It figures that I would accidentally post this before it was even anywhere near finished. Because it’s been that kinda day. But now I’m starting this post over.
I forgot about these kinda days in the 3rd world. Then I remembered.
It started last night. Or rather in the late afternoon on the bumpety-bump-bump boat ride back from Isla Rosario and Playa Blanca (yesterday’s photos) where I snorkeled and swam and saw amazing fish and coral. I didn’t realize it on the boat ride, but my back was very cranky getting pounded like that. By the time night came, this 60-year old hip went outta whack like it sometimes does and like my amazing chiropractor takes care of immediately. But he was nowhere in sight last night or early this morning when it was even worse. It’s still pretty awful, but that’s not even the story.
After the boat trip, I asked the lovely Colombian woman who booked that trip for me about how I might venture onto my next destination — I thought I’d be taking a very early morning bus tomorrow morning, arrive in Barichara in the early evening and have my very nice Barichara time. Nope. It’s a 13-hour bus trip just to Bucaramanga, then a bus change for another 3-4 hour trip. I ought not count on an immediate connection either, I sure know that. The earliest bus would get me in there in the middle of the night.
I don’t have a lot of rules out here, but I do have a few and even The Contrarian in me understands and follows them. Rule #1 – I don’t arrive to a new place without a hotel reservation, alone, in the middle of the night. Okay then. I could do an overnight bus instead and get there early in the morning. Yep, that could work, but then I miss all the scenery and how exactly do I feel about 16 hours on a bus anyway? Well, I’ve done it before and it’s been fine. I’ve even enjoyed it – I’m generally the only foreigner, engage with the locals easily and find my own kind of adventure in it. But my first one in Colombia an overnight? It doesn’t sound all that appealing to me. And the 16-hour part is less appealing every moment. I think it over ad nauseum, end up meeting a German woman at dinner that evening who just did a similar trip and she said the bus was fine – hers was not nearly as long as mine would be, but an overnight, comfy, safe and certainly doable. Okay, okay, I can do this.
Wait a minute. How’s about I go to Isla Providencia first? Fly from right here in Cartagena, then do the cruising around on the back end. Being in the water and feeling that tropical, Caribbean vibe magnetized me. So I start my research. Nope. Too expensive and all the flights go through Medellin or Bogota, making them ridiculously, all-day long. Too bad, not gonna work. Back to Plan A – I’ll just make the best of this loooooong bus ride.
Then this morning comes. My first slow, easy, breakfast-at-the-hotel rather than early-morning-out-and-about exploring before the heat of the day sets in. I meet yet another German woman at breakfast, also from Stuttgart, who tells me of a discount Colombian airline that flies to the island directly from Cartagena and for quite the pittance. How could I, in all my research, not have known about Viva Colombia? Now I’m excited and it feels very different than how I felt in anticipation of the 16-hour bus plan.
Research begins in earnest. My god, their site is even in English! Perfect! Early morning flight and sure enough – less than half of what I had read about from the other airlines! Yippeee! I’m going to the island tomorrow! Credit card in hand, passport number inserted and all the other pertinent information – The Most Capable Manager in me is activated, engaged and skillfully completing the task. And then the little round ball keeps going ’round and ’round for a long, long time. “Sorry we cannot complete your transaction. Please try again.”
I can’t tell you how many times I tried again. On my phone. On my iPad. Then, with the generosity of the hotel staff, on their computer. The Nice Hotel Woman tells me this has happened to other guests – I just have to try it more than once and it will work. By this time, it is so many more times than once, I have lost count. It is still not working. She helps me again. Calls Viva Colombia on the phone. The Nice Woman there helps me, too. Tells me the problem is trying to use a foreign credit card in Colombia. Gives me this instruction and that one. None of them work. Then she advises that I call a Travel Agency in Bogota (none here in Cartagena that can do this for me) – someone there definitely speaks English and they can complete the transaction for me over the phone. Excellent! But I cannot call from the hotel. The Nice Hotel Woman directs me to a Call Center where I can make the call. It’s 187 degrees outside. No problem. I walk to the Center, make the call. No one there speaks English after all and the transaction is too difficult between their no-English and my broken Spanish. “But no problem. Go to our website and you can do it all there.” Excellent! I walk back to the hotel and get back on the internet to find their website and book the flight. Nope. Doesn’t work. No seats available, even though the Nice Woman on the phone from Viva Colombia told me earlier that there indeed were seats on tomorrow morning’s flight. (Are you still with me?) I send them an email, explain the situation, ask them to help me. I wait for their return email. As of this writing now many hours later, it still has not come. I’ve stopped waiting.
Then the Nice Woman at the hotel tells me she has another idea. If I make yet another reservation online, I can go to the super Mercado and pay for it there. She knows of another American guest who had this problem and that’s what he did. Okay. I make another online reservation – name, address, phone, passport and credit card numbers, emergency contact person, 16 other questions about whether I want an assigned seat, a checked bag, a carry on bag — all the questions I have answered 47 times already. I am getting cranky. The Nice Woman from the hotel can see it. “Patience. Patience. You need patience.” “No.” I say. “Personas de Estados Unidos, nosotros no tenemos patience.” We both laugh at my attempt at humor in Spanish. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the Nice Woman speaks very little English. So then I’m feeling like my 1st world impatience and entitlement and all that shit is showing and I try to breathe and relax. But I am far from relaxed. And oh yeah, it’s 187 fuckin’ degrees!
But no problem. We have another plan and I’m on it! I make that new reservation and head off for the super Mercado – about a mile away. I find it easily and am pleased with myself, even though I know I look like a sweaty mess of an entitled American at this point. I ask the man at the door where I can pay for my airline ticket. “Not here, not possible,” he insists. I insist he is wrong and go off to find the person who can help me, so sure that she exists. I find her at the Customer Service desk and I just know I’m getting close now. Nope. Not possible. I need a bill from Viva Colombia. But I don’t have a bill, only a Record Locator number because the transaction won’t go through. There is no bill. And I can’t get on the internet because I need wireless to do that and there is no wireless at the super Mercado, and besides, this is just not going to work. I walk away and in the middle of the shampoo aisle, I start crying. I can’t help it, but The Manager (not the Store Manager, my internal Manager) starts scolding me and tells me to get it together and figure something else out. I walk out of the store and think that maybe that 16-hour bus ride is not such a bad idea after all.
As I’m headed, dejected, back to my hotel, I see a busy hostel and think they might be able to help. The Nice Man there doesn’t speak English. (Most Colombians, I am finding, do not. They speak their lovely mother tongue at the speed of sound.) But he has another idea. Why not go to the airport and see if they can help me there? Good idea, one we hadn’t thought of yet. Back at my hotel, I ask the Nice Woman if she can call Viva Colombia for me again to find out if this is possible. She calls, I tell the Nice Woman on the phone that it’s been something like 4 hours that I’ve been trying (she must know this, I’ve decided) and will this new idea work? “Please, I beg you, tell me the truth, will it work?” “Yes, it will work. Go to the airport and buy your more-expensive-because-you’re-buying-it-at-the-airport ticket.” Okay, I’ll do it. I find a cab, he’ll wait for me while I buy the ticket and bring me back to the hotel. It’s now going on 5 hours since all this began.
I get to the airport. I easily find the Viva Colombia kiosk. I’m excited. I ignore the ‘Cerrado’ sign since there are women on the other side of the plexiglass. Nice women, I decide. Nice women who will help me. No. They won’t. Yes, they are closed. Open in 30 minutes. I send the nice cab driver on his way and I wait. Even though there are now eight, count them, eight Nice Women inside. Still, they are closed. I return at 2:25. I talk nicely to the Nice Woman. Yes, she can help me make the reservation for the flight tomorrow. But what about my return flight? I don’t know anything about my return flight now, I explain. I’ll decide that later. No, says the Nice Woman. A one-way reservation is not possible. I must have a return flight. This is news. This is news that I don’t want. I don’t know when I am returning. I want to go to the island and decide once I am there how long I want to stay. This is how I travel. No reservations. No plan. Just go with the flow. Don’t you understand, Nice Woman? No. She does not. Sorry. This is not possible. Oh, she doesn’t speak English either, but I understand that this is what she is saying. Through the plexi-glass. I get her drift. And I don’t like it. Can I change the date of my return ticket if I want to? Yes, but not on the phone. You must fly from Isla Providencia back to Isla San Andres and then back to Providencia to change it. But I don’t know my itinerary! You must. You must get a return ticket now. I go silent. We look at one another. It is clear that like my few rules that I follow, she’s not bending this one.
