Saturday, 14 April 2018

Alone in Kyiv!

One thing I forgot to mention in the previous post is that I was in Ukraine during Orthodox Easter, so it was a holiday weekend. Many trains were fully booked and Marta hadn't booked a return rail ticket because her preferred train at 6pm was full. After we returned from the Residence (this was Friday 6th), she rang a friend in her town and he agreed to come and pick her up. So we both took the Metro to the end of the line, Lisova in an easterly direction, where they had arranged their rendezvous. By chance, he was passing but unable to park as we came out of the Metro station. So we bade a hasty farewell at 6.30pm and I took a train back to the centre. 
I had been in two minds whether to go directly back to the hotel or go to a concert in The National House of Organ and Chamber Music. It is a large Gothic style church with an organ at the east end. As I passed Maiden station, I realised that the timing was perfect to go the the concert, so I jumped off the train and took another metro to Olympiyska. I took a 20 minute walk to the station. I told Marta previously that I might go to the concert but, when I arrived at the church and bought my ticket, the battery in my Ukrainian phone was flat and I was unable to tell her of my plans. That was a great shame because she was expecting me to go directly back to the hotel and was anxious that something had happened to me. But I knew that the duration of the concert would be 90 minutes and calculated that I would be back at the hotel by 9.30pm. I was then able to contact her, by which time she had arrived back home.
The concert comprised a number of Bach organ pieces and the main item, the Pergolesi Stabat Mater which uses two female singers, one soprano and one contralto. The orchestra of two violins, viola, bass and harpsichord was, I think, their resident backing group. The keyboard player was a young girl but the others were older men, I assume retired. The two violins were not always in tune with each other when playing unison, which rather spoilt the effect. The two singers were excellent. A young man in evening dress came on to announce each piece. The organist was a rather large woman. Forgive my mentioning it but it was very difficult to avoid! She played the Bach Tocata and Fugue in D minor faultlessly.

Saturday was a day at leisure, as the travel brochures describe it. Marina was due to arrive at 6pm so I was free all day. The weather every single day was superb so I paid for a late checkout at the Ibis Hotel and took the Metro into the centre, this time getting off at Arsenalena which is one stop beyond Maiden. Then I took a walk down to Mariinskiy Park which overlooks the river. I visited briefly the places that I planned to visit with Marina. I had lunch in my favourite restaurant which Marta introduced me to - Kamoucha, it has a 50s theme and a colour scheme which I remember is called Gingham. Their theme is a red and white check fabric.
I went back to the Ibis Hotel, checked out at 5pm and walked down to the central station to meet Marina. For reasons of economy, we were staying in Hotel Florida which is a little out of town, near to Nyvki Metro. Although it was cheaper than the Ibis, the standard was excellent. We took a taxi to the hotel and had a meal in the evening.
On Easter Sunday, we went to a blessing outside a church at Kontrakto Plosohova which is a large square slightly to the north of Maiden. We then retraced the route I had taken the previous day. All these photos were taken in The National Culture and History Centre overlooking the river.

The Easter custom is for people to bring bread and painted eggs to be blessed. Expect to get wet if you go to one of these ceremonies!

This is a refectory and beyond, you can see a church attached.






We went shopping in Ocean Plaza. Not exactly accurate as we didn't buy anything! I have bought lots of clothes recently, so there was nothing I needed. We returned to the hotel by Metro and then a bus. But once or twice, I walked between the Metro and the hotel, it was only about 20 minutes.
 
The original plan for Monday was for us to stay in Kyiv all the time untill I came back to Spain on Wednesday 11th but Marta suggested I visit her in Nizhyn on Monday which was a holiday. For a while I thought about leaving Marina in Kyiv but instead the plan was for us both to go to Nyzhin. I suggested an early train but, at that point I left home for Kyiv and decided to book trains later. Unfortunately, by the time we decided when to travel, the trains were fully booked. It didn't help that I read "09.00pm" as "09.00" online - I thought we had plenty of time to buy tickets. So neither of us went to Nizhyn and instead I took Marina to Mezhyhirya Residence because she wanted to visit it too. The weather was still magnificent. We took the Metro to Herovi Dnipra and a small mini-bus was waiting. This time, we paid less but the driver waited till the seats were filled. This was no great hardship as I went to get a coffee.



