Jose Velazques arrives just as the sun dips beyond the hills. He introduces his dog, a brown mongrel called Lucas Alberto Velazquez. Jose is shirtless and fizzing with nervous energy. He’s a campesino, he tells us, and he’s been working all day in the fields that slope down to the Rio Piedras. The hand that shakes mine is stained from the coffee beans he’s been picking.
‘You must come to my house,’ he insists, ‘to meet my mother.’
We are camping at the edge of the municipal football field, opposite the entrance to Finca Nohelia. An ageing mule tugs at the grass. Two boys kick a football. A raptor in a tree edging the field screeches its presence. We follow Jose the one hundred metres down the country lane to his mother’s cottage, where he shows us the vegetable patch, the two shrubs placed strategically to ward off evil spirits, some well-kept chickens in a bamboo enclosure, his banana tree, the bench he sits on in the evening to drink a beer, the rows of flowers lovingly tended by his mother and the contents of his tienda, a small shop, because we must be an hour’s walk from the town. His motorbike is parked in the tienda. He wants us to use it whenever we want.
Jose’s kindly-looking mother welcomes us into her home, standing aside whilst her son leads us from room to room, pointing out a photograph of his sisters, who have flown the family home and now live in Medellin. This openness and hospitality of the Colombian people is so typical that you are often left wondering how the country accommodated, and still does to a lesser degree, such violence and cruelty for so long. It does not seem possible.
Jose is looking for a bride, he says, and would be only too pleased if we sent him one from Europe. He laughs and darts on to another subject, though not through any embarrassment concerning his marital status, it’s just the way he is. As it starts to get dark we bid Jose and his mother goodnight.
‘Don’t forget my wife,’ he calls after us. ‘I have good lungs…and good teeth. And I’m a good worker.’