Last Evenings in Cartagena


Today I walked down to a lookout point called Punta de Barco. The water was blue and waves were rolling in, the tops of them ripped off by the wind. I looked for sea lions but didn’t see any. There was a group of young people sitting on one of the beaches listening to music, smoking cigarettes and drinking. I love how young people are too cool for almost everything but they’re not too cool for beauty. Young people like to drink by rivers, staring out at the sea, down by the beach. But then again young people also like to drink in parking lots. I guess parking lots are beautiful in their own way, especially in America.

I walked down to the beach and sat on a rock. I haven’t touched the Pacific, I thought. That’s a tragedy. I walked to another rock and waited for the sea to surge up and I dipped my hand in it and then held it to my forehead, baptizing myself. I smelled my hand to see if it smelled like salt or purity but it just smelled like hand.

Tomorrow I will continue driving south. Away from the great urban centers or Central Chile toward the untouched lands of Patagonia. Little touched. Less touched. I’ll get my surfboard repaired so I can surf again. I’ll start to camp. I’ll hopefully start to fish. I’m 33 years old.

When I was walking back up from the beach to the lookout point they were filming a movie or something for TV at the top. There was a girl standing there, looking out at the ocean, and they were filming her from behind. How long is this take going to be, I wondered. And she’s not doing anything. She’s just standing there. Finally they said cut and people relaxed. I walked by them and one of them thanked me for waiting. As I walked away I kept looking back over my shoulder, not because I wanted to see what they were doing, but because I wanted to see the ocean.

I wanted to see the ocean.

Reaching in Cartagena, Chile

The old Ferreiro castle in Cartagena, Chile.

I got to Cartagena yesterday around one o’ clock. I was determined to haul all my luggage, a bag weighing 45 pounds, two backpacks, and a surfboard, up the hill to the B&B where I was staying. It didn’t work. The wheels on the 14 dollar suitcase I bought in Panama City for all my stuff kept trying to roll in any direction except the one I was going. I would start walking and the suitcase would veer into my ankle, causing me to say “Ow!” And this of course with two backpacks on my shoulder and a surfboard in my other hand.

Finally I just started to drag the suitcase, and the result was that it fell apart. Within a couple blocks holes had been worn completely through it and at one point a red sweater sleeve poked its way out as if to say, “What the hell is going on out here?”

“You’re not going to have a suitcase left before too long, ” a Chilean woman watching me said.

Thank you, thank you for your constructive comment, I thought.

But of course I just smiled and said, “You’re right,” and tried to not drag the bag, instead standing it up on its six shoddy wheels which of course immediately darted off in all directions at once.

Later that night I had drinks with the owners of the B&B and two of the guests. The guests were middle-aged women from Santiago who smoked cigarettes as if inhaling cigarette smoke was as fundamental for survival as breathing. I had a glass of wine, and then a pisco sour, and then another glass of wine. We talked about Trump, which I hated because it meant I had to preface everything I said with, “I’m completely ignorant when it comes to politics, but…”.  I asked Adolfo and Sebastian, the owners, where they’d met, if they were childhood friends. No, we’re partners, Sebastian said. We’re a couple. Oh, I said, Great. Then for the next few minutes I was hyper self-conscious. I didn’t want them to think I thought that was strange or that I was homophobic in any way. I didn’t want them to think I thought it was a big deal.

Ana, one of the guests, started getting drunker. She started talking to me in English, which I hated. Her English sounded like animal grunts which had been fed onto a soundboard and were being reproduced at random. The pitch and tone could vary wildly from one word to the next. I usually had no idea what she was talking about and wanted her to switch back to Spanish but didn’t want to be rude and switch back for her. She told me several times I should visit sometime in Santiago.

Finally I got up to go, wishing the others a good night. I climbed the stairs to my room and got into bed, where I checked Facebook and was pleased to note several people had liked my post from earlier. I was also pleased to note that the name of the duvet was “Schlaft Gut,” in German. And then I drifted into an unsatisfying sleep,  my body bombarded by unhealthy substances, too hot under the heavy duvet, my thoughts a jumble but one thing clear, one image, that everything I wanted in life was right in front of me, actually that it was in me, but that I needed to stop reaching, because how can you reach out and grab something you already have?

I Made it to Chile

Playa Chiquita, Cartagena, Chile.

