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sobota 27. května 2017

Depeche Mode in Prague

My first encounter with the music of Depeche Mode goes back to the 80´s. At this time I could have been around ten years old and their music wouldn´t be much on my playlist. I remember my four year older sister and her generation already listened to them though. Much later, when I was 15 or so, I recall one song that particularly stuck in my mind. Condemnation. I really loved that song. Of course like everybody, I have come to know some of the most famous Depeche Mode songs, those, that have been played on the radio or MTV.

It´s been one of my most favorite bands of my sister. She used to talk of Dave Gahan and they were to her the equivalent of what was Queen to me. That´s why it was my pleasure to accept her Christmas present in form of the ticket to their Prague concert. It was to take place on 24th May in Eden Arena, in the open space stadium that can take in as many as 20.000 people, and which, according to the daily press, was filled completely. When I arrived in front of the stadium, there were hundreds of black clad people, some of them undoubtedly the hardcore fans, judging by sleek haircuts, bright colored lipsticks and generally mystique, dark appearance. There were also lot of police vans and security personnel due to the Manchester attack few days before. The tension lingered in the air, but the good and positive vibe prevailed nonetheless.  When we got inside, there were already hundreds of people formatting the close knit pack in the centre of the arena, enveloping  the main stage. One hilarious scene before the concert even started was a moment when five security guys grabbed one of the gig attendees each by edge of his clothing and carried him out of the arena, drunk beyond his wildest imagination. I guess he was overexcited to attend his favorite band a little more than necessary.  It looked like they carried a heavy log from the forest, as he was half unconscious and his lifeless body didn´t even protest. After some unknown forerunner who nobody listened to as usual, the big ones came. They kicked off with GOING BACKWARDS. All the hands in front of us rose up in unison and you could barely see Dave through this thick forest. SO MUCH LOVE, BARREL OF GUN, A PAIN THAT I´M USED TO, CORRUPT, IN YOUR ROOM, WORLD IN MY EYES, COVER ME…all these followed with the giant screen in the backdrop playing accompanying videos. To be utterly honest, I didn´t know any of these songs, as I´m not the hardcore fan. But I definitely knew QUESTION OF LUST sang by Martin Gore. Next one I recognized was WALKING IN MY SHOES and EVERYTHING COUNTS. When ENJOY THE SILENCE begun, the whole stadium broke out in one big frantic sheer. Obviously one of the most legendary tunes of Depeche Mode. We all sang at top of our lungs. Dave Gahan was wonderful, turning twists like a ballet dancer and enjoying the rush we gave him, being cocky and all that, but you definitely couldn´t take your eyes off him. There were so many people who sang in one voice, so much energy that one stadium could possibly contain. It was amazing feeling that would overwhelm even the toughest ones. Dave, again dripping wet and half naked, sang NEVER LET ME DOWN AGAIN, with all of us waving our hands in the air, and no matter how squeezed we were, we all waved and waved, Dave giving us a devastatingly cute showcase of how to follow him. The sea of hands moved in the same rhythm and speed and there was no way to escape this. Once you joined the sea, you turned into one of the waves and became inseparable. I recall Freddie Mercury who used to say that it feels like he´s created a monster that reacts to every single move of his finger. I wondered how does it have to feel for Gahan and these big stars, when they win over the stadium full of 20 thousand souls, willing to die for them. I imagied it must be monstrously amazing feeling, a feeling that nobody who hasn´t experienced it, will never comprehend. Then it was turn for Martin, who sang a beautiful ballad of his own, SOMEBODY. The whole stadium darkened and you could only see the lit up lights all across the stadium, which looked like little stars in the ocean of darkness. This was a moment of utter peace on earth, at least for a moment, the feeling quite indescribable and rare. Next song was HEROES, by David Bowie, which was understandably very touching moment. The big black flag was being projected onto the screen behind Dave, who gave it all, when dedicating it to his musical hero. Next song was I FEEL YOU and the last, PERSONAL JESUS, a song that once again contributed to mass madness and brought us to a boil.
 I have been to several concerts in my life, but this one must have been the most emotionally charged, passionate and inspirational one. They got under my skin after all. Unfortunately, the show had to end precisely at 10pm due to the rules, so we didn´t get any bonus songs, but with a show full of so much energy, it was alright, as the scope of what we have just witnessed stayed and lingered in all of us, long after we left the stadium. Some of the fans were unhappy to see it end so abruptly, so they kept singing their songs while climbing up the stairs and it evoked so much interest that some people even started recording them. One more legend I can put down on my list and say to myself, hell yeah, I went to see the legendary Depeche Mode, the guys whose songs we have listened to when we were fifteen. They are still around, as much as their songs. They are immortal and always will be. 







