Sunday, 12 February 2012

Riding on top of the chivero

Following an amazing holiday and during an accompaniment to a place where certain things I value are lacking (not just a bathroom, but also the ability to wash in private, for instance), I find myself questioning some of the decisions I have made and am overcome by a desire to travel and challenge myself in different ways to this one. I feel drawn to so many parts of the world that it`s difficult to feel content in one place. I dream of Morocco, of Egypt. I hold conversations in my head in Moroccan Arabic to not forget and so I don`t feel so far from a land and people I came to love in a previous phase of my life.

But then, all of a sudden, as I`m walking to get the chivero to head back home from town and I hear loud, happy salsa music antisocially blaring from a shop I pass, I am reminded of what it is I love about this land, of how alive Latin America makes me feel.

And riding on top of the chivero I feel more alive than ever. Chiveros are jeep-like vehicles used for public transport in rural areas of Colombia. On top usually go huge sacks of cocoa or rice, but once out of the town centre, the driver lets passengers hang off the back or climb on top.

As I sit precariously up on top of the vehicle, clinging to the metal frame and being jolted from side to side along the uneven, pot-holed road, and we head through the outskirts of town and towards the rolling, dark green, mountains, I observe life around me.

The streets are alive. Men sit drinking beer in the afternoon; children playing in the street wave as we pass; music blares from loudspeakers in people`s front rooms; I see children dancing on table tops and women swinging in hammocks outside their homes. An intense lively sense of community and openness characterises everyday life in Latin America. An ambiance which in other places is unique to festivals or festivities is just the way life feels most days here.

I witness the city blend into the country like the paints of a watercolour, blurring together. In part an inevitable drive towards the cities spurred on by development and industrialisation, and in part a forced and violent displacement, migration to urban areas in Colombia is immense. All around the edges of cities, signs of “el campo” betray the urban sprawl; houses become simpler, wooden constructions and there´s the odd chicken or pig running around. I´m reminded of why I´m here when I see a large group of soldiers and a child playing dangerously close to one of their guns. And then the houses are replaced by banana plants as we move towards the backdrop of lush, green jungle.

After hopping off the top of the chivero and putting on my boots, I begin the walk home, the setting sun casting an orange glow on the thick jungle which envelops me. I splash through the rivers. The breeze is cool and refreshing. Butterflies dance around me, a lizard jumps off the path and a snake slithers into the bushes inches from my feet. Towards the end of the uphill slog, the loud buzz of military helicopters overhead is yet another reminder of why I´m here.

And while the itch to travel and to challenge myself in different ways doesn´t go away (I´m beginning to think it never will), I feel happy here for now.