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Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Road Less Travelled

Some how I found myself in Lomas, a small fishing village on the west coast of Peru. The streets are bare and smell of fish. The side alleys are littered with skeletons of boats, indicating a longstanding yet descending industry. I went down to the ocean to take a few deep breaths of fresh air. This proved difficult due to the large fish processing plant fifty meters away. I was however able to photograph the water fowl, including large pelicans drawn here by the odor and the opportunity to clean the shoreline of rotten carcasses.
So why am I here? I am here on a hunch, a little idea that was given to me by someone that I met in a hostel in Arequipa, a hunch that I might find something incredible. This idea came from a Portuguese photographer who told me about his mission to photograph as much as he could of Peru (taking almost a year and a half). He told me about a little village where he spent time with the locals and did incredible things, including fishing and hunting for fossils. I immediately changed my plans and decided it was time to escape the grasps of Lonely Planet and take a road less traveled in the hope that it would make all the difference. Help me find what I was looking for (I didn’t really know). It was really an epiphany. WTF am I doing heading to a beach town when I could take a risk and maybe have an experience like this guy!

After making this decision, I made my way to the bus station to check departure times to Lomas (or rather Sacaco the town near Lomas on the PanAm). I walked through the terminal asking every bus company about buses Sacaco. No-one had heard of it let alone had buses going there. I went to the info desk and asked to see a map. She showed me a fairly extensive road map and to my dismay Sacaco was not on it. She had however randomly heard of Lomas and told me what bus to catch and when to get off. Great im sorted.
After two bus cancellations, a bit of waiting, someone asking me if I wanted to make the eight hour trip in aisle and a bit of research, I found a bus that was heading in the right direction. After a lot of pleading, I convinced the bus driver to make the unscheduled stop. I was promptly dumped on the side on the road and told ¨Ten cuidado con tus coasa¨ or ¨Be careful with your things¨ It was 430 am and I was at a crossroads in the middle of the desert. I sat there for a few minutes thinking about what I was going to do here. Do I start walking? I have no idea how far it is down that road. I decided I would do what every respectful person would...start knocking on doors. There was only two or three (explaining why Sacaco was no on the map) but I had luck at the first door. The was guy home and was actually willing to drive me for a fee.
With the stearing wheel embedded in his stomach, we screamed toward Lomas. Im not too sure how he was able to see the large potholes in the road as one of his headlights was fixed 45 degrees to the right of the car ( I think it was the left one) and the other was stargazing. He seemed to know when they were coming. Long before I could see anything, I would hear the rubbing sound of wheel on belly as he began to take evasive action. We arrived in town and he took me to one of the two places with rooms. Upon knocking for about 15 minutes, (I wasn’t to sure why we weren’t giving up, perhaps he knew something I didn’t, or perhaps for lack of alternatives) and yelling Paisa! Which is slang for countryman, one of the drunkest men I have ever seen opened the door. We bartered on the price a bit and he showed me to my room, which was for all intents and purposes, under construction.

I awoke very early to the sound of Spanish music blaring from a stereo (I assume the caretaker was trying to wake himself up, perhaps not remembering anyone was there??). I wasn’t sure if the guy was going to remember me let alone remember our decided price on the room. In any event, I walked out the door and was ignored (fine by me).

After walking around for the better part of the day, and asking people about “the guy who goes into the desert and looks for fossils” (My Portuguese friend didn’t remember his name), I found Pizza. He was very excited about the premises of taking me. We decided to head out the next day into the desert to see what we could find. We left early in the morning, caught a car out to the cross roads of the Pan Am and from there headed out into the desert. After a few hours of walking, we started to arrive in a strange terrain. It was blowing like a MF and my skin was burning from the sand. As we walked he explained to me that this whole area was once under water. The whole desert was once a see bed and now the wind excavates fossils every day. He showed me all types of animals that he had found but left in their places. Among some of the most interesting were the Dolphins and whales. Whales! Full skeletons. Massive. In the middle of the desert. As we walked all around us there were beds of fossilized plants and shells. We even found sharks teeth, fossilized, just lying in the desert.

