A Taste of Local Life in La Tebaida de Armenia

Trip Start Nov 29, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Angela & Jairo's house

Flag of Colombia  , Quindío,
Tuesday, February 8, 2011

While in Salento, I talked with Yuli (pronounced Julie) from the Nevados Park tour in Manizales, and told her that I wanted to visit her in Armenia.  She told me that I could stay at her friends' house which was just a few doors down from where she lives with her mom, and next door from where her very pregnant sister and husband live.  I arrived in Armenia in the early afternoon, knowing that Yuli had arranged for a friend to meet me there who had seen my picture.  I talked to him on the phone and couldn't understand him too well, but he said something about how to identify him (also which I didn't understand too well).  I asked the first person I saw where they thought someone would meet me in the bus station, and it turned out it was Jairo...quite a relief. 

He, like many in/around Armenia, is out of work now.  He brought me to his job interview, unlike any I had ever seen, and then back to the house (by bus) in La Tebaida.  Jairo uses LOTS of local words and phrases that aren't even used in other parts of Colombia, forget other countries.  He had to repeat and explain himself often for me to understand what he was saying.  His long-time girlfriend Angela is Yuli's best childhood friend and by chance lives very close by.  She works in merchandising for a local food brand called Casa Luker which is a popular hot chocolate maker, among other products, and spends her days visiting grocery stores to set up products in the stores, sometimes traveling up to an hour away from home.  She got home around 5:30pm and everything was pretty comfortable right from the start.  Her Spanish was much easier for me to understand.  She cooked dinner, we ate, and a little later Yuli showed up having just gotten back from work in Armenia.  She works at an energy company for the province of Quindio (which includes Armenia & Tebaida) that buys and distributes natural gas energy.  A very socially concious company that treats it's employees well.  We all sat around and talked for a while and determined that I would go with Jairo to his parents' farm the following morning.  Yuli and Angela had work (Friday).

Back in the days when the drug cartels were much more active in Colombia (late 80's and early 90's), a law was enacted that 2 men could not ride around together on a motorcycle.  This is because the mafia thugs and assassins would typically ride around 2 on a motorcycle to do their business.  So, Jairo and I had to head to the farm before sunrise in order to get to the farm before the police started watching the roads.  We arrived at about 5:30am.  Their dog wouldn't stop barking each time it saw me, and it finally broke free from the rope and bit me on the leg.  No blood was drawn fortunately, but a dog bite before sunlight is never fun.  Jairo's 80 year old father was knelt down milking the cows, his equally old buddy standing nearby with a thirsty calf used to suck at the teat to get the milk flowing when it wasn't coming easily.  Jairo cut a dead tree down and we chopped it up for wood to start a fire.  It turned out this was branding/injection day.  The fire heated up the 26 iron (probably not found in your golf bag) and one by one the 10 or so cows were marked for identification purposes.  It was ugly to watch, but didn't seem to hurt them as much as I thought it would.  Injecting them with antibiotics was just as bad as a pretty hard stab was required to pierce the skin.  Time for breakfast.

Breakfast was excellent and consisted of farm fresh eggs, hot chocolate with fresh milk, home made cheese, and juice.  Forgot to take a picture of that meal.  Lunch was also made from several fresh ingredients by Jairo's mom.  I relaxed and read most of the afternoon while Jairo weed-wacked the property.  Jairo's parents had a lot of questions for me, and I in return asked them plenty as well.  The government seems to be making it harder and harder for small-time farmers like them to get by in favor of lower-priced, higher tech mass producers.  Such hard work for a lifetime only to be pushed out of the only business you know by your own government is unimaginable to me.

Jairo didn't get the job, so we ended up hanging out a lot during my stay there.  He's funny and was good enough to explain almost all of the local slang that he used to me, which although was useful in the moment, I didn't try hard to remember because I know I'll never need it again.  I talked a lot of business ideas with him taught him some English which he plans to learn.  Apart from that most of my daytime was spent catching up on economic/investment reading from the past few months which I had pretty much ignored.

Friday night Yuli & I got together in Armenia to go dancing with most of her work friends that were on the Nevados Park trip.  The 2 guys that were on the trip, Miller & Gustavo, are hilarious a lot of fun to be around.  A good time was had by all.

I can't put into words well enough how good Angela and Jairo were to me.  I was on a declining cash balance while waiting for my new card to come from Costa Rica, and they treated me to way more than they should have or needed to considering I was a complete stranger crashing at their house.  Not to mention they had only been living together for about 3 weeks before I got there.  I tried to do my part by cooking some meals and cleaning the dishes sometimes, but they never complained or made me feel unwelcome.  They're 2 really good people.

On Saturday, while Angela worked, Yuli, Jairo, & I went for a bike ride around Tebaida.  New foods included cow stomach (chewy and gross) and cow intestine stuffed with rice and some meat (so so).  Then on Sunday all 4 of us went to a place called Canoas, a nice river with some swimming holes.  New foods included Colombian tamal which is cornmeal with rice, veggies, and meat and is very good, and chicha a fermented fruit liquor which is also pretty good.  It was a nice weekend getting to know areas of the coffee zone that very few if any Gringos have ever seen.

We all had dinner together most nights, taking turns cooking (even though it was mostly Angela, dinner & breakfast), and just sat around talking at night.  I was anxious to get my new card so I wouldn't be so dependant on them and also so I could treat them to a few meals or drinks or anything.  The following weekend Yuli had classes at the university on Saturday, but managed to score some free passes from a friend to the Botanical Gardens and Panaca, the farm theme park, for Sunday.  We went to the gardens with Mary, who was on the Nevados tour, and to Panaca with a fourth friend that lived nearby.  The gardens were nice even though their prized orchid exhibit was out of season, and Panaca was unique and funny.  I had never imagined such a place existed.  It was actually pretty busy, compared to the almost empty gardens, and is huge.  All different zones with all different animals, and animal shows throughout the day.  We missed the pig show unfortunately, but made the dog and then horse show.  Make sure to check out the video of my 3 minutes of fame when I participated in part of the dog show!

The following Thursday my card came, and I decided to head to Cali on Saturday morning so I could at least experience one day of the weekend in the salsa capital of the world.  Yuli & Jairo waited for the bus with me and we said goodbye, but it wasn't too sad because Yuli had vacations from work and planned to meet up with me on Tuesday in Cali so we could travel together for a couple of weeks in southern Colombia and Ecuador...coming soon!

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