Sunday, 24 June 2012

A matter of protection

There is that old adage that ‘the best things in life are free’. In a number of ways this still holds true, depending of course on your preferences. For example you can have a refreshing, relaxing walk in the open countryside, engage in a trek up a mountain or spend some quality time with family and friends. In most scenarios these things should cost you little or nothing yet empower your body and mind. 

Condoms - the safest way to go?
It's called 'Plan B', below, for a reason. Go with 'Plan A', above, first
Some people, naively, like to throw sexual intercourse into this category. OK, in its basic natural form, in the actual moment, love-making is free (for another take on ‘free’ love see: http://bit.ly/MtWh7T). That is if you’re doing it unprotected. But there are many obvious inherent risks of such practices – all of which have the potential to come with a hefty price down the line.

The Emergency Contraceptive - sailing very close to the windFor several men, in a time when, it can be argued, the contraceptive options for our female counterparts are more plentiful, it is more desirable to opt for unprotected sex. It’s more natural. Fumbling around with a condom is, pun intended, a bit of a stretch. There’s the belief that women’s contraception is less interfering in the love-making process yet far more affective. That indeed may be true from a birth control point-of-view. However if you are the ‘sleeping around’ type, you can never be too well protected when it comes to sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Outside of that though, leaving all the responsibility to avoid an unwanted pregnancy on one side is not alone taking a big chance, but it’s also very foolish and selfish. If you do the crime – or play a significant part in it – then you should be prepared to do the time or at least contribute towards ‘fixing’ things. Plus you can never be fully certain as to what your partner’s desires are, regardless as to whether it is a casual or more long-term relationship. Playing things ultra-safe is always the best option in this regard.
 
Because with casual, unprotected sex can come unplanned, unwanted, pregnancies. 

If this happens to become your fate i.e. due to a lack of responsibility you’re facing becoming a father before you’re really ready, the options are stark for you and your ‘accomplice’. Let nature take its course or abort. Neither can be taken lightly – indeed, as you know, the latter choice is not easily or readily available to all.

From a man’s perspective, especially one not wishing to become a father, abortion is often seen as the least-worst option. From the woman’s side, we can only imagine it perhaps can leave both physical and psychological scares. We haven’t though mentioned the third party in all of this. For those in the pro-life camp the most fundamental aspect – the developing embryo. From a biological perspective it can be hard to argue against the belief that once the sex cells have successfully fused, the initial sparks of life emerge.

Picture Joke - not intended to cause offenceSo, as a result of two people’s lazy, irresponsible actions a new life can be created when it could have been, in most cases, prevented. Yes, in such circumstances, it may be better for all involved, including the unborn, to terminate the pregnancy before it gets a chance to fully develop. A child should after all and where possible, be born into a loving relationship with both father and mother accepting responsibility. Problems tend to emerge where this is lacking – although we must state not always. 

What all this essentially boils down to is the advice from one of the oldest sayings in the book. Prevention is better than cure. 

If that proves too difficult a task, then the following may come into play: “If you’re sowing your wild oats at night, pray for crop failure in the morning.”

Friday, 15 June 2012

Eur-out

Citizens of Ireland, arise from your slumber. It’s now fully clear, Europe doesn’t want us anymore, as if it ever really did. If it wasn’t pretty clear already as to the continent’s feelings towards us, events of the past few weeks have spelt it out in no uncertain terms. 
A 'political' map of Europe according to, allegedly, Germany
What the Reich thinks of us & the rest of its 'Empire'

Remember just last month the Irish electorate – well those remaining in the country that bothered to vote – gave both the euro currency and EU itself a significant shot in the arm by endorsing the Fiscal Treaty in a referendum. It was a straight forward ‘yes – not one of those ‘no’s that means a ‘yes’ á la the Nice and Lisbon treaties. As all our main political parties assured us in the lead up to the vote – bar Sinn Féin and a few other weird lefties – a big thumbs-up would win us brownie points on the ‘mainland’ (that’s Europe we’re referring to here, not Britain, as some Shinners may think). 

