I caught a bus to Tayrona, accomapanied by Jeff, the Australian with a head of hair straight off Sideshow Bob. From the park entrance it was 10 minutes by jeep and 45 by foot to the beach. They really put a lot of work into the trails and everything, I was very impressed. The facilities at the beach were very nice, hammock space mainly, but they did supply good hammocks (so I didn’t have to use my dinky one). They probably could have accomodated 100X the crowd that was there that night. Might not have been able to feed them. They didn’t do too good of a job of feeding me, though I sure paid enough for them to. [Why is it that everywhere they charge SO MUCH for pasta? It’s probably the cheapest ingredients you could find, and the labor, well, tossing it in the water and then waiting can’t cost them that much either...]
After my Corcovado adventures I was worried that another national park on the coast would be a bit too much. But luckily it was very different landscape. Strewn around the hills and beaches were loads of well worn boulders, which exentuated the natural beauty of the beach and forest. Jeff and I took the 3 hour hike to ‘Pueblito’, the ruins of ancient city a few kms inland (…more like upland, steepupland…). It turned out to be a very small site with just a few crumbling walls, stairways, and circular platforms on which huts would be erected. There were, in fact, a few huts there erected and lived in by a family of authentic Tayrona Indians (with authentic mineral water and beer for sale). The part I liked the most about it all was that this family was the only other people there – that helped out the whole India Jones fantasy that had been started by the wild path up there; it was full of snakes (although all were way under 2 meters), flourescent lizards, bats, tunnels to climb through, and gaps between boulders to jump over.
If I wasn’t too lame, and wanted the REAL Indiana Jones fantasy, I would have done the Ciudad Perdida trek. The Ciudad Perdida was un-perdida in the 70s by grave robbers. Soon the word spread and other grave robbers came by. They didn’t all like each other and they were Colombian. In other words they had lots of guns and used them. Then the gov’t got wise and calmed that down a bit. I’m told that it is one of the best pre-colombian sites you can visit. I’ve also been told that it has similar architecture to Pueblito. The two reports seem to me to be a little contradictory. Of course, anything better seem good after 3 days hiking in the jungle to get there. The trek was higly recomended to me, but for right now it’s too much time, money, and too much jungle. Not to mention the inherit danger of hiking way out into the Colombian jungle. In fact, about 6 months ago a group was kidnapped on that very trek.* One thing I do regret is missing the visit to a little cocaine factory in which you get to see the fields and the whole production process. It’s not an advertised part of the package, but all the people who’ve gone speak highly of it. Yes, I asked, and no, there weren’t any free samples. They had to pay for them.
Anyway, I lamed out, and here I am on my way to Venezuela. I heard horror stories about the coastal route. One Japanese girl I talked in Panama City told of, after a terrible border crossing, having the bus stopped and searched ten times, one of which was a strip search. That sold me on the mountain route. Even if the border ends up being just as bad, I’m very happy I’ve come this way so far.
There didn’t seem to be any direct way from Santa Marta to Cúcuta at the border, so I hopped on a night bus to the nearest big city, Bucaramanga. Night busses are supposed to be nonoes in Colombia. Oh well, Scheiss drauf, if it’s a 9 hour ride and if there’s a night bus there’s just no better way to go. I did make sure to go with the company that I heard pays off various groups to leave their busses alone – something that must be reflected in the ticket price, and that’s ayokay with me. As soon as the terrible Hollywood action movie was over I slept like a baby, no fear in my soul. (No wonder there’s some many bandits here, they get paid to not do things!)
The guidebook informed me of a nice suburb of Bucaramanga called Girón. My plan was to spend the day there and look into getting to the border the next day. No point in rushing things.
Girón was much lovelier than it was made out to be. The whole place was just winding cobblestone streets lined with little houses, all of which were painted white and had dark red tile roofs. It was a great effect in the morning light with the mountains in the background. But, Girón was tiny and after I was lovlied out, there wasn’t much to do. So, I pressed on to Pamplona, 4.5 hours down the 6 hour road to Cúcuta. A road that no one told me would be so amazingly scenic. After winding precariously up steep green valley slopes for the first two hours we reached a high plane. It looked just like the Andean Altiplano I had seen in pictures. And then I realized it was Andean Altiplano. There was something strong about making that connection with a place I considerred to be such a distant foreign thing and what I was actually seeing. It was like comparing it to the pictures in my head really made me feel for the first time that I’ve gone such a long way from home. We stopped for lunch and I asked a food server the altitude. 3600 meters! The lack of trees had been suggesting to me the we were up-there, but whew! This close to the equator agriculture seems to do surprisingly well at that hight.
Next we descended to Pamplona. This is supposedly the oldest town in the northern Andes, and was a major base for Spanish expansion in the area. Doesn’t look like it’s grown much since then, something in its favor, I say. The university here takes up about a tenth of the city, so it’s got that young, smart, college feel. Along with some nice old buildings and a magical mountain setting, it makes for a pretty good stop over. Good capuccino too. How else do you think I could concentrate long enought to write all this crap?
*I do seem to remember hearing something about that in the news. Something about some British bloke escaping in some heroic adventure. Well, fascinatingly, I met a freelance reporter in Taganga who was here working on various stories about local Indians. In the process of her research, she found out from people who lived in that region that in fact the British guy was lying; what they knew, they told her, was that he actually either got sick or faked it well, and they let him go. Furthermore, various parts of his story, when compared to the actual terrain it is to take place in, simply don’t make sense. But that’s ok, everyone needs a story to sell the rights to.