After an absolutely fantastic couple of weeks exploring Zona Cafetera and area around Medellín it was time to go to the northern Caribbean coast. I was happy to delay the trip up north for a couple of reasons. Firstly it’s the tourist hotspot of Colombia and even though I’m part of the brigade I dislike all that is associated with the popular visitor areas. Secondly as one would expect from a coastal area it’s at sea level. Descending the red blood cell inducing heights of central Colombia was inevitable, but my fear was that running in consistent 32-35 degree heat with high humidity would be unbearable. Still, there is a reason why so many tourists flock north – it’s the main event – so it would be impossible to visit Colombia without seeing the major sights.
|At Café del Mar, Cartagena|
|Casa Verde, Santa Marta|
Next morning we headed for a village called Palomino. It’s certainly not on the main tourist trail, but we had a good recommendation from a fellow traveller. From the village we had a tough hike with backpacks for 30minutes into the Sierra Nevada, arriving at a riverside hut which became home for the night. It is a particularly nice setting in the depth of the jungle, beside a river and with stunning scenery of the Sierra Nevada surrounding us. The owner of the property was away, but we were welcomed warmly by his proxy Chapolo and family who help maintain the property. We sat politely at their humble home for about 20minutes with a cold chocolate drink while being introduced to the family – his beautiful wife, three sons, a brother-in-law and nephew. The pace of life here is as slow as it gets. Helped no doubt by marijuana – the brother-in-law was particularly chilled, offering us a joint immediately on arrival. We passed, opting for a refreshing orange juice instead. The hut itself is large and particularly well equipped, perhaps overly so as the satellite TV is the corner just doesn’t fit in. Chapolo’s wife and her brother cooked us a fine meal the evening. They brought the whole family along as our hut was nicer and larger than their own home. We didn’t mind, but it was unusual – if ever staying here don’t expect privacy. I reckon it’s a regular occurrence while the boss is away.
|Our Palomino Hut - it's in the jungle, honest ...|
Eventually they did leave and all we had left was the jungle to keep us company. And it did – there is no avoiding wild-life in a place like this. A frog decided to make our bathroom his home. Mosquitoes were an issue, so we covered up particularly well. Geckoes type lizards were everywhere, which is possibly a good thing as they have a taste for mosquitoes. The birds here are particularly impressive. The noise from nature is loud and relentless – it was difficult to sleep. Apart from our hosts, our only close neighbours were the local Tayrona indigenous tribe. Many years ago they ruled all of northern Colombia, but are slowly being pushed out. The tribe all wear the same off-white clothes and are much smaller than average, possibly due to a lack of key nutrients. In the not too distant future tribes like this may disappear as already the younger generations are integrating more with society. It’s a pity, but seems inevitable unless their land is made completely off limits. Guess I'm part of the problem as a tourist ...
Next morning after an early run and breakfast we headed further into the Sierra Nevada, equipped with an inflated truck tube. After about a half hour we jumped into the river on top of our basic flotation devices and enjoyed the views as we floated downstream. The rapids were tame but there is a good flow on the river and we managed to pick up speed at times. In truth this was more about relaxing than looking for a thrill-seeking white-water experience.
|Playa Los Naranjos|
Next up was Tayrona national park, which as Colombia’s number one national park is a tourist magnet. First we had to find lodging, and we set out for Playa Los Naranjos. The Lonely Planet highly recommends Barlovento as a spectacular place to stay. The setting is indeed magnificent, with the Río Piedras meeting the sea at a beautiful beach. Barlovento is at a height overlooking the sea. The idea of staying here was indeed romantic, with the waves crashing under out potential bed. The reality is the place is completely over-priced. Initially they were looking for 300,000COP (€120) for essentially a tiny room with a mattress on the ground. After some negotiation they reduced to 200,000 but it wasn’t far enough for our depleting wallets (we were short cash, with no ATM close-by). We had another accommodation recommendation about 4km down the road, but before leaving we decided to hang around the beautiful beach for the afternoon to catch some rays and swim. We eventually did leave and took a bus to the town Río Piedras to check out Eco Hostal Yuluka. It’s a fab spot, set on a hillside with several very well equipped huts. We picked the highest hut with great views and a particularly good chilling area with two hammocks. There’s also a very nice pool here fed from a nearby spring, so it’s semi-natural. All-in-all the place is a bargain at €32 euro for a hut per night. The food here is also good – recommended as your Tayrona base instead of getting ripped off inside the park boundaries.
We ventured out that night for a stroll to find the local pub. We were consistently warned about going out at night in the countryside, but from our experience this is overkill. There’s not that much reason to wander mind – very little to the small village of Río Piedras. Most people here are early to bed and early to rise, so we followed suit. And indeed I did rise early for my morning run. Peculiar, but I’m getting up earlier on holidays than I would if I was working. By 9am I had my 25k run, with 12k tempo complete. Breakfast is always particularly satisfying after a good workout. I wasn’t particular fast, only hitting 3:50/k pace for tempo, but now I’m blaming the heat. Previously it was altitude, now heat and when I get home it will probably be wind or freezing conditions. There’s always some excuse J Thankfully in races it’s always a level playing field – it only matters if you’re chasing a time.
|Tayrona: Cabo San Juan de la Guía|
|Pueblito, Ancient City at Tayrona|
We fitted in so much in one day that there was no need to return to Tayrona Park. Instead we hung out at the Naranjos beach to enjoy the sunshine. That evening it was back to Santa Marta and the Casa Verde hotel. We initially tried La Casa, which according to the Lonely Planet is ‘far and away the best’ place to stay in Santa Marta, but after viewing we reverted to Casa Verde. In fairness to the Lonely Planet Casa Verde probably didn’t exist when they went to print, but I find that the use “do not miss” or “the best” too often. We had one more day in the sun before flying back to Bogotá. We went to the nearby town of Taganga in search of better coastline, but to be honest the beach at Santa Marta is just as good. It’s very popular with the back-backers and is a great place to go diving or snorkelling, but otherwise it’s just an overpopulated costal area.
Seven weeks in Colombia and seven good weeks of marathon training complete, clocking up over 650miles on foreign soil to date. It’s been difficult at times with altitude, heat and hills all taking their toll, but hopefully it will be of benefit when I return to Ireland. Another 10 weeks before Paris, so I’m hoping to be in shape to do damage. Only time will tell. Unfortunately it has all been endurance work and I feel I’m lacking speed. Hopefully that will be a relatively quick fix when I return to Ireland and start hammering out the sessions J