Day 294 Part II – How I announced a fairly major life decision on Colombian TV

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Yes, that’s just a screenshot (hands up if you clicked on it).

We’ll get to my one minute of fame shortly, but in order for this post to make some sense please indulge me briefly as I take you back to the beginning.

The Gump Method was so named in order to reflect my general approach to the journey on which I’ve since been. To quote myself (not for the last time in this post) here is an excerpt from the original explanation:

“I don’t yet know what I’m running towards, and I’m definitely running away from something I didn’t like, but for the time being I am just running: The Gump Method….If it ultimately helps me to focus in on what’s important, and how that might link to future career and life plans, that would be a bonus.”

The plan was always just to go wherever the wind took me, moving on whenever I felt like moving. More importantly, I wanted to stop and spend a meaningful amount of time in any place I really liked.

That place, for me, has been Colombia. It was about as close as you can get to love at first sight; I think the moment it hit me was my first night out in Bogota with Walter and our Danish pals Jacob and Esben. I just could not believe how open and friendly everyone was towards us; above all the local guys.

firework launchAfter an epic New Year celebration in Medellin complete with handheld firework launches the love affair grew stronger as I traveled along Colombia’s beautiful and vibrant Caribbean coast, before it peaked in Cali. Despite never having danced salsa in my life before arriving in Colombia I was learning every day, somehow holding my own in the home of salsa and loving every minute of it.

As I approached the end of my first two months in Colombia I tried to extend my stay but the cost was prohibitive. Instead I continued south on what I have subsequently named the ‘Yo-Yo Tour.’ My route from Central America to the southern tip of the continent and back again towards Panama via a second visit to Colombia makes very little sense logistically or financially, but that’s just how things turned out.

I enjoyed my time in Santiago, Buenos Aires, Mendoza and both the Argentinian and Chilean parts of Patagonia, but did not particularly warm to Peru or Ecuador. While all these countries have amazing histories, unique cultures and natural wonders aplenty, it is the approach to life and the incredible warmth of its people (especially towards tourists) that for me differentiates Colombia from its neighbours.

Four months after leaving Colombia for Peru back in February, a miserable 24 hour, three leg bus journey across the Ecuadorian-Colombian border landed me right back in Cali, the capital of the Valle de Cauca region. I had already booked my onward journey to Cartagena but after another week in Cali I wasn’t ready to leave and decided to skip the flight. I signed up for 10 more hours of salsa lessons with my excellent teacher Luis at Rumba y Salsa, one of Cali’s many excellent dance academies, and a month later I’m still here.

While my time in Cali has mostly revolved around dancing and nightlife, the Colombia versus England World Cup match was probably the highlight. After the match I was interviewed by a news programme called TV Noticias 5, or Noti5. With my improving but still basic Spanish I doubted whether I’d make the cut, so was surprised to find out that they had done a little segment on me. The full show has since been uploaded to YouTube.

If you hadn’t already guessed where I was going with this post it’s about time I got to the announcement, so what better way of delivering it than live on Colombian TV, in Spanish…

It is cringe central and I still have to watch it through the gaps between my fingers but here it is for your viewing pleasure. The segment starts at 9:40.

For those of you that don’t speak Spanish, here is my best effort at the transcript and a translation to English:

Reporter: Hoy en un centro commercial al oeste de la ciudad, las miradas se las llevó Oliver Jones por su doble pasión. Un corazón que le tocó dividirse entre su país de nacimiento Inglaterra y Colombia el que ha empezado amar. Por lo cual el resultado de hoy le generó sentimientos encontrados.

  • Today in a shopping centre to the west of the city we saw Oliver Jones with his split loyalties. He has had to divide his heart between his country of birth, England, and Colombia, which he has began to love. Today’s result therefore gave him mixed feelings

Me: Estoy super emocionado ahora – no sé como sentir porque como puede ver, soy ingles pero tengo un corazón de los dos ahora. Vivo aqui. Estoy triste pero….muy emocionado.

