Monday, 30 January 2017

Broken laptop!

Oh, very frustrating. I think the battery in my Acer laptop has failed, it refuses to charge and there is no light to indicate charging. I checked the power supply by swapping it with another one the same. All I have now is my iPad and I hate the virtual keypad. Maybe I will write more when I get home on Wednesday.

I am back home..... Fairly rapidly I came to the conclusion that the power supply inside the computer was at fault because it would continue to work even with no battery. So the first thing I did when I got home was to pull the thing apart. and then after about 15 minutes, decided that it wasn't a good idea since I hadn't even unpacked my case. So it is lying on my desk looking rather like a car crash. I will have another look later but my priority is to catch up on my blog and complete the story of my latest visit to Ukraine (because there were others!)

I finished writing about Friday which ended up in a discotheque but I think we were both rather worn out by the experience so we had a quiet day, me in the hotel and Marina at home. So, that in a sentence was Saturday. But Sunday was destined for greater things!


I suppose it will all go back together again, or will I end up with a spare organ which I don't know what to do with? I used to do this when I was young, taking televisions apart. But with no idea what anything did and certainly with no idea how to put it together again. But TVs in those days were full of all kinds of exotic objects, silver foil wrapped around metal tubes, lots of metal cans. And valves which glowed in the dark.

Latest news is that I tested the power supply which is at the top of the circuit board close to the "acer" logo. I was puzzled for a while. The cable between the socket on the right and the circuit board is OK but, when I tested the voltage at the circuit board - nothing. Ah, simple my dear Watson, the power supply has a short-circuit on its input which triggers the protection in the external power-supply and it drops to zero. So this could be expensive, I need a replacement mother-board. I will write to the Acer repair centre with a photo and ask for a quotation.


 

  

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Friday 27th

On my first full day here, we went skating. I haven't done it for many years so Marina had to guide me gently around the ice as you can see. It used to be a great way to meet girls, either at Richmond Ice Rink or at Queen's Ice Rink in the west of London.

After about 40 minutes, I started to get the hang of it again. I couldn't get any forward motion but as soon as I did that, I felt much more stable.

As you can see, the rink is right in the middle of a shopping mall so afterwards we went for a meal in the food court and then Marina had to go off to teach English.






 I wandered around for a while and then headed back to the hotel by Metro from Heroiv Pratsi i which is to the north of the city. That is a wild ride! I have no idea how old the trains are but I guess they date back to the Soviet era. Grandiose stations with lots of marble. And the tracks remain well below ground even when they are outside the city centre. Some of the escalators are extremely long - I noticed that on a previous visit to Kiev. The reason is that the Metro was intended as a nuclear shelter in the event of war.

Neither Marina nor I are crazy about discotheques but somehow that was on the agenda for this evening. She arrived in a taxi from her home and then we went to the disco - Com'pas. It is right next to where we went skating earlier in the day. We arrived at 9pm which as you can imagine is rather early for a disco. In Spain they don't open till midnight! Marina had booked a table and we ordered some food and drink and people started trickling in.

We danced, Marina posed on a staircase but at around midnight, the powerful music was getting a little too much for us. We took a taxi back to my hotel and then Marina went on to her home which is to the south, near the airport. I will post some photos here. I took some photos of her dancing but I will save her blushes and not post them here.

I have been fighting off some kind of illness but sometimes I think it is just psychosomatic. I got very stressed before I came here and it comes and goes. 



Marina loves posing!






Thursday, 26 January 2017

to Ukraine..... again!

As promised I will write about my latest visit to Ukraine! During the last year, I have been to Ukraine 3 times, and the UK not once! Shocking? Well not really, I used to visit my ex-wife and two ex-girlfriends but after more than 25 years we have gone our various ways. That is how long since I had a girlfriend. I like to joke that I will forget what to do next time. The response usually is, "Oh no, it's like riding a bicycle!"

And then I used to visit my brother's family in Gloucester. But since I adopted three "children" in diverse parts of the world, that is what draws me now. Kharkiv in Ukraine is much colder than Gloucester but it is a novel experience. And I visit my friend Marina.

So, I am writing this in Barcelona airport to take a Ukraine Airways flight to Kiev and then onward to Kharkiv.

Yesterday was rather traumatic. About a year ago I started letting my hair grow and I changed its colour to a rather fetching blonde. For some reason on Tuesday, I decided to try a slightly darker shade in the hairdresser at INdiferent. Their main business is depletion (in other words ripping hair out with waxed strips) and I go for a regular massage. They also do photo-depilation which is a whole lot more permanent - it uses a mixture of light and laser pulses. Oh, OK laser is light too. 

