welcome to my (mis)adventures



|Boundaries.| Also Titled: Fifty Ways to Leave Your Spanish Teacher

Looking to Paul Simon for some inspiration tonight. I must say I’ve come back to my idyllic casa in a bit of a huff. I don’t want the four people who read my blog (thanks Mom, Dad, Binendra & Aunty Wendy) to think I am trying to puff myself up by bragging about what a big deal I am in the Latin world, but I’m going to write about it anyways – because I need to vent and also since you four seem to find these posts quite amusing.

My Spanish teacher is a cool guy. We meet each day for 3 hours and he suggested at the beginning that we cook and see local sights as ways to use the language practically. This sounded wonderful so I committed to a daunting 20 hours over seven days and as a product so far I’ve learned about Colombian culture, jungle life, the drug trade, military service and traditional remedies for bug bites (marijuana soaked in alcohol). Today was day 5. I knew going in it could be a challenging day, and and not just for those tricky pronombres y adjectives indefinidos.

Last night my married, father of two, profesor espanol put the moves on. Sadly this time I couldn’t just say “no entiendo” – he speaks English too! The full court press was on, I couldn’t get the guy to shut up or get him to move those Spanish lips of his a few feet farther away. Add pouring rain to the scene and imagine my difficulty in convincing him to leave my house and walk to his bus. It was a sticky situation. Somehow I eventually got him out the door and just barely had the energy to stay awake till 8:30 when I just couldn’t think of how to get out of my remaining lessons.

If yesterday was a full court press today was fucking warfare.

I opted to meet my amorous profesor in Santa Marta in the Juan Valdez coffee shop instead of at my house. Because of the distractions yesterday we had not covered enough Spanish to have me prepared for today’s lesson, so it was a very dense, frustrating few hours. In the last 30 minutes he suggested we walk to see the sunset. Immediately I knew I was in trouble.

There are so many – so so so many – reasons not to take a local lover when traveling. My friends joke about it all the time, and usually I laugh and say I “have one in every port”, but in reality it is such a bad, bad idea. I learned early how much it sucks to hurt someone who gets romantic ideas about a trans-continental relationship (about the least romantic thing there is).
Plus, you could add an element of danger to it… I remember being in Turkey when my girlfriend zoomed off in a battered car with our Turkish paragliding instructor and with beer-soaked eyes I peered out the window, scrambling to record the license plate with the only writing implement I could find – her eyeliner. (She was fine by the way. I could just be paranoid).

Anyways, as the sun glowed red in the sky behind purple clouds, amongst vendors trying to sell me sunglasses and naked kids swimming in the ocean, my dear profesor expressed his love, saying I just didn’t understand the depth of his emotion – I can’t know how attractive he finds me. I mean, I’m perfect, I’m exactly his type: “You’re exactly what I want. You’re tall and you’re white.” No lie. Seriously, it was that romantic. (Are you hearing this ex-boyfriends?!)

In the last couple years there has been action on social media from women who feel we (women) need to exercise our honesty muscles and not use boyfriends (real or fictitious) as an excuse for why we aren’t interested in a man (see a blog post on this here). This author postulates this behaviour feeds the idea of women belonging to men. The general gist is something like this:

“Male privilege is “I have a boyfriend” being the only thing that can actually stop someone from hitting on you because they respect another male-bodied person more than they respect your rejection/lack of interest.”

For me, it’s not so much about male privilege as it is about being a grown up with the right to do/think/say/feel whatever I want and recognizing responsibility comes with it – a girl should be truthful as it provides tools to modify behaviour. Social feedback lets people know what is and is not acceptable. Nothing changes if we all stay silent, right? Those ideals expressed, I have to say practicing it is exceptionally difficult – especially in this country. I’m just not strong enough to live it, and now desparately wish I’d talked about a novio on my first meeting with my dear profesor. How much easier would life be now! Saying “Lo siento, No me interesa” here just seems to be reason to improve one’s persuasion skills.

Tomorrow we’re meant to walk the town and go to the beach, but I’m anxious about how to get him back on that bus once the lesson is over. Add to that he knows where I’m living (he said he’d like to drop in for a visit tonight, despite my protestations. Thankful for my 10ft wall now I must say). Regardless, I can’t hide forever – I have to see the dear profesor to pay him for the second half of my lessons.

Paul, what do you have to say? (Or, my dear audience of 4, do you have any useful tips?)

Eating a Fish that’s Watching You Do It.

Tonight I had what may have been my best Colombian dinner so far with two new friends I met in Valle de Cocoro a few days ago. They were hiking up to stay in a finca off the beaten track and I was out exploring for the day. We had one of those short but in depth conversations you have with strangers when traveling, then headed our separate ways – them up, me down. Luckily we ran into each other at sunset on the beach last night and shared dinner and beers. My Spanish hit a new high when I could interpret another non-Rico Suave saying “When I look at this woman, my heart beats fast and I have to be careful so I don’t have an infarction”. I was pretty happy that I translated such an odd sentence, but at the same time slightly put off by the translation and his chair constantly sliding closer with his wandering leg meeting mine under the table.

