My World-Case Studies

My World: Yellow Fever and the Refrigerated Indian

Waking to the sounds of wild, desert goats on the sand stone cliffs surrounding me, I began to prepare my sailing vessel Misty Moon for departure. Soon I would leave the rusting hulls of partially sunken cargo vessels, causalities of the Medellin Cartel’s cocaine wars, behind me. Colombia’s Bahia Honda is about as isolated as you can get having cliffs on one side and desert surrounding the rest.

Staying ten miles off the coastline, to avoid pirates in their powerful fishing boats, I charted a course to Santa Marta, Colombia. Things were going well as I approached the Santa Marta Sierras. The snow-capped peaks rise up from the coastline and powder blue mountains. I cannot explain their grandness when viewed from miles out at sea. The powerful ocean meets peaks rising to the heavens.

Below deck, I cut the red, lateral nerve bundle out of a yellow fin tuna fillet. It is tough and bitter. Buttering the pan, I threw in a little rosemary and curry powder enjoying the aroma.

I heard a thud, thud on Misty Moon’s hull and she shuttered. The skillet hit the deck, I shut the burner off, and launched up the companionway. The hits were hard. I expected to see an uncharted reef, and was fully ready to come about, and start pumping out water. Seeing no shoals or reef I looked at the depth gauge. 327 feet. Forward, amidships, and aft flotsam was everywhere. Palm tree trunks, branches, charred firewood, leaves, and bananas encompassed me. I lowered the sail to slow finally realizing that this was the rainy season. The mountains were awash. Debris and garbage that had accumulated for months now rode the flood waters from hundreds of miles away.

Turning south, lighthouse atop Isla El Morro, Santa Marta came into view. I could barely make headway. Forty-knot winds blew over the High Sierras agitating the port of Santa Marta as if some giant helicopter were hovering over it. Wind cut through my rigging causing a deep howl.

I cursed, in a Christian-like way, spun the wheel and Misty Moon came about. Retraced our course, Taganga Bay was only a drenching mile away.

Looking forward to a few hours of rest at anchor, I cleaned up the galley, ate a can of sardines, and sat in the cockpit. Several powder blue, white, turquoise, and topaz open fishing boats lined the white sandy shores. Fishermen labored with nets and cut bait for this afternoon’s fishing. Behind them are thatched huts with vendors cut outs and an occasional rusted Coca Cola or Malta sign. Through my binoculars I evaluated the area, only by coincidence, seeing beautiful Latin ladies in tiny swimsuits mingling and playing beach volleyball. I had been at sea for a long time.

My welcoming committee was on the way. Going below I gathered a little bag of suckers, hard candy, and toy cars. I set it on the bow and went below. In minutes, there was one bump and then several on my hull. My bow rocked as the winner shimmied up the anchor chain and jumped up and down proclaiming victory. All participants soon arrived. Peeking over the cockpit, seven little boys and girls ate candy, compared prizes, and teased playfully. Giving them time to enjoy their spoils, I then jumped on deck clapping my hands saying, “Get off.” “Go away.” Putting their prizes in their trunks, they dived overboard giggling and swam the quarter mile back to shore.

A fishing boat approached and threw me his line. Tying it off, I assumed he was some unofficial official wanting a bogus fee for anchoring.

He anxiously asked, “Capi´tan. Senor.” “Do you have medicine on board?”

“Yes.” “Some medicine, batteries, and clothes. What do you need my friend?”

He replied, “I do not know. There is a stranger, an Indian, came to town selling agave bags.” “Is very sick.”  “Very sick.”

I said, “I knew something of medicine.” Grabbing my medicine bag I rode with him into town. “Can you tell me more about this Indian,” I asked over the roaring motor.

“Si.” He said, “I think from different parts of mountains.” “Sell agave bags and hats, and take photos with tourists.” “Always carry coca leaves in bag and collect seashells.” “They short and ugly, not handsome like Colombian man. Like me.” Laughing, he said, “Loco Indian fall down deep, uncovered utility hole.”

I said, “So he may have broken something or have a head injury. I know of the open utility holes. Locals steal covers to use as anchors.”

He said, “Si. Captain. I see only agave hat and poncho laying on sidewalk and go to see. I picks up hat and Indian is in the utility hole drunk. I scared, run to Policia.”

