Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Back in The Bog.

I'm Back!! No time to waste. 
After a month of being away from my new found home I have finally gone back to continue on my mission. The month home was really blessed and being away from home really helped me appreciate some of the finer things. With all that said I didn't once stop thinking about my plans for what I'm going to do my second time around. I knew it would be different, well it had to be since my complete approach had changed to living in Colombia. When I first realised I was going to be in Colombia my first thoughts were things like, Is it really as Dangerous as they say?, Can I survive without knowing Spanish? and Can I live outside of my comfort zone, Canada? Well now those questions have been answered and someone like me wouldn't go back unless I was planning on doing something different with my approach.
Plotting on the city takeover.

I'm writing this almost a week after I arrived and I still have the ear-to-ear smile going every time I step out onto the street, even after being attacked by Skinheads! For the passed week while I look for an apartment of my own I have been staying in a North House Hostel that's located in the Bogotan equivalent to Granville St in Vancouver, only out here its a whole neighbourhood. This was one of the best decisions I made because since I'm such a homebody if it were up to me I wouldn't leave the house much. Staying in this hostel I not only met some cool people, but I was also motivated to go see the touristy things in Bogota that I couldn't seem to get done in the 5 months I was here before. These include the must-see places like Plaza Bolivar, La Candelaria and of course I had to go back up Monserrate again. La Candelaria is the historic, touristic place to visit in Bogota and Plaza Bolivar is a Huge square located in the middle of the historic district. A week or so before the mayor of Bogota was kicked out of office by the Anti-corruption tsar for abusing the office in a garbage collection dispute. A lot of people in Bogota thought that was unjust and as a result the main square in Bogota is now home of a friendly a protest which has almost a hundred residence taking to the square in tents to "occupy Plaza Bolivar." The protesters were nothing but friendly and they took us on a little tour of their tent town while explaining why they were out there. It was beautiful to see Adults, Kids and Animals alike coming together using friendly means to spread a message.
This is Bogota. Beautiful Monuments covered in Graffiti. And Of course the Mountain Dropback

You take the good with the bad, these artists are so creative.

Showtime In Plaza Bolivar.

Live music is never far in Colombia.
Inside Tentcity. The other side of Plaza Bolivar
Bruh, I told you, I don't speak spanish.
The Tree Of Life

Inshallah this is going to be my last semester of school! I am currently enrolled in my last 2 econ classes required for my degree.. the catch is they are completely in Spanish. It will definitely be interesting to see how those turn out. The vibes on campus are so lifting. Every time I come to campus and see the wide open well kept fields I get filled with energy, and I can feel my Seratonin levels surge to intoxicated levels. Not to mention those paths between those well kept fields act as run-ways to all the beautiful, well dressed Colombian females.
Campus bridge views.

These "clouds" inspire me everyday. 

While walking alone on campus today I came to realise how my experience with women in Colombia have resembled my experience with fruits. When I go to the market(aka school, mall, bus, street) to get fruits I have no clue where to start. As I walk around I become almost overwhelmed with the selection, coming in shapes and sizes I have never seen before. I continue looking around and realise I'm not even looking to get fruit anymore, but I have been reduced to a state of strictly spectating and being mesmerised by whats in front me. I soon after leave empty handed. I guess the paradox of choice was right.
Getting come advice over some vegetarian cuisine

For some reason my video uploads are not working so I will update this section with the video when it starts functioning again. 

Jah Bless
Jah Guide
Jah Rule

Thursday, 16 January 2014

2 Weeks In the Colombian Caribbean… The Real Caribbean.


I'm back in Bogota after my 2 week trip to the relatively unknown Caribbean Island located so far North of Colombia, that if you see it on a map there is no way you would think it is owned by my happy Latino friends. It's only 200 kilometers off the east coast of Nicaragua, meanwhile travelling from the north of Colombia takes more than 700 kilometers to reach San Andres. The insane thing is that distance isn't the main reason I couldn't believe  San Andres is part of Colombia.

