52. 12-1-13: Down to Fumes

Medellin is an entire world contained, like so many South American cities, in lovely valley. It has some of the poorest and most dangerous barrios in the world, as well as fantastically wealthy people (on the scale of Pablo Escobar). There is plenty to draw in the tourists – the incredible women, the music and dancing, the museums… but even in La Zona Rosa I never felt inundated by tourists. It’s big enough to draw people from around the world, and has all the comforts of a big city, yet it’s small enough to learn, and start recognizing people on the street, within a few weeks.  It is a city of balance, so to speak, and one that is very easy to call home.

Frozen in Thought

Unfortunately Medellin is where my savings, and the money I made from selling everything I owned, came down to fumes. A teacher’s salary and a few bottles of scotch don’t get you too far I suppose, though I did make it through all of North America on it.

My only option, I thought, was to look for a job. Thankfully I am extremely qualified to do what is in the greatest demand around the world: teaching English.  This is a very useful skill to have and if you are fortunate enough to do it in Korea or Japan you will make a good amount of money; everywhere else in the world it will be enough to survive, or even live well where you are, but almost never enough to save (so that you can continue to travel – especially on a motorcycle). So I began going to the language schools, universities, international schools and regular schools. I printed resumes (which I had to adjust to fit the Colombian model, which included a full page photo!), and spent my days riding around to all corners of Medellin in search for a job. Of course, given my extraordinary luck with life, this was a few weeks before the holidays, so no one, and I mean no one, was hiring. Ironically, after the holidays were over and I was long gone from Medellin, the offers came pouring in from every place I submitted my resume. I also had plenty of people offering to help, saying they knew people in the field, however, Latinos are often greater in word than in deed. They love to be helpful (whether real or imagined), and never say no, or that they can’t do something. The result, more often than not, is a huge waste of time as you expect people to come through on their word. It’s not done out of maliciousness, rather from a strong desire to be kind and friendly. Still, it is one of the more annoying elements of Latino society.

One of the best job offers I got was from EAFIT, the best private university in Medellin, to teach International Business and Marketing. But, I had another problem – the lack of a work visa. This manifested itself in a few other locations as well. I eventually met a guy at a local pastry I used to go to who had his own company and would be willing to offer me a work visa just because we became friends (a very Colombian thing to do). I got all of his papers and corp. docs and began the long and insane process of going through the Colombian bureaucracy. But as it was getting closer and closer to Christmas, I decided to move onto Bogota because the market was bigger and I would have a greater chance at finding work and a visa. And just as I was beginning to sink into despair, job offers notwithstanding, an angel appeared in my life and changed the course of my journey.

I had met Ralph only a few times when I was living in New York. He owns the Red Hook Lobster Pound, as well as a shop where he makes custom bikes and kitchen tables from entire tree trunks. Before I left on my journey Ralph told me that if I ever needed anything to let him know. I hate asking for money, I’m not even good at receiving gifts, but in Colombia I saw the end (if temporary) of my journey and that prompted a letter to Ralph. To my surprise (and everlasting gratitude) he did not ask anything other than how much I needed. I couldn’t believe I was doing this, and I could even less believe that it was happening. I calculated the absolute bare minimum (which actually was not enough) to finish South America and sent Ralph the amount. A check was ready for me the very next day. If it were not for Ralph I would have had to store Georgia somewhere and go work in an oil field to make enough money to continue this crazy journey. If I were only riding I would have been done long ago, but since the purpose is a book I end up staying places for very, very, long periods of time – which, no matter how little I spend per week, ends up costing more. That and the sicknesses (including dengue), and all the issues with Georgia… it was all a drain on the little I had. But my angel appeared and so this journey, and the book continue.





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