A human ‘Iguana’ in Colombia, and why bridges are a good idea

“Iguana, Iguana, Iguana!” the little girl shouted, pointing to me. I laughed and bought a little bracelet off her for 1,000 pesos. I’m living amongst Mohawk-reptiles, bats, wild parrots, many other bird species, and ants. Zillions of them. They populate the dwellings of Cali, Barranquilla, and right here, invading kitchens and pouncing at anything sweet. Humans cook and eat the bigger ants [they taste like popcorn apparently], so they are obviously getting their revenge.

It’s so hot that walking out my front door every day is just like walking into an oven. It hadn’t rained for almost a year down this way, and yet in just three days it has poured down twice. It was tropical rain following thunderstorms, or a warm welcome for the Englishman, it’s hard to know. I’m a Deaf English guy living amongst hearing people in a small village and so far, after many socials, shopping and beach trips, all is going well and I have made some friends.

It only struck me when I was there, on the gorgeous, picturesque, sandy, Caribbean, virtually people-free beach of Mayapo, that these are places north Europeans would normally only head to for a holiday break. Here, for those of us fortunate enough, it was a ‘local’ beach visit. [Ok it did take a few hours’ drive to get there.] There was a hammock and after a dip in the warm ocean, I swung on that for a bit while reading Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’. The visit reminded me of being a boy and within a stone’s throw of Brighton and Newhaven beaches; only it was less humid and often cooler. There were no hammocks there but they were good times nevertheless.

The drive to the beach [and to Rioacha, where we shopped and ate the weekend before last, and the one before that] is rocky driving for the first half hour. Thereafter the roads are kinder. You can stop by the roadside and buy sweet products for sale in tubs. Beats many chocolates I’ve tried in my lifetime. A lorry was overturned in the road, resting on its side, which was a reminder of the haphazard driving around these parts. Our driver often drove on the left because the right side was full of holes and bumps. It was all a breeze, though, compared to India. We passed a military tank on one of the streets last weekend, not sure why it was there. Far more common is the gasoline for sale in plastic containers or steel tanks, no doubt obtained from across the border in Venezuela. The people selling the petrol are always busy, unsurprising given this product is so cheap. [Fun fact: Venezuela petrol/gas is the cheapest in the world.]

Now when I write ‘hot’ it’s always over 30 degrees centigrade during the daytime – often it’s in the mid-30’s or above. Humidity is difficult to measure, but it’s pretty dense. Always. Respite outside comes at evening, where it drops to around the mid-20’s. Thankfully, we have air-conditioning; otherwise it would be a struggle to survive.

I run at 5am in the mornings, but last week managed a 5pm run, albeit for only 25 mins. Nearby, there’s a nice quiet road to run down, over a rail track and around a golf course. So one morning I passed over the track and turned left, and ran 1km beside said course, turned left again to run across the track, only it was blocked by a *very long cargo train* going *very slowly*, so I headed back to where I had originally crossed but when I got there the train was still struggling. The rear of the train was near, however, so I stopped and waited for it to pass. This experience is an example of why bridges and underpasses are such a good idea.

There is still a lot to do since moving to Colombia over two months ago. Write up the research articles that have been building up for years. Learn Spanish, especially. Get used to the culture of the ‘north coast’, as my partner calls it. Obtain my visa to enable me a long term stay. One of the highlights, so far, is the film nights; largely alternative, non-Hollywood. We went round to watch the remarkable film ‘Cloud Atlas’ a couple of weekends ago. It didn’t have English subtitles, but the guy’s son kindly downloaded them so I could enjoy the film amidst company. Cappuccino and a lovely Italian-style cake were served, one of many such nights one hopes. In between we can access the gem of a website watch32.com, which puts up subtitles of English language films.

Now I do miss Bristol and friends at home, as well as some of the English cuisine, especially baked beans in tomato sauce. But with the abundant delicious fruits one cannot really complain. On that note I squeezed 12 large oranges via a juice extractor which made 1.5 litres of fresh juice. Grapefruits are scarce, but the local shop was selling them so I eagerly made a purchase of a massive three. Half a litre.

Things have not been all hunky-dory; there have been numerous frustrations with bureaucrats, faulty shopping products and some utterly pointless security checks. And yucky ‘potable water’ that leaves dirt taste in the mouth. They will surely be taking up blog space in the coming months ahead. But with a gorgeous Novia, juicy fruits, ice cream, ‘jet’ chocolate, endless hot days, an easy-going pace of life, friendly people, and excellent fun football Friday’s, it’s been a great and happy start to my new life in a South American village so far.

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