Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Day 55 - Release

I didn’t sleep on the plane. I was feeling very disconnected from myself and the world when I arrived in Toronto. Luckily my loving family were there to greet me and remind me of happiness and comfort.

I spent most of the day napping and resting and catching up with some work things which had already begun in Hong Kong. I was switching gears, slowly, changing my outlook and being forced to think ahead and not behind. A new year awaits.

This summer soundtrack wouldn't be complete without a mention of Pearl Jam, a band which highlights every playlist I have and makes me happier than no other. I know that I've already referenced Eddie Vedder a couple times, but the truth is that Pearl Jam is quite easily the most influential and beloved band in my music collection. Since they came on the scene in the early 1990's I have been enamored with their sound, their song lyrics and their refusal to adhere to traditional music practices, which was most noted by their choice to never make music videos and their boycotting of Ticket Master. There are so many Pearl Jam songs that I can relate to, I can seek solace and comfort within, or to which I can expand an outlet for my creativity or my sadness or my joy. Today's song is Release, but I figure that I could write a story about 40 or so of Pearl Jam's songs explaining, in explicit detail, why they are important to me and why I love them (but that would take hours). Actually, I could have written this entire blog with a Pearl Jam song for each day of summer! Now there's a thought....

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Day 54 - Flame Turns Blue

We didn’t succeed at pulling the mood around much more than a couple of smiles and references to parting ways. We walked around, had lunch, packed up at headed to the airport at 3 pm. We copied pictures with the few minutes we had and said a quick goodbye, completely out of character and starkly contrast to our previous goodbye routine. I guess we both knew this one was different.

This was a David Grey moment, and so today's song is Flame Turns Blue.

Sadly, it was a relief to have this part of the trip come to and end, because Cartagena just wasn’t what I wanted it to be. Silly me for wanting it to be something specific in the first place! Those bedeviled expectations again.

I boarded my plane a few hours later and upon landing in Bogota, Bonnie met me in the airport for a nice dinner at Crepes & Waffles. I shared stories and showed her pictures of our amazing adventures and was momentarily raised from my gloomy mood. The memories I had just gathered of such rich experiences should not be overshadowed by my sadness in the trip’s ending. I am so fortunate and grateful to have had the time we had, to have shared the learning and the discoveries of beauty, to have been challenged to look at things from another perspective and been encouraged to take risks, allowing me time to think about ways I want to live and be. I am forever thankful.

I took off from Bogota at 11:30 pm for an overnight flight to Toronto.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Day 53 - Into The Mystic

Ulrich had a lot of work to catch up on and I was happy to be lazy for awhile in the morning. In the afternoon we tried to tour the city a bit but found it to be unbearably hot and somehow we’d run out of happy holiday energy. We were quick to become frustrated with each other. Time was running out and we both had to face a return to reality, a return to completely separate lives. Oh, end of summer, how I lament you!

We bought a bottle of wine, some decent cheese and a baguette to enjoy along the wall at sunset looking out over the Caribbean Ocean. We went to Café Del Mar for dinner but the food was disappointing and the ambience was boring.

Talk about end of the vacation blues….

Hark, now hear the sailors cry,
Smell the sea and feel the sky,
Let you soul and spirit fly,
Into The Mystic

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Day 52 - Baby, Can I Hold You

We woke up content enough, but for some reason grouchy. We had a crappy breakfast at a nearby restaurant which only bolstered the blah. We packed up and headed for the bus terminal in Santa Marta. The plan was to find our way to the El Tortumo mud volcano just outside Cartagena. Not a completely simple task, but Ulrich made it happen for us. Two buses and two hours later we were dropped off, roadside, with a 1km walk in the glaring hot sun to the volcano. We had a feast of fried fish, patacone, coconut rice, french fries and salad before climbing up the rickety wooden stairs to dip ourselves into the mud. We enjoyed a body rub from the men at the top and smiled for our cameraman who took care of our camera for us while we were in the bath. Afterwards we rinsed off in the cienaga as the sunlight glowed golden from the horizon behind us. It was beautiful and we were happy to be there. Ulrich enjoyed another plate of fish and then we hired moto-taxis to take us to the nearest gas station where we flagged a bus to Cartagena.