Made my Morning runs easy. 

When I say San Andres is the Caribbean, I mean It's the CARIBBEAN, and not like the spanish islands of the Dominican or Cuba. When you come to San Andres it culturally reeks of Jamaican influence (and I'm not taking only about the herb).

Swimming with the peace sign.... RECORD!

Disclaimer: If you have never been around people from, or to the caribbean islands such as Jamaica, St. Lucia or Trinidad, this section might make zero sense. From here on out when I say Caribbean I am speaking about the previously mentioned islands and other english speaking islands in the Caribbean like Barbados, St. Vincent etc. 

I randomly booked my flight 2 days before leaving so I could travel alone and be with "My people"or my "Sangre Caribena" as a group of ladies selling coconuts promptly pointed out when they saw me on a day trip with a bunch of gringos. I received my first taste of the Caribbean culture when I got past the tourism office and the ladies working hit on me out loud, looked at my passport and shared with the others where I was staying and asked me if I had a Wife, all in an accent indistinguishable from a Jamaican one to the average person.  And I knew from my first walk that these guys were official when I got the "respek" and "bless"  salute from a random Rasta as we crossed paths. In my 23 years in Canada, I can't remember a time I walked by a Rasta and on any sort of eye contact they didn't give me the trademark greeting. 

Keeping it simple

For Lunch, I went to the typical Colombian family run restaurant that's cheap and good, but everyday has a different menu so you have to ask to get the menu of the day. Lets just say San Andres is Caribbean like Stewed meats, Goat and perfectly spicy food(overly spicy to the average Colombian). Later that Tuesday night I went around looking for something to do.. and what do I find in the only 3 bars I saw? No dance floor, few women and then the main reason everyone was there, The tables set up with Looty boards where they were gambling on every play. And there is noway I can forget the dominoes which I heard being smashed on the wooden tables from down the street, which is the reason I went down that path in the first place. I didn't stay for to long as I know how serious dominoes are to Caribbean people and didn't want to get caught looking over any ones shoulder.

Riding away from the Rain. 

The  main street to the beach.. So Low Key

I decided to spend my first full day in San Andres on a Bicycle I had rented for $5 a day (below listed all my rentals and trips). To give you guys an idea of how small this island is, I was able to ride along the whole island coast in under 4 hours including stops at a bunch of tourist destinations and random secluded beaches along the way. Included one of my favorite places ever: West view. Imagine jumping off a diving board into the most beautiful ocean you have ever seen.( or just look at the pic below)
We had an SUV aswell.. CHILLLLL

These types of things Change lives.
West View With The UN.

The real beauty in this island is in the underdeveloped coastlines and city center. All the beaches on San Andres are public, therefore there were no huge All-Inclusive resorts hogging up the beautiful white sand which made riding the coast that much more pleasurable. There is a restriction on San Andres Island that only allows people from the Island (no mainland Colombians) to own land or stay for more than 4-6 months a year. This leaves a really untampered island that has next to zero american influence, whether it be shopping or Accommodation. I must say this island has an interesting history that i discovered only after being curious when I saw a bunch of Arab women working in the shops. I asked  my friend from San Andres what that was about and he told me that Lebanese people own almost 80% of the island as they were settled there before it became part of Colombia and they have never left.

Not a perfect beach, But It was mine all week. 

As great as San Andres was, I must say I made a big mistake and stayed there for too long. The real untouched, authentic Island was actually 2 hrs away by boat, called Providence Island. This island had no hostels, hotels or resorts that I could find on my trip around it on my Motorbike(first time ever on a bike!). Me, and almost every other traveler I had talked to ended up staying on someones personal property that they offer up for tourists, leaving a room empty with a few beds in it. There is nothing much to say about this island other than It is the place to be if you are looking to get away somewhere while living a very simple life and experiencing a very vibrant unique culture. On this island there were no "Colombians," and barely anyone spoke spanish. I ended up spending one afternoon talking with a construction worker who shared his story and the story of the island. I wish I had booked more than 3 days here.

