He had loved her. That he knew. Fiercely at first, and humbly for the rest of his life. They had collided in a world that was brand new. They ricocheted off of one another so intensely and with such speed that the strands of their lives became intertwined immediately, so intertwined that no thread was distinguishable from another.
Under the dying day he sat atop a piece of driftwood. He buried his feet deep into the sand and watched as the warmth of the waves swept over the sand and engulfed his feet before retreating back to the sea. He sat, he contemplated, he realized. Realized that the waves which lapped at his feet, which hurtled across the ocean without a ripple, which thrashed and bubbled against themselves as they approached the shore, were the same waves that had carried them here.
He was submerged in a sea of retreating colour, he knew that the sunset before him was a summation of themselves. Because a man loves very differently than a woman. There is no single infinitesimal moment which ignites the knowing. No solitary instant that her feminine upbringing has convinced her will come, a brief moment where something is triggered deep down within the depths of her being, a second of perfection where the entire world grows quiet and a thunderous drum roll is initiated by two beating hearts, ending in a cascade of fireworks and flushed faces.
A man does not experience such a moment, he had not experienced such a moment, he had loved like a sunset.
The sun fell faintly from the sky, sharp strands of coloured silk cleaved the horizon, emblazoned clouds turns the atmosphere into a formless mist. Like a sunset, it falls upon a man. Like a mist, it engulfs a man. Slowly it fills his mind and lungs and heart. Fills him until their is nothing left, until his insides strain under the pressure, until finally, like out of a haze, he can see clearly. That he loves this woman, and has loved her since the first time he laid eyes on her.
A man doesn’t have a moment, he has a sunset.
And as he sat under a dying day, atop a piece of drift wood, he gazed up at the sky and the sunset, and then to the most beautiful sunset he had ever seen sitting beside him.
Arriving in Colombia
After enjoying a couple of months back in Santiago, sprinkled with weekend trips out the beach, new friends and wild nights in the Barrio Bellavista, I was itching to get back on the road. The major Chilean airline, LAN, was offering decent discounts on all their flights throughout South America, which coincided perfectly with a 10 day break I had from school, so my friend in Viña and I decided we would take advantage of it and travel somewhere. We narrowed our choices between the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, Bogotá in Colombia or Caracas in Venezuela. Based on the cost and what we wanted to do we decided on Colombia. However my potential travel companion missed the deadline for the discount and I was sitting around Mr. Solo Dolo with a ticket to Bogotá.
Things always have a way of working for the better and luckily for me my girlfriend at the time looked up tickets from Canada to Colombia and offered to come with me. We made plans to fly from Bogotá to the colonial port city of Cartagena, a stone gem along the Caribbean sea, and from there head to La Playa Blanca.
I arrived a day before her in Bogotá and headed to the hostel in the La Candelaria area of the city, filled with historic buildings and universities it was the cultural centre of the city but also notorious for night time crime, or at least that is what the hostel staff told me when I wanted to go walking around at night.
The next day I returned to the airport to pick her up and we headed back into the city to relax before heading back to the airport for a third time to fly to Cartagena. We spent most of our time in Bogotá on the return side of our trip and I will be posting about my experiences there soon enough!
Like Bogotá, I spent most of my time in Cartagena after returning from La Playa Blanca, so I will post a more in-depth blog about it after this. However there are some things leading up to our departure to the beach worth mentioning. First of all, Cartagena is HOT, we stepped off the plane to a wall of hot, wet air.
We jumped in a cab that raced along the shore of the Caribbean, I chattered away with the taxi driver about Colombia and Cartagena. We entered the city through the large stone wall that protected the city from pirate incursions in its colonial past. The streets were narrow and lined with colourful buildings, their intricate wooden balconies loomed over and draped green plants. The colonial city was absolutely beautiful and looked like a postcard company’s wet dream.
