A few random thoughts

Back in Bogota today, walking back and forth down Carrera 15, a major street lined with banks, other shopping and fast-food places I must wonder about the sidewalks of Bogota. We walked this morning, too, up another major street past lovely apartment buildings, up-scale restaurants and shops. But, you can only barely look up when you are walking because the sidewalks are totally unreliable. I admit that San Francisco can go overboard with the sidewalk regulations, why just 2 years ago I was forced to replace nearly my entire sidewalk because the city decided that the cracks were more than 1/4″ high in some spots.
Here, it seems that every building gets to decide what kind of sidewalk it will have – brick, marble, cement paving block of different sizes and shapes- and what height it will be from the curb. As you walk along, you have to be on the alert for sudden changes of sidewalk height as the driveway for one building is 5″ or more higher than the sidewalk it just crossed over.
And then there’s the missing metal plates that should be covering all sorts of things, but aren’t there. Walk along and keep looking down or you could easily break your leg falling into a deep, narrow slot in the sidewalk. What’s the deal here? How do the young women I see wearing ridiculously high stilleto heels with platforms soles negotiate all this and stay upright?
No one seems to monitor the sidewalks and I say it is a dangerous situation. So there!
When we were staying in La Candelaria, the oldest part of Bogota, I understood that the streets and sidewalks were narrow and that was a big part of it’s charm. It’s a crowded neighborhood, with old people, students and tourists sharing the streets.
Up here in the northern end of Bogota, the people look different. Nearly everyone is well-dressed, heading purposefully off to work,or so it seems. But at lunch time, Parque 93 was packed with mostly young people sitting on the grass laughing and eating their picnic lunches. They seemed to be working people from the offices in the area, not so much students as in La Candeleria. Everyone looked happy and relaxed. Candeleria could use a bit of a park, there’s no green there!
Our hotel, B3Virrey is very nice, with a hot water system that stays exactly at the temperature you set it to. I had forgotten how nice that is! But the shower head here, and in the hotel in Cartagena and in the Hacienda all are this ” rainforest” type thing, where the water just drips down, no focus. I have realized that I don’t like this shower head style, and I will not be tempted to remodel my bathroom to fit one in. Just so you know.
Grumpy this evening, I’d say yes! We just had “TEx-Mex” at a neighborhood place, OK, it will keep me from being hungry for some time I expect. But the waiters were all in costumes, like children – or some weird grown-up’s idea of children. Our waitress had blue plastic curlers in her hair and white knee socks, the other guy was wearing a plaid cap with earflaps turned down. I really didn’t get the costume thing. Just odd.
Signing off,

Published in: on February 8, 2013 at 2:23 am  Comments (1)  

