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The Rock.

 

 

Guatapé is a sunny little town, each house painted with a different design in bright, schoolroom colours. It sits in a beautiful nook deep in a fractured rolling landscape of myriad lakes as far as the eye can see. This we discover from the lookout after 725 steps to the top of the enormous rock. You can see the rock from miles off. It is shaped like a big grubby bar of soap turned on its end and shoved in to the soil. Once you get close you can see the long rain streaks down the sides and orchids clinging to the vertical faces. It is quite spectacular, even more so when you see the steps which have been built in to a great crease that runs up the side, one staircase for ascending and one for descending. The effect is exactly like the ribbons that criss cross up the back of a corset. As if the stone was once soft and brown but a little roly poly across the middle, ordered a huge, rough black, streaked corset, laced herself in and told the orchids to hop right on.

Jamie scampers up the steps and pops his head over to look down to me from high above.

 

You’re so out of breath!

 

He chortles and I lose my temper with him and tell him to shut up. He rewards me by disappearing out of sight and only reappearing again when I finally haul my frame up the last few steps. Five hyperactive Colombian youths are gallivanting and shrieking round the top as though this is their first experience of being at height. I fold my arms over the wall that surrounds the top and try to ignore the hooting hormones behind me. Arterial, mirror surfaced lakes stretch out in every direction as far as I can see. The land snakes through the water in ragged islands and peninsulas, tiny toy cars trundle up and down the wiry roads. Dolls houses perch by the lakes and miniature boats zip here and there, disturbing the reflections on the surface. Jamie zooms the camera right in to our lovely little hostel and manages to capture a grainy back tyre from Robin who is hidden in the carpark playing Where’s Wally?. He shows me the collection grey pixels on the screen and it feels a little like looking through a keyhole to your own living room. We wander round the mirador in circles for a while breathing in the morning air and pointing out the sunbeams tumbling in through the clouds and then, somewhat more rapidly than we thought, we seem to have finished with the rock.

Back down the first lot of winding steps to nose in at the tat filled gift shop and play with lighters shaped like axes and plates of pulled sugar, dyed to resemble typical local dishes. I pick one up and think fondly of a styrofoam platter of sickly sweet eggs and bacon I was bought as a child and try to imagine pork rind and maize cakes in the rock shop in Whitby. Jamie pulls me away before I start making stupid purchases and we jellyleg our way down the other staircase and tumble haphazardly back in to the carpark.

 

Well, that was a rock.

 

I say to Jamie, knees knocking and walking with a strange gait.

 

Yeah. That was a rock.

 

He replies and we return to Le Refuge, our Belgian owned, creaky, quiet, cosy hostel to cook a horrific, sloppy stir fry that neither of us can eat. To cheer ourselves up after the nightmare, we stroll the forty five minutes in to Guatapé and find a buzzing central square full of pleasing looking bars and cheerful restaurants. I indulge my passionfruit juice obsession with a huge glass full of tiny, crunchy ice crystals and tongue buzzing juice and Jamie settles back with a beer and once we are finished, set off around the little town to see what’s what.

Not a lot so it seems but not to worry, we buy a handful of the local chorizo, filled with big, chewy chunks of meat and studded with cumin and vast quantities vegetables. The veg shop owner clearly recognises a passionfruit fan when he sees one and is waiting at the door with two smooth, golden, egglike specimens as a parting gift for us as we leave. Clutching the glowing fruits in my hand while Jamie lugs the heavy stuff we manage to negotiate a moto tuk-tuk taxi thing back to the hostel. It is immense fun with a delicious edge of danger. There are no doors, just a rickety seat and an aluminium roof painted in beautiful, slightly Andean designs over our heads. The wind blows in from all sides, tangling my hair and rustling the bags of veegetables. The driver hunches over the steering wheel and drives with gay abandon ignoring our frantic, juddering photo taking in the back. I look inspect the workings of the vehicle, looking up when a burst of sunshine leaps in as we cross a bridge and decide this is my very favourite method of transport next to cable cars.

 

We could totally turn this in to a camper van and ride to Argentina!

 

I bellow to Jamie. We could, I think, if we slept with our feet crammed down the sides of the drivers seat, had nowhere to cook and didn’t mind a complete lack of security. Jamie smiles.

 

We could!

 

He bellows back. And we sit there grinning and letting the wind sculpt us new and unconventional hairstyles until I lean forward and shout over the shuddering, chuntering engine to the driver,

 

Left here!

