Cartagena and Taganga

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September 28th 2012
Published: October 2nd 2012
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I had only really planned on spending a few days on the Carribean coast of Colombia, but it seems that the Carribean exuded the same hypnotic power over me as it has on countless others. It wasn't until 10 days after arriving that I was able to pull myself away. Despite the humidity and the mosquitos, Colombia's Carribean coast is definitely a special place, and I can say that having only visited two of the towns along the coast; Cartagena and Taganga.

The flight from Bogotá to Cartagena on Sunday the 16th was fairly uneventful, although the plane did cruise around on the runway for such a long time before finally jetting off that for a while I started to think we might be driving all the way to the coast rather than flying. Cartagena holds some beautiful old colonial buildings within the old historic district, which is surrounded by a wall which was erected to defend against the many attacks which the city faced. In contrast to the old colonial architechture there is also a lot of tall, modern buildings in Cartagena, particularly in the Bocagrande area of the city, which give the city another face. On Monday I took a boat trip over to the Rosaria Islands, just off of the coast. Many of the islands are tiny and uninhabited, and are surrounded by beautiful coral reefs. Myself and two others that were staying at the same hostel as me went snorkelling for about an hour, whilst the majority of the other passengers opted to go straight to Playa Blanca, which is generally considered the most beautiful beach in the area. I'd never snorkelled before, so I was slightly dubious after being handed the mask and then being told, 20 seconds later, to jump off the boat and into the sea. Eventually I started to get the hang of the mask and the snorkel... I think. The coral reef was amazing. One of the guys had an underwater camera, and I'm kinda kicking myself now for not thinking to buy one, because the fish were so wonderful it would have been nice to get some photos. What amazed me the most, however, was how content the fish were to carry on as normal despite our presence. At one point towards the end of our little snorkelling adventure I just swam alongside a huge school of tiny fish, and they didn't seem the slightest bit fazed by having a human join their ranks for a while as they swam. After snorkelling we got back in the boat and went to Playa Blanca, which I found to be just as beautiful as I had been led to believe it would be, and had a yummy dinner with fresh fish. (I feel like, perhaps, after swimming around and admiring the beautiful fish for an hour, it should have felt sort of wrong to then eat fish, but it didn't. It was delicious). Then we relaxed on the gorgeous beach for a couple of hours, venturing out from underneath the shade for 10 minutes at a time to brave the sun, or paddle in the turquoise sea. The ride back in the boat was great fun. The boat was speeding because we were running late, so the sea was spraying us from all sides and we were bopping all around, hair whipping every which way. It was awesome. Definitely would not have been so good if you suffered from sea sickness, though!

The next morning I went outside of the old city's walls with a guy from the hostel to go
Me at Playa BlancaMe at Playa BlancaMe at Playa Blanca

On one of the Rosario Islands
and see Rafael Nuñez's house. Nuñez was a former president (several times!) as well as an author and poet, but apparently his bad health led him to prefer the Carribean climate to Bogota's colder climate and high altitude, so he spent many years in the house in Cartagena. Unfortunately the house itself was closed, but we were able to have a look around the ground floor, and the nearby plaza and church where he is buried were very pretty. Then we set off in search of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's house, but after wandering around in circles for a while and not having any luck, we gave up the search. The guy I was sightseeing with (who is from Milwaukee by the way, which is awesome because I'd always wanted a reason to say that word out loud) left to go and meet his cousin's wife who randomly happened to be in Cartagena too, so I went for a little explore on my own. I had a look around one of the plazas just outside the city walls which is lined with the busts of some important people who I have already forgotten, and some cool Pegasus statues, and the clock tower which marks the main entry point into the old city. That evening I went out for a drink with a couple of people from the hostel. Now, I have often thought how much easier it would be if I liked beer, and Colombia is the perfect example of this. Most hostels sell bottles of beer really cheap, but buying spirits or wine isn't quite so easy, and certainly isn't so cheap. Since arriving in Colombia I hadn't had a drop of alcohol at this point. So, on this evening I figured I would treat myself to a Piña Colada. Piña Coladas are my favourite cocktail, but they can either be really good or really bad. The one I got in Cartagena was absolutely dire. (I got the others to taste some as well just to confirm that I wasn't being cray - it actually tasted like drinking gone-off milk.) So that was a shame, although it did provide us with much amusement. Other sources of entertainment, whilst we sat outside the cafe with our drinks, were a bunch of kids who started MC'ing at us in the hopes of money, and a street vendor selling hats who insisted that one guy in our group try on a selection of the hats, despite his protests.

On Wednesday morning I met up with an awesome couple who I'd met at my hostel in Bogotá, and we explored a lot of the city. The highlight was probably the Modern Art Museum which holds an excellent collection of artwork from South American artists (and, for some reason, one painting from a Dutch artist which had managed to shimmy its way in there). They had a room dedicated to the Colombian artist Enrique Grau who I had never heard of before but who I am now officially a huge fan of. The plaza outside of the art gallery was filled with lots of cute, zany statues, such as a statue of men playing chess and a man fixing a bike. After getting a (very cheap) lunch, we contined to explore this beautiful city, with its colourful buildings and balconies. In the early afternoon we started to walk across the top of the city walls. However, after bumping into a guy that the couple knew from their hostel, we retired to a shaded area on the wall to escape the fierce heat and enjoy the cooling ocean breeze, and we all passed a couple of hours there just chatting, before continuing on our walk across the wall. The land ends and the sea begins just a few metres from the wall, so we decided to go down to the sea edge and marvel at the beautiful clear sea for a while, before walking back along it. In the evening we made what I would say was a pretty successful (and again, cheap) pasta meal at their hostel. I opted for wine this time (rather than braving any sort of cocktail!) which was a much safer choice. Tipsy and content, I slept very well that night, despite being in a dorm room shared with 9 other people.

