While Castañeda is busy making the international rounds as both a coffee spokesman and national representative, arrieros like Torres are holding down the fort back home. And being a local Juan Valdez does have its perks. Along with all the makings of Colombia’s cult hero—a genuine smile and a distinctive air, not to mention a mule companion—Torres can come and go as he pleases. The day after meeting Torres in Salento, Alex accompanies my companions and me to the El Edén International Airport in La Tebaida for our flight into Bogotá. A couple hours early, we sit down together for a beer in the terminal’s small food court. There, leaning against a wall is a mounted, poster-sized photo of Torres. “I told you,” says Alex, beaming. “My friend is famous around here.”
Women love him. Children adore him. And he’s a legend from Salento to at least San Francisco, where his framed photo occupies a prominent spot on my mantle.