Bathing in Mud & Carribean Islands

Trip Start Nov 15, 2006
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Flag of Colombia  ,
Sunday, October 7, 2007

Waking bleary-eyed on an overnight bus from Medellin to Tolu, I was surprised to feel like I'd had a decent sleep. There's always a slight moment of panic when you're half-asleep and the driver tells you that you've arrived. We quickly stuff our sleeping bags into their covers, pick up our day-pack and go for the big day-packs out of the luggage hold. Ed looks like a real catch - hair sticking up at all angles, unshaven and his sleeping mask dangling under his chin.

Still, in this state we make a run for shelter as the intense humidity (a shock after the air-conditioned bus) has made for an impressive downpour. What we can make out through the rain is some impressive tropical greenery along the busy highway and our saviour in the form of a fit young black guy riding a tricycle-taxi. His skinny legs were certainly stronger than we anticipated as he powered us and our 30 kilos of luggage smoothly into the village manouevering around the potholes with precision.

We breakfasted as the rain eased up - Ed 'Iron Guts' Germain on fish soup, me on my usual scrambled eggs with fresh juice. This set us up for a quick bus ride to the next village on the coast, Corveñas reputed to be a decent beach.

If a crowded, fairly dirty beach with various sound systems blaring among the rubbish is a decent beach, then I guess it was!

Still, nothing could take the shine off our next assignment - bathing in a mud volcano. One mini-bus later and 2 motorbike taxis and we were there. Great fun roaring along on the highway on motorbikes of complete strangers, but it was only later in the short journey we thought about our lack of helmets and long trousers.

The entrance to the mud volcano had a shabby sign on the highway, we walked up the dusty track in the blazing sun, paid our pittance of an entrance fee and stripped off to our swimmers. The mud volcano is a flat, large pool of mud with a helpful rope across to middle and amatuerish stairs carved into the more solid mud for access.

Putting one cautious toe in, I realised how delicious this experience was going to be. The mud looked like a thick chocolate cake mix, it smelled vaguely organic but not unpleasant. The real surprise was that it was cooler than the temperature outside, more like our own body temperature - very refreshing.

You know that feeling you had as a child when you ran around barefoot in mud? The scrummy feeling of the mud between your toes? Imagine that magnified ten-fold and covering your whole body.

Incredible!

Once we stopped giggling, we took to the serious business of making sure we were covered in mud from head to toe, including our faces and all through our hair. Then, we took part in some races half-swimming, half-crawling through the neck-deep substance. Fully reclined and 'floated' on our backs. To add to our delight, we had the whole place to ourselves for about half-an-hour.
 
 After our blissful time, one of the employees jumped in the mud and did a few practiced laps - making sure the mud was well-mixed for the bus-load of school-teachers and young kids who descended on our tranquil location. Time for us to get out, but we did hang around for a bit listening to the yells, squeals and tears from the mixed bunch. Some of the little kids covered in mud blubbering away when they'd had enough -  looked hilarious.

Next stop - outside, commual showers. Ed felt hands plucking vigorously at his swim-shorts to help release any trapped mud and assumed it was me. I was having the same experience wondering who the hell it was while my eyes were shut. The determined fingers belonged to two enterprising teenage girls seeking tips for helping us rinse off. We decided it was easier to give in than fight it. Kind of weird though, being in your swimmers having some strangers hands all over you unexpectedly!

The whole experience was unique for us. We enjoyed it immensely and would have travelled miles further for the opportunity to experience such brilliant fun.

Islas de San Bernardo

Tolu is a nice-enough little town but a key reason to go there is to visit the handy San Bernardo islands seated in the shallow tropical sea. It suited us with our few days left to take a day trip with a few other people to experience as much as we could in a short time.

Despite us uptight Anglos being punctual, the boat left vey late (Latino time) which annoyed us as it was sweltering waiting in the boat. As soon as we got going, the fresh breeze from whipping along in our motorboats was a huge relief. In typical, friendly Colombian style we got no further than the first island before being adopted by a family because we were 'alone.' The family consisted of Mum Marta, husband, parents, sister-in-law and twenty-something kids, Italia and an extremely theatrical actor son, David.

Isla Palma, first stop. As the name suggests, typical picture-book Caribbean island in some ways with the white sandy beaches and swaying trees. However, the locals had also taken it upon themselves to open up a zoological park and a cheesey Pirate-type experience. The animals looked healthy, happy and well-housed. There were sea turtles, flamingos, macaws, monkeys, fish, dolphins and lobsters.

The lowlight were seeing the dolphins scooting around in their small enclosure, strange because all other animal enclosures seemed well-accomodated in comparison; and seeing some of the less ecologically-minded locals feeding the animals.

The highlight for me was watching Ed get close to the bars of the monkey cage to take a photo. Imagine his surprise when his subject became the aggressor and shot out a skinny yet incredibly strong arm and grabbed and shook his camera! The shock on Ed's face was priceless and the whole tour group were laughing. When I thought of all the places we'd been careful with the camera and then the most serious theft attempt came from a monkey all of thirty centimetres high.

Departing this island, we circled through the turquoise waters past another tiny island named La Islote. Six hundred metres in diameter with around one thousand people living on it. They have built out over the beaches and the water, up a couple of storeys, there are alleyways rather than streets and I think I saw one tree. Apparently it is the most densely populated place in the world and I am inclined to believe it. It prompts the question, why don't some of them just move somewhere else? I presume they can't afford to or simply don't want to.

Last stop, Isla Múcura. Snorkelling in the bathwater temperature sea was pleasant, but we were shocked that most of the coral was dead and there were very few fish. The locals told us it was due to a big storm, but it could have been dynamite fishing in the past. We also found the local guys very hands-on during the snorkelling - if they found something under the water, they didn't just look at it - they pulled it up to the surface to hand it around. Not our style of tourism at all.

On the plus side, we had a gorgeous grilled fish lunch and splashed out on some decent lobster too. The Colombian family from Medellin were entertaining and the cold beer under the palms tasted just right.

We really enjoyed spending time in a local Colombian tourist destination and didn't spot any Gringos in our time here.The Medellin crew were so warm and almost convinced us to head back to their city and stay - but we had our hearts set on the isolated town of Mompos...
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