26-11-10

075 / City Lost, Favorite country Found

075 / City Lost, Favorite country Found

After a week city tripping (Bogota, Medellin, Cartagena), we realized quickly that urban tourism in this country missed one of Colombia’s vital dimensions, composed of impenetrable jungles, cocaine labs, unpredictable rivers and unknown bites of all sorts. We needed our fix of outdoor adventure, we needed to get our backs sweaty, we needed our boots dirty… There was only one place to go...

We set of for Santa Marta, on the Caribbean coast, to get into one of South America’s most notorious treks, the 5 day hike to Cuidad Perdida (Lost City), deep in the tropical rainforest. Only discovered in the 70’s, this place can actually still give you the impression that YOU are the one who discovered it.

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After a bumpy ride in an old Toyota (who was produced before the Lost City was discovered) of about 2 hours, we arrived at the start of the trip. Our troop looked a bit like the first episode of a Big Brother reality TV show. The stereotypical Irish dude with a big smile, and no equipment. A Mexican couple that was afraid to go over 1km/h. A young Dutch couple in love with being in love. The British lawyer who was surviving the financial crisis pushing his limits. Y. The lot.

During the first hour of the 5 day track, we were naively eager to keep our shoes dry during the numerous river crossings. The one after the other, we realized the uselessness of the risks we were taking when we jumped from rock to rock. Full time wet boots & shoes would be our part for as long as we were submitted to nature’s law in the Colombian jungle.

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At night, we were fighting mosquitoes with all things imaginable: candles, socks, DEET, special soap, randomly slapping around. Exhausted, we fell in a deep sleep in surprisingly comfortable hammocks. I discovered that in a world without electricity, people do tend to adopt the chicken biorhythm fast: waking up at 5.30AM and going to bed at 8PM. In the morning, our Irish buddy traditionally spent 20 minutes getting the ants out of his shoes before we took off for the day.

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We crossed everybody’s girlfriend favorite animals (mainly spiders and some snakes), every family favorite neighbor (indigenous people) and every Red Bull fish favorite hangout (white water rivers). The main constant was the pack of mud that sticked with the determination gladiators at our boots.

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During a little side expedition, we were (illegally) taken to a former cocaine laboratory that employed about a 100 families in its hay days. 450kg of coca leaves processed with petrol, potassium, baked soda, dirty water and a dozen of other disgusting chemicals end up in a 90% pure pasta. It’s a crime that something so filthy can look so bright and innocently white in the end. All sniffers, come and have a look… 

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After 3 days walking, we reached the lost city. It was beautiful, however dwarfed by the beauty of the hike towards it. We bargained with our guides to accelerate and do the trip in 4 days, because we wanted to feel some aching muscles, and after a day of speeding, we got what we signed up for, sour feet.

The last days of our Colombia adventure, we spend in a lazy fishing village with the danceable name of Taganga. Getting up in the morning was the challenge, eating fresh grilled fish on the beach the reward. Life here consists of drinking beer, perfecting the art of polygamy, and drinking beer while talking about this love multitasking activity. In the cities, in the jungle or at the beach, I think Colombia is a cool as its ice vendors or senior basketball players. Dunkin'.

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04:37 Gepost door Wouter* | Permalink | Commentaren (1) |  Facebook |

16-11-10

074 / Colom Knowledge

074 / Colom Knowledge

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Did you know…

… that Colombia is named after Colombus, who never actually visited the place

… that we are more than happy to do this in his place

… that we arrived in this country during one of the wettest wet seasons of the century

… that that also happened to me in Delhi, earlier in September

… that I start to think that it has something to do with me

… that I should apply for a high paid job in the Sahara desert

… that this would help my declining travel liquidity

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… that in Colombia nothing is what it seems

… that even innocent statues have a sexual twist

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… that the election of Miss Colombia is more important than any other event

… that we were at the official presentation of the 25 celebrated finalists in Cartagena

… that every potential Miss has on average 4 chirurgically enhanced parts on her body

… that even the plastic models in the shop windows receive the same surgery

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… that Botero made a statue, that brings sexual fortune if you touch a special (non chirurgically enhanced) part

… that I thought by myself “can never hurt to touch it”

