In Capitol City

Long time readers know that I am addicted to the capital city of Colombia.  So there was no way that I wasn’t going to take a few days to head over to Bogotá the moment I had a chance.  I just got back – and before I head off on my adventure to La Macarena tomorrow, I thought I’d post an update.

Charlie’s Place

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Since I was just stopping in for a few days, I decided to forgo renting my usual apartment.  It’s a good thing I did or I would have missed out on getting to know the folks over at Charlie’s Place, a boutique hotel and spa in Usaquen.


It’s probably not for everyone – people who want to be in the middle of the tourist areas of Bogotá should stick to La Candeleria.  Business travels on large expense accounts can head to the big-name chains.  But for people like me, who want to be in the north side of Bogotá, around Barrio Chico and Usaquen, Charlie’s Place is ideal.

With just 22 rooms, the hotel is very cozy and accommodating.  The manager, Wilson, is a Minnesota native and is delightfully charming and easy-going.  The rest of the staff including Daniela and Javier are equally polite, friendly and helpful.  (There’s a reason Charlie’s Place is consistently rated as excellent by Trip Advisor for the last several years.)  The best part is that the rates are fair and the service is excellent.

Once I was comfortably settled, it was time to get back out and enjoy the brisk weather.  (The weather is one of the reasons I love this city!)  My first stop was over at SaludCoop where the doctors and nurses were nice enough to answer some questions about the ongoing healthcare crisis.

The Colombian Public Health Care Crisis

Right now, the public health system, EPS and SaludCoop are going broke.  Basically, much of the money paid in by members of the health care cooperative has disappeared (been embezzled), leaving hospitals with bare cupboards.  Hospital staff are feeling the pinch as payroll arrives late, in diminished amounts, or in some cases, not at all.   (There are rumors that the money was funneled into the purchase of luxury apartments, fancy vacations and the like).  There have been some protests and work stoppages by health care workers, but unfortunately, the local unions have been unwilling to support their efforts.

Unfortunately, the government seems apathetic to the concerns of the healthcare workers and their patients. The Minister of Health, Alejandro Gaviria went so far as to say that the health care crisis was a “lie” in a recent press conference, following up on his previous twitter (June 2015) and blog comments (Feb 2015), even going so far as quoting Christopher Hitchens in his defense of the health care system.  Of course, no where in his statement does he talk about healthcare workers going without pay or operating rooms without suture.  But he’s not alone in his apathy.

Most of the local politicians  couldn’t even be bothered to show up to a legislative session on the issue.  Only 9 members of the House of representatives (out of 166) attended.

This financial travesty has wide-spread implications beyond just the public health sector (of hospitals and clinics throughout Colombia).  Many of the private facilities also rely on payments from the healthcare cooperative.  (Imagine if medicare went broke through criminal mismanagement – it would affect a lot more that general and county hospitals).  In many cases, these hospitals are forced to write off millions of dollars of nonpayment from the health cooperative.  In fact, one of the largest hospitals in Cali (a city of 2.5 million people) will be forced to shut it;s doors, mainly due to losses incurred from nonpayment by EPS and SaludCoop.  So it’s a huge mess that will probably only get worse without government intervention.

On the flip side of the Colombian Health Care Crisis and the declining peso (over 3200 pesos to the dollar this week) – Hospital Santa Fe de Bogotá  appears to be thriving.

Santa Fe de Bogota’s new emergency department

Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of a guided tour of the new Emergency department at Santa fe de Bogota with the current Chief of the Emergency Department (and trauma surgeon), Dr. Francisco Holguin.

Fans of the Bogota book know that I spent quite a bit of time at Santa Fe de Bogotá in the past – and that it is one the highest ranked facilities in all of Latin America, so it was fantastic to see all of the improvements.  (The ER was still under construction the last few times I was there).  The first thing I can say – It’s big! Big, spacious, brightly lit and airy (especially for an ER).  The is good work flow with several large workspaces for the doctors and nurses, instead of the typical traffic jams that occur in older facilities.  It’s on the same floor as diagnostics (CT scan, radiology), the operating rooms and the intensive care units which means that critically ill and injured patients can be rapidly transported to where ever the need to go.

The spacious department now has 56 beds with an overflow unit for critically ill patients.  Several specialists are on-call, in the ER and available 24 hours including orthopedics, trauma and internal medicine.  Downstairs from the main ER is the fast track – for all of the non-life-threatening general medicine problems.

