Random thoughts for those who travel. Ridiculous thoughts for those who dont. Until you know me, it might not make sense.HA.

Travel Incidents Replayed

Colombia……a pictoral essay.

A brief pictography on Colombia, complete with a little commentary.  Individually the images illustrate life in Colombia.  Collectively – and in comparison – they tell quite an interesting, if not funny story.  Read it all and scroll slowly. Enjoy.

FUN AND GAMES

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One of the best fighters in history.  Not sure who he is though, looks tough.

This is the grand city bull fighting ring in downtown Bogota. Quite a structure and quite the tradition.

Downtown Bullring in Bogota.

Downtown Bullring in Bogota.

The bullring was closed by ‘Prime Ministers’ orders in 2012 and re opened as an outdoor skating rink.

DSCF2480And yes this is actual ice. Paid admission, noggin holders and padding, incl.

And from a traditional sport to a non-traditional sport and back to a more traditional one…………..and this certainly is one.

 PAST TIME SPORT

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It looks like a simple game of throwing something for points.

Tejo (pronounced Te-ho) is a National game in Colombia.  It is not found everywhere, but when you find it, its pretty cool.  The three times I was actually able to find an arena and we went, the game cost the same to play.  In all threes instances ‘senor bartender’ approached the group and we discussed playing and what was involved.  The “ante in”, I have to refer to it as, was 15 beers.  Yes, one-five.  Brought to us in a case along with the discs to throw….and a little bit of instruction…..not much. This is yours truly, three Brits looking on. Good people.

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The goal is to land the disc on one of the triangles which are sitting perched on the edges of an iron ring…..look close.  This throw was close to the target.

If you are really lucky (or skilled enough) to hit one of the triangles dead on, there is a wonderful little reaction. really skilled players can do this two or three times in a row…..for us, it was a matter of pride to at least hit one, once.  We did…….I did, at least

tejo colombia

 The triangles are filled with a bit of gun powder. Everything striking together at the same time makes the ka-boom. And man it feels good. Fun Times.

DSCF2660And for the record – Beer selection: Poker, Aguilla, Club Colombia. Mix them up if you want, but you buy 15 – none the less – in order to be able to play for as long as it takes you to drink the suds. Senor bartender and instructor on the right of the pic. Nice stash.

SOME LOCAL FARE

Colombian BBQ Bogota

Colombian BBQ Bogota

Downtown Bogota features a couple of these BBQ restaurants with this impressive vertical style grill cooking up various meats.  You can get an assorted plate of chow for around $12/pp.  The grill masters working street side entice people passing through by offering a sample of something savoury handed to you on the end of a prong……..seems pretty good.

DSCF2517 A tasty looking sample. It actually works getting you into the restaurant of course.

Between chews it is quite likely that you would ask what exactly you are eating.  Beef? Chicken? Pork?  Carne? Pollo? Cerdo?  After a resounding ‘NO’ to these three likely choices, the employee then hands over a little sign depicting the animal who’s meat just went from the grill to your hand then your mouth.  What is it exactly?

DSCF2516The “Chiguiro”

The Chiguiro is in fact the largest rodent on the planet  and is found and sometimes eaten throughout South America.  Its bigger than a beaver, reproduces like a rabbit, hangs out in packs like a wolf, eats like a rat, barks like a dog, and is as big of a pain in the ass for residents and homeowners as racoons are to us here in Canada. There is some interesting information about the animal on Wikipedia.  Click here for Chiguiro facts and figures on Wikipedia.

The best line on Wikipedia about the Chiguiro is below:

“The meat is considered unsuitable to eat in some areas, while in other areas it is considered an important source  of protein”

As always and with anything: Buyer beware.

A LITTLE BIT OF CULTURE

The Colombian National Museum in Bogota is an impressive building that was originally (and previously) used as a prison.  It has some impressive spaces and works to look at.  Certainly (as in everything in Colombia), there are some interesting and opposing works and exhibits.

DSCF2520A gorgeous and spacious room to look at the works.

There are many examples from one of the most celebrated Colombian artists known as Fernando Botero.  He is known for creating bloated, oversized depictions of people, animals and elements of the natural world.  Certainly he is prominently featured in this museum.  Lots of big bums and rounded people.

DSCF2620Before cosmetic surgery in Medellin become so popular including the ‘butt implants’, Botero led the way in sculpture.

A little bio on Fernando Botero.

Back to the prison feel and open spaces…oh if these walls could talk.

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And finally the ‘piece de resistance’, a piece of a meteor that struck and landed in Vichada, Colombia.  Somehow doesn’t see to fit in the museum filled with art.

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Nor does the headless statue.

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List of famous people over history who were beheaded.

A complete list of impact craters on earth.

 SOCIALIZING

Travelling is not at all travel without meeting a whole bunch of other travellers from all walks of life and from all over the world. This particular guys name is Russell.  I met Russell during my first week in Colombia.  Like me, he arrived with very little plans for his adventure.  Unlike me, he was travelling on a very very tight budget, was busking at nights to make ends meet and our differences dawned upon me when he stated he arrived in Bogota with only $100 in his pocket.  To further differentiate between us, Russell was going to depart Bogota in a few days, and do so on foot.  I was in shock to be honest……walk out of Bogota?  No fares for buses or taxis or anything of the sort…..just simply walk.  Out of monetary necessity and pure enjoyment Russell went about his journey, one step at a time.  To be honest, I thought the idea was a bit crazy.

