rio“Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.” Isabelle Eberhardt

It was almost noon. I was sitting in a shade, near a supermarket, eating my second breakfast. I made myself a lavish gift, went over my daily budget and bought a tasty, Costa Rican gingerbread, known here as pan bon. It can be bought on the street, especially now, during Lent. Interestingly, its recipe came to Costa Rica with Jamaican immigrants – descendants of working on Caribbean plantations African slaves, who in turn took it from the English. Pan bon (also called pambon) is sweet, full of raisins and it combines perfectly with peanut butter.

So, I was sitting in the saving shade, being watched by a uniformed man, guarding an almost empty, huge parking lot. An hour earlier I fell into disfavour with that security guard because I didn’t give a damn for his rebuke concerning my outfit. The man said that I was obliged to wear a t-shirt while staying in the area adjacent to the supermarket. Before I even noticed him, I had already set up my mattress and lay down to have breakfast.

I bit into the sandwich when I saw him coming. I knew perfectly well what he would say. My naked torso works as a fire alarm on all uniformed guys and it does not matter whether I’m sitting next to a supermarket or getting closer to a checkpoint, or if I’m using an ATM machine at an empty gas station. From right out of the blue a man dressed in a multi-layered uniform appears and waving his gun asks a gringo to be dressed up, because it is not the beach (well, although on the beach a gringo can walk only in his shorts, while natives usually put on shirts and trousers).

Ignoring those sweaty and fevered guys sometimes is effective, especially when I meet them on the road and it is easy to shrug shoulders and just drive off. In that case however, I had no intention to look for another place, so I had to wait patiently and bear the entire Spanish monologue.

At first I pretended that I did not understand anything, but the man had been using such an extensive set of non-verbal gestures that, willy-nilly, I put on my T-shirt. When I was wondering if I would like to eat another sandwich, I noticed a slim, foreign-looking man walking slowly toward one of two cars left in the square. A young boy was making slow progress a few steps behind the man, pushing two overloaded shopping carts. The wheels caught on uneven surface and wedged themselves in tiny crevices of the concrete square.

The man turned around repeatedly and talked loudly, but I could not recognize any words. They were just a few steps from the car when one of the carts rolled over. The hole in the ground was too big and the boy probably even noticed it and he certainly felt that one wheel came into it and jammed, but instead of pulling the cart, he pushed it forward and all its content was on the ground.

Something was broken, something was spilled, one bottle rolled under the car. Among the screams of an overexcited man, the dark-skinned boy was hastily scooping up the scattered stuff, throwing everything into the open trunk of the car. There were so many things on the ground to be picked up. The boy was sweating and his eyes were alight with terror. His huge, wide open eyes, still looking for things which had already been found, lifted and packed. The eyes looking for things which no longer will have to be pushed in overloaded carts, somewhere out of the invisible door, slammed hard by a man from another world.

Those great, dilated pupils of another world. They look at me when I go, when I eat, drink, sit, when I wait, when I put up my tent. They sit on the porches of their tiny houses until finally they come closer. They say nothing but I can hear them talking. I even prefer them to be silent, because when they speak I do not understand anything. They are always behind the wall, as in Panamanian Luna’s Castle hostel, where on the one side live those who were born there, and on the other – well nourished gringos sit and eat gingerbread with peanut butter, watching the silent movie from another life.


And although I once thought that these worlds sometimes meet, now I think they do not. They peer at themselves but they cannot see. They do not meet even if someone invites me to their house, and with generous hospitality offers bed and breakfast. We talk, we smile, we sometimes eat from the same plate, we stroke cats, but the wall remains.


I’m cycling through another country. The birds are constantly flying above my head. I saw them in Colombia, and then in Panama. I’m getting close to Salvador, and they are still above me. Yesterday I saw them again. I do not know what to think about it. I look at them as they circle, as they spin over my head.


The Big Bear appeared in the sky. It hangs upside down and quickly hides over the horizon. The stars are dancing, celestial music can be heard. In the middle of the night I hear you. In the middle of the dream I twirl around. 

God does not like carnival


“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

We reached Campo de la Cruz after dark. We were wandering clumsily among dimly illuminated streets, sensing invisible eyes leading us from the swinging hammock to the open gate, from the creaking bench to the dark and swarming with people backyards, which slowly were being filled up with cooler, evening air.

