I don’t know when J.M Barrie’s book Peter and Wendy got all tangled up with Cabo de la Vela in my mind but they’ve become inextricable from each other. In this post that confusing and wonderful story is tied up with our own. If it’s a little disorienting, well that’s how it should be.
While she slept she had a dream. She dreamt that the Neverland had come too near and that a strange boy had broken through from it.
It started, like so many of our stories, with the internet and a wispy dream. I had stumbled across of photo of a kite surfer and traced it to Cabo de la Vela, which was in Colombia. It couldn’t be a coincidence that this was exactly where we were.
“I’ll teach you how to jump on the wind’s back, and then away we go.”
“Oo!” she exclaimed rapturously.
“Wendy, Wendy, when you are sleeping in your silly bed you might be flying about with me saying funny things to the stars.”
“And, Wendy, there are mermaids.”
“Mermaids! With tails?”
“Such long tails.”
“Oh,” cried Wendy, “to see a mermaid!”
I studied Matt over my computer screen, trying to judge his mood.
“Matt, I found this kite surfing school.”
“Hmmm…” He was unconvinced.
“It’s one of the best places in the world for it!!”
“But we don’t know how to kite surf.”
“And one of the best places to learn!”
Several colorful, dramatic and heartbreakingly beautiful photos later, all that was left was to back up my lies that it would be simple to get there, I could do it, don’t worry about it.
“Second to the right,” said Peter, “and then straight on till morning.”
Ten days later I found myself on the last leg of a vaguely surreal journey that began six or seven hours ago with an accidental hitchhike and was hopefully coming to an end soon in the bed of an old, beat up pick-up truck. We are being bounced and jostled down a dirt road, hard enough to bang my head on the roof rack over a foot above me. The dust is choking me and sweat is running in muddy streams down my face and chest. Matt doesn’t seem to be faring much better. Silent prayers unfurl in my mind that I’ll be able to walk tomorrow and that my backpack is still on the roof. If we’re driving down a road, I can’t tell. The desert is spread out around us and the trees are low and scrubby and far outnumbered by cacti. I keep checking Matt’s watch, counting down how much of the two or so hours could be left.
Wendy and John and Michael stood on tip-toe in the air to get their first sight of the island. Strange to say, they all recognized it at once, and until fear fell upon them they hailed it, not as something long dreamt of and seen at last, but as a familiar friend to whom they were returning home for the holidays.
I lean forward to peak at the structures we have begun to pass. The boy driving the truck drops the other passengers off at small 1 or 2 room houses largely constructed from wooden sticks no wider than 2’ in diameter. He carefully unloads their packages and often carries them inside. A young Wayuu girl in a bright yellow caftan who looked at my sleeve curiously for much of the journey, is among the last to depart as we apparently are heading back into the desert.
…the smallest of all the stars in the Milky Way screamed out: “Now, Peter!”
The truck rumbles to a stop. We’ve arrived at the kite surfing school at the end of the road, which is also the end of the town. We climb stiffly out of the back of the truck, feeling vaguely disoriented as we peer into a structure of the same thin sticks. surrounded by a tidy fence.
The majority of the kite school is open, sort of a double decker porch style with only the back of the structure, the side facing the open desert and the wind, completely covered with the sticks. No less than four colorful and gaily shaped flags on and in front of the structure beat out the wind’s staccato rhythm, pointing its direction for those of us who are novices at reading it. Colorful hand painted signs, a small collection of plants, vibrant, locally made hammocks sway softly. Mismatched chairs, low tables, kites, boards and harnesses decorate and utilize the large shaded area where the sand floors are raked into neat patterns several times throughout the day.
I don’t know whether you have ever seen a map of a person’s mind. Doctors sometimes draw maps of other parts of you… but catch them trying to draw a map of a child’s mind, which is not only confused, but keeps going round all the time. There are zigzag lines on it, just like your temperature on a card, and these are probably roads in the island, for the Neverland is always more or less an island, with astonishing splashes of colour here and there, and coral reefs and rakish-looking craft in the offing, and savages and lonely lairs, and gnomes who are mostly tailors, and caves through which a river runs, and princes with six elder brothers, and a hut fast going to decay, and one very small old lady with a hooked nose. It would be an easy map if that were all, but there is also first day at school, religion, fathers, the round pond, needle-work, murders, hangings, verbs that take the dative, chocolate pudding day, getting into braces, say ninety-nine, three-pence for pulling out your tooth yourself, and so on, and either these are part of the island or they are another map showing through, and it is all rather confusing, especially as nothing will stand still.
