leaving sunny Colombia for the freezing cold United States
06.08.2014 - 29.08.2014 -50 °C
Again, I have left this entry far too long. Now I need to try to remember everything that has happened in the past three weeks. Usually I can do this with the help of my camera… However, I sadly lost my camera when I was tubing with my family down the Madison river in Montana. I hit a rock, flipped out of my tube (probably due to the large amounts of whiskey and beer we had all been drinking), and my camera slipped off my wrist and down towards New Orleans before I had a chance to build a dam to catch it. Thankfully, I only lost a couple of days worth of pictures, rather than my entire trip so far!
I need to update my trip to Medellin, Colombia and Cartagena. Both are large cities – things that I never particularly enjoy. I really was not looking forward to going to Medellin because it was where some awful male I once knew was from. I was determined I was going to hate his city… But I didn’t. It was the annual feria de flores, and the town was alive with people, parades, fiestas, and the most beautiful flower creations I have ever seen.
The city itself, at least the part I stayed in; El Poblado, is very clean, trendy, and full of beautiful bars, boutiques, classy markets, and amazing clubs. I met two guys from Ecuador who forced me to go out drinking with them one night at a bar called chupitos (shots in English). We did so many, some that were striped yellow, blue and red for Colombia, others that were highlighter green, and so much tequila!
The next day I went on an adventure with them, we went into the city to look at the cool statues in Parque Botero. These are massive statues made by Botero and donated to the city of Medellin. They are huge, made out of bronze, and you are actually encouraged to climb all over them and to touch them. How nice is that?
We then made our way through the markets to where we could catch the cable car up to the top of the hill. Medellin is in the shape of a bowl. As in, there are mountains all around the city, and so the city has now spread further and further up the surrounding mountains. It really is a magnificent sight. The further up the mountains in certain directions are some very poor areas. The cable car is not a tourist attraction, instead it has been put there to help the local people be able to afford to get down into the city for work. Apparently there are other areas which have escalators going the whole way up, but I didn’t see those. So we rode the very cheap cable car right to the top, where we had a most spectacular view over the city. The photos as usual really don’t do it any justice!
I again took the over night bus to Cartagena. Luckily, because it was the middle of the feria de flores everyone was entering Medellin, rather than leaving it, so I was lucky enough to have a whole row of seats. I pretty much slept the whole way, and arrived in Cartagena feeling super refreshed! I managed to make my way to my hostel using public transport, much to the row of taxi’s disgust that a foreigner could speak enough Spanish to do so. In Cartagena I stayed at the Media Luna hostel, which turned out to be my favourite of all inner city accommodation. I had chosen to stay there over the El Viajero because of the pool – and I was so glad I had! Cartagena is HOT! Much hotter than anywhere else I had been, possibly because the entire city remains inside the huge concrete wall that the Spanish built when they were busy robbing Colombia of their gold. I don’t have any pictures anymore of the castle, or the wall with the canons as that was all on my camera - which is now about to join Mardi Gras. The city of Cartagena, the part within the wall, is terribly touristy – but beautiful. I found that the best time to see it was early on a Sunday morning before the shops are open and the venders are out on the street trying to get your attention – and your money!
I met an amazing group of friends from all over the world at Media Luna. We spent two nights drinking and partying on the rooftop of the hostel, which was a godsend due to the nice breeze that came across from the Caribbean sea.
Somehow, I managed to convince all 12 of them that we should head off on one of the days to climb into a volcano to swim in a massive pile of mud! We drank about 4 bottles of rum on the bus, and when we ran out I managed to convince the owner of a bar to sell us the very last bottle of his. He wanted 40,000 pesos and I told him that was just ridiculous. I managed to get it for 20,000 including a bottle of coke – a pretty good deal since that bottle sells for $18,000 in an alcohol shop! Anyway, we all climbed into the volcano and had a great time. We were all pretty convinced that the volcano is not natural, or at least it has had a serious amount of help to remain standing. But real or not, in we got and we bobbed around like apples inside, completely covered in mud! No matter what you did, you could not manage to be upright because there was no gravity in the mud. It would just flip you over and spin you around so you always had to grab onto people to right yourself. This + the large quantities of Caribbean rum made for a lot of fun!
