South America, North America · 132 Days · 24 Moments · November 2016

Courtney's Journi in Colombia

31 March 2017

Todos Santos We stepped off our bus and back in time. Men wearing bright red slacks and shirts with intricately woven blue collars huddled around vats of hot almondy liquid, while long-skirted women with babies hanging off their backs slumped lazily behind their fried chicken stalls lining the main thoroughfare. Curious eyes followed us as we bumbled along in our embarrassingly lacklustre attire to an empty hotel where we would soon have the good fortune of being lulled to sleep by the town's resident tubaist. Morning brought with it a flood of Hobbitish folk from surrounding villages who swamped the streets each Monday to sell their wares. Fighting our way through the folks and goats that covered the cobblestones, and then up along a steep trail through misted pine forest above the town, James and I listened fondly to the market sounds floating up from below and looked forward to the moment when we could post today's photos of yesteryear on social media.

10 March 2017

Lake Atitlan While I can't say that Atitlan was the most beautiful lake on planet Earth like all the Sayers said it would be, I can say that after having visited, I've officially joined the very exclusive league of glampers and I have no intention of returning to the tired, drab life of a regular old camping schmuck. How could I possibly? Who knows, while I'm at it I may also start showering before work and wearing shoes to my friends' weddings.... 😒

4 March 2017

Volcano Acatenango Our tent had only just reached a comfortable level of warmth and stickiness thanks to the combined efforts of our five hot mouth-winds, when a bomb sounded outside and the ground shook and all of that hard breath work went down the shitter. We fumbled to get the tent's zipper down, and tumbled out the door into the gnawing wind to find that our huffy neighbour Volcan Fuego was spitting a bile of fire and brimstone upward into the black. Glowing red lava spewed over the volcanoe’s lip and heaved thick and slow down its sides. As the earth in front of us turned inside out and filled the sky with its bowels’ inky smog, we forgot about the cold as well as socially acceptable behaviour, letting out guttural noises that are typically reserved for punches to the stomach and John Mayer concerts. The magical moment ended almost as soon as it started, leaving us numb, spent, and near naked in our boudoir attire at 3900m like a bunch of mountain hookers in December.

2 March 2017

Antigua James and I spent 2 weeks taking Spanish lessons in Antigua, camping out all the while with a cloudy-eyed señora named Anna-Maria who'd been hosting students for some 45 years. If my math is correct that puts her at 110 years of age. "Holy guacamole" is the only appropriate reaction to that little fact. At mealtimes we would sit around the dining table with the other homestayers and struggle through supervised Spanish conversations, us students becoming dumber as we listened to each other butcher the supposed romantic language in turn while Anna-Maria presumably became more and more keen to close those cumulonimbus eyes forevermore. Much to the chagrin of the entire Latino population, I left the school eager to test out my new Espanol chops, only to be faced with the hard reality that speaking 10 wpm with a professional Spanish teacher is much different than the real Spanish deal in the real Spanish world. Suffice it to say, I have a few more practise hours ahead of me yet.

28 February 2017

Honduras was a third best kind of place. For those of you who are out of the loop, the best things in life are free, the second best things are very cheap, and the third best are unexpected. I lost precious minutes of beauty winks the night before crossing into the big bad H-land, on account of the fact that I was very busy worrying about being shot the next afternoon in Tegucigalpa, one of the murder capitals of the world. I then lost a few more minutes of z's thinking about being shot in San Pedro a few days after that, another of the world's murder capitals. Call me lucky or (preferably) call me Latin America's Most Prominent Cheater of Death, but I was not killed in Honduras. In fact, I never felt even a little bit murdered. People, it seems, need to calm the eff down and get the eff into this most gorgeous of countries. Honduras was, in my unhumble opinion, the best place in the central part of the Americas to get from the crowds and into the unspoilt natures.

20 February 2017

Somoto Canyon There's a tired hamlet just south of the Honduran border where rum-drunk cowboys toil their days away in hammocks and girls have their babies at fifteen for lack of anything better to do. In many ways, the town isn't much different from any other in rural Nicaragua -- or rural anywhere, really. But in this particular place, Central America's longest river undertook its finest whittling project and carved out a spectacular 3km-long gorge with slate walls extending 160 m overhead. Where the canyon levels out is a patchy line of cacti that peers lustily over the ledge at the drink below. Surprisingly, Somoto was ostensibly devoid of tourists during our visit. As we floated on our backs and gazed up at the clouds floating along with us, it was easy to feel like we'd stumbled upon one of the Central America's best kept secrets, and equally as hard to accept that tomorrow we'd be stumbling north to one of Central America's best places to be murdered, Tegucigalpa.

