Tag Archives: Colombia

Colombia

27 Oct

I can still taste Colombia – it’s Limonada de Cocoa – slightly sweet, sexy and a refreshing way to cut the heat. It’s blended mangos con agua with sugar, it’s lulo, a fruit that I had never heard of before until I arrived.

It’s Paisa breakfast, so hungover from Aguacaliente that I can barely keep my head up. It’s beans, rice, sausage and chicharron. It’s drinking straight from the bottle and salsa. It’s a man inviting me to dance, a caballero, with a two week old, whose wife is at home, as she should be – taking care of the bebe.

It’s him proudly showing me photos while giving me the eyes – always naughty, always dangerous and yet seeped in tradition, national pride. It’s knowing I could get stabbed at a soccer game, if I was a man who wasn’t wearing a millionarios scarf. It’s standing on the side of the road, waiting for the bus to come, hopping on as it almost stops and then listening to boleros for two hours, wanting to stuff cotton into my ears.

It’s going to the square with Fiorella and Marisa, while negotiating our way onto a boat and jetting off to Playa Blanca. It’s watching shirtless boys hang off the side of the boat, hoping to be taken away from what they were born to – creatures of the sea and island life; future fisherman with threadbare possibilities.

It’s going even further North, to ‘The Dream Hostel,’ and disappointing a man who I told to, “meet me there.” It’s making eyes, drunkenly, at Lancelot, the French bartender who had walked away from everything two years before. It’s going to a club, and standing on a wooden block, shaking, shimmying and observing who I’d want to give myself to.

It’s Raul’s green eyes, flashing, as he tells me, “tu estas loca,” and I laugh and ask, “por que?” and he grabs my hand and twirls me around because it’s Cartagena and we just won the game.

It’s being airlifted above the communas with the three Australians I was trailing because I was too afraid to take the subway alone. It’s going to an art museum that has three rooms, and laughing at myself for seeking culture.

Colombia is wild – it is better than culture, it’s untempered, natural beauty and as haughty  and crazy as the truly beautiful are.

It’s more than taste, that drips down your lips, it’s more than a, “feast for the eyes,” it’s the sound of guitars at one in the morning, while mota wafts in the air. It’s that quiet cup of coffee on a finca and sixteen shades of green. It’s curved roads and snakes with no names that are yellow and black with poison. It’s avocados as big as your face, and the sound of strangers saying, “buenas,” to one another.

It’s standing in a valley with near extinct trees and crossing bridges made of wire and breaking slats, and  paying a guy 5 bucks to be driven to a town that’s just a suggestion.

It’s learning how to fearlessly hop on the back of a motorcycle and being taken into a community that is booming with ramshackle tourism: beach shacks, hotels, juice stands and swimming pools. It’s observing a village that only has school three days a week because that’s how often the teachers are willing to come.

It’s sitting alone in a club while a bouncer watches me and my host does business behind a closed doors. It’s homemade hot chocolate for breakfast and unrecognizable soup before lunch. It’s the Museo del Oro and the sounds of, “Roxanne,” straining from speakers.

It’s floating in Jonny’s pool, while wearing a newly bought, bright yellow bathing suit and staring at the city’s mountains.  It’s smoking meat and dance, always, anywhere, all the time because the doors are flung open, to people like me who just want to soak it all in, who want to inhale and never be the same after.

It’s that place that’s behind me, and in front, at my fingertips, and I can almost touch it, always – because, as one man told me, “tus ojos son peligrosos.”

The Realities of Home While Traveling

14 Nov

You keep moving because you have to.  You can’t stop to think about the call you received in the beautiful hostel in Otavalo.  Ten dollars a night to sleep in a gorgeous wooden hacienda with beds to sink in.  Plush chairs hang from the ceilings, and a small indigenous woman, wearing a white Mexacali blouse serves you fresh fruit and muesli for breakfast.

It is outrageous to be receiving such a call in such a place, especially after a 20 hour bus-ride.  To be smacked in the face with unhappiness seems indecent.