 We traced the same route on bikes as I had taken with Marta but in the reverse direction!



We stayed till about 5pm and then took a car back to the Metro, this time I paid a little extra (the same as I had paid with Marta) in order to save us waiting for more passengers. There were very many visitors, it being a bank holiday Monday but because the site is so huge, they were soon scattered around the park. We waited an age to get some food when we were down by the river. The small kiosk was not really up to the task.
Next day, Tuesday, was a slight anti-climax. Marina had a cold and we didn't go to the centre till around lunch time, so that gave us very little time to walk around before having to return to the hotel to check out. Marina's train was at 6pm and we left the hotel in plenty of time at 4.30pm. I saw her onto her train and then took the Skybus to the airport. As the bus was leaving the centre the road passes by the railway and, at 6.10pm Marina's train passed by!
The rest of my journey was routine! The Skybus drops off passengers at International Departures on the top level (of 3) and that is where Ligena Hotel picks up its guests, so there was no need to enter the airport. I rang the hotel, their min-bus arrived after 15 minutes and very soon, I was having a beer in the restaurant. For some reason, I slept badly but I managed to catch up on the plane. The hotel took me to the airport at 7.30am and I took the regular Barcelona flight at 9.55. 
And now, I will not be travelling much for the next few months. I like to travel to France but the strikes on SNCF will make that difficult. I can travel to France with my passport copy but I can't fly anywhere for 4 weeks until I get my new passport.



Friday, 13 April 2018

Lots to tell you!

In Kyiv
This morning I carefully placed my passport in an envelope and posted it to the Passport Office in the UK! So I will not be travelling for a month, at least outside Europe. That is the time that I have to wait for my new passport to arrive. The current version expires on 10th September so this is a good time to renew it because I don't normally go outside Europe during the summer. Why should I? It it is perfect.
I just got back from Ukraine but I didn't write about it until now because it is much easier writing on my computer at home and not on a laptop in a hotel room!

In my last post I wrote about difficulties with my two social groups in Girona. I tried to find solutions but that was not possible. So Girona Social Meetup has a new Organiser, I am not a member, and Girona Grapevine... well they just turn up! I was rather upset by one guy who suggested that I maintained the Girona Grapevine website for my own pleasure, to feel important! Within about 2 minutes, it was no more. I have other things with which to occupy myself. My annoyance lasted for a very short time!


I have two friends in Ukraine: Marina in Kharkiv to the east, very close to the Russian border. I have visited her there many times. And I have another friend, Marta who lives in Nizhyn which is about 90 minutes by train from Kyiv. Both are around 30 years of age. I am sure I have said before, it is a huge pleasure having young female friends but of course, there is no physical relationship. Hey, I am 74. But my mental age has no age. I know that "Kyiv" is spelt "Kiev" sometimes but it is simply a transliteration of the Cyrillic, київ. The use of Ukrainian is more common in Kyiv, Marina in the east speaks Russian. Marta uses Ukrainian. But both of them speak both languages.

I decided to base myself in Kyiv and not go to Kharkiv this time. That way, I could see both my friends. I arrived last Wednesday in the evening, booked into the Ibis Hotel near to the railway station and relaxed with a beer. There is an airport bus, Skybus, which takes 40 minutes from the airport to the station and then there is a 20 minute walk to the hotel.

Marta arrived by train next day at mid-day and we spent the afternoon in a small tour bus. It was great to see her again! Last year we went to Lviv together and we are very relaxed with each other. She checked into the Ibis Hotel and we had a meal together in the restaurant. She felt rather uncomfortable because the restaurant was almost empty and two of the waitresses were simply standing near by watching us. Too attentive! Naturally, people sometimes assume that the relationship is about something more than friendship! But I think she simply didn't like being watched. I was facing in the opposite direction so I was not subject to their gaze.

Next day Marta looked up excursions to Mezhyhirya Residence which is where the previous president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych lived in stupendous luxury. After the protests and violence in Feburary 2014 centred in Maiden Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), he fled to Moscow, Petro Porochenko became President and Ukraine turned more towards Europe and away from Russia. How is it possible to write in one paragraph what happened four years ago? The police fired on the protesters and almost 100 people died. It is impossible to visit the square without thinking about those events. Photos of those who died are posted on the hill above Maiden. The paths around the square still have many paving blocks missing as a reminder that these were used as missiles. The building which was burnt down is still covered with a huge fabric screen with a message of freedom, an image of chains broken. I am sure I have a photo from a previous visit - I will look for it later.

