Colombia, Getting old, Fried chicken and Serendipity.

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice…”

Apt words to begin the plunge into Colombia. Gabriel Garcia Marquez began his famous book with these words. I’m back in the abaco cafe. My favorite in Cartagena. I’ve arrived back after ten days in the mountains, submerging myself into the glory that is Medellin. Unwrapping a few of those mysteries and getting it straightened out in my mind, and even getting some it down on paper. I wrote about the first few days in the Andes, and now that I’ve left back to the heat, it’s time to push it a bit farther.

dragging my sorry ass to the airport yesterday with my beat ass passport had me thinking. The previous days had been an enthralling digestion of the city, neighborhood by neighborhood. Over the three weeks I was averaging 8-9 miles a day walking the valley as well as the mountains. Spectacular views, savage flavors, and incredible people. I fucking love the layers here. I woke up early a few days before departure and noticed my right foot felt extra tender. After showering and leaving my place I had a bit of a limp! What was this? I tried stretching and walking it off, but the heel of my right foot just ached. It throbbed with every step. This proved a true calamity! I hobbled back to the hotel to deduce I had essentially pulled a muscle. I was walking a ton more, and had brought shoes that had been through the shit so to say. I decided that I would take it easy, and head down to the Parque lleras in the evening to edit photos and get some writing in. I find this amazing trendy chic cafe. Surely I will do my best work here. This is the preconceived image. All digital nomads and creative types only work in super cool cafes and on beaches of course. I sat down, ordered a hipster inspired beverage and waited for the greatness to flow.

surely this is where the magic happens…until the rockstar looking barista informs me that they close at 7…which gave me 10 minutes to channel said magic.

Obviously that wasn’t going to happen. I packed my things quickly finished my cafe con something or other and with some difficulty limped out of there.

Where was I going to find the creative muse now? I think we fall for the myth that to do our best work we need some set that looks like it was made for a Harry Potter film. That’s bullshit. This is what you need; good WiFi, a decent seat, and a not too awful vibe. Sit down, shut up, and get it done. Rents due.

So, where do I end up?

Motherfuckin’ KFC. They had excellent WiFi, everyone there was a local, and they had Postobon. My favorite Colombian sugary beverage.

I know, but how could I do that?!

Well, because I had to get over myself. I’m getting older, and I was limping. I was hosted by the the gracious colonel Sanders for about an hour. I did what I had to do, and it was great. Finished my notebook piece, edited photos, plotted some stuff for this site and enjoyed my time. at the end of the day, I’ve realized travel…especially by country number 70, isn’t about insisting to find the top ranked/ most reviewed location. This often leads to epic disappointment. By the time I returned to my place, my friends had also returned, and invited me to sit down to catch up over beers. Perfect timing. Traveling is about the most authentic experience possible. Embrace the unknown, keep a positive outlook and have faith in serendipity.

Even when it involves fried chicken joints.

More soon to come!

 

What do you think? Leave some love!

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Mysteries of Medellin

You’ve heard of this city. Netflix has made sure of it. The most commercially successful criminal of the modern age hails from this place. El patron. Pablo Escobar. His is a legacy that is inseparable from Medellin. This city exploded into fame in the 1980s as the cocaine capital of the world. Most estimates say 80% of the white powder party fuel that ended up in the USA came from the Medellin cartel. The first of the Colombian “super cartels”.

Pablo was eventually brought down in a storm of violence that ripped through Colombia. Rival cartels, paramilitary organizations, the Colombian government, as well as the the American CIA all orchestrated his downfall. That was December 1993.

25 years later, Medellin is a rapidly changing city. Is cocaine widely available and offered? Sure. It’s the same in dozens of cities across the globe.

So now what? turns out I’ve been fascinated about Colombia for quite some time. Raw beauty, enchanting people and a beat all it’s own. This week, it was time for me to leave the sunny embrace of Cartagena, for the cool mountain intrigues of Medellin. this city, although only an hour flight from Cartagena could not be more drastically different. Cartagena is distinctly Caribbean. It’s akin to an odd mashup of places like the old town in Hanoi, with a Havana twist. Busy, rhythmic and enchanting, Cartagena is easy to wrap your mind around and manage. Medellin on the other hand is a different animal all together. This city is big. The climate is much cooler, and the vibe is one of a major city on the move. Having just spent a few days here so far, I’ve been traversing this valley as much as possible. This is a place with layers. With depth and grit. The art, the people, the food, all reflect this. to start, one has to venture to the plaza Botero. Famed Medellin artist Fernando Botero is now on his 80s. His pieces are all over the world. Including this one in Cartagena. his style is modern and one of largess. The sculpture park here in Medellin is a kick ass afternoon wander. Although numerous people informed me that the park can be quite dangerous at night.

the pieces collected here represent a cross section of his work Be sure to take an afternoon and discover this plaza in the middle of the city. Enjoy a lemonade de coco, and taste this neighborhood. Bring an umbrella as it may rain for a bit. Watch the clouds roll in and take it easy for the down pour. The art scene here is indicative that this city is so much more than the single story of drugs, cartels and violence. The layers here prove amazing, as does the scenery with the mountains always in the background.

