Monday, 20 November 2017

Recent blog

Hi again,
We should have included a reference to www.khakispecs.com which is a blog written by an Englishman (Hugh Steadman) living in NZ, on political subjects. It seems well researched and educated. In particular I was interested in the reference to the NZ taxpayers' money that has been given to the Clinton Foundation via the Clinton Foundation's Health Access Initiative. This is a thinly veiled slush fund and the deal was no doubt cooked up between Key and Obama on the Honolulu golf course. In fact Key's effect on NZ has been described by an Arabic saying - "abu samm barid" - which means cold poison. This is something you imbibe over a period without noticing any ill-effects - until you wake up one day to find that you are dead!
Steadman is a Sandhurst graduate who saw the light and emigrated to NZ where he lives in Marlborough. Key orchestrated a donation to the CF of 7.7 million NZD with a further 5.5 million to be paid during this and next year. The Clinton Foundation has been so widely discredited that this is an absolute scandal. It's all ben done through the MFAT.
This has been John Key all over and when Trump came to power his dreams of world domination together with Obama and David Cameron turned to ashes and he resigned. Pure and simple. Read the blogsite - it's informative and inspirational.
Cheers again,
Jim and Jean


Sunday, 19 November 2017

Langkawi musings ahead of leaving Malaysia and SE Asia for good

Hi,
We hope this finds everyone in the pink.
The above subject line fills us with a deal of sadness, but now having had 3 and a half years so far of living between Langkawi/Penang and southern Thailand, we feel it's time to call time and move on. We cannot sell a yacht built with love and integrity such as "Tiare Taporo III" in SE Asia - all buyers seem to be interested in here is the latest plastic fantastic - and at giveaway prices. Well, that's symbolic of the world these days and all we can say is  - GOOD LUCK!!! The world is going to hell in a hand basket and we are most definitely NOT interested in being part of that.
So, as we have indicated in the past, we have taken the opportunity to arrange to ship her to the Mediterranean in 4 months time where hopefully there is a more mature appreciation of the finer things in life. She is a 12 ton Gauntlet (Gauntlets were designed in Lymington, southern England) in 1934) and a number of them would have been part of the "Little Ships" rescue of the British Army at Dunkirk in 1940. "Tiare Taporo III" was built in Wellington, NZ between 1947 and 1978 - 31 years of creating. She was originally launched as "Reflections of Wellington" at Evans Bay, Wellington and then later during an extensive refit during 2008/09 in Whangarei, NZ, the decision was made by the present owner to change the name to "Tiare Taporo III" after the owner's great grandfather's island trading schooner built in Auckland, NZ in 1913. Hopefully there is much more interest in classic timber built vessels in Europe and that any increased interest translates to a sale. 
So, that's another potted history which will probably interest no-one, but anyone who wants to be part of NZ's maritime history can always be part of our recent history and adventures by accessing www.tiaretaporo3.blogspot.com
If she doesn't sell for a time, then we can always live and sail on board in the Med. and over winter in cheaper marinas than RLYC at Langkawi - and certainly cheaper than Thailand. During the northern winters we'd be in Colombia and it's far closer to the Med. than Asia.
Since we returned from Colombia on October 18th. where we intend to create our ultimate retirement home, we have received advice that all the legal initiatives that we began during our recent stay there have now been confirmed and are now a "done deal". That is hugely re-assuring for us and now makes our concentration on getting TT3 to the Mediterranean so much less mentally complicated.
Life on Langkawi remains pretty much as before - alternating between benign acceptance of the bureaucratic status quo and a quiet fury at the hypocrisy that drives the sad racist society of Malaysia. Just one example  - previously one could only buy 5 bottles of liquor per month per passport. But Jim went into a shop and bought 3 bottles and there was no mention of a passport. Then went back the same day and bought one more - same thing. They've projected over 30 million tourists over the coming year when current tourist numbers are declining around 20 million. No explanation for this "increase" - just more of the same government propaganda. Add to that the sheer theft by senior government figures of the funds "invested" in the state run sovereign investment fund - 1MDB - to the tune of at least 3.5 BILLION US DOLLARS and perhaps you get the picture. This theft was being locally investigated, but that has all been shut down, mainly by sacking the previous Attorney General and replacing him with a compliant yes-man. Meanwhile, the local population generally is left lamenting. But you cannot say anything publicly because then you would go to jail for a long time on sedition charges.
The central Bank Negara is now talking the value of the Ringgit up by hinting at interest rate increases in the near future. As a result the Kiwi dollar has gone from MYR 3.10 to MYR 2.83 at last count - a reduction of 8.7%. Although the recent rise in the price of oil and an overall decline in the Kiwi has something to do with that, the main reason would seem to be political so that they can claim how well the local economy is doing ahead of the elections next year. Whether interest rates actually do rise in the near future is highly debatable, but the general populace will be placated. Then it will be business as usual again after the election. Maybe we're very cynical!!  
We have also become aware of at least one yacht owner's difficulties with Malaysian Immigration and this echoes the comment made to Jim when asking whether he had been given the expected 90 days on arrival after coming back from Colombia. The immigration official at Kuala Lumpur International asked why 90 days was needed. The fact that we have a yacht in Malaysia and that as long as it remains here we spend money in Malaysia doesn't seem to register. DUH!!! But all of this underlies a deeper concern at the direction Malaysia seems to be taking against foreigners and just reinforces our decision to leave permanently.
As part of our preparations for sailing to Thailand and shipping to Europe, we decided to go to Penang to have medical checkups at the Island Hospital. We have to say that the medical system here is definitely one good thing about Malaysia - albeit considerably more expensive than India - but cheaper than Thailand!! We both saw a gastro-enterologist and all seemed fine but when Jean consulted Dr. Leow Chai Hooi - a respiratory medical specialist - for her persistent deep seated cough, we had quite a scare, which is not yet fully put to bed. An X-ray revealed that her left lung was approximately 30% obscured by a whitish mass. This could be an accumulation of mucous or something else we would rather not think about. It certainly explained her recent feelings of tiredness as she was simply not getting enough oxygen. Anyway, Dr. Leow suggested a CT Scan which might explain some more. It allayed our fears somewhat by showing that there was no external tumour, but there is still the possibility of a small internal one. The only way to check this was by way of a Bronchoscopy where a camera is inserted in the nose and then down into the lung, but even this is unable to absolutely say for sure that there is no tumour as it cannot penetrate the finer airways of the lung - which are like a spider's web, so because of this further inconclusiveness, Jean decided against this procedure. So the tentative conclusion at this stage is that  there is no tumour and that it is necessary to have treatment to dislodge the mucous which appears to have been there for a long time. The specialist recommended physiotherapy and we have luckily found a good physio here on Langkawi. So far she has had two treatments which she is very happy with. She has also been having acupuncture treatment with Dr. Din who we know very well and he simply said that a teaspoon of onion juice 3 times daily plus apple cider vinegar would dissolve and remove the mucous. Jean, being Jean is taking all three treatments in order to aggressively treat the situation and hopefully get back to 100% health. Fingers crossed.
