Luke's South American Diary
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March 1998

10 March 1998

Florida, USA (yet yet again)
Yet another visit to Florida under our belt - we are becoming more Latino than the Latinos - a week in Orlando followed by a week on the Gulf Coast (in accordance with our tried and tested formula) in shared villas with my other sister and her family. As Diana remarked, it was "probably not my kind of holiday", but at least Julie managed to relax for the first time in a long time, despite frantic phone calls about minor emergencies back in the Bogotá office. The good thing about a holiday with my sister is that her kids, now 6 and 9 or thereabouts, seem to love playing with Elena, and vice versa, which takes her off our hands a little more. Elena also slept in her own room (in a "big girl’s bed") with few problems, which meant that we even got some sleep.

It will probably go down as "the holiday when Elena learned to argue" - she and her cousins spent hours bantering back and forth about absolutely nothing, at times down to the level of "yes", "no", "yes", "no", the point being not the outcome or the principles involved but the participation as far as I could make out. It made me grateful that we do not have two kids, as 90% of their time was spent either arguing about trivialities, or giggling hysterically (also about trivialities), both of which I find intensely annoying.

Elena's swimming technique improved with increased exposure to a swimming pool (and it came very close to exposure at times, due to a distinctly dodgy pool heater), which made us wonder how she would have progressed had we stayed in Caracas, where we had unlimited use of a warm pool. I really should try and take her more often in Bogotá. One of her favourite jokes recently is to leap into the deep end of a swimming pool surrounded by strangers, and watch them all fall over themselves trying to rescue her, while I continue coolly reading my book or whatever (actually I quite like that joke too).

So, other than visiting theme parks (during which time we became experts in toilet-spotting) and beaches, almost the only thing of interest worth recording was our first experience of a tornado (to which Florida is unfortunately prone). Actually, we almost slept through it, and, although we were aware of some very strong winds during the night, we were very surprised to read in the morning of huge damage and 41 people killed, all within 30 miles of us. Everyone rang to see if we were still alive, and the villa owner rang to check that the house was still standing, and they all seemed rather disappointed at our rather low-key and bemused response. The main way in which it affected us was that it turned damned cold after it.

We were glad to arrive back home in Bogotá, where the country was suffering something of a post-election hangover (local elections). Voter turnout was around 45%, a significant improvement on four years ago! The results were far from extraordinary, with the ruling liberals taking the lion’s share as expected, but some savage guerilla action in the run-up left 120 soldiers (and an unknown number of guerillas) dead, and a week later the Red Cross were still salvaging decomposing bodies. This all happened in the back of beyond down on the plains, and there was no real trouble in the cities, but everyone was a little shaken by it, and no doubt a few more tourists will be deterred …

13 March 1998 Back to top

Elena has been going though a particularly contrary phase in her contrary life recently. If one person is dressing or bathing her, then she complains vociferously that another should be doing it. If she says yes to something one minute, it is pretty certain she will be screaming blue murder about it the next. I have come close to slapping her on numerous occasions (which is probably what she needs, although it seems to be taboo these days), and even the long-suffering Maritza has been approaching the end of her tether. Maybe soon she will go through a phase where she is all sweetness and light…

After Julie's big IADB conference in Cartagena recently, I have been
Photo: La Candelaria, Bogotá, Colombia. Mar 98.
La Candelaria, Bogotá, Colombia. Mar 98.
entertaining and acting as guide for some of the bank's visiting delegates who were brave enough to tack on time in Bogotá. In addition to quick walks around La Candelaria, and the mandatory visit to the Museo de Oro, we had yet another weekend in Villa de Leiva (and yes, we managed to miss the chiva tour yet again), doing more or less the same things as usual, despite the rain. This time we also went to see the largely-intact skeleton of a kronosaurus (a kind of oversized crocodile from the dinosaur period), and also bought some of the fossils which all the locals try to sell to all the tourists, due to the abundance of fossils of all sorts in the area, and which we have basically ignored until now. The most common type is an intact ammonite (of varying sizes) inside a round pebble which has been expertly cracked in two to reveal the fossil. Maybe family members will be receiving some very heavy presents this Christmas…

26 March 1998 Back to top

I have also been spending a lot of time on the Internet recently, partly contacting people in various parts of the world, partly researching and booking our upcoming May trip to Chile, and partly setting up my own web-site, which features (you guessed it) this very same diary. The HTML programming language was not that difficult to learn, through a variety of means including the book "Creating Web Pages for Dummies", the excellent Geocities site, various other HTML reference web-sites, and (as much as anything else) viewing the source code of other peoples' web-sites. I have reached the stage where I am more or less satisfied with the presentation (although I continue to gradually improve - or at least change - small elements all the time), and have the last two years of entries on-line. I am having to re-type the first two years (which I originally produced on my old Amstrad machine) because the hard copy I have is of too poor a quality to scan.

We also recently made an experimental Internet phone call to some friends in Scotland (using the free Microsoft NetMeeting software), which, once one became used to the echo and the delay, was surprisingly successful. Amazing technology!

Elena is at the stage (which I always thought came at around 5 years old!) where she requires strong persuasion and bribes to go to school. Once there, of course, she loves it - just another example of her contrariness. From my questions, and from a recent "Father's Day" I attended at school, it seems that they are still not teaching her anything in the way of numbers or letters or reading. I know she is still not three, but I would have thought that she should be starting on such things by now, as we are doing to a limited extent at home. On the other hand, knowing that she is going to be learning in earnest for the next 18 years or so, maybe we should just let her play for now…

My life has fallen into a routine, although not necessarily a bad one - I take Elena to and from school in the mornings (usually with an obligatory stop for a buñuelo, or cheese-ball), do my errands and tinker with my web-site, etc. I continue to do my exercises for my bad back, although it seems to make no difference. I feel as though I belong in Bogotá now (a feeling I never really had in Caracas) - the people in the local stores know me; I know all the short-cuts and all the best ways round the one-way systems; I go to the cheapest barber in town (he is about 70, charges about $2, and he strops his cut-throat razor on a real belt); etc.

Recently the El Niño effect has weakened considerably, and the weather has deteriorated accordingly to what is probably a more normal and realistic pattern for the area, after the four or five month honeymoon period of good weather. It rains almost everyday, often as prolonged drizzle, and the city is often shrouded in a grey mist. Still, I can't expect everything to be good…

More hostages have been taken by the FARC guerrillas (about 37 according to one American report, but actually 22 were taken, of which 11 were released almost straight away, presumably as having no political or economic value to them) on the road from Bogotá down to Villavicencio (always a bad area), including 4 Americans (apparently bird-watchers) and an Italian (apparently a fisherman). At this rate we are going to have great difficulty getting people to visit us!

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