Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Final Destination - Colombia

Colombia is a wonderful place. Don't let any amount of horror stories tell you otherwise. Before we left for South America we were warned by everyone about how dangerous South America was, with Colombia being the worst (of course this was all by people who have never actually been there). Once in South America everyone on the backpacker trail told us how great it was. You HAVE to go there they all gushed, no matter how much time you have there, it won't be enough. They were right.  Aside from the hiccup on our second day in Colombia *cough*robbed-at-gun-point*cough* our time there was amazing and memorable.

Cali & Cartagena
We started our adventures in Cali, where we basically hung out, got robbed, went to the police station and flew out. From there we flew up to Cartagena, which is a charming town that is highly susceptible to lots of tropical rain, which the town isn't built for - so every time it rains the streets flood. This brought about the issue of crossing the instantly flooded roads. Well it wasn't an issue for us cause we'd just wade on through, but for the people in business suits (yes they exist - even on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia), wading really isn't an option. The best solution we saw to this was 2 young entrepreneurs (read potential extortionists) who had set up a series of crates, boxes and planks of wood from the curb to the middle of the road (where you could then safely walk to the other side puddle free)  in a busy area, and were charging charging people to use their bridge-like contraption. Gold. People were paying too! The prices we will pay for dry feet.

Playa Blanca
From Cartagena we took a slow boat out to Playa Blanca, Isla Baru. Life is simple on Playa Blanca. You hire a hammock to sleep in, you lay on the beach, you eat simple food, you swim in the sea and you drink cocktails out of coconuts. Lovely. Although this island leads a double life. During the hours of 10-4 this is a massive tourist spot. Latinos and foreigners alike flock to the beach on boats, 500 people cramming up in 2 tiny areas of the long beach, the Islanders trying to sell you everything from food, to clothes, to cocktails, to massages, to jewelry, to shade cloths and chairs - 'but today is a special promotion for you'. The beach is crowded and the atmosphere fun yet intense and busy. As the sun starts to go down, the boats leave, taking with them 500 people. The beach quietens, the whole vibe of the island flips. The Islanders sit down next to you and have a chat, repeating things many times without frustration so you can understand their Spanish. Everyone walks slower and breathes longer. The beach that was just crowded becomes calm and everyone breathes a sigh of relief. Night time brings hammock time and summer storms. Not the best of combinations, but something that can be easily forgiven to stay at this paradise during the quiet hours.

With no sense or need of time, we ate when we were hungry, slept when we were tired and woke to the crashing waves and sun in the morning. Our first night on the island only B and I were in our hammock-house (beach version of guest house), but we felt safe as we had the owner sleeping in the hammock beside us, and Luna the dog sleeping below us. At some hour in the morning I woke with a start. Something had just touched me. Maybe it was the dog? I reasoned. Something touched me again, through the hammock, but harder. Almost like a nudge. The fear of being robbed returned. Was someone feeling inside my hammock to see if i had valuables with me? I look around, something solid was beside me, but with no lights and the grass and plastic roof covering the moon I could not see. Then I saw it, a tail flicked. I had just been headbutted by a cow. The local friendly beach cows had decided to come check out what was up. Turns out they always live by the island philosophy, living in their own time frame.

After 2 nights in this paradise, feeling relaxed and recharged, we headed back to Cartagena to then move on Taganga.

Taganga was were I spent my final 2 weeks in South America. We were told by travelers in Bogota that it was paradise. When we first arrived and saw the litter strewn beaches, the washed out dirt streets and cat calling locals we couldn't figure out why. But after a week I didn't want to leave. By the time it came for me to leave 2 weeks later, I had to wrench myself away.

The first week we spent chilling out, going into Tyrona national park overnight with new friends to swim at a beautiful beach and have rainforest time, exploring the area and partying. The second week we discovered diving - the reason I had wanted to go to Taganga initially. Diving - something I had only done once before- is amazing. No other word for it. For one, you're breathing underwater, and you can't get much cooler than that.  There is a whole world under the water that you never get to see. Vision and hearing is impaired, you are a weightless, floating being discovering things that you would never encounter on the land. The silence diving provides makes the whole experience more meditative, a silent personal discovery connecting with other people through hand signals when necessary. No matter how much we dived, it was never enough.

Ripping myself away from Taganga felt like I was snapping off an arm. I actually almost didn't catch the plane - they wouldn't let me get my bag back though, which is probably for the best. I will be back, I told myself, although I know it'd never be the same.

3 days and 4 flights later (Santa Marta-Bogota-Fort Lauderdale-LA-Seattle) I landed in Seattle to see my favorite family in the States. I became a live in house fairy and enjoyed all the benefits of Western society - especially the food varieties I had forgotten to miss. My time in Seattle was spent sharing meals, doing travel art and yoga classes, having naked spas, dressing up like Pete Smith and chilling out. One day I walked through the streets of downtown Seattle and saw a man wearing a raccoon hat with a great big bushy beard, he was carrying a shopping basket and in the basket was a real live fox, the fox grinned at me. My life felt complete.

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