But this is the life you do not talk about; the one with ill parents and a dying Grandfather.  You don’t discuss the night you drank an entire bottle of wine and coughed until you puked in Medellin after the four hour conversation with your Aunt.  You can’t explain to your new friends what happened in the past, why you can’t return, despite the fact that the world would probably send you back if they knew the truth of what was going on at home.

The morning after you find out your Grandfather is going into hospice care you hike up and around a stunning lake in the picturesque Andean countryside where rolling green mountains make you want to sing the Sound of Music, and so you do because this moment is your reality now.

Does it make what you can’t return to ache less?  Does it make you less guilty for being able to be where you are?  Does it make you understand why when your life, your own personal life, is unfolding your family’s is falling apart?

No.  And you want to dump the contents of yourself out to your new friends, the entire story of your life so they’ll understand why you can’t return, but you know that’s just inappropriate.

So you think, “breathe, breathe,” as your pounding heart reacts to the 3,000 meters above sea-level and the ache in your legs starts to feel good.

Because what’s behind you, or existing with you, doesn’t take away from each and every encounter, friend and wondrous moment that is going on presently.  And each and every momentous moment doesn’t lessen the pain; it’s just there.

So the two co-exist and sit with each other.  They stand with while you gaze upon the stately, colonial Churches of Ecuador, they are with you while you Salsa in Quito, and both joy and guilt cradle you in the hostel that smells like a molded cat.

It is in this hostel when you receive the email from your Father asking for your return, “how can you stay away?” he writes  “if you do not understand then I have done a terrible job raising and my life does not mean much anymore.”

You want him to understand all the things he can’t, you want things that you will never get, so as gently and kindly as you can you say that returning won’t fix or change anything because that’s the truth as well.

Before you lays Montanita, Cueno and the border crossing to Peru; before you lays the life of happiness that you’ve never stopped trying to weave for yourself, and you know, as you look at the fading past, and the dying present, only you can make this world for yourself.

That there is little mercy; that the tin shacks that sit on the rivers of Colombia still collapse in storms and that your little life is nothing to the mountains.

Palomino Beach – deepening my relationship with nature

11 Nov

It starts with green, every shade: jungle, emerald, yellow, sea and grass.  The leaves shimmer with green and the Palms sway.  The sea reflects back both blue and green and they blend into each other.  This is the scenery that is waiting to welcome us, as we, Jenny, Christy and I, bus to the Northern Coast of Colombia.

Catching buses can be a special Colombian challenge.  One stands beside a road and hopes that a bus will pass.  When one does, a Walnut man leans out a window to shout destinations.  The bus never fully stops, while  bags and people are thrown on.

The three of us receive special Gringa treatment and are charged double the other passengers.  Despite our arguments, we’re forced to pay.

But, it’s hard to stay angry when faced with such scenery and the knowledge that each minute brings us closer to the beach.

When we arrive we’re encouraged to take motos to the hostel.  Christy hops on one, but Jenny and I decide to walk.

Ten minutes later we find out that we’re going in the wrong direction.  We’re told to take a turn down some road and walk through town.

The road has no name so we guess and we’re rewarded with Palomino’s residential district: small shacks with thatched roofs and groups of gawking children.  (Later I find out that there’s only enough teachers to have school three days a week; that’s why so many children are free.)

It’s clear that we still have no real idea of where we’re going so a kind local woman, on incredible platforms sandals (and purple mascara), happily navigates the rocks and shows us the road that leads to the beach.

That’s where all the hostels sit and many are empty.  The beaches of Palomino are calling the tourists.  What was once a forgotten place is now becoming a destination.

The locals are worried.  This what I hear when a thunderstorm traps a new friend and I at a hostel down the road.

It’s not really a hostel, but a place to stay for those who are interested in Yoga and living with the land.  While I prefer the pools of our hostel (aptly named the Dreamer), I cannot resist the daily Yoga classes.  Marta, the owner, is a serious Yogi who is interested in the community; it’s why she left her life in Toronto to root back down to her roots as soon as she could.

She owns an adorable puppy who falls asleep in my arms, making it impossible for me to leave.  As I cradle the cutest thing I have ever seen, I realize that I am overhearing a passionate discussion on how to best mange the influx of tourists and maintain the integrity of the community.  I learn that the politicians could care less and Marta is leading the way for local involvement.

