A Travellerspoint blog

June 2014

My first 48 hours in Colombia

semi-overcast 20 °C

So far I have been in Colombia just over 48 hours. And in that time, I have already had so many adventures that I just don’t know where to start!
My friend Jaime picked me up from the airport and we went back to his place so I could have a shower and a nap as I had not slept for over 24 hours. unnamed__1_.jpg
We then went out for a coffee - delicious, I understand entirely why Colombia is so famous for its coffee – before heading over to Kat’s family’s house. I had been so excited to meet Mama and Papa Kat, and Kat’s sister Ari, for so long that it was great to finally be there.
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Mama Kat had kindly made me a beautiful room with space for all of my things. Just like in Spain, the concept vegetarian doesn’t really seem to be understood here (as I knew it would) so I was eating pork within an hour of being in the house. I couldn’t eat much of it, but I must admit that it was fantastic! I always hate pork in New Zealand, and Kat would always tell me that the meat in NZ was awful compared to that of Colombia – and well, she is right! It is a completely different taste!
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I went to bed really early because I was so very tired. When I woke up, it was time to watch the football game – Colombia vs. Greece. I didn’t need to be told the game was happening as the entire city was full of colour, car horns beeping, flag waving, mini trumpets, and 7 million cheerful voices. Every time Colombia scored a goal, the noise from outside was just crazy, so I would always run to the window and watch what was going on. When the game was over (3-0 to Colombia) the noise was so intense, everyone came running out of their houses and people were jumping up and down, throwing flour at each other, and partying in the middle of the streets. If this is Colombia, I can’t even imagine what it is like in Brazil right now!
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After the game, Mama and Papa Kat kindly took me out for a big drive around the outskirts of the city. We saw lots of amazing little towns, including my favourite which is called Chia. We saw lots of people out celebrating the game and everybody was in such a great mood.
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We stumbled across this avocado stand, selling the biggest avocados I have ever seen! Each one was nearly the size of a rugby ball! The man let us try some before we bought them, and I can’t even explain how amazing it tasted, I feel like all of the other avocados I have ever eaten were actually just trick avocados. I don’t know how I will ever eat anything else!
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We kept driving and stopped at a dairy factory called Alpina, set high in the mountains. Alpina is very famous as it is the largest dairy factory in Colombia. We had coffee and a snack here before looking at all of the delicious products. The cheese in Colombia is so yummy and somehow it seems healthier and far less oily (it probably isn’t), it tastes like a blend of cheese curds and mozzarella.
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After Alpina, we headed higher into the mountains. Bogota is 2640m high and surprisingly, my breathing has been better than ever! We drove to Restaurante Emilio, a beautiful restaurant hidden in the trees and mountains of La Calera and owned by a very good friend of Papa Kat. The restaurant was gorgeous and had a real feeling of being a secret, only for special people who know where to find such amazing places. I told Emilio that I thought this, and I think he was very pleased. I had trucha, which is a type of fish from Colombian rivers, with rice and salad. We also had an incredible entrée of eggplant with tomato sauce and cheese (of course, cheese!). We watched the England vs. Italy game at the restaurant, and I explained how we had to cheer for Italy because the English are Colonists to NZ, just how the Spanish were to South America, so we were all pleased when Italy won! We stopped on at a beautiful viewpoint along La Calera where we saw the most amazing view of lights, from the whole city of Bogotá.
