Even on a long journey like mine, my time in the different countries was limited. I based my visit to Colombia in three cities: Bogota, Cartagena, and Pereira. Had I known better, I might have chosen Medellin instead of Bogota. The weather would have more clement. No matter, I did what I did, and here are the results.

Sunday, February 4. Scheduled to pick me up at 8, my driver, Jorge, showed up an hour early and had to wait until I came down at 7:45. Strange guy. Learning I was going to Colombia, he slyly kept repeating “chicas lindas.” He got me to the airport early, which was a good thing because when I went to check in for my Copa flight to Bogota, I was told that I had to have an exit ticket in order to fly to Peru later in the month, a thing that was not listed on its immigration website. What to do?

The airline that flies direct from Colombia to Peru is Avianca, the one I had problems with earlier. Nevertheless, I pulled my suitcase to the airport shuttle and went to Terminal 1 to buy a ticket. Arriving in the vast check-in hall, I saw a group of people clustered around the Avianca counters. The problem was that there was not a single agent on duty. As I stood with the group, looking bewildered, a couple who spoke English asked me what I was looking for. I explained my problem and was told I probably needed to buy the ticket on Avianca’s website. I could have done that the day before at the hotel, but at the airport I had no Wi-Fi access. An angel appeared in the form of a young woman who offered to buy the ticket using her phone. She was wonderfully competent and typed in the information I fed her as fast as could be. Using my credit card info, I soon had my ticket from Bogota to Lima bought and confirmed. My angel rushed off before I could thank her.

Not knowing what Bogota was like, I had chosen a hotel that sounded interesting from my guidebook. The Click Clack in the city’s Chico Norte neighborhood describes itself as an art and design hotel “renowned for sharing ideas through sensory, immersive and scenographic experiences.” I was not quite prepared for all that. My immediate impression was of extremely loud music from the restaurant below. Each Saturday and Sunday the hotel offers a ‘Brunchaholic’ that includes the music. It ends at 4 o’clock, and I was happy that I would not be subjected to it during my stay.

Because it was mid-afternoon and I hadn’t eaten, I went out looking at the local restaurants. Compared to the neighborhood of the Ojos del Rio where I stayed in Panama City, Chico Norte is heaven. I settled on an upscale fish restaurant called Pesquera Jaramillo and unintentionally overordered. My lobster bisque was rich, good, and contained large pieces of lobster. It would have been enough. However, I also ordered a plate of snook done “Basque style” with vegetables and an order of mash potatoes covered with cheese on the side. I drank two glasses of white wine. The bill was much higher than I would have liked. C’est la vie.

Altar statue of the Señor Caido

Sunday’s weather was overcast and Monday’s was even worse. It looked like rain, so when I left the hotel to visit the highly touted Cerro De Monserrate, the mountain peak where a pilgrim church contains an altar statue of the Señor Caido (Fallen Christ), to which miracles have been attributed, I wore my rain jacket and carried my camera in its case.

The hotel staff called a taxi that took me on a forty-minute ride up-hill to a point where I could board a téléferique to take me to the top. On the drive, I began to realize that Bogota is a city of hills with roads that curve around them. Traffic was heavy.

Santuario de Monserrate

Stepping out of the gondola at the top with a couple dozen others, I saw the church further uphill in front of me. Climbing the steps to reach it, I immediately felt the effects of the altitude. I was more than 10,000 feet above sea level and the air was thinner. I climbed slowly, realizing that when I go to spots in South America that are even higher, I would have to give myself time to avoid altitude sickness.

There was a mass in progress as I entered the open door of the church and sat on a pew. I rested, listening to the priest’s homily in Spanish that I couldn’t understand.

Outside, I walked around, climbing even higher along a street selling the typical kinds of tourist souvenirs. There were stands selling food, as well. At one of these I tasted a small bit of fried something that I learned was cow’s intestine. I had had a full breakfast at the hotel and wasn’t hungry.

I didn’t stay long on that mountain top. The atmosphere was such that I couldn’t see anything below. I had hoped for an overview of the city and was thwarted.

The historic center of Bogota is called La Candelaria. In a complex of four museums the largest is the Museo de Arte Miguel Urrutia known as MAMU. There, I took in a temporary exhibition featuring one of Colombia’s indigenous peoples. To enter, I passed under a long archway made of bamboo that seemed to symbolize my entry into the world of the tribe. Inside, the walls were covered with dozens of tiny, framed black-and-white historical photos of individuals — men, women, children — as they lived once and may still do. The women were all bare breasted and the men wore loin cloths. Some carried game or fish they had caught. There were also paintings and sculptures relating to the show’s theme. Although I couldn’t get much from the large information panels in Spanish, I found the exhibition to be quite interesting and spent a lot of time with it.

I liked my taxi driver and made a deal for him drive me to and from La Candelaria and wait while I was in the museum. It really was the best thing to do since I didn’t know how to instruct another taxi driver how to find my hotel.

Back at the hotel, I waited at the reception desk while a young man bought me a ticket to fly to Cartagena on Thursday, the 8th. The transaction took time because the first time we tried, the airline performed a security check on my credit card and found that Kay’s phone number was attached to it. They sent a code to her phone, and, as it was after midnight in Istanbul, I didn’t want to wake her up to give it to me. I called the UBS card service and spoke to a woman who said she could help me but put me on hold so long that I gave up, and we started the process again. Finally, I had my ticket and went down to the bar for a drink and the restaurant for a bacon cheeseburger before going to my room to read and sleep.

The following morning, the sun shone and looked like it would be a nice day. I learned that Bogota has a symphony orchestra and at least one good legitimate theatre downtown. It struck me as strange that a city of eight or ten million doesn’t have more of what I think of as a high cultural presence.

Mask in the Gold Museum

The city does boast museums, and this afternoon I visited the most famous, the Museo del Oro or Gold Museum. It’s located in La Candelaria, which meant another longish drive from where I was staying. Its collection is extraordinary, and I wish I had more photos to show you than these couple I took before I was told to stop.

Golden artifact used by shamans

What the museum does well is explain how metallurgy developed during pre-Columbian centuries and its importance to the societies that developed it. The exhibition begins by showing in Spanish and English, and with excellent examples, of how gold, copper, and even platinum were treated and worked to fashion many kinds of religious and luxury items that conferred prestige on those who used or wore them. The skills of goldsmiths were very high. I looked at masks, necklaces, bracelets, statuettes, etc., some thousands of years old. By learning their various uses, I got a sense of what their cultures were like. Gold held great symbolic value. It represented the power of the sun. The elite used it to publicaly assert their rank in life and death. Shamans afforded to gold objects important cosmological powers.

Pescado ceviche at Aracataca

I spent more than an hour looking and reading the explanations before going into Aracataca, the museum’s elegant restaurant for lunch. I was given a choice table and ordered a bowl of pescado ceviche, a glass of Chilean Chardonnay, and a bottle of water. The ceviche flavored with onion, bits of pepper, strips of coconut, and cilantro was delicious. It came with thin slices of fried patacones or green plantain. It was one of the best meals of the trip.

On Wednesday, February 7, I breakfasted in the hotel, as usual. The wait staff all wear brown jump suits with the letters K K on the back. The slim workers looked fine in them while those who were  heavier looked like sausages.

Stayed around the hotel and its neighborhood today. The weather was the best since I arrived, but I didn’t want to make the long drive downtown again.

I walked about with my camera and took a few photos in the nearby park. At one point, I was approacehed by a small group of architecture students doing a survey. They asked me how I liked the park and whether I felt anything was missing. I answered, “old people.” It’s true; I saw very few elderly on the street.

Near the hotel is a McDonalds where I went for a sundae. It was the best run McDonalds I had ever seen. The manager greeted me as I entered.

In the evening I went to the bar and ordered a glass of Spanish Malbec that I sipped while I read. I ordered a second glass to accompany my plate of mushroom risotto. I would be taken to the airport up at 5:30 in the morning.

Cartagena Old Town

Weatherwise, Cartagena, on the Caribbean Coast was a big change from Bogota. Going from a cool, rainy climate to an exceptionally hot and humid one was a shock. Another difference was that Bogota is Colombia’s capital and largest city, whereas Cartagena, or at least the old city by the sea is a former Colonial port whose squares, cobblestone streets, and colorful buildings have been carefully preserved.

