Enjoying a mud bath....in the crater of a volcano

Trip Start Feb 26, 2010
Trip End Feb 26, 2011

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Monday, February 7, 2011

The alarm went off at 7am but as usual Andrew was already awake eyes glued to the laptop screen.  I snoozed for a bit longer before the urge to wee couldn't be ignored any longer and only then was I forced to leave the comfort of my bed.  Seizing the opportunity, in the time it took me to re-emerge from the bathroom Andrew was fully dressed and eager to go and get some breakfast before we embarked upon today's trip.  Breakfast in this case only meant one thing:  empanadas.  Empanadas have been one of our staples since arriving in Santiago, Chile all those months ago – they are the equivalent of our pasties (oh how I miss Gregg’s), cheap and filling, some baked, others deep fried and not as you can imagine the most healthy of snacks – still as always cheapness prevails (they cost about 20p each) – so we went up the street in search of either a street vendor or a shop who’s freshly cooked batch we could help decimate.  We stopped by at the shop at the end of the road, which also doubles as an illicit drinking den (so this is where we start and end our days), and found what we were looking for and 7 empanadas later, warmed and bagged up we were ready to go.  I have to say that only 5 actually made it back to the hostel with us 200 metres back up the street.  Back at the hostel we gathered our stuff together and packed it in to one day-sack with our empanada stash safely stored on top.  We went down to the reception to wait for our 8am mini bus. 

After about an hour’s wait, we aren’t sure whether the pick-up time was confused in translation, our tour guide appeared to collect us, on foot (a little disconcerting as our destination was 50km away – anyway we went with the flow).  Further up our street the tour guide asked us to wait while she collected more people from other hostels (in this time Andrew had also eaten a portion of watermelon bought from a street vendor) and then around the corner we joined a bus of about 15 other people – by the time we had boarded the bus was full.  Today we were going to be getting more muddy than we had been on the entire trip – muddier than our trek through torrential rain in Burma, muddier than our 5am bird watching trip in the Ecuadorian cloud-forest, even muddier than the Amazon basin (and that was muddy) – yes today we would be taking a relaxing natural mud bath in the crater of a volcano.  Volcan de Lodo El Totumo is a 15m high mud volcano, the highest in Colombia, and its mud is said to have unmatched therapeutic qualities – never having taken a dip in a volcano before and always ones for a new experience we felt compelled to give it a try.  After about 40 minutes the bus veered off the main road on to a gravel path and up to the volcano a couple of kilometres on.  The site was extremely ramshackle with a few dilapidated wooden huts with vendors selling beer and snacks surrounding and a huge mound (the volcano) which had an equally dilapidated set of wooden steps climbing up to it.

The guide told us to leave everything on the bus except our cameras, shoes and swimwear (I was relieved that I was already wearing mine under my clothes as the alternative would be to get changed on the bus – and that was never going to happen).  The climb up the steps was a little bit painful on the bare feet but eventually we got to the top and came face to face with the crater absolutely full of dark, impossibly thick, bubbling mud, and lots of people enjoying massages from the male attendants who were in the pool too.  The thing that we had been warned about here is that there is a charge attached to EVERYTHING, the massage men – 3,000 Peso, the camera men (with your hands in the mud you do not want to be handling your expensive camera) – 3,000 Peso, the women who stand in the lagoon where you wash the mud off afterwards with buckets to clean you with – 3,000 Peso.  So Andrew got in first and I took a few pictures of him and then put the camera to one side, you are basically manhandled in by one attendant who quickly coats you in mud and then literally slides you over to a masseuse on the other side of the pool.  A firm 'no, gracias’ was enough to escape being mauled.  The sensation of getting in to the crater was strangely bizarre, the mud was warm and that thick that it was almost impossible to move (which was hilarious) also as the mud is under pressure from below you float and you also quickly become accustomed to fending off accusations of farting (as the mud intermittently explodes) if you are next to the latest eruption.  All in all it was great fun and we even caved in and asked the ‘photographer’ to take a few photos of us both together to capture the surreal moment.

When we got out we made our way down a pebbly slope towards the lagoon where you wash all the caked on mud off.  Immediately the women with the buckets were on us trying to wash us down, they were a little harder to shake off than the masseuse but eventually they got the hint that we could wash ourselves and had been able to do so for a very long time.  It took ages to get all the mud off (maybe we did need their help after all) and I was a bit obsessed about what fish and stuff was in the water swimming around our legs so I didn’t stay in any longer than I had to.  From here it was back up to the bus which we couldn’t get back on until everyone was back – it gave us a bit of time to dry off and they had put on FREE coffee and watermelon (we did have to get confirmation that it was actually free a few times though before we dared pick a piece up).  We got back on the bus and the bus driver was a bit of a mini Hitler charging around he seemed to be checking if everyone was dry before they got on his bus – I sat on my towel not wanting to experience his wrath.  We were eventually back on our way and off to the scheduled lunch stop at a local restaurant on the beach.  We had declined lunch (it made the tour 5 pounds cheaper) and as we had our empanadas we sat on the beach eating them and reading (a few other people had chosen this option too).  It was a lovely quiet beach, we aren’t sure what it was called but it was about twenty minutes outside of the Old City but a world away from the busy beaches there. 

We arrived back at our hostel at about 3.30pm and took a well needed shower (there was still mud coated to the inside of my bikini - how did it get there?) and were amazed at how soft our skin felt – the mud really did work we felt brand new!  We watched an episode of Planet Earth and then went out for dinner.  We had seen that there was an Australian place near to our hostel that was rated number 1 restaurant in Cartagena on TripAdvisor owing to the fact that its’ food was great value (you got loads) – just a hint of the ‘V’ word and we are in.  The food was great and a three course meal cost 5 pounds – for Cartagena that really is good value (the other restaurants here are very expensive).  We had struggled to find anywhere that was relatively cheap and not serving the basic set menu of soup and meat (not one of my favourites) – we tried it the first day and I wasn’t much of a fan.  We will definitely be coming back – and it is true the banana cake is to die for, I can vouch for that – even Andrew who doesn’t do puddings loved it (I was woman enough to share).  We went back to the hostel and after a nightcap Andrew fell straight to sleep and I caught up with the blog that we have been neglecting for the past few days – sporadically daydreaming about that amazing banana cake. 
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