After a very short night of sleep, the taxi waited in front of the hostel at 4 AM. We were leaving for the airport, the partygoers were leaving for their beds. Medellin sure was a very lively city. The experience at the airport was very pleasant. Our baggage was handled quickly, which left some time for a nice cup of Colombian coffee. Paired with a brownie for breakfast. It was just an hour flight to Cartagena. The flight was very comparable to any short flight I have had in Europe in the past. Only the amount of legroom was way too short.
After our arrival there, we immediately noticed the huge temperature difference. A tropical heat! I will sure need some time to get used to that! An official taxi cab took us to the One Day Hostel, at a short walking distance from the historic walled center of Cartagena. With the whole day ahead of us, we took the opportunity to get some rest and catch up on the sleep that we missed earlier that morning. At noon I go for a walk around the neighborhood. The streets and buildings are pretty and very colorful! I find a place with a slow food philosophy where they serve great sandwiches, salads and fresh juices. A pizza for dinner, and early to bed!
The breakfast at the hostel was simple, but plentiful. Ceri found a free city tour of Cartagena, for which she invited me. The tour started at 10 AM and would last for two hours. The guide knows a lot about Cartagena and its vibrant history. He shows us the places of historical significance, where the names of the various parts of the city come from, and why some doors have a door handle in a special shape (to show to which guild of profession someone belonged to).However, the interactive manner in which he gives the tour is a little bit annoying. After the tour I go in search of a bookstore to find books from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia’s most famous writer and Nobel prize winner. I buy one of his classics — One Hundred Years of Solitude — in English. Maybe when I get to learn Spanish a little bit better, I’ll return to his writings in Spanish.
A quick lunch and then off to the fortress Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. Built by the Spanish, it played a significant role in the history that shaped Colombia and Cartagena. Without an audio tour there is little to learn, unfortunately. That same night I meet up with my Swedish friends for some drinks. We met in Mendoza Argentina, and have seen each other in pretty much every country along the way — besides Ecuador that is. It was a very enjoyable night! We started at a terrace in the walled historic center, and ended up in the neighborhood of our hostels. There we found a vibrant plaza with festivities going on. We brought some liquor with us and had fun with the locals.
The surroundings of Cartagena have a lot too offer too. This was my first visit to the Colombian coast, and I eagerly wanted to see more of it. I had booked a day trip to the nearby Islas del Rosario the day before. A small group of islands, with beautiful white sandy beaches and places to snorkel. The trip started differently than I expected. A lot of old folks got on the bus too. Once we were at the beach we got instructions for the rest of the day. For me it started with a small boat ride and snorkel session. They dropped me off at the beach for lunch, where they served fresh fish! I spent the rest of the afternoon reading One Hundred Years of Solitude.
I had dinner together with one of the Englishmen I met in Salento. Crepes & Waffles, which was recommended to me, served nice food. Afterwards we went for some drinks. When I returned to the hostel I bumped into a small group who had just arrived. They — and one of the hostel’s staff — invited me to join them for a party. Sure, why not! A couple of hours (and many drinks) later, I had enough of this party and wanted to go back to the hostel. Out on the street I met some girls from the hostel, who invited me to join them. An invitation I couldn’t refuse. We ended up on a rooftop bar in the city center. Really cool! It was definitely one of the better nights out.
I stay in my bed until the end of the morning. A wild night out sometimes takes its toll. But that’s no issue today, as my transport to Santa Marta would leave at 1 PM. It leaves me with enough time to pack my backpack, go to the supermarket and ATM, and grab a good lunch. I return to the same slow food place as my first day in Cartagena. Mayhaps one of my favorite places to eat in the city. As I reflect on my travels, I have a small laugh with myself. It is quite funny to see how many different things I started to appreciate. A good change in my opinion.
The small transportation van needs about fours hours (it’s 225 km) to drive from Cartagena to Santa Marta, north along the Caribbean coast of Colombia. The Dreamer hostel, in the outskirts of Santa Marta, looks great. The rooms are all one the ground floor, and laid out around the pool. They have their own restaurant, where I get a good dinner and dessert. The bar and TV make it very lively too. There is only one downsides, unlike many other hostels there are mostly large groups of friends/travelers here. Which makes it harder to mingle.
Breakfast is served as a buffet, for which you have to pay extra. The quality is good and there is plenty of choice. During breakfast I made up a plan for today. For quite some time I wanted to get my diving certification. I did some research and decided to go to Taganga for the day. The place to be on the Caribbean coast of Colombia if you want to learn to dive. I write down a couple of PADI certified diving schools and get on public transport (just because I want to experience something different, and it’s ten times as cheap as a taxi cab). Not every diving school that I wanted to visit was open. I gather information and go over each diving school during my lunch. Fresh caught fish served at the beach. There is one that I liked a lot and had a good feeling about: Oceano Scuba. I return there to book my PADI Open Water diving course, and luckily they have a spot for the next day for me! Awesome! They recommended me a place to stay too, which I booked immediately. It is not doable to travel from Santa Marta to Taganga each morning.
Next I traveled to the city center of Santa Marta for some sightseeing. I heard about the Museo del Oro — museum of gold — which sounds fascinating. I spent the better part of the afternoon there, learning some about gold and plenty about the history of the region. The museum was way more interesting than I imagined. Before I returned to the hostel I got a cup of coffee at Juan Valdez — the Starbucks of Colombia, but way better. Santa Marta is not a very interesting city, but that is ok. Dinner at the hostel that night. I manage to watch half of the football game of Colombia in the Copa América before I go to bed.
My alarm went off at 6:15 AM. The breakfast buffet is not open yet, so I’ll have to do with the small breakfast that I brought in the supermarket yesterday. I check out of the hostel and go in search for a taxi cab at 7 AM. The drive to Taganga, which I expected to be at least 45 minutes long, goes a lot faster. That’s great! I don’t want to be late for my first diving lesson. I get to meet my diving instructor Mehran and my group. There are three other novices that want to learn to dive, a Colombian girl and a couple from Switzerland. A small boat takes us, and other divers, to their base of operations in the Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona: a small hut built on the rocky cliffs. Because of a drought there is little green vegetation left. The first dive will take place from the beach. We had some instructions at the diving office before, and had to watch a video too. We gear up and walk slowly into the water. Breathing using the diving apparatus is easier than I expected! We do a couple of exercises underwater — which we explained to us whilst we were preparing our gear.
They serve a simple, yet good tasting, lunch with fresh fruits. We get some time to rest before we go for our second dive of the day. Now we get to dive from the boat, which allows us to visit different dive sites. There are plenty more exercises to do underwater. But the nice thing is, that we do about 15 minutes of exercises and spend the rest of the time underwater exploring. Viewing the beautiful coral reefs, thousands of fishes, and to make it even more special: a turtle! I will be staying at Casa Moringa during my diving course. A small rocky path along the shores takes me to the hostel. It looks a little bit dated, but has everything I will need for the next few days. I meet a very friendly Dutch girl — Carin, who also takes a diving course with the same diving school. She invites me to join her and a group from the hostel for dinner that night. The food at Babaganoush is delicious. A great way to end my first day here in Taganga.
Another early rise for the diving lessons today. Just like yesterday, we start with some theory. They explain to us that besides the total of six dives that we get over the three days, we also need to learn some theory. Part of the theory is taught using videos that we have to watch in the diving school, and a part needs to be done by ourselves using an ebook. The diving tables that we need to learn today are not too hard for me. We get to do another two dives, with a break at the hut in between. The exercises underwater are different from yesterday. We even need to practice getting our diving equipment on and off whilst we are in the water. We dive to the maximum allowed depth of the PADI Open Water certification: 18 meters. Diving surely is very taxing, and I am feeling tired after my second day of diving. Unfortunately, we have to watch another two hours of videos today. Back at the hostel I do the knowledge reviews from the diving theory book that the school gave us. I rejoin the group of backpackers at the hostel for dinner. It’s great to relax with newly made friends after a long and tiring day.
Today is the big day: the third and final day of my diving course. There are two dives planned for today, followed by the exam. Before we head out from the diving school we get to make a practice exam. Good practice and a confidence booster. The first dive of today is a fun dive. No exercises need to be done underwater. Just relaxing and enjoying the beautiful underwater scenery. The lunch is the same as the two days before. Then we go for another fun dive, with a small exercise when we enter the water. The diving instructor shows us his favorite diving location, at a small island just off the coast of the Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona.
