November 29, 2007
My next destination after adventurous San Gil was Bucaramanga, set near the Andes on the way to Venezuela. There wasn't much there in the way of tourism, but Manisha, the Indian girl I met in Manizales, recommended that I meet a friend of hers who lived in B-town. Ana Maria and Manisha originally met in Mumbai, India when Ana Maria was living there for a year and Manisha was considering taking a teaching job in Colombia. Now they live once again in the same country on the other side of the world.
Ana Maria and her parents introduced me to the family business, a chicken restaurant they have owned for a quarter century. They gave me a sample of their product, and I must say it was the most succulent chicken I have had in Colombia, and I'm not just saying that because it was free. We also drove past the city's many parks during my introductory tour. The city had so many parks, I found it easy to get confused as to where we were because there was no central place by which to orient myself.
Ana Maria hooked me up with a place to crash at her aunt Marina and uncle Eduardo's place. Eduardo immediately began schmoozing me with his perfect English and tales of his travels. In his youth ("When I was about twenty like you," was how he put it), he traveled around the world for fifteen years before returning to his homeland of Colombia. Most of his stories related to his time living in a kibbutz in Israel, falling in love with Greece and France, and earning his college degrees from Boston University.
Like Ana Maria's parents, Eduardo was in the restaurant business, and he wasn't at all shy about showing me his empire. Every few minutes, he'd relate something he saw with an old story. "One day before there was a restaurant here, I was walking down this road eating a piece of fruit, and I threw the pit on the ground. It eventually grew into the tree you see here." ... "When I was traveling through Greece, I fell in love with the columned architecture that was so common there. It inspired me to put columns in this restaurant." ... "When I was in Israel, my kibbutz turned a desert into a forest, just to prove that it was possible. That hard work helped me realize my dream of building a restaurant here." The deluge of commentaries continued well into the night, when I retired to my room surrounded by paintings of the Colombian flag and the wildlife of the Amazon, eager to learn what Eduardo would surprise me with next.