Colomé and Molinos

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We started our day with a quick tour of Cachi, including the cemetery high above the city, the church on the main square, and a small anthropological museum. (I need to minimize the number of photos in this post since the Internet is pretty nonexistent here in Molinos.)

We then hit the very dirt road in the direction of Colomé. It was so bumpy that at one point the driver side mirror threatened to fall off. I was very proud to be able to produce some brightly colored duct tape to secure it.

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Colomé basically consists of a winery, a hotel no longer being used as such, and the James Terrell Museum, a fantastic experience in light, dark, colors, and perception. A bit challenging for people like me with bad proprioception. No pictures of the inside of the museum because they confiscated our phones and cameras.

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You can see just a sample of the vineyards which produce the grapes for the winery. On out tour of the winery, our guide told us about one wine made with grapes that come from vines that are so old no one can figure our what they are. For this reason the named it "Misterioso". After our museum visit we bought a bottle for 95 pesos (about $7) and treated everyone to a taste. Everyone had a different adjective to describe this unusual but delicious white wine. Unfortunately not for export.

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After coming back over the same bumpy road, we are now in the small town of Molinos for the night. It is very pleasant sitting out under the huge old tree in the central courtyard of our hotel.

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Salta

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Coming to Salta is like dropping into another world. The Europeans of BA have been replaced by indigenous people with darker skin and eyes. The red Malbec wine is now accompanied by the white Torrontes. But it is still hot and people still worship grilled meat. 

We have spent much of our time here walking. Salta has half a million people so there are a lot of streets to traverse. Walking has been pleasantly interrupted by food. There are always baked meat empanadas, coffee shops, lemonades, and delicacies made from dulce de leche.

We took in a private ethnographic museum today because all the public museums are closed on Mondays. It was a small museum featuring really old pre-Colombian relics from the entire Andean region. I kept wondering how these priceless antiquities ended up in the hands of a private foundation. 

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Catholicism is much more obvious here in Salta. Check out these paintings on what appeared to be a garage door.

We are waiting for our bag of laundry to come back. Clean underwear makes any traveler smile.  

And we are weighing our choices among the local competing parrilladas for our dinner of grilled meat.  I am sure we have already exceeded our quota of red meat, but oh well....

 

Learning about The Missing

Although I have no photos, last night meeting up with my friend of nearly 4 decades ago was very special. We went to Kabbalat Shabbat services with her and her husband in a Conservative synagogue. The service was completely sung. Some melodies wrre familiar; others were not. There were people of all ages and everyone was welcoming. It was a very special evening I shall always remember.

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Today our only agenda was a tour focusing on those who went missing several decades ago.

First we stopped off at the equivalent of a Starbucks, where for less than $3 you get café con leche with a plate of cookies and a small glass of seltzer. One thing that struck me was how many people were reading real newspapers instead of staring at electron screens.

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We then went to Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos, a museum dedicated to the 30,000 who went missing in the '70's and '80's. It was heavy information to see and process so I didn't take photos. Most of the missing were dragged and dumped from planes into the sea. 400 babies were born in captivity and adopted out to rich and powerful Argentines. It was all very grim. I commend the government for going after the military monsters who ran this circus. And for creating a compelling museum to make sure the world knows what happened.

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On a lighter note, we took the Metro (Subte) and went to colorful La Boca, where we had been warned not to linger after dark. 

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We came upon an outdoor tango show, where two pros were giving quite a performance. They took on a novice at the end of the show.

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He was a quick study and she was a good teacher.

Back to Don Julio's for dinner. Beef tenderloin and grilled portobellos. Yum!

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On to Salta tomorrow!

Sweltering in BA

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Buenos Aires is a combination of the old and the new, all with a very European flair. Next to an older Bauhaus building is a modern high rise like this with its embedded art gallery.

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Today in the 90+ degree humidity we walked to the botanical gardens, where even the butterflies were flying slowly.

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Halfway through the gardens we opted to escape to the A/C of the Evita Museum. I seem to have cut off her beautiful head in the above photo. She was beloved by Argentina's working class, dying an unfortunate death from cancer at age 33.

Tonight we plan to attend Shabbat services with my friend from 40 years ago. It will be interesting to see if we recognize one another. 

It seems impossible that snow is coming once again to DC when it is so hot here.

Walking BA

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This is actually from dinner last night at Don Julio's, just down the street and renowned for its grilled meat. The chorizo was exceptional. As was the prime rib steak. But the best part of the meal was this flan casero, which was a sweet way to end a savory meal. Here is the outside of the restaurant.

