Santa Marta, Taganga, and Tayrona

Hello!  I have left Cartagena on a cushy Avianca flight that cost about the same as the 18 hour bus.  I will take the one hour flight, especially with baggage included, TV and games and juice, huge seats, and the nicest flight attendants I have ever met (put Spirit to shame, which is not hard to do, but also most domestic Delta flights under a few hours).  Well worth it.  Had to have help booking it online since they only accept Colombian credit cards but that is what a great hostel does.

Cartagena

I stayed at Casa Viena in Getsemani.  The area has a lot of restaurants where there are mostly locals along with some more international eateries which still have a lot of locals and hostels. Mind you, if you are coming to just see the nicest, most touristy, part of Cartagena or do not want to see the side that has prostitutes selling themselves and drugs and propositioning you, it might not be the best area to walk back from at night or even sometimes in the day time.  But only a few limited streets are very bad, the rest I did not hear anything and there were locals watching out for the tourists, helping if I look lost, asking me if they can speak English to talk with them in English, stopping traffic so I can cross the street, helping me up into the colectivo (local bus) with my ridiculous pack, telling me how wonderful Colombia is and how I will not want to leave, telling me the best place to eat, telling me to be careful on certain streets, telling me to watch out there is a puddle and a car coming to splash it on me.  Honestly, I am getting the impression that this is who the Colombian people mostly are.

I know there have been a few muggings and confrontations with drug dealers in the area, but just do not carry a lot of valuables at night and don’t flash out fancy phones or cameras in areas you know you shouldn’t at times you know you should not and ya know don’t buy sex or drugs and you should be fine.  Be vigalent about your pockets and cash and belongings.  I had two dollars in bus fare stole from my pocket, I even saw the guy do it and he had a “so what you gonna do about it” look.  Also I have felt pick pockets, though I do not normally carry anything there so it was just annoying to have my ass poked.
Santa Marta

I stayed in Santa Marta at an awesome hostel that had a free drink and free breakfast included and was MUCH cheaper than any in the area.  Candela y Chocolate actually has been the cheapest I have stayed in, at 16 COP per night.  They also have the CUTEST dog.  It is two blocks from the main park near the beach, which has about 4 banks with ATMS and a couple police officers checking the ATMs regularly.  There are fruit carts there also and there is an Exito on Calle 20 and Carrera 5 (Hostel is on Calle 12 and Carrera 3), so 8 or 10 blocks.  Exitos I thought were grocery stores but this one was like a super Walmart.  The hostel had excellent Wifi, stores luggage (5 mil COP or free if you stay when you get back), paid laundry service, books buses, etc.

The town is a touristy beach town that seemed awfully crowded when I was there because it was a national holiday.  It seemed expensive.  Also while I was there I met a large group of Peace Corps volunteers serving in Colombia.  One of them got mugged sitting on the beach late at night by three guys.  I recommend you not sit on the beach by yourself at 2 AM.

Taganga 

I only spent a few hours in Taganga waiting for the boat to Tayrona.  It was a gorgeous ride down on a little colectivo (you can catch the bust to Taganga on Carrera 5, just look for a sign in the window saying Taganga, for about 1,500 COP).  Not too long of a ride in a little rickety bus but driving down the hill side into this little town nestled into the mountains with a small beach front was amazing.  The prices seemed a little cheaper, or maybe I was just better at bargaining.  I tried to go early enough to get there and store my unimportant luggage at a hostel and buy some fruit to take but I got there and the boat was leaving so soon I did not want to risk missing it.  Just show up and someone will offer you a boat ride, maybe though if it is not so busy as it was when I was there, shop around.

And here to help me with the boat salesman was a couple from Michigan!  They were hanging out with two friends (Californians maybe) who were teaching English Baranquilla.  I hung out with them for that day.  It made me feel safer swimming with people.

Tayrona

I know it is way more expensive (45 mil COP though I heard a girl paid 20 COP at the hostel I was in) but it was gorgeous.  The coast line along the entire Tayrona is amazing.  People rock climbing, lots of caves and little deserted beaches and mountains…it just really has it all.  Then you arrive in Cabo San Juan.  Cabo San Juan has two of the swimmable beaches. Arrecifes, the first beach from the trail down, is incredibly dangerous to swim in because of the currents.  I think you can swim at Piscina (half-way between Cabo San Juan and Arrecifes) and you can also swim at Play Brava.  Playa Brava, however, is a tough hike that takes about 4 hours if you do not have a lot of stuff with you.  I walked almost half way trying to see the Pueblito at the top of the hill (half way up) but my shoe broke and I ran out of water so down I went.  It is a very tough up and down and through and over rocks hike.  Very steep and sometimes you have to figure out the path.  I think it 2.4 km but 250 m incline.  Possibly.  There is a sign saying do not take kids and do not leave after 1 PM.  Good suggestions.

