Colombia, in transit

Three things startled me as I stood in the check-in line at LAX. First, the “priority” passengers for the flight to Panama City were being given preferential treatment by the agents at the check-in counter, leaving the economy class waiting endlessly for their turn. Second, two SpaceX co-workers hurriedly walked into the airport and joined the priority line. Third, the man next to me was telling me that I will be seduced, drugged, robbed and murdered.

He was warning me that certain Colombian women will pick you up at bars, spike your drink and then take the opportunity to rob you. “Always order the drink yourself and watch them open it,” he said, “They’ll kill you for your watch.” Interspersed with the details of how these heinous acts will be carried out, he would shrug his shoulders and say, “But you’ll have a great time, man, it’s a fun city.”

Out of the corner of my eye I was watching the two SpaceX employees and straining to overhear their destination. They flew with me to Panama City, but then disappeared and I didn’t see them on the flight to Cartagena. My vacation was safe.

Watching the American Southwest, and Central and South America pass underneath during the 6-hour flight was awe-inspiring. The deserts and mountains of North America were followed by the the lush forests of Central America. The jungles looked like a carpet stretched across the Earth, and puffs of clouds hovered above them.

I would uncover the depth of the issue later, but it struck me as odd that the immigration agent in Cartagena didn’t speak any English. We struggled through the entry process using hand signals — one literally, when I had to have my fingerprints scanned. She asked if I was in the country for business or “turista”. In that strange way that people try to communicate across language barriers by butchering two languages rather than just one, I responded with something like, “I here for tourist!” She pointed at the tripod sticking out of my backpack. “Yes, tripod!” I said, at once wanting to change subjects and not fully understanding what she was asking.

I was also arriving at the same time as some kind of South American boy band because just outside the baggage claim area was a horde of very young boys and girls, screaming, waving signs and taking pictures. Over the din, more hand signals got me 100,000 Colombian pesos at a currency exchange.

The Old Town and hotel were a short cab ride from the airport. At one point the cab sped along the walls surrounding the Old Town with the stone structures on one side and the Caribbean Ocean on the other, then quickly darted into the fort through a passageway no wider than a Fiat.

“Casa del Curato, amigo”, said the cab driver as he pulled up in front of a beautiful, large door, which looked no different than any of the other beautiful, large doors that littered the street. A small sign displayed the name of the hotel, but it was easily overlooked. The hotel was small but cosy, clean and well decorated. I quickly took a shower and headed out for a walk around town, and a cerveza.


Los Angeles, CA: The Salton Sea Part II

The drive away from the wind farm and towards the Salton Sea was clear, sunny and easy. But I was absolutely starving. Eager to get familiar with the area and start taking pictures before losing light, I pressed onwards. Though my method of spotting something I’d like to shoot made it even more excruciating. At one point, I swung the car around and backtracked half a mile just to shoot the landscape of some farmland with a mountain in the background.

I arrived at a marina on the northeast side of the lake, home of the Salton Sea boating club. There was barely anyone around, except for a couple motorcyclists on a short break. As I stepped out of the car, the smell hit me like a punch in the face. If you remember, there were those fish die-offs … (more…)

Los Angeles, CA: The Salton Sea Part I

The Salton Sea State Recreation Area is an arid, highly saline lake about 2 1/2 hours east of LA. Borrowing from Wikipedia

As a result, the Salton Sink or Salton Basin has long been alternately a fresh water lake and a dry desert basin, depending on random river flows and the balance between inflow and evaporative loss. A lake would exist only when it was replenished by the river and rainfall, a cycle that repeated itself countless times over hundreds of thousands of years

The sea was created in the early 20th century when the Colorodo River overflowed and burst down into the area known as the Salton Sink. After the flood waters died down, authorities investigated damming the river to prevent such a flood from happening again, leading to the development of the Hoover Dam. Since the Salton Sea had no outlet, the ecosystem was put on a sort of contained overdrive. The salinity is much greater than seawater since the water has nowhere to go but up.

