Episode 2 : Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)

Trip Start Apr 25, 2006
Trip End Apr 25, 2007

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Flag of Colombia  ,
Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Hell bent on earning some money to support my stay (and to eat), I employed the help of every local I met until things started looking positive and even a formal job interview was on the cards with an English teaching company. It all came about after a night out with an Austrian bloke, George, led him to be picked up by a girl in a restaurant - Hollywood style. After taking advantage of the ludicrous 3-for-1 cocktails for a few hours, he was seriously passed a note by a waiter that read "I think you are super cute" in pink girly letters that included a little smiley face. The poor waiter was under direct orders not to reveal his source so instead we commenced the pilot episode of "CSI: Medellin". We had earlier established that there were in fact only hot uni chicks in the restaurant (to the point that we had limited ourselves to only pointing out non-hot chicks), so right away he knew he couldn't go wrong. Our primary clue was that the note was in fact scrawled on the torn-off corner of one of the paper tablecloths, and our second clue was that obviously she would have to be close enough to our table and on the right angle to see how "super cute" he was. We jokingly hoped that the note came from a nearby table of what looked like models, but even being "super cute" we figured they were in a different league. All was revealed eventually, and naturally that is exactly where the note came from. We migrated over to their table to continue with further cocktail exploration, but being a school night closing time arrived with only enough time to offer a little small talk and exchange numbers.

After whipping up a pretty basic resume I made my way to my interview under the impression it was a sure thing. Turns out it wasn't exactly the case, as the company essentially wanted a 6 month assurance from me that I simply couldn't give them. Maybe something to investigate further if/when I return, but not a total loss because I had already made a few contacts regarding potential clients for some private lessons.

The following weekend I budgeted for one decent night out and went about getting the most out of it. Somehow the entourage ballooned out to more than ten gringos from my hostel, which effectively sucked the life out of the night as we spent more time deliberating than actually partying. Still willing to kick on after the first club closed, I teamed up with an American bloke and some random Colombians to see what the night still offered. The first thing it offered was two flat tyres as one of our new Colombian friends failed to notice the massive curb on the side of the road as he ran his car up it. He then admitted he was slightly drunk, but that we should chip in for his repairs. I was already looking for a taxi to keep the ball rolling, but my American friend had taken the near-death experience to heart and was not willing to push on. Smart guy. Instead, I formed a new team with one of the other Colombians, who seemed perfect for the job as he was by far the most dodgy and did not speak a word of English. It was about that time that things went a little bad. After a lengthy cab ride I found myself well and truly in the stix at a little local bar full of coked-up gangsters and hookers, where I was offered rum/beer/cocaine every few minutes. Having played this game before, I stressed to them I couldn't afford it, only to the inevitable response that everything was "ok". As the sun rose I was sobering up very quickly, trying to figure out how I was going to get out of the bar alive, let alone find a cab willing to take me home for the 800 Pesos (US$0.30) in my pocket. Having dug a sufficiently deep hole I began making a move to leave, only to be slammed against a wall by one of the tough guys and asked politely if I could kindly help out with the bill. Giving my best "you are an idiot" face I reiterated my earlier account about having no money, to which his reply was to get all worked up. Fortunately for me there were more level-heads in the room, including one bloke I'd been talking to for a few hours who turned out to be his cousin. They went through my pockets to confirm my 800 Pesos story, but insisted I still owed them some cash so I was put in a taxi with two goons to get more cash from my room. Nearing the hostel I realised I wasn't particularly keen to have them know where I was staying, so I took the taxi "accidentally" down the wrong street and told them to wait there. Not being as stupid as they looked, one of the goons got out to follow me - which is when I got really lucky. Across the street Juan (a Spanish mate from the hostel) called out to me, so I quickly borrowed some "don't ask" money off him. I gave the goon money for the taxi, told him to get back inside, and then told the cabbie to take off! (Mum, if you're reading this then none of this is true, I promise.)

A couple of weeks later I was ready to face the nightlife again, but this time with a slightly revised attitude and a gleaming new Uzi. Nah not really, but I did go out. Fortune favoured me this time, because not only did we get a good possť together and have a top night, but I ended up meeting Marcela who invited me to Sante Fe De Antioquia (see next story). Things went well, so the outrageously quick outcome was that I moved into her place a few days later! This was all naturally done under the premise of saving money, but I have always been partial to 9th floor penthouse apartments, huge balcony with view, couple of saunas, pool, gym, 24hr security, internet and cable TV. I'm first to admit that I'm new to the sauna game, but am very much down with the curious human practice of submitting our bodies to extremes in the belief of "no pain, no gain". Sitting in a wooden room for an hour as it pushes 140 degrees seems stupid on paper, perhaps more so in a tropical country, but in reality my years of training under a Perth Summer sun in an unairconditioned car means I am rarely challenged in there. Anyway, it's relaxing after a day of doing next to nothing, and jumping from a boiling room to the freezing shower at least fuels the illusion that I am in fact an elite athlete hopping in and out of my ice bath.

It seemed fate was involved, because a few days later Marcela's bathroom cupboard fell off the wall onto her and it was lucky I was around. On top of that, I logged onto the smartraveller.gov.au website and discovered some nice info regarding the area around my ex-hostel: "Colombian authorities have advised that they believe the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) may be planning bombings in Medellin and have recommended that people avoid large gatherings in general, and specifically the La Luz park in front of the Alpujarra Administrative Centre, the Pies Descalsos park next to the EPM "Intelligent Building" and the Lleros park in the Poblados area."

Finally, it transpired that Marcela dabbles in freelance audio/visual productions - branching out to start her own production company after a few years working at a local cable TV channel. I managed to have myself elevated to "assistant" on the strength of my dazzling holiday photo portfolio, and came along for the ride as we produced the material for a tourism piece in the outskirts area of Bello - an area better known for the violent legacy of the Escobar era. The (really) bad guys have long since been run out of town, so the rebuilding of reputation and the economy continues - on this occasion in the form of a new commercial centre. We interviewed various interested parties (construction company, locals, government, historians) and were shown all the sights on offer around Bello. My favourite was the defunct chairlift that never saw the light of day thanks to some drunk bloke climbing up and getting himself killed before the thing had even been officially opened! The "on location" report was wrapped up in the local government headquarters just off the town centre, where we rummed it up a little before continuing on to a nearby salsa bar to continue the festivities.

And now, some photos of life here that really remind me that I'm in Colombia.

The handy street signs warning against horrific head-on collisions are more prolific than you might imagine. They are pretty much everywhere (the signs, that is).

Many major intersections around town feature not only traffic lights, but an accompanying act consisting of juggling, window washing, food selling, or simply begging. After taking this particular photo, I drove past the following day and there were three blokes balancing on top of each other, all juggling! While the juggling act is brilliant, their business management skills seem lacking because they never have time to collect their tips from the captivated drivers.

That's right, we are all sharing the pot-holed, overcrowded streets with the occasional horse-and-cart.
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