Just as a final comment on the Malaysian health system - the visits to the gastro-enterologist and the respiratory specialist including the X-rays and CT Scan all happened within 2 days of our arrival in Penang. Imagine getting that as quickly in the NZ health system!! You just go to any of the big hospitals and say which specialist you want to see - and it all happens. We had an appointment of sorts but it wasn't really necessary. 
For us one bright recent happening in the world has been the election of a new NZ Government. The old government had been in power for 9 years and had simply run out of ideas. Albeit that they had been competent managers of the economy, although it has to be said that their so-called financial surpluses were achieved by seriously running down various branches of public services. NZ has a MMP electoral system - this stands for Mixed Member Proportional and is very similar to that of Germany. Unlike the system NZ used to have (similar to the US in fact where it is possible for a government can be elected with a minority of total votes), MMP is much fairer and representative of voters' wishes. So, although the old governing party actually received the most votes of any single party, it was possible under MMP for a coalition of 3 different parties to form a government. So, we have Labour, NZ First and the Green Party in power with a 2 seat majority in Parliament. Winston Peters, the NZ First leader is Foreign Minister and deputy Prime Minister with a bright 37 year old female Prime Minister - Jacinda Adern -  who has made an impressive debut on the world stage during recent meetings in Asia to resurrect the Trans Pacific Partnership without the USA. The main sticking point in the past with TPP has been the proposed ability of corporations to sue individual governments and to effectively prevent those governments from acting in a sovereign capacity. Apparently these clauses have been dealt with to an acceptable level (which wouldn't have happened with the previous government), but the detail remains to be seen. Together, Adern and Peters will make a great team with Peters' 40 years experience and Adern's youth, energy and political acumen.
Following on from the above digression (!) -
We are slowly getting the yacht into shape for the trip north to Thailand in January. New windlass deck switch and now some minor repairs to the dinghy transom. We also want to check the engine alignment. There is a local mechanic who can come on board and do this while afloat and in fact this is the only time that alignment should be checked. He has just in fact been on board and all is well. We had a bag over the propeller while we were away in Colombia in order to prevent growth and had that removed the other day as well as giving the bottom a clean. Started the 54 year old engine after about 4 months of lying idle and it started perfectly - as it always does. So, we're going to be busy over the next 6 months or so. Then there will be:
the sail north to Thailand in January - about 120 miles. We plan to clear in to Krabi and then later go across to Phuket via Phang Nga Bay which is a very scenic trip with all the karst limestone islands and their seemingly impossible silhouettes. It's very shallow going across though so one has to watch the tides and depths.
Then stripping EVERYTHING off the deck including all the sails and biminis to prepare for the shipment. We are just hoping that the passage isn't too arduous for the old girl because at times in the Red Sea you can get sand laden headwinds of up to 50 knots which combined with the ship's speed, could mean 70 knots across the deck. So, we're hoping that she won't be in too much of a mess on arrival at Genoa. At least the total passage time is only 3 weeks from Phuket to Genoa.
Then, providing all the foregoing has gone well, we think at this stage that we'd fly to Frankfurt for Jean to be reunited with Josie, who was Jean's Filipina Amah in Hong Hong in the late eighties. Jean was later instrumental in getting her out of HK to Canada and a new life. Long story. Anyway, Josie married a German, Reinhart, who was a school principal in Germany and has lived happily ever since. They have one son, Reinhart Jnr. Jean and Josie were great friends in HK in those days and it will be a great reunion after over 30 years since they last saw each other. And Jim wants to go to the Daimler Benz Museum at Sindelfingen! There he can ooh and ah over 540K's and 770K's and all sorts in between.
After that we would meet the ship in Genoa and then the long process of cleaning and re-rigging ready for a passage south to Sicily or Tunisia where we would plan to over winter while we go back to Colombia. There are direct flights from Madrid to Medellin.
So, like all plans of mice and men, these are subject to change but that's Plan A at the moment.
Finally another digression and a word about President Trump. As we've said before, regardless of whether you like him or agree with some or none of the things he is trying to do, we are convinced that he is trying to act in America's interests. He receives no salary and all he seems to get are constant brickbats from people who should know better and who should be pursuing bipartisan approaches to all the problems besetting their country. We do wish that he wouldn't Tweet so much though! However, he has inherited massive problems from previous administrations which began with Nixon when he took the US dollar off the gold standard. Then under Obama's 2 terms the national debt doubled from 10 trillion to 20 trillion dollars and we've seen the spectre of "quantitative easing" - a very clever euphemism if ever there was one! And of course the previous policy of trying to appease North Korea has led directly to the present impasse with Kim Jong-Un. Not to mention Iran and the sale of uranium to Russia. This latter is possibly linked to illegal baksheesh to the Clinton Foundation. Then there are all the sexual inuendos which kept surfacing during the campaign with no proof whatsoever. What about Bill Clinton? He used the US Secret Service as a pimp organization and that was before the Lewinsky affair.  
Trump even has his own party, the GOP, turning against him for what they perceive as short term political gain. We may well as non Americans be criticised for having opinions on American politics, but we believe that, such is the world-wide significance of US trade and foreign policy, everyone in the world is entitled to an opinion. Anyway, we reckon that if there is much more of the present shenanigans, he should turn his back on the GOP and form the America First Party (a la NZ First). He could invite those Republican (GOP) and Democratic lawmakers who were prepared to swear loyalty to join and then make up the numbers from outside the present political structure. We think they would sweep the board and the GOP would be consigned to history where they belong. And so finally would the Washington Swamp!!! That would be soooo refreshing.
Well, that's enough of a rant and diatribe from us! We hope everyone is well.
With love and all best wishes from us for Christmas and the New Year.......................
Jim and Jean
s.v. Tiare Taporo III
RLYC
Langkawi
Malaysia


