How to Find Your Prairie Childhood in the Andes


“In Canada these cows are called Holsteins.”

“It is the same name in Spanish,” Ana replied.

That figures as the breed originated in Europe, specifically the areas of Northern Netherlands and Friesland – which explains why there are sometimes referred to as Friesians. The distinct black and white can’t be mistaken for any other breed and the cattle are good both for milk and for meat.

“Those two almost look like Angus, except that they are all black and these ones have a bit of white.  But, in the paddock over there, it is definitely a Jersey,” I waxed eloquently as though I had grown up going to 4H.

Image courtesy of Alvarosa at Flickr

When we lived in Neudorf – population 400 on a good day – Mrs. Litzenburger — a proverbially little old lady to a six or seven-year old – had a Jersey cow she kept for milking.

Bessy was a small, gentle, caramel brown, and her milk oozed a distinct taste as it had so much fat. I was fascinated by the cow’s doe eyes and loved to stroke her soft hide.

Leo – a retired farmer in the same town – kept a couple of cows in a field not far away. Sometimes I used to visit them. Talking to cows was a wonderful way for an overly creative imagination to express my ideas and garner encouragement. While the cows stared at me and quietly chewed their cud, I told them about my latest grand schemes and outrageous ideas.

My cow knowledge was definitely obtained by osmosis. My paternal grandparents were mixed farmers. As well as pigs and chickens, they had Herford cows – sort of burgundy with a white face. Not pure breeds, for sure, but some kind of Heinz 57 that was at least a good percentage Herford.

Cows are a shared interest with Ana and they have greatly influenced her work as an artist.

Cows painted on a box
Box and coasters

We laughed about how we used to direct the milk from the cows directly into our mouths or squirt it at the cats to lick off their faces.

Canada and Colombia might be continents apart, but childhood experiences are childhood memories, regardless of location.


How to get an invitation to the finca

Ana, an artist whom I met in Lima — — invited me to visit her finca – read farm — about an hour from Medellin.

“Where are you going?” asked Yoly.

“Don’t know exactly. Some place called La Ceja, which translates as “eyebrow.” I’m not at all concerned about it as time with Ana is always an adventure — — I am going to meet her at Falabella tomorrow afternoon.”

Yoly shot me a somewhat exasperated General Jean 2 look as — once again — I was off without any specific idea of destination.  My “go forth and adventures shall happen” approach is difficult for people like my mother and Yoly to appreciate as they make “plans.”

How to get to the finca

I met Ana at Falabella and she introduced me to Berta. For years, Berta has looked   after and cleaned Ana’s farm house and apartment in town while she is in Peru.

According to Ana, were it not for Berta, Luz and Antonio – the couple who look after the farm – she wouldn’t be able to maintain it.

Ana Berta & Luz

True. Being an absentee landlord wouldn’t work in Colombia and the place would be stripped or taken over by squatters in a matter of hours.

We hopped on a sturdy local bus and started to snake our way up the mountains. Ana and I chattered and caught up on the last few months since we had seen each other. As we climbed higher, the temperature dropped lower. Halfway there I was already starting to get cold, wimp that I am.

When we arrived at La Ceja we went to Berta’s house. She prepared arepa – a flat type of corn bread – and cheese for us, nursed with a cup of strong coffee and chocolate to fight off the mountain chills.

Then Carlos — the taxi driver — arrived to whisk us off to the finca. When he turned right onto a dirt road it was posted at 20K for a good reason. As the headlights reflected in the water in the potholes it reminded me of the road to Stanley Mission circa 1978.

Then he turned onto a trail where the grass grew between the tire treads.

Road to the finca.

Hells bells, I haven’t been that rural since Scott organized my spectacular surprise 60th at Victoria Falls —


How to revisit a childhood

At breakfast the next morning, Ana told me that Luz makes the butter from the milk of cows on the farm. Really?


How well I remember milking the cows with my grandparents and uncle.

When we were finished the next stop was the separating shed. Here the milk was poured into a machine with about 35 metal disks that had to be washed separately every time it was used. A finicky job, and I hated to do it as the water got milky and sometimes smelled.



“Separating” was a work-up-a-sweat sort of exercise and I wasn’t strong enough to give it more than a couple of turns. The cream floated to the top and the skim milk gushed out a spout at the bottom and into the waiting pail.

Home-made butter that I haven’t had since almost forever.

My grandmother would skim off the cream she wanted for the kitchen. The super kid treat on the farm was homemade bread slathered in cream and sprinkled with copious amounts of brown sugar. Just thinking about it now makes my teeth hurt.  When I was a kid, however, I would lap it up for breakfast every morning – and then help myself to seconds.

Grandma would put the rest of the cream in a metal jug—with a rope attached so it could be retrieved — and drop the container into the well. There the water would keep it cool enough until she could go to town to sell it. The “cream cheque” ritual was alive and well with the rural women, as that was their “pin money.”

How to tour a farm house

Ana’s house sort of snakes into a square and having no sense of direction, I managed to get lost a couple of times. The thing to remember is that the huge cobblestone courtyard is always in the middle.

The cobble-stone courtyard.









When one of the children would get married the parents would build an apartment for them so that they had their own space. The area Ana and David were given has since become her studio with the bedroom and balcony upstairs.

Ana’s desk

















Lounge in the apartment.









Bed in the loft.








Balcony off the bedroom.











Frankly, I lost count of how many bedrooms and bathrooms there were.

Beds and . . .

But putting up an extended Colombian family required space – lots of it. And the beds came in all sizes from a crib though to a super size queen and various others in-between.


more beds.







I had a delicious sleep in the oldest room in the house. Snuggled under about five quilts with my nose getting cold, I was eight years old and back on the prairies.

The oldest room in the hacienda.

But since a picture is worth a thousand words, I will quit writing so you can visit this living-museum hacienda – the original house was built by Ana’s grandfather — for yourself.

The hacienda