Saturday, 25 June 2011

Man's Best Friend

You can´t fight inspiration...

About five years ago, my family and I had a dog named Shaggy. He was a white pompec that was given to us by my aunt and uncle after their dog gave birth to a litter of pups. At first, my dad was totally against us having a dog given the fact that our pet iguana had vanished without a trace some years before. Eventually, Shaggy grew on him and he was loved by the family especially my Grandma and my brother. While it was nice having a puppy around licking between your toes and running around outside while I studied my ass off for CXC, I must admit that I firmly remained NOT a dog person. One morning, we noticed that Shaggy was missing and we went nuts trying to find him. Later that evening, Shaggy was brought to us in a cardboard box by the people that lived in the street behind us. Apparently, Shaggy had ended up in their yard and their dogs being the gangsters of "Dog World" had attacked him, ripped out his throat and killed him. On seeing Shaggy in the box, my Granny dissolved into tears vowing to NEVER own a dog again while my brother hit the guava tree several times screaming, "WHY?!?" to the heavens. My Dad decided to bury Shaggy in the cane patch in the backyard and when my then neighbour, Ms. Deceitful asked him what had happened, he answered, "Girl, the dog get away, went in somebody yard and they dog gash 'way he throat. Things bad when dog killing dog yes!" Throughout the tears, anger and explanations, I was laughing hysterically. I couldn't understand why everyone was reacting this way, I mean it was just a DOG; we could have bought another one! Pardon my insensitivity but I just didn't get it.

While I was in Bogotá, I reminisced about Shaggy after watching a movie entitled, "Marley and Me". The film stars Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston as newlyweds, John and Jenny who live in Miami. Jenny has always had her life mapped out and feels that the next step after marriage is parenthood. However, John doesn't feel that he has accomplished anything in life and wants to wait on the whole parenthood thing so he buys Jenny a dog, Marley to distract her from wanting children for the time being- only a MAN would come up with this idea. Marley is not an obedient dog; he likes to chew household items, swallow jewellery, chase pigeons, bark LOUDLY all night and frustrate his masters. For some reason, he continues to be a part of John and Jenny's lives because they care for him deeply and vice versa. Throughout the movie as John and Jenny develop as characters; starting a family, securing job promotions, going through postpartum depression, moving to Philadelphia and experiencing all the trials and tribulations that life threw their way, Marley was there. By the end of the movie, the family of five can be seen around Marley's grave, bidding him goodbye whilst my eyes welled- up with tears, moved by the emotion displayed on the screen.

I was confused; I am NOT a dog person but there I was on the verge of tears, feeling cold in an apartment in Bogotá. I realised that it wasn't about being a dog person; it was about having empathy and understanding why these people felt that way after losing a dog. You see, once a dog enters your life it loves you unconditionally and never judges. John said it the best at the end of the movie, "A dog judges others not by their color or creed or class but by who they are inside. A dog doesn't care if you are rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull. Give him your heart and he will give you his. It was really quite simple, and yet we humans, so much wiser and more sophisticated, have always had trouble figuring out what really counts and what does not. As I wrote that farewell column to Marley, I realized it was all right there in front of us, if only we opened our eyes. Sometimes it took a dog with bad breath, bad manners, and pure intentions to help us see." Furthermore, a dog becomes part of your family, is there through the good times and bad times and can teach you important lessons about life. According to John, "A person can learn a lot from a dog, even a loopy one like ours. Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart. He taught me to appreciate the simple things-- a walk in the woods, a fresh snowfall and a nap in a shaft of winter sunlight. And as he grew old and achy, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity. Mostly, he taught me about friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty". Overall, tears and other signs of loss are normal when a dog dies.

It's sad that I took SO long to realise this but some of us mature and have epiphanies later than others. I would like to 'blog- ficially' apologize for my insensitivity all those years ago. Although I didn't bond with Shaggy or cry when he died, I should not have laughed at those who were truly affected by his death. Thanks to Marley and his family for showing me that! Who says you can't learn anything from television?

Until the next post...

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

'Pon the Caribbean Coast: Cartagena


Cartagena de Indias, more commonly known as Cartagena is a large, Caribbean, beach resort city located to the north of the Caribben coast in Colombia. It is the capital city of the Bolivar department, a VERY popular tourist destination and the fifth largest city in Colombia. Cartagena was the third stop on our tour and in my opinion, the BEST town on the Caribbean coast. This is what happened!

