We are on our way back from a five day trek to the centre of the world and the six of us, bewildered, are stood in the bowels of an eight hundred year old tree. The jungle, oddly, has fallen quiet, as has our guide Miguel. When he does speak his voice is so soft that I strain to catch his words. Luckily Klaus, a forty-seven year old art dealer-cum-Adonis from the Austrian mountains, has perfect Spanish.
“This,” he tells us, “Is the tree of love.” I catch a smile rising on Emma’s face, a smile reflected on my own. I squeeze her hand. We are all immensley happy to be in here. All except Miguel.
There is a carpet of compact earth and as you look up you can see the twist of the immense tree that leads into a thick, reverent darkness. To touch the wood is soft- squidgy almost- but strong enough to stand perhaps a century and to build boats down in Santa Marta, on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, just a few miles away.
After about eight hundred years the tree has begun to die and that is why we are able to stand in here now.
“The tree has maybe two hundred years more,” Miguel tells us, “Maybe less. If the wind is strong enough it could go over at any time.”
Quietly, the six of us look about. There is a sense that it is a privilege to be here. Though the jungle is raucous, it proffers moments of genuine peace. And we have managed to escape for a short while the remaining thirteen members of the group.
We have all walked together to Ciudad Perdida; the Lost City of the ancient Tayrona people, who abandoned it only to resist the Spanish and never return. Now it is a sacred place for the indeginous Kogi people. Behind a fire in the night one of them told us that the jungle is the centre of the world, that they are the guardians. We pass them sometimes, so fast, so strong, so fleet-footed. More often though we pass a lumbering group of, well, us.
“The Kogi make love in nature,” Miguel says. “Because they believe it gives a stronger energy.”
A silent shift in feeling is reflected immediately in the shuffling of feet and cautious looks at each other. Miguel is fiddling with something, looking at the ground as he continues to explain.
“The Kogi enter here.” Their entrance is two feet above the tallest of our heads, and is covered by dead and wet leaves and broken branches.
Miguel does not look at us as he tells us: “Some time ago, a guide was taking a piss over there.” A rueful smile. “He saw two Kogi in here. Since then none of them have returned to this sight.”
As we leave the tree Klaus articulates it for us in his thick, resounding voice:
“And now we see how we are ruining their culture.”