San Gil, Colombia…Adventure Tourism at its Finest

After Bogota, we escaped to lower altitudes so that I could regain my equilibrium (and my lunch). We headed for San Gil which is roughly in the center of the country and is a hub of Adventure Tourism. We took a bus ride from Bogota and arrived in San Gil ready for a good long nap (we haven’t really gotten this whole “adventure tourism” business down). Buses in South and Central America are really great. There was a movie on board, two actually, and although they were in Spanish, it was a fun way to pass the time. We were only boarded one time by Federales checking out the pasaportes and we were cleared for travel.

El Centro in San Gil is a happening place. It truly is the hub of this community and was well populated day and night. One thing that I really liked about Colombia was the bustling economy. After the closed and graffiti’d shop fronts in Puerto Rico, we were encouraged by the apparently healthy economy in Colombia. It is true that most of the population lives below the “poverty level” but we saw people rich in relationship, happy and genuinely friendly and welcoming. We frequented a newly opened restaurant and chatted (as much as we can chat with non-English speakers) with the new owners. We gave them encouragement and repeat business for our time in San Gil.

The following are some of my pics from San Gil Centro and around town…

Creepy photo op… This is a real buffalo head attached to a small body that children are invited to sit on for a photo. I think I prefer the live llama and pony pics.

Weird statue award. I am sure this is an image from Greek mythology, but I don’t know it. A bird emerges from the man’s chest. I am not sure what type of bird this is or what special powers it imparts. Mostly it just looks painful.

Michael in the jaws of a giant hormiga. These are the fat bottomed ants famous in the Santander region. They are served fried as a snack or strewn on top of a grilled steak. Adventure dining was not in our plans, so we cannot report on how they taste. One guidebook said they tasted like iron in salt and dirt. Yummy. Another said that if you want to meet up with Colombianos, carry a bag of fried ants in your pack and then offer them to the natives you encounter. They love ’em.

Being built in the Andes, San Gil has many steep streets and after hiking up and down a few I will attest that they are better than any stairmaster! The people here look so fit and now we know why!

This picture does not do this tree justice. We snuck into a botanical park from the backdoor. We were down by the river and Keegan wanted to explore a bamboo jungle. It turns out this was in reality the fence to keep intruders/freeloaders/us out of the park. We found our way to the front gate and paid admission as we were leaving. I’ll bet they are still confused by that one.

We really enjoyed San Gil. It is largely unvisited by international tourists and so was relatively unspoiled. We were not hounded by street vendors and people were so welcoming, not just after our $$. We stayed here for five days exploring the region and enjoying the local culture. We did have a little adventure…that will come up in the next blogs.

Life lesson: Staying put in one place allows you to go deeper in your exploration of the region and to find the oddities that are common there.

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Bolivar Square, Bogota

Sunday is Street Faire Day in central Bogota. They close the center to all cars and people mill about on foot and bicycle. Food vendors and street artists rule the sidewalks and plaza. After New Orleans, they had a tough act to follow, but they gave it their best. Here are a few photos from our day in El Centro. (For those reading this blog who, like me, took years of high school Spanish…I have visited muchos centros and still have not found uno biblioteca. A better sentence would have been…donde esta la iglesia? Every centro has an iglesia (church). Maybe better still, donde esta la café mejor? (Where is the best coffee?) All the centros had multiple coffee shops)

 

La Iglesia Obligado.

A balloon vendor on a bike. I only got one pic and he was riding his bike right out of this shot…ah well… you get the picture.

A favorite in New Orleans, a favorite in Columbia…the singing/dancing puppets!

The fire-breathing-old-guy

Now this was something new…guinea pig races with betting. Spectators would place a 200 peso coin (about 10 cents) on one of the plastic bowls. The guinea pig would be released and if he went inside the bowl that your coin was on, you won! Keegan speculated that the guinea pig had been trained to only go into bowls without coinage as he stopped and checked out the top of the bowl before ducking inside. The police pulled up and, amazingly, this “act” was picked up and vanished in a matter of seconds. Sidenote: I have never seen better behaved guinea pigs.

