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Published: September 8th 2006
Tayrona National ParkSanta Marta
(I told you it was nice.)
Before much longer I was well enough to want to travel and desperately needing to leave. Having kind of ground to a halt hanging out with my amigas who ran the hotel I'd stayed in I think I'd forgotten how to backpack. (It's terribly difficult
don't you know... You get up each day (if you want), do what you want, when you want until you wonder whether trying somewhere new might be worth a pop. Get off bus and repeat. For best results try not to dwell too much on how sickeningly privileged your life is in a continent enveloped by poverty and crime.)
So I think in the end I decided to visit Tayrona National Park, seeing as it was all of 21 miles from Santa Marta. Plus after seeing photos and postcards of the beaches there, I hardly felt like I had a choice. I awoke on the bus outside the park's entrance and it was all rather cloudy. More irritating still, though, was the fact I'd been having a really good dream about some old bollocks or other. Nope! Not getting off the bus, forget it! Zzzzzzzzz....
Ooh, Wake up an hour later
again. Sod it, that'll do. At least the kids were delighted to see me again. Spent a couple of days there doing much the same as on my previous visit. (Minus the guns and camo gear, you understand). Took the kids out. No, you daft sod... not that
kind of 'took the kids out', my cold-blooded killling days are well and truly behind me. I just mean I took them out and played with them. No, you daft sod, not that
kind of played... wait. I'll shut up.
So the weekend came and went. I thought I'd check out La Guajira, the nobbly department right next to Venezuela home to many of the country's few remaining indigenous communities, where they all waltz around in these cute little pointy hats. I'd heard mixed things about the wisdom of going there solo and was quite surprised when changing buses in Rio Ancha, the department's capital, at the sheer number of huge billboards reminding everyone of their moral obligations not to help, harbour or sympathise with the guerrillas. Got chatting to a military policeman about how to get to Cabo de la Vela, supposedly some hypnotic desert of a place
Botero Sculptures, Medellin
Botero's definitely Colombia's most famous artist. And he's not even that good! He just makes models of fat people.
that we'd almost gone to after my first trip to Palomino. It sounded quite difficult actually and not particularly safe either, so I scrubbed around it and took another bus back... to Santa Marta
Yes! Here we are again! Not quite as much fun without the world's most painful ear infection but still great
. Same hotel, same old shit. I was sitting there one afternoon trying to remember who it was who had a birthday coming up sometime late August when I remembered it was actually me. Ummmm.... plan. Need a plan. Errr, Medellin!
(Who'd have guessed it...?) Nyyyyyyyyeeeeoooouuhhhh!
(that's a delayed 22 hour bus, not a plane sadly). Two days early. Excellent. Guess what? I still love Medellin. Birthday ended up falling on a Saturday so I had the whole weekend to claim as my own!
A month or so earlier it had looked like Shakira was going to give a concert down in Bogotá on the big day itself. Yes! Shakira!
the only person more popular in Colombia than me and a fitting tribute to my 26th if ever there was one. But I'd got something round my neck as she seemed more preoccupied failing
Perched on a hill in Medellin: supposedly a little slice of how life used to be around here.
to win six out of the seven MTV nominations and there was no concert. Bitch.
Medellin's known as the city of eternal spring. The combination of latitude and altitude mean you're looking at fine fine weather virtually all of the year. Well, actually that wasn't quite true. In a city that doesn't even have a spring, only summer (dry) and winter (wet) each twice a year it turns out it had started raining some three weeks early this time around.
So on the Friday night we all went out to Mango's, that club I was telling you about with the dancing midgets. In a suitably ridiculous fashion for the place it turns out they hold a big New Year's Eve party at the end of each month so I had the honour of a few thousand beautiful people counting down the seconds to my birthday. While I was still in the queue outside, I hasten to add. The night was a good'un and the weekend just getting started really. Before long I ducked out of any after-party duties and managed to tuck myself up in bed by about 3am becuase, I don't know. I must be getting old.
Happy birthday to me...
By the time I peeled myself from the bedsheets some 12 hours later I'd already missed kick-off for the Medellin vs. Nacional football derby so just took the rest of the day quite easy. Earlier threats to cook up a barbecue came to nothing although I did have the coordination to buy a fat greasy Colombian cake for everyone.
Saturday night was another drunken one. Went to a couple of clubs with a group of Aussies and a couple of Bogotanos and we all drank like I'd never seen before. Mmmmm, hangovers.
I also went to pay a surprise visit to the family I'd lived with in Santa Fe De Antioquia
a couple of months earlier. They'd discussed me not long before and from the postcards I'd sent them and the fact that the daughter hadn't read the last email I'd sent her, they'd all decided I was still up somewhere around the coast. When Connie opened the door to me she staggered back honestly looking like she might die from shock. Really good to see them again and I stayed over another night: "Surpriiiise, only me! Now what's for dinner and where's my bed?" Back to
Third-world batteries... 15p
Cheap roll of film that jams at every possible opportunity... £1.20. An embarrassment of a chunky, black plastic camera... £6. Blurred pics like these, my only memories of the trip of a lifetime... priceless!
Medellin and needing some plannage formulation..
By now I'm down to little more than a week in Colombia, the vast majority of it still unknown to me, so fancied doing something new. Now I'm not exactly pro-drugs and I resent the people who come to Latin America just to get battered on the cheap but after getting hold of a contact I really was very close to visiting San Augustín, going horseriding to a drugs lab in the jungle and actually make my own coke. Shit, that would have been cool...
