Santa Marta & Bogota: Family introduction 👧🏻 🇨🇴

Five days in Colombia flew past like a rocket. I met Laura’s family for the first time. Most of them live in and around Santa Marta, just the grandparents in Bogota. Thank you all for your great hospitality and the free spanish lessons 😉 I take away many memorable moments with me as well as my first tatoo 👧🏻 🇨🇴. Hasta la próxima!

Back in Santa Marta

Laura picked me up from the airport and we headed to the airbnb i booked. Presumably close to her house, but not really as it turned out. We spent the time organising a few last things such as doctor visits, injections etc, visited the Tayrona gold museum, Palomino beach, spent time with laura’s mum Deisy, sister Lorena and Mario – their quasi adopted son – and had also a little time for party in La Puerta for ourselves. Good to have Santa Marta nightlife back, be it just briefly. It is really good and authentic.

Tattoo time…

I had been thinking about getting a tattoo done for a while, but i guess never had someone holding my hand to see it through. When laura mentioned she will get a new tattoo done (a joint one with her sister), i figured it was the opportune moment. The studio is run by a venezuelan tattoo artist and was very clean. Tick. The design we did on the spot although i knew roughly beforehand what i wanted. The procedure lasted for about an hour and was a little painful, as the tatoo sits right on my ribs. One of those more sensitive spots. I like it a lot. Let’s see what mum thinks 🙄

Palomino beach

Palomino is one of the many possible destinations around Santa Marta. It’s a long stretch of sandy beaches and at times pretty aggressive waves. You can get there from Santa Marta by bus (1,5h) followed by a quick motorbike ride to the beach unless you feel like walking. Most of the beaches belong to hostels and make money of the associated bars / restaurants and accommodation. We spent half a day there playing with the waves.

One night in Bogotá

While Laura’s dad Mauricio usually lives in Taganga, a hippy beach spot near santa marta, we met him in bogota. He currently spends a lot of time there to take care of his dad and thus help out his mum – both 87. We opted to go by public transport, which means transmillenio bus in bogota. It’s a huge bus network with separate lanes and rather long buses. A bit crowded for my taste, but it works. Laura .

In the evening we relocated to an airbnb in chapinero – one of the best districts in bogota. Sushi dinner at Osaki’s and beers at Bogota Beer Company. Lore joined us and after a glass of wine quickly forgot her flu 😉. Great night… But then the Guiana’s were waiting 🛫

Advertisements

Back to Colombia – then the Guyana’s

Two days in London proved loaded with catch ups – cedric, hubert, yash, per, dan, bernd and a few locals. The rest of the time i spent sorting gear & clothing to get ready for the the next trip.

It was almost exactly one year ago that i visited Colombia for the first time. By now my Spanish is not bad and i have a colombian girlfriend. What difference a year can make! I am really looking forward to hang out a bit in Santa Marta and Bogota, hit the beach and meet new faces.

Off to North East South America: The Guyana’s

However, it is also time to explore some other parts of South America. I have picked a somewhat more unusual and not well travelled part – the North East of the continent. It is made up of the three countries and former colonies Guyana (english), Suriname (dutch) and French Guiana (french) followed by a stint on Aruba to learn kite surfing (fingers crossed). So i won’t get to practice Spanish in public too much.

1280px-guyanas2280846173259374373.png

Why not so well travelled?

Well, there is the big issue of transport. The amazon jungle to the south, (no-go) Venezuela to the west and water on the other sides making plane travel into the region essential. There are, however, only few options such as usually one flight from the former colonial power (say Amsterdam – Paramaribo) & one from Aruba, but no direct flights from hubs like Bogota.

The other issue, partly going hand in hand, is price levels above your typical budget for backpackers. In fact, french guyana is reportedly the most expensive place in SA being effectively part of France / Europe (eg you pay with Euro’s). Many products have to be imported.

Why is it worth going?

Well, we will see but the cultural mix of locals, former runaway slaves, Caribbeans, colonialists, asians etc is truely unique in the world as is the countryside itself that is dominated by the Amazon covering some 4/5th of the surface and provides for a high degree of biodiversity. There is also the chance to spot satélite launches in French Guiana.

Exciting! Let’s see how it goes.

Taganga: Still a great spot to get away from Santa Marta’s hustle & bustle

I hadn’t actually picked up on Taganga until Uri, my Israeli fellow Spanish student, mentioned to me. Its 10mins by car from Santa Marta, an Israeli hotspot and offers a way better beach than in the centre of Santa Marta and some good value watersports such as diving, kite surfing etc. It also boasts good accomodation including hotels, hostels & airbnbs (many with great seaviews) as well as many restaurants.

The lonely planet verdict is quite a bit more negative on Taganga in that it deems the place, once a quiet fishing village, as overbuilt and overrun. I share some of the criticism in particular that there local economy hasn’t participated enough in the tourist influx, but also like its evening charm.

Everything is just so close and with a good vibe altogether. Significantly less hassle than on the beachfront in central Santa Marta, much fewer street prostitutes (against what I had been told) and with a fair bit of Hippy touch as every second a guy tries to sell you a tribal wristband (I have 4 by now myself despite not buy any there).

Good place to relax for a few days and use as a base for nearby spots Tayrona & even Minca though for that Santa Marta itself cuts out one (bus) stopover. 

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?