Monday
Jan282013

Changing Tech, Changing Law School

I'll be speaking Thursday at the 2013 Chapman Law Review Symposium on how law school (and particularly IP law) curriculum should change to keep pace with technology.  Our moderator is the brilliant John Tehranian (TWiL fans will remember him from Episode 120), and it'll be great to meet David Levine (me = huge fan of Hearsay Culture) and Deven Desai (me = huge and very long-time fan of Concurring Opinions).  

Here are some points I'd like to raise:

From Ruocaled on Flickr (CC/Attribution)Online distribution, licensing, and selective enforcement.  A traditional IP law education probably equips lawyers to help clients address the "Hey, they're using my thing and I didn't say they could" problem.  I don't know if it adequately equips lawyers to help clients with the "Hey, how do I get them to use my thing?" issue, however.  How can clients effectively use Creative Commons?  How can they effectively partner with YouTube and other distribution hubs?  In the case of Psy, thousands of parodies and remixes of an original work turned relative obscurity into global ubiquity.  A modern IP curriculum should give granting rights equal shrift with establishing and preserving them.

IP for all, and terms of service.  IP lawyers are traditionally well equipped to help commercial clients manage IP, but IP is increasingly something that touches people in their daily lives.  Can Facebook sell photos of your kid to AT&T?  What happens to IP you've posted to a social networking site after you terminate your account?  After your death?  Even though people don't read terms of service they care a lot about what rights they may be granting in their online photographs, reviews, tweets, blog posts, etc.  Lawyers should be learning how to draft IP terms of service that are clear and not overbroad.  They should also be learning how to advise clients about their rights in materials submitted to social networks, and about related right of publicity issues. 

From crschmidt on Flickr (CC/Attribution)Globalization.  I don't know how well a traditional IP law education equips lawyers trained in the U.S. to deal with the fact that a business with an online presence or business model is an international one.  Lawyers should be learning about treaties and global policies that effect IP considerations around the world.

IP Policy.  I hope a modern IP law curriculum looks at the state of
IP lawmaking:  recent unsuccessful attempts to extend IP protections
(SOPA, PIPA), the competing interests shaping IP legislation,
copyright and patent reform, etc.

If you're a law student and have any thoughts about what kind of changes you'd like to see in the IP law curriculum, please chime in.  (You'll be doing me a huge favor, as the last time I directly experienced IP law in the law school context, Ronald Reagan was President.)  

Monday
Apr162012

Colombia, Day 2: Off The Map

Looking up at the verdant walls of the huge bowl that is Medellín, and hearing the birds squawk "Chicharrón!" at us from the hotel garden, on our second morning in Medellín I felt like we'd already arrived in the jungle.  By nightfall I'd realize how wrong I was about that.  Medellín has more in common with Paris than with the region of Colombia we were about to visit:  the coastal area of the Chocó department, a scant 50 minute flight to the northwest.  

We spent a good, long time that morning at Medellín's regional Enrique Olaya Herrera Airport.  We'd been impressed the day before at the crisp, on-time bus arrivals and departures.  Planes in Colombia, it seems, are another matter.  Our Aerolínea de Antioquia flight's 10:00 a.m. departure time came and went, with no definite new time on the horizon.  A "creeping delay," my pilot friend Lorri advised. There was rain, but not much, and I'm not sure that had anything to do with it.  

Interestingly, our trip window was to have been in Colombia's dry season, but we learned that's been a moving target the last several years, with La Niña extending the rainy season longer than usual.

At one point an English speaking gate agent came over to check on us, leaving Lorri enormously impressed:  "American Airlines would never do that." We also spotted a couple I initially pegged as German who were waiting for the same flight and we decided to follow their lead; when they started packing up, so would we.  In the meantime, there were cappucinos, books, and journals, as well as donuts and Battleship played via bluetooth.  (We thought about lacing the kids' treats with their malaria pills, but opted to wait for later opportunities.  Bad call, that.)

After about a 2-hour delay we were given earplugs to guard against the de Havilland Otter's loud engines and our flight was ready to go.  Walking toward the plane we met the "German" couple, learned they spoke English, and that their destination was the same as ours:  The El Cantil Lodge, an hour's boat ride south of Nuquí.

We took off into a spitting rain, but still got some impressive views of Medellín as we ascended, flying over countless highrises and what looked like a sprawling university.  Most of our short flight was up in the rain clouds, so the ground below us remained a mystery.

