Archive for August, 2008


Medellin is a Keeper

Here’s a small Flickr set.

Better Than Bogota

Saturday Night FestivalMedellin is a great city. I could see myself living here for an extended period of time in the future. It’s continually impressive how welcoming and friendly nearly everyone here is. Even simple things like asking for directions result in big smiles, lots of information, and someone usually walking a few blocks with you to make sure you go to the right place.

Furthermore, the city is beautiful. It is surrounded and nicely framed by mountains, which create a micro climate that is referred to locally as “The City of Eternal Spring.” In the evenings is gets down to about 66 degrees and during the day gets up to around 76. Perfect.

After a week and a half in Bogota, I mentioned that I never felt quite a spark about the place. However, I started actively looking for apartments within two days of being in Medellin. It’s got it.

My Second Apartment of The Trip

So I’ve got an apartment here for a month. This one is on the 10th floor of a well-located building. Furnished, internet, TV (who cares), two bedrooms, two baths, big kitchen, living room / dining room, close to the metro and grocery store, and a great view of the city. Here’s the view looking west from the balcony:

View from the apartment

It initially looked bleak in terms of finding something furnished and affordable for only a month until I randomly ran in to Brent from Bogota on the street who said he’d also like to stay here for a month as well. With two people to split the cost of a place, it’s quite manageable.

Living with a Former Gold Miner

This is my roommate, Brent.Brent is my shifty-eyed roommate. That’s him on the right eating a burger. He is 22 years old and from Colorado (though was born in tinytown West Virginia which he usually pronounces as “Wes’ Vir-jenny”). He worked for a year in gold mining. It’s actually really interesting to get him talking about what it’s like to work in the mines and the people, stories, and culture that surround it.

Brent is funny. He likes ironically talking like a redneck and intentionally rambles on to cashiers at the grocery store checkout in English, knowing they can’t understand him. He swears a lot. While he talks to you, his eyes dart all over the place like he’s watching out for someone who’s after him. One guy at the hostel in Bogota thought he was on something. “No,” I said, “I think he just does that.”

For someone seemingly more salt-of-the-earth, Brent loves getting manicures and pedicures. He doesn’t care if you think this is gay or metrosexual and will espouse the benefits of professionally trimmed and buffed nails at length.

He has been around almost all of South America for about four months. Now he wants to settle in to Medellin for a little bit and take a Spanish class. Eventually, he’s going back to the States to get a college degree. Good guy to live with.

It also seems like he never came home last night, so I hope he’s okay.

A Trip to Buy some Art Results in an offer to spend the night with the whole family.

I met two girls a week ago on Saturday evening as I was wandering around the city. Juliana and Kelly. They were selling cutesy little cards at a tent fair on a well-pedestrianed street. They smiled at me, I stopped to talk, and I liked their art cards. They gave me their business card which had an address on it and I promised I’d come find them to buy some bookmarks.

Medellin Metro StationWell, yesterday I got on the Metro and walked to the address — it took more than an hour and a half to get there — I was expecting some sort of store front, but only found houses in a residential area. Initially, I was a little reluctant because I knew if I found them, I was about to meet their families, too. Figuring that it was quite an effort to find the damn place, I put on my amiable smile and said “Buenas tardes! Disculpe, senoras,” to two old ladies sitting outside and asked if they knew Juliana and Kelly, the two young artists. “I met them last Saturday and think their address is somewhere around here. I’d like to buy some of their art.”

This lead to a bunch of questions from one of the ladies who eventually walked me down to a house she thought might be the right one. We walked up outside to two men, a wife, and two young kids up on the balcony painting the house.

My guide introduced me and I repeated my query for Juliana and Kelly. “Ah, yes! Of course! Kelly lives here! She’s not here right now, but I’m her aunt. This is her dad. Come in, come in! Welcome.” Hah. I met Dad before I even met the girl for a second time.

View from Family's RoofIn to the house, I went. What I thought would be a five minute visit ended up lasting for almost 2 hours that were filled with lots of questions, lots of me asking people to repeat themselves, and lots of proud picture-showing. The wife gave me some delicious pineapple juice and a cookie. The young boy took me up on the roof and showed me the view of the city from their house. Three old grandmas even came over to meet me. They showed me lots of pictures of their property and house in the country. They asked about my family, my work, and my trip.

An object of some curiosity, I think I endeared myself to them when they showed me their favorite Colombian beans during the food part of the conversation. The bag of beans was held out and I, thinking I was supposed to try one, grabbed an uncooked bean and quickly popped it in my mouth. There was an immediate chorus of seven people saying “No! No! You have to cook the bean first!” Startled at this yelling, I panicked and frantically spit the bean out on the floor and blushed as everyone cracked up.