Cabo is a small enclave of maybe 700 people, isolated by the sea and an ocean of desert. It is a sacred place to the Wayuu people, the place where the souls of the dead travel to join their ancestors. They say that here lies the bridge to the afterlife. I wonder if that’s what I feel now, not sand shifting under my feet but reality. I blink long and slow, in this place that I would only expect to find in that moment between waking and sleeping. That moment when you open your eyes and you must blink intentionally to rinse the dreams that still cling wetly to your mind, out of your eyes. We seem to be suspended in that moment when your reality and dreamscapes are still a little mixed up. This awareness is immediate if not entirely believable.
Of course the Neverlands vary a good deal.
Dusk is falling in the desert and the lights haven’t been turned on yet. There is no electricity except that which is produced by generator for a couple of hours in the evening. We walk up the path, neatly outlined in old tires painted white, seeking one of the brightly colored and gently swaying hammocks.
In they went; I don’t know how there was room for them, but you can squeeze very tight in the Neverland. And that was the first of the many joyous evenings they had…
The week we are there the kite school is dominated by men. We sleep in two hammocks, flanked by men on either side. Everyone seems to be wearing swim trunks and smiles, skipping shirts in the heat. We are greeted cheerfully, with big welcome smiles and pleasant conversation in broken Spanish, punctuated by a laughter that is innocent and masculine at once. I watch the stars emerge, languid and glamorous, uninterrupted by false light. We are waiting for the return of Peter.
In his absence things are usually quiet on the island. The fairies take an hour longer in the morning, the beasts attend to their young, the redskins feed heavily for six days and nights, and when pirates and lost boys meet they merely bite their thumbs at each other. But with the coming of Peter, who hates lethargy, they are under way again: if you put your ear to the ground now, you would hear the whole island seething with life.
He comes in the morning in a ball of energy, never sitting still, arranging breakfast, greeting us like long lost boys friends and laughing joyously. He is never still.
To see Peter doing nothing on a stool was a great sight; he could not help looking solemn at such times, to sit still seemed to him such a comic thing to do.
The place comes alive in a way that it was not yesterday. The school is swept, harnesses are rearranged neatly, tables are washed. Our lessons begin early as we are sent to the Sea, kites and harnesses and pumps in hand to learn about the complicated and delicate process of flying the kite.
If you shut your eyes and are a lucky one, you may see at times a shapeless pool of lovely pale colours suspended in the darkness; then if you squeeze your eyes tighter, the pool beings to take shape, and the colours become so vivid that with another squeeze they must go on fire. But just before they go on fire you see the lagoon. This is the nearest you ever get to it on the mainland, just one heavenly moment; if there could be two moments you might see the surf and hear the mermaids singing.
Except in Cabo de la Vela we are closer to the lagoon. We march out into a wide calm bay, most of it no deeper than my hip. It’s a clear crystal blue and the line where it meets the sky disappears in the middle of the day when the pure blues mirror each other. A steady off shore wind urges us forward into the cool waters, it’s liberating not to curse the wind but to celebrate her and be grateful for her constant presence here.
The children spent long summer days on this lagoon, swimming or floating most of the time, playing the mermaid games in the water, and so forth.
I love my lessons, where M carefully teaches me about the mechanics of flying the kite, reading the wind and the things it writes on the water. We practice finesse and staying calm, starting and stopping, and always holding the kite steady in her window across the wind. We look for power and control simultaneously. Once finding power but no control as I launch us both over 10 meters through the air. When we return we are welcomed with an open-armed hospitality which seems to heal our sunburned skin and tired eyes. We wash the salt off our tender skin by entering a small hut opening out from the fence and gradually dumping a five gallon bucket over our heads. There is no running water.
