Tuesday 30 January 2018

Lots to tell you!

I don't want to worry you but I am getting serious about buying a place here. I tell everyone here that, although I go back to Spain on 1st March (well it was still Spain when I left), I will return in October, for at least 4 months.... or maybe for ever.
The owner of the apartment where I am living now showed me a small house just a few metres down the road from here and told me that he could look after it when I was away. It was very nice and not expensive, around 22,000 euros. But when I told Nini on WhatsApp she became jealous because she wanted me to live near to her.. her family. So that rather put paid to the house. But, in fact, she was right, albeit a little over-the-top in her response! No surprise there. On reflection the house was rather small and, being a house, it was on two levels and my ideal is one large working space on one level. It had one serious defect in that the stairs ended in a sharp corner leaving no floor between the two rooms upstairs. It was as if the builder had miscalculated where the stairs would end.

As is customary, I made up with my friend Nini after her rant about earning commission from finding a home for me. I forgive instantly and she acknowledges what she is like. I don't even demand an apology.
So, then a few days ago, I went around Nini's neighbourhood, looking for houses and apartments. We found one or two possibilities. Each barrio (area) has a vigilante and he is a good contact for knowing what is for sale. I then had a brief idea about renting a place and Nini suggested sharing a house. But I think I could not live with a volcano! There would have been many complications.
And then we found this house, divided into two separate apartments, still being worked on. The owner's parents live in the top floor and the ground level is for sale at 90 million pesos (around 24k euros). I liked it a lots, very spacious but one snag was the noise from the street, made worse because it is a sharp corner on a hill. Nini was very dismissive about it and I have to confess, despite many years experience of buying homes, I listen to her advice. And it is a short walk from her house (which is rented).

Then she came back a couple of days later having spoken to her father and enthused about the place saying what a good investment it would be. And that the noise can be resolved with double-glazing. So we went back. I really like the place and I said that I would speak to my lawyer, which is tomorrow Tuesday. 

Then yesterday, we looked at more houses. I saw a new development on the internet and went to see the show house today. But a house at the end of a block is about 32k euros, way above my original budget. And now Nini seems totally to have lost interest in finding a house anyway.
But while I was walking around the estate, I saw an identical house at the end of terrace for rent. It was perfect, right by trees and greenery. The rent is 500 mil pesos a month which is about €140. Wow, I can rent my apartment in Spain for €600 a month and rent this house for €140! How can that be bad? And I don't touch my precious capital.
This year, I have been bitten by insects quite a lot in the past 3-4 days. It is a shock because last year I don't remember being bitten once, even on a trek in deep forest trails. The only difference I can imagine is either the weather has made breeding easier - wet weather followed by heat. Or it is to do with where I am living, Cuba as opposed to the main city of Pereira. But it has only happened in the past week. So now I will have to cover up more and use my repellent every day because it is during the day, not during the night - my windows are closed and a mozzie close to me when I am sleeping wakes me immediately with its high pitched buzz. Obviously, this being a tropical country, insects tend to carry rather nasty diseases. Pereira is free of malaria I am sure. There is no practical protection against malaria anyway apart from avoiding getting bitten. And I am afraid I have failed there! I spoke to Nini about it and she only uses repellent when she visits the finca where her sister works. She says there are lots of mosquitoes there.
One minor event which you may find interesting. On Sunday, I took Nini and Alexander around Olimpia, their favourite supermarket to buy food because they had none. I was going to buy a food mixer for his cake-making but it was quite expensive so we decided to convert it into food and rent. And then I saw a really cheap mixer which fits inside the budget, so I ordered that. I bought one or two items for myself, bacon, shampoo and floor polish. We all went back to their home to unpack the shopping, they went to a family event and I went back to the centre of Cuba to have some lunch. Then I went into Éxito supermarket, forgetting that I had the three items of shopping from Olimpia. Normally, of course, I would declare them with security on entry and get stickers attached but I completely forgot. When I came to leave, I remembered the items and decided to declare them rather than have them discovered. The security guy called the security manager and we went to the small room at the back of the store where they take shoplifters! We unpacked my bag. But it was all very amicable, I don't think for a minute they imagined I was intending to steal the items. Why would I declare them? So we chatted a lot, his brother worked in Barcelona. One interesting bit of sleuthing: he realised that the pack of bacon was warm, so obviously it had come from elsewhere. Unfortunately I had given the Olimpia receipt to Nini so that would have saved a lot of trouble. Then we both went back to the entrance where we bade farewell.
I was half way up the steps to the bus station when a woman came up to me to ask in halting English if I had been in any kind of trouble. We switched to Spanish. I explained what had happened so she seemed satisfied. "Always show your shopping when you enter a store," she said. I know!! I know! I forgot. She ended with dire warnings about taking care, nasty people around.... even women! I am not sure what she had in mind. Maybe a hand on knee which is classified as sexual harassment these days. Did she mean stealing my bacon? I showed her where my wallet and phone were, tightly fixed around my waist under my shirt. She ought to have been warning me about malicious insects, now that is something I do have to take care about. But I spent the rest of the day in the joyous atmosphere of a Sunday afternoon in Cuba, I chatted to a few people, one of whom asked where I was from as I passed by. And no one tried to steal my bacon which was so warm by now that I am a little cautious about eating it now although it is in a vacuum pack.

Monday 22 January 2018

No water!