My song for today is Baby, Can I Hold You by Tracy Chapman. I grew up idolizing Tracy Chapman and her 1988 self-titled debut album was one of my first cassette tapes. Her music has remained on my playlists over the last 22 years and my more recent favorites include, Never Yours and Crossroad.

We arrived at Lucy’s place in Cartagena in the dark, settled in and got cleaned up. Unsurprisingly, we were still quite exhausted from the previous day as well as this day of traveling and volcanoing, so we skipped dinner and cozied up in bed at 8:30.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Day 51 - Mar Adentro

Leaving mudslide camp just before 7 am, we eagerly set out. I was a bit nervous, not wanting to slow the boys down or bring a burden of extended time, but happy to be challenged and looking forward to the rewards of a shower, good food and a big bed. By 9 am we were at camp 2 where we scavenged for cookies and snacks, made some lime water and bought ourselves a 4,000 peso bottle of Coke. The next segment took me 3 hours, getting us to camp 1 at 11:45am, exactly 5 hours after we started out. Not too bad at all. At camp 1 Diego afforded us a hot lunch of rice, eggs and yucca to keep our bodies fueled. We were also able to buy 3 more bottles of Coke. The next segment would include going down that crazy muddy incline that began our trip on day 1. About 30 minutes past camp 1, the rain began again and I knew that that was bound to turn the slippery slope down into an acrobatic extravaganza, for me anyways. Ulrich was feeling tense about missing the Jeeps that dropped off hikers each afternoon in Machete and we knew the rain would make it harder to employ our back-up plan of a motorcycle taxi taking us down, so he headed off, full speed ahead. Diego took a detour to his finca in order to try arranging something for us by phone. I was all alone and about to attempt the hardest part of the outbound hike. Dun dun dun du….

Seeing the ski tracks left behind by Ulrich’s running gait made me laugh to myself and kept me amused for the start of the downhill. It was so slippery, but thanks to a finely straight piece of bamboo given to me earlier by Diego, I had 3 points to balance my shifting weight on. I was doing pretty good, actually. My knees were sore and I could feel the strain of 6 solid hours of trekking, but I was going to do this, and in great time no less! Halfway down I passed the small tienda with the military guards, still following Ulrich’s fresh slide tracks. Almost at the bottom, at another little finca, I was greeted by two indigenous men we had bumped into earlier in the day buying beer at camp 1. I also recognized their faces from other crossings throughout the trip. They stopped me to tell me that my husband had requested that when they see me, they put me on their mule and get me quickly to Machete in order to catch a ride down to the highway. What? Are you kidding me? I thought. I am faster than your mule, I replied smiling and tried to contiue on my way. No, no, no, they weren’t satisfied to let me go on alone. We continued to walk down to the river together, talking and laughing, at which point I was prepared to get on their wooden-saddled animal for the experience alone, if not to actually get me there faster. At that exact moment Diego came barreling down the path and assured me with a smile that yes, indeed, this mule could go faster than me. Huh! So on the mule I got, feet dangling from loops of rope and a wooden stub to hang onto for balance, and we were off in the river. The indigenous men spoke their own language to my delight and even taught me how to say dog/perro (sounds like Kelsey) and mule/donkey (sounds like chinichungana). On the river banks and in the mud, that mule could really go, with me bouncing away through my giggles and the men running alongside laughing, slapping and yelling at the mule to go faster. We arrived in Machete within 15 minutes, passing many military men who winked and smiled and must have thought I was quite the Queen of Sheba on my mule! The rain was really pouring now and when we arrived to the line of restaurants in Machete, my indigenous friend slipped right inside, under the thatch roof of one of them and his mule, with me still in-saddle, followed right behind him. I had to duck to not be smacked off by the roof beams and, to a crowd of laughing men, I attempted to dismount inside the restaurant. What a grande finale, I'd say!

We had missed the Jeeps. We hired a couple of moto-taxis to take us down and managed to cross paths with a Jeep which would carry us to the Sierra Tours office in Taganaga. We were so excited about the comforts of civilization and the extra day of holiday we’d just acquired, nothing much was on our radar for concern. By 6 pm we were checking into a hostel near the football field in Taganga, enjoying a cold shower, clean clothes and WiFi.