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úterý 2. srpna 2016

Spain



Spain has always been on my list of countries I wanted to visit for some reason. In my imagination each country evokes something else when I pronounce its name. With Spain, I can see the flamenco dancers, spanish guitar players cladded in black, I feel the hot blooded nature of this human species, their beautiful dark eyes and wide smile, and I can hear the language so incoherent to my ears yet so much animated. And above all, I see the broad beaches and small cozy houses with local tapas bars where they serve sangria, paella or eat chorizo by mouthfulls. This year I have decided to prowl the Spain of my dreams and bring it into reality. We have gone to Calella, which is a relatively big seaside resort one hour from Barcelona. It sits neatly on the coast of Costa Brava, respectively Costa del Maresme, where is the widest and longest stretch of beach I have ever seen. The arrival to Barcelona was quite eventless and the continuing connection by bus to Calella was also without any difficulties. The hotel Internacional is directly by the beach, eventhough you have to walk about five minutes on the local road, then underpass the train tracks and walk some more to the beach. It is quite busy area with many hotels and souvenir shops, I would even say, very commercial. 
On the arrival, we were happy to check in and rest for a while, and later went for a little walk around the resort. The advertisment that showed empty beaches was not exactly correct, as the beaches were totally crowded with tourists. One minus for Calella, I thought. We had a full pension, so we could use the hotels´ canteen for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The meals proved to be more continental than Spanish, as there were plenty of Russian, German and Polish visitors. Our restort seemed to be "Internacional" indeed. 
The swimming in the sea was the best part for me, as I love giant waves. Jaime didn´t like it so much, he preffered the quiet and waveless water of swimming pool. Among first bad impressions was a small elevator for only 4 people with no proper ventilation, so you nearly choked for several minutes, another one were the silly magnetic cards that we had to change about twenty times during the whole stay, as you could not carry the card next to any electronic devices (which we did most of the time), the smoking neighbours who didn´t  respect the rules of no smoking, and very bad / NON existent internet connection. 
Jaime was scared of getting burnt, so he purchased a beach umbrella and kept using it, while I sunbathed unprotected. We Europeans use as much of sun as we can, because one week by the sea is probably the only chance of getting some sun tan, until the next year. How sad. 
On the fourth day of relative routine of having breakfast, going to the beach, having lunch, going to the beach, going for dinner, going to the town - there was a little change, a Flamenco night. The dancer was amazing and the Spanish guitar player even more so.
The day after we went with a paid tour operator to Barcelona. We were picked up near our hotel. The tour guide was a a nice gay guy who could speak fluently four languages. I never got to know his name, but I know our driver was Ramos. It took about one hour to Barcelona. Our first stop was Sagrada Familia. The city was bustling with cars and people, and it surprised me on what a small patch of land Sagrada Familia finds itself. It was almost impossible to take the building fully into the camera, as there were busy roads and pavements full of tourists, all squeezing firmly around its edges. It was extremely hot and all this buzz made my head spin and I wanted to leave as soon as possible. The building itself was a genius, a real beauty in the middle of not so beautiful surrounding. We found a little bit of relax in the park behind Sagrada, where was a little pond with trees. After this short visit, we continued by ourselves into the hubbub of the city, to have a look at Plaza de Toros monumental, which was a giant unused bull fight arena with grandeour blue tiles and splendid towers. Luckilly for Spaniards and the bulls, they banned the bull fights in 2010. Jaime was also tested on his Spanish when asking one old Catalan man for directions. When inquiring about the way to arena, the man with bag full of baguettes got up and said:"ehhh que te la topas en la nariz cuando cruces la calle" (translated literally as "ehh you bump on the nose when you cross the street"), probably meaning to say that the arena is just a stone throw away. 
After seeing arena and a obelisk called Agbar tower, we went back to the park to wait for our bus. We saw a cute parrots among the pigeons, called pericos, whom I chased for a photo, unsuccessfully,as they got scared off each time I approached them with camera. Many people in Calella have little pericos or canaries, according to my observations. 
The next stop was the Parc de la Ciutadella with its amazing fountain in Versailles style built by King Philip V. and its enclosing gardens with pond and palm trees. Before this, we saw enormous old ruins of former market in El Born Centre Cultural, which were very impressive. The further stop by bus was Las Ramblas boulevard, the most prominent shopping centre and marina, where we had two hours break for lunch and sightseeing. It was very hot, so we rushed to hide someplace where they served food and cold drinks. We stumbled across one nice al fresco style restaurant called Txikiteo Taverna Vasca with typical Basque cuisine on the not so busy side street close to Plaza Colón. Jaime ordered seafood Paella and I got the meatballs in Spanish sauce. From the plaza you could see the furnicular to the mountain Montjuic, going from the top of the tower behind marina, and continuing across the whole city up to the top of the mountain. Little red cabins swinging in the air had a busy day. After what we assembled by the bus stop, we then continued across the Placa de Espanya with its two Venetian towers and Arenas de Barcelona, a Moorish style bull ring converted now into the shopping mall. Only later did I discover, that the clip to Barcelona with Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe was recorded right here, with the Venetian towers as a backdrop. 
After this short encounter from a bus window, when our cameras were snapping frentically for pictures, we drove out of the city at the top of MontJuic, to see the Olympic stadium, where as I vividly remember, was a famous opening of Olympic games back in 1992, as the sound of Barcelona by Freddie played along and the man with arrow shot the tower to light the darkness up. It was the most memorable event that everyone remembers. After breathing in all the atmosphere and taking in all the glorious shine of this place, we headed back through Spanish placa towards home. This was the end of our tour. 
As we slowly recovered from our trip back at the hotel, we also explored the older part of Calella, hidden to the eyes of a common beach goer. It has some cute little lanes with tiny tapas bars with open fire grills with rotating and sizzling chickens, or as I called it "Hamonshop", which in Spanish means really just a Jamoneria, a place where they sell excessive choice of hams, salami,olives and cheese. The famous jamon serrano usually hangs down from the ceiling. It´s almost an art in a way, legs of pigs hung next to each other, all looking like being waxed or exposed to sun for thousand years. In front of each jamoneria sit clusters of Spaniards, drinking their bulb glass full of dark red Sangria and chomping on some little apetizers. As a choice of evening, we ventured into the tapas bar La Fusta with several wooden tables and chairs and a tiny bar with display cabinet full of cheeses. We ordered traditional Sangria and chorizo, salami and jamon platter,which was extremely delicious. Of course, for that money, it better be! After this yet another thrilling experience, we decided to go for another trip two days later, this time to Girona. 
I have to say that Spaniards do not keep the time or have only a distant and very vague concept of time, as opposed to the rest of the Europeans. The train station assistant was not very helpfull, when she was giving us the travel schedules for next day. Instead of telling us times for weekend, she gave us times for work days, which completely messed up our travelling. She also didn´t mention anything about having to make a transfer or needing to wait for one hour for our next connection in a searing heat of a midday. She also didn´t say we have to wait at the train station one more hour just to catch our first waggon. This lady would deserve a medal for her absolute inadeqacy. Despite these silly obstacles, we rode by a very decent train towards Girona, with transfer in some god-forgotten field, where were totally no signposts, information boards or toilets for that matter, which only made our standing situation lot worse to endure. I think I was cursing all Spanish by that point, and I´m deeply sorry if my curse has caused many incidents since then. The only comfort was the cool interior of a train and ocassionally beautiful sea view. As we landed in Girona, we walked through the hot city with much anticipation, yet seeing nothing much exciting at first. The common buildings didn´t look appealing at all, but behind all this suburban architecture, the town of Girona revealed its beauties in full power, as soon as we entered the first square and crossed the first bridge. The streets reminded me mainly of Venice, with their shattered and nostalgic feel, although this place was much more defined and less pompous than Venice. You had that prevailing feeling of finding yourself in times of Spanish inquisition, walking between the stone walls of the fortresses and churches. The most pompous building was the glorious Cathedral de Santa María de Gerona, which was standing tall above the whole city, with stairs leading to the top. After this excursion, we walked down the little cobbled lanes towards the promenade, where we tiredly sat in a shade of an arcade to eat some paella, only to be completed with the best ice cream in the world, just across the road in Tutti Frutto. This was to be the near end of our explorations and city explotations, without causing too much damage to its eternal beauty. I loved the old bridges leaning across the river Onyar. 
The last day or two on the beach of Calella went smoothly, with jumping in the waves, watching paragliders or aeroplanes cruise the skies with advertisment billboards, it went quietly on, as we attended the last Mexican night full of promising and tasty foods. 
The only spoiler of the holidays happened to be the Spanish airport service, which proved to be extremely chaotic, almost non-existent, when it came to informing the travellers that their flight to Prague has been cancelled, making two hundred people to panic and scatter in the corridors of airport to find some more information, only to be led once again through the security checks, and then discover that the flight has not been cancelled, only postponed. The airport attendants, who should be the first to obtain any fresh information didn´t have a clue which gate the new plane will come from, so we had to run from one gate to another like beheaded chickens and look for our connection. There were no announcements and there was a queue counting up to 400 people, who didn´t know which exit for a bus to take. Additionally, after two hours of waiting, we were let onto the bus, that took us to the plane, and the plane took off after another 10 planes cleared off. They apologized that this was due to a big traffic over Europe. Maybe it was due to the low cost budget airlines like SmartWings, that this all happened in the first place. But what the hell, our holidays were good and we came back alive, which is what counts.
Superman on break
Calella from our balcony
Přidat popisek
in La Fusta having tapas
Barcelona´s Victory arch
Arena de Toros, Barcelona
Sagrada Familia
Marina, La Ramblas, Barcelona
Olympic stadium, Montjuic, Barcelona
Jaimito in Jamoneria
the Agbar tower, Barcelona
Parc de Ciutadella, Barcelona
                                     

