The Lost City Ch. 01

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Josef sighed. From his seat near the departure screens he could see that the status for the 9:00 AM flight from SFO to CTG had just changed from “On Time” to “Delayed.” The large window to his left revealed the likely culprit: a low-lying river of cold fog.

Compulsively he swiped his phone, staring again at the awkwardly cold goodbye texts he had exchanged with his ex-fianc├ęe. He knew they each meant well, but they hadn’t figured out how to talk to each other now that their relationship was over. He hoped distance and a break would help.

He slipped his headphones in and closed his eyes.

———————

Josef woke from a sweaty half-sleep as the bus’s whine down-shifted to a growl. The pockmarked window to his left framed a bright Caribbean inlet full of fishing boats and through the windshield he could catch snippets of the coastal village at the end of the descent.

He’d been in the bus for more than five hours. He’d been in the country for just over two days. He really needed to pee.

Five minutes later they came to a grinding stop at the first intersection in town. Josef pulled his headphones from his ears and stuffed his already bent and rumpled book into a small backpack before stretching and joining the slow moving line in the aisle. The stocky Colombian woman in front of him slung a trussed chicken over her shoulder. The forced immobility of its body was belied by the rapid flickering of its eyes.

The two Australians behind Josef joined the queue as well, continuing the endless discussion of which particular areas of corporate law they hoped to focus on that had plagued the pre-sleep part of Josef’s bus ride. The girl was actually cute in a waify way, but her apparently genuine fascination with the details of commercial paper and/or transactional intellectual property law–she couldn’t decide–robbed Josef of any attraction he might have felt. Not her fault really.

While he waited for the driver to unload the bus’s luggage compartment, Josef looked around. The ocean was two blocks away down a slight slope and from where he stood he could see a row of food carts lining the road that ran alongside the water. The streets between the bus stop and the ocean were paved, but those that wound away from the water were pitted dirt and gravel. Houses–most concrete blocks, a few made of uneven bricks–lined the edges of those roads until the buildings petered out and the streets became footpaths that wound into the green-spined hills.

He dug his guidebook out of his small bag and flipped to the dog-eared page on the village of Taganga. The hostel recommended to him by a friendly German he’d met in Cartagena was circled, but it took Josef a moment to locate it on the small map of the town and another moment to place himself in relation to it.

Bags were appearing out of the bus’s undercarriage, and he moved forward to watch for his. The Colombian woman and her unfortunate chicken retrieved a pallet of soft drinks and moved away down the town’s main road. The chattering Australians slung brand new packs onto their shoulders and sauntered off in the same direction. By the time his own rather worn looking backpack emerged the crowd of passengers had dwindled to two.

Josef was turning to leave when he heard the remaining passenger begin to interrogate the bus-driver in rather proper sounding English.

“Where’s my bag? Is there another compartment? I loaded it myself, so I know it’s on the bus!”

“No entiendo, se├▒orita.”

“My bag! Where is it!”

“Ah, su mochila. No s├ę, no esta aqu├ş.” The driver gestured at the empty baggage hold.

“I don’t understand! Where is it?”

Josef sighed and internally debated just continuing on to his hostel. He wanted nothing more than to sleep (and to empty his bladder) but he knew he’d feel guilty if he just walked away.

“Can I help?” he asked the English girl.

“Do you speak Spanish?” she turned towards him hopefully. He hadn’t mastered the rather impressive range of British accents but hers reminded him of the BBC radio voices that his parents had listened to on occasion. and experience taught him she was likely from London.

“Badly, but apparently a little bit better than you at least,” he answered.

She frowned at him. She was pretty. Clearly of Indian descent; long black hair and almond skin, with judgmental grey-green eyes.

“Sorry,” Josef said, “I’ll ask him about your bag.”

The driver insisted he knew nothing about the bag. He let them look in both of the compartments under the bus and they were empty. The girl was almost in tears by the time they finished searching.

“I’m sorry. It happens. Either one of the other people on the bus grabbed it before you got off, or it was taken at one of the stops we made on our way here,” he told her.

“All my clothes were in it! And my toiletries. And my shoes! My trip is ruined and I’ve only been here a day.”

“Do you have your wallet and your passport at least?” Josef asked.

“Yes. Thank god. They’re in this bag. And my laptop too.” g├╝venilir bahis She indicated the small backpack she wore.

“Then you’re alright. You can replace your other bag and you can buy new clothing. All you’ve lost is a little time and money.”

He could see that she was on the verge of tears, but right before they started she took a deep breath and squared her shoulders.

“You’re right. What’s an adventure without a few hiccups?”

Josef smiled at her. She smiled back.

“That’s the spirit. Do you know where you’re staying? I would offer to carry your bag there, but well… you know.”

She smacked him in the shoulder.

“Ass. I had a hostel picked out, but my guide book was in the bag that you so gallantly won’t be carrying. Do you know where you’re going?”

He pointed at the nearest road that led away from the beach.

“That way,” he paused, looking around. “I think.” She rolled her eyes.

“I’m Josef, by the way.”

“Mira. I would say it’s a pleasure to meet you, but I’m afraid to me you’ll always be the boy who couldn’t find my bag.” They shook hands.

———————

The road to Josef’s chosen hostel skirted an unoccupied dirt soccer field on its right. On their left they passed three ramshackle restaurants, one outfitted with a stand selling woven bracelets. Mira’s eyes roamed everywhere.

“Is this your first big trip?” Josef asked.

“Yeah, I’ve travelled some in Europe and India, but this is my first proper time backpacking. I quit my job a month ago and here I am.”

He eyed her carefully. “Accountant?”

“How dare you!” She glared at him, and then paused. “Investment banker.”

“Ha! Is there really a difference?”

He got smacked in the shoulder again.

“And what about you, Mr. Gritty and Experienced Traveler? What job are you not doing right now? Let me guess…” She looked him up and down with her left eye squinted as they walked. “Motorcycle mechanic? Bank robber? No, I know! You’re a barista at some truly insufferable coffee house!”

“Ummm, thank you?”

“No really, what do you do?”

“Lawyer.”

She laughed.

“Really? That’s worse than accountant!”

“Well… In my defense, I did quit.”

The Hostel Miramar did indeed have an ocean view, if you were willing to climb onto it’s roof and peer over the soccer field and between a few buildings. The girl who greeted them at the front desk had waist-length dreadlocks and grinned at Josef toothily.

“Dorm or private room?”

“Dorm for me,” answered Joseph, looking at Mira.

“Private room,” she said. “Sorry, I’ve had enough stuff stolen today.”

The dread-locked girl handed them each a key.

“The private room is down the hallway, the dorm is upstairs on the right. Breakfast is available in the morning between seven and nine. Here are your sheets, bring them back when you check out.” She slapped down two sets of bedding on the counter.

“Any questions?”

Josef took his sheets. “Just one, where’s the bathroom?”

“There’s one in the dorm room.”

He and Mira paused at the stair well.

“Thanks for your help,” she said.

“No worries. Sorry again about your bag. If you need to borrow anything, just come up and grab me. My underwear probably won’t fit you, but you’re welcome to toothpaste and the like. Also, I’m going to head out to get dinner in a few hours if you want to join me.”

Mira smiled at him. “That would be nice.”

Josef paused at the top of the stairs. From behind the door to his assigned dorm he could hear the beat drop inDie Antwoord’s”I Fink U Freeky.” That did not bode well for his nap. He opened the door. The room had bunk beds flush against the walls to his left and right. A window in the wall in front of him opened onto a balcony that faced the almost-visible Caribbean.

On the bottom bunk to his left two men were huddled together over a book. He raised his hand in a greeting, but neither turned towards him. He recognized the book as a PADI open water diving manual, but what held the attention of the men were the lines of white powder spread out on its cover.

‘Hey fellas, sorry, I think I have the wrong room.” Josef turned around and headed back down the stairs to the front desk.

“Get lost?” the dreadlocked girl asked him, looking up from a magazine.

“Not quite. You don’t happen to have another dorm room, do you? Perhaps a little quieter?”

She nodded in understanding. “There’s one other dorm, but it’s co-ed. Are you ok with that?”

“Sure.”

They swapped keys and she pointed at the stairs again. “This time it’s on your left.”

Josef paused at the door and listened carefully but this time there was only silence on the other side. He eased it open and peeked inside. The room was a mirror of the first dorm with two bunk beds against the walls to each side. Three of the beds were occupied. He slung his backpack down next to the open bed (the lower bunk on his right), and quickly slid into the bathroom. He reentered the room in a much calmer state t├╝rk├že bahis of mind, but his momentary tranquility was jarred when, on turning towards his bunk, he found himself eye-level with a rather remarkable (and very white) ass. Its perfection was only slightly marred by the black thong that disappeared into its folds. After a brief moment of reverence, Josef averted his eyes, slid off his shoes and flopped down onto the lower bunk. Only then did he look at the beds on the other side of the room.

