Bogotá has been a blessing but also a quagmire of comfort — I’ve done a poor job of exploring the rest of Colombia as I have been happy (too happy?) living a normal life in the capital city; that’s a lazy way to live in a country so geographically diverse and beautiful as Colombia. So while Bogotá is my favorite city in the world (Seoul wants another shot at the title), I needed more research diligence before I can claim Colombia as my favorite country. I was afforded the perfect opportunity when I was forced to depart my AirBnb on account of a five day pre-existing reservation. I took the opportunity to vacation up to the Caribbean coast to Santa Marta for four days to check out Tayrona National Park and the surrounding beaches. Santa Marta is the birth place of my favorite Colombian musician, Carlos Vives — and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit part of the reason I decided on Santa Marta was because of his music video, La Tierra del Olvido (click to watch) which features lots of scenes from Tayrona and the beaches surrounding Santa Marta. The video does a great job of showcasing the cultural diversity within Colombia — which I find truly inspiring. I have often been guilty of characterizing countries by singular the references I have of a city or visit — in the process projecting that insular vantage as total measure of the millions of people I have never met and thousands of places never visited. When I watched this music video for the first time last year I was immediately aware of my own bias and since that time I have worked to readjust my perspective and awareness. Thanks Carlos Vives.
The Caribbean coastal culture is so different from Bogotá (the aforementioned music video differentiates this well) — which has been described to me as more traditionally urban. For one thing the stifling heat of the Caribbean coast forces a more casual lifestyle. Even in flip-flops, a t-shirt and shorts I could only last 15 minutes in the direct sunlight while exploring the streets of Santa Marta before needing shelter under the shade of a tree in any one of the many parks. Locals did this too – but all were wearing pants and long sleeved shirts – real shoes too. It’s a trait of my European heritage I’ve often used as an excuse in hotter climates — I just am not built for heat. South East Asia turns me into a very (unhappy) sweaty person, Rio had me in a constant moribund state. But after a day or two I adjusted and though I was always sweaty I was also more comfortable. Embrace the grimy, stinky sweat and all is good — a sticky sort of zen.
There are a lot of beaches surrounding Santa Marta accessible via taxi. On my first day I took a boat from Rodadero beach with some Australian friends I met at my hotel. I had my portable speaker and we drank beer, swam, listened to Reggaeton and did a great job of not getting sun burned from under the shaded canopy we paid $4 to use for the day. We ate fried fish for lunch and drank coconut lemonade (paying a hefty service fee to the nice young man offering us waiter service) before returning back to Santa Marta in the late afternoon.
Day two I explored Tayrona National park — hiking the sweltering, humid coastal jungle and seeing armies of leaf cutter ants, hearing howler monkeys and drinking coconut milk fresh from the tree procured from a ten year old entrepreneur using the last of the cash I had on me. Returned in the late afternoon for a well deserved nap before an excellent Santa Marta dinner (there are dozens of really great, diverse restaurants serving the many Colombian tourists who visit the area).
Day three was another beach day — this time north to Taganaga, a small, hippy-style beach with water-front hostels and bars. We took a boat to Playa Grande though after initial swimming yielded the flavor of gasoline in the water (no doubt from the many boats stationed to take tourists to Playa Grande). There we snorkeled in the small bay — lots of coral, urchins, sponges, and plant-like anemones as well as tropical fish. Had the portable speaker with us again and relaxed in the shade drinking pina coladas while listening to music to suit the mood.
Day four was a short day — I departed to Medellín in the afternoon for two days before returning to Bogota. Had just enough time to squeeze in another ceviche meal after visiting the Tairona Gold Museum before catching the flight to Medellín.
Santa Marta did not surprise or disappoint. Truly an authentic sea-side destination within Colombia. Thanks Carlos Vives — ♫ you’re the inspiration.♫