Most striking, however, are the fish die-offs. Due to an abundance of algae and hence a large fish population that feeds on the algae, deoxygenation of the water results in massive fish deaths. Various parasites and bacteria have been discovered that would also contribute to the mortality rate, on top of the salinity of the water.

All of this makes for a really interesting site to take pictures. I had heard only briefly of the area from a photography teacher and one other student, so one weekend I decided to check it out for myself. But first, I would need some gear. (more…)

Adventures on Public Transportation: Faith In Humanity

A couple nights ago myself, my friend Stedl and Soares decided to grab a few drinks after work. “After Work” for a SpaceX employee has different meanings for each person, so by the time “After Work” rolled around for Stedl, I was already at home, in the middle of some laundry.

I had suggested that we go to the Daily Pint, a dive bar that specialized in craft beer and Scotch, only about a mile up Pico Blvd from my apartment, on the route of the #7 bus. I told Stedl that I planned on taking the bus there, the assumption was that he’d come with me. Immediately he asked “Am I going to die, Bj?” I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. I tried to calm him down and assure him that a 5-minute ride on the Big Blue Bus wasn’t going to kill him.


San Francisco, CA: Transition

After a few weeks in Boston, I decided to move out to San Francisco and take my brother up on his invitation to stay with him. Plus, I wanted to find a job in that city and actually being there would be a big help.

My time in San Francisco was great, and if I could stay unemployed forever, that’s exactly how I would want to live my life. Simply, I had the life of an American housewife. I’d have a leisurely breakfast in the morning and visit the local farmers markets. On other days I’d go for a run or do some yoga at a wonderful studio down the street (the Yoga Loft, check them out). Then I’d experiment in the kitchen with cakes, pies, cookies, bread, and a host of savory dishes. My brother and his girlfriend Nikki were my guinea pigs.

A couple months after I got there my brother got  a puppy. A little lab-boxer-pit bull mix that we named Newman (after the Seinfeld antagonist, of course). Here’s a ridiculously cute picture of him when he was still a baby:

I soon realized that raising a puppy was not the wonderland of cuddles, fetch and “awws” that I thought it’d be. If it’s anything like raising a child, well, count me out.


London, England: The End?

By the end of my road trip with Phil I was exhausted. Not physically, but mentally and emotionally. I was travel sick, plain and simple. In principle, I really wanted to explore Wales, more of Scotland and Ireland, but I would’ve just been going through the motions. I started toying with the idea of going home.

I decided to head back to London anyway and see my cousin Shanti since I wasn’t able to before I left London the first time. Phil dropped me off at the Glossop train station and after a big hug goodbye, I waited for the train to Manchester with a car’s worth of rambunctious school kids.

On the train to London I considered my options. Backpacking with the wrong attitude is a recipe for disaster. It sounds like a cliche, but you have to want it. Otherwise you walk like a zombie through the streets of ________, never really knowing what you’re seeing or even appreciating it. Backpacking is a drug. People get addicted to it. But knowing when to take a break is the key to enjoying it in the long term (I started down this “backpacking as an addiction” analogy and now it just sounds disturbing).

I contemplated going to Ireland and trying to find a job, but the prospect of conducting the search I performed in NZ, except this time in a big city, it seemed daunting. Especially when I had engineering jobs on the horizon; two years of being away from the software game made me start worrying about my future.


Ambleside, England; Edinburgh, Scotland; York, England: The Whistle-stop Tour

We set off from Glossop by about 10 AM and headed north towards the Lake District, a mountainous area of northwest England and home of the Lake District National Park. In fact, all the land in England higher than three thousand feet likes within the park.

We drove through some of the smaller towns, around several lakes and tried to figure out what we wanted to do. It was nice enough just driving, so by the time it started to get dark, we found one of the villages to stay for the night. It was called Ambleside and I’m sure if it had been during the peak winter season, or even the peak of the summer season, it would’ve been filled with outdoor enthusiasts and travelers. But to our benefit, we found a room at a really nice B&B for a pretty good price.