A Change of Plans


We were sitting by the fire, discussing restaurant options for Friday night in Bogota, then a road trip to Villa de Leyva on Saturday morning. The phone rang, and even though my Spanish is limited, and even though I was hearing only one side of the conversation, I could tell something bad had happened. He hung up. A friend’s mother had passed away unexpectedly and the funeral would be either Friday or Saturday. We immediately changed our plans to drive to San Martin the next day.


As we drove, the buildings morphed from high-rise apartments to one and two story buildings, lots of stores and service shops lining the highway. After more than an hour, I asked where we were. Laughingly, they said still in Bogota. I took notice when we finally made our way out of the traffic and out of the city. The landscape opened up to grassy fields and craggy ridges. We descended down curvy roads, stopping at roadside arepa vendors for nourishment.

Arepas by the side of the road

Arepas by the side of the road

After many hours of more traffic than expected, we arrived at the funeral parlor, located just beside the main church in town. We paid our respects, gave hugs, offered words of condolence, then walked across the street and sat across from the main plaza, slowly sipping Poker beers in chilled steins. Young people on scooters cruised around the plaza, occasionally yelling to each other, flirting, laughing, posturing.


Surprisingly, I awoke before the others. I dressed and headed poolside, taking advantage of the calm of the morning to relax, sip a cup of tea, and read several chapters of my book before the others joined. After breakfast, we relaxed by the pool for a few hours before preparing for the funeral.

We arrived to the plaza and slowly walked around. Tony pointed out a tree to me. “One day a year, all the flowers fall. Today’s the day.” We stood, looking upwards as pink blossoms slowly floated down, creating a pastel carpet around us. On the twelfth toll of the church bell, we walked across the street.

The vaulted ceilings of the church provided a perch for several birds who quietly flapped during the service. I listened to the cadence of the Spanish, following the lead of the others: stand, sit, kneel, stand. A bead of sweat trickled down the nape of my neck, continuing down my back. The coffin was brought to the rear of the church, out the doors, then into the coffin, which slowly drove to the graveside, followed by a multitude on foot brandishing parasols to shade them from the hot sun, families on mopeds, and a few slow moving cars.

We gathered around the graveside. The coffin was lowered. The priest said a few words; we heard choked sobs. The heat of the sun drove several people to the shade of the cemetery wall as the coffin was covered with shovelfuls of fresh dirt. More hugs, more remembrances.

We stopped for lunch before leaving town; the menu consisted of carne asada or soup. Three of us ordered carne asada, which came with generous portions of yucca and potatoes. One ordered soup, then envious as our plates arrived, ordered carne asada as well. The meat was cooked to perfection. Crispy charred edges enveloped juicy tender strips of meat. Dogs circled our picnic table, hoping for a scrap to fall. None did.

On the way to Villavicencio, we stopped at roadside fruit vendors. Pineapples, oranges, mandarins, bananas, watermelons, coconuts, mangoes, apples, papaya, and more beckoned us. The vendor offered us teeny tiny bananas to sample as we decided what to buy. We left with bags of incredibly sweet pineapples, watermelon, and baby bananas.


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