It´s mid-january and I recently crossed the boarder from Colombia to Ecuador. My first stop here is the little surftown called Mompiche. It has just been two days, but I already managed to put a little hole in my newly-obtained surfboard .. well, fortunately they have cheap repairs and an internet cafe here so I can finally write about my experiences on the carribean coast of Colombia.
Touchdown Cartagena 22/10/2017- Tim, my new travelbuddy, and I set feet on Colombian coastal ground. It just rained so the air is super humid. We take a taxi together and, while still getting used to the Colombian Peso, overpay about 10.000 pesos – sounds much? It translate to about 3$, seriously something I have to get used to.
For the first night I am lucky to have scored a couchsurfing spot at a guy´s place called Jorge, 20 minutes from the city center. After dropping Tim in the center, the taxi ride there is a little experience, as I only have the guy’s adress. While the warm carribean air breezes through the window and I realize that I just arrived in Colombia, the taxidriver explains that in Colombia it works less with street names and more with popular places that are close to the place where you want to go. But it seems like it´s not a problem for the taxidriver as it’s evening and people are out on the streets – after asking about 5 people we finally arrive at the adress.
The “known” place close to the adress was this soccer field by the way:
Jorge welcomes me super nicely and even prepares a traditional dinner. We talk about our travel experience and tell us about our countries. Jorge tells me that one has to be careful at night in the streets as a tourist, when being outside of the center… one expression I learn goes: “Que no les muestres la papaya!” which basically means “Do not show them the papaya!”, while the papaya in this case is your cellphone or other valuables that might call attention of potential pickpockets.
The first real day in the city I meet Daniel, a friend of a friend who stayed in Cartagena for a year. He is one of the most welcoming guys I have met on the journey so far and we spend the day together. The second Colombian culinary experience is a street breakfast with a drink called Pony Malta (like alcoholic free malt beer) and Buñuelos (some typical backery with cheese). Afterwards, he shows me around his part of town, which is located about 15 minutes from the city center. He invites me to his house and his mom cooks dinner for us. I really enjoy the local experience and am super thankful for Daniels´ welcomeness.
To give an impression, here is the view from Daniel’s window and Daniel himself:
After my first little Colombian siesta, Daniel wants to show me his school. However, the rain changes our plans and we end up watching kids enjoying the change of weather from the kiosk. Daniel asks me if I would like to try my first Colombian beer and obviously I can not decline. He recommends me Club Colombia Dorada and after taking my first sip, I am surprised how good it tastes with its malt taste. (To be honestly I expected worse). He then explains that the brewery of the beer in Bogota is called Bavaria and was founded by a German guy – genius dude…
After the rain stops, we take a bus just in time to see the aftermath of the rain, which makes us take off our shoes for crossing the street.
And even Daniel’s school did not stay dry…
The first impression of the historical town at the Carribean coast are great. The old center of the town with its colonial buildings and the city walls is impressive. The cultural and artistic part of the center called Getsemani invites for walks, good coffee and nice atmosphere with street musicians. We reunite with Tim and two guys he met in his hostel. The next culinary experience is called Cola & Pola, a blue-packaged beer mix beverage – and immediately my new favourite refreshment drink. We decide to walk to a place close to the center with a view on the skyline to see the sunset and enjoy our drinks.
So here is a night-selfie with Tim, Daniel, me and Leon from left to right:
Later that night I switch from the Couchsurfing place to a hostel in the center, where I just relax in the hammok before going to bed… what a successful first day in the city of Cartagena – excited to see what I will see and experience in Colombia in the following months.
The next days I spend exploring and getting to know a little bit of history. Tim, Veronica (a friend of Tim from Mallorca) and I try the free walking tour and get new insights and facts about the city. We learn for example that the city was freed by Simon Bolivar on the 11/11/1811 after being cut of from food supplies for a long time by the Spainiards. The city is called “la heroica” (“the heroic city”) since then. Here a few impressions of the city center:
Afterwards we have typical lunch with a soup and then a second plate with fish, rice and patacones (fried banana) including a drink – all together about 2,50 $…. yes, you can eat really cheap in Colombia, if you know where to look. After great Colombian coffee, we hit the city walls and watch the unfortunately very clowdy sunset.
So, overall the few days Cartagena has been fun but it´s the 25th of October now and my birthday is in two days. As my sister Eva is spending a semester abroad in Barranquilla, just 2,5 hours from Cartagena, I decide to take a bus and maybe come back for the independence days in November. And so I do, travelling up the coast to finally be able to give her the first hug in about 6 month. Super happy to be reunited with my little sister, we prepare foodwise for the next days and later meet at a rooftopbar where I get to know a few of her friends. As Baranquilla does not have so much to visit but a vibrant nightlife, the next few days consist of a lot of dancing, Aguadientes (the typical Colombian drink) and long nights. It feels a little bit like a time machine that brought me back to my Erasmus exchange semester in Almería in 2014/15.
