jueves, 15 de febrero de 2007

Curly locks in the jungle and those bloody Italians.

!!!WARNING: I am becoming less cynical and more of a geek by the day. No one is safe. You have been warned.

A lot has happened in the world of Kika Duvet since I last wrote or should I say blogged. So this may be chunky. But before I start a word about yellow.

On the plane to Bogota my Colombian Academic Guru talked to me about the colour yellow. He said that it's the national colour of Colombia and also the colour of madness - just think of Van Gogh and his marigolds he told me. (Van Gogh I hasten to add was his favourite painter and yellow his favourite colour.) I can safely say that I am never far from the colour yellow. Whether it's the clattering yellow taxis that litter the streets, yellow painted walls, peeled mango
that colour is bloody everywhere. You can't escape the madness in Colombia So I decided I might as well embrace it.

Not wanting to give up on Taganga and Santa Marta's Nocturnal side I set out with some of the other guests staying at Techos Azules. Grabbing an Enpanada (like a spicy chicken pasty) on the way we tumbled into a bar called El Garage. Nice enough but it felt like the absolute opposite to La Puerta; a scene from some bad eighties movie with gringos bopping and grooving after clearly not having drunk enough alcohol at all. I sound like a bitch but at this stage I hadn't quite shaken off the sniffing cynic. Still I was starting to open up and chat to more people which kind of needed to happen. When we left the club some street urchin pushed into one of the girls and the Colombian tourist in our group challenged him (to what? Exactly). As the two began lobbing insults at each other and then throwing stones I heaved a sigh and decided not to stick around and watch the drama. It was time to leave Taganga.

The next morning I woke up to find the Enpanada repeating on me. This I am sure was to be the first of many stomach upsets but I wasn't going to let that get in the way of leaving. I was heading to the Tayrona National Park for a couple of days on the beach but first I wanted to drop in on the mother of my Colombian friend Mr H.

I am not sure if I've mentioned Mr H much before - it's all a bit of a blur with computers crashing and the like. I've never actually met Mr H before, but he's a friend of the twisting maid. He's from Santa Marta and was meant to be living in Birmingham for a while. I was going to show him around but he gave up on beautiful Brum before you could say 'Tara in a bit' (Straight from the Caribbean coast to Small Heath what do you expect come on?) but despite this he did lots of reassuring and set me up with the Bogota DJ and now his mother, Beatriz. Thanks you lovely Mr H.

When I got to Beatriz's house no one was there. The street was deserted except for a few people sitting out on their porches and a stern little woman marching in my direction. Did she know Beatriz? Of course. Cecilia turned out to be a friend and neighbour... and certainly someone not to be reckoned with. With my stomach now jumping around inside me she insisted I come into her house. I couldn't possibly wait in the street.

Cecilia lived with her brother and sister (all in their sixties) and two dogs oh and G-d. She was an evangelical Christian with Spanish Jewish routes... so when I told her about my background she called our meeting a miracle. I wasn't feeling the hand of G-d at that moment I have to say especially when Cecilia produced a plate full of enpanadas. Eesh. I shouldn't complain - all be it forceful her hospitality was very much appreciated. But I was deeply relieved when Beatriz walked through the door with her ginger bread skin, a wide smile and a proper mama hug.

I am coming to the conclusion that mothers and aunties are the same wherever you are in the world. They like to feed you too much, worry about you and know a bit of your story (what you do for a living and why aren't you married in my case.) I took out some photos of my beautiful G-d son, sister, father friends and mother which they all cooed at... well actually they looked a bit puzzled at the photograph of my mother with cropped hair big earrings and dungarees but I decided not to enlighten them about what a wondrous woman she is there and then... not on a Sunday anyway. After attempts to set me up with a neighbour's nephew Carmel I went back to Beatriz's house and slept for about twelve hours.

For breakfast we had scrambled eggs, Arrepas and Jesus. Beatriz you see is also an evangelical Christian but I liked listening to her. Yes she did talk about the evils of music, dance and boozing (carnival being meat for the devil) but she also told me a bit about the troubles she's endured in life and how she'd made sense of them. Church was where she found her peace and I respect that. In some ways I even envy it because isn't that we're all kind of trying to do? Find peace? Some shake their bums to regaton and others sing to the Lord... whatever it takes to live in this crazy country is good with me.

