When Barry Proud suggested to his new bride, Zoila, that he thought it would be romantically exciting to spend their honeymoon hitchhiking 2,000 miles down the Amazon River, she simply said, “Fine.” After the wedding ceremony at the Ecuadorian Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia, at which the Ecuadorian Ambassador officiated, the two set off thumbing rides from whatever boat traffic was on the river, sleeping in hammocks or at Indian villages. They went as far as Manaus, the capital of the state of Amazonas. Barry describes the trip as, “It’s a great place to lose weight – I lost 15lbs!” And of Zoila, he smiles “she’s a very unusual woman.”
It’s an understatement to say that Barry is an adventurer since his life has been brim full of travel, exploration, living and working in interesting, often dangerous, locations. Originally from Lincolnshire, England, he came to Canada in 1955 getting off the ship in Montreal and, although he wanted to get to Vancouver, he only had enough money to travel to Winnipeg. He arrived in the middle of winter and the cold temperatures were a shock. Luckily, it was the Christmas season so he got a job right away at the post office. A series of jobs and a few years later, he moved to his dream job in Paris. “I was young, single, well paid, had a beautiful apartment.” He was working for the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as an agricultural economist.
Barry was in eastern Turkey close to the Russian border when the Cuban Missile Crisis arose and there was a threat of Russia invading, so he and a colleague were forced to flee to the Mediterranean Coast until the situation settled down. After that, he went back to Ottawa to work for Statistics Canada and later on to Ecuador working for the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). It’s there that he met Zoila who is Ecuadorian. Barry now shared his adventurous life with his wife. They moved on to Colombia.
Barry was in Colombia by himself, at first, and he found an apartment but it had no fridge. Two men came up to the apartment “they just knocked on the door, and I was friendly to them and they asked if I wanted a fridge. But, I was careful and said I wanted a new one,” says Barry. They asked what sort, what colour, what make, how big and eventually confirmed they would get one for him. “I had forgotten about them,” says Barry, “but four weeks later, one Saturday afternoon, the same two men arrived at my door.” Sure enough, the new fridge arrived complete in its new packing crate just as requested. Barry invited them in and they started talking about where it came from and after a few drinks they told him that boats take drugs to Florida unload them then the empty boats go to Panama to pick up appliances to bring back to Colombia. “I asked them how they knew I was going to pay them,” says Barry, “they said that with the group they work with there is never any trouble in getting payment!”
Working locally, Barry would see the burned-out wrecks of downed drug-run planes, which were in poor condition and not well maintained. Despite the Embassy wanting to provide him with a car that had an antenna to keep in contact, Barry declined. He didn’t want the locals to think he was from the CIA or to be seen as anything more than the innocent worker that he was. “I was safe, although one of the facilities I worked in was attacked by the guerillas,” he recalls.
Barry and Zoila eventually lived in Colombia, Mexico, and Ottawa. In Pakistan, now with their two children, they travelled, hiked and explored the Himalayas and North West Frontier Province. The whole family lived in Zambia for seven years, “it was very dangerous, I slept with a gun beside the bed there,” says Barry. Barry, himself, lived in Jamaica, Bolivia, Lesotho and more recently in Uganda. Their travels and work eventually saw them settle in Victoria.
Not surprising then that Barry’s novel is set in the 1960s against the thrilling backdrop of Colombia during the height of the rise to power of the Medellin drug cartel. *The Sunset Watcher* is the story of a bright young Ottawa accountant, Peter, who is eagerly awaiting the arrival of his oft absent adventurous half-brother only to learn that he has been murdered. The distraught Peter decides to meet and speak with the people his brother was last with in the hopes of learning more about him. He heads for Colombia only to find himself in the realm of drug cartels and right wing death squads but where he is helped by, and encounters a series of, fascinating characters. There’s a Priest from Quebec who has a penchant for classical music, a Colombian Army man who was in the Korean War, a street kid and his scruffy dog, which has the impressive name of Simon Bolivar, the amateur social worker Maria and the vivacious La Señora who keeps a brothel run on the lines of a commune.
“The plot developed as I went along,” says Barry, “and I tried to get into the heads of the characters, but they start running the story and I didn’t know where it was leading.” Such was the influence of the characters on the story that Barry had to go back and change the beginning. But Barry kept to his mantra of constantly asking himself: is it interesting? Do the characters act in character?
Barry sticks to what he knows, “I lived and worked in nine countries, but Colombia, with the violence and the drug trade and killers, struck me as a more interesting country for the novel.” Not only would someone reading the book learn about the history in Colombia, but also how to distinguish between real and false emeralds and about butterfly collecting.
Barry’s adventure into writing started when he was working for a newspaper and had trouble typing with two fingers. While teaching himself to type, he decided the best way to practise was to write his life story and put it into a book for family members. *The Sunset Watcher* is his first novel. His next book will be another adventure for him, this time into comedy.
SEPTEMBER 2009 - VANCOUVER ISLAND
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