dead MacBook (again)

Santiago de Atitlan huipil
For real this time. Sat up all day and all night with a dying Macbook, like tending a sick child. Tried every trick I knew to make it go again…flipped it over, opened it up, cleaned the points with alcohol, disconnected the battery, swapped the RAM cards around. Did an SMTP reset, a PRAM reset. Over and over and over. But it will not charge, and even on AC power it often will not start. Sometimes it starts and then, overwhelmed, dies again. Each time the clock is reset to Dec. 31, 2000. I do believe the battery has breathed its last. So that’s it for my laptop, at least until I am in a position to replace the battery. Really I want a new laptop, but that’s not happening till middle of next year, if I am a good girl and go back to work and save my minimum wages!)

No matter. I am calm. I accepted, earlier today, that it was going to die. I have backed it up, have downloaded some music onto my iPod, have de-authorised my iTunes account for this machine, have moved my plane and flight tickets to a USB thumb drive for printing, and I have, well, said goodbye. And I’m saying goodbye, for just a few months, to all of you, too.
hand embroidery in yarn on handwoven fabric
Funny, I don’t feel anything but a mild annoyance, anymore. A small part of me is relieved. I spend far too much time on the internet, and that has always irritated me. I often sit down telling myself “I’ll just check my e-mails”, and then look up 3-5 hours later, eyes watery and brain full of rubbish, and the best part of the day or night wasted on, I don’t know, cat GIFs on facebook, or photos of what my friends are eating.
Worry Dolls
It’s like being drunk…it’s not really that fun, but you can’t stop once you get started. I always know I am drunk on the internet when my Facebook page fills up with a motley collection of meaningless, stupid shared posts…ha-ha political memes, people’s stupid home videos of something their kid/dog/talking parrot/hamster did, and environmental slacktivism memes that everyone clicks the sad face on, before moving on to the video of the elephant that did that thing with its trunk in the next post.
hand-woven cotton shawls
Clearly not time well-spent. I threw the television out of my life 20 years ago, only to let the internet replace it. A useful tool, I agree, if you can stick to the plan, but also one of the world’s biggest time wasters, if you don’t.
hand embroidery in yarn on handwoven fabric
I am looking forward to going back into the real world for the rest of my stay in Guatemala. I will try to get a post up once in a while, if I find a decent internet cafe nearby, but I can’t promise anything. And what, you may be wondering, about that cheap tablet I bought in Venezuela as a solution for the last time this happened? That died even earlier. The battery is 94% full when it dies. It was a waste of money and I was a fool to buy it, all so I could keep this virtual thread alive.
handwoven cloth
I suppose I could try and stretch it on and on…if I open the guts of the laptop a few times, do the disconnect/connect thing over and over again, reset with fancy key combinations, I can get the thing to run on its AC power cord. But every time I turn the computer off, there’s a 50/50 chance that I won’t get it up and running again. It seems more stressful, at this point, to try and keep the internet in my life, than to let it go!
hand embroidery in yarn on handwoven fabric
And who knows what cool things I’ll make in the time that remains me, in Guatemala? When the mind is finally weaned of its internet fix and cleared of the fog, I might sit myself down, every afternoon, and spend those normally blighted three to five hours of Facebook and Twitter and other peoples Instagram accounts, on producing something beautiful! And wouldn’t that be so much better than seeing the video of the little girls dancing that got swallowed up by their own rubber floor mat when the wind lifted it up that I recently shared on my Facebook page, just because it made me guffaw once? Like the television, social networks have a dumbing effect on the brain. I find myself becoming shallow and lazy-brained and insubstantial.
ceramic worry doll pendants
I have my tickets, so the end of this 18-month voyage is in sight, at last. If all goes well, I am set to arrive in Darwin, Australia on the 15th of October. That’s really not so very far away, now! It has been an amazing trip… Thank you for following me almost all the way to the end of it! If anything major-major happens I will blog from an internet café, but otherwise I am taking a break. Go with the flow. Work with what you have. The way out of the problem is through the problem…

Promising lots of goodies when I get back home to Sonofagun!

  • Skillshare courses, first of all (I was personally invited—I’d never have thought I had something worth teaching, otherwise—though anyone that wants to can create a course on Skillshare)
  • Fresh art for my poor ol’ Society6 shop. (By the way, to whoever did her Christmas shopping early and bought all that stuff from me…THANK YOU!)
  • My ETSY shop will re-open, full of things inspired by my travels.
  • Plans for an exhibition, when I finally have the space to paint freely again.
  • I’ll be back at some of Darwin town’s bigger craft markets, too…
  • AND I made up my mind, this year (thanks to your comments, reactions and encouragement) to finally get cracking on my writing…when I was younger I thought I would be writer, and then literary criticism (as well as the realisation of just how truly painful and difficult a line of work it is, if you want to be honest and keep high standards) scared it out of me. I never quite let it go, though, and it has been on the backburner all this time. I think I may even have something to say, at last.