Providence Nights. ( my cellphone) 

I was amazed to be the only one on a beautiful beach full of white sand. That is until the fisherman came. Once they started fishing, all the locals started rushing to the beach for their fresh catch of the day. I wish I had a kitchen in my homestay so I could've bought one and cooked it myself! The most amazing part came when these birds came flocking and took part in the fishing as well. I was scared at first thinking they were coming to poke my shiny head, but then I had realized I was really surrounded by fish and I had my first experience fishing with birds. My trip around the island on my scooter was another amazing experience as I found myself having to dodge the crabs that came out from who knows where on to the street as the sun was setting.

Yeah I was scared, So what if they were speeeding passed me.

Off the coast of both San Andres and Providence Island are a bunch of smaller uninhabited islands called cays. Everyday these places cater day trips which usually included the boat ride over and a delicious fish lunch. These places were truly magical as they were covered in trees throughout the center, but the coast was strictly white sandy beaches, all surrounded by world class coral reefs. I didn't go diving, but my friend who is a diving instructor from Argentina told me that was the best place he has ever been. I'm more of a snorkeler myself, where I got to see countless fish and also feed them bread out of my hand O_o.(once again west view).

View of providence from the center of Crab Cay. 

Some Cay... That water though.
My thoughts were"This cant be real" 

To add to my near perfect experience on these islands, I ended up coming across the main basketball players on the island who invited me to some pick-up games, which I classify as my only "real" pick-up games in Colombia. As I lit up the guy who was guarding me, they made sure he let him hear it, unlike on the mainland of Colombia where they would just praise me or something like that. They actually took pride in their game.

I really recommend Googling San Andres and Providence to see some more pictures as I was too busy enjoying myself to take too many pictures.

Below is a list of the things I did while in San Andres and Providence. EXTREMELY CHEAP but Amazing.

Where My Money went
Thing Price
Bicycle x3 $20
Electric Scooter $25
Round trip Boat to Providence $90
SUV+JEEP rental (shared) $15
Cay (day) trips x3 $40

So I found my home in Colombia! Now I just have to find a way to marry into the island so I can stay for more than 4 months a year.

OH YEAH! I forgot they call it the Sea of Seven Colors.
Jah Bless 
Jah Guide
Jah Rule

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Bogotan Rivalry

Last week  (well actually last month... I've experienced technical difficulties.. Too many trips.)  I went to my first Professional Soccer (futbol) game in my life. Who can blame me? Vancouver is the first team on the west coast to have a professional team and they are only a few years old. So basically I have never really experienced what I have heard to be the most devoted fans in all of the sports world, all I knew was from T.V.  and of course what you see on the news and T.V is exaggerated and you really can't believe it. Or so I thought. The Futbol game I went to was strategically chosen because it was between the two teams that call Bogota their home, The Millionarios vs Santa Fe. A classic as they call it here. Even though soccer isn't one of my favorite sports I had to see a game as Colombia is about to qualify for the world cup and as they say, When in Colombia, do as the Colombians.
Juggarnauts on deck. 

