Archive | November, 2010

Census Shutdown in Ecuador

29 Nov

Quito, Ecuador
Sunday 28 November, 2010

Today at 4.59pm the final countdown started;

5… 4… 3… 2… 1… We’re FREE!!!

After ten hours of being forcibly locked inside our hostel we were finally able to leave.

Earlier this morning Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa issued a decree that prohibited most businesses from operating and the vast majority of Ecuadorians and other visitors to the Country from leaving their houses / hotels and consuming alcohol between the hours of 7.00am and 5.00pm today. Within this time-frame land borders between Ecuador and Colombia were also closed, and all flights within Ecuador canceled. Those who disobeyed the presidential decree risked being issued a $4.00 fine and being sentenced to gaol for a period of four days.

Thankfully measures to paralyse the country did not result from any coup attempts, like the one that shook Ecuador some weeks ago. In fact it was the National Census of Population and Hosing that brought the nation to a standstill.
The shutdown order was made to ensure that this first census in a decade would be successfully completed. The Government required people to be home today to greet the more than 361,500 senior high-school students and 22,000 of their teachers who went door to door on this rainy Sunday to conduct verbal face-to-face census interviews. Notably those responsible for conducting the census interviews were not paid for their labor as this was seen as a civic duty of students and teachers. The Government did encourage people to make sure the surveyors were comfortable and well fed.

Ecuador’s key media outlets have reported that citizens were generally happy to comply with the shutdown; under 1000 people were arrested for violating the decree to stay off the streets and the booze. The Quito newspaper El Comercio reported that the police kindly told tourists who didn’t realise that a shutdown order had been issued to go back to their hotels.

I haven’t been able to work out why the census surveys which consisted of 6 pages of questions with largely multiple-choice format answers could not be delivered to houses across Ecuador earlier this month to be completed by citizens and visitors without the supervision of students and collected afterwards by workers or volunteers. This formula works for a lot of countries around the world and would have avoided the disruption caused by the census shutdown. Illiteracy in Ecuador doesn’t seem widespread enough to justify the shutdown and supervision of census survey completion, especially in the Country’s urban centres.

I don’t need to be convinced that national censuses are important sources of data that Governments and other organisations need to evaluate existing and develop new public policy initiatives. In developing countries data collected in a national census is especially crucial to fight poverty. At the moment the World Bank doesn’t even have up to date key development indicators for Ecuador.

Ecuador’s 2010 Census was an interesting document to read. An entire page of the 6 page census survey was devoted to questions about housing conditions. The census required respondents to report the quality of the roof, walls and floors of their home, the number of rooms it had and how many people lived there, and whether or not they had access to water and electricity mobile phones, computers and the internet. Answers to these questions will reveal a lot about living conditions and poverty in Ecuador.

The Census also asked respondents to identify their race. Respondents could identify with one of the following six racial categories listed; Indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorian, Black, Mulatto, Montubio, Mestizio, White or Other. The census invited those who identified as Indigenous to indicate which of the seventeen officially recognised indigenous peoples they belonged to. In the lead up to census many Indigenous organisations were encouraging Indigenous people to be proud of their heritage and identify as such in this year’s census, as in 2001 only 6.8% of that national population did so where experts estimate this figure is in reality closer to 40%. Other voices were critical of the race question, arguing that it will reinforce racial divides and racism in this rainbow nation.

I was surprised that census did not ask any questions about the value of assets people owned and their annual income. A friend made the point that this data could be collected through the Taxation Department. This may be the case, but it seems silly to me that the Government would give up this rare opportunity to map incomes and wealth across the national territory.

The Ecuadorian Government commented that they hoped the 2010 census would be the last in the country’s history, as future developments in technology and bureaucracy will render unnecessary make the need to survey the entire population one day every decade.

Ecuador would be joining a growing list of developed countries who have realised that government statisticians can mine existing databases to pull out information that a national census would usually provide. See the Economist article on the decline of old-fashioned census here.

