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Archive for March, 2009

old-town-square

A colonial city situated right on the Caribbean Sea, much of Cartagena’s charm can be discovered in the old quarter of town.  Still surrounded by the original walls built in the 1500s to protect the city’s wealth from pirates (often unsuccessfully), the colonial architecture, ancient churches and narrow streets evoke a romantic, old-world atmosphere.  The infusion of energy brought by the African roots of the Carribean culture ensures that the vibe is anything but sleepy.  I found that the best way to enjoy the city was just to start walking and get myself thoroughly lost in the old district—not a difficult task with winding, unsigned alleys and streets. 

The mid-day gets steamy-hot, but there’s no shortage of refreshment in the form of juice and fruit vendors.  One of my favorite gastronomic adventures so far has been sampling the native fruits.  I can’t say they were all delicious (zapote and nispero, I’m looking at you), but I’ve also discovered amazing flavors, some that explode with sweetness (maracuya) and intensity (tomate de arbol), others with a subtle delicacy that leave you wanting more (the lovely curuba).  

Cartagena Fruit Vendor

Cartagena Fruit Vendor

Some of the offerings from a Cartagena Juice Vendor.  From left to right: various types of oranges, zapote, pineapple on top of more zapote, mango on top of curuba, nispero (the gooey brown mess in that plastic bag), gobs of bananas (duh), mango on top of tomate de arbol, melon on top of maracuya, and pineapple on top of more oranges.  Yum.

Some of the offerings from a Cartagena juice stand. From left to right: several types of oranges, zapote, pineapple on top of more zapote, mango on top of curuba, nispero (the gooey brown mess in the plastic bag), gobs of bananas (duh), mango on top of tomate de arbol, melon on maracuya, and pineapple on top of more oranges. Yum.

Adam sampling the local fruit juice smoothies.

Adam sampling the local fruit juice smoothies.

 

Best of all, if you head out to explore early in the morning, you can have the streets of the old town to yourself—the charm of colonial architecture combines with the colors and flowers of the tropics to create a paradise for anyone who enjoys taking photos.  Here are some of my favorite shots from wandering the city:

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Some complain that Cartagena is too touristy. It is certainly a tourist destination, there’s no denying that, but even the hawkers in Colombia are generally friendly.  They tend to be a bit more aggressive in Cartagena than in the other beach cities we visited and there are so many more of them– emeralds, paintings, jewelry, hats, mini Boteros, you name it they sell it.  However, we had some interesting conversations with people trying to make a sale, so sometimes it can be to your benefit to wait a minute before pulling out the “no gracias.”  In addition to the vendors, some people are irritated by the hordes of cruiseshippers that are disgorged from the boats a couple of times a week.  But really, if you grab a seat in one of the many plazas (and maybe a beer from one of the street vendors), you’re set up for some top-notch people watching. 

The beaches of Cartagena are home to a string of high-rise resorts—not exactly our style.  So, to get another beach fix (although we were pretty sure nothing could compete after Parque Tayrona), we hopped a boat to Playa Blanca, a beach reputed to be the nicest beach near Cartagena.  On the way to the islands, the boat took a tour through the Islas Rosario.  The little bungalows on teeny tiny islands had us daydreaming about secluded island getaways and kept us well occupied until we arrived at Playa Blanca.

island-hutsPlaya Blanca definitely lived up to the hype regarding its natural beauty—the sand was powdery white and lined with palm trees and the ocean was a surreal turquoise. 

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We figured that a spot so pretty was worth more than an afternoon, so we hooked up with a crew of Irish boys from our boat and wandered off to sort out a place to sleep for the night.  The beach is lined with restaurants that will not only cook up some of the local fish and plantains for you, but will also happily rent you a hammock. 

playa-blanca-hammocksThe accommodations were even more rustic than those in Tayrona, only a few meters from the surf and with only a piece of mesh fabric between the hammocks and the threat of rain, but we just couldn’t turn down the opportunity to spend the night ON the beach again.  The other bonus?  Our accommodation expense for the evening—about US$2 each. 