 

He turns sharply up the lumpy road to Le Refuge and we bounce happily in the back seat each time we lurch over another pot hole. He pulls up and we thank him exuberantly, pushing the cash in to his hands and smiling enormously. He doesn’t know it but he has made our day, possibly our week. Again! I want to crow but instead I summon the inner adult and help haul our foody booty up the steep garden, greeting the Dutch guests lounging in plastic chairs and smoking cigarettes, as we pass.

I becoming mildly obsessed with the tuk-tuks after our thrilling ride and spend a good part of each journey staring at them, lovingly memorising the customisations unique to each, finalising my camper tuk-tuk plans, gazing adoringly in at the drivers who stare back at Robin. Their interest makes a straight swap seem like a goer but Jamie keeps overtaking them on the speed bumps and leaving them for dust. They thin out as we leave town just as I have decided where to install the tea making facilities and I am forced to abandon the blueprints and consider a pannier kettle instead.

As it turns out, most Colombians have never heard of a kettle before so this plan is thwarted from the beginning.

 

A saucepan?

 

Says one man helpfully.

 

A thermos flask?

 

Suggests another.

 

Ah you mean a cafetiere!

 

Says a shopkeeper in one soon to be aborted mission in the city of Popayan.

 

No! To make tea! Its electric! It….for to boil the water! For tea! Like the English!

 

I say slightly desperately. The man points at the coffee machine again as if he might change my mind through repetition. We stump through the strange city centre and find a steak house where we blood thirstily consume our first rare steaks in over six months in consolation, the only thing lacking is the Yorkshire tea.

Just before our vampiric dinner is served, a waiter floats over to Jamie and swiftly ties a disposable bib around his neck. Jamie, who hasn’t seen the waiter’s stealthy approach straightens slightly in surprise. His spine stiffens and his eyes widen. The waiter finishes tying the string with a flourish, Jamie flicks a look down at the bib and his face falls in mortification.

 

Thank you.

 

He can’t help saying it even though he has been bibbed like a baby. I try to stifle a laugh and fail. Since the laugh has already burst from my face, I pick up the camera too and photograph his discomfort in a fit of cruelty.

 

Why have I been bibbed?!

 

He cries and looks around at the other guests for comparison.

 

Because you can’t conduct yourself in public. But don’t worry, she has one too.

 

I nod to a slightly uncomfortable looking lady opposite us. Jamie slides a look over at her and then back at his bibbed front.

 

Do you think they will mind if I….take it off?

 

He says quietly. I admire his Britishness, his displeasure at the prospect of offending someone who has essentially taken one look at him and decided he has never learnt to use a fork. He quickly unties the bib and stuffs it in his pocket. Later, hundreds of miles down the road in a city in Peru, I will come across the bib tucked away in a bag. When I question Jamie about it he will smile nervously and claim he can’t remember why he still has it.

 

But why have you kept it?

 

I persist. I think he liked being bibbed but we won’t admit to it and crumples the offending item further out of sight.

After the bib is quietly pocketed, I notice the woman opposite has taken Jamie’s lead and discarded hers too. The enormous steaks arrive a moment later, bathed in mustard sauce and sizzling venomously. I cut off a slice and note the extreme redness of the interior and take a big, grinning bite, watching Jamie follow suit. The steaks come in about £4 each and that and the cold beer we sip intermittently helps us forget the tiresome kettle hunt, the splodging rain and slight disappointment of being back in a city again.

We have come here straight from homely, countrified Salento and spent five days doing very little but admiring the view and wandering the streets . Our cozy room at Hostal El Zorzal was ludicrously cheap with a big window looking out over the rolling, hazy valley and, even more excitingly, a carpet. We pad about with bare feet luxuriating in the soft, golden carpet and taking intensely dull photos of it. It is truly sad behaviour but we haven’t had a carpeted room since California and have truly missed the mellow softness underfoot. As a result of all this dreaminess, a damp, thronging city rife with traffic and a definite lack of carpets is a hard lump to swallow.

Breakfast is included in Salento and is served by a constantly delightful bevvy of smiling staff in a garden full of hummingbirds and wild canaries. I am quite spellbound by the idea of canaries existing in the wild as it has truly never occurred to me that this was a possibility. I am equally taken with the granadilla, a fruit related to the passionfruit, which is served sitting atop a little ring of tissue to maintain its upright stature. The top has been neatly cut and then replaced and it is served with a spoon to be eaten like a boiled egg. Jamie takes a photo of me so pleased am I with the egg parody. I spoon in the sweet, frogspawny fruit and beckon for the camera. I look at the photo intently for a moment and wonder if my expectations of life are too low then silently hand the camera back and finish my breakfast.

