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31 May 1993


If you're well, I'm well — although puffing a bit from the altitude once I have to climb stairs; the trip after Miami was OK: a bit of turbulence that woke me up on the 1st leg out. Betty had booked us on that well-known airline, Zuliana: a small semi-public airline of the Venezuelan province of Zulia.​a We therefore flew to Maracaïbo where we should have gotten around sunset, but of course it was night: I saw what I think is the oil terminal on the horizon, a long jetty-like string of sodium vapour lights snaking off to nowhere from the town. We stayed onboard, to fly to Rio Negros airport (W. of Bogotá) and offload, then to Santa Fé de Bogotá arriving at 11:15 p.m.

The airport was typical third world, bad concrete, labor-intensive airport management, bizarre bureaucracy, crowds of agitated people clamoring for relatives (or fares, if they were cab drivers) at the exit from customs — painless — and seven-storey eucalyptuses in a tangle of traffic in the still, damp, coolish night air — We went straight to the Rozos' house (apartment) where I slept quite well.

This morning, I woke up around seven and discovered that my window/French door opened onto a balcony over­looking a range of even higher peaks about 3 miles to the east, with lots of brick and concrete city, averaging three storeys tall with occasional clumps of 35‑storey buildings, in the midground, and right below the window a 9‑lane highway divided by three midways into four sets of lanes, the outer two sets carrying about 50% buses — it was apparently the rush hour — run by a good 20 different companies, painted in mostly shades of green and some red with various logos, all jam-packed, and making very characteristic squeaks each time they stopped.

Breakfast was a hot salty broth of cilantro and milk (with crumbled biscuits called calao), quite good, that's changüa, and hot chocolate with tofu-like cheese in it slightly redolent of goat, which got glutinous but never really melted —

We went for a drive intended to orient me, which by and large it did; but also I needed a toothbrush, writing paper and stamps providing an excuse to see a bit of real life. With the peso at 740 = $1, I bought 8 granadillas, the brush, and a medium shampoo for 2400 pesos, things seem cheap to the dollar here —

The city is huge and sits for dozens of grey polluted miles in every direction in a flat basin totally surrounded by high mountains, parallel chains of the Andes that sort of make room for it. Much of it is 2‑1/2th world, decaying stucco, concrete buildings with heavy iron grillwork to close off the shop windows at closing time, massive potholes, disorderly traffic altho' good-natured and not reckless; hills everywhere, a good dozen eighteenth- or nineteenth-century churches, white with colored plasterwork or varicolored brick designs; a fabulously beautiful interior in the only one we went in, the Tercera (of the Third Order of St. Francis) which dates from 1780, I hope I can find pictures of the interior, huge massive ornate colonial woodwork reredoses running in almost black symmetrical pairs down the whitewashed nave —

Various large austere 17th or 18th century golden limestone buildings, quite beautiful, downtown: cathedral, Presidential palace, schools, monasteries — embedded in a maze of extremely lively streets full of small cars and throngs of pedestrians (like my mother, I feel tall and blond), salesmen hawking just about everything from carts or mats: tropical fruits, clothing, books (dozens and dozens of bookstores downtown, and my hosts certainly read too — I'm currently reading Fustel de Coulanges La ville antique in Spanish from their library, they have Molière and Goethe and lots of history). Tomorrow, I'll do the downtown on foot by myself even if they did seem a bit disappointed with me, but there'll be time for the museums and sights when we come back from Leticia.

Lunch at 1:30 was a glass of curuba juice, a granadilla, some odd tough meat in a delicious sauce, potatoes au gratin, avocados, salad and a pineapple purée cooked with sugar —

We're preparing to do more wandering, more rural, fabulous forests of eucalyptus trees​1, of 10 foot-tall shrubs like hypericum or potentilla, although apparently leguminaceae, called retamos, whitewashed monasteries over­looking precipices and reached by funiculars, donkeys and cows within 15 mn on foot from the city center (on the mountain side too steep for sprawl), etc.

Don't expect letters quite this long, for one thing I'm not too sure of postal rates for exceeding 1 sheet of paper, still I'll send cards and so on —

Greetings to Boo, Orange and Tom in that order. Hope you're feeling better [. . .]



Thayer's Note:

a Zuliana has since gone out of business.

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Page updated: 28 Aug 08