Before my friends from Chicago left we took a day trips outside of Santa Marta. The first was to a small fishing-village-turned-backpacker-hotspot called Taganga.
Taganga sits in a little bay where boats line the shore and the sun sets in the distance each night.
The boats are a mix of fishing boats and boats used to take people scub diving. As a result of the backpacker explosion there are countless scuba-diving companies that have sprung up, each offering P.A.D.I. (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) O.W. (Open Water) and A.O.W. (Advanced Open Water) certification for a fraction of the cost you would pay in the States or in Europe. Besides the low price, Taganga is a nice spot to get scuba-certified because of the beautiful bay it sits in, offering colorful coral reef and fish to take in at close range.
Our ride to Taganga from Santa was not unlike every other short distance (<3 hours) ride I’ve taken in South America – a cramped collectivo packed with people. In these rides someone usually has to sit in the uncomfortable middle seat near the driver facing backwards.
This is not to say that my friends sharing the collectivo with me were relaxing in luxurious comfort. It was a crowded affair. At least I had a seat.
Despite the lack of room Pete still seemed to maintain a positive disposition…or is that smirking?
In the end the crowded ride was worth it – we got to Taganga right as the sun was setting.
And there were delicious cheese-and-butter-filled arepas awaiting us – on Juan’s recommendation this would be our first taste of these delicious starchy creations that are sold all over Colombia.
After the arepas we checked out some of the entertainment in Taganga – first this random guy doing some “moves” on an exercise ball.
Can’t say I was impressed. There was a much better vibe over by some instrumentalists accompanied by some very energetic dancers.
A few of us found our way over to a grill place run by a man who did not attempt to hide his views on the situation in Isareal and the Gaza Strip. But the man could grill – I wandered into his small shop and picked out the two biggest fish he had. Five minutes later they were on the grill.
Sixty minutes later they were in front of us.
Another hour later and we were all stuffed and heading home.
The next day we took a trip to Parque Tayrona.
Parque Tayrona is a national park on the north coast of Colombia famous for its beaches that dot the shoreline. We started out every trip from our house in Santa Marta I by heading across the highway and hailing the first bus we saw.
It was a pretty easy (and cheap) way of getting to downtown Santa Marta – we never had to wait longer than 3-4 minutes for a bus. From the main market in Santa Marta we caught another bus to Tayrona.
Within the first couple minutes of our hike into the park Joe was able to demonstrate his spiderman skills on a climbing net.
It was an overcast day but it was still fun to watch the waves crash in from the miradors (viewpoints) along the hike.
Though some of the beaches are swim-able many are not, due to dangerous hidden rocks under the shallow water.
The lack of people swimming on these plus some signage warned us to avoid these spots.
One of the bigger rocks along the beach were covered in small little crabs.
The crab rock was a nice spot for an obligatory dude shot, sans Errol and Juan – my guess is that they were off looking for “El Niche,” a legend in Parque Tayrona for his “riding” skills. We never did find “El Niche.”
Our hike led us through intermittent humid jungle and beaches.
At several points along the hike we would step across ant-highways.
As you can see in the below video the red ants without leaves are going left (presumably to a nice place to cut up and grab a leaf) and all the ants with leaves are going right to deliver their freshly cut leaves. Ignore Ryan’s potty mouth – he just really doesn’t like red ants.
At one of the smaller beaches one savvy young entrepreneur had opened shop right on the rocks.
Eventually we made it to La Piscina (“The Pool”), one of the swim-able beaches in Tayrona.
We spent the day relaxing on the beach and swimming in the Carribean. Ryan D. and I wandered off for a bit and joined some local kids in taking running jumps off some of the bigger boulders along the beach.
On our walk back to the trailhead we ended up on the “horse trail.”
Besides the occasional dodging of horses, the main problem with this was that the trail was absolutely covered with horse shit. With just about every step we were flicking the stuff on ourselves and on each other. This wasn’t as big of a deal for me – the only pair of shoes I ever bring with me while backpacking are a pair of hiking shoes – but for folks like Andy Don, who had a nice new pair of Nike kicks, horse shit was not an ideal trail carpet.
I haven’t followed up on this but the shit may have done more than just dirty up shoes – Andy Don had a massive rash break out on his lower leg a couple days after the hike. I am guessing he is well now but its never fun to have that happen on vacay.
On our ride back to Santa I had the pleasure of sitting with our fearless leader of the trip, Mr. Juan Bottía.
As I mentioned in my last post my great group of Chicago friends left me on January 6th. When we split in Cartagena they headed for the airport and I boarded a bus headed back to Santa Marta. On this bus I met three awesome M.B.A. students, Lucas Posada, Jessica Cheng and Caroline Kolb, finishing their degree up at the University of Texas, Austin.