In Cabo San Juan there are lower hammocks and upper hammocks.  The upper hammocks can get wet and cold and do not have mosquito nets.  They are however positioned on top of a rock right on the ocean, there is also a path to go sit on the rocks.  The lower hammocks are near the tent area.  There is a restaurant, snack shop, lockers (free, provide your own lock), bathrooms (provide your toilet paper) and showers.  The food shops close occasionally and the lockers close at night so take what you need out (bug spray, flash light, water, pajamas, tooth brush, bathing suit, towel).  Though, I did not see a single mosquito.  In fact, in Cartagena in the hostel I saw one mosquito and one night got bit by something, I have no clue to what it was but the bump looked sort of like an ant bite.  I wonder if I brought some from the beach.  I carry bug spray with me in case I need it, but so far limited need, thankfully.

The food is way expensive (25 mil COP for chicken and rice which was about 6 mil COP near where I was staying in Cartagena). Bring a large amount of water and food with you and have a light pack on the way out.

I did yoga on the rocks, swam, sunned, napped, watched and talked with one of the workers swapping Spanish and English help (his English was very good, my Spanish almost nonexistent).  It helped me a lot to just talk.  I tried my hike to the Pueblito, a small indigenous village.  When I went we got a few of the last hammocks, so get there early if it is a holiday.  The next day there was hardly anyone and mostly foreigners instead of Colombians.  I have found Colombians go to bed late, wake early, and make a lot of noise doing both.  So bring ear plugs or headphones or something.

I woke every morning early, the day I left around 530 when the sun came up.  It was a good 2.5 to 3 hour hike (with my huge heavy pack remember) that was only partially marked.  It was beautiful, especially with the rising sun.  The path from Cabo San Juan to Arricefis was a bit rocky and not too much up-hill while the hike to the bus stop was very steep but fairly smooth as it is a horse path.  You can hire horses for different parts to carry you and stuff but I think no one should take the horses or demand they take better care of the horses and charge more.  There was actually a demonstration outside Cartagena while I was there about abuse to horses.  The horses are very sad, have heavy saddle marks and whip and switch marks.  They carry huge loads for as small as there size is.  It was very sad in both places.

Once you get to the park entrance there is a 2 mil COP bus to the main road (or a 3 km additional walk up a paved road) and a 5 mil bus (on the same side as the park entrance, the bus will be going right as you exit the park) to Santa Marta.  I took the tourist bus back thinking it would be more comfortable and quicker.  It was not.  We had to stop a lot along the way and go through Baranquilla, there were broken seats, barely enough room, no room for luggage and it broke down on the way back and for an hour and a half we were sitting in a bus with three less seats that what we needed.  There was a guy sitting on top of the luggage and someone sitting on someone’s lap.  For 42 mil COP, so not worth it.  This was Marsol.

Leaving from Cartagena

I stayed at Casa Viena when I got back to Cartagena again.  They had the camera charger I left there. Very honest people.  I had a phone interview with Google Voice and they had a headset with microphone I could use.  I walked around and took more pictures and then met up with a friend I met last time and we left to Medellin.  We took the colectivo again which was on the main bus area near the entrance to the city (millions of buses, can’t miss it).  You want to be on the furthest side of the road near the water heading away from the City.  I think the bus said something like Crespa on it.  Also the airport is sort of small and hidden, we missed the stop and someone stopped the bus for us and we walked two blocks back down to the airport.  The national departures area is the furthest down to the right.  And you know the rest!

The internet is spotty here, I guess it is broken, so I am not going to add links and pictures here, I will add a separate post later when I have reliable internet.  Now off I go to find a long sleeve shirt and a hot shower (ah, luxuries) in the posh party hostel.

Beach Weekend Revisiting College Town!

Here is an end to all the wishy washy fluffy bits on personal growth and back into the beautiful photos.  I needed to get away.  I was not writing, no yoga, no photography.  For whatever reason I was in a slump.  However, for Cinco de Mayo I went to the beach with my friend S and her friend C. I went to college in Melbourne and revisited a few places and just enjoyed resetting my clock on the beach.

Last Saturday I left for Melbourne, Florida at a not so early in the morning hour.  I was very nervous because the hotel I had booked was a mom and pop hotel that did not have a lot of information on it.  Plus it was more expensive than I was used to.  I usually can get a nice hotel on Priceline for cheap.  This hotel was not very expensive ($134 after taxes) but was not cheap as I am used to.  It also looked a little old.  But, after being told my five or six other hotels there was NO availability I was a little desperate.  I eventually asked one of the full up motels what was going on.  Apparently there was a country music festival with Alan Jackson.  The lady said Alan Jackson’s name like a teenager girl might say Justin Bieber’s name.

So Ocean Front Paradise Resort it was.  They are actually older one bedroom apartments.  It looked very odd from a street view because on each side were 5-6 story motels or condos.  It was made up of about 8 or 10 one story units total with a main house that the owners lived in.  The woman who owned it is a bit strict about not having any guests other than those registered on the property (cannot invite people to the beach who are not paying customers) and to not open your windows at all.  I actually appreciated the empty beach the most, not a lot of noise or litter and I understand they do not want the humid salty air ruining the apartments.

When you arrive (and check in time is flexible, I showed up at 2) and get checked in there are two side walks, one in front of the two rows of apartments.  We got the unit right next to the beach on the right.  I have no idea what number it is, but ask for it.  The windows overlooked the dunes and it was beautiful. And this might be the most amazing part, instead of having concrete built up to the boardwalk, there was actually a grassy lawn that overlooked the dunes and beach and lots of available chairs and loungers.  There was even a kayak to borrow (we didn’t).

The apartments are fully stocked with silverware and plates and kitchen ware.  The mini fridge did not seem to get things too cold, but that could have been a setting.  I did not pay too much attention since the first thing I did was go sit on the beach.  When I got to warm I got up and splashed around in the surf.  I have not been to the beach in years, it’s a pity, I used to live so close and the expense of gas to get there seems somewhat prohibitive, but I need to balance out costs and benefits.  There was a huge benefit of going. However, after trying to figure out why my sunscreen would not absorb I looked at the bottle and realized it was two years expired.  Oops.

So, I decided I would walk down to the surf shops about three-quarters of a mile away and get sunscreen.  It was a wonderful walk.  I tried to be conservative taking pictures because I only had one fully charged and one partially charged battery.  All the moving around finally caught up with me, I left the charger and 2 spare batteries at the apartment I house sat for the week before which I could not get back until the next week.  I did still get a lot of awesome pictures.

When I walked up to the Indialantic (get it, get it no really it is a town) surf shops I found some sunscreen and a really cute skirt and Coldstone coconut ice cream with almond joy in it.  Then I sat on the beach and sat on the beach some more.  When my friends called me to come get dinner I might have blown them off and sat some more. I was hoping to snap some of the moon rise, but it did not work out, hunger won.

We ate at a little restaurant in historic downtown Melbourne  called Island Pasta Company where I had the seafood coconut curry – yum).  The Mahi and shrimp were perfect and I love coconut curry.  In fact, I have been on a never-ending coconut kick lately.  I love sitting outside at this restaurant because it has a cute out-door corridor with nice lighting and ambiance and a sort of European cafe feel only with Island music.

After a nice night revisiting downtown Melbourne and seeing all the craziness in the clubs down there for Cinco de Mayo (and did not participate), we headed back to the hotel.  When S asked what I did all day other than sit on beach I gave a look that conveyed all I was feeling, “why would I need to do anything else?”  S and C pretty much collapsed onto the pull out couch while I stayed out in a beach chair for most of the night.  After brushing off the third roach (or maybe it was the same roach) from my hair I decided I should get some sleep in the softy comfy bed with springs in it.  You have no idea how much I miss a spring bed.  Sigh…

S and I got up to watch the sunrise and it was amazing.  Dolphins jumping and all.  We went to Blue Berry Muffin Restaurant which happened to be across the road, where we all ate too much and enjoyed some really good muffins.  I had the Chocolate Chip instead of Blueberry but they were both made of a corn muffin base that was so crispy on top but without so much sugar.  It was awesome.  I had corned beef hash which was just ok.  I make much, much better.

Then we all went and cleared out the apartment and laid on the beach while the lady cleaned the apartment for her next guest.  Checkout was a non negotiable 11 AM.  That was okay as by 12 we were already sunburned and dehydrated and C had to leave to go to work.  S and I stayed and walked around downtown Melbourne, I took her to Holmes Park and Promenade Park which are on Cranes Creek near where it meets the intercoastal water way.  S had not seen manatees before.  There were no manatees but there were lots of jumping fish and even another dolphin.

Then we went and windowed shopped and ate lunch at Meg O’Malley’s Irish Pub.  I love this place because it has the best corned beef sandwich I have ever had.  Even better than mine. They use real corned beef roast.  It is amazing.  After being sufficiently stuffed we walked back toward the car and stopped in a new agey sort of store.  S bought a new peacock stone and I bought a fuschite and a couple aquamarines to make a necklace out of.  I am not sure if I believe in crystal power, but I like my stones.

On our way back to the express way we got some frozen yogurt and I tried to stay awake for the drive back.  I was very happy for a bed and shower that night back into the house sitting gig.  I made sure I charged all my camera batteries and put them back in the case.

So here are the pictures (click on the link to see all of them):