Sep 082010

We started out in the most north-west corner of Colombia’s coast, Capurgana, on August 12 and nearly a month later we’ve made it as far east as Palomino.  It isn’t quite as far as we expected but many a bump, bruise and good time later, we’re looking at our last nights enjoying the Caribbean.

Looking back on Capurgana, it was truly a highlight, despite the trashy beaches and loud parties. You can walk far enough inland to be surrounded by jungle where interesting spiders, hummingbirds and even a few monkeys can be seen.  The contrast of deep blues and greens had me feeling like I was living in a painting.  It’s proximity to Panama allowed us to walk there for an afternoon at La Miel (translated means “The Honey”…this beach was turquoise waters and white sand, just what one expects on the Caribbean).  And then, there was our treehouse…have we talked about that enough yet?

Arboletes was next.  I was surprised by the incredibly bumpy dirt road that took us from Turbo to Arboletes as there are no paved highways that connect the coast from end to end.  Rainy season compounds the problem as the bus driver must swerve this way and that to dodge the holes, making me feel like I was being tossed around in a washing machine.  Arboltes’ beaches weren’t anything to write about, but we did enjoy a muddy dip in a local volcano.  The squishy feeling of grey earth oozing though my toes and the odd sense of levitating in the goo were worth the trip, even if the town itself wasn’t a destination I’d recommend.

Ah, Monitos…stay away from this place.  If you’re going to Rio Cedro, just keep going.  The beach in Monitos is ugly…ugly…ugly.  It wouldn’t be, if it weren’t for us humans, but alas, we’ve done what we’ve done.  Strewn with motor oil cans, plastic bags of trash that have washed up, dead fish, car parts, child’s toys, plastic cups…you name it, you could probably find it on this beach.  Yet kids still splash around, even riding their bikes through the waves.  The empty dirt lot in front of our hotel, which later served as a futbol field for opposing town teams had me thinking of “City of God”.  The five guards in camouflage with machine guns policing the event didn’t make me feel any safer.  Time and again we’re finding that if truck and bus drivers stay at a particular establishment, it would be better if we didn’t.  After these two huge misses, I’d had enough.

From Monitos we high-tailed it to Cartagena de Indias, one of my favorite cities in the world.  Cartagena has a stunningly preserved old city wrapped in a stone wall of coral fished from the reefs around the city back in the late 1500s.  Once inside the city walls, multi-colored, two-tiered buildings generally boasting balconies laden with bougainvillea and tropical flowers allow for the imagination to unravel during lovely, slow evening strolls.  As the temperatures are sweltering in these parts, the smart hide in the afternoon.   We stayed at Hostal Real, a family run hostel and semi-zoo in the Getsemani neighborhood, where backpackers rub shoulders with sketchy types, turtles, parrots and pups.  Fortunately, it seems this neighborhood is chasing out the prostitutes and gamblers quick and replacing abandoned buildings with boutique hotels. After a good week of slowing our pace and soaking up the Salsa sounds, gourmet cuisine and ocean breezes, we promised ourselves we’d come back soon to this majestic city, then we took off to Palomino.

The original intent was to stay in Palomino for a week however, our accommodation situation at La Sirena Eco Hostal was more of a debacle than we expected, meaning: it cost twice as much as we were expecting (our fault) and we weren’t receiving the level of service we had become accustomed to when paying half as much (their fault).  The property itself was stunning, and the beaches some of the most lovely we’ve seen (echoing those of Tayrona National Park) but not at all what was advertised.  While considering what to do we met Michelle, a Suisa in town for just one night.  Looking back, we’re sure that she came to put us back on track.

Having visited Taganga in ’08, Nico and I didn’t feel that going again was really necessary.  We’d spent a Sunday afternoon there, long enough to see the tiny bay jam packed with people, a scene we’re just not in to.  So, we skipped it.  Michelle couldn’t stop talking about how much she loved the life in Taganga…so much so that when it was time for her to go back, we went along.  Fortunately for us, she was right.

Taganga has changed drastically since our last visit, due mostly to it’s blossoming reputation as a backpacker haven.  Tiny bars, actual bakeries (love on your baked goods everyone because if you’ve got crusty loaves, you’ve got it good), international restaurants, fresh fish, beach after beach after beach, diving, snorkeling, jungle covered mountains, a multitude of budget hostels…  Our stay at Casa Felipe has been refreshing and relaxing.  Six nights later, I dread leaving… but leave we must.

Tomorrow we go south and, sadly for me, we didn’t find “the spot” I was hoping for here on the coast.  And so, we keep looking…


 Posted by at 12:00 am
Aug 292010


 Posted by at 12:00 am
Aug 172010

Let me tell you a bit about that time when we went over to the Darien Gap, the edge of Colombia, the end of the road.   Where the dead black waters of Turbo give way to the clear blue of Capurgana.  Where the recent arrival of electricity is celebrated loudly on every street at every moment that there doesn’t happen to be a power outage.  A land of contradictions, paradise and pollution, a land of arresting beauty and shocking ugliness.

Through the magic of Colombian hospitality and  a bit of positive visualization, we were fortunate enough to be invited to stay at the home of Hernan Patacon; self-proclaimed ambassador of Capurgana, benevolent inventor and master of his own universe.  Hernan has been in Capurgana for the last two decades selling fresh fish, enjoying the magic of his surroundings and building an island of tranquility in the jungle by the sea.

We lived for a week in a wooden hut with a view of the ocean.  A place that, once the electricity went out, was ideal for falling asleep to the sounds of nature; crickets, frogs, a storm coming to shore.  We shared this place with geckos and Mary’s entourage of mosquitos, enjoying it most during quiet afternoons spent in the hammock.

If not for this nature lover’s retreat, we would not have lasted more than two days in noisy Capurgana.  We came to the Caribbean coast thinking we would find paradise in danger of exploitation.  We envisioned ourselves as the interpreters of the people, protectors of a fragile eco-system and pioneers of a burgeoning sustainable tourism industry.  We imagined wealthy corporations snatching this pristine land from the hands of its children only to exploit it, ruin it and abandon it.  How naive.

Capurgana, like most of Colombia’s coast, in general is inhabited by economically poor and educationally handicapped communities who are absolutely blind to the damage their own behavior is causing not just to their environment, but to their own chances of survival.  They poison the land and the water that feeds them.  They are exploiting and ruining their own lands.  Its the story of the world.

Thankfully environmental  consciousness is there, if not as a communal practice, at least as a personal discipline.  Individuals who can see the bigger picture.  Hope.


 Posted by at 12:00 am
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