Between 2003 and 2007, I lived in Bogotá city but also traveled constantly to the Pacific Coast of Colombia, a place that was controlled by guerrilla and paramilitary groups. Some towns lived under continuous violent confrontations; others were separated from everything, as if erased from the map. To my surprise, the area never felt synchronized with any familiar form of living: the time, for example, was sometimes dominated by the loss of time as a result of the confrontations between the armed groups; people shaped their lives around the downtime of war. In other occasions there was no sense of the passing of time, as the towns prepared for the unexpected and unpredictable “nothing-happens”.
Alternative paths, like a map of secret routes used to escape or evade one another, define the territory of that part of the continent. The ocean mixes secretly with the many rivers that end in that region, creating an intricate system of channels that change directions from day to night. One can’t never tell where the country ends or begins. Many times I witnessed how the waves of the Pacific Ocean granted the towns with new land—massive lands—as the water changed its paths; a minute later the ocean took away the main square or the only named street of the town, as if it were a fair price to pay. The people living in such locations were constantly on the move, constructing and deconstructing their own spatial referents. Entire towns became islands in a day and the people swapped houses every once in a while depending on the orientation they preferred to live in, or that was suggested by the local shaman in order to cure some disease.
My memories of the Pacific Coast of Colombia perhaps mix reality with imagination, in such a way that the past resembles an almost utopian and chaotic picture of the future. Reading the work of Eduardo Galeano, Jorge Luis Borges, and even Italo Calvino, has influenced and challenge my relationship with places like my own country, the Pacific Ocean and the southern hemisphere. For me, the ordinary suddenly becomes a source of mystery, hallucination and possibilities for finding the universe, as the Aleph that Borges stepped in and described in his stories.
Traveling to the pacific coast of Colombia made me observe in more detail the frightening picture of “alternative ways of living”, including one that allowed the coexistence of diverse manifestations of time, geo location and individuality.
I always wondered if it would be possible to take the Pacific coast with me, as if it were a portable landscape, so tiny, that fits in a simple pocket.