Colombia, The Payment and the Mountains


As I last wrote I discovered more about the place I stayed in Minca because of Nacho, and because of Nacho I know more of all the alternative narratives there are in Colombia. When I first arrived in Colombia I heard the Costeños ( the people of the Coast) who were mainly descendent of Europeans, then I met the campesinos ( the people from the fields), then I tried to see the Kogi ( an indigenous population) and yet as I walked the Sierra Nevada for 3 days I understood I could not meet the Kogi like that. They were living in other place, the real Kogis, might not even be or look like Kogi after all. It did not make me sad, I respected what was more to respect: the Mountains. And then I met Nacho.

Nacho was from the Andes, though not indigenous he was married to Erika who was indigenous descendent. He never cared much about that till one day he started going deaf. His mother in law told him to go to see a Shaman.  He did it out of respect  for the mother in law and the shaman healed him. Years later when he decided to join the army to fight the guerrilla he was shot by the Farc he almost died. He was in a coma for a long time and one day he woke up but he was not well and had lost a leg. Once he was awake he remembered the Shaman.

Nacho came from the Andes region. His father is a professor of Sculpture. And when this accident happened he decided to follow the Shaman to Minca the village I was in which is in the Sierra Nevada.

The hotel I was staying had been called  was called by Nacho the casa grande ( the big house). He explained to me that it was indigenous ground. The paths still preserved were indigenous. And after no longer being for a while a convent it had become a big house where indigenous peoples from different places came to talk to and to live. Nacho had lived there for 10 years to recover. During these 10 years he had learned the ways of different tribes . He had healed. He was particularly close to his Shaman. But he learned to respect nature and the mountain. He told me, he still had a leg prosthesis to walk and yet this journey had healed his soul. I understood Nacho very well.

We talked in a car journey to Santa Marta because I wanted to buy a Kogi bag, and I had learned from someone there was an indigenous house where I could buy from the Indigenous people so that the money would go fully to them. Nacho was taking some tourists to go Santa Marta, Peter and I took a ride with him.

In this ride I learned something important: that according to Indigenous ways I should not help the entire world. People have their own journeys. I debated this with Nacho. I explained to him I was soo helped always and though I could not get the help, I at least months later could understand what was said to me earlier. So I thought we must help. He agreed. But then you have to let it go when people just keep refusing help. I understood it, and I am understanding it now, that sometimes I help the unknown,  I hear stories to safeguard myself. To not be too vulnerable. There are many stories which are fundamental for me to hear. But not all. And when I don’t make this distinction I abandon those who are so close and are the most important to me.

I abandoned Peter many times trying to listen to all these narratives. And I understood watching him that my own departure hurts the most important people around me. Yet, there are stories I needed to hear. I am still learning this complicated balance.

Nachos story had to be heard.  So I heard. And I was told by Nacho I should go see the snowed capped mountains. It was the most sacred place there was. And that I should visit the Cumbre, the mother of all waters. And Nacho explained me I should make a payment to the mountain.

A payment, he said,  could be anything, it had to be something of value. He often gave tobacco. Words. What it was there to be given.  I told him I d like to go. It involved us getting to 2800 meters. I asked him to find the right people to take Peter and I. He did. Eqlias and Jose. Two brothers who were one of the 150 real people from Minca.

I was excited.  He told us to prepare ourselves for cold. And told us to go at 4 am. I came home and started to think what I could give to the mountains. I knew I could give my words. But what should I give of mine. Some part of me thought I should give my bracelet but immediately realized I was not prepared for that. So I remembered Thailand.

Some of your who read me for a long time, might remember that last year as I decided to ride a  bike for 57 km in unknown part of Isaan. I was then with my very close friends to this day Andre and Sandra, and Fred from Norway.  In that ride, we ate, and searched for coffee, and  I had found a little bag in the one shop we saw in this remote area. The shop where I bought iced coffee.

I wanted to buy the bag to put coins, and the old Thai lady rushed towards me, and removed the things from the inside of the bag. I realized right then that the bag belonged to her and so I apologized. She touched her hearth and made a gesture to give it to me. I refused it; she pointed to the sky and repeated the gesture. It was a gift. I had tears in my eyes. I could not speak Thai or her English. So I looked inside my bag and could not find anything special. So I took the scarf in my neck. The scarf I had bought in the Middle East, and had travelled the world with. And I gave it to her. She refused it like I had and I also pointed to the sky. It made me happy. I carried that bag ever since as a little treasure.

That was it: I would  give the bag to the mountain.

Eqlias picked us up and we took more than 2 hours to get  up the mountain in a motorbike. I wore all that I had to be able to go from 30 celsius to 5. I froze. I spoke sometimes but most of the time I looked the forest.  We stopped sometimes because it was too hard to go by bike.  Peter and I walked. We stopped when we met the military that was there to prevent the guerrilla. I who do not even like the military took pictures with them. I heard them too.