In Canada Stephen Harper’s Conservative Government decided to get rid of the the traditional mandatory long-form census and replace it with a voluntary survey in response to the perception that the census invades privacy.

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Botero, the painter of fat women, in Bogota

28 Nov

Round fruit, even rounder women, bloated and effeminate Catholic bishops and fat men riding obese horses are recurring themes in the paintings and sculptures created by Colombian artist Fernando Botero Angulo. More than one hundred pieces created by Botero in the course of a lifetime are on display at Bogota’s Museo Botero.

With its bold colours and almost childish imagery, Botero’s paintings do not seem technically complex, which is perhaps why the BBC have snobily touted his work as “art for people who don’t care about art”.

I’ve had no formal training in art appreciation or art history, so I’m not professing to be an art critic. However untrained my eyes may be I still find something incredibly special about Botero’s creations. There is something about Botero’s artworks draw people to them, a sarcastic sensibility perhaps that at first glance brings a smile to the viewer’s face.

Because I am a leftie I can’t help but read Botero’s work as a clever, tongue in cheek criticism of greed and excess in 20th Century Colombia, even though the artist has never made public comments that would validate this interpretation.

Certainly Boteros’ 2004/ 2005 series exploring violence and terror within Baghdad’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison suggests that Botero doesn’t merely paint pictures because they are pretty. Sadly none of the 80 Abu Ghraib paintings are on display in Colombia yet.

Cartagena

25 Nov

Contrary to my last post, Cartagena isn’t all violence and robberies. This handsome old city in the north of Colombia is hot and alive with a Caribbean culture that you won’t experience in Bogota or the South of Colombia. Here are a few notes I prepared for friends while sitting in Cartagena’s airport (free wi-fi) for friends heading in this direction.

Where to stay

The beach (along the shore at Boca Grande) and the old town are two main hubs of tourist or short-stay accommodation in Cartagena. Although the beach is dirty and a no-go zone at night, Boca Grande is home to many of Cartagena’s big resorts and international hotels such as the Hilton. Unless you are set on staying in a luxury hotel, don’t bother looking for a room in this area. Hands down you are better off staying in the old town where you’ll find hostels and hotels to suit all budgets.

If you are the kind of traveler who is happy to turn up in a place and organise accommodation on arrival, your best bet is to head straight to Calle Media Luna in Getsemani. The Media Luna Hostel, is the biggest and most popular option here amongst the under 35 crowd. It offers guests all the usual hostel services; free wifi, a modest book exchange, and plenty of information about Cartagena and transport connections to other cities including to Panama by boat. The Hostel also boasts a small pool in its large and attractive courtyard, and its rooftop bar is always busy, especially on Wednesday nights. However despite all it has to offer, this big party hostel is not necessarily the best option for budget travelers in Cartagena. Dorm beds here are expensive at $13 a night, especially since this rate does not include breakfast and there is no kitchen. Those traveling in groups of two or more can easily find a private room on Calle Media Luna and the surrounding blocks for $15 a night or less with shared bathroom, for example at the Hotel Contact (in the big white building two doors down from the Hostel Media Luna on the same side of the road). Across the road the Hotel Marlin offers double rooms with private bathrooms and free breakfast for roughly $20.00 a night. This hotel also has a kitchen for guests.

We opted to stay in the Casa Beluarte. Here we paid $25.00 a night for a double room with private bathroom, fan, and cable TV. The Beluarte’s courtyard garden is a pretty and peaceful place to chill out, and there are lots of chairs and hammocks to sit in on the second floor while using the Hotel’s free wifi. The beds here were the most comfortable I have slept in for a long time. Another plus is that the Beluarte is owned and managed by a friendly local family called Fox. Their staff are kind and helpful too. This hotel proves that there are huge variations in the quality of rooms offered by different hotels and hostals in Getsemani within the same price range, so it is worth checking out a few places before you commit to staying anywhere.