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And to prove the point, we came upon Russell on his way out of town.  Hes not hitching a ride but was waiting for a western union money transfer to arrive of $100usd and then he would be on his way.  Once again it dawned on me……who would think of just leaving city and heading out (route unknown) with only $100 in their pocket?  Money that Russell told me he would use on provisions.  Say the words provisions, walking and Bogota in the same sentence and you are either the craziest or coolest guy in town.  Russell was a pretty cool dude. age:26. hometown: Pheonix, AZ. Profession: Artist/Musician. Full name: Russell A. Barnes, look him up.

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SAVING

Stray Dog: Day 1

While staying at Los Pinos Hostal, high in the Sierra Nevada mountains on the north coast of Colombia, we had a visitor come by looking well worse for the wear.  The visitor was the dog you see below and this picture is of him when he arrived.  Barely able to put one foot in front of the other, the stray was certainly on his well worn out death bed…..he’s probably been there for a while.  After a few hrs of him scared and timid and looking like he needed something to eat at least, I recalled a similar dog we had in Utila Honduras that (due to the physical nature of him), we called ‘Bones’. And this dog was now another ‘Bones’.

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Bones must have made quite the impression on his first night…….everyone was horrified by Bones at first but for different reasons.  Some were horrified by his skidish nature, and protruding frame, wanting the dog to just ‘go away’…..others were horrified about the lack of strength and health of the dog and were very compassionate for him, wanting just ‘to feed him and get rid of his ticks’.  I was neither here nor there on the particular topic until the following morning, although I did name him Bones.

Upon checking out of Los Pinos the next day, one of the guests turned to myself and handed me a bill.  Not a bill of sale, but a bill.  Amber put 50,000 Colombian pesos in my hand and asked me to “take care of Bones”.  Not only that, but that she would also send money each month to continue the care.  Folks, its not one for me to step up and suddenly start my first NGO or anything, but the look of Bones and the plea by Amber were two things you couldn’t say NO to.

Suddenly the dilapidated Bones was in my hands at his new home Los Pinos Hostal.  We did our best to feed him, take out his tics, and he did his best getting to know the other resident dogs Luna and Brando.  We fed him and he got stronger and more confident.  In a matter of a few weeks his tail would sail high above his body, he would run and prance and even bark (although this would take the wind out of him).  We witnessed, in front of our very eyes, the re-socialization of a well worn out canine.  Bones came to life.  I could go on and on about it, but for the sake of brevity the long and short of it is:  Amber saved Bones, we did the work and the dog responded.  Almost a love story if there was one.

By the end of three weeks I had made my way down to the city and purchased some eye drops for an infection as well as the best flea and tick collar money could buy.  I got him used to both very quickly, and the photo below shows a very proud Bonsey.  Complete with his new collar he’s more than happy to show off.  21 days folks.

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Senor Bones, bless him.

More to come, thanks Colombia. 2013.

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MY LIFE in 36 Pounds…….how not getting caught up in Columbia House allowed me to go to Colombia.

06 April 2013

The first time I was ever given proper credit was sometime in the 80’s at the exact moment I received my eight carefully selected tapes from Columbia music company. Six to eight weeks previously I was tearing apart postage stamp representations of music albums, licking them on to a selection sheet, and getting involved in the wonderful interdependent worlds of consumption and consumerism.  After hand writing the application (re: name and address), and the envelope, I walked off to the mail and sent in my very first credit application. Beuf!

Original offer sheet from Colombia House circa 1989.

Original offer sheet from Colombia House circa 1989.

Wetting the appetite of the young consumer this credit purchasing trend did not cease with the advent of the CD, although Colombia Music House succumbed, but rather increased and manifested its self into every aspect of our everyday lives. When I started college there were very few people holding their own credit cards, but by the time I walked down the aisle for graduation, you couldn’t get through the school year without being approached by dozens of credit card companies vying to sign you up.  If the free mug or “something U” tshirt or flannel uni pants didnt entice you to sign up as you walked the hallways of higher education, then maybe the allure of having a photo of your alma matter on that little piece of plastic – with a little visa or mastercard logo in the corner – would…..or eventually did.

With credit being king, suddenly a lack of fluid cash did not cease our purchasing power.  In fact, credit increased our ability to buy goods and we did so at an ever increasing rate.  We were inundated with phrases like “don’t pay a cent”, “do not pay till the year 2005”, and “no money down” until they became context of this new popular culture.  As a group we were dealt a wonderful hand of increased tuition and cost of living, lower wages, higher unemployment, and larger debt load.  This didn’t phase us however as we had access to credit, and companies were offering this credit to us at an alarming rate and with increasing frequency.  We bit and we bought.  And we bought and we bought.

We don’t need to look much further than our own debt loads and credit problems to know the rest of the story.  More and more people are struggling to make even minimum payments and the interest rates are astronomical. 

A recent FB status update from a friend who captioned "credit cards are getting a work out today!"

A recent FB status photo update from a friend who captioned this:  “credit cards are getting a work out today!”