  • I’m really emotional now – I don’t know how to feel because as you can see I’m English but have a heart of both [countries] as I’m living here. I’m sad but…very emotional

Reporter: Independientemente del resultado este ingles ahora seguirá su apoyo por Inglaterra que avanzó, pero continuará en esta tierra que lo ha cogido de gran manera. 

  • Regardless of the result this Englishman will now carry on supporting England who progressed [to the next round], but will continue in this land which he has fallen for in such a big way

Me: Llevo un mes, sí pero me encanta el país, la gente Caleño (Caleña, disculpa). Y sí, voy a vivir, quedarme acá mucho tiempo, espero.

  • I’ve been here a month but I love the country, the people of Cali and I hope to stay here for a long time

So there you have it – my first Colombian TV appearance and a somewhat unconventional way of telling everyone that I have found an apartment and decided to move myself to Cali for the time being.

Through a combination of my limited vocabulary and wanting to say some nice things for the camera the exact words I used in the interview didn’t quite reflect where my head is at, but the general gist of it is accurate.

I love the city, the Caleño culture, the people, the dancing, the near-perfect climate, the nature and the fact that you can eat a different tropical fruit every day. After so many dark years in the past I believe that Colombia, and particularly Cali, is a land of great opportunity and am excited already to be working on some (salsa-related) business ideas.

If things don’t work out on the business front then I might lose some money but at the very least I will get to a decent level of Spanish and become a bad ass salsa dancer (of this I am sure) which would still be a pretty acceptable outcome in my opinion.

Any questions? No? Excellent.

Football is coming home and so am I, but not for long. I will be taking a short ‘holiday’ in the UK from mid-July to early August before heading straight back to Cali, so for those of you who are in or around London during that time I hope to see you soon.

Day 294 – England vs Colombia in Cali, Colombia

When writing my last post after being robbed in Buenos Aires I failed to appreciate how hard it is to update a blog without a laptop (one of the many things that was stolen from me that day). While I could have borrowed someone else’s machine or tortured my thumbs with some mobile phone-based updates I kind of just lost my blogging mojo.

After leaving the tax-heavy, and sadly inflation-ridden Argentina I browsed a couple of shopping malls in Chile and Ecuador before finally purchasing a shiny new Colombian laptop last week. I still have no idea, and may never find out, what half of the keys do.

Still, after a whole 80 days without a blog post I knew it would take something special to spur me into action. Watching Colombia play England in the World Cup from Cali, Colombia was exactly that – a unique and emotional experience that I will never forget.

Over a period of more than 3 months travelling in the country I have fallen in love with Colombia and particularly with its third largest city – Cali. Made notorious by the cartel wars which peaked in the 90’s, Cali still features in the Top 20 most dangerous cities in the world but is rapidly falling down that list as, like Medellin did so successfully before it, the city cleans itself up.

With most of the crime confined to distant suburbs the Cali I know – Cali, the World Capital of Salsa – is a special and very happy place. While I will save my thoughts on salsa and the unique Caleño culture for another post it is impossible to write anything about Cali without mentioning its people – warm, open and passionate, proud Caleños and proud Colombians.

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Football Crazy, Fútbol Loco

I strategically timed my second visit to Colombia on this trip to coincide with the World Cup knowing that the people’s passion for football, perhaps only rivaled by Brazil and Argentina, would make it one of the best countries in the continent from which to view the tournament. Despite the 8 hour time difference to Moscow and my viewing location of choice being a shopping mall, my decision has absolutely been vindicated.

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Colombia’s journey to the round of 16 (or the ‘Octavos’ as they call it – a much better name) was a roller coaster ride, with a shock loss to Japan followed by a triumphant 3-0 thrashing of Poland and a late win against Senegal. Watching these games unfold in Colombia, surrounded by Colombians, was a real privilege as they immediately welcomed me as one of their own (wearing my number 10 Colombia shirt probably helped).

