Thursday, June 11, 2015

Last post from South America

We have just spent 2 1/2 days doing high-interval paperwork exercises.  From SC lines to the DIAN (customs, I think) to the Sociedad Portuaria and back and forth and forth and back.  Or, I should say, Luc has spent 2 1/2 days doing this.  I have spent this time sitting on metal benches in waiting rooms and corridors while Luc does the paperwork, has the interviews, attends the inspections.  His is the only name on the titles.  He disappears with his security clearance (and my notebook of documents and copies) into a metro-like turnstile.  I open one of the books that Eric left for me and spend the next two hours on the Pacific Crest Trail with Cheryl Strayed.  Then he reappears, I close my book, we take a taxi or a bus (depending on the heat and the urgency) to the next place, where he gets his badge, I open my book, and we do it again.

Though I have said more than once that I could not have done this trip without my kindle, it is a blessing to occasionally hold on to real books, and this is exactly the occasion.  Thank you, Eric.

Cartagena is a walled city on the Caribbean sea, so our taxi and bus rides are scenic.  It is probably all of the city we will see as tomorrow the boat, the Caroline Russ, leaves with our vehicles. And if our luck holds, we will be on the boat with them.

All that is left is the anti-narcotics inspection and our own immigration processing. Then 5 - 7 days crossing the Caribbean to Florida on a container ship.  Sounds like exactly my kind of Caribbean cruise.  I am loading up my kindle, assuming I will finish Deep Survival in one of the waiting rooms tomorrow morning.

In the meantime, both my waiting companions, Wild and Deep Survival, are highly recommended, on book or kindle, even if you don't have any waiting rooms in your near future.

In Colombia, we live a different life than most of the time we are on the road.  In Cali, our van was parked outside an apartment building with armed guards who patrol the entrance and incredible views over the city from the pool and patios.  Our friends take us to soccer games (Cali just won the title!!) in huge stadiums and send us to exotic places during the week when they are busy.  Thanks to Ana Maria and Fernando, we have seen parts of Colombia we would have never sought out ourselves.  We visited Salento in the zona cafetera, then Ladrilleros, on the ocean near Buenaventura, where we went out into the mangrove estuaries one day with a man named Manuel Nativos.  We saw incredible mangroves, fish and fowl, indigenous villages, villages with newly installed cabanas for eco-tourism, and a part of Colombia generally reserved for Colombians.

Too bad this is an un-illustrated edition.  Luc's computer failed to start up one day, due to either Pacific humidity or a failed mother-board.  Until Florida and a new phone or computer, I am not creative enough to get photos from the camera to the internet.

One night we parked outside a hot springs.  The approach reminded me why so much of South America feels like the 1950s (or at least my impression of what the US was like then).  Open air restaurants and souvenir vendors lining the road.  Every 50 feet a sign insisting the latest and greatest tourist information.  I remember my grandmother talking about how much she loved the Jersey Shore in the summers when she lived in New York City. In my mind's eye, the difference here is just the language of the signage.

In Medellin we visited a beautiful botanical garden (though we couldn't enter the orchid palace because of a technology convention) and a museum full of Botero statues that seems incredibly heavy and at the same time filled with helium and ready to sail away.

Tonight we will have dinner with some Swiss friends that we first met in Ushuaia, who will soon load their rig onto a container ship bound for Vancouver.  We have met so many wonderful people on our trip.  Their courage and optimism and stories are the best reason to be on the road.

Returning to Cartagena has brought us full circle, back to the place where we were naive and nervous and pretending not to be afraid.  I have absolutely no idea how we ran the paperwork gauntlet the first time with as little Spanish as we had.  We feel excited to get on the boat tomorrow, wistful that this part of the journey is ending, and ready to come back for another chapter, hopefully sooner than later.

I'll be home soon, hopefully after a short stint riding shotgun as Jack drives.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Oh, the People you'll Meet!

Marc and Luc, Sommerwind, Ecuador
Our trip south was all about the places you'll go.  We saw fortified Caribbean cities, Dr. Seuss trees in living color in the rain forest, ruins of ancient civilizations, crashing blue glaciers, cute penguins, and incredible landscapes.  It was everything we'd imagined, and much more that had never before entered our heads.

Cartagena, Colombia
Any roadside
Vina del Mar, Chile
Otovalo, Ecuador
El Cabo, Peru
El Chalten, Argentina
Huanchaco, Peru
Puerto Deseado, Argentina
Perito Moreno, Argentina
Otovalo, Ecuador
Trujillo, Peru
Pucon, Chile
Torres del Paine, Chile
As the northern hemisphere holiday season approached, I got a little wistful for friends and family.  Luc even suggested sending me home for Christmas, but luckily Eric and Janique's separate plans to visit us panned out, and we had 5 weeks of Chilean adventures with them.  With Janique we visited San Pedro de Atacama with plenty of desert and ocean on the drive to and from.  With Eric, a motorcycle adventure in northern Patagonia.
WishICouldRemembertheNameofthisBeach, Chile

Isla Negra, Chile

Santiago, Chile
San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Santiago, Chile
Lago Ranco, Chile
Pichilemu, Chile
The trip north from Ushuaia, our southernmost point, has been about the People You'll Meet.  The cornerstone of our trip was in Santiago with Diego Rojas and Catriona Moffat.  We set out from Vermont to reach them, and on our trip returned to them over and over again.  They adopted us as family (Eric and Janique, too).  When we build the map of our trip, with little dots for the places we stayed, we will mark their home with a shiny star.

Janique with Catriona, Ellie, Oso, Emelio, Twiglet, Sammy and half of Diego
As we traveled north, our focus on people increased, and the landscape receded into the fuzzy background. In fact, in Ecuador, the only "sites" we saw were in the company of friends.  We spent 4 days in Cuenca with Humberto and Maria and barely left the campground.

In Archidona we visited PlayaSelva, the rainforest eco-hostel of Margarita and her husband Rodrigo who we had met on the way down.
Manfrido at PlayaSelva

Luc at PlayaSelva

In Iberra, we stayed at the wonderful Sommerwind campground. We had met the owner, Hans, on our first trip through Ibarra, when he saw our rig at a mechanic and stopped to introduce himself and gave us his card.  On our journeys we met many people who had stayed at his wonderful campground, including the Lally's who had spent Christmas there.  We found many friends at Sommerwind:  Marc and Carina from Belgium - traveling together on the back of a Honda TransAlp motorcycle, Michele and Gaetan from Orleans, France, who sold everything and piled their lives into a camping van, Karin and Manfred from Germany, Elisabeth and Leo from Switzerland, Catherine and Nicholas and their sweet sons Alexis and Valentin from Belgium.  We stayed 5 days and only left the campground to run along the lake.

Carina and Marc

Our friends at Sommerwind
We have sorted out the plans for our return.  The vehicles are scheduled to sail from Cartagena to Fort Lauderdale, Florida on June 11.  We will follow shortly thereafter after reconnecting with our friends in Cartagena.  In Florida, we hope to help Alex and Katie celebrate their children's June birthdays.  Luc will collect all the gear he has just mail-ordered, load up the bike, and head west to California to visit Brendan and Gerry, Annie and Luca, Cathy and Philip, Janique and Paulius, and then west to Marc in Fernie... No doubt he will make friends more along the way.

For me, the family reunions begin today.  We will travel to Cali where we will stay with Ana Maria Casasfranco and her family, my exchange sister from over half a lifetime ago.  Last night we talked on the phone - it felt like the day before Christmas.  I am giddy with anticipation!

me with Ana Maria

Gallery of friends: