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Camouflage - A Story of How I Ended Up at a Colombian Army Base


COLOMBIA | Tuesday, 13 May 2014 | Views [1199] | Scholarship Entry

I’ve landed bottom up in a grass ditch at the front of a Colombian Army base in Leticia. This wasn’t how I’d imagined my first scooter riding experience would be.

The scene I’d set in my mind looked more like this: a backdrop of palm trees whizzing past me, my hair whip wild, my cheeks wet with a sporty glow. I would be a freewheeling wild-child. I had it all figured out.

But in reality I’m arse to the stars, ready to accept that the universe has other plans for me, somewhere along the lines of impending humiliation and/or potential incarceration.

My scratched limbs are splayed over the heavy, black scooter. My nemesis rumbles beneath me with a low, jerky hum, like it’s having a secret chuckle to itself. I get up with a wobble and peer sheepishly over the ditch at my friend Justine.

“Are you alright?” She asks, her smile jester-wide.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” I say shakily.

The pain I feel is taken over by the more immediate sting of embarrassment. My pride is like a heady anaesthetic, washing away all signs of physical discomfort. At least my ego is still in tact, I think.

I look up and see a contingent of Colombian soldiers charging towards me. I stumble frantically, pushing my weight against the scooter and willing it to move. Thin reeds of grass whistle at my knees. I stomp on them and shout “damn it.” This desperate attempt to regain control of the scooter is not working. The black beast is wedged firmly in the dirt, and despite my manic encouragements, it won’t move.

The soldiers are closer now, marching with identical movements. Their arms and legs swing with impeccable precision. They arrive at the ditch and stare down at me, expressionless.

“Lo Siento, Lo Siento, Lo Siento.” I say.

But my earnest apologies are not necessary. They walk straight past me, pick up the scooter and carry it back to the road—as if it is their sworn duty to do so. Then they continue on their way, walking with those same exacting strides, not stopping to look back at us once.

Justine and I glance at each other. Then we curl over with laughter. We laugh until the tears seep out from under our eyelids and our stomachs stretch out like balloons. We haven’t laughed like this since our fight and I’m comforted by the sudden return to normalcy.

The next day I gaze down at the scratches on my legs with a quiet fondness, running my fingers over the roughness. I collect the tiny scabs with my fingernails, flick them into the palm of my hand and blow them onto the ground.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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