Saved by Jesus…and jetBlue

cartagenaOn most days, the majority of headlines concerning airlines read like pure disaster stories. As a semi frequent travelers, we lower our expectations to the abysmal. And lets be honest, despite certain status perks on whichever team/alliance you’re flying, they are all rather similar. For the jaunt to Colombia, I flew jetBlue for the very first time.  Coincidentally, I ended up in Colombia by an accident, or as insurance/credit card companies refer to it as…”An act of God”.

Two years ago, I booked a super cheap fare to Barbados. I was set to to visit the warm sand and inviting water of the Caribbean island in October. Turns out, a hurricane had other ideas…and a similar itenerary. My travel dates fell 2 days outside of the refund window. I was bummed. On a hail marry effort, I called jetBlue to plead my case. The customer service rep had an easy southern drawl, and I remember thinking “at least the bad news that i’m getting hosed on this run will sound pleasant.”  But she worked her magic, and instead issued me a travel voucher! I was floored! I was in the office on a Saturday, which is never the most fun, and I was ecstatic and my unexpected victory.

The voucher was good for 12 months, and I was incredibly impressed by this airline, which I had never flown and had no status or rewards with had gone above and beyond. one year can be quite a while in the world of travel, so I promptly forgot about said voucher. Until the following year, with about 30 days left to go, I smiled and remembered my good fortune. I pulled up a map of where jetBlue might fly from Detroit, and what do I see at roughly the same price?

Cartagena, Colombia. Boom. Sold.

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I had an amazing time over the weeks in Colombia. My initial dispatch from the sunny paradise, From Cartagena with love.  to making it into the majestic mountains of Medellin. Mysteries of Medellin I love Colombia. I’m excited to go back and spend more time among all the awesomeness there.

If only Colombia was easy to leave. On this particular day, this was to prove both metaphorical as well as literal. My last day in Cartagena, after pulling a muscle in my foot from many a mountain trek on my way out of Medellin.  (Colombia, Getting old, Fried chicken and Serendipity.) found me at the wonderful Hotel Centro. My flight was early afternoon, so I had time to sleep in a bit, grab breakfast, take a long shower, say a  few goodbyes and make my way to the airport.

Or not.

Uber can be a tricky service in Colombia, but I had exhausted my cash, and wanted to make it easy as possible. I realized I was running a bit late, and ordered an Uber to the airport, the app tells me my driver is 22 min away.

“Damn 22 min? its typically 5-10”

So I wait, a bit nervous about getting out of the walled city and making it to the airport on time.  With 5 min left to go, the driver sends me a message from within the app, that he can only accept cash.

Miniature disaster strikes.  What do I do? Do I hobble to an ATM, and then try and find a taxi? Do I try another Uber?

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I request a new Uber. I’m waiting outside with my backpack, in the afternoon, tense and sweating as its 92 degrees and bright. New Uber says 15 min away. Fuck.

I make it to the airport, 55 min before my flight leaves. I know that’s just kinda dumb. I’m limping, hot, and frustrated. I’m still smiling, but in more a resigned way. I make my way up to the counter, and the first attendant tells me “this flight is closed, you are too late”. I know this, and am prepared for the Armageddon options to get home. But then the person next her asks me for my passport.

He spends some time in rapid fire Spanish over his walkie talkie, stopping periodically asking me if I have checked baggage, (carry on only for life!) and other bits of logistics. after 5 min or so, my fate hanging in the balance he asks me to follow him. He prints my boarding passes/tickets.

He leads me through customs, then through security and personally walks me to the gate and deposits me at line for boarding. I have never been treated that kindly by an airline. I was astounded by this guys service. I told him it was my first time to Colombia, and my first time flying jetBlue. He smiled and asked if I enjoyed my time here…Before I could answer, he said ” When you come back, try to get to the airport a bit earlier”.

He shook my hand and left.

 

that’s when I noticed his name tag. It was Jesus.

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Cheers!

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!

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.

I come from a “shit-hole”

Another powerful post. This time from yet another “shit hole” country.

