Our fortnight in Colombia- Popayan, Medellin, Bogota

As I wrote this I am cross legged in Japan, Colombia feels like a distant memory, so I think this will be brief.

A very very easy crossing into Colombia found us in Pasto. Pasto to Popayan is one of the few unsafe bus rides, so we holed up in the koala inn for the night for our first taste of Colombia.

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Everything either closes really early in Colombia, or it just isn’t that safe to go out at night. It varies from city to city which it is, but it’s a pain.

Popayan
This is a beautiful town, very white, very colonial in style and very sleepy. It was a very relaxing time here, despite the full on resurrection of my running routine meaning I was plodding along every morning. We had a few days here, in a really nice hostel, with a really fat cat, right on the main plaza.

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We did two day trips, one wonderful, the other a bit of an anti climax. We first went to Aguas Tibias, a hot spring boasting several pools and a slide! We meet a really sweet Colombian couple who gave us a lift up a hill and then patiently explained how our Colombia itinerary was a bit pants and we should go to lots of other places. As well intentioned as they were (and their follow up email) we just did not have the time. When we go back, promise! The setting was much more attractive than at Banos, the pools were empty and except for the watchful eyes of the Colombian military as I swished down the slide (no idea why, we think maybe it was a day out for them but they are so attached to their guns they couldn’t bear to strip off and join in) it was perfect.
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The second trip was meant to be for an amble round a national park, but the first bus at 6am never showed and when we finally arrived it was closed due to disputes with the local people. You have to be accompanied by an indigenous guide to get anywhere. We were fortunate that one was there with a slightly racist American couple (“we love your lovely white princess Kate, so much nicer than Michelle “) who let us join him for a trip to the natural springs, which for us was going to be the park highlight anyway.

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Medellin
Without asking Pete on this I can safely say this was our favourite Colombian city (I checked, it is). Despite being told by our Colombian swim buddies that it’s a bit dull (“like Liverpool”) we loved it.

It is the city of eternal spring, a microclimate ensuring sweatiness year round (spring is hot here), but beautiful for photos.
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There is a large botanical garden with turtles and large iguanas and is a good spot for juggling practice, a really good planetarium, which we wouldn’t normally visit but was so interesting, a huge sports complex and a 1.1m circumference traffic island that is wonderful for running around. It is also here that I got the worst 7 minute haircut of my life (I suppose it was also the best 7 minute haircut of my life) and I’m still bitter about it. I also got to catch up with a traveling friend from way back with drinks with Miranda, who I met hitching to Morocco. This was a great treat and it was so nice to hear about her adventure too.

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This was also the city that was treated to our dancing skills- we went to a salsa class and then on to a salsa club that was pretty good, sweaty, with a live band.

We took a bus out of the city to visit a large black rock called la piedra del penol that people have attached steps to, because humans like climbing things. It’s close to a colourful town called guatape famous for it’s pictures depicting local life that can be found on buildings all around the town. At one point they tried to claim the rock by painting the name of the town on it but another town, “penol”, thought of it as their rock so sent out an angry mob to stop them. Interrupted by the angry mob, they only managed to paint the G, which is still there.
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We climbed just over 750 steps to reach the top and enjoy impressive views of the area and it’s watery landscape (they built a dam nearby).

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We also had our one and only coffee fix in in Medellin. We thought we should try it I once seeing as we were in Colombia. One of best places for coffee is a new cafe called pergamino started by the son of a coffee bean grower. They only use their families beans and have an extensive menu of cold and hot coffee. We managed three cups of coffee and two jars of frappuccino. We know nothing abpout coffee but it seemed pretty good.

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Finally we took a cable car to the outskirts (public transport in Medellin was very good, clean easy fast safe. Liked it) to see a notably well designed library. Journey was more exciting than the building.

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Bogotá
Our final stop, and with our impeccable timing we managed to get there for a Sunday and then a public holiday so lots was closed. We wandered around the centre a lot. They shut the main Street in town for pedestrians and cyclists on Sundays and that was really cool.

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There are also racing guinea pigs.

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And having public free exercise or dance classes, fun to watch.

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Lots of dogs in football kits too. The final day was largely wasted as I panicked about flying, (gets worse everytime I fly, getting home isn’t going to be a blast). A good flea market and lots of typical Colombian food later we bade farewell to south america and headed to New York.
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Hot chocolate with cheese
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Not traditionally Colombian, but a donut with the Colombian flag seemed like a good transition food between Colombia and the USA

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Tropicalpolis: Sao Paulo

Hello. We’ve been to brazil.

Just a quick visit: two cities and an island. Well, two cities, an island, and the town we got a boat to the island from.

