Having already made a weeks worth of plans prior to our stay in Minca, we decided we should stick to the itinerary we had in order before we returned to the hilltop hostel. Our 7 days were to be some of the busiest we had set ourselves throughout the whole trip as we would visit 4 different locations along the Caribbean coast of Colombia. The agenda was as follows, Rodadero > Parque Tayrona > Rodadero > Taganga > Cartagena > Minca. With so much to do and see, we steeled ourselves for what might be thrown our way, danger lurked round every corner but we were ready to take on the challenge.
Our first stop off was the least of our worries as we checked into an Ibiza style hostel in the bustling coastal town of Rodadero. Upon first glance, the hostel could have been mistaken for a villa on the White Isle. With white-wash walls and pumping tunes maintaining a cool atmosphere over a busy pool area, sun-kissed bodies mingled and chatted in the dimming daylight. The ambient moonlighting became more prominent as each minute of the evening passed and a heady, intoxicating atmosphere began to descend on each of those willing to embrace it. Luckily, for Tamara and I, we had done enough socialising over the past two days and decided we didn't fancy the aimless chitchat that night. We instead bundled and brushed our way to the check in desk and quickly retreated to what could have been the best dorm room we had ever stayed in. The bunks were constructed of huge wooden panels, each bed boasting its own personal curtain, reading light and charging point for the weary traveller who just wants a bit of 'me' time.
Lying down on the crisp white sheets, I was ready to call it a day, the all-night partying lifestyle was taking its toll and I could think of nothing better than a bit of shut eye. However, with such a busy week ahead, Tamara was quick to remind me that we needed to prepare ourselves for our next destination. Parque Tayrona was a national park in which you can spend the night camping, we had been advised along the way that food and drink in the park was being sold at extortionate prices and with this in mind, we decided it best to prepare some food of our own whilst we had the chance. After a quick trip to the supermarket, we were loaded up. With enough food to justify a weekly shop and 10 litres of water, we thought we'd be just about ready to get ourselves prepared for the big adventure. Heading back to the hostel, I began to cook up all our newly acquired ingredients, with limited access to herbs and spices I managed to concoct something similar to a vegetable curry. With 7 portions made and rice to accompany, we stored the packaged meals in the freezer ready for the morning. Beginning to relax for the second time that day, I heard the oh so familiar voice of Tamara reminding me that cooking the food was not last on our list of preparations. It turned out we also had to pack ourselves a day bag to take to the park as we were leaving our larger bags at the hostel. I grumbled back that I would do it in the morning but was quickly frog marched out of bed and before I knew it, I was sifting through all available clothes I had to take on the journey.
Grabbing what sleep we could before the 6am start, we picked up our day bags and quickly checked out of the hostel. We had heard that it was tough competition to get a good, cheap tent at the park so we didn't want to delay in getting there. After a quick, local bus journey and a lengthy environmental talk at the gates, we were speeding through the tough terrain of the park. The heat was unimaginable as we clambered over boulders and rocks, each of us carrying 5 litres of water and 3 frozen meals each. As we overtook our fellow travellers, we sneered at their poor preparation efforts, 'Only a 1.75 litre bottle of water? You must me mad.' With smug grins on our faces we overtook the hopeless gringos and stormed our way to the first campsite. We acquired ourself a tent for 60,000 pesos and settled in to our surroundings. The campsite was a series of pre-pitched tents with a small restaurant and kiosk and had a very calming atmosphere to it. A breeze rattled the palms of towering trees as wisps of clouds sailed overhead to distant destinations, we'd done well.