As such, it is mecca for tourists. Easy accessibility from the United States means that there were many fellow Americans roaming the town. With its narrow sidewalks, oppressive heat, and hawkers everywhere, I found navigating Cartagena on foot to be tiring.

On that first day, not being able to check in to my hotel until 3 in the afternoon, I went out to explore. I hadn’t eaten breakfast, and passing a restaurant that offered a daily menu for 20 pesos, I went in and ordered a fish fillet that came as a big meal. There was soup, coco rice, a panacone, a bit of salad, and a small bowl of pasta. I was given a fruit drink called a Lora.

Walking some more, I got hot and tired and returned to the hotel to sit in a courtyard and call Kay. Once in my room, I wrote her a short description of it.

Courtyard from my hotel balcony

Small but with a large balcony, I could look down into a leafy courtyard with a small swimming pool. I had A-C, and a bathroom with a good-sized shower stall, and there was room for my stuff. No hotel room is perfect, though. Since I had no desk, I wrote this on a table in the downstairs patio. Good enough.

I napped in the afternoon before going out with my camera just before 6. It’s funny, but of the hundreds of people I came across, I was the only one with a real camera. Nowadays, everyone takes pictures with their phones.

Watching the sunset over an ancient wall

At the end of my street was a wide space atop the walls that surround the old city. At a large outdoor bar/restaurant called the Café del Mar, all the tables were filled and there were literally hundreds of people lining the parapets and milling around as the sun set. It was a sight to behold.

I walked around awhile and took some photos before leaving and walking back toward the hotel by another street. I came across a plaza, sat at a table and ordered a beer. Suddenly, I felt terribly tired, as though I might be coming down with something. Back in my room at 7, I went to bed and slept through the night, getting up only a couple times. I was so stiff and sore I could hardly get out of bed in the morning. I didn’t believe I was ill, just tired. I had been going strong for a month, visiting country after country, and I was running out of gas.

The following morning, my task was to get my laundry done. Looking at the hotel’s price list made me want to find an outside lavandería. Nestor at reception told me of one a few blocks away so I carried my bag to where he said it was. I understood that there had been a laundry at that spot, but that it was long gone. Carrying my bag of dirties back to the hotel, Nestor apologized and searched his computer for another one. What he found was one a further walk away but that still existed. Although the posted hours said it was open, the door was locked, and my heart sank. A policewoman who knew the owner said she was having a late breakfast and was able to reach her by phone. She came along presently, and I left my laundry to be picked up a few hours later.

Cathedral Santa Catalina

For the rest of the morning. I sat in the city’s cathedral, a large basilica whose simple decoration was soothing.

It has a splendid three-story altarpiece made of carved wood that is architecturally beautiful. I sat for a long time watching various tourists come and go. These were mostly older couples from Western countries. I spoke to a man from England about his country’s great churches. He and his wife live near Lincoln Cathedral that I recalled pleasantly from our visit to Lincoln a few years ago.

I also sat for a while on a shady bench on Plaza Bolivar, adjacent to the cathedral. I had to deal continually with sellers of almost anything that could be pushed or carried. There were men with twenty hats stacked on their heads. Women carried styrofoam coolers selling cold water, coke, and beer. Ice cream peddlers pushed small carts. Several of the men offered cigars in small packages. There were others selling t-shirts and leather belts. Eventually, I walked back to the hotel and napped after calling Kay from my room. When I awoke, I felt better. Whatever had been bothering me had passed.

Dinner was a bust. The attractive restaurant I had earlier identified was closed for a private function, and I ate a poor meal elsewhere.

View from My Balcony


Saturday, February 10th, a month since I had left home. The best part of this hotel is my balcony and the small courtyard below with its tiny swimming pool. It is lush with greenery of many kinds. The tall wall opposite my window is piebald with large black sections caused by fungus. Four long-necked birds soared past with their large wings spread. They flew side-by-side, and I only glimpsed them as they passed, but what a sight!

That day, my main task was to decide where in Colombia I would go to spend the few remaining days before leaving for Lima on the 17th.

Talking with Nestor at reception, I learned about a place called Eje Cafetaro near the city of Pereira that attracts fewer tourists. Nestor extolled its climate and the beauty of its landscapes to the point that made me want to go. It would make a nice change from the Coast that it so hot and humid. I bought a ticket.

