Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Visit from Mamí and Papí

In early October, my parents came to visit Bogotá for about a week.  They had clearly decided that, if their daughter were really crazy enough to get engaged to a crazy half-Colombian, they had better come down here and gauge the exact level of crazy they would be dealing with. They were pleasantly surprised to discover that Colombia’s capital city was not the third-world war zone they had expected, but rather a bustling, modern metropolis with plenty to see, do, and eat.

The jury is still out on how they feel about their future son-in-law... 

They arrived on a Thursday evening, and I had to work the following day.  I had invited them to come out to my school, but they were very tired from their trip and didn’t anticipate there being much to interest them once they had seen my classroom, so we changed the plan to meet up in the evening at their hotel in Chapinero.  Even thought they had already discovered the Monkey House pub nearby, we took them to dinner near our own house in La Macarena, at a new place called Santa Fe.  The French-Colombian fusion food there was quite tasty, and the waiters wore cute little vests and newsboy hats, which I enjoyed.

We didn’t stay terribly late, because the next morning we were planning to drive out to Villa de Leyva.  We ate breakfast with my parents at their lovely hotel buffet, and then hit the road for about three and a half hours.  The scenery along the way is very pretty, but I was afraid my parents wouldn’t want to be in the car for quite so long.  We stopped off at the war memorial for the Battle of Boyaca, which includes a large park and a restaurant, where we had a drink and used the restrooms.  This was my parents’ first encounter with the adventure that is going to a public restroom in Colombia…sometimes there are no doors on the stalls…sometimes there are no seats on the toilets...sometimes there is only one toilet paper dispenser by the entrance, and you have to take it with you into the stall, or sometimes you have to buy it from a man outside or from a little machine…  It is always a surprise, and you have to just roll with it.

Once we arrived at Villa de Leyva, I think they had a nice time.  They admired the pretty buildings and the large square, where we happened to catch a wedding in progress.  We wandered into a religious museum full of 17th century books and paintings plopped casually into glass cases and hung on walls with no temperature or humidity control, and guarded by the most terrifying statues and carvings culled from various churches.

We did some window shopping, and some actual shopping, and we had late lunch at a lovely little place with an open-air courtyard, where my mother got to taste her first ajiaco, which she adored, and Daddy had carne al trapo, which is a piece of steak wrapped in a cloth and cooked in a fire.  They also both tasted patacones for the first time, which are always a hit.

By the time we hopped into the car and headed back to Bogotá it was getting dark, and pretty much all of us Costas nodded off at some point while Maurizio made the long drive.

The following day we were up early again, this time heading out to Tominé for rowing classes.  I had been coaching a lovely group of club members every Sunday, and I was excited to show my parents the clubhouse, the lake, and my thriving rowing business.  I also told them they were getting into a boat.  They were very nervous, but excited to try this thing their daughter had been doing for nearly 15 years.  I had put them in a four-man boat with two other Colombian rowers, and I switched back and forth between Spanish and English as I was giving instructions, but my mother told me she was amazed that she seemed to understand me no matter what language I was speaking.  They were both surprised at how difficult rowing actually was, and my mother said later that she had watched it so often, she had assumed it would be really easy to pick up, but that the coordination of all the movements was actually quite challenging.

After their outing, I had another class to teach, so I sent my parents up to the clubhouse to eat some breakfast and relax.  Some of Maurizio’s aunts and cousins happened to be there that day, so they got to meet them, which was a lovely coincidence.  They wanted us to stay for lunch with them, but we had planned to go over to La Petite Alsace, the restaurant we had first visited on my birthday (and the day we got engaged), so we nibbled a few patacones with them and then made our exit, promising that we would meet up again later in the week.

La Petite Alsace is such an out-of-the-way place that not many people know about it.  The timber walls and furniture make you feel like you are in a log cabin in the woods, and everything is perfectly rustic.  The food is delicious and properly Alsacian: lots of sausages and meats and freshly made cheeses, courtesy of the goats and buffalo they keep outside.  My father was amused by the goats, and even serenaded some of them on our way out!  We stuffed ourselves full and tasted each other’s plates, effectively ruining our appetites for the fancy dinner we had tentatively planned that night, but it was worth it.