Taking solace in the vast amounts of goods contained in our homes, garages, closets, and basements and finally making their way to the land fill – the debt continues its stranglehold.  Strangely enough, a frequently used “feel good” remedy is the purchase of an Iphone, even throwing out the old one and lining up for an hour for the opportunity to spend $500 on a new one (re: more credit, and signing up for a 3 year contract)  because then the phone is free right?.  Smart isn’t it?  Not really……but it feels good in that moment, so I’m told, or so it appears.

And there it is, we have stuff and we have debt and we live with it.  Some people are even comfortable with it, wouldn’t know what to do without it, the new normal. Gather those airmiles, but never take flight.  For me conversely it’s the flight I’m looking for, and for what I like to take.

I am able to do this because I don’t have debt (re:things) that create the debt and thus keep one grounded in one spot for a long long time.  This new world normalcy for many, is for myself, so foreign.  Debt controls us, strangles us, and holds us like a bear hug we want to get out of but in some sense we like – and are used to, not like we have any other choice. 

When packing for my recent 3 month trip to Colombia I took all of what I needed, but what some might call the bare essentials.  My entire life for 90 days on the road was folded up into a backpack that weighed 36 pounds at the airport check in.  That is all.  My entire living existence was contained in one bag slung on my back and really, this is all I needed. 

Although I was introduced to consumerism, credit and consumption by Columbia Music House some twenty five years ago, I did not get caught up in this culture as most did.  For some reason (maybe years of living day to day during and after university with a strict accounting dad holding the reins), I paid off my debt and never returned.  I clearly remember the day I became 100% debt free, it was the first time I actually felt free…..and it was a great feeling .  A better feeling than I received from anything Ive ever bought.  Suddenly I was empowered and able to make choices in life based on what I wanted to do not what I had to do.  Happiness and mobility increased, working hand in hand like a secret formula we were never taught or shown.  I continue to challenge myself to work with what Ive got and not extend myself beyond my means.  Its fairly easy when travelling in second and third world countries but understandably harder whenever I return home for more than a week or two.  With that said, each time I purchase a plane ticket Im reminded why I don’t want an Iphone or new living room set or the latest kicks, and why I just laugh at people who’s local grocery store is Costco (re: you never leave there without spending a couple hundred bucks).

In essence,

Not getting caught up in Columbia Music House, has allowed me the opportunity to travel COLOMBIA! 

For the interested, here is a complete list of what thirty six pounds of goods in a backpack adds up to:

Colombia Packing list:

-2 pairs of jeans

-1 pair light weight hiking pants

-1cargo shorts

-1 swim shorts

-5 underwear

-3 pairs socks, 1 pair wool socks

-5 t-shirts

-1 long sleeve T shirt

-3 button down shirts

-1 pull over fleece

-1 rash guard

-1 hoodie

-1 winter hat

-1 hat

-1 rain coat

-1 pair lightweight hiking shoes

-1 pair flip flops

-head lamp, sewing kit, bottle of camp soap, flashlight, toiletries, sunscreen, sleeping bag, travel pillow, quick dry towel, snorkelling gear, 2 books, note pad, bag of band aids, swiss army knife,

-(in my carry-on not incl in the 36lbs). laptop, speakers, iPod, earphones, usb stick, camera, cell phone, chargers.

Things I didn’t use, or were lost or stolen on trip:

-2 button down t-shirts (not used)

-winter hat (not used)

-sewing kit (not used)

-1 book (not read)

-cell phone (stolen)

 

Foot Note: An interesting article about how Colombia House was able to make money through their sales scheme in the 80’s and 90’s

http://mentalfloss.com/article/28036/its-steal-how-columbia-house-made-money-giving-away-music

Colombia Music House Logo.colombia flag


Danny riding bareback – a tour of Los Pinos Hostal, Colombia.

Inundated with various animals and wildlife high up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains outside Minca Colombia, Danny decided to take one unsuspecting mule under his wing.  After a few days of joking that the mule was now adopted by the hostal, we encouraged Danny to prove his relationship with this beast of livestock AND to make friendly contact.

However, this would not be enough for the onlookers who chided Danny to actually mount and ride the mule.  With little coaxing, this relationship between man and his animal was established and caught on camera for all to see.

What follows, ends up being a nice little outdoor tour of Los Pinos Hostal, and the landscapes and views this wonderful place offers. You will also get a glimpse of the largest hammock in Colombia….check it out.

If you go, you too can ride the mule if you’re up for it.  Pretty much anything goes at Los Pinos, SO, if there is something you want to do you will never be met with “you shouldn’t do that”, but rather “go for it”……of course, no matter what the consequences might be.  Sometimes things just seem to be normal given your surroundings and environment.  Kids, don’t try this at home.


The best medicine for fear is to face it.

For some years, some many years ago, I suffered with bouts of anxiety that surfaced for no real explanatory reason what so ever.  Trying to combat the limitations this feeling can exacerbate I realized that the best way to over come was to face this anxiety head on.  For some people this anxiety surfaces in daily living, for others it is brought on by events or scenarios associated with the aforementioned stress.  Personally, I could not determine the root cause nor the factors which brought this upon myself.  With that said, when this feeling came upon me in theory or actuality, the best way I could overcome the issue was to face it head on and go for it.  The resulting accomplishments would then serve as a backboard – or bench mark so to speak – and check, that the anxiety was driven down beyond any means of resurfacing….and hence healed.  Travel was one of those scenarios for me which could bring upon anxiety. Unfamiliar people, places and things could in essence, get me anxious.  So, to over come…..you just GO. And Go. And Go. And that I have.  Diving was as well was something I wasn’t to particularly fond of – BUT – to overcome I had to come face to face and simply continue till that anxiety was so small it was non-existent. Some 1000 dives later and I’m master of the sea.  Bringing me to this next point.