For the second time that week, I found myself on a corner in Santa Marta at 3AM waiting for a bus. I was in a better mood that morning having slept more than four hours but that didn't stop me from sleeping on the way to Cartagena. I got up somewhere on the outskirts of Cartagena and the first thing I saw was the biggest mangrove on the face of the earth; it seemed to go on for miles and miles. As a matter of fact, I'm not even sure that it was a mangrove because it just looked like a huge river that had trees growing out of it- gosh, my third form Geography teacher would be proud. Surprisingly, there were people living on the dry parts of the mangrove/ river with trees in it. I could see smoke coming out of their small, wooden houses while their drying clothes billowed in the wind and their small boats sat moored in the brackish water. It was a truly humbling sight to see. There was so much more water, trees and mountains to see as we got closer to Cartagena and it was nice being able to experience more of God's creations and appreciate just how awesome he is.

El Castillo San Felipe de Barajas was the landmark that greeted us when we entered Cartagena. The magnificent castle was constructed by the Spaniards during colonial times and served as a fort. The castle sat atop a hill and looked simply marvellous with its colonial architecture and the Colombian flag perched on top, blowing in the Caribbean breeze. The bus parked at the bottom of the hill and the tour guide told us that we had ten minutes to "look around". I was kind of upset because I REALLY wanted an opportunity to climb up to the castle to see it's beauty up close and personal but alas, we were on a tour and the world does not revolve around me. Sadly, I had to settle for marvelling at its historical significance from afar. Two women could be seen setting up their stalls in the hopes of selling their souvenirs to tourists. By the time I found something that I wanted, bargained with the woman and purchased the souvenir at a reduced price, it was time to go. Once again, we had to wait for 300 who wanted to take photos of EVERYTHING. Now don't get me wrong, taking photos is all good and what not but within 300 there are ten family units, each with their own camera meaning that we had to wait for each unit to take about six pictures of the same thing; that's NOT annoying AT ALL! After what seemed like an eternity, 300 returned to the bus and we were on our way.

It was during this leg of the trip that I noticed that there was something wrong on the bus. Someone decided to use the toilet and when they opened the toilet door, the strangest, most disgusting, public bathroom scent greeted me. I was momentarily confused by the smell but more so by the fact that the drivers had NOT cleaned the bathroom the day before. Forty five people on a bus, most of them having used the toilet the day before during our DAY LONG trip to LG and they thought it wise to NOT clean the toilet that we were supposed to use for another DAY LONG trip. Like, really? According to my friend, "Some people logic just different!" Our next stop and possibly the COOLEST tourist destination in Cartagena was the actual place where the aristocracy lived and entertained during colonial times. From the outside, it looked both terrifying and somewhat regal with its towering walls meant to keep out the lower classes back in the day. My first thought when I entered was, "Doh shit me up!" Every building was so well preserved even after all that time, I felt like I had teleported back in time and as I looked around I could imagine the women walking around with their little fans, laughing haughtily while the men sat, smoking tobacco, figuring out the best way to take over the world. They had everything they needed; a church, a square with a statue, a nice garden area, shops, a look out and even, cannons in case of an early morning invasion from the French. We were also very lucky to witness the Good Friday procession that was happening in the square close to the church. Good times, good times!

Owing to the fact that I was immersed in culture all morning, I didn't realise that I was hungry until we arrived at the restaurant where we were going to have breakfast. Breakfast wasn't a grand affair this time around but it tasted great. Breakfast... check. Culture... check. It was beach time! The beach of choice was Bocagrande (Big Mouth), a fitting name since the beach seemed to go on for miles on either side. I had heard that the beaches in Cartagena were to die for but quite frankly, Bocagrande was normal and looked like any old beach in Mayaro. When I asked the tour guide why this was so he let me know that the nicest parts of Bocagrande were exclusive for the tourists that visited the area and were very expensive. I should have guessed, it happens all over the world. We rented a tent and almost immediately, this water baby was in the ocean; the water was warm and shallow while the waves were fantastic. The locals all looked like relatives or friends from Trinidad and for a few hours I felt like I was home although I was soaking up the sun on another continent. Overall, it was a good day in Cartagena and the inevitable started to sink in, we were going back to Bogotá the following day.

