First week in Colombia; the good, the burn and the Dutch

Dedicated the first week of my marathon trip to the Colombian Caribbean coast, where there’s a tough decision to be made between natural beauty and Colonial wonders. Highlights include:

Cartagena was my first stop. A good start to my aimless wanderings as, wherever I walked, I would quite literally hit a wall! Hard to get lost when encased in a fortress that’s been keeping people out since Sir Francis Drake popped by.

At first somewhat apprehensive about flying solo, I soon discovered my worries were unfounded as I couldn’t move for friendly gringos (mostly Yanks, Londoners and the Dutch- a lot of them.) Despite all being on different trips and schedules, we still found time to eat, mingle and explore together, and to drink, quite copiously. The still lingering Christmas lights irked me upon arrival in mid-January, but that was until I realised how much the culture of ‘late night street drinking’ could be enhanced by twinkles!

Once I’d found some wandering partners, the city opened up; a LOT of statues and busts of people who all probably had something tenuous to do with achieving independence; even more bizarrely abundant (and unexplained) distinctly modern, abstract sculptures; and a ton of old churches- my favourite being one with colour changing windows! I could totally get into religion if all churches doubled as kaleidoscopes!

Along with a pair I bonded with over our mutual love of free walking tours, we took a trip to the Volcan de Lodo el Totumo (‘mud volcano’ to you and I), which sits about an hour out of town- via the modern sprawl of the rest of Cartagena. It also sits up there with some of the more surreal experiences of my life so far. The crater itself is the size of, at a push, four pool tables arranged in a square; made even smaller by the unwanted masseurs. Instant manhandling was a given, as they lay you down, rubbed eagerly, floated you along to their “colleagues” and insisted you ‘relax!’ Easier said than done when you are acutely aware that there is no floor for 2000-odd metres and there are mystery floating bits working their way into your crevices! Once your “spa treatment” is over you are discarded into a corner to make sense of things. Unable to recognise my own hand before my face, I felt unexpectedly statuesque- once I ignored the fact I was flailing uncontrollably in a bath of mysterious shite! Discovered the trick was to stand totally straight in order to become weightless; guess I don’t need to go to space now!
To de-mud after the treacherous climb out, a coven of aggressive Colombian women wait with bowls of water to hurl at you. Zero respect for anything covered by my bikini, I essentially got charged 80 pence to become a mud-soaked peep show!

After de-filthing, and despite the little voice in my head warning against it, I have repeatedly tried to dance; but salsa and bachata don’t come naturally to my straight, white frame. Certainly not when I had to play the male lead to my Dutch friend, who stands at six foot tall, equally white and equally consumed by fits of the giggles. Our teacher was less than impressed and moved on to help more hopeful cases! But, regardless of my lack of sassy hips, the live music here is playful and abundant.

Several other days have been dedicated to the beach. Various beaches up and down the coast, but the beach nonetheless, upon which I do nothing but chat and sizzle. Felt I deserved a bit of a break for surviving the first few days of my trip rather spectacularly. Bocagrande, Playa Blanca y Bahia Concha, to be specific and to practice my Spanish (which gets me by at times and, at others, leaves me momentarily panicked and bewildered!) The most defining feature of all three playas being a toss up between bums, wind and selfie sticks.
Thong bikinis appear to be the in thing- I may as well be wearing a wimple with mine! The wind means that every time I reapply my factor 1 million, I turn into an ice cream that’s been dropped in the sand. And the many, many South American tourists in this area seem to spend all day on the beach perfecting their new profile picture. So I sit and observe, with my new favourite lemon crisps and a cerveza in hand.

Thus far I’m finding travelling alone to be totally liberating, having no one to please but myself (apologies if I return from this trip a totally selfish nightmare!) Whilst I’m a good few years younger than everyone I’ve come across, it’s never hard to buddy up. To quote my wise new best Dutch friend, dancing partner and fellow Gilmore Girls enthusiast, Delia: “it doesn’t feel like I’m ever alone and then sometimes I think ‘wow, I’ve made it on my own to Colombia, I’ve done it!'” (OK, so it’s not quite Descartes, but it pretty much sums up my current state of being.)

Off up some mountains and then to the urban jungle next. Watch this space.


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