By Aaron Smith, Contributing Reporter
BOGOTA, COLUMBIA – Doing the sniff test on my cleanest dirty shirt, I wanted to look my best to meet my fiancee, Vivi, at Bogota Airport.
I checked out of the slum-class hostel dormitory and into a private room, bought roses and shaved off ten weeks of beard. I had just finished some adventure travel research that took me from the Andes to the Amazon. Vivi, having no desire to rough it, decided to meet me upon returning to civilization in Bogota.
“Hmmm, remember I can be too much sand for your truck, I hope you’ve been behaving yourself,” tutted Vivi, one hand on her hip, the other pointing the roses at me after we embraced outside the airport’s arrivals door.
I assured her that I had as I struggled to lift her heavy bag, packed so tight that the seams were near-splitting. I had begged her to pack light: one pair shoes and jeans; one bikini; five t-shirts and underwear; basic toiletries.
It was at least quadruple that, plus a box of Brazilian chocolates, a bottle of champagne and one hundred pairs of surgical gloves and face masks her mother insisted on packing to combat Swine Flu.
After some romancing, Vivi recovered from recoiling in horror at the hostel communal bathroom. We then left the slightly seedy historic city center of La Candelaria to watch sunset from Monserrate, a monastery at the end of a cable car ride atop a mountain ridge that overlooked the sprawl of Bogota’s seven million plus inhabitants.
We then headed north to the wealthy Zona Rosa, with blocks of bars and nightclubs, where we drank at the boutique brewery, Bogota Beer Company, similar to Brazil’s Devassa Bar, before dancing the night away in a small Valentino club – Colombia’s version of Forro music.
Red-eyed, we took a minivan the next morning a nail-biting seven hours to the north, where our driver spent most of journey on the wrong side of the road, to the sleepy mountain town of San Gil.
Lulling Vivi into a false sense of security with strolls through streets of picturesque Spanish architecture, she didn’t have any idea we were in Colombia’s adrenaline sports capital and that I had booked a surprise rafting trip down the Suarez River.
Vivi was unusually quiet as she put her fingerprint on the liability release form and had a waterproof, ‘if found please call this number’ dog-tag strapped to her wrist. Tackling grade 5 rapids anywhere else in the world requires extensive training, but not in Colombia.
No, all you need is a willing, cash-strapped local, and a bunch of naive tourists. After the first few rapids everyone was whooping and hollowing. Vivi just mouthed the words, “I’m going to kill you.”
After the last set of rapids, a monstrous, swirling, Dante’s hell of foam and rocks a wide-eyed Vivi screamed, “Yes it was great, thank you, but that’s the end right, there’s no more right? It’s finished now.”
Senhor and Senhora Smith are from different worlds; he, Aaron Smith, an Australian travel writer, still idolizes his childhood idol, Indiana Jones, and she, Viviane Silva, is a sassy Carioca ‘Sex in the City’ girl. They have decided to embark upon a trans-continental four-month honeymoon BEFORE they get married, from Bogota to New York, the Far East and Australia by bus, boat and donkey. Follow them along the Gringo Trail – it’s an epic Clash of the Titans journey to (hopefully) martial bliss at the end of the road.