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After a breakfast of bacon and poached eggs, granola, a media Luna (croissant), fresh fruit, and coffee con leche, we walked to the subway, where all rides no matter how far you go cost about 35 cents. Six stops later we got out in the Recoleta neighborhood, which looks very much like Paris.

The people of BA love their pets. Here is the window of a pet store.  

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Sorry Ari. Our suitcases are full. Ari is staying on a farm in Stafford, where he and a bunch of labs get to run around together. He may not want to come home.

We found another empanada restaurant for lunch. It contained mostly tourists, but it was interesting to hear how many countries were represented (the waiter's first question was "Where are you from?")

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Our first destination of the day was El Ateneo, an old-fashioned but quite elegant bookstore that looked more like an opera house. (I didn't mean to include 3 copies of the bookstore, but the blogging software is refusing to let me get rid of the extras!)

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Our last stop of the day was the MALBA, the Latin American Museum of BA, which featured a thought-provoking exhibit by Francis Alÿs, an Argentine who focused on refugees. He must be expanding his work with all the Syrian refugees.

Since our hotel was far and uphill, we splurged and took a cab home, where we took a well deserved nap. 

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I am currently sitting in our hotel's patio looking up at the lovely balconies next door. It is a very European city.

Just found this photo from earlier in the day. Looks just like Paris!

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First Day BA

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This is one of the reasons I wanted to come back to Argentina. The baked meat empanadas are a specialty. This I remembered from my work trips here in 1979.  it was cheap and so good!

We were famished after our long overnight flight with the minimal bad plane food. It was more than pretzels but not much more.

We are in the quaint neighborhood of Palermo, which features Bauhaus architecture and a myriad of little stores and restaurants.  

 

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Check out our shared mango orange drink that restored our energy to explore some more. 

Tonight we will probably look for a restaurant with grilled meat. Argentina is not a destination for a vegetarian! 

Tomorrow we will reconnect with my work acquaintance from 4 decades ago and look for a place to hear tango music.  

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Getting Ready

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We are going on a month-long adventure starting next Tuesday. We will travel to Argentina with 10 days on a cruise to Antarctica. Our good friends invited us to dinner last night and served marzipan penguins for dessert. What a send-off! Other dinner guests offered us their super binoculars for the trip. 

We are struggling with packing for summer in Argentina while it could still be frigid in the far south. My usual little suitcase simply can't handle so many climate extremes. Instead I will take a duffel bag that has to be checked. A month is a long time to plan for. Even the snack bags of vitamins are daunting!

Please come along for the ride. I will try to remember how to write a blog and will be pleased to hear from you. 

Down Time

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After traveling for over 2 weeks and both battling health issues this week, we needed some down time today. So we went to hang out at the Santa Fe Mall, frequented by the upper class of Medellin. It could just as easily have been Pentagon City, except that most people we saw were NOT tourists.

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While David went off in search of a short-sleeved shirt, I sat across from this pop-up store selling mostly plastic shoes and featuring a sign under the full red lips that said "Eat My Melissa." I don 't even want to think about what this means. 

Tomorrow we are going off-grid and slipping into the Amazon jungle, so we did things like get Colombian pesos and take care of online business today.  Hopefully we will resurface on Thursday with stories to tell about Las Amazonas. God forbid we have another health crisis, because otherwise we may be consulting a medicine man!

An Unexpected Problem

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Everything had been going all too smoothly on this trip, until last night that is. As I was changing for dinner, I glanced down at my right leg which was also itchy. I knew quite well what it was, having had cellulitis in Paris some 14 years ago. I also knew how important it was to start treatment quickly. So after dinner we asked the hotel to call a doctor. Dr. Diego Cardoza came to my room around 11 PM. He looked to be about 26 years old, fresh out of medical school and he did not speak English. He quickly confirmed my diagnosis and prescribed 2 medications, which the guy at the hotel desk went out to fill. So by midnight I could go to sleep knowing I was on the mend. We didn't have to pay for the doctor's services and the meds cost all of $15. Quite a contrast to health care in the US.

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it turns out I didn't need to go snorkeling on Sunday, but instead I just needed to go to the aquarium at the Parque Explora. A few more fish pictures:

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This was one of the best designed parks I have ever seen. There were numerous hands-on things, like this sand drawing device.

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 And this harp with invisible strings:

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The entrance was filled with things that taught the idea of simple machines while having fun. 

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We then headed up the mountains surrounding Medellin on cable cars, crossing some very poor parts of the city on our way. 

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At Arvi, our final destination, I had the most delicious warm pork tamale for lunch, partly consumed before I thought to take a picture.

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On the way down we talked to others in our cable car (from The Netherlands, Canada, and Colombia). This is a city where people just want to talk to each other. 

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As if we hadn't walked enough, once back down from the mountain we set out to find the house where drug lord Pablo Escobar met his end in 1993. It turned out not to be so easy to locate, but we finally prevailed and confirmed it with a passerby. I am sure the neighbors in this quiet residential area were shocked when the gun battle broke out, leaving Escobar's bullet-riddled body on the roof of one of these houses. Things seem so quiet and sane in this town, which existed under his terror for years. The Colombians we have met all seem like peace-loving people.

Tomorrow we head off with a guide to visit a coffee plantation. This is our first big splurge, but I am sure it will be a great trip out into the countryside.

 

Day #1 in Medellin

I had a most interesting beginning to my day as I waited for David on a park bench. A group of Colombian students studying English asked if they could interview me. They each had a different reason for wanting to learn English, but they universally said it was important. Their simple questions made me think about why I was here, what I expected to get from my trip, and what I wanted to leave behind. The people here are unbelievably friendly and helpful.

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Fernando Botero seems to be it when it comes to Colombian art. His work is everywhere. This morning we started out at Plaza Botero, which has a bunch of huge statues like this one. They all bring a smile to one's face because they just seem so large and lovable. 

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On the Botero Plaza is the Museum of Antioquia, which is dominated by works of Botero but also contains a lot of other works of art. Like the ones above and below.

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The special exhibit was Botero's Circus.

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But there were also more serious pieces like this one depicting the death of Pablo Escobar in 1993.

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One more favorite depicted things of the night.

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We then decided to check out the botanical gardens, a huge park in the middle of the city.

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This rather large iguana suddenly appeared on the path. 

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Our favorite spot was the Casa de las Mariposas, the Butterfly House. Here are just a few.

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There were also beautiful plants along the path.

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We took the subway home and got rather lost trying to find our hotel. But we finally made it home after a day of walking all over this city as hilly as San Francisco. I can see why people say it's charming.

The Terror of a Fork

 

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First a final night-time glimpse of Cartagena out our 4th floor apartment window, where we dried our laundry and watched and listened to the world go by. The Plaza Santo Domingo is a hopping place at night. This morning I was awakened early by the sounds of Gregorian chant coming from the church. Catholicism is alive and well in Cartagena.

Today we flew to Medellin. After our one domestic flight on Avianca, I had concluded that they were a bit more trusting than TSA. You can bring on gallons of water. My titanium hip hardly raises an eyebrow. But today as I came out of the security screening, a burly guy said, "Tiene un tenedor." I politely agreed that I did have a fork in my backpack in case I ever decided to eat the can of tuna fish I have been carrying around since I left home. The guard asked me how to say "tenedor" in English. Then he proceeded to keep my metal fork, declaring forks were prohibited. I ask myself how I managed to get through security at Reagan and in Bogota without losing my fork. Some questions just don't have an answer. But I long ago learned that it was hopeless to argue with a security guy. 

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So my confiscated fork was my excuse to buy this rather yummy chocolate desert to eat with my afternoon tea. Now I have a plastic fork that could do just about as much damage as my old metal fork, but it should sail through all subsequent scrutiny.

We haven't quite plugged into the magic of Medellin, but tomorrow we will hit the streets once again. 

Beach Birthday

 

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In celebration of David's birthday we went to the Rosario Islands for the day, about an hour away by boat. The boat was an interesting mix of people from the US, France, the Netherlands, Austria, and of course Colombia and other Hispanic countries. I opted to hang out on this beach while David went snorkeling. Probably a good thing since he stayed in only 20 minutes because of the waves. 

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We had a great lunch of grilled red snapper, rice, salad, and patacones with a mango drink. You always wonder about the source of the water in these fruit drinks. But neither of us has gotten sick yet and we are not being particularly careful.

I got a very relaxing massage before it was time to be back on the boat. The table was on a roof with a covering to keep out the sun but let in the breeze. Reminded me of a similar experience in Kaua'i. 

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The trip back was the most interesting part of our day. It was not the glassy sea above that we had experienced on the way out, but instead there were real waves that sloshed into the boat thoroughly soaking everyone. It felt good to be wet, but the salt water made  it hard to keep your eyes open. After an hour of bumping through the waves, the Cartagena skyline was a welcome sight.