Las Ramblas, Christoph Columbus statue is being given a bird 
Place de Espanya, the Bull ring 

Girona

čtvrtek 14. ledna 2016

Colombia



21.12.-4.4.2016

The journey to Colombia wasn´t as bad as I feared it would be at first. There were no people around at the Prague airport so I swam through the immigration fast and could buy Jaime his sixpack of beers. It has turned out worse in Paris, where I had to subdue to five different checks and where instead of taking off from terminal 2F as originally planned, I had to walk through a web of long corridors to find out my plane will be taking off from terminal 2E. At one stage I thought I´m walking in circles, as it all seemed endless. It was easy then to recognise that I´m at the right place judging by  a big group of Colombian guys lined up next to me or occupying all possible seats. The flight from Paris to Bogotá was quite enjoyable as the Air France has really exceptional service in terms of food and drinks and general comfort. We had a good lunch, choice of soft drinks, champagne and wines, ice cream and shortly before landing we were served a dinner. I was sitting in a double seat next to a very likable Jewish man in his fifties,  who was travelling with his family and who kept scribbling in Hebrew into his diary throughout the whole flight. In Bogotá I had to pass through another three checks and extremely long queue, which was difficult especially when carrying sixpack of beers. I felt like a Rambo after one hour of lifting them up and down.

It was fun when I received a text from Jaime saying that he´s behind the windows and I should watch out for him. I could see crowd of people behind a window in a distance, and I did notice a guy who kept jumping up and down and waving like mad, but I didn´t register that was him! When I emerged outside the waiting hall, it was like some romantic movie. We both ran into each other´s arms as everybody around kept watching our reunion. Jaime then took us by taxi to hotel Splendor in the suburbs of Bogotá.
First sight in Bogotá
wild pack of dogs that kept barking belonged to this man
in front of the government seat where it was swarming with army
two shy llamas in the square

