I like historical, nerd-type things because I have a vivid imagination. That also means I loathe horror movies, hearing about horror movies and er, contemplating anything to do with horror movies. But historical stuff is fine. I like standing on the wall in Cartagena and watching the pirate ships on the horizon. I like wandering through cathedrals and feeling the blood, sweat and tears of those who built them. It keeps life interesting.
So you can imagine my disappointment when I went all the way to Mexico and Guatemala to hang out with the Mayans, in those spectacular ruins and I felt absolutely nothing. Not a glimmer. I stood in the ball court so I could watch them playing – running, concentrating, sweating, shouting – and no-one appeared. I climbed on some of the ruins, wondering if I would see some agitated ancient Mayan folk racing up and down. But nope. There was nothing.
I decided they were evading me because I hadn’t read enough books and then I realised that you really can’t win them all and it wasn’t like the world had ended in December 2012 anyway, so, the Mayans and me? We just weren’t meant to be.
I came back to Bogotá and forgot about them. I concentrated on more pressing issues such as finding a home, sorting out work, re-locating my friends, making some new ones and generally just giving the city one of those fierce sorry-I-went-away-I-won’t-do-it-again type hugs we all give when we’re secretly relieved to be home.
It’s taken me two months to get life sorted; get my world back on track and decide exactly what I’m doing. The process has been interesting, occasionally painful and touched with that fatal blend of arrogance and self-doubt but, finally, I’m there. And, as you know I realised the only way I’m going to achieve anything is if I enjoy the city a little less and give back a little more.
(That was my nice way of saying it was time to put my party dresses away)
But it was one of those awkward things you don’t want to tell anyone, because it sounds too prim and proper and, well, even nerdier than admitting that one of the only reasons you go to Cartagena is so you can stand on the wall and picture the galleons on the horizon.
Except that something weird is going on. Apparently I am not alone in my sudden, fierce desire to prove something to the world. Everyone around me has been caught by the same flame and it’s not like it’s contagious – plenty of my new born juicioso friends don’t even know each other.
I was talking to one of them the other day (in Juan Valdez, where else?) when I joked that maybe I should drink less coffee.
“I know what you mean,” he replied softly, resting his head in his hands.
“I’ve cut down on drinking. I decided that I really wanted to achieve some stuff this year and giving up a few vices is the only way to do it.”
I looked at him in amazement.
“That would be completely normal,” I replied slowly.
“If it wasn’t for the fact everyone, everyone, I know in this city is doing the same thing. And if they’re not cutting down on partying, they’re quitting smoking. The most unlikely people and all at the same time and all because they want to achieve something.”
“It’s just our age Vicks,” he said.
“We’ve realised we can’t handle it any more.”
He may have a point. I remember once reading that the most productive, creative age was 30 (there was a study of the best years of jazz musicians that supposedly supported the theory) and it had something to do with the thirties being the best blend of youthful, fearless self-belief touched by enough life experience to add humility and authenticity.
But my friends are as diverse in age as they are in nationality. And surely it can’t be true that you suddenly hit your thirties and realise you’re allergic to hangovers? All at the same time? And all with a few dreams thrown into the mix?
Rubbish, I thought. There is obviously just something in the air. I decided to walk home and, as I did, I passed a large, skinny flight of steps. “That’s just like something a Mayan would run up,” I thought absently. And then I saw the little git. I swear there was mockery on the soles of his feet as he danced up those steps, no doubt fully aware of how much it costs to fly to central America. “Now you bother to turn up,” I thought crossly and refused to look at him again.
(Just as an aside, I know millions of people have equally overactive imaginations. Isn’t it a relief when one of those moments arrives and you’re alone? When I was a child my mother used to say I was “away with the fairies,” and I generally like being in groups because people don’t notice when you get lost for a second. Being in a pair is awkward on the basis that a) your vacant expression is obvious and b) sometimes people ask you what you are thinking about. To be very clear, the answer to that question is never: “The Mayans.”)
Still I saw that Mayan, on a very modern, rain-soaked Bogotá flight of stairs, for a reason. I think he was gently trying to prove a point. The world didn’t end last year but maybe something shifted. Maybe something did change. Or maybe there is just something in drinking water.
Like this? You’ll love Colombia a comedy of errors.