Followingan interesting talk with one of the locals about Indian culture I took his advice and headed to Mosoco, deep in the indigenous area surrounding Volcan de Huila (5700m), for a lively market, apparently.
|Not quite there, here in Belacazar market.|
Footsteps. Outside the tent. More than several. Rain, too much. A voice, just one. Others, murmuring.
I ignore it in the hope of sleep, but then it comes again, clearer, stern. "We need to speak with you."
I struggle out of the sleeping bag, into clothes and clamber out of the tent, out into rain and a fifty strong crowd of short angry Indians. I could be in trouble here.
I am bombarded with demanding questions, in tones hinting at expected guilty answers. Questions, questions, questions. I notice it's not just adults standing in the rain watching, but children and youths too and I feel as if I'm the village's Saturday night entertainment. They laugh and joke, at my expense. The short square faced men rifle through my things, count my money out in public view, look through my pictures, passing the camera around between each other, clambering in and out of the tent and taking a FULL inventory.
"Cafe...." he mumbles as he jots it down.
He tears a bag and sniffs it contents.
"It's sugar!" I say exasperated.
He mumbles and jots this down, passing it to someone else, who sniffs it, who passes it to someone else who sniffs it, lost to the crowd. Someone trips on the tent, another person leans on it trying to see better.
"Can you be careful with my tent please." I ask, only to be met with more ridicule, as one man who ignores my explanations, tears open my sisters birthday present awaiting posting. I really wanted to hit this guy, one of the weak men who wouldn't individually look me in the face but were quick to turn on me together as a group...but knew I'd be buried amongst the potatoes if I did and so just stood with a face flicking between anger and sadness, whilst those near me stare and laugh the more.
After three hours of this, at perhaps a little after midnight, I'm told quite flatly to take my tent down.
"So, I can't sleep here then."
"No, you follow them." says one, a stocky well fed man - obviously a man of position - gesturing to an old 4x4 parked in the darkness....
"Can't I just leave, now?""No, you go, Vidonco. Follow..."
I pack up the wet tent, hemmed in tightly all the while by the crowd, and I
angrily shove past each laughing one of them on my way back and to to the bike. They're enjoying this, my
On the bike, the now larger crowd huddle in close, to see what will happen next, or to stop me trying to escape perhaps. An old man holds open the throttle of the bike to warm the engine whilst I put on my
helmet, I look to him, his face is tilted and his eyes wrapped in tears, rain dripping down from his brow, and I am certain he is the only one who feels my plight, and I hope that he saw in my eyes my
gratitude, as his small gesture sticks in my mind vividly as the one positive in a long period of negatives. I remember that, his eyes.
A thirty minute ride behind a 4x4 full of people, and by full I mean 15-20 people, inside, outside, hanging on to windows and bumpers as we bounce our way through the dark and rain to Vidonco. The mood is better here, the group smaller, giving the chance to know me as a person rather than a strange - and guilty - anonymity at the centre of a crowd. In the town hall though they go through my USB memory and photos, every single one and at 2am, I am permitted to sleep, though only with the presence of two guards.
"Don't sleep beneath the open window, it could be dangerous for you."
The guerilla it seems, or possibly another Indian village have become aware of my presence, and have possibly been asking after me, and the faces of the talking village leaders take on a look of blank fear...could be a problem.
|The guard in the doorway|
This is deemed so in the morning when told that I can't go to the city of Popayan as hoped but must loop back with an escort ("for my safety") back to the town of Belacazar on the way back to Tierradentro (technically I'm in Tierradentro, and the tourist site is misnamed, and should be San Andres). But it
seems, I shan't be going anywhere in a hurry and so set up the stove to make coffee for myself and the guards, who pull a face at the sugar.
"It's sugar...." I explain, "sorry, I don't have any panela." as the locals exclusively use panela, making it themselves using large handmade wooden presses - I was not able to photograph one unfortunately.
They also chew coca leaves (historically) and drink 'coca mate' (tea from coca) from small clay spouted cups. In it's natural state it is believed that coca provides many health benefits, and is widely believed to alleviate altitude sickness. But it is perhaps the indigenous growth and harvesting of coca leaves which has - possibly - led to the insurgence of the guerilla groups in the area that are refining the leaf in futuristic labs somewhere nearby and exporting the product; cocaine, to Europe and North America, making Colombia one of the world's top producers of cocaine. Despite the country tightening it's grip on production in recent years it is still quite clearly a problem, though one I felt residents were keen to fob off as western hype, and this went -sometimes- with other areas of Colombian society. I found myself having to bite my tongue again,
stifling the truths I'd come to believe, a Communist-like attitude, people who simply believed what they were told and read on roadside hoardings...or on facebook, like the tourists at the canyon, .
Back to the Town Hall....and my guard, a very amiable chap, with a broad beaming smile called Nelson, took me, together with a small group of guards, on a short tour of town. The guards it must be said looked a bit comical, almost literally, like jesters in their Robin Hood green and Maid Marrion red bandanners, regular clothes wielding a stick decorated likewise in green and red. Also, half the guards were kids. I wondered how they'd fare against the AK74 and AK47 armed, drugged up, guerilla.
Locked up in the hall I wait, and eventually a group forms and a disorganised meeting begins between village chiefs and youth guards to decide my fate. I recognise some of them from the night before, horrid faces, not a flicker of friendliness amongst them and the sure reason they have obtained positions of power; by not thinking of anyone but themselves on their way to the top.
At the windows crowds gather. A woman suckles her child, men goose neck for a glimpse and kids frantically climb over each other for a view from every window. I feel like a zoo animal, and so rather at risk feel exasperated, desperate to leave. The crowds stand there motionless for five hours or more whilst I stand or sit inside, in one corner looking the other way, the meeting in the other corner, occasionally I'm asked a question.