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Koyote the Blind

I am not an American.

I was born in the continent known as “America”, yes. But somehow this United States has given itself the name of the entire continent.

Ronald Reagan demoted the rest of this magnificent continent to the mere “Backyard of America.”

That’s when I came here, to the “land of the free,” when Ronald Reagan sent billions of dollars to military dictators so they could use the money to rape, torture, and massacre my people. I didn’t want to come here. Oh, how I hated coming to this land so full of restrictions, prohibitions, and people kept so ignorant of their own history!

Once I came here, almost no one I met knew where my country was. They all assumed I was Mexican. Except for Mexicans. They knew where I was from, and knew they couldn’t trust me because if was from where I was, I had…

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Notes about a “Shithole” country.

WASHINGTON — Once again, Haiti, a country with deep historical ties to the United States, is in the news. Once again, a negative narrative permeates the public dialogue and Haitian people are compelled to defend our humanity. Once again, the circumstances require us to wage a battle on two fronts: tackling the physical rebuilding of our nation so that future generations can prosper, while simultaneously combating prejudice and stigma that risk being, over time, institutionalized in the American consciousness.

Over the Christmas weekend, Haiti found itself the subject in a public spat between two major American institutions, the White House and The New York Times, over some comments the president allegedly made regarding Haitians and the AIDS epidemic.

While the controversy, fortunately, has receded from the headlines, it brought back painful memories for Haitians of a sad chapter in the United States’ public health policy. In the 1980s, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued official warnings that simply being Haitian made a person more likely to contract HIV. The C.D.C. eventually — and rightly — dropped the unsubstantiated claim.

The reports of the president’s supposed comments — and the ensuing discussion of them — fit into a broader, troubling continuation of a narrative that is far too common in the United States, one that stigmatizes Haiti and Haitians as nothing more than the sum of natural disasters and instability, a country rampant with death and disease. In many American eyes, Haiti is in perpetual need of charity. This attitude provokes “compassion fatigue” — or worse yet, disdain.

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It is long past time for such thinking to end. Influential American news outlets and political leaders should lead the way by resisting the reflexive tendency to paint Haiti and its people, whether living at home or abroad, with broad-brushed narratives that lack historical context and oversimplify complex socio-economic realities.

Haiti has been a vibrant, steadfast hemispheric partner since its birth. Hundreds of Haitian soldiers fought in the Siege of Savannah alongside American troops to battle British imperialists in the Revolutionary War. Sparked by this nation’s commitment to independence and freedom, Haiti soon followed with its own revolution, throwing off the shackles of slavery and colonialism. Thus, Haiti and the United States represent two of the oldest republics in the hemisphere, bound by dignity and a pursuit of freedom for our peoples.

The Haitian-American population has made significant contributions to American culture and the United States’ economy. Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, a Haitian man, founded the city of Chicago in the 18th century. W.E.B. Du Bois, a leader in the American civil rights movement and a man of Haitian heritage, played a key role in creating the intellectual framework for equality for African-Americans.

Today, Haitian-Americans serve in the United States armed forces, and they represent their communities in state houses and on City Councils around the country. They are prominent scientists and engineers; they are taxi drivers, doctors, nurses and professional athletes. They are public-school teachers and university professors.

As Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, I have witnessed firsthand the Haitian people’s dignity, perseverance and resourcefulness. I have seen my people’s commitment to rebuilding communities and restoring homes after hurricanes. I have seen how young entrepreneurs in Haiti are now making exquisite chocolates to export to the United States. I have seen how engineering students in Haiti are now using technology to work remotely with Haitian-American engineers on disaster prevention.

These are examples of the countless positive initiatives underway in Haiti, with the support of the diaspora. Yet these attributes seem to be chronically lost in wider conversations about the Haitian people.

The recent controversy over President Trump’s alleged remarks have resurrected painful memories for Haitians. But it is a reminder of the urgent need to change the way our country is discussed in the United States. The narrative about Haiti should reflect our government’s development priorities.

