A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: AmyERichards

Developing, Developed Colombia…

While the designations “first world” and “third world” are still widely used to label nations across the globe, the terms “developed”, “underdeveloped”, “developing” have begun to replace them in our continued attempt to place ourselves in some hierarchal order. At university, I spun in circles around the development-definition turntable: Was development simply having access to safe drinking water and basic healthcare, or did it include rights to education? Did development mean increased wealth, westernization, speaking English? Or was it something more like just living a happy, productive life in a way that reflects and celebrates some deep, cultural tradition? Perhaps it meant international free trade agreements or, rather, supporting local farmers in the open market? Highways constructed through the jungle to connect sprawling urban centers, or, instead, preserving natural habitats for people to enjoy for generations to come?

In the past six years, I have been face-to-face with hundreds of indices, rates, goals, protocols, agreements, treaties, measurements, predictions, estimates, abstracts and proposals, each arguing that their definition of development was correct (all this, before even mentioning the word “sustainable”!) All these definitions have taught me is that there isn’t a very good one, and that development means a great deal of things, and measuring it can be messy. For me, my understanding of what it means to develop continues to be informed by my experiences abroad.

While I have often found myself trying to sum up my experiences in Latin America in some two sentences for friends and family who have never traveled here before, it was always a disservice to generalize about this immense region that spans more than a continent. Every single barrio, pueblo, ciudad, departamento, geographic space and climactic zone is infinitely diverse. So far, however, Colombia stands apart from most any generalization about Latin America of which I have been guilty in the past.

The following are some of the pre-question asking observations I have made about Colombia and its development:

In and around Bogota, a sprawling cities housing nearly 11 million people (that beats the Burroughs of New York combined), there are newly constructed 30-story office and apartment buildings, immense networks of paved roads, large-scale construction projects por todo parte, larger, newer cars being driven, and cables, lots of cables (electric, telephone, television and computer cables) making millions of connections. Throughout the countryside, there are plenty of streetlights and the roads are new or well-maintained. We have taken public transport anywhere we’ve needed with ease. In addition, we have been able to drink water from the tap without a problem most everywhere we have traveled so far.

In Medellin, thousands of people and businesses await the tourist influx: newly employed workers wait to assist visitors to their immaculately-landscaped private parks equipped with hiking routes, free bikes to ride, adventure courses and learning centers. These workers travel hours by efficient metrolines and metrocable to heights 2000-feet above the city center to prepare to guide visitors through hundreds of attractions.

What Colombia seems to be missing amidst its growth:

Enough tourists to take part in its natural beauty and burgeoning cityscapes. Colombia appears ready, but apparently many tourists are yet ready for it, in large part because Colombia has yet to shake off its bad rep: you know, that pesky narcotraficante…Pablo Escobar and FARC and coca and kidnappings one? We allow ourselves to be blinded by a haunted past, even while Colombia has undergone a real transformation in the past decade and a half, mostly because the people of Colombia are tired of these associations and are proactive about change and the possibility of ending drug trafficking and guerrilla violence for good.
More about these developments in my next post…

Posted by AmyERichards 13:55 Archived in Colombia Tagged tourism bogota colombia development medellin developed Comments (0)

Un virus esta andando!

A virus is walking...

The following is the record of our first travel illness. Be forwarned: this blog post is written in timeline form and is epically long. It is occasionally broken down into seconds.

FRIDAY January 20, 2012 6:00 AM: Wake to headache, stomach pains and dehydration.
7:30: Beg for water and lots of it.
8:30: TL returns with water and other reinforcements, then leaves to city for day with Itamar and Mateo to work on green walls.
8:35: Nausea kicks in and I see this is going to be a very long day.
9:00: Commence diarrhea and severe headache, possible fever.
9:05: Feel like shit.
9:05:30: Still feel shitty, maybe worse though.
9:06: Definitely worse.
9:06:05: My blood pressure must be low.
9:06:10: I might die today while TL is in the city.
9:06:12: Yes, I will definitely die today.
9:07:20: I can’t die, TL is already on his way to the city and wouldn’t find me for hours, and there are lots of other reasons I can’t die today.
9:07:30: Ok, I’m not going to die, I’m just sick.
9:08: Look at clock: it’s only 9:08.
9:08:10: Turn over and recount all the illnesses I’ve contracted abroad.
9:15: At least I’m not in the jungle. Si, gracias a dios que no estamos en la selva todavia!
9:15 AM- 1:30 PM: Long period of moaning, diarrhea, headache, nausea, dizziness, chills and sweat.
1:31: Enter Amalia (the woman who lives next door to our little apartment), “!Ay pobrecita, estas sola aca y enferma, te traigo aromaticas!
2:00: Return Amalia with reinforcements, the really good kind: aromatic teas made from all kinds of local plants and delicious fruits.
2:30: Still feel awful but mysterious teas and broths are beginning to work, I am convinced.
3:00: Return Amalia with her daughter Adriana to deliver rice and potatoes to the poor white woman whose husband has left her behind in such a state!
3:00-3:30: Try to eat food and speak Spanish with Amalia while the room is spinning and her daughter stares at me.
4:00: Enter TL, mi esposo (Amalia thinks we’re married) with a two different kinds of postre that I won’t be able to eat.
6:00: Grieve about illness to TL and pass out.
7:00: Arrive Itamar and Mateo with delicious meals for both of us.
7:15: Think about all the times people have taken care of me in sickness abroad.

