On the road

Well, we’ve done it. We are on the road. Currently writing this blog post from my cousin Alicia’s kitchen table [edit: this isn’t actually correct any more, but I wanted to finish this post and post it for historical purposes anyway – we’re now in Sault Saint Marie].

The past few days were a bit of a whirlwind, although that’s a bit of a cliche. I think. Honestly, maybe it’s not, I don’t know.

Let’s call it a whirlwind. Basically, I worked up until Monday, June 30, and cleaned and packed. And when I wasn’t doing that, I was saying goodbye to great friends/people. The weekend before we left we painted the walls in apartment, fixed holes, replaced blinds, etc. Frankly the entire process was a little frustrating as we moved into our apartment taking over somebody else’s lease and the apartment was never cleaned or painted originally. Much of the paint on the wall was pealing, not because of our use or misuse, but just because the paint had been applied poorly some 4+ years ago. One night we were up until around 1 am painting walls. It got to the point where we literally DUMPED paint from the bucket onto flat surfaces (like our lofted bed) and rolled it smooth. And I replaced two different sets of blinds, which, let me tell you, was a pain in the ass. In the future, at least in my own house, I’ll buy the $15-$20 blinds instead of the $5-$7 blinds as they are about 5x more difficult to hang.

Sai watches Lindsay paintApartment paintingLindsay escapes the lightLindsay's Sell Station

Anyway, we packed our car. The car packing has been a bit of a touchy issue between Lindsay and me. In short, I wanted to have lots of room in the car so we didn’t feel like we were totally crammed in, Lindsay wanted to save money by getting more stuff in the car. We had more arguments then I’d care to admit about the car, over a greater period of time then I’d like to admit, but in the end we got everything fitting. We basically have the car packing down to a science, and at least the camping stuff we need on a daily basis (tent, sleeping stuff, cooking equipment, and food) is easily accessible.

I’m going a bit out of order here (it’s been really tough to sit down and write anything!), but basically after work on Monday we had one last night in Oakland. We had a sushi dinner at Ichiro, our favorite local sushi restaurant, and spent a few last hours cleaning and doing a check out with Dan, the manager at our apartment. Then we went to bed. The next morning we hit the road.

Untitled

Not that interesting, but I have to say that at no point during all of this did I feel particularly emotional. Which is sort of sad really, because generally I’m a very emotional guy. I think the sad truth is I had SOO much going on in my head, so many little stresses (health insurance while traveling, figuring out what to do with our mattress before we left, money, canceling various things, etc, etc). I regret not having had the chance to “mourn” the loss of our life in Oakland. Since leaving, I’ve felt a bit of sadness from time to time, but I think that might just be the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Oakland was such an amazing place, and I have so many amazing memories. I still can’t think of a better place to live.

Anyway, the first place we stopped on our road trip was Portland, Oregon to visit my family (Aunt Kim, Alicia, Justin, Jack, Charlie, Andrew, and Malia). We spent two and a half, three-ish days there and had an awesome time. My cousins (though I hope one day I might be called Uncle Kev) Jack and Charlie are awesome little kids and I’m very happy to have been able to see them for a second time. We went swimming, drank coffee, drank beer, etc. A very nice time.

Alicia and Jack or maybe CharlieThe family

We started our real trip in Seattle – we camped in a pretty great campground called Saltwater State Park, which was great. On a whole, of the places we’ve camped so far, this was probably a nicer campground – we’ve for various reasons ended up camping at a lot of RV Parks which are generally flat, ugly places (that are easy to get to, relatively cheap for tent campers, and most importantly close to the cities we want to visit!).

Working on a website
IMG_0118

Seattle was great. We did a bit of research on the different neighborhoods within Seattle so that we could get a feel for the different areas within Seattle. We went to perhaps 4 or 5 different neighborhoods, walked around in some, etc. A highlight for us was Green Lake, which was a place for “power singles” and “power couples” (I mention this because I thought it was funny), had a really amazing lake (the neighborhoods namesake). It’s a bit tough to tell you how great Green Lake was, but it was just a super busy, high energy lake. Lindsay (or maybe me) described it as Lake Merritt with a nice beach and a raft with a high dive in it with swimmable, warm water.

