Thoughts From the Dirt Path

Only 3,000 people visit Punta Gallinas every year. I am one of those people.

To say that Colombia is the most bio-diverse country in the world means nothing to the experience of trekking from rainforest to ocean-fronted desert to snow-capped mountains.

Wild goats roam across the dirt path that is the road, take cover in dry shrubbery. Put noses to ground to find what I don’t know, there is nothing but dried sticks and cacti out here.

Tin shacks that pop up out of nowhere like graves. Surrounded by fences built of cacti, drying clothing from their dusty spikes.

The ground flattens and shimmers under the merciless sun and I have the same thought that all humans have when they see something shiny – this place must be special. Where does this come from? Machinery in the distance and beach front beyond and these differing colors of white fields, glittering. Salt flats. The original points of civilized commerce were all based around salt flats and mines. This place is desolate but for this farm factory on the outskirts of indigenous territory.

And I am always too honest when the Costeño driver asks if I have a boyfriend. Tells me I’m beautiful in five different ways in Spanish, a queen, and tells me to make him my Costeño boyfriend and stay with him in La Guajira. I am alone in the car. I laugh nervously and ask him who mines the salt, Colombia or the native Wayuu.

Roads that don’t exist, navigating jeeps like ships by landmarks in the distance, across planes of dry brown earth, desert, through forests of cacti. Cacti trees and cacti shrubs. The horizon wavers in the heat, looks like water but isn’t water. Forerunners racing dust clouds. Wild goats, wild boar, a lone wandering cow; skin draped over bones, a labored, tired clomp, genitals swinging low. Spotted mules follow faint car tracks through brush, a gangle of sinewy muscle, chuckling together like teenagers.

A herder is not a master but one of the herd, a leader.

Today I ate goat for the first time. How do people live all the way out here? What do they do all day? Where do they get water?

Dust thick like fog, moving 80 miles per hour in zero visibility by vague hints of tracks in the sand.

These women sit in the shade of the building for fourteen hours every day, moving from one side to the other with the sun. Weaving baskets for fourteen hours every day.

What is it about the beach at night, when you can’t tell where you’re going or how far away the water is. The sound of waves, a growl. The faces of the people next to you lost in the dark, just voices, just an idea of people. And all there is is stars.

Every 50 feet or so through the small forgotten community, this collection of stands of shade built of sticks, mothers and older sisters sit and weave. A wire stretches across the dirt road and our caravan of trucks stops. The driver opens a bag of suckers. Sunbaked children run between the cars. They call them the candy bandits. The driver waves the suckers out the window and little hands snatch at them and scatter. The wire drops and we move forward another 50 feet to the next wire. A mother comes up behind the children, a deep set frown on her leathered face. She asks the driver for money and he refuses eye contact. Offers two suckers to her. She stares at him for a moment and takes the suckers.

I sign the guest book in Punta Gallinas. My name in the desert of Colombia. Where nobody travels. I am here. And I smile at my partners in adventure and smoke another cigarette as I look off into the ocean mangroves below. A boat returns from fishing. We’re eating fish tonight.

 

– Jaime Dyna La Mondain

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