I was hoping to find a bit of peace at Tayrona. The national park is made up of a number of gorgeous beaches set against a backdrop of rich tropical forest. You have to walk about fifty minutes or so to get to the first spot where you can camp. On the way I met some Canadians - complete with head torches, fold away bowls, and compasses - and a sparky Colombian couple - complete with boob job and tinned papaya. Clearly I could relate to both sets of geeks.

I pitched my hammock and after trying to get to grips with a very dull card game fell asleep looking up at the most amazing star lit night I have ever seen and listening to the waves crash against the shore. Tayrona is pretty deserted with just a few simple shacks serving food and a couple of camping sites. Huge rocks emerge from the sea making the shoreline look quite dramatic. The sea is a deep blue and tremendous waves leave sparkles in the sand. You have to walk through the woodland to get to some of the beaches and as you walk you look up at these huge palm trees and watch butterflies, busy ants, lizards and even a snake rustle in the undergrowth. Very nice indeed.

I spent a lot of time walking about and playing in the sea but I still couldn't shake of those ghosts I'd brought with me from England. That bothered me. Naively I thought what had made me sad for so many months would wash away on a tropical beach. But that didn't happen in Tayrona.
What did happen was that I got too damn cosy in the sunshine with the cool breeze blowing and sun burnt my bloody cleavage! Thankfully you don't tend to show off your cleavage that much in the jungle and that was where I was headed next.

Alberto picked me and a down sized back pack (no I did not take my hair straighteners) up at half eight. As I waited in Santa Marta for the bus to arrive I watched hopefully to see who my trekking mates would be. And slowly but surely they appeared one by one. No Daniel Day Lewis was not in the crowd and no likely sister women friends either. But I was about to leave that defensiveness that made me so quick to judge behind. And I haven't picked it up since (well not much anyway).

We were an odd bunch: A very feminine Mexican man (cheek bones and pout), a very masculine Polish woman (hairy face), A well built Italian builder and his big bellied (fat) Italian electrician mate, a red haired Californian, two Israeli pups fresh out of the army, an ex marathon running french pensioner (drone) and me. We were to spend a lot of time together over the next six days.

Alberto was the chef and assistant to Walter, our guide. Walter had one of those faces that you just want to frame; the warmest of smiles and kind eyes full of untold stories and a bit of sadness I think. Great rumbling laugh, great sense of humour. He was a very fit fifty one with a lot of knowledge and Passion to fuel us on our trip.

Cuidad Perdida or the Lost City is one of the largest pre Colombian towns to have been discovered in the Americas. Treasure hunters came across it about thirty years ago hidden deep in the Sierra Nevada. It's still very underdeveloped as a tourist site partly because it is controlled by a paramilitary chief, partly because of a lack of money and partly because indigenous communities do not want anthropologists and archaeologists to dig up their ancestral heritage and for hoards of tourists to trample through it. As a result there's only one tour operator that organises treks to the Lost City.

The terrain is uneven, rugged and even dangerous in parts. No safety cords or handle bars here! Over the course of six days you trek over forty kilometres with one day to rest and look around the site. You carry your own back pack and water, sleep in hammocks and battle the mosquitoes. It's dirty, knackering and completely brilliant.

Within the first twenty minutes we were sweating as we made our way up the steep rugged climb into the jungle. The sierra looks luxuriously green in the distance but up close you see campesinos hacking away at trees with machetes. Walter told us they think that by cutting the trees down they will be able to grow crops on the land. But the land isn't good for that. As you leave 'civilisation' you also leave the destruction behind and you become part of the Sierra. I've never seen so much green! Plants growing out of trees, creepers hanging, leaves the size of people sometimes. There's no path so you clamber over hard mud, rocks, stones, pebbles and wade through the river stopping to swim and drink. You're constantly stopping yourself from tripping and falling and your clothes become dirty and wet with sweat very quickly. I was totally in my element with my best magic hiking boots bought for me with much love by the Brookes Kish clan.

I loved the sounds in the jungle, the bird song the sound of frogs. I loved the physical exertion, feeling like your body is really working and your heart's struggling to keep up - kind of like sex you develop a rhythm for breathing and get that wonderful rush and then the calm when you slow down (sorry but it is). When you stop for food you're really hungry and when you shut your eyes you really sleep.

