June 29, 2011

An Open Letter to American Airlines (both employees and fellow travelers)

When I purchased this delicious chai tea latte at 5:00 PM on June 24, in Terminal D of the Miami International Airport, I wish someone could have told me about the next nine hours of my life. Cause I would have gotten a venti instead of a tall. Or maybe two lattes. Either way, there would have just been more caffeine in general.

Oh Starbucks, how I missed you.

The day began at 4:30 AM. A time when no one's day should ever begin. Ever.

Anna and I left my apartment, locked it up for the summer, and headed to the airport. "Are you willing to fly tomorrow for a $300 voucher in return?" was the first question an American Airlines agent asked me. I should have known it was all downhill from there.

And no, I am not going to accept $300, less than HALF the price of a Cali-Minnesota plane ticket, to fly tomorrow. Offer me a full round trip ticket and meals, then maybe I will think about it.

We checked in, went through security, saw about 20 people associated with my school, including two current students, two former students, one teacher, one principal and a whole bunch of others. Then we proceeded to Miami. We might have giggled our way through two hours of The Justin Bieber Experience on the plane. Yes, it pains me to admit that.

Miami customs, security and baggage drop happened un-eventfully, so Anna and I celebrated our return to US soil with sandwiches, french fries and delicious American beer at Chili's. From there we went through security to get back into the American Airlines terminal. Can you just tell me right now what the requirement are to work for airport security? What are the interviews life? If you use the phrase "I hate everyone and everything, ever" is that like an automatic guarantee you get a job? Do the interviewers for the DMV and airport security pull from the same exact pool of applicants? How does it work? And why on earth is it always such a rush? They tell you to get to the airport early, and most people do, so why are we all whipping off shoes, throwing belts into little plastic bins, slamming laptops down in the same plastic bins and holding our breath until we are safely on the other side. Airport security would be so much less stressful if everyone would just calm the hell down. Like, right now.

At the gate I said goodbye to Anna and made my way to my one-hour delayed flight to Chicago. This is after I tried to get on the earlier flight but couldn't because it was against policy to switch someone with checked bags. Even if said person offers to pick up their bags at the airport the next day. Awesome.

Finally on the flight to Chicago I settled into 17A next to 17B. Looked a little like a 65 year-old crazy college math professor so I figured he was a pretty normal dude. Turns out he was a clear-his-throat-every-five-minutes-while-reading-Chelsea-Handler's-My-Horizontal-Life-on-an-iPad dude. WHAT? So it was a fun flight. During which I missed my connecting flight to Minnesota.

Chicago to Miami at sunset.

Midwestern sunsets :)

Arriving in Chicago around 8:30 PM I expected to get on the later flight to MSP. The airport was almost deserted by 9 PM and I got a bit nervous walking through the empty terminal where I landed. No worries. Upon arrival at the American Airlines affiliate (American Eagle) terminal I found a slew of other delayed passengers. Kind-hearted, Midwestern people who also chose to fly this airline and who were also confused why NO OTHER PLANES WERE DELAYED expect those with American.

Around 10:15 PM they delayed our flight by a half an hour, scheduled to depart at 11:00 PM. Around 10:20 PM they delayed our flight another hour, scheduled to depart at 11:55 PM. I made my way to the counter to inquire if our flight might actually depart sometime that night. The agent told me she had "the highest hopes we would leave that night". Helpful. When asked why the plane was delayed she told me our pilot was not scheduled to arrive in Chicago until 11:30 PM. So to clarify, prior to 10:15 PM our pilot was going to be in Chicago in time to leave fifteen minutes later, but six minutes later we discovered he will not be there for another SEVENTY-FIVE MINUTES?

Around midnight our plane backed away from the gate to prepare for our departure as my seat-mate in 16B screamed loudly into her cell phone trying to communicate what terminal we were due to arrive at. I might have shed some tears before settling in to finish 41 minutes of the Grey's Anatomy season finale.

Thank God my friend Liz was there, high heels and all, to greet me as I arrived to the MSP baggage claim at 1:30 AM. I have never been to happy to feel the Minnesota ground beneath my feet.

This is home.

Let's get started summer 2011 :)

June 28, 2011

Kayaking Adventures with Anna

To finish up Anna's visit to Colombia we did one of my FAVORITE things in Colombia - kayak along the Pacific Coast. With Julio Perez and his Bicivan adventures company we set out for three days of sunshine, paddling and friends. Kelsi had two friends visiting, Tara and Varun, and our friend Stetson came along as well!

The six of us had a great three days of fabulous weather and excellent kayaking. This trip was one that Kelsi and I have done a few times before, so we were familiar with the area and we knew we wanted to share this unique part of Colombia with our friends.

The trip included three days of kayaking around some islands a short distance from the mainland of Juanchaco, Colombia as well as a short walk to the neighboring town of Ladrilleros. Here is a sneak peek into our adventures:

Kelsi and I on the boat from Buenaventura, the only town you can drive to on the Pacific Coast, to the coastal town of Juanchaco.

Kayaking around one of the islands on the first day. Anna and I are in the green kayak.

Lunch break on the first island! We didn't get very far before indulging in some cervezas and ceviche to keep our energy up for the afternoon.

Gorgeous :)

Thinking about how much I love the Pacific Coast :)

Obviously I made everyone pose for jump shots on our walk.

Co-workers jump shot! LOVE.

A view from one of the little caves looking out to the ocean.

Walking from Juanchaco to Ladrilleros, from left to right, Kelsi, Anna, me, and Julio, our guide.

Post-walk chatting over Coco Locos.

Sunset over the Pacific Coast - there really is nothing like it!