The next day they came to visit my apartment in La Macarena, and they were impressed by how open and spacious it was, and they admired its view of Monserrate.  We walked around the neighbourhood a bit, and I showed them the leather goods shop where the artist is always standing at the counter working on something.  Mom had a nice conversation with him about producing and selling one’s own art, and she got his card.  We took them to our favourite upscale grocery store, Konny, for coffee and coca tea to bring home, and then we went to a new local wine bar for some sangria before dinner at the famous and old (and expensive) El Patio restaurant.

On the sixth day of their visit (a Tuesday) we went up to Monserrate, though we didn’t make them walk the trail as we used to do!  Instead we took the funicular, which Daddy loved.  We would have taken the cable car at least one way, but it was not functioning that day.  Daddy also really enjoyed the statues of the Stations of the Cross, which are visible on the winding path up to the church, and we took lots of photos.  Mom was fascinated by the real human hair on the statue of Jesus (it always gets me, too), and the view of the sprawling city from above.

This would not be our only church of the day, as we made our way down to the city centre to explore the Cathedral, which faces the Plaza de Simon Bolivar.  We also stopped in a chocolate café for some rich refreshment.  I was hoping that Daddy and Maurizio could bond while we wandered, because Maurizio had to leave town for a conference the following day, and the rest of the visit would be just me with my parents; I think this was successful.

We stopped at a little place in La Candelaria for late lunch, where my father tried ajiaco and my mother had frijoles.  That night, we went as promised to visit Maurizio's cousin, Gloria, and her husband and children at their home, for more chocolate.  Some other relatives came, too, and it was quite the event!  My parents were glad (if a little jealous) to see that I have a family here who care for me like they would.

The next day my parents explored a Surtifruver and some other parts of Chapinero while Maurizio prepared for his trip and I did some grading  and class preparation.  After Maurizio left, I met my parents at Museo Nacional, where I had not been before, despite walking past it nearly every day.  It is a lovely building from the outside, castle-like and imposing, but inside it is not a particularly good museum. The exhibits are not terribly well organised or signed, and though the religious art exhibit is pretty cool, there isn’t much variety.  Afterward, daddy got his shoes shined by a local, and paid him twice the asking price, because he could not believe someone would do such great work for so little. In fact, my soft-hearted father overpaid and over-tipped every service person he met here in Colombia!

In the evening we went to Andres Carne de Res for dinner.  This place is a bit of a circus, with many floors of garish and colourful decor set off with weird lamps and signs, and occasionally costumed performers come to sing at you.  We waited a very long time for a table, which my father finally had to demand loudly under threat of leaving.  The drinks were expensive, and we didn’t get our food till nearly 9 pm, but it is an experience recommended by most Bogotanos, so I guess we were not allowed to miss it.

On the final day, I took my parents to a late lunch at Masa, a sandwich and salad place they had enjoyed with Maurizio when I was at work, and then brought them back to the centre to visit the Museo del Oro, which I love.  It is much better organised than the Museo Nacional, and I think my parents liked it, as well.  Finally, I brought them to the airport for a sad farewell, and a promise to visit at Christmastime.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Summer's End

Proud Boat Parents

After many weeks of work on the boats, we finally launched our first 4+ with a christening ceremony. We named it the Robert Englehardt, after the wonderful man who had stored the boats for us for nearly a year, and loaded them so carefully into the container on our behalf, along with all the other equipment we had shipped to him.  Though it was drizzling during the ceremony, a small group of fans turned out to help us sprinkle champagne over the new boat.  A few of these people would become dedicated members of our little team, and would spend a lot of time with us in the workshop and on the water. But the rest of our gang was still to come.

They all wanted champagne...

We began giving lessons in the mornings and working on boats in the afternoons. The second boat that we completed was a double, which Maurizio and I had purchased for our own use, followed by a quad, and with our new sculling oars we could now teach both sweep rowing and sculling.  Hernando made us a rowing simulator out of an old rowing machine and an oarlock box, which has been an extremely valuable training tool.  We began to spread the word around the club, and even got the US embassy to run an ad in their newsletter.  Maurizio worked tirelessly to contact newspapers and magazines and other sources of advertising, and spent many hours conferring with his cousin Juan Pablo, whom we had hired as a graphic designer to create our logo and marketing materials. We have recently succeeded in gaining some interest from a couple of international schools, and we look forward to hosting teams of students in the new year.

Learning on the simulator

Although I went home for three weeks between June and July, work never ceased on this new business.  While I was catching up with friends and family, doing Zumba and learning how to paint in my sister's classes, going to birthday, anniversary, and Independence Day parties, and rowing in singles and doubles with the Cooper Rowing Club, Maurizio was learning about carbon fibre repair and nautical paint prices.  More than that; he had a surprise brewing which would come to light on my birthday.

Grandma D: 80 and Fabulous

My sisters are awesome

I’ll abbreviate, because most of the people who care about the details have already heard me tell the story: He took me out to the countryside for a lovely lunch at an Alsacian restaurant (meat-and-cheese-tastic), followed by a drive to a sweet little hotel in Suesca, which he intended to follow with a hike up some trail to this beautiful cliffside where we would have a view of a lake. Only, because of our lengthy luncheon, we got to the hotel at 5 pm, and the sun generally sets at 6. And it was raining. And the trail was covered in mud and very steep, so we slid and fell and squished and slopped about in it till we were indistinguishable from said mud. And there were parts where it was so slippery that we had to hold onto barbed wire fences in order to progress. What I mean to say is, we never quite made it to the cliffs. So we came back, stripped off our muddy clothing, and showered, and then we ate some pizza by the fireside. I was getting sleepy and thinking of heading to bed when Maurizio suggested we sit in some lawn chairs outside (next to our discarded clothes), and enjoy the (rather chilly) evening for a bit longer. And then he produced a little speech (which he had written out) that described our relationship and our love for each other and our goals for the future, and ended in some elvish words (like Lord-of-the-Rings elvish), which, of course, I didn't understand. And then he handed me two cards with more elvish on them and told me to choose my response. And I had to just guess which one was the right one, which fortunately I did, because one said "Yes, I promise I will marry you," while the other said "Forgive me, but I do not love you”!

The sparkly!

And so we are engaged...I think.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

In Which I Recollect My Blog...

Hello again!

You thought I had forgotten about you, didn't you?  Well, I suppose I did, rather.

I need some of this.
Lots and lots of things have been happening in the last few months, and I was so busy with them that I didn't remember to write about them.  So we are in for a few rounds of Retro-Blogging, methinks, over the next few weeks.

I still have one more week of school to get through, and then I will be traveling to New Jersey for a couple of weeks to enjoy the Christmas holiday (in all its cookies-and-egg-nog glory) with my family, but I will do my best to bring us all up to speed in the interim.

First up, the main reason I have been so exceedingly unavailable: we have finally realised our dream of starting a rowing team in Colombia, and we spend every single weekend at the lake, coaching novices and repairing boats.  Our website is, and we have both a Facebook page and a group.

I actually did draft a post about the days right after the boats arrived, which is copied below.

The Boatses Are Here, The Boatses Are Here!

Boats neatly placed on Rob's custom racks

Day 1: On Friday, 5 June 2015, after 11 months of waiting, working, searching, and dealing with endless bureaucracy on our part, and after travelling from various cities to northern Massachusetts, and then to Miami and then to Panama and then to Cartagena and then, on a truck, over mountains and across the north of Colombia, our boats arrived at Lake Tominé.  We had been tracking them since they left their first port, and we knew they would arrive somewhere around midday on Friday.  Maurizio tried to get me to call in sick to work so I could be there, but in this country you need a doctor’s note if you are ill or you won’t get paid, and besides, like many teachers, I hate leaving my students to someone else when I am perfectly capable of handling them, myself.  So I went to work, and Maurizio, who had now received confirmation that the boats would arrive around 3 pm, went to the lake.  Hernando, like a little boy on Christmas morning, could not wait when he heard they were near, and he threatened to leave his wife behind if she could not get ready faster.  He arrived at the nautical club around 2—which turned out to be fortunate, as the truck arrived ahead of schedule at 2:15.  By the time Maurizio arrived, they had managed to unload nearly everything, and were just moving the custom-built racks which Rob Englehardt so expertly provided so that the boats would remain safe inside the shipping container.  Hernando took loads of pictures of everything, and he made plans for Maurizio and me to spend the entire weekend at his house by the lake, so that we could inventory, clean, and prepare the boats for the repairs that were necessary, because we had had to cut nearly all of them in order to fit them into the container.
Sliced bits of boat lying here and there amidst oars and boxes of rigger parts
Day 2:  Maurizio and I got up early with plans to pack up, cook breakfast, and get on the road, but we hit a slight snafu in that our gas had been turned off the day before (because of a ridiculous building code violation that obviously applies to every single apartment in the building, but because they were in our flat to fix a gas leak they noticed it and decided to cut us off).  Maurizio had thought he could turn it back on himself, but this turned out not to be the case, so we could neither shower nor cook, and were greatly delayed in our departure.  On the way to Tominé we stopped at the local market to buy some green eggs (green!), pineapple, and oranges to give as host gifts (we were also bringing a bottle of Havana rum and Cuban cigars which Maurizio’s friend, Phil, had brought us from his trip to Cuba…these were for the celebration that evening).  We also stopped at a lovely roadside place called Alta de las Arepas, where we had a delicious breakfast of thick, cheesy arepas, eggs, juice, and cocoa.  Finally we arrived, and we found Hernando and a few others out working on the boats.

