Wednesday 18 August 2010

A Spell on the Coast

I went to Cartagena de las Indias to do research for my book.
This involved a lot of sitting on park benches with my cousin, Rosie.
We watched people coming and going as we sipped our sugary tinto bought from one of the men with the flasks.
If you sit long enough in a park something will happen.
Like a presenter from Cartagena TV appearing and rolling up her t-shirt to record a news’ slot.
Or a preacher man stepping up to deliver the word of the Lord and being applauded.
We saw Afro Caribbean folk dancers in the park and a man feeding an Iguana.
After a few days we left town and headed to the harbour.
Beside a reeking fish market we climbed into a boat headed for the beautiful beach of Playa Blanca.
The small vessel was already full when we arrived but not full enough for the locals who wanted to take half of Cartagena across to the island in one trip.
A man approached with a huge sack of plantain and I scrambled up onto my seat to avoid getting crushed. With no space for my feet I lifted my legs on top of the sack as another man handed me a large electric fan to hold onto.
Once the rest of the cargo had been packed in around us, the heaving little boat set off.
The wind whipped against us as our boat sped over the waves and the fan in my hands spun like mad.
Items were inching towards us.
“We have a sausage situation,” Rosie said.
I looked down to see that the largest frankfurters I’d ever seen in my life had slid from their place and were edging slowly up her skirt.
We tried to push them back but they wouldn’t budge.
The boat was bouncing, the fan was blowing, the sausages were slippery and we were helpless to do anything because we were laughing so much.
Two days on a beach didn’t lead to much research but it was fun.
Less fun was having to say no to all the people trying to give us massages or sell us jewellery.
I’ve always found it difficult to say ‘no’.
“The key is no eye contact,” my cousin said.
But I couldn’t resist a peak at those brightly coloured stones and my curiosity landed me with an insistent sales man.
I bought a necklace and some bracelets. That should’ve been the end of it.
The next day, just before we were set to leave the island, my eyes roamed again.
The seller was on me like a flash.
“No, really,” I said, accepting the necklace to look at, “I’ve got no money.”
He halved the price.
“No, really, it’s beautiful, but I can’t.”
I could’ve kicked myself for showing interest. The man wasn’t going to leave me alone.
“I’ll swap it for your sun glasses,” he said.
“Okay,” I said, feeling relieved there was way out.
I handed over my sand-encrusted glasses and took the necklace.
A moment later I got that sinking feeling.
I was on the blazing Caribbean coast with no shade.
My survival instincts had failed me.
What I didn’t know was that in swapping my sunglasses I had cast a spell.
From that moment on the sun ceased to be as blinding.
The days that followed were boiling hot but overcast.
Back in Cartagena new arrivals complained about the rain while I felt relieved I wouldn’t have to buy replacement specs.
I don’t know if the spell has broken yet as I’ve come back to Bogotá.
Maybe it won’t break unless I return.
I could handle that.
Cartagena is the most beautiful city I’ve ever visited.

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