Still alive, Still traveling

2 Sep

Yeah, that’s right, this blog may have been dormant but that doesn’t mean I have. Check out a new and improved version at https://itravel4frisbee.blog/, or if you’re feeling really adventurous, you can even check out https://basquinginthesun.com/.

 

Kisumu Frisbee Club, last practice before competing in world club championships in Cincinnati.

Scuba diving? Yeah, sure, why not?

16 Apr

When we got back to Santa Marta I happened to be going to the same part of town as two of the Germans, Lorin and Janina. My plan was to just walk back to the center, check in to another hotel for a couple of days, and make it back to Bogota sometime before my flight back to Quito on Tuesday. But they had other plans, they were going to Taganga, which is only 20 minutes away but is full or gringo tourists and dive shops. I had been there, mainly to check out the beach, but wasn’t interested in being in such a touristy town. But they were going for the scuba diving and invited me to tag along, which is exactly what I did.

I ended up getting along with both of them really well, and I kind of replaced their third amigo that was in the van with us but was going off on his own adventure. Lorin and Janina were both college students from Berlin who were in Colombia for a few weeks as part of an end of the course excursion. Their travels with their fellow classmates reminded me a lot of my experience in Sevilla with my fellow Texas Tech classmates. They were done with that though and now travelling on their own. Neither one of them spoke much Spanish (their trip was more culturally and history based than linguistically) so I was happy to be their unofficial translator.

Janina was an experienced diver and really wanted to do some diving, so we spent our fist day looking for a dive shop. Turns out Lorin was not very interested in diving and after thinking about it for a while I decided it would be an amazing experience I could not turn down. It was only going to cost me $70 and seeing as I had no experience whatsoever I thought when would I have this opportunity again? I mean what other country besides Colombia lets you do things like that with no experience? So we got up early the next day, I watched a 45-minute instructional video, we geared up and hopped on a boat. All together there were six of us on the boat, two instructors, two beginners, and two advanced divers. The other beginner and I were dropped off at the ‘playa de ensenanza,’ or ‘learning beach’ with one of the instructors, Ruben. He went over the basics again, this time in Spanish (the video I watched was in English) and we got in the water. At first we just dipped our heads under water and got a feel for breathing under water. Now for somebody who has never tried it before, let me tell you that it is a very different sensation and takes some getting used to. The body is not used to it and at first it is very uncomfortable. We are not meant to breathe underwater! But I got the hang of it and eventually Ruben and I went about ten feet down and he did some tests with me. The first test was to remove the mouthpiece while continuously exhaling, then returning the mouthpiece and breathing in. After that we did the same thing, only this time I had to completely let go of the mouthpiece, then find the cord it was attached to, then returning it to my mouth. The third and final test was to purposely fill up my goggles with water, to practice removing it. This is done by looking up and applying pressure to the top part of the mask, then a strong exhale from the nose. The air pressure pushes the water out of the bottom of the mask.

After I successfully completed these three tasks Ruben and I swam around the bottom for about twenty minutes until we ran out of oxygen. The poor girl that went with us didn’t go with us because she just couldn’t get the hang of it. She was waiting for us with everyone else up at their cabin, where lunch was served. Lunch was bologna and cheese sandwiches and some Coca-Cola. The main thing I remember about it were all the flies, they were everywhere. But it was actually a really nice spot a few hundred steps up from the beach. We actually could have stayed there for the night, but we had a plane to catch the next day. Janina was waiting for us up there and excitedly told me all about her first dive.

After a relaxing lunch, we set out for our next dive. This Marco took the three of us that knew what we were doing (I sort of knew) down. I enjoyed that dive even more because there were four of us. We saw all sorts of fish, oceanic plants and corral reefs. The reefs are supposedly what make this part of Colombia special, because they are so close to land. That’s good for beginners like me because we don’t have to go very deep to see amazing things!

