Paragliding

Posted in The South America Tales with tags , , on March 27, 2012 by pajazzoproductions

It’s my birthday. I’m turning Old Man. I’m in a fourwheel-driven crosscountry Jeep on a thinstripped road leading up, up, up the mountain.

It’s me, M, two guides and their tattooed little helper, and an italian guy who’s also supposed to strap on a saftey-seal and soar like an eagle. The Jeep is one of concentrated silence.  I’m looking over the verge. We’re so high up now it has become ridiculous. It’s to unreal to make you nervous.

We have to wait for a few minutes on the top due to strong winds. Me and M walk up to the steep end of the jump-off ground. I catch a glimpse of Merida way down there between two mountain peaks.

I get strapped to the safety-seals. My guide, Pablo, says it’s his first time as well.

His giving me instructions. As soon as the chute starts to fill with air, run for the edge. The chute is thrown, it starts to fill, I take half a step before both me and Pablo gets jerked a couple of meters back, I have a split second to think “this can’t be right?”, but then we’re picked up by the strong mountain currents and we’re away.

I can’t describe it as anything else than peaceful. I compare it to meditation although I’ve never tried it. We’re up, away, a roaring river beneath looking like a line of spit, the city of San Jose like a puzzle.

We hardly say a word during the forty minute flight. It’s unnescessary.

After the flight, on our way back to Merida we stop at Pablo’s little childhood village and after a few beers everybody becomes a lot more talkative. After a while M gets nervous, she’s wondering who’s gonna drive us home and when she raises her concerns with Pablo he only half-jokingly dangle the car-keys in front of her, galantly offering her to shoulder the part of the designated driver.

M:s pissed off, Pablo is a little bit ashamed and grabs a couple of Pilsen for the road and off we go.

The whole way home Pablo talks about how much it would cost him in bribes if there was a police check-point along the way, and also stressing the dangers of south-american traffic in general and Venezuelan traffic in specific.

Then he smiles and swipes a gulp from the 90% saliva remainders of his last Pilsen.

And poof, just like that, we’re home.

Interlude in Mérida

Posted in COLOMBIA with tags , , , on March 22, 2012 by pajazzoproductions

There´s a wildlife guide here living just up the street from our hostel. He talks like Scarface and struts like Jagger. His name is Anthony Fernandez. He´s had 45 days sober but today came crushing down. We´re all out drinking. Anthony is torned between angst and anger. His family life is a mess. He selfmedicates with weed.

He says “I am a good man”, it´s a battlecry, almost like an excorcism. We rid the demons with Cuba Libres and the soft mist is descending around the parc, shrouding the glow from lampposts and carlights. Everything dizzy, foggy, mysterious.

Anthony cries “I am a good man! My kids come to me for money I say here, take it, whatever you need, I give you.”

I´m chainsmoking like I´m trying to compete with the mist. I order two more beers. I wish I could help him in some other way but I recognize the state his in. There´s a swedish song, roughly translated, “tonight I´m no good for myself”, and when your in that state you´re dead-set on whatever selfdestruction that may come your way.

“I am a good man!”

Well, I think you are Anthony, and I wish you the best of luck.

The Border

Posted in COLOMBIA with tags , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2012 by pajazzoproductions

Despite the bad-boy image still clinging to Colombia like powder residues to a nosehair, in comparison to its next door neighbor Venezuela, Colombia is a reformed criminal, dressed up in suit and tie, not trying to hide its battlescars and prisontattoos- just trying to move on.

Venezuela is more of a thug still out prowling the streets; chaotic and paranoid, wild and raw.

But also painstakingly beautiful.

We arrive at the Colombian bordertown of Maicao, step one foot outside the bus and get instantly swarmed by peddlers selling their “por puesto” seats in one of the many beaten up old Chevvys lining the parking lot. They´re scratched and torned, patched up with ducktape.

We pay 27 pesos a head, sharing a once upon a time maroon Chevrolet with a Venezuelan couple. You´ll need to cross the border in one of these cars in order to get all the necessary stamps in your passport.

The driver pops his trunk with a screwdriver. The interior is draped in a fluffy sincity-red, a piece of metal at the treshhold to the door hangs loose, the panel seems stripped out. He mounted his instrument panel- horn, speed, gas- on a list by the windshield.

The only thing up to date is his stereo system and we´ve got four big speakers breathing down our necks in the backseat. And the driver likes his Venezuelan folkmusic LOUD. He only presses pause when a military checkpoint forces him to.

Still on the Colombian side, we get off to get our passports professionally scanned and stamped, everything computerized, organized.

On the Venezuelan side a woman with no interest in new people takes a recentful brake from her tell-tale magazine to scribble the information from our passports on a piece of paper.

For the first hour on Venezuelan soil, the land where the cockroaches fly, there´s a military checkpoint every two minutes. The wave us in, every time, we show our passports, every time. The only positive thing about it is it means a few seconds of respite from the accordians and vibratos of our drivers, Pedros, favourite artists.

Charming at first, after a few hours of non-stop blasting, I come to think of Guantanamo and the sophisticated method of torture where they put Metallicas “Enter Sandman” on repeat and turn the wheel of volume to max.

Another checkpoint. We pay a little something not to have our bags checked. A heavily armed MP makes the international sign of “roll your window down”. He looks serious. But looks can be deceiving. He´s got a small snake wrapped around his wrist, wiggling its forked tongue in the air.

We all start to laugh, him too, the stern look of hierarchy and discipline melt away for a mischievous kid.

Pedro has to be the fastest driver on the trail between Maicao and Maracaibo. A speedbump to him is only the perfect opportunity to squeeze by a couple of more cars. He´s not interested in lanes, if he feels the need to he pulls out into oncoming traffic, forcing them to balance one wheel at the verge of the ditch on the dusty roadside.

