The car lurched forward languidly; its two rear wheels uselessly churning mud in the pothole. To my right, the whole expanse of the city of Medellin was spread out below me. Houses of limestone and roads of dirt and asphalt wound down in gradual declivity, from the near tops of the mountains to the center of the city, which were adorned with small buildings of industrial steel. Medellin is a city in Colombia, from which my family hails. This was the first day of my trip, and I was still a bet jetlagged. My aunt and two cousins had picked me up from the airport the previous night. We were currently trying to reach my father’s home in the pueblo of Entre Rios.
My male cousin and I pushed from the back as my aunt hit the gas. Two minutes later we were once again making our way up the tortuous mountain road. I was dually in awe and fear; in my sixteen years I had never been on a mountain road so dangerously close to the edge. A two foot metal boundary stood between the car and the mountains precipitous side, which still did not quell the sporadic sensation that at any moment the car would veer of the road and plummet.
Half an hour later, the panorama of the city disappeared. The beautiful valleys that dominated the countryside appeared to have no end. There were lush green mountains interspersed with vertical streams. Here and there cattle munched lazily in their fields. When we finally arrived, my father greeted me whole heartedly. We sat behind the dilapidated diner christened “Las Palmeras”, trying to fill four years of absence through conversation. He greeted a boy who passed by, and bought him a soda in the spirit of my arrival. The boy talked with manner full and fluent language, characteristic of Colombia’s youth.
Being a city boy, I had dressed to impress, decked out in an Armani Exchange t-shirt, new Levi’s, and blue converse. By the time my father and I arrived to his house, lugging a suitcase each, the first foot of me was covered in mud. I later found out by experience that the road was perpetually muddy, which was why the locals wore boots. The frigid temperatures at night were also an unexpected occurence. The campesinos, or local farmers, were antithetical to the archetypal Colombian. Many were seemingly demure and taciturn, as opposed to being gregarious and familiar, and carried with them a look of seriousness and solemnity. I grew to admire how the men worked in the fields till the sweat poured from the brows, and how the women completed their household’s chores diligently and adroitly. Someday I even helped my uncle Guillermo in tending his fields and milking the cows.
I particularly enjoyed lunch, for which my step-grandmother, a widow who lived with my father, cooked rice, beans, egg, corn bread, meat patties, and bread. The milk, which came from my uncle’s cows, was very thick. A special type of sweet herbal tea, arequipe, was served every evening. At night, the stars shone brightly in the sky, the fog of pollution not yet having pervaded the air of this quiet countryside. My father would point out a few constellations as we sat on the porch, nestled in wool blankets and drinking a second serving of arequipe. It was a different world. My inner New Yorker found no relevance there. Those days were the most tranquil and cathartic of my life. I was a new person when the plane touched down on the tarmac of Miami airport.
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