Fly over Colombia In my first week in Cali, Colombia was a bit rough. The airline had lost my luggage (see previous post). I stayed in the Violette Maison The hostel was located in San Antonio district of Cali Colombia. A taxi ride from the airport cost me about 45,000 pesos. Lionel, the hostel owner, informed me the cheaper way to travel was to use the bus. A bus ride between the bus terminal and the airport was only 5000 pesos. And the taxi ride from the back and forth from the hostel was 7000.

Terrace view The hostel is definitely a work in progress. They were going through renovations during my stay. This was not really a problem, but it did mean I was waking up earlier than I would like. The terrace on the rooftop offered some great views.
The volunteers made my stay at the hostel a rememberable one. They were nice and even taught me how to play the italian game briscola. Unfortunately, the internet connection at the hostel was miserable. Even in the common rooms, the internet was not a reliable connection.

Nice Man During my first day, I went around the city to explore and become more familiar with my surroundings. While I was photographing this nice old man stopped and posed for a picture. He then proceeded to come over to give me a hug before continuing on his way. I will say, based on all the rumors of Colombia, I was very weary of even this old man, I thought he was going to put a knife to me and ask for my camera. But this was just the first sign that Colombia isn’t as dangerous as it’s made out to be.

Grafitti After that, I just continued to walk along the central area. The city is covered in grafitti. However, most of the grafitti is nicely done murals which I thoroughly enjoy.

La Ermita Church The city of Cali can be seen in about a day. In the middle of the city there is an impressive gothic church. There’s the Museo del Oro del Banco de la Rep├║blic, which contains a small art exhibit and also a gold and artifact exhibit. I was there with a gringo, and it was interesting to see the little kids being fascinated by him and his Englise. There’s the Christ Statue on top of one of the hills in Cali. From the top you have an awesome view of the city Then there is the awesome food which you can find in Cali. Which can be found in the restaurants and in the markets

Art Exhibit Muesem Gold Exhibit Muesem Cali skyline Cristo Rey Shrimp Stew Market

I enrolled myself into a spanish learning school, Gringo Lingo. I really thought I would pick up the language quickly. But it’s been a long process, and I don’t seem to be making much progress. I still use hostels and travelers as a crutch to use English to express myself. I do hope after a month or two that I will have enough grasp of the language to navigate my way through the countries.

I decided to take a trip to Cali, Colombia to start my adventure. I’m planning to stay there for an extended period of time to learn Spanish and Calena style salsa. Planning a trip to Colombia was an interesting experience. Flights to some parts of the country were more expensive. It was cheaper for me to fly into Bogota and take a domestic flight into Cali, than to fly directly to Cali. Unfortunately, due to my procrastination and the prices, I had to fly Spirit. A one-way ticket to Bogota was only $170, then adding all the bullshit luggage fees etc. The other airlines were closer to $600 for a one-way flight into Bogota. Add about $300-400 to go directly to Cali. I used Google’s ITA matrix flight search to search for my tickets. However, keep in mind that some of the pricing provided is not available to the public and need to be purchased through a travel agent. For example, the domestic flights listed for Cali, I was not able to purchase, even through a travel agent. I believe there is some pricing issues when it comes to flights outside the US, so your mileage may vary. Make sure you are able to purchase all the tickets before purchasing any single leg. This may save you some headaches further along.

Just in case there care any flight delays or issues with customs, I left four hours after arriving into Bogota for my connection to Cali. On my Last trip, I missed a flight due to custom lines, and that was a ticket purchased through the airline directly. The first little hiccup in the trip was the seat assignments. I had upgraded my flight to Bogota because I wanted to see a nice view from my seat during the flight from Florida to Bogota. Unfortunately there was a mix-up, the seat I had purchased was given away and I was assigned a different seat. Luckily, I was able to get a refund from spirit for the snafu, but it was a little difficult to work through when the ticket counter was not completely fluent in English. The seat I was assigned was still a window seat at least, but it was much further back in the aircraft.

When arriving into Bogota however, that’s where disaster struck. They LOST my luggage! It was a bit stressful, because the attendant did not speak very much English. I had to wait until he took care of the other passengers and took me to the office where I could get more information. I don’t think this would have been much of a problem had I been staying in Bogota, but I was going to Cali shortly. Unfortunately, Spirit does not have a partner airline in Cali. This meant I need to pickup my baggage at the airport, instead of having it delivered to me. After filing the report, I tried to follow up the next day, as they had promised it would arrive shortly. I thought this trip having a Skype account and subscription, I would be able to take care of it easily. However, Spirit does not have an easy way to get to a customer service representative. According to Spirits automated voice system, if luggage is lost less than 5 days, you need to contact the local office directly. Talking with the local office in Bogota, they kept sending me to their reservation phone number. In short, I was SOL while trying to find what happened to my luggage. I just had to have faith that everything would turn out for the best. Meanwhile, I did not have a change of cloths with me, so I had to wear the same outfit until I receive my luggage. It took three days for the luggage to finally arrive and someone had pilfered my headlamp from my bag. Luckily, I do not need the head lamp until later, so I will purchase one and pick it up when I head back to San Francisco for a wedding. There will likely be more troubles along the way but this isn’t how I wanted the trip to start.

