Category Archives: Colombia

Nasty Monkey Hostal

Just for the record, I didn’t want to stay there.  I wanted to be in town where I had freedom to walk around day and evenings. Plus, I am always  sceptical of anyone who keeps wild pets and yet ignores starving domestic dogs and cats. I was there for one night because a new friend had made reservations.

The owner of Alto del Aguila,  known as the frier, keeps, according to the Lonely Planet, a few monkeys and a pair of mcaws that will “gather around you’ one would assume in a welcoming manner.

Having been there long enough to dump my stuff, I was standing in front of Claire’s cabana when suddenly the frier appeared. Simultaneously 3 squirrel monos were on me. “No.No.” I said. He trust a teaspoon of sugar at me. I took it because I was already in the game. When the sugar was gone two of the monos left, but one stayed. He was sort of hanging upside down on my midriff. “That’s enough now,” say I. The guy laughs. The mono’s ass in my face  was not any prettier than any other ass might be. I touched him, gently, but with a downward motion. “Go now,” I say.

Pissed that monkey off!  It turned and bit my wrist, came up toward my face which I was hiding, bit my upper arm, and put two small gouges on my chest. Maybe the owner got him off me, really I lost track of the sequence. The mono, now back under the eves of the building, the owner, muttering as he made a brushing motion down, “Defense. Defense, as he led me to the community room where he put something like iodine on the major bite.

The asumption was that It was my fault. I made the mono angry by brushing him off. I, a stupid tourist, didn’t know monkey lingo. Hell, I’m struggling with Spanish.

So later that evening a guest from Ireland,told me the macaw, that I called Lucas because he was under Cabana Lucas when I first saw him, that can’t fly, tried to bite her shoe, but when she put her hand down to stop it, it bit her finger. She clearly was ignorant in the macaw language.

When I woke up the following morning, Lucas was at my door. I made him a deal. “I have a mango. I’ll share it with you if you let me out.” I took a couple photos of him, then closed the door a little to move him back. I got a knife, cut the mango and gave him the meaty seed and skins because, although I am an ignorant tourist, I keep my word.

 

 

 

The slow boat to Iquitos. Rumors. Blah.

The rumors abound: watch your stuff every minute or you will be robbed, the mosquitos are voracious and will eat you alive, the food gross, the noise deafening. Ah.

The minute the cab dropped  me off at the port in Leticia, Alex, a young man offered to carry my heavy roll-along bag across the island to the boats. For about a dollar and a bottle of water, he not only carried the bag, he found me a boat. Along the short walk, he asked a thousand questions about the US. He was especially interested in Las Vegas. Young men used-back in the day- to be interested in Hollywood.

I was safely, for if you are to believe the rumors again, the boats are unsafe, the drivers reckless. Personally,  I believe people who make their lives on the sea are some of the must cautious, reverential folks on the planet. So, I arrived on the muddy bank of the Amazon in Peru. A short mototaxi to the customs office, and I was legal for the next 90 days.

Now I had several hours to kill before boarding the boat. Lunch with locals on a picnic table in front of a hardware store, carried there in styrofoam coolers by moto taxi. It was delicious chicken, beans, rice, and totally fresh salsa. She allowed me to pick out the piece of chicken I wanted!

After lunch I still had a few hours. I stopped at a restaurant that was obviously closed, but the owner saw me and welcomed me to come in. I told him I had a few hours, he offered me the hammock over looking the marsh and river. “Se puede descansar en la hamaca. ” I ordered a cold beer and took him up on the offer. I napped, feeling safe and content.

I stood on a steep bank looking at two boats. The Gran Diego and the Maria Fernandez.  Porters raced to and fro, up and down the steep hill laden with enormous burdens. These young men grow old fast.

I started downhill to the MF because it was the closest. My roll- on wanted to roll away, and my heavy backpack pushed me forward. A man, Manolo, came along beside me, took the former, and carried it to the top deck(actually next to top because the top was used by the crew). He then hung my hammock, shook my hand and went to his,  I assume.

