A Travellerspoint blog

May 2010

Final reflections

From Cartagena I got on a sailboat for a five day trip to Panama through the San Blas Islands. It was a great experience and one that I had been pursuing for a while. But at the end my body was weak and I was ready to come home. Happily now I am!

I was considering trying to come up with some grand conclusions in this final post, but that would be foolish. Instead I read through my original proposal and looked through some of my photos and past posts and came to the following reflections:

Obviously a key component of trip was the bicycle. I believed that traveling by bicycle in and through communities would allow me to connect to people in a different and unique way. Indeed it did. I met some of the most passionate and genuine people I've known through Critical Mass Beirut, perhaps my greatest outward achievement on this trip (in which achievement is pretty much prohibited by the grant). In Syria and Malawi my bicycle brought me in contact with many people I would never have seen, even through the windows of a car (like the folks in this photo). In Zimbabwe, South Africa and Brazil it carried to the top of mountains, across rivers and some of the most spectacular natural beauty I have been privileged to experienced.

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The other guiding tenet was language. I sought countries where I had some previous experience in a common language or at least the desire to learn. In some places this proved essential. It would have been much less fulfilling to visit Syria without the elementary Arabic I learned and much more complicated to travel to a place like Cape Verde. But in other places, like Senegal, not speaking the language somehow made little difference in meeting people. That leads me to the conclusion that to some degree interacting and making connections with residents while traveling is more a factor of the character of people the the words we speak.

Out of school, out of the job market, yet to be married and with few responsibilities, curious or bored guys aged 17 to 22 were my constant guides and friends.

Some of my favorite places were former European colonial cities. But I wonder why. Is it the visual mix of old and and new? Is it because its easier to be in an European style habitat? Or is it because its interesting to see people with dark skin inhabiting spaces built to exclude them?

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Sexual tourists are a plague! They are almost everywhere and have little shame. The fifty-year old American man with the twenty year old Mozambican girlfriend in Malawi. The group of dutch boys headed to Brazil because they heard the girls are easy. When people travel they seem to think all rules are off, men from the global North are proud to talk about the prostitutes with whom they do business. Of course tourists abuse their power differential in many ways. Through exchange rates which allows the opportunity to live like a king, over consuming the generosity which seems run deeper in non-western cultures or taking advantage of the awe of the white man and internalized oppression which still exists hundreds of years after colonization.

I was hesitant to apply for the the Bonderman Fellowship because its impossible to not play a role in this inequality and benefit from my financial, geographical and educational privileges. Not to mention the environmental impact of flying around the globe or the hundreds of bottles of water I went through. Perhaps my biggest regret was not bringing chlorine tablets. I can't claim to have avoided these inconsistencies, but I tried to show respect, engage in meaningful interactions, recognize boundaries and contribute to the local economy (as opposed to the tourist economy).

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In this day and age it would be easy to consider fear an American tradition. But in fact fear it is a global phenomena responsible for a great deal of misunderstanding and a tremendous barrier to interaction. I was constantly trying to overcome the warnings of locals about the dangers of this place and that. I'm sure the threat was real in many cases, but it was just not worth the worry.

One lesson I've learned is to follow my ears. I followed my ears and ended up a Tae Kwon Doe lesson in rural Senegal. I followed my ears to the creation of pots and pans in Syria. I followed my ears to music, pouring out on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. One place you can always find music abroad is the Alliance Frances. France is equally proficient in its cultural diplomacy as its political diplomacy and in virtually every country I visited had a beautiful French cultural center offering expensive food and free musical performances. So follow your ears. Of course following your nose of course goes with out saying (see below).

Video credit to Samera

At twenty eight years old I am fortunate to have rich and diverse memories. But I heard once on NPR that the more you try to remember something the less accurate that memory becomes. I know that sometimes photographs have a tendency of replacing my memories. My hope was that this blog would aid my weak memory in holding on to this trip as much in the writing as in the review. Thank you for following along with me and a special thanks to everyone who cared and shared with me along the way; I'll even name names: My father and sister and aunt and uncle, Meena, Ruba and Nada in Lebanon and enroute. Samera and the Attahs in Syria. Maira, Abdul, Diallo, Duda, Catia, Abelito, Dona Luxa and the folks at O Tradicional and in Mozambique. Zonke in South Africa. Casey in Cabo Verde. Nana and Diabang in Senegal. Ordean and Oelito, Ceissa and Melissa in Brazil and Alicides, Jan, Keith an Roberto in Colombia. Thanks to those who shared their friends (Meena, Julia, Miyo) and who followed me called, wrote and posted along the way, it meant a lot.

