Monday, January 24, 2011

Bus-Bottles für alles!

Scene: Sharing a long, uncomfortable bus ride with Sue, self-professed ¨crazy Korean.¨ We had met at another hostel days ago, and now, by coincidence, are both heading south from Popayán, Colombia, hoping to cross into Ecuador before the end of the day. She had been bussing since the night before, and by the end of it will have been traveling for more than 24 hours straight. Crazy Korean, indeed.

Highlights: The Colombian scenery zipping by, interspersed with fits of napping--a bleary-eyed journey through gorgeous, green mountains. I think it must have been a dream... On the way to Pasto, one man in particular was becoming increasingly excited as the hours rolled on. His personal bottle of aguardiente (the national spirit of Colombia) may have augmented this process, not to mention the 6 or so beers. As he loosened up, he became prone to fits of dancing and clapping, pleadly loudly with the driver to pump up the jams. After the 3rd or 4th beer he seemed to be the lone spectator of a very exciting sporting event--¨Pasto!!!¨ (fist pump) -- His compañera in the adjacent seat politely refused the offers of booze, coyly inspecting her well-pedicured feet. And finally, with the liquid confidence came the broken English.

Looking over his shoulder at me, he slurs ¨Hey, meester, hey!¨ After establishing that I´m from the States, he continues--¨I have leeved in Chicago... 4 years!!¨ I tried my best to respond with a similar level of enthusiam, eager to see where this was going. I must have given the proper number of thumbs-ups, because almost immediately he went for it: the well-meaning, unsolicited offer. ¨Hey, you wanna beautiful friend, you call me... (drunken cackling) Anything you want, just call me, ok?¨ How polite! Attractive friends just a phone call away. He made no attempt to give me his number--I assume I´ll just need to shine the ¨Colombian hooker¨signal from the roof of my hostel to get in touch. Occasionally he would temper the exchange with ¨Sorry, I´m juss a little fucking drunk¨ - please, sir, no apology necessary. A few minutes later, I noticed him staring at me, and I turned to meet his gaze. ¨Hey.. I juss want you to know.. I really appreciate you... yeah, I really appreciate you.¨

And there you have it! What a sweetheart. I graciously accepted this sentiment, and a little part of me wished I had brought my own bus-bottle of aguardiente, so maybe I would have been compelled to stand up and embrace this man in the aisle, with the rest of the passengers, gingerly cradling their little bus-bottles, cheering and applauding our newfound friendship.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Small Town Summer, Colombia-Style

What better way to celebrate a warm summer evening in Salento, Colombia than by blasting cumbia and downing a few pints of aguardiente? The group of vacationing Colombians I earlier saw drunkenly riding horses is now split into hip-swaying couples, certainly a precursor to some baby making. I´m choosing to partake tacitly, as a bystander on the edge of the town square, reveling in the beauty of small town serendipity.
The past two night I´ve run across two people whom I had met earlier in the day, all by chance--Cristiano from Brasil on the bus from Armenia, and Cynthia from Argentina at the coffee farm of Don Elias. I spotted Cristiano wandering this tiny pueblo, drank a beer with him, and accompanied him on a mountaineering equipment-rental expedition. Tonight, upon entering a recommended restaurant to savor a lonely meal, I hear my name (of course pronounced in that cute latin manner, ¨Dah-veed!¨) Cynthia had already eaten, but gave me the pleasure of her company as I destroyed a delicious trout. With both I had the option of speaking English, but spoke mostly Spanish and did it pretty damn well. Both encounters ended with a pleasant stroll and a warm embrace.
The magic of solo travel is powerful. During these first two days it´s been particularly evident, as I´ve been so suddenly drenched in the sights and smells of Colombia--sufficiently jolting to crack the frigid shell of Virginia winter, and thrust me, reborn, into this flavorful world so swollen with possibility.