But For the Sky
3Jul/11Off

Caribbean Coast: Cartagena and Tayrona National Park

When we last left you, we had just arrived in Cartagena, a small and quaint--if a bit sleepy--colonial town. Or maybe it just seemed sleepy because we were tired the whole time, and a large portion of our three days there were spent sleeping and kicking the end of the fevers that afflicted us in our first 24 hours. Needless to say, we never got the chance to show the locals how Washingtonians salsa (read: poorly). Nonetheless, we enjoyed strolling around the streets, sitting in green parks and playing cards, eating our fill of fresh seafood, and drinking from fresh coconuts at every opportunity. We finally understood the charm of the city when we borrowed bikes from the hotel and took a ride around the old town, followed by watching the sunset from a café situated atop the wall of the old city with beautiful views of the sea. Okay, Cartagena, I get it: you're pretty. I just wish you weren't so humid!

Feeling up for a little adventure on our last day, we joined a tour to Volcán del Totumo, a local attraction featuring a 20m tall volcano with a 3m opening at the top exposing a deep pool of rich, silty mud. After getting off the bus, stripping to our bathing suits and sandals, and climbing the volcano, we hopped into the mud bath and were covered with the stuff. Sitting in it was a supremely strange experience: it is very fine, yet very dense, so you can float effortlessly, or with a little practice you can shift yourself to a vertical position, covered to about the chest. It felt like we might imagine it feels in outer space: complete weightlessness and no sense of which direction is up. After rinsing off in a nearby lake, we headed back with smooth skin and a sense of accomplishment.

After leaving Cartagena, we decided to check out Tayrona National Park, which hugs the coastline for 85 km and is known for its unspoiled beaches. The beach bum in me was worried that this might be the last chance I'd have to park it in the sand in a bathing suit with a good book until South Africa, and the park had been recommended to us by a friend, so we thought why not? We paid a little more to take a shared 'direct' van for the 5 hour drive from Cartagena to Santa Marta, a port city and the gateway to the park. In Santa Marta we dropped off our stuff in a hostel and brought only the bare necessities with us. We took a one-hour minibus to the entrance of the park, a colectivo (an even more 'mini' bus, more like a van) from the park entrance to the start of the trail, and then a two-hour muddy, sweaty hike through the jungle to Cabo de San Juan, an area with camping, a nice beach, and a place to eat where we would stay for two nights. For 48 hours, we read under the palm trees, ate fresh seafood, hiked in the jungle, and slept in hammocks. The beaches were more crowded than I expected for a place that was pretty tiring and time-consuming to get to; I suppose at the end of that journey I wanted my only competition for beach real estate to be the fallen coconuts. Perhaps my favorite part was sleeping in hammocks-- it was surprisingly good for our backs and I love the feeling of sleeping in the fresh air. After two days we were ready to leave the heat and humidity behind, so we rode horses through the muddy park trails and hopped on a bus headed back to Santa Marta, which was experiencing flash floods, caused by what seemed like a pretty minor rain event, and turning most of the streets into one foot deep rivers. Yesterday we flew to Bogota (instead of a 16-hour bus ride to save time since we have a deadline of getting down to Quito in eight days). More about Bogota later!


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Posted by Claudia