We want our country to create wealth and prosperity for its citizens, not be viewed just as a recipient of humanitarian aid. Rather than American businesses donating excess inventory to our country, we are hoping they will invest in our country. Rather than students spending a week of spring break doing volunteer work, we want them to study abroad for a semester at one of our universities. Rather than writing a check to a charitable organization like the Red Cross, take a vacation on our beaches.

Given our two countries’ long intertwined history, it is time to we get to know each other on a level of mutual respect and understanding.

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These pictures are mine, taken just a few weeks ago. Do you have a story about Haiti? Do you need to vent some political rage about this situation? Drop a line.

 

comments welcome.

Caribbean dreamin’

It’s been damn cold here in Michigan. As friends have not hesitated to remind me, I seem to have missed the really cold days, but I’m rather frigid none the less.

As the semester is underway and the rhyme and flow of the “grind” has set in, I’ve been thinking of Haiti yet again. I’ve been thinking of the island nation on a few different levels.

The first of which is downright adversity. Our last full day on the island was dedicated to a roadtrip to the sea. We tried to go the day before, yet couldn’t find a car. After overcoming this obstacle through much time, hard currency and angst, we then could find no fuel.

What?

That’s right. Port Au Prince was seized by a petrol crises. When was the last time you couldn’t go somewhere because when pulling into your local gas station a 12 gauge wielding team of guards informed you “no gasoline”?

Makes for a frustrated road trip. But this is a common occurrence for Haiti, especially in the capital. The solution? Dollars and time. Our fixer cobbled together a gallon here, a gallon there. We were set for early nothing the next day. To the sea we will go!

A mere hour outside the city is akin to visiting another planet. This is what I had imagined when thinking of a quick week run immediately before the semester. You know, coconuts n shit. Sandy beaches. Drinks with wee umbrellas.

Taking a day to lounge along the Côte des Arcadins is majestic. Slow, easy and not butchered by gaudy resorts. This day on the sea allowed me to begin to wrap my mind around Haiti. I had gone from the context of adversity to one of calm beauty. I did drink out of a damn coconut and floated for a while. These memories are extra potent when confronting sub zero Michigan temps. My final layer/level to Haiti that comes to mind is sheer tenacity. The savage beauty of the landscape as well as the people. I think back to the Ghetto Biennale, and Andre Eugene, the resident artist and curator. I think of seeing the kids of the art collective assemble amazing pieces, and having literally nothing. Living in a tent city.

I think about the grit that it takes to create, despite living in actual realized destruction. While I listen to my students bitch about the battery life of their new iPhones wearing their pajamas to class because they can’t be bothered to find actual pants. They “can’t even” as they say.

I think about Haiti. I think about how this place caught me off guard. Destroyed my intestinal tract, proved much more expensive and difficult than originally intended, how it caused friction among friends and could prove absolutley exhausting. But all of that aside, Haiti changed my perspective. I gassed up my private automobile yesterday…without issue. I drive where I want and things around me work for the most part.

You should smile about that.

Our political situation is nutty, with the US president calling Haiti a “Shithole” and promising to deport more Haitians…and this isn’t the post to delve into colonial legacy, but it’s something that deserves far more attention than it currently gets.

I think about Haiti, and I smile. I’m thankful for seeing a vastly different world, and yet again what that human spirit is capable of.

Thank you!

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The End of the World…Caribbean style.

I’ve been back in the states a few days now. Here in west Michigan the traffic is mostly minimal. The winter semester has kicked off and the daily grind is in full effect. The weather has moderated and a sense of relative normalcy has returned.

The transition back from Haiti has been a startling one. I’m thinking back on the shocking week around the Haitian capital and I’ve noticed it resonates daily.

It’s time to talk about Haiti.

There is poor…and then there is Haiti poor. I’m going to come out and say it. I’ve never been anywhere like this. Ever.