Falling/floating/flailing from the sky from absurd heights in something that most people would be apprehensive about and possibly anxious.  Not good regular – I’m about to have a big job interview anxiety – but real unhealthy limitation experience anxiety.  One that cripples you and shapes your choices and experiences from that point on.  So, in that, Paragliding is one of those activities I’m not fond of in theory….and something I would never consider doing.  However, as per my usual medicine in these cases, it was best to hit this apprehension head on.  Thus, when I was thinking about my trip to Colombia and the possibility of going paragliding, taking part in this activity was not an option, it was a need.  An internal need to find that back board and burry that anxiety once again.

I accomplished the paragliding and lived to tell.  Im better off for it and although it really was a “stomach in the throat experience”, I would now consider doing it again, somewhere else, some other time.  I took a video of part of this experience.  It shows me floating around and somewhat enjoying myself.  We return to the landing zone and are still very high above when the pilot asks me if I want to do “some spins”. Everything inside me said” no freaking way”, but alas in the video you can hear me say, “lets go for it”.  The video below shows how insane these spins can be…..and of course that we had a safe landing as well.  If you hold on till the end you’ll see the relief on my face.  Not normal relief but relief that comes in the form of facing your fears and knowing that being empowered in that manner is the best medicine…..be it paragliding, diving, travelling – or for some – even simple day to day activities and life.  In this manner the best prescription is a well know remedy (and saying) that is very seldom used.  Its called: GO FOR IT. Try it, it might work for you as well.


Ping Pong at the Border. Vans, Stamps, and Guns. Editorial: Colin Sim

From manfromanotherland.

I asked a very good friend of mine if he would write a story bout his travels that he would share on this blog.   And he did. Its worth the read, if not for the adventure, for the sincerity. Thanks Colin.

BORDER DETAILS

Central America – 1 June 12 – Colin Sim 

Growing up in the Niagara area, just 20 minutes from the US border, I was fairly used to the relative ease in which a Canadian could cross into the US.  It was generally just a quick chat with the border guard and you were into the states, or the same going back into Canada with my bucket of buffalo wings, case of cheap beer, and a tank full of gas.  I´d say I´d crossed back & forth well over a 100 times without incident, ever.  But it´s slightly different here in Central America when it comes to crossing borders.  For example, you have to have your passport visa stamped OUT of the country you are currently in, before you can get a visa stamp going INTO the country you are on your way to.  Sometimes this process can be extremely simple,  Like going north into Guatemala from Honduras.  You stop at a little outpost in the middle of nowhere , get a quick stamp from Hondo, walk across the dirt road to the Guat(emala) Immigration office, which looks identical to a toll booth on a US Expressway.  Ironically, you do pay an entrance fee going into Guat & you just know that a portion of that fee is going to pay for the border guards´ dinner that evening.  But all in all, quick, easy and painless.  Sometimes, however, border crossings can be an exercise in patience, humility, absolute corruption and hopefully, redemption.  This is one of those stories.

Background

 My good friend Chris and I had been traveling for awhile and ended up in a small surfing town in El Salvador for the better part of October in 2011.  Two other friends, Melanie & Ty, had been on a rubbertramp (driving a van) tour from BC and had met up with us.  The plan was to drive from El Salv into Nicaragua.  To get there, you have to cross out of El Salv, into a very small portion of Honduras, and then into Nica.  We had 4 border crossings ahead to get into Nica & to get there with plenty of daylight to spare was the goal.  We were leaving early enough, the drive only 6 hours, it should be attainable, we were sure.

 The rules for vehicles are exactly as they are for people.  If you´re driving in Central America, your car needs a visa/permit too and also has to follow the stamp IN/OUT procedure.  So, as we were leaving El Salv, the van´s permit was stamped OUT first at a small checkpoint prior to the main office, we then drove the 300 meters to where we needed to have our passports checked.  I went to the window first, and was promptly told that my visa had expired and there was a hefty fine of $104US!  That´s a lot of money down here

And on with the story….

Now, I had been in Central America for 7 months by now, and El Salv, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua share what is called a CA-4 visa, giving 90 days maximum within those 4 countries.  I had received a 90 day extension in Guat about 45 days earlier, so I should be fine, I tried to explain to the border official in my broken Spanish.  In turn, in his broken English, he said he knows, he sees the stamp, they just weren´t going to honour it AND he reminded me that the fine was $104US.

