It has been a while and as far as my blog is considered I am still in Colombia. But… I’m home. It’s Christmas. And… it was like 60 degrees today? I spent the day wrapping presents, looking at our Christmas tree and driving around with the sunroof open. It’s confusing and has me thinking Santa is better off in a bathing suit then one made of velvet. With that we’ll go back down memory lane to final days in Colombia.
At orientation and a few other times throughout the semester groups of people would visit each other’s cities. I was lucky to live in Medellin, a city people wanted to visit so I got to see lots of friends! A few of us decided to spend the final two weeks on the Caribbean coast before we headed on to whatever would come next.
I met up with Caroline, Maggie and Amy in Cartagena, Colombia. Cartagena is probably the most popular tourist destination in Colombia and is called the “Jewel of the Caribbean”. There one of Caroline’s friends, Madeline, from the States came down to explore with us. Cartagena is what its rumored to be – a beautiful walled city, incredibly hot and touristy.
While we were there the Copa America – American Cup was going on. Colombians are CRAZY about soccer. Yellow jerseys are everywhere. We knew we wanted to get jerseys and find somewhere to watch the game.
Throughout our 6 months in Colombia Maggie made a real name for herself as a face paint artist. At every party she was prepared with face paint and glitter. This really worked out in our favor. The morning of the game we got breakfast in a little family restaurant and after we ate Maggie painted each of our faces with the Colombian flag. Every single table stopped eating and stared. There was a lot of hushed conversation and then people looking over. Finally one woman got up the courage, brought us her 8 year old child and said “Paint child.” After that Maggie legit had a line out the door. People patiently waited for Maggie to paint their children. Any child too small to stand there and be painted was just immediately handed to me and I held them while they got painted. There was almost no communication in English or Spanish just me holding kids and Maggie painting them.
There was a 2 minute lull in the face paint requests so we booked it out of there before another line formed. Next step, find somewhere to watch the game. As I mentioned Cartagena is hot. Like… soak yourself is sweat, hot. Like… I just stepped out of the door and I’m dripping, hot. Like… there is no natural shade and if I don’t find a roof to stand under I might die – hot. We asked locals where we should go to watch the game? Where would be fun? Everyone kept telling us that there would be a giant screen with game projected on in the main plaza, drive-in movie style. We were then immediately cautioned that there would be no shade. Each person gave us this sort of side-eyed look to imply that our intense whiteness would get fried if we attempted to go 2 hours in the direct sun, especially at midday. Drive-in game watch was NOT AN OPTION.
It took a while of (sweaty) walking around but we finally found a tiny convenience store that put up 2 TVs (smaller then the ones in my parent’s house) in front of their store. They had super cold beer and there was a giant tree to sit under. SOLD! It was great local spot to watch the game, even if we had to squint a little to see the TV. People immediately noticed our jerseys and flags. They LOVED that 5 foreign girls were dressed for the game. People started asking us to paint their faces too. Maggie painted flags and people showed their gratitude by supplying us with beers and aguadiente – crazy Colombian liquor. One man was so taken with Amy’s blonde hair and painted face that he spent the second half of the game proposing marriage and introducing Amy to people as his wife. We loved it, and she tolerated it like a champ! We spent the rest of the day eating ice cream and walking the wall around the city. Even after the game people were very excited to see us in jerseys!
The next day was our time to explore. We visited the fort and walked all over. It was lovely and hot. Really hot. Noticing a theme? Hot.
Next up was Santa Marta. Santa Marta is the launching place for the beach. We stayed at a hostel we loved there, La Guaca. We met some fun people and arranged a jeep taxi to take us to the beach. Everyone just piles in and when you think there is no more space two or three more people get shoved in. The beach was fine, not amazing but a nice place to spend the day. We bottle brought a giant rum juice box and bought fresh juice on the beach. Made for a good day.
After a few days it was time to move on again. Next stop, Taganga, the “hippy part” of Santa Marta. We had our same driver take us to our new spot – about 30 minnutes away. I’m not sure what was harder, to fit eight people or the original five girls AND our backpacks. There was a lot of shoving, arms and legs were everywhere but finally the driver got the trunk gate closed. The next place we stayed was also very cool. Nice pool. Amazing views. And the cutest kittens ever. I’m not even a cat person but there kittens were adorable and followed us everywhere.