Next up was Vancouver. Which we loved. Vancouver was very much a West Coast city, and especially as we drive East across Canada it becomes more and more clear there there is a different between a West Coast city and a Mid-West city. I’d say Vancouver is a city that we could very much live in. For one thing, it seemed really well organized, and clean! One of the small strange things that stuck out to me was that every garbage can in the city had a nice, high quality garbage bag in it. Coming from Oakland where garbage bags were done away with and in their place heavy duty inner garbage cans were used, I appreciated this. I’m not sure trash bags are as efficient, but even the garbage seemed cleaned. Vancouver also felt very multi-cultural. There were TONS of different accents and languages that we heard walking around.

It’s a bit difficult to explain how Vancouver felt. We were there for two days. It felt very different from the US, but I can’t say if that was all in my head or not. Everybody we talked with was friendly, and the place felt like it was healthy without being over the top or preachy about being organic or vegan or etc, etc, etc. The other thing that was a big confusing was that there were SOO many people outside in bathing suits, on the beach, etc. From what I understand, the weather in Vancouver is generally worse then that in Seattle, but we didn’t get a good sense of this because it happened to be an incredibly nice few days of weather when we were there. Even on a weekday, it felt like a busy day in the busiest of beaches. I went swimming (twice!) in the ocean, and Lindsay ran and swam both days we were there. This was all in Stanley park, which was great, if anybody ever visits.

Parking in Vancouver was generally a bit of a chore. Actually to the city planners credit, it was pretty impressive that when downtown we almost always ended up easily finding parking, but never at a place that wasn’t pay by the minute. This was something else that stuck out to me.

I visited the Maritime Museum, which I really enjoyed. One thing I’d like to do more on the trip is visit museums, but that can be a bit difficult with a dog (it’s HOT outside, so we can’t just leave Sai in the car unless we happen to find covered parking), but I was very happy to visit this museum. The Roch, which is a famous ship, was there, as well as a much of displays about various ships/tugs/etc that came out of Canada.

We camped at an RV park in Vancouver, the first of many to come. This is a bit sad, that we are camping at so many RV parks, but oh well! At least we were close to the city.

I’m going to post more, and hopefully a lot more photos, but internet is a bit scarce at the moment. More importantly, time on the computer is a bit scarce at the moment.

Yosemite, Lake Mono, Sacramento Beer Tour!

It’s Sunday, 9:14am. If you crunch the numbers, that means roughly of the weekend is still available for activities. But! We’ve already done more this weekend then we’d normally do in a month.

Let’s do a quick recap of the big items. For this exercise, you’ll have to pretend you haven’t already read the title of this blog post! Don’t look now if you haven’t already read it! And if you have but perhaps are a bit foggy on it, then don’t look back!

  • Yosemite National Park
  • Lake Mono
  • Northern California brewery tour
  • Tour of our states capitol

We started this trip out on Thursday. I took Friday off and we left straight after work for our campground (Hodgdon Meadow – how would you pronounce this anyway?). It was QUITE the trip for our little Yaris, but she made it. Lots of pretty crazy hills to drive up. There was a 20 mile stretch that we had to drive in 3rd or 4th gear the whole way to make it up the hill (and by hill I mean mountain).

We got to the camp late, but not really too late. I think around 10:30 or so. Being somewhat proficient by now at setting up our tent we had camp all setup in 15 minutes or so and went straight to sleep. I was very thankful that there were no bears to wake us up, or anything else really that Sai felt the need to wake us up for.

In the morning (I think we were up by 7 or 7:30) we drove the 25 miles into Yosemite.
Windows Vista

There are a few things I should point out now. First, I personally did VERY little research into what we were going to do or see in Yosemite. Honestly I knew (know) very little about Yosemite. Second, at this point I think both Lindsay and myself (more me then her, to be fair) were still a bit hard-core-hiked-out, which as it turns out is probably not the best way to be when you are going to Yosemite.

