The Hungry Ghost of Colombia

Yes, i know, im just about to go to bed. Before I go… I’m here in Bogota, where a big hotel suite and crisp air combined with overcast skies and strong coffee seem to juice the mojo and inspire me to hit the keyboard. How do I end up here so often? I feel like the “hungry ghost” mentioned by the late Bourdain. I wander these cities, some more than others in search of something. At times I return again and again to haunt these areas, leaving pieces of myself behind. As i turn the idea over in my mind (always at night and when alone) I stumble on bits of clues as to why I do it. I am searching for authenticity. Authentic experiences, authentic interaction. I need the real. I am addicted to it. Hence why you will never see me haunting a cruise ship or an all inclusive resort. I can read a brochure and know exactly what that entails. I need something else. a kind of adventure, a kind of lust, a big fat fucking jump out of the comfort zone. Colombia in almost any iteration is dangerous. You absolutely NEED to be aware of your surroundings. As I talk to a range of people here though they say its gotten exceptionally better over the last decade.

I was never drawn to the easy places. London, Paris, Barcelona…all amazing cities in their own right with rich heritage and all quite easy to be robbed in, but also choked with loud tourists, selfies sticks and the circus that goes along with it. I don’t haunt those places, I only visit from time to time, typically for a long layover. Often to confirm my suspicions. I have a deep seated affection for visiting a place with no preconceived positive connotation and letting that place blast me with the magic. I have yet to fully unravel the mystery that lands me in certain places again and again. I can feel the urge to return. I think if I had to guess this would boil down to two primary things. People and food. the building blocks of any destination. Latin people, and the ingenuity they invest into their food/passion simply can not be overlooked, or god forbid ignored. I’ve been coming to Colombia for five years now and feel as if each city is its own country. from the coastal spots to the inner mountainous region, its really between Medellin and Bogota for me. I’ve not spent nearly as much time in Medellin as I have Bogotá simply because I have more people in Bogota and the flights go on sale more often. Each time I see fares under $300.00 I grab at least one. Sometimes up to a year in advance. “Colombia next year for a week”? of course. i’ll make it work. “Better buy two” The addiction for travel works like bread coupons, one can never have enough tickets to the promised land.

I am so moved by the people here, by the heaviness of their situation, that I started a non profit foundation this year to support the people escaping Venezuela into neighboring Colombia. Right now we are focused on artists and supporting their work but will soon expand. Knowing how my mind works, we named this effort The Andino Foundation. The Andes region encompasses Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. This gives me fertile ground to roam and search, finding the good stuff while I hopefully leave the world a bit of a better than when I found it. I have yet to grow tired of wandering. Perhaps I will slow down one day, but in the immediate future, I’m thinking quite the opposite. I’ve been so many places that have the magic, How could I not dig into these locales to the utmost extent?

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!

 

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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!