So long, for now…three months will pass like nothing, you’ll see. I do hope you’ll keep me at the bottom of your Inbox until I get back…it would be very sad to pop back up and find nobody, nobody here at all.😦
just arrived in Chichicastenango
*The photos are of some of the things I bought during our two weeks of backpacking in the Guatemalan highlands, and me on some steps in Chichicastenango, fresh off the chicken bus…

Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Rio Dulce
To one side of the river’s mouth was the town of Livingston. We made it over the notoriously shallow sandbank that guards the entrance to the river, and cleared in with officials of the town.

peanut butter & banana smoothieAt a backpacker’s café where we went for a late breakfast and I was introduced to the peanut butter and banana smoothie. Anything with peanut butter has a special place in my heart…this was so amazing that I had two. And then I drew the recipe into a letter to a friend (though I don’t know whether she likes peanut butter).

Rio Dulce, GuatemalaBy late afternoon the paperwork was done, and we continued up the river.

Rio Dulce, GuatemalaAt the second bend in the steep gorge, the wind died. A strong current started to push us back, the sun was setting, and it was too deep to anchor. We tied Kehaar to a couple of trees growing out of the limestone walls of the gorge (to the scandalised rubbernecking of the herons) her mast grazing the branches overhead, and hunkered down for the night.
Rio Dulce, Guatemala
No people live around the gorge, and a spell settled over the river as darkness fell. The jungle came alive around us: the movements of animals rustled and crashed in the treetops. Unseen river creatures surfaced, splashing and glub-glub-glubbing around our boat. Big shadowy birds crossed overhead, silhouetted by the narrow strip of moonlit sky visible between the limestone walls, their wingbeats smacking the air. Something buzzed a few inches over my head that I will always think of as “the 2 lb. bumblebee.”

Rio Dulce, GuatemalaAt midnight a torrential rain came down, blotting out the last of the moon’s light. The rain pattered onto deck from the trees overhead, and an army of ants began to cross over onto our boat from the branches, intent on moving into our dry home.

It was a long, long night.
Rio Dulce, GuatemalaMorning was glorious, though, and with our moods improved we went for a row around the banks of the river, getting in close to admire strange flowers and disturb the many snowy herons that favour this bend for fishing.
Rio Dulce, GuatemalaRio Dulce, Guatemala

We waited most of the day, hoping that the wind would rise and we could sail out of that tight spot, but it never came. By late afternoon Kris decided that we would have to move upriver some other way.

“Warping, or kedging, is a method of moving a sailing vessel, typically against the wind or out from a dead calm, by hauling on a line attached to an anchor or a fixed object.”

Kris went for an exploratory row further up the river and came back with the news that yes, there was plenty of wind ahead, and it was coming from the right direction. We just needed to reach that point. So we tied several lengths of rope together and attached one end to the boat. Kris got in the dinghy with the bundle, rowed as far ahead as the rope could go, tied an anchor to the other end and dropped in the water. Standing at the front of the boat, I pulled Kehaar along this length of rope, arm over arm until my arms ached.

We had to do this three, maybe four times, to get out of the dead spot. Then it was dark, so we anchored, had dinner, and went to bed.

The next day the wind came, at mid-morning, and we sailed for a stretch. We came to a second hairpin bend, with the wind blowing from the very direction we wanted to go. This time, however, we knew better than to hope for better sailing conditions. We warped the boat right away, five times, and made it to where we could pull up the sail once again. Fishermen and passing water taxis cheered us on. By this time the word had gotten around that we had no engine and were trying to get up the river.

That same night found us anchored in Lake El Golfete, a wide open expanse of water with plenty of good sailing wind. From there the rest of the voyage upriver was beautiful, and we made it all the way to our final destination, a small marina on Lake Izabal, in one day.

Río Dulce is where we will be based for the next 4-5 months.

Rio Dulce to El Golfete

A backward glance

 At the last turn in the path
“goodbye—”
—bending, bowing,
(moss and a bit of
wild
bird-)
down.
Daitoku-ji Monastery
—Saying Farewell at the Monastery after Hearing the Old Master Lecture on “Return to the Source” by Gary Snyder

 

Forcing myself to shake off Cartagena’s hold on me, today. The spell this city cast was so strong that even though we have been in Guatemala for three weeks, I felt duty-bound to pound out a few more posts about Colombia before I could start on Rio Dulce.

When I try to write, though, I find that, loathe as I am to abandon the topic of Cartagena de Indias, the urgency rests mostly in vague things that are difficult to impart to readers on the internet: like a sense of homesickness for a city I only spent three months in. Nostalgia for a past that was never mine. And an intense feeling of love that I have nowhere to put. There is nothing concrete left to say.

I thought perhaps I could write a post dedicated to Garcia Marquéz and Love In The Time Of Cholera. About the park where poor Florentino Ariza used to sit, waiting for the wealthy young Fermina Daza to walk past. Or the bench opposite The Arcade of Scribes where Florentino put his love-letter-writing skills at the disposal of strangers, simply to unburden himself of all the love he wanted, but couldn’t, share with Fermina (and where I always sat to enjoy a café granizado.) But I’ve briefly mentioned these things in other posts, and today’s Arcade of Scribes is so dilapidated that a photo would only disenchant fans of the novel, anyway.

Sometimes the impulse to go on is nothing more than a desire to keep something precious from fading into a memory. A sincere love and friendship bloomed, for a time, and by casually moving on to write about the next country, I feel as though I were ruthlessly mining my life for mere blog content, and betraying the experience. Becoming unworthy of it.

Not everything can, nor has to, be shared. Some things exist only in their moment, for those who were present. But I will try to describe one afternoon that I hold close to my heart, because something in me wants closure, wants to write at least one purely personal blog post about Cartagena. MY Cartagena…the impossible-to-photograph moment that no other traveler to the city will have on his map, or among his “Things To Do in Cartagena” list.


Liz

On my last day in Cartagena de Indias I went to the house on Calle de Las Maravillas (The Street of Wonders) to say goodbye to Liz. I found her sitting in bed with her 16-year-old son, Nahuel. The power was down—an almost daily occurrence in Getsemaní—and neither fan nor lights were running. I took my shoes off and joined them among the pillows (the house is shared with Liz’s siblings and their children…the only place Liz has to call her own is her tiny bedroom, which is also her craft workshop, her storage room, her clothes closet, her office, and her reception room when friends drop in. Everyone gets into bed…well, there are no chairs. Pillow fights with Nahuel are a condition of entry.)

Liz was in the process of sorting her collection of tiny treasures—souvenirs gathered from travels around South America, jewellery inherited from her mother or purchased from antique shops, others that she had made—into two piles: objects she would keep, and the ones she would sell. Despite her day job at a tourist gift shop and the nights she spends selling her own work on the streets, she needs more money to singlehandedly support the growing needs of a teenaged son.

Hundreds of little things were spread in the centre of the bed. A solid silver rosary. A chunk of raw emeralds still clinging to their rock. Pre-Colombian buttons and a large bronze nose ring. Fabulous and incredibly valuable gold earrings, a thousand years old, from a Zenú burial site. Horn figurines small as coffee beans. Clay pendants shaped like ears of corn from Peru. Jade beads. Agate vials for cocaine. Liz’s own first pieces of jewellery, from when she first learned to work with silver and stones. A lady’s turtle shell comb inlaid with silver from the 1800s. A flat stone with seven fossilised fish the size of rice grains. There was an old iron house key that I ooh-ed and aah-ed over (I’d just had a dream that I’d bought such a key, from a palenquera with gold teeth, on the bridge into the medieval city, a weeks or two before) and she told me it had been unearthed, during renovation work, in the courtyard of the very house we were in.

Each time Nahuel or I picked something up, Liz would supply the story: who made it, how old it was, where she got it, and at which time of her life. As I became aware of the connection she had with each item, its value grew. It represented a lifetime of travelling and living. I lamented, more than once, that she could part with such special things.

A few times she chose something, held it in the space between us for me to see, and then gave it to me. “Para ti.” At first I protested, but Liz’s zodiac sign is the maternal Cancer, and she would not take no for an answer.

“I’m telling you to TAKE it, niña.”

And, very much like an eight-year-old niña, I dropped my head in apology, said thank you, and tucked the little treasure away.

There was a fish carved from bone, two frogs—one of horn, the other a Pre-Colombian replica in terracotta…
ranita
A chunk of raw amethyst (my birthstone) and another, polished and set into a pendant. A large ring of silver and amethyst, a braided leather bracelet and matching choker with a round bone bead, a hand-stitched leather coin purse, a bone hair pick, and a gourd dish decorated with pyrography and colored inks…all made by Liz. She also sent a piece of raw emerald, and two real Pre-Colombian buttons for Kris.
Totumo
The hours passed too quickly…the dying light from the window told me the sun was setting. Kris wanted to depart that very night, and the only thing that kept him from finally raising the dinghy onto the deck was Me. I had to get back.