Anyway, back to my hair. What I asked for was very slightly darker. What I got was a whole lot darker, almost back to my original colour before my hair went white. So the following day, meaning yesterday, I went back to ask if they could lighten it. I was so annoyed with myself for changing something that I liked. I wish I had taken a photo for you because, after about 30 minutes with this chemical in my hair, it had turned orange! I was greatly alarmed but Jonny who is the boss in the hairdresser told me not to worry; that was just the first stage so that he could see what next to do. So he instructed the young girl to give me 20 minutes with some other liquid. And very soon, I could see that the orange hue has gone and, although the hair was wet and soapy, it looked closer to how it was before. 

The young girl was trying to justify the change in colour, saying that it wasn't very great - only one half shade darker, despite my insisting it was all my fault. So that didn't help my mood. But that lifted enormously when Jonny got one of the girls, Oana to wash and massage my head. I am very fond of Oana and she of me. We had an enormously funny time. She normally does depletion and massage. And so my hair is now a darker version of how it was previously but it could have been a lot worse.

I have a suspicion that either the tension affected me or that part of the chemicals passed through my skin because I was incredibly stressed last night - as though I was being pulled apart. It wasn't the journey today, I have taken the train down to Barcelona Airport many times.

I have to go through security now. There is a wonderfully quiet area with Pans and Co just past the security entrance which is when I am now. I will write more later!

Later....

Security is very well-organised here with plenty of space to prepare the containers and space afterwards to get everything together again. I passed! It was more complicated because as I am sure you now, computers and tablets have to taken out and shown separately. I have two laptops with me - this one which literally is on my lap - and another smaller one which I am giving Marina because I don't use it any more. As I arrived at Gate E which is a huge almost empty area, the regular Delta flight to New York was boarding and what should I see trundling up to the stand was the Ukraine Airways 737. Exactly an hour to turn around for the flight at 1.30pm. This is good news for me because any delay to this flight makes my connection to the flight to Kharkiv rather tight. 

When I left Girona, it was cold and grey but now the sun has come out and it is bright and maybe not too cold. I checked this morning, it is -5c in Kharkiv today.

This is travelling when it is a really cool experience, not always the case but when it is like this, it is lots of fun. Trains to Barcelona, rapid and on time, I left plenty of time anyway. Had a tea and a bun in the secret zone just past the entrance to Security and wrote the first part of this post.

I have indulged myself and pre-ordered a meal on the plane. The choice is brilliant. I chose fillet steak and some salad. I will have some wine. Maybe it will cure the cold symptoms which I seem to have. Sometimes I get symptoms without acutally feeling ill and often it is just down to stress. I chose a seat yesterday when I checked in online because I only have hand baggage, 5A.

I am way over the airline's weight limit for cabin baggage but usually there isn't a check at the boarding gate. And anyway, I hve a feeling that there are not many on the flight. It was never checked!

That was so cool, just as the Ukraine plane was pushed back, the big Avianca 787 Dreamliner from Bogotá pulled up at the next stand. I was expecting to see it because last time I arrived on Avianca, the Ukraine 737 was in the same place and I guessed that this was the same each day. Their regular parking slots.

The meal came in the style of business class, metal cutlerly and real plates but I was in a cramped economy seat so it seemed rather strange, the seat next to me was occupied by an man-speading guy so my elbows were close to my side.

The rest of the flight was normal, the ground below gradually turning to a uniform white as we headed north from Italy. I had comfortable time to transfer to my domestic flight to Kharkiv. Unfortunately there is no air-side transfer, I had to go into the main terminal and then back into Domestic Departures and go through the security palava again. It is complicated, with two laptops and an iPad to extract each time the bags are scanned.

Marina was not at meeters and greeters - she was delayed because she came by a combination of buses. That was no problem, I sat down and had a beer and when she arrived, we had a nice chat. There was a taxi driver hovering around offering his car and Marina beat him down to 170 hrivnas (about 6 euros). At one point he said, "Let me make a living"! This was for a huge journey, firstly 20 minutes to drop Marina off at her home, then about 40 minutes to my hotel. When we arrived, he asked for 200, talking about his family, no money etc. I gave him 170 but would have given him more if he had not asked. He called me greedy.

I checked in - they know me well here -  went down to the restaurant and had a quick meal and some wine. Then went to bed!
  

    




 

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

More!

I've decided to keep writing! There is so much to tell you. And then I go to visit my friend Marina in Ukraine again on the 26th and I will write about that too. 



This is a photo of us when she came to visit me in Girona.

