The finca lay in a small shelf below our current ridge, and as we dropped down towards it, I could see over its lip, with the clouds spilling over the ridge towards us, then dropping back into the valley below us. Then I would get a glimpse of the cloud forest, thousands of feet below me, bleached out by the reflection of the sun on a million drizzly droplets.
I dropped down, into a small gully with a pebble lined rivulet running through it.
I stumbled weakly between the high walls of this gully, at least protected from the incessant winds of the plateau. We scurried across a small field, kept in check by inquisitive goats, and through to a diminutive sheltered farmyard. There, a small man, wrinkled to the extent of obscuring many features, greeted Marino. I stood back and waited for the introduction and then shook the man warmly by the hands.
“Come, he’ll give us lunch,” Said Marino and he led me into the small house where a plump well wrapped woman was fussing over a stove. A humid air greeted me as I went in and I realised that amongst the pots of soup, rice and meat being boiled on an open fire was a large vat of washing.
I perched on a plank wedged onto a plaster ledge at the side of the room and Marino sat with me and beamed. He told me what a good friend the farmer was, and many a time when he had been trekking here, he had come to be fed. It then transpired that Marino had not been this way for many months and, despite the gifts Marino had brought up from Salento, the farmer was not too chuffed that there had been such a pause. He busied himself outside while we talked. Then he came in and told us that he was breeding salmon. I found this amazing, wondering where the market was for such fish. While the preparations for lunch were being finished, he took us out into the nearby field, and I saw a couple of rectangular ponds dug into the peaty soil, and sure enough, a whole load of middle sized salmon were scurrying at the bottom of the brown waters. There were two pools and salmon of different sizes were being farmed. The farmer told us how he was branching out and was hoping to sell these in Salento soon. I wondered how quickly he could get the fish down, it was a good day’s trek unladen, what it was like traipsing a pack horse behind you, I did not know, particularly the route we had taken. He fed them on spaghetti. Nothing more, nothing less, but they seemed not to suffer.
We went back in and were served with a hot lunch of rice, vegetables and shredded meat. I found it difficult to eat, being exhausted from the climb, but managed to get most of it down, since they were small morsels. A couple of large shots of agua pannela and I was feeling better. Marino lit one of his horrible cigarettes and we sat and eased our aching feet for a few moments.
He smiled at me, admiringly. “You are a camino, Mr Alan”. I thought it had something to do with walking, and just acknowledged. “you don’t know what I mean, Camino is special. It means a good walker. You come back to Colombia next time, I take you to the tops of the mountains.” I was a bit worried by this, I was quite satisfied that I had seen the peak of Tolima covered in snow, but for all our hiking, it still looked a good day’s hiking upwards. At the present moment I was unsure if I would ever stand up again.
Marino started to ask me about where I come from. When I said about near London, his eyes went hazy. “Ah, London, it’s big city, yes? I like to go there.” I always get a bit worried when I hear this as it usually means that they think not only am I obliged to put these people up if they ever get to the UK, but also to pay for their air ticket and act as guide when they arrive.
“You have picture books in England?”
I thought this was a really strange question, but said “Yes”
“You buy me big picture book of England” he stretched his arms wide giving the impression of a monks’ dormitory table rather than a coffee one.
Without waiting for a reply (he obviously assumed this would now happen), Marino said we should head back if we wanted to be back by nightfall. He lumbered to his feet and I gently raised myself to mine. I passed a few notes to our farmer and bade him farewell, then we crossed his tidy little field, passed the salmon ponds and headed back into the wild.