Overall I am really happy that I went diving. It’s great to look back and say that I’ve done it. But the truth is it was not easy. It was very different getting used to breathing underwater and trusting the equipment. It’s something that I’d like to do again, but I also don’t think I’m going to become a diving fanatic. People are just not meant to be underwater, but I guess were not meant to fly either and that doesn’t stop me from flying to all these amazing places!!

Off to la costa de Colombia

13 Apr

So on Thursday, March 8 Genny had a flight back to L.A. and I had a flight to Cartagena, Colombia. Cartagena is a glorious old city on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. It is the fifth largest city in Colombia with just under 1 million people. It has a lot of history, both pre and post Spanish. Even though it’s on the coast, it’s not known for its beaches. The `centro historico´ is what makes Cartagena stand out. I stayed in a nice hostel called La Casona just outside of old town for two nights. It was different to explore a city all by myself. It was nice to go at my own pace, set my own hours and see exactly what I wanted to see. At the same time, I missed conversation and camaraderie. I found myself striking up conversations with random people in restaurants or really anywhere else I encountered friendly people. I had a great time there and just wish I could post my pictures! I´ll be home in 3 days and have the ability to upload and share them then.

After a few days in Cartagena, I took a 3-hour bus ride to the smaller Caribbean coast town of Santa Marta. Santa Marta had a different vibe than Cartagena. It is supposedly the oldest European settled city remaining city in South America and that’s what draws tourists to it. It was an important area to the natives as well, before the Spanish came and changed everything. It is just west of Tayrona National Park, which is an amazing place in its own right. Santa Marta does have better beaches than Cartagena, giving it more of a beach town feeling. I surprisingly didn´t get that in Cartagena where there was more of a big city feeling. So I spent some time walking around el centro de Santa Marta, more time sitting on the beach, then finished my day off with a good meal, a book, and an early night. Interesting enough my hostel happened to be in the part of the town that supported the world’s oldest profession. Needless to say it made my walk home interesting, but I just ignored everyone as I walked down the two-block strip to my hostel.

I went to a few different beaches while I was there, including the beach at Taganga. Taganga will come into play later on with an unexpected return, but for now I just hung out there by myself, soaking up some rays (don´t worry mom, I wore sunscreen :)). I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Santa Marta and would definitely recommend it to anybody travelling around Colombia.

My next stop was el pueblito de Minca. Minca’s a small mountain village in the jungle, about 45 minutes from Santa Marta. Part of what brought me to Minca was the well-placed flyers and advertisements they have in Santa Marta. They’re smart, they know the tourist path and advertise well. There’s also a nice write-up about it in my lonely planet book. I was drawn to the fact that it was a cooler mountain town with hiking and other outdoor activities to offer, it was a break from beaches and would remind me of my home in Yosemite a little.

Minca was an experience. I ended up staying at the Sans Suoci Hostel, which is a ‘finca’ or a small farm owned by a nice German fellow who’s been there for about 15 years. He was a cool guy to talk to, as were the other guests there. I was starting to realize that there were probably more German tourists there than any other group of people. The main guy I talked to and hung out with was a German guy whose name I can’t remember, but man was he an interesting character. He was basically a German bum. He told me about how he did not have a job because he didn’t agree with capitalism and didn’t want to work for the man, so he lived for free on a farm in Germany and was an expert dumpster diver. Where he got the money to travel around S. America I don’t know, but he was an interesting guy to hang out with for a few days.

I spent my days there just hiking around and getting to know the area. One of my favorite places that I found was called ‘el pozo azul.’ It was just a little swimming hole in a nice secluded spot under a waterfall. Great spot to do what I did a lot of down there, read and relax! I did also have a nice dinner at a Spanish tapas restaurant that just happened to be in the town. The town was tiny and there were literally three restaurants in the whole pueblo, and one of them was owned and run by a Spanish guy from Malaga. He was surprised as everyone else was that I could have a full-on conversation with him and loved hearing my stories about Malaga. That didn’t stop him from giving me the smallest portions of food ever though; I ended up eating twice that night.

