buses to locate the hostel address I had been looking for.  Not worth the effort. Nice place, I am sure, but the neighborhood lacked character… very nondescript. The guide book pumped the location of the hostel as being near the largest parade route during carnival. Beyond that, I could see no special features or reasons to move from my place.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barranquilla

Barranquilla is famous for it’s version of the Mardi Gras carnival festival. Local guide books claim that it is the 2nd largest party in South America,  after Rio De Janeiro.  The guide book states that Barranquilla is the 4th fastest growing metropolitan area in Colombia. Population approaching  2 million inhabitants, many newly arrived, giving it the overall sense of a bustling commercial center tainted with a transient flavor. The metropolitan city area is huge: nearly 60 square miles.

I am sure there are many wonderful things to be said about the people of Barranquilla. I mean no disrespect to them, nor to it’s unique history.  My opinions and impressions are formed by my unique experience of the place. My limited impressions of Barranquilla are that it is a most unremarkable place from a tourist perspective. I am glad for the people of Barranquilla that they have the annual carnival celebration.

Barranquilla is laid out in a pattern that accommodates it’s relationship to it’s geography.  ‘Baq’ (as it is sometimes referred) is an ancient port town. It served as the point where Spanish ships entered the Rio Magdalena from the Caribbean sea. In times past, Baq was strategically a very important port. The Rio Magdlena was the main commercial route to the interior lands. Rio Magdalena begins near the small town of  Honda (near Bogota) and flows into the Caribbean. Along the banks the early immigrants grew important crops, grazed cattle and created small settlements.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magdalena_River

I rode several  hours on different days aboard different buses in Baq and never saw the sea nor the river. I know they are there. What I am conveying is that a person must go out of their way to see them. They are not an integral part of the Baq vistas. There are very few buildings over ten stories high. The city has the feel of a never ending suburb on the edges of a city.  I saw only a few streets or neighborhoods that conveyed a sense of visual charm.  Many may exist, but I did not experience them.

I did receive extraordinary hospitality from a man who directed me to the ‘casas de cambio’.  The man and his wife were tending their small store when I asked them if they knew where I might find a place to exchange dollars for pesos.  The man voluntarily (I did not ask) walked with me for seven city blocks directly to the cambio shop. I returned with him to his store and thanked he and his wife for their gracious help. When I told them the part of town I was staying they asked if I had family there. I sensed that they were concerned  I might not find the place. I told them not to worry; that I knew how to get around.  The man again (I did not ask) accompanied me to the bus stop and made sure I got on the right bus.

Kindness and gracious behavior towards a stranger in town.  I wish I heard of or could cite examples of these types of kindnesses directed to strangers visiting the US… especially in city environments. Maybe they do occur, but one would be hard pressed to find them in ‘mass media’ distribution sources.  My ‘homeland’ (an expression I never heard prior to the day when the laws of Newtonian physics and ordinary common sense were suspended) is a culture which appears to emphasize the scandalous, the spectacular, and the sordid these days.

Spent only a few nights in my a/c digs in profoundly suburban Barranquilla. Never saw the ocean, nor the river. But did see hundreds of buses of many different sizes, shapes and conditions,  mototaxis, horse drawn carts, and low rise buildings in various states of repair. Seems to me like Baq deserves to have it’s yearly carnival. I can only imagine…

Next up: Mompox

 

 

Valledupar

Departed Taganga with the intention of visiting Minca, a small mountain village overlooking Santa Marta and the Caribbean sea.  My intention was re directed to a town midway between Santa Marta and Riohacha.  The cab driver I had asked to take me to the corner where I could get transport to Minca told me about Palomino.  He said that Palomino had spectacular beaches and surfing and that it was possible to visit adjacent towns with similar altitudes as Minca.  I was on a bus to Palomino a half hour later.

When the bus dropped me and two other folks off along the side of the road, there was not much hint of being in a tourist area. There were two gas stations, a hardware store, a few restaurants and one place renting inner tubes. There are only a few sand/dirt tracks leading toward the sea. Motorcycle taxis usually fit the bill for most travelers but I carry two fairly heavy cases and a long walking stick.  A few minutes passed by before a very small taxi offered to take me to my desired location. I had no reservations. About five minutes later I was dropped off at Quinta del Marlene, a small hostel/restaurant which is about halfway between the coast road and the sea.

Palomino has a very nice beach and there were a couple of surf shops on the beach.  Saw a bunch of police who were fixing a large transport truck within sight of the beach. One was cleaning his AR-15 style rifle. I inquired. It was a Rock River arms model. He, and the other 10 or 12 of them were also packing side arms. His was a Beretta 9mm. Make no mistake… there are LOTS of police and military in Colombia. Random stops are ordinary events.

