We flew into Palmira in the early morning. As we dropped down beneath the clouds we could see a landscape that was flat, with fields full of sugar cane stretching all around. In the distance mountain ranges circled the plain.
For months I had been warned by all and sundry that I was going to be really hot here, and yet it was disappointingly grey and overcast. Hmmmm.
Leaving the plane and walking along the concourse at the airport I was greeted by the poster below. A salsa circus is in town apparently, this felt a little bit more like it.
Leaving the airport and driving along the highway into town we were stopped by the police, an auspicious start to living in our new city. I wasn’t able to open the window in the taxi and somehow my poorly mumbled Spanish was enough for us to be waved on again. A few miles later, as we entered the Palmira city limits, we slowed down so as not to hit any of the cows that were drifting from verge to road to verge.
Just half an hour after landing it was already heating up and the taxi got increasingly toasty as we sat waiting for a giant locomotive engine to reverse and then move forward along the tracks. It turns out that this was no passenger train, just a freight train that transports the sugar cane.
The city centre was still waking up as we drove through. It is arranged in a grid pattern with cracked pavements and faded facades. The roads were filled with street vendors and seemingly crazed motorcyclists, for whom the one-way system appeared to be largely advisory. It looked scruffy, busy and full of life.
Our hostal was an old colonial house which was large and simple with indoor patios and lots of space. I immediately set about haggling for a single room, agreed a price and settled myself in. I lay back on my bed, looking out at the patio, where another fellow was swinging on the hammock and wondered what to do next.
Two hours later I woke up.
So, on my first day in Palmira I had managed a pre-lunch siesta, which seemed to be in keeping with the place.
Palmira is currently feeling the effects of El Niño. Mostly this means that it is a couple of degrees hotter than usual, which puts the temperature up in the low 90s most days, but also that it doesn’t rain very much.
Our hostal was on La Trinidad, which is a recently pedestrianised area that runs from Palmira’s central square (Parque Bolivar) for about ten blocks along its main shopping street. We walked along it, trying to take in our new home. By now it was a little bit past midday, the sky was clear and the heat was blistering. All around us people hugged the walls of the shops keeping themselves in the shadows.
There were mobile Frappe sellers, a man whose sole enterprise appeared to be laminating documents and a churros stand. My favourite was the tall man wearing a large brimmed straw hat who was sat astride his bicycle. In a basket on the handlebars was a sign that said “Venta De Memorias”. Surely, I thought, only in the land of Magic Realism could you expect to find a Memory Seller.
I was later to work out that he was selling USB sticks, but for now I was happy in my confusion.