We arrived in Cartagena on Sunday afternoon after nearly 12 hours of travel. Tired and anxious to start our journey we got a ride from our first of many local, non English speaking, cab drivers to our hostel. I looked over at Cody, staring out the cab window, a little surprised at the surroundings and could tell he was immediately outside of his comfort zone. Little did he know, this would be the easiest transportation we would have to arrange. The hostel we chose ended up being pretty nice and we thankfully had air conditioning in our room. This was a huge plus, because just across the street the accommodation my friend Jordo had chosen was without. And boy was it humid, even at night. Jordo is a friend I went to college with. He and I had both seen the cheap airfare to Colombia and happened to book flights only days apart. It was nice having him there to show us around the old city that he had spent the past few days exploring. We also managed to meet a solid group of friends during our stay in Cartagena. The first was Lucas, a Dutch guy studying abroad in Medellin and only in Cartegena for a few days on holiday. He spent the first full day with us as we walked around the city and attempted to recreate the graffiti tour we had slept through that morning. Around every corner were walls beautifully painted from top to bottom. The bright colors almost shouting what they had to say. I may have been weak in my Spanish, but this abstract language was one I knew.
The part of town we toured was called the old city. It was surrounded by a partially crumbling 11 km wall that you could walk around for a view from a little higher up. Within the walls were winding streets lined with shops, restaurants, and street vendors with sweet treats on display. All too appeasing for us not to try. The sweetest of them all was the tamarindo. So small, yet so tart that you couldn’t just eat in one bite. For those first two days we ate only traditional Colombian food. Which meant plantains, or patacones, with every meal. Which I didn’t mind at all since they are my favorite. The street food was actually the tastiest. Empanadas from a random orange window that no one seemed to remember the name of. And delicious chicken y arroz con coco on the street corner near Plaza de la Trinidad for only 10,000 COP, which was a little over $3 USD. That night two British and two German guys joined our group along with a solo traveling gal from the UK. She was a textile designer and had been traveling since April. Inspiration, and an instantly a new contact. Cheers to networking all over the world! We all went out for a few drinks at a rooftop bar near the clock tower in the old city. We drank mas Aguilas, danced, and even dabbled into politics. Topics of how our upcoming election was going to effect the world, and how much Brexit has effected Europe as a whole. Politics turned to life talks and before we realized it was 4am, and we had to catch a bus to Tayrona, by way of Santa Marta at 7am.
Luckily, or unfortunately as it turned out, the bus was nearly 2 hours late that morning, and it took over 5 hours to arrive to Santa Marta. It was nearing dark now and not at all knowing which connecting bus to hop on to Tayronna, we followed this solo traveling Australian gal to her hostel just outside the national park. The bus driver forgot to let us off at the stop so we had to walk for about a mile back on the side of the road, slightly sketched out, until we arrived at the hostel. Fortunately they had beds available for us as it was about to start raining. Thank God. The hostel turned out to be a beautiful little oasis that sat just a mile from the park entrance. A beautiful view with breakfast included. The only downside was that in a hurry we had forgotten to pick up more cash from an atm in Santa Marta before we got far outside the city. I had lent Jordo some cash before we left Cartagena because he had lost his debit card and needed some help until he could get his money situation sorted. All good and well if we hadn’t forgotten to replenish. The next closest atm now was an hour and a half north, and two bus rides away. We were running low each with only about 50k COP left. The park entrance would be around that much but that wasn’t including transportation. So we were going to be a little short. Went spent the next day on the road as we hopped buses and improved our broken Spanish with every interaction. Luckily we are arrived safely in a town called Mingeuo and were able to get more cash out. On the way back we stopped in the little town of Palomino for a beer and hopefully to see a little of the beach. Unfortunately Colombia’s rainy season did not want us to stay for very long as we were forced to head back in the downpour of rain, sans umbrella. But what we did gain from this little detour was a sense of humor, walking in the mud and rain and two new friends as we stopped for a beer halfway down the road. Marte and Chie, a Norwegian and Japanese gal who were both traveling alone. Two bad a** chicks who had traveled all of the world, South America being the last continent they had yet to explore. They shared stories of sketchy times in Honduras and remote parts of Africa that they had been through. So to them, Colombia was a breeze. I particularly loved the 3 solo traveling gals I had met so far. It stoked me out to see that it is possible and they were there to prove it!
The next day we ventured into Tayrona National Park. Coincidently we ran into our two Germans friends we had met in Cartagena along the trail. Simon and Dennis, who were heading the opposite direction. Always fun to feel like you have friends in a foreign country, especially in the middle of the jungle. The trail weaved back and forth for a few miles through the thick jungle and out to a few beaches. We passed some indigenus people along the way, selling fresh coconuts to passerby along the trail. One of the little kids, who couldn’t have been more than 5 years old, with a machete in hand. Quite the sight to see. A little over two hours of trekking brought you to San Juan Del Sur, the most popular of the beaches. Lush greenery served as a backdrop from the beach with a view looking much like an episode of Lost or Jurassic park. However, sleeping in a hammock or a tent were the only two options for staying in the park. Both being mosquito filled decisions, we chose to just do a turn around trip and stay at our hostel again that evening. The promise of AC and complimentary breakfast helping to ease our decision.
The next day after a much needed night of rest we headed back to Santa Marta where we would fly out of on Saturday. Once we arrived we immediately hopped into a cab, with some sweet Belgian girls, Nina and Jana, staying at our hostel for a day trip up to the mountain to the town of Minca. Our cab driver who spoke zero English drove around the barrio of the city before we headed up the mountain. Seemed a bit dodgy as he drove up a small street and parked behind a house. Fortunately he was only looking for cheap gasoline! Apparently the local gas station wasn’t cutting it. The corner was marked subtlety with a water bottled filled with a gasoline colored liquid and the number denoting 2,500 COP, assumably the cost per liter. After the Policia were out of site he filled up the tank and we headed up the hill. We spent a couple hours visiting a waterfall but the rain soon ruled the day and created a muddy exit for our small taxi. Uneven gravel lined the cliff side and the now mud river looking road was the only path to the bottom. Slightly concerned we asked the driver to turn around and make his way down and back to town, ending the tour early. Talk about your daily dose of adrenaline before noon! But we made it home safe. And spent the rest of the day catching our breath and finally relaxing a bit. I layed in a net hammock near the pool and finally let myself decompress. Drinking my new favorite Colombian Beer, from the local Bogota Beer Company, and writing down all these thoughts and names before I forgot them.
This past week has been challenging and wonderful all at the same time. I can feel my Spanish improving with each day and I’m even getting more comfortable at starting conversations. The last 7 days have felt like weeks, but it has been incredible getting to explore the Caribbean Coastline and to experience the genuine hospitality of the Colombian people.