Cartagena and back to Bogota

The plane landed in Cartagena in the dark, but as soon as I had my turn to walk down the open stairs from the airplane to the ground, the difference from Medellin was tactile.
Cartagena is the tropics, warm humid soft air was the medium everyone swims in there. We picked up our bags and found a taxi, and headed into town. Cartagena is actually a rather large city, but the “Cartagena” that we all think of is really very small. The airport is incredibly close to the old city and so our ride was short but memorable. Within a few minutes we were driving along the Caribbean with the 400 yr old grey stone walls of the old city on our left. Many buildings, especially hotels and public buildings, are illuminated at night and the effect is, to be less than original, magical. The city has managed to hold onto it’s colonial history, from the late 16th century until the 18th century, in it’s architure. Between the slave trade, gold,missionaries and the military, Cartagena has played a role in the development of the Western Hemisphere.
Now, Cartagena is a major shipping port as well as a cruise ship port. Tourism is a huge industry there and the quality and quantity of it’s hotels seems very high. We stayed at the Alfiz Boutique Hotel, on Archbishop’s Street, which was lovely in many ways. The building’s history seems to start at around 1700 as a private home. Now it contains, I think, 10 rooms, a really small 2nd floor pool, a breakfast patio and several interior rooms for guests use. Our room was on the 2nd floor and had a downstairs space with the “facilities” including a shower open to the room and a sitting area furnished with Spanish colonial style chairs and art.The bed was on a very modern loft, with suspended planks of wood as steps and a metal cable railing on the upper portion. It was beautifully designed, but just a bit daunting for us older folks who visit the “facilities” during the night! We smiled and said , “Lovely”. The air-condioning worked like mad and the downstairs space was always freezing in order to keep the upstairs cool.
Air-conditioning is life, for me, in Cartagena. The place is gorgeous, the people who live there are a vibrant mix of all the races on this planet and the weather is just awful. As the taxi driver who took us to the airport said, it’s “Caliente, recaliente, or caliente como el infierno”. Now, people do live here, and some don’t have a/c because they can’t afford it. As we walked around, especially in the neighborhood just east of the main historic area, we saw lots of people sitting in their windows, perhaps waiting for a breeze off the water? Ceiling fans surely help, but the humidity combined with the heat was just devasting for me. Bill, having lived in Washington D.C for 30 years was more accustomed to the climate. Still, we both are also dealing with the stomach bug that we picked up, although it is much less distracting than it was last week.
So, off we went to explore the city after breakfast. We headed first for the main “gate” to the city, a huge archway in the city wall. Then we tried to follow some shade around as we explored some of the historic sites, churches and museums. We ended up having lunch on the roof terrace of a really lovely, really high-end hotel, the Charleston Cartagena, built around an old convent. The dining terrace was covered but open to the breeze from the sea and looked at the hotel pool and beyond to the top of another church a block or so away. We only had sandwiches and cold drinks, but the service and food were excellent and it was such a respite from the heat out in the sun.
We wandered a bit more and then decided to head back to the hotel for a nap in the hottest part of the afternoon. The hotel desk was able to make a reservation for us at La Vitrola, a well known Cuban restaurant with live music,at 8, so we oollapsed for a bit.
When the sun was down, around 7, we left our room and went to walk up on the city wall, for the breeze and for the views.We decided to stop for a beer at the only place that is actually up on the wall and enjoyed the feeling of the air and the sight of lights on so many buildings in both old Cartagena and acoss the bay at the dozens of new hotels along the shore.
La Vitrola is a beautiful place, very evocative of what Havana must have been like in the 1950’s. The floor is old tile, photos on the walls along with artifacts of music and history. The small area for the musicians was packed with the 6 performers who played instruments and sang.
The food was quite good, not fantastic. But we enjoyed ourselves a lot. At one point, a white haired man from the next dining room area approached the musicians and apparently requested a song. I looked at him and thought that he was familiar, but I wasn’t sure. Later, he came into our area, near the bar, and seemed to try to chat up a young-ish woman who was momentarily alone, while her companion was in the rest room.She said no several times!
On the walk home, all of 10 minutes including checking out the Plaza Bolivar park again, I remembered who the man looked like. Jamie Dimon, of JPMorganChase, the Wall Street guy who initially looked so good during the crash of 2009. I googled him and yes that was him, at a large table with a bunch of other old white guys. I read that he had given a speech Monday in Miami, and it’s so close…. So, my friends, I frequent the same watering hole as one of the “big guys” from Wall Street! How very odd the world is.
Wed. morning we decided to explore the eastern end of the historic area, walking through streets of houses with second story balconies, some lovely antique shops, small cafes, a park and lots of small carts selling everything from fresh fruit to coffee to arepas and of course, the gum and candy and other junk that is everywhere. Narrow sidewalks,not much car traffic, very very hot.
After a couple of hours we needed to go back to the cool. I was really feeling awful, my stomach was cramping and I just wanted out of the heat. Bill agreed with me, and we called Avianca and got ourselved on a flight 3 hours earlier than our original.
That change got us into Bogota, and to our hotel(in the northern, upscale part of town this time, just to see the difference) in time for a fashionably late dinner in a really terrific Italian place 10 min from the hotel.
Today is our designated relax, nap and prepare for a sleepless night as we leave the hotel at around 10pm for our 1:20am flight to Miami. We walked around and found the well known Parque 93, had some lunch and just missed a major downpour! I’m writing this in the lobby of our hotel, clearly a good place for business people to stay and to meet. Not a real tourist hotel, but fine for our needs. I’m heading back upstairs for a nap, I hope. The plan is for dinner later, and maybe a shower before we leave for the airport.
This has been a wonderful experience and I’m excited to be almost home! Lots to do back in SF and Ben arrives for a week on Saturday,too!

Published in: on February 7, 2013 at 9:22 pm  Comments (2)  

