Caracas transfer

6
Oct
2014

I only spent the past 15 hours or so here, just to make a transfer to head out to LA (via Houston). And after all the horror stories I had been hearing about Caracas, I have to admit to being overly worried about my safety. And while it is true one needs to be careful and there is tight security in a lot of areas, everything was fine. And while I can’t say at all that I have seen anything that a regular tourist would here in Caracas, here are some of my impressions:

– On the flight in, they made this weird announcement about having to spray the cabin with a “non toxic” pesticide. They then proceeded to open all of the overhead compartments and spray everything, making the cabin reek of it for a few minutes.

– The coastline of Venezuela (seen through my plane window) is absolutely spectacular looking.

– Getting through customs and passport control, which I had been warned about, was actually a breeze. Sure they asked me a bunch of questions, but honestly I have had a much harder time getting into the UK.

– Thanks to my friend Daniel and his family, I got picked up at the airport and dropped off at my hotel by this really nice guy named Richard (that is a real name here btw, pronounced Reeshar). He told me how many great things there are to see in Venezuela, and apologized that his country was not in better shape to visit at the moment, with evident sadness.

– Coming back to the airport this morning, I likewise expected mayhem with exit visas and taxes and forms, but it was a breeze, probably made easier by the United reps who seemed to take care of a lot of it for me at their counter. One little oddity was a small price discrepancy on my ticket, for which they wanted me to pay the equivalent of four US dollars in bolivars, but I didn’t have any bolivars, so they let it slide.

– And not really related to Caracas at all, I found out this morning that someone in Bogota (most likely one of the airport stands, but possibly the hotel) lifted my card info and tried to charge thousands of dollars at Sephora (which is odd, it seems like credit card fraud often goes through Sephora for some reason). Chase caught it and sent me a message and I called them this morning to cancel my card. They will send me a new one in LA.

 

Macarena is more than a song

5
Oct
2014

It is also an artsy neighborhood in Bogota, and one I walked to today from the Candelaria district, with one of my new friends, Jose. Before that we had lunch and I had another very Colombian dish, something crazy heavy called a Bandeja paisa (see pic below). And in some of the places today and yesterday, I have been seeing and learning about the work of a famous local architect, Rogelio Salmona. We also walked through a bunch of neighborhoods in between, some shabby, some nicer, and then made our way to the Parque Nacional, which was interesting to see if a bit run down. Later in the evening I was invited by Jaime to a small gathering at his friend’s house in one of the most expensive parts of the city. This guy’s place was beautiful and the view over Bogota unparalleled (like I needed more altitude, but this was totally worth it). I finally made my way back to my hotel, where I will checkout tomorrow morning fairly early to catch my plane to Caracas, where I will stay only a short while before catching my next flight out on Monday. Wish me luck.

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Gold and Walking and Ajiaco and Taxis

3
Oct
2014

Wow, I feel like I did a lot of stuff today. While not feeling 100%, I am feeling way better than yesterday when I could barely breath and felt totally weak. Altitude sickness is no fun y’all, but I do have a couple small tips. One: do NOT overexert yourself when arriving for the first time at a high altitude place, and two: take ibuprofen, it seems to help (at least it did me).

This morning I got up early and decided to go see the famous Museo del Oro (gold museum), which was quite a treat, especially the part that delved into the cosmology and symbolism associated with gold in the various cultures. It is also a very beautifully designed place. After that I came back to my hotel to rest for about an hour before heading off to meet my new friend Jaime for lunch in the north of Bogota (something called Zona T I think). We met at some super swank mall and had lunch at this sort of fancy food court. Jaime got the Sancocho and I ordered a traditional Columbian Ajiaco, and a mashed plantain thingy with cheese that I think is called Aborrajado. It was all pretty yummy, if a bit bland. The Columbians aren’t much for spicy, I will tell you that.

After lunch we took a walk in the super posh neighborhoods of northern Bogota, and I was surprised by how eerily quiet the streets were once off the main roads. Really you could have heard a pin drop, or in the case of these neighborhoods, some very high denomination peso bill. Around 5 or so the day was starting to take a small toll on my energy level, and I tried to get a cab, but to no avail. So we walked around a bit and then went back to Jaime’s nearby to wait until I could get one back to my hotel. One thing to note that is super useful if you should come to Bogota — download an app to your phone called “Tappsi“, it will allow you to get a cab, and safely too. When the cab arrives at your location, you have a code to give the driver that he needs to set the meter. You can then share to email or facebook (or other places) your ride’s info, making the whole system quite secure and easy to use. And cabs are not exactly expensive here, I spent about 6 dollars for a 40 min cab ride.

And that’s it, I am beat and heading to bed.


