Tag: Interesting People

Fun Jardin Quirks #3

Fun Jardin Quirks #3

Because two is never enough.

Halloween

American arrogance. Misguided exceptionalism. I figured that no country, at least no country without a mammoth commercial-holiday-industrial complex where candy corns and costumes and bric-a-braces are hawked for weeks often months before the holiday, could outperform the Untied States. But I figured wrong. Colombia puts on a show.

The kids actually had school the day of — which was surprising, seeing as they’ve gotten off school for events as minor as centigrade decrease in temperature — and weren’t permitted to wear their costumes. But as soon as school got out, every kid in town sprinted home to change. Halloween started at 2pm.

Well, closer to 3pm. 2pm Colombian time. Colombians aren’t punctual. In fact, our Spanish maestra taught us that here ‘ahora’, which translates to ‘now’ and means ‘now’ in every other Spanish-speaking country we’ve ventured through, means ‘in the near future’. ‘Ahorita’ means in the next few minutes. I’m not sure they have a word that means ‘immediately’.

Thus, Andrea and I sweated off a few pounds in the increasingly hot Colombian sun (Colombia is heading into summer) while biding nearly an hour for the niños-only parade to start. And it started with a bang. Quite literally. Someone fired a pistol. Then, led by a marching band and various dance troupes, a costumed entanglement of prepubescents and a handful of hardly costumed post-pubescents marched into town to claim their stake of candy.

The businesses, not the houses, hand out the candy. This is, however, an area where Colombia gravely lacks. Candy here is crap. Like worse than those hard orange candies with the shiny orange wrappers. For the first time since the inception of Everett, I haven’t felt compelled to steal our kids’ candy.

The niños-only parade ended around 6pm. Then everyone rushed home to get changed for the adults parade, which was slated to start at 8pm Colombian time, so closer to 9pm.

We’d rented costumes from our neighbor, Jessica. Andrea and I went as the Queen of Hearts and the Madhatter. Our friends Tyler and Meghan from Colorado went as a witch and wizard. Our friends Martin and Luli from Argentina went as a 70s couple. We looked awesome, as I did say so myself. But we were still a bit underdressed and underprepared — most of the adults, seemingly, had some sort of dance routine prepared — in comparison to the locals.

Liquid candy awaited the parade participants. Also served by the businesses. As did a slew of food carts. We quaffed beers, laughed, slammed patacones, and ogled the spectacle. It was a riot. Wickedly fun.

Halloween bled into the following week. The next day, the local bike clubs — biking seems to be the the national pastime of Colombia — held parades. The following Friday, an adults-only affair was hosted at a haunted hacienda in the mountains.

Colombia does Halloween right.

Cueva Del Esplendor

Waterfalls are common in Colombia. We’ve seen dozens on various hikes. Therefore, for the longest time, we avoided falling into the local tourist trap, the Cueva Del Esplendor. Then our buddies from Argentina convinced us to join them.

Jeep Willies cuatro-por-cuatro-ed us up a windy and bumpy road to visit the cave, dropping us at the top of one the many peaks overlooking Jardin. From there, we hiked several miles through mountainous farmland, scaled the side of a cliff, and hiked across a river (see video of Paheli on our guide’s back below) to the cave.

Meters before the Cueva, streams babbled down moss-encrusted cliffs, creating the most relaxing sound I’ve ever heard. Then, just outside the Cueva, a small waterfall falls from the sun. Then, inside, a massive waterfall juts through a hole in the Cueva, deafening the senses. It’s transfixing. It’s marvelous.

I kinda feel like they should film the next Goonies movie in this cave…. See some photos here.

Old Lady Mafia

Like bosses, clucks of old women cluster around tables in the main square and drink coffee and Aguardiente (a local, anise-flavored liquor) and discuss how to maintain their grasp on Jardin’s social, political, and economic structures. Or perhaps cooking and crochet. I can’t be sure. They’ve never invited me to join. Andrea is determined to join or create a cluck when she becomes an old lady, however.

Christmas

Colombian’s don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Thus there’s no major holiday between Halloween and Christmas. And thus — and some think it’s bad in the US — they start celebrating Christmas a few days after Halloween. We, of course, don’t mind. We love Christmas. Plus it gives me an excellent excuse to start playing Christmas music earlier than normal….

Temporary Pets

We’ve housed a few strays, temporarily, on this trip. Notably a pair of puppies in Pátzcuaro. For a couple days in Jardin, we hosted a stray, what looked like, Collie St. Bernard mix in our apartment. She was a sweetie. But she eventually left us for another home. (On that, Colombians are particularly kind to strays, and as such, strays are particularly kind.)

