Summerized Blog

Home Again

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USA! USA! USA!, as Homer might chant…

We’re safely in Oregon now, after 27 hours in planes and airports from Cartagena to Bogota to Miami to Las Vegas to Portland. I’m happy to be back home, watching such all-American tableaux as "girl and her dog in the back yard."

This has been an amazing nine months, and I cannot imagine spending 274 solid days of travel and adventure with anyone other than Jason. It was such an opportunity to bond, learn and grow together, and one of the best things I’ve done in my life. Thank you Jason, for being such a wonderful husband and travel companion.

There are a couple other people I need to thank, for helping this trip come off so smoothly:
– Eva, for giving Saffron the best care possible
– Mom and Dad for storing the fourteen boxes of stuff we sent back
– Especially Mom, for sorting all that mail, and sending the occasional care package
– Everyone else on Saffron’s emergency care list (Dan, Jen and Paul)
– Dave and Michele, for letting us forward our wedding gifts to their apartment
– Fidel, for keeping my computer drive safe
– Britt, for receiving the package at work
– All the wonderful people we met on the road, who gave us impromptu tours, fed us local meals, and otherwise helped make this such a meaningful trip

Thanks everyone!

Last Stop, Caribbean Colombia

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Cartagena is a colonial town on Colombia’s Caribbean coastline. Its center is on a little island by the shore, and is surround by a massive fortress wall.

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The colonial streets are wonderful, colorful and Caribbean. Fuscia and purple flowers bloomed from vines covering the buildings. And the city feels really vibrant and lived in — tourism is there, but hasn’t taken over. To a North American, it feels like an undiscovered little gem.

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Finishing our exodus in style (and to purge the bedbugs from memory) we stayed in a great little boutique hotel, with only three rooms. Though Spanish colonial, it was decorated with some Indonesian, Thai and perhaps Turkish objects, which worked well. And the little rooftop dipping pool was great for scorching humid days. It occurred to us that one of these would make Brooklyn much more livable.

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I was kind of sick most of the time in Cartagena, so I took it easy. At the Museum of the Spanish Inquisition, Jason tried out the rack.

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A sloth lived in the large old tree outside the museum.

Local food included lots of fish in coconut sauce and fried plantains.

After a couple days, we rode buses to a small seaside fishing village, Taganga, for a little diving. The diving wasn’t thrilling, but it was nice to get back into the water after three months. Local children borrowed my mask and snorkel under the beach, and turned endless somersaults underwater.

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We spent the last days of our nine month honeymoon back in Cartagena, relaxing. The last excursion of the trip was to see the large Spanish fort outside the walled city.

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Then it was time to pack up for the last time.

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Bogota

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Our second attempt to enter Colombia was not thwarted, nor was Jason detained or probed.

Bogota was much more charming than one might expect. In North America, the only mass-media portrayals of Bogota and Colombia seem to be of drug smugglers, guns, or chicken-infested podunk airports. We saw none of that.

Our hotel was in Zona T, one of several trendy areas in the city, and I’m happy to report it was much more pleasant than our lodging in Lima. Venturing into Zona T at night (yes, it is safe), we were reminded of South Beach. Light strobed and music blared from trendy clubs, bars and restaurants. Sushi, Thai, fusion, ceviche, and other New York or Miami staples were on offer. And wealthy, fashionable city dwellers sported tight jeans, visible thongs, stilettos and wraparound sunglasses. Shops sold Versace and Diesel. A local Harley Davidson club showed off hogs on a closed off street.

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It was as surprising to see a Harley Davidson club in Colombia as it was in Indonesia. Colombia has some very cosmopolitan areas.

The next day, we cabbed it to the city center. Breakfast was at an old cafeteria type place, with a lot of elderly regulars and decaying diner decor that hadn’t changed since maybe the forties. We were obvious gringos, but it was a fun experience. Small empanadas were delicious — meat and potatoes inside a fried corn pastry. Every South American country we’ve been to has its own ways of making empanadas; for instance, we had giant, mutant dinner-plate sized ones in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

We walked around the pretty colonial buildings a bit, though police guards with massive guns (okay we did see a few guns in Bogota) made it feel less jolly. The Iglesia del Carmen is reputed to be Bogota’s prettiest.