Latin America favours the ‘matrimonial’ sized bed which leaves me questioning how many marriages here survive. These abominations are 135cm wide which, if you’ll allow me to relieve you of the mathematics, is 67.5cm per person or two foot two inches in old money. How this has been allowed to becoming an acceptable bed size I do not know, but the person responsible should be punished. Our bed at El Zorzal, however is a blissfully normal sized double and I am thus very hesitant to get out of it but Jamie insists we at least get up to have coffee and it is only when I have put on my shoes and brushed my hair that I realise he has tricked me and we are going for a walk.

We creak up the large hill in to the gorgeously laid back little town greeting the locals as we pass. They respond with gusto and I admire their excellent humour in the face of so many gawping gringos scudding about and cluttering up their nice town. Once we reach the main square we are beckoned over by some Dutch girls who are collecting prospective hikers with which to fill a four by four that refuse to budge until people are literally bursting open in their confinement.

We don’t have the thirteen people who can apparently fit in to this fairly ordinary sized car but we do have enough that I have to lean out of the window and people who, until ten minutes ago were strangers, are now intimately acquainted in the backseat. This jammy mess of uncomfortable foreigners finally gets the ball rolling and the engine splutters in to life. We are driven out of town following a lovely, winding road in to the countryside which soon opens up in to sweeping, verdant hills and soft focus skies. A dramatic version of Wales takes shape outt of the Colombian landscaps and we gaze out the window mopping up the dotted cows and swathes of trees with our tired eyes. I hear the word ‘Brixton’ from the back and turn to discover three of the tourists in the back have lived near our flat in London.

 

We live near Brixton too!

 

I say slightly dopily and for some reason, a quiet cheer goes round.

 

Small world.

 

Someone chimes in dutifully. The common ground cements a hiking friendship with Milan Patel who has since moved to Miami but wistfully recalls his time eating around our nation’s capital and is considering returning to continue with his gastronomic grand tour and requisite lack of pocket money that goes with London living.

We are emptied out out of the Land Rover in to a cool, grassy carpark where we wander up the road to a fork in the track. We realise at this point that we have absolutely no idea where we are are going so we choose almost at random and set off cluelessly down the gravelly track to the right, crossing a river on the first of many wooden rope bridges of extreme trundliness. The path resumes on the other side, leading us up and up the hill past squeaky clean, tree chewing cows and misty, formless treescapes further up the hillside. This place is home to the world’s tallest palms, the Quindío wax palm which beansprout up to 60 metres in to the air and we can see them, greyed out in the fog, fringing the top of the mountain to our left.

The path leads us in a big, sweaty uphill slog right up the hillside and all the way back round to gaze up at their leafy heights. We cross several more Indiana Jones bridges, full of derring do and, following the small, spongy wooden signs, we overshoot midwalk to climb up to a beautiful wooden house tucked in to the side of the valley. A man in wellies and a big hat appears and gently relieves us of a quid then sits us down with a sharp, tangy and deliciously sweet hot chocolate in a big mug. He has hung several feeders around the place and a host of hummingbirds strobe about them dipping their slim beaks in to the nectar then vanishing out of our dimension and back in a second later at another feeder. When they turn, the light catches on their metallic green bodies and I can suddenly understand the Victorian preoccupation with pinning pretty things in boxes. I want to hold one, to have it, to keep it. Fortunate, really, that they move so fast.

We wait for Milan to sling his rucksack over his shoulder and chat to a couple we met at the Guatemalan border months back and who have chosen the exact same time as us to be here watching these fairytale birds and laughing at the chickens. Waving them off, they move much faster than us, we trudge back down the path to begin a steep, oxygen-light ascent to the top of the mountain. It’s not a very long way up but Milan and I are gasping for breath by the time we reach the top and Jamie is pretending to be out of breath for our sakes. We sit on a bench to recover or to pretend to recover and to take photos of the vapour cloaked hills opposite us. Little, black bees helicopter in front of me to stare at my face with interest as though I were an extreme species of flower. This has happened regularly since Nicaragua and I haven’t yet worked out what the fascination is. They buzz to Jamie, take a sniff then immediately turn and just gaze at me, hanging in the air refusing to be shooed away.

