Life Aboard LULU

July 8, 2003 (Charging Out of Cartegena)
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After six months, Cartagena became a comfy old couch. We could make our way easily around the curvy warren of old streets. We knew who sold what from what cart in which alley; where to buy the best wines, meat, vegetables and the cheapest (prescription) drugs; which plaza troubadour put on the best "floppy hat" show and who grilled the best pollo a la parilla. We'd become regulars at a number of restaurants and-more important-befriended some beguiling Colombians. We even acquired a sort-of second family.

Leaving could have been a real emotional wrench. Except, in the end, it was all we could do to get out. We found ourselves stuck in an amount of red tape that might favorably impact 3M Corp's bottom line for a quarter or two.

If we didn't keep laughing, we told ourselves, we were going to have to jump off a bridge.

Some catch-up. In January we flew to Chile and Argentina, two enchanting countries, virtually entwined and seemingly pulled-like 2500 miles of taffy-out of the South American continent.

In early February we planned to show Cartagena off to guests, then leave for the San Blas Islands and Panama. But fierce winds and high seas made a 200-mile crossing treacherous. Instead, we sailed to the Rosario Islands, some 20 miles away.

The "local knowledge" Rosario chart we bought must have been local knowledge in, say, 1840, so our show-your-friends-your-sailing-prowess arrival looked more like my first driving test. We hit bottom, over and over again, on the reef around the islands. The chart said the channel we'd chosen was 20 feet and deeper. At its deepest, it was 6 feet. Our keel draws 6 ½.

The entire island population showed up for the event, hanging from waterside huts and docks. The Rosario Coast Guard jumped in, trying to pull us off, as did most of the local fishermen, plus all other unemployed area men folk in wooden skiffs, their empty pockets apparent.

Sam was the most enterprising among them. He jumped aboard with his sidekick Jesus, who finally plowed LULU out of the mess. Sam returned an hour or so later, selling both papayas and coconuts but mainly to show the hole in his pocket through which had (allegedly) passed our tip. Reluctantly, we replaced the $5.00

Next morning Shameless Sam rowed over with the day's money-raising ploy. Though our second infusion had, blessedly, not fallen through the torn pocket, he now had perched in the prow a precious four-year-old daughter, granddaughter-or neighbor's rented kid. He said he was on his way to Cartagena for little Juanita's eye surgery, but just needed a little help paying. The child's eyes looked clear and focused, but how we could not contribute something more than a little notebook and some magic markers to play with while waiting at the clinic?

For a week, we hung at anchor, exploring, barbecuing steaks and steaming humongous four-pound crabs bought from local fishermen for $5 each. Our friends left and we remained. All too soon, February became March. We left LULU well tended in the familiar, safe 16th century fortress of a marina, and returned to the States for visits with kids and grandchildren, to celebrate Bobby's 40th while eating our way around Los Angeles. And to discover that Suey is pregnant.

Six weeks later we crammed 600 pounds of assorted can't-get-'em-anywhere-but-home "necessities" into seven, donkey-height duffels. The assorted clothing, motors, faucet sets, replacement portholes, charts, cleaning products, jars of sauces, frozen meats, nuts, cheeses, salamis all arrived in the midst of an archetypal rainy-season downpour.

Fortunately, we'd wired in advance for assistance in snaking all this down the sinewy quarter-mile dock, over our stanchions and down below. Thus Alfonso & Crew met us at the gate.

Alfonso is our Cleaning Supervisor and, while we're pretty sure he used to clean boats, he now mostly struts the docks in a splendid display of muscular magnificence. Occasionally, we hear, he paints boats. His Cruiser Code Name is El Gallo-The Rooster.

We thought when we first docked in November that we'd hired thisWhich Is Reynaldo? powerhouse of a man for all washing, compounding and waxing jobs, at the going rate of 50,000 pesos-$17 a day. Instead, on Day One, Alfonso dispatched his 21-year-old identical twin brothers, Reynaldo & Javier. It looked like any puff of breeze could carry these two lanky lightweights clear across the bay. If polishing strength wasn't their long suit, they did walk normally-and were very, very cute. At that point I doubt they'd ever scrubbed much more than their conspicuously pearly teeth.

For the first month or so, The Multiple Births, as Gary called them, were invariably underfoot, dragging their hoses and cleansers through a variety of other boat projects and interrupting, about every five minutes, whatever I was doing, with a "Disculpe," (excuse me) Luisa:" either seeking instructions for assigned chores or seeking to escape those chores with conversation and drinks of water. Over time, as the available work diminished, Javier departed and the endearing Reynaldo became exclusively "ours."

