Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Columbia: heat, noise & mud baths

Despite having been on the Pacific or Caribbean coast for weeks now the heat of Cartagena still seemed more oppressive than anything we'd come across. Averaging 35 degree it made sight seeing slow and sticky.  

Our 3 hour castle visit was really interesting but even though we set out at 8am we had to spend the afternoon rehydrating in the shade. Don't know why the heat is so much fiercer than the same temperature in other locations but it definitely is.  Castle/siege fact: Europe had multiple failed attempts to take the City, often foiled by the heat & mosquitos which turned an army of men into sun stroked, malarial loons. Wasn't hard to imagine that. 

Partly due to heat, partly because he was starting to scare children, Chris decided it was haircut time. First one in 3 months so we headed to Columbia's Nicky Clarke for a top notch salon experience.  The barber took an absolute age but was very pleased with his work. And Chris looks like a normal man again, instead of a ginger Tom Hanks in Castaway. 

Today the walled city is the big tourist draw and while it's pretty enough for a sunset walk the buildings within it are now pricey bars, shops & restaurants for the cruise ship day visitors.

Getsemani (used to be slums, now the red light/cheap hostel area) is much more fun- it's where locals live and each evening everyone pulls their chairs into the street, drinks beer/rum and shuffle around to the loudest music ever heard. I've no idea where the average Cartagenan gets a nightclub sound system from but at least one house per street seems to own one. It gets dragged to the front room, turned up to 11 and stays that way til the early hours. 
The teenagers demonstrate their level of apathy/cool by sitting against the speaker and glaring at everyone (unless that's the only facial option with 150Db vibrating through your skull), the men bet on Ludo (an unbelievably noisy and exciting street sport), the woman dance and the old folks rock in their chairs and suck their teeth/coca leaves.  Everyone's happy! 

About 45k outside of the city there's a mud volcano (Volcan Totuma) - like a regular volcano but throws boiling mud instead of lava. Inactive for c30 yrs it's currently used as a bizarre spa.  You climb the volcano (only little), descend a ladder into a mud pool which despite being 23m deep you can't get into beyond shoulder height.  It's so viscous that you're buoyant (very similar feel to the Dead Sea) and so bob around in its healing properties.  
There is the option to be massaged (touched up) for $1.50 by a local with absolutely no massage qualifications which we passed on and chose to manoeuvre our way around by ourselves for 20 minutes. 

Once you've climbed the very slippy ladder out again the weirdness continues as you waddle down to the lake to get clean.  Here a child takes your flipflops, cleans them & has them waiting to step into, while a bossy woman leads you by the hand into the lake, pushes you into sitting position, whips your swimmies off then proceeds to tip buckets of water over your head until you're clean.  By the time the muddy water is out your eyes, and you've recovered from the public nakedness thing your swimmies are returned mud free and you're free to swim or leave as you please. 

An unusual but very enjoyable trip out to end our city stay. Next stop Santa Marta- where Columbians go on holiday, and gringos go to start jungle treks...

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