El Camarón pt. 1/2 (Barranquilla, Colombia)

Camarón que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente…


Cover photo: Emily de la Paz @emily_delapaz

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Go to the Plaza, I thought. No, the city center or may—

My eyes clenched as fabric scratched along the rubbled ledge of a concrete curb. I stopped and waited for my companion to catch up, time dragging as drops of sweat trickled down my sternum. My thoughts rattled with the plastic wheels of his approaching rolling suitcase.

“Hurry up, dude,” I muttered, kicking the dirt out of my flip flops.

The sun had risen over the Barranquilla city hustle as it sprang alive alongside my erupting hangover. We shared the road ahead of us with a few cabs and shirtless men as they revealed the secret ingredients to their weekend leisure: Vallenato music, light beer, lounge chairs, and a soccer ball.

I arrived late the night before with a belly full of saltines, but with enough time to supress my appetite over a case of Club Colombia and conversation with strangers.

“I think it’s another ten minutes in this direction” My companion said, pointing left at the next intersection.

“And you’re sure there’s buses are up here?” I asked.

“Sure. One of the girls at the hostel told me airport buses pick up over here,” He said, pointing at a road his smartphone map, “I’m sure you’ll find what you’re looking for.”

“Right,” I said, struggling to remember his name to no avail.

bellavista.jpg
The sun had risen over the Barranquilla city hustle as it sprang alive alongside my erupting hangover.

I met him halfway through my third beer. I offered him a can and he sat and talked to me. He sounded North American except for the peculiar way he stumbled on his r’s. His face was bright, fresh with a red tint, and his sandy blonde hair covered his scalp like frayed palm tree foliage.

He told me he’s Dutch, and it was his first time outside of Europe. After six weeks of mingling around the “Gringo” towns sprinkled across the Colombian coast, he decided he had seen enough and booked himself a flight to the Galapagos. He told me he planned on leaving the hostel the same time I did.

With each beer I drank, I became less interested in the words he said and more fixated on his untidy facial hair speckled along his chin and cheeks, a patchy collage of brown and blonde. I agreed to accompany him to the buses.

“Thanks again for coming with me,” He said, picking up his pace.

“Don’t mention it. I would have taken a taxi anyway.”

“Better this way to save some money, eh?”

We approached a dirt hill, and I walked over it with ease, waiting for him to pull his bag up and over the rocks and filth.

What’s the bus you’re looking for again?” He asked.

“Santo Tomas.”

“Never heard of it.”

“Me neither,” I said, brushing the hair from my face as wind tore dust and trash up the empty street.

“And what’s there?”

“My girlfriend.”

“Your girlfriend is Colombian?”

“No. She volunteers with the Peace Corps. I haven’t seen her since they sent her off two months ago.”

“What’s the Peace Corps?” He asked, stopping to light a cigarette.

I turned the corner and waited for him by the road. A bus passed by and shot a stream of exhaust into our faces, forming a nauseating duet of smoke and exhaust. I sneezed.    

“You ask a lot of questions,” I wheezed, recovering from the change of air quality, “How much longer are we following this road for anyway?”

“I think this is it,” He said, checking our location on his phone again.

Taxis, buses, motos, and cars sped along the boulevard beside us. Across the street were some food carts setting up for the day, and the direction of traffic was separated by a tiled median.

bus traffic

“It’s just another fucking boulevard,” I said.

“And this is where the buses go to the airport,” He said, his eyes locked on the screen.

“These are the same buses that drive in every part of the city. I don’t know what you’re on about.”

“Give me a minute,” He mumbled, rushing to the street to hail a bus.

I lingered behind him, watching him shout out in English to a young doorman waiting for him to enter. But he just stood there, building up a line of traffic as car horns wailed. The young Portero’s face began to flush as his confusion turned to anger. His patience drained thin.

I didn’t care to move any closer to the scene as the two shouted in different languages at each other, pointing and waving their hands in all directions until the bus door shut and took off.

“Did you get any of that?” He asked me.

“I couldn’t hear a damn thing.”

“You reckon–”

“I don’t reckon anything.” I yawned.

“Pardon?”

“Who gave you this information again?”

“A girl from the hostel.”

“The receptionist, right? The Colombian receptionist?”

“No, she’s a traveler from France.”

“And she’s been in Barranquilla for a bit?”

“I think a few days, but she’s–”

I walked towards the road, hailing the first taxi in sight, “You coming?”

“What are you doing?”

“The buses don’t pick up here. I’m going to take a cab to where they do.” A cab pulled over, and I opened the backdoor, turning around to face him one last time.

“I don’t really have the money for a cab,” He said, looking down the line of buses approaching, “I think I’m going to stay and look–”

“Good luck to you,” I said, plopping down into the taxi and closing the door.

I jabbed my thumbs into my eyes, “I should have eaten dinner,” I muttered.

“Como?” The taxi driver said, staring through his rearview mirror.

The plaza? No, the city center, I thought, developing the right sentence to say to the driver. But the traffic behind us built in noise and fury, and the cab began to move without direction.

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