Tuesday, June 15, 2010

the night swim cometh

Near the equator, nighttime climate is very similar to that of the sweltering day-the main difference being that it’s much darker. Nick and I assumed the first night that once the menacing tropical sun fell below the horizon, the air would cool down and the humidity drop-a reasonable, albeit false, conclusion. The oppressive heat carried right along just fine and it was up to us to adapt. And so we did the only logical thing-began trekking to the ocean nightly for post sundown swim sessions. This naturally conjures up images of a white sandy beach giving way to warm-but not too warm-bluer than blue Caribbean waters wherein Nick and myself would rinse ourselves of the days accumulated perspiration. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The beaches nearest Cartagena’s city walls are not so much actual beaches as small breaks in the boulders lining the water 20’ from the busy thoroughfare that anyone coming to or from the metropolis had to take. Our chosen spot was part swimming

cove (though we never actually witnessed any swimming there night or day outside of ourselves), and part fishing boat birth. By day, the location was in no way inviting; what with all the plastic wrappers and other various refuse strewn about. Once night fell, however, you couldn’t see most of this stuff and it was hard for the eye to discern that the water was not clear blue but in fact a very

opaque grey-so we were stoked. Not that the water was very refreshing-this was one aspect of our night beach that the dark could not disguise. The sea temperature

was damn near that of the air making it feel like going for a dip in a vast, very salty lukewarm bathtub. But hey, as one surfer once remarked back in Florida when I queried him on the conditions-which turned out to be atrocious-“ah well, at least it’s wet out there.”

You’re probably asking yourself at this point why the hell we even bothered with the whole night swim expedition-but it wasn’t just about the swim. The trek to and from was among the daily high points. Our first trip over, we glanced at a map and decided simply to take the most direct route through the heavily residential portion of the old city known as San Diego. To walk through this corner of the world at night is to blur the lines of time and place. The dimly lit 17th century architecture flanking the narrow paved path on which we tread was disorienting in a beautiful way. The streets on that route were mostly absent of automobiles and flood lights do not exist in Cartagena, Colombia. Our route was mostly silent aside from the passing chatter of residents in their doorsteps. We’d be damn near convinced that a porthole in time had unwittingly been stumbled upon, when something would jolt us back to reality. For instance, when we were walking along silently deep in San Diego one and night Nick struck my arm-

“Holy shit, dude,” he frantically whispered, “that house we just passed-“


“There was a dude seated at a table pointing a pistol at another dude sitting across from him, and a lady behind him on the phone…”

“What!” I whisper-shouted. “Hey, where the hell you going?” I demanded as Nick started off back in the direction of the aforementioned gun pointer-gun pointee-phone lady scenario.

“Goin to check it out man.”

“The hell you are-this is the stuff you read about it the papers dude. It’s exactly the kind of situation you hear about some white dude getting shot down here-he sees something fishy going on and decides to ‘check it out.’”

Nick hesitated, let out a long sigh of reluctance, “yeah, guess you’re right.”

“Of course I’m right,” I said with a rare bit of confidence that I actually had made a sound decision. “C’mon man, let’s go to our shitty beach.”

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