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


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.


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

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 - 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


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


Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Medellin one week on

Hi to all,
Well, we have been settling in - sort of - to the apartment and Medellin living. As the days have gone on we have identified over 30 deficiencies with the apartment. Some quite significant and others by themselves fairly trivial but together they add up to the fact that the apartment was not ready to be let as it was held up to be back in April. We have been having some testy discussions, particularly as they now inform us that they want more money from us which would amount to 109% in excess of the amount estimated to us for refurbishment last year when we bought the apartment. We may compromise a little but will not be paying the bulk of their claim, and if they won't accept that then there will be all sorts of shenanigans! Most of the increase comprises their fees so they can do the other thing with them!! Reminds Jim of a hilarious conversation he had with our agent in Suva when we were exporting onions and potatoes up there in the 1970's. There was a 3rd. party who had been upset at our activities and our agent who was an Indian told him to write him a letter and he would write a letter and then they could all do what they liked with it!! And all in a delightful Indian accent as well.
Added to that Jim has contracted a severe case of Gout (la Gota) in his left foot which means he cannot put on any footwear and walking is extremely painful. Plus a bad cold - no doubt from the Air Asia flight from Langkawi to KL!! However, we have an appointment this morning at the top Medellin hospital, Clinica las Vegas at 1030 so the effort has to be made to get there. It is a little better this morning so should be more or less bearable. The last time this happened was at Waiheke in Waiheke Wines and Spirits 13 years ago. We'll advise progress.
The weather has been hot with some rain but this is the hottest month. We have fans in the apartment which are adequate and at night we sleep with just a sheet as it gets cooler at night. Officially the temperature ranges between 16C early in the morning to the high 20'sC in the evening but it seems to have been higher just recently. Jean has swum in the pool but it is cold in the morning after the lower night time temperatures. Once Jim's Gout lets up he'll be in there too!
The apartment lies well - we get morning sun all across the front, on the balcony and in all 3 bedrooms. It is a very sunny and bright and airy apartment. In view of our balcony is a most attractive Catholic church and it is always well patronized. Sometimes we hear singing and often the bells in the morning. There was a wedding there on the weekend and the bride looked beautiful with a very long train.
There are 2 supermercados within easy walking distance from the apartment - Carulla and Euro. Both very well stocked and the fruit and veges are to die for. All the S American fruit, some of which we have in NZ, but many more here including the ubiquitous Cape Gooseberry. Jim's favourite! It is actually native to S America - we had thought it was S African, although it grows right through those latitudes, including here of course. The difference is that here it is grown commercially and sold in punnets minus the outer shells. Only possible with a low cost labour force no doubt.
Well, we're back from the hospital now armed with some pharmaceutical firepower to deal with the Uric Acid. Great experience at the hospital - first time in any Colombian medical facility. We had made an appointment by email yesterday with Maria in the International office and so off we went (Jim with a bare left foot) straight to the doctor's office on the 2nd. floor (piso dos). Doctora Bibiana Lucia Serna did all the admission formalities herself which took a while, Her English wasn't great but passable - certainly better than our Spanish!! Then she examined Jim and blood pressure was fine. As were all other vital signs. She prescribed medication for 3 months which was way over the top and also wanted to prescribe 2 injections which we politely declined. We paid COP145,000 (NZD65) to her male secretary who sat in her outer office. Then downstairs to find Maria in the International Office. She is Colombian but had been married to an American and they lived in Minnesota. So, her English was excellent and she was most helpful. She took Jean to the dispensary while Jim drew some money from the ATM. We have to go back tomorrow for some blood tests.
Now back in the apartment and just had some delicious Quinoa crackers with cheese and avocado. Some contractors arriving from FARM to start the remedial work this afternoon so maybe things are looking up.
More to come as always...................
Jim and Jean

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Istanbul and finally on our way to Colombia

