... to see my pops. He lives in a suburb of Tampa. I'm going to stay three nights with him before I head back to Reno. I'm on an Avianca jet above the Caribbean. I'm simultaneously sad and glad to go. Sad because I really like Colombia -- it's a beautiful place with really great people; glad because I'm a bit weary from all the travel and ready to get back into, uh, real life. I've definitely got plenty waiting for me to do... So before I go and get busy with life again, I'll try to spill my brain into my laptop before the memories become fuzzy. My memory is really bad, by the way, and I think that one reason for this is because of my tendency to go, go, go without taking time to reflect on all the things I did, all the people I met, etc.
Cartagena I spent a couple of nights here, just sort of walkin around, establishing myself in Colombia (got the SIM card for my cell), running errands (laundry, fixed my sunglasses, developed my film), and having lunch in a really nice little cafe with working class Colombians. There was a big demonstration the day after I arrived against the FARC, the guerilla movement with an agenda that no one seems to be quite sure of. One thing for certain is that they have kidnapped plenty of people, lending to Colombia's horrendous reputation (which prompted everyone who I told I was going to Colombia to either tell me I was crazy or plead with me to be careful). I was a bit on edge in Cartagena, especially at night... the guidebook warns against walking alone, but the owner of the pension I was staying in swore that it's safe if you use a bit of streetsmarts (don't flash money or jewelry, etc). It was definitely safe in the historic center, which is just a bit too touristy (featuring a new Hard Rock Cafe), but definitely a nice place to wander around... though it's definitely one of those romantic places that is a bit depressing to be alone in. As lovers passed by me hand in hand, I dodged shady men offering me drugs and hookers. One of them irked me good -- as I was passing by, he said, in the most ridiculously forced yankee accent I've heard in a while, "hey man, what're you lookin' for?" I ignored him, but when he kept following me, speaking Yankee to me (he obviously assumed I was from the USA, which of course is correct), I turned to him and answered him in Italian... just to mess with him. He didn't speak Italian so he switched to Spanish and asked me where I was from. I told him New York. He was confused, and I made my escape... The scariest thing that happened to me was when a barefoot black man came charging in my direction wielding a splintered slice of wood. My heart dropped into my pants and my pace quickened, and he swung towards the ground wildly, striking the street twice and sort of squealing. He was chasing a rat. That aside, Cartagena was great, full of cool little restaurants and bars (my favorite being Donde Fidel, a traditional salsa bar run by an obviously passionate music fanatic... sort of the equivalent of De Diepte in Amsterdam, Gabba Gabba in Valencia, and of what I had hoped to do in Naples with the Slovenly Bar), and I would have liked to have stayed longer... it's on the list of places I will visit again when I return to Colombia. Yeah, a return trip to Colombia is definitely in my future.
Barranquilla I arrived on the last night of Carnaval. Actually it was the evening after the last day of carnaval. There wasn't much going on, though I did see some diehard partyers dancing their asses off out in front of a computer store (?). The town is pretty drab, just like the book said... I went to a cumbia performance, mainly to try to get an idea of what the hell cumbia is (I still couldn't differentiate merengue from salsa from vallenato from cumbia from porro). It was "folkloric" cumbia, which apparently is quite different from modern cumbia, adding to the confusion. But it wasn't really my thing, it was actually quite annoying and repetetive. I walked around for a bit looking for a beer, and then a toilet, but when I found neither I just split. I did some research at the internet cafe and found a rock bar, the first of several venues that could be part of a South American tour... yeah, I think I have a pretty good idea of how to do a tour in S. America now, is there a band out there adventurous enough to try it? Taganga I already wrote about this place. I spent two relaxing nights here... I was the DJ in the "Garaje", a cool little bar with no DJ equipment, which meant a pretty lackluster DJ set. I met an older guy named Pedro, and spent quite a bit of time with Leticia from Argentina, a really special woman with a really lucky boyfriend (doh!)
