Going Tropical, The Prequel
Updated: Jan 27
Colombia, where to begin…
Sometimes we have to admit when we have made a bad decision but sometimes those decisions teach us a lot and show us a side of things that we might not have seen or understood otherwise. Life is about experiencing the full range of emotions, both good and bad. Without experiencing the bad we cannot truly appreciate the good. Without knowing sadness we cannot truly appreciate happiness. Without knowing pain we can’t truly experience pleasure, etc.
So it was with my trip to Colombia. I was virtually 100% disappointed in the trip. The country is not what I came to believe it was after researching it on the internet. I wasn’t just going off of the country’s own marketing sites but off of many independent blogs as well. It was a two week trip and I was ready to leave after two days. So let me explain a bit.
My real hope was to get out to the wilderness and shoot some landscapes. Peggy and I had watched a documentary that painted it as a beautiful, vast and varied country and I was thrilled to try to find a piece of what we saw. The problem was that really solid advice on how to get to these places, where to stay etc. was a little harder to come by. Also, I am usually not the kind of guy to book a group trip or excursion. And while I like to consider myself an adventurer, sleeping in the dirt with a bunch of young hippies at a hostel in the jungle didn’t quite sound like what I was looking for. Plus, I had baggage, camera gear etc., security was a concern. I decided that the only way was to go there and figure it out myself. I realized that I might not be terribly successful but I would look at it like a recognizance mission.I decided to focus on a small area based around Cartagena on the Caribbean coast.
Cartagena was described as a jewel, the walled city with colonial charm. The photos I found supported that notion as well. Just what I was hoping for as a hub from which to go on my various excursions. Well, I was disappointed to say the least. Not only was Cartagena a sizable city with all of the accompanying traffic, congestion, crazy drivers, horns honking etc., it was also very dirty and run down. The beach was not much of a beach at all…. brown sand, lots of rocks and gettys, dirty looking looking water and virtually no people on it. The walled in “Old Town” definitely had some old time charm but again, dirty, broken down and the air was full of dust and dirt all the time, this was the dry season after all. I couldn’t have my lens cap off for more than a couple minutes without having to clean the lens of all the dust. When I say broken down, I don’t mean a few pot holes. I’m talking about piles of rubble and holes in the sidewalks large enough for a child to disappear in or an adult to break a leg in. These were utility access, not a broken piece of cement… lids were off and no protection was around it…. and this, on sidewalks that were very narrow already and no buffer to the street that was full of cars being driven by people who had no regard for public safety let alone common courtesy.
There was more to dislike as well. Firstly, garbage, just plain old trash everywhere. Then, the ruthless street vendors, and I mean ruthless. I sat down for a beer pretty quickly after entering the Old Town and was immediately set upon by an english speaking Colombian who helped himself to the chair next to me. Within moments I was being shown pictures of excursions that he could take me on to show me the “real” Colombia. Pictures of boats, fishing, naked women, pretty beaches, did I mention the naked women? While he was trying to sell me a “date” I had other trying to shine my shoes. I was wearing tennis shoes!! The vendors would come inside of restaurants and try to sell you food for christ’s sake!! And no-one would kick them out. In addition to the vendors there was the stray dogs and cats… everywhere. For the most part they didn’t bother you, they were just sleeping or scrounging for food or maybe taking a dump 10’ away form you while you ate. For me the bigger problem with the animals was the health concerns. The restaurants were not exactly clean as it was and the animals didn’t inspire any additional confidence. And I don’t think there is a board of health anywhere within a 1000 miles.
After two days of trying to do some street photography, which was a total fail because I hate putting my camera in peoples faces, I decided to go against my better judgement and book an excursion to an Island that I wanted to visit. I was learning that in many cases the only way to visit the places I was wanting to go was to book through a company. One could not get to the islands or other places without some serious local resources… an interpreter or a good command of Spanish, a personal friend, personal driver, personal guy with a boat etc. On the internet I learned that the trip to San Bernardo Island was a 2 hour boat ride. Well, the excursion company picked me up at my hotel at 5am and proceeded to other hotels to pick up other guests before heading to the marina. I only found out a bit later that the marina was a 4 HOUR DRIVE!!!!!!! That’s right, 4 hours of driving through the slums and trash down bumpy, dirt roads. I got car sick for the first time in 45 years. We finally arrived and were looking at an hour long boat ride to the island. Basically, we had ten hours of transportation to spend three hours on a little patch of sand. I remembered why I don’t like to pay for excursions!!
I decided to get out of Cartagena and travel north to Santa Marta… “The Pearl of Colombia’s Caribbean Coast”… here we go again.