Friday, July 17, 2015

Travel Lessons

What makes a good traveler?

1.  You are open.  You say yes to whatever comes your way, whether it's shots of a putrid-smelling yak-butter tea or an offer for and Albanian toe-licking to remove volcano dust.  You say yes because it is the only way to really experience another place, and let it change you - the mark of a truly great trip.

2. You venture to the places where the tourists aren't, in addition to hitting the "must-sees".  If you are exclusively visiting places where bus-loads of Chinese are following a woman with a flag and a bullhorn, you're not doing it.

3. You are easygoing about sleeping/eating/comfort issues.  You don't change rooms 3 times, you'll take an overnight bus if you must, you can go without meat in India and without vegan soy gluten-free tempeh butter in Bolivia, and you can shut the hell up about it.

4.  You are aware of your travel companions, and of not being contrary to their desires/needs/schedules more often than necessary.  If you find that you want to do things differently than your companions, you happily tell them to go on without you in a way that does not sound like you're saying, "This is a test."

5.  You can figure it out.  How to read a map, hot to order when you can't read the menu, how to find a bathroom, a train, or a castle.

6.  You know what the trip is going to cost, and can afford it.  If you can't afford the trip, you don't go.  Conversely, if your travel companions can't afford what you can afford, you are willing to slum it in the name of camaraderie. 

7.  You are aware of cultural differences, and go out of your way to blend.  You don't wear booty shorts to the Western Wall on Shabbat.  You DO hike your bathing suit up your booty on the beach in Brazil.  Basically, just be aware to show the culturally correct amount of booty.

8.  You behave yourself when dealing with local hotel clerks/train operators/tour guides, etc.  Whether it's for selfish gain, helping the reputation of Americans traveling abroad, or simply the spreading of good vibes, you will make nice even when faced with cultural frustrations and repeated smug "not possible's".

9.  You are able to go with the flow in a spontaneous, non-uptight way if you stumble into something amazing that will bump some plan off the day's schedule.

Special notables:
* Don't book expensive trips if you want to meet fun, interesting people.
* Attractive/single/fun people almost exclusively stay at dumps.  If you're looking for them, don't go posh.
* Don't over-plan.
* Welcome the possibilities changed plans bring.

Lessons I have personally learned and experienced, articulated well by Kristin Newman.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Return to Real Life

Our flight home took us through Bogota, which we had missed out on during our drive North.  Got to take in some fun sights during our layover, experienced a fresh fruit hot tea, local food, museums, and a funicular ride!

Museum antics...
Flying in over Sedona and Flagstaff - almost home!
Our welcome home party!  Thank you for being here Heather and Molly!

I was given this poem early in our trip, and while I recognized it's meaning, it didn't really strike home as much as it does now.  We certainly loved every aspect of our journey and I know we will be ready for another excursion soon, but this poem does strike a chord of familiarity, being home.

How agreeable it is not to be touring Italy this summer,
wandering her cities and ascending her torrid hill towns.
How much better to cruise these local, familiar streets,
fully grasping the meaning of every road sign and billboard
and all the sudden hand gestures of my compatriots.

There are no abbeys here, no crumbling frescoes or famous
domes and there is no need to memorize a succession
of kings or tour the dripping corners of a dungeon.
No need to stand around a sarcophagus, see Napoleon’s
little bed on Elba, or view the bones of a saint under glass.

How much better to command the simple precinct of home
than be dwarfed by pillar, arch, and basilica.
Why hide my head in phrase books and wrinkled maps?
Why feed scenery into a hungry, one-eyed camera
eager to eat the world one monument at a time?

Instead of slouching in a café ignorant of the word for ice,
I will head down to the coffee shop and the waitress
known as Dot. I will slide into the flow of the morning
paper, all language barriers down,
rivers of idiom running freely, eggs over easy on the way.

And after breakfast, I will not have to find someone
willing to photograph me with my arm around the owner.
I will not puzzle over the bill or record in a journal
what I had to eat and how the sun came in the window.
It is enough to climb back into the car
as if it were the great car of English itself
and sounding my loud vernacular horn, speed off
down a road that will never lead to Rome, not even Bologna.

- Billy Collins

So with this, I close the chapter on this journey and click "FINISH" on this blog.  For awhile.  Look for a return and a new page....
Every place we camped in the van over the course of 9 months through South America.
Return Home Photo Album

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Colombia - the final leg of our journey

Welcome to Colombia! It is mixed feelings of sadness and excitement that we are nearing the end of our year-long journey through South America. It's difficult to believe it's been that long since we drove away from Flagstaff! We couldn't have asked for a better country to finish with. Colombia has been beautiful and some of the friendliest people on the planet.
We are excited to return home, with fresh perspective and curiosity to discover how this may have changed us...and therefor our life.
In each country we have seen unique transport systems to that country.  While each system has a resemblance in other countries, many are quite unique to a given one.  In Colombia, these overflowing buses that are painted in crazy colors,  absolutely loaded with stuff and people are everywhere.  Some play loud music, making them even more of a spectacle.