Since I am not a local, I know it’s time to silently leave, and so I do – celebrations await.

It’s Halloween, but half the hostel doesn’t care as they’re not American.  Sadly, the only costume I can put together is an “American flag,” though I’m fooling no one.  My red dress with stars and blue bandanna makes me look like a confused version of Rosie the Riveter.

Fire-dancers come, perform tricks and ask for money.  Afterward, I sit at an exclusively Spanish-speaking table and entertain my new friends with stories from my trip. We sit and drink terrible Colombian wine until sun exhaustion drags us all into bed.

Though, before we all go our separate ways the entire hostel decides to go tubing down an unnamed river.

All 22 of us rent large, black rubber tires, hop on the back of motos, grip onto our driver with one hand, hold our tube in the other and roll up to the beginning of what will be another unfortunate hiking experience for me.

We’re told it’s a 20 minute walk to the mouth of the river.  This is a lie.  It is at least twice as long, over rocks, mud and uneven ground. Indigenous people pass us leading donkeys and each time they do we all have to scramble to the side of the brush.

Laura, my new Colombian friend who is just as tiny as me, ends up carrying my tube because I am too busy clutching my mud-slick sandals and crawling on all fours.

Again, I see a donkey, and I yell, “Fuck that fucking donkey!!”

Of course, right behind the donkey is an indigenous woman dressed entirely in a white sheet, and of course I know we are really intruding on her land.  Ashamed, I apologize and tell the woman, “really I love donkeys,” as if this makes sense.

Eventually the frigid river appears and all 22 of us plop down our tubes and hop on.  Most link feet, drink beer and float on.  A few get flung around, frantically kick and stay sober.

While beer wasn’t my goal, neither was continued frustration.  However, in time I equalize  and look up to see that I am surrounded by majestic trees; that I am floating down a jungle river on a tube, so really, what’s my problem?

As I catch up with the others I hear one man yell, “I am a Wizard,” and I see that he has found a big stick, or as he fondly named it, his Wizard staff.

This is how I know most others have finished their beer.

The Wizard continues to wonder about many things in life, such as, “Why do tattoos have meaning?” and “Why do we have to get off our tubes before we hit the ocean?”

Luckily, for all of us, the Wizard’s girlfriend saves him from getting swept away and we begin the long walk back down the white beach, carrying black tubes, wondering just how long we can really stay.

That Time I Got Stuck In a Jungle Rainstorm Wearing Flipflops

29 Oct

When Christy and Jenny invite me to Minca I say, “of course,” but I knew there was going to be a problem when we decided to go to a nearby club in Taganga the evening before our departure.

The drinking starts early and doesn’t stop.  I take it easy because alcohol certainly hasn’t been lacking on this trip, which is the real explanation for my recent lack of adventure. Though, per usual, I dance my butt off, starting in the hostel and not stopping until the morning light starts to come through.

Of course, we are friends with the bartender and of course his name is Lancelot: a tall, dark, gorgeous Parisian who reeks of the best kind of trouble.

When he told me his name I couldn’t believe it, but then again the characters keep on coming.

Lancelot is joined by Ralph, a red-headed chef with a childlike sense of glee, Steve, the sculpted South African and Chris, who engineers roller-coasters and has no idea how good he is at dancing.

I became friends with this motley crew the day after I arrived in Santa Marta, forcing my way through because I wanted to be a part of their fun.

Little did I know that my Medellin friend Christy had already met them earlier, but then time and time again I’m reminded that you don’t need a phone for synchronicity.

The next day I awake to Ralph’s face telling me that, “we have to leave in 20 minutes,” Christy is woken up the same way only she’s told that she only has five.

Jenny and I shove everything we have in our bags, but Christy sits her the hammock that goes everywhere with her, lights up a cigarette and says, “do we have to go with everyone else? Can’t we take the bus?”

Lancelot declares that, “the bus is shit,” and Ralph doesn’t really care, but after an hour of debating we decide Minca will be better the next day.

So when we’re ready the next the cab driver is late, and  Jenny turns to us to say, “considering our track record, can we blame him?”

