A Travellerspoint blog

Culture Surrealism


We have been back in the USA for a few days now. Things are very different, and I now understand what reverse culture shock means. It's not so bad, though. Rather than comparing the two cultures and declaring aspects about them good or bad, it is more fun to just notice the differences.
Personal space has returned. During our last couple weeks in Cartagena, I found myself thinking that wherever we went, someone else decided they wanted to be there too. In that exact spot. There is a song title in there somewhere. Someone else being vendors, self-declared massage therapists, cab drivers, folks asking about the dogs, etc. Now, in Jacksonville Beach, nobody is trying to sell us sunglasses, ceviche, or cervezas. We feel somewhat ignored, but the peace and space are nice.
And the drivers! They are so neat and orderly here. Nobody honks. Everyone stops at stop signs and waits for pedestrians. It is almost as if they all are on Valium. Our well-honed Latino finger-waves will get rusty with no offenders on whom to practice.
I am still alarmed to hear the English language being spoken, and at times it sounds abrasive (rednecks). However, it is nice to ask someone for directions and understand everything they say. I still catch myself saying "buenos" to folks on our morning walks. Oops.
I was stunned during our first trip to a US supermarket. So many choices. Are 15 different gradients and variants of olive oil really necessary? And potato salad at the grocery store deli: Southern style, home style, home style red . . . Seriously? Of course, this is the same person who bitched when she couldn't find plain yogurt (no sugar, fruit, aspartame, etc.), preferably Greek-style, at the grocery stores in Colombia.
We are staying in Jacksonville Beach for a couple weeks while we wait for our Jeep to arrive in Miami. Douglas owns a condo here, and it is conveniently empty for this time period. It gives us a chance to ease back into US living and to get the place ready for new tenants. Life here is remarkably easy after six months on the road. No more packing and unpacking, figuring out where we are going to stay each night, and ohhh . . . The washer and dryer! I am doing laundry with wild abandon. No more rinsing stuff out in the sink and squeezing one more workout out of that pair of socks.
All in all, this is becoming an easy transition.
I will keep you posted on our next adventure, probably in a new blog format.
Thanks for reading!

Posted by ceastburn 14:07 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Medellín: Cool Artists, Drug Crime, False Body Parts

We have spent nearly a week in Medellín, Colombia. Staying in a cool 17th-floor studio apartment with a washer and dryer(!) has provided a nice break from the road.
Once the center of the worldwide cocaine trade in 1990's with Pablo Escobar and his hit men running the show, Medellín is now a gleaming city with proud residents. Escobar met his demise on a Medellín rooftop in 1993.
Another son of Medellín with a less violent reputation (although he does like bullfighting-yuk) is the artist of all things chubby, Fernando Botero. The Museo de Antioquia houses a large collection of Botero's works as well as those of other Colombiano artists, all donated by Botero. The plaza in front of the museum is filled with Botero's sculptures. Neither one of us is a visual art expert, but we enjoy Botero's works. He seems to have a lot of gusto and definitely a sense of humor.
We are staying in a swanky neighborhood called El Poblado. Not usually our style, but we're making the best of it. One great perk of high-end neighborhoods: a lot of grassy spots for dog-walking. I have searched for days for a patch of weeds in some cities. Poor Sunny & Cricket have learned to use the sidewalk when necessary, but it embarrasses them. They are lovin' it here! And we have found the pseudo-funky (kind of like Charlotte or Atlanta trying to be funky) part of our neighborhood, full of bars and reportedly open until dawn. It's a great place to watch fútbol matches, plus we found some GOOD craft beer here in Medellín! A welcome treat. National beers are good for hydrating, but we are really missing Asheville beers.
Another title that Medellín holds is plastic surgery capitol of the world. As a man who showed us around the city said, "There aren't many ugly women in Medellín, but there are a lot of poor husbands." I surmise there are more plastic surgery clinics here than dentist offices. 'Course, a large percentage of the dentist offices are probably for cosmetic treatments. I am not well-informed about all the latest procedures, but there are a lot of the basics: boob jobs, butt jobs, tummy tucks, arm tucks, stretched faces, Botox-laced lips . . . I wonder why a person (sadly, this applies primarily to women) who chooses to have foreign objects installed in their body is at all concerned about whether they eat organic, non-GMO foods. What's the point?
Staying put for almost a week reminds us that we will soon be returning to a house and yard. It will be a reverse culture-shock, certainly. We really dig the Latin culture/vibe, and will miss it. We will miss the spectacular mountains and beautiful beaches and new adventures at every turn. But of course it will be great to see our friends and drink above-mentioned beer, and it might be nice to throw the toilet paper in the toilet again.

