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  • The fellow on the left here is Juan Manuel Gonzales. He's the head facilities manager of the stunning golf course at Club Campestre de Cali, the city's opulent, eighty-year-old country club. Thompson mentioned the club in a letter he wrote from Cali in 1962. At the time, Colombia was transitioning from a period of rural, politically motivated savagery (known simply as La Violencia) to the very early days of the guerrilla warfare that would characterize the country for much of the next fifty years.

    "There is a hell of a problem here in Colombia with what they call Rural Violence," he writes. "This means that out in the countryside there are a good many people who pass the time of day whacking off their neighbor's heads with machetes...Cali is the center of the violence area...So bad, for instance, that nobody goes to the big country club on the edge of town after dark."

    I visited the Club Campestre in part to learn more about the bad old days. But the standout moment of the afternoon came when my dumb gringo ass got a couple of names mixed up in my notebook, walked up to the Club's gates, and demanded to see the president of Colombia.

    An assistant at the Club had written me an email earlier this week, telling me that when I arrived, I should ask for Sr. Juan Manuel Gonzales. But for weeks, I've had Colombian politics on the brain, and when I jotted down the name, I instead wrote "Juan Manuel Santos" — the sitting president of Colombia.

    I was a little edgy when I walked up to the gate yesterday, as I always am when I have to perform an official-ish task in Spanish. So when I started talking to the buttoned-down matron inside the booth, I simply read the name straight from my notebook: Oh hi there. I have an appointment at noon to see Juan Manuel Santos.

    She looked at me in complete puzzlement, like I'd just requested a tee time with Che Guevara and Jesus Christ. Then she asked me to repeat it, several times, which only flustered me further. I made the appointment by email earlier this week, I explained. I'm here to meet Juan Manuel Santos. I think he's in charge of golf.

    In addition to being an idiot gringo, she probably thought I was a real rube. Like some hayseed who walks up to a country club in Massachusetts and expects to find George Bush or Barack Obama — because, you know, this is where the fancy people hang out, right?

    After that, I sort of doubled-down on the stupidity. The only Juan Manuel Santos I know is the president, sir, the attendant said to me, very slowly. But it still wasn't clicking, and I figured she meant the president of the country club. That was a lot more of a higher-up than I expected to be giving me a tour, but hey, that's what it said in my notebook. So I replied with some version of Okay, sounds great. That's my guy, then.

    Needless to say, the whole thing took a few minutes to sort out. Once I'd realized my mistake, I was so embarrassed, I lost control of my Spanish all together and could only mutter pathetically disculpame, soy tonto, disculpame. A few minutes later, riding around with Juan Manuel Gonzales (who, by the way, turned out to be a totally gracious and knowledgeable host) I got the giggles so bad that we had to stop so I could explain what I'd done. When I finished the story, he laughed so hard, I thought he was going to fall out of his golf cart.

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