When we started to descend, we could see where we were going, but the mystery, if anything, deepened.  Looking down, there was dark green.  No roads, no towns, no signs of human occupation.  Just green.  Then, also, brown, a river, and gray-blue, an ocean.

The plane dipped lower and the green pulled back enough to offer up a landing strip.  We were in Nuquí.

Nuquí was 50 minutes away from Medellín, but might as well have been on the other side of the world for all the resemblance it bore to the city.  You can hear and read over and over that you need to take a boat to where you're going because there are no roads, but you don't grasp what that means until you're there.  In this part of Colombia, "no roads" is more accurately stated "just jungle."  

An abandoned twin engine prop plane was busy becoming more vegetable than mineral.  The terminal interior was open-air, crumbling or under construction (perhaps both), roughly the size of my bedroom, and manned by two young soldiers bristling with automatic weaponry and special forces torsos.  I wasn't brave enough to take their picture, or even broach the subject.  Our eight-year olds were impressed, fascinated, and nowhere near as cowed by them as I felt (but cowed enough to bring their usual exclamations to a dull roar).  The document checking and collection of our strictly weight-limited luggage took just a few minutes, and we turned our attention to finding the boat that would take us to El Cantil.

There were quite a few people milling around the dirt airport courtyard and the gate leading out to the adjacent dirt road, but no one with a sign with our names.  Hmmm.  A tall, broad-shouldered, African-Colombian gent in a t-shirt, cargo shorts and an El Cantil hat came up to me.  His English and my Spanish were at hopeless odds.  It seemed like he was wondering if we needed a ride somewhere, and I tried to convey I thought we were meeting someone else. No one else was presenting themself, however.  Just then, we caught sight of the female half of the not-German couple from our flight and asked for help.  Her name was Nana, and she and her husband, it slowly unfolded, were not only also going to El Cantil, but worked there.  Wait, we still didn't have that right:  the husband's family owned the place.  Ah!  The El Cantil hat fellow worked with them.  We crossed the street to the boat.

I had just enough time to snap a picture of the dock before the sky started pelting sheets of sideways rain.  We'd had to consolidate luggage for this part of the trip, leaving much in Medellín and packing just the jungle essentials, or so I thought. Some rummaging revealed Tyler's rain slicker to be still warm and dry in our Medellín hotel.  Thankfully, the kids could not have cared less.  They stationed themselves in the front of the boat, scorning the offered plastic tarps and letting themselves get soaked through.  They had never seen the likes of Nuquí, and come to think of it, neither had I. 

Soldiers on a dock stopped us one more time to check and log passports as we motored up the channel past town and toward the ocean.  Lorri evinced a degree of calm about these guys and their firearms that I tried (badly) to emulate.  Rationally enough, Lorri told me later she figured a strong army presence meant we weren't likely to be hassled by FARC or other dissidents.  The guns just made me glassy-eyed and skittish.

I didn't have time to dwell on that for the next hour though, as we entered the ocean, opened up the outboards, and headed south.  The wind and rain that was busy slicing at us had churned the ocean into swells which our panga attacked like it was a cigarette boat.  The boys screeched, squealed, and jounced with glee.  "This is better than a roller coaster!" I just barely heard Tyler yell.  Nana, Lorri, and I hunkered down and held on.  From time to time I scanned the shore for signs of anything that wasn't jungle.  But everything was.  About 20 minutes after the bucking panga ride had lost its charm even for the boys, our driver slowed and backed into the tiny boat ramp at El Cantil.

The accommodations were canvas windowed huts that were solidly constructed and well maintained. The huts were divided to house two sets of guests, each side with its own bathroom, and a shared porch.  We hit a snag when Nana told us the four of us were booked into one room (we were supposed to have two), but our hut-mates weren't arriving until our third night, so she gave us the whole unit for the first two nights.  As we unpacked the boys used the porch-slung hammocks in ways I'm sure they'd never before been used.  Rolled up like a taco, upside down, emerged as their favorite posture.

 

We were soaked and chilly after the boat ride, and, though lunch was waiting for us, I stripped for a quick shower.  To warm up.  The bathrooms were spacious, clean, and offered gorgeous open air views to the jungle.  There was excellent water pressure.  But zero hot water.  "Um, Lorri?  There's no hot water,"  I spluttered from under a 60 degree stream.  Silence.  I was fast learning Lorri was a world-class, hardcore, nigh unflappable traveler.  But she loves her some hot water.  Don't we all.

