Tales of Loida

Loida has bright, black eyes. She has a husky way of speech, dresses rather for activity than ostentation, and has a sense of humor. She likes to tell stories and she is always prepared. She looks after her mom and scolds her relatives when they take advantage of her.

She told me about Wilson. Wilson was a loose, rangy chap with a corrugated forehead that sloped back. He had thick features, a quick eye, and often a sudden, distant look. Very friendly, his teeth somewhat incomplete. His business was repackaging wholesale cereal and distributing it in the backways of the highlands. He’d fill his little truck and take the winding backways toward Villa de Leiva, Tunja, maybe Chiquinquira. All that windswept region of potato farming land. What roads he must have seen, what leaning out the window shouting, what soups he enjoyed, what yellow skin he must have gnawed of the boiled leg of a chicken, what stars and fogs, what dust and wind and rain.

He had a son of Anglo-Saxon designation: Wilfredo. Not a happy relationship, apparently. Nor was he happy in his business. His village clients didn’t pay regularly, and he kept supplying regularly, wracking up debts. Time wore on, he became infrequent in his attendance at church. He always sat upstairs and often left early, but usually after coffee. Loida’s mom asked if he was attending elsewhere; he denied it. Apparently, it was anxiety and stress. I talked enough to Wilson in my time to picture the frown, the look away, the rubbery, vague responses he would give.

Loida thinks the stress did him in. The compounded worry of enormous debt and his unhappy son. He checked himself into the hospital one evening, not feeling well. They gave him a bed where he died unattended of a heart attack in the early hours of the morning.

His faith was stretched in the circumstances. I hope it didn’t break, and that he fell asleep in Jesus, in hope of the resurrection of the dead. Rest in peace, Wilson my friend.

* * *

The federal police in Colombia wear green uniforms. The standard uniforms are a kind of olive drab, but the outer jackets and security vests are a bright, avocado green. So they call them the avocados. “Los Aguacates” I said, as Loida squeezed the little car into the open lane past a section of the road they had commandeered for checking people. I had only learned that the night before.

Loida commented that they had pulled her over in the truck recently, asked for her ID and so on, and then asked her to open up the back. “No sir,” she told them. “I’m not opening this truck for you. I know how you are! I know you’re just going to put something in there and then further up the way I’ll get stopped by some other police that will find it. I’m sorry, but I’m not opening anything up (Que pena, pero yo no les abro nada—she actually said). You set up a proper and legitimate post and I’d do it. But you’re not putting that over on me.”

And she stood up to them, and there was nothing they could do.

“You have to know what the procedure,” she told me. “They can’t be doing it without a proper post like we saw back there. One has to know how they can do it and the things they do. You have to be careful.”

Loida is fantastic. When one knows one’s way around in Colombia, one knows a considerable thing or two. Loida knows all those things. Every single one.

We sat across from her and her mom at the coffee shop, on the third floor of the Niza Boulevar. They had milkshakes that came with long spoons. They were the kind of spoons with nearly useless narrow, shallow bowls. They spooned their milkshakes slowly down, while we heard of life in Neiva down in Huila, where the heat is tremendous, and of Wilson, and several other affairs.

The Fusa Finca

Sunday night it was raining in the mountains south of Bogota. Coming over the top we hit the fog and then a drizzle. What with the road being worked on, large tracts without lines, I was glad it wasn’t me driving. We were in a car the which one starts by pushing a button. Has no key, just a card-like thing in a slot. First time for me. So we went down to Fusagasuga.

Warm nights with insects are good for reading, aren’t they? The solitude’s possibilities for tranquility are the best thing. My wife’s not one for staying up late, and I don’t encourage her. It was a good time for reading Charles Williams and I finished the Arthurian poetry. The best thing about Williams is how you always feel he fills you up with unusual ideas and strange images, besides the insights.

There I saw a great, massive bull of the particular breed the farm’s owner’s father developed. They’re the long-eared warmer weather sort. Reddish-brown, hump-backed, and with eyes dull with sheer power was this bull. Left me most uneasy though fascinated. It felt like I was looking at the archetype, except the bull had no horns. Is the archetype the one you can’t take by the horns? Wish I could have looked at him a long time–from a safe place. Couldn’t help thinking I’d sort of walked into The Place of the Lion with that Bull. And then I started seeing many butterflies.

Guayacanes are tall, with shaggy bark, small ferny foliage and purple flowers. They were all in bloom. There are some large and industrious ants that harvest the scattered flowers. They send some nearly half-inch chaps along to cut segments from the flowers and then haul them back to their lair. So busy are these ants, they wear out little paths in the grass. That was an odd walk–I saw the cows, then the ants, then the bull who’d escaped, and then noticed the butterflies. Saw a rooster after that, a fighting cock. One always wonders at the red comb.

In the distance are some mountains whose color changes, you notice them too. They’re green in splendid sunlight, but with a haze in the distance comes a smoky blue. Pointy, with the slope leading up to the summit smooth and as even as a tipped table. There’s a lot to notice about mountains as one dreams and dreams of the archetype.

Insects and foliage prosper there, making it a good place to take in the fecundity of Charles Williams’ imagination.

Life on the Bus

So we went down to Paipa where the hot springs bubble up. It is a small town of immense skies. Seems there is always a storm brewing toward the south, but the day manages to alternate clouds and sunshine. A sleepy bit of the highlands, Paipa, as long as you’re not there on a weekend.

Anytime we travel, not having a car, not wanting a car anyway, we go on the bus. And on the bus you get everything. For example, my wife thinks that by now she knows this song.

Those Tigers of the North apparently first set that one up with a chap singing, and then got smart and brought in Paula Rubio. Not that it matters greatly for the quality–you can probably get enough of it without wondering about the sex of the person singing (and with Mexican vocalists, sometimes you have to wonder hard). It is one of the more tolerable things they play on the buses, actually. I don’t know why of all the stuff they do get from Mexico, they usually seem to get the boringest dinky stuff they put out. Still, when it comes to Latin American popular music, it is usually more interesting to get Mexican stuff, like the one about the drug runners who dressed up like nuns and gunned down the cops at a checkpoint.

