(Bogota. One week.)
Note: Unlike the other foreign trips recounted in this series, this trip had no political aspects, and was much shorter. It was simply a spur-of-the-moment decision to see my Parisian friend Christian Camus and get a brief experience of the country. Christian had worked for many years for a French company with international connections. Since he was fond of Latino culture and was fluent in Spanish, he had convinced the company to make him one of its main representatives in Latin America. As a result, he was able to spend a month or two there every year at the company’s expense, cultivating business contacts in several different countries while exploring the local scenes during his time off. He had met his wife Marta in Bogota during one of those trips in 1990, and they frequently went back there to visit her family. In early February 2018 Christian mentioned that they were about to go there again and suggested that I meet them there. On a lark, I decided to do so. I had no particular reason to go there and my knowledge of Spanish is very minimal, but knowing that Christian would be there to arrange everything and show me around was enough to convince me.
February 26. Cramped overnight flight during which I got almost no sleep. Arrived at Bogota airport at 2:00 p.m. Met there by Christian, Marta, and her sister Belen. Late lunch and café. To Mauricio’s (an ecologically oriented artist who has also done a lot of UNESCO work with the Muisca Indians). Taxis — Marta and Belen to their niece’s, Christian and I to Enrique and Sandra’s, where we stayed the next two nights.
February 27. Downtown with Christian, walking around Bogota, lunch, café stops, a police museum,* rest in a park, but mostly lots of walking. Talked re Colombia culture and politics, and re the French works I’m planning to cover in my book group (Stendhal, Balzac, etc.).** Back to Enrique’s in the evening.
*While we were strolling around, we happened to see a sign for a “Police Museum” and on a lark we decided to take the free tour. Not something we would normally have gravitated toward, but it was kind of interesting to see how the police presented themselves (primarily as heroes combatting Colombia’s notorious drug traffickers, with photos and captured weapons on display).
**For the last several years I’ve been leading a book discussion group in Berkeley (“Exploring the Classics”). It started out with Don Quixote and Montaigne, moved through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Bunyan, Swift, Defoe, Fielding, Diderot, Blake, etc.), and at this point I was preparing to do several French novelists and poets of the nineteenth century (Stendhal, Balzac, Flaubert, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, etc.). Since the pandemic, the group has been meeting via Zoom, which has enabled people from other places to take part. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in joining us. (We’re now about to do a year of Asian classics.)
February 28. Christian and I met Marta and Belen. Bus to Zipaquera, a small city an hour away from Bogota — more typical of towns in Colombia. Dropped our luggage at a hotel, hiked to the top of a hill with a cathedral, late lunch. I bought two pairs of shoes (hiking and tennis) — $20 each. Back at the hotel we watched some vintage dance videos on YouTube that I’d been chatting to Christian about (Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Gracie Allen, etc.). Light dinner (arapas), then beer on the central plaza, then back to the hotel.
March 1. Cafés etc. Bus back to Bogota, dropped luggage at Ileana’s (Marta’s and Belen’s niece), then met their friend Eva-Maria for coffee at a café. She’s an energy utilities manager currently running for the Colombian Senate. Vegetarian dinner, then they put me on a taxi, with careful instructions to the driver to take me back to Enrique’s.
March 2. Got a ride with Enrique’s sister Monica and her husband to their office. Checked my email on Monica’s computer, then Christian picked me up. Napped at Ileana’s. Walked a lot with Christian, Marta, and Belen (including to several bookstores for Belen to get some books for her son). Then Christian and Marta went to a dinner party while Belen and I went back to Ileana’s. I had a stomachache and was worried that it would persist and spoil my final day here, but fortunately it was over by morning.
March 3. With Christian, Marta, Belen, and Ileana to a waterfall park in the nearby mountains. Beautiful landscape, lunch (picado), then back to Ileana’s. Taxi to party at Mauricio’s. Lots of food and drinks, about 25 people, including four or five Muisca Indians. They played some songs for us and after the first few numbers everyone else joined in with drums, tambourines, shakers, etc. I then did two Guthrie songs with guitar (“Hard Travelin’ ” and “New York Town”) plus Brassens’s Villon ballade; another guy did some Colombian songs with guitar; Christian sang some Spanish songs and also accompanied others on flute; and several people recited their own poems. Back to Ileana’s at 11:00.
March 4. Up at 5:00. Taxi to the airport with Christian, where we had breakfast and a nice final chat. Plane left at 8:30, changed at Panama, arrived in San Francisco at 5:00 p.m. Home at 7:00 and early to bed.
Account of Ken Knabb’s 2018 Colombia trip.