But what happens? Well our first ‘dining’ at the top table of European soccer since 1988 – where it’s really at – sees us suffer a humbling 3-1 reverse to Croatia. This is a country, bear in mind, that’s not even a fully-fledged European Union member. Come on – they might as well of just given our place at the finals to that most European of countries, Israel. That’s followed swiftly by a 4-0 thrashing from a country that has a much worse debt problem than us, Spain. Sport often tends to be more blunt and honest than most other walks of life. The message is clear – and don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s just soccer related. ‘We’ve had enough of these Irish alcoholics pretending to be part of Europe; the game is up lads’. Time to exit stage left. 
Jedward performing at Eurovision 2012
Who wouldn't like these guys? Europe just doesn't get it, eh?

The rot however, has been setting-in for some time. We should have really jumped ship after the ‘Hand of Henry’ incident in Paris (see: http://bit.ly/NruJT9). Loyalty gets you nowhere – just ask any married couple about that. It’s not all sporting signs though. Even when we shower them with love, no less than two years in-a-row, in the shape of Jedward at Eurovision, they give us the proverbial ‘two-fingers’. Do you think the United States or even China would flatly reject such wooing? Of course not.

We can go further back if you want. For one, the Romans never wanted us. Yet for centuries we’ve been pledging our allegiance firmly in that direction – a one-way relationship if there ever was one. There’s more. How many times did we send SOS calls to our Catholic neighbours in France and Spain when Protestant Britain was laying siege to our land? Too big a number to go through here, that’s for sure. And what help did we get? A few half-hearted attempts at sending military reinforcements, nothing more. Contrast this with Dermot MacMurrough’s call for assistance to Strongbow in the 12th century. It was the start of a long-lasting (ahem) ‘friendship’ with our neighbours across the Irish Sea. A friend in need and all that.
Republic of Ireland defender Paul McShane, giving it socks for his country
Some of our strongest assets - red heads & cattle

Now in case you thought we’d forgotten, the ‘never put a foot wrong’ Germans, our current masters, aren’t without fault either. Bombing poor little neutral Ireland’s capital city during World War Two. What did we do in return – send our condolences to the German Embassy in Dublin on the news of the noble Herr Hitler’s death. Talk about setting a precedent for being a soft touch. 
Cattle holding up a car on a main road in Ireland - the traditional 'Irish traffic jam' 
So let’s stop deluding ourselves – trying to be part of something that we’re plainly not. We have options. The Yanks would surely accept us – all we’d have to do is go back to living in thatched cottages and replace all those leaving the country with more cattle and sheep, thereby bringing back the traditional Irish ‘traffic jam’. 

We could though look east instead. That should at least ensure an easier qualifying route to the FIFA World Cup. Well possibly. In any case, if things were going awry against Asian opposition, we could always throw-on Paul McShane. Our friends from the Orient would be too busy trying to get a photo of his flowing ginger locks than to worry about football. 

As many an Ulsterman has been trying to tell us for years – we must utilise our orange power.

_______________________
For more on the way things currently stand for the Republic of Ireland, check out this very informative video: http://www.rte.ie/sport/player/#!/clip/820/

Monday, 11 June 2012

Hostel Lookers

There is no such thing as a free lunch, so it is said. However in a number of Bogotá’s ubiquitous hostels, you can get a ‘free’ breakfast. Of course we’re not that naive to actually believe this. It’s included in the price, no more, no less. Still though, it’s a little extra not to be scoffed at – or to be scoffed as the case may be. And with so many hostels vying for your custom – in La Candelaria alone (the historic centre) every second establishment appears to be offering accommodation – little things such as a token breakfast can make all the difference. Not that many of the ‘desayunos’ on offer will set you up for the day, but it’s the thought that counts, right?
Wrong Way lends a helping hand to the weekly BBQ at the Arcadia Hostel, Medellín
Never mind a 'free' brekkie, give us a BBQ

So what else sets the various hostels apart? Why should you pick one over another? Well, the answers to those are case – and indeed time - dependent. We all have different needs and wants – what one person might regard as an ideal spot is another’s nightmare. However there are certain basic requirements that practically all of us look for, regardless of the price you pay. For most people, security, both in terms of the building and for your personal belongings, is crucial. Secure, decent sized personal lockers are a must together with 24/7 reception. While some like to get a personal set of keys to enter and exit their temporary residence as they wish, in the interests of all guests, a buzzer system is more secure, ensuring staff must always monitor those that are coming in. From our experience, the majority of La Candelaria’s hostels score high in this regard – you really shouldn’t expect anything less.

