MY MOTORCYCLE DIARY: Or Seven Days Through The Amazon On The Back Of An Ass Part II

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metweakedcropped.thumbnail.jpgBY JONATHAN VALANIA

SOUTH AMERICA CORRESPONDENT

ZIPAQUIRA, COLOMBIA — Wednesday morning, I saw the most impressive cow erection I have ever seen. Actually it was the first cow erection I have ever seen, and hopefully it will be the last. The background: We got up at the crack of dawn to attend the livestock market in the nearby town of Zipaquira. Once a week all the area campesinos gather at the fairgrounds to buy, sell and trade cows, pigs and sheep. Being the only gringos in attendance, it is an understatement to say we stuck out like sore and throbbing thumbs.

Just to be clear, this was not quite your average 4-H Club gathering. There is no rhyme or reason, and precious little organization — just a large mass of people, each leading their prized heads of steer and swine around on leashes of knotted rope, dodging the freshly- laid cow patties that dotted the muddy landscape. Looking like moneyed gringos, we must have struck the locals as most desirable buyers, and we got very accomplished at saying “No, gracias” and waving our hands in the universally accepted sign language for “negatory.”

It was in the middle of this scene, with cows mooing and pigs oinking and sheep bah-bah-bah-ing and peddlers selling sweets, belt buckles and cowboy hats, that I saw the aforementioned full-mast bovine phallus. This impressive, pink appendage was connected to a bull that was in the process of mounting an unsuspecting Bessie in a scene that resembled the cover of Aerosmith’s Pump. It must be said that the cocksmanship of this bull left something to be desired, between his bad aim and the intended target mooing the equivalent of “I have a headache,” the Earth never did have a chance to move for our horny bovine friend. And for his trouble he was beaten with sticks by the cow herders trying to shoo him onto the scales to be weighed, unrequited hard-on and all. Once the campesinos figured out that we were here not to buy but to gawk, point and take pictures, they all proudly posed with their prized walking sides of beef.
bigpig.jpg We came across a pig farmer who was only too happy to let me photograph five of the cutest little piglets suckling on their mother’s teats. Adorable. He waved me over to his prized Baconator tied the fence and sleeping. He kicked it several times to wake it up, despite me trying to tell him in broken Spanglish that it really wasn’t necessary.Witnessing such scenes of brutal cow sex and porcine cruelty can give a man a powerful appetite, so we headed over to the picnic tables crowded with poncho-clad campesino families and chickens slowly twisting on spits over open flames where breakfast was being served. Sopa is a big part of the local diet, and this morning we dined on chicken soup, fried eggs over white rice and plastic cups of fresh-squeezed jugo de naranja topped with a half an orange.

From there we headed over to the open-air farmer’s market in the Center Square, where melons, berries and bananas were stacked on tables in mini-pyramids, next to slightly-used cell phones and the latest adidas and Pumas. Now, before we go any further, I must tell you that my mother — who accompanied me on this trip, along with my lovely girlfriend Jill (I have been getting a lot of pressure to work her into the narrative) — is a hard-headed maverick who insists on going her own way no matter what the facts on the ground indicate. And yes, I know all about the fruit not falling far from the tree. Despite Mom’s repeated promises that she would listen to all and any advice my aunt and uncle gave us on how to successfully negotiate our way through this strange and foreign land, Mom refused to remove her gold necklace before we left the house. We did manage to get the string of pearls off her neck, but the gold necklace, Chanel purse and Rolex watch were non-negotiable. Mom just doesn’t roll without repping at least a little bling. Your loss, I tried to tell her. And sure enough, about halfway through our stroll through the crowded marketplace, it happened.

I was up ahead, taking pictures of small children peddling fresh-cut cilantro in newspaper cones when I heard my mother let out a scream and turned to see my Uncle William running through the crowd yelling “Ladron! Ladron!” (Thief! Thief!) and took off after him. The ladron quickly disappeared in the teeming throng, and we soon broke off the chase and returned to the scene of the crime to find my mother being comforted by vegetable-selling crones and sporting a nasty red rope burn where her gold necklace used to be. After calming her down I took no pleasure in pointing out that the necklace was a small price to pay for a valuable lesson learned: When you are the Haves strolling through the land of the Have Nots, don’t be so fucking obvious.

From there, it was on to our final stop of the morning: the Catedral de Sal, or Cathedral Of Salt, situated in an active salt mine dug into the side of mountain high atop Zapaquira. Colombians are a very devout Catholic people, a holdover from the days of Spanish rule, and as a sort of insurance policy against disaster the miners built an elaborate subterranean cathedral out of the dense walls of sodium chloride. This description from CNN says it better than I could:

The Zipaquira Salt Cathedral is built into the walls of a salt mine nearly 600 feet saltminer.jpg into a mountain in this central Colombian town of 120,000 people. Winding tunnels descend into the Roman Catholic temple, passing 14 small chapels representing the stations of the cross, which illustrate the events of Jesus’ last journey. Soft lights outline the chapels, carved with simple yet powerful strokes. Benches at each station appear to be marble but are really salt. Tourists and the devout kneel on the benches, breathing in a soft smell of sulfur as they pray.Moist bits of salt flutter like snowflakes in the distance of the tunnels, while stalactites of the mineral poke out of the white and gray walls.

It took a team of 120 miners working in around-the-clock shifts for four years to complete this awe-inspiring shrine to the earth-moving power of faith. Bathed in eerie blue light and the piped-in pre-recorded sounds of monks singing the Ave Maria, the Catedral de Sal almost made re-believers out of our party of four lapsed Catholics and two non-observant Moravians. I say almost. I could not help myself from cracking wise with the tour guide and asking if it was hard to find miners who could sing on key. She did not think that was funny. I was going to tell her that was at least as funny as watching cows fuck, but, in a rare moment of self-restraint, thought better of it.

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About the author: Our own Boss Phawker, man of the world and leader of the local ruling junta, is vacationing down South America way with his lovely girlfriend, Jill.

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