There were a few moments where I was actually scared on the trek. Parts where you were hanging onto nothing and looking down at a big drop - and when you finally reach the hundreds of steps leading to the Lost City they're more like slippery rocks than steps. I had that little prick of panic and at one point turned to the Californian and said 'I don't know if I can do this bit' but before it set he waved it off with a 'sure you can' and I carried on. That was the thing I found tough. Not the pace or the strain but the tricky bits that tested your nerve. I am a bit chicken with stuff like that it's true.

On the second day we were offered the chance to see a so called cocaine factory. There are coca plantations all over the Sierra Nevada and you see coca trees growing out in the open. We were taken to this humble little shack and a young man, who'd been making cocaine since the age of eight showed us the process or crushing and grinding and cleaning... petrol acid... they use all kinds of nasty chemicals to make this paste that is then sold on to the big cartels to make cocaine.

It felt slightly surreal standing there with the Mexican and the French man taking notes, the Israeli asking if he could get some seeds to start his own cartel in the promised land, the Italians wanting to smoke the paste in a cigarette and me thinking how weird that this paste, put together by this little Colombian guy in a hut in the jungle could end up being snorted off a toilet seat in the bulls head in Brum. Fucked up.

Along the way we also met some Indians and saw a bit of how they live. Walter explained that the men spend most of their time chewing coca leaves and the women do all the work. They follow behind the men with their babies strapped to their backs sewing along the way. And it was just like that. The mamos or Indian chiefs chew so much coca their teeth fall out and their mouths are often stained with yellow and green. There isn't much food and people get ill easily not least because much of the traditional medicine is being forgotten. Walter said that if we were asked for aspirin we shouldn't give it to the Indians as it made them lazy and stopped them from maintaining their own treatments and cures. But at the same time he dished out a bit of food to one of the Indians and didn't mind when I gave some children chocolate milk and bread (couldn't help it... those eyes man). It's a tough call for Walter who has known these people for many years and sees their way of life disappearing. Can you stand in the way of so called progress? Can you pick and choose progress? I don't know.

On the forth third day you reach Cuidad Perdida. After what seems like an endless number of steps you get to the top and outstretched in front of you are these sort of ring shaped terraces and the sprawling jungle. The tops of the trees are hidden by the slow moving mist. There were once thousands of Indian people here, it was a ceremonial heart of the jungle. Now it's very quiet and very magical.

It rained in the afternoon so we sat in the very basic hut and in a mixture of Spanish, English, French and Italian played games, talked and read. In particular the Californian, the two Italians and the Mexican had by this stage won me over. We'd taken to calling the bigger Italian guy el Tigre and the other Italian guy el Pato (the duck). El Tigre struggled with the trek because of his size and on they way back he took a mule for part of the journey. But he was very good at laughing at himself and made the rest of us laugh a lot too.

And then came the jungle horn. Sweaty and dirty with hair tied back in a scarf it didn't matter... sexy I may not have been but I definitely had the jungle horn. What do you expect after all that heaving and panting in the heat? It was intense! And I guess I sort of started to consider whether the duck would be an option. He was a really lovely bloke and he looked after me. But really... honestly... no I didn't fancy him. But there was chemistry and even though nothing happened in the jungle that wouldn't be the last of el Pato.

All that trekking did me so much good and I actually felt quite emotional when it came to an end. I felt like I had achieved something big; felt more alive and happier than I have done in a long time. Something inside shifted and something clicked. And it really feels like whatever I wanted to happen in Tayrona happened in the jungle. Without thinking about it something inside sort of melted away and I stopped living in past places and just loving the moment I'm in right now. Somehow my faith in myself, in human kind, in life and the world sort of got replenished. I'm sorry if that sounds naff - just take it from me it did the trick.

When we returned to normal life we learnt that whilst in the jungle two journalists who were on an earlier tour had sold video footage of the cocaine factory to a TV channel... making narco tourism headlines all over Colombia. As if that's new! We thought we might get our cameras confiscated by the police but got back to Santa Marta without any trouble.

With just three days left in Colombia I took a bus to Cartagena where I am now. It's an amazing place and I am sorry not to have more time here. The style is Spanish Colonial but the energy is Colombian through and through. Graceful wooden balconies with bright pink flowers busting out, courtyards busy with old men playing dominoes, squares which come to life at night with street dancers and musicians. It's a very smart very vital place.

But sometimes you want to step out of the travelling bubble and into someone elses bubble. And on day one i needed to because my legs were stubbly and I had no clean clothes. I needed to do some normal stuff. I even made a list...

