I'd decided to head to Colombia on the advice of my Indigenous friend Juan; the plan was to visit Cartagena, then up the coast to the Tayrona National park and Cuidad Perdida. I'd actually visited Cartagena about 20 years ago, and remembered a beautiful Spanish colonial city; the old town hasn't changed, but my, what a lot of tourists! Anyway, I found a nice little hostel right in the centre of the old town in a lovely restored colonial building, and spent a few days just wandering around, drinking in the atmosphere.
|Colourful fruit sellers waiting for clients|
|Easy to get fresh fruit here|
|And plenty of Vegan restaurants|
|Looking across from the old town to the new hotel complex|
After five days wandering around, chilling out in the Hostel swimming pool and eating good vegan food, I decided it was time to move on. Now in all the years I've been travelling, I have always relied on the Lonely Planet guide books to give me ideas about where to go.
This next part of the trip showed me that perhaps I'm not now their target audience. The book recommended an island in the marine national park as worth a visit, and suggested driving down to a town called Tula a couple of hours south of Cartagena, then a side trip to Mompos, which was (supposedly) a wonderful, unspoilt colonial town inland on the Magdalena river.
So I hired a rent-a-wreck from a local car hire company and drove down the coast to Tula. It actually took five hours due to the incredibly bad roads; when I got there the town was a dump! No foreign tourists, just nationals. I'd found a hotel online that looked decent - I was actually the only guest. The staff were so amazed to have a gringo staying that they fell over themselves looking after me!
They booked me a trip out to the island for the next day, and even managed to put together a quick evening meal.
The trip out to the island was well worth the hassle! Clear blue sea, plenty of marine life, and those white sand beaches.A little slice of paradise.
Oh but the town itself was unbearable for this old vegan, barbeques billowing smoke on every corner, music blasting out of every bar until the early hours - I realised then that Im probably 40 years too old for the Lonely Planet recommendations!
Then came the really adventurous bit, driving inland to Mompos. Allegedly there was a direct road, my satnav showing a four hour drive. What no-one mentioned was that the direct route took me straight to the banks of the Magdelena river, with no bridges across! After some gesticulating and shouting with a couple of local guys, one of them showed me a dirt track that ran through a fishing village, across a farm to a ferry. It was the dodgiest ferry I've ever seen, basically two fishing boats tied together with a platform bolted on top, strictly one car at a time.
|What, down there?|
At one time it had been a major port on the river, full of rich merchants houses and boasting seven churches. It then fell on hard times, and became a forgotten backwater. I stayed in one of the lovely restored colonial houses, but there was absolutely nothing to do in the town once I'd visited the seven churches! I then got chatting with the other guests, all of whom were foreigners like me and had come there after reading the Lonely Planet.
|Fishermen still use dug-out canoes|
Evidently the Arhuaco Indians actually own the park, and decided to close it for a month so they could hold some religious ceremonies. So I finally came to the realisation that I was basically just wasting my time hanging around, time to do something completely different. Having thrown away my guide book, I went online to look for inspiration. What I wanted to do was something interesting; there we are - whale watching in the Dominican Republic. Perfect. Just a two hour flight and I'd be somewhere different. Bag packed, off to the airport - Humpback whales look out here I come!