After what ended up being over 160 total hours on a bus in just over 14 days, we finally made it back to Quito for our flight north to Medellin, Colombia.At this point we had been sick and trapped in a bus for just a little longer than one can stay completely sane.Furthermore, we were ready for some serious beach time without thinking about what that entailed.However, we had not consulted a guide book, didn't have one, and didn't even look at a map before booking our flight.
We discovered the downfalls of our laid-back travel plans upon touching down in Medellin.For whatever reason we realized we didn't even want to be in Medellin, we wanted to step off the plane and onto the beach, literally.Allow me to digress a bit…Colombia wasn't in our original travel plans.All along our travels we spoke with so many travelers that raved about Colombia and how beautiful it is, how nice the people are, and in general, how wonderful of an experience they had there.So we took to scribbling a few things down in our tiny, little, blue notebook.Our little, blue notebook is a little hard to describe and actually convey the disheveled nature and random scratching that took place in it over 7 months.
So upon touchdown we pulled out the little notebook and asked ourselves, "so, what are we supposed to do in Medellin again?"Upon only finding that we had wrote "Medellin" and nothing else, we found through some investigating at the tourist office in the airport, and consulting the map, our next move needed to be to the bus station as Cartagena (the other town scribbled in our notebook) was actually about 14 hours by bus north.In fact, Medellin is actually closer to Bogota (the middle of the country roughly) than Cartagena…and we could have flown there instead!
Well, we killed a bit of time in Medellin before our night departure to Cartagena and off we went on another bus.We pulled into an oppressively hot Cartagena in the early afternoon and made our way towards one of our other scribblings called the Marlin hotel.Turned out to be a lower than average recommendation, but at least with AC.To describe the coastal Colombian heat is a difficult task.At least it seemed the Colombians have the right idea by having fresh juice stands all over the streets with ice-cold lemonade, orange juice, and others.
We found out that by staying in Getsamani we were in a rougher part of town and it showed.The streets smelled of a mixture of puke, piss, garbage, and human excrement in general.We were greeted quickly by many and ended up letting William, a jovial, toothless Colombian that had spent time in NYC many times as well as Miami, FL, to lead us to our place.William would, over the next few days, always happen to be around and I ended up over the course buying him a beer on his "birthday" (he swore to it), and a coffee another morning.
We ended up finding the ritzy part of Cartagena and the associated beaches.There are ancient walls all over the city from the early days of the city when pirate attacks were constant, and upon entering the walled part of the old city was immediately reminiscent of the French Quarter in New Orleans.Pretty interesting stuff having the population be a majority of blacks, far out-weighing the rest of the Colombian demographic.The old vestiges of the slave trade showing its roots.
We didn't stay in Cartagena too long and only managed to go out for a touristy visit to Isla Rosario.The tour proved to be one of the most touristy things we've done, and once on the island, the amount of solicitations by the locals rivaled the intensity of the way it was in Cusco, Peru.We were however able to enjoy a short time on a beach, that could have been an absolute heaven and I'm sure used to be, as well as some pretty decent snorkeling in the surrounding coral reef.
From Cartagena we received some recommendations for a town about four hours down the coast called Santa Marta.We also had it scribbled in our little blue book along with Taganga and Parque Tayrona that was supposed to be well worth a visit.We set out one morning and ended the rest of our stay in Colombia there.We found a reasonable hotel right on the beach that had a hammock on the patio, which we spent much time in.The beach however was still nothing special, if not kinda disgusting.The bay of Santa Marta has huge tankers coming into port and all the streets drain direct into the bay.This simply didn't provoke us to do much swimming at that beach, but were able to manage a sunburn or two.
The next little village over, called Taganga, was a cute little village reminiscent of one of the little villages Liz and I saw on a Baja trip quite a few years ago.Also, I believe that any and every gringo in the coastal area happened to be staying there, which would explain why we hadn't seen many in Santa Marta.The little juice stands and small thatch-roofed restaurants gave it a quaint feel and the scuba diving was good as well.Different than other dives we've had and we were able to see a lot of wildlife such as a sea turtle (which is supposedly extremely rare in the area), an octopus, many moray eels, sea "caterpillars", and obviously various brightly colored fishes in schools and alone.
During our time around Santa Marta we also made our way to Parque Tayrona for some camping along some isolated beaches east of Taganga.After a couple of hours hiking out we stayed at a little beach called Cabo San Juan, along with about 30-40 other people with the same good idea.It wasn't too bad as the beach surrounds were able to help us forget whom we were sharing it with and the only real "problem" was the heat.Staying in a nylon tent at night ends up as a low temperature oven without much breeze to cool things down.
Even still the experience was well worth it and our search for that perfect beach was over!We stayed a few days out there before coming back to Santa Marta to shower up and catch a bus back to Medellin for our flight.Fortunately there was a bus direct from Santa Marta to Medellin so we didn't have to return to Cartagena first.Our two weeks in Colombia obviously didn't cover much ground and we don't feel like we know Colombia be any means.However, we were able to see the immensely beautiful country-side and all the stories we heard about the people being ridiculously nice are all true.
It is funny how our perceptions get shaped in the US.As I believe I mentioned, we hadn't even had Colombia on the original plan.We chose to fly into Quito instead of Bogota.The news seems to constantly have a negative piece about the country, no matter where you are.The bad rap that Colombia has seems to prevail endlessly.Now certainly killings, kidnappings, etc. have all happened…bad stuff has certainly come to pass there.However, I feel confident in saying that all countries have their share of dirty laundry, as well as having not so great a places to go.Social circumstances in many countries have driven parts of their population into an unhealthy, "nothing to lose" type mentality.Really I feel we need to be able to separate those instances from the general population and keep our stereotypes at bay.In short, just question everything your "told".