April 5, 2018
Another drab-looking morning that promises rain. But as the morning progresses, the sun emerges from the clouds, the alleys of San Antonio glowing with a new-found vigour. Given that the staff of the Panadería Casa Blanca had been so taken by the Escentric Molecules ‘Escentric 01’ cologne that I use, I promised to bring it along and spray it on all of the ready and willing. It turns out that there is more to this exotic fragrance, that it’s basis is tetramethyl acetyloctahydronaphthalene, a synthetically-produced ketone fragrance with a woody, floral, ambergris odour, the cologne also including ambroxan, pink pepper, green lime with balsamic notes such benzoin mastic and incense (from Wikipedia). The are thrilled that I have brought it, and it is exciting to have been able to give something back, although the manner in which it occurred is unusual.
The neighborhood just below San Antonio has its own quiet charm, with modest bungalows and small sculpted trees sweeping over a ridge before descending on the long journey to the city’s southern reaches. The attraction of San Cayetano is the artisanry market set on the Loma de a Cruz above the junction of Carrera 16 and Calle 5 that transects the city into east and west. The kiosks and shops are intimate, and the whimsical, inexpensive items for sale in the mostly still closed shops similar for those found elsewhere.
Jewelry made of beads, semi-precious stones and silver, mobiles, T-shirts, ceramics, traditional bags, doo-dads abound, my passing eliciting the universal ‘a la orden’, but there would be little point to even enter into most of these places. With the abundance of T-shirts for sale, I do want to buy some that correspond to the city’s musical traditions, namely of Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe. Apparently some of the city’s best salsa clubs are below on Calle 5 – but will I ever get to them?
I am stopped continuously and told to not wave my camera around. I am assured that the place is nowhere nearly as innocent as I may think it is, and serious things do happen. People race by on motorcycles and grab whatever they can. Never mind if someone decides to pull a gun on you and shoot.
The destination for the day is the Zoológico de Cali, allegedly one of the star attractions of the city, set high up in the hills to the immediate west of town. I have little in the line of expectations, certain that it will be at worst a pleasant excursion in the urban outdoors with a number of cute animals on display, with a refreshing display of sunshine beaming from the skies above. I remain to be corrected, as the experience that awaits will truly be one of the highlights of my visit to Colombia.
The zoo is broken out into a series of zones that focus largely on Colombia’s biotope, and as extensive as the displays are, they are by no means completely representative of the quickly degrading environment and increasingly endangered species found throughout the country. There are species from other continents, such as Africa, but thankfully few distract this omnibus presentation of Colombia’s wildlife. Cali’s subtropical setting provides the perfect biotope for the presentation of the variety of species at the expansive zoo.
A pool with brilliantly hued flamingoes, and an artificial waterfall running into a pool of giant koi. Inside, a series of aquariums host the diverse species that populate the fecund river basins of the tropics, the largest being the Amazon, Magdalena and Orinoco. The fish range from the pedestrian to the brilliantly coloured, to the bizarre and of course the threatening.
Sizes vary, but given that there are no ocean creatures, the fish present range no more than half a metre in length (the exception being an eel). Intensely cute marmosets of varying shapes scamper nervously through their enclosures, almost universally very tiny. The bird compound aggregates birds endemic to the country, although given the vast diversity of species in the country, what is presented here is surely only a synopsis.
Only a small number of the birds allegedly in the compound are visible, as they are intent on what looks like shredded raw meat. In this enclosed area, birds that I would not normally be able to come near are visible at close quarters, and not that skittish either, considering that they are probably well-fed and not in any danger.
Another pond with flamingos set against a wall of guadua bamboo, and next to it, the simian enclosure, showcasing a variety of monkey species I had no idea existed in this country. The cages include tufted capuchins, squirrel monkey, white-headed capuchin, and the Brown woolly monkey, probably one of the most unusual in terms of bulk, particularly of the tail, shape, expression and amount of fur.
A story book-like display is presented at every enclosure window, describing the features of the monkey in a somewhat whimsical manner. Each species has unique colorations, expressions, tail lengths, girth, and behavior. Most of the monkeys are manically focused on getting their paws on whatever food they have been given, scampering back and forth into the area the food has been provided in, then darting off to dismember whatever it is, shove it frantically into their small maw before any other animal comes near them. The fact that there is probably enough for everyone doesn’t change their instinct, nor their propensity for being messy eaters. And as is always the case with simians, similarities with humans abound.
