My Dear Readers,
In a week I will go to my next trip. Map is in attachment. First, I will go to Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica, which is supposed to be not too much spoiled piece of this, otherwise quite touristy country. Then, I will go to Panama and take a boat across Darien Gap (between North and South Americas) to Cartagena, Columbia. As you may remember, I approached Darien Gap in 2007
This "backpacker's Everest" is still unsubdued, unlike Mount Everest, which is subdued by hundreds of people every year.
From Columbia I will go to Venezuela and take a bus Caracas - Manaus. I probably will have several stops on this route. First I will have stop at Escolera, amazing place which I discovered in 2006
You do not need to take a tour to see the jungle. You step one meter from the highway and you are in primary, virgin jungle, because Escolera was cut through jungle.
After crossing the Venezuela/Brazil border I probably will take a long bike ride to next town in Brazil as it supposed to be long downhill slope, according to the interesting report written by guy who first went through this road on bike.
This road was cut through territory of uncontacted Indians, who killed several hundreds of construction workers with poisoned arrows. At time of his travel, the Indians were not a major problem as they got their autonomy. But rangers warned him about jaguars. Imagine jaguar running after bicyclist on a major highway!
From Manaus I will take long boat ride to Iquitos, Peru. Iquitos is ayahuasca capital of the world, and center of so called "spiritual tourism". Ayahuasca is hallucinogenic drug used by Amazon shamans.
From Iquitos I will try to reach Ecuadorian oil town Coca and from there to Quito. Crossing South American continent from Pacific to Atlantic ocean, along the Amazon river was always a traveler's dream. First it was done by Spanish conquistador and explorer Francisco De Orellana in 1541. I plan to repeat his route, but in opposite direction. My return flight is from Bogota at the end of April.
1. Map of my trip
2. In preparation for Amazon trip. (Feb 7 2010, Washington)
3. Francisco De Orellana, discoverer of Amazon river
Feb 12 2010
PS: If you or somebody else want to be added or removed from my mailing list, please let me know.
My Dear Readers,
One day before departure to my trip I had a stroke. So, instead of airport I went to the hospital. It was mini stroke which affected my speech and right part of my face.
I learned again that in order to survive in hospital you have to be in a pretty good health. They put me in very uncomfortable bed in emergency room, tied with electrical wires and ribbon tubes to that bed and I have to stay there from 9 am till 6 pm. It is much worse then in airplane where you can stand from your seat and walk a little bit for exercise. They kept me there because there were no hospital beds available. I learned why it was no beds available later.
I was scheduled to be released in the morning on third day of my stay. But my doctor came to see me for 5 minutes and sign release paper only at 5:30 pm. This is why they do not have hospital beds available before.
On the day two they did lots of exams and found that I am basically healthy with cholesterol and blood pressure somewhat higher then it should be. I know exactly why. For two months my only travel and exercise was walk between refrigerator and computer. And my diet also was far from half_hungry diet which I practice in my trips.
Next day after my release I went bicycling in order to be sure that I am OK. And one week after my release I went to my trip. It was not act of bravery or recklessness. It was calmly calculated decision on what is better for my health. I am in second week of my trip and feel GREAT!
I spent half week in San Jose and half week in Bahia Drake. Unlike most tourists I like San Jose. It is alive, natural city, not fake touristy place, like so many others. It has beautiful theater full of bronze and extravagant ornaments. It is a little bit pompous but it is how the OPERA theater should be. I listened there to the symphony concert of Costa Rican National symphony orchestra. Hall was full of enthusiastic listener of all ages unlike Kennedy Center, in which it seems the only listeners of age 70+ are admitted.
It was heavy rain in Bahia Drake just before my arrival. So water was murky and no snorkeling was possible from the shore. So I took a snorkeling trip to Isla Del Cano of 20 km from the shore. Snorkeling is best in Costa Rica here, according to tour-guide books. It should be great because shoreline was very uneven with lots of small coves and tide-pools full of sea-life. But as we came to shore, guides locked snorkeling equipment in order for snorkelers not to be hit by incoming boats. They took us to the special place for snorkeling, where we have to swim in safety jackets in the area the size of large swimming pool. Place was OK. But it is definitely not worth $75, which they charge. I should learn eventually that these snorkeling trips are usually designed for the first time snorkelers and are quite disappointing for these who do it not for first time!