This blog, or at least part of it comes to you from Istanbul, Turkey. We arrived here just after 5 am local time this morning (15/07) after a 10 hour flight from Kuala Lumpur. Turkish Airlines was excellent as always. We had bulkhead seats on the 777 and had bought neck cushions at KLIA just before boarding so were able to sleep for reasonably long periods which had the effect of keeping us fairly spry - at least until we arrived at our hotel for the next 16 hours.
However, to digress - the momentous breaking news is that we have finally taken the plunge and after much hand wringing and discussions with other like minded yacht owners, we have committed to shipping our old girl from Phuket to Genoa, Italy in March 2018. We signed the contract and paid the 10% initial deposit. We have obtained a very keen discounted and all inclusive price from Sevenstar Yacht Transport and so we are going!! Our rationale, if indeed you can apply that word to anything to do with yachting, is that there has been almost zero interest from buyers in SE Asia and we received an opinion from a well respected classic yacht broker in the U.K. to the effect that in his opinion we have zero chance of selling a classic wooden yacht like ours in SE Asia. So, as we'd already been in Malaysia/Thailand for just over 3 years, we thought the time had come to be a bit more pro-active and get her to an area where there is far more likelihood of effecting a sale. And at the same time, a series of new adventures for us. The thought of sailing those historic waters is intoxicating and we've already identified very economical marinas for over wintering - either in Licata, Sicily or Bizerte, Tunisia. And no doubt there are other places as well in areas we haven't as yet had a chance to research in depth. In fact, the costs in Bizerte and/or Licata are lower than those at the Royal Langkawi!
After the usual few days cleaning and otherwise preparing the boat for her lonely 3 month stint alone, we flew from Langkawi to Kuala Lumpur an hour late. The departure lounge at Langkawi International was packed to the gills with passengers departing to myriad destinations and the numbers travelling these days always amazes us. Our flight to KL was full and the flight from KL to Istanbul was full also. Just as well we'd allowed 6 hours in KL before the departure for Istanbul at 2330. We are always early for flights because we have discovered that these days, with all the travelling (walking) within gigantic airports and extra security formalities, it always takes much longer than you think. We are way too old to face the additional pressure of shortage of time between flights. For instance, at KL Air Asia lands at its own airport and it is then necessary to take a train to the international airport proper. Trouble is, being Malaysia things are far from efficient and the signage is confusing, if not entirely bereft. Check-in with Turkish was no problem and our previously booked seats were allocated. Just prior to check-in we'd thought we would have a cup of coffee and a snack at a nearby café. We received the usual Malaysian response to the request for a menu item of "don't have" and the coffee was more or less awful. Back in Langkawi on the morning of the day we left we walked the short distance down the road for breakfast at Starbucks. We had no food on the boat. We could have eaten at Charlies at the marina but the food is truly totally awful there and grossly overpriced so Jim had "Mac n' Cheese" and Jean had a lamb pocket at Starbucks. Not very nutritious but the best choice of a bad bunch. We will be glad to be away from the indifferent food of Malaysia for a while. 
We followed the usual route over India, Iran (close to the Iraqi border), over the southern Caspian Sea and south coast of the Black Sea and landed at Istanbul just as a spectacular sunrise was occurring. Immigration and Customs formalities were very quick and easy and as we always travel light, we had no baggage to collect. Found a reasonably priced Mercedes taxi van and we arranged for them to take us back to the airport later as well. Within 15 minutes we had arrived at the Steigenberger Hotel where we had a reservation and checked in - very friendly and easy. After a shower we felt more alive and went down to one of the best breakfasts we have ever had anywhere. Salamis, cheeses, fresh fruit and salad vegetables, breads, olives, etc. etc. - it was fantastic. As always the taste explosion of Turkish food is a delight made all the more poignant after the mediocre food of Malaysia. The hotel is brand new and so reasonable in cost - less than NZD100 per night - compare that to Auckland!! After breakfast we had a much needed sleep - then decided to try the indoor pool. We went down to the pool and there was a young Indonesian woman overseeing the pool, gym and saunas. After talking to her we discovered that she was a widow - her husband had been killed in a motorcycle accident in Indonesia 6 years ago and she had 2 sons. They were being cared for her by her mother while she worked far away from home to earn USD600 per month. She could only earn USD200 in Indonesia. For that she had to work 12 hour days 6 days a week. Stories like that are by no means uncommon in Asia and always make us thankful for what we have.
We didn't have a swim because the water was freezing as it was indoors in an airconditioned environment.
Then we had dinner before finally repacking for the long haul to Bogota in Colombia. At the airport we met another delightful young woman - Fanni from Switzerland. We didn't have bulkhead seats this time as they were unavailable but Turkish has fairly generous legroom anyway so we were fairly comfortable - although after 13 hours nothing is really comfortable. We took off around midnight and flew the length of the Mediterranean before heading out across the Atlantic just north of Porto on the Douro River in Portugal. Slept fitfully before landing at 0700 on Sunday the 16th. Finally back in Colombia.
