This particular blog follows on from part one, in that it was written in the same rambling train of thought. If you haven’t delved into that first part of my fascinating story of not quite triumph mixed with possible loss and dismay, you can find it here. Might as well get the context for this one, right? Plus, major life ending spoilers ahead…
I only found out about the theft when I reached San Gil, the penultimate stop on my journey, when I rummaged through the bag for my wallet, which was curiously empty of all low denomination notes I’d collected. Yep, they’d took them too, and fat lot of good they’d do them. It did turn out I’d been lucky enough to be have disorganised the evening before, as my passport was in my pocket, but it certainly didn’t provide much in the way of solace. The unpleasant discovery meant that I spent the rest of the day toing and froing between the bus station, hostel and police station. It wasn’t a short distance between them, either. Morale was low.
Still, I tried to see the bright side. I’d done a good job of backing up those photos before arriving in Colombia, at least. Pat on the back there, Doug. I was still alive. That’s always a good one to bring out in a shitty situation. Most of the time it is a bonus in life. No more travelling if I’m dead, right? Plus, I’d still remember those times, even without nice fancy pictures. Also, I
only still had a couple of days before I was flying back to normality. That’s enough time for some undefinable number of things to be done. The possibilities were, indeed, well, not endless, but existent at the very least. And that was enough to put a smile back on my face.
Abject misery behind me, I used up what little money I still had available on a last singular activity. Something extraordinary, or at least in my eyes. Something I hadn’t done before, which would create a lasting memory in face of that of the theft. Something that would make it worth it to miss out on the night’s sleep it would cause me to miss out on. Paragliding.
We stood waiting, staring over Chicamocha canyon which plummeted over a thousand metres down below our feet, and the tabletop mountains that grew even further up around us, for wind. By we, I mean Ross, Charis, Jess, myself and the rest of the group. As if by some great plan (it wasn’t), as I’d squashed my way into the minivan that morning, I’d found myself face to face with Ross, who I’d met in Quito, Ecuador, about a month before, and his girlfriend Charis who’d come out to meet him since I last saw him. It’s a small world. This reunion wasn’t helping us any though, aside from find good conversation on the ground. We wanted to be up in the air, and the prospects of that happening were looking more dim by the minute.
Hang around in a place long enough, though, and the weather will change. Eventually, the wind picked up, and before we knew it we were being strapped in and lifted from the ground. It’s quite a pull when it happens, as you scream at full pelt to the cliff edge, just assuming that the wind’s going to catch. It does though. Just in time. Then you’re soaring on the updrafts up toward the clouds, further and further away from the ground, like a condor. I’ve got to say, the view wasn’t half bad, but that wasn’t even the best thing. Strangely, it was just very peaceful and serene, sitting there with the yawning sky between earth and I – a calm that’s hard to find on the ground. And then I was doing loop de loops down to the ground. Wouldn’t be fun without a little bit of danger, would it?
Monetarily spent (some on cake after the paragliding), the next day, my final around San Gil, was a laid back affair. The act of the day – a visit (with Jess) to Barichara, a quaint, quiet, colonial town, not too far from San Gil. The challenge? Make it to the local bus terminal – made easier by my now intricate knowledge of San Gil from all that wandering about on the first day. It’s actually quite well hidden behind a great big wall, surely in an attempt to confuse foreigners, but surely I am far to wise to fall for that sort of subterfuge now. Barichara was exactly what it was expected to be – a quaint, quiet, colonial town, that was easy to just relax while walking around. Not a great deal to do, or a great deal to see, but a lovely little place befitting a day.
I was whisked away once more that night, on the last night bus – nay, the last long bus journey of any type – I would take in South America. Following that would be the last crazy taxi I would be in. This time he just didn’t seem to be able to find where he was going, leaving me to wander the streets of Bogota in search of my hostel at 6AM. To be fair, he’d got me to the general area, so it’s not as if I was stuck in some dodgy suburb, but it wasn’t ideal nonetheless.