El Viaje de Infierno Yes, that means "the trip of hell". And I purposefully wrote almost nothing about it here because I didn't want to make my mom (and all of those people who warned me to be careful in Colombia) worry. It's amazing how many times, while traveling, I read the same page in the Lonely Planet -- days before arrival, day of arrival, just before traveling. Even more amazing is how things still manage to slip by me, like in this case. The caption on this Colombia-Venezuela border crossing spelled it all out for me: take a bus from Santa Marta to Maicao, and then from Maicao to Maracaibo. But the last bus leaving Maicao is at 3pm, and you don't want to even leave the bus station in this seedy Colombian border town -- especially at night. Simple enough, but I left Santa Marta at 2:15pm, and when I got to Maicao, guess what? There were no buses. To my relief, though, there was a guy awaiting the arrival of our bus who was looking for passengers to Maracaibo -- in what he called a buseta, little minivans used to shuttle around groups of 8-10 people. I went with the guy out into the dark streets of Maicao, which is as seedy as the book described, and, as instructed, waited by a fried chicken stand for the buseta. This fast talker had told me that the bus was leaving right away, but the truth was that we had to wait for enough passengers to fill all the seats. In the meantime he had also changed my 50,000 Colombian pesos into 75,000 Venezuelan bolivares. A few kids around me suggested under their breath that I should have gotten closer to 100,000 per the current exchange rate, and when I asked the fast-talker to explain himself, he pulled out a calculator and just pecked furiously at it until the display read 75,000. Out there in the street with all of my luggage, and all of these creepy characters lurking about, I was real hesitant to make a stink. So I didn't -- but my gut began to turn as I wondered how badly I was going to be ripped off by the end of this ordeal. It gets worse. A half an hour later, I'm nervously but cautiously asking more questions. "Where is the buseta?" "Who is the driver?" "Where are the passengers?" And, as if in answer, the fast-talker would run off chasing an arriving bus yellow "Maracaibo! Maracaibo!" Supposedly he was looking for more passengers, but since he had just ripped me off I wondered if it was all part of an act, and if all of his buddies who were hanging around were playing along to get a piece of my pie. Turns out, the vehicle we were to travel in was not at all a little bus but a rundown old car, into the trunk of which fast-talker dumped my biggest piece of luggage. He carefully closed the trunk so that it was still open and invited me to get into the car. There I sat, alone in this junky car, clutching my little backpack which contains my most valuable effects, and watching the scene. Why did he leave the trunk open? Who is that back behind the car? I envisioned the loss of my first bit of property, as some younger cousin of the fast-talker, supposedly just one of the town's many thieves, rides off on a moped with my suitcase. I got out of the car and was standing by the door, keeping a close eye on that trunk, when our first passenger arrived. Almost an hour later, we had a full car. Three young Colombians, all without passports or permission to enter Venezuela were the passengers. (!!) They had each paid over USD $100 for the trip. Lovely. Visions of losing not only my stuff, but my freedom stirred in my gut. Would I end up in some jail cell at the border? Or kidnapped by guerillas looking for young recruits? But somehow, I was relieved that we were finally leaving Maicao, and that all of my stuff was still with me -- oh wait, is my suitcase was still in that trunk...? The border was about 5 kilometers away, and it was a scene out of a movie. Flatbed trucks, overflowing with men, some carrying machine guns slowly creeped by in both directions. Border guards with rifles stood around joking with each other (but somehow simultaneously managing to give us hard looks). The 100 meters/yards in between the two borders was a desolate, a potholed, black no man's land. And since the driver neglected to stop to get my exit stamp from the Colombian authorities, I had to walk back through it, or face deportation. Yes, the Venezuelan border guard actually said, "te vamos a deportar." They couldn't find the entry stamp either, but it was there, and after I pointed it out to them, they requested 100 dollars. I didn't have it, and then the driver appeared and cracked some friendly jokes with the guard, and I was on my way... back to the post, to be searched. All of my luggage was opened and spread on the table, for all of the creepy passersby to see. The fact that my luggage had a dollar value probably equivalent to what most of these people earned in a year was on showcase. Lovely. They unpacked all of my stuff, and then just left it there, for me to hurriedly repack, out of the sight of all of those eyes. Then we were ushered into a little room. Me and the four undocumented Colombians. We were ordered to drop our pants. I had just come from the beach and was wearing