The closer I got to Ecuador, the more the influence of the music and culture came from the Andes, as opposed to the Caribbean. When I went down to Parque Caldes that evening there was a group dancing in a circle to music that fused folk rhythms and pan flute with a modern techno beat. There were also three smaller groups of friends, in different corners of the park, playing drums, guitar, and flute, singing melodies I hadn’t been exposed to on the north coast of Colombia, but recognized from Peru.
The next day I visited some of the many churches and cathedrals in Popayan, and had just made it to the top of El Morro de Tulcan, an ancient burial mound on the east side of the city, when dark clouds moved in and it started to rain. I needed a down day, so didn’t mind much returning to the hostel and getting back in bed, spending the afternoon listening to the thunder and rain.
That night I had an interview with a principal in Beijing, for a job I was going to have a hard time pretending I really wanted. Still, I needed to do something fast, so had agreed to it and laid out my one dress shirt the previous night, hoping to straighten out the wrinkles. They wouldn’t be able to see that I was wearing it with a pair of shorts. The approach was similar to a mullet, which is business up front, party in the back, except this was work on top, vacation on the bottom. Five minutes before the interview was to take place, I logged onto Voov, and sat there dreading what was about to happen next.
It was the recruiter who came on first. She then put me through to the principal, who was a young Chinese guy who spoke English without much of an accent. The first thing he wanted was to get to know me, so asked me to share a little about myself. I was in the middle of giving him the educator version of my life, when the connection dropped out. It wasn’t going well. I felt like an actor who hadn’t bothered to learn his lines before a big performance, and was just up there trying to wing it. I was only able to reconnect for a few minutes, but it was clear to all of us by then it wasn’t working.
A few minutes later the recruiter contacted me by email about rescheduling, and I was relieved. What you need to do to get a work permit in China is a big hassle. I also had come to understand from a previous interview that working there required a daily COVID test. That sounded like a nightmare. It would be a lot of work just to get my hands on a little bit of money, because that’s all it was, barely enough to live on.
The plan was to travel to San Agustin the next day, so I went ahead and booked a hostel for two days. From there, it was onto Mocoa, in Putumayo, which I had a strange feeling was going to work out just the way it should. It was like I was being drawn there. Whatever happened when I got there I was prepared to accept, one way or the other.
It was much colder than it had been the previous night. I went back to the Parque Caldas to find something to eat, and found that it was all taped off, with police stationed at every corner. What was this? A return of the pandemic? A renewed threat from leftist rebels? No. In fact, what they were preparing for was a marathon. It was unclear if the race was taking place that night, but whenever the runners came through, they’d be ready for them.