The best time to hear of your adult children’s adventures — the really exciting ones that make good stories — is after they are home and — your parent’s heart says — safe. When my son Jordan Henderson announced to his dad, Steve, and me that he wanted to visit Colombia, where we had bicycled through 30 years before, we tried to be laudably cool, calm, and chill.
After all, when we put our own parents through this, there were no cell phones or social media, so any worries they had weren’t allayed for weeks. Steve and I experienced relief — or anxiety, depending upon the story — instantly.
“Learning a second language and traveling abroad is something I always wanted to do,” Jordan says, mirroring our own reasons for traveling. That’s great, we nodded. Immersion is the best method. For Jordan, whose Spanish at that time would generously be called embryonic, this meant flying to Medellín, a city of 2.4 million that in our younger days was known as the drug cartel capital of the world.
“It’s improved,” he reassured us beforehand. At least he would be staying with our friends of 30 years before, Héli and Ana, who Facebook messaged us on Jordan’s arrival, “We opened the door, and thought we were seeing Steve.”
Learning Language and Doing Art in Colombia
On the month-long trip to Colombia in 2015 and a second, three-month journey in 2016-17, Jordan immersed himself in both the Spanish language and the culture. An artist like his father, he set up his easel in public parks (when he was in cities) and along pathways (in the country), attracting genial attention from passersby who felt free to comment upon his art and growing language skills.
“In Pamplona, a town of 60,000 with beautiful churches and cathedrals throughout, people seemed genuinely pleased to see that I admired and was drawing the church that they themselves attended,” Jordan says.
“One time, a nun in full, traditional habit came running down the steps from the church I was drawing to see what I was doing — she had a very energetic personality. I simply did not expect someone in such a somber dress to come running across the street like that. The next day, when I returned to finish the drawing, she brought a group of other nuns. They liked my rendition of their church.”
Traveling by Bus through Colombia
For a month, Jordan spent three hours a day intensely studying Spanish with Juan Carlos, who 30 years ago was a slender young man just out of high school, and now, mysteriously like Steve and me, was in his 50s. One on one teaching from Juan Carlos’s universal language institute catapulted Jordan’s Spanish to new competency, and we didn’t worry (as much) when he announced plans to travel by bus through the country, staying with new friends along the way.
“I visited Tauramena, Medellín, Bucaramanga, Yopal, Riohacha, Barranquilla, and Cartagena,” Jordan says, listing out cities and towns of Colombia that range from metropolitan centers to small hamlets in the llanos, flat grasslands that are the equivalent of America’s Wild West.
“The people I stayed with are what made this such a fantastic trip — they generously showed me around the towns where they lived, and I ate meals with my hosts, allowing me a lot of conversation with some great people.”
Loving the Lowing of Colombia Cows
In the llanos, Jordan encountered distinctive cattle of Colombia that are a mixture of European and Indian breeds. He was enthralled, snapping reference photos and doing plein air studies in the field.
“Cows are a fantastic drawing subject,” he enthuses. “Sometimes they regard you with great suspicion; other times they barely manage to give you an uninterested gaze before they return to their grazing, as if you are the most boring thing in the world.
“Once I had a cow walk alongside me as far as her fence allowed, all the while looking straight at me as if I were a very curious sight.”
In the botanical gardens of Medellín, he met a different sort of animal, an iguana.
“It was sitting in the middle of the path and politely posed for me while I took some photos, before deciding it had had enough, when it calmly walked away.”
As in Pamplona while drawing churches, Jordan attracted attention wherever he went, the lanky, long-haired foreigner who looked like he could be Dutch or American, and always carried a sketchbook. Visiting a village school near Cúcuta, on the border of Venezuela and Colombia, Jordan found himself invited by his host’s father to a small radio station, where he was interviewed as “the visiting foreigner.” In Medellín, he was “the jogging foreigner,” and regulars at the city parks, some of whom a mother would classify as less than savory, assessed his accent and affably corrected grammar.
“I am drawn by the opportunity to be completely surrounded by another language, culture, and way of thinking that is different from what I am used to,” Jordan says, explaining that future plans include further travel, as well as concerted drawing, painting, and artistic pursuits.
“I am fortunate to have a highly skilled, talented artist as my father, and I will make the most of the opportunity to learn from him.
“Ultimately, my long-range goal is to work as a full-time artist so that I can dedicate the lion’s share of my time to something of such great interest to me.”
He’s his father’s son all right.
Jordan Henderson is the Featured Pacific Northwest Artist at Wenaha Gallery from Monday, July 3 through Saturday, July 29, 2017. There will be a special Art Show Saturday, July 15, over Alumni Weekend. Meet and greet Jordan, see his art, and ask about his adventures from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the gallery. Free refreshments provided.
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.