Anyway, my impression of Yosemite is that it can be a couple of different things, depending on how you choose to experience it. For the hiker/camper (which I generally would consider Lindsay and I) it can be a hiking/climbing mecha, with tons of awesome, world-class hikes everywhere and even more beautiful, while places to camp. For the fly fisherman, it seems like a great place to fish. For a photographer (and I’d say I fit partially in this camp, though not on this trip) it seems like a place you could spend weeks taking amazing photographs of beautiful vistas. For the somewhat casual Yosemite participant, it’s more of an amazing drive with an almost Disneyland level of organization and tourist count.
Water
Basically what I’m trying to say in a clever way, that turned out not to be that clever, is that Yosemite was amazingly beautiful, and super organized, and full of tourists (I’m not exaggerating when I say that I think the primary spoken language I heard was German). But as casual observers, we were basically following the path of all of the other tourists from beautiful vista to beautiful vista, with a short hike up the lower Yosemite falls in between and a bunch of stops along the drive at random rivers/streams to take photos and dip our feet in the water. Yosemite was beautiful and huge and like nothing else (besides perhaps Yellowstone) like it (that I’ve seen). Everything is just so big, and wide, and HUGE!

Lindsay

But after the morning of exploring (and I think we drove to most of the major points of interest – drove being the key word) we decided that unless we were going to do some hiking (which we weren’t) we might want to think about having an actual destination in mind or risk finding ourselves unsure of what to do in this beautiful place. We decided, after much thought, that we’d accelerate our plan and drive to Lake Mono (the former plan was to camp near Yosemite on Thursday/Friday, then move to Lake Mono (technically Lake June) on Saturday and hang out around there until Sunday). So that’s what we did. We made the two hour, very beautiful, drive to Mono.

And I’m glad that we did! Because honestly, as beautiful and majestic and amazing and unique as Lake Mono is, it was perhaps not a place we’d spend a full day at. Look everybody I know I probably sound like a spoiled little shit! But honestly, it’s a beautiful view, but not a particularly friendly lake. It’s a desert, and a briny lake. And with the brinyness comes the brine flies. Which I don’t honestly mind (it’s sort of fun to chase them around) but it’s just not a place I’d hang out at all day, unless I was SCUBA diving or something like that. It’s not the sort of lake you sit by all day, as far as I can tell.

Lindsay really wanted to see these “Tufa” pillars, at South Tufa Trail. These are pretty cool things, mineral springs make deposits that look like sta-lag-mites and when the lake was drained (I believe by Los Angeles) these things “rose” above the water. Apparently (and I believe it) these are much cooler at the sunset. But oh well.
Tufa

We at ice cream here, around Lake Mono.
Sai likes ice cream

After this, we drove back to camp near Yosemite. We had an AMAZING dinner: cheddar bratwurst, ketchup (which Lindsay optained from a gas station). This is probably the best part of camping for me, eating dinner at a picknick table outside in the fresh air. At dinner we decided that in the morning we would leave Yosemite and take a mini road-trip somewhere.

Somewhere ended up being a semi-brewery tour to Sacramento. We stopped at three places: Lodi Beer Company, Hand Craft Brewing in Elk Grove (which turned out to be a brewing supply store BUT they had some of their own beer on tap), and Track Seven Brewing Company. We each split a beer. Track Seven was pretty awesome.
Track Seven

We didn’t spend a whole lot of time in Sacramento but we did drive around a bit, and most importantly we went to the capitol. We even caught a guided tour, which was awesome.
Waiting for the capitol tour

Then, last night (Saturday) we stopped at a BBQ place in Sacramento (I’m FINALLY able to start actually eating food without it hurting!) and then made our way back home (first stopping at Target to buy 100 pounds of notebooks for Lindsay’s students!).
BBQ

So that’s about it. I think someday we’ll probably go back to Yosemite, when we are in the mood to do some more serious hiking like Half Dome (though I think it’s somewhat interesting to note what even the much talked about Half Dome looks like during the weekend). For now, I think Lindsay and I really realized that we are destination travelers. We like to go to some place, for some specific task. Then once we’ve completed the task, we like to go somewhere else. I think we probably make better South East Asia backpackers, or car road trippers, then Yosemite Valley Vista Viewers.

