My Spanish may be awful but beauty is the same in any language
Getting on my horse was the hard part. With my left hand bound up like a boxing glove, I couldn't use it to grasp a bit of mane for leverage. Still, I got my leg over, settled in and in moments we were off up the winding, rocky road: Erin, my guide, Carlos the horseman and Orlando on his recalcitrant mule with what looked like a small bedroll attached to the back of his saddle.
The leather "bedroll" was, in fact, music.
As we trotted up the mountain, we were serenaded by la musica Colombiano, a treat I hadn't expected. As the four of us made our way through the high, soft air, I found myself weeping.
Not from pain.
There is a moment in the movie Out of Africa when Karen Blixen's great love, Denys Finch-Hatton, suggests that he move his things into her home.
"When the gods want to punish you, they answer your prayers."
Here I was on a fine horse, wending my way past riotous flowers, gorgeous old-fashioned fincas (farms) full of dogs and horses, dense tropical green as far as the eye could see, rolling hills punctuated by generous tumbling waterfalls, avocado and coffee farms as far as the eye could see.
And all of it well within my reach, if I would but do the work to let go of what burdened me.
My big house goes up for sale tomorrow, an open house is already scheduled, most of my things are sold or are selling.
Any thought of pain at that point was gone. I held my injured hand out to the side, trusting my natural seat, and felt the fat, happy tears roll down my face.
Good thing I haven't sold the saddles and horse gear yet. Erin told me to ship them down as I can't find the like here. Just in time, too, as I was about to sell all of it.
This will give you a visual as to where I am right now. First, this this is Colombia:
Here is the Caldas Department where I am:
We are at about 6-7000 feet. In this part of Colombia, water isn't just abundant. Unlike so many places, there is a surfeit. Active volcanoes have left this region incredibly fertile, and the constant light rains that come and go all day keep things so verdant it's overwhelming.
Precisely my dream. But I'm ahead of myself.
I spent a couple of days in Manizales after two brutal red-eye flights.
Those were softened by two complimentary upgrades to first glass which were completely unexpected. I had one night in Bogota next to the airport, then ran into a problem checking in because Viva Air required a separate payment for check in. Really?
I was lucky to find kind help, but fair warning: I had requested English translations for the emails, but if you click through as requested, the only translation is for the original email. Clearly I'd better brush up!
My hosts have a home surrounded by very dense forests in a part of Manizales where all you can hear are the local wildlife and the nighttime symphony of crickets and birds. We had storms and rain which meant solid sleep, aided by three purring cats and two big happy dogs.
Before Erin spirited me off to Aranzasu, Piedad, my hostess, and her beau took me on a short hike around her house. Mere seconds after stepping off the porch, the huge elephant ears, Spanish moss and thick bamboo (which grows everywhere) swiftly envelope you. Here there is little concept of flat, except perhaps inside a house. Otherwise you're either hiking very steep hills or balancing on your way down. Even though their house is technically in the city, they are surrounded by forests, which march right up to the windows.
I met my guide Erin, who is a ten-year veteran of this area, on the third day. I've been leaning hard into her advice and contacts, so as she has squired me around we've kept up a running dialogue about what I like and what appeals.
I'll address more in detail later but one of the first things to know is that the Colombian peso (COP) is 4000 to the US dollar. Prices here are very favorable to us, and the timing is perfect. Already friends of Erin's have suggested rentals, or rooms, and others are most eager to sell a house. That's for another article, but suffice it to say that for the purposes of this trip, it's all about getting a solid sense of the area, the culture, whether or not I prefer a pueblo to a "strata six"(very high-end) apartment in the city.
No to the latter, without question. While Manizales has its charms, it's a busy, bustling, yet incredibly clean city. I saw no trash on the streets where we drove but plenty of uniformed folks picking up, very similar to Disney World. Strata one and two neighborhoods are the barrios, in effect.
However I could feel the hooks settle in my heart as soon as we clambered into a local jeep for the drive to Aranzazu. We were jammed in the back, which was open. And natch, in that way of all country transport, we crammed in five more women until we were nearly on top of one another, then giggled and laughed our way to the next pueblo.
This part of the Andes is all very high, the roads all hairpin turns, the views so spectacular that all you can do is gape. Photos were impossible not just because I only had one partially-functioning hand, but by the time the lens clicked the view was lost behind another mass of trees or a tumble of bougainvillea.
The challenges are far less complex than I'd imagined in some ways, but culturally it's going to take a while. I'm committed to blending in, should I decide to live here any part of the year, so my first stumbling block is the language. I can make myself barely understood, but that's not enough.
This adventure is just beginning. Right now it's time to find lunch, and get a mild workout on those steep streets.
The air is full of magic here. There is bad, too, as with all places, but for my part, I hear the music. I'm already dancing to it.
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