Travel

Viva Colombia

I am often asked why I like Colombia, South America so much.  My response is, “Colombia and I share something – we are both misunderstood and quite often misrepresented!”  I am quite happy when people realize that in spite of my progressive politics, unique views about religion, and gay activism – I am still quite a nice guy.  The same is true of Colombia – in spite of the exaggerations of Colombian life portrayed in Hollywood movies, Colombia is quite a nice country!  Seeing beyond stereotypes opens the mind to so many new possibilities!  Also please notice… the country Colombia is spelled with an “o” not an “u” (Columbia).

Like me, Colombia is much more progressive than many realize – sorry, I mean Colombia is more progressive… anyone that reads my blog already knows I am Progressive!    Colombia’s government is a Republic with Democratic elections and three branches of government including Executive, Legislative and Judicial (that should sound familiar to Americans).  The FARC have basically been neutered and the days of drug cartels controlling the country are now mythology.  The drug lords, guerrillas, and kidnappings are great for the movies, but not a part of the typical Colombians daily life.  

I have lived in both of Colombia’s largest cities, Bogota and Medellin.  My opinion is that Bogota is more of a

Medellin, Colombia, South America

metropolitan lifestyle similar to living in New York or San Francisco and Medellin a little more like living in Los Angeles with San Diego weather.  Bogota has the larger population with just over 8 million to Medellin’s 3.75 million.  Medellin’s climate is more ideal with a very pleasant 65 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit (18 – 27 Celsius)  year round, compared to the cooler climate of Bogota ranging from 50-75 Fahrenheit (10 – 24 Celsius).  I have great friends in both cities but I feel the weather in Medellin is more conducive for Multiple Sclerosis, so now Medellin is home!

Colombia’s tourism campaign is: “Colombia, the only risk is wanting to stay”.  This proved to be very true for me!  With an American Passport, 60 day tourist visits and there are other options for longer stays.  I wanted to stay longer and found the way for me to get a resident visa called a pensionado visa ( basically a retiree’s visa to encourage people to retire in Colombia) .  I do have to renew my visa annually, but that is ok with me.  Colombia could be an option for many more, especially for the benefits of the climate for people with illnesses like Multiple Sclerosis.  I invite people outside Colombia to come experience the reality of this beautiful country with beautiful, warm, welcoming people and forget what television and movies portray about Colombia!  This is a country you should experience for yourself!

*** I will be posting weekly (maybe more) about life in Colombia – follow this blog and let’s share the experiences of this wonderful culture!

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Categories: Bogota, Colombia, Life, Medellin, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Up in the Air and a Few Miles Short! (Seeing My Life In Movies)

Recently I watched the movie “Up in the Air”…. ok actually, I just watched it!  Clooney’s character is striving for the recognition of American Airlines by achieving 10,000,000 air miles.  I understand his quest like few can.  I am a former Marriott Rewards Platinum Elite member.  I know the thrill I had opening the letter from Marriott and seeing that card.  I was always looking at the Sony LCD flat screen tv that could be purchased using the points – but I was always a few points short.  Forget the fact I worked for Sony!  I wanted the miles to buy me something because I felt so alone and had no one to buy me things I wanted.  Actually, there are few people who even knew what I wanted.

In the movie Ryan Bingham (George Clooney’s character) flies around the U.S. firing people.  Ryan is a likeable guy, but he does not seem missed when he is gone and the few that do miss him begin to accept their place in his life – at a distance.  His ambition to meet what most see as a shallow goal is what brings him comfort in the absence of real connections with people.  It is easier for him live “up in the air” and away from actual connections with people who may get close.  The acknowledgement of American Airlines is more important than appreciation of other people.  I so relate!  Except I always connected with Delta.

Most people booked their air travel with Orbiz, Epedia, or even travelzoo.com to get a deal on flights.  I actually went directly to delta.com and searched and searched to find the flight that would meet Sony’s travel & expense guidelines so I could get my SkyMiles.  Many co-workers booked through the company travel group and just took whatever flight they gave them – but I worked at finding a Delta flight.  I then asked the travel group to purchase the ticket for me.  I had flight numbers and times ready along with information showing Delta had a lower price than the Sony “prefered” airlines.  Such dedication for loyalty.  As I looked at the Sony tv in the SkyMiles catalog …. I found I was always a few miles short.

Mr. Bingham had a crap job, but he liked it.  There are few that would have enjoyed my job like I did.  Do you remember Del Griffith, John Candy’s character in the movie “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”?  The guy sold shower curtain rings and traveled constantly… but he LOVED his job and his customers loved him.  His job was a thankless job like mine.  No matter how good a job a did…. no one noticed other than my customers.  I had a a bitch of a boss that did not like me and NO ONE liked her but she has now even been promoted.  Why can’t a company as great as Sony see what useless crap she is!  I helped the company, my customers loved me, but I was held back because she was simply a bitch.  But despite all the reasons for me NOT to like my job I loved it and was good at it.  But when it came to the big money…. I was a few dollars short.

As I mentioned, with Marriott I had achieved the highest honor for Marriott Reward members – Platinum status.  It took staying 75 nights to reach this level of achievement.  I will say that I was staying at the Courtyard by Marriott… not actual J.W. Marriott or Marriott hotels.  Courtyard was great and designed for the business traveler – which I was.  I stayed most often at the downtown Courtyard in Salt Lake City.  The guys and girls at the front counter got to know me quick.  As a Platinum member I would get upgraded to a suite if one was available and often one was available.  A big suite for a lonely traveler filled the void that was missing because of no personal connections.  I received welcome gifts of cookies and bottled water; and yes that little shit meant a lot to me – for some reason!  As I would look in the Marriott Rewards catalog …. I also found I was a few points short.

My Multiple Sclerosis has grounded me from earning my SkyMiles and I stay few nights at a Marriott brand hotel.  But no one has noticed.  I go from being a 5 year Platinum Elite Marriott Rewards member to nothing and no card, letter of gift bag asking where did our loyal customer go?  I book my flights now on travel.com because I know my one or two trips a year will not add up to my seeing status with Delta again.  I still sometimes look longingly at the upgrade board to see if my name may be there – now it never makes the list.   But as with MANY things in my life….I have come up a little short, but I still like my shallow, self-indulgent and even sometimes lonely life.  I am an island…a small crappy one… but the views are great!  To be the big island everyone wants to visit…. my beach comes up a little bit short!

I actually felt I missed my friends when I was traveling and looked forward to seeing them when I returned home.  Now my trip is more permanent, I see I am “out of sight and out of mind”.  I hate that my Multiple Sclerosis robbed me of the life that made me comfortable.  Having lost my status makes me feel lost sometimes!  I still look for and desire that status I once had that no one noticed or cared about but me.  I now also belong to Jet Blue TrueBlue as well as remaining a SkyMiles and Marriott Reward member… but have no status with any of them.  Life for me is like working for Sony but wanting that Sony tv in the catalog …. I am always a few miles short!!  I look sometimes in the mirror and still see my inner Ryan Bingham, but I see I have no status anymore… I NEED to be UP IN THE AIR!!!

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A Day at Cerro de Monserrate

I have lived in Bogotá for more than 3 months and visited a total of 4 months before moving here.  So, after more than 7 months in Bogotá, I finally felt good enough to go visit one of the top tourist attractions in Bogotá – Cerro de Monserrate.  Cerro de Monserrate translates as Monserate Hill.  Now where I am from, Monserrate is much more than a hill (lol) it is a mountain.  Monserrate is part of the Eastern mountain ranges of The Andes.  So I would have named it Montaña de Monserrate (Monserrate Mountain), but they did not ask me!

My friend Ricardo was visiting from Cali, Colombia and since I had someone who could help my old, disabled ass… I was finally able to visit!  There are 3 ways to get to the top: 1, Pilgrimage – walk up the mountain (not going to happen!!); 2, Funicular – Train up tracks on the mountain (not running this day) and 3, Cable Railway – A sky-ride on cables to the top (fastest and easiest).     So off on the cable railway we go.  As the cable car ascends… the enormity of the city of Bogotá starts to become obvious.  The top of Monserrate is at an elevation of over 10,000 feet (3152 meters), that is almost 2 miles above sea level. The city of Bogotá is at 8,600 could be called the 1.5 mile high city!!  The views are AWESOME! (http://www.cerromonserrate.com/eng_files/index_eng.html)

Atop the mountain is a sanctuary, a monastery, the remains of a previous sanctuary, restaurants and flea market style shopping for souvenirs.  There is park like landscaping with flowers that bloom constantly because of the relatively constant spring like temperatures.  Along with the beautifully landscaped trail are viacrucis (sculptures) that commemorates the events of Christ’s walk to the crucifixion.  For me, the beauty speaks more of God than all the religious “stuff”…but it is a location with a history of people making religious pilgrimages.  I was able to experience a clean, freeing energy here and will plan a return just to spend time relaxing and enjoying the views and positive energy.

Categories: Colombia, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

I Do Not Understand How People Can Be So Damn RUDE!!!

My Multiple Sclerosis has given me hell as of late and that combined with a cold has me on my cane and in a very bad mood.  I had to go to Exito ( Colombia’s version of WalMart) to get a few things after being stuck in the apartment a couple of days.  Walking the streets of Bogotá, people are not polite and will not vary their course except for their own desire.  There are no exceptions – not even when I am on a cane…. they do not care!  Two girls between 18 and 21 years old were walking to the handicap access for wheelchairs on the sidewalk and did they care I was on a cane and needed to use the access? Hell no!  They stood blocking my way and I just raised my cane and said “Really”?  I refused to move for them and eventually they step aside to let me pass.  Okay, maybe this was just kids being the little bitches they can sometimes be.  But then, inside Exito a woman with a buggy hit my cane as she passed, no excuse me (con permiso) or anything!  Maybe it is just women in general?  Then a man hits me mid chest with his shoulder as HE passes knocking me into the sugar display and my cane even tripped him just a little as he pushed on by and he gave ME the “f*ck you” look??  I have not had to use my cane while in a city this large before, so I do not WANT to say it is Colombians or even Bogotans, but what else would explain it?  I am a Gringo, which is old code for Green Go Home referring to the green uniforms the U.S. military wears and the desire for the U.S. military to  go, so is that it?  Is my being an unwanted American the reason that even on a cane people are so rude here or is it everyone?  Colombians in general are a great, friendly and even welcoming people…. but on the sidewalks… there is no evidence of this!  I have talked about this with others even before the incidents on my cane and they have all said it is part of the Bogotá cultural experience and has nothing to do with my being American.  But how can people who are so friendly otherwise accept this behavior?

Before any of this, an incident two days earlier may have heightened my aware of this behavior.  I ventured out (on my cane) to my neighborhood coffee shop, just to get out of the apartment.  Zaltan,the owner of the coffee shop, and I were visiting on the sidewalk in front of his coffee shop.  From behind, I was knocked off-balance by someone passing by and when we looked to see who it was, it was an OLD man.  I would say he was over 90 and walking very slowly on his cane.  I guess he was so determined not to change his path to walk around me that he could not even say con permiso (excuse me) for me to move, but it was just acceptable to push me out-of-the-way.  If the sidewalk was crowded, I would have been more understanding but it was not.  His being on a cane I thought he should understand my difficulty walking or standing with a cane.  I guess it is only an American cultural thing to say excuse me when something like this happens.  I respect the elderly and would have gladly stepped to one side to allow him to pass, but my eyes looking forward are bad enough that the eyes in the back of my head do not work like they once did and did not allow me to see him coming from behind me.  I do not know a lot of Spanish, but the first things I did learn were: con permiso (excuse me), por favor (please) and gracias (thank you)!  Spanish for move is simply mover, so even if he did not want to be polite and ask, I would have understood if he had barked for me to move for him and I would have.

