Monday, March 30, 2009
We were staring intently at Pedro (Peter) as he offered up his favorite restaurants in and around Cartagena, our mouths salivating, guts grumbling; he was giving suggestions that ran the gamut -- from comida corriente ($3-$4 for a three-course meal), to street fare (a pittance), to high-end grub that neither Ms. Grice nor Ms. Sandwich has any business scarfing down -- at roughly $8/person.
A young man came a-knocking at the old Casa Castel. The bone-thin daughter of the owners scurried to the front door and opened up a small, square peep-hole window with bars to stare the solicitor in the eye before letting him in (the bars being a measure to keep out all the Banditos, we later mused). As the boy entered, ready to do some work on the small indoor pool, a man in a military costume walked up and piggy-backed his way in.
I thought something was terribly wrong -- he was burly, walking briskly, and had a severe, pock-marked face belonging to a character in a gangster film, or perhaps a film about Colombian guerrillas and their torture chambers where they keep little ladies from the U.S. for ransom they don't have. I spun my head around to stare old Margs in the eye, talking at her in my loudest silent voice.
She shouted back at me via a cold, icy stare -- her trademark -- that said, "We've inadvertently walked into a coke den, stay calm. We're about to be walked out, shackled, to this paramilitary man's car, headed to the Colombian countryside. You know what that means." Later, I learned that I misinterpreted her death stare, finding that she'd meant, "We've inadvertently walked into a brothel, one of the ones we keep reading about: have you ever heard of el 'Sex Trade'?"
But no! The man who'd sidled inside was el Comandante Arnando del Alfonso*, and he was meant to help us make our way to our apartment in El Cabrero (un barrio de Cartagena).
"Eres Mar-greet?" he asked, staring my bud square in the eyes.
Margs, mouth agape and heart pounding -- both because she might be en route to the Countryside, and because she was being diverted from Pedro's restaurant suggestions -- "Me? Oh YES! Yes, soy Maaaargaret. Are you ... are you ..." she blubbered.
"Soy Arnando -- Comandante Alfonso. Dee apartament, si?" he shot back, his shoulder blades pinched so tightly together that I subconsciously stood a little straighter.
"Ah, si si ... si, the apartment!" we both stammered.
Margs shot me a nervous look and said we'd go run up and grab our things, we'd be down in a minute.
When we got down 1.2 minutes later, old Alf was already waiting by the car with the trunk open -- we placed our bags in and prepared to be grilled; Sr. Alfonso was a friend of a family friend's niece's husband's little-league coach's step sister's nephew's old acquaintance (or some such thing) who was giving us a crazy deal on an apartment we'd never seen before.
Alfonso did us right. It's been about 11 days now, and the stories I have, the people we've befriended, the pictures, the tales, the videos, the published writing we've secured ... and there's so many more days to come! I'm listening to a couple Latin Jazz CDs from our favorite old friend - a man who has made it his mission to make sure that me and old Sands are so well-taken care of that it makes me think I never want to leave this place.
But more on that later.