Some Venting

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Photo by Pedro Sandrini on Pexels.com

It is hard to write about Perfect Moments when I am somewhat cooped up at home.  After returning from Colombia, it seems that work wanted me to spend another week in self imposed isolation.  I get it.  However, since all of the students come from abroad, and they weren’t asked to self isolate, I questioned it.  I certainly understand not endangering my co-workers, but ….again, all of our students come from other countries and they arrive every week.

This all became a moot point now that my work is going to close the school for two weeks.  I am not sure what led up to this decision, but I suspect it had something to do with teachers fearing for their safety, and then asking their representatives to do something about it.  Again, that is mere speculation because nothing seems to be done with any real transparency.

So, as far as I know, online teaching will begin.  I predicted that this is where we were headed anyway.  This just speeds up the process before the technology, training and resources are really in place.

Why an I telling you all this?  Besides a few jokers, this community that I am part of has proven to be the more level headed and thoughtful than the others I belong to.

Thanks for letting me vent.

Posted in anger, challenges, changes, danger, learning, obstacles, online, overcome, perfect moment, teaching, venting | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Interesting Errors

20200307_172902This comes courtesy of my flight from Santa Marta to Bogota.   The seats beside me had belt spelled correctly.   I don’t know about the ones in front or behind.

So, was just one sticker wrong? Was this a replacement seat from another plane on which all seats had wrong stickers?

Thoughts?

Posted in airplanes, grammar, mistakes, perfect moment, travel, travel writing | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

A Bad Moment at the Gas Station

With my vacation report finished, I need to write about something rather serious. The events which I am going to describe happened on Monday evening.  Normally I am not too fussed about exact dates because I am reporting about something positive and exactly when it happened is not too important.  The positive event and the hopeful inspiration it provides are not connected to any specific point.  This is different.

On Monday, after going for an ice-cream with my girlfriend I noticed that the price of gas had dropped considerably since before my vacation. The price of a litre of gas was below a dollar and I cannot remember a time like that.  My girlfriend explained that this was part of the phenomenon of the Covid 19 virus and some moves being made by Saudi Arabia to gain market share.

I passed a likely gas station that had gas on for 99 cents a litre. I figured that the hysteria would likely continue and figured the price would be lower the next day.  My girlfriend remained sceptical.  I came to another gas station and the price was 94 cents a litre.  On impulse, and despite my (incorrect) belief that it would go even lower, I decided to visit that one.  That’s when things got serious.

After pumping my gas, I entered the station building to pay for it and collect my loyalty points. What I stumbled into was something bizarre.  The previous customer was shouting at the clerk.  Though it is terrible, I have seen it before.  People often complain about prices to the people who have no responsibility for setting them.  Sadly this was something completely different.

He was shouting about not wanting to take something from her hand–I assumed it was the receipt. He started shouting that he didn’t want the Corona from her.  The clerk was shaken.  It shouldn’t matter but the woman was from Iran.  The customer was from India.  Do I suspect that some of what is being spread in the media is responsible?  Sure, but it just seemed so bizarre to me.

I approached the counter and asked if she was okay. I don’t like prejudice and racism to begin with, but this goes beyond what I normally see.  This made me feel like people were not really getting the main message.

I thought back to my visit to the Chinese food place a few weeks back and how empty the normally full place was. I understand people being wary of travellers from cities and countries with outbreaks, but this woman had obviously been working at this job for some time.  Her English was good and I am pretty confident that she had been in the country for a year or more.  This is also how I felt about the people at the restaurant.

So, I approached her and gave her time to relax and didn’t rush her on the payments. She still had a little venting to do, so I let her do it.  I agreed that this virus and the news about it were upsetting to lots of people and there were going to be some overreactions.  Sadly, I doubted it would be the last time somebody would react badly to her.

Of course, if this guy was so worried, why didn’t he just use the pay at the pump technology? Maybe he bought a scratch ticket and objected to her touching it rather than get a receipt.  Of course, someone had to stack them in the display file, so his argument was a little stupid.

