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