Misspelled Paradise: A Year in a Reinvented Colombia is nearing its final stages before publication: copy editing, formatting, and proofing. I expect a publishing date in mid-February.
Until then, I will post updates such as the actual publishing date, release the cover, and post quotes, excerpts, and possibly chapters.
Here is a short excerpt from chapter four on the heat that permeates everything along Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
Excerpt from Chapter 4: Hell’s Kitchen (Where the Food is Great, and the Heat is Greater)
The first time I walked back from school I had to close my eyes to combat the bright glare from the sun. With my eyes closed, I envisioned myself in the vastness of the Sahara desert. Sweat dripped off my forehead and I changed my mind: I was now in a Helsinki sauna. I opened my eyes, which instantly burned from the combination of the bright sun and my sweat, and I decided that I must have been in Death Valley—not the part with the nice air-conditioned visitor center, but the part with the world’s hottest temperature (a whopping 134 degrees Fahrenheit, almost 57 degrees Celsius). Wiping the sweat from my eyes while trying to wave to one of my students, the heat that I would have to deal with for the rest of the year finally hit me in full.
Okay, it never reached 134 degrees, but the point I am trying to make is that Santa Ana was hot. The last time the temperature was not hot was probably around 1.8 million years ago at the end of the last Ice Age. It has pretty much always been hot, and considering current global warming trends, it will probably be hot for a long time to come. The days were consistently in the ‘90s (an average of about 95 degrees that occasionally rose into triple digits), and while this was a far cry from actual record-breaking heat, the combination of heat, sun, and humidity created conditions that were wonderful for the inside of a tropical butterfly house, but less wonderful for human life.
No matter where I went or what I did, I rarely had a moment when I was not wishing for a little more winter in my life. I was usually already a bit sticky from the humidity by the time I rolled out of bed in the morning. The kitchen was stifling by the time I washed my breakfast dishes, and the sun was already high in the sky as I walked to school. By the end of comunidad’s morning announcements, the school anthem, and prayers (please, God, make it only in the ‘80s today), sweat would be dripping down my back, and I would head off to my first class. By the time school ended, sweat had usually started to seep through my pant legs even if the fans in the classroom were working.
I would leave school around noon, walking back in that bright and horribly strong sun that reflected off the beige dirt road, and my skin would scream in protest. After a few weeks, I took a cue from the locals and bought an umbrella to use as a parasol. In Santa Ana, the word for umbrella was usually translated as sombrilla or “the thing that gives you sombra (shade)” rather than the more common paraguas, “the thing you use to stop the water” (para = stop, agua = water). That would come later, but for most of the year, my sombrilla saved me a few degrees of heat (it was noticeably cooler in my portable shade) and saved my skin from having an unpleasant relationship with high noon UV for eleven months. I usually associated parasols with dainty Jane Austen-type characters who were too delicate to be out in the sun, but I figured all my dark-skinned neighbors were doing it, so I popped my parasol out every time I headed home.
The nights were cooler, but I never saw the temperature go below 75 degrees. Whenever it dipped under 80 degrees, it was cause for celebration—time to write home with the news, dig my jacket out of the closet, and try to quell the impulse to sing Christmas carols.
The high humidity was the worst thing about the heat. There were times I walked out of the air-conditioned library at school and felt like I had entered a greenhouse or a butterfly house at a zoo. My glasses even fogged up after walking outside once or twice (which couldn’t have been a good sign). Let’s just say that whenever my food was labeled “keep in a cool, dry place,” it was impossible to follow the directions.
To continue reading and learning more about travels around diverse and surprisingly hilarious country of Colombia, get the book Misspelled Colombia: A Year in a Reinvented Colombia.
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