I Found Love to I Must Have Been Blind

MY diary for much of 2020 has not exactly been full. It has been – and remains – pretty much empty. My routine was sorted on the road, did not need a diary.

But the morning of April 21 has long had an entry inked in – Oasis Trans South America trip ends, Hotel Majestic, Quito.

It is still there on the Google Doc which acts as my calendar, diary, life organiser, time-wasting tool and handy record of where my travels have taken me.

What actually happened on the morning of April 21 involved being woken by a whining Labrador, rolling off the sofa, throwing some clothes on parts of me that can be seen in a Zoom chat, grabbing some toast and plugging myself into my laptop for another day working from the dining room table.

Not exactly what was planned, but that goes for pretty much all of us at the moment.

So instead of getting up in Quito, probably grabbing some breakfast at the bakery on the corner and checking out for somewhere slightly less ironically named for a couple of night’s before the final, sad farewells and a flight home, reality finds me back home and falling into some form of new routine.

Well, sort of back.

And some sort of reality.

Rather than bringing you up to date on the events of the final stretch through Colombia and retreading some familiar ground back to Quito in the South America blog – we will get there with a few mop up posts and some advice for anyone, eventually, following in our footsteps – we have the rather sooner than planned return of the A-Z iPod blog.

For any new readers who have stumbled across this site expecting tales of travel – or even marmots – the A-Z is an alphabetical journey through my iPod, listened to in order and chronicled in these posts amid a torrent of tangents and whatever is running through my mind when tapping away at the keyboard

Me from the past can explain how it works here:

A to Z – How To Get There

There are a few big differences between the return of the A-Z and when it went on its holidays in September ahead of my South American adventure.

For starters, until just before the off was single, ensconced in my flat, working on a paper and was free to wander, headphones in and working my way through the rising number of tracks on the journey – 14,739 tracks and rising.

Now am not single, know an awful lot more about Australian time zones, am locked down at my sister’s during the coronavirus pandemic and doing some freelance reporting with the avowed aim of writing an article that does not involve the words coronavirus pandemic.

And listening to the A-Z is mainly being done during my daily, government-sanctioned exercise – a walk around a variety of routes along the pavements (and middle of the road to maintain social distancing) close to home, invariably via a bit of shopping for some essentials. Wine, crisps, beer…

It has also been exclusively on the new iPod Touch bought not long before the off due to fears that my battered, well-travelled iPodClassic was not going to make it all the way round.

Those fears were grounded as, pressed into action for the first time when its new cousin had been borrowed by the person sitting next to me on the truck, it coughed, spluttered and gave up the ghost, the screen showing nothing but some bizarre pattern which was pretty easy to interpret – this is an ex-iPod.

So my daily wanderings and still fairly new, if much-used, companion have been continuing the lengthy meander through songs beginning with I.

I Am The Resurrection to I Found A Way

There are a lot of them. An awful lot.

It’s been an eclectic section from Palma Violets to Brendan Parry with a fair few familiar faces, plus a few you might not expect.

We had a fair few people declaring their hatred for things – Nerys Hughes (Half Man Half Biscuit) and This Town (John Grant) while The Jesus and Mary Chain vowed both love and hate of Rock ‘n’ Roll in different entries.

Other declarations of love came for NYC (Andrew WK, who with I Get Wet twice raised questions about why there was, briefly, so much excitement about him) and You (Billie Eilish – one for the kids there and perfectly good, bar the insistence on refusing to use capitals letters).

Half Man Half Biscuit were also back in this stretch with I Love You Because (You Look Like Jim Reeves) and Sun Kil Moon with I Love My Dad, all six minutes and 16 seconds of it in contrast to just one minute forty seven seconds of the rather more wordy I Know It’s Pathetic But That Was The Greatest Night of My Life.

Maybe that is what The Smiths were referring to in I Know It’s Over but I Might Be Wrong, which brought us two outings for Radiohead. The live version is better.

And there were notable outings from The Boo Radleys (I Hang Suspended from the wonderful Giant Steps album), the almost inevitable Billy Bragg (I Keep Faith), The Sundays (I Kicked A Boy) and Paul SImon (I Know What I Know).

Blink-182 popped up with I Miss You, a reminder that they had the ability to turn out a good tune, if not pronounce head properly. Which still grates.

But last word in this entry goes to John Prine.

When I Have Met My Love Today popped up fairly early in this section, it was just another in the long list of songs sending me towards further exploration of a veteran artist who had passed me by for many years.

His death from COVID-19 adds poignancy and has sent me down the rabbit hole of his substantial back catalogue to discover quite why so many artists name him as a major influence.

And provides a sobering moment of quite why we are going through this strange form of existence.

  • As well as John Prine, it would be remiss not to mention two other musicians lost to the coronavirus – Andy Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, who certainly crops up on this journey, and former Soft Boys (among others) bassist Matthew Seligman. Not sure if he plays on anything on my iPod, but we were fellow members of a Facebook community which has provided me with plenty of fun and musical tips over the last few years. A member of David Bowie’s band at Live Aid, he is spoken of in nothing but glowing terms by fellow members of the group.
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The Unravelling

Cartagena’s old town at night

EVERYONE who expressed an opinion – or knew where it was – assured us Cartagena would be a trip highlight, a jewel in the Colombian crown they were confident would shine brightly among South America’s other treasures.