Later that day, he came to visit me, but the minute he sat down on the bench at the end of my hammock and gave me a little wave, a woman traveling with her son sat beside him. She talked and talked. Finally he left. My chance of the Maria Fernandez becoming a love boat dashed before departure.

I still hadn’t bought a ticket. I asked a guy in a hammock where and when that happened. “Mas tarde.” Lol.

More people boarded. Finally, Rene, a Canadian/Italian man, hung his hammock next to m

The Gran Diego

The Gran Diego

Ruby con sansia

Ruby con sansia

My foot among hammocks

My foot among hammocks

Rene eating gruel

Rene eating gruel

Peruvian ferry across the river to Santa Rosa

Peruvian ferry across the river to Santa Rosa

View from hammock in Santa Rosa

View from hammock in Santa Rosa

The closed restaurant photo from hammock

The closed restaurant photo from hammock

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El Gran Diego

El Gran Diego

ine. We were the only passengers not from Colombia or Peru.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comida

The day I got here, Alberto, a man I met in Brasil last summer took me to the Pollo King, a local restaurant in the small town of Cajica, north of Bogota for what he said was traditional Colombian comida. While it was being prepared we drank cold Colombian beers. It was a good start.

In a short time, the waiter presented us with a large platter containing a whole, either boiled or steamed, pale, wan chicken, a color maybe indicating the chicken didn’t feel well before it was killed for we want our dead to appear robust, and a few yokes from undeveloped eggs which I’ve discovered are pretty common, but no head or feet, which I was thankful for.

The chicken was served with plantains and yucca, the latter pretty bland on its own, but this was covered with a sticky, savory sauce that made it delicious as gravy or sweet butter does to mashed potatoes. That night and the following morning at his finca, or farm, in the town of San Francisco, we had a variety of fresh fruit and rolls with delicious Colombian coffee.

The next afternoon I ate spinach empanadas at the restaurant inside a large supermarket. The following day for lunch I ordered a very flavorful bowl of soup. The meat I believed to be chicken turned out to be intestines, chewy and for me, difficult to swallow. Although I’m willing to try many things, and have, including well prepared insects,I cant bring myself to eat innards, coagulated blood floating in soup, the muscle behind the eye of any fish, pig snout, or chicken feet. So I’m a pussy.

At Angela’s lovely home we had a hearty and tasty version of tamales with rice and chicken steamed in banana leaves. The Colombian pizza I had a few nights ago had a layer of fresh tomatoes and capers under the cheese. It took me a minute to identify the capers. And, of course the piranha. Today for almuerzo or lunch, which is a set price for either fish, chicken, or beef, rice, cooked banana, a drink and soup, I ordered another fish. It was crispy and a bit too salty and dry for my taste.

Rice, manioc, plantain, and potatoes are the most common starches. Bananas are prepared in ways I never thought of. Yesterday I bought a banana that was split down the center, filled with cheese, and grilled. It cost 2 mil, or about $1.20. I ate a few bites, wasn’t impressed, pulled the cheese out and ate it. I offered the banana to a hungry bitch with swollen nipples that was foraging for food on the street, but she declined my offer.

Here at Entropika we cook our food so since Thomas is Belgian, Luisa Colombian, and me an Irish Mongrel, anything is possible. One of the geogology students at the park that I share the kitchen with ask me last week of I had eaten romalachas. After a couple of rounds of twenty questions, they produced a beet. ” Me gusta romalachas, mucho, I declared enthusiastically. So, inspired by the unrelenting heat, and to the delight of Tomas and Luisa I made cold beet borsht. When I go back to the park next week I’m taking the ingredients, and the students are going to help me make a big pot for everyone. My favorite part of traveling is the sharing of cultures, and what better sharing is there than food which comes from our hearts, our ancestors, our gardens, and gives of ourselves.