All day long I sang Latin Pop songs to myself, to keep my tempo up and my walking rhythm upbeat. One of my favorites is Mar Adentro by Donato & Estefano. They have other hits like Sin Ti, which are also fun to sing and dance to. My all-time favorite song in this category will always by Tu Amor Me Hace Bien by Marc Anthony (this is the one I love to dance around my living room to when I am in particularly great moods).

Friday, August 6, 2010

Day 50 - 3x5

We woke up and hit the trail early after a breakfast of eggs and bread. The path followed the large river past another camp and along some steep edges before bringing us to a crossing point. Some people were crossing in the water, but the current looked strong and it meant getting very wet. Ulrich was carrying our backpack for the first time, which was the deal, and we were less inclined to swim with all of our stuff. That actually was never in the plans anyways, we learned, as Miguel guided us just a few meters upriver to an old fashioned single-person cable car crossing.

After the big crossing the path wound uphill for about 30 minutes and then flat for a while past some indigenous houses and through some fields. Then the path turned into the jungle and began an up and down pattern, crossing small creeks that lead down to the Buritaca on the downs. Eventually we began crossing back and forth across the Buritaca on foot, always at places where the current was minimal and there was a safety rope for groups to use when the river was too high to walk though it. Another 30 minutes and we were at camp 3. The mudslide camp.

We cooled off in the river and then had sandwich lunches before continuing on to Cuidad Perdida. There was a bit of a discussion (which I stayed out of) about whether or not hike up to the Lost City that afternoon or wait until morning. From camp 3 it was approximately 1.5 hours to the top. How could we not go? It was the middle of the day and there was nothing promising to do around Mudslide camp, that’s for sure! We were going today, no matter if it rained or became cold or would be prettier in the morning. Hike for 3 days to get 1.5 hours away from the destination and then rest for an afternoon? Nope. We went on. We followed the river, crossing a few times before seeing the first steps on the river bank. There are said to be 1,200 steps to the top and they are beautiful. I had to go slow, but still managed it up in about 40 minutes. We spent a couple hours at the top taking pictures and letting Miguel do his guide-routine, before heading back down.

Today's song is 3 x 5, by John Mayer. It's a song about traveling, fitting the world into a picture frame, seeing the world through both your own eyes, and sharing things with people you love.

Arriving at camp before dark, but in the rain, we decided to swim, get dry and take a rest. Camp 3 had a few beds and we’d scored one, although I figure we would have been asked to take them anyways because it made no sense for couples to sleep in the hammocks and singles to sleep in the beds. The camp had been slightly compromised for space since the mudslide had taken out half of one of the cabins. After a rest we had pasta dinner and decided to approach Miguel about an idea to hike back to Machette in one day instead of two. He was noot entirely keen about the idea at first, although he acknowledged that his best time from the Lost City to Machette was 6 hours and 40 minutes, so he knew it could easily be done. He was concerned about why we wanted to leave the group and I think he was taking our desire to get out of there early as a sign of how we felt he was as a guide. Truth was, the trail down followed the exact same route we’d just come up, and we were confident that we could do it in one day and why not? If there was promise of new adventure we might have been inclined to stay, but even still, walking for 2 half-days and lazing around at camps we already knew for 2 half-days didn’t seem very appealing.

So it was settled that Miguel would stay with the group. Ximena and Juan wanted to revisit the lost city in the morning before starting their descent.  Diego was assigned to escort us out, to my delight because I had begun to enjoy Diego’s personality much more than Miguel’s anyways.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Day 49 - Wagon Wheel

For breakfast we had fruit, granola and yogurt, (Ulrich made some egg and tomato fried rice and the guides were happy to finish the leftovers), packed up and went exploring. The rest of the group stayed behind and played pool at the ‘welcome center’ of Adan Bedoya’s happy camp for party people, aka Camp 1. Afterwards Ulrich and I had a gorgeous morning shower at the waterfall and we let little fish nibble the dead skin away from our feet and legs. Then we all set off around 10am. The trail was easy today, starting off relatively flat and with the mud quickly drying under an intense heat form the direct sunlight; the treading got easier and easier. About half hour into the trek the path began uphill and we all found our own personal pace. Diego was in first place, having left earlier than us with a loaded mule. Mette and Ulrich were ahead somewhere in the lead, I was in the middle, Ximena and Juan took it slow, and Miguel brought up the rear. It was nice to be on my own and the path through the forest was lively and beautiful.