swim trunks -- no underwear. My scared weenie has probably never been smaller in its life. I was relieved that there was no anal probe. No rubber gloves. No cavity search. All stuff one might expect on the border of the world's largest exporter of cocaine. So anyway, after showin everything I've got, we finally got back into the car and drove off, after the driver greased the palm of the border guard with several crisp bills. I was relieved, because I thought that that was the end of our sketchy ordeal. We were in Venezuela, so it should have been smooth sailing to Maracaibo from there. I was wrong. Apparently, one border checkpoint isn't enough to keep the coke and the undocumented Colombians out of Venezuela. So there were about ten of them, one every few miles it seemed, and at each one the driver thumbed out more bills. Apparently all machine-gun toting Venezuelan border guards can be bribed to look the other way. A comforting thought... I wonder what else you can pay them to do... After about the 4th checkpoint bribery, an older man came running towards the car (which of course caused my gut to sink quickly into my pants). Turns out he's a colleague of the driver -- he was driving some other undocumented kids and had his car confiscated. It wasn't clear to me just why, because the way he spoke Spanish was a slurred flurry of slang and euphemisms, all shouted at the top of his lungs, which prompted me to sort of cover my ears. At one point during his nonstop chatter, he explained that the border guard who confiscated his car thought he was yelling at him, and that he tried to explain to the border guard (apparently in an ever-louder voice) that he's not yelling, he just has a loud voice! Everyone else in the car remained silent as he jabbered on. At one point, he called the Macaio-Maracaibo trip, "el viaje del infierno". I couldn't agree more. And then, as if on cue, we approach... flames! At this point, I'm laughing. On either side of the road are 10-foot tall flames stretching for about 10 yards/meters. So close to the road that we could feel the hot as we passed. We went through about three of these flame tunnels. And then -- yes! it gets even better -- the scariest moment of the trip: a car passes us, and gradually slows down, until we're both stopped. The driver is vocally nervous about what's going on here. My heart pounds, and I envision guys in machine guns ordering us all out of the car, stripping us naked to be sure they get all of our valuables, and then driving away, leaving us on the side of the road in our birthday suits. Turns out, it's yet another driver, who noticed how the six of us were crammed into the car that was already cramped with five. He had an extra seat in his car. So loudmouth got out and rode off with him, and we were off. After a few more checkpoints, we reached a highway that brought us all the way to Maracaibo without stopping. I was still nervous about getting ripped off -- since the driver had a good look at all the stuff I had in my bags, I didn't write off the possibility of his trying something funny, like pulling out a gun and bringing me to a cash machine, making me withdraw as much cash as my card allows, and then, at gunpoint, forcing me to stay at the machine while he drove off with all of my luggage. At this point, I was ready for just about anything. Since I thought I'd be arriving at around 8pm, and then meeting up with a guy I found on couchsurfing.com, I figured I'd get his recommendation and just walk into a hotel. So I had no reservation, but I didn't want the driver to know that I was so disorganized. And I was hoping he'd drop me off at the hotel so I didn't have to find a taxi. It was almost 2am by now...!! Yeah, the two hour trip ended up taking eight hours, and I missed my Friday night on the town in Maracaibo with Luis and his (girl)friends. But I was happy to be alive and still have my bags under my arms. Now all I needed was a hotel and a beer. So I stealthily thumbed through the guidebook, found a hotel, and asked the driver to bring me there, telling him that I had a reservation. After driving around for a half an hour looking for it, asking various people for directions, we found it. It was closed for renovations. Now he knows I'm lying to him... so I take the first safe opportunity I can find to get out and be done with this creep. He lets me off on a corner where some kids are hanging out near a food stand. They warn me that walking around alone at this time of night with all my luggage in Maracaibo is not safe. So I grab a taxi, coughing up 5,000 of my last 10,000 bolivares, and ask to be taken to a hotel the kids told me about. I get out at the hotel and the taxi drives away. The hotel is full. They don't even invite me into the lobby for a second, so I'm out on the street, with all of my luggage, about to have a breakdown. Finally, a couple appears and I follow them to another taxi, who drops me off at Hotel Golden Monkey for my last 5,000. The bar in the hotel is still open, and let's me take a beer on the room tab. I'm safe and sound, extremely relieved, and the beer tastes extra good. In a funny way I'm glad I had this horrible