I had read about a bookstore named Ábaco that happened to be very close to my hotel. I went in and was delighted to find a small, serious store full of seated people reading books and working on computers.

ábaco bookstore

I had in mind to buy a copy of Gabriel Maria Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold. On a rack of Marquez’s novels, that title in English translation practically jumped out at me.

I had eaten a light breakfast at the hotel so for a late lunch, I chose a restaurant out of my guidebook. The Café Lunática is in an area of the old town known as Getsemani. If the day had been cooler, I might have walked the distance, but with the afternoon heat as it was, I took a taxi.

Yucca Gnocchi

The restaurant had an interesting menu that I studied a long time before ordering. My waiter brought a small basket with two house-made bread rolls and some mango butter that was delicious. I chose a dish of ­­­­­­­­­­yucca gnocchi with roasted tomato sauce and three balls of mozzarella. I drank a bottle of a beer called Club Colombia.

In need of cash, I was directed to a nearby ATM in a Drougeria or drug store. I put in my credit card and all the required information but received no cash. The machine seemed to be working but was empty.

Palace of the Inquisition

Walking back to the hotel, I went by Plaza Bolivar and into the building that had housed the Spanish Inquisition for two-hundred years. I was disappointed in its museum that had hardly any information in English. I was able to read some of the Spanish with difficulty and felt the museum was poorly conceived and designed.

Out on the square, I watched a group of dancers. Four men beat drums while six women in costume danced to the rhythm.

It was loud and the women were wildly animated. At one point, two young men joined them and performed acrobatically.

Back at the hotel I went to my room and stayed there, drinking a beer on the balcony and reading the novel I had bought that morning. My routine on this trip is to stay in evenings and sleep early. I can eat only one real meal a day, and there isn’t anything I know to do in the evenings other than go to a bar where I would probably drink too much. Had I been traveling with a friend, I might have felt differently.

Another day began with remorseless sun and a cloudless blue sky. My task was to find an ATM that worked. At reception, I asked where I could find a bank and was sent to Aduana Square where I hadn’t yet been. There, I found what I needed and withdrew 600,000 Colombian Pesos.

I had my camera with me and took photos of the large square and what is called the Puerta del Reloj . . .

Puerta del Reloj

 because of what looked like a yellow church steeple with a clock face. This “puerta” or gate was once the main entry into the old town.

Convento de San Pedro Clever

Walking back toward the hotel, I came across another site to visit. The former Convento de San Pedro Clever is now a museum dedicated to the memory of the Spanish Jesuit Priest (1580- 1654) who lived and died there. Called “the Apostle of the Blacks,” San Pedro spent his life ministering to the enslaved West Indians. A series of illustrations depicted the main aspects of his life.

I got very warm and sweaty walking the streets. At the hotel I took off my wet clothes and lay on my bed in my air-conditioned room. Later, I sat on my balcony reading Ken Follet and listening to four people in the courtyard below playing a card game and talking loudly. My surprise, when I listened closely was that they were speaking French but in a way and with an accent I couldn’t place.

Aduana Square

That evening, I wanted to go out for dinner and Nestor recommended a place called San Pedro, a large restaurant back on Aduana Square where I had been in the morning. It was crowded, and I was given a table and ignored until a short, aging waiter brought me a menu. I wanted a cocktail and discovered Pisco Sour on the drinks’ list. I had a memory of drinking one years before in New York or Chicago and looked forward to having more of them in South America. It a simple drink of Pisco liquor, lime juice and sugar. Very tasty!

Across from where I sat was a table of two middle-aged women who noticed me sitting alone. One came over and asking if I spoke English, invited me to join them. What began as a lonely dinner turned out to be quite interesting. Both lived in Ontario, though one was from the United States, married to a mining engineer and living in the north of the province. The other lived in Sudbury, which prompted my memory of a visit years ago to that city, so desolated by nickel smelting that it had been a training ground for astronauts. Heather said that its appearance has changed for the better since then.

I ordered a steak that turned out to be filet mignon cooked medium rare as I had ordered. It came on a bed of mashed potatoes and nothing else which pleased me. With it, I drank a glass of Chilean Cabernet. It was lovely to have had these dinner companions on my last night in Cartagena.

