Thursday, 30 July 2015

Escaping with the masses

In general, leaving Bogotá on a public holiday weekend, or puente as it's known in these parts, can be more hassle than it's really worth, especially if you're going overland as the majority tend to do.

Apart from the obligatory long queues at the bus terminals alongside inflated prices both for tickets and in hotels/hostels, there are the traffic jams on outward and inward journeys that have to be contended with.
Bogotá from a distance ...
Sometimes it can be good to put Bogotá well in the background ...
The Wrong Way stance has usually been to stay put; when you're a freelance worker you can take your breaks at more relaxed times, on your own terms (that's the theory anyway, practice has been somewhat different). What's more, as Bogotá tends to be a little quieter at such holiday times it can be nice to take in this, relatively speaking, more tranquil side to it.

However, with a little flexibility, getting out of the metropolis on a long weekend — and Colombia has plenty of them each year — need not be a massive chore.

Avoiding the peak times, in a similar way to using Bogotá's Transmilenio, is a big help. If you can leave before close of business on Friday and return in the early hours on Tuesday morning (that will be place dependent, but anything within eight hours of the capital fits into this) you should avoid the worst of the queues. If an early Friday departure is difficult, leaving late on Saturday or early on Sunday is also an option.

The 'ideal' Friday and Sunday morning/early afternoon escapes were something I squeezed into one weekend recently; returning to Bogotá in between two different places. Of course the destination plays an important part too; if you're going somewhere with a festival in full swing then getting in and out can be taxing at any time during its duration, plus accommodation will be both hard to come by and more expensive than normal.

That aside, most of the sunnier towns and villages outside of 'the big smoke' are lively on holiday weekends, if not on standard ones.

My recent, and what this year has been rare, sojourn out of Bogotá was firstly camping in the wilderness of a mountain desert outside the city followed by a trip to a popular 'sun city' for Bogotanos, Giradot — let's call it a second-rate, more unkept Villeta.

The main plaza in Giradot, Cundinamarca.
Giradot: it has a more aesthetically pleasing side to it ...
Both were squeezed into the same weekend, but thankfully there were no annoyingly long queues at bus terminals nor being stuck standstill (for too long) as peak travel times were avoided. (It must be said that travelling solo helps. Things could have got messy for the return journey from Giradot had there been a group with me looking to travel together; another plus point to 'singlehood'!) Neither were things ridiculously overpriced; that's always good.

Thus the whole idea to get away from, and forget about, the big concrete jungle and chill out in a, um, smaller one — the mountain wilderness excepted — was fulfilled without encountering additional stress (let's let my friend's misplacing of our food supplies for the mountain camp and a gold-digging acquaintance in Giradot slide).

A miscalculation on the return, leaving in the early evening on Monday rather than staying put early on Tuesday meant that the trip back turned into more of an odyssey than it needed to have been; an accident en route didn't help things either.

There's also still plenty of room for improvement on the main arteries leading into the capital and elsewhere. Colombia could learn a little from neighbouring Ecuador on this front (just saying like ...). Nothing is perfect though, right?
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Thursday, 23 July 2015

Foreign teething difficulties

There's a scene in the Godfather Part II movie where a sick Hyman Roth, in Havana, is being seen to by a Cuban doctor who only speaks Spanish. Before leaving, the doctor gives his instructions as to what Roth should do to recuperate. As this is being relayed in English to Roth he says he wants his doctor flown in from the US as he doesn't trust one 'who can't speak English.'

Happy tooth, free from Wrong Way's mouth ...
The tooth is ... ... not in Wrong Way's mouth anyway.

It was, perhaps, a tad unfair to the Cuban doctor, he was probably competent enough. (After all, it wasn't Roth's bad health that eventually killed him but a bullet.)

Fictitious as that episode is, this is very often how people feel when dealing with medical professionals (and others) who don't speak their native tongue. The fears or lack of confidence may be unfounded yet the prejudice is hard to put to one side.

Personally, for most of my time in Bogotá I'd managed to avoid such encounters. However in recent months this has changed a little. A long-standing dental issue i.e. having a false front tooth for over a decade and a half, has required attention for the first time in years.

The results of the dentists/orthodontists advice or labour I've had thus far have been — bar one — underwhelming.

Leaving aside the experience of the first 'dentist' who didn't even wear gloves when inspecting my mouth with his hands, most of the others consulted immediately offered the most expensive option available without a thought given to cheaper alternatives.

Wrong Way: can't handle the tooth.
Indeed. (Image from cartoonstock.com.)
Basically we're referring to an implant with the accompanying surgery required for it.

OK, I'm obviously no expert in this but what had worked well for five years, a relatively cheap Maryland bridge, would be fine again. Or failing that — and for reasons I don't comprehend some of the dentists have said it's not an option — a standard denture would do the trick for now.

Also, it has to be stated that, unlike Mr Roth, my Spanish is good enough to both explain my situation and understand, more or less, what I'm being told. And I don't — or at least didn't at the start — have a negative opinion of these guys. All this apparent subterfuge must be because I'm not from these shores.

The whole experience has certainly made one question the mantra, which usually comes from North Americans, that dentistry standards in Colombia are exceptionally high.

