Saturday, November 22, 2014

Arrived in Cali

I already like Cali a lot! Its funny how you can just tell about a place, sometimes even when you are still descending in an aircraft. It was dusk as we landed, so I could just make out the valley of green with low lying mountains surrounding it and lots of twinkling lights in the hills.

I was proud of myself for taking a mini-bus from airport to bus terminal ($5) like the locals and then a taxi from bus terminal to the neighborhood of San Antonio where I'm staying ($5), saving myself $ (the cost of a taxi straight from the airport would have been $25).

I'm staying in an artsy hostel I found on airbnb with my own room for $20/night with its own bathroom within the room, beautiful tile work and stained glass windows. The fan works great and blocks out any noise from the street. I can use the kitchen, laundry and living room. The top of the building has a terrace overlooking the city and the hostel is up on a hilly street, reminding me of San Francisco. I feel safe here immediately, and, even though it was 8pm, I wandered out of the hostel and found a little grocery store and a bakery nearby. There is a laid back vibe with people enjoying themselves here, (as opposed to trying to escape life with alcohol and loud noise as I felt was the case in Cartagena) which I love, people sitting in coffeshop patios, doors open, strings of colorful lights up, and young people walking around.

The weather is also great!!

Final day in Cartagena

My last day in Caragena was a good one. I went on a field trip with some other students from the language school and visited a remote village, salt flats and beaches. I swam in the ocean with a few other students with no one else on the beach, lovely and refreshing. The activity was included in my classes. I feel a little more confident being able to talk to people. It was definitely a good idea to take a week of classes. Rosetta stone is helping too. I also learned of that has free language instruction and that connects you with private language tutors around the world to learn via skype for about $9-11/hour or exchange classes for free.

I'll be in Cali later today and am looking forward to exploring there. I hope it is less humid than Cartagena!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

First day of Spanish Classes in Cartagena

Its been 3.5 years since I studied Spanish in Guatemala. I studied for 6 weeks there and it was just at the very end that I was getting to the point of understanding and being able to have conversations. I had the best of intentions when I left to keep studying, but after about 2 months of keeping up with learning, I stopped. Before going to Guatemala, I'd had about a months worth of beginning classes from studying while in Austin, and that was all.

So here I am in classes again in Cartagena feeling like I'm back at the starting point, but not quite. Slowly, what I learned is coming back, faster than it would if I'd never taken it I suppose.

The school and the teachers are very good. Still, the cost to take Spanish classes here in Colombia is more than double what it is in Guatemala and the classes are group here rather than private too. There are also much fewer options for studying, though I think more language schools will become available as tourists continue to come to the country.

After 4 hours of group Spanish with a really great teacher and two other students who are definitely beyond my level, I kind of felt like a wet rag - so saturated with "palabras" and the heat of the city, that I retired to my room most of the rest of the day to nap and do design work. I also promptly ordered rosetta stone level 1-5 to compel me to keep up with the studying when I return to the states again. I really do love learning another language, and I have no excuses not to keep learning Spanish living in Santa Fe. I think they even offer Spanish classes at the Travel Bug Cafe. 

It does feel really great to be in classes and have some structure and community to the rest of my time in Cartagena, which is 3.5 more hot and sweltering days. I met a fellow student from Brazil who happens to be staying at the airbnb place I am, so we walked back and forth to class together. He doesn't like Cartagena's heat and traffic either and is doing the same thing I did and rebooking his flight to leave at 1 week instead of two. He has already studied a few weeks in Bogota and Medellin and preferred both of those cities. He said Bogota was still too crowded for his taste and it was impossible to get on public transport because there were so many people on the buses. About Medellin, he said it was extremely clean and the metro system was great, and it also has eternal spring weather. I met a girl from Michigan in my class and she has been all over Colombia and likes Salento, Tayrona National Park and Cali best.

Yesterday, I rearranged my itinerary, so I head to Cali on Saturday for only 5 days now, then on to Salento, a small town in the coffee region for 4 days, then Taganga (outside Santa Marta where I can book day trips to Tayrona National Park) for 5 days, followed by 4 days in the mountain villiage of Minca, and finally a few final days west of Santa Marta at a more quiet beach cottage. I'm much more excited about the rest of my trip now and looking forward to having more time in different parts of the country.

The change of pace feels like the right amount, not too sedentary, and enough time to relax in each place. Now that I think about it, I always start out trying stay longer in one place, and I get restless right away and find it much funner to hop around. When I first went to Guatemala, I was likewise only planning to go to Antigua for a month and Xela for a month each, but immediately found Antigua to be too touriste and ended up leaving after a week and proceeding to stay in a different place every 1-2 weeks instead. So, I'm not surprised really about my reaction and turn of events. Traveling requires being flexible and having a loose plan you are not afraid to reset. 

Of course, if I were traveling with another person, resetting would be more difficult. I would compromise on the pace and that would be fine, because the trip would be equally about enjoying the places and the company of the other person. 