As we walked up to the stadium it was quite evident that this was a Millionarios home game as everyone was wearing Royal Blue and all the street vendors had their millionarios gear on deck. I heard later on that they only allow 1 section of tickets to be sold to the visiting team to help combat the combats. I decided to go with a neutral one and black outfit and I have heard about the Red vs. Blue color wars in California and I didn't Want to get caught on the wrong side. Better to play it safe in these types of situations. Once we get passed the initial Security check which doesn't allow belts, watches, umbrellas or ciggarettes passed, we stopped in our tracks to see about 20 police in full on riot gear just roaming around the stadium, That's when I realized how real it gets out here. After meeting up with some friends we headed to our seats about 2 minutes after the game has started. Surprisingly everyone was still standing and chanting something I couldn't understand. Finding our seats was a whole different issue. In Colombian fashion, the rules are ignored and our assigned seats held no weight, It was a free-for-all get whatever seat is open type deal. I ended up being alone about 7 rows up, right in the corner between a Uber- horny couple (I thought it was the Colombain valetines day, turns out it was only a preview) and a Family of about 5 with 2 little girls. My first experience of a corner kick of the other team proved to be interesting.. as he was setting up I learned all the Colombians who could not bring their watches and belts in, managed to smuggle in a whole grocery store worth of toilet paper rolls which they threw on the field as well as an Air Canada fleets worth of paper airplanes that were used to try and distract, or poke an eye out on the field.  The thing that was even weirder was that when the double length, Single ply toilet paper unraveled on the field, they just left it there for the rest of the half. 20 minutes into the game I realized that sitting during was not going to be an option and I accepted my fate standing for the entire 90 minutes, Plus injury time because we all know soccer players love to fake, or exaggerate their injuries. Although I do think its part of the Colombian culture because I see the same things happenening on the basketball court, but that's another subject.
Is that a belt I feel Kid??? 

The environment in the stadium was exactly what I had expected to see from T.V. They had a few sections of the Die-hard fans which were singing whole songs throughout the game with a Band and all. I don't know where they get all this energy from but I must say I felt a bit of jealous of the players as I wished their was a basketball environment possible of matching this party in the stands. They make NCAA college basketball fans look like they are Surrounding a tee waiting for Phil Mickelson to putt. Since it was such a family environment it really shocked me to hear what these parents beside me and everyone else was yelling. I think the most common word I heard all night was "puta," and they were yelling it at their own players as well.

"PUTA".... definitely not a childrens environment. 
As you noticed I didn't mention anything about the actual game or players as the game itself was really boring as it ended in a tie 0-0. After 90+ minutes of standing I was ready to get out of their and get a good meal in, only to see everyone sitting once the game ended... did I miss something? maybe there is an Overtime or penalty kicks. Nope, turns out they only let the one section with the Santa fe fans out and the rest of the stadium has to wait for half an hour. That's about 1 tenth of the stadium that was given a head start to get away from the rabbid fans supporting The Millionarios. It was crazy to see the exits that were close to us blocked by about 15 police with dogs. I wonder how many police they have to staff each game just to keep a Riot from happening. I immediately felt embarrassed when I remembered I showed the Vancouver riots to my classmates during a presentation. This is completely normal for them, meanwhile in Colombia they take it in stride.

When they Finally let us out it was now a battle of who is getting on the Transmillenio first. And I thought It was bad before just go back to my last post about the transmillenio and imagine 5.6 times worse. I'm just happy I got home in one piece.. Until next time my peoples. The journey continues. 

Jah Bless
Jah Guide
Jah Rule

Ps. Its really no joke out here. In the passed month after watching that game 3 fans were killed in Bogota for wearing the wrong jersey and 5 died during the celebrations after Colombia qualified for the World Cup. R.I.P 

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Medellin Reign

Buenas! I hope everyone back home enjoyed the last of their summer holidays as I know school is started this last week. I've been in school for over a month now, but I still feel like I'm on summer holidays... Gotta love Colombia. As mentioned In a previous post, I was in Medellin a few weeks ago for the Feria de los Flores, Or the Festival Of Flowers. They say this festival is as much apart of Medellin's cultural Identity as 4th of July is in the USA. It is over a week long festival that is highlighted by orchid competitions, music festivals and topped off by the parade of silleteros. The parade of silleteros is really a work of art and a show of human determination and creativity. The Silletas are wooden plates that are worn as backpacks which the Silleteros dedicate Non-stop days, or even weeks of decorating this plate that weighs upwards of 150 pounds, stands around 5 feet tall and can contain anywhere between 25-70 different flowers. Keep in mind that the Silleteros only means of transportation through the parade is on their 2 feet and the walk is over 2 kilometers long. The legend I heard about how this all started was that the Silletas were traditionally used (by slaves) to carry wealthy people up the Mountains in the province which  contains Medellin. Until one day a Lady convinced the regions farmers that the use of Silletas was best suited in the transportation of Flowers from the farms to the cities. And so began the tradition and dedication by the Silleteros to display their culture, history and life stories on their back. Of course, since it has become such a popular event the major brand and companies in Colombia have hired the Silleteros as a means of advertising as they now don the Company logos made of flowers on these highly customized backpacks.
Colombian Time... The Parade Started 2 Hours Late.

