Sunday, 17 July 2011

Taganga: A Slice of Caribbean Life in Colombia

After our three days in Cartagena Ania and I decided to move on to Taganga, a small fishing village next to the city of Santa Marta. After hopping into a minibus full of tourists, four hours later we arrived at Casa de Felipe, a hostel that had been recommended to us by several travellers and guidebooks. It hasn't disappointed and has turned out to be one of our favourite hostels of the whole trip, right up there with Travellers' Oasis in Cairns, Australia. We arrived on 5th July, and with two days to go to my birthday, decided to splash out on a slightly more expensive room with a TV, its own balcony complete with hammock and a sea view!

Here's Ania repairing her sunglasses with her sewing kit (yes, her sunglasses!) on our beautiful balcony:

For me, Taganga is the place where I truly started to enjoy Colombia. Casa de Felipe is fantastic, a big hostel that somehow manages to feel private and sociable at the same time. There's also an amazing restaurant run by Patrick the Dutch chef. His fillet mignon steak with blue cheese sauce is incredible. There's also great veggie soups and wraps that Ania's been enjoying. We've eaten in the restaurant several times now and as well as the great food and atmosphere, we're usually joined by the hostel's resident kittens who are tiny and so cute! On our first night we met Mel and Steph, two lovely Aussie girls from Melbourne. Here's Mel playing with one of the kittens at our dinner table (after we'd eaten, obviously!):

Colombia has some of the cheapest scuba diving in the world, so on 6th July we set off with a local company called Aquantis for two boat dives. It was unbelievable value! About £40 each for two dives, a basic lunch and photos taken by the guide underwater included in the price! The staff all speak great English and are very helpful and friendly too. The diving was good despite some poor visibility in places. But the amount of wildlife we saw more than made up for that: a sea snake, lion fish, porcupine fish, moray eels (in two different colours) and a lot of squid. Ania saw some seahorses on the first dive after I'd surfaced (I am an official air guzzler underwater). We also had a really nice group of six: us, plus two other couples from the UK and Holland:

L-R that's Nicky, James, me, Ania, Sonna and Rob.

We're ok! Us two underwater:

Some of the aforementioned amazing wildlife: a big lobster we found hiding under a rock...

...and a seahorse:

The next day was my 27th birthday! We saw it in on the night of the 6th. Hanging out on the roof terrace of Felipe's we met an American guy called Dave and his brother Joe. Dave thought I looked familiar and it turned out we'd met him almost four months ago in Pucón in Chile! It was a nice surprise to link back up with someone we'd hung out with before and the guys raised a glass to me as the clock ticked over to midnight on the 7th. The next day began my birthday proper. Thanks again for all the messages and emails on the day, it was so touching to hear from everyone. I certainly haven't had many birthdays abroad, so to have one in South America was really special! On the actual day we didn't do much, aside from some serious relaxing! Ania woke me up with a pancake breakfast in bed from the hostel's restaurant (ain't she sweet?!), I Skyped with my mum, dad and sister and we ate dinner with Mel and Steph.

In the evening we took a walk down to the beach and found a small percussion band playing with the beautiful sunset behind them:

Then we bought arepas from this street vendor. Arepas are cornmeal patties. This guy barbecues his and then stuffs them with guacomole, salsa, cheese and chicken. Yum!

We ate our snacks on the beach and continued to watch the sunset. Ania took this photo, I'd say it's one of the most beautiful from our entire trip:

The following day Ania, myself and Mel headed to nearby Tayrona National Park. Poor Steph was ill, having been taken to hospital and put on a drip just days before. The three of us caught a bus for an hour and a half to the entrance to Tayrona, paid our entrance fee and then set off on a three-hour walk to a beach camp site where we planned to stay the night. We started off by taking the wrong path for the trek, the one meant for horses rather than people!

Mel and Ania at the very start of our walk:

Some leaf-cutter ants! These guys were everywhere and busy, busy, busy. I suspect that somewhere they are building one MASSIVE leaf. But to what purpose?

Our horse track was churned up into a kind of swamp in places (easy with hoofs, difficult without) and I was only wearing flip flops, having not anticipated a tough trek! Very soon Ania and I had gone barefoot to avoid losing our footwear and we were thigh-deep in mud, while Mel had an easier time of it in her trainers!

My new pair of mud-boots. Just dip and let them dry!

Towards the end of the toughest section my left leg went all the way into the mud and I stacked it, ending up sitting down in the mud! I was not best pleased at the time but after a quick wash in the sea I saw the funny side. I believe Mel has an embarrassing photo but I don't have it for the blog. What a shame!

After some easier walking over sandy beaches we reached Cabo de San Juan, where we rented hammocks for 20,000 pesos (about £7) and met up with Mel's friends from home Jim and Chris, plus their friend Tyra from London. By this point it was afternoon so we spent as much time as possible relaxing on Cabo's beautiful beach and cooling off in the rough yet refreshing surf.

Ania relaxing as the light fades on Cabo beach:

Later we climbed the rocks you can see in the distance in the photo above and enjoyed the views, before returning to our camp. Here's our footprints leading back from our mini-adventure:

That evening our little group was joined by Owen from New Zealand and we all had a poor and overpriced dinner, plus some beers, before breaking out our own bottles of rum and ginger ale, which we drank from our old beer cans for lack of cups! We rinsed them out first, what do you think we are, animals?!

After a surprisingly good sleep in our hammocks we woke up, or rather were woken up by some obnoxious tourists, at 7am. It was actually quite nice to be up for a swim before breakfast and to enjoy some beach time before the insanely hot high temperatures in the middle of the day. At one point Ania and I climbed up to a sort of tower they have at Cabo beach. The building has private cabanas and a floor below with more hammocks (the demand is high, but Mel managed to get one for her second day). We checked out the views from the balconies and climbed on some more rocks, as you can see in the photos below:

At midday Ania and I waved goodbye to the others and headed to La Piscina, a different beach on the walk back with calmer waves. There we met James and Nicky again, the couple we'd scuba dived with days before. Ania and I took the right path back to the park entrance this time, which was far easier although it definitely had muddy points! We got the bus back to Taganga and enjoyed a good shower and a proper bed at Casa de Felipe.

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