Three bottle of rum and a breath of fresh air

Saturday 31 March

I’ve got chipwood in my mouth as I wake to the dulcet tones of Mancunian accents, as the hostel buddies from last night are preparing to leave. For a few minutes I contemplate staying in Cali to simply recover from my nocturnal escapades, then it dawns on me that I would be staying in Cali.  I need little persuading from Paddy McShamus to get up, and we parade around the hostel still half cut until we muster the strength to bolt for the Popayan bus.  The need to leave Cali behind out ways the need to cure the hangover.

The five hours to Popyan pass without significant incident, perhaps because I’m asleep for most of it, and we’re pleased to have left the disappointment of the city behind.  The tedium is broken by locals forcing foodstuff into our hands, then attempting a sales pitch at the front of the bus.  If you don’t want to buy the goods, you simply hand them back.  A packet of crisps is fired through the window.  Just what I needed.  Very soon we have swapped dusty humidity for the cool, calm, colonial splendour of Popayan.  The beautiful white washed walls of the town seek to rid the mind of the hustle and bustle of Cali, Manizales and Medellin.  It feels like I’m going on holiday from traveling, and whatever the weight was on my shoulders has lifted.

Arriving at the Hostel-trail we discover our smart clean dorm room has been taken over by what appears to be a couple of girls.  This bodes well for the evening.  We indulge in a little dodgy detective work, acknowledging the female toiletries, clothes and literature in English.  Colombian author Gabriel Marquez’s seminal work 100 years of Solitude adorns a bed.  One of the few classics I’ve managed to read, an astounding novel, and one that hopefully will give me some common ground with the surely smoking hot girl to whom it belongs.  The need to eat prevents us from checking bra sizes and trying on underwear.

Popayanis a city of culinary (that was a joke)  excellence, with plenty of eateries and restaurants to choose from, serving delicious fare from around the world.  We opt for a French café that serves wonderful food, much needed in light of all the rice and beans.Unfortunately I cannot remember the name of the place, which makes me a pretty crap travel writer.  If you plan to visit, it’s up by the church at the top of the hill where the beautiful Colombian wedding was happening.  Perfect directions.

Upon returning to our digs, we congratulate ourselves on the fine investigation we undertook earlier.  Two very attractive girls, one from Philadelphia and the other from some totally unknown and unusual Caribbean island, have graced us with their presence.  We hit it off with Dani and Tess right from the off, and it in spite of them just out the shower and wearing pajamas, it doesn’t take much persuading for them to come out for a few drinks.  They arrived last night and armed with some local knowledge they lead us to a classy salsa bar called Iguana’s.

I’m already having an infinitely better night than Friday, partly due to the salsa establishment being more vintage and less sleaze, with an incredible music selection on vinyl.   Partly also due to Popayan not being shit.  Predominately however it is due to the beautiful and intoxicating Dani who has caught my attention.  She’s fun, bubbly and an interesting conversationalist, where there is never an awkward silence or rolling of eyes.  Somehow a couple of drinks turns into three bottles of rum and some serious salsa, while Paddy has a game of tick-tack-toe on a local girls arm with a ball point pen.  Eventually taking a break outside with Danni I make my move, and get a mouthful of fresh air.  Apparently she ‘never kisses.’  I then get my usual head on and shuffle off back to the hostel alone.

Never log in to facebook at 5am in the morning after a night on the lash following a rejection.  You’ll only end up making a total plank of yourself.

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A Swede!

Friday 30 March

Cali has an edge” claims the Lonely Planet.  If it does it’s the only thing it’s got.  We take a dander into the ‘old town’ and discover a sweaty, smelly, dirty, polluted, vehicle infested city centre with maybe two decent looking buildings.  There is nothing here.  It’s going to take some serious persuading from the night life to convince me it isn’t one of the worst places I’ve been to.  I shan’t be hanging around for long.

Admittedly it does it’s best as the city comes out to play.  As much as I don’t like Salsa, we manage to find a great little venue that isn’t as in-your-face as some places appear to be.  I’ve donned the kilt once again to give myself the peacock edge.  I need all the help I can get.  It appears to be working on a very attractive Swede.  A person not the vegetable.  Finally a Swedish person actually interested in me.  All my hopes and dreams have come trueI give her a kiss on a balcony in a terrible, overly expensive club.  She asks if I want ‘dorm sex’.  I reply that I’m a little bit more romantic than that, and decline.
I said no.

Seriously.

Attempting another kiss back at the hostel I’m met with a swift rebuttal, and enter a troubled sleep wondering if it was down to my smokey breath or the fact I said no to humping in a dorm room.  Did I mention I said no to having sex with a gorgeous Swedish girl?  I need my head examined.