 

And ending with a few murals… Bogota is filled with public art, much of it murals painted by graffiti artists. The Disney Channel even had an educational moment on how to paint murals with spray paint. (the mask is muy importante!) They were really bright, colorful and stunning to see…

 

Vendors were pretty much the same as you see anywhere…jewelry, art, food. This was not the biggest or best street fair we’d seen, but it was a fun afternoon.

Life lesson: When soaking up the local culture, avoid foods that have names that you recognize. You will inevitable be disappointed by the “hamburger” or “pizza” that is served in a different language. But I heartily recommend you try the local fare…you will usually be pleasantly surprised!

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Bogota, Colombia

After a quick stop back in Fort Lauderdale, we were on our way to South America. I was cautiously optimistic about this trip. So much has been ingrained in our psyches about Colombia being unsafe that I was a little afraid. Also, this is really our first foray into the great big world without a quick return trip planned. Our scheduled return to the US is April 29, so that gives us seven weeks of relatively unplanned time in South and Central America. At the Yoga Retreat we spoke with several people who were from Colombia who encouraged us to give Colombia a chance. It doesn’t have the good press of other, larger, more frequently visited South American countries. I am really glad we did because it is really a terrific place. You still need to exercise the good sense of traveling with consideration for your surroundings, but it is no more safe or unsafe than Puerto Rico or Mexico. I also remind myself that if anyone does approach me maliciously they are after my money and not my life. My pocket money, I can live without. With that said, I will add that I have not been approached maliciously or non-maliciously for that matter. So, on to Bogota…

Bogota is the capital of Colombia and is a bustling city. It is a city with much history~ as I was repeatedly told by cab drivers, Bogota has fourteen churches. Many buildings date back more than 400 years, and they are still in daily use! There are roughly 100,000 taxis in Bogota; they are metered and you hold the conversion sheet when you ride in one, so you can be sure of the fairness of your rate. Still, some try to pad when they think you don’t know what you’re doing. (This happened to me a lot.)

My first day in Bogota was ruined due to altitude sickness. Bogota is over 8000 feet and I did not adjust well. After staying awake all night being sick, I spent the next day lying in bed feeling sick. I ate only yogurt and fruit that day and was better by Sunday. On Sunday, we had our first adventure in Bogota, a trip to Cerro Monserrate, a church poised atop a hill accessible only by tram and gondola. The hiking trail is under repair and subject to banditos.

This is the base of the ride to the top. Two options: tram on tracks and funicular (gondola) on overhead cables. We rode up the tram and down the funicular.

This is my view from inside the tram…This picture doesn’t really do it justice. I could usually see much less than is shown in this pic. The other direction I saw mostly the backs of the heads of the other tourists jammed into the tram.

This is Keegan and I at the top. Who needs a photobomber? Keegan does a fine job of photobombing his own pics. From the top we had amazing views of Bogota and came to realize that it is ENORMOUS!

 

If I had a panoramic lens for the camera, you’d see even more of Bogota.

This is a close up of the financial district seen in the pic above. I am always surprised by the modern facilities, some of them more modern than we have in the US in “emerging nations”. I also love the easy accessibility of public transport whether it be taxis, buses or more rapid commuter transport. They really get that people need to move around and the government plays a strong role in making this happen. May be the future of the US with the rise in gas prices…

Back to Monserrate…the Stations of Cross are depicted in life sized statues. We would have taken pics inside the church, but this was Sunday and they were holding back to back Masses during our time at the top. Fortunately, the tourist attraction shops were open…

Muchos, muchos cosas bueno en el Mercado de Monserrate. Bolsas y sombreros y hojas de coca para ti, Todos quieren claro que si.

I think that says “many, many good things in the Market of Monserrate. Bags & hats & coca leaves for tea. Everything you could want, for sure.” (My Spanish, though slow and plodding is improving.)

I stared at these “hoof bags” for a long time. I have never seen anyone carrying one, but I keep looking! I’ll warn Jerry that his birthday present (He’ll be 60 on the 25th! 60!) was purchased at this market. I have not included a picture here, so he can be surprised but we plan to send it from Colombia on Monday.

