A Travellerspoint blog

A Whale of Time!

sunny 21 °C

I wasn’t going to blog this particular adventure, G^2 has been to Ireland before (pre-blog era and pre-GPS era) so we figured our week in Dublin would be pretty low-key on the tourist activities and more like hanging out like a local. The problem is no matter how I travel I have a thousand questions and love to share (right Renny?). So here we go...

We flew out Saturday am via Toronto to Dublin (overnight 6.5 hour flight YYZ to DUB) and landed at 6:45 am on Sunday (July 16). We both managed to master the pack light concept (finally) and packed just carry-on which meant after being grilled by customs (I had to show proof of return flight, maybe because I didn’t know where I was staying (VRBO condo in Temple Bar was all I had for an address)) we headed out to meet our host. She (Mary, the most amazing host, check my VRBO review later) met us at 8 am and showed us into our lovely flat and home for the next week. I am 100% converted to AirBnB and VRBO now. We have a great place complete with laundry (European style you get a washer instead of a dishwasher) in the hip and trendy neighbourhood of Temple Bar for a fraction of the price of a shitty hotel.

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After getting settled we attempted to nap but the large coffee we had upon landing, adeptly named, Insomnia, did what it promised to do and kept us awake. We opted to get up and figure out what we wanted to do this week (or at least later today).

Ger had been surfing during our layover in Toronto and found out that Gaelic Football Championship game was later today and it appeared tickets were still available. Challenge was we had to be able to print (downside of not being at a hotel no concierge). As luck would have it there was an Internet Café across the street from our condo, (really? They still exist?) we were able to source tickets, print them and sauntered off for a late breakfast. A belly full of food and an activity for later was all we needed to fall into a much need coma. After a couple hours of solid sleep we headed off to Croke Park or ‘Croker’ (also host to the U2 concert we are here for) to witness Gaelic Football.

If you are like us and had no idea what Gaelic games are, the two main ones are Football and Hurling. Gaelic Football is an odd combination of Soccer and Rugby but a fantastic sport to spectate. The players can kick, carry and run (but only for 5 steps and the ball must touch the ground again so they dribble it every 5 strides) or throw the ball. There are two ways to score, kick it through the Upper Goal posts (like a Field Goal in Football) earns you a point, if you kick it into the net (like soccer) that earns you three points. There is no tackling but plenty of blocking and when a young boy (the players are all amateurs) sprints down the field and hits another young lad bodies fly everywhere. Unlike soccer there is no drama or snivelling when bodies hit the ground and my favourite, the clock never stops. Two 35 minutes halves game lasts 70 minutes, even when the whistle is blown the clock keeps ticking. It was really fun to watch (us and 65,000 Irish who clearly knew what was going on).

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Croke Park was a fantastic stadium, worth the visit itself. The Park only hosted Gaelic sports up until 2008 but they have since hosted some soccer games and concerts. An added bonus it is no more than a 20 – 30 minute walk from the condo so there is no need to stress about how we are getting to the concert with 120,000 of our closest friends next Saturday.

I had sourced an Irish Hot Dog (deep fried onions define the Irish Hot Dog) at the game but was feeling pretty hungry (and thirsty since you can’t bring your beer to your seat in the stadium) we managed to get into the Winding Stair Restaurant (thank you Bourdain) for a delightful Irish meal.

We were pretty pleased with our first day in Dublin; as for Day 2, we still aren’t sure what tomorrow holds for us.

Until next time,
G^2

Posted by imalazyj 15:25 Archived in Ireland

Final day in Colombia

sunny 32 °C

What an amazing week. We finally managed to get some sleep last night (in bed well before midnight for the win) thus, all of us were up at the crack of dawn (given proximity to the equator daylight is 6-6 Daylight Colombia pretty much all year around). Our final day here we spent leisurely strolling the streets of Cartagena. While that activity sounds lovely and it was fun, beautiful and lovely it was also hot, f'ing hot (the french is appropriate trust me). I don't know if I have ever felt heat & humidity like this, I didn't know I could sweat that much and even with 60 on (diligently reapplied) I burnt (we all have varying degrees of colour but a couple of us where wearing 8 so we don't feel bad for them!). Ren and I made a quick pit stop at a local Casino to borrow the Baños and felt compelled to plug a slot machine as payment, we didn't understand the game or really how to bet so our 5 mm pesos went quickly with no payoff.