I was lucky! Last night before the party, I had a shower and I was just about to turn off the water when it did it for me! Any earlier and I would have had hair full of shampoo!
And that marked the moment when a large part of the city of Pereira lost its water supply with a failure in a 24 inch pipe. As I write this on Sunday evening, it is not due to be restored for two or three days. There are groups of people in the streets waiting for a visiting water truck. Update Monday morning: The water supply has been restored. I looked it up in El Tiempo, the national newspaper of Colombia. It showed a photo of the pipe.
One of our neighbours had a contact with a police finca outside the city where we could all have a shower. So we all spent the day there. It is where they keep their horses as you can see from the photos. We shared lunch which was left over from the party last night. We managed to buy some drinking water on the way there at a greatly inflated price and Adrian, the owner, has given me a big container of water for my apartment. I have lots of drinking water and most of the water that I consume is in the form of tea! So I can use the water in the container for that, it is the same as the tap water. I think my friends panicked somewhat, thinking it would be a long haul. It made a nice day out but I would have preferred to spend it relaxing at home after getting to bed at 4am! I have just attached lots of photos to provide a narrative of the day.

 Here is another photo from the party!

 The police provided horse rides for visitors but I felt lazy! I was super-tired!

A bamboo forest!

Sunday 21 January 2018

A Party! .... I added a couple of videos!

The photos speak for themselves! This was a party last night in the apartment below mine, organised by the owner of the house, it is on three levels. I got to bed at 4am. We were dancing a lot and drinking shots of Aguardiente which is about 30%, not quite as strong as Vodka for example. I think I burned off most of the alcohol because I don't feel too bad this morning!

We are very near the Equator, so the crescent moon appears to be on its back! Out there, about 2km as the crow flies, lives my friend Nini. I felt a little bit sad at times but I have made lots of new friends! I have been very open about our worsening relationship in previous posts but I hope I have never slandered her as a person - slagged her off as a person, is the slang expression! She can come back any time, I have forgiven her.

Heat tongs to straighten my hair!

I really enjoyed the dancing, it is all in the feet because, a lot of the time, the dancers are holding hands. Lots of intricate little steps. I loved it and they seemed to think I was doing well. It is quite energetic making these little steps.

Friday 19 January 2018


Today, the weather is superb! Hot sun, fluffy white cumulus clouds and surprise, surprise, no rain. So, after breakfast I decided to go out on my bike although I still feel weak after my phantom virus (it is my own bike which I brought from Spain). About the same time, Adrian the owner of the property came to show me photos of a house for sale near by and so he offered to be my guide on his motorbike. We stopped briefly for a coffee at the panaderia (baker) and then took a big circuit which included the roundabout which I can see clearly from my apartment about 1km away as the crow flies. We went very close to where Nini lives and visited Adrian's uncle who lives one block away from her. We stopped for a chat and water and that is where the photo of me looking rather girly was taken!

I seem to be falling out with one or two people! Firstly, the lawyer who I met here last year, then Nini and now a British friend who sent me an email publicising a book she had written. But in the forwarded email she had written the salutation "Freedom for Catalunya" in Catalan of course. This to me is red rag to a bull and in my reply I said that I did realise it wasn't directly aimed at me but, "please no politics". I confess to rising to the bait.
I can live with "Independence for Catalunya" but "freedom.." suggests that it isn't free now. Her reply was the most amazing rant! Wow, I hit a sore point, I think. This was the person who angrily said to me once, "Show respect!" when I explained that I had no intention of speaking Catalan. It is odd, the two people that I know who are most fanatical about independence are English women! I guess it is a sore point with me because the move for independence has really mucked up my life, even to the point of my considering living here. It was that motivation that made me decide to come here, a bit crazy, so soon after visiting the Philippines. Now I think you can see why this situation is causing me so much unhappiness - after Brexit, I feel rather root-less! The rest of Spain doesn't attract me. France doesn't attract me - too many Brits! And I don't speak the language very well.
Alba and Adrian, mis anfitriones. The owners
of the apartment.


Alba showing me plants in her garden! 

Alba and I went shopping for food and drink for
a party Saturday night. We stopped for a drink!

I have had the most torturous time with Airbnb. As I wrote previously, I paid €500 into an account for "Special Services" for the apartment in error although the amount was not solicited by the owners. It appeared in my account in exactly the same way as my payments for the rent, so the mistake was not evident. The simplest thing for them to have done would have been to re-allocate the amount to rental. The owners were happy with that. But no, there followed over a week of messages back and forth. First they said they never took commission from these payments, but they took €34 and called it "commission" !! So we argued about the missing €34. And finally, finally, yesterday I won the argument. They did what they should have done in the first place and what I suggested. The €34 appears on my account as a credit and the final remaining payment which I am due to make on 28th January is correct. They made out that they couldn't change their system but their system seemed unable to carry out simple arithmetic. I was gently sarcastic at times giving it 2/10 for arithmetic. And suggesting its name was "Hal" because it appeared that they couldn't make any changes.  (The joke is in reference to the computer in 2001 Space Odyssey but most people know about that).