There are countless tropical fruits here that I’ve never seen before, much less tasted:Lolo or maybe lulu, Borojo de Monte, Quinilla, Anonilla, Mata Mata, surba, Acapu, Caimitillo…and more. I’ll keep you posted. Bon Appetite.

Don’t Pee In The Water.

The Amacayacu lodge or headquarters sets in the confluence of the rios Mata Mata and Amazon. I was sitting on the front dock of the Amazon when some workers from the Mocaqua community docked their boat. Before going back to his roofing job, one of the young guys, took off his shirt and did a back flip into the Amazon. “Ahh,” I though, “I can swim here.” When I mentioned it to Tomas, he suggested I swim in the Mata Mata, by the boat dock, where the people who work here dock. “It’s also somewhat cleaner than the Amazon,” he added. “Fine by me,” I think, so I packed my bathing suit.

When I got here I asked Alejandro, one of the student geologists interning here if he ever swam there.”Yes. almost every day I swim. It’s beautiful. The water is warm on the top, but down under it is cool and refreshing. But, Rubi, it’s very important you don’t pee in the water.” “Why?” I asked reasonably. “It’s not good for you because of the fishes.” Ummm. I understand my pee might be not good for the fishes, but why not good for me? I pondered this. The following day I was in the kitchen with Pedro, another one of the students. “Pedro, what will happen if I pee in the water?”
“He looked at me with startling blue eyes.”It’s very bad because of the little fishes that can enter your body through the place where you pee.” Yikes.

Again I pondered. The practical side of me thinks this is something a mother would say to her kids to keep them from polluting the river, then I considered the many strange critters that live here: the piranha, fluorescent bugs, plants, and fungi, exotic insects, pink dolphins, even trees that are protected by pointy cudgels that strangle interlopers. This rainforest is a scene painted by the Brothers Grimm. If the wolf can eat the grandmother and dress in her clothes, there’s a pretty good chance a fish can enter the peeing place.

I will probably swim, but not laugh hard while I’m in the process, or sneeze.

Where’s the Carne?

Yesterday I woke up at seven o’clock to make sure everything was ready for my first trip alone to the park. The boat departure was 10 am. This is not a big deal, just the first time I’ve gone alone. At 8:30 Tomas took me, my backpack, and sack of groceries on his motorbike to the dock to buy the boat ticket. A conversation ensued with him and the clerk about the return. Apparently the person who sells the return tickets wasn’t there; then she short-changed him 5000 pesos for the ticket he bought. We left. “I’ll buy the return ticket and email the info to you,” he said.

Next, We went shopping in the market so I could buy fresh fruit. Still, we arrived at the boat(at least we assumed it my boat) an hour early. We hung out for a while by the boat than he decided to leave. I waited, my eye on the seat I wanted. A guy came to stow the passenger’s assorted stuff: backpacks, suitcases, boxes, bags on top of the boat. A few minutes later we boarded. The clerk came to check off names. Mine was called twice. I felt so special.

Finally, we were underway. But, instead of heading in the direction of the park, we went across the river and docked by three small navy boats. I’m thinking, “He’s delivering mail.” The driver got out, conversed, took something out of his pocket handed it over, and then we turned around. “Ah. Now we’re underway,” I think. Alas, to my surprise he headed into the small tributary and back to the dock! “Que pasa!” I say out loud to myself, and apparently to the woman sitting next to me. “Carne,” She says with a smile. “Carne?” “Si, carne.” We regrese para carne?” I ask. “ Si.” She smiled again. When the boat was secured a couple of guys carried a huge, obviously heavy, cooler container to the boat. Carne. They hefted it onto the roof. The boat backed up. Finally. We were off.

The ride was smooth, cool and picturesque. I took pictures of houses and boats along the way. At one of the thatched hotels on the riverbank, a gringo family of three got out. The carne went with them.

