La Mano Peluda–The Furry Hand

I have fond memories of spending the summers in Colombia when I was a kid. I didn’t get to go every summer, but when I did, I spent just as much time in the city visiting family as I did going to the fincas, or farms. I was lucky that some of my aunts and uncles had them on both Mom and Dad’s side. Some had names I remember to this day, like Villapaz, or Villa of Peace, in Caldas, where I have the image of my Tia Ruth sitting on a stone wall, churning butter. Others were so remote that in order to reach them, we had to travel over a tiny, flimsy wooden bridge–the kind made out of logs tied together, so that crossing over it was a bumpy, jumpy affair. Somehow, my Tio German would get his jeep over it, though people would have to help navigate. And still others were in higher, colder grounds, where every morning a curtain of fog blanketed the finca and surrounding land like the mosquito nets surrounding the beds. Most of the farmhouses contained staples of country living: hammocks, open kitchens and courtyards, parrots, roosters, and beautifully crafted wooden beams and burnt brick tile roofs.

They, along with flowery balconies, are epitomized in the many Colombian crafts sold there and abroad.

Those were times of adventures, of setting out and exploring mountainsides, creeks, and forests. They were also times ripe for ghost tales and mysterious legends, especially the kind to scare children into behaving!

One I remember often is the story of la mano peluda, or the furry hand. I don’t remember much of the actual story behind it. What comes to mind is anecdotal. My cousins and I were in a large room with several beds. Dusk had settled and outside, the noises of the country were settling. Inside this over-packed bedroom with cold cement floors and bare walls, however, was full of the sound of children not wanting to go to sleep. With the lights off, we took to telling stories, with local cousins leading while those of us from abroad listened. That’s when someone–who exactly I can’t remember–started tip toeing, grabbing our ankles in the dark saying, “La mano peluda got you!” You can imagine the screams that elicited.


I always remember that night, just like I do waking up in the morning and stepping out into the wet morning, watching the fog lift back painfully slow until the mountainous surroundings were reveals, and just like I remember the scent of dew and grass and the slow chirping of birds as they awaken. To this day, any time I get up early and step into my backyard, I get sent back to that moment in a Colombian finca.

What I never bothered to find out until recently, however, was the story behind la mano peluda. In, I found this, though it most likely refers to the legends across Latin America, not just Colombia:

La Mano Peluda

Imagine lying in bed and feeling a big furry paw grabbing at your feet. La Mano Peluda (or “The Hairy Hand”) is said to belong to a man who was killed during the inquisition, and chopped up and buried in an old Indian cemetery. His hand is said to have come back to life to seek revenge on his enemies while they’re asleep. Our advice: Wear socks at night!

Read more:

Then I stumbled on a Facebook page for Mitos y Leyendas de Colombia (Myths and Legends of Colombia) and it said this:

Mito o leyenda de la mano peluda

Se dice que un hombre fue injustamente culpado de robo, por lo que su castigo fue cortarle la mano. El hombre con su mano mutilada juro tomar venganza de todos los que injustamente lo señalaron.

Al tiempo del hombre morir, todos estos hombres que los acusaron tiempo atrás, fueron asesinados por una mano peluda, según un testigo que lo vio todo.

That loosely translates to: “They say that a man was unjustly accused of robbery. For his crime, his hand was cut off. The man swore to avenge himself of all those who accused him. When he died, all those who wrongly accused him were murdered by a furry hand, according to witnesses.” Kinda gruesome, if you ask me! It’s also said that parents will tell their children this to make sure they behave. Go figure.

And then there’s this, which I found in a forum:

La Mano Peluda

Localizada en México y Colombia. Común en los subterráneos de las casas. Es una mano grande y velluda de uñas grandes que se asoma por las ventanas o los huecos de los muros. Sirve para infundir temor a los niños traviesos, malcriados y callejeros. En México se cree que llega por las noches y te toca mientras duermes.

“Located in Mexico and Colombia. Common in basements of houses. It’s a large, hairy hand with large nails that peeks through windows or holes in walls. It’s used to strike fear in mischievous, bratty, and wandering children. In Mexico, it’s believed that it comes at night and touches you while you sleep.”

Just one of those things that goes bump in the night. 😉


Happy New Year!

Technically, I’m seven days late. But I have a good excuse–I was on a cruise, practically without communication, for almost two weeks.

There were lots of firsts on this vacation, and I hope this continues well into 2013.