We adjourned for the first of a series of excellent meals at El Cantil.  The menu consists of things they pull fresh out of the ocean and fresh from their garden, and everything we had there was delectable.  Tyler struggles with anything that isn't pasta, so I could tell his intake here would be lean, but knew that if kids are hungry enough, they eat.  Our strategy of burying their malaria pills in ice cream wouldn't work here though, as there was none to be had.  We experimented with melting them in soup (bad) and tucking them into other desserts (better).  

Though it was late in the afternoon, Nana told us we had time for the short hike to a nearby stream with a waterfall, and we grabbed our cameras and children and headed out.  Guiding us was a sweet kid from the village of Termales, an hour's walk south along the beach and home of most of the people who work at El Cantil.  We didn't share a common language, but smiles and hand gestures worked fine.  We found the stream about 10 minutes up the beach.  Our guide showed us some prickly plant pods (they looked like sea urchins) the local monkeys use as brushes.  

Soon we were at the waterfall, and what followed was a couple of hours of the sort of bliss you can only have on vacation in a place like this.  The rain had stopped, and the waterfall had a shallow basin for swimming.  The water wasn't warm, but not frigid either, and while Lorri and the kids explored downstream a bit I ventured in.  As soon as they got back and saw I wasn't getting throttled by anacondas or other submerged nasties, they all came in and we let the waterfall give us a good massage.  It was spectacular.

We picked our way back to the lodge eventually, letting the boys play on the beach and find critters, which they absolutely love.  There were enough hermit crabs to keep them occupied for a month.

When we got back to El Cantil the boys stayed in the ocean and made friends with some girls also staying at the lodge, and Lorri and I began to take the place in.  Coco palms lined the beach, with coconuts lying around in great heaps. Vibrant ginger, hibiscus, and orchids grew in profusion.  Dusk came around 5:30, and with it the housekeeping ladies to light the hurricane lamps:  one on the porch and one inside each room and bathroom.  By 6:00 it may as well have been midnight, the darkness was so thick and complete.  At El Cantil there is electricity only in the communal dining room, and only between the hours of 6-10 p.m.  No Internet.  Marginal and unpredictable cell service.  The boys collected some of our packed flashlights and kept exploring the grounds and wildlife, while we enjoyed wine on the porch with Micheline, mother of one of the boys' new friends.

Dinner that night was again delicious: grilled fish, rice, plantains, salad, a key lime custard for desert.  In some places in the world, travellers converge around a cozy fire for drinks and talk.  At El Cantil, it's the power strips:  a starfish-like profusion daisy chained off the dining lodge's couple of outlets.  Phones, iPads, computers, camera flashes, and sundry batteries all fought for their share of juice to face the coming day, and their owners got to know one another while jockeying for plug space.  There was a Brazilian model/surfer and her film/photography crew.  An extended family on an annual visit.  And Micheline, a D.C. resident who'd adopted a girl from Bogotá. The girl's sister and former foster mother still lived in Bogotá, so Micheline had arranged this trip for them all so the sisters could visit.

Micheline, Lorri, and I reconvened on our porch to finish our wine by lantern while the kids shone their lights into the dark places around us.  Some details of our conversation bore into my subconscious like woodworms.  Micheline had purchased kidnapping insurance from Lloyd's of London to cover her various trips here.  She also thought the small army encampment we'd noticed on a stream right next to El Cantil was stationed there because some tourists had been taken from this area by FARC maybe a year or two ago.

We called it an evening when it started lightly raining again.  Tyler and Ryan had wanted to sleep in the porch hammocks, but Nana was pretty adamant we should sleep in the beds under the provided mosquito nets.  The mosquitos here weren't annoying:  they were few, small, and made pinprick bites, not big red welts.  Malaria didn't seem to be a big issue in the region, but as parents we were trying to be careful and responsible.  So, under the netting we went, with the boys having a sleepover in one room while Lorri and I drifted off watching Water for Elephants on her iPad in the other.

More photos from Day 2 are here and here.

Next time:  I'd make sure I knew who was meeting us at the airport and how we'd know them, and be better informed about the availability of things like power, communications, and hot water. There seemed to be several layers of arrangement-makers between Viventura and El Cantil, so I'd personally reconfirm the number and availability of rooms.  Also, be more mentally prepared for the military.

Next up:  Our second day at the El Cantil Ecolodge.

Please see:  the disclosures at the end of this earlier post.

