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Santa Marta
June 13th

Dear Bunny,

This some two hours after calling you, I'm hot in this nicely airconditioned hotel room since Betty can't stand excess cold, then I fell to insomnizing about what the damn US customs is going to make of the items I'm bringing back and principally of course their and my provenance, so the girls came back and I'm now writing this while Lupe reads the paper and Bettica is zonked out under lots of covers.

The bus ride from Cartagena here, in a ten-passenger van, was efficient and very interesting. To the West of Barranquilla the road was bumpy sometimes very so, the landscape reminiscent of northern Benin: green rolling spaces of tropical trees including some bananas, villages every 10 km. along the road, the highway forming the main street, the rest being unpaved, OK-looking shacks of wood or occasionally plastered brick. From an airconditioned bus, quite a nice ride. The largest town was Sabanalarga, I also remember 2 villages after, Campeche and Galapa.

Barranquilla we stayed out of, the main bus station shared by all the carriers (private, extremely efficient system as usual) being some 10 mi. out of town; we got off to stretch and drink. Very efficient and pleasant bus station, circular design bristling with canteens and kiosques on the outside and with a high-ceilinged and thus nicely ventilated central mall inside with shops etc.; the materials being cheap concrete for sure but the overall result being much nicer somehow than your average Greyhound facility of the same size in the States, Lord knows which I know. The place itself, an utter desolation of dust with now the remotest suburbs, the O'Hare effect, of more cream-colored plastered concrete single-storey houses with almost no green anything at all. On departing a murky apparently polluted view of Oklahoma City at the mouth of the Magdalena which mini-Amazon with no trees just scrub we crossed via an unimpressive bridge.


A small thin dog, something like a whippet, rather dirty, lying down in a small niche at the foot of a brick wall. It looks very alert.

Dog at the bus station outside Barranquilla.

The scape chg'd again, to soon one of the most extraordinary places I've ever seen, a 20‑km. long stretch of lunar desolation, our causeway surrounded, by far mostly inland as we were often 200 m away from the sea to our left, by up to 1½ km of dead trees poking up out of the water, a distant edge of dust-laden green behind them. Apparently there was an incursion of salt water that turned the scenery into a desert on water, everything looking as if lightning-struck yet w/o a trace of fire, ash-grey like driftwood, not the slightest shred of greenness, pretty white egrets standing quietly in the water, usually solitary although I saw a house-sized pool with forty or so congregated.

This gave way to green with low mountains ahead of us, the characteristic feature being the mix 75‑25 of tropical trees and cactus respectively, climbing up the hills, total effect soothing and attractive.

Our hotel is in fact not in Sta. M. proper, rather in a resort enclave one bay west, called El Rodadero, named from a sand-slide down some 60 or 70 feet into the sea. Unlike the strip on Bocagrande Island S. of Cartagena, this is a very pleasant clump; the people are quite different, no swinger-set types and in fact few nonColombians. The main street is small and human, and very Caribbean: lotsa people milling around, going for walks since there's nothing much to do — El Rondadero is like a crossing whereas Cartagena is like a cruise — mild Caribbean carousing, roving bands of musicians serenading people with say two tom-toms, some rattles and one of those odd things you scrape. Beach one block in front of this, pretty well packed, about 1 km. long, uninterrupted sand, whitish, darkening wet. Restaurants and cafés along this, general effect like Bandol if you totally removed the highway and made the inhabitants friendlier.

Our hotel, the Arhuaco (named after the Arawak indians I believe) is first-class for the tropics. Airconditioned dining room with a mildly Colombian menu, superclean modern room, stocked refrigerator in it, pleasant pool area with bar, nice staff, etc. Basically soundproof to the mild goings-on outside.

We went to Sta. Marta today, the oldest Spanish foundation in Colombia: a fifteen-minute busride over the dividing hill, the effect was like moving from Sanary to the viaduct at Bandol and going no further. There is a small whitewashed cathedral, we will probably attend mass there tomorrow Sunday morning. Slightly elevated on the other side, more or less, of the town, is the farm where Bolivar died, the Quinta San Pedro Alejandrino, consumptive or something so that acting on medical advice he removed from the altitude of Bogotá. It has been kept close to intact, but encrusted with a large white cube now cenotaph — his remains were translated to Venezuela that gave him birth, this about 8 years ago maybe; mosaic murals; the houselet of a doctor friend lent him with the room where he died, preserved with its furniture; a museum of contemporary art, most of it bad, although a haunting portrait by Obregón and a beautiful expressive-cubist 'Green Fruit' by a modern Colombian painter; agricultural dependencies mostly related to sugarcane — saw no sugarcane anywhere in this whole trip — memorial plaques of all kinds; a small military museum; a huge tamarind tree overspreading say ⅔ of an acre, with a trunk 15 feet around and horizontal branches on which cactuses up to 2 foot tall had taken here and there parasitical root; groups of small schoolchildren, one of which had me take their official outing picture, I grouped them entirely in English and hand gestures, a source of delight to all of us.

Sta. Marta itself is hot and dusty and not particularly interesting. Lupe and Betty had our bathing suits in a bag unbeknownst and were casting about to try to find the bathroom of a restaurant to change in, roaming around under scorching sun, I for once nax this, and we had a cool busride back to the 10° cooler Rondadero. I swam in the pool, finished what Plutarch I brought, some of it aloud in Spanish sight-translation (why does lightning not kill people who are asleep?) to an actually fairly interested pair of roommates, then the rest you know —

You sounded much better, I'm very relieved now, it was nice to hear your voice —
Love,
Bill


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Page updated: 25 Feb 12