Day 6

Mon Apr 26, 2010

I write this sitting on the veranda of Marta’s uncle Alonzo’s finca just outside the village of Viterbo. Veranda? Actually, it’s his living room.

The architecture of the house exposes just how tropical this environment is. Directly behind my back is a long concrete and plaster wall that runs along the center ridge line of the roof, shared by the three bedrooms and the common bath: each bedroom is like one of the separate rooms of an old cinderblock roadside motel, doors facing out. The room in which I sit occupies the other half of the house. The floor is elegant tile; a glass-topped dining table and several couches are arranged about this huge room; artwork hangs on the wall behind me between the bedroom doors.

The entire room is completely open to the outside.

I can grasp the idea of year-round warmth that precludes the need for artificial heat. I can almost get my head around the idea that there are no serious biting insects around (the bedrooms have screens, but mostly, I think, to keep out unwanted legions of fluttery, tickling critters that would disturb sleep). But what seems impossibly odd about the room is that there is no provision for wind.

I grew up in Wyoming, where a bowling ball on a strong chain is used to determine which way the wind is blowing. I remember the time in college when they couldn’t report the wind velocity in Boulder because all the weather equipment had blown away. At least twice a year, Fort Collins has winds that flatten privacy fences and sometimes rip shingles off roofs. Wind is like death and taxes: unpleasant and inevitable.

Here, my eye catches the overhang on the roof — about two feet. Right at the edge of the room, its back to the “window” under that two-foot overhang, is a couch with a soft velour upholstery that isn’t going to survive getting soaked, especially in the perpetual humidity — if it got wet in the rain, there would be little choice but to throw it out. Right next to the couch, under the same window, is a nice stereo system. All this is protected by a scant two feet of overhang.

I can do the math, but the answer seems wrong.

Everyone else has gone to bed. I think Alonzo is watching television in his bedroom — I hear a voice and music, faintly. But the principal sounds are crickets, frogs, and something that sounds like a pair of sticks being banged together (a different frog, I think). The dogs and chickens are asleep. I don’t know what other animals are about, but I’m sure they are asleep, too, or perhaps hunting. I heard someone say something about coyotes, but none are calling at the moment.

It’s very peaceful.

Our road trip today was mostly unremarkable. We rose for our final breakfast at the Recinto de Pensamiento, and had a delightful and lengthy conversation with Carlos, our waiter, and Fernando, the desk clerk who had checked us in on Friday night. Carlos is happy as a waiter, but he wants to learn English so he can interact better with foreign customers. Fernando speaks excellent English, after living in the US for three years. He liked the money he made in the US, but he simply could not stand to be so far from family.

Quite some time later, Javier, Papito, and Nena came for us. We got the luggage secured to the top of Nena’s car, dropped Javier off at the first taxi we found at the side of the road, and headed toward Cali.

We stopped for lunch in Chinchiná in the very heart of coffee country, the place that Papito says he wants to move. It’s unfair to judge a place on one viewing in the rain, but I simply didn’t much care for Chinchiná. Its climate is only slightly warmer than Manizales, and it has a burned-out feel to it. It didn’t help that I picked a bad lunch item: Marta’s chicken was delicious, but my beef was very tough and they gave me a slab large enough to use as a tire retread.

A little further along we came to Pereira, which Marta and I really liked. It’s a larger city, like Manizales (nothing like Medellin). But Manizales is built on top of a mountain peak, and the streets and traffic are pretty much totally insane. Pereira is in a valley, surrounded by lots of flat open space, ringed by distant mountains, so it has been able to build its roads differently. It also seems to be a very vibrant area with lots of varied industry. It didn’t hurt that we also caught our first clear weather and sunshine for the day. We stopped at an Éxito shopping center to get pillows and towels for ourselves (Hitchhiker’s Guide, you know) as well as some gifts for the staff at Alonzo’s finca.

The entrance to Viterbo from the main road is spectacular, a long side-road lined with cultivated trees that arch overhead to form a long, graceful tunnel. I will try to get photographs later: we will be here all week. We stopped in the town center to get coffee, pastries, and final directions to Alonzo’s farm. Those directions took us to a narrow, muddy, bumpy road that ran a few kilometers into the hills. Then we saw Alonzo at the gate, waving, and we were here.

We had one uncomfortable moment between Pereira and Viterbo: Nena got pulled over at a police stop and cited for Marta and Papito (in the back seat) not wearing their seat belts. Then the officer decided to let her off with a warning. I kept my mouth absolutely shut through the whole thing — no need to alert anyone to the presence of a stumble-tongued Gringo in the car. That loses you lots of points in negotiations: whether looking for good prices at a roadside fruit stand, or looking crestfallen enough to get out of a traffic ticket. It can also be dangerous — sometimes the police aren’t really police.

I do apologize for having no pictures recently. Technical problems. Pictures to resume as soon as possible.

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