We were in a taxi to the Palomino collectivo from the Santa Marta mercado, and about to go to the island of Mucura after this. But something inside me screamed out something different. I have been really interested in the island of San Andres since I arrived in Colombia. It is known for being the sea of seven colours. The island is 32km around and absolutely beautiful. True paradise. Really...... So when the cabbie pulled over at the mercado, I blurted out,.....no! Wait! Cartagena ! Autobus ! He looked back with a half smile, happy to take me wherever I pleased, but all the while knowing I had a spontaneous sub-plan emerging. So that's how I stumbled upon the new love of my life.... Mr. San Andres. ;-) but we will get to that.
The bus from Santa Marta to Cartagena was more like a large van. I am unsure why they do this, maybe safety reasons. Regardless I rode up front with the driver like a champ, for,.....tourist reasons. Lol camera and journal in hand. Due to the split second decision , we had no pre planned hostal. So we did the extremely non recommended move of asking the cabbie. Aaaand of course he took us to his buddy's mid renovation hotel on the beach where he got a cut. He asked if we wanted the playa (beach) or the centro (downtown) . So I assume he had a cut wherever. But obviously this Pisces picked the beach. Cartagena is not cheap. So we decided to spend as little time as possible here. We stayed at Hotel Isla De Capri. The rooms were new and nice, but the rest was in complete construction mode. The room had huge windows facing the beach. No balcony. But the windows were so large that their windowsill became my perch. Perfect for gazing over the MASSIVE waves and hearing their roar. Cartagena has a very long surf and many barriers to calm the water force. So any Pacific swimming here would be risky at most times. We had no time anyway.
The hotel receptionist was acting quite odd. Refused to allow you to leave the hotel with your room key......ummmmmm huge red flag. He said you had to leave it at reception while you were out. So I am thinking,...." What the heck is the point of a key?!?! " It's all of my things, now in the security of a man, who is acting quite strange, who I am now supposed to trust ? Hah needless to say we didn't go out for food that night. And this happened after I already had some weird suspicions of his behaviour. Twice we walked in on him with my passport copy enlarged on his computer monitor in a copy and paste program. It resembled Microsoft Word and Paint in one. And upon approaching him quietly from behind, he X'd out the screen when I gave him the 'wtf are you doing' look. At this point I made a letter to the Canadian fraud agency for good measure. But he told me that is was for Colombian immigration purposes. There is not much info in this topic online. But it does exist. And it is new and was implemented only at the end of last year. This was our first encounter with this. The ENTIRE time in Colombia. And it was just funny how we never caught Ryan's passport on the screen once. And even when Ryan caught him with mine up again, he was writing information down on a piece of paper which he quickly hid when we spoke. If nothing's wrong, why hide it? Riiiiiight? Anyways. Hopefully he was just a strange character. Lol hopefully.
We caught a swift 1 1/2 hour flight from Cartagena to San Andres. What a PHENOMENAL decision that was. It is called the sea of seven colours and it is extremely evident why, when you fly into this island. I have flown into various Caribbean locations many times, and this site was shocking. Like mouth dropped open and eyes open wide. Obviously there was no camera available for this......oooobviouslyyyy. But my mental picture will remain. It's actually hard to get this image out of your head. It is now my happy place ;-) . We got right into a cab and stayed at Hostal El Viajero. It is quite reasonable considering the location. It is situated slightly uptown from the beach. But the walk is very close. You can see the turquoise sea colours from the balconies and top floor. It was very clean and the common kitchen area was convenient. Breakfast included helped to save a couple bucks too. So key waking up to a continental breakfast looking over the ocean. And surprisingly, no one really ever took the bar seats with the view! They all sat at the tables. Haha more for us. We were only able to spend 3 nights here due to lack of time. Had we known the relentlessness of this paradise's beauty we would have left Taganga long ago. ....sorry Taganga, but caaaahhhh moooooonnnn.
