Let me tell you, we are all WHIPPED. This is only the third stop and we're barely hanging on.
We got breakfast and I had my usual omellette. I like the coffee, but it's really strong and I can only drink one cup, as I have been having trouble sleeping.
Santa Marta officially Distrito Turistico, Cultural e Historico de Santa Marta ("Touristic, Cultural and Historic District of Santa Marta"), is a city in Columbia. It is the capital of Departamento del Magdalena and the fourth-largest urban city of the Caribbean Region of Colombia, after Barranquilla, Cartagena and Soleded. Founded on July 29, 1525, by the Spanish conqueror Rodrigo de Bastidas, it was the first Spanish settlement in Colombia, its oldest surviving city, and second oldest in South America. This city is situated on a bay by the same name and as such, it is a prime tourist destination in the Caribbean region.
Jacinto, our tour guide had emailed me specific instructions on where to meet him.
As we rounded the exit, I saw the sign with my name on it and started waving to him. He looked over his sunglasses and then waved to me. There was a sea of folks offering tours. I walked on past and headed straight to Jacinto. We all shook hands and he guided us to his van. I was a bit skeptical of the van, because it was kind of old. I was only skeptical of it getting us through this tour today. LOL
As we were loading up, the police stopped him. He pulled out something and handed it over and also had to sign a paper. The other tour guides had told on him and he proved them wrong. He had his tourism license. I'm thinking, "damn, there's haters everywhere."
Jacinto had a very strong Spanish accent and sometimes I had to look at his mouth to understand him.
Jacinto was a very handsome 57 year old with salt and pepper hair. He stated that he was married, but not blind.
Our driver whisked on to our first stop; The Santa Marta Cathedral.
Today's temperature is 91 degrees and it's steaming.
We headed in and Jacinto walked us around giving information about the church.
The Santa Marta Cathedral stakes its claim as the oldest church in Colombia and houses the remains of the city's founder. The church has been renovated many times over the centuries and comprises several architectural styles. The church sits in the city's main plaza, surrounded by restaurants, bars and other historical buildings. Make this church your reference point since it stands out as a stark contrast against the small buildings around the city.
Admire the white façade of colonial design. Take photos of the immaculate church against the bright blue sky. Marvel at the large tower with a spire. The cathedral has many windows and a large wooden portal as its main entrance.
See the ashes of the founder of Santa Marta, Rodrigo de Bastidas, on the left as you walk into the cathedral. The Spanish conquistador died in the early 16th century after mapping a large portion of the continent's northern coast. The cathedral is also the initial burial site for Simón Bolívar, the military leader who led several South American countries to independence.
Learn about the history of Santa Marta through the various plaques and commemorations inside the church while you relish the refreshing shelter from the midday heat. Gaze up at the elaborate chandeliers hanging from the arched ceiling. The cathedral is full of arches, domes, columns and an elaborate altar in the center.
The cathedral was built in 1765 and took a further 30 years to complete due to constant attacks by English, Dutch and French pirates. They ransacked and burned the town on more than 20 occasions.
The Santa Marta Cathedral is located in the Historic Center of Santa Marta.
We were allowed to take pictures; however, when we walked out the hawkers were lying in wait, but we managed to maneuver through them and down the side street and to our van.
Our Next stop was the Museo del Oro. Not quite the Aladdin's Cave that you'll find at the Museo del Oro in Bogotá, Santa Marta's gold museum is more low key but still fascinating. Displays exhibit a fine collection of artifacts and gold from tribes such as the Kogi, Arhuaco and Tayrona. The museum itself is located in a handsome colonial edifice, the stately Casa de la Aduana (Customs House), built in 1531. This is Santa Marta's cultural highlight, with a stunning display of pre-Columbian gold and ceramics that survived the greed and bloodlust of the Spanish conquest. The ground-floor galleries present (with some information in English) a dazzling collection of pre-Columbian jewelry with exquisite jade, copper, and gold work fashioned by the Tayrona and Nahuange people who inhabited the Magdalena region between 200 and 1600 a.d. On the second floor, an illuminating exhibit elucidates the history of Colombia's indigenous groups—including the Kogi, Arhuaco, and Wiwa—through a series of well-curated artifacts. Be sure to take a look at the wonderful model of Ciudad Pérdida, especially if you intend to visit.