After spending two days interviewing and talking to people about the SaludCoop problems and EPS – it was nice to leave Bogotá on such a nice note.

Crochet, crafts and traditional arts in Colombia


One of my latest crochet projects – American flag scarf

Since learning some basic crochet (very basic) from my (very patient) roommate, Iris in Cartagena, I have continued to crochet.  I find it’s an excellent activity for all the waiting that goes along with travel.  I crochet in the car when we drive from assignment to assignment.

Hat and scarf

Hat and scarf

I need to learn some new stitches but I am getting a lot of practice with my basic stitch.   I have switched to a very large crochet hook (15mm or an “S” hook) and cuddly soft bulky yarns (types 5 and 6).  It makes it easier to see when I make errors and it works up quickly.  Plus, the yarn is so plush and soft feeling.


I made a couple things for my friend’s new baby in Bogota.

My tiny model wearing the first hat I made

My tiny model wearing the first hat I made


So when I went to see her – I spent an afternoon in Chapinero checking out the yarn situation.  I was in a large bookstore in Chapinero when I met Ligia Morena Vega.  I was looking at some new sewing pattern magazines (since I am a sewer who crochets) and she was buying crochet magazines.

So I asked her if she knew where I could find some yarns in the neighborhood.. Not only did she know – she took me with her to meet the proprietors and learn more about the crafting classes offered.

That’s one of the things I’ve noticed in Colombia – pull out a crochet hook or start asking about crochet, and instantly you make friends.  I was on the bus to the airport in Rionegro when this happened the first time.  (It’s a long bus ride to Medellin, so I pulled out my crochet..)  Very quickly I made friends with several women  on the bus as we talked crochet.


with Ligia, shopping for yarn in Bogota

with Ligia, shopping for yarn in Bogota

Ligia crochets professionally.  She was buying magazines to use as catalogs for customers who want custom-made clothing, including formal style and elegant ankle length dresses.    Ligia’s husband runs a coffee and chocolate shop nearby on Calle 57 and Carrera 16 – so I will have to stop in and visit on my next trip to Bogotá (and get some pictures of her latest crochet creations too!)

We walked a few blocks to a short street, Calle 56 (with Carrera 13) where there are several stores selling a variety of yarns.  While there was a lot of Red Heart and Lion Brand (especially the Homespun USA – my favorite, at home), I was able to find some beautiful yarns that are made right in Bogotá.

I fell in love with some of the yarns from Lanas Arvi.

Lanas Arvi

One of the yarns is a beautiful tan and turquoise mix..

some of my new Colombian yarn.. with my gigantic crochet hook.

some of my new Colombian yarn.. with my gigantic crochet hook.

It’s destined to be a scarf.. This time I might even keep it.  So far, I have gifted away everything I’ve made with the exception of a camera lens bag..

Several of the shops offer crochet and knitting classes.  Todos Lanas and Almacen Mutifibras even print the class schedules on the back of their receipts.

The prices are about the same as Wal-mart (since JoAnn’s and some of the craft stores mark up the yarns quite a bit.)  I also bought two small skeins of a lovely dark purple to make a gift for a friend – and two small skeins of a variegated yarn with the bright yellow, blue and red of the Colombian flag..   All of the other yellow/ blue / red yarns were sold out just about everywhere we looked.  Several owners told us that between Colombian Independence Day (today) and the World Cup – they haven’t been able to keep any of the patriotic colors in stock for the last month.

Embajada de la Coca

During my visit to Bogotá – we sampled some delicious Andean style cuisine at the Embajada de la Coca.  (To read my article on the experience, click here.)

welcome to Embajada de la Coca

welcome to Embajada de la Coca

Meet the artist: Isabella Klein

The next day, I spent the afternoon visiting the Klein family.  If the name sounds familiar – it’s because one the sons, Albert Klein, PharmD is a close friend and my co-writer on several of the Hidden Gem titles.  (The Kleins are a talented family; the younger son, Alex plays piano with the Bogotá Philharmonic Orchestra and the daughter, A. J. is an occasional model.)

(For more about the Bogotá Philharmonic – read this post by a blogger from the University of Texas at Austin.)

His mother, Isabella works as a professional translator as well as teaching English.  But that’s just her job – art is her life.  She works in multiple platforms – mixed media, paintings, photography and artisan crafts.

