Luke's South American Diary
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April 1999

7 April 1999

Swamped as I have been in recent days by all the paperwork connected with our now impending move to Canada, I have hardly had time to think about all the things I will and will not miss about Colombia and Latin America. But let me just briefly mention a few:

Things I will miss
  • The cachet of living in a relatively obscure and interesting place.
  • The money, the luxury, the prestige and the ease of the ex-pat life.
  • The mountains and all the natural beauty of the area.
  • Up until recent months, I would have said the weather - when it is nice it is very nice - but we have had (and continue to have) so much rain that I do not think I can now say that.
  • The opportunities of travelling to fascinating out-of-the-way places with no tourists to get in one's way.
  • Being able to afford someone to do all those things I hate (ironing, cleaning the bathroom, child-care, etc).
  • The liberating feeling of being able to drive like a lunatic without being arrested, or even remarked upon.
  • All those "exotic" (as they would be considered anywhere else) fruits and vegetables in the supermarkets.
  • Strangely enough, being called "Don Luke" or "Doctor".
Things I will not miss
  • The complications that straight-forward everyday actions can present here (eg sending mail, paying bills, etc).
  • Things which do not work.
  • The traffic, or rather the attitude of the drivers, especially bus-drivers.
  • Not being able to go where I like, especially not being able to just walk around places (without having planned it to death, cleared it with security, etc - spontaneity, in effect).
  • Speaking Spanish (my Spanish is fine, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn, but it still costs me much more than speaking English).
  • The relatively limited selection of restaurants we frequent (I am thinking of - salivating over - all those vegetarian Chinese, Indian and Japanese restaurants in Toronto).
  • Living in a country rapidly going down the drain, economically, socially and politically.

Elena will certainly sorely miss her friend Sofia when we move on (and vice versa).
Photo: Elena amd Sofia, Bogotá, Colombia. Apr 1999.
Elena and Sofia, Bogotá, Colombia. Apr 1999.
They spend most of each afternoon together, raising hell, carrying on, and egging each other on to new heights of audacity and mischief. They can also be quite sweet together, and spend hours dressing up (and undressing for that matter). A current favourite is to prance around wearing bathing suits, draped with old tea towels and strings of plastic jewellery (they could be either "princesses" or "Indians" and one has to take care to get it right). They often have a bath together in the afternoons (an earsplitting and exceedingly damp experience not for the faint of heart). Elena has also developed her own version of the Andalusian canto hondo, which she belts out at great volume, complete with improvised words.

I still have not recovered the patient and easy-going nature I used to have - that is gone forever, I fear - but we do have some good moments, and, as I persist in reminding Elena, these tend to coincide with the rare times that she does what she is told when she is told it. I am hardly a disciplinarian myself, but I find it so frustrating when she totally ignores all my hard-earned and valuable advice, and proceeds to do whatever she want, and other than me, no-one else seems willing to so much as tell her off for such transgressions. I can see that I am fighting a losing battle, but that is no reason not to try. Is it? So, some feelings of bitterness and resentment still remain from time to time, and frustration and just plain tedium are still quite common, as I tell her for the tenth time to have another spoonful of her dinner, to put her slippers on again, etc, etc.

30 April 1999 Back to top

Still no fascinating trips to report, no last minute jungle treks, not even a tame jaunt to the beach. I do feel that I have kicked the travel bug to some extent, by a process of catharsis you might say. At this point before we left Venezuela, I remember being in a state of mild panic because I had left some trips undone. While I do regret not having done and seen everything I would have liked in Colombia (the main excursions I feel I have missed out on being to Isla Gorgona, Providencia, Sierra Nevada del Cocuy, and Barichara), I do not however feel the same kind of passion as I did a couple of years ago - which is probably no bad thing. At one point it became something of an obsession, more like collecting the experiences off a list, which is not a very healthy way of approaching it.

The logistical problems involved in travelling around Colombia these days have probably played their part in calming me down too, and since the ELN took to hijacking airplanes a couple of weeks ago, even air travel within the country is no longer necessarily safe - a depressing prospect and which makes it much easier for us to leave.

Not that we are the only ones leaving - several of our friends (Colombian and foreign) are on the move, and a recent poll in the newspaper suggested that 50% of all Colombians want out, most of the applications being to the USA, Spain and Canada (hence the huge queues I have had to brave outside the Canadian embassy). Most companies are downsizing as the economy sinks even deeper into the mire, and the general atmosphere is one of doom and gloom all round. For this reason too, we have had so much difficulty selling our car and Julie has had only mixed success in finding new jobs for the staff she is having to lay off. Our excellent cleaner and nanny may have to plump for a live-in job (the only even remotely possible work we can find for her after we leave), which is tough for her family and particularly her 8-year old son.

But anyway, now I have got all this travelling out of my system to some extent, maybe I can settle down like a normal person. There is obviously plenty to see and do in Canada, but I feel that I have already seen most of the most interesting parts, so I do not feel the same sort of pressure to get out there, and because we will be there for the long term (not just a limited two or three or four years), there is even less urgency. Which is not to say that we will not be travelling around - I might even take up my old hobby of driving people's cars from Toronto to Florida or Toronto to Vancouver, which allowed me to see so much of the continent when we lived there in the early eighties. But, because the impressions will not be so fresh and because travelling on the civilized highways of North America does not have the same sort of kudos as striking out into the bush of South America, I do not think that a diary would be appropriate or for that matter sufficiently interesting to potential readers.

Deep in the tedium of visa applications and removals negotiations, I do not think I will have time to make another diary entry before I leave, but I do intend to make one more from Canada before I put it to bed for ever - just to let you all know that we made it safe and sound. Exactly when that may be I do not know, but trust me there will be one.

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