Lately when I am asked how I like living in Barranquilla (Colombia), my response varies. Some days…”It’s hard. The city is hot and the culture is frustrating. I don’t like most of the food, the buses are disorganized, Costeño is like hillbilly Spanish, and most people just stare at my blue eyes and blonde hair.”
Then there are days I respond with, “I love the music, especially Champeta and Vallenato. Colombia has delicious coconut street treats and fresh juices. The people are unique-looking and beautiful.” Unfortunately, these moments are few and far between.
Although I left the US with few expectations, Colombia, teaching and WorldTeach have not exactly been what I hoped for prior to leaving. Instructing English to approximately 600 3rd, 4th and 5th grade girls is not how I anticipated 2014, and I’ll admit I’ve had several days that my purpose feels futile. I find myself wondering what I am doing here, verdad. However, in all this frustration, intrigue and wonder, there is the option to do one of my favorite things: travel.
Semana Santa or Holy Week in Christianity, is the last week of Lent and the week before Easter, and bears Friday of Sorrows as well as Good Friday (ironically, happy-sad, like my life lately). I elected to spend the week in Santa Marta, a beautiful historic town on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Founded in 1525 by the Spanish conquistador Rodrigo de Bastidas, Santa Marta is the first Spanish settlement and the oldest surviving city in Colombia, as well as the second oldest city in South America.
Literary buffs may know Santa Marta from the Banana massacre (Masacre de las banners), a mass-killing of workers for the United Fruit Company that occurred in nearby Ciénaga on December 6, 1928. The treatment of workers was so bad that the US government threatened to invade with the Marine Corps if the Colombian government did not act to protect United Fruit’s interests.
Determined to have a decent Spring Break, I ventured to Masaya in El Centro Historico and enjoyed 5 wonderful days in a beautiful, multi-level hostel with colorful tile, original architecture and modern furniture. Here I met some incredible people, including Irene from Miami, Santa Marta arquitecto-musician Rolando Enrique Sanchez, and David at reception whose character and charm obviously keeps visitors feeling welcome during their stay at Masaya.
My second day in Santa Marta, I joined two French travelers, Nicolas and Julian, at Playa el Rodadero, a short bus ride from downtown, where we enjoyed a hot-sand beach with gentle waves, a moderate crowd and interesting vendors.
Intrigued by the mini-boat bar steered across the sand by Frankie and his first mate, Willington, I couldn’t resist a cuba libre served in a coconut, and remembered fondly living in the Caribbean with my dad, who loved this refreshing rum-cola-lime cocktail.
Another day I ventured out to Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, a hacienda built in the 17th century that once produced rum, honey and panela, and is now a museum and historical landmark, best known as the death place of Simón Bolívar (December 17, 1830).
This sprawling tourist site is loaded with giant roaming iguanas, plants indigenous to the region, gigantic old trees, as well as a beautiful main house, mill, bakery, distillery, and a spooky marble crypt for Bolívar (who now rests in Venezuela).
Although it seems odd to be placed outside of the city, the impressive but small Museum of Contemporary Art is also housed at Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino.
It was intriguing to view not only the amazing Warhol-inspired work but the motivation to bring attention to the prolific tragedy of this date by a Santa Marta native living in California. For a few minutes, I felt the elements of my life and Colombia running together like the ice and cream of a cholado on a typical steamy Barranquilla day.
Santa Marta is a fun town to explore and shop in, but the best treats are a short bus (or taxi) ride away. On day three, I joined two fellow travelers, Kameron and Marialejandra, on a journey to Minca, a small jungle town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. We hiked high up dirt roads, crossed skinny bamboo bridges, tripped over giant root trees and enjoyed several waterfalls in Minca, before returning to Santa Marta, dusty, watery and done with the day.
A few days, I just relaxed in the town of Santa Marta, walking its skinny streets and exploring the ancient buildings open to the public. There are street vendors selling everything from clothing and electronics to birds and dogs, and of course delicious coconut treats. The catédral is small but beautiful inside, featuring statues of saints and large sculptures depicting suffrage and dedication.
If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine — it’s lethal.
– Paulo Coelho (Brazilian lyricist and novelist, born 1947)
In an attempt to wrap up my break bohemian-style, I crossed a small mountain by bus and landed in the sleepy fishing village of Taganga, population 3000. I found a fantastic coffee place, Cafe Bonzai, where a large rooster flirted shamelessly with women on the street.
Spying me through the glass door, he would crow loudly, then turn to make sure I was watching as I worked in my collage sketchbook. That’s right, a rooster flirting with women in Colombia. I swear, I can’t make this stuff up.
After dinner of ceviche, patacones and rice I hitched a ride on a mototaxi to a low-grade hostel where I slept very little, listening to street dogs argue over the neighbor’s amplified Reggaeton. I worried about the front gate which was unlocked most of the night.
Early in the morning, I packed and left for the bus terminal in Santa Marta, stopping briefly to watch the Taganga fishing boats heading out in the morning light. As I stood on the beach, I thought about a quote I’d read and its sheer relevancy to life right now:
Adventure is just bad planning.
– Roald Amundsen (Norwegian Arctic & Antarctic explorer, 1872 – 1928)
It’s definitely time to start planning.