I switched back to European time very quickly - I know I said - but it still surprised me because I suffered a lot from jet-lag when I was younger, travelling frequently to Dubai. And that is only 4 or 5 hours ahead of the UK, which is where I was living at the time. You can read about my working life in an earlier post... "Bill Gates and Me" !

I had a wonderful time in Colombia but I missed decent food and my large kitchen. The quality of the food, especially the meat, was not very good. The best food to buy was trout, much less spiny than the European version. We saw a trout farm on the river during the trek in Cocora. 

So, one of the first meals I had when I got back was lamb! No lamb in Colombia. Terrible.

As my first job, I was trained as a sound engineer in TV by the BBC in London and later worked in electronics but when I moved to Spain, I took up art. I joke and say that I "changed the chip" because it is so very different (brain.. left side - right side). But I am a little weary of that now (I am sure I will come back to it) and I am writing a book - it starts with my autobiography but then carries on into the future and gets a little bit crazy. I had some ideas for a novel about a world-famous concert pianist called Quentin but there is not really enough material to make a book. So I will try to imagine my future life where I meet this guy. He has much more money than one would expect, despite his fame. We build a theme park in a town near to Carcassonne in France. I move away from Catalunya when it makes a unilateral declaration of independence in 2018 and has to leave the European Union. (Haha, I could invent a trade deal with newly brexited UK!)  So the book is written as if from 2032. It assumes I am still here!! No point in waiting till 2032 to finish the book if I am dead. Money... you can't take it with you. Tampoco a laptop.

And Quentin tells me that some of my memories of my life are false memories. So I go back and re-write what he thinks really happened. For example, I write about a near-accident with a motor-cyclist when I was 20 where but for a few inches, he would have died (I mean, it happened - I was on my way to work at the BBC). Quentin persuades me that he died. I love to paint surreal art because it twists reality. It is fun. Sometimes it is a form of humour and I love humour. Maybe the humour will be a little black too. 

So, that is my plan - my project (I love the word, project) - for 2017. Plus sports. Lots of sports. Before I went to Colombia, I joined GEiEG which is a sports organisation in Girona - there are two centres. One is near to Hospital Josep Trueta and there is a convenient bus stop on the way into town. I go swimming in the 50m pool and I have started playing squash again after giving it up over 10 years ago when I came here. I decided it was too energetic for a 60 year-old (!) and in any case, I didn't think there were any courts here. Now I am 73 and don't really feel much different from then. So a few days ago I bought completely new kit and a beautiful green and white racket.



Last time I bought one, it was the equivalent of 50 euros. This was three times that - admittedly it is Tecnifibre which is an expensive brand even by modern standards. Last time I played squash, everything was in white, the shoes were Dunlop Green Flash and the rackets were made of wood (I am joking about the wood, that was longer ago that 12 years). I could have carried on playing with my old rackets, they were Prince and made of some kind of composite material but I gave them away a long time ago. In the old days, I used to carry a spare because they were quite fragile and the strings could break. And I was hitting the wall quite a lot. At 150 euros, I think I will stick with one racket!
I reached quite a decent level in the game - I never mastered tennis, a very different technique - so it will be interesting to see how I shape up against the younger guys and girls in the league here. When I was much younger and tearing around the court, the older more experienced players would take it easy and let me do all the running. Now the boot is on the other foot!

I played for the first time this morning - just a warm-up really. Then for the serious stuff of working my way up the league!


I suppose you are wondering what happened to Nini! Well, I kept on being nice to her in the face of her rudeness because I don't want to close the door on her. I wrote before, I cannot abandon my beautiful Colombian friend. She is like that for a reason (maybe hurt by things in the past, men probably - I know that is no excuse), inside she is a good person. I escaped lending them 70 milones as a mortgage. That was crazy. But I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to continue helping her and her lovely family. So, for at least a year, I'm sending them 100 euros a month which will go towards food mainly. We just chatted on Skype in text which is the normal method of communication. So, from time to time, we will chat on Skype.







Thursday, 12 January 2017

Tuesday 11th - back in Spain



This is the last post that I will write for my journey in Colombia. I am on an AVE train from Barcelona to Girona. I bought the ticket with one minute to spare and just managed to catch the train.
I think I slept about 4 hours on the plane – I was happy with that. I guess most people sleep in their day clothes but I change totally into my pyjamas which puts me in the mood for sleep. The flight was very comfortable and quiet. The plane was advertised as an Airbus A330 but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a Boeing 787, the Dreamliner, very new*. No blinds on the windows, they dimmed with some kind of polarising effect. So I awoke at 4am Colombia time to a purple sun which looked rather like a very bright moon. Most people were still sleeping but since it was now 10am in Spain, I thought that this would be a good time to re-synchronise my clock. I went up front to the galley to ask for a tea.