I’ve been some places, I’ve seen some shit..but nothing like this. Shocking on multiple levels on a daily basis. I tried to place and contextualize all of this brutal new input…and finally it came down to post apocalyptic imagery, books, movies…Mad Max type shit. Here’s the kicker though…Mad Max set on a Caribbean island with a cool sea breeze.

How’s that for bizarre?

I will tell you this. Most go here from the states with a well intentioned but condescending super white pity. They come down for a week with a Church, bang out a another church, feel like they saved the world. Pat them selves on the back and go home with a bracelet.

When you show up as a “tourist” most Haitians are quite confused. They give you this look essentially saying “the fuck are you doing here?!”…takes a bit getting used to.

KNOW THIS. (Thank me later)

You will accomplish absolutley, positively, nothing in Haiti without a fixer. A local keen to help you and show you how to navigate the insanity in return for your American dollars. Accept this, embrace it and enjoy.

Haiti is a place that slays spontaneity. My usual travel style died a painful awkward death by the second day in country. But once a solid fixer entered the picture, the layers of this turbulent island began to peel back a bit for a wee peek.

This is where I will directly recommend my man Richard. (Jacques Richard Miguel) his story is as rugged and awry as the local landscape. Richard grew up in New York, after his parents immigrated from Haiti in the 1960s. He soon discovered rock n roll, and the party that raged along with it in the 1980s. Richard eventually succumbed to a crack addiction and was arrested stealing from a department store to get his fix. He was deported back to Haiti in 1988. After getting clean Richard had no choice but to adapt to his new yet native home. (He has been clean over 12 years) His observations and insights delivered in New York accented English and rapid fire French are priceless and reveal keen tidbits about modern Haiti. (Please drop me an email or a comment for his contact info.)

Through Richard we were able to discover the gnarled yet throbbing art scene expanding in the capital. The best example of this being the Ghetto Biennale. This “art gallery” literally sits among the tarp/trash city within Port Au Prince and is run as a collective. This is also the coolest fucking gallery I’ve ever visited. No pretension here. Every piece is made 100% from collected garbage. Kids collect the pieces and learn how to craft/create. This is raw, this is real, and completely kick ass.

These aspiring young artists show amazing skill and tenacity. We enjoyed joking and a few candid photos on this afternoon visit.

You come to realize that “garbage” in Haiti includes metal, car parts, glass, body parts, etc. upon realizing the abundance of real skulls I was told “after earthquake, we find everything”. For a very somber moment I let that one sink in while admiring the twisted beauty of these pieces.

Voodoo themes abound and flow through the reality that is life in the capital.

Next up on the agenda is the attempt to roadtrip outside of the capital…sounds easy enough right?

Didn’t I tell you this one was going to get weird? I’m still ripping through thoughts and words back here where things mostly work, and I don’t have memories of an earthquake that claimed near half a million lives.

Want more Haiti?

Drop a comment with your thoughts.

 

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Haitian sunrise

I’m up.

I’m up early…and through some trick of the gods woke up in Haiti.

A few days ago I was in Bangkok, trying to make everything from the last month through South East Asia fit into my carry on bag. (Checked bags are for suckers) After Sri Lanka I had a brief stopover in Bangkok before heading home.

I fucking love Bangkok. Happy endings not even necessary.

The long slog on China Eastern wasn’t as bad as expected. Although the Chinese seem to have an odd orientation toward logistics. If you fly China Eastern, be prepared to wake up to this beauty roughly once an hour.

I made it back to the mitten mostly unmolested.

Well, I was in Michigan for all of two days.

Snow and coneys. America’s high five at its best.

Now back on the road. Landed in the Haitian capital less than 24 hours ago. This is what a serious travel addiction looks like. Sometimes it ain’t pretty. I had thought about doing a year end review post, and I still might, but I will plot it over creole food and a good cold beer.

Haiti comes at you hard. After a few days in Sri Lanka, I felt on the edge of the world a bit, but now I’m over the cliff. The airport is the perfect primer for the aggressive beauty that is this island nation.

Sit down, buckle up, and get ready. We are back on the road, and this ones going to get weird.

You ready?

Cheers.

Comments welcome!