A lot has happened in the world of Kika Duvet since I last wrote or should I say blogged. So this may be chunky. But before I start a word about yellow.
On the plane to Bogota my Colombian Academic Guru talked to me about the colour yellow. He said that it's the national colour of Colombia and also the colour of madness - just think of Van Gogh and his marigolds he told me. (Van Gogh I hasten to add was his favourite painter and yellow his favourite colour.) I can safely say that I am never far from the colour yellow. Whether it's the clattering yellow taxis that litter the streets, yellow painted walls, peeled mango that colour is bloody everywhere. You can't escape the madness in Colombia So I decided I might as well embrace it.
Not wanting to give up on Taganga and Santa Marta's Nocturnal side I set out with some of the other guests staying at Techos Azules. Grabbing an Enpanada (like a spicy chicken pasty) on the way we tumbled into a bar called El Garage. Nice enough but it felt like the absolute opposite to La Puerta; a scene from some bad eighties movie with gringos bopping and grooving after clearly not having drunk enough alcohol at all. I sound like a bitch but at this stage I hadn't quite shaken off the sniffing cynic. Still I was starting to open up and chat to more people which kind of needed to happen. When we left the club some street urchin pushed into one of the girls and the Colombian tourist in our group challenged him (to what? Exactly). As the two began lobbing insults at each other and then throwing stones I heaved a sigh and decided not to stick around and watch the drama. It was time to leave Taganga.
The next morning I woke up to find the Enpanada repeating on me. This I am sure was to be the first of many stomach upsets but I wasn't going to let that get in the way of leaving. I was heading to the Tayrona National Park for a couple of days on the beach but first I wanted to drop in on the mother of my Colombian friend Mr H.
I am not sure if I've mentioned Mr H much before - it's all a bit of a blur with computers crashing and the like. I've never actually met Mr H before, but he's a friend of the twisting maid. He's from Santa Marta and was meant to be living in Birmingham for a while. I was going to show him around but he gave up on beautiful Brum before you could say 'Tara in a bit' (Straight from the Caribbean coast to Small Heath what do you expect come on?) but despite this he did lots of reassuring and set me up with the Bogota DJ and now his mother, Beatriz. Thanks you lovely Mr H.
When I got to Beatriz's house no one was there. The street was deserted except for a few people sitting out on their porches and a stern little woman marching in my direction. Did she know Beatriz? Of course. Cecilia turned out to be a friend and neighbour... and certainly someone not to be reckoned with. With my stomach now jumping around inside me she insisted I come into her house. I couldn't possibly wait in the street.
Cecilia lived with her brother and sister (all in their sixties) and two dogs oh and G-d. She was an evangelical Christian with Spanish Jewish routes... so when I told her about my background she called our meeting a miracle. I wasn't feeling the hand of G-d at that moment I have to say especially when Cecilia produced a plate full of enpanadas. Eesh. I shouldn't complain - all be it forceful her hospitality was very much appreciated. But I was deeply relieved when Beatriz walked through the door with her ginger bread skin, a wide smile and a proper mama hug.
I am coming to the conclusion that mothers and aunties are the same wherever you are in the world. They like to feed you too much, worry about you and know a bit of your story (what you do for a living and why aren't you married in my case.) I took out some photos of my beautiful G-d son, sister, father friends and mother which they all cooed at... well actually they looked a bit puzzled at the photograph of my mother with cropped hair big earrings and dungarees but I decided not to enlighten them about what a wondrous woman she is there and then... not on a Sunday anyway. After attempts to set me up with a neighbour's nephew Carmel I went back to Beatriz's house and slept for about twelve hours.
For breakfast we had scrambled eggs, Arrepas and Jesus. Beatriz you see is also an evangelical Christian but I liked listening to her. Yes she did talk about the evils of music, dance and boozing (carnival being meat for the devil) but she also told me a bit about the troubles she's endured in life and how she'd made sense of them. Church was where she found her peace and I respect that. In some ways I even envy it because isn't that we're all kind of trying to do? Find peace? Some shake their bums to regaton and others sing to the Lord... whatever it takes to live in this crazy country is good with me.
I was hoping to find a bit of peace at Tayrona. The national park is made up of a number of gorgeous beaches set against a backdrop of rich tropical forest. You have to walk about fifty minutes or so to get to the first spot where you can camp. On the way I met some Canadians - complete with head torches, fold away bowls, and compasses - and a sparky Colombian couple - complete with boob job and tinned papaya. Clearly I could relate to both sets of geeks.
I pitched my hammock and after trying to get to grips with a very dull card game fell asleep looking up at the most amazing star lit night I have ever seen and listening to the waves crash against the shore. Tayrona is pretty deserted with just a few simple shacks serving food and a couple of camping sites. Huge rocks emerge from the sea making the shoreline look quite dramatic. The sea is a deep blue and tremendous waves leave sparkles in the sand. You have to walk through the woodland to get to some of the beaches and as you walk you look up at these huge palm trees and watch butterflies, busy ants, lizards and even a snake rustle in the undergrowth. Very nice indeed.