Medellin is a place I’ve barely begun to unwrap and I’m already hungry for more.

More coming soon!

From Cartagena with love.

So, now 5 days into this charmed city on the Caribbean and what have we learned? We arrived famished and eager, taking it all in and pushing forward despite all odds. What an absolute blast. This is a kick ass city. Effortlessly grand, historic, bustling and hot. Stupendously hot. This city practically pulses with a beat, salsa in nature, well into the early hours. The ceviche is fresh, bursting, addicting.

I switched it up for this run, slowed it down and dug deeper into the places I’m in. 3 weeks in Colombia should give an ample snapshot of this incredible place. A few of the benefits of this approach will be discussed here. First and foremost, I’ve been treated to an absolute dream in wandering the walled city after an epic storm.

I slept late to the rain and thunder, then ventured out to explore the famed “walled city”. This is the first Spanish settlement on the South American continent. Built to protect against Sir Francis Drake and other British pirates as the quest for new world riches began in earnest. this place bleeds history, and walking these streets is an experience in itself. No all inclusive triple sec high fructose soaked pool bar here, surrounded by people who look, talk, and act like you…leave that shit for the cruise ships. Get lost. Find something amazing.

one amazing thing I encountered is when traveling alone…do me a favor, and throw your phone in airplane mode. At this point all the wireless carriers offer day passes or data allotments…but try this for a day. Only check your phone a few times a day when WiFi is avail. Be ACTUALLY present in the moment. By face fucking your phone, and taking more pictures of your beer than drinking it, you are missing out on everything around you. Strike up conversation, engage someone, ask for directions and struggle with the language, that is the very essence of traveling. You will be pleasantly surprised by this miniature “digital detox”. Through the process above I’ve met some amazing people. Even in the few days here. By staying a bit longer, it’s allowed me to dig in deeper to the culture with the help of some local awesomeness. Case in point, a few nights ago, my buddy Alejandro and I, who I met randomly asking for directions came across an amazing couple in a local market. They decided since it was my first time in Cartagena, that I must have their favorite arepas. A matter of pride and graciousness. I didn’t need to consult trip advisor, or Facebook, or read a damn review. We walked and chatted with them for a few hours and indulged local history, cultural insight and amazing street food. when we arrived at this stand, I was the only non local there. This is exactly what it’s all about. Meet some locals, fall in love with a location. Struggle a bit, find your groove, put your phone away and enjoy.

Cartagena, it’s people, it’s architecture, history and flavor all prove intoxicating. Warm and easy, this place has it all. I leave tonight for the mountains, as they are always calling. Medellin coming up next!

No surrender, no retreat.

Welcome to Colombia!

Say what?!

Yes dear readers, we braved Iceland to tell you all about WOW air and glaciers in the previous piece, and now we have arrived in warmer climates.

Welcome to Cartagena, Colombia!

The Kelty bag and I are once again on the road. This time for the first flight on Jet Blue. The process was solid, staff friendly, and the cabins kept extra chilly…which I love! Over all thumbs up to the team at Jet Blue oh this initial run.

Colombia has long been on my list, and I’m super stoked to be here. I want to present this country over the next few weeks outside of the single story we in the USA have heard over and over again. The single story of cocaine and violence. This place is so much more than that, and I want to share all of it with you. Now, I’ve been in country a whole twelve hours, and already I need to tell you a few things. First and foremost, this, (and you) are absolute bullshit if you travel to a place and don’t make any attempt at the language. You can try to at least master “Thank you”. If I can stutter through a few failed sentences, so can you. Assuming everyone speaks English, everywhere and at all times belongs in the depths of wankerdom. The practice immediately builds walls between you and what could be a kick ass local/authentic experience.

The second is another gleaned from my personal arsenal. Airline food sucks. Duh. No point complaining about it, as it’s not getting better. What I want you to do on your next flight is decline that shit. Have some snacks so you’re not all wienery and hangry to those around you. Then when you arrive, arrive famished. Arrive famished, interested and ready. Drop your bag at your accommodation of choice, embrace that hunger, and set out on foot.