experience... it's a good story to tell, and it reminds me that I should really appreciate the freedom to travel that I have. As a citizen of the USA and Italy, I can freely enter and exit almost every country in the world without a visa. Outside of the states and Europe, I'm only allowed to stay for 30 days, but having two passports makes it easy to juggle entry/exit stamps to stay for as long as I like. It's really a horrible shame that millions of people around the world can't leave their home country. For Colombians, it was explained to me many times, the US Consolate charges around $150 just to apply for a visa. If you are rejected, you don't get a refund. And usually the ones that don't get rejected are the ones who can afford to lose that application fee. I realize that it's unrealistic to just open borders and let people move about freely -- some control is necessary to prevent disorganized floods of immigration which make life miserable for both current residents and immigrants -- but I really feel bad for people who aren't even given the possibility to travel beyond their borders. That said, I feel worse for someone from a smaller country, like say, Serbia -- they've got a lot less to explore within their borders than a Colombian. Colombia is as big as Spain, Portugal, and France combined, has miles of coastline on both the Pacific and the Caribbean, an Amazon basin, and plenty of mountains and jungles to climb and explore.
Maracaibo Luis came to meet me the following day at the Golden Monkey. I was still quite shaken from the night before, and disoriented, in yet another country. I had walked around and around looking for a cash machine... and once I found one, I struggled with it for 15 minutes until a girl finally pointed out that I was trying to withdraw the equivalent of USD $100,000 -- the cash machine displayed amounts in bolivares fuertes, which dropped three zeros. Right... woops! Luis took me and a French couchsurfer whose name escapes me around the town, showing the sights... not that there's too terribly much to see in Maracaibo... we went into a mall and had lunch, and later went and found me a hotel for the night, as I decided to leave the Golden Monkey. I ended up in the hotel that, the night before, had been full and left me on the street. Later on we went out with several of his (girl)friends, in a sheik bar full of high-heels and collars, buzzing with music that I mostly hated. It was actually a really fun night -- thanks again Luis!
Merida The next morning I was on a bus to Merida. Eight hours, freezing my nuts off. The French kid said it -- the only places in Venezuela that are cold are buses and movie theaters. Pleading with the driver didn't help, he claimed to not have control over the AC. Whatever... when we finally got to Merida I grabbed a cab to Yolanda's place. She's my dad's cousin. I barely know her, but have fond memories of hanging out at my great Aunt Florence's house -- Yolanda's mother -- in New York as a kid. We chat about the fact that Florence's father, Giuseppe Menichetti, is who I owe my Italian citizenship to, and that she might also be eligible. She also tells me some things about my great grandfather that I'm definitely not proud of. Merida is nestled in the Andes mountains, and home to the world's longest cable-way -- the teleferico -- which shuttles tourists and daytrippers from the center of town, over the adjacent valley, and up to the peak of one of the highest mountains. It's incredible and, according to the guidebook, "the highlight of any trip to Merida". It's what I was looking forward to most, besides seeing Yolanda and her setup in Venezuela. But it's closed on Monday and Tuesday in the low season. I arrived Sunday night and had to leave Wednesday morning, so I was SOL. (Non-yankees: that stands for "shit out of luck") Apparently the high season had ended the day before I arrived, culminating in a big festival with tons of bands and people in the streets having a great time. Had I known... The sudden arrival of the low season (about which it said nothing in the guidebook) seemed to mean that all of the adventure sports tours that Merida is famous for were on vacation. So I just walked around the town, looking for records, eating interesting food, and running some errands. I got a haircut, clothes washed... and lots of work done at Yolanda's place. She's got a fast internet connection and I was in dire need of figuring things out for the Sticker Guy 15th anniversary party in Reno at the end of March. My stay in Merida was pretty uneventful. On my last day there, I rented a bicycle and rode about four hours uphill, to La Culata (heehee -- see photo, below!). I was supposed to meet up with a girl I found on couchsurfing.com, but without a cellphone, it was difficult to arrange a meeting. It was raining almost every afternoon and well into the evening, which also made going out less appealing. I went to check out "the best bar in Venezuela" (according to the guidebook), but it was quite uninspiring. Maybe if I was a college-aged reggae fan I would have liked it. I've learned to take Lonely Planet's advice, when taste is involved, with a grain of salt.
