Thursday, April 20, 2006

Good, Clean, Family Fun

The trip is not over, this much is for sure--in fact things are as good as ever.

Cartagena has been great, enough so that it has inspired me to offer up a few anecdotes before they slip away.

Finally cutting through the haze, Kash, Thompson (Aussies) and I got up early enough so that we could do something with our day. So we were off to the mud volcano. A taxi got us to a decked out school bus convert that transferred us each onto our own motorcycle taxi which delivered us to the base of the volcano. It wasn´t as seamless, however, as it may (or may not) sound. The bus which you can only understand if you´ve been to South America I think, was painted six colors, complete with shag and tapestries on the inside, and dotted with stickers which simultaneously sent two very different messages: proclaiming that God Is Love and that the proliferation of naked women stickers is and should be a top priority. This bus, with a max speed of 30mph looked like it was never going to get us there. Then we got a flat tire. But, we did arrive and all the better for the round about way we got there.

The volcano rises in typical conical fashion about 25m out of the ground and falls another 2500m beneath the earth (we couldn´t figure out how that was measured?). After climbing the rickety stairs you get the giggly surprise of putting yourself in for the first time. The mud is the perfect consistency and thickness so that it leaves you buoyant enough to float in the position of your choice completely comfortable in a fashion that lazy boy could not begin to compete with. Buoyant enough that you can´t actually dunk yourself without someone else´s help and conveniently thick enough to enjoy a game of tic-tac-toe on the surface, the mud pool was for sure a unique experience. Filled with all sorts of mud people, the most populous of which were the mud munchkins that decided that that would administer involuntary massages to one and all. Then were the mud mammoths that, as was keenly observed, changed the mud levels with their departure from the mud jacuzzi.

By the end of it we had become brave enough to search for the bottom, and everyone else in the pool enjoyed as two of us pushed the other down about 10ft, then let go and a second or two later the formerly lost popped through the surface like a torpedo. It was good fun, even though we were mud monsters in a silent world of darkness until the mud was dug out of our ears and eyes.

Thanks to the flat tire delay, that is where we met Kira from Brazil who would accompany me after the guys left (to their chagrin) to another great day of adventure.

Motorcycles to buses to cabs got us back to Cartagena, and it was on the way that I noticed a small town called Clemecia that was having a 3 day festival complete with bull fights. I had yet to partake in this tradition and decided that the next day, the last of the festival, I would head back.

A party bus escorted the drunkards through the night, and even though I couldn´t get Kira´s mom to dance with me we still had a great time.

The next day we turned up to Clemencia on a scorching afternoon and found a ghost town. However, we saw a few people drinking beer (including a midget, the time) and they directed us to the closest beach, telling us to come back at 3 o´clock when the festivities would begin. They also mentioned something about the midget show as I translated it, but Kira got the idea that the midgets would be fighting the bulls. No way! We both couldn´t believe that scenario and awaited what would at least be a good surprise. Midgets and bulls???

A quick stop at the local shop and we found ourselves sporting our new swimming attire, hers a "guerilla" camo number while I chose the bright blue and orange waterproof kids suit. Back on the mototaxis and off we went to Punta Canoa. A basically deserted beach where amazingly you can still get a cold beer (from Luis Miguel) and some freshly cooked fish. We spent the afternoon basking in the knee-high Carribean bath water and anticipating what was to come.

Motomen got us back to where we needed to be in time to catch the last half of the action. After a quick stop for the first meal of the day we were hustled into the "stadium." A proper bull fighting stadium it was, although definitely the most ready to fall structure in which I have ever set foot. To our delight the midgets were doing some sort of tumbling tricks while waiting for the next bull to be brought out. But then, oh no!, the midgets shuffled off for their bull fighting equipment and the gates were opened as a charging bull ran through with anger in his eyes, a taste for blood, and midgets in his sights. Yes, it`s true--the midgets were the bull fighters! I have never been so worried for such small people. The bull charged and the midget ironically dressed as Superman just didn´t have the arm length to pull off the proper matador maneuvers and BOOM down he went with a swift head to head attack by the bull. Finally, as he was malled for the next 15 seconds, another midget came over to distract the bull and receive his similar fate. This wasn´t a bullfight, it was Revenge of the Bulls, or a Midget Massacre...what was this surreal world that we had just stepped into? But then, almost (not quite) as quickly as he had gone down Superman popped back up triumphantly, hands over his head, as if he´d just won the World Heavy Weight Championship and scurried off just barely before he was gored again.

And so it continued, full-on midget carnage which went from sad to extremely entertaining. And once the bull got sick of crushing midgets they put it back through the tunnel and out came a fresh spanking angry new one! No bulls were killed, so although it may have not been an extremely authentic was way better!

Seeing as we were the only two foreigners and Kira looks just as Colombian as the next...I stuck out. And thanks to this we were approached by two guys that told me it was time for the gringo bullfight! They offered me $5000 pesos (a little over $2 US) as their final offer although for a time I thought they might just throw me over the side. The crazy thing is that I actually considered it, I mean why not? I´m at least much more nimble than a midget. But then again, also a bigger target...finally I was dissuaded both by Kira and the gnarly scar on one of my petitioners arms that he proudly admitted was from this very activity. Then, just minutes later this same slightly cross-eyed, definitely crazy scarred man was down in the ring, running toward a charging bull that he then did a front flip over. The bull was looking forward to his advantage in this game of chicken, but then was left completely bewildered as the Colombian soared overhead. Midgets don´t do that move.

He was the first, but soon the floodgates were open. Every Colombian worth his weight in pesos was down in the ring being the biggest man he could be. Soon the scrap metal was ripped off of the walls of the already crumbling wooden stadium as to allow easier entry (and exit) from the ring. At this point Kira and I were both silently planning our escape routes from the soon to collapse rickety beams and thought that the show may be over except for the band that kept on playing and the bulls that kept coming out to meet their hoards of amateur bull fighters. It went on like this until the Sahara-like sunset put an end to a great day of events and found us napping to the rumba tunes on a bus headed for Cartagena.


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