Wednesday 17 January 2018


It rains a lot here! I don't know if they have a rainy season, I didn't think they had any seasons, so near to the Equator!
My socialising is a total disaster! I went to the group I mentioned on Friday but I don't like the location, it is a garden with hard uncomfortable benches, if you sit at the end, you run the risk of being dumped on the ground if someone else gets up.
I then had my own meetup last night (Tuesday), I had 4 RSVPs but no one turned up. So I cancelled all meetups for that group. The organiser of the Friday Facebook group doesn't reply to me and I can't access their Facebook group. I can see the FB page but if I click on the link to www.facebook.com/groups/... I get redirected by FB to the pages that I administer. Not very helpful. I don't like Facebook, even less now if that is possible. My friend Adrian who I was chatting to on WhatsApp calls it a necessary evil. He said that people here use Facebook, not Meetup. But Meetup is so open and friendly and all I want to do is to be able to post the events on their Meetup page. I guess the organiser resents my interference!
Nini. Well, Nini has just blown what friendship we ever had totally out of the water with a strongly abusive rant on WhatsApp despite my gentle pleas for calm. She is crazy, burning inside with bitterness and anger. And I copped the lot. Oh well, it will save me some money. It started by her "warning" me that the owner of the property where I am staying might just be making money if he finds me a house. I replied that I had no problem with that, it is normal. I said the same would be the case for her - we even talked about it when we were walking around her neighbourhood looking at houses. This triggered a most amazing rant, about.. we are your family... you think we are doing it for money? Any attempt I made to say that, no this was not the case, met with more abuse. It was quite extraordinary. We haven't spoken since. I am assured that I am no longer welcome at their house (not even to watch the TV I just bought them) and I am most certainly not part of the family any more. I think I can bear that loss! I shared my Netflix login with them but I am loath to change the password and lock them out because that would be vindictive and would hurt the young girl more because she likes to watch Walt Disney movies.
Yesterday I went to see a lawyer, Vanesa, that Nini recommended. She runs a childrens' party franchise called Picardias (Nini has worked there in the past) but she is also a qualified lawyer. I avoided talking about Nini because this followed the WhatsApp conversation (haha, "conversation" !!) I think, following my failure socially and the bust up with Nini (no surprise there), I am getting cold feet about buying a place here. But I am still going ahead to try to get an ID here, Cedula Extranjero, which will then enable me to open a bank account. Vanesa quoted me a total price for the cedula, buying a house and also making tax declarations which was too much. I got her to break it down and I just accepted the price for the cedula. Firstly I have to get a long-term visa. I have a visa on entry of course, but that is for only 3 months. In fact, the visa in my passport does not show an expiry date.
Friends worry about the fact that I keep on going back to Nini but she is just the catalyst. My eyes are wide open, don't worry. What interest would a young girl in Colombia have for this English guy if it wasn't for the fact that I have given her money? But she provided the trigger to bring me here and I am very glad about that, in a sense I used her. I had a great time last year with the wider family despite the arguments but this time it is definitely over, I will look for new friends. I deleted the conversation in WhatsApp but I am still shocked at her language, what I remember of it. I wrote at one stage, "My phone is burning" !! But I forgive instantly, she obviously has some kind of problem inside, I guess about not having money... and I do. Other things she writes give the game away. Anyway, I am not that wealthy, I need to save money for when I need it, if the time comes. My young nurse in a white uniform in the style of Benny Hill pushing me around Celrà at high speed or wherever I may be be living at the time! I hope that I never slander Nini as a person, I just write what happened.
I am a little depressed (but what's new about that!) - maybe about the social scene - but much more relaxed than in Spain. I sometimes wonder if it is simply because I have no one living above me. The apartment is like a big spacious box planted on top of the apartment where the owner lives. The view is superb. By the way, the owners are very friendly and helpful and I like the district, there are frequent buses into the centre of Cuba and then there is a fast bus into the centre of Pereira. I still don't understand this apparent bug that I have, I am feeling better but I am a little weak and sleep a lot. Maybe coz I'm relaxed!!
I am certainly glad I came here, the troubles in Catalunya seem a long way away and I am in no hurry to go back. But, of course, I will do so as scheduled on 1st March. So for the time being, this is my home. Vanesa asked me if I felt lost but I didn't understand her at first. In fact, the meaning was the same as in English, like "little boy lost", not "lost phone"! I assured her that home is where I am. And I am very happy in the city of Pereira, Colombia!

Saturday 13 January 2018

A Social Group.... but not Meetup

Let me start by explaining the photo! This is a bar close to where I am living and these guys were playing tunes on YouTube to their neighbours at 11pm at high volume when I arrived. I chose "Song in your Heart" and "Despacito" because those were the songs that my friends in the Philippines were playing incessantly - it drove me nuts! I did ask if their neighbours appreciated the music but their reply was that the bar closed at 3am. I showed the photo to Nini the next day but she was not amused.
Last night I went to a social group, rather like my Meetup group in Girona but they publicise the group on Facebook and I only heard about it by chance. Before I came here, I started my own Meetup group called, "Pereira Social Meetup" and I have 8 members, our first meetup is on Tuesday. One of my members, Adrián, told me about the Facebook group so we both went along last night. I had become frustrated because there are two big Meetup groups here but there are no events and the Organisers didn't respond to my messages. So I decided to start my own!
But I made several friends last night, it was a great evening, I guess there were about 20 there at one stage, more guys than girls. And I made some useful contacts including a guy who gave me the phone number of the organiser of the group. Last night, no one was actually "leading" the group. They just turn up every week. So I will phone the organiser and suggest we get together, use Meetup to publicise the regular meetings and also to add other events. Several people last night really liked the idea, so I was happy! I made it clear that I wasn't setting up in competition, of course not. They didn't think that for a minute. I dislike Facebook but I am a great fan of Meetup. And maybe we can find out what happened to those two big groups. There are other Meetup groups in Pereira but they are mainly to do with IT. And they don't have events either. There seemed to be a real desire last night for a group such as Meetup with lots of different events. I suggested drawing, walking... all kinds of things. One guy opposite me, Sebastian, modestly told me he drew for pleasure. He is an engineer and we talked about the mixture of art and technology. He showed me a couple of digital paintings of his on his phone, they were absolutely superb. Next time we meet, I will tell him that I am currently reading the biography of Leonardo de Vinci. A mixture of art and science if ever there was one.
A lot of the conversation was in English because many Colombians here want to improve their English but I am far happier talking in Spanish. When I was talking one to one, we could mix English and Spanish.
This morning I created another event in my group: "Let's join Conversation Pereira", for next Friday. One solution is for me to re-name my group with the same name. Several people expressed a surprise that organising a Meetup group isn't free! I explained that Meetup.com is a big company based in New York. There is a server to pay for. 100 people with various skills, social and technical work there. How can that possibly be free? There is no advertising revenue, the Meetup websites are completely free of advertising apart from sponsors which the Organiser can obtain. I do that in Spain and the revenue from that pays for my Meetup group here also because I can have up to 3 groups for the same price. It is about €72 a year. I think they would be amused to know that they are helping support a Meetup group in Colombia!


Friday 12 January 2018

A sunny morning in Pereira

This is just a quick post because I ended my last post in rather a depressed state but it is amazing what 11 hours of sleep can do for one. My so called "virus" is definitely on the way out, almost certainly psychosematic. And I am feeling a different man.
I spent most of the morning in bed and only at about 2pm did I make contact with Nini. She has put me in touch with a lawyer who can give me advice about buying a house and also the question of taxation if I decide to become resident here. Last night that was totally out of the question, all I wanted to do was go home. Except that "home" is in political chaos and will be so for the next 4 years I think. However, if I live here, I will do it as a Spanish citizen, meaning my passport will be Spanish. I am not sure about dual nationality, retaining my British passport also. I didn't think that was possible. In any case, I am happy to give up my British citizenship, many expats who want to remain European are doing the same. I was very upset when the UK decided to leave the EU, I felt abandoned! I would qualify for a Spanish passport I think. My Spanish is fine but I would need to swot up a bit on Spanish history and culture for the exam.

Thursday 11 January 2018

A sunny day.... and back in Pereira

I'm writing this soon after arriving back at my apartment in Pereria. Nini and Alexander have gone to the centre of Pereira for his appointment with the physiotherapist and I have come back here with a distinct feeling of anti-climax!
We met in the hotel lobby at 6.15am this morning in Buenaventura, had a quick coffee and took a taxi to the airport, the journey was half an hour.
As you can imagine, the airport is very small. The runway was short, right in the centre of woods. The flight was delayed by 90 minutes and I was faced with the dilemma of what to do with their suitcase which was far too big to go in the cabin. We all had boarding passes so we could simply have walked to the departure gate. My original plan was to check it in again at Bogotá, we would have had loads of time. Satena and Avianca don't have an agreement with moving bags from one aircraft to the other - interline, it is called, I think. Alexander was offered the choice of our transferring the bag ourselves between planes but I think human nature took over and I was a little piqued that the Satena agent didn't involve me. I had been chatting fluently with him just before then, explaining that they were like my "little family". But the explanation was more prosaic, the label on the bag was linked to Alexander's boarding pass and the agent had no way to know that I had bought the tickets.
But the delay was so great that the option that I chose turned out to be the wrong decision and, when the plane taxied to a halt barely one hour before our Avianca flight was to leave, Nini leap to the back of the plane and asked that we take the suitcase with us in the transfer bus. They took it out of the hold and placed it at the bottom of the steps. I have travelled through many airports in the world, but it took a young girl of 24 having flown once only (with me) to take control. I am glad someone was thinking clearly. I am totally depressed at the way my mind works (or doesn't) sometimes. It was humiliating, I am supposed to know about these things.

The Avianca flight arrived back in Pereira on time, we all went to the centre of Cuba for a meal together and Nini and Alexander with Sofi went off to the centre of Pereira. Soon afterwards, there was a violent thunderstorm which would certainly have put paid to our flight back here. Sitting at home on a sofa watching TV is a whole lot more predictable but a whole lot less fun!

Yesterday made up for the wash-out on Tuesday when it rained almost all day, it was hot and sunny. We took a boat to the one destination we had not previously visited, Piangüita. It was by far the best of the three. I really worry about these boats, sometimes they go too fast for the sea conditions and passengers especially at the front are subjected to quite violent shocks as the bow hits the waves. I don't know enough about human anatomy to know if this is stressful for the spine. Also, their handling of gasoline scares me. They were casually tipping petrol into two containers and then into the tank at the back of the boat with a boat-load of passengers waiting. The smell was very strong.
On the way back, things were rather bizarre. The boat pulled up at a beach lined with dilapidated houses on stilts and there were three small boys playing in the sea. The driver went up to one of the houses and came back with a drum of gasoline and he paid for it with a small wad of notes. I found that strange!
I just read in The Times that the Catalan chaos continues with the possibility that Carles Puigdemont will be installed as President of Catalunya.... from Belgium! Now I am even more depressed. I am not terribly happy here at the moment but with no wish to return to Catalunya, it is crazy. It is my worst nightmare, what is happening there. The lies, the twisted words.
Maybe things will look up tomorrow when I go to an expat group but I am very anxious not to abandon my friends Nini and Alexander here. But the two will not mix, I am sure. And then on Tuesday, I have my own Meetup group. Two guys coming but it's a start!

Things did look up the next day! Partly on account of 11 hours sleep!