But the indignation of the song, however clearly it is or is not expressed, does provoke a thought. It is not fitting for a man, but it is for a woman and that has to do with what the feminine represents. The feminine, like matter, represents potential, as opposed, to hark back to physics in high school, kinetic energy, which is what the masculine represents.

I came across the thought after breakfast in the hotel, with a view onto the lake and excellent service. They do the service well and thoroughly, but unfortunately also got the idea muzac is part of that. I heard Amazing Grace as easy listening and Hotel California likewise. I’m not sure which was worse, though if you’re going to bowdlerize, even though I don’t like Amazing Grace that much, I think I’d rather you did Hotel California. Speaking of potential, it is like taking all the potential out of the music, whatever it was originally, when you reduce it to easy listening, it seems. But in the morning they did Bach, Mozart and Handel, so I tarried on after my Spanish tortilla and two cups of coffee under the kinetic influence reading.

And Lewis was explaining William’s symbolism and his use of the ancient view of the feminine as potential and associated with matter and the masculine as active and associated with forms. It made me wonder if that wasn’t part of the distress that women in the OT seem to feel when they can’t have children, that they remain unfulfilled potential and they’re awfully aware of it.

Which is why Paula Rubio’s rather artless indignation seems effective. (No, I don’t expect you to analyze it, but when you ride the buses like we do, you end up becoming familiar or doing permanent damage to your hearing blasting Beethoven through headphones/earbuds). Tu, que me has dado? Falsas promesas de amor. Mocking her, leaving her as unfulfilled potential. And that is why it sounds bad when a Tiger of the North chap sings it: it’s whiny. He has no call to recriminate in that way because it’s just pathetic in a chap.

Let the chaps stick to the accordion stuff. I like the accordion bits, actually. And, they’re much more suitable to their role. Plus it gives me less to worry about, because it is curious that out of everything there is to listen to, this should be the one my wife seems to have memorized. I need to get her out of this country. It is, after all, in the USA where my accordion lies, and I’d rather have a dozen accordions than one kid.

Eric Among the Willows

Chronicle of a Traveler Observed, Day 1

Then he came down on a plane. Appeared in the terminal bobbing in a line, disoriented, pausing like Todd–nose and glasses–with a way of being curiously pleased; calm and expecting. Can he have traveled in a sweatshirt, we wondered. So long have we been with the Latin Americans.

Off in the darkness. The inevitable comparisons. Anybody who has traveled has irritated their hosts with comparisons. You show them something and they say they saw it elsewhere. I’ve done it and I think it is inevitable. We were in a taxi at the time.

Marveled he at the size of our apartment. Anything weird was met with the comment–that’s European. Perhaps it is. Waited we the Lord’s day.

The Lord’s day was a long day for one who doesn’t speak the language when what must be done must be done with the understanding in a place that speaks another tongue. Difficult, that. Lunch with foreigners–man from the Embassy that brings his family to our church. Then the Lord’s Day was over.

Went we downtown and showed him the heart of Colombia. The old, clunky church from 1611 was celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi, or getting close to. Heavy wood, thick walls, the colonial massiveness in that old place. The highland damp is in those buildings, inextricably. Packed place that night. Walked we along 7th, before the cathedral, by the congress, up the lane. Eventually we disgorged, returned we through the grim and dingy city home.

Day 2

Of a Monday we hurried Northward. Flat running, climbing, circling, switching and flat running before the wind in our swift passage. Our conversations had begun. Dawning realizations, compared realizations, adjusted realizations.

Chinese lunch for us: rice, chips and egg rolls. By common consent, all of us had some excellent grapefruit pop, which is the only instance of the flavor, or something not entirely unlike it, in all of Colombian experience. A rare treat. We then found an upstairs cafe, had the music lowered somewhat, and watched the rain on the central square.

Went we through the old town, subsequently, and round to where we caught the last bus (fourth of the day) which would deliver us to our destination, or at least 4 kilometers away. Then went we in the afternoon to that recondite rezendesvous, where there is a bar with the theme of the bullfight.

Music all day is the problem with the transportation. Having our aromatic tea there near the bull’s head, we at least heard this:

For some reason it is classified as the #2 all time Latin American rock song, in case you’re ever playing some frivolous trivia game and are asked.

Soon the crowds died down. Soon we had our excellent supper. Soon we were warming in the Turkish bath and then bathing in the thermal pool. Then some lousy, talkative Paisas wanted to enjoy things their way: yakking on.

Joke they told me: so there was this kid that had a breathing problem; he only breathed every two years. He breathed at two, and said Grandfather. Next day the grandfather died. He breathed at four and said Grandmother. Next day the grandmother died. He breathed again at six and said Father. Ye dogs! exclaimed his dad, I better get over to confession and repent all my sins. The next day . . . are you ready for it? The neighbor died.

They told me another one I didn’t get. By now, gotten, we had, all the news from the Granite Falls indeed. The drizzle fell on the steaming pool and the night approached the 10PM, so it gave us for giving up and turning in.

Day 3

The bloody Paisas (Paisas are from the department of Antioquia and talk notoriously) caught me early and had me near them. But then they would have their breakfast indoors and I would stay out. Conversation then we had among ourselves, there in the sunlight, with the breakfast coming hard and fast, and the Paisas disappeared, soon to be seen bathing distantly.

Mused we on Gravitas. What had been, what had become. It is something to have in common. Those dreams: of a leisured life, of agrarian ways–for some, of learning to appreciate art, of making a home for oneself, all tangled with our original dreams of ministry. What now? We saw the peasants up there, and their unenviable ways and children. I thought of Mr. Sensible and his Drudge. We can’t make a home in this world, but we mustn’t loose the habit of trying, it seems to me. Our conversation batted things around perhaps better than formerly. Perhaps in a few years even more? Now it seems to have become with us more a habit, this posture against modernity. A puzzling posture.