We began with the double, which we had purchased from a rowing club in Florida.  We checked it over to find its weak spots, any cracks or breaks, and then we removed all of the hardware, from nuts and bolts to footplates and tracks, so that it could be sanded and painted.  Because they row in Tampa on brackish water, there was a lot of salt-oxidization, and most of the bolts will have to be replaced, but otherwise it should be rowable very soon.  We moved on to one of the Vespoli fours, which was in surprisingly good condition, considering it was the one that Rob threw in for free after we had bought the rest of the boats from him. It, too, we stripped, and it was quite the adventure getting some of the rusty screws out.  With a lot of pounding and scraping and maybe a little cursing, we finally got everything out and into a labeled box so we could find it again later.  In between boat-strippings, I went around looking at all of the boats, writing down what they did and did not have, and what we needed to buy or manufacture in order to make them rowable.  We also stopped for a long lunch around 1:30, but other than that we were out there working till it was nearly dark.  I am pretty sure every single one of us ended up bleeding in some way, but we were happy in our work!

Hardworking friends stripping the four

After lunch and before we finished with the four, we took a look at the set of brand-new oars we had purchased for the quads.  They are Croker S3 Slicks, with blue foam handles, and they are very pretty.  I will always love wooden handles best, and all of the sweep oars we acquired have those (in various stages of rasped and sanded and rotted), but sculling seems to favour the skinny shaft, so I am at least grateful that these aren’t those hard, plastic handles that become impossible to grip once your hands sweat even slightly.  We took them out and marveled at them, and then re-packed them and put them up in the rafters of the work shed so no one can accidentally damage them before we are ready to use them.

That night we went back to Hernando’s house and took some photos of the hardworking team who had begun the work on the boats (said photos have been promised to me, but probably will never find their way out of Hernando's fancy camera).  Then we cracked open the rum, and toasted repeatedly to the excitement of the project we are starting.  Maria Louisa made a delicious dinner of rice and quinoa and vegetables and crab meat, and we feasted by an enormous fire that takes center stage in their living room--at least, it does when it is nighttime and you can’t see the stunning view of the lake through their huge windows.  Hernando and Maurizio went outside to smoke some cigars, and I chatted with Patricia and her husband, who had helped us all day.  Then the boys came back in and managed to finish off the Havana rum between them, which eventually led Hernando to fall asleep in his chair.  I was warm and well-fed and exhausted from being outside all day in the extremely variable weather, which vacillated between mild showers and hot sunshine and heavy cloud, so it was not long before I was asking for bedtime.  Once the non-resident guests left, we all turned in, tuckered out and happy.