Within 45 minutes, they had already invited me to the party they’re having on Saturday with the whole family. I am to bring clothes and a toothbrush to spend the night. Judging by the pictures I’ve seen, this promises to be a LOT of people. I’m definitely going and I’m definitely bringing my family pictures and my dictionary. I will be the token gringo in attendance. Awesome.

I never saw Juliana and Kelly, but had a quite a good time talking to the family in attendance. They said Juliana and Kelly would be good guides to show me around their part of the city. They also said the family like to dance a lot. Great. I can already tell you how that’s gonna go.

Stay tuned for the post-party update.

A Dolphins Third Stringer in Colombia?

Okay, sports people. Has anyone heard of a guy named Daniel Clay Thomas who played for the Miami Dolphins? I met him at a Juan Valdez Coffee shop one morning here in Medellin. He’s apparently been living large here for a while. He’s bought some property and opened a bar, amongst other things, once he got out of importing pool tables to the United States from China. I noticed on his laptop that he uses AOL.

A cursory Google search didn’t return anything relevant.

Dog Wearing a Dress Dances to Reggaeton while a Dude Hold a Bike with his mouth.

Enough said. Enjoy:

Dog in Dress Dances while Dude Balances Bike in Mouth from Nathan Shipley on Vimeo.

I’ll have some more apartment pictures and a video tour up soon. The few pictures I’ve got are here.

The Hacienda Napoles Flickr set is here.

New York City?!? (Get a rope.)

Aussie Actor Andrew sticks his head out the windowAfter the aforementioned bus ride o’ glory, Aussie Actor Andrew and I made it to Puerto Boyaca unscathed and checked in to the first hotel we found off of the main square. There wasn’t hot water, but it was toasty hot enough in Puerto Boyaca that the cold water was super refreshing. Only saw one cockroach.

Walking around in the small pueblo is quite a change from Bogota, where they’re used to whitey. In Puerto Boyaca, we were the only gringos in the whole city and were the center of much attention. Everybody made like an owl as we walked past. The beggars were extra insistent. Someone said as we passed, “My God, the gringos are here.” I wanted to go to one of the pool halls full of old guys, but Andrew didn’t seem to feel comfortable with it.

Bribing Cops with Coke (-a-Cola)

The next morning, we attempted to rent motorcycles to ride to Pablo Escobar’s estate-come-tourist-attraction, which is called “Hacienda Napoles.” Without a Colombian national ID card, we were out of luck.

The Cab Ride: Pre-Cop StopIt was probably fortuitous that the motorcycles were out of reach because we were unaware of the pending police roadblock we would encounter at that point. Instead of renting bikes, we hired a taxi to take us on the 45 minute drive to Hacienda Napoles.

About halfway through the pretty drive over, Colombian police with guns stopped our taxi and asked us to all get out of the car. The ensuing conversation with the two police officers, me, and Andrew (who speaks no Spanish) went something like this (in Spanish):

Police Officer, “Your documents.”

Me (attempting to smile and assume an air of amiability) “Sure. Here you go. I only have a copy of my passport with me, though.”

Police Officer, “This is only a copy. This is a problem. Where is the original?”

Me, “In my hotel.”

Police Officer, “Which hotel? Where are you staying?”

Me, “Umm… in Puerto Boyaca. I don’t remember the name of the hotel. It’s off the main square, though. Here’s the room key if you want to see it.”

Police Officer (inspecting room key with suspicion), “Where were you guys before that? Where are you going? How long have you been in Colombia?”

Me, “Well, we were in Bogota. I’ve been here for about a week and a half. Now we’re going to Hacienda Napoles. (silence ensues) It’s… uhh… it was Pablo Escobar’s estate.”

Police Officer (with raised, I’m-about-to-fuck-with-you eyebrow, assuming an even more stern look and tone), “Pablo Escobar. Who is that?”

Me, “I, Um… well… a very bad man?”

Police Officer, “A bad man? Really? What did this bad man do?”

Me (thinking, “Killed a whole lot of police officers.”), “He, um, sells drugs.”

Police Officer, “What, is he popular in your country or something? A hero? You know he’s dead, right?”

Pablo Escobar Dead + Happy PoliceMe (wishing I had more vocabulary and ability to speak in the past tense at my disposal) “Oh, yes, he is not alive. Not a hero. A bad man. A very bad man. A dead man. I see a documentary about him when I was in Peru. I see the picture when the police kill him on the roof. The police seem very happy in the picture. Smiles. It is very good. Good work from the police.”

