There are three obvious types of people in Cartagena; Gringos, cops and dealers. There are others of course, going about their daily lives, but as you walk through Getsemani it seems that everyone wants to sell you cocaine or weed. Um, apart from the cops of course, they just want to stop and search you in the hopes of finding cocaine or weed so they can freak the shit out of you and march you to the ATM so you can withdraw their bribe. Hilarious. I met a couple that had got busted with a heap of weed but instead of arresting them the cop just put his hat over the stash, negotiated a small bribe, took a couple of buds for himself, gave them the rest of their weed back and sent them on their way. They were lucky, a bloke I met got randomly stopped and searched along with an American backpacker he was walking with. He had nothing on him so he was fine but she had a bag of coke so she was marched to the cash point to withdraw her day’s maximum for the bribe. Dodgy much?
The dealers are pretty forward but actually not too irritating, it only takes a polite, “no, gracias” or two before they give up. Gringos are in abundance and anyway, they supplement their income by shopping the people they just sold to to the cops who give them a kickback out of the bribe. So yeah, if you’re partial to Colombian exports, maybe just stick to coffee and Shakira for the time being ay although I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a hefty fine and jail time if caught in possession of a CD of “She Wolf.”
As me and Freddy were on the bus into town from the terminal we cruised past this massive fort-like structure. I was like, “What the fuck is that? Oh shit is that the wall??” It was. Cartagena is a walled city, after repeated attacks from pirates and the like the Spanish built a fuck off great big wall to keep the motherfuckers out and it still stands in pretty good shape for the most part. It’s cool! And within these walls is the old town. I’ve never seen a tourist infrastructure quite like it in South America, it’s so shiny and planned with a main square surrounded by banks and a tourist information centre staffed with a happy, smiling, perfectly groomed, bi-lingual chick. The historic town is painted beautifully but retains it’s colonial aura, the restaurants rival the West for food and drink prices and at night there are street entertainers on every corner. It’s like you just stepped out of Colombia into a European tourist town.
Me, Freddy and our new mate, Teddy, an English lad me and Freddy had met in Santa Marta, hung out there for a few days but apart from mine and Teddy’s foray into the world of volcano dipping we didn’t get up to much apart from taking advantage of Media Luna’s 2 for 1 cocktails. Hours of entertainment watching the guy with the piercings try and flare empty bottles and failing. But let me tell you about this volcano dipping, because whilst it sounds like something you don’t come away from with a tale to tell, it’s not a lava kinda volcano. It’s full of mud. El Volcán Del Totumo is basically a large vat of warm mud spewed up by a small volcano. Who wouldn’t want to wallow in some of that, right? You can either make your own way there or you can get yourself on an overpriced tour for COP$40000 (peso colombiano) including lunch which is what me and Teddy did. But shit it’s fun!
Once you’re there you strip down to your swimsuit and make your way up the volcano to the small mud bath in the top. They’ve built steps an all that so it’s a piece of piss, then you wait for your turn to get in, handing your camera to one of the guys who’ll take photos for your for a small fee. There are also a few guys in the mud that’ll massage you (badly) for a minimum of COP$3000. I passed on that thankyouverymuch, but I was happy to let someone take photos. It’s. So. Weird. I don’t know exactly how deep it is, I heard another gringo say it was about 150m but due to the density of the mud you never sink past your chest, not even if you try. The only way is to get someone to push you under. And you can’t move! There’s no way to get purchase in the mud, you know like in water you can easily swim? You can’t seem to do that in this mud, it’s what it must feel like to be in space, weightless, with nothing to push against to move yourself around.
So there you are, flailing around with all the grace of an ant stuck in jam, trying not to bump into people whilst your ankles disobey your every command do everything they can to get to the surface. And every single other person in the bath is doing exactly the same thing. It’s fucking hilarious. The only way to get out is wait for more people to get in so the mass of bodies pushes you to the steps where a guy scrapes some of the mud off you and you make your way down which is an adventure in itself. The mud of everyone that has gone before you coats the steps, the handrails are covered in slippery mud, old and new and the build up of mud has turned the steps into more of a slide than actual steps. They should just build a proper mud slide right down to the lagoon where you go to wash off.
Ah, the lagoon. As soon as you’re in the water you’re attacked by a team of women brandishing bowls who want to help you wash, again for a small fee, but these ladies don’t take no for an answer. I tried to explain in my limited Spanish that I was a big girl and could wash myself but before I knew it I was on my knees getting a proper good scrub as she repeatedly tipped water over my head, wiped the mud off my arms, shoulders and face and stuck her fingers in my ears like she was trying to remove a portion of brain in the process. Then before I could draw breath to say “thank you but I can take it from here” she’d whipped my top off and was giving my knickers a good swish. Jesus christ lady, that’s a bit forward, at least buy me a drink first!
Once she let me have my top back off I went to get dry and changed before we headed off for lunch. I did consider buying a bottle of the mud from the volcano, they’d filled old soda bottles with it to sell and it’s meant to have therapeutic properties. To be honest though, beer also has therapeutic properties and it’s much less messy and wouldn’t involve a toothless old lady rummaging around in your knickers… or maybe it would, depends how much you’d drunk. I’ll say one thing though, the tour is expensive for what it is. But El Totumo? Totally worth a visit.
Anyways, on with the coffee fuelled Colombian leg of the mission to Peru… What is it about everything Colombia makes being designed to keep you awake?
Stayed at: Amber Hostel Cartagena (2020 update: According to Google, this hostel is now permanently closed)