14 February 2017

Leon What better way to spend Valentines than to fill eyes and ass-vents with love dust (AKA volcanic scree - don't tell the kids) whilst skidding like Cupid's quivering arrow down the steep side of a volcano? Let me tell you: a day trip from the colonial city of Leon to nearby Volcan Cerro Negro certainly made for a memorable February 14th. What can I say? Romantic gesturing is a well known strength of mine. That, and tooting my own horn 😜.

5 February 2017

Little Corn Island, Nicaragua The palm fringed, car-free slice of unreality felt at once idyllic and nightmarish, embracing and a bit abrasive. Here could easily have been the set of Survivor Season 55, or that of the Beach where Leo DiCaprio is driven mad by basic social evils and weed. Corn had attracted and trapped the misfits and wanderers of the world: the raisined retirees, escapist divers, fire-eating goths, and Creol-speaking fishermen, who together comprised a fascinating social experiment. By the end of my 6 days of observation, I could recognize the faces of a large portion of the locals and had caught wind of a good smattering of island gossip. The place was small, after all, and as with any isolated community, I was quick to feel like a part of something here; at the same time, this world was an exclusive one and I couldn't help but feel self-conscious of my outsider status. This, I suppose, was the draw and the drawback of the Petrie dish that is Little Corn Island.

28 January 2017

Cahuita National Park Costa Rica was expensive, and if you know me at all, you must know how much I hate spending money. Needless to say, I was in and out of CR faster than you can say “you want me to pay how much for beans and rice?!”

24 January 2017

Bocas del Toro While I didn't do much in Panama, I did stay at the most majestic hotel of all time... so I suppose that's something worth mentioning. Allow me to introduce to you Cocovivo Panama, the site of your future wedding proposal, wedding, honeymoon, consummation, writer's retreat, ladies vacay, brocation, or ideally (though impossibly, technically) all of the above. Assuming you're not a complete troll and you enjoy scenic seclusion, laughable numbers of wild sloths, swimming in bioluminescence, your own private coral reef, delicious home cooked meals, family-like hosts, and/or luxury huts built by locals with locally sourced materials, then by Curious George you'll love this place. Am I selling it yet? I could go on but I'll spare you any further torture.

22 January 2017

Medellin Airport My heart was in my throat when the manager at the check-in desk informed me I needed proof of onward transit out of Panama in order to enter the country, which I didn’t have. My frantic attempt at booking a last-second onward flight failed miserably as the wifi in the airport went down and none of the workers at the airline cared to give the whimpering basketcase a hand. I turned full infant as the cut-off time for boarding ticked past, blubbering and begging in horrendous Spanish for the ladies at check-in to give me just a few mas minutos. Not my proudest moment, really. In the end I spent the night on an airport bench, as well as a third of my month’s budget to change my flight to the next morning. Fortunately, two other gringos had made the same mistake as I, and so we wallowed together as friends -- comrades, even -- in our previously private miseries. As it turns out, friends that cry together eventually fly together, and life eventually goes on.

13 January 2017

Medellin Eco Spanish School My Spanish learning for the 1st month and a half of my trip came primarily from Duo Lingo, which taught me such pertinent vocab as “yellow bear” and “purple toque.” Given that I hadn't yet encountered any grizzlies or a need for winter attire in Colombia, it surfaced that I might need some extra help in acquiring a more immediately useful lexicon. Cue Medellin Eco Spanish School, a farm-based classroom in the picturesque colonial town of Guatape. For two weeks, I had the luxury of schedule and studious serenity, weeding duty in the garden, home-cooked vegetarian meals and regular poops to boot, my own queen sized bed, and scintillating mealtime debates in Spanish to which I nodded along and added a few expertly placed "si's." When it was all said and done, I left that heaven of a place with wonderful new amigos, a few more lbs on the ol’ bones, and the newly acquired ability to say “Los siento, no hablo espanol.” Indeed, it was a very productive trip!