One of the things I had had in the back of my mind for a while was to visit the Sierra Nevada de San Marta area. I was first inspired by looking at a relief map in some hostel in either Panama or Medellin, I can’t remember which. What struck me as very interesting  was the shape of the mountain which sits so close to the sea. It was a nearly perfect tetrahedron on the relief map.

Subsequently, I consulted Saint Google and learned that this mountain is unique. It is separate from the Andes. I also learned that it contains snow covered peaks with altitudes of over 5000 meters which are the highest peaks nearest an ocean. Odd enough, that snow covered peaks exist near the equator. Throw in the additional spice of them being on the Caribbean coastline and you have my attention. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sierra_Nevada_de_Santa_Marta)

I have continually inquired if it is possible to see the snow from some location on the coast. Various responses. I have determined that to do so would require unusual weather and you would have to be in the exact proper location. Was told in Palomino that if you got up very early in the morning… 6AM and looked in the right direction you might be able to see snow. My experience proved otherwise. A heavy haze was always present even in the closer lower elevations.  The mountains were always occluded.

Spent two nights in Palomino. While there, I studied a map of the area. I reasoned that if I went all the way around the mountain that I would increase my chances of seeing the snow covered peaks.

Also, I learned that in Valledupar, there is an annual  Vallenato festival held in late April. Vallenato enthusiasts from all over Colombia converge in Valledupar to watch as bands compete and one accordion player is crowned ‘Rey de Vallenato’.  (http://www.colombia.travel/en/international-tourist/sightseeing-what-to-do/history-and-tradition/fairs-and-festivals/april/festival-of-the-vallenato-legend-in-valledupar)

Was very lucky to have gotten a ride in Palomino within fifteen minutes of standing on the road with my cases. As it happened, an older gent (such as myself) was going to Riohacha, where I knew I’d have to find other transport South to Valledupar.  Our vehicle was a one ton cargo truck with a tarp over it and open in the back. The gate folded down like any pick up truck. I tossed in my cases and walking stick and hopped in the back. The man driving the truck was simply increasing his payload. We each paid a nominal fee. We picked up two others along the way. One lady was traveling with a 70 pound sack of potatoes.

This is not a popular (international) tourist area or route.  The man who was also going to Riohacha gave me his phone number and asked me to look him up in San Salvador, a mountain village where he has a small farm.  He was a huge help when we got to Riohacha. He knew the best way to get Valledupar.  He stayed with me until the station wagon I shared with two other passengers left Riohacha.

Please note how hospitable some people can be to a complete stranger.  Please think about that when you might have opportunity to help someone from another country who maybe doesn’t have perfect language skills who is visiting your country. Remember, what goes around, comes around. The GOOD as well as the negative.

Arrived Valledupar late in the afternoon on Thursday, May 1st.  Had only looked online for a place to stay. Neglected to write down the address. Inquired for lodgings at a  few small hoteles where I was informed that the city was booked full because of the festival and rates were increased as a matter of course. Again; one of the hoteliers did me a kindness and looked up the address of the hostel, whose name I remembered. It is the ONLY ‘hostel/hostal’ in Valledupar.  Valledupar is a mostly agricultural area. The economy is doing very well.

Checked into La Provincia Hostel about 6PM.   Big surprise! My hostel is literally one block away from the main plaza where the Vallenato championships take place. I am treated to the sounds of live traditional Colombian music all night long. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vallenato)

Secured my gear in my dorm room and went out to see the sights.The plaza was packed with people. Families and friends sit in plastic chairs that cover the quarter acre plaza. A hundred vendors, or more sell everything: beer, skewered meat and potatoes, hats, shirts, temporary tatoos. Plastic covered booths of all description are scattered in the square amid the plastic chairs. There is a permanent bandstand in the plaza. There is also a very striking monumental metal scupture of a Caquique man and woman. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cacique)

This morning I walked about two miles to a place where locals bathe in the river.  It is called Balneario de Hurtado.  There is also an adjacent Vallenato museum/park. One gets the distinct impression that Valledupar gained it’s national spotlight specifically because of the Vallenato festival… now in it’s 47th year.  Along the river side as far as the eye could see were more stands and vendors and tarps and families and friends. Everyone was drinking and eating and bathing in the cool water.  Vallenato music everywhere… Saw many, many amateur Vallenato groups drinking and playing  while friends and family listened at the rivers edge.

Photos to follow