Bogota, Medillin, Cali…A City is a City is a ? Part 1 of 2

#blogguilt? Yep, six fascinating, challenging weeks exploring Colombia and we’re already across the border in Ecuador (more on that “interesting” experience in Part 2!).

We spent a lot of time in Colombia’s large cities, learning that as beautiful as the surrounding mountains might be, the cities themselves leave a bit to be desired. To be fair, Bogota (8mil), Medillin (4mil), & Cali (4mil) are just rougher versions of many other million plus population cities around the world – traffic is horrendous and diesel/gas fumes reek – walking is not a lot of fun. Until we get city transit issues sorted out and move away from private cars to public, shared & more environmentally sustainable transportation, the world’s largest cities will continue to be increasingly difficult places to live as they grow. (And that’s my quasi-political/social statement for this blog.)

But Colombia’s big cities offer a good look at the country’s history, its art (fantastic), and a peek at how a tourist industry (while not quite in its infancy – hello, Cuba?) is developing. If you’re planning a visit to Colombia and want to do it without a glossy tour company, be aware -you’ll need the following:

Patience – you’ll be taking buses much of the time, and there are generally not set hours for departure. You will go the terminal, search for a suitable bus line (vendors stand about calling destinations), and either find yourself among the first or last to board…and then, only when the bus is FULL will it depart! Along the route, the bus will stop to let passengers off any old place…despite having told you the bus is “direct” (this does NOT mean “non-stop”.) As seats are emptied, the bus will stop along the route to allow others to board, including vendors who offer drinks, fruits, banana chips…and yes, these impromptu snacks can be delicious.

Earplugs – ah, those buses again. Usually, the music will be turned on, loudly, immediately, and constantly throughout the trip, whether 1 hour or 6. Be prepared.

Toilet paper – if you like more than a couple of squares, you’ll be happier if you put a packet of tissues in your pocket before you venture out. You’ll usually pay for the use of the toilet at bus terminals. And, if you’re female, be prepared for lidless toilets…great for the thigh muscles as you attempt to pee without touching the ceramic.

Ok, tips on how to “journeywise” out of the way.

We loved visiting the main plazas in Colombia’s cities – many are named for Simon Bolivar, the “Liberator.” Statues varied from a soldierly and solemn Bolivar to a “Bolivar as Condor” in Manizales, and naked Bolivar on a horse in Pereira…along with your run-of-the-mill busts. The gentleman was everywhere doing good deeds, until he ran into political and financial difficulties and ended his life in exile.

Bolivar Nude - Pereira

Bolivar Nude – Pereira

Museums and outdoor art were also a complete pleasure. From Botero sculptures to murals and graffiti, Colombia (whether on purpose or not) has encouraged a public sharing of exuberant art – it’s everywhere, splashing color along highways, streets, alleys and parks. While most is “art” for art’s sake, there is also plenty of politically motivated art relating to both indigenous peoples and the FARC guerrilla movement. More photos are available on Instagram @tojourneywise and commentary about traveling, organic agriculture and random thoughts on the journey on Twitter @tojourneywise. Enjoy!

Botero Sculpture

Botero Sculpture

Wall Mural Medillin

Wall Mural Medillin

Part 2 coming soon, more on Colombia’s big cities next time…then on to Ecuador!

Chiva Bus - Colombia

Chiva Bus – Colombia

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Cartagena, Caliente!

Pegasus Before Port

Pegasus Before Port


The Clock Tower

The Clock Tower

Well, amigos y amigas, Cartagena was by far the warmest part of the trip so far (reminding us very much of Singapore’s heat and humidity); I quickly remembered that a wrung-out, wet bandana tightly twisted and tied loosely around the neck makes for an impromptu and successful personal air conditioner…that, plus multiple trips to La Palleteria for popsicle after popsicle made from fresh, incredibly flavorful local fruits, and yes, the occasional Swiss chocolate cream. Two key themes emerged from this most “vacation-like” part of the trip: Food & Art – and by “Food” I mean: food carts and stalls, restaurants, coffee shops, farms and even grocery stores. By “Art”: museums, street vendor crafts, the colors of the buildings, the sky, the sea; and the amazing graffiti and murals …

We’re well “medicated” with gingko – supposed to help with altitude (and so far, no problems with Bogota’s 8000’), yellow fever shots, and malaria pills. Drinking tap water and eating pretty much anything that looks appetizing, and so much does!

