I first spotted him at 3:45 AM as I waited on the other side of the glass door in the lobby at the Bogota airport. He was accompanied by a stoic customs agent and had a semi-panicked look on his face. The agent looked at me and motioned for me to meet them at the door. My fantasy of running across the lobby to embrace him as time comes to a stop was quickly erased, and I realized that this was not the time for kisses and reunions; the stern look on the agent's face was my clue that this was serious business for which I was beckoned merely to translate. What kind of trouble could he have gotten himself into so quickly? "Dirección?!" The agent impatiently inquired. Direccion? Jarrod echoed. (Dirección is Spanish for Address). Address?? Oooohhh yeah! I forgot that customs will not let you through without the address of the place you are going to stay. (I failed to mention this to Jarrod...oops.) He apparently tried to explain in his broken Spanish that he was meeting his wife who knows the address and NO she is NOT Colombian but YES she está aquí! The customs agent made him leave his luggage behind and walked him to the lobby to find me. I confidently told her the address of our hostel which seemed to only cause her to interrogate me with more questions. Once I answered them to her satisfaction she motioned for Jarrod to follow her back to customs and did not grant my request to tag along. He disappeared before we even had a chance to squeeze hands. What a tease! Finally, 20 (long) minutes later he appeared again with his luggage and a huge grin.
Welcome to Colombia babe!
We spent our first day walking around the historic downtown, La Candelaria.
We visited the old Police Headquarters (built in 1923) and received a detailed tour in Spanish about the history of the Bogota police force and how cocaine king-pin Pablo Escobar was captured and killed.
Ironically, after our tour of the ex-police HQ we witnessed this protest of police veterans demanding the government pay them retirement and compensate them for their hardships.
We made a friend, Andrés, who proudly introduced us to Criollo food and gave us his phone number so we can hang out the next time we are in Bogota and also meet up with his friend who lives on the coast, where we plan to go. Jarrod was in awe at his kindness. People here are like this, I explained. I continue to be enamored by the kindness and hospitality that I have encountered in Colombia.
A day and a half of dodging people and cars in the busy streets of the city proved to be more than enough. We were also eager to check out of our hostel, where, during the day, someone stole multiple passports and money left behind in the dorms. Not only that, but the place was filthy, there were no clean towels, and they accused us of not paying for our room and we had no receipt proving
that we did. We got in touch with a friend, Willy, who is a guide for the company I volunteered for in Villa. He invited us to spend the weekend at his rustic finca in the warm, tropical region south of Bogota. We packed our bags, bought some groceries and jumped on a bus toward heading south toward Melgar.
Per our instructions from Willy, we requested to be dropped off at a Texaco gas station on the side of the highway. From there we met up with two of Willy's friends who showed up on motorcycles. This was "our lift" up the 4x4 road.
They didn't skip a beat at the sight of our big packs or at the sight of Jarrod's 6'1 stature (he is quite tall here). They insisted that Jarrod and our luggage go on the back of one bike while I caught a ride on another. (Big guys/big luggage, motorcycle 1; two lightweights/no luggage, motorcycle 2. Hmmm...) We were losing daylight so we weren't about to try and argue.
Before jumping aboard Jarrod confessed to me that he has never ridden a motorcycle before. There's a first time for everything babe!
As my driver sped up ahead of Jarrod's, I lost site of them and feared that they may fall over with all the weight. Is this too much for his second day in South America?
Thankfully, we all arrived in one piece under a big mango tree, where the trail to Willy's finca begins. We paid the drivers 5,000 pesos a piece and started our trek into the dusk of the evening.
The trail climbs up past other fincas and offers stunning views of the surrounding hillsides. We hiked past cows, horses, goats and mules until we spotted a light up ahead. It was Willy! As we got closer we also spotted two young girls, one siting in the middle of the trail with her head in a laptop computer. Willy introduced us to his neighbors and explained that we were half way to his finca and that this is the closest point where they can reach an Internet signal.
Willy is constructing his home with materials from his land: bamboo, earth, rocks and wood. He also incorporates recycled glass bottles in the walls. It isn't finished yet, so there is no electricity. He was worried that it would be too rustic for us. Are you kidding? This is awesome!!
Neighbor kids/hiking guides:
Willy's old biology professor also has a finca not far from Willy's.
The kids led us to a waterfall and found these tiny frogs!
It's ironic because in Villa I wrote a story about the princess and the frog to help people who are learning English:
Unforgettable! Thanks Willy!