Bright and early on Saturday morning Angelica, Arya (the dog), Hernando and I piled into the car to begin our trip to the farm (la Finca). Before we could leave, we were required to participate in, what would become a regular occurrence, a game of car luggage Tetris. The amount that you can fit into a small Fiat hatchback is quite surprising. By Hernando’s account, we were in for about a four-hour drive consisting of descending from our current location in Bogota at around 2640m, and then driving higher up another mountain ( approx 3000m).
One of the best things about travelling and staying with native Colombians is that you get so many opportunities to taste the local cuisine. The first of the day was a stop at a roadside eatery about an hour and a half out of Bogota. Here I got my first taste of panela accompanied by some cheese and a sweet roll. Panela is basically unrefined cane sugar and comes in big blocks. It is then dissolved in hot water to drink or used in the production of other delicacies. In this case, we had the panela with hot water, and I was informed that the best way to have it was by tearing up the cheese and dropping it in. After leisurely consuming our fare, Hernando bought me my first “bocadillo”. This delicious treat can be found in many South American countries under different names, but it consists of a mixture of panela and guava pulp. It is often consumed in combination with cheese or cuajada (a non-aged cheese).
After breakfast, we were off again. Suffice to say that regardless of where I have been travelling, so far, the views have been spectacular. The change of scenery within 30 minutes is absolutely astounding. One minute you are surrounded by imposing mountainous ridges, the next you are moving through plains with rice fields and elegant tunnels of trees; accompanied by the expected change in temperature and humidity. After a while, I got my first glimpse of the might Magdelena river ( the principle and most significant river in Colombia). This was one of the smallest crossings of the river, and below the bridge, there was a host of people fishing.
On our way back up towards the Farm, we stopped at another roadside to pick up some local food, much to the chagrin of Angelica, who didn’t have faith that we would still eat our lunch. Her concerns may have been well-founded were it not for my propensity to indulge in excessive eating. Regardless we sampled chicharron (pork crackling), rellena (sausage made from intestines with stuffing), hígado (liver). Some of it doesn’t sound particularly appetising, but I was too busy eating it that I forgot to take a picture. A little further down the road, we pick up some guama. Think furry lychee in a pod, and that is guama. Tasted practically the same and had the seed in the middle too.
At about 1600m we reached the city of Libano where Nancy and Hernando grew up. To say that the people in the town were relaxed about movement around the place would be an understatement. A leisurely stroll down the street blocking all the cars? No worries! While we didn’t spend long in the city, purely driving through, I did get a glimpse of the cathedral, which was indeed a sight to behold. The twin alabaster towers were a dominant sight amongst the predominantly single or two-story habitations it was nestled between.
Further up at about 3000m we arrived at Murillo where Nancy Sr, or Nancita as she is commonly referred to as, was waiting for us to drive the last few hundred meters of elevation to the Farm since the terrain was a little too treacherous for our, low to the ground, fiat. After about twenty minutes along the meandering road, Hernando and I got out and took the bush path the rest of the way. Through a few fences and dense patches of trees and we arrived at the border of the Farm. The view was breathtaking. Rolling hills covered in thick verdant green grass with lush groves of trees sporadically appearing.
After counting the bulls to make sure they were all there, we moved on down to the farmhouse where we met back up with Nacita and Angelica. The house was lovely and had a genuinely authentic and rustic feel to it, complete with a wood-fired stove. At this point, we had the first of many exquisite and generously sized meals, frijoles con arroz (beans with rice and some meat). After lunch, we went for a hike around the perimeter of the farm. It was a substantial hike, the hills are not just for show! I am happy to say that the boots that I bought held up really well, the waterproofing did really well as we hopped our way through some of the boggier areas.
On our return, it was time for more fabulous food and a few games of Ludo with a Farm twist. However, before that, we got to play a game of wrangle Arya from the duck pen. This was rather funny as she really wanted to catch one of the ducks in the pond. The proceeding few minutes was almost exactly what happens in the big bang theory episode when Sheldon is in the ball pit yelling out bazinga.
Ludo was actually an excellent learning experience as it allowed me to improve my numeral recognition in Spanish rather than reading the number in English and then translating it. After initially having success and winning the first game (beginner’s luck) I got stomped in the next few. I blame the salt shaker that I insisted positively doesn’t bring bad luck with these things and hence decided to position squarely next to me.
In the morning I was up bright and early to go help milk the cows. In the evening the calves are separated from their mums and placed in different pens, in the morning, one at a time, the calves are brought over, and the cows are milked. I’m not sure what percentage of the milk we took, and left was, but there was still plenty left for the calves when we were done. I had a go at the milking; however, my skills certainly paled in comparison to the seasoned hands.
After the work was done, it was time to reap the rewards of our work. Fresh milk with bocadillo and subsequently, a big ole breakfast of calentado (heated up leftovers with extras). Next was watching a repeat broadcast of the soccer game from the night before, which we missed, then it was time for food again! Once lunch was finished, it was time to say our goodbyes and make our way back to Bogotá.
Everything about my time on the farm had an air of nostalgia to it. From the landscape to the rustic abode and working with Nacita, it reminded me a lot of the time I used to spend with my grandparents in the Tablelands as a child. There is something about that place that is magical. While you are there time just doesn’t seem to matter, and life just feels a whole lot more straightforward. Once again, I felt at home immediately once I got there and I really look forward to getting back there in the future.