The majority of hostel and hotels in Getsemani offer free wifi to guests, but they also tend to provide cold-water showers only. I’d prefer a hot shower but in the humid heat of Cartagena a cold shower is not too much of a rude shock first thing in the morning.

Where to eat

The Australian Fusion Cafe is one of the best restaurants in Cartagena. This Cafe was only recently opened by Australian Chef Ian and his Colombian wife Angela so you won’t find it in the guidebooks yet, though I am sure Ian and Angela will make it into the next edition of Lonely Planet Colombia. This isn’t a tacky Walkabout bar. We aren’t talking roo burgers and Fosters beer (which no one drinks downunder). This resturant offers visitors to Colombia a wonderful taste of modern Australian cuisine. Main meals served for lunch and dinner include succulent fried white fish fillets and wedges served with fresh colslaw, a gourmet beef pie topped with cheesy mash, delicious chicken and pork sausage rolls and a malaysian curry that can be served as a vegetarian dish with enough chili to give it a nice kick. The quality of ingredients is high which is not necessarily common in South America and the portions are generous. Those on a tight budget will be pleased to know that the Australian Fusion Cafe is also great value. All mains are priced at only 9000 COP (just under $USD 5.00). The Porterhouse Steak, specialty of the house, is available for 24,000 (about $USD 12.00) and is served with a cold beer. At lunch and dinner guests can add a soup or salad to their meal as an entree and / or a desert of their choice for an additional 2000 COP ($USD 2.00) a course. I strongly recommend trying Ian’s lentil soup with vegetables and ginger and the banana cake which is served with a rich rum sauce and fresh cream.

Also worth checking out is the ‘chicken place’, which has another name that I forgot to note, located on Lemaitre opposite Parque Centenario. Look out for the huge barbeque and chickens roasting out the front of this crowded local restaurant and you won’t miss it. The specialty here is (surprise surprise) is chicken cooked over a charcol grill Portuguese style (ie flatened) served with plain maize tomales and a delicious rich garlic sauce. Half a chicken big enough for two or three hungry people to share, and it will set you back only $10,000 COP ($USD 5.00). Sides including delicious roasted potatoes are available from about $1 USD. The chicken place also sells the famous Colombian soup / stew Sancocho.

Lots of restaurants in Getsemani sell cheap pizzas. Small pizzas are available from 9000 COP ($4.50 USD) and large pizzas from 18,000 COP. Having been deprived from pizza for months in Central America where it is neither cheap nor tasty, Alex and I ate pizzas at lots of different places in Getsemani. By far the best were those sold at the Pizzeria under the Holiday Hotel, located on Calle Media Luna opposite the Hostal Media Luna. This place is incredibly generous with toppings, you will leave full and feeling as though you definitely got your moneys worth. We were introduced to this Pizzeria by our Captain Gwen. He and his wife Veronica have visited Cartagena many time and also swear by this place.

Lots of places on and around Calle Media Luna offer economical set breakfasts aimed at western tastes. We had breakfast and brunch at a number of cafes and restaurants but the best was Luna’s Cafe outside Hotel Beluarte. Here you can have a bowl of cereal, fruit and yoghurt with coffee or tea and a juice of the day for $7000 COP. This cafe also offer omlettes and croissants.

Street Food is also cheap and worth trying in Cartagena. Arepas are fried, fat and round maize cakes filled with yummy melted cheese available around the clock all over Cartagena. Try street corners if you are searching them out. Amongst locals this carb and fat-loaded snack is popular choice for breakfast, lunch, and/ or late-night beer-snack. Costing between $1000 and $3000 COP, arepas can be a cheap and filling meal for backpackers. Try to buy one that has been freshly cooked from a busy vendor.