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On the way home, Papa Kat wanted to stop off for something, so he left Mama Kat and I in the car. When he came back, he had a present for me in a little adidas bag. I opened it up, and he had bought me my very own Colombia football teeshirt! He even bought me a red one because he knew I thought the yellow looked too Australian for my liking. I was so touched and I still feel so very very lucky to be staying here with them. I feel so at home, even though I don’t understand everything (and often feel like an idiot because everything needs to be repeated or said slowly), Mama and Papa Kat are so kind and patient with me and I love them so much already. When we got home, I put on my teeshirt (which is perfect!) and Mama Kat introduced me to what will be a very good friend of mine during my time in Colombia – Cola y Pola. There is no way to describe it other than it is beer that tastes like ice cream! I can’t understand why Cola y Pola hasn’t made it internationally, why it isn’t Colombia’s biggest export, their instant billion dollar a day success! I know already, I will drink a lot of Cola y Pola and it will be something I crave for the rest of my life, whenever I am not here in Colombia!
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After yet another amazing sleep, I woke up and met Jaime again. Today we headed to the Catedral de sal (salt cathedral) which is about 45 minutes outside of Bogotá. What was once a massive mine in a mountain is now a very impressive series of passages, sculptures, hallways, massive archways, carvings, about 15 deep chambers around 120m by 40m underground, and of course two chapels, all deep under the earth.
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There was even a café set at exactly 180 meters underground, which was perfect because all of the salt and sulphur in the air had made me so thirsty for water that my throat was scratchy and sore!
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Everything is made of salt rock and when the guide held a light against the tables/ walls, you could see the thousands of salt crystals – the ground, the walls, the sculptures, the tables, (most of) the chairs, the bannisters…
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Of course, me being me, I just had to check it out to see if it was the truth…
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There were lots of secret passages and stair cases and I can see it would be very easy to get lost there. There was one part of the tour that showed us how the miners worked, they had even built a mini underground replica of one of the main emerald mining towns.
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They showed us emeralds in their natural environment which was really cool - we were even allowed to touch them. I tried to pick one out of the wall for you Mum but the lady was watching me like a hawk, haha!
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They took us to another part of the salt mine, this place had even more salt, the walls were actually white - rather than the other parts that looked like rock (but still tasted of salt). I tasted this wall too, and it was so yummy that I just wanted to keep licking the wall!
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Jaime and I returned to Bogotá after a failed attempt to reach Guatavita due to car problems. We were so close to where we wanted to go, but we just couldn’t risk getting stuck in the middle of nowhere. The scenery was beautiful though and it did make for a lovely drive.
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Jaime dropped me at the shops, just 2 short streets away from my house. I told him I could find my way back, and that I have my phone’s GPS for if I got lost. Well, first of all when asking (in Spanish of course) for Zinc tablets at the shop, the lady tried to sell me menstrual tablets - god only knows what I was actually asking for, I guess I will never know!
Then when I tried to make it home, and got EXTREMELY lost. I thought I was going the right way but then second guessed myself and used my GPS, which turned out to be the worst thing to do as I had the wrong address written down! I walked for an hour and a half, trying to find what should have been a 5 minute destination. The apartment buildings look very similar, especially to a foreign eye and I just couldn’t tell them apart, especially with the wrong address in my GPS. So I finally admitted defeat and called Jaime who came to rescue me. Somehow, I was on the other side of the shops where I started from! We walked home together, and it turns out that when I first tried to walk home I was right; I had walked right past the house! Let's hope the rest of my adventures here in Colombia turn out more successfully, especially when I am in places where I don't have people to come and rescue me!

