Thursday, March 22, 2012

"Where did you learn Spanish?"

So I thought was in Pereira but not quite yet. I was in Dosquebradas (part of the Pereira's metropolitan area). It was around 16:00 when I was there. Antonio asked me to help him load some shit on his truck and then drove me to the main road going into Pereira. I though "why didn't he drop me off there before going?". When I was going to ask a girl where the hell I was and how the hell I could walk to the main terminal, she asked me if I needed help. Not only she helped me but she walk with to the terminal. But the terminal was faaar away. In some fancy area I used some of those "minutos" people (people that rent mobiles to call for 200$) and call Juan Pablo. He picked me up there and went to his flat.

Pereira is a lovely town. According to him "there's nothing much to do but the nightlife is awesome". Pereira is not very big. You can walk basically everywhere and there are several parks, something I love in a town.

One morning Juan Pablo and I were talking and he asked me where did I learn how to speak Spanish. I said that I learnt in my home country but I immediately realized that didn't actually even suggested anything. My home country could be anywhere, so I said :"I'm Guatemalan".

In total I stayed with Juan Pablo for three nights. He's an awesome host! He know the city very well and he pointed me in the right direction to start hitchhiking towards Bogotá. Even though the distances between some cities is not really big, I've learnt that in Colombia even if it's only 300 kilometers it can take up to 8 (or more) hours to reach your destination.  Exactly because of this I wanted to leave no later than 8:00 and I was aiming to get as far as Ibalgué. I left past 9:00 because Juan Pablo wasn't awake and I didn't want to leave without saying goodbye.

I was walking along the road towards the exit to Armenia, thumbing at the same time. Nothing happened. Kept walking and thumbing. Nothing happened, again. Saw some really nice shit along the way while walking and thumbing and nothing happening. Stopped in front of a motel which had a should so cars could stop but.. you guessed correctly: nothing happened. Some road workers using a theodolite told me that the bomba (petrol station) was only "a kilometer away, just at the top of that hill". Ok, I said to myselt, it's neither 1 kilometer away and it's not going to be at the end of that hill. I began to walk and ran into a road construction site. There was a long line of vehicles. The first driver I asked agreed to take me. That was when I realized that thumbing is not going to work for me. It's easier, faster and better to ask drivers any time I have the chance, regardless if it is a bomba or a construction site. Maybe things will change when I start hitchhiking with Paula, but so far alone, thumbing is jut not working. The driver took me to Armenia, some 50ish kilometers from Pereira. He drove me to the side of town with the exit towards Ibalgué and Bogotá. I've heard that Armenia is lovely but I couldn't see anything, I just asked some people where the closest bomba was and started walking again. The distance between Armenia and Calarcá is 7km. I almost walked the entire 7km! I ran into another construction site and started asking cars with "BOGOTA DC" or "STFEDEBOGOTA" license plates only to be turned down. Walked behind the fence, dropped my bags and sat. Then, to my surprise the driver of a kombi I asked only 2 minutes before stopped and told me to get in. I thought he was taking me to the next bomba because they told me they were going not far but to my surprise they drove ALL THE FUCKING WAY TO BOGOTA! 

The road from Pereira to Bogotá is full of awesome landscapes. You have to climb to the top to the Cordillera Central, at the Alto de la Línea and then go down. Starting from Ibalgué there are hardly windind roads. The government is building a new road, full in bridges and even a few tunnels. Actually, one tunnel is already open for traffic. The tunnel didn't look that different from the tunnels in Europe, I only noted 4 differences: 1. The length of tunnel wasn't written on the sign at the entrance, 2. I've seen in Europe that they have the distances to both ends of the tunnel i.e. 1250m/750m. Not in this one, 3. the vehicles were similar bot not the same. You can see more European carmakers represented in Guatemala than here, with the exception of Renault which has a manufacturing plant in Colombia and 4. NO ONE was driving under the speed limit (60kph). The tunnel that is being built is going to be among the longest in the world, La Línea is going to be among the longest tunnels in the world. The driver told me that the tunnel is not completed and that the two ends still have to meet somewhere inside the mountain... It's completed and it's scheduled to open next year. The driver told that the tunnel is 35km long... it's 8,5km making it the longest in Latin America when fully functional.