With our goods in the tents, we decided to stretch our legs and walk out along the coast. The beaches were huge expanses of sand, wider than 100m and stretched further than the eye could see. Although we were keen to get bathing, we paid good attention to the warning signs dotted all over the beach. Over 200 people had died along the coast of Parque Tayrona in the last few years due to the incredible strong undercurrents that lurked beneath the surface and thus, there were only a handful of beaches that were deemed safe to bathe in. Not wanting to test the accuracy of the warning messages, we stayed a good 50m away from all water until we were in a designated, 'safe bathing' space. Having found a beautiful spot, we cheerily passed the time away splashing around in the warm sea water. People busily scurried by, desperate to drop their kit off and get involved with the action whilst birds soared above, keeping a watchful eye on proceedings. Retiring ourselves from the water, we made our way back to the towels we had left in a small cove. Having not experienced any problems whilst dropping off our towels, we weren't expecting any hassle in retrieving them, oh how wrong we were. Walking into the rocks, we began to notice small marks appearing on our skin, small red dots beginning to fill with blood. My first thought was that something had bitten us in the water but paying attention to our surroundings I began to notice 100's of sand flies beginning to circle us. Within minutes our bodies were covered in welts and we quickly scarpered to the next site however, it appeared they had got a taste of something they liked and we were followed from spot to spot for the remainder of the day. Looking around at the rest of the happy holiday makers, who had no more trouble than deciding whether to lie on their front or back, we sent intense feelings of scorn and hatred towards them, damn them and damn our tasty blood.
As we dragged ourselves back to the campsite, the irrefutable pangs of hunger began to strike. Luckily, we definitely had that base covered. As we pulled out our pre-cooked vegetable curries we tucked in with gusto until we realised that semi-frozen vegetable curry was absolutely disgusting. Forcing each mouthful down just for the sake of sustaining our bodies was a tough task and we cursed ourselves as we soon found out that hearty sandwiches were on sale for a mere £2. We had certainly committed an error for following the guidebooks to the T, sometimes it pays to be a little underprepared in these situations. We spent the evening conversing in the tent and got ourselves to sleep in good time. The next morning, we woke to strange sensations. Being roused from my sleep, I awoke to twitching feelings on the hair of my legs. In my drowsy state, I brushed off the feeling thinking it couldn't be more than an itch. As I rested my eyes, trying to pursue the dreams I had been following, the feeling came back. Looking down the tent, I saw what could only be described as a nightmare on my legs. Dozens of crawling termites were working their way between my long leg hairs, seemingly lost in the jungle. I jolted upright, awakening Tamara in the process, we were under attack and we suddenly plunged into panic. We scrambled out of the tent to the fresh air only to be met by hovering mosquitoes awaiting the perfect opportunity to dive bomb into our flesh. After managing to clear out the little termites, we were very much awake. With the rest of our curry in the bin, we quickly tracked down the local sandwich vendor and tucked into a meaty breakfast.
With bugs out and energy in, we embarked on our final activity in the park. Upon the peak of the highest mountain of the park lay the ruins of 'Pueblito' - 'Little Town', ancient ruins of a once bustling community that was now inhabited by the remaining indigenous groups of Colombia. After one of our toughest hikes through jungle and boulders, with sweat pouring from our skin and legs weary from the climb, we eventually made it to the top. At first glance, we were desperately disappointed. It didn't appear as if there were more than a few stone circles spaced at random distances from one another. We looked at each, trying to gauge who's idea it was to embark on such a stupid adventure, we were somewhat bemused. It was only when a group of travellers showed themselves around the corner that we realised the extent of the ruins. Wooden huts containing indigenous families were to be found, all of them circling a clear space. The women and children alike all wore flowing white linen that was stained and grubby from their natural existence. We slowly meandered through the village and wondered how the hell they got any food up, that hike nearly killed us. After a few pictures and a sit down, we began our descent to the campsite, a fair easier affair than the route up. Arriving bang on midday to check out of our tent, we felt pleased that we had managed to do the trip so efficiently and cost effectively. We sat down for a quick drink at our site, entertained by a parrot in the throes of an existential crisis and slowly began our way back to the bus stop. Arriving back in Rodadero, we were starving. Needless to say, we were not going to postpone our lunch and ran straight to the nearest food court available. For our lunch we ate grilled chicken and chips from one vendor, a Chinese buffet from another and topped it off with an ice cream. Feeling good about ourselves, having spent our dosh within local outlets, we waddled back to our hostel and sank in to a deep, deep food coma.
The following morning we awoke early to find the dorm room silent and empty, and so we happily pulled the curtains tight around our beds and fell back into a deep sleep. When we woke hours later we made use of the late check-out and leisurely re-packed our bags to continue the journey along the Caribbean coast. We decided we would, for one final time, utilise the only attraction in Santa Marta we had discovered (the food court) and discretely hurried past the daily security guard, not wanting him to witness yet another unnecessary binge. Our next stop was nearby Taganga, a minute fishing village set in an aquatic-blue horseshoe bay. Offering some of the cheapest scuba-diving in the world has attracted an influx of tourism, which unfortunately, both the village infrastructure and the local's begrudging attitudes are currently unprepared for. As we pulled into Taganga, there was a definite sense that tourists abided there, yet subtle, as the majority were most likely 15metres below the ocean. Instead of an expected overload of diving schools and hippy bars, the reality was much different. Roads were unpaved and dusty, small, colourful buildings wonkily aligned the streets like a mouthful of bad teeth. Dark-skinned locals filled doorways and lazily watched the world go by. Undoubtedly there was corruption masked behind the beauty of the Caribbean coral reefs, but taken with a pinch of salt, on first impressions we both agreed we liked the place.
We checked into our hostel 'La Tortuga', (a five minute walk from the very average beach) that hosted a pleasant roof top terrace and the usual relaxing hammocks. After momentarily settling our belongings we set out to find a suitable diving school. With the majority of people passing through Taganga to get their seven day PADI diving certificate, unfortunately for George and I, due to our now restricted time limit we were only able to do a one day fun dive. We had heard positive recommendations about the diving school 'Calypso' and after a bit of how'd you do trying to locate their small office we eventually found them at the back of a side road. As we entered, a loud, familiar "G'day guys" sounded from a small room inside the office and before we had time to match the voice to a face, a very burnt James bounded out the door to embrace us. We were aware our friend from Minca was completing his PADI in Taganga but without the name of the company we assumed like many others he would be out at water for the duration of his week course. Luckily for us he had the afternoon off and so we decided to book onto a days special 'safari trip' the following day that he would be going on. In total we paid £50 to dive in a secluded spot in Parque Tayrona - penance for scuba diving nowadays! We decided to grab a quick 'menu del diá' before walking along the beach front and seeing the beautiful sunset. Without a doubt the atmosphere at night was completely different to that in the day as the usually anchored tourists and hippies unveiled themselves and clogged up the main street and the beach. It was nice to see everyone enjoying themselves, but preferring the daytime tranquility we said our farewell to James and headed back to the hostel.
After dreams of warped images of the ocean only a true surrealist could decipher, I woke with both anticipation and excitement at the day ahead. We had been told to meet at Calypso at 8.30am so we rushed to meet James and headed for a hearty breakfast to set us up for our dive. After a large juice and eggs we arrived at Calypso at 8.25am and were introduced to the two diving instructors and five other traveller's that would be coming on our trip with us. All the divers (apart from George and I) were completing their PADI course that week and so their safari tour would last three days whereby they would camp each evening on the secluded beach we were heading for. Naturally this meant the instructors needed some extra time on their hands to get more gear prepared than just their usual day trips. However, we were still in South America and therefore everyone 'naturally' feels they have extra time on their hands. As expected, after the usual unnecessary morning rush, we didn't get onto the boat until 10.00am. We climbed on board and eager to hear the motor engine roar with life, we all looked back in exasperation as what appeared to be the whole Calypso team posing for a set of photographs. We soon discovered that they were filming their updated promotion video, but with George and I becoming two very unhappy customers, this company had to quickly up their game if we were to ever convince anyone to 'go Calypso' after watching their promotion video. Eventually we relaxed and the boat began to leave the dock and enter open sea, with the sun shining and beautiful scenery speeding past I knew we were in for a smooth ride.