When I was embarking on my first world adventure, one of the most difficult tasks for me was how to pack for the trip. I read many articles of other travelers, and most of them had the same basic message. Travel as light as you can. However, being an avid photographer, that’s a very difficult task to do. Just my camera and the two lenses I brought on my trip accounted for 7.25 lbs. (32 oz. for body, 32 oz. for 24-70 lens, and 52 oz. for 70-200 lens). Additionally, my trip involved both hemispheres, and I had extreme weather climates to contend with. I was in the tropics near the equator in SE Asia, and in the cold when walking on glaciers in Patagonia. My travel bag at the time consisted of the following:

Luggage

  • 1 65-Liter Gregory Backpack
  • 1 Eddie Bauer School Backpack

Toys

  • 1 MacBook Pro
  • 1 Nikon D800E
  • 1 Nikkor 24-70 lens
  • 1 Nikkor 70-200 lens
  • 1 Lumo Pro LP140 flash
  • 1 Kindle
  • 1 Nexus One (android phone)
  • 4-5 Various chargers/cables for toys
  • 1 Journal

Cloths

  • 4 Pairs underwear
  • 2 Jeans
  • 2 Shorts
  • 4 Shirts
  • 4 Socks
  • 1 Headlamp
  • 1 Under Armor pant
  • 1 Under Armor shirt
  • 1 Waterproof windbreaker
  • 1 Light jacket (Michigan jacket)
  • 1 Heavier jacket (North Face Denali)
  • 1 North Face hat
  • 1 Pair gloves
  • 2 Bottles for water
  • 1 Dress shirt
  • 1 Pair dress shoes
  • 1 Pair sandals
  • 1 Cacoon silk sheet
  • 3 Medium Ebags

Toiletries

  • 1 Soap dish + soap
  • 1 Shampoo
  • 1 Razor + shaving cream
  • 1 Laundry soap
  • 1 Cloths drying string
  • 1 Toothbrush + toothpaste

Lessons learned from my first trip.

I put to much emphasis on doing laundry in the hotel room sink, instead of just paying for a service to do my laundry, in particular in SE Asia. Because, i really only had 4 days worth of cloths, I was constantly wasting time doing laundry, instead of doing more productive things like planning for the next day/weeks.

In my original packing plan, I wanted to have everything fit into the 65-liter bag, including my small backpack and camera. This proved to be a huge pain in the ass. I gave up doing laundry after 2 weeks into my trip. I ultimately just carried both backpacks (big heavy one on back, small heavy one in the front). Both packs seemed to weigh the same, due to the more condensed weight of the electronics.

Offline maps were a necessity. I think it worked better than a map. However, I will say that the newer versions of Google Maps have more limitations on which countries you can save maps for. Specifically, I noticed in South America, there are a number of countries that do not have offline map capabilities. I’m assuming there is a licensing issue preventing them otherwise.

What I’m packing for my second trip

Electronics Cloths

Luggage

  • 1 65-Liter Gregory Backpack
  • 1 Eddie Bauer School Backpack

Toys

  • 1 MacBook pro
  • 1 Nikon D800E
  • 1 Nikkor 24-70 lens
  • 1 Go Pro 3+ Silver
  • 1 Go Pro monopod
  • 1 IPhone5
  • 1 USB Battery
  • 4-5 Various Charger/cables for toys
  • 1 Journal

Cloths

  • 7 Pairs underwear
  • 3 Jeans
  • 4 Shorts
  • 7 Shirts
  • 7 Socks
  • 1 Headlamp
  • 1 Under Armor pant
  • 1 Under Armor shirt
  • 1 Waterproof windbreaker
  • 1 Light jacket (Michigan jacket)
  • 1 Heavier jacket (North Face Denali)
  • 1 North Face hat
  • 1 Pair gloves
  • 1 Bottles for water
  • 2 Dress shirt
  • 1 Pair dress shoes
  • 1 Pair sandals
  • 1 Cacoon silk sheet
  • 4 Medium Ebags

Toiletries

  • 1 Soap dish + soap
  • 1 Shampoo
  • 1 Razor + shaving cream
  • 1 Laundry soap
  • 1 Cloths drying string
  • 1 Toothbrush + toothpaste

packed and ready to go

These are some notable differences. I dropped the heavy lens. This was a hard decision to make. I went back and forth, and I’m sure if I were thinking clearly in the morning before my flight, I would have added last minute. I just hope I don’t end up regretting that mistake, in particular if I end up at the Galapagos Islands. Because of weight concerns, I removed the portable flash. By dropping the flash, i could remove the batteries and the charger from the equation. Instead I added a go pro as an inexpensive camera that I don’t mind getting stolen and for action underwater photos and videos.

I’ve switched out my android phone for an IPhone. Unfortunately, Google Maps offline capabilities are limited in South America. Fortunately, apple maps does a good job with its caching capabilities. From the few articles I found on the subject, it appears the Apple maps supports vectored images, while the Google Maps IPhone app is still based on tiling. This isn’t a fault of Google’s but rather with WebKit not supporting vectored images.

More Clothes. This time around, I did not want to have to be doing laundry every 3-4 days, so I packed about twice the number of cloths this time around. What I didn’t keep in mind was to make sure to pack wrinkle free cloths. Also the types of cloths changed somewhat. Previously, I only brought synthetic cloths, as i wanted easy washing/drying solutions. However, on the previous trip, finding out that laundry is fairly affordable, opting to bring normal cloths was viable.