They have been maintaining that this is all for my benefit, to save me from the guerilla. It crosses my mind
that maybe they are they, a stash of arms secreted away in the well-fed man's house. Eventually, seeing that I am not believing their story, a man speaks the truth and informs me that there are national laws in place
banning foreigners from the area as they don't want them mining here, taking all the profit while the locals win little. I could point out that the investors money might make the place safer, would create paying jobs and improve infrastructure, but it's true the westerners are overwhelming winners and I found their plight admirable....though wondered if they could go about things a little better.
"We want your GPS,""OK," I say."and your camera.""Absolutely no way." They tell me they will as planned take me to Belacazar, hand me to the police where I must wait several days whilst they check my things. I
say there is absolutely no way I will do this - seemed to be working historically - and will fly home right now if that's necessary.
Eventually this is deemed unnecessary and the original plan to escort me to the town is decided upon, without the need for the police and with four guards - I managed to lose the original two - we end up as
expected....some time later.....with the police.
Que putas! is all I have to say on that! (Thanks to Julio for that Spanish lesson).
I bite my tongue again as the Indians explain to the police that this is all for my safety, whereas I'm sure the escort was to make sure I left the area, and giving me to the police is insurance that I don't go back. No chance of that!
"Make sure no foreigners pass again!" says one man who looks half Polish as they walk away.
All this said, there was one girl who held a position of some authority in the community, and without her help, I feel I'd be in much deeper waters, so I thank her....for she may read this! She is working to improve the community and I feel that she has a tough job ahead of her....especially with the well-fed idiots she is working alongside.
The police say I must wait, still powerless, I sit dejected desperate to leave, to eat, to drink and my prayers are answered: a coke is thrust before me from a friendly guard! We sit chatting, and he tells me about finding two decapitated bodies two days before,
"Lucky I wasn't here that day!" I say with a laugh.
His face remains fixed, remembering.
Forms are filled and just to make sure I understand for the police chief is certain I can't speak any Spanish, he gives me a google translated note, which can be described simply as "brass tacks".
Finally, 530pm I'm able to leave, after that is answering the questions of a group of untimely and curious kids....I race away up the river valley as the sun sets to my right and finally dog tired, I reach the small village at Tierradentro and through some grace, find a friendly family who let me set up tent...not before food and tinto are given though! I love my tent, and tonight especially I regaled in it's silent shelter, sat absorbing the happiness of the family so clear to see as they laugh and chat, sat close arms around each other.
It's with some scepticism that I ride towards the town of Silvia, a mere 38km east of Mosoco where I'd been had, but it's 100km for me in along loop through Inza and over the high muddy pass beyond Guanacas to Totoro. Pouring rain didn't help the mud which slopped up from the tires painting all in a thick pudding of dirt.
But when I rounded the corner up and into the main square of Silvia I was greeted by the most amazing sight; and some relief! Beneath the cream church, hordes of people wearing bright bright blues, black sarongs, chunky camel coloured hiking boots with bright orange laces, children with flat straw hats hanging down their backs and the men in ponchos, scarves of brown and orange, and blue sarongs. So many people, so much colour, piled in and on 'chivas' the local buses along with bundles of their recent purchases.
I buy a potato here, an onion there, cilantro, cheese, aselga leaves...all in the bid to get to chatting, to get photos. Many oblige that first day and as I go I meet the lovely Barco family and end up spending the
night at their house, then breakfast and lunch too! (Thanks so much!).
I returned to Silvia, hoping to catch a further glimpse despite it not being market day. But there are
some there...and, against the advice of police I ride up to their village (though no further!) and have the pleasure of seeing a less touristy side of life. I meet a lovely woman who shows me herself at work on her "Telar" (weaving frame of thick wood) making a typical "Hanaco" the wraps that the girls and women wear as dresses. The common conception of the Indians is that we as gringos sell the pictures and make a lot of money, so they tend not to like you taking pictures, unless you pay. Something I refuse to do. I tell her - and others - this isn't true for me at least, and get some on the proviso that I get her a print of one of the pictures. I ride back to town, print it off and take it back to her with a group of intrigued staring women....she was pleased to say the least, and I took pleasure out of seeing her run excitedly to the house to show it off....as well as a picture of me! She was too shy to tell me her name....
The women are constantly at work, spinning wool from soft pink cotton bags on their shoulders,
into thread onto bobbins as they walk to Silvia or weaving 'maletins' (small handbags for money or their cellphones), or carrying small churns - cooking pot sized - of milk from the fields. I rode up and down that road as far as I'd dare over three days(!) trying to get photos of all these things....alas, I didn't
get permission, always wanting money, I was refused again, and again and again.....demoralising!
Still, I did pretty good....right...?
The short trip to Popayan, a place that gave off good impressions, chance to write the blog and watch the Semana Santa (Holy Week) night parade, famous throughout Colombia...Here they parade many of the famous figures of the bible cast out of garish plastic through the streets surrounded by nude dolls; the angels, the crowd following behind with a burning candle...
Overall Colombia has been good, and at times simply amazing. The ocean of opportunity here is vast,
from beaches right up to glaciers, it's a land of contrasts, and I haven't even delved into the less accessible eastern territories of jungle or Amazonia. The people I feel follow the same suit though, some are incredibly nice (the Barcos for example!), but generally I missed the open warmth of the people of all of Central America, missed the constant tooting at passing motorbikes or holas in the street and therefore made me feel less at peace and more alone in Colombia. This said, I've had a great time, there are small glimpses of absolute brilliance...El Cocuy, Ruiz, Chicamocha and the indigenous of Silvia, only they are but islands in the vast ocean.