We are once again clean and hungry.  The big decision is where to go for David's birthday dinner. It will be hard to top last night's dinner at a Spanish tapas restaurant, Agua de Mar.

Tomorrow we pack up and fly to Medellin, reputed to have a wonderful climate year round. 

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Meanwhile I just cut up one of the little mangos that came from the huge tree in the center of our building. (The doorman had given me a bag of 5 mangos after I admired the tree.) This is the best mango I have eaten so far in Colombia!

Cartagena

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I love this sign: We don't have Wi-Fi. Talk among yourselves. 

It is incredibly hot here. It's hard to believe the weather is so bad back home. After walking around the old city all morning, we were craving fruit for lunch. For about $6 we got this big bowl to share.

 

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The colorful buildings here remind me of Valparaiso in Chile. 

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We have met people from all over here. Today a couple from New Zealand and Norway, putting life on hold and driving from Mexico to Argentina. I impressed the Norwegian by telling her I was related to the queen, but then she reminded me that most people in Norway are distantly related. We learned that yesterday a cruise ship dumped 5,000 people on this town, so no wonder things were a little corded yesterday.

 

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The good news is I have been drinking coffee in a country where it is a part of life with no ill effects. Let's hope that continues for another couple of weeks.

Tomorrow we are spending the day on the Rosario Islands, hopefully not with thousands of others from the cruise ships.

Aracataca

 

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Yesterday we left the paradise of La Bonita to go to Cartagena with a stop in Aracataca, the birthplace of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the town of Maconda in 100 Years of Solitude. 

 

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Getting from place to place in this part of the world is a challenge. Nestor and his friend Paco picked us up in an ancient Toyota 4x4 where the motorcycles had dropped us off just 3 days before. I could see why I had kept my eyes closed on the way out from Bonda. After 20 minutes of treacherous driving, we finally reached a paved road and headed off for Aracataca, a small town 2 hours away and one they had never visited. On the way Nestor proudly told me of his 4 children spanning 3 households. Illegitimacy is a theme of Marquez's books and is obviously still a part of the culture.

Halfway there we were stopped by the police and Nestor had to go talk to them for awhile. It turns out that he is not licensed to transport tourists this far from Santa Marta. Since David did not speak Spanish, Nestor couldn't pass us off as family. (I kept my mouth shut.) Nestor got away with paying a fine of 20,000 pesos (about $10), which I am sure the police never shared with the Colombian government. Finally we were once again on our way.

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Garcia Marquez's home is now a museum reconstructed on the original site. The huge ficus tree where the colonel was tied up for all those years in the book is still there.

 

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For a mere $20 the 4 of us had a 2-course lunch at the Macondo Cafe just down the street. 

 

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Aracataca is reputed to have some of the most beautiful women in Colombia. Here is just a sample of one waiting to use the ATM.

 

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Today Aracataca is just a sleepy little town, seeming to have lost the magical realism of Macondo.  

 

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On the way out of town, I was reminded of the yellow train in the book, constructed by the United Fruit Company in the 1920's to haul out all the bananas. This 120-car freight train passed as it hauled tons of coal in the direction of Bogota.

 

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Although the yellow train is no longer, the bananas still flourish everywhere.

We arrived in Santa Marta, said goodbye to Nestor and Paco, and headed off to Cartagena on a Berlinas bus. The only downside of the bus ride was listening to 3 yuppie young Americans discuss their drug and sexual exploits in Santa Marta for what seemed like hours.

Here in Cartagena we are staying in a lovely AirB&B apartment overlooking the Plaza Santo Domingo. We are taking advantage of the washing machine today to launder all our sweaty clothes. Here is a view from our apartment front door. 

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El Paradiso en Colombia

 

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We have been offline for a few days after traveling to an eco-lodge in the middle of nowhere. From the airport in Santa Marta we took a taxi to Bonda, 40 minutes away. There we called Antonio, who met us with 2 other guys, all on motorcycles. They strapped our luggage to one motorcycle and put each of us behind the drivers of the other 2. They had helmets but we didn't. I kept a death grip on my driver for the next 20 minutes as we traveled over some really rocky ground to get to La Bonita. Along the way, the thought occurred to me that we possibly had been kidnapped. I kept my eyes shut 95% of the time until finally we stopped in front of a sign that announced we had arrived. 