* Avianca changed to the 787 for Bogotá-Barcelona in January


I keep on thinking about yesterday, I was emotionally very mixed up. Milena almost crying, Alejandra in a medical clinic not knowing when she would be free and Nini who I thought effectively had said goodbye the previous day. I had been expecting her and her mum at 3pm due to a strange idea of mine. I finally contacted Nini when I was in Bogotá Airport.

Part of me wants to go back, a big part. But maybe I will have to do it in economy class next time.

And I am writing this at home the next day, Thursday 12th. I went to my local bar last night for a meal and a glass or two of wine. I went to bed at 11pm, slept soundly till 7am. My body clock seems to accept the sudden change in the hours quite easily. 7am is 1am in Colombia but it felt like daybreak. But it was a shock to discover how dark it was. I thought I had woken up in the middle of the night, so I carefully checked my clocks. I felt as thought I had only slept for a short time which added to the confusion!

I had a list of things to do. Some in Celrá and then I took the train to Girona at 11.30 and returned at 2pm.

I think that just about ends my Colombian blog. But I will write more here about my adventures if you like. At the end of this month I go back to visit Marina in Ukraine.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Tuesday 10th - going home

I am writing this in the VIP lounge in Bogotá Airport at 7.15pm with a beer, having taken the short hop from Pereira. I am on my way home to Spain. Today was quite eventful, I will tell you about it....

The B787 Dreamliner - all set for the long journey to Barcelona.

I said previously that Alejandra had 'flu but she said that we could meet for coffee at 11am but she had to go to the medical clinic for some tests and she sent messages from time to time to say that she was still waiting to be seen. Meanwhile, I had walked to Plaza Bolivar where I bought a pair of near-view glasses the previous day - very weak, 0.5 dioptre. There was a scratch in one of the lenses and the girl promised to change them. I visited a couple of banks to ask if I could open an account simply with a passport but the two I visited said that it required a Cedula, which is the eqivalent of my Spanish ID, a NIE. Alejandra said later that some banks do allow it.

Omaira rang me while I was talking in one of the banks so I let it ring and then I called her back when I was in the street. She said that she and Nini would accompany me to the airport. She asked what time I was leaving. I said 3pm. So I got it fixed in my mind that they were coming just before 3pm. Totally wrong, they came at 1.30pm. And that was just about the time that Alejandra finally was free to meet me... maybe a little before. Around 1pm. By that time I had walked back to the apartment from Plaza Bolivar. My bags were packed and I had to check out of the apartment at 2pm.

I walked a short distance up the street, Calle 14, to a coffee bar and met Alejandra and her daughter Raquel. And, of course, while we were there, Nini and her mum were arriving at my apartment. Really, Nini should have used Skype to fix a time rather than have her mum ring me. And yesterday, Nini sent a message which was rather like, bye-bye. So I wasn´t expecting to see her.

But had I understood their plans better, I would not have been able to see Alejandra and by now you have probably realised that I have a little bit of a soft spot for her. We chatted over coffee. She explained the snags about my lending money to Nini. And as we walked back down to my apartment at about 1.30, I suggested we all go up there, collect my bags and put them in Reception. We must have missed Nini and her mum by minutes. How odd is that?!

Then I was free to 3pm and I took Alejandra and Raquel to a rather classy restaurant about 10 minutes walk away. The food was very odd. We all chose starters, partly because we didn't have much time. Alejandra had a fishy dish, Raquel had pulpo (octopus) and I chose lomo which to me is like a pork chop. But it came in small red circles of meat. It was marinated, not cooked. Raquel had enormous difficulty fighting with the octopus. It was her first pulpo, so her mum helped her cut it.

We walked back up the road and parted company because Alejandra had to go back to the clinic. We hugged warmly. I asked her out for a date in February. She said yes. I know that is crazy but if we lived closer, that is what I would want to do. Maybe she will read this - I like her lots.

I arrived back at the apartment just before 3pm expecting to find Nini and her mum there but somehow I had got a completely false picture in my mind. I do that sometimes, I create a scenario. I tried phoning Omaira but, despite doing so earlier, all I got was three bleeps. I waited till 3.10 and then took a taxi to the airport.

By the way, earlier I had said goodbye to Milena and she shows all the signs of being a little bit enamorado with me, I hope her husband doesn't see all those kiss emojis. I gave her 200 mils for being a great friend and support. It was easy to do, I had 250 mils in my wallet and I realy don't know when I will be back. So I left myself with 50 and gave the rest to her. I don't need any money in the airport and very soon I will be spending euros again.