The following day I had to take my plane to Chicago. Sadly, leaving Colombia was a giant struggle. I don’t think there are a large number of solo female travellers who aren’t smuggling drugs. Because of this, I had to have 3 police interviews, a full body xray, my stuff searched, and myself and belongings swiped for traces of drugs all before I could board my plane! I was told that if I wanted a translator, then I would have to wait for one to arrive to the airport, so I said that I could do the interviews in Spanish. I knew if I waited, then the translator would be on latino-time and the likeliness that I missed my plane would be 100%. I was very impressed that I was able to have my interviews in Spanish because usually when I am scared or emotional, my Spanish just goes straight out the window! But I even managed to correct him when he wrote something down wrong (my birthdate because January is Enero in Spanish, and he saw Jan and thought Junio for June). I also told the third officer that I was very sorry that he had to conduct the interviews and baggage search, that his beautiful country was still being used and abused for drugs. I was not angry at the airport at all (maybe if I had missed my plane, because I have since heard that if you do because of this reason, insurance does not cover it), but I was (and still am) very angry at the drug trade around the world, for causing such deep pain and despair to such an amazing country. I truly love Colombia, far more than I ever thought that I would. I really want to return and do something that could help to make a difference.
I arrived in the USA to be interviewed and questioned again. I know what I am doing is unique, and very different to many other travellers. However, I find it baffling to think I am one of the very few young women who have the courage to travel solita, to have the desire to speak flawless Spanish (or at least grammatically correct), to want to explore beaches and islands, to live forever in the sunshine, and to meet amazing people. I am sure people do it all over the world, why is it so hard to believe someone would want to do it in Colombia, and then to move to Mexico? Either way, I was grateful that my secondary interrogation officer in the USA was from Puerto Rico. We conducted my interview in Spanish, even though English was an option, and he was 200% behind my decisions and wished me the best of luck.
I got to my cousins place in Chicago, slept for 14 hours in her super comfy bed, and then got up and double washed my clothes on hot! I had the longest hot water shower, my first in 5 weeks! I don’t even think my blog entries have mentioned how I was showering previously – with buckets of agua dulce – sweet water that was actually yellow… I had to pour water over myself from a smaller container, cover myself in soap, and then pour again. Every now and then I found myself able to have a cold-water shower from what was basically a hose coming from the wall, never a showerhead! But to be honest, it was so hot that if I had have had the chance for a hot-water shower, I probably wouldn’t have even wanted it! I took the train to my Grandma’s in Holland, Michigan where she was waiting with my Aunt Di and Uncle Bill. It was cold. Like freezing. About 11 degrees! Grandma took me out and kindly bought me 2 pairs of jeans and a new top so that I wouldn’t freeze!
We had such a great time, we went to breakfast at Jackies – a restaurant/ diner that we have gone to every time I stay with her since I first went to stay with her when I was 5. We managed to have such great luck everywhere we went, car parks right where we needed, free things at lunch, and we managed to stop in at a second hand store to find a brand new handbag (still with the original tags) that was supposed to be $135 but we got for $6! We couldn’t believe it!
I went to a concert to see two amazing guitarists names Rodrigo y Gabriela in Grand Rapids. The concert was in an amphitheatre set amongst the most beautiful gardens. We danced away and thoroughly enjoyed it, Rodrigo y Gabriela put on a very high energy performance, and the couple manage to synchronise perfectly.
Grandma woke me up at 6am so I could get ready to begin my road trip with my Aunt and Uncle across the USA. I was super excited to see so many of the cool sights along the way that they had told me we would get to see.We spent 12 hours in the car on the first day, solid driving. I have never driven or been in a car for that long in my entire life! We calculated that we had driven further than the entire North Island of New Zealand! Day two was far better because we got to see so many cool sights. Including the corn palace; which is a building in Wyoming decorated with all different types of corn. Sadly it was in the middle of change over (they update it every year) so it was not in it's finest glory. Still pretty cool though as some parts were completed, and you got to see how they actually made it which was very interesting!
