It was dark out as I hustled from the café to the SUV, idling on a side street in a small Colombian town. I had met Andres Cadavid only about 30 minutes earlier, yet I was joining him and his family for dinner. As I was climbing into the car, I thought: "This is Colombia. People are kidnapped here!" No time for second thoughts. The door closed, and we were off.
Eight hours later, Andres turned to me and asked: "Have you ever seen a party like this in Canada?" I looked at the scene. Dozens of magnificent Colombian horses, meticulously groomed, with the finest hand-tooled saddlery and tack, parading around with their mounts in the plaza of Ciudad Bolivar, about three hours southwest of Medellin. Bartenders emerged from their rowdy clubs to serve trays of aguardiente, a sweet anise-seed liquor, to the riders. Musicians strolled through the plaza playing Colombian folk songs. People danced with gusto. It was not uncommon to see three generations of a family at one table. It was four in the morning and I swear the crowd was growing bigger.
"No, Andres," I said, thinking of Toronto's carefully legislated public festivals. "No, I haven't."
It was the Fiesta del Arrieros, an annual 10-day party in this pretty country town in Colombia's Antioquia province. It's a celebration of the riders who work on horseback and muleback, bringing in such crops as coffee and plantains.
Life hasn't always been easy here. Torrential rains in the past couple years have damaged crops and the region still bears scars from Colombia's notorious drug wars of the eighties. Today, the warring factions in its continuing civil war are still very much on everyone's mind.
But here, tonight, the only danger is enjoying a bit too much aguardiente. Colombians love a good party and they're
superb hosts. That's how I met Andres. I had watched the paso fino (literally, fine step) horses, doing their distinct and regal trot, their horseshoes creating a symphony of clacks and clops on the town's cobbled square. Then I witnessed the crowning of "La Reina de los Arrieros" – Colombians love beauty pageants with equal ardour – and was headed to a café to enjoy a cappuccino before calling it a night.
I had taken my last sip when Andres and his girls sat down beside me. "You're an extranjero," he laughed. "We don't get that many here!"
I told him I was studying Spanish in Medellin and wanted to see some pueblos. That was when he took it upon himself to make sure I had a good time. While Andres spoke some English; he patiently allowed me to practise my Spanish.
"You must come to my finca for dinner," he said, referring to his coffee farm up the hill. "Meet my friends and family, then we'll come back to the plaza for the fiesta."
We ate a grand meal and then, as promised, we returned to the square to join hundreds of other locals singing and dancing on the streets.
Shortly before the sun rose, I texted my wife: "I think I may have been kidnapped – by kindness. I'm staying with a family who adopted me for the night." Then I joined my new amigos for a lavish breakfast.
Special to The Globe and Mail