Another nice bus ride with a window seat from Cartagena to Santa Marta through Barranquilla, where I met three nice backpacking girls in the bus station, fresh out of college from San Diego, all fluent in Spanish. I traded them the cost of a cab ride from the bus station to the Centro in exchange for their translating skills. At a buck per person, they thought the taxi was too expensive and were planning to take the bus. Given my challenge of navigational Spanish, I definitely got the best end of the deal.
The bus ride was beautiful, following close enough along the coastline to see the waves crashing on the beach. This bus only held about 20 people with two seats on the left side and one on the right, but it was still extremely comfortable with reclining seats, a foot rest, and even a toilet on board. The driver was flying over the rolling hills with reckless abandon, so I tried to wait, but could not hold it any longer. I had to laugh when the driver slowed way down to a crawl while I was in the toilet, and the moment I stepped out, he gunned it again, almost laying me flat in the aisle!
Leaving Cartagena, my nightly hotel cost went down from $80 to $8, and dinner went from $50 to $5 in Santa Marta! It was a cute little town right along the seashore reminiscent of old Cozumel before it became overrun with cruise ships (right down to the 10 inch high sidewalks filled with potholes!) The promenade was bustling at sunset with street vendors, strolling couples, and kids splashing in the sea. The sun sets right in the center of the promenade, so it is very picturesque and quaint.
The adjacent street front was lined with outdoor cafes advertising fresh pescado, some with live Spanish musicians. My favorite stop was Juancho’s Cervicheria, “in business since 1973.” They are known for their camarone (shrimp) cocktail, which was delicious! That, along with a beer was plenty for dinner at a cost of less than five bucks.
Part of my motivation for cutting my time in Cartagena short by one night was to try to make it to Parque Tayrona, Colombia’s most famous and scenic National Park situated between the Sierra Nevada mountains and the northern Caribbean coast. I went to the tourism office in Santa Marta to try to find information on accommodations in the park, but no one spoke English. Through a series of hand signals and stick figures, at best I could determine, my choice was a $300/nt Ecolodge or a hammock with nothing in between. I could make out the words “camping” and “beds,” but I was not exactly feeling confident about my Spanish comprehension. I opted to keep my $8.00 per night hotel in Santa Marta, but also packed a few things to overnight in the park in case I found accommodations within my budget that felt safe. I figured eight bucks was reasonable enough to not have to pack all my junk and unpack again.
I sent one last email home to my understanding family, saying I was heading off into the jungles of Colombia, “destination unknown,” last seen here…