The next few days I spent walking around by myself, along the beach, and into the desert. On the first day, I was snapping shots in the dunes not to far from the town and I came across some bones. They looked fairly large. I wasn’t sure what they were but they sure looked human to me. I kept looking. I wasn’t long before a found myself in the middle of a half-unearthed graveyard, with white bones glistening in the desert sun. Some of them still wearing clothes and some of their skin, others had nothing but gold plates in their skulls (evidently put there by some sort of surgery). Upon returning to the village, I inquired about this eerie place. I was told that it was a cemetery from the time of the Incas, unearthed by the wind and erosion.

Two days ago, I was hanging around on the docks, talking to the fishermen and I was offered a unique experience: to go out with them as they hunted Pota. I wasn’t exactly sure what Pota was but it sounded interesting. They told me that we would be back the next morning around nine. I agreed and ran back to my room to get my things together. The boat left at 3 in the afternoon. At about dusk we arrived at the fishing grounds. The fishermen began to prepare their gear, which essentially consisted of a rather thick line with a device that looks like an elongated egg that glows, attached to a menacing barbed hook. They threw them overboard and began to feel the lines for bites. The first one bit fairly violently. The fisherman fought with it for some time pulling it in bit by bit. As it arrived at the side of the boat, a huge column of water was shot about 10 feet in the air. I looked overboard and saw the Pota. Giant squid. This one was about 2 meters long and very angry. It made sounds like a broken brass instrument as it was pulled into the boat. This process went on all night. Every time one came to the surface it flushed its internal canal of all of its water to try to deter its captor. They worked for about 12 hours non-stop until the hold was almost full, and the sun had risen. When dawn was upon us, the captain of the boat (it was only about 25 feet long). Sat down next to me and said. “Mi amigo Andrés, eso es nuestra vida… es un poco triste” or “Andrew my friend this our life… its a little sad”. They do this every day. Leave at three in the afternoon and return at nine in the morning and repeat.

I left Lomas with a really good feeling about the people and the place. An undiscovered treasure of Peru.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Air Up There.

I would like to extend my solemnest regrets that this blog has laid dormant for so long. Sorry to my avid reader (Hi mom).

The truth is that I have been really busy. This compounded with the fact that I felt like a latency period for reflection was in order.

I will start from the beginning. It was a few days after my last entry that I attempted to tackle the hardest physical challenge I have ever faced. The stage was perfectly set: The closest point to the sun on earth on the day when the sun was the closest to the earth. Mount Chimborazo´s Summit.

In the afternoon of the 20th of March, Brenden and I made the journey to the first refuge of Chimborazo, at 4800 meters. Since the morning, Brenden had been feeling rotten. He vomited multiple times throughout the day and his face had a color that I had never seen before in a human being. I was very preoccupied.

We were to begin our clime at approximately midnight. As I lie in my bed, watching my breath dissipate into the air above me, my stomach starts to churn. At first, I embrace the feeling because I assume that it is the altitude and this means that if Brenden is experiencing it as well, and not vomiting, he has surely overcome his grippe. As the departure time approaches, my ache gets worse and worse. At 11:35 pm, I can no longer maintain my illusion. I make my way outside into the dark moonscape that encompasses the refuge and vomit for about five minutes until my stomach is in a retched knot. 12:00 am. I have decide that despite my illness, there is no F´n way I am going to loose my payment with out a solid shot. As we start to walk, I begin to question myself. I am essentially bent double at this point and fighting back nausea.

Despite this, I just concentrate on following the footsteps in front of me. The rocks turn to snow and the snow to ice.

A strange thing happens to the human body when you remove it from the climactic equilibrium to which it is so accustomed. Altitude. Your hands and feet swell and tingle. Your respiration increases to a constant pant at rest. You body revolts. The mind functions at about 50% capacity. Some people say that it is like being drunk, but I have never felt so helpless in my life. The dizziness incapacitates. The delirium tries to steal what sense of reality you have left. The lack of coherent though makes you take risks that you otherwise never would. All of the comforts that are afforded by you natural internal balance of chemicals and metabolic processes are stripped of you when you need them the most.

We press on.

The darkness cloaks and laps at us when we are not looking. I move my head lamp every once and a while to try to fight it off. To my right and left are drop offs. The light provides just and five meter taste of the 200 more that lie beneath.

