Santa Marta


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We spent this past week in Santa Marta, the location where Omar Torrijos’ plane crashed in 1981. This was supposed to be the “history” part of the project, tho it is difficult and quite limiting to construct a good history project out of one wrecked plane.

It was a rough hike up to the plane on the side of Mount Marta. The people who organized this program did not do enough to prepare the students for the climb. They didn’t have enough water, and our white bread sandwiches were severely lacking in nutritional value. I shared my stash of trail mix with the others, and now I’m completely out. I wish I had brought my Gatorade mix along to help us keep hydrated. But since I was not included in the planning I did not think ahead to help the others prepare for this.

The plane was not what I expected, tho in retrospect what I expected was a bit naive. I guess my reference point was the decommissioned WWII plane that sat in the Marion City Park as a weird sort of militaristic climbing toy. Here, we found the partial remains of a wrecked plane hanging off the side of a steep hillside. I thought we could sit around the plane on a grassy plaza and talk about Omar Torrijos, but it did not really work like that. Everyone here presents Torrijos as a great hero, but I keep wondering where the substance is.

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One of the people who climbed to the plane with us was Jorge Lorenzo, one of five people from Santa Marta who were the first people to arrive at the crash site. I meant to tape his comments, but I pressed the wrong button on my digital recorder. Stupid me.

In Santa Marta, we stayed with Lorenzo’s brother who turns out to be the great-grand nephew of Victoriano Lorenzo, my new research interest here in Panama. Cool.

We also visited some nice waterfalls, and the locals always want to hear that these are new and unique experiences for us. They were nice, but I have been to Iguassu of course….

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The last nite at Santa Marta we had a despedida that in ways reminded me of hanging out with the Tuareg on the Sahara desert north of Timbuktu. Neither place had electricity, so they hooked up their sound equipment to a car battery and played music and danced under the stars. But in many ways that is where the similarities ended. Mali was one of the hardest trips I have ever taken, with the sand in the rice, the polygamy, patriarchy, slavery, etc. In contrast, I’m fascinated to the point of enamored with Latin American history and politics. But the reality is that I hate most Latin American music, including the cumbias that they played in Santa Marta, and I absolutely loved the blues of Ali Farka Toure that they played out at Timbuktu. The despedida left me with deeply sentimental feelings and memories of hanging with the Tuareg on the Sahara desert.

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