The highlight of my semester in Colombia was our trip to the warm and sunny Caribbean Coast. The mid semester break allowed a much anticipated escape from the long readings in the library and the chill of Bogota. We visited the paradise island of San Andrés, the colorful colonial city of Cartagena, also a world heritage site, and Santa Marta, a tranquil city nestled amongst the mountains, the sea and the jungle.
Our trip began in San Andrés with a surprise appearance from Juanse, who was waiting for us at our hostel. And thus, nine became ten. San Andrés is a beautiful tropical island with warm, crystal clear waters of varying shades of blue and sandy beaches lined with magnificent palm trees. During this exchange, palm trees for me have become symbolic of South America and have become my favorite tree. Palm trees frame grand cathedrals in almost all colonial plazas here, grow tall alongside beaches, signaling for many tourists the start of a tropical vacation, and in Valle de Cocora in Colombia´s coffee region, grow up to sixty meters high atop Andean mountains.
We rented two golf carts and drove around the island. Towards the end of the day, the heavy rains flooded the streets and our golf cart died, effectively blocking traffic on the island. That was when a local hero on a three-wheel motorbike came to our rescue. He simply pushed our golf cart down the street with his foot from his motorbike, while we enjoyed a little cruise down the flooded streets.
The next day, we embarked on a lancha tour of the island. While swimming with stingrays, Chucho pricked his finger on the poisonous corals which we were repetitively warned not to touch, and in his alarm pricked his other hand as well – to which according to the islanders, the only remedy was to urinate on his hands.
On our last night on the island, having in mind that the presence of the Pope in Cartagena would prohibit partying, we went out to a club. Perhaps it was the heat or the tropical atmosphere, after two drinks I fell asleep on a friend’s shoulder while the others danced the night away. Before returning to our hostel, we stopped to deep our feet in the warm Caribbean night sea.
Our day in Cartagena had an exciting start. Crowds of locals and hundreds of policemen gathered to welcome the Pope. We had the luck of seeing his holiness in his Pope Mobile right in front of our eyes. Our hostel, which happened to be in one of the more dangerous parts of Cartagena, was coincidentally also the perfect place to see the Pope. After this brief encounter, we spent the rest of the day taking photos in every corner of the gorgeous, historic walled city.
Santa Marta was a retreat into the marvelous nature and landscapes of Colombia. We were overwhelmed by various guides promoting their tours. Some followed us to our restaurant and explained their packages, competing with the buskers and rappers who performed their numbers while we ate. Our tour of the Parque Natural de la Sierra Nevada started with a walk through the jungle where a group of Indigenous people of Santa Marta, who despite centuries of colonialization preserve their traditional ways of living, were selling traditional teas, facemasks made from seashells, ingredients for the traditional coconut rice, and various herbs and remedies. At Quebrada Valencia we had a swim in the river while Matt and Carola jumped down the waterfall. We also visited the scenic Playa Grande, a small beach surrounded by lush green mountains, before heading to the estuary of Buritaca. Overall, it was a trip of a lifetime – thanks to the warm sun, the tastiest limonadas de coco, and above all, the best company – Carla, Carola, Luis, Chucho, Juanse, Nataly, Matt, Rodrigo, and Adrian.