The other unique system we have not witnessed elsewhere was the people - mostly kids - hitching a ride on the back of the slow-moving semi's by grabbing hold while on their bikes, or jumping up on the bumper as the semi passed by.  Colombia is extremely mountainous with very steep roads.  Many people live high and work and play along the roads, so to get home it can be an arduous journey back up the mountains.  Traffic is heavy and on narrow, windy roads with hundreds of big trucks congesting the roads.  This is an easier way to make it back up the long journey to the top.  It's questionable which method is safer - grabbing a hold of these trucks or driving/riding/walking yourself, as we experienced!
And then there were the big trucks themselves...  Most were your normal average 1-2 trailers, but in Colombia someone let the trains off the tracks and put wheels on them!  These things are CRAZY!  There were 5-6 trailer trucks like this one that wouldn't fit in my lens!  I don't know what kind of license you would have to have to navigate one of these things, but I can't imagine what it takes to parallel park one and pass!
I am still able to whip up some mean food in the van using whatever we can find in local fare in the markets, though it's hard to compete with some of the amazing street food along our routes! 

This place in particular was a special find.  The meat was insanely delicious and the owners were insanely proud of it.  Their chests grew bigger as we closed our eyes with every bite. When were finished eating here, we bought another carton of meat to go with us in the van!

Many of our favorite restaurants are at gas stations and this one gets added to the list! 1. Killer Griller at the Texaco - a cutting edge meat shop in Bakersfield, CA 2. Whoa Nellie at the Mobile station at Tioga Pass and Lee Vining, CA run by a professional chef. 3. Tom's Thumb BBQ at the Chevron gas and car wash station in North Scottsdale, AZ. And now we add 4. El Llanerito parilla (open grill) at the Terpel gas station on Hwy 25 from Manizales to Medellin!
Cali, Colombia has a Route 66 sign.  What are the odds...?
Medellin has long been in our sights as one of our ultimate destinations.  It is a city revered by many as one of the friendliest, best in climate, most fun cities in Latin America.  Friends of ours have come to visit and didn't leave for 2 years, others came and wished they didn't have to leave.  Fuerza CrossFit is one of the reasons for a CrossFitter to love it here.  Great community, welcoming people who embody the spirit of the people in this city!  Thank you for your grand welcome and hospitality Lucho!

MDE Origen CrossFit is another solid gym in Medellin who showed us warm hospitality, inviting us to their workouts and their cafe, all created in what used to be a beautiful home!  Awesome place and cool to see the creativity that so many affiliates have in carving their gyms out of unique opportunities!

Botero’s Fat Sculptures in Medellin's Plaza Botero and art in the Museo de Antioquia

Fernando Botero is a Colombian artist and sculptor who has created his own style he calls "Boterismo", which exaggerates form, often representing political criticism or humor.  The above painting depicts the death of the drug lord, Pablo Escobar, freeing Columbia of his corruption and intimidation.

Botero's bulging people and animals are everywhere and make great photo ops.  The plaza and the museum were an entertaining afternoon seeing some unique styles and learning about the Colombian history through the lens of the artwork. 

In 2000 he created the museum and donated 128 pieces of art - most his own personal artwork and a few others from his own private collection of international artists.  I especially liked the above wall piece highlighted in the spotlight.  It's comprised of tiny little people carved out of wood to make a larger creative design through light and shadow.  It takes the perfection of all those individuals to create a bigger, intricate picture that can be appreciated from afar as well as from up close.
Google, Wikipedia, and museum literature

Botero isn't the only artist in this plaza.  El Laboratorio takes their coffee brewing very seriously!  Measuring, weighing, filtering, taking temperatures...all for the perfect, artisanal cup of joe!

Next stop - Brazil!  Yep...a quick weekend in São Paulo to teach some folks about fitness at CrossFit Sampa...and get my hair and nails done and my head suctioned by a full contingent of professional pamperers.  You know.  The usual.  So, what's new in your life?
Meanwhile, back in Medellin, Mike stumbled upon other avenues of fitness going down...awesome little park where people were out doing good stuff!

Tour of the mountainous region East of Medellin - the crazy lake of Guatapé, lush green mountains where we followed windy dirt roads, to a beautiful marble canyon where we explored caves and a tropical river in the rain forest.

Piedra del Peñol

740 steps lace the crack of this big mountain of rock all the way to the top!  A better stairmaster than any I have ever experienced!