What you find, might just change your fucking life. (And no, kick literal rocks Mr. Hard Rock Cafe) get out there and take a chance. There is no better way to begin to understand a place and a culture than its food. Today, after two bags of pretzels and a sneaky Kind bar, I found this.

Absolute Caribbean glory. I chatted in broken Spanish about the menu, and the area. The owner happened to be there. There are a few options I’m stoked to try in the coming days. Carpe that fucking diem. I’m happy to report that after an early morning Detroit departure and being heinously crop dusted in Fort Lauderdale by an evil old woman, I have arrived. Logged a few miles on the shoe lace express, chatted with some locals, and now completely ceviche drunk and content I will wander this city by the moon. Painting a picture of this “gem of the Caribbean”, I hope you’re ready for more.

WOW for Iceland!

Sometimes one must start the telling of grand adventure from the end. Images, words, experiences, all mash together in a stream of consciousness that runs in loop form within the mind. Do you tap this loop and pour it through a writing instrument, or do you let it sort a bit, and go from there?

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Time to talk about Iceland, and the art of spontaneous adventure. Remember the back drop here A Note on Spontaneity  As a  friend and I booked $200 USD round trip tickets to Reykjavik for the weekend.  We did this a bit over a week before departure. Now, Ive been to Iceland before, but I was mainly interested in WOW Air as an option. The Icelandic airline received great fanfare for publishing 99$ one way fares to Europe from the eastern United States a few years ago. If this proved a viable option, what a great addition to the travel toolbox this would be!

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But c’mon. $200 flights? What is this, the international version of Spirit Air dressed in pink? Gross. No thanks.

But wait! I’ve had so many people ask me about WOW, that I decided to investigate for you. (I’m a nice guy like that) Throw in a stop in Reykjavik, a few hot dogs, a waterfall or two, and we have a weekend adventure! WOW now operates out of Chicago Ohare, as well as Detroit (DTW). These fares are cheap, come with limited baggage allowance and random seat assignments. Both ways we flew a moderately new Airbus A321  with a 3 +3 seat configuration. Both times I ended up in the middle. I was prepared for the flight from hell, but I have to say…this wasn’t bad whatsoever. The flight over was a bit warm. The staff proved courteous and efficient. I packed snacks and a water bottle, so I didn’t need to purchase anything on the 6 hour flight to Reykjavik.  (water was priced at $3.25) which is similar to airport prices and not overtly horrendous. My backpack the SwissGear Travel Gear 597 Packed with weekend essentials came in at 14lbs or so.  My bag fit easily, and caused no problems.  We were set to land in Reykjavik just before 5 am.IMG_1723

Landed! and exactly what kind of trial run would it be if potential disaster didn’t strike?! Expectations exceeded for the flight over, and feeling a bit sweaty from the middle row passage over, I eagerly departed the plane and made my way to line for customs. The line is long, its 4:50 am, and i’m ready for a shower. I’m getting my proverbial ducks in a row for passport control and I go cold. Starting from my spine and soon radiating throughout my whole body cold.

 

Where the fuck is my passport??

 

My poor battered, beaten, and glory giving passport….sweet Jesus, I must have left it on the plane! I notify my friend and tear out of line, hoofing it back toward where we had entered the airport. Of course we cant get back there,  So the “service counter” must be located in a panicked rush. (I’m telling this story, so that you know, even frequent travelers encounter snags of their own making…like my forgotten iPad incident from a while back) I find WOW air agents at the service desk, explain my plight, and knowing how cheap my ticket was expect sheer calamity… And I am once again pleasantly surprised! The agents were nice, chatty and understanding. I waited 15 min or so, and I soon had my passport returned, even with enough time to glance the Icelandic sun rise. IMG_1594

what a day of victory!

Shuttle into the city (the airport is 45 min away from the capital of Reykjavik)

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and we are ready to go! Now remember, Iceland is a small country population wise, and are proud of their long Viking tradition. The Icelandic language is fascinating to hear, and is largely unchanged over the previous thousand years. We knew we were going to hit the city, and then soak up the jaw dropping scenery a shortish trek from the capital.

Savage nature abounds for this tiny and amazing nation. This weekend included mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, geysers, and even a Continental rift!

IMG_2889 I have long thought of travel as therapy. I expounded more on this here 7 more days…Travel to soothe the soul Putting miles under foot, and absorbing these landscapes did grant me a sense of clarity. This trip was short, but I felt a sense of renewal by the time of the flight home. IMG_2926

How can one not marvel at such a sight? Standing here, experiencing the layers and complexities that exist in the natural world. This moment alone made the entire run “worth it”.

