Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Travel Blog

You will have never seen anything like it.

La Guajira: From brilliant, aggressively white salt flats jut peaks that hurl a reflection which demands the highest sunblock and the darkest shades. Silent beaches of honey coloured sand and a choppy sea to wrap around scorched feet and suck you into its waves. A matriarchal community where bucket showers and fried fish are the only option, Coca Cola is more plentiful than water, hammocs keep you off the dirt floor at night and if you want to get divorced you 'give back the goat' that came with your marriage proposal. Simple.

Parque Tayrona: A two hour hike through a humid jungle, avoiding falling coconuts and blue sand crabs, sees the vegetation limp out into a ocean of dangerous undercurrents, driftwood and boulders worthy of a coco-pops ad. More hammocs, but this time on a raised platform set out into the sea, no walls, just the sea and the sun and the wind.

Taganga: A hippy port of beaches, bars and many, many Aussies. A debatably thorough 15 minute SCUBA demo and your ready to go down to 18 metres (though they tell you it is only 12). Through the pressure pain and your body's disbelief that the air it breathes actually does its job, you can see turtles pootle on by, and the foreign and unwanted lion fish lurking in the shadows, though their zebra stripes betray their presence long before you are unlucky enough to graze one of their fins. Green eels chomp their jaws and stone fish lie convincingly on the more boring coral.

Santa Marta: Best Ceviche you will ever taste (seafood, lemon, onion, and aji mix) comes from a little roadside shack off the main beach front. Ignore all other offers.

Playa Camarones: A make-shift sail, a wooden cannoe, silence and throbbing heat. Four pink flamigoes shimmer and strut, and then take off all at once to fly in formation away from the invading raft.

Just one thing I wish someone had told me before I left; Do not, ever, drink the water. Damn.

That about summs up our visit to the Northern Colombian Coast. Tourism exists but it is as yet still very Colombian. All the businesses and tours are run by locals, who know the locals of where they're are going, so the experience is very authentic. It is fairly rural and simple at times, you just get on with being smelly and salty, don't expect services like showers or internet, and if you don't like having at least four different carbohydrates on your plate each meal time then you are wasting 2/3 of your grub.

Celine and had such a good time though (minus the day or two our bodies spent rejecting the amoeba in our guts). It was really unlike any travelling I have ever done before and I thought before coming here that two foreign girls travelling around Colombia probably wasn't the smartest thing to do, but it has to be said that calculated risks are worth it. For example, on the way back from Tayrona a man struck a deal with us to drive us back to Santa Marta for half the price of the bus fare. With about 50 witnesses to this and Wayuu woman in the front seat of his car, we took our chance, paid less and got back fine. However, when two men approached us in Taganga offering a customised 6 days tour of the whole of the northern coast, they made it sound very attractive. Obviously. When you're are not in the situation it seems like lunacy but at the time you sort of think of the value for money, what you might see and how much fun it will be... duh. We had taken about 3 steps away from them having promised to discuss the matter the next day, when we looked at each other in disbelief at our own stupidity. Needless to say, we decided against it. Apparantly, I've still got quite a lot to learn.

Then it was back to Fenix, Refugio and Pronino as normal after that. Though, the amoeba came back with a vengeance about a week later and I spent an entire Fenix meeting doubled over with cramps. That's one thing about learning another language, there is just no being subtle. I had no idea how to say anything quaint like 'I've got a bit of an upset tummy'. That coupled with hispanic candidness which doesn't shy away from asking why you are going to the loo every 5 mins meant that I had to provide an all too direct description of the situation. But there we go, I'm beyond shame now, I'm even blogging about it.

Fenix is moving ahead really well. We have been planning a design for the Fenix house which we hope to have up and running in a ear or two if we can find funds. There are a couple of new volunteer maybes which are being interviewed and I now feel really comfortable and friendly with most of the girls, especially Alejandra. Unfortunately Celine left on Saturday which makes me really sad, but she invited Alejandra to come out with us and our friends the night before. It was so much fun any way, but Alejandra seemed to have a really great time. She drank, but not too much and danced the whole time. It looked like that was what she had been wanting to do for ages. She stayed with me and my boyfriend's house that night, though her own plank of a boyfriend kept calling me at 5 am to fnd out wehre she was and wouldn't believe she was with me. Luckily by Sunday, she had made the decision to leave him and move out definitively. I just really hope this is for good now.

Dad came to stay last week too! It was so fun to see him though I'm not sure Bogota in all its construction, brick dust and mess really appealed all that much. But we went up North on a buseta and found his old house. He also attended a couple of Fenix meetings and the girls ot on really well with him. He also ate ajiaco for the first time in 30 years! I introduced him to all my friends, who I had met through Hannah. Hannah's boyfriend, Alvaro, is in England and though I have never met him exceot by skype, he is going to stay with my mum for nine days at the end of this week so he can see a bit of the country before he comes back to Colombia. I'm jealous to be honest, I'd quite like to go home for a little bit, but seeing as this is not possible I might as well send a bit of Colombia.
Anyway, I have been to their house quite a bit and when Dad was here they invited me, my Dad, Hannah, Celine, Mario, Rafa and Willy to their house for lunch. So that is all of Alvaro's best friends and his parents hanging out and drinking whisky well into the early hours of the morning. Afer 33 years of marriage I have never seen a more loved-up couple and the Dad, also called Alvaro, sings and they both dance beautifully, so with the guitare and the alcohol they were all salsa-ing and serenading and talking about love, romance, music and politics whilst my English reserve cringed in the corner until my own head was woozy enough to forget it. All the time, Alvaro was present on skype.

It was a festivo (bank holiday) last weekend and we all went to my friend Rafa's 'finca' which I guess is a kind of homestead or farm, but it belongs to his family, so loads of his cousins were there and it is in warm-weather land in Melgar. So after a sickening three hour bus ride to Melgar we all spent sunday in the pool with the sun and beer. Though Monday's sunburnt hangover wasn't quite as fun.

Other topics of interest have been the elections here. PAH to the British Campbell-Clegg malarky, try a stand-off between the Uribe-groomed,loosely-veiled madman, ex-head of the Paramilitary, Juan Manual Santos, and the eccentric, intellectual, worryingly abstract,student-mooning ex-Mayor of Bogota, Anatus Mockus. The country is divided, with tactical voting and blackmail rife, though with a historically peacful campaign process. I reckon this deserves a whole blog, so I'll write about it later, but the elections are this Sunday and the atmosphere is awesome to say the least.

That about brings it up to now. Instead of travelling to Costa Rica I have decided to stay in Bogota and continue working here for a bit, because I enjoy being part of Fenix and the other organisations. Plus, there is a whole lot more of Colombia I haven't yet seen and feel I should get to know the country into which I have put a lot of effort and which has given me so much up until now. I'm off to Huila this weekend, which is in the South near Florencia, but not as dangerous. I should also hopefully be doing a CELTA course at the end of June to get an Enlgish teaching qualification so that I can earn money and travel whenever I want in the future. I'll probably find myself back here at some point.