Cinara and I drove down the long stretch of road from Barranquilla to Cartagena. After an eventful Carnival week, we were heading to Cartagena, Cinara’s hometown. With some divine timing and last minute change of events, I was going to meet the ATL suite & Co in Cartagena!
We left Carlos’ house with some sketched directions on the back of a napkin that would take us to the highway that led to CTG. We passed “Joe” the large Joe Arroyo statue on Carrera 46, took the couple roundabouts, and straight away we went. It’s been a while since I’ve been on a road trip and Cinara and I divulged our own tales of Modern Love: stories of love, loss, and redemption. I smiled inside and out as I heard the echoes of my own stories a year ago in hers today. Men with goals meeting girls with dreams and all the emotional chaos, beauty, and growth that can come from it. We parked in front of the hostel and I wished her the best as I lugged my hiking backpack out of the car.
I stood in front of another ominous unfamiliar door and rang the bell. A portly brown-skinned woman opened the door with a warm inviting smile. She led me to my bed in this new, quaint hostel. Luckily I was on the bottom of a three-tiered bunkbed. What a sight. My bed neighbor was a reserved rollo (person from Bogotá) visiting the city for an international film festival. He was a video producer in Bogotá and was sent to report on the festival for work. Que chevere! I settled in and checked my messages. I was to meet my fraannddzzzz later that night after dinner.
I had been staying in Getsemaní, an artsy spot that was recently gaining some interest from the tourist scene. For dinner, I had toured the Plaza del Trinidad. It was against a church and a local family hang out spot. Kids raced by on their bikes, squealing with glee as the breeze cut through the warm Caribbean air. Parents chatted amongst each other as their kids played in the square. And love birds were canoodling along the benches. There were a number of street carts serving arepas, chuzzos, empanadas, pizza. After hanging out in the Square, I chose a more upscale restaurant on the corner still serving its menu del día.
Afterwards, I headed back to the hostel to see what the girls were up to then and where to meet. As with most appointments in my life, I was a….a little late. After answering a few last minute emails, I rushed out the door and bolted up the street to the glorious walled city of Old Cartagena. El dueño del hostel had given me some brief instructions to their restaurant, and luckily I had gone wandering earlier that day so the city was a bit familiar. Its beauty in the nighttime never failed. The brightly colored buildings held their color as the streetlights shone on them. The sidewalks were alight with jewelry, gold earrings, and large beaded necklaces. I wandered about looking for Don San Juan restaurant, stopping every so often to clarify directions, noting that some people had led me in the wrong direction. Always better to ask twice now than ask 5 miles later again. It was late when I got there and I didn’t see or hear them when I approached. The hostess noticed my frazzled look. “Estoy buscando un grupo de negritas.” I was straight and to the point. There was no time for tact as I was already tired from walking. “Ah!” His eyes shone. “Con pelo grande!” His hands extended out from his head mimicking the full heads of curls and coils I knew so well. “Yes! Sí!” I exclaimed. You just missed them, he noted, and pointed me down the street. Couldn’t’ have been but five minutes ago they left, he said as he sent me on my way. Five minutes could get you a pretty far ways in this tiny city. I rushed down the street, keeping my eyes and ears open. I was searching for the jovial laughs and exclamatory squeals I know they shared amongst each other in moments of excitement and joy. At every esquina, I asked the street vendor, “have you seen a group of black girls with big hair?” “yes!” they stated with a slight giggle at my directness and pointed in the appropriate direction. And so began the Great Black Girl Goose Chase of Cartagena.
Every 500 m, I would stop and ask, I felt like a bloodhound on a mission. I had walked at least 10 blocks by this point. Then I turned one corner and I had lost the scent. No one had seen them on this corner though the guy had pointed in this direction. Tense, I stood and then started to backtrack. Had me meant the other corner? In that moment, my Whatsapp beeped. “We’re headed to Babar!” The hunt was on. At least now I had some focus. Imagine my surprise when I get to Babar and they haven’t arrived yet. Stumped and amused by this point, I turned the corner of the Calle de los Deseos (Street of Desires) just to check if they were in the area. And there they were. Strolling freely, carefree Black girls in the flesh, engaging in the sights and lights of the city that they didn’t notice me standing on the sidewalk until about 100 feet away.
Tsega screamed when our eyes met, and a smile burst across my face. That had been the sound I was waiting for. Everyone turned to her before following her eyes to find me. Outside of Tsega, I hadn’t really seen the other girls in the past 2 years except for those brief blurry sightings at Harvard-Yale. And I hadn’t seen anybody I knew at all in the past month. Yet, 1000 miles from home, from all different corners of the U.S., we had finally managed to meet in Cartagena on a street corner named Desire.