My favourite place we went to was the Badlands, sadly I have lost quite a few pictures down the river… But I did take some on my phone too thankfully! The Badlands are in the middle of nowhere, just this endlessly flat, dusty, dry space of land. And then all of a sudden you feel as if you are actually standing on the moon! It was so amazing climbing all over the rocks, the hills, the cliffs, and then to be able to look out at the view. Aunt Di and I went for a walk and pretty much ran right into a deer. Again, the pic is on my camera but it was a very surreal moment being so close to it. The three of us just looked at each other and didn’t quite know what to do!
After the Badlands we arrived into a town near Mt Rushmore where we were to spend the night. After a lovely dinner at a microbrewery and a stop in at a (totally awful) wine tasting venue, we headed to see the famous carved heads! I really enjoyed seeing the heads, the night time show where they light the faces was crazily patriotic but I did learn some fascinating things about the United States of America – including how young its history is. Even though I have spent so much of my life here, I had always ignorantly assumed that the USA was really old like Europe or Colombia.
The following day was our last day for the road trip, it still meant another full day of driving, but we did get to stop at the devils tower in Wyoming. Dom and I had watched a Steven Spielberg called Close encounters of the third kind about a month before my departure, as we were told that the movie featured something that I would see on my road trip. Turns out that the entire movie is based around what we would see – the super weird column from the movie AKA Devils Tower! We had a lovely time, spent about an hour walking around the entire thing – which is really huge and really strange. On our walk I saw these trees with coloured cloth tied onto them. My aunt explained how they are actually prayer trees and the cloths are tied on by the Native Americans to protect the bush as it is a very significant area to the local tribes. Even today, it is a very serene place, and you can really feel how the native people felt such a spiritual connection to this particular piece of land.
We finally arrived at my Uncle Butch and Aunt Terri’s house in Montana. I was so excited to be there, not only to see them, but because I knew that my parents were inside the house! I just ran through, completely ignoring all of the dead friends on the walls to hug my parents! Followed of course by the rest of my family who were all there and waiting seeing as that we were one of the last to arrive from our big drive. It turns out in total that we actually drove longer than the entire length of New Zealand – and about half again, so it was no wonder my back was killing me, PHEW! My Uncle Butch is an avid hunter, he is also a ranger and does some amazing work for the environment. I knew that his house held a lot of what I like to call dead friends, but I wasn’t quite expecting this! These are just some of them, of course there are far more!
I have made peace with them now, but I have chosen to sleep in the room without them – that is also my cousin’s old bedroom and has an Audrey Hepburn poster on the wall, whatever are the chances of that?!
My parents and I spent the next few days exploring the area, stopping in an old western ghost town. We had ice cream, tacos (super western, not!) and had a fantastic time dressing up as an old cowboy family for our latest family picture.
After some amazing days in Bozeman with the family, including the famous river trip with the entire family that lost my camera…God, two family reunions in a row, something has happened to my camera - try living that down!
We all headed up to Big Sky for my cousins wedding. The location of the wedding was just heaven, way up in the mountains and in the most amazing lodge called Moonlight. The rehearsal dinner was so much fun, especially the bus ride home where we had the entire family in one bus singing songs for about 45 minutes after drinking a lot of wine and beer – too much fun!
The rain set in, and we thought that we would never see the sunlight again. However, about 1 hour before the wedding, just enough time to make sure everything was nice and dry, the sky broke and the sunshine poured through. The wedding was beautiful, next to a waterfall, and my cousin was the sunshine as she walked down the aisle to The Beatles singing ‘here comes the sun.’ After the ceremony and the photos were finished, just as everyone was heading inside to be seated, the rain came from nowhere and continued to pour for the rest of our time at Big Sky. I can only say that our Grandpa was certainly helping out Tiffany from above, because nothing else could have made such a magical thing occur. I believe it is truly a sign of good things to come for one of my favourite people and her new husband Alex. And in true Dood style, we partied and celebrated and danced and drank for as long as we could...
