The View of Filandia

Filandia is a very small town in a very beautiful area. There are rolling hills, some covered in coffee plants and on the horizon are the mountains doing their best to meet the sky. The sun set accentuates the bright colours that the people have painted their houses in, making the whole place as if from a dream. Unfortunately the town is also quite poor and for every beautiful house that has great care and colourful detail, there’s a bit of a shack nearby, made out of whatever material is around. This is a bit of a theme for Colombia: glorious beauty neighboring with poverty.
There’s a park in the centre of the town, with a very handsome church keeping an eye on things. We stayed in a hotel on the opposite side of the park, near a cafe, although, it’s the coffee region of Colombia, so pretty much every shop is a cafe… The staff were very friendly and helpful, I believe it’s a family run business from the looks of things.
Being so close to Christmas, the park has been set up with lights and displays and stalls and it’s fantastic. Parked along the road that circles the park are many Yipao or Willys, a kind of Jeep that is important to both tourists and the coffee trade – normally they are completely loaded with both. They are normally red and the drivers are expects at handling The Line and all other hard roads or non-roads that is associated with the journey of the coffee trade.
One major attraction of Filandia is the Mirador de Filandia, the Lookout of Filandia. After taking a fair few stairs you have a full panoramic view of the area, the town, the hills, the mountains. It’s very nice.

Colombia’s Line

There’s one road out of Bogota, Colombia’s Capital City. It’s called ‘La Linia’ – The Line. The Line is 60 kilometres of winding road, up and down the mountains that, at times is just wide enough for two cars to pass each other in their own direction. Apparently it used to be narrower… Most of the road has no guard rails. Transport trucks must also drive this way. The usual time to do the journey is 3 hours. That’s right, 60 kms in 3 hours. If there’s a landslide and almost anytime there’s been a lot of rain there is a landslide, it can be days before anybody moves on The Line.
Fortunately, construction is under way for bridges, with guard rails, to connect some of the mountains and this will bypass some kilometres of the treacherous way. The unfortunate thing is that the bridges will only serve one direction of traffic, although, I am still believing that it will exponentially improve the safety and travel times through the country.
We’ve driven this road to a smaller, but still large city, called Cali. A lot of the siblings of Ingrid’s Father live in and around here. We’ll be spending time with them and most importantly celebrating New Years!
On the way we stopped on either side of The Line. One town was called Ibagué and the other Filandia. The stops were helpful for the drive as it takes hours to leave Bogota and then to have to face the extreme stress of The Line can be too much. It’s also nice that once you’ve safely conquered The Line, to relax and celebrate. Ingrid’s Dad normally uses whisky.
That’s another interesting thing here! The alcohol limit is Zero!! The penalties are severe, something like a huge fine and license confiscation for a minimal offence. People are still caught all the time, so it shows that harsh measures still aren’t as much a deterrent as people believe them to be.

Merry Christmas from Colombia

It’s been a few quiet food filled days here. It’s comparatively warm, around 15-20 degrees. Colombians are wearing jackets.
The family came to our place and I surprised them all buy dressing as Santa to give out the presents. We don’t speak the same language but smiles and laughter are universal.
They actually give presents on the night of the 24th. Germany is the same.
I don’t know how they expect the children to sleep.

Ugh Atlanta

At Frankfurt Airport I met a nervous bloke called Joey from Nashville. It was his first time flying alone back home, I can only assume that means his mum held his hand the whole way to Germany. We talked a little, I guess I calmed his nerves enough. He made it through to the gates. The flight was pretty normal, a little turbulence, I can’t remember the food.
We flew into Atlanta Airport about 10 minutes late. I thought that an hour and forty minutes would be enough time to go through customs and all that stuff. Our baggage was checked all the way through, what could go wrong?
Getting off the plane took a while, we were ushered into the queue. The security lady in control was friendly. She noticed an old man wearing women’s knee high boots and declared that she was a massive boot fan. She also informed us that she could never afford and never has owned boots, but she’s a huge fan anyway.
The visa line is large and they only had 4 people processing us all. I did some maths and calculated that it took us 15 minutes to move from end to the other so in around an hour we would be through. Naturally, two officers then closed their desks. The hopeful among us assumed that it was a mere moment before replacements arrived. Nope. Some asked the people patrolling the queue if others were coming to work, if those with immediate connecting flights or children could move ahead or elsewhere or something, anything. Nope. To rub some salt into the wound and push the knife in deep, we were informed that we didn’t have to be served, they can and will do what they want AND we could see other officers standing on the other side, backs to us as much as they could, having a good chat and laugh. As we neared the check one more desk opened by we weren’t allowed to use them, they only service packets…
Of course we missed the flight.
A game of “not our fault” came later. The airline says that the security are to blame so they shouldn’t have to cover anything, even though they offer flights that are obviously lacking enough time to change from one to the other. The airport security is of the opinion that you have to allow a minimum of three hours between flights, ignoring the obvious staffing issue. We got a connecting flight the next day for free but had to pay for our own hotel.
In the morning we went for breakfast. A lady ate Grits. I had to ask her what it was because it looked like a bowl of powdered sugar with bits of chocolate. When we returned to the airport, we allowed 5 hours to clear through. We needed a mere 30 minutes. A lady gave her dog some of her cola to drink. While we sat at our flight’s gate, sirens announced a possible security threat…
We’re safe in Colombia.

