Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Houston, Bogota, Barranquilla and Medellin

Barranquilla - hosts the second biggest carnival in the world after Rio

Well, I am back at home properly after over a month away from home; so no painting done but some inspiration at least!  IThis last trip was a bit of a gruelling one given the number of flights (nine), airports and hotels. I have had two weeks in Cowes to recover and work by the sea, which is very therapeutic.  For quite a lot of the time on the trip I was in a hotel for just one night before moving on to the next place so didn't even get a chance to unpack. 

The living room of my modest suite in Houston

I cheated a bit on the way out and took a stopover in the relentlessly trendy Hotel Zaza in Houston, where I met up, once again, with my particular friend S.  You can't fly to Colombia direct from London and I would rather do the bigger portion of the journey on British Airways (good for my air miles) than fly to Frankfurt, Paris or Madrid and fly most of the way on some dodgy foreign airline.  Although I have to say that Avianca was very good flying within Colombia.  BA have said they won't introduce a direct flight to London from Colombia because if they did it would essentially bankrupt Iberia (which they own).  Avianca want to fly to London but have only been offered Gatwick which they don't want.  So it's a two flight journey.  Breaking what can be a 24 hour plus trip is a good idea, therefore.   Usefully now too, Houston has introduced a system at immigration that means that if you are leaving the airport or are in transit with hand luggage then you go go through a fast track procedure.  This meant only a five minute wait rather than an hour and a half like every one else.  I can easily do a two week trip on hand luggage now.

This meant I got to the hotel before S and so settled down with a St Arnold's Amber Ale: a very good "craft beer" from Texas.  I had an enormous suite, which was rather a shame considering I was there less than 24 hours.  I woke up early in the morning, as usual the first day, but managed to find the Tour de France on live  TV and with Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin commentating too!  S observed that she thought that the Tour podium hostesses weren't up to much this year and that it must be the recession.  A rather catty remark, I thought at the time, but actually, on reflection, I think she was right.  They were a long way from the former Miss France's we have seen in the past.  S had turned 43 just a few days before and was feeling old.  As indeed she was, as I sensitively pointed out, given that she was now mid-forties.  I had the resulting bruise  on my arm for some days afterwards.

A very leisurely breakfast followed in the hotel's attractive semi-open terrace; as I feared it would be the last decent one I got for two weeks; based on the dismal breakfasts from my visit to South America in May, anyway.  S had a small bowl of fruit which is why she is thin and gorgeous and I am not.  The only good thing is that as thin people get older they start to look haggard!

A model of the new El Dorado airport in Bogota

I spent quite a lot of time behind the scenes at airports on this trip, which was fascinating, and learnt a lot of useless information.  For example: the most common item of dangerous cargo which Colombian airport security has to extract from packed suitcases is...inflated footballs!  Well, maybe it isn't that interesting.  S didn't think so, anyway.  I was told to put it on my blog so I could bore everyone else.  So I have. 

Barranquilla airport

Another interesting thing I discovered, on visiting the Caribbean city of Barranquilla (where I met the very leggy Miss Barranquilla but sadly didn't get a photograph of her - I felt rather shy as she was wearing so little, oddly), was that it was the site of South America's first airport in 1919.  Set up by the Germans it was initially for seaplanes only. Barranquilla is at the mouth of the Magdalena river which runs right down the centre of this mountainous country.  To get freight and passengers to Bogota in the old days you would fly up the river from Barranquilla and then everything would be unloaded onto mule trains for the six day trip to Bogota. When the Second World War started the Americans put pressure on the Colombians to kick out the Germans (they didn't want German planes so close to the Panama Canal) so the German-formed airline, Scadta became what is now Avianca.  It is the second oldest airline in the world after KLM (by a number of months).  These classic pictures came from Barranquilla airport's conference centre lounge where they had an interesting display about Scadta and the early days of flying in Colombia.  It all looks a little too pioneering for me.  There must be a nineteen thirties pulp wargame in here somewhere with American agents, dodgy Germans, smuggled gold and possibly a local, leggy  femme fatale.  Hmm.