I took the short flight from Pereira to Bogotá and that just about brings me up to date. It is 8pm now and the flight is at 9.20pm. It arrives in Barcelona around 1pm local time.

Another beer? Yeah, why not!




Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Monday 9th - Fiesta

Today, Fiesta doesn't mean a party! It also means a Bank Holiday (in English-speak), Epiphany. A few days ago, Christmas Day in Russia and also Ukraine where I will be at the end of the month. And Día de los Reys in Spain.

I walked to Plaza Victoria, got rather bored because almost everywhere was closed. Had a coffee and bought some food in the supermarket. Nini texted me in the morning when I was in the cathedral to wish me a pleasant journey which I took to mean bye-bye because I don't actually travel till tomorrow evening. I spent a lot of time yesterday discussing with Omaira how I could help them buy a house, maybe with a mortage of 16k euros. A basic house of concrete blocks and a steel roof would be around 70 milones here (23k euros). We came to an agreement more or less but I knew that it would not be acceptable to Nini - so a non-starter. (We fell out earlier about it when we were waiting to delivery presents to the children before Christmas). In any case I promised nothing because I had to take professional advice. There were many snags - crazy idea.

Why was I in the cathedral? I will explain. Estephanie has a disease which is not curable, it requires repeating visits to hospital for operations. I had an idea to find a healer here to help her. Or in the absence of that I would try it myself. I have studied under Matthew Manning in the UK and I sent an email to him to ask if he had any contacts in Colombia but his PA replied to say no. Yesterday, Sunday, she was running and jumping around when I went to visit Omaira at home. My fingers were tingling and I so wanted her to be still so that I could put my hands on her. But I had to be content with absent healing and holding her hand as part of a game from time to time. The concept of healing by touch is rather alien to my friends here I guess and I was concerned not to alarm her mother. So, I was not able to do anything. Incidentally, the paranoia in the UK about touching children does not exist here, neither in Spain. It wasn't about that. I think Luisa would have been alarmed if I attempted healing on the little girl, in fact I asked her permission at one stage. So I was in the cathedral praying for her. I believe amazing things can happen. I don't like to use the word "miracle" because it suggests something very rare and special. Something that makes saints in the Roman Catholic Church. It is more mundane than that. It can happen. And I don't call it "faith healing", it doesn't require faith. It requires the will of the person to get better. Strange as it seems, not always the case. But obviously not applicable in the case of a 3 year old girl. I have a phrase stuck in my mind, I think it is not mine originally, "Make sure before you die, you do something amazing."

Today was rather like one of those grey November Sundays in the UK when I got rather depressed and drank too much. I drink far less alcohol here than I do back in Spain but today was an exception. Don't worry, we are only talking about half a bottle of wine with an egg and bacon sandwich and a strange liquor called Amarillo (yellow). I don't like the taste very much so I didn't drink too much of that anyway. I bought it in the supermarket because I liked the appearance of the bottle and the yellow liquid.

But this afternoon I had absolutely no idea what to do, so I spent it at home. Alejandra has 'flu but she said that we could meet tomorrow morning for a coffee. That will be nice. And then in the evening I go home - a flight to Bogotá at 5.30pm and then around 9pm, to Barcelona. This is my last night in Pereira. Tomorrow I will be sleeping above the Atlantic!

Some people push themselves to physical limits. For pleasure. For some odd reason, I push myself to emotional limits!









Sunday, 8 January 2017

Sunday 8th

I will write about today as I go along. I just have two full days now before I go back to Spain on Tuesday evening. Today I'm off to meet Nini's mum for lunch because she is alone at home. This morning was just relaxing at home. I did think for a mad moment to delay my return to Spain by a week but, although the change fee is 120 euros, seats at my tariff are sold-out so a change would be prohibitively expensive. Anyway, after almost 5 weeks, I am ready to return to chilly Europe.

Even more chilly, I have arranged to visit Marina in Ukraine at the end of January. We often text chat on Skype and we have arranged to go skiing in Kharkiv where she lives. I thought she was joking this morning, skiing in Kharkiv because I remember seeing the landscape arond the city from the big wheel in Gorky Park and it is flat for miles around - maybe all the way to Russia because it is only 50km away. Now that I have got into the swing of writing in this blog, I'll write about Kharkiv as well.

At about 12 mid-day, I left for the home of Nini and her mum. When I arrived I found Luisa and her daughter Estephanie there and Nini was on the point of leaving to go to work. They were having lunch and Omaira prepared some food for me. I had been trying to come to some kind of agreement with Nini about helping them buy a house, currently they rent one. But talking about money with Nini is not easy so I talked with Omaira instead. She talked for ages, mostly stating things which were already agreed. But we will find some way I am sure.

