Here’s part 2 of Intrepid Den’s trip in Columbia.
A strong wind gusted through and blew everything everywhere. Chico said it was unusual to have wind at this time of year and called it Viento del Loco – you can guess what that means. It seemed like a good day to replenish food supplies. Some of the little older shops have resisted change and still have goods stocked on shelves behind a counter. A couple of enterprising souls more geared up for tourists, have gone upmarket and opened bright new shops on the front with a more self service feel – except the booze that is, which is stashed firmly away. With drink, it’s the same everywhere – it’s all locked away and yet I don’t see anyone drinking illicitly – maybe it’s because it is all locked away. Anyway, I selected a pineapple as big as a baby, carrots that look as if they’ve been grow in the ground rather than on a production line and many other things besides. It filled an enormous bag I had a job to carry and then he told me the price – 8000 pesos. How much!? I mentally gasped, thinking I’d been massively overcharged but then realised it was only £2 – I keep forgetting to knock off three noughts and divide by 4. Once you do that, everything is nothing.
Chico also owns a restaurant – a pizzeria – he is Italian after all and tonight was the opening. I’m not sure if it’s been closed for refurbishment or whether it’s just opened, but there was a little party and everyone in the house was invited, including me. I think I am the only “guest” but I simply don’t know for sure. Once again, I had to explain my “alergia” to a disbelieving crowd who were simply not having it. An enormous slice of pizza was proferred my way – it looked and smelt so GOOD. My mouth salivated – I think I may have drooled. What was I to do? I gratefully accepted it and ate my first pizza for over 15 years and it was just magnificent! The melted, creamy cheese caressed the roof of my mouth, the chirizo exuded paprika and a meaty tang tantalized my tastebuds and the crispy bread base just seemed to dissolve like a shortbread biscuit. I couldn’t even think or see. I could only taste and make strange noises closely associated with love. The damage was done. What could I do but have another slice – in for a penny and all that, and then another and then another. I was momentarily so satiated that when I washed it down with cold Colombian beer from the bottle, I felt like a Roman emperor or even Bacchus himself. If this was the beginning of a downward path in the epicurean stakes, then saddle me up and let’s get going!
“I told you so”, I felt like saying when everyone gasped at my golf ball eyes in the morning. “This is what happens when I eat wheat , never mind when I eat wheat AND cheese. “ But you know what, I really didn’t care, it was worth it and besides, I’m not exactly here on the pull, so to speak. Thinking about it, I haven’t seen one attractive man the whole time I’ve been here apart from the jet black man who drums up custom for Super Mable and the like, but I wouldn’t say he is from these parts – not with those sculpted cheek bones and body of hewn ebony. But I digress…
Despite the visible disability, I once again headed for the beach, sunglasses firmly in place. Today, I thought, would be a good day to invest in a snorkel so that I could at least keep my face out of other people’s and for long periods of time, in the water. It was great! I could just swim. Snorkelling gives swimming a whole new purpose. Even when there is nothing to look at, and there isn’t, the sound of your own breathing is so relaxing. I swam over to the rocks on one side and then swam across the bay to the rocks on the other side. When I finally took the mask off, the pressure was so intense, I thought it might pull my eyes out and leave them dangling on my chest like in a Cormac McCarthy novel. I think, in some weird way, it might have also reduced the swelling or was that just in my imagination?
Back at Villa Mandela, there was a gorgeous young girl, not unlike Hale Berry, swinging in a hammock. Imagine my surprise when she turned out to be from Boston and spoke ENGLISH!!!!!! I was beside myself. I haven’t spoken in my native tongue to anyone who also speaks it since I left England. Even Andree in San Agustinillo was a native French speaking Canadian. She is here teaching English on a government programme. The Colombians have finally realised that if no one here speaks English, it will impede their progress. This seems unfair, but it is, however, true. The amount of times I’ve tried to explain to people that if you can speak English, you can speak to the world, is multitudinous. She is on a placement in the dire town called Baranquilla that we sped through on the way to Santa Marta, thanking god that none of us had to get off there. She agrees that it is a stink hole and unfortunately, is there for a year! But in any case, I am so happy that, at last, there is someone who speaks my language!