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As the group stage progressed I felt the inevitability of an England versus Colombia tie in the Octavos. While many people at home assumed that I would be delighted with this match-up I felt the complete opposite. It might have made for the perfect semi-final but I neither looked forward to the game nor to one of England or Colombia being eliminated at this stage.

In advance of match day I did what I thought was the obvious thing to do and bought a couple of knock-off shirts (it’s genuinely a struggle to find an original team shirt here, although I did buy my first Colombia shirt from the Adidas shop like a good boy), found a tailor and asked her to do a “cut ‘n shut” job – half England half Colombia. Deisy absolutely smashed it.

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I made sure to have England on the left hand side to position the Three Lions over my heart; despite being Colombia’s number one foreign fan there was never any doubt which team I wanted to win.

While I was counselled by a number of people not to even think about wearing that shirt in public I trusted my instinct and walked through Cali’s busy city centre, only to be met by laughter, high fives and cries of “Que gane el mejor!” (May the best team win).

On arrival at the viewing location I was a mini-celebrity, posing for photos and discussing my fashion choice with the locals who all loved the 50-50 shirt. I knew this overwhelmingly positive sentiment could change at any moment so made sure to keep both a plain black t-shirt and a Colombia shirt in my bag in case of emergencies.

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I would guess there were well over 500 people in that shopping centre atrium, and the noise as the teams came out was already deafening. I stood up as the Colombians blared out their national anthem, and then stayed on my feet as everyone else sat down.

My intention was to quietly sing a couple of bars of God Save The Queen and film the awkwardness before taking my seat (if you want to watch the awkward part the story is saved in Instagram highlights @odjuns). What happened after that was genuinely unexpected and very moving – when they heard me singing my solo people started clapping and encouraged me to continue. I gained confidence and blared out the last few bars to a huge round of applause, cheers and laughter from all sides.

El Partido

The game was not pretty, with England playing the better football in the first half as Colombia took a very physical approach. As the half time whistle blew I was already tired from the stress of it all, making sure not to give any hint that I might be enjoying England’s attacking play.

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Shortly into the second half England were awarded what seemed to me a fairly soft penalty which Harry Kane comfortably slotted away. The room went extremely quiet and I noticed a few people turning around to judge my reaction as I sat there in silence, eyes down and suppressing all inner urges.

England looked to be progressing to the quarter finals in normal time until the 93rd minute when Colombia scored from a corner and everyone around me, unsurprisingly, went absolutely bonkers.

It was an incredible moment as the sudden change in volume felt like a power surge in my brain. As I stood there filming the ensuing celebration a middle-aged man two rows ahead (white shirt and grey hair in the video above) who had been politely chatting to me before the game let the emotion get to him and started hurling abuse at me. I stared at him blankly as he unleashed his tirade. Sadly it was too noisy to hear what he said but I could see from his maniacal eyes and frothing mouth that he wasn’t being nice.

As the game went into extra time I started pondering the potential negative reaction I might receive if England were to score and win the game. While the frothy-mouthed man was an isolated example of hostility I was aware that I had effectively put a big red and white arrow above my head after singing the British national anthem in the middle of the room, just in case anyone did feel like taking out their frustrations. It had been a hard-fought and ill-tempered match with the Colombians around me convinced that the ref was a British implant, although they were arguably lucky still to have 11 men on the pitch.

During the second half of extra time the frothy-mouthed man boiled over again and launched his second assault in perfect English (something about England and/or the referee being racist). This time I told him to turn around and shut up (also in perfect English) as I eyed up my exit route, feeling very alone and very English for the first time that day. A couple of Colombians in the row behind tapped me on the shoulder, smiled and told me not to worry.

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And of course it went to a penalty shootout. The inevitability of England’s impending exit slapped me in the face, but at least it might save me from the potentially less appealing consequences of an England win.

As I filmed every penalty I strained to keep my emotions in check. After the miss at 3-2, which we all assumed would signal the end of England’s campaign, the last four penalties – two England goals and two Colombia misses – passed by in a blur and suddenly, somehow, out of nowhere, England had won.

