Friday, August 10, 2012

The Summer We Went to Colombia

The summer I turned six, we took a family vacation to my father’s homeland, Colombia.  We were there for what seemed to be months, but it couldn’t have been more than a few weeks.  In the time we were there, we discovered  the joys of obleas and edible ants, saw our first panhandlers, and were warned to keep our earrings protected from thieves who would snatch them right off your ears. 

In Bogota, we marveled at the chips of emerald that were tossed into the streets by jewelers who saw no value in these tiny treasures.  In Cartagena, we saw our first (and only) sloth. 

We were introduced to family, so much family, who looked just like me.  I’ve been told I “look” Colombian.  All I know is that I look like my father.  Now that I’m older, I can see that I do, in fact, look Colombian.  A glance at the old photos confirms that, in Colombia, I wouldn’t stand out.  After a lifetime of wishing I looked different, I think I’m ambivalent about this revelation. 

Our vacation was a whirl of sights, tastes, and sounds.  Over 35 years later, I wish my parents had waited until I was older, so that the memories would be more solidly etched in my mind.  Now, a stray scent or flavor may trigger a memory of Colombia.  Funny, I remember drinking lots of Coca Cola on that trip.  We weren’t soda drinkers growing up, so for years after this trip, the taste of Coke would remind me of Colombia.

For the most part, this vacation was a little on the dull side.  Being a six year old, dragged from family gathering to family gathering, not speaking a word of Spanish, and eating food that tasted like rose buds was not my idea of a summer vacation. 

Except for the beach trips. 

My dad made sure to take us to the beach a few times.  I can recall my brother getting fried to the point of blisters and my sister getting stung by jelly fish.  It was all very exciting for me (and slightly inconvenient, truth be told).  But so much fun.  At six years old, these beaches seemed exotic and tropical, full of jellyfish and sloths.  Not like the beaches in boring old California.  And the people were so friendly too.  Coming back to our hotel room one day, two youngish women asked me where I was from.  In my best fake Spanish, I said, “Soy de los Estados Unidos.”  They said something else, but my fake Spanish could only carry me so far, and the conversation quickly faded to gestures and smiles.  My parents were nowhere to be found, because in those days, people thought nothing of letting a kindergartener wander around a resort in a foreign country, unattended. 

My brother and I are close in age, so we spent most of the time playing together on these beaches.  Here we are, playing together in Cartagena.  It’s one of my favorite pictures, because a) I remember loving that silly green terry cloth bathing suit, and b) it captured our relationship perfectly.

Occasionally, I think it would be nice to take BH and the kids for a trip to visit my dad.  But then he says stuff like, “You and the boys would be safe, but we’d have to be careful with BH, because he looks American and someone might try to kidnap him.” 

I still haven’t decided if he’s joking.


beach is fun said...

The picture in the beach is beautiful! But I don't get this: who is BH?

Henri B. said...

I love that picture so much!

NumberWhisperer said...

@beach is fun, BH is my Better Half, my husband

@Henri B, thanks! No instagram needed here.