From Gold and North

Soroche in Candelaria

2
Oct
2014

Well, this kinda sucks. I set out this morning walking around with Jaime to see the neighborhood. We went to get the famous hot chocolate with bread and cheese, then walked around the neighborhood I am in (Candelaria) for a bit, but we honestly didn’t get too far. After about 2 hours I was really feeling shitty and went back to my hotel where I have been since. I have all the classic symptoms of altitude sickness, the slight headache, labored breathing at times, general malaise and foggy-headedness. So I have been taking it extra easy, trying not to exert myself in any way, and drinking coca tea, which really tastes blech btw. My plan is to stay in tonight, rest and rest, and hopefully I will be feeling better tomorrow and can hit the town running (or gently tap the town sauntering). I remember upon arriving in Mexico city and overdoing it the first day, I was feeling like this for about a week, and that is lower altitude than here. Let’s hope I recover more quickly this time. For what it is worth, here are the few pics I managed to snap today before the soroche was too much.

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Bienvenidos a Bogotá

2
Oct
2014

The flight was pretty bumpy but otherwise uneventful, and getting through passport control and customs was surprisingly easy. And the airport was pretty nice and very new looking (I think it is or has been renovated recently). Just outside customs, my ride was waiting to take me to Hotel de l’Opera where I am staying. In the van, the perky young travel guide started rattling off all the things to do and see in Bogota, and they all lined up exactly with the Lonely Planet guide I had read on the plane. I think the long day had taken its toll on me, though, because I was feeling a bit out of it and headachy. I checked in and went almost straight to bed but woke up at several points in the evening feeling kind of out of it and like I wasn’t able to breath as well as normal. And then it hit me, duh. I am at pretty high altitude here in Bogotá, something like 8700 ft (second highest capital in the world after Quito, Ecuador). I have been in a number of high altitude places in the past and it does take a couple of days to adjust. Today I am meeting a local, a friend of my friend Roberto (from Mexico), who has generously offered to show me around. Stay tuned.

At the airport

1
Oct
2014

So this is it. I am at the airport awaiting my flight to Columbia, where I will spend 4 days in Bogota, before heading very briefly to Caracas on my way to Los Angeles. I spent a fair part of the morning soliciting advice and dithering over whether to try just hanging out in the airport for the 18 hours there til my next trip, or going to a hotel nearby. I think (however dangerous Caracas seems to be) that I have settled on the hotel option, but I suppose I could change my mind again depending on my research and level of paranoia, so stay tuned. In any event, when next you hear from me, it will be from Bogota!

Never can say goodbye

30
Sep
2014

One part of the mad dash that makes up any period before a long trip or permanent move involves trying to see as many friends as possible before the departure. It is not like I think I will never see them again, but with all the chaos that is happening in the world, and the general unpredictability of life, it is nice to solidify the bonds of friendship. I’m not saying that the next time they see me it will be via YouTube video, me on my knees in an orange jumpsuit with a menacing man all in black behind me. Nor am I  implying that a family member or friend may receive one of my severed fingers by post with a ransom demand. I am definitely not saying that I will fall head over heels in love with some beautiful man in one of the countries I will be visiting and decide to get married and live out my life there. And I am not saying that any of my friends will get hit by a subway car or taken to prison or decide for the success of their sobriety to move to the remotest desert. I am just saying that while we have today, we should tell each other how important we are to each other, and that we love each other, and the road of life has been made nicer for walking it together.

Tick tock tick tock

29
Sep
2014

I leave in 2 days, yikes.

And whenever I am about to leave on a long trip, I go over lists of things not to forget to do and double and triple check them. And I still end up forgetting something. But hey, such is life. I go when I go and if I have forgotten something important to do at home, c’est la vie. It will probably involve unplugging electronics or throwing out food likely to spoil or something like that. And it always seems that in the last days leading up to a big trip, there is a sudden surge in the amount of client work that has to be done immediately, some mini crisis or other that just can’t wait. Anyway, today I will try to test pack and see what I can fit into one carry on. The challenge here is that I will be crossing a somewhat wide range of climates over the next 3-5 months, and I need to be able to deal with the cold and the hot, the rainy and the dry. Should I bring something nice to wear out on occasion, or just stick to the very casual? Bulky sweater and jacket for my time in Japan and South Korea, even though the rest of the trip will be Southern Hemisphere and therefore late Spring and Summer? And speaking of summer, do I bring a swimsuit? What about workout clothes? Some of these things I should probably just buy locally and donate them somewhere when I leave. In the past, on long trips I brought just enough to have a week’s worth of clothes, knowing I would do laundry on a regular schedule. It is nice not to have too much stuff to lug around with you. And outside of the packing there are the vaccines and visas, tickets and transport, etc etc.

I leave for Columbia in two days. Tick tock.