When the ball hit the back of the net for the winning penalty I sat there quietly with an ice cold facial expression and filmed the scene around me. The silence wasn’t broken until three girls behind patted me on the back and started clapping. I was then hugged, high-fived and congratulated by many Colombian well-wishers as I realised (although really I had known it all along) that everything was going to be just fine.

Happy but sad, emotionally drained and extremely thirsty I stood there in disbelief as a TV reporter asked if he could interview me. This was not my first time in front of the Colombian TV cameras; after their game against Japan I made a horrible attempt to answer questions in Spanish, but this time I did a surprisingly good job, maintaining positive intercontinental relations by explaining how much I loved Cali and Colombia.

I decided to play it safe and wear the black t-shirt for my trip home, during which I enjoyed a quiet celebratory beer with my group of non-Colombian friends. I trawled the internet for news and reports related to the England win but now wish I’d turned on the the television as I was later informed by a Colombian friend that not only had I made it onto the TV but they did a full segment on me, interview and all. I am tracking down the footage which I am told will soon be uploaded to Youtube but here is a sneak preview…

After such a ridiculous game of football and so much time spent personally under the spotlight (which I’m fully aware I brought upon myself with the peacocking) I was exhausted by the end of the day and fell into a deep sleep.

It’s Coming Home (even if I’m not)

While I was pleased to see England progress I am disappointed that I won’t get to experience any more Colombia games in this World Cup. Moreover, apart from one frothy-mouthed exception to prove the rule, I was overwhelmed by the warmth, sportsmanship and all-round great attitude the Caleños showed towards me.

Despite losing a large piece of my heart to Colombia during my travels this game confirmed that the majority still resides some 9,000km away. I am what the locals refer to as a Pitaya Amarilla (yellow dragonfruit) – yellow on the outside, white in the middle, a little bit seedy but delicious (yes I added the last two parts myself).

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While football may finally be coming home I, on the other hand, am not (at least not for long). The journey goes on.


 

Day 155 – Barranquilla – South America’s Second Biggest Carnival

Whether it’s through this blog, my social media accounts or old fashioned talking and texting, most people who know me also know where I am. I’ve not kept it much of a secret.

Perhaps unsurprisingly as February approached I was contacted by a few friends from home, as well as people I’d met travelling, with some variation of the following:

“I’m coming to Rio for carnival – where shall we meet?” 

They had assumed that as I was travelling in South America during February I would be somewhere in Brazil, most likely Rio de Janeiro, for the annual carnival. I couldn’t really blame them for thinking it – where else would I be?

Well, I was in Barranquilla, a city on Colombia’s northern Caribbean coast, for what is purported to be South America’s second biggest carnival.

Where?

Yes, Barranquilla. One friend in particular (hi Wally) really couldn’t understand this decision and did not mince his words:

“If you’re travelling in South America and you don’t go to Rio for the biggest party in the world you’re a ****ing idiot.”

While he may have had a point there was some logic behind my decision:

  1. Practicing Spanish is one of my priorities, and they don’t speak it in Brazil
  2. With a flight already booked from Bogota to Lima a peak season return trip to Rio from Colombia didn’t seem like an efficient use of cash
  3. Barranquilla is the second largest carnival in South America – surely that’s a big deal?

Looking back those first two reasons were pretty lame (I’ll come onto the third) but once the decision was made that was it; I was being joined by Kenny and Ben and we were fully committed to making the best of whatever Barranquilla had to offer.

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Carnival Day One – Foam FOMO

Upon arrival we headed straight to La Troja – a large bar which acts as the colourful epicentre of the street party. We were clearly playing catch up as most of the revelers were already hammered and covered in a sticky mix of flour and sprayable foam. We caught up pretty quickly.

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Once we realised it was perfectly acceptable, and even encouraged, to spray what was essentially high pressured shaving foam in the faces of strangers we filled our holsters with as many cans as we could carry and got stuck in, receiving plenty in return.