On today’s visit – we talked about some of her craft work as well as the large craft fairs here in Colombia.  We discussed my ideas for ‘artisan craft style tours‘ where visitors could learn more about the crafting process and Indigenous cultures of Colombia.

She showed me some of her more recent projects – making decorative wooden boxes.  Instead of using the traditional Colombian patterns, she designs her own.

Some of the wooden boxes designed by Isabella Klein

Some of the wooden boxes designed by Isabella Klein

Her mixed media paints are arresting to look at.  Unfortunately, I was too busy admiring them to take any pictures..

But I do have a couple more pictures of the boxes.


I think the next box is just fantastic.. It’s a design that just catches the eye.  I like the combination of blues.


For a portfolio of some of Isabella Klein’s work – click here.

After too few days – it was time to say goodbye to my Bogota friends (new and old) and head back to Medellin to prepare for Colombia Moda..

with dear friends, Camila and Flavita.

with dear friends, Camila and Flavita.

Of course – it wasn’t all bad – these lovely ladies were at the airport in Rionegro to greet me..  The Aguardiente Girls!!

Welcome to Medellin!

Welcome to Medellin!


In the kitchen with Sra. Clara Lozano: Brevas

Clara Lozano and her husband, Alvaro Palacios

Clara Lozano and her husband, Alvaro Palacios

Clara and her family have a special place in my heart.  I first met them when I rented an apartment from them for almost six months while researching the Bogota back.  I have been back several times since, and I always stay with the Palacios..  They are wonderful people who typify the kind and generous nature of Colombians in general.

The other day, while at the fruit market, I purchased several Brevas.  Despite all of my previous visits  – I remained fairly ignorant of this particular Colombian fruit, which is a type of fig.

Mangostinos and brevas.  Brevas are the small green fruit

Mangostinos and brevas. Brevas are the small green fruit

So, Clara was kind enough to share a recipe for making a desert of Brevas that has been in her family for over 100 years, which I will now share with you.  As a spectacularly bad cook – I was smart enough not to get too close as we were cooking, but I took copious notes.  (When I cook, the fire department is often involved.)

The recipe is fairly simple – simple enough that I can probably manage myself next time.  The ingredient list includes: Brevas, washed and rinsed, about a half cup of sugar (or panela) and cinnamon.



1. After rinsing the brevas, cut of the ends.  Then partually section each breva.  (Do not cut into pieces, just make a small cut at the top of the breva, extending about half way down the fruit).

2. Place in a saucepan, and cover with water.

3. Add about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of sugar (or panela) to the mixture.. and 1/2 tsp of cinnamon (or one small stick of cinnamon broken into smaller pieces)

4. Boil until the mixture thickens to a syrupy glaze (about 20 – 25 minutes.)  This mixture will be dark brown (from the cinnamon).

Boiling brevas: Photo by Camila

Boiling brevas: Photo by Camila

5.  Serve warm with a slice of mild cheese (queso de crema).

finished brevas

Traditionally served with a mild white cheese and cold milk

Traditionally served with a mild white cheese and cold milk

Delicious!  The cheese is a perfect contrast to the sweet rich taste of the brevas..

For more about Colombian fruits

Sunday in La Candelaria

I am visiting Bogotá this week, before heading back to Medellin..

Bogotá is one of those cities that climbs into your heart – despite initial misgivings; too big, too cold, often rainy; becomes gloriously interesting and wonderfully cool..

I was armed with just a camera phone, so my friend, Camila Togni assisted in my photo-taking endeavors..

Sidewalk in downtown Bogota

Sidewalk in downtown Bogota

Despite its large size – the city manages to be hospitable and friendly to visitors – and I missed my Bogotá “home”.  So I headed back for just a few days to check in and enjoy all the things that make me love this unlikely city so much..

While Barrio Chico (where I live) is pretty quiet – La Candelaria is always quite a bit more lively.

I normally tend to avoid the Candelaria area because of the ever-present crowds of people, which is a shame because there are a lot of interesting places to visit and some beautiful architecture in this part of town.

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Alvaro Palacio & Claro Lozano in front of the Cathedral de Bogota

But this weekend is the celebration por el nino del 20 de julio (and the ORs are closed) so when my friends invited me to go downtown with them – it was an opportunity not to be missed!

First we headed to the Iglesia de nino de 20 de Julio since this what the holiday weekend was all about.. It’s a huge church – a campus, actually – and it was packed with people.

