Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Tayrona Report

We are home from the weekend camping trip to Tayrona. Ryan and Kathy have stayed on for one more day to hike up to Pueblito, the ruins an old city, and then go snorkelling or scuba diving on the way back to Cartagena.

We left early Saturday morning for our first independent trip out of Cartagena. The bus terminal takes half an hour to get to and we arrived just in time to catch the bus we planning to catch. However, it took ten minutes to find change for the taxi driver; but luckily, we didn’t miss our bus because it left 30 minutes later than we thought it did. Overall the bus was a pleasant surprise. Aside from being a bit scruffy around the edges, the bus had big and comfortable seats, left on time, and travelled without blaring music or video. The bathroom was the only drawback. Aside from being, well, basic, it was strategically placed at the front of the bus, sharing its special aroma with all the passengers. In the end, it deposited us right where we wanted to go, the park entrance, and right on time.

We stopped for lunch at a local restaurant at the park entrance and then headed for camp. We paid our park fee and hopped in a truck for a ride to the trailhead. We made the 45 minute hike in to the first campsite with a Colombian travel agent and his son and a Colombian hippie who made bracelets and necklaces that was going to meet his friends. The walk through lush rainforests was beautiful. We did, however spend lots of time watching the trail for horse poop - all the supplies to the beachfront camps are taken in by horse. Aysha seemed to enjoy the ride in the baby backpack, but on later hikes preferred to doze.

The first beach was Arricefes. When we arrived, the first accommodation we came to, the most expensive, offered eco-cabanas with solar powered lights and 24 hour service. It was run by some official tourist agency and was way more expensive than any of the others. I can see people looking for a bit more of a luxurious holiday enjoying these, but they were not for us. We stayed at its neighbor (closer to the beach) for $3 a night. We opted for hammocks over the tents
or the little rooms they had. Aysha did well in the hammock, taking turns sleeping on either Karla or me. Aysha's human mattress did not fare as well, and next time we may opt for one of the slightly sweaty smelling tents.

Arricifes sits on the a wide bay, separated by rocky points from sandy bays on either side. In this part of the beach the waves pound the shores. It is not only not recommened that anyone swim, it is forbidden. Although, after watching the waves for a while, it's hard to believe that anyone not dissuaded by their violence would be put off by a mere sign. Throughout the weekend, no one ever ventured near the water.

Even without the possibiltiy of swimming, Arricifes is cool and refreshing. Clouds intermittently block the sun and the wind off the water even justifies long pants in the evenings. On Sunday, we set out down the beach and along the trail to the next two bays. Right beside our campsite is another, that seems to cater to a more festive crowd. There were fires going and people sitting around them with drums and guitars. Past that, La Piscina (The Pool) is the first bay, where a line of rocks a couple hundred meters off shore make swimming a possibility. 30 minutes further along is Cabo San Juan, where more camping is available. From here, the beach is better protected by the rocky points and wading is a possibility. An hour above this beach is Pueblito.

The camping here was almost as nice, and the restaurant better than ours. Our restaurant was open for supper from 6:30-9:30, as well as for breakfast and luunch. We were hungry and seated at 6:30. It took two hours before we got our food. The restaurant has a couple of uh... shall we say areas where the relaxed atmosphere of the surroundings had triumphed. First, there was one person serving the 10 or 15 tables, and I would guess only one person preparing the food. The restaurant also kept costs down by producing only four copies of the menu, which needed to be moved around from table to table. Of course, it all worked out. By the time four people around one table had passed the single menu around and all had decided, the previous table's food had been prepared and the cook was ready for the next order. You could tell when an order came up by the ringing of a bell that would have made even Pavlov marvel. No matter what she was doing, when the bell rang, the waitress went to pick up the food and deliver it. More than once, our order or questions about the menu were interrupted by the arrival of someone else's food.

The waitress was a real sweetheart though. Once the dinner was done, she would sweep in and pick Aysha up. She explained that her last job had been taking care of kids and she missed spending time with them. She even pulled down one of the Christmas decorations (that were still up) so Aysha would have a little toy.

Monday morning we packed up, grabbed breakfast and began the hike back home. It was not quite as easy. From Cartagena we got a bus straight to the park. From Tayrona, we needed to catch a local bus into Santa Marta, the nearest town, then a cab to the bus terminal and a bus back to Cartagena. The bus we caught home was new and clean (with a great bathroom), but ended up stopping many times for passengers along the way, extending the trip by about an hour (It might be worth mentioning to some that after a three hours, any hour spent is a bus with a baby on your lap is governed by the same rule of determining the age of a dog).

When we got home, the AC was the first thing to go on, and then we took advantage of the multiple bathrooms to all hop into a tub and scrub off the days of grime. It was all worthwhile - every last itch bite, blister and nocturnal waking to a squirmy baby. Ryan and Cathy kept the camera for their hike up to Pueblito, so photos will be slightly delayed. Sorry!

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