The Cartagena Sex Industry 

Photo: Clock tower plaza, Cartagena 

Captain Cool and I were sat at a table outside of our favourite salsa bar enjoying a refreshing drink one hot humid evening (OK, they are all like this). I saw a young woman with lots of make up, high heels and very short shorts standing outside the club. I asked CC, “Oo! Is she one?” He replied, “Of course!” I had heard about all the prostitutes here, but as almost everyone dresses skimpily with high heels, never really paid much attention.  

Prostitution (with adults) is legal here. The women are supposed to go to a health clinic every Wednesday to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases. Mind you, it takes three months for HIV to turn up, but they can receive a fine if the police ask and they don’t have the most up to date check. 

For whatever reason, prostitution has always fascinated me. I remember reading about Jack the Ripper at a young age and being far more interested in the prostitution than I was in the murders. I always want to know why someone has gone into the sex industry and whether they enjoy it. How much do they make? Do they have boyfriends/husbands? How do they view sex? Do they kiss on the mouth? Do their families know and what do they think? And so many more questions. 

I patiently waited for CC to finish his drink and off we went to the plaza to see the main business market. There were groups of women and single women standing in the plaza, all wearing skimpy clothing and high heels. Some were sucking on the cliche sucker. CC said, “Here you go.” I couldn’t believe it! There were police at every corner and about 20 prostitutes in the centre. There were also men wearing VIP shirts trying to entice tourists into their bar, food and drink carts and tourists walking by completely oblivious. It was a scene I had never before experienced and couldn’t quite believe.

A group of four white men were standing in the middle holding drinks and buying more as they emptied. One of the men went up to every prostitute, chatted for a while and then left. I wasn’t sure if he was wagering prices or just enjoying the chat! They were there before us and were still there when we left an hour later so I never did find out. 

More and more women came. It was clear who were the regulars as they would greet each other with a kiss, talk for a while and then break apart to do their pout and play with their hair as they waited for clients. 

One young white woman with blonde hair saw a white man in his 60’s who greeted her with a smile. He ran up to her and gave her a big hug. He patted her stomach as if to say she had lost weight. She giggled and flirtatiously wrapped her hair around her finger. They chatted for a while and then he left. She looked disappointed. She went over to the kebab cart and ordered a chicken and beef kebab. She sat slouched in a chair with a childish pout as she watched the other women and ate her kebabs. Actually, a lot of the women ate at the food carts and they chatted as if they were co-workers. I wondered if they ever traded services…

About half an hour into the live show, I saw a stunningly gorgeous olive skinned woman with long straight black hair, long legs, beautiful brown eyes and pink painted lips walk into the plaza. She was by far the most beautiful and best dressed of anyone there. I looked at the other girls as no one greeted her. They just looked at her and in some of their faces I could see the “oh great,” looks of disappointment. The guy from the group of Europeans who was talking to everyone came towards her. She walked away and shouted in Spanish, “I have nothing to offer you. Noooo.” Her irritation only added to her sex appeal. She was so beautiful I couldn’t understand why she hadn’t found a rich man to marry her so she didn’t have to work the street. That’s what so many of the beautiful Colombian women do. 

I watched her as she elegantly held her designer looking handbag in front of her. She wore a pouty expression as if she was waiting for someone who was late. One of the VIP men went up to this beautiful woman and pointed to two white guys. As she went over to talk to them, two other white guys walked by her and stopped her. Her face lit up into a beautiful smile and her eyes sparkled. One of the guys couldn’t keep his jaw from dropping and looked her up and down as if he couldn’t believe his luck. I swear I saw drool seeping from his mouth. I’m sure if I would’ve looked down, he would’ve been sporting a tent. They chatted for a couple moments and she shook her head no. The drooling guy just stood there having sex with her with his eyes. 

She approached the original two guys, gave her award winning smile and an agreement was made. The three of them walked off only to return a couple minutes later. His friend wanted a girl too. They stood in the centre and pointed out girls as if they were in a food market ordering what they wanted to eat. Eventually he found one and the four of them headed to the city centre, no doubt to have a little dance and party before the bedroom dance began. That’s part of the deal here. Before the sex, the women ask for alcohol or drugs. That gives me a hint as to how much they enjoy their job. 