Iglesia de nino del 20 de Julio

Iglesia de nino del 20 de Julio

Even though it was crowded, it was a lovely service – and the church itself is quite pretty.

el nino de 20 de Julio

el nino de 20 de Julio

The church has a lovely glass dome and several stained-glass windows with religious scenes.

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The church is so large, the domed area actually isn’t part of the central church, but an overflow area with a jumbo screen television so worshippers can see the priest conducting the service in the main chamber.

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You can see the crowd milling in the foreground of this photo.

the crowd at the church

the crowd at the church

After the service, we wandered around the large flea market just a street away from the church before heading to lunch at a famous but tiny, and old restaurant called, “La Puerto Falso.

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While the rest of my party had their famous tamals, I was up for a bit of a culinary adventure, so I had a soup called Changua.

Colombian Tamal

Colombian Tamal

While the description of a soup made of milk, eggs, bread, mild local cheese and cilantro didn’t sound that entices – it was actually quite good and is part of Bogotá regional cuisine.

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Links for additional information about sightseeing in Bogota

More information about La Candelaria

Virtual tourist – La Candelaria

Video of LA Candelaria

Cathedral de Bogota

Most guides are going to send you to the Museo de Oro “The Gold Museum” but that’s not my favorite..

Museo de la Policia – probably my favorite of all the museums, thus far, in Colombia.  It’s free – guides welcome you in from the street – and you can see the bloodied, bullet-ridden jacket of Pablo Escobar, from his last moments on a rooftop in Medellin.  (It’s considered rude to ask about Pablo Escobar in general conversation) but if you hold any fascination about how a rural boy from an impoverished background managed to hold Colombia hostage, and gain international infamy – it’s a must.  The guides also offered free candy, and played a game of ‘rana’ with us.  (The are guides for multiple languages).

Anthony Bourdain does Colombia

It’s not his first visit – he’s done several other programs highlighting Colombia, but tonight’s episode on his new CNN show, “Parts Unknown” is definitely his best.  It’s the first time I think  he actually ‘got it’ and was really able to convey a real sense of Colombia to his viewers.

While his previous shows were primarily about food, and local food culture – his episodes on Colombian cuisine were always very wide from the mark..  Sure, he had the names of dishes and such – but he didn’t really bring home the feel of Colombia and it’s people.

Or that Colombian food isn’t really about intense spices, it’s about the intense and rich flavors that comes from the rich textures of the foods themselves – without overpowering curries or heavy sauces..

Better quality, fresher ingredients and a wide variety make for richer flavors

Better quality, fresher ingredients and a wide variety make for richer flavors

Images of Colombia

While I am back here in the United States, I wanted to share many of the images I’ve gathered and collected during my most recent visit to Colombia..  Some of these images will be familiar to long-term readers from various posts about my trips to Lerida, visits to the finca, and day-to-day encounters with different and interesting people in Colombia.

I hope you enjoy!

Happy Anniversary…

As my long-time readers know – I am a huge fan of Adriaan Alsema, a Dutch-borne journalist in Medellin, Colombia.  He is the founder/ creator/ and genius behind Colombia – the English language news source for all things Colombiano.

Mr. Alsema, Editor-in-chief, Colombia Reports

Mr. Alsema, Editor-in-chief, Colombia Reports

It’s the fifth anniversary of Colombia Reports – so I wanted to wish Adriaan a Happy Anniversary..


Dr. Alejandro Jadad and Jose Vergara

Much thanks to Jose Vergara  for sending me a link to an article on Dr. Alejandro Jadad.  Jose Vergara, aka Frankie Jazz, as some readers may remember, is a Cartagena native and talented artist in his own right.

Frankie Jazz/ Jose Vergara

Frankie Jazz/ Jose Vergara

We try to keep up with each other – so he knows all about my interest in Colombian medicine and surgery, and I love his new album (so I try not to gush and be too much of a groupie when I hear from him) but he recently sent me a link to one of his more recent projects.   The Voxxi article by Silvia Casablanca is pretty interesting, so I wanted to share it with readers.

For starters – Jose Vergara is the photographer for the article..

Dr. Alejandro Jadad, MD, PhD

But it’s the life of Dr. Alejandro Jadad that is so inspiring..  Dr. Jadad is a Colombian anesthesiologist, textbook author and founder of the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation in Toronto, Canada (among other things).  He has been credited with being one of the major innovators in the fields of clinical research, medicine and information technology.

