Dear Boys and Girls,

I am writing this at sea level in Cartegena, Colombia where I have been for 1 1/2 days. Such a difference to be at sea level, like in Seattle, after being up thousands of feet in the Andes for so many days. Cartegena was a very important for the conquering Spanish who had an addiction for gold. The Incas and other native peoples living in South American valued gold for its beauty and qualities of sunlight. They made many many beautiful things of gold to be admired and valued for its brightness, yellowness, and its ability to be worked into many beautiful things. Their rulers adorned themselves in huge ¨hats¨of gold, large gold earrings, gold breastplates and special ornamentation in their noses that covered their mouths. The result was that when the leaders were all dressed up, they shone and shone, surely representations of the sun.

The Spanish conquerers were addicted to gold as money, something that if you had a lot of, you could buy more things than people who had little or no gold. So they gathered all the gold things they could find and promptly melted these amazing works of art down to liquid which they put in special molds to be turned into ingots. These were loaded on ships and returned to Spain to buy all the kinds of things that gold could buy in Europe. It might be more ships to sail to the ¨new world¨ Colombus had accidentally discovered, so the owners could get even more gold. It might be to buy fancy clothes, furniture, build amazing houses and important buildings. The Spaniards wanted even more gold than they had found, so they put the people already living in South America, but whom they had conquered, to work in the mines to dig out ever more and more gold and silver. There seemed to be an unlimited amount of these two metals. Gold was not only important to the Spaniards but to people in Europe as well. Gold was as valuable as oil is to us today.

Cartegena was the main port from which all the gold collected in South America was sent. In Cartegena the gold was put on ships for Spain. Of course, other countries like England, Holland, and France wanted gold too. So they sent people out to steal the gold from the Spanish ships. Sometimes they were quite successful. Francis Drake from England, got something like 15 million golden pesos from Cartegena after he had successfully defeated the city. He promised not to tear down the city of Cartegena if they paid him this amazing ransom. Cartegena paid him. He did not tear down the city. He took the gold back to England and gave it to Queen Elizabeth the First who used it to start to built the British Empire.

This is a lot of information and may be more than you can understand now. Perhaps your teachers can help you sort out some of the important facts. I´ll give you a few more. To protect Cartegena and their gold, the Spanish built a very thick wall around Cartegena, in fact a series of two walls to keep out pirates and the countries that wanted the gold the Spaniards were collecting. They also built an amazing fort with tunnels that echo, letting the Spaniards know if an enemy was coming in through the tunnel and also, because of the echoes, letting the Spaniards communicate with different parts of their fort. This fort was never taken. It is my plan to visit it tomorrow. I am looking forward to hearing the echoes in the tunnels.

Now, you also need to know Cartegena is on the Caribean Ocean, a large area of water that touches many countries and islands. But, it is also near the equator and so it is very, very, hot. It has been as hard for me to adjust to the hot muggy weather as it has to altitudes that are so very high. In Seattle we have such a lovely temperate climate. Here it is hot day and night without relief. The places I have been, even fancy restaurants, do not have air conditioning. They rarely even have fans. I feel hot and sticky all day and all night long, even though I have a fan in my room.

I keep thinking about the Spaniards and folks building and living in Cartegena over 400 years ago. No electricity to make ice cubes. No electricity to run fans. People in those days wore some pretty fancy and heavy clothes. There are statues of famous men in their elegant coats, silk stockings, general´s clothes with badges and banners and epaulettes and high collarrs and all kinds of big big hats in different shapes. And of women in corsets and long dresses and many petticoats. They must have been very uncomfortable. There are no cooling trade winds like in Hawaii, or high volcanoes where it´s cool. The islands and land here is all flat with balmy, warm ocean water lapping at the shores. Or is it that I´m not acclimated/used to this warm weather? I´ve been walking inside the enclosed town. It is quite beautiful with narrow streets and lovely balconied windows with abouding with blooming bouganvillas. These narrow streets are hot and hold the air. I had dinner tonight inside a former home with a lovely courtyard and a very large fountain in the middle. But there was no breeze and it was very hot. Even the waiters who live here were sweating. Or perhaps I write about this because I am looking forward to coming home and enjoying Seattle´s temperate weather.

There comes a time in the course of traveling, when coming home looks awfully good. I think I´m reaching that point.

I arrived in Bogota, Colombia, last Tuesday. Colombia is a very special country for me to visit as mi nieta´s (my ganddaughter Isabel´s) papa is from a part of Colombia called Armenia. So my granddaughter Isabel is both Colombian and American. Because Bogota is high in Andes, and because it is the rainy season, Bogota was basically cool, hot in the middle of the day, in the late afternoon very very wet and rainy and cool to cold at night. I stayed in the old part of Bogota because it has many interesting things to see. There are narrow streets, some going uphill, some going down, all tucked in close together. There are many Catholic Churches and their tops rise up above the mostly two storied, but sometimes three storied houses and buildings. Each day different shops are open, or the same shop is open at a different time, so the streets are always interesting and and look different. There´s always people on the streets, going to and from work, buying pan (bread) from the postres stores, selling things on the street, visiting with each other, living their lives. It´s a very interesting city.

In another day I fly off to the Andes again, this time to Armenia in coffee country. This is where Isabel´s papa is from. Everyone tells me it is very beautiful there and that people are very friendly. I´ve been pretty much finding friendly people every place here. I´m even able to make myself understood with a mix of Spanish words, lots of motions and English words. Sometimes this is lots of fun. And sometmes it very tiring to have to think and remember Spanish words and have to pull out my dictionary when I can´t think of a word I want to use. Still, putting some Spanish words together and having someone understand is a lot of fun.

But, I am looking forward to getting cool again in Armenia, Colombia!

Warmly, Galapagos Grandma/Diane