The story unfolds almost entirely through Jorge and Mariella's, eyes.
The action takes place over the course of one week in October, 2010.
05% Screen-time INTRO Dad disappears from family home in Cali.
25% Screen-time ACT I Salento revealed: Silvio, Edgardo, Grandma, Emmanuel
35% Screen-time ACT II Dad rescue plan takes shape; townsfolk all involved.
30% Screen-time ACT III Plan goes into action, but boggled. Kids take over.
05% Screen-time OUTRO Trajectories of Jorge, Mariella and Emmanuel
Compound Salento Family home, a concrete farmhouse hovel.
Backyard of the Compound - muddy yard, roughly tacked-together stables.
Carrera 9 Street outside the Compound; a steep concrete hill.
Donde Mi Apá Silvio's bar. On the Town Plaza, directly opposite the church.
Luz Foundation Lovely restored neocolonial with a loggia and verdant gardens.
Church Dominant Town Plaza feature: elaborate geometric patterns.
Town Plaza Central Fountain, wide road circling the interior garden.
300 Steps Steep blue and yellow concrete staircase near the Town Plaza.
Indoor Soccer Arena Vast domed arena: sounds are amplified 100 fold.
Via Palestina Winding rugged narrow country road.
Rosa (Mom, 40)
Juan-Carlos (Dad, 42)
Edith (Emmanuel's Mom, 35)
Marta (Emmanuel's Grandma, 65)
Humberto (Emmanuel's Grandpa, 63)
Sargo (Humberto's assistant, 25)
Isabel (Silvio's daughter, 7)
Edgardo (Luz foundation Director, 75)
Silvio (Donde Mi Apá Bartender, 32)
Cali Home: Music Studio/Office
Rosa (40) is preoccupied with her music composition. Her husband, Juan-Carlos (42) - whistling the Tapaculo bird song - dashes in and out of the studio. He's assembling birding and field gear so he can check out a rare sighting of the bird. He's driving Rosa a little nuts, with his packing frenzy.
Cali Upscale Residential Neighborhood
Siblings Mariella (13) and Jorge (12), in their disheveled prep school uniforms, laugh and bicker as they chase each other up the steep hill. They pass lush gardens, classy contemporary homes: lots of glass, white stucco, clean lines.
Cali Home: Music Studio/Office
The siblings burst in, just as their Dad leaves. Small kerfuffle, lots of hugs, but he's in a hurry. Rosa is bothered by his unusual evening departure. In the sudden quiet after he's gone, she shooshes her kids out of her studio. Then has an epiphany: she plucks out a melody on her piano based on the Tapaculo song.
Interwoven with Marella's VO: Mom curled in window seat with her cell, staring out the floor-to-ceiling window. Whole family hurriedly packs. Mariella snips newspaper photo announcing her Father's disappearance, slips it into a woven Andean purse. Mom tries to shove her digital piano into the back of the packed Volvo sedan. Wheels on tarmac. Restored neocolonial neighborhoods, bustling downtown, major traffic, rough dirt roads, lush forests, tires on gravel, tiny wooden cottages, stained-concrete one-room homes, farm animals in the road.
Paraphrase of Marella's VO throughout. 'We have to leave. Dad never came home. No idea where he is. Or where we're going...'
Cali Family arrives, meets Salento Family. Edith (35. Salento Mom) prepares a meal. The two families try to figure out how they're related. They don't succeed, but Salento family welcomes Cali family regardless. That's their way.
Jorge and Mariella wander into the muddy yard out back. Peer into a dark stall. Jump out of their skins when a white horse suddenly lunges at them.
Emmanuel (13) hidden in the shadows, is grooming the horse. He introduces 'Blanco' to Mariella and Jorge; but they're both a little afraid of the horse.
Early morning. Chickens in the street. Wandering kitten. Horse munching in a tiny plot of grass between two concrete houses. Eerily quiet.
Compound: Closet-sized bedroom/office Rosa is completely absorbed with her laptop and cell. Then overwhelmed by a sudden eruption of insanely loud sounds: yodeling street vendors, shrieking school kids, church bells. Mariella watches her Mom freak out.
Mariella and Jorge venture up their steep street, Just as they reach the top, a herd of Horses (Pasos- high stepping quarter horses) thunder around the corner, flattening the kids against the wall. Humberto (63, Emmanuel's Grandpa) and Sargo (25, Humberto's effervescent assistant) are driving the herd.