On the way, I had another highly entertaining conversation with a taxi driver! He said my Spanish was very good. I am so chuffed! He turned to shake my hand, asked my name, told me his. We joked about the new US President. They are absolutely great here, almost without exception. Less so in Medellín.

I just arrived back home - this time by no 39 bus which arrived just as I reached the top of Omaira's road - and I'm going to have a beer now.

I am getting near to the point where I say goodbye to my friends and to this beautiful country of Colombia. It was all I expected... and more. The people are so open and friendly. When they ask what I think about their country, they say it with pride. I will be back for sure!

My friends want to say goodbye at the airport, I am not sure if I can bear that.







Saturday 7th - another quiet day

I didn't sleep well last night, maybe I was just over-excited after the day out yesterday and I was worried about a photo I sent to Nini quite late on Skype. I was guessing they had not gone to bed by 11.25pm and then I got paranoid that I had disturbed them. Very stupid.

I woke at about 7am today and had some breakfast. Then I went back to bed. Had another breakfast later of bacon and eggs and wrote up the post about the day at Parque del Café. Exchanged a long chat with Nini on Skype, a little tense at times because it was about a loan of money - fatal!  All of a sudden, it was 2pm, so I headed off to the swimming pool. It closes at 4pm so I took a taxi to save time.

Being a weekend, there were lots of people in the pool - it is all the same depth, about 1.5m so the whole area was occupied and it was difficult to swim seriously! That was my excuse anyway. Solution: grab a sun-lounger and a beer! And soak up the beautiful hot sun.

Later, I went to the Éxito shopping mall by Plaza Victoria, bought some food and had a tea. I hope you are not getting bored. That was my day today. I walked back home from Plaza Victoria, it is about 20 minutes.

Tomorrow I am going to see mum, Omaira, at lunch-time because she is home alone. It is great that I am in contact with her because, if I fall out with Nini again, I will still have another sano line of contact. Sano is a Spanish word but I am sure you can guess what it means!

While I was at the pool I sent a message to Alejandra suggesting meeting up before I go back on Tuesday but she replied and said that she had a severe bout of 'flu. She said she would contact me on Monday if she felt better. That would be a shame if I didn't get to see her again.




Saturday, 7 January 2017

Friday 6th - Parque del Café.

A day of fun!

I met the family,  Nini, Mamá, Luisa and her two children, at the Terminal at 8.45am. They arrived by taxi and I paid the driver. Taxis are very cheap here, it was about 4 euros. I told them to wait while I dashed into la 14 to buy some sun cream. Very important because we would would be out all day and, as one would expect close to the Equator, the sun is very strong.

We then looked for a bus to Armenia which is the town close to our destination, the Parque del Café. Nini found one which left at 9.30 (by now, the time was around 9am) but I found one which was leaving immediately so I beckoned to them and we all dashed towards the bus. Nini was unhappy about something but I have no idea what it was. I said that the important thing was to get going!

The bus was a mini-bus, I guess you would call it. The fare for us 4 adults and two children was 24 mils, 8 euros. The journey, about one hour. Now you can see why I am so happy to spend money here, my euro goes a long way. Often the cost of paying for the family is not far from what I would pay simply for myself in Spain, certainly in the UK.

At the Terminal at Armenia, we transferred to another bus to the park. There was a kiosk where I could buy the tickets for the park. There was a choice, either Economy and pay for attractions individually or pay 50 mils which included seven attractions. I bought 5 ticket at 50 mils because it gave a sense of freedom and I could pay one time painlessly with my card and forget about it. Sebastian was over the height limit for a child's price but Estephanie went free of charge because she is little. Mamá said that she didn't want to go on any of the attractions but I gave her a 50 mil ticket anyway. Maybe there were some gentle things to do and, anyway, it would have seemed like discrimination if I had bought her a different ticket from the others! So... 250 mils for a family of 6 in a leisure park. That is around 85 euros! I can't remember exactly what it would cost to take a family of 6 to Alton Towers or Thorpe Park in the UK but I guarantee it would be significantly more. Parents spend hundreds of pounds on a day out like that.

The journey from Armenia was awful, getting out of the town. There were road-works and lots of traffic. Then finally we were whizzing down country lanes and we arrived at the park after about 30 minutes. I guess by then it was a little before 11am. We entered the park, picked up some maps and started down the hill into the main area after spraying each other with sun protection. We were lucky with the weather, all day there was sun with fluffy cumulus clouds in a blue sky. Not like the previous day; that would have been a disaster!