However, our first hours in Colombia were to prove much more of a trial than we expected. We had allowed 8 hours between our ETA on Turkish and the ETD on Viva Colombia for Medellin just in case Turkish was late, but in fact we landed early!! After just sitting, relaxing and having a meal we decided the time had come to check in with VC. Had what would have been a hilarious time checking in as being a low cost airline, they do not allow much in the cabin so we had to check our 2 small cases. Took a while with our non existent Spanish. And being extremely tired by this time, we found the whole thing fairly painful. Anyway, it was finally done and then we settled in to wait for the flight at 1530.
As the time for leaving was getting close and nothing was happening we asked what the holdup was. We were fed a cock and bull story about adverse weather at Medellin but this was untrue. It transpired later that there had been an aeronautical display at Medellin and they had closed the airport for a few hours that afternoon! We waited and waited and waited and then we were transferred to another gate. This entailed a long walk with all our hand luggage which included 6 bottles of duty free Scotch. Jim found the walk difficult as his knees were not good after all the time awake and travelling and Bogota's altitude (8,000') caused some labored breathing. Never struck that before but it was not a comfortable feeling.
We had no phone as the only outlet at the airport had run out of SIM cards! So, we had to email the people who were picking us up at Medellin to tell them of the delay. Luckily we had their email and were able to use the airport Wifi which was patchy at best. Also luckily they were monitoring their email and so we at least had made that contact. 
Then the fun really began. There was a young and vociferous group of Colombians who greeted every loudspeaker announcement with loud boos and abusive language. Colombians are very outgoing!! We probably would have joined in too if we hadn't been so tired. In the meantime Jean (as she does) had met an American woman in a wheel chair and her Colombian husband who is a 2nd. hand car dealer in Medellin. He has promised to assist us with an automotive purchase when we finally settle here permanently. She had badly pulled a hip muscle doing the Salsa - hence the wheel chair! Then around 2200 the aircraft finally arrived and we had to board buses to get out to it. The aircraft was an old and battered Airbus 320 and certainly did not inspire confidence. In our physical state we were far from happy. However, we had bulkhead seats which were a Godsend at that stage. The American lady and Jean chatted all the way to Medellin while Jim went to sleep with fingers crossed that we missed all the mountains around here. However, Medellin is 3,000' lower than Bogota so it was all downhill. Probably could have glided if we'd had to.
We landed safely after all that and our driver was there with a sign. Then we had to wait for our 2 bags. Everything came off the plane but not our bags. However, it appeared eventually that they had been taken to a carousel at the other end of the building and after much wailing and gnashing of teeth we were finally re-united with them. The drive into town was uneventful except that it was very slow with queues of cars on the narrow one lane road.
We arrived at the apartment - Jardines de la Maria, Carrera 44 22 Sur-51, Envigado. Just before that we had stopped at a supermarket to get fruit and eggs and bacon, etc. to eat the next morning as there would be no food in the apartment. By then it was well after midnight but the key had been left with the armed security on the gate. Our driver helped us up to the 8th. floor (in a lift thank goodness) with all our bags and then we were on our own finally in our own apartment. A heady moment even after all our previous tribulations.
So, we broached one of the duty free bottles (a 10 year old Glenmorangie malt) and sat on our balcony. Couldn't believe we were finally HERE!!! Then more fun and games. Before we had decided to go to bed the power went off. Blackness in a strange apartment. Fookin' 'ell. Checked the breakers but all looked OK. Nothing for it but to retire. In the morning we awoke bleary eyed from sheer exhaustion and a modicum too much Glenmorangie but couldn't even boil water because the electric ignition on our gas hob top wouldn't work. And we couldn't find a phone to even ring someone. Anyway, we eventually staggered downstairs in our jetlagged state and spoke to a woman who appeared to be the building manager. She spoke some English and she then organized security to investigate. It turned out that a breaker in the basement had tripped for some reason and power was restored. But the cause remains a mystery.
We were not happy with aspects of the apartment as it had not been adequately prepared for letting. Ok as it was us, but if a tenant had arrived in the middle of the night it wouldn't have been good. So off we went in a diminutive Hyundai taxi and 8,000 pesos (NZD4) later we arrived at First American Realty's office in Poblado. We met Bruna Lima who is a Brazilian and she heads FARM's rental division. We discussed the deficiencies and later followed up with a detailed email. Then another taxi up the hill to the El Tresoro shopping mall which has a commanding view over all of Medellin. We had a meal up there and also finally got a local SIM card' Jim bought a pair of swimming togs (Quicksilver!). Our cell phone no. is +57 4 312 630 8785. We also have a land line - +57 4 2709871.   
Today (Tuesday) we have been relaxing and we had the maintenance manager from FARM here to go through our deficiency list. Most is now sorted - he spoke excellent English - and we have hot water at last! This powered by natural gas which is reticulated all over the city.
So, that's it for now folks - as usual hope everyone's in the pink. Our pink had become almost purple but now looking much brighter again!
Lotsaluv from us..............
Jim and Jean
Appt. 804
Jardines de la Maria
Carrera 44 22 Sur-51