Cathedral Primada de Colombia


example of pre-Colombian style
Next morning we took a cab to city centre. The road in the town was bumpy, full of scattered rubbish and many homeless men lying around in the middle of the strips. Then we walked down the promenade towards Primada cathedral with a main square flooded with pigeons. I took a photo with two llamas and then we continued around the presidential residence guarded by army. Jaime explained to me that there were several bomb attacks on the government seat in the past that have killed many people, and that´s why there was army all around now.
The Colombian churches and cathedrals are really exceptional. I love the Spanish architecture whose touch is omnipresent everywhere. Those churches define the cities and lift up otherwise shabby looking and deflated city streets. The mountains on the horizon compensated for any flaws too. When we finished our city tour, we stopped for a delicious Juan Valdez tinto, which is supposed to be one of the best coffee brands in the country.  We were both quite tired so we took a cab through the city to our hotel. We drove under the Montserrat mountain which is famous for its wonderful views of Bogotá. From the hotel we then drove to the airport where we had two tickets booked for Bucaramanga. But the fate has decided to take a different twist. They checked in my suitcase and let us through the security gates – only to inform us that our plane has already left. We were on time and we were sent in without being stopped. Loads of people were alarmed and kept shouting at the flight attendants, who seemed quite helpless and useless. Nobody was able to offer us a new flight that day, nobody knew how to solve the situation. We spent additional two hours running around the airport, trying to locate someone responsible and anyone who would actually know where my luggage was. In the end we discovered that it has been sent without me to Bucaramanga. Jaime was totally outraged over this. His point was that they could have sent a bomb on the plane and nobody would even notice. Viva Colombia was obviously an expert on flying suitcases without passengers.  Not only didn´t they offer us a hotel to spend the night in. They blocked Jaime´s phone number as soon as they found out he´s not going to give up looking for my suitcase. They also didn´t want to pay back his money for tickets, not without proof of compensational transport – which we had to take. Jaime took us to the bus terminal and bought two seats to Bucaramanga. We had to stay in the waiting room for at least two hours, then we packed our things and set off for a 10 hours long trip, arriving to Buca at 5 am. Oh I nearly forgot, I had my first Colombian lunch at the airport – typical soup called Ajiaco Colombiano made of veg, yuka, chicken, whole corn cob, with side dish of rice, avocado and capari. Very nice food, good for upset stomach, which I definitely had! The trip on the bus was my near death experience. It was like in a freezer. The whole air conditioning system was centrally coordinated by driver and we couldn´t adjust it. It felt like my legs will freeze after just an hour of drive. I fell into a coma after taking a pill for sickness, which probably saved my life, as ten hours of a sustained freezer temperature might have brought me to the brink of an extinction. Of course by the time we arrived to Bucaramanga, I felt I´m gonna walk away with heavy cold or flu, which was to be confirmed the very next day. However, we survived our ordeal in a freezer with the help of winter jackets to wrap ourselves in and Jaime´s pyjama bottoms that he lovingly wrapped around my legs, so that I didn´t have two icycles of them. I tasted my first patacones made of platanos, which are Colombian green bananas and they were delicious. Salty and crispy just like pack of potato crisps.

The taxi drivers were waiting for their customers like hungry wolves, so as we got off the bus, we immediately had another means of transport. Taxi drivers here drive like madmen on the loose, including this one. There is no rules in the street. Everyone pushes the others in front of them, or passes them over in a speed, constantly honking on the horn. It´s not one of the safest transport means in Colombia, that is for sure.
At home I was met by Jaime´s Father Ramiro, an 85 year old man in a gown with a walking stick. He held my hand and said something in Spanish. Then I met Jaime´s Mum Jeanette, and we ended up in a warm embrace. She seemed very happy to see me. I took shower shortly after and then their housekeeper Teresa made us a breakfast, which was Tamal, the Mesoamerican dish made of masa – starchy corn based dough steamed in banana leaf or in corn husk, filled with meat and vegetables. It´s served with sweet bun. I found it hard to digest meat for breakfast in such an unusual form, especially with all family watching me eating. In this country it´s good manners to clean your plate, which I struggled with on first few ocassions. After this enormously filling breakfast we decided to go to Bucaramanga´s airport, where should have been my lost suitcase by then. I have had the same clothes on me for three days, so to get hold of my fresh clothes was quite vital. Jaime made me a ginger tea for my sore throat and made several more phonecalls to Viva Colombia, still trying to obtain some more information. I also met Ivan, Jaime´s older brother, who seemed very pleased of our acquaintance. Jeanette asked me out from the table to see the appartment and gave me a tour of all the rooms. Ivan and Jaime took me out without telling me where we are going, but I followed without asking. We went by car to another block, where Ivan had his flat. While Jaime drove, he said that the most important rule in Colombia is that the cars have priority over the pedestrians. And it wasn´t meant as a joke!  We then went to the rooftop of the tall house and looked at the city from above. After short inspection we went downstairs to Ivan´s flat, being invited in by his housekeeper. He had very nice flat with a beautiful terrace. Then we parted and me and Jaime went into the nearby shopping mall for Juan Valdez coffee and maracuya granizado. The goods in the shops reminded me a lot of our stuff, except maybe the fruits, which were exotic and most of which I´ve seen for the first time. It´s a hot and humid hell outside and I´m walking around in jeans! Inside all the shopping centers is air conditioning, so this will be the end of me!
Bogotá´s church

the colonial style streets


       Now we are at home, lying around and resting. So far no news about my lost suitcase.

reaching to the stars, Bucaramanga

So in the end, we drove high up into the mountains above the city to the airport, to get my luggage and it was quite nerve wracking to wait another twenty minutes just to hear that they indeed had it. When they brought it over, me and Jaime hugged like two crazies and outside the airport we took a selfie to commemorate this special moment. We also shouted few Hijo de Putas around out of sheer pleasure. Then we sang all way home in the car. Back at home, we gave each other Christmas presents. Later on I took a shower, changed my clothes (FINALLY) and we went into the city for another Maracuya jugo. In the evening we packed our things and Jaime´s friend that opens the garage gates for him (the signal is a whistle or knock on the frame of the gate), helped us to hail a taxi. At this hour it was rather difficult, as the streets were very busy, but in the end we managed to flag one down. I fell sick in the taxi, the combination of exhaustion, illness, mad drive and smell of exhausts, so when we got into the bus terminal,  I was literally dying and Jaime had to rescue me with several cups of camomile tea and some medicine. An hour later we jumped on our bus with huge comfortable leather chairs fit for a king. I wrapped myself into his jumper, scarf and took three doses of different pills – this lethal mixture put me asleep within ten minutes and made me wake up ten hours later in Santa Marta. Some pills, I tell you!