Fond Farewell

Home is where you make it. Our van has been our home most of the this trip. The four of us, occasionally five or six if you tally the stray dogs we’ve temporarily adopted in route, have made it such. But a few times on this trip we’ve made home elsewhere. Like here in Jardin.

We depart in a week. And we’re going miss Jardin and the people — some of the friendliest we’ve ever met — and the friends we’ve made. It’s been our favorite stop to date. We’re contemplating returning here one day. Making it even more of a home. But for now, we’re heading to Ecuador and then flying back to Idaho, our original home, for Christmas. We hope to see most of you then.

Fun Jardin Quirks

Fun Jardin Quirks

Jardin has some fun quirks. Thought I’d quickly share a few.

Just Leanin’ Around

The town, like many colonial-style towns, is built around the main square. The Basilica de la Inmaculada Concepcion (Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception) new-gothic cathedral casts a shadow over the square, likely judging all those vendors hawking knockoff Western sneakers.

Most of the business happens in the square, especially on Sundays when the smaller villages surrounding Jardin come into town to sell their products and do their business (both kinds, seemingly). And as business is conducted, everyone else not conducting, is sipping coffee, rum, cervezas, or often a combo of all three, and ogling the spectacle while leaning back in chairs against the colonial buildings surrouding the square.

This is, partly I posit, because the chairs, straight-angled and wood-framed and wrapped in leather, aren’t comfortable. Leaning takes off the edge, quite literally in this sense. I find myself wanting to lean, not only for comfort but also to posture that I understand the local customs. We are living here for nearly three months after all (that’s the sarcasm italic).

Free Range Horses

Three horses live in town. I’ve never seen their owner. And they free range wherever they darn well please. Perhaps they’re on the city’s payroll. They do a remarkable job keeping the grass lining the roads trimmed.

Posterizing Horses

Horses don’t walk here. Or trot. Or gallop, cantor, or lope really. Their gait is unique — though a quick internet search revealed it may be called the Classic Fino Paso Fino (or some different combo of those words) gait. It’s basically a rapid-fire march. Sounds like ten not one horse marching up the street. And since the steps are short and staccato, it takes the horse a minute to travel a block.

How the caballeros riding the caballos don’t suffer perpetual and permanent back pain, I’m not sure. But they clearly enjoy the attention, as do the horses, both marching with the bravado of Sven in front of his new sleigh in Frozen (one of three kids movies we have downloaded on our iPad — probably should’ve downloaded more).

On the weekend, they step up and swagger and have a, sort of, Pitch Perfect (another downloaded movie) march-off on one side of the square. Horses Classic Fino Paso Fino gait sideways, backwards, and forwards, occasionally pausing to posture. Everyone slops it up. An ever-present dance circle of spectators envelop the spectacle.

I’ll video a clip of the gait and add it later.

Kid Horses

The first weekend we arrived, seemingly every kid road into town on a stick toy horse. A festival of unbeknownst origins (to us). Was cool to witness nevertheless.

Beethoven

We live across the street from Pahel’s school — Everett’s school is a few blocks down the street. We are indeed lazy parents, but this wasn’t intentional. Just happened to the apartment we found. Fortune favors the loafers.

Jardin’s high school is also kitty corner from the apartment. Every morning, as the procession of kids parade through the streets to the school, they blast Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C-Minor. Can be heard for blocks. This is the famous “done done done done” number.

Part of this piece is kinda energizing, like Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyers”, but other parts are kinda enervating. Daunting really. I can’t quite get what the Director of the school — whom we’ve had the pleasure of meeting; an affable dude — is going for. Excite them. Scare them. Intimidate them? All seem covered in this symphony.

Cartagena, Columbia

Cartagena, Columbia

Colonial meets Caribbean.

Bureau-crazy!

Fortunately, I had the pleasure of sharing this pain with our new best buds and fellow overlanders, Wendo, Chris, and Tyler. For two full days (8am to 5pm), in long pants and closed-toed shoes — not allowed inside government offices without them — we trekked across Cartagena through swampy heat, sweating pit stains the size of basketballs, to fill out papers and wait for God-knows-what. Our van eventually emerged from its container. No worse for wear.

The Walled City

The more prominent, more touristy area of the city is behind a doubly fortified wall built by the Spanish, as are most of the churches and colonial structures. It’s gorgeous and quaint inside. Worlds and (literally) miles away from the stark white, Miami-like towers flanking the walls. In this way, and in many other ways, Cartagena reminds me of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Spanish, despite their faults, at least built sweet cities.