Having sufficient bathrooms for a booked-out hostel certainly helps keep everyone happy. If you’re in a private room with a toilet and shower, this isn’t a problem. However if you’re ‘dorming’ it, this can be an issue if the facilities are lacking. Three bathrooms between a potential twenty or more guests is pushing it to say the least. It helps of course if the actual toilet is separate from the shower, as you’ll find in some, but not all, of the more established places. Plus, we are speaking about Bogotá here and not the Caribbean coast, so hot water when you do shower is a more than reasonable expectation.  

Free internet access is a pleasant little extra. The majority of hostels have Wi-Fi which is great if you have your own laptop or smart phone. However having free-to-use in-house computers is a nice touch that, surprisingly, not all of the better known places provide. If you’re trying to keep costs down, not having to pay for internet use is a help.

'Wrong Way' just can't get over the fact there's no Wi-Fi in his room in this particular hostel
No Wi-Fi? Madness!
When it comes to the ‘party hostels’, La Candelaria is best described as tame on this front, especially compared to what’s on offer in some of Colombia’s and indeed South America’s other cities. This however, as far as we are concerned, is not really a negative. Many of the popular spots organise night-outs on a very regular basis in the city’s happening haunts. So why party in a hostel when you can get out and about and mix it with the locals? Another benefit of this is that if you’re not in the mood to boogie, you can get your night’s sleep in relative comfort – save for a few of the drunken revellers stumbling back into your dorm room. If you can’t beat them, join them, eh?

If your budget is tight, there is plenty of value to be found in Bogotá’s historic centre. Basic dorm rooms can be got from as little as 17,000 pesos (about €8) per night up to 25,000 pesos (over €11). That’s an 8,000 pesos swing for more-or-less the same facility. So if you’re planning on spending more than a few days in the city, a healthy saving can be made if you shop around. Plus it’s well worth checking out if your hostel can offer you a discount for a longer stay, something that many – but alas not all - are willing to consider.

Chilling with some nice Brazilian ladies at the El Misti Hostel, Rio de Janeiro
You'll certainly get plenty of smiles (and perhaps more) in Brazil
Now with so much choice of establishments available offering in essence the same product, does it really matter which one you opt for? Well it’s always nice to feel welcome and wanted, especially when you happen to be paying for a service. Some hostel owners however appear to think that because it’s budget accommodation, a service-with-a-smile is not required - a ‘take the money and run’ kind of attitude. This we don’t like. Perhaps though with some, a smile is an additional extra. With others it might – alongside the breakfast – be included in the price. Or maybe it’s just free. Do ask before you commit. Questions should cost you nothing.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Bogotá's transport truths

In every country, there are things that you get great pleasure from and things that utterly frustrate you. Some of those in the latter category are uncontrollable, such as weather and geographical features. Others though, especially human-related, can be altered in a positive way. That is, of course, if the desire exists. 

An orang-utan 'chilling out' in Malaysian Borneo
"I tried, but they just don't get it." Mrs. Orang-utan
On all of the above, Colombia is no different to any other place. We have written on many occasions about a difference in attitude as regards relationships, in both friendship and romance, that exists here – a less honest one, perhaps, than what we are accustomed to (see http://bit.ly/LbcE9V & http://bit.ly/NsJyB5). This time around we’re looking at an area far less emotional but just about as frustratingly baffling. Let’s call it Colombia’s – or more specifically Bogotá’s – transport etiquette or lack thereof.