It was the first time we’ve ever been on a ship for that long. We cruise every year, but the longest we’ve sailed has been four days. Eleven was ambitious–and if I’m honest, a bit too long for me, though that could be because I got a nasty cold half-way in and my son got it two days before we came back. Perhaps if we hadn’t gotten sick we would’ve enjoyed it more. Staying inside a cabin while the weather outside is gorgeous is a bit of a buzz kill. But the other days were pretty awesome.

It was the first time we were on a ship for New Year’s Eve. And it was pretty cool. And lots of fun. Even my five-year-old had a blast!

It was also the first time we take our son on a trip for New Year’s Eve. Hubby and I spent our first NYE as husband and wife in Victoria, B.C. and it was amazing. Since then, though, we hadn’t made it to another trip around the holidays until now.

It was the first time visiting all the ports of call in the Southern Caribbean. Cartagena, Colombia. Oranjestad, Aruba. Willemstad, Curacao. Philipsburg, St. Maarten. St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. I had to miss out on St. Maarten–and was ridiculously bummed about it. But the other cities/islands–wow. Hubby took some amazing pics, which I hope to share in future posts because the abundance of natural and majestic beauty was inspiring!

My absolute favorite, though, was Cartagena, and as mentioned above, it was my first time there. This is probably because A) it’s the setting for TTWC (my WIP) and B) I felt at home with the amarillo, azul y rojo and the sweet, musical Colombian accent. Beyond those two obvious points, the old city–la ciudad antigua–is breathtaking. You literally feel as if you’re stepping away from the present day and into colonial times. A multitude of bright colorful flowers contrast against the deep yellows of the buildings. Balconsitos, the typical colonial balconies which are the inspiration for countless Colombian artesanias, abound, and I could imagine my dad relishing on the intricacies of the detailed columns, the wooden beams, and the enredaderas that wrap around the structures. I hope to devote a separate post just for this beautiful city.

It was also the first time I wrote while on a ship. On sea days (with the exception of one when I was so out of it from cold meds that I couldn’t even think), I got clocked in some good writing hours, mostly done in the library with views of the ocean or in the observation deck with the same views. And while I didn’t finish like I’d hoped, I got a heck of a lot done.

We got back home yesterday, and the swaying of the ship’s still with me (as are the remnant of the darn cold). I’m ready to start a new semester and finally finish the revisions for SOUL MOUNTAIN. And when I’m done with that, I can’t wait to jump back into THROUGH THE WALLED CITY, especially after the inspiration from visiting Cartagena.

So I hope 2013 is full of many new journeys! (But first I hope to stop swaying!)

Happy new year to all of you, and may 2013 bring an abundance of inspiration!


New Project!

With SOUL MOUNTAIN now officially in the querying stage, I’m focusing my attention on a new project, tentatively titled THROUGH THE WALLED CITY. I have a new cast of characters that are setting up shop in my head, and I’m excited about it! Today I tweeted: Write what you know, sure, but for the real adventure, write what you’ve always wanted to know. And that’s what this project is for me. I’ve always wanted to know more about Cartagena, this gem of a city on the northern coast of Colombia. It’s a current popular Caribbean port, though it’s always been popular–just not always for tourism. This city has such a rich but turbulent history with slave trade, pirates, conquests, and this is the perfect opportunity for me to learn more.

And I’m totally calling in a “research” trip to truly immerse myself in its beauty and history.

Though I’m still working on the details and characters (I’m in the planning/research phase of this project), this is the basic premise as of now. I think (hope?) it will be more magical realism than fantasy:

When fifteen-year-old Micaela “Mica” Uribe is sent to spend the summer with her aunt and cousin in historic Cartagena, she doesn’t expect to literally step into history. She also doesn’t expect to fall for the cute local, Gianluca. But as she experiences the city’s past with Gianluca’s help, she comes to terms with her heritage and her present.

So yeah. It’s vague but I’m SO EXCITED about this new project! =D And I’m choosing songs for my playlist because after I finish grading these sets of papers I owe my students, and after I finish beta reading two manuscripts, I’m going to start writing in earnest!

I’m also scribbling outlines for the sequel to SOUL MOUNTAIN, and that’s what I’ll be working on through my UCLA classes this fall.

Oh my. Two projects at once. Am I crazy? Maybe, but now that I’ve had one book-length project done, I feel more prepared to tackle these next two.

Happy writing (and revising), everyone!