As is true with a number of the previous posts, I also took a bunch of film photos but I haven’t yet developed any of my film from the past few trips. When everything is developed I’ll probably post some of the photos in a new blog post (assuming there is anything worth sharing. I also have a flickr account with all of my photos, and in particular this bunch of photos is in a set “Yosemite Mono and Sacramento.”

p.s. Lindsay thought I should share something that I learned on the tour of the capitol. I’m not sure what I should share though. One thing that I thought was very interesting was how red (more pink really then red) the Senate Room was. It looked almost comical to me, though I’m sure when it is full of people doing important stuff it might not be so funny. I also found it interesting that during the (I think) 1906 earth quake people gathered outside of — OK, wait a second mid paragraph here I looked back to make sure I was using the correct letter for capitol, and I have a breaking interesting thing to mention. It turns out, for those of you that don’t know, that if I said

We went to the capital

I would be correct, but I could ALSO say

We went to the capitol

and be EQUALLY correct! The ‘a’ version refers to the CITY that is the center of power in a state, the ‘o’ version refers to the actual building (source). Ok.

Sykes hot spring bonus video: purify water

Lindsay says that my previous post about Sykes hot springs makes it sound like we had a terrible time. We had an awesome experience, that was physically painful and exhausting. But I am honestly thrilled that we did it. To show more of our true emotion, here is a short video we took ~5 miles out from the end of the hike (note this is after we were stung by wasps, but before the pain got too hellish in the knee department.

Sykes Hot Spring Hike with Birthday Girl Lindsay

I can barely walk today – today is Monday. Last night we returned home from Sykes hot springs, where Lindsay and I completed (yaaa!!!) a 2 day, 20 mile hike. This is my second (Lindsay’s first) hike-in backpacking trip (the first being much shorter, only a few miles, into Joshua Tree), and for whatever reason we decided that it would be a good idea to start our backpacking experience together with a trail rated “difficult.” See everytrail.com for details if you don’t believe me.

Pano

We started out Friday. Lindsay picked me up from work and we drove straight to Big Sur Station, which is roughly 2.5 hours, perhaps a bit longer (and MUCH longer going the other way with Sunday traffic!). We slept in the Yaris (in retrospect I wish I had gotten a photo of this) which I would call a small car (wikipedia calls it a subcompact). Surprisingly we both slept pretty well in the car. We put the back seat down to make a flat-ish surface, then pushed the front seets forward so we had some room for our feet to dangle. With our camping mats underneath us and our camping packs in the foot wells to give us something to rest our legs on (well, in theory) I would not hesitate to sleep in the car again.

Saturday morning we woke up a little before 8 am, packed up our stuff and headed off. For anybody curious, an approximate list of items we brought include:

  • Two man tent
  • Four liters of water
  • Iodine tablets + “nuetralizers”
  • One sleeping bag (for me) plus one small blanket (for Lindsay)
  • Two backpacking pillows
  • Six packets of instant Oatmeal (which is the only food item we ended up not eating
  • Five dried fruit leather things from Trader Joes
  • Two instant backpacking dinners plus one freeze-dried desert. (Pad See Ew, Chick and Cashew Rice, and Mocha Mousse)
  • One pair of pants (we each brought one), plus two tshirts (one to sleep in), swimming stuff, one backpacker towel
  • Lindsay wore her running shoes, and I wore Keens without socks which turned out to be a bit of a mistake I believe
  • Our packs
  • A camp stove and two cups
  • Starbucks Via coffee
  • My book (A Dance with Dragons) and Lindsay’s book
  • Cards (which we didn’t use)
  • Two Nalgines

So anyway, we headed off with that stuff!

As I mentioned, this trail is marked “difficult” and about a mile in I realized just how true this is. The first ~3 miles is exposed and almost 100% uphill. Sometimes gradually uphill, in the good spots, but other times “this is really terrible” uphill. Not so bad that you had to scramble up or CLIMB up anything, but uphill. It was very beautiful, but honestly those first three miles I think we were really just trying to keep walking.

After the first three miles things got a bit easier. The trail NEVER really is “flat” (the entire time you are winding up/down the side of a mountain – at least I think it’s a mountain. In Michigan it was a lot easier to tell because there were not mountains, so you always knew you were dealing with a hill. In California, it’s a mixed bag. I’m going to call it a mountain.), but you don’t have such a clear feeling of dread when you do have to go up.

Overlooking Valley Thing

At mile five is a campground (whose name I forget) and you have your first real encounter with the river/stream that runs through the canyon/trail. If I were to do this hike again, I might stop here for the night to break up the walk a bit.

