Monday, 10 February 2014


We arrived in the beautiful city of Cartagena in the morning of the 10th January.

After checking into our hostel we headed straight for the beach! Feeling a little beach deprived we were determined to make up for it over the next few weeks! 10 minutes in, chilling on the sand, 2 Caribbean ladies made a bee line for us and before we knew it (after saying ‘no gracias’ half heartedly) we were both on our backs, legs in the air being massaged rather vigorously!! We ended up having ‘full body massages’ whilst talking a bit of Spanglish to them. Typically the price wasn’t discussed before hand (school boy error on our part) and they ended up wanting a small fortune! We got the price down considerably but still ended up paying far more than we envisaged!

We had a few beach days here. The water was beautifully warm and clear but unfortunately the beaches were saturated with vendors selling drinks, souvenirs, beach inflatables etc and it sometimes got to the point where you were saying ‘no gracias’ every 30 seconds… Oh well – it was still lovely to absorb the sun and not do a lot! We had fun, people (and child) watching …

We discovered Plaza Trinidad. A plaza full of life in the evenings– circus performers and break dancers entertaining the crowds in the square in front of the church with street food and restaurants surrounding it.

One night there, we shared an awesome pizza and got chatting to 2 couples on other tables.  One of the couples were older and ended up buying us all a beer, saying we made them miss their kids! Made us miss our parents!!

Another night there we had the street food – seriously big sizes!!

The first time we experienced the old town was by night. Lucky for us, the town was a bit delayed in taking their Christmas lights down. The entrance was magical.

Once through the archway, there were horse and carts pulling up, lots of vendors and lots of people.

Here, we went out for a traditional Colombian meal with one of our roommates; Christian, a dutch guy and his American friend Cara. The restaurant was so traditional that the waitresses were dressed as slaves(!) all in white. This was rather unsettling and made us feel quite uncomfortable, as well as hilariously funny and bizarre!!

The following day we went back to see the old town in the day. It was absolutely stunning and we enjoyed getting lost just wandering through the streets. The colours were so vibrant.

Another day we did something very different and went to a mud volcano.

We didn’t just visit but we went INTO it! We got changed in a hut at the base of it and then climbed the steps feeling rather exposed in our swim suits, unsure as to what we had committed ourselves to! At the top, there was a bit of a queue which gave us time to peer over the edge into the ‘crater’ of mud. It was quite a sight that greeted us; lots of people reeling around really close together, screaming, all completely engulfed in the mud. It was like we were looking down on savage aliens…we were to join them!! Kyle first…I watched as he carefully made his descent down the ladder, so clean…until he reached the mud…I couldn’t watch anymore as I was now being chivvied on to go down…

When I got to the mud, suddenly there were men’s hands on me – and they weren’t Kyle’s! I was being eased into the mud and taken to ‘the massage station’. This was where I found Kyle again, already mid massage.

Twice in one week we found ourselves in this situation; Colombians massaging us against our will!! Again,  we went with it.  After our 2 minute rub, we were then pushed away into all the other mud aliens.

It was the strangest sensation!! We were completely weightless, unable to control our movements in the thick mud! The best way I can describe it is like warm acrylic paint – lots of it.
Once we had had enough, we had to very carefully climb the stairs to get out – everything was very slippery!

After being wiped down by more men – ah! 

– we had to go down and walk to the river, where some ‘local women’ awaited to wash us!! We waded out a way and they sat us down. What came next was another unique experience.  It was like we had regressed to babies and were being washed thoroughly by our mothers!! We could hardly breathe as they kept pouring water over our heads – no warning! After the head was clean they moved down… Again, with no warning – off went my bikini top! I had to hunch down in the murky river to stay covered! Then lower… off went the bottoms! Sweet Jesus! At the same time, Kyle was having an equally invasive time; with one quick swoop his shorts were floating in front of him! Although the whole ordeal was quite bizarre we enjoyed every moment!

That evening we went to the local dance studio for a Salsa class. It was great to learn some moves and was quite an unexpected cardio work out! In true Colombian style the class finished with a complimentary beer outside in the courtyard with the teacher. Here, we met a dancer called Daner in the resident Contemporary company; 'Periferia' and got chatting about different dance styles and the body in general which was really interesting and refreshing. 

We subsequently went to sit in on a company rehearsal the next day and took a few snaps. It was lovely to have a taste of the dance world again.

After 4 nights we left Cartagena to go East to explore more of the Caribbean coast. We took a 4/5 hour bus to Taganga. Lonely Planet describes it as ‘a small fishing village that doesn’t quite know what has hit it’. Completely true. The hippies have taken this little place over; parties every night on the street. It is quite a poor town and the roads aren’t really roads. It’s a little grimy and we heard along the way that it can be a bit dangerous at times.