In Santa Marta where it was already dawning and fresh sea breeze rushed through the air, we jumped  into the standby taxi that took us to our appartment by the seafront. We drove through half shattered town full of visible poverty, to end up in more decent suburb for locals. There were no tourists as such, I might have been the only European blown in here, judging by the composition of brown faces, which were highly prevalent. We acommodated ourselves in the second floor appartment which was rather shabby looking with quite neglected kitchen. We were afraid to use any of the plates and cups in case of contamination, that´s how bad it looked, but it didn´t stop us from being enthusiastic about our next travel. It was the only free appartment available in this season and this area. At least we had a view from balcony right into the streets and seafront of El Rodadero beach, which was always amazingly busy and vibrant. There was a strong breeze coming out of the nearby mountains, probably from Sierra Nevada. The Colombian songs were being played from the left side of  street and Christmas carrols from the right side, with all people standing on balconies, having drinks and celebrating Christmas. I got used to greeting everyone Buenos días or buenos tardes, depending on the time. Also shortened  version Buenas is being used a lot. Colombians come across like very civil and well behaved people, they greet you all the time, thank you for everything, wish you good day, afternoon and night. We had something like a male receptionist in the lobby, who kept opening us the main gate everytime we walked by, so I could practice my greetings on him. Hasta luego is being used when you say bye.
Playa Blanca´s view from restaurant
El Rodadero, Santa Marta, Carribean

The first thing we did was to go to shop for food in a local store. On the promenade we bought a cup of freshly chopped green mango con sal, salty mango chips, which was quite an interesting combination. Colombians love the contrast of salty and sweet flavours. In the evening we went to swim in the ocean and also went for a dinner in Kokoros. I had a chicken with boiled potatoes in skin wrapped in salt, with Ají picante, beans mixed with minced meat and arepa. Arepa is a corn round flatbread that Colombians eat in excess with almost any food. We also stopped by for Juan Valdez tinto and carrot cake and enjoyed the rest of the day.

The next morning we got up at 5.30 and waited for a travel agency that was supposed to give us a tour of Tayrona park, which we booked on the previous day.We waited and waited and half an hour later there appeared a man from around the corner and came rushing towards us. Jaime later told me that they messed up the address and were waiting elsewhere. So we rushed to our bus, where was already big crowd of travellers, mostly Colombian. Only three of them were some gringos, as they call white people here or mostly USA nationals, although these appeared to be Australians, judging by their accents, blond hair and generally very pale looks. The bus from 60´s in the colours of bright green, with hippie grace and glamour took us towards the most famous Indian nature reserve in Colombia. It took only half an hour to get to the main camp, where was a little break for presentation about park and refreshment stop. We had an old Indian guy on a bus with us, who wore yellow Colombian footbal team jersey and when we were passing through the jungle and there was a tree trunk across the road, he grabbed a machette from underneath the driver´s seat and walked out of the bus to get rid off the obstacle. To our dismay, the bus driver left him behind and never looked back. On a way we stopped for a short view of the whole bay from the cliffs above. It was the most spectacular sight. The rocks bellow were dangerously steep.

After we got off the bus, they had few speed boats ready for us on the shore and they took us across the wide sea towards the very isolated beaches of Tayrona park. There were only tens of people. No tourists, no crowds. Just us and local folks, usually of Carribean descent. It all looked fabulous and absolutely breathtaking. I have never been to more beautiful beach in my entire life, I have always only watched it on someone else´s photos or promotional pictures from exotic destinations. If this wasn´t heaven, then I don´t know what was. The ocean waves were flooding the sandy beach with gentle force, the palm trees behind us fringed this paradise all around and the local tree huts gave it all a special touch of aboriginal beauty. I took in all the sensations. The sun, the breeze, the sea, the sound of black women walking around carrying cocadas blancas and crying out the sweets´ names. We sat under one of the many blue tents and relaxed. This beach was called Cristal, but it has been renamed from the Dead beach. We assumed that its name was due to a high amount of casualties, but we never confirmed our theory. Maybe there were strong sea undercurrents or sharks that killed so many people, we could only speculate.  Jaime tried to grab me and save me from the oncoming wave, but as he pushed me up, he submerged under the wave and for a while I thought he drowned. He swam out coughing out a sea water. We both swam in the translucent waters and saw a crab on the beach too, which was quite a fighter, as he attempted to strike me back after I tickled him. We ordered a fresh fish after arrival, from one of the local restaurant huts, but when the time came for lunch, we entered a wrong hut, had a fish soup brough in, and then we realized we ordered elsewhere, so we moved to a next hut, where we ate another portion of fish soup (by the way delicious!) only to be told by a bewildered waitress that she never took our order. We knew we have ordered two fish, we only weren´t sure in which restaurant, so we kept walking around the beach asking for our fish. We ended up fishless, but full of fish soup for free. Jaime was little bit upset, as he believed that the waitress who told him that she didn´t  have our order took our order and mixed it up. He predicted what is gonna happen next – they will come looking for Mr Jaime among all the beach goers – and ask him about the fish. They did so, shortly before we were about to leave back home. They found him, but never admitted to taking our order. I had a proof of a woman taking the order in one of my photos, just when she was serving us. Neverthless, we enjoyed our stay at Playa Cristal, despite this little hiccup.
Tayrona cliffs

ready for Pescado frito Colombiano dish

first step into paradise

even dogs found their home here

Chiva packed with tourists

Cristal playa

looking around for some adventure!
boats waiting for us on the beach



the finest sea fish soup!

