Strange things happen at strange places at strange times. You just never know when a naked woman is going to burst into your hotel lobby. If people put themselves in novel circumstances they should expect the unexpected. My wife and I were staying in the small town of Buga, Colombia in 1976. This city of 100,000 in the center of Cauca Valley boasts of two visits by Simon Bolivar and some huge sugar plantations. Its two major landmarks are The Basilica del Señor de los Milagros and the Guadalajara Hotel.
Buga is nearly half way between Armenia and Cali. Since we lived in Armenia and often had meetings in Cali, we would stop for a night at the luxurious California colonial style hotel for its charm, food, and swimming pool. Unfortunately, Buga is very hot in the summer and air conditioning was not a part of luxury in the 1970’s.
One evening at 10:30 I could not get our son David, then three, interested in going to sleep as we waited for the mountain breeze to slowly cool the valley. So, I packed him down to the marble walled lobby where a breeze had already lowered temperatures by at least ten degrees. We had not been there very long when I heard a woman scream, “My Lord, what am I going to do? Someone stole everything I have!” When she finally came into sight, I got a first hand view of her dilemma. She was buck naked except for tennis shoes and a amarillo, azul y rojo Colombian t-shirt much too big for her. Her hair was wet and apparently had not been combed. She continued to the registration desk to recover a key to her room. After a few more minutes of incoherent panic, she disappeared with the bellman. I assumed that someone had gotten into her room while she was in the shower and stolen most or all of her belongings.
The next morning I quietly slid out of bed for some alone time in the hotel lobby. It provided an opportunity for odoriferous experiences I didn’t find in the coffee shops in Armenia. After a cup of coffee and three rings of pan de bono (a cheese bread usually served hot out of the ovens), a reluctant desk clerk inquired if I spoke both Spanish and English. We went to the manager’s office and I got a different look at the woman I had seen the night before. Very quickly she explained the events of the previous evening. Still in a panic, she and the manager wanted me to go to the local police station to file a report and to recover a few of her items that had mysteriously appeared.
As we took a taxi along the crowded city streets, she shared the horror of more of her experiences the previous evening. The whole story began in Tampa, Florida. Vanessa was a successful single real estate agent that had read about the increasing numbers of tourists exploring the plantations, jungles and magnetic cities of Colombia. She traveled widely around the USA and felt it was time to expand her horizon toward the South. Why not Colombia? She had met a lot of Colombians in Florida and most of them spoke some English so surely she could make her way around Colombia without too many difficulties. She mapped out a few cities of interest and began to plan the vacation of her life—including the rather exclusive Guadalajara Hotel in Buga.
It soon became obvious that she was naïve and lacked a hint of common sense. Her evening began with a late dinner in the hotel where three dark-haired, handsome Colombian men talked to her from the next table. They turned on the charm. She took the bait and moved over to their table and visited over coffee and flan. Their English was highly accented, but better than her few words of Spanish. They offered to take her around Buga during the evening and show her some of the sights and suggested that they would invite her to one of their farms the following day for a first hand look of a South American hacienda. They seemed so amiable that she saw a cool chance to spend one less day and evening struggling with the language. Who knows what she really had in mind? One thing for certain, she wasn’t thinking about “personal” one to one evangelism.
Their first stop was a small bar along the Buga River. She remembered it was a thatch covered building with a lot of bamboo beams left exposed inside. The place was vibrating with a loud band. The crowded tables had a mix of men and women. The men introduced Vanessa to the famous “aguardiente” of the country. This anise flavored drink comes under many labels but they all have a very high alcohol content. One bottle is given to each two people and the result is not pretty. People get boisterous and lose control over what they say and do. Poor Vanessa didn’t remember a lot about the evening after the first hour.
She did remember the group suggesting the men walk Vanessa back to the hotel. The bar was only a short walk away. This walk was along an avenue that wound beside the river that also passed the Guadalajara Hotel. So, the group headed in the right direction. But Vanessa said when she saw and heard the river, she wanted to “skinny-dip.” The group watched as she stripped. Then, she remembered slipping on a slimy rock; and when she finally got up, no one responded to her giggles. So, she eventually made her way to the bank to recover her clothes; they were all gone. Nothing remained of her purse, more than $500 in cash, traveler’s checks, watch, airplane tickets, clothes, camera, or passport. Inebriated, she struggled up the riverbank to the sidewalk totally bare except for her shoes. She didn’t realize her plight. It was at this point after being intoxicated by three fine men, left alone in a river to drown, that a man in a car stopped to check out the spectacle and obviously gave the woman his t-shirt to restore some modesty and drove her to the hotel. It was in that condition, I first saw the distraught woman.
The police were somewhat helpful. During the early morning the police had questioned a young capricious romantic because of the complaint issued by the hotel, where the man frequent ate and befriended single women. He claimed he knew nothing about what happened to the woman after she decided to walk herself back to the hotel. However, during the night the police had recovered her traveler’s checks, her hotel key, her passport, and her airplane tickets in a local park where someone threw them. The story was that one of the three men at the bar with Vanessa was actually a seminary student and that when he left the bar, he walked home and by pure accident saw Vanessa’s purse in a local park where the thief left them. The police suggested that due to Vanessa’s travel schedule and the recovery of the stolen items, it would be better she be on her way.
We met the man who gave the woman his shirt. He was still in shock and embarrassed by the incident. It was clear that it was a wild experience for him to see a naked women standing disoriented along the street. At any rate, being a preacher, my mind went to the story of the good Samaritan and felt the taxi driver’s generosity worthy of remembering.