Fun fact: Just ten to fifteen years ago, the walled part of the city, the old town if you will, was nearly in ruins. Due to crime and lack of tourism. You could buy a colonial house for as little as fifteen thousand dollars. That same house today will cost you over a million. Man, if only we’d had the foresight….

Blue-and-yellow Macaw

Caught this guy (or gal?) munching on berries during one of the many boring, bureaucratic waits. Didn’t have my fancy camera at the time.

The Most Interesting Conversation(s)

Before we left Idaho, Everett’s kindergarten teacher passed along her sister’s contact information in Colombia. We reached out to her in Panama.

Andrea and the kids were able to lunch with her, Patti, a retired schoolteacher, and her husband, James, a nearly retired DEA agent during one of the two days I spent filling out forms I didn’t understand.

Andrea WhatsApped me as soon as she finished, still beaming from the conversation. I was jealous. Then she told me that James, current Assistant Regional Director for the DEA Andean Region — the cocaine capital of the world! — wanted to meet with me — the current Cheetos cheese puff champion of the world — for drinks. I was stoked.

The Meet And Drink

It did not disappoint. I, with the confidence inspired by a Club Colombia Negra, brazenly asked every question that I’ve ever wanted to know about drug trafficking. And James, with the confidence inspired by career-long civil service, answered the questions he was allowed to answer. Here are a few of the highlights from the conversation:

  • Colombia is still the biggest trafficker of cocaine in the world, even more so than the Pablo Escobar era. It’s just not as reported because (thankfully) the crime has significantly decreased.
  • The drug cartels in Mexico are controlling most of the drug trade in the Americas. And they’re bad bad dudes. Make the Cali and Medellin cartels look like ninnys.
  • One of his agents caught like four tons of coke while we drank our two beers.
  • Do this math: Cartagena has had five mayors in the last seven years. All jailed for corruption.
  • Bushels of coke are grown in Bolivia and Peru as well.
  • Speedboats and semisubmersible submarines smuggle drogas from southern Colombia to Central America.
  • The Ecuador / Colombia boarder on the Pacific is ground zero for cocaine distribution from South to Central and North America.

Then, just five minutes after this conversation, I got offered (didn’t buy Mom and Dad!) coke on the street. What a world.

Las Lajas, Panama

Las Lajas, Panama

We spent five nights here waiting to confirm our shipping arrangements from Panama to Colombia.

Beach Score: 7 out of 10

We were (and are) beached-out by this point. Thus I’m not convinced any beach of any brilliance could’ve satisfied us. Appeased us even. Nevertheless, this is a nice beach. A fútbol-playing beach. Long, wide, and flat (see video below). You can seemingly walk pitches into the ocean before the water even hits your knees. As such, the tide marches great distances. At low tide, I had to use binoculars to see if it was our kids that were screaming and throwing sand on the other kids.

The End of the Road

Panama’s beaches and sites likely get overlooked, at least for those of us traveling down the Americas, because it’s the end of the road. Literally. You can’t cross the Darian Gap between Panama and Colombia on land. Thus, after trekking through the tropics for months in the past, and knowing the complications of shipping our van between continents in the future, we didn’t see much of the country. Just this beach, Panama City, some ports on the Caribbean side, and a few islands in route to Colombia.

A Bird on a Wire

Cue Rogue Wave song in your mind.

Servicio Extraordinario

The owner of the restaurant and cabins at the Las Lajas Beach Cabins, and the cousin of the landowner, Roy, was one of the most friendly and accommodating hosts we’ve met on this trip. He made us double batches of coffee every morning, let our kids volunteer in the kitchen (though I suppose that’s, sort of, child labor), and regaled us with stories of traveling the world as an engineer on some of the world’s most expensive yachts. He just took over the operation a year or so ago, after many years of neglect. Which shows. Using minimal resources and maximum elbow grease, he plans to turn it around. Given his enthusiasm and gumption, I’m sure he will.

Suntanning Iguana

Warming up that cold blood.

San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala — Part Dos

San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala — Part Dos

We’re outta here in a few days. We’re gunna miss the sites and regular access to showers (though I think we’ve all bathed more in the lago than the shower…). And sleeping in regular beds. However, we’re all excited to leap back into the van. It certainly feels like home at this point.

El Fuego

Thank you to everyone that reached out and for the well-wishes. (If you haven’t heard, a volcano erupted in Guatemala, killing 62.) We’re safe. El Fuego is across the lake from us — I’m looking at it as I type this — but far enough away that we’re not getting dumped with ash. Many are, however. And many died. If you feel like helping, you can donate here.

