I have been thinking a lot about how quickly cultural shifts happen. Sophie and I talked about it when she was visiting me- about how we find ourselves commenting on “cute” outfits in the street and then realize that it is something we would have laughed at at home. Like leopard print mesh tank tops or one piece jumpers or sparkly leggings. In fact I have to check myself when I buy new clothes here…on a scale of 1 to 10 how Colombian IS this shirt? Would I ever wear it in San Francisco…? And if not, will I wear it enough in the next 6 months to justify buying it? (Since I have been swimming so much, my bikini from home is asking to be replaced…Colombian bikini shopping…I may be in trouble!) But it’s not just with clothes. I’ve noticed the change in my taste in men’s styles as well. Whereas at home I am all about the bearded, flannel-clad, half-hipster, half-mountain-man…in Colombia that prototype doesn’t exactly exist. Too hot for a flannel and half the men can’t even grown a full beard…but very quickly I noticed my preferences changing. Suddenly I’m checking out clean cut, freshly cologned men in fitted jeans and fancy shoes. Speaking of fancy shoes, sexual orientation is another cultural conception that has been completely blown out of the water. Sometimes I sit and watch my friends, men I am as sure as sure can be are straight, and try to imagine how popular they would be at a club in the Castro district in San Francisco. The classy clothes, the cologne, the jewelry…and most of all, the way they move their hips…it’s amazingly sexy and by US standards, extremely gay. But I’m not in the US…and those standards are quickly fading from my frame of mind. So bring on the backless shirts, the heels, the animal print leggings. Bring on the cologne, the speedos, the gelled hair. The questions remains, what happens when I move home. Does my world shrink back down, in accordance with local culture? Or does it stay open? I have a feeling it shrinks back down. But maybe not. Maybe forevermore, the smell of cologne, the sight of a silver cross hanging on a smooth chest, and salsa dancing hips will make me swoon. =)
Colombia loves to celebrate. This weekend (and last!) was another Puente (3 day weekend). For what…? I have no idea. There was never any mention of why it was a Puente, just plenty of discussion of how to celebrate. So on Sunday morning, after a night of salsa in a packed club, we started an adventure to San Cipriano, a little river town near the Pacific coast.
Every time I travel, I see groups of local young adults on trips together. Guys and girls BBQing, playing games, flirting, laughing, listening to music…and every time I think how much fun it would be to be part of one of those groups. This weekend I got my wish. We had the best little group of friends. We jumped off high rocks into the river, we had chicken fights and handstand contests, we played silly games, we cuddled, we drank arrechón and played never have I ever, we all slept in one room. It was amazingly fun to be part of this close knit group of friends- it was a feeling I have missed. Since I arrived in Colombia I have made dozens of friends and been received warmly everywhere I go, but I have deeply missed the feeling of intimacy. Long hugs, massages, sharing secrets, sleeping next to someone…it’s easy to feel alone in a crowd when you are in a foreign country. This weekend I got to remember how it feels to be part of something. But enough feelings talk. It’s the actual trip to San Cipriano I want to tell you about.
As per usual, I only had a bout a 25% understanding of The Plan. It’s a nice change for me since I am usually making, organizing, and enforcing The Plan at home, to have to sit back and go with this flow. So my technique is just to be prepared for anything , since I never know exactly what is going to happen (I have developed a reputation of having a Mary Poppin’s purse since I am always pulling random needed items out of my bag). All I knew about San Cipriano before we left was that it was a couple hours away toward the Pacific ocean and that there was a river. From the side of the the highway, we crossed a swinging bridge and there is where the adventure began.
The tiny little pueblo of San Cipriano is about 5 miles down the old railroad tracks. The locals have a thriving business of transporting tourists (mostly Colombian tourists) down the tracks on big wooden planks (called Brujitas- little witches) that they mount on the tracks. Until about 5 years ago, these planks were propelled along the tracks by a local man with a pole (and delicious biceps). But now, modern technology has added motorcycles into the equation (don’t worry, there are still delicious biceps involved). Along one side of the plank, a small motor bike is mounted with the back wheel touching the rail. The tourists climb aboard and off we go, flying through amazingly green trees, past wooden shacks and naked babies, clothes drying on barbed wire fences, through tunnels, across bridges and finally landing in San Cipriano.
The town itself is nothing more than a gravel road lined with super basic services. Cement and wooden “hotels”, giant pots simmering over open fires (fish, lobster, crab), and plenty of inner tubes for rent. Since it was a 3 day weekend, the town was pretty full of Colombian families and couples, although I imagine that mid-week it is an absolute ghost town.
About a 5-10 minute walk from town, you find the charcos (swimming holes) in the beautiful green river. The water here is much warmer than the river in Cali, probably about 75 degrees- like a comfortable swimming pool. I was in heaven diving through that water, jumping off the rocks, floating on my back under the blue sky. Well, there was blue sky for a few hours on Sunday. But by the time we were ready for our Brujita ride back to the highway, there was definitely NO blue sky. We stripped down to the fewest clothes possible in an attempt to keep something dry for the bus ride home. But it was all in vain. By the time we arrived back to the highway, we, along with our bags, were all completely soaked. The bus ride back to Cali was long, sleepy, and wet. But I was still basking in the memories of such a wonderful trip so I didn’t mind at all. In fact, I would have stayed on that bus forever smiling and feeling grateful for my friends. =)
On another note, as you may have seen on Facebook, I GOT IRB APPROVAL! Today I meet with the head doctor of this public health sector and tomorrow I will start recruiting participants for my focus groups. I have a lovely little group of nursing students who are working with me in data collection. Very soon I promise actual research updates!