When I first got here, each second felt elongated, weighted down by humidity then baked in place by the sun. Realizing I’ve been here almost two weeks this morning came as a shock. How could the weeks have flown while my body crawled in Caribbean time, drugged by the heat and alternatively stimulated by sounds, smells, and the unexpected daily pleasure of getting lost. Unbelievable. And like so many ‘challenges’, my initial frustrations with housing, torrential rains and sorting through my responsibilities as a teacher trainer are like a forgettable made-for-TV movie: hazy on details, a pleasant few hours without the need to ever see it again.
My student had it worse. Becoming a TOEFL teacher is challenging under any circumstances. Imagine: this guy Skyped his first two weeks of class – in a place with temperamental wi-fi. Mr. Gomez, his teacher, never showed. A practice class never materialized (expect for one student!). I showed up half-way through and disrupted his 90 minute lunch routine, while overloading his brain. This guy is ready for anything!
Wandering deserted city streets at noon today with no place to be, I silently commended people for brilliantly staying out of the sun for a short siesta. I had my sun umbrella (of course) walking the talk: ‘Why does Linda cross the street?” “To get out of the sun”. Fortunately streets are narrow and easy to jot across as I zig zagged to success – finally finding the Colombian artist Botero’s reclining woman.
This Ciudad Viejo (the old walled city Cartagena is known for) is all about the tourists, though locals swarm the streets selling hats, jewelry, and fruit. I have to differentiate because this area is not cheap. Food costs are comparable to what we’d pay in the U.S.. The typical salary is about $200/month USD. The math doesn’t add up. Most people work 2 jobs just to make ends meet – a universal story. I’ve passed homes without windows at ground level close to swampy areas that must easily flood – as I notice elevated homes meters away. Thatch roofs look charming on an urban restaurant, and utilitarian on a small hut planted on a rural hill with scrawny horses and cattle grazing close by. All this from my first world perspective – what goes through the minds of locals as they watch tourists pour through their city showering pesos for drinks and consumables like it’s raining money.
Today I’ll take advantage of my last day moving in slow motion. Drink coffee at Juan Valdez, visit the pallateria and eat fish so fresh it must have just come from the sea – just check out the pictures above. That and listen to the tales of fellow travelers who are kindred spirits as they adventurously wander the world seeking growth and fulfillment in awesome ways.