Blog, Travel

Chicago in review

I sit by the window on the airplane, watching the black, jagged shape of the wing against the darkening sky, in which indigo blends with a soft baby blue. The night is winning and soon, black will be the only hue on the horizon, punctuated by, perhaps, the twinkling of stars.

How perfect the sky and the world above and below.

Our trip to Chicago is at its end, and we’re on our way home. Like my son says, part of us is happy to be heading home but part of us is sad. Chicago was fun, while it lasted.

Some reflections:

I was astounded by the amount of sirens that bellowed throughout the city. Every night, as we wrapped up our day and got ready for bed, or as we lay in bed, waiting for sleep to take us, sires bounced through the windows. In the mornings, too, we’d head the sirens of ambulances and police. Every. Single. Day.

I absolutely loved that we walked everywhere. With the exception of the cab we took to and from the airport, and on Thursday, when it rained (oh yea, and when we went to the Navy Pier since it was a bit farther), we walked. It was wonderful! We’d wrap ourselves up, and start walking, passing others in the same treks. It was lovely seeing so many people, young and old, out and about.

I was equally astounded by the amount of smokers in the city.  Everywhere we walked and went, we’d pass by smokers. This got somewhat tiring, though, as we tried to maneuver the sidewalks to get the least possible exposure.

There is amazing history in Chicago, from politics to mafia to immigration.

The hotel in which we stayed, the Renaissance Marriott Blackstone, was perhaps one of the best hotels we’ve visited. The building, over a hundred years old, hosted presidents and mafia lords alike, and a few years ago was bought by Marriott and renovated. It was nicely centered in downtown, an easy 15-minute walk from the Shedd Aquarium and Field Museum. The room was spacious, clean, and comfortable. But apart from the logistics of the hotel and room, the people that work at this Marriott made out stay that much more enjoyable. Rory and KoJo were kind and helpful and humored our son with high-fives, fake boxing, and jokes. They, along with Amanda in Concierge, also directed us towards what to see, where to eat, and how to get there. They remembered us, asked us about our day, and again, humored my little man. Every single employee we encountered in that hotel was beyond helpful. We will definitely be returning to that hotel.

Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria was amazing. It’s a family owned restaurant on the 800 block of State Street that offers tasty food and a comfortable, quaint environment. Inside, family pictures decorate the walls of the restaurant. The first night we ate there, we had the Chicago-style deep dish pizza with cheese bread and a chocolate chip cookie for dessert. The second time, we ordered delivery (again, pizza and cheese bread), and it was just as delicious as the first. The third time we ate there, we had a salad, burger, and a beef sandwich. Just as good.

As soon as we land, my son says: I miss Chicago. And I agree, though it is nice to be home. Until the next time.

Blog, Travel

For the love of flying

Today I got to live flying in an airplane through the eyes of my son, and it made me happy. There’s something wondrous about embarking on something new with a child who is old enough to understand what is going on around him but who isn’t old enough to understand what, if any, dangers lurk in that adventure. At four (and going-on-fourteen…), his biggest fears are the dark, monsters, shadows, and the mystery eyeball (still trying to figure that one out)—he knows nothing about plane crashes, so there’s no reason for the fear to take hold of him.

I’m thankful for that because it lets him truly enjoy this miracle of flying.

I love flying, from the speeding up in the runway to the lifting, when I feel the changes in pressure as I marvel at the city below me growing smaller and smaller until the clouds envelop me and I feel close to the edges of the earth. I also love the landing, when the world below grows larger until we jerk forward as the tires touch the pavement.

Do I get nervous? Of course. My godparents passed away in an airplane crash in January of 1990. I was ten. And since then, I remember hearing of plane crashes and seeing the movie based on Eastern’s crash in the Everglades. I know that it can happen, so of course I get nervous. But I also know car crashes happen and that we are less likely to experience a plane accident than we are a car one.

One of the things I refuse to do, though, is let fear reign me.  I’ve been on the verge of it, for other reasons, and I hate feeling like that.  I’m immobilized, with the weight of impending doom suffocating me until I make the superhuman effort to wrestle that beast out and think of other things, happy things.

And I pray. Whatever resistance I may have with religion, I am still spiritual and I have a strong faith in God and to Him I pray.

Throughout this ride today, on our way to the airport (“Are we there yet?”), as we checked-in our luggage (“Where are they taking our stuff?”) and passed through the security (“Cool!”), boarded the plane, and took off (“That.Was.Awesome!”), I explained what was happening. His excitement was contagious. I hope that excitement never fades and he still finds this adventure as “amazing” and “awesome” as he did today.