On the hustle in Columbia

The Caribbean Coast of Columbia is an assault on the senses. Temperatures sit in the mid 30s, humidity is in the mid 90s and its cities, while rough around the edges, pulsate with energy. Everyone is trying to sell something to everyone, posturing is part of any exchange and people are always quick to laugh. If a little disconcerting at first, it´s brilliant fun once you get into the swing of it and its impossible to leave the country without falling in love with the people.

To carry on an analogy used in my last post: if you think back to your childhood classroom, the Colombians would be the cool naughty kids, always in trouble with the teacher but great fun. The Argentinians would be the rich kids, good-looking, well-bred and attracting the respect that comes with wealth. The Ecuadorians would be the quiet studious ones, probably the teacher’s pet and very good people to know during exam time.

After a brilliant night of drinking rum and attempting, badly, to salsa at a Cuban club in Cartagena I headed for one of the most beautiful beaches in the area, Playa Blanca. This is not a straightforward journey and proved challenging on a hangover. First I had to take a local bus out of town for an hour and a half, next I had to cross a canal on a barge and the final leg involved a half hour ride on the back of a motorbike. It was here I experienced the Columbian humour in full swing. First my driver swapped my hat with his because he took a liking to it. Then, when seated behind my driver, I took hold of his fairly ample sides for balance. Well, it was as if I had just propositioned the man. It caused great hilarity amongst the other drivers, there was much back slapping and a firm indication by my driver that I should hold onto the back of the seat, not him.

I spent majority of my time on the coast in Taganga, a ramshackle fishing village which attracts loads of tourists who come to dive in the nearby national park of Tayrona. It is a very chilled out place and I hardly put on a shirt the whole time I was there. I had fresh fruit for breakfast, dived during the day and in the evenings I would buy some of the day´s catch from fisherman off the beach. A small tuna cost 6 quid or 12 kiwi! It was all very idyllic but it’s also the sort of place you don’t want to stay too long. For a start it is tiny and there is a disproportionately high number of crazy people kicking around, some of them tourists, who have become hooked on a cheap and highly addictive drug that is a byproduct of cocaine production.

Check out these dive pics:

Tayrona is a skinny national park that stretches along the Caribbean Coast and is home to the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. The sort of beaches that you use as a computer screen saver, in fact, I have one as a screen saver! You enter the park through thick jungle and I was fortunate enough to see some howler monkeys on the way in. You then hike along various beaches, find a campsite that takes your fancy, park up and lie in the sun for a few days. Bliss.

Pictures speak louder then words:

It was at Tayrona that I had my first experience of sleeping in a hammock – it’s not as straightforward as you might think. Personally, I like to go to sleep on my stomach which is just not possible in a hammock even though I gave it a very good shot. I also think they are better suited to small people but it was pretty cool going to sleep in the ocean breeze with the sound of the sea in the background.

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