A collection of untold stories from the road.

Trip Start Oct 06, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Charleston Cartagena hotel

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Sunday, April 2, 2006

Through this blog I have tried to retell some of the most memorable stories from my trip around Latin America. As you may have noticed, a lot of the blog entries are just random thoughts while others actually try to describe some of the adventures I went through. Instead of a complete chronicle ("Dear Diary. Today I woke up at 14:30PM, went to the toilet and brushed my teeth before I put on my green t-shirt. You know the one that used to be yellow until I washed it with... blah, blah, blah"), I decided on this style as I found it much more fun to write and hopefully also more interesting for you guys who have actually bothered to check out my blog. This does of course mean that there's a whole lot that happened during my trip that actually never made the blog. Surprise, surprise. For example, I stayed about ten days in Cali back in January 2005, but if you have read my blog entry from Cali it may sound like all I managed to do was a taxi ride with a 61 year old toothless half blind pipe smoking Colombian lunatic. Luckily that's not true, as I spent about a week in the butterfly garden of Cali Zoo as well ;-). Anyway, upon request, here's a couple of untold stories from the road...

I am doing a digital underwater photography dive together with my young dive instructor in Utila, Honduras. It's my 13th dive ever, that's 13 my friend. We spend a lot of time taking cool photos in a labyrinth like underwater landscape. As I am a diving rookie I use a lot of air of course, so after about 50 minutes I inform my instructor that I am running low. So we start making our way to the safety stop, when we spot some funny looking fish. We try to follow them, and the instructor soon forget all about me being low on air. Since I am a rookie, I don't know for how long my remaining air will last, but I trust my instructor. We stay down for a while and snap a few more photos, before ascending one more time. During the safety stop I notice a change in breathing resistance. There's hardly any air left at all. And when I am about a couple of meters from the surface there's absolutely nothing left. Running out of air should never happen during a dive, you should always start the ascend with a comfortable safety margin. I can only blame myself, but being such a rookie I trusted my instructor too much. Luckily I was very close to the surface when I ran out. It's no excuse, but at least I know what it feels like now.

As you can see from my Pocket change, big spends and backpack ingredients entry, I managed to get rid of quite a lot of money on this trip. One thing that definitively drove my spendings through the roof, was the amount of nights I had on the town. I like to go out, and when I get a bit drunk and meet some nice people, I am pretty good at buying rounds. I remember one night in Cartagena, Colombia. I met four locals and a couple of backpackers at a bar. I got drunk and ended up buying drinks and food for the whole lot throughout the night. On our way home early in the morning, we met about ten local musicians in a Vallenato band. And since I really like Vallenato, I decided to rent the whole band for a two hour morning jam session outside the Charleston Cartagena Hotel (a landmark hotel in the old town. I am sure the guests trying to get some sleep were extremely pleased). This of course attracted a whole crowd of people, including beer vendors, wannabe Vallenato stars, Japanese snappers and old blue haired cruise ship tourists on their daily souvenir hunt. The guys really put on a performance, surely their best concert ever, and we were all having a great time dancing, singing and drinking well into the day. Until it was time for "La cuenta, por favor"... Hi Vallenato friends, you were very good, but I don't think you are in the same category as Shakira just yet. Except maybe for how much you charge that is... Well, it wasn't all that bad, but still probably one of my most expensive nights on the town ;-)

