The Rosario Islands at dawn as seen from a casita balcony in Baru, Colombia
“Paradise is not pristine…” So I scribbled in my journal as the bellicose rays of the unforgiving Colombian sun battered my bare back, exposed through my “paradise”-coloured swimsuit:
Paradise is not pristine. There are bugs, and they bite; through the call of the wild, sometimes someone is blaring Bruno Mars’ “Treasure”; the sun may threaten to scorch the very skin of your back…forever. Yet, as I have watched the sunrise over the verdant vegetation– mottled though it may be with muted browns– and the distant ocean, its true emerald hue belied by the overcast skies, I cannot help but to find poetry at play far beyond the Stendahlian cristallisation that causes us to first fall in love with a place. This is beauty borne of the wild.
“… To withdraw as far as you can from the jousting and combat that are the appanages of our warrior species, you drink a cup of tea or perhaps you watch a film by Ozu” or if you are lucky, you recline on a balcony in Baru overlooking a placid yet vivaciously vivid eternity, intermittently reading Barbery and Szymborska “and you place upon this sorry theatre [of life] the seal of art and it’s great treasures”. Some artist she/he/it was, who conceptualised and created this earth. (quotes from Muriel Barbery)
As one ascends the steps at Casa San Agustin, Baru, one looks back to find oneself among the trees, the Caribbean peeking through the scorched branches
Paradise is indeed not pristine. Baru is far from a manicured oasis as a friend and I discovered on an overnight trip to the island during our 5 day Colombian sojourn. As one trip advisor described this peninsula some 45-mins off the cost of Cartagena, it is more “Jurassic Park than Sandals Resort”. In the height of the heat of May, Mawena and I set off by boat from Bocagrande to Baru, watching the ocean turn from a murky grey to emerald green as we drifted farther and farther from the animation of Cartagena. We were greeted by water so clear that we could see the bright orange flesh of starfish clinging to the pebble-lined floor. Our lodging at Casa San Augustin’s Baru location, a small hotel of 3 bungalows (casitas) situated a top a hill overlooking the Colombian Caribbean, was the stuff of storybooks. Ceiling fans, bright white walls, and rocking chairs overlooking a veranda: the entire domicile was done by Bogota-based designer Gustavo Pinto and successfully completes the feeling of truly being in another world.
A room with a view
There really was no reason to ever ( and I mean, EVER) leave the comfort of our room, not with a private infinity pool within steps of our verandah. Still, the idyllic private beach (thought not without a plastic bottle or two strewn about to bring us back down to earth), 5 minutes away and accessible only by boat, gave us enough cause to stir from indolent reverie and trek down multitude of the stairs in search of enough sand and sea to which to drown a lifetime of sorrows. Though the skies were overcast by the time we arrived at the shore, the peacock greens and blues of the my suit by Natori, aptly nicknamed Paradise, brought enough brisk colour to overshadow the shadows.
The next time I dug up this swimsuit, months had passed and a paradise of a different calibre beckoned. In September, a week after I turned the gruesome age of 29, I had barely arrived in Paris when my friend Clémence and I set off with at some ungodly, unfrenchly hour the Gare de Lyon, rushing comme d’habitude to make our TGV just on time. The TGV grinded to a hault in the coastal town of Toulon. I lugged my oversize valise off the train. I waited in the sun while Clemence’s parents sorted our the rental car. “Halfway to paradise,” I thought, “not long now”. A girl of about seven or eight in sundress with a trilby perched a top her head, walked past me with so much confidence in her gait that the lunchbox she carried seemed to be an anatopism. Everyone in this gateway town appeared to be dressed for paradise. With the rental car finally sorted out, we meandered through a town after town until we arrived at our home for the next few days: Port Grimaud, an unassuming small municipality in the Var department in the Provence-Alps-Cote d’ Azur region of France. But we were not yet in Paradise, we thought. Eager to discover for ourselves whether a certain town, far more storied than little-known Baru or Grimaud, lives up to the brouhaha, we threw on comfortable beach clothes in a frenzy — a floor-length white halter dress from Zara for me accessorized with a vintage Nina Ricci scarf atop my head and jute rope I bought from a Ghanaian market as a belt– tossed our swimwear in bags, kissed the parents au revoir and drove off to finally see for ourselves the Brigette Bardot’s own Saint Tropez.
We pulled up at Pearl Beach, a quiet restaurant some five minutes from the famous and busy port of Saint Tropez, which we had chosen just minutes before after consulting the omniscient gods of Google. We found we had chosen well: free access to the beach was offered if we patronized the restaurant. So, after devouring a moelleux au chocolat that could probably rival Olympian ambrosia, we sank our feet into the Tropezian sand and it became all to clear what the fuss is indeed about.
Pure majesty: that is the only way I can describe this stretch of the earth. The crystal water, dotted with opulent yachts, lapped the shore foaming doucement as if in a chorus of rhymic verse. The undulating horizon was spotted with houses like a million eyes gazing over sea that stretched on forever Who, after all, could help but stare in wonderment at how a place can be so gentle on the eyes and hard on the heart? And sit and stare I did for a long time, gaping into the void as I drank it in till inebriation.
Art by Nelly Aba: Rapt in Tropezian meditation . A little bit of paradisiac-clashing: is your paradise cool and blue, red and hot, wild and spotted or all of the above?
I finally stripped down to my bathing suit and let my hair fall loose. As I pranced along the sun-parched stone of the seawall in my suit that Natori tells me is the colour of Paradise, powder yellow and white striped chaises sitting in the sand to my left, the Tricolor billowing in the wind behind me, that noble ocean shimmering to my right and before my eyes nothing but wide-open air, I thought to myself: “this is the happiest I have been in a long time”.
Yes, it is as simple as that. I am not sure what Paradise looks like. I suppose, like Baru, it may be wild and slightly menacing or like the Tropezian beach it may be ineffably perfect. One thing is for sure, Paradise is the place within us where all is pristine, whether there be bugs that bite or mountains imbued with eyes. I found that place within myself in Baru, sipping champagne warmed by the sun and sharing an infinity pool with miniscule fauna. I found it again in Saint Tropez. The real work is learning to find it here at home, that inner place of immense calm and silent awe; to arise and go now as Yeats did to the Lake Isle of Innisfree (or Baru or Saint Tropez) that is accessible without months of planning and hours of transit. That’s the whole point of seeking out earthly paradises, is it not? So that we can carry paradise within.
What I Wore
: Zara halter dress, vintage Nina Ricci scarf, Natori swimsuit, Linda Farrow sunglasses
“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven..” – John Milton, Paradise Lost