And then we got to a very high place. The mountain was covered and we could not see  the snow capped mountains. I thanked the sun for warming me up. A man, Leonardo, who worked in a cel phone tower there brought us coffee.  I dislike the cell phone tower there. But I liked the coffee and Leonardo. Peter and I did yoga, stayed in the sun, took pictures, till it was time to go to the Cumbre.

We had to go under some barbed wires with the help of the army to reach this place. It was a different place. It did not look like the mother of all waters. It reminded me of Harry Potter enchanted lake. I walked there. Took the bag and opened it. Peter said he would put the tobacco. He explained to me it was just returning tobacco to nature where it came from.  I put some as well, and I understood my bag could not be returned there.  I opened my bag where I had put the tobacco and we started putting it in the water.  I made thought after thought of payment ; most of it was love, and thankfulness. Then I knew , Peter without telling me, had shown me the bag did not belong to that place. But as I opened the bag I saw a little sculpture.

In Thailand when I broke my foot and all people came to say farewell, a Dutch man who lives in Nong Khai brought me once his work.: Buddhas …he told me it was a gift but I should choose one. I choose one that did not really look like a Buddha. It looked like a monkey. He had his eyes covered.  I always joked I did not know it was a monk or a monkey.

When I saw it this time,  I decided the monk, the monkey, the gift belonged there. So, I followed Peter s advice put the monk overlooking the Cumbre. I watered it, remembering Raphael, the 3 years old boy of the travelling family I once wrote about.  When he came to Nong Khai he asked to water the Buddhas like in temples. So I watered the monk/monkey with the freezing water and I thought if he is a monkey he was back in nature, if he was a Buddha he was in place taking care of it all. I stood up and I walked towards the mountain.

I sat and I asked Eqlias whether the mountain was sacred to him. He told me he was half Palenqueiro ( free slave descendent), and choco ( black community of Colombia). Yes the mountain was sacred tp him. I told him I had made a payment. He told me the mountain was sacred because Nacho had taught him about it.  We talked about the mountain he had the real respect for it just like Nacho had it though they were not indigenous.


I asked him about his family, he told me his father had abandoned him when he was 3, his mother had disappeared on the mountain when he was 15. I had tears in my eyes covered by my sunglasses. I asked him what he wanted to have happened to his mother.

He told me he wished she had abandoned them. That this way she is not dead. As he told me this the clouds went down and down. I could see the mountains, the trees, the palm trees and the snowcapped peaks at 5700 meters in front of me. What a sacred place I thought. I had seen how close to each other were Eqlias and his brother Jose were. Now we spoke of their lives.

I told him I thought that if she was dead maybe she is in a better place, if she lost her memory maybe she is happier somewhere else in a different life.. but I doubted that someone who has abandoned a family could be happy. He smiled.  I told him that like him I wished her happiness.

I told him I had made a payment to the mountain and he understood what I meant. And there I knew that the sacredness of the world, the stories, and love belonged to all of us who inhabit this universe. I took my little bag and I told him the story of it and I told him the bag did not belong to the mountain, but it was sacred to me, so it belonged to him now, someone who took me to a solemn place. I gave it to him

“ Eqlias, do to it whatever you want. Keep it, maybe berry it, give it to your daughter, or keep when you hear from your mother. I give to you because I was going to give it to the Cumbre. It does not belong there, but at the same time it does. You brought me here to the most sacred  place there is. I give it to you because you told me your story. I give it to you because I am thankful.”

He understood. Jose understood I gave them. Not only Eqlias. Jose had been only 7 when his mother disappeared.  And we watched the mountains for a long time.

When I bid farewell to Minca I was taken to Santa Marta by Nacho and Erika his wife. I had met his whole family the day before. I had brought icecream to his 3 daughters and his son. I had met the dog and the turtle.  This time Erika came to say goodbye. We drove to Santa Marta. We went to buy our indigenous bags the ones we would recognize.  Peter recognized his immediately.  It was from the mountains. I recognized mine only  with Nachos help 🙂 He took me to buy the best coffee ( which is another story), and then he took me to get the best bus. He took me to go. Erika told me I had to come back to her house, In the Andes.

I was taken away from Minca by newly made friends who would stay with me like my dear friends Andre and Sandra have stayed ever since that bike ride. I was taken away by people who gave me what they had of most sacred. I left having learned so much.  I learned one more time, in my skin, that all this world belongs to all of us who are part of it. That I am part of the massacres that happened and happen daily in the world. That in my daily choices I impact the world. That I cannot help all, but some. And  the most important lesson I have learned might have been that sometimes I make wrong choices. And my friends, ( Nacho,  Andre), I depend on you, to remind me of the right choices, so that I do not loose what is the most precious. The voices that have not been heard.  Specially mine, and of those I love the most who are so close to me, and yet sometimes listening to others I let them feel I am not there.




