After opting out of a stopover in the coffee region and speeding through Medellín, I finally arrived in Cartagena and the Caribbean coast. It was exactly as sweltering hot as everybody had told me, but I was embracing the sweat beads that were falling off my face. Thus far on this trip, I have spent the majority of my time in the mountains and in cooler climates, so a change to the tropical was more than welcome. I stripped off my saturated clothing and was ready to wind my way through town in a mad dash for the beach.
Shenanigans on the Beach
The beach itself in Cartagena, located in the Bocagrande neighborhood, not the most scenic of beaches nor does it boast any other redeeming qualities such as being clean or deserted. It’s overly gentrified with gaudy hotel complexes that are being conceived and developed so fast that no thought is being given to creating a structure that complements the natural beauty of its surroundings. Looking at the shoreline from afar, I thought it looked a lot like South Beach in Miami, which is a great for partying and general booziness, but from a relaxation standpoint, not so much. I didn’t really care though, I was so grateful to be touching the Caribbean again nothing else mattered.
Nothing else did matter until I sat back and heard the first of many a beach vendor proffering a variety of services and goods. Here it begins, the act of politely but firmly sending off the vendors who are trying to make a buck. My previous experiences with such vendors have ranged from understandable to obnoxiously persistent. Cartagena wins the prize so far in the most persistent of vendors and my right foot suffered irreparable emotional damage as a result. It was the well-intentioned lady masseuse on the beach who wouldn’t take no as an answer. She approached me with her offer of massage and I politely but firmly said “No, gracias.” I thought this would be the end of it until I felt my right foot get splashed with a stream of water and I saw her put her stool down and get comfortable. I repeated myself, “No, no, no, I’m all set, no, thank you” switching to English after realizing she understood. She kind of laughed at me the way you do at a helpless prisoner and just proceeded. “Oh okay, otro día”, she said in a half sarcastic tone and she started rubbing my foot. Again, I said, “No, no quiero un masaje”, switching back to Spanish, only now I was laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation, because in my head, I was thinking that indeed it actually did feel nice, but I didn’t have the money to pay for this service. At this point, I retracted my foot back and stopped just short of screaming, “FOOT RAPE!!” She got the message and sadly shuffled away. I couldn’t help but feel slightly violated at what just transpired while my Dutch friend sitting next to me was completely oblivious to everything. After this, I couldn’t help but feel a newfound sympathy for the U.S. Secret Service agents who found themselves in a pickle with some prostitutes. Perhaps they too were approached by very persistent saleswomen and didn’t have the same fortitude I did to just say, “No.”
Let’s Get Dirty!
After getting over the emotional trauma caused by the public molestation of my right foot, I headed off to Volcán Totumo, the not-so-famous gravity defying mud pit, with my new travel friends, a few Swiss, a German and an Englishman.
This is again one of those instances where the journey getting here was half the fun. In total, I think we spent around six hours actually traveling to and from the site from our hostel in Cartagena. After you get through the hectic part of finding a bus that goes to Lomito de Arena from Cartagena, you have the option of being a cheapskate and walking up to the volcano or going for a fun ride on the back of a motorbike of one of the many locals who are ready and waiting at the bus stop for you. I rode on the back of one local who pooh-poohed the idea of safety and didn’t have helmets for either of us, which was fine with me. I have such a warped sense of relative safety these days, I didn’t even think twice about it, instead letting my hair go nuts in the wind and yelling, “Wahoo!”, because I like to reenact the movie, I.Q., every chance I get.
When we arrived at the volcano, I felt the same way I did when I finally saw The Alamo, “That’s it?” I had imagined a giant big pit of mud that was overspilling with exuberant little tourists. Instead, it was a rather small pit atop a mound that looked like one of those grade school science experiments where you create the volcano with lava from vinegar and baking soda. We climbed up the stairs and one by one entered the pool of goo, fulfilling one of my longest running childhood dreams of dousing myself head to toe with mud. The unexpected part about this mud pit though was the fact that it was a bottomless pit and strangely buoyant. It was actually hard to move around because you were floating so much. After settling on one of the sides I started practicing my best Matrix moves, because why not? After a little time, the farting bubbles started coming up. This was brilliant. It was like Jabba the Hut was festering somewhere in the mysterious pit of the volcano and he had just eaten some really bad Mexican food. The accompanying smell would justify this. Naturally the German and I went over to this spot so we could experience first hand what a giant space fart traveling through a tube of mud would feel against our buddies. It felt exactly as creepy as it sounds, but it was refreshingly cooler.
After gingerly stepping out of the pool and making our best statue poses, it was time to head down to the beautiful lagoon to wash off all that supposedly medicinal goo. This was pleasant and easy enough, but it’s worth noting my personal experience and thus warning for future participants. If your bathing suit bottoms happen to be too big for you, it will no doubt look and feel like you have a load of crap in your knickers. Don’t worry too much though and remember it’s only the mud. I hopped in the water and soon enough a little Colombian lady came by with a bucket and waterboarded me clean. I was a little taken aback though when she unapologetically took off my bikini top. I quickly sank in the water as I was seated across from the extremely attractive German man with whom I developed something of a crush. Luckily he was dealing with his own forced disrobement to notice and I ended up having a laugh with the woman as she tangled up my top trying to put it back on.
Bathing suits and muddy hair sorted, we grabbed some quick bites to eat, paid our service people and hopped on bikes to start the journey back to Cartagena.