And boy did we reggae
Getting into the swing of Colombian life, my third month was dedicated to the arduous task of exploring the beach scene. You can’t spend 3 months in Colombia, most of which living 300m from the coast, yet only spend 1 afternoon on the beach. It was an imbalance I had to right: 16 days is more like it, right? Right.
Lucky for me, remote working life was helped considerably by whatsapp being omnipresent in Colombian society - work or play. In fact, if you were to ask me to draw a typical Colombian, he/she is definitely holding the base of their phone to their ear listening to a whatsapp voice message.
Now we’re on the topic, said Colombian is also wearing trousers in 30degC+ temperatures, saying “a la orden,” eating an arepa con huevo, drinking a tinto, while communicating perfectly with whistles. Oh and signalling (come here or hailing a bus/taxi) in precisely the opposite way to any other country (palm face down with fingers flapping downwards and a gentle twitch in the wrist).
Anyway, whatsapp rocks. And so begins 16 days of sun, sea and sand, hammocks, hours underwater and happy travel buddies.
My first sandy target was Cabo San Juan in Tayrona National Park, the destination of most who pass through Santa Marta. You have to earn your beach here, and choosing Calabazo - the more obscure entrance - I found myself alone on a tough 3.5 hour hike through an indigenous city ruin and navigating an overgrown 1,500-year-old path made of rocks that bridge the majestic boulders populating the valley down to the sea.
The fact I was carrying the world’s biggest bottle of water in my hands made the shimmying along, over and down the boulders a little tricky but added to the fun. Kind of; I nearly jettisoned the 5 litre monster twice – it was only my dedication to anti-littering that kept my clammy hands holding onto that haven of hefty hydration.
With no phone signal and no desire to make friends, Tayrona was my down time and I managed to keep myself to myself, read a book, swim in the silky smooth water for hours on end, do a healthy amount of beach rubbish collection and go to bed and wake up with the sun. The perfect re-charge.
I spent two nights in Tayrona before walking out the other side and heading to meet Santa Marta friends at what turned out to be my favourite beach of this little trip, Playa Los Angeles. Less populated, surfable waves (not that I surf...) and no entry fee – jackpot. I had a great 24 hours with the guys there, swimming in the animated waves and cruising in a v. cool rusty yellow toyota for a much anticipated road-side seafood soup.
A week of work later and it was time for another beach or ten. Islands this time. A shared love of live music was taking Karolin, a friend I met at a Petronio Alvarez (predominantly Afrobeat) music festival in mid August, and me to another festival together. This time to Green Moon (predominantly reggae) on Isla San Andres.
With the excuse of choosing the cheapest flights, we tagged on an extra week, giving us the opportunity to spend a few days on San Andres’ quieter sister island, Isla Providencia. Less populated due to the extra leg (a 15 min flight or 3 hour catamaran) needed to get there, Isla Providencia provided the peace and quiet we hadn’t found on San Andres. Hours and hours of time in the sea - swimming (I taught myself butterfly!), snorkelling, trying to learn to do handstands (don't think having your head upside down underwater helped the situation) and scuba diving - it was bliss.
We returned to San Andres for the Green Moon Festival rested and ready to reggae, and boy did we reggae. We were the last ones dancing every night and were graced with the compliment that we moved “como isleñas” – a good thing. Karoline’s playful, calm demeanour, her sense of humour and her amazing dancing, made those 10 days some of my favourite in Colombia.
Through Karolin, and Chris and Dor (who I will introduce in second), I was reminded that the simple creation of memories is not in itself the reward, it’s the togetherness of sharing moments, and having the time to laugh in the reliving of them. It's people that bring journeys and landscapes to life with feeling and fun.
Cue Chris. A smart cookie, with a visibly glowing passion for mechanics, a great story telling manner and a fellow sporty soul. He’s the kind of guy you give a gallon of milk, a spoonful of sugar and a ziplock bag to and he makes ice cream. Really – he did that.
Enter Dor. You can call him Puerta (for google translate-able reasons). Dor is the sparky, witty, honest, matter of fact guy everyone needs in his or her life. I was lucky enough to meet these two on a plane and bus respectively and thus it was that three ones became one three.
All nearing the end of our time in Colombia, we set out on an expedition through La Guajira to the northernmost tip of South America. The fascinating region is famous for its spectacular and remote desert coastline, flamingos, sunrises, sunsets, Wayuu indigenous culture, starry skies and kitesurfing. Sadly it’s infamous for its corruption, droughts, mining and poverty. Both good and bad are there for all to see.
Despite choosing the budget ‘winging-it’ option, Chris, Dor and I ended up being the most well-connected travellers in the region thanks to Pao, a friend of the Marathon’s and a passionate advocate of Guajira (ref: HistoryTravelers.com).
Now, I don’t generally like being in cars. But somehow Chris and Dor’s chit chat, riddles and music made the car time (4h journey from Cartagena to Santa Marta, 3h drive from Santa Marta to Rioacha, 7h trip from Rioacha to Cabo de la Vela (complete with a puncture) and 4h to Punta Gallinas, and then all the way back again…so a frickin' long time… ) such fun that I found myself wishing we could just keep on driving for ever.
Anyway - enough of the soppy stuff. We spent our first night at Cabo de la Vela (said by locals so fast you either hear: CABOdlava or CblaVELA), a remote beach town that slips into existence where the desert meets the ocean. The next morning, a 5am honk signalling that our main man, Rafa, had arrived (Quote Chris: Buenos días a tí también, Rafa) and we were off whizzing through the desert by sunrise.
The drive towards Punta Gallinas follows a intertwining series of tyre tracks across the desert only navigable by drivers in the know, and even they have to stop and 'meercat' out the door to check the routes on the horizon. After 3 ½ hours we switch from jeep to boat without much explanation and from there, joining up with another group of (particularly fun) travellers, we’re shown our hammocks, fed breakfast and then bundled into another jeep to visit the spots identified as of interest in the Punta Gallinas area, my favourite being Playa Taroa – a rugged beach with awesome huge steep sand dunes that you can roll down straight into the sea.
It flows; every traveller who comes through Guajira does the same thing but the remote desert-ocean beauty of Punta Gallinas feels special and we loved it. The next day, while Dor headed to Uribia and onwards to wrap up his travels, Chris and I checked into Eoletto kitesurf school back in CABOdlava/CblaVELA.
Our days spent at Eoletto’s Wind and Kitesurf Centre were dreamy. Sunrise fishing (made a little vid about Jorge Luis, my Wayuu kitesurf instructor and fisherman if you're interested), midday swimming, sunset kitesurfing, killing and cooking our own lobsters, stargazing and sleeping in beach hut hammocks, drinking Polar beers from Venezuela (we were on the border after all) and making Old Fashioneds in the school’s cool beach bar.
For the full collection of areas I was lucky enough to explore in Colombia, head to Over to you: Tips for Travel in Colombia
(Includes Santa Marta, Tayrona National Park, Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) Trek, Cartagena, Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Isla Providencia, The Coffee Region, La Guajira and great Colombian music, books and festivals to aim for)