After spending about an hour or so, we all headed outside to enjoy the youth band playing across the street. Hope bought a handcrafted bag and we all headed back and piled into the van again and headed up to Taganga.
Taganga is a traditional fishing village and corregimiento of Santa Marta, located on the Caribbean coast of Colombia at about 10 minutes or 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) north of Santa Marta. Both Santa Marta and Taganga were founded by Rodrigo de Bastidas on July 29, 1525, making them two of the oldest remaining colonial settlements in present-day Colombia.
The touristic town and backpacker hub is famous for its sunsets, diving and access to the Tayrona National Natural Park. Bohemian and richly decorated Taganga is full of hostels and forms part of the South American Gringo Trail. In the months of July and August the village is visited by many Israelis who finished their military draft period.
Taganga today is something of a cautionary tale about the overdevelopment of small towns, though, and in the past few years the village has gone from a near-obligatory backpacker stop to a rather depressing place where poverty is rife and much of what originally attracted visitors has disappeared. That said, some travelers still come here for cheap accommodation, partying and diving; there are also those who love being so close to PNN Tayrona, just a short boat ride away. The town's hostel owners are a determined bunch and are doggedly fighting to restore Taganga to its former glory.
Next we headed on to the statue of Hugo Gnecco Arregocés.
Hugo Gnecco Arregocés was twice the mayor of Santa Marta (1993 and 2001). Member of one of the most powerful and feared families in La Guajira: the Gnecco Cerchar. Condemned for corruption, escaped from justice and victim of a bullet attack that almost took his life.
The previous paragraph summarizes the political action of the former Samaritan mayor who, despite his background, enjoyed house arrest until a few days ago, when a judge from Santa Marta revoked his house benefit by jail and changed it to detention at a prison center.
This was confirmed to Monitoring.co an official source of the Attorney General's Office, who reported that the former mayor was sent to finish serving his sentence in the Rodrigo de Bastidas prison in Santa Marta.
In his years as Mayor, Gnecco was responsible for one of the hiring that has done the most damage to the city in recent years: in 2002 Gnecco gave three buildings from the district to private ones in exchange for these building the public market in Santa Marta. Years later, these contractors now claim more than 30 billion pesos from the city.
But his troubles began in 2003, when the Prosecutor's Office accused him of irregular contracts and issued an arrest warrant against him. From that moment, Gnecco went from being a respected public servant to a fugitive from justice.
The two-time mayor of Santa Marta knew nothing until two years later, when what appeared to be an attack on an unknown citizen in Venezuela, ended up uncovering reality: it was Hugo Gnecco himself.
With the identity changed by that of a lawyer named Rafael Manuel González González, the former mayor of Santa Marta was on July 8, 2005 with his wife, María Eugenia Cotes, in the city of Maracaibo, when out of nowhere armed men appeared he was shot at close range: two accurate shots in the face almost took his life.
After this came his extradition from Venezuela to Colombia, where he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for embezzlement that amounted to 5 billion pesos.
A turnaround to regret
Perhaps having been so close to death served for the once mayor to turn his life around.
So much so that Gnecco moved to a new stage of his life, this time more spiritual, through the religious preaching of the word of God.
As we drove through town, heading towards the ship, we noticed a guy carry a sign reading "BID ASS ANTS." He was selling these. Jacinto stated that these were found in the Santander region in Colombia is famous for a little delicacy called Hormigas Culonas—which literally translates as "big ass ants". It's a fitting name as this particular type of leafcutter ant is about a centimeter in size and has a bulging butt, presumably full of protein.
Eating these ants is a tradition going back hundreds of years, originating with some of the pre-Colombian tribes in the region. Today, Santander is the only place in the world where you can purchase them easily (though some apparently get exported to London and Tokyo).
We didn't plan on visiting a beach today, so we opted to head back to the ship. Jacinto bid us all a good night and we headed on through the small vendor area for a bit of shopping. There were just a few stores, but some had a few nice things available for purchase.
We headed on in, dropped our bags and headed up to grab something to eat.
This was a pretty long day, but interesting.