I was lucky enough to meet quite a few very nice women on this trip. One of my most memorable episodes happened at Chipichape, a somewhat upscale shopping center in Cali, Colombia. On my first night out in Cali I met a Colombian girl at Chipichape. We had a few nice days together, before I headed off to Popayán and San Agustin. From San Agustin I planned to go to Bogotá next, but instead I returned to Cali for a few days, so I could meet the girl again. On my return, we had made an appointment to meet at a Chipichape bar where she used to hang out. I was there on time, but the girl never showed up. So I sat there the whole night chatting to an Irish guy who lives in Cali. Being curious, I asked him how he had ended up in Colombia. "Well that's easy my friend. I'm an ugly bloke, there's no fecking doubt about that. And all the Irish girls knows this too. They all know that I am fecking ugly, so even the fecking ugliest of the ugly won't even look at me. I have tried to chat up my share of fecking ugly women back home, but it's fecking impossible. That's how fecking ugly I am. So I went on a holiday to Colombia, and did I find myself in fecking Heaven here in Cali. It didn't take me long to meet the sweetest local girl, by my fecking standards at least, so I decided to stay. And here I am with my fecking lovely girlfriend, fecking ay! I'll never go back home. Nah, feck it!" Anyway, while chatting to this funny and crazy Irish guy, a very nice girl started talking to me. She was beautiful, by my fecking standards at least, and we ended up chatting for hours. Later we headed off to another bar where she tried to learn me the art of Salsa. Well the Salsa was a fecking disaster, but the next day she came and visited me at my hostel. While she was there I got a phone call. It was the other girl. She was so sorry that she missed the appointment last night (in fact she had a very decent excuse), and wanted to come and meet me at the hostel. "Ehh, you cannot come now, I'm going to the Zoo..." Well, to cut a long story short, being a wimp I basically had to flee Cali, not being able to juggle between my two local "girlfriends" (they both knew my hostel and pretty much hanged out at the same bars. For all I knew, they could easily have been best friends. It was a "disaster" waiting to happen). So, before you think I'm a fecking bastard, all this was far from the plan of course, but you know, I am only a "hombre" and sometimes you screw up big time (well, who knows, maybe they both had a couple of boyfriends themselves as well). Anyway, it's pretty typical for me though. Usually I don't meet that many women, but when I do, of course I have to meet two at the same time. In fact, it's not the first time, and probably not the last...

Flying on empty, well that's not so cool. It happened in a tiny Cessna on our way from Canaima National Park to Ciudad Bolivar in Venezuela. I was sitting in the seat next to the pilot (who by the way was reading a newspaper at the time), following the gauges located on the instrument panel. Hmm, you know what guys..., I have no clue about airplanes whatsofuckingever, but if the fuel indicator works about the same as in a car, then we should probably pull over at a gas station pretty soon and get ourselves a chilli hot dog and a coffee. Make that black, no sugar. ¿Comprende? Well, I'll just leave it to the pilot... Suddenly the propeller started to cough, it was slowing down very quickly. So quickly in fact, that if I was some tropical and colorful Venezuelan bird, then I am sure I could have put my head between the propeller blades, and at the same time asked the guy behind the wheel if I could borrow the sports section. Shit, for sure this doesn't look normal. The pilot finally reacted. He threw away the newspaper, while wiping a drop (or bucket) of sweat from his brow. Did his magic and soon the engine came back to life. I tried to ask him what had just happened, and with my somewhat limited Spanish, I believe he said that the primary tank ran out and that we switched to the secondary. "Hey Mr. Toucan, did Ciudad Bolivar loose at home again?"

I have just finished my six days round trip hike to the top of Roraima, and I am now back in the town of Santa Elena de Uairen on the border between Venezuela and Brazil. I am enjoying a few beers in a somewhat frenetic bar with my Roraima guide Roger and his wife. On the table next to us there's two guys and a girl, the two guys are having a heated discussion, I believe over the girl. Suddenly a load bang. What the heck, was that a gunshot??? One of the guys run towards the entrance of the bar, he stumbles but quickly get on his feet again. There's lots of blood all over him, dripping onto the floor. He disappears out the door, while the other guy runs after him aiming his gun at the somewhat moving target. Everyone in the bar follows them out into the street. There's a couple of more gunshots. I am staying inside the bar the whole time, kind of shaking a bit. A couple of minutes later everyone returns from the street and starts ordering more drinks, chatting, laughing, dancing, flirting, ...you name it. A couple of bored looking cops turn up, they look at the blood on the floor and the bullet mark in the wall, before they decide to leave. The party continues. "Hey Roger, I think I'll just call it the night, ok?". "But Esteban, it's only 12:30AM, lets have a few more drinks". "Eh, maybe tomorrow, I feel a bit tired". I leave Santa Elena de Uairen the next morning without knowing what happened to the guy who got shot. I have never seen anyone getting shot before, and to be honest I found the episode pretty scary. Definitively the most ugly experience during my trip around Latin America.

