Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Day 222 On the Go...

Only a second here on a computer this evening...

Passing through Santa Fe de Antioquia was a pleasure - though it's about the same age and general history, I'm still surprised to see how similar it is to Santa Fe, New Mexico... the Plaza Mayor surrounded by two-story wood-framed thick-walled adobe buildings, park filled with local artesans selling their crafts, artist studios, restaurants galore, tourists abound.  Fascinating.

This part of Colombia has proven to be pretty comfortable pilgrim land.  Medellin is a clean and tidy city, modern and bustling, like Lima, and very livable.  I chanced to meet a family man who invited me to his daughter´s highschool graduation party at the house.  I accepted, of course, and enjoyed an afternoon's minivacation from the pilgrimage in such comfortable surroundings with pleasant conversation with the various guests.  Despite the temptation to stay the night in great comfort, I moved on instead to the convent of Franciscan nuns in Medellin in order to get critical information regarding the location of their missions in the Darian Gap.  Onwards, now, toward the thick of the jungle, three more days until I encounter the last town (or maybe four days) and then footpaths to the unmapped tribal villages.  Stay tuned.  I'll try to blog once again before I'm totally off the grid, but expect at least a week to ten days before I pop up somewhere in Panama.  A solid plan.

gotta run!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Day 212 Tour de Monde

With the half decent map I finally found, I can study the countryside placenames on my little breaks... What a world tour I'm having: I've passed through Florida several times, Los Angeles a couple of times, Pensylvania (sic), San Francisco, San Antonio and Las Vegas... plunged into Depresión and out again, then further afield into Siberia, Armenia and Palestina.  Maps are fun when they're accurate.

Unfortunately, the Colombian maps I've seen so far are only for the principle routes between the big cities.  I've yet to find something for the upcoming Darién region that stands between Medellin and Panama.  This will likely be the most difficult part of the whole pilgrimage, and I'm looking forward to it.  FARC activity seems to be at bay at the moment and the real dangers that exist are the wild animals, particularly the alligators that I dread, and getting twisted around in the thick jungle.  Controlable risks.

I've seen many snakes on my descending walk northward, but though as long as my leg, only as thick as my thumb... nothing to fear.  I've also seen many scorpions holding their little claws up as I walk by and scurrying sideways along the logs and ground vegetation, but I've asked often and always been told the same - they're harmless.  The ugly armor-headed vultures are the only creatures that have pestered me, but I'm just being prejudicial because of their red-headed cousins who plagued me so in the Atacama Desert.

Even with the Darién still a wild card, I can reasonably forecast my arrival in Mexico City as in the first week in August - 68% confidence between July 29th and August 3rd; 98% confidence between July 25th and August 14th.  I can't estimate the total distance until I'm through the Darién, but I'm more that two-thirds of the way along.  Hard to believe I've come so far.  The heat of the Colombian lowlands is offset by the beauty of the enormous flowering trees and the scents and sounds of the thickening rainforest.  What's not to love?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Day 202 Microclimates and Microcosms

Still bouncing between 2,000 and 3,000 meters (6,500 and 10,000 feet) of elevation on my daily strolls, I've crossed through a remarkable variety of weather and climate, even within a single day.  Snow-capped active volcanos within a degree of the equator... who knew?  Wool overcoats for the city-dwellers and wool leggings part of the various native costumes in the tropics... again, who'd have believed it?  Fragrant eucalyptus trees grown for firewood.  Love it.  Even a long valley of rolling slopes covered with cactuses and other desert vegetation, in the tropics?!  Variety and surpises.  Who could ever get bored walking through such a place?  (Maybe someone with small lung capacity would struggle a bit.)

Crossing the equator occurred without fanfare for me after Palm Sunday in the title-worthy UNESCO city of Quito.  I spent the night in the five-hundred-year-old convent of the Poor Clares, a cloistered order of nuns who were a real hoot and happy to host a pilgrim-ette.  After being fussed over during dinner and then breakfast (eat! eat!), I was sent off in the morning with several kilos of fruit and small loaves of bread with cheese and hard boiled eggs.  On the quiet secondary highway leaving the city, I sat for a sheltered picnic in a light rain where I judged the equator to be, though lacking an informative sign, and celebrated the 35° of latitude behind me, only 20° to go.  The overcast prevented any magical shadowplay.  Now, already 400 kilometers north of the equator, I absolutely appreciate that the sun is on my back far more often than on my over-pinkened face.  I'm confident that the frontal sunburn I've cultivated over more than 6 months walking northward in the southern hemisphere will finally fade to the normal shade of pink.  (I've overheard more than a few little children audibly whisper to their mothers 'but why do we call them white people?')

Walking northward through the border, I crossed into Colombia without much ado on the day before Easter.  The border is open for citizens of both countries so only the handful of travelers enter the immigration building for the passport control.  Onward to the first city, Ipiales, I found that not many of the shops were open except the innumerable restaurants, where guinea pigs roasted on sticks over hot coals marked the festive atmosphere.  Pass.  Finding no tourist information office nor any shop open for a map, I continued on mapless to the Santuario de las Lajas as planned, more gorgeous in person than even on the Wiki page.  The Franciscan nuns accepted me openly, put me to work helping with last-minute arrangements of the altar decorations, and then fed me abundantly.  Dyed Easter eggs, tender beef, crispy French fries... maybe it was just the holiday, but there appears to be more of a culinary interest in Colombia than parts south, the yen for guinea pig notwithstanding.

Finally, decent coffee, a beverage here treated with respect and reserve rather than a side thought involving instant dehydrated crystals.  After stopping for hospitality at the Franciscan seminary in Pasto, I can say that as much as I love the Colombian coffee, I find the Capuchinos much sweeter =D  (They took photos and promised to send them to the webpage.)

Continuing on the ancient path, now Panamerican highway, I'm wandering through great green mountains draped with patchwork parcels of coffee trees and banana trees, corn stalks and everpresent potato mounds to the soundtrack of waterfalls hidden beneath the oversized undergrowth and chatty birds hidden in the treetops.  Lovely pilgriming.