Friday, November 16, 2018


In 1981 I received a letter from a Colombian physician asking to spend time in my laboratory. Dr. Alberto (last names will not be used) indicated his plan to open a clinical laboratory in Medellin and his need to learn microbiology. When I wrote to tell him I had no funds to support him, he phoned to tell me that was not a problem. He, with his wife and two young children, arrived in the U.S., rented an apartment in New Jersey, and showed up in my laboratory where he spent a year before returning to Colombia. 

Not long afterwards, another letter came from Medellin, this time from Doctor Angela, the Director of Microbiology in a hospital there. She was an internationally known mycologist. She wanted me to give a series of lectures on the normal bacterial flora of humans, under a program of the American Society for Microbiology. Connie would accompany me. In July, after taking our kids to camp, we landed in Medellin.

I gave the lectures in English but was able to respond to the questions in Spanish. I had the opportunity to meet with some Public Health Officials who related their current problem with rabies due to the bite of vampire bats. 

After the course was over, Angela gave a party for Connie and me. We were surprised to see all the women going into the bathroom to don their jewelry. We learned that it was dangerous to wear jewelry while driving, since thieves can snatch rings and bracelets at a stop sign.

Colombia is famous for emeralds, and Doctor Angela knew a friend who sold them. Connie was invited to take one of the gems over night to make her decision. The emerald cost over two thousand dollars, but Connie decided not to buy it when she learned that emeralds could shatter when dropped. 

That weekend we visited the laboratory of Dr. Alberto. Together with Alberto and his wife, we traveled to the farm of his mother-in-law in the mountains. 

I had originally planned to spend a week dove hunting in the North, but was advised not to go there because of the guerilla activity. Instead, we opted for a trip up the Amazon. 

We flew to Bogota and then to Leticia. This city, at the southern tip of the country is known as the “ass hole” of Colombia. It is well named. We spent the night in a hotel where the swimming pool resembled pea soup and the bed linens were dank. At breakfast the waitress sat on the arm of my chair to take my order, and we saw a dead horse lying in the street. We took a small boat up the river to Monkey Island where we spent the night. In the morning we were awakened by the sound of monkeys running across the tin roof of our small shelter. The next day, we traveled further up river to visit a Ticuna Indian village where we traded beads, cigarette lighters, and ballpoint pens for a necklace of piranha teeth and blow guns for the boys. The Ticunas were friendly and traded their blow gun poison to other tribes. Both sexes were completely naked except for a small skirt. 

We spent a few days in Cartagena, a lovely city on the Caribbean. We were greeted by one of the natives who held a live sloth and offered me an opportunity to hold it for a photo. Connie was experiencing some nausea from the Chloroquin we had to take to prevent malaria. We waited almost an entire day for our flight home since it turned out that Avianca had only one aircraft for the trip to New York. 

I used our experience on the Amazon for an episode in my book And Evil Shall Come

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