I decided to bike from Bahia Drake to Rincon across the neck of Osa peninsula.
Difficult dirty road goes up and up and up. I stopped 50 meters from the top out of
exhaustion and hitchhiked a car, which brought me to the Rincone. Next day I took all day
bus ride to Panama. I like Panama city, I always liked it. It is large serious city open
to the sea, quite different from the other Latin American towns.
I stay in Mamallena, quite nice hostel, $11. On March 10 I will take a boat to Cartagena, Columbia
March 7, 2010,
My Dear Readers
In 3 hours I will go on trip from Panama to Columbia om boat Stella Luna with captain Hernando. Lonely Planet, Thorn Tree posted good reports on this trip.
I spent 4 days in Panama City and found good place for snorkeling\spearfishing inside the city. It is on Eastern side of Isla Flamenco, next after place there boats to Tabago Island depart. I killed few fishes there and went on Western side of Flamenco island to bake them. It is small rocky deserted beach there, behind abandoned machine shop\damp. It was nobody there to interrupt my seafood lunch.
I went to town of Colon yesterday. Lonely Planet wrote "You are not MAY BE ROBBED there. You WILL be robbed there". But that can scary a person who already had a stroke! And I am not sorry. Colon is very interesting place. City inhabited by descendant of builders of Panama Canal. After Panama Canal was built it was not much work left there. City is full of dangerously looking black males. And on foot I probably would be robbed there, but not on bike.
It is interesting that in African countries where black people are absolute majority of population, black people are not aggressive at all. In Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya I felt quite comfortable. Poorer countries, more safe they are. Malawi, Burkina Faso, Ghana are absolutely safe. Black people became aggressive when they have to live with people of other races with whom it is difficult for them to compete.
1. My auto portrait
2. Colon embankment
3. Electric track pulling ships along Panama canal
4,5,6,7 Colon street scenes
Panama City, Panama
March 10 2020
Travel Notes on my robbery
For ten years of my travel it was nothing happened to me. But on March 18 I was robbed and attacked with machete. I was riding down from Mt. La Popa, Cartagena. Lonely Planet warned that it was several armed robbery on this route. Last year former major of Bogota was robbed. It was clearly my stupid mistake to ride bike there.
Two black teenagers (17 and 18) attacked me. They hit my head with machete, I fell from the bicycle and lost consciences for a second. Then I wake up, I found machete put at my throat. I grabbed machete and also noticed that it was not very sharp, as my fingers were not hurting. Later doctor have to put couple stitches on my fingers, anyhow. Teenager pulled machete, I resisted. Then he put his foot on my face and pulled again, I still resisted. Then they start kicking me with their feet. Eventually one of them said magic sentence in English: "Give me your money" I immediately let machete go, jumped on my feet and pulled out my pockets. Take whatever you want! They took my pocket watch, compass, glasses and about $20 worth of Colombian pesos and run away to bushes as cars approached and started signaling. My head was bleeding heavily. I took off my shirt and tied it around my head to stop blood. Then two women, one Colombian, another from New-York took me on their taxi to the ambulance, which was conveniently located just below Mt. La Popa. My cut was about 10 cm long and doctor puts about 10 stitches. Report in Russian Radio Station, below, is greatly exaggerated. Healing goes extremely well. Today, 3 days after the incident I feel OK, no swelling no pain. Doctor said to remove stitches in 5 days.
Next day police came to my hotel and took me to Cartageana Police headquarter. They caught these boys. Their mothers brought police to boy?s secret hiding place. As far as I understand police want to publicize entire story as they caught them really fast and want to be prised for their achievements. Big press conference was scheduled at Police Headquarter. Police asked me not to press charges, as they came themselves, (with mothers). I do not believe that person who tried to cut somebody?s head in a half at 17 will ever be a good person or citizen. But on the other hand, I stopped any attempts to change the world long ago. And I decided do not interrupt with the way Cartagena police wanted to handle this case. So I somehow reluctantly participated in that spectacle which police orchestrated. I took apology from their mother and from them and took a present (sombrero). I only resisted when that teenager tried to put the hat on my head, which he just day ago tried to cut in a half. Police offered me helicopter tour above Cartagena. But I was too tired and refused. Police also offered me my personal police escort while I ride bike in town, which I also refused. Town is actually quite safe and nice.