After sleeping outside in a hammock for a few nights, I was ready to move on and go back to the beach. I would also highly recommend Minca on a Colombian tour, especially if you want to take a break from all the vendors and hippies in Taganga. The ride back to Santa Marta was definitely an interesting one. There aren’t really any buses that go to Minca because it’s such a small town and the road isn’t great or even very big in certain places. So there are Mototaxis as an option, or if you’re lucky enough to find someone driving down, they’ll usually take you for just a few thousand pesos (just a few $ ☺). Coincidentally, there were six of us that checked out of the hostel at the same time, so the owner suggested we all share a ride down the hill. We ended up sharing a van with about seven other locals, cramming ten of us in the back of the van with all of our bags on top. It was incredibly hot and stuffy in the van and somebody in there hadn’t showered in a while. We made it down the hill, but it was a looong ride.

¿Que tiene el resto de Colombia, fuera de Bogotà?

11 Apr

After the tournament I didn’t have much of a plan. I had a few ideas and my new friends were all about giving me ideas, but nothing concrete was established. I decided to leave the next few days up to Genny since she was leaving on Thursday. We pondered taking a trip out of Bogotá but decided to stay put until she leaves. It had been a crazy month and a half and since we only had 3 days before she left any kind of trip felt like it would be rushed. We were very comfortable at Los Andes Hostel and decided to just take it easy the next few days, explore Bogotá a little more, and then I would do something on my own after she left. So that’s exactly what we did, and it was great. We, well her more than me, got some shopping done, explored even more of the city (it´s a huge city with countless things to do, +7.5 million people and +8,600 ft. elevation), hung out with our new friends, and just plain relaxed. Isn´t that what vacation is all about anyway?

On Wednesday I was still trying to decide what I was going to do the rest of my 1.5 weeks in Colombia. There was no shortage of places to go, Medellín, Santander (self-proclaimed adventure capital of S. America), Cali, as well as an assortment of places on the coast. Mostly the northern Caribbean coast, but the Pacific coast was also an option. I just had to narrow it down as to where I wanted to be. I was mostly looking at buses and it was going to cost about $100,000 Colombian Pesos ($55 USD) and 18 hours to get to the coast and at least $50,000 COP to get anywhere else. So Genny suggested I look at flights. I found one for just a little more than a bus ticket ($160,000 COP or $80 USD) and thought why not, I’m going to the coast! I didn´t buy a return ticket, mainly because I didn´t know how I would get home. I knew one of two things would happen: I was either going to buy a return flight later on, or take a bus home stopping at various places on the way home so I´m not on the stupid thing for 18 hours straight. There was talk of another frisbee tournament in Medellín the weekend of March 16-18 which happened to be the weekend before I went back to Ecuador. It wasn’t a sure thing though, so I wanted to keep all of my options open. So on Thursday, March 8 Genny had a flight back to L.A., and I had a flight to Cartagena, Colombia.

Ultimate Frisbee al estilo Colombiano!

23 Mar

Today is Friday March 23, 2012 and my trip is coming to a close. I am back in Quito, staying at Lou and Jhuly´s house again. This time it´s a little different though because they are not here; they are both back in Yosemite. Again someone has shown great generosity towards me letting me house sit for them while they are gone. I go home in five days. There is a lot of catching up to do, let me start with the ultimate frisbee tournament I played in a few weeks ago:
I had been practicing with my new team Matanga for about two weeks at this point and was feeling fairly confident in my abilities again. I was back to 100% stomach wise and my conditioning I will put at about 85-90%. I of course could have been in better shape, but I was running around and playing lots of points sin problema. The tournament was supposed to be Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but our team opted to only play Saturday and Sunday, which ended up coming back to hurt us in the end. Our captain was under the impression that we would play the games scheduled for Friday on Saturday, but we ended up forfeiting those two games. He decided that because a few of our players would not have made the Friday games. So Saturday morning we started 0-2 before any discs started flying. It´s all good though, we´re just here to have a good time! We won our first game on ´ultimate point,´ which means we were tied 9-9 as time expired and it´s a game to ten. We were overall happy with our performance, as I personally was with the way I played. We then had another game as soon as the first one ended. We ended up losing this game by two; I think we could have won, but we didn’t. No excuses right? The team we lost to ended up coming in 2nd place losing in what was a very close final.