Cocada seller

angry crab

In the evening I laid down sick, but got up after one hour, as I didn´t want to spoil Jaime´s Christmas. I tried to put on my yellow dress, but he insisted that the wind is too strong for me to wear it, and of course I argued that it´s gonna be alright. The minute I walked into the balcony, I was like Marylin Monroe in her notorious movie shot with dress above her knees. I gave out a surprised shriek, which made Jamie laugh in response. So that was the end of my dress appearance. There was a loud Carribean music coming from the promenade. After a short walk we returned home to make our Christmas dinner, which was to be fried potatoes with vichy carrots and sliced cold turkey meat with grape sauce and for dessert a cold arroz con leche Colombiano, which is a delicious creamy rice pudding.

The following morning Jaime cooked me arepa for breakfast with cream cheese and boiled egg. Quite nice when you toast it. Then we went to buy tickets for Aquapark with dolphins, because we agreed that trip to Cartagena would be impossible – four hours there and four hours back. I was little bit sad, as Cartagena was a place I wanted to see the most, but I didn´t put up a fight. We travelled to Aquapark half an hour later by a sea taxi. When Jaime told me that the guy who carried a plastic bag full of fish is actually carrying our lunch, I didn´t believe my ears. The bag was travelling on the top deck for another fifteen minutes in the searing heat. There was no way anyone could force me to eat that fish, unless I had a dead wish. We arrived to the Aquapark to see the various sea species including sharks and giant turtles. Then we sat on the tribune and watched seal and dolphin show. To be honest, I´d  rather see these poor creatures back in the ocean. Jamie let me order the beer for him at the bar. Me vende una cerveza por favor. Easy. Until the barmaid asked me what kind of beer I wanted, so I had to ask Jaime anyway.


pollo con arroz con coco blanco y patacon (banana)

Aquapark with trained dolphins

for show

Then we continued onto the Playa Blanca beach just around the corner. It was more crowded and not as half as nice as Cristal beach, but it had a wonderful mountain restaurant with amazing views of Santa Marta. It was extremely hot due to El Niňo phenomenon, so I got burnt a little. I had a fish soup, grilled curried chicken steak with patacone and coconut rice, but as usual I couldn´t finish it, so Jaime had to eat up after me again. That´s the disadvantage of his Colombian rule no.1 – to finish all food on the plate even if you were to burst!

After lunch we went down onto the beach and swam twice in slightly colder waters of Carribean. Then we waited for our taxi back to El Rodadero. We slept for about three hours and then went onto the promenade where it was already in full swing. The music played loud and there were many people dancing to the rhytms of vallenato and reaggeton. In the evening we went to Pepe bar for delicious salmon steak con coco curry with coconut rice and salad and Jaime had Cazuela de Mariscos with patacon and arroz de coco. He claimed this seafood chowder is a famous Colombian afrodisiac. It was again a very unusual taste combination, sweet salmon! After that we changed a setting and had piňa colada and Marguerita, Jaime´s favourite. I noticed they make a funny sounding coctail on the beach, the Loco Coco, which was a special vodka based drink served in coconut shells.

I´m slowly getting used to the taste of arepa. After breakfast we took a cab and went to main city of Santa Marta where was not much to see, apart from one church and empty square. We only went for one granizado to Juan Valdez and then back home. We spent two hours in our swimming dress under the palm trees on a promenade and because I was deviously bored, I suggested that instead of sitting, we should go on a pedalo to shorten our time waiting for departure. We went on the boat just for half an hour and after this water distraction, we went back to hotel to change into warm clothes and buy some food in Subway, then took a taxi to our bus terminal and travelled 11 hours back to Bucaramanga. I took a sleeping pill again, which made my journey lot more bearable. I slept all way through.
a lonely dog of Santa Marta
At home I was welcome by Jaime´s Aunt Jolanta and her daughter Samira. They offered me a cup of coffee and served me Tamal, capon y pan for breakfast (not again!) I didn´t eat everything as usual, which made his family believe that I´m ill.
I took a shower and we slept the following three hours like dead. After that we had lunch. Jaime asked his Mum to give me just a small portion as I was afraid I will raise up some eyebrows again. I got a small chicken drumstick with small portion of Ensalada Rusa, a potato salad that was a lot similar to Czech one. Now this was a food I would eat plenty of! I also enjoyed the cold Guayabana coctail and as a dessert a chunk of torta negra Colombiana, delicious brownie style tart with prunes. Later on we set off on the road into the mountains of Mesa de los Santos, where Jaime has a family cottage, which looked like a dolls´ house set in a quiet place surrounded by exotic flowers. There is a gorgeous view of the hills from one side. It´s a region of farmers with meadows full of Sebu cows and horses. There is a nice cold air in here, a welcome change after searing heat of the city. Jaime sprayed the whole cottage out with moscito repellent which made me slightly nauseous and allergic. We sat on the veranda, he drank his Aguardiente and me wine, we listened to latin music and cooked chicharon arepas with eggs. On the way here we also stopped in his favourite coffee house with fresh Colombian coffee from plantations. Jaime gave me a pack of cheese biscuits to dip into the coffee, it tasted delicious!  It was also my premiere for tasting granadilla, the best fruit under the sun.
Sebu


Granadilla
Farmers market in Mesa del los Santos
Hormiga culona - big arsed ant - the Indian traditional delicacy from Santader area