The ride was as smooth as rollerblading over pot holes - painful and unpredictably bumpy. The open water was extremely choppy and as usual it seemed George and I had opted for the worst seats in the house, whereby every time the boat pounded into the water, my eyes were filled with stinging saltiness. After 45 relentless minutes I finally felt the engine chug and spit until it slowed to a halt and we rocked our way to the shore. After a few minutes I was granted back my sight and contrasting my drowned rat appearance, the water before me was utterly magnificent. We hopped off the boat and carried the bags and equipment to the private beach we would spend the day on and spent the next hour taking photos, skimming stones and enjoying a cool dip in the ocean. We were then split into two groups and George and I were introduced to our instructor 'Danny' who firstly took James for a dive and told us to enjoy time on the beach. The other group were assigned to an American female instructor and were taken off to have their safety briefing. With the beach alone George and I were left to our own devices and relaxed. However as the scorching sun began to cast a shadow before us we became concerned at the time. As George has developed the Inca ability to tell the time to near its exact minute by reading the sun's position he began to grow restless and annoyed. "We didn't pay to have a beach day" he frowned and began to throw rocks into the sea. George was right, despite us being sat in our own little Caribbean paradise we were here to dive and with everyone either under water or being briefed we were concerned the 'day-trippers' were the least of anyone's concern. A young Canadian girl had finished her briefing and after seeing us abandoned on the beach offered us her snorkel to borrow (if only she had come earlier!) We took it in turns to swim out to the coral positioned no more than 5 metres away and were greeted by the most fantastic assortment of colours and sizes of exotic fish. George was even up close and personal to a fish 2meters long. We were called for lunch and I opted we held out our frustration until we saw how the afternoon panned out. After all, after witnessing the coral's inhabitants we both knew we would eventually be in for a treat.
After a fresh catch of the day, lunch was grilled on the BBQ and we made our way to the boat with Danny who started off by giving us a safety briefing. 'Brief' it was indeed and after hearing the other instructor talking for at least two hours, our short twenty minute discussion covering all the signals and equipment procedures was slighting concerning. Quickly trying to remember each one and cementing the two golden rules of diving "never hold your breath" and "always stick together"in my mind, before we knew it we were geared up and in the water. As we helped one another assemble our gear, Danny shouted "we never dive alone", a reassuring message, before he signalled for us to deflate our jackets and descend below the water. With George telling me his parents were once diving activists, I could see he had followed in their footsteps as he took to it almost immediately, calmly and naturally achieving his buoyancy levels. Before we set off to find some fish, Danny signalled for us to regroup at the bottom of the water to re-cap on our safety procedures. He wanted us to demonstrate we could clear our mask of water and restart our respirators if either of these needed to occur without having to go back up the top. George professionally mimicked Danny, slowly tilting his head back and blowing air out of his nose to clear his goggles, then removing his respirator from his mouth, blowing bubbles and putting it back in his mouth to continue breathing. Unfortunately for me and the peaceful seabed it was as if calamity Jane had been thrown to the bottom. Already having water in my oversized goggles, tilting my head back only brought in more and removing my respirator and choking on sea water caused me to turn into a spluttering, scared mess. Danny instantly pushed the button on my respirator causing an influx of air to my lungs and what can only be described as a feeling of CPR resuscitation. After repeating this procedure a few times I became calmer and especially more relaxed when we began to look at the fish. After our first dive we headed back to the top and I soon learnt that the button on the respirator emptied it of water - perhaps our safety briefing was too brief if he failed to mention that vital part. Our final dive was with the whole group and 15metres deep. Now adequately knowing the whole safety brief I couldn't wait to dive again and the coral before us was incredible. It felt as if we had landed in an avatar scene with animals so obscure and unique you couldn't help losing the group and become sidetracked to what it was on earth you were looking at. Life under water was so peaceful and untouched, it was easy to want to lose yourself down there forever. Unfortunately we were signalled to return to the top and as we reached the sea level the sky was spookily dark only illuminated by a half-crest moon.
Euphoric, we left James and the group around a campfire on the beach and headed back with two mischievous, reckless boat drivers back to Taganga. As the adrenaline subsided we were exhausted and after a quick dinner made our way to bed. Despite an unfortunate slow start to the morning, Calypso had without a doubt redeemed themselves in the afternoon. After ticking another thing off the list we fell asleep instantly after having one of the most exciting days of our whole trip.
