Bus from Bucaramanga to San Gil

Posted on by Brandon Green in Best Of, Bucaramanga, Colombia, Long, Slider, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2012-02-25 16.54.04In typical Colombian bus ride fashion, the bus that we were assured three times had air conditioning does, but it never turns on. The bus, which left twenty minutes late, has inexplicably stopped fifteen minutes into the trip at a rest stop / market for an indeterminate amount of time. Also there is vallenato blaring over the radio.

I investigate what the story is with the stop. It turns out that this is actually a three hour bus ride, not a two hour bus ride as they told us at the terminal. Furthermore they openly admit that the whole air conditioning thing was a lie. When I ask about the whole extra hour they added to the trip, they tell me it is two hours, but two long hours. I ask how an hour could last longer than 60 minutes, and they say ok it’s three hours. One of the vendors who comes onto the bus laughs that the bus company doesn’t count the time from the bus terminal to this random rest stop.

Phew, just dodged a bullet when a particularly corpulent passenger who would never have fit into one seat passed me up as a neighbor.

Anyway, it’s the only way to San Gil.

Update: bought some wayfarer knockoffs for $6 from a vendor who came to my window at a random stop. Was briefly negotiating down from $12, but somehow the price went down quite a bit as the bus started moving.

These replace the turquoise stunners I gifted to the pool under a waterslide at chica mocha.

Looks like the ride’s finally started in earnest now, only 80 minutes late. And also in typical Colombian fashion every few minutes we’re bombarded with views of gorgeous green hillsides. The moving landscape is a bit too confusing for my camera, but it’s very pretty.


Photo is out the window of the bus. Because of my camera’s reaction to the speed of nearby objects, the only photos that came out were when we were driving on the wrong side of the road. Fortunately, that happened a lot!

Bus ride from Manizales to Cali, some time in November.

Posted on by Brandon Green in Best Of, Colombia, Long, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Glimpse of town creeping up to top of green mountain. The only flat area in town, built from a shored up hillside, is a baseball field so high it is topped with mist. Players in white uniforms look like field of dreams.

Even at this altitude, the tops of the hills are dense with palm trees wherever there aren’t steep, criss-cross plowed farms. Some are so steep it makes me wonder how they manage to get a plow down row after row and then back up to the top again. Just like in the jungle, in these towns life covers every available surface.

In Bogotá little plants even grow in the crevices of rooftop tiles.

Though most of the buildings only have rusted corrugated metal roofs, they are also painted bright, festive colors – oranges and greens, displaying tropical optimism even though we’re high enough for year-round sweater weather.

As soon as I start thinking the town smells a bit like burnt plastic, I see a few bushes of bright red flowers.

We pass above the city into farms again, and the almost mogul hills are covered in tortuous plowing, pastures carved to give the cows purchase, and trees planted in rows deformed by the contours like balloons.

I try to shoot some photos, but I can see much faster than my camera can, and anyway all the photos show is mist.

They don’t even pick up the distant mountains which, caught by the light so that their contour is accentuated, are the most beautiful part.

We must be past the farm land now, because all the trees are covered in pine needles. Unless those are planted, and the true wild patches are the bushes and ferns. It’s hard to tell.

I turn to see what Lisa’s smiling about and see she’s taking photos of a spectacular mountain, green and nearly unpopulated all the way down into the valley.

Let me reiterate something here: the people live in shacks, the farms are so unlevel that the cows probably only have three hooves at the same height when heading to the slaughterhouse, and this town cleared and shored up enough land to build a baseball field. Which was, of course, perfectly green and crowned with mists.

I see in immediate succession along the side of the road: a dog chained to a tree on a steep slope, a man walking a goat in what I can only describe as a sherpa’s outfit, a woman in sunglasses and what looks like an 80s ski outfit, and another woman and her kids, wearing short sleeves about like a t-shirt.

After stopping for a dinner that I skip, we begin descending, and there are no more towns, just breathtaking views as the mountains give way to valleys, all thick with short lush grass and mostly ridged with trees.

Our view is both obstructed and accented by the clouds getting in the way BELOW US.

“Skeletons” by the yeah yeah yeahs in my ears drowns out hour four of salsa music and I watch a single cow grazing alone with a backdrop of hill after lush green hill fading into the clouds.

The pink hint of sunset we saw over the mountaintops half an hour ago means that it’s getting dark, and soon all I’ll be able to see is the clouds still catching the light.

I’m happy now that we took the earlier, jankier bus, because it meant an extra hour of this stuff.

Just saw what looked to me like a six foot wide cloud in the road. I guess a lot of people would call that fog, but I thought it was cool.

A man walks up the road with a chainsaw over his shoulder. I had gotten so used to machetes.

I’ve been so exposed now that when I give in to the dark and close my eyes I see yet more green hills.

I open my eyes again and we’re high enough so that in the distance, somehow in the clouds the sun is still setting.

Hour 4.5 of salsa music drowns out the drop-beat techno in my headphones.

With poetic timing, I am wondering who the hell wants the music this loud when two drunks get on and sit between me and Lisa, one of whom alternates between sucking on a lollipop and belting out the lyrics seconds before the actual singer. Oh he’s synced up now, I’m glad time is functioning properly.

Lunch 01-25-13

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Sitting here at my last lunch in Buenos Aires this trip. At Lo de Jezus, which I like to translate as From Jesus.

