Tayrona, Backpacking South America
Eight Months On the Road
By David Rice
I could still see the clouds hugging the Kuna Islands of San Blas as we entered the open ocean and I was relieved to see a glassy surface off into infinity with no storm clouds in sight. With slack wind and flat seas, however, we were forced to use the motor and the heat became oppressive. On the Afternoon of our fifth day on the boat, the skyline of Cartegena came into view, a beautiful sight indeed until we got close.
We headed for the channel into the harbor but darkness came and we ran aground on a sandbar offshore. We sat there pinioned on the edge of the channel while the heat became unbearable and then the captain, in desperation, sent two of us ashore to lighten the load while he stayed to free the boat. We rowed in by the lights of the city in the inflatable.
No customs inspectors met us in this one-time haven for smugglers and it wasn'’t until the second day ashore that I went to customs for my passport stamp and official welcome to Cartegena de Indias.
I spent a day in the old walled town where a fort once defended the city from pirates. Balconies overhang the narrow pedestrian streets with many sidewalk cafés and many tourists. The heat and humidity, worse than what I had fled in Missouri, was oppressive in the city but I booked a room for two nights. I had seen the city many times before but always loved the history and romance, the architecture, and the friendly people.
I was now in South America, my goal, and I could slow down. Although my true goal was Brazil, I first wanted to cross Venezuela and go to Tobago to see the home of the steel drums
For two days I enjoyed the great street food in Cartegena, chicken, sausage, great bread and lemonade, cold and refreshing fruit drinks. For lunch or dinner I would find a stand near a shady spot and dine.
For a splurge one of the mornings I went to the Charlestown Cartegena were a sumptuous breakfast would cost $20. Expensive, yes, but a nice treat where they have and endless cup of coffee, lots of fruit, and the morning paper in many languages including USA today and The Wall Street Journal. The newsstand price for those two papers in expensive Cartegena would nearly cover my breakfast so with the bottomless cup of coffee and several papers to read, I considered the price of breakfast at the Charlestown Cartegena a bargain.
From Cartegena I headed to Santa Marta Colombia Parque National Tayrona, a huge Jungle area of 15000 hectares that borders the coast of the Caribbean. I left the bus and walked to the entrance of the park, signing in with the guard, and then walking three quarters of a day to the beach where you rent a hammock and sling it between trees by the shore. The beach seemed endless with palm trees leaning out over the water. I stayed there three days. The waters are exquisite but the currents are fierce and nobody swims there. The Tayronian beach is named after the pre-Columbian Indians who built a city further east.
I met two young men and a woman from Medellin. The trio didn't’t want me to be by myself there for my safety so they invited me to string my hammock near theirs. I strung the hammock between the palms and we sat by the fire talking. The wind came up a little and the men warned me that the coconuts might fall if the wind came up too much. I slept, fitfully as the wind rose and suddenly a crashing noise and the feeling of something hitting me woke me. The wind had ripped a palm frond from the tree and it was now draped across my hammock. Sleep would elude me the rest of the night but the magic of the sunrise made it all worthwhile.
There I spent three days hiking in the jungle looking at birds and the howler monkeys, beach combing and visiting with people on the beach. Each night the trio and I joined by other backpackers had a fire on the beach and sat around talking and drinking a little rum mixed with sweet coconut milk.
Such freedom seems elusive in the modern world so I cherished it. Soon I would nearly loose my freedom to the Venezuelan police.
Tayrona,South America Backpacking
Eight Months On the Road
By David Rice