He only slows down to do the Venezuelan pick-up line to a woman pushing a chart with coffee and cigarettes. He says: “kss-kss”. Pussycat. Meow. She obviously knows him , she laughs and calls him “Loco”.

We´re told this trip should take four hours. He does it in three. We´re there. He turns off his stereo. I´m willing to confess to anything.

Taking the nightbus from Maracaibo I´m told to shut the curtain to my window, since longdistance buses with gringos are much appreciated as target practice for malandros. I´m told a woman and her baby were shot dead a couple of weeks ago, right through the window.

Welcome to Venezuela.

Playa Blanca II

Posted in COLOMBIA with tags , , , on March 8, 2012 by pajazzoproductions

We got stuck in Playa Blanca.

I know it´s a fact hard to draw any sympathy from, especially when back home it´s below freezing and you´ll wake up to the sound of the snowpatrol on duty, spreading hard bits of crude sand to make icy streets walkable; and we´re stuck with the caribbean ocean just a breath away.

But I´ve got some work to do, deadlines to keep, and Playa Blanca is in many ways a makeshift shantytown with paradisic settings. After dark you´ll hear the shaky thunder from generators feeding flickering power to the beach-hut bars and restaurants; a few bulbs wired to wooden-poles, gas-stoves sizzling with hamburgers and fresh fish. Candlelights rooted in sand in plastic containerns turned chandeliers. The rest is just darkness and wild guesses.

There´s no internet here.

We got screwed on our return-ticket. Come monday, we discover all the speedboats are filled with daycruisers, and nobody is interested in validating the piece of useless proof we´re waving in the faces of stern captains; I´m up to my waist in water, backpack on, trying to persuade the powers that be, in my retarded spanish, to take us on board.

It doesn´t work. We´re here for one more night.

But Isla Baru isn´t just traveltorned backpackers and local ladies selling massage and/or fresh fruit: Isla Baru has a fancy side. We can see it glittering at the southside curb of the island. It´s all neon and modernity. So me and M decided to take a morning walk in the waters edge towards this outpost of civilization, in the hope of me borrowing a few hours of worldwide connection.

We´re being naive. Isla Baru is as much a divided territory as Cartagena with the old wall. There´s a man-made graveyard-deep canal separating Us from Them, with a military checkpoint on the other side, making the southside into a fortress of luxury. A man transporting some locals in a small boat laughs at our efforts at crossing. You need a special pass.

You need an Armani-suit and a swiss bankaccount. I´ve got a few wrinkly pesos in my backpocket.

We get on one of the slow boats the next day, big enough to room all the inhabitants on Barú a couple of times over.

I miss my deadline.

Cartegena II

Posted in COLOMBIA with tags , , , , on March 5, 2012 by pajazzoproductions

In the Getsemaní area, there´s this guy Roberto hanging around a dug-up and closed down park. It´s under reconstruction.

It seems someone chopped off a birdswing drenched in oil and slabbed it on his head, molded it into a chicken-mohawk; the shape, but not the shave. Roberto offers you everything and then some, the best of the best.

There´s a lot of that in Cartagena, out in the open, much more so then what I´ve experienced elsewhere in Colombia. On our street there´s pushers and prostitutes and peddlers; there´s constructionworkers and cabdrivers, there´s lunatics and storeowners. Reggae-bars and that soft scent of caribbean weed. Cuba libres and stray dogs.

Magic realism and mañana mañana. So I´ll save the rest for another day.

Cartagena

Posted in COLOMBIA with tags , , , , , on March 5, 2012 by pajazzoproductions

Cartagena is a two-faced Joker; the demarcation line between black and white drawn by the 14:th century stonewall still encircling the Old Town.

Inside is beautiful, well-kept colonial buildings, brightly coloured, voluminous flowerarrangements overwhelming quaint wooden balconys, churches and parks, small squares providing shade and conversation. But to me it all feels like an architectonial Disneyland.

You have your backpackers and your cruiseshippers, your cops but no robbers; maybe the occasional pusher but that’s all a part of the local charm. There’s streetpeddlers trying to sell you more or less the same kind of merchandise from wall to wall, restaurant and bars with prices adjusted for westerners with bulgy pockets.

The stonewall still seems to be serving its initial protective purpose; only in these modern times it’s the locals who get stopped and search at checkpoints set up in the walls vault openings.

It is in many ways a semi-gated community, for the viewing pleasure of the visitor, but where non-authorized locals isn’t welcomed with the same warm embrace.

We stay two nights inside before we move just a stonethrow away, to the Getsemani area, close enough to see the walls but still a world away. I’m not trying to romanticize it, the Calle Media Luna is still littered with hostels, much as the whole area, but here at least you get the feeling that people actually live, breath, eat, shit, cry, laugh.

In the Old City, noboby laughs. They take pictures.

Like this.

Playa Blanca

Posted in COLOMBIA with tags , , on February 29, 2012 by pajazzoproductions

Here´s a Baz Luhrman tip for a monday morning: wake up in a hammock underneath a straw-hut roof, swing your legs over and place your bare soles on soft white sand. Yawn.

Brush your teeth by a saltwater lake separated from its ocean mother by the thin stretch of backpacker delight called Playa Blanca. Take a piss in the open. Watch the birds. Stretch. Fart.

Take a walk around said saltwater lake. Bring two of the beach-bum mutts that´s been guarding your hut all night with you; so if you´ll get attacked by a junglecat maybe it´ll go for the dogs first.

Stop for a moment. Watch the sunrise. Then keep on moving until you´ve made it full circle. Grab your towel. Gaze in both directions of the beach: no people yet. Walk into the caribbean foam, knee-deep, take a breath.

Take a swim.

Remember Faith No More? But it really should be: “I´m easy like monday morning.”

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