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Published: December 17th 2014
Local Lady in Cartegena
Had to pretend I was taking a picture of the building behind her
So Cartegena... Formerly a key stronghold of the Spanish empire being the closest South American city to Spain, it has seen more then its fair share of battles - good news for a history buff such as myself. Its also mid 30s temperature wise and too hot is always better than too cold. However as a result the local economy is more tourism based with the result you have guys trying to sell you drugs every ten steps! And the weather combined with being very humid = alot of perspiration !
After the quietness of my hostel in Medellin I decided to go for the opposite in Cartegena and stayed in the always active Mamallena hostel. Immediately after getting off my 15 hour bus ride I booked a mud volcano tour leaving in the afternoon. This was a bit of a bizarre experience as you climb into the crater of a 50m high volcano to soak up the supposed natural rejuvinating powers of the mud. Already waiting in the crater are some local Colombian guys who offer full body massages (I decided to abstain!). It looks like youre standing in the mud when in fact you are floating - The
crater is actually 1200 metres deep but given the amount of magnesium in the mud it is impossible to sink.
The best thing about the tour was we gathered a bit of a group together from about three different hostels. Later as drinking outside is not illegal in Cartegena as it would be in other places we decided to grab a few cans from an off license and go to one of the biggest squares in Cartegena to socialise. Bear in mind this was a Wednesday night and yet the square was packed, with quite a high proportion of those Colombian, I figured work couldnt have been too productive the following day. We did happen across one lunatic of a local who would stop at no ends in order to drink as much as humanly possible - be that fishing 3/4 empty cans out of the garbage or picking up drinks people had laid down for a few seconds, so be it!
The following day myself and Maurits went to check out the San Felipe fortress which took approx 126 years to be fully completed and Im told has never been taken. Its built in a triangular shape
on a hill above Cartegena which allowed it to defend both the city and the bay when needed with its cannons. Being the closest big South American city to Spain as I mentioned, all the gold generated throughout the empire was carted to Cartegena and then shipped to Spain. There was also a huge slave trade as Africans who had been captured would be first brought to Cartegena - hence with all this wealth meant numerous attacks on the city by pirates and other powerful European colonisers. There is also a maze of tunnels beneath the fortress which we went exploring. Apparantly this was in case of siege and allowed supplies to be brought in if needed or an escape in a worst case, really interesting and a bit spooky. :-D
Santa Marta was the next port of call. Not much to do there but it is a great base to explore the surronding countryside where there are a lot of unique little towns. The day after I arrived in SM, I decided to head for that days Lost City trek, a 4 day hike through jungle to see an ancient city built by the
Tayronan Colombians! Siggy a friend from Cartegena was doing it so figured I might aswell join him. We had a good mix of a group with two Colombians, two Germans, two Swiss, two US, one Icelandic and myself. We perhaps underestimated the trek the first day when realising too late we wouldnt make camp before dark and then managed to get hit by monsoon like rain, bad news for me as Id no light 😞 When we arrived, we found out the other groups had arrived in before the rain had even begun! Day two we pushed further and further into the jungle.. this was probably my favourite day. We passed by some of the indigenous villages of people we still live in the forest and more amazingly manage to keep their clothes whiter then white despite all the mud and rain. The views were amazing and as always plenty of jungle wildlife was on show. We also made two short detours to go swim and visit some waterfalls which was a welcome break from the heat. Finally day three we arrived at the Lost City. Not quite as spectacular as Machu Picchu but still Kudos to the Tayronan people.
I raised an eyebrow when we were told 2000 people lived here but I suppose Lost City has more of a ring to it then Lost Town! As a sidenote the Colombian Army keep an outpost of about 50 soldiers nearby to ensure no one can steal anything of historic importance. And to end it all a 14.5 mile return trip in the afternoon and following day to where we started. Some people stayed on for a fifth day and hence a more broken out hike back but I was being eaten alive by mosquitos so got out as quick as I could. Arriving back in SM a Dutch couple starting asking me about the trek as they were going to do it in a few days. Apparently all my bites made it obvious Id just been.. And when I complained about how my bug repellant being terrible, they enquired the brand.
"Eh its from a pharmacy called Boots, theyre an English and Irish brand..." Even as I said it, we all burst out laughing.. sure what experience could the English and Irish have of dealing with mosquitos! :P
I had heard good things about Minca,
a little village 45 mins from SM so my next stop was there. A couple of people from my hostel in SM were going to a hostel isolated in the mountains above Minca which was supposed to be highly rated so I decided to join them. Unfortunetly other then one morning where we went fruit picking, activities seemed to revolve around drinking and getting stoned, boring! I couldnt even content myself with some home cooked dinners as all meals had to be bought in the restaurant there which in turn were small and expensive. Boredom and hunger do not go well together! +P
Id heard of another hostel in the town run by a guy from Limerick so making my excuses I switched hostel. Having sorted a room with Niall the owner, he gave me a list of stuff to do and we were back on track 😊 That afternoon I went up to a local coffee farm called La Victoria which offered English tours. Id already been to a coffee farm in Salento but this farm operated on a much bigger scale with better machinery and a more standardised process so it was cool to learn some more.
On the way back from the farm I made a detour to Posa Azul to go swimming beneath the waterfalls. It was pretty nippy though so I was in and out within 10 minutes ! Later in the evening, myself, Niall and Uisce the dog went for a stroll where we admired the lights from Santa Marta and Niall showed me the best spots for bird watching. Hence the following day I was up at 5.45 and armed with a borrowed set of binocolors, off I went. Minca is one of the worlds best bird watching areas with 162 species of bird... Id love to say I saw all 162 in the 2 hours but with my untrained eye it was considerably considerably less!! I did manage to see some colourful toucans though and two red squirrels on my way back. Afterward myself and Niall called across to a neighbour who was having a few mosquito problems to replace the meshing on all her windows. Halfway through we managed to disturb a nest of black ants and many bites were recieved with them taking a particular liking to Niall :D My Minca adventure concluded with a 40 minute ride to
Santa Marta on the back of a motorbike, clinging for dear life...
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