Palomino was one of the first places I truly loved in Colombia. Even the drive there was beautiful. It was green, lush and looked a lot more like the Colombia I had pictured in my mind. The town itself is very small, but for a few days stay it’s a pleasant little paradise on the ocean.
Ellissa, Ned, Zane and I had all been recommended the Dreamer Hostel, but apparently so had everyone else as it was entirely full. So we went in search of another hostel and eventually landed on Palomino Breeze, which had a pool and was significantly cheaper… probably because there was no AC or fans in the open-air, thatch-roof dorm. *But there were mosquito nets so that was the only real necessity. We were an eight minute walk to the beach and, from our dorm, we could see the snowcapped Sierra Nevada (the world’s highest coastal mountain range). Not a bad setting.
The ocean water here was a bit clouded with some type of seaweed, there were some rips you had to be careful of and the waves were fairly monstrous. BUT I thought the beach was one of the most beautiful I’d seen in Colombia. We couldn’t exactly go for a leisurely swim – it was more of an active workout ducking under the waves – but it was great for body surfing and the water felt awesome.
Palomino provided some wonderful days. Unremarkable and lazy, but wonderful. After a quick workout, morning swim and breakfast we’d spend the day reading by the pool or laying on the floor of the tree-house-like dorm listening to music. I didn’t feel anxious or antsy – there was no reason to because there was nowhere I had to go and nothing I had to do. It reminded me of those plan-free weekends in college, lounging about with your friends doing nothing in particular. Or summer days as a kid that seemed endless, one running seamlessly into the other without distinction or interruption.
Besides this there was really only one “activity” in Palomino. Walking along the path perpendicular to the main road that leads to the beach you will be asked no less than five times about tubing down the river. So, after sufficient nagging, the four of us jumped on the back of our respective bikes and hauled off into town to pick up the tubes. With one hand griping our tube and the other holding onto the driver of the bike, we sped up, over and down narrow jungle paths, ripping through the mud and past indigenous people walking into town from God knows where. I was back on a bike and back in heaven. We stopped at the drop off point, where one of the drivers explained to us we’d need to hike about 30 minutes through the jungle to where we’d drop into the river. So, with our tubes and a bag full of tall boys, we set out.
The river was cool, shallow and wound around lush banks overgrown with greenery and trees, grazed by cattle. Much like river tubing in Indiana. You drop in and lazily float along – but the main attractions in middle America are the beers and conversation. While the beers and conversation were second-to-none here as well, the scenery was breathtaking – like being plopped into The Jungle Book. A group of boys rode their bikes like little hellions along the banks and – to our surprise – into the river. The rode as far as they could, until the water raised above their eyes. Further down was an even larger group of kids, egging each other on to plummet from the bridge and into the river. They teased us by acting like they were going to jump on us. It reminded me so much of summers in my small town on the lake. We could have pulled out at the bridge, but opted to keep going and eventually emptied out where the fresh water became salty – the ocean. The hike back along the beach was exhausting, but after showers we were thoroughly satisfied with our day and ended it with pizza and beers at one of the beachside restaurants while taking in the spectacular sunset.
Like so many small Colombian towns, Palomino was void of ATMs, rendering Alissa and Ned helpless as their cash dwindled, so the following day they decided to head back to Santa Marta and on to Medellin. Zane and I were keen to spend another day in Palomino before making our way to Minca. After they took off we decided to get a little cultural and headed to one of the indigenous villages. Zane had heard that they had done a particularly good job of preserving their culture and way of life and we were anxious to check it out.
With our Colombian guides/drivers, we rode on the back of bikes for about an hour to reach the remote village in the hills… And I’m telling you… it was like something out of National Geographic. The residents were dressed in traditional clothing – a sort of straw-colored tunic. Their homes, schools and place of worship were round, thatch roof buildings with dirt floors. I was expecting to see a thriving community, but what I saw were some very dirty children, babies with swollen bellies, and extremely primitive living conditions. I have a great deal of respect for maintaining cultures and traditions (particularly those that are dying out), but this did not seem like a happy community to me.
Before arriving we were told we had to bring cookies. We were told these were for the children, but in reality they were for everyone we saw. See a person, hand them a cookie, they go back inside. Asking for pictures was beyond awkward. It felt as if you were looking at them like animals in a zoo. It was very uncomfortable and as a result I only took a few. Posing with them was even less comfortable. Picture me smiling, hands on my knees in the “sorority squat,” next to stern-faces children – who more closely resembled people from the 1880s posing for old portraits. The contrast was stark and unsettling. No one smiled. No one. I got the distinct feeling that we shouldn’t be there (or weren’t welcome), so I was relieved when we got back on the bikes and headed back to town.
Along the way, in an attempt to make the time pass, tried out my offensively bad Spanish on my driver – a young Colombian dude with an Affliction-styole shirt and mullet. We chatted about where I’m from, your basic small talk about family, and what music we listen to. But dude didn’t know Beyonce so I didn’t know where to go from there, so before I knew it I was yelling “FRENCH KISS!” at him over the roar of the cycle and the wind in our faces… obviously helping him to learn the most vital of English words/phrases. How’d we get here you might ask? It probably had something to do with the limited amount of Spanish I knew, which was confined to general pleasantries, questions regarding travel/food/lodging and parts of the body. Sooooo yeah…. that’s the direction I went with it.
I was relived when we arrived back in Minca, allowing me to escape the conversational hole I’d dug for myself. That night Zane and I agreed it was time it tie one on so we had a two-person bar crawl, complete with pizza, street meat and questionable decision-making.
*A word on this: the bugs in Palomino can be an issue, so plan accordingly or get your mind in the right space to deal.
Love this post Margaret. I feel like I’m there when you write.