Day 9

Fri Apr 30, 2010 (Viernes)

The last couple of days have passed fairly slowly, easily, and without much to say. In addition, I have no Internet connection here, so I’m working strictly off-line.

It is rainy season, so we’ve had mostly rain, and days have been cool. To my north-conditioned skin, it’s pleasantly cool — locals are wearing sweaters.

I had thought I would go into Viterbo on Wednesday, but Marta wanted to go by herself with Luz Elena, and then Nena went along; I would have been a complete annoyance. So I stayed here. Later in the day, we went to the next farm up, which is still on Alonzo’s property — he has quite a bit of land here — and met Roberto, his wife Gladys, and their daughter Elizabeth.

That’s where I got the coffee that pushed me over the edge. A typical way to serve it here is sweet, using panela. All sugar in Colombia is cane sugar; preparation involves cooking it, and that results in a skin of toasted (almost-burned) sugar at the bottom that they call panela, very dark with a molasses-like flavor. This coffee was prepared the traditional way, pouring the sweetened (hot) water through the grounds and then allowing the grounds to steep in the water. The result was a very complex set of flavors entirely unlike any coffee I’ve tasted before.

I also got an exposure to the endemic dangers of Colombia. Roberto took me on a tour of his farm, and at one point handed me a cutting of mint. On one of the mint leaves was a caterpillar. It bit me: two little vampire bites on my pinky.

I’m glad Papito is a physician with lots of years of local experience, because there are insects in Colombia with deadly bites, though the worst are to the north, around the swamps that surround Cartagena. He’s been giving it a look daily, and it’s healing well: a tiny bit of local inflammation, like a mosquito bite, and nothing more. As Alonzo said, that’s one of the troubles with the tropics — you have to know where you put your foot.

The experience has left me with a creepy-crawly feeling.

Papito had a low-blood pressure incident during that same visit; he got very dizzy and could not walk unassisted. That upset Marta. We need to have one of those very serious where-do-we-go-from-here family discussions, which was part of the idea of coming to visit. Right now, Papito is living with Nena, and it isn’t working very well for either of them. There’s still lots of time for that discussion before we leave, but it is growing shorter.

That night it really rained: hours of steady rainfall, still raining when we got up yesterday morning.

Yesterday we drove into Pereira to get party goods for Nena’s birthday party on Saturday, her birthday being another reason for coming down now.
Pereira is a large city, about an hour’s drive from Viterbo. We had passed through only the outskirts before, and we started out in the outskirts again at a big mall. The supermercados (supermarkets) in South America are a bit like a Sam’s Club, but with a consistent inventory: we could buy everything from computers to tires to potato chips to fresh lobster. We were able to get most of what we needed for the party.

For the remaining items we needed to go into the heart of town. I enjoyed that part more than Marta did. It’s very crowded and busy, and reminded me of 42nd and Broadway in New York City, though it felt safer. There are the stores all along the street, and street vendors everywhere, selling everything from chorizo to earrings. The sidewalks are packed with pedestrians, and since I was generally serving as Papito’s companion, letting him hold my arm for balance, we made a wide package. I started to learn to dance around him as we walked, though we weren’t there long enough for me to get very good at it. Still, I didn’t bump into too many people.

One basic rule here is that cars have the right-of-way, not pedestrians. If you are in the street itself, drivers expect you to dodge. Because of Papito, we were always extremely conservative when crossing the street, but with Nena driving we saw a lot of jaywalkers darting across in front of us. She simply expected them to be out of the way by the time she got to them.

We came straight home from Periera, and encountered the police again — they apparently set up speed traps all along that road, like the camera cops in Fort Collins — at the turn-off to Viterbo. This time everyone was wearing a seat belt, and they waved us through.

Alonzo’s parrots have picked up Marta’s laugh, and when they get started, it makes all of the rest of us laugh, too.

The morning dawned heavily overcast. It’s clearing a bit, and is still cool and pleasant. Ah — the sun just appeared.

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