So off I went to one of the local Malls and found a leg waxer... It felt like I stepped back about thirty years. Thick wax stripped off with fabric that came apart like a bandage oh and the Beatles on pan pan pipes. What would John Lennon think? The woman was a bit moody too because the hair on my leg wasn't really long enough to wax. In the nail parlour they were much friendlier. I got my toes done with a polish called 'liberada' and felt like a lady again... almost. And here's the bad news. You said I should leave them at home... and maybe I should have. My straighteners seem to have reached the end of their life. It may be time to say GHD RIP. They've been wrestling to give me the slick look but they just can't cut it against the humidity. So I am facing a future of curls. I think I am ok about it. Not sure yet. Can I actually take the bold step and throw those straighteners away? I don't know. What do the people think please?

Liberated and clean I met up with El Pato El Tigre and three other Italians who are also in Cartegena for dinner last night. Valantines night with five of the loveliest blokes ever who wouldn't let me pay for a thing and taught me loads of rude words. They're all builders and electricians and painters from the North of Italy and they told me I should never trust anyone from the South.... Oops.

Later that night El Pato kind of well ish sort of ok he basically said the nicest thing. I'd been on about how they wouldn't recognise me when they met me in Cartagena as I'd look like a lady ya. And El Pato said (you know what's coming) that even though I looked beautiful in a dress he thought I looked beautiful every day in the jungle... etc etc. And I felt really really really bad then because I had been making eyes at a very very fit man, who turned out to be a lawyer from Southern Italy, and who I later ended up leaving with. Pato's face. It was like Foisgras. So sorry Pato.

And the lawyer wasn't even very interesting.

Except to look at.

Am I a bad person?


Well that's it for now and probably for Colombia as I fly to Chile tomorrow and how much can happen in a day...? Please G-d not much.

Keep the geek flags flying high.

All my love and smooching.


PS: Don't push me cause I'm close to the edge... I'm trying not to loose my head... It's like a jungle out there it makes me wonder why I keep on going under ah hu hu.

miércoles, 7 de febrero de 2007

And then it all got a bit weird....

Footnote or something... Err before I begin my second attempt at recounting some of the madness a word of thanks for emails comments etc. most encouraging indeed and yet more confirmation that I have the best mates in el mundo... no but seriously you ain't met some of the dumb dull air heads that go travelling. I mean seriously did their brains get sucked through their head torches... Actually I shouldn't slag off those head torches since I kind of wish I had one. Then I'd be a super geek. Anyway there's about 58 minutes to go before this shack of an internet cafe closes for the night... so let's get to it.

I was to leave Bogota at 1900 headed for the Caribbean Coast - the price 17 hours on a freezing cold bus. But before then I met up with my DJ guide and we headed to a small village in the countryside called Guatavita. We were dropped off to soon and as we unsuccessfully attempted to hitch the rest of the way the DJ guide told me he'd recently visited a Taiter (not sure if that's how you spell it). The Taiter is a kind of doctor from an Indigenous tribe I think and increasingly Taiters are performing cleansing ceremonies across Colombia and other parts of Latin America. My guide told me that you put your life in the hands of the Taiter and witnessed quite a ceremony in which you were given a liquid to drink which made you vomit and shit relentlessly. You were cleansed of your demons and afterwards felt much better. He told me in some cases small insects or parasites came out with the vomit. (Sorry to anyone eating noodles). He told me the Taiter was headed to the coast like me and I should call him. At first I was shall we say... apprehensive but then I thought of all the weird measures we take to detox and cleanse in Europe and decided to keep an open mind. But Colombia is a weird enough place without ancient ceremonies (which the US I am told would like to patent) as I was about to find out.

Set in the hills Guatavita is a relatively new village with white stone houses that stand out underneath the blue sky lit up but the sun. But the village is famous because of its mystical and legendary lake. The Indian community worshipped at the lake threw emeralds and gold into the lake as offerings. When the Spanish came along they figured there might be a small fortune at the bottom of the lake so they dug and they drained but found very little. After some few hundred years they gave up. Guatavita is where the legend of El Dorado began. I'm sure I haven't done it justice but it gives you an idea.

When we visited Guatavita it was very quiet indeed. So much so that it felt as though the place had been abandoned. With the heat and the quietness it felt slightly surreal. So I should have known better than to smoke a joint with my Colombian guide by the mystical lake. Anyone who knows me knows that whilst I may be hardcore in some recreational areas I am not a smoker a toker a cainer... It didn't take long for every colour to become brighter and every sound more intense. The walk back up to the hill from the lake felt like a test of endurance - I saw my self in a Western walking up this big ol mountain with John Wayne or something looking for water. Jesus I was parched and we'd ran out of pesos to top it off. Finally we reached the top of the hill and settled outside of a small shop to wait for the bus.