   



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Sunday, 22 October 2017

Medellin leaving, Bogota and onwards

Hi again to all,
We finally left Medellin on the 12th. and felt much regret in doing so. We said a sad farewell to our apartment, which is in the capable hands of Noelia (our new property manager) and were then very kindly driven to the airport by our neighbor, Janet. We had met her and her husband, Hugo, some time before and they are lovely people. One Sunday they asked us if we would like to go up to a country area/town called San Pedro and we had a delicious Colombian lunch with them up there. Another time we all went together to a restaurant complex in downtown Medellin and had another great time at an Italian restaurant. Hugo had lived in the US for 30 years and periodically goes back to work there to make sure he keeps his pension entitlement for when he finally retires. They are both Colombians, but in spite of applying many times Hugo's wife, Janet cannot get a visa so he has to leave for 3 months without her. It seems ludicrous and is part of the US's paranoia about allowing people in - even temporarily. Hugo left for New York just before we left Medellin and we asked him if he could post Spiderman (who had been lost under the couch) to the Peapods in Miami. This was necessary to ensure that their Lego set which we had bought for them in Medellin previously, was complete once more!! Spiderman duly arrived - thanks very much Hugo.
Another neighbor is Juan who is a young architect and who has lived in London and Switzerland. He  has been a great help to us also and we had a farewell lunch with him at the Otraparte Café which is part of a small museum about 15 minutes walk from our apartment.
We've been spending a lot of time with our lawyer tidying up the final loose ends with Wills, and the Civil Trust that we have created. This has meant much time at various Notaries to get everything correctly notarised - otherwise under Colombian Law nothing is legal. For instance you cannot just go to a lawyer and get a Will drafted, signed and witnessed. It has to go to a Notary where there is a translator (which you pay for separately) and no less than 3 witnesses who are brought off the street and also paid for! A very convoluted business but of course made more complicated by the fact that our Spanish is still miniscule and certainly not up to the task of translating legal documents. And no Will made outside of Colombia is acceptable under Colombian law, so if you die without a Will made and notarized in Colombia(!), you are considered to have died intestate. In that case any property in Colombia would be forfeit to whatever local body administered where the property was - in our case the Municipality of Envigado. We had not been told this when we originally purchased the apartment.
But everywhere we have been with our lawyer and without, we have found people only too willing to go out of their way to help. It's been instructive and a great experience - even if a little frustrating at times. For instance, before we could form the Civil trust we had to make sure all the property tax was paid on the apartment to the end of the year. This amounts to the equivalent of NZD62 per month. So we had to go to the Palacio Municipal of Envigado to do this and then, because a simple receipt is not sufficient, we had to obtain what is called a "Paz y Salvo" which also has to be notarized and is the only form of legal receipt which is acceptable. When we were at the Palacio Municipal at Envigado, we  had written out instructions in Spanish as to what we needed, but there was still some confusion until one guy seated behind a glass screen decided to help in a most practical way. He left his post and said to us "come with me" and lead us off down the road to another office where he spent easily 20 minutes haranguing someone to do the necessary. Then he took us back to his office and we completed what we had to do. Soooo helpful and by no means the only example of people really going out of their way to help us.
The matter with First American Realty (FAR) seems to have gone off the boil but appearances could be deceptive. The two principals of the firm are overseas and the staff have been instructed not to talk to us! This of course has unintended consequences for them because we have received an invoice from the internet/phone provider which was in FAR's name and which related to the earlier contract which we advised them we were no longer going to accept any responsibility for. So, we returned it to FAR and it appears that it may have been for a minimum of 12 months, so they can keep paying for nothing! They entered into it with no approval or agreement from us in any case and they employed 2 contractors to finally fix some of the defects with the apartment and then had the contractors bill us direct! We told them we were not paying but now one of the contractors has been contacting us in Bogota demanding payment! We have told them that payment is FAR's responsibility and to contact them direct. It is an extremely messy and convoluted business but no doubt in time it will all play out. At least with the Civil Trust no-one can touch the apartment and our lawyer will be alert to any attempts to sue us. We have communicated with the contractor concerned by text from Malaysia and advised him to contact FAR - all in Spanish!!
But in spite of all the above we have been continuing to enjoy life in Medellin - from our almost daily routine of 2 delicious Colombian coffees and a Parsianita (for Jim) and an Empanada Argentina (for Jean) at our favourite café, La Lolita at the La Frontera Mall just 10 minutes walk from our apartment. Lovely girls in the café and we have got to know them very well - even to the point of exchanging very basic Spanish. Usually COP16,000 which is the equivalent of NZD7.60. Another unintended consequence of that is that Jim has put on 5 kgs. which will have to be dealt with. That's one thing about Colombian food - it's delicious but they always give you big helpings and there is a lot of deep frying generally, red meat and much pastry which comes with the empanadas! We will need to be more disciplined when we live there. 
We purchased 2 Rattan tub chairs for the apartment as there was a shortage of seating since we returned the horribly ugly lounge chair that FAR had earlier purchased on our behalf. Arranged on a Friday and they were made and delivered the following Tuesday - COP1,500,000 - NZD714 or NZD357 each. They really enhance the apartment and can be used in conjunction with the outdoor or indoor furniture. Very versatile! A pity we could not stay to enjoy them but airline tickets were beckoning.
Another thing we had to do arose from a difficulty in making our original bookings with Turkish Airlines. The website was difficult to deal with at the time and in an effort to get the best fares we inadvertently booked dates which resulted in us staying for 92 days when our visa only allowed 90 days. So, all for 2 days and after our lawyer Astrid had tried to get the visas extended on the phone, we finally had to go to Migracion Colombia ourselves to do the necessary. It isn't a problem in itself to get a 90 day visa extended to 180 days so we trotted off to MC. We were told that we needed an appointment but we hadn't been able to get one and time was running out. As is usual, by turning up in person one can normally achieve the desired result. So it was in this case. We had copious finger prints taken and there were forms to fill out and of course the payment of money which in the end is what these processes are all about. We then had our 3 month extension but there is a footnote. When we were leaving the country at Bogota, Turkish Airlines told us that, as our stay had exceeded 60 days (completely legally), we had to pay an additional COP 83,000 (NZD 41) each in order to leave the country. This came as a complete surprise and, as we had depleted our cash reserves of Pesos, we then had to go to an ATM and get some more! This situation would have applied whether we had stayed for any time over 60 days. It was starting to remind us of Thailand!! Once we are in a position to live permanently in Colombia, we will initiate the process of applying for permanent residency so will not then need to worry about these petty bureaucratic rules. 
The flight to Bogota (the capital) was uneventful on Vivacolombia, except that, being a law unto themselves, they decided for some inexplicable reason to leave 30 minutes ahead of the scheduled time! Bad luck if you were cutting it fine. At least it wasn't as bad as when we arrived when the flight was delayed 10 hours. From the air the extent of Colombia's cut flower business (2nd largest in the world) was apparent with many acres of plastic houses. Even around Bogota as well which is another 3,500' higher than Medellin. Bogota is situated on a high plain and so does not have the rugged hills around it that Medellin has. It also has a much greater population of somewhere around 12 million.  It is a very cultural city which was founded by the Spanish conquistadores in the 1530's. So, it's in the order of 480 years old. Medellin itself is also of a similar age but wasn't developed nearly as quickly - probably due to the more difficult terrain. We stayed in the Bio Hotel in the Usaquen district of Bogota - in the east of the city. Many restaurants within 10 minutes walk including one just along the road whose owner is an artist and his work which is impressive adorns the walls. Average prices around COP 1,000,000 (NZD490).  Lunch was COP 13,000 each (NZD6.30) and included delicious Colombian soup and a main of either fish, trout or chicken with plantain bananas, rice and a salad bar where you could help yourself. And coffee and a cake at the end. How good is that? We also found an excellent French restaurant - La Boucherie - where we had dinner one night. Excellent food and still not expensive for what it was. It would have rivalled the French Café in Auckland but at a fraction of the cost.
The hotel was quite new and emphasized its commitment to the environment. But its claims rang a little hollow for us as they didn't turn on any heating so it seems that they sacrificed personal comfort for some dubious environmentalism. Bogota, due to its higher altitude is much colder than Medellin and we were very glad of our jackets. Jim even reverted to long trousers (of which he had one pair) as shorts were definitely chilly.
We met an American couple from Las Vegas who also staying there and arranged to go with them on a tour to a famous underground cathedral at Zipaquira to the north of the city. Unfortunately Jean wasn't feeling well and so stayed behind and rested. However, Jim went with them.This is an underground cathedral hewn out of solid salt underneath a salt mountain. The local indigenous people had been known as the salt people before the Spanish arrived and the salt mines had been worked for hundreds of years. The miners evidently decided as a result of their Catholic faith devotion, to create the cathedral from mining galleries already hewn, The cathedral is 180 metres below ground and is reached by a gently sloping tunnel which passes crosses in alcoves all hewn in solid salt. The salt is very hard like granite but apparently dissolves when water is applied. This is in fact the modern method of mining the salt on other sites and then of course there is a method of precipitating the salt out of the water again. We reached the choir stalls above the main floor of the cathedral, but from there down there were myriads of steps which Jim's knees weren't up to so he stayed up above while the rest of the party descended. Apparently there is a shallow pool down there which reflects the gigantic cross above the altar which is quite spectacular. However, after waiting about half an hour yours truly ascended to the surface where he waited for the others sitting in the car. Then back to Bogota. Certainly the "salt" cathedral was interesting and unique but not quite up to the image that is being crafted for it - that of no. 1 wonder of Colombia.
We flew out of Bogota on October 15th. for Istanbul via Panama City. We were lucky to be given bulkhead seats as our previous very carefully arranged booking seemed to have gone by the way. We had a 4 seat configuration which meant 2 vacant seats between us so we were able to stretch out and sleep. Still a long time - 16 hours including 1 hour on the ground in Panama - until Istanbul. However, Turkish Airlines (who have won Best European Airline for the last 4 consecutive years) were great and we arrived in Istanbul mid morning on the 16th. Straight to the Steigenberger Hotel where unfortunately we were too late for their wonderful breakfast, but a very pleasant lunch and then a shower and to bed before getting up in time for dinner and then our flight at 0150 on the 17th. This was a Boeing 777 and not such good seats but we had 3 seats between us and reasonable legroom so was quite comfortable. Only 10 hours this leg and we flew over northern Iraq, Iran and then Pakistan and India. Very picturesque looking down on the desert areas of Iran when the rising sun lit up the ground features like a relief map. So arid though and it wasn't until we were nearing the Bay of Bengal that the country of India appeared greener. For so many people water is such an issue. We landed at Kuala Lumpur at 5pm. and were soon through Immigration and Customs. Must make mention of the Malaysian Immigration official who processed Jim. A fat lazy Malaysian who yawned through the whole process and when asked to confirm that he had granted 90 days just yawned again. A quick perusal of the passport showed that indeed he had given the correct number of days, but what a welcome to Malaysia. We are used to this lackadaisical attitude in NZ as it is reminiscent of the fact that this is where the Polynesian people originated but is in fact extremely offensive and not serving their country at all well.
We stayed that night at the Sri Langat Hotel not far from the airport and that was very average but only cost us approximately NZD60. The food was very, very ordinary - welcome back to Malaysia!!!
The next day (18th.) we flew on Air Asia back to Langkawi. Uneventful again except that the aircraft got a flat tire at KL and so there was a 1 hour delay while they changed the wheel in full view of the departure lounge. Why don't they carry out normal maintenance instead of waiting for something to go wrong? Typical Malaysian attitude to "maintenance" - almost a foreign word around these parts.
Then back on the boat at the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club, Kuah. All was well and in fact she was in pristine condition considering the fact that they had had almost 3 months of continuous rain before we left. Paul and Sheila had done a great job of looking after the old girl in our absence. Now cleaning the topsides, putting away everything and generally getting organized for life aboard once more.
We will be hauling out in early January and then off to Thailand for the next big adventure - shipping to Genoa, Italy in March. Although we still want to sell the old girl, we are also looking forward to sailing the Med. and would probably be quite disappointed if someone were to come along with an offer in the interim. Such are the peculiar twists that one's mind can take at times!   
Off to dinner with Graham and Lorraine from "Lorrigray II" at Cocos tonight and then a regime of Langkawi living including varnishing the starboard caprail and painting the insides of the bulwarks - which haven't been done since Cairns. All good and keeping us out of mischief!!
Lotsaluv to all and looking forward to your news,
Jim and Jean
s.v. Tiare Taporo III
Kuah
Langkawi
Malaysia.
   

