A Stone's Throw

practice your aim. you never know when you'll spy 2 birds at once.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


While the village itself was a bit of a disappointment - lots of garbage, overpriced food, and humid weather - the view from my rooftop room was impressive.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Cartegena - Opposing Feelings

I've been thinking for some time about how best to describe Cartagena. There have been very few cities that have brought out so many polarized feelings. Cartagena was beautiful. Cartagena was one of the dirtiest cities I've ever driven though. Cartagena was full of sculptures and gardens and monuments. Cartagena has roads slicked with oil and beer and glass. People are hip and friendly. People are also passed out in gutters.

For whatever historical reason, Cartagena's a city that's been, in part, renovated, painted, and cared for, but also forgotten, ignored, and left to decay. When I drove into the city I thought it was, perhaps, the worst cesspool I've ever driven in (and after all this travel, that says a lot). My impulse was to get off the bus at the terminal and grab a bus back to Medellin. But I stayed the course and once I booked a place in a dorm, I explored the city.

The redeeming feature of Cartagena is El Centro - a restored, beautiful section of narrow streets, lovely balconies, and grand architecture. Here the police patrol the streets, streetsweepers pick up the trash, and visitors are largely given a vision of what-could-be. But that vision dies as soon as you turn a few streets and wander out of El Centro. There, in the surrounding city, where the majority of everyone else lives is a sprawling mess. Chaotic streets, garbage tossed everywhere, drunks, addicts, and shambles of wood and metal that only the very generous would call habitations.

I usually try to keep from blogging about the bad cities and keep the disappointments of travel to a minimum (after all, who at home wants to read a downer blog?). I've seen my fair share of cities, events, and people that I'd just as soon forget. But sometimes, especially for a city that everyone raves about, I feel the need to put things into perspective. Yes - if you only saw El Centro, you'd go away thinking that Cartagena is one of the prettiest cities you've ever seen. But that's not reality. The city that most closely reminds me of Cartagena is New Orleans. I probably wouldn't have recalled this, except for all the media coverage of Gustav. But they are similar - they have music, charm, old-style buildings, a coastal feel, lots of art. Yet they have huge sections of poverty, crime, and filth that would turn even the hardiest of stomachs.

I can't say I'd ever recommend anyone visit Cartagena, but then again maybe, like New Orleans, its one of those places you should visit - to remember how much a city can get right, and how much it can get wrong.

Here are some of the better images I collected:

The bright colors and balconies make Cartegena one of the most distinguishable cities in all of Latin America.

Lots of courtyards, plazas, and parks

Pegasus guarding the entrance to the bay.

The charming streets of El Centro in the Old City.

One of several forts that surround Cartegena, used to repel pirate attacks.

The massive walls that surround Cartegena.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Other Images of Medellin

Botero´s house.

Another fantastic sculpture. Apparently, Medellin passed a law that all businesses must display public art. Nice!

An herb kiosk. (You can find nearly everything at some kiosk or other) The aroma is outstanding.

I didn´t get the name of this surreal park, but it was incredibly cool.

Some of my favorite artwork in all my travels is the street graffiti. This is one of the most detailed I've come across.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Fat People

If anyone believes there´s no beauty in the curvaceous, the plus-size, or the Rubenesque, they've not been to Medellin where no one is inspired by the beauty of the large like Fernando Botero.

Colombia's most formidable and prolific artist, Botero's sculptures are spread throughout the city. One plaza holds over a dozen of his works, and is situated across from Medellin's finest museum where many of his paintings hang.

There was orginially one bird, but it was targeted by an extremist group and blown up. So, Botero made another and it stands next to the original as a reminder that violence cannot stand in the way of peace.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Medellin Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra

On my first night in Medellin, I lucked out to be able to attend a symphony, conducted by Russian Guerassim Voronkov. Works featured were Figueroa, Brotons, Martinu, and, one of my favorites, Ravel.

