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p1 Sta. Fe de Bogota
June 16th, 1993

Dear Bunny,

This should be my last letter from Colombia, there might actually be one more from Florida! to wind up my accounts of my trip with whatever I might have omitted from here — but I'm on my way home now; these last days in Bogotá just have me waiting to be back in the States dealing with the lawyer and back in Chicago pretty much rarin' to go I think. "Heureux qui comme Ulysse a fait un beau voyage"

Monday for some unfathomable reason I slept almost all day; getting up for breakfast after a good night's sleep only to snooze for 4 hours before lunch — then a nap in the afternoon! Possibly the altitude on the heels of the ghastly tropical heat of the coast, which the atlas puts firmly in the semi-arid zone.


[image ALT: The cable car from Monserrate down to Bogotá (Colombia).]
Yesterday Tuesday we went to Monserrate, a church of pilgrimage/tourist attraction overlooking the city. We took a rather nice cable car both directions, moving from 2650 m to 3125 m in altitude at the platforms; with another 20 m up or so on foot, to a total altitude of say 10,500 feet, the highest I've ever been. My reaction, apparently a fairly typical one, was to gorge on sweets; the vendors are prepared, and I also had 2 different "palitos" — venomous drinks, shots that is, of aguardiente in which various herbs have steeped. I bought a bag for Debi Joyce and some Christmastree ornaments, then we all had a sort of breakfast of infusion of turbinado sugar with fresh cheese in it. The views are splendid; the church is p2a pleasant white-washed landmark built in 1915 with a negligible interior, although notable for coin-operated electric votive candles at the Fallen Christ behind altar. Almost every Colombian church has one, usually quite gruesomely realistic in its bruises, crurient wounds, gory matted hair (usually horsehair added to the painted plaster of the statue) —

Today we're preparing to go to Fusagasugá for the purpose of showing me some coffee plantations. I pointed out, yesterday afternoon in our visit to Aida's 81‑year‑old mother and partially crippled sister, that the coffee plant in the corner of their living-room was the first coffee plant I'd seen on my trip — Their house was small (2 bedrooms probably over a livingroom and a kitchen) but with a tiny patio in the back and a very beautiful patch of various roses and perennials in front about ten feet if that on a side — in a distant S. suburb called Villa del Río.

Back from "Fusa" around 5:00 p.m.

Well frankly I thought this would be a dull little excursion (a) and that (b) I'd come back sated with masses of coffee plants in orderly rows: neither.

We left after the usual milling around — I've learned to get ready, totally ready, then sit reading until people actually exit the front door — ignoring all kinds of statements like "we're leaving now" and "come on Bill we're in a hurry" — as various numbers of people move around the apartment hollering to each other, congregating in whatever room happens to have the most going on, which may be my bedroom, the kitchen, one of the bathrooms, or whatever. . .

Slightly upwards to get thru the ring of mountains around the capital, tops of dark green humps of rock almost p3always swathed in, or flirting with the lower fringes of, cumulus clouds, with occasionally startling chiaroscuro effects (a bank of opaque white mist with five sharply backlit eucalyptuses on top of it, more clouds immediately above that. . .); slightly down, then more serious descent, diagonally swooping vistas of forty kilometers of bright green rolling hills; Fusa, as they abbreviate it, is at about 1800 m and some 60 km from Bogotá, so we cross out of "la zona fría" into 'the temperate zone'. On the way, we made a pit stop at S. Raimundo, a strip of Colombian Stuckey's, to buy various kinds of sweets; apparently it started with one small step for plagiarism — a rest stop called 'La Vaca Que Rie', unrelated to the French cheese — to end in giant leaps of Latin enthusiasm, with 'The Cow that Dances', 'The Cow that Weeps' and 'The Arepa that Laughs' among others; where an arepa is a slightly tough, slightly glutinous cornmeal-based scone national to Colombia in umpteen variants — Among other items, I had a piece of cheesecake, not salty but no sweetness other than that of the rather goaty milk.