All Cartagena major newspapers published this story on front pages My name as usually was misspelled like this:
You could type these names in Google and you get bunch of newspaper articles. Some of them are listed below:
In Russian: http://www.rian.ru/incidents/20100320/215457743.html
1. In Emergency room
2. 10 Stitches
3. Press conference. Next to police chief is guy who was with machete, next are their mothers, next guy did mostly nothing.
4. I do not allow my attempted murderer to put hat on my head
5. Newspaper headline
6. At press conference with Cartagena Police Chief
Russian News Agency РИА (in Russian)
БУЭНОС-АЙРЕС, 20 мар - РИА Новости, Александр Соловский. Российский гражданин Алекс Мручов (Alex Mruchov), путешествующий на велосипеде по Колумбии, подвергся нападению малолетних преступников в окрестностях города Картахена, сообщила в субботу колумбийская радиостанция Caracol.
В пятницу при подъеме на холм Попа (Popa), где расположена местная достопримечательность - монастырь 17-го века, 72-летнего туриста остановили два подростка, которые предложили ему отдать им велосипед и кошелек. После того, как Мручов отказался это сделать, они нанесли ему несколько ударов мачете по голове и рукам. Малолетних преступников отогнал проходивший мимо патруль морской пехоты. Военные же доставили россиянина в близлежащий госпиталь, где ему было наложено 30 швов на глубокую резаную рану головы. В настоящее время он чувствует себя удовлетворительно и уже вернулся из госпиталя в гостиницу. Атаковавших россиянина подростков матери привели в полицейский участок, где они принесли свои извинения. Год назад на этом же подъеме малолетние преступники отобрали велосипед и деньги у бывшего мэра Боготы Энрике Пеньялосы (Enrique Penalosa).
Как сообщает радио, Алекс Мручов имеет российское гражданство, но проживает в Вашингтоне (США). До Колумбии он в одиночку проехал на велосипеде несколько стран Латинской Америки. После окончательного выздоровления россиянин намерен продолжить свое путешествие.
March 21 2010
Travel Notes on Cartagena Incident (answering questions)
My Dear Readers,
Thank you for your letters. You asked many questions, which I would like to answer in this letter. I rode bicycle down Mt. La Popa. I noticed suspicious teenagers. But as I already almost finish the turn, I expected they cannot catch me, even if they had such an intention.
I do not remember what happened next. I probably lost consciousness. Next thing I remember, I was laying on my back and blood flowing to my face from the wound on my head. I concluded that I fell from the bicycle and injured my head. Next I discovered a sword at my throat. It turn out it was a machete. I expect next moment the sword will go through my throat. So, I grabbed it instinctively. NG, as you can see from what I just wrote, I did not refuse to give money, and did not resist demands of attacker. I did what probably anyone would do in such situation. I grabbed machete, before it was put through my throat. AD, you asked what I was thinking in what would be my last moment. I did not remembered all my life or childhood. My brain was cool and rational. I noticed that my fingers did not get cut off and do not hurt much. So, I concluded that their weapon is not very sharp and I can continue to hold it. My main concern was to hold it firmly and not allow it to slip, as fingers can be cut off if it slips. They kicked me with their sneakers. It was not painful at all. I continued to hold machete, laying on my back and maneuvering to avoid kicks.
Then the demand was pronounced for first time. "Give me your money". I was dumb enough to ride this road, but I usually do not carry much money with me. This time I had equivalent of $20 in Colombian pesos. I probably could hold for a few more moments, but it was definitely wiser to give up and let them take these money.
