It was clear that more people were needed to get the place finished within a reasonable time so Luis Carlos joined the team on the Monday of week two. He was an older worker, sixty-five from memory, and wiry but as strong as an ox. He was a real asset because he understood the construction process and so in the absence of Juan Pablo, who was off working on a project in Medellin, he was able to help with establishing the levels – a godsend.
The dynamite guy was brought back for another three sticks of dynamite. It was always exciting as we took cover for the dynamite explosions but alas it just wasn’t getting into the rock enough.
The chipping away of the rock continued until it was clear the dynamite guy was going to be needed again. Rocks are always so much deeper than they appear. So the trench digging and bag filling continued around it. The first four levels required a mixture of soil, concrete and water so it took some time to complete each layer.
The dynamite guy made it back in the afternoon and let off another three sticks of dynamite leaving the guys to dig out the debris before he applied any more. This time the neighbour’s dog had wandered onto the site while the dynamite was about to be let off so it was a little nerve wracking as he was called back to the house.
This was all extremely hard manual work, particularly in the heat. The manual work of the Burma-Thai railway comes to mind! What took three people a week could have been done in less than half day by a machine but as the guys said “what would we do?”. That constant tension between productivity, safety and jobs!
Paula and I finally cracked open our champagne that evening to celebrate our first day together on the project. It was exciting times with what seemed a pretty clear picture of where it was all heading.
Seemed others were keen to join in on the party! Paula headed off to bed earlier than me as usual only to come out five minutes later exclaiming there is a bat in her room! We did our best to move it on through the window but it just kept circling and circling – regardless of whether we had the lights on or off. Eventually we managed to coax it out.
The earthbagging (not sure that’s a real word but if not it is now!) continued through the week while Luis Carlos pretty much stuck to digging the trenches. I was getting quite frustrated by the bagging process as it seemed we could be doing it so much quicker with a three person work team rather than two teams of two which involved a lot of down time for the person waiting for the buckets to fill the earthbags. We tried a few different approaches and seemed to strike a reasonably efficient method in the end.
We essentially had two guys on the earthbag filling with additional support from us. By my calculation of what had been achieved with two workers on earthbags so far, it was going to take seven weeks to complete each level with the earthbags (assuming we’d need 13 layers of bags per level)….a long time for the two levels!
I scooted off the job around lunchtime on Friday to get to the English class that Paula had arranged for me to deliver. Disappointingly only two girls turned up – one of them being the seven year old daughter of a mum who had asked me in a Palermo shop if her daughter could go to the classes. Neither of the two girls were part of the group of kids who had asked Paula for the classes to be provided.
I wasn’t going to be defeated! I knew the kids were keen and I felt the women would really benefit if they were to have a go. So I checked with the library on possible times I could deliver the classes and then I prepared a flyer advertising a class for women and a class for kids.
I put copies of it up in the library and the doors of shops around the town (with the shopkeepers’ permission of course). Even the shopkeepers were inquisitive with one handing me her phone which had her daughter on the other line. Her daughter explained she was living in Miami and wanted to bring her eight and fourteen year old over but couldn’t until they could speak English. The fourteen year old was getting English lessons in Medellin but the eight year old is living in Palermo with his grandmother and not developing any English experience. She offered to pay me to teach him but I explained I’m not qualified and only giving the voluntary lessons to give very basic English. She seemed disappointed but I really didn’t want to take it on. I mentioned it to Paula as a potential job for her.
We stayed in Palermo for a few drinks on Friday night. We met a guy who had been on a big cycle ride that had ended in Palermo and who was having a drink with some of Paula’s friends. His name was Jose Miguel. I was pleased when I heard him say “these empanadas are a bit greasy”…an English speaker!!! I detected an American accent in his English and it took a while before he admitted he’d learnt while living in the States for a short time.
Jose Miguel lived in Rio Negro (near the Medellin airport) and owned a country house nearby. He invited us to come for lunch over the weekend. He seemed nice enough so we said we’d be in touch and we headed off to the bar where we could have a dance.