Classic Pose

Around this point in the trip (ok, I’m lying – it was actually about 3 miles back) we started to encounter people on the trail walking back from Sykes who had encountered a hornets nest. The first couple we talked with claimed to have been stung something like 10-13 times EACH. Every single group we encountered after that had also been stung, for a total of something like 6 groups of people. The idea of being stung by a bunch of hornets wasn’t particularly exciting and unfortunately added to my general feeling of “man I wish I was done with this hike!” but oh well.

Camp Sign

Around mile 7, which is Barlow Flat Camp, we started to hit a lot more downward sloping trail. This is perhaps one of the first times in my life that I ever have had a serious problem with my body in a mechanical sort of way. Basically my left knee started to hurt. Part of this is likely thanks to the fact that I was wearing Keens without socks and had a bunch of blisters on my right foot and was likely walking funny, but regardless, it started hurting. Honestly, my knee hurting was a major theme of the next two days, but it’s sort of boring so I won’t dwell on it.

OK, so finally we get to Sykes! It’s amazing! Green/blue pools of water in the stream. Etc. It’s wooded. All of the camping is along this river, so no matter where you put down your tent you have the sound of the river at night. And the hot springs are right there also.

River View from Camp

I’d never really seen such a nice hot spring to be honest. There were basically two “tubs”, one you had to climb up to get into, and another that was directly beneath that collected the draining water from the first tub. The top tub was rock, and was deep enough you could easily sit and be covered with water. The water was the PERFECT temperature (well, in reality I would have probably preferred a nice cold pool).

Camp Spot Pano

So Lindsay and I sat in the hot spring tub for a while, then quickly jumped into the river to get rid of the sulfur smell. After that, it was back to camp (400 feet away from the springs, though it felt like a lot more with the pain in my knees/legs). Lindsay took a short nap and I read some of my book. I noticed the sun was just starting to go down, so woke Lindsay up and we made dinner.

Getting Tent Setup

Dinner (which if you read the list of packed items you already know about) was two freeze-dried backpacker dinners. They were not very good, but to be fair I believe I did a poor job mixing up my pad see ew. It wasn’t until after dinner that I realized there was a pocket of untapped flavor (basically ALL the flavor, by the taste of it) powder that I had failed to stir up. This stirred up some emotions in me. Mainly disappointment I’d say, because I was so hungry but dinner was so unfulfilling. On the bright side, the chocolate mousse was pretty good.

Making Dinner for Lindsay

Eating Dinner

Eating Dessert

After cleaning up dinner (take only photographs, leave only footprints) we sadly went to bed. It was around 9pm. I think if we did it again, and if we had a day to recuperate, we would have probably went into the hot springs again at night. Frankly it would have been awesome. The stars were beautiful, I imagine.

I slept pretty well throughout the night. There was one time that I woke up and could smell skunk (note that bears were not an issue at this place apparently, but skunks were) but I just went back to bed. Sai woke Lindsay up a bunch of times (growling at random sounds outside) but overall the night passed without incident.

In the morning (Lindsay’s birthday!) we woke up and I made coffee for us. We skipped breakfast (possibly a dumb idea) and quickly packed up camp. I think by 8:45 we were on the road. And by on the road I mean making our way to the trail head. It took us a good 30 minutes to walk that first half mile on account of having to remove shoes to talk through the river at multiple spots. Etc.

It’s worth noting that at this point my knees BOTH started hurting again. I can’t really describe the feeling of dread I had at this point, knowing that we were JUST starting but had 10 miles to walk, with my knees already killing. But we walked on! Around two miles in we ran into the wasps we had missed the first time around, this time Sai was stung five times, Lindsay twice, and me only a single time (in the leg, to add insult to injury). This wasn’t so bad, other then the momentary fear that Sai was going to run off the mountain as she was panicked and trying to get the hornets off of her.

Miles 3-6 were relatively painless actually. Mile 6-9 were murder again. There was one moment when I remember wondering if I was actually going to make it, literally hobbling along. I walked backwards for a good mile I’d say, any time the trail went steeply downhill, to try and save my knees. It’s worth mentioning that Lindsay helped me not die.