Bogota' and surroundings I traveled by bus from Merida to Cucuta, where I caught a plane with landed me in Bogota' just in time to meet up with David Bruce. We hung out for five days in Bogota', staying the whole time in the quite nice Hotel Ambala, which is in the center of La Candelaria, which is also where the university is. That meant that in the morning and the evening, when students were going to and leaving classes, the streets were full of pretty young girls (and of course, guys... but they have tough competition for a moment of my attention). Unfortunately we got a lot of rain, which put a damp-er (hee hee) on our sightseeing and evening boozing, but we still had a great time. We hung out at El Gato Bardo, which seems to be Colombia's only rock'n'roll bar, and is a really cool place. Eliz is the owner and a really sweet lady. Martin is my contact and plays in a band called Los Neuronas. He organized the party that Dave and me DJed, the flier for which was posted on this blarf a few days before the gig. He turned out to be a particularly good guy to meet. Besides being a swell guy, he's highly motivated and wants to represent Slovenly in Colombia. He got me an interview at the national independent radio station, Radionica, and put me in touch with a reviewer for the South American edition of Rolling Stone magazine (I know... corporate, but there isn't much else happening in Colombia... which seems to be proven to me by the amount of interest in a little label like Slovenly!). I was really well received, which is in part due to the hospitality and warmth of most Colombians, but also because almost no one dares to go there. At our gig, there weren't a lot of people, but the ones who did show up were very enthusiastic, buying records and dancing and having a great time... for most of them, they were hearing the songs Dave and me played for the first time. We went on a couple of field trips, to the salt cathedral of Zipaquira (see ominous photo) and to Villa de Leyva, where we hiked up a mountain on my birthday, and Dave didn't vomit. It was cool to get out of smoggy Bogota' and check out a bit of rural Colombia. Dave split the next day, and I got busy with the geeky urban planning & alternative transportation stuff that he probably wouldn't have cared much about. You see, Bogota' has become famous in the last ten years or so because it's ex-mayor, Enrique Penalosa, radically changed the urban planning of the city to be more 'egalitarian', which is a revolutionary, but very right-on concept for a mayor to be pushing. Especially in Bogota', where the vast majority of people don't have the money to own a car. It means taking space away from private automobiles (occupied by the wealthy) and giving it to pedestrians, cyclists, and mass transit users, which is everyone else. And on the margins of this 'everyone else', are the ones who can't even afford mass transit. It was explained to me that the bicycle paths that extend out to the poor suburbs on the edges of town get a lot of use from people who can't even afford bus fare. This is the sort of thought process that motivated Penalosa's policy decisions, which make mobility financially possible for everyone and, by extending sidewalks and rearranging the urban landscape in a way that keeps cars in their place, create a lot of beautiful public spaces for everyone to enjoy. Thanks to Oscar and Andres of the ITDP, my favorite NGO and one I donate most religiously to, for their hospitality in Bogota'.