Friday
Feb172012

Colombia, Day 1: 644-Step Program

Yawn, stretch: if it's Tuesday, this must be Medellín!  After about six hours' sleep in Hotel San Lorenzo de Aná, it was time to get moving and see some of Colombia.  We'd been combing over our Viventura itinerary for so long, it was hard to believe we were now about to live it.  Our hotel was small, basic, clean, had TVs in the rooms, and a pretty garden.  The boys were fascinated by the garden's birds, bugs, and rocks.  Though Medellín is not coastal, and sits at elevation 1,495 meters/4,905 feet, it is nevertheless lush, green, and tropical.

At our post-midnight check-in, my pal Lorri and her son Ryan (who'd been there a day, and had stayed up to welcome us), let us know we'd need to leave with our guide Stephanie at 8:30 sharp .  We enjoyed our arepas, eggs, and excellent coffee. Lorri and Ryan had had a great time exploring the city the day before, and Lorri was anxious to see more of Parque Jjeras down the hill.  We liked our little hotel, though Lorri's shower knob was broken or touchy or both, and she'd had a hard time dialing in the right temperature.  (Later in the trip, we'd find ourselves grateful for any semblance of hot water, but we were blissfully ignorant of this as yet.)


Our guide Stephanie arrived and told us we'd be going to the bus station, then a drive up and over the mountains surrounding Medellín to the towns of Peñol and Guatapé.  A tiny car met us in the driveway for the short ride to the bus station, so we put Stephanie up front, stuffed the four of us in the back, and were on our way.

The Terminale del Norte bus station was busy but not packed.  I could tell the boys were impressed by the place, mainly because there were no shortage of opportunities to buy candy and sweets.  There were enough open seats on the bus for Tyler and Ryan to sit together, and for Lorri and I to sit behind them.  The boys were both equipped with app-laden iPads for the long drive and were itching to plunge into them.  Though I'd rather my son appreciate the view more than on-the-road electronics permit, you've got to pick your battles and I enjoy peaceful rides as much as I presumed our fellow passengers did.

As we followed the Río Medellín out of town, Stephanie told us about the elaborate Christmas displays we were passing, and the huge farmer's market, the Central Mayorista.  She was German, but had been living in the city for five years, and was knowledgeable, friendly, and sweet.  Once out of Medellín, the bus stopped every 15 or 20 minutes to let people on and off.  At these stops, and also especially at toll plazas, Extreme Food Vendors would board in front and traverse the length of the bus.  They had mostly sweet snacks wrapped in paper or plastic and dangling from sticks.  Once they'd satisfied everyone's craving for chocolate or coconut filled bread, they'd step lightly out the rear exit — and the fact the bus by then was doing 10-20 MPH didn't phase them a bit.

The drive was fascinating.  There were farms with skinny horses, nurseries, places you could buy pre-fabricated homes, tons of small roadside cafés.  Many of the buildings were made of or used bamboo, and Stephanie told us how a plentiful local species is often used in housing.  The roads were in excellent shape except where they weren't — mudslides are commonplace in the lush, densely vegetated mountains.  (I kept an eye out for Kathleen Turner in her newly macheted flats.)  We had excellent cell signal throughout, so I was able to pull up Peñol and Guatapé in Stuck On Earth and give Lorri a preview of our destination.   

We reached El Peñón de Guatapé, a black monolith rising out of the landscape between two small towns about 55 miles NE of Medellín, at about 11:00 a.m.  A brick stairway switchbacks its way to the 7,000 ft/2,000 km summit.  We opted for a quickie cab ride from the main road to the base, during which the boys asked Stephanie, who translated and asked the cabbie, what the rock is made of.  He didn't know, but said many locals think it's a meteorite — which the boys found very cool.  Before tackling the steps to the top we made a restroom stop.  This is where I learned the Colombian rule of toilet paper:  you either bring it with you, pay for it, or marvel that you didn't have to bring it with you or pay for it.  Having been in the country already a day, Lorri performed TP management and brought me up to speed.  

The walk up looked more daunting than it was.  The stairs dip in and out of sunlight and shadow, and the view across the adjacent valley and reservoir improves with each turning.  Bromiliads spring from the rock's sheer sides, and the shrine to Mary halfway up makes a nice resting spot and view point.

The top rewarded us for our efforts.  There was ice cream, a little rain, and spectacular vistas.   The boys ran around and took pictures of us, each other, the view.  We chatted with Stephanie about the hydroelectric dam that had formed the reservoir in the 1960's, and the farms, buildings, and churches that are now under water.