Lindsay Watering Sai at River or Creek or Whatever

When we finally got back to the car, we were both really happy, but also very tired. Sadly, I’d say we were tired enough that we felt more like we wanted to just sit and be quite with the AC on, then celebrating and highfiving. High-fiving. High fiving. Fiving-highly.

Post Hike Not Happy

Then, I ate a chocolate flavored pretzel and had a strange sensation that my throat was being cut to pieces. I have no idea what the hell is going on, but as I type this (two days later) my throat is still killing me. I’m not sure if I have some sort of allergy thing going on, but it hurts.

Now, I’ve done a fair amount of complaining here, but at the end of the day, the take away from this trip has been that 1. I am really happy that Lindsay and I did this together.

We drove home (4 hours in traffic!), went to Round Table Pizza for the first time ever to get some perhaps not super awesome quality but awesome tasting pasta as well as a “cake” aka frozen cool whip – Lindsay didn’t want a store bought cake) and 28 candles for Lindsay to blow out. Due to my throat hurting I wasn’t able to eat much food, but I sang Happy Birthday and Lindsay blew out her candles and all in all it was a successful birthday weekend.

Lindsay's Birthday Cake and Candles

Mini Colombia Backpacking Trip

Bogota Panorama

Lindsay and I went to Colombia in June. There we met Kyle, Sean (Lindsay’s brothers) as well as our dear friend Corie Brown.

I’m a bit late describing this trip, but it was one of the bigger trips of the year (actually, travel wise it is the biggest in the last two years) so I wanted to at least mention it.

I took 5 days of vacation, making a 9 day trip. Lindsay had two full weeks, as did Kyle and Sean.

I was the first to depart to Colombia. Not wanting to waste any vacation (and opting to spend more money to optimize time) I left on Friday and had a red-eye, or Red Eye, or Redeye. Whatever it was, it wasn’t all that great. My flight left around 11pm, which is a bit later then ideal, and arrived in Houston sometime around the middle of the night. This was a medium-ish flight, perhaps 4 hours or so. Then I had a slightly longer flight (but still not long enough to really get much sleep on) to Bogota, Colombia. Overall the travel was without issue.

I arrived in Bogota (btw, sorry, I do realize it’s “Bogotá”) around 5:30 am. It was early and the airport was pretty dead. Going through customs was interesting – I’m actually not totally sure that I actually WENT through customs as the people at the customs station were just sitting around talking to each other. Not the strangest entry into a country I’ve ever had (for instance, entering into Cambodia was pretty different!) but still pretty obvious we weren’t in the US any longer.

Coffee

Corie came to pick me up around 6:15. That was perfect really, because it gave me about an hour to spend taking in the language/people around me – I actually enjoy this, being by myself in a new country, because I think it’s a bit different then when traveling with another person (or even a group of people). I ordered a cappuccino because 1) I wanted one and 2) I wanted to have my first spanish only speaking experience. I ended up with the drink, in the size I wanted, in ~3 times the time it probably would have taken me to order had I been a native speaker. I’d give myself a respectable 8/10.

Now, let’s not rush past this coffee. It was pretty good, but not great. I’d say that was a theme across the entire trip when it comes to coffee, and to be honest, the rest of the food. The normal coffee drink in Colombia (and in particular Bogota, as I understand it) is the “tinto” (sp?). This is essentially what must be a micro-shot of espresso, plus hot water, plus way too much sugar (disclosure: I don’t put sugar in my coffee). Or, if you prefer, a very small americano plus way too much sugar. Espresso drinks seemed to be more of a normal thing in Colombia, either mixed with water or milk. The issue here is that from what I could tell, most milk seemed to be of the shelf-stable variety that comes in bags. The bag itself is no problem (see: Canada) but the shelf-stableness is in the sense that the milk does not taste like “normal” milk.

All of this bitching aside, the reality is that throughout the short trip coffee was probably the most enjoyable food item for me. There was a small coffee shop that Corie took me to near her house that made great coffee drinks that I really enjoyed. And honestly, this was such a relatively short trip that I barely got a chance to acclimate myself to the flavors of the country.