I do not know why this is bothering me so much.  I love everything about being in Bogotá but this.  It is the burr under my saddle now.  It has always bothered me, but this past week, it has escalated to ANGERING me!  Maybe because this is the only flaw I have found with life in Bogota that in my mind I have to exaggerate to the point of making it a problem so I can say Bogotá is NOT as perfect as I once thought!  It is the one thing that is making me unhappy here and I see no way it is anything I can change or effect change.  If the effects continue to make me so emotional and angry, I will consider moving to another city to give it a try there.  Nothing like this happened in Medellin!

Categories: Colombia, Life, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Becoming Colombian!!

Let me begin by pointing out to Americans…. Colombia the country is spelled with an O not a U…. Colombia!  lol  Ok…. the Cedula is the Colombian ID and it is probably the most important document to have in Colombia.  I now have my Cedula number and the actual ID is in the mail!!  So technically, I have a Colombian ID and one step closer to becoming Colombian!! lol  Here is what the process for getting the Cedula was for me.  I needed a photo copy of my Pensionado Resident visa, photo copy of my passport, 2 small 3cmx4cm photos with a blue background, medical certification of blood type, and $139,800 Colombian pesos ($69.90 USD).  Getting the visa was not too difficult either… but reading the form sure made it sound more complicated than it was!  I just needed verification of my income in English and Spanish, have it notarized that it was a letter verifying my income, then have the Secretary of State APOSTILLE the  letter.  Then fill out the form for the visa with 2 passport sized photos.  The visa was actually sent via FedEx the next day!  So the process of becoming a legal resident of Colombia was not all that difficult.  I also feel many Americans should follow and look into making Colombia home!

Getting an apartment is a little more difficult without a Cedula, but I got lucky and found someone who knows the American difficulties renting and apartment in Colombia.  I was also lucky to have some great friends help me in my apartment search.

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Big Changes = Big Rewards

There have been a few times when I took great risks and got great payoff. Anyone that knows me knows my wealth is in friendships! The risks I am most apt to take is moving.  While making these moves I have been enriched by meeting great people who also became great friends!  This list is in no way complete!

Bob, Laura & Me

My first big move was Atlanta. Laura was a girl with more crap hanging on the rear view mirror of her car than I had in my apartment! When I have found myself displaced, Laura and her family have welcomed me as a red-head step child. She explained to her fiancée that she knew the groom usually chose all the groomsmen, but that he had to choose me! lol You can not help but love Laura, she will give you the wire from her support bra! Her husband Bob and I have seen our friendship grow as we both would try to keep loving her even when she may make it difficult!! I am Godfather for her kids and I know she would be the first to give me lift when I find myself down! People may say, ‘You have to love Laura“, but I GET to love Laura and I am blessed for it!

Danny, Jay & Me

Moving to Las Vegas was an even bigger risk because my job relocated me, I would have never really thought of moving to Las Vegas. I had visited, but Vegas is a tourist town and I did not work in the hospitality industry, I worked for Sony. But the jackpot in Vegas was Jay & Danny. Thanks to Jay & Danny I made many very good friends in Vegas. My birthday is December 30 and few people notice for more than a Happy Birthday on MySpace or Facebook, but Jay & Danny made all of my birthdays in Las Vegas special. They invited me to be a part of any celebration they participated in.  Jay & Danny are just that way and may not even realize how much all they did (and do) meant (and means) to me. Jay more than several times used his nursing skills and knowledge to help me when my Multiple Sclerosis was kicking my ass.  Even as I adventure to live in Colombia, they are the pressure to learn Spanish more so than even my Colombian friends! Danny is the first to give honest and constructive criticism of my writing. He knows writing is only a pipe dream for me, but his support encourages me to try like it is possible.