While at Oxford, as a research fellow in Anesthesiology, he developed a validation tool (the Jadad scale) to critically evaluate and analyze clinical research studies.  This is an important tool to distinguish the quality (and value) of individual research studies – or how much weight a study (and its findings) should have.   We talk about the importance of objective scales and measures quite a bit here at Bogotá Surgery, and the Jadad scale is one of the best known and most widely used scales for clinical research.

Clinical research is how surgeons know whether a patient has a better chance for survival with surgery or chemotherapy/ radiation, for example.

So as you can imagine – having a tool like this is particularly vital when talking about clinical medicine / or health research where the findings of research studies are used to guide and determine medical decisions – aka the medical treatments for people like in our example above.

As the Casablanca article points out – Dr. Jadad didn’t stop with writing textbooks and creating the Jadad scale.  After completing his fellowship in the United Kingdom, he moved to Ontario, Canada to continue his research at McMaster University.   Since then, he has continued to innovate and create tools to help both clinicians and the public.  One of the ways he helps clinicians is by further creating and refining tools to evaluate medical research.

He has also been a major creator and contributor to the development of internet and computer based applications to connect doctors and their patients.  His efforts are based on more that the patient – provider dyad, and are part of a larger, global framework for reforming and transforming healthcare.

More about Dr. Alejandro Jadad, MD, PhD

Casablanca, Silvia (2013, January).  Dr. Alejandro Jadad: Redefining health and  making it global.  Voxxi [on-line article].

(Canadian) Pioneers for Change

Making Longer Life Worth Living“, lecture by Dr. Jedad at Singularity webblog as part of the ‘Singularity University lecture’ series.

More about Jose Vergara / Frankie Jazz

Frankie Jazz – wikipedia page

Vimeo page

Let Me Take My Way – which is one of my personal favorites…

Techo por mi pais with Team Sanabria

Just a week ago, I was ankle-deep in mud in the southern-most reaches of Bogotá, with ‘Team Sanabria’ as they completed another house as part of “Techo por mi pais”, which is an organization very similar to Habitat for Humanity.


A couple of weekends each year, they donate their time (and hard labor) to build homes for many of Bogotá’s poorest residents.


It’s arduous work – which is more difficult given the frequent rain and adverse weather conditions in the hills above Bogotá.


I wrote a short story about their efforts over at  – but I wasn’t able to include all of the pictures, so I wanted to post some of them here.

Juan Jesus' grandson stands in the doorway of his modest home

Juan Jesus’ grandson stands in the doorway of his modest home

The family they were building the house for on this occasion was exceedingly sweet, gracious – and willing to wade into the muck with the rest of the team.

OThe organization, is much bigger than just Team Sanabria, so all in all – about fifty houses were built that weekend.

Volunteers carrying supplies to another site

Volunteers carrying supplies to another site


laying foundation for Juan Jesus' new house

laying foundation for Juan Jesus’ new house


It costs about 1500 dollars to construct one of the basic 3 meter X 6 meter homes.


Here the foundation, and flooring has been completed – and they are getting the walls into place.


Luckily, the rain didn’t start again until most of the walls were completed.


It was an excellent chance to see a side of Bogota that most visitors never to get see – and to meet many of the residents of the neighborhood, so I was very glad they invited me to join them.

a group of beauty school students stop by to check on the progress.

a group of beauty school students stop by to check on the progress.

It also gave me a chance to get some other pictures of the neighborhood – of things we don’t often think about when we see or hear about poorer neighborhoods (or slums).


Like the rose bushes that residents plant to brighten and beautify their homes.

well kept home with flowers

well kept home with flowers


Or the full herb garden, Juan Jesus’ neighbor planted (and shared with us) in her immaculately kept and fenced yard.


I think sometimes, the overwhelming poverty makes it hard for outsiders to notice the little spots of beauty in places like this.  But it gives me hope – and it shows the resilience of human nature.


I think it’s also important right now, while our own country is hurting too.. With all of the divisions and politics – particularly in the aftermath of the elections, sometimes we forget to put a face on the people who are living in more marginal circumstances – due to unemployment, etc.


We hear so much about fraud, waste and abuse of social programs that we forget about the real people who desperately need these services.  Now, I am not some hippie advocating for radical political change.