This is our last shot from Monserrate…the cable that holds the funicular heading down. This ride was similar to the tram at Squaw Valley but without the skis and parkas.

This was a very cool place to visit. It added a good 500 feet altitude to my discomfort in lower Bogota, but the tram/gondola rides were worth it. (Oh, and the price for the rides and visit to the Church & grounds? $4 US. I do appreciate the reasonable entrance charges to their attractions.)

Bogota continues on the next blog post.

 

Life lesson: Don’t take life too seriously. There is no place so sacred that you can’t make a buck or two off the visiting turistas.

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Day Trippin’ to Nassau, Bahamas

During our time at the Yoga Retreat, we had the opportunity to take the boat into Nassau (about 5 minutes away by boat) and to wander the streets with the Cruisers. We were wary of this because of an experience in Baja many years ago. We were walking along down the street in Baja when the Cruise Ship came in. We watched as restaurants, bars and shops raised their prices for the onslaught of Cruisers. A drink that had been $2.50 only a few minutes before was now $6. Since we weren’t drinking and can only buy what we can carry on our backs, we were able to watch without fear of losing our money. This also threw us into a conundrum…what were we going to do if we weren’t going to drink or shop?

Pose for goofy tourist photos, no doubt!

Observe the local wildlife…

Read the writing on the wall/cardboard.

And finally, to break down and buy SOMETHING! Keegan bought a new “friend” a coconut shell turtle (now named “Turry”) that can be wound up and will race across the floor a short distance. It is light and fairly indestructible…a great traveling toy. That is the “straw market” in the background. This is the major shopping stall market on the Nassau port.

After this we headed back to the peace, quiet and calm of the yoga retreat.

 

Life lesson: If you’re sitting in the barber’s chair, sooner or later you’re going to get a haircut. In other words, if you’re wandering through the Straw Market, sooner or later you’re going to buy SOMETHING.

 

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The Atlantis Hotel & Resort, Paradise Island, Bahamas

I would really like to tell you about our stay at the Atlantis, but the truth is that we stayed next door at the Sivananda Yoga Retreat. We visited the Atlantis daily because 1) the yoga retreat does not serve coffee and 2) Atlantis has a Starbucks (for Michael) and 3)they had an amazing carrot cake at Starbuck’s (for Mary & Keegan) and 4) sometimes it’s fun to see how the other 4% live. The contrast between the simplicity of the ashram and the ostentatiousness of the Atlantis is really striking.

That is the yoga retreat on the left and the Atlantis lobby on the right. To be fair, the pictures were taken at different times of day. But still, I think you can pick out a few differences.

These are just a few of the touches from the lobby and hallways. Those seahorse lights were something! The ceiling had a number of these mosaics in them. All of them had a maritime theme; this is the Atlantis, after all. Since we had seen the battle at Caesar’s in Vegas, we knew the story of the creation of Atlantis. There is no such statuary battle occurring here, I think it is the only thing missing…a little animatronics is just what the Atlantis needs, but I think the sea air wouldn’t do the “statues” any good.

One thing the Atlantis does have is a world-class aquarium. We went twice and I don’t think we saw the whole thing. And it’s FREE! It was located just off the lobby and here are a few pictures of our visit to the aquarium.

This picture looks like Michael is starting to disappear. Don’t worry, it’s not a “Back to the future” moment. I must have moved; or he must have moved. Either way, his left arm is fine.

I think the aquarium is located directly beneath the restaurant kitchen. They can draw up one of these racks when they need extra lobsters.

JELLIES!

Wouldn’t this give you the creeps to see something like this swimming among your pots and pans?

This is evidently how the best dressed members of Atlantean society do it.

I really liked this fountain. We had to cross the line to get this pic…This fountain exists in a region of the Atlantis that is inaccessible to the peasantry, but when it’s late you can sneak over…

And lastly…

Keegan is acting like he is afraid of these puffy creatures. He wanted to be sitting in the box, surrounded by these, but I limited him to holding just two of them.

