The Roosters that Kept Me Awake in Colombia
A bumpy open air jeep ride dropped us off in La Hollandita, a small sister community to the one in which Gale, my daughter, lives. A nun dressed in chino pants and a tee shirt greeted us, as well as a Bosnian girl and a German girl who both spoke perfect English. They, too, were staying the night, and would travel with us in the morning to La Union.
We all made food on the two burners that comprised the stove. The Bosnian girl had learned to make arepas (a type of flattish cornflour bread that could be sliced and buttered or eaten with cheese) while living in Venezuela for three months. After feasting and chatting we turned in for the night under our mosquito netting. I had feared that I would feel claustrophobic but it was so light and see through that this was not really the case. Gale elected to sleep in the hammock in the main area instead, preferring the open air to the slightly moldy cast of the mattresses.
Not long after I managed to drift to sleep I heard some kind of flapping outside my window. Seconds later a rooster close by crowed like mad, setting up a series of calls like the game telephone, and I could hear the ripple of roosters going around the small community. Then, like a wave, it restarted with the rooster by my window, delivering an equally urgent and compelling message. A dog responded with a long and plaintive howl, and this set off a new call and response from the roosters, not to be outdone by a single canine.
Pondering the reason why this was happening at midnight instead of six am, I shifted on my super firm two inch thick mattress and welcomed a bit of shut eye into my humid bed.
An hour later, a nearby cow lowed. It had probably just noticed a few pigs in its path. This received the same enthusiastic narration from the roosters who clearly could not let any comment go without a conversation. Who knew they were so freaking social?
Not long after I managed to drift to sleep I heard some kind of flapping outside my window. Seconds later a rooster close by crowed like mad, setting up a series of calls like the game telephone, and I could hear the ripple of roosters going around the small community.
I must have drifted off again because next thing I knew it was 3:05, and a delicate melody as if from a music box filled the air. In my extreme disorientation I could not place where it was coming from and after a minute it stopped. It was probably someone’s cell phone, though why it was ringing at 3 am was baffling. Fifteen minutes later the same bright melody repeated, again with no response from its owner. Or the roosters, thankfully. When it went off again I nearly jumped out of bed, ready to throw it in the large basin of water that served as part of the sink. I didn’t but I did hum along with the tune this time, not quite getting the last little bit right yet. I heard rustling and the pressing of cell phone buttons, and the creaking of the bed on the other side of the wall.
At four, the rooster contingent had something else to discuss, and the ring leader outside my window made sure that all the roosters in the community had it clear before settling back down. Close to 5 am someone a few houses down the grassy path demonstrated the “one up, everyone up” rule and blared Reggae so loud I was shocked that the rooster had nothing to add. More surprising to me was that there was no discernible human response. Were people so accustomed to noises of all types that they could screen out all but those that pertained to them?
By 6:30 we were all awake, making coffee and oatmeal, and preparing for our two-hour hike up the mountain to get to Gale’s community. I wondered whether the roosters wanted us to convey any messages to their brethren there. I hoped not. My Spanish was still weak, and I had other plans for my night in Colombia than deciphering conversation between the community’s fowl. Armed with my educational night’s sleep I breathed deeply and looked around at my spectacularly lush surroundings. And this was just the beginning. I couldn’t wait to learn about the rest.
Photo credit: Dale