Every sound cuts through the air. We can hear the mountain taunt us with avalanches off in the distance. The thin air allows them to travel to our ears, un-muffled, uncensored from the placed of origin.

5500 meters - Each step burns. I struggle to lift one leg after another, supporting myself with my ice axe. My breathing intensifies to the point where during my brakes I cannot catch my breath. My eyes roll back in my head and I just lie there.

5600 meters -. I am essentially crawling; my arms don’t leave the ground for a second. I dare not or I will topple down.

5700 meters - I sit down to take a rest, and by an account from our guide pass out and go into a dreamy, euphoric state.

I have a moment of clarity in which I decide that I can go no further.

I rest for a few minutes and try to let it all sink in. We begin our decent. This is not as easy as I had hoped; in fact it is in some ways harder than the incline and takes much more concentration.

On the way down, Brenden´s crampons lock together and he falls onto a sharp rock. He is in a similar state to my own and does not realize the injury that he has suffered. Upon returning to the refuge, he pulls up his pant leg to reveal a cut on his shin about two inches wide to the bone. Hospital here we come.

I walk away from this experience with a valuable lesson. I can confidently say that Mount Chimborazo afforded me two of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Make it as far as I did and accept defeat.

Monday, March 19, 2007

OA journal entry # 2

Hi everyone. Sorry for the delay but due to lightning and rain, the power was out at Casa Condor. Without further delay, Journal # 2.

The Equipment Arrives!

It was not an easy process by any stretch. The paper work could fill a small office. I can honestly say that this was the hardest bureaucratic process I have ever faced. After a painstaking journey, the soccer equipment has finally made it to Ecuador and Casa Condor.

We were awoken at about 3:30 am by Gavin and Roberto as they pounded on the door of C.C. their first words... "everyone up, weve got some work to do". After the 8 hour journey from Guayaquil, the truck driver decided that he was very uncomfortable about tackling the driveway to C.C.

This meant a bit of a hike to complete the journey. The truck´s lights met us as we rounded the last turn in the 150 meter driveway of C. C. In order to get our equipment to its next temporary resting place, we had to carry each individual box, one by one.

We completed this process at about 6 am. But its all here!

Another milestone worthy of mention. We had our first game on an OA field. We could not resist the opportunity to play a game before laying the field to rest for two weeks to allow the seed to grow on the field at Santa Isabelle.

We stepped over the threshold with a great feeling of satisfaction. With two teams kitted and ready to go, it was Canada vs. Ecuador. Unfortunately the celebration had actually commenced the night before for the OA boys so we were all a little hurting. Despite our headaches, the game went well thanks to a few Ecuadorian ringers and the MVP: Brenden Smith, who was playing his second soccer game ever. The final score was seven to one for team OA and Im happy to say that I scored my first international goal. I was also unfairly reprimanded for a late tackle giving me my first yellow card.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Work Continues

Last Sunday, as no-one in Ecuador works on the day of rest, we had the chance to take the day off and indulge in one of the local attractions, the Devil´s Nose train ride. This is a 6 hour trip that boasts some the most spectacular views in Ecuador. It descends the Andean mountain sides by completing multiple switchbacks. The appeal for us was the ability to sit on the top of the train as it raced through the countryside. Spectacular

Work at Santa Isabelle is moving at an encouraging rate. The fencing is complete and they are starting to till the field. We are now in the process of building two fields, the second located at a community called Guabug. The reception at Guabug has been very warm and the people are working incredibly hard (especially considering that a strong work ethic is not something that Ecuador is famous for). We hope to have the fields done by the 20th. So at the moment it is all about working our butts off pouring concrete, separating soil and stone and shovelling, shovelling, shovelling. At the end of the day it is back to Casa Condor where we work on the media front. The hard work is pure and liberating. I am quickly learning to deal with the the bureaucrats in a passive manner and focus on the result: a couple of fields done and ready to use. Although most of our association has been with the adults, it is still about the children. A simple plan. And as soon as the first kid steps on the field to play, I call it a success.

Worthy of note: I believe we have set a Gringo record for most days in a row with Guinea Pig consumed. I am in the process of contacting the Guinness Book...