As a thank you to me, she gave me a free car wash. Not just any car wash, but the deluxe one with multi-coloured foam.  It was nice to get the car washed for free.  Sadly, it rained the next day.

When exiting the station, we drove by the booth and waved at the lady. She seemed genuinely happy that we took the time to stop by.  Now, I just wondered how bad it would get.

As I write this, the NBA has suspended their season and other sports leagues are talking about doing the same. I understand the desire, but I wonder if this is as bad as the flue–which we take no precautions for except the flu shot.

I also noticed a shortage of TP at the stores. Did I miss something? Does Covid 19 make you go to the bathroom more?

Have you witnessed any strange behaviour due to the virus or the news about the virus? How concerned are you?

Posted in anger, confrontation, danger, ettiquette, free stuff, news, perfect moment, racism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Colombia Wrap Up

So, my vacation to Colombia is over and I feel the need to recap, or sum up, or write something to put it all in perspective.  I am home and already looking forward to my next vacation.

Positives (general)

The country is beautiful.  It has mountains, beaches, old cities, new cities, public artworks, churches, cafes, bars, murals, trees, and anything else you can imagine.  It is beautiful to look at and be enveloped in.

The people are friendly and funny.  My interactions always left a smile on my face.  The service level is not up to Japan standards–but few places are.  Despite warnings, I was never charged “tourist prices” and nobody tried to cheat me.  There were a lot of touts and aggressive sales people in major tourist areas, but there were also helpful people.  The overall English level is not like Costa Rica, but the onus is on the traveler to learn a little Spanish before they go.

The prices are still wonderful and make traveling there very very affordable.  Even taking a cab ride (when you feel the need for safety or don’t want to walk) is incredibly cheap.

There is a lot to see that is worth seeing, from museums, to natural sights.

There are lots of available activities including; rafting, surfing, zip-lining, tubing, kayaking, hiking, paragliding, climbing, off-roading, and others.

My day rafting was quite fun and reminds me yet again that I should do more rafting trips.  I should probably do the Grand Canyon.

The food options exist for vegetarians–though this is not always as clear as it should be.

The second tour, or add-on to my tour (the Lost City Trek) was well organized and well run.  I am not sure it redeemed the first part or not, but it gave me something to think about.

Positives (personal)

The activities that I chose rather than the group ones were awesome.  This included meeting my students, taking a city bike tour, visiting bookshops, paragliding, and museums.  I should always trust my instincts.

Thanks to illness and the physical nature of the trip, I lost ten pounds.  This might be an “every cloud has a silver lining” kind of thing, but I will take it.

It was great to choose a place that was outside my comfort zone.  It was also good, despite my complaining and worry, to take on a tough physical challenge.  I am not sure I will ever do an intense hike again, but never say never.

Negatives (general)

The first part of the tour was billed as multi-sport, but really only included one unimpressive hike and one day rafting.  I don’t really consider this multi-sport and felt kind of let down.  This tour is obviously new and really needs some refinement.  The country is vast and there are lots of things that could be done instead of the things that were chosen for us.

The tour was also badly run because there were no contingencies in place and our guide was not given any power to affect the decisions.

The guide gave many city tours that focused on places to eat and drink.  I know that the guide eats for free if they bring a group of people.  That’s an acceptable way to do business, but it starts to feel old after some time.

Managing a group takes skill and organization.  This trip lacked that kind of leadership and as a result really amped up the pressure and bad feelings.  Half way through the trip, I was convinced that I would never take another G Adventure.  I envisioned getting home and throwing out the brochure that I just got.

Negatives (personal)

I am pretty sure it is time to stop traveling the world with a group of strangers and travel with the people who are important to me.

After conflicts with my roommate (some of which were caused by the odd arrangement of the room (in one hotel the bathroom lit up the entire room, making it hard for him to ignore my bathroom needs during my illness), I think having my own room is a must.