Pereira, Colombia

It was on February 12 that I left Cartagena for Pareria on a smooth Avianca afternoon flight. At the Pereira airport, I quickly found a taxi and gave the driver a wrong hotel name. I mistakenly gave him the name of the hotel in Bogota where I would spend my last night in Colombia on the 16th. He was mystified, as we both searched for the address of a hotel that didn’t exist. It took me several minutes to figure out what was wrong.

View from My room on the 70th Floor

The Movich Hotel where I had a room on the seventeenth floor was like a downtown business-class hotel. Check in was slow and annoying, but once in my room and settled I felt better. The hotel had a large pool, and a exercise facility as well as a large restaurant where at 7:30 in the evening I was nearly the only customer. As I ate, a few more diners showed up.

The captain suggested what he called the most popular dish, a piece of salmon, baked with a cheesy cover and served with potatoes, strings of roasted onions, and a couple spears of asparagus. I began the meal with a margarita that wasn’t very good. The dinner was only so-so, the best part being the onion strings and the bread and butter that came first.

About restaurants, I have to say that in the days when I traveled for work with film crews, it was axiomatic that we never dined in the restaurants of the hotels where we stayed. Of course, we had vehicles that easily transported us to local restaurants recommended to us. On this Latin American voyage, I didn’t have that luxury, and I was often too tired to make a reservation, call a taxi, and venture out in the evening. It was so much easier to eat in the hotel where I was. As a result, I ate too many mediocre meals because hotel restaurants everywhere are usually not very good.

The next morning, I was relaxed as I ate breakfast, read the news on my phone, and watched the mix of morning people in the dining room. I thought the Movich was a business-class hotel and expected to see people dressed to attend meetings. That didn’t seem to be the case. Maybe no one except politicians wears suits and ties these days.

Determined to take a couple of tours while in Pereira, I spoke to the front desk and learned that Living Trips Tours that usually does business on the internet, had an office in the city, and I wanted to discuss tours face to face with someone. The hotel arranged for one of its taxis to drive me to the office and wait to drive me back. A woman named Laura outlined some of what was on offer. All the descriptions on the company’s website were in Spanish.

Cocora Valley

I settled on a half-day tour of a coffee plantation and a full-day nature tour of what promised to be a beautiful valley. These were expensive private tours conducted by an English-speaking guide.

I read information about Peru and Chile in my guidebook, thinking ahead to having a date and destination for leaving Peru. I chose the date of March 15th and Chile’s capital of Santiago. A man at reception connected me with a ticket seller somewhere. From the sound of his voice and his manner of speaking, he might have been somewhere in India. I gave him all the usual information over the phone, and he quoted me the ticket price. There were long waits in the process, which for me was evidence that the man, who called himself Jack Smith, was dealing long distance with the airline. In fact, because the ticket confirmation he promised was not forthcoming, I became sure that was the case. Surprised that I hadn’t received my confirmation, he learned that there was an issue with my suitcase and that I would have to pay for it separately at the airport at check-in. All of this business took a couple of hours in the afternoon, so I was glad to be in my comfortable room where I could read and nap while I waited for things to get sorted out.

Going to the hotel’s darkly-lit bar called Tipsy for a drink, I was put off by the loud music videos on three screens. I ordered a glass of red wine and sat listening for a while. I have to say, I couldn’t remember hearing a playlist as boring as this one. Generally speaking, the music I heard randomly in Colombia was not to my taste. I often heard love songs in English but sung by voices I had no clue of. Where does this stuff come from?

Leaving the bar, I sat at one of the smaller restaurant tables and ordered what turned out to be a fancy shrimp cocktail. I paired it with a glass of white wine. As I studied the diners around me, I heard a couple at the table near me speaking French. Because they seemed interesting, I introduced myself and we had a very nice half-hour’s conversation. Sylvie and Étienne lived in Rouen and were in Colombia for a month’s holiday. They ended up in Pereira for the night while changing planes.

They were surprised that I spoke French as well as I did and that I was making this grand tour of South America alone. They were curious about our lives in Istanbul and some of our friends. We talked about books, especially Fitzgerald. Étienne is fond of John Irving. It was a pleasant encounter.