A reason, maybe, for such a viewpoint is that the 'gringos' are really screwed over back home when it comes to this line of work.

Regardless of that, it be might be time to call for my own native English speaking dentist. Mother tongue knows best.
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Thursday, 16 July 2015

Light-touch romance

The Wrong Way approach to dating, or more appropriately trying to set up dates, has been to follow in some ways the economic policy of light-touch regulation. A laissez-faire style; um, beating about the bush rather than grabbing it by the hands you could say.

In one sense it's a personality trait. If a woman doesn't initially 'take the bait' so to put it, the desire to persist quickly wanes. One doesn't want to come across as desperate after all; pride is at stake.

The game of love; not one Wrong Way is wont to play ...
'So you're telling me there's a chance?!' Um, perhaps not ... (Image from wikihow.)

Yet we are talking about 'the game of love', or at least 'a game of attraction', and in Colombia they like to play it as much as anywhere, if not more so (well some sort of version of it anyway). And once a Colombiana feels she has the upper hand, you're entering into dangerous territory. Indeed, in many ways, the game is up. (And do recall there is the Colombian 'princess mentality', with a vicious streak, that has to be factored into this also.)

So basically, that's why I try not to engage in it too much. Something either happens early doors or it doesn't happen at all; case closed, you move on (save for the odd ill-advised late night WhatsApp/Facebook message).

Further to that, as an expat acquaintance here mused to me — and I apologise in advance for the crudeness of this — 'once you tap a hole, you're in control', so the longer that doesn't happen the greater the chance of things getting out of hand. That theory may require more in-depth analysis but let's leave that for now.

Thus, putting all that together, there have been a number of doors left slightly ajar but not 'aggressively' pursued. An interest is shown, yet not to the point where you're jumping through fire rings to demonstrate your desire. As the pop group the Black Eyed Peas put it, 'meet me halfway', por favor.

Yes, there are always the thoughts that a new strategy might be needed; after all, one definition of stupidity is repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting different results. However this is balanced out by the feeling that 'this is how I roll' and while things could always be better, they're not too bad at the moment either. I'm relatively in control.

*There are plenty of previous posts that relate to what's here, but one place to start is Love fool.
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Thursday, 9 July 2015

'Who's a good sport, eh?'

There's no doubt that sport can have a very positive impact on society. For one, those who actually engage in a sport generally have much better all-round health than those who don't.

Then you have the uniting aspect to it. Sports can bring together a diverse range of people and help to break down barriers, especially racial or political ones.

Nelson Mandela with Fifa president Sepp Blatter. You could say a force of good meets a force of evil ...
Sport: it has its good and evil sides. (Photo from fourfourtwo.com.)

For one, in post-apartheid South Africa, both rugby and football (soccer) were seen as important in this regard. Rugby in the African country had mainly been the preserve of the white elite and the national team, the Springboks, was seen as a symbol of white supremacy for many blacks.

The oval-ball game’s part in helping to 'build bridges' came in 1995, when South Africa hosted and won the World Cup. The moment when then president Nelson Mandela — a man who spent decades in prison under white minority rule — walked on to the pitch dressed in a Springbok jersey to present the trophy to team captain Francois Pienaar is etched in history. Black and white, united in sport.

Football's day came in 2010 when South Africa hosted the Fifa World Cup. Again, a sport that had once represented division — football was predominantly a black affair — brought the country together.

Yet there are many in the Rainbow Nation who feel the transformative powers of those momentous occasions have been exaggerated in some quarters. In other words, once the fanfare died down, things pretty much returned to how they had been — better than the dark days of apartheid for sure but far from an equal country.

Indeed, as much as sport can be seen as a uniting force, it can be just as divisive, too. In the case of another region slowly emerging from a troubled past, sporting splits exist in Northern Ireland. The differences may not be as marked as previously, but rugby is still associated more so with the British nationalist, Protestant community while Irish (Gaelic) football and hurling are chiefly played by those from the Irish nationalist, Catholic tradition.

Support of football/soccer in general could be seen as the one commonality between the two. However, the team you follow very much depends on what 'side' you come from. Tensions in the terraces and on the pitch are at breaking point when the two 'tribes' meet.

Of course such rivalries aren't unique to current or recent conflict zones. There doesn't need to be political, racial nor religious differences at play for fierce, and sometimes deadly, sporting clashes to emerge, especially so in the world of football.

Wrong Way playing Gaelic football with Naomh Bríd in Belfast.
'Is it football or a fight or both today lads?'
Here in Bogotá, authorities are on high alert when you have a Millonarios-Santa Fe derby, to name but one. Only this year in Buenos Aires you had violent scenes that forced the abandonment of the Boca Juniors-River Plate clásico.

Moreover, while we're often quick to highlight the benefits of playing team sports, they can also instil some very negative practices in people. I've seen and been part of what can only be described as on-field violence to the extent that if the same conduct was being carried out on the streets the culprits would be locked up. Damn the rules and sportsmanship when you're defending your team's honour.

What all this highlights is that sport, like other things such as politics and religion, can be both a force for good and a force for evil. And in the same way as most other human interests, it comes down to the mindset of the individual in how he or she utilises it.
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