Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tagana, Santa Marta & Tayrona National Park

Currency Peso - $1.00US = $1930.000 Pesos

Shuttle Bus Cartagena to Taganga $38 mil pick up at hostel, drop off at hostel ($28.000 for regular bus but 15000.000 for a cab or $1,500.00 for a city bus that takes 60 minutes to get to the bus depot) I should mention I bought a ticket to Santa Marta but the night before I left changed my mind and went to Taganga, the driver did not charge me the extra. Shuttle fair should be $40.000 - about 3 hours

Hostel in Taganga $20.000 for a dorm

Bus Taganga to Santa Marta $2,000.000 - 15 minutes
Hostel in Santa Marta $15,000.000 for a dorm $22.000 for a private room
Storage charge to leave big backpack @ hostel for 1 night to go to park $2,000.00

Bus Santa Marta to Tayrona Park $4,000.000 (same for bus back) - 1 hour
Park Entrance fee $38.000
Shuttle bus up to the trails $2,000.000
Hammock Rental (depends were you stay $12.000 (Arrecffes) to $20.000 (El Cabo)

Taganga Colombia
In Taganga I stayed at Hostel Divanga, the town is really small so there really is no bad location. They have dorm rooms and a block up the street they have a hotel with private rooms and a swimming pool. Hostel stayers can use the pool, restaurant and bar at the hotel. Not often a place will let the riffraff mix with the real people. The hostel has a full kitchen a couple of computers and free WIFI.

I still had my cold that I caught in Cartagena and was not feeling all that great. I also managed to get too much sun on the boat over from Panama, enough that my tan was peeling. Strangely only in the places that I lathered on the sunscreen, really weird as I was not burnt. So what am I doing n a beach town you may ask.. Well it was either skip the area all together knowing I would not be back this way or go take a look. Due to the free Internet I was able to catch up on my blogs of which I had written none at that point.

When I first got to Taganga I thought what a cute little town, lots of poor folks but happy. The town itself is nice, the ocean is nice, the folks at the hostel are nice. The town is big with divers and there are a ton of diving schools. By day 2 I did not like the place much. Can't really describe why, I think mostly because people on the street all want something from you. An example, I walking along and a kid came up to me and asked me for money so he could eat, he must have been 9 or 10, I said no. 5 minutes later I see him laughing and playing with his friends riding a bike. On another occasion I went to the store and another kid about the same age asks me to by him ice cream, I didn't. He too leaves the store gets on his bike and off he goes. I don't think it is the parents, the people who live there seem to be a proud kind of folk (other than the town druggies only 4 obvious ones) I think if they knew their kids were begging for money from the tourist they would kick their asses. Once again tourism screws up a culture, these kids are going to grow up thinking all tourists are marks and expecting them to give them stuff.
I don't cook as my friends all know, I suck at it, everything I make gets burnt and it just does not taste good, so I eat at restaurants or street vendors. Things in Taganga are not cheap, a restaurant meal is $10.000 to $25.000, a juice is $2,500.000 (anywhere else it is $500.000-1,500.000). I over tip in restaurants, I used to be a server and I know it can be a shit job. I tried 3 different restaurants 3 times and got the same result. These are some of the laziest workers I have ever seen. I'm all for the laid back Caribbean vibe but these people are in a class of their own. Even if they have served you before and you left them a 30% tip they treat you like you are interrupting them and being an inconvenience by being there. If you want something else after you initial order (like another beer or a coffee) you can ask them for it but odds are not good that you will get it. At least they are equal opportunity bad servers, it doesn't matter if you are male or female still the same bad service. In other places I have had bad service where I have been with another woman or a few of us and they will serve tables with men at them first and ignore us so I guess at least it's not discrimination.

I was sitting at a restaurant on my 1st night there when who comes strolling down the street? People from the Panama/Columbia boat trip the American couple, weird had not seen them since leaving them at the docks in Cartagena.
There are many corner/grocery stores in town but everything is behind the counter so you have to ask for it and nothing has prices on it. I don't expect to pay the same price as the locals but wow, some guy wanted to charge me $2,000.000 for a water (usually they are $1300.00 - $1,500.000. I told him to keep it. So my advice is if you need groceries take the 5 minute bus ride over to Santa Marta where there are several real grocery stores and all of the items have prices on them and while you are there go to a restaurant where the server will actually serve you and at least pretend that they are happy you are in there spending your money.

On the upside like I said the people at the hostel were very nice and it is a pretty place and I was able to get a lot of work done, after 3 nights I was out of there. A lot of people I talked to were bored there, definitely go check it out but 2 nights would be more than enough unless you are diving or really want to spend time at the beach.

Santa Marta
The mini bus from Taganga took 10 minutes, I got off at the beach in Santa Marta, there are a lot of hostels in the area of Calle 10 so many options to choose from. I ended up at Casa Familiar which is listed in the Lonely Planet and I had heard some travelers say it was a good place to stay. The place is huge, 4 stories with dorm rooms and private rooms. There are a couple of terraces 1 with hammocks, a full kitchen and free WIFI (no computers available).

Santa Marta is a port town, it is a pretty busy place. There is a beach and lots of shops and markets, I really enjoyed wandering the streets, grabbing a juice and some fresh fruit at the market. It is noisy lots of horns honking music coming out of every shop and all of them playing a different song, the guys who stand in front of the shops with the microphones giving their spiels, the vendors yelling out what they are selling. I rather liked the hustle and bustle after the walking dead of Taganga.

Tayrona Park
I got to Tayrona park pretty early, left Santa Marta at 9ish and was at the park by 10ish. I planned on spending a day hiking and 1 night some more hiking the next day and back in Santa Marta in the afternoon. I put my big backpack in storage at the hostel and just took my small pack. The bus leaves Santa Marta from Carrera 11 & Calle 11 (the market), If you are coming up from the beach I recommend going through the market route rather than the street route. Lots of things to see and lots of good people watching. There is apparently a shuttle bus that goes from there for $5,000.000 but I lucked out and the regular bus was just getting ready to head out so I got on and it was $4,000.000. I had heard that everything is expensive in the park, rightly so there are no roads so everything has to get brought in by horses, donkeys and mules. So I brought along a big water, crackers and some cut up fruit figuring I could munch and then treat myself to a diner once I made it to where I was going to stay for the night.. Ahhh the best laid plans, I of course got off the bus and forgot the bag. The bus lets you off right across the road from the park so there is no way to get lost.

There is a line up to pay so it can take up to 1/2 an hour to get your ticket. They do have different pricing foreigners pay more by about a 1/3 than Colombians. I am okay with this system, they do the same thing in Costa Rica, the locals should be able to afford to go to their own parks. They do ask for a passport so make sure you take it along, not sure what they would do if you don't have one on you and they attach a wrist band. Once you pay you can either choose to walk the 3.5km up the road to where the trails start or you can take a mini bus or jeep up to the start of the trails, I chose the bus for $2,000.000. I have heard that you can get a boat out of Taganga that will drop you on the beach and you avoid paying the park entry fee but I'm not sure what the rangers would do if they caught you (no bracelet).

I wasn't really sure where I wanted to stay, I was kind of thinking El Cabo, it is more expensive than the other options but I thought I might take the hike up to El Pueblito a mini lost city in the park and at El Cabo I would be 60 minutes closer. You can also swim at the beach there, due to riptides you can't at the other 2 options and would have to do a 20 minute hike to swim. Decision made, El Cabo it is. I did run into a women leaving the trails as I was going in, she looked familiar, turns out we had stayed in the same hostel in Panama, ah the Lonely Planet backpacker trail we all end up in the same places eventually.

The trails are fairly easy there are some uphill sections but nothing that will kill you and they are pretty well marked along with encouraging signs that you are 15%, 45% and 90% to the next destination on the trail. If you choose you can rent a horse and go up at the entrance to the trail there are about 100 of them to choose from but they are expensive it will cost you $50.000 to get to the first camping/cabana/hammock area. There is lots of traffic on the trails, people animals always someone around. I purchased a water at the start of the trail and off I went (yes I walked), I got to Arrecifes (45 minutes) and stopped to purchase a beer and admire the beach (no swimming allowed). Next stop La Piscina (20 minutes) a nice little sheltered area where you can swim, I was pretty hot at that point and had worn my bathing suit under my closes so in for a swim I went, the water was awesome not too cold not too hot. Finished my beer and purchased a juice at the stand on the entrance to the trail to El Cabo another 15 minute walk.

El Cabo is not really all that pretty as an area, it is a campground with jungle around it but there are no real trees in the camping area, the beach is beautiful. There is a tent area and 2 covered areas that have hammocks, I was getting a hammock. I checked myself in, got my I belong wrist band and assigned my hammock (the one on the end closest in the picture).

Off for another swim and a wander around to see the sights, bathrooms, restaurant, beach, okay done. There is a little store there so another beer and a swing in the hammock with a book. Food at the restaurant was okay, fried chicken some rice, a few fries and lettuce with a tomato for $12.000.000, another beer and back to reading and chatting with other hammock dwellers. There is no electricity in the hammock area that I was in, the ones next door had lights so after chatting for a while off to bed.. I have never tried sleeping in a hammock for a night, I can say I won't do it again anytime soon, some people like it so to each their own. They are great for a 2 hour nap but for me they are no so comfy after that, and it started raining during the night so I was getting the odd rain drop hitting me, so very little sleep.

The next morning the sky was really dark, I didn't bring my rain gear with me and no way was I getting trapped and spending another night in that torture devise so I booked it at about 5 am and started heading out, forget the little lost city I just wanted to make it as far as I could back to the park entrance before rain hit. I got to Arrecifes and the sky started to clear up. I debated going back and heading for the little lost city but decided against it, I still had not had a coffee as none of the restaurants were open. It was an awesome walk, I was the only person in the jungle for awhile, I did make a dog friend who walked with me for most of the way, no idea why he just showed up and tagged along till I hit the next populated area. Waited until the restaurant in Affecifes opened and had my coffee, got a water and headed back out. Still not many folks on the trail, the jungle is beautiful and lots of noises, I did not see much wildlife, some lizards and butterflies but pretty. My only complaint is that due to the amount of horses, donkeys et al that use the trail it smells like shit for most of it, you figure over 100 of them a day a few times a day that is a lot of pooh, an added challenge to the hike, avoid the piles.

Since the weather cleared up I did some hiking on different trails on the way down, then I figured since I was at it why not hike out of the park? Because it's a trillion degrees on blacktop.. 1/2 way down I was thinking it wasn't a good idea but giving in and getting a ride would have been giving up so on I went although even the motor cycle taxi was looking pretty good and I am not a fan of the 2 wheel mode of transportation. No helmets required for the passengers and they will take as many people as you can fit on one.

I headed back to the hostel and treated myself to a private room for the night, next stop a 10 hour night bus and transfer for a 2 hour ride to San Gil Colombia the stupid human trick adventure capital of Colombia, what kind of trouble could I possibly get into I wonder?

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