Colombia, Sierra Nevada, Resistance and the Human Journey


I was asked by my doctor not to climb for a few months.  So when I came to Colombia I was asked by my family not to bring my brand new climbing shoes. I was not planning to do much here but to recover in Cartagena so I only brought flip flops.

I was told by many friends that I had to visit the Tayrona park while in Colombia. And that is why I got to Taganga where I met Yassert, the Plestinian from Gaza I last wrote about. Taganga is a small fishing village that is close to Santa Marta. It has through time become a backpacker village.

As I explained the last time I wrote, I heard about another battle of resistance taking place around here. So I went to find out about it.

Everything I will write from now on is what I heard from the people. People that I asked so much about. I was asked by an Italian to go see the Playa del Muerto. Now, it was called Playa Crystal. I took an incredibly scary boat ride to get to this beach, which is in the Tayrona Park.

The Tayrona were an indigenous population, which has been entirely decimated. The park Taryrona is a natural reservation and I was told is under the administration of a French man who is friends with the sons of Uribe.

Playa del Muerto has people living in it. People who were being massacred for tourism. I walked the Taganga beach till I found Joselito, a local who is known by all. He told me his version of the story as someone who was related to the people there. I took a boat and I got to the pristine beach now known as Crystal Beach. It was full of tourists. I searched for the senora Rufina who was a local I was told to look for. She was not there. Her grandson was. I asked him to tell me what was going on. He looked first scared… then he told me he wanted to tell me about it.

He introduced me to other guides who had in their shirts written “Playa del Muerto”, which was obviously an act of resistance. According to these people, the Tayrona came to Playa del Muerto and lived there for many years. They buried their people and their treasures. Now people who had lived there for many years were being evicted for tourism to prosper so they wanted to hide the past of this place by changing its name. The boy told me about his family members he had that had been killed there. I asked whether they were afraid. And he said they were resisting it. They were now armed. I left the beach not knowing what to think.


I came back to Tagana and I decided that though I did not have climbing shoes I was  hearing the calling of the mountains. So I decided to go there.  First, I visited Joselito to tell about my trip and my desire to see the Sierra Nevada. He introduced me to Eliecer a great guide he knew and who was a campesino of the Sierra Nevada.

Eliecer came from Santa Marta to explain me how it would be for me to walk to the lost city. I told him I was in fact just more interested in walking the mountain and to see the Kogi if I could. He agreed to that. And I for the following 3 days started a long walk in the mountains of Colombia.


I asked Tayrona, Kogi, and ultimately permission from the mountain and the spirits of the forest  to walk in what it felt like a sacred place. I asked for permission, connection, and understanding. I remembered how I once was a very critical of these ideas; how as an anthropologist I condemned perspectivism. Yet, as I entered Indigenous land I asked for permission of the spirits of the mountain.

Before that I asked about the Farc, the paramilitary, Uribe. I asked about all there was of politics that I read about. I asked the people. But suddenly as I walked in, it came to my mind my friend Nathalie. The woman who taught me about hearing those who have not their voices heard.

For those of your who have read me for a long time… she was the Australian I met in my first trip to India and who had gone to Afghanistan alone just before the war. Nathalie loves Colombia. And as I walked the sacred mountains I somehow knew Eliecer,our guide,  might know her. He did. It felt special, so special that all my interest in the politics, the conflicts all subsided and instead I focused on what was happening to me. Why was I walking a mountain.

In not even 3 months after thinking I was going to die ,I was walking a mountain. I, who could not walk nor eat, could suddenly do it. I walked that mountain with all the respect that I have developed for mountains and myself in these years.


I observed the Kogi beautifully dressed in their white clothes. Yet I knew I could not know much of the Kogi in so short time. I walked those mountains thinking of my own relationship of the massacres of the indigenous peoples of South America. How much of a Holocaust had happened here…. Through theses centruries. I apologized to it. As I walked knowing I was part of it… In some distant past I was part of it.

And as I struggled to walk a mountain in flip flops I realized something incredibly important: I could recover my sense of independence because I was being taken care of by Eliecer, his wife Tati, and my friend Peter, who I found out in this journey was half Italian and half Jewish. Somehow it fell all inside of what I knew. He was born in the US. He was part of the Gaza mission and yet he was Italian and Jewish two people I know so well.

As I walked I felt I suddenly knew in my whole body it takes full care of someone to allow us to endure a human journey. I had it here. I was struggling between nonexistent muscles, wrong shoes, weakness, heat, cold, and I could do it because there was someone taking care of me completely. And I understood I needed it forever. And that life was too kind to me to always have given it to me.