I’ve made it to Chile. I took a six hour flight on Copa Airlines on which I checked three bags, the most bags I’ve ever checked in my life, and then a taxi to downtown Santiago last night at approximately 10pm.

When I got to my hostel, where I had reserved a private room for USD  25.00, the daughter of the owner really wanted to talk. She didn’t stop. It was one of those conversations that has no pauses, where the whole time you’re just waiting for a pause long enough to say, “Well… I think I’m going to shower.” or “OK, time for me to get settled in a bit.” The silence has to be long enough. This is key. If you say it right after the person finishes talking it could make them feel like you don’t want to talk to them. But with this girl the silences were never long enough. Finally I must’ve had a desperate look on my face because she said, “If you’re tired and want to go to bed just let me know.”

This morning I hailed a taxi in the street to get to the main bus station. I wanted the driver to recline the passenger’s seat so I could put my surf board in but it didn’t recline. He wanted to just let the board hang out the window. He was getting exasperated with me until finally he suggested I just hold the board against the side of the car with my arms out the window. “It weighs like a kilo,” he said. “What more do you want?” It was a fairly genius, albeit sketchy solution, and it worked perfectly. Only an Albanian could’ve thought of it, which is where it turned out he was from. He’d been living in Chile six years though and spoke perfect Chilean Spanish. Why Chile,  I asked him. El amor, he said, el amor.

Paseo de los Huérfanos, Santiago, Chile

Before leaving Santiago I took a stroll to the Santa Lucia area where I got tea at Colmado and tried unsuccessfully to write. Then I went to a wonderful bookstore called La Feria Chilena del Libro where I bought Book 2 of My Struggle in Spanish. It cost over 30 dollars but I consider it a wonderful investment. I see no way in which it won’t improve my life, possibly drastically. The idea of not reading because you don’t want it to pollute your prose is erroneous. Read all you can. Only by reading will you discover your voice.

And then finally I got a bus to Cartagena, where I’m currently lying in bed typing this post on a phone with a cracked screen that I got at a gas station in Mexico. My friend Gilbert told me that when you feel stuck do something small and reward yourself. Hence this post. And hence the glass of wine I will now go drink.

Sitting with Karl Ove

My head is foggy. It’s hard to think. I haven’t been drinking alcohol. I haven’t been drinking coffee. And yesterday I ate well. But my head is still foggy, like it’s shrouded in mist.

This could be because it’s raining outside and rained all day yesterday.

I sat in bed last night watching YouTube interviews with Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard. I find myself doing this a lot lately. That and videos of C.S. Lewis. After listening to the interviews I took out My Struggle Book 5 for yet a third time, and started to read. “The fourteen years I lived in Bergen, from 1988 to 2002, are long gone, no traces of them are left, other than as incidents a few people might remember, a flash of recollection here, a flash of recollection there, and of course whatever exists in my own memory of that time.”

I like to imagine him sitting down to write these words, not knowing he was going to write them, not really knowing where the book was going. What an innocent time, him alone at his computer. Maybe it was raining outside. It was probably cold. He was probably smoking a cigarette, but more than likely had just smoked one. I’m sure there was a cup of coffee next to him. And then an impulse reached his brain, and his fingers hit the keys and the words, “The fourteen years I lived in Bergen…” appeared on the screen. Years later those words would be printed on a page, and that page would be part of a book, and those books would sell millions of copies. He would become famous. But at one point he was just a man, sitting alone in a room, trying to figure out what to write.

That moment, the moment of sitting alone, is of course where the satisfaction comes from. I’m sure it felt good to be told by countless people that his book was amazing, that it changed their lives, that it was real literature, blah blah blah. But nothing will ever replace the purity and innonence of that moment of sitting down to write. The fear. The insecurity. But also a kind of freedom. The freedom to fail or, equally, to succeed. Sitting down to write something and then at the end thinking, “Oh, this is good.” That thought alone is enough right there, even if what you’ve written is actually total crap.

It’s still raining outside. There’s a cyclone happening somewhere in the vicinity of Panama, apparently. I haven’t checked. I only know that it rained all day yesterday, and that it’s been a long time since my feet have been dry. I have been sitting in an internet cafe for the last 31 minutes and 12 seconds, trying to figure out what to write.