Jo Anna & Me

In Mississippi I have a few friends still there, but my Jo Anna is the rarest of breeds!  She is the friend that not only listens… but she understands.  She knows what I mean.  From introducing me to La Mariposa Mercedes Cafe and 2 for 1 Margaritas on Thursday with the a Colombian owner Mercedes who can only be described as a character to letting me steal some high-speed internet to keep my sanity in dial-up hell!!  There a few (if any) things I have to keep from her!  When something happens and I am excited to tell someone… Jo Anna gets the first call! She almost had a move to Las Vegas and now I have to work on her to consider Bogotá!!  She would be the best girl to enjoy and experience Colombia with because we would be so bad together while having so much fun!!  Knowing my birthday falls at a crappy time of year Jo did her part to make my birthday special.  Plus, Jo Anna is the sweetest person I know… she even beats out Jay!! haha  She even “gets” why Colombia!

Marlon, Carlos & Me

Speaking of Colombia, my ex turned out to be a big flake and my friend Andres introduced me to my now roommate Marlon.  What a Godsend Marlon was and is!  In turn he introduced me to his friend Carlos.  These two guys have done so much to make my adjustment to Bogotá a success!  Marlon ran all over town with me when I was apartment hunting and even entertained me a time or two with beers at the local watering holes all while acting as my translator!  Once the apartment was found… I was out of the country with my return delayed as I stayed to spend more time with family during the holidays, and Marlon picked up the keys for the apartment and got it all in working order so when I did return…. everything was working.  Marlon even cooks large quantities and when my MS is active… his meals can soothe the soul even better than homemade chicken soup!  With his busy work schedule, his friend Carlos stepped in as tour guide and translator.  Any new city has challenges.. new doctors, new dentist, where to get my hair cut, how to use public transportation and best of all where the outlet Malls are and thanks to Carlos not only do I know where and how to find them…. I also made a great friend in the process!  But the two of them do not know that as they were with me all over Bogotá, they were also protecting me.  These 2 guys also welcomed me with a birthday surprise that not since Jay & Danny have friends done so much for my birthday (read about that in the post “Welcome to Bogotá” below)!  My MS would have limited me from learning and knowing all I do about Bogotá, just by being with me, I knew if my legs, vision or anything related to my MS effected me… they were there to help!  Alone… I would not have been able to make moving to Bogotá a success; but the amazing thing is…. neither of these guys thinks they really did much to help, but they did and humble or not…. I thank them!

So many others have helped in all the places I have lived, but these I feel need a special mention!  These places have become home because of their help, love and support.  I can never do for them as much as they have done for me and I only hope they can begin to know how much I appreciate all they have done for me!  Love all of you!! Laura, Jay, Danny, Jo Anna, Marlon and Carlos being a part of my life is my great REWARD!

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Welcome to Bogota!!

My Birthday Cheesecake!!

My Birthday Cheesecake

After long flights and long connections I arrived to Bogotá and my new apartment.  I was welcomed at the apartment with a big “Bienvenido” (Welcome) and “Happy Birthday” banners, 20 or more “Feliz Cumpleanos” (Happy Birthday) balloons of all colors, a “Happy Birthday” Mylar balloon and a cheesecake from my roommate Marlon!  Now that is a welcome!  Not since living in Las Vegas and Jay & Danny have friends made such a big deal about my birthday!

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Leaving On a Jet Plane!!

Even though it is my birthday, I sit at the New Orleans airport.  I am excited about getting back to Bogotá, even though it will be 10:30am tomorrow before I get there!  The layover in Miami is 10 hours…. who knows… maybe I will even squeeze in a quick trip to South Beach!! lol  That will not happen, but it is fun to mention as if it would (or could!!LOL)

Let’s see where this blogging takes me!! haha

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