Finally, I find myself in a taxi that is going over a rocky jungle road, and I look out the window to see towns that I can barely believe.

Bamboo trees cross each other and lean against fat tree trunks that carry leaves that are half my size.  The beauty is endless and almost redundant; it repeats itself time and again.

It is in the cab that we learn that it is impossible to get to our next destination, Palomino beach, from Minca.  This means there was no reason for us to drag along every bag we owned.

However, it is not until we’re dropped off in the small, dilapidated city square that we’re told it’s a 30 minute hike through the jungle to our hostel.

I think, “this is a real backpacking moment,” because there I am, hiking through the jungle wearing a sundress, long earrings and flip-flops, while carrying a bag that is half my size.

My legs barely lift me up the bamboo steps and I almost topple over sideways, but Christy helps me readjust my backpack.  Apparently, I had been wearing it wrong this whole trip.

Finally, we make it to Oscar’s place, which is not like anything we had pictured.  The “hostel” is really a house of wood and stone overlooking scenery that leaves words speechless.

Of course, four dogs await us, as well as hammocks and a high, hostel owner.

Oscar, who’s originally from LA, speaks perfect English and tells us that he built the house himself 20 years ago, using mules to transport the materials.

We ask how to get to the nearby waterfall, and as Oscar gives us directions, he warns, “it’s going to rain,” but my experienced backpacker friends encourage me to keep my flip-flops on.

“Anyway,” I think, “my hiking boots are at the bottom of my bag,” though I do change into shorts and a tank top.

After a large lunch of an unnameable soup, chicken, rice and beans we begin our hike.  Immediately, I curse myself for my large lunch as I try to ignore my nausea.

We traipse across a blacktop road that is so rocky it clearly ruins cars.  People whizz by us on motos and bikes and we gently tease the two dogs that have adopted us for the day.

Fifteen minutes pass and we begin to wonder where we are really walking to; it is then we learn that the waterfall is 50 minutes away.  Still, while uphill, the road is somewhat easy and my flip-flops are feeling fine.

It is not until we turn down some off-road path that it begins to pour.  The raindrops are so fat that I feel a slight ache as each one breaks against me.  Lightening and thunder follow.

The mud begins to suck up our shoes so Jenny and Ralph happily go barefoot.  In fact, Jenny never stops singing.

I want to shout, cry, or steal Christy’s watershoes, but instead I pretend I am just fine; that I am, “enjoying this new and authentic backpacking experience.”

This becomes harder when I am bit by a fireant.  Until that moment I hadn’t known that fireants existed, and since we had just arrived at the waterfall, I just stand there frozen trying not to panic.

Pain shoots through my toe, and I begin to pray even harder.  Finally, as everyone is stripping down to their bathing-suits, I explain my pain.

“Oh, it’s just a fireant,” Jenny says, “once I stepped in a nest of them, that was the worst,” and so I quickly shut-up and stand at the edge of the unimpressive waterfall with my feet in the water, silently hoping we soon begin the long hike back.

“Umm, it’s getting late,” I say, and for once I am right.

As we slip up rocks through mud, an enormous mud-puddle sucks up my foot, and my sandal breaks.  This is when I start to laugh because I know on some level I have been asking for this experience.

Any illusions of control are gone; there I am, in gorgeous Mother Nature, getting completely fucked.

So, I decide to like it as best as I can.  I bend down and by some miracle quickly fix my sandal because I have already learned that my feet are still too tender for the rocks.

The rain doesn’t stop, Jenny sings, and occasionally I join.  I am filthy, soaked through, shivering, but there is no shelter.

An hour and half later we make it back to the square and the men leaning against motos laugh at us.  We buy dinner supplies and it’s then I realize that the trek back to Oscar’s Place doesn’t seem so long.

Stopping at The Pit Stop – a crash course in hostel living & adventures in Guatape

6 Oct

In Cartagena, it’s so hot that my nail-polish melts off onto the white sheets of my dormitory bed.  For an entire day I don’t realize what’s happening and think there are random red stains on my bed, which I try to ignore.

