13.06.2016 - 22.06.2016 30 °C
Sam had already been to Colombia so we decided to head straight to the North coast so I could come back South to do the big cities later. Our journey started with a funny story. Sam and I boarded our flight from Cali to San Andrés, a little island in the Caribbean Sea close to Nicaragua. As we were approaching our destination, the captain told us we couldn't land as there was a big hole on the tarmac... So we had to turn around and land in Cartagena. We were not allowed to leave the plane as they refilled the fuel, so passengers started shouting and complaining that they were hungry and the kids were crying, there was almost a riot inside the plane! Viva Colombia is the cheapest airline in Colombia so they don't offer any free food or drinks, which are quite expensive. The delay wasn't their fault and although I was hungry and annoyed too, I felt very sorry for the staff who had to deal with the uproar of outraged customers! We were then told we had to fly to Medellín to change crew, without being able to leave the plane again, to finally get a flight from there to San Andrés where we landed safely 8h before the originally scheduled time... Oh well, we got there in the end haha!
We spent our first day cycling around the island which was a great way to get an overview of the whole island. Located 750km away from mainland Colombia, it has a very different vibe and a distinct culture: the Creole-speaking locals called Raizal are part of the Afro-Caribbean ethnic group and have their own habits and traditions, whether it is food, music (big reggae/rasta influence!) or architecture, with also influences from the British colons. We got to see a few beautiful beaches along the way and stopped to sip some fresh coconut water. Later on we had to escape the pouring rain on the East side of the island, before deciding to cross the small distance between the beach to Rocky Cay with all our clothes in a dry bag haha... There wasn't much to see on the island especially as it was getting dark, but it was a pretty nice view towards the coast.
Another highlight of our stay on San Andrés was our day trip to Acuario/Haynes Cay and Johnny Cay, 2 small islets off the main island coast. We were a bit disappointed to see that there were quite a lot of Colombian tourists, not quite the desert paradise island we had imagined (hard to compete after the Galapagos...). However we still enjoyed the pure crystal turquoise water, and found a quiet spot on Johnny Cay away from the crowds. We even bumped into an iguana and a bright green lizard! Life on the island was quite expensive but we managed to do some savings by making our own breakfast, eating sandwiches for lunch and having a reasonable meal for dinner.
We also visited the Coconut house, entirely made of all things coconut from wood to shell, with its surrounding ecological park, where we watched a nice local dance show. Of course we had to try the typical Afro-Caribbean dish of the island called Rondon: it is a soup made of coconut milk in which you cook fish, potatoes and other types of starch or vegetables - it looks a bit weird but was actually quite nice! We also went to explore the pretty beaches and colourful houses of the San Luis barrio, one of my favourite parts of the island.
Our next stop was Cartagena, also called Cartagena de Indias, a beautifully preserved colonial walled city and a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the scenic location of many novels and films including 'Love in the time of cholera' by Gabriel García Marquez. Some backpackers will tell you that it's fake and touristy, which might be true to some extent, but I still loved the colourful houses, the traditional churches and the animation in the streets. Also it is HOT. Probably the hottest place I've ever been to! It was hard to be outside between 12 and 3pm... We just wandered around the streets, enjoying the pretty little houses and the many artisanal shops. And we did splurge on one amazing meal at La Cevichería where we had ceviche (obviously) but also an amazing Lobster paella hmm... This was the first time I had the opportunity to properly be in a Colombian city on the mainland, and it felt like a very different place compared to the other countries I had been to, definitely less Andean like Peru & Bolivia, and much closer to Brazil, with some African influences. And the 'palanqueras' that you see everywhere, those ladies dressed in colourful outfits selling fruits, reminded me of the 'bahianas' in Salvador de Bahia!
Sam only had a couple of days left before his flight back home so instead of going to Tayrona where he had been before, we decided to head to Palomino, a tiny beach town further East along the coast. We spent a night in Santa Marta and then took a bus there. I love those small places in South America where there is no bus station so you just get dropped off on the side of the road haha... Palomino is basically just one street (if you can call it a street) all the way to the beach where you can find several hostels and a couple of restaurants. We spent 2 days there in our nice beach hut-style hotel, just chilling on the beach and eating some nice 'menus del día' at our local restaurant! We also went tubing down the river which was really fun: for those who have never heard of it, the idea is that you rent a rubber ring and then go down the river on it all the way to the sea! It was a lot of fun, and we got to see some beautiful landscapes along the way. We also took a couple of moto taxis which are a really fun way to get around!
And that was the story of my exploration of the Caribbean coast of Colombia with Sam. But there is much more to see in Northern Colombia... So in the next post you will hear all about how I got to La Guajira, the most northern point in South America, my amazing 2-day trip in Tayrona and the wild and beautiful Minca.