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The cub decided to sun bathe and take advantage of the rooftop patio and a good book while cougars melted off some calories exploring. We wandered out of the old city into what felt like more 'real' Cartagena, found a mall (I was in search for a soccer jersey for a certain someone) and wandered through the shops (AC was a highlight attraction as was seeing what the locals shop at). We strolled among the city streets, mostly people watching, until the mornings coffee (Iced, and while I don't normally embrace an ice cap when it is 27 degrees at 7am it seems appropriate) and empanada wore off and we found a quaint patio and some cold drinks paired with another ceviche and ensalada. My margarita kicked me in the ass (I am gong to blame the heat) so I sauntered home for an afternoon siesta while the other ladies continued exploring. We are now all showered and smell clean (for a nano second until we go outside again) and are off to hit Café del Mar for a pre-dinner cocktail.

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(Cindy got photobombed, no idea why?)

Tomorrow we begin our journey home with a mid-morning flight from Cartagena to Bogotá, 1.5 hour layover (which some may think is too short given we need to clear exit customs) and then on to Toronto. We overnight in Toronto and should be home if all goes well by noon Monday. We are hopping that none of our flights exhibit the smoke like cloud that our flight into Cartagena did (we are told it was condensation and given the temperature difference and humidity versus Bogotá I believe that).

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I am hoping on the flight from Bogotá to Toronto I can get our guest writers to put down their final reflections and thoughts. Mine are pretty simple, the country is amazing and I can't wait to come back and explore more. Did you know they have ruins here as old as Macchu Picchu? The one-time Tayrona capital, Ciudad Perdida, built between the 11th and 14th centuries. Ever heard of San Agustín? A collection of 500 life-sized ancient sculpted statues of enigmatic origin dotting the surrounding countryside? Bet you have never heard about Tierradentro, an elaborate underground tombs scooped out by an unknown people. Don't feel bad neither did I (Thank you Lonley Planet). The country is still mostly void of the hordes of tourists you might find elsewhere, likely due to the misconception regarding one's safety here. Colombians are friendly and warm (thank you to all of you who hosted us). The food is incredible, simple, fresh, flavourful and healthy. There are numerous activities (remember this is one of the most eco-diverse countries in the world) and it is still relatively untravelled by most.

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I need to add, that these ladies made this trip unforgettable and I feel truly blessed to have them in my life. I feel incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to travel and experience all that we have done with these smart, funny and beautiful ladies. There is nothing like girlfriends.

Until next time,
G^2

Posted by imalazyj 14:34 Archived in Colombia

Cougars N A Cub in Cartagena

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

sunny 32 °C

Cindy left off with our 5 am Tuesday night which did indeed make for a very slow start to Wednesday. Jess the little energizer bunny she is got up at 8:45 am to head off to a coffee tour (I was also booked but couldn't drag my sorry ass out of bed). The reminder of us went to the gym in the late am (late, late am) and then we met Jess in the afternoon at the Museo Historico de la Policia, where we toured the former headquarters of Bogotá’s police force and learned about cocaine-kingpin Pablo Escobar’s demise (neutralized as our guide described it) in 1993.

Our evening was another amazing Colombia meal (with a super annoying (loud and actually not good) piano player playing mostly Billy Joel) with Cindy's friend Frenado at Restaurante NN. I tapped out early and the remainder of the tribe headed out for a couple more drinks. The result was the next morning I actually got up early and went for a short and slow run (altitude here is a killer) before our 11 am flight to Cartagena.

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We landed in Cartagena and were immediately hit with a wave of humidity and heat (30 degrees and & 75%+ is hard on these white Canadian girls).
Cartagena is a port city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. By the sea is the walled Old Town (which is where our Airbnb is within), founded in the 16th century, with squares, cobblestone streets and colorful colonial buildings within the walls. Outside the walls is sprawling metropolis of tall condos, the entire population of the city is estimated at 1.2 mm.