Tuesday 9 January 2018

A wet day! - updated with photos

Our hotel reception. In common with many public buildings
here, it is completely open to the elements.
Now I am right up to date with writing my blog! Today (Tuesday) dawned with a part-cloudy sky and if I had been in European mode, I would have checked the weather forecast. But when I come here, as demonstrated a year ago in Parc del Café, I go with the flow which is not always a good idea.
We bought some drinks and then I saw that Nini was remaining seated on a low wall, not coming towards the boat station. I thought at first she was talking about Sofi but she said that she was afraid of the boat journey, so that put an end to our trip to the beach. I have to confess, I sympathise with her, the drivers are a little crazy and the boats not particularly stable. But in fact, it proved to be a lucky decision because for most of the day up to 3pm when I am writing this, it has rained solidly. That is a strange English colloquialism because rain is not solid, it is liquid last time I checked! (I added this later, in fact what Nini had was a premonition, she had a pain in her chest and rapid heart-beat. As far as I remember, she didn't actually use that word, otherwise I would  have understood immediately, it is the same in Spanish. She spoke about it that evening.)
My little family looks a little depressed and bedraggled and I wish we were going home tomorrow. That was the original plan but Nini can't face the bus journey so we are flying back on Thursday morning. Apart from the obvious expense of the flights, that means one more night in the hotel. I hope the weather looks up tomorrow!
I have been looking up social groups in Pereira, apart from the one that I have formed. A guy who joined my group told me about another group called "Conversation Pereira" but they use a Facebook group and I do not like Facebook. I couldn't even look at their page because, unlike the rest of the online world, I don't have a Facebook profile, only a Facebook page for my paintings. I will be meeting people most of whom will have real jobs maybe so I am concerned that Nini and Alexander won't feel that I am rejecting them in favour of a slightly more intellectual level of conversation (However I write this, it sounds a little snobbish. But they are my friends, I didn't choose them to discuss computer programming!) What makes me sad is that they don't seem interested in learning new things from me, there is so much I could tell and teach them. They never ask questions, about Europe, about me, my work... But that's the way it is, I guess. I am spending a lot of money at the moment but that will stop when we go back on Thursday, I want to carve out my own life here and see if living here is viable. The great thing about expat groups is the exchange of information. We do that a lot in my Meetup group in Girona.
We had a European style lunch today in Subway, a nice change from little mounds of rice. After the meal, I was asking Alexander about his job prospects when we go back because he really has to start looking for work. I asked him what he could do if he couldn't find work as a baker and he said to me something which sounded like corsenda, because don't forget, we are always speaking in Spanish. Can you guess what that is? It took me a little while... Call Centre! Maybe he doesn't even know that they are English words.Why should he? And his shoulder injury doesn't stop him doing that.

 We went to a super restaurant this evening, very basic but the food was excellent. Nini told me it is the food from the Llanos, a region in the east of Colombia.

As you can see, Buenaventura is a big port!

The sun setting more or less exactly west!

After a rainy day!


Buenaventura - updated with photos

It is 6pm on Monday evening and it seems a long time ago since we left Pereira! I have been so busy, I haven't had a chance to update my blog until now. On Friday, we all met at the central Terminal de Transporte at 10am from where all the inter-urban buses leave. It is right next to where I was living last time I was here. Alexander was already in the centre after an appointment for physiotherapy. The previous day, I had made an attempt to book a taxi to buga, our initial destination but I think the driver was irritated by my attempting to bargain with him over the price. Anyway, the bus was much cheaper. In fact it was a mini-bus with about 20 seats. I had hit on Buga because it was at the beginning of a number of tourist attractions along the way to Buenaventura, our final destination. The journey was fine, it was about 2.5 hours and the bus dropped us off slightly out of town because it went on to Calí. There were taxis waiting and we were soon in our hotel. It was very beautiful, a courtyard leading to the rooms which circled a small swimming pool and jacuzzi. But the actual facilities were terrible. No information in reception about buses, excursions. No bar, no restaurant. No information about the town. So we had to fend for ourselves. The town was very boring, I was going to write a title, "Boring Buga" for this post but I can't now because we are in Buenaventura!
We wandered round the shops, bought a bikini for Sofi because otherwise she could not have used to pool. I know you think it is funny, a girl of 4 with a bikini because obviously she has no need for the top. But somehow, she looks complete, very cute!
We slept very badly. Nini and Alexander's bed was very hard and the kitchen with no door was right next to the pool. And the guy started work at 5am. And there was a cock crowing. So, at 9am we were very happy to take a taxi to the bus station. There were one or two destinations that I wanted to see but I quickly lost interest in those, I wanted to go directly to Buenaventura and see the Pacific. And I know that the others were far too polite to say that it was all they really wanted to do also.
The bus journey was truly awful. You think travelling is fun, an adventure? Yes sometimes it is but it is not always so. What affected me most was that there was no perceptible suspension to the mini-bus and we felt every last bump on the road. The driver had put on a disaster movie about a tsunami, so the shocks from the road were bizarrely accompanied by strident music and sound effects of water, screaming people hugging each other. It really irritated me. No one asked me if I wanted to watch a movie for 2 hours.
What affected Nini and Sofi were the constant curves in the road and they began to feel nauseous, not helped by the lack of sleep. They were not actually sick, but by the time we arrived in Buenaventura, Nini certainly was feeling very rough.
Our arrival was truly amazing. We drove along a minor road and then took a right turn into some kind of closed compound. There were one or two buses parked but no one taking a bus. a group of policemen were changing clothes and washing. The whole area was scruffy and dirty, it was totally weird. Then I saw a door marked "Welcome to Buenaventura", so we took that. I had decided to wait till we arrived in Buenaventura in case it was practical to book a hotel in one of the islands but it soon became obvious that it was not a good idea. This guy kept on pestering us. There was nowhere to put my laptop, my small Asus which converts to a tablet. So I had to balance it in my hands using my phone for tethering to the internet. I managed to connect to Booking.com, saw a nice looking hotel but, since we were already here and rooms were available, we took a taxi directly there. And that is where I m writing my blog.
When we arrived, there was a very long wait for our rooms so we had some lunch in the restaurant. The swimming pool is great.
I persuaded my friends that we should book the hotel till when we go back to Pereira and use it as our base, taking a boat to the islands each day. They didn't need much persuading, the hotel is very nice and very close to the boat station. 
I think, that first afternoon, we just relaxed. We didn't do much.