Pretenders to a certain extent, he called us. Players acting what cannot be really ours, hoping to instill in the children something more theirs. Hoping to awaken dormant imaginations. Obviously the ambitious projects that a former civilization enacted will not be with us, can they? With no community, even with the wild success of a modest community, they can’t. And what cities? There is the funny thing though, it seems to me: what will come of all of this? Something not entirely seen before.

Mused we on civilization and on decadence, there among the willows. On classes for the kid on the violin, on the circumstance of peasants. That day walked we up the meadow and onto the road. Through the fields and wood, down to the gorge where the water gushed, by the hollow shell of a peasant’s hut. Quarter ponies, ridden, passed us. We saw a yoke of oxen waiting to plow a field for onions. We went down among the pines and mushrooms to the cold waters lapping the white sands. Trout we ate, and rice. The wind blew us, the rain spattered intermittently, we passed the cedars and the eucalyptus, saw the fog on the high hills and the sun on the lake, had the company of a bitch called Luna, which we then abandoned to ride a lousy bus.

Aquitania is the onion capital. Everybody wears a ruana in Aquitania, and black rubber boots. Farming is there, but it is expected that tourism will soon drive it out. And then the onions? Perhaps cuisine will change.

Coffee down in the warmer town, good coffee. A brisk walk to the bus, a brief ride on the bus, and then the journey back. Bathed we then, ate we afterward and watched the fire play magnificently.

Day 4

Early start. Breakfast before the restaurant was opened and then we went walking on our way. Caught the bus and soon were in the city. Went we to the market, where they unloaded potatoes, the peasants who harvested it all present, haggling the price. Went we also among other goods, where tourists seldom go, I ween. We got our bus and were sped back.

We had an unhygienic lunch, as when I went back toward the kitchen to pay I realized. There is no concept here, no concept. It was good for the price, and now does not seem to have cost us more than money.

More might be said. We had Eric among the willows, the rushing torrent of that most pleasant and still remote valley. There the pines are various, some tangled, some curious in their curved branches when the needles fade them out, some domestic.

__________________
Photos by Katrina

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.

Tan de Buenas!

The expression “tan de buenas” is one that will give the dynamic equivalence translators support to keep them going for years. It means “how fortunate!” but the literal translation is nonsense. Colombians use it whenever they have good luck, for example when they get a seat on the Transmilenio, which is unusual.

I had good luck today in a busset, not in getting a seat as in a busset they’re more common, but in a quick ride, a quiet ride mostly, one free of salesmen getting on, and one with an acoustic musician. An accordion he played (tan de buenas!) and played a Colombian tune I’m fond of, Ay Manizales. It is a good town, it has a bullfighting theme, and it was an accordion. Tan de buenas!

This is not the best but I assure you it is no the worst rendition of the tune and it has pictures of Manizales.

I was glad to give the chap some money.

Bogota Today

In case you’re wondering what its like.

A cool wind came through the shopping center this morning. I went to get coffee–I find writing in a coffee shop most productive; the noises are congenial usually, the coffee is good, and one is left alone. I can’t just sit there or fiddle on the internet. A cool wind came through because open air is not uncommon here. Covered, yes; for the rain. But not with closing doors, and so the wind comes through.

I went for a walk (it is my day off, after all) after the rain and in the park where the canals meet, on every pole a buzzard waited. The eastern hills were hid behind ominous, purple clouds, but the interesting thing was that below there was a fringe of white. The diffused light under the heavy cover made these low clouds more pale. In the light of a rainy day with grey and purple clouds the vegetation takes on a jungular uneasiness. Somehow, trapped with the shadows under the leaves a living thing seems about to stir.

A drizzle soon began, but very light. I continued in the rectilinear, concrete neighborhoods we have here. Sometimes at the end of a long row of square houses leaning inward, under the tangle of the wires I could see a bank of green, a bank of grass.

The smell of sawdust from a carpenter, the smell of oil and machines, the smell of woodsmoke from a restaurant, and from a bakery of bread as one passes come and go. Moss on the concrete of the rainy season, dislodged bricks and paving tiles on the sidewalks, and to the view not a single tree sometimes. That’s when after the doors and bricks and walls and roads open up onto a grocer’s unlit shop and you see the shape of onions as a new strange thing. I looked into a tavern with small wooden tables, chair, and two objects of wood and electronic, red displays of a primitive and gambling nature.

I thought I ought to try to paint the purple clouds, and under them, before them too, the trees with a neutral green, and mix the green with the purple for the underleaves, and add some brown to the purple green for trunks, and see how much of the atmosphere of the rainy day I get. The drizzle was still light but overhead the buzzards had begun to circle and to climb.

The Second Time

Cogua lies so high in the mountains
One marvels at the amplitude of green.
Near the mountain tops fog forests grow.
There you have a moist, earthy cool;
Every night is cold; and yet the sun at
Noon cheers nicely. The flowers wave,
The cattle ruminate, the green steep upland
Meadows bask. Trees with small leaves,
Each attending to the wind, receive their life,
Nourish on their bark the lichen, growing
Together in a way that makes it all add up.

After the Season of Long Rain

After the rainy season comes the dry, which we are now enjoying. There is a richness of the color green, as it does not come fresh like when you have a spring. You have a renewing and a glory quite mature.

The skies then, in Bogotá are blue, the sun is clear, the pines shimmer green, and white clouds go slowly by. Between the buildings sometimes you see sunsets. I have a tree that when the sun’s behind it (it is squeezed between a tall house and the apartments across the way) its leaves are all mysterious, black and swaying in a dust of gold.

The highland sun is strong, but that is all. It does not get hot, we are too high for that. Never unpleasant indoors, and usually the breeze outdoors as long as you stay out of the blazing sun: unless you want the clear and blazing sun.

A pleasant place, this land, especially in these summer months of late December, January and February. Everybody at this point is on holiday too.

Here’s something which might be as it is down in the torrid Magdalena valley, where perhaps the trees begin to vanish into light, and in the fervent heat the elements begin to mingle.