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Waxy palms…

Thursday 29 March

With the best of intentions I set my alarm for 6.30am.  I’ve heard that the trek to the Valle de Cocora is best during the morning, as it’s most likely to rain over lunchtime, with you returning like a drowned rat.  Alas I’m still in my pit at 10am, mainly down to the incredibly comfortable beds they have at hostel Tra la la.  Seriously.  Try them out.

I’m torn between giving the whole thing a miss and heading straight to Cali, doing the trek and then trying to make Cali before nightfall, or missing the trek and Cali altogether and heading for the border.  In the end after much advice I decide that it would be a shame if I missed the trek.  My new found hostel buddy Aodhagan (that’s Agon to you and me), has already tread that path while I was drooling onto my pillow yesterday morning, so he opts to head to Cali now.  If everything goes to plan I should meet him there later tonight.  Of course this is without factoring in myself attempting a five hour trek into the Colombian cloud forest wearing a t-shirt, welly boots and carrying no water.  Really I bring it upon myself.  Aodhagan makes a smart comment about bending down to pet a rabbit, only to discover in my folly that it is in fact a baby puma.  At least I have the wherewithal to tell someone where I’m going, which is one thing I remember from the BBC 999 program.  That and pack a flare gun.  Shades of climbing a volcano in Guatemala at night wrapped in a blanket, carrying a key torch.  Bear Grylls I am not.
So it is with a spring in my step that I set out to negotiate the ‘not challenging’ walk in the surrounding Colombian countryside.  I was adamant I wanted to do it on horseback, but the hostel owner advised against it, as some of the route is impassible to the animal.  Of course this is not the case, and I meet more people on the back of the beast than I do walking.  When I reach the base and attempt to climb the 3km up to the local ranger station, I’m turning the air blue with obscenities and cursing the Dutchman.  It damn near kills me.  If this is meant to be tame, then I need to put in some serious training before attempting the Inca trail, or other jungle and mountain treks I’m clearly kidding myself over.  Perhaps it’s time to give up the smokes.  Let’s look at the advantages:

1.  I can climb a hill.

2.  Doggy style becomes easier and I don’t need to worry about the asthmatic face I’m pulling while blowing out my arse trying to reach a climax.

I don’t know about you but I’m sold.

A sign looms out of the greenery.  ‘9’ it informs me.  9 what?  9 more breaths before I finally give out?  9 steps before my heart stops beating?  Although I manage to make it round, there is more than a few occasions when I think I’ll be found dead in the forest by FARC rebels.  Not the end I was hoping for.  The trail isn’t always clear, and since you’re head is down, occupied by not stepping in pools of mud, horse dung or breaking your ankle on uneven ground, you’re likely to miss important signs.  Apart from the one that said ‘9’.  That pretty much saved my life.

There must be a pay off to the effort.  It comes in the form of some truly astounding views during the walk down from La Montana and the ranger station.  It’s here you see the famous towering wax palms, which seem to have no place striking from the earth and threatening the sky, a reminder you’re not that far from the Equator.  Once again I find the photographs just can’t do the scene the justice it deserves.  All joking aside, I was well rewarded for my rasping efforts.  Beautiful.

In an unprecedented turn of events, I make it back to the hostel and to the Armenia bus.  I’ve run out of money, and the cash machines don’t take my card, yet I manage to buy a ticket to Cali on the visa, sink back into the reclining chair and freezing air conditioning I’m now used to, and lift a life giving bunch of notes once I reach my destination some five hours later.  The only downside was some women rattling through all the radio latio tunes like a monkey flailing a parrot with a cat.  The upside was the girl sitting across from me who looked nothing less than an obtainable Penelope Cruz.  By obtainable I mean she was sitting across from me.  I enjoyed the flirty glances until she disembarked at Buga and into the arms of her waiting boyfriend.  I smelled like a tramp anyway.

First impressions of Cali; I don’t want to stay here very long.  That being said, I’m feeling pretty buoyant at my achievements today, so I’m ready for anything the city of crime and salsa can throw at me.  Apart from salsa and crime.

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The devil makes work for idle thumbs

Wednesday 28 March

I’d managed just under a week of no boozing when all of a sudden I find myself awake at 3am trying to build a bonfire in the middle of a field by a hostel with an Aussie, a Canadian, an Irish and an English girl.  It had to be some kind of joke.  I have honestly no idea how mankind managed to start fires thousands of years ago.  We were struggling with a ton of wood, three bic lighters and copious amounts of toilet roll.  I’m guessing the drink was getting in the way of success.  I’m lucky it ends reasonably early, due to running out of cigarettes and desperately needing a hamburger.  Salento isn’t one of those places you can stagger home eating a scooby snack.  I help myself to a slice of reformed cheese back at the hostel.  I’m not proud of it.  It was necessary.

That was the result of last night anyway.  One wee dram in memory of dad turns into another debaucherous evening of liver and lung damage.  I was meant to get up early today to attempt this glorious trek I’ve heard so much about, but I am actually surprised to still see daylight.  The early risers return in the afternoon with tales of intrepid exploration, which only serves to enhance my deep regret and loathing at the previous evenings self abuse.  I’ll get there eventually.