Possibly because of the lack of accommodations, the majority of people who come to Playa Blanca do so only for a few hours in the afternoon.  There is one direct bus a week from Cartagena (Sunday morning) and daily boats that drop visitors for the afternoon, collecting them and returning to Cartagena as the sun starts to descend in the sky.  This means that the beach is downright packed in the afternoon and virtually deserted in the evening.  The daily crowds provide a perfect market for the local hawkers.  They sell mostly bracelets and necklaces made from the local stones and shells.  The funniest little quirk was that they all seemed to have adopted nicknames.  The first guy who introduced himself to me was “Punto Com” (dot com).  Later that day, I also met Picasso and Nelson Mandela.  I’m not sure how these pseudonyms began, but they definitely fall in the category of weird little quirks that keep travel interesting.

Picasso was from Santa Ana, a nearby town that, despite only having about 2000 residents, has two English schools.  Picasso was studying at one of them, so we had a nice conversation, him practicing his English and me practicing my Spanish.  We talked about his family and his work and the conversation inevitably turned back to the topic of me buying his stuff.  At one point, trying to convince me that I needed several new bracelets, he assured me that he would give me a very special price, only for me.  He was absolutely delighted when I exclaimed “Only for me??  Que suerte!!”  (What luck!).  Turns out that humor is an effective negotiating technique because promptly he dropped his price by half and we had a deal.  That’s one of the joys of this adventure–getting the opportunity to meet people from around the world and learn a bit about their lives, whether they are other travelers or locals.  Every time I have an experience like that, I find myself somewhat taken aback.  I am reminded of why we are here and am so utterly grateful.

 

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view-from-cabo-campgrounds-2

Every experience continues to amaze me on this journey of ours. The beauty that we keep seeing on a near daily basis makes me feel like the luckiest person alive. There have been a handful of times; however, that have rendered me nearly speechless. Parque Nacional Tayrona on the Caribbean coast of Colombia was one of those places.

Machu Picchu, southwestern Bolivia, and Patagonia have all been standouts as far as landscapes and natural beauty is concerned. All have been simply amazing in their own unique way and will be the places we tell our kids about and remember vividly for the rest of our lives. Add another one to that list because Tayrona stands out with the best of them, perhaps topping the list.

Whenever we meet local people in the countries we visit, we always ask them their favorite part of their country. Tayrona National Park ALWAYS tops the list when speaking with Colombians. Tayrona is just up the coast from the little fishing village of Taganga, where we stayed for close to a week. It can be reached by boat or bus, taking about two hours by sea and about an hour by land. We decided to go by sea, which was a horrible mistake as the boat we took was quite small and no match for the middle of the Caribbean Sea. We thought we were in for a nice, relaxing ride with great views, but we got a white-knuckle, hair raising, vomit inducing (not us, luckily, but some of our boatmates were not so lucky) two hour ride that made the World’s Most Dangerous Road seem like a leisurely ride through a park.


The boat trip did have some positives, though. We went in the back way to Cabo San Juan, where we didn’t have to pay the park entrance fee, and it dropped us on one of the nicest beaches in the park, where we ended up staying for two nights. Had we went by bus, it would have dropped us at the park entrance, where there are places to sleep and beaches, but those beaches aren’t as nice, and the swimming is dangerous because of the rough surf. Also, there are actually huts and nice rooms to stay in near the entrance, which is nice, but it makes it more crowded. The only options for accommodations in Cabo were renting a hammock or a tent. That, coupled with the fact that it was a couple hour hike from the entrance and not accessible by road, made it much more relaxing and less crowded.

After renting hammocks, we put our valuables in a locker and checked out the campgrounds, which were definitely the most picturesque we’ve ever stayed at. The campgrounds even came complete with a futbol pitch, which provided views a bit different than the fields I grew up playing on (if I had played here, my mother would have never seen a minute of my games).

Our "room" for the night

Our "room" for the night

Our beds for the night (only two of them)

Our beds for the night (only two of them)

Soccer field

Soccer field

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Cabo Campground

Cabo Campground

View from Cabo Campgrounds

View from Cabo Campgrounds

The campgrounds were literally right next to the crystal clear sea and a ribbon of beautiful white sand beach, dotted with huge palm trees, with a lush green jungle as the backdrop. Postcard views were everywhere around us in the most stunning tropical setting I have ever seen.

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Adam enjoying the views

Adam enjoying the views

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Cabo beach in the morning

Cabo beach in the morning

Us at Cabo beach

Us at Cabo beach

Anyone want to buy the rights of this image for a postcard?

Anyone want to buy the rights of this image for a postcard?

