High Tides, Caribbean Strikes (Part IV)

Fernando, our beloved capitan, didn’t show up. We had arranged a pick up at 8, so we could buy supplies and sort immigration paperwork out. After some wait, our captain gets the dingy and looks for an alternative.
Morning sunshine, basking out in the front deck, Caribbean view and all, having a read. Bliss. The dingy approaches and from the distant mumble, the only thing that startles me is the word “Paramilitary”.
It turns out that everything is closed due to issues related to the paramilitary. Yes, after all we’re right on the edge of the Darien Gap, where guerrilla movements reign as they please. FARC was the first association, obviously.

We decided to hit the town, to look for somewhere to eat, but what we found was a ghost town. Almost no one on the streets, and all the lively restaurants, bars and eateries shut down. After looking for a restaurant, I manage to talk to a local on the streets who makes a phone call: “Que quieres comer? Algo, no importa que!” After thinking a little bit, he simply nods and grunts “Sigueme!” And so we did, we followed him through the tortuous, dirt paved alleyways, away from the neatly painted walls of the shore. After five minutes walking and greeting some Sapzurrians, we reach a brick house where a plump severe looking old lady tells us to step right in. So we do, sending “Holas, buenas” to the whole family that was chilling on the front porch, or cooking.
We are accommodated in the back yard, where a trash fire is burning furiously. Despite the intense smoke, we manage to hold on, I guess the appetite was too much of a reason to stay. We sat and talked, watched roosters eat eggs in what we, as a joke,  called some kind of cannibalism. After 20 eternal minutes, our food arrived. Some kind of corn flour empanadas with a fried egg inside. Quite tasty actually, as long as you are patient and don’t burn your tongue on the oil drenched tortilla. We ate, we smiled, rejuvenated. This moment was something else. There are bad situations that prove to have amazing consequences. To be able to talk to locals, to experience their generosity, to eat the food that they eat is something that takes my traveling to another level. Muchas gracias, Dona Laura, for opening the doors of your home to some starving gringos.  Can’t thank you enough.

But the word paramilitary still echoed in my mind. I was still curious to know what was going on. I started inquiring with some locals, and the answers were quite vague, until I met Fernando, our boatman from the day before. He tells me that there is a strike, that’s why everything is closed. Smiling, he adds reassuring us: “Pero aca se esta tranquilo, no pasa nada!” After a while, I bumped into Andy, an English expatriate, based in Sapzurro for 18 years. He explained to me that the government bombed and killed a paramilitary leader, in a town further south. With the leader, several women and children were killed as well. It turns out that the people were actually striking, all around the towns in the north of Colombia. No transportation between major cities and villages, general services shut down. There seems to be quite a good deal of tension down in Turbo, another town. The question is, is the strike out of solidarity or are people just afraid of retaliation? Andy says that his place is not open only not to draw too much attention. Just that. Read between the lines. But he also tells me that the paramilitary groups were formed when land owners hired private gunmen to protect them from the guerrillas. With time they developed into a military faction of their own. Same story, different place, don’t you say?
Dona Chila, the lady that sold us ice cream at her doorstep a few days before shed another light onto the situation. While handing me the homemade coffee flavored ice cream, she tells me that the strike was voluntary: “Hijo, esto es un paro de la gente, un paro pacifico”. Peaceful, voluntary demonstration or complying with the threats of some paramilitary group?

It was a really stressful situation for the people. You could feel that things were not as smooth as normally. As for me, the simple fact is that I’m stranded here and I can’t sail today. Stranded might be a strong word, since there are many worst places to be stranded. Sipping a beer, being rocked to siesta by the waves of the Caribbean, laying down in a hammock is hardly a synonym for that word. It also gave me the opportunity to something I’ve been wanting since I first left home, to cross a national border on foot. Dilute that manmade line with my footsteps. It felt quite good… But the call of the road is stronger and I want to be on the move. Badly.

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