Villavicencio

It is the gateway to the plains, those great plains which roll along all the way through Venezuela. The plains are like no other place in Colombia, quite their own phenomenon. They have great rivers but are not great jungles like further south. The plains are cattle country and have a tradition of wild, untamed horsemen. It is awfully hot down in the plains, as you’d expect of the Orinoco basin. The rivers to the east of the Andes swell the Orinoco and the Amazon.

It is an interesting road down to Villavicencio from Bogota because you descend from the highlands over which the mountains brooding are 3 km above sea level all the way to not even 500 meters. So you wind down out through the last bulwarks of the eastern Andes through long tunnels and curving bridges spanning gorges as if running along flying buttresses. Sheer and abrupt green mountains, cataracts, impetuous rivers and decreasing eucalyptus characterize the way.

The town itself is the usual hot weather place: water-stained concrete, rusting corrugated roofs, great spreading trees full of parasites and pigeons, tall palm trees, a few shady avenues, and all varieties of architecture–mostly ugly. What saves the city is its abundant tropical vegetation. The people are the usual hot-weather crowd: wiry men who toil, fat men who boss and prosper, more with cowboy hats, with the cloth over the shoulder, heavy-duty boots and alpargatas, lots of pickups and large trucks; more fat overflowing women, slattern women, more with skirts and dresses than in Bogota, and much more of sandals for the ladies. The men of Latin America, that I can tell, never much change the way they dress for any reason whatever. You do see a few wearing shorts in the warm regions, but they’re still the exception. The women wear less clothes in hotter weather, as do most of the rest of us. There is not much of the Indian look to the people of the plains, but a peculiar look of their own, dark, distrustful. They don’t seem to be all that curious or talkative either; keep-to-themselves-ish. Straightforward enough, though.

Not a lot of traffic lights in Villavicencio, and the way intersections and pedestrians have to work is more or less to take the plunge and work your way through things. People in hot weather don’t move with any of the alacrity highlanders do, and so there is a sluggishness to the flow of things there in the heat, the humidity, the broken and cluttered sidewalks. Fans and rushing wind they have, and air conditioned supermarkets (though they use little air conditioning for having an average temperature of 81F; many Colombians dislike it and blame exposure to air conditioning for making them sick). There are upscale neighborhoods there, and to me they look like Florida.

They do meat in the plains. They even have meat for breakfast–and it was jolly good meat I had. What they don’t appear to do very well is coffee. I was surprised how bad, how little, how poorly off they are there in regard to coffee. I didn’t even see a Dunkin’ Donuts there, and even the bus terminal in Bogota has one now (No MacDonald’s either, but I wasn’t in the malls). It does appear the people buy cakes and eat a lot of pizza.

I know about the cakes because they have an unusual couple of refreshment places there called Veracruz. One locale is a bakery, the other is a fast food place (where I had an emparedado–word I didn’t think people still used), but they’re obviously owned by the same person or group people. The different thing at the Veracuzes is that you go up to the counter first to order and to pay, then the waitress takes your receipt and fetches what you ordered. Most other places here you go in and sit where you will, order and it is all brought to the table (and usually involving more trips than necessary; for example, a waitress will ask what you want to drink, get it and ask then if you want anything to eat, and then after that you might add that you’d like ketchup or hot sauce), then you pay at the end by going up to the cash register. Well-run and pleasing establishment, Veracruz in Villavicencio. The locals really seem to appreciate their cakes.

Too hot for me though. The plains are dusty and full of plane trees, trucks, oil-tanker trucks, and hard, wiry people who absolutely refuse to sweat under the sweltering heat. I went no further into those lands but came right back and was glad to eat chicken and potatoes, have a pot of coffee.

* * * * *
-Decent hotels there range from 50k to 200k COP. You can obviously stay cheaper. The Gran Hotel Villavicencio has some very nice and big watercolors in the lobby.

-Lots of Chinese restaurants for some reason. Didn’t go to any of the three malls to see if they have any chain restaurants which no doubt there they do, but in the city it is going to be more the usual Colombian food and fast food. Nothing too fancy, but the meat is probably usually better.
-Not sure why I was charged 27k for the ride down and only 20k for the ride back, but I think the lower price is the correct passage for one person, one way.
-The bus terminal is far from town. Best get off at the first stop–where the taxis swarm–and go downtown, unless you know your hotel. I saw close to twenty. Consider: you’re not going to walk from the terminal into the city: too far, too hot, too dusty and uninteresting. If you don’t know where to get off, then tell the driver you’re going to El Centro and he’ll place you properly.
-A taxi ride anywhere seems to be 5k or less. Both mine were 5k and both involved distances. They have the small, public transportation in little busses. Not sure how much, but these look far too small, slow and sweltering for comfort.

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