Colonial colombia and the rabies team

Residents of Bogota will often tell you about the most well preserved colonial town in Colombia, Villa de Lleyva, a 4 hour bus ride from Bogota. Arriving there is a welcome sight after the busy streets of the Bogota, with large cobblestone squares and an array of inviting coffee shops. We had arrived late in the afternoon and set off to wander the streets and drink coffee in the beautiful countryside. We stayed in an eco-hostel, set across a beautiful hill overlooking the town which was perfect except that to get home we needed to journey 45 minutes up the hill through dark streets, but this was Villa de Lleyva, there was no need for concern and indeed as we walked, we were greeted only by occasional smiling colombians. We turned a corner to walk up our street but blocking our path was a daunting sight.

It seemed as though all the neighbourhood dogs had gathered together and they turned to watch us as we approached. One canine appeared in charge, although he looked only a small, black terrier. I naively walked too close and before I knew it a gang of dogs were terrorising us from behind with the scruffy terrier leading. He leapt at the back of my legs and I felt burning down my calves. I tried to resonate calm and walk away into safer grounds. They let us go as we entered the boundaries of the hostel and we made our way quickly to reception to sit down and examine the damage. My pants had been ripped at the back and on each leg were teeth marks, but the worst remnant was an open wound with a flap of skin hanging from my leg and oozing blood.

My calm facade evaporated and tears began to flow, and I tried to explain in my broken spanish what had happened to the evening hostel worker. He organised for friends to take me to the emergency department and they arrived 5 minutes later in an enormous pickup truck. Two guys emerged, my new Colombian bodyguards, young, attractive and well built, one of them promptly picked me up and carried me to my chariot. We pulled down the driveway and they chatted amongst themselves and at some point whilst we were turning down the now deserted street they stopped the car and turned around saying 'el perro negro?', pointing to a group of houses, 'the black dog?'. I gave a hesitant nod, saying 'I think so', and that was all it took to send my bodyguards out of the car and into the night banging on doorways asking to see the dogs. No-one would answer the doors and I was relieved when my bodyguards jumped back in the car and we headed down the bumpy cobblestones streets to the small hospital.

I bypassed the triage as they declared that I had been bitten by a dog and I was immediately taken in to see the doctor. I did my best to stop crying so I could listen as the doctor explained to me the risk of rabies and wound care. I went home that night to get some well deserved sleep and woke up early in the morning to complete the next part of the story. A delegate from the 'rabies team' had arrived from the hospital. He was checking whether the dog had a rabies vaccination. We gathered a team together, myself, the hostel owners, and the delegate and set off to go door knocking. Since there had been more than one dog there, we were required to check all of the dogs in the neighbourhood for their papers. The experience was anxiety provoking as I hoped that each dog had their vaccination, meaning that I may not have to, and at the same time it seemed like an entertaining scene from a foreign film as our little entourage wandered from door to door on the search for rabies vaccination cards. We did finally find the suspected little black terrier but relief was short lived as we learnt the he was in fact the only dog who did not have a vaccination.

The rest of the journey involved numerous hospital visits across Colombia and the rapid expansion of my medical spanish. Fortunately I have been left rabies free, but with a nice scar from the tiny mouth of a terrier and an entourage of new colombian friends to call on when in need.

S Slater

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