I have had an amazing start to my adventures here in South America, I feel so lucky to have Kat's amazing family who are looking after me, teaching me, and just being generally awesome.

x

Posted by chasingsummer 09:45 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Last day in San Francisco

a near death experience

sunny 18 °C

One final adventure in San Francisco nearly had me killed! I wanted to go to Target and buy a coat as I was quite cold, especially with the never ending wind. Also, I knew Bogotá would be cold too. I decided to read one of the million guide books that I had acquired, and in doing so I found out about a part of San Francisco known as Latino town – think China town, but America Latina style. It was about 15 blocks behind Target, which was 16 blocks from my hostel, so I was prepared for a long walk. It was a lovely day, and I enjoyed seeing some of the pretty buildings in San Francisco
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When I got to the entrance to Target, an elderly man approached me asking for a sandwich because he was very hungry. He introduced himself as Mr Mario, and I thought maybe I should just pop into a shop, buy us both a sandwich and maybe I could sit with him for a while and share a meal. He wasn’t obviously homeless, but he was in need of a little Katy care and as I had the cash, the time, and as usual the desire to save the world – I thought, why not. However, Mr Mario did not like the idea of entering the park outside the Target, apparently he is well known there for hassling patrons for cash so he is banned. I understood and empathised with him, it must be very hard to live on the streets of San Francisco, it’s a cold city and I hadn't made any friends. I had barely received a smile from a stranger, let alone a meal! Anyway, after telling me that we couldn't enter the park, I saw a sandwich bar across the road (they are never far away in the United States) and so we headed that way. Once we were away from the ‘safety’ of the park, Mr Mario proceeded to inform me that what he was after wasn't a meal, it was a room in a hostel. He asked if I would get it for him, all I needed to do was go in and get the key and then meet him in a bar, in I quote, “in a not so nice part of town, so you will need to be careful Miss Katy.” I told him I was happy to buy him a sandwich as I thought he was hungry, but I was not prepared to get him a hostel or to go to a dodgy area of town. I immediately turned around and headed back towards the park outside the Target where I knew he was banned. I was trying to keep him calm, yet he was yelling and getting really upset about how I wasn’t going to help him, that I am just like everyone else who doesn't help. I explained I was prepared to buy him a sandwich, but nothing more, and that he had now wrecked that too because he was rude to me. I started to walk/ semi run while trying to keep him calm, scared of course that he may have a gun – something that is never a worry in New Zealand was suddenly a very large scare. I made it through the park and through the Target doors, leaving him with his angry face smoooshed against the glass, yelling and baring his fists. I stayed in Target for about an hour and a half, hoping he would find some other poor sucker and forget about me. While I was in the Target, I used the bathroom and noticed a needle disposal bin. How naïve of me to presume an employee must have diabetes… Looking back, that was just one of many signs for what was to come…

I finished my Target shopping and started to make my way towards Latino town. I made it about 2 blocks further when I started noticing things were getting a little bit shady. One of the things I have always loved about the United States is the open admiration people give to each other. In just 3 days, I was complimented on my feet, my necklace, my hair, my eyes, and my “ghetto booty ass on a pretty white girl.”
However, by 4 blocks from Target, things were starting to get just bizarre. The people giving the compliments were clearly out of their minds. Their blank stares, rugged and inappropriate clothing, blotched skin, and unkempt hair gave away their preference for drugs or alcohol. Suddenly the blotched skin became burns and sores, the eyes from which the stares came were now made of glass or covered with patches, and the clothing was non-existent and baring wounded flesh. There were people coming out of doorways, beckoning me into their stores with their long, bony, wart covered fingers and a sideways glance from underneath their humped shoulders. I felt like I had stumbled into Chernobyl! People lay slumped against garbage cans unable to gather even the strength to reach up for a penny.
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I suddenly realised why my mother had told me to check out where my hostel was because there are some very awful and dangerous parts to San Francisco. With her words echoing in my ears, I began to get scared – this pretty white girl with a ghetto booty was very clearly out of place! I thought maybe the best thing to do was to ignore the map as it would make me look like more of a tourist, and call Dommy in New Zealand instead. For some reason, people on telephones are always avoided. Poor Dommy, answered the phone at about 4am to the sound of me running, panting, and half laughing/screaming/crying down the phone. The most bizarre thing about San Francisco is the architecture is the same everywhere. Unlike many other cities around the world, other than the needle bin in the Target, there was no warning until I was literally in the middle of what I later was told is the notoriously dangerous Tenderloin… A place named after the old days, where the police made so much money from the fines given to delinquents that they were able to buy the best cuts of meat. Thankfully, Dommy stayed on the phone with me until I was out of danger, which I knew only because very suddenly the shops were no longer selling sex toys, instead selling Chanel, Dior, Tiffany’s, and Marc Jacobs.

I had already checked out of my hostel, I had no friends in the entire city, and I decided I didn’t need to see Latino town in San Francisco when I was headed to South America in 9 hours. I headed back to the United States of America that I know best and love so much – Pier 39, Fisherman’s wharf, and because of the clear blue sky – to see the infamous Golden Gate Bridge once and for all. My Grandma has always shown me the two sides of the USA, which I am forever grateful to her for. Life is not sunshine, rainbows, and candy all of the time for everyone and I understand that. But I thought when alone in a big city it is certainly best to stick to the side where I fit in the most.
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I rented a bike, rode for miles and saw the bridge, the palace of fine arts.
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And before leaving the USA, I finally managed to find strawberry lemonade to drink and a plate of cheese sticks and marinara sauce.
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Phew… time for Colombia! x