CC dared me to stand in the middle and see what happens. He bet it would take five minutes for me to find a client. I said I’ll do it another time when I’m more skimpily dressed and wearing my wedges. I joked, but sat there in utter disbelief as to what I was seeing. I don’t judge these women as I don’t know their stories. Maybe I should feel bad for them because they have terrible histories or were forced into this profession. Or maybe I should respect their career choice as they enjoy it. All I know is that I have a silent respect for someone who can work in that profession. Not because I want to do it, but because some of them no doubt have horrible stories that have led them to this profession in order to make a living. Even if they enjoy it, after seeing some of the men they walked away with, I had to respect their ability to sleep with such unappealing men. 

What really struck me was the clientele. All of them were foreigners, European or North American. Countries in which prostitution is illegal. I watched them, wondering if they would be so open in their own countries and if not, why all of the sudden it was okay to do so in another country. I wondered what they thought of women in general, if they had girlfriends, if they did this before, if this was the reason they travelled here. Don’t forget my background is psychology, I always have and probably always will be, fascinated by all types of human behaviour! Sadly with the clientele, I couldn’t stop my judgment and felt a little bit disgusted by them. It’s not the actual act of buying a prostitute that rubbed me the wrong way, it was the way they looked at these women as sex toys with such little respect. Whether someone is offering sexual services or not, they are still human. It was obvious in some of the women’s body language that they were clearly uncomfortable by some of the more aggressive behaviours. 

As in almost all countries, whether the sex trade is legal or not, there is a dark side here as well. I worked as a therapist in that field for eight years and have had more than my share of that side of the story so I’m choosing not to write about that. 

Prostitution has been around for centuries. Think what you may of it, but there’s obviously a demand for it. Especially since this was on a Wednesday night. We went back on a Friday night at midnight and there were hundreds of women, always coming and going. It’s crazy to see such a high demand for prostitutes. 

As a side note, if you’re thinking of coming here for the sex industry, Cartagena has the highest rate of HIV in Colombia and one of the highest rates in the world. If you’re willing to take the risk of a lifelong terminal illness, at least try and limit the chances by using a condom!!!!


Idle hands can make a busy mind…

I’ve moved countries twice, survived through numerous break ups, moved more than 20 times in 18 years, traveled for months solo and moved to a non-English speaking country. I’m the master of change and transition, right? WRONG!!!

Lately I’ve been hating it in Cartagena. When I see the sun in the morning, I close my eyes and pray it’s nighttime so that I can breathe deeply without breaking into a sweat. I can’t seem to make friends here, although to be honest, it could be my racism towards English speaking people. They aren’t all bad, I just don’t find most of their ideas and conversations valuable enough to waste the precious moments I have in this life. In Colombia, it’s not very cultural to have female friends outside of family due to the high rate of jealousy that exists in relationships and since CC has no female family here, I’m on my own. I converse with his nephews sometimes and random women who are complaining about the queue we’re standing in, but to call them true friendships would be a bit of a stretch. I know I have people here to help me if I’m super stuck, about a practical thing that is. There’s little time for emotional crying in this culture!

The work is drying up for various reasons, mafia style politics amongst the charter companies (who are not run by the mafia), the year long process of getting new electronic equipment to replace what was damaged by lightening, sea time laws changing, my realisation at how little I get paid to deal with snobby, perverted and/or demanding passengers. They aren’t all like that mind you, but the enjoyable ones seem to be few and farther between these days. 

The yoga here is non-existent. The classes that are offered are either not my type of yoga or are more than my measly wage allows me (note it’s the low season which means there is no wage…). There’s a donation only class, but I’m a teacher myself and feel that what I can donate is too insulting to attend with regularity. I’ve thought about starting my own class, but my unpredictable work schedule makes that a struggle. 