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Hangry had set in by the time we got to the Airbnb (another great win) and settled so off we went to source food (and maybe a bottle or two of Rose). We stumbled upon a free walking tour which started at 4 pm which we thought would be a great way to see the old city and get our bearings. Turns out Cartagena is a young, party destination. The 3 cougars substantially brought up the average age of the group. It was interesting (at least to us) that they were two other Canadians one from Saskatchewan and one from Nova Scotia. The other cubs were mostly American or European. We lasted about 45 minutes before the guide busted us for not really getting into the "groove" of his tour style (maybe it was the heat, but it took him a very, very long time to tell us not much). Embarrassed we shrunk off and did our walking tour of the old city (it is actually not that big).

Beside the beautiful architecture and colourful building what we did notice (not sure how one says this politically correctly nowadays so if I offended anyone I am sorry) is the different ethnicity of the people. Cartagena was strategically located between the Magdalena and Sinú rivers and became the main port for trade between Spain and its overseas empire, establishing its importance by the early 1540s. During the colonial era it was a key port for the export of Peruvian silver to Spain and for the import of African Slaves http://atlantablackstar.com/2015/07/04/cartagena-colombia-spanish-americas-biggest-slave-port/. The latter definitely has influenced the people that are live in this area today.

We managed to find an amazing seafood restaurant (as did a stag of 12 American boys) which made for an entertaining evening. We capped the night off with a night cap (bottle of vodka, don't judge we took most of it home for today's activities) at Café del Mar, situated on the historic walls, Baluarte Santo Domingo, the westernmost point of Cartagena's 17th century fortifications, (conveniently directly across from our condo).

Sleep is not something we have accomplished a lot of this trip, today was another early(ish) start with a 9 am meeting with our boat captain we had arranged to take us to the he Islas del Rosario for the day. The Islas del Rosario, also referred to as Corales Islas del Rosario, is an archipelago located off the coast of Colombia, approximately 100 kilometres from Cartagena (thank you Wikipedia). The Spanish here is a bit less formal so communication was a bit of challenge during the day. We opted to try to go with the flow (as much as OCD, A type women can) and had an incredible day (with a couple minor hiccups which included running out of money so we had to hit a "money machine" to pay for the day).

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Regardless the 3 cougars and the cub had a pretty magnificent day in our private speed boat (we saw the "commoners" stuffed in theirs and thank goodness the princesses opted to pay up for private) ripping across the ocean to various locations to swim in the very warm Caribbean ocean, eat fresh food grilled on a beach, drinking our vodka (sourced from the night before) and trying to avoid 3rd degree burns from the incredible sun here. Cartagena is the perfect conclusion to our time here in Colombia, all of us are going to leave wishing for more. What an incredible country. I can't wait to come back already.

Tomorrow is our last full day and we haven't landed on what our activities will be, maybe some R'n'R on our rooftop patio. I am sure we will make the most of it.

Until next time,
cougarsnacubincartagena.

Posted by imalazyj 16:46 Archived in Colombia

Colombia: Then & Now

Guest appearance by Cindy Gray

I’m pleased to make this guest appearance and share some ‘before and after’ perspectives on Colombia. After having been down 10+ times between 2009 and 2013, Bogotá, Cartagena and Medellin are among my favorite destinations in the world. With its elegant blending of old and new worlds, warm and helpful people, unique culture, delicious gastronomy and fascinating history, Colombia has always felt like home to me. (It doesn’t hurt that Colombians know how to party).

For me, this trip has offered many contrasts with earlier visits – primarily around safety. On my first visit in 2009, my hired driver shadowed me for safety (I couldn’t cross the street to grab a coffee in broad daylight without him), and machine gun-toting military and police personnel with bomb-sniffing dogs were everywhere. I was cautioned about staying safe (use hired drivers not taxis, don’t go out alone, avoid wearing flashy jewellery, don’t pull out your phone in public, keep the windows rolled up when riding in a vehicle, hold onto your belongings tightly at all times, etc.). I was also stunned by the beautiful and well-dressed people (particularly the women), a reflection of Bogotá’s somewhat formal society.