Posted by ceastburn 11:30 Archived in Colombia Comments (1)

Calí, Take Two

Our recent 3 days in Calí, Colombia, our 2nd visit to this city, confirmed our affection for the place. The residents are incredibly friendly and helpful. We were all enthusiastically welcomed back to our hotel. They even installed a new router on our floor when we mentioned we were having problems with the WiFi connection! And my favorite manicurist remembered me with a smile.
We returned to our favorite restaurant/drinking hole, where we watched two Champions League matches with the locals. The folks are curious about the US and our travels, and are also very proud of their city, understandably.
A man from the hotel--the owner, perhaps--drove us around the city, showing us a lot of things we missed the first time. We especially enjoyed seeing the Parque de los Gatos, filled with cat sculptures. It appears that the same basic cat/mold was used for all the figures, each being decorated and designed by different artists. And the velodrome is terrific. It is the site of several UCI World Championships, and it will host them again in 2014.
We were a bit sad to say goodbye, but look forward to returning another time.
The drives from Pasto to Calí and from Calí to Medellin were both strenuous, to say the least. We came across numerous rock slides, including live ones, and saw a huge number of workers trying to clean them up. It seems to be a 24-hour job in these parts. And there are frequent military posts, with sandbags and many soldiers carrying automatic weapons. They always smile and give us the thumbs-up.
We also witnessed a troubling sight: two dogs being hit by the vehicle directly in front of us. Actually, it appeared they were rolled under the vehicle, rather than actually run over. We stopped. The larger one, a German Shepherd, yelped and got up. A little boy came and led him away. The smaller one remained in the middle of the road. I got out and approached it, thinking I would at least comfort him in his last moments. However, he was awake, though obviously stunned. He let me pet him w/o growling. His bladder had emptied during all the commotion, and there was some blood where his little mouth was scraped. A man came to help me, and drug/carried the pooch to the side of the road. The pup lifted its head and seemed to be coming back to normal. I am hopeful he will survive. Left me shaken for awhile.
And then the drive into Medellin . . . Good googly moogly. It is the Panamericano, with all the truck traffic one would expect to see on such an artery. And it is remarkably narrow and steep and winding. Trucks drive at approximately 5 mph, so it is customary to pass them, even on a double-yellow line. However, one Tránsito cop decided gringos should not pass, and signaled us to the side of the narrow road. Tried to tell us we had committed and infraction. We played dumb, "lo siento. No entiendo." They sometimes get frustrated enough to just tell you to go on. It worked this time. Best we could figure, the guy was bored and wanted to check out the Jeep. His partner came out and told us to go on. Until this episode, we've had no problems in South America with cops pulling us over for bogus infractions, probably expecting us to fold and pay a bribe. Central America was another story . . .
At any rate, we were rewarded by locating our apartment in Medellin relatively quickly. And it is terrific! 17th floor in barrio El Poblado, a hoity-toity part of the city. Nice to have a kitchen and a washer and dryer! We will hang here for a few days.

