and another tour disaster
23.02.2010 - 27.02.2010
We had to change buses at about 10:30pm in a place called Bucaramanga and from then on things weren't so comfortable. This wasn't due to the condition of the bus, it was all because of the a/c which was turned up so high our teeth were chattering. Obviously this didn't make for the best sleeping conditions and although the bus was so empty we could have two seats to ourselves, we still got hardly any sleep. I was very thankful when we arrived in Santa Marta and we could swap the Artic for the Caribbean.
It was early morning and with such little sleep we just wanted to crash for a while. With this in mind we got a taxi to take us in to town and ended up staying at the first place we looked at, our decision was made a little bit easier as it was dirt cheap. Unfortunately sleep did not come easily to either of us and we were both quite hungry so we decided to go out. First we walked down to the sea which was very close and with a certain image of the Caribbean in my head I must admit I was a little bit disappointed. The sea was not turquoise, the beach was not a blanket of white and there were not a trillion palm trees. To be honest Santa Marta beach is not very attractive, it is pretty small and nondescript with a port right next to it. We did get to see a massive cruise ship arriving though which was kind of cool and later on we saw the cruisers all milling about in an enclosed pen.
After a little walk along the sea front we went to inspect the town which was alright but again nothing special. Some narrow streets lined with fruit and juice sellers, then a busier market area selling all sorts and a few churches dotted about. Santa Marta was a little bit rough which went against my images, its name seems to imply something slightly grander. When lunch time arrived we did find a really good restaurant; the food was extremely tasty and the price incredibly reasonable. There were even some parrots which helped us feel like we were somewhere exotic, they had they're winds clipped though which we thought was a bit of a shame. The rest of our time in Santa Marta was just spent mooching about the market and figuring out where to go next using the hostels Wifi.
Thanks to our research we made the decision to head fifteen minutes down the coast to El Rodedero which is where most Colombians head for their beach holidays. When we arrived there were plenty of people on the street trying to help us find accommodation, most of which was apartments. We checked a few out but they were generally in pretty bad condition and the prices were high, especially if you wanted a sea view. In the end we got a fairly good price on a ground floor one close to the beach, it was a little bit like a hovel with windows so high up you couldn't see out of them but it would do. That first day was spent getting our bearings and taking it easy, as we planned to take a boat trip to Playa Blanca (White Beach) the next morning. We were much happier with the El Rodedero beach, it was much bigger and was flanked by a palm tree lined walkway.
The water was perhaps not as clear as we'd imagined or hoped but there was definitely a much better atmosphere. Again finding inexpensive food was an issue, we had been expecting there to be an abundance of cheap fish but this didn't seem to be the case. Instead that evening we ate kebabs and pizza cooked on little mobile stalls set up along the sea front and went to bed feeling a bit naughty.
It wasn't difficult to find about trips to Playa Blanca, as soon as we stepped on to the street we were being asked. During our research we'd found out what a ticket should cost and so we were a bit miffed when someone tried to sell us two tickets for the price of hiring an entire boat. Adam suggested that we walk down to the dock and wait to be approached again. The tactic worked and soon we were on a small boat with other holiday makers on our way to Playa Blanca.
Considering that neither Adam or I are exactly beach bums, i.e. we get bored of sunbathing quite quickly, we had a really good day. The sand wasn't white, but it was soft and a little bit gritty so it didn't go everywhere which I saw as a definite bonus.We hired a couple of deck chairs under a little shelter and set up shop for the day. We'd brought a bit of food with us so we weren't tempted to eat in one of the pricey beach side restaurants, but we did buy a couple of prawn cocktails off a little man called Pedro who walked up and down the beach with a cooler box. Apart from sunbathing and consuming classic 1970's cuisine we lolled about in the warm water quite a bit and listened to music. Feeling a tad lazy before heading back to El Rodedero we decided to climb the steep hill behind the beach as apparently there were great views to Santa Marta from there. Well we couldn't really see Santa Marta, it was quite some distance away and was shrouded in cloud but it was nice to be up high nonetheless.
Once back in El Rodedero we set about scouting out some new accommodation because the dingy apartment was making us feel depressed. We found a good hotel and although it was a bit more expensive, the room had big windows and a balcony so it seemed like a good option, we would make a decision in the morning.