Moving onto the food, I think the general consensus of most of the world, including Colombians, is that Colombia does not have the best cuisine in the world. If you google “food in colombia vs other countries” or just read many travel blogs about the country you’ll see. Obviously taste/flavor is very subjective and I didn’t spend enough time in Colombia to have a really informed option, so take my thoughts with a grain of salt :). The problem is that the food in general is just not very flavorful. Not spicy, not particularly salty, not garlicy, not ______y, etc. Just pretty bland.

See, the lunch looks a bit "bland", doesn't it?
See, here is lunch

The main food items that we tried (and honestly thank you VERY much Corie for showing us everything!) include:
Arepa – think corn tortilla flavor/consistency meets pita bread form-factor
Poker (beer) – a cheap and 100% perfect for me beer that has 1/52 playing cards on each label
Other – we had a bunch of other foods like traditional breakfast(s), lunches, etc

Ok, not exactly an exhaustive list. We also went to an awesome fruit market and bought one of nearly every fruit they had to offer (though we didn’t end up eating all of them!). I think if you are a fruit lover, the fruit selection here is pretty amazing. Even if you aren’t a fruit lover, given time the fruit here would be something you really appreciated. For me, whether or not I loved the food in Colombia, I really appreciated having somebody (Corie) to show us stuff and explain things.

Fruit

So ANYWAY, Corie picked me up from the airport at around 6:15am. We went back to her place, I talked at length about my for-fun morse code project Morsel for way longer then you’d think one would talk about such a thing at 6:15 in the AM, and then the real adventure began!I’ve sort of already spoiled some of the events of this first day by talking about the food, because we did a lot of food related stuff (which was 100% the perfect thing for me) – coffee shop, grocery stores, street vendors, etc.

One thing in particular that we did on that first day when it was just Corie and I is go up a tall building that overlooked the city. I didn’t have a great sense of how large Bogota is, but on top of this tower it became clear that it was not small. Wikipedia says it’s population is somewhere around 7.67 million, which blew my mind because that’s basically the size of the entire city of New York. And by “basically the same” I mean if you round each to the nearest million, they ARE the same! If you follow that train of thought, 8 million – 8 million = nil/NO/0, but then let the math sort of come back in at the back of your mind then the difference of 0 is greater then the population of Oakland (~400,000) by far. Anyway, it’s a big city by numbers.

Later that evening after taking a nap (which happens once every few months), we went to the airport. Kyle and Sean got in first. They brought bright orange rape whistles, and I’m glad they did so that I could write this sentence. It was great to see the guys, even if it made me feel slightly less impressively tall. We went and had a not-particularly-authentic dinner (crepes) and waited for Lindsay. Lindsay’s plane was delayed, a few times, but eventually she got in. We went back to Corie’s apartment, drank a beer, and went to bed.

And then the days went by…

We did a bunch of stuff in Bogota, including visiting the Candelaria “district” to have a great breakfast and watch Corie’s concert, explore various markets and food places, walk around, drink Poker…

Photo Jun 24, 4 01 15 PM

Monserrate…

Monserrate

Etc.

A few days in, we decided that we all wanted to do at least some traveling outside of Bogota. Everybody was very nice and because I was going to be in Colombia for the shortest length of time my desires weighed in a bit heavier. The thing that I wanted to do, more then anything really, was swim. And because Bogota is even chillier then the California Bay Area (low to mid 60s I’d guess?), that meant leaving the city and heading to the coast. So that’s what we did!

We took a short, hour-ish long flight to Cartagena. Now, this could easily be it’s own blog post (and in general I’d prefer that it was! But I’m trying to recap this entire trip in one blog post) but oh well. Cartegena is on the northish coast of Colombia and is a relatively large, seemingly industrial city. Cities being larger is a theme I experienced several times, but I suppose when I heard that we were going to a coastal town where you could go to the beach I was picturing something smaller. Size was not a problem however, because we didn’t stay in the city proper for long. Our goal was to head to this small area on an Island called Playa Blanca.