One funny story from those days: we were taking an Uber with 7 people instead of 4 and, of course, we were stopped by the police. Not one of all the foreigners in the car had their passport with them – bad news – but suddenly a girl from our group started to go crazy and argued heavily with the policemen. All other passengers helped the police to calm her down and a few minutes later we shook the hands of the policemen and all seven of us entered the Uber again – just to bring us back to the flat in time to see the sunrise.
So after those four fun days of party, I decide it´s time to move on and hit the road into nature – Palomino a small fisher town with a nice beach is the next stop. After getting of the bus and walking to the hostel I meet Leandra, a fun travel buddy that I met in Boquete in Panamá before. We chose the Dreamer hostel next to the beach with a nice atmosphere:
Once arrived at the hostel we hit the beach and later meet two swedish guys with whom we watch the sunset. As they had already shared a bottle of tequila, this funny pictures was taken, where the two tried to form a heart together.
The next day I feel super rested and active and organize a group with whom I want to do the tubing on the Palomino river. Tim has also arrived in Palomino by now and with him we motivate some people from the hostel. Leandra and the two swedish guys, another group from Germany and Belgium, and twin sisters in their 40s joined to form a diverse team to tackle the adventure.
Tubeing in Palomino works like this: You basically rent a tube from a car tire and drive up the mountain on the back of a motorbike. There you put yourself on the tube and float down the Palomino river for two hours. As we were about 10 people, we connected the tubes as a group and floated down the river with loads of smiles and stories to be exchanged on the way. After one last turn of the river, we arrive at the sea and following a local lunch we chill at the pool and play games in the hostel in the night. Another relaxing day under the sun and with the chill atmosphere of Palomino. While ending the day with star-gazing, we plan the next day – a trip to Playa Camarones.
Before leaving with the bus the next morning, I move to Tims hostel to save some money. One thing Tim is really good at and what I am learning from him is: to safe even more money. The “problem” in a country like Colombia is that you already think that everything is cheap, if you translate a local price into your currency. Therefore you are likely to pay the given price. However, you can always negociate or find cheaper places and prices. One example: I ate at the more expensive hostel and for a menu with fish I paid about 25000 pesos (about 8$) – good price you think? Well, the typical local menu with fish costs about 8000 – 10000 pesos (2,50-3$). Same goes for hostels, busses, markets – so thank you Tim for this little lesson 😉
On the way to Camarones, we take a bus and I get to connect with a little baby on the seat next to me, which is curious about my blond hair as it tries to touch it and smiles. It´s funny how I seem different to the people here and I enjoy how most of the people are open and curious about where I am from and what I am doing here. This way I get to talk to many local people.
In Camarones we meet the best tourguide called Yeffersson who takes us out on his boat to see Flamingos and other birds in the laguna. His boat is carved out of wood and works with an improvised sail, that serves for the way to the bird spot. However, the way back he has to push the boat against the wind with his wooden stick – a hell of a workout. We saw many birds, mostly Flamingos, but see for yourself:
Before coming back to Palomino we eat at the beach with a sunset and then Yefferson and his friends take us back on their motorbikes to the bus stop. Such a nice day closed with a sunset dinner and a motorbike ride in the warm night.
At night we meet a girl in the hostel, called Anne, and we spend the evening with her while having nice talks about our travels so far and what we are thinking about doing next. Tim and I decide to leave for some more nature and hiking in the moring.
Our goal is Finca Carpe Diem a remote place in the mountains of Minca. After a busride we have to take the motorbike up the mountain for 20 minutes. The driver puts the big backpack in front of him, I put my little backpack on the back and our groceries in one hand and off we go ascending the steep, muddy road – a real experience. Arriving at the Finca, the location is incredible. We get a 4-person bedroom and a pool right in front with a stunning view on the nature around:
Later we hike up to a viewpoint, a steep walk about 30 minutes. During the way I am really quiet and meditative. It´s my first hike in nature for quite some time and I feel super relaxed while reconnecting with nature, as the air is superclear and the grass touches my legs while walking. I remember my time as a scout with a lot of hiking during our trips or the holidays in the Austrian montains with my parents and I smile while thinking about it. Up at the top we enjoy the sunset view on Santa Marta and take a few pictures before getting back to the hostel where we spend the night at the pool.
The next day we get up early and jump in the pool. Afterwards we pack some things and check out a lost city (that´s what they call old, abandonded villages from natives) and some waterfalls. One is called el Pozo del Amor and is so deep that you can jump from about 4 meter into the bottom pool. We end up spending the afternoon there.
At night my sister arrives with her friends and at dinner we decide to do a long hike (about 6 hours) the next morning to Minca. But we still enjoy the night at the pool.
