Last slice of the Caribbean

Trip Start Apr 06, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed

Flag of Colombia  ,
Saturday, September 11, 2010

The following morning we were standing on the side of the road in Santa Marta waiting for a collectivo mini-van for almost half an hour - every van that passed us was overflowing with people and there was no chance at all of us squeezing on with our backpacks. We were just about to hail a cab when a half-full van appeared, loaded us on, and took us out of the city and down a very steep mountain road into the small fishing village of Taganga. We found a basic hotel right on the beach with a balcony and hammock over-looking the bay and perfect for watching the sunset into the sea. The village is a great place for backpackers looking to dive in the caribbean sea and trek in the nearby Tayrona National Park.It is also a top holiday destination for colombians who were in the sea below our room from 5.30 in the morning until well after 10 at night, and packs of stray dogs that roam the beach and bark constantly.

We booked a days diving with a colombian owned dive school and were really pleased to discover that we would be diving just the two of us and a colombian dive master. The boat ride out to the dives sites was amazing as we followed the coast along towards the Tayrona National Park and got some great views of the mountains and secluded beaches and bays on the way. When we first got in the water we could not believe how bad the visibility was; we could not see our hands in front of our faces and we had to blindly drop down to about 10m before we could even check that we were all still together. Thankfully the deeper we went, the clearer the water got and the dives turned out to be some of the best so far. The amount of sea life around was like nowhere else, with hundreds of huge colourful tropical fish everywhere we looked. We spent 2 hours spotting lobsters, spotted drum fish, squid, shrimps, sea horses, giant bat fish, cow fish, trumpet fish and what must be the biggest moray eel in the world - it's head was the size of a dolphin's and its body was about 6m long! We even got a free ham sandwich on our surface interval, which we spent on a tiny sandy beach.

The Tayrona National Park sounded too good to miss and we decided to spend one of our days on a relaxing day trip along the coastline and visiting beautiful beaches en-route. We dressed accordingly for a day at the beach (shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops) and boarded a minibus to the park, a little perplexed as to why no-one else was dressed similarly and were fully clad in walking boots and ponchos. We arrived at the beginning of the trail to the beach and soon realised why. We spent the next two hours walking through wet mud (up to our knees in places), climbing over fallen trees and rocks, and crossing rivers. We finally made it to the beach just in time for the rain, but despite this had a swim and a picnic on the sand, taking in the natural beauty of this part of Colombia. By the time we needed to start heading back to the minibus the wet, slippery trail had become a bog and we had to make our way barefooted to avoid losing our not-so-sensible footwear all together. It was a lot of fun once we were soaked to the skin and had given up trying to stay clean, and the walk back through the jungle falling over in the mud and dodging the mules and horses on the trail was an afternoon we wont forget in a hurry.

The rain continued heavily all the way back to Santa Marta and when we reached the outskirts of the city the driver told us he would pay for a taxi back to Taganga as we were the only two staying there and he wouldn't be going that way. Fair enough. We climbed into the back of a taxi soaked through, freezing cold and with mud all up our arms and legs and proceeded to watch the driver repeatedly change course trying to avoid the rapidly rising water levels in the roads that were by now fast flowing rivers. After nearly stalling the car a few times and seeing abandoned vehicles all over the place, he told us he could not get through the floods and we would have to get back out again. After a brief argument in our finest spanglish we were reluctantly dropped off at a bus stop in the hope of another mode of transport making it through. No such luck; after nearly an hour standing in the rain we waded our way in knee deep filthy water to the hostel we had spent the night in 2 days previously to call the tour company and strongly suggest they send someone to come and get us. Thankfully the rescue taxi driver was a bit braver than the last guy, and with water spraying up over the bonnet and windscreen he ploughed through and got us back safe and sound to our hotel. We arrived back in Taganga soaking wet, very dirty, freezing cold, starving hungry and at 10 o'clock at night (4 hours later than we were meant to be). The thought of having to have a cold shower was all too much so we took the mud to bed with us knowing that we were checking out in the morning.

After four great days we had to say goodbye to the caribbean coast for the final time and we walked out to the main road in Taganga in search of a mini-van back to Santa Marta. However, the collectivo drivers seem to have some kind of deal with the taxi drivers, and they happily leave a tourist carrying big bags by the side of the road until they give in and pay the $4 fare into town in a cab instead. With 4 half-full collectivos rolling past one after another without stopping for us we devised a cunning plan. Lou hid behind a tree with our backpacks and I stood at the kerb innocently hailing a van. As soon as it stopped Lou ran out with her bags and jumped on board while I grabbed mine and followed behind, successfully getting a ride back into town for 50c. Back in Santa Marta we did a bit of investigating about the buses on to Bogota, and decided to make a break for the capital on one that was leaving at 4pm the same afternoon.
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