I’ve spent over four months of 2012 in Colombia. 126 days so far, to be exact. If I had to guess, I’d say that equates to about 35 papayas, fifteen or twenty trips to the beach, and a few dozen (hundred?) Aguila cervezas.
Settling in here has been easy, like falling backward into a plush bed and sinking down into the pillows… and then pulling a salamander or two out from under your butt. And swatting away a couple mosquitoes. And trying to drown out the sound of parrots crying outside your window at dawn.
This “settling in” process is something I’ve done several times this past year, on different continents and in different languages. But it is precisely what keeps me traveling: the bliss of digging my roots into new soil.
I sometimes wonder if this makes me less like a traveler and more like a serial homebody. I love developing a routine in a new place, falling into a rhythm, finding a favorite bakery. I love building new little families, of Marks and Romanas, Almus and Jossies, Viktors and Galinas, or Juanses and Nicos. Love is the glue that keeps me bound to a new home, and pulling myself always results in something getting torn.
Despite the inevitable sadness of leaving, I’ve never really learned my lesson. I still insist on putting down roots because it’s only during an extended stay in a new city that I really discover its character. A city tour of Cartagena might show you the San Felipe Castle and the Torre del Reloj, but it won’t show you where young lovers go to kiss all night on the city walls or where to buy quibbe or peto…. or what exactly quibbe and peto are, for that matter. Nor will it teach you to dance salsa or haggle with taxi drivers. (Ok so maybe I still can’t dance salsa, but that’s just me).
After four months here in the walled city, I’ve become a little numb to my surroundings. Sometimes I forget that I’m on a different continent from my birthplace. Locals have begun to ask me what part of Colombia I’m from, guessing that I am Paisa (from Medellin).
But every once in a while, something happens that reminds me we’re not in Jersey anymore, Toto. In the spirit of celebrating the little things that make my life in Cartagena unique, here is a glimpse of some remarkable events (and every-day occurrences) that have shaped the last couple weeks for me:
- Colombian breakfasts do not traditionally include cereal, but what is life without a bit of nutrition-less sugary crunch on a Saturday morning? Hence, Chocapic! The other day, when I opened the box to grab a handful of diabetic-coma, a little salamander scurried out, ran down the wall and behind the refrigerator. I paused to consider my options… then popped the glossy chocolate flakes in my mouth and went back to watching Cowboy Bebob on my boyfriend’s laptop.
- Speaking of critters, I had another run in with a reptile last week at the local tennis courts. While aforementioned boyfriend was kicking butt on the court in the mid-day heat, I decided to go for a jog. As I trotted behind the facility and toward a quiet canal, I heard a loud rustling in the grass in front of me, and caught sight of a four-foot iguana/kimodo dragon/Godzilla creature sprinting toward the water to escape my plodding feet. I was comforted by the fact that it was afraid of me.
- Every single sunset is some glorious variation of this:
- I had my first bi-lingual job interview a couple of weeks ago. It took place at 9 pm, at the chic bar Cafe del Mar, on top of the 400 year-old walls that surround the city. It made me seriously resent all my previous job interviews. Those boring phone calls and questions about how much paint I’d have to buy to coat the exterior of a Boeing 747. I ordered a Coca Cola, for the record.
- Last weekend, a friend called me to tell me that Aguila (the beer company I have faithfully supported ever since moving here) needed a Swedish-looking foreigner as an extra in a beer commercial they were filming here in Cartagena. My first thought was, “yea, like Colombia doesn’t have enough gorgeous women they can pull off the street for this commercial instead of me?” She dragged me along to the audition, during which I had to painfully smile in front of a camera, twirl around, and do my best Miss America (or Miss Sweden?) impression. I didn’t get called back, but my ego wasn’t nearly as bruised as it might have been if I weren’t in a country known for producing Shakiras and Sofia Vergaras.
- Prior to that audition, I realized that 12 months was far too long to go without a haircut. So, I bit the bullet and got my hair done for the first time outside of the States. The cut was great, but I left with mysterious, unsolicited blue highlights around my face. Maybe they’re not used to working with blondes? My bohemian look only lasted about a week before they washed out. I kind of miss it.
- As my boyfriend’s birthday approached last week, I decided to throw a surprise party, which in a foreign city (and with my über-punctual Colombian friends) could have been a challenge. But it turned out great, with balloons and margaritas and a Milky Way-flavored cake to boot. However, on our way home, right after over-paying a man to take a Polaroid of us looking tipsy and happy [see below], some one stole the remaining half of the cake when we set it down for a moment to retrieve a loose balloon. Really, who steals a birthday cake??
- Melanie, our neighbor. No explanation necessary. Let the curly cuteness wash over you and tell me if you could deny her a cookie if she asked for one. I sure can’t.
- My average dinner time is now 10 or 11 pm. My mother’s jaw is probably hitting her keyboard right now. The other day, some Colombian and French friends were joking about how silly Americans were for eating dinner so early in the “afternoon”. I laughed and nodded along as I munched on my first meal of the day (at 5 pm).
- On a recent trip to Punta Canoa (a beach about thirty minutes from the city) with my boyfriend’s family, we played frisbee, ate lobster, and dodged lightning. I thought it would be super-duper cool to bring my camera into the water and take pictures during a thunder storm. Wise? No. Badass pictures? Yes.
And there you have it. My roots are wound tightly around in this unusual and delightful Colombian life of mine, salamanders and all. I’ll have to pull myself away eventually, but at least I’ll leave with a suitcase full of quirky memories to hold me over till my next visit.