So the illness turned out to be a virus, which we know quite certainly now, as Amalia entered this morning to tell us a few days ago that the “virus esta andando”, the virus is walking, or everyone has it: an inevitable fact of life in a small community where most everything is shared, and people take care of one another so intimately.

This brings us to Sunday: T.L.’s sick day.

5:30 AM: Awake for ambitious Sunday plans to climb Juaica- the 3 hour scramble up the mountain beyond overlooking Organizmo.
5:45: Gauge clouds/weather- decide YES, we are definitely climbing the mountain.
6:00: Hike to kitchen to make breakfast, wait for Itamar to awake to join us on our trek.
7:30: Still waiting for Itamar.
8:00: Itamar decides not to go, but drives us to a different spot to hike instead.
8:15- 11:30: Scramble up smaller mountain and through long winding roads alongside hundreds of brave, incredibly fit bikers to Subacoche, another small town.
11:45: Eat a cookie and an empanada in Subacoche.
12:00 PM: Find out how to get back to Organizmo by bus. Find out the bus won’t be leaving until 1:30 PM.
12:01: T.L. declares “I feel very sick”.
12:02: Start asking people where to find a taxi.
12:15: Find taxis. Ask how much they charge: 30,000 pesos, or 10,000 more than we have on our persons.
12:16-12:40: Find bench, this will have to do for now.
12:45-50: I get hungry – TL accompanies me to an ice-cream shop. I try to break the 20,000 we have left but the woman says needs to get change from her neighbors. TL turns more colors than the ice-cream flavors they offer.
12:50: I tell the ice-cream lady, listen we really have to go, he’s going to get sick.
12:51: She magically has the right change, we grab change and ice-cream cone and take off in search of a bathroom.
12:52: A pizza shop: I duck in, TL trailing, open the bathroom door, TL looks desperately for a light that doesn’t exist and finally slams the door.
12:53: I turn to see half a dozen pizza-eating men staring in my direction. I remember my ice-cream cone with caramel and a cookie on top. I start to eat it, albeit it with mixed emotions.
12:59: I finish the ice-cream cone. TL is still in the bathroom. I try not to make eye contact with anyone in this pizzeria.
1:05: I hear toilet paper. Flush. Water running. This is promising.
1:06: TL emerges. Less green, more gray, sweat beads on forehead.
1:06:05: TL uses napkins from a table to wipe away his sweat while groaning. People stare. Man making pizza glares.
1:06:30: We rush out the door, heads down.
1:10: We return to bus station, locate bathroom and bench and sit to await our bus.
1:20: An official bus-driving looking man asks us for what bus we are waiting. He tells us the bus to Tabio left at 12:30.
1:20-1:25: I explain that all the gentlemen sitting next to him told us our bus wouldn’t be leaving until 1:30, he points to Sunday schedule- next bus 4:30 PM, other men avert their eyes. I point to TL- está superenfermo. The 5 bus men and I draw some maps and quickly devise an alternative route. I make the fatal mistake of not inquiring as to how long an alternative route will take.
1:25:30: I grab our bag and TL and climb onto a bus to Bogota.
1:30: TL is looking worse than ever and “bumpy” falls short in describing bus-rides in these parts.
1:31: TL asks if he should throw up in our backpack. I say no this is not a good idea. I ask the ticket boy for a plastic bolsita.
1:32: He searches the front of the bus and returns with a tiny, flimsy, handle-less empanada baggy.
1:35: TL starts to spit into small baggy.
1:36: Here it comes: the empanada bag fills with empanada vomit. It’s like a nickelodeon game show where you’re trying to fill a bucket with gack, it keeps coming. TL is going to win, he’s going to fill the whole thing up!
1:37: I ask the ticket boy for more bags while holding up my jacket to shield the rest of the riders from the excitement.
1:38: He returns with more tiny bags.
1:39: TL passes me the empanada vom. I double-bag it.
1:40-1:45: I tell TL that we’re close although I have no idea where we are. I continue to hold warm vomit bag in lap.
1:50: A man leans over to tell me there was a more direct route to Tabio. I say, ah, muchas gracias por su ayudo, senor.
1:55: Ticket boy sees I still have vomit in lap. He demands that I throw it out the door of the bus. De veras? Por favor, no puedo, I say.
1:56: He opens the door and his eyes say “do it”.
1:56:30: I stand at the door, look out, and drop the vomit balloon onto sidewalk.
1:57: We pass a sign posting an equivalent of $100 fine for littering.
2:10: We are on the highway, there are no highways within a half hour of Organizmo.
2:20: We are dropped on the side of the highway and told to cross the highway and find a bus to Tenjo-Tabio.
2:22: Attempt to cross highway with TL a half-conscious mess.
2:26: Highway crossed, I yell out Tabio to every passing bus.
2:30-40: There are many buses. None are going to Tabio. Everyone is slowing down to stare at the very sick gringo and his girlfriends’ fruitless attempts to get a bus.
2:40: Bus to Tabio-Tenjo pulls up. We jump on as it barely stops and sit TL in the one seat next to the driver. Roads are worse here, but the promise of home is brighter.
3:20: We finally hobble off the bus at Organizmo.