We were almost to the park when suddenly the boat lurched, and stopped. The driver muttered. (I was sitting behind him, a mutter is the same in any language) He tried the motor several times. Nada. He ran to the back to the boat, and pulled on things. Came back. Nada. Finally, he returned to the motor, took its top off, and found the problem. Something had apparently gotten wound around something. Whatever it was, he came back and said, “Ahora”. Now. Sure enough we were on our way again.

One of the qualities I hope to acquire here is the indomitable patience the people have. I’ve noticed it all over Latin America. Maybe it’s the heat. Maybe it’s having been conquered by another country. Maybe it’s the Catholic dogma that one’s reward will be in heaven, so there’s no hurry to get there. What ever it is, in my opinion it’s healthier than expecting things to happen immediately. Life isn’t perfect, but most folks don’t anticipate instant gratification, exhibit road rage, stress and other byproducts of impatience and expectation.

Zancudo. Mosquito. Mosca

Each morning when I wake up here in the jungle, encased in netting that ostensibly has kept the mosquitoes outside during the night, I lie still and mentally do a body check. This doesn’t involve touching myself. That comes later when I’m applying the hydrocortisone cream. I’ve discovered if I am very still, I can sense the new bites before they itch, which, incidentally, doesn’t take long.

This morning it was my back. In spite of several applications of Deet poison on my clothes and my skin, each day, evening and before bed, I wake up with new welts. Some of them are very small; some are grande. Lying there, I ponder if one mosquito marched across my back, munching as it traversed the white skin, or were there several at different times, and each had made their own joyful discovery of the new untrammeled expanse? My friends here think probably the former.

Yesterday, I was lying down, reading before a nap, when I saw an offender trying unsuccessfully to find its way out of the enclosure. I smashed it. It’s body spewed bright red blood on the sheet covering a section as large as my ring fingernail. I understand that one example does not prove a theory, but it’s probably enough to apply for grant money for further studies.

When I crawled out of bed, and slipped into my shoes, I realized that my feet were itchy too. Ah, yes. Lumps and bumps scattered across the top of my arch and one under it. I’ve only been in the Amazon jungle a week, so I have not yet resigned myself to being under attack 24/7, but neither have I decided on my defense against the voracious bastards.

However, now I understand why the colonialists (who I used to hold in contempt) introduced new species to contain the spread of what they perceived to be undesirable or invasive in the new world. Of course it fucked up the balance of things, but, in this case, I’m thinking bats. Clearly there aren’t enough here. We need more. I read somewhere that in one night alone, a single bat can devour several times its weight in mosquitoes. That’s not enough. Not even close.

Remembering Robin

In 1979 I sold my suburban house in Oak Park, IL and moved with my children to San Francisco to do stand-up. Comedy was hot then. Tiny clubs sprouted up all over the city to accommodate the thirst for raw, unfettered routines performed by a steady stream of would-be comics from all over the country. Many of them became celebrities. One of our favorite hang-out spots was the Holy City Zoo on Clement Street in the Richmond district, known affectionately as The Zoo.

On any given night one could walk by and see comics hanging out on the street, waiting for their precious five minutes on the stage, or rehashing a set they had just finished. We were an eclectic crew, for the most part loners, who for whatever reason, had the need for an audience and the instant feedback-good or bad, they provide.

The year before I moved there, Robin Williams had landed the role of Mork, so he was already a celebrity. Landing any television part was the goal of every comic. Even though Robin had an apartment in Los Angeles for when he was filming, he lived in San Francisco. On frequent nights you would find him hanging out at the Zoo. The first time I saw him perform, it was as a member of an improve group, Papaya Juice. He and another bright, memorable comic, Gil Christner, were playing, in turn, classic authors: Chekov, Tolstoy, Hugo.. I was blown away. That they were so knowledgeable in voice and substance was remarkable. It was brilliant. I saw him with Papaya Juice many times, and for all his obvious talent, he was an equal member of the troop, never stealing the stage.

