Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Tayrona and Palomino Beach

We headed further east along the Caribbean coast for more of J's favourite things: sun and sand. We stopped briefly in Santa Marta and were quickly on the move again to one of Colombia's most famous destinations: Tayrona National Park. "Tayrona grips the Caribbean coast in a jungly bear hug at the foot of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta," our LP guide describes. It covers 12,000 hectares of land and 3000 hectares of ocean. And it's stunning. We took a claustrophobia-inducing bus from Santa Marta and arrived at the main gate within an hour. We paid the 37,500 COP entrance fee (three times the price for foreigners than for locals) and then took another mini bus a few more km into the park where the road abruptly terminates in the middle of a thick, lush jungle. From there, someone's feet - either yours or a donkey's - are the only way into the park.

It's hot and humid, as you imagine jungles should be. I'm glad the trail is relatively well maintained, considering the entrance fee. Its the jungle closest to the exotic image of 'jungle' I have stuck in my head. We hike up and down root-made steps and boardwalks headed towards the sea. It's really a fantastic -but sweaty- hike. I'm happy I left most of my stuff back in Santa Marta. There is a dense green canopy above my head, twisting vines, flopping palms, two foot thick tree roots attatched to ginormous trees protruding from the floor, a monkey, massive spiders, unlimited lizards scurrying about, making their presence obvious and a non-stop melody of bird calls I'd never heard. We round the final crest and are rewarded with our first view of the ocean, a glimpse of the spectaula coastline- and a much needed breeze billowing off the sea.  We keep on trudging- through the sand, around the mangrove and back into the jungle to a spot on the map named 'Arrecifes.' It's not a town, certainly, more like the loose location of a few campgrounds- and maybe the beach is included, who knows. Anyways, we secure ourselves a tent complete with two hopeful looking foam pads with clean bottom sheets on them. (Which turned out to be really not comfortable) No top sheet, no pillows. We throw our stuff in a locker, buy some really expensive cold water (totally worth it) and head back to the trail. This time we are headed to the string of beaches and coves along the coast that we'd heard so much about.

We spend the rest of the day hiking through jungle to the different beaches and then spreading our sarongs out on the sand and relaxing for a while before moving on the the next beautiful cove. Why limit yourself to the same white stretch of sand all day? We got as far as Cabo San Juan de la Guia- the party cape. Seeing it- its easy to see why its the most popular beach in the park. Headed on each side by steep rocky capes there is a beautiful, deep bay which heads at yeat another cape and drops back into yet another beautiful bay right next door. Like a triangle.There is a gazebo with hammocks at the tip of the middle cape taking full advantage of the refreshing ocean breeze. We sit on the massive rock, unsure of which way to face. The parorama leaves me breathless.

Dinner back at our campground is less breezy. The guy forgets our order and after an hour I finally go any try to see where our food is- which is really complicated since he doesn't speak English and this ordeal is out of our Spanish range and the hand signals I'm trying out for 'where the heck is my food?!' (I get cranky when I'm hungry) don't seem to be translating. At all. He's looking at me like he's never seen me before in his life. I really don't know how he forgot my order when I am the only blonde, albino-esque person there and I walked right up to him (a very long time ago now) and actually pointed to items on the big yellow sign that I wanted to order. He confirmed my order, corrected my Spanish pronunciation and asked my name. It all seemed very straight forward. And now a burly man who's gruff English is all I have to rely on is telling me that they are all out of the meal I ordered- grilled chicken. It looked so good on everyone else's plate I had been drooling for the last hour-awaiting mine. He doesn't have to tell me that ther server guy ate the last of the grilled chicken- I saw him. Sitting at the table behind me, chowing away, flirting with the girls- eating my succulent grilled chicken. Er. I can get fried chicken, he tells me. Fine. It's the most expensive meal we've ordered in the last month. I huff but try as politely as I can muster (I'm really hungry at this point) to order fried chicken for me, rice and veggies for J. I make eye contact with the cook at the window. There is another European tourist behind me. He's ordered pasta an hour ago and hasn't received his meal either.  He orders his pasta, again. Shortly, I get my fried chicken and my mood improves significantly. J gets his rice and veggies and the European who ordered the pasta- also gets rice and veggies.

The next morning after a horrible sleep we want (overpriced) breakfast and we want to get out of there and start hiking out before it gets too hot. It's the same server guy. He actually is the same guy who pretty much does everything. You have 3 choices. Fried eggs or scramled. Toast or arepas. Coffee or hot chocolate. We both order fried eggs, arepas, me chocolate and J black coffee. Less variables = easier, we reasoned. The server writes something down on a scrap of paper. That must be a good sign! The server goes off the flirt with some girl again at another counter. Time passes. I can see our food sitting in the window- just waiting to be brought to our table. Its getting hotter and hotter as the sun breaks through the morning clouds. Our food is getting colder and colder. The server is giggling at the adjacent counter- igoring our cooling food. J ordered this time- try our luck with a different face, we thought. J goes up and looks at the food-it can't be ours- there is toast, not arepas. Two hot chocolates. He comes and sits back down. We wait a few more minutes. It has to be our food! Everyone else is already eating merrily. I (probably actually) stomp up to the window. I motion, asking if this is my food. 'Jhon'? Another person who has randomly appeared on the scene asks, referring to the scrap of paper. 'Yes!' I say. 'But arepas, not toasta,' I motion to the now cold (single) egg and toast. I look at the small plastic cups. Both are hot chocolate. 'And one cafe SIN leche (without milk), and one chocolate.' The man studies the server's scribbled note, blatantly confused. He waves me back to the table. Its probably just my irritation and imagination but it seems to be getting hotter and more humid by the second. Our food arrives. Each a fried egg, 2 arepas, one hot chocolate and one coffee with milk in it. Close enough! We scarf the food down. We butt infront of the flirting girl and try to pay the server man. He looks dazed. Other than that one scrap of paper he wrote our breakfast on there is not a single piece of evidence that there is book keeping of any kind. No record of anything we've consumed, or owed. Thankfully J had done the math in his head with all the posted prices. We had exact change. We shoved the money into his hand, didn't wait for a response and were hightailing it out of the gates of the campground.

Back in the jungle, under the towering trees and singing birds, tranquility returned. It really is a beautiful part of the world and we are really lucky to have experienced it first hand. But we're ready to move on. We catch a bus at the side of the road and fly down the coast to beach town of Palomino. Here we have an expensive, but beautiful room on grounds that closely resemble a resort. There is a pool, hammocks, palms and a spectacular stretch of beach 2 minutes down the path. We've spend a relaxing couple of days here, heading in to town only for cheap local meals and freshly cut fruit. We alternate our time between lounging in the shade of a palm on the beach, swimming in the pool (me only) and relaxing in the hammock on our private porch. We go for evening strolls down the beach and protest as the hours insist on moving forward bringing an end to another blissful day. Granted - 2 full day of lounging is enough for us. Our week on the coast has flown by. Tonight we have an overnight bus (booo) ride back south into the rolling hills and cooler temperatures of Colombia's Boyaca region. See ya later Caribbean coast!

Where we stayed: Santa Marta: The Dreamer ,100,000 COP for a private room, ensuite, aircon, TV. Really nice place with a pool and lounge area. Helpful staff.
Tayrona: Camping Don Pedro, 24,000 for a tent
Palomino: The Dreamer on the Beach, 110,000 for a huge private room with an ensuite, fan, private porch with hammock & table

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