Both occupants had their backs to him, but what he could see was quite revealing. The girl in the top bunk’s black hair cascaded over her shoulders and pooled on the bed near the middle of her back. Her body was long and slim and like her companion in the bunk above Josef, it was only covered by a small thong.

The girl in the bunk directly across from him was short and curvy. Her curly auburn hair seemed to have a life of its own. She slept contorted, like she had fallen from a plane. Her hair swallowed her face, but her legs were splayed and, unlike her friends, she wore no underwear.

Josef blinked and then quickly turned to face the wall. Nap. Right. He was here to sleep. Sleep. It took a little while.

———————

When he woke it took him a few seconds to remember where he was. He opened his eyes half-expecting to see the walls of his bedroom in San Francisco, but the clinging heat suggested otherwise. He sat up and looked around. The light had changed from the flat glare of midday to the curved tones of late afternoon. The beds across from him were empty.

He grabbed his toes and stretched painfully. Perhaps he should have undressed before falling asleep. He felt a certain kinship for a lobster that suddenly realizes the water may be a bit warm. Nothing a shower couldn’t fix. Except, now that he listened, he could hear the sound of the shower through the wall.

Josef lay down to wait. Orange was creeping into the sky by the time the bathroom door opened.

“Hi.”

The auburn-haired girl shrieked in surprise, nearly dropping the towel that was wrapped neatly around her.

“Oh my god! I totally forgot that there was anyone else here. I’d gotten used to it being just the three of us. I’m so sorry for yelling. Where are my manners, I’m Michal.” She stuck out her hand.

Josef smiled at her and shook it. “Josef. My apologies for intruding, but it didn’t really seem like I was going to get much sleep in the other dorm.”

She frowned. “Oh yeah, those two. I’ve met them a couple times. They kind of gave me the creeps.”

“People come to Colombia for a lot of different reasons. I’m pretty sure their reason is white and powdered.”

“Donuts?” She looked at him quizzically for a moment before smiling. “Yeah, you’re probably right. That stuff is so bad for you though. Do you know that it permanently lowers serotonin levels in the brain if you take it regularly? That means that eventually the only way to feel normal is to keep doing the drug. Even if you eventually kick it, the serotonin doesn’t come back, so you’re like permanently depressed.” She paused, “Sorry, I’m a med student, I’m full of fun facts like that.”

Josef laughed. “There are worse character flaws, I suppose. So if it’s not cocaine, what brings you and your friends to Colombia?”

“A guy we know from undergrad is getting married. He’s a big adventurer or whatever, so he and his fianc├ęe decided to get married here. Actually not here, but on the beach in some National Park near here.”

Josef nodded. “Tayrona. It’s supposed to be spectacular, I was planning on heading there at some point myself.”

“The beach sounds nice, but that’s too mellow for our friend so he and some of the guests are going on some crazy trek before the wedding.” Michal shook her head. “Apparently there’s an old, lost city in the jungle near here and you can pay some locals to take you there. It takes a couple days each way and you have to ford some rivers and survive monstrous mosquitos. I guess it’s his version of a psycho bachelor party.”

“That sounds fun,” Josef replied “But I take it from your description that you’re not going?”

“Hell no. I’m about as far out of my comfort zone as I care to go. Plus, I need to study. Irene and Lee are going though. Those are the other two girls in here. We used to be roommates in college.”

“Oh yeah, I think I saw them when I came in.”

“I’ll bet you did.” She smirked at him.

He smiled back at her. “Hey, I didn’t look too closely. But as I remember it, they weren’t the ones without any underwear on.”

She blushed a little. “I hate sleeping with clothes on. Especially when it’s so humid. I hope I didn’t scar you for life or anything.”

“I think I’ll survive somehow. I might need therapy though.”

“Poor baby.”

She walked past him to her bunk. The setting sun painted the rather drab walls of the dorm room in pink and red.

“If you don’t want to add to your therapy bill, you might want to avert your eyes,” Michal told Josef over her shoulder.

Before g├╝venilir bahis siteleri he could respond, she removed her towel and bent to search through her bag. Josef found himself staring directly at her ass. Her pussy was clearly visible as well. It was covered in a light down of chestnut hair. He saw her looking back at him from between her legs. She smirked again.