Police Officer #2 then goes in to a fairly quick string of Spanish sentences which I can tell are about drugs, and probably about whether or not we are interested in them on our travels through his country.

I decided against asking him to repeat himself slowly and instead mumbled out some sort of half-assed reply repeating what I’d said: Pablo Escobar is a bad man. Drugs are also bad. We’re only interested in seeing where Pablo lived for a historical perspective.

I tried my best to play amicable, Colombia-loving gringo and smile at him a lot. Andrew mostly just stood there. The questions continued for another few minutes about what our jobs were, where we were from, what we knew about Escobar, etc. Eventually, either my awkward smile worked or they just got bored. He decided we were harmless and the mood shifted to something more jovial and back-slapping than menacing and “What idiot doesn’t have his passport and visa with him?”

We were allowed to get back in the car. First, however, the policeman explained that they were thirsty. Would we be so kind as to drive to the next town, buy them a 2-liter bottle of cold Coca Cola, get three plastic cups, and bring it all back? You know, considering that we don’t have our passports and that we don’t want any problems. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.

Right. Yes, sir.

In the taxi, I asked the cab driver if it was really necessary to bring them the Coke. “Oh yes,” he said, “It will keep things friendly. Do you understand?”

Right. Yes, sir.

So we brought them an icy cold 2-liter bottle of Coca Cola and one, two, three plastic cups – exactly as requested. The drive back through the checkpoint later that day was hassle free. A cheap bribe for two hapless gringos.

My immediate reaction to this was, “I am really glad I speak Spanish.” I get the sense that the whole experience had potential to take a much further turn south if the only answers I had for his questions were confused stares and shrugged shoulders.

Hacienda Napoles: Bizarre-o-town.

Here Begins the True Savage AdventurePablo Escobar’s former estate and playground for rich narco types is strange. It’s not strange per say for what it was when Pablo hung out there, but it is strange for what the Colombian government is turning it in to. Check out the entrance sign on the right that says, “Here Begins the True Savage Adventure.”

Back in the day, it was an impressive, extravagant, and chocked-full-of-animals estate created by eccentric and exorbitantly rich international drug trafficker described on Wikipedia like so:

“[Pablo Escobar] is considered to be the most ambitious and powerful drug lord in history. His brutal ruthlessness was also legendary; he would kill anyone who stood in his way and was responsible for the killing of 30 judges, 457 policemen, and other deaths at a rate of 20 each day for two months. In total, it is said he is directly responsible for the deaths of over 4,000 people.”

Sign for the Jurassic ParkToday, Hacienda Napoles is being turned in to a theme park by the Colombian government. “What’s the theme,” you ask? Pretty much Jurassic Park Zoo with a splash of half-assed narco-history. It opened to the public about 8 months ago.

We drove in, twisting down a rutted, gravel and dirt road towards the main entrance area. We passed a jail that is currently under construction and to be built right next to Pablo’s old estate. A bit of poetic justice, I guess?

Driving Through Hacienda NapolesUpon our arrival at the entrance area where tickets are purchased, the air was filled with some sort of jungle sound track played by speakers bolted to trees. Jungle ambiance mixed with deep and rhythmic drums, animal noises, dinosaur noises, etc. They played this throughout the park. A large, newly-built sign welcomed us. They even used the same font from Jurassic Park to do all of their lettering. Savage.

The five or six workers at the entrance were standing around and chatting. As Andrew and I walked up to the ticket office, the herd of workers followed behind us, the ticket-seller walked around behind the counter, and the group then watched over our shoulders as the pleasant young lady sold us our tickets, handed us our maps, and explained what to do next.

We drove in the through the main gate. First stop: the hippopotamuses.

The Savage Adventure of Pablo’s Arc

You can kinda see the hippos in the water.Pablo Escobar had four hippos flown in from Africa; one male, three females. Originally, there were also giraffes, lions, and tigers on the estate, but those have since been donated to zoos. The hippos, however, remain. After Pablo’s death and before the organized park was started, the hippos became wild. Attempts to capture and move the fiercely territorial and dangerous hippos have failed.

Those original four hippos flourished and have now multiplied to be 22 hippos, which park visitors can see wallowing in one of the park’s many lakes.

Nathan Feeds VanessaThere is even a young female hippo named Vanessa who resides in her own special section of the park. We pulled up to Vanessa’s pen and got out of the car on the stiflingly hot afternoon. The guide girl working the Vanessa section greeted us and then called out to Vanessa in Spanish. “Come here, Vanessa! Come here! Come, Vanni!” Right on cue, the small Vanessa lumbered over to us and got a refreshing spray of water from the worker.

