Switzerland was a girl that you simply couldn’t feel neutral about.
Ha! See what I did there?
Don’t get me wrong, she was quite friendly; but she was also a European princess, the only daughter of rich parents, who would frequently say offensive, ignorant and moderately hilarious things, then chastise you in a prim voice (“You have no right to speak to me like that!”) when you dared to question her questionable logic.
I’d managed to conduct a few surface conversations with her when I first arrived at The Royale, always with a moderate amount of social lubrication, usually without incident. But, like a cancerous tumor snaking it’s way through your white matter, she would eventually wear me down and annoy the shit out of me.
There were two things that Switzerland hated in this world: dogs and poor people. And, after a week of incessant teasing from Atlanta and I, I’d say that we now occupy spaces 3 and 4 respectively.
Virtual high-five to my jungle comrade.
Her hatred for poor people became apparent during a conversation Atlanta and I had with her about zoos.
Switzerland: “I think zoos should be banned. It’s completely cruel to the animals.”
Atlanta and I debated with her, bringing up conservation efforts, breeding programs, care for sick and wounded animals that may die out in the wild…
“I don’t care. It’s cruel. Lions should not be suffering in a cage in Switzerland.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “They aren’t really suffering. They’re in large pens being taken care of by people with degrees in zoology. It’s not like they’re living in the ghetto.”
“I don’t agree with it.”
I tried a different tack. “Okay, how about this: not everyone is fortunate enough to travel to the Serengeti to see a lion. Does this mean that they haven’t got the right to see one in their lifetime?”
“I don’t see why animals should have to suffer because some people are poor. It’s not the animals problem that they don’t want to work.”
Yeah. Uh-huh. That’s right- fuck all you poor people.
“It is cruel,” mini-Rinehart continued thoughtfully. “Switzerland is cold, you know. A lion has no business being there.”
“I had no fucking idea it was cold in Switzerland,” I snapped. “Thank you for the geography lesson.”
Switzerland fell in love with a stray cat that occasionally hung out at The Royale. It was a horrible little black thing that I christened Church due to the fact that it looked like it had come from the wrong end of the Pet Semetary. Switzerland would cuddle it, coo at it, and feed it spoonfuls of her dinner. From her fork. While she was still eating. When Atlanta and I began to wind her up she would retreat to the hammock, holding the cat like a security blanket, glaring at us, and smacking the nose of any canine that came within a ten feet radius of her precious pussy.
One lunch, as she was feeding the beast prime backstrap beef that had been cut from a freshly slain cow that morning, Atlanta was watching her in bemused horror. He elbowed me and whispered drily, “I’m sure there’s some local Colombians who would like that meat. I’m going to kick that cat so fucking hard when she leaves.” He paused, then said loudly, “CC, did I ever tell you the story about the cat empanada that I was served?”
“Cat? As in cat food?”
“No, as in cat meat. El gatto.”
“It’s true. There were no pollo empanadas left so I ate cat. Doesn’t taste too bad, actually.”
Switzerland spooned a mouthful of soup, willfully ignoring us.
“You’re not doing that cat any favours by feeding it, you know,” Atlanta piped up.
“Why?” she asked, stroking the creatures head.
“Because you are taking away it’s ability to procure food for itself.”
“It’s a domestic animal.”
I took up the bait. “He’s right. That’s why you can’t feed the birds in wildlife parks, they lose the ability to hunt. That cat is going to wind up starving to death if you keep feeding it.”
“Cats don’t hunt.”
“Yes they do,” Atlanta and I said as one.
“It’s someones pet,” she huffed.
“This is a Colombian cat,” Atlanta offered. “Colombian cats aren’t like regular cats. They’re tough. They carry a switchblade and-”
“I’m sure someone will feed him,” she stroked the cats chin and continued in a baby voice, “he’s so lovely.”
“I won’t feed it,” he added cheerfully. “It’s going in the furnace as soon as I get hold of it.”