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Construction Begins

A short while ago, we set up a meeting with the presidents of the communities which we thought had the most potential for the construction of a soccer field. The meeting was set for nine am at Casa Condor. At 945 none of the leaders had arrived.

This was to be expected. Here is an insight into Ecuador's tardiness problem.

Arriving late is so prevalent in Ecuador that, in 2003, the community group Participacion Ciudadana embarked on a national tardiness campaign to stop tardiness. The group called on Ecuadorians to come together at noon on october 1 and do the unthinkable: synchronize their watches.

An estimated 57% of public events start late. Jefferson Perez, the countries only Olympic medalist, was enlisted to kick off the campaign. Perez did participate but arrived late.

Why all the fuss? Because according to Participacion Ciudadana, tardiness costs Ecuador some $724 million a year - no small change in a country with a GDP of 49.5 billion.

Our meeting kicked off at about 10 O’clock and went very smoothly.

Two days ago, we visited a community in which we could potentially build a field. As part of their welcoming meal, they served cheese that was made in the community. We were shown the area where the cheese was made. Milk is put into a part of the cow called the guajo (as best I can tell this is the rumen) and allowed to ferment. The product is some of the rawest, saltiest cheese you can imagine.

It has been a very difficult few days. The decision of where to build our field has not been an easy one.

There is a paradoxical issue here. The community that is most in need of a field is destined to fail in its acquisition. The problem is that once you dip below a line of poverty, a community is unable to help themselves, let alone us. Unfortunately, we need a great deal of help in order to make this project a reality. One of the main necessities is equipment such as a tractor to help us till the field. This was not obtainable in some of the communities that we encountered. One of these communities was Calchi. Another problem with Calchi, was that they did not satisfy the enthusiasm criteria. They did not seem to appreciate what we were offering them. The elders did not think that they could get the people of the village together to work with us in the construction process. This alone might cause one to pass over a community in the selection process. The trouble we had with Calchi was that the kids were ecstatic, but the elders were not. The entire time we were in Calchi, we were surrounded by some of the dirtiest and happiest children I have seem in my time in Ecuador. It broke my heart.

Not too long after our visit to Calchi, I wondered if it was us who didn't appreciate what was happening there. Perhaps they were in need of so many things that they could not comprehend the meaning of a soccer field. I find this slightly hard to believe. I think that a place for their youth to grow and develop is something that every community should have.

We have chosen a place to build our first field. It is Santa Isabel. This is a
more inspiring story. We have visited their community multiple times. The children are beautiful and the elders enthusiastic. We told them that we were interested in helping them build a field. The next morning we arrived piled in the back of a truck as usual. The sight that met us, as we pulled onto the dirt area that is to be our field, was a powerful one. All the women of the community were walking down the mountain side towards us. On their backs they carried bags of gravel to be used to make concrete.

They have formed a “Minga”, which is a Quechua word that means to work together for the greater good of the community. Every day there is 50 people helping make concrete, digging up the soil to lengthen the field or making lunch for everyone.

We have almost completing sinking the poles for the 2 meter high fence that will surround the field. After that we start the seeding.

Most of you have probably seen it but we have posted a Youtube video on our webpage. Im working on the technology of embedding but for now…

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A visit to the villages around Chimborazo

We spent today driving around with Antonio. As the guys (Pike, Dunc and Sergio) have arrived a few of us had to ride in the back of the truck. This number increased and decreased as we picked up and dropped off locals in the different villages that we visited. As we went from town to town we were routinely offered to join in on lunch. At around 1:00 we were getting quite hungry so we decided to take the president of a community up on his offer. We all piled out of the truck and were led into a dark room. We were met by the elders of the village who had just sat down to eat. More chairs were brought in and we were seated. The meal started with the standard “Caldo” (broth usually with chicken). As the main course came, we all looked at each other hoping for a clue about what we were looking at. Roberto politely asked what we had been served. I heard the word, ”Cuy” and immediately recognized it. Named for the sound it makes when it is skewered. Guinea pig! It was actually quite tasty; kind of like chicken only a little more chewy (and of course much smaller).