The zoo digresses occasionally into species that are probably not endemic to the region, such as antelope, ostrich, zebra, Bengal tiger, llama and lions. But they are fun, and for locals offer a taste of something more exotic. The hyena I remember as being a very ugly creature, but the animal lying somewhat disconsolately on the grounds of its enclosure is bulky, exotic, feral and yet somehow sweet, a beautiful creature and of course essential to the food chain.
Iguanas cavort freely around the grounds, probably one of the most unusual creatures, benign, but always very bizarre to encounter. Eye-catching peacocks stroll the grounds, a guaranteed crowd pleaser with their vast plume of brilliant emerald feathers that they defiantly put on display for passing visitors.
Another compound with what looks like meerkat, and whose behavior is comical. Two are lying on the ground sleeping intertwined in each other, another one sauntering through the compound to where the others are located, then throwing itself on the ground next to the already inert ones, except that it cannot decide what position to assume, and repeatedly flails around in order to find the desired posture.
One enclosure displays huge crocodiles that are inert, and initially appear to be sculpted. But they are not, and I am very happy that they are behind a thick wall …
An enclosure presents a variety of local butterflies, which I have seen plentiful amounts of already, lured by the copious flowering plants and cut fruit dangling at strategic locations. Varying shades of brown, orange, monarchs, mottled brown, brown and orange, even in this confined environment difficult to shoot.
In another set of terrariums, tiny, brilliantly mottled and deadly poisonous endemic frogs. One very good reason not to randomly meander into the jungle …
An enclosure with a panther and jaguar (I think) provides a spectacular surprise. I walk into what looks like a two-story house furnished with apparently domestic furnishings, focusing on bric-a-bric that speaks to the subject of ecology, and on the second level, a glass cutout houses two giant inert cats lying on the ground at the side of what appears to be a living room. At first it appears that they are not real – but they are very real and alive, inasmuch as one elegantly rolls around as I am watching.
Further along, and near the end, a huge enclosure with the massive condors. Initially I thought they are vultures, but they are in fact far bigger than any vulture I have ever seen.
The appearance of the spectacled bears in their enclosure is almost choreographed, as if these animals have been programmed to engage on an entertainment routine for visitors. They walk across the back of the enclosure single file, then play, one climbing onto other, but not for the reasons that would seem evident. Their prancing routine continues further along the creek that runs through their enclosure, until they end a short ways from the glass panel that separates the visitor area from the animal compound.
The Rio Cali flows energetically through the zoo. The overall landscaping is magnificent, including an ongoing tapestry of green and blooming flowers that is constantly changing, and would in and of itself be a reason to visit.
Macaques cavort wildly in their parched enclosure, the adults lingering in specific spots while the younger monkeys engage in a frenzy of easily triggered activities, the adults largely unperturbed by the wild antics of the young ones. Mothers cling on to their nursing young, oblivious to everything else around them. Watching the havoc unfold is reminiscent of the average family with too many children, the parents largely numbed into submission.
One of the most spectacular sightings at the zoo is that of the ring-tailed lemurs, the exotic black-and-white creatures with huge ringed tails prancing on an island in the centre of their enclosure, and in vaguely synchronized manner, tails swooping adroitly as they pivot. They end up trotting single file into their house, not to leave again for the rest of the afternoon …
And finally, the most stunning creature on display has got to be the giant anteater, with its slender, coarsely hairy body, massive bushy tail, and bizarrely slender snout, ever probing in its perusing of the perimeter of the compound. While the animal walks, its long slender funnel of a snout swings back and forth continuously, smelling any crevice and cavity, and happily for visitors, the edges of the windows that separate us from their enclosure. The coloration is also very exotic, the body traversed by bands of black brown and white, white fronds dangling on the sides of the surreal, gentle and endangered creature.
The day started drab but then became sunny, and despite the thunder and lightning that broke out late in my visit to the zoo, it never rained, and the sun happily remained.
As artfully crafted as the individual zones are, it goes without saying that the small spaces the animals are displayed in would not remotely correspond to the space that the animals would typically need to roam in. And at the same time, we have created a world that has effectively decimated the biotope these animals would be housed in, and hence also the populations of the endemic animals.