“Wait,” I said, putting down my spoon. ”Do cats carry a switchblade because people try and make empanadas out of them all the time?”
I can’t be too unkind to Switzerland. She did have a good appreciation for aesthetics:
“I really want to get married one day, but only to a blonde man. With no body hair. I hate body hair. That’s why I hated Brazil. It’s full of little, ugly, hairy people. I like blonde men and they have to be from a good family. I haven’t had sex in six months you know, I had to mentally prepare myself when travelling Africa for no sex because I don’t like African men, but I thought I’d find at least one blonde man in South America,” she turned to me and added thoughtfully, “I loved Australian men.”
I wanted to tell her to get her manicured, upper-class claws out of the pool of Australian men that my friends and I fish from. I should have pointed out that there are more blonde men from good families in South Africa than South America and that she should probably just fuck off back to Cape Town. She could even buy the baby she always wanted: “I’d love to buy an African baby. But only a cute one. Not an ugly one.”
And there was the time she did acid: “Everyone became ugly. I couldn’t stand it. I hid in my room for the night because I was just surrounded by hideous looking people. It was really quite frightening.”
Despite being constantly frustrated by her, I travelled with Switzerland for a bit, purely for the convenience and safety of having a human being beside you as you traverse Colombia. If you’re thinking that I was only using her- well, you’re right. I was. If you are tittering at what a horrible human being I am- well, you’re wrong. I’m fairly certain that she was doing the same thing: “I’ll stay at the hostel you are staying at in Santa Marta…maybe I’ll find some cool people to travel with there. It’s a drag being with the same six people every day. I need to find someone fun to hang out with.”
When international relations collapse
But, one evening, I very nearly throttled Switzerland.
We were at the beach, drinking fresh juice and staring at our phones, willfully refusing to converse with one another. We’d spent the better part of the afternoon bickering like pensioners at the bus stop. We’d heard a story a few days earlier about a rape ring that was once operating out of a popular party hostel in Medellin. It was a horrific tale that scared the pants off me- oh my, what a terrible pun that was- Switzerland, however, didn’t want to believe it because she had plans to stay there.
Switzerland: “I don’t think that people were really assaulted in the hostel in Medellin. They would have said something.”
“They probably reported it to the police who hushed it up.”
“Yes but I don’t understand why you wouldn’t write a bad review on Tripadvisor.”
Imagine reading that: Cindy gives XXYXY Hostel, Medellin 1 star, ‘The gardens are lovely but there is a good to fair chance that you will be viciously raped in them.’
Switzerland was staring at me. “Um…,” I said finally, “Shame?”
“Well they don’t have to put their real name.”
“Look, sexual assault is handled by every person differently and many people don’t shout about their experience. Most sexual assaults go unreported, actually. It’s that Victim Guilt thing.”
“Oh, I don’t believe that.”
I stared at her. “Well, honey, mental health is my fucking job and I know a little bit about this.”
“Yes, but I’d report it.”
“You don’t actually know what you’d do until it happens.”
“I’d go to the embassy and create such a fuss that the hostel had to be shut down,” she continued. This was a debate technique that she employed often. When your point trumped hers, she would continue on as if you hadn’t spoken. This would then cause an agitated silence from my end, and after a beat she would say in a little girl voice, “I wonder how the kitty is.”
At 5.30, I ask her if she wants to head back to The Royale. She agrees. Two minutes later she asks, “Oh my, how are we going to get back?”
I tell her it’s not a long walk. “But it’ll be dark soon, we’ve got to go now.”
She pays her tab, picks up her thongs, walks into a tent, and engages in a fifteen minute conversation about handmade bracelets while I tap my foot and swear under my breath outside.
“We have to go,” I urge her. “Now.”
“Yes, yes, I just want to buy a bracelet.”
You’ve had all fucking afternoon to buy a bracelet you vapid whore, I shout in my head. Get your silver spoon arse off that chair and let’s fucking vamos, Swissderella.
