Santa Marta and the art of getting stuck

Sheena came down with a cold while we were up in Cabo de la Vela, so I find myself writing from Santa Marta again. Against all odds, we will end up staying here for 9 nights – the same as Medellin. Normally, travelers just pass through this place, on their way to Minca, Tayrona National Park or to start the Lost City Trek. Our dorm room fills up each evening with new people, only to empty again the following morning.  But as luck would have it we aren’t the only ones who have gotten stuck here – David and Mario from Spain, Shauna from London, and Lenny from the USA have made this a great place to be stuck. We also adore the hostel staff and get closer to them with each passing day. It’s been easy to fall into a Caribbean rhythm of doing nothing until the afternoon and then taking a nap to escape the heat.

Calle 17, Santa Marta

Despite romanticizing “doing nothing” just now, I do tend to get antsy, even when you factor in the heat. After our trip to Cabo, it seemed like Tayrona National Park might not be in our future. We were told repeatedly that with the steep entrance fee ($38,000 COP) and the relatively difficult hike into the beaches (difficult because of the heat and humidity – not the trail), it just wasn’t worth it to go for only a day. Planning food, repacking again, and the prospect of sleeping in a hammock caused both Sheena and I to shudder. But at the eleventh hour, with Sheena hacking in the room, I decided that I had to go, even if it was by myself and only for the day.

I left our hostel at 6:30 am the following morning and headed for the market, where I could find a bus to the park entrance. Miraculously, but pretty much par-for-the-course in South America, the bus was pulling away from the curb as soon as it was in sight – I ran and hopped on in the nick of time. One hour later I was dropped off on the highway at the entrance, only to learn that I was 15 minutes early.. The park entrance is about 10 minutes driving from the trail head, so after paying my entrance fee, I was still left stranded. The buses didn’t want to take me to the trail, as I was the only paying costumer around.

After some time, the driver of one of those buses took pity on me and walked over to a departing bus full of school children to see if they had space. I boarded and took a seat on the floor, greeted by many stares, some laughs, and a few “look at the gringo” calls.

As soon as the beach was in sight I knew I made a good decision to visit. With only enough food and water for the day, my swimsuit already on, and a camera in hand, I felt free and ready to explore.

Cabo San Juan – Tyrona National Park

I’ve always been an advocate for solo travel. I also tend to get more stir-crazy than Sheena. Even though the circumstances were different (her lying around the hostel being sick), we’ve agreed that sometimes it’s best for me to go off and do something on my own. For me this is like a little slice of solo adventure, but with the bonus of returning home to your girlfriend. For Sheena, it’s most likely a relaxing respite.

My trip into Tayrona was perfect in this way. Spontaneously meeting new people seems like something that automatically happens when you travel, but being a couple can sometimes shield you from this. Private rooms, common languages, etc. tend to conspire against being completely open and accepting of new people. On the beach at Cabo San Juan I met a great group of travelers, and even though I felt a little guilty each time they asked where was this girlfriend I was talking about, it felt good.

A slightly easier, but sweatier trip took me back to Santa Marta, where I found my girlfriend in bed, cutting fabric for a new dress of all things. I smiled, climbed up onto her top bunk and kissed her. A good day on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

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