Rambling Robert's Travels

This blog chronicals the travels of myself, Rambling Robert, on my next adventure to South America.

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I am a world traveller. I do not work as such. I have been homeless and unemployed since 1October 2003. I worked as a chef for 30 years in America.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

travel update from Colombia

Saludos a cada uno,
Cali, is Colombia`s third largest city with about 1.7 millions of people. It is about at 1000 meters above sea level in the heart of the Cauca valley, where most of Colombia`s coffee is grown. I am staying at the Iguana hostel, which is the same place i stayed last time I was here in October 2005 (see www.robertstravels.blogspot.com and click on =October 2005 in the archives on the left hand side of the page). The Iguana has moved around the corner from its previous location but a lot of the staff are still here and it is still a great place to stay. Let me fill you all in on the last couple of weeks...
I left Quito and headed north along the panamerican highway, which runs from British Colombia to tierra del fuego. I went to Ibarra, a pleasant city in the north of Ecuador with Tony, an American non-conformist who has been traveling (and sort of drifting) around the world for the last 2o or 30 years. He is about 10 years older than I am and a damned good traveling mate who doesn't make much noise and never complains about anything. He only speaks about 10 words of Spanish, so I do the translating. I gifted him my "Barron`s 501 Spanish verbs" book and he is going to try to learn Spanish...He is also a vegetarian so we have been sharing food expenses and cooking together when we can and going to veggie restaurants when we cant.
We stayed 2 nights at the classic Hostal Ecuador in Ibarra where Patricia the manager speaks near perfect English because she lived in a place called "Patterson City New Jersey" which is on the banks of the mighty Passaic river.... Well by coincidence, I was born in Patterson and so we had a nice long talk about "the old country".
Ibarra is a pleasant town/city and we had fun strolling around. I seem to have injured my cadera (hip). when I was in Quito and the pain just wont go away. I don't know what I did to it. I didn't fall or anything, it just has been sore and aches after i have been walking for a while and especially when I walk cuesta ariba (up hill). In truth I have just been taking some western medicine (acetaminophen, aspirin, voltaren,codeine ) and not resting it which is what it probably really needs.
After 2 nights we went to the frontera (border) crossing between Tulcan Ecuador. and Ipiales Co. on 10/12, the day my visa was to expire and crossed into Colombia. Well the Ecuador side is a 4 star cluster fuck !! There were at least 50 people waiting on line and there were 5 ventanillas (little windows) but only one border guard handling everyone. Incoming, Outgoing and refugees!! The line stretched outside and snaked around with everyone becoming annoyed and people trying to cut in. After nearly 2 hours of waiting, Tony and I were processed and stamped out in less than 5 minutes. On the Colombian side, it took us 5 minutes of waiting and 5 minutes of processing. We each got 60 day visas so I will be here probably till mid February.
We bargained with a taxista and got a ride to Ipialles for 4000 pesos (he wanted 7000). And stayed at the Belmont Hotel whose only redeeming quality is that it was cheap. It got a good write up in the Footprint guide and the lonely planet, but to me Belmont means Never again. dirty, noisy, ugly bathrooms blah blah blah. Just around the corner are 3 whore houses in a row with old fat hookers leering at you on the street as you walk by. well... What do you expect for 10,000 pesos per night?(they wanted 11,000. This is a country where one must negotiate everything).
One night was all it took. After about 14 hours in Ipialles we took a bus to the lovely and enchanting city of Popayan. And stayed in the dormitory at the Casa Familiar Turistica
We stayed there for 4 nights. I love Popayan. it is a beautiful old colonial city not unlike Sucre in Bolivia. All the centro district is a world heritage site. All the buildings are whitewashed and have orange terra cota tile roofs. The old gas lamps are all electric now, but the feeling remains the same. The hotel is just 300 meters from an outdoor marked which is really good. full of all kinds of fresh stuff and some great street-food-stalls. We had bar-b-qued arepas (little corn meal cakes) stuffed with queso fresco (fresh cow mild milk cheese) which cost 500pesos (40 cents American) each day and batter fried potato slices and empanadas with pipian ( a kind of potato, they mash and mix with peanut butter and put in a folded over circle of corn dough and fry) Very Knish like food. I love them madly. They also make them as tamales but these are steamed and taste even better!!
So After four lovely and interesting days in Popayan, I took the bus to Armenia and from there to Salento in the Zona Cafeterria, which is the Valle Cualca where all the Colombian coffee comes from. Salento is a tiny town of some 3500 inhabitants. There is a very nice backpackers hostel here called the Plantation House. I have been here now for 3 and a half days and I leave tomorrow for Bogota, the capital city of Colombia where I have reserved a bunk from 22/12/08 to 3/1/09 at the Platypus hostel. My time here in Salento is very uneventful. I am reading a book by Durrell and hanging out in the hammock (which is fortunately under a tin roof cover) as it is the rainy season here in the Colombian highlands and it has been raining intermittently all the while I am here. There is a famous mirador (view point) here that is 250 steps up hill and there is a fabulous view of the valley below and the river which is quite swollen and beautiful. All along the steps there are the stations of the cross which is a catholic thing about following the death march of Jesus. Rather gruesome those Catholics. why don't any of the churches have stained glass of healing the lepers or feeding fishes and loaves? it is always gruesome torture scenes, St Sebastian with all those arrows sticking out of him, St Peter crucified upside down, Jesus being scourged, and the like. I don't get it. So anyway, I have been enjoying some excellent coffee and reading and chilling out as usual.
So now It is Christmas eve. December 24. I have been in Bogota for 2 nights and I have moved from the Platypus to the Hostel Sue. I like it better and it is cheaper. Bogota is pretty manic, with shoppers everywhere looking for last minute gifts.I don't really like being a traveler during the busy Holiday season. Everything gets all crowded up and more expensive than other times of the year. I will stay here another 10 days until the holidays are over, then i think I will head over to a sleepy little village called Mompos and hide out from the world for a while longer.
I have been accepted to be a volunteer kitchen manager at a Buddhist retreat center called Moulin de Chaves ( www.moulindechaves.org ) and will be in south France this summer for 4 or 5 months. Ahh yeah its tough I know but some one has to do it. I sure can understand why all you at home are still working but I just like my own way and so I will continue to follow the sun. Dancing to the beat of my own drummer. Maybe we can all meet and meditate in South France this summer hhmmmm??
Well until the next update probably in early January I wish you all well. Merry Christmas to you Christians and happy new year to all. Here as usual are a few quotes from some people a little more wise than the average television addict!!
Peace and Love to all who read this,
Rambling Robert