Since he spoke no English, I got to practice my Spanish. He took on the project not only of correcting me but also of enunciating his syllables clearly, because the local dialect is virtually indecipherable to the Gringo ear: so thick and impenetrable, so rife with guttural consonants and dropped vowels, to listen is to feel submerged in a bowl of oatmeal.

It took days to stow all 600 pounds-and merely an hour or two to completely forget where I'd put it all. So why buy it in the first place? I couldn't avoid wondering-which forced me to conclude I'm still a neurotic shopaholic type despite radical changes of venue and lifestyle.

When you leave a boat alone for a while, it behaves just like a kid; it makes sure you come back to as many nasty surprises as it can conjure. We found all our air conditioner hoses completely dysfunctional, because congested with tribes-no, nations-of barnacles. But this problem evaporated when the available electricity proved insufficient to run the air conditioners anyway in the shocking equatorial heat.

And the air-conditioning dilemma soon paled when the battery charger decided to die. This is real serious, since the only other way to charge the batteries, which support all critical onboard systems, including the refrigerator and freezer, is to run the engine for hours at a time. This creates a constant clatter and covers the hull with thick, sticky, ugly, black exhaust grit. Fortunately Reynaldo, not me, got to remove it.

Chutes and Ladders, Colombian-style

We focused completely on the problem of how best to import a new battery charger. Fast was the operative word.

Other cruisers told us clearing Colombian customs could be treacherous, complicated, prone to long delays. In third-world countries, especially where there is a language barrier, rumors are always rampant and solid information scarce. We therefore investigated carefully-we thought.

One sure, proven alternative was to ship in a complicated two-step process, using a local agent, who gathers merchandise at a Miami address and then ships to Colombia, using "connections" he's established, which insures that packages are not detoured, dead-ended and/or dutied unnecessarily in Bogotá Customs. But that procedure would take 11 days.

We got creative and checked out Federal Express, under the assumption that the well heeled in tony Bocagrande would have oiled the receiving of imported Gucci's and Pucci's to Rolls Royce- smooth predictability. To avoid the risk of language-based misinformation instead of phoning we taxied to the FedEx office itself.

There we got, in English, the sunny, no-problema scenario we sought from the lovely Maria Jose. Make sure the package is clearly addressed to LULU, a "Yacht in Transit," and three working days later we'll receive our battery charger, duty-free.

"Regardless of its declared value?"




You should live so long.

Almost a full week later we learn the package is in Bogotá, stuck-guess where?-in Customs. In fact, it's been turned over to a customs brokerage agency because it's-guess what?-valued at over $1,000. I call Maria Jose, tell her she never mentioned a $1,000 valuation problem and that it's addressed to a "Yacht in Transit."

"I will call customs in Bogotá and call you back."

"And will this phone call get the package released?"

"Well, we hope so, Señora, but these are matters not within our control, as you can imagine."

No, we can't imagine and, indeed, soon discover that the imagination-the American imagination, anyway-must expand to third-trimester uterine proportion to fathom the unpredictable snafus that develop from what seemed a blindingly simple, logical plan. We're soon mired in a bureaucratic quagmire that makes Kafka scenario look like a game of Chutes and Ladders.

Our assigned Bogotá customs agent, Sandra, who croaks like Jeremiah the Bullfrog-except in Spanish-announces Customs needs papers. She will fax them, pronto. When we call several hours later, she seems shocked to learn she hasn't faxed them. But she's on the case-only, sorry, not today, mañana.

When finally faxed, the papers are virtually unreadable. But, we fill them out and, within an hour, fax them back. And settle back to wait for customs' approval.

Mañana I call Sandra, enduring the border control's worth of telephone functionaries requisite in Colombia to-maybe-reach your party.

"No se encuentra, Señora," I am told.

Where we Americans would say, "Sorry, she's not in," here in Colombia one gets "No se encuentra," that is, "You didn't find her." It's invariably uttered in the sprightliest of tones-as if you've just won the inter-office pool.

Further information is not forthcoming. Sandra could be in the ladies' room touching up her mascara. She could be two desks' over catching up on the soaps. She could be out having liposuction. She could be dead, though most likely, she's just hiding from you.

"No se encuentra." As if it's somehow your fault-if you'd been smart enough to call at the right time, you'd have your package and your life back.

