by Esme McAvoy
It’s just after midday and I’m sat at a wooden table on the open terrace of a pretty white-washed cottage overlooking an exotic flower-filled garden. Beyond, a view of the greenest of mountain slopes dressed in the lightest of cloud-mist leads down to Colombia’s Caribbean coast. It’s a world away from my usual north London abode in Kentish Town...
There’s something of a backstory to my arrival in this little Colombian paradise. I spent the last year backpacking in South America, traveling from Colombia in the north down to Argentina in the south, climbing snow-capped mountains, enjoying the beaches and passed my thirtieth birthday in a canoe, paddling through the Peruvian Amazon. But most of my time was spent in Colombia. After six months there, I reluctantly moved on to neighbouring Ecuador but crossed the border pretty sure I’d return.
After a full year of traveling, I left Buenos Aires and headed back to London. I found my way back to the now-familiar turf of Kentish Town, working as a writer by day and waitressing at the lovely manna restaurant come evening. Yet, after eight months, I decided it was time to hang up my waitressing apron and notepad, pack up my laptop and return to what the locals affectionately call ‘*Loco*lombia’. So here I am. I’ve been here for a week now with my Colombian boyfriend, Andrés, and his good friends, Oscar and Viviana, and I still can’t quite believe that this white-washed cottage with its pink bananas growing in the garden and hummingbirds flitting between the flowers is going to be my new home.
Arriving in the Colombian capital of Bogotá, it’s a 15-hour bus ride up to the northern coastal city of Santa Marta – the first city in South America to be founded by the Spanish ‘conquistadores’ – and then a bit of a bumpy ride on the back of a motorbike uphill (not easy with your worldly possessions on your back), through forest to reach the teeny campesino village of Minca.
Walking through an archway of guadua - a Colombian variety of bamboo - and down a few steps, the pretty thatched roof cottage emerges out of the green, with a few hammocks strung up, and a long wooden dining table on an open terrace with a view of green mountain slopes and the sea. The garden is full of flowers, coffee bushes and the sound of birds. I love it already.
Having swotted up a little on the area before I arrived, it's clear that the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta - the mountain on which the village of Minca is located - is a pretty special place. The highest coastal mountain in the world, the Sierra Nevada emerges from the beaches of the Caribbean coast to reach a peak of over 5,700m – the highest peak in Colombia. The terrain runs from sand to snow-capped mountains in less than the distance of a marathon, covering every possible ecosystem in between. There are over 600 species of bird here and plants and animals that are unique to the Sierra.
The area is also the ancestral territory of the ancient Tayrona peoples and there are still four indigenous communities, descendants of the Tayronas, living here. For these indigenous peoples, the Sierra is considered ‘the heart of the world’. They share the belief that protecting the ecological health of this precious region is vital to the whole planet’s well-being.
I´m looking forward to visiting some of the indigenous communities, such as the Kogi and Arhuaco, and exploring the beaches of the Tayrona National Park with a snorkel but first I explore the garden, picking some coffee beans with the gardener Luis, some wild herbs and green plantains for dinner and trying to recognise some of the birds. There are teeny hummingbirds, ‘colibris’, darting in between the flowers, falcons gliding easily on the mountain’s thermal currents, woodpeckers, or ‘pajaros carpinteros’ in Spanish, with bright red heads and, yesterday, en route to a nearby waterfall for a dip, we catch a pair of bright-beaked toucans in the trees.
In the weeks to come, I hope to share a little of my life here, the seeds we’ll plant in the garden, the fruits and vegetables of Colombia, the coffee, the cacao, the various rivers and waterfalls considered sacred by the indigenous peoples and, hopefully too, share some thoughts and experiences on how to live a little more lightly in this world, a little more simply, slowly, and hopefully, sustainably.