The following days meant leaving Big Sky, saying farewell to my amazing family who all had to depart back to their different parts of the United States. It is always so sad saying goodbye, something that never really gets easier even after doing it so often throughout my life. But the time I have with my Grandma, my Aunts and my Uncles and my crazy cool cousins are amongst the best memories of my life. We realised that I will have to have multiple weddings if I marry a Latino – one in his country (which ever amazing place he is from!), USA and NZ – of course if anyone is to have 3 weddings to one man, it will be the same girl who had 25 birthday parties to celebrate turning 25!
My parents and I headed up to Flathead Lake and Glacier National Park. We had a wonderful 5 days traveling through the beautiful countryside of Montana. From rivers to canyons to glaciers to lakes to mountains – this state really has it all! We stayed in a lovely 2 bedroom/ 2 bathroom apartment that was actually the size of an average house! We went to a waterpark and rode the waterslides, we went to the Glacier park and saw a real live Grizzly bear, we went out on a boat trip on the lake and saw a family of deer drinking water from the lake as well as a giant Ram doing the same.
We saw ancient cave paintings made by Native Americans. The significance of this one is that this particular cliff was used as a point where the hunters would strategically march the animals right off the cliff onto the shelf below so that they would be easier to kill and use for flesh/furs/meat/ bones etc. There were tally charts that marked how many times this had been done successfully. Just amazing.
Even though so much of my time here in the USA has been spent far too cold that was in my original plan, I have really enjoyed it and I can see how there may be a time in the (very distant) future where I will actually work in a cold place, perhaps a ski season or something on a beautiful mountain range. For now, the sun is calling me back to the Caribbean!
It was so lovely spending time with my parents. I had missed them so much, and I can’t wait to see Dad again in Chile in 2 months’ time As the lyrics of one of my favourite song says ‘tiempo vuele’ or ‘time flies’ and it really is true. I feel that the 4 months since I saw them has literally flown by, and I know that the next 2 will do so aswell. I am now staying here at my Aunt and Uncle’s place in Montana. My Uncle is going to take me hunting and fishing and then teach me how to skin and cook up what it is that we manage to bring home! Hopefully we get some good fish because he is going to teach me how to smoke it. I won’t be killing anything more than a rabbit though, after seeing such beautiful animals in the wild I am still as vegetarian (for land animals) as ever. I seem to be eating a lot of fish again lately, but hopefully once I am in Mexico I can revert to being a true veggo because I have heard that there are far more green options there than there are in Colombia.
Many people want to know what my next plans are, and to be honest it is very hard to say because I am not entirely sure. I do know thatI fly to Guadalajara in Mexico on the 10th of September to sort my visa. I need to sort my visa (which will mean I am a temporary resident of Mexico) so that I can keep traveling, otherwise I need to buy a return ticket to New Zealand, something I can't afford and really don't want to do! I will then head to Tulum in the Yucatan peninsula (in the Caribbean of course) where I have secured a one month job through workaway. I will be helping a business man to write his letters from Spanish to English, in a way that they read very well, so that he can use them to send to larger organisations in the hope of receiving funding for his goal of creating a rehab centre in the area. It depends on how well I do as to how long I stay, and if I get offered paid employment – rather than the 5 hours of work per day in exchange for food and accommodation. Many people think I am being ripped off, however I like to remind them that I am also essentially getting 24 hours a day of free Spanish classes/ practice as I refuse to speak anything but Spanish.
Depending how the work (and my Spanish) in Mexico goes will determine my stay. I am planning/ hoping on going to the Dominican Republic in January for 3 months to work at a hostel. I have nearly secured this job, and hope that it works out for me. My main goal for moving to the DR is to learn to dance Bachata because I really love both the music and the dance.Depending on my Spanish, I may find a 'real' job in the near future. I quite like the idea of settling down for a while After that, I have no plans. However, I really hope that any future plans will include my brother and best friend Dommy. I am so excited for him as he is about to embark on his first every travels next week. I really hope that the travel bug embeds itself as deep into his soul as it has mine, because then we can travel through the Caribbean together next year!