"When will she be back?" Long, pregnant pause…as if the question is somehow inappropriate and, besides, doesn't always get the same answer anyway: around 4 o'clock. What day at 4 o'clock is always unclear.

Insistent probing gets me the information that Sandra is enferma, sick. There is, naturally, no one else who can help us with our case. Even if we could explain it.

Days later, Sandra returns, speaking in more mellifluous Kermit the Frog range, and says Customs wants not faxed papers, not copies of papers but originals only. This information she delivers as if news to her: she who faxed them in the first place, she who is allegedly in charge.

If we hadn't happened to call, nothing would have happened...ever.

Asking why only wastes time. Nonetheless I do.

La Dian is inflexible, she tells me.

"Who?" We've heard this name "La Dian" before.

Ah…we learn La Dian is an acronym for Colombian Customs and not some transvestite salsista in a slinky gown.

Sandra says she will overnight us an original set of documents and other newly necessary paperwork. When we overnight them back to Bogotá, she will whisk them to La Dian.

"Ojala! " I mutter-the rough Spanish equivalent of "From your lips to God's ear."

We now enter a phase wherein once we send the one last final original paper we learn-mañana-that La Dian needs another one last final, final original document. Then we learn about the other final, final, final...It appears everything comes as a complete surprise to everybody involved, but the truth is nobody ever wants to give anybody bad news.

In this paper chase we now become involved with a Cartagena agency and its representative, Jorge the Ineffectual. Jorge is a goofy chipmunk sort who unfailingly arrives wearing an ear-to-ear smile. You can almost hear that smile if you call him on the phone (and actually reach him.) And why shouldn't he smile, since he never has anything else to show for himself-like a result.

Jorge sort of knows what's required. First, he has us sign the originals. He then brings them to Immigration. The Chief there spends several hours eating his lunch and enjoying his siesta. Then finally, most graciously, and amid many, many smiles, he admits Jorge to the inner sanctum to witness him actually sign the paper. After which Jorge needs to prepare a formal letter for La Dian. This takes most of the next day. All this is duly overnighted to Bogotá. And rejected, almost within seconds it seems.

The only thing that happens quickly in Colombian officialdom is the summary rejection of a piece of paper.

"Tranquilo," everybody keeps telling us. Stay calm. Meanwhile, we feel the victims of random third-world injustice.

"Why any of this is necessary, Gary writes home, "or at the least, why all these papers could not be thought about, procured, prepared and signed in some relatively simultaneous time frame, like, say, one day, is completely unfathomable to anyone who regularly eats with a knife and fork. In fact, no one can figure out why we are so upset-after all, a 'rush' shipment that arrives during the same phase of the moon is some sort of miracle, no?"

Days later we are no closer. We're in a communications whiteout, where I am continually asking, but, in fact, learning absolutely nothing. My Spanish is sufficient to the task of understanding the words, but not the strategies of obfuscation. I make the mistake of exploding at Jorge. After which he never calls me back. You don't violate the rules of machismo by yelling at a Colombian male.

Through sheer bulldog determination I discover that we need to prove we're a Yacht in Transit.

"Let them send us the charger, I'll invite them all down for a beer, they can help us cut the lines and sail away," I say.

American passports don't suffice to prove that we are a Yacht in Transit, nor does our American flag, nor our Gap khakis, nor do 40 or 50 previous check-ins and checkouts from other countries over the past 3-½ years.

The paper we now need is our "Importación Temporal," an entry document certifying that LULU is a yacht in transit. But why don't we already have this paper? Or why can't we get it?

We ambush Jorge outside his office. He finally admits this is not a paper he can get-because it never existed.

"Why not? Doesn't everyone get one?"

It seems Jorge's predecessor, the stiletto-heeled, quasi-anorexic Marie Elena, forgot to request it in November when we first checked in.

Oh, great. Since no Customs paper ever said we're here temporarily, it looks we'll be here forever. On the other hand, our Immigration papers forbid us to stay more than six months in a calendar year, so obviously we're only here temporarily.

Finally I understand the South American literary penchant for magic realism: it's the only way to capture the illogic, the fantastic non-sequiturs that occur regularly in trying to accomplish the most ordinary of things.

Forgery, apparently, is out of the question. Every paper in Colombia of even the slightest import, needs to be notarized. Reynaldo tells us because everyone lies routinely, everyone always needs to prove everything.

We offer to pay the duty. No way: a Rule's a Rule. People assure us it's not a question of flying to Bogotá and greasing a series of palms. No, we've got to find a way to prove we are who we say we are: two schmucks on a boat trying to get out of Colombia.