We then got to feed Vanessa large pieces of carrots while the guide rattled off fun facts about Vanessa and hippos in general. I enjoyed this very much.

Here’s some savage adventure video of Vanessa the Hippo:

Feeding Pablo Escobar’s Hippo, Vanessa from Nathan Shipley on Vimeo.

Welcome… to Jurassic Park!

Your standard concrete T-RexAfter we looked at the hippos, we continued on and passed Pablo Escobar’s Jurassic Park. This consists of life-sized, colorfully painted concrete dinosaurs.

I will repeat that: life-sized, colorfully painted concrete dinosaurs.

These have not been added by the park’s curators, but were rather built by Pablo himself and are now part of the Hacienda Napoles Experience. There’s a brontosaurus, a tyrannosaurus rex, and even those little flying dinosaurs, to name a few.

Who knows? Maybe if I had more money than I could possibly use, I’d build concrete dinosaurs, too. Why not?

Pablo’s Mansion, Bull-Fighting Ring, Swimming Pools, and Air Strip

Second level of Bullfighting RingWe were the only tourists in attendance and were free to walk where ever we chose in the park. This included a walk out to the air strip used to transport mountains of cocaine, a walk around Pablo’s giant swimming pool and cabanas (you can go for a swim for about $5), a walk through the bull-fighting ring, and, most interestingly, a walk through Pablo’s house. None of this is guided; you just walk around.

The floors inside the mansionPablo’s house in a state of total disrepair and destruction. After his death, the house was ransacked by people looking for hidden money or drugs. The floors have been dug up and the walls have been stripped down. Anything that wasn’t part of the actual walls and floors has been taken. There are no cabinets, shelves, toilets, shower heads, or anything else; just crumbled house, broken bathroom tiles, and several bird’s nests.

Enlargements of old newspaper and magazine articles about Pablo’s reign of terror adorn the walls. The most prominent of these is the famous picture of Pablo’s just-been-shot dead body on the roof of a building in Medellin. It’s on the side of the house and is the first thing you see upon walking up to the house. Take that, dead guy.

I think this was the kitchen.You can walk wherever you choose through the crumbling house, but nothing is labeled. However, I’m pretty sure I figured out which bathroom was Pablo’s.

Interesting. Weird.

Andrew seemed fairly unimpressed by the whole affair, which actually detracted from my experience a little bit. After walking around for an hour and half, he was ready to leave. The benefits of traveling solo were made apparent again. I walked to the horse stables and saw a few more things while Andrew waited for me. From there, though, we went back to our taxi and headed back to the pueblo.


Pablo's PoolI found myself picturing the empty pools and rooms how they might have been 15 years ago: full of partying Colombian narco-traffickers having assumingly really interesting conversations. I thought about Johnny Depp in Blow. I would have liked to spend more time in the park and talked to more of the workers, but my parter was ready to skedaddle. For me, it was genuinely interesting to see a window in to the life of the infamous Escobar.

However, from the middle-of-nowhere location to the towering concrete dinosaurs to the absence of any other guests, the whole thing felt like some sort of has-been Route 66 sideshow town that the interstate system made obsolete. Like a once-proud Sheisterville that hasn’t had a car stop for days to admire the famed World’s Biggest Ball of Yarn.

I, for one, love going to see things like the World,s Biggest Ball of Yarn. The weirder, the better, I say. Furthermore, even though they had little to actually do, the people working there were genuinely friendly, helpful, and proud of their gently used, slightly dilapidated animals.

Welcome to Theme Park Hacienda NapolesI think this place is coming up. They’re still working on it. Andrew commented that they should be trying to make it more like a museum rather than Colombian Jurassic Park. Include some signs and information in English. While that would certainly be informative and interesting, the whole reason I wanted to go in the first place was because I’d heard it described as “weird” by a fellow traveler.

Weird, it was. It made a good side-trip to break up the ride from Bogota to Medellin. I’d go back. I wouldn’t mind a little more museuminess, but don’t take away the concrete dinosaurs, the hippos I can feed, or the Jurassic Park typeface. I was promised a “Savage Adventure,” after all.

Here’s the photo gallery for this post on Flickr.


Not so blah, Bogota!

This post was originally written on Tuesday, August 19th in the dark days of bloglessness.

Link to a big ole set of photos that go with this post is here!

Bogotá got better by a good bit, but it never really captured my heart. I wrote the following in my notebook on the bus ride out of Bogotá:

The View from the Back of the Bus

Bus ride from Bogota to Puerto BoyacaIt is a rainy and foggy day as I share life and travel stories with Aussie Actor Andrew. We’re in the back row of a little bus piloted by a maniac as we head to Puerto Boyaca, halfway between Bogotá and Medellin, which will be our staging point to see Pablo Escobar’s mansion. We recklessly swing along a two lane, serpentine mountain road and pass trucks on blind corners. It’s easier to just look at my paper and try to ignore the other cars and the near-misses.