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Words of course simply cannot do these landscapes justice. Just give you a teaser for what is awaiting you. You can even go back a few times, and be stunned each and every one of them.

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A full day of exploring brought us back to the city for Fish n chips and few beers.

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Thinking back over this weekend, There is a sense of accomplishment. I give final exams this week, and wrap up my 7th year in the classroom. I am unsure what lies ahead.  This is  the season of conclusion, and of course then by default also a season of beginning.  You wake up in Chicago, Reykjavik, lose an hour, gain hours, etc etc. I woke up in Iceland, knowing I was leaving that day. That feeling of packing, of thinking over exit logistics. I’ve woken up in countless hotel rooms, apartments, houses, hostels etc, and known that feeling. This particular segment is over. the hope that there will be renewed adventure in the future, but feeling thankful you had at least one more go of it.

Nothing on the road is perfect, and expecting it to be so is rather greedy. Its all in the experience. I was quite impressed in the performance of WOW air, and no longer have a wary feeling about using them. Iceland as always proved thrilling and other worldly.  Thank for coming with me once again.

 

get there anyway you can.

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As featured on NPR…

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Super stoked to announce that I was able to sit down for a chat with NPR local station affiliate WMUK 102.1!  I made the short trek over to Kalamazoo, to sit with Zinta Aistars, for the Between the Lines program. This program focuses on writing and the creative. The hour I was in the studio seem to blast by.    The link is live and up now.

Gypsy professor on between the lines

 

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This was so much fun! Zinta’s interview style is easy and engaging. She picked a great picture for the cover of the piece. Me, eyeballs deep in the mighty chicken fish, the local legend of the hawker stalls of Kuala Lumpur.

We chatted motivation, culture, history, writing, the blog, and a few things in between. I’ve been waiting to announce this, and find this timing perfect, as I leave for Iceland on a twisted weekend adventure this week! If you dont remember that story is here: A Note on Spontaneity

Listen to the interview if you need a smile on your way to wherever, and leave me some Monday motivation! Hopefully not the last time I find myself on the airwaves. I would love feedback.

 

 

Cheers!

 

A Note on Spontaneity

Just fucking go.

 

Seriously.

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There will always be a thousand excuses not to. Some more pliable than others.  Is it the perfect time? Probably not. Do you have wads of disposable income with no other designated purpose than making you smile? Probably not. On the flip side, however, do you need to eat out 3~ days a week? Probably not.  Lease and drive a new wanker mobile? Most likely not.  Do you really need that 5$ a day latte habit? Certainly not. Do any of these things actually make your life better?

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Find a way, buy the ticket, take the ride.  adventure is the one purchase that will always make you richer. Set the goal, embrace the unknown, and love taking the plunge. Love yourself enough to say “Lets do this”!  Even if this means finding yourself post leap, hurdling toward certain disaster, then at the last minute  building your wings on the way down, and coasting into bliss. I’ve never encountered anyone, late in life that said “I wish I didn’t adventure as much” or “I wish I would have spent more time at the office”…because that shit simply does not exist.  This is your life, and its ending one minute at a time. Why are you wasting these precious minutes on shit relationships, craptastic jobs, or toxic friendships?  There is a freaking world out there to discover. Literally billions of people, crazy flavors, insanely great cultures, traditions, and collective experiences.

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I want to help you. In fact, I am dedicated to helping you. In this vein, I want you to maximize those travel dollars and inspire you to get up, get moving, and get into having your mind blown.  I have posted about some crazy airfare deals in the past, its one of the main pillars for cheap travel. In recent years there’s been a monsoon of activity for the LCC (Low Cost Carrier) segment.  What is this all about?

 

Funny you should ask.

 

I will take the plunge for you. I’ve just booked 200$ (USD) roundtrip flights to Iceland…for a weekend…Two weeks from now. This is exam season, and I don’t have a ton of time. Who goes to Iceland for a weekend?! Who books transatlantic travel less than two weeks out!?

The GypsyProfessor, that’s who. I’m going to detail the experience, and let you know how twisted it gets, and how bare bones it can be. Savage plastic lawn chairs aboard an airbus for 6 hours. Will it prove worth it?

This way when the next dirt cheap fare pops, you will have all the info you need to pull the trigger. Just a mini weekend run before we prep for a run through the jungle after the semester finishes!

Reykjavik! Prepare for my triumphant return!

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Wish me luck, and leave some love!