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Friday, 13 October 2017

end of stay in Medellin and now in Bogota

Hi again to all,
We finally left Medellin yesterday on the 12th. and felt much regret at doing so. We said a sad farewell to our apartment, which is in the capable hands of Noelia (our new property manager) and were then driven to the airport by our neighbour Janet. We had met her and her husband, Hugo, some time before and they are lovely people. He (Hugo) has lived in the US for 30 years and periodically goes back to work there to make sure he keeps his pension entitlement for when he finally retires. They are both Colombians, but in spite of applying many times as Hugo's wife, Janet cannot get a visa so he has to leave for 3 months without her. It seems ludicrous and is part of the US's paranoia about allowing people in - even temporarily.  
Another neighbour is Juan who is a young architect and who has lived in London and Switzerland. He has been a great help to us also and we had a farewell lunch with him at the Otraparte café which is part of a small museum about 15 minutes walk from our apartment.
We've been spending a lot of time with our lawyer tidying up the final loose ends with Wills, and the Civil Trust that we have created. This has meant much time at various Notaries to get everything correctly notarised - otherwise under Colombian law nothing is legal. For instance you cannot just go to a lawyer and get a Will drafted, signed and witnessed. It has to go to a Notary where there is a translator (which you pay for) and no less than 3 witnesses who are brought off the street - and also paid! A very convoluted business but of course made more complicated by the fact that our Spanish is still miniscule and certainly not up to the task of translating legal documents.
But everywhere we've been with our lawyer and without, we have found people only too willing to go out of their way to help. It's been instructive and a great experience - even if a little frustrating at times. For instance, before we could form the Civil Trust we had to make sure all the property tax on the apartment was paid to the end of the year. So we had to go to the Palacio Municipal of Envigado to do this and then, because a simple receipt is not sufficient, we had to obtain what is called a "Paz y Salvo" which also has to be notarised and is a legal receipt which is the only receipt which is legally acceptable. When we were at the Palacio Municipal at Envigado, we had written out instructions in Spanish as to what we needed, but there was still some confusion until one guy seated behind a glass screen decided to help in a most practical way. He left his post and said to us "come with me" and lead us off down the road to another office where he spent easily 20 minutes haranguing someone to do the necessary. Then he took us back to his office and we completed what we had to do. Soooo helpful and this was by no means the only example of people really going out of their way to help us. 
The matter with First American realty seems to have gone off the boil but appearances could be deceptive. The 2 principals of the firm are overseas and the staff have been instructed not to communicate with us! This has unintended consequences (for them) because we received an invoice from the internet/phone provider which was in FAR's name and which related to the earlier contract which we advised them we were no longer going to accept any responsibility for. So, we returned it to FAR and it appears that it may have been for a minimum of 12 months, so they can keep paying for nothing! They entered into it with no approval or agreement from us in any case. And they employed 2 contractors to finally fix some of the defects with the apartment and then had the contractors bill us direct!! We told them we were not paying but now one of the contractors has been contacting us in Bogota demanding payment! We have told them that payment is FAR's responsibility and to contact them direct. It is an extremely messy and convoluted business but no doubt in time it will all play out. At least with the Civil Trust no-one can touch the apartment and our lawyer will be alert to any attempts to sue us.
But in spite of all the above we have been continuing to enjoy life in Medellin - from our almost daily routine of 2 delicious Colombian coffees and Parsianita (for Jim)and Empanada Argentina (for Jean) at La Lolita Café at the La Frontera Mall just a 10 minute walk from our apartment. Lovely girls in the café and we have got to know them very well - even to the point of exchanging very basic Spanish. Usually COP16,000 which is NZD7.60.

