Get out of your car
I have found that cars shut out life. You know, those machines on four wheels that seal off the world while you suffocate in artificial air and nearly forget about the places that are whizzing by unbeknownst, only focused on your destination and more often then not, how quickly you can get there? Yeah those.
In my early retirement, I get the utmost privilege to spend time with campesinos, Colombian men, women, and children living and working on the often highly-contested farmland of this stunningly diverse land mass. This means extensive travel into the rural areas of the Magdalena Medio, a lush and thriving valley scored down the centre by one of Colombia’s largest rivers, the Río Magdalena that flows north into the Carribbean Sea. Roads do not always extend to the far reaches of the monte, the bush, so we are frequently traveling by boat, motorcycle, or horseback. And it has been clear that life is better that way.
On the back of a motorcycle I can see the paint drip off the kaleidoscope of colours ornately canvassed on the feathered tips of the flitting creatures that crisscross our trail towards the farm. The air is pungent with fruit from the gods: the sweet syrup that oozes from a too-ripe mango or the delectable waft of a mafufo, which I can only attempt to describe as banana cream pie trapped in a peel, freshly plucked from the bunch, making me believe I have made it to another world. But as we turn a corner, the wild grasses edge closer whipping my bare knees and the gravel beneath me blurs at too many kilometers per hour, reminding me that I’m all too human.
Traveling by canoe does not provide as much adrenaline but offers a unique tranquility. Ahead of the bow a glassy reflection duplicates the serenity of the early morning river bank, untouched until the ripples turn the trees into wobbly, other-worldly beings that wrap their arms around our vessel and give much appreciated shade as the sun beats relentlessly. Ten herons and storks of differing families stand stoic as we strangers invade their territory and I watch as their muscles tense in preparation while the foliage behind them shivers and takes flight.
Horseback allows for a sense of community, because at our pace we have time to greet every family we pass by, swinging on their front porch in a handcrafted hammock or preparing the fields for the next crop of rice. Every farm has a name, La Laguna (The Lake), Buenos Aires (Good Winds), or La Fortuna (Fortune), the wooden signs bearing proud along the path, artfully crafted by the farmers themselves who came to enrich our journey with gifts of coconut, mango, papaya, and cacao. The banana trees stooped to provide canopy while our beasts meandered and we chatted about life.
There’s a moral to this vignette. Get out of your car. Life is better.