It was then that I heard a siren and slowly - very slowly clapped out dusty cars began to roll into town and with them a procession of people in slow motion. As the cars emptied I realised everyone was dressed in black. They stood out against the white buildings and looked at us with blank expressions. It was a funeral - presumably of someone very important. Whilst it was a theatre for us we must have looked pretty strange to them too. That's why the village was so quiet. After a while I ambled off to take a couple of photos leaving my guide in his stoned coma.

But even on the day of a funeral in a quiet place like this there's still some danger. Ever get that feeling that you're being watched. It comes over you like a sharp shock and you realise someone is just about to pounce. I turned round abruptly and fixed a glare on the ragged lad watching me. Sure I was totally paranoid thanks to the joint but I've had that feeling a couple of times before. It's a useful warning so off I scampered.

Once in Bogota we had to rush for the bus. I bid my lovely guide goodbye and with a bottle of water under one arm and a sleeping bag in the other I got on the bus. Bogota is so enormous. You pass shacks and fires burning in the streets before the lights start to flicker out of focus and you leave the monster city. I found myself next to a very sweet student who looked a bit like Mowgli from the jungle book and immediately put me at ease. The road twisted and turned and I wondered how I'd ever get to sleep until I remembered I had a batch of herbal sleeping tablets in my bag... Seven hours later I woke up to mango trees and bananas hanging in the dust. We were getting close to the Caribbean.

The gorgeous twisting maid - you know who you are - had advised me to head to Taganga; a small fishing village near Santa Marta and to stay at Techos Azules where she'd lived for several months. That was indeed a very good suggestion. It's a lovely hostel with blue roofs and hammocks on a terrace looking out over the bay. She'd also suggested I look up a friend of hers called Andres which I promptly did. We met at his place and I was greeted by a little wiry woman from Sicily. There's something about little wiry woman that I just don't trust. They aren't like tall wiry men who tend to be rather awkward but well meaning. Nor are they like thin women (some of my best friends are thin women). They're more akin to the wicked witch of the west - mean.

Andres sorted out rum... and the rest for his guests who I quickly realised (excepting myself of course) were a bunch of drug addicts. It's always nice when the dealer comes round with his daughter to say hello... you know you're in for a good night right? Cocaine costs about a pound a gram here. So you can imagine it's popular with locals and even more popular with the gringos. You see a lot of wiry people here who seem to have got stuck here thanks to the white stuff some time ago. Kind of sad really.

We headed out to a bar called La Puerta, apparently the twisting maid's favourite rhumba spot. And I can see why. Lots of grinding and heaving, cheap beer and open till late. But I've since been told it's developed a more sinister character since she was last here. I'm quickly discovering that in an unknown place and with people I neither know nor trust I'm not really willing or perhaps able to let go and surrender to la locura of the night. As we say in Birmingham 'it ain't my manner' and because of that i observe before I dive in. And in La Puerta I didn't feel that comfortable. I'm always a bit weary in places where the women don't even make eye contact with let alone talk to the other women... where's the sisterhood in that? And it felt very aggressive in there - like everyone was on the hunt for something and smothered in sweat and smoke were a whole load of weird agendas.

Maybe my observing is what gave the sicilian the impression that I was looking down my nose at everyone. Or perhaps she was jealous because her boyfriend and i kept on talking about how wonderful we think the twisting maid is. I really don't know what promoted her outburst - in truth. A young Colombian guy came into La Puerta and Andreas told me he'd been one of the twisting maid's conquests. I laughed because pretty as he was he looked about 19. Twister by name twister by nature. What followed the giggles was a tirade from the Sicilian ' you think you're so much better than everyone. You play everyone even though you say you don't like games; I know what you're about and I don't like it. It's shit. You treat people like shit.' Happy days. In the back of my mind I was saying 'Piss off you mad bitch' but actually what came out of my mouth was more like 'but what did I say? I'm sorry if I offended you. I don't understand'. And I didn't really understand. When I was younger I'd have probably stuck around to try and make it right. But these days I'm glad to say I can't be bothered. Bullshit's bullshit wherever you are in the world. So I went home.

