Taganga is some four and a half hours drive from Cartagena but it feels like a world away.
The drive there reveals tiny little shantytowns by the seaside. They represented fishing villages, only their waterways are so clogged with rubbish that the villagers barely seem able to walk around without stepping on plastic wrappers, aluminium cans and Styrofoam.
It made me realise the simple effect of tourism on a town; the way it makes a place scrub up,but hides the reality of a country behind the tourist façade.
Taganga is just such a town, made homely and clean in order to impress the tourist hordes. It’s a small fishing village just like the others, only blessed with a stunning bay setting of verdant hills tumbling into the ocean.
Of course, like many little hideaways, it has a bohemian vibe that attracts backpackers, Rastafarians, and bums.
Days here are spent on the beach, although the main strip in town is hardly impressive, and parts of the beach contain nasty surprises in the shapes of sharp glass shards from late-night boozing.
My companions and I did the brief hike around a peninsula to Playa Grande, the REAL wide beach with clean sands, palm trees, thatched roof huts and women supporting on their heads baskets full of fresh fruit for sale.
On the hike to the beach, we met a German couple. At the tip of the peninsula, we encountered some local guards who demanded to inspect our backpacks, one of them even flipping through the cash in my wallet.
Things intensified when the guards opened up the German guy’s cigarette case to find a small plastic pocket of that magic white powder.
My friends and I panicked, hoping the guards wouldn’t associate us with these folk. So when one guard turned to me and asked if we were all together, I adamantly insisted they were not our friends.
He nodded and simply said ‘GO!’ three times, quite urgently, so we scattered, readily disowning our new acquaintances and leaving behind one of our own friends who was trying to reclaim his camera from the guard. It’s funny how loyalties waiver in the face of personal security and dignity.
Tayrona National Park
Not far from Taganga is the worthwhile trip to Tayrona National Park. That’s all Tayrona is: a national park. There is only one real road in, and from there you’re left to trek to your accommodation.
The bus there drops you off in the middle of nowhere in sweltering jungle, and departs again with some unfounded confidence that you know where you’re going.
Luckily, we befriended the other backpackers on the bus and as a larger group, somehow figured out where we were to begin trekking to our accommodation.
We walked through heavy jungle, regretting the weight on our backs as the humidity brought out the worst sweat I have ever experienced, the kind where you are literally blinking it out of your eyes and shaking the drips from the tip of your nose. Luckily, the two hour walk to our camp met with the ocean multiple times, enabling a cooling off in the pristine, although occasionally rough, waters.
After several hours of this hiking through dense jungle, across burning sandy beaches, past bunches of towering palm trees, over marching lines of leaf-cutting ants, interspersed with swims to cool us off and stops to observe neon-green lizards or spotted-blue giant crabs, we finally arrived at Cabo San Juan.
Our arrival at camp coincided with a thunderous crack of a falling coconut creating a splintered hole in a plastic table. It made me suddenly more wary of the giant palm trees above us and I was reminded of the statistics thrown about concerning deaths by falling coconuts.
Twenty thousand Colombian pesos (roughly $10) bought us each a hammock shrouded in mosquito netting, hanging from a thatched-roof shelter.
The setting sun hailed a bonfire and cooked sausages, liberal amounts of Cuba Libre, and card games around the table well into the night, followed by falling into the caressing hammocks for a surprisingly comfortable sleep.
I was awoken in the morning by another foreboding shattering noise of a coconut falling on something else man-made.
The downside to awaking in a hammock is finding the motivation to get out of it; it is far too cosy and far too difficult to extract oneself from the material.
After a basic breakfast and a quick swim it was time to return to the road, reacquainting ourselves with the persistent perspiration, the mosquitoes, the refreshing swims, the wonders of nature and the way it acts as a muse on our thoughts.
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