Sunday, March 28, 2010

Waters That Carry Me Home

Sometimes it’s difficult to see how everything connects until you pull back, get a bit of distance. I’m sitting here listening to the world from my room in Cartagena with three beds – one for me, one for my clothes (freshly laundered), one for the ants, whose presence I have accepted – trying to synthesize the events of the last 12 days into some kind of coherent narrative, while also allowing my body to recover from whatever invaded its hallowed pathways. Water is not always just water, but a whole universe of life that can carry you off, pull you under, or keep you locked up right where you are. The body is fragile and reveals all truth but the mind finds its subterfuge.

It’s Caribbean-hot but thank god for the breeze and the air conditioning; I have both working for me at the moment but still I feel pressed down by heat. I have a drink in each hand as Carmen -- the housekeeper, laundress, cook and administrator of all things domestic at the Casa del Jardin -- instructed me to drink the guava juice she made for me, and Alka Seltzer.

A couple of weeks ago, I rose from New York City with the sun and stopped in Panama City and Bogota before reaching the northern coast of Colombia. An hour’s drive at dusk brought me back to the sea, to the lush coastal finca of two glorious human beings, Yos and Claudia. They bought the land in the days when the guerilla activity in Colombia posed a much greater threat than it does today (however controversial the right-wing President Uribe may be, most people credit him with ‘cleaning up’ Colombia) and have been its faithful protectors and shepherds for the last 15 years, creating an oasis of warmth and natural beauty for people who enjoy walking around barefoot, bathing by the light of the moon and living without doors or windows. I was there last March with a group of yogis from New York – and decided to return this year on my own. As it happened, my arrival coincided with another yoga retreat taking place at the finca – an ageless and other-worldly teacher named Diego was its leader, his Pocohontas-beautiful girlfriend Marcela the organizer, and the students flew in from Bogota for a long weekend.

With Diego it felt more like a reunion than a meeting, like we had known each other for years or were hatched from the same egg or something – though you wouldn’t think it from looking at us. Diego is small and lithe with gigantic dreds (channels, as he calls them) and looks almost more Asiatic than Colombian. He was adopted so actually it could be that he emerged from a huge crystal somewhere in Tibet; I wouldn't be surprised. Diego and Yos and I spent my first evening talking about ritualistic drug use while the mosquitos initiated me, and then came the rains – the thunder’s explosive greeting harmonizing with lightning that set the sky ablaze. I got a jump-start on my gringa tan the next day, while the Bogotanos arrived in the evening. It was dark when they began to file in and I was reading in a hammock as they sat down together to eat a late dinner and get to know each other – listening to their voices, their laughter, their questions and answers. It seemed like they knew each other already, but I’m beginning to think this is something different about Latin American culture. I felt a bit shy to meet people in the dark so I kept my distance but attended Diego’s introduction in the open-air yoga room on the beach that night, then retired early to rest for our 6am meditation.

Over the next four days, we burned things, chanted, sweat, stretched, held poses for a long time, breathed, turned ourselves upside down and inside out, laid beneath the stars, sang to each other, played music, bathed ourselves in the ocean, ate incredible costena food and fresh fish almost daily, went hiking in the jungle, making friends with each other’s sweaty limbs as we squeezed together into Yos’ jeep. The group was mostly beginners with a few more experienced yogis. There were three grandmothers (all amazing and hilarious), a hedge fund manager, a famous Colombian painter/film aficionado, several environmental activists, a mathematician, a handful of couples, lots of single women, and a playboy/biologist/businessman from Manizales (coffee country) named Pablo Escobar – no joke. Naturally, he ended up being my best friend.

By the end of the weekend, I had several invitations of places to stay in Bogota, an offer to teach in a yoga school in Bogota, contacts in my next destination, a bunch of phone numbers and email addresses, new fans of The Snow, a record label contact in NYC, a small bag of ashes for my alter, and a reasonably well-balanced tan. I stayed for the rest of the week, met and hung out with some other awesome international visitors to the finca, and then finally – somewhat reluctantly – set off for Cartagena on Friday in a small air-conditioned van, sitting next to a Swiss guy named Pierre who was working as a time keeper for soccer games in Medellin. We cobbled together a conversation in several different languages and I landed in the house (now a hostel) of a famous Colombian painter named Jacanamijoy. In fact, the room I’m sleeping in was his studio when he lived here.

Pablo Escobar sent me here, and also connected me with another friend of his, a photographer named Andres, who is in Cartagena this week for a wedding. Andres is a young guy but seems talented and accomplished, the kind of guy who wakes up and has a margherita when he’s on vacation. After my nine or ten days of clean living, I’m more of a water/coffee drinker in the mornings, moving in a slightly different rhythm. We spent most of the day yesterday having a long lunch and then hanging out in an expensive hotel by the water (where neither of us is a guest) and taking pictures. There was a dinner with other guests who are here for the wedding, for which I was too tired to really make the necessary conversational efforts. The evening ended with some bad vibes between Andres and the waitress and took the wind out of my sails, which were already less than taut. I was happy to come home early, even though it meant I missed a Saturday night of salsa dancing in Cartagena.

In another strange collision of worlds, yesterday there was a wedding here in Cartagena of an old boyfriend of mine – presumably with a Colombian woman but I’m not sure. Turns out that Andres’ friends who are here to get married are also connected to my old friend, who invited us to a party at his father’s house a couple of nights ago. Regrettably, we didn’t end up making it to the party, which might have provided some scintillating storytelling material but who knows.

In any case, our interconnection is undeniable, just as sure as Facebook spins its web across the Earth. I’m not sure it’s a good thing or a bad thing – I suppose it’s just a thing. In any case, el mundo es, indeed, un pañuelo.


  1. Once again, a lovely post. Be safe!

  2. I'm so jells Ms. Hilary. Reading this is making me want to travel with you again, although I'm not quite sure I could keep up. Keep us posted on your travels...I am eagerly awaiting. P.S. If the Hedge Fund manager is cute, gay and somewhat sane...send him my way!

  3. Hilary- I don't know how you did it, but once again I somehow miss a place I've never been to.