For several years, until it petered out during the mid 80s in San Francisco, comedy was my life. Comedians were an incestuous bunch. We stuck together; partying, having early morning breakfasts, sharing rides, material and gigs. We were an off-beat community in a town known for its eccentricities. Maybe Robin wasn’t my best friend, but for a few short years, he was part of my community and a friend.

Although the Robin I knew was fast becoming famous, it wasn’t obvious in his countenance. He was easy to talk to, interested in others, and generous. Boundless energy yes, but he was not always on. There were way worse offenders. Once when he left for LA, another comic drove him to the airport in Robin’s rental car. When she dropped him off, Robin suggested she keep the car for a few weeks if she needed to. No one would notice. Many of the San Francisco comics stayed in his LA apartment when they were working there. The key was easily accessible.

As I write, I’m in the Amazon rain forest in Colombia. No one speaks English. There are no roads, few televisions and computors. Still, a few nights ago, one of the staff at Amacayacu Parque where I’m teaching English, was looking at pictures of Robin on her computer. “Que lastima,” she lamented. What a pity. Indeed. “Que Lastima.”

I understand why the vile, hate mongering right-wing American radio vultures have been so rude and crude about the sad death of a brilliant, funny, truly good man. With their hearts filled to the brim with anger and intolerance, they can’t even come close to imagining such a person could exist. But he did, and the world will miss him.

The Teaching Schedule: Mas O Menos.

I arrived in Leticia two weeks ago. I had a nasty head cold for the first week, so I’ve just gotten to Amacayacu National Park. I start at seven tomorrow morning teaching Charlie and Luis, plus a other few other hombres from the Mocaqua community up the river a bit. Time here depends on weather, work, and a variety of other factors,  so nothing is very definite. It rains everyday. The director of the park says it shouldn’t be because it is the dry season. She agrees that global warming has caused the difference. The water level is rising, too. It will mean life changes for so many people.

Leticia is a frontier town in the Amazon bordering Peru and Brazil. There’s a strong army presence to keep the illegal drug and animal trade to a minimum. I laughed watching the beautiful golden retriever jumping around on the convayer belt sniffing our luggage when it was unloaded from the Lan flight. But I don’t think serious real traffickers  transport on commercial airlines. To me, the drug dealers are the scourge of the earth.

The motor cycle seems to be the preferred mode of transportation to get around town.  I cringe seeing small babies and children riding sans helmets, but that’s just me.Back in the day my kids didn’t have regulation car seats, or wouldn’t have had to wear helmets either.  I  have to remind myself to observe in perspective.

Leticia is bustling. It has an excellent bakery, and I ate my first piranna from a cart parked on a corner near the port. It was served with yucca and rice, and absolutely delicious. I haven’t seen any homeless here, and it seems that even the scrawniest of bent-over grandmothers wields a mean broom, and tends a bucket garden.

Folks are friendly and helpful. So far I have taught about 6 classes. I have two teenage students each morning, and several workers from the park  who come to the Entropika office each afternoon.

The park has wifi but i still can’t download photos. I’m going to have to do it at a cafe, if it’s to be done at all. What a mess. I tried to buy a usb port, but apparently Claro, the phone company has no more space in Leticia. How can there not be more virtual space to purchase? It’s vitural! It should be unlimited for gods sake.

Flying over the Amazon, I wasn’t prepared for the expanse of forest. First it was gray/green with  spotty clouds, but as the plane flew a bit lower, it became verdant and seemed to be impenetrable, although I realize it isn’t. I could see The Rio. I wanted to jump and tell the others on board, ” Hey look! that’s the Amazon River and the rain forest.!” But they already knew that.

When I saw the Rio Amazon, it took my breath away. Its wide and spacious, not held in by concrete or large buildings. As it should be, it’s edged with mud. In places it’s difficult to see the edges and gives the illusion it might be a lake. Moreover, at least on the small section I traveled, unlike the muddy, chocolate water of the Yangtze in China, the Amazon is blue! On the two hour trip here, I saw only a few small boats heading in the other direction. Scattered along every few miles, were small huts built on stilts perched on top of the bank, A few folks worked outside, and children waving to our fast boat from the muddy bank. Occasional wooden canoe type boats were tied to stakes driven into the top soil, with a line staked straight down to it on the river’s edge. It must be difficult to make even a minimal living, and to be so isolated. I can’t imagine where the kids go to school. The river will rise more than fifteen yards in the next few months.