Now before we get into it, we must state that we’re coming at this from, in the main, a country, rural perspective. So the impersonality and one-upmanship of a metropolis is still something we’re getting used to, if we ever do. That’s not to say though we’re ‘green’ on this front – far from it. We’ve seen enough of busy transport networks in both Medellín and Santiago de Chile, amongst others, to know it doesn’t have to be the ‘Bogotá Way’.

Take the Transmilenio (TM for short), the city’s pretty tame version of a metro. On the face of it this ‘trams-on-wheels’ service should work sufficiently. It’s straightforward to use, serves a decent area of the city (the airport and its main artery apart – give it time though, it’s in the pipeline, seriously) and is relatively cheap. The fact that it’s severely under-capacity, even at off-peak times, doesn’t help things, but that’s not something we’re discussing right now. 

In any case, that it’s struggling to cope with current passenger numbers is no excuse for the lack of basic manners by a large number of its users. Borneo’s orang-utans would put many of these commuters to shame. Sorry, you’re right, that’s a bit unfair to our intelligent primate cousins.
 
There are two related behavioural patterns by TM users that irk us. Firstly, while waiting at the station, people will stand in front of the entry/exit doors in a bid to be in a prime position when their bus arrives. The fact that there might be at least five arrivals before the bus they need pulls-up doesn’t seem to bother them. No, they just stand there like dummies, making the fluid movement of other passengers extremely difficult. Cattle mart stuff. Their obvious lack of intelligence means they mustn’t realise the inconvenience created by their frozen-like stance.
Passengers getting ready to board a pretty crowded Transmilenio
'Going nowhere fast' - passengers waiting to board a Transmilenio

So while it can be an almighty struggle just to get on the bus, when/if you squeeze in, you’re faced with the on-board version of the muppets at the station. People – we use that word loosely here – that will not move away from the TM door. Again, they may not be actually getting off until later stops, but they ‘must’ stay right at the door, even when there is space further inside, for fear that they’ll miss their destination. Some even take umbrage if you politely ask them to move aside while you’re battling to board. Wonders never cease.

Bogotá’s other main public transport system – ‘colectivos’ and ‘busetas’, the standard South American city buses – is perhaps more representative of Colombian life in general. That is, it’s a contradictory muddle of the delightful and the truly irritating. 

For one there exists this strange habit for local commuters to opt for the aisle sit. Not a big deal you might say, but when you consider that there’s more room to manoeuvre in a rugby scrum than in many of these buses, things can get tricky. Throw in the reluctance of many ‘aisle-seat occupiers’ to stand-up and allow you pass to the window sit and it all gets a bit messy. It’s much easier to either move in or stand-up to let someone by but it seems some Bogotá bus users love to have random people’s bums shoved in their faces. It’s not something we’re keen on however. 

Rush hour in Bogotá - colectivos packed bumper-to-bumper. And this was a Sunday
Usually it's better to take a colectivo. Sometimes though, it's best to walk
Contrast that with the very honest (no, that’s not a typo) practice when the bus is packed, as frequently happens. Passengers will board via the exit door at the back, passing their fare via a chain of people to the bus driver. If there’s change to be given, it will come back down along the chain to the passenger. Wonderful.

Then there are the bus ‘drivers’ – themselves not immune to such paradoxes. That they speed around like rally drivers high on cocaine can be both a good and bad thing. If you’re in a hurry, it can feel like they’re trying to get you to your destination ASAP. But the constant sharp breaking and swerving – well let’s just say it puts some of the world’s best roller-coasters to shame. Add in the occasional road-rage exchange with a counterpart and the result is a potent mix. Passenger safety ‘how do’ – when these guys’ blood is up, their vehicle becomes a weapon. You’ve just got to hope that your driver comes out on the winning side.

Yet despite all this, most of these ‘conductors’ still have the heart to allow you jump on their bus for just two-thirds of the standard fare. All you have to do is wave a 1,000 pesos (less than €0.50) note at them, the recognised sign that you can’t afford more, and usually you can jump on, no hassle. This we very much like. 

Indeed, all things considered, we find the ‘colectivo experience’ far more acceptable – and cheaper – than the Transmilenio one. Just mind your bum when taking that window seat.