Monday, February 04, 2019

Palomino to Santa Marta

Garmin Info and Maps

Sweet bohemian Palomino

Palomino was another different experience. This is a town that caters to backpackers and is the first international tourist town I've been to since leaving Bogotá. Everywhere I've been, so far, has only been Spanish speaking. From the moment I turned down the main road I heard many different languages. It seems that every town I stay in is very different from the others. This has been a delightful part of traveling in Colombia. Some towns are more beautiful or poorer or more dusty and busy or more touristic but every town has it's charm and there is always something that the town's people are very proud of. This is especially true of the music and food. Colombians are incredibly proud of their country, everywhere, and it is fun to ask people about the different regions.  In this region, the indigenous peoples have played a big role in the history. There is lots of natural beauty being on the coast as well as the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains. Colombia has more birds than any other country in the world and I saw many with lots of bright colors. Of course, there is incredible natural beauty in all areas of Colombia. I think this country offers more diverse natural beauty than any other country I have visited including New Zealand. Today I would be riding to stay in a hostel close to Tayrona Natural Park. This park is huge and a very popular place to visit. Everyone says it is a not-to-be-missed park. 

I left little bohemian Palomino after a 3 night stay at the comfortable and affordable
Bakery owner where I had breakfast
Villa Delia on the beach. I was lucky when a big group of cyclists had a room cancelation allowing me to staying another night. This was perfect. I was really enjoying the relaxed ambiance and wasn't quite ready to leave. Staying one more day was just what I needed. Palomino caters to international tourists but mostly backpackers. Many of the hostels offer camping and even glamping with thatch covered huts for rent. This was the 1st time on my trip that I saw people staying in tents. There were some nice cafe's offering organic foods with wonderful coffee. One thing I've been amazed by is how often I'm offered Nescafe in a country that is so famous for coffee. I really like coffee and appreciate a good strong cup. I think it's an American thing to drink a few cups and I often order 3 cups with breakfast. I found a lovely bakery that had good coffee and good wifi. They also prepared my usual scrambled eggs with onions, cheese and avocado. Fueled up, I was ready to push on down the road.

The roads in Palomino are a potholed mess. There are no paved roads. I can't imagine what it would be like here in the rainy season. Even without rain many of the potholes are full of water. As cars and trucks drive through town they are splashing water on everyone walking.  The motorcycles drive all over the road to avoid the rough spots. I did too. Where ever I go, Myrtle is the star. As I navigated my way around the potholes cameras came out of everyone's pocket. I bet Myrtle is in over 10,000 pictures since leaving Bogotá. If there was a way, it would be fun to ask people to post their photos from all over Colombia.

I love all the animal signs

Today, people clapped with enjoyment seeing the trike as I left town. Soon I was on the main road and back on asphalt. I really like asphalt. I also had a tailwind with incredible views of the Caribbean coast to my right. I took out my Mavic Air to do some active track where the drone will follow me as I ride. This feature is fun but also quite frustrating. It only follows me from behind and likes to be at quite a distance. Sometimes I wish I could do more intimate shots. The feature also only works for a short time and then loses me. I don't need much footage for my videos which is fine but sometimes I'm riding for a while before I realize the drone has stopped following me and is quite a ways back. I had to stop and fast forward the drone a couple of times and try again. This drone also uses wifi to connect the remote control with the drone. There is always interference where the image can't be transmitted to the screen or the controller actually loses connection. The return to home feature, where you press a button and the drone returns to the starting point or where the remote is located, is very important in these cases. I hope these features will be improved in the next models DJI releases.

Sierra Nevada de Santa Maria in the distance

Families enjoying a river
Youtube video of my ride from Palomino to Tayrona

Drone view of the coastal road
The views were spectacular today and I got some wonderful pictures. The riding was delightful with gentle rollers where I would ride over a hill with a fabulous view and then down into a small town. I didn't have far to go today and I arrived at my destination quicker than expected. In fact, I had picked out a hostel and arrived so early I almost passed it. This area has lots of hostels and hotels for people visiting Tayrona Natural Park. This park is very popular. It is the most visited park and one of the biggest in Colombia. I picked out a hostel that looked very interesting and had great reviews on Google. The rooms were separate tree houses built into a hillside and sitting high on stilts. They are open air with only a mosquito net around the bed for protection from the elements. My room had a fabulous view of the Piedras River out to the ocean as well as the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains. These mountains rise to 18,000 ft and may be the tallest mountains on any coast. The hostel included breakfast in the $40/night rate.  It is owned by a brother and sister who are Colombian but grew up in Toronto. I suspect their family fled to Canada during the wars with the FARC. Their hostel has only been open a year and it is doing very well. They are both very sweet people and I wish them all the best. Unfortunately, they only had a vacancy for one night but, very generously, made many calls on my behalf to other hotels to help me get booked in some where that I would be comfortable. 

River and beach from a bridge

Banana plantation

Hostel Journey
My treehouse room was comfortable with a full bathroom, big sitting chair, hammock and plush queen size bed. Sleeping in an open air tree house sounds quite romantic but, in fact, I didn't really sleep very well. The wind was strong in the night and kept me awake. It was free from city noise but the natural noises were surprisingly loud. I could hear insects, monkeys and tons of birds in the morning. I loved hearing all the different sounds but it also made sleeping in the morning impossible. Sleepy eyed, I walked down the precarious and very steep path to the main room for breakfast. Today, I would go to Tayrona Natural park for a visit. Colombians rave about the beauty of this park. The park is closing for a month, as it does every year, for maintenance, cleaning and to let the local Arhuaco tribes people do important ceremonies in peace without the crowds. The park closes tomorrow so I was cutting my visit very close. A collectivo picked me up outside the hostel and drove the 1.5 kms to the park entrance. The line to get a ticket was very long and I had to wait quite awhile. Apparently, I wasn't the only person wanting to visit before the park closure.

My room high above

Open air room

Looking out at the ocean from my room

The entrance fee is hefty at 66,000 pesos for foreigners, ($22), but 20,000 ($7) for Colombians which I still think is a lot. This park is mostly known for hiking. There are hiking paths of various difficulty to a few secluded beaches. There are also places for people to camp.  I've heard you can reserve small cabins and hammocks. A few hearty backpackers at the hostel returned from a night sleeping in a hammock and said it was very uncomfortable but seemed happy to have had the experience. 

Tayrona park

Once I had my entrance ticket I had to pay more to take a collectivo into the park to the official entrance. I hadn't been anywhere or seen anything but had already spent $23 to go on a day hike. Hhhhmmm.... I was beginning to think this was going to be one of those experiences everyone does simply because it's something everyone does. We had to wait until the collectivo was full and then drove for 10 minutes. At the entrance there is a short hike to a mirador above a beach. There was an large egg-shaped marker with 9 holes that I didn't understand the significance of but think it is something from a long ago tribal ceremony. The view from the mirador de las estrellas was lovely and the lighting was fantastic. The water looked extra blue today.

Below the mirador of the stars.

A lot of nature

hotel bird
The park doesn't do a good job explaining what there is to see. In fact, there was only one sign for a path. It said the hike to a beach would be 50 minutes and was a low level of difficulty. That sounded good to me. I still have an injury in my left thigh that makes my leg tire out quicker when I hike. Luckily, it doesn't affect me when I'm riding.  The path was sometimes dirt and sometimes had wood planks to walk on. Occasionally, there were bigger rocks to scramble around.  The path was crowded with people, mostly families. Many were carrying coolers with food, cases of beer and playing music very loudly as they walked. I was getting the feeling that the beach I was headed to was probably a party place. I was hoping to see animals and birds but everyone was so noisy any animals, for sure, were scared away. The walk was completely in a jungle. After about a hour, I asked someone who was returning how much farther and they said I was about halfway to the beach. I asked if there were a lot of people - oh yes! Was there music? Oh, yes! She showed me photos. The beach is beautiful but there was a lot of people with a lot of children. Hhhhmmmm.... Did I really want to walk for 2 hours to go to a party beach? And then, of course, I would have to walk back. My idea for coming to this park was to hike along a nice quiet trail and enjoy nature's beauty. It seemed a lot of other people had other ideas. I was also worried that hiking for 4 hours would be too much for my thigh injury. I decided not to continue and turned around.  I love Colombian music but sometimes you want peace and quiet. On my trike ride, I am seeing amazing beaches so it's not like I'm missing out on seeing the undisturbed coast.  So I walked back and found a collectivo to take me to the entrance where I took another collectivo back to the funky cool Journey Hostel.  I really found this experience to be a bit of a bust and an expensive one at that.

Myrtle was waiting for me and I got loaded up to ride 4 kms farther down the road to the
Juan Valdez is a famous image in Colombia
beautiful Hostal Monte Verde. The rooms were lovely cabanas around a pool. I booked in for 2 nights. This hostel was very relaxed. They had a wonderful restaurant where I could order custom delicious meals of large salads with lots of fresh veggies, avocado and fish or meat. I loved it. The next day I was running low on cash and took a bus 40 minutes into Santa Marta. I stopped at the big shopping mall, Buenavista, to get some things at an Exitó market and have a cup of coffee at Juan Valdez. Juan Valdez is like the Starbucks of Colombia except the coffee is better. I remember Juan Valdez was a spokes person for, I think, Maxwell House or maybe Folgers commercials when I was a kid. The image was exactly the same with the mastachioed man wearing a sombrero, a sarape with his burro loaded with coffee beans freshly picked from the fields. Seeing this image made me smile thinking back to a simpler time when coffee came in cans that had plastic lids.  The actual actor who played Juan Valdez died recently and this was big news in Colombia. 

Another hotel bird


Santa Marta life

Riding on a pedestrian street into Santa Marta

The next day I got Myrtle loaded up for the short trip to Santa Marta. Santa Marta would be the biggest city I've been in since leaving Bogotá. There are many places and beaches to visit in and around the city. I also wanted to take care of some things that require a bigger city like having some routine blood work done to check my thyroid levels.  It has been awhile since I've had decent wifi and I was quite behind uploading photos for online backup. I also needed to get this journal updated as well as put together a few videos for my Youtube channel. Santa Marta is supposed to be a lovely town and really the one end of the gringo trail in Colombia. I expect to meet a lot of travelers which will be a nice change.

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