I am just a nurse, trying to find the people who sometimes get forgotten in the middle of all this.

kids in the barrio

kids in the barrio

Talking to Wilmer Villa Miranda of Arte & Glamour

I am back in Mexicali (for the time being) but I was so busy during the last few weeks that I didn’t get to finish some of my posts talking about the interesting people I’ve met – and places I’ve seen..  I certainly don’t want to skip over Wilmer Villa.


He’s not famous, nor is he a surgeon – but just like so many of the people I’ve met in Colombia – he has a story to tell.  It’ didn’t start as an interview, but then it rarely does – it started out as a visit to a salon on Calle 115 No 59 – 35 with a friend.  But as Wilmer talked about his new salon (his first), and we celebrated the one month anniversary of his shoppe, a story started to  form.

No, he hasn’t invented a cure for cancer – or even a way to arrest the  relentless aging  process.  But he has managed to create a tranquil little spot in the middle of Bogotá for people to come and enjoy themselves for a few hours.

It hasn’t been easy – but with the help of a good friend (and long-time client), Alcira Acosta de  Chaves, Wilmer was able to move out of the previous salon where he had a chair to establish his own salon.  It’s a dream that has been several years in the making – which is obvious as soon as you enter the salon.

Everything is immaculate; organized and set out in a classically elegant black/white and silver scheme that evokes the 1940’s heyday of glamour.  But it’s more than just a place for a haircut or a manicure, Wilmer. 27, states.  It’s the entire package – the total experience, he explains, as he pours a client a cup of herbal tea.

“People can come here and get away from all the negative, and the stress [of their daily lives.]  We are here for more than just hair, and make-up. we are here for laughter, smiles and good times with friends.

His cheerful attitude is infectious, and as clients come in, he and Almira take time to explain the philosophy of the shop, and the experience.  “I want this place to be different” – it’s not a place for catty remarks, or cutting down of self-esteem.  It’s not about malicious gossip or sarcasm, ” We don’t need any of that here,” he says.  “It’s a place for people to form long-term relationships, share celebrations, milestones and happy events,” he adds.  And he means it – as each person enters, he greets them by name, they share a smile or a silly story.

It’s nice – and certainly different from many of the other salons in the area.  It isn’t about the up sell, or preying on women’s insecurities about their looks to sell services*.  They seem to genuinely enjoy their customers and in making their clients look and feel their best.


About Wilmer:

Wilmer, the child of a Colombian mother and a Venezuelan father, was born Cucuta, near the border.  He grew up in Chinacota, Colombia near the border with Venezuela.  He attended cosmetology school in Perico before coming to Bogotá.

After finishing school, he come to Bogotá to apprentice with several well-known stylists such as Hernan Abandano, and received a scholarship for additional training as a colorist.  He eventually received international certifications as a stylist and colorist – and has been a stylist for seven years.

He talks about how these experiences have shaped his life, and his outlook.  “I like to meet people from different places, and hear more about their lives.  I am learning English because I enjoy meeting and talking to Americans – and hearing their ideas and perspectives.”

Maybe Wilmer isn’t changing the world – but he is making it a more pleasant place.

*There is nothing more disheartening in my opinion than going for a manicure than being offered, “How about if we fix your hair” or “some Botox for those wrinkles”.. Or some other, more personal reminders that beauty, particularly in Latin America, is sometimes seen as more important that what’s inside.

J. O’Shaughnessy

Some of you have heard me talk about my friend, Jo O’shaughnessy before.  She’s a fabulous photographer that I met here in Bogotá.  (Told you there are always interesting and great people to encounter in this city.)


Jo has started a new blog, but she’s still getting the hang of it – so when she sent me one of her pictures of ‘Bogotá life’ – I told her I will be thrilled to share it.  She is more than a photographer – she has the instincts and the artist sensibilities to see what other people overlook.

The next picture is a perfect example of that.  On a rainy day in Bogotá – Jo looked out the window of a coffee shop and saw this man.  He’s one of hundreds of scrap collectors in the city – people who make their living, and eek out a survival by collecting and reselling much of what the rest of the city regards as garbage.  Like garbage, most people don’t even see the scrap collectors. They just become part of the city landscape, pulling their carts through traffic and enduring all sorts of conditions.

Few people stop to think about it. Fewer still can capture that daily struggle.


And then there’s Jo – whose heart is so big – and is practically chasing the man down the street to offer him her husband’s coat..

