Travel Ain’t Always Easy (aka My Trip to Bogota)

Long-term travel is kind of awesome.  You get to cram a whole lot of amazing destinations altogether into one big adventure.  And sometimes if you’re lucky, you get to do this without worrying about maintaining a job.  On paper it sounds kind of perfect.  Even I can admit that.  But in reality…  Well, in reality long-term travel is also kind of hard and often quite uncomfortable.  Such was the case, as I found myself puking into a plastic bag in the back of someone’s car while navigating Bogota traffic.  But let’s go back to the beginning…

After several warm & sunny days meandering the streets of Cartagena, it was time to start preparing for my next stop, Bogota.  I managed to track down a local dish I’d been meaning to have (fried fish with coconut rice & plantains) for lunch.  All this plus juice & soup for just $4.90!  I love you, Colombia!

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After lunch, I circled the old city while taking photos to remember the view.  Cartagena is quite a colorful town.

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I was lucky enough to have 2 friendly Argentinian roommates move in for my last two nights in Cartagena so we spent my final evening wandering the streets and enjoying the warm evening air.  As we arrived back at the hostel that evening, a strange sensation began rippling through my stomach.  I would soon discover it was a round of Travelers Diarrhea stopping by to say hello. I couldn’t believe it hit me this early on…  would I still be able to fly out the next day?

I got up the next morning, nervous about my upcoming flight but feeling ok enough to travel.  I got lucky and landed an awesome taxi driver.  He was in his 50s or 60s and originally from Cartagena.  He gave me a very hard time about not finding a Colombian boyfriend while my American boyfriend was back in the US.  At the end of our short trip, he tried to wave off my payment… WTF?!  What taxi driver says “you don’t have to pay me”?!  Anyway, I wanted to hug him at that moment but instead forced him to take the $5 fare and waved goodbye.  It was after check-in that I learned my flight had been delayed by over an hour.  Just great.  That’s exactly what a person having an anxiety attack about losing their sh*t on a plane needs (sadly, I mean that literally).  Good news though… I made it.  All the way to Bogota.  And overall, I had to say I was feeling much better.

After arriving to the airport, I found myself in a taxi with a 63 year old driver who had just started taxi-ing in the last 8 months.  Why would someone do that, you ask?  Well, I asked the same thing… because his brother and sister-in-law forged his signature on some documents and stole/bankrupted his construction business.  What?!  I must admit though, he worked really hard to keep an upbeat attitude about it.  He told me he was a very strong person and used his positive thoughts to move on in life.  I’ll say…

So after an hour on the road (and an introduction to the pure madness that is Bogota traffic), I arrived at the home of a friend’s relatives (whom I’d never met before).  I was a bit nervous… I didn’t speak fluent Spanish and his cousin didn’t speak much English.  Lucky for us, her husband spoke both fluently but he wouldn’t be home when I arrived.  But like many potentially awkward moments on the road, you just go with it and see what happens.  And then you meet someone like this…

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This is Tomas.  He’s 5 and quite a talker.  After 2 weeks in South America and lots of practice using my Spanish (neither of my taxi drivers spoke any English), I was feeling pretty good about myself.  That is, until I met Tomas and was out-espanoled by a 5 year old.  Our conversations were mainly him speaking to me in rapid fire sentences with perfect diction and me screaming “que? que?” back at him.  His Spanish was so good, in fact, that he was correcting mine.  Seriously.

Tomas: Mira!  Es la torre eifel!  (after building a lego rendition of the eiffel tower)

Katrina: Ah!  Si el torre eifel!

Tomas:  No.  Es LA torre.  LA torre.

Katrina:  Right.  La torre.

But how can you not love a face like this?!  This kid was so cute.  And so sweet.  And so smart.  We had fun together, playing games like Quien Es (Guess Who minus the fun slapping sound made when smacking the faces down) and spending time with his puppy.  His mom, Andrea, was ridiculously sweet and made me lunch as soon as I arrived (complete with worrying that I wouldn’t like it).  Even though we couldn’t communicate in the same language fluently, I found myself feeling really comfortable in their home.  It wasn’t as hard as I had feared it would be.  Once her husband, Andres, arrived home, we made plans to leave for dinner and they took me out for an authentic bowl of ajiaco (a soup dish native to Bogota).  We finished off the night with board games after Tomas went to bed.  It was a really fun day and they were some of the sweetest people I had ever met.  Little did I know what tomorrow would bring and this was just the tip of the iceberg in regards to the depth of their kindness.