We saw at least ten different fields that we could potentially repair or rebuild. All of them need a lot of work. Now we have to work out what is possible with the finances and time we have.

We arrived home after a ten hour day, tired dirty and full from our 3 lunches.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Guayaquil and Carnival

We spent our second and third night in Casa Condor trying to adjust to the new living conditions and the altitude (made some cool discoveries: 1) you can put your hand in boiling water and it doesn’t burn 2) you can essentially whisper and people can hear you up to 30 feet away). Each day we made the 45 min trip to the closest public phone in Riobamba. On the second of these trips we made contact with Jorge Gil, our customs broker in Guayaquil. He informed us that we would in fact receive authorization to ship, but not until 12:00 noon on the day of departure. Because it was Friday afternoon, we had no way of determining whether or not our shipment would leave before or after noon. We decided that we needed to make the trek to Guayaquil, the location of the customs office, in case the shipment was going to depart before noon and we had to do damage control. We arrived in the evening on Sunday. After a search of about 10 local hotels, many of which could be rented by the hour and had broken mirrors behind the beds with TVs tuned to pornography channels, we found a decent hotel for a bout five bucks a night. In the morning, we discerned that the shipment would leave at 6:00 pm that day and we were in the clear to receive our authorization to ship.

Since we had some time to kill before the project started, we decided to head to a beach town about 6 hours away called Montenita. It was at this point that things took a turn for the worse. We were walking through one of the shady parts of town (funnily enough the street that our hotel was on), and Gavin fell a little behind. As he was walking, he was approached by an elderly gentleman who pointed out that his bag was covered in what looked like a brown sludge or caramel. The man kindly offered him some napkins to clean himself off. As Gav was doing this, the man said that he was going to go and get him something more to clean off with. The next thing he knew, the man was gone and so was his day pack containing his passport, digital camera and many more personal effects. This set-back required a few more days in Guayaquil. The experience of trying to replace his passport gave us valuable insights into why things move so slowly in Ecuador. The main police station in Guayaquil still uses predominantly non-electrical type writers. The men using them have gnarled hands from years of hammering the keys to get them to make a legible mark. The Canadian embassy is open from 9:30 to 12:45. In the notary office we were confronted by people vying for position to beg the lawyer to sign their document.

In the end it was all sorted out and we caught a bus back to Riobamba. Half-way there, the bus was confronted with a large line of vehicles at a stand still. We were told that there was construction going on and the road would be closed of at least and hour and a half (this meant at least two and a half). About 2 hours into our wait, Gavin and I decided to go and try and find one of the vendors we had seen selling fried potatoes and plantains. As we got about 100 yards away from the bus we heard the roar of engines starting up. "Oh fuck, their leaving!" We start to run u the steep hill to try to catch our bus. As we get closer, we see that the bus is long gone. A truck driver who realizes what has happened yells something to us and gestures for us to climb on the running board. We jump on and he hits the accelerator in an attempt to catch our run-away transportation. Dust blinds us and chokes us as the trucks passes vehicles in an attempt to catch the bus. Luckily for us Roberto, after an extensive argument, has convinced the driver to stop despite his claims that he is already to far behind schedule. We caught up with the bus about 500 yards down the road and continued our journey to Riobamba.

The day after we arrived, Carnival began in all of Ecuador. This is essentially a national water fight. Anyone is fair game and there is no mercy. Unfortunately it doesn't stop with water; every second person has a can of spray foam, eggs, or flower. If you find yourself anywhere in Ecuador during this event you have about a 100% chance of getting hit at least once. People throw water balloons from second story buildings. Others hide in stores with buckets of water waiting for you to pass by. Others still sit in the beds of trucks and roam the streets looking for victims. Once, I saw a bus driver stop at a light and run out of his bus with a bucket of water to hit an unsuspecting woman crossing the street. Carnival in San Pablo begins with a traditional dance competition between all of the local communities. Roberto was selected as one of the judges for this very important event. The prize: a fat, healthy sheep. The people would do anything to try to attain this prestigious award, including offer Roberto a live chicken as an incentive.