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Everything written and every picture posted so far is probably enough to persuade most people that this place is special. We’ve expressed our love for Colombia already in the few posts we’ve written, but this country keeps managing to top itself. There always seem to be more around the next corner, always something extra. And while our first views of the park were amazing, believe it or not, it got better the more we explored.

Tayrona is a really big park which was still pretty dangerous within the last 5-10 years. Because of its remoteness, thick jungle, and many beaches, it was an ideal place for many drug cartels. It was a great launching point to transport their product by boat. Since Colombia’s revival; however, Tayrona has been cleaned up so to speak. But since it’s so “new”, the beaches remain unspoiled, and the lack of development within the park, as far as hotels and restaurants, keep the number of people visiting rather low comparative to other national parks.

There are so many different beaches in Tayrona, connected by hiking paths through the jungle, it’s possible to find yourself completely secluded from anyone else. There isn’t much to do in Tayrona besides lying on the beach, enjoying the clear, blue waters of the Caribbean, and wander around and explore.

Since we slept in hammocks out in the open, we were up pretty early the second day (which happened to be St. Patrick’s Day). We decided to explore some different beaches right around Cabo. One was a short 20 minute hike from the campgrounds. We walked all the way down that beach to find another little trail through the jungle that led to yet another beach. Once here, we walked to the end which was seemingly the end of the trails. We plopped our towels down and got settled, where we stayed for the rest of the afternoon. Not one person walked by us, and we only saw about five other people off in the distance the entire time we were there. It was like we had our own beach to ourselves and we had a simply amazing time (a little different than Dogtown, which we did talk about several times throughout the day).

Nobody around except us

Nobody around except us

Rolling coconut

Rolling coconut

It's a rough life

It's a rough life

Along with secluded beaches, there are also several other places to go and stay within the park. Cabo was at one far end of the park, furthest away from the entrance. Not far from Cabo in the other direction, towards the entrance, was perhaps the most beautiful place of all. A short walk through the palm tree filled jungle brought us to La Piscina (which means pool in Spanish). It wasn’t as secluded as “our” beach was, but the waters were much calmer, and in my opinion it was the most amazing place in the park. There was a big, rocky area next to the beach that was sort of cut off from the main part of the beach (it reminded us of Elephant Rocks but with the sea around it). The water in this area was fairly shallow all the way to about 30 meters out, surrounded by huge rocks on the shore and in the sea, and the water was as clear as a pool. I was in Heaven and easily could have stayed for days.

Hike to La Piscina

Hike to La Piscina

Watch out for falling coconuts!!

Watch out for falling coconuts!!

Entrance to La Piscina

Entrance to La Piscina

Meg on La Piscina

Meg on La Piscina

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Since we actually have a flight booked out of Colombia, we are on a bit of a time crunch to try to get everything in that we want to do, so our time in Tayrona wasn’t quite as long as we wanted it to be. It was a little odd when we left though because even though it was one of our favorite places on the trip so far, we were fine with leaving. We had such a perfect day the second day when we relaxed on our own beach with no one else around, then had such a wonderful morning the third day hanging around La Piscina, we thought that leaving on a high note was a good idea.

After leaving Tayrona and staying in Taganga for one more night, we headed off to Cartagena, a colonial city, right on the Caribbean (noticing a theme, here?). We are a little behind on the blogging as we are actually leaving Cartagena tonight to head to Medellin, but there will be more about this beautiful and unique city, along with the time we spent this past weekend on a nearby beach sleeping in hammocks yet again (we just can’t get enough). Hopefully we can find some good internet connections in Medellin to get this back up to date before we leave South America next Tuesday for the next leg of our adventures.

So until next time…

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Imagine waking up, throwing on swimming trunks, walking outside of your room, turning a corner and seeing this…

View from the front of our hostel

View from the front of our hostel

Then imagine walking down the one main street in the town and ordering a jugo de frutas mixtas (mixed fruit juice smoothie) and receiving a concoction of fresh, tropical fruits I’ve never heard of. Imagine taking your fresh fruit smoothie breakfast and sitting down on the nearly abandoned beach and taking in the views…

Taganga beach in the morning

Taganga beach in the morning

Looking the other way

Looking the other way

Boats in the bay

Boats in the bay

Close up of beach

Close up of beach

Close up of beach and sea

Close up of beach and sea

Perfect

Perfect

Imagine walking down this small beach with crystal clear waters and climbing on and over the rocks to get a better view of this idyllic small little town…

