I´ve decided to consolidate some of the trip diary that I´ve been writing, so here goes.
Day 1 in Santa Marta
We´re currently staying at a place called Condomino Santa Maria Del Mar. It´s a large block of rentable apartments where you can basically set up shop and cook all your own meals and such. It´s a nice little self sufficent space right on the beach – the ocean is right across the street. The first unit that they put us into had no hot water, which kind of sucked to find out the first time that we had to take showers.
Along the beach are little blue awning-y type things that local people set up to shield you from the painfully strong sun down here by the equator. I think they are rentable spaces, but I haven´t checked. We sat under one the first day we got here, and my godparents ended up paying for everything, so I don´t know if you had to rent them or not. The ocean was ´angry´ as madrina put it, with huge waves that crashed on the shore and large swells that tossed us around along with an enormous amount of other people. It was great fun, but it made getting in and out a little perilous.
Madrina suggested that I get my hair beaded and braided so that I wouldn´t have to mess with it too much throughout the trip, so I did. That took about an hour, and the woman braiding my hair regaled us with a wonderful tale of meeting her true love recently. At one point, she answered the phone and started grinning, saying “Aye, pape, mi vida” and such. It was very sweet. She even made kissy noises into the phone, which made me and padrino laugh.
A roving band consisting of an accordian player, a conga drummer, a singer, and a guy with a buacharaca (sp?) set up shop next to us, playing for the people in the next shaded section, and we rocked out to the great music. They played for about an hour, then moved on.
As the sun started to set, fresh fish dinner was ordered from one of the local places on the playa, and they brought tables, chairs and the entire dinner right out to you on the beach so you could eat while you watched the sun glitter across the water. It was both beautiful and delicious.
Throughout the night, little roving troupes of musicians walk along the playa, playing requests for very cheap fees. They completely rock out, and it´s hard not to get up and start dancing to the music, especially when there´s a large group of people gathered around them handing out rum and waving people on to dance.
At one point, we saw a momio – a street mime, that walked along the playa impersonating people, which actually turned out to be really entertaining. When he chose to speak, he had a really high childish voice as an affectation of his character. He was really good and actually made me hate mimes a little less. He didn´t do any of that ´oh, I´m trapped in a box´ or ´ooh, it´s windy´ crap, which helped.
At some time during the night, I got on a mule drawn carriage with my godparents and the lady that rented us the apartment, and the driver took us all around the city while he explained details of various buildings and such. I couldn´t understand most of it, so I just watched as we passed by old hotels, poor neighborhoods and rich neighborhoods alike. The poor people here are so painfully so that it´s rough to see their living conditions. Especially in this heat.
We ended up staying on the beach until 11 that night, then heading off to bed.
Day 2 in Santa Marta – Halloween
We ended up taking a little, colorful, rickety bus called a chiwo (goat) to Central downtown Santa Marta. We ended up going through the Sierra Nevada mountains, and the view was spectacular. The mountains are fairly covered with tall, thin cactuses and brush. As we crossed over the top of the mountains, you could see lots of little houses dotting the sides of the mountains going down into the valleys.
In the city, we ended up going to a museum about the local indigenous indians, their customs, their tribes and their lifestyles. The museum itself had fascinating little exhibits, and madrina did her best to translate what our guide was saying to us as we walked throughout it. Apparently, when somebody died in their culture, the body was entombed in a regular sized grave with a string tied around it that would eventually decompose to the point of breaking. When the string broke, the indians knew that it was time to take the bones out of the grave and assemble them into a smaller crypt, where they´d place both the bones and the valuables of the people interred within.
They had a skeleton buried in earth in a glass case, and off to the side an example of what the bones would look like after they were exhumed and placed into the container in which they would spend the rest of time.
From there, the bus then took us to a small shoreline full of little tour boats. The boat took us to another smaller beach, around a range of mountains. We again had fresh fish on the beach, and splashed around in the water enough for me to get a sunburn on my shoulders – but I didn´t really realize this until we were heading back to the apartment later in the day. Again, there were the strolling merchants offering up their wares to any interested tourists. A great many of them are pretty eager, and seem as if they´re forcing things on you, but as long as you say, “No, Gracias” they pretty much piss off and leave you alone.
Later, we took another little boat trip to a smaller, private beach where people snorkeled and checked out fish. I collected a huge pile of stones and coral with Madrina, then we headed back to the boat and were taken back to the pickup point at the initial beach.
There was a vendor on the street, an old guy, with a great collection of coral and shells, as well as ocean seeds. I checked one of these seeds out, and the guy apparently explained to madrina that if you rubbed it against an inflammation, it would bring down the swelling. For some reason, the look and feel of it interested me, and I asked him how much it was – and he gave it to me. I grinned and kissed him on the cheek, which I think startled him, but he smiled.
