Palomino Schmalamino

Trip Start Apr 07, 2013
Trip End Apr 21, 2013

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Flag of Colombia  , La Guajira,
Thursday, April 18, 2013

I've resigned myself to the fact that, wherever we go, we will both get sick. Put your toes in the water of a developing country and it's an inevitability. I figured it would happen while hiking in the jungle, but for some reason my dastardly bug struck yesterday while lying in a warm bed after a massive helping of pasta carbonara. I spent all of the night curled up in a tight ball, my gut feeling like a wet towel being wrung out to desert-like dryness. I've heard that the infamous 'Delhi-Belly' every first-time visitor to India receives as a free gift causes the worst stomach pain imaginable. If it gets any worse than last night, I think I'll steer clear of India!

On the upside, it was so hard to sleep that getting out of bed at 5am to witness sunrise on the beach wasn't such an impossible task. I sat near the water, alone save for an Indian wrapped in a blanket and sleeping on the sand, watching as the sky grew brighter and brighter without any sun having appeared. Clouds were abundant this morning and the sunrise (or lack thereof) supremely disappointing. Fortunately the day got better from there. I did my best to sleep for a few more hours and then took back to beach. The sun had come out and I had no idea how briefly it would last. Brittany was still dead to the world so I ventured out alone in search of a fresh water river that dead-ended into the ocean. The guide books were definitely right about this beach not being on the tourist map; a 20 minute walk from the hostel meant that I could look in either direction without a single other person marring the view. As I walked I came across three large stacks of rubber tires so large they must have come off of massive CAT machines, some buried deep in the sand and all being constantly lapped by the waves. I'm dumbfounded by how these things got here. Did a tanker sink? Were they devoid of further use and so thrown overboard? At any rate, their sole purpose now seems to be carved with outpourings of love like "Juan hearts Julie".

Well past the tires, and farther than I ever intended to walk, I did find the head of the river. It was amazing! Slow and lazy, it quickened to a nearly impassable current before crashing against the incoming waves. The fresh water side was overrun by a great variety of birds, and I was surprised by how close I was able to get to them before their fear of me overrode their curiosity. That river was probably the best part of Palomino. The guidebooks promised "pristine white sand beaches". Pffftt. Apparently the writers have never been to Clearwater. Brown sand covered in tree branches can have a unique beauty, but tell it like it is, people! Still, I really wish Brittany had been there to see it.

It took me a full hour to walk back to the hostel, and I made use of my solidarity by singing Michael Jackson songs at the top of my lungs. As I write this I'm paying for a supremely stupid decision I had made earlier in the morning: sunscreen is for wimps! I'm scorched red and keep telling Brittany not to touch me. As long as I don't move or lay down I'm fine. Hey, it's not like I grew up someplace with sun and knew any better...

The rest of the day was pretty simple. Brittany was still asleep so I joined her and we forced ourselves out of bed hours later to get dinner. I was telling Brittany about my amazing recovery from my gut-wrenching illness, and she quickly pointed out that I hadn't eaten in nearly 24 hours, which probably accounted for the diminished symptoms. So we walked to dinner knowing that, yes we need to eat, and yes as soon as we do the pain will be back. It kind of makes it hard to read a menu with anything but a grimace, ya know?

We have no idea if it was the food at the hostel that got us sick, but we decided not to risk it and go to another restaurant further up the beach. The menu was all in Spanish, but the waiter told me the fish of the day was Swordfish. Sounds good! Swordfish is served in steaks, so I won't have to pick a fried carcass clean of bones before enjoying it. Sign me up! The fish came. It wasn't Swordfish, it was a whole red snapper. Dagnabbit! Granted, it tasted great, but what do I have to do to get a filet? Eating these things is more work than it's worth and no level of experience will get me used to it. Brittany got a crepe filled with shrimp and promptly fed half of it to a cat. I think all felines must be born equipped with a special sensory organ that alerts them when she's nearby; a "Brittany sense", if you will. As long as it makes her happy :)

From dinner it was right back to bed until this morning (closer to afternoon).

