Fire at Los Pinos

Santa Marta is a wash of shimmering lights tossed across the distance. From here the city seems further than the stars, which are pressed against our backs. The fire is gentle and we are comfortably braced against the chill of the night.

Emma and I arrived here by misadventure. A serious bout of food poisoning sent us through the deset and back, eventually, to recovery in Santa Marta. From there the grapevine took its course; notes were passed and after a brief stay in the hills of Minca we headed once again into the mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a name in our pockets.


Ever since we walked the Camino de Santiago we have found that there is a Way unfolding itself before us. Seldom is it clear; there are no arrows; rather, it is the absurd coincidences, the conviction in someone’s voice, the feeling of having arrived, albeit briefly, somewhere vital. It is the nod and the smile, the greetings of kindered spirits meeting for the first time. Sometimes, too, there are guides.

On one of our toughest days during the walk across Spain, Oliver, the eccentric Dutch chef in clown’s trousers quite possibly saved our souls. Miguel lead us to the Ciudad Perdida, the lost city of the Tayrona people, and to many sombre realisations about the consequences of our most simple actions.

This time, our guide was Rufus. He picked us up as we were arguing about bananas in Minca. Unconcerned with such trivialities he remained a short distance behind us until we had quite finished. At first we didn’t pay too much attention to Rufus. We had come across many like him on our travels and usually they simply drop off and leave you alone after you give them what they are looking for or get bored of waiting.  After the first hour had passed, though, it became clear that he didn’t want our food, and certainly not our money. Quietly, certainly, we came to acknowledge that he was showing us the way to Los Pinos.

It was clear that Rufus had done this trip a number of times. He knew exactly how far to wait from the trucks that thundered by, pushing us from the dark orange dirt road into the dense green foliage of the jungle borders. The the route is not particularly arduous, but it’s not any old dog that can canter so lightly for three or four hours, relentlessly uphill in the relentless humidity of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.  He would trot easily ahead of us but wait at each corner, politely, until we caught up. He was clearly a local, guessing by the warm reception given him by the military officer who seemed to enjoy belittling us and holding Emma’s hand uncomfortably firmly for an irksome amount of time. True men, apparently, have six-packs and guns and like to nearly run down pretty young girls with their motorbikes.

An hour later we had another close call with another motorbike, coming down the hill. The rider stopped so suddently that his helmet practically doffed itself from his head.

“Rufus! Bloody hell!” In the Queen’s perfect English, “We’ve been looking for you.”

Rufus, calm as ever, simply sat by the road, waiting. I’m fairly certain he cracked a smile.

“He’s been with us since Minca.” I said.

“Cool. Where are you guys headed?”

“Los Pinos.” Emma said.

“Great. I’ll see you up there. I manage the place. I’ll be back by sundown.” And with that the English parted until the sun would settle.

We continued on up for another hour or so, stepping over ants running their paths across our own, lugging leaves from the endless jungle either side of the path. And then the pines came into view, another strange taste of home abroad. Up ahead a man was greeting Rufus, stroking him behind the ears.

“Aah! Hello! Welcome!” Daniel greeted us.

Daniel is an Italian law graduate and, like so many other Europeans, wondered what the hell he was doing in Europe and so came to live in a tent in the mountains, where he greets people at Los Pinos hostel and cooks them absurdly tasty pancakes before demolishing them at Backgammon.

Emma insists that the most reliable source of travel information is the grapevine, and true enough we had arrived. Los Pinos really is like your mate’s house, except it’s an old military base placed on top of a plateau in the mountains of northern Colombia. We pitched Bonswali and within a few hours hd slacklined with new friends from Barranquilla (until the bees nesting just above the line put an end to that), watched a howler monkey idling about in the hungle canopy far below, failed to photograph hummingbirds, watched the sun set with unrepeatable beauty into the sea and then the moon rise full and bright over the snow-capped peaks of the mountains beyond, and relaxed and celebrated accordingly when our good friend Dave finally showed up well after dark. He had been on Alex’s farm, the other side of that mountain, picking berries.

We had met Dave a few nights before in Minca, where he came to us raving about this jam that some guy makes up in the mountains.

“I think I’m going to go up there tomorrow.” He told us.

So here we all are, at our mate Ed’s house, up in the mountains, full of pancakes and drunk on moments pregnant with instant nostalgia (and beer). The Barranquilla crew, just like us, are huge Radiohead fans. It was coincidence enough that they were the first slackliners that we’ve met in Colombia. And Dave has helped to preserve the preserves for Minca, down below. 
We are all happy. Deeply happy. Rufus is curled up by the fire.
Each piece of wood in the fire is perfectly placed, as are the sofa and benches that look out over the jungle valley, pock-marked with other people’s fires and the odd abode.  The embers are warm in our bellies. 
How we all got here tonight and why doesn’t really matter. Except it does. Dave sums it up quietly:
“I don’t know what it is about meeting you guys.”
It doesn’t matter now that he spent eight months (of his tender nineteen years) addicted to heroine. Pain and hardship are writ all across his warm, smiling face and jocular tone. He is intensely intelligent, uncommonly generous and has found his way to open many doors for himself, and many other people. It doesn’t matter that the Barranquilla crew have to be back at work on Monday. Nor did it matter that they were beating the gringos at volleyball. The sunset was more important than the game or success. It always is. As for Emma and I, it doesn’t matter that we argue sometimes. We have traveled so far before and since we left England, and our  home is wherever we are together, wherever we can pitch Bonswali and his wood-smoke-scented fly sheet. Though, admittedly, I should have bought those bananas because I do get grumpy when I’m trekking on empty.
And Rufus. It doesn’t matter at all that he “belongs” to someone three hours down in Minca. He is a free animal and needs no reason to warm himself by the fire.
Yes, the embers will stop glowing and will turn to ash, but the warmth and comfort we have received up here we will all carry back down, even and especially when things are less perfectly placed.
Anthony, 18 February, Bogota, Colombia.
* Thanks are due to Ed, who not only provided a wonderful refuge but also a hand-drawn map to a paradisical waterfall jungle.
** More thanks are due to Rufus who guided us all the way back to Los Pinos after the map became sodden in the waterfall and the jungle remained as it always is: fucking confusing.

4 thoughts on “Fire at Los Pinos

  1. I'm really happy you're even reading our blog, and ecstatic to hear that you love it.

    It's not toooo bad that the camera got nicked because it meant that we've just bought a Panasonic GF2, which is rather fun 🙂 xxx


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