Sunday, 22 June 2014

Santa Marta

Our bus to Santa Marta begins in farce. We dash back to our pad and are all packed up and sat outside for 3pm, knowing that the 4pm bus route picks up anytime after 3pm, so could come at any time... after 45 minutes we ask Eduardo to call to check if there's a problem, and there is. The clever dicks from Mar Sol have for some reason ignored the details of the conversation I had with them (in wonderfully understandable Spanish) when booking our pickup yesterday, and called the hostel next door earlier in the day to ask what time bus we want. The hostel (again, for reasons unknown as they don't even know who we are) have taken a punt and told them midday, so there's no bus coming now - nice one?!

Eduardo arranges that we will instead be on the 5pm route, so we remain sitting outside waiting for the imminent pickup.  We could have had another ice cream if we had known we'd be up for such a long wait! When the bus arrives, a cheerless lady jumps out and as we put our bags in the back, informs me that "we must hurry". You're an hour late to pick us up and wouldn't even have showed up at all if we hadn't called again to check, and now we must hurry? Doubtful.

Our "DIRECTO" bus stops off at various points on the way before a scheduled stop at a juice and snack shack and it's a horror show. The female owner is horrendous, and seems to be deeply inconvenienced that people want to buy her overpriced goods and give her money, meanwhile her young child is begging for money from those same customers. Get us out of here ffs.

There's another stop along the way and the police bundle aboard (uh-oh?) and collect up ID cards and passports - quite what they'll make of Guernsey drivers licences is anyone's guess, but there's no way we're handing over passports to these chancers.

Speaking of police, there is a massive, massive police presence everywhere in Columbia, a direct outcome of the former president's regime to democratise and attempt to stablise Colombia. And they are everywhere. Patrolling on motorbikes, on foot, outside churches, inside shops, around parks and on the roads. They do not appear to be overtly threatening (at least not to us tourists) and instead appear to serve a calming influence on the city just by their presence and constant random checks on people for reasons unknown, which after Columbia's recent violent past (which we get the feeling is still very much part of its present, just perhaps not in the obvious areas that have now opened up to tourism), is actually seeming effective, on the surface at least! It doesn't stop every man on the street who is ordinarily selling replica world cup shirts, Cuban cigars, and hats, from offering you their services to get you "whatever you want"...! And they really do mean whatever you want... yes, you're the 18th person this afternoon to offer me that without invitation, but in the event that I do decide I need some poor quality artificial stimulants I will definitely track you down personally. Sakes!

We have also been told that the culture of police bribery (and any person in authority for that matter) is rife and that many of these friendly policemen around will happily assert some minor infraction against you in order to extract some sort of bribe to make that infraction go away...not having an identity card on your person being a prime example...

IDs duly returned, no bribes paid, and we're on our way again.

Finally we arrive in Santa Marta, where we're told by the driver that the door to door service doesn't extend to our hostel, so he'll be dropping us at the central taxi area. He does at least take the time to correctly negotiate our taxi price, but in the melee of being bundled out of the bus into a throng of waiting taxi drivers we don't check the back of the bus properly, and only realise when we pull up outside our hostel that we do not have the Nicaraguan canvas that I've been dutifully carrying around for the last two weeks.

Thankfully the staff at Drop Bear hostel (as recommended by Chris and Lucy) are superb, and immediately set about calling the bus company office. Mar Sol ask us if we know the bus number... because I'm sure every passenger gets on or off and thinks "hmm yes, bus number 826" - shouldn't they know which bus or driver is running each route? Regardless, the Santa Marta office says we need to call Cartagena, and they aren't open until the morning. Sigh.

Tired and a little frustrated, and recognising that the party is in full swing at Drop Bear, we opt to pay the token extra amount for a private room to guarantee some sleep. As if turns out, the hostel is enormous, and although it's all action downstairs, the dorm room that we pass through to reach our room is completely silent. Bliss.

In the morning we get to fully explore the hostel - it's a former cartel house, and comes complete with a swimming pool (YES!), an outdoor cinema, free breakfast, a bar with sensible prices, decent craft beer, big chill out areas... basically we are in heaven.

The consistently helpful reception don't seem to mind our repeated hassling to call the bus company to chase down our canvas, although by now we're not hopeful of its safe return. If they don't know which bus ran that route, it could be anywhere by now, and when they tell us that they'll check each bus and then we should call them back (wouldn't they call us back after they "check"), we realise it's almost certainly lost and CP is particularly sad.

Forgetting about that, and after a very refreshing swim in the awesome pool at dropbear, we head out with a group from the hostel at 11am to a local bar to watch Colombia's first World Cup game in our new Colombia shirts! It's the countries first World Cup appearance since 1998, although their most infamous tournament to date has to be the '94 World Cup, when their captain, Andres Escobar (no relation) inadvertently scored an own goal which knocked them out of the competition at the first stage - within a month of returning home he had been shot dead. England players take note - suddenly a kiss and tell story about a romp with a page 3 model doesn't seem so bad... there are now many sports halls, statues, and memorials in honour of the non-cartel king Escobar.

Back to the game, and wow - the noise is deafening, the commentary goes at a million miles an hour even when nothing at all is happening, and when Colombia scores the whole place goes wild. The game finishes 2-0 to Colombia, our Colombia shirts are a hit, and with hostel owner Gabe unexpectedly picking up the drinks bill, what's not to like?!

Live music...

Beer fountains at 11am...oh, if you insist...

What a cute couple....even if we do say so ourselves...

 We refrained from getting a vuvuzela (due to reasons of sanity) but still got some noise makers to feel part of the din...


We spend the afternoon walking around Santa Marta, ticking off the sights along the way, including a statue to former Colombia footballing great, Carlos Valderama.

And one of many tributes to Simon Bolivar, who apparently was very busy in his 47 years, coming up with a grand plan liberate Latin American as one from the Spanish conquerors, and eventually settling on having a country named after him. It seems that every town has a claim to El Liberators fame, whether birth, death, or once riding a horse through there...

Santa Marta is a pretty enough city, nice to wander around for a day but not much else to hold our attention. We did, however, have a great time, saying "vamos Colombia" to every other person we saw in a Colombia shirt (basically half the city then) and receiving an unusually high number of high fives from locals for our shirts and smiles. Got to love being in Colombia when they are winning..!

Everyone gets into the football spirit...everyone!

Photo bomb...

A quick stop for sustenance at the raved about Cocteleria Juancho - a street side stall with wooden benches, serving ceviche mixto, a medley of fresh shrimp, octopus, fish, and conch, topped with a little sauce, all for $3. The reputation is well deserved. It was all we had to eat all day, that and fresh lemonade, and it was good!

We catch some locals practising their "bring it on" cheerleading moves and were rather impressed by their skills, despite one girl almost being dropped on her head after a failed catch...!

Back at Drop Bear for yet another dip in the pool, and we cook up a carb loading feast in preparation for tomorrow when we begin our four day trek to Ciudad Perdida, The Lost City...

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