Medellin After a last-minute rush around Bogota' to hit a couple more record stores, I grabbed a flight to Medellin. I had arranged to meet with Erika, who I found on couchsurfing.com, but she was stuck at work and couldn't make it. So I headed out to the Zona Rosa (which thankfully was much cooler than the one in Bogota' that Dave and I both hated) to check out the "rock" bar from the guidebook (grains of salt taken). Not surprisingly, this so-called rock bar looked more like a yuppie dive -- all white, minimalist, and square. It's called "Blue" and I hear hiphop from outside the front door. I don't go in, and decide to get a bite to eat and check out the "misfit biker bar," Berlin. While I'm waiting for my arepas, I check my email on my phone. There's a mail from a guy named Nicolas, who heard me on the radio and heard that I would be in Medellin. He wants to give me a CD to check out. So I call him, and he comes to meet me at Berlin, which turns out to be much more of a rock bar than Blue (and not a biker in sight... whatever, LP!). I like the place, and Nicolas is a really swell guy. We hit it off quickly, and later his lovely girlfriend Viviana joins us at a place called Gallery 10-45 or something like that. She's real sweet, real pretty, and has an interesting story to tell. She was born in Chile, daughter of a Colombian UN worker, and has lived all over the freakin place -- Caracas, Belgium, Florida, and New York City. She speaks perfect English and I relate to a comment she made about getting a feeling in her gut about Medellin when riding in on the bus from the airport. It's a stunning city, surrounded by high, green mountains... I end up extending my stay in Medellin and hanging out with Nico & Viviana the entire weekend. We ventured out to Girardota, where Nico's band "Los Perros Calientes" practices in a country house on the weekends. I thought it was going to be a big crazy party, but it was quite relaxing and mellow, which wasn't a bad thing. Whiskey and "agua Hoffman" flowed. I also got to meet Erika from couchsurfing for dinner. She's really interesting and we hit it off instantly. It was a little awkward because her boyfriend couldn't come to dinner with us... and I probably would have been jealous too. His name escapes me now but he was quite a cool guy awkwardness aside -- into some good music and also a Holga user... except he's a real photographer. Medellin quickly became my favorite Colombian city, or at least the one I felt most at home in. I'm definitely going back.
Cali My trip ends in Cali. On Sunday evening I flew in, a quick 45 minute flight in a plane with propellers. I grabbed a taxi to the hotel, checked in as quickly as I possibly could, and then rushed out to meet Carlos of Fortaleza Empirica. The drummer of his band had heard my radio interview, in which I mentioned that I would be in Cali, and told him to write me. They arranged to practice the night I was in town, and came to pick me up at the hotel, and brought me to the singer's house where they practice. The singer lives with his mother, a very sweet woman who was hanging around smiling and offering me juice and chicken. The kids offered grass and whiskey. I could tell right away, from the looks of the members and the way their practice room is decorated, that this band is not the kind of stuff I'm looking for for Slovenly. They confirmed my suspicion when they started playing a sort of reggae / 70s rock hiphop fusion. It actually wasn't bad -- the singer in particular is extremely passionate about the music and the lyrics. They all struck me as overly serious, to the point of almost being scary -- none of them were smiling, they were all real hard-looking before and while playing. I don't know if it's because they were nervous to be playing for the owner of a record label from abroad, or because their modern music role models all look hard and pissed off in their videos. But after they played they gathered around me, all smiles, to see what I thought of the music, and share some drink and smoke with me. I was honest with them, I told them that it was original and that I liked the guitar solos, and that they should check out Pappo's Blues from Argentina (I told lots of people in Colombia that they should check out Pappo's Blues. You should too -- the first six volumes are 70s rock classics). When I told the singer that I had been in Colombia for a month and was leaving at 10am the next day, he correctly concluded that their little private concert was the finale for my trip, and he was happy about it. Me too, it was a fine way to spend my one night in Cali.