The other option he said, was to drive to the capitol city of San Salvador, go to the main immigration office there, and get an El Salv extension and the fine would not apply. After a quick discussion, the 4 of us jump back into Ducey (of course the van had a nickname) and proceeded to turn around and drive towards San Salv.  Just a quick stop at the checkpoint for vehicles and we´d be on our way.  The next guard looks at the van´s permit and quickly retorts that our permit has ended and no longer valid.  It was only 20 minutes earlier that it was stamped out but the guard didn´t care and told us to turn around, go back to the office we were just at, and get a new permit to drive into El Salv.  Back down the 300m, of course we get the same officer as before, and he tells us that this office does not provide vehicle permits and we´d have to drive to another border crossing, about 200kms away.  But, he giggled, because we did not have a current permit, we could not do that either.  Yep, we couldn´t get out of El Salv or back into it.  We were stuck in border crossing limbo.  A 3rd option came about….if we stayed at the hotel conveniently located beside the immigration  office for 3 nights, they would stamp us OUT and we could be on our way.  Something was telling me that he had a stake in that hotel, or that his brother or uncle owned it.  I tried to explain the situation again, that the visa from Guat should be valid & I should be allowed out of the country.  Again, he explained to me that the fine was $104US.

 I reached into my pocket & had $27.  He told me to go and beg my friends for the rest, but I convinced him we were all broke.  He finally relented a little, pulled out an official Customs & Immigration binder, opened it up to a specific page about fines, pointed out how many days my original visa was over the 90, leading to a line with the fine of $57.  Bastardo! 

I think I might be screwed.

I knew he was just gouging me before, but at least this was somewhat acceptable.  I paid the fine, he gave me a 5 day extension out of the CA-4 countries and we were on our way.  Well, at least the 150m to the next border station for Honduras.  A traffic warden waved us over to the side of the road and came to chat.  He had noticed the problems we had at the El Salv office and was curious as to what happened.  He seemed a friendly guy and as we talked, I gave him a quick rundown.  He asked to see my passport, and to quell the urge to prove my story to a total stranger, I gave it to him.  He checked it out, then without saying a word, put it in his back pocket and walked away.

Yup, its Central America…..it actually does get worse, way worse.

 I was dumbfounded.  Did that just happen?  We sat there for a few minutes, shocked, and discussed our current options and I decided to go and talk to him.  He was clearly after a bribe, it was just a matter of how much it was going to take to get it back.  When I approached him, he immediately raised his hand to have my stop in my tracks, and with his other hand, reached for his gun.  Holy shit!   He was yelling at me in Spanish far beyond my understanding, but the body language was telling me enough.  I backed up, slowly, him keeping his hand on his gun, me keeping my eyes on him just in case he went cowboy on me, and I sat down on the curb. I sat there for the better part of an hour, my friends unsure what to do, and me just stewing about it.  I mean, this guy wasn´t police, or customs but some lowly traffic warden  (insert sarcastic tone here ) helping to maintain the immense amount of traffic at this crossing.  Who was he to steal my passport? So I started to walk up to him again, and the same response came back at me, but this time, I understood – ¨sit down & shut up¨.  That line, accompanied by the gun grab is an effective way of getting what you want.  Back on the curb, 3 hrs have passed and now my favorite traffic warden is on the move.  Not towards me for the bribe, but towards a small building with a dozen or so other traffic wardens.  Break time.  Obviously I´m not going to confront this guy in front of his colleagues, so I needed to form a new plan. What to do?

Gringo vindication.

 I recognize that his office, is only 15ft from the Honduras Immigration building.  So I walk over there, tell the officer at the border that a traffic warden has my passport and will not return it.  his eyes widen, leaps out of his chair, runs out the back door, around the corner and is beside me within seconds.  He asks me to follow him and we are now at the warden´s building and wants to know which of these guys here has my passport.  I can feel all eyes on me now, staring through me with teeth clenched and furrowed brows.  I´m petrified.  I reluctantly point out which warden has it, and the officer starts charging towards him like a bull.  Yelling at him, arms flailing, the conversation between the two of them does not look like its going well for me.  This goes on for a minute or two, and eventually, the warden lowers his head, reaches into his back pocket and hands over my passport to the officer who quickly snatches it out of his hands, berates him a little more and hurriedly walks to me and returns it.  He begins to walk away, and me feeling the eyes of the wardens still staring through my soul, I follow him like a lost puppy.   We head back to the Honduras office now, rejoined by my friends who saw this go on, and the officer sits back into his chair, and asks us for all 4 of our passports and he quickly stamps our visas in succession and without any questions.  Ty had gotten the permit for Ducey while I was dealing with el douchebag, so we jumped into the van as quickly as possible.  We were all pretty nervous as we pulled away, thinking the traffic warden would simply call one of his friends a little farther down the highway to make retribution, but we seemed to have luck on our side and didn´t see another official until we got to the Nicaragua border.  What should have been 6 hours, turned into 12, but we made it out of Hondo and into NIca fairly quickly, and after a few days, I journeyed into Costa Rica, then back into Nica with a fresh 90 day CA-4 stamp. 

Story Validation…

I´ve been in & out of 19 countries, and crossed international borders so many times its hard to remember, but that´s a day of traveling I´ll never forget.

Colin Sim

My Central America


My fish is bigger than your fish. The Biggest Lion Fish ever caught.