6 January 2017

San Cipriano The ramshackle reality of San Cipriano wasn't at all the quaint riverside village I'd imagined. While I'd pictured us camped up in the woods beside a babbling brook, we ended up pitching tents on pavement behind a hostel at the mouth of town, which itself was far from serene and closer to slummy. The fabled river was littered with, well, litter, and stuffed to its brim with weekending bodies. But behind the unjustified prices, soggy street eats and outwardly squalid living conditions, San Cipriano did have an oddly refreshing take-it-or-leave-it sort of charm. Access required a 7km ride along unkept railroad tracks in a motorcycle-propelled cart, which was thrilling if not idiotically risky, and the locals didn’t give 2 shits about the tourists swarming their muddy streets; rather, they sat on their stoops and glared at us while braiding each other's hair, cause ain't nobody playing the perky host here, and I ain't complaining none about it.

5 January 2017

A Close Call in Cali We missed our bus to San Cipriano because the English lassy meeting us at the station that morning was too busy enjoying crumpets and tea to keep to a schedule. I was annoyed with her at the time, but that first bus ended up crashing and killing a few people on board so I suppose I owe the Queen and her tardy disciple a big ol “gracias” on this particular occasion. Muchas gracias, Victoria!
I awoke with throbbing feet and a horrifying realization that I hadn't just dreamt of being passed around a Cali salsa club until 3am last night like a cheap bottle of aguardiente. I'm not so deluded as to believe that my unprecidented dance floor fame was the result of my slick hips; no, those poor salsa suitors were acting either out of pity for the spaz who must have gotten lost on her way home from robot class, or a fruitless determination to be the hero who might actually instil a semblance of rhythm into her. There was no time to stew in my hot gringa shame, though, as my annoyingly coordinated Colombian hosts, Melanie and Andrea, were keen to get on the road to San Cipriano, a small Afro-Colombian village on the Pacific coast where we planned to spend a couple days camping beside the remote town’s famously pristine river. A perfect place, I thought, to drown away last night’s foggy memories of salsa suicide.

2 January 2017

Cali I arrived in Cali in the midst of its Christmas Feria, a 6-day salsa soirée where even the police can't help but drop their dutiful drawers and slap on their slickest pair of dancing chaps. The gritty city was flooded with loose-hipped, full-lipped Colombians and onlookers swaying shyly in the shadows (ahem, gringos), classic Christmas characters and a more progressive cast of superheroes and stilted forest ferries. The scene was so festive that I questioned whether Cali's shadowy reputation for crime was warranted, until a friend and I were threatened by a man near our hostel with a knife and an apparent need of cash. We escaped mostly unscathed, my friend just a slight bit poorer and me a slight bit less naive.

31 December 2016

San Agustin (thanks again, James, for the pics) San Augustin is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in South America with more than 500 statues scattered about, carved from volcanic rock some 5000 years ago. I enjoyed the fact that despite our technology and efforts, we still can't decide on what the purpose of these rock guardians actually was. Surely more impressive than the statues, however, was my surprisingly natural ability to soar like a slug on the back of a headstrong stallion through fields of mud and coffee. Also impressive was the refined manner in which the town celebrated New Years, with folks young and old banding together to paint the streets and each other a brilliant white using foam and flour in a Mad Max-style showdown. As for us aging tourists, we rang in 2017 with a few obligatory sips of what was easily the worst champagne I've ever had and a 12:05am bedtime. Feliz Año, amigos!

25 December 2016

Salento (quality photos by James, shitty ones by me) Picture a snow globe with a little Christmas town in it. Now subtract the snow, add some cowboys, stray dogs, and a few of Earth's tallest palm trees, and then blow the resulting image up to life size. Boom, you've got Salento. Didn't expect the inspiration for snow globes to come from Colombia? Neither did I, but the verdict is in and the truth is out. It was fitting, then, that Salento turned out to be the perfect place to spend my favourite holiday, despite (or because of?) the 24/7 cacophony of children's voices yelling carols into the country air, rows of redundant tat shops lining Main Street, and an overambitious light display in the central square. But what's Christmas if not a time to accept, nay, EMBRACE cheesy decor and questionable choruses? Sir Jesus' birtheve was ultimately spent chowing down on subpar street meat and embarrassing myself at a cowboy-filled salsa club with new friends. It truly was near-perfection.

