The Magic Man – Santa Marta, Colombia

The Magic Man

Santa Marta, Colombia

the tiger's eye gemstones
the tiger’s eye gemstones
Santa Marta was built on a legend–a legend of Spanish proportions, a tale of knights and vicious conquest, a myth of forbidden gold, a story of ancient Indians and the lustrous El Dorado. Santa Marta is the oldest surviving Colombian city, and one of the oldest in South America, having been founded in 1525 and chosen as a picturesque spot to raid the peaceful Tayrona Indian tribe–the tribe, it is said, that held the key to El Dorado.

El Dorado–the city of emerald mountains and incalculable gold riches–as a prize, as a possession to be won, glorious at a time yet somehow broken as a woman slave to her master. But how, exactly, did such a beautiful and alluring legend end? The answer is simple, like so many of the colonizations in the earlier centuries: the Indians were slaughtered and their gold was never found. The Spaniards founded Santa Marta and Colombia was born.

Despite this tragedy, however, Santa Marta survived its bloodshed and is now loosely dubbed “harta marta,” which, in Spanish, translates as “tired of marta,” or, essentially, tired of the routine. It is very much a hippie village, a bohemian gem lost somewhere on the Caribbean coast, and home to smiling fisherman, honest faces, and generally calm waters. After living in crazy Cartagena for the past four months, it seemed suitable enough for our weekend vacation: I was pretty “harta” of my own city life.

The first thing I noticed, upon taking my first traveling steps onto the city’s 500-year-old toes, was that I heard only water roaring, seagulls calling, and the wind blowing. No music, of any kind. Nothing human of any kind, to be more specific–just the soft sway of the Caribbean village, the whistles between the balconies, the particular hum of the quiet life, and the gentle chatter of the cracked cobblestones. The barman smiled at us and filled our orange juice twice to the brims of our glasses, free of charge. The local boy in the street offered us directions without any whooping, whistling, cooing, or calling. The policeman offered to accompany us to the nearest open bakery in case we couldn’t find it within the labyrinthine flowered streets. The sweet smell of fresh bread, the pelicans perched on city corners, mouths open and waiting for rain, and the splash of the sea…I was smitten with Santa Marta.

Winding around the splendid Sierra Nevada mountains after our lunch was an experience all unto itself: cacti, sprung marvelously and gently over every cascade in the symphony of hills, was like a friendly reminder that we heading into guerrilla-drenched Guajira county–green, lush, prickly, lovely. As my Belgian friend Leen and I explored this beautifully bizarre terrain, we crossed into the magical village of Taganga. Magical, of course, is a vast and astrological word, full of mythic proportions and not to be used lightly–and in this case, it isn’t. There was an immediate feeling, knowing that we had crossed over the tourist country and found ourselves in a Colombia our news rarely exhaults, that a feeling long lost to my life reappeared: that feeling, from a time when a foreign language sang to me instead of inspiring an analysis of it; when a flutter of knowledge from the other side of reality sent me following the flutes of lore; when a mystical experience had me scraping the sides of its core instead of addicting me to trying to find it again. I felt an instant renewal, a tranquil moment, an artistic aura bloom around me. We bartered a fair price for a lancha (tiny motor boat) across the sparkling crescent-shaped bay, to a secret beach, one the natives do not hastily call the Playa Grande, the Great Beach.

Grande in size does not so much explain it as much as grande in breadth, in spirit, in cleansing our bodies and minds, in freeing us from our beaten selves. It was undeniable: we had reached the Great Beach, a great, shiny, crystalline, soft, white beach, surrounded by the most perfect mountains, green, rolling, welcoming, pristine, unexplored. Tiny huts lined the shore, roofs made of dried and woven palm and patched with cardboard in the spaces repair just wasn’t possible, and tiny dark people scattered around the lancha, curious yet knowing. Leen and I hopped from the boat and jumped to the sea, splashing, laughing, and cooling the goosebumps on our skin in the crystal waters. As we danced in the sea, shrugging off our responsibilities and embracing our careless halves, we met a man wearing wreaths of beads around his neck and sleeves and holding two dusty and well-loved books in his wrinkled hands. We decided to find out this man’s business, as it is an undeniable fact that intriguing people emit vibes of insatiable curiosity only satisfied by questions and satisfactory answers.

the Caribbean beaches of Colombia
the Caribbean beaches of Colombia
In his rough and free Spanish, he said that he was a magic man, spreading his knowledge of the centuries and the celestial words of wisdom of the great ancient Tayronas. He said that he walks along the beach with his stones because, as we should all know, the vibes of the stones are strongest by the waters which raised them. He spread a blanket on a wooden table by the shore, questioned my sun sign, and chose for me a set of special rocks meant to cure, heal, and remedy the secret ailments within me. If I was skeptical, he wrestled it out of my secrets, because he then cracked open his chakra books, explaining to us in great detail the significance of our seven energy systems. He told me that I lived by my mind and my heart, which can contradict my calmness and give me a permanent sense of imbalance, insecurity, and a forever nagging anxiety: and for that, he added, one needs the ojo de tigre. The eye of the tiger, the bewitching rock from deep inside Colombia’s most sacred jungles. The stone flared a brilliant rainbow of golds, browns, and oranges, shimmering as I turned it over and over in the sun. He pointed out a passage in one of his books, revealing to me that indeed my rock energies coincided with my lifelong balance problems between my mind and my heart. He added that the tiger’s eye, long known for its mystical powers as a healer and a protector of travel, could aid me in my quest.

And as an artist, a writer, an explorer, a young woman struggling with freedom, stability, and life, I knew that I had to balance my mind and my heart somehow, even though my internal civil war will always be fierce and painful.

And though I can’t say that I truly believe in the ancient rituals of the Tayronas (I mean, who is to say that I truly believe in anything normal anymore?), I can say that just because I have now bathed in the sea three times with my new stone, blessing it and reactivating its native powers, I believe in those people who leave impressions on me, and for that reason, something was magical that afternoon. And even if I don’t have a destined connection to my ojo de tigre, I met a man selling magical stones at a beautiful beach, and that’s reason enough to believe in them.

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