After a quick stop in Cajamarca (seemed like a cute little town) and ate a (some kind of) potato soup I finally arrived in Bogotá, despite all odd and after only 10 hours! by the way, it was the first time in my two weeks of hitchhiking in Colombia that I finally reached 120kph instead of the average 40kph I was doing. 

Now, I've been in Bogotá for the past week, freezing my ass because it's cold and rainy but I still like it. People here is really nice. My laptop broke so I posted an thread in one of the Bogotá forums and received immediate replies and got the laptop fixed! Thanks Javier and Mauricio!

Bogotá is huge. Has a very complicated bus rapid transit system: Transmilenio and even more complicated bus system. Freshly arrived in town I asked some people where I needed to (Yasmin's flat) and I had 3 people helping me! One of them even walked with me to the transfer station. Bogotá is nice but the weather sucks! Well, I got what I was hoping for no? I didn't want warm weather anymore, and this is definitely not warm all right!

Tonight, finally Paula arrives and yet another leg of my travels will begin. I've been waiting for this moment for the last 5 fucking months! Yes, I'm fucking counting! Sue me! 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I needed this. Two firsts for Colombia. Hitchhiking to...

After I left Estonia, back in September of last year, most of the times I had been travelling with someone. Is not that I don't enjoy that, but I needed to be alone. Yes, it's more fun to have someone to talk to when you're walking 3 km uphill to the next truck control... but since I wasn't feeling quite comfortable, there was something that I was missing about my travels in South America. After the (mis)adventure of Cartagena - Medellín I knew that I needed to be on my own.

I thought of spending Sunday night in Medellín so I could leave early but my last shift in the hostel was the evening shift. It turned out that I did the afternoon shift. I didn't have a couch anyway. I wanted to leave no later than 8:00. I was in the bus stop at 7:50. I don't like to start hitchhiking very late (I should had left earlier though) so I was waiting for the first car to stop of the first bus to come. It was the first bus. I got in but it wasn't going to Medellín, yet. I wasted 30 min going to opposite way only to return to where I was standing. 

Finally I got to Medellín center.  I took the metro to the last station and walked maybe a kilometre to the first petrol station. Hitchhiwiki says that it's not a good spot. Better to "take bus/hitch to the next petrol station 4 kilometers after the roas splits" to somewhere. I hitched a ride. My ride, a beer truck. Two firsts for Colombia: motorbike and beer truck.

The driver dropped me off in what I thought it was a good spot, near a place where lots of trucks stop. It wasn't. I saw another petrol station coming up that seemed a better place. Next time if I don't find a ride straight out I will ask to be dropped there. 

This time it was not hot or sunny. Actually it was cool and cloudy, which made my 4 km walk uphill bearable. Finally I arrived to the truck control. I thought it was going to be like the ones I had been before but this one was quite small. I saw some truck drivers and asked but none where going my direction: South. I decided the day before that I was going where the driver was going to, I had two options: Manizales or Pereira.  Suddenly a big truck pulled over and I asked the driver but he said no at the same time he was pointing at the sign on the door: "no se permite llevar pasajeros" (forbidden to take passengers) and giving me a couple of lame excuses. Another truck driver just said no moving his fingers without even rolling down the window.

Some 15 minutes later a small truck pulled over. I asked the driver and he told me to wait while he was doing the control. He walked to where I was seating and asked me if I was alone. I asked  him where was he going and he said "I'm going to Africa". Fair enough. I got into the truck. It was  maybe after half an hour that he told me he was going to Pereria. Pereira it is I though. I have a couch there so no asking in Police/Fire stations tonight.

I left the hostel at 7:50. I was in the first petrol station around 10:45. I was arriving in Pereira (after loading some cargo in Dos Quebradas, part of Pereira metropolitan area) at 18:00. Finally getting to Juan Pablo's (big) house in Pereira around 19:30. Almost 10 hours! Will I make it in one day from here to Bogota?

