I’ve just got back from Colombia.
Over the past few years, I’ve travelled quite a lot- England, France, the US, Argentina several times…but I haven’t had what I call a real holiday- relaxing, doing nothing or doing something or doing both at the same time- since going to Brazil 5 years ago. After the stress of the earthquake in February, seeing all the destruction and nightmare living situations for a lot of people (and setting up a charity to help the worst affected in Colchagua has been even more stressful than the actual event itself), finding myself living on my own with 4 animals and trying to get through this colder than normal Winter, I really, really, really needed a break.
So 3 weeks ago, I just Googled ‘beaches, Colombia’ and ended up buying a ticket to Santa Marta, without really knowing what I was letting myself in for.
To get the negative part out of the way first, Santa Marta is only ok. It’s nothing really special. The beach is pretty crappy. There’s not much to the town apart from a small (but pretty and well-preserved) Centro Historico.
And that’s the negative done.
On the positive side, Colombia is absolutely awesome. I think speaking Spanish completely changed my experience. Last time I travelled around, almost 7 years ago, my Spanish was basic and everything was a bit of a struggle. I’d walk past a couple of girls in the street and hear this…
“Gjhmsou gringo blahrio smurpado gringo mupppsharekhou skewehah hahahahahahaha”
…and my brain would translate it all to:
“Oooh, look, a gringo, I’m going to call my brother around the corner and get him to mug the stupid gringo, beat him half to death and steal his kidneys hahahahahaha.”
This would make me feel uncomfortable.
But this time, I was able to understand what people were saying. And it turns out that what almost everyone was really saying was:
“Oooh, look at the gringo. He’s gorgeous. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a finer looking human being. That’s one hell of a good-looking gringo. I want to take him home and make him tomate de arbol juice until he just explodes with happiness. Hahahahahahaha”
This made me a little uncomfortable too- I’m quite humble - but uncomfortable in a happy way. And I do love tomate de arbol juice.
Also, speaking Spanish enabled me to pick out words and phrases particular to Colombia. That was impossible a few years ago- it was all just new vocab to me, I couldn’t tell the difference between accents or local dialects. Having lived in Argentina, Ecuador and Chile, I now can.
Colombian Spanish is lovely, particularly in the north, along the coast where the accent is kind of laid back. Vowel sounds are elongated and 'Js' are semi-optional. Trabaaa'o, vieeee'o. Watch a Colombian or Venezuelan telenovela and you'll notice.
I also really enjoyed hearing ‘A la orden’ all the time, meaning “What would you like?”, “How can I help?” or “You’re welcome”, depending on context. It seemed formal, but friendly at the same time.
Other little words that spring to mind…the weather in Santa Marta was ‘sabroso” (tasty) and everything else in the world is either ‘chevere’ (cool) or ‘tenaz’ (bad, but also good depending on context. Kind of like saying ‘fierce’, if anyone uses that word anymore. Do they? I don’t really know, I've lived too long away from the English speaking world.)
And finally, contrary to what I’d been told repeatedly- that this word is only used in Spain- Colombians love to ‘coger’ public transport and various other things. Childish fun. Yey!
Anyway, after just a night in Santa Marta, I moved 15 minutes away to Taganga, a backpackers haven in a tiny fishing village. Again, the beach there isn’t really all that great but I enjoyed my stay in Taganga. I found a private room for about us$10, met some nice foreigners, drank a lot of beer, ate a lot of fried fish, drank a lot of mango and tomate de arbol juice and had fun chatting to the natives too.
I also spent a day and a night in Parque Tayrona, a national park with pristine beaches about a 60 minute boat ride away. The trip was a bit rough and, as I woke up late and got on last, I had to sit right at the front of the boat. When we started hitting waves, I got slung about a fair bit and ended up with a monster bruise on my thigh (look away now if you don’t want to see my bruised thigh).
And the boat ride that caused it: