Taganga, Parque Nacional Tayrona, Santa Marta

Trip Start Jul 31, 2005
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Trip End Feb 18, 2007


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Sunday, September 3, 2006

The Mosquito plague of Taganga

From Cartagena, we took a four hour bus ride over to Santa Marta, followed by a short ride in a taxi to Taganga, a small fishing village with a scruffy beach, but set in an absolutely stunning bay.

The area around Taganga is fairly dry and the landscape is noticeably barren, but just some 30 or so kilometres away from here is a lush green tropical rain forest, weird!
We check into our hostel, Casa Felipe, which is supposed to be one of the best budget places to stay in town. It was quite atmospheric, but there's something vital missing in this place, mosquito nets on the bedroom windows. There's no way you can sleep with the windows closed in this place as it's far too hot. So, as we relaxed in the evening in our room with a book, some of the largest mosquitos we have ever seen started to dance into our room. After getting up to kill about the 10th mosquito of the evening, we decided that we had to take some permanent action. Normally our plug-in mosquito killer and repeller is enough to see off or kill almost all mosquitos, but these were big buggers and the continuous flow into our room continued unabated. Now, it's not so much that we're worried about the dozens of tropical diseases that the things can carry, we've been vaccinated again Yellow Fever, Malaria is rare in this area, and the other big one, Dengue Fever is not fatal. It's just annoying to have those bloody itchy bites on you for the next few days. So, for the first time in our trip, we inaugurate our mosquito net, which has been stuffed down the bottom of our rucksack and relegated to the most useless thing that we've brought with us so far. So out it comes, we eventually manage to hang it from the fan above the bed, but of course, that means we can't use the fan, so we spend a hot, sleepless and claustrophobic night under the net. Needless to say, we checked out the next day and into a hotel with insect screens on the windows.

Not much to say about Taganga really, except it's a nice place to hang out for a couple of days, has loads of stalls which do great fresh fruit juices, enjoys a great sunset over the bay, and is very very popular with Israeli tourists.

Let's Pay More for the Pleasure of Being Tourists

After a couple of days relaxing in Taganga, we catch a bus over to the start of the Tayrona National Park. We spend 30 minutes arguing with the ticket clerk at the entrance who wants to charge us three times more than the Colombian rate for being foreigners, a whopping 9 dollars. This really pisses us off, and we know we're not going to get anywhere, but as it annoys us, we wanted to have a go and tell him exactly what we think. A tourist backlash was what eventually got Vietnam to scrap it's dual pricing system, so if more tourists complain, maybe eventually it will make a difference here too. We told him that we don't charge Colombians more than locals in our country so why do they charge foreigners more here. He gave us some crap answer about us having to pay more because we don't pay taxes in Colombia. We answer, "what are you on about mate, we pay taxes every time we buy food in a restaurant, take a room in a hotel or go shopping etc." "In fact, because a tourist probably spends much more than a local we probably end up paying more tax in a month here than a local does in a year." At that point, we'd clearly won the argument as he could just sigh and agree with us, but it made no difference to the price, which we reluctantly pay, and climb into the back of a jeep to take us down to the coast. You sit quite high up on these open top jeeps, so we had to be fairly alert so we didn't get knocked out by some low dangling branch from a tree.

A hike through the Jungle with our Luggage in Tow

We arrive at the coast, but still have to walk some 45 minutes through the jungle to our accommodation which is in Arrecifes. You can pay a local man with a horse to carry your rucksacks, but we decided to save the money for beer and walk with our luggage instead.

So we're walking along this narrow path through the rainforest in Colombia, also nicknamed Locombia because of it's wild reputation about several things. Let's hope there are no guerillas around. Well, this area's supposed to be safe, but some tourists were kidnapped three years back whilst hiking to the Lost City just north of here. We tried not to get too paranoid, but these things cross your mind. You can just imagine the headlines, would the Spanish and British governments pay our ransom fee? We could just imagine Tony Blair on the TV, babbling on about how he doesn't give in to Terrorists, whilst the Colombian army make some botched attempt to try and rescue us. Luckily it didn't come to that, and we reached Arrecifes about an hour later, safe, but with a really bad back from climbing up and down a muddy, rocky path with our rucksacks.

Arrecifes and the Stunning Coastline of the Tayrona National Park

We check out the accommodation options, we can sleep in a hammock, camp, or stay in a cabin, with the tent being the mid priced option. However, when we saw the size of what was supposed to be a two-man tent, we decided that we'd definitely be staying in a Cabin.

The coast line of Tayrona National Park is stunning, and although the beach at Arrecifes is not suitable for swimming, you can walk along the coast to the next two beaches, La Piscina and Cabo San Juan which are indeed very nice places to swim.

The next day, that's exactly what we did. As we walk along the coastal path, we notice that the coastline is dotted with huge grey boulders, which give the place a unique look. A lush green tropical rainforest shoots up from the coast and up into the mountains, scenery which reminded us of Rarotonga in the South Pacific.

Cabin raid at 1:30am!

We spend the day on La Piscina and Cabo San Juan beaches before heading back to our accommodation. We've done our fair share of walking today, and enjoyed quite a few beers at the local bar, so we're pretty sure that we'll sleep well tonight, despite the cabin being infested by mosquitoes. However, about 1:30am in the morning we get woken up by lots of shouting outside our cabin. We can hear an American girl who's obviously had too much to drink and is kind of freaking out at a group of international travellers who are only trying to help her to her cabin and calm her down. After they realise they can't find her key, in her inebriated state, she forces her way into our cabin, thinking that it's hers.
The cabins don't lock from the inside, a fact that we made quite clear to the owner when we checked out the next day. Anyway, with the forcing open of the door, we jumped out of bed, and despite both Patty and I yelling at the girl that it wasn't her cabin, she took no notice and tried to barge past us. It was her friends who eventually dragged her back out. Anyway, the noise and disturbance went on for at least the next couple of hours. By that time, not only did we know the entire life story of this girl, we'd also realised that all the fuss was about some guy she liked and had been travelling with for a few days, and who that evening had gone off with another women. Usual story:-) We think it was about 3:30am by the time they managed to break into her cabin and convince her to go to sleep. It's also the first time that we haven't been able to lock our accommodation from the inside and it just happened to be the night when somebody tried to get into our room, just typical:-)

Let the Horse take the Strain

The next day, and after having had a backbreaking experience carry our rucksacks to Arrecifes, we decide to pay for a horse to carry them back for us. We realised that as Arrecifes is only connected to the outside world by a narrow path and no road, everything is brought here by horse back and we passed many horses on the way back loaded with everything from cans of beer to bottles of cooking gas.

A beer at the Local, Santa Marta Style

Our last stop on Colombia's Caribbean coast is Santa Marta, a fairly nondescript town on the west side of Tayrona National Park. Here, the shops double as bars and put out several tables and chairs both inside and outside the shop for people to enjoy their drinks. This is a really cheap, and original way to have a night out. So we cross over the road from our hostel, grab a couple of plastic chairs on the street, buy a couple of bargain priced beers from the shop, and drink them whilst relaxing and watching the world go by from the pavement at the front of the shop.

Mmmmm, I can't imagine this happening back home somehow...
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