This is a update on our recent trip to Bogota, Colombia, my wife’s native country. This is the same place where, as a Harley Davidson t-shirt I bought here 2 years ago shouts in bold orange and black HD colors, “We live dangerously!
I’m not sure if that refers to how the natives drive or to Colombia’s dangerous past as the capital of the cocaine trade, ruled by the FARC guerillas.
The country is much safer these days, the government having more control over FARC, the long standing band of guerrilla terrorists who were, and still are funded by the massively lucrative cocaine trade.
As an aside, there are some FARC soldiers who were born and raised as jungle guerrillas, still live there and have never known a normal life.
The Journey Begins
After a 3 a.m. wake up call in the Petaluma pre-dawn, we arrived at SFO airport where we were ushered into first class from SFO to Miami (MIA). This blessing would continue from MIA to Bogota (BOG), as we scored a business class seat for that leg.
This was due to my employee passes on American Airlines (AA) as a former TWA employee having been elevated from “bottom feeder” status as a illegitimate TWA child, then stapled to the bottom of the AA seniority list when American took over TWA in 2004. For years we groveled for the travel scraps thrown our way by a less than generous American management.
Even though we were non-entities we still had the vestiges of free travel as low priority standby passengers on the seniority totem pole; mangy dogs and cats in cardboard boxes were boarded ahead of former TWA employees!
But now all is lovey dovey!
We arrived in Bogota safe, sound and well nurtured by some of AA’s best flight attendants. I must say, I carry compassion, and some sort of survivor’s guilt in my heart when I see the coach passengers shuffle past us en-route to the back of the bus, as we sip champagne and sheepishly try to look deserving of our first class status.
My compassion for these untouchables is fueled by the many hours I spent in steerage, seated in the middle seat of row 37, sandwiched between 2 Jenny Craig dropouts, traversing the continent with whatever gratitude I could muster for being so positioned.
The long journey was worth it to see the look on my wife’s face and hear her laughter as she saw her family live and well, face to face.
While Skype and smartphone technology is wonderful there’s no substitute for real “face time.”
We were treated royally by Janeth’s family and friends and it was a source of great joy to watch Janeth conduct Vatican-like “audiences” with her many long time friends and witness what a beautiful leader of the heart that she is.
During our stay there, we were blessed by a strong dollar. The exchange rate was 2160 pesos to the dollar, up from 1800 pesos to the dollar the last time we visited. Good for us, bad for the Colombians so when we exchanged dollars for Colombian pesos, we were kind of making money as we spent it, if you know what I mean.
Family is important to the Colombians. So much so that I was dragged around from one “celebration” to the other, eating at sisters house, or aunties house or a friends house, often times eating some strange, cannibalistic type of Colombian food, trying to find the right words in Spanish to say, “This is delicious,” without being a dead giveaway to how it really tasted!
One day we ate Mondongo at Papi’s house. I was immediately suspicious when I heard the name. I mean, would you eat anything that sounded like something you got when a monkey bit you!? Mondongo?
But since Papi fixed it, I dare not look like I detested it, so after chewing on the intestines – barely cooked intestines that tasted like stretchy latex workout bands – for about 5 minutes I pretended I was coughing and spit it into my hand. Then I reached down and gave it to Archie, the dog.
Archie gave it a couple of chews and spit it out on the floor!
Janeth promised me that it’s better than that when done well.
I’m not ever going to find out!
Doctor; “What did you eat recently?”
Doctor; “O.K. Junior, take these pills and your dongo symptoms should clear up within a day or two.”
After spending a week in Bogota, acclimating to the 2600 meter (8500-foot) altitude, high in the Andes mountains, we were off to Armenia, a small town at a lower elevation that has a beautiful, temperate climate, is in the heart of the Colombian coffee country. This was supposed to be a 4-hour “piece of cake” journey from Bogota.
We would spend 3 days with a long time girl friend of Janeth’s and her live-in boyfriend. They turned out to be key players in the Holy Spirit’s game plan.
One of the reasons I jumped at the chance to get out of town was I can only take so many days in Bogota. It’s gotten more crowded, more polluted, more laden with heavy traffic, at all hours of the day and night and besides that, at 8500 feel elevation it often feels like I’m carrying an elephant on my shoulders.
10,000 Topes and a 2000 Peso Toilet
It soon shaped up that our trip to Armenia would not be a leisurely drive through the mountains. We would spend 8 hours traversing the mountain roads between Bogota and Armenia.
What I did learn during that trip was that if I were to live here, I would definitely open up a front-end alignment and brake repair shop.
Reason being there are “topes” about every 2 blocks it seems. (Topes is a Mexican term for massive speed bumps that will launch you skyward and rip the undercarriage from your car if you hit them at anything faster than an snail’s crawl)
These are not called “topes” in Colombian Spanish; if I were to name them it would translate into something like “Devil’s Heiney Kickers!”
As the locals approach the topes, they stand on the brakes, the front end dives toward the ground in response to the incredible pounds per square inch being applied by the driver’s brake pedal foot, as he unconsciously attempts to punch through the floorboard to help slow the car.
