Snaking up the mountain and trying not to peek at the thousand meter drop was challenging. Liliana Gaviria drove well, accelerating into the many curves on the switchback from Medellin to Jerico.
Although the road is only 104 km, the trip takes about three hours. Even people who don’t get excited about scenery – like me – are impressed by some of the most spectacular views of the tree-covered Andes in the country.
And Cerra Tusa – a mountain that is the shape of a pyramid – is strategically located along the route.
Two weeks ago I’m met Jorge Uribe, a 79-year old painter who is an institution in the Colombian art world. The following week I posed for him wearing a Japanese kimono and a brocade skirt of his late wife, Ethel Gilmour also a painter and an art icon.
The following Tuesday Jorge invited me to go to Jerico with him and some of his women friends on Thursday. The only other information I had was that we were leaving from Jorge’s apartment at 09:30 that morning.
As an aside, Jorge owns the entire sixth floor of the building located downtown. The massive apartment is decorated with total kitsch everywhere – original statues, stuffed toys, colored bottles – which is done so well that it all comes together to make an artistic statement. Ethel was a pack-rat.
When I arrived, Silvia Helena Valencia Madrid – a long-time friend of Ethel and Jorge’s – was already there. We talked: her in beautiful flowing Spanish and me bumbling along trying to follow the conversation with my four-year old vocabulary.
Then Liliana and Luz Imelda Ramirez Gonzalez knocked on the door. It suddenly dawned on me that Jorge hadn’t told the other women he had invited me. So all of the sudden I felt like the odd card out. Fortunately, Colombians are exceedingly gracious.
We descended to the depths of the parking lot with bags in hand, stacked them into Lilian’s little SUV and off we went.
Built in 1850, Jerico is a village that maintains its identity: cobble-stone streets, brightly painted houses and warm, generous people.
When we arrived we went straight to the museum. There Roberto Ojalvo, the director, became our gracious host. Ah, and there were three exhibits going on in the various sections of the space: Jorge, a memorial to Ethel and Liliana. So that was why we were there – it was the Art Festival of Jerico and there were all sorts of cultural events happening: art exhibits, films, dance, food.
A memorial tribute to Ethel
Then Roberto took us off on a tour of a couple of villas that were being restored. Built in the original Spanish style with an open courtyard I took one look and was overwhelmed at how much time, effort, detail and money would have to go into renovating them.
The tour over, we checked into a hotel near the central square. The kids and their dog played in the lobby and we picked the rooms we wanted and they seemed to go on forever. At $15 a night they were a great bargain.
Panic attack. The keyboard on my computer wouldn’t work. So I begged off going to dinner. Somehow or another – and don’t ask for tech support – I managed to reboot it and get the laptop working again. Insha’Allah.
Lovely as our hotel was, the cathedral overpowered it. So at 02:15 the bell clanged once; then at 02:30 twice, at 02:45 three times. Then at 03:00 it was four clangs and three gongs. So much for doing something nocturnally ordinary, like sleeping.
After a relaxing breakfast overlooking the square from a second floor restaurant we set off on a tour of the opera house and a couple of museums.
At this point, I’m sort of following what is going on, around me in Spanish, but a touch confused. Oscar Mewen – whom I think is also an artist – again joined our tour group.
Churches, gardens, peasants with horses and ponchos, traders, traditional music – the streets have it all.
As it turns out Imelda speaks very good English as she lived in London for two years, but she is a touch shy about it. Liliana also does quite well. When I would get that caught-in-the-headlights look they would come to my rescue. And Jorge’s English is much better than my Spanish, but he prefers to make me work at it.
Yes, yes, I know I have to suck it up, but it is good to know others will help if I get totally lost.
We ended up wandering around the town and stopping at a coffee café. Remember that Colombian coffee ranks up there with the best in the world.
Then it was off for dinner. We ended up ordering a large pizza that was vegetarian, except for Jorge’s section with anchovies. I took one bite and couldn’t quite believe it. Sweet pizza, even without any pineapple? There is sugar in everything in Colombia so I carry a bottle of chili sauce in my handbag to override it.
After another lovely breakfast at the same café we headed back to Medellin.
It was a lovely drive with a traditional lunch enroute.
It was wonderful to get away for a few days and enjoy the company of truly delightful and artistic people that I was fortunate to meet through my friend, Alvaro. Gracias a todos (thanks everyone).