Posted by chasingsummer 21:22 Archived in USA Comments (1)

San Francisco adventures

semi-overcast 20 °C

The last few days have been spent in a strange haze. I'm halfway between wanting to run home screaming, and wanting to hurry up and begin my South American adventures! I landed at midday on the 10th, after a very bumpy and scary flight through the massive storm.
I slowly made my way to my hostel (The Green Tortoise on Broadway, which I thoroughly recommend) and had many kind people offer me advice on buses/ trams/ walkways. I think seeing a girl wandering through the city with a backpack and a stuffed rainbow sock monkey certainly attracts attention!

My hostel is nice enough, and strangely I spent my first night with a Kiwi guy from Wellington who was on his way back to New Zealand after a year living in New York. How strange we both thought it was to have coincidentally put two Kiwis together, one on the start of their adventure and the other at the end! The Green Tortoise is right next to the City Lights Bookstore, opened by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I checked it out, and Dad told me I had to have a look at the alley behind it to see where Bob Dylan filmed Subterranean homesick blues - which of course I did!

Bob Dylan's Subterranean homesick blues alleyway

Bob Dylan's Subterranean homesick blues alleyway

I had also decided I wanted to visit Pier 39 to see the Sealions. They were so gorgeous, all sprawled out over the docks, lapping up the sunshine! Every time a bird flew past, they would all go crazy trying to get at it, their heads all flipping the same way at the same time. I watched them for ages and found a favourite who looked just like my cat Bob. He was the biggest sealion and he was all sprawled out across his own dock, which coincidentally was also the best of the bunch - figures!

sealions at pier 39

sealions at pier 39

sealions at pier 39

sealions at pier 39

like bob!

like bob!

At Pier 39, I was suddenly reminded of the America I remember from my childhood. For some reason, I had forgotten how amazing this place is when it goes all out to impress. Every single shop had a theme - including Leftys (selling only items for left handers), popcorn stores, ice cream stores (multiple of these), donut stores, stores selling only charms for bracelets, or crystals, or magic tricks, or clothes for pets, or things that change colour in the sunshine. Walking through Pier 39 made me remember what it was like to come to the United States as a child with my parents - completely overwhelmed by colour, smell, taste, and just the multitude of choice!

pier 39

pier 39

But before I actually got there, I walked the wrong way and ended up at pier 9 so I ended up having a MASSIVE walk today! Probably a good thing as I stopped off at the Ghirardelli Chocolate factory and tried one square of each flavour where cinammon crunch won the competition! I saw Alcatraz Island and decided not to go. It was not the best weather today, kinda cloudy but warm enough that I just noticed my chest is slightly sunburned! However, the wind in San Francisco is not pleasant, and when the sun wasn't out I really wished I had my coat!

out to alcatraz

out to alcatraz

Chris Sorenson had told me all about Fisherman's wharf, just along from Pier 39, and how I had to try clam chowder served in a bowl made from sourdough bread - well I did, and it was absolutely delicious! I got to watch them make the sourdough bread in the factory, and I saw different animals made from sourdough bread too. It was at a factory called Boudin's. Everywhere along Fisherman's wharf sold clam chowder in sourdough bowls, but I wanted to get it from the best place in town!

sourdough friends

sourdough friends

YUM - Boudin's clam chowder

YUM - Boudin's clam chowder

YUM clam chowder bowl

YUM clam chowder bowl

The Golden Gate Bridge definitely did not want to show it's entire self to me, so I decided not to walk even further to see just as little of it. I mananged to get completely lost finding my way back to the hostel, where I ended up climbing the most steepest streets of my entire life! I thought I was going to die! The footpaths even had tiny steps in them, to help people climb up as it really was an intense climb! I can't even imagine driving up or down it, I think Trixi would just give up halfway! However, at the top of Russian Hill I did manage to get a tiny glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge, so I do know it exists!

spot the Golden Gate

spot the Golden Gate

And then on my way back to my hotel, I stumbled upon another gigantic hill, this time with a view over towards the CBD