The first day we just enjoyed staring at everything around us. Soaking in the fact that we were actually here and trying to figure out what we did to deserve this . Oh yeah, it's called research lmao. The decision was just made a little too late. Therefore I will be saving up to return here with an entourage. It would be selfish to keep this hidden gem to myself. I have NEVER seen water with such a drastic colour change so often and abruptly. You can literally see the line at which it changes from bright aqua, to glowing turquoise, to deep royal blue, to blue-green. It's unbelievable. The white sand is is so soft, you could bury your feet for hours in pleasure. The afternoon we arrived we went to the beach in the evening. I looked behind me and saw something awesome. A man in 'The Mask' mask. I was like omg Jim Carrey! Lol so we had a brief photo op. he continued to take funny pictures all along the beach. So funny. All I could say was yessssss.
On our first full day we rented a Jeep golf cart so we could tour the island ourselves. The only way to go is to rent a vehicle. We stopped at many locations. This island has SO MUCH to offer. The downtown core is confusing and has an annoying amount of one way street traps. Essentially you want to be on top of getting to know your map. But unfortunately, the only way to know is by actually driving and making the same mistake multiple times. The following is what we accomplished in one day with a vehicle.
We began the day by visiting the Morgan people pirate museum. This was very cool. The antiques from the pirates are serious relics. Their tools were simple and innovative. They just simply made sense. Obviously my favourite part was the collection of old pirate weapons. There were many different types of muskets and daggers. Swords and hooks from hands. Canons and more. It was extremely hard not to grab them and play with them. We got to touch the coconut dagger though and take a picture. I had no idea Captain Morgan was a real man. Who pillaged and played on the Island of San Andres and Provedencia.
After this we went to a cliff diving spot. Straight into a volcanic rock enclosed swimming inlet with bright turquoise crystal clear water. It was extremely refreshing. The kids there didn't believe the height of our Canadian cliffs that we jump off of. From there we went straight to West View where there is an awesome waterside right into the ocean. There is diving and aqua helmets. Which look like astronaut helmets with oxygen lines attached so you can walk underwater. There is also a huge diving board off the side of the cliff. It felt VERY strange to be that high up on something bouncing and bending. Ya want to use the pop in the board so badly. But it was so high up I just jumped off of it like a cliff. I was scared of bursting into the air awkwardly and smacking onto the water too hard. If you just jump on it you will go much higher than the actual jump. West view also has a great bar and restaurant.
After this , we continued along the only road that surrounds the island to the natural blowhole. It's a hole in the rock , close in proximity to the ocean. When there is a large swell the water pours aggressively into whatever tunnel leads to this unique formation. If you time it right and stand over the hole you will have your socks blown off. My hair stood straight up like the Bride of Frankenstein !!! I almost lost my necklace and my sunglasses flew through the air. At high tide times of year it becomes a geyser shooting water high into the air. Very cool to see, and to feel it is a different story.
There are so many beaches along the way so leaving early in the morning to truly enjoy your time is wise. The beaches have lots of natural pools so you can just roll around in the sand in the heated shallow areas where the waves break into calm "natural kiddie pools" . I loved these. I felt the true taste of paradise having the freedom to stop at these whenever I wanted. There was lots of cliff action, so these relaxation breaks were a perfect contrast.
Once we had soaked up a little taste of paradise, we continued on to the Baptist church in La Loma. Iglesias Bautista Emmanuel, established in 1847. The view from the church is amazing. We literally climbed up into the rafters and the bell tower. It was a peaceful 20 minute chill sitting in the very top enjoying the beautiful view accompanied by the calming breeze. The church is located on the highest point in the middle of the island.