Getting to Playa Blanca was relatively straight forward, but perhaps a bit frustrating. In my experience traveling, generally the thing to do is go with the flow, being as clear as possible with your intentions, and be sure that all parties involved have as concrete an understanding of the agreement/costs/etc as possible. Then, expect that you will more then likely be screwed a bit, and write that off as a cost of traveling in a more developing country. Well, even with this in mind things didn’t go too smoothly. We read (<3 wikitravel) that if you weren’t very careful the boats that went from the mainland to the island would stop at various places where you had the option of sitting on a hot crowded beach for 2 hours or paying the equivalent of $25 to do one of various activities. In the end, even after directly asking various questions (even in Spanish) to insure we were getting a DIRECT boat to the island, all of the talk and discussion and arguing did nothing and we still got the extended tour. I’d consider this to be an annoyance, because generally when I’ve been places you start of expecting to get screwed, but again if you put in the time and effort to make it clear what you expect and what you expect to pay for, then you will be rewarded by more or less getting what you agree to. This was not the case in this situation.

waiting

But oh well! The slight hickup in logistics aside, the trip was honestly awesome. I’d also say that in a way it was humbling. I felt (and feel!) like a bad ass sometimes because of Lindz and my 6ish (Nick) month backpacking trip throughout SE Asia. We went to lots of places and generally weren’t able to talk with most people on account of not speaking Khmer or Thai or Vietnamese or … But the reality is that the travel was pretty easy. We stayed on one tropical island for a while (a week or two maybe?) in a little hut on the beach, but the little hut had a shower (cold water only, and directly above the toilette) and even an electric fan that we turned on while we slept. This island in Colombia had no such luxury. Electricity was via generator only, and only when it was totally dark. The re was NO running water, potable or otherwise, so the only chance you had to was yourself off after a day in the sun and sand and salt water was literally a small pitcher of water between the hours of 5 and 7.

But look!

Playa Blanca

That is the beach. And about 50 feet from that is the little bungalow that we all slept in:

Photo Jun 26, 12 03 45 PM

At night empty water jugs with candles in them were put out when it started to get dark. I managed to read an entire book from Song of Ice and Fire (the fourth – A Feast for Crows) on this trip.

Reading by candle light

This type of experience was exactly what I had been looking for. Though it would have been great if the masquitto nets didn’t have holes in them, or if we had a fan of some sort. I woke up most mornings (and throughout the night!) sweating and covered in bights. But when the sun came up, I jumped straight into the amazingly warm and beautiful water and snorkeled around, and when not snorkeling I read.

Every night we ate some sort of fish that was deep fried whole, plus rice with cocoa (awesome) and fried plantains. And by “every night” I mean the two nights we spent on the Island.

Corie eating

Lindsay ended up getting a pretty bad sunburn (note to Lindsay: please wear sunblock) but other then that, we made it back to the mainland a bit tanner and swimmed out, which was exactly perfect.

Island

Our last night in Cartagena we found a pretty nice hostel/hotel/guesthouse that had air conditioning which was pretty spectacular. I read for most of the night which was amazing, and Kyle, Sean, Corie, and Lindsay went out to dance Salsa and generally be a bit more exciting :).

Next morning we caught a flight back to Bogota.

We met a few great people back in Bogota, some of Corie’s friends, co-workers, etc. One in particular, Santiago, took us to his families “finca” (something like a weekend home outside of the city) which was sort of like something out of a movie.

Lindsay in the Finca

Lindsay and Corie went swimming in a river, which I liked to imagine had piranhas in it. I have to give them credit for toughing it out. Despite loving the water, I opted to skip rocks with Kyle, Sean, and Santiago instead of swimming.

Swimming in Colombia River

The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful, we traveled around a bit more of Bogota,I drank more coffee. Eventually I went home. Everybody else stayed and did what sounds like some amazing things. Playing a game in which you throw rocks at small bits of dynamite while drinking beer (very sad I missed that one). Hiking to a waterfall. Seeing more of the areas outside of the city.

So, that’s about it. My overall impressions are this:

1) Kyle, Sean, Corie, and Lindsay are great people to spend time with
2) Colombia is a diverse country, safer and more developed then I had expected (at least in the larger cities)
3) The Colombian food is not something to travel to Colombia specifically for
4) Travel in South America, or at least Colombia, seems a bit tougher then SE Asia
5) People are very nice in Colombia
6) I really liked the 4th Song of Ice and Fire book
7) Colombia isn’t quite as cheap as I’d have thought it might be

Well, that’s about it re: colombia. I’m sure that I’m missing lots of detail, but this is at least a pretty good overview.