More harrowing descent (buses, trucks, sharp curves); the 3-lane road, unusual, actually being an improvement since formalizing the de facto third lane that a 2-lane road has as drivers coast down the central pair of solid yellow lines — Fusagasugá is maybe 50,000 souls spreading over a mountain-ringed basin, covering it with pale ochre brick and plaster, a tall, within, 2-towered church asymmetrically backed up against the heights with a large pleasant square in front, and horrible traffic jams dribbling downwards away from it: a description which will serve for quite a lot of midsize towns — Tunja for example. Fusa's motto, translated into Latin, would be 'Urbs in horto', so access upwards to the center is via large palm-bordered boulevards; painted white up the first eight feet of trunk —

p4 The church is of slight interest although for once I liked the modern interior; the market was fascinating, at least for someone who hasn't lived in these places in 28 years. All kinds of produce, all of it grown locally within say 20 km: annonas, apples, limes, pears, peppers, chamomile, avocados, yucca, 'Indies plums', coriander, pineapple, cacao, peaches, mangoes, mulberries, granadillas, strawberries, bananas. . . I myself saw on the way to Fusa an apple tree bearing fruit in the shade of a banana tree! Also in the market, rabbits, quail, pheasant, small brightly-colored parrots clearly for pets; pots, baskets, cooking utensils, very peculiar tubers used for a local stew,1 etc.

[image ALT: zzz]

A sugarcane press at the market in Fusagasugá

And then we drove back. Lunch at a roadside grill, good mix of meats, including cow's udder (firm sponge between two thin layers of cartilage, good flavor); small intestine of something, deepfried, pretty good; roasted yucca with hot sauce; and I drank sugarcane juice with a touch of lime, a little boy extracting it on the spot, shoving a large cane thru a press he turned with whatever limb wasn't tired —

More harrowing road, back up; pit stop at the combined house and office of an old doctor, once the President of Colombia's Pediatric Association, distinguished man who went back to work after a thrombosis that left his speech slow and slightly slurred a few years ago. Sharply rising farm built on retaining walls, 45° slope, up from the road — grand tour by his wife Margo, Lupe's friend; 200 orange trees, various small dependencies including overseer's house, cabin for a priest relative, flowers all over (dahlias, splendid roses, bougainvillea, and something they call 'camarones' = 'shrimp', waist-high roundish- undistinguished-looking leaves, vertical p5panicles? of orange-yellow pentagonal-section bell-shaped flowers or possibly bracts from texture and the occasional horizontal shoot of a pure white club-shaped flower or pistil — no scent — said to bloom constantly year round).

I was impressed just how pleasant the house was, tho' fairly small and of rather simple materials, tile floors, whitewashed walls both inside and out; most of it due to good arrangement and good lighting and lots of garden. A big surprise was to see a plant you and I recognize as a very common weed — not so much of gardens but of parking lots at the edges of woods — which, while recognized here too as a weed, is prized for its leaves, which are tossed into a local stew towards the end: 6 inches high, straggly, opposite cordate-to‑lanceolate leaves, minutely pilose slightly githaginous stem, small (3 mm. Ø) compositae-type flower borne on separate stem from leaf axils, 5 white petals trimucronate, the usual yellow center —

Another big surprise was to see a close relative of angelica or celery in semi-cultivation for its root that I first ate yesterday, called arracacha; which a dictionary first gives as an umbellifera called Peruvian carrot, then adding as an afterthought "or celery" which latter of course. Poisonous-tasting stems —

Oh and I did see a small stand of coffee. No big deal, not a nice one nor a wellkempt, but anyway I've now seen coffee on the hoof — this, not at Mrs. Doctor's, but by the roadside.

p6 And thus — bimeby — to bed. Dinner at home tonight, thus around 8:30, sacktime circa 2200h. I tend to provide the afterdinner drink; as I travelled around the country, there's been some odd stuff imbibed. I brought them a bottle of Southern Comfort (and various pecan confectioneries) and I'm pleased to see it wasn't the least odd. The other night, it was sabajón, which in Paipa means a rompope made with aguardiente (so it's just OK —). Tonight, I finally found some Colombian wine ("semisweet rosé"), will report on that in person —

Tomorrow lunch at family friends'; tomorrow dinner at others yet, the young girl Luz Piedad is a budding botanist of Adriana's age (about 24).

Friday night I take everyone out to place of their choice, said to be good, somewhat elegant; non-Colombian food. Everyone meaning Lupe and Fidel, Orlando 16, Adriana and LuzPi, Carolina 30 and boyfriend Mario, Betty and me, thank the good Lord for VISA.

Saturday at 0700 plane supposed to leave for Miami via reverse of circuitous route of arrival; dreading U.S. customs; supposed eventual arrival on connecting flight in Orlando around 7:00 pm, long day.

This is my last letter from Colombia, I expect; it's been a nice trip, but in my mind now I'm already back home [. . .]
Love,
Bill


Note in the letter:

1 one of these gnarled fat white coils with purple veins —

[image ALT: zzz]

Those "coils" can be seen here, in the bag on the left.
Otherwise: potatoes and tomatoes, beans? squash? and . . . ??


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Page updated: 5 Sep 14