Posted by ceastburn 08:57 Archived in Colombia Comments (2)


Quito is another stunning mountain city in Ecuador. At 9350 feet, it is the highest capital city in the world. Centro Histórico in Quito, along with Kraków, were the first World Cultural Heritage Sites declared by UNESCO in 1978. Wikipedia comes in so handy sometimes.
We felt that altitude, especially the first day or two. I went for a run the second morning of our stay, and certainly did a lot of mouth-breathing. Having cool things to look at took my mind off my roaring heart rate.
The weather in Quito followed the same pattern the three days we were there: brilliant, intense sun in the morning, with rain beginning by 1-2 pm, lasting until at least 7 pm, and then intermittently through the night. We arrived during an all-out thunderstorm, complete with hail!
Took a great city tour (in the morning, of course), producing many photos to be posted soon on FB. We ventured into New Town for one evening. Went to an Irish Pub, drank Ecuadorian beer, and were assaulted by boomba-boomba-boomba music. Then we found a brewpub with passable beer and a friendly bartender. Nights in Centro Histórico were entertaining, with Sunny & Cricket being the center of attention.
This is somewhat off the subject, because I don't believe it occurred in Quito. However, I have been meaning to address this. A common gesture in Latin America seems to be the wagging of one's finger at another individual. I usually get it when I try to bring the pups into the establishment of an uptight proprietor. It is difficult to think of anything that raises the hair on the back of my neck more immediately. My instinct, which I have stifled to date, is to slap the guilty party's face: whacka-whacka-whacka. Or, if I'm lazy, simply giving the finger. Check. Got that off my chest.
And today, we have made it back into Colombia! Again, the scenery around the Ecuador-Colombia is indescribable.
Tomorrow: back to the heat of Calí!

Posted by ceastburn 19:51 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Realities of Travel

Shortly after the last blog ended, the stomach cramps began. It is not a topic to dwell on, but suffice it to say we had a long journey that was strenuous for both the driver and passenger. We made it within shootin' distance of the Ecuador border, and ventured into the metropolis of Las Lomas, Perú to find a place to spend the night. All I wanted was a bed and a toilet. Despite the receptionist having the personality of a fence post, we found a decent room. One problem: the toilet tank filled at the speed of a drip. This is not good news for someone who is exploding. I promise, that's the last of the gory details.
Douglas supplied me with Gatorade and love.
After a great night's sleep, I was feeling better. We took the dogs for the walk around the town square. We felt a little like Hispanics in Arizona. A lot of stares, at both us and at the dogs. Douglas mentioned he heard a lot of whistles when he was walking around the night before. There are different kinds of whistles in Latin America. The expected, innocent ones at women, which I have become almost oblivious to. But there are others, the long whistles back and forth between several dudes, that generally mean, "gringos in town in a big expensive Jeep." We have read accounts of folks who hear whistles, primarily at night, shortly before they are attacked and/or robbed. Needless to say, we take notice when we hear them.
So . . . packed up and drove to the outskirts of town and found a place for breakfast. What a world of difference a few blocks made! The folks were happy to see us, they loved the dogs, and they fixed a great breakfast. I got some eggs and rice down.
We drove to the La Tina/Macará frontera. I can confidently say, this was the easiest, most laid back, fastest border crossing we have experienced. Yay!
We were then in the mountains of Ecuador, immediately gaining elevation. A lot of elevation. Arriving in the town of Loja at 6889 feet, we found a funky hotel. Threadbare carpets, satiny bedspreads, soft mattresses. The staff was terrific, though. The town was surprisingly quiet for a Saturday night, but we found a little bohemian joint with good tunes and beer and wine. Yes, I could drink wine at this point.
On our way to Cuenca, we stopped in the village of Saraguro, which means "land of corn." The Saraguro people are readily identifiable by their dress: wide-brimmed, white hats spotted under the brim for women, and knee-length black shorts for the men, who sport a single long braid down their backs. We got a lot of curious-but-friendly stares. It was market day, with beautiful flowers and vegetables, goose eggs and fresh queso displayed, and multiple pigs hanging, ready to be cut as requested.
And finally, Cuenca. This is a beautiful city at 8300 feet. Interesting old buildings, cobblestone streets, gorgeous flower markets. We are happily splurging, pampering ourselves in a cushy hotel with plasma TV (to watch the Masters Finals), and strong WiFi.
And now, off to check out a brewpub.

Posted by ceastburn 16:10 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

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