Barranquilla airport

I've never arrived at an airport before and been greeted by a band and whisked off to the VIP room for drinks and nibbles (including Miss Barranquilla) but there you go.  Friendly people in Barranquilla! Barranquilla was hot: 33 degrees.  Exactly the same as in Britain I discovered.  Typical that I miss the only decent weather we have had.  I came back home to find English girls all have brown legs and are wearing shorts.  Most unusual (but very welcome)!

Girl in Cowes last week

I had to be in Bogota on two separate occasions on this trip so ended up staying in two different hotels.  The small but chi chi Sofitel was very nice and did impressive things with scrambled eggs for breakfast.  Even more impressive was the fact that they had English breakfast tea made with leaves and skimmed milk.  How civilised!

The restaurant was all in with the bar, which I don't usually like, but with the clever use of curtains they made the area look quite different in the evening.  I'd happily stay there again.

The Stygian lobby of the Bog

The hotel I stayed in when I returned to Bogota, after my first side trip to Medellin, was the unfortunately named Bog, which opened fairly recently.  The room was very nice although, like a lot of modern hotels, it took twenty minutes to work out how to operate the lights and the curtains and even longer to work out the mechanics of the shower, which had two alternative shower heads, horizontal jets and three separate controls.  I sent S in there to twiddle knobs at random, until she worked it out (the Legatus is not good with machinery). She got squirted unexpectedly by cold water on several occasions which serves her right for giving me such a thump.  The Bog also suffered from that other annoying characteristic of hip hotels in that the place was mostly so dark you couldn't see anything.  Presumably this is because old people don't stay at hotels like this.

Fortunately, on the roof they had a very nice outside bar with a good view of the city.  I had the best Vodka Martini of my trip there and S had one of those girlie cocktails (a Mojito?).  We had some strange crispy cracker things with them which were so hard I was worried they would crack my teeth. Having had a nasty visit to the dentist last year I didn't want to risk that again.

For breakfast I had a weird mixture of scrambled egg and some local, rice, beans and chorizo concoction. The two actually went together rather well and it was one of the better breakfasts I had in Colombia.  S had coffee and a croissant.  We had rather overdone the cocktails the night before and she was suffering somewhat. Fortunately, my recent training in Poland had stood me in good stead.

V looked after me very well

I then had to leave my delightful local assistant V in Bogota (which S was rather pleased about for some reason -perhaps it had something to do with the fact that she was half S's age) and take the 27 minute flight up to Medellin (it would have been ten and a half hours by road).

Half way back up to Medellin airport

I also left S in Bogota, to do even more shopping, and went up to the F-AIR Colombia Air Force show in Medellin. Formerly the most dangerous city in the world (6,500 murders a year) two really good mayors have transformed the place (only 450 murders this year which in a city of 4 million people isn't too bad).

Come on, it's only 16km!

It is now the Barcelona or Milan of Colombia. The city is located in a deep valley with the airport on the other side of the mountains and you have to go over these (it looks amazingly like Switzerland) and then descend to the city on a forty minute 16km switchback which offers up quite staggering views of Medellin. This used to be the single most dangerous road in the world and you couldn't drive along it without paying the drug cartel's enforcers for passage.  Now it's an excellently surfaced road (one of the few in Colombia) and on Sunday morning I watched dozens of Colombians cycle up this huge hill.  No wonder they did so well in the Tour de France this year.

Canadian CF188

I'd never been to an airshow before.  Not one with trade stands selling missiles, and such like, anyway.  The flying aspects of it were a bit weak, really, as the show was at Medellin airport and they could only do displays by closing down the airport for a while.  We had several aerobatic displays from the Colombian Air Force which just made me realise how very, very good the Red Arrows are.  It was a shame that S wasn't there as the Canadian forces were there in some numbers and Canadians abroad love to congregate.

