Colombia Continues: Tayrona National Park


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Published: June 18th 2008
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Still feeling fairly inhuman and rather tired, I was most thankful when our bus arrived in the scorching heat of Santa Marta, a big port town and the pit stop for our next destination of Tayrona National Park. Stopping for an hour to leave bags in the hotel, we shot down to the beach for a supposedly speedy lunch from a local fast food restaurant. In true South American/Caribbean style this was slightly misleading as several others went elsewhere, ate and came back before we had even received our food! Eventually getting served, we wolfed it down and scarpered back to the bus in time to head on to Tayrona.

Being fairly remote, upon arrival at the main car park we had to walk 45 mins along dirt tracks through the jungle to get to our cabins, which could have been interesting had it been raining as several of us were in flip flops! Thankfully it was dry and a delicious temperature and the path was nice and easy, although our two resident princesses, Yiu and Tracy, felt the need to hire horses for the journey. Yiu has a habit of being fantastically obnoxious, somewhat racist to "us westerners" and generally endeavours to be the biggest pain to the largest number of people whenever possible (small man syndrome perhaps?), and Tracy was still suffering (as were we all from hearing about it!) from an "infected toe" brought around by a dodgy pedicure. Amputation may have been less painful for all of us, and certainly a much quicker solution! By the time these two had finished faffing around with their nags, we could already have been at the cabins, but we had duly waited and then proceeded to overtake them both on foot! Gripes aside, it was a beautiful walk and really provided a sense of occasion while highlighting the remoteness of our lodgings.

Upon arrival at our site at Arrecifes, we were awed by the quality of the cabins, Mark (tour leader) included as he had never been there before. Admittedly they are not the cheapest accommodation one will ever stay in and there are cheaper options within the park, both camping and more basic suites, however for a couple of days they are well worth the investment. Thirst was quenched by a complementary cocktail of lemon and cherry juice over crushed ice then we set about exploring the surrounds. The main beach at Arrecifes sports some fantastic waves which generate a ton of undercurrents and make the beach highly dangerous and unswimmable, but a 10-15 min walk up the coast provides access to some fantastic bays with friendlier waters. Again the lack of infrastructure here is tangible; rather than a nice friendly coastal path with boardwalks etc this consists of scrambling over rocks, avoiding tree roots and generally a much more interesting path! Sadly the weather had started to wane, becoming late in the day and fairly cloudy, so we wandered back to base to meet up with Anna and Keith who had left us in Caracas to go solo. Sinking a few beers we wandered over to our section of the site for food (very expensive, overrated and not as good as that in the "cheap seats") before returning for more beers and some cards.

The following morning was beautiful and marked the start of a fantastic day of wandering. Having heard about the mini "lost city" of Pueblito, Andy and I had decided to venture inland and walk to it (we would have liked to do the larger Lost City but had insufficient time - it requires 6 days). Even though the morning started out at a nice temperature, by the time we started to head inland into the jungle the heat was becoming fierce. Quite an ascent is required for the walk, much of it scrambling over/up rocks with little cover at times - there were a couple of moments where I empathised with a fried egg on a hotplate when clambering over some very exposed rocks. Surprisingly, aside from a family that we passed early on and a very enthusiastic Teutonic hiker we saw no-one on the ascent, making it even more magical.

It's incredibly hard for words to do justice to the beauty of Tayrona, and this walk in particular was nothing short of amazing, both exhilarating and beautiful. Along the way we crawled through narrow tunnels in the rock, leaped over craggy crevasses descending into bat-filled caves, traversed gaps on bridges made from single logs, crossed streams and generally had a fantastic time. Andy being Mr. Motivator had already shot off ahead (think trying to ascend the first bit in flip flops didn't do me any favours!), which on the plus side left me more sauntering time to enjoy the natural surrounds. My only companions on this leg of the route were a couple of blue-tailed lizards, a blue morpho butterfly (the world's largest species with a 20cm wingspan) and a howler monkey lurking in the treetops.

My one concern was water - I had a choice of bringing my 5 litre bottle or a 500ml bottle - needless to say I opted for the latter, however in the rapidly increasing heat I had finished this in no time and was already parched from the unforgiving sun. Blessing came in the form of a crystal clear stream where I drank my fill several times over and panned for gold at the same time as flakes were visible in the sand. Rich beyond my wildest dreams (well I got a few flakes!) I carried on to meet Andy at the top where he'd been waiting for me so we could explore the city. Which took all of about 10 minutes! Not really a city as such, it is a collection of a few thatched huts but is nonetheless worth the trip, although more for the journey than the destination.

The descent was more in my favour so this time I took the lead, probably spurred on by the prospect of a nice cold beer at the end. Upon return to sea level, we stopped off at the first campsite we came to for lunch and beer. In the afternoon I wandered up the beach for a couple of hours, and had some beautiful stretches of sand completely to myself which was magical. Back at the camp we swam, sunk a couple more beers then headed back for cheap yet excellent food, more booze and an evening of cards and chat with Anna and Keith before the heavens opened in the evening. The last people at the bar we were kicked out reasonably early by the owner (very friendly) and his parrot (less so), retiring for some much needed shuteye.

We were due to depart the following day, and having had an early night I was up in time for sunrise, an excellent affair where I spent a good hour sitting on the rocks and enjoying the sun emerging from the sea over a cacophony of the waves breaking below me. Even taking photos I could feel the sea ripping the sand from underneath my feet, again emphasizing just how dangerous the waters there can be - and you certainly would not want to get between the 30ft breakers and the rocks!

The walk back was again very pleasant, passing more travellers this time along with horses and donkeys carrying provisions to the lodges (never seen a horse with gas bottles on its back before!), time for a nice blackberry slush puppy before heading back to Santa Marta on the bus. Anna and Keith had told us about a lovely beach, El Rodadero, a short drive up the coast, so upon our return I headed up there with Andy and Scotty for the afternoon. There was no disputing the beauty of the beach, but the plethora of high rises along its coastline and its high emphasis on tourism give it more of a Costa del Sol feel. Nonetheless it was an enjoyable afternoon, hiring a beach tent to shelter from the 39 degree heat, enjoying some good local seafood and a couple of beers in the shade (in between being pestered by touts trying to sell everything under the sun). The tent doubled up in use as the wind picked up, but eventually we decided to leave as we were getting sandblasted and the beer was starting to get a bit gritty.

A quick siesta was called for upon our return, a result of the combination of sun and beer no doubt, but thankfully I woke up just in time for sunset, a pretty spectacular affair as it was coupled with monstrously stormy skies. Heading into town with Scotty and Takuya, we found a highly recommended restaurant, Ben & Joseph's, along the seafront where we enjoyed some first class mojitos, superb steak and gargantuan langoustines. Mark later joined us and we wandered around taking in a few drinks and avoiding the fight (involving broken bottles - never good) that broke out on the way back. It was another early night as we were scheduled to fly to Bogota at some unearthly hour the following morning.


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