 

Having first been recorded on the reefs around the island of Utila (Bay Islands, Honduras) in May 2009, this species of fish multiplied, divided, and almost conquered.  For those of you who are not aware of this particular fish…..they are a gorgeous one for sure…….BUT, they are not native to the waters of the Caribbean (but of the pacific, amongst others), and they are tearing apart every fish species they can get their mouths on.  Being able to expand their stomach thirty times original size, to be able to go weeks without food, to multiply like rabbits, and their penchant for dancing and mesmerizing the young juveniles into a trans – then to be eaten quickly and feverously .  With no natural predators in the Caribbean, the Lion Fish are desecrating many fish species from Florida and Mexico – in the north –  all the way Panama in the south.  Simply put,  the fish has no natural predators in these waters AND no external method of population control – as such, you will soon have a reef population consisting solely of Lion Fish, at the top of the food chain……and then you will start loosing the actual reef as well.

A few years ago – on Utila – some very concerned people began voicing the problems this situation was flourishing into.  Different studies were done and different methods of controlling (see: making the Lionfish extinct) were experimented with.  All though rules are irregularly enforced (ie. Never) in Honduras, using a spear gun/sling to kill the Lion Fish (or any fish for that matter) was illegal at the time.  A good friend of mine helped to lobby the government (ie. anyone who drives a nicer car and might listen) for an exclusion in the law to allow spearfishing on the islands in the effort of reducing the Lion Fish population.  With extreme effort and then approval, there were training sessions and signs up and educational pamphlets and even practice spearing on innocent potatos, for those trained and interested.   Spears were assigned to each dive shop (at their cost) and dive professionals were allowed to take along the spear/sling on their dives in an attempt to control the expanding pest population.  Off to a slow start for the first year or so, the program gained momentum and grew to a point where every dive shop is currently participating during all of their recreational dives – each and every day –  in the sea and reefs surrounding Utila.  To our knowledge it was (and might still be) the only community business initiative embraced and practiced by all – for the betterment of the reef, the divers, the local population, and overall sustainability of the fish populations which almost everyone relies on in some way or another, to make a living – on Utila and many other places in the Caribbean.

And I almost forgot.  The Lion Fish are actually venomous.  That is, the fins (or more like spikes) can give you one helluva painful situation, if you do get stung by one.  Swelling, numbness, and burning, with the outside chance of death thrown in.  In only a few people, the reaction to a sting is simple (Burgundy has handled it well from what Ive witnessed).  Mostly the reaction, is of the “ That was the worst pain ever” category.  Simply put, you don’t want to get stung. 

And as a secondary for those in the gambling business…..something like 16 of 24 of the spines are venomous….8 of them are fine, will not hurt you.  Have a look at the photos  and tell me if you can figure out which is which.  The Lion Fish wont attack you specifically but they will react to you trying to stab them with a three pronged spear, and dart one way or another in fight or flight reaction. You will get anywhere from no chances to three chances at a fish.  If you do strike, you then have a very alive but trapped bad ass lion fish two feet away from your hand till you can finish it off, quickly hopefully.  They live as shallow as a couple feet beneath the surface all the way to as deep as you want to dive……….ok then, enough is enough on the background of the lion fish……on with the rest.

Anyway, I caught a mammoth lion fish one day on the north shore.  After a bit of a struggle and with help from a fellow grouper sourcing out the hiding fish…….it was finally hooked…and a good one at that.  It remains the only time – of the 400 or so lion fish Ive ever killed – in which I brought the fish directly back to the boat.  I was happy……the grouper, not so much, trailing most the way back looking for the usual feed.…..to no avail, I surfaced,  yelled at Captain Kerry, and handed the spear and kill carefully up to him.

  “What?, look at this oneeeeee….” Says Kerry

“Ya look at that man” exploding with elation I say. “Its huge!”

 “It tis it tis, get It up here in the buhket.”……do as the Captain says.

We returned to the resort and within an hour the fish was measured.  It certainly was a good sized one but nothing anyone wouldn’t expect.  Nose to base of tail, measured 31.5 cms.

I called Anjei on the rock from the boat on the good old Claro phone, my neighbour, the man in the know about this stuff…..………he confirmed, biggest ever caught…….. Biggest Ever.  Nice one I thought, and of course Im happy to contribute to the cause and my ego appreciates the accolades of that accomplishment, even if Im the only one who brings it up.

Anyway,

The third Utila Lion Fish derby was completed a few weeks ago with upwards of 20 teams (of 4 participants) competing for the chance to capture and kill the invasive and detrimental Lion Fish.

They offer prizes for the most fish caught, the smallest fish caught and the largest fish caught.  In the end they all get eaten in a wonderful feast for the senses complete with reggaeton in the background and bragging  rights on the line.

Im so happy that this tournament has continued to be done. It is a part of Utila, it has to be….thank you to everyone who helps in this cause, day in day out, its just that important.…….and not just during the tournaments.  For each tournament lion fish kills are quite large, numbering 400-500 per occasion. They are tallied, weighed, measured and eventually filleted.  A large feast – free for all so to speak  – occurs shortly after the last afternoon. Lion Fish specialities for everyone.  Everything (time included) donated humbly by the caring and enthusiastic expats, tourists, dive shops and even locals.   Of course, BICA headlining the efforts and organization.  Again, thank you. From me, from the reef, from future generations of divers alike.