I woke up a little bit sad inside but determined to have a good day. On arriving I'd met a Colombian guy who ran a diving school and he'd invited me out to just watch the divers - me being to scared and too much of a geek to do it myself. So off I went to meet him. The trip was made up of a mother and son and two marine biologists and the sea was wonderfully calm and calming. we stopped by a deserted beach and the divers set off while I snorkeled about like a geek. I was happy enough doing that but my new diving friend had a surprise for me. When they came up again he told me to put my mask on and prepare to go under water. With no wet suit just bikini (a problem for me but not for me amiga) I took the plunge. I was so tense at first. I'd never done this before and every breath felt sharp and uncomfortable. But gradually I relaxed and we glided deeper into the ocean. What I then saw was incredible Bright blue fishes darting, schools of round fishes, things opening up and sparkling, swaying. It was truly wonderful. And all the time this man, Santiago, holding me with such tenderness and affection... such a shame I didn't fancy him. Of course I am painting a very romantic picture here but we are in Colombia so I have to admit there were a couple of times when I wondered whether his hand should be quite there but I chose to ignore that. He invited me back the next day but I chose not to go as I didn't want to spoil what had been a perfect day with a boy girl misunderstanding.

When I got back to the hostel Diana, the woman who runs it, began chatting to me about where I'd been. She knew exactly who I meant when I described the Sicilian and without prompting said 'oh her she's a crazy cow and she's horrible to everyone' and then invited me to carnival with her and her friends. I was beginning to feel much better.

The carnival was actually a pre carnival but there was so much colour and music and such fantastic dancing I felt overwhelmed. I know it's a cliche but those Colombian women - from like five to eighty five - really know how to move and the arses... what a delight. They flattered and humoured me saying I didn't dance like an English woman but I still felt like a gringo geek in her element.

When I got back to the hostel I started to talk to Freddy, Diana's husband. He's a mafioso colombiano who's been kidnapped and curses with such style you feel like he should be in a gangster movie... in his mind he probably is. When I told him about La Puerta he frowned. 'It's changed a lot' he said. 'There's an ugly mafia that operates there. A chief comes in with Colombian girls and after signals from the bar about who the new foreigners are he sets them loose. They latch onto foreign guys and then get them to buy large amounts of cocaine from him. The men in there are just as bad but they operate on their own. Latching onto foreign women for a free ride for as long as they can get it.' I don't know how much truth there is in what Freddy said but it would certainly explain why I felt like I was in a bar full of Vietnam Veterans and why I felt pretty uncomfortable in there. Whatever this is Colombia and I'm fast learning things get pretty weird pretty easily and instinct is a real gift.

The internet cafe is about to close and there's plenty more to write but I'll have to continue in a few days time when I get back from a six day hike to the lost city. Travelling aloe is tough. Or at least I find it tough. Ghosts and fantasies that I should have left behind long ago surface. There are vivid amazing things to see and taste and experience and some weird and also dull shit too. But I'm managing it and I wouldn't be anywhere else right now. One thing I will say though is that travelling alone makes you into even more of a geek than you were before. From trying to put sun cream on your back (I'm really not that bendy) to getting undressed discreetly, to smiling (probably in a weird way) at people you'd quite like to befriend; you look like and are a geek. And on that note I'll say goodnight safe in the knowledge that I've just reassured you about my present state... the gorgeous (come on give me that much) geek continues on her travels.

PS. Sorry for any errors in style or spelling. I haven't had chance to check this through so it's raw and rambling.

jueves, 1 de febrero de 2007

Welcome to Bogota

The day before I flew to Bogota I drove with two precious friends to a funeral. And that's where the journey began. I had gone to support one of the most beautiful and strongest women I know, whose step father died after suffering the cruelest of killers - a brain tumor. I wanted also to pay my respects to a man who I liked very much and found both generous and reassuringly eccentric. But I hadn't banked on there being so many people there who had also learnt the value of life because of death or illness. You see John was a doctor and he cured a lot of children from cancer, sparing families from heartbreak. And so I found myself talking to people who who had endured pain and loss that I can't even imagine. One man with a wonderfully kind and accepting manner told me about how he and his two daughters had nursed his wife who died some eighteen months ago. He told me to go off an have an adventure - live life. Oh and also learn to use your digital camera properly. I'm not sure I've managed the latter but I'm working on the rest.