Next day, we took the boat to Juanchaco, the furthest of the three destinations, the others being Bocana and Piangüita. The journey was very fast and the boat hit the waves with venom, I was worried about Sofi because we were towards the front of the boat. I remember asking the driver to slow down when Nini and I were in Cartagena and I think she considered me as rather soft. But maybe she has realised that I was right all along.
We had a great time on the beach but I am always mesmerised looking west towards the horizon thinking about my family in the Philippines on the other side of this vast ocean. Note the colour of the sand, volcanic rather like The Canary Islands.

When we got back at about 5pm we went to the hotel pool but it was quite full. Sofi was very happy!
This was our second beach day, Bocana

We talked about how to go back to Pereira. Nini (and also Sofi, I guess) was dreading the journey although we could take an easier but longer route via Calí but even then, it would have been about 6 or 7 hours. So I looked up flights and Satena has a flight 5 times a week, including Thursday morning. It goes to Bogotá of course, not Pereira, so I booked us onto that flight and then a flight from Bogotá to Pereira arriving at 1.15pm. I feel very much responsible for my "family", one of whom is only 4, because I have brought them out here, it is all new to them. So it is my responsibility also to take them back... in comfort. Both flights for 4 of us came to a little over €400. So that's not too bad, I guess. These three people are in my care. 
Nini and I had a slight argument after I insisted on a printed bill in a restaurant (rather than the total given verbally), she went and apologised for me afterwards which annoyed me. But then, the following night (meaning just now) she explained that they feel embarrassed having me paying for all food and I understand that. (I joked about how many pizzas the air fare would pay for!) So maybe the argument was also connected to that. But I explained that I brought them here, so I expect to feed them also! This evening we ordered a pizza for delivery in the hotel. We spent a long time wandering around aimlessly when the problem was that they were embarrassed to say where they wanted to eat. My family in the Philippines has no such qualms! By the way, the argument went away very rapidly and we are all on very happy terms.

Thursday 4 January 2018

Looking ahead

I am writing this on Wednesday evening with a glass of wine! I spent the whole day en casa (at home), no jarring bus rides, a chance to relax a little. I chatted with Nini on Skype this morning and they suggested coming to see me, which is what they did - with Sofi of course. We spent a pleasant afternoon planning our trip to Buenaventura. Ah, I didn't tell you!
Maybe I am making too big a thing with them about when Alexander gets the all-clear from the doctors over his shoulder but that is when he has no excuse not to get work. At the earliest, it will be 11th January when he has a visit to the physio. So I said that, if we go anywhere, it has to be before then.
So... this is the plan. We are going to Buenaventura, on the Pacific coast! It is a big port, so we are not actually going into the city. First we take the bus to Buga which is about 50km short of Calí, it is about 4 hours. Buga is the centre of a wonderful region of lakes and rivers. I have already booked a hotel in Booking.com for Friday night, I let Nini choose it. And then we can meander towards the coast. Spend two days on a beach or visiting the islands. On the return, maybe we will stay in the same hotel and return to Pereira in time for Alexander's appointment on the afternoon of the 11th. A perfect window!

So, I will have much to tell you. This will be our one major excursion rather in the same way as taking Nini to Cartagena last time. Tomorrow I will be seeing them again but we haven't planned anything specific. When they came to see me today, I asked them that, surely they had things to do at home. The answer was no. They would just watch TV, I think. So they came to watch me instead. I wish I could stimulate them with some new interests. I wanted to create a website for their cake making...
By the way, this "virus" I have been talking about.... I don't believe now that it is a real illness, I think it is psychosomatic, caused by the stress of travel and jet lag. Anyway, the family are in good health so it is obviously not catching, whatever it is! 
I wish I would stop beating myself up over losing the phone. I think I am more forgiving of other people than myself. Or maybe I am scared at how the mind can get so completely befuddled when it is so tired. It is not so bad if there is a problem with a leg or an arm, but the brain is Central Control and if that stops functioning properly then we are in trouble. But that day was rather like astronaut traning. Let's take Steve around lots of supermarkets after a late night and see what happens. And what is really daft. Today, 3 days after the event, I suddenly realised, maybe I dropped the phone in the street, I never checked. D'oh.
I received the refund from Airbnb today. €500? no way. It was €34 less than that. I wonder where that got swallowed up....

Wednesday 3 January 2018

Update... and lots of photos!

The loss of a second phone in the space of one month, I really could not make it up. I retraced the same route this evening, this time compos-mentis.It was very clear where I was. I know the route through cycling it. Nini explained that taxi drivers go by districts, not roads but I couldn't remember the name of the district, Idalia (Barrio is district in Spanish). I don't think my driver could read a map. I was in a terrible state last night, possible virus, jet-lag, super tired after the party. Today, I am more or less my normal self! That one word would have saved me €180.
Today, we went to the centre of Pereira on the Megabus which I said was almost like a train on tyres but it's more like a ride in Disneyland, hang on tight! Alexander had his physiotherapy and Nini and I did some shopping, one or two things for me.
The problem with Airbnb is resolved now and it is crazy! When I extended the reservation to 2 months I paid €500 to Airbnb thinking it was a contribution to the rent, but not so. It went as "Additional Services" which is why they are still claiming money for the rent. The contact at Airbnb kept on talking about my making  "direct payments" to the owner (directamente in Spanish) and that means one thing only to me. So I thought they were accusing me of making a cash payment. None of their accounting appears to show the two classes of payment. Had they done so, I would have seen it immediately. Anyway, all is resolved, the owner will reimburse me the €500 and then he will receive a payment for the second month on 28th January. What a kerfuffle!!
I bought the TV, a Samsung smart TV with wifi and TDT- 32" I bought an indoor aerial and wall mounting and the signal is fine providing we keep the aerial close to the window. The free digital channels are not brilliant but I am sharing my Netflix login with them, I just sent it this evening.
I also bought a strip of white LEDs for the kitchen work-top. I went back with them because I wanted to see how it looked. I stayed for a short while and then came back here for some supper. The bus journeys are pretty horrendous, the roads are very bad but the drivers make very little concession to that. It is a big problem if I am to live here. Often one has to hang on with two hands if one is standing (frequent!) and some of the jarring is shocking! I was thinking that maybe that it is what it is like travelling in a tank over rough terrain, the engine growling. The bus engine growls, I have decided. I like that word.

As promised, here are some photos from the party. Nini was wearing the coulotte that I bought her. For a guy that is a special kind of pleasure! In the shop, before she put it on, I thought it was a little on the small side. Haha, maybe you agree. Hey, but she looks great! What an amazing adventure into human relations this is!

Correction..... My Colombia phone number is +57 310 272 3797 for WhatsApp. Sorry, I published the wrong number earlier. 

I love this photo!

I was kneeling so that I could hear what she was saying
so then it turned into a joke about proposing!

I danced with her a lot! I thought she was very sexy,
her expressions when we danced!


Tuesday 2 January 2018

Phone lost again!

I just lost my new J7 phone, the one with my Spanish phone number. So my WhatsApp contacts will be wondering what has happened to me.
I really need some rest but I don't have the courage of my convictions to tell my friends that I want at least one day on my own. So, after the party last night, I was very tired again, still with the feeling that I have some kind of bug which doesn't help the jet-lag. Alexander came to my apartment at 10am but there is no bell and he didn't say he was coming, so I missed him. Then it rained a lot so they couldn't come to see me anyway. I wrote up my blog and then they invited me for lunch at their home. We then went together to the centre of Cuba, Nini's dad came too. I wanted to buy a couple of phone chargers with a Colombian plug and we went to great lengths to find them, it was a bit crazy, I said that there was no hurry. It was a fiesta today so then I went shopping for food for me in Éxito, then we went to another supermarket to buy food for them, Alexander paid for it. Then we took a taxi back to their home and I left after a short while. I was feeling quite rough by then.
I forgot to ask Nini to remind me of the name of the zone where I live, I know it well by the bus route (or even bike) which follows Calle 70 but taxi drivers go by zones. I couldn't see the turning which I normally take because it was dark and raining. We overshot into the centre of Cuba, under the underpass and he took a right after that. I kept on saying "Calle 70" in Spanish of course, but he claimed not to understand me. He stopped and asked two passers by, they didn't know. Calle 70 is one of the main spokes of the wheel coming out of the centre. I began to get impatient, fuelled by tiredness. This was not a good plan. I got out my J7 phone to show him on Google Maps where we were, I could see Calle 70 but he seemed not to understand maps. The upshot of it was that we argued and he threw me out of the taxi and it was only a few seconds later I realised I had left the phone on the seat of the taxi. But by then he was driving away. He will think it is his lucky day.
I walked from where he dropped me to the bus station and took a number 14 bus back home. The bus journey was crazy, the driver was going like a maniac and hitting bumps with venom. I was trying to message Nini.
When I got home, I changed my Skype password but Movistar wouldn't let me block the phone. The message said, "Call 1004". Well!! If I had a phone, I would do that but I don't have a phone. So, if it is used, then it will just stop at the roaming limit.... I hope.
I got rather depressed about the whole journey, about my plans to live here. Maybe the difference in culture is too great. But unpleasant taxi drivers are in the world over and I admit that I was rude to him. And my brain is in a constant fog, more so now with my tiredness and a possible virus or whatever it is. But it has been with me for many years. Not senility, I am sure of that. Just a fog which won't go away. But it is with me wherever I go, and it affects my memory and has cost me two phones in quick succession. My other problem is that my nerves and energy keep me awake long after I should have gone to sleep and I am very vulnerable because I am over-tired.
A short while ago I was going to ditch the whole idea of living here but Nini and Alexander are very keen to look after me, I can see them doing it all the time and I am very touched. So maybe I will try to explain the fog to them, Nini trained as a nurse. Maybe that is just what I need. What is the alternative? To spend my days in boredom in the ruptured society which is Catalunya. Certainly I would never go back to the UK.