Much like Barranquillia-born Juan Bottia was the inspiration of my Chicago friends’ trip, Medellín-born Lucas Posada had convinced his fellow classmates to come join him in his country. Both Lucas and Juan had good reason to lead their friends to Colombia – it is arguably one of the happiest nations on earth.
Pacho Bottía, Juan’s dad, was letting me crash at his place in Santa Marta for a few nights so my first night back in Santa Marta I grabbed dinner with Lucas, Jessica and Caroline. My original intention with returning to Santa Marta was to get P.A.D.I. certified in Taganga – a plan I ended up ditching when I realized that scuba diving is neither plentiful nor that amazing in South America. Will have to save that certification for a visit to southern Thailand.
The next day Caroline and I decided to take a day trip to Minca, a small rural village set in jungle-ish hills near Santa Marta.
That morning in Santa Marta we arrived at the “spot” where cars are supposed to leave for Minca and found a broken-down beater with the hood up and a mechanic working on it – confidence in our ride was surely inspired. But the car made it, even if the road was one-lane and the ride was bumpy.
After getting dropped off in Minca we hitched a ride to the trailhead for the Pozo Azul waterfall, which is actually a series of waterfalls that families in Santa Marta and Colombian tourists like to come to.
On our way to the falls we crossed a dodgy old bridge that looked like it was overdue for a stability inspection.
The falls were popular that day and every spare sitting rock was occupied by kids and other family members.
A rope swing at the bottom tier of the waterfall made for some classic swing-and-let-go entertainment.
One of the most popular spots at the falls was at the second tier of the waterfall, where a group of young guys were jumping and diving off the edge of the waterfall to impress each other and the girls sitting below.
They were executing just about every variation of waterfall jump.
Some guy was even rocking back flips.
After observing what at first glance seemed crazy, Caroline decided to join the boys and take the plunge.
Not about to be outdone – “If your friend jumped off a bridge, would you?” – I talked myself into trying a jump.
But not without second thoughts near the edge of the waterfall.
These types of jumps always seem less high from the bottom of the jump. When you actually get to the top of the jump and look down from the edge its always way higher than it looked from the bottom.
In the end I made the jump and was glad I did – it was fun!
After taking the plunge Caroline and I went up the road to a small family-run café, hostel, and wildlife photography expedition tour company.
Over our cups of juice and joe we met Sebastian Ballesteros Caro, a Minca resident and an excellent photographer who runs Photonatura Expeditions, Wildlife Watching & Nature Photography. Some of Sebastian’s work can be found at www.photonatura.webs.com.
Caroline liked his work so much that she ended up buying one of his photos right there on the spot. She got a great photo too – a picture of a Colombian hummingbird feeding on one of the family’s outdoor feeders taken with a high speed camera.
After grabbing dinner in Minca, we suffered another very bumpy ride back to Santa Marta. The bus dropped me off as far as humanly possible from Pacho’s place but did land me next to a pool hall.
I saw pool halls all over Santa Marta – these massive halls are quite big in Colombia and South America in general.
The next day I headed to Taganga to meet Lucas, Caroline, and Jessica. We ended up heading back to Parque Tayrona the next day, this time to Bahía Concha, a pleasant beach to the west of La Piscina.
At the beach we swam out to an abandoned boat in Bahía Concha’s bay and did some dives off the edge until we were instructed to leave – the boat had already taken on a fair amount of water and our playtime would make sinking even more likely.
So we came back, napped, and occasionally obliged the series of walk-by vendors.
It was a much sunnier day than my first day in Parque Tayrona.
When we got back to Taganga I had a chance to watch my second sunset, this time with the U.T. students.
I dare say it was better than the first sunset I’d seen with my Chicago friends, probably because we got there a bit earlier.
The best touch was seeing the lighthouse in Santa Marta that Pacho Bottia’s “El Faro” was based on, its spire reaching up from the rock in the distance.
The next day my Texas companions all left me – the girls to Bogota and Lucas to visit his family in Medellín before heading back to Texas.
I took a cambio back to Santa Marta and then cabbed it to the bus station, where I just missed a bus to Bucaramanga. I did happen to run into a fellow Hawkeye though – its just crazy how many loyal hawk fans I find around the world…. 🙂
For reasons I will explain in the next blog post, missing the day bus ended up being a good thing. Instead of not-really-worth-it Bucaramanga I met two swell Aussies at the bus station later that night for a night-ride to Bucaramanga who ended up convincing me to come straight to San Gil with them – it ended up being a great decision.