Day 3: The next morning, Hernando and Maria Luisa managed to wake up early and get out to the lake for a row, but Maurizio and I clung to our beds a bit longer.  When we did wake, we each took a shower and got dressed in a few layers, as we expected it to be another day of working on the boats.  Hernando’s son Julian came down to join us when he heard us pottering around in the kitchen, so we cooked him breakfast and were just getting ready to leave when Hernando and Maria Luisa returned.  Hernando wanted us to join him in a visit to one of the neighbouring clubs, where they were keeping an eight which had been smuggled into the country inside of a shipment of bridge pieces by a former commodore of the club.  They stored it out in an open circle of grass near the water, guts up in three slings, with an ingenious sort of custom-made canvas tent pitched over and zipped and velcroed under it to protect it from the weather.  There were even neat little triangular canvases for the riggers, which were left on the boat even though it was technically in storage.  We uncovered it to take a look.  The boat was an old Schoenbrod, its beautiful wooden ribs still intact, though the gunwales had been replaced by the club with local wood.  It had not been treated well, poor thing.  There were many repaired cracks along the hull, and one of the workers told us the wind had once picked it up and dropped it hard on the gravel.  If you stood at the end of it, you could see that it curved through the middle like a misshapen banana.  The riggers were bent in all sorts of places, and the seats were all different heights and thicknesses.  The screws holding the tracks on had been replaced, but they apparently couldn’t find flat screws here, so the seats scraped over the rounded screw heads as they rolled.  But it was an eight, and it was more or less seaworthy, so we determined to take it out for a row the next morning.

Day 4: The row was interesting, to say the least.  We had a mixture of people from both clubs, many of whom were completely new to sweep rowing.  The boat was as heavy as it had looked, and we had to carry it all the way into the water, because there was no dock long enough.  I was not prepared for this, and rather resented squishing my white socks into the rocky sludge on the edge of the lake, but I suppose it couldn’t be helped.  Once we had all climbed in and pulled away, though, it was thrilling.  Even with inexperienced rowers behind me, even with old spoon oars whose shafts had been patched so many times they were as thick and solid as flag poles, it was lovely to stroke an eight again, and the whole lake was entirely ours to play in.  We stayed out for about an hour, and I did my best to coach from the front, but really it was just a test run. 

That is the end of my drafted post about the first weekend, and there were many, many more weekends like it to come.  I got to know a lot about paint removal, sanding, hardware, metal pin fabrication, and carbon-fiber repairs over the next few months as we got our new babies ready to row.  And that's when the real fun began...but it will have to wait for the next time I write.

Hint: it involved a lot of time spent dressed as an Oompa-Loompa in the WonkaVision studio...

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Two Friendly Visits

Friends and Food! (and wine)

Let's see if we can find the most important events from the past five months and talk about them briefly.  It will be like a game!  A game of catch-up, or Retro-Blogging, as I like to call it.

The boys in the centre
In early April, Maurizio’s friend Phil visited us on his way back from Cuba, staying for a weekend.  He is a very successful young businessman whose company was recently (and handsomely) purchased by the creators of a certain well-known online game featuring brightly-coloured bon-bons, and so he decided to travel the world for a bit before starting his next company.  On Friday, he and Maurizio walked around the city centre while I was at work, and that night I got to join them for a delicious steak dinner, followed by cocktails near Centro Andino.  We were doing our best to find a lady companion for Phil, and entertained ourselves by scoping out and analysing each girl we saw, but he kept insisting that he just wanted to hang out with good friends and enjoy himself.  The mojitos were free flowing, and really strong, so we all got a bit tipsy before wandering out to find an Über.

On the way, a homeless guy overheard us speaking in English, and he came up and introduced himself as a New Yorker who had come to Colombia for love and later fallen on hard times.  He was apparently well known by some of the doormen around, one of whom he addressed by name. After chatting us up for a while, he eventually asked for money, but we honestly did not have any on us, which is why we were looking for an Über instead of a regular taxi (because you use your phone account and credit card rather than cash). We told him as much, and I think one of us found a 2,000-peso note for him, and he went on his way, enjoining us to stop and say hi any time.

Oxford alumni watching the Tabs get thrashed on the Tideway
On Saturday afternoon we went to the Monkey House Pub, which is the closest thing to a British pub in Bogotá, to watch the Boat Races (including the first women’s Boat Race on the Tideway!) with other local Oxford alumni.  I had found the event on the internet when I was googling where we could watch the race, and I got excited that there was actually a small alumni community here.  They only ever meet up a couple of times per year, and most of them are Colombians who went for a one-year business degree or some other sponsored programme, but it was still lovely to reminisce, and to enjoy the races with a crowd of others (though it seems none of them were actually rowers).  There was even a Tab or two there, though the majority of us were Oxonians, and of course the Dark Blues swept the competition away that day.  On our way out we stopped to talk to the owner of the pub, a lovely Englishman who is looking into developing his own cider orchard in Colombia (cider is extremely hard to find here, because they don’t have the right varieties of apples, so all ciders are imported).  We fully support this idea, and we hope to keep in touch with him!