Gentle Rains in Ibagué

The best thing about Melgar was how easy it was to leave. They checked our cabin over to make sure we hadn’t stolen anything. Then we went to the front to pay for the sheets, towels and lighter we had made use of; then the lady gave me 2000 extra in change–which I returned. We ambled out to a waiting taxi in which we were delivered swiftly at the bus stop. No sooner had I handed over the 3200 to the driver than my luggage was in the hands of a hasty youth who was shoving it into the back of a bus out of town. We left Melgar in the dust, the Kat clocking the exit at exactly 20 minutes.

Our destination: Ibagué.

Unless I am sadly mistaken, and I have not bothered to fact-check what I am about to state as a fact, the whole modern insurgency in Colombia had its origins in the department of Tolima, the capital of which is Ibagué. They are hardy people there with determined ideas.

As you may remember from previous lectures I have delivered on this blog, the geography of Colombia is organized into the three ridges which spread out from the spinal column of South America which stretches from Argentina on to better things. These Andes in Colombia have an occidental ridge: the lowest; a central ridge, the highest; and the oriental ridge, the widest and the locus of our sojourning. Tolima straddles that central ridge, rising from the Madgalena valley–a considerable portion of which it owns–up an over. The great Nevado del Tolima lies close to Ibagué–though I never got a glimpse of it. I’ve seen them from the plane, the line of snowy peaks that stretch along the proud, aspiring central ridge.

Now you should keep this consideration in mind when thinking about snow-capped mountains here: we are in the tropics. The one in Huila–a bit further south–is the highest, but the one in Tolima is 5,216 meters above sea level, and that, my friend, according to my rough calculations is about 17,112.860 feet, which works out to a few miles. Bogotá is half as high as that sucker reaches into the air. Ibagué is nowhere near, being 1,285 m (4,216 ft).

Anyway, Tolima is one of those departments with characteristics. When you, for example, think of Kansas or Nebraska, you may not think of very much and I don’t blame you. Think of California or of Texas and you get a little more, if you see what I mean. Tolima is like these latter. Has traditions: has tamales named after it, has the famous lechona (stuffed pig), has Silva & Villalba for crying out loud, and hearty mountain men of which not a few presented themselves to my gaze in the capital. In Ibagué one would run across saddleries at odd intervals. Not that they don’t ride horses elsewhere–especially up along the Atlantic coast, but it just goes to show what a tough, mountaineering, horse riding, hard core type of chaps these Tolimenses tend to be.

And Ibagué is built on a hill, like Tunja or Manizales. It descends in ridges, so that the slope descends more or less evenly from west to east and from north to south you go up and down like on a washboard (my orientation depending entirely on the Cathedral facing west, which if it does not, then is all wrong). It is a center for transportation and a biggish city with half a million or so in the metropolitan area. Not large, but not small. It has the 70s and 80s climate, a great favorite with many persons of this planet, it appears.

We got there in a gentle rain, and walked in it, and stopped for lunch. It is no secret that the worst of Colombia, after Melgar, is Bogotá. Any of its other cities is likely to be better, especially if you get into the central ridge and the valley beyond it which is the coffee zone. Ibagué is no exception. A fine Colombian city, as far as Colombian cities go. Too much traffic and disorder, but the gentle chaos is like the gentle rain which the locals pay little attention to: nobody covers the outdoor stands, few umbrellas appear, the crowds are no wise dissipated.

And they are polite. Not a lot of foreigners in Ibagué, to judge from the people who wanted to stare but would politely look away. Very welcoming at the hotels, friendly like Paisas–the natives of the largest department generally gathered around Medellin, when not gathered into drug cartels. Yet not aggressive as the people tend to be in Cartagena, and not sulky or sarcastic.

It looks like the city was founded around 1550. They have a lot of churches, a lot of tall buildings, an amazing 14 story parking garage downtown (it is the capital of the department, but it blew me away that they’d have so much parking downtown. I do not think we have anything that size here in Bogotá, as far as parking lots go), and this happy new trend, a pedestrianized downtown stretch of road. More interesting restaurants than Melgar too, and more accessible than here in Bogotá. In a smaller town, things are more mingled, which is part of the charm.

Has its mean sections too, but on the whole seems a lot friendlier and wholesomer and generally well treed. The weirdest thing about Ibagué is Dunkin’ Donuts. I saw some six or so. Even at the bus station there were two, and let me tell you about bus stations: that is really high-class for such a place. It means the chain is wildly popular in Ibagué, though I will permit myself to observe that the bus station seemed a cut above the ordinary as well . . . it had several tiny cafeteria type places for lunch (unusual to see choices) and about six gambling dens.

We had an ample late lunch sitting on old-fashioned red chairs at a hotel restaurant, and then proceeded to survey hotels. Our ingenious plan here is just to walk around and enter boldly any hotel establishment and ask to be shown a room. I have found it helps if you enter with panache. Then, if it looks interesting and the amenities add up I ask, “Y en cuanto me lo puede dejar?” which is a secret code that we have for getting the best deal. We ended up in a pretty new and nice one, more expensive than we usually do, but the draw there was the sauna and jacuzzi, which we used the following day.

The service was of the quality which borders on the right side of obsequious, mostly. It is one thing I value greatly in hotels: the respectful setting down of dishes, the cloth napkins especially in this country, the yes sir we’ll turn on the sauna for you at 11AM even if it has never in the history of this hotel been done before. One of the waitresses seemed to be unable to take me very seriously at first, but that passed eventually as I conducted myself with more than usual aplomb.

And we explored the city a bit. Had good coffee there, but then, it is a coffee producing part if not the famous coffee zone. If I were a missionary of the old school, I would certainly walk away saying that I definitely felt the Lord calling me to Ibagué. Alas, I am neither a missionary or of the school that felt particularly led or perhaps you, my friend, could be funding my life there indefinitely. Another rain came later, and it gentled by the time we left, clearing completely as the bus backed out of the bay.

