It’s Raining Mangos
“I’m telling you, we passed it!” The bus ground to a halt. I followed my partner up the aisle, disembarking at El Zaino, the main entrance of Tayrona National Park.
Tourists and locals swarmed the park’s entrance, purchasing food, water and supplies before their long hike.
“Perfect timing!” I pointed at the bus across the road.
“Forget it. Let’s go on foot.” He whipped on his baseball cap.
A stream of taxis, buses, trucks, and motorbikes whooshed by on the single-lane highway. The thick heat of the day weighed on us more than our backpacks as we pressed onward uphill.
The incline leveled off under the far-reaching canopy of a magnificent tree. Colombia’s sweetest mangoes, the Azucar (Spanish for sugar), lay split open on the pavement, releasing the scent of a sliced mango I purchased from a peddler in Cartagena. I halted. “Water break.”
Our steady stride resumed after weaving between the last of the spoiled fruit.
Up ahead, a sign beckoned. I squinted, deciphering the words. “Eco Hostal Yuluka!”
After checking in, the receptionist guided us around the pool to the back stairway. Steps, made of natural rocks cemented together, flowed down the mountainside like a waterfall feeding the flora and fauna and giving access to the private bungalows along its banks. At the third bungalow, she motioned toward a wooden sign. “You’re here. Colibri.” Hummingbirds. In many ancient civilizations throughout the Americas, hummingbirds symbolize rebirth, life, and protection.
The sun lingered above the horizon. The steamy, propane-heated shower enabled the respiration of every pore on my body; a special treat after a week of chilly showers in Minca. I stretched out on the hammock, my arms and legs dangling. The overhang of the palm-thatched roof shielded me from the afternoon’s final rays. The rhythmic side-to-side lulled me, sweeping me closer toward siesta. In the light fixture over the table, a mother bird skipped to her own sweet song, picking at twigs and tender fibers.
“Ouch!” My man’s pain ended my hypnotic slumber.
“This damn rock!” A boulder, protruding through the floor, caused another stubbed toe; but, its contribution to the room’s natural charm far outweighed the inconvenient location.
I giggled. “Ready to eat?”
A full-service restaurant with a bar was located on the premises. The otherwise outdoor dining room was covered by an extensive cone-shaped pavilion. Palm leaves weaved together covered the roof’s interior — a common design feature throughout the country. A variety of distressed wooden tables — built from planks or live edge cuts, either long chunky slabs or hearty round slices — added warmth to the romantic, yet rustic, ambience. Candle flames danced in pools of wax. An instrumental ethnic beat circulated on the curling breeze.
We dined in a far corner, enjoying the elevated vantage point. Branches with panicles of elliptically shaped leaves brushed against the railing. Camouflaged within, a trio of green orbs peeked out.
“Mangoes!” I hopped from my seat. The vitamin-packed pouches were beyond my reach.
From a balcony while in Minca, I watched the moto-taxi men picking mangoes from the tree under which they stood while waiting for passengers to take up the mountain to the Marinka waterfall. “Before we go home, I want to pick mangoes.” My words resonated with determination.
A simple mission, really. Mangoes grow year-round in the Magdalena Department of Colombia. Surely a trek through the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta to the Caribbean’s coastal lagoons over the next four days would provide ample opportunity in nature for a mango-picking encounter. Naturally, the indigenous Kogi tribe, inhabitants of Tayrona National Park, eat mangoes. So, the thought of picking wild mangoes (with permission from Aluna, or Great Mother, as per their custom) was a realistic expectation, indeed.
From the entrance at Calabazo through Playa Brava to El Cabo San Juan and onward to El Zaino, we reached civilization before the afternoon’s heat reached its high. Despite weariness and exhaustion, we continued to Eco Hostal Yuluka on foot once again. In passing, I jeered at the Indian folkloric wishing tree because my mission failed to reach fruition.
My stomach woke me, scolding me for its missed meal. Likewise, I scolded myself for not stocking up on snacks at the mini-tienda. I knew the restaurant would be closed; but, the basket of bananas behind the bar might still be there.
“Hey, I’m going out for food.” I nudged his arm until he murmured a groggy response. I pulled my famished body from bed and stepped into my sandals.
The waning moon lit the grounds. The bumpy path demanded careful attention as I climbed some stairs to a bridge behind our bungalow, which led to the restaurant. As expected, the kitchen doors stood guard closed and locked. Items of value hid in padlocked cupboards; the bananas were gone.
I continued my balancing act down the front stairway, expecting someone to be on duty for late-night check-ins. But behind the reception desk, a pit of darkness loomed, spewing blackness around its periphery. Only a red dot pierced the thickness. The LED on the computer’s power button greeted my impending frustration. I whipped around, my head falling back as I growled, “Now what?”
My eyes darted from place to place. “Where can I find food?” Then, my eyes collided with a white surface directly opposite reception. In the communal kitchen, the side of a refrigerator reflected the moonlight. I was fully prepared to snack on some traveler’s leftover arepas risking the damnation of my soul. I dashed to open the door. There, on the otherwise bare shelves, sat…. half-empty water bottles.
“Damn!” I smacked the door shut. My blood boiled, no doubt amplifying my body’s catabolic reactions which were beginning to eat me alive rather than keeping me alive; the gnawing feeling in my gut prodded me on.
The only chance of finding food now lay beyond the property; but, at this hour the front gates barred passage, enforcing an overprotective mother’s curfew. Nonetheless, I approached, hoping to flag a passerby through the bars; but, the metal gates clanked under my grip. Dogs stirred in the shadows, assessing the disturbance. I stepped back, praying for their murmuring to subside.
Silence resumed. I slumped away, backpedaling on the hunt to quell my hunger. What other choice did I have? Knock on doors and beg for food? My head hung low as I wallowed in self-pity because morning was several hours away.
Then I heard a bang followed by a thud. I froze. The dogs must have woken someone. My head pivoted every which way; but, no one was there.
I continued on tiptoes, expecting a figure to appear, but was interrupted by leaves chattering until bang… thud. I flipped around. A tree branch bounced for a moment. Was it an animal? Then, snap! The leaves resumed their chatter while a mango fell through and landed on the corrugated tin roof of a storage shed. It tumbled off and fell to the ground with a thud, before rolling into a shallow ditch.
My eyes bulged in disbelief. Was this a streak of good luck or a remarkable coincidence? A miracle? Or was this a response to my prayer and the cottonseed offering I made to Aluna shortly before leaving Minca?
More mangoes dropped. I snatched them up, two in each hand, and raced back to our bungalow. I plunked myself down on the front stoop. My pulse pounded with excitement.
I cradled a fruit in my clammy hands. Its skin cooled mine. Similar in shape and size to a cardiac muscle, its purpose was the same as my heart’s, without which I’d wither. I lowered my head, this time in prayer, and thanked Aluna for her blessing.
Then, my primitive instincts seized control. I bit through the leathery hide. Liquid exploded on my face and hands. Yellow rivers ran along my arms. With my fingers, I ripped off strips of skin and used my teeth to scrape away the pale orange pulp. I was a bloodthirsty beast, devouring the fruit down to its flat, teardrop-shaped pit. All the while, the crawlspace beneath the patio received the unconsumable parts I had tossed its way. My hunger subsided. I rubbed the juice from my face with the back of my hand and licked the large droplets of sugary water still clinging to my chin and elbows, leaving behind no trace of my savagery.
I returned to bed. My eyelids fell like curtains at the end of a splendid performance. A smile as sweet as those sugary mangoes spread across on my face. A wishing tree had rained mangoes just for me.