… that a local woman a tad angrily explained that this only applies if women touch it

… that I don’t know how to make up for this mistake

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… that in Medellin, once the world’s crime capital, one extension of the subway is a topnotch cable car

… that Pablo Escobar would have been proud of this progress

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... that colonial Cartagena makes Bruges looks like a grey suburb of Dusseldorf

… that her buildings are of a brightness that makes you smile, even on a Monday morning

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… that we’re leaving for a 5 days jungle hike to the Lost city as of tomorrow

… that you are welcome to call the police if we’re not back in two weeks

... that that won’t be necessary, because Colombia is safer than LA or Clichy

… that this first date with Latin America is as promising as could be

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05:14 Gepost door Wouter* | Permalink | Commentaren (0) |  Facebook |

08-11-10

072 / H2wOooow

072 / H2WOOOOW

 I love Water” - No, this is not an illusionary, self-motivational statement an alcoholic whispers to himself while he desperately gazes through the Budweiser mirror in the first bar he visits after rehab.

I love Water” - Nor is this is not a narcissistic claim of Belgian traveler who got used to people who mispronounce his first name.

I love Water” - These three words summarize best my visit to New Zealand… And I’m not discriminating. I love it liquid, I love it icy, and I love it when it’s merely clouds. I love it blue like my little nephew’s eyes, I love it mysteriously black and I love it eye burning white. I love it hot in steamy pools and cold in my face while crossing a musical mountain river. New Zealand naturally masters the art of crafting and showing water in its best and most complete features.

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 On the West Coast of the South Island, I participated in a daylong trek over and through a centuries old glacier, mighty Franz Joseph. Once our crampons tightly wrapped to our waterproof boots, we explored 60m deep crevasses, dug stairs over its ever-changing ice mountains, we discovered a newly formed ice cave… I had several moments where I had to catch my breath, not exactly knowing if it was because of the enduring effort of climbing or because of the stunning scenery that surrounds you everywhere.

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When a couple of days later, we drove further south, we took a sidewalk to visit the notorious mirror lakes. The water is so still, and the bottom so dark, that it reflects perfectly the sky. This event only reaches full impact when the rebellious ducks on the lake don’t move, when there are few clouds and when the photographer is skilled. When these three conditions meet, a picture perfect picture is born. But since I’m not a picture perfect photographer (I can blame some clouds, but not the ducks), I toke an almost perfect picture of the picture perfect picture that was for sale.

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After a brief stop in Queenstown, I took off to Te Anau, to walk one of the Great Walks (cfr. Hong Kong post). The Kepler Track is a 65km, three day hike into NZ’s Southern Alps. To be in line with the country theme, a vicious avalanche (water…) blocked the track halfway, so I could only made a roundtrip to the first base, with an overnight stay in Luxmore hut. The walk was amazing, the view from the top of Mt Luxmore stunning, and my adjectives I use more and more American (heeeelp... I'll leave this as proof of a profound jetlag ;-))

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One of the highlights of the whole down-under episode was the visit of Milford Sound, a full blown fjord in NZ biggest National Park. The place looks unreal, with threatening black waters out of which 1000m high granite monolites rise like extraterrestrial submarines. Waterfalls in all shapes and sizes come down from whatever you lay your eyes upon. This time, even the picture perfect postcard pictures can’t show the majesty and vastness of the place (so I didn’t bother to break copyright laws).

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NZ pulled one last wet trick out of its hat with the name of Lake Tekapo. Its  water is more Turquoise than on the Maldives, Whitsunday Islands and Blankenberge combined. The secret is a special kind of rock on the bottom of the lake (If I a millionaire one day, I want that rock on the bottom of my W-shaped pool ;-)).

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Now I’m gearing up for the Latin American leg of my trip starting with my Spanish auto-study course, but still NZ-style!

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I like this country where even the cattle looks like gentle snowflakes, sprinkled around lovely on lush green lands.

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The only mystery that remains is that one of the Kiwi, NZ’s indigenous bird and symbol of the country. Veni, Ni Vici, So Ni Believci…

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07:52 Gepost door Wouter* | Permalink | Commentaren (0) |  Facebook |