Other Things

They seem to be building more camps, or enlarging the camps on the Lost City trek.  This might mean better comfort, or it might mean more people on the trek.  The greater commercialization of the route is also bound to happen.  If this is something you want to see, do it before it becomes crowded like Machu Picchu.

Colombia is good value for money now.  It isn’t going to shoot up overnight, but they are doing a lot to increase tourism.  This is a destination you should plan on visiting in the near future.

The food was generally good.  I would say they prepare chicken better than beef, but this is only a generalization and you should make up your own mind.

Take the Bogota Bike Tour.  It was awesome.  It was more than a bike tour.  It was food, coffee, culture, history and politics.  I wish I could do it again.

Visit the Botero museum.  If you don’t know what I am talking about, do some Googling and you might discover something quirky and interesting.

The craft or artisanal beer market has broken wide open there and there are some good brews on offer.

Posted in blog, blog posts, blogging, Colombia, G Adventures, growing your blog, increasing blog traffic, outside my comfort zone, perfect moment, recommendations, travel, travel tips, travel writing, vacation, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Mules, Motorbikes and Malodorous People

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So, there I was the morning of the trek. I had my daypack packed and my other stuff stored at the hotel.  I was excited but second-guessing everything.  I second guessed what I packed, and I second guessed my choices for coming on the trip.  Everyone else showed no signs of these things.  They were excited.

I had been told that we were walking 3 days to the Lost City, and on the fourth day in the morning we would see the city, and then head back for two presumably longer days of hiking.  I had been told that we would be tired and we would stink, but that’s about it.

We split up into two groups and got on board two rugged trucks. We did an hour on the highway before switching to a less hospitable road until we got to a checkpoint.  At the checkpoint we went to the washrooms and got our official bracelets to say we were on the tour.  Apparently, you can’t do this yourself and you need to book with a tour agency.

We stopped for lunch and to park the trucks. From this point onward, we would be on foot.  There was excitement in the air.

We set out after lunch. I had my walking poles, two water bottles strapped to the sides of my pack, and at least some determination.  The trek started out okay, except that the people coming back from the trek looked absolutely worn out and you could hear them grumbling about drinking a very cold beer.  They also reeked something terrible, but it was their hangdog faces and near physical exhaustion that struck me.

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So, we walked onward and upward. The trail alternated between stones, packed dirt, and loose dirt.  None of it was easy.  In the first section we had to contend with motorbikes and mules ferrying goods and people up and down the trail.  That was quite surreal.

Most of the group seemed fitter and more determined than I.  The guide, who hung at the back with me, reminded me that this was not a race.  I tried to take solace in those words, but struggling to keep up, whether on foot or by bicycle, is never a great feeling.  It isn’t about winning or losing, but nobody feels great being the slowest.

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As it turns out, some people love to race and see hiking or trekking as a competition. I didn’t see that the first day, but it became clear by the end.  There were three groups on the trip:  The competitive ones, the social and talkative ones, and the quiet one.  Yeah, I know, you probably can’t see me as a quiet one, but climbing that mountain, that is who I was.

The highlights of that first four-hour hike were of course the scenery, and the juice we had at one of the stops. It was freshly squeezed and for 2 dollars was one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted.  It was so good that I looked forward to stopping there on the return part of the trek five days later.

It was hard work and hot. I was slathered in sunblock and mosquito repellent.  If it had not been overcast, I don’t know how much worse I would have felt.  By the time we reached the camp, I was a sweat drenched mess and already tired.

Day two was much the same as day one.

The camps that we stayed at were basically solid roof structures with no walls. Their functions were to house the bunkbeds we would sleep on under mosquito nets.  They had washrooms with flush toilets, and showers–well, cold water pipes that ran upwards so you could get water splashed on you.  There were no showerheads.  I am not sure why.

The camps sold cold drinks at slightly inflated prices.  When I say that, it should be noted that a beer in the jungles of Colombia costs less than a beer at any bar in Canada.  It was never more than three dollars and since it had to trucked there by mule, I really don’t begrudge them the price.  In fact, it seemed quite reasonable.  I saved my drinking for the completion, but I did buy a few sports drinks after we finished the day’s hike.

