On Santa Marta

We are here in Cartagena de las Indias, having finally kissed Santa Marta good-bye. There really is nothing in Santa Marta to do as a gringo tourist, and despite having spent yet another sleepless night journeying to and from the bathroom, we had to leave—had to leave, even though I was justifiably terrified of being that gringo tourist on the bus who shits and vomits all over his seat. Fortunately, the pain of journeying was somewhat eased when we discovered that we could take a small, air-conditioned shuttle bus directly from our hostal. Granted, slightly pricier, but given that under normal circumstances we would have had to carry our bags until we found a taxi—which wasn’t easy in our weakened state—over to the bus terminal outside of town, and then haggle with bus companies over a price, and then wait for the next bus to leave, and then sit and watch our baggage like hawks, it seemed like a pretty good idea. It wasn’t really that much pricier than the normal bus, in fact, and aside from making many excursions through side-streets to pick up other travelers, it was speedy and comfortable.

Another word on Santa Marta, before I’m done with it: there’s literally nothing to do there, unless you happen to be vending fruits or hand-bags. (Rich) Colombian tourists flock to the beach at El Rodadero, but that’s all there is there: beach. In the Centro area, where the gringos stay, there’s sort of a beach. We only found one restaurant that was decent—decent not because of it’s food, which is always the typical comida corriente of meat, rice, beans, and platano—but because of it’s exceptional juices. They served large, tasty juices in a soda glass, and it was one of our few daily activities in Santa Marta, to seat ourselves at its tables located along the waterfront and sip at our níspero, maracuyá, or zapote juices while people watching—or, more frequently, being watched ourselves. If you ever end up in Santa Marta for some reason, then pop in, it’s called Punta Betín and is located just past the Plaza Bolivar along the waterfront (Cra 1C), next to a shop selling mochilas. But not the one right next to the shop selling mochilas: that’s the bad one that tried to scam us.

The only reason gringos do end up in Santa Marta is simply to pass on through to la Ciudad Perdida or Parque Tayrona. We had hoped that Santa Marta would kind of be like a miniature Cartagena, where we could escape the high prices and crowds that Cartagena attracts in its “high” season. But no. No cafés strung about, few pleasant restaurants, and a hell of a time trying to find a damn internet place where you can upload your pictures onto. I suppose there’s dancing and drinking going on during the weekends, but that kind of scene is officially off of our itinerary.

About the most exciting thing that happened in Santa Marta was that the electricty went out all night long (second time this happened, actually) across two blocks the night before we left for Parque Tayrona. Of course, our hostal happened to be on one of these blocks. The residents began crowding into the darkened street, and started a fire in the street down near the waterfront and began protesting. It was somewhat of a half-hearted protest, due to the heat, but a protest nonetheless. We sat on the rooftop of our hostal until it was time to attempt to sleep, which of course was not to occur because there was absolutely no breeze, so no air was coming into the room, and I had to keep getting up and walking over to the window to stick my head out in order to get some fresh breaths of air.

Anyway, so that’s Santa Marta. Oh, but it is good for one thing: the Arhuaca mochilas which are sold in many stores. These are handmade by some of the natives in the mountainous jungle nearby, and are very handy, as well as nice-looking. You will see everyone, guys and gals, sporting these things all around Colombia—even the trendily fashionable chicas in Bogotá.

More on Cartagena, along with pictures, to come. I need to get these stomach dragons quelled somewhat first. . .


Author: manderson

I live in NYC.

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