With our aquatic urges satisfied, we decided it was time to pay a visit to Colombia's Caribbean Jewel, Cartagena. Often described as having the most beautiful historic centre in Colombia, we were shocked to find it rivalled all of the previous centres we had stumbled across on our trip. Situated within the safety of its imposing stone walls, the grid-like network of cobbled streets and secret alleyways whipped up a magical atmosphere that transported any unsuspecting travellers back to an age of Spanish triumph and prosperity. Due to the copious amounts of gold and silver passing through the city during this era, the Spanish authorities saw it fit to fortify the illustrious town with towering battlements in an attempt to deter the persistent raids of blood thirsty pirates. The overall effect was stunning and the city council had taken the extra step to introduce horse drawn carriages that offered tourists 20 minute journeys through the streets each evening. Arriving at midday, we quickly checked into our hostel. Tamara had performed some of her usual wizardry on booking.com and secured us two beds at a hostel that closely resembled a spa. The whitewash walls were pristine, as were the perfectly tiled floors and with each room boating a freshly cleaned smell, we sank back into our pristine sheets and got ourselves settled. Due to the speed of our travels that week, we were unable to be hostel potatoes for too long - a city as beautiful as Cartagena must be explored!
With our laundry precariously balanced on our backs, we quickly found the nearest laundrette. The historical centre was a cruel maze of multi-coloured, colonial houses. With the streets being impossibly narrow, it became a tough job keeping track of our navigation. Buildings and landmarks seemed to repeatedly pass us by like a scooby doo cartoon; we were trapped in a hall of mirrors and had no idea where to go. Luckily, due to the beautiful ambience of the location, we soon began to stop caring about where we needed to be because anywhere within those walls was pretty damn good. Soon finding out that the town, during the high season, was a celebrity hotspot, we began to familiarise ourselves with the prices of the restaurants. Hot joints offered main courses at absurd prices, some pushing the £30 mark (unheard of in Colombia, where you can eat a 3 course meal for £1 in the mean streets of Bogotá). Realising our cash flow was not gushing enough to afford such niceties, we went back to our roots and cracked on with the street food. Having heard the Caribbean town was famous for being a multi-cultural melting pot, we were interested to see what effect it had had on the food there. Huge pots of boiling oil were on standby to create one of the best food creations ever thought, chicken buried in mashed potato that was then deep fried into crispy balls. Ordering at least 4 between us, we cracked on with our 'papas rellenos' - 'stuffed potatoes'. With enough spicy sauce to slay a walrus, I was set for the day and we carried on with our task of trying to uncover as much of the town as we possibly could.
On the other side of the peninsula of Cartagena stands a formidable fortress that was constructed along with the deterring city walls. The fortress was designed to withstand any assault that may have come its way and for all intents and purposes it seemingly did the job. With its quirky design of uphill ramps and asymmetrical shapes, the garrison had, reportedly, never been defeated or overthrown. After debating for a moment about whether or not to pay the hefty entrance fee, we scratched our coins together and bought ourselves a pass. Having always felt an affinity with ruins and castles, I felt very much in my element as we hiked up the punishing ramps. Putting myself in the shoes of a foreign invader, I sympathised with their fruitless attempts to overthrow Cartagena. Countless human lives had been lost at that location all for the sake of 'precious' metal, I shut my eyes and tried to imagine what it must have been like for those looters and soldiers so desperate to get their hands on those Spanish pieces of 8. We decided to call it a day after we crawled through a few of the wormhole-like passages in the belly of the fort, the cramped conditions were enough to get us breathing heavily, never mind when there are bombs and cannons shaking its foundations. With our cultural boots filled for the day, we headed back to the hostel and were fortunately serenaded by a spectacular firework display above the roofs of the old town. Cartagena, what a truly magical place.
