Saturday, 9 June 2012

Northern Colombia: Sun, Sea, Sand and Sweat.

Arriving on the Northern coast of Colombia, we were hit by a wave of heat as we stepped off the 15 hour long night bus from San Gil. It was only 8am!

The plan for the following week or so would take us along the coast of the Caribbean Sea, from Costeno beach - an eco friendly surf camp, to one of the most historical, iconic and important cities in South America - Cartegena.

Santa Marta is a reasonably sized town and one thing it did have for us was a great hostel and an opportunity to meet people and get friendly with 'Ron'. (He's the guy who makes you forget things and struggle to get into the top bunk!). Other than a decent party and a nice breeze on the rooftops, Santa Marta has little to offer and can be seen in an afternoon even if you're a slow walker. It is however, a great gateway to an exciting area surrounding the town and after a few days of acclimatizing to the silly temperatures and taking full advantage of the ease in which Ron made an appearance, we packed day bags, jumped on a local bus and headed east along the coast to find Costeno beach.

Costeno was basic. We slept in hammocks and everyone ate meals at the same time that were cooked by a couple of Colombians on nothing more than a few camping stoves - the 20 minute walk down a dusty track had us all sweating by the time we arrived but the reward for the effort put into getting there is more than returned.

It isn't in the Lonely Planet guide so word of mouth is the best way to find Costeno or.....word of hair. On our second night we were given the now traditional 'Costeno 7' - an act of shaving ones head on one side to portray a number 7 from the temple, round the ear and to the bottom of your hairline. It looks ridiculous on most people but ALMOST (you know who you are) everyone buys into the spirit of the camp. And it's a pretty good conversation starter one you get back to the 'Real World'.

Costeno beach itself is really pleasant and offers good waves for anyone wanting to try their hand at surfing. The break is strong though and its hard work just trying to stand up in the water, let alone on your board. The nights were filled by beach fires and card games (Ron was only invited on the second night) and it was only the inevitable wanting for a clean pair of shorts and mattress that bought our stay at Costeno to an end.

Back to Santa Marta and back to the delight of air-con. Itchy feet had us sampling the night life in a local fishing village - Taganga. For a local fishing village it came out looking pretty good. Locals, travellers, men, women, old and young seemed to congregate in a bar overlooking the village, drinking copious amounts and dancing until our legs were glad of a rest. Something I'm fully aware of now is how much the Colombian lifestyle is dominated by the importance of letting their hair down and going wild for the weekend's. It definitely isn't a bad thing but at the moment its crushing my £30 a day budget. I keep telling myself we'll claw it all back in the cheapies - Peru, and especially Bolivia.

The next leg of our journey was one I'd been looking forward to since the realisation of coming to South America became apparent. Cartegena is 5 hours bus ride from Santa Marta and a World away looks wise. Straight off the bus you can appreciate the colonial feel to the streets and buildings. Each is a different colour and size, and the pedestrian friendly road rules make exploring much more enjoyable. The other noticeable difference is the heat. It isn't as crazy as people were warning us of but without a breeze it can get stiflingly hot. The famous wall around the old part of Cartegena is an inspirational walk. Although now a days it is littered with police and street sellers, the feel of history and tradition remains strong.

Keeping with the trend of going back to basics, we spent a night on 'Playa Blanca' - an island 40 minutes (and a lot of hassle!) from Cartegena. I managed to top up my sun burn and find a new level of relaxation as we did almost nothing but lounge in the baking heat, read books and remind each other how lucky we were to be in our position. Late in the evening we did something I'll never forget. It was close to a full moon and verging on midnight we - Myself, Cal, John, Dan and Nat - relinquished large quantities of clothing and swam out into the sea where we could see phosphorous lighting up our movements under water. It was like something out of Avatar as we swirled around in the water - it's often simple, inexpensive memories like this that stick with you the longest.

At the moment we're in Medellin - the infamous City of drug cartel lord Pablo Escobar. More to come of that later.....

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