Thursday, January 28, 2016

Santa Marta

After finally making my way out of Cartagena with the motorcycle in the shop for repairs, I headed off in a bus up to Santa Marta. I'm going to go a little bit out of order here because I spent a couple days in Santa Marta, then headed off to the jungle on a four day hike to Ciudad Perdida, and then returned to Santa Marta, so I'm going to go ahead and cover all of Santa Marta here, and then go back and talk about Ciudad Perdida.

After catching a four hour bus ride to Santa Marta - with AC, but still a pretty warm bus ride - I got into Santa Marta in the evening and got a hostel downtown. I'd heard the city of Santa Marta wasn't that great of a place to hang out, but when I went out exploring the first night I discovered that I kind of liked the vibe. While there were still quite a few travelers there, it also seemed to have a much more "local" vibe than a lot of the places I'd been.

There was some pretty good street art in a couple places.

One of the main streets was this narrow alley, packed with street performers and restaurants.
I spent the evening wandering around the city a bit, had a few drinks at some bars, and called it a night. In the morning I got up and headed over to Magic Tours early to book my Ciudad Perdida hike, but I made a troubling discovery there: my ATM card wasn't in my wallet. I didn't have the cash to pay for the hike, so I went back to the hotel and grabbed my credit card, and then spent quite a bit of the afternoon trying to track down my debit card.

I had used the card just before catching the bus to Santa Marta in Cartagena to get cash, and since nothing else was gone from my wallet I assumed I'd left it in the ATM, so I spent the next few hours trying to find a way to contact the bank to find out if they'd gotten my card. That included half an hour or more trying to find numbers to call and a few calls where I spent 20 minutes navigating Citibank's automated menus in Spanish (how come we get "press 2 for Spanish" but there's no "press 2 for English" option here?), and eventually, after almost two hours of trying to contact them, I got in contact with an actual person. Of course, given my troubles understanding Colombian Spanish on the phone, I wasn't able to get any useful information from it, so I wasted quite a bit of money on international calls for no gain. But given that there were no attempted purchases with the card, I was hoping that it had been picked up by the security guard.

I got some delicious Ceviche from a booth by the water for lunch, and spent the afternoon picking up the supplies I'd need for the hike. They recommended taking five pairs of socks, so I got a few more from the store (I've been traveling for four months with only three pairs), and also picked up a hat to replace the one I'd lost recently. Some water, gatorade powder, and a few snacks finished off my shopping, and I went back to the hostel to relax and get to sleep early so I was ready to go in the morning. I made the mistake, however, of starting to watch "Making a Murderer" on Netflix, and finally convinced myself I needed to go to sleep after five episodes.

In the morning I woke up and headed to Magic Tours to start the trek to Ciudad Perdida - more on that later...

Four days later, I arrived back in Santa Marta with ten of my new friends. There had been sixteen of us on the hike, but three of them had decided to do the five day hike and split off from us on the last day, and two of them had immediately hopped a bus to Cartagena right when we arrived back in town, so the rest of us made some plans for dinner and split off to get a real shower and rest for a bit. Joel (an Australian from the trip) and I both wanted to get a hotel room to ourselves, so we went in search of one with two rooms available. We ended up finding a place that wasn't too expensive and had air conditioning, after which I went upstairs and took one of the best showers of my life, and then relaxed in the hotel.

At 8:30 I went out to Plaza de Los Novios with Joel to meet up with the rest of the group for dinner at a pretty nice place called Ouzo. It was a little above my normal price range, but I think it had been chosen since a lot of the people from the hike were vacationing rather than traveling for an extended period. It turned out to be a great choice though - we ordered a bunch of appetizers and split them, got some pizzas and pastas and other amazing dishes (I split a goat cheese and fig pizza, which was good if a bit overcooked), and went through quite a few bottles of wine, beers, and gin and tonics (one of the best gin and tonics I've had in a while). Overall the meal ended up costing about 100,000 pesos apiece (around $30), but it was delicious, and it was good to sit around and recap the hike.

As we headed out of the restaurant, we stumbled across a live band who was playing some funky music with some break dancers dancing to their music and doing some gymnastics.

The next stop was La Puerta for some dancing, and man, was that place fun. A mix of Latin music, funk, hip hop, and reggae, I could just sit an enjoy the music - but it's much more fun to dance on the packed dance floor. Other than the heat which you can feel instantly on walking in, it was an amazing place to spend the evening. After waking up at 6am in the jungle, hiking back, taking a two hour bus ride, and then spending the afternoon in Santa Marta, we still ended up with quite a few of us staying out until almost 3am.

But that meant that the next day was a relaxing day. I slept in due to no windows in my hotel room and AC, and after some lunch I caught up on some blog posts and other things that I'd missed out on with no internet for the last four days. I went out with Joel to grab a snack at one point, but otherwise just hung around in the AC and recovered from the hike.

I made a trip out for dinner to a place called "Welcome" to get some seafood "cazuela," a thick seafood soup in a heated stone bowl. It was absolutely delicious, though the 55-minute wait for my food made me a little less enthusiastic about it. It also meant that I was really hungry and ate a little bit too fast, and due to the heated stone bowl that meant I burned my mouth pretty bad.

In the evening I made a repeat visit to Plaza de los Novios, this time with just Nadja, and we sat and talked for quite a while about travels and life, and enjoyed the Argentinian band that was playing funky covers in the square. As it turns out Nadja recognized them from another city in Colombia, so she talked to them for a bit. They're traveling around Colombia for a couple months just playing shows in the street - living the life, really. And they were really, really good as well.

Afterwards we headed back to La Puerta for a hot sweaty night of dancing again. We met a professional dancer there who showed us some moves, and a few other interesting characters, including a guy who would grind on Nadja, but when she turned around to actually dance with him, he refused to do any dance moves. He moved away after she gave him a yawn.

Pretty soon we looked at the time and realized we'd been dancing until 2:30am again, so I walked her back to her hostel and then fell into bed back at my hotel. I'd found out when I got back that the motorcycle wasn't going to be ready Friday or Monday like he'd said, so I decided to head up to Taganga in the morning and see what it was all about.

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