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The Museo del Oro has the best and largest collection of pre-Colombian gold in the Americas. It was quite a treat to see so many pieces, and apparently they’re all Colombian.

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Hundreds of years ago, the local goldsmiths were very sophisticated, and knew all the methods current goldsmiths use, such as welding, lost wax casting, electroplating, etc. After we’d learned about the richness of Andean culture in Bolivia and Peru, it was surprising that Colombia contained so many other ancient cultures, with their own unique traditions.

Lunch was ajiacos santafere├▒os, a delicious, thick chicken stew.

That afternoon, we met up with my friend Camilo’s cousin, Sergio, and his wife Vanessa. They were kind enough to show us some different parts of the city that afternoon and evening. We started by driving up into one of the mountains that borders the city, for a nice view, and some morcilla (traditional blood sausage), chorizo, and local beer mixed with a local soft drink. We could see some housing developments; wealthy locals live on the hill to get away from the city.

Back in Bogota, Vanessa pointed out the local bullring, which is kind of embraced by curved brick apartment towers, the Torres del Parque, by Colombian modernist architect Rogelio Salmona. The photo doesn’t do them justice.

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Conceptually, they’re interesting buildings; the curvilinear brick forms were an innovation, and their positioning around the bullring gave residents box office seats. Salmona is generally known for his unconventional brick structures; in fact, much Bogota architecture is based on bricks.

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After drinking some of the local sugarcane-based firewater, aguardiente, at a fun bar with a toys-from-the-Salvation Army aesthetic, we had a nice dinner in a colonial neighborhood in North Bogota.

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The next day I pretty much stayed in bed with the flu.

Bedbugs in Lima

Our initial attempt to enter Colombia was, bizarrely, thwarted by Jason’s status as an Irish national. Apparently there was a little problem with IRA training camps in Colombia a few years back. So now, Irish people must obtain a visa prior to entering the country. Jason did not know this.

Thus, our flight from Cuzco to Bogota was truncated at Lima, but the fun didn’t end there. Bed-bugs plagued our drafty Lima hotel, and festooned the backs of my arms, calves, midriff and eyelid with about forty bites over three days. Bed-bug bites are itchier, redder, and longer-lasting than mosquito bites. And they create quite a visual effect with a white bikini, as I was to learn in Taganga, Colombia.

Despite the evidence, Jason theorized these were all undiscovered mosquito bites from our trip to the Manu jungle, and not recent acquisitions, and that there was no reason to switch hotels. His position changed only on the third night, noticing his own pustule-ridden ankles.

The combination of parasites, trips to the Colombian embassy, and a low-level illness weren’t conducive to seeing much of Lima, unfortunately. And we didn’t take many photos, as both our cameras had broken by that time. But it was nice to get a little feeling for Lima. I’d just read two books by Peruvian writer, Mario Vargas Llosa, set in and around Lima, and it was resonant to see a few of the places he talked about.

Lima itself is was shrouded in a light grey fog for the whole three days. Apparently it’s like that for much of the year. There were some charming colonial buildings, though I can’t claim to have seen that many of them. The Larco Museum contained an excellent collection of pre-Colombian gold, silver, pottery and erotic art (naturally, the erotic art exhibit is the most popular).

And one night we happened to stumble into an Italian restaurant that was home to a local celebrity chef. All through this journey we’ve talked about the various markers of levels of wealth or industrialization in a country (presence of local tourism, concepts of fashion, methods of construction, etc), but here was one we hadn’t thought of — the capacity to support celebrity chefs.

Amazingly, Jason actually received his Colombian visa in a day and a half — much quicker than estimated. Even more surprising, there were no penalties for our flight schedule changes. We’d actually saved money in Lima. Though somehow that wasn’t making me jubilant.