After a long downhill segment we landed at another camp and indigenous village on the bend of a nice stream. Here we all reconviened, shared some pineapple and then resumed the trek. Flat and open, the trail now followed the huge and awesome Buritaca River. Ulrich was ecstatic about getting to it, checking out it’s course and imagining his first decent in a kayak. After 30 minutes along the magnificent river which was full of force and spendor from all the recent rain, we arrived at camp 2. It was just after 2pm. We swam in a forgiving spot in the river until Lunch was ready.

Today's song is Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show. It was sung a lot around OEE Winter Camp and it makes me think of exploring and trekking into the great unknown with close friends.

After lunch Ulrich and I indulged in Switters while sharing a hammock and resting out muscles. Later we walked a bit ahead along the trail to see more of the river and satisfy Ulrich's fierce curiosity and desire for information about the condition of the river. Someone at camp 2 had spoken about the British girl (now known primarily as “La Gorda”) being taken off the mountain by helicopter earlier that morning, so you can imagine our surprise when we saw a platinum blonde girl, sporting an ankle brace and walking stick, being aided by a Colombian girl, making their way along the path towards us. You can imagine our secondary surprise, when we asked if she was in fact the injured Brit, to see that she was carrying barely more than a few extra pounds of chubbiness compared to me. Ah, muy gorda, indeed.

The Colombian and the Brit had not managed a helicopter rescue and they planned to camp at lovely camp 2 with us for the night and continue their descent on mule-back in the morning. We had a nice pre-dinner swim together and then enjoyed exchanges with new people over dinner. Ulrich got the inside scoop on the Buritaca River form the newly arrived guides. It turns out that people had come to scope it out a few years ago, but never ended up running it. Also there seemed to be rising interest and curisosity from the locals and guides about starting up a rafting tour. Ulrich was inspired and excited! After dinner, we all retired to beds, not hammocks, which was a nice luxury for couples at camp 2.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Day 48 - You Can Get It

We woke up early, grabbed our pre-sorted, pre-packed bags and headed to Sierra Tours. It turned out that one other couple had cancelled just that morning and so we’d just be traveling with Ximena and Juan, a young Colombian duo. As we packed up to leave Ulrich went out to buy rope and Aguardiente, only one of which we eneded up with because he managed to leave the rope on the counter while buying the Aguardiente. Oh well, we'd drink aguardiente to get us across those raging rivers!

We hit the road in an old Toyota Land Cruiser with Miguel, our guide, and a driver and a navigator. Around the corner from the tour office we picked up a young blonde Danish girl named Mette, who turned out to be Miguel’s new girlfriend. They had met when she did the trek just over a week ago and now she was returning to spend time with Miguel and as it came to be, our co-guide.

The trip to the town of Machete was long, steep and muddy. The car wasn’t in particularly great shape and often needed water to cool the radiator. We passed a couple other groups going up, one of 12 people looking like they were headed for a day at the beach! I was starting to worry that this trek wasn’t going to feel very unique or special afterall. After a bologna sandwich lunch in Machete we headed out on a muddy trail along a river in the rain. We were soaked through very quickly, but warm from the exercise and happy to be finally on trail. After 30 minutes along the swollen, brown river we began a 90 minute ascent up a switch-back path carved deep into the mountain by many passing animals and hikers. I imaged coming down it would feel like a luge track. The walls of the path ranged from 2 -12 feet high, a swatch of coloured layers with a center track filled with redish slippery mud mixed often with grey slimy clay. This was a workout for me, I was sweating and huffing even without a backpack, as much as it definitely was for a few other day-trekkers, i.e. rosy-faced women in jean shorts, boys in loafers and a crew of people who clearly hadn’t done the same groundwork that we had.

Up and up and up, we eventually were higher than some of the clouds and the vistas opened up before our amazed and energized eyes. I was feeling good and thankful for a bit of flat and downhill walking. We were above the rain and the low nestled clouds still clung to the crevices between the deep jungle mountain ridges which layered on top of each other, getting darker and darker towards the horizon. Small patches of vibrant light blue poked through occasionally, to perfectly offset the dark greens and bright whites.  