I will take advantage of this solo travel, for reflections, for processing, and yes, for being selfish. It is different from other trips I've ever taken in that it is the first long solo trip while in a relationship. I am blessed that my boyfriend is so understanding and not the jealous, overprotective or competitive type. I have to say I've surprised several people by saying I have a boyfriend back home. Why are there so many male travelers with girlfriends back home and thats normal? There are also a lot of older divorced men here, doing their midlife crisis thing. 

So, there is that thread back to connecting with another, letting them know you're still alive :) and this is especially relevant in this less polished country, different than if I was just away in Hawaii or Canada for a month. My dad has expressed a need for me to update them every few days for example. Having feelings of worry for someone can be a foreign feeling for some who don't often feel that emotion for another, but places like this can bring a caring kind of protectiveness out in the ones you love and bring you even closer together from far away. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

3rd full day in Cartagena

I've been blessed with sun and little rain the 3 days I've been in Cartagena so far. Its the tail end of the rainy season so I wasn't sure what to expect. I've also been feeling great. You can drink the water here (unlike in Guatemala). The fruit is excellent. I think I had the best papaya ever today. Food seems to be pretty pricey though and sometimes a rip off. (I'm sure its not that way if you're a local and can speak spanish fluently). No stomach bugs and very little in the way of any stiffness or soreness in my back.

I had 3 seimei treatments (japanese form of energy healing 10X more powerful than reiki) in Santa Fe before I left, a reading/past life clearing with my excellent clarvoiant friend, Daeryl in Marfa, and an energy work/massage session last Monday, which have all really helped stabilize things, still I couldn't help worrying about the stress of travel. Its not that kind of stress that bothers me though. As my reading helped clarify, the stress that affects me is the kind I put on myself by not being confident and by expecting punishment for not being good enough (some from past life experiences). So, as soon as I got going, some of the old travel me (open, expectant of good things and my own empowerment in the face of difficult situations) seemed to resurface and I started feeling like that person again physically as well. I am meditating everyday, and that does wonders as well. The stress is all in my mind.

I am keeping up with whatever design work that comes in, and its been totally doable. I'm grateful to be able to work and travel. I'm sure the lessened amount of sitting at the computer is helping my system as well. When I was looking today at places to go in the country, I saw an ecohouse that specifically touted its "digital detox" reputation. Love it!

I have to say, if I wasn't booked for Spanish lessons already this week in Cartagena I would leave. I think 3 days is sufficient to get a feel for the place and see the sights, which are mainly the historical center. I also walked up to the san felipe castle for a great panoramic view of the city. If you have the time, going to Playa Blanca is supposed to be a must see 2 day trip from here, but I'm seeing other less crowded beaches around Taganga later so I think I'll avoid the tourists and congestion on that one - something like that would be funner with a travel partner anyway.

Against the advice of my guide book, I walked to the beach at Bocagrande yesterday (my guidebook said it wasn't a great beach). It was correct and it was also full of pushy people, demanding of tourists and not a relaxing place at all. I had to really watch my belongings, which meant I had to carry them out to a rocky outlying and put them there while I took a very quick dip in the carribean, which was like bath water. The worst experience was getting surrounded by two carribean massage ladies who wouldn't leave me alone and insisted they give me a demo despite me walking away and saying no, gracias at least ten times. I was tired and not thinking clearly, so I let them and before I knew it they were requesting 30 dollars. Nothing like that has every happened to me so I guess some part of me was asking for it or something. It was a good lesson in being confident to say no and really mean it and I will practice this with diligence the rest of my time here.

Needless to say, Cartagena is not as charming as it looked in the pictures, at least not my experience so far. The only good place to walk is the city center. Everywhere else, you have to fight traffic. The place I'm staying is very nice and I like all the travelers in it and at least I can walk in 10 min to the city center. I have to wear earplugs every night though, because my room is right on the noisy street. Today, I moved my flight to Cali up so I leave for there this Saturday as soon as my classes are over.

I talked to yet another traveler today who highly recommend Cali's laid back style and less humid temperatures. Even though its in the 80s there too, its apparently less muggy and more spring like. I will fly to get there. It was only $15 to change my flight! and rather than flying back to Cartagena, I will fly directly into Santa Marta and save myself a 4 hour bus ride.

I've been doing a lot of chilling in my room, which has been a good thing. So, last night, I watched a movie recommended to me called "La virgen de los sicarios" or the virgin of the assasins - set in Medellin in 2002 during the drug wars there. I know its changed a lot since then, but watching that movie made me glad I'm not going to Medellin. It was a fantastic movie and it was cool to see the country side and the city through it (and to learn how to pronounce the city's name ;). As Daeryl cautioned me, "don't feel like you have to pack it all in on this trip. Give yourself permission to stay in and watch a movie, and notice when you start to get overwhelmed."