art is a war 22

Santa Marta was the first Spanish settlement in Colombia and is still an important port and hub for Caribbean travel.  I hadn’t had time to do the trek to the Lost City the first time I was there, and now didn’t have the money for it.  There were day trips I could’ve taken, like to Minca in the mountains or to Tayrona National Park, but it wasn’t really a vacation I was on, as much as a reprieve.  The stress and depression were enough to make me wake up every morning feeling like my chest was caving in on my heart, like an aluminum can being crushed.  It wasn’t easy to be around so many carefree, young travelers, but I kept to myself and tried to avoid dampening anyone’s spirit.

The one place that was close enough to get to on my own was Taganga, a fishing village built around a bay, three kilometers from Santa Marta.  The bus that went there left from the cross-roads of Calle 11 and Carrera 11, about five blocks away from the hostel.  The cities in Colombia are broken into calles, which are streets, and carreras, which are like avenues.  Knowing this can help you navigate through unfamiliar neighborhoods, provided the street signs are posted.  Even then, you quite often run into dead ends and can end up desperately lost if you try to follow your inner compass.

I got to the corner and wasn’t sure if I was in the right place, so asked a policeman who seemed to be eighteen years old.  He told me the bus would be around in five minutes and it was.  It was a mini-bus, with only room to stand.  I couldn’t see out the windows and had no idea how long it would take to get to Taganga or where I needed to get off.  I tried to communicate this to the ayudante, or helper, but he was busy and told me to wait.  The bus started up a hill and began to swerve around treacherous curves.  Those of us who were standing leaned hard into each other and struggled to keep our balance.

Nearly everyone was getting off at Taganga, so it wasn’t difficult to know when we arrived.   It was Sunday so there were a lot of people at the beach.  Children were splashing around in the waves.  Vendors walked back and forth with cold drinks and snacks.  A man was selling bags of pink and purple cotton candy.  Music was playing and families were sitting beneath umbrellas or small structures made of tarp.

There were boat trips you could take, but I was content to walk.  On the walkway, beneath the shade of a trees, a band was playing for tips, with an accordion, drums, and a singer on the microphone.  At one restaurant I was trying to take a picture of the fish they had on display and got roped into ordering a red snapper.  It was about seven dollars for a plate that came with rice and beans.  I sat at a wooden table by myself, with a stiff breeze blowing in my face.  The fish was OK, but didn’t have much meat on it.   When I’d finished one side and flipped it over, what was left looked better to comb your hair with than to eat.

It had been a long time since I’d felt like I had anything to celebrate.  Even before the pandemic, I’d been aware that time was running out for me.  I’d boxed myself into a tight corner by sticking with my dreams.  Now I’d seen that they weren’t going to come true in the way I’d once hoped, and there was no way to catch up with those who’d kept their shoulder to the wheel all this time.   In many ways I’d been relegated to a wasteland, normally reserved for just the homeless and insane.

At the end of the beach a group of fishermen were sitting in the shade mending their nets, and beyond them a trail wove up the side of a cliff, the only way to access a few secluded coves.  I reached the top, amidst the distinctive San Pedro cactus that line the hills, and could look down on Taganga on one side and the further beaches on the other.  There was a wall there that had become a canvas for street art.  Someone had painted a giant, purple crab.  Four mushrooms spelled out the word LUNA.  A frowning pink cat wore a yellow duckie life raft around its waist.

When I got back to Santa Marta, I went to visit a small restaurant I’d been to before.  The woman there served papas.  Papas are essentially a ball of mashed potato, with either egg, meat, or chicken inside, that is then deep-fried.  Done right, it is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.  The woman, Juvie, I’d talked to the last time.  She had a braided weave and was nearly bursting out of a tank top.  Glad to see me back, we got to talking again.  When she found out I was traveling alone, she said that she’d like to join me, except that she had to work and take care of the kitchen. 

It had been so long since I’d been with a woman, I practically threw my arm around her when I got up to leave.  Maybe she was just being friendly.  When I came back the next day the place was packed and I didn’t get the same vibe.

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