More Gay Aussie Actor AndrewAussie Actor Andrew (pictured left while we were at “Johnny Cay Bar”) is a friend made in Bogota. He’s a charismatic guy who’s traveling around the world for a while on a ’round-the-world ticket with the eventual goal of living in Italy. He might also see a girl in Canada that he’s had special sexy times with before. Good guy.

The Colombian countryside rolling by is quite a change from urban Bogota. It’s beautiful, verdant, mountainous, and mostly farm land or forest. Our bus and the other traffic behind us stop to allow two ambling cows to cross the road at their own, unconcerned pace. Once they’ve passed, the driver floors it again and we careen off, bouncing down the twisting road. The bus has a screen-printed Renaissance style painting of some chubby-child saint or angel on the Plexiglas window behind the driver.

Bodies in the Street

IMG 1560The driver seems unperturbed by the horrific looking accident we pass, though the entire bus gasps in unison as we round another corner and behold the fuel tanker truck that has somehow managed to flip completely over, leaving a torn, smashed driver’s cab with a bunch of shattered glass on the road. There’s an ominous circle of opaque black plastic sheeting held up with two-by-fours on the road in front of the cab, which I assume has the body of the driver behind it.

In front of my eyes, when I’m not trying to play “Spot the Dead Body,” I can see my notebook and Colombian flag color striped wristband (given to me along with my two friends by three Colombian girls) over my week-plus dirty, stained, constantly-ripping-more jeans which cover 4-day-in-a-row boxers, a money belt, and my passport. I gotta do some laundry.

Soulless Bogota and a Potential Motorcycle Purchase

Randoms I took a picture of at a club.Time in Bogota was fun, but it felt a little soulless. Too much drinking. Too many late nights. Too many hostel guys attempting to get laid. No blog to write in to help connect me to home and share my stories. It was good, but I was ready to move on.

In fact, my so-so time in Bogota has actually started me along a thought path that is sure to be one of those scare-the-pants-off-my-mom kind of things. The minor soullessness of it spurred me in to thinking about doing something drastic. I felt like I needed to get away. I felt like… like I need to buy a motorcycle and drive the bastard around South America. I’m still considering it, actually. Commence the “Don’t do it! You’ll die!” comments.

Too Much.I never got a chance to meet up with Crazy Christopher K of internet fame. He was apparently out of town. Who knows if it would have changed my experience one way or another if we had the promised “night of mayhem.” Even without the Bogota God of Crazy Stories, I was not lacking for things to do around town with my hostel mates.

We Ain’t Stoppin’ ‘Till Six In Tha Mornin’ (dancing with Colombia’s Biggest Colts Fan)

Brent and JohannaFor example, Friday night started around 8:00 and ended at 6:30 on Saturday morning. I went out with friends from the hostel that include Simon from Canada, Max from the US, Svetlana from Belarus, Brent from Colorado and his loco, flirty, Colombiana sort-of girlfriend, Johanna. (Brent & Johanna pictured to the right.)

We went to La Zona Rosa and had some drinks. From there we went to a disco which was called something really original like “El Disco.” We danced to a mix of Latin and techno while sharing bottles of cheap rum. Thank you cheap rum, you keep the Gringos dancing in the face of hot Latinas that are clearly aware that I have no idea what I’m doing.

More club dancers.Svetlana liked the music, which is no surprise considering that she is dating the manager for DJ Tiesto. You probably don’t know who that is, but anyone familiar with the Euro Techno scene over the last 10 years knows that he is one of the biggest names amongst international DJs. Crowned “World’s Number 1 DJ” 3 times by DJ Magazine and Grammy-nominated, even. Svet has traveled the world going to Tiesto shows and is more than happy to tell you all about it.

Simon's shirt gets unbuttonedAround 2:45, Max and Svetlana headed back to the hostel. This left me and Simon (pictured left), who is an absolute chick electro-magnet. He’s like a Canadian Justin Timberlake with a non-cocky shit-eating grin mixed with an air of “Can you believe this place??” A Colombian girl wrecking ball of sorts. He’s great to go out with.

Simon and I talked our way into a club that was closing and ended up meeting a group of 3 young girls and their 4 electrical engineer friends.

