If you ever want to feel like you have a lot of friends, just move all the time. Often it is only when you are leaving a place that people come forward with their affection. A false nostalgia sweeps over everyone. You remember good times that never even happened. So, it was leaving the Monastery Hostel. It had been a rough stay and I’d suffered through one of the worst depressions of my life, yet the manager, Carlos, who’d come to regard me as a comic genius, was sorry to see me go, and the sad, long-term residents, the monks, all came out to see me off as I passed through the bars of the front gate one last time.
Walking to the bus station, I passed the school that had been playing the maniacal welcome song every morning. The nuns had the children standing outside in lines. They all wore matching blue and white uniforms, and just stood there looking angelic. Where was all that mad music and screaming now? It was the first time the school had been silent in a week. That’s how it goes when you finally leave a place.
At the station for Berlinastur, I got a ticket for the next shuttle, which was leaving in twenty minutes, and bought an empanada and coffee from the snack stand. There were only four of us aboard once the bus got underway. We cruised up the coast, along the sea, blasting salsa music, and there was little interruption until we reached Barranquilla, and ran into the attendant traffic of that sprawling city.
From Barranquilla it was two and a half hours to Santa Marta. Arriving in Santa Marta, the bus pulled over to the side of the street in front of a mall, and that was it. We were there. It was ten thousand pesos, two dollars, to take a taxi to the hostel I’d booked. On this trip, I had to go back and forth between getting enough privacy and dealing with the fact that everything was going on a credit card. I’d nearly drowned in my privacy in Cartagena, so thought I’d save some money by doing a dorm.
It seemed like a decent place. There was a lower bunk open with a curtain. Out back was a pool and a few lounge chairs. The girl who showed me around was friendly. I saw that they did laundry, which was necessary. If I wanted to take a tour, which I didn’t, I could do that through them, as well.
As soon as I’d put my stuff away, I headed out for a walk. It was another rough neighborhood, but I was told that the center was only five blocks away. I’d gone about ten blocks before I came across any sign of it, the Catedral Basilica of Santa Marta, a place of historic significance because the remains of the Liberator, Simon Bolivar, who’d died in Santa Marta, had been stored there for twelve years, before being returned to his home town of Caracas.
Soon after, I reached the pedestrian street, Calle 19, that runs into the Parque de los Novios, and is lined with shops and agencies, advertising the various tours available. Among the options was a hike to the top of Cerro Kennedy, a visit to the Rio Don Diego, the Kogui Indigenous Village, the Mina Nature Walk, and the famous four-day trek to the Lost City. I was three hundred dollars shy of the Lost City tour, but had recently been in Los Angeles, so would have to content myself with that for the time being. The rest of the trips, forget about it. This was no vacation. It was exile.
When I got back to the hostel, there was some action taking place in my room. An old lizard who’d been hanging around the common area in only a pair of shorts, was loudly complaining, claiming that my bed was his, as if I’d invaded a private room he was staying in at the Ritz-Carlton. The girl who’d assigned me the bed was frantically apologetic and asked if I’d mind taking the top bunk for just one night. Ordinarily, no. To have to give it up to that old lounging lizard was another matter.
Later that night, my water bottle accidentally slipped off the bed and fell to the floor with a crash. The small croak of alarm it elicited was my only consolation.