It's those rare moments, when I truly feel I'm traveling, my body free of dissent, my mind free from monitored experimentation, that I realize the hardships are small tokens for an afternoon of volcano dipping.
It has not been easy, living in Cartagena, working at a technological institution, a young writer, desperately searching for inspiration among the next generation of engineers and mathmaticians. Yet, I continue to praise life and the strangeness that is the sun, the moon and the Colombian mud volcanoes.
After escaping my conservative skin and jumping into a lovely, sunny, exotic mud world, I found myself covered in a sloppy, muddy, creamy substance praised for its exquisite medicinal properties. I was a vague human face with a mask – a mask of goopy, decayed organic material and gases from the dinosaur epoch. Certainly not many of us know what decaying dinosaur remnants feel like.
The morning had been simple. Neil, Johanna, Bua and I set off, bathing suits and towels in tow, up the Caribbean Coast, arriving at Cienaga del Totumo, a coastal lagoon, early Sunday morning. We stripped to our summer unmentionables, tip-toed our way to the large grey mud pit, scaled up the ramshackle stairs placed precariously along the side of the volcano without regard to the physics of deep inclines and dunked our toes into the slimy orifice.
A group of traveling Colombian grandmas were already inside the crater, bobbing around, splashing each other with creamy, warm handfuls of muddy lava. This episode had me exploding into hilarity. Their faces, arms, back and chests looked like concrete statues from either a terribly unattractive era in statue-molding, or a bad day in Fernando Botero's workshop, As bizarre as it was, we tested the goop for ourselves and hailed to the sorcery of the mud, dunking our own bodies in the mystic, creamy concoction.
The sun was bright, the lagoon dotted with afternoon diamonds, the stone faces cheerfully chiseled in smiles. The magic mud volcano sloshed, gurgled, burped and churned around us, occasionally popping out huge gas bubbles everyone mistakenly believed to be someone's ill stomach. We were a spectacle, swimming like hippos in fresh water, graciously slipping through thick, whipped seas, our legs dangling below us in an infinite abyss. Gravity, I might add, does not exist in this natural phenomenon, for that reason precisely, I have compared us to a traveling band of hippos. Like them, I found us sifting through the water, often feeling our rear ends suddenly losing their grip under water and softly (but stubbornly) rising to the surface and peeking out above the break in the surface.
They say it's magic mud. I can't say how far the truth lies from the myth, or how much I want it to. The myth is this: according to the Tayronas, the ancient Indian tribe that once inhabited Colombia's coast, the Totumo volcano once spewed fire from its inner devil's lair; however, the local priest, being quite the magnanimous city-saver and worrier of salvation, doused the screaming fire with holy water and thus drowning Satan in a suitable pile of thick mud. This myth continues with the origins of the mud, adding that the ancient spirits of the ancestral world heaved forth from the depths of the ground to smother the devil in his unworthy actions.
Popular science suggests that the phenomenal mud holds its mysterious, occult powers due to the gases emitted from the rotting animal and plant flesh deep underground, which in turn force the muddy mixture upwards – simple science.
I like the fairy tale version. Haven't we lost so much of the magic in our lives with science?