Romain and Louise, my French allies against Colombian creeping chairs and pounding hearts, stopped by my fancy kitchen to make dinner together this evening. We bought 3 fish straight from the boats on the beach and Romain went to work gutting and cleaning them while Louise and I freeloaded and drank beer. They could sense my scepticism throughout as Saskatchewan was never really the epicenter of marine cuisine, but Romain did not fail to impress, stuffing the fish with onions, fresh lime and tomatoes. It was delicious. Romain went all-out, even removing my fish from it’s body. They ate theirs right off the skeleton though, their fish looking straight into the window of my soul the entire time.

It was so impressive to hear of their travels over the past year. They too quit their jobs to travel and see the world and have established a great blog at (en francais). They have this great gypsy look about them, both with long hair and Romain with full beard. I was shocked when Louise showed me pictures from their life pre-travel. They’re so clean cut and normal-looking. It’s interesting to remember (and easy to forget) that when you travel you feel the most like yourself while appearing quite different than your everyday. As with everyone who starts to consider the end of their journey, you meditate on how to bridge the gaps between the insight and learnings of the road with the schedule and routine of normal life, how to self express while not looking like you’ve just stumbled out of a Colombian opium den, how to connect with strangers in an open and accessible way without becoming that crazy woman on the subway.

Romain et Louise
Romain et Louise

Not Rico Suave.

“Sola? Sola?” It seems to be on everyone’s mind when I travel. “Dondé esta tu novio?”

I have this weird thing for traveling on my own – which I don’t actually think is weird. It’s not that I love traveling on my own, but more that I haven’t found someone that has the same time, freedom, interest and resources for travel that I have, along with enjoying sharing close quarters for an extended period of time.

This habit of mine creates some interesting conversations with certain local gentlemen when I travel. I don’t know what it is, but I never seem to get the handsome-Rico-Suave-salsa-dancing-hair-blowing-in-the-wind-type of guy. My typical Colombian/Indian/Honduran/Thai/Polish, etc suitor could generally be described this way: he’s an older fatherly/grandfatherly gentleman, greying hair, a spare tire around the middle, usually of some significant means (by local standards), and he’s looking for “his soul mate”… who just happens to not be his wife. Read: he’s looking for a much younger mistress who will leave town in a few days/weeks.

During my time in Pijao this week, the pattern repeated. A wealthy coffee farmer made the moves on me, reading my coffee cup (a lesser-known art, similar to reading tea leaves). In my cup he saw me with him, riding a caballo together. On top of that, there was also an angel in my cup – a sure sign we were soul mates. I’ll spare you the details of how this was communicated, but believe me, it was not without effort. Between his non-existent English and my muy probre Spanish, it was a job for Google Translate. I wonder if the developers at Google ever take a peek at the translations… This would be one for the record book.

According to my numerology (which he kindly figured out for me), my number is 8 – the number of power and determination he said. After an uncomfortable afternoon, evening and morning where I had multiple knocks on the door of my guesthouse at all hours, I determined to leave town early. I sped away on the fastest bus I could find, zooming out of the lovely town of Pijao at the break-kneck speed of 35km/hr.

Running the Valle de Cocoro

It’s days like these that I really wish I hadn’t lost my iPod/alarm clock/camera.

Today I ran/walked/stumbled/crawled in the Valle de Cocoro – Colombia’s famous Valley of Wax Palms. They’re really quite something – growing in bare fields at heights of up to 60m. Beyond them is solid jungle and rocky mountains.

I’ll freely admit that I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I decided I would run Valle de Coroco. First, unless you’re Kilian Jornet or Scott Jurek or some other super-human centaur, you don’t run the Valle de Coroco. You slowly, painfully crawl up from it, into that jungle and mountains. Starting at an elevation of ~2590m, you stroll through lush green fields, admiring cows, palm trees, babbling books. Then you start climbing. Most of the time you’re blinded by the jungle and have no real sense of direction except for up. You know it’s up by the burning in your lungs, and fire in your legs and the pulse at your temple. 6.7km later I arrived at the highlight of trail, the reason for all this walking – a waterfall. After that hike almost anything would be anticlimactic, and the waterfall certainly was. I kept walking up, not realizing this trail continues on in this direction for 6 days through Los Nevados National Park. Stopping at 3500m, I decided to turn around and go down – the most fun part of my day. While the uphill had been a slog, I bombed down the trail at full bore until reaching the 2800m elevation point. From there I ran into another wall in the form of a long, steep climb up to Finca la Montana. The climb was worth it as it overlooked all of the valley and had a clear view of the mountains that lay behind. I met an Australian guy at the top and we laughed and chatted about the differences between traveling now vs a decade ago, how perspective changes, and how much  freedom that brings. He took some photos for me, which I’m hoping he will remember to send so I can make up where my words fall short.

