Cartagena, La Boquilla, Santa Marta, Tayrona, diving off of Taganga, Bogota…what en epic journey. I felt like I was on vacation, just spending money and having a good time. It definitely had an air of reckless abandon to it. The first time when I was traveling that I felt like I was on “vacation,” and not just traveling long-term. It was fun, carefree and exciting. Of course, now I have buyer’s remorse. Feels like a sever hangover from the intensity of the experience – and the money-spending.
My last day in Bogota – in Colombia, really – was especially memorable. Shooting a StreetStyles piece for Current TV in Bogota, I spent my last night in South America in front of the computer, capturing and exporting. I was trying to get this DVD burnt so the girls can do the translations, so I woke up every hour to check the computer. I was completely exhausted by the morning, and had nothing to show for it – the exporting was taking too long. I asked the girls to be at Andres’ by 10am so that I could get the final 10 minutes of footage that I was contractually obligated to send. They show up at 11am, stressing me out because I need to leave to the airport no later than one. Frazzled, Andres drops us off in La Candelaria. I am moving fast, trying to get the shots I need to get. There is also a marathon in town that day, so we had to the main square to get some footage. I see a street vendor selling coffee, and decided to get one last cup of Colombia coffee. Pulling out my wallet, I only have 300 pesos in coins. The vendor takes it anyhow, and I walk away with the girls. I set down the coffee to shoot some skaters, then move on. A little later, I get hot and take off my light jacket and tie it diagonal across my chest. Walking down back towards the hostel to pick up my bag, I stop to buy an empanada or two for lunch in the taxi. But: no wallet in the pants. At first I thought I got pickpocketed, because there was a strange guy that the girls had to pull me away from at the flea market – he had his arm around me, so I thought he might have done it. Then I realized I paid for the coffee out of my wallet. So I basically just dropped my wallet on the street – either after paying for the coffee or when I took my jacket off. I normally put everything back into the same pocket, to avoid this exact sort of situation. But a combination of exhaustion, stress at not having enough time to shoot and overstimulation of my last day in Bogota led me to stray from what I thought was an ingrained habit.
Normally this wouldn’t be so big of a deal. I never carry ID or credit cards unless I am going directly to the bank and coming back, so it was just money. But the thing is it happened 15 minutes before I needed to be in a taxi to the airport to catch my flight on time. In it was the last of my Colombian money, as well as $30 I had stashed away to pay airport taxes. I had no money for a cab, and no money to get out of the country. Suffice it to say, I was panicky. And the girls insisted they were broke, and could not help me.
This is why you should always carry emergency money. And seriously – emergency money is for EMERGENCIES only, and shouldn’t be spent normally. Which is advice that I stopped following as my dollar supply dwindled. Various circumstances led me to spend my money – and luckily for me, I still had $44 stashed away. Just enough for a taxi and airport taxes. Or so I thought.
Arriving at the airport, I exchange my $20 for two tens and pay the cab driver. Checking in, it turns out I already paid my airport taxes when I bought ticket online. Hooray! Finally some good news. Then – BAM. I need a yellow fever vaccination to leave the country, because Costa Rica wont let me in without one. And it needs to be dated 10 days before travel. Ouch. However, this is Latin America. The second I joined the line for vaccinations at Red Cross, a guy pulled me aside and told me that I had to have a certificate that said I was vaccinated 10 days beforehand to get into Costa Rica. For $150, he would get me one. Ha. I told him about my shitty day, said I only had $34 left to my name. he groaned, told me to wait outside, and came back two minutes later with a doctor-stamped, yellow fever vaccination certificate. He left me $4 for food, and I had my vaccination. Illegal, and dated May 5, 2007 - more than a year ago!
Of course, there is no way in hell this could be a legitimate vaccination since my passport never shows me in Bogota one year ago. But again, this being Latin America, its all just bureaucratic nonsense – the airline agent said “Bueno,” and let me on my way. Same as when I arrived in Costa Rica – just checked it and waved me through. If they really cared, they could check the accuracy of this…but for me, it works out just fine. Although I still could have yellow fever…
Then BAM, after all this travel stress (I hate the lead-up to flying; flying itself is wicked, but so much freaking stress before you finally sit in that seat), I am back in Costa Rica with my friend Cristian. Like I never left, seeing the same sights I saw with my parents a month ago. I had my first hot shower in a month – the last one I had was the day I left Costa Rica, since there is no hot water in most hot countries – and felt like a new man. Took a nap, and went out dancing since it happened to be a three-day weekend here.
Talk about a surreal travel day. All that crammed into one day, and then to have such a culture comparison…my mind was blown. And that, my friends, is yet another reason why I travel. For all the horrible, stressy, panicky situations that you get yourself into, there always blow over into amusing memories of great times. What more can you ask for? I may be flat broke, but I feel rich inside.