Life lesson: Take some time to see how the other folks live and then go back home. It was a fun place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

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Sivananda Yoga Retreat, Paradise Island, Bahamas

The beginning of March saw us traveling to Nassau, Bahamas and then on to the aptly named Paradise Island. My first Ayurvedic speaking gig during the trip has finally taken place! It was GREAT to be back in the flow and speaking to people about Ayurveda. It was an introduction to Ayurveda done at the Sivananda Yoga Retreat in the Bahamas. The following are some pics and commentary on our visit there.

This is just one of the many yoga platforms at the retreat, but it is the first thing you see on arrival.

This is a pic Michael took of me actually giving a talk.  I wish I had worn the white pants on this day, since this is the day he showed up with the camera, but hindsight is always 20-20. The talks went very well and our time at the ashram was very special. We were well taken care of and met many wonderful people.

This sign greets you upon arrival and is a good simple introduction to the philosophy behind Sivananda Yoga. People from all around the world visit here and its philosophy is acceptable and adaptable to all.

Across the harbor is the docking platform for cruise ships visiting the Bahamas. It is quite the contradiction to stand with your feet in the simplicity of the ashram and to see these huge ships carry passengers and their money into Nassau for a shopping spree. At any one time there were as many as six cruise ships docked a few hundred yards from the yoga platform at the ashram. Apart from their horns and bells, you’d never know they were there.

This is the exterior wall of the temple, where everyone gathers for satsangs (talks) twice per day. This is where I gave my talks. This is a picture of Siva in meditation with the River Ganga flowing from his hair.

This is our last view of the ashram as we’re getting ready to head back to Fort Lauderdale. Keegan (in the green shirt) is feeding some fish off the dock.

Life lesson: Live simply that others may simply live. Okay, Mother Theresa said it first, but it really did apply to our time at the ashram, especially when we contrast it to our trips to the Atlantis next door. (see the next blog post…)

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Air Boat Ride, Florida

Hi Everyone! We left Puerto Rico on Feb 28 and on March 6 went to the Bahamas. Between those two dates we got haircuts (yes, even me!) and visited many, many sites in Florida including the Kennedy Space Center. The pictures were excellent and I did the unspeakable and unforgiveable act of removing the chip from the computer before the photo transfer was complete. (It was a complete and total accident. I thought the machine was hibernating, but it WASN’T) Now I know…this is a bad, very bad thing to do. The pictures are still on the chip but they are non-retrievable. The computer couldn’t do it, the camera couldn’t do it, the iPad couldn’t do it…if only we had the MacBook here, maybe it could do it. I will save the chip and maybe when I get home we can access the pics. If not, well, I guess you had to be there…

After I gave up on the chip, I purchased a new one. (And made a decision to buy a new, better camera before going to South America)(14 mp! 10x zoom! Nikon!). Right after buying the chip we took an Air Boat Ride. This is the first glimpse of the Air Boat and Cap’n Johnny.

This is a picture of a young bald eagle flying off with his lunch…Nope, sorry, it flew out of frame. This is Cap’n Johnny on the Left and Michael on the Right. This was my view for most of the trip.

Now we’re taking a turn…

Keegan liked the wind in his face.

Our first ‘gator sighting!

And then you know what happened…it started to rain! Buckets! Torrents! The rain pelted us and felt like icy needles on our faces as we raced back to the dock while huddling under the seat covers. All wildlife had retreated to more temperate climates. This is the last picture of the day taken when I saw the storm heading our way but before it could do any damage to the camera. We did get some $$ back and decided that a 60 minute airboat ride was plenty.

Overall, it was fun, exciting and, well, wet. I pretended we were Bud and Sandy out with our dad, the ranger, riding out to find Flipper. Sure, it wasn’t the Everglades, I did have to fill in the blanks.

Life lesson: You can’t outrun the weather. (At least we sure can’t) The best you can hope for is to have fun in spite of the downpour. Because, trust me, there will be downpours.

 

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