Saturday 31 December 2016

New Year's Eve

There were one or two options to coming here: bus, taxi or by air. Alejandra suggested a taxi firm which charged 40 mils per passenger but the journey is 4 hours - 5 hours by bus. When I went to Cartagena I noticed the small French twin engined turbo-prop of EasyFly and, to me, that was the obvious option because apart from anything else, I love flying. It is fun... cool. Chevere.

This picture is made up of two photos as you can see, sorry for the crude clone tooling!
It is a French-built ATR42-500.

I described earlier how that I accidentally booked my return from a different airport, one hour from Medellín, I later discovered. Yesterday, by phone I changed my return to the flight at 5.30pm but there was a price difference and a charge for making a change of 30 mils. This came to about 60 euros. I accepted my error and agreed to pay at the airport when I left on the 31st in the morning.

The EasyFly office is behing their check-in counter and I explained what I had done but they seemed confused. I thought, by giving them my booking reference, they would see the change. After much to-ing and fro-ing, they confirmed that I was booked on the 5.30 flight. But they said that there was nothing to pay! Hey, not only did I get the earlier flight for the price of the later flight, I never paid the change fee. Incidentally, the later flight leaves from the other airport because the one in the city centre closes after 5.30!
The flight to Medellín was on time, full, and arrived at about 11.15 - 40 minutes later. I looked down at the ground below me and was thankful that I had chosen to fly. I imagined that it would have been an arduous journey. From when I left home to my arrival in Medellín was about 3 hours but much of that was wandering around the airport, buying a coffee, writing this blog. Not really the same as travelling by road. It is fun, enjoyable.

When I arrived in Medellín I took a very pleasant walk from the plane to the arrivals hall, under a covered walk-way. Open to the air. Everything here is open to the air because the air is normally around what I would call "room temperature". Outside Arrivals, none of the taxi drivers seemed to have a clue where the hotel was despite my giving them the exact address. One of them said that it was a "bad address". 

"You mean it's dangerous?", I said. 

But the taxi drivers seemed very different from the cheerful, friendly drivers in Pereira. Not at all helpful. I gave up. I was in no hurry, I went back into the terminal and phoned the hotel for guidance and they gave me a couple of landmarks to give to the taxi driver.
I bought a coffee and a cake and sat down to write some more of my blog (offline in Word). The coffee was terrible (see photo 1st Jan). It came suspiciously rapidly and it was a scalding hot watery liquid. It came in a plastic cup as usual despite my drinking it at one of the tables. There was a short straw with which to stir it. Fortunately it didn't melt. Very similar to my experiences in Pereira. Many bars have a cafetiere but obviously they don't use it in the same way as in Spain.
It was impossible to drink because it was so hot so I had plenty of time to write up my blog (about the trek!) Finally I went out of the arrivals door and took a taxi. The driver had difficulty reading the address and - I really don't want to be unkind - he didn't seem terribly bright.
Finally, with the driver asking directions (his Spanish was awful, I am surprised the people understood him), we arrived at my hotel, it is superb. And, before I had a chance to ask what to do tonight, the manager arrived in reception with a suggestion. An evening meal (cena) between 7 and 9pm in the hotel. I went to my room and about 20 minutes later the printed invitation to the meal arrived. It is 2pm now, so I'm going out to get some food. A sandwich would be perfect! This is what I had (photo), I have forgotten the name, but it was like pitta bread with egg and cheese inside.