Some days we see this official intransigence as simply misdirected, repressed wrath over the country's inability to stem the tidal exportation of illegal drugs. On others we decide it's only a matter of some otherwise-emasculated, generally underpaid (but happy to be paid at all) government functionary trying to exert the maximum power constitutionally afforded his little fiefdom.

Meanwhile, everyone involved urges, "No te preocupas." Don't worry. Now the minute you hear this little phrase-which you do about 50 times a day, it's a sign that you'd better start biting your nails again.

One day, friends who turn out to have friends in high places-who, fortunately, have friends in even higher places, discover our plight. We start very near the top: with the editor of the leading newspaper. Our friend Janie King, an American who teaches second-grade English at the poshest of Cartagena's private schools, is best friends with his wife, Carolina, whom we have met several times. Carolina is outraged when she hears our story.

"Luis will help you," she guarantees.

From the moment we're ushered into the vaulted, wood-paneled office of Luis Estevez, the gears and cogs of influence begin turning, as if goosed by Zeus himself. Executive offices like this are bigger, far bigger, than the barrio bunkers in which families of ten live their whole lives.

Luis is tall, pencil-mustached, boyish, and seems much too nice to be some hard-hitting editor. Charming, suave, intelligent and friendly, he is anxious to help. Afterwards, he will check on us, daily, like we're his own children. Family is still everything in Colombia.

"Bureaucrats," he sighs, after he understands as much as we understand of our situation as we do-not much.

He telephones his friend Manuel, who heads a big customs brokerage agency.

"Out of town until Monday." Luis ponders this a minute.

Unfazed, Luis now calls the Cartagena Port Captain." Palming the receiver, he tells us this man would be most displeased to see his name or his agency in the paper associated with ghe slightest whiff of negativity.

Their conversation is smooth, dulcet, redolent with smiles and civility. The powerful here nearly coo over the telephone: the phone call alone suffices as a reminder of what's what and who's who.

"Ah, gracias, Capitán," he finishes. "Ya le envio." He's sending us right over. He apologizes for not putting a company car at our disposal for this five-minute, 50-cent taxi ride. Ushering us out, Luis stops at a tattered album and shows us faded sepia snapshots of his father presiding over a 1930's Franklin D. Roosevelt state visit to Colombia.

From what I've read, the rich and powerful have, for generations, remained the rich and powerful. The stasis haunted Colombia in recent decades. Resentment of entrenched power transformed charismatic but merciless drug lords like Pablo Escobar-who rose from the Medellín slums-into glittering folk heroes. Escobar not only overthrew the institutionalized power structure, promising instant money and a way out of poverty-he also made grandiose Robin Hood gestures, like razing slums and building new housing, with enough frequency to create reverence, even 30 years later, in a Cartagena youth like Reynaldo. It's understandable-after all, has the government itself ever made so meaningful a gesture?

Seated next to me in the Port Captain's reception area is a burly black man in a tee shirt and jeans. He flourishes a card identifying himself as Xavier Ramirez Cortès, "Able Seaman:" a merchant marine, with 42 years roaming the seas. Somehow-the full story evades my Spanish-he can't get on a ship because he lacks correct papers.

I sympathize. Lacking a paper here is something I now understand completely.

"Mierda, este pais es mierda. This country is shit," he tells me. Though the able seaman is there before us, with Luis's scribble of introduction on the back of his business card, we soon find ourselves in yet another grand office. This one, with its sweeping harbor view, is furnished in valuable nautical antiques-binnacles, shackles, searchlights, steering stations.

Late afternoon sunlight streams in, bouncing off the glass-topped desk and the Capitán's slick head of black hair, a long, lacquered, utterly-not-naval shock of which droops crisply across his unlined, suntanned brow.

Armando Sarmiento Sayas, El Capitán, looks, in his unwrinkled military beigeness, as if he does little else all day but change uniforms-uniforms so crisply pressed any edge could slit open your average annual-report envelope. He is handsome despite vaguely weak features and the womanly bulge of stomach girdled in by unpleated gabardine trousers.

We watch him enjoying his own performance in the role of Port Captain. Gazing out over the harbor's historic fortifications, evoking 16th century Spanish admiral scanning for enemy, he's also delivering, by phone, a soft-gloved but nonetheless imperious dressing down. I'd bet our battery charger the recipient is our very own Jorge the Ineffectual.

This apotheosis of Colombian military manhood would have been oh-so-much-more impressive had his fly, not, unfortunately, been open.