These Guys Are SERIOUS! I don't know how they do it at that age.

Gwado. aka Aguardiente. Never gets you drunk.

yess.. I ended up flying Avianca home.

I love how people just jump in front of the parade for pictures. jaja
They started cleaning the streets before the parade ended. Gotta Love Medellin..

The next thing Colombians mention about Medellin is about how much more advanced it is than the rest of the country. This is something I was aware of because Medellin was in my options of exchange destinations and in my research I found out it had received the worlds most innovative city award for 2013. This is something that has to be witnessed to truly be appreciated. After the hour trip by Flota (shuttle bus) to the City, we arrived at the Metro. From the outside it looks pretty ordinary, but as I walked onto the platform I saw signs in English and Spanish, views of the mountain side which Trumps the Views from the Canada Line in Vancouver, and security guards that guard the platform... From Food and Drinks. At first I was a bit angry I had to chug my fresh Maricuya juice, but then I couldn't find a piece of garbage or mess on the main platform or train which was definitely welcomed. One of the main reasons I liked Medellin is because of all there is to do outside. Most notably for me were the  FAT Bronze statues on display in the plaza Botero and the fully equipped outdoor gym. The Fat bronze statues must be the only overweight people I've seen in Colombia! I had to go back a second time because I found the park so enjoyable. 

Me and My Girl BARbara

Add caption

The freaks don't just come out at night in Colombia

My two amigitos 

Just a preview

The Train system is just a snippet of what makes the transportation system in Medellin so spectacular. Medellin is a beautiful city located in the Aburra Valley which is completely surrounded by hills. The unfortunate part is that on these hills is where the highly concentrated ghettos or "Comunas" are. The hills are too steep for regular bus transportation which posed a major problem for the workers on their daily commute to work. So Medellin, being the Innovative city that it is created a system of cable cars or gondolas as an extension of their regular metro system. With over a 5km route amongst the 3 different lines, the Residents of the Comunas saw their original commute of up to 2.5 hours to the city be cut down to under 10 minutes. The K line which we rode (Back to Back of course) has 4 stations which take you over one hill then up and back down a hill right behind it. I think the best way to imagine the route is picturing the landscape in the shape of a "N" (video below). The views from the cable car were amazing and once we arrived at the top we were in a neighborhood which looked over all of Medellin, which we were later told was a really bad idea. I had no clue while I was up there as we were happily greeted by the residence who could spot us as foreigners from a block away (I was with a group of aussies). Directly outside the station we found some amazing chicken pastries and these little slightly sweet fried balls of flour called Bunuelos which are very similar to the Fried dumplings seen mostly in Jamaican Cuisine. One of the most amazing parts about this transportation system is that it only costs one Train fare to get access to the whole Cable car system. This has got make it one of the cheapest sight seeing tours in the world. 

Back here in Bogota I have finally moved out of my host families home and have found an apartment living with some exchange friends. It was cool to live with Colombians for a while to experience the culture in the house but I had to do the one thing it seems like no other Colombian would do. Move out! So all visitors wanting to come to Colombia you know who to contact! *cough cough* Paula. ;) 

Jah Bless
Jah Guide
Jah Rule