In less then 24 hours police caught them and arranged a press conference to celebrate their really big achievement. Police probably distributed message in slam villages near Mt. La Popa saying that if attackers came themselves, then they will not be prosecuted. This is my theory. I do not know that happened in reality and why their mothers brought the policemen to the boy's secret hiding place. So, police tried to persuade me not to press charges and accept apology from their mothers and from them. I did not hate them as I would not hate lions, if I would be injured in jungles. I broke the rule, rode that damn road and I was punished. So, I somehow reluctantly agreed to participate in the police scenario. Why reluctantly? Because the scenario also included presentation of sombrero and talk about coming to Cartagena again. It was stupid, and press immediately caught it and some articles came under headline: "Sombrero for machetero". Talking about coming to Cartagena again and bringing family and friends also sounds quite strange, keeping in mind the context of the event. So the straightforward police propaganda brought probably more harm then good to reputation of Cartagena. But there were no police attempts to hide any facts, as Gazeta.ru wrote. Gazeta probably fallowed standard newspaper cliche: "Corrupt police, hiding facts, blah, blah, blah...". Most Cartagena newspapers printed my face with machete scar on my forehead and described incident correctly.
What punishment will these guys get? They will be put on a program of reeducation of under-aged criminals. Their pictures are published in main newspapers and I do not believe that citizens of Cartagena will have good feelings toward them, as the well-being of thousands of people in Cartagena depends on tourism.
Press conference was conducted in Spanish and police interpreter translate what I said. Cartagena police intentionally or unintentionally presented me to the press as Ruso, as my birthplace in American passport is Russia. And I am glad that it was presented this way because if AMERICAN tourist was cut with machete in Columbia, there would be much more noise.
People in the street recognized me, shake hands, asked for autographs and apologized for what happened to me.
As you can see from picture in attachment my scar does not look bad now. Next day after stitches were removed, on 6th day after incident, I went to Tayrona National Park, Columbia and rode bike on quite difficult road, which locals consider not bikabale
Santa Marta, Columbia
March 28 2010
My Dear Readers
After interruption caused by the machete incident I am returning to the chronological descriptions of events. So, I left Panama City on March 10 to cross to Colombia on boat. Captain Hernando Higuera was a very photogenic, typical Captain. His girlfriend Maria, a big and beautiful Colombian women was very nice and smiley. Yacht Stella Luna was probably the same or more comfortable then other boats traveling on Panama-Colombia route. I am glad that I accomplished this trip, but I probably will not do it anymore. Compartments of the yacht are very cramped. I get a lot of bumps in my head. Physical contacts with other passengers are quite close, which was uncomfortable especially as one of them had unpleasant skin disease. We stay 2.5 days at San Bias islands and travel 2.5 days in open sea to Cartagena. Road from Panama City to the shore of San Bias Archipelago was surfaced recently and it resulted in explosion of tourist traffic, unfortunately. In a few years San Bias may become sort of a Central American Phuket. Snorkeling and spearfishing at San Bias was not bad. I caught 4 lobsters. Captain said that in 9 years he worked on this route it was the first time somebody did this.
Despite that machete incident I should say that Cartagena is a nice town. It has proper combination of civility and exotics. And it is quite safe, except that route to Mt. La Popa. Returning to this incident I think that it was the best strategy to hold machete, as without weapon they cannot finish me fast. It would have been better to hold the machete a little bit longer. When cars started to approach, my attackers ran away. If they left the machete in my hands, this story may have had a different end. Another interesting fact: The person who was robbed at La Popa a year ago Enriqu Penalosa is now running for the position of President of Colombia
From Cartagena I went to Tayrona National Park, on the Caribbean shore. Park has two quite different type of accommodations: Monumental, $400 per night hotel, which is absolutely empty, and very rustic campgrounds. There is nothing in between. As I noticed in Botswana, countries which made crazy money usually do not know what to do with them. I mean Botswana money for diamonds and Colombia for drugs.
I stayed in small village called Arrecifes in Andrea?s campground which is not bad, except it has one "bathroom" for all, a water pipe hanging from the tree. I met a Ukrainian mathematician there. He escaped to Colombia, when the Soviet Union fell apart. But he later found that Colombian passport is worst of all. No country wants visitors from Colombia and any financial transactions for Colombians are very difficult. Snorkeling in Tayrona Park was very good, by the way. Spear-fishing is not allowed and I did not do it, as excellent fish in local restaurant was very cheap.