I am writing this on the morning of the 1st, lots more to tell you about yesterday. Sadly I ended up watching TV in the hotel reception, the same as in Hotel19 in Ukraine last year. But at least Hotel19 provided alcohol in the form of a weak champagne.
But I want to go out now and explore the city. Tomorrow, I have booked an organised tour and Tuesday, I go home. Haha, now I think of Pereira as "home".
I guess you want to know how I spent New Year's Eve. I had the supper which I mentioned before but at 9pm, I was high and dry. No idea what to do. So I walked up the road - it is a quiet residential area - to the main road where there are several bars and restaurants. I had a couple of beers in a bar which had a really nice dance floor at the back. From time to time, a couple would get up from their table and dance a couple of numbers which was really cool. There was loud music in the bar, what I call salsa but I think there are several varieties. I got bored with that and walked across the road to a more lively and modern bar. I recorded a video but unfortunately it is upside-down and I don't know how to reverse it on this computer.
Then I went back to the hotel and watched TV in reception. I complained that there was no alcohol! Fruit tea... for New Year's Eve, it is like Saudi Arabia!
There was a big concert from Bogotá with the usual band with brass, percussion, rhythm. Forgive me, my Colombian friends if I call this salsa. There was a compere who I guess is a national treasure. Rather like Dale Winton in the UK. But he was about 50, a smart suit. But every now and then, he dropped into selling mode and the whole TV event became a TV commercial. He appeared like one of those guys on daytime shopping channels selling useless products such as reducing the size of your bottom who points his finger at the camera to make a point. Just like that.
This is not an insult; it is what he does. But what would not be permitted in Europe is the sudden change from compere to selling. It was as if the blessed and much missed Terry Wogan switched suddenly to selling a headache product (most likely abruprofen in a shiny packet) in the middle of Eurovision (Song Contest). And then this man popped up again later promoting more useless products, pharmaceutical if my memory serves me right. Would you buy Salvatron Plus Pro (I made that up) in a glossy packet from this man when in reality it is aspirin?
And you know the feeling. there is a baby crying close to where you are trying to relax. For a while, it is not a problem. And then suddenly it seems to breach your defences and it drives you nuts. For me it is the same with the music here, it is all the same. Brass, rhythm, a singer usually arond 40-50, same kind of beat. I don't like the music of Adele very much but I long to hear her, if only to make a change. Or Coldplay. Anything but this incessant salsa. It is driving me crazy.
At first, I thought it was really cool - hey, I am truly integrated  into the Colombian way of life. But no. In fact, I would rather listen to the Vaughan-Williams Mass in G sung by a choir of men and boys in St George's Chapel. Or my Schmidt organ music which I use as a cure for depression because I turn the volume up. But this jolly chirpy endless rythym is everywhere. I didn't think I was any hurry to return to cold Girona but maybe it has its advantages! Roll on rock and roll.

The 30th - swimming!

Today was a day on my own. In the morning I chatted to Milena and then took the 39 bus to Cuba. I wandered around, had a coffee where the jeeps depart for places out in the country. I was tempted to jump on the one going to La Selva, the area with the finca and the children. That idea didn't last very long!

I planned to go swimming. So I caught a taxi to the pool which Alejandra told me about. I thought it was open in the mornings but, again when I arrived it was closed. I got slightly frustrated with a security guy because nowhere on the internet could I see opening hours. I walked away but another guy who was working nearby told me about the smaller pool. He led me to it, a bout a 10 minute walk. Perfect! The regular 25m in length and not many people there. I apologised later to the security guy because it's not his fault. But he could have told me about the other pool, I suppose.

Relations with Nini are descending into enormous acrimony - but one-sided. In Skype chat. In the face of a torrent of abuse, I try to be polite, speak sense. I simply cannot understand why she is so angry with me, she hates me. When I have been so kind to her. It is totally beyond my limited little brain. Sometimes she goes on about my leaving the party on 24th early like it was a hanging offence. Hey get a life. It's not as though I killed their pet or smashed their priceless Ming vase. A total cut-off is approaching. You may wonder why I give her so many column inches. I think it makes an interesting story. About people, relationships. I regret nothing, I would do the same again. She needs the money but I guess she feels humiliated receiving it. And that burns inside her. I try to understand. 

Because this blog is public, I try to avoid any direct criticism, "bad mouthing", "slagging off" are two ugly English phrases. I don't want to do that and sometimes I check back in the blog to make sure I have remained within these boundaries. I simply try to describe what has happened and let you come to your own conclusions. That is allowed!

The 29th - A trek in Val de Cocora, Salento

 It's the morning of 31st December - 8am - and I'm due to leave for the airport soon to go to Medellín. So, because I have my large screen here in my apartment, I tweaked some of the photos in Photoshop and placed them here. I will add text later. That is easy to do on my laptop!

....I just arrived in the hotel in Medellín so I can connect to the hotel wifi. I am getting ahead of myself, I will write about Medellín later! I wrote most of the following text offline in Word in both airports, so now I can paste it into this post.....

Today was not what I was expecting but it turned out to be a wonderful (and tiring!) day. Alejandra picked me up outside my apartment as usual and her two children were with her in the back of the car. We drove to Salento which is where I went with Nini and her family – we went horse-riding, remember?

This time we went a lot further, beyond Salento and into the hills above the town, Val de Cocora. The scenery was spectacular as you can see from the photos. After driving for about 30 minutes, I began to see signs of humanity, a tourist area. Horses for hire, several cafés. We parked the car and went to a restaurant which Alejandra explained was the very first here when it was far less of a tourist centre. She also started dropping hints about a 2 hour walk! We had lunch – more hints about getting plenty of fuel - but it was still quite early, about mid-day. 

