The following text and images are excerpted from Ramona Flume's upcoming collection of short stories, One Fog to Another, available via Monofonus Press.
Guajira Peninsula, Colombia – October 2010:
It took five hours riding in an open, dust-whipped truck bed to get to Colombia’s Guajira Peninsula, the northernmost point of South America. I wanted to photograph the Wayuu, the dwindling indigenous tribe who occupied the harsh, remote headland. But I encountered a few unexpected snags once I arrived, coated in a layer of shifting sediment. A storm was coming, the owner of a seaside restaurant and hostel said as soon as I leapt off the truck and began my inquiries. He told me the Wayuu leave during the rainy season, a fierce few months of storms that compound the peninsula’s already infamous trade winds. Apparently, I couldn’t visit their far-flung seasonal outpost, located miles east on the coast near Venezuela, without a large vessel and three-man crew. I wanted to negotiate a price with one of the local fishermen whose narrow two-men canoes lined the shore, but they said they would have to wait to judge the conditions after the storm. The sun was shining and the sea looked inviting, but I could see the severity, the years of trusted crystallized knowledge, in their faces. So I relented, booking a hammock at the first hostel I’d spotted from the truck bed. I stored my small bag of belongings into the collapsible pouch suspended beneath the thatched roof of the spartan, open-aired hut. My borrowed 10x12 square of space was just a hundred yards or so from the sea and I felt grateful to be temporarily stranded in this vacant paradise. I walked back inside the adjacent hostel office and patio cafe to order dinner and was joined by my driver halfway through my meal. He was nearing the bottom of his beer as he ambled up to my table, signaling the waitress for another as he settled down in the flimsy plastic chair across from me. The same kind of cheap patio chair we used to throw in our city pool as kids, just to see how fast we could sink it. I could tell he felt like talking and I let him. He’d been silent the entire five-hour drive, but I could tell he felt comfortable here. Every villager knew him and he liked the attention. He wanted to talk about his wife. No, his ex-wife. It was hard to keep up, even for him, I think. He said he still dreamt of her at night, still found himself filled with jealousy when he thought of her with another man. He said he wasn’t proud of that. His mother made him see a priest during the messiest part of the divorce. The priest told him no one is immune to jealousy. And that no one is proud of it either. I told him I felt the same way about loneliness. No one wanted to admit what crept up on them in the middle of the night—sometimes in the mornings, afternoons. No one wants to corrode How Are You conversations with the retelling of a familiar fear. Most people need to sweep that messy truth under the auspices of character. Whether it’s to help convince themselves or everyone else. They need to believe they’re stronger than that. That they’re immune to that dark nature. That they’ve found a unique light that casts out those feelings. My particular breed of loneliness came in searing flashes; not illuminating, but obscuring. It was never something I forgot about. Nothing to confess to my mother or priest - just something to leave out of conversation. “I ignored the flashes of lightning around me. They either had my number on them or they didn’t.” The driver said goodnight and told me to keep my arms and legs—and anything else I cared about—tucked inside my hammock tonight. High tide could creep up and beyond the line of the seaside huts during stormy nights like this, he said, laughing as he turned away. I wasn’t sure to believe him. I still hadn’t seen one cloud in the sky.
Hours later, I woke up in a shock. The storm everyone had talked about was in full swing. My eyes opened a split second after a bolt of lightning, so by the time I could process the gusting wind and rain swirling around my hammock, everything was cast in an eerie, electric outline of double darkness. I nervously felt for my passport, notebook and camera. Still tucked under each arm. Still dry. Before a corresponding clap of thunder, another lightning bolt illuminated my hut and I saw the aging hostel owner standing at my hut’s entryway, staring silently at my hammock and waiting with each flash of light to see if my flimsy shelter would flood. In that same crack of light, I made out a frothing floor of water pitching and rolling below, maybe half an arms length beneath my sagging mesh chrysalis. I wasn’t sure why I wasn’t more terrified of the rising water, let alone the stranger lurking above me as I slept. Why I wasn’t panicking in one or multiple ways. But I felt safely suspended in the calm of this rickety refuge. I was in the furthest reaches of a strange continent, surrounded by wild storms, where no one knew my name, and someone was standing between me and dark water.