I wander about sniffing the flowers and trying to ignore the bees in their diligent profiling of me. Several more tourists appear puffing and cooing at the pretty lodge we have all found ourselves gathered at. An irate barking begins and I turn to see the small, very important dog that has been busily making an inspection of the visitors running past me to Jamie. Little dogs of this calibre have taken a violent dislike to Jamie during this trip and this one is no different.

 

Get out! GET OUT!

 

The dog seems to be screaming at him. So Jamie follows orders, stands to walk away and terrifies the little dog in to a rolling, skipping dive backwards, barking terrifically while he goes. We laugh at the dog’s outraged face and watch him twiddle away in to the flower beds and disappear. The lodge is totally closed up, windows darkened so we gather up Milan and head for the long track that leads down hill where we are totally enveloped in the cloud. The trees hang with grey green lichens and red bellied birds tuck themselves in to the branches and scan the road ahead. The slim, lofty wax palms all but vanish in to the blank whiteness, appearing only as faint, grey silhouettes at which we gaze, heads tilted uncomfortably far back in an effort to see the tops. At the bottom of the path, we lie on a tussocky patch of grass taking soft, monochrome photos and watching the valley disappear and appear again behind the clouds and finally, reluctantly take our leave towards the milkily lit, glowing valley below where the walk ends.

We are just in time to clamber in to a bursting four by four when we reach the carpark. We squeeze in, Jamie, Milan and four others clinging on to the outside ledge at the back and one guy sitting on the spare wheel at the side. Everyone makes a low, panicked noise as we round the sharp bends and clutches hard at the roof rack. Half way back, the skies open and it starts to rain. Everyone outside gets a chilly soaking, buffeted by the wind, hair bedraggled and noses dripping. Those sitting inside can only sit and watch mix a mixture of sympathy and relief until we arrive back in the town

When we are finally dropped in Salento’s puddly main square, Jamie’s beard is baubled with raindrops and his t-shirt is soaked and sticking to him uncomfortably. We wave goodbye to Milan, encouraging a swift return to London, then head to the supermarket where we are bluntly informed that there will be no alcohol served for the next two days. Jamie’s face creases with distress.

 

Not even beer?

 

He cries softly and is met with a shake of the head. The local elections are being held the next day and the Government seems to think their electorate can’t be trusted with booze during this time. Colombians cleverly circumvent this bizarre ruling by buying all their alcohol the day before. They consume it expansively as they are shunted around town hanging off four by fours tooting on trumpets and cheering during the evening of the election. We sit watching the lines of crammed jeeps tumbling down the road and Jamie is handed a green t-shirt and a swig of aguadiente to celebrate the success of the new mayor. We wonder if maybe we should address the politics of this new mayor before Jamie dons the shirt but the man in question smiles from a big billboard opposite us and answers the question.

 

He looks alright. Look at him. He’s smiling.

 

I say and Jamie puts the t-shirt on reminding me that he once totally accidentally attended a Le Pen rally in Paris without realising what was going on so it is perfectly possible this mayor is a Nazi or something and we just unwitting drones, drawn in to his genocidal madness. The people of Salento seem overjoyed with their decision though, so I suggest it’s probably best to put the t shirt on and smile a bit regardless of who the mayor is.

When the last car has jolted past us we return gently downhill to our hostel where we discover, with intense pleasure, that they are more than willing to sell us a bottle of wine and a few beers. They even bring it to us on a tray with two wine glasses. They even individually wrap the beer cans in serviettes to stop the condensation dripping down the side.

 

I think we should live here forever.

 

I sigh to Jamie after half a glass of wine and he nods in contemplation.

Unfortunately, Popayan awaits us and, after exhorting her Grandmother’s recipe for yucca pancakes with cheese from the smiling cook, we sorrowfully leave Salento behind. Good, two course meals have cost us quid and passionfruit juice has been directed cheaply straight in to my veins while we have been here and I’m not really ready for cold turkey.