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While Kenny appears to be offering  his phone in sacrifice to avoid further punishment, the night’s first foam-related casualty was Ben’s wallet, which was plucked from his pocket while he wiped his eyes clean after a full frontal espuma attack. Immobilizing your victims just before you rob them is such an effective method I was surprised it didn’t happen to all of us, and I later met a number of other travelers who had succumbed to the same trick.

After an incident-free 6 weeks in Colombia this was a disappointing development, but on reflection it could just as easily have occurred at Notting Hill Carnival and definitely beats being robbed at gunpoint in Rio, which seems to have happened to a worryingly high number of people this year.

Ben was good humoured about the whole thing and after cancelling his cards the revelry continued unabated. As I had found elsewhere in Colombia, the locals all wanted us to party with them, dishing out shots of aguardiente and kindly ensuring that every part of our faces and hair were covered in flour.

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Day Two – Getting Our Charlie Chaplins Out

Our first full day of carnival was also the day we chose to don our rather peculiar fancy dress outfits. After originally planning something Charlie Chaplin-inspired with braces (suspenders to the Americans), hats and baggy trousers, the eBay journey somehow led us to ‘tuxedo style boxer shorts’ complete with bow-ties, providing the bows for our barely concealed packages.

For the first time in a long time I was a little reticent about getting my bits out in broad daylight and kept my jeans on for the most part. Kenny had no such qualms, stripping down upon arrival to the delight of the assembled Colombian females.

Es un téléfono en tus calzoncillos o estás feliz de verme?

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We paid very little attention to the ‘crowning of the carnival Queen’ taking part alongside us – the procession was underwhelming and we were having too much fun with our espuma cannons. Not wanting to be caught short in a shoot out I typically carried three at all times.

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Following the previous day’s blueprint we drank, we sprayed foam, we danced to Cumbia (a northern Colombian music genre which provides the soundtrack to most of the carnival’s events), we made friends and had another great day and night out.

Day Three – Same Same But Different

On the third day Ben and Kenny returned to Los Estados Unidos and I finally paid attention to one of the carnival’s formal events for the Gran Parada de Comparsas (The Great Parade of Groups).

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This was a procession of dance troops from all over Colombia, making their way through town in choreographed unison along with a wide selection of marimondas – colourful Colombian carnival characters who don disturbingly phallic face masks.

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It was great to watch and surprisingly interactive, with dancers stopping for photos and spectators dancing alongside the passing groups. I was encouraged to get involved and did my best to overcompensate for the black t-shirt and jeans with some unconventional dance moves, mixing cumbia and twerking to create a new genre Twumbia, which went down surprisingly well.

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After the procession we headed back to La Troja where I ingeniously navigated the full body search, somehow smuggling in a full bottle of aguardiente using my sock and jeans.

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Once inside we drank, we danced, we…well you know the drill by now. Always the same.

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Tricky Day Four

On the fourth and final day of carnival I had absolutely no interest, cowering in my hotel room in the foetal position muttering “please make it stop.” Three days of heavy partying after a couple of big nights out in Cali in the preceding days were more than enough.

This gave me time to reflect on whether I had made the right decision in being in Barranquilla and not being in Brazil. With the wider context I do think it was the right call, but had I planned further in advance I may have done things a little differently.

While Barranquilla may host its continent’s second largest carnival and we had a great few days of fiesta with the locals, it’s really just a big street party and doesn’t come close to the scale and ambition of the annual events in Rio. Watching videos of the ‘Sambadromes’ and parties on the beach, visitors should not confuse Barranquilla and Rio as being even remotely similar spectacles. To paraphrase a quote from one of my favourite films “it ain’t the same ballpark, it ain’t the same league, it ain’t even the same sport.”

A fun party it was, and I’m glad I went, but next year I’m going to Rio. With the speed at which the months are currently flying by there is a decent chance I’ll still be out here…


Next Stop: Adios Colombia, Hola Peru 

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