Drugs Since Colombia is famous for being the source of the world's cocaine, you might be wondering whether it's real prevalent at home. Surprisingly, I never once saw it, and only once did I hear the sound of sniffing, from the nose of a dreadlocked rastaman in the bathroom of a club. I don't think he was Colombian -- I saw him on the street and I'm pretty sure he was traveling. I was sure that at our DJ gig in Bogota', people would be going in and out of the bathroom and we would also be invited to partake. But apparently, Colombians don't use their #1 national export much. It's not because it's expensive -- I heard that you could get, for 10,000 pesos ($5), what in the US or Europe costs $50 and up. So once again, I am exposed to a country in which a drug is easily acquired and cheap, but it's denizens don't seem to care. Most of my friends who live in Holland don't smoke much marijuana either. Studies show that a higher percentage of Dutch youths have tried marijuana than their counterparts in France, Italy, and Spain -- but a much lower percentage uses it on a regular basis. From what I've seen in Colombia, my guess is that studies would produce similar statistics. Nevertheless, the Colombian government is submitting to US government pressure to eradicate the coca plant, hence the controversial, ridiculously shortsighted, Plan Colombia. Political reasons, in fact, could be the real factors motivating young Colombians to abstain from cocaine use -- because monies from its sale around the world don't come back into the country's economy -- but into the pockets of corrupt druglords who spend it on mansions, fancy cars, and arms. These are the same people who are likely responsible for kidnappings, guerilla violence, etc.: aka the FARC. I'm definitely not an authority, though, these are just some observations -- so read up if you want to know more.
It's been a great trip. I highly recommend a visit to Colombia. Yeah, be careful. Don't take the viaje del infierno. But don't avoid this great country either. It's one of the best ones I've been to... check my flickr site for photos...
Wow... I like this town... it's not at all what you might expect of Colombia...
Well, I haven´t been writing much. There's lots to say about my time in Bogotá... now I've already moved on and tomorrow I'm probably going to be hitting Cali. Two more nights there and then I leave for Florida. Goin´ to visit my pops. Then on the 28th I'll be back in Reno.
I was on the radio in Bogotá talking about Slovenly... broadcast all over Colombia... and I got some emails, including one from a kid named Nicolas from here in Medellín. He and his girl Viviana are really good people... so I've been hanging with them. I might just have to stay an extra night, because there's some big party Saturday in someone´s country house.
Here we are in Bogota', this city is cool, big and full of people and life... except that it seems to die relatively early! Last night at 2:30am everyone was already goin' home. Dave and me were roaming around looking for more action but, nada. This city looks and feels quite a bit like Madrid but, sadly, it does not have Madrid's all-night party atmosphere. We were wondering if it's because, up until about three years ago, this place was really unsafe. Maybe staying out past midnight feels like a lot to people here??
Anyway tonight we're playing music at a party, in the Gato Bardo, a cool little bar that we already checked out the other night... great people runnin' the place... it's a little hideaway, muy escondido... let's hope that some people know about the place!
After a mostly uneventful stay in Barranquilla, I went to a little fishing village on the beach called Taganga. Ultra-relaxing. I'll miss that place, and the friends I made there. I also DJed in a bar called Garaje, but that pretty much sucked -- their equipment was shit, and people kept asking me to play -- guess who? -- Bob Marley. And music that isn't old. Christ. On Friday, I left Taganga and headed for Maracaibo, Venezuela. My plan was to go out Friday night in Maracaibo and then grab a bus or a plane to Merida. But the trip was a nightmare. Nuff said. I didn't get into Maracaibo until 2am. So I grabbed a room in whatever hotel I could find and crashed.
Apparently I was really exhausted, because I didn't wake up until after 11am. Too late to get the bus to Merida. So I get in touch with a couchsurfer named Luis. He shows me around his town (which looks amazingly like Los Angeles) and helps me find a hotel (Thomas from France already had his couch). Later on we go out to a fancy discoteca with guys in suits at the door. A place I would never enter -- and they didn't want to let me in. I had a lot of fun though, except for when Luis's girlfriends kept insisting that I dance. To reggaeton? You gotta be kidding. Actually I know I'd have more fun if I did, but... uff... I guess I'm not THAT desperate to have fun. Besides, I was havin a swell time sittin in my chair and watching the throngs of slick-haired, button-up shirt dudes and their high-heeled, totally made-up (and quite hot) lady friends arrive while I sipped my tequilas and beers.