City number 1 was São Paulo. A huge sprawling city with about 20 million humans living there. We only had time to see a tiny part of the sprawl in 3 days. There was a lot of walking and looking – two of our favourite things – and searching for shade. Here are a few key moments from our time in “Sampa”:

Emma ate many pao de queijos (the new milcao, you might say), a cheese bread made from mandioca flour

I got addicted to fresh coconut juice, from a coconut, with a straw

I got very excited about all the new tropical fruit and vegetables – Emma managed to prevent me from buying them all at once

We struggled with Portuguese pronunciation, eventually resigning ourselves to just pointing and gesturing

We visited the largest bookshop in south america and bought a book on Portuguese language that didn’t help at all

We visited MUBE, an art gallery. MUBE fact: The land it now ocupies was at one point going to be turned into a car park but due to public demand for a comunal space it instead became MUBE. The architect put the gallery space under ground and created a public park on the surface to keep the public happy. MUBE

We visited MIS, another art gallery – Emma was excited because it had the Bowie exhibition that was on at the V&A last year. Entrance was about a third of the price of the V&A. Some people come to brazil to get cheaper plastic surgery. We just came for cheaper exhibitions

We went up a tower – the view from the top let us see just how vast Sao Paulo is

We visited a hidden Jazz club called Jazz nos fundos. It was so hidden that we couldn’t find it the first time and had to try again another night armed with detailed instructions. Our perseverance was rewarded with afro-carribean-jazz

We decided to visit China town so we could see how it compared with New York and London. After walking around the area where it was supposed to be for 20 minutes we had only managed to see a single Chinese person and nothing else. Perhaps China town was the Brazilian cafe that also sold yakisoba. Maybe that and the Chinese person we saw constitutes china town. We were hoping for a bit more

We tried to go for walking tour but turned up on wrong day. At first we were disappointed but then we remembered we can walk without a tour, so that’s what we did

Then it was time to leave.

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Average temperature: 30 degrees
Power cuts: 1
Pao de queijo’s eaten: 9
Thing most grateful for: air conditioning on the subway

Iguazu falls,

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So we did a couple of really long bus journeys, 38 hours to Buenos Aires and 28 hours more to Puerto Iguazu to position us for a day out at the biggest waterfalls in South America.

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This also took us from 4 degrees and windy to 35 degrees and baking hot. Suddenly more than half the clothes we are carrying are superfluous and we will be buying sun cream every day.

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The park was a really good day. Incredibly hot, but actually was a whole day of fun. Different circuits to walk around, plus monkeys and coaties just hanging out.

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And a couple of mid afternoon rainbows

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And this is the famous devil’s throat, one of the widest drops in the world

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How to save money for a long trip

Don’t eat. Don’t drink. Don’t go out. Don’t buy anything. Ever.

Sounds extreme, but it is broadly true – let’s examine it in more detail. The key point is probably to actually have a budget. It is dull and horrible, not to mention scary, to examine in detail where your money goes each month, but without setting yourself limits it is so easy to find yourself saving very little indeed. You will also not know what is realistic for you to save, so you won’t know how long it will take to achieve your goal. In a way I’ve found it really satisfying to put my money towards something I really want to do, rather than frittering it away, so it hasn’t been as hard as I thought it would be. I probably wouldn’t say that towards the end of the month though!

So assuming you don’t live at home, your biggest monthly outgoing is probably rent. Unless you have a mortgage, in which case I can not advise you (I assume you can get a buy to let mortgage and sublet, but that is very serious and hard work). So how to save on rent:
1) downsize – at its most extreme this means a bedsit, a bit difficult to stomach for some people but if you can put up with studenty cramped conditions it’s a mighty good saver

Downsize
2) Renegotiate with Landlord – unlikely to reap benefits and only for the very ambitious to attempt
3) Try to ensure you comply with your tenancy agreement, so when you do leave you can guarantee the safe return of your deposit
4) Be very nice to your friends so you can try to give up your lease a bit earlier and stay with them for a little while
5) Consider moving home for a short while
Which of these, if any, that you choose will depend on how much of your comfort you are willing to forgo. It is pretty possible to save a lot without changing your rent payments, but personally we found it the easiest place to make a cut.

Second biggest expense, bills maybe? Not too much to be done here. One provider is similar to the next, and by changing you often pin yourself into a new contract. It also scores high on the hassle factor. I did manage to reduce my phone contract significantly though. My monthly contract was ending, so I changed to a SIM only provider, Giffgaff in my case, and for the same minutes and unlimited texts and internet, I now pay £10 instead of £40-ish a month. Plus there is no contract, so when I leave I’ll just stop paying.

If I’m honest though, as egg has insistently been telling me as I write, bills were not our second biggest expense, food was. Before the introduction of the ‘we’re packing in our lives to travel’ budget, we spent between £600 and £800 a month on food between us on food shopping and eating out. Now with some careful food planning and less eating out, we spend £200 a month between us. It’s a nice saving and we are eating healthier. Downsides in any given week, we eat 3/4 meals, and then have leftovers for lunches or dinners. It does get a bit samey.

