Soup for Breakfast
Bogotanos, regardless of their feelings on living in the city, love to get out of the city. They conveniently have fincas (or relatives that have fincas) available to soak up some fresh air and simple living. Finca can mean a few different things: property, farm, ranch, and country home, essentially any piece of land with vegetation a car or bus ride away from Bogota. I went to the ranch kind, and I left with really strong feelings about this finca tradition.
I made my first live Colombian friend by cheating. I met my friend Katie while we were studying abroad in Ecuador with IES and she met her friend Christian when they were working at the same summer camp in California last year. Christian is from Bogota, so she Facebook-introduced us, and now he’s my friend. Being a generous and overall great person, he invited me to his cousin’s finca in the plains for the long weekend to celebrate his grandfather’s eightieth birthday with his family.
Saturday morning I woke up on a bus seven hours from Bogota (not a kidnapping recount.) The first thing I thought was, “There’s a lot of sky here.” Then, “Where are the mountains?!” I was in the llano, the plains region of Colombia called Casanare. It was hot and flat. It reminded me of inland Florida, but less humid, with palm trees and overgrown forests in between sprawling grass fields. Christian’s cousin picked us up in the town Aguazul to take us to the finca, and we drove for another hour on highway then dirt roads. Once we were out of town, there was nothing but grass, barbed wire fences, cows and trees, eight hours and a world away from Bogota. Colombians aren’t kidding when they say their landscapes are diverse.
The finca consisted of a modest house, patio and outdoor amenities surrounded by big shady trees and fenced-in fields farther out. There were dogs, chickens, ducks and horses dispersed around the yard, sheds and gardens, hammocks and chairs where Christian’s parents, sisters, brothers in law, nieces, cousins, aunts and uncles were mingling over cold 8 am beers. Some had come from the city the day before and others arrived throughout the day from different parts of Casanare.
Saturday was spent sitting in the shade drinking beers and chicha, a fermented corn concoction. Then there was the food. That morning, some uncles killed a cow and hacked it up for every kind of consumption. The birthday celebration lunch was as typically Colombian as it gets. The table outside was spread with banana leaves then dumped with mounds of fresh beef roasted on sticks around a fire, boiled potatoes and yucca, freshly made blood sausage (morcilla) and a huge pot of spicy guacamole. Utensils and plates were considered a waste of time as everyone sits around and enjoys what they want from the center (apparently my foreignness was deemed too soft for this approach as someone handed me a plate piled with food.)
We continued to eat every part of that cow throughout the weekend. Breakfasts were soups made with cow’s head, cow’s feet and cow intestines alongside tamales and morcilla. Every meal consisted of the roasted meat and it never stopped being delicious.
On Sunday, we lounged around until the morning rain stopped (beers in hand by 9) and walked half an hour to another aunt’s finca, during which I almost melted in the heat. Luckily the finca overlooked a beautiful river where we frolicked for hours – my initial plan of only putting my feet in was almost immediately foiled. There was a wooden canoe so naturally we loaded in, rode it down the current and sunk it over and over. Everyone was saying things like, “You probably never do this in the U.S.!” but I kept thinking that the weekend was hardly different from any given Postemsky-Johnson-Carey gathering, or swimming in the Shetucket River and the pond at home.
Christian’s cousins were pretty psyched to talk to me. I much needed the break from Tabio and teaching but “profesora de ingles” is a title that can’t be shaken on the weekend. Everyone wanted to talk to me about why I was in Colombia, what I liked about Colombia, and differences between Spanish and English. Some of the little kids loved showing off their English skills and some of the older ones wanted to learn new words. Ten year-old Eliana had her world blown over and over by the thought of another country and language – “Your parents don’t speak any Spanish?? You speak English ALL THE TIME? You listen to music in English? When you go to a restaurant, you speak in English?? You speak English better than you speak Spanish?” They were very entertaining.
What I loved about the fincas, and what I love about life off the beaten trail anywhere, is the practicality. Everything has a function and it’s candid and simple. Visitors sleep in hammocks because they’re easy to store and move. The shower is cold because there’s no need for hot water with the climate. Things are worn from the elements yet tidy and durable.
I met some of the most wonderful, welcoming people this weekend and went somewhere that I never would have found on my own. It was 100% Colombian and unforgettable.