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Megan is happy

Megan is happy

Us

Us

Imagine finding the perfect rocks for skipping on this calm, beautiful little bay…

The SMRST would be proud

The SMRST would be proud

Imagine laying your towels down for the day, just mere steps away from the perfect Caribbean waters, flagging down the man selling cups of fresh shrimp and squid, waving for the man selling recently homemade coconut cookies, checking out the various crafts and jewelry being sold by the nicest, not-at-all pushy vendors (non-pushy touts, only in Colombia), and spending the day reading and swimming and relaxing. Imagine ending your day with the perfect sunset…

We made it a point to watch the sunset each day we were in Taganga

We made it a point to watch the sunset each day we were in Taganga

This is Taganga, Colombia

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      That about sums up Colombia so far.  We have been here now for a little over a week.  First, we spent about 5 days in the capital city of Bogota, and we have since adjusted to life as beach bums in a little fishing village called Taganga on the beach in the Caribbean.  We are seriously contemplating spending our remaining 2+ weeks making our way from beach town to beach town along the coast.  And while the scenery and beautiful weather has been fantastic, it’s the Colombian people that have made our short time here so great.  It is easy to see why we have heard the same advice over and over from other travelers while in South America,

“You CAN’T miss Colombia.”

“You HAVE to go to Colombia.”

“AHHHH, COLOMBIA!”

“The people are just sooooooooooo nice.”

“Go, now, you have to.  Don’t miss it.”

                Let me back up a little here.  While initially planning this trip and deciding to start in S. America, Colombia was never even on the initial radar.  Why?  Well, just like everyone who lives in the United States, I knew that Colombia was filled with drug dealing, machete wielding, machine-gun carrying, kidnapping, violent people.  I can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it now. 

                When we first looked into Colombia, we were definitely hesitant because of our stereotypes of how dangerous a country it was.  But as we researched it more, the more we realized that maybe we should start listening to travelers who have actually been there instead of the doom and gloom media of the United States.  We were met with the typical questions and statements from family and friends when telling them we were thinking about going to Colombia,

“Aren’t you afraid you’ll get kidnapped?”

“See you on the news when they are asking for ransom.”

“Gonna smuggle some coke back to the US?”

Again, all absurd when looking back at it now.  We have not felt the least bit in danger at any point in our time so far in Colombia.  In fact, one of the most ironic things to happen here in Colombia happened shortly after arriving in Bogota last week.  We were in the kitchen of a hostel sipping on some coffee and started chatting with a man  (not sure where he was from, but it wasn´t the US).  We found out that he spent some time living in St. Louis (in Webster Groves, no less) close to a decade ago.  Small world, we thought.  We talk more and he told us a story about visiting downtown, near the Arch.  Well, he reveals that he got mugged while in downtown St. Louis.  So here we were, in Colombia, one of the most “dangerous places in the world”, talking to a man who got mugged and robbed in our hometown. 

Colombia has had its share of violence in the last 30 years, there’s no way around that, and there’s no way to hide that.  It was a very dangerous place, even as recently as five years ago.  And there still are some dangerous areas in Colombia.  But times are changing, and the Colombian people are embracing that change, they want that change, and they are doing everything in their power to expedite that change. 

It all started when we got off the plane and started asking the usual questions, “Where’s an ATM?  Where can we change money?  Where’s the best place to get a cab?”  We have asked these questions more times than I can count now.  Normally we get some icy responses and pointing, usually not very many smiles.  Now I don’t want to paint Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile as being unfriendly, because they weren’t, but just like home, asking questions like these at airports and bus stations usually isn’t met with friendly enthusiasm. 

But we were in Colombia, where everything is met with a smiling face.  Every question we asked we were greeted with a huge smile and friendly directions to help us out.  After arriving at our hostel and finding out that there was a problem with the room we reserved (which we were aggravated about at first, but quickly changed our tune as she worked so hard and fast to find us a new place, all the while apologizing over and over), we moved.  The people at the new hostel could not have been more helpful and friendly.  One of the workers has a house in Taganga (where we are now) and when he found out we were coming here, invited us to his place, not just to hang out, but to stay.  Anything we needed, they helped with, and they always did it with a smile.  That’s the thing about Colombians, they are ALWAYS smiling.  It’s contagious.  How can one not be happy in a place like this?