When it comes to fixing cars, I am again clueless. So it always amazes me how all the taxi drivers, bus drivers etc. down here are also mechanics. Well, I guess they have to, when you look at the standards of some of the cars they are driving. I don't remember how many times I got stranded on some road shoulder because of a car breakdown during this trip, but I quickly learned that there was nothing to worry about. These guys can fix anything, and they will get the vehicle going again without having to wait four months for spare parts. I remember one episode in particular. I am on my way from Santa Elena de Uairen to Boa Vista in an old Peugeot collective taxi. Suddenly there's an engine fire. The taxi driver manages to put out the fire, he rips out the battery and some colorful cables, throws it all into the ditch, does something, something, and soon we are again heading south, speeding our way through the dry and monotonous landscape. Pure magic.

At a hostel in El Calafate in Argentina I met this nice Argentinian guy in his early forties. He didn't speak much English, but every night when I came back after having dinner in town, he would sit in the hostel kitchen waiting for me. "Oh, there you are, where have you been?". Since he was always in the kitchen, I thought he actually worked at the hostel (it turned out he was a tourist just like me), and also since he was so friendly and I didn't know anyone else, I chatted to him a lot and also got to practice my Spanish. One night when I came back, he said he had changed his flight back to Buenos Aires. He had also called work and said he would stay for a few more days in El Calafate. It turned out the reason was because I had told him the day before that I would probably stay in El Calafate for a few days. "Steve, come outside and look at all the stars, it is so beautiful". That was when I finally figured out that he was hitting on me big time. Not wanting to break his heart (or something), I didn't say anything, but instead told him that I would go to El Chaltén the next day to do some hiking around Cerro Fitz Roy. "Can I come with you?" "Eh, I already have a trip booked with friends, it's fully booked". "Will you come back to El Calafate?". "Yes, I have to as I am going to Bariloche next". "Will you stay here then?" "Eh, I think so". "Okay, I will wait for you, maybe we can go out when you come back". "Eh, don't wait for me, I don't know for how long I will be gone". A few days later I returned to El Calafate, and of course I checked into another hostel (the great America del Sur Hostel). A couple of days later when I was leaving for Bariloche, I walked around El Calafate with my backpack, and who did I bump into??? "Oh, there you are, I have been waiting for you. Did you just return? Shall we go out tonight?" "Eh, I just arrived back from El Chaltén but I have to leave for Bariloche now. I am running out of time". "But, but..." I left him there, I could see he was very disappointed. I guess I should have just told him, when I figured it out, that I am not swimming on the other side of the river. Anyway, I hope he actually did something productive during his stay, and didn't just sit in the kitchen waiting for me...

I am on the beach in Punta del Este with my younger brother. I have now been down in Latin America for about 15 months. A guy selling soft drinks walks over to us and says "Hoy hace mucho viento (there's lots of wind today)", where I quickly reply "Soy de Noruega (I am from Norway)". On a scale from one to twenty, how similar is actually "Hoy hace mucho viento" to "¿De dónde eres? (where are you from?)" Anyhow, we somehow manage to buy two cokes from the guy before my brother burst out with laughter; "How the heck have you managed 15 months on your own down here???". Point taken. It's kind of been a theme throughout this blog. How I am absolutely clueless when it comes to learning a new language. Spanish and I just seem incompatible. Esteban..., aka "The Gringo without the Lingo" (again I have to steal a cool expression from Steve, the guy I traveled around Colombia and parts of Central America with).

That's all for now, maybe there will be a part two one day...
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