Ooook, it’s been awhile, you probably think I am in Ecuador or Peru by now. In the past two months I have managed to drive 5 kilometers or so from Tayrona National Park, or roughly 4-5 hours from my Colombian starting point of Cartagena. The Swiss couple from the crew had mentioned they were going to head north and check out a surf camp last I had talked to them. The Australian confirmed this when I bumped into him in Tagonga. Well I didn’t see the surf camp they were at, so back tracked and stopped at a different one I had seen just outside Tayrona, turns out there basically next to each other..
Even if I had found the other one they wouldn’t have been there anyway as they had moved on, the waves were not very good when they were there, and they are on a quicker pace than I can do. The surf where I was is ok, but certainly nothing to stick around 2 months for. What is nice from a surfers perspective is that in exchange for mediocre waves, very few people are normally in the water which is one of several reasons I have stayed so long, plus people tell me its cool to say I have surfed Colombia’s caribbean coast, though I am not sure why. On the busiest day we had out there had 15 people, which is not a lot, but it felt crowded as there are usually 6 or less in the water at a time. The other reasons for my delay, I needed another vacation from my vacation. It was great to stop moving for a bit, and this allowed me to practice my Spanish daily, meet people from all over Colombia without going anywhere, see what the holiday beach parties were like in Colombia, and witness the death of Joselito.
Once again I had palm trees, billions of stars, and waves, so I was happy, all for 12,000 pesos a night for camping (7USD). This stop was originally planned as a two night stop, though that steadily changed as I kept saying, “one more week”. A lot happened in the 2 months, too much to write about. When I showed up it was literally myself, a family of 4, and the people who worked at the campground, that’s it. While I enjoyed having this paradise to myself, I decided that I wanted to stay there a bit longer to experience the xmas and new years holidays when 500 or so people show up to party, even though I was not sure I could handle that. Turns out I could, and having a van with Cali plates equals rock star status at times, which means lots of perks. Not only did people stop by to chat, they would often bring me free beers, free food, one family invited me back to their hotel room with a kitchen and cooked me up a feast, and many nights I was lucky enough to have the employees make fires for me. Yup, being there so long meant I made friends with the surf instructors and other people working there, and they would often stop by at night to hangout, and start a fire for me by the van/tent, while I stood by doing my all important job of supervising from my camping chair.
There was a few days were a particular group of people from Bogota came to stay and setup next to the van.Of course my van ended up being the command center for the fiestas. Most people avoided us those days due to the level of awesomeness, and after they left everyone commented on how crazy my new friends were, we definitely threw the best 4 day party of the season. Hey, that’s how I roll.
The majority of people here were Colombian vacationers, as opposed to the nearby surfcamp down the road where all the gringos stay at. There were still a handful of people over the 2 months from other parts of the world which provided a good mix and nice atmosphere, but 90% of the people seemed to be from Bucaramanga, Medellin or Bogota. As far as the Surf goes it is a beach break, the waves are not very good most of the time, though staying as long as I did some nice swells come through. The current here can be very strong as well, so strong in fact that 3 swimmers had to be rescued on separate occasions during one week were the water was constantly tough to deal with. There are no lifeguards, but the surf instructors would keep an eye out when they were free, and go in with their boards to save them as people would get stuck in the currents and quickly tire, as well as panic. One day I heard calls of distress and saw 7 people staring out at the water somewhat near my van, yup that is a sign of a possible drowning if I know one. I couldn’t see anyone as the beach slants down sharply by the water, but as a former lifeguard my training must have kicked in as I threw off my shirt, grabbed my board out of the van, and sprinted towards the water in a matter of seconds. Just as I got to the water the guy had finally made it back to the beach while the others watched and did nothing (sometimes a good thing, you don’t want to make it worse, but they did NOTHING). I figured he would be a bit embarrassed, so rather than go over to him I turned around and tried to do a slow motion jog back to the van David Hasselhoff style. He later stopped by thanking me for reacting, as he was in serious trouble for a few minutes.
The next day the waves were a good size but rough. I fell on my board and thanks to my google MD education I determined I had bruised or cracked my rib. I couldn’t take deep breaths, in fact it was hard to breath at all, so I was constantly panting and in pain. I told my friends I was taking a week off, but the next day the waves were good so out I went. Once I paddled out my Swiss friend said “That was a quick week”…well they always are once the waves are good. Anyway I probably shouldn’t have been out there with those conditions. While out there my leash snapped and my board was sent into shore wihtout me, and I instantly worried that I would either drown or need to be rescued with this rib problem. I looked around but no one had seen what happened, so knowing I was on my own I made my way back to shore. I was fine, but can see how easy it is to panic when the conditions are that rough, as it was sketchy.