And it continued in that way.  Cab drivers, servers, bartenders, EVERYONE who worked at our hostel, people we met in the streets, police officers, guards, literally everyone.  It was almost surreal to see this kind of friendliness.  Everyone was patient with our Spanish.  Everyone was willing to help.

After learning more about them and their culture, I think they are just embracing the chance to be happy.  After living under so much violence, after their country was torn apart over the last several decades by drug cartels and paramilitary groups, they are rejoicing.  While sometimes as a tourist and traveler I have felt not wanted and as though I was a burden to the local people, it has been the complete opposite here.  We have been welcomed with open arms, and not just because we have money to spend.  They are genuinely happy to see us visiting their country. 

One of the first nights we were in Bogota, I was in the hostel bar with the guy who worked there and three of his friends (all Colombians).  We sat and talked for several hours, and it was a fascinating conversation.  These were all fairly young people, all in their early twenties in college.  While I can expect the older generations to really care about their country’s image and care about what others think about them, it’s not terribly common for college-aged kids to make international image a priority, much less in a bar on a Friday night.

But that’s what we talked about.  We talked about politics and stereotypes and international images.  They were adamant about wanting the world to see the real Colombia, not the one that we see on the news.  They expressed their anger when they get young foreigners asking them to get them some blow when they find out they are locals (yes, this does happen, and often, strangers asking locals for drugs). 

“Like we all are just born with a straw up our nose,” one of the girls huffed (one of the only times I saw them not smiling).  They hate that the world thinks that all Colombians are a bunch of cokeheads walking around with semiautomatic weapons.  She made it a point to say that no one she knows does cocaine, and while it is a problem in their country, it’s the manufacturing of it that is the problem, not use.  Ironically enough, the VAST majority of the cocaine made in Colombia goes to the United States and Europe.  Not much actually stays in Colombia.  If it wasn’t for our rampant use, it wouldn’t be the problem it is.

One thing this trip has done is open my eyes.  Just three or four years ago, I never would have thought to travel in the countries I have traveled in over the last five months.  It just wasn’t something I ever thought of.  But now, I am fascinated by the way different cultures live their lives.  I want to do away with that wall of stereotypes that have been built up over the years.  I want to make my own conclusions about a country and its people.  And while those stereotypes and barriers have been slowly crumbling and deteriorating the more places we go and the more people we meet, Colombia has taken a sledgehammer and knocked a huge hole in that wall.

 

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Windblown Wanderers on Cerro Campanario

Windblown Wanderers on Cerro Campanario

Straddling the border between Chile and Argentina, the lake district of South America is a breathtakingly beautiful landscape of mountains dotted with intensely blue lakes. We were spent almost three weeks visiting the lake district–our main destinations were Bariloche and El Bolson, both in Argentina and Pucon, Chile. The lake district is one of those great places that has something for nearly everyone.

Like to hike? You could hike for years around here–day hikes, multi-day treks sleeping in refugios, and extended camping treks are all available. In the mood for adventure sports? Take your pick: white water rafting, paragliding, mountain biking, volcano hiking (!). Want to see the world-class views but not really up for the hiking? Hop on one of the many chair lifts to the mountain tops in Bariloche. All sounding a little too strenuous? Throw your blanket down on one of the many beautiful beaches and chill out. Prefer to focus on gastronomic delights? You could spend weeks or months in Bariloche sampling all the great restaurants and visiting all the chocolate shops. Or, you could swing down to much smaller, laid back El Bolson and survive on unique flavors of microbrewed beer and giant waffles covered in local straight-off-the-bush berries. I am salivating with every recollection.

Obviously, there are plenty of options to keep you busy in the lake district, but undoubtedly, the real star is the scenery and landscape. That can only speak for itself:

View from Cerro Campanario

View from Cerro Campanario

View from Cerro Campanario

View from Cerro Campanario

More views from Campanario--it was named one of the top ten views in the world!

More views from Campanario--it was named one of the top ten views in the world!

Another view from Campanario

Another view from Campanario

Beach at Lago Nahuel Huapi in Bariloche

Beach at Lago Nahuel Huapi in Bariloche

Nahuel Huapi at dusk

Nahuel Huapi at dusk

Sunset over Nahuel Huapi

Sunset over Nahuel Huapi

Mountainside graveyard above El Bolson

Mountainside graveyard above El Bolson

View from the hike to Cerro Otto near Bariloche

View from the hike to Cerro Otto near Bariloche

Lago Puelo outside El Bolson

Lago Puelo outside El Bolson

We were going to go kayaking that day.  The weather gods did not agree.

