Bordello Blues Part 1 (Intro to Fernando)

Trip Start May 2006
Trip End Aug 17, 2006

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

My soon to be travel partner, or so I expected, had disappeared off the western slopes of Bogotá, where he lives and I have been staying. I wasn't sure if he had been swallowed whole by this fuming monster of a city or had been driven into the forest. I was expecting to go to Cali, sort of as a pre-vacation, as our travels were going to be anything but. However, with his absence, my Magdalena River dreams were stuffed back into the subconscious. The last thing I wanted to do was to match his disappearing act by leaving town without confirming our plans.
When I arrived in Colombia, my first main goal was to find a travel partner and to my good fortune Fernando showed up and was willing and able, having just finished his last full semester of a philosophy degree. He had finishing up a thesis where he compared the ideas of Hobbes to Colombia's political conflict. He is fascinated by politics and one day would like to be a politician. The first day we met, I explained to him in jumbled Spanish my reasons for disliking politics. It was fine though, we had an immediate mutual respect and though we had different reasons for wanting to go the river, we agreed to leave mid June. However, just a few days before our departure date, he told me he couldn't leave until mid-July. It was as though I had arrived freshman year of college, all eager, only to discover I had arrived a month early and nobody and no classes were around. There was nothing I could do. I needed and wanted him to come with me. I gave myself stuff to do for the next couple of weeks and our planning was going smoothly until he became unreachable this past week.
I hadn't seen him the weekend before and I called him Monday to meet up Tuesday, which he agreed to. He called me Tuesday and said he couldn't meet until Wednesday. That actually worked out well as I spent the evening on top of a cold mountain above Bogotá in the arms of Natalia, a deliciously sweet and sensitive, petite Colombian student. I wished that had been a groundhog day, but Wednesday did not repeat Tuesday and Fernando never showed up or called. Up to that point, he had always been punctual, though I had learned from others that through custom, Colombians say one thing but do something else. I delayed the trip to Cali, because to leave without seeing him to confirm our plans, would almost guarantee that we would not go. Unfortunately it seemed he didn't want to go because he had made himself scarce, or so I thought.
I called his house about and whoever answered acted as though he would only be unconscious and unavailable if he were there. But I continued calling at different times because his cell phone just teased me with voicemail after half a dozen rings. Thursday morning, I spoke to his sister, who said he was in the shower and would call me afterwards. She said it with hollowness in her voice, and so I spent the rest of the day consumed by my frustration, my mind not able to perform multi-dimensional tasks. Though I've certainly experienced difficulties in contacting strangers, I was not used to being stonewalled by a friend. Natalia reminded me that I was in Colombia though, and you never know what can happen, so in addition to feeling sorry for myself, I was worried about his wellbeing.
I started thinking about how I was going to find another Colombian travel partner. A friend had posted notices for me on the National University bulletin board, but to no avail, perhaps for the better, as the state funded university is a hotbed for anti-establishment sentiment, which I am all for, but at the same time you never know who you are going to attract. Regardless, it would take some time to trust some stranger, and I had already been in Bogotá a month.
After roughly 48 hours, but what felt like 48 days of abandonment, he called me Friday afternoon. I was actually expecting it, because his mother (who I know from New York) had just called me, telling me that he was angry with her. They haven't seen each other in six years because she has been working in the U.S. and cannot return, while for him to obtain a visa is nearly impossible. His rage it her is a reflection for his disillusionment with the world, so he does what any of us would do, he forgets it, shuts it out, to the detriment of those around him. Nevertheless, his mother reassured me that he wants to go and will call me. Although he knew his mother had called me, when Fernando and I did finally speak, we acted like nothing had happened, and agreed to meet that evening.
We walked around looking for a bite and talked of the trip as though it was never in doubt. I'm sure for those few days, it was erased from this thoughts, the way a basketball player will leave all else behind to focus on his shot, not because the rest is unimportant, but simply it is necessary to complete the present moment. He had to zero in on his own miseries in order to allow them to complete their cycle of coming to the surface of his consciousness.
He wanted to meet me in Cali in a few days and then leave from there. I told him I was going to take a bus tomorrow morning and he offered to escort me to the station, but then suggested that I take a night bus, because it is quicker (due to less traffic) and safer (which I did not expect to hear.) I told him I'd decide later because I would like to see the landscapes.
I brought up family stuff by saying that when I become frustrated or angry with my mother, I try to think of all the ways she has helped and supported me, and then whatever inflamed me, even if it is not something concrete, becomes less swollen. He understood, but flatly said that's not how he acts. In a non sequitur he told me he has a friend who lives in Ciudad Bolívar (Bogotá's largest and most notorious southern poor district) and wanted to know if I wanted to go hang out there right now. He had just remarked how tired he was and I had vague plans to meet some other people, but this is Colombia, and plans are as certain as a straight flush. Despite the mild anguish he had caused me, I felt like saying no would have been letting him down, and I did not want to do that to my critical travel partner. Not to mention, experiencing the most off-limits neighborhood in the capital of the one of the most "off-limits" countries for Americans, was an opportunity I couldn't ignore.
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