Posted by dericvito 12:18 Comments (0)

Colombia

A La Orden

semi-overcast 88 °F
View A Backpack, A Bicycle, And a Bonderman Grant to Travel the World on dericvito's travel map.

Since I last wrote, I traveled to an island off the coast of Salvador, Bahia in Brazil to take advantage of a house all to my self, generously offered by a friend. With the intention of being alone I tried to practice arts typically lost on me, such as doing one thing at a time (eating without reading, cooking without listening), flossing, and shaving in front of a mirror. The place was kind of like that vacation spot in the movie, The Thomas Crown Affair except for no woman, paitings and nor private airplane. From Bahia I traveled north to Fortaleza to visit with my host family from my college study abroad experience, now a full seven years ago. It was pretty to easy to slip into the old routine and become a member of the family once again. Some things have improved, somethings have gotten worse and much has stayed the same.

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About an hour into arriving in Bogota I was pretty sure all Colombian´s hated me for the space I was taking up with my bicycle bag on the tiny bus that services the airport. But actually everyone was quite kind. Bogota is a mix of Boulder Colorado, with its altitude, foothills and bicycle lanes, New York City (in perhaps the 1980´s) with its vibrant and gritty street life and maybe Seville, with its Spanish architecture and hot chocolate. I spent my days experimenting with the acclaimed transportation system. My first night I took a bicycle ride with a local bicycle guru and ex-Seattilite. He rode with his dog sometimes on a leash, sometimes under his arm, and sometime running down the middle of the avenue.

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My diet in Bogota consisted of everything the street had to offer. That includes fresh potato and bannas chips, smoothies, arepas (like papusas) with chorizo, empanadas, fruit salad, etc. I know what you´re thinking, and your right; that´s exactly what happened, but it was well worth it. Bogota is a dynamic place. In the span of 30 minutes Friday night I was dancing at a BBQ, listening to one of many street comedians, soaked by the pouring rain, strolling through a street fair, listening to street rappers, caught between two political rallies and relaxing peacefully at the Bogota Philharmonic. In that time I consumed one beer, a slice of pizza, a Colombia version of a Mexican taco (not close), and a Churro.

Colombia is perhaps the easiest country in the world in which to make a phone call. Vendors are on every corner offering their cell phone for 5 to 10 cents a minute. However, I was chocking on my Portanhol and not making too many calls until I got to Cartagena. I think I´ve mentioned that traveling breeds distrust, and this almost prevented me from meeting Alberto (who wanted me to show him my guesthouse) and Alcides (who just wanted to talk). Alberto had recently left his wife and Alcides is so committed to his independence he sought a vasectomy at age 18. Now 22, an extremely intelligent law school school drop out with a aversion to work, Alcides spends his time at one of Cartagena´s several inviting plazas and hasn't wavered about not having kids. Both characters had the same message, freedom and independence is everything!
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I took a side trip from Cartagena to Valledupar where a stayed at the home of a great guy name Jan and his family, my friend Keith from Seattle and Roberto a traveler from Argentina. Jan does a mean air accordion (one hand on your chest pressing buttons, the other extended, eyes closed chin pointed toward the sky). This is an important skill in the land of Vallenato, a sorta country like music featuring the accordion. We were all in town for the Vallenato festival which featured non-stop Vallenato from the plazas, stadium, taxis and every house with a sound system for five days straight.

Tomorrow I board a 30 foot sail boat for a five day trip to Panama. After a few days there I will board a plane destined for Miami. And, withstanding Alcides and Alberto´s message, by the end of the second week in May I will be a la ordean, ´´at your service´´.

Posted by dericvito 18:48 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

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