Saturday, March 31, 2007

Heaven Is Hell

Jamie, I know you are going to get cross with me but please write as I am getting a bit concerned having not heard from you for several days.
Worried of Steyning

I told her I was going to the beach, but I guess maybe I didn't explain that you have to get on the bus for an hour and then walk for three hours to get there so it's not really worth it for just an afternoon. In fact I stayed there two nights rather than the one I had been planning, and no, I didn't find a satellite. Or a dish.

So I am sorry if I haven't been replying to your emails (hello Johanna, Jordi, Martin, Rob, etc), but after the six days in the jungle I had about an hour on the internet and then I went to the beach.

IMG_1038Paradyllic may not be a word, but if it was I think it would sum up Tayrona National Park perfectly. I'm not sure what else I can say about it, the jungle reaches the sand, coconut trees abound, the coast is the Caribbean so the sea is warm and blue and swarming with pretty little fishes, I went snorkeling properly for the first time in my life. And because it's so difficult to get to it isn't even that touristy.

Having said how difficult it is to be down here, and even more so in the park, I managed to find a way, I read the last quarter or so of Catch-22. An amazing book. Read it!

IngredientsEntering the park was an interesting experience. I was with a friend who will remain anonymous (for reasons which will become clear). Beforehand we went to buy some supplies, including a bottle of rum and some Pepsi. Unknown to us alcohol is not allowed into the park, despite the fact that you can buy it once you're there. So we didn't go to any lengths to hide our bottle of rum, and I think that's what might have made up the policeman's mind to search us, after standing by for a few minutes while we waited for a non-existent bus. Walking into his office it slowly dawned on me what was going on, and I wondered, slightly panicked, if said friend had his weed and cocaine on him. The policeman began by asking us if we had any cannabis, my friend rather longwindedly explained that he'd given up smoking 2 months ago. The policeman chose my friend's bag first, it occurred to me afterwards that I should have put my bag forward first, but my mind is not so quick in these situations. I was standing, watching, my arms crossed, interested to see what would appear from the bag. My friend strolled nonchalantly around the office, occasionally peering out, probably watching for some interesting species of bird (he's a birdwatcher, and that's why he's remaining anonymous). Eventually a bag of weed appeared from the bag, followed shortly by a pipe and some cocaine. This is where I began to relax, it wasn't a game of chance any more, Schrödinger's cat was dead. The policeman asked if there was any more, my friend replied in the negative. The policeman went on to find another bag of weed. No, it wasn't planted. Then the policeman turned to my bag. He wasn't interested in my Valium, but did have a quick sniff of my powdered milk, I didn't make any jokes about being English. What happened next is a bit of a mystery, along with the policeman there was a park ranger in attendance, who for some reason seemed to wield more power than the policeman, and they both started to ask us if we still wanted to enter the park. I thought that I must be misunderstanding the simple sentence, then pictured the police waiting for us as we exited the park. But no, they confiscated the stuff (insisting that we come back for the rum, despite my protestations that they keep it), made my friend sign a statement, the point of which seems to be that he won't do the same The Final Productthing again, and we were free to go, they didn't even want a bribe. Another funny thing, throughout our ordeal the policeman was sweating, more and more, towards the end it was dripping off his face, as if it were he that had just been found with several illicit substances in Colombia.

btw, I found out how you distinguish between a policeman and an army man, quite simple and obvious really, policemen wear plain green uniforms while army men wear camouflage.

The last thing that my friend said to me as I left the park was some advice on getting the bus from Santa Marta to Cartagena: "If someone comes out to meet you and tells you that the bus is leaving now, don't take it, it will do the four hour journey in six and won't be direct. Get a bus from a reputable firm such as Expresso Brazilia." Now, I heard what he said. I listened. I understood. But the guy swore it would only be four hours, and that it was direct. We reached the half way point in two hours, and I was thinking, phew, this will be ok. How wrong I was. After another few minutes the bus stopped and the conductor got out to have a fist fight with a man with some large boxes. I guess he just didn't like the size of them. The police came and decided that the size wasn't so bad. We continued. We stopped. The conductor explained that the bus couldn't continue for another hour, but there was one across the street that we wouldn't have to pay for that was leaving immediately. We crossed the street. We didn't have to pay. It left immediately. Turned a couple of corners and stopped. For an hour. Several Expresso Brazilia buses passed is. We got going. This bus did 0-60 in... no it didn't even do 60 kph. We got stopped by the police. Twice. Several more Expresso Brazilia buses passed us. Total travel time: about six hours.

Roof TopI do like travelling alone, but occasionally I do wish for some female company, of the more-than-just-friends variety. Cartagena is a beautiful beautiful city. One of the most romantic cities I think I have visited. I ate dinner the first night I was there in this beautiful square, surrounded by colonial buildings, the Caribbean night air so warm, alone, but not unhappy :)

Another point of view of our trip to Villa De Leyva, including some pictures of me! is here.

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