Nov 20, 2014

Summer 1979: The Colombian Hustler

In the wilds of Colombia
During the summer of 1979, just after my freshman year at Augustana College, the Nazarene Church was looking for some able-bodied college students to help build ten new churches in Colombia.  I hadn't attended regularly for about a year, but you stay on the membership roster forever, so they called me.

They warned us: this was the jungle, where Jim Elliot was killed trying to bring the gospel to the Auca Indians in 1956.  Expect poisonous snakes, crocodiles, and naked cannibals.  They might try to eat us!

Um...did you say cannibals would be naked?

I'm in!

Itagui, Colombia
Actually, my group ended up in Itagui, population 200,000, a major industrial center with gleaming modern architecture, a gigantic soccer stadium, and restaurants called "Chocolate Chicken the Prince" and "Nice Sandwich and Juice."

No poisonous snakes, but lots of poverty, crime, and drugs.  We were cautioned to not leave the Youth Hostel at night, and not go into Medellin, about 5 miles away, where murder and kidnapping were daily events.

"Reto," "The Challenge," Itagui
Heck with that!  I was going to find a nice Swedish leatherman to dance with, like in Switzerland, or at least a cute gay waiter, like when I visited Olivet.  Only now if he offered "Come back to my hotel! I have Schnapp!", I would know what to do.

But with no internet and no gay guidebooks (I had never heard of the Damron Guide), how could I find the gay men of Itagui?

It turns out that they found me.

I went downtown, to a small, brightly-lit taverno that seemed to have all men inside, mostly elegantly-dressed young adults.  I sat down at the bar and ordered a Postobon, an apple-flavored soda.

Not Marco, but close enough
Five minutes later, a college-age boy named Marco sat down next to me: short, muscular, with black hair and intense black eyes. He was wearing a track suit, as if he was in a race -- rather out of place for such an elegant clientele, I thought.

 We chatted, in my pretty-good Spanish and his rudimentary English, mostly about the Sandinistas taking control of Nicaragua and Skylab falling out of the sky.  His leg brushed against mine, and he didn't move it away.  Then he said, apropos of nothing: "Necessitas marimba?"

Why would I want a xylophone?   Later I figured out that he was offering me marijuana.  "No,"  What was the Spanish word for gay?  "Hombres que aman los hombres." (Men who love men.)

"Oh!"  His eyes lit up, and his hand fell onto my knee.  "100 lucas...200 dollars."

"Para que?  No quiero comprar algo."  I didn't want to buy anything!

"Ok, ok, 50 lucas!"

"No quiero comprar..."

"10 lucas!" he exclaimed in exasperation. "Que barato!" About $20.  What a bargain!

Finally I understood -- I had read The Happy Hooker, after all.  I just never realized that there were male hustlers, with male clients.

"No way!" I exclaimed, pushing aside his hand and getting up from the bar.

He followed me out into the street and yelled, "Oye, chino!  Medio  luca!"  About $1.00.

Amazonian guy with fish
"Estas burlando?"  I asked.  "Are you kidding?  That's about the cost of a Postobon!   It's not even worth it."

He grabbed my arm and started speaking very quickly in Spanish. "You're very cute, but you have to pay...I'm not a pillow-killer...I'm a's only for the money."

I threw him off and walked away, through the warm tropical night toward the youth hostel.  I was gratified that there were enough gay men in Itagui to make hustling profitable, but upset that Marco couldn't bring himself to acknowledge that he was gay, a "pillow-killer."  He was a "cannibal" (apparently slang for "hustler" or "on the downlow"): telling himself over and over again that it was about the money, not about desire.

So I met a cannibal after all.  Just not the kind that goes fishing in the nude.

See also: The Top 12 Public Penises of South America.

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