A La Mondain Trip to Cartagena

I promised in my last Life update that I would write about my time in Cartagena with the boys. I’ve honestly been putting off writing it for so long because I long so strongly to be walking through those sweltering nights again, drunk on the heady perfume of its people and the thick salty air. I miss the sand that found its way into every crease of clothing, every pore. I miss the stiff curls my hair developed from ocean water. I miss the people, with their beautiful toasted cinnamon skin and beat-driven swaggers down the street. I miss the music that called from what seemed like every window, it’s quick reggae beats and the Spanish rap that I didn’t understand but felt in my ligaments, begging my hips to move and my head to fall back. I miss walking down the dirty cobblestone with a beer in hand and a wonderful man on either side of me. I miss the boys. I miss our deep beach talks under pink skies and our night swims.

I already knew I loved Josh from our incredibly obnoxious, sometimes destructive, and ultimately wonderful time living together as roommates in Boulder. He was like a more positive, drunk-wall-punching version of me. We’d created many memories together over the last couple years, a lot of which neither of us can really remember clearly. He crept up as a best friend and became more like a brother. We fought like siblings, too, knowing well what buttons to push to piss each other off and having the kind of fun a four year old might using them. We reveled in that mutual space we shared where life seemed so important but we didn’t seem to be doing anything about it, floating in stagnant potential, ready for the next night to be the best night ever. I didn’t realize how much I loved Ryan, though. We’d bonded in Boulder over our similar counterpart roles to Josh, had a few good dinners and some interesting drunk adventures, but hadn’t gotten too deep. During this trip, however, we had the chance to really flesh out our philosophies on life together and good gracious are his beautiful. There are few people I’ve met in my life who just get my confusingly detached and yet intricately romantic view of life, humanity, and the world. Ryan is one of them.  Some people just have life by the balls and know how to pursue what they want. That’s Ryan; driven, ready to take on every opportunity, and on top of it compassionate and loving without incentive. I admire him.

Our first day in Cartagena we wandered out in the afternoon, the only day we were really able to get out of the hostel before the sun began its descent. Josh and I were on a mission for coastal clothing. Neither of us had much success in our quest. Ryan and I cooed at every skinny street pup that crossed our path and Josh made fun of our soft hearts. The conversation that grew from this went something like this:

Josh: You two seriously like dogs.

Ryan: That’s because dogs are adorable.

Jamie: Especially puppies. Pretty much any animal’s infant version is adorable.

Ryan: Kittens are adorable.

Jamie: Baby hippos are adorable

Ryan: Joeys are adorable

Jamie: And most guinea pigs.

Ryan: Yeah, only most guinea pigs. John is a great guinea pig, but good god Tim is ugly. They came as a pair, so we didn’t really choose him.

Jamie: Tim, ugliest guinea pig I’ve ever set eyes on, but goddamn it he’s ours so we love the ugly fucker anyway.

Ryan: Yep, ugliest guinea pig in the world, but damn it he’s ours.

This conversation, other than being a you-had-to-be-there crack-up-fest, became the metaphor for our favorite, or rather, most frequented beach in Cartagena. We named the beach Tim.

We found Tim on our first quest for a sandy spot to watch the sunset on. We wandered on some local’s directions down a four lane highway searching for a place to buy rum and a beach to occupy. We stumbled upon the heaven of gas stations where we found rum, much coveted coconut water, and Snyder’s mustard pretzels – a personal favorite for all three of us. Two of these products were rare finds in the coastal region, though you would think that coconut water would be abundant. We nicknamed the gas station Americamart and became frequent customers during our journeys to Tim later on in the week. We found Tim across the street from Americamart. He was more of a convenience than anything that first night. The sun was setting and we need to put our butts on the ground quick if we planned on lighting up our cigars before it was completely below the horizon.

We cleared Tim of a couple plastic bags and a dead fish carcass and called him ours. We passively watched a couple of men try and fly a kite from the rock pier. We played music on the portable speaker. Our first sunset on the beach together brought up a lot of intense conversation about how to live and love. We laid bare our pasts and souls in a new way. There was something about being together so far from home that triggered a sense of nostalgia within a sense of passage. That beach became a sort of home away from home for us, like our favorite bar where you know exactly who to expect, know that you’ll have a good time. It definitely wasn’t the best beach off the highway, but we’d made it ours that night. And so Tim was born. We finished the first bottle of rum quickly and ran back to Americamart for more. The night sky opened up and twinkled down at us. We ran into the ocean.

Our days followed this way for the extent of our time in Cartagena, with little twists here and there. We danced. We made friends with other travelers, with people on the streets. We hung out on sidewalks with the prowling club promoters, always trying to get us inside to pay double for a beer. To which we laughed and raised our cans. We hung out in the hostel and listened to the Argentinians play live music while everybody laughed and got to know each other through a haze of cigarette smoke and rum. We danced more. We never woke up before 11, if we even woke up that early. Cartagena was smiles and companionship. It was meeting new people and music. We befriended a group of dudes from Bogota who broke out their longboard the first night we met them. They liked electronic music and claimed they knew where to find it back in the city. I vowed to keep in touch with them; I could always use more friends in the big city.

The days and nights began to bleed into each other. They seemed to all carry similar elements. We had developed a group routine early on: a bottle of rum, King’s Cup, Cuban cigars, and the portable speaker. These accoutrements were our essentials that followed us everywhere and aided our fuzzy adventures. Many a night we weaved our way back to the cornerstores for more bottles of rum, found the prime place to buy cheap Cuban cigars, at some point visited Tim. We delighted in the intense color of the city. Everything was bright – the flowers, the walls, the clothing, the peoples’ smiles, the personalities. We couldn’t get enough of it. Our lives were consumed with laughter.

There was one more notable tradition that came to define our time in Cartagena. The hamburger stand. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a hamburger so much in my life, particularly since I’m really not much of a hamburger person. Actually, none of us really ever ate meat, but there was something about the allure of street food and the enticing smells that begged our attention to this particular cart. Two rather rotund ladies stood behind a flat stove with extremely discontent looks on their faces. They seemed annoyed whenever a customer approached, laboring to their feet to begin the intricate process that was their specialty hamburger. Good god, when they were finished, however, and the first bite touched our tongues, we fell in love. These women were deities; the deities of hamburgers. I can’t even explain the incredible flavor explosion that was these incredibly unique and un-mimicable burgers. Screw “American” food – Cartagenians know how to do burgers. We visited the hamburger stand three nights in a row, could hardly wait to drink ourselves into a state of enough shamelessness to indulge again. I’ll never forget those ladies. Saints.

During our last couple days in Cartagena, Josh and Ryan began to plan the next leg of their adventure and I drew into myself as I realized that I didn’t get to be a part of this. It took everything in my short supply of willpower to not buy a ticket on the boat they were taking to Panama. It took everything in me not to empty my bank account and never look back. Again I damned myself for tying my life to responsibility and leaving my short-term future shut to such floating adventure. But so is life. Everything is timing. It wasn’t my time, it was theirs. So we did our best to keep the party rolling until the very last second of our very last night. My flight was early and their boat departure wasn’t until afternoon on the last day, so they got to say goodbye to me first. Hardly peeling themselves out of bed for our farewell hugs, I laid next to Josh and made him promise to figure his fucking life out before I saw him next – in about nine months. He made the promise. I told Ryan I loved him and made him promise to have epic adventures and to never stop writing about them so that I could live vicariously through them. Their eyes fluttered shut as I turned the light in the room we’d shared for the past five days off and shut the door behind me.

I pride myself in being the sort of person that never looks back when I’ve made a decision to go forward. I couldn’t do it that time, though. My hand lingered on the outside of the door for a couple moments. My mind was racing, my heart sore. I chewed on the inside of my lip as I considered “missing” my plane. But finally, I took a deep breathe and walked away.


– Jaime Dyna La Mondain

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