The past 24 hours have been quite adventurous! I got to Santa Marta late Friday after a long day of traveling from Guatape via bus, taxi, plane, taxi. Masaya was a really cool hostel! Had a pool, a rooftop bar/kitchen/pool/dance floor, and I finally danced with a professor from Andorra. He gave me some really helpful travel hints, one of which I'll share here since it's more general-MapsMe is an offline maps application for your phone. Download it, you'll thank me later!!
I then met up with a CS who let me keep my stuff at his cousin's house while I was in Tayrona and showed me around the local market. I'm so happy I brought the food I did-a bullo of maize (think tamale minus the stuffing), a bit of queso costeno, another huge avocado, and some fruit. I was advised to get to Tayrona early and by the time we met up with his counsin and went to the market it was pushing 9:30. Nevertheless, they were very gracious having me try this aloe juice and that corn masa, and saw me off. THe only stop on the bus was the bench in front by the driver. While I was on display, Tayrona is really touristy so it wasn't that big a deal. I got off the bus quickly, the advantage to being in the front, and rushed to stand in line, only to find out 2 things 1) I could have made a pre-reservation and 2) you took a ticket number. I waited for close to an hour and a half and finally entered the park for $2 less than my private room in Medellin!
I began hiking (and sweating almost immediately) in the jungle-wooden bridges, humidity, and lizards galore. Iguanas didn't seem afraid at all! I got quite close to multiple! I met two Paraguayans, Andres and Diego, who were on vacation and going to Florida after to do a work-study program. We ended up conversing the whole way and spending the rest of the time together. One studied opera (even in Paraguay!) and one studied business. THey both spoke English, but by default we spoke Spanish. Honestly it's harder for me to think in English than Spanish at this point. We stopped for a beach picnic after some lookout pictures. It's so rare because the path leads to a beach right out of the jungle! The jungle reminded me a lot of Belize, both in climate and appearance, and the beach was beautiful with rocks and the jungle backdrop. There was one beach called La PIscina (the pool) where one could swim, but we still had 40 mins to reach our destination so we decided to continue on-I was determined to get one of the hammocks! After crossing streams, mud,sand, and jungle, we arrived at Cabo de San Juan and wow was it gorgeous. Many others seemed to think so as well, but it was worth it regardless. It was interesting because it was a park, but it also had a restaurant, outdoor bathrooms, and lockers. I got lucky traveling solo and scored one of the coveted mirador hamacas-hammock that looked out onto the ocean! It was beautiful and frankly, after that hike and the past two weeks of research, I deserved it! I strew clothes on my hammock so others wouldn't sit in it and went swimming. Boy did the water feel incredible! DIego and Andres camped and I met up with them riding the waves like I used to in New Jersey with my cousins on boogie boards.
And then it began to drizzle, which turned into pouring rain. We took shelter under the restaurant roof and for the first time I didn't have my book and wanted it (didn't think it'd be worth the weight). Regardless we had a nice chat and waited for the rain to cease. An ice cream vendor continued to say he was going and this was our last chance to get ice cream...for an hour. Pretty amusing. The horses were all saddled up (they might have even slept like that overnight :() and I splurged on a juice of course twice the price as normal. Thank god I brought the extra 50,000 I did because I spent every penny! The credit card reader wasn't working with the weather so after an outdoor shower (with very low walls) we split a fish plate three ways. Coconut rice might just be my new favorite thing. We definitely demolished it, but somehow the one plate fed all three of us! I bought a lock for the lockers that I ended up selling to them at their request (and a way for me to get more cash! If you go to Tayrona, bring A LOT of pesos). They then accompanied me to the mirador where my hammock was located and we had an amazing view of the stars. No meteor showers here (It was perseids), but still beautiful. My first hammock camping was great-no bugs (though I took local precautions-both a pill that makes your sweat a repellent, and a soap that you don't wash off), and I actually woke up slightly chilly and thankful I had brought the scarf and jacket I did (hard to imagine being cold earlier in the day!). Because it was rainy, no sunrise, but the rain shortly subsided and Andres, Diego, and I had a breakfast picnic on the beach of a stuffed pepper with avocado and tuna, and some fruit. Little random, but it sufficed (I had no more money for even the cheapest thing on the menu because it was 3x as expensive as breakfast usually is!).
