Instantly awkward, my hands found surprisingly soft purchase on the love handles of a grinning Colombian whose demeanor implied such an interaction was part and parcel of a standard Thursday.
This was my first occasion to explore past the roadside eatery whose cheese-filled arepas are the only thing keeping my weight anywhere near an American standard. Today, however, I’d been too eager – no arepas had yet been made, and the morning fare was limited to embueltos. I find them to be far less satiating and far more confusing, as I’m never sure about whether eating the corn husk something is prepared is in meant to be a wrapper to be discarded or merely the outer layer of edibility.
Disappointed, I tapped into the Wi-Fi and, to my pleasure, realized the next town was a mere two kilometers. My non-standard brain did standard conversions and found the distance to be acceptable, knowing there were many more eateries awaiting, each of which had their own interpretation of the arepas I sought.
So off I strode in the direction of Villamoreno, keeping a cautious eye on the chaotic and never-ending stream of traffic while losing myself in an audiobook. Scarcely a quarter mile into my quest, my wary reverie was broken by the plaintive “beep-beep” of a motorbike’s horn.
I’m wont to ignore these, as drivers here often tap their horn for any number of communicative reasons, none of which I’m privy to. However, this effor caught my attention for two reasons.
First, it was the soft double-beep we’ve all come to know as friendly, the one we give when pulling up to a buddies house or when we’re feeling kind yet still wanting the driver ahead to pull themselves away from their phone and notice the light has turned green.
Second, this time the motorbike had stopped instead of buzzing by. I cast a slanted eye in that direction and observed a man about my age – or maybe fifteen years older or fifteen years younger, who knows – gesturing at me to hop on. I then recognized him as familiar, he’s ever-present at the house of the holy arepa and appears to be involved in the operation in some manner.
“Why not?” I figured. My daily intake of the cornmeal cheesey goodness was probably keeping the lights on in the place, so we had a mutual interest. For the second time in my life I climbed on a motorcycle with another man and off we sped, the brisk mountain morning air tousling our respective noggin carpets.
As we came around the curve into town, I flashed back to a country road in my youth. My mother picking up a hitchhiker. My two sisters and I were quite young, and it appeared nothing out of the ordinary at the time. Can you imagine? Today it might make the news, such that it is.
The motorbike slowed and stopped at a curb, and I tried – to no avail – to toss my man some pesos for his troubles.
I was reminded of the many disconcerting warnings folks at home had given about traveling internationally. All turned out to be false.
There is a common theme among the doomsayers – “crazy” is bandied about, often with a tinge of disdain. None have traveled to where I’ve gone. Their advice comes with an air of undeserved authority.
I was again reminded of the kind ride offered by my mother back in my youth, and settled on my theme for the day:
Everywhere you go is someone’s home.