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  • "This morning I rated 3 inches on the social page of the Barranquilla El Heraldo," Thompson wrote to a friend in May of 1962, in a letter reprinted in The Proud Highway. "All lies, but in Spanish and harmless."

    Only one library in Bogota has a complete archive of El Heraldo, and that's the Biblioteca Nacional de Colombia, an imposing art deco building on the edge of the city's oldest park. When I arrived there yesterday, my first challenge was to navigate the library's byzantine security process. I could bring in my computer, they told me at reception, but not its case. I could take a pen, but no notebooks. I'd have to relinquish my English-Spanish dictionary. And I could bring in some papers from my folder, but only the ones I really needed.

    When I sat down inside, a librarian from the periodical archives presented me with a two-foot-tall, brown book — every edition of El Heraldo from the second quarter of 1962. Todos originales, she said. Microfiche isn't big here. I turned the crisp, beige pages with the utmost care.

    On the society page of the paper's May 26 edition, next to a ridiculous photo of a froggy-looking toddler, is a small column with the simple headline "Periodista Norteamericano." The text is perhaps a bit less scandalous than Thompson let on:

    Found in the city for a few days is the American journalist, Hunter S. Thompson, a native of Louisville, Kentucky, who is touring South America. Mr. Thompson writes for the newspaper company "Herald Tribune" and is touring several countries, about which he has been writing a series of articles.

    Thompson, who is also photographer, visited La Guajira. He arrived in Barrranquilla and intends to continue in the afternoon, bound for Bogota, where he will remain for several weeks and then continue to Lima, Peru. We welcome senior Thompson, wishing him the best impressions during his visit to our country.


    The "lies" Thompson mentions might very well be his own, considering he had yet to publish a single freelance article from the continent — for the Herald Tribune or anyone else. His first piece for the National Observer would run a month later, a story on the relationship between President Kennedy and the newly elected Colombian president, Guillermo Leon Valencia. Coincidentally, the front page of the May 26 Heraldo covers Kennedy's message of congratulations to the new president-elect. The gushing headline reads: President Kennedy Praises the Greatness and Capability of Our Nation.

    There's something transportive about paging through an old newspaper, a tangible reminder that the events of history were once the events of the day. I don't know how many other researchers have plumbed the Colombian national archives for this small piece of Thompson-alia. Maybe none. So I felt pretty good as I headed back into Bogota's exhaust-filled streets, as if there, in that flourescent-lit reading room, my own trail and Thompson's had for a moment intersected.

    To keep up with new stories from the Hunter S. Thompson Trail in South America, follow me on Twitter.
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