The Lord In His Wisdom…

Once in elementary school, I was tasked with memorizing and then reciting a poem to my class. I chose the following poem by Ogden Nash, not because of its beauty or sonance, but because of its brevity: “The Lord in His wisdom created the fly. And then forgot to tell us why.” I laughed pretty good after the recital. My teacher did not.

I’ve been reminded of that poem since arriving in San Marcos. Flies greeted us in our rental apartment on the first day. Just a few, lingering on some crumbs. But those few soon turned into dozens. Those dozens, hundreds.

The flies wake around 5am. Then they buzz our ears, waking us. Then, from what I can discern, they spend the rest of the day eating and copulating. The fly sex juices sliming this place have turned me into a compulsive wiper-downer. I must, must I tell you!, wipe the counters a dozens times per day. Then they fall asleep around 5pm. They’re much easier to kill at that point.

I mainly use The Executioner Pro to kill them. They spark and sizzle on the Pro (I added a video below). And I love the smell of burnt flies in the morning (Apocalypse Now reference). Occasionally, though, when I’m feeling either aggressive or sadistic or both, I go old school and whack as many as I can with a fly swatter. Andrea can’t be around for this. She thinks (a fact that’s probably backed up by her scientific brain) that the splattered blood is worse than the sex juice. “But is it worse than their annoying, brain-scrambling buzz?!” I retort. Probably.

The good news, however, according to the lovely ladies that clean our apartment twice per week, is that the flies are about to die. En masse. Rainy season kills them off. And I can sense it. Their flying is becoming more erratic, their buzzing more annoying, their fornication more frequent.

I, sort of, wish we could stay to watch their demise. It’d make a fun drinking game. Take a sip of Brahva, a Brazilian beer that’s popular in these parts and that’s successfully mimicked the flavor of water, each time a fly dies. The latter, of course, despite Brahva having an alcohol content slightly above a jar of salsa left in the refrigerator for too long, would send you plummeting into the lago below. But dang would it be fun.

Expat Experiences

We’ve seen expats in almost every stop on this trip. Expats, it seems, fall into three categories: Opportunists, Escapists, or Crazies. Or some combination of the three. We relate best to the Opportunists, those that have found a better life, experience, and/or opportunity abroad. We’re opportunists, I suppose, taking this trip. Though I also suppose we’re a little Escapists and Crazies too.

We met some interesting expats from Columbia, Argentina, and Mexico on Saturday night. They came here for the good life. And I think, or at least it appears like, they’re getting it. They build their own houses, plant their own crops, raise their own chickens and goats, and sell their own products — our neighbor, whose daughter is in Everett’s class, hence the connection, sells amazing jewelry around the lake to fund life. It was cool hanging out. Inspiring really. Though I spent most the conversation, and the following day, second-guessing my Americanness.

Goats

Our Columbian expat neighbor, as mentioned above, has goats. Six I think. Or ten. They bleat todo el dia. And each one has a different voice. One, in my egotistical mind, keeps calling for me…. “Blaaake. Blaaaaake…” I thought about tossing over one of my recent obsessions for him/her: a Boca 2 Nachos Jalapeño Queso chip. But then I thought about he/she has likely never eaten a preservative. Or artificial cheese flavoring. (Bummer.) And I didn’t want to be the one to ruin it for the goat.

This also reminds me of how my best bud Kyle and I used to in high school, sans beer mind you, bleat back, bleat in harmony really, at some goats that lived near our houses, though we didn’t know it was called bleating at the time. Just for fun. Living in the moment.

The Final View

We love this view. And we’ll miss it. However, we’re learning that we prefer, love really, the ever-changing view. The volcano one day. River the next. Snow eventually. We’ve found ourselves, especially this past week, yearning for the van. The next view.

I hope, even when life becomes more sedentary for us in the future, we keep searching for that view. [Warning: Preachy ending.] Inertia is more powerful than momentum. And it’s easier to react to than experience life. For us at least.

Are we inferring that everyone should sell everything, buy a van, figure out how to make money on the road, and start traveling. Well, yes. We’re narcissistic. And we miss you. But I do think everyone should take more time to look around. Smell the lavender. See the next view.

This trip, in addition to many other things, including that spicy Karate nuts are the ambrosia of the gods, has taught me this: travel can be cheap. Views can be cheap. I just met a French couple today making this same trip on bikes. A family of four from Boise made this trip on bikes a few years ago. We’re on the upper end of the financial travel spectrum. Most folks do this for less than $50 per day.

Anyway. We like views. Mucho mucho views. And we hope, whether on or after this trip that we continue to seek them. We’re hoping our final view is not from some casket, but from some awesome lake or mountain or ocean (so yes, if you’re reading this, we don’t want a funeral; we just want to be cremated and dumped somewhere gorgeous.)

Mexico’s Caribbean

Mexico’s Caribbean

We spent the last week of March on the Caribbean side of Mexico. Mainly hiding. It was Spring Break in the US and Semana Santa (Easter week) in Mexico. Everyone was on vacation. Eh. Vree. One. But I suppose we’re everyone too.

Tulum

We initially stopped in Tulum.

Tulum is famous for having one of the best-preserved and only Mayan cities on the ocean. It also has spectacular beaches, often ranking in Mexico’s — and sometimes the world’s — top ten. Unfortunately, while we were there, those beaches were covered with mounds of seaweed. Like two to three feet tall mounds.

It was also blustery. And touristy. Any sense of calm we hoped to inspire from a tranquil beach was eradicated as soon as we exited our van. After an expensive lunch at an inexpensive-looking hotel, and a quick walk down Tulum’s main drag, we decided to search for another beach.

Playa Xpu-Ha

We wanted, nay, probably needed, a spot between the major tourist destinations (from North to South, Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, and Akumal). We figured we’d visit a few spots, choose the best. We visited one: Playa Xpu-Ha, just north of Akumal and south of Playa Del Carmen. The line of cars from the highway to the parking lot near the beach was a half mile long. We parked at the end and marched to the beach.

As we neared, the thump da thump da thump of house music from various clubs and restaurants could be heard. As could laughter. And the occasional scream from some crazed toddler. The sound of chaos really. But we marched on. Steadfast and determined. Yet increasingly aware of our (presumably) lack of options.

We ventured through a series of disorganized parking lots, sectioned off by ropes in various sizes and states of decrepitude. Then, in the back of the last lot, we saw it: the last open spot. Then we saw the French family that’d we traveled with a couple weeks prior (our kids love their kids). We took that as an omen. We sprinted back to the van.

The Campground

Like many, if not most, of the campgrounds we’ve crashed at in Mexico, this one has seen better days. Or perhaps not. Perhaps it was just designed with exposed wires jutting from outlets, half- to non-functioning water faucets, and the flair of a geriatric hoarder.

The bathroom was the worst I’ve seen outside of India. I’m not even sure I’d call it a bathroom, just a filthy room where water either goes down or comes out of holes and where mosquitos flutter the good wing and do the bad thing.

Seaweed

The beach, like Tulum, was covered in seaweed. A British family told us it’s the worst they’ve witnessed in their twenty-plus years vacationing in the Riviera Maya. Workers from the clubs spent the mornings raking and wheelbarrowing the seaweed off the beach. A feeble effort. More returned, like an army of angry slime attacking the shore, every hour. (The picture above is just after they cleaned.)

The wind also howled five of the seven days we camped. That two day reprieve, which also fortuitously brought less tourists and seaweed, made this stop worth it, despite all the first world problems described above. It’s pretty amazing how simple and beautiful life can be on a pretty beach. We mostly just sat on that beach, gazing into the ocean horizon, occasionally glancing back to ensure our kids hadn’t drowned.

Easter

The Easter Bunny, as we learned, doesn’t hide eggs in Mexico when it’s raining. Instead, He (do you capitalize this one?) hides pesos in vans and writes notes that those pesos can be spent on candy in the minimart near the beach.

Miguel

We’ve met some interesting folks on this trip. Fellow travelers. Fascinating locals. Miguel was the latter.

Miguel is a fisherman. The purest I’ve met. He lives in an abandoned RV in the back of the parking lot. He fishes three times per day, every day. I’m not sure whether for fun or for money or for both — I resisted the temptation to ask; that’s a much too American question — though I doubt the distinction is important to him.

To fish, Miguel perches on a pile of seaweed, decked in Patagonia gear and with his neon blue fly rod on his waist behind him like a sword in a sheath. He watches for a particular kind of fish. I can’t remember the name. He called them surfers. When he spots them, he leaps off his pile, sprints into the shallows, and begins whipping the waves. It’s mesmerizing.

I often wish I had the passion, the conviction, of someone like Miguel. That my vocation and occupation would sow together seamlessly. That no worldly affliction, whether internally or externally imposed, would bother me, prevent my passion. Be a little more like Miguel in other words.