"I do not write for those who have never asked themselves this question:´at what point does real lief begin´"- Lawrence Durrell
"That which you would not want done to you, do not do unto another: This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary — now go study." Rabbi Hillel (responding to the challenge of teaching the whole of the bible while standing on one foot)
"It is better to travel well than to arrive." Buddha

Friday, December 05, 2008

travel update from Quito ecuador

Saludos a todos (Greetings to all)
The Grand Hotel is on the corner of Rocafuerte and Porton in Quito (the capitol city of ) Ecuador. I arived here on 1/12/08 the first day of my third month of my sixth year of travelling the world as a back-packer. this is the third time I have stayed at this hotel. I pay $6.50 USD per night for a private room with shared bath and kitchen privileges in the heart of the old city of Quito.
This week is very special time here in Quito. It is the 200 year anniversary of the Liberation of Quito.The forces of Bolivar and Sucre defeated the Spanish colonial Empire and now the people are celebrating 200 years of "freedom" with free concerts and fireworks every night. We dance in the streets and shout... ¡VIVA QUITO!Whhhooooooooeeeeeeiiii!!! I love my life, I really do. but wait, let me back track a little...
On 11/24/08 The lovely and talented estelita had a fine and wonderful departido party for me and all my great friends from Vilcabamba came and said their heart felt "fair-thee-wells" to me. We had a lovely feast with much wine beer and reefers and lots of guacomole, quesadillas, veggies and dips and other great treats and all finished off with two gigantic 7 layer postres made with love by Estelita. The following morning my amigo Bosco drove me to the bus station in Loja where I boarded a north bound bus to Cuenca.
I hit the highway and upon rival I stayed at Perla Cuenca for 4 nights and enjoyed the heck out of cuenca. The whole darned city is a big Unesco world heritage site and it is a very beautiful old colonial town blessed by good fortune to never have been struck by any earthquakes. Truly one of the "new worlds" most lovely and enchanting citys. Lots of beautuiful plazas and parks and old cathedrals and cobblestone streets. A very "european" style city indeed. A great market called diez de Octobrewith many many great choices of fresh fruits veggies and interesting cooked and raw grains. Upstairs in the market are dozens of comedores (little food stalls with ready made meals), like a restaurant.... Clean safe and freindly. I really liked this town.
I spit on Saturday and went to Latacunga and got there just in time because the next day (sunday) was the 52nd annual celebration of Mama Negro. I think its a Catholic thing but I just dont know. There was an 8 hour long parade of marching bands and beatuiful costumes and lots of drunken revelry. Reminded me of Mardi Gras in New Orleans but much more gentle and laid back. Still, all the fun a kid could want for free. I forgot my sunbloc and I cooked my face and left town with a sun burned smile and some wonderful memories.
I ate a fantastic sandwich there. maybe the best sandwich of my life!!! Higos en dulce (fresh figs cooked in panella which is a natural raw sugar) on a bread roll with queso fresco (fresh not aged cows milk cheese usually not more than a couple of days old. very mild tastes like milk)... they also sell these fantastic "tortillas" in the outdoor market which are made of a "masa" of corn meal and onions and spice and stuffed with the same queso fresco and fried in not too much oil. they are kind of small and cost 15cents each or 8 for a dollar. I also had a chocho ceviche (vegetarian) which cuencaña indian woman come around and make for you out of big straw baskets full of all the great ingredients we love about ceviche without the dead fish and with chocho instead.
Monday morning came early and I hit the road again and arrived in Quito, just in time for the 200 year celebration of the liberation...I fell in almost immediately with Mike and Tony, two way-cool gringos who have both been travellers for longer than I have. Not too often I run into anyone who can claim that anymore!! They later introduced me to Justin another American who has been travelling on and off for about 9 years even though he is only 29 and he is a TEFL certified english teacher. He has taught in China and Thailand, and also here in Ecuador. He wants to write a screen play about a homicidal buddhist so he and I have been talking about this a lot.
So tonight at 7pm a band of 12 saxophones, 7 trumpets one trombone, one clarinet and three percussionists , All members of the national police in full uniform with pistols, handcuffs, pepper spray and big smiles played nice concert with a big band jazz style of music with a latin accent for an hour for free on the corner (rincon rocafuerte y porton) where my hotel is, for free. the neighbors all brought out plastic chairs and served us hot mulled jugo de naranjilla spiked with aguardiente and the dancing in the streets continues...There will be fireworks tonight above the huge statue of the angel of quito(virgen Maria) and I will be my self, happy as a clam in an ocean (not in the chowder) Alive and well and almost 53 years old. a free man in quito unfettered and alive. They are going to close this internet cafe now so I will finish this tomorrow.
Now through the miracle of cyberspace it is tomorrow. Today, me and Justin, Tony and Mike went to the cental mercado and bought a bunch of stuff for me to cook for supper. We all had chocho ceviche for brekkie and then Tony and I went off on a tour of Quito´s drug stores (farmacias) in search of the rare and beautiful 30mg codein 500mg acetominophen combo tablets which I "highly" recommend to any travellers like me who walk 8 or 10 km everyday and also have shitty knees ankles and hips (carderas tobillos y rodillas) from being a chef/cook for 29 years. They cost 14cents each here because the govamint subsidizes medicines here so the poor people can have access to them. (What??!! those socialist pinko commies!! Who do they think they are! I hope Bubbuh dubba-yuh sends an aircraft carrier battle group to put an end to this, ASAP!!) uhh sorry about that. Any ways I am stocking up. Hee Hee Hee...
Later Tony and me and Mike climbed the big hill and checked out the huge statue of the virgen Mary who overlooks Quito. It is a great view and an interesting piece of art. There was a strong hail storm while we were on the top and so we ducked into a gift shop and waited and then walked back down. Excellent. We were advized not to climb on foot because the vecindario (neighborhood) the acera (sidewalk) goes through is rather dodgy. But we are three men, not well dressd without cameras or jewelry and Mike is a big boy at about 2 meters tall and 110 kilos (240 pounds 6 feet 5 inch) and so we made up some peanut butter and red banana sandwiches (bocadillos) and just went.
We had no problems at all... well Mike got kind of out of breath but that doesnt count.. Everyone we encountered was friendly and sweet. The barrio (see vecindario)is a place where mostly poor people live. I think there is a certain prejudice and people think that all poor people are potential criminals. I do not subscribe to this kind of thinking and have NEVER found this to be true. On the contrary I think poor people are poor because they are more honest than the rich!
So tonight I cooked for the 4 of us again the third night in a row. we had a lovely dinner of BRV´s (brown rice and veggies) and it cost us 60 cents each! Tomorrow is saturday and the city museum has free admission so you know where I will be.
I will split out of here on Monday and heard up to Ybarra for a couple of nights and then cross the frontera (border) and enter Colombia I think on 10/12/08. Next update from Colombia.
Here then are a couple of quotes to keep you until that time.
from Rambling Robert,Peace and love to all of you,
"Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule. " Buddha
"The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once." Albert Einstein
"I love the life I live and I live the life I love."Mose Allison