I took a long bus ride to Bukaramanga, a town famous for its big edible ants, see picture. Next day I took another bus to Bogota. Bogota is nice during the daytime. In the evening it is cold (12-14C) damp, dim and gloomy. It reminded me of St. Petersburg in late fall. Bogota has biggest gold museum in the world, containing famous Colombian gold, looted by Spaniards, see attachment. From Bogota I fly to Leticia, a Colombian town on the Amazon river.
Columbia is very different from Central American countries from which I came. It has a sizable population of white people. Many women are quite good looking. They are not metiso or mulatto, but pure white European type faces. Often you see international models walking hand in hand with bandidos. Most Colombian men look like this. Colombians are friendly and want to make you happy. Sometimes their idea of making you happy is quite different then yours, which creates some confusion.
My major finding of this trip is:
It is quite easy and cheap to get to Columbia and even to upper Amazon river. Ticket to Bogota cost the same as to Cancun, about $300 RT You can get to plane from Bogota to Leticia in the same day, as it depart at 10pm ($160 RT)
1. Captain Hernando
2, Captain, his girlfriend Maria and me
3. Yacht Stella Luna
4. Lobsters and sea urchin
5. Fried ants
6. More ants
7. Colombian Gold
Apr 11 2010
Travel Notes on another accident
Yes, my Dear Readers I got another accident, car accident this time. But as it is became sort of routine, I will write it in chronological order.
So I came from Bogota to Leticia. Leticia is separated from the rest of Colombia by hundreds of miles of impenetrable jungles. For such remote place, Leticia is quite civilized and nice. Fish market is full of prehistorically looking Amazon fish including biggest fish in the world pirarucu. Fruit market is full of unknown fruits. It has decent Internet, and as I mentioned before it is easy and not too expensive to get there. I took standard one day jungle tour, which was a joke. I planed to get in real jungle in "Escolera" Venezuela, but I has not because of my accident
I bought three days boat trip to Manaus for $70. I stayed in hammock on common deck. It was nice. People were relaxed and friendly. Ship and "banos" were relatively clean. Food was included in price and was OK.
Manaus is not as nice as Leticia, but Opera Theater is great. To built such theater in the middle of Amazon jungles is great achievement. From Manaus I went to Boa Vista on Venezuela border.
I use different riding technique in different places. I would never ride bike in front of car in Moscow, because it is not macho thing there to brake for bicyclists or pedestrians. In places with more polite traffic I sometimes cross street in front of moving cars, if I calculate that car has enough time to brake for me. This is what happened in Boa Vista. I calculate that he will brake for me, but he did not. Later I noticed that traffic in Boa Vista is fast and rough. He hits my bike from behind and than continue to push it. I landed in front of bike on my butt and was pushed forward in this position, so I injured mostly my hands with which I kept balance. No bones were broken. Bike was damaged more. I probably need to buy new bike. I rested one day and took bus to Santa Cruse, a town on Venezuelan shore of Atlantic ocean. It took 23 miserable hours in famously freezing Venezuelan bus. But Ferry to Isla Margarita was nice, see picture.
On Apr 19 it was 200 years celebration of Venezuela Independence, and it was huge government celebration/show. It was a lot of anti-capitalista, anti-imperialista and anti- militarista rhetoric. To my surprise the invited President of Bolivia was even more harsh then Chavez. Raul Castro was modest compare with them. It was also big military parade in which participated troops from Algeria, Livia and....Belarus. Belorussian ironically marched on music of dissident poet Bulat Okudjava. In the same time as almost all TV channels show government show, one channel shows anti-totalitarian movie "Land of the Blind" Sometimes scenes from the movie and scenes from the government show were very similar.
Signs of Socialism are quite visible:
1. Piranas on fish market Leticia
2. On boat from Leticia to Manaus
3. Manaus Opera Theater
4. My bike after accident
5. My hand after accident
6. Two days later on Ferry to Isla Margarita
Apr 24 2010