Friday, 27 November 2015

Tobia or not Tobia?

Bogotá, as much as any 'big smoke' (if not a little bit more than some) can get exhausting after a while. It's generally a good idea to get away from it all on a regular basis.

Now considering I was out of it, and the country, for a whole five weeks recently, that I was happy to leave the city virtually as soon as I got back may not seem like I was completely at ease with returning.
Río Negro, Tobia, Cundinamarca, Colombia.
Río Negro, Black River, Tobia.
There might be a half truth to that, but seeing that I was effectively homeless on my return plus the fact there was no immediate rush to get back to my, erm, work here, taking the opportunity to check out a new, hotter and much quieter location didn't take much persuading.

And as has been detailed on this blog before, these type of more alluring places are dotted all around Bogotá. You don't need to travel far to escape the metropolis' madness.

This time around the venue was the small settlement of Tobia, tucked away at 800 metres-above-sea-level off the main road between the towns of La Vega and Villeta, both of which I already explored earlier this year.
Tobia, Cundinamarca, Colombia.
Downtown Tobia.

Tobia has been building itself up as an adventure sports/tourism destination for the last number of years now; a place to rival the more well-known San Gil. However, for both foreign and native holiday makers alike, it's not exactly the first place on the 'must-see' list. In fact, you'll meet plenty of Bogotá locals who don't even know it exists, even though it's just a 90-minute drive north-west from the capital.

Nonetheless, from what I discovered during my midweek stay there, you'll do well to find as laid-back, tropical a setting, with plenty of things to keep you active, as this so close to Bogotá.

It offers pretty much all that the far popular San Gil does in terms of extreme sports — minus the steady stream of backpackers and associated hostels. Alongside rafting, kayaking, rock climbing/descending and the like, it has, so the locals say, the second highest zip line/canopy in all of Latin America. Whether it is or not, at over 200 metres above the village and the river it straddles, Río Negro, gliding over in two separate lines at speeds of up to 40 mph, the canopy certainly has a James Bond feel to it. The views, if you're not too spooked, aren't half bad either.

For the more budget-conscious visitor or for those just not that bothered to do any of the paid activities, taking in the nature and vistas with a walk along the banks of the Río Negro, where its waters, in some spots, provide a refreshing dip from the heat, is well worth it.

The old railway line walk, Tobia, Cundinamarca, Colombia.
Tobia's natural delights.
The village itself, midweek in any case, is as peaceful as you're likely to find. The Colombian standard of belting out vallenato or ranchero music to eardrum-breaking levels at any time of the day, even in the middle of nowhere, doesn't seem to exist. Indeed, at times it looks like there are more dogs than people, and those humans who are present tend to leave you to your own devices, apart from a few inquisitive, yet pleasant, children.

There are a number of accommodation options, with what appear like the more 'upmarket' ones located a short walk outside the village itself. My Dutch companion and I landed ourselves what must be the best spot in the actual village, Hotel San Pedro, for a very reasonable price. We had the place and its swimming pool to ourselves for the three nights we stayed, save for the sporadic interruptions of day trippers from Bogotá who breakfasted and lunched there.

From what we could gather, this is the weekday norm; day-trip visitors with very few outsiders overnighting it. It can be a different story at weekends, especially holiday ones.

That midweek tranquillity might change a little in the coming years. For when it comes to a quick overland escape from Bogotá, the message is slowly getting it out that 'It's got to be Tobia.'
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Friday, 20 November 2015

An uncomfortable undertaking

It was Benjamin Franklin who said that nothing in this world is certain except death and taxes. Some people, however, manage to find ways around the latter one. As of yet, though, no one has managed to get the better of the former.

The Grim Reaper will be visiting all of us ...
Death: The unwanted but unavoidable guest. (Image:
For something so inevitable, that many of us give very little, if any, considered thought in planning for our own demise  could be viewed in a puzzling light.

OK, you can make the argument that we're too busy living to be thinking about such morbid things. Plus, the younger you are and/or feel, taking time out to organise both how you want your body disposed of when you breathe your last and where and to whom you'd like your earthly belongings left may seem an unnecessary distraction. 'I've plenty of time for that sure.'

That may just be the case, but the thing is we never know exactly when we'll depart this world as we know it. Throw in the fact that the older you get or if faced with a potentially terminal illness, you may not want to think about death; imagining it might just bring it on more quickly.

Taking all these points together, then we'll never feel predisposed to preparing the legal and practical necessities for when we die. You could say it's a selfish approach; 'Let those I leave behind deal with all that pernickety stuff.'

Yet dealing with death is seldom easy, so we can all play our part in removing at least some of the potential trauma ahead of our own passing. And seeing how I generally go along with the 'not thinking about it' approach when you're battling a severe illness, especially in relation to younger adults, the best time to think about and plan for your death is when you feel in rude health.