Sunday, more rest than expected

After a leisurely breakfast we got into one of Medellin’s tiny yellow taxis and paid a visit to the Medellin Museum of Modern Art. I must say that I fell in love with this place right away. It is an old factory of some sort, with the facade intact, as well as some concrete pillars in the interior. It has the expected gift shop and a really terrific restaurant. The neighborhood is a bit like parts of the Bayview in San Francisco- old industrial buildings, weedy lots, not many residences. But, since the development of the Museum, a new hotel is across the street, apartments are next-door and more are planned for the next empty block. But, lots of factories remain, and I hope that uses are found for them so that they are not torn down. As it is now, the atmosphere around the new Museum is of urban pioneering in a really positive way ( or so it seems to me, I’m not a local. But, the waiter at lunch was very positive, too, so I can’t be so off-base!)
In the museum, there was one large show of work by Luis Caballero (Holguin, also his last name, but he used mostly Caballero) who I had first noticed the day before at the Museum of Antioquia. This man, who died very young(52) was one of the most amazing draftsmen I’ve ever seen. Although he called himself a painter, not a “drawer”, by and large I see his work as based on line. His paintings, some of them, use color very well, but in many, color is not the point.
He portrayed the male body in what appears to be pain, despair, unease, but never shows the faces of his figures. His pain is existential, the universal human condition and he chose men to reveal the complexity of the beauty of the human form and the despair of the human being.
While he had been married at one time, he clearly is homosexual and his erotically charged work illumintes his orientation. And yet, there is nothing verging on porn, his figures are all too much in despair to allow one to relate to them erotically alone. They are very complex and very very beautiful. As a straight woman, I felt totally engaged with the work, enough even to order a book about him on Amazon last night!
Lunch was at the terrific restaurant Bonuar, attached to the Museum. We sat outside watching the dark clouds and listening to thunder. Our waiter was a fellow who had only recently returned to Medellin after 16 years in Spain, and he loves his home city! Most people who we have talked with, with whom we can talk anyway, seem proud of Medellin’s progressive politics. The waiter was no exception.
After lunch, with rain starting, we flagged down a taxi and headed back to our hotel. It poured most of the afternoon, but it was all right. We read and napped and eventually watched the SuperBowl, bummer that it was.
Today, Monday, we went downtown again and checked out the Carabobo pedestrian street, described by the Michellin guide and being the home of small cafes, bookstores, galleries and a generally sophisticated place. Not what we found!While it is less hectic than Jumin St. it is still a place for small shops selling what they all sell- electronics, eyeglasses, shoes, etc.
At the south end of the street however, is Cisneros Park with it’s forest of bamboo looking but actually concrete tall, thin spikes ( lit at night) and several areas of actual bamboo providing shady spots for benches. At one side is a new-looking public library with a water feature that resembles a moat, with a bridge! It is gorgeous!
We followed the street north to it’s end at Botero Plaza and then found a taxi to take us further north to another art-related spot I learned about in the Michelin guide. After the morning’s disappointment, I was skeptical but we decided to go ahead because it was in a neighborhood that we hadn’t seen yet, Prado.
Tres Patios is a small non-profit arts org. that sponsors several artist’s residencies and holds exhibits in their small building on a lovely residential street. We found it after one mistake on the street ( Calle 50A, not 50) and walked in and around. I found a nice guy, who teaches sculpture at the University of Antiquia and with Bill’s help, discussed the origins and the funding of the place. As with most struggling small arts org.s in the US, they are scrambling for money locally and internationally. I’d love to make some sort of connection with them when I get home. They recommended a small cafe on the next block for lunch and we followed their suggestion. It was a “Plate of the Day” place and very sweet. We grabbed a waiting taxi and headed back south to Poblado, our neighborhood that we had not explored. We were dropped off at Parque Poblado and walked up to Parque Illeras, the center of the “hood, full of bars and cafes and probably very lively and loud at night. Not really our scene, but we had iced coffee at a Juan Valdez, read a bit and headed back to the hotel to wait a bit for the taxi to the airport.
If I ran the world, Medellin would be an outstanding example of progressive city planning that so many other cities could learn from. In fact, I may start a campaign to make Medellin a sister city of San Francisco! Who’s on board with me?
Off to Cartagena…

Published in: on February 4, 2013 at 10:32 pm  Comments (1)  