With the worst of Montezuma’s Revenge’s first strike of our trip behind us, we have both made smooth recoveries into the world of health, save for bean-eating.

Posted by AmyERichards 05:17 Archived in Colombia Tagged bus montezuma help sickness diarrhea vomit ill aromatics Comments (0)

On Movement and Migration

Finally, after much pressure, my first post to our blog!

The tides flow, the tectonic plates shift, the flowers open and close, the animals run, fly and swim in search of food, and all the while, people move about them. In so many ways, movement is the essence of life. We walk to get to where we are going. We run for freedom. We swim to see how long we can move without taking a breath. We dance to express. We play sports for competition. We stretch because our muscles demand it. We practice yoga, tai chi, chi gong, martial arts, as moving meditations for balance and health. We shovel, heave, lift, hammer, plant, deliver, sweep, scrub, polish and prepare, because we must make a living.

We migrate… when there is no other option.

For a very long time, migration was life: when staying alive meant having to follow the movement of animals, or scavenging for plants and berries until resources were exhausted.

As “civilizations” formed, we exchanged our portable lives for foundations laid in earth, for structures meant to last more than just a few nights. We grew plants and domesticated and specialized and so on. In the end, our lives became less governed by constant movement. But hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, draught, fires, scarcity, illness and wars kept us migrating, because again, we had no other choice.
Then in the 17th-20th centuries, the United States, the “New World”, became a symbol of choice and opportunity for many. People were choosing to migrate there, and in no small order. In the U.S. and every other country today, we continue to migrate, to move, whether out of necessity, or opportunities for work or a better life somewhere else. Often we migrate for the promise that the grass is greener somewhere else, whether we actually know that grass grows there at all.

So I guess I fit in here, a migratory person, sometimes missing routine, but more often feeling encumbered by the knowledge that I will be in the same place a year from now. My mind, body, and creative self, or whatever one may call it, craves movement. While it may seem like living a grass is greener life, traveling has shown me that the grass is never really greener…it’s just different. And so I will continue to wonder about and travel to see what people make of their patches of life, whatever grows there.

In 2009, when I began moving south from San Jose, Costa Rica, I met a handful of other travelers on the same route. As we neared the border of Colombia, but would have to return north for our return flight, I resolved to start there, in Colombia, a few years later, in order to see the rest of the continent. So this is what T.L. and I have done, and without a return ticket to halt our movement.

Our plan is not unique, like most migrations, we follow a route set out by thousands before us, although we are not confined to a specific path. We will bus, hike, and walk wherever we need to go, with all the things we need on our backs, again something humans have been doing for thousands of years. There is a quiet and constant beat to the traveler’s movement, TL and I have already begun to write our own rhythm atop this beat, here in Colombia.

I hope you all enjoy our story…

Posted by AmyERichards 05:27 Tagged travel movement travelers migration backpacks Comments (0)

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