|The Dreamer Hostel, Santa Marta.|
Glad to still be counted among the living, Derek and I exited the bus and carried our bags inside the hostel. My first impression of The Dreamer Hostel was, “wow.” The hostel felt like a villa, with an open-air interior surrounded by nation-themed dormitories. We were assigned to Spain. There was an Italian restaurant, a bar, and even a swimming pool. Compared to the hostels I was used to, this was a major upgrade. And for all of this, it only cost about $11 USD a night.
After meeting up with my fellow WorldTeach volunteers, Pam and Katie, we sat down to eat at the Italian restaurant. As far as hostel food goes, it was actually pretty good.
|Getting Iced by Pam.|
I had spaghetti, in case you were wondering.
By the time we finished eating, a group of hostel-goers had gathered for trivia night and we joined them. Broken up into teams, we competed to answer questions about Colombia, Santa Marta, and general world history.
In the middle of the game, Pam came up to me with a bag of Goldfish crackers Derek had smuggled into the country and asked if I wanted some. Goldfish are my weakness, my brain food, and I had missed them dearly living in such a Goldfishless country.
Of course, I said yes.
|Parque Tayrona entrance.|
But when I reached into the bag to scoop up some of the little cheddar delights, my fingers found themselves touching a cold, hard bottle.
I looked up at her and said, “Seriously?”
She nodded and said, “Gotcha.”
Damn the Smirnoff gods… I had just been Iced again!
Confused but amused Europeans and Australians watched as I took a knee and polished off the Smirnoff Ice in one large chug.
The next day, Derek, Pam, and I hopped on a collectivo bus headed towards Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, a national park near Santa Marta, where we planned to hike through the coastal jungle and spend the night on hammocks by the beach.
The bus dropped us off in a small village and we walked up a paved road to the park’s entrance. Although there was only a small group of people waiting to buy passes, it took us more than an hour to move to the front of the line—efficiency is not one of Colombia’s strong suits.
|Derek and Pam hiking.|
Although we had only just begun, I was already drenched in sweat—on Colombia’s Caribbean coast sweat is, like death and taxes, a fact of life. It is everywhere—covering your arms and legs, under your brow, and dripping down your back. There is little you can do to escape it—save for hiding out in air conditioned shopping malls.
Unfortunately, we were fresh out of shopping malls.
Sweat aside, it was a scenic and enjoyable hike. Along the way, I got to see some monkeys and way too many industrious leaf-cutting ants. We made our way through the dense jungle and soon ran into the coast, where we followed the trail along the beach. Walking on the beach next to the thick jungle made me feel like I had been teleported into an episode of LOST.
After stopping to eat lunch on a large rock next to the ocean, we continued down the trail, passing through camping areas and locally-run tiendas selling everything from water to coconut rice. Finally, we arrived at our destination: Cabo San Juan.
Cabo San Juan is essentially a large, outdoor hostel. You pay to spend the night in either a hammock or tent and there is a restaurant that provides meals. You can also buy beer at their tienda. Although it was nearly dusk, Derek, Pam, and I were determined to drink a hard-earned beer and swim in the warm Caribbean waters.
|Hiking in Parque Tayrona.|
South America is indeed a small world.
When the sun finally set, the bugs came out in full force, and we retreated to shore.
That night, we ate dinner at the restaurant where everyone else had congregated. I had a traditional Colombian dish of chicken with rice and papas—not bad. We befriended a pair of American travelers and hung out with the other people from our hostel, playing some card games under the restaurant’s lights.
|Our furry escort.|
By the next morning the rain had passed and we rolled out of our hammocks to catch some breakfast before taking off. Since Pam needed to be back in Santa Marta in time to catch a bus to Cartagena later that day, we headed out early.
|With Derek in Parque Tayrona.|
We had been walking for a while when I realized that we were not on the same path that we had gone in on. I normally have an above-average sense of direction and knew we must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. We were passing over a muddy mess of a road covered with horse crap and mud holes. The path was also slippery and if you fell, you would literally be eating… well you know.
After a few hours of hiking, we were relieved to see that we had made it to the staging area. We took another sketchy bus down the hill and returned to the hostel in Santa Marta.
|With my nemesis, Pam.|
We headed to “downtown” Taganga, where there was a concert going on in a park by the beach. Amidst the Colombian crowd, we hung out and listened to salsa and reggaeton and watched the locals pull some crazy dance moves.
Later, we headed to a bar on the cliff side that was supposed to be fun. When we entered the bar, the first thought that entered my mind was, Welcome to Gringolandia. The place was filled to the brim with gringos of every shape and size; roughneck Australians, overly dressed Englishmen, and wasted Americans.
|In Parque Tayrona.|
The next day, I lounged in a hammock back at the hostel, surprisingly not hungover and enjoying the sun’s warmth. I tried not to think about the fact that the next day I would be returning to stormy, freezing Bogotá and appreciated the day as best I could.
Soon, it would be back to the grind.