25,000 Miles: Leg 1 - Colombia

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that there was a big trip planned - its now been 5 weeks since I've played online and my (hopefully triumphant) return to the ring begins today. As much as the gaps between my blog posts would suggest otherwise, a big blog post waits for nothing!

The first leg was an extremely long-winded trip to Colombia. Since this trip was properly organised a month in advance for the first time in my life the flights were dirt cheap. This meant lots of tilting connections though, so the first leg goes Barcelona > London > Miami > Colombia and through what could have only been divine intervention I managed not to miss any of the connections.

Most travelling players take a ton of flights a year and they all kinda blur into one but the flight from Miami to Colombia had some of the best aerial views I've ever seen. The flight was 3 hours and I spent pretty much every minute checking out the views. The flight path went down the coast of Florida, over the Caribbean Sea, Cuba, Montego Bay in Jamaica and then over the mountains of northern Venezuela and Colombia. It was pretty much cloudless and unfortunately I only had the camera on my phone so I couldn't take many more pictures but this one of the Cauca River Valley was probably the best of the lot.

Medellin is pretty much how you (or at least I did) expect a South American city to be. The streets are packed with people milling around small stalls and food vendors, the roads are packed with cars that fell out of the 1980s complete with maniacal drivers and everyone is conversing in lightning-fast Spanish. I've lived in Barca for nearly 3 months now and my Spanish gets me by day-to-day but I really didn't stand a chance. Talking to other people was alright once they got through the British accent but understanding responses? No shot. Kinda annoying to have a basic knowledge of the language and yet still having to be the tourist fish using broken sentences and hand signals. My Spanish did improve while I was there - more through listening than actually speaking but you learn fast when nobody speaks any English at all.

The trip didn't really get off to a great start with my suitcase not showing up but given that I was on the tail end of a 16 hour trip through 3 continents I didn't have the strength to argue. I was pretty skeptical of the 'don't call us, we'll call you' arrangement with the baggage handlers but I was just happy to get to the hotel and pass out. Colombia has a bit of a reputation for being full of drug peddlers and gunslingers and from what I saw the latter is definitely true. It was kinda weird to see an armed security detail and a checkpoint outside the hotel.

Guns seem to be a compltely accepted part of the culture in Colombia. The US has a bad rep for loose gun controls but in Medellin its the norm to see a guy just walking down the street with a gun in a holster. The security guards at the casino had a less subtle approach - they tended to just stroll around with their guns in their hands. The guy posted on the main entrance with a double barreled shotgun the length of his arm (yes really) spend a lot of time looking pretty smug.

I didn't sort out any local currency in advance which came back to bite me - I missed day 1a because I arrived too late to the only place in the city that would exchange Euros, but managed to get it sorted the next day and the stack of notes was pretty cool. This is 2k euros which comes out at just over 5 million pesos. Unfortunately the 'MIL' on the note is Spanish for thousand, not million. How they managed to hide millions of dollars of drug money when the biggest note is worth $26 i'll never know.

The event that I went for was the LAPT with a $1k (1.8m peso) main event. I bricked this pretty quickly but didn't have enough cash on me to play the $3.5k high roller so just skipped it and played a bit of cash. The standard was pretty poor but I never really played very well or had much help from the deck so ended up down about $2k on the trip but it was a great experience and I'd definitely go to South America again. Next time I go my Spanish will be a lot better so that won't be so much of an obstacle to having an extended stay.

So back to the airport I go with another long trip, this time going Medellin > Miami > LA > Vegas. US Homeland Security had other ideas though.

The guy on the desk at immigration immediately looks at my passport and says "So you're going from Colombia to Las Vegas? We need to have a little talk". This came complete with the 'not angry, just disappointed' tone. I get escorted to the interview room and they manage to pretty much draft an autobiography for me. The fact that I only had $400 on me seemed to fuel their skepticism about my trip to Vegas and the whole poker player thing, then again if I was carrying $20k in cash I can't imagine they'd have been too thrilled either. At this point it occurs to me that if I was trying to traffic drugs to Vegas; 'Professional Poker Player' would be a pretty legit cover story. I doubt this helped me out either. Two hours later they degrudgingly let me go through to customs where the guy looks at my blank declaration form and cheerfully instructs me to 'exit along the red line'.

But alas, the red line is not an exit. The red line leads to a queue of people waiting to be subject to a full baggage search. At this point I'm feeling pretty fortunate that its just the baggage thats being searched. The line to be searched unsuprisingly didn't exactly match up with the demographic of passengers coming into Miami. Of the 20 or so people waiting I was the only white guy and the only one that spoke English. We'd have made for a pretty amusing identity parade. I can't see me being cast as the next Pablo Escobar in an upcoming hollywood production but I guess you never know. Another hour later I'm officially free to go and fortunately the stopover was supposed to be 4 hours so I didn't miss the connection to LA.

The 45 minute flight into Vegas landed at around 10pm which is just about the nut time - Vegas at night looks really sick and the view definitely gets you psyched to be there.

Next up, Vegas adventures...
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