All during this time the front suspension is attempting to excavate the pavement, as this delicate dance is repeated hundreds, possibly thousands of times, between topes.
After they clear the obstacle, they accelerate viciously away from the topes, shifting into high gear as they reach terminal velocity just before they reach the next set of heiney kickers.
I can only estimate that the drivers must get about 25 miles between brake jobs!
And the holes in the streets! The holes in the streets are big enough that you could bury a pregnant Shetland pony in them.
The bobbing and weaving necessary to avoid hitting one of those calderas only contributes to the guesswork of where the guy next to you is heading.
And, if you’re unlucky enough to hit one of these caverns, instant “wobblies” and the need for yet another front end alignment, if the front end is still hanging on the car.
I usually don’t get car-sick but I was pretty green around the gills after about 4 hours of this kind of punishment.
Unruly Rules of the Road
Here’s the interesting part for me; there’s a sort of twisted sense of freedom in the way the Colombians drive.
Anything goes! Anywhere! You can drive on the side of the road, you can cut the other guy off if he’s not paying attention, you can drive with the white line – if there is a white line – down the center of your hood, splitting lanes, being instantly ready to occupy whatever lane looks like it might get you to your destination a few seconds quicker.
You can drive slowly in the fast lane without anyone honking at you – they merely pass you, usually at great speed, while barely failing to strip the front bumper off your car as they slice by you back into the fast lane.
You can pick whatever lane suits your driving style, or you can occupy 2 lanes at once, whatever.
You can cross over the double line and drive down the wrong side of the road until you spot an opening back on your side of the road, playing the Colombian version of “chicken,” daring the guy coming toward you to give way…there’s just so many ways you can have fun driving down here!
And….not once did I see any evidence of road rage.
Every once in a while, as a long time motorcycle (moto in Spanish) rider, I fantasize whether I would have the huevos – like in Huevos Rancheros, Spanish for eggs, large ones – to ride, and survive, on a “moto” in this place. I don’t think I want to find out.
The beauty of all this is, nobody seems to feel like you’re invading their “space” or that you’re “breaking the rules.”
That’s probably because there are no rules! And not much space.
They are much less territorial than we are in the Estados Unidos (US)
Much less prone to needing to force their way in front of you in a stand off.
As a result I came back from this trip with much less of a need for my own “space,” Man!
Why Does a Chicken Cross the Road?
To paraphrase, “Why in the world would a chicken ever dare try crossing the road in Colombia!?”
Forget the chicken! God forbid you should try to cross the road!
If you do, you’ve just risked your next of kin collecting on your long- term life insurance policy.
Your reflexes better be sharply tuned or else you’re going to end up, flat as a Colombian “arepa!” (A small pancake-like cornbread)
If you ever decide to cross the road, you could be lulled into a false sense of security because of the relative compassion of most drivers, one to the other.
But when Colombian drivers spot a pedestrian on the loose there’s a switch that seems to go off in their brain that causes them to speed up and zero in on their victim in a total disregard for human life.
The little towns en-route were quaint, very beautiful, all with a plaza as the centerpiece, with the normal “Catholico” church placed on one side of the plaza.
In typical Latin America fashion, the Blessed Virgin Mary is everywhere, peering out at you from little nooks and crannies, scattered throughout the plaza, beckoning you to come to her son Jesus, through her divine intercession.
So after a few stops to breathe deep, get some water, and relieve myself by the side of the road – some little guy appeared and said “2000 pesos Senor!” (About 1 US dollar) – we arrived at Daniel and Lucia’s beautiful “Finca” (Spanish for farm)
We would soon see what this trip was really about as God positioned us in Armenia to do some work for the kingdom rather than just “hanging out” and “enjoying” ourselves.
The Holy Spirit High Jacking
The Holy Spirit put Janeth to work as a conduit to bring 3 Colombians back home to Jesus!
One was a young man in the supermarket, and the other two were a housekeeper and her daughter, tending the home of the friends we stayed with in Armenia.
Then, one evening, we double-teamed Daniel, whose home we were staying in, in a dynamic and moving combination of “men’s-healing work” and “Holy Spirit Hijacking!”
That was very sweet since his live-in girlfriend was in conflict with their living situation and was praying that something would melt his heart.
She’s a Christian and a long time friend of Janeth’s; she was praying for a spiritual breakthrough for him since he’s not saved.
He woke up the night after we prayed for him, crying profusely and waving his arms in the air. I would say that’s a pretty good sign that something of great spiritual significance was taking place!
During our trip, I fell more in love with my wife than ever and would just watch her for long periods of time, feeling the gratitude for the blessing that she is and for the miracle of God that brought us together. This was the first time that I had a really good chance to witness her in her native country and language.
Every morning she would go into her sister’s room and pray for a miracle healing for the tinnitus that Alex suffers from.
I know for sure that whatever God was doing with us down there was a direct result of our work together with every one of you.
Blessings from Janeth and Bert