Back at the diving school we get to make the official exam. Fifty theoretical questions, and ten more questions about the diving table. I finish quickly, and the results of the exam follow shortly after. I answered three questions out of the sixty wrong. Not too bad. My diving instructor tells me that I have an excellent mark. Always nice to get a compliment! I have got my PADI Open Water diving certification in my pocket! Together with the group from my hostel we go out to celebrate that evening. First to Pachamamas for an excellent steak. Then a cocktail, and back to the hostel for a pool party. We go on until late, and only stop partying after we have emptied the stock of beer in the hostel.
|6||Morrito Largo, Tayrona||18m||56′|
I try to get some rest today, but I hardly slept last night. Three days of diving have taken its toll. I ended up with a cold and I’m not feeling well. Luckily, I have a day off today. I spend most of the day in and around the hostel. Reading my books, watching TV shows with my friends at the hostel, and sleeping in between to regain strength. I get to learn a bit more about Taganga. There is little to do besides diving, but they have a few nice places to eat. I get my lunch at Cafe Bonsai, a delicious sandwich with tuna and a brownie with icecream. I share my dinner with two friends from the hostel at a restaurant on the beach. The tacos that they serve a great too, but a bit on the small side. I’m glad that my appetite is still good, even when I’m not feeling too well. When we are going back to the hostel I see Ceri on the street. Me have a short conversation — we both went our own ways from Cartagena on. A very pleasant surprise, it was really nice seeing her again. Back at the hostel we watch the Hateful Eight, but I fall asleep halfway through the film.
I adjusted my travel plans at the last minute. Originally I wanted to go to Costeño today. However, Lenya and Steve invited me to join them to a two-day trip to Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona. That sounds very interesting! A small boat takes us in 1.5 hours from Taganga to the national park. It is a very bumpy ride. Luckily the scenery is stunningly beautiful. The further we go east along the coast, the greener and lusher it gets. The barren rocky cliffs make place for the jungle along the coast. Perfect white sandy beaches, clear blue water and palm trees. Such a sight could easily be used in any travel brochure!
We want to stay a night in Cabo San Juan in a hammock. The hammocks are really popular, we have to get in line with a lot of other tourists. After we have left our backpacks in the hammocks we can relax for the rest of the afternoon and evening. Enjoying the beach, beautiful sights and taking a swim. The water has a perfect temperature to cool down. After sundown we retreat to the only restaurant in the ‘campground’. We play some games of cards, get dinner and have great conversations. Finally we retreat to our hammocks for the night.
Sleeping in hammocks is not comfortable. At least not in the hammocks that I had to sleep in last night. We don’t have any choice for breakfast, there is still only one place where they serve food. We take some time off that morning to relax on the beach. At noon we get our backpacks and head to the park entrance. The only way to get there is on foot. That’s quite a challenge: I’m walking on my flip-flops, with a total of 16 kgs of backpacks on me, in the blistering sun. The two hour walk to the park entrance is worth it. Beautiful nature along the coast, a great chocolate bread for lunch and friends to share my experiences with. We say our goodbyes and each take a bus to a different destination. I will be going to Costeño, they will be going elsewhere.
Costeño and Palomino
My visit to Costeño isn’t what I expected. I’m still not feeling good, so I decide that I need some time to regain my strengths and get well. Costeño is much of a place. There are a couple of homes along the shoreline, and two hostels next to each other. It is an hour walk from the main road. The quiet location is very suitable for my plans. I stayed for two nights in the Brisa Tranquila hostel. Relaxing, sleeping, eating. And not to forget, plenty of time to read and work on my travel diary. I spend most of the time there on my own. I start to feel better already. The second night there I join some of the hostel for a ‘party’ at the hostel next door. I get to meet some new people. But back to bed to get some sleep.
After Costeño I leave for Palomino. A small town a bit further east along the Caribbean coast. The place is more lively, and the hostel is really pretty. A Dutch girl whom I met in Lima, Peru recommended this place to me: The Dreamer Palomino. My stay there is pretty much like my stay in Costeño. Relaxing and regaining strength. The food that they serve in the restaurant is a bit pricey, but really good. They have a TV too, so I can see a couple of football matches from the Copa América too! It sucks to be ill during my travels. I’m glad that this is at the end of my trip — I feel like I’m ready to go home now.
I have the rest of my trip planned out: I will return to Santa Marta for a single night. Then a flight to Bogotá early the next morning, where I will stay until I fly back to the Netherlands. But that’s a story for my next blog post.