This is hostel living: dirty, communal and at times uncomfortable.  Things like showering or changing are not exactly private.  The curtain doesn’t close all the way, or you’re too short to fling your towel onto the rod.  Instead, it flops into the big puddle that is left after your shower.  Then you can’t really dry off or cover yourself.

As an only child this is a huge adjustment for me.  I was first introduced to the realities of hostel living in Medellin.  After a luxurious evening at my friend’s apartment, I packed up and happily went off to The Pit Stop.  The name should have been the clue.

It reminded me of the large fraternities that stately sat on the Indiana University campus – empty beer bottles and a kitchen that wasn’t entirely clean.

I was a bit horrified, and mentioned my horror to my new friends not knowing that some of them had been living there for months.

That’s another thing about Medellin.  People come for a visit and then never leave.  They get seduced by the climate, which is a Spring that never quits, or they fall in love with the location.  A white, hilly town full of flowers that sits in a valley surrounded by some of the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen.

I meet a man with a neck tattoo who is living off his army pention and found a girlfriend on the Colombian version of OkCupid.  I learn later that he had to date her Mom first, stating his salary and intentions.

Then there is the kind, cross-eyed computer engineer who talks like he just strutted out of Silicon Valley.  He tells me and Christy, the Texan, that his greatest relationship started the night his face got burned.  We both laughed, but secretly agreed his lack of scars made his story an absolute lie.

These are the kinds of people you meet traveling – confused, broken, happy, searching, or enjoying the break that life gave them.

Those with the breaks are the ones with the time limits because they have something or somewhere to go back to, and these people are the ones who are most interested in exploring.  This is how I end up tagging along with three Australian Jews who just graduated law school.

I find out that they grew up in the same community in Melbourne and that their plan is to ride the Metrocable that stops at the EcoPark.  This is a “must see” in Medellin, and so I invite myself because I really don’t know how to navigate anywhere on my own.

We hop on the subway, which is better than anything I have seen in the States, and then jump onto what looks like a Ski Lift.  A hanging car from a wire that lifts us up over the city and into the mountains.

My companions talk constantly, and a part of me wishes they would be silent and appreciate everything that we are flying over.  It’s not only the trails and mountain shrubs, but the Communas – shanty towns with corrugated tin roofs that stretch out for miles.  The mass of humanity that inhabits these towns is like a world onto to itself.  It is a life that I can’t really imagine, though it puts my hostel grumbles into perspective.

Eventually, we arrive at the EcoPark.  It is fresh, cool and completely boring.  We stop to eat a mediocre lunch and then I spend the next few hours writing in my journal, and trying to engage the others in conversation.

Time passes by slowly and finally we ride the cable back into the station.  I sit alone on the subway and watch the three of them talk.  That night I spend my time making new friends.

This is how I end up getting invited to Guatape with a similar, solo female traveler.  That next morning we lazily awake, eat bread, and then I ride my very first South American bus to a tiny town that sits on a river and is full of colors.

The town itself is not the attraction; it’s the massive, meteorite of a rock that draws people.  It’s 740 steps all the way to the top with surreal views that exist in dreams people strive to remember.

Of course, I secretly puke before the climb because I order a weird mango drink with milk.  However, after my hostel complaints, I stay determined not to let my friends know the state I’m in.

I wheeze all the way to the top and stop every 100 steps.  The altitude is a bit crushing, but eventually when I climb the 740th step the view leaves me speechless.

We stay until we are kicked out, and then we hop onto an army truck (back into town) that the United States dropped down into South America after WWII because we had too many and we didn’t know what to do with all of the metal.

The truck drops us off in the center of town near a gorgeous church that has clearly been there since its beginning.  I wander into the services, but the Spanish is beyond me.

Dinner is skipped, and I am more than okay with that, but as we walk the streets we are invited into a fiesta.

The town is inhabited by 18-20 year old army cadets who joined to travel and for opportunities.  They all have sweet girlfriends, and they tell us that they rented out the bar to celebrate surviving their first few weeks.  My two companions watch me as I salsa with the giggling boys and girls.

The next day we see them in uniform carrying large guns and shy smiles.