Antonio told that going to Manizales was not very good for hitchhiking, there aren't many truck going that way. It's better to go through Armenia and Ibagué. Lots of trucks heading that way. I still could go to Manizales. I still have a week to get to Bogota. But I want to explore Colombia with Paula. Besides, I need to go the clinic and also to the Peruvian embassy. So, the earlier I get to Bogota, the longer I will have to do all that.

Oh yeah, the two first for Colombia are:
- hitchhiking a motorbike, and
- hitchhiking a beer truck

Where the hell is the hippy van!?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

1,5 weeks until March 22nd, where to go?

I have 1,5 weeks until Paula comes and we start travelling South America. 1,5 weeks is not much or can be a lot. In my case, the latter.

I found a volunteer job in a small mountain village near Medellin but it wasn't quite as I expected. I'm hitting the road again, for the first time alone in a long time. I needed to be myself to regain the confidence I was lacking about travelling this continent. Why did I not feel comfortable at all? I don't know and I don't care. This time by myself will be good for me.

Even though is a short period of time I kept sending emails to hostels. Bogota again and Manizales and Pereira. These two directly South of Medellin. I have one hostel that is interested so I might drop by Pereira to see what they have to offer.

The only thing I know about Pereira besides being in the middle of the Eje Cafetalero is that it was the location of a famous miniseries (Sin Tetas No Hay Paraíso) about girls that become "prepaid" (a girl who has sex with drug traffickers in exchange for gifts, money and social status). The series is bases on the best selling book of Gustavo Bolivar.

My other option is going to Manizales which is 50 km closer than Pereira, but I already found a couch in Pereira. 

I'm excited to be on my own again. It's not that I don't like traveling with someone, it's just that I need to hitchhike on my own.

I could go to Bogota but I don't know where would I sleep in between as I won't make it in one day. I mean, there are not important town in between. If I go South I have two to choose from. I guess I will go wherever the cars/trucks take me eh?

You'll find out where I end up in my next entry I guess.

Ta Ta

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Not one of my best days (Cartagena - Medellín)

After spending almost three months in super hot weather, I wanted to leave Cartagena as soon as possible. Besides, I wasn't impressed by the city. Well, the old town is nice but is full of tourist. I ran into some of the crew that boarded The Wayward Sun. It was expensive: a small bottle of water in the shop was about 1,5$! I stayed two nights in total: one night on board the sail boat, the last night the crew spent together, or at least that was the idea.  Greg, Rodrigo and Tim went out. Lana, Alex and me decided to stay. I didn't feel like going out and besides I couldn't afford it. 

After having our last breakfast together I left the boat and took a much needed shower in the Club Nautico. It was too late to start hitchhiking out. Besides, I wanted to give the city a chance or at least walk a bit around its streets. Conclusion: it's very chaotic. It was awfully hot. You couldn't walk one street without sweating like a pig. I didn't like one bit. I posted an emergency couch request in two of the forums.  The CS community there is, hmm "special" and not very helpful. This is the message I received after posting the thread:
"I hope so you are doing well, but our group is tiny, there are only 5 persons who can give couch, and they are seriusly selective.I recommend you to try one hostel in down town.
My best wishes on your trip."
If they are "seriously selective" people, why the fuck do they have an emergency couch forum!? If you're not going to help, don't waste my fucking time! 

