Andrea: After squeezing 4 days worth of clothes from our main backpacks into our daypacks (granted, it was only a bathing suit, 1 pair if shorts and 2 shirts each), we were off to the beautiful Tayrona Park. Our first stop was the supermarket in Santa Marta the morning we left. Scouring the aisles for the cheapest meal options that would last 3 nights and not be too heavy to carry, we settled on peanuts, cookies, 1 loaf of bread, jam in a bag, 4 oranges, 6 apples and a bag containing 5 liters of water. That should do.
We jumped on the bus to the park and repacked the groceries for the 2 hour walk to the beach where we would be staying. The lush forest was alive as we stepped through trying not to disturb the daily routines of the animals--monkeys jumped from branch to branch, lizards scurried away in the bushes, white crabs ran into their holes in the sand and the ants marched on carrying leaves as if nothing could interfere with their daily work. Adding to the noises of the jungle was Vern sloshing around with his 5-liter bag of water. Slish, slosh with every step, he fit right in. I patented a new style of walking designed to avoid the dreaded spiderweb in face. Basically, you take your dominant arm and swing it out in front of you so you break said dreaded spiderweb before it gets you in the face. Vern dubbed it 'Hughes Cruising' and it's safe to try at home. After a walk through both jungle and beach, we arrived at our destination of Cabo San Juan de la Guia. The path had opened up to row upon row of palm trees, coconut trees, banana trees and any other kind of tropical flora that you can think of. Unfortunately, we were welcomed by a Welsh kid with a mohawk hurling rocks into the coconut trees over our heads. More on this later.
At reception, we learned that hammocks were cheaper than a tent so we went for two side-by-side hammocks with mosquito nets hanging over them. They were in a covered area with two rows of about 10-15 hammocks in each row. We were home.
To put it mildly, we were hot. To tell the truth, we were covered in sweat and in need of showers. Instead, we donned our bathing suits and headed swiftly to the beach. The beach was a private bay lined with coconut trees and heavy boulders marking the boundaries. The water was warm and calm and the sand glistened with what looked like flakes of gold. Above us was a mirador (lookout) shaped like a tiki hut that housed additional hammocks and two cabanas. Vern brought his mask and swam around the rocks. We saw schools of angel fish and other brightly-colored tropical fish getting bounced around the rocks by the current. After lots of swimming and beach lounging, we headed to the showers. I should use the term 'shower' rather lightly in this context. There was water spewing from a pipe, which is like a shower, but after about two minutes the water had turned to a lovely mud color which I could only ascertain as, in fact, mud. I was soapy so had to finish the shower in dirty water. So dirty that it made my bathing suit even dirtier than the beach (the showers were open for all to see so bathing suits were mandatory). We were officially roughing it.
We sat down to a lunch of jam sandwiches, peanuts and an orange and played cards as the clouds rolled in. We passed the time with numerous games of Rummy and waited out the rain. But the rain was persistent and lasted all afternoon and evening. We were stuck under the cover of the restaurant playing cards while the rain pounded down (those brave enough to run in it came back completely drenched), the lightening flashed and the thunder cracked. Everyone around us ordered dinner so we opened up the jam sandwiches yet again and feasted. When the rain finally subsided, we made it back to our hammocks for the night with the use of our headlamps. As soon as I turned the corner for my hammock, a crab scurried up and stopped dead in it's tracks when it saw me. He stared at me with his beady eyes and I stared back, afraid of his giant claws. I took one slight step to the right and he scurried away back into his hole. I won this round, but I was glad my hammock was raised far off the ground so he couldn't seek revenge.
Day two and we were making the hike to Pueblito, ruins from the ancient civilization of the Tayrona tribe. They are believed to be the same people who also built the famed 'Ciudad Perdida' (Lost City), which is a 6 day trek round trip. We figured that a 3 hour round trip sounded much more realistic. We ate our breakfast of granola with our hands and oranges and set off for the walk with our hats, sunglasses and me with a sweat towel that we affectionately called 'sweat towel'. More on this later. We had heard it was a difficult trail, most of it just scrambling over rocks. After the first five minutes we hit so much water (remember the rain from the night before) that we had to take our shoes off to get through it. We put our shoes back on and kept going. The scenery was beautiful. We really felt like we were in the jungle with mountains and valleys and boulders, all in the middle of some of the greenest trees we have ever seen. Add that to the bugs and humidity and there was definitely no doubt we were in the jungle in Colombia, but it felt more like an Indiana Jones movie. Climbing up the rocks was harder than we thought. There were three times where we actually had to help each other up massive boulders that were blocking our way. The first time Vern pulled me up, the second time Vern pushed me up and then I pulled him up with the use of sweat towel and the last time I had to find an alternative route and still had to get pulled up. It wasn't easy, and we had the scrapes on our knees to prove it. Despite being thrust into rock climbing, we really enjoyed the walk. And, I had come up with 5 different uses for sweat towel (wipe sweat off face, wipe dirt off hands, shoo flies/spiderwebs away, pull Vern up the rock and as a stylish fashion accessory when worn around the neck) so it silenced Vern's criticism for me bringing it along. We stopped plenty of times for photos or just to look around and say, 'Wow.' We had heard the walk was better than the actual ruins and we believed that when we arrived to Pueblito to find a few rock steps scattered around a cleared area. It had also just been recently cut (there were grass trimmings everywhere), which for some reason took the magic out if it. That being said, according to the sign the ruins dated back to 450-1600 AD so it was a pretty impressive place to have a jam sandwich. Walking back down proved even harder than getting up because it had started raining and now those almost impossible to climb boulders became impossible to even stand on and we slipped and slid all the way back down to Cabo San Juan.
Scraped and sweaty, we headed for the beach again. Lying under the trees, we watched the coconuts carefully after Vern had informed me that more people died from falling coconuts than shark attacks. I moved my towel from the trees and closer to the water because death by falling coconut is probably one of the most embarassing ways to die, aside from peeing on an electric fence of course. We had (luckily) run out of bread for jam sandwiches so we were splashing out for spaghetti at the restaurant that night. A few games of cards later and we again went to sleep in our hammocks.
Day three and we woke up to go mini mango hunting. This is apparently what the Welsh kid was doing when he almost hit us on the head when we first walked in. We had never heard of mini mangos, but we were out of fruit so we thought we would give it a go. Walking under the hundreds of coconut trees to get there, we finally saw a large tree with yellow and green fruit about the size of a fist all around it. Vern found some good ones to eat on the ground and for the rest we took rocks and thrust them into the trees (and then ducked wildly to avoid being hit in the head). Five minutes later and we were equipped with an armful of mangos for breakfast. They were so ripe you could peel them with your fingers. We feasted on our mangos and then head out to the beach. We had a very lazy day of beach and eating banana bread and empanadas, so, yeah, very productive. We went up to the mirador to snap some photos and then took a table in the restaurant for our usual ritual of card playing, chatting and eating spaghetti.
Day four was our day to leave paradise and go back to Santa Marta. We had more mangos for breakfast and left early. The walk out was MUCH harder than we had remembered it and we took numerous water breaks because it was so hot. We did see more adorable Titi monkeys, which was also a good excuse for a break. We arrived to the parking lot very hot and had to wait about 20 minutes for enough people to come so the minibus would take us out of the park. We sat with the driver and a cross-eyed guy who was getting entirely too handsy with me so we got up and walked around until the bus filled up. After a few buses and a cab, we made it back to Santa Marta for the night. We were in desperate need of a shower which were luckily unoccupied. But, instead of showering like rational people would have we went to grab a delicious set menu lunch instead. Then we had plans to get in the pool, but they were filling it up and we had to wait two hours. Well, it seemed silly to shower before the pool so we instead sat in the hostel as stinky as can be and waited for the pool to open. This is the kind of thought pattern that backpacking for three months will get you. After actually showering, we had a great vegetable stirfry (except we found a worm in the eggplant, but it was better than more jam sandwiches!!) and chatted to some of the other guests. There was an Australian girl who absolutely swore by a town called Vilcabumba in southern Ecuador. She said it was the highlight of her trip and she highly recommended a hostel to stay in there. So, we changed our itinerary based on her recommendation and headed south. But before we left for the airport the next day, Vern made sure to offend the French receptionist while we were waiting for our cab. "Why are there so many French people here and in Taganga?" it was an honest enquiry because we had seen a lot of French-owned hostels and we were curious about the reason for the enclave. Well, it was a good thing the cab was already on the way because she answered with a cold "I don't know" that gave us chills like only a French person can. Well, "Cab's here!" we screamed as we inched our way awkwardly out of the hostel to start our journey back down to Ecuador.