The huge plaza in Villa de Leyva, Colombia was packed with telescopes and domed planetariums for the little town’s annual astronomy festival.
The white-washed colonial town in the mountains north of Bogota was packed with weekend visitors. Under the arches on the plaza’s edges, cowboy-hatted locals , sat sipping bottled beer as star-lovers queued to peep through the lenses for a close look at the moon.
Eduardo was drawing a big crowd. He stood out on the plaza if only for his enormous size.
Standing 6 foot 5, not including his wide-brimmed white Panama hat, he was a sight to behold. Draped in a white poncho, he looked just like the onlooking ,bemused locals but his enthusiasm for the stars was infectious. He made us smile as he pointed a far-reaching laser into the heavens and pointed out the constellations.
‘Look at that sky ! It’s so clear here, high up in the mountains near the desert. This is a magical place you know, close to the ancient astronomical site of the Muisca people who studied the infinite secrets of the sky long before the Spanish came.’
He spoke slowly for our benefit and was eager that we understood all he had to tell. He was a self-declared fanatic, a former paramedic whose passion had become his job. Now he spend his time visiting schools with a mobile planaterium, unveiling the mysteries of the Milky Way to young audiences.
‘Here on Latitiude 5, we’re nearly on the equator so we can see both Southern and Northern Hemisphere skies, you can only see one in your country’ he teased.
He pointed a thick,light-blue beam into the sky and showed us Mars which he explained was only the opening act of the night.
‘At 10 , Jupiter will join us !’he enthused,pointing at the sky, ‘Jupiter, King of the Gods.’
Three of us were excited, encouraged by the musical score which was echoing around the plaza and up into the dark, starry sky. First Holst’s Mars, the Bringer of War then Star Wars and the Jurassic Park Theme.
Jupiter’s arrival was still an hour away,so we left Eduardo and walked west along the huge cobbled stones to Sybarita Caffe. The owner, matching the astronomer’s enthusiasm, outlined our options, explaining coffee types and bean origins. He pointed out his hand-drawn Colombian map, showing us Cauca, Nariño and Quindío.
He set about his task like an alchemist. Firstly arranging elaborate equipment on the wooden counter top. Pots, funnels, filters and sieves.Then spinning an old lever,hand-grinding beans, releasing a heady aroma which whetting our appetite even more.Next meticulously measuring and emptying light chocolate -coloured grains into a gauze before pouring cooling boiled water down onto them.
We waited while he swept up stray grains with a little paint brush and marvelled at his dedication and fastidiousness.
‘Dos tintos!’, he said, placing coffees on our table. ‘Tinto here is coffee not wine!’
It tasted fresh,rich and sweet. Wonderful.
Nan who doesn’t even like coffee , drank and enjoyed it.
We finished it just in time, outside we could hear Holst again but now it was Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity.
Time for us to head back to Eduardo.