We felt uneasy. I mean, I certainly felt uneasy, but I am sure that Fidrygałka did not feel very comfortable either. An hour before, just in front of our eyes, a car ran over a dog. All in all, nothing terrible happened and, in fact, nothing special. When you cycle along Latin roads, sooner or later you get used to the sight of dead, canine corpses, so indeed, the whole incident should not have touched us at all.

And probably it wouldn’t if it hadn’t been for the fact that this dog was not a stray dog. It had its owner – somebody to whom it was attached more that to anyone else in the world. But after the “incident” the owner just walked up to a still shaking body, took it by the tail and threw it into the ditch; then shook his hands and went away. He did it so quickly and so naturally as if he did not do anything else in his life but walking along the road and throwing dead corpses into the ditch.

The next day, the carnival started. – God does not like carnival – says the boy met in the square. – Why? – I ask surprised. – He does not like it and that’s it – the boy answers. – So, what is he doing that time? – I don’t give it up. – He’s sleeping. But even then, he sees everything. He has a third eye, my grandma told me – the boy answers with a very serious face. – So even when he sleeps, he is able to see everything, because he has three eyes.

Such an eye would come in very useful. It would be nice to see what you are usually not able to see. At the very least one could respond somehow in some situations, especially those which happen unexpectedly and the only thing you can do is to smile and say “thank you”. What else could we do when in a small town Juan de Acosta a man brought breakfast for us? Or when the owner of Malibu Hotel (whose room prices exceeded our two-week budget) offered us the entire floor of his hotel?


Not to mention two, suspiciously looking women we met in Barranquilla, who at first we insolently and nonchalantly ignored. If it hadn’t been for their help we would never have found affordable accommodation, because somehow it escaped our notice that during the last four days of the carnival it would be more than advisable to reserve a room at least a month earlier.

And finally the girl from Panamanian hostel “Luna’s Castle”, who broke the rules and allowed me to stay overnight, regardless of the fact that the hostel was overbooked. I slept exactly in the same spot, where fifteen months earlier I had been finishing writing my last book “Dream of Return” (in original: “Sen powrotu”). I did not ask for anything. When I heard, “I’m sorry, but there are no vacancies,” I thought that the girl would just add “have a nice evening” and then she would continue taking care of the penitents queuing before the reception. She asked me to wait and then she led me to the big room pointing to a “hollow”. I knew that place. I knew that very well. I spent there hours looking for words in the ceiling. Mosquitoes bit as always.

I put up the tent and opened my mind, full of tangled thoughts. Tangled even more than usual, because I’m cycling alone again. Fidrygalka borrowed the wings and flew into the clouds leaving me on the ground. Although land or clouds, is there any difference? I close my eyes and I can see. Does it mean that I also have a third eye? Maybe all of us have. Always open. Always alert, even as we sleep.

“And before you hear it, listen well. Did you see it? Do not rush until you can see more clearly.” W. Myśliwski

When God created the coffee break


“We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.” Henry Ward Beecher

I can’t deny – I do like coffee. I could say even more – I feel a deep respect for it. There is almost an intimate bond between me and coffee that binds all mornings into one aromatic, caffeine continuum. I belong to that group of people who usually fall asleep after drinking, instead of being stimulated. So, I do not have to refuse one cup in the late afternoon or even at night. And I drink a lot and I prefer it strong.

I am spending the last days in Colombia – the country which is the third producer in the world when it comes to the amount of coffee produced annually, and it is famous for its excellent quality. There is no doubt whatsoever that Colombian coffee is one of the best in the world. Nevertheless, despite of its good reputation many foreigners who come to Colombia find it strange when they want to buy a good coffee in the street, hotels or even a family home. Majority of Colombians, who are so proud of their product, do not know how to prepare that drink. As Paul Bocuse (a French culinary celebrity) once said that Colombian coffee is like “dirty water”.

Please, do not misunderstand me. The coffee here is good, well, it’s perfect but only if you prepare it yourself. And surely, as long as you succeed in finding it well ground and roasted. Those conditions, in addition to the appropriate mixture of water and coffee, are the key to making a good drink.