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Saturday, 23 September 2017

Disputes and other happenings

Well, much has transpired since our last blog 2 weeks ago.
Firstly the aftermath of Irma. Perry and Tracie have been incredibly lucky. Apparently one end of their street which is 18-24" lower than where they are was inundated fairly badly and there are piles of house contents on the roadside which have been ruined. But their house was not touched. No water inside although they think that it was lapping against the glass French doors! Anyway, they were probably built with all this in mind and they held without leaking. The section was a bit of a mess with one large tree down and lots of debris. The paperweight (a.k.a. the Merc!) had tree branches all over it but was unscratched. One jetski was up on the lawn and the other wedged on the pontoon. That one may need checking for water intrusion into the engine but apart from that they are undamaged as well. So lucky. If the eye had passed over Miami the story would have been very different. Power and internet are both back on so apart from fixing things around the property all is almost back to normal.
One story made us laugh. One individual complained on social media that there was a pile of garden debris which remained uncollected in front of his house. He said it was disgraceful and would turn the grass brown! Someone else replied and said "don't worry. Maria will be along shortly and blow it all away!" However, it seems that Maria is taking a right turn well away from Florida and will likely eventually blow itself out in the Atlantic. Of course it was devastating again in the Caribbean but hopefully it won't impact the US East Coast anywhere.
In the meantime Jean had something which we think was a viral flu - zero energy and generally feeling terrible but no fever. This hasn't helped with dealing with the incompetent real estate company we've had to deal with but we're through that now. We're back in fighting trim. 
We've already mentioned the deficiencies in the apartment which were caused by First American Realty (FAR). Finally, around the end of August the last of these was satisfactorily fixed but it has taken 6 weeks of our time to organize. Just gross incompetence on the part of FAR. We also spent hours going through accounts and identified many areas where we were overcharged and in some instances items charged twice. We had had an initial quote late in 2016 and quite clearly told them that we had a price limit which they agreed in writing would be sufficient to finish the apartment to the required standard. However, 4 months later, after they had alleged that the apartment was ready for letting (and it wasn't), they then attempted to hit us for nearly 30% more with no supporting documentation! That was just before we left Malaysia. We've been in an escalating dispute situation ever since and have changed our lawyer and our property manager. It seems that we are in a strong position legally so we think it will eventually die down but it's been quite an unpleasant situation and definitely one which we had certainly not anticipated. FAR had done a reasonable job of the refurbishment except for the deficiencies which when added up, meant that the apartment was not rentable. It's just as well we arrived when we did.
But it seems to us that it's the way of the world these days. We've been harassed and bullied and threatened and these days it seems that this is always the first line of attack. No attempt to come to any sort of compromise or listen to an opposing argument - just "you pay or else". Well, in this case they picked on the wrong people; we don't respond well in this type of situation. Anyway, all is under control. Their employees have been instructed to have no further contact with us and are in fact withholding information from us - hence all the running around getting copies of documents etc.  We've changed the locks and finally had some good legal advice. It's also involved much administrative stuff with changing accounts with suppliers of Internet, cable TV, telephone, all utilities, and also changing the contact for the Body Corporate - and all in Spanish!! But we have had some wonderful help from some wonderful people so now hopefully we can get on with life. We think that it's simply a case of bad mismanagement on FAR's part and they are just trying to minimize their losses or maximize their profit!!
There's really not much else to report. The foregoing has been occupying our time and thinking just about 100% of the time. But we are getting some good insights into the Colombian legal system - yesterday we had to get the Deeds to the property printed off again - and notarized. So there we are in a taxi trying to give the driver instructions but we were well prepared. We usually write down the address to give to the driver and he actually helped in finding the Notary's office as it wasn't well signed. All good fun when your knowledge of  the language is sketchy to say the least, but again there are so many people who will help and there's always someone who speaks reasonable English. At least our lawyer and the new property manager are both fluent in English.
Got up at 4 this morning to watch the results of the NZ elections coming in. MMP certainly allows everyone's vote to count. And NZ falls over backwards to enable NZer's to vote overseas - provided yu are a NZ citizen and have been in the country sometime in the last 3 years. So, we downloaded our voting papers and because we don't have a printer, we emailed them to our finance broker (Alianza Valores) who by chance are occupying temporary premises only a 2 minute walk from the apartment. So, we toddled off up there and signed the papers and had them witnessed - then AV scanned and emailed them back to us. Then it was a matter of uploading them to the NZ Govt. website and sending an email to confirm that they had been received. In due course an email came back confirming that indeed everything was ticketyboo.  
It's certainly been a cliffhanger. Provisional results are (in percentages):
National 48.0
Labour 35.8
NZ First 7.5
Greens 5.9
TOP 2.2
Others 2.6
Under the MMP electoral system there is no representation until a party gets over 5% of the total vote, so now there are 4 parties in contention. NZ First holds the balance of power. There are 2 arguments. First, that National obtained the most votes of any single party and that therefore NZ First should coalesce with National giving a total of 55.5%. The other argument is that 52% of voters did not vote for National and that therefore there is justification for a Labour/NZ First/Greens coalition. Together they would hold 49.2% against National's 48% - a very slender and possibly unworkable arrangement. The main thing is that NZ First can keep the rest of them honest - which is a long overdue situation. The other argument of course is that NZF policies are possibly more in line with Labour/Greens and therefore that's a more obvious fit than NZF/National. Politics are fascinating!! It's Jim's interest really, although we are continually interested in events in the rest of the world as well. Particularly with Donald Trump who has inherited major problems from successive administrations - particularly the last one, and particularly Kim Jong-Un. And then there are all the vested interests, even from his own party, who are deliberately trying to sabotage his administration. Traitors, no less.
Cheers to all in Godzone and elsewhere
Jim and Jean
Medellin
Colombia
 

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Perry, Tracie, Carter and Nash in Medellin and other happenings in the "City of Eternal Spring" - and Irma.