But no doubt someday I will go back. A quick flight perhaps. You see, that’s the drawback with the southern end of things: getting out of Bogotá via the south is the worst. You can spend two or three hours to Ibagué just stuck in traffic in the south of Bogotá. It looks like Avianca flies in with Fokker 50’s. That would be interesting–I’ve never been in one of those before.

Hot Weather in Melgar

The Resort

In Colombia anybody working with a legal contract (as opposed to the loophole contract–which is simply designed to avoid just about everything conceivable) is automatically joined to a compensation club. These entities are in some way a socialist institution, a sort of cooperative run by a private company with which one gets discounts. Some of them own theaters, are associated with grocery chains, and they tend to own resorts in the kinds of places people go for vacations.

We have Cafam, a big one, and they have a huge resort in Melgar.

Melgar is an hour-and-a-half, to two hours from Bogotá, all down the mountain. Melgar is all the way down too: down in the torrid Madgalena valley. The resort is well managed, well kempt and generally well arranged. They handle vacationers all year round and they handle great volumes and no doubt great problems. They are good. And they must spray for bugs because you don’t encounter them in the quantities you would expect.

So they have two hotels, and hundreds of little cabins scattered (but not widely, just in large quantities) over the acreage, with pools, a zoo, amusement park, etc. It is all concentrated in one compound in which they control all the pricing with the usual prices of convenient location and near-absolute monopoly.

If you have good neighbors, then you can stay in a cabin, cook your own food, read, swim, write, wander, and be in a very hot climate with all reasonable amenities excluding TV, internet and air-conditioning. Not a bad thing.

Orcs

What if you go to a cabin in Melgar and you have bad neighbors? They will turn on their stereo early and turn it off late. You can get the security guys to come after them, but only after midnight. They can party up till midnight, laughing raucously, screeching and doing whatever it is they came with a vague idea of doing.

The resort is geared to all classes, and you can pay much or little. We got our cabin for two nights for about $60. That’s a great price, but it means they get all kinds of people for those prices. Some people’s idea of a good time might be always having reggaeton blasting at them, and might not include consideration for people with slightly more delicate tastes. If they go to the pool, they will take their music there. If they are located in the cabin immediately behind you and close to the screens of your bedroom which do not have glass or any other kind of protection–not that you would be in there if the room were hermetically sealed–then there is little you can do to avoid being involved in their idea of a good time.

You can hope they’ll go to some blaring bar where people only talk to each other in shouts in a bewildering semidarkness with randomly flashing lights till 3AM, but they might not want to spend what that amenity requires. Colombians are not choosy about music, so long as it is neither intelligent or beautiful. Stupefied by drugs, alcohol, excessive fornication, sleep deprivation, heat stroke or just stupefied by not being too intelligent to begin with, some people on vacation in Melgar find they have to turn up the volume considerably. That surly modern attitude that you have a right to jackhammer at your sensibilities to drown out the lack of inner resources–the life of animals seeking physical stimulation to drown out the demands of the soul, however meager these latter–prevails in places like Melgar.

That is the big drawback. When you book a cabin in Melgar, you gamble with that unless you are the kind of party whose idea of a good time is to make a nuisance of yourself.

Melgar

The town itself is a trashy little hot-weather town glorified by hard partying into an uninterrupted string of bars, restaurants, hotels and shops–at least along the main drag an on the approach to this huge resort center from which the town derives its substantial life. It is the place to get a cheap vacation. If you cross the brown river you’ll find the shacks and tumble of any other village of its kind not endowed with a lucrative nexus and endless supply of cash from the capital. If you are a foreigner you are probably wise not to venture far along that way.

Melgar has the glory of vegetation. You plant something there, it will grow rampant. They have mangos in the Magdalena valley–various varieties of the tree with the mangos in clusters ripening in the sun and dropping as chance or the weather permit. In the resort, the mangos are abundant and people go about gathering the windfalls.

There is a sullen disorder to hot weather towns, a sort of sleepy, continual decay. You don’t need much to live: not a lot of clothes certainly, not a whole lot of possessions, hardly even walls or roof as the weather is probably never below 80. With the rains, especially at night, it can cool down, but not that much. (We had good long, hard rains during the nights. Pleasant that, watching it in the lamplight, the eaves dripping, the bats winging through it gleaming, the gurgle mingling with the sounds of insects. It has been raining and all the trees are hoary with moss and lichens now, the palms exuberant.) And so life shambles onward there, in flip-flops or, when it wants to go quickly, perched on a sputtering scooter.

The bus stop is no destination, a way-station of dust and squalor: cheap eateries under rickety awnings, food ripening variously in greasy glass cases, smarmy shouting conductors, taxis, buses, heat and the fat slobbing recumbent it in the shade. Safe and sordid, is what the bus stops tend to be. Any robbing there is done by way of commercial exchange-the ancient rite of overcharging: so you haggle with all the sly hagglers in the bustle of buses coming and going. The haggling is why I think they have to affect a rush, as if they went on timetables and worried about being on time. Time, like the river, flows at the pace it wishes there, and is neither wrong or very often right.

Melgar has a good place to get coffee. It also has a restaurant called MacDougal’s which is probably not as interesting as it sounds. A fast food type place, it seems: beware of Colombian imitations of fast food; they can do it well when they do it with their own cuisine, but when they branch out they add uningeniously. We looked at the restaurants, tried one, and ended up eating in our cabin all the rest of the time. The enigma of MacDougal’s is still with me.

Hot Weather

It is its own thing, hot weather. You take a lot of showers–there is no hot water and it is not missed. Living in the heat all the time, without going in and out of air conditioning you soon get used to the demands. You can spend the whole week wearing the same bathing suit and only changing your shirt, thus taking a vacation from laundry. The simplicity can be useful, especially if you want to concentrate on something and get it done.

