A bus-hussle and a couple of hours later we arrived in fairly late into Taganga, a beautiful little fishing village on the Caribbean. A few drinks with a couple of lovely Ozzie girls and a trio of Israelis and it felt great to be on the backpacker trail which simply did not exist in Venezuela. Yet, missioning it half way across a country in just less than six days certainly took it out of me a smidge, so languishing on the beach and eating fresh watermelon was the order of the day. It is simply wonderful how salubrious snacks are always so readily available, with fresh smoothes made on demand...mango, pineapple, passion fruit, star fruits, YUM! After the alarming void of fruit and veggies in Venezuela that generated my paranoia of developing scurvy, it was simply divine, especially as you slurp whilst watching the sunset from a moored fishing boat, whilst the locals get stoned behind you. Ha.
Getting into the swing of things, Ben, from Israel, agreed to cook an Israeli dish, shaksuka, if I sewed the hole in his faithful traveller shorts. Ahh, my grandma would have been proud, although she said she didn’t like the look of the poor lad from my photos. Hahahahaha. ‘La Garaje’ was party bar of choice for this fine Wednesday, and I was soon being swept off my feet Colombian stylee by a local chappie. The movements are not as one would often expect of Latin America, for the main movement is with the hips and it is a slow, controlled small step, which, of course, is wiggled out at intense personal proximity...the concept of the personal space, ‘Smartie Tube’ is nowhere to be seen. It felt really quite restrictive not being able to whizz my arms around in my personal crazy dance style, but pretty darn cool!
Princess Gina and Edwin were the loveliest Colombians, christening me ‘Flannie’ and generally being wonderful. I stayed at Divanga, a lovely place run by a couple of French, and would certainly recommend! A trip to ‘Parque Nacionale Tyrona’ was simply gorgeous. Hiking for just over a couple of hours and I’d pottered through thick vegetation, heard toucans hooting away and ambled along beautiful stretches of beach to arrive in the final campsite at Cabo, where I picked myself a pleasant looking hammock and then skipped off to the BEAUTIFUL beach. This is perhaps the nicest beach that I’ve since yet which is almost on a par with some of the Asian paradises. Which then got me a-thinking (no, don’t groan yet!). The culture in Asia is very conservative, appearing almost a-sexual in some instances and there is a great respect for their country, for women and generally is a very safe place to travel. There is an intense and unremitting curiosity and reverence to foreigners in less specifically touristic areas...in some places in Java for example, we couldn’t walk down the street more than 500m without someone asking for a photo with us! This is simply not the case in Latin America, or at least up to now. There is a vague interest and people do stare a little, but that is probably because I look like a hobo. I prefer to romanticise my tortoise appearance with my house on my back to that of a hippie in a spiritual transit of holistic development, looked upon with awe...but I merely look like a ridiculous gringo that needs to wash their feet and develop a sense of style rather rapidly.
There is an almost tangible sexual charge here, expressed through the music, the lifestyle of partying and really enjoying life, for everyone is always smiling and very open, as opposed to the serious nature of the Asian population. But only an hour ago that a less than spritely senora who engaged me in short converse commented, whilst I languished in the afternoon heat with Gabriel Marcia Marquez upon my lap, “Aqui es muy tranquil; no problemos.” Yes, after a month of travelling, she summed up my entire Colombian experience in a noncelant, yet insightful observation. The reason Colombia is so wonderful is simply because everything is so relaxed. Even the abundant – and highly armed – military, whose presence is always highly visible, are pleasant and smiling. As one gentleman said, “The law is so lax. This is why my country is so great; but it is also the reasons for its troubles.” He lived in the USA for half the year anyways, which he informed me after exclaiming, “Why are you here??”
So, what are the underlying causes for such distinctly different lifestyles, perspectives and attitudes to lifestyle? Perhaps it is the language? The melodious Espanola that crossed the Atlantic and infused a continent with Colonial rhythm and spirit, a fluid and fun language whose reach in this continent are not as deeply rooted as those of the long standing Asian tongues of Thai, Malay or Khmer, whose script is a indecipherable as hieroglyphics to the untrained eye, that have evolved and been nurtured in cultures that are still being to break out into the realm of a world outside their villages after hundreds or thousands of years of independent agrarianism and closedness to the greater global-political landscape. Or in a similar vein, it may be religion. Buddhism and animism reign in the East. Mantras of self-improvement, pacifism, respect and reincarnation, or simply a belief system of powerful external metaphysical forces placated with daily offerings of flowers, fruits and on occasion, Polo Mints. Everything is respected as the post-mortal ramifications can be great and every behaviour can contribute into the next realm of getting closer to Nirvana or not. Asia is not so very dangerous as one might suppose, although there are always the souls that care not a jot about the ‘after life’. Catholicism, however, being as dogmatic as it is, always allows for the opportunity for recompense and forgiveness through the sacrament of ‘Reconciliation’ or, more plainly, confession of one’s misdemeanours to the priest (the doorway to the Lord) and then absolution of one’s sins through the power of the God’s Servant. Devout Catholics, with all their iconography and ritual, in the end, believe that they are destined to get to Heaven, and if something goes wrong, God will understand, for did Jesus not sacrifice himself for all our doomed souls? Jajajaja (Spanish version of ‘hahaha’), what am I twittering on about? This is all very much speculation and very probably typed out diarrhoea (which, I am yet to suffer from on this little venture), but all thoughts would be very much welcome...’Let’s have a heated debate!’ Please note, I write ‘Catholic’ and not ‘Christian’, as many a Calvinist would most certainly beg to differ!! Not, however, am I using religion as a scope-goat for the narcotics trade, or course...