Then I realized that we had to cross the Mansanare River to get to the lodge. First our luggage went across using ropes. Then each of us followed on a swing. The terror of the motorcycle ride was quickly diminishing as I realized just what a paradise we had entered. The photo above doesn't begin to do it justice. Despite the fact that we have no Internet and the shower is only cold water, the 5-star dining and the price of $65 for our lodging and 3 meals a day make this a real bargain.  Yesterday we cooled off in the spring-fed swimming pool. One of the owners is Swiss-Colombian; the other is French. They have a year-old baby girl and 2 wonderful dogs who go everywhere with us. We speak a mixture of French, Spanish, and English. Right now we are the only guests.

Since arriving, we have learned how to ford the river at various places (including the entrance) in order to explore. My walking sticks are my salvation as we walk to places like the cacao farm and the biology center. Today we are headed to a natural pool in the river.

Right now we are paying for $5 of Internet down the road. Soon we will cross back over the river to have lunch. 

Tomorrow we will leave paradise to (hopefully) visit Aracataca (birthplace of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and setting for One Hundred Years of Solitude) and then figure out how to get to Cartagena.  

As you can tell, this trip is loosely planned with a lot of room for spontaneity. There's always time for a siesta. It is really nice to experience true leisure! 

My $5 Internet connection doesn't seem to be terribly swift downloading photos, so for now you simply have to imagine! 

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This is Gala, our "protector". 

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The fresh-water pool.

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The "dining room" with its raked sand floor. 

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Ensalada mixta.

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The hammock in front of our room.

Buses and Sunday Afternoon in Northern Bogota

After pigeons, the next most ubiquitous thing is graffiti. This is just one of many such splashes of color in Candelaria, where we are staying.

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We were on our way to what would be an adventure up north. Our plan was to take the bus the 100 blocks or so we needed to go. It sounded easy enough.

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These windows with their ornate bars reminded me of a story I heard when I first came to Colombia in the 70's of the bands of street urchins who burgled the rich of the city because they could squeeze between the bars.

But back to the bus story. We got to what appeared to be a bus stop. However, those waiting for their buses sent us back and forth across the street to wait for a bus that just didn't materialize.

We were actually going to meet a friend of a friend, so at some point we jumped in a cab in order to meet her at noon at the Centro Comercial Santa Barbara.   

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It turned out that much of our bus trouble had to do with the fact that much of downtown Bogota is closed to vehicular traffic and reserved for bicycles on Sundays until 2 PM. Here are just a few getting ready to ride. 

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After a lunch of typical Colombian food, we leisurely strolled through an upscale flea market, finding stands like this one pushing coffee grown by small independent farmers. Of course we had to buy a bar of delicious 70% dark chocolate. 

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While waiting for a place to have coffee, we were entertained by Andes Cosmos, a musical group from Ecuador who played Andean instruments.  

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We all had an "aromatica" made with hibiscus blossoms and apples, a very typical Colombian beverage.

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We thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon with our new friend Maria, who was determined to teach David Spanish in one afternoon. It is interesting that after living in the US for 6 years, she still prefers to speak Spanish. I was grateful for her patience as I practiced.

We finally got our bus ride as she put us on a bus heading south. It turned out not to go all the way back to Candelaria, but at least we can say we rode a bus while in Bogota.

 

Botero and Montserrate

It's funny how walking down the same street a second time you notice things you didn't see before -- like this beautiful gated street and the very tall door.

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At one corner we saw some interesting but disturbing artwork behind a locked fence. Going around the corner we found the entrance through someone's house and were invited inside. We learned that the artist was Jose Asuncion Silva, who did many such works depicting the violence in Colombia and who unfortunately was murdered in his house just last year.

 

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We followed the sound of a marching band and ended up on the Plaza de Simon Bolivar, the scene of several decorated llamas and the ubiquitous pigeons, who seem to inhabit every public square in the world. 

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Nearby was the Botero Museum, housing the rather bizarre artwork of a still-living Colombian artist. These collected pieces are best described as larger than life. The "hands" reminded me of an Italian piece in the dining room of our good friends. 

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Lunch was chicken tamales with avocado for a whopping total of $9. Too bad I keep forgetting to take pictures before devouring my food.

After lunch we found a cab and went to the entrance of the funicular up to the top of Montserrate, where we were treated to a panoramic vista of the city on what turned out to be a remarkably clear day.

 

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Here comes the cable car to take us back own the mountain.

 

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And now the search for dinner in the hip area called La Macarena.