Monday, 26 June 2017

Fwd: 2017 America's Cup

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: James Donald <>
Date: 27 June 2017 at 01:49
Subject: 2017 America's Cup
To: Alex Donald <>

Yayyyyyyyyyy - Emirates Team New Zealand has won the America's Cup in Bermuda from Team Oracle USA. The America's Cup is once more New Zealand's Cup. Well done and hearty congratulations to Team New Zealand, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and everyone associated with such a fine effort. 
Jim and Jean
s.v. Tiare Taporo III
Royal Langkawi Yacht Club

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Langkawi 10 weeks on

Hi to all,
As usual we hope that this finds you all in the pink.
We arrived back on Langkawi on April 11th. and as mentioned before spent a fairly listless first month slowly recovering from this viral flu that seems to afflict many people here. We think we caught it on the aircraft, but who knows. Anyway, we have finally got back on top of things but scheduled boat work has taken a back seat for a time.
There has been the normal socialising that happens in a marina, particularly this one with relatively cheap alcohol and a bar (Charlie's) which has been here since time immemorial. We've hired a car twice a week and done the normal provisioning - sometimes all the way to Matsirat! That reminds Jim of Waiheke days and the local who referred to the eastern end of the island as "the Bottom End"!! Sounded like a trip across the Nullabor and took all of 20 minutes on sealed roads. Hope we're not becoming as insular as that old codger.
Jean has joined the gym at the Westin Resort which is only a 15 minute walk up the road. She enjoys that, except that you need to be aware of the monkeys and a couple of wild dogs, especially around dusk. The monkeys can be a problem if they think you are carrying food.
Jim is swimming regularly in the marina pool. He has had to berate the marina staff fairly often to drum it into their heads to add chlorine daily, but at night - not in daylight as sun destroys chlorine quickly. After about 3 weeks we think the message is finally getting through!
We've met Poppy and Peter who are babysitting a B&B at Tanjung Rhu at the northern end of the island. Poppy was staying at Jo's in Whangarei when we first arrived there. Peter is German and Poppy a NZ'er. They seemed to be enjoying their Langkawi sojourn.
We've been making plans for our up-coming trip to Colombia. It will be great to be again living in a property that we own after a number of years. We can't wait to get there. We've been researching places to go in Medellin - Salsa dance studio, fabulous organic markets etc etc. We leave Langkawi on July 14th. and fly out of Luala Lumpur on Turkish Airlines. Only 18 hours or so on the ground at Istanbul which is too long to stay in the airport so we have booked a hotel nearby. Then Turkish again direct to Bogota and after just a few hours there we fly with Viva Colombia to Medellin where we arrive on the 16th. We return on October 12th. - the only material difference being a 3 day stay in Bogota as we haven't spent any time there before.
Life in Langkawi has been diverse and very pleasant, although we'd have to say that we are getting a little jaded and are increasingly feeling that it's time to move on. Problem with that is that the boat hasn't sold and an opinion received from a classic yacht broker in the U.K. was to the effect that there is "zero chance of selling a yacht like ours in SE Asia". Virtually at any price. So, what to do? Sailing back to NZ would be a difficult and long-winded business. It would involve much sailing against the wind and it would be necessary to go back through Indonesia and then north along the PNG coast to New Britain and then down to the Solomons, Vanuatu and/or New Caledonia. Then the on the wind slog down to NZ and a lackluster yacht market. Frankly neither of us relish that thought at our age. To sail on round S Africa via Mauritius, Reunion and Madagascar is out for the same reason. The other route past the south of Sri Lanka and India, through the Gulf of Aden and up through the Red Sea is out for largely a different reason - piracy. Not to mention the distinct possibility of 50 knot headwinds going north up the Red Sea. The piracy seems to have died down a bit lately but the risk remains high and frankly it's a risk we are not prepared to take. We don't relish having the boat looted and then probably sunk and ourselves taken captive and held for ransom. That's just not going to happen.
