Thursday, 24 August 2006

Worldwide, Baby

create your own visited country map

I was reading Lara and Claire’s blog: trippingonwords. Its awesome, these two girls are traveling the world because they have nothing better to do, and they are hilarious! At the moment they’re climbing Mt Everest. Anyway, they had this cool map with all the places in the world they have traveled in so far… and of course, I thought, HEY, I want one of those!

Well, I feel like I’ve done a lot of traveling, but really, I was rather disappointed about the lack of red on my world map. As I was reading all of the countries listed, I was constantly thinking, oh, I haven’t actually been there, places like Thailand, Vietnam or Venezuela. I’ve visited 25 countries, which is 11% of the world. That’s the equivalent of only one biscuit in a whole pack/tray of TimTams!

Anyone up for adventure? (ps. the photo is of one of the hippy locals in Tairona, Colombia)

Happy Hour

Last Friday night I prepared some Mojitos for everyone at work as part of the (now traditional) Happy Hour.

1 part Havana Rum (bought in Cuba)
2 parts Freshly Squeezed Lime Juice
Tablespoon of sugar to taste
Fresh mint leaves on the stalk

Fill the bottom of each glass – I used my Andres Carne de Res Tropical Juice Bowls – with sugar crystals. Load with mint leaves; pour over the lime juice and golden rum. Top with soda and mix like a Caribbean hurricane.

Through vast experience, I’ve realized its best enjoyed with a straw so you can suck the sugar up of the bottom. Ummm divine.

Yes... I´m working!

Wednesday, 16 August 2006

Heaven´s Mouth

Almost as a follow up on my previous post. Here are some photos of Tairona, a national park on the north coast of Colombia. From looking at the photos, I swear the Heaven´s Mouth beach scenes from the Mexican cult film: Y Tú Mama También were films in these coves. This is the beauty I was talking about, not just the landscape but the style in which the locals and wanderers enjoy it.

My friends went there on vacation while I was in Cuba. They drove 14 hours from Bogota to Santa Marta and then through thick jungle into the national park. From here they hired pack horses to carry food and tents, and with their clothes and personal items on their backs they set off on a 2 hour walk to paradise.

I can help but think that at the same time, of the other side of the world, that half a million Lebanese are doing the same thing; carrying all their belongings on their backs and walking. But they aren’t walking to paradise, they are walking and driving back to their homes, or what is left of their homes post the bombings. From what I’ve read it is utter devastation, and instead of finding washed up coconuts and hammocks swinging in the shade of thatched roofed huts, they are finding bodies buried under rubble.

Once my friends made it to the beach they spent their days swimming and eating seafood prepared by the locals. At night they drank under the stars and listened to old hippies strumming Colombian folk songs on the guitar. When the sun began to break the horizon they peacefully rocked off to sleep in hammocks over looking the bay. What simplicity, could life be any better?

Those eyes have lost hope

So I´m at my desk in my new job at OZI International, stealing some minutes between typing up work manuals and preparing for interviews. OZI International has been sending Colombians to studying in Australia for more than 6 years. The owner, Diomedes Vivas, sent Catalina and Tomas to RMIT to study with me!

I’ve been employed to start-up OZI Migration, and extra service of OZI International. The business opportunity is to advise Colombians about migrating to Australia and to assist them with the Visa Application process which can be a red tape nightmare. I was looking at becoming a partner, but that hasn’t seemed to eventuate, so for now I’m a contracted employee.

Colombia is a remarkable country, however for the majority of people this country can not offer them the high level of lifestyle and work opportunities that Australia can. I had an interview with a young women last week, she was beautiful with thick curly hair like Shakira and big dark eyes that were so sad. She almost made me cry. This women is kind, and intelligent (she has an engineering degree) but has had her visa rejected from the UK twice and as a final attempt is looking at migrating to Australia, because there are no opportunities for her here. It breaks my heart that Colombia is losing beautiful people like this. This country is amazing, it has a vibe and a passionate culture like no other, however everyday I see its good people begging to leave. Australia again is the lucky country, not just because of its lifestyle but because we can attract such wonderful people as the Colombians to become our new citizens. Australia immigrates 120,000 people a year, I just wish they could all be Colombians.

Friday, 4 August 2006

Nation of Suffering

The most beautiful architecture I´ve ever seen. Street after street of artisan plastering, wooden shutters in every colour, Seville hand painted titles, intimate Romeo & Juliet balconies, Cuban flags flying at every interval.

Grand buildings abandoned, pealing paint, horses pulling carriages with open wounds, unsmiling faces, no music and no dancing in the streets, only dog poo and rubbish.