After breakfast on Friday, Marta was searching the internet on her phone. She reckoned that we needed to take the Metro to the end of the line to the north of Kyiv, Heroiv Dnipra, and then there would be transport waiting to take us to the residence. And she was right! Dnipro is the river of Kyiv, more about that later. We took a very comfortable car with only the two of us in the back seat, the journey was about 20 minutes.

The estate is enormous and we hired bikes. I've added lots of photos here which I hope you enjoy looking at.

The whole time I was in Ukraine, the weather was superb! Blue sky every day, a big high-pressure area sitting above me! I was expecting it to be cold but, in fact, the weather was better than in Barcelona. 
 




These first two photos are when we visited Maiden Nezalezhnosti after the bus trip.




I know it looks like the sea, but this is looking north up the Dnipro River. In parts it is very wide.


I bet they had some great parties here! I can just imagine the large black limousines with tinted windows parked up by the river.












 

Saturday, 10 March 2018

A Sunday morning in Girona!

Wow, I cannot remember for a long time having so many things stacked up against me. I have lost my two social groups - admittedly, the Meetup group through my own choice... however, it was more or less inevitable from October, there was tension with one member, the same as below, and anyway apart from that I felt that the good times had passed - 3 years, over 200 meetups! But Girona Grapevine, which I have taken care of for about four years and also at a time previously, and which has been in existence in Girona for about 17 years, is no more. A member of the group, and also a member of the Meetup group where I was Organiser (and where she gained many friends) created a competing meetup with her own group at the same time in an alternative location. But I was for ever trying to persuade Girona Grapevine to find a better place. So why did they not say to me that they have found somewhere better? (I was online all the time I was away). And I would have been delighted. But when the members went, they effectively joined the other group. Es lo que hay.
My Meetup group.... I gave them 3 years but they would not give me one week to sort out a problem with our regular venue - I was on the point of coming back from Colombia. It is odd really, I fell out with both groups for a very similar reason. In both cases, I was the Organiser which involves a great deal of time in the background, but that seemed to have counted for very little. I feel hurt by this experience but it will soon pass. Adelante.
Change of subject! I have floaters in my left eye which blur my sight as they float across my view. Floaters happen as one gets older, solid jelly which floats around the aqueous solution inside the eyeball. Normally after a time, the brain gets used to it but, after 6 months, this still affects the focus of my eye which is very annoying. But if that is the greatest of my health problems, I am lucky.
I have fallen out with one European friend. So I am very sad. But I have re-made contact with a good friend here in Girona.
So I am rather depressed. But I go to Kiev, Ukraine in April. My head is foggy, I cannot paint and I am drinking too much in an attempt to dull the pain. Except that it does not do that. I have a pain inside which I don't understand, it has been with me for many years. Don't worry, when I say that I am drinking too much, I am talking about wine, not a bottle of whiskey in a day!
I am sure things will get better. They usually do!

Update, Sunday morning...... The sadness over my social groups is wearing off and I think I will go and see my friends at church in Barcelona today. It is 6.45am so I have time for some breakfast before catching a bus to Girona at 8am. Then I take the fast AVE train to Barcelona. Haha, I am still at home and it is 9.30am. I went back to bed and this morning I will praise God on my bike! Ahh, that option didn't work out either! As soon as I walked out of the front entrance of the flats, I nearly got knocked over by the wind. Now I am full of negative thoughts, the floaters in my left eye affect my desire to do any painting and the possible loss of my cathedral paintings also creates a negative feeling.