It’s been a great trip, I have to say. In addition to the company, Buenos Aires is a truly rich and impressive city. I’ve already decided to take the same approach to Medellin, that is find a food blog and follow it, although the first one I found includes among its top restaurants “Hooters”. It also has some of the better places I’ve been to in Medellin on there.

This is January, and the hottest month in the city, and it really hasn’t been that bad. One thing I’ve really enjoyed is that since so many Porteños leave for the summer, the city seems much less crowded and even tranquil.

It’s actually pretty nice that I have a day to kill now without a hotel room, I have no excuse to work, and in fact according to a new strategy I’m trying, I’m actually not supposed to do anything today because my productivity was so high for the last two days.

As I’m sitting here eating pâté and waiting for what I expect to be another flat out incredible steak, I’m feeling very good and, if I can say so without being obnoxious, very happy to feel financially rich. Here in BA I happily go to the best restaurants every night, take taxis everywhere, and know that anything I might want to do is well within my means. The steak I’ve just ordered costs about $12 and I expect it to be considerably better than what I could get for $50 in New York.

I’m in a bit of an odd position today because I somehow ended up spending much less than I planned for, and now have stacks of Argentinian bills to spend before I get on the plane tonight. I can save them for my next trip, but based on Argentina’s inflation, they’ll be worth around 20% less when I come back.

Just imagine that – you can’t keep cash or savings in your own currency because they’ll be worth 25% less in a year. How do you keep up with that? You can’t buy dollars or any hard currency because the government controls that sort of thing – if you take a vacation to Miami, they (the government) look at the trip you’ve planned, your finances and all the other information on you they have accumulated, and begrudgingly dole out an allowance from your own accounts of $100 a day, if you’re lucky.

Which explains why there’s such a huge black market for dollars. Right now dollars are in high demand, due to the number of people going on vacation.

My blood sausage has arrived. It is delicious. To me the perfect consistency – crispy on the outside and soft and spreadable in the inside. Wow. I’m going to have to take a break from writing for a minute.

Ok, that’s it, this is the best blood sausage I’ve ever had. Even better than being simply spreadable, it holds its own shape on the outside but crumbles and disintegrates when you bite into it, warm, yielding and flavorful.

So back to the black market – if I go to an ATM right now and withdraw pesos, I get the official rate, which will yield 4.97 pesos to the dollar. This is not a product of markets in free exchange, it is a fiction created by the Argentine government. If I go with my dollars to one of the big pedestrian streets, lined with stores and restaurants and malls and bars and movie theaters and whatever else you might want, there will be many men (and one woman that I’ve seen) leaning against buildings and shouting Cambio! a few times a minute. If I give him my dollars, and he presumably decides to give me real Argentinian bills, I’ll get 7.5 to the dollar. That’s a 50% difference. My $12 steak becomes an $8 steak.

That steak is here, by the way.

The steak is very tasty, though the sauce is completely unnecessary.

Ok that’s done.

So along with the 50% discrepancy between the actual and official exchange rates, there is also a massive difference between actual and official inflation. The official rate is somewhere around 12.5%, whereas the truth is as I said around 25%. And since you can’t legally invest in any instrument to protect the value of the money you have earned, I’m really not clear on what people do – I guess they buy gold. I’d be curious to see the national savings rate here, but I doubt the data would be particularly accurate, given a) the government’s track record for accurately reporting the state of the nation’s economy, and b) people can’t actually legally save money in a way that safeguards its value, so you would have to estimate all the data.

My waitress is gorgeous, which I guess shouldn’t surprise me.

Anyway I just ordered dessert, so I guess I’ll be here a while longer.

Did yoga this morning, which has me feeling a great deal better than usual. I’m going to try to make a habit of it, both because it feels good, and because I have to stretch my hamstrings so that I’ll be better at suspending someone in acro yoga next month at envision.

In the photos you guys have seen, my legs are supposed to be straight, but they’re nowhere close, so the only reason Onamare is staying up is because she’s a professional with incredible balance.

Lunch is just now starting to pick up, at 1:20. One of the waitresses is still wearing what appear to be pajama bottoms.

It’s several hours later now, and I’m a few blocks away, having wandered around shooting graffiti until I found a bookstore and have been sitting reading 100 Years of Solitude (in English).

The Magic of Costa Rica’s Envision Festival Extends Beyond The Venue

Posted on by Brandon Green in Best Of, Costa Rica, Long | Leave a comment

Saturday I woke up around eight o’clock to the blazing sun, and remembered that I was lying in a tent, in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle. I was camped with approximately 2,000 other adventurers, but I had taken the time to carefully select a palm tree for shade off the beaten path.

I got up and stumbled around in my typical mid-morning haze, securing
essentials like drinking water and breakfast. Then I went to wait for
the shuttle back to the parking lot near town, where I could catch a
taxi to the waterfall. Once I got into the back of the converted
chicken-wagon, I asked the one other passenger if she was going to the
waterfall, to which she replied “yes, and I have a car and I can drive
you and it has air conditioning”. She ended up driving me and a few
other people there.

This waterfall, like most water features in Costa Rica, was surrounded
by jungle, but once we were inside, it comprised a multi-level oasis
with around five different levels, each including a placid pool in
which several topless women frolicked. Each pool’s water cascaded, of
course, into the next level.

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