Published: April 26th 2010April 25th 2010
There is the weirdest tourist attraction I've ever heard of or been to, about an hour out of Cartagena. It's a volcano where you pay good money to slosh about in your swimsuit in a mud bath, while being massaged by Colombian men (who frankly, have a dream job; they should have been paying me), then when you're covered in mud you traipse down to the lagoon where the local women strip you down, and I mean strip you right down, and clean your every nook and cranny as well as your bathing suit. But what's weirdest is that it's the best fun I've had in ages. It's a really bizarre experience.
I had arranged it through the school, with Mary Anne, one of the other students. As it turned out there were two other girls from school in our little mini-van as well, Katarina (from Sweden) and Giulia (from Italy). It's quite a nice drive, and interesting to see some of the Colombian countryside, then you get to your destination, Volcan de lodo el Totumo. You climb what looks like a giant ant hill, and descend into a pit of mud. It has the consistency of very thick cream,
apparently with therapeutic qualities. It's incredibly deep, but is incredibly buoyant and impossible to sink in it. The optional extras include someone to take photos on your camera and watch your stuff, men massaging you in the pool, and the women who wash you down later. But it's all dirt cheap - the recommended going rate for tipping is $3000 pesos (US$1.50) per person. I highly recommend it, lots of fun, with most of the time spent laughing at the absurdity of it.
Following the fun at the mud pool, Mary Anne and I decided to finish off the day with a cocktail. Despite still smelling faintly of mud and looking a little worse for wear, we went to an upmarket bar and restaurant on the wall, called Cafe del Mar. It has stunning views over to Bocagrande beach and the Caribbean behind us. With a delicious Mojito in hand and the warm ocean breeze in our faces, it was a fitting end to one of the best days I have had in Cartagena so far.
It is said that people in Cartagena, and Colombia in general, are very friendly, and so far this is definitely true for
Next to school
For some reason I just love this building.
me. One of my favourite pastimes is simply wandering aimlessly around the the city and soaking up the atmosphere. Because of the heat, it's a city where people live outdoors - in the many local plazas, in open air cafes, on the street. Frequently I will be taking refuge from the heat under a shady tree in a plaza when someone will amble up and start chatting to me. For the newly robbed this can be quite disconcerting! However thus far at least, it's just a friendly Colombian wanting to chat. I've had conversations with people from all walks of life - street hawkers, policemen, ordinary working people, old people, young people, tourists from other parts of Colombia. They are all eager to tell you their favourite things to do in the city and to hear what you think about where they live. They serve as informal tour guides, telling you about the plaza you may be in, the local restaurants, or their recommendations of things to see and do in Colombia.
As well as my aimless wanderings, I normally try to aim for one activity per day. Today's activity was to Castillo de San Felipe, a massive fortress
a short walk from my new accommodation. While the whole city was a fortress, this impressive structure was Spain's largest in its American colonies, signifying the importance of Cartagena in defending its empire. As it happens, the last Sunday of the month has free entry, so I timed it perfectly. It has a gorgeous view over the city, and in the late afternoon as the city is starting to cool down, it was a gorgeous place to just sit and enjoy the views.
Have I mentioned that it's hot here? It's usually somewhere between 30 - 33 degrees, but the real killer is the humidity, which is about 90%. Everything feels slightly damp to the touch. When I was in the home stay, I would leave the house to walk to school, and because it was across the road from a beach, the sea breeze would lull me into a false sense of coolness. But then I'd turn the corner, the breeze disappears, and within a matter of minutes my clothes are sticking to me, my hair's turned to frizz and I have a sheen of perspiration that soon turns to a river. By the time I arrived at
Jasmin, our teacher, me, Simone (Switzerland), Mary Anne (USA) and Michelle from NZ also who took the pic.
school 20 minutes later I would be ready for another shower. I now carry a sarong that Jenna gifted me when she left, which I use to mop my face occasionally. Yet despite this completely unattractive picture, I would still get "hermosa!", "linda!" and blatant once-overs as I walked. I think I might kind of miss that actually!
Although my homestay was very nice, I was very keen to move once my week was up. I have now moved to a fantastic little B&B / Boutique hotel just a few blocks from school, called Casa Sweety
. It's fabulous. They are super friendly, and most importantly they have a pool. It's a godsend! There are just a few rooms here, but I seem to be the only one so far. Because it's low season, and it's quiet, I got a great deal, and then on top of that, they upgraded me. My room is metres from a little pool, which I've spent a fair bit of time in despite only having been here for a few hours. I'm here for another 10 days, so more hours in the pool to come, as well as many more adventures in
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