Although the hotel was really good we still kind of held out hope for a nice apartment, high up with sea views and so we allowed a boy to ferry us round to different buildings. Despite walking round for what seemed like forever we only saw one apartment which on first sight looked quite promising but when you looked closer it was horrible. The main problem was it just hadn't been taken care of, the kitchen was a state, the beds were all broken and crammed into small rooms. There was a large balcony and if you looked passed one high rise you could see the sea but Adam quickly established that it would be in the shade for most of the day. All in all it was not for us and in the end we checked in at the hotel.
For the rest of the day we just stayed in El Rodedero and did some more of our usual um-ing and ah-ing over what to do next. Parque Tayrona is a national park about 30 kms from Santa Marta and is supposedly beautiful. You can sleep in hammocks under shelters which are on, according to some, the best beaches in the world. All of this sounds lovely on the surface and we were tempted but there were a few other factors to consider. The best beaches could be reached by boat but then you have to hike for around an hour and a half to get out and by now my knee was as bad as it had been in Bolivia so this didn't really seem like an option. Also sleeping on the beach may be nice but there are mosquitoes and my seaside nemesis, sand. Mainly due to my knee being bad the following day we're were lured on to a tour. The one which was described to us including visiting three beaches, Playa Grande, Playa Cristal and another one I can't remember. This was a little pricey and so we walked away but were followed and told it was cheaper to go on this rustic, open sided bus. The price for this seemed more reasonable and on we got.
It drove around El Rodedero for ages picking people up from various hotels and they really packed us in. Just before we were about to head off a guide of some sort got on and we all had to say our names and where we were from. We got the loudest cheer as we were the only ones from outside South America. As we headed off to Santa Marta where we picked yet more people up, we were given a very, very brief tour in Spanish and I felt a bit an unsure of what the day would hold. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, perhaps I was just a bit down about my knee but I had a feelings things wouldn't be as simple as they appeared to be.
We stopped at a small lookout on the road to Taganga which is a seaside village/town popular with backpackers.
The sea did look a little more inviting here and I felt a small glimmer of hope that we might end up on a beautiful beach. In Taganga we climbed into the first speed boat and this is where things went downhill. We barely went any way along the coast before pulling into a tiny beach which was ironically named Playa Grande (Big Beach) and everyone filed off. Here we were directed into a large wooden shack, of which there were many, all of them restaurants and we sat at a wooden table. Then something was explained quickly in Spanish and a women came round with a couple of exorbitantly priced fish on a platter so we could choose which we wanted for our lunch. We just declined. We left the shack and looked at this tiny beach we were all packed on to and were incredibly disheartened. This is not where we wanted to spend the day. We sat on the beach for a few minutes and Adam perfectly described the sand which was like the grit you find at a building sit and pondered what to do. After a little bit of discussion I went up to one of the guides and asked when we would be going to Playa Cristal. He looked a little confused and then said, we weren't, 'solo Playa Blanca'. Great.
We came to the conclusion that we would rather sit on El Rodedero beach than here, so we quickly jumped in a boat going back to Taganga and were soon on a bus bound for Santa Marta. By now it was lunch time so we went back to the restaurant we'd visited on our first day and had the best almuerzo of our entire trip.
I couldn't actually believe how lovely it all was and it only cost £2 for fish soup, a main of fish with lots of sides, a little desert and two glasses of juice each. Yum yum.
Once we had eaten we stood waiting for a bus back to El Rodedero and I noticed that the one we got on also went to the airport. We had read about a beach near the airport which was meant to be much more laid back and really only visited by locals, so this is where we went. The other draw was the fact that planes are basically meant to come into land right over your head which Adam really wanted to experience. Playa de Aeropuerto was much, much quieter and a hundred times nicer than Playa Grande. We only stayed there for a short while because well, we got a bit bored and there didn't seem to be much going on at the airport, we could have waited a long time for a plane to take-off/land. It was nice to see it though.
Once back in El Rodedero we sat on the beach for a while but it was really busy as it was a Saturday and so in the end we went back to the hotel. In the evening Adam popped out to buy a whole chicken and we munched that down in the room while watching cable tv. Then it was fairly early to bed as we were moving west to Cartagena in the morning.
Laura & Adam