Ceremoniously, keenly aware of his audience-though not the offending zipper-he now gathers all limbs to attention and sinks down into a perfect hypotenuse with his chair. Then, as if suddenly noting our presence and readying himself to rise to military, er, erectness, he glances down and notices the grinning zipper.

Switching to stealth submarine mode, he rolls left, dispatches a furtive hand on its mission. Successful, he now assembles a funereal expression televising his empathy, then sinks into a ponderous silence. Then, with a sudden, incandescent smile, he announces he will write a personal letter on our behalf indicating that he, El Capitán del Puerto de Cartagena de Indias, is well aware of our presence-our temporary presence-and the fact that we will leave as soon as our battery charger arrives.

His swiftly-executed letter is shipped off to Bogotá over the weekend-a weekend notable for a mocking Sunday editorial by Luis Estevez describing the poor Gringos trying to import a battery charger and the double-faced red tape keeping them stuck in their boat slip.

Notwithstanding, bright and early Monday morning La Dian rejects our amended application. Some sharp-eyed functionary notices that El Capitán's letter was A) not dated at all and B) had the wrong date for our original arrival, to wit, five months hence--November 22, 2003, instead of seven months ago in 2002. This enabled the Bogotá Customs Gorilla to reject our application yet again. As a result of this Score-One-More for the Knuckle-Draggers, an entire new letter will have to be written and sent to Bogotá, losing yet another day.

But meanwhile, it's Monday and Luis's friend, Manuel, is back at work. We taxi far out of town, find ourselves in an even bigger office, this one a three-room suite overlooking the commercial port of Cartagena. Its size befits Manuel, a handsome giant, immaculately groomed. Seated behind a behemoth desk, he's got a pair of cell phones clapped at his ears like a set of headphones. A desk phone sits to his right and in his personal bathroom, a cell phone perches on a counter brimming with shaving gear, hair gels and colognes. I do not check the shower.

Manuel, too, speaks barely above a whisper. We sit quietly for half an hour watching him ply the phones.

It is Manuel who truly understands and then explains what's really been going on. The sole replacement for the missing Importación Temporal is a paper swearing LULU arrived a yacht in transit, signed by the owner of the agency that failed to get us the Importación in the first place.

"I've been trying to reach him on his cellular," Manuel says. "He's my uncle."

Of course. Everyone important is either related to or knows intimately everyone else who's important. It's really a small town, Cartagena.

Even I know Uncle Ramón. Not only that: I even know he's off on a month-long sailing regatta, which left from our very own marina-I'd actually waved them goodbye from the dock.

Ramón Castillo. Of all people. A courtly old former naval officer I'd met quite accidentally. In fact, he drove me to the meat market and we traded pleasantries about chorizo and chicken. Had I known how badly I'd be needing his autograph, I'd've begged him to sign the butcher paper.

Ramón left without leaving a written, notarized paper assigning someone else to sign anything official. At one time the linguiniesque Maria Elena might have, but she's long gone. Jorge can't because he's new, lacks express authority and, besides, everyone knows he's a fuckwit.

Manuel improvises a strategy. Since the country is fixated on paperwork, let's bombard them with even more paperwork, in this case, powers of attorney. Captain Sarmiento Sayas will correct his letter. Gary will sign one stating he's the captain of the temporarily-here LULU. The marina brass will certify that LULU is berthed as a temporary yacht in a membership-only yacht club. We'll even throw in Jorge the Ineffectual's. All duly notarized.

Manuel puts his entire agency at our disposal. Assigns his chief expeditor to gather all necessary papers, send them out-and call us every six hours with progress reports. We now have three-no, four Colombian shipping agencies if you count the utterly unimpressive FedEx- trying to blast this part out of the constipated La Dian. Plus the newspaper and the Port Captain.

To Manuel's credit, the papers are, at last, accepted. Notwithstanding, moving them from one desk to another in the same office and the package itself from one side of a warehouse to the other, across an entire airport and onto a plane takes another three days.

Previously unannounced regulations crop up. Suddenly, the box must be opened to make sure it's a charger and not a load of cocaine fertilizer. While that's to happen on Thursday morning, Thursday must have been a busy day, so that doesn't happen until late afternoon, too late to fly. Somehow it misses not only the Friday evening plane but also the early Saturday morning flight.

It gets to Bocagrande Fed-Ex exactly at noon-on the stroke of which the office closes until Monday. We're stationed at the door, should it have proven necessary to barricade in the lovely, if thoroughly misinformed, Maria Jose.