By 4pm we were at a gorgeous river camp, playing happily in the ‘picina’ waterfall. At camp 1 we met Diego, Miguel’s brother and secondary co-guide, but more importantly porter and chef. After dinner and a bit of Switters (Ulrich and I had begun reading the Tom Robbins book, Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates together and were referring to it simply now as Switters, who is the main character) we tucked into our separate hammocks for a decent night sleep.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Day 47 - Singin' In The Rain

I woke up at 7 am to go scuba diving. On the way to the dive shop I grabbed a good beach breakfast of juice and a dedito but was delighted to be served fresh coffee at Poseidon’s. The dive instructor I was going out with, Carmen, was basically just passing through on a South American tour. She hadn’t been in Taganga very long and was almost ready to move on. My dive buddy was a Dive Master from the States who was traveling around as well, but had already been on 10 dives with Poseidon. Good people to dive with, for sure. There were a few other fun divers in a different group and one guy doing his very first dive out of the pool. The first dive was nice with loads of colourful fish and gorgeous coral. Nothing big or exciting, just pretty stuff and that awesome peacefulness of submersion that I crave. The second dive was along a spectacular island reef, with a pretty strong current taking us exactly where we wanted to go. This meant we were able to stay below for almost 75 minutes. We saw tons of eels, an octopus, puffer fish, 3 scorpionfish and more large coloured beauties. There were so many Cow Fish and Lion Fish.

After hearing the scoop about everyone hunting Lion Fish in Panama I inquired about the Lion Fish hunt in Colombia to find out that a similar story exists here. Actually, everywhere in the Caribbean people are hunting Lion Fish like mad, trying desperately to keep their numbers under control. Turns out that the 'story' in these parts is that entire thing was started by an unfortunate accident somewhere in Florida where a commercial aquarium lost a ‘shipment’ of Lion Fish into the Caribbean ocean. Just this one tank of critters has propagated itself into blooming population, because of their lack of natural predators and love for the wonderful, warm waters of the area.  Trouble is they eat many hatchling fish and are becoming a potential threat to other species livelihood. So all around the Caribbean people are culling back the populations whenever possible, hopefully there’s some good eating from those flashy little spiny guys!

So I did some digging and found out a bit more,

"It was once thought that Lion Fish were brought to the Caribbean in the ballast of cargo ships, but studies have shown this to be erroneous. Genetic evidence of a strong founder effect indicates that most lionfish in Caribbean waters came from just eight fish (one male and seven females) that were accidentally released in Biscayne Bay, Florida when an private aquarium broke during Hurricane Andrew in 1992." Link

" It has been speculated that this introduction may well have been caused when Hurricane Andrew destroyed an aquarium in southern Florida. However, a more recent report states NOAA ecologist James Morris Jr. has discovered that a lionfish was caught off Dania, FL prior to Hurricane Andrew, as long ago as 1985." Link

After a huge lunch at Casa De Holanda, we walked around and checked in with a another Cuidad Perdida Tour agency. This time we discovered Sierra Tours and they seemed like a good choice. We’d think about it. On an interesting note: we'd emailed these guys and gotten a high quote and request for a deposit into a German bank account, which turned us off of them completely. Showing up in person and discussing options with them landed us a price that was much cheaper!

Later in the day, after an afternoon nap, we were ready to venture out for dinner and book our trekking trip but became slightly deterred by a serious downpour. Then Ulrich suggested we get out and soak it up. What a perfect way to cool down and lighten up a little. All the decision making in tandem was not easy for us all the time, creating stress and disagreement. Funny, when when all we really wanted was for each other to be perfectly happy; how easily the outcome of each other’s actions produces the exact opposite of its desired effect! And really, we’d been taking ourselves just a bit too seriously, so we headed out into the driving rain which had already accumulated into red muddy rivers along the narrow roads of Taganga.

This made me think of not a song that I love, but a video clip I love where David Elsewhere re-enacts Gene Kelly's famous Singing' In The Rain scene with a modern twist.

