From the city of eternal spring to the melting hot Caribbean coast, one step out of the airplane it's clear the Caribbean coast is a whole other side of Colombia I have not met yet. And it didn't get more real beginning with our cab ride chatting up the driver and picking up a fellow traveler who we would run into in Tayrona National Park and again at our hostel in Palomino, and then onto the worst one hour ride on a bus that was on it's last legs and was hotter than hell. Air conditioning? Obviously a luxury our 8,000 Colombian peso ride was not going to afford. The ride was pretty enough just along the coast where we see water for the first time but I couldn't wait for it to end. Finally, we were dropped off in the grungy town of Palomino where we grabbed a snack of arepas, these amazing round pancakes like things made of corn and cheese. Then off to find the hardware store which was our turnoff to finding our beach oasis. We found our new digs after 15 minutes of walking on a dirt path passing modest homes, fish shops, the occasional store and the town's nicest restaurant. It's apparent Colombia's best kept secret is no longer the case, there's construction all along the beach. Rightly so as Colombia's beaches are not easy to get to and this one is right on the beach although it does not recommend swimming so basically we watched sunsets, turned our oh so pale skin lobster red which eventually turned into a golden, brown color; ate seafood and drank jugos naturales, that's fruit juice from the most amazing tropical fruits you'll ever taste: Nisfero, a hybrid of pear and papaya; Zapote, a red avocado; and the usual suspects of banana, pineapple and orange with the glaring exception of coconut. What kinda beach paradise is this, anyway? ;-) They explained something about the young coconuts being bad but the Spanish spoken here is even faster than I'm used to so the explanation went over my head. You would think people would speak slower since the pace of life is much slower but that would be a negative.
La Sirena is where we stayed for 2 nights, as we were searching for a peaceful place just on the water and this was the best choice, albeit an expensive one. It was advertised as a hippie kinda respite with yoga and communal meals for breakfast and dinner. The crowd was full of couples, hmmm, wonder if they thought Jackie and I were? Ha! A super friendly Colombian woman with her German boyfriend, an Argentinian couple and some Colombian girls from Bogota celebrating a birthday so we made out with an extra special dinner of pasta with the freshest catch of the day possible: we saw the fisherman come back with their catch of giant prawns and dessert was a flour less chocolate torte with passion fruit. For the organic, fresh food and communal feel, it was a great place to stay. And I was super psyched to sleep for two nights with no earplugs with only the sound of the waves to lull me to sleep but the room was musty smelling and impossible to not get sand everywhere so insert a sense of adventure with our mosquito netting which I used but not that it helped much.
This is where I must stop to rant for a bit. Really, what are mosquitoes good for? I mean other than the pure torture of the human species? When you are covered with them, your life becomes consumed with how to seek relief from the pure itchiness that's invaded your entire body. And when you give in, you curse yourself for the release of pain for just that given moment and then you curse yourself yet again once you realize you've made it that much worse. And at that point, it doesn't matter anymore, no relief is to be had, just give it up to the mosquito gods. Nighttime is the worst, you can't sleep and often wake up aching to scratch the damn things. Yes, this is the moment I decided I'm not cut out for trekking the famous Ciudad Perdida, Lost City hike in the Colombian jungle solely because of the horror stories I've been told about numbers of bites people come out with. Ok, I will stop ranting but just know that despite finding a gem of the Caribbean coast, this paradise contains a plethora of mosquitoes.
But the pesks didn't entirely deter us, we moved to a less expensive hostel with a private room and bath in a typical hostel setting for 3 more nights. Ahhh, 5 entire days of watching sunsets, talking walks along the beach when we felt like it, meeting some great people and reuniting with others (Dayna included!), and even made the occasional pilgrimage into town for suer cheap food, talking $1.50 breakfasts. Wifi was only to be had once for me which I was entirely happy about, what a place to completely unplug. And the nightlife was choosing which beachside restaurant to frequent, my fave being a wonderful meal of red snapper. The only unusual activity was the "circus", really just a one-man show of juggling and gymnastic abilities and then some dancers and drummers took over and I happen to know they went late into the night. But I had other things to tend to called sleep. After all, it was a big day relaxing at the beach and staring at the sunset. ;-) The only price we paid was to our poor skin. Despite sunscreen, I have the whitest arse ever, pics to prove just how definite the red lines are, ouch, but I will spare you.
The real draw for this area is Tayrona National Park and is well worth your while. We left Palomino early for the one hour bus ride that stopped every few minutes. We opted to walk all the way into the park, a walk of one hour, which we didn't know at the time there was an option to bus or moto-taxi in but gotta admit over the course of the day, Jackie and I had such interesting conversations that I honesty don't think we would have otherwise, not to mention how great it felt to really stretch our legs and get some serious hiking in. We walked through forests with serious stone steps, big blue butterflies, gorgeous flowers, huge red ants and pea pod looking branches and finally had a view of the gorgeous blue sea before getting our nerve up to walk through a patch of pure sunshine, no shade in this serious heat. We survived and were rewarded with an amazing beach that glittered like fool's gold. And then shade was proffered along with food and more natural fruit juice and then came the falling coconut. Have you ever heard the crashing sound of a coconut in a forest? It's a frickin' loud sound and made more so with both of our screams. Because, you see, I almost lost my friend to a fallen coconut. I used to think those signs of "Beware of falling coconuts" were funny. !Dios mio! It would've been death by coconut, she froze with the sound but thankfully it missed her by inches. After laughing quite a bit in response to the reality of what was just avoided, we pressed on as we only had the daylight to explore and wanted to make it to one of the last beaches, which is the cover of the current Lonely Planet's edition. We were hustling and then heard some loud sounds and taking it seriously this time, we saw others out with their cameras, snapping away at the monkeys!
The walk in and the highlight beach was really amazing! A stunning beach, maybe made more so with how difficult it is to get to. Felt there wasn't enough time to enjoy it though as I looked enviously at others pitching tents and sleeping in hammocks. But our fate was to enjoy it solely for the day so I grudgingly made my way back, Jackie was more positive even turning our getting lost into a good thing as we found a chocolate bakery in the middle of the forested, beachy national park. What are the odds? After returning the only way out, we were the only ones opting to walk all the way out of the park and it was getting dark, we made it out before getting locked in the park and on to our super fast disco lights a pulsing bus rice back to Palomino.
I happen to get attached to places and this was no exception, having spent 5 nights and getting to know some people, like the super hot guy working at the juice stand where it ended only with some winks thanks to my poor Spanish. Also said ciao to Dayna, not knowing at the time that we would have further adventures. Perhaps Palomino will be the furthest north I will ever reach on the South American continent. Quien sabes? All I do know is it's time to face the music: Cartagena, the city I've wanted to visit since I first encountered Love in the time of Cholera, will you live up to my high expectations?