Fruit Carts Tempt

Fruit Carts Tempt

Watermelon to Order

Watermelon to Order

Citrus and More

Citrus and More

Treats at La Palleteria

Treats at La Palleteria

My blog subtitle includes “Learn it all, over again.” All of life is an education, but sometimes you can put yourself directly in its path – and that’s what’s happened in Colombia. The tiny Museo de Arte Moderno in Cartagena is in a fabulous centuries old building just off the “Reloj” (Clock Tower) Square. Its exquisite tiny collection of modern Colombian masters was immersion in an artistic culture that I haven’t known enough about. Botero, yes. Enrique Grau? No, but he was prolific, astounding, totally engrossing. And so many others.

Museo de Arte Moderno

Museo de Arte Moderno

Grau's View of Cartagena

Grau’s View of Cartagena

We stayed in the Getsemani neighborhood outside of the more well-known walled city in an Airbnb family casa, where we were also able to continue the Spanish lessons we’d started in Bogota. Cartagena is small enough that we walked everywhere, exploring tiny streets and alleys, sitting in the Plaza de la Trinidad at night with locals & tourists letting the cooler evening air waft aromas of grilled chicken, skewers of meat, and arepas (flat corn cakes cooked on a griddle and sometimes filled with cheese or vegetables.) Getsemani, particularly, is known for its vibrant and noisy nightlife – too bad we couldn’t stay up late enough to really appreciate it!

Airbnb Doorway Getsemani

Airbnb Doorway Getsemani

Airbnb Courtyard

Airbnb Courtyard

We’d anticipated a little time by some beautiful Caribbean sea while in Cartagena, but that wasn’t the case. The shoreline is not particularly pretty near the city, and not easily accessible by foot, so cooling off by the water wasn’t to be. Instead, we enjoyed wonderful walks through streets filled with color in every direction – whether the fruits, buildings, hats, hand-woven bags, or tshirts on sale everywhere, Cartagena is saturated with vibrant color. Thank goodness, the fact that we’re still in the early days of a 3-month journey makes it very very easy to say “no” to any purchases that can’t be consumed on the spot!

Color, Hot

Color, Hot

Color, Cool

Color, Cool

Color, Colombian

Color, Colombian

Color, Carnival

Color, Carnival

I’m reviewing many of the restaurants and activities at TripAdvisor as “tojourneywise” so you may find more information there about specific places I mention, or feel free to send a question or comment directly via the blog and I’ll be happy to reply.

Next up, truly off the beaten track…Tayrona National Park and another “secret spot.”

IMG_2775

Bogota – Bewildering, Enchanting

We’re travelling for three months in Colombia and Ecuador, putting cities here through the same filter as some of our top home prospects in the U.S. Will we end up falling in love with Popayan or Manizales, Cuenca or Ibarra? Come along for the journey and see!

AirBnB View Bogota

AirBnB View Bogota

It now seems a good idea that I’ve let a few days pass by since we were in Bogota, as I’d drafted a rather negative post – it started:

Bogota feels in some ways like a third world city; why is that? Let me count the ways:
1) dog “popo” (yep, that’s what they say) everywhere; 2) gigundo (no that is not a Spanish word) holes in the sidewalks and streets; and 3)trash.

Pity the Taxi Drivers

Pity the Taxi Drivers

The State of the Sidewalks

The State of the Sidewalks

But Bogata is compelling in many ways, so let me count those too:

1. El Museo Botero – you know, the guy who paints and sculpts those wonderfully voluptuous people and objects. He donated a massive amount of his personal collection to the museum, which is set in an old colonial palacio with a lovely courtyard. Fantastic. Free. Culture.

Museo de Botero

Museo de Botero


2. El Museo de Oro – gold, gold and more gold. Antique, ancient gold, and plenty of English-translations so it’s easy to learn what the displays are all about. One section involves entering a circular, darkened room and listening to the chants of early Colombian religious ceremonies. During the chants soft lighting illuminates a 360 degree display of thousands of tiny gold objects, arranged in swooping arcs of flight and clouds.
Room of Chants and Gold

Room of Chants and Gold

3. Food – interesting and often tasty! Hot chocolate with cheese cubes (Chocolade SantaFerena.) Very sweet pastries and very dry pastries. Some amazingly good Peruvian food at “Pasion Peruana.” Incredible vegetarian lunch at “Quinua y Amaranto,” in La Candelaria neighborhood.

Hmm, Hot Chocolate with Cheese?

Hmm, Hot Chocolate with Cheese?

Vegetarian Lunch with Quinoa

Vegetarian Lunch with Quinoa

4. Architecture – from the tiny casas in La Candelaria to the palacios of the colonial era and through the early/mid 20th century, Bogota offers up some glorious buildings. The only risk is that by looking up, you may step in a nasty hole in the sidewalk hole while admiring the grimy but otherwise charming buildings.

Plaza Bolivar

Plaza Bolivar

Colorful Candelaria Street

Colorful Candelaria Street


Apartments in the Round

Apartments in the Round

Faenza Theater

Faenza Theater

5. Art – murals everywhere. If you follow me on Instagram (cnewmanwise) you’ll see more examples of the incredible art that’s on most available surfaces.

Sombrero Hombre Azul

Sombrero Hombre Azul

Beauty...

Beauty…

Where Are You Going, Bicycle Boy?

Where Are You Going, Bicycle Boy?

A few days in Bogota was a great introduction to Colombia and adding 10 hours of intensive Spanish lessons kickstarted our ability to get around. Angie, our teacher, can be reached at (spanish1.english1@gmail.com). She was a good instructor, understood that we wanted a crash course in survival Spanish, and that’s what we got, with smiles.

We’re off to Cartagena and the Caribbean coast next…flipflops at the ready!
City, 8000', Mountains Higher

California, Dreaming…

Gallery

This gallery contains 35 photos.

We’re going to just go ahead and put California on a permanent wish list of places to live, and that’s where it will probably stay.  Perhaps if we’d bought that old Victorian in the Haight back in 1981 for $135,000, … Continue reading

Too Good for Words, Oregon!

Just about one month ago, we crossed the bridge to Astoria, Oregon from the Washington State portion of the Lewis and Clark Trail Highway – and no, it wasn’t in our imagination that the weather became misty, chilly, and very unsummer-like.  Just what I’d been hoping to avoid, as one of the “our spot” criteria happens to be a “generally sunny” prospect over the course of a year.  Here it was – a test for just how much flexibility I could encourage in CW, for whom “damp & chilly” has never been a welcome combination!

Nevertheless, Astoria proved to be much fun – a local brewery called Fort George (https://www.fortgeorgebrewery.com), a great local bakery and coffee shop (www.bluescorcher.com), art galleries, a fantastic Scandinavian shop (www.finnware.com), and (more than one!) wonderful independent bookstore – Lucy’s, and Godfather’s –  (http://www.lucys-books.com and www.yelp.com/biz/godfatherss-books-astoria).  With just under 10,000 people, the fact that Astoria supports not just one, but two local bookstores says a lot about the inquisitiveness and interests of the people who make it their home (at least I think so – and hope it’s not just that days tend to be chilly and damp, leading to many hours indoor to fill by reading!)

Lewis and Clark River

Lewis and Clark River

There’s a curious 125’ tall column high on a hill overlooking Astoria and the mouth of the Columbia River.  The amazing spiral frieze covering the outside has a panel celebrating the Lewis & Clark Expedition – I’m sure Captains Lewis & Clark never had such a wonderful view of the landscape, nor did they enjoy their stay in the vicinity as much as we did!  An excursion on another drizzly day took us to Fort Clatsop, which the Corps of Discovery built to overwinter in before their long journey home.   I really love the times during this trip in which the reading, planning, thinking and talking come together in a culminating moment – as it did at Fort Clatsop, where for just a few minutes while inside the dark, damp log walls, I could picture those intrepid explorers cursing the wet weather (it rained all but 12 days of their 3-months at the fort), the endless meals of elk and deer, and perhaps the stinking smell of their forever damp and vermin-infested fur clothes.  Ugh!  They left for the long return home on March 23, 1806 – having not just survived but exceeded all expectations for their journey of exploration.  It’s been an education following some of their trail, and relearning an important part of America’s history.  Sorry if I enthuse – it’s been great!!  (And I am oh so glad that our trip has included mostly dry and sunny camping.)

