They say it’s about the journey and not the destination … but we all are really eager to finally get to the promised cave. Although the scenery is great and it really feels as though we are about to live some kind of Indiana Jonish adventure, we have already been inside the Land Rover for two hours up and down a very bumpy road. We’ve been up since 5:30 AM and, AC or not, we’re tired and very sweaty. We are in La Guajira, but this is not the typical all desert, all beach Guajira you may already know about: we’re exploring what is known as the baja and media Guajira, the lesser known part of an already not very well known – and absolutely stunning- corner of Colombia that, as you may remember, Paul also visited a couple of months ago. (Here’s Paul’s post about La Guajira)
We’re heading to what is known as “the cave” in the “vereda” (a group of houses not big enough to be called “pueblos”) of El Chorro, we’re almost there and from here we can see the whole town of Fonseca where earlier today we had a very Guajiro “road breakfasts” that deserves a post of it’s own, and although I dont know it yet, I’m about to meet one of the most peculiar characters I have ever encountered in my Colombia trips.
In the early 1930’s Mr. Reginaldo Solano Bolivar was hunting with his dog in a hill not even ten minutes away from his house in El Chorro. As he had done many many times in the past, he was after a sneaky iguana or perhaps a guartinaja that he was already picturing roasted and served over his numerous family’s table. In any case his small crossbreed dog cornered their prey against a rock of walls , Don Reginaldo went toward his diner-to-be and bumped into some of the rocks causing a rumble… surprised, and after moving some of the bigger rocks he found a gigantic cave, hidden for centuries by the indigenous settlements of El Chorro.
Seventy- something years later, we have arrived to El Chorro and one of his grand sons, Jorge Adalberto Solano Solano , is guiding us – the group of bloggers and press members invited to La Guajira by Fontur – to the very spot where his late grandfather discovered “La cueva de la perrita” (The little bitch’s cave) , named in honor of his now legendary grandather’s pet . Jorge is 48 years old but, like most of the people of La Guajira he looks older, he never met his grandfather but he has been a constant presence in his life, after all he and his 11 siblings were baptized at the cave the very same day the town’s priest uselessly tried to change the bitch’s cave name to “La cueva de las 3 Ave Marias”.
His first memories of the cave go back to when he was about 6 and how the adults would forbid him to go there , something that of course he never paid much attention to. He never left El Chorro and eventually had six children, but his wife left when the youngest one was only seven, probably desperate about the solitude of the place. Now, besides taking care of his farm he proudly shows the very sporadic travelers the wonders of this cave.
The cave is really impressive and the first thing that grabs my attention is the dim light that directly but barely reflects some very old looking drawings ” Those were made by the old ones” says Jorge pointing at one of the hieroglyphs ” They used this cave as a refuge, to hide in case of danger “. The cave is huge and Jorge tells us he has only been able to walk a small portion of it , the most he has spent exploring it continuously is one hour, after that it gets really difficult to breathe.
Jorge takes out a rope and offers to take us to the next chamber of the cave. Most of the group declines and it’s decided that we don’t have enough time to do it, I wonder if it has more to do with chiroptophobia* than with time constraint issues.
On our way out I casually ask him if he has ever been here by night and, if so, how scary it was. “I’m more afraid of the living” he says “but I have had a couple of scary moments here too”. “Most of the old ones have some of their belongings, their treasures, buried right there were you are standing on” continues Jorge, and I admit I feel a current of chill air throughout my spine. “And once I tried to dig looking for those things, but I repented”
Don Jorge then tells me that he felt that if he would have started digging he would have had to make a pact with “him”, and that he had been tempted by “him” more than once to do so. Some nights, when he is all by himself in the cave he sees strange lights in the shape of bells and stars floating around and guiding him to where the hidden treasures are. “Him”, by the way, is none other than the devil himself, who Jorge assures has heard once while walking very late by night to the neighbor town of Fonseca. “I clearly heard a horse approaching towards me, as he was getting close I could even feel his breathing … and then when I turned back the only thing I saw was a lot of dust blown away by a violent current wind passing by my side.”
At this point Jorge is officially the most “Garcia Marquez” character I’ve ever met, but the magic realism doesn’t stop there. On the way back to his house we meet “Huachi” the Huacharaca, a wild bird that alarmingly reminds me of a Velociraptor. Huachi behaves both like a pet and a jealous girlfriend with Jorge, no woman is allowed to approach him without her either attacking or using one of her very loud and guttural warning shouts . Her story is also very peculiar: Jorge found 3 Huacharaca’s eggs close to a tree and gave them to his hens to incubate, Huachi was the only one the survived and grew up schizophrenically convinced not only that she was a hen but also some kind of guardian dog and possessive wife, all in one feathery package.
In the group, we all agree that this would be a perfect destination for trekkers and nature lovers, that Jorge should be trained by someone in the know so he starts profiting of sharing his knowledge of this area with others. And it is true, but in this case the journey and the destination are less important to me than the story of this man, a man that has never ever left his vereda and its surroundings and who lives happily among his cave, his crazy bird and a magical legacy of never ending caves and hidden treasures.