A few days in Santa Marta …

Santa Marta doesn’t exactly boast the strongest reputation amongst travel destinations in Colombia. In fact, most people merely use it as a base for trips to the lost city (see here), nearby Tayrona park or the village Minca with its outdoor & coffee tours. However, its not that bad after all and, in a similar fashion to Cali, has its own charm if you just give it a little time and don’t get upset about a lack of a free walking tour. For business minded people, I think there is not free walking tour on offer yet ;o)

I don’t do religion except for Pink Floyd. Stephen (Liverpool)

My first night was indeed just before my own lost city tour. I spent the afternoon in Hostel Masaya on calle 14 & carrera 5 (great place), more precisely in one of its pools on the rooftop. The first stroll through town was a bit of a shock. The city is pretty dirty and, judging by chats in the hostel, is perceived as pretty dangerous (in partiucular calle 10 & lower at night). The beach seemed too much of a hassle to go … alone is tricky in any case if you value your belongings somewhat. Otherwise my stroll was fine.

Surely, once the sun sets and you wander about the malecon / beach front you will get inundated with cocaine & marihuana offerings by street dealers and attract the attention of the many hookers (or putas). The hooker issue has so far been the most pronounced in any of the cities I have seen, chiefly due to its proximity to Venezuela that has sent many women into forced prostitution to make a living for themselves, their children and relatives (see this economist article for a good summary). Many people sound caution with these girls and reports of theft (money, cards, phone) and drugging (scopolamine – cheeky mind control drug) resurface all too often to be just myth. The limited number of police (especially at night whrre threy seem fewer in numbers) doesn’t offer enough protection.

On the other hand, there are several low key restaurants near the seafront with outdoor seating that invite for a cold beer and, as I would find out, some spontaenous salsa action and chatty locals (requires Spanish of course). There is also a few vibrant streets on calle 14 & higher that feel perfectly safe, offer plenty of food options (be nit street or restaurant), street music and good vibes generally. So its really a big mix. Just pick wisely!

Most interesting was the time out with the folks from the hostel. There was a french guy who studies hospitality and has just completed a 6mth placement in Masaya (great Spanish skills), a Venezuelan guy working at Masaya, another french guy married to a Colombian who is working in the Medellin outfit of Masaya and the highly interesting Stephen from Liverpool (Everton fan though to get the record straight … must be excited about the upcoming derby in the FA cup). 

Stephen has moved to Colombia 7 month ago and fallen in love with Santa Marta. As he says, its the kind of place where he fits in. His own history is quite a story. He has overcome long-term addiction (27y of heroin, 22y crack cocaine), 4 kids and by now 9 grandchildren (if I count correctly … and just from his eldest daughter) and years of work to help other addicts. Without going into too much detail here, i really enjoyed the open conversation we had on several occasions, his stories and his views on life. You don’t often find people that live to tell this story (as Stephen reminded, most of his friends that got on heroin in the 70’s are dead). Great guy – good luck with everything!

So whats your story of Santa Marta gonna be?

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