I have just returned from a couple of weeks in Colombia, where I was touring the country. Every year I try to fulfill Shahar, my son's, last will. Unfortunately he fell in the helicopter disaster in 1997. My trip started in Bogota and then carried on to San Augustin, Medillen, Santa Martha, Catagena and more.
I am including some excerpts from the book I am writing.
The night was scorching hot in Santa Martha, north Colombia, and from over-exhaustion I was unable to fall asleep. At the back of my thoughts I could hear the annoying buzz of an ancient ventilator that wasn't able to even move some of the stifling air and make my night pleasant. Thinking of you son, what's happening to you now? Where are you? Give me a sign! Tell me that we will meet again…
You know what, son, your father is getting tired and beginning to doubt how long he can bear this mutual voyage. However, as long as I can, my child, I will put you on my shoulder and take you with me around the world.
Shahar! We have come here to a country of warm and friendly people, a country that is being wronged by means of electronic and written communication which describe it as a violent country with people who only deal in violence, a country whose women are beautiful, vivacious and bursting with sensuality from the top part of their body right down to their slender ankles supported by high heels and a country full of bursting colors and music that embrace you so that even a cold-hearted person will not be able to stay apathetic. Its tropical juicy fruits send their smell and taste straight to your senses and I can still see myself biting into a juicy beautiful colored piece of fruit and from the corner of my eyes i can see drops of colored juice coming out from the corners of my mouth. And last for the moment, all the fruit of the sea, being it Caribbean or Pacific, served either fried or grilled (asado) giving all my taste buds pleasure. One must not forget the camaroni, small shrimps in mayonnaise and hot spicy tomatoes, which are served on the beach and cannot be refused.
So let's jump over to the festival of life to see, breathe, taste and feel … you and I, together!!!
Day night and day in Catagena/Aracata
Let's suppose that I were able to have a conversation, (most likely amazing with Gabriel Garcia Marquez) then before anything else I have to describe the people, places and landscapes that were the background to the birth of the immortal pieces of literature of the genius!!! It would all start like this … as a bereaved father I would begin with a quote from his book One Hundred Years of Solitude - "We won't leave" she said "We will stay here because our child is buried here", and I would add that here, on the hill above town, my son is buried, a reminder of the sacrifice of war!!!
The owner of the hostel sat in the entrance of the walled-in garden, watching a football match between the local team and its ultimate rival, Brazil, seemingly half-asleep but still keeping guard over the fridge filled with beers and watching the young tourists sitting at the tables in the garden, doing nothing continuously while trying to hide from the heavy heat. Once in awhile one of the youngsters would try to get the colored parrots to do something, however even the most crude words dealing usually with the southern part of the female body, fell on deaf parrot ears.
The breaking of a dream…
One of my dreams was to meet and talk with the Nobel Prize winner, Marquez.
"His house is nearby."
"Where?" I asked.
"In the old city. Across the street from the hotel…". Marquez's house is located in the north-eastern part of the city, not far from the wall.
I asked some "tinto" (coffee) sellers, standing at one of the street corners, and they pointed to a brownish-red colored wall protecting an isolated house that seemed to stand out like a rock unharmed by the years… I didn't go inside. I was afraid of killing my dream!!! I continued on my way trying to absorb all that my eyes were seeing…
I stopped next to a make-shift cart behind which was standing a fat man with an apron that had known better days and asked for a glass of guava juice. I drank quickly and gulped it down leaving left over drops of the colored juice on my moustache which I then wiped off with the sleeve of my shirt! Carrying on I passed stalls selling grilled cheese, sausages and other internal animal part, crossed over to the piers at which ships from nearby ports of 6, 8 and 12 hours distance, were docked.
Catagena, two hours west of Arcata, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's home town and where Kondo, one of the heroines of "One Hundred Years of Solitude" was also born. I wanted a cup of tinto (coffee). The tinto sellers were standing at the street corners or walking by the cheap hotels carrying in one hand their wooden trays with holes cut out in which they could put three or four plastic disposable cups and in their other hand a wooden box specially made to hold four or six thermoses. The tinto and its addicts reminded me of cocaine addicts! The beauty of the coffee-colored girls of mixed descent, the direct, straightforward interaction with the local Colombians and the enormous variety of fruits, these are Colombia! As I left the doorway of the hostel, a tinto seller sitting on the edge of the sidewalk, was just pouring medium quality coffee from a thermos into a few tiny plastic cups.