Later on that night, we decided to take advantage of our last night in Santa Marta and hit the town. The tour guide had organized a Champeta band (Google it!) to play for us on the beach and then, we would go to a club. At first, I was annoyed about going to the beach to hear the band play for reasons that are way too long to describe in this blog post. However, once they started playing and I got absorbed in the culture, I really started to enjoy the ambience so much so that I started to dance. The band played for about 30 minutes and then, it was time to go to the club. I had a feeling that one or two people in particular were going to annoy the hell out of me because: 1) they seemed like sloppy drunks and 2) they were "outta timing" with some of the things that they said when they were sober. Until they proved me right, I decided to enjoy myself because when was I going to a handsome, 21 year old language student in Santa Marta again? I danced, mingled, sang, drank, posed for pictures, took photos and flirted with a woman twice my age. Sadly, my premonition would soon come true as the bill came and we noticed that we had drank more than $100.000 pesos in drinks. My money was dwindling so I drank one beer for $2.500 pesos, which I gave to them to help pay the bill. My notion was to pay for what I consumed and that's exactly what I did. The others didn't agree with my notion and wanted to divide the bill between the eleven of us so as to find out how much everyone should pay. I let them know that I had had ONE beer, I didn't partake in the two bottles of Aguadiente (puncheon) nor the eleven Club Colombia beers nor the sparkling, bottled water so I had NO intention of paying for what I did not consume! I was even more annoyed by how they started to argue over the bill amongst themselves while the owner and workers at the bar looked on, pissed because they wanted to leave and had to endure, "Dawn of the Jackasses" (coming soon to a theatre near you). I felt embarrassed as well because I came there with those jackasses. I was fed up, sleepy and ready to go so I was relieved when they sorted out their business and were ready to leave like the drunken messes they were. However, one guy wasn't done annoying me, he decided that it was his place to walk next to me and tell me about my flaws as though he was Dr. Phil or something. Urgh, I was ready to explode but I didn't because he was drunk and it was partially his fault that he was acting like a nanny- hole. I walked off and went about my way, reaching the hostel wanting nothing more than to go to bed. Sigh!

All in all, 'twas an AMAZING day in Cartagena. Next- Santa Marta 2!

Friday, 10 June 2011

'Pon the Caribbean Coast: La Guajíra

Apparently, I can´t bounce back although I´m young!

La Guajíra is a Colombian department in itself and the northernmost coastal town on the Caribbean coast. The town is pretty close to Venezuela which fosters a lot of illegal trade in the region. La Guajíra was our second stop on the tour and boasts extensive plains which are inhabited by many an indigenous tribe; we actually had the opportunity to visit one tribe. So, this is what went down!

It was April 21st, 2011, the time was 3AM and I was on a corner in Santa Marta waiting for the bus to La Guajíra (LG). We were up so early because I suppose that the tour guide wanted us to have a full day in LG. His intentions were good but that didn't mean that I wanted to be up at that hour especially after the late night I had had the night before. The bus ride to LG was a blank given the fact that I slept throughout the four hour trip; I was tired! By the time I got up it was 7AM and we were in Riohacha, the capital of LG where we were supposed to have breakfast. I am by no means a morning person because when I get up in the morning, I can be both grumpy and irascible. My lack of morning "niceness" was further exacerbated since I was surrounded by morning people; you know, those cheerful, loud, irritating people that revel in the splendour of the hours between 6AM and 10AM. I just wanted to have my breakfast but first I had to listen to the owner as he told us what was on the menu. I wasn't all there mentally but I do remember him saying something about shark, arepas and cow kidneys. I didn't have the cow kidneys since I opted for shark, two arepas and a cup of passion fruit juice. The shark was good and had a nice, seasoned, Caribbean taste to it; I sucked on that shark meat as though it was my only anchor to life. Having been fed, I was more than ready to go and see what LG had to offer.

En route to our second stop, our tour guide told us a little bit about LG, most of which can be found in the introduction for this post. We passed a long stretch of ocean and it reminded me of The Coconut, that is, the stretch of coconut trees between Manzanilla and Mayaro. Probably the most interesting thing I saw was a totem pole- esque 'thingy' that depicted a lot of black people with arms outstretched, looking towards the heavens. When the bus stopped, I was a little confused about whether or not this was our destination; the streets were littered with all manner of things and it looked like downtown Port- of- Spain. The town was called Maicao and it's a big, commercial part of LG. There were streets upon streets upon streets lined with an assortment of shops and tents where the locals sold handicrafts, handbags, electronics and flowing, cotton dresses that looked like dusters but were all the rage in LG. Most of the time was passed walking through these streets, soaking up the LG experience and taking photos in the square. As mentioned before, LG is very close to Venezuela which has caused illegal trading between them. The closest I came to experiencing this phenomenon was the old man that kept appearing behind us, trying to sell us a bottle no, a megaton of whiskey at a very, VERY low price. The thought briefly entered my mind that maybe my Dad or Grandpa would really appreciate a bottle of whiskey. However, I decided against it because: 1) it felt wrong, 2) I wasn't sure how I would pass through immigration with an illegal, bottle of whiskey and 3) what if the drinking of that whiskey gave my Dad or Grandpa a serious case of diarrhoea? Maicao, I noticed, has a strong, Syrian presence and as usual, most of the stores were owned by them. I started to wonder whether or not they were a part of the illegal trading by reputation but then, let's not be stereotypical. I didn't really enjoy the time spent in Maicao so I was more than happy when we boarded the bus an hour and a half later and were on our way to our third stop.