Sunset beers with friends is the best thing.

Varun and Tara enjoying the sunset :)

A Weekend in Salento with Anna

When Anna came to visit me in Colombia, I wanted to give her a chance to see as much of this wonderfully diverse country as possible. Our plan included included time in the city of Cali, where I live, a weekend in the coffee region in the little town of Salento, and a kayaking adventure to the Pacific Coast.

After all the craziness of the end of the year we packed our bags for the quiet mountain town of Salento. Highly recommended to me by co-workers, I knew this would be a great first trip to make with Anna. The bus ride to Pereira (which normally takes three hours) for some reason took five hours on this particular day, but after locating a connecting bus to Salento we settled in at La Serrana Hostel around 6 PM.

Looking down the main street for artisan shopping of the main plaza in Salento.

The main form of transportation around Salento - jeeps!

Located a short 10-15 minute walk outside Salento, La Serrana is a gorgeous eco-hostel with an on-site family style restaurant, friendly common areas and great information about the area. We settled in for some fantastic veggie burgers on Friday night, met a few of the other guests, and called it an early night before our hike in Valle de Cocora the following morning!

Outside the main gate to La Serrana.

Family-style dining area. Enjoying some eggs & toast for breakfast with fresh squeezed OJ!

I am down to stay anyplace that save wine bottles and corks for decoration.

Post-hike we gathered our energy to browse the shops in town. Salento is known for great artisan shopping and we definitely took advantage! I found a great painting in purple-ish hues of the Valle de Cocora, Anna bought a lamp and we both snagged a few pairs of earrings! We made it to dinner with our remaining pesos and sat down for a traditional Colombian meal that included patacones (fried plantains), chicken, rice and wine. Our post-dinner entertainment took us back to the main plaza to watch the championship game for La Liga, the Colombian soccer league. As I told Anna, you really haven't lived until you have watched Colombians watch soccer, and this game didn't disappoint! They just get so into the game and I had as much fun watching the people around me as I did watching the game!

Shopping street.

A delicious dinner starting with wine and patacones.

Anna with her new lamp!

On Sunday we finished the weekend with a trip to a local family coffee farm run by the most adorable 75 year old man ever, named Don Elias. We walked to his farm, about 45 minutes downhill from La Serrana, and he gave us a tour. This was my second coffee tour in Colombia (the other one was near Manizales), but I still learned lots of new info from Don Elias and throughly enjoyed the cup of home grown, home brewed, organic coffee he gave me at the end! I even bought some to take home to Kelsi and to my dad. Delicious!

Welcome to the coffee farm of Don Elias.

Anna follows Don Elias on the tour.

Drying out the coffee beans to prepare for roasting.

Our handsome tour guide!

With the weekend coming to an end we headed back to Cali to un-pack and re-pack for the next adventure!

June 26, 2011

Hiking in Valle de Cocora with Anna

When Anna and I headed off to Salento for the weekend we didn't just plan to hang around the pretty hostel or look at pretty doorways, but go on a hike!

My co-workers raved to me about the Valle de Cocora outside Salento, so I knew we needed to go there. The hike is famous because of the tall wax palms (the national tree of Colombia) that line the valley.

Anna and I started out from the main plaza in Salento with water and snacks in hand at about 9 AM on Saturday. A jeep took us and a few other hikers to the small hamlet of Cocora, about 30 minutes from Salento. After a quick conversation with some girls who had encountered a map of the hike, we found the starting point and set out on our way!

Immediately the rolling green hills, majestic trees and quiet country setting had me in love with this hike. After about an hour in the valley the scenery changed a bit as we headed into more of the forest around the river (Rio Quindio). Several bridge crossings and a few hills later we arrived at the Acaime Lodge for some snacks and hot chocolate. We ended up seeing lots of other hikers there who were also staying at our hostel so we compared hiking notes before continuing to the next stop on the map, La Montana (The Mountain).

Well, the mountain it was, because the next .8 km felt like 5 km because they were straight uphill. We were warned about this going into it, but this part of the hike still felt especially difficult because we were at altitudes about 9,000 ft. Finally arriving at La Montana, three hours from the start of our hike, we looked out over the surrounding hills only to discover that we couldn't see very far in the distance. We were so high that the clouds blocked our sight lines! A quick picture of the elevation sign later and we started down the road back into the valley. The walk down, while hard on the knees, was the best part of the hike yet!! The valley on this side was even more striking that the beginning and we couldn't help but stop for some classic jumping photos :)

A surprising 45 minutes to an hour later and we were back at the start of the trail! Turns out when you have a road to walk on, lots of catching up to do, and a straight downhill path, time flies! We caught a jeep back to Salento just as the rain started to fall and headed to the hostel in search of a hot shower to ease our limbs :)

The basic game plan for our hike.

On the trail!

One of the first bridges we had to cross - make of logs thrown across the river.

Anna captured this bridge on camera and I just love how the picture turned out!
Another bridge!

Happy hiker :)

Looking over the hills and valley...through the cloud layer.

FINALLY made it to the top (La Montana) at 2,860 meters (9,383 ft!).

The wax palms coming through the valley. The pictures really cannot do the 360-views justice. The sight of all these trees was stunning!

Anna makes the next add for Colombian tourism!

June 25, 2011

Photo Essay: Doorways of Salento

When Anna came to visit last week we traveled by bus about five hours from Cali to the quiet mountain town of Salento. Set in the famous Eje Cafetero, the coffee region of Colombia, this town is famous for its slow pace of life, rolling hills of coffee, and colorful markets/buildings. Strolling the streets of town I loved seeing the bright, colorful doorways pass by. Here are just a few of the ones we saw...

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