/ Michigan quarterly review: Vol. 29, No. 3
374 MICHIGAN QUARTERLY REVIEW more with a native crew on a working barge, followed by at least as much overland, threading through highlands and the Andes, by local bus or donkey, however he could manage. In three months, he wanted to be in Peru, where elections were coming. All this with much less Spanish than I commanded, virtually none at all was my impression. Though undaunted by the continent, Thompson was not wholly imprudent. He told of arranging for money to be waiting in a series of banks throughout South America and of places to send stories as he wrote them. His dispatches from those times mention an editor and a secretary. A studio in New York developed and stored his photographs, along with the numbered captions he filed with them. When he sold a story, as he explained to me with the aplomb of a pro to an amateur, he could have the appropriate pictures forwarded. Still, setting off as he was doing seemed foolhardy, like attempting the Amazon in an innertube. He had given himself more permission for excess than I could imagine, as if he had disburdened himself of all Yankee rigidities before setting foot in Colombia. The contrabandistas of the Guajira not only provided a point of entry for Thompson's assault on the continent but also on his becoming an author. Their language was their own; Thompson and they hadn't even the hope of Spanish between them. In a dispatch he published later and may have written the week he was with us, he wrote of the fifty hours he had spent among them, drinking contraband Scotch and holding it, more out of wariness than capacity. He told of the men in loincloths, the women in shapeless tunics, the abundance of Scotch, the $300 wristwatches many of them wore, and his truck ride out of the village. "Here was a white man," he says, narrating his arrival by a smuggler's fishing sloop from Aruba, with 12 Yankee dollars in his pocket and more than 500 dollars of camera gear slung over his shoulders, hauling a typewriter, grinning, sweating, no hope of speaking the language, no place to stay- and somehow they were going to have to deal with me. (The Great Shark Hunt 346) II My own arrival in Barranquilla seven months earlier was entirely different in tone though rich in shape-shifting incident. The Avianca flight from Miami veered west from Barranquilla because a strike of machinists had shut down the airport. Then we found Cartagena,
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