Colombian Airforce Beechcraft

Kfir fighters.  An Israeli variant of the Mirage 5

OV-10 Bronco.  Used to attack narcotics factories and guerrilla bases

UH-60. Likewise

Still there were some interesting planes there, including a lot from the Colombian Air Force.  It is quite clear that most of the Colombian planes are designed to observe and then bombard guerrillas and drug facilities on the ground.  The Black Hawks seemed particularly heavily armed with all sorts of stuff on pylons plus side door pintle-mounted Gatlings as well.  Scary!

Now of course the Legatus doesn't know very much about modern aircraft so was very grateful to this very smart Colombian Air force publicity officer for helping to identify the aircraft.  She took a picture of me (for some reason) so I took one back of her and then she came over to chat.

There are a number of women pilots in the Colombian Air Force as, indeed, there are flying airliners for Avianca.  I always feel reassured whenever I have a lady pilot as I reckon they have to be twice as able to get the job!

VIP pavilion (right) with very large Canadian plane

View from the pavilion balcony

Centre of activity in the show was the blue VIP pavilion which had a balcony from where you could get a good view of the show and the flying displays.  On my second day I was taken up there and found it was also a very good place to observe the fine Colombian ladies at the show.  None of this politically correct nonsense in Colombia there were lots of glamorous ladies to help flog the bombs, rockets and torpedoes.

The first hostess arrives - as seen from my excellent balcony viewpoint

Guarding the entrance to the VIP stand

Private jet sales girl was having trouble with her hemline  in the wind, entertainingly

 What aeroplanes?

Whatever she is selling I'll buy it!

Even better, after half an hour a whole host of blue-clad lovelies appeared to get me cold drinks, bombard me with goodies and generally just waft about leaving trails of perfume as potent as the trails coming from some of the display aircraft.

Another ridiculously large suite

At the end of our second stay in Medellin S appeared in the hotel bar wearing a pink, lacy mini dress and not, I hate to admit, looking her age at all.  That's not what I said to her of course.  Having emptied the shops in Bogota she was coming with me to my next destination - a country I had never been to before: Panama.

More on this next time and there are even some wargaming aspects to it!


  1. Fascinating reading of your travel exploits... I am unsure whether to offer you an award for bravery, or insanity, for tackling a lady about her age! No doubt the bruise was well deserved ;-)

    Thanks for sharing the pictures.

    I wonder if hotel staff ponder if you are some kind of hotel inspector - taking pictures of your meals...?

  2. What a hard life you lead, but very informative on where I would like or not like to go. Some of the views are very nice!

  3. Blimey!! You do get about!!! Some very nice looking pics of some very nice looking young ladies too!

  4. Scott, I have been invited into a few kitchens to meet the chef!

    I have known the lady 19 years now and the key thing is that she looks ten years younger than she is but always bangs on as if she looks ten years older..

  5. Always nice to see ladies in uniform (or out!)thanks for the delightful selection.

  6. Entertaining as ever! enjoyed the photos especially as I am a great airshow fan I think I might have accidentally bought a private jet or two with that sales force! Interesting mix of modern aircraft and being an OV-10 Bronco fan good to see them still operating it

  7. Sounds as if you're negotiating the rigours of travel well. Now get back to work on the important things!


  8. Girls, planes and beer..the perfect blog post!! interesting that they are still using the OV-10 Bronco which strangely is one of my favorite planes...I think the Manston airshow this year would have benefited from a few of the...er sales staff!!

  9. Superb.... hope Cowes was (is?)good... What on earth have the Americans done to your breakfast?? If it's not bad enough that they slipped in an asparagus without you noticing, they also didn't put a tea bag in the cup, and what on earth is in that metal pot on the side....??! :o))

    PS. http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=355300977928986&set=pb.322506697875081.-2207520000.1376117657.&type=3&theater :o)

  10. Steve,that's her!

    The container held a vile looking Texan chilli relish which I didn't risk...