15 December 2016

A Quick Note about Rancho Relaxo (a hostel near Costeno Beach) I liked Rancho Relaxo for its healthy meals, the private waterfall around back, the odd Canadian owners, and the hostel puppy, but I LOVED Rancho Relaxo for the name... RANCHO RELAXO... COME ON, people! Mostly, I just wanted to include this post because I like the pictures that James took here. Call me vain and move on.

11 December 2016

Tayrona Park (photos by James) Tayrona Park was exactly as I expected: beautiful if you managed to glimpse a sliver of beach void of people, but mostly just a bit dirty, a lot busy, and as inappropriately overpriced as any other isolated attraction. Call me spoiled, but Tayrona didn't have shit on Pacific Rim. Despite the hoards, James managed to catch a magical moment here (and actually made me look rather babe-like) because he is a wizard with a camera. Ohhh it's great traveling with a personal photographer. For me, the best part of our little trip to "paradise" was hiking two hours through the dripping jungle to Puebleto, an indigenous settlement in the hills above the beach; I say this, even with it resulting in heat exhaustion and my spending the next 30 hours confined to a hammock between emergency bathroom runs. So that's saying something about my opinion of Tayrona, isn't it now?

9 December 2016

Punta Gallinas (photos by James and Johanna) I think it's safe to say that the most northern point in South America might also be the strangest. With its Caribbean-backed mountains of golden grain, pockets of mangrove forests, flamingo-flooded lagoon, and a general edge-of-civilization-type vibe, the beginning of the continent felt to me like the end of our planet -- but then I swiftly reminded myself that the earth is round and also that Harry Potter is not real. Craziest of all is that people actually live here. Kids go to school. There is a "lighthouse" (if you can call it that), for God's sake. All of this, in a place where the continent peters out and simply disappears into the sea. My brain was blown so many times by Punta Gallinas, and what an exhilarating blowjob it was.

8 December 2016

Cabo de la Vela (photos by James) As these things go, our journey to the remote village of Cabo de la Vela in Colombia's far north took much longer than anticipated, reason being that our particular desert-bound jeep turned out to be the equivalent of a FedEx truck, stopping to drop off candy and coke and hammocks and who-knows-what-else to every desert dwelling family along the way (and out of the way, for that matter). The upshot of our reluctant scenic tour was that we were able to get a (very limited) glimpse into the home lives of the indigenous inhabitants of the Guajira desert, the Wayuu. In fact, we were lucky enough to be rideshare buddies with a man married to a Wayuu woman or two, who said that he wasn't sure exactly how many children he had waiting at home for him. Based on the number of little heads poking out between the spines of his DIY cactus fence as we approached, I'd wager that his wiener work could field a soccer team. Well-in, you polygamous devil, you.

25 November 2016

Cartagena (1st two photos by James) Everyone knows that I can bump and grind with the best of them when I'm a few vodkas deep (read: I do an even more enthusiastic Elaine than usual when I'm black out drunk). My savings grace is that typically I'm accompanied by other nearly-as-bad or equally-as-inebriated gringos trying to sexy dance to Bieber on a Canadian D-floor. I learned in Cartagena that perhaps my moves aren't quite as enticing as I'd believed them to be when I found myself in the middle of a circle of professional dancers (AKA any Colombian ever born) screaming at me to "just move your hips, Courtney." I was, suffice it to say, confused because I truly did feel as though my hips were not lying, as Shakira would put it, and also a rather bit stressed -- what with all of the salsa lords evaluating my robotic booty moves. Talk about pressure to perform. As it were, the problem with Colombia has turned out to be not drugs, but salsa. Go figure.

20 November 2016

We were on week two of our supposed multi-month maiden RV voyage when Jamie admitted that he wanted to do our trip on his own. What could I say to that? The heart wants what the heart wants, or more to the point, it doesn't want what it doesn't want. A few days after that shattering conversation, I found myself alone at a bus stop a couple hours outside of San Fransisco wondering what the hell had just happened. I was jobless, homeless, boyfriend-less, and most disconcerting, plan-less. Suffice it to say, I was scared shitless. So, as any rational person might do, I booked an open-ended ticket to a country where I didn't have the vocab to complain about my bleeding heart: Colombia. The following are some blurbs and some photos (mostly not my own because I broke my camera on day two) about life in Narcos Land. Arriba.