Today, the visible presence of military / police personnel around Bogotá is a fraction of what it used to be and things feel far more ‘relaxed’. We have always felt completely safe – whether alone or in a group, day or night, and even with phones out looking like tourists. In addition, Colombia’s demographics are evolving. With almost no immigration due to its violent history, Colombia’s ethnic diversity is visibly absent. Bogotá is one of the world’s few big cities without a Chinatown, but with the improved safety and peace agreement with the FARC, this is changing. I am so grateful for the opportunity to see this country with my closest friends and share my previous experiences against our current environment.

On Tuesday, we booked a private driver and guide (Diana from 5Bogotá makes a repeat appearance). We stopped for freshly made corn arepas and aguapanela (a sickly sweet coffee-esque drink made from unrefined sugarcane juice – blech) in Calera to get us started. We then made our way to the small town of "Guatativa la Nueva" ("The New Guatavita"), just 2 hours away from Bogotá, and one of the most popular day tour destinations out of the city. The town was built in the 1960s to relocate the inhabitants of the original Guatavita that flooded during construction of the Tomine reservoir, which itself was created to generate electric power and increase water supply for Bogotá. Guatavita was re-built as a Spanish colonial town replica with houses featuring white facades, rustic stucco, clay tiles and simple wooden doors and windows. While in the town, we showcased Geri and Jess’ uncanny ability to devour bocadillos (tiny bananas); friends on Instagram or Facebook can check out that video for solid entertainment.

Lake Guatavita is a small body of water in a forest-fringed crater that was a sacred site to the Muisca people, who cast elaborate gold offerings into its depths, inspiring the legend of El Dorado and several ill-fated attempts to drain the lake. Unfortunately, after a VERY bumpy ~45 minute drive up, we discovered Laguna Guatavita was closed that day with no notice, the best explanation for which was “lots of places will be closed since it’s Tuesday after a holiday Monday.” No entiendo ???

We then headed to the Salt Cathedral (‘Catedral de Sal de Zipaquirá) with a pit stop for lunch at a ‘drive-in’ meat restaurant in Zipaquirá, where we downed cold beer and shared a hubcap-sized platter of various meats, potatoes and plantains, resulting in a meat coma.

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At the Salt Cathedral, we discovered more than just interesting geology - it is a fully functioning Catholic church built into a former salt mine situated ~200 metres underground. The tour includes walking through the mine tunnels past 14 small chapels representing the sufferings of Christ, along with suggestions that we ‘lick the walls’ (after our bocadillo clinic, what could go wrong?). Further amusement as Renata had to crawl into the eerily-lit, salt-carved replica of Michelangelo's "Creation of Man" scene from the Sistine Chapel to retrieve her camera case. More snickers at the guy from Colorado who was very confused to hear we’re from Calgary, since “I thought you said you’re Canadian”….. Prior to returning to surface, we took in an underwhelming, Vegas Freemont Street-style light show to conclude the tour.

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Picture Renata crawling around on this to retrieve a camera case.

Back in Bogotá, we ventured out for dinner with several of my Colombian friends at Central Cevecheria. On the invite list were two Fernandos, two Alejandras, and one Diana. We are starting to wonder if there are only a handful of available names for use in this country….

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After stuffing ourselves with several types of ceviche, grilled seafood and savoury rice along with multiple bottles of Carmenere, 3 of the less mature bitches decided it was a good idea to hit an Irish Pub for ‘one last nightcap’. As one might expect, one turned into more, and we ended up back at the condo, drinking wine, eating popcorn and talking until 5am, which did not bode well for Wednesday’s morning coffee tour or planned gym workout. We battled through and began our last day in Bogotá before heading onto the much warmer and balmy Cartagena. Hasta luego…..

Posted by imalazyj 17:15 Archived in Colombia

There is no need for Proof of Life

Musings, boring, the entertaining posts are to follow.

semi-overcast 16 °C

After spending the last few full days in Bogota my biggest takeaway is our perception that Colombia is not safe is not founded or true anymore (And, stop watching Narcos, it is not real, a highly dramatized "American" spin on what really happened). The country has made significant headway in the last 15 years to rectify the crime and violence that has historically plagued it. Keep in mind these are my thoughts and observations from being here for a mere 4 days but I would encourage anyone who has ever had inkling of wanting to visit this country to make the journey. I have never once felt unsafe and the people are wonderful, friendly and helpful. There are ample fun activities and the food is amazing.