Here is the thing about Colombia: it is equatorial and so the temperature mostly stays the same year round. The variation is not really at the place, it comes when you move from place to place. Bogotá, for example, is a 50-60s type of place, seldom warming up into the 70s on hot days. Medellin is a 70-80s type of place. There are places of 80-90s and hotter. You pick your altitude in the mountains, or not, and stick there. Colombians who have lived in places with seasons have complained to me about the problem of having to figure out what to wear. Americans living in places with seasons have been known to do this too, which to me speaks of the general lack of ingenuity and resourcefulness the human race is plagued by in its present conditions.

This also explains why people in Bogotá complain so much about the so-called cold. If you come from warmer weather (most of the rest of the country) you might have thought to buy a jacket for here, but the concept of dressing is layers is a bit foreign. The idea, for many, of the weather being at all on the chilly side is a bit strange. They come, it is never warm, they are not used to it, they dislike it.

There is a drawback to hot weather: a general lack of enterprise. It is no way to spend a life.

The Kind of Place

So here’s a good example of the kind of place it is. I have a book from the library. I have been reading it but now my thumb is weary of holding the book open. They bind paperbacks into hardcovers, but the binders are like the carpenters here: neither of them read. You should see what goes for bookshelves . . . or the uses to which they’re put.

Anyway, tomorrow I shall be returning the book, and the question that you may have is why is my thumb weary? They stitched the thing up so that you have to really hold hard to keep the thing from shutting. And so when I return this book tomorrow, to move on, I shall look at the library girl–no reader either, I guarantee–and inform her of the rather annoying binding. And she will not even pretend. She will stare at me with the kind of incomprehension only the illiterate can achieve. As if to say: What, you were trying to read every word in it?

It reminds me of the student I had back when I still taught English. She always arrived late, always. Never got up in time, you see. Slacker? No, she was one of the most applied and earnest. Really wanted to learn English, just not one for adjusting her schedule to the demands of time. One day she told me she owned 200 watches. That’s exactly the way they are with books.

Continue reading “The Kind of Place”

Discouragements Along the Way

I got The Radetzky March–of which book you can google predictable things for yourself.

I got it from the library which the Bank of the Republic, our semi-private central bank here, runs. They have rather old-fashioned views of things, as do many things pertaining to the book business in these regions. So when they buy a paperback they do what people used to do when they bought a paperback: they get it bound.

The problem seems to be the binders are no longer old-fashioned. The result is merely durable; and the binding occasionally infringes on the central portions of text (the stitching, you see) with rather annoying results. The effect can be, as you will understand, discouraging.

Another thing is that I can’t help wishing I were reading it in English. One learns things by translating the expressions one finds in the Spanish translation back into English, and I doubt the original was in English, but the thing is that those expressions take on a lot more life in English.

On that last point, I sometimes wonder if it is just me–the third discouragement, if you will.

In Boyaca Again

We go to Boyaca because there is in me a love for it. On the bus I hear them talking and I love the way the Boyacenses talk. One sees the ugly buildings, but one knows the bricks are local, purplish and beautiful. And there are nice things, nice buildings and colonial picturesque scenes and visages. As well, they tend to treat you friendly, which is not everywhere the case.

We went to Paipa, which is within close range of Bogota and has become a center of tourism. They make interesting cheese there, they sell good woolen goods, they have really good potato chips–but then, this country has really good potatoes anywhere you go and that’s the secret to anything potato–and they have thermal springs.

Water coming hot out of the ground with unusual mineral content is regularly sought after by human beings in all the world for its . . . alleged medicinal value. One day someone is going to catch on to it and say: look, the unusual mineral content of the water entering your water softener, heated up, could do the same thing for you. Then it will all be over.

But we enjoy it for now, especially since the water in Bogota is so pure most of the time and we don’t have a tub. The circumstances are fine out there in Paipa. You can spend all day at the pool and though it isn’t as hot as at the spring–in Boyaca the folks can’t seem to handle the water too very hot, you’ll always hear a yokel sucking his breath and entering very gingerly no matter how tepid the particular pool is, with exclamations–one can nevertheless find something warm enough, if not ideally nearly unbearably hot.

The thing to watch for is the deadly tropical sunlight. It isn’t ever hot in the highlands, but the sun can be most rudely direct. What’s the line by the Swan of Avon about cheeks wantonly ravished by Phoebas burning kisses?

Speaking about the weather, the clouds come over and the rains sometimes descend. I asked about it with the lightning more in mind, and the clerk at the hotel told me nobody ever got out of the pool, that the change of weather was agreeable, another amenity. It seems nobody has ever yet been fried by lightning while bathing there, which is a plus.

Hotels they have, in all varieties. You get a room, parking (we live in a country where it is considered an amenity still), color TV and an American breakfast–not a Continental which is no true breakfast. Now the thing is wireless, and they claim that too there. They even have a hotel there that has an elevator. The more expensive hotels are the more colonial looking ones, should you be angling for or against the idea.

The whole place is a resort, with all the ups and downs of such: tourist shops, fast food places (did I mention the potato chips with this new-discovered garlic sauce?), expensive-ish restaurants and even good coffee. There are places to walk, a lake, a cathedral, and all the rural joys of Boyacense city life.

Then it was Sogamoso. I love the streets of Sogamoso. I wish I lived in Sogamoso. It has everything, except a job for me and so I can’t go back and live in Sogamoso. I almost stayed in Sogamoso, but we left. I wanted to read and you can’t always count on ideal circumstances for reading in Colombian hotels–at least not in the kinds we tend to end up at. Katrina scoured the town for some Salsa Güache she took a fancy to in Paipa. Made in Sogamoso. Didn’t find it. Reason to return.

I talked to the driver on the way back. He is a Sogamoso man from barrio Colombia just two blocks west of the glorious terminal. He had two phones: one crowed like a rooster and the other croaked like a frog. Bit of a nature lover, I reckon. And speaking of noises, he had a flash drive full of low-quality Mexican music, at least three hours’ worth. Curious about Mexico, he was. Curious about the world after a while. Wondered if the world weren’t half and half land and sea. It was my privilege to make the three hour journey profitable to his understanding by setting him straight on that score. I learned something as well. I had never seen a man more ingeniously thrifty about his tooth-pick. It served him first for the rather prolonged cleaning of his ears, after which he cleaned it off with a bit of paper and then proceeded to make more traditional use of it in his mouth. Now where have you ever witnessed such a deft trick?