Astoria Column

Astoria Column

Fort Clatsop

Fort Clatsop

I loved Astoria’s funkiness, including the Fiber Arts “knit-bombing” installation, exploring the old cannery district where there are now restaurants, as well as sustainably-focused shops selling items of recycled sails and other boating-related materials.  Could we live in Astoria?  Probably not, but it’s definitely a place we’d like to return – hopefully, on a sunny day!  “Sun” appears to be a theme for this Oregon-focused blog!

Fiber Artists Installation

Fiber Artists Installation

Cannery Poster

Cannery Poster

Fish Scale

Another Kind of Fish Scale!

From Astoria we made the 2-hour drive to Portland, following the Columbia River much of the way.  The Pacific Northwest is stunningly beautiful – the varied greens (from bright emerald and apple green to dusky peat and mossy green), of the trees, valleys, and farms and the blues, greens, grays and browns of the rivers and lakes, highlighted against the sometimes startlingly blue sky, is breath-taking.  It was with much anticipation that we arrived in Portland, a city that I have developed a crush on over the past twenty years or so.   In Portland, wonderful friends from expat days in Paris hosted us, sharing superb Oregon wines, and generally acting as perfect “Portland is Your Spot” sales agents.  We’ll see…

Oregon was “too good for words!” So, the following photographs illustrate many of the enticing aspects of Oregon – for it’s become a contender in the search for our spot…

The Portland Art Museum has  wonderful permanent and visiting collections!  (http://www.portlandmuseum.org)

Omega by Linda Benglis

Omega by Linda Benglis

The farm market – located just outside the Art Museum – is super!

Farm Market Bouquet

Farm Market Bouquet

Blue, Red, Black, Berries!

Blue, Red, Black, Berries!

The Willamette Valley is well-known for its wines, but we also discovered the wines of the Applegate and Umqua Valleys, and explored Medford, Ashland, and tiny Jacksonville.  In Ashland, we were lucky to get tickets to “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” with an all-female cast in a wonderful performance  at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  (https://www.osfashland.org/en/productions/2014-plays/the-two-gentlemen-of-verona.aspx)

Wine Barrels

Wine Barrels

Willamette Valley Shack

Willamette Valley Shack

And then there was the outdoors – mountains, beaches, and dunes to explore.  Misty day?  Didn’t matter – the hiking was a little cooler, the leaves and berries glistening just a wee bit more with the dew.  We’ve been trail-snacking by foraging for berries (blackberries, mostly) – in Canada, Washington, and now Oregon.  Here we found yummy, ripe salal berries on a trail to the beach, and remembered reading that the Corps of Discovery had been given “salal berry bread,” by the native tribes – we were, after all, still communing with Lewis & Clark!

Snack! Salal Berries on the Bush

Snack! Salal Berries on the Bush

Anemones

Anemones

On the Dock

On the Dock

Stranded Jellyfish

Stranded Jellyfish

Coastal Beauty

Coastal Beauty

Driftwood

Driftwood

Crater Lake

Crater Lake

CW - Leap Into Lake

CW – Leap Into Lake

There were many moments in Oregon when I felt graced to spend time in nature’s cathedrals.  Oregon is beautiful.  And, yes, right up there near the top of the list!

Wildflower

Wildflower

Love in the Mist

Love in the Mist

Oregon Roses

Oregon Roses

CN - Last Summer Snow!

CN – Last Summer Snow!

 

The Wonderful State of…Idaho

Uh oh, this is going to be a long one!  Grab a cup of coffee or tea, and enjoy!

There’s a long narrow strip of western Idaho that’s lush, gorgeous, and green, all the way from Boise in the south to tiny Bonner’s Ferry up in the panhandle near Canada…and after 4000+ miles, it’s along that route that we found a few places to add to an “our spot” list.  Let’s start with Boise!

But, wait…long before reaching Boise, Idaho’s capital city, we drove across the southern part of the state from Jackson, Wyoming.  We traversed miles and miles of high desert, with occasional cows, scruffy grass, and dusty hills interrupting the ruler-straight highway vista, until before our eyes, as if in a science fiction movie, appeared the following signs:

Mystery Signpost

Mystery Signpost

A Must Visit

A Must Visit

How could we not stop and visit?  What the heck does EBR-I stand for?  We learned it means Experimental Breeder Reactor One – the very first in the U.S.  In 1951, EBR-1 created enough electricity from nuclear power to light 4 200-watt bulbs.  The EBR-I museum is a time capsule of the 1950’s, and a superb short lesson in the U.S.A.’s nuclear power history.  Even with the warning that residual radioactivity (“not harmful”) was still decaying away but bound to certain places in the facility (those areas marked so helpfully by a purplish triangle), we spent about 45” wandering through the original nuclear power plant, exploring the former core of the breeder reactor, playing with the “grabbers” used to handle the fuel rods, and murmuring over the antique looking chains, pulleys and massive hooks that were used to move material around in the new atomic age.  The pioneering scientists who worked here were at the very edge of technological exploration, and it was a remarkable and unexpected lesson along our road.  If you’re ever on Route 26 in Idaho, do NOT pass this by – you may learn something, and you’ll certainly feel like you’ve become an extra in the 1964 film, Dr. Strangelove. Curiously, the film was made the same year that EBR-I was decommissioned…

The Twilight Zone TV

The Twilight Zone TV

Dials, Switches & Buttons

Dials, Switches & Buttons

Pretty Nuclear Lights

Pretty Nuclear Lights

 

Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion

Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion

 

 

 

 

Atomic City

Atomic City

 

 

 

 

 

We reached our stop in Sun Valley not long after the EBR-I visit, travelling from desert to the mountains and through the small towns of Hailey and Ketchum, both towns growing rapidly and increasing in price for real estate – thus not candidates for “our spot!”  We were generally dissuaded of any thought of settling in the Sun Valley area, though it was beautiful and there are great community activities (concerts, films, book talks) many of them free due to the beneficence of the Holding family who now own the resort.  They’ve built a wonderful outdoor concert venue and continue to play a major philanthropic role in the town.  For those with any political or U.S. history interests, here’s a tidbit:  Sun Valley Resort was developed by Averill Harriman, when he was chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad in the 1930’s, long before he begin his famed political career.

Back to the trip!  Two days passed quickly with friends who are long time Sun Valley residents and gave us a good look at what life in this lovely mountain retreat might be like.  We had a great hike in the lower mountains and an even more fun time participating in trivia night at the local dive bar…how lucky for us that many of the first questions were about Japan!  CW continued his local/craft brewery tour with a visit to Sawtooth Brewing in Ketchum.

Sun Valley might have been our spot – 20 years ago, when prices were lower…  We left for Boise after an amazing breakfast in Stanley, Idaho, a rafting and hiking base about an hour northwest of Sun Valley… with all that sunshine, an outdoor deck, great coffee, and good friends – it was a very hard combination to leave.

Stanley Bakery Menu

Stanley Bakery Menu

Eccentric Idaho City

Eccentric Idaho City

Misty Road to Boise

Misty Road to Boise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve been to Boise a couple of times, and always left with a lingering feeling that we could perhaps find our spot there.  How does it meet the informal checklist? (A checklist that is going to have to take on substance soon, if we’re going to keep track of the growing number of locations that have whispered to us “stay here” or “come back…”)

Let’s recap some of the criteria:  access to hiking and the outdoors; culture; cultural diversity; a sustainable economy and food system; community; education; health care; climate…among a few others.

It seems CW and I are not the only ones exploring.  I was amused to read this article in the New York Times!  www.nytimes.com/2014/06/14/your-money/Finding-the-Right-Place-to-Retire.html

The Boise farm market was great fun, as was the Boise Art Museum, which has an exhibit called “Crafting a Continuum” until August 9, 2014.  (http://www.boiseartmuseum.org/)  The ceramics, wood and fiber exhibit explores the permeable boundary that has developed between craft and art, asking us to accept functional, beautiful items as pieces of art (I have no problem with that – in fact, if a piece of art can be touched, caressed, and drawn into daily life, all the better!)  Anyway, a gem of a museum, and an unexpected and appealing part of downtown Boise.  More on Boise if and when I recap all those “our spots” that we find along the way.

We travelled north and enjoyed a few days on Lake Coeur D’Alene, again, courtesy of some very kind friends, and yes, “C D’A” is also an “our spot” candidate.  The drive was gorgeous all the way there, and while we’ve been super lucky with the weather so far, I think it would be great even in the rain.

Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge

Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge

Farm near Kootenai

Farm near Kootenai

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bonner's Ferry Building

Bonner’s Ferry Building

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a couple of days on the water and exploring the towns of Coeur D’Alene and Bonner’s Ferry, we got our passports in order and headed for Canada.  À bientôt!

The Road to Canada

The Road to Canada