A gem of a place, a surprise of a country, a love of my life. Colombia - I cannot believe that I am already leaving thee. Alas, it has been too short of a romance, whirlwind and painful, crazy and joyful. Cartagena, Santa Marta, Tanganga, Tayrona and Bogota…they roll off the tongue as a wave off a whale’s back. Be still my aching wanderlust, for there shall be more of Colombia soon enough!
Does anyone else think in Facebook status messages? I believe I have begun to. “Nick Vivion is walking around.” “Nick Vivion is eating a cookie.” “Nick Vivion is………..shut the f$%k up!”
"You’re that guy from YouTube," my CS host Malu suddenly screams at me from across the pool. "I saw your video on packing. I was looking around, thinking of joining these organizations (like CouchSurfing), and that video made my decision. I joined right after!"
I was in shock after hearing this. No matter how many times someone sees my videos and changes something in their life, it still hits me. Hard. The butterfly effect. You never know how your actions are going to impact the world - the number one reason for being an optimist. You can never know how you can impact the world. Liberating!
"Me llamo Nick e hago documentales." This is the extent of my broken Spanish, as I try to recover from the surprise of being asked to speak in front of 30 young filmmaker hopefuls in Cartagena. I have no idea what else to say, and look to my friend for support. Cartagena is sponsoring a film competition, with the grand prize being a 3-month crash course in all aspects of filmmaking. A sweet prize if you ask me - I spent $160,000 on Duke and look what I have to show for it!
"Yo trabajo mucho, pero no gano much dinero. Mas experiencia, no dinero." The kids laugh. Although they may be laughing at me because I look like a dirty and broke hippie filmmaker, I think they are laughing because they think I am joking, or being modest, or something silly. I want to yell: "No, seriously kids, Im broke! Dont go into this profession if you are not willing to look like me…go ahead, smell my shirt. Thats documentary filmmaking at its best!"
In Latin American countries, most public buses are very loud. So, assuming there is actually such a button, the driver rarely hears the buzzer requesting a stop. The proper thing to do is say/yell, “Parada!” This informs your careful bus driver that you want to get off.
While this is a quite normal occurence, it makes me nervous. Like Bingo. I hate Bingo. I hate it because I never want to win. I never want to have to yell Bingo and pierce that focused silence. I never want to feel the hatred from all those eyes. I hate Bingo. And now I hate taking bus rides where I have to yell “Parada!” I get all nervous in anticipation of my stop, my stomach churning. I try to focus on the landscapes passing by, the foreign country unfolding before me. But I can only think about the upcoming parada, hoping that someone will be getting off near where I want to get off.
No regrets, though, ever. Just decisions made – and moments played. Bad rhyme.
Oh and what a decision that turned out to be! Amazing, unforgettable, imperfect, wonderful. It was one of the coolest things I have ever done, and I am so glad that I did not let that little Money Monster in my head convince me otherwise. Also am thankful to have met Sam to lead me on this path to Colombia! And what a way to see South America for the first time…motoring in on a sailboat at night. Then awakening and just being in port, looking, seeing and smelling South America before being able to even touch land. Wow!
And while 7 days on an old 32-foot boat with an alcoholic Viking captain and not much food was intense, it was just right. It was not a sanitized experienced, a pre-packaged backpacker boat. We had to work for this one. It is just one of those things that you will always have in your mind, always ready to be rehashed and laughed about. Humorous in hindsight, challenging in the actual moment. It was a trip – EPIC.
There are just so many moments that I cannot even begin to describe them. Stoned snorkeling. Lobster lunches. Sailing with the indigenous Kuna tribes of San Blas. Three days in the open ocean – the deep blue sea was so shiny, full of so much life…I was constantly in awe. Just watching the ocean to pass the time, all day long, every changing, constantly renewed. Soothing, scary and exciting all at once. It made me realize how much I want a boat and how much I would love to sail around the world. After all, the world is 70% water – why not see it that way???
I realize that I kind of just jumped into my story. I just arrived in Cartagena, via sailboat, from the small ex-pirate town of Portobelo, in Panama. This is a fairly common backpacker route, as it is not possible to travel overland between Panama and Colombia. Rebel attacks in the Darien Gap has made it a quite dangerous area, or so they say. So many boats ply the sea route, taking backpackers’ money and ferrying them from one port to the other. It is a lucrative trade, and a totally worthwhile expense for anyone considering taking the boat rather than the plane.
Although I must point out that you are going on a small boat into the open ocean – sea sickness is guaranteed, so it is not going to be a complete pleasure cruise. You also have no control over the other members of your motley crew. Should you get stuck with a snobby Brit or a loud American (or whatever your pet peeve is), you just have to deal. And for 7 days in close quarters, it is not easy.
Well, I assume that it wouldn’t be. I was blessd with my friend Sam and a very cool Swedish couple. There were only four of us on the boat, as it was quite small. Not much privacy, and we definitely got to know each other better. But somehow I never felt cramped or that I was fed up with being so close to people all the time. The boat may be small, but there are different areas you can go to be apart: down below, up on deck or in the stern by the wheel. You had space, somehow.