And they may be right, what we saw was fun, striking, memorable… it’s just that Cartagena will always come with an asterisk. A what if. An if only.

Memories of Cartagena will always be clouded by the fact it is where our trip came to an abrupt, premature end as the real world reached out and dragged us back in from our six-month suspension of normal life.

Not that what we returned to can be classed as normal.

No idea this was going to be one of the final days exploring

Hopefully, as time draws by, the memories of iguanas and sloths in a city park, colourful adornments to narrow streets lined with art, old city walls and a bustling nightlife we met head on will take prominence.

But two weeks since being forced to return from Colombia by the looming spectre of coronavirus, the abiding memories of our time in the historic city remains a trip cut short, hurried goodbyes and a homecoming to a life which is not as familiar and comfortable as it should be.

Only two weeks, but it seems somehow longer, lengthened by forced confinement which contrasts so markedly with the sense of freedom and steady flow of memories and experiences which have characterised the last six months.

The sense of disconnect – both from the life we left behind in South America and the one we expected to be returning to – is palpable.

Umbrella street

Wrote before about “having landed back in a familiar world which all seems a bit out of focus” and that remains true.

Recognise what is around me, it is all just a bit fuzzy round the edges. Like trying to function when ill, everything just seems a bit muted, slightly distant, a touch out of sync.

All a far contrast from the vibrant colour and life of Cartagena which deserves better than being remembered merely as the place it all came to an end. It is too good for that.

What is not to like about a city where you can spot sloths in the park near our hotel, wander down lanes under canopies of multi-coloured umbrellas, flags or plants, watch the sun set over the Caribbean Sea while raising an overpriced cocktail on the city walls or watch a man in ridiculously tight yellow trousers salsa on the street while you eat a pizza?

It does not, apparently, have an escape room, unlike its namesake in Spain. Just in case you are browsing the web and booking things to do in either city.

Not that we had any thoughts of escaping when we flew in from Leticia via a quick layover at Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport – a place where most of would spend too much time just a few days later.

Having made it to the hotel via an adrenaline-fuelled taxi ride, my first meaningful act was to climb in another taxi. And out again when it became apparent he was going nowhere in a hurry, opting for one that was – especially when the driver took the blue lights behind him as the signal to start racing the emergency vehicle.

Our destination was a bit of pampering, once we had found an alternative for the closed initial barbers, for what was always intended to be my last haircut and full shave of the trip.

Got that one right.

Freshly trimmed, headed out for a first outing into the lanes of the Getsemani and an alfresco pizza while entertained – or otherwise – by our colourfully dressed salsa dancer and assorted musicians.

The hat looks better on Lisa. Just wish we had got some more use out of it

All a pleasant, quiet enough prelude for a long, busy, fun day and night that has taken on extra significance with what happened in the following 24 hours – told you it was impossible to distance Cartagena with what it came to represent.

First stop on our day of exploring was the nearby Parque del Centenario spotting the iguanas which call it home. Not that difficult, they are huge.

Next up was the old town where the task was simple, wander the narrow streets, squares and city walls while trying to retain some sense of where we were – a handy trick when we headed back in the late afternoon for cocktails watching the sun go down.

The first signs of what was to follow kept us from our planned destination, new local rules limiting capacity in bars forcing us to find a less congested, slightly cheaper (only slightly and still overpriced) option further along the wall.

After that it is a bit hazy. There was street food, happy hour drinks which lasted rather longer than an hour and a club which involved dancing, trying to track down the drinks we were due with our entrance fee and painting on the wall.

A fitting final blowout if we had any idea that was what it would become.

But by the time the sun rose on Sunday in Cartagena, it was to news of border closures in neighbouring Ecuador (our final destination) and cancelled onward trips, but with our trip to the beach the following day booked, it was another morning exploring the considerable charms of the old town and Getsamani.

First on foot, via a return to the park and more iguanas (this time up trees), monkeys and the sloths we had not fully believed were actually there, then by bike – my first time on two wheels for several years.

Thankfully, it is just like riding a bike and the guided tour provided a fun, informative look at the areas we had been wandering around.

We were all smiles when we returned to our hotel – at least those who made it back.

It cost enough, taking a picture of it

A couple only got as far as the nearby hostel bar which became the breaking news centre throughout the evening as the rest of us dropped in as we passed to discover the latest restrictions, courtesy of Danny and his chats with the hostel owner.

As we headed out for food, restrictions were being tightened and our Playa Blanca trip was off. By the time we headed back, those restrictions were being ramped up, travel was about to become much tougher and the hostel owner was warning of closure.

There was just one option – get home as soon as possible. The frustration many of us felt trying to secure one of the diminishing, increasingly expensive flights proved how right we were not to leave it any longer.

Which means our last view of Cartagena was another taxi ride, this time to the airport and as hurried as the packing and goodbyes which proceeded it.

And from there… not Santa Marta, Taronga, San Gil, Medellin and beyond, but a third visit to Bogota and first time out of the airport. At least as far as a hotel for 24 hours or so before one final goodbye, a last, longer than planned, visit to the airport, an unscheduled night in Paris and home.

To make some sort of sense of what has happened, both in the hasty retreat and the previous six months.

We will work our way through what sense does appear in a few more posts, but that’s it. Journey’s end.

Until next time…

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