BUCKET.

This year felt different. I wanted to feel alive. Fresh. To explore. And so I wrote a list. I think I’ve done quite well.

 

TRAVEL SOLO TO COLOMBIA TO VISIT ONE OF MY BESTIES

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GET MY HAIR BRAIDED ON A CARRIBEAN BEACH

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CASUALLY FLOAT DOWN THE AMAZON RIVER

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BOAT FROM ONE COUNTRY TO ANOTHER

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DO SOME LONE WANDERING THROUGH CENTRAL AMERICA

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TOUCH DOWN IN THE USA

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In hindesight, I probably should have added these things to the list…

 

GET PAINTED LIKE JAGUAR IN THE MIDST OF THE AMAZON JUNGLE

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DRINK COCONUT WATER AU NATURAL

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POOP IN A TROPICAL TOILET

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MAKE A HUMAN PYRAMID ON A DESERTED ISLAND

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ACCIDENTALLY LIMIT ALL MY POSSESSIONS TO THIS

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ADOPT A KITTEN IN A CLUB

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TAKE A PHOTO LIKE THIS

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Life is short. Make it sweet.    peace-sign-hand-peace-sign-1

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Why travel (on reflection)

I’m drawing inspiration from my favourite travel muse Pico Iyer, as I nostalgically reflect on adventures been and journeys to come.

“We need sometimes to escape into open solitudes, into aimlessness, into the moral holiday of running some pure hazard, in order to sharpen the edge of life” George Santayana

Need is a strong word. And yet Santayana continues:

“There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar; it keeps the mind nimble; it kills prejudice, and it fosters humour.”

I’m all for a nimble mind, and a good sense of humour.

“Abroad is the place where we stay up late, follow impulse and find ourselves as wide open as when we are in love” Pico Iyer

I stay up late at home, but generally disappoint myself with my sensibilities.

“We live without a past or future, for a moment at least, and are ourselves up for grabs and open to interpretation…”

You could be anyone. I inevitably always am myself. I think this is a good thing.

“There are, of course, great dangers to this, as to every kind of freedom, but the great promise of it is that, traveling, we are born again, and able to return at moments to a younger and a more open kind of self”

It’s not being young per se that attracts me, but the sense of freedom and ability to frolic frivolusly.

“Traveling is a way to reverse time, to a small extent, and make a day last a year”

It is true. One the road days last forever. As I journeyed for 9 weeks, I found the stresses of life withering away. I laughed constantly. I felt alive and happy. Young and invincible.

Friendships created in a week, felt like friends of old. I felt at home. Broad smiles, sun kissed tans and friendships built on beer pyramids. Many are transient, short and sweet. Yet a collection of people I’ve meet over the years stay with me, there faces itched in my memory.

“All good trips are, like love, about being carried out of yourself and deposited in the midst of terror and wonder….And that is why many of us travel not in search of answers, but of better questions”

 

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On Bogota

Bogota is a city of complexities. I can’t say I loved it, but I can’t say I hated it either. It was simply a place that I passed through, and admittedly had a lot of fun while doing so.

One thing that struck me was the mall mania. Colombian’s love their shopping malls, it seemed almost like a national pride.

Upon driving into the mall armed officials with Alsatians check your car for explosions. Apparently back in the day the guerilla groups targeted shopping malls for terrorist attacks. This stringent safety precaution made made me feel safer. I think.

I was shown around countless malls. I dined in many malls. I was even surprised to discover that they had clubs on top of their malls! Night clubs! It was such a surreal feeling to get all prettied up, park and then walk through a deserted mall to go to a club.

To be fair it was one of the funnest clubs I’ve ever been to. Four floors of eclectic mayhem. The staff come around and decorate you. I was given a hat and a sash that translates roughly to “your life will be beautiful.” One can only hope.

And I was lucky enough to suffer my first Aguardiente hangover, or Guaro as the locals so fondly call it. Guaro is a fun drink, kind of like Tequila but with an Aniseed twang. When you’re drinking it the world is a wonderful place. That could be because you order it by the bottle, and drink it in shots. Vomiting Guardo I can assure you, is something you never want to repeat ever again.

My most vivid memory of Bogota is Colombia’s first game in the Football World Cup. We piled into a foot traffic area called Zona-T and the ambience was unreal. Here in New Zealand we’re not the most passionate folk, even over our beloved Rugby. Colombian’s passion for football was something else. The facials were incredible. The streets were alive. It was like one big giant dress up party.  After the victory we had to escape before we were completely caked in foam and flour (though to be honest I wouldn’t have really minded)

As locals became drunk the festivities quickly spiralled out of control. Drunken fights broke out, flour throwing become aggressive, and next thing there was a topless girl crying on a police mans shoulder. 8 people died that night from fights or incidental victory gun shots going awol. As we all know, passion and drinking don’t always very well together. But that things escalated so badly is a little bit frightening, and perhaps a reflection of Colombia’s sadly violet past.

That game sparked a liquor ban in Bogota for the rest of World Cup. Luckily I was soon long gone, in parts of the country were folk tolerated their liquor more cheerfully.