The alcohol ran freely. At one point I was approached by a woman with a large plastic container who was serving a liquid out of coconut shells. I take my turn. It burns my throat but is very sweet. "Que es esto?" I ask. "Chicha" She replies with a toothless grin. I am truly glad I asked after taking my turn. Chicha is a drink made by the elderly women in the community by chewing the Yuca root and spitting the sugary saliva into a bucket. The liquid is then left outside to ferment, producing alcohol.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Arrival at Chimborazo

I awake suddenly as my face hits the seat in front of me. “Where the f$%& am I?” I try to collect myself. “Aqui! Necesitan Salir!” the conductor yells. I come to my senses. We have arrived in San Pablo, our destination. I jump up and make my way as quickly as possible, through the narrow isle filled with people, to the front of the bus. I jump off and find Roberto, Brenden and Gavin outside. The conductor runs to the back of the bus, opens the cargo hold and starts throwing our stuff onto the road. In my half daze, I am so consumed with anger about the treatment of my bag that I don´t stop to look around. The bus begins to move and the bus driver runs to try and catch it. I catch my breath and look around. We are in the middle of absolute nowhere...

After boarding the bus to Ipiales, the boarder town on the Colombian side of the fronteer between Colombia and Ecuador, things went pretty smoothly. The road was incredibly windy and sleep was impossible. Every time I dozed off, I was slammed one way or another into an armrest or my fat sweaty companion in the seat next to me. There was only one military search and they were quite nice. They kindly reminded Brenden that if we were stopped again, the next soldiers might not take too kindly to his army print hat.

We arrived in Otavalo about 24 hours after leaving Bogota. The city is incredibly colourful with an enormous market. We spent the next day exploring before making our way to Quito. From Quito, it was of to Chimborazo, our final destination (for the time being). We were told that the best place to get off the bus was San Pablo. The conductor told us that he would help tell us where to get off.

So here we are. On the side of the road in rural Ecuador with only our bags and dumb looks on our faces. No town in sight. Nothing. We decide that the best thing to do is walk up to a farm house and ask directions. We make our way to the closest one. As we approach it, we realize that it is actually a little hostel-hotel. We ask the man in the reception area for our location. It turns out we are no where near San Pablo. He tells us that we are about 15 kilometers outside of a major city in Chimborazo, Riobamba. We re-fuel on some rice and chicken (the appetizer was soup with a bowl of popcorn that you are supposed to put in the idea). After that we take our only option. Hitch it into Riobamba. We end up catching a small bus filled with indigenous people and their crops.

Once in Riobamba, we make some calls to try to find our contact. Our luck changes and we discover that he is in Riobamba, although no-one knows exactly where. We are assured that if we wait on this certain street corner that he will come and meet us. 1 hour later and after a torrential down-pour, we finally meet Antonio Inga. He is much younger than we expected. His spanish is very easy to understand as he speaks slowly and with confidence. We load all of our things into the back of a truck and head for the pace where we will spend the next month or so.

We drive for about 45 minutes, until we are in back in the rolling Andean mountains. We climb higher and higher. At this point it becomes apparent that the area to which we are heading has lost power. We have no idea where we are and can´t see anything. Antonio turns down a dirt road with a sign welcoming us to Casa Condor. Antonio starts honking to inform the care-takers that we have arrived. The headlights catch something off to the right. Antonio turns the truck to shed some light on what ever it is that we have seen. Directly in our headlights is a small Quichua woman fighting to gain control of a lamb that has apparently broken its pen. She is completing this effort in abject darkness but seems to be faring quite well. She finishes what see is doing and leads us to our room. She lights candles in every room and starts to boil some water. She gives us some tea bags to add to our cups. In the candle light, I see that the bag says Coca Mate. “Huh, my first taste of Coca tea.” It really wasn't that bad ... after two spoon fulls of sugar. This tea was intended to help us deal with altitude sickness. We find ourselves quite short of breath. Not too surprising as we have now ascended to 3840 meters above sea level.

We unpack our bags and get ready for sleep.

There is something so satisfying about having such a hard yet successful day and being able to definitively end it by blowing out the last candle.

This morning we awoke to the picture of Chimborazo in all its majesty right on our door step. We are now staying just at the foot of the mountain that can bring you the closest to the sun on earth! Unbelievable.

