Are you ready to take another peek into my family’s Colombian adventures? Well, I’m happy to report I found some time to fill you in on the next part of our journey. It’s taking me a lot longer than I anticipated to get this all down on (virtual) paper, but that’s okay. Living our present life, and enjoying it together, takes precedent over documenting these memories. I’ll get there eventually. All in good time.
If you missed the first two posts describing our time in Medellin, you can find them here and here.
So where did I leave off?
After enjoying a week in the large and bustling city of Medellin, we found our way back to the airport and headed for the Caribbean Coast. Arriving in the city of Santa Marta, we were blown away by the difference in temperature and humidity just a short trip from the capital. We managed our way through dinner the first evening, and quickly returned to the air conditioned apartment we rented. Heat is not something I do well with, so air conditioning was something that was a must have for us when we were looking for accommodation, and if you’re headed that way, I highly recommend it be on your radar as well. So hot!
Here a stray, there a stray, everywhere a stray
It was evident as soon as we got to Santa Marta that there was an abundance of animals roaming the streets. Little Z was entranced by all the stray dogs and cats. “Look with your eyes” was a key phrase we used over and over again, while also constantly reminding the little animal-lover to keep her distance and move slowly around the adorable (and some quite mangy) critters.
While the apartment we rented to stay in wasn’t exactly what we had hoped it would be, the beach in front held a lot of opportunities for stunning views and interesting sights. Unlike some of the beaches around the area, this beach – just slightly to the east of the international marina – was not overly populated. It seemed to be more of a locals’ hang out. Each morning and evening the fishermen would pull in their impressively large nets, spread out so far in the ocean waters that we could not believe how long it took the groups of men working together to pull the two ends of rope up onto the beach, exposing their marine harvest as the group gathered around to take visual stock of the day’s catch.
In the evenings, after the heat of the day had subsided, there would be more action to observe on the beach. Groups of people following along with an instructor would jump, run and move about, and the Muy Thai “parties” would ensue, with music playing and a range of experienced to beginners trying out flips and other moves that there is no way in this world my clumsy and uncoordinated body would be able to attempt, let alone gracefully complete.
Lazing in Taganga
At first I hadn’t been sure about visiting Taganga. The Lonely Planet book we had purchased to guide our tour had little to say about the place, but we were very glad our friends from Medellin had joined us on this leg of the journey and took us to check it out. A short taxi from Santa Marta, this tiny little town has become a bit of a hippie village, attracting the more shall we say “chill” backpackers and adventurers seeking a somewhat psychedelic experience. While we’re not in the latter scene, especially now with our little munchkin in tow, we very much appreciate the laid-back, beach bar vibes and wished we’d stayed here – until of course we found out that it isn’t exactly the safest place to stay, with all sorts of “interesting” folk coming out at night, and gangs roaming the streets at night, leaving only two small streets “relatively” safe to explore.
The town itself wasn’t our main reason for being there. The bigger reason for our escapade was to take one of the many boats advertising (often enthusiastically) trips to Playa Grande, a spectacular sandy beach a 5-10 minute boat ride around the point. Apparently there is a trail you can hike from Taganga to Playa Grande, but it very unsafe to do so.
This beach was the perfect place to lounge out all day, enjoying the view from a rented beach chair in the shade of a light material shelter, and sipping mojitos and frozen drinks. Vendors would come by intermittently to sell trinkets, massages or food, and we ended up buying some neat little stone carvings to take home. We also had some of the most delicious fish I have ever tasted, cooked so it was slightly crunchy on the outside and wholly irresistible.
We enjoyed our beach day so much that we ended up heading back for a second helping of sun, rum and scenery on another day. Of course, both days were followed by dinner at the beach bars that line the sand in Taganga, with the good vibes flowing as the sun set and the waves lapped the sand.
Coffee, Chocolate, and Trekking in Minca
Something that was high on our priority list of places to see in Colombia was Minca. Besides the fact that it seemed like a relaxed and less-touristy spot to explore Colombia’s natural environment, it seemed like a great place to knock off several of our Colombian to-do’s. Here, in and around the small village in the Sierra Nevada mountains, we could visit a coffee farm, hike through the jungle, and possibly catch sight of some wildlife. In particular, Little Z was excited to see monkeys (why did we ever mention them to her?) and had been talking about going on a plane to see monkeys for weeks before our trip. Being that Tayrona park was closed for a month-long cleansing from the trash and bad ju-ju left by disrespectful tourists, it seemed like Minca would be the best opportunity for primate sightings. Minca is also a draw for bird-watchers, with many different species being sighted in the area, so we hoped to get a glimpse of some fine-feathered friends as well.
We had originally looked at staying in Minca overnight, in one of the very neat little accommodations that are offered, but we ended up rethinking the idea (toddler realities with bug safety, accommodation comforts, and yet another change of sleeping space for the little miss) and making a day trip of it instead. We booked a tour through a tour-guide office in Taganga, and arranged a pick-up from our rented apartment for the next morning.
After the drive up to the mountain village (which wasn’t nearly as bumpy and perilous as we had prepared for), our tour began with meeting Jungle Joe (our tour guide) and walking over to one of the organic coffee farms in the area. He did a little talk about the farms and the coffee growing process (which I missed most of, chasing around a restless toddler with her sun-hat and attempting to protect her with the DEET-spray I loathe using, but was essential for the trek), then we headed off on a hike through the jungle.
Now, when I say “hike”, I don’t mean grab-a-coffee-and-plod-down-an-easy-to-navigate-path-while-you-gossip-to-your-girlfriend frolic like some of us may be used to. This was a fairly serious trek up and down tiny trails through the jungle mountains, with sometimes sketchy descents down slippery, muddy drops and river crossings. I’m a fairly outdoorsy person, so it wasn’t far outside my realm of normalcy and I champed through it all – in the heat – with my 25-lb toddler strapped to my back (funk, I love my Ergo).
We stopped at two waterfalls along the 2-ish hour trek, and took some very welcome, cooling swims in the freshwater. At the first waterfall, some of the more adventurous (ie. almost everyone but me) were jumping in off a ledge at the side of the falls. Z was enthralled with this, and declared her desire to have her turn at this, but made do with a dip instead. She’s becoming quite the risk-taker, and it does not come from me at all.
Disappointingly, we didn’t catch sight of any wildlife save a small sparrow-type bird and some chickens, but we enjoyed the adventure nonetheless. We found out later that all the cool stuff (monkeys, exotic birds, etc) comes out in the early mornings, so if you’re looking forward to that kind of thing, you might be best off to spend the night and rise with (or before) the sun.
Our group stopped at an eatery for an included lunch (which was a delicious and typical Colombian meal of meat, rice and plantain), then finished off our tour with a cup of Mincan coffee and an informative demonstration of chocolate-making with pure and natural ingredients – raw cacoa, cane sugar, and fruit preserve for flavouring. I was stunned at how still and attentive Z was. She really has found her mama’s love for chocolate.
As per usual, Little Z found herself surrounded by eyes and hands that could not get enough of her. As we sat and waited for our coffee, the children in the village abandoned their activities to play with our little blue-eyed, blonde-haired niña. One of the older girls (who seemed to be about 7 years old) impressed me with her strength, picking up my toddler and toting her around as if she was her own. Z was delighted to make new friends, and eagerly bopped around with them while we sipped our delicious cups of caffeinated goodness.
That about sums up our adventures in and around Santa Marta (save for the meals spent trying to distract a toddler who had found her attention-getting ability of screaming at the top of her lungs – so much fun, let’s not relive them). There’s two more places I’d still like to share about our adventures in – Cartagena and San Andres – so sit tight and keep your eye out for those posts coming soon. Will our toddler finally see a real monkey? Will we survive the rest of our travels without our translating companion? Will my pale, pale skin ever tan?
You’ll just have to wait and see.
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