So, that only leaves shipping where the old girl would be craned into a cradle on the deck of a specialized yacht carrier in Phuket, Thailand. They travel the Red Sea route, but they take on mercenaries before getting to pirate alley and with a ship's vastly superior speed are unlikely to have any problem. Port of discharge at this stage is likely to be Genoa, Italy which would be absolutely fine. The shipping cost has come down substantially since we first discussed the possibility 2 years ago so it is a viable option. And there's a brand new marina at Bizerte, Tunisia which is even cheaper than here on Langkawi so not all bad.
In the meantime we have listed the old girl (the boat!!) with a classic yacht broker in the U.K. and also Vinings in NZ so she might sell in the interim. That would be our preference and of course it would enable us to adopt our new lifestyle ashore almost immediately but there is some little niggle which suggests that a Mediterranean experience in those historical waters (the west Italian coast, Elba, Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, Malta, Greece, Crete, Tunisia (where the ancient city of Carthage was), Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Gibraltar) would be the experience of a lifetime and we've already had some of those! Still, there are experiences to be had everywhere - it's just a matter of how circumstances pan out.
After our first month of feeling listless we have begun doing some boat jobs. Problem with those here is that after around 10 am you have to stop as the heat becomes overpowering and you can easily become dehydrated before you realize it. We've been washing the boat to get rid of mildew which at this time of the year is an on-going process but not as bad as in Whangarei we'd have to say. Then there was some deck caulking which had been re-done in Krabi about 18 months ago. It had badly deteriorated and was partially melting. We think they'd used some out of date caulking material. So we ripped it out using our newly acquired Makita oscillating multi tool (we'd had a Fein previously) and re-caulked the offending areas using International Evidure timber sealer first. Not the best to do these things piecemeal, but it works medium term and the decks are not leaking, even in the tropical downpours we get at times up here. Some overdue re-painting of the bulwarks and the boom will have to wait until our return. In addition we need to clean some mildew off the Genoa and sanitise the interior (which ex nurse Jean is good at) before leaving the poor lonely old girl for another 3 months while we flit off to Colombia. Still, she could be in for a whole exciting new experience very soon. 
We've been enjoying renewing acquaintances around the island and especially here in the marina. There are the girls in the office (Tini, Effa, and Shakila) who usually regard Jean with amazement and wonder just what she is going to do or say next! And there is Azrin, the marina manager - official title Harbourmaster.
Gavin and Jeanine Ganley are here with their steel NZ registered Ganley designed yacht. Gavin's brother Dennis designed all the renowned Ganleys but sadly passed away at a relatively early age. He also designed the original rig on Tiare when she was launched in Wellington in the late 70's. There is Ary who usually manages to find a car for us, sometimes at short notice. He has his office at the Jeti (about a 10minute walk from the marina) where the ferries to Penang, etc berth. been spending some pleasant times with Lorraine and Graham, who we first met in Bundaberg. They have a lovely 65' steel cutter which was originally built in S Africa. Went to dinner at Cocos a few times with them as well as at the ubiquitous Wonderland Food Store here in Kuah. Two of the best places to eat on Langkawi.    
We bought a Spanish lesson language pack with CD's and explanatory books at the Post Office in Murwillumbah, NSW so we have been trying to get at least a rudimentary knowledge before we arrive in Colombia. Thanks to Sara (Jean's old friend in Murwillumbah) who recommended it. Sara, who Jean and Perry flatted with in Milford in Auckland in the late 70's, subsequently married a Spaniard and lived in Malaga. Hence she speaks Spanish fluently.
Ramadan has been on for the last month which is a bit irritating at times because it makes the Malays even more lackadaisical than normal! They aren't allowed to eat or drink anything between sunrise and sunset which is nonsensical, because in this heat you need to drink all the time to avoid dehydration. But it's one of the things one must accept and plan for if one is staying here for any length of time - and particularly if any boat work is needed. We learnt that a couple of years ago when we were hauled out at Rebak - one of the most frustrating experiences we have ever had.