Medellin in the rain

On Friday, Noah told us that there is a monthly artisan market at the Parque Bolivar on the first Saturday of the month. I knew that I’d like to go and check it out. At breakfast on the roof level of our hotel, where the open deck area is covered by a series of canvas sails, the light drizzle had ended, but the sky was still very threatening.
With an umbrella in the backpack, we hailed a taxi at the hotel and barreled down the streets of Medellin to the downtown area.
The park was full of small booths selling everything from clearly handmade items to equally clearly mass produced schlock. I took a deep breath and headed in, with Bill right behind, prepared to translate when necessary. I gotta say, bringing a translator was a great idea, and he doesn’t judge my choices, either!
We were checking out various booths, I liked one that sold objects made from molas, the cut and sewn fabric panels from the north-west of Colombia and Panama. He took them and used sections to adorn leather wallets, or fabric bags and purses of various kinds. I looked, but didn’t buy. The rain started, first really light, then steadier and we decided to take shelter in the Metropolitain Cathedral, at the north end of the plaza. It is and enormous red brick structure, taking up most of the block. There was a service going on , so we sat quietly for a while in a pew in the back of the church while the priest was delivering his sermon. Bill wasn’t able to understand very much of what he was saying due to the echo factor in the cavernous space. Even though it was Saturday, not Sunday, the church had a significant number of attendees. Colombia is a very Catholic country.
We returned to the fair when the rain let up, and I ended up buying a few items, some gifts, some for me. Nothing really exciting, I must admit. Unlike, say, Guatemala, craft here is not so unique. I’ve not found, really, anything that I just “have to have”. But, that’s OK, I have plenty.
We found our way back to Plaza Botero, with 23 of his huge bronze sculptures and then to the cafe of the Museum of Antioquia for lunch.
Our timing was so perfect that, just as we were ready to go and get our tickets for the museum, it started raining hard and we got good and wet in just the short distances between the cafe, ticket booth and museum entrance!
The Museum of Antioquia( the region of Colombia which includes Medellin) is housed in an Art Deco former City Hall which contains several murals by a local artist, Pedro Nel Gomez.
The highlight of the museum is a large collection of works by native son Fernando Botero.It takes up the whole 3rd floor of the building and includes sculpure, drawings, pastels and paintings. One of my favorite sculptures is a “Still Life” a casting in a pure white resin of a grouping of objects, just like what one would assemble as a subject for a painting. By making them all white, they are changed from their origins into a very different object entirely.
On a lower floor, in an exhibit of 20th century Colombian art, I noticed some very powerful paintings, more drawings almost, by an artist called Luis Caballero Holguin, I noted his name in my little notebook along with an American woman named Ethel Gilmour whose small paintings and sculpture filled one corner.
When we left the museum, just before 5, we found a taxi and asked the driver to take us to Calle 57 #42-70, the location where Dr. Hector Abad Gomez was shot to death.
The taxi driver was having a really hard time figuring out where the address was, and this in a city in which most of the streets are on a grid. Eventually, with some coaching from Bill, we found the spot. I had expected some recognition of what had happened there,a small plaque or a monument, but nothing. It is the office of the association of instructors of Antioqua, a teachers union of sorts, of which Abad was a member. Earlier in the day of his assassination, his good friend and head of the Association, Luis Fernando Velez was murdered in the same place. It was his muder that led Abad to go to the spot, ostensibly to see the body, but when he arrived, the body of his friend was gone to the morgue, and the assassins arrived by motorcycle just as Abad walked up the steps.
Seeing the place made the story more real for me, and more sad. But we continued on in the taxi toward our hotel.
The driver had behaved oddly and if I had been alone, I would have left the taxi quickly and found another. But Bill said,”No, he’s doing all right, give him a chance”. He had realized that the driver was illiterate and was struggling mightly to find his way around. He had only been a taxi driver for a month, before that he was a truck driver. After he dropped us off, we both wondered how long he would survive here as a taxi driver given his handicap.
We collapsed for a brief rest, then changed our clothes and walked only 2 blocks to one of the best restaurants I’ve eaten at in a long time.
Restorante Carmen, recommended by our Friday walking tour guide Noah, and by Connie Rubiano, in Medellin in late Dec. would be perfectly at home in San Francisco. The interior is gorgeous, with 2 levels connected by a steel staircase and a glass enclosed patio on the lower level. We were seated, first in the restaurant at 7pm, downstairs near the open kitchen. I got to watch as the cooks finished prep work and then started in our our dinner. We loved it!
The rain had let up for us to walk back home, and we fell into bed, tired and satisfied as only a wonderful dinner feels!

Published in: on February 3, 2013 at 8:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Feeling pretty good, after a good night’s sleep, Bill and I met our tour guide, Noah, in our hotel lobby. He and his wife moved to Medellin 3 years ago and started a tour business and a bed and breakfast in a house that had belonged to his wife’s grandparents. He’s a Dallas native, but you’d never know by his accent!
We walked down hill towards the Metro station while Noah told us about our neigborhood, Poblado, and about some of the places we were going to see today. The Medellin Metro is a local star, although at 18 years old it’s not a new star. Noah pointed out in several places the change in communities and in people’s lives brought about because of the new mass transit system.
Medellin is a long city, following a river valley. Over time, the city has spread up the steep mountains on either side of the river. The communities. ,mostly poor, many illegal, that sprang up, higher and higher up the extremely steep hills, became over time, less and less safe. For the police to get to the scene of a crime could take an hour or more. Patrolling “up there” was not safe, even for the police. Drug gangs and other criminals took over. For the residents to get down the hills to where jobs were could take several hours on small buses that ply the narrow switch-back streets.For many, crime was the only way to bring income into a household.
The Metro and most importantly, the Metro Cable system, gave at least some of the residents of the slums on the hills a chance to get down and into possible places for work in just a few minutes, connecting with the main Metro line.
We took the Metro and then the Metro Cable up a mountain to the south to see the Spanish Library, donated some 12 years ago to the people of Medellin.The Library buildings look like huge black odd geometric shapes that can be spotted from much of the city. Up close, they are 3 irregular rectangles with plazas between them that house an actual library of books, a computer room, a pre-school, an auditorium for public meetings and other public spaces. Around the library, and indeed around each of the Metro Cable landings, new public open spaces have grown. The city of Medellin must be one of the most progressive cities in the world. They constructed this cable car system, and along with it re-created some of the poorest,least accessible urban areas I’ve seen, into places where residents have some options for taking better control of their lives. New small business sprang up all along the way from the Cable stop to the library- cafes, electronics, fruit and vegetable stands, providing work for people and bringing new life way up in the hills.Basketball/soccer courts and skateboard “dishes” give kids a place to play and get some exercise(of course, walking up and down constantly is exercise, too , believe me!)
On the way up, as the cable car swung into each station, I thought about Hector Abad Gomez, a doctor, public health advocate and human rights activist who worked all of his professional life to bring health to the poor of his country. As a physician, Abad Gomez soon realized that much of what he was learning to “cure” was caused by poor sanitation, lack of clean water and lack of decent food for millions of children in Colombia. He also recognized that violence was a health issue and tried to examine the violent criminal in order to understand the underlying reasons for the behavior, much as a doctor searches for the underlying causes for a skin condition or a stomach virus.
He was assassinated in Medellin in 1987 when his outspoken support of human rights was threatening to the right-wing government. I just read, and re-read “Oblivion” by his son, Hector Abad Faciolince and I heartily recommend it. It is a heart-breaking memoir about being the son of a great man, who was also a great father.
This is my current obsession. I want to go to where he lived, and to where he died. The more I read about Hector Abad, the father, the more sad and angry I become. I want to see the places in the book,which is responsible in part for this trip. I was thinking about going to Colombia and told my friend Lita. She said that this book, “Oblivion” was on the list for her book club and that I might like it. I found it available for my NOOK reader and immediately downloaded it. Reading it became an obsession as I alternately laughed and cried at the descriptions of the Abad family,and the sad loss of such a great man.
So,tomorrow may be the day to call a taxi and start out to find the Abad sites.
Our tour also covered the downtown area of Medellin,where we plan to return tomorrow to check out the weekly arts fair on the plaza in front of the cathedral. We had lunch with Noah at a tiny, upstairs lunch only restaurant called a “plato de dia”, or plate of the day restaurant. The meal started with a bowl of soup, then a plate with salad, rice and a tiny bit of a kind of banana nut bread. Oh and some lovely passionfruit juice and then a nice little dessert cup. The place has maybe 8 tables and even a one-person spot up at the top of the stairs, just beyond the landing for the restaurant. The kitchen was perhaps 10 ft by 3 ft, but they turned out plate lunches that were excellent food ( I had a fried fillet of some white fish that was among the top fried fishes I’ve eaten ) The very gay waiter added to the feeling that this place is special, that and the fact that there was no sign downstairs to indicate a restaurant, nor any name that I could find. And each lunch was 7,000 COP, or about $3.50. And no rush to leave, you need to ask for the check. Lovely experience.
We walked around through the traffic of downtown for another hour, until our unhappy guts told us that we needed to return to a familiar bathroom and a place to lie down. Noah got us a taxi and we headed back to our hotel. Little by little the stomach upset is getting better, if only I could stop eating altogether….

Published in: on February 2, 2013 at 4:09 am  Leave a Comment  

Back to the keyboard

From my hotel room in Medellin, just after sunset, the city is twinkling with lights. We left our hacienda/hotel near Armenia this morning and took two short flights and arrived here around 3 this afternoon. Leaving the lush countryside was a two sided sort of thing.
On the plus side, the Zona Cafetera is absolutely gorgeously green with a variety of plants, both naturally growing and cultivated that is mind-boggling. Yesterday we hired the same driver who the hotel had called the day before to take us to the near-by town of Calarca where we wanted to see the Botanical Garden and Mariposarium( Butterfly enclosure),and then into town for a late lunch and some shopping for necessities ( mosquito repellant, anti-itch cream).
The guy, Carlos,was really nice and accomodating so we asked him to drive us to Salento and then to the Cocorro Vally to see the tall wax palms. The drive to Salento, up in the hills, small town become back-packer heaven and craft shop overload, was lovely, even in the back seat of a tiny Renault with no trunk.
We spent about 2 hours in Salento basically walking up and down the street of craft shops,many of which sell the same stuff, more or less.I managed to buy a few gift items and a pair of earrings for myself. One can never have too many earrings, and they are so nice and small to carry. Bill, by the way is the world’s most patient man. Never complained a bit about the extended shopping – a real keeper!
Oh, I didn’t mention the Mirador, or scenic over-look that we went to first thing upon entering the town. It is a nice spot, with a covered viewing area from which one looks down and across a valley with a swiftly running river full of boulders that make the water sing. It reminded me most of Switzerland, but with palm trees.
We met up with Carlos who took us up to the Cocorro Valley, about a 25 min drive from Salento. The typical young traveler devotes a day to the 14 km hike through and up and down and over barely there bridges and comes back saying it was all worth it.Or so says Lonely Planet and other websites. Bill and I were just starting to realize that something was wrong with our digestive systems, and were dosing ourselves with Immodium. Either it was something in the lunch the day before in a sweet little grill restaurant in Calarca( we did eat some of the nice looking salad after asking about the water, and being reassured).Or it was something else. We’ve both got the same symptoms now.
So, a long hike was out of the question.Not that it ever really was an option. I saw pictures of some of the so-called bridges and if there was any doubt in my mind, any guilt was gone!
So, instead we ate lovely grilled salmon trout on the porch of a restaurant and then walked for maybe 45 min. ( some of which was sitting on a tree stump to make it less embarrassing to return so fast to the car). The views were stunning and the clear cool air was a relief after the heat lower down.
By the time we returned to the Hacienda after about 6 hours of driving and strolling, and stomach aches, we were glad to be “home”.
The hacienda itself is not exactly a “two-thumbs up” place.The setting itself is part of the problem.While in photos it looks remote and peaceful,in reality it is not very far off of a major highway and trucks travel up and down it all night and all day. Our room faced the other way, and we didn’t hear the traffic at night.But, when we chose to eat on the upstairs deck/dining room/public hanging out space, the noise was significant.And then, perhaps in an attempt to distract from the traffic sounds, the hotel has installed speakers just about everywhere, with a repeating soundtrack that somedays started as early as 7 am and continued until at least 10pm. We asked them to turn the speakers off once,near our room,and they did. But it was back the next day.
The room we had was OK. The bed was a reg. double- too small for comfortable sleeping by two adults,in my opinion. But the real problem was the mosquitos.According to the property manager, guests like the feeling of the open windows. I didn’t like the feeling of mosquito bites and the buzzing of the tiny beasts in my ears.We prevailed on the manager to do something and he did find some lenghts of screen which a workman nailed to the outside of one of our two windows, allowing us to have some air and fewer critters. There are ceiling fans in all the rooms, but if you need to keep the windows shut against bugs, it gets pretty darn hot in the room. The area does cool off nicely at night, but we were more concerned with bugs and couldn’t just open the door and window to allow the cooler air to circulate.
The food was adequate and the service excellent.If I were to be asked, I’d say the area is worth the trip, but find a different hacienda.
We will start exploring Medellin tomorrow morning with a guided tour with a young woman who lives here and runs a sort of tour guide service. I’m excited to get out and about this city. I’ve been re-reading “Oblivion” by Hector Abad about his late father who was a crusader for human rights and public health and who was murdered in 1987 during the terrible years here. It’s a powerful, beautiful book and I highly recommend it for both its literary qualities and its inspiration to live a meaningful life.

We are hanging out this evening, after a late lunch and a nap. Neither of us feels all that great and an evening of sloth might be just what the doctor would order, if one were here. Travel is great, travel is fun, and travel can be exhausting. Bill has to remind me that we are on vacation and we can do nothing sometimes if that is what feels right. Tonight it feels just right.

Published in: on February 1, 2013 at 1:10 am  Leave a Comment  

More Gold!!

We spent a crazy amount of time this morning planning our next moves. I realized the other night, in a bit of a meltdown, that
just going off without plans for most of the trip really isn’t my style. So, Bill and I plowed through flights and hotels and now we are all set! Sunday we fly to Armenia where we will stay on a hacienda and learn, if we want, about coffee growing. This is the heart of the Zona Cafetera, and really it’s all about de-urbanizing. I’m ready for quiet, green and no hassles for a few days.
Then we fly to Medellin(hotel reserved, yeh!) for 4 nights, then to Cartegena(again, hotel reserved) for 2 nights. It’s amazing how much one can accomplish with an ipad and a decent wi-fi connection in just a few hours.
So, it was after noon when we headed out, to the Gold Museum for my second visit.I was feeling so crummy on Tuesday that we left before seeing it all, and I wanted to see more gold! On the way Bill bought a rather stylish black cap to replace one he lost yesterday somehow. I feel like we are getting to know this area a bit, walking down the same streets a few days in a week gives one a sense of familiarity, making it all a bit less new.
This trip, the museum really thrilled me. We started where we had left off on Tuesday, and spent a lot of time on the 3rd floor where the exhibits focused on the role of gold and other metals, in the lives of the native people of Colombia.
Gold, of all metals found in this area, is stable- it looks the same in 20 years or 2000 years as it does when it is fabricated. Silver,copper, and tumbaga the gold and copper alloy that was used often all change with oxidation over time.Gold represented constancy, permanence, connection with the deep spirits of the earth. Only priests and chieftains wore gold. Ornaments for various body parts were made of gold, nose rings, earpendants, crowns and helmets, wrist covers, leg covers and even, in once case, a penis cover! That can’t have been comfortable!
The displays got better and better in my estimation, moving from elegant cases of similar ornamental objects, to truly gorgeous sculpted figures of all sorts. Humans, and all sorts of animals, deer, alligators, bats,fish, birds and shells were formed in several different methods of fabrication for different effects. Finally, there was a small sculpture, about 9″x5″, of a gold raft with a priest and others bringing gifts of gold and emeralds to throw into a lake for the gods pleasure. It is so beautiful that I nearly cried. You can just see the people gathered at the shore watching the priests enacting their ritual, and then some gold worker making this incredible object to preserve the experience or to instruct perhaps?
Then the last part was so amazing. People were gathered in the corridor, and as we approached, a curved wall moved to reveal a sort of round theater. The previous group left and we entered. It was nearly dark in side, and I could see shadowy shapes on the walls. Then it became totally dark after the walls moved back into place, and music started. It was the chanting of the native people whose objects we were admiring. As the music continued, different sections of the walls were illuminated, focusing your gaze on certain selections. Then the walls were dark and the only light was from a glass covered area in the floor, with gold objects seeming to float in water. The drama was very successful! I was thrilled to have had the chance to experience what gold means, other than it’s simple shiny beauty.
By this time, we realized that it was raining, hard. So we decided to go back to the museum cafe and have lunch and hope that the rain would end before we finished.
Our timing was good. We asked the helpful young people at the museum info desk to call a taxi for us, since we have been warned not to hail a taxi here, but only to call for one. But since it had been raining, and it was a Friday afternoon, no one was answering at the taxi companies. We decided to risk it and found a taxi to take us to the National Museum of Colombia, on the north side of the city center, in what was a very old prison.
We walked up the steps and entered a beautifully re-used space. 3 levels of exhibits in 3 wings per floor.At the center is a light-filled core, with the original jail bars defining the ends of each of the wings. I’ve never seen such a creative re-use, done with a bit of humor!
The exhibits were fine, but we were weary of museums and left after an hour and a bit, exiting through a rear door into a courtyard with a small glass enclosed cafe that seems to float over a shallow pond. It contrasted dramatically with the ancient brick and stone walls of the old prison and brought it all into a new context.
Finding a taxi to take us back to our hotel is a story in itself. Another day, another story.
We made it home, although Bill had to calm the nerves of the driver who really didn’t know our part of town at all! He ended up thanking Bill for his help and we got back to our room and collapsed. Touristing is a tough job!
ps.I can’t manage to upload photos to my ipad,there’s too much on it, and I didn’t realize it before I left. Oh well.


Published in: on January 26, 2013 at 4:09 am  Comments (1)  

A much better day!

After an evening of indolence, I woke up a new person! more or less. In any case, I felt totally refreshed and ready to tackle Bogota. My energy was back and I was excited to see the city.
After breakfast, we sat at a lovely umbrella covered table in the courtyard near our room,for a bit and looked at maps and travel guides and the internet and decided that we would like to travel to the Zona Cafetera, the coffee growing region when we leave Bogota.
This is an interesting, but large and polluted city with traffic and all the aspects of large contemporary urban areas. I am excited to see what the rural areas of Columbia look and feel like. So, we sent emails to a couple of places and hope to hear back tomorrow.
Just down the street from our hotel is the Botero Museum which contains both a huge collection of his work and a really fascinating collection of art that he collected.Botero, from Medillin,Colombia,works in both 2D and 3D mediums. His sculptures, of bronze and marble, in the museum are mostly small scale.In the entrance to the Museum is, on the other hand, and enormous Hand, at least 8 feet tall at its top finger! Other public art of his quite large.
If you are not familiar with his style, his figures whether human or animal, are round, aggressively round. His people have heads that resemble cantaloupes, and bodies that are like hot-air ballon figures, what you see at the Macy’s parade.But they express a great deal of emotion.Generally,the figures dominate the canvas, nearly filling the space. In a few, the figure is small, but often still large in comparison with the other structures in the painting. I enjoyed one in particular, The Thief, which shows a rather large roundish man, with an enormous red sack like Santa Claus carries, stradding the roof of a building.
Botero is also a fine draftsman, using pencil, charcoal, watercolor and pastel with great finesse. There is never a doubt that a piece is by Botero, his style is so his own, and always present. Even the still life paintings, of which there were many, look like bloated fruit and baskets and bottles. Very interesting.
His own collection of art ranges from Renoir, Monet, Seurat and Caillebotte, to Raushenberg, Kandinsky, Calder and Picasso. Most were original paintings and drawings, a few were multiples. Seeing an original Klimt pencil drawing was fantastic, as was the Lucien Freud drawing. The man has taste!
We stopped for lunch at a cafe that opens onto one of the building’s several courtyards and had a really nice lunch outside.
We then headed for Plaza Bolivar to look for what I thought would be a helpful tourist information office for all of Colombia to help us make our decisions about where to go next.
The plaza was so different from yesterday, almost as if my changed energy had affected the place! (I’m not crazy enough to believe that, but really, it was amazingly different.) There were people all over the place, and of course pigeons. One of my favorite images was of a photographer who had set up several child size stuffed horses and was taking pictures of children sitting on them. We found the tourist place, but it was mostly for Bogota, and only so-so.
We bought some mangosteen fruits after accepting a sample from the vendor. I’ve never had one before, so it was a big surprise. One breaks open the outer shell-like dark purple covering and then eats the white seed covering which is very sweet and delicious.
I realized then that I could really use some post-its for making notes in the guidebook and had not brought any with me. That became a quest which resulted in buying not only post-its but a sketchbook and some pencils and an eraser, all imported from various places.Oh darn, I really had hoped to find some local stuff. Don’t know exactly when I’ll use them, but if I don’t have them, I’ll just worry.
We wandered the streets of central Bogota, stopping once for tea at a rather charming cafe called the Romana. Business men were doing business at a table near us while a group of young people seemed to be enjoying an after school snack.
Eventually we made our way back to our hotel. We chose a restaurant in a different neighborhood for dinner, from a yelp-like website that Bill found. We took a taxi there and were surprised to find that it was tiny, all of 5 tables and a long narrow counter with tall stools that might seat another 5 people. And, they only serve meatballs! We had a good dinner and a good bottle of Argentine Malbec and headed back to our hotel.
Just before we left for dinner, the hotel owner asked how everything was. I said fine, except for the hot water. It was going out after just a few minutes, the turning totally cold for a long time, before getting hot again. I was dreading my next shower. He was very surprised to hear that and offered to move us to a different room when we came back from dinner. So, we did.I’ll take a shower in the morning with my fingers crossed!
Tomorrow we have a driver taking us to the famous “Salt Cathedral” about an hour from Bogota, and on the way back, to the equally famous restaurant “Andres Carnes de Res” supposedly an experiece like no other.
More tomorrow.

