Four days out of Cartagena and deep into the green Colombian countryside, with its smells of fresh cut grass and sounds of singing insects and wide, smooth paved road flanked by tall leafy trees and hacienda gates and hills dotted with horses and cows...
I am reflecting on the opening line of the show Narcos...
Which (despite losing me 3 episodes in, due to a sad lack of character development, an annoying focus on the American DEA agent as the hero, and a failure to look at how a 56-year narco-war affected everyday Colombians) initially captivated my imagination with an idea, set to intoxicating music and a sweeping view of mountainous Medellín, about how:
There is a reason that magical realism was born in Colombia.
It's hard to describe how different it feels here, from every other country we've cycled through.
And although the overwhelming temptation is to look through the lens of the country's most notorious legacy...
(The violent nature of which is still so recent in the cultural psyche as to render the roads outside towns eerily empty, due to how unsafe it has been for decades to travel between them...)
And although the overwhelming temptation, when we want to communicate something powerful, is to explain it to death...
(Which, by the way, is the #1 communication mistake I perennially see smart people making... )
I will tenderly resist both temptations, and instead tell you a story about the something else I've begun to glimpse in Colombia, which has me in those intoxicating early stages of falling in love.
After a 30km start and at the behest of grumbling bellies, Bruce and I pull over at a lone roadside stand, on which there is painted a cornucopia of fresh fruits alongside the words:
"JUGOS -- UN REGALO PARA SU ORGANISMO!"
Translation: "Juice -- a gift for your organism!"
I wait on the road while Bruce ventures closer to enquire about food, when suddenly:
A thin reed of a man with a thick mustache appears by my side, and starts forcibly removing my bike from my hands.
... While insisting, in charming and melodious Spanish, on the fact of his duty as a man, to help a beautiful woman with her heavy load.
Once seated on the patio, Bruce and I learn that there is no breakfast...
But unlike at most jugo stands, there IS a whole plethora of fruits to choose from...
Including all 7 of the mystery fruits that have no translation in English, because they are unique to Colombia.
From this epic list we select lulo (which is like if a pineapple and a lemon had a baby) and zapote (which is blended with milk to accentuate its nutty flavor), and the juice man gets to work, chopping and blending while singing loudly in a throaty baritone.
Once he sets the blissfully cold concoctions in front of us with a flourish, he bids us enjoyment and swiftly disappears back into his house.
Left alone with our juices, we take turns sipping in delight...
And gradually notice the tango music that is wafting through the air from some unknown origin.
When the juice man reappears 20 minutes later, he plops down at our table, looks intently at each of us, and begins to speak -- slowly, and with great enunciation -- about the specialness of where we are.
"Yes," I offer after a moment, "here, in Colombia."
"No," he says. "Aquí, en este lugar, en este negocio, en este tierra, en que estamos en este momento!"
(Here, in this place, in this business, in this land where we are in this moment!)
"Si," I say, moved by his enthusiasm. "Aquí hay magia, se puede sentir."
(There's magic here, you can feel it.)
At this, he looks at me meaningfully.
"Si," he says. "That is the correct word. The precise word. For I am an artist, a declarador, a man of language, of poesía. The precise word, it is very important."
He elaborates on how vital it is to be presente to life; that it's the only way to live, in the here and now; and how the past and the future are gray but the leaves of the tree are always green because it is ALIVE, en este momento.
As he enunciates, I feel myself relaxing, my heart opening to this poet who initially struck me as a maybe-not-to-be-trusted salesman.
I gesture around at the invisible music, and ask if he dances the tango.
Not really, he says, but he is learning for an event in town later this month.
"That's great," I say. "Bruce and I want to learn salsa and tango while we're here."
At this, another meaningful look. "Pues," he says. "Ven."
"What?" I say, as he pushes his chair back and stands up.
"Come," he declares. "As you agree, the time is now!"
Amused and curious and unable to refuse, we follow him through his immaculate house...
And out to the back patio, where his wife is waiting to resume their tango practice.
When she sees us, her mouth drops in surprise.
He claps his hands and announces: "Tenemos público!"
("We have an audience!")
Bruce and I take the proffered seats.
Husband and wife take their positions at a distance from one another.
And the moment the music starts -- the juice man is transformed.
In an instant, he no longer looks like a thinning 60-year-old poet with a mustache who makes fruit juice by the side of the road.
Rather, he seems to grow in height and vitality, into the very epitome of seduction, poise, and masculinity.
As they dance, I sit clapping and swaying to the music with a huge, stupid grin on my face.
I laugh with them as they endearingly stop-and-re-start the song three times to get it right.
I watch as his wife -- a woman who is easily in her 50's -- holds her husband's hands and twists her joined knees from side to side while descending, until she is entirely crouched on the ground...
... From which she rises smoothly up to standing, as though it isnothing.
As though her knees are those of a teenager, I think in amazement, my own knees whimpering their protest.
When they finish, the wife is laughing in faux-embarrassment and I am exclaiming:
"Brillante! Meravilloso! Qué regalo nos han dado!"
(Brilliant! Marvelous! What a gift you've given us!)
And although I fail terrifically when the juice man asks ME to dance...
And although Bruce fails terrifically when the wife asks HIM to dance...
Their spell has been cast -- our organisms, gifted.
And this present-moment-magic follows us, through rolling green hills, for the rest of the day.