I spent a lot of time walking about and playing in the sea but I still couldn't shake of those ghosts I'd brought with me from England. That bothered me. Naively I thought what had made me sad for so many months would wash away on a tropical beach. But that didn't happen in Tayrona. What did happen was that I got too damn cosy in the sunshine with the cool breeze blowing and sun burnt my bloody cleavage! Thankfully you don't tend to show off your cleavage that much in the jungle and that was where I was headed next.
Alberto picked me and a down sized back pack (no I did not take my hair straighteners) up at half eight. As I waited in Santa Marta for the bus to arrive I watched hopefully to see who my trekking mates would be. And slowly but surely they appeared one by one. No Daniel Day Lewis was not in the crowd and no likely sister women friends either. But I was about to leave that defensiveness that made me so quick to judge behind. And I haven't picked it up since (well not much anyway).
We were an odd bunch: A very feminine Mexican man (cheek bones and pout), a very masculine Polish woman (hairy face), A well built Italian builder and his big bellied (fat) Italian electrician mate, a red haired Californian, two Israeli pups fresh out of the army, an ex marathon running french pensioner (drone) and me. We were to spend a lot of time together over the next six days.
Alberto was the chef and assistant to Walter, our guide. Walter had one of those faces that you just want to frame; the warmest of smiles and kind eyes full of untold stories and a bit of sadness I think. Great rumbling laugh, great sense of humour. He was a very fit fifty one with a lot of knowledge and Passion to fuel us on our trip.
Cuidad Perdida or the Lost City is one of the largest pre Colombian towns to have been discovered in the Americas. Treasure hunters came across it about thirty years ago hidden deep in the Sierra Nevada. It's still very underdeveloped as a tourist site partly because it is controlled by a paramilitary chief, partly because of a lack of money and partly because indigenous communities do not want anthropologists and archaeologists to dig up their ancestral heritage and for hoards of tourists to trample through it. As a result there's only one tour operator that organises treks to the Lost City.
The terrain is uneven, rugged and even dangerous in parts. No safety cords or handle bars here! Over the course of six days you trek over forty kilometres with one day to rest and look around the site. You carry your own back pack and water, sleep in hammocks and battle the mosquitoes. It's dirty, knackering and completely brilliant.
Within the first twenty minutes we were sweating as we made our way up the steep rugged climb into the jungle. The sierra looks luxuriously green in the distance but up close you see campesinos hacking away at trees with machetes. Walter told us they think that by cutting the trees down they will be able to grow crops on the land. But the land isn't good for that. As you leave 'civilisation' you also leave the destruction behind and you become part of the Sierra. I've never seen so much green! Plants growing out of trees, creepers hanging, leaves the size of people sometimes. There's no path so you clamber over hard mud, rocks, stones, pebbles and wade through the river stopping to swim and drink. You're constantly stopping yourself from tripping and falling and your clothes become dirty and wet with sweat very quickly. I was totally in my element with my best magic hiking boots bought for me with much love by the Brookes Kish clan.
I loved the sounds in the jungle, the bird song the sound of frogs. I loved the physical exertion, feeling like your body is really working and your heart's struggling to keep up - kind of like sex you develop a rhythm for breathing and get that wonderful rush and then the calm when you slow down (sorry but it is). When you stop for food you're really hungry and when you shut your eyes you really sleep.
There were a few moments where I was actually scared on the trek. Parts where you were hanging onto nothing and looking down at a big drop - and when you finally reach the hundreds of steps leading to the Lost City they're more like slippery rocks than steps. I had that little prick of panic and at one point turned to the Californian and said 'I don't know if I can do this bit' but before it set he waved it off with a 'sure you can' and I carried on. That was the thing I found tough. Not the pace or the strain but the tricky bits that tested your nerve. I am a bit chicken with stuff like that it's true.
On the second day we were offered the chance to see a so called cocaine factory. There are coca plantations all over the Sierra Nevada and you see coca trees growing out in the open. We were taken to this humble little shack and a young man, who'd been making cocaine since the age of eight showed us the process or crushing and grinding and cleaning... petrol acid... they use all kinds of nasty chemicals to make this paste that is then sold on to the big cartels to make cocaine.
It felt slightly surreal standing there with the Mexican and the French man taking notes, the Israeli asking if he could get some seeds to start his own cartel in the promised land, the Italians wanting to smoke the paste in a cigarette and me thinking how weird that this paste, put together by this little Colombian guy in a hut in the jungle could end up being snorted off a toilet seat in the bulls head in Brum. Fucked up.
