Anne van Kesteren

The Beach

Even in the Caribbean a calendar is used. Great weather all the time, but the Sundays and Mondays are quiet. Then it slowly builds op to Saturday. Overflowing streets, food on every corner, people holding bottles, holding on to each other, waiting in line. Reggae and salsa sounds fill the night. The occasional Western dance or hip-hop hit. Cars wading through the sea of people. Klaxons and screams intertwine with the music. Tourists flash their camera and their camera flashes. One banknote to acquire powder, another to snort it.

Inside tables filled with rum, glasses and ice, lots of ice. And coke — the drink. Couple of vodka shots. Hysterical laughter. And dance. Beautiful girls grinding on the beat. Guys holding their hips. Sweat dripping on the floor. Ecstatic faces. Hours and hours. The camera flashes. Girls pressed against the wall. Gentle kisses, kisses from the drunk, hard and long, lust fills the space, overflows it. Someone smokes weed in the backyard. And then it all ends. Inside, then outside.

The streets empty themselves. Leading people into their homes, hotels, hostels. A few persons clean up, most rest their head. Dreams protect the town as time passes. Then finally light rises from the sea and stretches out over land, mountains, houses. Absolutely stunning, though nobody is there to notice. Nevertheless, Sunday is beginning. Buses leave early. The beach awaits. A plane departs. A week has gone by.

We left relatively late that Sunday. Gathered what we needed, bought some fruit and water in the local supermarket. Put our larger backpacks in the room next to the hostel bar. Considered playing another game of pool, but it was more a friendly gesture. He knew I was too tired and I knew he really wanted to get going now. So with a couple of plastic bags and a couple of small backpacks we headed to the market. The reception had indicated we would easily find a bus to the national park there. Rumor had it that the most beautiful beaches of all of South America were to be found in the park. It excited me, the three hour something hike through the jungle did too. Though tired, hiking was revitalizing usually, I packed light.

The market place was lacking an actual market while we were there, but showed the signs of one. Between the sidewalks was a mixture of sand, small rocks, tracks of brown water, and lots of dirt, rather than the more usual concrete. Two gigantic Detroit-fabricated trucks were parked in the street. A guy tried selling us papayas from his cart. He made it clear we could get high right away too, if so desired. He knew a guy. “Cheap for you, my friend.” “I’m not your friend, buddy,” one of my friends retorted. We laughed as we walked on, ignoring further offerings and requests. The bus to the park was parked on the corner. The language barrier was crossed within seconds due to the beauty of context and in the bus we were, waiting for it to fill up.

Canned sardines must have it pretty bad, I thought, experiencing a fraction of what they go through in the back of the bus. Legs far too long, and the old guy next to me not moving an inch. We were scattered throughout the bus. A friend took a photo of the rest and all eyes — twenty-four pair, excluding the driver row — were focused on the camera, not looking amused.

Out of the city the bus goes. The driver screaming and laughing towards that what crosses his path. Amused, offended, angry, sometimes all at once. Music playing through feeble-looking speakers that make less sound than the decade old phone of the guy on the row before last. The at departure time acquired snacks get eaten. Water is sipped. Outside the houses get lower, further apart. Then suddenly dense, extremely poor. A child on top of a garbage pile guards the road. Asks for money? Suddenly there is nature. Green of great variety on both sides. The bus circles upwards and then goes on and on, rolls into a small town.

We were told to get off in the small town in not so many words and find our way. We found our way, ignored the pleas, the restaurant, the street vendor, and the donkey on the side of the road. Finally we wanted to — but could not — ignore the house four hundred meters in. We each paid, got tagged, ate, and moved on a little lighter, and heavier, as you see.

The heat tired us. Sweat build up under the backpack, moved to the front. The t-shirt drowned. My hand turned yellow from the melting plastic bag. We climbed upwards, slowly ascending to the top, until we did no longer. Never reached that summit. The path was beautiful. Flowers, trees, fertile earth. Speck-less green. The kind of green you can find in marketing brochures you avoid reading. Many different kinds of green, contrasting with the blue above. We discussed roads not taken, cost of living. Mostly thought as tired we were. Will the beach be great, fulfill desires? Jumped the water, rocks, a minor cliff, climbed over a fallen tree — once mighty and now rotten, eaten from inside.

Halfway the trail, space is open. Light falls on the fields of grass, the carefully crafted rock paths, the nicest house of the park, empty. A squirrel runs away, birds are tjirping, and the trees are looking down, from the side. Civilization is no longer there, has been. A fifty meter palm tree stands tall all alone, opened coconuts below. It is a quiet place. Resting place of that what once was and is no more.

Then over the dried mud it goes. Red ants covering the track, moving parts of leaves as if it is nothing, like a ship has its sails, straight up. Thousands of them, not pausing for the human shoe. Rock follows the mud, with the occasional unabridged gap, cave. All surrounded by jungle, but the rumbling of the waves indicate the beach is now not far off.