Cartagena, the most expensive place in Colombia, is a wonderful bubble of wealth. Undoubtedly beautiful within the stone walls, this is where the cruisers stop to let the tourists have their peek at Colombia. On the other side of the walls is where the real life is. We happened to go to a carnival in that area and celebrated my birthday there! Music pumping and vibrating its way from car boots, flour being thrown into people’s faces, foam being sprayed everywhere, car body paint being rubbed into your skin, and bodies, everywhere, grinding, slowly, in ways I have never seen before. And let me not forget the fireworks being thrown on the ground, burning whoever was near their landing point. Oscar was on one side of the street with people showing him how to dance, and I was on the other side with my own group of teachers. Mine were 13 and 14 years old, and spoke with a wisdom and knowledge that made me feel like the child. They moved my hips, my waist, my legs like I was their doll-that-didn’t-know-how-to-dance. I don’t know if it’s coming across but it was SO much fun. Everyone stopped to talk to us with such an openness and interest. My dance teacher told me that music is the food for the soul, that on a bad day, she walks onto the street, finds her friends, listens to the music, and dances. And she told me never to forget.
A huge Colombian asked me to dance. Nothing strange about that, you think, but you don’t know how the bodies move here on the coast of Colombia! As we danced, I nervously told him that my boyfriend was “over there”, which, of course, had two knock-on effects: 1. He thought I was crazy and 2. He made best friends with Oscar. Dancing with everyone is the way it is, and I knew that, but my modest European self couldn’t handle it.
With a hangover we made it to Taganga. (This has mixed reviews in the Lonely Planet so it’s just as well we don’t take much notice of it. I’ve decided some typical Gringo wrote it, who likes to eat burgers and pizza and vegetarian lasagna.) Taganga is a fishing village, where normal life goes on and where tourists come to hang out and live for a while. I can see why people stop here. It has another rhythm, the fishermen fish and come to shore at 6pm where the village congregates to buy fresh fish off the boat. The people are lovely. Our hostel was called Happy Hostel, which says it all. If you go to Taganga, stay there. We met the following characters: 1. An English girl who had been there 3 months and had a puppy and a Tagangan fiancé. 2. An Irish guy with springy curly hair and a mad laugh, who had been there for a month and was, let’s say, taking it easy. 3. A Colombian 37 year old who had been travelling for 13 years around Colombia, and next year is starting with the rest of South America. We spent our days on a tiny cove with a beautiful view called “Big Beach”, eating the regional fish called cojinoa. Yum. No pups or engagement for us.
We left our rucksacks in Happy and headed to Tayrona National Park, only with Danielle’s small rucksack (thanks Danielle). Let’s say we were travelling very light, and very dirty, for 5 days. We got to the park and walked to a beach called Arrecifes. Here is when it became official that Colombian timing is about a third of (my) reality. Either they make huge estimates or they run everywhere. Going by what I’ve seen, I’d say it’s the former. We stayed at Don Pedro’s campsite. Mr Pedro is 78 years old and only leaves the park when he has to, about once a year. The next day we went to the beach.
Tayrona National Park is famous for “The Lost City” ruins left by its indigenous people. What isn’t so well known is that these indigenous peoples’ descendents are still alive (Kogi people), and they lived in the park until they were made to leave to make room for tourism. The park is owned and run by a French company. If I had known this I wouldn't have paid the expensive fee to get in. One thing I will say is that we went to Pueblito, a smaller version of The Lost City, and it was the physically hardest thing I’ve ever done, and one of the most amazing.
Palomino is a small village nearby, where you see the Kogi's throughout the day, walking around in complete families (they always go everywhere together). It had a mystic, magical feel and there we slept in hammocks on the beach and woke up to the crash of the waves (but couldn't go in because the crash was too strong!). From there we went to Uribia, which is right up near Venezuela, and it feels like you've left Colombia. Here, goats are still used in trade, marriage and disagreements. Uribia is a small, crazy town where I was scared to cross the road, where lame dogs are hopping everywhere and where taxis are beeping their way through to show that they're available. It was an amazing place to see, and the food was not good. We got a shared jeep to Cabo de la Vela, one of the most amazing beaches I've seen, where you can walk 300 metres into the sea and it's still up to your tummy: perfect for me and the abuelos! It was amazing, and very quiet, the only bad thing was that money was taken from our wallet in our room, probably from the family (I think it was the son) which is a shame. It was also the only money we had left so we couldn't eat for a day and a half in order to pay for the transport on the way back (no cash machines here...)
We travelled south, stopping in San Gil on the way, popping into Bogota again to see Angelina and David and visiting Andres Carne de Res, an AMAZING place worth a stop and some cash to see.
Next stop, El Peru.