Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Cartagena, Colombia

After Panama (see blog) I flew into Cartagena, Colombia to start my South American trip.

This is one of the best cities I have visited so far and considered by many as one of the World's most beautiful, fascinating, and magical cities. Dating back to 1533, Cartagena was founded by Spanish conquerors as a main port to bring Europeans and their goods into South America. Cartagena is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the best venues for any tourist looking for a good rest with a Caribbean and Colombian flavor. The city was one of the first sanctuaries of freed African slaves in the Americas and is currently populated by an ethnic mix representative of the country's own variety and is the most visited city by tourists in Colombia, so the infrastructure and security are above average.

I ended up staying in the Boca Grande area for a month. It reminded me of Cancun because when you see it from the plane it's a four block strip that extends out for miles lined with new hotels and restaurants. The beaches are perfect with the exception of persistent vendors. If you want to get more of genuine Colombian feel stay in Old Fortress or El Centro area which is surrounded by a wall built in the Spaniards in the 16th century. The wall was built because the wave of pirate attacks over the years before and now serves to protect the living museum of Spanish architecture inside. The streets are packed with shops, cafés, restaurants, bars, and hotels. There are a few clubs that sit high on the wall with great views of the Caribbean and lights from the Boca Grande hotels. Across one of the bays is a huge fortress (Castillo de San Felipe) designed by the Dutch engineer Richard Carr and built in 1657 by the Spanish for protection against pirates while shipping gold out to Europe. You can get lost in the labyrinth of tunnels or walk along the top to get some of the best views of the city.

The people in Cartagena are some of the nicest in the world and will stop to help with directions and transportation reminding me of Costa Ricans. In just one month I left behind quite a few friends and plan to go back some day.

My next stop is Santa Marta for a few days and then a 6 day trek to the Lost City (see blog) in eastern Colombia before heading off to Caracas, Venezuela.

Saturday, October 15, 2005


After Costa Rica (see blog) I took a bus into Panama and ended up staying for a month.

The good stuff: At the very east and west edges of Panama it reminds me of Costa Rica with lush jungle running off into the oceans on both sides, waterfalls and tons of tropical plants and animals. The prices for EVERYTHING are 30% less than Costa Rica on average. The people in the rural jungle areas are very nice and accommodating. Panama City has all the luxuries of a big city in the US/Europe and the best shopping in Central America thanks to the canal and the tax free importation zone (Zona Libre). There's every type of food possible, plenty of 24 diners, at least a dozen casinos and more under construction, high rise hotels, etc. They're building huge high rise condos surpassed only by the building boom in South Beach, Miami.

The NOT so good stuff: Unfortunately, I spent most of my time in Panama City for Spanish classes and getting ready for South America. All my interactions with people outside the PC/Colon area were similar to Costa Rica. But in PC it's a different story. There are two main issues that Panamanians have with the US. The canal thing has been a debacle since 1904 for many reasons and when we ousted Noriega in 1990, 4000 people (mostly innocent) were killed (between Christmas and NYE) in the process, and left the country in a state of riots and looting that threw them into a recession that they're still climbing out of. My advice is to speak fluent Spanish and don't wear short. The disparity of wealth here is more than most countries and the middle class makes up only 10%. The street are filled (packed) with Lexus, BMW, Mercedes, and taxis. There's a fine line that divides the east side of the city with its high rises and the west side which has areas that would amaze even the most seasoned traveler. Most people (75%) make $200/month or less and the remaining 15% are driving $80,000 cars and are usually govt employees or friends of (imagine that) who hide their corruption behind anit-US sentiment and still blame economic issues on US related activities. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has been using cheap oil to spur demonstrations in the streets.

Where to go: San Blas Archipelago, the Kuna's are very friendly people, snorkeling and diving is excellent. Coral reefs and gardens in a multitude of colors and shapes where few have been and yet they are easily accessible. Boquete/Volcán Baru are near the Costa Rican border as is Bocas del Toro. Of course you have to see the Panama Canal to say you went there and then drive toward the Caribbean until you get to Gamboa Rainforest Resort. Casco Viejo is an awesome area of Panama City, take a cab there and make sure you tell the cabby you want to go up the hill to the nice area.

Where NOT to go: Obviously, I'm not a big fan of Panama City and it reminds of some of the reasons I wanted travel in the first place. Save your money and just go to South Beach, Miami.

After Panama I headed to Cartagena, Colombia (see blog) to kick off South America.

Sunday, October 2, 2005

Is regret good?