Frankfurt’s Christmas Steak

My final day of learning German for the year involved giving our teacher a present to say thank you and Merry Christmas. I had been organising this behind the scenes: collecting money, sending photos of gift options and finally passing the card around the class to make sure everyone signed it. The teacher was surprised and that mostly seemed to be because the class still had one more day to go. At the end of the lesson she shook my hand and wished me a good journey, so did most of the class.  A few of the guys who I’ve hung out with seemed confused and wrote to confirm that I am indeed going. Pretty funny. Ingrid picked me up from school, we threw our luggage in and started the 5-6 hour drive to Frankfurt. I was on first shift. Everything went well except I cut my finger on a tin lid of peanuts. A vicious little wound that took a long time to stop bleeding. We ate KFC for lunch, Ingrid started her driving shift and we arrived safely in Frankfurt with little trouble. A lady did steal our car park though, not always the early bird but sometimes the quick bird wins.
After checking in to the hotel we thought we’d get some food from the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) in Frankfurt. The Weihnachtsmarkt was big, not Hamburg big, but bigger than most others we’ve enjoyed visiting. The problem is that it’s almost all the same stuff endlessly repeated: beer and mulled wine, bratwurst, hand crafted stuff, beer and mulled wine, bratwurst, hand crafted stuff etc. Ingrid and I had a delicious but not very Christmas Steak Sandwich. We walked to Innenstadt, which took us by surprise. The skyscrapers disappear and the cute, traditional German style architecture welcomes you in. I highly recommend it, otherwise Frankfurt is a rather dull, ordinary banking focused city like any other.
We learned of the bus attack in Berlin and were shocked. It is also interesting to note that nobody else seemed to care and that the media is so quickly searching to immediately give people the label they want, “Islam Attacks”. Naturally, many of these events are much more complicated than that but it’s not what reinforces stereotypes and makes money.
We returned to the hotel a little upset. I  possibly broke the bath plug. That’s something I’ve done before. Imagine all Australians getting the label of sink/bath destroyers.

A Japanese Metal Band in Town?

The International flavour continued through the weekend. I had heard and then promptly forgotten that this band was coming, the Christmas party was a good reminder. The best thing was that Ingrid had a work party that night, so instead of moping in the apartment, I could swim in some volume.
I asked most people I knew, if they would come. In the end I met up with a Syrian  from my class named George and another English teacher that teaches in Oldenburg named Jason. Neither of them knew what to expect and sometimes, that’s the best way to be.
First band, the only support, was Zeus. They come from Italy and had been touring with the headliner. This was to be their last gig for the year, I presume they have to return to drink wine and coffee. That is to say that after they played and when I talked to them, they didn’t have a reason for ending the tour. Zeus were good! A two piece, drums and bass, although the soundguy should also be included because he does a fair amount of work for them… so three piece. A three piece feed of oftentimes thick riffs, strong grooves and the occasional scream. The vocals were minimal and simple, it works quite well, adding some cream to the peak of the song cake.
The main band set up, bringing more amps to the front of the stage. The light technician was trying to tell me how loud they will be. I’d seen them before and I’ve heard louder bands. I couldn’t quite communicate this with him though, my German is not yet good enough. Believe me, I tried. Melt Banana are from Japan and confused me when they had no drummer. According to the knowledge of the Internet, they haven’t had one in 3 years. Occasionally they get a guy in to record but perform shows without one. That’s always disappointing for me, nothing matches the energy of a drummer onstage, particularly when he is dying from exhaustion. So for me, they played well, but it wasn’t a great gig. They also weren’t so loud, but an appropriate volume for the space.
Hopefully it was a successful night financially and they influence other bands to come.