The tropics. Hot hot sun, exotic fruits, amazing local food, plenty of wildlife and songbirds, a hammock swinging in the breeze, cool drink in your hand… what more could a writer want for inspiration?
As I quickly found out, that depends on what you’re working on at the moment—and whether you’ve got a toddler in tow. After Christmas, we drove down to “Los Llanos,” the tropical grassland plains of Colombia, to spend 10 days at a small fishing lodge secluded near the banks of the ancient Manacacías river (for reference, the Manacacías joins the Meta which then flows into the legendary Orinoco in Venezuela). Normally, a trip like that would be a dream for a writer looking for a faraway place to get away from the emails, the cell phones, the constant interruptions and stresses of the modern world.
But when you bring your two-year-old, a paradise quickly transforms into an obstacle course of potential hazards, and your writing time drains down into maybe an hour or two a day. Malaria-bearing mosquitoes, uncertain water sources, weird and unfamiliar food, parasites lurking in every crevice and pool of standing water, rivers full of electric eels, anacondas, water cockroaches, crocodiles and all kinds of other eminently friendly and compassionate creatures. Then there’s the ever-present potential for running into paramilitary or guerrilla forces, although fortunately these days that potential runs very low in this area.
Sure enough, the first day my little girl got sick—we didn’t know if it was the water from the swimming pool, the oatmeal that sat in the heat a little too long, or some unseen insect that had bitten her… but instead of succumbing to the strong temptation of panicking (we were hours away from a decent hospital), I spent the day watching over her and administering lemon and garlic water, a mixture with the potential to kill E.coli and all kinds of parasites and stomach bugs. I myself had suffered from a rather aggressive E.coli infection shortly after our return from the island of Providencia, and the lemon/garlic cured me in 3 days.*
Thankfully, the next morning my baby was fine, jumped in the boat with us, and spent the day fishing the wild ancient rivers of the Colombian plains. Remember that piranha I was after? I’m proud to say that I was the first to catch a fish on this trip, and it was indeed a piranha—although not the giant black one, it was a gorgeous red-bellied piranha. We let it go: it’s illegal to kill piranhas here. They’re incredible river janitors.
And my writing? On this trip I brought my psychological thriller with me, the one that takes place in the Parisian métro. Yes, I know: Parisian metro vs Colombian tropical flood plain. The most unlikely bedfellows. Normally, I have no problem plunging into the world I’m writing about regardless of where I am physically. But this time, I found it very difficult. I tried writing in bed, in the hammock, by the pool, but found myself wandering off, gazing at the trees, the birds, the river… I even considered staying at the lodge by myself while my husband and the rest of the family spent the day fishing, but I just couldn’t do it. After all, who travels thousands of miles to this remote place and give up even one day on the river?
So I resigned myself to editing in the early dawn or in the evenings after dinner, which worked fabulously well. I was able to edit the majority of the work I had written to date, most of it tucked away in my mosquito net, away from would-be biters and stingers and other annoyances of the minuscule kind. And because there was literally nothing to see (light pollution is minimal here), I could edit in peace knowing I wasn’t missing anything.
Besides, I told myself, I can write when I get back to Bogotá… and California. There was simply too much to see—and see we did (I’ll write about that in my next post). The Llanos have a way about them… the plain enters the very marrow of your soul, and won’t let go long after you’ve gone.
p.s. Medical disclaimer and a note about that lemon/garlic mixture: it is a known fact that citrus has extraordinary cleansing properties. After all, they make detergent out of it don’t they? It turns out that if you blend lemon, orange and grapefruit, pulp, rind and all (no seeds), with a bit of raw or powdered garlic, and drink it ideally with food, anything sitting in your gut that shouldn’t be there (as in, E.coli, parasites, worms, whatever) runs for the proverbial hills.
It’s natural, won’t kill your flora, and you can get it practically anywhere. And yes, if you can’t stand the bitter taste, you can add honey or sugar. But as with any health-related suggestions, please talk to your doctor before using this mixture to cure specific ailments or conditions. I know it works for me and my family, but if you’re allergic to citrus or garlic it’s obviously not a good idea.