Finally we cannot finish this blog without reference to Emirates Team NZ and how right now they are 3-0 up against Oracle Team USA in the final of the America's Cup 2017 in Bermuda. The Auld Mug is once more in sight , but ETNZ must be very careful and concentrate on their own performance which has improved hugely since the regatta began. It has even been suggested by commentators that OTUSA is even capable of attempting to force ETNZ into a give way position and then collide with them to damage the boat sufficiently to severely damage their chances. Of course there is also considerable risk for OTUSA in doing this because they could suffer the same fate. But nevertheless ETNZ must be aware of the possibility and watch their backs like a hawk to ensure that such a situation cannot develop. Possibly easier said than done. There is now a 5 day lay period with racing set to resume next Sunday. However, looking good so far - GO EMIRATES TEAM NEW ZEALAND!!!!!!!
And now really finally - the absolutely shocking and disgraceful attacks on the legitimately elected President of the United States of America. Severed heads, flagrant lies by the leftist so-called mainstream media, and now lies and innuendo as regards the investigation of President Trump for obstruction of justice. This apparent investigation has never been officially confirmed and is almost certainly not happening, but that doesn't stop the traitorous media from claiming this to be true amid many more lies. They are traitors because they are prepared to totally hobble the functioning of government, particularly when external threats are so real - terrorism and North Korea to name a few. This is creating extreme division at a time when unity is needed more than ever. There are of course also the economic threats where the US is definitely on the back foot after Barack Obama caused the national debt to double from 10 to 20 trillion dollars. Trump's task is huge and he must have the unquestioning backing of his own party who have majorities in the House and the Senate.
But this isn't happening and one needs to ask why. The GOP (Trump's own party) seems to be prepared to send their country down the drain simply to preserve their own jobs and the political status quo. Whatever one's personal view of Donald Trump, the fact is that he is prepared to upset the political establishment and "drain the swamp", and he should be supported in this endeavour if America is to survive in a world becoming increasingly strident and determined to attack America on all fronts - military and economic.
Perhaps one can expect these types of lies and innuendo from the screaming left - aided and abetted by media owned by people who are trying to profit from a political meltdown. But it certainly shouldn't be expected from people who represent a right of centre party (the GOP), and who should be putting their own country's interests first and foremost. Makes one wonder what threats could be being levelled against GOP politicians - and maybe their families. There was the premeditated shooting of some GOP politicians who were practising for a charity baseball game. The shooter may have been deranged, but clearly was single-mindedly intent on killing as many of the GOP as he could. It was just very fortunate that there was a security detail present that prevented this outrage from happening. And now we see the House debating a bill to allow House representatives to arm themselves.
The only way out of this appalling mess is for Americans to support the democratically and legitimately elected President of the United States. And for people everywhere to stop believing the "fake news" and "alternative facts" pedalled by the anti Trump media. We notice that almost every article about Trump in the NZ Herald is by-lined "the Washington Post". But what can you expect from Granny Herald?!! Unfortunately most people believe what they read and never question anything.
We had to get this off our chests because we believe it is important. If anyone has another view - either in support or to the contrary - we'd be more than happy to see it and maybe we could have some robust debate! After all, that's what democracy is all about.
With all best wishes and love from us.....................
Jim and Jean
s.v. Tiare Taporo III
Royal Langkawi Yacht Club