After leaving the Australian at the top, I kept running back down to the road where 4×4 jeeps ferry hikers back into town. I was disappointed to see no jeeps were ready to leave and didn’t want to wait. I started running the 11km back to Salento along the highway and quickly realized it was a bad idea – I was exhausted. The road is little-used and when I first stuck my thumb out a car with 5 seats carrying 11 people slowed. I let them continue without me. Finally a motorcycle came by and was nice enough to pick me up. Flying along the twisty mountain road at 60… 70… 80km/hr, crossing the yellow line at every bend, I decided to stop looking at the speedometer and just be grateful for the seconds of life I have left. My gallant motorcycle driver got me back to town safe and sound though, and even joked with me in Spanish… Or at least he laughed.

Adam came through – thanks!

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Me & Juan & a Horse

There’s horseback riding. There’s Colombian horse riding. Then there’s riding with Juan Valdez.

Yesterday I was willingly coerced into taking a 7 hour horse tour of the mountains and valleys surrounding Salento. As a kid I rode on friend’s farms in Saskatchewan, but aside from my 12th birthday party, I can’t remember when the last time was I rode a horse. As soon as my seat connected with the stiff saddle I knew I wouldn’t be able to walk the next day. We still had 6:59:45 to go.

I must say that the ride was incredibly beautiful – the scenery is stunning and the elevation changes extreme – I’m sure we climbed over 800m easily, probably more like 1100m+. The terrifying part was the beginning. Leaving town we entered a small single-track trail used by locals who live in the country to get into town. It wasn’t so much the narrowness or remoteness of the trail, but rather the fact that the decline was so steep our horses practically had to jump from rock to rock down the mountain. I’m not a thrill-seeker, but I have jumped out of planes (skydiving), leapt off cliffs (paragliding), and willingly fallen off rock faces (climbing), but I can’t say any of these activities were as extreme or as scary as Juan Valdez horse riding. When I was able to exhale (once every 2-3 minutes) I felt terrible for Alícon, the poor horse beneath me. My life was in his hoofs. After declining 300 meters into the valley, we started climbing, seemingly endlessly. When we finally reached a plateau I expected our horses would stop and rest after their exertion up the mountain, but instead they took off at full gallop. People often think travel is so glamorous without seeing the glories of 24 hour bus rides, broken down trains in the desert, or nights spent emptying your digestive system into a Turkish toilet. This moment, however, galloping across the Colombian plateau, just above the jungle, looking down on the tiny towns of Salento and Armenia below, does feel like a movie to me. One false step or stumble would have sent Alícon and I over the edge to roll down 1100m of rock and jungle to the valley below, but at that moment that possibility didn’t exist. I was in the moment. Dean Potter and Goenkaji would have been proud.

My lovely German companion, Nuria (expert horsewoman), was a blessing and a saviour on this trip. Our guide – let’s call him Julio – seems to have a thing for foreign ladies. Even I couldn’t say “No comprende!” believably after seeing those Spanish eyes staring into my soul as he repeatedly said “Ven conmigo esta noche” (Come with me tonight). Nonetheless, I said “No comprende!” and used Nuria as my excuse. Thanks Nuria. High five.

This morning I chatted with a German couple staying at the same hostel and told them about the horse trip. The guy asked if I travel with a Lonely Planet, to which I said no. He replied I should – then I would have known that multiple people die of head injuries horse riding here every year.

Me with Alícon

Backpacker Glory Days…

It’s been a busy two days of moving. I arrived in Medellin last night, via Panama. When we landed in Panama City I thought that we must have been extremely lucky to land because lightening filled up the sky around us as we taxied to the gate. Two hours later, storm still raging, I figured there would be no way we would take off again, however the Panamans are expert lightening-flyers apparently are are “quite used to this”. So, back on the plane I got, and off to Medellin. Flying in lightening and clinging to the side of a mountain in a speeding tin can dodging semi trailers has a profound effect on an anti-dogma person like me… I start praying with the Spanish lady fingering a rosary ahead of me and locking eyes with every statue of Mary Magdalena along the highway, grateful to whoever lights the candles for her on a regular basis.

I left Medellin this morning for Salento, and arrived around 6pm. As I walked the streets with my backpack, looking for a hostel to stay in, I was really surprised how busy it is. Not quite the quaint and hidden little town I hoped it might be, but I’m excited to go running in Valle del Corrora in the morning – home of Colombia’s famous wax trees, 30m tall.

I’ve known this for a while, but the last two days have served as a reminder my dirty backpacker glory days are well over. I might still be dirty and I do carry a backpack, but the glory has vanished. Colombia seems to have its share of more mature travelers (over 25), though last night the party crowd of university students reminded me of that joke about how you always feel like you’re 20 until you meet 20 year olds and then you’re like “Nope. Never mind. I’m 30 (almost).” Further separation from the glory days arrived this morning in the form of an upset stomach which I’ve been battling with all day – what happened to my third world digestive & immune systems?! They’ve abandoned me already. On top of that, I was separated from my iPod on the very first day of my trip, likely never to be seen again. Amateur. This means I won’t have photos of my own until I replace it… sorry.

Salento doesn’t look like it will be the home base I planned it to be, and I’m now considering renting a house in Santa Marta for a month instead. Coffee plantations, cool breezes, rolling green hills or beaches, diving and suntan lines? Decisions are so hard sometimes.

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