I spent my last day in Cartagena taking in more sights of the city that I hadn't yet seen, like some cute little churches and plazas, and the 'Portal de los Dulces' (where a line of vendors sell unusual Colombia sweets). The remainder of the day I spent at the hostel, next to a fan, reading my book, because the heat and humidity was even higher than usual that day. On Friday the 21st I bid Cartagena farewell and took a 4-hour bus to Taganga, a little fishing village at the foot of some green hills, on the Carribean coast, which is popular amongst tourists largely for the plethora of diving companies that are based at the village that offer very cheap diving courses. The views as I was leaving Cartagena were stunning; I felt like I was travelling through a lush tropical rainforest. The hostel which I was staying at in Taganga, called Casa Divanga, is linked to a B&B just one block away, so I passed the remainder of the afternoon at the B&B, first to take a swim, and then to get dinner. At the restaurant I got talking to a guy from Canada who was in the middle of a 3-day diving course, and he recommended the dive centre that he was using, who incidentally had also been recommended to me by the hostel owner. With two positive reviews, I made up my mind to try this dive centre (called Reef Shephard) out, so the next morning I went in and booked myself onto a mini-course for the following day. With that sorted, I returned to the hostel where the (very lovely) hostel owner had organised for me to meet a snorkelling-instructor who she knows well. After meeting him, we set off on his motorbike (yes, I actually got on the back of a motorbike for the first time - and I'm not gonna lie I think I have been missing out because it was pretty fun) to the beach. I think that we swam out about 500 metres, and snorkelled for about an hour, so it was good practice for me, and I now feel a bit more confident snorkelling! The fish that we saw were really cool, and I was actually surprised by how many there were, not really that far from the shore. The remainder of the day (and this is Saturday now by the way) I spent swimming at the B&B. In the evening a big group of us from the hostel went out for a dinner at a place that the hostel owner recommended. Out of about 9 people, there were only 3 of us who were not Irish. Maybe it's just been coincidences, but it seems that if Bogotá is the new spot for English tourists, Taganga is the new spot for Irish tourists?! The food was really yummy (and cheap, which seems to be the norm in Colombia)! The place offered a 3-course meal for something crazy like £8, but I decided to save myself to dessert by just getting a starter and skipping the main. I feel that this was an excellent decision because the brownie and ice-cream that I got was a-maz-ing! This choice also had the added bonus of meaning that the whole meal (starter, dessert and drink) cost about £5. Good times. One of the (Irish) girls that was at dinner was also going scuba-diving early the next morning, so after dinner we headed back to the hostel with the intention of having an early night in readiness for the next day. Unfortunately one of the houses by the hostel was having an extremely loud party that night and the music was blaring until about 4am.

The next morning, red-eyed and weary from the few hours' sleep that we'd had, neither of us were feeling perfectly prepped for the day's dives. But in spite of that the scuba-diving was a lot of fun. I'd never done it before and I certainly can't say that I'm a natural. My mask kept on filling up with water and my ears did not handle the depths well at all. The way you have to get into the sea once you've suited up with the gear, by sitting on the edge of the boat and then lifting up your legs and allowing youself to fall backwards into the water, was pretty nerve-racking, although tumbling backwards and floundering around underwater for a bit, was wierdly enjoyable. The fish and the coral reefs were really amazing to sea. But as my ears were hurting a lot, we couldn't go deep on the second dive, but my instructor and I stayed near the surface and were still able to see some awesome views. Towards the end we saw 3 little squids in a row which were super cute. That evening myself and the Irish girl (from the hostel that went diving) went out for cocktails with a couple that we'd met earlier because they were scuba-diving with the same company. A couple of their friends came along too so it was a fun evening, especially as the cocktails were delicious and cheap, because the place we went to, right on the bech, operated a 'happy night' rather than the usual 'happy hour'. God bless Colombia. I had a pretty relaxed day on the Monday, mostly swimming at the B&B and reading. In the afternoon I took a bus (which was more like an open-doored mini-bus) into the nearby city of Santa Marta because I needed to get money out, and the one ATM machine that they have in Taganga was not working. I was only there briefly, but the little trip did give me the opportunity to see the coast from Santa Marta, and check out the city's little white church and market-place. I also had a stroll down to the beach in Taganga to take some photos of the sea and the boats, and the surrounding hills that encircle the village. I met up with the scuba-diving couple again that evening and a bunch of other people from their hostel (which oddly enough included another girl I'd met whilst scuba-diving, and the Canadian guy I'd met on my first night in Taganga) for dinner and drinks.

That brings us to the end of my Carribean adventure, because the next day, sunburnt and covered in mosquito bites, I caught a flight south to a city called Calí. But more on that next time!

As always, thanks for reading and joining me on my adventure. Ciao!

P.S. I did try uploading the photos from Taganga but for some reason they haven't worked. Sad times.


2nd October 2012

Brilliant Blogging
Hi Laura, sounds like you are having an amazing time and trying out lots of new things along the way. Your adventures are really interesting to read about and you sound very well organised. It 's hard to imagine you diving off boats and gadding about on motorbikes whilst we are traipsing to and from our dull old jobs from day to day. Keep up the good work! Love from us all. xxxx
5th October 2012

Don´t miss Tayrona national park near taganga, those are one of our top beaches. Look for it in the internet if you want.

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