Two days and a night in a place doesn’t seem like much, but I managed to do a surprising amount. First up, see the sights (obviously). Bogota has some nice buildings, but isn’t the most picturesque place I’ve ever been to, which probably wasn’t helped by the fact that it was overcast. I think it’s like that permanently. Second, watch some crazy salesmen in the street. It’s a family affair watching this sorta stuff, as the crowds grew larger and larger, watching some poor soul who’d just been plucked out of the crowd have his arms and body twisted this way and that to prove the efficacy of some sort of healing balm. Next, spend an evening watching the ultra smiley Caterine Ibarguen win gold for Colombia in the Olympic triple jump, with the Colombians in my hostel. Lots of chanting, cheering, sexist commentary from the guys, and plenty of Spanish talk I didn’t understand. Lastly, search for some last minute souvenirs to bring back. This was slightly less successful in that I didn’t actually get them. Struggling with a late decision before the shops closed, I wandered into an area I’d not found before and came across a vault of replica pre-Colombian pottery. Straight away I knew I had to get some – it was exactly the sort of thing I’d been looking for and that you never see, and to me anyway, looked like it might as well be original stuff. Certainly not the tourist tat that you normally see. After an agonising decision as to what I could afford and fit into my bag without (touch wood) breaking, I bought some. For me.
Within a few hours of that venture, I was at the airport. I had an early morning flight, and figured there really wasn’t much point staying in the hostel for a not full nights sleep, especially as my money was now non existent. Still, it meant a fun night at the airport. Joy. My return journey was only just starting though. It’s a story in of itself.
Really, it all boils down to the fact that US airports are just stupid. Actually, plain ridiculous. I had to change in Orlando for my flight to Stansted, and it had already been complicated by the requirement to get a visa waiver and officially enter the country for my airport visit, because making and international departures section is just too simple. The biggest problem though, was the fact that noone seemed to know what they were doing, and that the whole system is just messed up! First after I went through immigration (where I was quizzed over my motivation to enter the US – hint – I’d rather not) to the bag check area, I checked whether my bag would be transferred to the new flight, or if I had to pick it up there. They said it would go the next one, since it was booked on the same ticket, though they seemed unconvinced. I asked too, where I was supposed to be going for the check in for my next flight (Thomson). They didn’t know, but I was promptly directed up an escalator.
The top of the escalator opened out into a big hall area complete with information desks and offshoots to departure lounges. The downside was that there were no check in desks. Oh, yeah, almost forgot – there was nobody anywhere near any of the information desks either. I waited as well, just to check they weren’t returning. Down in one of the departure lounges I located a security officer, and with a bit of help from some of his colleagues, they managed to determine I was actually supposed to be in a totally different terminal, a train ride away. A step closer.
It got no easier though. Making my way through this new terminal with the other passengers, like a wayward black sheep in a flock of white, I received several differing directions before I found my way to the Thomson desk, where reassuringly everyone had their luggage. Damn. And on confirmation, yes I probably should have mine too. Not definitely, just probably. Still, it was only a matter of checking my previous flight company was actually going to put my luggage on the new plane, somewhere over the other side of the terminal. Sometime over the next hour or two, after a bit of back and forth, I was confirmed as a passenger, along with my luggage. It was time for something to eat – I didn’t have enough for food and a drink. How about the most expensive solo McDonalds burger ever seen? Tastes like America!
Hang on, wait a minute. Don’t leave yet! I haven’t even reached my crowning glory yet. Yes, the plane managed to be delayed (as you’d expect). There was a freak storm in Orlando at the time – couldn’t even see out of the window! Yes, I was hungry and thirsty, too. A very generous man travelling with his family (and a few others around, too) after a holiday at the theme park gave me some of his food and bought me a drink, to which I am eternally grateful. Those weren’t the big issue here. When we finally touched down on British soil again, I went to fetch my bag only to discover it had been searched. Contraband I was not carrying, but carefully packed fragile souvenirs I was. US customs however, had decided it wasn’t an issue for them, soon to be out of their country, so hadn’t bothered to pack the bag again. Some of the souvenirs were broken, and suffice to say I was not best pleased.
I don’t need to read that through to know that airport stuff was a bit ranty, so I’ll try and keep the rest of the story short and to the point. I bussed it into London, and then waited for several hungry hours before I bussed it over to Exeter, a city I’d never been to before but was now the closest one to my home. Back in the first, maybe second blog on this site, I mentioned my family was planning on moving while I was away. Well, they did. Fortunately, I didn’t forget and did at least get the bus to the right place. It’s certainly one of the stranger things though – After twelve months of travelling around a giant continent on the other side of the planet, I was coming home to a place that felt less like home than where I’d left to.