Along the way we also met some Indians and saw a bit of how they live. Walter explained that the men spend most of their time chewing coca leaves and the women do all the work. They follow behind the men with their babies strapped to their backs sewing along the way. And it was just like that. The mamos or Indian chiefs chew so much coca their teeth fall out and their mouths are often stained with yellow and green. There isn't much food and people get ill easily not least because much of the traditional medicine is being forgotten. Walter said that if we were asked for aspirin we shouldn't give it to the Indians as it made them lazy and stopped them from maintaining their own treatments and cures. But at the same time he dished out a bit of food to one of the Indians and didn't mind when I gave some children chocolate milk and bread (couldn't help it... those eyes man). It's a tough call for Walter who has known these people for many years and sees their way of life disappearing. Can you stand in the way of so called progress? Can you pick and choose progress? I don't know.
On the forth third day you reach Cuidad Perdida. After what seems like an endless number of steps you get to the top and outstretched in front of you are these sort of ring shaped terraces and the sprawling jungle. The tops of the trees are hidden by the slow moving mist. There were once thousands of Indian people here, it was a ceremonial heart of the jungle. Now it's very quiet and very magical.
It rained in the afternoon so we sat in the very basic hut and in a mixture of Spanish, English, French and Italian played games, talked and read. In particular the Californian, the two Italians and the Mexican had by this stage won me over. We'd taken to calling the bigger Italian guy el Tigre and the other Italian guy el Pato (the duck). El Tigre struggled with the trek because of his size and on they way back he took a mule for part of the journey. But he was very good at laughing at himself and made the rest of us laugh a lot too.
And then came the jungle horn. Sweaty and dirty with hair tied back in a scarf it didn't matter... sexy I may not have been but I definitely had the jungle horn. What do you expect after all that heaving and panting in the heat? It was intense! And I guess I sort of started to consider whether the duck would be an option. He was a really lovely bloke and he looked after me. But really... honestly... no I didn't fancy him. But there was chemistry and even though nothing happened in the jungle that wouldn't be the last of el Pato.
All that trekking did me so much good and I actually felt quite emotional when it came to an end. I felt like I had achieved something big; felt more alive and happier than I have done in a long time. Something inside shifted and something clicked. And it really feels like whatever I wanted to happen in Tayrona happened in the jungle. Without thinking about it something inside sort of melted away and I stopped living in past places and just loving the moment I'm in right now. Somehow my faith in myself, in human kind, in life and the world sort of got replenished. I'm sorry if that sounds naff - just take it from me it did the trick.
When we returned to normal life we learnt that whilst in the jungle two journalists who were on an earlier tour had sold video footage of the cocaine factory to a TV channel... making narco tourism headlines all over Colombia. As if that's new! We thought we might get our cameras confiscated by the police but got back to Santa Marta without any trouble.
With just three days left in Colombia I took a bus to Cartagena where I am now. It's an amazing place and I am sorry not to have more time here. The style is Spanish Colonial but the energy is Colombian through and through. Graceful wooden balconies with bright pink flowers busting out, courtyards busy with old men playing dominoes, squares which come to life at night with street dancers and musicians. It's a very smart very vital place.
But sometimes you want to step out of the travelling bubble and into someone elses bubble. And on day one i needed to because my legs were stubbly and I had no clean clothes. I needed to do some normal stuff. I even made a list...
So off I went to one of the local Malls and found a leg waxer... It felt like I stepped back about thirty years. Thick wax stripped off with fabric that came apart like a bandage oh and the Beatles on pan pan pipes. What would John Lennon think? The woman was a bit moody too because the hair on my leg wasn't really long enough to wax. In the nail parlour they were much friendlier. I got my toes done with a polish called 'liberada' and felt like a lady again... almost. And here's the bad news. You said I should leave them at home... and maybe I should have. My straighteners seem to have reached the end of their life. It may be time to say GHD RIP. They've been wrestling to give me the slick look but they just can't cut it against the humidity. So I am facing a future of curls. I think I am ok about it. Not sure yet. Can I actually take the bold step and throw those straighteners away? I don't know. What do the people think please?
Liberated and clean I met up with El Pato El Tigre and three other Italians who are also in Cartegena for dinner last night. Valantines night with five of the loveliest blokes ever who wouldn't let me pay for a thing and taught me loads of rude words. They're all builders and electricians and painters from the North of Italy and they told me I should never trust anyone from the South.... Oops.
Later that night El Pato kind of well ish sort of ok he basically said the nicest thing. I'd been on about how they wouldn't recognise me when they met me in Cartagena as I'd look like a lady ya. And El Pato said (you know what's coming) that even though I looked beautiful in a dress he thought I looked beautiful every day in the jungle... etc etc. And I felt really really really bad then because I had been making eyes at a very very fit man, who turned out to be a lawyer from Southern Italy, and who I later ended up leaving with. Pato's face. It was like Foisgras. So sorry Pato.
And the lawyer wasn't even very interesting.
Except to look at.
Am I a bad person?
Well that's it for now and probably for Colombia as I fly to Chile tomorrow and how much can happen in a day...? Please G-d not much.
Keep the geek flags flying high.
All my love and smooching.
PS: Don't push me cause I'm close to the edge... I'm trying not to loose my head... It's like a jungle out there it makes me wonder why I keep on going under ah hu hu.