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Mud Volcanoes and Midnight Swims - Cartagena II and Playa Blanca

COLOMBIA | Thursday, 15 September 2011 | Views [3358]

After our rain soaked experience the day before, we decided to spend the following day covering ourselves in another substance: mud! Helen and I had been eagerly anticipating the Volcan de Lodo El Totumo since reading about it back in Leticia, but poor Bea wasn't such a fan. Her childhood fear was mud and she couldn't think of anything worse than getting in a small lagoon of mud full of people intent on covering themselves - and her - with mud. She very valiantly agreed to go, although she didn't really have much of a choice; Helen and I had talked about little else but the volcano in the days before we got to Cartagena. The volcano is around 1.5 hours out of the city and with very tedious travel connections connections making the journey much longer than 1.5 hours, we opted for a tour.

The precarious way of getting down from the volcano

The volcano sustains the economy of the local village, and you can pay 3000 pesos (NZD2) for services like having a local take photos on your camera, in order to get photographic evidence without sacrificing your camera to the mud gods in the process. They also offer mud 'massages' for another 3000 pesos, which I decided to forego up until I got into the mud pool and found myself being pulled over, head forced down and told to relax. As it was such a small sum, I shrugged and enjoyed the nice local man's idea of what a massage is - basically smoothing mud over my legs. As LP said when describing the mud massages "the locals certainly didn't go to massage school".

Team Beatrice: Mud Style

Helen and I had the time of our lives smearing each other with mud, having mini mud fights and enjoying the sensation of trying to reach the bootom but being pushed right back up by the buyoancy of the mud. Meanwhile, every single photo of Bea taken during this shows her with pursed lips, a disdainful expression and eyes that say 'GET ME OUT OF HERE'. She did very well putting up with Helen and I's attempts to cover her in mud but beat an early retreat, awkwardly standing waiting for Helen and I. We very maturely proclaimed we were never coming out although eventually we felt bad about the line of people waiting so got out and headed down to the lagoon to wash off. Local women charge 3000 pesos for a 'professional wash' but none of us doubted our ability to clean ourselves and politely declined the service. The ladies did not take well to this and made it clear we were not welcome anywhere near them. Cast to the no man's land part of the lagoon, we dunked ourselves and got rid of the mud which had gotten into all sorts of funny places.

Pick which one of the three of us wasn't having the time of her life

After drying, tipping the little boys who had brough our shoes from place to place and laughing at every single photo taken, we headed to a beacher we had a delicious fish meal, washed down with coconuty treats. On the way there, we were treated to Marco Antonio Solis' video hits, which were truly epic. One man can never wear enough gold chains according to Marco. We finished our delightful day off people watching in our favourite place in Cartagena, Plaza de Trinidad, sipping on delicious freshly made juices made by a lovely woman who always gave us seconds for free. When I'm old, boring and have too many responsibilities, I'll think nostalgically back to those days, sipping on passionfruit juice whilst lazily sitting in the bright yellow square in the sun, watching local kids play soccer. 

Life was pretty close to perfect...

Cartagena's relative touristy-ness compared to the rest of Colombia means there are millions of touts hard selling day trips to Playa Blanca, a beautiful beach in the Isla de Rosario. Everything we'd heard about these tours sounded like an overpriced, padded out waste of time. Still wanting to see what sounded like a lovely beach, we decided to stay the night and get out there the way the locals did it; via a small boat at the market outside the city centre. Misled by Lonely Planet's assertion that there were several boats a day, with the last leaving at 9am, we got up at the crack of dawn to ensure an early departure. We found a boat, confirmed our destination and boarded, assuming an imminent departure.

With such stunning views, who WOULDN'T want to spend several hours in an uncomfortable boat looking at this?

I'll tell you something: the scenic sights of rubbish strewn everywhere, the smell of dead fish and having to say 'No gracias' to the constant stream of vendors every two seconds or so quickly loses its novelty factor. The crucial detail we hadn't realised was that there was ONE boat which left at 9am, which meant we sat there in an agonisingly slow time warp, waiting for the boat to fill up, our legs and bums already cramping many many minutes before the 1.5 hour journey begun. FYI if I've learnt nothing else from South America, NEVER sit on the aisle of the boat. You won't have proper leg room and the weird positions you are forced into causes staggering amounts of pain.

But it was all worth it

After the longest time - like I've said before, travelling in South America requires a large dose of patience - we FINALLY pulled out...only to come back to the harbour within 2 minutes for another indeterminate amount of time's wait. Once we had actually got on our way, we were absolutely delighted to see stormclouds in the distance. Helen's assurance that she would "be FURIOUS" if they stayed around was shared by Bea and I. The beginnings of the afternoon were overcast but it luckily cleared up after not too long, and our moods were all restored. We chatted to an American who had worked as a GAP Adventures tour guide, who amused us with his tale of being accused of being in a sexual relationship with a girl in his tour group, "yeah but I'm gay sooooo..."

It's a tough life

We found hammocks, directly on the beach, for 7000 pesos (NZD$4) and set about reading, swimming and enjoying beach life. The lady who ran the shack our hammocks were strung under had a teenage son who was very eager to practise his English and had a very odd interpretation of the rules of Uno. While I gave up trying to explain and just played by his bizarre rules, when Helen joined the game she wasted no time telling him off and making him play the game properly, much to his and my amusement. We ate at a restaurant along the beach and grouped up with 2 Canadians who Bea recognised as her cocaine-addled roomates from a La Paz, Bolivia hostel. We sat chatting on the sand, drinking rum and all aware when we headed back to the real world, we would think happily back to nights like this. We finished the night with a midnight swim in the ocean, which was still warm and clear. Midnight swims in the Caribbean sea are very fun, I fully recommend them. We fell asleep in our swinging hammocks, slightly giggly with fear about the sounds of an animal trampling around in the bush (with me being the closest to what turned out to be a wild pig, Be and Helen decided they were probably safe and that I could be the sacrifice)

If we're drinking pina coladas out of coconuts on a Colombian beach, it must be Tuesday

We had the morning to carry on with our sun, swim and book program and had a delicioushamburger after tramping up and down the beach trying to find some decently priced food. Both Team Beatrice and the Canadians were running low on cash and concerned about running out (Playa Blanca, being nothing but an island beach, has no ATMs) although at least wer weren't as bad as the Canadians, who only at the last minute realised that paying for a beer to accompany their lunch would mean they wouldn't be able to pay for lunch.

Hammocking it all over Colombia

Commandeering a boat back, which thankfully left straight away, we waved goodbye to idyllic Playa Blanca and had one last night in Cartagena, set and ready for our next big adventure early the next morning: the road to Turbo.

Hasta luego Playa Blanca!

Tags: beaches, cartagena, colombia, hammocks, midnight swim, mud volcano, playa blanca



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