I then set off for Pueblito, which translates as little town. I knew it was up a mountain, but was in NO way prepared for what lay ahead. THere was a sign that said "if you value your shoes more than the hike, it's not worth it" but nothing about the difficulty of the hike or the terrain that lay ahead. Within 10 minutes, I couldnt' figure out where the path continued, and after wandering around for a bit, met two German ladies, and very thankful I did. Turns out we had to crawl through a cave (the arrow on the sign said to go that way, but I didn't realize it meant THROUGH the cave!). And that was just the beginning. Over the course of the next hour, we hoisted ourselves up rocks, praying we wouldn't slip, used each other for hands and German-English-Spanished our way through the jungle. We encountered a guy from Barcelona and he made me feel much safer. He arrived jumping from rock to rock as two French guys that passed us did. This guy was AGILE! He dropped his water bottle and then sunglasses and both times just leaped between the two like no big deal. Meanwhile I did not take the leap of faith and inched my way through a 3 foot tall rock (that might even be generous) and then climbed up. I haven't been that dirty in a very long time-especially that quickly. We were sweating uncontrollably with dirt sticking to us and miraculously no bugs. Eventually, we had a beautiful view of the canopy (yes we hiked from the ocean to the canopy of the forest!) and came across a stream. Ana, one of the german girls, laid down in the water. I certainly washed myself and putting my feet in felt SO good. Unfortutunately, getting the Keanes wet wasnt the best idea and resulted in blisters :( At that point we were 90% there! I now know why this is the less touristy route, but was thankful I didn't have to climb down (we were exiting the park). At that stream, I met a gaggle of travelers from NZ and one from South Africa. They said these types of hikes were totally normal in NZ (!!) and I was sure I would lose them in the dust. But somehow I kept up with them and the Germans continued on and we had a lovely hike out, Two couples who were traveling for a year and a guy who was traveling by bike all over South America!
We arrived at Pueblito, which was the equivalent of four huts where some indigenous people lived and 250 terraces they used for storage. Definitely about the journey, than the destination! I bought a US-priced banana and a bag of water (I had been completely out!) and we carried on. After we had finally stopped climbing up (I wish I had measured the vertical on my phone, but it was 5 miles of distance), we had a lovely jungle picnic-stopping for crackers and peanut butter and Colombian Chips ahoy in the middle of the jungle-I don't think peanut butter has ever tasted that good (esp when it's such a rare commodity here!)! We even tried a combo of peanut butter, tomato, and onion, which actually tasted pretty good. They were so gracious to share with me. Two were even vegan. They definitely made me reminisce about Chile and we exchanged travel stories. It's times like these when I"m so thankful to be traveling solo, because these things just don't happen when you can depend on another person.
We had a beautiful view of the forest, with some unidentifiable red flowers, and began the descent at last. As we did, a symphony of cicadas accompanied us-they sounded like sirens!
40 mins. later we arrived in the small town of Calabazo where one of the travelers loaned me his flip flops (my blisters were really bad at that point). That hike made me thankful I wasn't doing the Lost City hike-I had my share of nature this weekend! We refreshed ourselves with a cold Lulo juice and after being turned down by several buses, rode back in style on an A/c wifi bus to Santa Marta-or so we thought. Turns out it didn't go all the way to the town. So we transferred to a city bus and I took it until my CS host told me to get off at the fire station, tracking my location on my phone (what did we do pre-cell phones!) I walked barefoot two blocks to his house (barefoot seems to be a theme this summer!), my feet minimal contact with the hot ground. My poor left foot, this trip! First run over by a car (don't worry I'm fine, just a bruise and slightly swollen now, but I"m not even taking Ibuprofen) and then blisters.
He graciously offered me a shower and water, and then accompanied me to the ATM and to retrieve my wheat bread from the hostel fridge. Meanwhile, it began to downpour. And the streets in Santa Marta flood, so then I was barefoot because we had to cross the road with water up to our ankles! We made it back and he offered me some crackers with queso costeno and MUSHROOMS! I haven't had mushrooms since being here so I was overjoyed. We then waded our way to the bus, which was incredibly delayed in the rain. In the rush, I left the bread (after all that!). It eventually arrived, but I was super worried about making my flight (I had only an hour at that point) and my host advised I get off and take a taxi. After getting off and unsuccessfully waving down a taxi, a man on his way back to Cartagena gave me a lift to the airport-and charged me nothing.
People here are incredible. I had to pay for checked luggage (only flying Avianca from now on!), but I didn't care. It's been an incredible 48 hours and while people say you need 4-5 days to see Santa Marta, two days was definitely worth the trip! I def. plan to return and see Minca and Palomino. I was proud of myself for accepting it was better to skip it, but I would've had an hour max. Off to Cali now for program 2 of my research, an all-percussion program and some reparation programs. Not nearly as intensive as La Red, so I'll have time to salsa :):):)
Well we're landing. Adventures never cease, but that's the way I like it. Just amazing to think this morning I was meditating in a hammock overlooking the ocean and then ended up having a grueling, but incredible hike. The agile Spaniard even said he was exhausted so that made me feel better :) He also described it as a personal reto, challenge/goal. That it was and is part of the reason I love hiking! There were definitely various points where I proved to myself I could do something that looked harder than it was and continued mind over matter despite the physical challenge, heat, and exhaustion. I felt so good when I completed a tough section! And you can bet I got an ice cream, mora with arequipe (caramel) to celebrate in Santa Marta!