Adventures, of course, as we shall see, were of daily occurrence…
After a couple of nights in the hammocks we opt for a private room and the bed that comes with it. We keep everything zipped up carefully in our bags and then cover them with a little scarf. We pull the sheet off the bed and shake it outside just before we go to sleep. We have a brief reprieve from the fine dust that the wind sends in through the cracks, keeping the air in the room slightly powdery as the dust silently settles in hidden spaces. You have the feeling that you mustn’t stop moving here. That the dust might settle into you, bind you to one spot. A crab scuttles around the perimeter of the room. We leave it in peace, thankful it isn’t a tarantula.
it is quite impossible to say how time does wear on in the Neverland, where it is calculated by moons and suns, and there are ever so many more of them than on the mainland.
We have a pattern of lessons in the morning and again in the afternoon with long, delicious siestas in between. Happiness and a kind of sleepy satisfaction permeate the air as the dusty wind, or perhaps the brush of passing Wayuu spirits distorts time, stretching it out in long soft moments like taffy. A piece of me wouldn’t be surprised by anything that might happen here, it’s the kind of place you might learn to fly or never get old. Just live forever as the restless wind powders and repowders so that you’re constantly gathering and shedding the dust of adulthood.
“Dreams do come true, if only we wish hard enough. You can have anything in life if you will sacrifice everything else for it.”
I’m sunburned in strange patterns and my rash guard is beginning to smell like a dirty foot. I wonder if M thinks I stink. I try to subtly catch a whiff of my shirt by waving my arm nonchalantly. Probably.
“Hold onto me and I will body drag.” We will pull ourselves through the water with the kite but not yet the board, practicing control.
“Okay.” I’m nervous and I start giggling. To my delight, he starts laughing too.
“What? What?” He demands with a smile.
“Nothing,” We sit down and I grab his harness as we gently launch into the water. He stretches out in the water gracefully as he demonstrates the proper position, chiding me to keep my body in a straight line. I rinse my sinuses with the Sea.
“Tomorrow… maybe water start.” My technique improves slowly but steadily.
Once you fitted, you drew in your breath at the top, and down you went at exactly the right speed, while to ascend you drew in and let out alternately, and so wriggled up. Of course, when you have mastered the action you are able to do these things without thinking of them, and nothing can be more graceful…. After a few days’ practice they could go up and down gaily as buckets in a well.
We practice and eventually I work my way up to the kite and board alone. After nearly 14 hours of lessons I finally stand up and go for 50 meters, I’m ecstatic. I’m my own source of power and also the wakeboarder. Pride and exhilaration wash through me. It feels amazing, better than any other sport I’ve ever had a moment of success in, knowing I’ve momentarily mastered the delicate touch and complex, subtle, movements that must be done in perfect harmony. I guide the kite into position above my head to cut power and come to a gentle stop, bobbing under it as I sit back in the water with my feet in the board as it tugs me gently out to sea in the offshore wind.
“Go left!” I can hear the pride and joy in his voice. I stand up and fail maneuver the kite effectively enough, sliding to a stop on my butt in the water. Left is a lot trickier as its like riding switch for me. I hear M behind me. I fight to keep a secret grin off my face. When I make simple mistake he has a habit of lapsing into rapid, frustrated Spanish. I attempt to turn my giggles into a cough as he ties the kite to himself and shows me what I’m doing wrong, unconsciously twisting his face into hilarious, hopeless, bovine expressions as he demonstrates what I’m doing wrong.
“Do I also make that face?” I laugh.
“Yes!” He demonstrates the proper face with a serious concentrated look as he expertly moves the kite. He takes my progress very personally. I’m getting better!
The week passes quietly in slow sleepy afternoons and adventures on the lagoon and unexpectedly, our time here is over.
“Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.”
We befriend each other on Facebook and I make promises to myself to never forget Cabo de la Vela and the magical, surreal time we spent here. Peter talks excitedly about the contest he is planning in July, one that will be attended by some of the best kite surfers in the world. His enthusiasm is infectious and I wish that we could return.
On these magic shores children at play are forever beaching their coracles. We too have been there; we can still hear the sound of the surf, though we shall land no more.
I still wake up, brushing away a dust that hasn’t settled on my cheeks at night.
“I suppose it’s like the ticking crocodile, isn’t it? Time is chasing after all of us.”