Snorkeling, island-hopping, the open ocean, tuna jumping all around, sharks, sun, laughter, bad food – over and over, laughing, reading, just watching. All these thoughts and memories stick in my head, swirl around and make this dense soup of emotion. But I am not quite sure what emotion it is – one of pure contentment, it seems. Because I have never felt as relaxed as I was on that boat. No internet, no pressures, nothing to do. Except to just be, to just breathe. That was an activity in itself.
Mind expanding, to say the least.
Anyone want to sail around the world with me for a year? Say, as a 30th birthday present to ourselves? A quarter-life-ish crisis? Who’s with me?!?!?!
I am leaving in one hour on a 6-day trip to Colombia. On a sailboat. I have always wanted to learn how to sail, yet I have never had the chance. Or at least I have never put myself into that situation. So here goes nothing!
In the meantime, I leave you with some literature mindfood.
Sometimes when you travel, the best things are free. Or traded. I picked up Haruki Murakami’s mind-bending book Kafka on the Shore at my rented house in Yelapa. It was just one of the books on the shelf; I left one of my books and took it.
I had never heard of Haruki Murakami. Which makes me seem like I was seriously out of the loop, as he is Japan’s most well known fiction author. Now he is permanately seared into my brain and I eagerly await the chance to read another one of his books.
Kafka on the Shore is a traveler’s book; it is dense, a long read – and it explored mind-expanding themes of various kinds. Childhood, memory, the past, travel, gender identity…all of which are thrown into a huge thematic puzzle. The book is a riddle, I read online, something to be solved. You must read it two or three times to even begin to unravel it, the author himself wrote. I cannot even begin to write about how it affected me, what I think it is about, or even how I feel about it. It is just one of those books that takes time to digest – a perfect traveler’s book.
In the meantime, here are some quotes that struck me enough to dig out a pen from my pack and underline…these are words that made me consider my own wanderlust and question my own deep desire to travel.
“From my own experience, when someone is trying very hard to get something, they don’t. And when they’re runnin away from something as hard as they can, it usually catches up with them.”
-Oshima, p. 153
“Having an object that symbolizes freedom might make a person happier than actually getting the freedom it represents.”
-Oshima, referring to Kafka’s backpack, p. 315
“Perhaps,” Oshima says, as if fed up. “Perhaps most people in the world aren’t trying to be free, Kafka. They just think they are. It’s all an illusion. If they really were set free, most people would be in a real bind. You’d better remember that. People actually prefer not being free.”
“Yeah. I prefer being unfree, too. Up to a point. Jena-Jacques Rousseau defined civilization as when people build fences. A very perceptive observation. And it’s true – all civilization is the product of a fenced-in lack of freedom. The Australian Aborigines are the exception, though. They managed to maintain a fenceless civilization until the seventeenth century. They’re dyed-on-the-wool free. They go where theyw ant, when they want, doing what they want. Their lives are a literal journey. Walkabout is a perfect metaphor for their lives. When the English came and built fences to pen in their cattle, the Aborigines coun’t fathom it. And, ignorant to the end of the principle at work, they wre classified as dangerous and antisocial and were driven away, to the outback. So I want you to be careful. The people who build high, strong fences are the ones who survive the best. You deny that reality only at the risk of being driven into the wilderness yourself.”
-Oshima, p. 336
He gently lays a hand over mine. “There are a lot of things that aren’t your fault. Or mine, either. Not the fault of prophecies, or DNA, or absurdity. Not the fault of Sttructuralism or the Third Industrial Revolution. We all die and disappear, but that’s because the mechanism of the world itself is built on destruction and loss. Our lives are just shadows of that guiding principle. Say the wind blows. It can be a strong, violent wind or a gentle breeze. Wind doesn’t have form. It’s just a movement of air. You should listen carefully, and then you’ll understand the metaphor.”
-Oshima, p. 336
In a world of time, nothing can go back to the way it was.
Time weighs down on you like an old, ambiguous dream. You keep on moving, trying to slip thorugh it. But even if you go to the ends of the earth, you won’t be able to escape it. Still, you have to go there – to the edge of the world. There’s something you can’t do unless you go there.
Shout out to the place I spent the past few days editing, waiting for the sailboat to Colombia – a place of soothing calm: www.hostelwunderbar.com.
…all about the people. I dont even know how to describe it. Genuine, funny, open, real. I had no expectations from this country, I really had no idea that it even existed as a travelers destination. I have been blown away at the kindness, the engaging conversations, the helpfulness, the smiles, the energy. The people make this country something else.
At first, they seem distant. Then they warm up once you make an effort and engage them. It is a lot like NYC: a diverse culture that can oftentimes seem cold. Thats where the similarities end though, because Panama is so inviting and open. I really am sad to leave this place - even if Colombia sounds even more amazing. In the time I was here, I have had so many moments that I cannot even begin to scratch the surface. At the local food stands, in the stores, on the buses or on the islands…
Some of the best conversational exchanges of my life. Panama - surprise!