At about 12, Nini suggested having some lunch. That was a little too early for me, I was dying for a decent coffee! So I gave Nini some money to buy the family lunch in the food court and I went off to buy a capuchino and a muffin and I returned to join them.

After lunch, we started off in the children's area. The two children had a ride on a carousel, no organ I am sad to say! Then Sebas went on the dodgem cars. I wandered around, chatted quite a lot to mamá. Shall I use her real name? Omaira. Better to do that because I have been writing "mama" which is breast in Spanish! Mother is "mamá", with an accent.

We spoke about her daughter, but I promised that everything I said to her, she could repeat to Nini. In other words I didn't want to talk about her "behind her back", is the saying in English. That would be wrong. I don't think Nini reads this blog, none of the family speaks English but they can use Google Translate. So, likewise, I am careful what I write here because it is a public space. By the way, her second name is Johanna which she sometimes uses. I prefer that. But Nini is her real name, not a nickname.

We became rather dispirited by the length of the queues, nothing new there! I think some leisure parks have a ticket system so that you don't have to spend half the day in a queue. We joined the queue for the Rapids but very soon, Nini and Luisa drifted off leaving just me and Omaira in the queue. It was only when we got near to the attraction with the sound of rushing water that I realised what they had planned. Omaira started chatting on the phone and stopped to let people pass. Others were doing the same. After about 10 minutes, they arrived, ducked under the rope and joined us. I felt a little embarrassed because I was expecting people nearby to complain, there is a sign saying that saving a space in the queue is not allowed and threatens "sanctions". I am not sure if that means a slap on the wrist or ejected from the park. I doubt the latter.

Fashion note:  For a large part of the day, I have been looking at Nini's almost bare back, especially when she is ahead of me in a queue. She is usually ahead of me. She was wearing the same top that she wore at the party on the 24th. It covers her front as normal but there are just simple straps across the back which gives the effect of a completely bare back. Her waist is amazingly thin, so for a guy, it is... I don't know the word. Disturbing, in a nice way. But I would have preferred a tee shirt, to be honest! Oh, and another thing. When we were waiting for the bus to the park, she showed me a planned tattoo design on her phone. I asked the obvious question, "where?" and she pointed her finger to her top, what the English call "cleavage", the top of the breasts. Some women make a big thing abut this, wearing clothes which accentuate this part of their body, it is also called décolletage, I think is the right word. I protested strongly against the sacrilege of vandalising this sacred space with a tattoo. I said that if she sent me any photos, I would modify them in Photoshop! Now you will be convinced that I am obsessed with her body!

So, getting back to the story, after we spun around the rapids, things started looking up. We found the log flume which didn't have a very long queue. We went on that twice.

As is normal, there was someone taking photos as we came out of the highest drop, totally soaked. We bought a mounted photo and they also sent a copy to my email address. That was fortunate because they had not done any red-eye correction so I was able to do it on this computer in Photoshop.

I am wearing my Mulla't tee shirt, I think I mentioned before, it means "get yourself wet" in Catalan!

We also found a daft little attraction which was a scaled-down version of el Cumbre, the tall tower with a circular chair which gets dropped suddenly. This was a very gentle affair but it caused lots of laughter!

By the time we went on the log flume a second time, it was approaching 6pm and getting dark. I never expected to spend so long here - I mis-read the website and thought that it closed earlier - and I really hadn't been thinking about the time. I wanted to title this post, "not so English now". In other words, to have been English would have been to look up the times of the last bus back to Armenia and also to Pereira. But I imagine what would have happened if, looking at my watch, I had said that we have to go now, you can't go a second time on the log flume. There wasn't an attraction called Vesuvius but very soon there would have been one.

The park closed at 7pm and, as one would expect, there was a vast exodus. We spent some time drying out. I had bought a tee shirt so I could change into that. There was a fleet of buses taking us from the park back up to the main entrance and we had to wait about 20 minutes for that.  When we arrived at the main entrance, there was chaos. It was dark of course and people were milling around everywhere. There were shops along by the road. We waited for a bus but none came. I heard ominous words, "last bus... Armenia... 7.30". By now it was past 7.30!

A woman advised us to wait further back up the road from where the bus comes. We walked away up the country lane into the darkness away from the chaos but I was anxious but somehow calm at the same time. I can't explain why I was calm, it was very worrying. What if we had missed the last bus? There were no taxis.