I walk away. I cannot decide. I sit on a bench in the airport and I cry again and My Manager lets me. I go back and forth too many times trying to figure out about the bus or the flights and the dates and not wanting to be locked in to dates, but realizing I have no choice. Okay, I have to decide here and now. I notice that every time I think about 16+ hours on the bus, I am even less happy than I am with all this mess of tickets to the island. I don’t want to take the long bus ride. Then I notice that I don’t want to admit that, like I’m some wimpy, sell-out of a traveler that I don’t want to do it; but it comes through loud and clear – I don’t wanna and I have the good sense to listen to that voice, Praise the Goddess! I sit with my phone calendar figuring and refiguring and then figuring again. And then I return to the Nice Woman at Viva Colombia and tell her I am ready to book the reservation. She smiles. I smile. And I do. I make the reservation. Round trip.
Ya gotta know when to keep on keepin’ on and when to stop pushing. When to be fiercely determined and when to let that shit go. When to surrender and when to never give up. Discern when to persevere and when to acquiesce. It’s not a simple or easy call out here in this 3rd world (or in any world, for that matter). I keep on learning and listening.
I head back with a nice cab driver. I ask him to take me to the San Felipe Castle where I can stroll around awhile, act like a tourist even, because I decide I’m going to go on and have my day even though it’s 4 o’clock now. And so we have a nice conversation in Spanish and I have my nice afternoon.
I take another walk to the walled city and a young Colombian woman approaches me, speaking English. She tells me that she and her friend are looking to talk to English speakers and would I be willing to talk to them? She seems like yet another Nice Colombian woman. I smile and say yes. She has a small brochure and she asks me how I feel about the future. I tell her that that depends on what we are able to do about the terrible dictator in our country right now. She empathetically listens and says, “yes, it’s a terrible thing, happening in many parts of the world right now. We are all scared about what is happening.”
And then there, in the middle of the beautiful promenade headed into the walled city, I am suddenly crying, but this time different tears than about the airline tickets and trip plans. I am crying with this woman about my country. I say how ashamed I am of our government, how horrified I am by what these men are doing, how awful it is. But then, too, how heartened I am by the activism and the speaking truth to power and how complicated all these feelings are out here in the world as I also struggle with my frustrating, fucked-up day and the guilt I feel when I think about people being detained and deported in airports all over my country and how fucked-up their days are and how I know I don’t need to compare to make myself less entitled to my own feelings, but that it’s hard not to. I can’t believe I am saying all these things to this Nice Woman. I apologize. No need, she says. She gives me a sad face and says she understands. She hands me her brochure and starts quoting Scripture.
It’s then that I realize they are Jehovah’s Witnesses!!! Oh. My. God. I am crying in the street with Jehovah’s Witnesses!!! There is some sweet, however twisted it may be, satisfaction in all this. I smile, take her brochure, walk away and I start laughing out loud like a damn fool. Has anyone seen this whole thing?
Then I take a self-guided tour of all the amazing Cartagena Street Art, I find a park where local people are making amazing music and dancing amazing dances. I have an amazing salad for dinner and my no-good, terrible, fucked-up day has suddenly turned around.
My back is still having a hard time. Stretching helps, but only a little. I’m still looking around for my chiropractor just in case he took a quick trip down here.
That’s how it is out here on the road in South America. Yep, I had forgotten about how these kinda fucked-up days will happen. Rolling with them is part of the deal. So is celebrating how quickly they can turn to amazing. Now I remember.
But hey, now I’m headed to Isla San Andres and hopefully onward to Isla Providencia, too, tomorrow! Stay tuned. If you can stand it!