The next day the conditions were still rough but the waves were huge for this place. I couldn’t get out past them on my first attempt due to the waves and currents, in fact most of us didn’t make it, and many gave up. Not one to give up I went back out hurt ribs and all, and spent about 45 minutes dodging a few monsters. In the end it was worth it as I got what was dubbed “wave of the month” which is saying something as you really need to have that right place at the right time kind of luck there. For my level of surfing (I still suck) it was a huge, loooong wave, and thanks to the cheering of everyone on the shore, the girl from England was able to find me halfway through it and snap a pretty decent pic, even though she was not even looking at me (check out her other pics at lisaimages.com). I figure it will be on the cover of Surfer Magazine, I guess it wont be till next issue as I have yet to see it, but I am sure it will be soon, its just unfortunate she didnt get the bigger section of the wave.
Spending all this time here I have gotten a glimpse of the real Colombia, one which I would not have seen as a tourist. There was a guy who had run away from home at the age of 8 due to a rough childhood. Without going into details, he has done various jobs to get by, working in the labs hidden in the jungles making coke, working on the coffee plantations, as well as hiding out in the jungle with a machine gun…I don’t think I have to say what he did with that. These were all things he had to do for survival, and made him who he was, though it was a life I couldn’t imagine. Luckily the overall situation here has improved greatly, but it is far from over. The area around Tayrona still has its problems, and is considered a zone to use caution. As a tourist I have never felt threatened, in fact I would say the area is very safe for us, a perk of being a foreigner. That said, the locals still have to deal with the problems, and if your not careful you can get yourself into trouble. I have read in the papers, as well as been told several times by different people about the problems here, and how there are still people being killed on a semi regular basis, and how little value life can have to some people. One of the friends I made here was an example of what can go wrong, though I was out in the water when it went down.
He unfortunately got into a fight with the wrong guy one night at a bar. A few days later some guys showed up on motorbikes, armed, looking for him. He wasn’t there, and eventually they were persuaded to leave. Arrangements were quickly made for him to leave for another part of Colombia for his safety, and sadly he wont be coming back. I didn’t know any of this had occurred, and was shocked when he returned my board I lent him saying he was leaving in 2 hours. We were all sad, he was a great guy, and the waves are not the same without him.
After things settled down a bit again, the surf got good so I stuck around a little longer, suddenly before I knew it nearly 2 months had passed. I then found yet another reason to stick around, the worlds second largest (and arguably less touristy) Carnival party.
Joselito Carnival is dead. Even worse than that, I spent 6 days in Barranquilla, home to both Shakira and that hot Latin chick from Modern Family, and didn’t hangout with either one of them, though I did hangout with Shakiras brother if that counts for anything…turns out it doesn’t. No I didn’t set the cruise control and head straight for Brazil, turns out the worlds second largest Carnival party is held in Barranquilla Colombia, just 2 hours from where I had been camped out. I mentioned to one of the instructors here that I was thinking of changing my plans yet again and sticking around for Carnival before heading out. She had some friends who lived in Barranquilla who I had met briefly earlier in the month when they came to party with her The decision was made before we had even finished talking…we would make a trip to Barranquilla for the celebrations, staying with them which not only meant saving money, but getting to see the Colombian side of Carnival rather than the tourists side.
Carnival is Colombia’s most important celebration of the year, with traditions dating back to the 19th century. During Carnival there are parties all over Barranquilla, I never knew where I was, I just got out of the cab and followed the others. The city is very uninspiring, as well as disorienting, as you don’t have any visual landmarks to use. I spoke to my Swiss friends from camp who also went and said it was a bit tough to know where to go at various times in order to find the better parties. There are parades in the afternoon, and then parties all day and night. The Swiss couple paid around 90USD each for 3 day passes to the parade. They said they had a good time, but after 3 days decided it was enough and headed back to camp, an option I didn’t have.
