Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Colombian Adventure: Part 3

San Agustin, Neiva, Bogotá, Pereira, Armenia

After a good night’s sleep and knowing you have a nice day of moving from A to B to C ahead of you, it is always nice getting up early. Well, actually, it is never really nice to have to get out of bed before sun-up, but even so we all woke up in a pretty sunny mood, probably helped by the fact that we had already packed the night before and did not, like on so many other occasions, have to hastily jump into the shower, get dressed, pack, jump in the car, leave, and go back again at least four times for forgotten things. All the while rushing a mobile breakfast usually composed of cold (or too hot!) coffee, a banana and some sweets.

Instead, we managed to have a leisurely breakfast of toast, marmalade, eggs, coffee, freshly picked fruit, juices and more coffee. So leisurely indeed that we of course left one hour late and Jairo had to drive like a maniac to get us to Neiva airport just on time to find out our flight was one hour delayed. The ride itself was actually quite relaxed, the kids slept most of the way, as did Karin, and Jairo and I exchanged small talk. Jairo drives a Kia 7-seater van of American proportions, and the ride was smooth as silk up till the final 20 minutes when we tried to make our way through a Neiva in the last phase of the San Juan & San Pedro festivities.With men on horses everywhere, most of them too drunk to even stand up, let alone ride a horse through dense city traffic, buses with tourists from all parts coming in for the final fiesta and clogging all main arteries of the town.

We were lucky Jairo has actually lived here for 20 years before moving to San Agustin and he knows the place like the back of his hand. He skilfully manoeuvred the large van through the hectic chaos of cars, trucks, buses and horses, taking lots of little back roads I would never have taken if my life had depended on it. Jairo actually got us to the airport within the minimum of 45 minutes before take-off, all the time reassuring us we would still have time to have lunch before our flight. He helped us unload our 3 heavy bags, 2 backpacks, 2 laptop bags, one baby-bed, and an explosion of toys, colouring artefacts and all the other paraphernalia one tends to hoist along when traveling with kids. Of course he turned out to be right; our plane was delayed (“as always happens”, he said before smiling and saying his goodbyes) and we actually managed to have a local version of steak, which was amazingly nice and tender considering it was airport grub, before we got on the turboprop back to Bogota.

Here, everything went easy, apart from the fact that Noa and I went for a second round of coffee for Karin and me and we almost missed our connection, again… Luckily the lady behind the counter remembered us from the week before and we jumped on the bus as it was making its way to the plane. I have actually come to like our way of traveling; there is always something completely off in our planning and we usually get into trouble or completely lose our way, in the process running into all kinds of nice and interesting people and places. I can imagine though that anybody traveling with us would go completely bonkers.

We arrived in Pereira about 2 hours behind schedule (not our fault, the second flight was simply delayed) and after Karin had had a nice fight with the car rental people about the fact that we were not prepared to pay a four-day rent for what actually turned out to be a 3-day trip, we were finally on the road around 6pm. Darkness set in and yet another of those things you always tell other people not to do happened; driving after dark in a new country. But I’ve gotten used to that as well; we’ve made our way through the depths of night in Lima, in Peru’s southern Andean regions, straight through Sao Paulo, in the upper north of Brazil, and in various parts of Patagonia, usually without GPS devices, and always getting lost before finding our way back again. Up till now nothing deadly has happened to us.

Same thing in Colombia, and I can add that at least in this part of Colombia the roads are perfect, mostly well-lit and with clear signals showing the way to where one wants to go. Sometimes there are so many signs that it will make you dizzy, but then there is always a nice neighbour (in our case usually a gas station employee) that will happily show you where to make the next turn. We made it from Pereira to our new hotel, a very nice and typical coffee-farm-hotel named Combia, in about one hour, despite the dark and a very limited map to go by. Colombia is good Fly-Drive Territory, if you can manage the Spanish language and are not afraid to ask your way around.

After a long day we hit our beds almost instantly and slept like the little babies some of us still are, waking up 8 hours later to a new day in a new land…

Armenia and surroundings

The Coffee Triangle, as this part of Colombia is called, is a lush and fertile area with a mild, benign climate, good for producing some of the best coffee in the world. Funny thing is that it is quite difficult to actually find a good cappuccino, or even an espresso, as most people are not really used to drinking “fancy” coffee and usually just take a “tinto”; black filter coffee, thinned with hot water and sugared up to hurt your teeth. Some come with milk and both taste like sweet hot coloured water, nothing like Juan Valdes makes you believe people enjoy over here. So, when the owner of the hotel came to us and asked us to please leave any suggestion we could think of, I could hardly keep my mouth shut.

After a simple but hearty breakfast we got into our car and started driving back to Armenia and right behind it found a sign saying “canopy”…

During our last trip in Brazil my daughter Edie had already shown great interest in rappelling, as well as in huge natural water slides, and other such things that make me super-scared something might happen to her. As a matter of fact I lately find myself projecting many of my childhood fears on my daughters, as they begin to discover the fun parts of our numerous trips. As a teenager I decided that I would not let fear hold me back from doing anything, and I spent several years crusading against my fears of things like heights, failing in general and being publicly ridiculed. I went for a 65m bungee jump that almost killed me, set up a travel company in Peru without any prior experience, and even tried speaking in public. The last, to my shame, is really not my forte...

Still I thought I had it nicely worked out and that I had managed to kick myself into being a cool guy, not afraid to take on a challenge or two and free of unnecessary internal blockades. The opposite isn’t true, but I must say I am having a hard time not panicking a little each time Edie climbs a tree or Noa dances around on a plastic chair. My wife Karin and I have discussed this often. She was raised with a no-fear policy and skied black slopes and beyond before she could speak a full sentence, so she understandably has some issues with my ‘all of a sudden’ somewhat conservative nature. She feels, and rightly so, that we should not project our fears onto our children and should let them discover their own boundaries. I agree with her, of course. So, when we saw the sign and Karin looked at me with that inquisitive look of hers, I said: “what the hell”, and made a sharp left.

14 speed-flights between towering trees and hulking bamboo ladders later we were back where mother earth prefers to have us and I was soaked. With adrenaline still screaming through my veins and hair standing out in all directions, the next group of that went up for their first climb looked at me with some puzzlement. I could not care less; I was alive! Karin, Edie and Noa had had the time of their lives and the kids would keep asking us for days in advance when we could go and “fly” again.


Angelina said...

Beautiful pictures, I really like!

fresh said...