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Archive for July, 2009

Doing stuff in Bogotá

by Alex on Jul.18, 2009, under Blog

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Candelaria is the hostel district in Bogotá, an old part of town with lovely colonial courtyarded houses close to the historic centre. I really enjoyed being amongst street life again, the last few city hostels we’d stayed in had all been in quiet residential areas. There were some interesting street names too:

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Our first sightseeing port of call was to the local farmers’ market, not quite the rustic affair that is more the norm back home. Then again, it was in Plaza Bolivar, a massive square outside the cathedral and senate building where I guess a couple of old trestle tables of overpriced vegetables wouldn’t really have cut it. There were stacks of interesting looking foodstuffs to be had though unfortunately not by me what with me being veggie and all… I did though come across a rarity that I’d certainly not have expected to find here – quince cheese. Well it certainly tasted like quince cheese and was served with cheese, as it would be. So that was my lunch, health food all the way. The open fires on which much of the food was being cooked caused for a nice smokey atmosphere about the place.

As you can imagine there were a fair few grand buildings to be seen. I wasn’t up for doing a proper tour of the town photography mission. I’ll do that some time when I go back to Bogota. I did get a few snaps of some interesting buildings, and less than perfectly in time marhcing soldiers:

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The Gold Museum was world class. Initially, I was most impressed by the quality of the English translation, was never going to last though and mistakes abounded. The exhibits were very impressive, numerous and I imagine priceless, based on the bank vault type doors that I’d only ever before seen in films like Ocean’s [insert number here]. I may go back and take some pics at some point…

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The main draw to the Police Museum was the Pablo Escobar paraphernalia that was said to be there. The guide spoke in English but seemed to make up enough words that I was never really quite sure what was going on. Take this machine for example, he chatted about it for a good few minutes, in ‘English’ – no idea what it is or what it did only that it was eventually replaced due to the risk of lead poisoning inherent in using it…

There were lots of photos of Escobar’s gang members, many of them taken shortly after their fairly gruesome looking demises – plenty of bloody pictures including one taken with someone’s fist shoved in the exit wound of a head shot, which was nice. There was a decent collection of weaponry taken from Escobar’s house and a pretty cool desk with a secret compartment in it. The reward poster was telling – 2.7 billion pesos for information leading to his arrest. That’s over a million US dollars more than 15 years ago, plenty of cash seeing that many here earn less than the minimum wage of about $200 US a month.

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Botero is apparently bothered about being referred to as the guy who does fat art. I’m not sure how else to describe it. We saw lots of cool fat statues in Medellin and another in Cartagena. The exhibit in Bogota was extensive and pretty interesting, mostly paintings, obviously of fat people and things, like fruit. The Mona Lisa was one of my favourites, as was fat Jesus.

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A truly unique, probably on a world-scale, experience was the visit to the salt cathedral at Zipaquirá. Clearly bored, the local salt miners decided one day to hone out a massive cathedral in the middle of their huge mountain of salt. I found the tour pretty uninteresting mostly due to the fact that our guide was massively overenthusiastic, bigging up everything including a crap pond which detracted somewhat, to say the least. The scale of the place was fairly breathtaking and I knew that being in Colombia I could happily ignore the ‘no tripods’ sign without fear of any kind of reprimand to get this picture. If you get the opportunity to go, you’d be best to lose the tour group and hang back marveling at the majesty of the place and workmanship involved.

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I’ve just read that the the Cerro de Montserrat, overlooking Bogotá, is at 3030 m, about 10,000 ft – that would go some way to account for the coldness that goes on in the capital. The cable car wasn’t running the day we went so we took the old funicular railway to the top. The views were spectacular. A truly massive city with apparently over 8 million inhabitants within the metropolitan area. My favourite view was that overlooking the airport, which looked like a playing field from so far away.

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We also saw lots of good graffiti and stencil art on the streets. I recognised the work of Toxicomano (toxic hand), a group that I’d read about in the in-flight magazine on my way to Colombia from Panama. I took a few shots but again this is another subject that deserves a day out photographing. Something else to add to my to do list for when I get back to Bogotá.

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A proper mud bath

by Alex on Jul.10, 2009, under Blog

It’s not often that I get the opportunity to do something that I’ve not done before. Fortunately that’s because I’ve done loads of stuff rather than because I sit around on my arse all day watching TV and eating ready meals only leaving the house in the case of a national emergency and/or I’ve run out of Coke Zero. Funily enough though, having said all that, were you to ask the guys I’ve been hanging out with for the last little while, they’d probably opine that that was a fair approximation of my lifestyle – I’ll put that down to spending a lot of time working on the old internationalmankinichallenge.com..

Anyway, today was the first time I’d done anything new new for a long time, and it was pretty cool…

I’ve heard that swimming in the dead sea is odd due to its relatively high buoyancy caused, of course, by its high mineral content. I’ve had the pleasure of falling asleep in a float tank whilst listening to odd music – again, very floaty water. I’ve never tried a bath of baked beans nor have I plans to but whatever, none of that could come near the Totumo volcano mud bath experience, well at least not from a floatiness point of view.

The volcanoy bit looked like an enormous termite mound. It was almost reminiscent of the kind of horrific death chambers one hears of in which ‘savages’ bury their victims to be eaten alive and later eaten dead by millions of termites. We could almost have been in a different time as we climbed the steps – simple wooden handrails guided us up the steep mudded staircase to who knew what was waiting. Well, the guys who worked there knew what – it was a mud bath.

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Light brown, warm and ohhhh so viscous – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory would have been a far better film were they to have used something more akin to this stuff for the chocolate waterfall and river. I watched others first as I took photos from above. The entry to the pool was awkward, the enterers having no experience in how to control themselves whilst weightless in a highly resistive medium, t’was like watching new born gazelles trying to get to grips with not falling over. The local ‘masseurs’ though knew exactly what was going on, guiding the initiates onto their backs and literally sliding them across the surface of the mud like air hockey pucks, packing them tightly side by side like so many proverbial sardines. The massage was more like frotteurism on the part of the locals (interestingly frotar in Spanish simply means ‘to rub’ with no sexual connotation), the bathers being powerless to resist in their oh so strange surround – was funny to watch though.

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My turn! To get in that is, not to rush for the groping locals.

It was about 28 degrees and very… supportive. Quite an odd sensation being safely and effortlessly suspended in a fluid that may as well have been 10, 20, 100 meters deep. Lying on one’s back was as easy as sleeping and might have been relaxing were it not for the crowds. The massage is not worth mentioning but righting oneself and ‘standing’ upright, chest above mud, feet touching nothing was quite rare indeed and definitely worth a go if you get the chance.

The being scrubbed clean of mud in green green algae green water is also not worth chatting about, save for the fact that the local ladies were expert in stripping one of one’s clothes (to wash off the mud) before one had any idea as to their intentions – potentially embarrassing if you’re a little shy and not expecting it – watch out for that if you ever go.

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And if you do go, eat a large bean meal the night before – would be so funny to have a big fartfest in the mud bath. Bloop bloop bloop.

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