Thursday, October 27, 2011

La Costa Chronicles Part 3: Sweatin’ in Santa Marta

The Dreamer Hostel, Santa Marta.
We arrived in Santa Marta just before sunset after a five-hour bus ride down the coastal highway. Along the way, we had befriended some fellow American travelers, bonding over our mutual fear of premature death instilled by our happy-go-lucky driver’s penchant for dancing at the wheel.

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.
When we had finally registered our passports and gotten our passes, we waited around some more for a sketchy bus to drive us and some other hikers up to the staging area. The staging area turned out to be a surprisingly well-kept campground and we passed through it to head to the main hiking trail.

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.

Cabo San Juan, Parque Tayrona.
Luckily, there were no smoke monsters in the vicinity.

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.
Beers in hand, we hung out in the water, befriending some Canadian and American backpackers who also happened to be staying at The Dreamer Hostel in Santa Marta. By random chance, one of the American girls heard me mention WorldTeach and she said she was friends with Adam—she had gone to college with him.

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.
When it was finally time sleep, we headed to our hammocks, which were densely packed under a thatch-roof structure. Although some drunk guy had stolen my hammock, I managed to find a free one and claimed it as my own. This hammock-sleeping experience was much less relaxing than the one I’d had on Playa Blanca. For starters, Cabo San Juan was much more crowded and we were packed so tightly together that you were screwed if anyone near you was a snorer. Adding to the sleep impediments was a vociferous donkey that made annoying donkey noises all throughout the night. As if to add insult to injury, God decided to send a tropical storm our way, sending down torrents of pouring rain down against the thatch roof—making it like trying to sleep under Niagara Falls. Eventually, the snoring, the donkey, and the rain formed a twisted jungle lullaby and I drifted off to sleep.

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.
As we backtracked through the jungle, passing the homes of the locals that worked in the park, a small dog decided to tag along, following us as we walked along the beach. Every time we stopped to drink some water, the dog waited and looked back at us. After we had gone a few miles, I began to worry that the dog would not be able to make it back home, but once we left the beach for the interior, our furry escort decided he had gone far enough and peaced out.

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.
That night, Derek and I headed to the nearby town of Taganga to meet up with my friends Alyssa (my Baruvian Icer) and Nina. I had heard many things about Taganga, the foremost being that it was a fun party town. When we arrived in the small seaside pueblo, I thought someone must have been mistaken—the place was run down and full of trash, much like southern Bogotá.

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.
I bought a beer and turned to join my friends on the dance floor, when a shady Colombian approached me to offer what he claimed was a good deal for coke. I ignored him and continued on to my friends. Despite being an overly gringo affair, it was a fun night and we had a good time dancing on the open-air terrace overlooking the Caribbean.

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.

1 comment:

  1. Ahh yes, Taganga ... the armpit of Colombia and mecca for dreadlocked gringos everywhere!

    How did you like the trainspotting bathrooms in Parque Tayrona? I remember the noisy burro very well ... luckily we pitched out tent far enough away that he wasn't much of a problem!

    Good report ... you really got around on the coast ... I'm still sweating from my last trip ... ;-)