It is here that is a popular destination for diving courses, there are many dive centres at very competitive prices, some of the cheapest in Central and South America. We found ourselves enquiring in a few dive companies as soon as we got there and before we knew it, we had opted to do our Open Water NAUI scuba diving course, leaving the next morning. NAUI is exactly the same as the famous PADI (being you come out with the same level of qualification) but with a few differences, more contact time with your instructor rather than watching a video, more mandatory safety techniques and the organisation is not for profit. This was a 3 day course where we were to learn all about the equipment, the physics and physiology of diving, emergency procedures and of course the actual practical element of diving (!) – down to a maximum of 18 metres.
With the company we chose (Nautilus) the course included free accommodation in a remote cabana a little bit further round the coastline within Tayrona National Park. It was very basic; sleeping in hammocks, no running water or electricity. It was a welcomed escape from reality, although we are sure that sounds crazy to be saying that when we are indeed escaping from actual reality whilst travelling away from home for 8 months. Anyway you know what we mean, so our 3 days were really all about throwing ourselves in to the deep end (literally); learning this new skill in an absolutely stunning and isolated setting.

Our instructor was called Mateo, a 26 year old Colombian who has had a lot of experience with diving. He trained in scuba diving with the Colombian Navy and as well as being an instructor, he works as a commercial (maintenance & construction) diver on oil rigs. It was just us two in the group which was great – private tuition!

Our first lesson began on the little beach just down from the cabana, learning about how the equipment works; how to build it up and break it down. Then into the sea in our wetsuits and ‘booties’ to put things into practice. After getting used to the breathing we went down to 5 metres to practice some skills.

One skill which took a bit of getting used to was taking your mask off your face, put it back on (filled with water) and then breath out through your nose whilst putting pressure on the top of the mask allowing the water to escape with the bubbles from the bottom of the mask. This was surprisingly hard because somehow when you remove your mask you panic – even though you are breathing through your mouth, having your eyes and nose exposed in the water feels scary.

I had to overcome some fears. In the beginning I found myself trying to absorb every single word Mateo was saying to us because I didn’t want to do anything wrong and put myself in any difficult situations. For me it felt a little overwhelming to start and just the act of breathing under water was foreign. Kyle being the water baby he is got used to these various techniques a little easier… or less panicky! We had many dives over the 3 days and slowly but surely we grew in confidence until we were diving down to 20 metres quite happily!


On the first afternoon after lunch we had some free time and heard about this stunning bay on the other side of the mountain. We took a small hike over the hill and down to the beautiful Playa Braha.

The long strip was absolutely deserted and there were some really impressive waves crashing before us.


We chilled, played and studied our NAUI book.

A little guy we met on the walk
Studying back at the cabana
Theory lesson
Some of our diving pictures from the 3 days:

Mateo with an eel, (dead thankfully!)


On the third day after having a busy morning of 3 dives before midday it was back to Taganga to take our exam, gulp! I needn’t have been worried and Kyle was right to be reminding me to ‘chill out about the test’ for the last few days leading up to it. It was unlike any ‘exam’ I’ve ever taken before. We could talk to each other and ask questions to Mateo. We found the multiple test questions fairly challenging and not as straight forward as everyone had kept telling us. Anyway – we both passed with 90% (obviously with nearly exactly the same answers marked) so we were very happy! We were officially qualified open water scuba divers.

We took Mateo out after for a beer with a friend who also did the course at the same time (but in Spanish) to say thanks and celebrate. Here Mateo told us a funny story about how he once fell asleep under water (5 meters) whilst doing the ‘safety stop’ for 3 minutes but woke up after 5 minutes to find his students had already surfaced. That shows just how comfortable professional scuba divers feel breathing under water!! 

That night we partied; watching the street musicians get the crowd dancing, then reggae on the beach and finally ended up being led to an awesome Salsa club by some nice people we met throughout the night. It was great to sit and watch how great everyone looked salsa’ing! Later in the evening after we had a little fling on the dance floor a few guys brought some fire toys out. Typically Kyles eyes perked up, so he waits for the right time then goes to ask if he can join. No burns this time so all good.

The next day we took a bus further up the coast by 2 hours to Palomino. We got dropped off on the main road and then walked down a dirt track for 15/20 minutes heading for the beach. Once we got there, that was it - we didn’t leave it for the next 4 days! It was a really white sandy long beach, stretching as far as the eye could see.

Our hostel walked out right onto the sand. When we checked in at reception, I automatically asked;
- ‘What’s the wifi code?’
‘We don’t have wifi’
- ‘Oh’
More days of being cut off from the internet. This was very good for us we decided!

Again, we slept in hammocks in a little hut with mozzie nets over each one.