Then we drove through Wales to get to Heathrow airport. Where I was deposited like a lost geek at about one o'clock in the morning. Hotels were too pricey and I'm famous for sleeping pretty much anywhere so I slept in the arrivals lounge and woke up to find two old biddies figuring out the arrivals board, a man dressed in khaki figuring out my front bottom (from a distance) and the knowledge that in about three hours I'd be on my way to Bogota.

It's true; reality always tastes better than fantasy because it doesn't come from a magazine or an episode of sex in the city. But I forgot that when a gorgeous Alpha male passed by my seat to get to his further up the plane and instead an agitated academic sat down next to me. I didn't know he was an academic but I could have guessed by the way he sniffed and shuffled at babies crying and loud tanoy announcements. Actually he was one of Boigota's first treasures.

After an hour or so with my face lodged against the window, probably dribbling, the food arrived and obviously I woke up. Anyone who knows me will understand my shock at being asked if I was vegetarian. Yes I had chicken on my plate but like the Spanish Colombians don't class that as meat. It was because the book I had taken out to read, which had the word zen in the title, that he asked me if I was vegetarian. It seems if you're into zen or yoga and such like Colombians think you're vegetarian. I'm not into any of the above and although some of my best friends are vegetarians I see it as an illness or condition that can make people rather obnoxious and anal. But I'm rambling.

This tormented Professor from Bogota told me about his country, about his preferred writers and politics. He told me about a Venezuelan girl he visits in prison, who is serving a ten year jail sentence for smuggling cocaine and about the hypocrisy of the least culpable being punished while drugs barons and governments get fat playing war. He urged me to be careful but not to be scared. And that's typical Bogota.

I've only been here a couple of days so I can hardly claim to be an expert on Bogota. But I have been totally seduced by it. Unable to shake off my cynicism I've spent as little time as possible with the backpackers in my hostel... I know, I know I will have to stop being a fascist soon if I'm travelling for four months. Instead my guide's been this adorable DJ with beautiful eyes and a clapped out motor.

Yesterday we walked through Bogota, though it felt more like a trek. Everything seems full of colour and life. The retro buses that rattle through the streets; the shops, the houses, the people. There are permanent reminders of Colombia's troubles. You get checked when you enter certain streets or museums for arms. There are policemen who look more like soldiers and security guards outside important buildings. But I did not feel in any way threatened. When we went into an area that my guide thought less safe he told me to put my camera in my rucksack but that was it. We walked through wide open squares full of pigeons, through markets where trinkets and furniture hung from the ceiling, and through parks where Colombians lazed in the sunshine and gardeners carried machetes. And everywhere there's the smell of fruit or corn arepas or steak.

We drank fruit juices, which contained fruits I'd never heard of and sat at a low bar with lots of chatting workers to eat salty potatoes and carne asado - meat slapped out on a grill and served in large portions. And all the way my guide told me about Colombia and Colombians. The city is surrounded by mountains and the streets are wide and noisy. We went for a drink and to admire the view at night and I couldn't believe how abandoned the streets were. Apparently they get busy later in the week but I wondered if it was safe to wander about them. As tourists we are told not to go out at night in Bogota, to be very careful and not to carry anything valuable. And I think there are some people in the hostel where I am staying who are too scared to go out past nine o'clock. I'm lucky to have someone who knows this city to take me around.

Watching people in a bar last night it occurred to me that the big difference with people here and at home is that here they seem fearless. It's as though they accept violence and drugs as part of the system. And they exist within that system. My guide has seen people shot in front of him. A bomb went off in his apartment block whilst he was away and at ten years old he watched from his window as guerrillas held people hostage in the church below. Most Colombians have experienced or witnessed some sort of violence. But they are fearless and realistic about the fragility of life. There are no ASBOs or CRASBOs or health warnings here. At least not that I've noticed. Instead people seem incredibly free and liberated maybe because they live without fear.

Al made me do this.

I'm not sure about this. Not sure at all.

A blog? I mean what is that?

Besides the fact that I don't know if I've actually set it up right and may find it resembles a porn site... or more likely a chat room for geeks (well a girl can dream) - I'm not actually sure anyone will want to read it. However, it saves on writing lots of emails saying the same thing; As well as having to make a conscious decision about who wants to read a mass email. And actually I´d quite like to keep a record of the things I am experiencing and my thoughts on this South American adventure. There I said it.

So here goes. Insecure panic attack over. I am becoming a blogger.

Al made me do it. So blame him.