On the way back down, Tyler doggedly counted every step.  He got 606, but that didn't include the ones to the topmost observation tower at the summit.

With El Peñón under our belts, it was time to think about lunch so we grabbed a quick cab into Guatapé.  We dined on the lakeside patio of La Fogata, and had yummy trucha (trout) and other local fare.  We were happy we arrived when we did, because about five minutes after we got settled at a prime lakeside table, a tour bus full of Colombians on holiday arrived and took every other seat in the place.  The woman at the table next to us did an impromptu, operatic duet with the musicians serenading the diners.  For dessert, we snagged ice cream from the spot next door for the boys and successfully got them to take their malaria pills (which we were taking in anticipation of the jungle portions of the trip) by burying them inside.  This was to become a daily challenge:  how to transform adult malaria pills into something kids would actually ingest.  

We spent the balance of the afternoon touring the Guatapé Reservoir in a tiny boat.  Remarkably, the reservoir and its gorgeous, glassy water were devoid of water sports lovers.  There were only small boats such ours and one or two larger tour boats.  The shores were forested, green, and dotted with fincas (vacation home estates). There was also an eerie artifact of Colombia's Pablo Escobar days.  His former, once luxurious finca, still juts into the reservoir on a commanding piece of property, but today it's a charred and graffitied shell.  Stephanie told us there are several of Escobar's erstwhile homes in similar condition throughout the country, left this way as a cautionary tale and reminder of his ill-fated end.

We stopped nearby at Puerto de la Cruz, once the colonial-style home of a doctor, now a café and museum. Photos and exhibits tell how people nearby were relocated to Guatapé when the dam was built and the reservoir flooded their land.  We took our time there, enjoying some cervezas. cappucino, hot cocoa, and spectacular views. 

Too soon, it was time to get back to Guatapé and catch the bus back to Medellín.  We enjoyed the boat ride back and more strolilng through the picturesque town of Guatapé. Guatapé is full of dazzlingly colored buildings, many of which include bas-relief artwork between the sidewalk and about hip level.  The town has a beautiful church, packed for mass on a Tuesday afternoon, and a conveniently located wine bar where we provisioned up for the ride home.  It also has a wild-looking canopy ride over the lake.  We were tempted, but our kids were a bit young for that particular adventure (I think the minimum age for riders was 15).

After a long and crowded bus ride back, we had a few minutes to freshen up and go meet our Viventura host Matt Dickhaus for dinner.  Tex-Mex in Medellín?  Yep, at T-Bar Restaurante.  I think you can find just about every cuisine imaginable around Parque Lleras.  Over our first shot of aguardiente (the national drink; a little like ouzo), we discussed the rest of our trip.  We had a flight the next morning to Nuquí for 3 nights on the Pacific Coast. Then, back to Medellín with time, we hoped, for sightseeing and shopping, and off again to the Caribbean coast, this time with Matt coming along for the ride.  Lorri and I were a little nervous about the Nuquí leg of the trip, where, during the transit portion, we'd be left to our own devices without a guide.  But someone from the lodge was to meet us at the airport, so we weren't too worried.  

We talked too about the Hotel Charlee across from where we were dining.  It looked like the local equivalent of the Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas.  Lorri and Ryan had taken the full tour before we arrived.  The art ("naked people!") and rooftop club/lounge/pool had made quite an impression.  

All in all, a great end to an exhausting but fun day.

More photos from Day 1 are here and here.

Next time:  I'd take private transportation to Guatapé and Peñol.  The bus was efficient and a good window into the culture, but long and crowded.  I'd also make sure to save enough time for the Canopy ride, and probably spend a night or two in Guatapé.

Next up:  Flying to Nuquí, and on by boat to the El Cantil Ecolodge.

Please see:  the disclosures at the end of this earlier post.

Tuesday
Jan102012

You're Awfully White: Getting To Colombia

Tyler and I left at the crack of dawn to make our 9 a.m. flight from L.A. on the one day it rained in December.  Some day in my life I'll be early for a flight. This wasn't the day — but I did manage to slap on a coat of mascara just before running out the door.

En route to Miami I did mental victory laps about finishing Christmas wrapping, tree trimming, and otherwise clearing the decks so we wouldn't return to a mess of holiday stress and activity.  (By the way/groan:  as I write this, our tree is still up.)  I read our itinerary, Spanish vocabulary cards, and the Lonely Planet guide, and tried not to re-read the part about how few visitors bring young children to Colombia. 