That evening we took Phil out to Usaquen to see the shops and restaurants there, and then went to La Cesta to meet up with Juan Pablo and his mom, who was in town to support JuanPa while he was having some tests done.  We enjoyed their delicious cappuccinos and pains au chocolat, and then it was time to take Phil home so he could pack for the airport. He promised to visit us again, perhaps after he has purchased his own plane and learned how to fly it overseas—and he was serious.

Friends visiting Villa de Leyva
In mid-May we had another visitor: Geralyn, a friend of Maurizio’s from his time in Canterbury, though she now lives in Eugene, Oregon.  She had been extremely helpful to us when we were purchasing a speed coach for our boats, which happened to be offered secondhand for a great price from someone in Eugene.  Geralyn went to pick it up for us, and she not only brought us that, but also some delicious cheddar cheeses, which are hard to find here.

Geralyn stayed for a week, and I had to work for much of that time, but Maurizio showed her many of the sights in Bogotá.  One one of the weekdays, I had a scary run-in with one of the locals on my walk home from the bus, and I arrived a bit shaken up.  Geralyn gave me a fantastic massage which helped me to relax, and she was really comforting and supportive.  I will always remember her kindness, because she hardly knew me at that point, but she knew exactly what to say and do.

At the weekend we went to the Catedral de Sal, which is a cathedral carved into a former salt mine, with large, cavernous rooms, stone angels, and eerie blue lighting complemented by looped recordings of “Ave Maria”.  Even though it is clearly a tourist destination, it still has a sort of reverent stillness and awe to it, if only by virtue of its immensity.  We also took Geralyn out to the lake so she could see the rowing boats—of course, the poor thing decided to stay inside reading while we went out in the singles, but it is a lovely venue in which to do that!

The church and the the rain
After the row, we made our way to Villa de Leyva, a popular destination and a national monument because it still looks very colonial with its cobblestone roads and pretty, whitewashed buildings.  It is supposed to have really good museums, but unfortunately our journey there on the twisty mountain roads had taken us nearly 3 hours, and we got there too late in the day to get into museums.  We did wander around a pretty little park, look at all the art in the church in the main square, visit some of the shops, purchase a hand-woven rug for our flat and a new mug for Maurizio, and eat a nice Italian meal at an outdoor restaurant that had live music. We had also bought peaches by the side of the road on our way there, and the next day Geralyn baked us a peach cobbler which was absolutely mouthwatering!

We spent the rest of her visit talking, sharing thoughts and ideas, and eating way too much at various restaurants, and we sent Geralyn back to Eugene with promises of coming to visit some day, because her descriptions of her own peaceful little town on the edge of a wood made us eager to see it, ourselves.

Soon to come...June and July!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Semana Santa in Cali, Part II

PART II: The Visit and The Return

Welcome! We whipped up a little snack for you.
To be fair, the visit to Cali was a lot of fun.  As usual, we were fed constantly, and it was all delicious. Maurizio's mom and aunt made us things like carrot cake, fish stew, ajiaco, a pepper and meat dish, Japanese eggplant, and some lovely jugos, like lulo juice and limonada de coco (coconut lemonade)!  We usually ate at home, but once we tried out a new pizza place, the name of which I have forgotten.  It was small and relatively quiet (after Maurizio asked them to turn down the terrible music), and the pizza was okay, if overpriced.  But the home cooked meals were the real treat of the trip--in fact, the only photos I took the whole week seem to be of food... 

Presentation is key...

Why yes, I would like some homemade cheesecake!

