Perception and Planning
Realizing that the Caribbean coast of Colombia would probably be my last chance for some beach time for many, many months, I headed northeast, towards Venezuela.
I'm really surprised by the size of many of the cities here. Suburbs seem to stretch for miles and miles. Even towns that I would expect to be only average in size have a tendency to catch me off guard.
I arrived in the coastal city of Santa Marta at sunset. The bus terminal was several kilometers outside of town—an inconvenient place for Colombian cities to put such things; the terminal in Cartagena took over an hour to reach by minibus alone. Again, I was surprised at the city's size, and mixture of "contemporary modernization" and "rural developing." If political correctness wasn't an issue, is this what you'd call 2nd world? Cities feel like Mexico in many ways—westernized concrete.
The most memorable thing about my single night in Santa Marta was certainly not the lackluster hostel I stayed at (take a pass on El Miramar Hotel), but the offshore drilling platform less than a kilometer from the city shoreline. What an odd sight to see—this massive city of steel towering above the ocean, so close to land.
At the suggestion of other travelers in Cartagena and Santa Marta, I headed north to the nearby fishing town of Taganga, where I'll probably stay for a few days (or until my skin can take no more sun).
As I was unpacking my backpack in Taganga, digging for my swimsuit, I discovered that a mouse had recently enjoyed dining on the small bag of rice I've been carrying with me. I gave my pack a quick glance over; thankfully, it doesn't look like he chewed through it (only the plastic bags the rice was wrapped up in). He left me a little poo-present as a thank you…
I think I've got an general idea of the path I'd like to take through Colombia. I don't particularly feel like forking over a wad of cash to extend my visa (at the moment), so I'll be moving with a slightly quick step for the remainder of the month.
I find it's rather expensive to bus around this country. In Central America I could expect to typically pay US$1 or less for each hour in the bus; in Colombia it seems be to about US$3—expensive when you consider rides between major cities are usually 10–20 hours.
Guidebooks warn against taking buses at night on most roads. It would seem that guerrillas (not the furry, banana eating variety) enjoy conducting armed assault raids with some frequency—relieving passengers of their belongings at road blocks. The hostage taking of tourists isn't said to be as common as that of executives and wealthy foreigners, who bring in a higher ransom amount (US$1 million or more).
I plan on taking some night buses, as a 10-hour bus departing late enough in the evening will save me the cost of a room for the night. I honestly don't expend much energy worrying about what could happen.
I seem to be a bit of an oddity in Colombia. I tell folks I'm from the United States, and get surprised responses. Four out of five travelers seem to be from Israel or England—many concluding their travels in this country. A wealth of knowledge and experiences, a good number of these backpackers have been in South America for upwards of a year.
I ask other travelers if Colombia has the same stigma in their country as it does in the United States—it does. But we are here; exploring a worn path, realizing that to stray too far from it could lead to serious danger.
Danger can be sexy though, but since I really don't feel like trekking though the jungle in beach sandals at this particular moment, I sit and listen to stories from those with the desire to push the line.