La Calera, Cundinamarca: harmonicas, pilots and magic realism

At the crack of dawn, each Monday morning, Alejandro Garcia – the 76-year old pilot – drives his old red jeep up into the clouds to teach the children of Tunjaque the harmonica. He lights the stove in the dark, careful not to wake Gilma… or even less so Tobi, snoring in his basket on the kitchen floor. A bark that could bring the house down.

The road to Tunjaque is long and treacherous. The gears grind as the jeep churns and splutters its way up through the mud, boring a path through the morning mist. The Gavilán 358 he calls it. Small, compact, powerful. “The plane that built Colombia”. As he drives, his mind wanders up into the clouds, as he imagines himself soaring over Cúcuta, gliding over the planes of Villavicencio or looking down on Wayuú lands of La Guajira… Again and again he relives those moments. A game he plays to pass the time.

“Buenos días Capi”, they call out to him – waving, smiling, acknowledging. He knows that he is loved in La Calera. Capitan García. The Captain. “Capi”. He beeps back each and every time… the truck with the gas cylinders, the woman returning with milk, the men huddled around a brewing pot of tinto in the nearby construction site. Despite the cold, La Calera is full of warmth.

Alejandro is a pilot who has fallen 11 times. “If you fall, and don’t force yourself into that plane the very next morning… you’ll never fly again,” he tells me. Smiling, yet stern in the early hours. “That is an important lesson in life, Danny”.

As we approach Tunjaque it is clear that Alejandro lives everyday as if he were in that plane. He knows that if he missed a morning class with these children, he would never have the energy go back and do it again. So at the crack of dawn, each Monday morning, Alejandro García – the 76-year old pilot – drives his old red jeep up into the clouds to teach the children of Tunjaque the harmonica…

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