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The best thing about the tour was that we had our own chef who prepared breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This chef would prepare our breakfast, and then hike faster than us to the next camp to start preparing our lunch.  Then at night, he would prepare our dinner.  His name was Diego and he really treated us well.

On the morning of our third day, the guide told us that he was going to adjust our plan. Instead of waiting until the fourth day in the morning to climb the precarious stone steps to the lost city, we would arrive at the third camp, eat lunch, leave anything we didn’t want to carry and head for the lost city that night.  The idea was that we would make our fourth day a little easier, and that we would also arrive at the lost city without the crowd.

One of the group worried that this wouldn’t give us enough time at the city, but many of the others thought it was a good idea. This one group member has a “strong personality”, but we finally managed to shut her down.

The climb was rather hard. The stone steps were steep and irregular.  At least a few times, I had to grab some rocks with my bare hands to steady myself or pull myself up.

Besides our CEO, we had to guides from the Wiwa tribe–descendents of the Tayrona. They climbed up this trail with incredible ease.  I struggled.

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On that third night, we arrived at the lost city. I heard other members of the group pump themselves up by saying that they “earned it” and it was so much more rewarding than taking the train to Machu Pichu.  I don’t know about all of that, but I was quite pleased with myself that I made it.  I never thought of quitting and turning back.  I never thought of paying for a ride on a mule back to the first camp.  I had wished it wasn’t hard, but other than needed to rest and do a better job of regulating my breathing, I didn’t give up.

The lost city is definitely a beautiful place. I hope my pictures can give you an idea of what I experienced.  How it was built in such a remote place is quite incredible.

The walk back was quite arduous. We had to walk the same distance we did in three days, in two.  My walking poles bent and no longer telescoped.  They were fundamentally useless and I abandoned then at an army camp.  I wanted to bring them back for a refund, but there was no way they would ever fit into my luggage again.  Making the descent without poles was quite hard and I asked the Wiwa guide to machete me off a walking stick, which he did.  It made the last day all the better.

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The last day was hot and we had to walk from camp two to the start in one go. Of course we stopped for a snack, but lunch was waiting at start finish line.  Arriving there felt like finishing a marathon.  I was sore.  One foot had blisters and sore nails.  My knees were good, but my muscles were tightening up.  And yes, that victory beer tasted pretty good.

On the whole, the trek part of the trip was much better organized and executed than the first part.  I will document this and give a summation in my next blog.

Posted in accomodations, achievement, Colombia, comfort food, equipment, fitness, food, G Adventures, hiking, overcome, perfect moment, requirements, travel, travel writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Santa Marta

IMG_20200301_210353_053I awoke the next morning and nothing was clear.  I was pretty sure I was going home and was kind of excited about that.  We gathered in the lobby and the CEO said nothing.  The people who were headed to Santa Marta to begin the trek headed for the transport.  I looked at the CEO and he said nothing.

Finally he asked me what I was going to do.  I asked if he had heard from them.  Of course he had, but had failed to clue me in.  Basically, I could leave the tour early, and get new flights.  The flights would be five days later, and I would need to book my own hotel rooms, and I would have to pay 600 dollars to rebook my flight–more than I paid for the original flight.

So, obviously, I said I was going to start the trek.

So we all took the transport to Santa Marta.  The group was quiet, maybe even a little tense, and we made good time.  It was a four hour drive, but the scenery was good.  I could have used a book for some of it, but I hadn’t bought the book at the airport, so I was out of luck.

In Santa Marta, we were given our walking tour.  There were only four of us at this point.  We went to a vegetarian restaurant and I had a falafel wrap.  Obviously not authentically Colombian, but it tasted pretty good.

We went to the shops to get some more essentials.  I would need some TP as there was no guarantee there would be any at the camps.  Since I was sick, I had to take this seriously.  I also had to get some hand sanitizer.

