Dancing salsa in Medellin

Tell Me On to Cartagena!

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It’s about language. It’s about learning who you are. It’s about not getting comfortable with one way of life because you want to actively acknowledge all its possibilities. It’s not about indecision but about understanding the world from different perspectives before important decisions might set your life on one unchangeable path. It’s about adaptation and the ability to belong to different classes and lifestyles, to understand and learn from them. It’s about finding disagreement in everything and accepting it as humanity. It stems from discomfort in conformity, but is transformed from anxiety into art, creating of your own life a palette at once grandiose and humble. It’s in part about the future, when you will look upon a tangible work exhibiting a continuous thought process through words that began as elementary and evolved into passionate discourse, critique and storytelling. It’s about the betterment of a trade. It’s about creating archive of life and lives. It’s about preserving history and truth. It’s about remembering. It’s about sharing and presenting a chance to come vicariously to see the world. It’s about believing that a few words read at the right moment by the right person will help. To understand or learn something new, to decide what to do next, to effect the way someone lives or to open a mind to questioning objectively and artfully their reality.

 


 

You will get the middle seat on both planes, between the same two party. It will be uneventful and uncomfortable but you will accept that someone has to sit there, and who better than you. Your circumstances reek of discomfort on many occasions. That damn tent in the tropics, the soaked socks even in the dead of night walks, millions of stings as you bring a shoulder strap dragging scathing across the tender skin of sunburn. Most recently, you played hockey, ice hockey, that cold hot sport you would be hard-pressed to find in any of the thousands of places throughout Latin America–you played not 3 hours previous. You slept for 3. Now on a plane you’re sandwiched, disinterested, and bound for Medellin Colombia.

You will sleep most of the time, but during the hours that the gaping mouth of your unconscious neighbor hints at a snore, and while the other neighbor doodles on the in-flight magazine, you will think of the 5 months you have just spent in the United States of America. You will think of the wedding, and how it felt to see a close friend enter into the religious bond of marriage. You will smile at intervals thinking of your friends, but then you’ll frown that you didn’t see them so much. You will ask yourself whether you’re right to be underway once more in the journey that sees you outside of the social context so familiar to hommies. The neighbor will by now be snoring. The frizzled air sound will remind you of your father, and his white hair. You’ll think that maybe you should have stayed home longer, because when ever again will you be able to truly be with him for such a long time? You’ll think of the times you went skiing. You’ll think of the hockey and the working downtown in the skyscraper; the shore the horizon and the ineffable line drawing the iced surface of Michigan. You’ll think of the train ride back to home, where wasted you sit and watch the empty television show you lights, hypnotizing you and sidelining your plans. You’ll be with mom, though. She’ll be mostly busy but you will find the time to show her who you’ve become, and what you care about. You will learn that she knows you. You will play cards and drink White Russians together. You will not help her cook though she asked you many times. You will build her a website. You will hear lamentations and lament. You will throw ghastly words over the times over the suburbs over American inconsistencies. You will debate the worth of systems. You will tear one by one the threads from your own mind, and leave them strewn on the floor like rusted tinsel. You will gain. You will lose. You will cry.

When home becomes synonymous with a lack of motivation, you will take flight to your alma mater. In Portland you will see good friends from those days when education made you naively righteous. You will drink beer. Bonecrusher. Black Butte Porter. Rogue. You will meet Sammy, and remember all the times in France and Spain and Peru and Chile and Morocco and Oregon. You will see Eugene and the people you care for there. You will hitchhike passed your favorite Oregon town Port Orford. You will meet Nils the French traveler, and together you will be in that country hillbilly bar watching Obama retain his office. You will be with your brother for a time, helping to build things. You will drive peacefully across the country through blizzards in 36 hours to reunite the family for the first time in many years. You will meet your adult sister and hear her voice for the first time.

When after the plane touches down in Colombia, and you shoulder your pack whilst whistling On the Road Again, and you get Colombian pesos, and jump the bus into Medellin’s center, and after you spot Botero’s chubby statues and after you board the Metro, that transport system to thank for the city’s recent recognition as the world’s most innovative, you will have finally arrived to your destination, and you will be most aptly welcomed by the deafening boom of exploding bombs.

 

Motorcycles drawing in Medellin

A travel sketch of motorcycles in Medellin, trying to improve with Pitt Pens.

 

Travel sketch of gentrification in Medellin, Colombia

In Medellin, the inequality of economic power is visible in architectural gentrification.

 

Travel sketch of Medellin, beautiful amber Colombian city

A sort of paintings using Pitt Pens of the amber color of buildings in Medellin. This is a view from Maria-Isabel’s apartment.

 

The students at the Universidad de Antioquia will be in protest, but only a few. Later, Maria Isabel will explain to you that different student groups masked like the encapuchados of that Chile protest you were in make different demands. These, who now are throwing the bombs from within the fenced campus outward to the Darth Vader black plastic clad riot police, want the fence to come down and the university to be open to the public. The booming bombs hurt your ears.