Sargo sees a new audience; shows off his Paso skills - twirls, high steps in place - but suddenly both horse and rider tumble to the concrete with frighteningly loud scraping sounds. Grandma Marta totters by with two ten gallon yellow plastic containers, ignoring Sargo's antics.
The Cali siblings race up a steep set of blue and yellow painted concrete steps - leading, to their surprise - absolutely nowhere. They turn and look back, see the entire town below, laid out like a quilt, (population 5,000) anchored by the Town Plaza. They see, far off, a range of snowy volcanoes rising above verdant forests and pastures.
Hustle Bustle - of town activities, the Cali Siblings take it all in: vendors with their push carts, jeeps circling the inner garden, shoppers. Bells ring, church goers pour out. The siblings head over to a juice cart, but jump to avoid a black SUV sliding by.
Tourists - Canadians, Dutch, Germans - lounge about next to their jeeps. To Mariella's dismay, a cluster of German millenials, in high tech outdoor gear, mock the local tchotchkes sold at a push cart.
Mariella approaches a Soldier, shouldering an assault rifle, parked on one corner of the plaza. She tries to break his locked-in stare, asks for the location of a bathroom. But he won't respond. She observes, then, an elderly woman exiting a blue painted door, figures it out. Jorge watches Mariella disappear through the blue door.
Inside Mariella, wanders a maze of narrow corridors. Finally enters an inner courtyard - finds a porta-potty. Pays 2,000 pesos to an ancient woman, much to woman's surprise. Gets three tiny squares of toilet paper in exchange.
Jorge, tired of waiting for Mariella, follows a gaggle of middle-school kids to an indoor soccer arena.
Indoor Soccer Arena
A dozen shrieking kids, the sound is deafening. Half the kids wear cheap polyester shirts, the others wear no shirts.
They dribble and pass an undersized pink soccer ball with expert speed and precision. (They can't slide or fall down on the concrete so they compensate with extra dexterous dribbling.) Jorge sees Emmanuel on the shirted team. Emmanuel invites him to play. Jorge, looks down at his sandals dubiously, but joins in anyway. Emmanuel twice whiffs a pass. But Jorge, is in his element; makes some brilliant plays. Emmanuel, unnoticed now, slips out.
Mariella, now outside the Baño, can't find Jorge. While uncertain what to do a giant clacking Chucarra bug (3 inch beetle) lands on her shoulder. She's apoplectic. A tiny sweet girl, Isabel (7) laughs - flicks the Chucarra bug away. Isabel, carrying her violin case, drags Mariella into Donde Mi Apá bar, right next door to the Baño.
Donde Mi Apá
Isabel's father, Silvio's, bar - the ceiling and walls displaying ancient trombones, tubas, cooking vessels, stuffed fish. Mariella meets dour Silvio (32.) Discovers Silvio's giant 2 foot square ledger book, cataloguing 25,000 songs all tabbed with numbers. Silvio takes Isabel to her music lesson. Mariella begs to go along.
Isabel and five other youngsters listen to their teacher, Gabriella (18) as she walks around the table behind them, shaking a can filled with unknown objects. Mariella watches carefully.
Edgardo (Foundation director, 75) shows up, teases the little musicians, but rewards them with candy treats. He notices Mariella, observing from the background. He takes her on a tour. Explains:
- That music programs have disappeared in the FARC wars.
- He already knows why Mariella and her family are in town.
- He knows her father's disappeared.
Jorge, dragging a stick, heads down the street - noting the brightly painted trimmed homes. Each has a single window, each has one person framed in the window, watching him go by. He heads to the Compound but stops when he hears the sharp clatter of hooves.
Humberto, at the bottom of the steep street, arms crossed, teaches Emmanuel the trochagait. Humberto is grim, a task master; he asks Emmanuel to try again, over and over. Emmanuel loves it, joyfully tries again. Humberto sees that Jorge is watching, offers him a riding lesson. Not right now, thank you.
Rosa's absorbed with Google maps on her laptop. Ignores huge bowl of rice and pork right next to her. Ignores her kids: Mariella wants music lessons, Jorge wants soccer shoes.
