Archive for the ‘Colombia’ Category

The AmericasI have travelled the length and bredth of the Americas since I started this trip back in December, but the time has come for me to move on.

It also means that I will no longer need to keep butchering the Spanish language that I have learned to some degree as I have moved south from the USA.

There have certainly been plenty of highs as well as a few lows to keep me grounded on the road, but as ever it is time to move on because the planet has so many more waves on offer for me to enjoy along the rest of this trip.

Las OlasRather fittingly I saw this road sign next to the pizza place on my last night in Chile.

It translates to The Waves, which is an odd name for a road if you ask me, but the sign was pointing westward towards the east and that is exactly where I am going.

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the-andesFlying from Brazil to my next stop in Peru I have to cross the longest mountain range in the world, the Andes. 

They are over 4,000 miles long and extend through seven South American countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela.

The Andes range is the world’s highest mountain range outside of Asia and I have learnt that the peak of Chimborazo in the Ecuadorean Andes is actually farther from centre of the Earth than any other location on the planet’s surface, due to the equatorial bulge resulting from its rotation.

AliveIn October 1972 a plane carrying a rugby team from Uruguay to Chile crashed in the Andes. The survivors had to fend for themselves amidst the freezing weather at altitude with a very limited supply of food, after the search and rescue operation for them was called off. Only16 of the 45 on board actually survived, and they had to resort to eating the flesh of their team mates who had died to do so.

It is common knowledge that rugby clubs foreign tours can get a little out of hand, but this took things to a whole new level!

The movie Alive told the story of these events, but I am hoping not to have anything similar happen on my own flight. The plane seems to be full of Japanese tourists, most of whom are pensioners. I doubt they would feed a big lump like myself for long! 

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Darien_Gap_MapThe Darien Gap is the informal title given to the break in the highway which would otherwise run from Alaska to Chile. It gets its name from Darien, which is the largest and eastern most province in Panama, but also includes the northern extremes of neighbouring Colombia. It is what stopped me driving on towards South America

It is a vast area of rugged, sparsely populated, jungle covered terrain, which is second only to the Amazon in scale and within it’s confines are the huge Darien National Park and a self governing indigenous area.

Darien ColonyEuropeans first visited The Darien in the early 1500s. However people from my own shores arrived in 1696 when 2500 Scots tried to establish a trading colony. Many of the settlers died from disease, and those that didn’t had everything destroyed by Spanish soliers a few years later.  So much of Scotland’s wealth was invested in the colony, and subsequently lost, that Scotland was nearly bankrupted and effectively lost its status as an indepent nation as a result of the fiasco.

I know how they must of felt because all my own best laid plans are starting to look more than a little shaky because I can’t off-load the car. I have now significantly dropped the price to get rid of it, because it will be impacting on my later plans in a big way if I allow things to drag on much longer. A cheap selling price is not ideal but the financial implications of the potential delays, the time itself and the administrative overhead of any changes needed, will be far more costly for me in terms of this trip.

Darien KidsDrastic times call for drastic measures and I spotted this place a few doors down from my hostel yesterday. (www.darien.org.pa) I have decided that if I do not sell by lunchtime on Monday I will walk into their offices and hand over the keys. That would be outrageously generous of me but I really have had enough of feeding the local mosquito population and just sitting around for days on end. We did something similar on the Sahara Surf trip, so it wouldn’t be the end of the world and a lot of good would come from it, not least me leaving!

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Pirates_of_the_CaribbeanI am not talking about the recent Disney movies here, more about the two British seafarers who had a significant impact on this part of the world. I have been hearing a lot about them since arriving in Panama so thought I would pass some of that on.

In particular I am talking about Sir Francis Drake and Admiral Sir Henry Morgan who caused quite a lot more havoc than I have whilst visiting the region in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries respectively.

Sir Francis DrakeOn his ship The Golden Hind Sir Francis Drake was the first person from Britain to circumnavigate the globe, and I suspect that feat was a tad harder than my own trip in 2013. He was also largely responsible for the defeat of the Spanish Armada when it intened to attack England in 1588, but that is just as well because he was probably part responsible for the Armada being created in the first place due to number of attacks that privateers like him made on the Spanish settlements in this neck of the woods. Under the sponsorship of the English monarchy Drake and others like him would sail into the ports and steal all the gold and silver warehoused here ready for transport across the Atlantic, which the Spanish had in turn largely stolen from the indigenous people here.

He also died off the coast of Panama after contracting dyssentry on the last of such voyages. The lead coffin he was buried at sea in near Isla Grande on the Caribbean coast is still being looked for by treasure hunters today.