Bob Edwards

On Valentine’s Day, I received a lovely card from Kay. We learned that Bob Edwards of National Public Radio had died in his 70s. During our early days in New York, Kay and I would lay in bed in the mornings, listening to Edwards’ Morning Edition and his entertaining interviews with sports commentator Red Barber. We also learned of the serious health conditions of two close friends.

In Pereira, I found myself in the heart of Colombia’s coffee-growing region. I had not visited a coffee plantation before, so my tour of the Finca del Cafe in the Caldas Region was a new experience. My guide’s name was Alex, and though Colombian, he was raised in Hollywood, Florida and spoke excellent English. Alex came with a driver named Luis.

Alex, Robin & Luis

We left the city by a modern suspension bridge, which according to Alex, was named after the region’s most corrupt governor. It took us more than half an hour to reach the Finca where we waited for Robin, a second guide who worked there. While we waited, Alex identified the region’s fauna for me using an illustrated wall poster.

I was issued a wide-brim hat and a cloth that I wore over my right shoulder in a traditional fashion. All of us were similarly attired. Alex demonstrated the use of the cloth to protect my face in the event of a dust storm. I was also equipped with a small basket that hung around my waist. It was to hold the coffee beans that I would gather during the tour.

Coffee Plant

While Pereira’s elevation is 1700 hundred meters (5,577 feet), the Finca’s is more than 2100 (6889 feet). Coffee can be grown at different elevations, but the best is grown at the higher ones.

Coffee Beans Drying at Honey Stage

Starting our walk, we entered a kind of green house where large trays of coffee beans, at different stages of drying, were lying on tables. In the first stage, the beans are as just picked. Then washed, they enter a stage called honey and taste sweet, finally they look and taste like what we think of as coffee beans. That stage produces the highest quality coffee. Alex gave me more information, some of which I didn’t quite understand.

Picking a Few Beans

We walked down a steep hill into a valley and climbed up the far side. I was shown the different coffee plants and told how after five years they would be cut back so that new plants could grow from the same stem and roots. A single coffee plant might live as long as fifteen years. As we walked, I would gather a few beans and toss them into my basket. Near the end of the tour, I would have a few handfuls of beans to work with.

Working the Tolva

Separating the bean to be roasted from its husk that Alex called its gasket is a job made easier by a device called a Tolva that had been invented by a German years before. I poured my stock of picked beans into its hopper and turned a crank. I watched the machine separate the beans from their gaskets.

At the top of the hill was a building that housed a cooking stove where a woman took the beans I had prepared and roasted them in a pan over an open fire.

I took those she roasted and poured them into a grinder and again turned the crank to produce ground coffee, from which the woman made us tiny cups to drink.

The tour from start to finish, including the drive, lasted three-and-a-half hours. Back at the hotel, I changed into gym shorts and worked out alone for the first time since leaving Istanbul. In the swimming pool, the water was too warm to be refreshing.

I went down early for dinner. I needed protein and ordered what turned out to be a thin, flat steak topped with chimichurri sauce that is made with chopped flat leaf parsley, minced garlic, olive oil, oregano, red pepper flakes and red wine vinegar. It came with yucca croquettes, and tasteless flat discs of plantains. There were also thin strips of avacodo that came rolled into a pleasing shape. The steak was placed on a round piece of flat bread called arepa that I think was stuffed with something, common in Colombia.

Alex was my guide again the next day and took me to a beauty spot named the Cocora Valley. It took our driver, Maurice, more than an hour to reach the parking lot at the entrance to the valley’s hiking trail.

We approached the start of the trail through an arbor covered with purple bougainvilla. Alex didn’t explain in advance exactly what we would be doing.

He mainly talked about wax palms, which are very tall trees with thin trunks and no leaves except at the top. On some, birds build nests attached to the trunks midway up. There are many of these trees in the valley; Alex pointed out the tallest, which was about 70 meters. They are called wax palms because their trunks are covered with a waxy resin that is used in candle making. It was also used by pre-Colombian goldsmiths in the loss-wax method of casting. The wax palm grows in the Andean region at high altitudes unusual for palm trees. It is Colombia’s national tree and is now a protected species.

Hiking the Cocora Valley

I had plenty of chances to admire the wax palms as we hiked uphill on a dirt path for a long time. Alex encouraged me to go at my own pace, and I stopped repeatedly to sip water. There were many younger hikers who passed us, some with guides, some without.