If you’re worried I may be contemplating suicide, don’t worry. I find little things in my day to keep going and things aren’t all that bad. I am a yogini after all and believe everything is happening as it should. So I sit in the shade or sometimes in air conditioning in puddles of my own sweat with a smile (probably what causes the sweat!) in hopes that Buddha, Krishna or really whatever higher being, out there sees my patience and will bring me my rewards sooner rather than later. 

What the hell does this have to do with change and transition? Well, I’m happy to announce that CC received his US visa. No, we didn’t get married. He applied for a crew visa as we’re delivering trusty old Trade Wins to Florida! Eight to ten days of open sea sailing, just the two of us! Something I’ve been dreaming of. Will we stop? Only if the weather or necessary repairs force us to. It will be my longest sail yet and probably a challenge, but one I welcome with open arms as the sea provides me with an indescribable peace and balance. The waves wash away whatever worries I have and I’m left in a state of bliss. 

The famous question is…What will we do after? Yes people love planning! I don’t have a clue! That’s how I like living my life, if you haven’t noticed. Right now we’re planning on staying for a while to do some sailing courses (because those pieces of paper are so much more important than experience…) and scope out boats there. I may return to waitress days to build up my student loan paying account. Or we may get there and an opportunity presents itself which changes everything. I may run far away the minute I touch US ground, who knows??

This time is hard for me. We won’t leave until after hurricane season mid to end November. The boat is in pieces so not really charter-able. That just leaves endless jobs to prepare our baby for her biggest sail with us yet. IN THIS HEAT!!! It’s the heat I can’t stand. CC is in Bogota for 10 days to get the visa, do paperwork and see his son. The jobs we have to do require money, which we don’t have, so I’m here left to my own devices. Read: Think of many random scenarios which have yet to happen.

I was an expert in this field in my other life. I was ready for at least 10 different situations, none of which happened when it was go time. All that time spent fighting or explaining to people in my head went to waste. Things went smoothly and I enjoyed myself, how annoying!! As time wore on, I became good at slowing down and taking each day as it comes, not having expectations or these pointless mind conversations. 

However this change is scary to me. Yes I’m moving (TEMPORARILY!!!) to my country of birth, but remember I left it and for very good personal reasons have never wanted to go back. I’m doing it for CC and for opportunities outside of the country it may lead to. There’s a possibility of his adult son entering into our lives. I’ve yet to meet him and am sure he’s a lovely person, but I don’t want a son or even to be part of a family unit. The only reason I caved into advances from a man with a child, was because the child was an adult and living a very long bus ride away. 

So last night as I laid awake guarding our luxury dinghy (there have been many dinghy robberies as of late), I ran through a million scenarios. CC and I’s relationship has grown particularly deeper over the last few months and we have a beautiful existence at the moment. I want him to have his son close as he’s been wanting it since his son moved away 16 years ago. However, I don’t want his son (or anyone for that matter) in our space full time. Everything changes. Yes, sometimes for good. As I tried to think of the advantages of this possibility, more and more made up scenarios happened in my head. Of course all ended in a tragic and dramatic end to my relationship with CC. Lack of sleep, the beginnings of a cold and the feelings from these scenarios led to tears and a cold (on my part) conversation with CC the next morning. Suddenly everything he did was wrong and I had a lot to be mad about. He was shocked saying he thought I would be happy after the good news of his visa and that we can sail together to Florida. 

I chatted with a friend, had a couple of cups of tea and called him back. I explained that a comment he made the day before made me sad. We discussed things and reached an understanding on both parts. He actually said to me, “Why are you so sad about things that haven’t happened? Things are too complicated to happen quickly (related to comment from yesterday).” Of course my perceptions of the situation were fuelled by his comment, but he’s right. Even if what he says is true, things can happen in an instant to change the whole path of the future. I know that because I’ve had many many life changing instants. 