Eventually, we cross the bridge back to bed, and I climb up top with my book, and decide that if there’s anything I could get used to it’s living like this for a long, long time.

I Thought I Was In Medellin

2 Oct

It’s midnight and no one is waiting for me at the airport in Medellin.  I am admittedly tipsy and am recovering from spilling my coffee all over the man who was sitting in front of me on the airplane.

“Que pena,” the passengers sitting around me exclaim – what a pain you are.

I didn’t mean to get tipsy before flying, but I also hadn’t planned being taken to a beerfest that day.  I consider my options and decide to call the hostel I booked, though I know the call will just add to an already sky-high phone bill.  Apparently, T-mobile didn’t unlock my phone, so my lack of a Colombian SIM card means American prices.

A man who’s clearly in a club answers.  He tells me to hail a Taxi and he will talk to the driver.  He tells me everything will be ok.

I listen, and five minutes later I’m speeding down a dark highway with a married couple who asks me how old I am and why I’m not also married.

This is a question I often receive in Colombia, and I just don’t know to explain it’s not time for me yet.

A half an hour passes, and I ask how far we are from Buddha Secreto, the hostel I chose because the photos looked beautiful online.  From what I can gather, the driver tells me we’re still 40 minutes away and the hostel is not even in Medellin.  However, it is in a nearby town.

At this point I’m completely sober, exhausted and praying that I’m just not understanding the man’s Spanish.  Often people speak too quickly to me, so that I only understand half of what they’re saying.  As long as I smile and repeat back some words people assume that I understand everything.

I use this tactic in cabs, babbling, so people don’t try to rip me off, “I am an expert, ” you see.

Unfortunately for me, it’s obvious that this hostel is up a gravel road in a town that’s fifteen minutes outside of Medellin.  It’s also obvious that I am the only person staying there.

A tiny, Walnut woman greets me with two large, barking dogs and asks for money.  Even though I paid online, I can’t seem to make that clear and hand over the pesos.  Then I write panicked messages to my friends in Bogota.

“Omg,” I type, “beginner traveler’s mistake – I’m not even in Medellin!”

Luckily, my Bogota friends stay up late and are clearly as obsessed with Facebook as I am.  This is how I get an invite to an  Englishman named Jonny’s pool the very next day.

I awake to a breakfast prepared by the Walnut woman, and I look around and see the hostel is as beautiful as the photos promised.  I then receive a phone call from the owner of the hostel who’s at a Salsa fest in Cali.  He says that the hostel is his home and that he’ll be back on Tuesday.

“You should stay, I will show you around.”

For reasons beyond me I lie and promise my presence.  Then I ask the Walnut lady to call me a cab.

This is how I spend my first day in Medellin.  On a lounge chair, looking out at the mountains that surround one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen.  As the hours pass, Jonny and I go from hot-tub, to the steam room, to the frigid pool, and then he invites me to stay in his guest bedroom.

He tells me his story, in his Liverpool accent.  How he jumped from continent to continent and ran a business in Valencia for two years.  With his help, I book a hostel in Medellin for the very next night.

Suddenly, I look down and see that I am wrinkled, and the cool night air begins to wrap itself around the city.  That’s when we decide to  order BBQ chicken pizza and watch terrible American movies.

Though it’s not until I crawl into my very own bed that night that I thank God for all of my very many mistakes.

Bogota: Days 3-5

26 Sep

It’s raining in Bogota like it always does.  Only today it doesn’t stop.  I look down at my feet and curse the flip flops I chose to wear.  Dirt sits between the cobblestone streets and the umbrella that William is holding is barely covering me.

“Estoy estupida,” I say and he tells me that one never knows when the seasons are going to change, or something like that.  Truthfully, I don’t understand William most of the time, and when he speaks English I am bored.

I met him on Couchsurfing.com, and while his messages seemed questionable, he was the only person who offered to take me exactly where I wanted to go – The Museo del Oro.

Per usual, I am running late, which is how I end up wearing the flip-flops, and I feel even more ashamed when I see William’s khakis and button-down shirt.  His formal greeting puts me at ease, but I don’t exhale until his wife calls.