I chat with a warden in the Australia section of the zoo, lauding the zoo for how fantastic it is. She points out that the intent of the zoo is above all educational, drawing visitors into a discussion of the ecology and the natural state that the country has lost over the years of development and population growth. I ramble on about the prospects that may be available to offer both positive economic growth as well as offer some chance to mitigate further environmental destruction, if not do the opposite, but then realize that I have fifteen minutes to get to the entrance, get into a taxi, and get to El Peñon to be on time to meet Edward, who does not like it when people are late.
I didn’t write down where Chef Burger is located, and know that cab drivers are also very good at claiming to know where places are, and then turn out not to. So who has a cell phone here? Nobody? OK, there is one driver who has one, which means we find the address, and then I am off, the entire zoo visit having unfolded without getting a drop of rain on me.
Edward is waiting in the Chef Burger, but thankfully not long. He tells me he had wanted to show me something online but the establishment doesn’t have wifi at the moment. He had recommended this place, and so I am happy to order some specialty burger, which actually turns out to be very good. The restaurant staff is limited to skinny, heavily tattooed young men with wild back hair and a trademark wardrobe. Unlike back home, these young men are genuinely nice, although the clothing seems somewhat incongruous, especially given the reality of the rest of the country.
Edward is quick to speak about the matter that concerns him most, that he seems to be duped in his interaction with women on a dating site he uses. He describes the various scenarios that trouble him, including his arrangement to meet women, who then seem to avoid him after expressing serious interest in him, or respond in conversations with non-sequiturs.
I can’t imagine the women he is describing wanting to throw themselves on him, given that he is already at a fairly advanced age, but that consideration doesn’t seem to enter into his line of reasoning. It seems the women he is meeting are not real people, or at least not locals. After he has finished complaining about the difficulties he is facing, he concludes that it all doesn’t matter anyway, that he is fed up with it, doesn’t care, etc. And that will last for how long? I think. I listen patiently, but he cuts me off whenever I attempt to express an opinion. I am inwardly shaking my head as I listen to him – I can’t believe I got dragged into this.
He tells me of a relationship he had at some point with a woman in Thailand who obviously took advantage of him, but there was also some mutual interest. Over the years, their awkward relationship stumbled along, and he pulled the plug, in the end to save himself the embarrassment of realizing that she really didn’t need him anymore. He spent years on a relationship that ultimately went nowhere, and now doesn’t want to go back, although Thailand is a paradise for geriatric men seeking a last chance.
He has ostensibly moved on to Latin America, but it simply isn’t the sex tourism destination that Thailand is, not that I am heartbroken for him. It just seems shocking that he is incapable of taking some distance from his predicament. The reality of aging so badly seems perversely fascinating, however …
In the time he spent seeking happiness in China, he tripped at some point and fell, throwing out his back badly. He had the opportunity to get surgery from a top authority in the U.S., but his situation did not ameliorate. These are the stories of aging, en route to the final off-ramp …
The burger finished, I want to move on, to overpriced Antoninas for a coffee. And Ed wants to follow me, which means he can also show me the message threads with women he is interested in. He ridicules the meaningless or evasive chat sessions with women at most in their mid-30s who are arguably bombshells, sending him cliched romantic messages, ensuring to send him letters, which on this site requires paying $8 for every one that is read.
He complains about the women having minimal information on their profiles, even though he has none himself. Edward, I think, when was the last time you looked at yourself in the mirror? What do you think these women would be thinking if they knew you were well into your 70s – if they haven’t figured that out already? The women at the neighboring table are now holding his attention, and I am hoping that things don’t get too embarrassing.
He complains bitterly about a thread of discussion with another elderly friend in the Bay area, reading me her emails and ridiculing her poor reasoning. It must be sad to want to be spending one’s time in this manner in old age, picking fights with friends for no particular reason.
I have so much to do and so little time: please don’t waste my time with this tripe …
Back at the Hotel Terraza San Antonio, things are in full swing at the newly opened tapas restaurant. Well, not quite – there are many people squeezed into the very small seating area. The owner of hotel is superficially friendly while maintaining a certain degree of disinterest.
Apparently, the rooftop bar is open as well, a perfect place to pointlessly spend some COP $30,000 on a drink. And now the hotel doesn’t feel that private and serene, loud voices continuing into late into the evening. But at least there is no music blaring!
I really would love to get something to eat. Yes, I would love to get some solid street food and not eat in some overpriced restaurant, but unfortunately, the hours of the street food kiosks are not shown online, and it is late now. There are actually lots of places to eat still open, but they ostensibly vie for upmarket revenue at night, which I refuse to cater to. And if I ate a full sit-down meal, I would probably be up all night …