Jaime cooked a breakfast in the morning and I finished it again with tasty granadilla. It´s a beautiful day. I love it here, it´s so tranquil. Later on we drove through Chicamocha canyon for about three hours of non-stop  uphill spiral roads full of lorries. Jaime claimed we were at the altitude of 3000 metres. We saw the paragliders above our heads. I was blown away by the sight of the enormous mountains all around me. It was like being an eagle. All what was required was just spread the wings and fly. It was so hot we could barely talk. Jaime bought a little sack of hormigas culonas from the road sellers, there were tens of them by the road passes, selling each bag for 2 euros. Then he kept persuading me to eat one for at least half an hour. It was difficult to eat something that had a whole body including head, legs and the arse. After a long self persuasion I ate one misfortunate ant and to my surprise it didn´t  taste bad at all. They were like slightly burnt peanuts with soft mushroom aftertaste! I ate at least six more in one go! We stopped for a lunch in a roadside restaurant, where Jaime ordered  Parillada with chicken, sundried beef, pork steak, arepa, yuka, potatoe and sweet side salad. It was a portion for Sumo wrestlers
my parillada!
The next stop was Barichara, the phenomenal rural hotspot that looked like cut out from some history books. It looked so romantic and so pictoresque. The town streets went uphill and downhill in all directions and were layered with brown burnt cobbled stones. The houses were neatly set in their rows, all of them well maintained, with usually white plastered walls and colourfull windows or door frames. The churches with Spanish medieval splendour gave it a final hallmark. I fell in love with this little village immediately. There were several mini taxi cabs in rickshaw style driving around the square, taking in lazy passengers. The whole town hummed and buzzed with extraordinary life. I could see more European tourists here, coming by ocassional coach.  One guy in a shop found out that I´m from Republica Checa and started shouting Petr Čech - probably the only name from football world he remembered, but it still pleased my heart. We drove towards our B´n´B Artepolis, the most wonderful rural settlement I´ve ever been to. It was a two story house built in an old urban style, with wooden verandas, colourful hanging slings and wooden windows in each room, with the unique interior that consisted of just solid beds made of natural material. White washed walls and wooden ceiling frames made me feel like a little animal inside a barn. We had a cute open air terrace with bathroom, where you could take a shower while looking into the mountains. After what we rested for a while, we called a mini cab to take us into town. It was fun to drive in that two seater, shaking us up as we went. We visited the main church at the square, then we sat in a local coffee bar to have a cold frappé, and after that we had some dinner. We heard a live music – Guasca – being played in the main square. It is a popular music for farmers, as I was explained. They were celebrating some feast by burning the rag dolls. We finished our night by having Smirnoff ice and beer while sitting on the curb, and then hailing a cab to take us back home. We still could hear the Guasca from our windows as we laid to bed. Tomorrow we are going to San Gil.

Barichara´s church
amazing views from church
Barichara mountains
the town streets
the colourful houses
the taxi drivers
Artepolis hotel
going from church
Spanish moss

                                                                                  old Indian church
In the morning we went for a breakfast to the downstairs kitchen, where all other visitors had their coffee, and we also had some along with Tamal for Jaime and Huevos pericos (scrambled eggs with tomato and scallions), arepa and hot chocolate for me. I had a shower in our open air bathroom with the view of a white Sebu cow with her calf fooling around and then we took off to San Gil, where is a nature reserve Gallineral park, where are all exotic plants, wild river, animals and special breed of Spanish moss trees. I had a real coconut ice cream, soaked my tired feet in the cold streams of river, I saw the squirrels eating banana and huge Amazonian parrot climbing up and down the tree above our heads. It was extremely hot and Jaime wasn´t exactly feeling great, so we walked slowly through the jungle and rested in a cool shade.  Then we set off to Socorro, a smaller town near the mountains, where we visited two churches and had a lunch in the main square. Instead of a fruit salad I got fruit piled under corn flakes and grated custard cheese. What a refreshment! We met several army guys along the main road and Jaime told me to hold up a thumb when we pass them by, as that´s the common rule in Colombia, to show the army respect. It worked. He honked the horn while I waved my thumb at them and they waved thumbs back in return. It was hillarious. Then we drove through very curvy terrain inside the mountains towards Chicamocha canyon where is an incredible view of an aquapark set in the middle of the high peaks of surrounding mountains, high as 3000 metres. Then we turned back towards Mesa de los Santos and stopped at the local parador (motorest) where we enjoyed several fresh steaming empanadas Colombianas, which are puffy corn pastries filled with amazing mixture of minced meat, potatoes and vegetable. This all is accompanied with Ají picante, a spicy sauce, that recycles on the tables and which I threw out, because it was leftover from previous eaters and Jaime told me that this sauce is being continuously re-used by everyone!  Something like ketchup when you go to restaurant. Then we moved to the cottage, both exhausted but happy. Jaime always makes me practice my Spanish in shops or coffee bars by pushing me to order. Last time I ordered him a beer or coffee ...Me vende dos Juan Valdez medianos porfavor, or me vende uno tinto y una cerveza, me vende una botella de aqua, me regala de la quenta (please can I have a bill), or veinte mils de corriente porvafor (fill me up a tank of petrol worth quarter of million pesos) 
our Amazonian friend
the wild river
army thumbing up
Socorro church
The next morning we packed our luggages, had a breakfast and headed towards Chicamocha canyon. I saw a hummingbird first time in my life, he was tasting the flowers just one metre away from me! Jaime said it´s quite normal, as if he talked of a fly. That´s how common they´re here.  I took photos of Sebu cows along the road, they remind me of the sacred Hindu cows. It must have been at least 40 degrees when we made it to the Chicamocha Teleferico park with furnicular. There was a long queue already, but it 
wasn´t the worst one, as Jaime claimed. We jumped into the cabin with another six strangers and drove slowly above the huge canyon that connected two mountain tops. It was at least half an hour drive until we reached the opposite peak. The river beneath was shrunk to a quarter of its original size and it looked rather sad to see such a natural devastation. Jaime said there used ot be enormous river there when he was a child, but that now all the inhabitants have been using the water for their purposes and drained all of it out. The cabin slightly shook in the wind as we moved, so this sport would not be for weaker stomachs. We got out at the top of Teleferico mountain with terraced surface. At every upper floor of the terrace there was either a souvenir shop, or Colombian band or restaurant or Raspaco salesman, or Colombian cigar shop. I tasted my first Raspaco.This was crushed ice with four different coloured syrups and condensed milk. It was sweet and crunchy.