The next day we all got up early and headed out to see the city.  A few things to mention…  It was a weekday but both Andrea & Andres took a day from work to show me around (who does that?!).  The drive into the city was about 2 hrs each way in Bogota traffic.  Again… who does that?!  And because we would be visiting a lot of museums, Tomas got to come along for some education.  We started off at the Military Museum and then wandered over to La Casa de Florero (another important historical site in Colombia’s history).  As we meandered through the old historic neighborhood of La Candelaria, we decided to stop for a break and have some lunch.  Pit stop complete, we carried on and made a visit to the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) which houses a crazy amount of  historic gold items.  I had been so excited to see this museum, but I sadly spent half of my time here sitting in the hallway trying to wish away my stomach pains.

I wasn’t sure what was happening but it was getting harder and harder to ignore.  My stomach was killing me and I started feeling like crap.  Andrea & Andres saw my distress and offered a stop for some tea.  After the tea, I was feeling a bit better so we decided to keep going and went to see the National Museum.  But here I could no longer take it and had to sit half of it out.  I felt so bad for these really nice people who had driven 2 hours (each way) and were missing time at work to take me and Tomas to the museums.  I didn’t want to spoil anyone’s fun but it was getting really hard to downplay.  So we called it quits and headed home.  On the way, we made a quick stop to check out an amazing view of the city of Bogota but sadly my camera broke hours before and no photo was taken.  It was at this point that I was pretty sure I had a fever coming on.  Things just kept getting better.  An hour in the car and we’re still not quite there yet.  While I had been valiantly fighting against the nausea, I could feel the tides turning and knew my time would soon be up.  Fact:  I have never in my 34 years of life EVER thrown up in something that was not a waste receptacle or a toilet.  No yards, no floors, no furniture, no roads etc.  So you can imagine how stressed out I was to realize that I was totally going to puke in these nice people’s car!  Luckily I managed to find a plastic bag and held on tight for what I knew was coming.  We were stopped at a red light, Tomas was entertaining himself in his car seat and I lost all control.  There I was puking into a small plastic bag in the backseat, while praying it didn’t have any microscopic holes.  Poor Andres had to jump out in the pouring rain and deliver my plastic bag of goodness to the nearest trashcan.  But I’m happy to report, there were no holes!

At this point, Andrea & Andres are just trying to make me feel better and even stop to get me some medicine.  As we arrive home, all I can think about is getting into bed, but there’s one more moment of awesomeness still to come.  As Andrea & I are walking to the apartment, I take a fall and scrape up my knee.  But even better than that… I also manage to rip a HUGE hole in my favorite brand name jeans.  The kind I can’t afford to replace now that I don’t have a job.  Sweet.  I shrug it off and head to bed for a rest before dinner.  Andres in all his awesomeness makes me a chicken (no noodle cause I’m gluten-free) soup from scratch and I swallow it down before tumbling back to bed and trying not to cry.  The next day I was scheduled to fly to Buenos Aires in the late morning.  That ticket would cost about $900 to replace but I wasn’t sure I could make the 7 hour flight without killing myself or having a nervous breakdown.  What if I still had a fever?!  What if I’m still puking?!  Andrea had the same concerns and went to bed worried about me.  When I woke the next morning, my fever was mostly gone.  I got up and started packing, hoping for a best case scenario.  Andrea came to talk to me and let me know that she was worried about me.  That she felt bad no one would be waiting for me in Buenos Aires to take care of me or take me to the hospital if I needed it.  She wanted me to know that I was welcome to stay as long as I wanted and that she and Andres would take me to the hospital if I needed it.  She was presenting a really tempting offer and it was hard to leave.  Secretly I still felt kind of crappy, but I was feeling better and at that point I wanted to just get to Argentina so I could stop worrying about making flights when I felt crappy.  In the end, I decided to catch my flight.  I really wanted to crawl back in bed with Andrea & Andres there to take care of me but instead I put on my big girl pants and made my way to Argentina.

