Tierra Caliente

Getting ready to go rafting.

Spent a few days in San Gil with my blonde-haired sister, who might as well be Miss. America in small town Colombia. Or in all of Colombia. Blondes are a rare and highly pursued commodity here. Brunettes not so much.

Anyway, our hotel cost $15 a night and we had a private bathroom, balcony access and cable TV. For that price, you don’t mind sacrificing air conditioning and a hot shower. The hotel was run by a nice young woman who wore those light wash jeans with no pockets in the back, a white spaghetti top and a miraculous wonder bra. My style icon. If only I lived in a hot weather place. Alas, Bogota confines me to sweaters and scarves.

San Gil itself is not a particularly picturesque town and considering it’s the ecotourism capital of Colombia, we did not expect that the air would smell like diesel. But my sister and I came to the consensus that if there is one smell that characterizes Latin America, it’s diesel. (Mixed with fried food, perfume and cigarettes.) You can’t get away from it. Back in the U.S., I’d occasionally pick up the scent. I’d be walking along minding my own business when suddenly, I’d smell that most Latin American blend of aromas, that perfect mixture of gasoline, old woman’s perfume, unfiltered cigarettes and a wonderful, dizzying aroma of fried baked goods. It had the power to transport me straight to the motherland, hitting me with a wave of nostalgia for a country I wasn’t even born in and didn’t grow up in.

But back in San Gil — The town is very typical of Colombian small towns: A hodgepodge mix of slightly dilapidated colonial-style buildings, style-less 70’s monstrosities, cobblestoned streets that suddenly turn into paved streets, far more pharmacies than seem necessary, too many motorcycles for comfort, and an attractive colonial church in a surprisingly intact plaza populated by old men with little to do (but who cling –unfailingly — to an undying admiration of all things female). Sometimes I think it would be nice to live in a small town. It’s like living a Marquez or Amado novel. You see the gossipy fat woman who sells lottery tickets and cell phone minutes and never leaves her wooden stool, the good-looking town stud who fancies himself a Don Juan, the teenage girls who knowingly and frequntly walk by said Don Juan, the little kids in their school uniforms screaming and playing during recess and the town drunkard, asleep on the sidewalk with a bottle of aguardiente still in his hands at 3pm in the afternoon. I suppose the story of small towns is the same all over the world.

In the San Gil spirit of adventure, Tati and I decided to go white water rafting. Below you can see us in our rafting get-up. I think my life jacket made me look like a massive German woman named Bertha or Helga or something equally terrible, but as safety comes first, I had no choice but to accept my Bavarian lot in life. Because the river was so low, our outdoor adventure at times seemed more like still water drifting than white water rafting. But if you had seen our rafting team (composed of two slightly overweight and uncoordinated middle-aged moms, two slightly distracted and equally uncoordinated kids, one 90-pound, uninterested teenager, my sister and myself) you would understand that this group was not made for level 5 rapids. I do not think that our 15 year-old guide was impressed with his group of thrill-seekers. But for the equivalent of US$10, we got to enjoy a scenic 10k journey down the river (more like creek due to lack of rain), where we saw several iguanas, many rocks and plenty of trees. And unlike Montana where I happily volunteered to sit in the middle of the raft, I actually rowed this time.

Tati became el Lobster Humano by the end of the trip, serving as a reminder that sunscreen is very necessary when participating in tropical outdoor adventures…

Categories: Colombia, Travel around Colombia

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