Shortly after this, we went to the Big Pond. This is not a very popular tourist attraction. We were only made aware of this because a man in the street flagged us down. He informed us of 2 places. The Big Rock and the Big Pond. He gave us a very informative tour through the mangroves and the forest. We picked some unripened mangoes off the trees to eat. And ended up at the Big Pond. Here he made alligator calls and we played with some pond turtles. He said the alligators were local pets. We attempted to go to the Big Rock but ran out of time for our Jeep golf cart rental return, so we had to go back. But 2 days after this, we actually rented a reliable vehicle. A Ranger cart with some real kick. Upon our first test drive, our first thought was ...." Why on earth didn't we rent this the first time!?". The rates are so reasonable , and it is SO MUCH FASTER! So we went back to all of the same amazing places again. But the Big Pond was the most unbelievable the second time. When we attempted to re enter, we were approached by a man on a motorcycle. He continued to show us his identification and tell us that there are many "pirate guides" who will make up guide t-shirts and take you to this location. He asked if our guide was inside the gate or outside. We said we didn't remember. ( he was outside) So upon the premise of only taking some pictures, he allowed us inside, making sure we knew there were people here pretending to be guides . We drove down the entryway and got approached by a man who tried to say we had a mandatory entry fee for the locals. We argued because the last time we came there was no fee. Just the "pirate guide" fee. The man who approached us rectified the situation saying we were just here for a picture. When we got to the pond a young boy came down from the amazingly fun looking Rasta farm. We had just discussed that we had forgotten something very important to wildlife sightings. Bread! He had a full bag. And it was much cheaper than anything these "fake guides" were charging. The farm was the boy's home. He has 6 alligators who came REALLY close!!! It was an unreal experience. When we had finished there, the previous man came down screaming and yelling losing his mind . Yelling " the boy!!! What did you give the boy?!?! " . I laughed and said "duuuuuude you need to relax . Don't yell at me. What is the problem here?" He continued to yell " ya gotta be seeeeeriouuuus mon!" Lmao I said "the boy who lives here provided us bread and a beer and he is the only one who can bring HIS OWN pets out, which you seem to be exploiting.So we paid him for his kindness and services." The man again screamed " NOOOO MOOONNNN ya gotta be seeeerious mon!!! Dat bwoy gon get what's coming to hiiimmmmmm!" I said "dude your out of control, i thought you were here for justice of the land. Now your demanding money and threatening a child. Here's your stupid 5 bucks. Now calm down. " ( keeping in mind the child had machete burn marks on his face ) The angry man went running up to the house where the kid lives as we left. And all I could say to myself was wow. Whose the Pirate now ???
In the middle of the island there is something called the Big Rock. It is a small pond situated on a huge jutting flat rock face. With nice moss on parts of it and vines hanging down. On the way we were slightly unsure of it's whereabouts. So we pulled over and asked a group of locals. We said " excuse me, do you know where we can find the Big Rock?" Two guys shook their heads. And a woman on a motorcycle growled " we ain't got no rock here mon." They didn't look happy. We drove away confused and then realized what she thought we were referring to and I had to burst out laughing. Within 10 minutes we found the location on our own.
As I mentioned before, on our third day we ended up renting a Ranger instead of the golf cart. And re-did everything. The Ranger is a dream compared to the golf cart. The golf cart just putt putted around and pissed off other drivers. Once we had the Ranger for 24 hours we were laughing. We drove all night and day just because it was beautiful and free and fun. We did not have much time left at this point so we made the best of it. Not to mention picked up a very nice hitchhiker just because we could. He was very happy for the ride. We were just happy period.
The second day we took a boat to Rose Cay and Johnny Cay. Rose Cay is directly beside Haines Cay. Haha Haines Cay! Can ya believe that mom? The boats for all 3 of these Cay's leave at 10am everyday. We rode with the company Casa de la Cultura. It seems like a zoo of a mess, but they will find you. Rose Cay is a natural aquarium with many little pools surrounded by the incredibly coloured waters that open your eyes wider with every gaze into their beckoning distance. The snorkelling is the main attraction here. But after the Galapagos, nothing will ever compare again. Not to mention the gear they give you is torture. If you like to snorkel, definitely get your own. 100%. The only way to be impressed again after the Galapagos is to continue diving. And that is exactly what I plan to do.