He then went to go get something, and came back with these strange white rock looking things that he explained were ´fish eyes´. He said that if you put lime juice on them, that they would move of their own volition, and that they had great powers. He told us the story of a local baby that had died: somebody placed one of these fish eyes on the baby´s forehead, and the baby sat up and was fine. He handed us several of them, giving them to us. He was very generous and sweet.
If I ever find any recently dead babies, I´m so totally trying the ´fish eye´ thing on them.
It was beginning to rain a little, so the packed us into a minivan-bus thing, where we went to yet another little beach. We all went in the water, and when I tipped my head back to dunk it, a group of guys beside me started saying something I couldn´t understand, but it sounded urgent, so I assumed that a jellyfish or something was behind me. I squeaked and started moving quickly away from whatever it might be, and madrina explained that they were trying to tell me that my sunglasses had fallen off into the water.
Sheepishly, I explained what I thought they were saying, and Madrina laughed and explained it to them. Several of them dove down to try to find them – the water wasn´t yet over our shoulders if we were standing, but nobody could find them. It was a valiant attempt, and I thanked them and apologised for being thick in the head.
We then headed back to the hotel. There´s a little island a ways off in the surf that looks fascinating. Apparently, it´s populated by Columbian Mafia, so it´s not a place we´ll be visiting. It looks swank, though.
There was awesome heat lighting throughout the night, and I stayed up watching it and listening to the roving bands on the beach play for about an hour or so before heading to bed. This was the ´chain lightning´ that I mentioned earlier. It was the most magnificent natural display I´d ever seen – but then I´ve never witnessed the Aurora Borealis, so, who knows? That was the only night for the jittery chain lightning, though. I haven´t seen it since.
Also, at some point throughout the day, I went with madrina to visit her family in her old neighborhood. All the children were running around trick or treating in cool little costumes – most of the girls were dressed like gitanas (spanish gypsies) and I saw a couple of power rangers and a doctor with a little plastic medical kit that would put a real doctor to shame.
Day 4 in Santa Marta – Dia De Los Muertos
I went with Madrina to the one cemetary in Santa Marta, to visit the grave of her father with her. He was apparently a very famous radio announcer years ago. The cemetary was enormous, and there was a large swell of people outside waiting to get in. As madrina and her aunt bought flowers for the dead, I watched a coffin being unloaded out of a truck and being lifted up onto the shoulders of the crowd and carried into the cemetary.
Once the flowers were purchased, we headed inside the enormous white gates. I was amazed at how rinky dink it made the cemetaries in New Orleans look. These hallowed halls of the dead truly are Cities of the Dead in every sense of the word. Long pathways lay alongside enormous white buildings housing entire families, as well as corridors that run along tall walls of single cubicle units that house the bones of the dead. After the bodies in the cemetaries decompose to the point of being only bones, they´re exhumed and placed into small er units so that the cemetary can house more bodies.
Madrina had to go do some other things in Barranquilla, so I stayed with her aunt in the cemetary as she placed flower and put fresh water to several other gravesites. Everybody knew this little old woman, and she was very sweet and chatty. She spoke no english, but through the joy of pantomime, we actually figured some things out, which was good.
The last grave that we went to had a broken piece of pottery where the flower receptacle was. The family beside it was putting new clay flower holders as well as a really pretty painted tile on the front of a family gravemarker and one of them used a little of the leftover clay that they were using to help her mend the broken flower receptacle on her grave. It was so touching, I almost cried. Everybody helps each other here, with as much as they can, and that´s so powerful and moving that it almost breaks my heart.
Afterwards, we caught a taxi back to the apartment. Madrina´s aunt rode with me to insure that I got where I needed to go, but she didn´t know the name of the place, and neither did I. The driver indicated that he´d drive around until I recognized it, and we found it fairly quickly. I was proud of myself that I understood some of what he was saying.
Later that day, I ran out into the water and splashed around on a jetski, which was sassy as hell. The motorcycle of the water, dare I say. It was way fun. I then walked back to Padrino and I think we went back upstairs where Madrina´s cousin Rosanna cooked us dinner. She´s very sweet and helpful, and is apparently studying psychology. She´s very sharp, but knows very little english. We´re slowly teaching each other, and we want to stay in touch when I get back home so that we can practice our multilinguistic skills.
