Taganga was a much smaller version of Santa Marta, but despite it’s slightly grimy appearance and infamous reputation as a druggie community, I liked it. I mean, it was an improvement from Santa Marta, let’s say that. Zane, Ned, Ellissa and I lugged ourselves and our bags around in the heat of the late morning, looking for a hotel/hostel – anything that was cheap and had AC. While walking on the main strip we were beckoned into what appeared to be the back of a store by a guy who earned commission by connecting travelers with accommodations (this is very common all over). In the back of the store was a stairway that led up to a small, tidy hostel. Here we scored a four-bed dorm (meaning it was a private for us!) with the most BOSS air conditioning and cranked that puppy up (or down, rather) to 60 degrees.
Then, after a quick dip in the not-so-pleasant water, we had our first taste of really typical Colombian food. For lunch we dined on:
- Fish soup served with lime and hot sauce
- Fried fish
- Coconut rice
- A small side salad (aka mostly cucumber)
All of this for 10k pesos (which is less than $3.50). With a few variations, this is a typical meal in Colombia. As you move away from the coast the contents of the soup changes, the fish transforms to a flat disc of chicken or pork and the rice loses the coconut. But it’s “mas o menos” the same anywhere you go in Colombia. Oh, and it’s delicious! Not a lot of variety, but taste-wise it’s really nice.
While finishing up lunch I spotted my friend Matt walking down the street with his snorkel gear in tow. A mutual friend from home had put us in touch and, since I have no problem buddying up to strangers to make a friend, I called him up on my first day in Santa Marta. Matt had been in Colombia for the past year – the first six months in Bogota and the next in Santa Marta – teaching English (most recently at an all girls school). And by “teaching English” I mean he hung out in Colombia, doing whatever he damn well pleased and skipped work as often as humanly possible without being fired (update: Matt got fired). He was born in the US, grew up in Mexico (thus completely fluent), but is basically “from” San Diego for all intents and purposes.
He’s sort of what you might expect from a dude who was raised in Mexico/San Diego. He’s the very definition of laid back (I’ve never heard the phrase “chillin” so many times in my life), he says and does exactly what he wants, he laughs a lot and rules do not apply to him. Oh, and he talks like he’s smoked a lot of weed in his life because, well, he’s smoked a lot of weed in his life. But despite appearances he’s actually quite intelligent, thoughtful, wildly generous and charming in a way that he laughs after everything inappropriate he says… which in turn makes everyone else laugh. He gets away with a lot because he’s so damn likable. At least to everyone who he doesn’t work for. What this meant for me is that I had a buddy who was practically a local with no schedule or obligations to speak of. Matt would later play a major role when I was eventually forced to return to Santa Marta.
After lunch the Aussies needed to head back to Santa Marta for an ATM as the only one in Taganga was out of service. So while they trekked back up and over the hill, Matt and I trekked up and over in the opposite direction to another beach for some snorkeling, beers and, later that night, an awesome steak dinner. Matt was a great host, particularly when it came to food.
The next day, the Aussies and I headed to Tayrona – a spectacular national park known for it’s jungle, wildlife and beaches. There are two options for getting to Tayrona: you can take a bus and then, upon entering, pay a rather hefty fee and walk about two hours through the steaming jungle to the beaches. Ooooooor take a boat that drops you off directly at one of the beach. No brainer, right? Not exactly. After about an hour wait we finally piled into the boat that would take us to the beach, about 45 minutes away. The lancha – which is just a small dingy with rows of benches – was jammed packed with local and foreign tourists alike. I’m not a fan of touching strangers on any given day, but when I’m quite literally stuck to their sweaty, ham-like legs and arms, I’m even less of a fan. Luckily, as the smallest people on the boat, Ellissa and I were banished to the two single seats in the back that flanked the “captain.”
Once we finally shoved off things were fine… for a bit. But then, when we hit the open water away from the safety of the bay, the preverbal shit hit the fan. We pounded through the water, over monstrous waves like our lives depended on it (perhaps they did), bouncing up, down and around with nary a string to hold onto. At the lowest point of the boat, turned facing the opposite direction, Ellissa and I received violent thwack after thwack of water to the back of our heads. Water baby that I am, I had accepted the lifejacket they’d given me at the start, but dismissed it as completely unnecessary and used it instead as a seat cushion. It didn’t take long into the trip for me to reconsider, and I coyly slid on my lifejacket, buckled it and tightened it. At one point Zane turned around and proclaimed, “We shouldn’t be here…”
He was right. We had no business being in that boat, with those waves, going that speed. I was absolutely positive that we were going to be thrown from the boat at some point and I spent the duration planning my exit strategy and asking myself important questions like:
- How do I avoid the business end of the motor if I’m flung out?
- Who here is gonna need to be saved?
- Which shore is best to swim to?
- Will I have time to grab my bag from the front of the boat?
Finally, with all passengers still aboard, we arrived at the beach. It certainly was beautiful and the water was a huge improvement from that near Santa Marta and Taganga, which was murky and littered from the port and fishing boats. But sadly, we’d been spoiled with the best beaches known to man while sailing the San Blas Islands and – it kills me to say – none will ever be as good again. I’ve ruined myself. We spent a few hours swimming, snorkeling and lazing around, but it was a bit of a drizzly day so much of our time was devoted to drinking beers, playing Heads Up and avoiding the MOST NEGATIVE British woman I’ve ever encountered.
The way back was not an improvement from the way to the beach. In fact, we had a head-on view of a storm that loomed not far off and I prayed we would make it back before things got all Gilligan’s Island. This time I was on a middle bench, sandwiched between an Argentinian woman and her son.
“Perdon, pero puedo tener tu mano?” (Translation: “Excuse me, but can I have your hand?“)
Luckily she realized that I meant this in the hand-holding sense and not in the Game of Thrones sense (I don’t know the verb for “to hold” so I have to work my way around these sorts of things). I gripped her hand and, when we’d coast up and over a particularly large wave, I’d yelp and grab her son’s thigh.
- Problem #1: This is not safe. It’s just not.
- Problem #2: There is nothing to hold onto. The benches are solid and plastic (extra slippery when wet). If you’re gonna move forward with these death missions at least install some handles, man.
Luckily, the Argentinians served as my handles. That night, happy to be alive, we toasted over beers and another typico meal. And decided it was time to go to Palomino.