Later, I split with the group and walked around.  I went down to the beach and dipped my feet in the water–went for a paddle as the Brits say.  The beach was fun, but I am not a beach person.  I was also concerned about the upcoming trek and wondered how it would all go.

The newly formed trekking group met at six.  There were some Canadians on the tour and they spotted me in my Raptors t-shirt immediately.  The new CEO had everyone introduce themselves, and I was much happier with the new group.  He then went over the trip and how it would unfold.  Since the eight new members were there specifically for the trek, I could tell they were a bit more hardcore than I was.

The CEO then asked me about my illness and what happened.  I explained to the group that I had almost bailed out and was quite nervous.  They were all pretty supportive and I felt a lot better.

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We went out to eat a local specialty and were in a restaurant with some fantastic paintings of the 27 club and David Bowie.  The food was bit too heavy and my stomach really wasn’t feeling better.

The next morning we packed the things we would carry in our small packs and left the other things at the hotel.  We were going to be gone for five days and everything had to be carried by us in that time.

Posted in Colombia, G Adventures, illness, packing, perfect moment, travel, travel writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cartagena

20200229_164432My stay in Medellin was brief.  The next morning we flew to Cartagena.  Unlike the last internal flight, this one was on time, and relatively quick.  The most interesting thing was that the airport bookstore had a number of books in English.  I almost bought one by Charles Bukowski, but it was a slender volume and besides Barfly, I really haven’t even heard of anything by the author.

The trip in from the airport to the old city of Cartagena was quite spectacular.  We drove along the very windswept coast and passed the giant fortification before entering the walled city.  Now, G Adventures hotels are not often the most luxurious, but their locations are quite central.

We did a walking tour of the old city and were accosted by vendors every ten feet.  It wasn’t aggressive, but relentless.  I don’t buy a lot of souvenirs normally, but this made me want them even less.  I guess I just don’t want to be sold to.

The old city was quite beautiful.  I loved the architecture and statues.  Other tourists opted to take in the city by horse drawn carriage.  I am not sure that was the best option, but I get how romantic that could be.

Most of the tours I take, always have some cause they support.  In this case, they had a restaurant that helps teens at risk, or rehabilitated teens.  They give them a job, skills, and teach them English.  We went there for lunch and they had an interesting menu.  I had banana bread, hoping it would help settle my stomach.

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My illness persisted and I was getting nervous about the last part of the trip–a five day walk in the jungle.  I contacted the tour company about changing my flight and coming home early.  I had given them some options, but they were less than helpful.  They didn’t want options, they wanted an exact day.  Since I was going to change cities every day, I had hoped that this would make it easier for them.

I talked to my Chief Experience Officer, and he called his contacts in Quito.  Basically, I started the ball rolling, but didn’t know how it was going to work out.  I went to a doctor and got some medicine.  She told me that she felt I could do the trip and that there was no medical reason to back out.  I suppose if she had given me a certificate or note, I could have gotten a refund.  Alas that was not to be.

So, after getting back, I decided to tour the fortification myself.  Everyone had gone off while I was at the doctor.  It was just as well.  Things within the group seemed strained and I had had enough.  The fort was impressive just by its sheer size.  I wandered around it for a while and took some awesome pictures.

As this was the last night for most people on the tour–only five of us were scheduled to meet another group and start the jungle trek, the CEO organized a “posh” dinner experience.  Since I wasn’t feeling up to a dinner like that, didn’t want to spend the amount of money, was craving pizza, and just wanted time away from the group, I used Google Maps to find something I could walk to.

I found a cool pizza place with a fantastic vibe.  It was a small place, set off a courtyard. The ceiling was high and the dark stone walls had so many stories to tell. While walking the streets, I noticed that the locals were all out on the streets, regardless of the tourist noise happening all around them.  They were playing dominoes, or just sitting on their porches enjoying the evening.  It was loud, but all of that faded to the background.