San Francisco

San Francisco

I made the last minute decision to head into chinatown for a massage before heading back to the hostel. The massage itself was average, and then it all went worse when I forgot to give a tip. How much of my life have I spent in this country, yet I still forget to tip every single time? Anyway, when I tried to explain what went wrong and why I forgot, the man started yelling at me in Chinese/ English mix. I tried to ask him how much I needed to tip and he just yelled and tried grabbing my wad of cash. So I gripped on tight and ran right out of his shop! There was no way I was going to tip him after that behaviour! I ran outside and stumbled into a young Mexican boy with his mother, neither who could speak English. The young boy was scared of this crazy blue man who was frozen, waiting for money so he would come to life and sing and dance. I helped the boy understand he needed to come and push the button around the blue man's neck, that he wouldn't dance or sing until we did that - despite him already having put money into the blue man's money jar. The boy was so scared of the blue man, and I loved being able to help him and his mother!
I like how in many shops/ markets here in San Francisco, a lot of people speak Spanish so I get to practice everywhere I go!

musical friend

musical friend

I finally made it back to my hotel at 5, where I joined up as a volunteer in the kitchen to help cook the free dinner that is provided to everyone who stays at the hostel. We were making Tacos, and it included the full works! It took two hours, and there were about 10 of us helping. The main chef was this absolutely CRAZY Italian man who had lived in Colombia and various other parts of America Latina. He took a shining to me and we spent most of the night laughing and joking in Spanish with another girl staying at the hostel, travelling from Barcelona. The hostel is mostly full of Germans, Polish, and Danish travelers at the moment, so I have found myself only having anything in common with theses two Spanish speaking friends.

I have enjoyed San Francisco but it certainly isn't my favourite place on earth. Maybe it's because I am now getting really excited to go to Colombia tomorrow. I know that is where the real adventure begins x

Posted by chasingsummer 20:56 Archived in USA Tagged san francisco sealions pier_39 clam_chowder Comments (0)

Leaving New Zealand

rain 14 °C

I can’t believe I am actually doing this. Something that was merely a dream for so long is no longer a dream – it’s my reality. All of those Spanish classes, all of my nights spent at home, saving, while my friends go out to party, all those extra hours working in multiple jobs, have brought me to this very moment. People have continuously asked me if I am excited or nervous. Usually when I travel, I count down the days, unable to eat or sleep with anticipation and excitement. As many people know, I have been very excited for a very long time about finally making this big move. However, this time I never counted the days, instead I tried to make each of my last days in New Zealand count.
Over the last two weeks, my excitement disappeared and I begun to feel almost nothing. Not scared, or anxious, excited, or crazily elated. I have felt as if I am just doing the next step in my life, almost as if I was just driving to work or going out for dinner. Usually when I follow one of my crazy ideas, I have my heart in my ear (or punching me in the chest) telling me how what I am doing is wrong – the younger Katy would then do it anyway just to get the adrenaline kick. But right now, there is nothing more than a sense of calmness and a lovely feeling of happiness. I feel like the luckiest girl on the planet to have such amazing people in New Zealand who love me, support me, and care for me. Over the last 4 weeks, I have been spoiled with dinners/lunches/drinks (ohhhh there have been many drinks!) with all of my favourite people.

Adios-Amigos

Adios-Amigos

There is a part of me that does enjoy trying to pull me down, and I suppose it is natural too when making such a huge life change. That part of me, small as it is, feels absolutely terrified. This part of me is scared I will chase my dream, follow my heart to South America, to realise that I need to be in New Zealand, with my friends and family, in order to be happy. I am nervous that I won’t find people like the people I have at home, that I will be too crazy for South America. I am worry that I don’t speak enough Spanish so I won’t make friends because I can’t tell my stories properly or keep up with the conversation enough to make quick jokes that make people laugh. I’m anxious at the idea of living without a goal, I have become such a goal orientated person that I don’t know what I will be like without having one - when my life exists only in the moment, backpack on, and no direction home. But I suppose we travel for the unknown and this would not be an adventure if I knew how it was going to unfold. I have to be brave, I need to trust my own heart, and I will take with me the love and support of the amazing people who are forever in my thoughts. I will do my best to face this new life adventure head first, and know that my home is always there if I ever need it x

Posted by chasingsummer 20:55 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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