We booked into a hostel and changed into more appropriate clothes for the hot dampness of the city, unfortunately for the locals this meant my pasty white skin gleaming in the sun. We explored the city and asked around about how to get to La Playa Blanca. We grabbed some local food and returned to the hostel to sweat the night away. Waking up early we headed to the docks to jump on a boat to La Playa Blanca.
¡Andate a la..
So the journey to La Playa Blanca was interesting.
Walking through the Plaza de Coches, the square that was used for the slave trade during Cartagena’s colonial times, we were accosted by a local man who was offering to take us to Playa Blanca on his boat, we merely had to walk with him to the other side of the city and would enjoy a cheaper fare across to the island. I mentioned that we wanted to check out the docks about 2 minutes walk away, he shoved pictures of his boat in my face and motioned to come with him, yelling in Spanish the cheaper price he offered. I politely told him I would prefer to check the prices at the dock before making a decision, almost instantly the price he said he was charging decreased, unfortunately for him this wasn’t Orwell’s 1984 and I wasn’t likely to forget the previous price to the flames of The Ministry of Truth. I repeated I wanted to check the prices at the dock first and began to walk in that direction, he exclaimed he would walk with me, and so we walked.
I had been in South America long enough to know exactly how this was going to end, and yet again he exclaimed his confusion at why I would pass up such a great price, which again had decreased, without ever letting on that it had been any other price previously. We reached the dock and I asked one of the girls working at the ticket booths how much it was for a one way trip to La Playa Blanca, and what do you know, it was identical to the last price he had stated, which was about half of his original offer. While I was speaking with the girl at the booth I could hear his agitation and when I turned around to politely tell him we would be going with the company at the dock, he blew up.
Now, by this time in my year abroad, my Spanish had reached a pretty advanced level, I had been called a gringo before, it never bothered me, I had been in shouting matches with chilenos, and I had quizzed my Chilean friends on the best curse words in the Spanish language, needless to say that this guy made a mistake going off on me in Spanish. I tried to keep the argument civil, there was a crowd of South Americans of all ages around us, but encouraged by a roguish smile from the girl at the ticket booth, and his incessant attacks in Spanish, I laid into him a bit.
I whipped out some of the classics I knew, “¡Hijo de puta!” “¡Callate pendejo!” “¡Andate a la mierda!” and to mix him up with a verbal southpaw I hit him with some Chilean ” ¡a la chucha weon!”.
In the end he took off and with some laughter from those around us and an approving nod from the girl selling us tickets, we walked through the gate and waited for our boat.
La Playa Blanca
The boat ride over to the Playa Blanca was beautiful. We hurtled across the waves of the Carribean, passing humble beach towns and mighty stone fortresses of the Spanish. Out of the crystal blue rose the White Beach, a stretch of beach separated from the mainland of Colombia by a thin river and for that reason most accessible by boat, a paradise away from the hot dampness of Cartagena. The white sand stretched for a few kilometres, its immense whiteness broken by huts and makeshift cabanas that lined the border between jungle and beach. We disembarked the boat and waded ashore, walking with our lives strapped to our backs and warm sea water up to our shins. We wandered down the beach waving to locals and chatting about cabanas and hammocks to stay the night.
We ended up agreeing on a price with a young Argentine guy for a cabana for the night, or should I saw four makeshift walls with a mattress on the sand and a mosquito net, all you could ever need in a place like this. We spent the day relaxing in hammocks, wading around the water and playing with a trio of skinny dogs that hung around the cabanas. That night we enjoyed freshly caught fish and local Colombian food consisting of coconut rice and fried plantains, as well as the first of many awe-inspiring sunsets (spoiler alert there is going to be a lot of photos of sunsets).