No one will argue, this country used to be one of the most dangerous places in the world. Even the locals tell terrifying stories of the crime and violence they have endured. One cited the topography of the country as a contributor to the violence. The three branches of the Andes crossing Colombia from the south to the north create a dramatic mix sceneries from high mountains, large highland plateaus, deep canyons to wide valleys, making it one of the most ecologically diverse countries in the world (also the reason it can grow the diverse crops it does). The issue is these extreme differences make the distribution & access to social programs difficult. The isolation creates feelings of exclusion and fosters opportunities for people to profit from the drug and arms trade that occurs in these remote regions. As the turf war grew in the remote regions amongst the guerrillas the farmers were displaced to the larger cities where they had no basic amenities (food, shelter) and also turned to crime to survive.

Couple the social differences with the country's continued suspected corruption and you have a perfect storm. While the country is making great strides forward corruption still remains a concern. Citizens feel leaders in the government stay in power too long and serve their own interest firsts rather than those of the people. Public and private social programs (health and medical) continue to starved of resources as reflected by the recent 6 week teacher strike that just ended this week. There are several other public instances in the media reflecting biased actions of politicians but as social media makes news unfiltered and instant it is becoming harder for these occurrences to be ignored.

One of the biggest changes has been the recent peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People's Army (FARC–EP) FARC. The largest and most organized of the guerrilla groups. The civil war with them has been one of the longest in the world, lasting over 15 years. Negotiations for peace began in September 2012 in Havana, Cuba and a final agreement to end the conflict was announced on August 24, 2016. However, a referendum to ratify the deal on October 2, 2016 was unsuccessful after 50.2% of voters voted against the agreement with 49.8% voting in favor. The main sticky points were that FARC wanted to remain a political party and sought immunity from its past war crimes.

The Colombian government and the FARC signed a revised peace deal on November 24, 2016 and sent it to Congress for ratification instead of conducting a second referendum. Both houses of Congress ratified the revised peace accord on November 29-30, 2016, thus marking an end to the conflict. FARC is responding and handing in their arms (it is estimated 60% compliance so far) but unfortunately that is leaving room for others to take their place in the arms and drug trade. So the problem is lessening but in no way disappearing.

One of the most interesting things I heard during the past few days was we were told that 15 years ago Medellín, Colombia (capital of Colombia’s mountainous Antioquia province) was the most dangerous city in the world. But instead of throwing more violence at the problem, the government took a novel approach to solving the problem they fought it with education. Built schools in the remote areas and taught the children. Delivering eduction and social programs significantly changed the next generation and is bringing a new era of peace. Perhaps the Eastern World should take note?

In addition to the peace talks, on January 30, 2017, Colombia implemented a New Code of Police and Coexistence (5 things to know about Colombia's new police code) aimed at enforcing low-level offenses and encouraging citizens to report small infractions. President Juan Manuel Santos characterized the changes as a modernization of the 1970 code that gives Colombian society an improved “manual for coexistence.”

Like any new code there are several concerns giving a police force of 180,000 more power, including the ability to enter one's home without a warrant. Such concerns are exacerbated by the fact that trust is low for the national police force in many communities. The evolution of the Code was deemed necessary due to the evident transformation of social realities, behavior and penalties for offenders that have changed so dramatically over a period of half a century. It remains to be seen how it works in reality.

Anyways, I will stop rambling, the country has been a pleasant surprise (more than pleasant it has been amazing) and just a quip, for everyone who thought we were crazy to come here it should be noted there has been far more violence in Europe this month.

Until next time,

  1. bitchesinbogota

Note to journal - Plan Colombia, the name of a United States foreign aid, military and diplomatic initiative aimed at combating Colombian drug cartels and left-wing insurgent groups in Colombia. The goal was increase the price of cocaine to decrease how much went into USA . This program was in operation for 11 years and fostered corruption in military groups. One of the measures of success were how many dead bodies were found, interesting statistic. Homeless or random innocents were captured, dressed in enemies clothes and killed to be used as body count. It is estimated 20-25,000 people went missing during this period. The Nobel Peace Prize winning President of Colombia was Minister of Defence during this era. We were told (I have not verified this) that a similar Plan Mexico is in place today.

Posted by imalazyj 16:21 Archived in Colombia

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