Tag Archives: ocean

Blood and Water

Two children drowned today. They splashed into the wind and the waves took them, first the girl, then her brother after her.

The sea sent her back quickly, washed up limp in a monokini. The boy was lost longer, caught in a furious, steel grey current until he stopped resisting.

The lifeguard blamed the tourists; the police chief blamed the wind; the mayor blamed the tragic times we live in and vowed to hold a meeting.

This evening, I walked to the beach for the sunset. I thought about walking to the edge of the water, where the froth hits the packed, brown sand. I wondered if the water would carry blood, touching my toes with its shame.

Of course not; those two kids didn’t bleed. They only stopped breathing, panicked and unsure of which way was up until their lungs surrendered.

The only blood to be seen is the scarlet clouds welcoming the prettiest sunset we’ve had in weeks, but nobody’s enjoying it.


Save it for a Rainy Day

I pack my candy-striped beach bag: rolled up towel, journal, pen and pencil, Nalgene, phone, a couple of wadded pesos, floppy hat. I spray sunscreen from my ears to my pedicured toes, and set out down the back stairs to the beach. I forget to invite the sun, but decide to stick it out for the pelicans.

The wind blows sand into my mango-and-lime that I buy from the bearded man I think is one of my students’ uncles. I don’t even try to bargain with him; I’ll pay full price today.

I scribble a bit in my journal and laugh at the little naked girl jumping in the waves. Her parents go farther into the waves, drifting towards the muelle and splashing each other. Cautiously, the little girl stays back. First, she shouts  into the wind, but only the pelicans hear her. Then, she resorts to every kid’s hidden tool: wailing and beating her tiny hands against the packed, wet sand. Her parents splash farther away. Finally, the little naked girl retreats to her unamused brother’s side to pout until they un-abandon her.

I pack up and head to say hi to my artisan friends who work at the muelle, their hanging beads and woven bracelets a tranquil contrast to the beating salsa music. Eme says she’s fine; she’s been watching the clouds today. They’re dark over the hill, painting the trees a brighter green.

“It might rain,” she says.

“In my country, we dance in the first rain,” I say. She smiles at me like one might smile at a kid who still believes in the Easter Bunny.

And maybe it is childish, and maybe not all Americans dance in the rain. Probably a minority do, and it’s probably silly and unsanitary. But I still like the idea.

Then suddenly, after six months, I feel a drop! And another! Then the dark clouds open up, fast waterfalls spilling off the roofs and turning the street into an oily river. Water falling from the sky; water flowing over the sidewalk; water swirling where the heavy drops hit the waves below the pier.

I giggle like a little girl. The other rain-watchers smile at me. But no one is dancing. I hesitate.

Then, I leave my bag with my friend and jump into the street, splashing dirty water with my flip flops. “Hey teacher, what are you doing?” someone yells from the safety of the shops.

“In my country, we dance!” I shout, flapping my arms like those pelicans.

I run to the sea and keep going, gulping the fresh rain smell and the grey sea smell and waving up at the clouds. I’ve been holding in my highs and lows the past few weeks, mingling into a muddy mess. Now, it all comes out, and I throw off the uncertainties, dance a salsa step for all the blessings, and laugh. I am joyful.

I’d been saving it for a rainy day.


I’m an (unlucky) fisherwoman–and a poet!

Today, I took a break from lesson plans and meandered down to the pier. The 4 pm sun was strong as I stopped by the vegetable store to inquire about avocados (I’m gaining something of a reputation as an avocado eater). Lucky for me, they not only had ripe avocados but also fresh spinach! I think I confuse the vegetable men with my enthusiasm for green things, but they cheerfully bagged my purchases and said, “see you later, my queen!”

I took the quickest route–in front of the catedral–then cut to the back street to avoid the tourist hunters in the main plaza. Today, I just wasn’t in the mood to explain that a) I live here and b) I’m too poor for your chicken dinner this month. On the back street, I heard the waves as I passed behind the restaurant row. Between the plastic tables, I caught a glimpse of the old muelle. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, the muelle used to be the longest, busiest pier in South America; today, it’s four stubborn slabs of broken concrete and steel, a shadow of the glorious railroad days and tourists’ pocketbooks that used to come from all over to witness the bustle. Now a days, the old men call it “the four piers of Puerto Colombia,” a sad joke before they take another pull on their frosty Aguila Lights.

I made a beeline for Amelia’s jewelry stand of woven bracelets and shell necklaces that tinkle in the gusty breeze. She’s always here, clenching a needle in her teeth as she threads shells onto fishing wire. I met Amelia a few weeks ago when I decided I was going to introduce myself to all the artisans on the pier so that they’d stop trying to sell me stuff. This afternoon, she lit up when she saw me, laying out a piece of heavy cloth for me to sit on. We tried to exchange New Year’s stories, but the vallenato music at the adjacent restaurant was too loud and she had customers. I left my avocado with her and headed for the muelle.

December is the month of breezes and “cooler” temperatures (around 80-85 degrees), and the strong winds almost blew me over as I walked out over the waves. On the right side, the open sea was choppy and high as it crashed into the cement; on the left side, the leftover wave fragments are still for a moment before recollecting themselves and rushing towards the rocky beach. In this still spot, Ramiro was fishing.

Apparently, Ramiro and I are neighbors, but I didn’t recognize him when I started chatting with him about the wind conditions. He recognized me, though. He started to tell me stories about when the muelle was whole and an island guarded the puerto. He used to work the international ships that came to Puerto Colombia and to the mouth of the Magdalena River–English, Spanish and American liners. Nowadays, he’s pensioned and fishes for fun, although I can’t imagine any exercise in patience to be enjoyable. He laughed when I said I had bad luck for fishing–then handed me the line. “Just for a minute, while I rig the other one!” he promised.

I got into proper fishing position: back to the wind, eyes squinting at the setting sun. Every passerby stopped to look at me, look at the fishing line, and look at the dying fish next to me.

La gringa pescadera! The white girl fisherman!” they murmured.

“His name is ‘Lunch’,” I shrugged back, deciding not to tell anyone that it wasn’t my catch to claim.

I watched the light turn pink on the foaming waves and  Ramiro sang in a sweet baritone voice, a ballad he wrote to the muelle for its 100th birthday. He sang about the view from the island; the tourists who used to come; the storms that broke it and its abandonment by the rest of Colombia.

For some reason, Ramiro decided that I’m a “beautiful artist”, and he talked about the music and the art and the beauty of the death of the muelle. He marveled at my travels and I realized that right here, on this hard piece of history, even those who stay in one place can understand the heart of a gypsy.


And then I went home and wrote a little poem, but it’s kind of in two languages, or Spanglish, or something:

El mar es mi hogar

pero falto las aletas o alas

para escapar de las olas

y me quedo en el muelle

contra el viento con ellas

The waves argue amongst themselves

against the wind

I lack feathers or fins to

fly over or under them

so I stay at the surface,

fighting the wind together with the waves.