We climbed to the top where is the highest peak of the mountain with a giant steel construction in shape of a boat with bronze statues and spikes. It´s a monument depicting the rebellion in Colombian history. It was so hot that  I barely concentrated on  where I´m going. At one stage I wanted to climb over one bronze statue to pose for a picture but jumped up in shock, as the bronze was as hot as hell and burnt my skin as soon as I touched it. Jaime of course couldn´t stop laughing! I had to go under the sprinkler that served as a calming shower for dying tourists who dared to come this high. The mountain continued much further up the top, where was several adrenalin stations with bunjee jumping and wire furnicular. There was also a small zoo with ostrich, parrots and some domestic animals. We then had a lunch. Surprisingly I was given European schnitzel with fries, the only difference was that they poured honey all over it! I finished it off with enormous coconut coctail.
the wire furnicular
Chicamocha canyon
Aquapark
National memorial
Then we continued on our trip back to Bucaramanga, where we washed all our clothes. Jolanta and Samira were already there.We spent the rest of the day at home as it was a living hell outside, we only dared to go out for granizado and look around the shops and some boutiques. We stopped in a shopping mall for Chinese meal and then Jaime invited me to a local sweet store for some dessert. Later we gathered at Obandos at around 6 pm when everyone started coming in. Victoria and Henry, her husband and Jaime´s cousin, another cousin Alexander with his wife Keyla and  Viky´s daughter Maria. All these left little bit later and were exchanged with Ivan, his wife Laura and her son Camillo. We drank a little, (they had glass topped up with Chivas Regal, quite popular drink here), we  took some pictures together as a family, and then Jolanda with Samira returned from church and joined us. At around twelve we started counting down, while the fireworks exploded outside. We toasted with champagne and ate twelve grapes each. This tradition is called Las Uvas (Twelve Grapes) and each grape represents a month in a New Year. You make a wish every time a grape is eaten. The next tradition is called La Maleta (the Suitcase) where women run around the block of flats with empty maletas. The further she runs, the further she will travel to. The bigger the suitcase, the more extensive the travels. Jaime´s Mum and Victoria grabbed their suitcases and run outside the house, while we watched them from above laughing hysterically. Soon, there were streets full of similarly crazy women, running up and down the street in their high heels. Jaime kept encouraging them from the window. Ivan run out after Laura but without a suitcase, which didn´t escape Jaime´s sacrastic remark that Ivan will only travel as far as Panachi! Simply hillarious night. Thanks to god, they didn´t do all traditions like Los Calzones Amarillos where a yellow underwear is to be worn to bring prosperity. At least I didn´t notice anything! Shortly after twelve, we celebrated Mr Obando´s birthday, which he´s been waiting for for whole past year. He just turned 86! The whole family tried to light up a firecracker to go into the cake, but nobody could muster it for whole ten minutes so it looked like Charlie Chaplin´s comedy scetch for a while until Camillo managed to light it up. Then they tried to blow off the fire, which was rather difficult, but after that we all sat and ate our New year´s dinner, a chicken roll with salad with pinneaple and white bun and slice of birthday cake. I went to bed before anyone else and didn´t even have a strenght to say goodnight to anybody.

Jaime woke me up in the morning by bringing me a tray with breakfast. Our plans were to go to the pool in a hotel and spend whole day lying, swimming and lazying around, but that was not to be. The favourite Jaime´s swimming pool was not opened to public and every other pool in Bucaramanga was packed with tourists and dealt pretty much with the same problem. He got an idea of taking me to a seafood restaurant instead, but this day being a day of rest and quiet, all the shops and restaurants were shut close. We kept aimlessly driving around the city only to discover that everything is closed. Then I had an idea to check for a restaurant in some of the bigger shopping malls, as they are usually working over holidays. They were opened indeed and we went into one of the best places ever. Doňa Petronia. There was a black woman in her Carribean green dress standing at the door, inviting her guests in. We ordered a huge platter of seafood with amazing cazuela de Mariscos with fresh patacones and freshly squeezed tangerine juice. There were calamari, four types of sea food whose name I´ve never heard of (robalo, mero, pulpo, mejillones), some crab meat, octopuses and some coconut rice. We were stuffed beyond all imagination. Jaime organised for me to take photo with Doňa Petronia on the way out and she happily agreed and gave us two cocadas as a parting gift.
the most delicious seafood on Earth
Doňa Petronia from Cartagena
  At home I packed my suitcase. Our plane was to fly at 5 am from  Bucaramanga, but we both had to get up at 3.30 to catch a cab and then the flight. The flight was little bit scary, as we had severe turbulences and I prayed we didn´t crash into some hills. We were in Bogotá at 7 am, both tired and exhausted (I didn´t  sleep all night), and there we got some hearty breakfast and coffee. The worst part of the day was me waiting for next 7 hours to catch my Bogotá-Paris flight. Jaime left two hours earlier as that was the only flight he could take back home, but he kept constantly checking me and made sure that I had enough to eat and drink. I checked in at Air France and then went by myself on a ten hour long journey across Atlantic ocean back home. First to France, then two hours waiting in Paris and then finally flying to Prague, where both my parents expectantly waited for me. I haven´t slept two nights and it was to get worse even after. My jet leg was quite strong few days later, but somehow this beautiful experience of a different country compensated for all my tiredness. Even now, after two weeks in Prague, I still can´t believe I ventured as far as South America, to the most remote places and most beautiful natural reserves. I think this trip will be the beginning of many more to come. Who knows, maybe next year we will travel to Mexico or Carribean islands. Colombia is often overlooked for its turbulent past, but everyone should check for themselves how amazing this country is.