We didn’t climb the Three Crosses this time, but we did a lot of moving around and visiting.  On the second day, we visited Juan Pablo’s mother and father, and had some cake and brownies with them, and then we went to see some beautiful furniture that is being offered to us by his family.  We met another cousin named Jose David--the brother of Andrés, who is the owner of our apartment in Bogotá--and we had sushi with him and his wife and sons.  Later we met up with Andrés and his girlfriend at a pub.  On the third day I got a mani-pedi, because it is apparently the rule of the house that I have pretty hands and feet whenever I visit, and that night we saw a spectacular tropical storm with fantastic lightning zigzags cracking the sky and making lots of noise.  We spent some of those humid days in the living room, taking care of business and talking to Norella and Nohemy, and we took cold showers because the hot water stopped working one day about 6 years ago, and in true Colombian fashion, they never bothered to have it fixed.  Their logical reasoning was that it is always hot there, anyway, so why waste the money?

I think they need names. Any suggestions?
On the last day, we got two new orchid plants from a world-champion orchid grower whose store was just a few blocks from the house, and which Maurizio had always wanted to visit.  There were awards literally covering every wall, ranging from plaques to ribbons and even a few trophies.  Though the lady running the store (not the grower; just an employee) seemed less than enthusiastic about us being there, and was therefore of very little assistance in making our decision, we finally settled on a lovely white orchid with many blossoms, and a happy orangey-red one, both of which survived the trip home and are now thriving, along with the purple orchid Mariella gave us, by the sliding door to our balcony.  Finally it was time to go, and we prepared ourselves for another long journey. The “ladies,” as Maurizio sometimes calls them, had packed our car with groceries, so our already low-riding car was going to be very friendly with the ground on this trip.  We also had Juan Pablo’s mom along with us, as he was having some medical tests done the following week, and she wanted to be there for him. We had been provided with a sort of tuna fish cake as emergency food in case of another odyssey in the mountains, but thankfully we avoided this. (We still ate the cake, though. Very tasty.)  There were a number of really tall speed bumps and some unfortunate underside scrapings because we were so loaded down with people and food, and our poor German car suffered badly for it.  As my brother in law says, “don’t go off-roading in a Passat!”  (For him, Colombian roads are the equivalent of off-roading. I guess I have to agree.)

Before we reached the traffic, it was a pretty road!
Despite all of that, however, the trip home went pretty smoothly, because we had decided to come back on Good Friday instead of dealing with the inevitable holiday traffic on Sunday.  I don't mean to say that we escaped entirely unscathed, of course.  For some reason it was suggested that we stop at Parque El Cafe, a mere 40-minute detour from our route...but we had not anticipated that the one-lane road leading to it (a winding, leafy affair surrounded by lovely foliage and, obviously, coffee plants) would be blocked by lengthy processions of locals carrying religious statues.  We never got to see them, but as usually happens when there is a standstill traffic jam, some peasants came out and began selling snacks and water, and we got them to tell us what was happening ahead.  After sitting still for over an hour, we were finally moving forward when it began to rain. The Parque is really an outdoor attraction, and at this point the boys decided it wasn't worth trying to visit today.  So we turned around and joined yet another long, snaking line of cars trying to get out of the jungle, and in all we lost over two hours in this aborted adventure.  Not to mention, I really had to tinkle the whole time!

Coffee beans!
Once we got back on the main roads, progress was pretty steady.  We made it through La Línea with no problems, and the boys got out to snap a photo at the very top, where we were once more surrounded by wet clouds.

Happy men, and just look at that view!
We passed through lots of little towns, and in one we observed four young boys jump onto the back of a tractor trailer ahead of us.  They hung on for a long time, and I snapped a few photos.  The tallest one even climbed up onto the roof at one point!  Eventually, some other truckers notified the driver, and he got out and kicked them off.  We were in another town by then, and the boys just went scampering off down the road, probably intending to jump on the very next truck.

One of the coolest things I saw on the way were these sort of road-trains, made of linked cargo trailers all pulled by the same tractor.  I kept trying to get a photo of one, and finally we saw one turning a corner, which gave me a good angle.  I don't know how safe or legal these are, but they are really clever!

Danger: Extra-Long Vehicle

Choo choo!

We finally arrived around 9 pm at our flat, exhausted but happy, and with two days to recover before I had to go back to work.  We reflected that Maurizio had managed not to lose patience the entire week, and I had managed not to cry this time, so the trip can be considered a great success!