I was to leave Bogota at 1900 headed for the Caribbean Coast - the price 17 hours on a freezing cold bus. But before then I met up with my DJ guide and we headed to a small village in the countryside called Guatavita. We were dropped off to soon and as we unsuccessfully attempted to hitch the rest of the way the DJ guide told me he'd recently visited a Taiter (not sure if that's how you spell it). The Taiter is a kind of doctor from an Indigenous tribe I think and increasingly Taiters are performing cleansing ceremonies across Colombia and other parts of Latin America. My guide told me that you put your life in the hands of the Taiter and witnessed quite a ceremony in which you were given a liquid to drink which made you vomit and shit relentlessly. You were cleansed of your demons and afterwards felt much better. He told me in some cases small insects or parasites came out with the vomit. (Sorry to anyone eating noodles). He told me the Taiter was headed to the coast like me and I should call him. At first I was shall we say... apprehensive but then I thought of all the weird measures we take to detox and cleanse in Europe and decided to keep an open mind. But Colombia is a weird enough place without ancient ceremonies (which the US I am told would like to patent) as I was about to find out.
Set in the hills Guatavita is a relatively new village with white stone houses that stand out underneath the blue sky lit up but the sun. But the village is famous because of its mystical and legendary lake. The Indian community worshipped at the lake threw emeralds and gold into the lake as offerings. When the Spanish came along they figured there might be a small fortune at the bottom of the lake so they dug and they drained but found very little. After some few hundred years they gave up. Guatavita is where the legend of El Dorado began. I'm sure I haven't done it justice but it gives you an idea.
When we visited Guatavita it was very quiet indeed. So much so that it felt as though the place had been abandoned. With the heat and the quietness it felt slightly surreal. So I should have known better than to smoke a joint with my Colombian guide by the mystical lake. Anyone who knows me knows that whilst I may be hardcore in some recreational areas I am not a smoker a toker a cainer... It didn't take long for every colour to become brighter and every sound more intense. The walk back up to the hill from the lake felt like a test of endurance - I saw my self in a Western walking up this big ol mountain with John Wayne or something looking for water. Jesus I was parched and we'd ran out of pesos to top it off. Finally we reached the top of the hill and settled outside of a small shop to wait for the bus.
It was then that I heard a siren and slowly - very slowly clapped out dusty cars began to roll into town and with them a procession of people in slow motion. As the cars emptied I realised everyone was dressed in black. They stood out against the white buildings and looked at us with blank expressions. It was a funeral - presumably of someone very important. Whilst it was a theatre for us we must have looked pretty strange to them too. That's why the village was so quiet. After a while I ambled off to take a couple of photos leaving my guide in his stoned coma.
But even on the day of a funeral in a quiet place like this there's still some danger. Ever get that feeling that you're being watched. It comes over you like a sharp shock and you realise someone is just about to pounce. I turned round abruptly and fixed a glare on the ragged lad watching me. Sure I was totally paranoid thanks to the joint but I've had that feeling a couple of times before. It's a useful warning so off I scampered.
Once in Bogota we had to rush for the bus. I bid my lovely guide goodbye and with a bottle of water under one arm and a sleeping bag in the other I got on the bus. Bogota is so enormous. You pass shacks and fires burning in the streets before the lights start to flicker out of focus and you leave the monster city. I found myself next to a very sweet student who looked a bit like Mowgli from the jungle book and immediately put me at ease. The road twisted and turned and I wondered how I'd ever get to sleep until I remembered I had a batch of herbal sleeping tablets in my bag... Seven hours later I woke up to mango trees and bananas hanging in the dust. We were getting close to the Caribbean.
The gorgeous twisting maid - you know who you are - had advised me to head to Taganga; a small fishing village near Santa Marta and to stay at Techos Azules where she'd lived for several months. That was indeed a very good suggestion. It's a lovely hostel with blue roofs and hammocks on a terrace looking out over the bay. She'd also suggested I look up a friend of hers called Andres which I promptly did. We met at his place and I was greeted by a little wiry woman from Sicily. There's something about little wiry woman that I just don't trust. They aren't like tall wiry men who tend to be rather awkward but well meaning. Nor are they like thin women (some of my best friends are thin women). They're more akin to the wicked witch of the west - mean.
Andres sorted out rum... and the rest for his guests who I quickly realised (excepting myself of course) were a bunch of drug addicts. It's always nice when the dealer comes round with his daughter to say hello... you know you're in for a good night right? Cocaine costs about a pound a gram here. So you can imagine it's popular with locals and even more popular with the gringos. You see a lot of wiry people here who seem to have got stuck here thanks to the white stuff some time ago. Kind of sad really.
We headed out to a bar called La Puerta, apparently the twisting maid's favourite rhumba spot. And I can see why. Lots of grinding and heaving, cheap beer and open till late. But I've since been told it's developed a more sinister character since she was last here. I'm quickly discovering that in an unknown place and with people I neither know nor trust I'm not really willing or perhaps able to let go and surrender to la locura of the night. As we say in Birmingham 'it ain't my manner' and because of that i observe before I dive in. And in La Puerta I didn't feel that comfortable. I'm always a bit weary in places where the women don't even make eye contact with let alone talk to the other women... where's the sisterhood in that? And it felt very aggressive in there - like everyone was on the hunt for something and smothered in sweat and smoke were a whole load of weird agendas.
Maybe my observing is what gave the sicilian the impression that I was looking down my nose at everyone. Or perhaps she was jealous because her boyfriend and i kept on talking about how wonderful we think the twisting maid is. I really don't know what promoted her outburst - in truth. A young Colombian guy came into La Puerta and Andreas told me he'd been one of the twisting maid's conquests. I laughed because pretty as he was he looked about 19. Twister by name twister by nature. What followed the giggles was a tirade from the Sicilian ' you think you're so much better than everyone. You play everyone even though you say you don't like games; I know what you're about and I don't like it. It's shit. You treat people like shit.' Happy days. In the back of my mind I was saying 'Piss off you mad bitch' but actually what came out of my mouth was more like 'but what did I say? I'm sorry if I offended you. I don't understand'. And I didn't really understand. When I was younger I'd have probably stuck around to try and make it right. But these days I'm glad to say I can't be bothered. Bullshit's bullshit wherever you are in the world. So I went home.
I woke up a little bit sad inside but determined to have a good day. On arriving I'd met a Colombian guy who ran a diving school and he'd invited me out to just watch the divers - me being to scared and too much of a geek to do it myself. So off I went to meet him. The trip was made up of a mother and son and two marine biologists and the sea was wonderfully calm and calming. we stopped by a deserted beach and the divers set off while I snorkeled about like a geek. I was happy enough doing that but my new diving friend had a surprise for me. When they came up again he told me to put my mask on and prepare to go under water. With no wet suit just bikini (a problem for me but not for me amiga) I took the plunge. I was so tense at first. I'd never done this before and every breath felt sharp and uncomfortable. But gradually I relaxed and we glided deeper into the ocean. What I then saw was incredible Bright blue fishes darting, schools of round fishes, things opening up and sparkling, swaying. It was truly wonderful. And all the time this man, Santiago, holding me with such tenderness and affection... such a shame I didn't fancy him. Of course I am painting a very romantic picture here but we are in Colombia so I have to admit there were a couple of times when I wondered whether his hand should be quite there but I chose to ignore that. He invited me back the next day but I chose not to go as I didn't want to spoil what had been a perfect day with a boy girl misunderstanding.
When I got back to the hostel Diana, the woman who runs it, began chatting to me about where I'd been. She knew exactly who I meant when I described the Sicilian and without prompting said 'oh her she's a crazy cow and she's horrible to everyone' and then invited me to carnival with her and her friends. I was beginning to feel much better.
The carnival was actually a pre carnival but there was so much colour and music and such fantastic dancing I felt overwhelmed. I know it's a cliche but those Colombian women - from like five to eighty five - really know how to move and the arses... what a delight. They flattered and humoured me saying I didn't dance like an English woman but I still felt like a gringo geek in her element.
When I got back to the hostel I started to talk to Freddy, Diana's husband. He's a mafioso colombiano who's been kidnapped and curses with such style you feel like he should be in a gangster movie... in his mind he probably is. When I told him about La Puerta he frowned. 'It's changed a lot' he said. 'There's an ugly mafia that operates there. A chief comes in with Colombian girls and after signals from the bar about who the new foreigners are he sets them loose. They latch onto foreign guys and then get them to buy large amounts of cocaine from him. The men in there are just as bad but they operate on their own. Latching onto foreign women for a free ride for as long as they can get it.' I don't know how much truth there is in what Freddy said but it would certainly explain why I felt like I was in a bar full of Vietnam Veterans and why I felt pretty uncomfortable in there. Whatever this is Colombia and I'm fast learning things get pretty weird pretty easily and instinct is a real gift.
The internet cafe is about to close and there's plenty more to write but I'll have to continue in a few days time when I get back from a six day hike to the lost city. Travelling aloe is tough. Or at least I find it tough. Ghosts and fantasies that I should have left behind long ago surface. There are vivid amazing things to see and taste and experience and some weird and also dull shit too. But I'm managing it and I wouldn't be anywhere else right now. One thing I will say though is that travelling alone makes you into even more of a geek than you were before. From trying to put sun cream on your back (I'm really not that bendy) to getting undressed discreetly, to smiling (probably in a weird way) at people you'd quite like to befriend; you look like and are a geek. And on that note I'll say goodnight safe in the knowledge that I've just reassured you about my present state... the gorgeous (come on give me that much) geek continues on her travels.
PS. Sorry for any errors in style or spelling. I haven't had chance to check this through so it's raw and rambling.