Colombia – First Impressions and General Observations about Bogotá

¡Hola! I am writing this from my hostel in Bogotá as I nurse my fourth beer of the evening – Cerveza Poker, and man is it going down smoothly – whilst reflecting on my four great days in Colombia’s massive capital city.

Colombia’s turbulent modern history began with it being perhaps one-fifth, geographically, of a mega-country of the same name following the region’s liberation from Spain in 1870. (If your knowledge of history is sketchy, the rest of “Colombia” included Panama, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Bolivia.) Much of Greater Colombia’s destiny was established in Bogotá, one of the oldest cities in the Americas. The city has remained an important player on the Latin American scene, and has weathered a few turbulent decades marked by presidential assassination, a nasty drug war, and paramilitary conflict with FARC and other guerilla groups to once again be a continental hot spot of culture and dining. And the tap water is potable!

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New Year’s Travel Resolution #1

It is mid-March, and Easter is upon us. Technically, spring is just around the corner, although to some it already feels like summer. Others, however, still feel the mercilessness of winter. (San Fernando Valley temps in LA this week are in the low 90’s, yet the Midwest was hit by near-record-setting blizzards just last week.)

What does this mean? It means that many in Latin America and Catholic Europe are preparing for Semana Santa (Holy Week). Antigua, Guatemala and San Salvador, El Salvador are just two (very different) cities in Central America renowned for their Semana Santa festivities, which typically include elaborate processions through the streets (and over alfombras – carpets – of moist sawdust and flowers), from church to church in re-enactment of the crucifixion, burial, and, yes, resurrection of Christ. In my own city, the sprawling barrio of Iztapalapa is the venue for an annual Passion Play, although it is said to be one of Mexico City’s most dangerous neighborhoods and I haven’t yet built up the courage to venture there with my DSLR and take photos. Across the ocean, the faithful of Seville, Spain and other cities in Andalucía perform similar processions; I was there in 2011 but alas, the parades were rained out and that leg of the trip was generally unmemorable. Further abroad still, the Cardinals of Vatican City even elected a new pope to ring in the resurrection!

What does this mean for me? I, like many other Latinos (I guess I’m Latin by proxy, mas-o-menos), will be traveling. You may recall, Loyal Reader, that I mentioned in my Looking Forward and Back – Part Two blog that I wished to take advantage of my time here to explore destinations relatively close to Mexico. Well, I’m not sure if this counts as “close,” seeing as it is a four-hour flight…but then again, flying there from the U.S. is at least six hours by plane, so I’m saving a few hours on airplanes and am counting it anyway. Where’s that, you ask?

I am going to Colombia!

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Looking Forward and Back – Part Two

Yesterday, I blogged about the 12 crazy months that had just passed. A roller coaster year of good SoCal hiking, great travels to Europe and Latin America, misleading job prospects, a relationship began and a friendship ended. You can read about it here. Today, I’m taking a moment to look forward.

2013 slate

The world is your oyster, Shakespeare once wrote (or something like that), and I couldn’t agree more. I have basically begun the year in a new city, in good health and in a steady relationship for 12 months and counting. I don’t always make New Year’s resolutions, but I did so this year, and thought I’d share them with you.

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Looking Forward and Back – Part One

Happy New Year! I hope your Christmakwanzaakuh was special, and I likewise hope you spent New Year’s Eve with someone special. As you may know, Loyal Reader, I spent my Christmas and New Year’s Eve holidays with family in Tennessee, and only just returned home to Mexico City yesterday evening.

The days between Christmas and New Year’s should be spent relaxing, of course, but should also include some reflection on the past 365 days, and on what you hope the next 365 will bring. Between hearty servings of zesty goulash, thin spaghetti, tender turkey, and light-as-a-feather mashed potatoes, (the turkey baked to perfection by my sister, who, as it turns out, is one helluva good cook) I did just that. I do just that every year, in fact, but I don’t always learn much. It’s time to pay closer attention.

2012 highlights and lowlights

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Holiday Travels – Part Three

I have been having a case of the blues lately. I love my new apartment and am still enamored with all that Mexico City has to offer. That said, it’s been hard finding work and making friends here. I miss those two-hour telephone gab-a-thons with friends living in the States. I only recently discovered Facebook video calling (very similar to Skype). It helps, but it is also dependent on friends being home in front of their webcams. My parents, who don’t have (and probably don’t need) internet access, are still over 2,000 miles away, and I haven’t spoken with them since the morning before my move from the U.S. to Mexico. My girlfriend and I love each other and see each other often, but she has her own life and I must remember to give her some space.

As someone who’s always marched to the beat of his own drummer, I must confess: for perhaps the first time in my life, I’m lonely.

Fortunately, the holidays are here and I’m leaving Sunday to visit family in both sides of Tennessee. Wee doggies! (Or however you spell that.) American Airlines offered me an Executive Platinum frequent flyer status match, and has upgraded me to First Class for my first flight. (My second, connecting flight is on one of those dreaded, single-class, 40-seater regional jets that, of late, have seemingly overtaken the fleets of both United and American. It seems that these boxy-ass, corrugated metal lightning rods are everywhere.)

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Holiday Travels – Part Two

Have you ever been fired from a job? I have, and it’s humiliating. It really is like it happens in the movies – you have to pack all your workplace personal effects – eight years’ worth, in my case (including a plaque for “Most Valuable Player,” oh sweet irony) – into a cardboard box and make the long walk to your car. My boss was kind enough to fire me after hours, but there were still several people working late, and I know what they were thinking as I slowly shuffled past them, looking at the ground and trying to bite my tongue. Gives new meaning to the phrase “Walk of Shame.”

I kid you not, though – as soon as I pulled out of the parking garage, it was as if a weight had lifted. I could breathe clearly again! I was free! My more level-headed friends would almost certainly go home and immediately file for Unemployment Compensation and polish up their resumes. Me, I did those things as well, to be certain, but they weren’t my first order of business. No, my first task was to buy an airline ticket. Going somewhere. Anywhere. Get me – the fuck – out of here.

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Holiday Travels – Part One

I have mentioned in previous blog entries that my first solo international trip – to Mexico City over Thanksgiving 2002 – raised the travel bar for me. With apologies to my parents (who always put together a great Thanksgiving Day spread), Turkey Day 2002 was probably the best Thanksgiving of my life. Others, since then, have come awfully close.

The other day I started thinking about all the places I’ve been to – not just over Thanksgiving, but at any time. I have been to 41 U.S. states and more countries than I can keep track of. I have set foot on six continents. I have completely filled two passports and had extra pages added to both. According to flightmemory.com, I have flown almost 740,000 miles. That said, holiday season travel gives me an extra lift, because travel over Christmas always reunites me with my parents, whom I wish I could visit more often, and because travel over Thanksgiving maintains my own tradition – 11 years running – of going someplace new, sometimes with friends but often by myself.

Seeing as it is mid-way between the two holidays as I write this, I thought I’d share, over these next few days, a few fond holiday season travel memories.

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