Popayan is not, perhaps the chilliest of wattled fowl but neither is it the warmest. A colonial city all painted white and cobbled extensively, sounds promising especially since our hotel with two big beds and a hot shower will only cost us £8 but we can’t summon the energy to really like it. We wander through the rain drenched streets looking for shops that don’t sell Christmas decorations and do sell kettles but each time we ask, are met with blank looks and offered spatulas or rice cookers instead. In the end, but for the delicious steaks, our only purchase is two little plastic bags of mulberries that ferment overnight in to enormous, drumlike, tight balloons and a bag of lulo. This small, orange fruit known physalis in the UK or cape gooseberries is a favourite of mine and I eat the whole bag, fruit by fruit in quick, chomping succession until all but one lumpy green one is gone and I feel thoroughly sick.

Threading our way out of Popayan the next day, I peer in to the shops selling hosepipes and piles of vast cooking pans and watch the impressive, old buildings slide past as we struggle through the choking traffic and feel nothing, I have made no real attachment with this place and am only thinking about the next town, Chachagüì, a dusty, bright and pleasant town perched in the Andean mountains. After a swooping, swirling drive through our first big, craggy, barren mountains, Chachagüì appears as a beautiful spot of relief, cupped in a dip below us. Bougainvillea and morning glory tumble down the walls of the houses as we squeeze the bike down the narrow back streets. An anxious looking black cat runs away from the motorbike and a poodley dog barks hysterically from a balcony. Locals stop to stare at the monster come to town and I wave regally as we pass, nodding as they do and returning their greetings.

A small, Spanish man, blonde hair tied in a ponytail, greets us in accented English and opens the gate for us. He closes it rustily it behind as if locking us in to a little hidden paradise and I find I have said ‘ahhh’ out loud as the lovely garden filters in through my weary head. We had thought we would be totally alone in this seemingly remote town but a young blonde girl waves from the pool as does a smiling woman in her swimming costume. A Japanese man flashes a grin and greets us as we go past and later, a German couple appear for a chat. We are shown through the garden, quickly given a tour of the rooftop patio area to admire the great, mountainous views all around us then to our room which is bright and breezy with the smallest bed I have ever seen outside of a dolls house. Not only is it narrow like the awful matrimonial ones but it is also so short my feet touch the footboard while I lie with the top of my head touching the headboard. Curious. But, this time, it doesn’t deter me from loving this little sanctuary and I quickly scurry out to jump in the swimming pool in my happiness.

The water is freezing as if it has just come from a mountain spring and hadn’t sat all day under the baking sun but I am determined to enjoy it so I flap about in the water making hoooo noises and breathing hard. Charlotte, the blonde girl who turns out to be all the way from sunny Kent, introduces herself as does Martina, the Dutch woman in her swimming cozzy. I dangle in the icey water chatting about travel plans until my voice starts to quake with cold and I am forced to cut the conversation short before I become hypothermic. I scurry back to the room and dry off, reappearing with a bag of Yorkshire teabags. As per our promise to distribute our cache of 340 of the little blighters out to Brits in need, Charlotte gets a small handful stuffed in to her box of Colombian teabags.

 

They just can’t make tea here.

 

She says, holding the box.

 

And it doesn’t infuse, like there’s no actual tea in it.

 

I agree, nodding solemnly, it is a travesty indeed. I briefly consider a Yorkshire tea distribution service to the needy Brits around the world but have to concede, it’s probably not a top priority right now.

Naoki, the Japanese man is still sitting on the sofa when I come back out with my tea. He wants to know if we know of anywhere to hire a motorbike, assuming we have hired Robin. I explain our little adventure to him and tell him about flying her over to Toronto which he is very impressed by. We have seen plenty of motorbike hire shops though and I tell him I’ll ask around in town when we go shopping.

 

We’ll see you later with a motorbike in our shopping bag for you!

 

I say as I walk off and he laughs a little then, after a beat, nods enthusiastically as if the translation in to Japanese has hit a moment later

The town centre is blanched and pale in the Andean sunlight, a cool breeze nipping at the corners of the fierce sunshine. We stop to stare at a pile of enamelled tin plates with lovely, simple fruit designs sprayed on to them and come away with two, decorated with golden, sunny mangoes. We find a shop manned by a tiny woman with crooked shoulders and a glowing, where we buy a bag of chia seeds and some tiny packets of honey for no reason other than its a nice shop to buy things from. The plain, wooden shelves are piled with packets of grains, big blocks of grainy, caramel scented raw cane sugar, 1lb bars of chocolate, spices. I imagine myself obsessively restocking my own shop like this with increasingly weird, far flung ingredients that no English person would have a clue what to do with and slowly, cheerfully sinking out of business, bits of muña in my hair and yucca flour under my scrabbling finger nails.