Early evening in Miami, we traversed the airport by train and foot to make our connection to Medellín.  We've been through Miami airport before, and Tyler reminisced loudly about trips gone by as we trotted along.  I gave serious consideration to cutting, running, and re-routing our journey to the Florida Keys.  

In the departure lounge for Medellín, I perused our fellow travelers discreetly.  Lots of U.S. business people with sensible polos, khakis, and rollerboard carry-ons.  Lots of families returning home.   Very vanilla; I felt like we blended right in.  But no amount of swiping could make the electronic boarding passes on our iDevices work (though they'd gotten us to Miami without a hitch), so it was out of line, get paper boarding passes, try again, board late, and scramble to our cramped aft seats.

Enter Damien.  Damien was tall and broad-shouldered, sporting dark glasses in the already dark cabin, and a blonde, ungelled mohawk flowing down across his shoulders.  His thick arms wore only a series of intricate, reptile skin tattoos.  Boarding just before the cabin doors shut, Damien stashed his bag in a first-class overhead bin, then combat-booted it back to our row in the cheap seats. Apparently Tyler and I had accidentally taken window-middle instead of middle-aisle.  (Doesn't A-B-C usually mean window-middle-aisle?)  I offered to move but Damien let us stay put — after dropping an f-bomb, p-bomb (i.e., "If I weren't such a f****** p****..."), and making it clear I knew it was a good thing he wasn't an a-hole.  (Which had something of the opposite effect.)  Tyler would have thoroughly enjoyed Damien's "sentence enhancers" (as Spongebob would put it), but was deep in an audio book and oblivious.  [Update:  in the comments, Damien swears — heh — no f-bombs were dropped, and I'll take his word for it.  My memory may have embellished.]

Once seated, Damien looked us over.  "You're awfully white to be going to Colombia,"  he deadpanned, despite the fact he himself was clearly of Viking stock, with snowy white skin but for his scaly green forearm flexors.  I told him what we were up to, and Damien and I had a great chat for the next 2 1/2 hours.  He's from Toronto and lives most of the year in Medellín.  He's been to L.A. but not Newport Beach, which I tried to describe:  shopping malls, law firms and stock brokerages, gated communities (though saying you don't live in one is like Clinton proclaiming he didn't inhale).  "Coach bags and SUVs?" he asked.  "Bingo."   

Damien has a place in Medellín, where life is good and real estate prices are, he told me, very attractive.  His local knowledge was far more interesting and potentially useful than the guide book's.  I learned:
  • Manicures and pedicures cost the equivalent of $4 U.S. in Medellín and are awesome.  Colombians love to have well-groomed nails.
  • Wedding bands are worn on the right hand.  (I moved mine.)
  • Damien said Colombian men were "10 times worse than Italians" when it comes to hitting on unaccompanied women.  To stop unwelcome advances, he told me the culturally appropriate tack is to cock your head to one side, give the offender a narrow-eyed once-over, then flash the thumbs-down.  Damien said this would instantly convert any would-be suitor to a harmless best friend/big brother.  (Thankfully I never had to try this, and don't know if I would have had the chutzpah to pull it off.)
Completing our tourist cards, Damien borrowed my pen and I borrowed his brain.  Viventura's itinerary didn't include the name and address of our Medellín hotel, but Colombia wanted this information.  "Put down 'Poblado.' You're definitely in Poblado."  El Poblado turned out to be an upscale, touristy part of the city, and Damien turned out to be absolutely right.     

Though our seat mate's offer of a chiva party bus ride into town was tempting, we spotted Bernardo, who had a comforting sign with our names on it, in the throng of humanity outside customs.  It was close to midnight and we still had a 40-minute drive to the hotel.  Tyler and I thus slipped quietly down the mountainside into Medellín, enjoying the city lights views, 4-bar cellular service, kamikaze motorcyclists, and road signs reminding us we weren't remotely near Kansas any more.

Next time:  I'd take the red-eye to Miami with upgraded seats, grab some sleep on the plane, get to Medellín the next morning and make that a non-tour, rest-and-get-settled day.  Our friends flew in the day before us, went to the science museum (modeled after S.F.'s Exploratorium; there's also a bug museum the kids would have loved), and really benefitted from the buffer day.
Next up:  La Piedra del Peñol y La Reserva de Guatapé (The Peñol Rock and The Guatapé Reservoir), and dinner in El Poblado.