I write this REALLY long post to say 2 things…

1) Travel is oftentimes uncomfortable.  Sometimes it’s in the good way that makes you grow as a person or change your perspective on things.  And sometimes it’s in the bad way where all you want to do it to quit and go home.  It can often be both of these things at the same time.  It’s not always glamorous but it’s usually rewarding.

2) Colombia is a great country full of amazing people.  I have seen some of the most powerful kindness extended to me by friends & family members of a work friend that I only got to know shortly before leaving my company.  I will be forever grateful to him for allowing me this opportunity.  If you’ve ever thought of visiting Colombia, I highly urge you to do so!

That’s it for me.  Tomorrow is my first day of Spanish class here in Buenos Aires.  Maybe after 2 weeks here I will finally be able to keep up with Tomas…

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Eating My Way Through Cartagena

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So I made to Cartagena without a hitch.  I even got to pester the British girl who shared a cab to the airport with me about her massive hickey (yet another hostel stereotype come to life!).  She laughed and said that only Americans were “brave” (or maybe she meant “rude”) enough to ask her about it directly.  Side note:  Avianca is seriously the best airline I’ve ever flown.  They are so friendly!  From the customer call center to the ticket agents and even the flight attendants, it’s actually a joy to fly with them.  They even let me carry on my massive backpack when it exceeded the weight limit by 5 lbs (it weighed in at a gentle 26 lbs). Speaking of which, my back might actually be breaking in slow motion.  I think I’m going to need a chiropractor once this trip is over.  

I landed here on this sunny island without a plan.  For the past few days I’ve been walking around and taking in the sights of the old city and neighboring barrio, Getsemani.  While all this free time has been relaxing and I enjoy waking up every day without a plan, I started to feel a bit bored and wanted to learn something about the town I was spending so much time in.  So I got online and did some quick research on “things to do” and “walking tours”.  And then I saw it… a street food walking tour with an Australian expat named Kristy.  Sold!  So I sent a quick email to see if she could fit me in.  Lucky for me, she had some time this afternoon so we set up a meeting for 3pm.

For most of you, daylight savings is a real thing.  I thought it was for me too, but apparently Colombia gives the middle finger to daylight savings.  So I waited for about an hour and thought Kristy had abandoned me.  Then I awkwardly admitted to being an idiot when she was confused about why I thought she was an hour late.  Lucky for me, Kristy was super cool and didn’t hold it against me.  And with that… the tour began.  It was awesome.  I’ve come to realize how important food is for me during this international experience.  As we walked around, sampling strange and exotic new foods I felt as if I were in heaven.  It’s kind of how I imagine my boyfriend to feel on an 8 hr hike, up a steep mountain with nature all around him (all I feel in these situations is panic and an acute awareness of my out of shapeness).

So we spent 2 hours together talking and walking.  I peppered her with questions about how she ended up in Cartagena (a breakup and strong desire to travel) and about the food we were trying.  It was all so amazing… arepas con queso, arepas con huevos, green mango with salt, pepper and lime juice, lulo fruit smoothies, guava paste with cheese, deep fried coconut, guava brisos (popsicles) and coconut water straight from the coconut served in a plastic bag much like a water balloon to name a few.  At the end of our tour, I sat down completely satisfied.  Being on a tight budget, I can’t do everything I want.  I could have spent the money on a day at the beach, or touring a mud volcano but in those moments after our tour ended, I knew without a doubt that it was the best experience I could have given myself.  It’s been a little lonely here in Cartagena.  The hostel I’m staying at has an odd set up and a weird vibe so meeting people hasn’t been as easy.  Spending time with someone and learning about something I’m interested in was a nice way to connect, even if just for a few hours.  I definitely feel inspired to keep my eye out for other food tours in the cities and towns I’m going to visit.

The picture above was taken from the rooftop of a nice hotel here in Cartagena.  Kristy loves to show people the view from up here and now you can see why!  Below is a quick shot I took of the candy jars on the Plaza de Reloj.  So many to choose from!

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