Hi to all and here's hoping you are all in the pink,
Well, it is now day 57 in Medellin and we have only 31 days left. That thought makes us somewhat sad because we really enjoy being here - in spite of all the problems we have had with First American Realty (FAR).
A highlight of recent days was the arrival of Perry and his family on August 23rd. They were picked up from Jose Maria Cordova International Airport late at night by Latin Hosts who we hired for the airport transfers as well as the upcoming tours we organized for them. They provide child car seats which are definitely not common, nor legally required here in Colombia. Incidentally, Jose Maria Cordova Munoz was the Colombian general who finally defeated the Spanish in the War of Independence in 1820.
Great excitement when the Dodge finally pulled up after midnight on the 24th. at the security gate at the entrance to Jardines de la Maria. Great to see them and of course los nietos (the grandchildren). Upstairs to the apartment and soon Carter and Nash were asleep in their queen bed! A bit of a talk and then we were all in bed - ready for the fray later in the morning.
After a late start Perry and Tracie had some work to do so we left them to it on the apartment wifi, and Jean and Jim took los nietos down to a local park (about half a k) where they could run around. We had found a café there previously where we had coffee and los nietos busied themselves picking pebbles out of a garden and throwing them all over the path. Then it was a case of picking them all up and putting them back in the garden! Heaps of gardens and small border hedges all around here on the sides of the roads and all neatly manicured and generally looked after. Until the nietos arrived!!! Then, after a quiet afternoon we all walked along the road to an Italian restaurant we had discovered ( Il Forno) and had a great dinner - as usual. Los nietos had a ride on a miniaturized Harley Davidson which they thought was just the bees knees.
Early to bed as we had to be up fairly early to be picked up by Latin Hosts at 8 to go roughly SE from the city for about 2 hours to a town called el Carmen de Viboral. The main claim to fame is the local ceramics industry where they hand paint all the pieces. El Carmen de Viboral is at least 1,000' higher than Medellin, so it was a climb all the way and the van was a bit noisy in lower gears. In addition the seating was cramped so we were all glad when we finally arrived. Ears were popping all the way!
We were conducted around one of the factories which operated fairly primitively on several floors but it was fascinating to see all the processes - particularly the hand painting itself by a team of skilled ladies who could create a leaf or a flower petal by just a flick of the wrist. The patterns were colourful and exquisitely done and we would have loved to buy a dinner set, but not good to leave in a rented apartment. Maybe when we come back permanently. A 12 place dinner set was around NZD600. They use local clay but also have a more upmarket production which they export to Europe. For this they use clay imported from Italy, so it's really quite a sophisticated operation when you realize just what they produce. There are several ceramics factories in el Carmen de Viboral so it's a significant business.
Then we were taken to a studio where more ceramics painting was being done and we were all given plain white egg cups which we could paint ourselves. Including los nietos!! The results were variable, but Tracie's was probably the most accomplished. Anyway, it certainly made all of us very aware of the skill level necessary to produce the beautiful objects that we saw and we were full of admiration.
We then went on to Santa Elena where we first had lunch which was good with trout etc on the menu before visiting a flower farm. Colombia is the 2nd largest exporter of cut flowers in the world. The farm wasn't commercial, but rather a representation of the more traditional ways of growing a huge variety of flowers including roses, dahlias, calla lilies, bird of paradise and hydrangeas. The commercial operations are all much larger and mostly under cover. The farm was a riot of colour and we were entertained by the farmer whose remarks were translated for us by our tour guide. The original flower growers are known as Silleteros and the way of life the Silletera culture. It was explained to us just how the growers of old used to get their flowers to market in Medellin. Incidentally, this tradition is the origin of the annual Flower Festival of Medellin which has just been held. They had triangular or circular wooden frames which they carried on their backs into which were inserted bunches of flowers. All this was demonstrated to us, after which we all tried the flower laden frames on our backs. We estimated that the weight would have been near 15 kilos fully laden and these hardy Silleteros would carry these on their backs on muddy trails over rugged country AT NIGHT for 11 hours. They always wore the same clothes and carried a particular shoulder bag which always had the necessaries for the journey. Food and probably some Arguardiente - which is rum and Anis. Then, if they didn't sell everything at the flower market in Medellin, they would carry their wares from door to door until everything was gone. Then they would buy things that they couldn't get back home and take them back. And the return journey was particularly arduous as Santa Elena is roughly 1,000' above Medellin, so a climb all the way on the same muddy trails. A hardy bunch indeed. We all had our photos taken with the flower laden frame on our backs. With Jim's knees, probably all he could manage was about 100 metres on the flat, let alone up and down dale. It was starting to get dark by the time we left the flower farm, such was our degree of fascination with the whole enterprise. As an aside, we believe that the generally low humidity allows the flowers to be produced with a degree of hardiness which you don't find in high humidity and it would also have resulted in longer life after cutting. No doubt a major reason for Colombia's present standing in the export cut flower business. The other factors would be low cost of production and proximity to the USA - a very large market.
So, it was a long day, but los nietos were very good and just slept during the return to Medellin. Everyone quite tired when we arrived back so we decided to have a meal at home for once. A rum and some glasses of red Chilean wine and we all felt better! We had some steak which we'd marinated in beer, but we had no idea how it would turn out and we'd never used the oven before! However, we put it in at a low heat and steamed some vegetables and it was all delicious. Again early to bed to sleep well.
The next day had a slow start, but we had planned to go to Parque Arvi which is a very large area of natural bush high above the city's NE side. We walked from our apartment down to the nearest Metro station Ayura. First time for any of us on the Metro and the experience lived up to all the hype. Very clean, well patronized and efficient. Then, after about 20 minutes, off the Metro at the Acevedo station. From there a short walk to the Metrocable terminus. We all fitted comfortably into one cable car and off we went. Jim a little apprehensive as he doesn't like heights but trying to remain nonchalant!! As it happened it was all quite serene being wafted along almost silently through the air - reminded Jim of the American comedian, Shelley Berman who back in the 1960's did a skit on flying and famously said "there's not a damn thing down there people, but air!". He also recounts an imaginary sequence where he summons the stewardess and says "Miss, the wing is a sheet of flame". She replies "coffee, tea or milk?". He says "we don't have time for coffee, tea or milk - we're doomed". She says "oh really, how about a martini?!".
After one change half way up, we eventually arrived at the terminus. On the way the ascent was almost vertical with spectacular views of the city. We passed over some obviously very poor barrios (neighbourhoods) with shanty type brick buildings which were on extremely steep slopes. Wouldn't want to be there in an earthquake. On that note Medellin is built on a very solid layer of granite and it is said that as a result severe damage from an earthquake is very unlikely - touch wood!
Once we'd reached the top of the hill, we continued in a more or less horizontal fashion over bushland until we reached Parque Arvi. There we found the usual collection of tourist outlets and then eventually (because there was next to no signage) we came to a group of shanty type eating places in a rural setting. We ordered a very basic lunch and at that time Nash decided to throw a 2 year old crank which meant that Perry and Tracie had to take turns in wheeling him about in the stroller until he had come back down to earth! But it was a pleasant time and good to have been there with Perry and Tracie and los nietos. Then back down the hill with Jim bravely facing the downhill view and scarcely felt a thing! Maybe it was the beer.Then back on the Metro and a cab back to the apartment.
