The Children Of Puerto Triunfo

Due to the closure of the main road, we didn´t make it from Bogota to Medellin in one day. Instead we find ourselves in the tiny town of Puerto Triunfo.

Sitting out on the malecon overlooking the Rio Claro, I glance up from my beer to see six little boys sitting in a semicircle around our table.

They are fresh faced, dressed nicely, sitting upright with their hands folded politely in their laps, and staring straight at us with an unsettling intensity.

Hola, I say,  Hola, they say. And then they shuffle their chairs a couple inches closer–twelve big eyeballs burning in our direction.

I give Tree a look that says We’re surrounded by little people!, but he is deep in work mode, and nothing shy of mating lions can distract his laser focus.

De donde son? (Where are you guys from?) The youngest one asks me. Los Estados Unidos, I reply.  Como llegan aqui? (How did you get here?). Manejamos aqui en nuestra camioneta. (We drove here in our van). This last fact excites them WILDLY.

They shuffle their chairs again- closing the gap -and then start talking all at once. How long have we been in Colombia? Is this our first time here? Do we know anyone in Puerto Triunfo? Well, if not, then where are we sleeping? In the van? Do we have a bed?

And, then, their favorite question:

How do you say my name in english?

Most names are easy to translate, Jose becomes Joe, Juan becomes John, but the youngest one is named Camilo, which stumps me, so I tell him that his name doesn’t exist in our country. Bad idea. He takes a gulp and his eyes well up big and round and watery at the thought of being The Nameless One. Ah, crap, he’s gonna cry. But then, just in the knick of time, Tree says, “Oh wait, your name is Cameron, that’s it, Cameron!,” much to the boy’s satifaction.

After the interrogation, they conclude that we know absolutely nothing and proceed to tell us everything we might need to know about their country.  At one point, Camilo, in all seriousness, pulls out a 1 mil Colombian peso note and explains to us that this is called plata (money) and they use it to buy food here in Colombia. Tree and I feign wonder at the idea, and then say that we have some of that plata stuff in our country too! This really gets them going, so Tree goes to the van to see if he can drum up some dollar bills.

Just then, mass lets out, and the adults of the town come spilling out the church doors. The boys hurriedly tell me that it’s the Virgen’s day and there’s a procession and they gotta go, but they’ll be back in an hour. Ciao!

By the time Tree gets back from the van, the entire town is lined up in their cars and motorcycles behind a pickup truck with a big statue of the Virgen Mary strapped to the back, heading out of town. We wave goodbye to everyone and head back to the van to cook dinner.

About a hour later, we hear them–all hoots and hollers and horns–coming back.

Knock knock knock. I look out the window, and there they are, the little boys, but this time there’s more of them. I tell them that we’re eating dinner and to come back in twenty minutes, to which they reply, “No problem, we’ll wait here.” Realizing there´s no escape, we quickly clean up and step outside to join them. Our thought is that we’ll give them their big surprise and then go back to the malecon to share a couple more cold beers. We count ten boys and we have ten one dollar bills. Perfect. We give them each a dollar, we take a couple pictures, and then we start moving towards the town square.

And so do they. They follow us through the town square, past the malecon to the far end of town and back, except by now, the group has grown exponentially. We are a sizable mass of two adults, one terrifed dog (Kiki hates kids), and no less than fifty village children. I feel like the woman in that movie Out of Africa.

We try to separate to see if we can shake them, but it´s like they operate as one mind. Without a word amongst each other, half of them break off to surround Tree as he walks away, forming two cells instead of one. Shit, mitosis! So, with no other choice,  for the rest of the evening we move as one giant lifeform. I take a step, they take a step, as if I´m wearing a fifteen foot bustle skirt stuffed with small children. So it goes…

The next day, we leave quietly during morning mass and head to Medellin. – STEVIE


  1. Heather says:

    Stevie and Tree, both of you are excellent writers. This post is hilarious. It reminds me of a question I’ve been meaning to ask you — how much Spanish did you know before you headed south of the border? -Heather

  2. Now you know what it’s like to be movie stars without body guards! This was hilarious!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Following the Bliss. . . . following the Bliss.

  4. Antie Coco says:

    I LOVE THIS STORY!!!!!!!!! Reminds me of living in Ventura where I was the’ block mom’ I nver went anywhere wihout a crew of kids! The best. You are gonna be great parents.

  5. Sayulita, and we have a series of Learn Spanish while driving compact discs that we used to listen to religiously. It took around 6 months to get a really good handle on the language, and now I´d say I can pretty much convey anything I need to say, albeit not quite as fast or as eloquent as I would like, and I can understand most of what is said to me. Now that I can converse well with the people, I pick up words, phrases, and slang just by talking in the streets and meeting friends. All in all, it´s not that hard to learn Spanish once you`re in Latin America. See more… I still have a lot of room for improvement though, especially because I would really like to be fluent before we leave this continent. Hi Terry! I`m so glad you thought it was funny, because it was super funny in real life, and I wasn`t sure if I could convey that well enough. The kids were so incredibly sweet. They literally stayed with us until bedtime…our bedtime, not theirs! Thanks Anonymous (mamamia?)…being surrounded by all those happy little beings was pure bliss! Auntie Coco- Thank you! You are a great auntie xoxo

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