CARTAGENA, Colombia- I watched an old American man — by old, I mean 65+ — stride into the lobby of the Marlin Hotel in Cartagena around midnight. After glancing upon his companions I could not help the word “Texas” from coming to my lips, for on one side of him was a prostitute, the other a pimp. “Hello amigo,” he called to the night manager in English, “do you have a room for me tonight?”
The old fart was in his glory, as he probably should have been.
Jose, the hotel’s night manager hesitated in his response. “You can’t do this every night,” he spoke in English. My ears perked up.
The girl was young, maybe 22, she was busty and was wearing short shorts. She was not overtly done up for the “profession,” as many of the girls who work Calle Media Luna are. She was not wearing a skin tight, crotch high skirt nor a shirt so tight and and scantly cut as to leave only her nipples themselves to the imagination. Rather, this girl looked like some ordinary Colombian woman plucked from a restaurant, a boutique, or someone’s living room. She did not look the part. But her pimp did.
He was smiling, trying to talk English to his source of income for the night, and did not seem to squirm when the American said that he did not have any money to pay him tonight.
“I will pay you tomorrow, amigo,” the old guy proclaimed, “we will drink cerveza.”
Wow, that’s dangerous, I thought to myself. These old Americans and Europeans traveling to the tropics to bang young girls often find themselves at the business end of firearms and knives manned by pimps or other thugs they have a disagreement with over pay with. Engaging in prostitution is some parts of the world can be a dangerous game, but I think this may be part of the appeal.
Jose complied and gave the American a room. “But this is the last night,” he called after him. This hotel is not really a boom boom girl sort of place, and it is my impression that he made an exception based on the American’s national origin and, perhaps, a touch of empathy for his apparent stupidity.
The couple went off to a room upstairs. The girl flashed me a “please save me look,” as she walked by. I shrugged. The old guy followed her up the steps tight on her ass. He seemed excited, as he probably should have been: you can’t do this shit back in ‘Merica.
Around five minutes later the girl came running down the stairs with the old American on her heels. I was dreading what I was about to witness — what the f’ck did this old fart try to do to her? The girl wanted to get away, it was clear that she did not want to sleep with the old guy, but escape would prove tricky — there were contracts with multiple parties that she would have to fulfill now.
“No entiende nada,” she complained in a huff to Jose, who was serving as liaison between the two parties separated by language but joined in the same bed.
Jose, knowing the situation, knew the girl could not just leave. He would need to smooth things over, save face for everyone, and make sure the situation did not grow out of control. Jose took the girl aside and talked with her. They then returned to the old American and reworked the deal so that the girl would only have to be with him for two hours rather than all night long.
Perhaps to the girl’s dismay, this suited the American alright. He obviously did not seem to think that he needed over two hours anyway.
The girl then asked for 10,000 more pesos on top of the 50,000 ($30) already agreed upon so she could get a cab ride home. It is my thinking that she knew that the American was low on readily available cash and she was trying to come up with one last ditch attempt to get out of doing the deed. But on cue the old guy produced a 10,000 peso note, the last in his wallet, and up stairs they went again.
Jose and I made shivering motions to each other, as we could not help but to mentally conceive of what was about to happen up there. I tried to ingore it by sticking my face deep in some php code on my laptop, Jose called a friend on his cellphone and told him about the ridiculous situation he was mediating over.
An hour or so later, the girl ran downstairs again, and tried to escape. The old guy caught up and held her back. Jose was again called into action. The girl was upset, the old guy babbling, but the hotel night manager calmed them both down and heard both sides fairly.
Nothing in this predicament was anything really I wanted to hear, but curiosity is impervious to such preferences. My ears perked up and I listened.
To make this go quick: the old guy performed a round of cunnilingus, then he was fallated, then they bumped uglies, but when he tried intercourse he was denied entry. Neither prostitute nor seeker were apparently provisioned with a prophylactic. Feigning self preservation the girl said she did not want to have sex without a condom, but I suspect that she just did not want the old guy huffing and puffing on her. What boom boom girl shows up for work without a rubber, really? I wasn’t buying it.
Either way, the old guy did not give a shit, he wanted what he paid for. He was old, he would be dead soon enough anyway, what should he care about AIDS, hep, or his nuts falling off? He was living life up while he still had it, traveling down to the Caribbean to bang girls a third his age. The girl still owed the American an hour of “time,” and such unfulfilled contracts have the potential to get messy quick.
As the two battled it out before Jose, the girl looked over at me with another pleading look. I just shrugged. I was a witness to the proceedings, nothing more. My first reaction was to feel bad for the poor girl, but I really couldn’t empathize: She made her bed . . .
But the issue is, of course, more complex that this. In Latin America, as in many other parts of the world, there are the hard core prostitutes who are in it for keeps, and then there are the girls who are otherwise college students or have other jobs who occasional screw for cash in order to make ends meet or to buy fashionable handbags or other crap. This girl neither had the upper nor lower crust professional boom boom girl look to her — these women often dress to be identified — and I’m guessing that she was just some girl trying to make some extra money on the weekend. But perhaps she was not planning on doing elderly Americans to accomplish this.
Needless to say, the girl refused to go back upstairs, and the scene was about to draw to a stalemate when the American offered a solution, “Do you want to go back to the bar for a drink?” Jose translated.
The girl said no. “The bar is dangerous,” she replied in Spanish.
“Do you just want to have a beer here?” the American made another offer.
The girl just turned and ran out the door.
The American followed.
Ten minutes later he returned with the pimp. He asked Jose for his money back so he could pay for the girl. Jose said no way. The three stood at a standoff until the American muttered the same nonsense to the pimp about how he would pay him tomorrow and buy him a cerveza to make up for not having any money. The pimp accepted, and left the hotel. The American, smartly, went up to his room.
“You have to ride people like the waves,” Jose said in Spanish after everything simmered down, “it’s the only way to do this job.”
Many foreigners seem to come down to the beaches of the tropics to forget the bounds of the societies they leave behind. Down here old men can have sex with girls young enough to be their granddaughters, they can live like kings on their pensions, drink themselves stupid and screw themselves numb. The good life.
Travel is a sure way to give your banal instincts free reign. There are few social checks on the traveler, no reputations to uphold or to even bother cultivating, and it is therefore possible to satiate primal instincts in full with little fear of social repercussions. This is the psychology of long term travel. It’s a dream land down here where men can turn into animals and back again. Some call it freedom, but I’m not convinced.