When we return, laden with bags of unusable foodstuffs, Hostel Kundur is quiet, the Germans are out and Martina and Naoki, who have been travelling together for a week, have gone paragliding in the nearby countryside which is full of warm, spiralling air currents as the wheeling birds of prey in the distance attest to. Charlotte sits writing postcards and I hang comfortably in a hammock reading and feeling quite at home in the shade of the upper balcony. Slowly, darkness falls and Jamie and I manage to pull ourselves together for just long enough to make spaghetti before collapsing in bed to read more.

A conversation in the kitchen starts up later, reaching our room by way of muffled, grave sounding cadences and eventually, Jamie gets up and disappears downstairs. Soon, the conversation is joined by his soft, concerned tones and I begin to feel curious. Pushing the blankets aside I follow him downstairs and go in to the kitchen. I stand a moment looking around at the small gathering, trying to catch up with what has happened. The German couple are sat around the table with Charlotte and Jamie is standing looking at them, his hands hung by his side. Everyone looks grim.

 

What’s happened?

 

I say, quite unprepared for the answer.

Everyone looks at me. The German man explains slowly. There has been an accident. Naoki, the Japanese man I spoke to earlier has died. So has the paragliding instructor. The instructor, was also the brother of our hostel owner’s wife. Everyone falls silent and I feel the shock of the unexpected news drain through me like cold water. That smiling, motorbike lusting Japanese man who I just spoke to, who napped on that sofa right there and laughed at what I was saying has died? It seems barely possible.

I sit down and Johannes pushes a bottle of rum over in our direction. Martina is with the police and soon returns to let them in to his room and help find his passport. His family have no idea he is travelling. They are a very traditional Japanese family who do things very much by the book and, for that reason, he has kept his wanderlust from them to spare the worry. Now Martina has the terrible job of contacting the Japanese embassy and contacting them to tell them the news.

The morning comes will the sound of Martina crying by the swimming pool. I go out to her with a cup of tea and listen to her self recrimination as gently as I can. She had persuaded him to go paragliding. He was scared.

 

I told him everything will be alright.

 

She says, looking at me, tears spilling down her face.

The atmosphere is sombre, quiet, stunned. The day passes with the lull of Martina’s voice in the background as she speaks on the phone, finally coming in to tell us the family simply don’t believe the news. They must be sent photos, an email to prove that it really is their son, far away in Colombia without their knowledge. We sit around the table that evening with her, small plates of left over lunch in front of us and little cups of rum to smooth the sharp edges. Martina turns the laptop to us and we help correct her English in the email that will be translated by the embassy and sent to Japan. Reading the sentences over, aloud and checking the grammar, one almost forgets the content until the name Naoki appears and we remember again and quietly take small sips of our rum.

The couple who own the hostel are mostly locked away in their house, red eyed and grief stricken, sobbing audibly behind the closed door. We look after the place for them, Charlotte answers the phone and, when the local journalists arrive we tell them no, there’s no one here and no one to talk to. Nonetheless, a story appears in the local online paper with a photograph of Naoki’s passport which it seems the police must have provided them with. I stare at the photograph for a while, looking at the thirty four year old face looking back at me and then at the sofa where he was sitting before we went out. I sit and stare and my brain can’t really curl around the idea. I wonder what we are all doing here travelling when things like this happen so suddenly. I join the others in the kitchen and we drink cups of tea, wondering what to do next and how to talk about anything else.

Two days pass like this, a quiet, pit of the stomach feeling following us all around while we cook together, share our plans and offer ill experienced notes to Martina on what the best course of action is. No one really knows how a situation like this is meant to unfold. When it’s finally time for us to depart after a long talk about , we hug everyone goodbye as if it were much longer, the time we have passed together.

The motorbike strains back up the flower strewn road through the town and the black cat appears again, running from the bike, flashing its yellow eyes at us in panic. I feel a strange unthawing as though we have been frozen in time behind those big, rusty gates. We turn at the top and Robin hoists herself on to the main road out of town. Chachagüì disappears behind us, the mountains gradually shirking themselves of the little houses climbing up their sides until eventually, the landscape is a sweeping, rolling mass of green again. The quiet shock we both feel, though, stays and rides with us, clinging to our backs and tapping us gently on the shoulder at intervals when we forget for a second. It tucks itself in to the shadows cast by the motorbike, in to the space between us and then climbs in to the long silences on the quietly crackling intercom and stays there all day long.

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