The pier of my memory
By Jose Miguel Gomez
The old and decayed pier in Puerto Colombia was a place that I first visited with my father when I was just six. We walked the whole of its nearly two kilometers into the Caribbean Sea, feeling the wonderful sea breeze and a bit of fear as the waves rolled under us at the end. The strong waves vibrated the foundations of this pier that in its heyday, at the turn of the 20th Century, attracted tourists in boats which docked alongside cargo ships. It was a colonial experience when there were still street lamps casting a romantic light on the dock frequented by lovers strolling under a full moon.
The qualifying matches for the World Cup Brazil 2014 recently brought me to Barranquilla, just east of Puerto Colombia. Today, Barranquilla has its own great port for modern ships that has made the world all but forget about the monumental pier just 16 kms away. On a day when neither Colombia nor Paraguay allowed photographers into their soccer training sessions, I decided to return to Puerto Colombia to visit my childhood pier.
Thanks to Barranquilla, Puerto Colombia is no longer a seaport. A town all but forgotten, it still attracts tourists and lovers who stroll along what used to be the world’s third longest pier.
When I arrived the first thing I did was read the warning sign at the foot of the pier: “Danger. Don’t pass.” But there was nothing blocking access, so I walked out to find the fishermen who launched their bait and hook tied to a simple nylon line like a lasso, without rods or reels.
I found one with a net who surprised me with his persistence. He spent hours throwing the net out and retrieving it empty. The furthest point we could reach on the decaying structure, about 500 meters out, was packed with fishermen.
A few children were jumping from the pier into the water, and began to do acrobatic dives when they saw my camera. It was a nice scene to photograph, and helped me show the deterioration that the pier has suffered over the years of neglect. The pillars and planks that were once an impressive structure and now looked only inhabited by the ghosts of the 1900’s, were just waiting to collapse and disappear into the sea.
Some caught beltfish, which were very shiny until they succumbed to the lack of oxygen. Years ago this region was a beautiful beach for residents of Barranquilla, but more recently the water level has risen and made the beaches much narrower.
Late afternoon gave me the opportunity for pretty pictures of silhouettes. Tourists lined up to watch the sunset, and anxious vendors huddled onto the pier with them. My instinct carried me to the beaches where others were watching the sun drop over the pier at the magic hour.
The tireless fisherman continued to launch his net with all his strength into the sea.
If was a wonderful afternoon in which I revisited a childhood memory. I related the broken walkway with my country whose progress began with this pier and port, and now is on another path.
As I edited the photos I had no choice but to show a pier that is still beautiful in photographs, or at least in my mind, in spite of the decay and the years gone by.