I took a deep breath, felt a bit sheepish about my (almost) unfounded tantrum and finished my book. I don’t know what will happen in the future or even later tonight (I just hope it doesn’t involve an attempted dinghy robbery because that is one scenario I am prepared for and they will face a fight, with an army!!). I’m choosing not to make life complicated by making up more scenarios about Florida, because life really isn’t complicated. It only becomes complicated when we fight it. I have love, support, a home and food (until the money runs out, by which time CC should be back). There are many moments in the day that bring a smile to my face. With a positive attitude, I know that whatever journey the future holds for me, it will be a great adventure. 

Freedom from technology

One thing I really enjoy about sailing life is forced disconnection from technology. Sure, there are systems you can get where you’re connected in the middle of the sea, but to me, it defeats the true purpose of sailing. The true purpose of sea living. 

I have two Facebook accounts, one for business and people I’ve met travelling and another for family and long time friends. I don’t accept stranger friend requests on the latter account and have strict “privacy” settings. As I stupidly decided to download Facebook messenger for my business account, I was bombarded with messages from strangers as well as the acquaintances I had met. I had some time, so responded and was then immediately replied to. I became overwhelmed and stressed and turned off wifi. 

As the years go by, we seem to lose touch with reality more and more. I don’t mean reality in the sense of sanity, I mean about living and dealing with humans who are actually in front of us. Not the ones we see on FaceTime, Facebook, Skype or whatever else is out there, but the ones that we can touch, hug and can’t turn off. 

I’m currently reading Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick, and in the 1600’s, people in New England used to receive letters from ships that arrived from England and sent replies on the ship when it returned. This would take months! On the continent, they used to send messengers to get people which might take days or weeks. No one complained, they waited with anticipation (or maybe dread depending on the theme of the letters!) and got on with their lives. There was no conversations with friends such as, “He read my message like five hours ago and still hasn’t replied. Do you think he’s with someone else?” Or “She read my message a couple hours and now she’s online but isn’t replying, is she mad? How rude!”

People complain the government is watching our every movement, they don’t even care (if you’re behaving legally) or know who you are. You should be more concerned that your friends can monitor your every online movement! How many times have you checked to see when someone who hasn’t replied within 30 seconds, is on another app? I used to! Newsflash!!! Who cares?!?! They have a life and other people in it and they will reply to you when they can devote the time. It doesn’t mean you are insignificant, that they are mad or disgusted with what you said. They have more than one important person in their life and a lot of things to do, so they will reply when they can. 

On the flip side, I used to feel this pressure to reply immediately. Why? Because I knew people could monitor my every move and I didn’t want to cause bad feelings. Do you know how tiring and time consuming that is?? When I was living in London and had a monthly plan, I was always connected which meant I was rarely with the people in front of me. I was too busy trying to save the feelings of people who sometimes were on another continent. 

Last year, I spent some time with with my sister and her three children. I was there for an extended amount of time so even though I promised myself that I wasn’t going to be on my phone during their waking hours in the house (which truthfully is so little), I justified being on it for a little bit (as if “a little” really exists!) because I was there for longer than a couple weeks. One time my littlest niece came up to me while I was on the phone, grabbed my arm and said, “Auntie, why are you on the phone all the time? I want to play.” I looked into her sweet little gorgeous face and said, “You know what sweetheart? You’re absolutely right. I’m going to turn off my phone.” So mid-message I turned it off and have since changed my way of thinking about the immediacy of replying.

I know people can see I read their messages days previously and haven’t replied. Sometimes I say I saw it and will reply later, sometimes I forget about it all together because I receive other messages that push that one down. Guess what? I haven’t lost any friends, no one has sent me angry messages, they simply accept that’s how I am. They know and trust I’m still their friend even if I haven’t replied for months. I know my friends who do the same still love me and value my friendship. 

Life isn’t about having a device attached to your hand, it’s about connecting with what and who is in front of you. Turn off your phone and have a conversation with the person in front of you. Devote a specific amount of time to pay attention to your internet device instead of all day as soon as someone replies. Pick up a pen and write a letter. Do something even crazier and send it, the receiver will be filled with joy! I think you may also notice how much more relaxed and enjoyable life is. I sure did. 