Colombian Colts Super Fan is on the rightTo my amazement, upon telling the group I was from Indianapolis, the guy with the cane (on the right of this picture) quickly took out his cell phone and proudly showed me the wallpaper picture on it, which was of none other than Peyton Manning. Really. The Colombian is a huge Colts fan and was delighted to talk to someone from Indianapolis. He was even talking about how he’s looking forward to seeing how the next season goes in Lucas Oil Stadium. As per usual in a sports conversation with someone that doesn’t know me, I tried my best to act like I knew what I was talking about. What are the odds?

And he was finally mobbedThe bars were closing, so the group took us to an after-hours spot they knew about. They told me I should tell Simon to quit yelling as we walked around because he was attracting too much attention. We danced until common sense broke out and the place finally closed at 6 in the morning.

Simon somehow lost his camera. At one point the girls unbuttoned his shirt in the club. They are cute, young, and very energetic. Damn fine dancers that explode with yells and memorized lyrics when a song they like comes on. It was awfully fun. It’s been a while since I got home when the sun was already up.

Good stuff, just can’t do it every night.

Tejo, Colombia’s “National Pastime.”
AKA: My New Favorite Game
AKA: Throwing lead weights across a barn at small explosives.

The Cow outside the barnThe most positive thing to come from Friday night — it was certainly not the hangover and ass-draggery that ensued on Saturday — was meeting the girls.

We were to meet them on Sunday afternoon, but Simon started drinking beer at noon during a 6-hour marathon card game and couldn’t be convinced to leave it. I said to hell with it and just met up with the three girls myself while the drunks finished their card game and went to Hooters, of all places.

My Spanish is clearly getting better than decent as I was able to successfully maintain a 3 hour conversation with the three of them and even make them laugh a time or two. Eventually, Simon called my stolen cell phone to tell me that Hooters was a bust. (I actually wrote that without realizing it was funny until I just re-read it.) He was with Englishman Matt. Where was I?

Max and Aussie Actor AndrewWe met up with the two guys along with Max (pictured left, on the left) and his webcam stripper he met on the internet and danced. It was, again, mighty fun. Max, the big, sports-loving American former special ed teacher, apparently had a good night, too.

The girls insisted that we take the hour-long bus ride to their area of town early on Monday morning to play a game called “tejo,” and, as it turns out, tejo is awesome.

More tejoTejo essentially consists of hanging out in a barn located in the middle of nowhere, drinking beer, and throwing lead weights 40 feet across the barn at small explosives set in a wall of mud. As the Brit would say, ‘Fucking brilliant, this.” You get points based on where your lead weight hits or if you cause an explosion.

Tejo GroupI guarantee I would play this game back home and you would, too. It is a lead-weight-to-the-head accident waiting to happen. It is exceptionally loud when the “tejo” hits the explosive “mecha.” Those with heart conditions need not apply. The barn smelled like gun powder. Cows and chickens wandered around outside. Pieces of clay fly across the barn upon an explosion. Matt got hit twice and said that it hurt. I had to interrupt a family’s lunch to ask if we could play tejo in their barn. It’s even free to play; you just pay for the beer. Glorious.

The explosive mecha trianglesThe other group in the barn included a ratty, topless, toothless dude with a pierced nipple, an older, very serious player who concentrated a lot when he shot, a generic middle aged woman, and a rare-in-Bogota fat woman. They were all excellent tejo-ers.

More desert enjoyeryAfter playing tejo, the girls took us to a small pueblo further outside of Bogota for food and a walk around. It was cool to see a smaller place after being in the city of 8 million people.

Tejo was my favorite part of Bogota, and it has nothing to do with going out or getting drunk. (Well, it could have something to do with getting drunk, but we didn’t drink much beer.) The girls even gifted the three of us the aforementioned Colombian wristbands. Nice. As expected before I even left, the most enriching experiences come from spending time, having conversations, sharing culture, and a little booty-shaking and lead-throwing with the locals.

Hamster “Racing”

Hamster Racing:  Pre Green FlagThere is not much to say about the Hamster Racing in Bogota, except that it exists and it is awesome. A group of six or seven hamsters waits in a line on the sidewalk while the on-lookers place bets on which plastic bowl the hamster will walk in to. Upon being tapped by the guy running the show, the selected hamster slowly wanders about 12 feet to the bowls and walks inside one. Pick the right bowl? Quintuple your money! I have no idea how they train hamsters to wait for tens of minutes to start walking into a numbered plastic bowl, but I’m glad they do.

Here’s some video:

Colombian Hamster Racing from Nathan Shipley on Vimeo.

Medellin, Ho!