Eventually we leave. Somehow the conversation falls to the minimum wage in America.
“You know, I wouldn’t even get out of bed for $6 an hour,” she said.
“Well, some people don’t have a choice.”
“I used to babysit my brother and get $250 a week from my parents just for eating pizza and watching movies. And I got $30 an hour for my other babysitting jobs. I don’t see why they can’t just do that.”
There you go America: your economic woes have just been solved.
“I miss being fifteen. Life was so easy then.”
It’s bait that I can’t help but take. “Easy? You are travelling through Colombia,” I spat. “You haven’t even finished uni yet, what, exactly, about life is hard?”
Silence. Switzerland has now fallen ten passive-aggressive metres behind me. On the main road, we pass the marker that states it’s one kilometre back to the Royale.
“Should we get a lift?” Switzerland calls out.
I stop, looking around at the complete absence of anything. “From where?”
She points at a nearby farmhouse. “I’ll ask if they can drop us off.”
She approaches the porch and asks a random Colombian for a lift as if this is perfectly normal behaviour. I wait by the road, the darkness growing as quickly as my ire. We waste ten minutes of twilight as she tries to explain the location of an obscure jungle hostel to a flummoxed local who looks as if he wants to somehow evaporate into smoke to escape her pushy arse.
“It’s kilometre marker 46. You know the one,” she huffs. “It’s right there.”
After a beat she flits back to me. “He will take us but he can only take one at a time, so do you want to go first?”
I stare at her. “You can’t be fucking serious.”
“Or you can wait and I’ll go.”
“I’m not getting,” I spit, “on the back of a strangers fucking motorcycle.”
In my defense, walking into a house in a dangerous country and trusting that a stranger will take you 1km up the hill out of the sheer goodness of his heart is something that I consider to be ‘retarded. Deliverance retarded. Non-Academy Award winning you’ve-just-gone-full-retard, retarded.’ And if I was stupid enough to agree with her harebrained scheme, my two options were completely fucked: I could be the first on the bike and hope that I wasn’t going to wind up, at best, robbed in a field somewhere, or I could stand on the side of the road at night and hope that I wasn’t going to wind up, at best, robbed in a field somewhere. Furthermore, she has spent so much time trying to convince this Kogi fucktard to double us like Evel Knievel on the back of his motorbike, that it’s now nighttime. So, I snap. And I had every right to do so.
“You can catch the fucking bike if you like. Fuck this shit. Fuck you, fuck the franc, fuck Tag Heuer, and fuck the Red Cross, I’m fucking walking.”
Okay, I didn’t exactly phrase it like that. But my dummy was spat unceremoniously across the road as a Colombian man watched the exchange in shock.
Switzerland gathers herself, sighs, and follows me as I steam down the road.
“Take the fucking bike,” I call over my shoulder.
“Well obviously I’m not going to let you walk alone,” she huffed.
She followed me to Santa Marta and we spent an awkward night making stilted conversation in the hostel bar. Prayer in C by Robin Schultz came on, and Switzerland let a small piece of empathy slip: “Oh, this song reminds me of my friend who died of malaria. I used to listen to it over and over when he…” she looked down at her wine.
Maybe she is human after after all, I found myself thinking. But, before I could pat her hand and say something forced and inappropriate, an insubstantial summer breeze flitted back across the table: “You know,” she said leaning forward, “the last thing I said to him was, ‘At least with malaria you’ll be nice and skinny’. He was dead a week later,” giggle. “Not a very good thing to say, was it?!”
The next day, she boarded a bus to Medellin and we made the thoroughly insincere promise to “catch up again!”
I don’t think I will. Having a body next to you when you trawl Colombia has it’s advantages, but having the wrong body is a CATastrophe of Pet Semetarian proportions. Sometimes travelling alone and relying on your instincts is safer than being with the wrong person. Besides, she would have dumped me as a companion when she found out I was poor, anyway.