I had read several times about the influx of pick pocketers in Barranquilla during Carnival, and it seems to be true to a point. We had a large group of people, but were always meeting up or splitting up, usually not together all at once. There were 2 separate groups of Germans, and both groups were robbed on different days. They were sprayed in the face with the foam you see everywhere in the pics, and as they reacted and put their hands to their faces, the robbers grabbed what was in their pockets, so future party goers be warned. I didn’t have any problems, not sure if its due to my awesomeness, or the fact that I look Colombian and blend in so well.
During Carnival you can drink in the streets throughout Barenquilla, which means bring your own beer, Aguadiente, Whiskey, Rum, you name it. The first night we jumped in one of my new friends trucks and headed off to buy some Whiskey. After 10 or so minutes I thought to myself, “Strange, we have already passed 3 liquor stores, maybe I misunderstood his Spanish”. Well, we were certainly in route for Whiskey, the reason we went out of our way was to buy some illegally imported Whiskey from Venezuela from a local house/illegal store which was 50% cheaper, I like these guys already. In fact, this would not be our only trip to the illegal store while I was in Barranquilla.
The next morning we were running late to meet the others at the parade, so to save time we jumped in the parade for a shortcut. I remember thinking to myself funnily enough this is not the first parade I have crashed, back in high school my friend and I drove our cars into the middle of our local parade cutting it in half, and then driving as slow as possible so that there was a quarter mile or so gap in the parade by the end. This time things didn’t go as well, and after 10 or 15 minutes we finally got hassled by the cops.
Shots are constantly being passed around all day, there is no break. Somehow everyone is in great control considering how drunk everybody must be. I didn’t see any fights, everyone was a having a good time, and as soon as music was heard bodies were moving. I don’t know how these people never get tired, or excessively drunk. Everyone seemed to have a great time, people were covered in foam and what I assumed was cocaine this being Colombia, turns out it was just some corn powder. The only downside is like other places in Latin America, a lot of people drink and drive. We had a minor accident happen right in front of us as we partied at one bar, where a car hit another, breaking his front wheel off….that’s going to delay his party.
The basic break down for the 6 days we were there was head to a local bar and drink. Then grab the rum and pop over to a parade where the locals were, only paying 3-5USD rather than the 90, though not necessarily seeing the best part of the parade, though possibly having a better time doing it up Colombian style. Then it was back to an overcrowded bar somewhere where we didn’t even hangout in the bar, we just hung out on the streets with everyone else drinking. At one point we stopped at a party on the street provided by some guys sound system in his car. Then repeat this process each day, until the end of Carnival.
Day 3 or 4 was one of my new friends birthday, yeah, like they needed another reason to drink. Her friends had been out all night before, and decided to show up and start the festivities early rather than go home to bed. At 6 am they showed up ready to party with a bottle of rum. I stayed in bed pretending I didnt hear the loud music that was being blasted, but my friend from camp was not so lucky. I eventually came out at 10am and found them all a bit drunk, with an empty bottle to show for it. Not only that, but some of them had left in order to get another. It was pretty obvious they were drunk as they made a comment on how they were impressed that I could understand them…..though in realty I couldn’t understand anything they said, probably due to their level of intoxication. It was here that I partied with Shakiras brother or half brother, and the guy didn’t even bring her, what the hell…of course I didn’t say anything, who wants to be known as Shakiras brother. He did tell me his casa was my casa, so maybe I will hangout there until she shows up.
Carnival FINALLY ends with the death of Joselito Carnival. According to Wiki, Joselito is a character who symbolizes the joy of the festivities, who had been resurrected the Saturday of Carnival and dies on the last day, tired and hungover, only to be resurrected again next year. Of course once Carnival was officially over, we headed back to the apartment for more drinking, and then to another local outdoor party/free concert, and then back to the apartment for more…so really, I am not sure the madness ever ended….I was just glad to get out when I did. I loved every minute of Carnival, though on day one had eaten some bad seafood. That made it tough to drink, move, or do anything the next few days. The last day I wasn’t 100% but decided I was feeling pretty good and rather than at least pretend to take it easy, drank a mix of beers, Whiskey, Rum, and even Aguadiente which I don’t even like….I paid for it the next day, but I think it killed off whatever had invaded my body. I loved that I got to experience carnival from a Colombian perspective. I owe a huge thanks to both my camp friend as well as her friends from Barrenquilla who not only welcomed me into their homes and treated me as a long time friend, but showed me a side of Carnival I could have never seen, thanks a million, I loved every minute of it, sick or not.