We were going to go kayaking on Lago Puelo that day. The weather gods had other ideas.

Note from Adam: We are in the last leg of our S. America journeys and have been in Bogota, Colombia for the last 4 days. If the first 4 days are any indication, then our remarkably high expectations for Colombia will be fulfilled. We leave Bogota today to head up to the Caribbean coast to a sleepy fishing village called Taganga. Then we will head to nearby Tayrona National Park and will be sleeping in hammocks on the beach. Should be a great time, so stay tuned for more about this beautiful and friendly country.

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Disclaimer: This post really doesn’t have anything at all to do with the trip; it has to do with Phish and the band’s effect on me (an in a way, my love of travel) and how excited I am that they are back together playing live tonight. Feel free to read on or skip, no offense taken.

All the way back before we left for the trip, on the morning of October 1st, coincidentally both mine and Megan’s first day “off” after our last days of work on September 30, I woke up, checked my email, and saw an email I had been so excited about seeing since August 15, 2004. PHISH UPDATE was who the email was from. PHISH TO PLAY THREE CONCERTS was the subject line. The phone started ringing, the texts started flying, the message boards were clogged. I even wrote a blog post about it that morning ().

For those of you who don’t know me very well, I’ve been a HUGE Phish phan since high school. People who aren’t into them just don’t get how someone (or in this case, 10’s of thousands) of people can be so into a band to follow them around the country going to show after show after show.

And really, it’s kind of hard to explain. The best way I can explain, for myself, is that I’ve honestly NEVER felt the excitement and anticipation I feel when I’m at a Phish show. When I’m standing there, amongst friends and thousands of strangers all there to get their minds blown for the next 3 hours, and those lights go down, and the four of them walk on stage, it’s a feeling I just don’t get from anything else. I love sports, I love traveling, I love many things, but as far as experiences go, nothing touches a Phish show for me.

It’s special. It’s something magical. And until you experience it, you just don’t “get it”. I started getting into them in high school, rabidly collecting tapes of their live concerts. I finally saw them for the first time in 1996. I was already hooked before I saw them live, but seeing them live for the first time had me addicted. Literally addicted to their music. I couldn’t get enough.

The next summer solidified my addiction. One of my best friends, Zach, along with two of our other friends were driving to the northern most part of Maine for a 2 day, 6 set, Phish festival. I was 19 years old, just finished my first year of college, had never really done much traveling, and I was intrigued. After talking to my parents and getting the thumbs up; they even let us drive their minivan (probably not their wisest decision), I was in. The four of were off, first to NYC to visit another friend, and then up to Limestone, Maine, near the Canadian border, to an air force base that would serve as the concert ground, camping, and parking lot for the weekend (Limestone is a place Megan and I would return to for another Phish festival in 2003). You know you kinda like a band when you’re willing to drive 1500 miles (one way) on two separate occasions to see them and only them.

It was a weekend that truly changed my life, as I was not only addicted to this band, but also to travel. I loved the excitement, the not-knowingness (yeah, I know it’s not a word), the anticipation, the newness, the sights, the sounds, really just everything about it. It was my first soiree into traveling, and I loved it.

I would go on the next few years planning my vacations around Phish shows. It doesn’t sound too appealing to the common person, and people at work always raised an eyebrow before I would take off for a week of vacation.

Coworker/Boss: “So, Adam, where are you going on vacation?”

Me: “Well, first I’m going to Bonner Springs, which is right outside of Kansas City, then I’m heading back here to St. Louis, then up to East Troy, which is in Wisconsin, then to Noblesville, Indiana, right outside of Indianapolis, then to Colombus, Ohio. Then I’m heading home.”

Coworker/Boss: Blank stare

But that’s how it was. It didn’t matter where they were playing, just that they were playing. Phish fans get giddy when hearing the words Alpine, Deer Creek, the Gorge, Camden (yeah, New Jersey), Burlington, Plattsburgh, Worcester, Limestone, Big Cypress, Hampton, Madison Square Garden. We all know exactly what that means, even though it seems like nonsense to 98% of people. But for us, it fires us up. It gets us excited. It brings back memories.