Then we were back. And I am sorry it is so as Colombian life in general makes much more sense outside of this city.

Near Fusagasuga, Cundinamarca

We went to warm climate and stayed at a finca.

What is a finca? Well, it is a cross between a small farm and a country house. In Minnesota people have cabins, and here some people have fincas. The idea is to be away from the city, on a piece of land with fruit trees and such, and usually in warmer weather, though not necessarily so.

We went to one in warmer weather. I found a good place to read–so good I did all of Kidnapped. You wait for meals, you make notes and draw stuff, you read, and you stay up late talking. I stayed up late talking to old ladies, but I like old ladies fine.

Best part of it: reading a whole book. You know what my problem usually is? I can’t find a good place to read. A place with the comfort and out-of-the-wayness for one to stick to it for three hours at a time. Here I found more than one, and in this country, that is amazing. Another problem is when other people require me for activities: this instance had none of this.

Perhaps part of it was the crowd of old ladies made things generally peaceful. Being in the country certainly made things peaceful. The overgrownness of the place: rocks buried in parasites and ferns; mangos holding up orchids in the canopy, spanish moss; stands of the bamboo stuff (guaduas); the butterflies, the birds, the fact that for the first time since leaving the USA I saw a squirrel again; and the smells of cooking things, of the dampish smell of the permashade parts of a hot-weather building, of the grass and the breeze and the overripe fruit.

I live in the capital, the worst of Colombia. If I can get a residency and be a writer, my friend it’s a finca for me.

Lunch and Rain

In the rain we ate colombian. A grey Colombian soup for lunch, with bones Colombians like to gnaw. We put hot sauce in it–they do not. Aji, which stings the mouth and after which if you drink soda you only feel the crawl of the bubbles and taste absolutely nothing. With hot sauce the soup is like the sunlight on a landscape. With a good high table you stoop over your meal and eat, glancing around when you chew, your head swiveling on lowered neck. It is more authentic if you keep your coat on and occasionally grimace as you eat.

I watched a guy biting bits of potato from his spoon–a common technique. We had salad: thin sliced onion with thick sliced tomato. A salad consisting mainly of carrots, or mainly of onion is not uncommon. Better than eating the lettuce watered with the heavy metals from the Bogotá river. The pesticides and other modern ills are pretty bad in countries where the thing is regulated. Here it is not regulated, and you eat like a grinning skull.

We had guanabana juice: milky and with the fruit’s strings in it. We had rice on our plates, and potatoes, besides the salad and green beans, and we had meat. 9000, and when we were done, the rain had finished also.

Not a Rant–I don’t believe in those.

And every once in a while you just hate the place.

Yesterday I squirmed out of a colectivo three or five blocks before my destination. We have two kinds of public transportation: the government coordinated Transmilenio–large buses with height and space and, for Colombia, order. Many Colombians hate them, and I know why.

The other form of public transportation are these various buses. They don’t have designated stops, their routes are very wandery, not a single map is ever provided because most people here can’t use one anyway, and the best way to characterize the way these buses move is an unending, spasmodic lurch in a generally forward direction. Many Colombians love them, and you know what? I know why.

I got out of the one I was in when the third stupid fat lady rammed herself in illegally through the back door along with her monumental bags of groceries. I was meeting a Russian woman who is intelligent, orderly and determined. I told her it made me so mad. She told me we were in the third world and there was nothing else to expect.

She’s been here 20 years, and after a while I said: Well, but they are improving gradually, little by little. She didn’t even look at me, just shook her head. There’s no changing them and there’s nothing a foreigner can do. I just got an email yesterday from another Colombian I know, all about how they can improve themselves if they just stop throwing garbage around where they live, respect laws of traffic, do the obvious easy things millions of civilized people in other parts of the world daily more or less manage to do.

You come from a place where those sort of things are more routine and you think it is easy for people to realize and practice. But it is not going to change, and I know why.

The reason is that every Colombian has a soul full of chaos. They don’t have clear ideas or clear thinking or clear aims. Very few of them achieve that–many of those are no longer in the country–and their culture does not provide it. What they have is chaos and undisciplined impulses, and it is those impulses which mostly govern their behavior and society in an unending, spasmodic lurch in a direction relative to that the rest of the world is following but with no real destination. I was told that by an intelligent Colombian who was trying to emigrate. I was agreed with by a fully frustrated Englishman who finally decided to quit because he realized what he was doing was trying to change the anarchy in their hearts.

Colombians decide it is time to get ahead and learn English; they do it all the time. So they sign up for English classes with a qualified foreigner and pay a lot. Then the chaos of their life begins to take over and they are helpless before it. Do they make it on time to class? Gradually less. Do they do their homework? Not a biggish chance. Do they eventually skip and skip, and beg forgiveness without even noticing how egregiously unapplied they are relentlessly driven to be by the chaos? They do. And on top of that they want a discount.

You start a Greek class with some chaps who are intelligent. Do they buy the books? No, they try to get by with some kind of knock-off (and if they can do that in the English class they’ll do it too; with anything really; they don’t even have the vanity of liking to have the thing look professional, well-printed, etc.). Do they apply themselves? As long as there are absolutely no distractions, interruptions or holidays. And then they complain to you because really their life is full of activities. They do get up at 4AM, they do get home at 10PM, and they spend a good 4-5 hours flung chaotically back and forth and sideways on their beloved colectivos, and continue in this unendingly lurching spasmodically toward . . . not finishing, not accomplishing, not anything, relaxing amidst dust and garbage under a tree with a beer and the dogs.

You watch it, and it would seem pathetic. It is as if they are passively in the grip of something relentless and spasmodically lurching them on toward that day when it vanishes, it mercifully falls through in a series of absurdly prolonged holidays which are the only constant meticulously observed phenomenon in all of their life. I know the direction! It is the twilight of the dogs there in the dust under a rubber tree in the tropical night loud with insects and measured by a growing stack of empty beer bottles provided by calculating and industrious Germans.

