Santa Marta

Trip Start Mar 31, 2010
Trip End Mar 31, 2011

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Flag of Colombia  ,
Thursday, December 30, 2010

Next was what looked like a short journey up the coast to Santa Marta, which is the oldest surviving city in South America.   It turns out that Colombia is the size of France and Spain combined, so although the roads are quite good, the journey took us seven hours; given diabolical hangovers from Mrs. Murrell's birthday the night before, this was a day of unremitting misery.   Indeed for the first time on the trip, we both started to feel a sense of travel weariness today, whether from sitting on another bus for too long, or packing up a rucsac again for the umpteenth time.
Later in the journey we received a good lesson in not feeling sorry for ourselves as we passed a series of villages that had been destroyed by recent floods.  The same heavy and over-long wet season that had afflicted Costa Rica appears to have had even more impact here.

Santa Marta was immediately very likeable when we arrived.  It had a main street that was bustling to the extent that it was impossible to elbow your way along it.  There was a party atmosphere without the slightly snooty tourists that had started to appear in Cartagena for New Year.  There were more people here that looked like they were descended from indigenous Amerindians, and many Africans.  There was a small beach and a container port for exporting coffee, bananas, pineapples and coal.  Out to sea were huge container ships waiting to come onshore to be loaded up (when we left by plane, we counted over 15 of them).  We took a trip out around the port on a rusty little boat that was scacely seaworthy and went right past these huge boats being loaded up, which was a fascinating sight.

On the road here and walking around town, we noticed a strong police presence everywhere.  The uniform is green with army boots, which looks very military.  After a while we realised that a huge percentage are women.  We were charmed to notice that under their military caps, they are all wearing full make-up and lipstick, their prettiness contrasting with their forbidding uniforms.  

Nearby was a national park called Tayrona which we had hoped to visit for a day or two, and was the main reason for our trip here.  It transpired that all the walking trails were literally knee-high in flood waters, so we wimped out.  We spoke to a young female guide from Venezuela, who was enthusiastically telling us she was about to lead a 7 day trip through the park to the 'lost city of Tayrona'; as well as the flooded paths, they would have to cross several rivers, it would rain all afternoon every day, and they would be camping and completely self-sufficient.  Perhaps we are just a tiny bit too old for that one.

We did take a trip to the hacienda where Simon Bolivar spent his last months.  Simon Bolivar led the liberation from Spain of Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Panama in the early 1800s.  There were some decent gardens and a house containing some very abstract art donated by artists from the liberated countries.  

We marvelled at the baffling number of shoe shops here and in Cartagena.  A sample of the high street in front of our hotel revealed 4 shops out of 11 were show shops.  What makes them all the more notable is that it appears to be some sort of convention here for shoe shops to have a concert-hall sized speaker pumping out music all day.  Indeed this is the noisiest place we have ever been, with every bar, restaurant, shoe shop and many private dwellings playing music at ear-splitting volume.
Interestingly, the quietest time on the streets was at 11pm on New Years' Eve, when the town was genuinely empty and silent.  There had been people out drinking and dancing at all hours of every other day we had been here, so we couldn't quite believe what we were seeing.  It turned out that the bars didn't even open until 12.30 or 1, and would then stay open all night.  We went out the next morning at 10.30, and on the outskirts of town there were houses and bars playing music so loud that it hurt our ears from inside a taxi, and people were outside drinking and dancing, clearly not having yet been to sleep.  When we saw this, we were going to a small beach town called Taganga.  Along the beach front were a row of restaurants, each one with their own nightclub speaker playing music at a volume that precluded any chance of conversation within a 50 metre range.  The effect of them all playing different music in close proximity was certainly striking.   Taganga also had a beach that was busier than we thought possible.  Admittedly it was no doubt at its busiest on New Years' Day, but there was practically a queue to get onto the sand.  We quickly retreated to our hotel, which, by an merciful turn of chance, must have been the only centrally located place in town where a quiet night's sleep was possible.  Thanks to having such a good hotel, we had an enjoyable stay here, retaining a measure of calmness as we marvelled at the locals' appetite for staying up all night.    

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