After an action-packed week exploring the coastline it was time to return back to our beloved, tranquil house on the hill in Minca, Casa Loma. As we hauled our bags to the top of the hill we began to tire and question our decision to return. Yet as our heads peered over the last hurdle of steps, we were greeted with the award-winning view and a good lick off Lola, the dog, instantly reassuring us that we had made the right decision. We had arrived on Sunday and as this is the only day of the week where the kitchen is closed for dinner, Casa Loma was quiet as many guests had opted out of a pizza delivery and gone to the village instead. For us new volunteers this was good news as we only had a few cleaning jobs to do that evening and I spent the majority of the shift shadowing Jen, the French lady who would soon be leaving later in the week. In exchange for three delicious, vegetarian meals a day and accommodation (which we gave a little money for) we worked five hour shifts, 5 out of 7 days a week from 5-10pm. George helped out in the kitchen preparing and chopping vegetables (his favourite) and I poured the sunset cocktails from 5-8pm followed by cleaning duties from 8-10pm (both my favourites)! We would work with Roger, the 23year old chef from Cali, Colombia who never stopped dancing the salsa and mocking our British accents, and eventually a week later, another volunteer, Mira from Austria who would join and complete our crew.
Following our shift we were shown to our private accommodation 'Casa del Bosque' - 'House of the Forest', a small wooden hut made from dried palm leaves which, indicated by the name, was embedded within the forest. We settled in our things and George quickly got on the case of assembling Fort Knox around our bed before any bugs could attack. With the last lights diminishing for the day, we lay down and enjoyed the forest views from either of our two huge open doorways. "How romantic" we said to one another, but the Wozzles were in for a 'treat', rainy season was just creeping around the corner...
Settled in our new 'glamping' abode (aKa glamorous camping), we switched off the light and lay our heads for a good nights sleep. Unfortunately, Minca is no exception to the influx of night shift animals that we have previously mentioned in other blogs. As dogs barked and eerie unknown cries unnervingly sounded too close to our laying space, I tried to relax - this was all part of the 'experience'. Irritatingly, something we couldn't get our heads around after two weeks of sleeping at Minca was the sporadic and unnecessary rooster calls throughout the night. At home a "cocka doodle doo" usually symbolises the start of dawn and a new day but here it seems every rooster is either drunk or like most of South America, useless with time. When we awoke the following morning we were definitely anything but rested but we went for breakfast and spent the morning meeting the current guests who spent a couple of days at the hostel allowing us to form a friendship group.
After day two, George and I were feeling very smug that we hadn't spent a single penny of our money. We could see this was going to be an effortlessly cheap two weeks, until we saw the brownies. The brownies in Minca are renown to be delicious and each morning a fresh batch was placed on the reception counter, priced at 4,000 pesos (roughly £1). Now even though we had three meals a day included, naturally you have guessed this wouldn't fulfil our appetites entirely and so we decided we would splash out and purchase two brownies. Oozing, moist brownies accompanied by an English Yorkshire teabag (taken from England) made our day complete, so complete that George decided we should plan to have one after every course, three every day. I quickly reminded George that although we may be saving money volunteering, spending £3 a day on brownies would equate to an unnecessary £42 but perhaps a necessary few pounds around the waistline. Later that evening on duty, we opened the freezer and to our horror found four huge tubs of frozen brownies. We now realised we had been conned, conned into believing a grandma at Casa Loma had prepared these with her own sweat and blood, desperate for a penny or two. However, after a little detective work we found out they were purchased in bulk from the supermarket in the village where there they were sold individually for 1,500 pesos; we were definitely being ripped off. Amusingly, George made it his mission to beat the staff down the hill everyday and purchase the brownies, but unfortunately for his bank book he was always too slow, the fresh tub of overpriced oozing goodness was sat waiting for him, where each day he tried to but couldn't resist.
