Wandering Brooks

in South America

Month: January, 2013

Mental Breakdown. Bad Medicine. Scuba Diving. Rest.

Kinga had two small sores on her leg when she left me in Palomino. I wasn’t expecting to see her again for at least a month, but only a week later I ran into her again in Taganga. Both her legs were covered with dozens of dime-sized infected wounds, probably originating from bug bites.

In Colombia you don’t need a prescription for anything. You can just go to a pharmacist and ask for whatever you want. When you know exactly what your problem is and what drug you need, this system is very convenient. But sometimes it can be dangerous. Kinga showed her legs to a pharmacist, who gave her an “antibiotic,” which was actually an anti-viral drug that was inappropriate for her condition and made things worse. To treat the stomach pain she started to experience, the pharmacist gave her a drug that is meant to treat acid reflux and peptic ulcers. Again, this drug was inappropriate and was even more harmful than the anti-viral drug.

I got infected too. We went to see a real doctor. There was a giant painting of Jesus looking down on us in the waiting room, the walls of which were totally covered with framed certificates of participation in this or that medical conference. “Looks like someone wants to win the Nobel Prize in medicine”, said the woman next to me. We got called in, and the Nobel hopeful identified it as a bacterial infection and prescribed a penicillin injection. I’m allergic to penicillin, so while lucky Kinga got a needle stabbed in the ass by a ruthless nurse, he told me to take a different kind of antibiotic pills. I learned two days later, however, that these pills are also in the penicillin family. He prescribed me a drug that could kill me.

According to the Internet, I was having warning sign side-effects. I hadn’t died, though, and I was almost done the three day course, so I decided to keep taking them. But then yesterday I blacked out in the shower. As my vision started to go dark and I fought in vain to stay conscious, I wondered if I might be dying. It was an interesting/scary experience, and I decided to abort the course of antibiotics. We have also been using a topical antibiotic cream, however, which seems to work quite well.

Kinga is doing better. So am I, in more ways that just the infection. The overcrowded loudness of the busy season had contributed to a small mental breakdown for me. Every hostel in Taganga was full when I got back from La Guajira earlier in January, but I found a tent in a cheap place called Ocean Reef. It was hotter in the tent than out, too hot to possibly fall asleep. It was so small that my head touched one end of the tent and my feet touched the other. The rocks stabbed me through the sleeping mat and I actually started to cry because I just wanted to fucking sleep and I couldn’t.

A friend from Québec, Jacinthe, visited Taganga the next day. She asked me how I was doing, although she could see that I was not doing well. I told her there are two kinds of happiness. There is feeling good and there is living an interesting life. I’m not happy according to the first kind, but I am having a very interesting experience, and for that I feel very happy. We did contact improv on the beach after the sun went down and she gave me a little massage and magical heart healing. It was nice to smile again and feel close to someone.

I escaped the insanity of Taganga by taking a PADI open-water diver course which included two nights accommodation in a private cabaña in Tayrona National Park. From about 2:00 pm, after our last dive of the day, until 9:00 am the next day, I was utterly alone under the roof of a simple palm-leaf hut facing the ocean. After the sun went down and I couldn’t read any more, I listened to my iPod for the second and third time during this trip. (It is an escape to listen to my music, and even when I am uncomfortable in Colombia, which is often, I still want to be here, not in my iPod world. But for the sake of my sanity, I made an exception this time.) I cried again, both nights, this time not because I was breaking down, but because I was so relieved to be alone and to have the space to feel my emotions fully.

The PADI course consisted of six dives. The first two dives were shit because my instructor was distracted by having to babysit two Colombian tourists doing a “Discover Dive,” meaning they had no experience and they weren’t doing the open-water course. He had to grab them both by the arm and pull them along, while I was left to figure things out on my own. The second day I learned all the skills you are supposed to spend two (or more) days learning. For instance, ten meters under the surface of the ocean, I practiced breathing from a mock malfunctioning regulator (the thing you stick in your mouth that gives you air) by holding it just outside my mouth and taking “sips” of the stream of air bubbles. The third day was pretty free, just diving for fun. Fish and coral, sure, but my favourite was just looking up and seeing the whole underwater landscape, and seeing a flock of divers flying in slow-motion beside me.

That was almost a week ago. Since then I have been living in the twilight zone, sleeping on the windy roof of a place called Casa de Maria. I spend most of my time lying in a hammock. Kinga and I have been taking turns being sicker and taking care of each other. It has been a sort of vacation from my vacation, which has been especially relaxing now that the high season is over and Taganga is back to being a calm fishing town with just a few tourists wandering around.


La Guajira

On New Year’s day, I shat in the jungle bushes beneath coconut palms as the sun rose over the gorgeous beach of Palomino. Diarrhea in paradise. The night before, Kinga and I had wandered for more than half an hour along the beach to get away from the crowds of vacationing Colombians, finally to set up our hammocks under the palms in a nicely isolated spot near a small river delta. The sun set on the last day of 2012. We gaped at the stars in awe. The flame on the horizon was not a housefire on the distant cape jutting into the ocean. It was the burning red moon rising over the sea.

We slept through midnight and woke up early to swim naked in the lazy river and brave the pounding ocean waves. I spent most of New Year’s day vomiting and hanging out by the highway, waiting to meet Kinga’s Kogi Shaman friend. He arrived about three hours late and disappeared around a corner immediately after getting off the bus, walking towards his village. I did not get to meet him. His wife did some grocery shopping with Kinga and they both followed him up into the mountains.

The next day, I recovered from the stomach bug and travelled deep into la Guajira. Wayuu indigenous children set up candy checkpoints, holding pieces of rope across the desert road to stop cars and demand sweets. In Cabo de la Vela, I wandered towards the pyramid shaped Pilón de Azucar, too late in the day. I got lucky and hitched a ride on a motorbike in time to catch the sunset from the top of the sugar pylon, easily the most beautiful I have ever seen. I hitched a ride back too, this time in a flatbed truck with 16 other people, plus 4 kids and a dog.

Cabo de la Vela was a perfect Colombian adventure, so perfect that I’m ready for something different. I have been thinking lately about what is important in my life. I should be doing something that makes sense in the context of my goals and priorities, not just travelling from place to place without a purpose.

The Amazon is calling my name. I would like to go in Peru, so I’m still very far away, but my goal right now is to meet indigenous people from the Amazon and see if I have something I need to learn from them. Slowly but surely, soon I will be heading south.