The internet is down in the hostel.  I’m ready to kick off.  Steak and peppercorn sauce at the local eatery does little to enhance my disappointment at the lack of dot com.  I recognise the serious problem I’ve developed if I don’t have my internet fix.  It’s not good.  Imagine what it’s like for the rest of the planet.  If it ever seriously went down, how would we talk to people?  How could we contact our friends?  What would we do without You tube?  Once again I’d be forced into secretly taping soft porn from late night German channels.  I need to stalk people.  I need to send sex pest messages to randoms.  I need some web cam action.  On a chilly evening in a quiet dorm room, it’s all I have to keep me sane.  Perhaps I should learn to read.  Nothing to do but Microsoft paint and defragment the disk.

I’m pleased with myself in staying put for the night.  I could go back out to see if it’s got any livelier, but this is Salento, it’s not Vegas.  The twenty Swedish virgins are not going to turn up at the Speak Easy cafe in my absence, even though my mind is playing havoc convincing me that they are.  I throw my clothes in a heap and dive under the covers before I succumb to the argument.  I’ve a small collection of photographs that’ll help me take the edge off things before I finally get to sleep.

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Remembering dad

Tuesday 27 March

My new travel with pace mantra is working wonders.  I’m out of the door by 9am and on a bus to Salento with the kind of speed where you know you’ve not dressed yourself properly.  It’s a glorious day and freeing myself from the shackles of drink has me bouncing along like a fourteen year old boy who just saw his first boob nipple.  Life is good.

As is my want however there is always a dampener and it comes in the form of the anniversary of my dad passing.  Three years ago today he lost his heroic battle with cancer.  Not a moment goes by when I don’t think of him, but naturally it has a greater impact on this date, as well as his August birthday.  The beauty about it is though, is they never really die.  Both he and my mum have been with me every step of the way on this journey so far, giving me advice, praising me, and giving me a right bollocking.  I can still hear them, I still talk to them, and I can close my eyes and still see the look that would be on their faces for any given moment.  Yet I still miss them every single waking second of every single day.  What I wouldn’t give for one last conversation, embrace or words of advice.  What I wouldn’t give to say sorry.  What I wouldn’t give to make them proud of me.  What I wouldn’t give for them to see me the happiest I’ve been in a long time.  I guess somehow I’m sure they still do.

So it is a somewhat bittersweet journey towards Salento in the early morning sun.  A first bus direct to Armenia in 3 hours, followed by a 50 minute local bus to my destination.  I’ve also run into one of the girls who attended the coffee tour yesterday, so the trip isn’t spent feeling sorry for myself that I’m not sharing these wonderful sights with anyone.

My mind is mainly preoccupied with the itinerary and time frame for the rest of my trip.  As I may have mentioned, I’ve bought myself two tickets to the best festival line up I’ve ever seen in Portugal this July.  The Stone Roses, The Cure and Radiohead headline.   I therefore need to be back in the UK early July to pick up tickets and sort my life out.  This has left me with…oh dear god…three months to cram in the rest of South America.  Can it be done?

I basically need to stop being so hard on myself.  I’ll see what I can see, and if I don’t, I’ll save it for a rainy day.  I’ve decided I’m coming back to Brazil for the world cup in 2014 anyway, so I’m in no rush to head there now.  If there ever was a time to see the world cup it would be in Brazil.  If I can I’ll see carnival that year as well.  That will make it a nice day out.

Anyway back to the matter in hand.  I find myself in a delightful hostel in the mountain town of Salento.  As luck would have it, that eye following Jesus is on the wall.  I tell you he’s everywhere.  Watching.  Waiting.  Poised to strike.  Look busy.  This time I take the opportunity to snap a portrait.  I wish the photo did the eyes justice.  You’ll have to take my word for it.  Just don’t make him angry.

It’s positively charming town and just slightly unlike anything I’ve seen before, but I can’t put my finger on it.  The buildings are colourful and quaint, with many a shop selling beautiful, handcrafted wares.  You could spend a fortune on gifts and trinkets here.  It’s the sort of place everyone’s mum would love, a Hansel and Gretal’s paradise.  Before I know it I’ve parted company with money and procured chocolate covered coffee beans.  I then precede to make myself sick on them for the rest of the evening.  At least it keeps me off going for a beer, and this is exactly the sort of place where a cold cervesa would go down like a dream, especially as I should be raising a glass to dad.  I hope he doesn’t mind that I’m off the booze…

Right sod this I’m going for a drink.  Here’s to you dad.  I miss and love you more each day.  Here’s to everything you gave me and everything you taught me.  If I’m ever half the man you are, I’d wouldn’t be doing too badly at all.  Mr Peter B Jameson.  Our rock.  Always in our thoughts and in our hearts.  Xxx

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