The following images are from a logo that Alexander, Nini's husband, drew for his cake making which he does from home. The first is a photo which they use on their Facebook page but I promised that I would design an artwork in Adobe Illustrator when I got back here. That is the second image as you can probably guess. Now I know the customer is always right but I was a bit taken aback when Nini wrote that they are the same. And they prefer the photo. It is not even complete, they have clipped the image. Or maybe it is a pride thing - Nini has lots of the not-so-good type of pride! I did offer to make any changes they want because each element of the graphic is on a separate layer which can be switched on or off... or modifed. The lines were hand-drawn on the screen and are made up of anchor points and handles so that they can be pushed around easily. Or Illustrator can import scanned artwork for when I draw it on paper, which I prefer. Doing it on-screen was quicker so it is just as well I used that method!
I am not upset, nothing like that. I had fun doing it, it only took me a couple of hours. But it is interesting to see the difference in their view compared to here. I am sure that if I had done it for a friend here they would say that the graphic is much better.... but maybe ask for changes. That is allowed! But I can see what Nini is thinking, maybe the graphic design is too strong, she wanted something "homely" and slightly amateurish. She said the colours were too strong but 2 minutes in Photoshop and they could have had pastel colours to match the title (pastel in Spanish is "cake").... But, all the same, that is another thing that is making me sad. I would have loved to have done something for them which didn't involve money.
 


On my Wacom Tablet, it is easy! I draw with a stylus directly on the screen.
Most of the time, I don't use a keyboard, the controller is behind the mouse pad on charge.
 

I now have my ears pieced with two rings as "keepers" which have to stay in for four months. At the moment, I look a little like Jack Sparrow. I have had my hair coloured back to what I had originally last year - it got bleached in the Colombian sun! And I now have red finger-nails!

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Back home! (updated with a photo)

A B787 Dreamliner ready for its long journey to Barcelona
with a passenger waiting in the departure lounge!
This is the beautiful plane that brought me back across the Atlantic to Spain. The wings of the Boeing 787 are very elegant, swept back with a slight upturn at the end. The flight was very fast on account of an exceptional tail wind, the jet-stream, of 300km/h. That makes quite a difference as you can imagine. The regular airspeed of the aircraft is about 900 km/h so we were actually travelling at close to 1200 km/h ground speed. The outbound flight east to west in December was about 11 hours but this return flight was only 8h45! Barely time to get some sleep! This aircraft will have had a tough time when it returned to Colombia a few hours later.
Now that I am back home, I can reflect on my amazing two months in Colombia! As always, I had a volcanic relationship with Nini but somehow I continue having great affection for her, I am not so fickle as to end a relationship because the other person gets angry or upset sometimes. She has her reasons.. and maybe even she doesn't even understand what they are. And I have a new friend in Mayerlin.
There were one or two disasters but I am back here, in good health. That is the main thing. I spent a lot of money but I had lots of fun. My main disaster was the loss of my Spanish phone in a taxi which I wrote about earlier. It was 1st January, after a party, suffering from jet-lag, being dragged around two supermarkets. It is amazing I was still standing. I had an argument with the driver because he couldn't understand Google Maps on my phone. And as he drove away... agggh. No phone. Later I realised I could have dropped it in the street. That was definitely a low point.
I had to spend €430 to bring my little family back from Buenaventura by air because they couldn't face the bus journey but I wasn't looking forward to it very much either.
I think I lost €145 in an ATM (Cajero). I packed my Barclays Bank electronic pass (Pin Sentry) rather badly and when I arrived in Colombia, the display was damaged and I couldn't log into the account, which is what I was using most of the time. On one occasion, I went to withdraw money from a cajero of Bancolombia in the Éxito supermarket. Everything went fine until the moment when the money exits, except that it didn't. And there was no printed receipt. The terminal software crashed and I got an error message on the screen. I was very concerned and rang the phone number on the terminal, no reply, then I was cut off. I rang another number, no reply. I took photos. I had no way to check if the money had been taken from the account due to the loss of my Pin-sentry but now I can see that it has. People worried about my being robbed at gun-point but it was more prosaic than that - I was robbed by an ATM. I can't reclaim the money because I can't find the photos.
 So the bill for unexpected costs is about €800. But, if one goes to a far-flung foreign country, it is reasonable to expect that the risks are greater than visiting a great-aunt in Gloucester who will make you tea and ask if you want to use the toilet when you arrive. It is ironic really, I took out insurance but they are no fools. The least risk but the greatest cost is an accident or illness. What happens more frequently and which is not covered is leaving a phone in a taxi!
These were the (soon forgotten) low points. I argued with Nini at times. At this moment her fridge is empty on account of lack of money and she got annoyed with me because the spaghetti took too long to cook when I made them supper. I continue to love her for some strange reason! Or maybe because of that!

The high points? Well, as it happens, they were the times when I was solo but not for that reason. I enjoy company but the high point for me was going to Bogotá twice and visiting the Museo del Banco de la Republica de Colombia. And also Sta Marta. The beach was great but I learnt a lot about the indigenous people who live in the Sierra Nevada.
Regrets? Now, this I hesitate to write because it is rather personal but I really wanted to help the daughter of Nini's sister. Both sisters live in the same house together with their three children. They and their friends never read this blog and you don't know them. So I feel that I can safely write about them. The young girl is about four years old and suffers from HPV (HPV = human papillomavirus). And as far as I know it is not curable.... by conventional medicine. The young girl not only shares my name but also my nickname when I was very young. She is Stephanie but she is often called Titi. I believe with God's help I can make her better. But I provide only the conduit. So, when I describe God, what am I saying?
I believe in God "all around", not "up there". I spoke to Nini's sister a lot on the day I left and she accepted gladly much of what I was saying despite my talking too much! And I so much wanted to put my hand on Titi's shoulder for healing but either she didn't understand or she was afraid. My fingers were tingling and my hands felt a strange kind of power, focused. This is what Jesus taught to his disciples; to heal. We all have this ability to a lesser or greater extent but it comes from God. I cannot accept the human, personal image of God, sending his only son to earth. It is too literal. I believe that Jesus taught that we are all divine, God in us. Much of the creed of the Christian church comes from St Paul's interpretation of the teaching of Jesus anyway because there is no direct written record of what Jesus said. Not even in the well-documented history of Rome. I was brought up in a Christian family and I accepted the conventional teaching for many years, but with many doubts. I well remember coming back from an evangelical summer camp in my teens and telling my father about my conversion. "I am a Christian," I announced on the way back from the station. He replied that he always assumed I was! As though it was something inherited.
People often ask the question, "How can God allow suffering, illness in the world.. ". The answer in my view is that God does not control what happens here on earth as though it is some giant video game. Nini believes that God has plans for her in the future. My view is that her future is in her hands (taking into account that she has no money, neither has her husband!)
I often ask myself the question, am I seeking to cure Titi for my own glory or simply because I am so sad and I want to help her? (She has to go back regularly for surgery on her throat and she has no voice on account of her vocal chords being damaged). Maybe you think I am crazy to imagine that it is possible... but I believe it is possible. Jesus taught that it is possible.

I do not imagine God as some kind of telephone exchange where people make supplications to him to make someone better ("...if it is your will"). And then God gives a thumbs-up or thumbs-down like an emperor at the Games. I believe prayer is peer-to-peer. Person to person. You send your healing thoughts, your prayers, directly to that person. Now, I regret that I cannot put my hand on Stephanie but for sure I imagine doing it from 8000km away (with prayer, it is no distance) in the hope that it will help make her better. That is praying for her. But I do it directly to her. In the secular world it is called, "Absent Healing" and of course, in the religious world, it is called "Prayer". I believe they are one and the same thing. 
I have a mantra which is partly borrowed from a book I read a little while ago.
Before you die, make sure you do something amazing. That is my intention. But it is as though I am hearing someone shouting at me from the other side of a brick wall, I can't hear the words clearly. What are you saying to me? Go and play golf, sit on a sofa, relax, watch TV. No, I don't think so.



 

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Going Home to Spain! - updated from Pereira Airport

I'm writing this at 11am on 1st March. I am all packed and ready to go. My bike is in its transport bag and my suitcase just about closes. I bought so many clothes here that I have stuffed one or two items in my back-pack and I will check that in with my suitcase and bike.
I have a short flight from Pereira to Bogotá at 5.15pm, then a leisurely wait in the exec lounge at Bogotá Airport for my flight in a B787 Dreamliner to Barcelona, both with Avianca business class. The flight time is about 11 hours depending on how strong is the jet stream, it can make quite a difference. From West to East, it is a tail-wind!