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No hablo español

I naively thought that returning to South America and speaking Spanish again would be just like riding a bike. Unfortunately it was more like trying to ride a motorcycle – and I’ve never ridden one before.

I was well and truly fucked. Luckily a little bit of charm and syntax ingenuity can go a long way.

The first time I found myself dining solo I sadly recognised nothing on the menu. I put all my key Spanish words together and came up with “Que es mas popular?” (What is most popular?)

The waiter gestured to one and trailed off in lengthy description. Understanding nothing I smiled and said “Esto” (This)

This food ordering technique has proven to work exceptionally well.

Being a gourmand and eating out 3 meals a day, my culinary vocab has flourished. Once I even proclaimed in shock that the menu was in English, only to realise I was confused because I had actually understood it.

For non cuisine related times luckily I’ve got my Latin-American Spanish phrase book. It’s full of some great conversation starters:

“Aqui hay un problema con el medio ambiente?” (Is there an environmental problem here?)

“Que autor latinoamericano recomiendas?” (Which Latin American author do you recommend?)

I was imagining how great it’d be to film myself using these phrases on unknown members of the Latino public and record their responses. I’m sure the conversations would be gold.

6 1/2 weeks into my trip and it’s sadly drawing to an end. I’m amazed at how much I’ve seen and done with such limited Spanish.

And stranger still, mine is better than a lot of the other Gringos I’ve met. My favourite is when people speak in English with a Spanish accent. Although to be fair, very occasionally this does actually work.

I’m proud to now seamlessly blend all my words together beautifully in what can only be called Spanglish. I’m pretty sure I make no sense at all, but an attempt paired with a beaming smile can do you no wrong.

The locals here are warm, muy tranquillo and lucky for me always willing to give their opinion on what is most popular.

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Living la vida local

Spellbound on arrival in Cartagena, I insisted on having a photo with the Amazonian “statue” man. A well seasoned traveller now, I knew of course he wasn’t an actual statue but a real person. However his armour made me approach him cautiously.

I smiled sweetly for the camera. There was a cracking noise, and something in my periphery lunged at me. I screamed.

A crowd gathered and were laughing. He leaned closer and closer in towards me. His movements were as seamless and stealthy as a snake. I was frozen, confused and mesmerised by this Amazonian creature.

Next thing the crowd was whistling, and I was being kissed on the check while blushing profusely. Damn statues, got me again.

This little incident aside, my trip to Cartagena was refreshingly well off the Gringo trail. Travelling with my Kiwi-gone-Colombian friend and her Colombian boyfriend gave me insights into the life of the newly established, and ever growing Colombian middle class.

We stayed in a beachside apartment complex that was virtually brand new and huge – complete with pools, a jacuzzi and gym (my aspiration to use it were quickly forgotten)

One day with a group of friends and their family we hired a private boat, and island hopped for the day. It wasn’t as cheap as you’d think, $500NZD for the day, including the driver and boat hand. Divided by our group of 12 it was well worth it.

I was also taken to one of Colombia’s top Avant Garde chef’s restaurants. The speciality was a rarity, the very poisonous Lion Fish. Colombia is apparently the only place in the world you can eat it, they’re killing all the local marine life so the chef’s concocted a way to put it to good use. It was divine, and of course nice to eat for a good cause.

All the posh Colombians seem to wear primarily white. All white. White on white on white. Very European. I unfortunately haven’t perfected the art of keeping it clean yet, particularly while beaching in 36 degree heat. At dinner, the couple at the table next to us (all in white of course) had even hired a private photographer for their engagement dinner. Lovely!

And so Colombia once again proves to be more than meets the eye. More then a developing country with millionaires to be specific.

The last week of my Colombian trip is full Gringo-ville I’m afraid. My first night in the hostel and I’m befriended by a group that even gave me a free mango daiquiri. Quickly their fiendish cocaine addiction became apparent. They were spending too much money so should stop drinking and just do Coke they reasoned. They were even all caught with it last night, and had to bribe police so as not to go to jail (which they complained about)

I finished my mango daiquiri, declined their lovely offer for a big night out and took to blog writing over a solitary beer.

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Sneak peak… the Caribbean

Day 5 in Cartagena, an old Spanish colony nestled on the Caribbean coast. Things are tranquillo. I don’t do a lot… beach, relax and wander inside the walls of the Old Town.

Of course eating is another favourite pass time – consistently primarily of fresh fish, coconut rice and the local artisan ice creams (am still working my way through the many delicious flavours)

Fresh fruit juice is served with every meal, coconut water is served by the coconut and the lemonades are made on the spot with fresh lime.

Oil massages are offered along the beach (usually with a free sample) and you can get your hair braided by a local strolling past if you fancy.

It’s bliss. Doesn’t exactly inspire blog writing or much internet time so here’s a little visual taste of Cartagena from my iPhone.

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Amazonian Facepaint

The Amazon was amazing, an incredible crazy place. Deep in the heart of the jungle we came across fruit from the Achote tree that the Natives use as a red paint. They crush the leaves of the Tucunare plant to make purple. This is me being transformed into the mighty jaguar, a creature held in high esteem for its power and strength.

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