You will walk through the protest, shielding your eyes from the potent gases shot by the police, to the towers opposite the campus from the metro station. There, you will be reunited with your friends Maria Isabel, that beautiful face you drew 5 months previous, and her brother Jose David. Their roommate Jose will be there, and later Jose Ega will arrive to make the Jose situation quite impossible.

In the days to come your mind will be mostly placid. You will begin work on tellingworld.com. You will begin work on a website for your father. The beautiful Maria Isabel is of course a lovely speaker of the English language, and will converse with you when not locked away studying in her room. Jose will hook you up with a dentist appointment to which you will attend the very day before departing for the north. Jose (which?) will bring you a carimanola, street food; a cylindrical yellow column of mashed yucca wrapped around cheese, deep fried, and dipped in homemade sour cream.

One day, Jose David and Maria Isabel’s mechanic uncle will tell you: “You could be a visionary. You could go to Germany to see the prices of car parts, and import them here. Establish yourself. Get a wife, kids, money. This, all that you have now… it just goes, no? You’re left with nothing.” You will say that family is not everything, nor is money; but he will ask who in their right mind is not motivated by money? You will become a bulwark to protect the vulnerable sands of your resolve: “I am not,” you will declare.

You will take some of that money you earned working in the skyscraper world, and you will buy Smirnoff. Together with bearded Jose David, delicate Maria Isabel and two others, you will go to El Poblado and begin a night of excessive thirst. In the plaza, on a Saturday, it will be filled with youthful faces slowly becoming angry or happy with the drink. Whether they have serious concerns with the world will suddenly no longer bother you. You will be drunk. You will stagger into a bar in good company and lose your mind for a few hours of dancing in the rain. In the morning your friends will tell you that you danced, and you danced a lot.

By week’s close, you will have been happily engaged in nothing. Being, and not wondering what you should be doing as a tourist–the worth of such behavior you will be reminded of. And your sketchbook will have gained some colorful pages of Faber-Castel Pitt Pen renderings.

 

Dancing salsa in Medellin

Dancing some Salsa in Medellin with Maria Isabel

 

The view of amber skies of Medellin at night

The view of amber skies of Medellin at night. Source.

 

Bantu student bar travel drawing in Medellin

Medellin has a vibrant student nightlife. Maria-Isabel lived behind the Bantu bar, where I went to draw the young students in their debates.

 

 

You will take the bus toward Barbosa, where two years previous you had taken the same bus in order to hitchhike to Barranquilla’s Carnaval. This time, you will exit the bus at the large tollbooth outside of town, because you’re going back to Cartagena, not to Barranquilla. You will remember the burden that the pack becomes when under the onslaught of Latin noon suns. A few men will be there at the tollbooth, lining the lanes and selling gaseosa and other cold products meant to smite the heat. But O! You will think to the lower flats of the Colombian Caribbean coast, and you will think: damn it, it will be damn hotter there than here.

The vendors will watch you pass as you decide that you’re not an idiot after all–that after hitching 4 times in Colombia, you know that thumbing it is 100 times less likely than asking at an Esso gas station, a bomba, they call it here. 30 minutes later you will be riding high in Oscar’s cab.

In little time, and with a soda and pan de queso in your belly, you will be complacent as the truck climbs through bounding switchbacks, an open and endless landscape slowly forming like the slow aggregation of a crowd. When finally through the cusp of two arching hills you attain the summit, you will suddenly be among the beginning of the Andes which you claimed 2 years ago looked quite like the great mass of sleeping giants. Not the greatest gun could put a bullet in the opposite hunk of hill. Through these brumous beasts Oscar will bring the rig to and descend. Past the indefinite families begging beside the road. Past their houses of simple. black. plastic. You will connect eyes with these desolate souls, but you will wonder above all what your own face looks like to them. Is it a stupid look your have on right now? Is there any other look that a man who has what he needs reveals to those who don’t?

You already know that truckers can be debaucherous drunks. You know all too well that many have mistresses. Oscar, you will discover, has three. Oscar has three mistresses, one wife, and a bag of pan de queso. You will feel bemused as Oscar confides in you to create a plan wherein he can drop off the bag of bread to one of the mistresses while another remains in the cab of the truck, neither of whom know or should see the other. You will wonder why it’s so important that Oscar deliver this bag of bread.

Ultimately Oscar tells you that you’re going to fake a breakdown in front of the bread mistress’ home, that he will get out and toss the bread under the rig to the opposite side, and then you will be underway.

You and Oscar stop to pick up the first mistress. You thought that this mistress was a different mistress than Oscar was talking about. You thought she was the mistress whose 14 year old daughter Oscar had also been with, and who discovered, and who, together with 14 year old daughter, now blackmail Oscar for money and sex. No–this mistress was a different one.

When Oscar pulls off to the side of the road, you play along and distract the mistress sitting next to you. You can see a woman approaching the vehicle, presumably and the later confirmed third mistress of Oscar. He later tells you that he managed to throw the bag of pan de queso under the rig to the other side before driving away, neither of the woman having seen each other, presumably.

You will become bored with the fact that for 7 more hours Oscar mostly talks about that most recent episode of bread, and in his Pereira accent difficult to decipher.