The next day we realized our money would run out quick staying in the cabana so we bid farewell to the Argentine and moved further down the beach to find hammocks we could sleep on for cheaper. We ended up negotiating lunch and a pair of hammocks from a group of young Colombians who ran a collection of hammocks, a few cabanas and a makeshift kitchen run by an old man who told me his name was Nelson Mandela. With our first full day on the beach, I turned into a fish. Transported back to childhood I splashed around in the sea for hours, chasing brightly coloured fish and swimming out until the sand gave way to a dark abyss. Blessed with another breathtaking sunset and a star filled sky devoid of imperfection, we wandered up and down the dark beach before retiring to our hammocks, swinging lazily in the cool sea breeze and falling asleep in paradise.
I didn’t want to leave, I was in paradise and did not want to return to the humidity of Cartagena or the dullness of real life. Unfortunately our money was running out, and it became a battle between food or staying longer. Staying longer won. We shared a plate of fruit between the two of us for 2 dollars and forego lunch in order to stretch our money out. The second day on La Playa Blanca was identical to the first, spent laughing in the sun and water and chatting with other travellers.
The following morning I still did not want to leave.
The money we had brought with us had reached the limit of just enough to get us on the boat back to Cartagena. So I set out on the most exciting trip to an ATM I have ever experienced.
I spoke to the guys running the cabanas and they told me the nearest ATM was over an hour away by motorcycle, we were in the middle of the jungle after all. But they said that one of their littler brothers, a young Colombian no older than 13, would take me into town. So I jumped on back of his dirtbike and we took off. I had been on the back of bike taxis a few times throughout my South American travels, but this one takes the cake.
We ripped through the jungle turning sharply and dodging low hanging branches, up and down hills of mud and avoiding ominous looking puddles of brown sludge. After being thrown about by the jungle, we opened out onto a brand new looking highway, the sticky black of the pavement still shining in the sun, we turned left and the little guy “opened ‘er up”. We were flying, neither of us with a helmet, me with my pack strapped to my back holding onto the fender of the bike, it was a blast, still in kid mode I laughed my head off the entire way.
Unfortunately like the opposite of a greek tragedy you must know happiness to understand sadness.
After flying down this highway for about 40 mins we came upon a small desolate town, it straddled the sides of a narrow brown river, and it was as if the river had overflowed and submerged the town in destitution. I had never been to a shanty town like this, and it affected me in ways that I did not even realize in the moment. We parked the bike and paid for a canoe ferry across the river as my young companion high-fived some of his buddies hanging around the river.
We cross the river and jumped on two more bike taxis, tearing through the dirt streets of the town we were soon back on a paved highway, passing transport trucks and weaving around traffic. Finally we reached an ATM in an obscure, dusty corner of Colombia, my heart was pounding hoping it would work, as I no longer had enough cash on me to pay the taxis. Luckily enough I was able to take out some pesos and we began the return trip. We stopped in the town and I paid the bike taxis before heading into a nearby shop to buy some food and aguadiente, a Colombian liquor that translates to ‘fire water’ and really it needs no more explanation than that. I asked the young guy who had drove me if he was hungry and bought him some food and a pop before we crossed back over the river and jumped on his bike to fly down the highway and back into the jungle.
On the way back we pulled into a smaller town were he informed me he had to let his friend borrow the bike to go pick up meat for the cabanas. I stood on the side of the road smiling at the school children who ran past me giggling, while my driver bought bread from a local pandelaria. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit nervous, being a tall blonde gringo, I was a big contrast alongside the Colombian town, and had the majority of the money I had left stuffed haphazardly in my pocket.
His friend returned and we took off, juggling the bags of meat, food and alcohol while trying not to fall of the back of the bike, we made it back to the beach in one piece and with the funds to stick around a couple days longer.
We spent those last couple days on the beach swimming and relaxing and soaking life in. They were some of the most tranquil days of my life and they convinced me that I was meant to be born on a beach, and since I was robbed of that birthright, I would die on one someday.
Sun-burnt but happy we jumped on a boat back to Cartagena, back to humidity, back to civilization, but never leaving the adventure.