The real Cuba is ugly. A great nation, people who had passion to create La Revolution now have nothing. A socialist system with brilliant vision and hope which could have created the most beautiful nation on earth (abundance of agriculture, passion for art and music, belief in government, grand architecture and history) has been left to die. Not even die, it is a semi living organisism, just enough food to survive, just the services which are absolutely necessary. I have never visited a country with so little vibe. A ghost town.

2.5 million tourists visit Cuba every year. It is the only nation left with apartheid. Tourists and Cubans are kept separate. Any other country you visit you experience it next to the locals, you go to a café and sit next to them, you shop in their shops, you dance in a club to the same music, you experience what they experience every day. When in Rome.

But Cuba, the living museum. I spent two weeks sipping mint Mojitos and ice cold Daiquiris. Not once did I see a local drink. Except the evening in Remedios when we were wandering around the empty town square ( 2 huge churches, one with a congregation of 10; El Lourve bar, where the waitress had to go next door to borrow another cocktail glass because obviously they only had 2 in stock; an ice-cream parlor with only one flavour and when the lid was opened flies flew out; youths walking around aimlessly ) and a man stumbled past us with a Havana Club bottle in his hand, he weaved past us and a few steps later the bottle smashed onto the road.

We traveled between cities by taxi which was a wonderful way to see the little towns and the landscape. Groves of palm trees, fields of sugar cane. The roads were not busy, more bicycles and horse and carriages when we came close to the villages, no trucks – I guess there isn´t much demand because there are no goods to transport. I was surprised to see a lack of Catholic relics, (all the roads in Colombia are lined with statues or Mary and Jesus), what was disconcerting was noticing a Cuban flag hanging next to the alter in one of the churches. Even politics have entered this space.

Sandwich con Jámon (ham), Sandwich con Queso (cheese) or Sandwich con Jámon y Queso? Every place the same. The same 3 soda cans, the same 3 Tropical fruit juices (tropical is just the brand, they came in popper boxes), 2 beers and water. I guess, what more do you need? Lots! Where is the creativity? Where are the new taste sensations? Where, most importantly, is the nutrition!!! In a country that could grow anything and that has the labor force at hand, we were appalled to find that the Cubans had nothing, and what they did have was of poor quality. Chef (Bertus Basson) was explaining to us how easy it would be to make a brown bread rather than the rationed white loaf which looked like Swiss cheese. There were no sausages, or cheeses with flavor, the tomates were so under ripe they were almost white, the chickens were imported from Brazil (the ones that are grown in 2 weeks with all the hormones). Surrounded by ocean the only fish we saw was eaten by tourists. After one week of this dreadful food we took over the kitchen of one of our home stays and Chef cooked us up a great pasta, again the only ingredients were jámon, queso and some funky tomato sauce which our host had prepared (much earlier) that was in an old soda bottle that gave off a hiss sound when opened. But we doused the lot in Tabasco sauce and it tasted like 3 star Michelin.

We did have once nice meal in the fishing village of La Boca. We had traveled to Trinadad (on the south coast) by taxi (which had a flat tire on the way) but our accommodation was full and so I asked hopefully about a beach side Casa. It was heaven after Havana. We spent three days relaxing in rocking chairs on the verandah which over looked a vacant plot and then the beach, the river ran along beside, just 25 meters away. We spent the days drinking rum with no ice like Hunter S. Thompson. The evenings floating in the Caribbean, watching the sky turn from blue to hot pink with the setting sun. This place was so peaceful and the grilled shrimp so tasty we almost forgot we were in Cuba.

Other quick highlights were the resort in Valdero (I would recommend anyone wanting to visit Cuba to stay here and just do day trips to the other cities) see the photos of the white sand and famous,7 shades of blue, sea. Here because it was all inclusive, I spent my days wandering around in a sugary cocktail bliss, the whole experience is a little blurred, but in Cuba you need the rum to ease the pain.

Also the art, the Cuba government encourages artists and thus there is a huge variety of paintings, of course they´re all Cuban inspired: landscapes of palm trees, Buena Vista Social Club scenes, old cars in older streets. Barry bought me a painting of a black Cuban woman smoking a cigar, the background in the most amazing chocolate brown colour, I know its kitch but it´s beautiful.

So to wrap it up, my trip to Cuba was devastatingly sad. I don´t know if I would recommend this trip to my friends and family. I still believe socialism can work, just not the Fidleism which has reduced this stunning country to a theme park for tourists and has wasted its abundant resources and suppressed its passionate people. It has validated my belief in Capitalism as a movement which creates opportunities, hope and most importantly freedom to choice your own destiny.