We stayed out pretty late, and got pretty drunk. The music was all the same crap that I've been hearing on this trip -- especially in Panama. The same pop, reggaeton, and commercial techno-salsa hits, oh joy. Then we went to another bar, and -- guess what? -- they played exactly the same songs. My new friends didn't care -- they danced to them all again. Good for them. After that was finally over, we went to eat some late night greasy grub. I had a patacon, which was a sandwich with carne asada inside, but instead of bread, there was fried smashed bananas. Una bomba atomica in the stomica.
At 9:30 this morning I got on a bus bound for Merida. Nine (!) hours later I arrived, and I'm now hangin in my dad's cousin's apartment. Tonight it's raining.
I made it to Colombia and got a chip for my phone. The number is +573126279591 if you want to reach me quick by phone or text message.
I just spent two great days in Cartagena. A beautiful town. I could have definitely spent more time there, but I'll be back... now I'm in Barranquilla, and it's the last night of Carnaval here. Supposedly, it´s the biggest Carnaval party in South America after Rio DJ´s. So far it looks pretty dead, but I guess the action finished up at 4am this morning. It sounds like it was definitely more my speed -- instead of discotechno parties, all of the best bands from around Colombia played in the streets. Now I know... and if I'll be back in Cartagena, I can be back here too.
Tomorrow I'm headed for a little beach town called Taganga.
I made the trek (crammed into the back of a mini-SUV that was hauling a total of 8 people) to Las Tablas, the town with the most famous party during Carnaval. I was going to stay for four nights. I was told in advance what it would be like: lots of drinking and dancing and people getting wet in the streets. Sounds fun, and it was at times, but it wasn't really my thing. Maybe I'm growing out of this kind of mindless party? Las Tablas's carnaval party revolves around a sort of beauty contest between two 'queens' -- one of Calle Arriba, and one of Calle Abajo. They ride around on floats (that were quite obviously conceived by gay designers -- this was pointed out to me) all decked out in ultra-flamboyant feathery gowns and doing that wave. You know the one. 30 piece marching bands (cool!) follow the queens on gaudy floats covered in advertisement banners, and people dance around and yell, either in support of their queen or obscenities towards the other. Water cannons rain down on the crowds, and little kids with giant squirt guns (why didn't those exist when I was a kid?) help out. I dug the action by day much more than the action at night. In the late afternoon yesterday I found a 4-piece band playing in a bar. Old guys with older instruments. They were fun -- the frontman was great on his accordian.
After a lull in the action while people ate dinner and rested up, the night started at around 10pm. Parades with more floats and tons of people in the street dancing to really bad music. Yeah, I take it back -- I don't think I've outgrown crazy street parties. But I just can't get down to the mix of techno, commercial salsa, and (barf) reggaeton they were throwing at us. Sorry, call me closed-minded, but... hmm, there's so much more than this. I was particularly disappointed because I've actually -- finally -- started to find some 'latin' music that I like, and this comp, which is all I've been listening to lately, is 100% Panamanian. On the trip there, squeezed into the back of the car, I asked Jose, one of the (really cool) Panamanians who was nice enough to have me along, "what kind of music do they play at Carnaval?" And he replied, "oh, everything." "Everything? Even death metal? Country!?" "No, no! You know, electronic music, house, techno, salsa, reggaton, etc" Right. So I handed a copy of the Panama comp CD that I had burned up to the front, swearing that they would love it. They pretty much skipped through the tracks and put the commercial radio station back on (boom boom boom). Since the woofers were right under my ass, the bass blared right into my bowels, reverberating through my entire body. Is this the kind of thanks I get for offering a little bit of music??
I'm at the airport, waiting for my plane to Cartagena, Colombia. Carnaval wasn't really for me, but Panama's been good -- otherwise I wouldn't still be here. I definitely wasn't planning to stay for two full weeks.