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51 three Colombian Crucible, 1827–1830 still smarting from the treatment she had received at the hands of Lima’s authorities, Manuela Sáenz landed in Guayaquil toward the end of April 1827. From there, she made her way back to Quito.1 She also waited impatiently for news of Bolívar. The Liberator had hardly written her since his arrival in Bogotá the previous November and subsequent emergency trip to Venezuela. Sáenz was hurt by his silence. In a brief note to her lover, she complained of being ill in bed with a “headache” and “very angry.” “Does it cost you so much to write me?” she then asked in frustration. She went on to suggest that Bolívar’s epistolary neglect was the inevitable result of their long separation and a sign, above all, that his “few” feelings for her had cooled. “How true it is that long absences kill love,” she told him. Her own love for him had endured, she added, noting, “I have conserved my passion for you in order to conserve my peace and happiness.”2 Sáenz then responded to Bolívar’s request—as conveyed via his personal emissary, General Arthur Sandes—that she rejoin him. She planned to leave for Bogotá on the first of December, she told her lover, adding, “I am going because you call me.” “You will not tell me to return to Quito afterward,” she warned him. Declaring that she “would rather die than be taken for shameless,” Sáenz must have remembered well her lover’s past ambivalence toward her and T4770.indb 51 T4770.indb 51 8/12/08 11:19:15 AM 8/12/08 11:19:15 AM 52 for glory and bolívar misgivings about their relationship.3 She was determined this time not to be brushed aside. Nature offered an omen of the challenges that awaited her. On November 15, 1827, some two weeks before the anticipated start of her journey, an earthquake hit New Granada. The quake rattled cities, towns, and villages; it severely damaged several churches and houses in Bogotá.4 Sáenz nevertheless proceeded with her plans to leave in December, heading northward to Pasto, her first destination. Long a royalist redoubt, the Pasto Province as a whole finally had been conquered —indeed, bludgeoned into submission—by Bolívar’s army. Its surviving inhabitants no doubt still burned with the memory of the cruelties they had endured, and it is unlikely they would have been particularly pleased to learn of Bolívar’s mistress among them. Sáenz must have been mindful of this and may well have chosen to travel in disguise. She was in the city of Pasto itself, in any case, by the fifth of January.5 She then proceeded to Popayán, capital of New Granada’s vast, wealthy Cauca Province (later a department), after first having taken the precaution of writing to Colonel Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera, the province’s top civil and military authority. Explaining that she did not know whom else to turn to, Sáenz had asked Mosquera for help in procuring a fresh team of mules. She needed the animals, she had told him, in order to proceed with the next leg of her journey—a trek across the rugged central prong of the Colombian Andes to La Plata, a village on the cordillera’s eastern side.6 From La Plata, she apparently planned to reach the Magdalena River and continue her journey northward to Honda, gateway to the Colombian capital, via raft, or champán. Her request for fourteen mules—“eight for baggage and six for riding”—suggests the size of her entourage. The group likely included several servants (most of whom, like Jonathás, had followed her from Lima) along with at least one or two guards. Sáenz’s letter to Mosquera also included a request that the latter help her find adequate lodging in Popayán or, in her words, a “separate house” in which she and her companions could rest during their brief stay. Sáenz likely reached Bogotá around the first week of February.7 Perched on the edge of an inter-Andean basin some 8,660 feet above sea level, Bogotá was guarded by the mountains of Monserrate and Guadalupe—two dark sentinels perpetually wreathed in clouds. It had been a viceregal capital just nine years earlier and, despite the collapse of Spanish authority, remained the seat of an archbishopric...


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