This morning Antonio took us to the school and introduced us to all of the grades. They were all so excited when they heard that we were going to provide them with soccer equipment.

Monday, February 5, 2007

After a few days of exploring Bogota, we decided to head out of the city to Roberto’s family farm, two hours north of Bogota. The drive was quite and experience. Roberto was very uneasy about driving at night so we left as early as possible. Unfortunately, due to the traffic, we found ourselves on winding mountain roads as the light started to fade. The roads were congested with buses and large trucks puking up clouds of smoke as they attempted to accelerate up the large inclines. The only way to pass these beasts was to take the risk of passing on a tight turn, usually carved out of the mountainside. At times, the cars and trucks attempted to pass in drones, with the last few subject to little or no sight of the road and a likely possibility of encountering large fast moving opposition. The road through the local town, Ubaté, town was a bit flatter. By this time, an oily dark had fallen and visibility was almost zero. This was compounded by a fog the left the road itself a figment of our imagination. Most of the time, the only way we knew that the road was beneath us was because the pot holes could not be so big in the Fields that skirted the area. At this point, rain drops the size of grapes began to fall, further impeding our progress. All the time, bicyclers came out of nowhere silhouetted in our headlights.

We arrived at the farm, safe and sound. The house itself is an old converted Spanish fort that sits on the edge of a mountainside overlooking the fields below. The interior is quite spectacular, with tile floors and plaster walls. The rooms desired to be a little bit cozier are layered with thick rugs, or straw mats. We spent the days exploring the country side as well as Ubaté. One of the highlights was seeing the 1000 kilo bull that they imported from Canada for breading. In the evenings, we chilled and read at the hearth of a large fire.

Today we are heading to Ecuador! The bus to the boarder alone will take about 22 hours. Although we are making our way through some territory that is controlled by the FARC (Colombian guerillas), we have been assured that the bus line that we have chosen has paid their “Vaccines” to assure safe passage.

Monday, January 29, 2007

I Iarrived in Bogotá on the twenty fifth of January. The arrival in itself was a bit of a culture shock. As I walked out of the gates, all I could see was a sea of people waiting for various flights and loved ones to arrive. Luckily, Roberto’s father was there to meet us, on time, which is a bit of a rarity in this country. The drive from the airport sustained my initial shock. Roberto’s dad adhered to the safety measures of Colombian night driving by running red lights to avoid car jackings.

Although there is a lot of crime, the Colombians know how to deal with it. There is security everywhere. In order to enter a building, you must be buzzed in by the guard, and usually interrogated and searched. Such is the case in most public places as well.

Another problem in Bogotá is the traffic. They deal with this with equal vigor by prohibiting people from driving in rush hour on certain days (depending on your license plate number).

Despite everything, it is still said that the most dangerous job in Bogotá is the man who manually sets the pins at one of the local bowling alleys… where nothing is automated.

We have spent the last few days doing as much as we can to experience all that Bogotá has to offer. We spent the second night at an authentic Colombian fiesta, situated at a large hacienda in the north of Bogotá. The hacienda was enormous with a central courtyard with a bull ring. We drank and ate the night away, sampling some traditional Colombian dishes without charge.

Las night, we went to the bullfights. This was part of our trip that was organized by Roberto’s father, George. I have been to bullfights before, and thought I knew what to expect… and how wrong I was. We were told to meet them at 2:15 on a certain street corner and they were going to pick us up. They showed up about 30mins later (in Colombian style). It was quite a sight. I will try to describe it to you. It was basically a huge tour bus only recognizable as our ride because George was hanging out the front door as it screamed towards us in downtown traffic. As we boarded the bus, the sight was equally stunning. Everyone was wearing white cotton shirts with red kerchiefs around their necks. Everyone was drinking out of these leather water satchels, called botas, but filled with wine and whiskey. Spanish music was blaring over the speakers and of course the bus was going way to fast and no-one was sitting down.

Tomorrow we are going to explore the local museums and celebrate George’s birthday. The next day we hope to head out to the family’s three hundred acre dairy farm for some horse-back riding and exploring of the mountains and caves nearby.
I hope that all is well in Victoria. Que estes bien,