While on the bus to our third destination, the tour guide let us know that we were going to visit one of LG's local, indigenous tribes and that we were expected to do a ceremonial dance that the members of the tribe would teach us or else, we would greatly offend them. Images of being sacrificed and served to the tribesmen in giant calabash bowls started going through my mind so I made up my mind to do whatever dance they wanted me to do. On our arrival at the compound, the tour guide left the bus, fully clothed only to return in some kind of tribal garment which looked like a high- end jockey shorts with a nice, colourful pom- pon adorning his backside. Once we were done laughing, the tour guide carried us to the entrance of the compound where we were expected to do a sort of ritual before we entered. Basically, we had to put our hands in the air and say some weird chant while drums played. Once we were inside, we were directed to a day house, that is, a shed where more than ten hammocks were rocking in the warm breeze. While we swung lazily in the hammocks, a member of the tribe told us a little about the Wayuu tribe. The Wayuu tribe is an Amerindian ethnic group whose people inhabit the LG Peninsular and northwestern Venezuela. They have their own language, their own religion and women play a very important role in the tribe. It was pretty awesome learning about the Wayuu tribe and it made me want to find out more about the indigenous that still exist in Trinidad and Tobago. After the lecture, we were surrounded by other members of the tribe who were selling their beautiful, hand- woven crafts. There were handbands that had either "Guajira", "Wayuu" or "Colombia" written on them in bright colours or nice, earth tones. Then, there were the bags that were hanging from the roofs of other sheds; they came in different shapes and sizes and were done in colours that really grabbed your attention. It was too bad that they cost a pretty penny and I couldn't afford one so I had to settle for my two handbands, both of which I'm wearing right now.

Suddenly, the rhythmic beating of drums could be heard throughout the compound signalling that it was time to dance. I was uber excited about learning and participating in my first tribal dance so I headed to the front of the crowd of spectators to take in as much as I couold. There were five girls of varying ages dressed in billowing, brightly coloured, cotton dresses with hoods and a boy dressed in the same high- end jockey shorts except his pom- pons were of a different colour. They all took their places and the dance commenced. The dance was called the 'Majayura' or 'ritual of the young, Wayuu virgin' and basically, the girls dance towards the guy for marriage until the guy tumbles to the ground. A simpler explanation: each girl would run towards the guy with arms outstretched, looking like large, day-time soucouyants while he tried to escape. The girls would quickly stick out their feet and try to trip the guy so that he tumbles. Woman again! The dance was interesting, hysterical and very entertaining, there is something about seeing someone fall down while wearing a jockey shorts that just makes you feel that way. It was the tourists' turn and for some reason, a lot of the men were nervous. The girls went around with a cute, tribal hat placing it on the head of a male who would then have to do the dance and pray to God that he doesn't fall. All the guys that went before me fell and I must admit that I was worried because the ground was REALLY dusty and this negro didn't want to get dirty. The girl put the hat on my head, the drums started and before I knew it, I was running backwards in a circle while this little girl tried to trip me. My God, it was invigorating and as usual, I started laughing like a mad-man, all the while paying attention to baby girl's dusty feet. Like a snake about to strike, she stuck out her foot and I stumbled a bit but didn't fall probably because I was too fat. Laughing at my good fortune, I went back in line and watched some of the girls try to trip the guy from the tribe; none were successful. Jus' sayin'!

Mr. Hunger decided to pay me a vist after a morning filled with activity so I was pretty relieved that our next and final stop would be the beach where we would have lunch. Nothing exciting happened on this leg of the trip except that the toilet had started to stink again which was pretty bad for those people that were sitting close to the toilet, that is, MY FRIENDS AND I. A lot of people had visited the beach that day and the 'lime' appeared to be going REAL good! Lunch was really good this time around, I would tell you what we ate but Granny always says that that's lack of manners. So... *shrugs shoulders* The rest of the day was spent walking along the beach and soaking it all in. 'Twas a good day in La Guajira!

Next stop- CARTAGENA :D