I know this sounds crazy, and this may change some people’s views of me, but my BIGGEST regret in life is not going to Phish’s Millenium New Year’s Eve celebration down in the Florida Everglades. Biggest mistake I’ve made. Now while most think that not going to a concert is something minor in one’s life, I like to think it means I’ve had a damn good life if my biggest regret is not going to a concert. But I honestly do think about that often, still, almost 10 years later, and I truly regret not going.

After calling it quits in 2004, and for good reason, Phish was done. It seemed like, after 21 years, the band had run its course. They were all older, they had different priorities, they had issues and demons to deal with. But we all knew, deep down, that it couldn’t be the end. When 4 musicians have the talent and connectedness that Trey, Mike, Jon, and Page have, and they are only in their early 40’s, it just can’t be the end.

So while they all did what they had to do for 4+ years, whether that be getting clean, playing with other musicians, getting their family lives in line, disbanding the huge organization they had created over the last 21 years, it became time again. Time for them to take the stage. They were ready to come back and do it right this time, not like their last “break”. All signs point to them coming back for all the right reasons, and that’s to make great music together and have a great time doing it.

So tonight, Phish takes the stage at the mothership, the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia, for the first time since the disaster that was their “last” show in northern Vermont in 2004. And for 12,000 lucky phans, they will get their minds blown, their faces melted, their dance on. There will be hugs, high fives, screaming, yelling, and utter mayhem when the lights go down tonight.

As for me, I will be going out in Bogota, Colombia for some dinner and a few beers. But we’ll be back in our hostel around midnight, where I’ll be downloading the show, without seeing a setlist, and listening to it in our hostel room. It won’t be Hampton, but that’s OK. I am just so excited for everyone in attendance and so stoked that my favorite band is back, that I will see them again. It’s consolation for me knowing it won’t be long until I’m back in the US this fall, seeing Phish, and I will again “feel the feeling I forgot”.

~Adam

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Futbol…..Finally!

Today is our 138th day in S. America. And until day number 137, I had yet to see a live futbol game, which should earn me banishment from the continent as it’s wildly popular here.

I’ve played soccer my whole life and started coaching a few years ago, something I definitely want to continue doing when we return. I love the game, always have, always will. And while professional soccer has gained some popularity in the States over the last 10-15 years, it’s still on the outskirts as far as being anywhere near any of the big sports like baseball, football, and basketball.

But here it’s different. Futbol is a way of life in S. America. And during our 2.5 months in Argentina, it was the offseason, so we weren’t able to go to a game.

But we arrived in Santiago, Chile this past Saturday, and I had one goal in mind before we flew to Colombia on Wednesday. Get to a futbol game. And yesterday, we finally accomplished that goal.

In the first division of the Chilean League, 6 of the 12 teams are from Santiago. There was one game yesterday that could be reached by subway from our hostel, so by default, that’s the one we went to.

Audax Italiano vs. Union de Espanola. Audax was the home team, but Espanola is also from Santiago, so the fans were split about 50/50. The match started at 7pm, so we took off from our hostel at about 5:30 since we still had to get tickets when we got there.

We got off the subway and had about a 10 block walk to the stadium amidst red and green clad fans of both teams chanting and singing with their team’s flags draped around their bodies like capes. The atmosphere got better and better the closer we got to the stadium.

We finally arrived and saw several huge lines and then a crush of people near the boleteria (ticket office). “Uh-oh” I thought as I looked at my watch, reading 6:30. So we joined the throngs of people going towards the ticket office.

When you hear about futbol in other parts of the world, particularly Latin America, you think violence and rowdiness. And while there was definitely rowdiness, it was in no way violent at any part. I was a bit worried during the ticket fiasco, but alas, there was nothing but smiling faces all around.

In the US, we tend to bitch and whine (I am definitely included in this collective “we”) about procedures for getting tickets to sporting events, concerts, etc. But while trying to get a ticket to this game, I started to realize how organized our culture truly is. If the ticket buying process was the same at home, there would be numerous fights, arrests, and just general chaos.

There was no semblance of a line anywhere. There were about 6 ticket windows, and just a throng of people moving in one fluid motion towards them. I felt as though we were in the middle of a mosh pit at a Rage Against the Machine concert. There were men, women, and children of all ages in the middle of this, and my initial thought was a fight was surely to break out.

But then I looked around. There was no yelling. No screaming. No scowls. No hostility. Only smiles and singing and chanting. It was the most unorganized organized chaotic thing I’ve ever been a part of. There was pushing and shoving and jostling for position, but it was all done in a friendly manner. If someone tried to shove you out the way, you just shoved back, and then you got a smile for your efforts. It was hilarious.