I made up with Nini and I have gained a new friend in Mayerlin who I will miss. The trek on Sunday is embedded in my memory - a wonderful experience but very tough at the time! I have so many other happy memories, most of which I have written about here. 
My Meetup group here was a total failure! I gained over 40 members but did I see any of them? Nooo (with one or two exceptions who I met separately). No one came to the meetups. No matter, it was an experiment, so I stepped down as Organiser. And I have just quit as Organiser of my Meetup group in Girona which is a big step for me, but maybe not such a big deal for the members.
Last autumn, I saw the writing on the wall, it wasn't fun for me any more. But I stayed on. A week ago, the group had to leave Lapsus, our regular bar because the tables had been reserved for football from 8pm. If I had been there, I would simply have moved to another bar and returned to the regular location the following week. It is not a big deal. Football tends to rule in bars these days, the same happens in my local bar in Celrà. But the group then decided that they liked the bar they moved to and nominated it as the regular venue..... without even a whisper to me. The first I heard was when one of the members asked me to modify the website because they had decided that the regular venue would now be the new bar. I refused to do it, I said that I decide the location after consulting with all the members. I asked the member who wrote to me to give me a week to sort it out because I was coming back very soon. But, no, they met again in the new bar on Tuesday but some people naturally went to the venue which is announced on the website (I don't think they were thrown out). Chaos. Could they not just have given me one week to sort it out? I am a long way from Girona but almost always online and I have a very good relationship with Lapsus.

I decided with sadness that I was effectively redundant, so I wrote a polite message to all members last night and clicked on "Stand down as Organiser".  At first, I was a little upset that I hadn't been consulted (I would have said, "Stay with Lapsus for 1 week till I get back") but now I am glad to be out of it. I am not even sure I want to go along as a regular member because I will probably get involved with arguments. Meetup simply doesn't operate like this, members owe a debt of loyalty to their Organiser. It is only an opinion, I don't wish to criticise the members who returned to the other bar, I am sure they felt that it was a great idea and that I would like it too. Anyway I can't even find the location which was sent to me! 
Change of subject back to Colombia! I promised Mayerlin that I would come back in October so I will look forward to that, I will miss her. But we can stay in touch with Skype meantime - not quite the same thing, I know. I wanted to buy or rent a house here long-term but I decided that I would wait until the autumn and to see how I felt then. I have a long-term commitment with Nomel and his family in Manila but, unlike Colombia, I don't think I could ever make the Philippines my home. But with much pleasure, I pay the rent for their home and their internet - a family of mum and 5 children, of which the oldest is Nomel. He is a "she", a ladyboy. Or what would be described in the UK as transgender. I chatted with him on Skype this morning for a long time, we love chatting about trans things because I am also having fun being trans these days!

Updated....
Alex had  asked if he could take some of the items that I had bought while I was here but he was on his motor bike in the centre of Pereira and I realised that what I had for them was too much for his bike. So I took a whole load of things to their house around mid-day. It was a very happy scene and they really appreciated a selection of food, two small swing-bins, a baking dish, my blanket, more I think! Nini made me a sandwich with some ham which I had brought and I stayed till about 1.30 when I thought it was time for me to go back to my apartment. But all my bags were packed. We made very warm farewells and, really chevere, I took the Mega-bus as opposed to a taxi back home, first to the centre of Cuba and then back out to Idalia where I have been living.
At 2.30, I settled a small bill for food-used and the transport to the airport with Adrian the owner of my apartment and we packed all my luggage into his car with the bike in its bag on the roof rack. I arrived at the airport at around 3pm, checked in my bags and the bike and here I am in a small lounge next to the departure gate. Unfortunately I didn't get away with free transport for my bike this time and I had to pay the €100 fee. That was expected, it is the normal fee regardless of the class of travel. I think that was a very good deal, €50 each way effectively! They have to take the bike separately from the normal baggage, it goes in a separate hold and next time I see it, it will be in the special baggage delivery at Barcelona Airport. 

Monday, 26 February 2018

Is Colombia dangerous?