The old port and the old city of Catagena
Cartagena and its fort-like walled city, with gate-towers reminded me of pieces of chess, its canons that were unable to stop the English and sea-pirates from conquering and looting the city which is so different from all other cities in South America.
The noble and heroic city Cartagena de Indias was several times in the past, seat of the Governors to the King of Spain and quite a number of songs and stories have been written praising one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Today, Cartagena is still beautiful but far from what it was in the past, despite the nine sieges that had been imposed on the city both by land and sea, ending sometimes in loot and ravage by pirates or generals.
I walked along the pier among the boats and stalls of fruit juice. Just choose which fruit you want squeezed, decide if you want it con agua or con leche (with water or milk), guava, papaya, pineapple, banana, markuza (tomatoes blended with milk and ice) etc. served in tall glasses decorated with copper drawings. Carry on and decide if you want dried fish, empanadas and / or different cakes all laid out in rows on the top of the stalls.
Further inland, the heat hits you, roads crowded with all means of transportation, crowded buses, pick-ups and minibuses called "collectivo" with the drivers assistants hanging onto the open doors shouting their destination and trying to persuade passers-by to get on. In the central market, various stalls standing among piles of dirt and I tried to make my way across the clean parts. At last I found the bus I was looking for. Quickly buying a bottle of water, I got on and wondered whether this old body of a bus would be able to travel the hour distance to Totemo, the famous 15 metre-high volcano. Surprisingly enough, it succeeded and I found myself giving my camera over to a young boy at the foot of the volcano and started climbing up the steps. In the middle of the crater, brown slushy thick mud, in which several people (brown shapes looking as if they had come from outer space) were lying / standing / laughing. It is hard to describe how I felt as I slipped down into the mud but it was like sliding back into my mothers' womb. Half an hour later, still heavy with the mud I went down to the lake to try and get myself clean. Politely I refuse the offer of some local women who wanted to assist me in the task and proceeded to clean myself. With every movement of my hands the surrounding water turned brown, taking off my swimsuit under the water and no caring about all the others in the water, I did my best to get clean. Surprisingly enough even after I returned home to Israel, more mud was still to be found under my nails.
Back in Carteagena the heat of the day broke, the lights of distant ships seemed like floating stars and around the pier different produce was being unloaded, bottles of drinks, machetes (long knives used to cut the way through the jungle), agricultural products including fruits of all colors and shapes. Turning around the old city walls were lit in soft colors giving them the effect of stage-scenery. On entering one of the gates to the old city and walking through the thick brown walls towards the Clock Tower, I couldn't help but be amazed by the beautifully reconstructed buildings with over-leaning balconies covered with flowers. The narrow streets and shops reminded me of Spain, Italy and France. Houses with yellow and reddish brown walls, balconies decorated with flower-boxes and metal railings, tiled roofs lined the clean streets. The heat of the day over, the restaurants started to fill up, some expensive, some cheap, but all clean and neat. I found a pharmacy and bought cream and anti-histamine pills to relieve the enormous mosquito bites on my legs.
Ten o'clock at night and suddenly I find myself in a small square busting with music and dance. A local band of musicians situated on a make-shift stage was playing music that one cannot not dance. I joined the professional extremely beautiful dancers in their colored clothes (nearly none) and the other locals who were already dancing and lost myself in the tempo. Yuval from the settlement of Shoresh succeeded in filming me as he and his camera never separate and are always ready to shoot pictures of life as it is.
Tired, I started walking back towards the hostel. Unlike Bogota and Medillen thee is no fear of walking the streets of Cartagena at night.
In the morning I woke to the usual morning heat and half asleep I made my way down to the street. Only after drinking in a plastic cup a herbal lemon drink bought from the "tinto" seller, did I go back into the old city towards the large piazza called after Boliver. There, Boliver himself greeted me, sitting on his horse, White Palumo, that carried him into the South American War of Independence. Boliver, on his horse that morning seemed as if he was still dreaming of a united South American continent under one flag and one language.
There is also modern Cartagena, Bocagrande, but as it looks like Manhatten with the beaches of Cancun, I will skip any further description.