The new adventures of Stephen

7
Sep
2014

Way back in 2006, I began this blog. The purpose at the time was to provide an easy way for friends and family to keep up with my whereabouts and experiences, as I was just about to embark on (what would turn out to be) a 2.5 year travel adventure spanning 4 continents. And since moving to New York 5 years ago, I have continued (though at times infrequently) to keep up the blog, writing about all manner of item in addition to travel. That said, I think everyone would agree that the most interesting writing and insights come while on the road. And I have not exactly been stagnant on the travel front, even while being most definitely rooted in New York and a return to professional (read: paid) life and work. In the past 5 years, I have travelled to Puerto Rico, Spain, France, Germany, England, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Serbia, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Morocco, Switzerland, Canada and several destinations inside the contiguous United States. I have on several occasions been absent more than a month, but have not come close to repeating the sheer scope of my earlier trip, and had no plans to do so until recently.

But then last February, thanks to a friend, I came across an opportunity for a round-the-world airfare that was a staggeringly good deal. I decided that even though this was not in my plans, letting a chance like this pass by would be stupid, so I took it. In case you have never heard of them, RTW fares are something that all the major flight groups offer (you can find their planning websites here, here, and here), and they allow you to get a pretty good deal on these special trips, with certain rules and restrictions. Basically, you have to go (more or less) in one direction around the globe; You have one year to complete all flights; You can usually change times and dates of any particular flight for free but not the routing.

So, coming up on October 1st, I am heading out. In order, I will pass through Columbia, Venezuela, The US (Los Angeles), Japan, South Korea, Australia, India, South Africa, and Brazil before returning to New York. The planning and timing is still a bit in the air (pun intended), but I will take between 3 and 5 months to make the entire trip. Since I am not independently wealthy, I will continue to work while on this trip. One of the great advantages in what I do is that I only need my laptop and a good internet connection to get my work done. I will of course be on a reduced schedule, but I will probably still end up working about half the time I normally would. In some places (Australia), I will try to rent an apartment and stay for a few weeks, in others (South Korea) I will pass through, do a bit of tourism, and continue on my way. And in the few places I already know from previous travels (India, Brazil, Los Angeles), I will mainly visit with old friends and (probably) not see much that is new.

I don’t feel especially prepared for my trip, there is tons of planning to do and I have very little idea where I will go yet in each place. I pulled this start date out of thin air back in February, and it seemed so very far in the future at that time, I thought I would have plenty of time to have it all figured out by now. But then, the road has a way of pointing me in the direction of things I should see and do, and because it is all new there is really no “wrong” way to learn and explore. Still, if any of you have any specific experience in the places I am going, by all means send me your tips!

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Short, mundane list of pros and cons – Europe/USA

7
Aug
2014

Now that I am back from my trip, I may try to spend a little more time blogging on a regular basis (but am making no promises). I had such a wonderful time on my trip, and my friends in Amsterdam are all suggesting I move there. I have to admit it is tempting. As such, I started compiling a list of little pros and cons to each, in no particular order. If you have items to add to the list please do so in the comments, I would love to hear them.

1. Fruit – Europe wins hands down. The fruits and veggies may LOOK better in the US, but as with so many things here, it is style over substance. European produce tastes way better than all but the most expensive and rare organic stuff you find here.

2. Warm water and plumbing - USA, by a mile. For the life of me, I can’t understand what is so technically difficult for Europeans to grasp about mixing hot and cold water in a steady way. Whether it is Holland or France or the UK, you would think it was a secret as hard as splitting the atom. Here in the US, when I set the temp to something between freezing cold and boiling hot, it stays where I put it. There, you are never in a steady state, but only on your way to scalding or freezing, which gives you a window of a few seconds to wash before injury.

3. Socializing without stressing – Point Europe. In the US (NYC at least), it often feels that we are scheduled for small windows to do any socializing, whereas in Europe (continental at least), things seem to take their own amount of organic time, and people do not seem so over-scheduled. A dinner or picnic (when was the last time I had a picnic in New York?) with friends can last several hours, and people are genuinely relaxing. Here it often feels as if people are checking something off a list, and in a hurry to get to the next thing.

4. Laundry – 
USA, definitely. Maybe related to the technical difficulties above, Laundry seems easier to accomplish here, and cheaper (whether doing it yourself or sending it out). Although the amount of machine drying we do may reduce the useful life of our clothes.

5. Service – 
USA is definitely way better, but we also pay through the nose for it.

6. Health Care – 
This isn’t mundane at all, is it? Europe wins hands down. It is cheaper, better quality in most situations (with better overall outcomes), and universal.

There are, of course, tons of others. These just come to mind because they were subjects and experiences that came up in the course of my trip last week. Feel free to add your own down below, this could get interesting…