Going out, as alluded to in an earlier post, is a bit harder to negotiate a good amount to cut back. Luckily and unluckily we are undertaking this saving exercise in London. Luckily because there are oodles of great things to be done for free. Unluckily because there are even more good things to do for lots of money. We have gone down the route of setting a budget for frivolous things for the month, and once it is gone that’s it. It is a good way of prioritising things you really want to do and people you really want to see. Plus, when the budget has run out, you become vey imaginative at free things you can do. Alcohol has been a victim of our budget. Apart from a couple of exceptions it has become nonexistent in my social life as it makes everything so much more expensive, and rounds of drinks at work are very awkward if you really can’t afford a round for 9 people.

Finally stuff. Just stuff. All those things you buy because you are there and so are they. The odd magazine, a new book, an outfit for a night out, camera film, records, shoes. We just don’t buy them now. Nothing. To the extent that the soles are coming off my shoes but I will continue to wear them until they fall apart completely (I also love them,…and have wet feet). The only exceptions have been things for travelling and birthday presents.

Different people will prioritise different areas of their life. Some things that I see as extras that can be cut back, the gym for example, are essential to others (crazy people). And it depends on how extravagant your life was to start off with; fortunately we have not had to take second jobs, but that is also an option if there is not space in your life to cutback. The extra time spent working will also mean less time for spending. Really, there are three golden rules:

1) make a budget

2) stick to it

3) keep sticking to it, even when you don’t want to

(and the secret fourth rule)

4) if the budget is making you really sad, ignore it for a few days, it won’t kill anyone

No, really, it won't go on  killing spree if ignored for a brief period

No, really, it won’t do this

Listening to – the sound of cooking

Location – at the table looking out of the window, London

How to decide whether to leave your job to travel

Now this is a big decision, no question. It is easy to know you want to travel, but a lot harder to quit your job in order to do so. Now egg and I have both handed our notice in, so we are committed. Egg has been lucky enough to be offered a year sabbatical (he must be a very good web designer- available for freelance by the way!) and upon explaining he couldn’t commit to being back in a year, they said no problem. If we return in a year there’s a job waiting, if not no one will be offended so he has a no-catch safety net- we are both hoping to be away for a lot longer, but who knows.

Of course not everyone will have such an understanding employer (myself included), so what are the things to consider? Firstly, obviously, money.

How is the savings position? Do you have enough cash to sustain you for your planned voyages? How much can you save, and will you have a reasonable amount by your leaving date? If not do you have an easily transferable skill that can earn you some money while you’re gallivanting? I guess if the answer to this is no it would be big leap of faith to leave your employment.

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Ready to fly away and wave goodbye to work?

Secondly, commitments. If you have a family is now the time to travel, is everyone on board with the idea? As egg and I decided to up sticks together and are child free with non-dependent parents it seemed a perfect time for us to go. Even so we had to talk for quite some time about what we both expected from the trip, length, scope etc. to ensure we were in agreement before having the confidence to finalise our ideas.

Do you have a mortgage, or similar commitments to keep up with? A phone contract and home insurance were all we had to worry about fortunately, and they were negligible sunk costs so easy to ignore. Equally the existence of these things need not prohibit you from travelling, but they do need to be taken into account, how will you make repayments without the stability of a job?

Something that is forgotten is how many people get enjoyment from their work; a factor in giving that up has to be if the experiences that travelling offer outweigh the satisfaction of a fulfilling career. I have at least a couple of friends who love their holidays and going to new places, but wouldn’t swap with us as they genuinely enjoy their jobs, and in some cases have been building up a career and feel that now is not the ime for a career break. Having just qualified as a chartered accountant after 3 years of training I wanted to go before I became settled somewhere; it was a natural break point in my career and a good opportunity to ensure I am on the right track. If either of us had been slaving away for a promotion that was just on the horizon now may not have been the right time.

Left until last but maybe the biggest consideration is your own personality. If you are comfortable with uncertainty and like flexibility then giving up everything is more likely to suit than if you enjoy routine and security and comfort. And that comes down to knowing yourself and what you want most. I don’t think it is brave in particular, as I have been told repeatedly since handing in my notice, to commit yourself to nothing, in many ways I think if we were more courageous we would stay in London and settle down. But right now we are not ready to, we want to see more while we feel like we can. Different people, different paths, you choose your own.

I think overall you have to weigh up the costs and benefits for yourself; I put money first as a consideration, but if you were desperate to travel and weren’t that fond of your job it is possible to work around the world if you have enough determination. If you aren’t ready to take the plunge maybe your company can offer you a sabbatical, so you can dip a toe in the water. In short, there are options. And I think that if it is what you really want then it isn’t stupid to go, whatever point you are at in your life; it’s stupid to stay.

Let us know how you decided to give your job up, or if you have thought about it, or if you’re still thinking! What are your biggest factors?