At the park for a few months are several young students from SINCHI, a Eco-biological Research Institute.they count flora and fauna. I’ve seen some gorgeous birds, but no monos. . .   I’ll keep you posted. Such as it is, I have wifi until Sunday!!

 

 

 

Museo de Oro

I’ve visited countless museums, large and small, famous and obscure. I like immersing myself in the stuff of other cultures, other times, for a few hours. A few weeks ago I read two books about the Inca culture. I still have visions of Spanish Pizzaro and his men crazed beyond reason by the gold they saw. The desire for gold led men to lie, torture,  rape, and kill, frequently burning the indigenous people at the stake. This in the name of   a Christian god. God and gold. Greed. I’m pretty sure Jesus wouldn’t have approved.

The Museo de Oro in Bogota has more than 34,000 gold pieces. They cover all of the major pre-hispanic cultures in Colombia, and other parts of South America. Some say it is the finest collection anywhere. I was particularly fascinated by the  gold adornments worn by Inca royalty. To them gold symbolized the sun. Life. It caused their death. Here are pictures of my favorite pieces.

Everything’s gonna be alright.

Cathedral de Bolivar, Centro Bogota

Cathedral de Bolivar, Centro Bogota

It was an inauspicious beginning. I waited 12 hours to get a flight out of Charleston with the warning that the flight into Bogota was over booked too. So, I expected to sit in the Houston airport another 12 hours. Never give up hope. 11PM. I napped as seemingly hundreds of Colombians poured into the gate area. Finally, 11:40 I went up to the agent. “Any chance at all I’ll get on this flight?” “Si. No problem. That man will call your name in a few minutes” Woohoo!!

Soon, I was cozied into seat 3A. First class, room to sleep, a nice glass of red wine before take-off to help the process. When we were airborne I had another. The young, quite handsome, guy who spoke no English, next to me rolled over into the console between us  knocking the deep red zinfandel onto my beige jean jacket. “No problemo, I assured him. Esta solemento una jacketa.” Maybe I made sense. He got some paper towels  from the bano to help me clean up.

Protest photos on main ave in downtown. Mostly showing photos of the homeless

Protest photos on main ave in downtown. Mostly showing photos of the homeless

A few minutes later as I was filling out the tourist form, big drops of black ink dotted the form. I blotted them with my napkin and kept on. Later, the customs agent would peer at them  skeptically. “Ink, I said. Disculpe.” She waved me on.

In Bogota I went into the airport bathroom to freshen up, and found that my makeup Revlon (natural beige)  had spilled. Omg.  Such a sticky  substance.

At 9:30 am, Two hours later (24 hrs after I left Charleston) I was sleeping on a couch at La Pinta Hostel when Albero showed up. I had told him to wait until I called him, that I hadn’t had any sleep. He didn’t listen. He told the clerk at the hostel that he was taking me and would bring me back tomorrow. She smiled. I was whisked away.

Verduras & fruitas

Verduras & fruitas

 

Alberto's finca en San Francisco, Colombia

Alberto’s finca en San Francisco, Colombia

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On the way to the Catherdral de Sal, he stopped at a house in Bogota. “It is my house, but I give it to my ex-wife because she give me children.” “Fair enough, I think.” He introduces us. Claire I think, but find out later it’s Clara. I like her. She gets into the car. 

Clara y Ruby

Clara y Ruby

 

 

The three of us sped off. For the the next 24 hours we tour the catherdral, have dinner, and spend the night at his lovely finca in the country.  In my honor Alberto plays John Phillip Souza marches and a compilation of classic country music.

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