Arturo de Quevedo stood rooted to the spot while his fingers traced the name etched there on the plaque bolted to the side of the ancient stone building in the tiny city of Pradera, Colombia.
The name was his own.
He’d come seeking knowledge of his ancestry based on obscure references in a moldering tome he’d discovered in his grandfather’s attic. The notes had referenced Oro de Colombia, which, he’d been told as a child, had been a myth popularized for generations by this family. In the margins, scratched by what could only have been a quill pen, were the words ‘Valle de Cuaca’, and ‘Rio Bolo Azul’.
“The Valley of Weather and the River of Blue Cake?” he’d said aloud when he’d opened to a page marked by a faded feather of some colorful bird.
His guide, the fellow whom he’d contacted online and who’d picked him up at the international airport in Palmira, took a step back. “When I read your name, I thought you were joking.”
Arturo blinked away his astonishment. “Why would I joke about my name?”
Chami Osso pointed at the plaque. “That name is infamous here.”
“Don’t you mean ‘famous’?”
“Hmm, maybe I get it wrong.” Chami stowed Arturo’s bags in the rented jeep. “You ready to visit the mining village?”
Arturo climbed aboard and peered through the windshield at the surrounding mountains. “Looks dreary up there.”
“That’s why we have a four-wheeler.”
Chami sped off through the narrow streets of the city, along the connecting roads and to the base of the foothills where the road joined up with the river.
Arturo happened to open the glovebox where he found a loaded automatic pistol. He palmed it and presented it to Chami. “Expecting trouble?”
“FARC never went away here. Every week new kidnappings in Bogota or Cali—they happen. You never know.”
Eventually they pulled into a mountain village, Bolo Azul. There, a monument had been placed commemorating the sacrifice of the indigenous peoples in their forced contribution to the rule of the Spanish Conquistadors.
Chami motioned for Arturo to step out. The guide slipped his hand into the glove box and tucked the weapon into the back of his pants. He led Arturo up the cobbled street. “Your name, Arturo de Quevedo, is funny because I also have a famous name.”
“Don’t you mean infamous?” Arturo quipped.
“Maybe.” Chami waved his arm to take in the scene. “My name, ‘Osso’ comes from the natives who lived peacefully here in these mountains for centuries.”
The two men stood in the tiny village in the semi-rainforest of Cuaca Valley. The clouds seemed anxious, swirling and shifting in the narrow canyon. Around them telltale signs of mining, recent and ancient, showed in the land, the buildings and in the faces of the villagers.
“There is a story they tell.” Chami pressed both palms up against the clouds, up against the vision of the mountain. “The oro, the gold here, belonged to the gods. When the Spanish came, indeed when your ancestor arrived, it is said he stood right here, Senor Arturo de Quevedo, and announced that he was a god and that he deserved the gold.”
Arturo looked around to find a number of villagers: women with colorful woven hats, men with dark-skinned faces, creased like folded maps had gathered. He searched but found few children, the youngest being perhaps a teenager. “The Conquistadors certainly held themselves…”
“And on that same day, it is said,” Chami interrupted, “my ancestor, Chami Osso, the poor villager, stood up to Arturo de Quevedo, ‘No, the gold belongs to the mountain.’”
Two dozen round faces looked on expectantly. Even the birds seemed to have quit singing in anticipation.
Arturo could feel the heat of the locals bunched up close. Not so much their breath or their bodies, but the intensity of their stares. He widened his eyes toward Chami, and then?
“It is said, your ancestor drew a pistol and shot my ancestor in the belly.”