No he almorzado, they’ll say. Because you aren’t organized, you’ll think. How hard can it be for an intelligent person to work a meal into their schedule? Sorry I’m late, they’ll say. Because you refuse to allow time for contingencies, because the transportation system here is chaos since it is run by people like you, and because traffic can’t flow unless it has some organizing principle, the which too many of you continually refuse to acknowledge, you’ll think. I’m really tired, I didn’t sleep last night. Because you don’t have anything remotely resembling a culture of consideration and as a result everybody here is uninhibited in their tremendously noisy, night-long parrandas which even the cops, because the corruption does not permit you to give them the power necessary, can’t stop it, you’ll think.

If you have chaos in your heart and nothing else, you are prey to impulses. If you want to see what life looks like almost exclusively given over to the direction of spasmodically lurching impulses, come to Colombia. It has its moments in this land of plenty, this winterless nursery garden of God for the thumb-sucking. Which is why many of them, when they get beyond thumb-sucking emigrate to more desolate regions of the world.

I used to get irritated with people in Minnesota for living their lives without due consideration. Here!?!

One of the interesting things about that conversation with the Englishman was that I realized my job is connected with the chaos in their hearts, and the gradual steady change of that towards order. You know how it makes you think? It makes you think long-term. And I’m not talking decades.

Saturday

The nice thing about not having a lot of things published is that when I am determined to work on things, after five or six years of building up things, I have all these things to work on. I was discovering some of the stuff I have hidden away–at one point I had it more coordinated than presently.

In our former neighborhood being woken up at 3AM was more common than here. Last night for the second time we were, but like the last time, it didn’t last long. It was the loudest ever, but it got shut down pretty fast. I think its gangs or drug dealers set up with their cars on the side of the street like that. So I got up two hours later, made a whole pot of hot chocolate and wrote, and now all I wish is that I’d gotten up sooner. Next time.

I have a lot of unfinished stories, and what I like to do is write a bit on them and then let them go again. I have a lot of finished stories and so I read them, and if I feel dissatisfaction, then I try adjusting; this often works. The more time you leave, the more likely you are to attempt the thorough measures needed. This way, eventually, I think I’ll get something pretty decent. One gets dissatisfied sometimes with things, and only needs time to go back and think: what a stupendously weird idea. Or sometimes: where was I going with that?

Before I can live the life of a writer of big fat novels that sprawl on and on, I have to enter by way of the short stories. So that’s what I’ve been working on while here, developing these Science Fiction things in which Reptilians figure and which aspire to be something like Ray Bradbury.

Went for a walk on the Saturday morning streets of my neighborhood and it reminded me of my early life. There is such an abundance of food and goods in Colombia, and if you know among all the places where to find the place for this and the place for that. They still do individual stores, and I’m happier with my neighborhood these days.

Had a good lunch. Have a good place nearby with the right fries, with soup, with salad and with roasted meat. We have a lot of meat roasteries–besides the cheap chicken roasteries–but these can get high-priced. Not this one on the corner, though. Big tables, good aji–hot sauce–and a pitcher of brown lemonade. The lemonade is brown because they sweeten it with unrefined brown sugar. It is part of being in this varied land to have the best potatoes in the world, brown sugar sold in bricks by pounds, more fruit than one can name, and all the rest.

From Cartagena to Iza

The best part of Cartagena was the balcony. We stayed in a friend’s 15th story apartment, in a building that rises to about 30, I guess. The balcony looked at the sea, though any side of the building would have seen it. It faced the old city in the distance–cupolas, domes and tiled roofs–and in the foreground the jagged white towers of the more recent section. It was like being within a city, all the lights and buildings. I stayed up watching it till 12.

The wind was strong on the balcony, violent the second afternoon. The sun and sea in their exotic combination, the white, the fountains’ splashing and the nodding vegetation all conspire there. Coral blocks there, churches built from coral out of the sea and the forts, crabs and seafood, hot sauce at a breakfast place smelling a bit like putrid cheese: a highlight and for me a magnet. Sand and spray, and people lounging in the rich shade of the rubber trees.

Williams was with me: The Figure of Beatrice.

An early morning flight away, a comfortable bus ride and we were in Boyaca: the highlands. After lunch and coffee another ride and then a long walk out to a perfect hotel. Well run, extremely well run, and unlike many here, tastefully decorated mostly throughout. The dark, round beams, the whitewashed walls, the red-tiled floors, the wooden window frames, the cowhide rugs, the plants the plants, the pines, and willows, the eucalyptus and the fat palms, the sounds of cows, the crickets in the night, the rushing of the nearby stream.

The place is located at thermal springs. So you get a room and it includes use of the warm pool, the turkish bath, a fire every night, and breakfast. It was the most expensive place we’ve done (some $75 a night for both) but worth it. So in the day you can hike around the hills on the dirt roads, through the green valleys filled with cows and willows, lunch on trout out of the nearby lake, and in the afternoon return to bathe, recover, have a fire and order supper. The ministering spirits there come to you, knock on your door holding a menu and wondering what you’d like to eat. It is paradise.

I took one book and did not even finish it. I had three fires on three subsequent nights and I was attending them. I watched the last one from start to finish for three hours. It is a good place for reading too, but that was not much done, though done enough.

I heard the wind in the pines on the slope, I saw the stars from a midnight courtyard, I walked among the scuttling crabs, I ate a whole, entire trout. I was in a bus full of peasants that smelled of sweat and onions, I saw the brown uplands where the altitude approaches 3km, and I found Williams extraordinary and rich in the intervals I attended him.

de Indias

It is a hot place. I am sure some sea strangeness is around it, but I saw little. Tourists and those who prey on them in turn I saw. Heat I felt and got tired at one point of always sweating. Then the wind on the balcony, and the sea wall made of coral, and the spray and scuttling crabs under the pink reflection of a sun we did not see setting. Enough! Tomorrow off to better regions, chillier.