In the back of my mind, I was wondering if this was going to be my last night in Colombia.  I packed like it was.  I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.  Three options were on the table.  I was either going to leave for Canada from Cartagena, go to Santa Marta and take a flight from there to Bogota and go home (my original route, but earlier) or go to Santa Marta and do the trek.  I really didn’t know which one it would be, but I liked the first two options the most.

Posted in Colombia, food, G Adventures, illness, perfect moment, tourism, travel, travel writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Another Day in Medellin

20200228_132929In the previous post, I  forgot to relate the conversation I had with Deb, a retired schoolteacher from Aylmer Ontario.   I thought traveling was a retirement thing for her, but in fact she’s been an adventurous person all her life.

She told me that she traveled overland from Europe to the Middle East on something called the magic bus.  She was in Iran just before the revolution.

Her stories of this would make a great story.   I encouraged her to do something with the narrative—a book, or blog, or oral history.  I hope she does.  Typing this is my way of encouraging her more.

The next day in Medellin we spent our morning on the Metro, which is an elevated public transportation system in Medellin.  It also included a cable car ride over a couple of mountains.  Hopefully you have already seen the Instagram pictures (lower left side of this blog).

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We then took a tour of comuna13,  which was a once violent neighborhood plagued with guerrillas,  paramilitary groups,  then drug gangs.  It has been transformed into a graffiti mural paradise, and maybe the only neighborhood with 6 escalators.

Honestly, the place was interesting,  but the tour itself was a complete bust.  It had emotional moments  but the cost was too high and there was no need.

For dinner, I left the group and went out with a student named Diego.   I was very happy because he had been using his English at work.  He was very enthusiastic and took me to a place with very exciting nightlife.   We ate, drank, translated some typical Colombian music, and reminisced about life in Canada.

Posted in Colombia, G Adventures, perfect moment, travel, travel writing | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Night Biking in Medellin.

We arrived in Medellin around six, maybe earlier.   The flight was quite nice. I forget how much of a novelty it is to board and deplane on the tarmac.  The view of the country was beautiful.

Since we were trying to make up time we lost, they sent us on the bike ride.  We were doing it after dark, which was a first for the company.   I  give them credit, they armed us with lights, a big bottle of water,  a scarf for the fumes, and a reflective safety vest.  I was really enjoying it, but I  wondered about the safety of the thing for others.

The beginning was a bit scary,  but eventually we found our way to the bike paths, which are quite developed and set apart from traffic.  We covered quite a distance, which I captured a bit of on my action camera.  I also started Strava, but forgot to turn off when we were done, so I deleted it.

We saw many interesting buildings and learned about some of the great initiatives being taken to improve Medellin for everyone.

For dinner, after the ride, we had a curious mix of fruit,  granola,  and yogurt.   My stomach and other parts have still not recovered,  so I approach each meal with caution.

We finished the tour and went for drinks at a local place.  I  think the name was Taicho.  The area our hotel is in is a raucous nightclub zone, and the odd pairing of tourists with skimpily attired young women (as well as similarly dresses women approaching men on the street) indicates the world’s oldest profession is alive and well here.

Posted in adventure, adversity, airplanes, anger, beer, beverages, bicycles, Colombia, cycling, cycling gear, disappointment, perfect moment, travel, travel writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Poor Planning

So the snags continue and my confidence in G Adventures plummets.  Instead of getting to Medellin last night,  we took a hotel in a dangerous neighborhood in Bucaramanga.   We left for the airport in the morning,  but our midday flight flew to Medellin without passengers for mechanical issues.  Apparently it is on the way back here now.  However we have effectively lost a day and a half of our vacation.

I lay  the blame squarely on poor planning.   The CEO (guide) had to wait for an alternate plan and we wasted hours.  Now the alternate plan is full of holes.

I am a bit frustrated and want to digitally vent.   Anyone care to comment on their travel woes?  Anyone have good stories of compensation?

Posted in acting, complaints, G Adventures, perfect moment, practice, travel, travel tips, travel writing | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments