31 October – 6 November 2013

After a good time in Cartagena I left for Santa Marta up the Caribbean coast. As always there are direct and faster (tourist) buses but also more expensive – and since I have the time and like to travel with the locals that was what I did. First a local bus out of Cartagena to the bus station – a 1½ hour long drive through the very busy morning traffic with buses queuing ahead for as long as the eye could see... and also an opportunity to view a much different Cartagena – mostly very poor and rundown neighbourhoods. The so-called bus station turned out to be a street of buses lined up at a curb – I was not out of the bus before several guys began dragging me towards a bus for Santa Marta with a “special price” of COP 30,000 (USD 17).... All the city bus faires are regulated so until now no need for haggling – also my guidebook said 28,000 so the price seemed fair. However, their aggressive behaviour gave me a feeling that there was room for negotiation and I ended up paying COP 20,000 – an acceptable price but probably still a bit too much as nobody talked about their starving family, etc.

As always they promised immediate departure but it of course took another 20 minutes before we left – though I was surprised we took off before the bus was entirely full.. Not much room for my long legs but I still got a bit of rest on the way to Barranquilla where I had to change bus despite it being “direct” to Santa Marta... The next bus was even older/worse but I got a seat in the front providing plenty of leg-room – it took about an hour for the bus to fill up and we took off... The drive was up the coast mostly through undeveloped areas (forest, swamp, etc.) and sometimes next to the ocean. When approaching Santa Marta te driver told me there was no bus station and let me off at a junction outside town where taxis and motorcycles waited for their next catch - “No downtown buses” - well, it wasn't going to be me. I walked a few hundred metres down the road and caught a local bus to the center where I quickly found a nice hostel run by a young couple... More than a week before arriving I had made 3 couchsurfing requests but got no replies – though as in Cartagena a guy wrote me 1-2 days after arrival that he might be able to host me though only for one night as he had to leave town...?! I've never experienced this approach before and don't know if it's a polite way to reject me or people who don't understand the couchsurfing concept – either you promise a couch before arrival or it doesn't make sense to reply.... Anyway, I didn't stay with the guy but he provided detailed recommendations for what to on the caribbean coast...

Back to the hostel - it's an interesting logic with the dorms – most people prefer the smaller dorms with less beds but in this case they were full while the big one I was in most days only had none or a few people besides me... Consequently, I should have slept really well but street noise and many mosquitoes made it difficult.... Some days I cooked in the hostel kitchen and other days I had food in the street - the same kebabs I knew from Cartagena though one day the chicken had a weird texture; more like cat or dog but who knows...? I doubt this was the reason for my slightly upset stomach – more likely the tap water that not even the locals drink; not to worry - after taking a paraghurt tablet my stomach was quickly back to normal....

Not much to do in Santa Marta – there is no old city so I just walked randomly around town enjoying the bustling streets and beautiful, relaxing plazas... again the latter was a pleasure especially in the evenings when activities increased with the dropping temperature.... with few attractions Santa Marta was much less touristic than Cartagena...

After some days in Santa Marta I took a collectivo up to small mountain village Minca – glad I got specitfic instructions for where to find the car because it was private and unmarked; also glad to be the 5th and last passenger so we could leave immediately and didn't have to wait for the car to fill up. A bumpy ride on a terrible and winding road for about 1½ hour stuck in gas fumes from the leaking tank. Minca is small but not particularly quiet so I decided to stay at a finca about a kilometer uphill from town... the hostel was fairly run down but affordable, quiet, with nice views and a cosy garden with hammocks to relax in. This is a coffee region and of course German owner Chris also made his own small scale coffee – drying his beans in the sun and roasting them over a fire...

One day I walked up the mountain to Pozo Azul – a river consisting of many small waterfalls. Allegedly it's very popular with the locals and always busy, so I was lucky when the only people there left when I arrived and no other came before I left around 1½ hour later... Being small the falls were un-impressive but it was a cosy place in the forest – I enjoyed walking/climbing up the shore to falls higher up the river... the hostel dog kept me company all the way and back...

Another day I walked farther up the mountain to La Victoria coffee finca established in 1892 but for many years run by a German family... I have visited coffee plantations several times before which made it easier to grasp the process despite the 45 minutes tour being in Spanish – interestingly almost all the machinery was the original from 1892... After the tour I tasted the coffee and honestly I wasn't impressed – it was quite ordinary....

Leaving the hostel it rainied cats and dogs for an hour so I took cover and waited for the collectivo to fill up. The temperature increased significantly on the way down to the coast and just outside Santa Marta the car broke down, so I had to take a local bus the rest of the way. I spend some days doing practical things including a bit of research/planning of my trip up the Caribbean coast. Most importantly I stocked up as there are no (affordable) shops in the national parks and small villages I plan to visit. Also I had to buy new toiletries (haircutter, mirror, nail clipper, scissors, bandage, etc.) as they had been stolen from a plastic bag on my bed in the Cartagena hostel.... honestly I didn't expect anybody to steal toiletries and (fortunately) everything else was locked in my big backpack.... with a full dorm, a big staff and construction workers walking in and out of the room all day it's impossible to say who did it, but talking to other travellers I was warned that dorm theft is very common in Columbia – even organised theft.... In all my travellings I have forgotten a few items but to the best of my recollection I never had anything stolen except occationally food in hostel fridge (which by the way happened in Minca were somebody stole my milk)... Very annoying but a fairly cheap reminder to be extra careful about my stuff....

From Santa Marta most tourists do a 5-6 day trip to “The lost City” in the jungle – I'm neither a tourist nor normal so I skippe it. It's very expensive (USD 350), you walk in a big group and only have a few hours exploring The lost City – the rest is just walking though the rainforest, getting muddy and bitten by thousands of mosquitos. Instead I decided to go make my way up the Caribbean coast visiting Tayrona National Park and small towns like Palomino and Cabo de la Vela; the latter being an indigenous Wayuu community.

20 – 21 November 2013

 Back in Santa Marta I spent a couple of days doing practical things before going to Medellin - getting both my pants sewn, doing laundry, updating my homepage, etc. Besides the mosquitos the first nights were okay but the last day/night was not – 4 young selfish girls in the dorm leaving their stuff everywhere, the bathroom a bomb shell, always leaving all doors open and the lights /fan on when not in the room, coming back loudly late at night, etc. I know I'm getting old but even when I was young I was never like that – something must be wrong with the upbringing these days...

 

Santa Marta and Minca
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Geotagging
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pozu azul waterfall video
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Finally the coffee fin...
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