Walking to find the bus back to BogotaSo Bogota was good, but it never really sparked for me. It’s hard to describe what it was lacking, but whatever I like wasn’t really in Bogota for me. I found an apartment I might rent in Bogota, but even as I was looking at it, I felt luke-warm. I did really enjoy playing tejo and I had some good nights out, too, but there wasn’t enough for me to decide that I should greenlight the apartment or anything like that. I’ve had enough nights drinking with hostel people for now. I’d rather go somewhere else. Medellin it is by way of Pablo Escobar’s Hacienda.

Again, here’s the Flickr set with lots o’ pictures.


Welcome to Nathan, Colombia.

(This post was originally written on August 13, 2008 after 5 nights in Bogota during the dark days of bloglessness. Golden God Andrew Nelson fixed it. Much apprecialove, GGA.)
Link to Flickr set is here.

Leaving LimaThe plane ride over from Lima started the trip off just right when a really attractive young Colombian woman got a nosebleed right as we were about to land. Fun to watch her desperately try to dry it up before going through customs and constantly dabbing to see if there was more blood.

Some other chick got busted for smoking something in the aft lav. Snakes I can see, but seriously? Smoking on a plane? Really? Who does that? I understand that Cokey McHotbodison has little immediate control over her septum and it’s quiet rebellion, but just wait 30 more minutes and you can smoke when we land.

Flight in to BogotaContrary to concerned emails from Mom, my lack of a new entry does not mean I have been kidnapped in Colombia. I’m having a good time, but honestly, not much has really stood out thus far — especially in a narrative sense — to write about.

It is nice here and that’s … nice.

Nathan performs at amphitheaterBogota is “nicer” than Lima. This is both good and bad, but honestly, I tend to put it more in the bad category. For one, it means things are more expensive here. Still cheap by States standards, but it’s easy to spend more cash quickly and I can’t seem to find a cheap room close to the good nightlife. (It’s not really safe to walk around the area of town my hostel is in at night. No one is out and I’m told that knife-wielding thieves are around.) Additionally, by being more “nice,” Bogota also lacks a bit of the Lima chaos that I’ve come to enjoy. Maybe I need to find a room in a different area?

An example of The Nice: The collectivos here (Colombian versions of the Peruvian combi buses I enjoy) have automatic doors. This means there is no guy hanging out the door, yelling the entire ride, and whistling at sexy women on the sidewalk. They blare no obnoxious music. The driver is often enclosed in a Plexiglas cage. Hm. It’s generally quite tranquil and downright serene compared to a public transportation ride around Lima. Horn honking is pretty rare here in contrast to Peru.

Who knows what I’m going to do when I get back to the United States and things are actually nice and orderly.

Just because things are nice doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing things or that I’m gonna let it get me down! Behold, dear reader: the lazy writer’s friend! A list!

A List of Bogota Observations and Goings On!

Clear Skies & Rain
I have seen the moon and rain for the first time since I was in Lima.

Club on Saturday nightWhite Men Can’t Dance
I went out on Saturday night to “La Zona Rosa,” which is Bogota’s more upscale club ‘n pub district. I had a good time and met some new friends who took me dancing at a club, which proved to be the usual train wreck for me. Despite the fact that I still can’t make my feet and hips do what they’re supposed to at the same time, it was fun and the torpedoes were damned. Full speed ahead, white boy!

Everyone has said that Colombian women are the most attractive in South and Central America. Not that I’ve been all over yet, but I’d be surprised if this isn’t true. It’s borderline ridiculous here. Average is hot and actually hot is just silly-hot. Reports from other travelers and Colombians themselves say that girls in Medellin are even more of an eyeful than the ones in Bogota. I find this slightly hard to believe, but I’ll be sure to check.

Guy selling old toy trucks at black marketSunday Stolen Goods Market and Public Pooping
I bought a has-to-be-stolen cell phone from some dude at a black market. For me? Special price! Real cheap! Probably works! I quite enjoyed the Sunday Black Market, actually. Two or three hundred vendors with stuff on blankets. It was only a block from my hostel and is clearly where old junk, toys, clothes, and electronics go to have one last run before they’re actually dead. Likely not to work Sansui Stereo Systems for peanuts! Barbies without hair for the kids! Cell phones without buttons! Glasses, shoes, wine corks! “Todo barrato! Todo barrato!”

They even sell typewriters.You could probably actually find something valuable there if you knew what you were looking for and collected weird old toys and ironic Americana that hipsters would pay a lot of money for on eBay.

The Black Market experience was accented by a bum that dropped trough in the middle of a crowd of people and took a shit on the ground. For some reason, my conscience stopped me from taking a picture of him in the act. I guess something inside me wanted to offer a man who has hit rock bottom one last modicum of dignity and not post his ass and leavings on the internet. You welcome, pooping bum.