Published in: on January 24, 2013 at 4:24 am  Comments (2)  

An abbreviated first day in Bogota

I thought that high elevations were a problem for me, based on past experience.I am still right about that. I woke up this morning with a slight headache, not too bad. But after a lovely breakfast in our colonial era small hotel in the Candelaria district, I felt less than great.Still, here we are in a new country, we had to get out and explore.
After a brief lay down to gather my energy, we headed out towards Plaza Bolivar, the center of historic Bogota, with the main Cathedral, Palace of Justice and 2 other elegant structures. The street was downhill, with the usual uneven pavement, punctuated by missing water main covers, holes, missing bricks, sudden level changes. You gotta keep your gaze down to avoid a mishap. We passed two interesting museums that were closed on Tuesdays, but decided to go to the Gold Museum. On the way we remembered to stop and get a SIM card for my old unlocked cell phone.
We found a sort of small grocery chain, Excito! ( success in Spanish) which sold phones and what we needed as well. The process was more complicated than I’d expected, first by the chip,then wait 15 min to activate it,then buy actual minutes. We enjoyed people watching while we accomplished the necessary activities.I now have a working phone here in Colombia, and if anyone wants to call me, the number is: 57(the country code) 3212067358.I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for calls!
Now we can contact hotels, a driver, etc and get calls back.Much easier than relying on the hotel.
As we got closer to the Gold Museum, we entered the main Downtown business district, with lots of well dressed people as well as some beggars. Right ahead was a beautiful building, another Church, San Francisco to be exact. Very large, with gorgeous carving on the ceiling and lots and lots of chapels and a huge apse with similar gold painted statues of saints. In all of the churches we visited today, I saw people engaged in prayer. Not only the ancient ladies in black that I’ve seen in European churches, but all sorts of people. I swear I saw more religious action today than I recall seeing at any time in Italy,home of the same church.
We found our way to the Gold Museum,after a brief sit down in the Plaza Santander, a nice small park. Shoeshine guys tried in vain to get Bill to have his black leather athletic shoes polished, but I was wearing sandals, so I was spared the pitch.
My head has been a bit fuzzy, and my stomach has been heading downhill, too. I can report that the restrooms in the Gold Museum are top notch!
We got in free, as “elders” over 60! I did spring for the audio guide, but found it less wonderful than the MIchelin guide had reported. The Museum is gorgeous, re-built in 2008. We got as far as the 2nd of 4 floors and decided to break for lunch in the Museum’s lovely restaurant.
By the time we were finished, I was finished. All I could think about was lying down. We found a taxi and headed back to our hotel,only to be let off a block or so away because the streets were one way,etc. As I staggered towards the doorway to our hotel,Bill said, “You look rather pale”, I felt very pale indeed!
We both ended up sleeping,reading,sleeping some more for the rest of the afternoon and early evening.Dinner was in our hotel, and was just fine. I hope for a more energetic day tomorrow.
Good night. Here’s the view from the 2nd floor breakfast room in our hotel.More photos tomorrow.


Published in: on January 23, 2013 at 12:42 pm  Comments (3)