Those juicy heart-attacks also known as papas rellenos (filled potatoes) are also delicious. This snack consists of meat or cheese squished between two thick slices of potato which is then battered and fried. Yum Yum. To be eaten in moderation of course.

For those healthier-minded friends, check out what the fresh fruit vendors have to offer. Usually watermelon or mango is available on street corners all over the city, conveniently peeled and cut up for you to enjoy. Note that mangoes are sold and eaten green and under-ripe with chilli and lime. Something different.

San Blas: sailing from Panama to Colombia

20 Nov

An early map: Portobelo to Cartagena

TO SEE MORE PHOTOS OF OUR SAILING TRIP FOLLOWING THIS LINK TO OUR PICASA WEB ALBUM

My introduction to sailing wasn’t as romantic as I had anticipated. I never guessed as we sailed out of the Bay of Portobelo on Panama’s Caribbean Coast, past its handsome 18th Century forts as the sun set over the old city, that a big, scary storm was just around the corner. As soon as night fell so did heavy rain, accompanied for dramatic effect by roaring wind that rocked the hell out of our little 13 metre-long sailing boat. When things got bad the Captain shouted over the noise of the storm “everyone into the boat! Sit down and don’t move!”. Of course I quickly obliged. So only an hour after leaving Portobelo I found myself sitting with teeth clenched in the dark cabin of a yacht which groaned and lurched and leaned this way and that with such force that I thought I was going to die. All I could think of were scenes from big Hollywood motion pictures of beautiful young boys drowning, especially from Ridley Scott’s White Squall and U Boat – 571. To bring down my blood pressure I reassured myself that the Captain knew exactly what he was doing, that storms like this were normal, and that everything would be okay. Throughout this ordeal Alex wasn’t able to hold my hand and give me a false sense of security since he was outside in the cockpit spewing over the side of the boat in the same directon as the wind as we had been instructed. When my terror gave way to nausea and I joined him. Maybe it’s possible to see something romantic in that, the two of us vomiting in unison. He held my glasses while I took my turn, and tried to hold my feet too, to stop me from falling into the sea. The storm passed before midnight. By sunrise we had arrived in San Blas.

The San Blas archipelago comprises 365 islands located off of coast of Panama (one for every day of the year). The land belongs to the indigenous Kuna people who have exercised autonomy over the Islands and the Kuna Yala territory on Panama’s Caribbean coast. The Kuna own this land collectively and forbid foreigners to buy it from them. We heard a rumor that the outgoing President of Panama was amongst those moneyed-up folk who had tried to purchase an island in San Blas earlier this year, but I haven’t found any evidence to back this up. The majority of the Kuna live on the mainland in Kuna Yala, and some travel to San Blas to harvest coconuts, which they use and sell for profit.

When I climbed out of the cabin that morning I was greeted by postcard-perfect vista of palm tree filled islands sitting in the calm blue waters of the Caribbean. What a privilege it was to admire such a place with my own eyes. Over a breakfast of strong coffee and hot french toast Alex and I got to know our fellow passengers; Arjen and Karen from Holland, Marie from France, and Captain Gwen also from France, his Argentine wife Veronica and their five month old baby Morgan. We were lucky to be on board with a friendly group of people. We were of similar age and had lots to talk about.

After breakfast two Kuna women and a little boy came alongside our boat in a small canoe to sell to us the beaded bracelets and molas they had made. In the Kuna language ‘mola’ means shirt, but with the onset of tourism in the San Blas Islands, the word has come to refer to the colourful patches of material depicting geometric designs or images of animals and flowers which the Kuna women traditionally wear in matching sets on the front and back of their blouses. Kuna women make the designs on the molas by cutting out and sewing together layers of different coloured material. Because so much work goes into the preparation of these handicrafts, and for their beauty, molas are very popular souvenirs amongst visitors of San Blas. We bought several molas from the women. After they left us three fishermen approached the boat in another canoe carrying a small shark they had caught in a net earlier that morning. Our captain bought the animal for $5.00. I am not sure about the ethics of eating sharks; I have no idea what kind of shark it was or whether or not it was an endangered species. But it’s thick white meat that we cut into fillets and ate fried with a salad for lunch tasted delicious, as did the shark curry Veronica prepared later that evening for dinner.

