I am swaying back and forth in a hammock on the deck of my family’s ranch in Colombia. The hustle and bustle of the city is long gone. We are a few hours outside of Manizales in the western region of the Andes. I close my eyes to slow down and soak in the sounds of the forest.
As thoughts fade away, I start to hear a symphony of birds. There are at least five distinct calls. This isn’t many, considering Colombia has the highest diversity of bird species in the world. Nonetheless, the melody is magical. Bugs hum in the background providing a steady baseline. Parrots, Baranquillos and Honeycreepers fly among the bamboo and gigantic umbrella-shaped Saman trees. Palm tree leaves flutter in the soft wind, mimicking the pitter patter of rain. As I look to the west, a sea of green lush rolling hills extends as far as the eye can see.
This is one of my favorite places in the whole world. I love it not only for the spectacular scenery but for the family history that resides here. This is the land where my father grew up and the ranch that my great grandparents started. When I visit I always feel a strong presence of family, from the current day and the past. I feel connected to my roots and I am at home at Maracaibo.
My great grandparents, Emigdio Jaramillo Ruiz y Lucía Jaramillo Rivera, purchased the property in 1946. The ranch was already built when they bought the land and now the structure is over 100 years old.
Over the years it has been inspiring to see my Tio Andres improve and modernize the ranch. Hundreds of dairy cows roam the pastures, while pigs grow fat in their stables. Most recently, he planted a beautiful citrus orchard. I admire my uncle’s passion for the land and ranching. It is a pleasure to learn about his work and interesting to see the differences between the ranch in Colombia and those where I grew up in Idaho. My father moved to the states as a young adult to study economics and agriculture. After his academic career, he ended up in the mountain town of Ketchum, Idaho. I was born and raised in Idaho, but I’ve been lucky to visit Colombia many times as an adult.
In the West, I’m used to seeing lots of sagebrush and some pine trees on ranches. But here in Colombia, we ride through bamboo forests with long vines hanging from the trees and if we are walking, we often have to protect our faces as we navigate through towering, sharp grass. The volcanic materials in the ground around Maracaibo make the area extremely fertile.
Fruit and plants grow everywhere. At the entrance to the ranch, my uncle stops his truck and gets out. He walks toward a patch of small green squishy fruits on the ground. They are my Abuela’s favorite fruit, acidic guava (guava acida)! They fall from the tree and we collect them for her to make juice. Acidic guava is very strong and has a similar taste to Sour Patch kids candy. It’s nearly impossible to eat without puckering your face.
My uncle also puts some elegant light green striped plants in the back of the truck. He takes them to use as decoration at Abuela’s home. I can’t help but estimate how expensive a similar plant would be at a gardening store in the United States! Here they are free and grow abundantly.
On the ranch, some of the workers wear traditional Colombian hats from the region. They have black and white rings around them. They are made of straw and their huge, floppy brims extend far past the browline. But, my uncle and cousin are elated upon seeing the straw Stetson hats I bring and they instantly appreciate their Texano (Texan) look. They note how well made they are and how useful they will be at the ranch. The straw material is perfect for the humid, warm weather in this region. My cousin Tomas wears his new Stetson hat with pride and later adds it to his hat collection at home.
Tomas will be the next to take over the ranch. He’s soft-spoken, but a funny character with a big heart. Some of my favorite memories at the ranch have been with him and my other cousins. Whether it is the memories of running around chasing ducks as young ones, racing horses so fast we could barely hold on, or collapsing after big family meals and taking siestas, these moments are meaningful to me. I am so grateful that, although I was born many countries away from them and into a different culture, they have shared this space, history and love with me. We are, after all, family.