The next day we were scheduled to do a day trip to Guatape where Jean and Jim had been last year. Guatape is a hydro lake which was formed back in the 1970's when many valleys including the old township of Penol were drowned to create electric power. Sounds like NZ!! The usual climb out of Medellin with ears popping and then once we were up on the plateau, los nietos were carsick! So, there was a necessity for a pitstop at a local roadside café where they had some delicious sweetcorn based empanadas. Jim had 3 !! And coffee. Just what the doctor ordered after another early morning start with very little food. Maybe that was what was wrong with los nietos - anyway, never mind, the mess was cleaned up by Perry and Tracie - just what they needed at that point we're sure!! Then on to el Penol just before Guatape. El Penol is a mammoth volcanic plug which rises vertically from the surrounding countryside and which has over 700 steps built into the side in a zigzag pattern in a fissure in the rock face. Perry, Tracie and Carter elected to climb to the top while the oldies with Jim's creaking joints stayed at the bottom looking after Nash who immediately threw another crank when his immediate family disappeared heavenwards!!! We quietened him down (for a while) with some delicious Colombian beans and rice but it was only short lived! Anyway, they soon descended and were off to a replica of the old town of Penol which had been drowned. Very touristy of course but one doesn't mind that when one is doing the tourist thing. Tracie spied an antique tricycle with a seat for a younger sibling at the back and insisted on buying it much to Perry's dismay. Thoughts of getting it back to Miami no doubt. Jim bought a Silletero shoulder bag which will wow them back in Langkawi that's for sure! He can keep a supply of Aguardiente in the appropriate compartment for those arduous moments! Like entering and leaving the marina and getting hauled out! Jim also bought an old 33.3 rpm vinyl record to play on our new retro styled record player/CD player/radio and tape player! Typical lively Colombian music and the old record was in excellent condition. And Jean bought a fancy sun hat and a T-shirt. Then on to the town of Guatape itself. Old hat to Jean and Jim but great that Perry and Tracie could have a chance to see it. We had lunch at a restaurant on the waterfront and then went for a walk through the town which is almost impossibly colourful with every façade decorated with individual motifs and all colours of the rainbow. Then all too soon it was time to be back in the van for the journey back down to Medellin. Perry and Tracie went out to dinner in the Ponsonby of Medellin (Poblado) while the wrinklies babysat and we had homemade oxtail soup. We cooked some food for los nietos and all was well.
The next day it was decided that we all went to the Tesoro Mall above Poblado. Great views of the city and the valley from up there. And there's an extensive amusement park for the children there as well so we all piled into a Uber taxi and duly arrived. Had a bit of mall food and then we were immersed in the amusement park. Poor old Jim's knees were playing up a bit by then so was good to sit down at various times while los nietos played endlessly. Then back to the apartment in a pedal car taxi - God knows how we all fitted in. Jean and Perry walked off down the road to Il Forno to get some takeaway pizzas. In the meantime Perry and Jim had packed the vintage trike in many layers of bubblewrap and cardboard having first managed to overcome a rusty bolt to take the front wheel off. Many jokes in poor taste about US Customs being very interested in a suspicious parcel from Colombia! Finally at 9pm that night the sad time for departure was upon us. The car seats which had been contaminated, we had taken to the apartment and cleaned and we had put the covers through the washing machine so all was pristine once more. We took the car seats down to the security gate and Perry installed them back in the car. We even managed to get the bubble wrapped trike plus all their luggage into the back - then suddenly it was goodbye and they were gone. We felt quite deflated but there was much to be done - mainly in the on-going discussions with FAR.
Since then we have been out and about seeing new things and areas. And of course FAR. Late last week we had 2 mammoth meetings with them and the upshot is that we are still awaiting clarification for a number of invoice items which, although they had assured us they would answer, they were obviously unable to so do. It is becoming a farce. At the end we then presented them with a counter claim for an amount well in excess of anything they are claiming from us - loss of income and related matters. There has been a deafening silence since. We have decided that we absolutely could not trust them to manage the apartment on-going and so we intend to sack them, but the timing has to be right. In the meantime we have been recommended by our lawyer to another property manager - a young Argentinian lady who has a 3 week old baby which she brings to meetings and breast feeds on demand. She is lovely and very efficient. We went to a local comms provider last week to get the wifi, cable TV and landline transferred to her name so the business of transferring the letting business is well underway. It is fairly complicated because there are property taxes to pay, body corporate fees and comms (as above), so everything has to be properly documented, especially as we are not yet permanent residents and so we cannot put any of these things in our names - except the actual ownership of the apartment. Anyway, it's all underway. Jean's cellphone has also been a problem; the provider we were using proved to have a network that was basically incompatible with her phone, but 2 days ago we finally found a provider that suited the phone - Movistar, Thank goodness for that as it took all day!! All in broken Spanish and translating messages on the translation service on the cellphone. Very trying. New phone number is +57 315 3581195.
The other thing that has been occupying our minds almost to the exclusion of everything else right now is Hurricane Irma. No doubt everyone has been following her destructive path through the Caribbean islands and the inexorable progress towards Miami where Perry, Tracie and los nietos live. For quite a while it seemed as though Miami was in the cross hairs but now at the last minute it seems as though Irma has veered off more to the west which would spare Miami the worst. Maybe their house will survive - this did not seem likely 2 days ago. Storm surge up to 7 metres which occurs as a result of extremely low atmospheric pressure is the main concern and is not survivable, especially when there are wind driven waves on top of it being creating by 100+ knot winds. That creates an irresistible force which almost nothing on land can survive. So on Wednesday night after putting hurricane shutters on all their doors and windows, they packed up one of the cars, said a probable goodbye to their house and possessions and left for Asheville in North Carolina. Much to Jim's chagrin, they left the Mercedes jamming the garage door; Perry's description was that it could act as a paperweight! It won't be much of a paperweight if it starts to float. A particularly difficult leaving was saying goodbye to Rosa, the childrens' Mexican nanny. Rosa has been with them for over 2 years now and everyone, especially the children, is very attached to her. Of course they don't know whether they will be able to return to the house and the life they have had. Rosa apparently was evacuating to Naples on the west coast, but fortuitously had a change of mind and remains in Miami with her family - hopefully clear of any risk of any storm surge inundation.  
They drove all night to Savannah, Georgia, had a rest and then on. In the meantime Perry had Microsoft business in Sydney, Australia and so, with nothing more that could be done he flew out from Charlotte (NC). In the meantime Tracie and the boys have rented an apartment in Asheville so they will be safe. They may get some rain and wind in the next few days but no storm surge up in the NC mountains.    
We have been hearing reports of people who have elected to stay on Key West and "ride it out". This is a ludicrous decision impossible to understand because KW is west of the south of Florida and so is even more in Irma's sights. In addition, the highest point of land is 16 feet (5.5 metres) above sea level where Earnest Hemingway's 2 story masonry house stands. They might stand a chance if they can hole up in the house if the house remains intact, but that's a big if. Pretty well the whole island will be underwater with storm driven waves of unimaginable height and destructive power. Almost certainly the road south from Miami to the Keys will also be destroyed at some of the many points where it crosses water on causeways and bridges. 
Since last night we have been anxiously following Irma's destructive path on www.tropicaltidbits.com - an excellent site with detailed updates every few hours. We were pleased for Perry and Tracie's sake to see that Irma had veered more west than originally expected, thus sparing Miami of the worst effects of storm damage and hopefully their house won't be so badly affected. Now at 1800 on the 10th. Irma is just north of Naples on the west coast and its speed has increased to 14 mph which will take it away more quickly. Just as well Rosa elected to stay in Miami. That Miami seems to have escaped the worst that could happen is nothing short of miraculous - although there has been a degree of storm surge which may have affected the house. We'll have to wait and see.
Complete change of subject and just to make everyone feel jealous - this afternoon (Sun.) we walked a short distance along the road to where there is a small museum located in what used to be a country house (Finca) before all the apartment high rises. Beautiful old place with a delightful garden full of many plants that we are familiar with in New Zealand. Bromeliads, tree ferns, grasses, etc. etc. There is a café/restaurant around the back and it was packed when we arrived about 3 pm. We managed to find a table and the food was the best we have had in a long time. Creamy tomato/vegetable soup, maize empanadas with cheese inside and a lovely sauce, and thin slices of beef on toast with green olives and olive oil. And the piece de resistance - coffee with vodka and amaretto (called Georgia). The whole thing was absolutely delicious and we staggered out after having had 4 (2 ea.) gorgeous Georgias!! And only COP52,500 (NZD25).
That's it from us for now - hope everyone is well.
Lotsaluv from us in Medellin..........................
Jim and Jean