I pose that question because people back home in Europe often express doubts about my coming here. Well, of course, many parts of Colombia are very dangerous, less so now that peace has been made with Farc and they now have a political party in the elections in March. (By the way, the current president, Juan Manuel Santos, has reached his limit of 8 years and his party is among many in the elections in March, even more than in Catalunya!)
But the level of crime in parts of Colombia is high and peace was never made with ELN, the other main terrorist group here. And they are now operating across the border with Venezuela where there is a huge problem of immigration - there is chaos with our neighbour which is how Colombians describe Venezuela.
In the whole world, there are places where it is not wise to go at night, Barcelona even. My  time here has usually been in cities but I have spent a lot of time in rural areas too, and I have seen no evidence of crime or violence. Nothing close to it. I guess my most risky time was the weekend which has just passed and I want to tell you about it!
I have mentioned before my friend Mayerlin and she invited me to Santuario which is where she works as a teacher during the week - her home town is here in Pereira which is how I met her, at a social group. We get on really well, so I had looked forward to my time with her. By the way, many of my friends teach English but Mayerlin has a full week teaching several subjects in a a school.
I took a small mini-bus from the Terminal de Transporte in Pereira to Santuario early on Saturday morning, the journey was about 1h40. The bus company is based in Santuario and they simply wait until the bus is full, then off they go. Normally there is one per hour.
Mayerlin was not free till mid-day so I had a second breakfast in the plaza and wandered around the town. 


 When she was free, Mayerlin took me to her house which is where I was to spend the night. There were steep steps up to the front door and it was on two levels. These photos give you an idea of what Santuario is like, perched on a hill top.



We then had some lunch and planned what to do in the afternoon. Mayerlin suggested taking a jeep to a near-by town, so that is what we did. But it only went as far as a region called la Marina, in the middle of nowhere. So my next question was, where do we go from here? We started walking up the road and Mayerlin was thumbing for a lift from passing cars. I said that no way should she do that - she said that she had done it on her own. I said that, once inside a car, one is totally at the mercy of whoever is driving it. For sure, normally it is a kind person who has stopped to give a lift, but you never know.... whatever the country.

Then a luxurious mini-bus came along and we hailed that. We took a seat at the back where there was a young woman with a baby. It was a little surreal because it was all on impulse, rather like "Treasure Hunt" on TV many years ago, if you remember it. The bus took us to Apia which is another small town about the same size as Santuario and we drank tea by the local square which was teeming with people. It was about 4pm, I had no idea how we were going to get back but Mayerlin reassured me by showing me Santuario perched on its hill top on the horizon. I have to admit, I was a little worried that we would end up stranded at la Marina, with it getting dark and with no jeep to take us back home. But I need not have worried. These jeeps are everywhere, they serve as a bus and delivery service in rural Colombia. We found a jeep to take us to la Marina and about 10 minutes later, another jeep took us back home. It was getting dark by that time, so I wouldn't have wanted to be much later than that. 
We had a pleasant evening, chatted to a friend who teaches art and then we went back to Mayerlin's home, had some food, watched TV for a short time and then went to bed. I am sure you realise that this is a very pure relationship, we are friends only of course. 
Mayerlin set the alarm for 5am next day (Sunday) because we were due to take a 30 minute jeep ride at 7am to San Raphael, a small village from which we were to take a walk. We both enjoy standing on the back even if it is not necessary!

I should have known from last year when I went on a hike with my friend Alejandra that this would be no walk in the park! It was a very tough hike through deep forests following a rapidly flowing river which we had to cross seven times.


After the jeep dropped us off by a hotel, we had a breakfast of cheese and chocolate (it has a name but I forget) by a trout pool and then headed off with three women who had also come in the jeep.


I have added lots of photos here, I haven't tried to keep a sequence. This is where we were.

As I mentioned before, the hike was very tough. Sometimes the trail was very narrow, at one point it disappeared completely and we had to climb down a small slope where the ground had subsided. We were away for about 6 hours so I guess we were hiking for about 5 hours. Each time we came to the river, we had to plan how to cross it by leaping across the rocks. As you can see, we had a dog to keep us company and it stayed with us for the whole journey. Once or twice, Mayerlin had to carry the dog across the raging stream. Our objective was the Cascadas de San Rafael which we actually reached but I thought we would have to give up at several stages. At some points later in the trek, there were ropes to help up up steep slopes, it was all a bit crazy. But Mayerlin is an exceptional person, not one to give up. I was impressed. The three women came along willingly but I'm not sure if, between themselves, they considered giving up. The trek would have suited a group of fit young people. I am 74 but very fortunate with my health so I could handle the trip with no problems. To me, knees are a miracle, the force that they have to endure. But many people are not so fortunate.
The ground was always wet and we all tended to slip and fall at times, I was a little unlucky as I hit my head on a tree as I fell backwards, on the way back. There was some blood but it soon stopped and there was no pain. I left it as it was, I didn't attempt to clean it. I am a great believer in the body doing its own protection - in theory the flow of blood flushes out any germs and then it forms a solid barrier against any further infection. 