Apart from eating we spent our first day in the San Blas swimming, snorkeling and exploring the islands. To get to shore we had to dive from the boat into the sea and swim to the white sandy beaches at least 50 metres away, so we did get a bit of exercise.

On our second day in San Blas we visited Dog Island where we snorkeled near the wreck of a small boat resting on the floor of a shallow reef. This was a perfect spot for first-time of divers without experience or too much confidence in the water, and we saw lots of tropical fish. We had another great lunch of lobsters sold to us by the fishermen and barracuda caught by our Captain.

On our third day we spent a few hours at another small Island. Late in the afternoon we set out again into the open sea and started in the direction of Colombia. The strong winds meant that our journey was relatively fast; we sailed all of that night, all of the following day and night, and most of the next day before we arrived in Cartagena. The sea was quite rough at times but with the aid of motion sickness tablets we finally adjusted to the movement off the boat. Our fellow travelers pointed out that this part of the trip was a little bit boring. It’s hard to read while the boat is rocking and there is not much else to do, except for sitting in the cockpit and watching the sea. I found it magical to sit in the cockpit at night as the wind pulled the boat through the heavy darkness; with every splash the water surrounding the boat lit up with hundreds of little lights (plankton). We also had a pod of dolphins swim with us one evening.

A surprising effect of being at sea was the land-sickness that struck us as soon as we stepped onto dry land at Cartagena. It took me 24 hours or so to stop feeling dizzy. I actually had to hold onto the bathroom wall while I took my first shower in six days to avoid falling over, as my balance was completely out of whack. I heard that it could take up to 16 days to overcome these symptoms but luckily I was fine after 3 days or so.

Today San Blas is still spouted as one of the earth’s remaining ‘secret’ chains of tropical isands. It certainly feels that way now but I can’t imagine the exclusiveness of San Blas will last very long. Although Panama and Colombia share a land border, it’s incredibly difficult to make the crossing from Central to South America on foot / horseback / motorbike 4WD. Separating the two countries is the Darién Gap, an area over 160 km long and 50 km wide. Much of the Darién Gap remains untamed (read road-less) jungle. Here there is a glaring 87 km hole in the Pan-American Highway that otherwise stretches from Alaska to Chile. Of course the fact that the Darién remains the most untouched parts of the Americas means that it attracts the attention of the world’s most adventurous backpackers and naturalists. But every guide to Central / South America published in the last two decades issues a stern warning against attempts to cross Panama to Colombia or vis versa through the Darién. In addition to the expected potential hazards that may be encountered while trekking through such an isolated, tropical region, the risks of traveling in the Darién include running into FARC guerrillas who in recent years have been pushed further and further into inhospitable jungle terrain by the Colombian military, and infamous Colombian narcotrafficers. Several of those adventurers who had such chance encounters with FARC and Narcos have lived to tell interesting tales about being kidnapped etc, but many others have simply disappeared.

So for most of us there are only two options for crossing from Panama to Colombia; you may fly, or hitch a ride on a sailing boat across the Caribbean. For us and any one with time to spare the decision was fairly easy. The sailing trip costs about $400 USD per person, and flights are not much cheaper. Where as a flight is only a flight, the sailing trip includes on top of transport all meals and accommodation for 4 / 6 nights, plus a few days island-hopping in San Blas.

Hostels such as Luna’s Castle in Casco Viejo, Panama City serve as a meeting point between travelers and captains of sailing boats. It is easy to find a boat that suits you, but be prepared to wait around for a few days in Panama. Boats don’t leave before they are full. You could also head straight to Portobelo and sought out a boat from there. Captain Jack’s Hostel is a nice place to stay here but you might get bored if you are stuck here for more than a day or two.

