All Saints Day
It was a full moon in Taurus and despite exhaustion from Playa Verano, I couldn’t sleep. Yoyi, his friend Jairo, and I were supposed to go to Casa Grande in Santa Marta to surf on All Saints Day – a Catholic holy day of obligation and a Monday with no school. There were no waves. Instead we ate a delicious pescado, patacon, arroz con coco, y ensalada lunch on the beach in Santa Marta. We then played Frisbee on another beach as we watched the storm roll in.
As we headed back to Barranquilla, there was an absolute deluge.
Jairo was driving. Yoyi was sleeping. I was observing and thinking:
One of the few things I miss from the Midwest is the dramatic thunder and lightning storms. The earth shaking claps and evanescently illuminated sky are images of my youth. Very little, besides the sky, about this scene reminded me of anything else from the Midwest or my childhood.
Between Santa Marta and Barranquilla is a town called Ciénaga. Ciénaga means swamp in Spanish. Now, a town called swamp doesn’t really sound like somewhere you’d like to visit, and it is definitely not. I have traveled to many of developing countries in my life, but the abject poverty of Ciénaga is rivaled by few places I’ve ever seen. Corrugated tin roofs atop garage-sized square cement walls are far superior to the thrown together slabs of wood with roofs made from plastic garbage bags. Some of the structures I think were made from former billboards. The depressing nature of the houses did not look like permanent structures, but for the residents of Ciénaga they are.
The streets became rivers. Houses must have been flooded. Life went on. Bicycle taxis still had passengers and were pedaling away with barely visible wheels turning in the foot-deep water. Kids with no shoes were playing soccer in the mud. Big, fresh-caught fish without any ice was for sale on the street. People on the side of the road continued peddling their (mainly food) goods.
We bought some circular crunchy cheese puff things ubiquitous on the road in Caribbean Colombia, and dry queso costeño con bocadillo, and agua bien fria from the tollbooth vendors. It was my first time having the queso costeño and bocadillo together. I believe it’s sometimes called matrimonio, and it is delightful marriage of dry, but soft, salty cheese and bocadillo is something like quince paste. I will definitely get that sweet savory combination off the street again. As we handed them a few dollars worth of pesos it occurred to me that this might be the only money this person earns all day.
The three of us were crammed in front of the 4 x 4 with the unused surfboards in back. We snacked on our street vendor food and sipped the rest of what had become warm water. I scratched my seemingly endless array of mosquito bites, while heat from the engine warmed my leg on one side, and Yoyi occasionally rubbed my head on the other side. The constant stickiness of sweat is the norm. Our soundtrack was reggatón and rain pounding on the windshield.
Leaving Ciénaga we returned to the backdrop of Caribbean Sea with a swamp, a nature reserve full of birds, and garbage in the foreground. The odd combination of cacti, palm trees, and wetlands were striking. The torrential downpour turned into a light rain with the sun occasionally peaking through the clouds.
The sun appeared from behind the clouds just outside Barranquilla. We had the occasionally mandatory road check by the police. You get out of the car and they look at it to make sure you’re not smuggling drugs. It has only taken a few minutes when it’s happened to me, but I’ve heard that sometimes your car can be substantially dismantled if the police feel like it.
After that, we plunged into the crazy urban poverty of remarkably dry downtown Barranquilla, then through the nicer streets approaching my neighborhood. Yoyi and shared the fleeting moment a of bleary-eyed goodnight kiss outside the 4 x 4.
I entered my apartment complex with this thought: my life here is transient. It seemed that everything during the day was a reminder of that to me. Continuing that thought, here’s something from a bit later in my Midwestern youth:
“Everything is temporary anyway, when the streets are wet, the colors slip into the sky…”
- Edie Brickell from “Circle”
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