We are meeting at Alkosto tomorrow morning to replace my J7 but, of course, the Spanish SIM is in the phone which was lost so it won't be much use to me for a while. But I will put my Colobian SIM in it and create a new WhatsApp account with that number. Maybe Movistar can post a SIM to me. And I will buy the TV that I promised them. My Colombia phone number is +57 310 272 3797 so try sending a WhatsApp message to it any time. Sorry, I published the wrong number earlier. +63 is the Philippines!! Now you can see my problem, I think I know what planet I am on but which continent...?

Monday 1 January 2018


A very happy New Year to all my friends who read my blog! (and those that don't!)

It is about mid-day on 1st January and I have lots of ideas for the New Year. I know it's just one more day in the calendar but there is a strong feeling to make plans for the new year! I saw a super house yesterday which Nini and Alexander showed me, near to their house. It was 120 million pesos which is about €40k, rather above my budget. Area, 70 m2. But if I sold my flat in Spain, I could buy three of them!! But, as I said, I would be better advised to rent out my flat at €600 a month but that would leave me income rich. It would not be possible to convert that into a loan here, I think. That would be the ideal: convert the €600 into a 4 year loan of 28k. Anyway, this is just thinking aloud. My age counts against me but, logically, the lender has to build in the possibility of death whatever the age, so I don't see that it makes much difference.

Yesterday, we had a party at Nini's home which I left at 1am as I was very tired. Nini and Alexander went to bed at 4am. I went with Nini and Alexander during the afternoon and bought most of the drinks and lots of other things such as salad. Nini made a wonderful salad! In a way, I was one of the hosts. Maybe you are wondering what happened to the pig? Well, I was confused too because the plastic bags with bits of pig were for neighbours in the long term. And there was an enormous amount of preparation before the event, huge pots of vegetables and sausages and I will ask this morning what happened to that. I was expecting a large number of people but in fact, we were about 12. I cooked the lomo from the pig (the boneless meat from the chops) in two large chunks. It was my suggestion to cook it in the oven, they were going to chop it up and fry it. I bought the oven about 4 months ago. I guess the meat was about 3 or 4 kilos. I had bought two roasting dishes previously and the smaller of the two was perfect for that. I cut a line down each of the chunks to spread the heat but apart from that, they were roasted completely which made for lovely succulent pork for our guests. I set the temperature at 170c which was the minimum (gas oven) and it took about 1.5 hours. We served up the meals with a small mound of moulded rice, and salad. I was drinking wine but everyone else was drinking fruit juice but they caught up later when we danced to lots of different rhythms, Mererngue, Salsa and on other which I can't remember. Many houses put their hifi by an open window and play these rhythms to their neighbours, so I am hearing an incessant Latin rhythm all the time. Don't they ever chill out with a bit of Handel, which I am listening to? My neighbours seem to be on a constant high of music but maybe it will subside when the festive season ends. 
I took loads of photos at the party with my Nikon camera but unfortunately I can't put up any photos here at the moment. Anyway, evening is approaching in Europe, so they will be there first thing tomorrow morning. I know I've said it before but the time difference is 6 hours which meant that I went to bed at about the time I am normally getting up in Spain. But obviously, each day, I am adjusting to the difference. It is raining a lot but when the sun comes out, it is very hot and the temperature soars. I don't think they have a rainy season. I don't think they have any seasons!!

So I will add more to this later, plus some photos! 

By the way, I am having an annoying and frustrating argument with Airbnb through whom I booked this apartment. I booked and paid for the first month back in October and the owners gave me the option to rent it to 1st March after I had seen it. As I said before, it is superb, so I didn't hesitate. Obviously I was always going to respect the conditions of Airbnb and pay for the booking through their website. Alba stood by me and unblocked the period which they had kept back for me and I clicked on it in the Airbnb website to book it. When it came to pay, it didn't show me the amount due, it gave me a choice. I paid €500 through PayPal, knowing that would still leave a small amount outstanding later, about €100. Airbnb insist on pre-authorisation so, as soon as I entered the amount, it was taken instantly from my PayPal account. I feel very uncomfortable about this, OK with a company that I trust.....
A day later, I had a shock. An additional amount of €37 had been taken at about the same time as I paid the €500. Worse, the account was showing an outstanding balance of over €600 euros, with a pending payment of €500 on 28th January. And there was nothing I could do to stop that going through. I wrote to Airbnb. The reply was that I had no booking so therefore I had no money outstanding!! I patiently sent back the reference and pointed out that I was actually living in the apartment in question.

The reply was more astonishing. It claimed that I had not made it clear that I had made a payment to the owners directly and therefore I still owed the €500 despite it obviously being on their leger. As it is on my PayPal account. What planet are they on? I then went on the offensive and claimed in my PayPal account that the €37 had been taken illegally and that I wanted it back. That will get them going!
So I have two separate disputes, the €500 and the €37. Obviously I am not too concerned about the €37 because it will just reduce my pending payment. I am doing it to wake them up out of their stupid dream. And all this in Spanish, I can argue very well in Spanish.
Am I going crazy? Just one glance on their ledger will show them clearly what I have paid. And do they imagine that I would make a direct payment to the owner and still show the extended booking on Airbnb? Clearly they are paranoid about people making direct payments and I am sure it goes on a lot of the time. But their paranoia has taken them into the realms of corporate fantasy. I guess, next time they reply, I will send them a screenshot of my PayPal account. And in future, I will be extremely cautious about using this company. But the apartment is brilliant, I am very happy here. And I keep thinking back about that house!