After this extremely crowded tourist attraction, we drove to Johnny Cay. Wow . What a site. It is a small island ran with a natty dreadlock theme. Needless to say I absolutely loved it. You can walk around the whole island and the water is so beautiful. The sand is perfect. And a huge manta ray came to say hello to me. No one else saw him and no one else cared. He knew I would care. He came to the right person. We swam together until I wasn't able to follow him any farther. There was a riptide barrier I was not allowed to pass. I appreciated the greeting more than he knew. We had to pay extra for a water taxi to return to San Andrés as late as we could. It wasn't cheap. But like I said before. Our last days in a continent that has captivated every ounce of my soul deserves all or nothing.
We returned to Cartagena and had some bad luck with the hostal we had hoped to stay at. So we decided to do something different for one of the last nights in Colombia. Splurge. We stayed at a place that reminded me of being in the architecturally artistic streets of Europe. There was a nice terrace and the room had large ceiling beams, with clay tiles and 2 double doors that opened to the breeze that swept over the terrace. Amazing! In Cartagena, we visited the San Felipé castle . It was very cool. Well fortified. I really liked the inner tunnels of the castle. They were perfectly eerie. I told Ryan he should've brought his Jason mask from New Years in Baños . And hid in the shadows and terrified tourists. Lmao in a perfect world I guess.
After Cartagena, we took our last bus to Medellin. The one city we really wanted to spend time in. It's really beautiful. And not only this, but it was refreshingly adapted to our North American culture. We took a day trip to Guatapé. It is a very unique place. Like no other we had seen yet. After 4 months on the open road living out of a backpack, we were still finding new sights that resembled nothing else we had seen yet. On our last 2 days in Medellin we were truly pushing the limits. The steps that are stitched up the side of this impressive rock/random mountain like protrusion were a total of 740 I believe. The 360 degree view is ,......is,....... ( I am trying not to say the words jaw dropping again, but I am finding it hard lol ) panoramic and has everything you could want in a view. Water, islands, mountains, blue, green, and tonnes of sky. We took really funky vehicles up and down. Miniature cars. A miniature drop top old bug. And a horse drawn style cart with wheels. One up and one down as to not miss our last bus out of Guatapé. The town of Guatapé is very pretty. It was like a big Salento. Extremely colourful. The houses and tiny stone streets were sculpted and painted individually. Making for an original piece of art with every corner you turned.
We were anxiously awaiting seeing our Medellin friends that we met in San Gil. Paola and Andrés. Paola took us out to a great bar. Music by request, and a tree'ed in yard with tonnes of different tree stumps as tables and chairs. What a refreshing idea it was. We ran into a group of English people. And remember that DJ set I said at the beginning was my favourite mix before my iPod got jacked?! Like one of my favourite drum ' n ' bass dj's ?! Well we partied with his producer and ex girlfriend on our last night in random Medellin!!!!! Haha yup. The odds of that are juuuust ridiculous. I was SO happy with our final night on the adventure of a lifetime. Thank you Paola for a truly memorable last hoorah.
Our last day in Medellin we had one more thing on the bucket list. And the fact that this even happened is still absolutely SICKER THAN SICK!!!! It is not a popular tourist destination. And the locals will not help you get there due to a large amount of controversy. I had to do some research and really push our cabbie. It was like a treasure hunt. But we made it. To Pablo Escobars grave. His family's plot is the most elaborate in the cemetery. We had a moment of silence for 'El Padrino'. His full name is Pablo Escobar Emilio Gaviria. I have goosebumps writing this. We poured one down for the most successful gangster of all time. And this to me is one of the coolest pictures we could have captured in our last hours before our series of 3 flights home. And I got a bonus surprise! Yay. There was another historically fascinating person buried here as well. The Black Widow! The mysterious woman who religiously attended Rudy Valentino's mausoleum annually. Whose real name is Griselda Blanco De Trujillo. I found it ironic that the infamous Black Widow's middle name is Blanco. Which means white. I had a few silent words for her as well before we headed back to the hotel to pack in absolute sadness.
But there are a few things I cannot have on the road and that is my mother, my family, my beautiful cat Angel, my homegirls, and my homies. And that is something I can not wait to return home to. These are things from home, that only home can give me. Nowhere else. As much as I will continue my adventures, I will always return home to the comfort, sights and smells of love and familiarity.