From Taganga we went to a little beach accessible by boat. The boats were kinda sketchy, completely overcrowded and there were no docks. Climb in, jump out. It was fine, it was a short trip and we always stayed close to the shore. This beach was our most crowded. We were traveling at the beginning of Colombian summer vacation season and you could tell. We rented chairs for the day because shade continued to be a must. We ate fried fish, swam and drank. Another good day.
On to the next – we were moving pretty quick. I think we spent about 2 days in each place. But the place we were most excited about was Parque Tayrona. An amazing and beautiful national park along the Caribbean. You take a bus from Taganga and then hike for about 2-2.5 hours until you get to beach campground. I was super psyched and had wanted to do this hike the whole time I was in Colombia. Unfortunately this trip was when my sciatic nerve started really bothering me. The girls were super supportive and I was glad to be with friends while I was in pain! I couldn’t do the hike. There was no way I would be able to hike for 20 minutes much less 2.5 hours. Time for plan B. Thankfully there was a boat! Boat, sure, easy-peasy. I felt kinda lame for not hiking but it was my only option.
Turns out this boat was redic. First of all, finding the boat involved a lot of doing. But, I managed that. Then, I had to get on the boat which may look easy but it’s not. You’re about waist deep when you have to climb in, over the engine and sit down all while wearing a giant life vest (which later I would come to appreciate.) Ok, so I get in the boat and we’re off. The boat ride starts out pretty rocky. The waves are intense. I figure we just have to get out of the bay and we’ll be fine. Wrong. We get out of the bay and it gets about 100 times worse. The boat is catching sooooo much air and then it just SLAMS down like a ton of bricks. People are crying. People are puking. I involuntarily screamed several times. You’re probably unaware but when I am startled I have an extremely high pitched scream. The first time I accidentally screamed I think my scream actually scared the guy next to me more then the wave. We’re even though because since there was nothing to hold onto, he held onto me and I ended up with a bruise in the shape of his hand print on my thigh.
I thankfully do not get seasick. I am pretty confident that not getting seasick on that 45 minute boat ride from hell means I will never get seasick. The waves were SO high and we dropping down SO hard that I actually said to myself… listen, you WILL go overboard. But, it’s going to be ok. You’re a good swimmer. You’re going to just float on your back. Just float. Someone will eventually come for you. Your friends know you are on a boat. Just breath. It’s going to be ok. Turns out I’m a great internal monologue pep talker. In the end we somehow, someway, made it there. I did not go overboard.
I love boat rides. I love fast boat rides. I even enjoy choppy boat rides. I never want to make that boat ride again. DO THE HIKE PEOPLE. The boat ride is NOT worth it.
Ok, so, I’m alive. When we arrive we don’t really get to shore. Everyone, including children just have to jump out and swim in. It was the wrong time of day to arrive so the swim was pretty tough. When they finally made it to the beach people just laid down and WEPT. Colombians are emotional people. It was crazy. But, again, I’m alive.. and now it’s time to find my friends. I meet up with them, tell them all about my crazy ride and we get in line for hammocks. You can either rent a tent or sleep in a hammock, we went for the hammock option. It was actually great. We all slept well. There was no mosquito issues (possibly because we bathed ourselves and our things in bug spray). I would def do it again.
The beach is beautiful. We would wake up early and try to find a place on the beach that would provide all day shade. Still hot, real hot and we were hoping to avoid major sunburns. Unfortunately my sciatic went from bad to worse while we were there. Walking on loosely packed sand is pretty much the worst possible thing for the condition I was in. So bad, that when faced with the option of hiking out or taking the boat back I choose to take the boat.
Here goes. Turns out the boat ride back was much calmer. People screamed but didn’t cry. There were only 2 or 3 people puking instead of several. I only thought I was going to go overboard two times instead of dozens. Improvements.
It was a great trip. We had a ton of laughs. Enjoyed many cocktails. Cheered on our adopted country and pretended our fried fish could talk. Even with my horrible sciatic issues I wouldn’t have traded my days on the coast. Colombia I loved ya, Costa Caribe you’re beautiful and I’m happy to have survived!
It was quite the sendoff and I was sad to say goodbye when I left. Lucky for me I was still prolonging the “real world” and had Central America to look forward to! Next stop, Nicaragua!
*** Thanks to Amy, Maggie, Caroline and Madeline for letting me steal some of your photos! xo