I walked back exhausted yesterday. A day I survived. And today I visited Yassert. He had a gift for me. Some artist called Vladimir had painted us while we talked. I wanted to take a picture of the painting… but Yassert said it was for me. I took that precious gift just as Mattias the chair of the Religion and Politics of the Upsala University in Sweden showed up.


Mattias had been to many flotillas of liberation to Gaza. He was in the Marmara mission with his wife. They told us how two people were shot by the IDF  before they came down.; how terrified the IDF soldiers were; how all their recording video was taken away from them. They told me of the different treatment they had compared to the Turkish people because they had a different passport. I heard it all intrigued. Yet I thought peace could not happen there.

We sat with Yassert for coffee… And I could only speak to Yassert that though I was impressed by people who went to those missions, I thought peace could not happen there.

I explained to Yassert I wanted to hear him play the Oud. Peace had to happen through the collapse of separations. Through art. Through similarity. Not in things that made stronger divisions.

I remembered how once from the West Bank I spoke how subversive I thought love was. How an Israeli philosopher I had met who was against the occupation could not deal with what I wrote.  I asked him why… and he said, “it is too human.”

And that is what it is. All separations and divisions, and occupation depend on the idea that people are very different. Collapsing these systems takes us understanding we are not very different. We are all human, Indigenous massacres depend on people believing the indigenous are less humans; occupations can only take place because people believe Palestinians are a different kind of human.  Slavery was only possible because humanity was stolen to slaves. We are however fundamentally human! We are all how capable of amazing cultural diversity yet we are human beings who are so fundamentally flawed and amazing.

When my dear friend Michal told me now she had been to Hebron with Breaking the Silence ( the ex soldiers of the IDF who speak against the occupation). I cried. It hurt me to imagine my dear friend seeing the absurdities that go on in Hebron under her name.

I knew she would suffer seeing what the settlers did there. How could she live after? I did not wish that for her. A collapse of her system, yet I was so proud that she did it in spite of it. And I gave her what I could do of most valuable…. My unconditional love.  I could never do that before but in this X-mas, I finally could and that is what I did . I gave full unconditional love to my two cousins who made me survive my disease. And then to Michal. I gave them, and thank them to make it possible for me to give it. And in doing so I understood that only being unconditionally loved we can venture in a human venture full of mistakes, pain, love, happiness. I gave Michal because I could, because I could, and because this way she could venture in the difficult journey of humanity knowing she would always be loved.

I walked these mountains as weak and as strong as I have never been. And I understood I too needed to be cared for, loved to be able to step one step next to the other. It hurt me to imagine some of my ancestors massacred these indigenous peoples of the Americas. Yet I could take the pain because I am not directly responsible for it; but most importantly, because nowadays I take different choices.  I do know, and understand, I am part of a whole process of colonization. And yet, I can walk one more step in these indigenous lands feeling part of it as well.


I hear all stories of Uribe and Farcs and Bolivarian ideals, and I am more convinced then ever that ideologies are just one more thing. Time goes away and takes it all. I take one step and I almost fall on a loose rock.  I have to ask help. And I do. Even when I feel so fragile to this help, I finally can ask for it.

And when I finally return to Taganga I go to see Yassert. He is my oldest friend here. He has read me. He thanks me. “Thank you, Just thank you. Thank you for my people” I am moved. But as we sit for coffee today I tell him. Yassert “ I know you crave to go home. I know middle easterners have different conceptions of time, and relationship of land.” I remember as I tell that of Hannah telling me of the people who go back to Europe to visit where they came from before the Holocaust and it does not exist. They all suffer.  So I tell him how much I felt lost in this enormous world. Always looking for home.

In Colombia, I know finally where home is. Home is in an encounter. For me it is when I can seat here and write of those who have no voice. I can be home where I am allowed to be vulnerable. Where my vulnerability does not oblige me to run. I take one more step.  I breathe in and out and the weakness of my body does not do much to me. I inhabit here now.

I sit and hear a man, Alejandro, an old Peruvian playing songs from Latin America. I feel home in his voice, in his music. In the fact that I take the guitar and I sing. I feel finally home in all that I am…. Till I loose grips to it again. I encounter Yassert one more time as I am about to go to my hostel. I tell him one more time I want to hear the Oud, and tell him to go to sleep and rest.

And there I somehow know that home is when we take care and are taken care of. It is in the cultural production we all have in the world. I feel exhausted but so happy that I could walk for 3 days the mountains. I feel mountains will always be where my soul lies. Where I can recover my sense of belonging to this world. And I could only be there because I understood in my whole my body that I could only be an individual because there were people taking care of me.