When the day ends you will be on the acreage of authority, the big rig scale, and after some 13 hours accompanying Oscar, the man of three mistresses and bread. You will be too tired to place the tent, which recently you had repaired with parts of an old tent you’d ripped away while at your brother’s place. All night you will constantly regret this decision to not place the tent, as the wind will die down and the mosquitoes will find your sweaty flesh to feed.

In the morning you will feel groggy. But you can’t be groggy because you’ve been reading up on sailing terms in order to better your chances to find a captain in need of crew to Panama, and you learned that grog is watered-down rum. You drank no grog, so you cannot be groggy.

You will regret the heat and the pack. The heat, you have decided, is fine, but only when you are not heavily weighted down and always. You will walk in sweat beyond the scale, where last night the guards were curt with you. You will find restaurants flanking both sides of the road just beyond the scale’s border fence. Here, you will decide to stay, to talk with all of the trucks.

Many hours will pass.

You will think of home.

You think of girls. Colombian beauties.

You think of the Pacific Ocean and new languages. It’s about language.

Enough truckers will have given you shoulders want for warmth when finally good nature will see a pair inviting you a soda and asking what you are all about. These are the times you appreciate above all, when authentic curiosity brings conversation to the otherwise soundless air.

They will have at least made you feel better about the dragging day, even though they were heading to Monteria and not Cartagena.

It will be Nelson who finally decides to take you. It is always when you’re not expecting a yes that you get a yes. Nelson is a large man waddling to his cab when you struck the right cord and he said “it’s illegal because of the satellite but what the heck, let’s hitch you!” You realize the strange sound of that last translation from Spanish. You want the locuteur to know that Nelson was not making a pass. You and Nelson got along well. Fields of cane sugar like cyclops grass fluttered in the windows. They made your eyes tired and fluttering themselves, so that everything was fluttering faster.

In 10 hours you will arrive to a gas station bomba just outside of Cartagena when unexpectedly the alternator gear band snaps and the semi is rendered immoveable. You will barely dodge the pressurized explosion of scalding hot water when Nelson absentmindedly unscrews the radiator cap.

It will be already late afternoon. Here the sun goes down around 6:30, and it will be 4:45. You will contemplate if continuing into the city, one of Colombia’s largest, will be the most prudent decision. You will scratch at your arm in contemplation, only to realize that you’d burned it raw leaving it there on the window during the 10 hours driving through heat warped plains.

Nelson will be gone and you will flirt with a pretty gas station attendant for a spell (for many attendants in Colombia are girls) before retiring to a soft patch of short-cut grass. You will lay against your backpack, deciding to never again sit on it while it carries a computer, for fear of breaking this new used 100 dollar Asus that you bought on eBay with some money you’d saved like you did the previous 100 dollar used Asus you bought from Camilo in Lima. You will think how much you hate carrying around a computer, but how necessary it has become, in your mind, to the bettering of your confessed art.

You will chance an encounter with a passing trucker to see about a ride the short distance into the city, and when he agrees, you will decide what the hell, things work out.

There in Cartagena, in the pressure of hot weather, you will be once more. It had been over two years since you first set foot on the South American continent, and it had been here, in Cartagena, that you arrived. Now you were trying to return to Central America, by sailboat, for through the Darrien Gap you would not risk a trek, and the 40 dollar speedboats to the San Blas from Turbo would not build your seamanship resume.

You arrived to that, what is the cliche we horrible authors use for these parts of town? Ah, yes, unsavory. Damn the word, another scapegoat to induce assumptions into the readers’ minds that more or less fit the idea. Unsavory, you will think as you write it down in your last Clairefontaine notebook, is a way to dismiss dirty, garbaged, loud, and tense parts of cities as worthless of an active observation. Bullocks, say the Brits. Bullshit, say the Yanks.

On a bus labeled “Soccorro” you will bound through Cartagena’s streets to Cruz de Pesca. There you will descend and be among the city of your Southern America virginity. You’ll recognize the small park. A few bums there. You’ll see the bridge into the city center, and beside it the Club de Pesca yacht parking. Your eye will catch glint bouncing over the waves. You’ll turn left and walk toward the marina, the Club Nautico.

By day’s end begin nights by the harbor. Boca Grande and it’s empty white apartment towers across the water, a few flood lights in the evening that reach to your naked toes bending in the grass, under some palms. You’ll be at the Muelle Turistico, down the harborfront walk from the marina. You will look out to see schooners, ketches and sloops at anchor, and think to the time you were already once here, sleeping out on Freddy’s little sailboat. Do you remember? Of course you do, how could you forget when you had to take that dilapidated dingy with two giant wooden rowboat oars into the marina, and then return to the boat in heavy chop already heavy with sleep and drink? You will realize that you’re smiling as you’re thinking of those first days in South America. It will seem like a long time has passed. The lids of your eyes will then feel warm, and leaden. You will have to get some sleep here on the streets of Cartagena, for tomorrow will begin the first day of who knows how many in your search for a captain.

 

The harbor at Cartagena

The harbor at Cartagena. Source.

 

Travel drawing of Cartagena Bay

Drawing the Cartagena Bay, looking out to Boca Grande, where the Secret Service got into trouble with Prostitutes. I slept in my tent at this vantage point.

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