So, we must have walked for about 3 hours until finally we reached our objective and had some lunch on a rock. On the way back, I think I gave my companions a scare. There were some rocks high above the river which we had to traverse by abseiling. I went first and crossed the first rock easily. But on the second abseil, I lost my footing and swung sharply in the direction of the river. I fell backwards over a large tree trunk and my knees ended up wrapped around it. My friends above were very alarmed because all they could see were my legs and they feared that I was about to drop down the cliff into the river below. I thought it was funny - from my point of view there was no danger. I was holding on to the rope tightly and there was undergrowth between the log and the cliff and my knees.  But I think it shook Mayerlin because she then realised that the trek held risks. We were deep in a forest with obviously no phone signal. My main worry was an injury such as a twisted ankle so I was very careful where I put my feet.
So... Colombia is dangerous, but not in the way you think. Maybe Colombians have a different view of the world, maybe they take bigger risks. But I am so happy we went on that trek because, at some points, I couldn't see how we could go on. But there was no turning back, we had to stay together. It was as much a mental challenge as a physical one. 
On the way back, we didn't bother crossing the river on the rocks, we just waded across! My trousers were totally wrecked and dirty and Mayerlin lent me a pair of hers for my journey back to Pereira. 
We got back to our jeep meeting point soon after 3pm having left Santuario at 7am. The jeep picked us up at 4pm and took us back to Santuario, the roads are terrible but maybe I am getting used to it. 
By the way, although I had insect repellant with me, there was no need for it. There were no flying insects and I was never bitten. It is funny, deep in a Colombian forest but more insects in the woods near where I live in Spain!

Here are the photos.... (more text below the photos!)





















When I got back in range of a 3G signal at about 4pm in the jeep, I saw a message from Adrian, the owner of my apartment to visit him when I got back home. I noticed two missed calls from him. I assumed that he wanted to talk about cleaning the flat before I leave because we had discussed it before. The mini-bus from Santuario dropped me off in the centre of Cuba and I bought some food in the Éxito supermarket. When I visited Adrian's apartment below mine there was a party in full swing, Stephanie's birthday. I was wearing the clothes I had trekked in, but with rather strange trousers. I was given a beer and food at a table with a group of young people. This was totally the last thing I wanted, I was stressed and tired. I even started speaking in English by accident at one point. Adrian said that they had been worried about me because he could not get a reply from my phone and I wasn't in the apartment. I replied that it was allowed for one to go offline from time to time. He said that they were worried I had been kidnapped (no one would pay the ransom!) Why should anyone want to do that? I am living in the city of Pereira, with half a million occupants. In any case, I told his wife as I passed the front door where I was going first thing on Saturday morning but I can't remember if I said I was staying overnight. I think I did, so I went away imagining they knew where I was. Then Stephanie said that she had phoned Nini (I didn't even know they had her number) to ask where I was. My relationship with Nini is finished so that is the last person I would have wanted them to contact. But as it happens, I had told Nini that I was away for the weekend.
I have to confess that I got rather irritable at the party but I was more cheerful later. Someone said that I should have cleaned the cut in my head, "...because the tree was dirty". This was virgin forest virtually untouched by human hand.... apart from the abseiling ropes! My head is fine, what goes on inside is another thing altogether! It is true that there is harmful bacteria in the soil but sticking my head in the river would not have done much good, I think.
Then I went back up to my flat and I see that I may have problems with my Meetup group in Girona, which is all I need. And I stepped down as Organiser of my Meetup group here. I have gained 44 members but no one comes to the meetings. Maybe they are confusing it with Facebook. I did write to them asking what they wanted to do.
So I went to bed, rather stressed but very happy to have gone on the trek with my dear friend Mayerlin.
Now I have 3 days before I go back to Spain on Thursday. But I am not looking forward to that. The political situation is still chaotic and I may have difficulty with my Meetup group. But the latter is more easily resolved than the political situation! Unlike Carles Puigdemont in Belgium, I can run my group from abroad even though I am not actually attending the meetups.