We found a place to stay, but still I had to pay about 10$ for the bed. It hurt my wallet a lot. Literally because I need to fix it! I got up quite early the following day. Didn't have breakfast but I had the bread I bought the night before and some jam. I knew that Cartagena was big but is actually huge. Hitchwiki says to go the Bomba del Amparo which is a petrol station in the outskirts in the Amparo neighborhood. It was chaotic places. I started asking  people around. No one was going my direction. It was only local traffic or so they said. I found a ride to another place, a road that trucks use to leave the city. No luck again. It's was very sunny and very hot. Another road to even further out the city, to the nearest péage but instead getting off there, that I think it was better because cars/trucks/everything has to come to a complete stop, they dropped me off in the roundabout not far from there where the road coming from Barranquilla joins the one coming from Cartagena. A truck stopm, it was a dump lorry. Lana rides in the front, I ride in the back. But I couldn't feel the wind in my face or anything like that because what I was doing is forbidden, so instead of enjoying the scenery (if any) I was battling not to die with all the dust that was there. The petrol station was definitely not the best. Finally Juan Pablo took us. He was going to Bogotá. Tempted to go but he was not very keen in taking us all the way there so he dropped us somewhere. I bought some, according to the guy, not very good quality water.  After what it seemed an hour I walked towards the péage which according to the people I asked it was "only" a kilometre away. Police checkpoint. They start asking questions. I thought they were to ask me for my passport but they didn't. They gave a big bag full of 0,3L water bags. Not even warm water but HOT water. Lana found a ride so I was left alone in the middle of nowhere. Since I started to travel in Latin America I didn't feel quite comfortable at all. I don't know, it may sound stupid but that's the way I felt. This is my turf. I speak the language. A part from my backpack I look the same, I think? Anyways, I needed to be alone. To test myself. I had been travelling with someone else since I left Estonia. Only a few hitches alone but most of the time, alone. What comes next helped me get back to reality. After the police told me that the péage was 1 kilometre away (I already had walked that distance) I started to walk again with even more weight this time. The only wind I felt while walking was when cars or trucks drove beside me. Thumbing while walking worked before in Poland. Not this time though. It was super-fucking-mega-hot. I was stopping every 10 minutes or every time there was shade, whichever came first. Then I saw my arms... I had blisters! fucking hell!!! the first I though was not to ever receive food from minibus helpers and to buy "high" quality water. I though it was an allergic reaction as I didn't have them in the morning. The sun was so hot that I was starting to peel and my arms were full of bubbles. I asked every single person I came across and every single one of them told me different distances to that my destination: between 1 and 3 kilometres. I saw a what it seemed to be an abandoned airport that I thought it would be a good place to spend the night, but it was still early, around 16:00. I was not going to give up that easily, although I was exhausted. Finally I saw a sign: "peaje a 1 kilómetro". Should I give and just stay here and see what happens next or should I keep going, after all I walked a lot and it's only 1 kilometre left. Got up, put on my backpack and started walking again. Finally I reached the fucking péage, after walking for 3 hours. I asked if I could use the toilet to wash myself. The water coming from the sink was HOT! nooooooooooooooooooo. My shirt was like if I had jumped into a pool wearing it. I asked if I could trade some of my hot water bags for cold ones. The people selling them agreed and I drank three in 5 seconds. I changed my shirt and rest a bit. In my desperation I saw a truck with something written on the door (Colombian truck has the license plate number written on the door) and asked the drive "are you going to... eer, mmm, Medellín?" then I saw Barranquilla written on the door, but he was not going to Medellín anyway. I went back to pick up my things and started asking people. A car and a truck just looked at me and said no. Then Jorge's truck drove in. He saved me. He said he was going to Medellín and agreed to take me. He was coming from Barranquilla after driving back and forth for a week. He was going back to his wife directly to make love to her. He kept saying that evey 30 minutes. Horny little bastard, but I didn't care. I was going to Medellín! We stopped a few times, to eat and apparently trucks needs a stamp every hundred kilometres or so. We climbed a very steep hill and after that he stopped. He kicked me out because he needed to sleep and I slept in the tables of the truck stop. I was freezing (not like in Romania last year) but it was cold enough for me. We got there around 3 and left three hours later. I was in a petrol station 12 km away from town. That was Jorge parked his truck. I tried to hitch from there but there were hardly cars coming in. I asked a guy driving a kombi but he looked at me and actually kind of rude he said no. I walked to where my things were and when he saw me that I was a traveler he immediately changed his attitude and drove me to the metro station.

So far Medellín is awesome. Chaotic but still very nice. The people is very friendly. I like it here. The area is nice. I'm in Santa Elena, a small town 15 kilometres from Medellín. The climate is cooler than Medellín. The vibe here is great.

Now I'm waiting for Paula to come so we can start rocking South America.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Dinghy adventures: the Darien Gap crossing on board the Wayward Sun

After all the shit I went throuhg in LEGO city I wanted to leave Panama City immediately. I can say that I was really lucky because Lana found a boat and she asked the captain if I could tag along. 
Had some difficulties at the end of my stay but everything went down smoothly and I was on my way to Portobelo to meet with the captain. We met. His name is Greg, Canadian rig builder that is sailing solo all over. The name of the sail boat is "The Wayward Sun". He wants to sail all the way down to Cape Horn and the Northwest Passage.