Later in the week our good friend Lorien, a fellow Bristolian we had stayed with in Rio, came to stay with us for two nights. We ensured she was given the best tree house bedroom, (she was a friend and deserved it), but we had also been eyeing up that sun terrace for a week and knew this was the best way to drink a bottle of wine on it. Having arrived from Ecuador, she had unfortunately been in the destruction caused by the earthquake, and shaken up, two friendly faces and the tranquility of Casa Loma combined were a perfect remedy. After a night catching up we decided to book a yoga class for the following morning. I have only ever participated in a handful of yoga classes in my life, and despite keeping my fitness from school, yoga is certainly not my forte (ask Jackie Woodall). Lorien told me it would be perfect way to relax and it was essential to give something back to my body after the numerous hikes I had been going on recently, so I decided to give it a shot. Five of us took our place on the yoga platform, with the sun shining and sounds from the birds and the forest overhead I was instantly relaxed. The woman next to me was a young, attractive Colombian lady who definitely looked like she had done this before. Within moments, our teacher arrived, instantly reminding me of a jungle Tarzan, thick dark hair protruding down his back and strong cheekbones that flaunted two wild eyes. As the session began, I instantly warmed to the teacher's style of meditation and relaxation, rather than those awful stretched poses that confirm my inadequate flexibility. After a few moments with my eyes closed I became startled as our teacher dived to the floor into downward dog, screaming in an animated voice, "mmmmmmm delicious". He then jumped to his feet and before I knew it he had picked the Colombian lady up next to me (who appeared in a deeper trance than he), and together they both lucidly called "mmmm delicious". Witnessing the closest thing to a tribal, mating dance, the rest of the group looked in awe and as I tried to keep composure I thanked the heavens that my Aunty wasn't there (there's no composure possible when we are together!) With the rest of the session only getting weirder I left feeling energised, amused and positive at what I had to do next. I had to sign George up for the following session.
Following lunch a group of us headed to a small farm owned by a German couple who had offered to take us on a chocolate tour. The husband, a peculiar man needed no introductions, and despite not speaking coherent Spanish or English began to lead us behind his house and into his patch of land. Stereotypically efficient, he marched, rapidly pointing and shouting labels too quickly to assign them to the half developed fruit and vegetables. As we began to descend down slippery banks and climbing through barbed wire, our group looked perplexed as to where we were heading with this 'loco' man. We soon found what we were looking for, trees with large ripened, cacao pods hanging like Christmas decorations. Our guide grabbed a huge stick and began shaking the tree violently, causing pods to fly and fall inches from our heads - This guy really was loco! We each picked a pod and as such with the first day of the rainy season, with no warning we were instantly drowned by the treacherous rain. I was the only one with proper shoes on and this didn't help one bit for the walk we were about to encounter back up to the top. Slipping and sliding, with legs thrashed and bloody we each helped one another up, amused and astonished at the 'hands on' experience we were encountering. Our guide looked like he hadn't prepared for this to happen either and soon slid halfway down the bank on his backside. After a Bear Grills struggle to the top we took a seat for the next part of our tour, a presentation on the production process of cacao beans into chocolate. The presentation was very informative and interesting, but as the cafe only had three triangular pieces of material acting as an awning, you can imagine we were soaked. What's more the overbearing weight of the rainwater caused the canopy to collapse and the wire nearly decapitated poor Lorien's head, whilst further soaking the rest of us. Only the English would sit in the torrential rain for the price of £2 and not complain or excuse themselves, but to Georges delight despite nearly having pneumonia and a close encounter with death, a large brownie was awaiting us at the end of the tour.
We hurried back and spent the last night sipping wine on Lorien's terrace. However our bad luck wasn't over yet and it seemed Moses was set to send down the next part of the plague, flying termites. Due to the start of the rainy season, these vile insects nightly clouded the sky as the sun vanished and was replaced by artificial light bulbs around the hostel site. Black winged, they would find a suitable landing place (usually near wood) and drop their wings leaving a small maggot like creature to burrow. Seeing as our romantic abode was in fact made out of wood, that night we were greeted with endless amounts of disposed wings and concerningly, many missing bodies. As we searched thoroughly and discarded of bodies we could find, George knew Fort Knox would need its security heightening if we were to stay here any longer. However, remaining positive we each forced a nauseating smile and said "it's all part of the experience".
