Archives for category: South America

San Cipriano is a tiny village nestled in the lush jungle of the Colombian Pacific with a relaxed vibe and not much to do for visitors but enjoy a lazy day or two on the river. However, it’s also one of few places I know worth visiting just to get there.

One does not simply walk into San Cipriano. You’ve got to take the brujita (‘little witch’ in Spanish) – the bastard lovechild of a motorcycle, wooden pallet and railway bogie.

Single track. Blind corners. High speed. Woefully inadequate brakes. Driver texting 80% of the time.

This’d be a memorable ride anyway were it not for the huge freight trains chugging up from the port at Buenaventura in the opposite direction.

When I visited, we heard the train a’comin’ just as we screeched to a halt in San Cipriano. Granted, they don’t roll along at top speed but nevertheless, a hasty scramble ensued to evacuate the brujita and get it clear of the tracks quick-sharp.

Truly, a locomotive experience.

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Abandon all hope

It’s been a while since I last updated the blog, albeit not for lack of material.

Since my last dispatches from Colombia I’ve passed through many countries on three continents. Now I find myself on the other side of the world from smoggy Bogotá (smoggy Bangkok) and I’ve accumulated several gigs of photos to illustrate what a busy 12 months it’s been – see my next update.

My way of life’s become increasingly vagabond since I was last in regular employment in South America almost nine months ago. My present overarching goal is to transform loose-footed poverty into a sustainable and more satisfying lifestyle while staying location-independent as far as possible.

Barring the eventual lottery win I’ve penciled in for mid-2014, this can only come about by working over the internet – this hasn’t proved easy so far, but recent developments have given me optimism that I can make it a reality.

Until then, southeast Asia is the sauce to my oyster. Confusing metaphors strictly my own.

Sixty four years ago today, and more or less to the minute, popular Liberal leader and presidential-hopeful Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was assassinated outside his offices by a lone gunman.

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The killing sparked several days of violent rioting in Bogotá that would eventually embroil the whole country.

Decades of internal conflict ensued. This began with a period of vicious, mostly rural fighting between various factions known as La Violencia that simmered down into prolonged, low-level asymmetric warfare that continues to this day.

The latter period spawned left-wing guerilla movements familiar to the outside world such as the FARC and ELN, as well as right-wing death squads and paramilitaries.

The toll exerted on the country by both non-state actors such as these, as well as by brutally unrestrained government forces, is hard to overstate. Thousands of innocent civilians have been massacred and millions displaced.

Amazing what one man with a gun can achieve.

These two sites have a decent overview of the significance of today’s anniversary: [1] and [2].

UPDATE

The team at SeeColombia.travel also covered this well – check out their article reflecting on the Bogotazo.

Bogotá falls short in sheer numbers of green, open spaces compared to other capital cities I’ve visited – neglected concrete plazas are a more familiar sight (where the developers haven’t got there first) – but it does a good job at compensating for variety with the grand scale of Parque Simón Bolívar.

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The rolling expanse of the Parque occupies 400 hectares due east of El Dorado International, around 6 km from the city centre. My only previous encounters with it had been various open-air concerts laid on free of charge by the Alcaldía de Bogotá, which means I’ve managed to see Calle 13, Daddy Yankee and the unforgettably named Willie Colón, but nothing else of the park beyond teeming music lovers and battalions of policía.

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This was a big oversight on my part in retrospect, because it’s great. If a park should be the lungs of a city, Parque Simón Bolívar is the rattly oxygen tank to an emphysematous, phlegm-spluttering Bogotá. Truly an island of fresh-aired respite and tranquility. (Low-flying aircraft excluded.)

Aside from the abundant greenery, there are boats to hire to potter around the lake, bike and jogging tracks, and probably ample dogging to be had in the more isolated shrubberies, I don’t know.

I’m most intrigued by the call of Ciclomisa – Cycle-Mass (the Catholic sort) – every Sunday morning. I’m envisioning priests on unicycles wafting incense and incantations towards the faithful. Who are presumably doing laps of penitence.

I thought I saw a waterborne confessional booth mounted on a pedalo out on the lake but it might have been a trick of the light.

I digress. Come to the park and chill out, it’s delightful.

In spite of its altitude and undulating perimeter hillocks, the majority of Bogotá sits on a plateau that’s as flat as a pancake. Or a patacón if you happen to be Colombian. The topography, combined with chronic traffic congestion and a severely overstretched public transport infrastructure, makes the bicycle the thinking man’s choice of carriage. Desperately wishing to mimic such wisdom, I jumped on the two-wheel bandwagon soon after arrival.

Given the terrain and my expected usage, I thought I’d plump for a fixie over a mountain bike. Flat terrain demands a heavy frame to keep up momentum no? Plus they look achingly hipster-cool, and the sheltered bogotano denizen has not yet learnt to despise this demographic. I was safe.

Budget constraints ever salient, I plumbed the depths of what money could buy. And to a great extent, you gets what you pays for.

While it might look bacano, corners had most certainly been cut in terms of part-quality and assembly so as to bring it down to the price I eventually paid. Assembly is no responsibility of the bike’s manufacturer, but the design and quality of the original parts – which, incidentally, have dwindled in number due to nigh-on continuous repairs – leave much to be desired.

Nevertheless, I feel I’ve reached something of a stalemate with my bike. Most of what can go wrong has gone wrong already: today’s puncture repair stop and entertaining pedal-mechanism-disintegration were genuinely unexpected. For the most part it’s settled into a pattern of serving me in begrudging, but mostly reliable, good faith.

I ride around 50 miles per week on the iron steed, my regular commute to the university campus being roughly 5km and taking around 20 minutes depending on traffic – and headwind. The commute could be almost entirely completed on cycle lanes (ciclorutas) were it not for their placement exclusively adjacent to busy roads (see below) with attendant dust/emission issues, so I divert through the leafier back streets wherever possible.

The cicloruta in the next photo runs along the left-hand side of this multilane artery - fume central

Best to avoid facing entire classes with 7am pink-eye, I say.

The ciclorutas of the city vary in quality considerably. The best are well-signed, well-surfaced, and set away far enough from the road to mitigate the worst of the choking, lead-ridden pollution. Many however are incomplete, apt only for guesswork navigation when they abruptly end, or at best continue in unpredictable directions. The network printed on city maps is imaginative at times.

Smoothly dropped kerbs are inconsistently applied where cicloruta meets street (punctures and buckling), rubbish, invariably littered with broken glass (more punctures) is often strewn across the path after a resourceful street urchin’s had a good rummage but hasn’t tidied up, and of course the cicloruta is a popular parking spot for hawkers, vendors and sleepy drunks…

…and then there are the pedestrians! As a naturally brisk walker, the slow, meandering let’s-walk-five-abreast gait popular among bogotanos is frustrating on foot. When one of these unwieldy gaggles straddles the whole cycle path and ambles into the cross-hairs of a speeding cyclist with limited braking capacity (blame the workmanship), trouble’s brewing.

My recently bought clown horn is, in reality, no laughing matter, as it often warns of mere seconds before I will plough through a crowd of the offending party’s nearest and dearest and cause serious bodily harm. Needless to say I haven’t yet carried out this threat, but I feel the full-tilt menace of a honking fluorescent spectre bearing down on families and lovers alike will eventually teach people to share the pavement better. One would hope.

But while it’s still quicker, cheaper and greener than any other means of transport , I won’t be giving it up any time soon.