There are the rather straightforward things such as: electing for either burial or cremation; the type of coffin you'd like (and perhaps where you'd like it purchased — there are other options than just relying on a costly undertaker to source it for you); the clothes you want on your dead body; how you'd like your funeral arranged, for example where you'd like your body to spend its last hours before burial/cremation, an open or closed coffin, etc.; and yes or no to your organs being donated.

Having arrangements made, in a legally binding way, for how any savings and/or assets you have are distributed is, to state the obvious, a very prudent move. If you have sufficient funds to pay for your own funeral, these should be made available to cover it as soon as is legally possible. If you're an expatriate, as is currently the case for me, expecting other family members to shoulder the cost of having your body repatriated isn't the nicest parting gift (I might be just left where I am!).

For the record, to put it publicly here — subject to future changes — I'll go for cremation (that was the result of a coin toss), a reasonably-priced wicker coffin (if people would like to see my dead body before it's disposed of, fair enough), my last night at my parental home, I'm easy on the clothes as long as they're mine, and if my organs after my death can be of use to other people, then go for them.

On the money front, whatever bits I have in accounts in Colombia, the Republic of Ireland and the UK, they should be used to pay for funeral costs. If there's anything left over (unlikely at this remove), distribute it among my parents and siblings (or siblings' children).

There you go. Of course I fully hope that the provisions in my 'death plan' change many times before it's actually needed, but putting off making one at all isn't best practice. Death is the one thing that awaits us all.
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Friday, 6 November 2015

The future is All Black

So another Rugby World Cup is put to bed and with it the team that has always been described as the globe's greatest has officially cemented its number one status — for now at least.

The New Zealand All Blacks' triumph takes their World Cup winners tally to an unmatched three, they are the first to claim back-to-back successes and this time, unlike the previous ones, they did it on foreign soil.
New Zealand, Rugby World Cup winners 2015. Who can stop them in 2019?
The All Blacks: champions once more. Photos from Facebook.
There can be no denying their superiority in the game right now. The final did give us the two best teams in the world at this moment in time, but New Zealand were just that bit better than Australia in practically every facet.

The stream of rugby talent flowing into the All Blacks shows no sign of abating. For sure, big guns are leaving the scene in the shape of Dan Carter, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith (with captain fantastic Richie McCaw still to make his mind up about his future). Yet the rugby-playing culture in New Zealand, where it is true to say the game is a religion there, has ensured very abled successors are ready to fill the huge voids left.

The man who crossed the line in clinical fashion for the All Blacks' final try in the decider, Beauden Barrett, is sure to be one of those. Others that should maintain the side's frighteningly (frightening for the other nations that is) high standards include Sam Whitelock, Ben Smith, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane and Aaron Smith. Already people are pencilling them in to make it three-in-a-row in Japan 2019. We'll give it a little time yet.

The question that is regularly asked, though, is 'Why New Zealand?' In terms of overall numbers playing the game, it's well behind the leading nation in this regard, England. This is obviously understandable considering the small population of New Zealand compared to England — 4.47 million versus 53.01 million.

What much of the All Blacks success comes down to, as alluded to earlier, is culture. The outgoing Irish captain Paul O'Connell touched on this in an interview earlier this week. Looking at the rugby-playing differences between Ireland and New Zealand, two countries with similar numbers of registered players, O'Connell noted how in the latter country the sight of children getting together to play with the oval ball at school breaks or whenever is commonplace. Rugby is bred into them.

If any team can find a suitable replacement for the great Dan Carter, it's the All Blacks.
The perfect 10: Dan Carter drops for New Zealand.
By contrast, in Ireland, you're more likely to see young lads mimicking the moves of their heroes who play our national games of Gaelic football and hurling, or soccer, during their downtime. In many areas of Ireland — as happens in other top rugby-playing nations — rugby isn't the first, or even the second, sport on the list.

Of course that's just one element to it. The support structures and player management in New Zealand are second to none. Plus, while we see the likes of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter as superstars, the modesty instilled in each All Black player is to be admired. It's a cliché in most team sports these days, but the idea that no one player is bigger than the team truly holds for the All Blacks.

Whatever they may have just won, or on the rare occasion lost, on the field, these guys are still expected to sweep up their dressing room after each game. Becoming an All Black may be the pinnacle for many New Zealanders, but it comes with responsibilities and high standards that must be maintained.

The All Blacks are certainly standard-bearers, not just for Rugby Union or sport in general but for many other walks of life, too, they set an example that you could do worse to follow.

It's not always about winning, either; the All Blacks have just found the right formula to ensure they invariably do. Contenders for Japan 2019, the work starts now.
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