Rebuffed, the siblings wander into the terrace and backyard stables. Sargo is grooming a couple horses. He introduces one big bay mare to Mariella. She trepidatious at first, then enchanted. Sargo shows her how to groom her, and tack her up. Jorge, pretends not to care but watches carefully all the same.
Edith comes out back, proudly tosses a pair of soccer shoes over to Jorge. While Jorge tries them on Edith suggests Mariella sew decorative ponchos to the tourists for extra money. Mariella perplexed. Why extra money?
Donde Mi Apá
Mariella spins slowly on a bar stool, her Andean purse over her shoulder. Pulls out her father's newspaper article, shows Silvio. Isabel arrives, the girls chatter. Silvio scans the newspaper photo surreptitiously, then from his massive ledger, carefully transcribes a set of numbers from several tabbed sheets onto an index card. Slips in Isabel's pocket.
Mariella observes Isabel's solo violin lesson. The bridge on her violin bridge suddenly pops off. Edgardo helps fix it. He wants to know if her father, Silvio, sent over the 'music list.' Isabel had forgotten. She finds it in her pocket, hands to Edgardo. He wanders off, casually at first, then - once out of sight - moves quickly. He dashes into his office, bends over his desk, transcribes the numbers. He pulls out his cell.
Mariella wanders off. As she reaches the verandah steps she suddenly stops; she hears Isabel playing her Mom's tune, based on theTapaculo'ssong.
Indoor Soccer Arena
Jorge stands watching, his soccer sneakers slung over his shoulder, as the kids fly across the concrete. When the ball comes his way he asks the kid who's retrieving it if Emmanuel's coming. Kid doesn't know. Jorge watches a few minutes longer, but leaves.
Jorge, a little disconsolate, zig-zags slowly up the steps. He gets to the top, watches the Town Plaza, notices the Black SUV circling again. Something registers.
Sunday morning service drones on. Packed house. Mariella prays. A church warden, a very tiny old lady (80s) passes the collection basket. A chink of coins. Fat envelopes slap in. Edgardo drops in a 1 billion COP note. The tiny lady retrieves her basket at the end of each row; surreptitiously slips piles of envelopes into her pouch beneath her vestment. Serenely continues passing the basket. Priest watches plate passing ritual through narrowed eyes. But he smiles too.
While the clerk wraps chicken gizzards in newspaper Mariella and Jorge wander down aisles filled with endless shelves holding identical packets of eggs. The shelves on other aisles are filled with bags and bags of rice. Mariella, grabs the package, then double-takes when sees her father in the paper. Headline 'Arrested, held for bail, due to 'helping FARC.'
Grandma Marta stuffs intestines. Rosa's still hunched over her computer. Siblings show her the Newspaper; they're a wreck about their 'criminal father.' Rosa placates them. But then explains, 'We just need money.' Rosa tries to be optimistic, but her kids see her despair.
Townsfolk in the windows: watching, watching, watching. The Cali siblings and Edgardo, sit outside the gelato store, eating their gelatos. They watch the goings on in the town plaza: the tiny church lady buys mandarin oranges from the vendor next to the tchotchke seller. The Baño lady totters over to join her.
Slouching next to their jeep, the German Millenials study topo maps. Jorge wander over, distracts them with myriad questions about their high-tech gear. Mariella, unnoticed by all, steals the Germans' fanny pack.
Evening. Siblings watch Emmanuel tack up his horse, Blanco. Humberto adds bulging saddle bags. Mariella slips her Andean purse into one of the saddle bags.
Mariella and Jorge, watch the street from the compound's balcony. They see the black SUV motoring slowly down Carrera 11, about to turn right onto their street, Carrera 9, at the top of the hill. But a herd of cows meanders into the intersection just at that moment. The cows are herded by Sargo. Humberto waits at the corner with Blanco. Rosa huff and puffs up the steep hill. Humberto hands Blanco over to Sargo, who jumps on, wheels Blanco around in a tight curve, ready to dash off - but once again, hooves splay out - Sargo's tossed. This time he doesn't get up.
Blanco clip-clops off down the street, reins dragging.
The SUV starts backing up. But Grandma, carrying her heavy oil jugs, wobbles across the street, blocking its way. She's followed by the tiny church warden, carrying ponchos.