But back to my final point,

My Lion Fish record survived the first two tournaments and over 1000 fish caught…..I was not on the island for the most recent derby, so I emailed Dave (of one of the organizers) to enquire about the sizes of the fish caught in the most recent derby………..fingers crossed, my record would remain intact.  Dave is usually a smart ass, and being my lion fish killer understudy, he would like nothing better to crush my ego with news of a fallen record.  Verbatim, here is text of my message and response from Dave Burgundy:

“Ok, Burgundy……lets hear it……what was the biggest lion fish caught yesterday? Im sitting at 31.5 cms and change.”

“ How did it go otherwise?”

Daves response:

“Youre safe, the biggest was 31 cm, and it was an even bigger success than last time..onwards and upwards. 90% of the fish brought in were over 20 cm.”

I guess that is enough said, ego intact.……I look forward to the next Utila Lion Fish derby.  Here’s to protecting a place we love! Great work everyone.

Ps. I know Ryan, you dont endorse the name Burgundy.  None the less, you inspire me.

………………..And a couple more photos if youre really interested.

Theo hunting Lion Fish, North Side Dive, Utila.

A solid strike with the sling….time to find something to feed it to. Educate the predators.

A spotted eel taking a good look at possible dinner time. It eventually did hit it.


Stories from Thailand. The Introduction.

Thailand became a big part of my life quickly and exactly at the moment when the intent was set for my first trip there. That was 2004, and four weeks of my life.  I returned the following year for an anniversary, but not one of the happy sort. A couple of years later I went back once again – in the mean time –  planning all the while for a time away in Central America, the following year.

These trips through South East Asia have remained some of my more formidable travel experiences having  shaped my future travel preferences,  intentions, actions, satisfaction and choices. Putting a backpack on and without any pre arranged/pre paid plans (see: showing up with no where booked to stay), Thailand has provided me some of my first interactions abroad, and within a culture that has been hosting travellers for decades.  As crazy as Thailand was, and it is………..it remains a great place for the first (or second or third) jump off for an extended vacation – travel.  Bangkok is the gateway to more than the east…..it is the beginning and ending of different peoples journey from far across, and from all points on the globe. People colourful, traffic and confusion plenty, order and extravagance personified, detailed and yet spontaneous……this is Thailand.

When people ask the obvious (see: any question about Thailand)……..I always respond:

“You don’t have to die to go to heaven, just go to Thailand.”

Gets them every time……but its true.

More than a few stories have come about during my travels to Thailand…….what I always experienced was even more than simply ups and downs.  I mean, the route less travelled is not supposed to be easy and that is the point…………however, when you first start this whole travel thing this  is the point, and a valuable lesson.  Many trips later, you can actually make it easier and better for yourself  (all the while being able to extend your person further and more forcefully, in a positive way)………..and that is the culmination of comfort , experience, people, and place………..this – for me – started  in Thailand.

I’m going to share some of my experiences travelling through Thailand – stories that interact entirely – even though I might not be able to make the obvious connection to you right away.  They will jump around a bit, and Im going to have to leave out adjoining details as so Im not writing a novel, but for all intents and purposes…..these are going to be true and transparent, funny and ironic, sad and spiritual.  If for anything else, the stories deserve the medium.

Im going to submit a new post once a week for reading pleasure.  Below is a great little overview video of Thailand.  It is not something Ive put together but the video does a great job introducing the highlights of the country in just over 3 minutes. Enjoy!

Ps. I know many people have been to Thailand over the years.  If you have an interesting story to tell (and you put it on paper), I am looked for outside content for these pages.  Just get in touch!


I lost and found my soul in a Big Mac. pt. 2 of 3

Worst Big Mac Ever.

Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand.          Jan 2006.

I was travelling through Thailand on my third trip there in as many years.  Yes, I fell in love with the place, the people, the food, the everything about it.  This was also was the first time and place I had ever backpacked.  So like a high school crush, or actual first love, I couldn’t let Thailand go for a few years.  Now I look back on the place with fond memories but with no intention of reliving high school (so to speak) at this point in my life.

My girlfriend at the time – and I – made our way over 6 weeks through the south, the north, into Laos and then finally back to Bangkok – for our last night in town.  Specifically, Khao San Road. KSR is the beginning and ending of anyones journey to south east asia.  Everyone there is either coming or going but no one is staying any longer than they have to.  If you’ve never been to KSR, you must go….it is something out of this world and has to be experienced in order to understand.  Alas though, not the point of this story.

With all the culinary delights and choices of exotic and fun, somehow the moment seemed right for us to eat at McDonalds in what would be our last meal in Thailand – on what would then be – our last night ever in Thailand.  Things were working well off the start.  Familiar, air conditioned, clean, and a menu in English.  Maybe the menu wasn’t in English because pictures certainly are a universal language.  I imagine I was just pointing at a picture and saying a number. Nung, song, sam, sip, 1, 2, 3, 4….or something along those lines, which was all I needed apparently.

Everything to this point was spot on for McDonalds as weve (re: North American collective) come to expect, and we sat down inside the restaurant to eat familiar food in familiar surroundings.  I started with the fries (add more salt always) and a sip of coke, check. Moving on to the burger,  I opened up the wrapper and saw a glorious specimen of a Big Mac.  Finite details of lettuce and sauce and buns and floating.  Yes the whole sandwich appeared to be hovering layer on top of layer….. fluffy like.  In other words, fresh and put together with inspiration that would be similar to that as making a house of cards…..detailed, delicate, and tall.