“The Policia?” I asked.

“Yes.” He said. “The Indian was talking crazy. He said he must save the world. Get it back to balance after the recent floods, and then he call me his younger brother. My brother died at sea, and this make me very afraid. I think maybe my brother reincarnated as a drunken Indian in hole. So, I tell the Policia, they arrest Indian, and put him in the refrigerator.”

I asked, “In a refrigerator?”


Beaching the boat, we pulled it further on shore. The palm roofed restaurants and dwellings were a rainbow of pastels. Down the cobble stone streets of Calle Nine, two barking dogs warned us away from the back of a restaurant. A man in neatly pressed, olive colored uniform, UZI on a strap, and gold police badge on opened the flimsy wooden and sheet metal door and yelled for the dogs to shut up.

My eyes adjusted to the surrounding darkness and dusty light sun beaming through the front of the restaurant. Introductions were made and the Policia switched on the dim incandescent light. At first, all I could see was a head with long, black sweaty hair and two arms hanging out the freezer compartment of and rusty white, fifty’s model refrigerator. The freezer door and floor were removed and the bottom refrigerator door was closed and secured with an old brass padlock.

The Policia said, “I arrested this man who I found drunk and in a precarious situation. I believe that he was drunk, but now think he is just crazy. He thinks I am his family and says he must balance the whole world. Physically, it is obvious to me that he is an Indian because of his shortness and weight of no more than one-hundred and thirty pounds. In addition, the chiseled, ugly face and big nose betray him. On my examination, I found him to be an old alcoholic because of his yellowed eyes and skin. I suspect he is an abuser of rum and that he is a drug addict. His bag contained enough coca leaves to make many dollars off tourists. The coca use would also explain the bloody nose and mouth.”

I said, “Please allow me to look at this poor fellow. You may keep your gun at ready in case he falls on you.”

The Policia said, “I don’t think that will be necessary Captain,” and removed the padlock.

The door opened; the Indian tumbled out, landing on the packed dirt floor. Black drool ran down his chin and collected on his yellow skin. He was very hot. Opening his mouth and eyelids revealed blood stained teeth and yellowed eyes. His every movement resulted in a painful groaning. Motioning for me to bend down, in a weak voice he told me of his mission saying he was a Kogi Indian and, “I must balance the world.” “Do you understand?”

I said, “I understand all and will get you help.”

I motioned the fisherman and policeman outside and made them aware of the situation. I told the policeman, “First of all, you are killing the savior of the world.”

The Police man laughed and commented, “You mean like Jesus.”

I said, “Not exactly.”

Hearing of the rumored “Black Vomit” outbreak while talking to the Venezuelan Coast Guard on Isle Sur, I admit that I had the upper hand, and could not resist a little explaining. I had also studied the Tayrona Indians for years as I had most primitive religions.

I said, “Before you is a sober Kogi (jaguar) Mamas, a descendent of the Tayrona Indians. He came to Taganga to give his message, after the recent floods, to ‘Younger Brother’ who is anyone not of their tribe, the outside world if you will. They believe in a nine-layered universe and a nine-layered temple, all related to the nine months of pregnancy. Much like the Buddhist, they believe that everything tangible or seen has a spiritual connection; therefore, even the lowest of creatures can be a teacher.

The Kogi priests come down from the mountains. They collect sea shells, grinding them up to mix with coca leaves which makes them more potent. This enhances their spiritual connection. The shells are alkaline and activate the coca leaves when they are chewed. The priests also bring hats and bags the tribal women make to sell to tourists.”

I continued, “What’s more is that this man must be transported to Santa Marta immediately by our fisherman friend for rehydration and for the pain he suffers. He has vomitar negro, black vomit, called yellow fever.”

I explained the symptoms and told them if they had any of these, they needed to get to the hospital immediately and report if anyone else had them.

Back in Santa Marta with a hold full of coffee beans after being two months away, I saw my, now very healthy looking, Indian friend. He was walking the beach tourist areas. Wearing his white tunic and hat he also carried his white, multi-colored pouch which I knew was full of coca leaves and sea shells.

I said, “Hello.”

He said, “Hello little brother. Take picture with for dollar,” not recognizing me.

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