Our first image of Colombia was with the sun rising after a two night passage as we went into Cabo del Vela, a bay just past the Venezuelan border. The land was rugged and dry at this point but we knew we were heading towards dense jungles further along the coast. We dropped anchor and slept for a few hours before heading west towards Santa Marta just after lunch time. We still had another 130 miles to go so it meant another overnight sail.
Santa Marta is a bustling city which is working hard to attract tourists after the notorious reputation that Colombia received during the years when it was overrun by drug lords. There are many micro businesses along the road side as everyone is trying to scrape together a living. Santa Marta is framed by mountains and beautiful a coast line. It is hot and steamy here on the coast and we are having to make a real effort to explore beyond the immediate streets outside the marina.
A day trip to nearby national park Tayrona had us weaving our way through an authentic, smelly market place. There was an abundance of exotic fruits and alien looking fish species for sale. Toothless grandmas sat with a few plucked chickens done up with a variety of vegetables to entice the buyer. Others were wheeling and dealing in mobile phones and the latest pirated movies. From just beyond the market we caught a noisy bus full of tourists and locals that zoomed along the coast line for forty-five minutes before we were unceremoniously dropped off outside the front gates of the park.
We were fortunate enough to be travelling with two other cruisers, Jack and Jan and we also met Leighton and Paula on the bus. Leighton is from Miami, where he met his beautiful Colombian wife, Paula. They were on their way to a surf beach further along from where we were getting off. A quick exchange on the bus led me to give them an invitation to Qi for dinner. We had a lovely night and received so many local insights from them. They are living here and are both teaching English. Jack, the cruiser we spent the day with, is also from the US and Jan is a Canadian who spent a lot of time in Australia and we discovered one degree of separation from someone we both knew.
Once off the bus we paid the park fee and were ushered onto another bus for the 5km drive into the park. There the road ends but there was still another few kilometres before we reached the beach. We had the option of hiring a mule for the trek but we opted for shank’s pony. The jungle walk was hot and steamy. By the time we reached the beach it was lunchtime and we found a nice outcrop of rocks along the beach to sit and picnic. Spotting the crocodile lurking in the pond behind the rocks gave us a bit of a start.
No one believed me at first and then one by one the others got to see it as well. It was a bit unnerving with it watching us during lunch. A Colombian style Big Brother. Thomas and I went on a bit further to find a croc-less beach for a swim. On the way back we spotted the crocodile watching all the people walking straight past it. We seemed to be the only ones who noticed it.
Tayrona was a beautiful place but if anyone has been to Magnetic Island off the coast of Townsville they would have spotted many similarities. Big granite boulders, palm trees and small bays. The amount of jungle reaching the beach was a big difference though.
Today we went up to Minca which lies in the foothills of South American’s highest coastal mountain range. The temperature was cooler and it was nicer for hiking. The road was full of potholes on the way up and the driver didn’t really go beyond forty kilometres an hour. We hiked to a nearby waterfall and swam with the locals. Unfortunately, we were caught in a downpour and were soaked, but that didn’t spoil our enjoyment of the place.
On the way back from the waterfall we called into this funky cafe. Thomas tried their homemade sausages that were packed full of chunks of meat. Then afterwards the owner offered him some dessert, a container of marijuana. He politely
laughed and said no thanks. Other patrons, who were having dessert, pointed out a toucan flying from tree to tree. It was my first toucan that I’d seen in the wild. I’d actually seen it fly past and pointed it out to Thomas as a colourful bird but I didn’t notice the enormous beak. Talk about psychedelic, the whole experience. Very cool.
We wandered up one of the few streets of the small village enjoying the ambience of the place and found a lovely cafe overlooking the river. It was called the Lazy Cat and much to Thomas’ and my delight both of the resident cats came for a smooch. There’s a lot of extreme sports available in Minca at great prices so we decided that if we need to get out of the heat of Santa Marta we can always return for a couple of days of cooling down.
When it came time to get a taxi back to Santa Marta we noticed all the drivers sitting around a table drinking beer. Thomas looked around for other options and negotiated a ride down on the back of a motorbike taxi for each of us. I was reluctant at first because I didn’t like the idea of being separated from him but I conceded when the only other option was to wait for a sober taxi driver. It was fun, fast and we got to have a great view. It was a great way to finish of our second day of exploring Colombia.