Imagine my shock when I got up the following morning and found 2 other newcomers – one from New York and one from Bogota chatting in English! They asked if I missed anything from home – yes, CONVERSATION! So I got their life stories in a couple of hours. Like the Bostonian last night, the New Yorker is here teaching English, but in Bogota. When I mentioned my horror at all the desperate people in Bogota, once again, it was received with bewilderment – “what desperate people?”. How can they not see them, they are everywhere!.
My intuition tells me that the original Europeans settlers have abandoned the heat and chaos of the coast and headed inland to cooler climes, thus leaving the Caribs to dance and party and, to an extent, get left behind in the development stakes. But if it means they have time to pause for a little dance whenever they like – and they do it all the time, who, I wonder, is having the better time?
Somehow, it was cloudy (which I didn’t expect – ever) and stocks were running low, so I decided to head back to Santa Marta to shop. I flagged down a really knackered old van, squashed aboard and 10 minutes later, I was further away than when I began. There is no route, no timetable and no reason. We finally rumbled off when the bus was full and rolled out of one town and into the other. I decided to try another restaurant for lunch which I hadn’t noticed before even though it was within throwing distance of Casa Familiar and who should be in there but Fabio. He greeted me like a lost lover and I think I managed to explain that I would be back there for a night before returning to Cartagena – at least I hope that’s what he thought I said… I’ve got a friend, Ray, in England who is fluent in Spanish, translating things for me so that when I do finally show up there, I can flash my laptop at Fabio and all will be understood…
Other than that, not much to report except to say that when the sun doesn’t shine, the whole place seems so much calmer. It could also be the calm before the storm both in the weather and as the whole place gears up for Easter. They’re even giving Villa Mandela a good clean (apart from my room of course…), although the newcomers complained of ants in their beds. They asked if I had them too – I didn’t have the heart to tell them I had air con and I didn’t even have flies, let alone ants.
My last day at Villa Mandela and I decided to, once again, walk over to Playa Grande. The Colombian girl who works here, thinking I hadn’t been before gave me three warnings: never to walk there alone, to take at least 2 litres of water and NEVER to be caught out by the midday sun – all of which I’d done the last time…
I wanted to try out my new snorkel, having been told that there was so much more to see. And there was! Near the shore, there were lots of tiny fish and over near the rocks, a bigger one that would look totally at home in a tropical fish tank and then I saw absolutely shoals of the lesser spotted peeled off beer bottle labels lurking in the shadows. They were everywhere! I doubt this was what everyone was raving about, but that’s all I could see and god knows I tried. I diced with death to outmanoeuvre the boats going to and fro and swam the width of the bay. I passed other snorkellers equally surprised – I could have stuck my face in the aquarium back at the hostel and seen more, but never mind, it was a good swim. I’m told that at Tairona National Park, nearby, there is coral and all sorts and as I am so close, I will almost certainly go despite the hour trek to get there – I’ve got good strong legs that can take me anywhere so why not?
I treated myself to a boat ride back. It only cost 5000 pesos (£1.25) and I was the only passenger aboard . I could see the path I walked and it looked treacherous! I did try to get the anchor man to take a photo of me but when I checked, there were just my feet – how does that happen? Lunch beckoned and whilst woofing down another super meal, I got talking to a French Canadian who’s been coming here for 7 years and confirmed my thoughts – when he first came, there was one bar, one bakers, one coffee shop, a few rooms to rent and no litter. How times change.
In the evening, Back at Villa Mandela, there were more people coming and going and even more little
boys than usual all sitting around the PC where they sit for hours playing computer games. I once again talked to the Bostonian girl, Alana. I asked what she does in the day – lays in the hammock mostly. I suggested we walk to Playa Grande together on Thursday and she was all for it. So, as usual, I have made a friend just as I am leaving but at least, this time, I’m not leaving for another city, just another hostel. She drank a few beers “Aguilla” which means “eagle” (suddenly the bonkers Werner Herzog film “Aguilla, Wrath of God” made sense with the little wings on his helmet) and I drank wine, trying not to look like a total wino, but I don’t know why I worry because no one here cares what you do. As I keep saying – this is Colombia and tomorrow is another leg of the adventure when I will be way up the hill at Casa Italia sharing a room with another girl for a whole week – god have mercy on her – I can’t even share a room with a boyfriend for a week without both of us wanting to kill one another!