Day 5 in Santa Marta – November 3rd
I woke up very homesick, and cried a little while Madrina hugged me. After having gotten that out of the way, I felt much better. It was like I had to acknowledge the homesickness, to purge it. I received a painful massage from a lady that didn´t really know what she was doing. I´ll have to rectify this by going to my massage therapist in DC when I get back home to work out some of the kinks. During the massage, a huge, loud thunderstorm rolled through the mountains and over the ocean.
It sent a white fog through the valley and a noisy rain tapping on the windows and everything outside. It was brilliant. When the lightning died down, I ran out into the ocean while it was still raining and pretended that I was stranded in the middle of the ocean waiting for rescue. I have no idea why this made me feel much better, or why I had so much fun doing it, but there you go. It was very surreal and energizing.
This from the girl who used to take a bath as a kid and turn on the shower to pretend that I was in a submarine that had just been struck. I was a wierd kid, but most of you knew this already.
I´d used up the film in the first instamatic camera and got the pictures developed – two copies, one for me, and one for my godparents. I also got a CD made so that I can throw the pictures online easily. They came out good, for the most part, but I think they´re too light.
Later, went with madrina and rosanna to Central Santa Marta to check out the shopping there, but I found that I really like the beach apparel more. We ended up hitting a couple of the enormous churches in the middle of town, and I took a couple of pictures of them because I love religious imagery with angels for some reason.
When we got back to the apartment, we had a frenzied politial discussion about Cuban, Colombian and American politics which was very informative. I learned a great deal. I want them to meet Mom and Bob so that we can all talk politics and social stuff. I think they would all get along famously.
Tonight, I couldn´t stay in the apartment and wanted to go find the wandering bands. I found that the group that I like most has a lead singer that looks like a dead ringer for my boss. I almost fell over. I took a picture and will be showing him when I get back. I watched them play and a large group of about ten people dancing and laughing and having a good time before one of them handed me a camera and made the universal gesture for, “Could you please take a picture of us?” I did so, happily, then got handed another camera. After that picture, I then took one of my own, and they all grinned.
A nice lady then offered me a shot of rum, which I politely declined. She smiled and nodded and continued dancing. They looked like they were having a great time. I wanted to dance with them, but had lost track of the godparents and didn´t want to leave them locked out of the room – I had the only key. I´d go up and check, then come back down and listen some more, then go back up and check. Finally, I decided to go up and read to wait for them. When they got back, Madrina said that they had been looking all over for me as well.
We all went back downstairs and madrina and I danced to the music for a little while with padrino watching from his happy perch on a bench on the playa.
Up in the apartment, you can hear the little ultrasonic squeaks of the hunting bats. They stand out strangely when mixed in with the music and the sounds of people talking 11 floors below.
I´m slowly getting more comfortable about being in strange crowds, which pleases me.
Day 6 Santa Marta – Nov 4th
We woke up early after getting to bed at about midnight last night, and headed out to see Madrina´s wonderful family. The taxi driver pulled up to a group of men with flat, wheeled tables full of freshly caught fish that had already been gutted. Madrina picked out two large fishes, which I later found out were called Lebranche (sp?). Padrino said that they were ´lizard fish´.
We ate fish steaks with rice and plantains while a very yowly, insistant calico cat and a teeny marmalade kitten seranaded us for pieces of fish. The meal was delicious, as everything has been while I´ve been here so far.
Oh, except for one meal. I decided to try the Colombian version of ´fast food´. It´s just as crappy as the US version. And a lot slower – it took 11 minutes to wait for a ´chicken burger´, some stale fries and a coke. Blugh. Other than this eccentric notion for crap food, everything else has been phenomenal.
While we ate on the patio, a huge pack of motorbikes raced by beeping and yelling. Madrina explained that the police had apparently told the motorcyclists that they could no longer operate as taxis. I have to admit that watching motorcycles with four people on them at a time makes me queasy, and watching them weave in and out of traffic as they zoom down mountainsides makes me wonder why there aren´t more spectacularly horrific traffic accidents. eek.
Well, apparently the motorcyclists were angry and were now going to ´fight with the police´. And yes, the NWA song did go through my head. I belive I said, ´Oh my god!´, to which one of Madrina´s relatives chuckled. I had this really strange vision of an entirely Colombian cast of West Side Story with tones of Akira flash through my head at that moment, and I grinned silently to myself.
Everybody here seems to keep asking me if I´m married, if I have kids.
My answer so far has always been, “No tengo esposo, no tengo niños – no tengo problemas.” (No husband, no kids – no problems.)
The ladies always nod and laugh when they hear this.
And this brings us up to the present where I´m sitting here in the blessed air conditioning typing this all out furiously. Later today, I´m going to jump back into the ocean and laugh and be happy. I´ll bring home warm stuff and happy squidgies for everybody, and keep updating as much as I can while I´m here.