But I didn't. I went somewhere else. Santa Marta. Santa fucking Marta
for the fifth time! The reasoning was fair enough really, though. Some students I'd been hanging out with back up there were still pestering me to pay them another visit. I pointed out (to the really
lovely one) that I didn't have time, though if she wanted to take this gringo away on holiday to Tayrona National Park
there'd be little chance I'd be anywhere but the first bus back up north. I mean, I was half joking anyway.
Next day: Hmmmm... check my emails. Woah. Nyyyyyyyyeeeeoooouuhhhh!
I thought the whole thing would
I'd include this photo to give you the chance to appreciate the beauty of the human form framed against yet another sunning Colombian backdrop. (Julieth looks ok, too.)
be as simple as "Right, you! Bunk off school and buy me some suncream!" but Colombia isn't really like that. In England, it doesn't matter how strict your parents are, once you're 18 that's that. Not here. It turns out that while you're at home studying, your parents have the final say on everything until you're at least 22. (Note to self: STOP chasing after seven year olds...)
Julieth was an absolute treasure, far too nice to go behind her parents' backs. They'd split up years ago so she told her mum she was off to her dad's for the weekend and he, very reluctantly, allowed her to go away overnight - for the first time ever - once she'd finished her Saturday morning lectures. All I wanted was a really chilled deserted beach weekend as this was to be the last of any sunbathing I'd be getting up to on this trip and as an Englishman there's something intrinsically immoral about returning home any colour other than red with cancer. (Just like, as an Englishman I genuinely believe that no place on the surface of this entire planet could ever actually be 'too hot', but I digress...)
It was too much for my camera accurately to catch the indescribable depth of the sea's blue. Oop, just described it, didn't I? Confused.
I'd done my usual and got far too carried away buying food, finding the nicest out-of-the-way beaches and cabañas for the trip but it started going wrong soon enough; the bus driver forgot to let us off at the stop we'd requested and we ended up in hammocks with about a hundred other people on the wrong beach and no kitchen in which to do anything with the food.
Tayrona was just unbelievable. Herrrrmoso. Basically a couple of hours' walk through meandering jungle which then opens out onto the beaches. I really don't know where to start describing the beaches, you've just got to go and see them. I'd honestly never seen such extraordinarily blue skies reflected in the sea like that. So many times more beautiful than anything I'd seen in Mexico or Nicaragua or Brazil.
More good news: Back in December I'd bought a beautiful fabric hammock from the big market in Chichicastenango, Guatemala. And I lugged that little bugger around for the best part of a year, never knowing when I might need it. Big, heavy and staying firmly in my rucksack. Everywhere where I could have done with a hammock over the following nine
months there was one there already. Guess what the park's price differential was between using your own hammock for the night and renting one of theirs: Yes! 23p. Kerching! Felt soooo good after suffering under the weight of that thing, too indecisive to post it home.
Still, the weekend was lovely and probably better for my health (though obviously far worse for this blog entry) than galloping into the jungle to get screwed on homemade rack and a nice little end to a beautiful three months in Colombia. Time for a long ride to Bogotá's airport.
Stuck for hours, in the middle of the night at the site of another accident, shivering in virtually every item of clothing I possess under the rampant air-conditioning, kept awake by my favourite Colombian soap ("Sin Tetas No Hay Paraiso". I kid you not. It's about the struggles of a girl from Medellin with small tits whose mates have all had surgery and the show's taken the country by storm!) Colombia's the only place I know where they have terrestrial TV as well as films onboard. Think about it, it's a great idea... until you stop driving the bus directly towards the TV station. Anyway, I was remembering the time that pillock Tim Westwood pimped up The Happy Mondays' Bez's Black cab on Pimp My Ride UK and reckon I'm onto something here. Te presento... Pimp My Bus
The concept's simple enough; bus tickets sold six months in advance, passengers profiled, friends/family make videos then the entire bus is customised for one journey only!
Anyone who's been to Latin America'll be able to tell you that most of the buses here have already been pimped to Church-on-wheels status so the job's already half done and the possibilities are endless; those little jokers who jump aboard and give a ten-minute spiel about today's special offer on their packs of fucking peanuts they want to sell you could have specially trained macaque monkeys running up and down custom-made solid gold
monkey runs handing them out to punters and juggling to keep the kids happy... The little old nuns could have rosary beads built into the seat in front made out of the highest quality poached ivory tusks
, illegally exported out of Africa... you get the idea.
The final stumbling block might be getting funding for a grandiose project like this but I'll do it myself if I have to; a cheeky spot of mental arithmetic (MENTAL!) led me to realise that if I fake my own kidnap and the olds sell the house, in Colombian pesos I could be a billionaire twice over (woah, a multi-billionaire, no less!) I'd even be prepared to suffer the indignity of my mother's 'I told you soes' ("Blah blah, I said you'd get kidnapped but you didn't listen... now they've gone and frogmarched you around the jungle for ten months... a mother knows... yadda yadda yadda...")
A final night in Bogotá
for a night where I was looked after so so well by Manuel and Camilo the two guys I'd met in the week before in Medellin. ("I bet my people weren't this good to you when you were living in London, ha!") They're currently working for the government department that's trying desperately hard to bring the foreign perceptions of Colombia even slightly in-line with the reality of this place. I sat in their flat all afternoon while they were at work just listening to Shakira and leafing through all of their paraphernalia, all too aware of the irony at work here: that the place with the world's worst reputation is simply the best location I know I'll ever find on this planet.
Emotionally charged and gutted gutted gutted to be leaving. Whoever would have thought that the prospect of two weeks to round things off in Buenos Aires, party capital of Latin America before I fly home could leave me feeling so miserable, eh? God, Shakira I love
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