|Nelson stands on Plaza Bolívar, Monserrate behind him.|
With his ragged clothing, drawn face and disheveled hair most tourists probably shy away from Nelson. In that case, they miss not only a history lesson, but also a moving human drama which tells lots about Colombia.
(As the commentator below points out, parts of Nelson's story sound farfetched, and it's impossible to corraborate how much is true.)
Nelson, 56, was a merchant mariner by trade, work which took him to ports in Central America and the southern United States. In 1990, he jumped ship in Texas and moved to Houston, where he worked in a hotel and married another immigrant, from Germany. But, after 14 years, the marriage turned bad and Nelson started drinking and racked up drunk driving charges. In 2004, he skipped bail and returned to Colombia with his savings.
Back in Colombia, Nelson purchased a 40 hectare farm in Bolívar Department - for a rock-bottom price. He said the seller was the widow of a farmer who had been driven off of the land and murdered by the FARC guerrillas. The wife had later succeeded in regaining title to the land, but the guerrillas' continued presence in the area didn't help real estate prices.
|Nelson stands before city hall.|
"After you sign, the guerrillas kill you and throw you in the river," Nelson says.
Nelson says the guerrillas have since turned his farm into a coca leaf plantation.
With his escape, Nelson became one more of Colombia's millions of displaced people - perhaps the largest number of any nation in the world.
|Nelson displays the leishmaniasis |
scars on his forearms.
Every day, from 10 a.m. on, Nelson prowls Bogotá's plazas for tourists to inform. Some give him a few hundred pesos, but one German man recently paid Nelson 50 euros. Nelson said he impressed the man by using a few German phrases he'd learned from his ex-wife. Nelson earns about 20- or 30,000 pesos per day, which enables him to pay for a room in the Las Cruces neighborhood south of Plaza Bolívar.
"I manage to pay for my room, for my meals," he says.
Sometimes he comes to the aid of tourists when he sees the neighborhood's vendors ripping them off, Nelson said.
"I believe in treating the tourists well," he said. "Americans were very good to me when I lived there."
Now, with the recent approval of a law to allow compensation for the victims of Colombia's half-century-long armed conflict, Nelson hopes the government will pay him the value of the farm, which he says was worth 90 million pesos. He's got a lawyer, who will get 30% of any compensation. It won't be an easy battle. After all, Nelson said he paid much less than the farm was worth.
Once he gets his money, Nelson has a more ambitious plan: to return to the United States.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours