A chat with Mike Weir, and Star Travel writer offers tips for visitors to Colombia
These two blog postings have NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO DO WITH EACH OTHER. Just so you know I'm not smoking anything weird, or drinking or something...
I'll get to Adrian Brijbassi in a moment, but I didn't want to bury a brief account of my short chat with Canadian golfer Mike Weir today. I spotted him at the Air Canada Lounge, as he'd been in Toronto for meetings with his Thompson Reuters backers and others, I think, and was on his way back to Salt Lake City.
He's been nursing a sore ligament in his elbow, but told me he's been chipping and putting and will see his doctor in Utah tomorrow or soon, and hopes to get cleared for a bit more of a real practice swing. He said it's getting better, but he didn't sound like it's been a picnic if you know what I mean.
A few folks around him were chatting with him a bit about the Canadian Open this year at St. George's. One guy sat down next to him and, I had to laugh, said, "Has anyone ever said you look like Mike Weir?"
Anyway, Weir said he hopes to return to action in mid-December at the Shark Shootout, Greg Norman's tournament in Naples, Florida. Weir seemed relieved to hear that longtime Toronto Star golf columnist Dave Perkins likely will continue covering the major golf tourneys for us, even though he's only writing a column a week at the present time. I don't think that's a secret, and Weir has always enjoyed Perkins' legendary stories, most of which appear to be true. I miss having Perk around the newsroom, as does everyone in the sports department I would think.
Anyway, that's my golf magazine editor's hat I'm wearing at the moment. And, yes, the Star still plans to put out another fine magazine next April. All the other papers have pretty much given it up, but we're still going strong with our golf mag, which has features and the best maps in the biz. Look for some travel components in next year's edition, including my recent trip to Pebble Beach and Monterey, California (see photo at Spanish Bay) and a February trip I'm taking to see some of the tremendous new courses in New Zealand. We'll also take a glance around southern Ontario to see what hidden gems you might have missed in your local travels.
I'm currently typing away at the airport in Phoenix, as I'm headed to Maui for the Star's Grand Tour of the world series, which has been running a couple weeks now in the Travel section. From there I'll be heading to Sydney, so keep an eye out for my blog posts from Hawaii and Australia. As well, I'll soon be posting some stuff from Star entertainment writer Linda Barnard, who's taking a re-positioning cruise (the boat, not her) to Europe and will be filing what I expect to be very funny blogs next week.
And now, over to my Star Travel colleague Adrian Brijbassi, who's been hanging out in Colombia. He's got a post here on South America, but look for his report on Cape Town, South Africa in Saturday's Toronto Star Travel section. He's got a terrific account of his time there as part of our Grand Tour of the world series, and the photos by Julia Pelish are simply wonderful. I'll post one of his South Africa blogs tomorrow, as well, so have a look for that. In the meantime, here's some useful warnings from Adrian about travel to Colombia...
CARTAGENA — The U.S. Embassy in Bogota emailed a warning the other day to American citizens and green-card holders travelling to Colombia. “All U.S. citizens are encouraged to exercise caution and avoid areas where foreigners are known to congregate — like shopping malls, restaurants, movie theaters, and the bi-national centers, among others,” said the warning, which came after the Colombian minister of defence alerted media that the FARC rebel group may be planning a terrorist attack in the capital city.
It may seem like more alarmist talk from the U.S. So here are a few tips for when you do travel to Colombia that may be a little more helpful than just advising you to duck your head under the covers.
1. Know some Spanish. Many of the signs and menus have English as well as Spanish, but most of the citizens only have a little understanding of English. While language barriers can make for some fun encounters, it’s always helpful (and polite) to know at least the basic phrases of the language spoken in the country you’re visiting. You can pick those up from guidebooks, smartphone applications, Rosetta Stone programs or Internet chatrooms. Or, you can do things the old-fashioned way and sign up for a course. Barlovento (www.spanishto.com) in Toronto offers Spanish courses for about $145 for six one-hour classes. The group sizes are small and you’ll pick up some conversational tips that may not be available if you’re studying only through electronics.
2. Do not run out of cash in Cartagena (see photo of the city's marina above). I just did and when I went to an ATM and swiped my Canadian bank card, I was told I would be charged 780,000 Colombian pesos for a foreign-card transaction. That equates to $435. And that’s before you take out any cash. And that’s not cool.
3. Rely on your hotel. The hotel industry has a lot invested in Colombia and from the places I dropped in on, there’s an emphasis on customer service and catering to Anglophones. Arrange with the front desk for an airport transfer prior to your arrival and for transportation around town during your stay. The Hotel Charleston Bogota and Hotel de la Opera are both outstanding in the capital. In Cartagena, you can walk everywhere in the old city, but will need a cab to get to some of the newer parts of town. Hotel Tcherassi is a gorgeous place and so is the Sofitel Santa Clara, and both will help get you where you need to go.
4. Budget effectively. Although the exchange rate is good for Canadians ($1 equals about 1,750 Colombian pesos), things aren’t cheap here (nor are they expensive). A night out will cost about the same as in Toronto. In Zona Rosa, the trendy Bogota spot for restaurants, clubs and shopping, you’ll spend about $4.50 for a beer and $50 for a steak dinner with drinks. To get a bargain on food, you’ll need to find some of the spots that serve up authentic, homemade cuisine. We’ll fill you in on those in coming editions of Star Travel.
5. Bring your dancing shoes. You won’t know Colombia until you salsa. There are plenty of spots to strut your stuff, and some friendly residents who’ll help you learn how. So, don’t be afraid. You’re on vacation, let loose!
6. Watch your stuff. If you’re carrying valuables, such as professional photography and video equipment, you’re going to get attention. So, be aware, as you should no matter what country you’re in, and don’t walk with more equipment than you need. The streets in the old part of town are narrow and, in Bogota, hilly, so you’ll want to be as light and nimble as possible.
7. Keep an open mind. Colombians are working hard to change the country’s reputation. Journalists from as far as New Zealand have voyaged here to write about the nation’s dramatic change that has seen it transform in less than a decade from an extremely violent place ruled by drug cartels to an increasingly attractive spot for foreign investment, conventions and tourism. New golf courses, high-end hotels, fine dining, welcoming people and a terrific nightlife scene in the big cities are some of the reasons to come. The country still has things to improve on, for sure, and we’ll fill you in on everything in the Toronto Star Travel section about what you can expect on your visit.
Keep an eye out in December and January for our articles, videos and photos from Bogota and Cartagena.