Replica of Condor’s Nest

At one point there was a replica of a condor’s nest, which was large enough for some to get inside and be photographed by their friends.

As we walked, I thought that I had not hiked uphill like this since the Alpine crossing in New Zealand ten years before, and it took something for me to do it. I was thankful for a breeze that cooled me somewhat. In addition to my camera, I was carrying a shoulder bag containing my notebook. The scenery was thrilling. We were surrounded by the Andes, some of whose peaks were really high.

Red Hot Poker

Before starting, I had admired a species of red flower I had never seen before. Its common name is “red hot poker.”

From the Top of the Hiking Trail

We finally reached our destination, a viewpoint hundreds of meters above where we had started. I could see tiny figures below at the entrance to the trail. We rested awhile, before descending on a different path, one that had hundreds of concrete steps positioned a few inches apart. Walking down this way used different muscles and was just as fatiguing as the climb.

In the Hand of Acaime

At one point on our descent, we passed a large fiberglass hand in whose palm I stood while Alex took my photo. It was called the Hand of Acaime who had been the chieftain of an indigenous tribe wiped out by the Spaniards.

At the bottom, I followed Alex up some stairs to a wide verandah where I could finally sit down and sip a traditional drink called Canelazo made with passion fruit and cane sugar.

My Guide Alex in the Laura Campestre Restaurant

We finally reached our driver who took us a short distance to a restaurant called Laura Campestre situated in a former colonial house. The decor that extended to the wooden ceiling was colorfully painted in greens, reds, and light blues. They are colors that Colombians particularly seem to like.

Talking with the Naturalist

Before entering the restaurant, we went on a path behind it where I was introduced to a strong fellow in late middle age who is a kind of naturalist. I was handed a tiny wax palm in a column of rich black soil and showed a hole where to plant it.

Planting a Wax Palm

I did so and filled the hole with my hands. There was a ritual attached to this moment. Words were spoken, in Spanish of course, and I was dubbed an honorary protector of Columbia’s natural world. After that, we were finally free to eat and drink.

My Meal: Trout with Garlic Sauce

Even though I had done so much exercise, I wasn’t very hungry. Mostly, I wanted a beer. Alex suggested a butterflied trout with a garlic sauce, and I accepted his suggestion. I had thought the meal was included as part of tour but learned that was not the case. No matter. I bought my lunch and Alex’s, as well.

In the course of our time together, I learned quite a bit about Alex’s circumstances. He was divorced with three young daughters living with him and cared for by a nanny while he works. I got the sense that he is not paid terribly well as a guide and has to make as much as he can during the high season that lasts through March. Afterward, he would probably drive a taxi. His life was not easy.

Salento Street Scene

Leaving the restaurant, we made our last stop of the tour in the nearby town of Salento, which Alex claimed is the second most visited town in Colombia after Cartagena. It is a pretty place with a history of being founded in 1850. Simon Bolivar had passed through there with an army of thousands in his attempt to liberate the region from Spain.

Salento Central Plaza

I took photos of the colorful streets and buildings, including the central plaza with its church and statue of Bolivar standing with a raised sword.

I said goodbye to Alex at the hotel and tipped him 50,000 pesos. Later, there was a WhatsApp from the company asking for my opinion of the tours. I gave Alex a good review.

Friday, February 16. The day went smoothly until it didn’t. I spent the morning packing and organizing myself for the next leg of my travels. A wonderful woman named Valentina at reception filled out the form that Colombia requires of tourists exiting the country. She also checked me in on-line for two flights. Bless her! I sat in the lobby reading until it was time to go to the airport. Exiting the hotel for the first time that day, I saw that it was raining. That rain slowed my drive to the airport and even closed it for more than an hour so that no planes arrived or departed. This caused my flight to Bogota to be two hours late. To complicate matters, on landing in Bogota, the plane didn’t go directly to a gate. Instead, we were loaded on a bus and driven around to another side of the large airport. All of this resulted in my getting to my airport hotel much later than planned. I had no dinner and went to bed, grabbing four hours of sleep before I had to be up, packed, and in the lobby for a 4:30 a.m. shuttle to the terminal.