Peñol-Guatapé lake, created by the nearby hydroelectric dam.  It has a 500 km shore-perimeter, making for a lot of lake-front property!

We made it!

Reserva Natural Cañon Del Río Claro

One of the the county’s most beautiful rivers, the Río Claro carves its way through a steep walled marble canyon where there is great swimming in the clear aqua water and rainforest hiking, as well as a 1km distance cave to explore - Caverna de los Guacharos - formed by the slow erosion of the river through the rock walls. Stalactites hang down from the ceiling, and hundreds of bat-like birds called the guacharo.
Our caving team!  We had a great hike through the thick rainforest to access the entrance to the cave.

Exit from the cave - slide right out and into the river below!

Our last Latin America seminar for awhile...sorry Adriana!!!  It's time to go home, but we sure love our crew down here so we will be back soon!  Thanks to CrossFit PTY for a great send-off!

Aaaah.  The Caribbean coast - our final days spent here in Santa Marta.  Not a bad way to make our exit!
Delicious street food made by the locals, using whatever is at their disposal to create the tools they need.  At this little cart she was the master at making homemade arepas, handing them off to him to quick fry in a bucket of oil. The oil was heated over homemade charcoal inside the steel tire rim with rebar legs, with temperature regulated by a home floor fan. He handed them back once they had swelled open a space she could fill with eggs and veggies. Back they went into the bucket of oil to finish cooking and get a nice crispy exterior with a yummy eggy interior.

CrossFit Santa Marta  was our home for 5 days!  Thank you to the coaches  - Kevin, Karen, and Jefferson - and to Juan José for being such great friends, hosts, and guides!
Colombian fruit we haven't seen elsewhere -
Mamoncillo. About the size of a large seedless grape with a leathery green skin that protects an orangey-yellow sweet-tart fruit that encases a large pit. To eat it, you pop the skin open with your fingernail and push the rest the fruit out, then eat the soft yellow fruit off the pit.

Guama, a pod fruit. A guama pod is normally about as long as your forearm and is bright or dark green in color. Once you pop the pod open, there is a row of little cotton balls wrapped around a dark seed. They are sweet, slightly furry pieces of fruit wrapped around large dark wooden seed.  One of my favs!

Parque Tayrona and El Pueblito

I really can't describe this area any better than Lonely Planet's words... "One of Colombia's most popular national parks, Tayrona grips the Caribbean coast in a jungly bear hug at the foot of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta."  There you have it.

The ancient village and huts of El Pueblito was a quiet place in the park, where not many brave the steep, bouldered trail up the mountains to access it.  Most of the village is buried in the jungle that has overgrown it, but there are still a few native huts that are maintained to see.

A great day of hiking and running trails and beach, seeing (and hearing) big Howler monkeys (aptly named for the eerie noise they make, as you can hear in the 2nd video below.  If you don't know what it is, all you want to do is run far far away when you are walking through the forest and first hear it.) and the smaller Titi monkeys swinging through the forest was a very special day. We can return home feeling complete now that we have experienced these guys out in the wild.

The ficus tree (Strangler Fig) has hollow spines that reach out from it's trunk.  Amongst MANY interesting facts about it, it's the rainforest telephone.  If you strike the spines with a rock, the sound can be heard as far as a kilometer.  Have to watch for the ribbons of crazy vines!  They'll reach out and grab an ankle if you're not careful!

The burros are ridden and used to bring supplies up to the people who live in the mountains and villages.  Their saddles are made to haul and hang things from the wooden crosspieces, while still being able to carry a person in the middle.
Beach icons...
The true workhorses of the animal kingdom... Watch how the ones heading downstream are carrying something, the ones headed upstream are empty and obviously headed out on a mission to get more.

Scenes of Cartagena

A very friendly and beautiful Caribbean city where the heart is Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, full of old-world houses and store fronts.  We wandered the streets and enjoyed the architecture, food, atmosphere, and watching the people and vibrant nightlife.  Definitely recommend visiting this Colombian city!

Not the hoi palloi...
We were serenaded with a rap performance by these kids passing by on the street. They definitely had some moves and their shtick all worked out!

After 3 days of sitting and waiting and sitting and waiting for the slow cogs of bureaucracy to turn (poor Mike at the shipyards, me at the hotel) ...all for a couple pieces of paper to be filled out, a couple signatures, and an inspection of the van, it finally was accepted into the shipyards and headed off to the docks to ship to Houston.  Good bye van!  We'll see you in the US in a week! It has been a GREAT home and taken us on a truly wonderful adventure!

And we are. The end of a year.  The destination on this part of our journey. Next stop - Bogota and then the U.S. of A. and all that awaits us at home...