On the way to the museum William tells me that he has, “three cats,” and shows me photos of them.  I feign interest and exclaim, “how adorable!”

The Museo is more than I thought it would be.  Gold (oro) doesn’t really interest me, but everyone kept telling me that it was a, “must-see.”

Each object is incredibly detailed and has a cosmological meaning.  It is impossible not to stand before the exhibits and wonder at not only the meaning, but how each item was made with few tools and such care.  Though I get my true lesson when I exclaim, “oh look at the canoes!”

“Those aren’t canoes, but coffins.  The Indians were much smaller than us, even you.”

Soon after William tells me that we have to go.  There are restrictions on cars because Bogota is so overcrowded.  He can’t drive his past 3pm.  He then tells me he’s picking me up at 9am tomorrow to go to a town outside of Bogota called Zipaqueria.  It’s there we will tour The Salt Cathedral, a Cathedral that sits 180 meters underground in a salt mine

While it bothers me that he doesn’t ask if I want to go, I can’t deny the opportunity.

Hours later,  I find myself at a brand-new hotel in a posh area of Bogota with (Damian’s friends) Roy & Deanna.  For once, I’m dressed right – my shoes are causing conversation. I meet a Medellin Chef, a Bogotan student and an actress who just arrived back from the Toronto film festival.  Everyone switches between English & Spanish, sips Cumber Gin & Tonics and pretends that they’re not having fun.

As promised, William picks me up the next day at 9a.m. The drive to Zipaqueria is about an hour and William has us stop to have sandwiches for breakfast.  He orders mine with three different types of unrecognizable meat, and I take a moment to ask God to make sure I never know what was in that sandwich.

We sign up for The Salt Cathedral tour, which is entirely in Spanish.  Quickly, I realize that William has his own tour in mind as he offers to translate.  He repeatedly has us wait until the entire group has moved on and then begins to ask me questions.

“Are you Catholic?” he asks.

“No.”

“Do you know Jesus?” and I want to say not personally.

“Have you heard of Mary and Joseph?”

“Yes, of course.”

“How can you know Mary and Joseph when you’re not Catholic?”

I try to tell him it’s near impossible not to know the story, but my Spanish is limited.

“Jesus is very popular all over the world and are Mary and Joseph.  They are very popular.  Everyone in the world knows them because they know they are popular.  Hard not to know, impossible.  I can’t live, no one in the world can live, and they can’t know”

He pretends to understand and then he leads me to the tourist area where he encourages me to buy emeralds.  I tell him they’re not really in my budget.

William again needs to drop off his car, though this time I go with him because lunch is next.  This is how I get to see his apartment.

Not only does he have three cats, but his entire apartment is covered in cats: pictures, figures, stuffed animals.  He begins to tell me the origin of each figurine.  It is soon obvious that William has collected Cat memorabilia from all over the world.  It is then I decide that I am really hungry.

We go to a small restaurant where I have the most filling and amazing tamale in my life.  It comes in a banana leaf and within the maize sits large chunks of chicken and chickpeas.

As nice and friendly as William has been, I begin to lose my patience when he insists that I must learn how to take the bus, “I will show you!” and so I enjoy 40 more minutes of William.

Finally we say goodbye, and I begin to prepare for my first Friday night in South America.

It is filled with amazing conversation, Indian food and the best Rum & Cokes I’ve ever had.

Though it’s the dancing that makes me regret booking my departure flight.  Once it starts it never stops, to sit would be to miss out.  Suddenly, I am up, buzzed and dancing salsa in Colombia.  My only problem is Damian’s feet keep getting in my way, though I do apologize for stepping on them.

Then the room stops and 12 couples form a circle and perform a dance like I have never seen before.  It reminds me of a 17th century courtly dance – only salsa style.  Partners continue to salsa, clap hands and spin onto the next one at varying speeds.  I ache to join.

The next day Damian shows me how Colombians make and drink hot chocolate.  I am shocked when he gives me a slice of cheese and tells me to dump it in my mug.  I eat it as it melts.

Too soon it is time for me to board my plane, and so I finish my glass of wine, say goodbye and depart for Medellin.