After losing that second game, it virtually made it virtually impossible for us to go into the upper pools, meaning we couldn’t finish in the top 8. Oh well, we ended up finishing in 9th place, and if it weren’t for us forfeiting our first two games Friday, I think we could have competed for the title. Either way, we had a lot of fun. Saturday the weather was typical Bogotá weather, meaning it would be sunny and hot for a short while, then start sprinkling, followed by a five minute torrential downpour, back to being sunny and repeat.

We had one more game that day, which we won by three or four points. Genny, who was back in town by this point, showed up right as that game started and got her first taste of what ultimate frisbee is all about! She did take some pictures and as soon as I get back I´ll get her pics from her and post them online for everyone to see J.

After the games on Saturday there was a party on the fields. Not a-typical at all for a frisbee tournament, one thing that makes it the best sport in the world! We had some food, a few beers and just hung out enjoying each other’s company. There were some entertaining events taking place as well, like the slip-and-slide relay race. What is a slip-and-slide relay race you might ask? Well, each team had four people. The first person would slide down the slide, chug a beer, and as soon as he or she was done drinking the beer, the next person on the team would do the same. Pretty simple and quite entertaining. I would have participated, but it was damn cold outside and sliding down a slip-and-slide did not seem like fun at all. But I appreciated everyone who did it for our enjoyment. Crazy frisbee people.

We ended up going home around 10 pm, cramming 13 or 14 people into two different cars.  I passed out, woke up, and did it all over again on Sunday. It was a fantastic time and I finished the tournament with a lot more friends than when I started. I loved playing with my team and hope that that wasn´t the last time I get to play with them. There was talk of a tournament last weekend in Medellín, but it never happened, it was pushed back to a later date. After the tournament a few of us went to El Corral which has some of the most famous hamburgers in Colombia, then said our good-byes and went our respective ways. I think I fell asleep around 8 pm that night, but it was a fantastic weekend!!

Alone, but not solo in Bogotá

13 Mar

Thursday Genny and I had plans of our own, very different plans. After breakfast, she took a flight to Cartagena, a beautiful northern coastal city with a lot of history, close to some nice beaches. I woke up starting a new part of my journey, the solo part. It was great having G as a travel buddy for a month, but at the same time I was looking forward to the challenge of trekking around Colombia by myself. I wasn´t sure exactly where I was going to stay, but had a few options. One of those options was my friend Iván´s house, but he hadn´t given me a 100% yes yet. After asking what my plans were, he told me he´d talk to his family and let me know mañana if I could stay there or not. So I took the initiative and made a reservation at a hostel in Northern Bogotá. After seeing the northern part of the city the day before, I new I wanted to move to that part of town. It was closer to frisbee, closer to my new friends, and overall it was just a nicer,  newer part of town.

When I called Iván the next day and told him I made a reservation at a hostel and didn´t want to be any kind of inconvenience, he said that wasn´t necessary and I should stay with him, his parents, brother, sister, dog and cat at their house. I graciously accepted and made plans to meet up with him again by his office after work. I left my bag with the hostel I´d been staying at for the day and went out to enjoy Bogotá. I explored downtown Bogotá, stopping at a number of different museums, churches and other similar places you would expect to find in the old part of town. Some of my favorites were el museo del oro, museo militar y el museo de la policia. It was a good, productive day.

