What I’ve been up to…
In April, Parisa and I made a trip to Colombia which was special in many ways but most of all because while we were there, we got engaged!
This was the happiest moment of my life so far, but getting to this point was not so easy…
During the Christmas break while in the U.S. I decided I wanted to get an engagement ring and bring it back over to London in order to propose at some point. I managed to piece together a ring while I was there but not without a few points of suspicion from Parisa as to where my mother and I were going in town without her. It is ironic that in order to prove your commitment and trust to someone, you must first engage (no pun intended) in an exercise of pure secrecy, lies and deception. Anyway, I was able to get it back to London where it hid anxiously in my sock drawer for 4 months.
A few days before the photo above. Parisa and I arrived in Bogota from London and immediately hopped a flight to Medellin. Our first day in Medellin I had told Parisa I had planned a hike for us outside Medellin and she wasn’t allowed to ask where we were going but that it would be a couple hours in the morning and then we could get our tourism on. According to several blogs I had read, there was a hike outside of the city where you start at the top of a mountain at the place where Pablo Escobar built his own prison for him and his cronies, and then hike downhill to these amazing waterfalls. I thought some falls in the middle of the jungle would be a romantic spot to propose and start our holiday. I also didn’t want to be alone in caring for this ring as we traveled through Colombia, so getting the proposal done on the first day was my plan A and I frankly didn’t have a plan B.
That morning we woke up early (mostly due to jet lag) and got a cab to drive us up to the start of this hike. This is also the first point where I realised how cheap Colombia was, as we took a ride that in London would have been about £120 for the equivalent of about £15. Upon reaching the top I got out and led the way based on the blogs I had screen-shotted. We made our way down this driveway until we reached something that looked like it could have been a prison at some point. There seemed to be nobody on the outside and after wandering the perimeter for a few minutes the only people we managed to see were some old people using walkers (we found out later that this has since become a nursing home, but found out in the moment that whatever it was, it was pretty unspectacular).
With that underwhelming surprise out of the way, we set out for the hike which proved to be rather difficult as there were no clear signs or trails. After about 10-15 minutes we eventually found a small gate out the side of Pablo Escobar’s nursing home and got onto the trail. We hiked a windy, slightly downhill trail as I thought about what I was going to say and how I was going to be able to get this ring out of my fanny pack in a reasonably graceful manner. Soon, we came to a set of signs pointing opposite directions. One of them had a name I had seen on the blog and the other I didn’t recognise so I confidently guided us to the trail for Cascada Salto del Angel.
Pretty much immediately, things became incredibly difficult. Following the signs for the trail, we went over the edge of what at the time seemed like a steep hill but was in reality, a cliff. Using some shady ropes that had been tied to trees, Parisa and I rappelled down a wet rock face for about 20 minutes. Parisa was getting understandably agitated but we eventually reached the bottom where I saw the falls and breathed a sigh of relief. As Parisa reached the bottom I pointed out the falls and said that’s where we needed to go. I went up ahead while she rested to find where we needed to go next. I climbed up some rocks and over to the falls only to realise there was no exit. I looked at my instructions from the blogs and all of them said “once you’re at the falls, just follow the trail/stream down to the bottom.” No matter where I looked there was no way out. Just another waterfall right below us that dropped off into the stream. I was panicking a bit and my brain wasn’t retaining much, but the conversation went something like this:
Me: Yeah so I don’t think we can get out this way.
Parisa: What do you mean?
Me: Like there’s supposed to be a trail, and there’s no trail here.
Parisa: What do you mean?
Me: I think we went the wrong way.
Parisa: What do you mean?
Me: We need to go back up the way we came.
Parisa: *quiet, piercing rage*
So we climbed back up. Parisa didn’t say much other than the occasional “you’re the worst.” But eventually after a challenging climb back to the top we got back to the two signs and I reexamined the blog posts and confirmed that we had in fact gone the wrong way.
We began to make our way down the mountain which now surprisingly followed the description in the blog posts quite accurately. It was still steep and required some ropes but was now a more open pine forest without wet rocks.
Eventually after about an hour of this, we reached the bottom, but still no sign of the falls. We ran into a young Colombian couple who were camping and enjoying some potent weed on a hillside by the stream. He was thin and wiry wearing a stocking cap in the South American heat, but compensated for it by wearing nothing else on the rest of his body except some tight, very small boxer-briefs.
Now, I have a lot of good things to say about the American public education system but I think we could make some improvements in the foreign language departments. It’s all well and good to be able to be able to get 3 apples and 4 bananas at el supermercado, but I really don’t think you know the language until you’ve found out how to get to a waterfall from a naked Colombian man whose brain is currently a battleground of caffeine and cannabis, while your novia enojada stands behind you impatiently.
After a few contradictory derechas and izquierdas, we got what we could from them before making our way up and back down another hill. That’s when I heard them. The falls. Unfortunately this sound was coming from far below us to the left and when I looked over to see if I could see them, all I saw was another drop off and dense jungle. I assumed the falls had to be down there but couldn’t risk going down and having to come back up again with Parisa for fear of her choking me out and sending me downstream.
So I left her with the pack and scrambled down the rock face, this time with no ropes. In about 10 minutes I reached the falls. I still needed to confirm this was the way to the exit though, as I had learned 2 hours earlier, the Siren song of waterfalls with no way out can be quite tempting. I spoke in some broken Spanish with a man by the falls who told me the exit was another 30-40 minutes down the stream and I was in fact in the right place.
After making my way up to the top again, I told Parisa that the falls and the exit were at the bottom but we needed to descend one last bit of rocks. Needless to say she wasn’t happy but we began making our way down when we got to a spot where my slightly longer legs allowed me to climb down easily but was nearly impossible for her.