Annnnyyywwaaaysss, so I’m in Tangana, not in the Theology/Anthropology department getting a Third for my efforts. A splendidly cheap option for the old scuba, scuba, so after recommendation for a couple of lovely Auzzie ladies I met in Tyrona, who, very kindly, saved me from my continually impending doom once again as I ventured into another hole on a boulder heavy trek to see Pueblito, an archaeological site of Tyrona relics deeper into the park. Like the beetle scrambling on its back, I was wedged between a boulder and a big crevice, but escaped with a mere scabby knee...no head injuries to be reported. Scuba diving with Santiago, this super funny and cool guy was organised for Sunday afternoon and...dooo doo doo doooooo, my first night dive! “Don’t be getting drunk tonight”, said he, and I, in all sincere intent, ensured him nothing of the sort would transpire. Yeah, a couple of beers with the new house peeps won’t do me any harm...and then I was in another town called Santa Marta being bought Mojitos by three gay Colombians who had decided to adopt me for the evening...”Daaaarrrlllliinnnng! You are so gggrreeeeaaaatttt!” However, the true depth of their homosexuality was distinctly challenged for me when I turned to find the main protagonist was snogging the face off some Russian chick, whilst her boyfriend looked on none too chuffed!! “But she was gorgeous, daaaarrrrlllinng!!” Maybe it was her boyish, elfin hair cut. Jajajaja (Don’t you think that jajajaja just looks so funny?? Conjures up images of someone hocking up phlegm as they chuckle into their Arripa)!
So, Mothering Sunday and I awake with a stonking hangover...but all duties are successfully executed with little detection from the Western Front! Yes, mummy, I think I may have been a bit drunk when I spoke to you, but the chaos of being at aunty Neesie’s I think put you off the scent. Plying myself with water and stodge, I waddled to the dive centre, hoping Nitrogenarcosis wasn’t going to net my pescado self. In fact, the dive was wicked! We had a little underwater scooter that pulled you along like 007...zip zip weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. Then off I went checking out the cool corals, seeing a few moray eels bare there fangs many a fishy wish. What was incredible was the fact that on average, a dive lasts about 35-40 minutes, maybe a bit longer if you are lucky, but I had a dive for about 1`hour 10 minutes!! As we emerged from our watery world, my fellow divers exclaimed their astonishment at our being so long...guess I just don’t breathe much, eh? THAT is what was cool about Santiago...we were there to dive and there was no rush for anything. Sandwiches on a nearby cliff-house and we watched the sun amble down to reach its place of slumber as we discussed the merits of a leisurely lifestyle verses the manic rat-race and the malleability of one’s perspective on life after travelling (Santiago did welcome me into his office of a beautiful ocean sunset, which is probably only the token desktop image of most people’s office space). Could we really survive on a farm, isolated...or as a fish-watcher? A who-what? Como? Yes, perhaps the most sought after occupation must be this. Envisage, a man’s body floating face down in the water. “Goodness, is he dead??!!” your internal monologue cries?? No, no. This chap is far from deceased. He is watching fish and you notice his little snorkel bobbing alongside his submerged cranium. All of a sudden, he flounders around, waving to the shore, and a flurry of tanned flesh is galvanised into action, wrenching and yanking on a long rope that slices into the ocean. What, ho?? They feverishly heave this lifeline, encapturing the school of fish that were unfortunate enough to meander into the netted hell and be ensnared as it comes up around them and dragging them to the dry, asphyxiating shores of land. Yes, what a job! To be a shrivelled prune that tells his mates when the grub is up, simply waiting. Tick tock, tick tock and all that Guinness philosophy. Bet he would like a pint of Guinness too...have to just put up with a Club Colombia servesa and agualianta (local spirit which is like a diluted version of Zambuka...ming!). So, taking all CVs for the new position of ‘Executive Fish Finding Assistant’. Basic rate + Commission. Starfish experience essential.
But the highlight of the day, or night rather, was mi primero noche bucear!! Seeing the realm of the sub nautical by night, illuminated with a mere flashlight was astounding. The moray eel of earlier was no longer simply peering out from a tubular within a glorious coral, but was slinking through the current. Lobster, a ravishing red radiated in the beam, his antenna flicking all about him, playing the multi-tier church organ before him. The giant Blowfish, at least 1.5m in length levitated in the glow as we looked on with bulging eyeballs. Under the heavy glare of three torches bearing down on a creature simultaneously simply generated a clarity and intensification of colour I’ve only seen in Bali, but the activity of these aquatic creatures was simply breath-taking. Yet, what made it for me (be aware, I am about to get very cliché!) was during our five minute safety stop, but 5 metres from the surface. Off, went out torch lights, and an immense, yet comfortable darkness engulfed us. Momentarily, there was nothing. No sound other than your darth-vader breathing and the pressure on the water against your wetsuit. Then it happened. Perhaps the singularly most profound and beautiful natural experiences that I have been privileged to encounter. Slowly, the water began to become saturated with tiny particles of light. I moved my arm in an arch and a cloud of glittering dust glistened in its wake. Awe swelled up and knotted in my throat whist I desperately tried to suppress the ........smile that was endangering me of imbibing salty water from the edges of my regulator mouth-piece. We danced underwater, twirling and swirling, swishing and swiping at the magical substance that created waves of enchanted phenomena, appearing to emanate from our very selves. Fish would flash by as though they were the shooting stars of the sea. As we floated up out of the cosmos of the ocean, the star saturated night perpetuated the magic. I. Was. Speechless. The power of luminescent plankton (for those who wish to know what the blinking ‘eck it was) and simply soaked all the power of words up and away from me. The night sky provided solace in its attempt to sustain the enchanting marvels of the deep. Ahh, but one of many hedonistic firsts that Colombia was to offer me, but none were as intensely astounding as this.