We took some more photos, with Gustavo and Raquel. Alejandra took the photo of me standing up against a palm tree, you have to look closely to see me!

And then we headed off into the hills. I had my jacket and a note pad in a shopping bag which was definitely not cool. The path took us upwards and it was shared with riders on horses who had taken the easy option. Some of the going was quite tough, parts of the track were very muddy and we had to dive under barbed wire into the adjoining field in order to traverse the track. At one point, I overbalanced and caught a sharp bit of metal. This also posed other risks, brown and squelchy, because there were cattle in fields. We stopped to drink from a stream. I hesitated for a moment until Alejandra goaded me, calling me gringo. For some reason, totally wrong, I think it is insulting but, noo. It is simply a word to describe a foreigner. Unlike giri where I live in Spain which is definitely insulting – foreigners who don’t get round to speaking  the language!

This track ran gently uphill for quite some distance, I can’t remember for quite how long we were walking, maybe an hour. The forests around us were spectacular, steep wooded hills, skinny palm trees. 

We stopped many times to take photos and to take the occasional rest. Finally we reached the woods which led to our objective, a house deep in the forest. The photos by the river were taken there and there is a photo of me and Alejandra by a sign. I look enormous compared to her but I think it is simply that I am on higher ground.

The next few photos by the river were very close to where we stopped by the sign.

We dived into the woods and the going got quite tough. Steep rocky inclines, we crossed the river three times on rope bridges, only one person allowed at a time. Alejandra had no idea beforehand whether I was fit or not. In fact I am fit due to cycling and swimming but she didn’t know that. In a way, it was a bit of a risk  - she asked me at one stage if I wanted to continue. “Ningun problema!” Later I made her promise to forget my real age; we agreed on 60. That was my deal with her for my completing the course with no problems. And all the time I was thinking, we have to go back this way! 
After about 2½ hours after leaving the car park, we arrived at our destination, a house deep in the woods. Full of pictures of various birds. By now it was quite late, well after 4pm and we were the last visitors. I was getting a little anxious but Alejandra was cool. We all had lights in our phones if it got dark before we arrived back.

I paid 5mils for each of us for a drink and to help maintain the trail. We watched the birds drinking from the bird-bath. An occasional humming-bird whizzed by. The clouds rolled in, at our height.

Finally we started heading back. I was glad I had brought my jacket because the temperature plummeted. I gave my drawing pad to Alejandra to put in her back-pack so my hands were now free of the stupid shopping bag. Our descent was rapid. She was right, we were soon back at the entrance to the forest by the sign and now we descended back down the track in the gathering gloom, dodging back and forth under the barbed wire. The sun set at 6pm as usual and I think we got back at around 6.30. We were all very tired. We had been walking for about 5 hours. I tended to feel that tired after one of my 75km cycle rides to the coast, so that gives you an idea how tough it was. The two children did very well, I thought.

In the final stages, I was crossing a rope bridge, steadying myself with the cables on either side when I felt a sharp pain in my hand. Where the cable was supported were wire junctions with unprotected ends. I couldn’t see that because it was dark. It wasn’t serious but Alejandra was more worried about the mud on my hands so she insisted that I wash my hand thoroughly in the stream. Many years ago, my brother picked up something quite serious simply in his garden. Bare metal doesn’t carry too many risks but the earth contains all kinds of dangers if they enter the blood.

We sat down exhausted by the bar where the car was parked, Alejandra and I had a beer. I drank from a glass, she drank from the can and looked really cool, like a teenager!

And that more or less is how it ended. We drove back to Pereira, the children asleep in the back. I was in two minds whether to invite them out for a meal but we were all very tired and I think the children just wanted to crash out at home. We drove to their home and then Alejandra and Raquel came with me to the street to look for a taxi. Instead a number 39 bus came by flashing its lights looking for customers. We waved it down and I was on my way home. I know the 39 bus because it goes past Nini’s home.

I went to the hotel restaurant and had a meal of steak with red wine. Maybe I said, wine is not easy to find here. The first glass was corked (or just left open too long). I drank about half of it and ordered another. I Heard the reassuring plop of a cork being released. The second glass was fine and the waiter replaced the wine in the original glass.

And then I headed back across the road to my apartment. End of a super day!

I have been rather lazy formatting these posts. I think I can use word-wrap (around photos) instead of having a photo centred in the page. I promise to do better in future!