Stupid Gringa: robbed twice in three days in Cartagena, Colombia :-(

15 Nov

Only four days ago I was very proud that I had been traveling for almost eight months without being stolen from. Since then I have been robbed twice! That deserves lots of exclamation marks !!! !!! !!!

Roughly translated into English, the police report that I filed after being robbed on Wednesday night reads something like;

On 10 November 2010 I was in Plaza La Paz watching the Parade of the Gays (which was pretty bloody small and boring when compared to Sydney’s Mardi Gras) when someone sprayed bubbles in my eyes and robbed my purse and phone from my handbag.

Yes, that’s right, you read correctly; I was sprayed in the eyes with bubbles or soapy foam that one may conveniently buy in an aerosol can to spray on friends and / or strangers in the streets during the celebrations of Cartagena’s independence from Spain which take over the city for a week or so every year. In Spanish, or at least Colombian Spanish, this party-in-a-can is called espuma, which sounds like sperm, and kind of looks like it too.

Here is a photo of me covered in espuma. I’m smiling because I haven’t yet realised that I’ve been pick-pocketed.

Kristie, covered in espuma

When I did take note of my missing possessions only a moment later I felt very stupid for not having immediately caught on to what was going on.

Although I was annoyed at myself for being naive and off-guard after only two beers, the experience of being robbed wasn’t too traumatic. Firstly I wasn’t upset about the phone. It was a Nokia brick two plans old, that Alex and I thought we might be able to use as a phone during our world travels but never did, and in the past few months it has served us only as an alarm clock. Actually the worst thing about loosing the phone is that it contained a lot of photos from the time we lived in Redfern, including one of Alex and Julia Gillard circa 2007. We hope the PM will be nice enough to pose for another photo when we have the opportunity to share our tragic circumstances.

In my purse I had my bank card, which I canceled without too much fuss, and the equivalent of $150 in Colombian Pesos. This is not an insignificant amount of money, and it certainly goes a long way in South America, but I took comfort from knowing that my travel insurance should refund the cash I lost, and that at least I wasn’t rolled when carrying the $1000 that I had on my person last week when I needed to pay for our sailing adventure from Panama to Colombia.

I must have jinxed myself on Wednesday night when I told my friends that “at least I didn’t loose my camera” because it was stolen from my person on Friday afternoon at the crowded Parade of the ‘flowers’; the women competing for the title of Miss Colombia. The competition coincides with the celebrations of Cartagena’s independence.

When I set off to the Parade ground this time around I thought I was being a savvy tourist as I only brought along a few dollars tucked into my bra, and my camera which I held in my hand. Also, Alex and I, and my friend school friend Cynthia who joined us for a few days in Cartagena were accompanied to the Parade by Mr Fox, the big, muscular owner of our hotel, and we all felt a bit more secure in the company of a strong Colombian.

The streets were busier then usual on the way to the Parade Ground; a temporarily converted beachfront avenue that was lined on one side by Cartagena’s high sea wall and temporary grandstands which were overflowing with people. There were so many spectators squashed in to this space that it felt like a mosh pit in a rock concert. We were pushed and shoved as the four of us moved deeper into the crowd looking for a place to watch the passing beauties and here I gripped my camera tightly because I felt like it was about to be stolen. My instinct was right. Some arsehole jumped out of the throng of people that surrounded me, grabbed me by the arm with one hand and proceeded to wrestle the camera out of my hand with the other. I was furious and determined not to let go of it. I screamed for Alex who turned around just as the thief managed to snap the camera strap that connected it to my wrist and run into the crowd. He didn’t get very far; turns out that it was more difficult than he anticipated to move quickly through such crowds.