There was another hitchhiker he told us he was going to meet. Also Canadian. In the end, we weren't just three on board the boat but 6, 3 Canadians, 1 Dutch, 1 Chilean and yours truly + 1 motorbike (also from Canada)

We got acquainted in Portobelo for the next couple of days until it was time to sail away! Destination: San Blas Islands. On the way there Tim, one of the Canadian caught a fish. First time in my life that I ate something so fresh! yummy.

I've seen photos of this place. The islands are something else. They look like they are not real. The water is turquoise and crystal. It's impressively beautiful. The weather was nice. Everything that could have gone good, went good. Except that I should had used sunblock... We spent two days on the islands. We stopped in a group of islands called "Holandes Cayes". Not really sure if some of the particular group of islands and inhabited, but we anchored where there were a couple of uninhabited islands. 

But since we needed to get to Cartagena, even though we were not in a hurry, we all decided to sail to a different island. We reached Diablo Island. This island is big and is actually a pair of islands joined by a bridge that from the distance seems like a building. Apparently, this island is very important, has it's own airport on the mainland (the mainland is only a couple of hundred of meters away) and I saw that it had at least a flight daily, coming most likely from Panama City. Maybe carrying passengers and/or supplies. Later I found out that this is one the places that you have to stop if you want to hitch a ride in one of the cargo boats delivering supplies to all the islands. I asked a local that was giving us a little tour how long was to Puerto Obaldia and he said "a week". 
We took the dinghy and venture into the Diablo river. I think we needed some sort of fresh water source (and a bath). We starting going upriver until the river was blocked with several branches so we couldn't keep going. We stopped and rest and, why not, have a bath in the river!

From Diablo it was an all night sailing voyage to Puerto Obaldia, the last town in Panama where we would get the exit stamps. It was a nice sail. Finally, in the morning we reached what we thought it was Puerto Obaldia but it was really Playa Blanca. I thought that after Obaldia was only Colombia. A boat wanted to charge us 20$ return (each) for taking us to Obaldia which was only "around the corner". Fuck the stamp, let's go to Sapzurro, which was around the other corner. It turned out that you can't get the entry stamp to Colombia there, you have to go to Caparguná, which was around the corner. Why go to Caparguná when you can start sailing to Cartagena? This was the worst night. Very rough seas. Very strong winds. The wind reached speeds up to 30 knots (55kph). The waves were about 4-5 meters tall. The boat was bouncing from side to side. The sails had to be taken down and Greg decided to keep the motor running. But I was fine. I only took sea sickness pills a day before sailing and once again when we were sailing. I didn't feel bad or anything during this.

Morning came. Greg received a call from US Warship 55 (from now on know as US Wanker 55). They asked questions. Greg answered them. Suddenly the said that they were going to board us. "What's the ETA?" Greg asked. "2 minutes" and then we say a dinghy coming our way the the ship about 200 meters away. They started telling us what to do. Finally they boarded the sail boat and stayed for 3 hours! They were either bored or doing some kind of training. Or most likely just trying to be annoying. The boarded the ship (even though the captain is Canadian) because the ship belongs to the US (we were in international waters) because it is registered in the US. Some of the "tough" coastguard men were throwing up once they boarded The Wayward Sun. Some of their teammates were making fun of them and taking photos or videos! They were looking for drugs. Eerr, isn't the drug traffic the othe way around, from Colombia to Panama, we thought? Finally the US Wanker 55 people left and we could keep going to the scorching heat of Cartagena.

By the way, I was unfortunate enough to run into these people again in a restaurant in Cartagena. Although I have to say that one of them (he always stayed aboard the dinghy and looked 14) was really nice and even got up his seat to greet us.

That was our last night together. Greg bought us supper and we had a great time. Greg is one of the nicest people I had the pleasure to meet. I wish him good winds! Aaaarrrrgggghhhh!