At Sierra Tours we met the group who was coming down from the Trek as we signed up for the next day’s departure. We signed up for a 5-day trip, 3 days up and 2 days down, with a total of 6 people. The trekkers coming down were young University students from London and they’d had a slightly dramatic experience of leaving one of their group members at the top with an ankle problem. She had stayed at the Lost City with their other traveling companion, a Colombian/British girl and couldn’t make it down on foot. She wanted a helicopter retrieval and the boys had left on schedule to bring this news to the tour company. Ulrich helped to translate through the young man’s anxiety-strained communications with the tour operators. It was made obvious that the injured girl was overweight (in Spanish she was described by the tour receptionist as muy gorda = very fat) and it was clear that the tour company did not like any connections or feelings of responsibility being put on them by the young men. This was slightly tense, mixed with the ignorance of the young men (in terms of understanding the military dynamics of the area and the logistics of getting a helicopter into the site) who were, of course, very concerned for the wellbeing and evacuation of their friends.

Later that evening we ate pizza at a local pizza delivery shop which had plastic chairs on the roadside, almost in the gutter, under drizzling skies and amidst a busy street corner. Ulrich bought a cheap box of wine and the pizzeria gave us small plastic glasses. Our two British buddies passed by and we invited them to join us and fill is in on the situation with their friend, the rescue mission and the tour agency. I was also delighted to hear more perspectives on the trek itself and these boys painted it as an experience of a life time. I had my fingers crossed, against my nagging worry, that somehow it would be fulfilling for Ulrich. Things were looking better the more I heard.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Day 46 - Resolution

We woke up and Ulrich had to start work right away. We passed the first few hours of the day online in the lobby, talking to people and overhearing their stories about the Lost City, both groups about to go and ones just coming down. Turns out there had just been a mudslide which took out part of a camp, but no one was injured and trips were still going.

I went out to explore Santa Marta a little bit and it interestingly reminded me of Puerta La Cruz in Venezuela. The park along the waterfront, the shops and patios, the internet cafes and the SAn Andresito markets just a few blocks in from the oceanfront road. I got some juice and some breakfast and got back just in time for Ulrich to need to leave. We ate quickly, rushed to check out and headed for Taganga.

We managed to get a small room in Casa De Felipe, while a few of our other choices were full. The internet was, again, intermittent and/or slow at best and the room was hot and dark, but clean. Ulrich and I needed space. He needed to work. I needed to holiday. I went to check out the beachfront strip and find some lunch. Once Ulrich was finished work for the day we went for a realy nice and refreshing hike over the hills to the next beach area. We explored the ridges a little and spent a while at the top of a couple peaks, just enjoying the view, the breeze and the time for good conversation.

Today's song is called Resolution by Thievery Corporation. They have great background music, songs in many languages with interesting instruments and vast global influences. It's great yoga music.

We had dinner in a nice restauarant, just up the road from the beach, where a new little hot spot had developed around Casa Holanda. Ulrich went about asking more tour operators about their trips to the Lost City and about scouting kayaks for the decent. Disappointingly, he was mostly getting the same answers about the trip, because all the trips are identical, and the same funny looks about the kayaks, because the people who work in the offices don’t even know the trail, let alone the river. We needed to decide something by tomorrow.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Day 45 - Hallelujah

We said goodbye to the finca and all 4 of us hit the road early. By 10:30 am we were en route to Bogota with truffles from the French Bakery and a pretty nice day for scenery from the bus. We detoured to the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquir√°, a place I'd always wanted to see and was intrigued to finally get a chance to check it out. Unfortunately, it didn't quite live up to my grand expectations. You know I think I'm fairly good at being open-minded and creating my own experiences, but every once in a while those darn expectations of mine sneak up when I least expect it.

From Zipaquira we continued on to Bogota. Bonnie and William left us on the outskirts of the city to make their way to Bonnie's new apartment and Ulrich and I carried on to the National Airport to catch an evening flight to beautiful and warm coastal city of Santa Marta.

We arrived late in the evening and were taken directly to the hostel we'd booked online. Bonnie has mentioned that she thought it might be more basic than we were prepared for and she wasn't wrong. It was old and definitely the definition of basic. We had a late dinner and Ulrich struggled with the WiFi and the temperature in the room. We had a semi-decent night sleep and agreed to move to Taganga the next day.

Today I'm posting a song by Martin Sexton called Hallelujah. This really is a beautiful piece of footage. To read about my love affair with Martin see this earlier post.