Back to Bogota

After stuffing myself with lechona and tamal tolidense, swimming in the fresh crisp water of one of the local fincas, enjoying the controlled chaos of the market in Lerida and being overwhelmed by the tragedy of Armero – it was time to head back home to Bogotá.

Since it was Sunday, the roads were almost deserted, so we made it home in a fraction of the time it took to travel in the other direction. So much so, that we had plenty of time to stop and look around at more sites on the way home.

I got some great pictures of the drive – heading up into the cool mountains.

the valley below

One of the more interesting places we passed once we returned to Cundinamarca was Guaduas.  Guaduas is a small city of about 30,000 that was the birthplace and home of one of Colombia’s most famous women (no, not Shakira but “La Pola”.)

The city was founded in 1572 and was a well-used and frequent stop for travelers from Bogotá to more outlying areas like Tolima.  Now one of its main claims to fame is Policarpa Salavarrieta or “La Pola” as she is known.  Her likeness and name currently adorn a local bakery in Guaduas.

Ms. Salavarrieta (1795 – 1817)  is considered one of Colombia’s heroes (or heroine) for her role in the Colombian revolution.  She is the only female to be honored on Colombian currency (in multiple different designations over the years.)  She currently decorates the 10,000 peso bill, but was also on coinage in the past.

After being orphaned by a smallpox outbreak, she moved to Bogotá where she was able to sneak in and out of Bogotá (which had tight security under the Royalist regime).

She was a seamstress who used her sewing talents to gain access to the homes of staunch Royalists and eavesdrop on their conversations.  She also stole documents and spied on military officers and recruited others to the revolutionary cause.

Unfortunately, after the capture of one of her fellow revolutionaries, she was arrested, tried and executed along with her lover and several others on November 14, 1817.  She was reportedly defiant even as she was led to the firing squad, and refused to keep her back to her executioners – turning around to face them as they shot her to death.

To commemorate her actions to assist the revolutionary efforts, in the late 1960’s, the Colombian government designated her birthday as “Day of the Colombian Woman.”

After learning more about La Pola from my guide, we continued to Faca (Facativa), a city just outside Bogotá to visit one of the fincas that used to be in the family.  Faca is best known for its native roots, and the many indigenous carvings, paintings and sculptures that were found during archeological excavations.  Faca is primarily a farm town – and is surrounded by several large fincas with livestock and different agricultural products including flower cultivation.

From there – we cruised on into Bogotá; where as much as I enjoyed my journeys, it felt great to be home.

Jose Asuncion Silva, the poet and 5 mil

There are several poems named Nocturne, and a I, II and III.  Nocturne III is the one on the bill – but his simply named Nocturno is my favorite.

Oh dulce niña pálida, que como un montón de oro
de tu inocencia cándida conservas el tesoro;
a quien los más audaces, en locos devaneos
jamás se han acercado con carnales deseos;
tú, que adivinar dejas inocencias extrañas
en tus ojos velados por sedosas pestañas,
y en cuyos dulces labios —abiertos sólo al rezo—
jamás se habrá posado ni la sombra de un beso…
Dime quedo, en secreto, al oído, muy paso,
con esa voz que tiene suavidades de raso:
si entrevieras en sueños a aquél con quien tú sueñas
tras las horas de baile rápidas y risueñas,
y sintieras sus labios anidarse en tu boca
y recorrer tu cuerpo, y en su lascivia loca
besar todos sus pliegues de tibio aroma llenos
y las rígidas puntas rosadas de tus senos;
si en los locos, ardientes y profundos abrazos
agonizar soñaras de placer en sus brazos,
por aquel de quien eres todas las alegrías,
¡oh dulce niña pálida!, di, ¿te resistirías?…

Lee todo en: NOCTURNO – Poemas de José Asunción Silva

the poet

  The poem is actual microprinted on the reverse side of the 5,000 peso bill but despite using my macrolens – it’s impossible to read – I can’t even verify exactly which version is printed here, though one of my sources says Nocturno III, the rest just say Nocturne.  But the bill itself is pretty impressive.