I’m writing this early morning in a beautiful lagoon and I can hear my partner getting up. I’m going to turn my phone off, give him a good morning kiss and take a dip in this beautiful quiet lagoon before the rest of the world joins us to appreciate the beauty that is all around us. 

Life can change in an instant. Stress and anxiety really are a waste of energy. 

Two years ago today, I walked onto a plane full of anxiety, fear, worry, excitement, relief and anticipation. I was leaving behind jobs (for I had many!!), the best friends I never knew existed, a fiancé, a sense of home and all the comforts I had known for the last 35 years. I was travelling Mexico and Central America solo for six months. It was the first time I was travelling for so long alone. My eyes filled up with tears for I knew this was going to be a huge life change and challenge. If only I would’ve know then what I know now, there would’ve been no fear, anxiety or worry. There just would’ve been a huge sense of relief that finally everything was going to be ok. 

Two weeks into the trip, I opened up an email and read that I lost my fiancé. No other explanation other than, “I’ve said a lot about this relationship. You know how I feel.” I grieved without any of my comforts and without any of my friends. The only person I told was my Mom. I discovered I had many friends in front of me, there were many reasons life was still going to be great, and eventually I discovered that there were other men more suited for me. 

I still love and miss him, but thank him for that lesson and am glad he made that choice. I’m not sure our journey together would’ve brought me where I am today. A place which is unbelievable beautiful and peaceful. 

Along my backpacking journey, I met many great people who gave me things to think about and lessons to learn. Some lessons were about the ugly part of humanity but I never lost faith for there was so much good coming my way. I re-created myself many times through various crises that just seem funny to me now. None of them matter. I experienced the state of inner peace and although I’ve had some slips, I’ve managed to keep it. 

I found the love of my life, sailing. I’m writing this on a farm and love it here too. Maybe I just love being so close to nature and working with my hands. I don’t know, it doesn’t matter. It just matters I found a lifestyle suited for me. I found an amazing life partner who is helping me on my path in life. It’s nothing like what I thought my ideal relationship was, but it gives me exactly what I need right now. 

The most important message I learned in the last two years was to stop fighting. Stop fighting with myself, stop fighting to fit into society and stop fighting with the universe. I’ve learned to stop forcing things I think I should have. People always said that stressing and worrying about something would never change anything. I would roll my eyes and think “what do they know??” They know what I now know. I’ll tell you this. It doesn’t change anything and it only takes the enjoyment out of life. I or you can’t change most situations. We really can’t. Thank goodness because I would’ve changed it so I got the fiancé back and I would be sitting on land somewhere unhappy and fighting. I’ve learned the universe really does know what’s best for us. 

A very dear friend of mine from many years back wrote to tell me of a tragedy he suffered. I wrote back with words of comfort and he wrote back, “You live the life of no regrets. As it should be. Some might call it crazy, I call it courageous.” Tears welled up in my eyes. He said “some might call it crazy,” well a lot do and that’s because they are afraid of living outside the norm. I understand it, but sometimes I feel pretty lonely as a result. I was very touched he could offer me such kind words when he was hurting so deeply. 

I don’t want to get married, I don’t want a house, I don’t want children, I don’t want two cars, a hefty retirement fund or a full time job. I don’t want a routine and I don’t like commitment. I want the life I live now. A life which brings me new adventures everyday, a life which brings me what I ask and a life that puts so many great people in my path. If that’s crazy, well I am and I’m damn proud to be crazy. I’ve let go of fear, of what others think of me and of a life society told me I should have. I never would’ve thought this would happen two years ago. 

Maybe my story will inspire others and maybe it won’t. I just meet too many people who have said they think I’m brave and wish they could do the same thing. Everyone is capable of making the same “brave” choices. If you’re not happy with something, look at the monster of change in the eye and say, “I’m going to do it anyway.” My life isn’t perfect and I’m not happy every day, but that kind of life doesn’t exist. When I walked onto that plane full of fear, my heart knew it would be OK because I was stepping into a life which allows me to be much more content and at peace then I have ever been. Life is meant to be lived. I’m glad I’m doing just that.