The following morning Lorien packed her bags and set off to a fundraiser beach party which unfortunately our shift timetable didn't permit us to attend. George reluctantly participated in the yoga session, and afterwards clearly was unimpressed thinking the instructor and yoga itself was weird, and annoyed he had unnecessarily wasted £3 of his brownie funds. Following yoga George and I had decided to go on a big hike to 'Los Pinos', a viewpoint high up in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. We set off early with a spring in our stride, content at having each other's company to ourselves once again. We passed the two landmarks (natural pools and coffee farm) as instructed and we're now keeping our eyes peeled for the small house on the left at which we had to turn right. After three painful, uphill hours we were exhausted and after passing the numerous newly developed buildings, realised the hostel's instructions definitely were out of date. Just in time for the downpour, feeling a little more refreshed, we suddenly saw the first other human being so far on the walk. We quickly stopped him to ask for directions, and as we feared he pointed for us to turn back downhill, deflating whatever air was left in our tyres. I looked with pleading eyes at George that we could return back, usually we were up for any adventurous hike, but with our blistered feet and sodden clothes he didn't need much convincing. The sky was thick with black cloud and there was no chance this rain was going to stop anytime soon, let alone clear for a decent view. We set off on the three hour walk back and were happy to be back in our dry(ish) cabin, settled for a siesta, termites and all.
After a few hours sleep we awoke achy but ready for the night ahead, a village party. A Colombian band had travelled five hours and Roger (the chef) was like an excited schoolboy, rounding up the whole hostel and ensuring it was going to be a night to remember. The westerns remained sceptical, Minca wasn't exactly host to any nightclubs or bar strips, but I should know more than anyone, villagers know how to throw a good party. We arrived to a small clearing in the village just after our shift finished at 10.30pm, where the party was in full swing. The Colombian band were stood in the middle with an elder man bellowing a famous chorus, swarmed by fellow Colombians repeating the chorus back to him. His band mates held peculiar instruments such as a huge indigenous flute and loud drums and both played in time to the melody. It appeared the whole of Minca was there as familiar faces such as the ex-pats with their Colombian wives, the yoga teacher, supermarket lady and hostel hippies were out to shake their thing. After a night of dancing and meeting everyone in the village, George, Roger and I (the last ones standing) made a slow, staggering walk back up the steps.
The next morning George and I awoke with sore rum heads and bravely George took a deep breath and set off to his 7am breakfast shift. As I lay there I heard "cocka doodle do" repeatedly outside our cabin, but instead of feeling anger, I felt something much worse...desire. After a week of eating vegetarian food, I had been surprised at how effortlessly I had discarded meat from my diet. Today was different, no hangover is complete without meat and as half of Minca offers only vegetarian produce I began to sweat. Feeling like a junkie in need of a fix, I crushed my head into my pillow and realised the only way to get through the day was to fall into a deep, deep sleep and dream of dancing chicken burgers.
Our final week in Minca involved large turnovers of wonderful people, more rock pool jumping and thankfully a reduced amount of flying termites. Our last expedition in the week involved a trip to 'Casa Elemento', the most famous Minca hostel which was positioned two to three hours walk form Minca village. Home to the largest hammocks in South America and positioned 1500metres in the mountains we knew we had to see this for ourselves. Despite spectacular views, the atmosphere was anything but spectacular with obnoxious staff and 18 year old stoned, uncultured Brits making our visit a definite hasty one before we hurried back to our home on the hill. After a fantastic two weeks we definitely felt as connected to Minca and the locals as Phil Mitchell to Albert Square. Saying our farewells we knew one day we were sure to return.
As we hopped on two moto-taxis we raced down the mountains towards the sun of Santa Marta, quickly escaping the daily downpour. Our final night was spent in our usual ibiza hostel and as you've guessed a visit to the food court to indulge in a meat bonanza. We got an early night and with butterflies in our stomachs we couldn't believe it was time to fly to Peru. This was the country we had been planning for and waiting for since the summer of 2014.