We all make mistakes. As the world becomes increasingly competitive we push to maximize efficiency and productiveness, pursuing perfection with no room for mistakes. This attitude is reinforced through sports, college, your credit record, driving record, insurance record, family, friends, taxes, career, etc. To avoid mistakes we follow the rules, blend in with the crowd (most of the time), and make sure everyone is happy. “Death is not our biggest fear – it’s taking the risk to be alive” (see Happiness Blog). Living a life unique to us can involve risk and result in disapproval and temporary loss of our sense of security.

The perception of our mistakes plays a key role in shaping our Integrity. Integrity is the value we place on ourselves and refers to the quality of a person's character. To act with integrity is to act in a way that accurately reflects a sense of who you are; to act from motives, interests and commitments that are most deeply your own. The natural tendency when we do something without integrity is to justify our actions and make ourselves right. Or we may say the action was deserved, making the other person wrong. Both of these are avoiding reality by denying our own sense of truth and responsibility for our actions. The problem is not the original mistake but the lie we tell ourselves that causes damage to our integrity and the relationships with others we have wronged.

Regret should not be confused with taking responsibility for our past. Taking responsibility means that we make a concerted effort to change the behavior pattern that resulted in the mistaken choice, and the beliefs and feelings that empowered it. We need to move on by making peace with the past: drop our defenses and the lies we may have told ourselves, face up to the reality of our actions and their consequences, and forgive ourselves. Forgiveness has nothing to do with feeling sorry or apologizing, neither of which changes anything. From a higher perspective there is no right or wrong. There are choices and experiences, cause and effect. True forgiveness can only be granted by ourselves, but judgment gets in the way. We need to separate our inherent worth from our actions. Also, if we can forgive ourselves then we can more easily forgive others.

Absolutes: We cannot change the past - we can learn from it. No one benefits from being punished.

If we regret something, we haven't learned from it and wasted that chance to learn, the only true mistake we can make.

Duane Batcheler

Saturday, October 1, 2005

Key to Happiness?

I wrote this early in my travels and it sounds a bit cheesy to me now but may still have some use for someone. Much of it came from reading the book "The Four Agreements".

We are born with the capacity to learn how to dream. But the people who lived before us taught us to dream the way society dreams with its many rules. This is reinforced throughout our life by our parents, teachers, jobs, friends, government, religion, etc. Most of us have not chosen our moral values, at first we may rebel, but eventually through immersion we form perceptions of what is right and wrong and faithfully agree (to believe unconditionally) to become part of society. Some people in society are ruled by fear (paranoia, greed, anger, jealousy, hate, revenge, envy, etc) and it starts to cloud their perceptions, limiting freedom, and create an image of perfection that is unobtainable. In India they call this “mitote maya” which means illusion. They cannot see who they truly are; they cannot see that they are not free. Death is NOT our biggest fear – it’s taking the risk to be alive. In our pursuit of perfection and pleasing others we may wear a social mask and lose our identity and integrity (see Integrity Blog).

Ignorance is bliss and most people will defend their way of life to the grave. Anyone who challenges it is considered a threat to themselves, friends, family, and society because change would involve risk and jeopardize safety not to mention implying that their existence to this point was aimed at an illusion. However, people who have a strong sense of self seek alternative points of view and constructive criticism from others. Their minds are fertile, have open communication, a pure intent, don’t judge others, higher self esteem, strong integrity, and are more proactive than reactive.

As we learn that some people are driven by ignorance, fear, and the pursuit of perfection may have a different perception than our own, we also learn not to take their views or actions personally. We start to become liberated from the judgments of others. We gain identity and develop our own set of principles to use as a center for making decisions. As this “principle center” strengthens we become immune to things outside of our control and our ultimate happiness/fulfillment becomes obtainable. We step off the emotional rollercoaster that is driven by money, acceptance from society, relationships, career, possessions, pleasure, physical appearances, or other uncontrollable influences.

When we live our lives according to principles we set for ourselves instead of rules set by others, out of love instead of fear, we unlock personal freedom driving passion and fulfillment for ourselves as well as others.

These ideas are common sense, repeated by many, and easier said than done. So why do some of us still live in a mental prison? Because we’re not aware, we resist change, and we don’t take action due to fear. We need to be aware of who we are, our potential, how we’ve been influenced by others, and the fact that we are the only one in control of ourselves. Then we have to change our perceptions of right and wrong to match our personal principles, and act out of pure intent also known as unconditional love. Awareness is easy, the hard part is changing.

Duane Batcheler