Recreating StatueBogota by Foot and Mountain-top Gondola Ride
I have also done plenty of walking around the city. A trip to the top of the mountain that overlooks Bogota with a couple Swedish girls yielded both a wonderful view of the city and entertaining pictures where we attempted recreate religious statues. I play the part of Jesus in this one pictured on the right.

Awful Bar - "La Tienda"Me and Colorado at “La Tienda”
I’ve also met a guy from Colorado that I might travel around with some. He has currently run off to a city called Bucaramanga with a girl, but says he might back soon. He and I went to a neighborhood store / watering hole Combo Platter (love to Condron) dump the other night and endured a bunch of drunks, sword fights over the few women actually at the place, a drunk fight broken up by the cops, and an ever present, absolute nightmare hippy girl constantly wailing along off-key to some other stinky guy playing guitar over the other music that was already playing in the room.

Looking Forward

Mountain view of BogotaThat’s Bogota for now. I’m planning on sticking around through the weekend but moving on afterwards unless anything changes. I’m planning on going to Pablo Escobar’s mansion en route to Medellin. Perhaps I’ll compare the two to see which would be a better place to get an apartment in?

I’ll also be meeting up with the aforementioned Christopher K this weekend for what he describes as “mayhem.” I look forward to this very much. Though I may sound slightly grumpy about it, I actually really do like this city. Just haven’t had anything that has really sparked for me yet other than the nice scenery. I got faith, brother.

Again, pictures for this post are here.


Blawg is the new Blog.

The only way to ensure I didn’t kill the old content while fixing it was to make a new blog.

Take that /blog!

Look at my sign man, I only can exchange. I don’t want no trouble y’all still some thugs.

… Chill out buddy. And I’m done.

Back to your regularly scheduled Shipley-ness. Nathan, don’t break it again.


Now featuring exciting speed chess video! See below.

One of the old guys told me that this alley helped turn out the World Chess Federation Grandmaster, five-time Peruvian national titleholder, reigning Pan-American chess champion Julio Granda. Of course, he added, that’s in addition to other recent Junior World Chess Champions. A couple other guys within earshot quickly piped in to either claim credit for playing against Julio or jokingly claiming to have been his teacher.

Chess in Lima - The AlleyNestled in a pedestrian-only side street off of Parque Kennedy in Lima lies the nightly gathering of about twenty men and the odd woman who come together to play chess for 10 cents a game. It gets started around 9:30 every night and goes till around 1:00 in the morning.

It’s an oasis of awesome and it’s only two blocks from the epicenter of gringo tourists and the unsavory people that try to sell them things in Miraflores. Though you can smell how close they are, the hookers and drug-dealers don’t even bother trolling this street.

There are a few Coke bottle bespectacled odd-balls with weird laughs, fashion-disaster attire, and skittish demeanors. However, the majority of the players are only slightly quirky regular guys who are over 40, just got off work, smoke like chimneys, and, as far as a less-than-casual player can tell, really, really good at chess.

Chess in LimaI wish I’d found this weeks ago. It feels like an entirely different world; a random island of strategy and geekery amidst a sea of sin. I’ve been back every night since I randomly happened across it four nights ago during a late night walk.

An interesting mix of different regulars are there every night. I’ve spoken with a forty-something banker who hates his job, a guy that makes his money by drawing caricatures of tourists on the streets, an old German expat who plays “too slow” for most people, and the guy I call “El Jefe de Chess.” (The overweight, balding, Fu Manchu mustached “El Jefe” is the best, as reported by other players.) I’ve only seen two women actually playing; one is a snaggle-toothed Asian chick that everyone seems to like who laughs after every play she makes.

Chess in LimaI’m the only American I’ve seen hanging out and I’ve been quite delighted to watch the games pass by. Everyone has also been very welcoming to me, surprised at my Spanish, and I’ve gotten multiple offers to take part in games. Thanks for asking, fellas, but there’s no way I’m gonna try to pretend to roll with you.

Some guys play with the timer and others don’t. The timer games are the most fun to watch. 3 minutes for each player. It’s absurd how quickly they play. The players that are really good have casual conversations with other people while they play timer games. I’ve even seen someone talking on a cell phone while he plays at break-neck speed. Here’s a quick example of one of the timer games.

Check it out:

So thanks, Peruvian chess culture. I’m glad I found you and it was fun to hang out for a few nights. I’m even inspired to brush up on my chess. For now, though, I’ve got an apartment to pack up and a flight to Bogotá to get ready for.

Barring any unexpected kidnappings, my next post should be coming to you from Colombia! Woot.

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