At this time,

There was a lunch hour line up starting to form and we realized that our selection of serenity seating –or a nice quiet meal – was basically parallel to the people waiting in line  to give their order.  We had started, so we sat tight and kept our talking low – in other words, listening to other peoples conversations around us.  Looking into the meal, I carefully picked up the sandwich making sure the layers were not sliding off one another – and  by this, making two indistinguishable menu items.  With strategic placement of my pinky fingers around the master piece I was off for the first bite of my last meal in Thailand. Bite one tasted ok (a bit more sauce I thought) and I was chewing away actually thinking that this was decent. Second bite was roughly the same thing but I noticed that the sandwich was starting to move each level around and getting a bit out of control.  Chewing and not thinking, I continued on. It was the third bite that was the disaster. Something unexpected here.  The wonderfully constructed weightless and fluffy burger took on a life of its own.  Probably the sauce factor, slippery pickles, greasy patties – and my lack of attention from bites one and two – and suddenly the burger exploded. One bun this way, one patty that way, a pickle flying off to the side, lettuce flying like shrapnel, sauce dripping like dough from a spoon – gooey but quick.

The overwhelming thought when my girlfriend pointed out I was a disaster – or looked like one rather – was that, in fact I was.  Mess everywhere, literally.  Its amazing how fast that can actually happen.  One minute, sitting down and diving in, and the next, a make your own big mac platter sitting in front of you.

Standing next to us in line were two British girls, one looking at me with shock

 “oh my god, I think Im going to be sick.” She says to her friend as they peer on my sorry soul.

“Girls……Save yourselves.” I announce.  “This was the worst choice ever…..I cant freaking believe……..”  My girl kind of nods her head in support…….going with it….

I got up and threw the entire tray in the garbage. The two British girls left the restaurant.

And, I was pissed (for the food that is, and my choice to be there).  I realized at the moment that I was sitting in McDonalds on my last night in a place that can easily offer the best food reputation, as a purposeful reason for going there. Cheap and abundant…..for years enjoying fresh fish on the sea, padi thai in the market, and well, tons of stuff….mango salad, theres a mention as well.

“This is the worst thing ever, this is freaking disguisting.” I mention, getting up to leave and to clean up as well.

So we did.  Up and left.  Meals gone in the bin, 2 additional customers lost (plus the British quitters), and a sour Thailand taste to boot.

With these events, headed back to the room…..or maybe the pub – it’s the last night Irish one for those who have been there – one or the other we were gone. Quickly I was absorbed in the last hours fiasco and true to form couldn’t let it go.  I was mad…not gone mad, but well, spouting off.

Announcing “that was the last time I eat McDonalds ever!” and so it was….

I haven’t eaten one iota of McDees for 6 yrs. Until Luxor Egypt last November and it saved my soul.

Best Big Mac Ever Pt. 3 soon to follow.


I lost and found my soul in a Big Mac pt.1 of 3

An Expensive Big Mac.

It is top news in the wonderful world of economics that McDonalds has decided to lower the price of the Big Mac (and other menu items) in Israel.  Apparently this is not about value for food, gluttony, our the fast paced world we live in, but rather, an actual economic indicator of some sort.

Written yesterday in the Jerusalum Post was an article referring to this unexpected drop in the “benchmark price of the Big Mac” throughout Israel.

http://www.jpost.com/Business/BusinessNews/Article.aspx?id=266110

I was visiting Israel in the fall for 3 months and although I never actually ate at McDonalds, I did have a look at the menu a couple of times, to see what they were offering ie. Kosher vs. non Kosher.  In fact McDonalds was one of the only American franchises in the country I could find.  I heard tales of Starbucks being driven out of there within a calendar year…..so this is possibly a picky place. With that said, the all American burger restaurant was in full swing, everywhere and people seemed to enjoy it.  Remarkable were the prices though.  Using my quick (but not entirely accurate exchange rate of 4:1 –shekels to the US dollar), you could easily spend upwards of $10 on a regular Big Mac meal. This of course is expensive for the value meal but none the less also reflective of the country where everything is more expensive. Me, going directly there from wonderful 3rd world Honduras, the prices seemed like highway robbery (see: lets just go for a walk to the beach, that wont cost us anything).

In any case, reading about the Big Mac its self got me thinking about two particular personal situations involving this menu item at this restaurant.  The first, where in fact I vowed never to go to McDonalds again – ever.  And the second, six years later where I ate a Big Mac meal – for the first time since my vow – that saved my soul.  Location one: Thailand.  Location two: Luxor, Egypt.  Stories to follow in pt 2 and 3 blog.

Below: south Israel, on the way to Elat…a highway service center.  Aroma Cafe to the left……the store whos name starts with an ‘X’, reading right to left.  Probably the favorite of my places to go for a coffee if it was on the run, more or less.  Coffees were absolutely amazing in Israel, and coffee shops were everywhere.


Hello world!

Hola! Just getting started here going through the ins and outs of the page for set up and design.  Soon to come, inspiring, annoying and just plain quirky stories, thoughts, contemplations and observations.  Unconventional and ridiculous……..interesting to those who think it is.