This post is long overdue and laziness is the main culprit. First I was on holiday and didn't have much to write about, then I was travelling and I was too busy to write, and by the time I got back I'd got so used to not-writing that I just decided to carry on. However my time in Ibagué is drawing to a close and another travelling jaunt is nearly upon me and if I don't write up my time on the Caribbean coast now, I probably never will!
First stop was Cartagena, a jewel of a city located about 500 miles almost directly north of Ibagué. Cartagena is one of the most-visited cities in Colombia and during high season, which is when we visited, it is heaving with tourists. This doesn't stop it from being incredibly attractive, although this is mostly limited to within the walls of the old city. The old city was much larger than I expected, with lots of long main thoroughfares criss-crossed with narrow, cobbled streets, and interspersed among them, wide plazas either filled with fountains, benches and greenery or dotted with statues and lined with imposing buildings. On our first evening we (I was travelling with Carole) went straight to the sea-facing ramparts to enjoy a cocktail and watch the sun go down, which was a beautifully relaxing way to start the holiday.
The rest of our time in Cartagena, and in fact most of our time on the coast, continued in the same leisurely vein. On our second day in Cartagena we walked again through 'El Centro' and out to the Caribbean sea, which lies just past a main road circling the old city. There aren't really any beaches but there were a couple of small spots with some sand, and we found one of these, did some paddling and collected shells.
The next day featured more of the same, wandering through the city and just enjoying the sights, although we spent the morning of that day in an entirely different way - bathing in the mud volcano of El Totumo. It was a very strange experience, the mud is so viscous you can barely move through it and have to be literally pushed around by a group of men whose job it is to spend all day in the volcano doing just that! Afterwards we washed ourselves clean in a nearby lake and had a delicious lunch in a neighbouring village at a restaurant with a lovely view of the sea.
Then we travelled east to Santa Marta. Not as pretty as Cartagena but then it had beaches so it didn't need to be, and there was a space and breeziness to it which was quite refreshing. We spent most of our time in Santa Marta either on the beach or in the sea, and it was lovely. We also saw in 2012 there on a rocky jetty accompanied by some of the other ICYE volunteers and were promised fireworks but we didn't see anything. Still, we made enough noise ourselves to make up for it, singing and whooping and having a brilliant time. We prefaced this with dinner at a Middle Eastern restaurant (where I actually had a semi-decent mezze) and then afterwards went on to a club 'La Puerta' where we danced until the early hours.
Further east from Santa Marta is the small fishing village of Taganga and Parque Tayrona, which is where we spent the final days of our holiday. Taganga was a continuation of what we'd been doing in Santa Marta: sunbathing, swimming in the sea and relaxing.
Tayrona however was a little different, firstly it's a Parque Nacional so we had to get a bus there, pay our entrance fee, get bussed further in and then walk for a good hour through a very muddy rainforest to get to where we were staying. Then the beaches are wild, rugged and bordered by mountains. And the sea in some parts is rough, too dangerous to swim in, and you can tell by the size and sound of the waves crashing on the shore. It was very beautiful and very crowded. It was bizarre to be in such an untainted landscape and to be accompanied by so many other tourists, you felt it should just be you, the sea and the sand crabs.
Our time in Tayrona was too short really, but we had to get back and although it was very pretty we were staying in hammocks, and one night in a hammock is more than enough for me! So, we made the tortuous trip back through the rainforest, the buses weren't running so we had to walk even further on the way back, and all in all it was quite nice to be back on the bus heading back to Ibagué and a comfortable bed.