Today we finally made it to Tayrona National Park, and I'm wishing we had skipped Palomino all together and just gone here. THIS is pristine and everything a postcard should be. Getting here was no picnic though. We hopped on a bus from the main road in Palomino, not realizing this bus had a secret speed cap of 3.6 miles per hour. Ah it was miserably slow! Have you ever been handily passed by an 18 wheeler? We were, about fifteen times. Half way through the journey we were stopped at a military checkpoint and ordered off the bus. I've got to admit, we were both nervous. I saw locals pulling out their wallets and started thinking, "how much money are they going to ask for?" We gave them our passports as we watched several men leaned up against the side of the bus, being patted down from head to toe by the soldiers. One of them cracked a joke and things eased up. Before we knew it we had our passports (and full wallets) in hand and were back on the bus. It was a good thing, too. Our funds are running seriously low. We've got plenty left in the bank but we just can't get to it. There are zero ATMs out here and nobody takes cards. Unfortunately it means we only get to stay one night in Tayrona and will have about $7 left to our names until we get back to Santa Marta tomorrow. We hopped off the bus at the gates of the park and got ready for what our guidebook told us would be a "thorough search for drugs". It went down like this:

Soldier: Do you have alcohol, knife, or drugs?

Me: No.

Soldier: Go ahead.

That was some thorough search! Brittany and I both mocked our oh-so-stupid guidebook until 45 minutes later, when "thorough" took on new meaning. It's a long walk from the gate to the beaches, and neither of us were thrilled about it. At the very least it gave us an incredible introduction to the park. Crashing waves are hemmed in by massive boulders and steaming rainforest. The trail was littered with wildlife. We saw the usual butterflies and lizards, but the ground is covered in holes of varying sizes. We originally thought these were borrows for tarantulas like we had seen in Peru, but discovered pretty quickly that they each house a small but courageous blue crab. Their not quite as interesting as the spiders, but they were fun to watch and we often saw a dozen at a time. Again sweaty and out of breath we reached the main beach, Arrecifes. This is where the real searching began. A group of soldiers tore my bag apart. Brittany's got a basic search, but they took absolutely everything out of my pack and did everything but lick it. I guess when that's your only job you'd better take it seriously, and they certainly did!

We had run into a couple of girls with which we had hiked to Ciudad Perdida on our way to Arrecifes and they suggested we stay in one of the furthest beaches, Cabo San Juan. So we kept marching. The currents here are very strong, evidenced by the constant and violent crashing of waves, so swimming isn't possible. There are big signs everywhere saying how many hundreds of people have drowned, but the odd thing is that all the numbers are different, even on the same beach. Somebody needs to get their stories straight. At any rate, the message is pretty clear: get in the water here and you're gonna die. The spot we were headed to was one of the few places you can swim. It's also featured on the cover of our guidebook, which makes it even more interesting to me. I always like visiting places featured in books. It makes you feel like you've really accomplished something, to look in a book at pictures of far-flung places and say "I've been there".

Cabo has a massive campground, and we paid the ridiculous 50,000 COP for our own tent. It's right on the beach, but the thumping of generators drowns out the sound of the waves. We got here pretty late in the day so we haven't really had much time to explore. We'll spend all of tomorrow morning on the beach and then make the long hike back to the main road for a bus to Santa Marta. I'd like to stay longer but we just don't have enough cash. There's a restaurant here at the campground and we only had enough to share an order of grilled chicken (although we did have a little extra for a Gol chocolate bar, an amazing candy I plan to buy a carton of before leaving for home). We'll be coming back thin and trim, that's for sure :)

I can hear the sound of howler monkeys over the generator and over the waves. Man those things creep me out. I've still never actually seen what they look like. Their roar is enough to make me want to give them a very wide berth...

I've just read the beginning of this entry and realized how incredibly pretentious it sounds. I blame it on the fact that the instant before I started writing I finished reading Life of Pi. What a fascinating book! For the record, I believe Richard Parker was on that boat.
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