Colombians have their own word for “coffee” – they call it “tinto”, which could be loosely translated as “stained or inky water”. Tinto is sold almost everywhere, and you can get it for an equivalent of a few cents from street vendors who carry their thermos-laden, home-made carts and trolleys all over the country. Tinto is usually extremely sweet and diluted. I would say that its taste resembles “something with a taste of coffee”, although it might be better to describe it as “water with a taste of sweet syrup”. It is usually served straight from the thermos, and when it is cold (because the Colombian thermos do not hold the temperature too long), it is reheated.

Surely, there are some people among the readers who do not drink coffee at all. So, I would like to mention that coffee considerably changes its flavor after about thirty minutes of “aging”, whether it fills a cup or a thermo. It is obvious that after some time it finally gets cold, and cold coffee actually changes into “dirty water” – unless we like a frozen one, but that’s another question about which I’m not going to elaborate here, because with ice I drink only whiskey.

So, why do they drink so bad coffee in Colombia? Is it just a question of another taste and Colombians really like what they buy in the streets? Then, in principle, this issue should not be moved at all, because de gustibus non est disputandum, there is no accounting for tastes. But if even locals admit that their tinto has little to do with a well-brewed espresso, then it must be something brewing in that matter.

Let’s look at the statistics on the annual consumption of coffee in the world. In Colombia it is less than two kilos per person, while, for comparison, in Finland, the consumption is twelve kilograms per capita, in Norway ten, and even in the small country as Bosnia and Herzegovina (rather unknown for its liking for coffee) – six kilos per person. And perhaps here, apart from economic factors (because the best coffee is more expensive and for many years Colombia exported its best grain and left the lowest quality for domestic consumption) we should look for a source of disappointment, a kind of feeling which wakes up among foreigners visiting Colombia and expecting euphoric, gustatory elations.

Colombians normally do not drink much coffee and are not accustomed to more elaborate formulas like cappuccino or a latte macchiato. And when they do drink it, they conform to less quality. Many Colombians have breakfast with hot chocolate, juices from a variety of fruits or panela – a drink prepared from a brown, sugary substance. Not so long time ago, tinto was being added to dinner for free, as it is now “agua de panela” (water with lime and panela – sugar obtained almost directly from sugar cane, sold in sugar cubes).

Juan Valdéz (a sort of Colombian Starbucks), finally got the hang of it, but in Juan Valdéz coffee costs ten times as much as tinto and vast majority of Colombians simply can’t afford it, similarly like most Colombians can’t afford to buy a decent coffee maker.

juan valdez

The coffee machines used in Colombia are usually huge. Generally, they are quite good devices from which one could make a great espresso. The problem is that the cloth filters are not replaced very often, which obviously affects the quality of the finished product. Large quantities of coffee are prepared for a day and then, the drink is warmed over and over again, so it not only loses its freshness and original flavour, but actually turns into tarred sediment.

So are there no places in Colombia where you can buy a decent cup of coffee, and there are no people in the country who can properly brew it? Of course, surely they are, but it is difficult to find them. One could say that instead of moaning about the incompatibility of my own and Colombian tastes, I should prepare a cup of coffee myself. As I like it. After all, almost every store offers fantastically burnt and ground coffee, which I can put into the coffee mug to enjoy a unique, slightly acidic coffee aroma.

Yes, I could prepare my own coffee, but believe me, after a few hours of pedalling under the scorching sun, after climbing another heavy uphill, I really would like to find a good place to get a coffee, instead of looking for a shadowy spot to stay, and then pulling up the stove, firing it up, heating, brewing, waiting and so on. And it is a pity that in Colombia I have to prepare coffee myself, but well, as I said earlier, I like it strong, so strong, that accustomed to tinto Colombians probably would not touch at all, because for them it would seem to be just disgusting, smelly tar.

And maybe we come to the heart of the problem (if one could call it “problem” at all). Because, what on earth “brewed well” means? After all, there is no one “proper” way to brew. I like it strong, someone likes it weak. I do not add milk, someone likes ice and so on … In terms of tastes everything is relative. And I am from Poland, so I probably have an innate tendency to complain and to pick holes where they may not be any.

Well, but weak, transparent coffee, warmed up five times, served with three tablespoons of sugar and nearly cold? No, after all, I’ve had enough. I will make an effort and will look for a shadowy spot to perform my loved, caffeinated ritual. And when you come to Colombia hoping for a good espresso, do not forget to bring your stove-top espresso maker, or at least a spare sock. Bon Appétit!