Tuesday, September 10, 2013

From vagabond princess to queen of resort

Written by Laura Lazzarino 
Translated by Laura Rojas Palacio

The first time I came to Cartagena, I entered it through the back door. For me, there was no great impact of an airport with palm trees, no mythical fortified city, neither there was a first time picture from a postcard. That time I had to see in Cartagena what tourists never see and what few travelers want to see: the stifling of pavement and stickiness, the sinfonic and citylike noise of the outskirts. I slept in the house of a belgian manufacturer of weapons  who danced lambada in underwear and was running away from Saddam Husseinintheperipheralsuburbsof the city. Following my memories, I shall be honest and confess that the first steps through Cartagena were such antonyms that the second day of impossible heat and complete isolation, I sat on a sidewalk and started crying. Awhimwithoutkickingbut withmuch frustration that made metakerefuge inthe most backpackers-likehostel aroundGethsemane. From those first tears I turned to relief and love, and I was enchanted with this city and its colorful streets; with the mirages that it invents for tourists and with the real people that play dominoes in the Plaza deTrinidad.

The first time I came to Cartagena we could not spend more than 15 thousand colombian pesos a day, for two. We toured hotels until we got the cheapest, then we asked for trade, then we got a couch. In that occasion I sweated waterfalls under the inefficient blades of a single fan, I showered always with cold water –with my own soap- and I ate more fruit than I had eaten in my whole life.

Two years ago, the first time I came to Cartagena, I walked so much, always, everywhere, that I got to memorize the streets of the Centro Histórico, the faces of the sellers and the stray dogs. There was no taxi I took without negotiating the price to death, and I had to learn the idioms to gain some respect. In those days there was no bulky wallet, no medical insurance, and no reservations for anything. Each night, we went out to sell the photos and books in bars and restaurants in which we never sat at. The waiters were friends with us, the coachmen greeted us in the streets and we wandered through the fortified city skimming the edge of habituation.

The month that I spent in the city, the first time I came to Cartagena, I learned to eat arepas de huevo for dinner, to drink oatdrink in returnable bottles and to distinguish the best carimañolasand cheese-sticks. I fell in love –those loves that are forever- with tomate de árboljuice, but then I also comprehended that there is lulo, papaya, cohune, or passion fruit that can take you from hell to heaven in one single sip. Thus, the princess of mango and vagrant of cobbles, I let myself be rocked by Cartagena until I got her due permission to play the bells from the cathedral and cry out with her for the bicentennial of its independence.

I abandoned the city through pouring rain, little refreshing. It was a farewell with pity, because I did not want to leave and something told me that I could stay, maybe even forever.

The second time I came to Cartagena, two years after, someone had paid my ticket. With the victory of the acquired award, I came down the steps of the plane and the heat of the Caribbean soaked my woolen anklers that I had worn from Bogota. I entered, pun intended, through the precise entry door. There was someone waiting for me at the exit door, and, for the first time in my life, I saw my name on a sign. I was greeted with reverence, accompanied to the taxi –whose driver already knew my name and insisted calling me “dotora Laura”- and informed me that he would be my driver during the next five days. His name was Jaime and he was pissed every time I forgot to let him open the door for me. I had never had a driver before.

In my second time in Cartagena, I stayed in a 5 star hotel resort, 4 pools, 2 saunas, 1 hairdresser, and no place for imperfection. Two people assisted me with the chek-in, someone accompanied me to my suite and I could see my backpacks almost flying in a carriage with golden frames that seemed to float over the carpet. I had a brochure-room just for me with an extra King Size bed where to bestrew my dreams, five pillows, a duvet which I had to use –the aircon never grew tired- and a terrace with sea view. Each morning, an attendant gave me a good morning call, the cleaning lady changed my towels and soap, and a waiter was in charge to control the minibar. For breakfast I could choose from ripe tropical fruits, an international variety of scramble eggs and else fryings, deli, pancakes, biscuits, toast, or yoghurt. Or I could simply dive in and eat it all and wait for my driver taking the sun at the edge of the pool of the day, or escape to the private beach, or go back to bed and continue sleeping.Bacano, like Colombians say. Bacán, like we do.

A usual breakfast, in my first time in Cartagena

Queen of resort breakfast

The second time I came to Cartagena I used more my legs in the water that in the streets. The routinewas setin a swinghotel-restaurant-hotel that it scarcely left place for the rest of the itinerary. I ate every day in a different gourmet retaurant inside the city, fortified against pirates and disorder.  Unfortunately, no one came to me to sell a book or a postcard. I smiled at the waiters that assured me that those delights of photography were the most autentic  recipes from Cartagena. And I laughed to see the expression in their faces when hearing my story. I always asked for entree and dessert; they put in front of me more shrimps than I’m able to accept and I had to buy pills to digest such eatable lust.

The second time I came to Cartagena I did not have to worry about my expenses. I had in my wallet less notes than needed, but that was not a problem. “Hello, I am Laura Lazzarino and I have a reservation” and hocus-pocus. Doors were opened, plates were served, no one deprived from smiling at me and I only had to sign. I was not even bothered to look at what I signed. The life of queen of resort had an expiring date too short to get use to and too real to let oneself down. Isimply had tolimit myselfto toast withmy destiny, to fillthe blank pagesinmy diaryof travels and to enjoythe luxuries of aninvisible gold card.

When the bells played twelve and the carriage threatened to become pumpkin, The Hotel Las Américas decided that the Acrobats could stay a couple of days more. Juan came through the door with an incredulous smilethat fitted perfect. In a certain way, he broke the spell. He too, perpetuated the charm. The streets of San Diego again took color with us both, hand on hand, and in a melodic and gradual way, the little crystal shoes became flip flops and we turned from cars to ride buses like wild horses.

If someone asks me, it would be unfair to say which of the two times I liked the most. Perhaps the uniqueness of each trip has its own spell and brings us to change eyes and mold us like bugs of play dough. Maybe the sample is very large and one can go back and forth through the world without ever repeating.

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