Since the uninhibited mayhem that was Carnaval, I have lived in a small apartment on La Calle de las Damas, in the center of the old city of Cartagena. I shopped for groceries, did laundry, made friends with my neighbors, failed to cook anything besides jello, and threw parties for new and old friends. I spent hours walking the cobbled streets until I knew them intimately. I built a happy little Colombian life, and glimpsed what it might be like if I decided to stay in this magical city. I’m still not sure why I left.
I miss my apartment. I miss my beautiful rooftop terrace, from which I could see the Caribbean sea stretching from the fortress walls to the horizon. It made me cry tears of gratitude more than once.
I miss walking outside and buying a heap of freshly sliced papaya for un mil pesos (roughly 60 cents). I miss sipping cafe tinto from tiny plastic cups and sharing piel rojas with friends.
I miss drinking beers with friends on las murallas. Sometimes, like on full-moon Monday nights, beer turns into rum and an innocent “let’s watch the sun set” turns into “let’s happily stagger home at two o’clock in the morning and still make it to class at eight.”
I miss my neighbor’s puppy. I miss my neighbor.
I miss the smells: the freshly baked bread at the panaderia, the strong perfumes worn by sweat-conscious Cartageneros, the sickly sweet mangoes and pineapples sold by the Palenqueras.
I miss the light. This might have been the most enchanting feature of Cartagena. There is no obnoxious false white light after sundown. The street lamps project a golden-orange glow that paints the buildings and flowering balconies. It is warm and soft and lingers in the background of all my memories of Cartagena nights.
I miss patacones con queso from the street corner.
I miss the unpredictability and disorder, the mix of Colombians and Australians and Russians who showed up at my place on Friday nights, the random fireworks that illuminated our celebrations.
I miss the sea.
I will give myself time to mourn mi vida Cartagenera. I’ll remember it and cry a few more tears. I’ll languish (or revel) in my misery for a little while longer. And then I’ll move on, out of necessity and for the prospect of new (Russian) adventures, with the knowledge that I will return to Colombia someday fixed soundly in my heart.
Colombia, te amo.