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Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Medellin end of 5th. week

Hi to all,
Well, lots to report but as usual not sure where to start! Perhaps starting at the beginning or from where we left off before would be a good idea.
Jim's la Gota has improved greatly but has left a residual slight swelling in the left foot and pain in the left knee and thigh which is a bit debilitating. Jean says Jim should be swimming and all sorts of exercise which is all very well but when it's painful it's somewhat discouraging. These nurses have no sympathy!! And the pool seems cold although not being well makes it seem worse. Jean says it's OK and she normally feels the cold. We've since taken the water temperature and it's 23C so not so bad really - although a far cry from Langkawi which later in the day is like a warm bath! However, there has been some walking up the stairs instead of taking the lift and that helps although it is painful at first. But things are definitely improving - in spite of the exercise!
The other issue which has been all consuming has been the on-going and considerable frustration with First American Realty Medellin (FARM). We originally purchased the apartment through them last August 2016 and in the contract we signed they were supposed to have everything concerning the re-furbishment finished and ready for letting by December 20th. However, this never happened. Then at the end of March this year they told us all was finished and it was put on the letting market. However, there were no bookings before our arrival in mid July - and just as well because it wasn't ready then and in fact thanks to our efforts, is only really ready now. We won't bore you with the painful details! We've already mentioned that we identified at least 30 shortcomings (some serious) which meant that the claim that the apartment was ready was at best spurious and at worst fraudulent. So, we have spent most of our initial weeks here berating FARM and then waiting for contractors to arrive to sort out the problems. Sometimes they came; sometimes they didn't. In addition the apartment was in a partially dirty condition when we arrived - black dust on wardrobe shelves and same on the tiled balcony floor. And Jim has just finished going through their invoices and has identified God knows how many errors where we have been overcharged - in some cases for items not here at all. Jean did a detailed inventory and we've emailed all the gory details to them.
This is not how we had envisaged spending our time in Medellin, but now that all the work is largely finished at last, we will be mostly free to do some of the things that we should have been doing over the last 5 weeks.
In addition we thought we had paid all but a very minor amount before we left Malaysia, but they hit us with an outrageous claim just before we left. Our solicitor here has told us not to pay them another peso. We will also be counter claiming for late performance of the contract and our costs of ownership over the past 8 months so there certainly will not be anything owing. As regards the future, we will not be using them to manage the apartment and have changed all the locks. Just as an amusing aside, this involved walking up the road to one of the local supermarkets where there is a locksmith. We had translated our instructions into Spanish and carefully written them down as our Spanish is definitely not up to such intricacies. That all worked a treat and they told us that the locksmith would be there at 8 the next morning. He eventually showed up and the job is done. We do this quite a bit when we need to ask about things; for instance we buy oxtail from the Euro Supermercado and the following is an example of our written query in Spanish which we get off a translation website. "Por favor, diganos si tiene alguna cola de buey hoy. Si no, cuando esperarias tener un poco mas?" We usually understand most of the replies after painful listening and repeating and we are definitely learning a few words but we have decided that we don't have enough time here now to embark on formal lessons so that will have to wait until we are back later next year. There are many places offering Spanish lessons but we have identified the EAFIT University not far from here and we will probably go there.
We have been getting out and about - albeit somewhat more recently. We had been wanting to see the film "Dunkirk" and finally went to the Oveida Mall near Poblado. A great and worthwhile experience - we all know the story but the film certainly portrayed it as never before. We felt a strong association with the fleet of "little ships" as "Tiare Taporo III" is a Gauntlet. They were designed in Lymington, southern England in 1934 and many were built before WWII. No doubt they were well represented in that heroic fleet. Jim anyway felt quite emotional!
Oveida had the swishest cinema that we have seen (reclining seats like airline business class) and the malls generally here are of a very high standard. And not like many in other places with their Versace and Louis Vuitton shops. Just very modern and well presented.
We went one day to the Mayorista market where all manner of goods are on sale. Mostly food and the fruit and vegetable markets were so reminiscent of the old Auckland City Markets that were Jim's stamping ground in the Produce Markets Ltd era from 1965 to 1972 when the business was sold. PM had been operating on the same site since 1932. We didn't buy much; it was mostly a reconnaissance mission but we found a seafood restaurant and associated shop selling all manner of marine organisms. The seafood here is mostly fairly disappointing however as in supermarkets as far as fish is concerned they only seem to have local trout, salmon and Tilapia. The latter we avoid like the plague as it is farmed all over the world in often very questionable circumstances. We have seen prawn farms in Thailand and Vietnam and would never buy prawns from those locations. We know too much! However, the trout is local and very delicious. There are many lakes in the area and that's where they come from.
We enjoyed the few parts of the annual Flower Festival that we were able to see. There was a wonderful display at the Botanical Gardens and a few days later the traditional classic car parade was held. Jim was in his element. Mostly American cars of 1950's and 60's but a smattering of much earlier cars including one steered by a tiller. Not sure what it was. Also vintage military vehicles and a few Jaguars, Austin Healeys and MG's. Someone suggested they'd be like the old American cars in Cuba, but nothing could be further from the truth. They are all immaculate, original and obviously cherished. Thoughts are stirring about acquiring something in the US and shipping it to Colombia when we settle here! You can import a used vehicle into Colombia as long as it is more than 35 years of age and has some "classic" quality. Still, not sure about that - fuel is very expensive in Colombia and can't quite imagine our planned trip to Ushuaia in a 40 year old vehicle - but you never know! Maybe an ex US Army Willys Jeep with a machine gun mounted on the back - could come in useful! We saw a few of those in the parade.
There were very colourful floats on commercial vehicles with music and absolutely gorgeous girls dancing. One threw a flower to Jim - must have been the quantity of grey hair that did it! But on that note, the women here in Colombia are for the most part spectacular. A constant source of distraction for the poor old grey headed and bearded whatsit. Not good for the health. And Jean is most impressed with the men too - she hasn't swooned yet, but come close methinks. They are an impressive race, if you can call them that with their mixed ancestry - European Spanish, Creole, Amerindian and Negro. They carry themselves well and are always well dressed and proud of their appearance. And so friendly and helpful as we discovered on our first visit. Our efforts with Spanish usually have them in hysterics but it's all good natured and fun. And that sums them up really - happy and full of fun. Many people openly displaying affection to each other and just obviously happy - even in mundane circumstances. "Muchos gracias" always brings "con mucho gusto" and a big smile. The 24/7 security on the gate of Jardines de la Maria (our apartment complex) are always amused by Jean. One of them is trying to learn English and always says good morning or good night. We've taught him good afternoon as well. We respond with buenos dias or buenos tardes or buenos noches. They usually get a taxi for us and tell the driver where we want to go - probably saying these gringos only speak Ingles! However, there is one taxi driver (Juan) who lived in Miami and New York for many years and he speaks very good English. He has driven us a couple of times now and we have great conversations about all manner of things. We must make special mention of the taxis. They are all small yellow pedal car Hyundais or Chevs or Kias and the absolute maximum that you would pay from one side of this 3 million people city to the other is COP 20,000 - that's NZD9. Usually for our trips it's less than half that - why would you have a car except for the convenience. But the taxis are so numerous that even that consideration is largely outweighed. Then there's the Metro system which we still haven't used. Medellin is built in the Aburro Valley at 5,000' and the Rio Medellin runs south to north through the valley. The Metro parallels the river from one end to the other and by all accounts is very efficient and clean a la Singapore. The bottom of the valley tends to be industrial coupled with older residential areas while the valley sides are populated with high rise apartment towers and even higher up poorer barrio areas. Where we are in Envigado, the apartment blocks are attractively designed and in very leafy streets and generally no more than 10 levels. We are on the 8th. level. Anyway to get a good idea of the city we recommend going to a couple of websites - Medellinliving and googling a map of Medellin which will show Envigado in relation to Poblado and the rest of the city.
The other night we went to the August monthly "meeting" of Medellin Living held at a restaurant in Poblado which is the Remuera of Medellin. At least it's what the residents like to think of it as! It's really a cross between Remuera and Ponsonby with all its restaurants, bars and night clubs. The restaurant was noisy with loud music and you couldn't hear yourself think, much less have any conversation. The food was OK but expensive for here and we didn't stay long. Poblado is also quite hilly with narrow traffic and congested streets. In fact the Poblado traffic is so bad that FARM has stopped marketing apartments on a particular road that winds interminably up the hill to a mall called El Tresoro. Great view when you get there but hardly worth the effort and sitting in a pedal car taxi inhaling exhaust fumes and watching the metre inexorably ticking over leaves one feeling a bit grumpy!
We have met so many lovely people. The other day we were having a snack in a café in the Oveida Mall when we started talking to a local (Sebastian) who owns a business which supplies mining equipment. He spoke English very well and was full of useful information. He expressed concern about the political situation with the former guerilla group FARC being disarmed and disbanded and likely to gain some seats in the Parliament in the elections which are due next year. They are very left wing and in his opinion, if they gained any sort of influence, they could well lead Colombia in the direction that Venezuela has taken. That would be an absolute tragedy in this otherwise progressive and proud country. Sure, it's got its problems but which country hasn't? And the inexplicable thing to us is that it is still on the NZ Govt.'s website warning of travel to Colombia! Absolute nonsense - what about all the terror attacks that have occurred in the last 12 months in Europe? The last in Barcelona last week.
NZ is likely to be signing an FTA with Colombia, Peru, Chile and Mexico in the next few months and is also on track to open an embassy in Bogota in 2018, so that's all positive. Air NZ might soon be flying to Bogota - or even Medellin!  Might see some NZ wine and lamb here then. Lamb is one meat we haven't yet seen. Lots of beef - local as well as from Uruguay and Argentina and much pork. Certainly a change in that respect from Malaysia!
We have also met 2 lawyers quite by chance. There was Natalia who speaks good English and we met her at a local café called La Lolita in the La Frontera Mall 2 minutes walk up the road which we patronize for empanadas and excellent coffee. We also buy their ground coffee to bring back home. And also Emma whose parents are NZer's - she was born in Australia. She qualified as a lawyer in Australia and is now practising here in Medellin with her Colombian business partner. Fascinating people leading very interesting lives - just like many of the cruising yachties (and others) who we have met on our nautical travels.
Then there was Juan who is an architect in his 20's living with his family in an identical apartment from ours on the 3rd floor of our building. Juan speaks excellent English also and has been of enormous help and a saviour to us in translating where necessary. Notably this has been in connection with some security netting we've had installed on our balcony with the imminent arrival of the grandchildren in mind. Juan has worked in London and also in Switzerland.
We've had 3 national holidays since we've been here. On July 20th. there was Colombian Independence Day to mark when they finally kicked the Spanish out in the early 1800's. Then there was the Battle of Boyacá Day on August 7th. which marked a famous battle in which the Spanish were roundly defeated. And finally a religious holiday - the Assumption of Mary just yesterday. Colombia is overwhelmingly Catholic and while it is certainly not our thing, it does not seem in any way obtrusive. Even the ringing of the church bells at the little church of Parroquia la Nina Maria which is clearly visible from our balcony, is a pleasant sound - unlike the recorded voices through huge loudspeakers in Arabic of the Muezzin calling the faithful to prayer in Muslim countries. Used to drive us mad at 5 in the morning in Kupang, Indonesia. That's a place we definitely want to forget, but every so often it comes back into the consciousness like a very bad dream.
We still have things to do like Salsa dancing and visiting the famous Salon Malaga where they do the Tango. And tomorrow Perry, Tracie and the grand children arrive for 5 days. We haven't seen them for over 12 months since we were in Miami so for Jean especially it will be exciting! We have a couple of trips out of the city planned which we shall regale you with in a later blog!
For now we'll refrain from any reference to US politics and Donald Trump and certainly from the upcoming NZ elections. No doubt plenty to talk about after the election and when Winston is PM!!!!!
On that joyous note we will leave you dear readers and we'll always look forward to your news.
With lotsaluv from us here in Medellin,
Jim and Jean
Jardines de la Maria
Envigado
Medellin
Colombia       



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