Please see:  the disclosures at the end of this earlier post.
(Amazon links above are affiliate links.)
Wednesday
Dec282011

The Six Stages Of Colombia

On August 4, 2011, I'd never thought of visiting Colombia.  I didn't even have a precise idea where it was in South America.

However, I'd joined Google+ the month before, had been using the service, and at that time I think about 10,000 people had me in circles.  (The growth on Google+ has been remarkable.  On Twitter, some 8,000 people follow me and that's been constant for awhile.  On Google+ at the moment, 245,590 people have me in circles, up from 10K in early August and 0 in early July.  I have no idea why there's such rapid uptake on Google+ or why the huge disparity with Twitter, which I've used for five years.)  For this reason, 26-year old Matt Dickhaus, head of U.S. marketing for Viventura, emailed and asked if I wanted to "participate in a South American tour," possibly for free.

With apologies to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, thus began my Six Stages of Colombia.

Stage 1 - Incredulity.  People don't offer me trips to South America every day.  I was intrigued but skeptical.  I don't stay at "free" hotels that require a time-share pitch, and this seemed like a possible branch of that tree.  Also, I have an 8-year-old, Tyler, who, when you pick him up and shake him, feels only somewhat ready for international travel - not quite ripe, in other words.  Leaving him home wasn't an option, nor did I want to. 

Stage 2 - Excitement.  Matt and I started emailing and speaking by phone.  Tyler adores animals, and has been obsessed with the rainforest since age 3.  We honed in on Colombia.  Viventura had never had young children join a tour (they generally recommend travelers be at least 14), but Matt and his team began putting together a new itinerary:  "a kid friendly journey with a focus on the beautiful beaches and extraordinary wildlife Colombia has to offer."  Plus, what Viventura wanted from me was something I'd want to do anyway:  post pictures, share the experience online.  Viventura could accommodate up to 9 people on a tour, so I started asking friends with kids if this was something they could see themselves doing.  I offered to spread my "free" trip across all the travelers so what it would amount to was a slightly deeper discount than the 10% off they would already receive.  I asked local friends.  I asked relatives.  I asked Evan Brown.  I asked Rick Klau.  Many were interested but it's a lot for people to drop everything and haul their kids to South America, and our travel dates were right up against the holidays.

Stage 3 - Panic.  By October 3, I was serious enough about the trip to be looking into nitty-gritty details, like air fare (expensive and indirect, from Los Angeles), and safety.  Our anchor city for much of the trip was Medellín, which no North American adult can hear without also immediately inserting the words "Drug Cartel."  U.S. State Department advisories about Colombia are somewhat encouraging ("Security in Colombia has improved significantly in recent years" and "The incidence of kidnapping in Colombia has diminished significantly from its peak at the beginning of this decade"), but also chilling:

[T]errorist groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN), and other criminal organizations continue to kidnap and hold civilians for ransom or as political bargaining chips. No one is immune from kidnapping on the basis of occupation, nationality, or other factors. Kidnapping remains a serious threat, with two kidnapping cases of U.S. citizens reported since August 2010. One kidnapped citizen was rescued within 4 days and the other case resulted in the murder of the victim. Kidnapping in rural areas is of particular concern. On July 2, 2008, the Government of Colombia rescued 15 hostages, including three U.S. citizens, who had been held for more than five years. Although the U.S. government places the highest priority on the safe recovery of kidnapped U.S. citizens, it is U.S. policy not to make concessions to or strike deals with kidnappers. Consequently, the U.S. government's ability to assist kidnapping victims is limited

[Link mine.]  Matt and I emailed.  He's originally from Florida.  He has lived and traveled in Colombia without incident for two years.  They've been running tours for 5 years with non-U.S. customers (primarily Germans) without a single issue:  no thefts, let alone a kidnapping.  Matt's the poster child for the country's official tourism campaign, The Only Risk Is Wanting To Stay:  he went there on vacation and decided to stay on. 

At this point, the exponential growth of Google+ was starting to creep me out.  I was now in over 50,000 people's circles.  I told Matt that if we did this, I didn't want to post during the trip.  Someone could readily follow along with our online itinerary and have an unpleasant surprise waiting at our next destination.  No problem, Matt completely understood, and sent me more information about Colombia, crime, drugs, and kidnapping.  Bottom line:  I was reassured.

