We left Cartagena early in the morning today. The shady condo owner (he is Canadian, by the way, just wanted to point that out so that I am not unfairly describing a Colombian) was supposed to be there at 8:30 am to give us our $100 deposit back. He texted me at 7:30 to say that he was stuck in Bogota and would refund my money via Paypal later. Normally this would be OK with us but this guy has been somewhat shady and we just had our credit card cloned. Trust was not running really high here.
I decided to call the owner to tell him that I wasn’t comfortable with him returning our money later and see if there is anybody else in Cartagena who could drop it off. When I called him, I got as far as telling him that I wasn’t very comfortable with this, when he replied “I don’t give a shit. I have my own problems. I am stuck on a plane in Bogota like a pig. I haven’t slept in 2 days. Do you know what that is like? I don’t care about your problems.” There was so much bad energy coming at me that I instinctively hung up the phone. There were a few call back and forth between him and Esteban at that point. I will summarize it to say that he promised to give us our money back and we decided that we had little choice but to accept this. Worst comes to worst, it’s $100 and we can’t let it ruin our vacation.
After all that hoopla, we drove from Cartagena past Santa Marta to Ecohostal Yuluka, watching the scenery turn flat with banana plantations and palm trees as far as the eye could see. As we got closer to Santa Marta, we could see the Sierra Nevadas (high mountain range) in the background. It was really beautiful scenery!
We could also see the poverty. It is much more severe than in Bogota (or at least in the parts of Bogota that I have seen). The heat was beating down as children played in malaria plagued flood waters (many front and back yards were flooded due to the recent heavy rains) and adults sat outside of their concrete houses, trying to beat the heat. There was trash everywhere. The heat, the tiny, dirty hovels, the trash laden streams running through neighborhoods and all the children – it was heartbreaking!
We stopped to have lunch at a fish farm near Santa Marta. It reminded me of a place we would have eaten at when
Esteban and I were young backpackers in Southeast Asia -rustic, basic, dubious sanitation standards, a few rooms for rent at the back of the restaurant. My parents were good sports about it all though and the fish turned out to be pretty good.
As we passed Santa Marta, the scenery became greener and greener, jungle like. Our driver told us how just a few years ago, these roads were very dangerous, especially at night. This was a prime spot for growing coca and was controlled by para-militaries and guerillas. He told us how in those times, either of these groups, or both, would have stopped him and robbed him. They might have even stolen his car or stripped it for parts. It’s good to know that it’s safer now although I have to confess that hearing the history did make it more exciting to be here.
We arrived at our hostel in the late afternoon. It was very pretty. Thatch roof cabins set into the mountainside with lush jungle greenery and huge boulders all around. The hammocks on the porches looked very inviting as did the fresh water pool with its small, natural waterfall. Our cabin does not have a hammock, which is a bummer, but it does have a bathroom which is large enough to fit Saige’s crib. A definite plus since this will insure that we all have a better night’s sleep.
The hostel hosts, Wilmar, a refugee from Medellin (there are a lot of refugees all over Colombia and the world, for that matter, who escaped from areas of conflict) and his indigenous wife, were very gracious and kind. They gave us an overview of the area and especially of Parque Nacional Natural tayrona (the whole reason we were there) and offered to drive us to various points of interest. There is a lot of great hiking here – jungle, beaches, waterfalls – but I am not sure how much of it my parents, or our kids for that matter, can do. The plan for tomorrow is to head over to the national park. My parents will hang out on a beautiful beach and we will figure out how much we can hike with three kids.
Meanwhile, we were hungry and ordered our dinner. It took about an hour and half to get it even though there were very few people at the hostel and quite a few staff. Costeno time. Esteban and I were pretty chill about it given our previous travels in hot climates but my parents were frustrated. This was a definite clash of cultures! My mom wanted to know what time we would be leaving for the national park the next morning (8 am) and could we order breakfast to be ready at 7:15? “No”, I replied. “Things don’t work like that here. It won’t be ready anyway and they will probably mess up our order or forget half of it. Plus they just wouldn’t even understand why we are asking for tomorrow’s breakfast today. It’s just not done here.” My mom seemed annoyed but decided to go with the flow. Cultural differences are real and powerful!