Nocturno III

Una noche
Una noche toda llena de perfumes, de murmullos y de músicas de alas,
Una noche
En que ardían en la sombra nupcial y húmeda las luciérnagas fantásticas,
A mi lado lentamente, contra mí ceñida toda, muda y pálida,
Como si un presentimiento de amarguras infinitas,
Hasta el más secreto fondo de las fibras te agitara,
Por la senda florecida que atraviesa la llanura
Y la luna llena
Por los cielos azulosos, infinitos y profundos esparcía su luz blanca,
Y tu sombra
Fina y lánguida,
Y mi sombra
Por los rayos de la luna proyectadas,
Sobre las arenas tristes
De la senda se juntaban,
Y eran una,
Y eran una,
Y eran una sola sombra larga
Y eran una sola sombra larga
Y eran una sola sombra larga…
Esta noche
Solo; el alma
Llena de las infinitas amarguras y agonías de tu muerte,
Separado de ti misma por el tiempo, por la tumba y la distancia,
Por el infinito negro
Donde nuestra voz no alcanza,
Mudo y solo
Por la senda caminaba…
Y se oían los ladridos de los perros a la luna,
A la luna pálida,
Y el chillido
De las ranas…
Sentí frío; era el frío que tenían en tu alcoba
Tus mejillas y tus sienes y tus manos adoradas,
Entre las blancuras níveas
De las mortuorias sábanas,
Era el frío del sepulcro, era el hielo de la muerte
Era el frío de la nada,
Y mi sombra,
Por los rayos de la luna proyectada,
Iba sola,
Iba sola,
Iba sola por la estepa solitaria
Y tu sombra esbelta y ágil
Fina y lánguida,
Como en esa noche tibia de la muerta primavera,
Como en esa noche llena de murmullos de perfumes y de músicas de alas,
Se acercó y marchó con ella
Se acercó y marchó con ella…
Se acercó y marchó con ella…¡Oh las sombras enlazadas!
¡Oh las sombras de los cuerpos que se juntan con
[las sombras de las almas…
¡Oh las sombras que se buscan en las noches de tristezas y de lágrimas!..


 Earlier, I posted what was supposed to be an ‘official translation’ but even as I compared the two – with my limited Spanish – it seemed really, really off.  (Not just shades of nuance – which I have yet to master in Spanish.)

 Jose Asuncion Silva  (1865 – 1896)

They say that Jose Asuncion Silva wrote those words after the death of his beloved sister in 1892, but reading his words more than a century later – I have my doubts.  Unless, like Poe, he nurtured a romantic love for a close family member (Poe married his first cousin.)**

Otherwise, to me – the words speak of a more romantic, more tragic love with a lot of sensual imagery, but of course, that is just my interpretation of my modest Spanish, as well as google translation.

  A few years after his sister’s death, the majority of his work was lost at sea (1895).  Shortly after, in 1896 – burdened by family debt and these emotional losses – Jose Asuncion Silva committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest.

His most famous work – (as posted above) wasn’t published until well after his death in 1908.

You can visit his grave at the Central cemetary here in Bogotá.  (The link is to one of my favorite Bogotá bloggers).  ** Local rumor is that he did, indeed, harbor an ‘unnatural affection for his dear sis..

Talking with Andres Barrientos, Colombian film director

He lives at the top of the world, I think as I climb the hills of Bogota to his studio.   In a sliver of the window of his modest work space, the whole of Bogota is laid out beneath me.  I wonder how this affects the Bogota native’s work; which is dark, profound and futuristic in nature.

Film Director, Andres Barrientos

In a city where chance meetings are common, I had the good fortune to sit next to a charming and attractive young man at a friend’s dinner party.  As we made the usual small talk, he mentioned that he was a filmmaker.

Now, growing up in California, I had met my share of ‘filmmakers,’ all of who were the self-proclaimed ‘next Scorsese’ or ‘Tarentino’, and all of whom were waiting tables.  So we talked about YouTube and the like, along with one of his current projects, while I remained mainly grateful for the timely rescue his appearance made from the boorish oaf on the other side of me.  He was interesting and charming enough that I offered to interview for him for my modest little blog.

Imagine my surprise to find out that he’s not the next Clint Eastwood.  Or even Tarentino. No, he’s the Andres Barrientos, one of Colombia’s youngest critically acclaimed directors with over fifteen films (and numerous awards) to his credit.   Despite my appalling lapse, he was delightful, kind and prompt.  (The last is especially notable in Colombia, where time has its own interpretation.)

Andres Barrientos, working in his studio

It will take several days to unravel the complexities of Mr. Barrientos and his work – but I’ll be talking more about him and the three projects he is currently working on over at the

Update: the full article can be seen here.