After exploring Bogotá, I met back up with Iván and he took me to my new home (for a week :)). I first met his mother, Marta, and brother, Juan Sebastián. I could tell right away that they were good people. I ended up crashing on a mattress on Ivan´s floor, but that was perfect for me. That night we just hung out at his place and I got to meet his family. They were all pleasantly surprised an American could hold down a conversation in Spanish; they had all sorts of stories to tell me. Marta made everybody a wonderful, typical Colombian dinner of carne asada, beans and rice, and I went to bed happy.

I stayed at their house for an entire week, until Genny got back from the coast. They were all very generous people and I truly appreciate them allowing me to stay there and get to know them for a week. It made my trip so much easier and I am grateful for the help and generosity they showed towards me. They went out of their way to show me things, take me places, and even refused to let me pay for things. I ended up getting them some presents and invited them all to California, so who knows maybe one day we will have some Colombian visitors in Cali!!

Hemos llegado a Colombia!!!

6 Mar

Tuesday night we arrived in Bogotá, Colombia. Genny and I found each other easily, which was a pleasant surprise. She arrived in a little earlier and in a different terminal, but the timing couldn’t have been better, I spotted her right away. We hopped in a cab and went straight to our hostel. Our first hostel was called Platypus Bogotá and was located in the Candelaria district of Bogotá. We stayed there because it was a place that Genny had stayed at before. It was a fine hostel, but the truth is I wouldn’t recommender it to fellow travellers. The hostel was fine, but the neighbourhood was not necessarily the best. We didn’t feel comfortable walking around the Candelaria, especially at night. Now don’t get me wrong, the Candelaria is a must see part of Bogotá. It has the most history, the most churches, the most museums, and literally is where the city was founded. That being said, my recommendation would be to stay somewhere further up north and commute to the Candelaria for the day. I understand that it has a fun night life, but I’m not super concerned about that. And in the short time I’ve been here, I’ve heard of at least 4 or 5 travellers getting robed in the area. To me, it is just not worth it.

Anyway, the first night we didn’t do too much. We checked in, went to the Macarena district for dinner, then came home and passed out. The next day we woke up and went out exploring our new turf. It was great to just get a feel for the city. We had a nice lunch at an Israeli restaurant, then I took a cab up north to meet up with my friend Iván and go play some frisbee! I know you might be asking yourself why didn’t I try some local Colombian food? Well the answer is I’m travelling with a vegetarian and there are not a lot of veggy options in a typical Colombian diet. Not to worry, I will have plenty of time to explore the cuisine.

So as I mentioned, this was my first Colombian frisbee experience. I wasn’t worried, but I knew that I wasn’t at 100% for a number of different reasons. First of all, I haven’t played much frisbee at all since I played at the world championships in Prague 2010. So I was a little out of frisbee shape. Besides that I’ve been travelling for about a month and in that time I hadn’t had much exercise at all, just lots of good food and a few long nights. Then on top of that, I was just finally getting over a stomach bug and getting my appetite back. It seems like it happens to everybody, but I definitely caught something somewhere in Ecuador. Just the body getting used to the new environment. I wasn’t stuck in bed or anything, just didn’t have much of an appetite for about a week. I’m very over it now though, and am back to enjoying food :).

Anyway, I took a cab up north and met my friend Iván at his office and he drove me to practice. As expected, I got my ass kicked, but in a good way. It felt good, and forcing myself to exercise I really do believe finally pushed me over the final hump of my stomach problems and brought back my appetite. It was a tough practice for me; it was a very physical practice filled with more drills and cardiovascular exercises than actually playing, but I think I proved I have some frisbee skills, just that I was a little out of shape. We only ended up playing about 5 actual points before we got the lights turned out on us, and I’m happy to say I recorded a Callahan (Paragraph #2) in one of the two points I played. Overall it was a success and I was happy to meet my new teammates. I had some work to do, but I was looking forward to it. We had a tournament coming up in a week and a half, and I was committed to being ready!