The next day we leave at around 8 and I have the opportunity to apply my scout/hiking knowledge while navigating out hiking group through the montains along the “Paso del Mango”.
On the way we pass many views, see new plants and animals (especially beautiful butterflies and one huge spider). Also, monkeys a screaming in the woods and we even get to see one in the trees.
After a strong six hour walk with a few breaks, Tim and I arrive at a cheap hostal in Minca, where our friend Veronica is already located. (The others chose a different hostel.) During the remaining day we check the little town and the evening we spend at a viewpoint and enjoy another sunset while exchanging our experiences from the previous days.
As we left our main bags in the Finca, the next day we have to get back. This time Tim and I are alone and therefore hike faster…. beating our previous record from the day before by 3 hours. Even though the walk is fast, I am super concentrated and have many motivating and deep thoughts about my future when I get back to Germany – I realize that hiking really frees the mind. I discuss some of my thoughts with Tim and we arrive at the Finca. Time for another dip in the Pozo del Amor, but we are surprised by heavy rain on the way back. Just a few minutes after it started, the roads are turning into rivers and we get soaking wet. Nonetheless, we manage to pack and travel to Taganga, a fisher town next to the Tayrona National Park. As discussed the days before, we book a diving course there as with 215 $ it is one of the cheapest places in the world to receive a divers license.
After one night at the Alchemist Hostel, we leave in the moring for the first two diving sessions – such an incredible free floating feeling. We dive until about 6 meter to do different exercises like taking the mask off and on again, sharing air and so on. Around midday our dive teacher drop us at a place in Tayrona National Park where we would spend the next two days. Disconnected from everything we learn for the PADI Dive License and relax in the hammocks enjoying the breathtaking sunsets.
The next day the sun wakes us up in the hammoks and another diveday starts. The next two open water dives become deeper and we are able to see more variety of fish and plants in the underwater world of Tayrona National Park. We see Lion Fish, a huge Moraine, a Stonefish and many other small and colorful fish – floating at around 15 m under water. One more night and two dives later (6 dives in total), we take the test and both of us are awared with the PADI Open Water Diving license – bucket list check. The night we spend again in the Alchemist hostel and chill with a few volunteers there.
Our plan now is to get back to Cartagena for the independence days – but we decide to do another quick stop in Baranquilla to see my sister and her friends again. We try to do some hitchhiking but then it’s super hot in the sun, no one picks us up and a bus drops by who would charge us just 3€ for the 2 hour ride. So we just take the easy way out.
Yes, we also practiced some Salsa steps before leaving for the hitchhike. We actually received some claps from the hostel community 😀 .. still a long way to go though..
We spend the night by watching a Salsa show – which urged us even more to learn Salsa and later party it up with Eva and her friends.
The next day we take the bus to Cartagena for the independence days. The independence days go from the 1st of November until the 11th, during which many music acts and different parades happen in the center. The first night, however, I spend in the area where Daniel lives. He introduces Tim, Veronica and me to all his friends and we spend a fun night in the street, dancing, drinking, laughing and learning about the independence days.
The next day I hit the town for the big parade. The way there is a pure experience: I am alone and at some point the bus stops and everyone gets out to walk the rest of the way. Suddenly, a guy with dark color all over his body comes up to me and shouts something. Seconds later I am covered in dirt myself. Later I figure out that is a tradition that you are supposed to give some coins in order to not be covered with dirt, foam, colored powder etc.
Needless to say, I arrive at the parade completely covered in dirt, foam and colored powder. On the way to find Tim, someone also tries to pickpocket my phone but I am fast enough to prevent that from happening. I arrive at the place where Tim is with a bad mood but the happiness of all the viewers is contageous and the parade and positive vibe helps me get back into a good mood:
The parade really is impressive (unfortunaley I can not find all the videos I took – sorry). Next to colorful outfits, dances and so on the parade features the “reinas” (eng: Queens), who are the most beautiful girls from the different districts of Cartagena.
Later that night we stroll to the city, ultimately getting to Plaza de Trinidad in the center of Getsemani – the artistic part of Cartagena. We meet some locals and they show us how to dance “Vallenato”. Obviously we are really bad at it with our German rythm but it is fun and we have a good laugh.
In the picture above you can see the Plaza del Pozo. It’s streetparty in Getsemani and everybody is firing so called “buscapies” (eng: searching feet) fireworks even though it is super packed. I am regularly given a shock when one of the fireworks explodes next to my feet but apparently they are not dangerous – so I am told.
We enjoy this one last late night in Cartagena and the next day we leave from Daniels house.
On the way to the busstop I try to recapitulate what just happend in the last few days – impossible. I had such an amazing start in Colombia and I am excited what else I will see and experience in this beautiful country. Next stop Medellin!