Henry MorganHalf a century later Henry Morgan, who was originally from South Wales, was up to the same sort of mischief. He is remembered as the greatest of the privateers, amassing huge fleets and attacking prominent targets. His three most famous exploits were the 1668 sack of Portobello (which is just down the coast from Colon), the 1669 raid on Maracaibo in Venezuela and the 1671 attack on Panama City. Most of this was done with the support of King Charles II of England but the attack on Panama City with about 1,000 men in which the city was destroyed, was undertaken after a peace treaty had been signed between England and Spain, so you can imagine that the Spanish were not best pleased.

captain_morganMorgan was summoned back to London because the situation was at the very least embarrassing for the English too. However not only was he never punished, but he was feted by the gentry and commoners alike upon his return who were impressed with his exploits. He was also knighted by the king and then sent back to his base in Jamaica as Lieutenant Governor of the island, where he worked on improving the defenses of the island which was Britain’s jewel in the Caribbean crown.

He was guilty of the death and torture of countless innocent Spanish civilians and spread terror far and wide on the Spanish Main, but the English loved him. So much so that the Captain Morgan dark rum that you may enjoy today over ice with coke is named after him.

All of which means I have a lot to live up to in the time I have left here! What would they call the drink they name after me?

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Blackjack

I have been in Panama city for nearly two weeks now and hadn’t really been out on the town at all, so was rather pleased when a Canadian chef, who is also called Robert, arrived at the hostel because it meant I had a wing-man to take on the town with.

Our first port of call was the casino where we spent several hours winning and losing at the Roulette and Blackjack tables, not paying much heed to the advances of the ladies of the night that were circulating the floor.Eyes

Next we moved on to the bars of the Hard Rock Hotel where there was plenty of eye candy on show. It is also fair to say that as a result of the proximity to Colombia there was rather a lot of nose candy being enjoyed by many of the local patrons. In particular I will always remember one particularly manic young fella whose eyes looked very similar to those of this cat, who seemed to be having trouble staying upright. In addition to shouting how much he didn’t like the United States of America at the top of his lungs he would not let us accept anything less than the fact that he would definitely be the President of Panama in 2049. Bold worlds for a guy in his late teens but I suspect he may need to sort his coke habit out if he wants to make that happen.

We were getting raved at by a number of wide eyed people, so decided to move on to the bars of Calle Uruguay, which had been recommended by a lady we had met earlier in the evening. The fantastic street is lined with bars, and is full of the young and the beautiful. It was still rocking when we arrived some time around 2am. We bowled into the busiest looking club and with our very limited Spanish were soon attempting to chat with the locals.

MMAI can’t really recall how we got talking to him but we were soon befriended by a half Spanish and Colombian bloke who for legal reasons I will call AJ (also for reasons that will become clear to avoid getting undue attention from the USA’s DEA!) His English was quite good and we got on famously with him, when at first he was telling us how he had recovered from having broken his neck in a MMA professional fight (That is Mixed Martial Arts or cage fighting for the uninformed.) The damage to his spine was clearly visible so we took him at his word on this.

His mates were pretty cool too despite deciding that I was the spitting image of Charlie Sheen, and they insisted we carry on partying with them when the bar stopped serving just after 4am.

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image18646053There was nowhere close by still open, so we had to join AJ in his car to travel across town to the private members club he had in mind. He seemed alert enough to drive, but after he had snorted copious amounts of cocaine up his nose off the dashboard whilst driving down the road it was clear why that might be the case!Drill

As if that wasn’t mad enough he then proceeded to tell us in a very off the cuff manner that he had previously been an enforcer for his dad’s drug running operation in Colombia, and that his preferred method for eliciting information from people had been an electric drill applied to the knees! He said he had recently stopped because he didnt have the stomach for it anymore.

I am something of a cycnic and wasn’t sure whether to take all this with a pinch of salt, but both the other Robert and I had already noticed the deferance with which everybody seemed to be treating AJ with, and the casual nature with which he passed all this information on was quite chilling.

Tony Montana

Having seen Scarface both of the tourists in the car are now fairly certain we may be somewhat out of our depth. However we have by now arrived at the club which was not too dissimilar to that of Tony Montana’s in the film. AJ is greated like a king by absolutely everybody in there and despite a healthy amount of unease at the situation we were made very welcome.

Galicia FlagNo further tales of villainy were recounted to us, and we spent most of the rest of the night talking to all of AJs friends including some bloke called Alessandro Rodriguez Boyd Morgan, who could barely speak but was trying to convince me he was a direct decendant of a famous Welsh pirate. (More on that to follow at a later date.) He was also somewhat amused at the idea I was David Hasselhoff, and kept trying to fluff up my hair so I looked more like the Knight Rider. I was also having a fun conversation at the bar with the husband and wife OAP bar tenders from Galicia in north west Spain that were running the place. I have surfed in their neighbourhood and whilst I told them of the beaches where I had got in the water they kept free pouring unbelievably strong G&Ts into my glass.

After a few hours Robert and I decided we should probably be on our way, and unsurprisingly did not take AJ up on his offer of a lift home when we said our goodbyes. We left the club and caught a cab with surprising ease. Although once again there seemed to be an inappropriate amount of deferance being shown by the cab driver to the crowd from the club who had walked us to the street. A quick drive across town to our hostel later and we staggered through the door and past the restaurant where the other residents were by now having breakfast in the dining area long after the sun had come up.

A great night. Absolutely frigging bonkers, but a great night!

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