It was Friday night but a bit cool so not many people around. I managed to coax the local on duty police officer, Jose Alvarez, into dancing a bit of salsa with me. It was my first attempt with a partner since my trip in 2013 so a little clumsy but it was fun all the same.
Paula worked at the block on Saturday mornings but I had decided I wouldn’t be working on my weekends.
I had invited Lilia to come to Jericho with me so we took off with Popo in the tuk tuk to the spot the transport office has told me the bus to Jericho would stop at 10am. On arrival to the spot Popo asked the property owner across from the bus stop if the bus stopped at 10am. He informed Popo not on Saturdays; next bus was 12pm. Popo then offered to drive us there and back in the tuk tuk and to give us three hours in the town – 80,000 pesos ($40) sounded like a good deal so off we went.
The trip was a bit longer than the hour suggested but it was lovely scenery all the way. Lilia went into mother mode and started enquiries about places that sold vegetarian food – they’re always so limited here but I can generally scrummage something from a menu even if it’s just salad and rice. Turns out the place she picked was her cousin’s restaurant…no surprises there! These Sierras and Valesquezes seemed to be good breeders! From what I could understand (remembering Lilia can’t speak a word of English), Lilia’s family (mum, dad, etc) were from Jericho.
Jericho was a pretty little town and it was Saturday so the fruit market in the square and the cafes were buzzing. We visited the church which honoured Saint Laura, a nun from the area who had been canonised for her good work, particularly with indigenous kids from Colombia.
Lilia then gave me a tour around town – the cemetery where her family members were buried, the hospital, the semenary and the famous Jericho leather shops (surprisingly no purchases by me – was very traditional styles and not quite my thing). When we met up with Popo we asked that he take us up to the hill to the Christa Rey statue, with which he happily obliged.
The trip back was just as lovely, this time getting a better look at the number of waterfalls that just fell beautifully down the mountains. We passed the lovely Rio Frio where some locals were camping and enjoying the fresh water.
When I arrived home Paula said Jose Miguel and his country house property manager, Carlos, was picking us up in five minutes to go to Tamesis. A super quick shower (not hard when it’s cold water only) and off we went. After a beer in the park we stopped by La Candeleria for a few wines and some tapas. I was pretty tired and glad when it was decided it was time to head home. Then Jose Miguel convinced us that we should stop for a quick drink at his favourite bar in Tamesis. It was certainly more than ‘a drink’ – I don’t know how many aguadientes later we finally left. The bar had certainly filled by 10:30pm – we’d arrived at 9pm and I enjoyed picking the one and only non-South American song on the juke box – Men at Work, I come from the land down under.
Of course by this time Palermo had come alive and at least 300 of the 4 200 population seemed to be in the park bar dancing salsa. We had no chance of sleep with Lilia’s so close to the park so if you can’t beat them…
A big night so feeling average the next morning then we get the invite to Jose Miguel’s for a swim. I was in two minds but the chance to have a swim was too enticing so agreed to go along.
Jose Miguel’s country house was lovely. It was designed by his wife, who was an architect before she passed away some 20 years ago. The house was huge with nine bedrooms and six bathrooms. Even the horse shed looked good! We chilled by the pool and just as we were heading inside to make lunch Jose Miguel announced he was off to a friend’s place for an hour or so.
We made ourselves at home on the patio to eat what we’d prepared in the kitchen and then chilled by the pool. One hour passed and then two. I was starting to get a little nervous we’d be stuck there for the night – he’d been eager that we just stay but I had no intention of staying. I suggested we ring Popo but Paula thought it best to wait a bit longer. After another half an hour went by and then Pauls called Jose Miguel. He said he was on his way. He arrived back and we realised he expected us to get our own way home so we tried calling Popo but couldn’t get a hold of him. Jose Miguel was making no signs he would drop us back into town so I suggested we walk up the road to the main road and try and hail down a taxi or two motos (the taxi motorbikes). Thankfully Jose Miguel then offered to take us back. It had been a mixed experience – his hospitality was generous but not sure on his motives. I was glad to be back in Palermo.
Thankfully I was back in time to make it up to Las Delicias before it got dark.
Another week of interesting experiences in Colombia!