You might think of Colombia as the cartel controlled country of Pablo Escobar and the Orejuela brothers.
You might think of it as a dangerous, messy country where guerrilla groups (like FARC) kidnap politicians and affluent people to finance their cause and paramilitary groups, financed by drug money, fight the insurgents.
Well, that Colombia now belongs to the past.
With the dismembering of the Medellin and Cali cartels, and the disarmament of guerrilla groups like the FARC, things have changed.
And people are eager to show the true make of their country. Which is kind, not violent. Humble, not arrogant. Focused on productivity, not idleness.
There are many reasons why Colombia has been one of our favourite destinations so far;
- people are so friendly, welcoming, and polite that you instantly feel at home;
- their history, both ancient and more recent, is really interesting to discover;
- you get to enjoy a great variety of landscapes and places; from the mountains and jungle of Sierra Nevada to the palm tree fringed white sand beaches of Capo San Juan (Tayrona National Park); to the beautiful and developed cities of Cartagena and Medellin;
- the abundance and variety of fruits and vegetables available is incredible and…
- …everything is so cheap!
Do you really need more reasons to visit such a country?!
When we got to Santa Marta in mid February, they had recently relaxed the Covid restrictions, and we were struck by the incredible amount of people strolling about the streets of the small town centre, around Parque de los Novios, buzzing with bars and restaurants.
Santa Marta (and the whole province of Magdalena it belongs to) had really strict anti-Covid measures in place during the lockdown, with the town almost completely shut for 5 consecutive months. No wonder people were so eager to go out now that they could!
Wearing masks was compulsory, and there was still a curfew in place; restaurants would shut around 8pm and no one was allowed out after 11pm.
11pm? That’s the middle of the night for us sailors!?!?
We were not really troubled by these restrictions, and happy to be able to travel around to discover the beauties of such a wonderful country, despite the unfortunate circumstances.
Our visit to Tayrona Park and Minca
We spent the first week in Colombia visiting Minca, a beautiful and peaceful town in the foothills of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, and the National Park of Tayrona, both easily reachable by cab from Santa Marta.
Minca is a famous destination for yoga and spiritual retreats and happy/hippy-like people! Just be aware of mosquitos when you go there! We got eaten alive by some kind of Frankenstein mosquitos, whose bites would leave you with and a strong desire of peeling your skin off to get rid of the unbearable itchiness…
Having said that, we had great fun visiting the thermal waters of Pozo Azul, which were freezing cold and gave us a nice break from the heat. We went there on a Monday morning, as we were told it can get quite busy at weekends. Colombians tend to come here to cool down and relax after the working week.
After our dip in the refreshing waters of Pozo Azul, we were taken to La Victoria coffee plantation by motorbike, up the winding roads of Minca, and then through dirt roads across the jungle. Once there, we headed straight to the bar and tried some tasty arepas – it was passed lunchtime and we were all starving! Lunch was followed by a first taste of their coffee, then our tour guide appeared and took us around the coffee plantation. The visit lasted about an hour and was very interesting thanks to our knowledgable guide.
What we learnt about Colombian coffee, so called “washed coffee”:
- Colombian coffee is technically a type of Arabica coffee, or better said, is derived from Arabica coffee;
- Coffee beans are actually green :), they turn dark brown when roasted;
- Colombian coffee is de-pulped (the skin of the cherry is removed) straight after it’s picked, washed, left to ferment in water for 18-24 hours, and then dried. In natural coffee, instead, the cherry pulp is removed once the drying process is complete, not before;
- Colombian coffee is more fruity and has more acidity than the natural coffee. Washed coffee enthusiasts praise this kind of coffee for its purity, since it allows you to taste all the vibrant notes and distinct flavours of the variety.
- For more info on all the steps of the ‘washed coffee’ process, you can check this article!
Tyrona National Park
The Tayrona National Park is a massive park, with 3 entrances and different routes you can either walk or ride with horses. We chose the middle entrance, El Zaino, and walked for 2 and half hours, all the way to Capo San Juan, and then back. While walking along the paths through the forest, we saw Capuchin monkeys sitting on tree branches and skilfully opening and eating coconuts. We also spotted a capybara, and some parrots amongst other wildlife.
The landscape was incredible throughout, and there were plenty of little kiosks along the way, selling all kind of refreshments. We even had a proper hot lunch, with grilled fish and ceviche, in one of the many restaurants by the beach. By the end of the day, we were exhausted and decided to spend the night in an eco-resort near the Park, Quetzal Dorado, (www.quetzaldoradoeco.com).
Everything was going so well, until…..Gc decided to cut his foot open!
The day before our scheduled trip to Cartagena, Gc had a ‘cleat accident’…
A small premise, before getting into the nitty gritty of what happened just after 11pm at Santa Marta marina, sometime around mid February 2020.
Many years ago I made the mistake of telling GC that I really liked his feet and hands! Well, ever since he’s been trying in all possible ways to disfigure them.
Within 2 years, he managed to;
- brake his little toe (kite surfing accident),
- brake his left foot’s big toe (a desk slipped from his hands and fell right over it braking it into 3 parts, ouch!!)
- severely damage the other foot’s big toe. This story would definitely deserve a chapter of its own, but to cut it short, he somehow kicked a cement ball mistaking it for a real football!!
Clearly, he has no luck when it comes to his feet….
This particular night of mid February at Santa Marta marina, he was adjusting the mooring lines as the wind had picked up and was now blowing quite strongly. I have to say that while at the marina, we often experienced winds of 40+ knots coming down the high mountains of Sierra Nevada that surround the marina. And the boat was often covered in red sand that was difficult to get rid of…
Anyway, this particular night of mid February at Santa Marta marina I’m telling you about, Gc was fixing the lines, and in doing so, feeling very feline-like, he jumped down the port side of the boat and landed with all his weight on something rather hard.
What had he landed on?
It was one of the pontoon’s S- shaped cleats and he had landed right on top of it with his right foot. Pain and blood followed.
Someone else instead was already sleeping very deeply and soundly, dreaming of walking around Cartagena while eating an ice cream! Suddenly, someone was calling her name, one, two, three times…Paola, Paola Paola! The sound becoming louder and louder. Rather annoyed, this someone finally woke up and dragged herself upstairs still half asleep…
What was in front of my eyes was a war like type of scenario. Blood everywhere, Gc’s foot up on the table and some internal parts of it, that should have stayed so, were now way too visible…
All I could think of doing was…fainting!!
For the first 5 minutes I could not stand up! I had very limited autonomy as my head kept spinning around, and I had to keep my centre of gravity very low when walking around trying to help Gc, gathering bandages and antiseptic spray.
What a disaster! One man down… and one woman lying down!
Despite my insisting, Gc didn’t want to go to the hospital. He was adamant he was not badly hurt and we could just go to sleep and deal with it the day after. Thirty minutes later, he was in bed snoring while I was regularly checking his breathing to make sure he was still alive and wouldn’t bleed to death during the night….
The morning after, I accompanied ‘DIY Gucci shoemaker’ to the hospital. Thanks to Kelly, and all the marina staff, who were very helpful and supportive, we got in touch with a private clinic that was happy to receive us and look into the matter more closely.
Several forms later, Gc was given a real life tutorial on how to give stitches to…his foot! He kept saying we needed to learn how to do it, in case of accidents at sea, so I guess this was his chance to learn first hand…or first foot :)!