Nahuel wandered off to kick a ball around with his cousins in the street. I put on my shoes and made sure I had everything packed away into my backpack. Finally, we stood facing each other in the shadowy room.

“Tu sabes que te quiero…” she said in a tight voice.

“Si, yo sé, mi amor. Y yo te quiero igualmente,” I choked back.

We hugged each other for what felt like an eternity. She put the iron key in the palm of my hand, and closed my fingers over it.

“Lleva la clave para la casa de las maravillas, con cariño.” (“Take the key to the house of wonders, with love.”) My eyes blurred with saltwater.

More hugging, more thankyous, and I don’t know what else…goodbyes are always so hard to deal with that my mind shuts down and I tend to rush through the final moments, in a hurry to get away from my own feelings. The cousins come noisily in from the street and Nahuel is browbeaten by his mother into saying goodbye. He gives me an awkward hug and a pretty boy’s smile, cluttered with braces. The mood changes. I am smiling, now, chattering last promises; Liz is smiling, nodding, waving…

And before I know it, I am on the street, charging past the new graffiti mural taking shape on Calle de Las Tortugas. Past the young whores getting ready for work on the corner of Calle Media Luna. Past the shell pink, sky blue, and orange houses of Getsemaní. I cross the bridge for the last time…and the sun setting is like a logo for telecommunications among the skyscrapers of Boca Grande.
sunset behind Bocagrande
I outpace the dogwalkers, the lovers, the strident palenqueras wailing the names of their fruit as though calling for long-lost children, the yuppies power-walking through the twilit park. I hurry home, to my one true love, to my own life—this strange thing, compact and contained within a boat—and this liquid, shifting existence.

Returning to the source.

street art :: Getsemaní

Sitio Getsemaní

Getsemani used to be Cartagena de Indias’ impoverished slum area…this is where epidemics of cholera started in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ book, Love inThe Time of Cholera. The city’s blacks lived here—slaves, servants, fishermen—in the low, marshy area next to the river, on the outskirts of the main walled city.
These days, Getsemani has risen from the ashes and fish offal to become Cartagena’s bohemian neighbourhood. Youth hostels, thumping bars and hip ethnic restaurants, the church plaza (Plaza de La Trinidad)  where locals and backpackers gather and mix in the evenings to make music, kick a ball around, stroll, ogle, smoke, eat, drink, discuss politics…the place hums with the activities of everyday neighborhood life, unwinding on streets flanked by colourful houses at least a hundred years old…
Sitio Getsemaní
Sitio Getsemaní
Getsemani graffiti
Sitio Getsemaní
Getsemani graffiti
Getsemani graffiti
Getsemani graffiti
Getsemani graffiti

Getsemani graffiti
Getsemani graffiti

Maria Mulata

Maria Mulata

Cartagena’s favorite bird, and a symbol of the city, the maria mulata. “Mariamulatas, with their piercing songs, announce the arrival of the night”. If you change ‘mariamuatas’ to ‘palenqueras’, (the city’s colourful, Afro-colombian fruit-sellers in flounced skirts, who bawl their wares in loud, emasculating voices, the sentence maes just as much sense.

In this drawing, I have the bird crying the names of fruits, a hybrid of the city’s two noisiest denizens.

The María Mulata is Quiscalus mexicanus, known in other countries as quiscal or zanate, belonging to the family Icteridae, found in warmer climates. The bird is black, has a distinctive, high-pitched and musical song, and is a symbol of the fauna of Colombia.

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Colombian artist Enrique Grau imortalised the bird in several public sculptures throughout the country. Of this quirky, cranky, engaging bird, Grau writes,“The Mariamulata is the one that accompanies us from birth, is the one in the courtyards, where the girl sweeping the corridor at the entrance or leaning on the windows watching what you are doing is

Me gusta Cartagena

Believe it or not, this is what I have spent most of my evenings doing in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia:
Sitting on a sidewalk with my friend Liz, who makes and sells her jewelry to tourists and locals out for a stroll, while the nightly parade of freaks, street artists, vendors, young people, drunks, hookers, and horse-drawn coaches pass by.
It was a great way to fade into the local scene…my spanish improved a lot by talking for hours to Liz, her friends, and other craftspeople selling on the street with us. I enjoyed watching the Vanity Fair drift past. Some nights I would bring a bottle of wine, a couple of wine glasses, an herb-infused round of mozzarella, crackers and olives, and we would share our fancy sidewalk fare with a couple other women, talk about music and literature and metaphysics and love…