Thu May 6, 2010
We spent last night in a hotel near Adriana’s apartment, after meeting her fiance, David. It was actually more of a long-term apartment, complete with refrigerator and small kitchen. You could live there quite comfortably, though you’d need something less than the nightly hotel rate (about $80). Traffic noise was horrendous this morning, however.
Our taxi drive out of Medellin and back to the new airport outside of town was again delightful chaos. Our driver is a “regular” that Adriana and her family request when he’s available. The street we took was nearly as steep as the streets in San Francisco, but it kept going up and going up (and going up). We climbed nearly 3000 feet from the hotel to the crest of the road. So my original statement that Medellin is at 7000 feet was not entirely incorrect.
One of the worst things about visiting new relatives in Colombia is farts.
Colombian food is very different from US food in a number of ways. There are staple items like yuca (manioc) and plantain, neither of which is typically eaten in the US at all. There are fruits served with every meal that the US palate finds exotic, like pineapple, or completely foreign, like the one I call snot-fruit (call it fruta de mocos, and any Colombian will know exactly which one you mean, especially if you also comment that it is delicious). Maize (corn) replaces wheat. But the hardest difference to accommodate, unless you are from the deep south of the US, is that nearly everything is fried or deep-fried.
The unaccustomed gut reacts to this assault of strangeness with gas. Lots of gas. Volumes of gas. So you excuse yourself and ask “Donde está el baño?” and you discover that it is two steps from where everyone is talking, behind a thin interior door. You close the door, and you can still hear the conversation clearly. As you relieve the pressure, the door rattles in its frame. A bottle falls into the sink and rolls around. Outside, you become aware of conversation resuming — you had not noticed it had stopped, concerned as you were with other matters.
This makes it difficult to truly relax.
While I am discussing matters scatological, I have to make a comment about Colombian public restrooms. First, they are invariably very clean, especially compared to US public restrooms. Colombian men can apparently aim. Second, they are weird.
The first public baño I went into turned out to be typical for malls, airports, and the like: a normal flushing toilet bowl, but minus the seat. Since I needed to sit, I dithered for a while, trying to decide how to handle it, but finally decided to perch on the edge. Fortunately, they keep the water levels low, or it could have been … chilly.
Later, Papito and I both commented on a baño in Chinchiná. There is a rectangular style of urinal with an opening about six inches by five inches. It’s made of heavy ceramic, just like an ordinary toilet, or (say) a flowerpot. I will have to ask Marta if there is a Colombian expression of “watering the flowers.” These don’t flush: instead, they have a simple spigot that turns on the water, like a sink, and you need to turn it on and off to rinse the bowl after use. This particular baño had two, and both were set rather high on the wall. It worked fine for me, but it occurred to me that I’m very tall compared to most Colombians. Gigantic, even. When I finished, Papito and I looked at each other, and both of us pantomimed standing on tip-toe. A puzzle.
The third was the strangest. I stepped into the baño, and found myself in a tiny tiled room, scarcely big enough to be called a closet. The only light was what came in from above the saloon-style swinging door, but there were no fixtures of any sort. I stepped out and looked at the sign — it was certainly marked “Baño.” I went back in and noticed a faucet knob on one wall, just like for the little flower pots, but with no flower pot. A thin plastic hose hung from the spigot. I looked down and saw that a raised divider ran across the floor, creating a small trench next to the wall with the spigot. Sure enough, in the shadows of the trench I could see a drain. Rinse the wall when you’re done.
I’ve been told on returning that the secret pocket of the carille is not to contain a picture of your girlfriend — it is to contain a picture of your mistress, as well as any love-letters she has written you. And the matches are actually supposed to be a fire striker (flint and steel). We’re still working on the last two items.
I also have a lot of reflections on fear and security. But I think those will require a full essay.
As a final note, I need to say that this blog is entirely my own work; Marta has provided no editorial services. In fact, she never even had time to read the blog while we were in Colombia. Otherwise, I would not have misspelled Chipechape. Nor would I have given such a confused and apparently incorrect description of how panela is made. I take personal responsibility for errors, and for all humor, good or bad.