Bu then out of the gloom we saw green lights. And the bus - the last bus - came and we boarded it. When it reached the point where we had waited originally, more people piled on until it was absolutely packed, people standing as if in a tube train in the rush-hour. It was a typical mini-bus, maybe I will take a photo later. I guess they seat about 25-30. Directly ahead of me was a small boy, I guess arond 8. I could see that he was beginning to get tired and he put his hands around the seat in front of me to stay upright. So I gave my seat to him. He spent a lot of the rest of the journey asleep with his head against Omaira's shoulder!

The journey back to Armenia was slow and I started hearing ominous words again, this time from Nini... last bus to Pereira... 8.30. No way were we going to get back to the Terminal at 8.30. Oh, OK I was thinking, at least we are in Armenia. That is certainly a great improvement on being somewhere out in the country with two small children.

Fortunately, when we arrived at about 8.50, the bus to Pereira (I guess it was the last one) was waiting, with seats available. I paid at the kiosk and we bundled in with sighs of relief. (originally I wrote, "a collective sigh of relief" but decided that it was a cliché!) And the rest was easy, an hour later we arrived back at the Terminal in Pereira, had some food in a bar and the family left in a taxi. Nini wanted to go by bus ("because it was cheaper") but I insisted that they took a taxi. Nini had a "float" of money from when I gave her money for lunch, she was just reluctant to spend it. No way was I going to walk back across the bridge to my apartment without making sure they were on their way. By now it was 11pm and there was very little sign of a bus.

And so ended an amazing day. That was the last big splurge before I go back to Spain! Do you know what I mean? A "splurge" is spending money, for example spending a day shopping in the sales. But, as I said before, by European standards, fantastic value for my euro! I am happy with that!












Friday, 6 January 2017

Thurs 5th - a storm


Today I decided to go swimming again. Yesterday was rather cold so it wouldn't have been much fun. This morning, as usual, I woke up very early at 5.30, had some tea and then went back to bed and then woke again at 8. I cooked a breakfast of bacon and eggs. Oh, I think I already said that in the last post!

I guess you thought (maybe you were hoping!) that my friend Nini was history but, despite her saying angrily that she was cutting me off completely in Skype and WhatsApp, her profile has continued to be live in Skype. And I didn't block her. Either there was a glitch in the way Skype was sending information or else she was still connected. When I arrived back from Medellín, she sent a brief message hoping that I had a good time. I sent "yes thanks" and a couple of photos. And thus very tentatively, the relationship was repaired. Maybe you will think that it was not such a brilliant idea. But despite the tantrums, (her word) I cannot abandon this beautiful young Colombian friend of mine - and she brought me here.

Cartagena
We arranged to meet in Cuba at 12. And I had already planned to go there because it is on the way to the swimming pool. With her were her sister Luisa with her daughter Estephania, 3 years old. We met at a restaurant and I paid for food for them. I think it came to about 10 euros. And we chatted. And the ice melted. And we arranged to go to el Parque del Café which is a Parc de Atracciones, tomorrow Friday.

After meeting Nini and Luisa, I went swimming as planned and they returned home, with some groceries which I encouraged them to buy. Including a very heavy multiple pack of milk in 1 litre bags which Nini could barely carry! I am happy doing this, buying food for them. Giving money online, that is long in the past.

While I was swimming, I heard the distant rumble of thunder, it was getting cold so I didn't swim for very long, maybe about 20 lengths. I found a bus stop near by and along came a number 44 bus, I asked the driver if he went to Cuba but I think I misunderstood him because he went around Cuba and headed along Ave de la Americas in the direction of the Terminal, which is where I live. I was too lazy to ask where he was going and then the storm arrived with torrential rain. I couldn't get off the bus anyway, I would have got soaked! Half way along las Americas, at a roundabout, he dived off to the left into an area which I don't know. I then explained to him where I was going and said that my only option now was to take a taxi to retrace my route home. After about 10 minutes, we saw a taxi parked. Empty! It was still raining hard. The bus stopped, I jumped off and into the taxi. I thought that was rather funny and I chatted to the driver about it as we went.
  
While I was swimming, I was getting cold feet about the trip. It got complicated later on Skype discussing who was coming. In the end, it will be me, Nini, Luisa, Estephania, Sebastian (Luisa's son) and mama. I was anxious about what Luisa's husband would think about my taking his kids on an excursion which he could only dream about, while he was stuck milking the cows. So I went through an arduous process of making sure he was cool about it, which tested yet again the relationship with my young friend. When I realised that mother was coming, I felt much happier about it.

We fixed a time to meet at the Terminal del Bus next morning. And I cooked supper - very basic, partly the choice of meat and partly because I just have two gas rings. I look forward to cooking my roast lamb special next week!