Cartagena was our first stop on the Caribbean coast, and I’d done a lot of research on it (by that I mean perved over google images…). It was just as beautiful as I’d hoped it would be. Colourful colonial style buildings with grand balconies on every street, street sellers offering all sorts of ice cold beverages and deep fried snacks, I was in heaven. Apart from the stifling heat. Have I always been such a princess? Probably, but I have never been more insistent on air conditioning in my life. Luckily we found a great place for only 80,000 COP a night (£16) called Artur hostel on Calle San Andres, Getsemani.
It’s great walking around the old town within the ancient walls of the city, stunning and well preserved architecture mixed with lots of nice overpriced shops and restaurants to remind me that I’m a backpacker and can’t afford such luxuries.
The real fun for me was in Getsemani, particularly around Plaza Trinidad. This is where the locals and some travellers hang out in the evenings, buying beers from the corner shop, relaxing with friends and being entertained by whatever festivities happen to be taking place that night.
On Sunday evening we took a stroll down there to find a Zumba class taking place in front of the church. It was amazing. Colombian tunes blared out of the speakers while at least 100 people danced and sweat together as crowds of people looked on.
The next evening we returned to eat dinner on the square, all the restaurants are fairly commercial but it’s nice to sit there and take in the atmosphere. We had a variety of street performers that, unlike in London, were very entertaining! I have actually had my first funny clown experience, it’s true. I was hysterical. And all he was doing was throwing me an imaginary ball, and when I threw it back to him it landed in his empty crisp packet with an alarming sound. How did he do it? No idea. But I’m sure you’ll agree he has a very amusing facial expression.
We had a couple of teenage rappers who we’re fantastic, I think, sadly we couldn’t understand most of what they said. Luckily the reference they made to Mickaël looking like Justin Bieber transcends language barriers.
We stumbled on a great coffee shop whose owner is fanatical about coffee preparation. You can orefer your coffee to be made in the Italian, Turkish, American, Vietnamese and chemistry lab method. Visit Cafe del Mural for an education and delicious experience.
Cartagena beach tip: don’t go. Seriously. It’s not worth it. It may be on the Caribbean coast but it’s still murky and unkempt. They’re building a lot of resorts there though so it may change in the future…
Off the beaten track
One of the main tours you can do in Cartagena is to the mud volcano, famous for its mineral content and gooey feeling. The pictures on the tour advertisements don’t really sell it in my opinion, loads of tourists queueing to get into the volcano, no doubt feeling rushed into getting out to let the next people in. I did some research and found out that there was another one frequented by Colombian tourists (and the occasional gringo that is addicted to travel planning I guess) in a town near Tolu. This town wasn’t in the guide book, so I was half panic stricken at the thought of having no map to internalise and suggestions of places to eat, drink and sleep, and half gagging for the opportunity to be off the grid and not tied to my book. Being this well organised is both a blessing and a curse, trust me. So despite my keenness to get out of the Caribbean heat, we decided to give it a go and follow our noses to tolu.
The trip there is easier than we thought it would be, you just say “Volcan de Lodo” to anyone in town and they’ll point you in the right direction for the collectivo (shared taxi) and make sure you get on the right one. Everyone is so helpful we needn’t have worried. They taxi dropped us right outside the entrance. Great service! This really is a great system they’ve got going here- minivans going up and down the main routes of a town and in between major destinations, you hop on and off where you want, you pay for the part of the journey you do. It’s super cheap and air conditioned most of the time, perfect for travellers and locals alike!
We walked up a very nondescript path with cows and pigs on either side of us, wondering if we were indeed in the right place. At the end of the path a couple of women were washing in the communal showers, and a man who had seen us coming and set out some chairs in the shade for us. We fumbled through his instructions (meaning we had no idea what he said but gathered we needed to pay him the £1 entrance fee and head over to the mud pit) and smiled and nodded in the right places.
This is what we saw where we first laid eyes on the pit, honestly I wondered why we had such a detour and I wanted to leave immediately.
Thankfully our man came over, and just jumped right in there. He started swirling around the mud making it nice and gloopy for us, and directed me to the steps (carved into the mud, made out of mud). I went first and I have to say, it was brilliant. I’m squeamish about a lot of things; spiders, daddy long legs, tomatoes, fish, but for some reason jumping into a pit of mud 1000 feet deep didn’t phase me. I LOVED it.
The town of Tolu
Tolu itself was a great place to relax for a couple of days. We were the only westerners around and I really like that. We went for lunch by the beach and asked for a menu, and were told its beef, fish or chicken take your pick, it’s simple.
During our 2 days there we saw 2 protests, quite a lot I think, but they seemed to be really enjoying themselves.
There aren’t many cars in tolu making it a more quiet, less rushed town. Taxis are in form of bicycles with added seats, para soles and sound systems. If you’re not too tall for the seat (great excuse Mickaël), you’ll have to pedal your way through town with the drive, no discount.
A lady heard us speaking English and rushed out of her house saying something we couldn’t understand. We decided to follow her into her house (she didn’t give us much choice) and it turned out she wanted us to help her kids with their English homework! And so we proceeded to teach a 2 hour English lesson. It made me remember how much I love teaching, and gave me a great idea for a new YouTube channel, helping children with the pronunciation of English words. These girls we taught were writing paragraphs and using “used to” in conversation, but couldn’t make the sounds they needed to say “hello”. It felt like a lost cause, they need to go back to basics so badly, but it requires time and practise. So I’m going to develop something to help children like them, so that they will have the confidence to speak English from an early age. Watch this space!