Unnoticed by anyone, Emmanuel catches up with Blanco, leaps on and canters off.
Rosa, frantic, tries to help Sargo. She yells up to her kids on the balcony - they need to get help from the hospital now. But Jorge and Mariella are nowhere to be seen.
Emmanuel briskly (in trochagait) careens down the winding steep dirt lane, through dense forest.
Medics deal with Sargo. Humberto dashes about looking for Blanco. Yells for Emmanuel too. Can't find him anywhere. Rosa, Humberto, Edith - realize as one: all three kids are missing.
Mariella and Jorge ride - slowly and awkwardly - after Emmanuel. They see him ahead, trotting trochagait. But suddenly he's gone, swallowed up by the forest.
Mariella and Jorge reach the spot where Emmanuel's disappeared, see a foot-wide rocky ravine plummeting almost vertically downward. And hoof prints in the sloppy red mud. Deep breaths, gripping the saddle horn, Mariella closes her eyes - the urge their horses downward. The horses' hooves scrape and flounder for footing.
Mad crazy scramble. Rosa finds Silvio and Edgardo at the gelato store. They jump up to join the hunt.
As Humberto questions the Baño lady, he notices some tourists trotting by on trail horses. Which makes him think. Humberto dashes back to his stables - flings open stable doors, one after the other, sees all three horses gone.
Via Palestina Bridge
A bridge over a rushing mountain stream. Emmanuel, placidly astride Blanco, is joined by siblings - they're freaked out, covered with mud. Now they wait. Listen to intense quiet, interrupted by occasional bird songs. Horses shuffle impatiently.
Emmanuel hears something. A distant motor. He trots carefully a few yards back up the road and sees, coming around the corner, the black SUV bumping its way slowly down the rough lane.
Emmanuel scrambles back to the bridge, yells at the Cali siblings to move. They protest - they want to pick up their Dad. Emmanuel says, yes, but we have to hide first. They scurry down the steep bank of the rushing creek, the horses gingerly step into the rushing stream.
Mariella says, "Wait. Listen.' They hear the whistle of the Tapaculo. The whistle repeats twice more. They see their Dad, Juan Carlos, limping out of the woods, leg in a brace, bandaged, but alive. And he looks alone...
The siblings are just about to dismount and dash over - but Juan-Carlos yells out, 'Stop.' Emmanuel sees, behind his uncle, at the edge of the forest , a dozen men in guerrilla camouflage with assault rifles gleaming. He jumps off Blanco, starts untying saddle bags.
The SUV slowly up crunches on the gravel, stops on the bridge. All 3 kids are frozen with uncertainty. Two women and a man, dressed in safari jackets, trail pants, basic explorer gear - get out of the SUV. Kids prepare to scramble.
But the three SUV strangers, almost nonchalantly, walk past Dad, nodding, and head to the guerillas at the forest edge.
Juan-Carlos watches the meeting's progress. Guerillas are now relaxed, their assault rifles down by their sides; it's a quiet, amiable discussion.
Juan-Carlos joyfully joins the three kids.
Rosa strums her Tapaculomelody on her guitar.
The rest of the family crowds around the big kitchen table - they're waiting for Rosa. She'll be there in a sec.
Los Nevados Valley Rd
Jorge, Mariella and Juan-Carlos, on Pasos, walk slowly along a wide valley road, surrounded by volcanoes and palm trees. Juan-Carlos explains to the kids- he couldn't let them know what he did besides studying birds. He couldn't even tell Rosa.
Donde Mi Apá
Rosa, Juan-Carlos and Edgardo drink beer at the bar. Rosa finds out her husband has been working with the political side of FARC for ages. Silvio, Edgardo, among most of the decent townsfolk, have been trying to counter the violent military wing of FARC for decades. Silvio shows Rosa a thumb drive, slips it into his laptop; the screen fills with thousands of song files. Rosa's shocked. Silvio, ejects the drive, hands it to Rosa, smiles. For the first time.
Isabel saws away - dreadfully - on her violin. Edgardo, glances to heaven in mild despair. Light percussion sounds. Edgardo checks out the next studio. Mariella, next to Gabriela - the music teacher - softly taps out Cumbiarhythms on her tambora drums.
The percussion continues, Emmanuel, on Blanco, trots along a straight wide open country road, sweeping lush green pastures on either side.