He turned away reluctantly. “I’m not sure whether I envy or pity your future patients.”

Just then the door to the room opened.

“Michal! What are you doing?!” The tall, dark-haired girl stood in the doorway staring at them. She was Asian, with high cheekbones and piercing black eyes. Behind her Josef could half-see a smaller blonde girl.

“I’m putting on underwear Irene. It’s not like you haven’t seen me do it before.” Michal pulled a thong out of her bag and stepped into it.

“But you’re doing it right in front of him.”

Michal shrugged. “He already saw us when he came in. Plus, he’s cute and this is the extreme version of ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.’ We’re in freaking Colombia. Don’t judge me.”

Irene rolled her eyes and stepped into the room. She was wearing blue and grey running pants and a matching top. She waved at curtly at Josef. “I’m Irene. I see you’ve already met Michal.”

Josef nodded.

The girl who followed her into the room looked like she had stepped out of a Vermeer painting. Her skin was almost translucent and her blonde hair framed liquid blue eyes.

“I’m Lee. I’m happy that we’re going to be friends.”

“Umm. Nice to meet you too.” Josef replied.

Irene snorted. “Don’t mind her. She’s like that.”

Josef stood up. “It’s a pleasure to meet all of you. But I should take a shower. I promised to meet a friend for dinner, and I’m filthy. You guys are welcome to join us, of course.” He paused at the door to the shower. “I’ll warn you when I’m about to come out in case you’re changing or whatever.”

“Don’t bother,” answered Irene. “Apparently some of us want you to see them naked and others think they’re destined to be your friend. I’ll just pretend you’re our fourth female roommate.”

———————

Unfortunately, everyone was dressed when Josef emerged wearing board shorts and a semi respectable linen shirt. Irene and Michal had put on dresses.

“We’ll take you up on your dinner offer, if that’s ok.” Michal told Josef.

“Great! An Irish guy in Cartagena told me about a place in town that serves amazing food. Of course, having tasted Irish cooking before, his standards may not be so high. But it’s worth a shot. Let’s just grab my friend from downstairs, and we can be on our way.”

Mira gave Josef a questioning look when she opened her door.

“These are my dorm-mates. Michal, Irene, Lee, meet Mira. We met on the bus. Some jackass stole her bag.”

“Oh that’s terrible!” said Lee sympathetically. “If you need anything, you can come borrow it from us! Underwear, clothes, makeup, whatever.”

“Thank you,” said Mira politely.

———————

It turned out the Irishman had excellent taste in food. They ate their dinner on the outdoor patio of a sprawling restaurant that seemed out of place amongst the ramshackle buildings of Taganga. The food was delicious and after three bottles of Malbec and a shot or two of aguardiente, they were all quite drunk.

The restaurant closed a little before eleven and they found themselves on the street.

“Should we go down to the beach?” Josef suggested.

The girls agreed and together they walked down a gravel road scored by runoff from the hills. Most of the food carts that Josef had seen from the bus stop were gone by the time they arrived, though a few remained selling arepas and freshly blended fruit juice. Josef stopped at a small store and bought them a bottle of aguardiente before they wandered out onto the sand.

Taganga sat in a cove. To their right, a long and hilly spit of land stretched out into the water. The moon was out and full, and it traced a silver paint brush trail through the silhouetted fishing boats and dark water in front of them. On the hillside to their left, lights and dance music blared from the open air deck of a club.

Josef found a log and sat down in the middle. Michal quickly took the seat to his immediate right, and Irene sat down beside her. There was a slight pause and then Lee sat to his left with Mira completing the row.

Josef opened the bottle and passed it to his left.

“The semi-official drinking saying in Spanish is ‘Arriba, abajo, al centro, adentro!'” he said, demonstrating the meaning with his hands. “But since we don’t have any shot glasses, we’ll have to settle for ‘Salud!'”

“Have you spent a lot of time down here?” asked Michal.

“More in Central America than in South America. Though some in both.”

“Why?” asked Irene.

“Because it’s fun? Seriously, look at where we are now. We’re staring at moonlight on the Caribbean. Tomorrow I could wake up and decide to go diving, or I could go to Cali and learn Salsa, or to Medellin to snort lines off of Pablo Escobar’s tombstone. Or hell, I could decide I’m bored with Colombia and go to Brazil. It’s an addictive type of rootlessness. And you learn all sorts of things.”

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