A few metres away Mr Fox and Alex caught the thief. Mr Fox tackled the guy to the ground and punched him in the head. This happened right in front of the police (a whole posse of them) who hauled the thief to the side of the road. There they searched the thief for the camera but it was no longer in his possession. The bastard must have passed it on to his mates before he was brought down. The police also caught another kid (aged about 15?) who was running along with the thief and trying to stop Alex and Mr Fox from keeping up the chase.

I was taken aback by the police violence towards the thief; they took turns punching him in the head and slapping him hard on the back in full view of the crowd. Random members of the public also laid into the guy. At one point while we all waited for the paddy wagon to arrive the thief stood up and pulled down his pants, shaking his penis in my direction, shouting that he didn’t have the camera anymore. See! I only have this in my pants. This earned him a couple of more kicks to the head and upper body. I haven’t had too much to do with the cops in Australia but I imagine that they might do the same to someone who decided to flash the public after being arrested for theft.

Soon a paddy wagon drove by and some police hailed it down and we all jumped in; the accused in the back and the rest of us in the front. It was a bit awkward to be driven around Cartagena with only a metal grate between me and my assailant.

Our party waited in a police station that was really just a shed in a park for two hours before one officer told me that there was nothing the police could do as my camera had not been recovered; no camera, no case. During this time the cops had been having fun humiliating the thieves by spraying cans of espuma in their faces and calling them names. The younger kid was clearly distressed by all of this. Big tears ran down his cheeks as he swore on his mother’s life that he was innocent.

In my best Spanish I argued that the thief should be arrested, since he didn’t just rob me, he also assulted me on the street in front of witnesses, and that surely there were laws in Colombia against such acts of violence. Another officer agreed that I had a case and shortly afterwards we all piled in to the paddy wagon again and drove off to another police station with the thief in the tray.

When we arrived at Station No.2 I made a formal statement about the theft and assault, and was interviewed about the crime as were my two witnesses (Alex and Mr Fox). A police officer suggested to me a little earlier that if I wanted to, I could say in my interview that the thief had flashed a knife or a gun when he robbed me, which would ensure that he would go to gaol for a long time. I decided to tell only the truth but realised that other victims probably choose to embellish their stories with violence to achieve revenge against those who hurt them.

We had calmed down a bit by this late stage in the evening and started to have a friendly chat with the police and detectives on duty. They were eager to show us the cool features on their mobile phones and photos of their children, while trying to pick up my friend at the same time.

Before the night was over we piled back into the police car for a final time, minus the thief who was left in the lock-up at Police Station No. 2, and drove to the Juvenile detention Centre to identify the kid. I think that by the time we arrived the kid had been permitted to go home, and finally we were too. I hope his few hours of humiliation at the hands of the police taught him that he needed to find new friends.

I am still angry about loosing my camera, and more so about the way it was taken from me, but I also feel bad about effectively sending someone to gaol. I have no doubt that we put the right man behind bars, since I looked directly into his eyes while we fought over my camera and he never left my sight between taking the camera and being detained. Though when I reflect on our different circumstances, my privileges and his disadvantages, I feel sad about what has happened. Maybe I will feel more guilty as my anger about the camera subsides. Of course I can easily get a new one, and he will never be able to recoup the months that he spends in prison.

I think I have come to a conclusion that Colombia really isn’t a safe place to travel. While getting a report for travel insurance earlier today (I had to make a separate report to obtain the document that I need to make a claim) I met an Australian couple from Perth who had been robbed at gun point the day before on bus trip from Santa Marta to Cartagena, at 1pm in the afternoon. They lost a lot; passports, an ipad, two ipods, their camera, cash, credit cards, and wedding rings. Although the couple had planned to be in South America for two more months the violent robbery left a bad taste in their mouths and they have decided to return home as soon as they get new passports. They are the second and third Australians who I know personally that have been hijacked on a bus in Colombia.

Mum will be happy to know that we have bought flights to Bogota, which cost about the same as a bus trip to the Capital, and then probably on to Quito.