Day 14

Wed May 5, 2010 (Miercolas)

Our last full day in Colombia.

We rose reasonably early and had breakfast at the hotel, as usual. Nena and Papito came to the hotel, and Marta went out with Nena to shop for some souvenirs to bring back home, while I gave Papito a short course in using his new laptop in our room. The language-barrier was pretty severe, but he’s sharp and grasped most of what he needed to know.

I think.

When Marta and Nena returned, we took lunch at a place I wish we’d known about before, and am glad we’ll know about next time, since it’s within easy walking distance of the hotel. They have an extensive menu, much wider than what we’ve tended to see here, and their ice-cream list is worth the whole price of lunch. Like many restaurants in Colombia, the dining area was outdoors, with only a roof to keep rain and direct sun off our heads. The rain finally let up, and the day turned hot, drier, and very pleasant. Especially with ice cream.

From there, it was off to the airport, far outside Cali, and our eventual farewells. It would have been much more painful, but for the knowledge that we’ll be back soon.

Our flight to Medellin…. I don’t think I’ve ever been more enchanted by a flight. I decided as we boarded that I would pretend I had never seen or heard of an airplane before, and try to see the whole flight with new eyes. We become so jaded to the everyday miracles of our technology.

The plane was a small commuter with props under a top-mounted wing. Simply watching the propellers spin up and hearing the angry hornet buzz through the curved walls was impressive in its own right. But when we reached the start of the runway and they released the full power of the elemental spirits driving the engines, I found myself awed, even frightened. They released the brakes for a moment, and the entire cabin shuddered with the eagerness of this beast to be off: this was no humble servant — it was an untamed, barely-contained primal force of nature desiring freedom of the skies.

The pilots received clearance, and as they released the brakes, I was pressed back in my seat by the force of the beast’s freed enthusiasm. Our speed doubled, and doubled again, and doubled yet again, and I was still held in my seat by the relentless acceleration. In the bigger planes, you lose the sense of perspective, so high above the ground. Here, we were close to the tarmac; I could viscerally feel our reckless speed. The wings caught wind, and suddenly we were grabbing altitude, the ground and the apartments and houses below rapidly shrinking to dots in the rich green of the Colombian fields.

The clouds were layered and magical, a gargantuan three-dimensional environment of incredible beauty. We passed through layer after layer of light clouds, some almost invisible veils of mist, some great puffy mounds of stark white cotton, some dark layers threatening rain and chaos that streaked the windows with moisture. The vista changed every moment as the dark earth vanished into mist below us. We fled north, and I sat on the eastern side of the plane and watched late afternoon sun illuminated this sky kingdom. We came to a great aerial lagoon — huge puffy clouds formed a ring that glowed like white mountain peaks, and a perfectly flat, still layer of transparent wisps created the still surface of a lake in the center of the circle. My eye kept insisting that the clouds I could see through the wisps were reflections of the white peaks above.

The plane banked, and we curved around a great puffy cloud, almost close enough to reach out and touch its surface; I could see the curls of cold steam at its edges that hung motionless in the still, humid air.

As we began our descent into Medellin only thirty minutes later, we drove straight through one of the great puffy mounds of cotton, and the plane shuddered as though it had struck something. Which it had: a layer of greater density, barely noticeable to our heavy earthen forms, but consequential to this beast of the air. It shuddered, steadied, and then we were through and the ground became visible again, startling deep green wrinkles lit by the setting sun and shadowed by the sky mountains that now hung above us.

We slipped between mountain peaks, made of earth and hard stone this time, and suddenly the ground fell away in a great, steep-sloped gorge that folded around us like a pair of cupped hands. The City of Eternal Spring spread out beneath us, its red tile roofs matching the red soil and contrasting with the deep green of its parks and pastures. We made a tight turn, then dropped swiftly to the short runway and touched ground again. The beast’s roar dimmed — it was content after its run. We taxied to the terminal, and the trip was over.

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