The bureaucrat goons had held back our charger a total of 17 days. In the time it would take one of those guys to say, "Application Rejected," we installed it, charged it up and, a day later, charged out of Cartagena.

Silver linings

As with most such clouds there were several glorious silver linings. We spent some memorable evenings with our new friends, Luis and Carolina-including drinks aboard LULU; dinner at their house; a rollicking jazz-salsa concert in Cartagena's glittering, painstakingly restored Teatro Heredia.

Manuel the Mastermind soon became Manuelito, an amigo, when we ran into him in the San Blas Islands. He invited us to a taco-lobster beach barbecue, plus an onboard dinner with his wife and four friends, all convivial in the highest Colombian style.

More. During those unscheduled extra weeks something significant shifted in our relationship with Reynaldo. To me, he'd long been an adorable kid: engaging and anxious to learn new things. During the Battery Charger Black Hole, Gary stopped seeing Reynaldo as someone who cut drastically into his daily nap schedule.

One night, for a farewell dinner, we took Reynaldo and his 16-year-old girlfriend, Claudia, to a popular Italian restaurant, one in which they would never, ever, find themselves. Reynaldo soaked it all in delightedly.

We were, however, horrified by Claudia. Her behavior was less mature than our five-year-old granddaughter, Ronnie. She giggled uncontrollably all evening, refused dinner, clung to Reynaldo and thoroughly embarrassed him.

We reacted like the surrogate parents we more or less felt like. Next day, I sat Reynaldo down and, in careful Spanish, as delicately and apologetically as I could, told him we didn't think she was nearly good enough for him.

As the conversation progressed I realized Reynaldo can never expect a great deal more. While working for so many cruisers, he's gained a certain ease and sophistication, but, at 21, he's dead-ended cleaning and painting boats. Such waste of possibility. But at least he's working-lawyers in Cartagena who drive taxis are legendary.

A privilege such as higher education isn't even a dim hope. With Alfonso the father of three, Javier married and "pregnant," their father a long-gone memory, Reynaldo is responsible for his mother and the four younger kids. He turns over three-quarters of his earnings to the household. And still, for whatever little he earns and for every day everyone in his family arises in good health, he says under his breath, "Gracias a Dios."

One day he took us home, an appalling experience of matter-of-fact poverty. His barrio dirt street, strewn with rocks, was a sea of mud that morning from a recent downpour. Home, shared by six, is a tin-roofed concrete box, no bigger than 20 x 20, the bed areas cordoned off by shabby curtains and strung with drying clothes, some of which I recognized as my hand-me-downs. Crowding the remaining common area, no more than seven-foot square, is a desk, an easy chair, several outdoor plastic chairs, assorted toy storage bins and a TV. Reynaldo and Javier's high-school graduation pictures and diplomas figure prominently in the cinderblock wall display.

Reynaldo, like all Colombian men, loves his mother unconditionally. He is additionally proud that she's managed to hold the family together. She limped out to meet us wearing a dingy, threadbare cotton skirt, a holey tank top and rubber flip-flops, greeting us with a warm, welcoming smile-me with a kiss and Gary with an extended hand hardened by frequent hard use.

It dawned on us we had an opportunity here. In fact, more than an opportunity, a privilege, considering how blessed we feel by life-to contribute, not blindly to a faceless charity recipient, but to someone we know and care about. Perhaps to change a life, despite the odds.

ReynaldoWithout telling him, without committing, we began investigating university for Reynaldo.

Tuition, so far out of his reach, is only $300 a semester. But studying computer engineering, puts him in classes six days a week, 7AM to 7PM, for six years, making a job untenable. Our larger contribution would be assuming both his daily expenses and his financial responsibilities to the family. Nonetheless, given the Colombian cost of living, it seemed doable.

We know Reynaldo is smart. We don't know whether he's smart enough to make it in information technology, but we do know if he can, he will be assured of a decent job. We took him to school to register. He starts in July.

Reynaldo was a middling high-school student. Right now he can barely type, but we are clear that he has committed himself fully to deserving this opportunity. No marriages, no babies and, who knows, maybe even a different girlfriend.

Before we left Cartagena, I taught him how to get online and how to send email.

Meanwhile, just as we're going to be there for him, he will still be there for me, as usual, correcting my Spanish.

NOTE: Most names have been changed to protect not the perpetrators, but rather ourselves, in the very likely, entirely foolhardy, event we return to Cartagena.


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