As soon as we checked in, we got changed for the beach to enjoy the last few hours of the afternoon. Kyle was keen to ride the big waves that this area was famous for so he hired a boogie board for the last hour of daylight. There were some series of red flags dotted up areas of the coast line. Earlier I mentioned to Kyle that red was the international colour for danger was it not? So perhaps we should be careful around there? ‘Don’t know…’ he said.
Forgetting/ignoring this he entered into the rough sea by the red flags… This photo is hard for us to look at now…

Needless to say within about 10 minutes he got himself into some serious trouble. He was getting swept out to sea and the waves ended up breaking 5 – 10 – 15 metres in front of him. All the time the sea pulling him back. Before my eyes I was losing Kyle…my heart was in my mouth. He was kicking, kicking, kicking and paddling with one arm whilst holding onto the board with his other but he didn’t appear to be moving. At this point the life guard finally went in (after various people on the beach shouting at him to do so) and started to swim out to save him.

The trouble was that the waves were so big that he wasn’t able to see Kyle and he was swimming out on an angle away from him. Luckily a massive wave broke just behind and Kyle managed to catch it and pretty much ride it all the way in. The whole beach erupted and clapped; I looked around and realised that all eyes had been out to sea on him– I had been so absorbed I hadn’t realised.
He fell onto the sand, very pink, gasping for breath and tingling all over his body – from a mixture of adrenaline and probably shock. The whole ordeal lasted about 10/15 minutes which felt like an age.
We found out later when talking to the surf hire girl that there aren’t any rescue boats out here and many people die. Shit.

The experience really shook him up and gave him a greater respect for the sheer power of the sea and mother nature. Hard way to learn a lesson.

Kyle also has a pretty different version of the events from his perspective but it’s probably best you ask him in person if interested ... a little intense is an understatement.

This episode did make him famous in Palomino; for the rest of our stay here we got ‘oh my god you’re the guy that nearly died…’

The rest of our days were spent, reading, chilling, sunbathing. 

A friend Hannah made in the sea

What a pretty picture

The cutest puppies that slept in our hut
Kyle wasn’t completely put off from the sea and he hired a surf board the next day for an hour but this time, strictly stayed in the safe zones.

We also walked 20 minutes or so down the beach to where a river empties out into the sea. For a change we didm’t have our camera so we just took mental pictures, these are just for us. It was so beautiful and picturesque, watching the jungle lead to the ocean via the clear, fresh water… swim time!

Our hostel

The majority of our evenings were spent at a nearby hostel called ‘Dreamers’. Great food, happy hours and lots of socialising and drinking with nice people, one of which we met all the way back at our first hostel in Peru in September and now works behind the bar here. Score! Typically this meant that out of the 4 nights that we paid for accommodation Kyle only made it back to the hammocks twice. One night he made it only as far as the communal hostel sofa, the other slept half on/half off a big wicker chair right on the beach. Webbers you would be proud...!

Oh dear...
 Luckily our days were filled with pure chill time!

Our next stop was on the way back down the coast to Tayrona National Park. We didn’t think too carefully about this part and didn’t really consider that we would be hiking in this place. Whoops we only had flip flops for shoes!

We walked through scenery that reminded us of Indiana Jones or Jurassic Park.  We took a 2hr(ish) walk exploring dense jungle and walking out onto stunning beaches. There were these massive boulders for rocks dotted all around the area that must have been there for thousands of years.

We arrived in Cabo San Juan but unfortunately we were a bit late for the high demand accommodation. After waiting in a queue for a good hour we managed to bag a tent, however there was no mattress and we had hardly any clothes. What we experienced that night was the most uncomfortable night’s sleep we have had on our travels so far. The ground was so hard it was like tarmac. We made sure we got a mattress the next night – that was most definitely worth the extra £3.33... a sarong and a quick dry thin towel is NOT sufficient padding! 

Suppose it wasn't all bad...
The next day we rested our sore bodies at Playa Piscina. A gorgeous beach, protected by a big coral barrier surrounding it, making the water so calm – like a big swimming pool.

Most of the beaches in Tayrona aren’t safe to swim in because of the infamous current. We kept seeing signs ‘Many tourists have died; don’t add to the statistic.’ We will try!

That afternoon and the whole of the next day we stayed around the stunning San Juan. The most beautiful beach of our trip so far.


Kyle's night shots:

We took a boat from here back to Taganga around 4pm. 

 It was a great way of seeing the coastline of the national park. 

 It was quite a scary ride; very choppy open water. We got soaked – even the drivers. 


It was cool to also boat past and see the areas we did our diving and the cabana we stayed in.

After one night in Santa Marta it was back to Cartagena for a few days to get ready for the sail to Panama, visiting the San Blas Islands!

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