Stage 4 - Excitement.  This trip was sounding amazing.  Pacific beaches, Caribbean beaches, the historic city of Cartagena, a mud volcano, probably more animal and plant species than in any other country on the planet regardless of size?  Tyler and I were so in.  And, it turned out, so were were my great friend and neighbor Lorri Megonigal, and Tyler's best pal on earth, her son Ryan.  We started organizing.  Rick Steves travel satchel?  Check.  Packable beach toys?  Check.  Shots and pills...?

Stage 5 - Dread.  The next U.S. government Web site to throw cold water on the proceedings was the CDC.  You don't go to the beach and jungle regions of Colombia without innoculations for yellow fever, typhoid, and Hepatitis A and B.  And with malaria, of course, there's no vaccine (have you read State of Wonder?), you have to take preventative pills.

Ugh, two 8-year-olds and a battery of shots and pills.  It was a testament to how much the kids wanted to go that they sucked it up and did it.  Not without tears and trauma, but they did it.  My son had never swallowed pills before, and we learned that capsules (assisted by water through a straw) are easier than tablets, and tablets (even foul tasting ones) are easiest with peanut M&Ms.  Yellow fever shots make your arm sore.  They make a little kid's arm considerably more so.

The sales clerk at my local Ace Hardware is a dead ringer for Sofia Vergara, a decade or so from now.  I asked her where was she from.

"South America." 

"What country?"

"I don't talk about that."

"Is it Colombia?  Because we might go to Colombia."

"Djyehs."

End of discussion. 

We spent Thanksgiving with good friends, one of whom travels often to Medellín and Bogotá for business.  While there, he is constantly accompanied by armed private security and uses armored ground transport.

There are land mines in various parts of the country, we learned.  Not on our itinerary.  But still.

Stage 6 - Excitement.  We paid our initial deposit, bought travel insurance, checked our existing insurance for what it covered, bought international phone and data plans.

I started cruising Clicker.com for Colombia videos.  Anthony Bourdain did a great one on Medellín and Cartagena.  Music Voyager made me want to salsa, and further assured me visits could be fun and safe.  Globe Trekker showed gorgeous Cartagena and described its pirate past.  I shared these with friends (including my travel companion) and family to help them feel better about our decision; nearly everyone I told about the trip expressed something between surprise and alarm.  I read about smuggling subs in Wired, saw that the FARC leader had been taken out, and noted the myriad videos about drug and FARC violence were mostly out of date. 

I met a sweet woman with no English, and her daughter, my son's age, with some, at a fall craft fair.  She was a talented artisan and made beautiful leather goods.  They were from Colombia.

Another friend is from Colombia, Barranquilla.  At their holiday party, her sweetheart of a mother gushed about the country and offered to teach me some salsa. 

Someone reminded me to dig up Romancing The Stone.  (I've yet to see Colombiana.)

By November 12, we'd booked air fare, paid deposits, and were definitely going.  If we didn't know anything else, we knew it would be an adventure.

Disclosures.  I've been following the discussions begun several years ago by Jeff Jarvis and renewed this month by Rafat Ali and Jeremy Head, about bloggers, travel, exposure, and junkets.  I'm also well aware of my obligations under the FTC Endorsement Guides and regulations.  As I think you'll see in coming posts, the arrangement between me and Viventura wound up being more of a beta test than a junket.  I traveled, I gave feedback, and now I'm writing.  In order for you to assess my objectivity, or lack thereof, for yourself, here are all the benefits and incentives Viventura provided.

  • 1 tour package, ordinarily priced at $1,745.00 U.S.,
  • 10% discount for those traveling with me (children priced same as adults),
  • 2 surprise Salsa lessons in Cartagena,
  • 1 surprise 1-night hotel upgrade, following some flight arrangements gone awry,
  • 2 small wooden boxes of coffee candy as farewell gifts, and
  • 4 days traveling with Matt Dickhaus as interpreter, guide, all-around good guy, and child-whisperer.

Other than the meals included in my complimentary tour (4 dinners and what wound up being 7 breakfasts, for 1 person), we paid for all our own food and drink, our air fare to Colombia, hotel incidentals, some taxis, entrance fees for Tayrona and El Piedra del Peñol, and horse rental fees in Tayrona.  For more on what is and is not included in the tour, go here.

Next up, our first day in Colombia:  staying in Medellín, and traveling to La Piedra del Peñol y La Reserva de Guatapé (The Peñol Rock and The Guatapé Reservoir).

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