My friend Miri and I had spend almost a month and a half in Santa Marta, working as volunteers and teaching little kids for the Mariposas Amarillas Foundation. Now we were starting our well deserved travels through the country in Cartagena. We took a public bus from Valledupar, where we had spent a few days, which took about 8 hours to finally get to the central bus station. We already booked our hostel in the old town of Santa Marta, in Calle Media Luna, where the majority of hostels are located. As it was already pretty late and dark outside, or maybe because we were too lazy to find a public transportation to get there, we took a taxi. We didn’t expect it too take us so long to get there so in the meantime we started getting a little worried, luckily we had arranged the price before. After almost 45 minutes we finally found our hostel Mamallena.
It was a nice hostel, with a big backyard and clean rooms. The highlight was probably the crazy little parrot they had. Those who dared to touch him or put their hands near him were rewarded with bleeding bite marks. He also was known for playing with credit cards or the clothes that people hung outside to dry.
We already spent a day in Cartagena last year while we were traveling from Chile to Panama, but couldn’t really do or see much, so we headed out to walk around the lovely old town. It is surrounded by an old stone wall, which protected the city in former times. The streets are mostly narrow and lined by beautiful, colorful old colonial buildings. People who like shopping will most likely satisfy their needs here, and food lovers will have a hard time deciding where to go first.
We decided to visit a museum, although we are not big fans of them in general. We figured some culture and education couldn’t do any harm. The one museum that caught our attention and would most likely not have only paintings to look at, was the torture and inquisition museum. It was quite expensive and we had high hopes for some interesting stories that would keep us up in the night. Unfortunately the museum is not very big, there wasn’t much to see or read about, so we wouldn’t recommend wasting your money on it.
After that rather disappointing experience we decided to just walk around the city some more and try some Colombian coffee. Although neither of us are coffee drinkers, we kind of got addicted to the Colombian coffee, which has a very light taste.
In the evening we headed to a bar on top of the old city wall, the Café del Mar. It was a very special location which apparently should account for the especially high prices for any type of drink. We didn’t want to have to starve for the rest of the trip so we headed back to the hostel after one drink.
We really loved the city, but for the next day we decided to do something else. The hostel offered two main attractions near Cartagena, a day at a beach or a tour to a mud volcano. Just reading mud volcano we were already highly intrigued, we had never heard of such a thing. We planned to go to San Andrés Island after Cartagena, so we knew we’d have a ton of beaches ahead of us. After consulting with Lonely Planet, which recommend it as a must do in Cartagena, and with David, who knew someone who already did it and called it a very interesting experience, we decided to go for it!
Our group of 20 people got picked up at the hostel that morning. During the bus ride our guide started to explain a little more about it. The scientists (I am convinced now that those scientists either get paid to say so or don’t know what they’re saying) discovered that a long time ago there was a volcano, which goes about 2km deep. Although it isn’t active anymore, and without any lava or magma inside, it surprisingly has a ton of mud in it. On the surface it rises up and forms a sort of crater, where you can climb inside. Of course according to them, the mud has a ton of health benefits. We had already paid about 30 dollars each, so we were surprised when we heard that we’d probably have to pay some more for extras. Once we were in the oh so healthy mud, we could get a relaxing massage by some young locals living in the village near the volcano. Somebody could take pictures of us and another service was available where some local women could wash us after in the nearby lagoon. We didn’t think a lot of it and planned to not use any of those kindly offered services. After we got there we would learn that it wouldn’t be that easy.
After an hour we reached our destination. Leaving the bus, we already started to doubt the volcano theory we had been told. That thing was maybe 10 meters high, looked like someone piled up a bunch of mud with shovels and fixed it with some wood. We decided to stay positive and were excited to see the actual mud. Before heading up we learned that nobody, except one local guy, was allowed to take our cameras up there. It looked like we would have to pay for one thing after all. Trying to save money, we talked to some other Germans and decided that only one girl would give her camera to him and then just send us the pictures later. This turned out to be a very stupid decision for various reasons: first they made us pay per person that was in the picture and not per camera, and we never saw that girl again as she stayed in a different hostel and we couldn’t find her there.
We headed up the “volcano” on a very steep and slippery wooden path and expected to sit in the mud on top of it with a nice view of the area. Those were very false hopes. Reaching the top we could only see a hole, where the mud was about 5 meters down. This didn’t look like the pictures at all. There was a very distinct and bad smell that greeted us and a bunch of young men were waiting down there. I started to wonder if we’d take turns because there were so many people and that hole was maybe 4×4 meters. But no, we would all go in at once, one after one. We were one of the first to head down a not very trustworthy looking ladder. All the walls were held up by more wood. This all made a very “natural” impression. Being in that mud was one of the strangest and most disgusting experiences I have ever had. It smelled so bad and there were some things swimming in it which couldn’t be recognized. As soon as we entered the hole those guy started rubbing us and putting the mud everywhere, hair and face not excluded. I got the feeling they were enjoying themselves a little too much while doing that. Luckily we know Spanish and managed to get a way from them quickly. It wasn’t possible to touch the ground, well supposedly it was 2000 meters below us, you couldn’t drown because of the consistency of the mud, but it wasn’t a very pleasant feeling.
After about 5 minutes I had enough of the healthy mud cleansing my skin, and we headed out of the hole. Most of the others were still in the pit and seemed to have a blast, so maybe the experience just was not for us. We walked down to the lagoon to wash the smelly mud off, quite a challenge as we soon learned. It was everywhere!! Some nice old ladies offered to wash us but after hearing from one person that the basically take your bikini off, we decided we could manage on our own. Luckily the tour company also had some showers in their little residence there. Before heading back the locals offered us some plastic bottles filled up with the mud, we were very tempted to buy a bunch…
After all, the experience was indeed very special and we will probably remember it til we are old (just old, not wrinkled because of the mud of course). Our next stop was San Andres Island, which we took a flight to from Cartagena. If you’re planning on flying in Colombia I would always recommend to check the two most popular airlines, Avianca and VivaColombia, LAN might also be an option in some cases.