I am undecided as to whether my current laissez faire attitude to my life and travels may require a slight revision. I shall explain to you why as a storm so powerful I thought a bomb had been dropped on the island of Baru, clears to my left. Last Saturday, at the unhealthily early hour of 5:45 a.m., I arose in the House of Hearts for the last time. My bags were packed and all that I needed to do was wash and hug my Colombian family goodbye. Thankfully, whilst I was out drinking whiskey and beer with a newly acquired friend the night before I left Medellin, Diony had researched the cheapest and best way to get to the airport. I hadn’t even thought about these details, as I am taking this state of no plans and following the whims of caprice and spontaneity very seriously. A taxi and bus it was then.
At the door of the taxi I hugged my Colombian family goodbye, with a tear in our eyes, and within minutes to the sounds of salsa arrived swiftly in downtown Medellin where the bus perched outside a hotel. I even had time to have a coffee and cake for breakfast as the seats filled and the streets and their homeless inhabitants brushed the dust from their eyes. Now, back in England, I would say that one thing I am known for is my proclivity for punctuality and the reciprocity I expect from friends in this regard. I am usually on time, or early and rarely, if ever, late. Well, this too has become a thing of the past and I even found myself turning up a few minutes late to my Spanish classes last week and not breaking out in a state of anxiety at this newly experienced reality. So when I posed the question to my neighbour as our little bus climbed the mountains, que hora es? and he replied 7:40 a.m., I took a short, sharp gasp at the realisation that I was cutting it fine beyond belief. My plane would take off in just over an hour and we were still several miles away from the airport.
The bus pulled up and I grabbed my ridiculously heavy bag from the back and ran to the check-in desk. The punctuality-based anxiety returned, and with vengeance. Having only had a few hours’ sleep and a mild hangover clouding my head, I struggled to feel thrilled at speaking a foreign language in this fluster I found myself in. The woman at the desk couldn’t find my details. Well, I paid on the Internet, and then spoke to your company after. I have no idea why I am not in your system! I was starting to get annoyed. And she was rightly confused as to why I was annoyed when it was I who had no booking reference, and no details or proof of my booking other than my name and passport. We then shuttled over to their main office where I was offered a computer to show them the email confirming my existence and flight. The connection was down, and so I dislodged a woman from her desk and logged in. Ah ha, problem solved. You are flying with us, tomorrow, in 24 hours. At this information, I couldn’t control myself and started laughing like a child and apologising for my being so impatient with them. It was now way past eight o’clock and my plane rather than leaving in forty-five minutes, was leaving the next morning.
Ever the optimist (this is a new reality for me too), we set about discussing my options, with the lady still dislodged from her desk, and an amused audience awaiting the return of normalcy to the office so they could continue with their enquiries. Time was rapidly slipping away and I had no desire to wait for 24 hours or even 7 for the next plane. Nope. I was getting on the plane, even if I was a day early. After a quick call to the head office, and $50,000 Colombian pesos later, I was to take the 8:55 to Cartagena. Ok, phew. We then ran back to the check-in desk, where they seemed to take an eternity to type in my details. I then had to run back to the office, pay the penalty, and run back and complete the whole long process. Hilariously and ironically, I was the first to board the plane.
After the short flight, in which a Jewish Romanian-Colombian man attempted to fill me with tales of how backward the country was due to the paucity of Jewish immigrants residing there and prompting me to reconsider my position in relation to the necessary line between fear and caution through narrations of recent kidnappings, barbarity and opportunistic men, I felt a little flustered, hungry and tired. In the airport, I opened my little black book in which I had drawn a picture of a clock tower opposite waves representing the sea and a pirate ship and so that was the destination that my first taxi headed for. And yes, the driver’s Spanish was almost incomprehensible, as I had been warned by numerous fluent Spanish speakers, but we still managed to get by. We arrived at the first port as the doors closed for the cheap boats to Baru. Several men then offered me a boat for almost three times the anticipated price, all of whom I politely declined. Increasingly more hungry, sweltering in my jeans and begrudging the weight of my bag, I walked several blocks to find a bank. There was to be no electricity in my posada so I was certain there were no ATMs on the island. I then jumped in the second taxi with a much fuller wallet and we headed for the first driver’s cheaper suggestion, which I hadn’t entirely understood, which was a small port-like affair in a market. To say there was more of a hustlers’ vibe in Cartagena than Medellin is an understatement and I started to feel like my protected bubble may be bursting in the heat.
I was eventually dropped off at the shore of the water opposite the market. As the driver disappeared into the distance, I was informed there were in fact no boats to Baru, however, as always in life, there were options. I was then lead over to the back of the market where a jeep was being filled to the brim with hundreds of eggs, vegetables, crisps, sweets, toothpaste and an array of other supplies and told that this was my ride. Ok, so I had loosely planned to take a boat, both attempts had failed and here I was presented with a stuffed option teeming with boxes and the roof-rack looking like it was about to topple any minute. $30,000 pesos later, significantly more than the cheap boat, and after an extensive period of waiting in the midday sun, eight of us poured into the vehicle. Crushed, but not uncomfortably so. The key was turned, and nada. Turned again, a grumble and a choke proceeded by nada. Men flocked to observe, tinker, tweak and investigate. I was beginning to feel hungry, tired and in need of the paradise that awaited me. After an eternity, the engine reticently groaned into position and we set off, passing a truck full of blood-dripping animal skins and the pungent stench of death. Within seconds we had broken down again, and it was at this point that I wondered whether I should reassess my unstructured and fluid approach to this current stage of my life. Impatient with hunger and feeling super tired, I pulled my coat over my bag and rested my head, closing my eyes for a while. Eventually we spluttered down the road again, at the pace that resembled a pubescent teenager being forced to go out with his family on a Saturday afternoon. As we groaned around a curve with intermittent horns being aimed our way, several packages fell off the leaning tower on the roof, and so again, we stopped whilst we regained our load, so to speak. The ease of our slow and extremely loud journey was interrupted once more at the garage where the grumpy engine recoiled once more at the numerous attempts made to inspire it to move.
Hours later than my non-plans had anticipated, we were finally on the move. The rest of the journey to heaven consisted of our sufficiently stacked vehicle mounting some strange platform boat-type vessel affair on which a man made me laugh as he told me was the best masseuse in the world, yes, yes, that’s what every man says was my response. I declined his offer of a guided tour around the island, despite his aesthetic beauty and predictable yet humorous chat-up lines. We chugged painfully up a hill, and I applauded and exclaimed words of appraisal to our humble steed and relished our success in not breaking down. I was then dropped off at the side of the road and picked up by a man on a motorbike who drove me the final steps to Playa Blanca. The rest is insignificant. I have had time to think about the journey to Baru and whether more planning would have in any way made it more pleasurable and I think the answer is no. It was a costly error that I arrived at the airport on the wrong day, but I blame the brain damage that I incurred when I was hit by a car almost a decade ago. I have had several issues comprehending time since then, and so that was an innocent mistake. The fluidity of my approach to this trip and my openness to the possibility of anything happening cushions me from caring about things not going to plan. In fact, having no plans seems to be sincerely going to plan.
If you’re the capricious type that enjoys winging it, I’d love to hear some of those experiences in the comments section below.