Me (from below): So just put your foot right there.
Parisa: Cal, I can’t reach
Me: Yeah but if you just put your foot right there you can climb down to here.
Parisa: Cal, I can’t reach that far.
Me: Yeah I mean if you really stretch and put your toes ri—
Parisa (in a disturbingly calm tone): CAL! I. am. so. mad. at. you. right. now.
We eventually made it to the bottom where I made the decision that this wasn’t quite the build up I wanted before I proposed, so I bailed on the whole plan. I tried to rally things at the bottom but Parisa barely glanced at the falls, completely focussed on getting to the exit. We progressed down the creek and a couple side roads for the next hour before getting to a bus stop with some food stands next to them. I went over to a juice stand where a woman was juicing lemons to make lemonade to make sure we were in the right spot. Soon a bus came and took us back down the mountain while I thought about what in the world I was going to do with this ring.
Luckily, a few days later in Cartagena the opportunity presented itself. We decided to take one day and get a speed boat out to a private island with about 50 other people. When we got out to the island which was about the size of two football fields, while everybody was settling in I asked Parisa if she wanted to go to the other side of the island to see what was over there.
Surprisingly her thirst to explore hadn’t been quenched by the disaster a few days earlier so we ambled across the island. On the other side there was a quiet piece of beach with no people and clear waters. Finally after some peering around and strategic placement, Parisa asked to get a picture of her looking out into the ocean. While her back was turned, I got down on one knee and slowly took the ring box out of my fanny pack. When she turned around I asked the question as she began crying. Which I must say was quite confusing at first considering there were no words coming out. All that happened was I asked her if she wanted to marry me and she began crying which could be interpreted so many ways.
After pressing the issue, she finally said yes and informed they were tears of happiness. We snapped a few pictures and then rejoined the others as if nothing had ever happened.
What I’ve been reading…
Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Subconscious by Timothy D. Wilson
My rating: 8.5/10
I really enjoyed this one. If you’re not much of a pop psychology fan I’d skip this one but it’s an illuminating read. As the subtitle states, it is a book about the adaptive subconscious and how that influences our day to day behaviours and decisions. It often feels as though we are consciously making most of our decisions and then carrying them out but through many experiments and studies, the author seems to show that while this is often the case, more often our subconscious is at the wheel. A great analogy used to explain this is that we often think that voice in our head is the president. Shelling out orders and making decisions to make things happen. However, the science seems to show that often that voice in our head is just a press secretary. The decision has already been made behind the scenes and that voice now has to make up a story to explain why this thing you’re doing is important and right. Anyway, worth reading if you enjoy reviews of the literature on very specific topics, otherwise by about the 20th study presented you’ll probably lose interest.
Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
My rating: 7/10
I only give this a 7 out of 10 because I would now like to learn much more about Steve Martin. This really only covers the stand up comedy portion of his life but he seems like somebody with endless talents and interests. This book is an entertaining read with many laugh out loud moments (such as one anecdote about him doing standup in an empty club, for nobody). I also am fascinated with comedians and how different it is from every other art form. This is a clear description of the meteoric rise of Steve Martin but also the insane life comedians lead and the troubles that come with that. It’s a quick, light read so if you have a vacation coming up, I’d give this one a go.
What I’ve been watching…
True Detective: Season 3
I haven’t been watching too many shows (other than Game of Thrones, but I won’t go into that) the last couple months but I binged this one in the last month and oh man was it good. If you haven’t seen any of the True Detective seasons, it started in season one with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as two detectives in Louisiana and it was great. Season 2 was another star studded cast but dropped off quite a bit and I really couldn’t tell you what it was about. This latest season I think is the best of all 3. Mahershala Ali is incredible and plays himself in 3 different time periods. 1980, 1990 and 2015. The story takes place in Arkansas and while the characters have depth, they are still realistic which I think was lacking in the first two seasons. It’s good to have characters that have layers but it takes you out of the show when everyone seems to have a PhD in western philosophy but are semi-alcoholic cops. Either way, I highly recommend this season.
What I’ve been listening to…
Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell
I’ve always loved Malcolm Gladwell’s writing and thinking. This podcast continues that. Don’t get me wrong, there are some real stinkers on here but I actually think that’s what makes Malcolm Gladwell so good. He’s willing to chase some small detail down until he has every bit of the story figured out and sometimes that chasing really just leads nowhere. But it’s worth it because the other times it does go somewhere, the payoff is so good. Season 4 has just started and I highly recommend the first two episodes especially to anybody who is a lawyer or knows lawyers as Malcolm goes and takes the LSAT. I also think episodes 4-6 of season one should be required listening for any high school junior getting ready to begin the college search. This is a 3 episode segment on the higher education system in the US and goes deep into some of the things I found endlessly frustrating when I was in college
Hardcore History by Dan Carlin
Unlike Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, this one is actually about history. It is not new but I have recently been re-listening to his series on WWI and man I forgot how good it was. There’s no music, no sound effects, no fluff just Dan Carlin telling the story of some event in history with context and analysis and it’s fantastic. People ask me what podcasts they should listen to and I always say this one. I still have yet to come across a better one than this.
The Milk Carton Kids
Earlier this month, Parisa and I went and saw the Milk Carton Kids who are a great folk duo from the US. They are great live not only because they are great songwriters and Kenneth is a great guitarist but also they are incredibly funny. We oscillated between complete calm while enjoying their music and almost painful laughter between the songs. Their music is quite soothing and easy to listen to so if you’re looking for some good driving music or just something to chill out to in the evening. More importantly though, if they are in your area I really recommend going and seeing them.
Well that’s it for this quarter but keep an eye out for some more updates soon. Thanks!