If I had the time, money, and chance, I would go to more of these events. I´ve taken a short video clip that won't do the music justice, but will give a sliver of an idea of what I heard:

Monday, August 11, 2008

Valle de Cocora

Near the pueblo of Salento, a 2 hour walk away, lies the Valle de Cocora, a place unlike anything else on earth. There, the wax-palm trees rise some 10 stories into the sky, popping up along the lush, carpet-like grass that cloaks the mountainsides. Further up, the landscape changes to form a cloud forest, where among the lush tropical jungle, the palms jut out like exotic white and green flags.

Of the many things I´ve seen on my trip, the Valle de Cocora is one of the most tranquil and beautiful. It's yet another reason why the coffee country of Colombia is up there in my book among the most soul-satisfying places in all of Latin America.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

More Pictures of Salento, Colombia

In Salento, how the milk was delivered locally. (You can also buy it in the mercado in normal containers, if you're picky)

Tree tomatoes. I couldn't get the exact name, but they make a wonderful meal.

On the hillsides massive trees grow whose leaves are half as big as I am. Or, as a better example, my nephew Gabe could hide completely behind one of them.

Just another gorgeous flower among the countless other types and colors that line the streets and dot the hills.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Salento, town out of the past.

I headed north from Popyan into the coffee country where I found perhaps some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen. The mountains rise up from the earth like something out of a fantasy film, dotted with copses of trees and bamboo.

Something around 90% of all of Colombia's coffee is produced in this small region. Which is good because coffee is the number one drink here. And its good. Not just ordinary good, but they really know how to make a cup of coffee. And they make it with pride. They use these antiquated steel machines that look like the early versions of R2D2, but the taste they produce is amazing.
I still protest the tiny amounts of coffee - likely gotten from the Italians - but its cheap and good.

Nestled in one of the valleys is the pueblo of Salento, a tranquil place off the beaten path where I spent a wonderful week and a half of hiking, illustrating, and writing. It's nearly impossible not to enjoy a place with great food (renowned for its Trucha - a delicious river trout), friendly people (they will literally walk you to your destination if you don't know how to get somewhere), not a highway in sight, great old-time billard halls, and some of the best cafe bars playing great collections of blues, latin jazz, salsa, and independant music.

Not for the first time I've been left thinking - if only I had more time...

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Colombia, The Misunderstood Country

Country to country, person to person, I've encountered more uncertainties, untruths, and misinformation that I'd ever thought possible. People tell me things about my own country that are incorrect. Travelers spread tales that are nothing more than heresay. Stereotypes rule the day: you'll get robbed on every bus in Bolivia, everyone in Peru is a panhandler, French people are unfriendly, everyone's out to get you...

Yet you must push through it all - all the words - until you get to the truth. And the truth is only what you discover on your own.

I came to Colombia unsure what to expect. I'd heard the stories, first-hand accounts of both its positives and negatives. Yet what I've discovered is an absolutely beautiful country with a kind and warm people.

Compared to the border crossing from Peru to Ecuador, crossing from Ecuador into Colombia was a dream. Walk up. Stamp out of Ecuador. Cross bridge on foot. Wait in line. Stamp into Colombia. Done.

Ipales was the first stop and not one I wanted to take - based on the reviews of the city. Yet, once my bags were stowed in a hotel and my belly full, I went wandering and ended up getting a Day 1 example of how friendly the people of Colombia are. I went looking for something to do and upon asking two people on the street where the nightlife was, was promptly offered to come with them to a great hip bar. This began what turned into a wonderful evening of drinks and dancing.

Beyond Ipales, I next travelled to Popyan, called the White City. This is no passing nickname, for the entire city is white. Which, by the way, makes it incredibly difficult to get your bearings when you're off on a wander. The food was great, the hostel comfy, and the people, once again, extraordinarily outgoing.

Past Popyan, we wove through the mountains and valleys, a series of intoxicating vistas that after all the travels in South America I thought I had grown used to. But hour after hour I couldn't tear my eyes away.

Throughout my travels I've been constantly amazed at how the perception of a people or place can be so radically different. Colombia has put an exclamation point on that. I look forward to what lay ahead.