We finally made our way to the ticket window, and there was no one person at a time. It was everyone stick your arm in the window with money while shouting how many tickets you want. We finally got our tickets (at about a total of $13 (try going to a Cardinal game for that) and were on our way.

We both wore green as that was the color of Audax, the home team. We had no idea what kind of tickets we received, if it was just general admission, assigned seats, no clue. So we walked up to the nearest ticket taker and gave him our tickets, assuming he would tell us if we were in the wrong spot. He tore them and sent us on our way.

The game was about 5 minutes underway, and we walked through the tunnel into the stadium and saw a sea of red, much like Busch Stadium on a hot summer day. “Uh-oh,” we thought, wrong side. And this isn’t like home. You can’t just walk around the whole stadium as they have separate entrances for each teams’ fans and the rest is closed off to prevent fighting. So we were stuck on the opposing fans side wearing green to all the red.

After our initial hesitation, we decided to say “Screw it” and hoof it towards the section of standing, dancing, singing, chanting, drum-beating fans and get into the mix and truly experience Chilean futbol.

We figured we stood out as dumb gringos so the colors we were wearing wouldn’t matter, and we were right. I was quite surprised at the number of women and children in attendance, and while it was loud and rowdy, it was rowdy in a good way. There was no violence whatsoever, only wild fanaticism. As someone who absolutely loves all sports, I was in Heaven. These people were so loyal to their teams, and the constant singing and standing the ENTIRE game was an awesome sight to see (unfortunately we were advised against bringing anything of value, so we left the camera at home, thus preventing us from getting any pictures or video, so hopefully my descriptions suffice).

Each team had their own songs, complete with dancing and clapping. There were no alcohol sales and minimal food and beverages were available, which didn’t matter because NO ONE left their seats during the game. It was quite different from the drunken debauchery that goes on at American sporting events (I’m not criticizing here, because Lord knows that I have taken part in said debauchery on many occasions at games). The cool thing was that everyone was there for the game and only the game. That’s all that mattered.

We were lucky enough to see an exciting game complete with 4 goals. Espanola went up 1-0, and since we were on their side, it was madness when they scored. Audax tied the game shortly after the half, and the tension mounted on the visitor’s side.

Each bad call by the ref, each change of possession, each break or corner was met with collective cheers and groans, including the double middle finger extended towards the refs after a bad call by a 5-year-old being held in his dad’s arms. Dad didn’t bat an eyelash (I so wish I would have had the camera).

With about 15 minutes left, Espanola scored and went up 2-1, causing a near riot on our side. The man sitting in front of us with his 10-year-old son turned to his son and screamed at the top of his lungs with one of the most intense facial expressions I’ve ever seen. It was both awesome and terrifying at the same time.

The older man in front of us on the other side promptly fired up a smoke as he knew the last 15 minutes would be intense. The home team stepped up the pressure and pressed forward, despite being a man down because of a red card in the first half. The play went back and forth as Audax pressed and Espanola countered.

With about 5 minutes remaining, Audax scored off a corner, sending shockwaves through the visiting section. While people were noticeably pissed and disappointed, it took all of about a minute for the songs to start up and the fans to try to will their team to victory by chanting and singing and encouraging their side to put one more in.

But alas, it wasn’t enough. The game ended in a 2-2 tie, but it was a very exciting ending to a very exciting game in an electrifying atmosphere. It was everything I thought it would be and more. I was drained and tired from standing and clapping and trying to sing along and cheer. Megan had a newfound respect for the world’s game and realized why futbol is so beloved around the world.

All in all, a fantastic cultural experience that both us will never forget. We hope to catch another game during our month in Colombia because it left such a positive impression on us.

After the game we came back to our hostel and met up with our friends Nate and Sarah, who just arrived in Santiago from Easter Island. They ran into friends of theirs who they met and hung out with in Buenos Aires a couple months ago. We all went out for dinner and drinks and had a great time with a new group of friends. It should be a great next few days as I know we are all going to have a great time together.

We fly out of Santiago on Wednesday night and arrive in Bogota Thursday morning for nearly a month in Colombia before going to LA for a few days and meeting up with Megan’s parents, which is something we are both really looking forward to.

Not sure if we’ll update again before we get to Colombia, so until next time…

~Adam

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