Art / Colombia / Travel Tales

A Welcome, But Strange Travel Companion

These Pre-Columbian poporo may not look like bodyguards, but that’s precisely what comes to mind when I see them.

I traveled to Colombia a number of times on business in the early 80s, and after visiting the Bogota Gold Museum, I became intrigued by both the art and culture of the Pre-Columbians. These poporo were originally used as storage containers for lime which was taken during the age-old ritual of chewing coca leaves. I bought these replicas in a small shop in Bogota, and they’re beautiful reminders of a very strange trip.

The reason I was in Colombia was to scout a location for oil exploration in the Magdalena River Valley southwest of Bogota. The Magdalena Valley is an isolated and beautiful place, and was in those days (and probably these days as well) a hotbed of drug producers and guerrillas. Kidnapping was a major income stream for both of these groups, and oil people were one of their prime targets. So when my plane landed in Bogota, I went to the US Embassy before leaving for this remote region. They recommended that I not go! And if I did … definitely take a bodyguard with me.

So Carlos the Bodyguard became my new traveling companion.

I have many pleasant memories of Colombia, but these poporo remind me of being in the shop where I bought them, and watching my “pistol-totin’ chaperone” waiting warily by the car outside. Celebrities and dignitaries probably see bodyguards as a necessary evil, but to this day, traveling with a bodyguard was one of my strangest international travel experiences.

Happy Trails,
James

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